Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Christianity of the Inklings has disappeared, is no longer available

One of the sad things I experienced about being an Englishman coming to Christianity via the Inklings, is the (delayed) realization that the Christianity they knew and practiced has gone.

So the Inklings reader may become a Christian, in hope of in some way emulating either JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis or Charles Williams - but then he, like I, will find that there is nowadays no remotely similar church he can join; that the Christian way of life from 1945 (when Charles Williams died) has gone - gone, except for some rather horrible, deceptive, almost parodic, institutional residues.


JRR Tolkien was a very traditional Ultramontane, scholastic type of Roman Catholic. Towards the end of his life, Tolkien was made very miserable by the changes introduced by the second Vatican council, especially the vernacular Mass; and would have been appalled and made even more miserable by liberalizing changes since he died in 1973.

He could only have found the kind of church he admired by joining the Society of St Pius the Tenth (SSPX) or similar - but I suspect he would have found their formally schismatic and excommunicate status intolerable.

I think he would have stayed a Roman Catholic but would have been extremely unhappy.


Lewis was a mainstream Anglican who after converting began on the Protestant side of the denomination and moved gradually towards a more Catholic practice (eg taking more frequent Holy Communion, attending confession with an Anglican Monk).

But Lewis did not get much satisfaction from attending church - he did it primarily from duty; and he would not have tolerated the incremental liberalisation of the Church of England, the abandonment by senior Bishops of belief in miracles, the Virgin Birth, even the divinity of Christ; the introduction of priestesses from 1992, and so on.

I think Lewis would have continued to attend a church; but what kind of church? Would Lewis have become a non-denominational conservative evangelical, or a Roman Catholic (like his 'disciple' Walter Hooper)? Perhaps...

Or would he have become Russian Orthodox - a Platonist faith with which he had considerable sympathy and some links? That option seems most likely to me.


Charles Williams was highly heterodox in his interests - although a traditional Anglican in his theology. his practice was Anglo-Catholic, but as a mature man he seems to have like church-going even less than Lewis; and towards the end of his life had founded his own loose Christian association: The Companions of the Coinherence.

I think Charles Williams would have left the Church of England and set up his own sect, or group, or mini-church - probably some kind of Anglican group using the Book of Common Prayer. Williams did not have much regard for priests, and so perhaps he might have made this a denomination with pastors but not priests.


So, the main Inklings would by now have necessarily become outsiders to - or at most marginal, fringe, and reluctant members of - their own denominations; and we to try to follow in their footsteps cannot help but do the same, if we wish to preserve their true legacy.



James Kalb said...

This is quite a minor point with regard to your post, but things are quite a bit better among Catholics than you suggest.

You're right I think that it's no longer possible to be a very traditional ultramontane scholastic Roman Catholic, because Rome is no longer specially traditional or scholastic. That's because of the ultramontane part, always looking to current signals from Rome as a guide. But that was always a strategy for dealing with local problems rather than part of the Faith. It's still quite possible to be traditional and scholastic, and only assist at the Traditional Latin Mass, and accept all doctrine, even without resorting to the SSPX. Various theologians, hierarchs, commentators etc. may take a dim view of you, but that's a different matter.

As to the SSPX, the issue isn't heresy or excommunication, it's schism--rejection of papal authority. Also possible invalidity of some of their sacraments. I have no idea how good the arguments are either way let alone how Tolkien would come out on them.

Another point worth mentioning is that the Anglican Ordinariate has given a home to a number of people who might have wanted to follow in the Inklings' footsteps. That and the formal recognition of the right of the faithful to the Traditional Mass were two of Benedict's initiatives.

Anonymous said...

I think it not impossible that Lewis might have become a Continuing Anglican - but, being one myself, I might not be perfectly objective there!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jim - I am trying to see things from a Tolkien-esque perspective, and knowing how deeply unhappy he was with the RCC already in the late 1960s, I think he could only have been driven towards despair by the changes since.

I accept your correction wrt 'schism' versus my rather careless use of heresy - and will amend the posting.

@Anon - I think Lewis would have left the CoE long before the Continuing Anglican movement had begun. Knowing his sympathy with Russian Orthodoxy (Oxford was the centre of RO in Britain, he knew the main converts, he met with RO groups and published in their magazine) - and his relative indifference about denominations- I am guessing it would not have taken very much for him to become Orthodox.

James Kalb said...

Since the late sixties the situation has improved for traditionalist Catholics. They've regrouped, they have a definite presence, and they're making some progress (the right to mass in the traditional form, whole institutes devoted to it, a traditionalist turn among young priests and religious, more articulate and scholarly voices, the stabilization and reassertion of doctrine through the work of JP II and B XVI, and so on). So things aren't great, and the current Pope is a wild card, but it's much better than back then.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jim - To summarize: we both agree Tolkien would remain a Roman Catholic; but you think he would be significantly happier about it now than in the late 1960s, whereas I think he would be even less happy.

James Kalb said...

As I said, for your post a minor point!

Joseph A. said...

I think that you are spot on. I remember reading somewhere about Lewis' reaction to visiting churches in Greece while on holiday. He loved the Greeks' bodily piety -- kissing everything, prostrations, and the like.

I also think your point in an earlier post is worth pondering a lot -- what makes men like Tolkien and Lewis and their work so ecumenically treasured? I wonder if they have had much influence beyond the Anglosphere. When I studied in Paris, I was able to purchase most every popular book by Lewis at a local bookstore -- in English. I never found one in French, though. My French friends did not know Lewis, but several had read Tolkien.

Bruce Charlton said...

JA - Yes, you have reminded me of that Greek trip. Overall, I don't think I ever came across anything by Lewis concerning Orthodoxy that wasn't positive - and he knew quite a lot about it through his friendship with the Zernovs, attending meetings of the society of St Alban and St Serius and Sobornost magazine.

I expect you are correct about the influence of Lewis mostly in the Anglosphere, and Tolkien's being wider. But their message is mainly for the West.

The major growth points of Christianity seem to be in Africa and especially China and of a un-Lewis-esque kind. I think the African type of Christianity is mostly charismatic/ Pentecostal - and the Chinese rather similar - being very low church/ home church Protestant. very decentralized and multi- or loosely- denominational in both instances.

Wurmbrand said...

The claim that serves as title of this post might be correct in England. Sacramental, credal, liturgical, evangelical (=the Gospel) worship, with traditional hymns drawn from patristic, medieval, and Reformation sources, with an only-male pastorate, following the Church calendar, is available to hundreds of thousands of Americans in churches adhering to the Lutheran Confessions. It is what I attend every week, and my pastor is a very young man with (D.V.) forty or more years of ministry ahead of him. I hope you can consider the possibility that this statement is true and is something for which to be thankful.

Anonymous said...

An interesting matter to ponder!

Would Tolkien's advice and practice differ by the time he died from that in Letter 250, of 1 November (All Saints'!)1963 to Michael? And what might comparison with the experience of his oldest son, Fr. John (and for that matter, youngest child, Priscilla) suggest?

I don't know enough about the Anglican Catholic Church in England, but I can imagine Lewis might have 'Continued', though he might also simply have continued C of E until today, not unlike the Rev. Canon Dr. Gavin Ashenden, for one example.

(Note his comments here:

There is a specificity to (so far as I know) all Orthodox ecclesiology which I can imagine would be a serious matter - and perhaps a serious impediment - for Lewis.

I don't have a sense that Williams "seems to have liked church-going even less than Lewis" nor that he "did not have much regard for priests" - as far as I know he attended regularly and unproblematically in Oxford throughout his time there. And one of his best friends was a priest probably less orthodox in many ways than he, until he did of bombing-related injuries during the war: A.H.E. Lee.

The Companions were mostly Christian, though, as I recall, Williams obliged Thelma Shuttleworth with a non-Christian variant of the promulgation, but they were never organized to meet, for common ritual (which did not to my knowledge exist) or anything else - though he joked about a sherry party after the war.

I can imagine that Williams would have said much what Prester John does to Barbara in the last chapter of War in Heaven, and have gone on being C of E (or perhaps, with the 'ordination of women','Continuing').

I would expect these three, in their own ways, to have gone on being such 'central' members of their Churches as to experience multiplying inconveniences and discomforts, without 'transitioning', unless C.W. and Lewis 'Continued'. (Would these latter two, I wonder, be welcoming the AMiE - and, if so, how heartily?)

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - There are, sadly, not many like Gavin Ashenden in the Church of England. He is an old style Anglo Catholic - and some remain, but he finds so few fellow spirits that he has allied with conservative evangelicals in GAFCON.

What is striking about Lewis and Williams is how little they enjoyed church, and how little they had to do with it.

For both, the Eucharist was important (or rather, became so for Lewis) and in that, they were on the Catholic side.

Neither would have been been able to accept mainstream Church of England practice, although they might have stayed in a niche.

My comments about Williams attitudes to church/ priests are drawn from AM Hadfield.

Anonymous said...

Whew! I shall have to do some rereading - I don't remember anything in either Hadfield biographical book to that effect!

I seem to remember C.W. and A.M.H. used to enjoy swopping hymn quotations (in contrast to almost everything I remember Lewis saying about hymns). And so much in the early poetry collections is 'service' related... And I remember some vivid descriptive snapshot of Williams after a Communion service at St. Cross (I think in Anne Ridler's Image of the City introduction).

There is also a fascinating description of the coronation of Edward VIII (I think in a letter to Anne Ridler, quite possibly as yet unpublished) which, while not about priests, is about the King entering admirably into ritual (and ceasing to do so).

There is, of course, the modern satirical section of Judgement at Chelmsford, as well as the locum in War in Heaven. (Dr. Giesbert Kranz read a paper to the Williams Society about priests in Williams's works which I think is published in one of the Newsletters now online.)

Another interesting comparison with Lewis that occurs to me is Lewis's old parish priest, Fr. Head, who was still at Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, when I came to live at The Kilns. As long as he lived, that was very much a sort of niche!

David Llewellyn Dodds

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for the Gavin Ashenden YouTube reference - very interesting! (It somehow never occurred to me to see if he was on YouTube!)

David Llewellyn Dodds