March 26th, 2012Screwtape and a Possible Theological Error by C.S. Lewisby Joseph Pearce
I've recently received a query from someone who is puzzled by a section in Letter Thirteen of The Screwtape Letters. I consider this particular section to be a theological faux pas on Lewis' part.
Here's the query:
In Letter 13, Screwtape writes:
"As you ought to have known, the asphyxiating cloud which prevented your attacking the patient on his walk back from the old mill, is a well-known phenomenon. It is the enemy's most barbarous weapon, and generally appears when He is directly present to the patient under certain modes not yet fully classified."
1) Do you think readers are supposed to be able to identify what Screwtape is describing here?
Is this God's presence in the Holy Spirit? Is this a great cloud of witnesses that may accompany God's presence?
Then Screwtape states:
"Some humans are permanently surrounded by it and therefore inaccessible to us.
2) Again does this sound to you like Lewis intends for us to recognize who these special humans were? Are these special humans certain Biblical figures? Were they special saints?
And here's my response:
I'm not sure that I can answer definitively but I'll offer my opinion, for what it's worth.
Clearly Lewis cannot mean the Elect, in a Calvinist sense, because such a reading would imply that everyone else is the non-elect and therefore doomed any way, in which case Screwtape and Wormwood would not need to bother with their "patient". The cloud must be the presence of grace, which being an outpouring of God's love would not be understood by the demons, and therefore not neatly "classified" within their graceless psychological framework.
Regarding your second point, I believe quite frankly that this is a little heterodox on Lewis' part, if I am understanding what he is saying correctly. No human being (with the possible exception of the Blessed Virgin) is free from demonic temptation. We are not only tempted to sin, we are all sinners. Even the saints were sinners, as all of them are always telling us!
This, at least, is my reading of the lines in question. Do with it what thou wilt!