Last month at Oxford there died a man who had the rare gift, many said, of making righteousness readable.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in 1898, the son of a Belfast solicitor whose immediate forebears had come from the hills of Wales. The son achieved a Triple-First (highest honors) at Oxford and taught there many years. But it was Cambridge that gave him deserved honor in 1954 by appointing him to a new chair of medieval and Renaissance English, from which he retired this fall because of poor health.

Lewis had the knack of relevance and intelligibility in speaking to people, as was discovered in World War II when a series of his talks on radio won wide popularity among all classes. He was at once logical and imaginative. Preaching at Oxford one of the greatest sermons that city has known in modern times, he said:

“We are half-hearted preachers, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

All the writings of C. S. Lewis give the impression of an effective effortlessness; yet the Roman Catholic Tablet, comparing him with G. K. Chesterton, rightly joins in hailing him as one of the greatest Christian apologists of his time. The Tablet said it was puzzled, however, that his sense of “the Church” was astonishingly faint and crude.

A puckish humor could be discerned even in the index to Miracles (1947), which has the intriguing reference:

“Higher Thought. See Tapioca.”

As an Oxford don he never quite conformed, and his satire That Hideous Strength (1945) was sharper than even some of C. P. Snow’s commentaries on college life and intrigue. He was impatient ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.