C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898. He died in 1963, and what a life he lived. He was known as Jack and, as far as we can tell, that was because of one of his dog’s names from his childhood was Jacksie, and Lewis adopted that name for himself.
He was an Oxbridge scholar, which meant that he had a position at both Oxford University and Cambridge University. He’s been hailed as a philosopher, an apologist, and a theologian. Of course, he’s probably best known for his Narnia Chronicles. His actual profession was as a professor, a chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Here we’re going to look at one piece of his life: C.S. Lewis as essayist.
Though he was baptized as a child into the Anglican Church, as a teenager he drifted into agnosticism. And then at the age of fifteen, he declared himself to be an atheist. As a teenager, he also loved epic poetry. He was taken by Norse mythology and medieval literature. Lewis later went off to France. He saw the horrors of World War I, being involved in trench warfare. A shell exploded not too far from him, taking the lives of two of his buddies and injuring him. He was then sent back to the United Kingdom to serve out the rest of the war on the home front.
He went on to his life of scholarship, and eventually he would be influenced by George MacDonald, who would lead him from atheism to a generic theism and a belief in God in general. Then through his friendship with J.R.R Tolkien and continued reading of McDonald and others, he was led from theism to Christianity. Tolkien would have much preferred that Lewis had joined him in the Catholic Church, but Lewis went the way of Anglicanism; he went back into his Anglican Church. Lewis liked to call this Christianity mere Christianity, and of course that’s the title of one of his books.
Lewis was an essayist. One essay in particular originated during the years 1941 to 1943. Once again, Europe was embroiled in a world war: World War II. During this time, Lewis was doing radio addresses over the BBC during air raids. So if you can, put that setting in your mind. Some of Lewis’s great essays came from this context. Some of these essays he preached as sermons in churches and some he prepared specifically for the radio, and a number of them were published later as books.
One particular essay is The Weight of Glory. It’s an essay, and it’s also a title of a book of essays. In it Lewis says that almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.
It’s such a modern twentieth-century thing to neglect God and push him out of our lives—to neglect the eternal and the transcendent and to fixate on the horizon of the material. Lewis says there is far more to ultimate reality than what we see, and it is this weight of glory.
So he writes,
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own personal glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only and a nightmare.”
He goes on to say, “There are no ordinary people,” because we all have this weight of glory.”