Why wasn't C.S. Lewis a Universalist? How close did he get?


Ever since I read this comment, I’ve been itching to follow it further. I know there are lots of Lewis fans out there so this should be interesting :slight_smile:

"]So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size as an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.

Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.

But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.

Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, though knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless they desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what the truly seek.

Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.

And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog-

Didnt C.S. Lewis reject ECT? Why isnt he treated like Bell?
How close did Lewis get to universalism? This close!

He didn’t sell Universalism, but how strong is the evidence against him being a universalist?


I think Lewis was definitely an inclusivist (for he seemed to believe that people other than professing Christians could be saved), but he was not a universalist. I think he expected at least some people to remain forever lost by their own choosing.

The following quotes are from chapter 8 of The Problem of Pain.

“I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come sometime, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.”

“I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity, usually emphasises the idea, not of duration, but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story—not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration—or duration at all—we cannot say.”

“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

That Lewis believed some would become irreversibly fixed in a state of self-centeredness also seems evident from what he says in The Great Divorce (chap. 13):

“A damned soul is nearly nothing; it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see.”

And in *The Letters of CS Lewis to Arthur Greeves *(para. 5, p. 508), Lewis states:

“About Hell. All I have ever said is that the N.T. plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in ‘the outer darkness’. Whether this means (horror of horror) being left to a purely mental existence, left with nothing at all but one’s own envy, prurience, resentment, loneliness & self conceit, or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you cd. call a world or a reality, I wd. never pretend to know. But I wouldn’t put the question in the form ‘do I believe in an actual Hell’. One’s own mind is actual enough. If it doesn’t seem fully actual now that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world–look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you but your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, nor sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as–as–well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive.”


Thank you Aaron. Much appreciated - seems fairly conclusive.


I forgot to mention that the character speaking in the quote from The Great Divorce is supposed to be Lewis’ “spiritual father,” George MacDonald! And shortly after this quote the narrator says to MacDonald:

“In your own books, Sir,” said I, “you were a Universalist. You talked as if all men would be saved. And St. Paul too.”

To which Macdonald replies, “Ye can know nothing of the end of all things, or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be, as the Lord said to Lady Julian, that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. But it’s ill talking of such questions.”

Apparently George MacDonald became somewhat less hopeful that all would be saved after he died! :open_mouth:


Great question:

In Gregory Macdonalds new book, ALL SHALL BE WELL there is a chapter on George MacDonald which is written by Tom Talbott. It is a very good/interesting chapter as it stands but is even more so because Talbott touches on this very topic! (He must have figured that since Lewis gave such public praise to MacDonald for being such an important influence on his thinking it was an obvious question and therefore worth addressing…) Read esp around p 241

Also interesting to me are Talbotts comments on MacDonalds disdain for Penal Substitution models of the Atonement; a sentiment that Lewis seems to have gravitated towards.



In The Last Battle, there’s also the example of the dwarves who insist on believing they are still locked in the dirty dark stable, and even Aslan seems unable to make them realize otherwise. So he seems to say there that it is not God who shuts them out–they’re ‘out’ because they insist on it.

He reflects George MacDonald’s idea that we are either growing better or growing worse–and he seems to indicate that we can grow to the point where we are unable to be saved–as seems to be the case with the Tragedian. Yet MacDonald still believed in the ultimate triumph of Christ.

I’d guess that Lewis was open to the possibility–as seen in the character ‘George MacDonald’ saying, “It may be that all will be well”–only he was not willing to go too far that way. His desire (which I seem to remember from his letters) was to stick with the things common to all Christianity–“Mere Christianity”. But it seems to me that he doesn’t absolutely shut the door on the future.

I think he’s right to maintain that we won’t be saved in complacency–there must be a wilingness to come out of ourselves–which I think he does a good job of illustrating in the Great Divorce. The ghosts have things they cling to, they are unwilling to give up the things that keep them small. It’s true that as long as we cling to our sin, we remain unable to enter the Kingdom. And I agree with him in that from our standpoint there’s no place for complacent assurance that it’s all going to be okay in the end.

But I don’t believe God will abandon any of us forever in the “dirty dark stables” we make for ourselves. If he cannot woo us out with gifts or frighten us out with threats, then the fire will come to burn it down around us. (I wonder what Lewis would say to that idea?!)

One thing I get a kick out of in this quote:

… is that it seems evident that Lewis was of the opinion that Paul was teaching universalism. :sunglasses: :sunglasses:



Yay! I get to put my many years of Lewiscist study to work! :mrgreen:

Lewis was certainly of the opinion that Paul at least seemed to be teaching universalism, and mentioned this several times in various short works. I would have to dig through my collection at work for the entire citation, but one example (repeated elsewhere in an article) came from his introductory comments to a new translation of the Pauline epistles; where he mentions with disdain the theory prominent among liberal and sceptical scholars of his day, and back through a couple of generations before (amusingly not quite so prominent in my own lifetime! :laughing: ) that Jesus was a nice peaceful man who preached nothing offensive but Paul came along and turned Jesus’ Christianity into threats of hellfire and damnation. “On the contrary,” he wrote (I’m paraphrasing a little from memory, “it is from St. Paul that we have as much warrant as we do that all men will at last be saved! All the harshest words of condemnation in the New Testament were uttered by Our Lord.”

The main reason Lewis wasn’t a universalist, was because he thought Jesus taught something else; and (as he put it once or twice, though I don’t recall if it was on this topic), if there is a difference between Paul and Jesus, we have to go with Jesus. But he was surely aware of other things written by Paul as well, such as the Thessalonian epistles, which don’t on the face of them look overly hopeful for those slated to be destroyed by the presence of the Lord at His return.

So at most he was respectful of the argument for universalism from Pauline data, but was ambivalent about even that; and did not believe anything else in the NT (most especially Dominical utterances) gave ground for it.


"]I will attempt no historical or theological classification of MacDonald’s thought, partly because I have not the learning to do so, still more because I am no great friend to such pigeonholing. One very effective way of silencing the voice of conscience is to impound in an Ism the teacher through whom it speaks: the trumpet no longer seriously disturbs our rest when we have murmured “Thomist,” “Barthian,” or “Existentialist.” And in MacDonald it is always the voice of conscience that speaks. He addresses the will: the demand for obedience, for “something to be neither more nor less nor other than done” is incessant. Yet in that very voice of conscience every other faculty somehow speaks as well—intellect, and imagination, and humour, and fancy, and all the affections; and no man in modern times was perhaps more aware of the distinction between Law and Gospel, the inevitable failure of mere morality. The Divine Sonship is the key-conception which unites all the different elements of his thought. I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.

I’ll ask Talbott if he wants to comment on this topic.


Hah, yeah I happen to know a little bit about this topic (it grieves me), especially since I was shocked by Lewis’ seemingly liberal views in my sophomore English class reading The Great Divorce. A tremendous book on Lewis’ thoughts on the afterlife. In that story the damned are allowed to enter heaven and stay if they choose, although it’s usually incredibly unlikely (and he illustrates why due to how fiercely the damned cling to their individual idols), and that one day night will fall in that dark place and nothing will change after that.

Also from the Anthology Lewis wrote on MacDonald, that Alex just quoted from:

Tried to find a quote where I think he says something about no doctrine being as intolerable as ECT, though maybe I just remembered this one wrong:

I believe that Lewis found it hard to believe for the same reason that there were many struggles deep within his own soul which he had not encountered God’s healing on. There’s something of a diary of sorts of his that I flipped through in the library once (back in Texas; sorry, don’t remember the title) where he was basically jotting down his personal, inner turmoil and gnashing of teeth.


My responses to that last quote: it’s not a game, Jack. Fathers don’t play games with their children’s destinies, much less our Heavenly Father. It’s not a competition, either.

There are always reasons why people don’t submit to an ever-loving, always merciful God, and they always involve misunderstanding or ignorance on some level combined with fleshly weakness and internal barriers. It is not up to us to judge. God commanded us not to.

Besides, if there are any reasons why someone would hold out against God forever, isn’t that to imply that there is not enough in God to attract some of His creation, no matter how twisted from their original state?


No, you remembered correctly. Your link was quoting from an article not called “The Problem of Pain” but using some of the same material from that book. (I don’t recall the original article title at the moment.) TPoP chapter 8, after covering the same material (a little differently) adds (4th paragraph for that chapter, his emphasis), “I am not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral by a critique of the objections ordinarily made, or felt, against it.”


Alex, thanks for taking the ball on this and rolling with it! (Do you have that phrase?) I need to figure out how to start a post, but that’s next. :laughing: )

How exciting there will be a chapter from Talbott, about this, in Parry’s book!

So it seems Lewis did not think it possible for certain lost rebels to be found, due to their own inabilities, such that they could be “rebels to the end” and manage to keep “their eyes shut fast.” Maybe MacDonald, even as he was persuaded that God was a cleansing fire, lacked Talbott’s philosophical background to be able to reason how this is possible and persuade Lewis?

When I think of “eyes shut fast” it reminds me of this passage…

This doesn’t sound like a people who manage, on their own, to keep their eyes shut, but rather a God that is working out a plan. I’ve never heard a really good interpretation of Rom. 9-11 like Talbott’s.He effectively points out Paul’s question,about the very ones hardened and the seemingly non-elect in Rom. 11:7, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” and the answer is a resounding, “Not at all!”

The reason we are conquerors is because of “him who loves us” (Rom. 8:17), not because of our own abilities, “desire or effort” to unenslave ourselves as is pointed out in Rom. 9:16. Good then for Lewis to admit that Paul seems to endorse that all men will be saved.

Lewis did not see ways of interpreting passages he considered damaging like the ones Pratt points out…

I wonder if he was familiar with the word “aions” (sp.?) as in the age to come? In any case, Lewis seemed to feel like he was stuck with hell as a final destination and his way of resolving it was to say that rebels harden themselves to the point of no return.

This is particularly what I don’t get because in my Arminian tradition they also will point out that some will just never repent and it’s not that God would ever give up on people. Why this makes no sense to me is because we all start out as rebels and are in need of God’s intervention. It seems to imply that God is only able to save the better hearted ones of us.This does not make sense in light of the fact that God has grace toward us, saves the worst of sinners like Paul himself. And we see just how effective God is at drawing the people he is bent on drawing, through wrath, kindness - whatever it takes!

I love this from Sonia…


Thanks, Jason! I knew I had a better memory than that. :wink:

Not likely, as he did have higher education:

If you’ve ever read his Unspoken Sermons he’s extremely philosophically astute and has absolutely solid hermeneutics. I think it was just his style. He seemed to grace various topics at will in a half stream-of-consciousness fashion. Lots of analysis, but plenty of poetry as well. He was more concerned with painting a beautiful, and accurate, portrait of God (through reasoning as well as through scripture) than to just try to prove anything to anyone. For, as he said, obedience is the gate to understanding.


Thanks Stellar Renegade for providing that info about Macdonald’s schooling. He is very well educated!

I’m glad about this! Wouldn’t want to hear otherwise. :smiley:

I would love, with my life, to be able to paint a “beautiful, and accurate, portrait of God”, to point others to a wonderful God that has no darkness in Him at all.


:laughing: I knew what you meant (although isn’t it “running with it”?). Ever since you posted your aside, I was keen to make it into it’s own topic, and it’s already brought up some interesting stuff. Although it’s a shame CSL wasn’t a closet EU and that he didn’t leave a secret book to be read once he became popular & influential!


While that’s no doubt true, I think (ironically) the problem is more that MacD’s arguments were primarily metaphysical in character (if not rigorously enough so for Lewis). He didn’t engage the scriptures enough, especially on the Dominical sayings, to address Lewis’ concerns about Jesus’ testimony on hell. (I can tell from Lewis’ own report of his concerns, compared to a close familiarity with MacD’s work, that MacD simply didn’t write enough on that topic to have reasonably dealt with Lewis’ concerns.)

Based on my extensive familiarity with his book-length works and articles (though not with his correspondence), I’m pretty confident Lewis either wasn’t familiar with the nuances of “eonian” and phrases like “into the eon”, or else he knew about them but didn’t consider them relevant to the case. He never treats the typical English interpretation as anything other than the typical interpretation. This is despite the fact that he was quite familiar with classical Greek (and indeed was familiar with it long before he converted to Christianity! Nowadays when I read or hear his statements on the topic I want to reply, with his character of Professor Kirk, “It’s all there in Plato! What do they teach in schools these days?!” :laughing: )


Me too, Amy. Me too. :smiley:

Yeah, that was what I was trying to say.

:laughing: Yes. Yes, exactly! :laughing: Too-whoo! Too-whoo! Too true, too true! :laughing:

P.S. As an additional thought based on the thread about the salvation/purification process continuing after death, I wonder if C.S. Lewis became haunted by his Owls in the Silver Chair installment, after realizing that he had not duly researched his subject enough. And if so, I hope they looked a hell of a lot like the Guardians of Ga’Hoole. :smiling_imp: :laughing:

P.P.S. And even if not, I should make a comic about it. :smiling_imp:


You should definitely make a comic about it. :mrgreen:

I haven’t read the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, but Silver Chair is probably my favorite book in the Narnia series; it’s by far the funniest, and I still get goose bumps when the protagonists are trying to resist the enchantment of the Queen of Underland. I’m kind of hoping that Dawn Treader is the last Narnia book to be turned into a movie, but I’m sure I’ll continue seeing the films even if it’s not. :slight_smile:


I agree, although “The Last Battle” & “The Horse and His Boy” come close :sunglasses: