Tag Archives: Screwtape Letters

Why asceticism? “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training . . .”


running the race beating the body

Another bit from the monasticism chapter of the forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis:

The concept of askesis came from the pagan philosophers, but it is thoroughly supported in Scripture. It is like the discipline of an athlete who, in the words of the Apostle Paul, must “beat his body”—endure some pain and deprivation—if he is to use that body to excel. Following from the phrase in the title of this post: I Cor 9:26-27 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

If we are to excel spiritually, the church has always known, we must practice certain disciplines that keep our physical, emotional, and intellectual lives in check; some of these disciplines actually involve denying ourselves some of the good, God-given pleasures we might otherwise enjoy in those realms. Christians through the centuries have practiced such self-denial not as an end in itself, but in the interest of that higher goal of union with God.

Continue reading

. . . in which C S Lewis’s Screwtape explains how “historicism” has rendered the past useless to modern scholars


C S Lewis's demon Screwtape, writing about how much he just LOVES "historicism"

C S Lewis’s demon Screwtape, writing about how much he just LOVES “historicism”

Today I begin posting from the “Tradition chapter” of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis – or as I’m now less flippantly inclined to call it: Medieval Wisdom: An exploration with C S Lewis.

Though this is not the opening of the chapter, I’d like to start with Lewis’s take on the “presenting problem” when the church begins talking about tradition in the 20th (and now 21st) century:

Lewis states the modern problem

The situation we find ourselves in, where we would even have to defend tradition as a good thing in the Christian church, dates back to Lewis’s day and beyond. In his famous lecture to the Cambridge University audience assembled to witness his installation as the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at that university, Lewis described his own mid-20th-century European setting as one of cultural darkness and amnesia, and himself as a kind of dinosaur—one of the few left in that dark age of wars and rumors of wars. He described himself as a specimen who still spoke the native language of the old Christian Western tradition as a native, and who could thus be a precious resource for a society and a culture that had drifted far from its moorings in the Great Tradition of Christianized Greek thought.

Lewis found this change diabolical, and he made this clear by putting it in the mouth of the senior demon in his Screwtape Letters: “Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.” The infernal realm had accomplished this, Screwtape continued, by making “the Historical Point of View” into a scholarly dogma. Continue reading