C.S. Lewis—The reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The argument runs like this. All the details are derived from our present experience; but the reality transcends our experience: therefore all the details are wholly and equally symbolical. But suppose a dog were trying to form a conception of human life. All the details in its picture would be derived from canine experience. Therefore all that the dog imagined could, at best, be only analogically true of human life. The conclusion is false. If the dog visualized our scientific researches in terms of ratting, this would be analogical; but if it thought that eating could be predicated of humans only in an analogical sense, the dog would be wrong. In fact if a dog could, per impossible, be plunged for a day into human life, it would be hardly more surprised by hitherto unimagined differences than by hitherto unsuspected similarities. A reverent dog would be shocked. A modernist dog, distrusting the whole experience, would ask to be taken to the vet.

But the dog can’t get into human life. Consequently, though it can be sure that its best ideas of human life are full of analogy and symbol, it could never point to any one detail and say, ‘This is entirely symbolic.’ You cannot know that everything in the representation of thing is symbolical unless you have independent access to the thing and can compare it with the representation....

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology. It is right you should hear them. You will not perhaps hear them very often again. Your parishioners will not often speak to you quite frankly. Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar: he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.
--C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), pp.165-166

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Theology

4 Comments
Posted March 1, 2013 at 5:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Undergroundpewster wrote:

Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is more than an embarrassing role. It is frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as well.

March 1, 9:57 am | [comment link]
2. Jim the Puritan wrote:

It’s only gotten worse since Lewis’ time.

March 1, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
3. A Senior Priest wrote:

All so true, so true. Alas.

March 1, 4:29 pm | [comment link]
4. MichaelA wrote:

This was a wise man.  Pity the clergy of his church didn’t listen to him.

March 6, 2:57 am | [comment link]
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