Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

C.S. Lewis's Theology of Animals

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

C.S. Lewis's Theology of Animals

Article excerpt


In 1944, C. S. Lewis gave the Commemoration Oration at King's College, London. Entitled `The Inner Ring', it provides a significant insight into his understanding of theology, specifically moral theology. His starting point is taken from Tolstoy's War and Peace in which Boris, a soldier in the Russian Army, discovers that there are really two kinds of rules: the ones laid down by army regulations-the written system-and also an unwritten system of rules dictated by an inner circle or ring.

Lewis takes this example as a paradigm of the Christian life. All of us, he suggests, want to be part of the Inner Ring-that group of people in any organization or institution who really organise things, get things done: the people who have power to make things happen. While the existence of such rings is not evil in itself, Lewis maintains that membership of a ring may require us to do something which otherwise we might regard as wrong. The following describes a membership invitation:

Over a drink or a cup of coffee disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still-just at that moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naif or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which "we"-and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure-something "we always do". And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.

It would be so terrible to see the other man's face-that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face-turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Lewis concludes: `The quest of the Inner Ring will break you heart unless you break it'. Again: `Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.'1

It is difficult not to sense some autobiographical relevance to Lewis's narrative. The notion that Christian discipleship may, and sometimes surely does, involve standing out, even standing alone, was personified in his own life: Lewis was an outsider and, arguably, remained so until the end of his life. Although he held prestigious positions at Oxford and Cambridge, he was conspicuously the odd man out in the academic circles which he inhabited. Although probably the most widely read theologian of his time, he was not regarded as such by the Oxford theological community. More to the point: his very popularity as a Christian communicator aroused considerable jealousy among his colleagues. Even as he became an insider to the many who read or heard him-many more than was probably imagined even by his contemporaries-he remained an outsider to many of his closest colleagues.2

Being an outsider, not part of the Inner Ring, gave Lewis ironically a distinct advantage over other theologians. He was able to raise questions and issues that others took for granted. While many of the Inner Ring theologians of his day are now barely remembered, it is to Lewis that continuing generations of Christians (and non-Christians) have looked for inspiration and theological clarity. …

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