Friendship, or philia, is one of the “loves” that C.S. Lewis elucidates and celebrates in his book, The Four Loves, the others being familial love (storge), sexual love (eros) and Divine love (caritas or agape). Although not the greatest or highest of the loves, Lewis saw friendship as the noble coming together of those who shared common interests or values. He was himself a great practitioner of this particular love, enjoying the friendship of many and being a great friend in return.
When one thinks of friendship in relation to Lewis one can hardly avoid thinking of the Inklings, the group of friends which met regularly for many years in Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College and at the celebrated Eagle and Child pub, which the friends dubbed “the Bird and Baby.” By any estimation, the Inklings can be considered to be the most important literary group of the past century, serving as a catalyst for many great works, not least of which were those by Lewis himself and those by his great friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Apart from Lewis and Tolkien, the Inklings included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Fr. Gervase Matthew, Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, Hugo Dyson, Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as Tolkien’s son, Christopher, and Lewis’s brother, Warnie. Beyond this inner sanctum, there were many occasional guests at gatherings of the Inklings, including, most notably, the controversial South African poet and convert, Roy Campbell, with whom Lewis had crossed swords in controversy and enmity before finally shaking hands in conviviality and amity.
Lewis was, however, as Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare, “not of an age but for all time,” which means that he counts amongst his friends not only his contemporaries but also the great writers and thinkers of civilization. These illustrious friends whom Lewis never met except in their books are the eminenti of literary history, far too numerous to mention, Lewis being so widely read and so omnivorous in his reading.
We should perhaps mention one friend whom we might wish Lewis had met in person and that’s G.K. Chesterton, a writer who influenced Lewis’s conversion to Christianity and whom Lewis loved to quote with gusto to his students. We would also be remiss were we to fail to mention his friendship with George MacDonald, a writer whose works can be said to have baptized Lewis’s imagination.
Another group of friends would be the younger generation of Lewis aficionados who are indebted to him for the lucid manner in which he argued the case for Christianity in a hostile secular age, thereby helping to pave their own paths to conversion. Ironically, considering that Lewis never himself crossed the Tiber, many of these were converts to the Catholic Church. Walker Percy commented that Lewis was more prominent as an influence on converts to the Faith than anyone else, a remarkable fact which serves as a fitting testament and tribute to his astonishing powers of persuasion as a Christian apologist.
Like Chesterton before him, C.S. Lewis possessed the gift of friendship, presenting the friendly face of faith to an age that was scarred with the sneer of cynicism. For this, as for so much else, we should be thankful for the life and legacy of this most remarkable of men. Perhaps we might dare to hope that Messieurs Chesterton and Lewis are now friends in that place “further up and further in” where all true friendship meets and where no true friendship ever ends.
Republished with gracious permission from the St. Austin Review (September/October 2016).