Quotes Suitable For Framing: CS Lewis


The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the more congenital one of bewailing–but first, of denouncing–the conduct of others.  If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity.  Unfortunately, the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature.  By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not ‘they’ but ‘we’.  And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice.  You can say anything you please about it.  You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition.  A group of such young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.’

CS Lewis, The Dangers of National Repentance

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  1. In the middle of the last century, the judges were drawing up a Loyal Address on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s visit to the Parliament House in Edinburgh. The draft (I don’t know who prepared it) contained the words, “Your Majesty’s judges, deeply conscious of their own many failings…”

    The Lord President, Lord Glencorse (John Inglis) strenuously objected, declaring that he was not “conscious of many failings” and that, if he were, he would be unfit for his office. The Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Moncrieff (James Moncrieff, who had been Ingles’s great rival at the Bar) mildly suggested an amendment – “Your Majesty’s judges, deeply conscious of each other’s many failings…”

  2. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition… As those Harvard students so ably demonstrated.
    Good find!

  3. “, deeply conscious of each other’s many failings…”
    🙂 I like the point that our bewailing is congenital- along with other effects of Original Sin!

  4. I get what Lewis is saying here — focusing on the real or imagined sins of “society” or “the nation” or “the world” can, and often does, turn into a way to 1) avoid paying attention to one’s own PERSONAL sins, which are the only ones for which, ultimately, God will hold us responsible, and 2) paint one’s political opponents in the worst possible light — as depraved souls calling down the wrath of God rather than “people whose ideas I don’t agree with”.

    But how do we balance this with the fact that the Judeo-Christian tradition have a long, long history of perceiving God’s judgment falling upon entire societies/nations, and demanding repentance for them? Most of you have probably seen references to 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

    And, for Catholics in particular, have there not been numerous private revelations (Fatima, Akita, Kibeho, etc.) in which Our Lady is said to have pleaded for prayer and penance to avert the wrath of God upon either the world in general or upon particular nations?

    I suppose the difference between genuine “national repentance” and the kind Lewis is talking about is that the type of national repentance spoken of in Scripture and also in private revelation always starts at the personal level. Not with pointing the finger at someone else, or attempting to repent of sins committed by distant ancestors or others, but with repenting of and doing penance for one’s own present sins, which may include (but are not limited to) acts that contribute to or fail to stop national evils (e.g. voting for aggressively pro-abortion candidates because they promised a lot of other stuff that sounded good).

  5. Elaine Krewer.

    Your distinctions are interesting.
    It must be both, individual as well as national sins that we must atone for.
    The beam in my eye keeps me in check except when I get emotional over the culture we live in. More prayer and penance needed

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