C.S. Lewis is widely considered to be one of the best Christian apologists of the 20th century. Though he was converted by his Catholic friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis decided to join the Protestant Church of England, in which he remained until his death.
Which makes this fact a bit strange: he believed in Purgatory.
The doctrine of Purgatory is the belief that Christians may undergo a period of purification by grace after death but before entering heaven. The Church also teaches that Christians alive on earth can pray for the dead in purgatory and so quicken their entry into heaven. These were major tenets of Catholicism that were rejected by 16th century Protestants.
In his book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, published posthumously in 1964, Lewis gives a fictional friend advice about the spiritual life, and it’s in Letter 20 that we find his surprising words about Purgatory.
“Of course I pray for the dead,” Lewis writes. “The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me.”
When his fictional friend challenges him that he’s just advocating the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, he responds clearly: “Well, I suppose I am. […] I believe in Purgatory.”
He goes on to explain that, in his view, the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory had become warped by the 16th century, and that both earlier versions (e.g Dante’s vision of Purgatory) and modern versions (e.g. Bl. John Henry Newman’s view) are more palpable.
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they?” he continues in his defense. He says he thinks it would not be very loving for God to usher us into heaven despite all our attachments to sin. “Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’–‘Even so, sir.’”
Regarding whether he thinks Purgatory is painful, he gives a very Lewis-esque common sense answer: “I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think suffering is the purpose of the purgation. […] The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.”
Those who have read his other fictional works will note that he also includes a version of Purgatory in his classic book The Great Divorce.
So maybe the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory shouldn’t be so scary for Protestants after all?
Read the related articles/ Videos click below:
“Inconceivable Beauties”: The Secrets of Heaven Revealed to St. Faustina http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/10/27/inconceivable-beauties-the-secrets-of-heaven-revealed-to-st-faustina/
The Doctrine of Purgatory is Biblical and Makes Sense http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/06/07/the-doctrine-of-purgatory-is-biblical-and-makes-sense/
4 Biblical Principles That Show the Reality of Purgatory http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/09/15/4-biblical-principles-that-show-the-reality-of-purgatory/
Readings & Reflections with Cardinal Tagle’s Video: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), November 2,2016 http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2015/11/01/readings-reflections-with-cardinal-tagles-video-the-commemoration-of-all-the-faithful-departed-all-souls-november-22015/
Masses of Mercy: Why We Offer Prayers for the Dead http://www.pagadiandiocese.org/2016/11/03/masses-of-mercy-why-we-offer-prayers-for-the-dead/
What is purgatory? Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter the happiness of heaven (CCC: 1030-1031, 1054).
How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory? Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance (CCC: 1032).
In what does hell consist? Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice. The principal suffering of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can have the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long Christ proclaimed this reality with the words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41; CCC: 1033-1035, 1056-1057).
Death does not put an end to life with loved ones in Christ. It actually enhances Life. “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints? The communion of saints is the Church” (CCC: 945). “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness… They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC: 956). “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins she offers her suffrages for them (2 Macc 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (CCC: 958).