I have just finished reading the Latin correspondence between C.S. Lewis and St Giovanni Calabria (1873-1954). Although it has a certain charm, both from the personalities of the authors and from the use of the ancient tongue, it is theologically rather jejune. There is very little discussion of doctrine; much of it is taken up with expressions of good will and desire for unity, and assurances of prayers. One wonders if anyone ever explained Catholic doctrine to Lewis, or if he himself ever took the trouble to read a papal encyclical or a manual of scholastic theology. Despite his great general erudition, his theology is strangely parochial: the Anglican prayer-book, odd pieces from the Anglican divines, George MacDonald and Milton tend to dominate, with some Dante thrown in. He said of himself that he was a very poor Thomist; I don’t know that he was much better as a patrologist. I don’t remember him quoting anything even from St Augustine apart from sayings that are part of general culture, such as ‘love and do as you will’. Perhaps he was warned off much theological study by Newman’s saying about what happens to those who go deep into history…

The other thing that strikes you in the correspondence is how confident Fr Calabria is about Lewis’s present spiritual position. He writes to him for example, ‘I call you blessed and shall do so in the future, because God wants to use you to carry out His works’; and again, ‘In heaven with God we shall see each other by the mercy of the Lord who has redeemed us’. This was written in 1953, not long after Pius XII had warned against reducing the axiom ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ to a meaningless phrase. I think a little more caution would have been in order. However,  the Italian was clearly a holy man, who apparently offered his life for the pope’s recovery when the latter was gravely ill in 1954. Pius suddenly recovered and lived another 4 years.

The last line of the collection is the most moving. Lewis wrote in 1961 to Fr Calabria’s successor after the death of his own wife:-

Scio vos preces effundere et pro desideratissima uxore mea et pro me qui jam orbatus et quasi dimidatus solus hanc vallem lacrimarum peragro (I know that you pray for my wife whom I so miss and also for me, as now bereaved and, as it were, halved, I journey on in solitude through this valley of tears.)

Let us hope St Giovanni’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

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