Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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The Screwtape Letters

December 16th, 2009, Promulgated by Gen

I have always enjoyed C.S. Lewis’ work, be it Narnia or other theological writings. One book which I found both informative and entertaining was the famous “Screwtape Letters,” which is a dialogue between two devils about the human soul. There are numerous portions of the work which make one laugh out loud, if you’re of the dry-wit kind of humor, one of which I will put below for your reference and enjoyment. Note how even fictitious devils lash out against Tradition and proper liturgy. I have put into red the phrases I should like to focus on.

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments, I trust you would hardly even wish to do so. In the meantime we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a I brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her, spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes even our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real?though of course an unconscious?difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

  • I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Note how the devil, albeit a fictitious manifestation of one, experiences “grave displeasure” that one of the wandering souls on Earth came home to the Church. Now, the story goes that C.S. Lewis was ready to convert to Catholicism on his deathbed. For that reason, I will reference the Catholic Church in this “analysis,” not the Anglican Communion.
  • Hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a I brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us.Yes, it is an unfortunate reality that many Christians do lapse into sinfulness and blindness. These are caused, primarily, by the weakness of humanity and the power which we give to the devil. The devil, Satan, has no power. The only strengths he has are those which we give to him.
  • One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. I think we can agree that C.S. Lewis is perfectly correct here. So many times Christians are led astray by those who are “servants of the Church.” Just look at Martin Luther and Bishop Lefebvre. In the case of the former, how many innocent people died in the Reformation that otherwise could have led productive and saintly lives, if only one monk hadn’t taken his hammer and nail and theses to the door of the cathedral. In the case of the latter, all that these people needed to do was wait for a couple decades. Poor unfortunate souls of mistiming.
  • That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes even our boldest tempters uneasy. It can be said, and said with confidence, that devils are more aware of the Divine Mystery of the Altar than are most Christians. The spectacles of the Mass are most certainly splendid, as well they should be, for when else does the King of Kings descend from His throne to sit amongst us, the created? Nowhere aside from the Mass does this happen, and the Evil One knows this.
  • One shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. Looks like Satan doesn’t enjoy the Latin Mass . . .
  • Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. How often do we find ourselves distracted at Mass. I am certain that even those of us who are lectors, acolytes, deacons, and even priests have moments where we have to refocus our attention on Our Lord as opposed to that lady in the back who’s wearing an obscenely large hat, or that fellow in the front row who is filling out his Christmas cards rather than listen to the sermon. Distraction is a part of the Mass. It ought not to be, but we are imperfect. Strive to focus solely on the altar, the priest, the words of prayer, the glorious music bearing witness to the splendor of God enthroned in Heaven. The devil delights in distraction, so give him not the satisfaction of knowing the timidity and tepidity of our own hearts. Remember – we are at Mass for Our Lord, not our friends, not our families, not the coffee hour. Keep this in your mind and your tepidity will wain.
  • Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Many Christians do let themselves fall into spiritual foolishness at the behest of the Evil One. For the devils and demons that exist (and exist they do) seek to bring us to ruin. Their wiles and temptations may appear to be an easy way to happiness and satisfaction, but they aren’t. The only true source of unending joy is the Treasure within the tabernacles. It is foolish, indeed, to place our hopes and aspirations elsewhere, for all else is fleeting. Christ alone is the only constant in this equation of life.
  • Never let it come to the surface. Here we can see that the devil does, in fact, ac
    knowledge his own powerlessness. He describes ways in which to hold the attention of the Christian, to restrain his soul from attaining that which it so ardently desires. “Never let it come to the surface,” “it” being a realization of the centrality of Christ, King, Savior, Shepherd, and Servant. Again, the devil yearns for the Christian heart to be distracted from the fount of perfect love, the Blessed Sacrament. Do not let yourself be corrupted by a marauding mind and a wandering eye.
  • You will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords. Finally, the devil declares that, in order to keep the Christian soul “hazy,” one must make Hell appear a clear route. Hell is indeed a clear route, a way devoid of obstacles and hindrances. But pay no heed to it, for the road is also paved with indifference, with lust, with greed and avarice. The road to Heaven, the Glorious Court of the Most High, is obstructed with much, and all this done by the Evil One. He realizes it is easier to tear down and litter than it is to build up. Christ spent His short time on Earth physically building up the Church, His bride, in the form of the Apostles. Now Satan spends eternity trying to undo that wondrous deed. When we are inattentive to heresy, indifference, poor catechesis, liturgical abuse, and even crimes against the Church, we stand beside Satan, and pry forth bricks from the Heavenly walls which serve to protect us, we who assist the devil in tearing it down! The way to Heaven, though obstructed by sin, is clear, having been purged of “haziness” by Our Lord on the cross. What clearer focus is there in this world than that most perfect sign of Divine Love?

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One Response to “The Screwtape Letters”

  1. avatar Yapollo says:

    C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite authors. I am currently plowing through That Hideous Strength.

    Thanks Gen for putting a clip of his work on Cleansing Fire.

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