Although Lewis describes his intellectual journey to the Christian faith in Surprised by Joy and The Pilgrim's Regress, the actual steps of his progress from Atheism to Theism are still a matter of controversy. Based on Lewis' letters, his diary All My Road Before Me and recently published sources (in particular ‘Early Prose Joy’), this paper gives an outline of the main steps of Lewis' philosophical progress during the 1920s. The first part sketches the five main stages Materialism, Realism, Absolute Idealism, Subjective Idealism, and Theism, and submits a proposal for their dating. The second part describes these stages in greater detail and discusses the reasons that urged Lewis to adopt a new philosophical position at a particular time. It will become apparent that a thorough philosophical understanding of these stages is an indispensable prerequisite for any serious effort to establish a chronology of Lewis' intellectual progress during these years.
The 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis' death in 2013 has not only been a year of celebration, it has also provided us with new insights into his biography. Probably the most outstanding new insight was the correction of the date of Lewis' conversion to Theism from Trinity Term 1929 to Trinity Term 1930.1 While this new date has universally been accepted in Lewis scholarship, the chronology of the preceding steps of Lewis' intellectual progress from Atheism to Theism is still a matter of controversy. Here, the biographers and scholars are far from being at one until now, even about the most basic events.2
Part of the problem is that although Lewis describes his intellectual progress during the 1920s in Surprised by Joy and in The Pilgrim's Regress, both books are notoriously vague about dates, and they sometimes even reverse the actual order of events.3 This may be no surprise in the case of The Pilgrim's Regress (which is not intended to be a strict autobiography),4 but the actual number of chronological inaccuracies in Surprised by Joy also seems to await its full scholarly recognition.5 The three volumes of Lewis' Collected Letters and All My Road Before Me (which is only the published part of the diary that Lewis wrote between 1922 and 1927)6 are of course a valuable help here. But the publication of ‘Early Prose Joy’ is even more important, for it enables us to give a much more precise account of what Lewis believed during the different stages of his philosophical progress.7
This paper proposes to trace the major stages of Lewis' philosophical development as accurately as possible. The first part gives a rough outline of this development between 1913 and 1930, which sketches the main steps of Lewis' philosophical progress and discusses the evidence for their dating (the sources still do not enable us to date all of them to a day).8 The second part describes the different stages of Lewis' intellectual journey in greater detail. And it tries to elucidate the (mainly, but not exclusively philosophical) reasons that forced him to reconsider his beliefs at a particular time, and urged him to adopt a new philosophical position.9 It will become apparent, it is hoped, that a thorough philosophical understanding of these stages is also a prerequisite for any serious effort to establish a chronology of Lewis' intellectual progress during the 1920s. And because the position which Lewis reached in 1930 is also the basis for his view of the Incarnation as a ‘Myth that has become fact’, the considerations of this paper may also help to shed some light on the thinking of the mature Christian Lewis.
While he was at Cherbourg House (January 1911–July 1913), Lewis lost his childhood faith and slowly glided into apostasy.11 He was a full atheist at the age of 14.12 As he was born on 29 November 1898, Lewis was 14 during the greatest part of 1913, and most likely ceased to believe early in 1913.13 His ontology (= view of being) was a thoroughgoing Materialism, for he maintained that ‘nothing ever has existed or ever will exist except this meaningless play of atoms in space and time’, that our ‘own consciousness is an accidental result of the whole meaningless process and is therefore itself meaningless, though to us (alas!) it feels significant’,14 and that ‘[a]ll stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter’.15
This Materialism was sometimes shaken by a haunting fear that there may still be another world of occult spirits, which might at any time break into this safely materialistic world.16 But these ‘magical excursions were short and never brought me to the point of a systematic critique of materialism’.17 At times, Lewis did not claim to positively know that there was no God, but he still believed that ‘nature is wholly diabolical and malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements’.18 In Surprised by Joy, he explains that as an atheist, he was living ‘in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world’.19
Lewis took up his study of Literae Humaniores (classical languages, literature and philosophy) at Oxford in January 1919.20 Once he had passed Mods in March 1920, Lewis began to read philosophy as part of the Greats program (with Edgar F. Carritt as his tutor).21 He records in ‘Early Prose Joy’ that when he ‘began to read the philosophers[,] Berkeley swept away the foundations of materialism in about half an hour; and for a week or so I was an idealist’.22 As it is known that Lewis read Berkeley's Three Dialogues in July 1917,23 Lazo believes that ‘when I began to read the philosophers’ refers to July 1917.24 But this doesn't fit with Lewis' subsequent statement ‘[a]nd so my first year in philosophy passed’,25 which suggests that this happened after the War when he had taken up his regular studies. However, Lewis writes in September 1920 to a friend: ‘You will be interested to hear that in the course of my philosophy – on the existence of matter – I have had to postulate some sort of God as the least objectionable theory’.26 This could be a report of a re-reading of the Three Dialogues (or the Principles) which made him an idealist for a week: Berkeley is not explicitly mentioned here, but the existence of matter is a main theme of both books. And then the chronology would fit, for this would have been in the first months of Lewis' study for Greats.
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis mentions Berkeley for the first time in connection with his work as a philosophy tutor, but states that he was ‘driven back into something like Berkeleyanism’.27 This also suggests that he had flirted with Berkeley's ideas before.
Once the first impact of reading Berkeley was over, it seems that Lewis did not return to a strict materialism but devoted ‘all the abilities I possessed to the defense of realism’.28 This was a somewhat milder form of Naturalism which accepted ‘as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed by the senses’, but nevertheless maintained ‘that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgement was “valid”, and our aesthetic experience not merely pleasing but “valuable”’.29 His attitude towards God was ‘that he is like a person who never acknowledges one's letters and so, in time, one comes to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you have got the address wrong’.30
After his ‘first year in philosophy [had] passed’,31 Lewis became an Absolute Idealist (or Hegelian) of the Bradley school. God was not a person, or an ‘I’ with a positive character, but an abstract principle (= mind or spirituality as such). The Absolute (= the Real) could be philosophically discerned as the source of the world of appearances, but it remained ‘hidden behind “the sensuous curtain”’.32 It thus could only be said what the Absolute or the Real was not; positively speaking, ‘the Absolute was merely the logical presupposition of empirical knowledge, and… the only world you could ever possibly encounter had all the sweet security of materialism’.33
Barkman and I have (in contrast with James Patrick)34 previously suggested late 1923 or early 1924 as the time of Lewis' conversion to Idealism,35 but ‘Early Prose Joy’ clearly states that this happened in his second year in philosophy (which began in October 1921).36 Lewis explains that Kant's distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal self (in the Critique of Pure Reason) and Bradley's Logic were among the things which forced him to abandon Realism.37 It is not known when he read these two books, but as Lewis recorded his whole reading in the diary which he started on 1 April 1922,38 it seems not unlikely that he read them before the end of March 1922. And there is another hint that Lewis accepted Absolute Idealism before the end of March 1922: because he claims to have been an Idealist when he started to write Dymer, which he did on 2 April 1922.39 Lewis thus presumably became an Absolute Idealist in Michaelmas Term 1921 or Hilary Term 1922.
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis records that he adopted Absolute Idealism after he tells us that his friends Barfield and Harwood had become anthroposophists, but he places it also before he finished Greats in the summer of 1922.40 As it is known that Barfield became a follower of Rudolf Steiner during the summer of 1923,41 we may conclude that Lewis dated his friend's conversion to anthroposophy in Surprised by Joy more than a year too early, even before his own conversion to Absolute Idealism. This would be a further chronological inaccuracy in Surprised by Joy (which was written in 1955, several decades after the events it is talking about, in contrast to ‘Early Prose Joy’, which was written in late 1930 or early 1931, even before Lewis had come to accept the Christian faith).
Lewis writes that after his tutorials had sent him ‘back to Berkeley’,42 he began to develop his own form of Subjective Idealism: the Absolute (which he now preferred to call ‘Spirit’43) became an I, but it was still not a Thou. Lewis followed here in part Berkeley, but added also ‘a few top-dressings of my own’.44 The fullest account of this Subjective Idealism can be found in the ‘Summa’ (finished November 1928).45
There are two possible dates for this shift. a) Lewis re-read Berkeley's Principles between 12 and 14 June 1924 in preparation of his first activity as a philosophy lecturer and tutor, and wrote a provisional critique of the book.46 b) Lewis' diary entries of May/June 1926 show that he tutored on Berkeley,47 and he records on 22 May that he wrote a short note on a ‘paralogism’ in him.48 There are three hints which indicate that May/June 1926 is the correct date. First, Lewis tells us in Surprised by Joy that he was teaching philosophy and English when he became a Subjective Idealist, which he only did from October 1925.49 Secondly, Lewis was attracted by Berkeley because he found that he needed for his tutorials ‘a basis of my own from which to criticise my pupils’ essays'.50 While he read Berkeley in June 1924 four months in advance of his first activity as a philosophy tutor,51 he had in May/June 1926 some actual experience in tutoring. Thirdly, the paralogism. Lewis writes in ‘Early Prose Joy’ that although his re-reading of Berkeley removed some of his old prejudices against the opinions of the Irish Bishop, he recognized this logical blunder almost at once.52 While he does not mention it in his June 1924 critique of Berkeley, Lewis records the paralogism in his diary in May 1926,53 which once more points to the later date.54
According to Surprised by Joy, this shift was the last of four major ‘chess moves’ that were instrumental in making Lewis accept a personal God (which was the final checkmate). While it is impossible to give a precise date to all these moves, we may be sure that they happened between March 1924 and June 1926. But the chronology of events as it is presented in Surprised by Joy once again doesn't fit. In the chapter ‘Checkmate’, Lewis first records the four so – called ‘chess moves’ and only then adds three more events, before concluding the chapter with an account of his conversion to Theism. There is some external evidence for five of these seven events, which enables us to date them quite precisely. And then we see that, although Lewis records his reading of Chesterton and the talk with Weldon about the historicity of the Gospels in Surprised by Joy only afterwards, they must have taken place before the fourth chess move. The actual order of events seems to have been this:55
Chess Move I (3–7 March 1924): Lewis re-reads Euripides' Hippolytus, which leads to a very intense experience of ‘Joy’ that removes the last remains of his New Look (which had regarded Joy as a mere wish-fulfilment dream).56
Chess Move II (8 March 1924): Lewis reads the introduction of Samuel Alexander's book Space, Time and Deity and learns about the distinction between ‘enjoyment’ and ‘contemplation’.57 He applies it more or less immediately to his experience of Joy and recognizes that the object of this experience must be at least ‘sufficiently other to be desired’.58
Chess Move III (probably shortly afterwards): Lewis links up his new understanding of Joy with his Absolute Idealism and recognizes that it fits in quite well.59
Early 1926 (shortly before the next event of our list): Lewis reads Chesterton's The Everlasting Man (published in September 1925) and sees for the first time the Christian outline of history set out in a form that seems to make sense.60
27 April 1926: Lewis talks with an atheist colleague about the historicity of the Gospels and is surprised to hear that this man takes the historical evidence for the Incarnation to be quite strong.61 This man was probably the Magdalen College philosophy tutor Thomas D. Weldon, for Lewis records on 27 April 1926 in his diary that Weldon came to visit him and they ‘somehow got on the historical truth of the Gospels, and agreed that there was a lot that could not be explained away’.62 And he notes that Weldon, whom he had known only as a rather cynical philosopher, turned out to be ‘a Christian “of a sort”. I should never have suspected it’.63
13 June 1926: After having read in Maurice Hewlett's Lore of Proserpine the distinction between the ‘forensic’ and the ‘recondite’ self,67 Lewis realizes that he is ‘holding something at bay, or shutting something out’.68 While he is riding up Headington Hill on the top of a bus, he notices that he is given a ‘moment of wholly free choice’69 and chooses to open. But then he receives a strange and rather unpleasant feeling, ‘like melting, as if I were a man of snow, or having doors open in one's back’.70
Lewis’ letters of the first half of 1930 are indicative of a gradually increasing awareness that God is not merely a ‘pure subject’ which stands behind all things (and can thus never be directly experienced) but also a living presence. God is not only an I but also a Thou who acts in the world.72A clear sign of this new awareness is a letter to Barfield of 3 February 1930: ‘Terrible things are happening to me. The “Spirit” or “Real I” is showing an alarming tendency to become much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God’.73
Lewis came to believe that God had created the world ex nihilo and was thus not simply identical with it. As a real Thou He can be worshipped, and He can be addressed in prayer,74 but He can also demand a particular behaviour from his creatures.75 Alister McGrath and Andrew Lazo both argue that Lewis' conversion to Theism took place in Trinity Term (March–June) 1930 and not in 1929, as he writes in Surprised by Joy.76 Lazo even narrows down the conversion date between 1–10 June 1930,77 but there are some hints which point rather to July 1930 as the actual date; they will be presented towards the end of this paper.
The distinction between an earlier materialistic and a later realistic form of Naturalism, divided by a week of Berkeleyan Idealism, is suggested by Lewis' own remarks in the ‘Early Prose Joy’ manuscript. While it is possible to shed some light on the difference between these two forms of Naturalism, the lack of further evidence makes it impossible to say much more about his short flirt with Berkeley's ideas.78
Lewis distinguishes two forms of Idealism in all of his autobiographical writings, but he describes them only very briefly in Surprised by Joy.79 And in The Pilgrim's Regress, he puts both, Absolute Idealism and his own private Subjective Idealism, into the mouth of Mr Wisdom.80 As long as these two books were the only published sources for Lewis' early Idealism, it was difficult to give these two conceptions their own clear profile.81 And it seems that his changing vocabulary also had its share in producing confusion among his readers. In the 1943 Preface to The Pilgrim's Regress, Lewis writes that ‘on the intellectual side, my own progress had been from “popular realism” to Philosophical Idealism, from Idealism to Pantheism, from Pantheism to Theism, and from Theism to Christianity’.82 The term ‘Idealism’ stands here for his earlier Absolute Idealism and ‘Pantheism’ for his later Subjective Idealism. But in common philosophical usage, Absolute Idealism and Subjective Idealism are of course both forms of Idealism and of Pantheism, that is, of spiritual Monism: there is only one kind of being, namely a ‘cosmic mind’, and the whole sensual world an appearance of it. In ‘Early Prose Joy’ and Surprised by Joy, Lewis thus presents both conceptions as forms of Idealism.83 And in Miracles, where he writes no autobiography and omits his own private Subjective Idealism, he presents Absolute Idealism as a form of Pantheism and states that it became with Hegel ‘almost the agreed philosophy of highly educated people’.84 Now that ‘Early Prose Joy’ and the ‘Summa’ are on hand, it is possible to sort out these terminological problems and to describe the two forms of Lewis' Idealism in greater detail.
The last part of this paper deals with Lewis' shift from Subjective Idealism to Theism. It will be seen that a proper understanding of Lewis' actual beliefs at this point (Trinity Term 1930) is also the basis for a correct dating of this shift.
Lewis’ usual word for philosophical Naturalism is, especially in works that are addressed to a non-philosophical audience, ‘Materialism’. He uses the word ‘Naturalism’ as a technical term for this kind of philosophy almost exclusively in Miracles (but also in a few other essays). In addition, ‘Realism’ appears as a form of Naturalism only in ‘Early Prose Joy’, Surprised by Joy and the 1943 Preface to The Pilgrim's Regress, that is, in autobiographical contexts. Lewis never formally defines these two forms of Naturalism, but it seems possible to extrapolate their main difference from what he says about them in Miracles and Surprised by Joy.
The common element in Lewis' use of the words ‘Materialism’ and ‘Realism’ seems to be this. All forms of Naturalism base their ontology (= view of being) on the findings of the natural sciences, that is, on controlled observation: the being of an object is what can be scientifically observed about it.85 While there are different views among Naturalists as to what these findings are (and which sciences should be admitted here: only the natural or also the social sciences), it is generally agreed that natural (physical) causation on the level of Cause-Effect is the fundamental level to explain everything that is. And this type of explanation is a-teleological: it knows no purpose, design or value. For a Naturalist, Nature (with a capital ‘N’) is therefore the Whole: the only thing that exists is a self-existent nature86 in which every event is linked to everything else by the basic relation of Cause-Effect. There is no spiritual world that exists independent from the natural world and might causally interact with it; the world of nature is causally closed. Naturalism is thus a form of Monism: there is only one kind of being, and this is Nature.
A Materialist in the strict sense of the word87 would be a person who claims that every statement about allegedly ‘spiritual’ phenomena is in principle reducible to statements about physical (or chemical) phenomena, or who denies the existence of mental (and non-physical) phenomena altogether. For a strict Materialist (who might also be called a ‘Physicalist’), the ‘self’ or ‘soul’ of man is a mere epiphenomenon.88 The real cause of our seemingly rational convictions (like the belief that 2 + 2 = 4 or that murder is wrong) is not an insight in objective realities outside our brains, but non-rational and non-moral processes in the structure of our brains. These convictions merely represent the way our brains happen to work: because this kind of functioning has proved to be useful in the evolutionary process. But ‘[t]hey tell us nothing about the universe, they are merely a fact about Man – like his pigmentation or the shape of his lungs’.89 As the Materialist nevertheless believes that his position is true, and Idealism and Theism false, he thus claims in effect ‘that one set of physical events could be, or make, a mistake about other sets’.90 In Miracles, Lewis quotes the atheist scientist J. B. S. Haldane in order to support his opinion that this view refutes itself. Haldane writes:
If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.91
Lewis took this step (at least in part motivated by his encounter with Berkeley, it seems) while he was trying to give himself a ‘New Look’ which suited his Oxford surroundings (that is, in 1919–1920).94 The basic attitude of this New Look was a will to refrain from all mere sentiments and illusions in order to face the ‘real facts’. This meant in particular a rejection of even the slightest hope in an afterlife, an escape from his old fear of Spiritualism, and the classification of Joy as an aesthetic experience: to believe in a real Garden of the Hesperides was mere fantasy (or ‘wishful thinking’, as the Freudians said).95 And Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution had convinced Lewis that his previous Promethean attitude of revolting against the apparent futility of the world was logically untenable. Reality is not ‘an arbitrary alternative to “nothing”’:96 the idea of an absolute ‘nothing’ cannot even be formed; the world exists necessarily. And we humans, including our faculty to judge ethically, are part of that same world that necessarily exists. There is thus no sense in blaming the universe for its futility (like Bertrand Russell in his famous essay A Free Man's Worship ): if the whole universe is futile, then so are our own judgements of it; then it is ‘only that same Whole which through you “quietly declaims the cursings of itself”’.97 As a result, the ethics of Lewis' New Look was a kind of Stoical Monism: he believed that the natural universe was all that existed (and existed by necessity), and this had simply (and loyally) to be accepted.98
The senselessness of his previous protest against the universe was an important discovery for Lewis. A few years later, in January 1924, he even wrote a paper called ‘The Promethean Fallacy in Ethics’ and read it to the Philosophical Society.99 It was intended as an answer to Russell's essay, in which he now saw
a very clear and noble statement of what I myself believed a few years ago. But he does not face the real difficulty – that our ideals are after all a natural product, facts with a relation to all other facts, and cannot survive the condemnation of the fact as a whole. The Promethean attitude would be tenable only if we were really members of some other whole outside the real whole: wh[ich] we're not.100
Kant and Bradley (but also Owen Barfield, it seems102) convinced Lewis that Realism, and thus Naturalism as a whole, is inconsistent because it denies that the human mind is capable of recognizing rational intuitions or necessary relations a priori but still presupposes their existence in every rational argument.103 If he wanted to go on believing that philosophy and science can give us true knowledge of the world, he had to ‘admit that mind was no late-come phenomenon; that the whole universe was, in the last resort, mental; that our logic was participation in a cosmic Logos’.104
As Lewis still remained unwilling to accept a personal God (partially due to his strong wish to be free from ‘transcendental interferences’105), he adopted Absolute Idealism as it was advocated by English Hegelians like T. H. Green, Francis Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet.106 For these philosophers, the Logos that stood behind the cosmos was an ‘Absolute Mind’ whose main feature was its difference from everything that exists on the empirical level. In the sensual world, no direct traces of it could be found; ‘there was no danger of Its doing anything about us’.107 The Absolute had to be regarded as the transcendent source of the empirical world, but it was hidden from the world of appearances through the ‘sensuous curtain’ (Bradley). It could thus never be directly experienced and also in no way be further determined: it transcended the finitude of every mere object; limitations like personality, passion, change, and materiality could not be attributed to it.108 The Absolute was
an eternal, spaceless, timeless, spiritual Something of which we can have no images and which, if it presents itself to human consciousness at all, does so in a mystical experience which shatters all our categories of thought.109
This negative side of Lewis' new philosophy (he finally had to acknowledge a sort of God) was compensated by two positive aspects: a) As the Absolute was securely hidden behind the ‘sensuous curtain’, there were no practical consequences to be drawn from this belief: ‘this was a religion that cost nothing…. There was nothing to fear; better still, nothing to obey’.113 b) Because it was impossible to positively define what the Absolute was, it was all the more suggestive of meaning. There was a ‘fuller splendour’ hidden behind ‘the sensuous curtain’ which left ‘the world more glorious yet’,114 and in which ‘every flame even of carnal passion burned on’.115 Far from emptying the world of all meaning (as materialism had done), the Absolute could thus be used ‘to justify all my dearest imaginings’.116 In other words, to know that the Absolute was there, behind this impenetrable veil, was enough to give the world back the significance which it had lost in materialism (although it kept all its practical advantages).
Lewis reports that once the move had been made, he found his new philosophy much more comfortable than he had suspected before, and adds that the emotion which went with it ‘was certainly religious’.117 And he claims to have learned from the Absolute Idealists a maxim which he valued still very highly as a Christian, namely that ‘it is more important that Heaven should exist than that any of us should reach it’.118 It thus seems wrong to call this philosophy a form of Agnosticism, as Heck does,119 for this would mean to believe that the limits of our epistemic faculties make it impossible to say if there is a God or a spiritual ground of the universe at all. No, Lewis' position was a form of Pantheism,120 for the whole empirical world was an appearance of the Absolute: ‘In so far as we really are at all (which isn't saying much) we have so to speak, a root in the Absolute, which is the utter reality’.121
Lewis’ move to Absolute Idealism did not immediately change the basic features of his New Look.122 There was still no belief in an afterlife, his Idealism excluded any experience of spiritual phenomena as securely as before,123 and there was at first no reason to see in his experiences of Joy anything but purely aesthetic experiences. And his Absolute Idealism was of course also a form of Monism, only with the difference that the one self-existent reality behind all phenomena was no longer Nature (and thus something material), but the Absolute (and thus something spiritual). In Bradley's words: ‘behind me the absolute reality works through and in union with myself, and the world which confronts me is at bottom one thing in substance and in power with this reality’.124 While the underlying ontology was a wholly different one, the practical result was thus the same: Lewis believed himself to be a small part or element of that same Whole as anything else, and tried to be loyal to this Whole.
But then the enjoyment/contemplation distinction (which he came to know in March 1924) provided Lewis with a better, deeper understanding of his experiences of Joy. When he applied this distinction to his experiences of ‘wanting and having’125, he recognized that they were more than purely aesthetic experiences, and Joy was also no mere subjective state of mind. His desire must have a real object, but this object could neither be found among the objects of the empirical world nor be a part of his own consciousness: it had to be something that lies beyond the world of appearances.126 But as it was part of Lewis' own philosophy to believe that it was impossible to have any direct contact with the Absolute, this analysis of Joy matched quite well with his other beliefs. Joy could now be seen as a longing
for that unity which we can never reach except by ceasing to be the separate phenomenal beings called ‘we’. Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were, a dream.127
This happy state ended in May 1926 when Lewis re-read Berkeley in the context of his philosophy tutorials and found him much more convincing than before.129 Berkeley had tried to refute the common belief in the existence of a material world by proving that ‘esse is percipi’130: to exist means for material things to be perceived by a mind; to believe in a material world outside the perceiving mind is otiose.131 It was therefore God who provided for him the contact between the different minds (or centres of perception): they met and knew each other as parts of the same world because God's imagination produced the feeling of living in a common world by giving all of them sets of corresponding perceptions.
One result of his renewed engagement with Berkeley was that Lewis recognized a paralogism in his central argument against the existence of matter:132 Berkeley had argued that it is self-contradictory to believe in the existence of matter which no one perceives. It is impossible, he maintained, ‘for a sound, or figure, or motion, or colour to exist without the mind or unperceived’.133 For in order to try to conceive ‘a thing unthought of’, you must conceive it – which proves that it is not unconceived.134 But this, Lewis objected, is a non sequitur: the semblance of contradiction arises because Berkeley conflates here two different logical levels, the level of thought and the level of fact. Contradiction occurs only if we assert the compresence of two incompatible thoughts (e.g. that a geometrical figure is a square and that it has an angle of more than 90°) or two incompatible facts (e.g. that Copernican astronomy is true and that the Sun moves around the earth).135 It would thus be a contradiction to think of a thing and to claim at the same time that no one thinks of it. But it is no contradiction to conceive that there is a thing no one is in fact thinking of – just as there is no contradiction to think that a person is dead while he or she is in fact alive.136
Lewis did not conclude that Berkeley's whole case against the existence of matter had fallen (he still believed his ‘argument from power’ to be quite strong).137 But this new insight gave him an argument against a certain form of Idealism which had sometimes competed in his mind with his Bradleyan Idealism, namely the ‘immanentism’ of Benedetto Croce and his school. The Italian philosopher had claimed that the only reality in existence is human experience as it actually occurs:138 the Spirit or ‘Absolute Mind’ that is the source of all phenomena fully expresses itself in human experience; there is no reality beyond the world as it is experienced by us (which does not express itself in the human mind or spirit). Lewis now realized that the central argument for this view (there cannot be anything apart from what we perceive/experience) was actually Berkeley's central argument against the existence of matter – which had turned out to be fallacious. This helped him seeing that there may in fact be a Spirit, or ‘God’, who is not purely immanent in the world and who exists whether we think of Him or not.139
And Lewis’ re-reading of Berkeley in May 1926 yielded a second, no less important result. When he had become a Berkeleyan Idealist for a week in 1920, one main reason for his quick withdrawal had been that Berkeley's God seemed to be ‘only another self, another centre of experience, cut off from me by the same irreducible otherness which cuts me off from my fellow men.’140 This rebuttal becomes accessible if we remember a characteristic of Lewis' early thinking which brought him also in sharp contrast to his friend Barfield. He insisted on using the law of contradiction ‘as foundation or prius of all argument’,141 which resulted in Barfield's opinion in a philosophy which limited itself to thinking in the categories of a strict either : or.142 For by the logic of a consistent either : or, would this God not also be a mind, and thus as distinct from one's own mind as any other human mind? Lewis concluded:
His ideas are not my ideas: the tree in God's mind cannot be in my mind, nor in yours. Therefore God cannot provide, as Berkeley wants him to provide, a ‘common public world’ and a criterion of truth and error. If indeed God were not an Other, if we were ‘parts’ of him, that would be well. But what, I asked… – what sense is there in talking about one spirit being part of another?143
What had prevented Lewis from seeing this solution before was the assertion of the Absolute Idealists that it was impossible to make any positive statements about the Absolute that stood behind the world of phenomena. The Absolute was utterly different from anything that is known to us from our empirical experience: to say that it was a ‘spirit’ or ‘self’ was ‘a mere pseudo concept which would go to pieces like any other under criticism’; it meant to take ‘one of the first crude notions of common-sense and holding onto it as ultimate reality’.145 But now he realized that the Absolute Idealists themselves did not stick to their own rules: everything that raised Bradley's thinking above a mere negative scepticism depended on those passages in his books in which he clothed the Absolute with a cloud of suggestive meanings, and these meanings ‘were not derived from his system but from his own imaginative and spiritual experience’.146
But was it wrong of Bradley to fill the blank space that was left behind by his criticism of the traditional conceptions of God with his own metaphorical meanings? A new awareness of the metaphorical nature of all language (and in particular of every attempt to speak about a transcendent reality) showed Lewis that it was not necessarily wrong to do this – not as long as he used his metaphors consciously and did not mistake them for the literal truth.147 He doesn't mention this book in ‘Early Prose Joy’, but Lewis refers in other writings to Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction, which has the metaphorical character of language as one of its main themes.148 Poetic Diction was published in 1928, but the B.Litt. thesis on which it is based had been completed by 1925.149 Much of its thought, Lewis admits in Surprised by Joy, ‘had already become mine before that important little book appeared’.150
As a result, Lewis came to believe that in thinking about the Absolute, it was also possible to use his own concepts ‘spirit’ and ‘self’, at least no less reliably than using the blurred metaphors of Bradley:151
You could go on thinking in terms of the self, really meaning what you said, far beyond the point at which Bradley had plunged you in sheer vague imagination. I thought, indeed, that the way in which I now considered the self cut the ground from under many of the criticisms directed against it. But even if I were mistaken in this, then, at the very worst, my view was on the same level of truth as Bradley's, not on a lower level: for ‘self within self’ was just as good a metaphor as ‘behind the sensuous curtain’.152
In the ‘Summa’ (November 1928), Lewis illustrated this conception with the aid of his Shakespeare/Hamlet analogy:155 Hamlet exists only insofar as he is conceived by Shakespeare as a character of one of his plays, and this play itself exists only insofar as it has been imagined by Shakespeare. Regarding the world of the play, Shakespeare's mind is thus the Whole wherein Hamlet and his entire world have their existence. In Lewis' Subjective Idealism, Spirit was the Whole wherein everything had its existence:156 the being of all things was to be imagined by Him as a part of the world of appearances (= the world in space and time as we perceive it with our senses).157
But this new form of Subjective Idealism was nevertheless in one point consistent with Lewis' previous Absolute Idealism: in the answer to the question whether it was possible to know Sprit or ‘the Real’, and thus to discover the true meaning of the world's history. Lewis still denied this.158 He did not question the existence of such a meaning (he maintained that the world, seen from Spirit's point of view, was good and beautiful),159 but he held it to be impossible to know this meaning – just as impossible as it was for Hamlet to know what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote his play and gave Hamlet a role in it. For Lewis, the philosopher's knowledge of Spirit was thus still purely conceptual: man was able to know by inference that he is Spirit,160 but this was something utterly different from experiencing (or ‘tasting’) this union with Spirit by means of the imagination.161 And he held it to be impossible to transfer what was experienced in those moments of imagination to the level of conceptual knowledge, and thus refused to classify the accounts of those experiences as being ‘true’ (as Barfield would).162
An important difference between Lewis and Berkeley was his belief that there was an objective world of matter – objective not for Spirit but for human beings on the level of their own world. The world as a whole existed only within Spirit's imagination and was so far (if seen from Spirit's perspective) wholly subjective. But a person can have the representation ‘myself’ only if it stands out against something that is not the self. Lewis thus maintained that human selves could only have knowledge of each other (as well as of their own existence) if there was a common medium between them by which they could communicate, a material world in which they could meet.163 Seen from the perspective of the human self, the world of matter was therefore wholly objective.164 To know each other as parts of the same world thus did not mean for him (as it did for Berkeley) that God produced the sense of living in a common world merely by giving all these minds sets of corresponding sensual perceptions.165 Lewis believed in a real, objective world of matter which is the actual source of our sense impressions and which gives the individual self notice of the existence and the purposes of other selves.166
Lewis’ belief that it is impossible to know anything about Spirit (apart from its mere existence) was substantiated by his analysis of the relation between the individual soul and Spirit by means of Alexander's enjoyment/contemplation distinction. For in light of this analysis he began to see that what he usually called ‘himself’ was a product of contemplating his own self as a part of the empirical world (that is, by relating his own life to a certain time, place and history, as well as to other objects and persons in space and time). But he also saw that it was utterly impossible to say who the ‘I’ was which did all this – not as it was contemplated from the outside but as it was enjoyed from the inside.167 This problem made sense in the context of his Subjective Idealism, for on this view his subjectivity (his ego, self, consciousness, soul or ‘I’) was really Spirit acting through him. Expressed in Lewis' Hamlet analogy:
Hamlet at some level is Shakespeare: that is to say, the subjectivity in Hamlet, that which says I, is Shakespeare's subjectivity, in the sense that at the moment of creation Shakespeare veritably sees through Hamlet's eyes, and except in so far as Shakespeare is seeing, Hamlet sees nothing. The moment Shakespeare ceases to see through Hamlet, even if he only raises his eyes from the MS to look out of the window, Hamlet's soul is annihilated.168
And there was a further reason why Lewis held it to be impossible to contemplate Spirit: this would only have been possible if Spirit was an object, but an object exists only for a subject and is defined by its relation to other objects which co-exist with it in a common world. Therefore, if Spirit could be contemplated as an object, he would have to be part of a world that was created by someone else and would not be everything that exists.174 Spirit, Lewis concluded, ‘is pure subject and can be only enjoyed, never contemplated’.175 He thus still refused to call himself a Theist or to call his Spirit simply ‘God’: any idea that it could be possible to turn around and face him, to worship or pray to him, was out of court; Spirit was a mere ‘I’, but not a ‘Thou’.
The gulf between truth and reality was thus unbridgeable for Lewis. While he was sure to know from his philosophy that he was, with his inner self, one with Spirit, he maintained that it was impossible to know Spirit (or the Real) in the way we know (or experience) facts or objects in the phenomenal world. And this means that although Lewis rejected the naturalistic worldview, he still believed that it was impossible to know the meaning of history, or to return to a qualitative view of nature (with its final causes) as it was held in Greek philosophy and the Middle Ages.176
But he nevertheless tried, in the second part of his ‘Summa’ under the heading ‘Value’, to build up a qualitative view of the spiritual life of man (and in consequence also of the world as a whole). Spirit, he asserted, had created a world which contained a multiplicity of souls, all seeing the world from their own limited perspectives and coloured by their own passions.177 And the spiritual task of the individual soul was to overcome the separation that was given with the fact of being a soul at all. This process could be divided into two stages (or levels): firstly, to overcome one's own passions in order to see things as they really are (and not only as objects of one's own desire), and secondly, to realize one's own essential oneness with Spirit, and to learn to consciously see and will everything as Spirit sees and wills it.178
Owen Barfield obviously liked this theory of the spiritual life,179 but he criticized in his reply to the ‘Summa’ a strong tension, if not a real contradiction, between Lewis' ethics and his view of being: if there was any sense in the attempt to overcome the limited perspective of the individual soul (so as to co-operate more and more with Spirit's way of seeing and willing things), then there could be no complete identity of the soul with Spirit. Then the individual soul had to be somehow distinct from Spirit in order to be free over against the acting of Spirit with whom it was called upon to co-operate.180 For if it was really Spirit who was doing everything through the soul of man, it would also be Spirit Himself who struggled in order to learn to see and will everything as Spirit sees – an absurd idea, if it came to acting on this principle.
And Lewis knew by now that he had to act. He reports in Surprised by Joy the moment when he realized, motivated by the silent agreement between his friends Barfield and Griffiths, that philosophy was not merely a subject to talk about but a way of life – not only a theory but a practice of living (and even of dying).181 Lewis thus felt that the time had come for him to live according to his own principles. But as soon as he tried to do this, he found that he could not make even the smallest step by his own efforts:
Of course I could do nothing – I could not last out one hour – without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call ‘prayer to God’ breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived.182
It seems that a book had also its share in this process. On 5 January 1930, Lewis began to read Jacob Boehme's Signatura Rerum (1622) and was deeply impressed by it. He records that he found in Chapter II ‘the most serious attempt I had ever met to describe the very mystery of creation and to show you the differences actually coming into being out of the original One and making a world and souls and good and evil’.186 This documents his growing awareness that God and the world are not merely one – that there is a real difference between God and His creation. It is thus no surprise that from January 1930 on, Lewis also began to use the name ‘God’ in an unambiguous religious sense.187
But Lewis also felt with great reluctance that this God, whose reality he could no longer deny, approached him with the unconditional demand to surrender his own will, and ‘to lay down forever there and then, every instinct of self-preservation’.188 This was especially hard because freedom (the sense of being his own master) had always been for him the great attractive power of Atheism: if there was no God, then there was no transcendental interference and no ultimate responsibility, then he was the sole master of his own soul.189 Now he saw that this comfort of his atheist days had all along been a motivating power for his assertion that it was never possible to turn around and meet Spirit face to face. But he knew that the time had come to give up his cherished privacy, and with it every security that what God might demand from him was not poverty, ridicule, the loss of all earthly happiness, or even death.190
Although he now had almost his whole experience against himself, Lewis still refused for some time to take the last step to accept that Spirit was a Thou who could speak to him and to whom he could speak: he would do anything but pray. He justified this refusal by clinging to his old idealistic belief that God was ontologically not another self (over against him) but his own true inner self. Trying to address him in prayer would mean to treat God as a soul amongst other souls, and thus to fall back into old mythical beliefs which he thought he had abandoned years before when he had become an atheist.191
But then Lewis remembered his own previous argument against Bradley's Absolute Idealism: that Bradley's account of the Real was also only a metaphorical one (so that he, Lewis, was justified in using his own metaphors to speak about the Real). And then, what about the Christian account of a personal God which he had derided as mere mythology until now? Was his own account of the Real not a similar mythology, only with the disadvantage that it was his private invention, while the theistic mythology had been testified by the authority of all Western history?192 It was as if God Himself said to him:
Child, if you will, it is mythology. It is truth, not fact: an image, not the very real. But it is My mythology – the symbol under which I offer Myself to you. What else do you look to have? Have the wise Pagans not told you the story of Semele? No man has seen my face and lived. Do you not think that I know, better than you, the range of your faculties, and which of the concepts and images within your power can best show forth to you as much of Me as can be shown? I make your thinking and I make your imagining, and do I not know how to use them? If you turn from these to some philosophy of your own invention, you are not exchanging symbol for truth: you are but choosing your myth instead of Mine.193
But his recognition of the metaphorical character of all language had already forced him to admit that, since ‘all our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor,… if our thinking is ever true, then the metaphors with which we think must have been good metaphors’.196 And this is even more so in our human accounts of a transcendent reality which is not a part of the sensual world. It is never possible to speak literally about God: we must use metaphors, and it is of great importance not only to be aware of the metaphorical nature of all our accounts of God but to use the best metaphors that are available to us. And this means that these metaphors must somehow correspond to reality itself (although the exact form of this correspondence may remain unknown to us). If it was asked what the best available metaphors are, Lewis was now ready to admit that his own private metaphors were not better than the metaphorical account of the culture in which he had grown up, but less good. Then the Christian mythology must be
the best metaphor available, and so (though not absolute truth) the truest knowable by me:… in fine, for every purpose of action, emotion, and ordinary belief, simply true.197
Lewis highlights the importance of this move to Theism for his religious life by presenting it in Surprised by Joy under the heading ‘Checkmate’, while his final move of accepting Christ is presented under the heading ‘The Beginning’. It seems that the emotional change which went with his move to Theism was far greater than the emotional change attending his move to Christianity, which was only ‘a further step in the same direction’200 and happened without great emotion.201 When did Lewis make this move and ‘gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most reluctant convert in all England’?202
He writes in ‘Early Prose Joy’ that he became a Theist the same year and month in which he learned to dive, which happened according to Andrew Lazo during the last week of June 1930.203 Lazo even believes that we can narrow down the date closer to 1–10 June: Lewis sent on 10 June a letter to Barfield which included a newly written poem about prayer, and Lazo takes this as evidence that Lewis had not only prayed by then but also written a poem about this experience. The month of learning to dive would thus mark the earliest possible date (1 June), and the letter to Barfield (10 June) the last possible date for Lewis' conversion to Theism.204
While Lazo's general conclusion that Lewis' conversion to Theism happened in the Trinity Term of 1930 is certainly correct,205 there are nevertheless some reasons to doubt the 1–10 June date. In the first instance, the actual text of the so-called ‘Prayer’ poem makes it hard to believe that it should be the first fruit of Lewis' new awareness that God is a real Thou:
Particularly important is the last word ‘dream’. When Lewis explains in Surprised by Joy how his idealistic Pantheism could be reconciled with his experience of Joy, he writes (as already quoted):
Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were, a dream.208
This pantheist reading is strongly supported by the rest of the poem: ‘One talker aping two – And so it is, but not as they / Interpret it.’ The first stanza, which ends with ‘One talker aping two’, expresses the materialist's view of prayer: there is only a human supplicant who falsely believes (or dreams) that he talks to (a non-existent) God. In the second stanza, while ‘not as they / Interpret it’ rejects Materialism, the opening words ‘And so it is’ nevertheless affirm that there is only one talker with a dream.211 If this talker is not man and God the dream, it must be God (or Spirit) who talks and man the dream. So while it is certainly Materialism that is rejected in this poem, it is Pantheism that is affirmed, and not Theism.
It seems hard to believe that this poem (which does not yet bear the heading ‘Prayer’, nor uses this word) should be the first fruit of Lewis' newly found belief that God is a real Thou and not the inner I of the praying person – that God and man are really distinct. And Lewis had of course already prayed before, but without calling it ‘prayer’; this he tells us in The Pilgrim's Regress and in Surprised by Joy (also quoted above):
Of course I could do nothing – I could not last out one hour – without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call ‘prayer to God’ breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest.212
There are three more things which also seem to suggest that Lewis took the last step of his conversion to Theism only after 10 June 1930. The first piece of evidence is the general tone of Lewis' letters in June/July 1930. The only passage which indicates that there was an important change in his spiritual life is the following short sentence in a letter to Greeves of 8 July: ‘Here I learned to dive wh[ich] is a great change in my life & has important (religious) connections’.213 And he adds (in a manner quite similar to the letter in which he tells Greeves that he has ‘just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ’214) that he will try to explain this another time. There is unfortunately no subsequent letter which attempts such an explanation, but neither do Lewis' previous letters to Greeves or Barfield show any sign that something important happened to him before the end of June.215 To the contrary, he writes on 15 June 1930 to Greeves (referring to passages from MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and Lilith):
I am appalled to see how much of the change wh[ich] I thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. The real work seems still to be done. It is so fatally easy to confuse an aesthetic appreciation of the spiritual life with the life itself.216
The second piece of evidence is that Lewis learned to dive the same month he came to believe in a personal God. He arrived on 30 June 1930 at Barfield's home in Long Crendon.219 While it is not wholly impossible that he learnt to dive that same day, it seems more probable that it took him some days to learn it, and this would have been the first days of July. In his letter to Greeves of 1 July at least, Lewis does not yet record that he has learned to dive (nor even that they have been bathing): this comes only in the letter of 8 July. McGrath and Lazo both write that the Trinity Term of 1930 ended on 21 June,220 but this can only mean that teaching ended on that day, for Lewis returned after his visit at Barfield's to Oxford for the term's final examinations. If Lewis' conversion to Theism would have happened in the days after his visit to Long Crendon, it would thus still be true to say that it had taken place in the Trinity Term of 1930, especially from the perspective of a busy examiner like Lewis.221
Thirdly, the inner logic of the events also suggests that Lewis learnt to dive first, and only then came to believe in a personal God: it almost seems as if the experience of learning to dive showed him what he had to do also in his spiritual life. As he writes in The Pilgrim's Regress:
‘The art of diving is not to do anything new but simply to cease doing something. You have only to let yourself go.’ ‘It is only necessary,’ said Vertue, with a smile, ‘to abandon all efforts at self-preservation.’222
But even if these considerations are correct, it would still be difficult to narrow down the exact date, for while Lewis spent the first days after the Barfield visit at home, Surprised by Joy suggests that the final step took place when he was for several consecutive nights alone in his rooms at Magdalen College.224 This would have been the case during the ten days of examining between 17 and 26 July, but Lewis was unfortunately too busy during these days to keep up his correspondence (as he told his friend Arthur in advance) and we know next to nothing about them.225
These observations are of course no final proof that the last step of Lewis' conversion to Theism took place in July 1930, or even during the ten days of examining.226 But they give us at least some reasons to doubt that the evidence for the 1–10 June date is really so strong that there is no alternative to it. And if they should happen to be correct, they would furnish us with another striking coincidence: On 6/7 July 1930, Jack, his brother Warren and Mrs. Moore first visited The Kilns and decided to buy it;227 their offer was accepted on 16 July.228 This would mean that the process of finding an earthly home would have happened parallel to this important step in the process of Lewis' spiritual homecoming.229
Later, in retrospective, Lewis stated that ‘idealism turned out, when you took it seriously, to be disguised Theism’.230 And by coming to believe in a personal God who is not identical with the individual human self, he also accepted the concept of creation. The sense of being a single, separate self could no longer be seen as a dream which Spirit produced within the human soul, and the material world could no longer be seen as a mere ‘projection’ of Spirit. Lewis acknowledged that by being God's creation, the world has its origin in God but is nevertheless distinct from Him.231 To accept that God is distinct from His creation gave him also a new ontological basis to appreciate the world in its actual richness and concreteness. The world has its own separate, independent existence (without being wholly separate from God) and can therefore contain agents which are really free.
To reject the idealistic Pantheism of his ‘Summa’ meant for Lewis that the second form of Monism or ‘everythingism’232 which he had tried to hold for some time was also too simple to do justice to the world in its actual richness and concreteness. Naturalism and Pantheism are both wrong, for it is simply not true that all things are one. But God is not merely distinct from the world He created; He is also present in the world in manifold ways.233
1. This new dating has been put forward by Alister McGrath on the basis of Lewis' letters and Andrew Lazo on the basis of the ‘Early Prose Joy’ manuscript (published also in 2013).
2. Among the more recent attempts to shed light on this process are Adam Barkman, C. S. Lewis & Philosophy as a Way of Life (2009), Andrew Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology: Some Implications of “Early Prose Joy”’ (2012), Devin Brown, A Life Observed (2013), Colin Duriez, C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship (2013), Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis. A Life (2013), and Joel Heck, From Atheism to Theism. The Story of C. S. Lewis (2017). Heck's voluminous (and sometimes very helpful) internet resource Chronologically Lewis should also not go unmentioned.
3. Lewis shifts for example in The Pilgrim's Regress his experience of learning to dive from the context of his conversion to Theism (cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’, VII Vol. 30 , 13–49; p. 40), to John's conversion to Christianity (cf. The Pilgrim's Regress. An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism [London: Fount Paperback, 1977], 213–216).
4. Cf. ‘Preface’ in the 1943 edition of Pilgrim's Regress 21.
5. It has however been recognized that Lewis erred in dating his first reading of Phantastes to October 1915 (cf. Surprised by Joy. The Shape of my Early Life [London: Fount Paperback, 1998], 138); it actually took place on 4 March 1916 (cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 7 March 1916, Collected Letters, Volume I. Family Letters 1905–1931, ed. Walter Hooper [London: HarperCollins, 2000], 169, and Andrew Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology: Some Implications of “Early Prose Joy”’, VII Vol. 29 , 51–62; p. 58). McGrath also recognizes this inaccuracy, but misrepresents the date given by Lewis as August 1915, instead of October 1915 (cf. Alister E. McGrath, C. S. Lewis: A Life. Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013], 405, Note 43).
6. The full diary is about one third longer than the published version; it is part of the Lewis Papers held at the Wade Center.
7. A further major source for Lewis' early philosophy has been published in 2015: the ‘Summa’ which he wrote in 1928 to explain his rejection of Owen Barfield's anthroposophy. It has been published, together with the other surviving ‘Great War’ documents (including two letters from Barfield), as The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis. Philosophical Writings 1927–1930, ed. Norbert Feinendegen and Arend Smilde, Inklings Studies Supplement No 1 (2015).
8. I am greatly indebted to Arend Smilde for his invaluable help in putting together this chronology. His comments and suggestions are far too numerous to be mentioned in every single case.
9. This is of course only one half of the process which finally resulted in Lewis' conversion to Theism. The other half, the story of his experience of Joy, is not part of this paper. It will be discussed in my forthcoming book about C. S. Lewis' mature thinking, which is scheduled for late 2018/ early 2019. A good summary of my interpretation of Joy can be found in Arend Smilde, ‘Horrid Red Herrings, A new look at the “Lewisian Argument from Desire” – and beyond’, Journal of Inklings Studies Vol. 4, No. 1 (April 2014), 33–92.
10. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 29, cf. Surprised by Joy 49.
11. Cf. Surprised by Joy 49f.
12. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 28f.
13. Cf. Joel D. Heck, From Atheism to Christianity. The Story of C. S. Lewis (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017), Chapter 1, ‘The Adoption of Atheism’, Fn 43.
14. ‘On Living in an Atomic Age’, in Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1986), 73–80; p. 75f, cf. Surprised by Joy 134.
15. The Problem of Pain (London: Fount Paperback, 1977), 12, cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 28–30, ‘The Funeral of a Great Myth’, in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Fount Paperback, 1981), 110–123; p. 116f, and ‘De Futilitate’, in Christian Reflections 80–97; p. 80–82. These statements are all made in retrospective, but Lewis' poems in Spirits in Bondage (1919) clearly express the same opinion (cf. for example poem XI In Prison).
16. Lewis records that towards the end of his Great Bookham period (September 1914–March 1917) and due to his reading of Yeats and Maeterlinck, ‘a drop of disturbing doubt fell into my Materialism. It was merely a “Perhaps”’ (Surprised by Joy 136).
17. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 29.
18. Letter to Arthur Greeves of 12 September 1918, CL I 397. Lewis expresses here the view that underlies his poem circle Spirits in Bondage (published in March 1919, but begun in 1915).
19. Surprised by Joy 89.
20. The course consisted of two parts. After five terms, the students took the ‘Honours Moderations’ (or ‘Mods’) exams, after a further seven terms, the so-called ‘Greats’ exams followed. Lewis had in fact began his studies at Oxford in April 1917, but had been drafted two months later into an officer cadet battalion in order to be trained for service in the First World War. He was sent to France in November 1917, was wounded on 15 April 1918, and sent home for recovery. When he took up his studies after the War, he had missed the first term of the academic year 1918–1919 but was nevertheless treated as a normal 2nd term student (cf. McGrath, A Life 82).
21. Cf. McGrath, A Life 86. Oxford's academic year is divided into three terms, 1. Michaelmas Term (October to December), 2. Hilary Term (January to March), 3. Trinity Term (April to June). Lewis took Mods in Hilary Term 1920 and began reading Greats in Trinity Term 1920.
22. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 30.
23. Cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 24 July 1917, CL I 330f.
24. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 30, cf. ibid. 45, Fn 82.
25. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31.
26. Letter to Leo Baker of 25 September 1920, CL I 509.
27. Surprised by Joy 173.
28. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 30, cf. Surprised by Joy 162. In both texts, ‘Early Prose Joy’ and Surprised by Joy, the term ‘Materialist’ occurs only in references to Lewis' position until 1920, and ‘Realism’ only in references to his position from 1920 on.
29. Surprised by Joy 161f.
30. Letter to Warren Lewis of 1 July 1921, CL I 555.
31. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31.
32. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31; the quotation is from Francis Herbert Bradley, Principles of Logic (New York: G. E. Stechert & Co, 1912), 533.
33. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31. For a closer analysis of this strange claim see Chapter II.2 below.
34. Patrick writes that Lewis’ Idealism ‘began as he entered the English School in the fall of 1922’ (cf. James Patrick, The Magdalen Metaphysicals. Idealism and Orthodoxy at Oxford 1901–1945 [Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985], 115), but also supposes that he was in 1924 still ‘not an idealist in any systematic sense’ (ibid. 117). However, Patrick gives no clear reasons for these two assertions.
35. Cf. Adam Barkman, C. S. Lewis & Philosophy as a Way of Life (Allentown PA: Zossima Press, 2009), 42, and Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’, in The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis, 3–31; p. 10. Heck still follows here Barkman, although he has read the ‘Early Prose Joy’ (cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 3, ‘1922: Greats and the Retreat from Realism’, Fn 123).
36. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31. Lewis began to study for Greats in Trinity Term 1920, but as Oxford's Academic Year runs from Michaelmas Term to Trinity Term (October–June), he probably meant with the ‘next year’ (ibid.) the time from Michaelmas Term 1921 to Trinity Term 1922.
37. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31. For Lewis’ experience of Kant's distinction, see ibid. 23f, and Surprised by Joy 153.
38. While the later parts of the diary contain several longer gaps, the first one and a half years seem to offer a quite complete record of Lewis’ reading.
39. Cf. All My Road Before Me. The Diary of C. S. Lewis 1922–1927, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1991), 15, and the ‘Preface’ in the 1950 Edition of Dymer, in Narrative Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Fount Paperback, 1994), 3–6; p. 5.
40. Cf. Surprised by Joy 160–165. Lewis writes that when he was an Absolute Idealist, he believed ‘that “the Christian myth” conveyed to unphilosophical minds as much of the truth, that is of Absolute Idealism, as they were capable of grasping…. The implication – that something which I and most other undergraduates could master without extraordinary pains would have been too hard for Plato, Dante, Hooker, and Pascal – did not yet strike me as absurd’ (ibid. 167). This also suggests that he adopted Absolute Idealism as an undergraduate, and thus before he finished Greats.
41. Cf. All My Road 254, and Hooper, C. S. Lewis. A Companion & Guide (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 676–678. Diener points out that Barfield's initial interest in anthroposophy in 1923 does not imply that he immediately became a full believer. And she quotes Maria Barguirdijan, the secretary of the Anthroposophical Society, who records that Barfield became a member of the Society only in 1924 (cf. Astrid Diener, The Role of Imagination in Culture and Society: Owen Barfield's Early Work [Glienike/Berlin and Cambridge MA: Galda & Wilch, 2002], 93).
42. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31.
43. Cf. Surprised by Joy 173. Lewis still sometimes used the term ‘the Absolute’ after June 1926, for the last time in his letter to Arthur Greeves of 27 December 1929, CL I 854.
44. Surprised by Joy 173.
45. Barkman oddly places Lewis’ Subjective Idealism before his Absolute Idealism and identifies the latter with the position of the ‘Summa’ (cf. Barkman, Philosophy 38–48).
46. Cf. All My Road 329, 332, and ‘The Moral Good – Its Place Among the Values’, unpublished Lecture Notes (1924) held at the Wade Center (= MS-76), 62–75.
47. Cf. All My Road 394, 414.
48. Cf. All My Road 400.
49. Cf. Surprised by Joy 173, and Walter Hooper, ‘The Lectures of C. S. Lewis in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge’, Christian Scholars Review 27 No 4 (1998), 436–453; p. 447.
50. Surprised by Joy 173, Fn 1.
51. Cf. Hooper, ‘Lectures’ 447.
52. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31f.
53. Lewis even asked his friend Colin Hardie to give his opinion about his note on the paralogism (cf. All My Road 400), which also suggests that he had detected this inconsistency in Berkeley only shortly before. In his June 1924 lecture notes, he summarizes the (fallacious) argument against the existence of matter in one short sentence (cf. ‘The Moral Good’ 67), but mentions in his provisional critique of Berkeley neither the argument nor the paralogism.
54. On 26 May 1926, he also notes that ‘all my ideas are in a crumbling state at present’ (All My Road 401).
55. There would in fact have been two phases in which these seven events happened, one in Spring 1924 and one in Spring 1926. Between these two phases, Lewis started to work as a philosophy tutor (Fall 1924) and an English tutor (Fall 1925), which probably gave him little time for other things; he wrote in this interval also almost no diary, and only few letters.
56. Cf. Surprised by Joy 168f, and All My Road 296, 299. In the still unpublished part of his diary, Lewis records on 3 March 1924 that he read the first act of the Hippolytus with great enjoyment (and on 5 March, the book is also mentioned).
57. Cf. All My Road 301, 304. An analysis of this important epistemic tool can be found in Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’ 20–24.
58. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 39, cf. Surprised by Joy 169–172.
59. Cf. Surprised by Joy 172.
60. Cf. Surprised by Joy 173f. Lewis began to work as an English tutor in October 1925 and held his first own lecture in Hilary Term (January–March) 1926 (cf. the letter to his father of 25 January 1926, CL I 661f). In these months, he was so busy with work that he wrote no diary and almost no letters. The most probable date for his reading of Chesterton's book thus seems to be the semester break between Hilary Term and Trinity Term (= 27 March–25 April 1926).
61. Cf. Surprised by Joy 174.
62. All My Road 379.
63. All My Road 379. In an appendix to the published diary, Lewis describes Weldon as a man who ‘believes that he has seen through everything and lives at rock bottom’ (ibid. 483).
64. Cf. All My Road 394, 414.
65. Cf. All My Road 400, and ‘Early Prose Joy’ 32.
66. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 32f, and Surprised by Joy 173.
67. Cf. All My Road 411.
68. Surprised by Joy 174.
69. Surprised by Joy 174.
70. All My Road 412, cf. Surprised by Joy 175. Heck dates this event to early 1930 (cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 6, ‘Unbuckling the Armor of Pride’), but fails to recognize the parallel in Lewis’ diary. And he calls Lewis' linking up of Joy with Idealism (= Chess Move III) ‘Check’ and dates it to the first half of 1930 (cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 6, ‘The Third Chess Move’). Lewis’ final conversion to Theism (= the final ‘Checkmate’) is even identified with ‘Chess Move VI’ (cf. ibid. Chapter 6, ‘The Fourth Chess Move: Checkmate’). But Chapter XI ‘Check’ of Surprised by Joy refers to Lewis’ Great Bookham period (1914–1917) and closes with the report of how his first reading of MacDonald's Phantastes baptized his imagination (cf. Surprised by Joy 137–139). And in Chapter XIV ‘Checkmate’, Lewis presents all four chess moves as being preliminary to the final ‘Checkmate’, which is his conversion to Theism (cf. ibid. 178).
71. ‘A tutor must make things clear. Now the Absolute cannot be made clear’ (Surprised by Joy 173).
72. Cf. Pilgrim's Regress 182.
73. Letter to Owen Barfield of 3 February 1930, CL I 882f, cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 37, and Owen Barfield, Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis, ed. G. B. Tennyson (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 1989), 12.
74. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 36, and Surprised by Joy 176, 178.
75. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 38, Surprised by Joy 177, 180, and Pilgrim's Regress 184.
76. Cf. Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology’ 55–59, McGrath, A Life 141–146, Surprised by Joy 178, and the letter to George Watson of 15 May 1962, CL III 1343.
77. Cf. Lazo, ‘“Early Prose Joy”: A Brief Introduction’, VII Vol. 30 (2013), 5–12; p. 5f.
78. The ‘Early Prose Joy’ doesn't say what initially convinced Lewis that Berkeley's idealism must be true, and the letter to Baker only states that it was an argument concerning the existence of matter which made him postulate some sort of God (see the chronology section above).
79. But here, he also expressly states that the main steps of his journey towards the Christian God were ‘from the Absolute to “Spirit” and from “Spirit” to “God”’ (Surprised by Joy 184).
80. In Book Seven of The Pilgrim's Regress, Mr Wisdom teaches John the doctrines of Absolute Idealism (Ch. 8 and 9), John finds by night that Idealism feeds on resources that are not his own (Ch. 10 and 11), and on the next day Mr Wisdom continues with Berkeley and Lewis’ own Subjective Idealism (Ch. 12). In the following Chapter 1 of Book Eight, a dialogue between John and Vertue reveals the moral problem of Idealism.
81. In my 2015 introduction in Lewis’ and Barfield's ‘Great War’ writings, a clear distinction between Lewis’ two phases of Idealism is also still missing (cf. Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’ 10–12).
82. Pilgrim's Regress 9, cf. the letter to Paul Elmer More of 25 October 1934, Collected Letters, Volume II. Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931–1949, ed. Walter Hooper [London: HarperCollins, 2004] 145. In the page headings which he added in 1943, Lewis calls Absolute Idealism also ‘Idealist Philosophy’ (cf. Pilgrim's Regress 155), and Subjective Idealism ‘Pantheism’ (cf. ibid. 174).
83. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 34, and Surprised by Joy 173, 175f.
84. Miracles. A Preliminary Study, revised paperback edition (London and Glasgow: Fontana, 1960) 86.
85. Lewis sums up the ontology of Naturalism in this short definition: it is ‘the universe of the senses, aided by instruments and co-ordinated so as to form “science”’ (Surprised by Joy 162).
86. Cf. Miracles 169, and ‘Dogma and the Universe’, in God in the Dock. Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970), 38–47; p. 39.
87. That is, a person who uses the word not as a loose name for Naturalism in general, but to denote a particular form of Naturalism. Lewis often writes ‘strict materialism’ when he means this view.
88. Cf. The Personal Heresy. A Controversy (with E. M. W. Tillyard) (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford UP Paperback, 1965), 29.
89. ‘De Futilitate’ 84.
90. A Grief Observed (New York, Toronto, London et al.: Bantam, 1976), 33.
91. J. B. S. Haldane, ‘When I Am Dead’, in idem., Possible Worlds and Other Essays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1930), 204–210; 209, cf. Miracles 19.
92. According to Lewis, science and philosophy have in fact not even an idea what the relation of these two different levels may be (cf. Miracles 114, and The Discarded Image. An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994], 165).
93. Cf. Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2014) 37f.
94. Lewis built up his New Look in his first two years at Oxford (cf. Surprised by Joy 156). As he took up his studies in January 1919 (cf. McGrath, A Life 79–83), this would have been in 1919–1920. It is quite probable that E. F. Carritt, who became in April 1920 Lewis’ philosophy tutor, had also his share in this turn to Realism (cf. McGrath, Intellectual World 37). Carritt, who was himself a Realist (cf. Patrick, Magdalen Metaphysicals xvi), held Lewis in high regard and became a kind of mentor for him. Arend Smilde will deal more fully with Carritt and his influence on Lewis in his forthcoming essay: ‘A Darkness full of Promise: Why C. S. Lewis did not become a philosopher’.
95. Cf. Surprised by Joy 156–159, and ‘Preface’ in the 1950 Edition of Dymer 4. In The Pilgrim's Regress, Freud's theory of ‘wishful thinking’ is allegorized in the person of Sigismund Enlightenment and appears while John is captured in the prison of the Giant called ‘Spirit of the Age’ (cf. Pilgrim's Regress 71–83).
96. Surprised by Joy 159, cf. Bergson, Creative Evolution, Chapter IV, first part: ‘Sketch of a criticism of philosophical systems, based on the analysis of the idea of Immutability and the idea of “Nothing”’ (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1911), 277–283. Lewis seems to have read Bergson's L’Évolution Créatrice at least three times. The fist time was late in 1918 in a Convalescent Camp, and this first reading already taught him ‘to avoid the snares that lurk about the word Nothing’ (Surprised by Joy 153). The second time was in June 1920, and thus during the time of the New Look: Lewis writes to Arthur Greeves that he is reading Bergson and finds ‘all sorts of things plain sailing which were baffling a year ago’ (Letter to Arthur Greeves of 19 June 1920, CL I 494). The third time was in September 1923 (cf. All My Road 269).
97. Surprised by Joy 159, the quotation is from Matthew Arnold, ‘Empedocles on Etna’ (1852), Act I, Scene II, line 302.
98. Cf.Surprised by Joy 159.
99. Cf.All My Road 280, 282–284, 296. This paper was intended as a prose version of a (lost) poem called ‘Foster’ (cf. ibid 282), which Lewis had begun to write much earlier. ‘Foster’ was meant to illustrate this fallacy at least from July 1921 on, it seems (cf. the letter to Leo Baker of July 1921, CL I 568).
100. All My Road 281, cf. Surprised by Joy 159.
101. This disproves also my own previous idea that Lewis had seen in January 1924 the inconsistency of Naturalism but not yet accepted Idealism (cf. Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’ 10, and Barkman, Philosophy 328).
102. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis gives Barfield credit for triggering this insight (cf. Surprised by Joy 162), but in ‘Early Prose Joy’, he is not even mentioned (cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31). This mysterious bow to Barfield would however make sense if understood as a pointer to his influence on Lewis’ theory of imagination. For Barfield had convinced him (via Coleridge's conception of the primary imagination) that the imagination has always its share in the process of human perception: ‘the mind can never even perceive an object, as an object, till the imagination has been at work combining the disjecta membra of unrelated percepts into that experienced unity which the word “object” denotes’ (Barfield, Poetic Diction. A Study in Meaning [Hanover, New Hampshire and London: Wesleyan Paperback], 21984, 26). After the publication of Poetic Diction, Lewis writes to Barfield: ‘We are really at one about imagination as the source of meanings i.e. almost of objects’ (Letter to Owen Barfield of 27 May 1928, CL I 761). This is of course a radical departure from the claim of Realism that the reality known is wholly independent of the perceiving person. But even the Christian Lewis retained the realistic conviction that there is an objective (material) world outside our own minds. He merely insisted that our scientific knowledge covers only its mathematical aspects (cf. ‘Dogma and the Universe’ 46, and Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer [London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964], 107f).
103. Lewis became an Idealist because he believed that Realism is no less self-refuting than a strict Materialism. This might also explain why he called Naturalism quite often simply Materialism – because Realists were for him only ‘half-hearted materialists’: they believed that the world consists of nothing but meaningless physical processes but excluded from this verdict the findings of the sciences and their own truth claims (cf. The Personal Heresy 28f). Elizabeth Anscombe convinced him in her well-known critique of the original 1947 edition of Miracles that the Naturalist is not logically forced to deny the truth of our rational insights. In the revised 1960 paperback edition of Miracles, Lewis admits this, but still claims that ‘Naturalism, even if it is not purely materialistic, seems to me to involve the same difficulty, though in a somewhat less obvious form’ (Miracles 19). And then he argues that non-reductive (= non-materialistic) forms of Naturalism are also unable to account for the truth of our rational thoughts (cf. ibid. 19–25).
104. Surprised by Joy 162.
105. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 29. ‘It is astonishing (at this time of day) that I could regard this position as something quite distinct from Theism. I suspect there was some wilful blindness’ (Surprised by Joy 162).
106. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31, Surprised by Joy 163, and Barfield, C. S. Lewis 7f.
107. Surprised by Joy 163. ‘The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth shall flee away at His glance’ (Miracles 97).
108. Cf. Miracles 93.
109. Miracles 158.
110. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 34. In Miracles, Lewis argues at length against the claim of Absolute Idealism that the imagery used by Christians to represent God is merely anthropomorphic picture-thinking and thus a naïve misrepresentation of the divine Reality (cf. Miracles 88–97).
111. Surprised by Joy 163.
112. ‘He – or It – is not a concrete Being but “being in general” about which nothing can be truly asserted’ (Miracles 90).
113. Surprised by Joy 163, cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31.
114. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31. Lewis quotes loosely from a passage in Bradley's Principles of Logic: ‘That the glory of this world in the end is appearance leaves the world more glorious, if we feel it is a show of some fuller splendour; but the sensuous curtain is a deception and a cheat, if it hides some colourless movement of atoms, some spectral woof of impalpable abstractions, or unearthly ballet of bloodless categories’ (Bradley, Principles of Logic 533, cf. Pilgrim's Regress 181, and Surprised by Joy 163).
115. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31. This is a free quotation from Bradley's Appearance and Reality: ‘Every flame of passion, chaste or carnal, would still burn in the Absolute unquenched and unabridged, a note absorbed in the harmony of its higher bliss’ (Francis Herbert Bradley, Appearance and Reality. A Metaphysical Essay [London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1893] 172).
116. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31.
117. Surprised by Joy 163. Lewis expressly calls the philosophy of Absolute Idealism in Miracles the ‘popular “religion”’ of his time (cf. Miracles 85f).
118. Surprised by Joy 163.
119. Cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 5, ‘1926: Harry Weldon’. According to Heck, Lewis’ whole Idealism between 1924 and 1930 was more or less a form of Agnosticism (cf. idem, From Atheism, Chapter 3, ‘1922: Greats and the Retreat from Realism’, Fn 123). He also refers to Barfield's report that Lewis was in 1929 ‘still a subjective idealist and an agnostic as far as religion is concerned’ (Barfield, C. S. Lewis 128f, cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 5, ‘1929: The Death of Albert Lewis’). Barfield however uses the word ‘agnostic’ here not in its philosophical sense, but in order to express his opinion that Lewis still held it impossible to prove that one of the religions of the world can give us a true account of Spirit or the Absolute – which he of course believed to exist.
120. Cf. Miracles 86f.
121. Surprised by Joy 172, cf. ibid. 164.
122. Lewis writes that when he became an Absolute Idealist, he initially kept his New Look, although ‘somewhat damaged’. It was the first chess move (= the re-reading of Euripides’ Hippolytus) in March 1924, which finally ‘annihilated the last remains of the New Look’ (Surprised by Joy 168).
123. When he began to write Dymer (April 1922), Lewis was an Idealist, and ‘for an idealist all supernaturalisms were equally illusions, all “spirits” merely symbols of “Spirit” in the metaphysical sense, futile and dangerous if mistaken for facts’ (‘Preface’ in the 1950 Edition of Dymer 5).
124. Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914), 218.
125. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 19.
126. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 25f, cf. Pilgrim's Regress 164.
127. Surprised by Joy 172.
128. Cf. Surprised by Joy 172, and Pilgrim's Regress 163–165. As the conviction that it is impossible to have a direct contact with the Absolute (now called Spirit) remained also a part of Lewis’ later Subjective Idealism, his understanding of Joy remained here essentially the same (cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 33f, and ‘Clivi Hamiltonis Summae Metaphysices Contra Anthroposophos Libri II’, in The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis, 58–102; p. 92).
129. Cf. the chronology in Part I of this paper.
130. George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning The Principles of Human Knowledge (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1910), 31.
131. Cf. Pilgrim's Regress 170, and ‘The Moral Good’ 67.
132. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 31f, and All My Road 400. A paralogism is a piece of (unconsciously) fallacious reasoning which seems at first sight to be logically compelling.
133. Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge 41.
134. ‘In order to conceive things independent of mind we should have to “conceive them unconceived”’ (‘The Moral Good’ 67). Berkeley retorts to the commonsense belief that ‘there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody to perceive them’ (Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge 42), that this misses the actual point. For doesn't this actually mean to frame ‘in your mind certain ideas which you call books and trees, and the same time omitting to frame the idea of any one that may perceive them? But do not you yourself perceive or think of them all the while?’ (ibid.).
135. ‘Now it seemed to me that a contradiction meant the compresence of two incompatible thoughts, or two incompatible facts: but not the compresence of a thought and a fact, which, being in different worlds, do not collide’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 32).
136. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 32.
137. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 32, and ‘The Moral Good’ 67f, 74.
138. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 32.
139. In a passage of ‘Early Prose Joy’ which he later deleted, Lewis wrote that ‘the removal of this paralogism went far to remove the difficulties usually felt about the position of spirits, and specially of God, in his [= Berkeley's] philosophy. For his God must be precisely one of the things we suppose to exist, apart from our thinking of it’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 32). Lewis may have deleted this passage because he wanted to avoid the impression that the detection of Berkeley's paralogism brought him already close to accepting a personal God.
140. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 30.
141. ‘Note on the Law of Contradiction’, in The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis 121–124; p. 121.
142. ‘When the understanding is faced with two propositions that contradict each other, that is its ne plus ultra and… human thinking has reached its all-time terminus. Our understanding tells us, in no uncertain terms, that they cannot both be true, though one or the other may be. It is either : or’ (Barfield, C. S. Lewis 57).
143. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 30.
144. ‘I began to doubt my old dogma that there was no sense in which one spirit could be part of another. And if there were any such sense, then a Berkeleyanism modified in that direction, so that God was no longer a mere other, but the ultimate self of us all, might be true’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 33).
145. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 34.
146. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 34, cf. Miracles 93–95. Lewis believed that not only Bradley fed on spiritual resources unsupported by his own philosophy, but Idealism in general (cf. Pilgrim's Regress 165–169).
147. ‘[A] smattering of philology was at that time beginning to show me that all speech is metaphorical. When we claim to speak literally we are but exchanging conscious for unconscious metaphor, and rejecting the service of our imagination, to accept instead its despotism’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 34).
148. Cf. Miracles 74–77, and ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes’, in Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge et al.: Cambridge UP, 1979), 251–265; 251f.
149. Cf. Simon Blaxland-de Lange, Owen Barfield: Romanticism Comes of Age. A Biography (Forest Row, Sussex: Temple Lodge, 2006), 158.
150. Surprised by Joy 155, cf. the letter to Owen Barfield of 27 May 1928, CL I 761f.
151. ‘After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley? I thought not. And didn't Berkeley's “God” do all the same work as the Absolute, with the added advantage that we had at least some notion of what we meant by Him? I thought He did’ (Surprised by Joy 173).
152. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 35.
153. Cf. Surprised by Joy 173.
154. ‘I saw… that a solipsism of the kind I was approaching was not a mere logical figment which, however a man might prove it, no man could really believe. On the contrary the vast Eastern tradition – a tradition so widespread in time and space as to claim (if authority counted for anything) almost a securus judicat – did actually maintain such a Solipsism’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 33). When Lewis accuses Barfield in one of the ‘Great War’ letters of being close to relapsing ‘into extreme subjective idealism, at least: more probably into solipsism’ (GW Letter I/8, in Collected Letters, Volume III. Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950–1963, ed. Walter Hooper [London: HarperCollins, 2006], 1636), it is not this pantheistic solipsism but the common view of solipsism which he rejects: the belief that only one's own mind exists, but neither the material world nor any other mind.
155. Cf. Surprised by Joy 173, and ‘Early Prose Joy’ 35f.
156. ‘[M]etaphorically, I may regard myself as one of the characters in the drama composed by Spirit. This does not conflict with the statement that I am Spirit. In so far as I am at all, I am Spirit’ (‘Summa’ 68).
157. The limit of this analogy is that Shakespeare is still a part of the world which he shares with his fellow men. But there is only one Spirit: nothing co-exists with him on the same level of being.
158. ‘[W]e have no positive knowledge of Spirit except as “that which I really am”’ (‘Summa’ 64).
159. Cf. ‘Summa’ 92f.
160. Cf. ‘Summa’ 89.
161. Cf. GW Letter I.1, CL III 1602f.
162. Cf. GW Letter I.2, CL III 1608.
163. ‘It is clear that I cannot have the representation “myself” except as the correlative of that which is not myself. Again, I cannot have the representation “other selves or souls” without myself. That is to say, I as Spirit create my soul and the environment in which alone it has meaning by one and the same act’ (‘Summa’ 65, cf. The Problem of Pain 23).
164. Lewis thus replied to Barfield's objections to the ‘Summa’: ‘The question “Subjective or Objective?” has an important meaning, provided you explain “For whom?”’ (‘Replies to Objections in Detail’, in The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis, 124–130; p. 129).
165. In June 1924, Lewis still maintained that Berkeley's conception, if taken seriously, contains here a self-contradiction. For if there is no material world, ‘we cannot explain how one mind can excite ideas in another. It follows then that the Ideas I call “Jones talking” must like all other Ideas be excited by God in me: in which case Jones becomes (like matter) an otiose third term or “occasion”. What Berkeley really seems to mean is that there is a common world of sensibilia which is directly accessible to us all: ideal only in the sense that there is no substratum below the sensibilitas. But we do not know how this could be worked out. What we actually get in Berkeley is a series of private worlds only held together by the goodness of God’ (‘The Moral Good’ 75). The last two sentences suggest that Lewis didn't see a solution to this difficulty at that time – which is a further hint that he developed his own form of Berkeleyanism not in 1924 but in 1926.
166. Cf. ‘Summa’ 66. As a Christian, Lewis still believed that a plurality of souls presupposes the existence of a medium in which they can meet (cf. The Problem of Pain 25, and Mere Christianity [London and Glasgow: Fontana, 1955], 155).
167. ‘I could not help noticing that what I usually called “myself” was contemplated and not enjoyed. I had an “idea” of him as of any other man. In so far as I could say “who he was” I had to determine him like an object – by his time and place and history, relating him to my whole system of objects. In so far as he was really “I”, really enjoyed, I could not hazard a guess “who I was”’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 32). By this time, Lewis had also recognized that Berkeley's ‘notion’ was another name for what Alexander called ‘the enjoyed’ (cf. ibid.).
168. ‘Summa’ 67. ‘MS’ = ‘manuscript’.
169. ‘I knew enough of literature to see that Hamlet and Othello are not mere “inventions” made by the recombining of types whom Shakespeare had seen: that there was in Shakespeare a Hamlet-element and an Othello element, that whatever Hamlet felt the poet actually felt as he wrote; nay that he saw through Hamlet's eyes the battlements of Elsinore; and that thus Shakespeare was Hamlet, was all of Hamlet there was, while Hamlet was not Shakespeare’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 35f, cf. Pilgrim's Regress 182).
170. ‘Whatever in me is aware of anything is Spirit. Whatever is seen through my eyes is seen by Spirit’ (‘Summa’ 68).
171. ‘Summa’ 65, cf. Samuel Alexander: Space, Time and Deity. The Gifford Lectures at Glasgow 1916–1918, Vol. I (London: Macmillan and Co., 1927), 12f.
172. Alexander did not believe this; he held a naturalistic view of being (cf. Alexander, Space, Time and Deity xvii). But this doesn't affect the enjoyment/contemplation distinction as an epistemic principle.
173. Cf. Surprised by Joy 170, and Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’ 20–25.
174. Lewis later expressly rejects this argument, but in a way which shows great respect for his own former belief: ‘The error which I am here trying to correct is one of the most sincere and respectable errors in the world’ (Miracles 92).
175. ‘Summa’ 64, cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 36.
176. For the Lewis of the ‘Summa’, the objects of the phenomenal world had empirical value (they were ‘objects of fear, desire, social interest etc.’, ‘Summa’ 101), but no spiritual value (cf. ibid. 94–96).
177. Cf. Surprised by Joy 175.
178. Cf. ‘Summa’ 85. For a closer analysis of the ethics of the ‘Summa’, see Feinendegen, ‘Introduction’ 26–28.
179. In his reply to the ‘Summa’, he offered ‘[h]umble congratulations and thanks’ (Owen Barfield, ‘Replicit Anthroposophus Barfieldus’, in The ‘Great War’ of Owen Barfield and C. S. Lewis ; 103–112; 109) for the paragraphs about the spiritual life and Imagination.
180. Cf. Barfield, ‘Replicit’ 109.
181. Cf. Surprised by Joy 175, and ‘Early Prose Joy’ 37. Barfield himself rejected this interpretation, which was for him ‘pure applesauce’ (Barfield, C. S. Lewis 10). According to him, Lewis differed from most other Subjective Idealists precisely by his belief that philosophy was no mere academic exercise: ‘[h]e tried to live by it’ (ibid. 8). It seems that Barfield and Griffiths met only once before Lewis became a Theist (cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 22 June 1930, CL I 907). The exact date is not known, but they probably met in late 1929 or early 1930.
182. Surprised by Joy 176, cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 37, and Pilgrim's Regress 181f.
183. ‘[I]t is significant that this long-evaded encounter happened at a time when I was making a serious effort to obey my conscience’ (‘The Seeing Eye’, in Christian Reflections 209–219; p. 211).
184. The pilgrim John makes the same experience: ‘“It is only myself,” he said. “It is I myself, eternal Spirit, who drive[s] this Me, the slave, along that ledge. I ought not to care whether he falls and breaks his neck or not. It is not he that is real, it is I – I – I. Can I remember that?” But then he felt so different from the eternal Spirit that he could call it “I” no longer. “It is all very well for him,” said John, “but why does he give me no help? I want help. Help”’ (Pilgrim's Regress 181).
185. Letter to A. K. Hamilton Jenkin of 21 March 1930, CL I 887, cf. the letters to Owen Barfield of 3 February 1930, CL I 882f, and 10 June 1930, CL I 903f. The theistic tone in Lewis’ letters increases from January 1930 on, but the letters of the preceding months (roughly since the death of his father in September 1929) already display a new spiritual sensibility. Lewis had started to practice meditation (cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 3 October 1929, CL I 832), and towards the end of the year, he records that ‘I have found, and am still finding more and more, the element of truth in the old beliefs’ (Letter to Arthur Greeves of 27 December 1929, CL I 850).
186. Letter to Arthur Greeves of 5 January 1930, CL I 858f. Lewis’ first impression was that this book gave him ‘about the biggest shaking up I've got from a book, since I first read Phantastes’ (ibid.). But this feeling seems to have faded much faster than in the case of Phantastes. Ten days later, he tells Barfield that the book is still beyond his grasp (cf. the letter to Owen Barfield of 16 January 1930, CL III 1515). And two years later, he writes to his brother (quoting freely Samuel Johnson): ‘If Jacob had seen the unutterable, Jacob should not have tried to utter it’ (Letter to Warren Lewis of 17 January 1932, CL II 40, cf. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson Vol. I, 1709–1776 [London: Oxford UP, 1933], 417). And neither ‘Early Prose Joy’, nor Surprised by Joy even mentions Boehme.
187. Cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 30 January 1930, CL I 877.
188. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 38, cf. Pilgrim's Regress 184–186.
189. ‘The atheist's soul is a fine and private place: there none but himself has the right of entry: there he has privacy’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 29, cf. Surprised by Joy 133).
190. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 38. ‘Doubtless, by definition, God was Reason itself. But would He also be “reasonable” in that other, more comfortable, sense? Not the slightest assurance on that score was offered me. Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded’ (Surprised by Joy 177).
191. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 39f.
192. ‘I was in effect claiming that a metaphor invented by myself, represented the Real more adequately than that metaphor which the whole course of European history had presented to me’ (‘Early Prose Joy’ 35).
193. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 39f. Lewis presents this speech in ‘Early Prose Joy’ as the central insight which led him to accept Theism, but oddly uses two years later a very similar (in parts even identical) speech to mark John's final conversion to Christianity (cf. Pilgrim's Regress 217). This seems to have happened on purpose, for Lewis refers also in both cases to St Augustine's phrase Securus te projice and to the experience of learning to dive (cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 40, Pilgrim's Regress 213–216, St Augustine, Confessiones 8.II.27, and the letter to Arthur Greeves of 8 July 1930, CL I 915).
194. Cf. GW Letter I/2, CL III 1605.
195. Cf. GW Letter I/6, CL III 1622f. Lewis later still claimed that truth, if it is a result of human acts of reasoning, is always abstract (cf. The Personal Heresy 110, and ‘Myth Became Fact’, in God in the Dock 63–76; p. 66).
196. ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes’ 265. Lewis had already discussed the metaphorical nature of language in the paper Some Problems of Metaphor, which he read in January 1930 to the Junior Linguistic Society (cf. the letter to Owen Barfield of 16 January 1930, CL III 1515, and the Letter to Arthur Greeves of 30 January 1930, CL I, 879).
197. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 35. Lewis reports this as a conclusion which he still rejected when he began to work out his own Subjective Idealism. But he criticizes in retrospect (that is, from the position he had reached as a Theist) that this was equal to saying ‘that I knew better how to construe the Real, than the Real knew how to reveal itself to me. But this was stark nonsense’ (ibid.).
198. Surprised by Joy 182.
199. Cf. McGrath, A Life 144. Lewis writes in Surprised by Joy that ‘[a]s soon as I became a Theist I started attending my parish church on Sundays and my college chapel on weekdays’ (Surprised by Joy 182). But he actually started this practice only several weeks later (cf. Warren Lewis, Brothers and Friends. The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, ed. Clyde S. Kilby and Marjorie Lamp Mead [New York: Harper & Row, 1982], 69 [diary entry of 12 October 1930], the letter to Arthur Greeves of 29 October 1930, CL I 942, and ‘Answers to Questions on Christianity’, in God in the Dock, 48–62; p. 61).
200. Surprised by Joy 184.
201. Cf. Surprised by Joy 184. In The Pilgrim's Regress, which is not meant to be a strict autobiography, Lewis thus seems to have used some of the emotional aspects of his conversion to Theism (for example his experience of learning to dive) to illustrate John's final conversion to Christianity.
202. Surprised by Joy 178.
203. Cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 40, and Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology’ 57f.
204. Cf. Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology’ 58, and idem, ‘Introduction’ 6. Heck narrows this down even to June 1–6, but gives only Lewis' reading of Coventry Patmore's poem The Angel in the House and an acute experience of conscience as further evidence (cf. Heck, From Atheism, Chapter 6, ‘The Fourth Chess Move: Checkmate’, Fn 87).
205. McGrath has also argued that Lewis misdated the date of his conversion to Theism by one year (cf. McGrath, A Life 141–146), mainly based on Lewis' letters of the years 1929 and 1930 and the fact that Lewis took up the practice of going to Church only in the fall of 1930 (cf. ibid. 144). Lewis reported in April 1944 in an interview that when he ‘first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago’, he started attending church because ‘I found that it was the only way of flying your flag’ (‘Answers to Questions on Christianity’ 61, cf. Surprised by Joy 184). This is an odd statement, for it seems that he correctly dated here the beginning of his practice of churchgoing to 1930, but blurred the fact that his conversion to Theism and his conversion to Christianity had been two separate events.
206. Letter to Owen Barfield of 10 June 1930, CL I 903f. There are three other (slightly different) versions of this poem known at present, cf. Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1992), 122f, Letters to Malcolm 92f, and the letter to Dom Bede Griffiths of 4 April 1934, CL II 137. In this letter, Lewis explains that his poem ‘has some relevance both to the questions of Prayer and Idealism’ (ibid.).
207. Lewis uses once in the poem the grammatical form ‘thou’, but not with the capital ‘T’ which he already used in the ‘Summa’ to describe (and still reject) the idea of a God who is ‘a soul other than myself, not by transcending myself, but sheerly other, as the Thou differs from the I, and yet creative of me’ (‘Summa’ 78). In ‘Early Prose Joy’, he writes ‘Thou’ also with a capital ‘T’ in order to mark God's otherness from his own inner I (cf. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 38f). And when he describes in The Pilgrim's Regress John's new awareness that it is more than a mere metaphor to call God a ‘Thou’, he chooses a different poem (which also uses the word ‘prayer’ and calls God the ‘Lord’): ‘He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow / When I attempt the ineffable name, murmuring Thou’ (Pilgrim's Regress 183).
208. Surprised by Joy 172.
209. Letters to Malcolm 93.
210. Letters to Malcolm 93. As God talks in Pantheism in effect through us to Himself, Lewis describes this view in retrospect also as ‘an attack of incurable schizophrenia from which He is unaccountably suffering’ (‘Some Thoughts’, in God in the Dock 147–150; p. 149).
211. In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis also doesn't write ‘One talker aping to – And so it is’ but ‘One talker aping two – Sometimes it is’ (Letters to Malcolm 93). And he replaces the word ‘Sir’ with the Christian title ‘Lord’ (cf. ibid. 92, and the letter to Dom Bede Griffiths of 4 April 1934, CL II 137).
212. Surprised by Joy 176, cf. Pilgrim's Regress 181f.
213. Letter to Arthur Greeves of 8 July 1930, CL I 915.
214. Letter to Arthur Greeves of 1 October 1931, CL I 974.
215. We may also regret that much of the ‘copious correspondence’ between Lewis and Griffiths from that period has been lost, for Griffiths was his chief companion on his road to Christianity during these days (cf. Surprised by Joy 183, and Alan Bede Griffiths, ‘The Adventure of Faith’, in C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences, ed James T. Como [London: Collins, 1980], 11–24; p. 15). Griffiths' memory is unfortunately no better than Lewis': he also fails to notice that Lewis mistakenly dates his move to Theism to 1929.
216. Letter to Arthur Greeves of 15 June 1930, CL I 906. Lewis refers here to Curdie's experience in The Princess and the Goblin of dreaming ‘that he has waked up and then finding that he is still in bed’ and Adam's words in Lilith: ‘You may think you have died and even that you have risen again: but both will be a dream’ (ibid.). In The Pilgrim's Regress, John decides to throw himself into the water of the canyon of death, ‘[a]nd the making of that resolution had seemed to be itself the bitterness of death’. But a moment later, he recognizes that ‘lo! he was still standing on the edge, still on this side’ (Pilgrim's Regress 215). All these passages suggest that the final step has not yet been taken, the MacDonald quotations even by making use of the same ‘dream’ metaphor that Lewis also uses in the so-called ‘Prayer’ poem.
217. Surprised by Joy 178.
218. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 38. In John's case, the succession of events is also the other way round: the experience of waking up and recognizing that he is still on this side of the canyon precedes the final act of letting himself go (cf. Pilgrim's Regress 215f).
219. Cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 1 July 1930, CL I 910.
220. Cf. McGrath, A Life 146, and Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology’ 58.
221. This makes also Lazo's conjecture unnecessary that Lewis, because he wrongly dated his 1 July letter to Greeves as 31 June, could have thought by mistake that he learned to dive in June (cf. Lazo, ‘Correcting the Chronology’ 58). Lazo seems to be aware that this is a weak hypothesis, for he adds that ‘[e]ven if learning to dive happened later in the week, Lewis likely learned to dive during the week of 30 June, which would in essence support his assertion in the MS’ (ibid. 62, Fn 17). But it is fairly unlikely that Lewis should have called this week the last week of June because 30 June, the day he arrived at Long Crendon, was a Monday, which makes it much more likely that he would have called it the first week of July.
222. Pilgrim's Regress 214.
223. ‘Early Prose Joy’ 40.
224. Cf. Surprised by Joy 178.
225. Cf. the letter to Arthur Greeves of 8 July 1930, CL I 913.
226. Lewis returned from his visit at Long Crendon to his home in Hillsboro and wrote his 8 July letter to Greeves still from there. He then went to College, spent the weekend of 12/13 July once again in Hillsboro, and then stayed in College until the exams were over. My best guess is that this step took place on a day between 9 and 11 July or, more probably, between 14 and 26 July.
227. Cf. Warren Lewis, Brothers and Friends 58f (diary entry of 7 July 1930).
228. Cf. Heck, Chronologically Lewis (29 April 2018 version, www.joelheck.com/chronologically-lewis.php), 529.
229. A spiritual connection between these two events is also suggested by an entry in Warren's diary. While the move to The Kilns is still running, the brothers Lewis ‘set out on foot through the Quarries past the lighted parish church, which we agreed that we must patronize now that we are landed gentry’ (Warren Lewis, Brothers and Friends 69 [diary entry of 12 October 1930]).
230. ‘Is Theology Poetry?’, in They Asked for a Paper. Papers and Addresses (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 150–165; p. 164.
231. ‘God and Nature and Man are distincts…, and not to feel the distinction is a defect’ (Letter to Dom Bede Griffiths of 14 September 1936, CL II 207f).
232. Cf. Miracles 169.
233. According to the Christian Lewis, God is present in the world both ontologically and as an acting person. A closer discussion of these two modes of presence will be part of my forthcoming book about Lewis' mature Christian thinking.