Three famous men died on Nov. 22, 1963. The one getting the most attention, understandably, is John F. Kennedy. Less so the other two: Aldous Huxley, author of the futuristic novel “Brave New World,” and Clive Staples Lewis.
Of the three, it was Lewis who not only was the most influential of his time, but whose reach extends to these times and likely beyond. His many books continue to sell and the number of people whose lives have been changed by his writing expands each year.
On the 50th anniversary of his death, C.S. Lewis remains perhaps the 20th century’s most towering intellectual practitioner of the Christian faith. Lewis combined humility — rare among those who have achieved fame — with a style that relied less on argumentation than on logic and persuasion. He asks readers to join him on a journey he himself has taken and, like a tour guide, shows us a better world and a better life than the one he describes in “The Chronicles of Narnia” as being “always winter, but never Christmas.”
A friend of mine once said, “Humility is so light a grace that once you think you’ve achieved it, you’ve lost it.” In so many places — from Washington to Hollywood — people have never had to worry about losing humility, because most have never possessed it. And that is said in all humility.
It is a major reason, I think, why Pope Francis is enjoying so much favorable attention, including from non-Catholics and even non-Christians. The pope exudes humility in the style of Mother Teresa. There is a natural — or supernatural — attraction to such people because it is a quality most know they should have, but are unsure where to find it. Many refuse to even embark on the journey.
While no one has ever been argued to faith, C.S. Lewis provided a considerable number of arguments to counter those who do not share his beliefs.
In perhaps his most influential work, “Mere Christianity,” Lewis addresses people who call Jesus of Nazareth something He never called Himself: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
It was this passage and Lewis’ chapter on pride that brought Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” the late Charles Colson, among many others with hard hearts, to faith.
On Sept. 8, 1947, Time magazine featured Lewis on its cover. It rightly called him “the most popular lecturer in the University,” which was Magdelen College, Oxford.
Like many great writers, most of Lewis’ honors have come posthumously, including next Friday when his remains will be moved from a modest cemetery in Oxford, England, to Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, where his “neighbors” will include Charles Dickens, John Milton, Jane Austen and Geoffrey Chaucer.
Some people long for another C.S. Lewis, but the original should suffice for at least another 50 years.