"Meditation on the Third Commandment"

C.S. Lewis

written in 1941

(courtesy of Kevin Ford)

From many letters to "The Guardian"1 and from much that is printed elsewhere, we learn of the growing desire for a Christian `party', a Christian `front', or a Christian `platform' in politics. Nothing is so earnestly to be wished as a real assault by Christianity on the politics of the world: nothing, at first sight, so fitted to de!iver this assault as a Christian Party. But it is odd that certain difficulties in this programme should be already neglected while the printer's ink is hardly dry on M. Maritain's "Scholasticism and Politics".2

The Christian Party must either confine itself to stating what ends are desirable and what means are lawful or else it must go further and select from among the lawful means those which it deems possible and efficacious and give to these its practical support. If it chooses the first alternative it will not be a political party. Nearly all parties agree in professing ends which we admit to be desirable --- security, a living wage, and the best adjustment between the claims of order and freedom. What distinguishes one party from another is the championship of means. We do not dispute whether the citizens are to be made happy, but whether an egalitarian or a hierarchical State, whether capitalism or socialism, whether despotism or democracy is most likely to make them so.

What, then, will the Christian Party actually do? Philarchus, a devout Christian, is convinced that temporal welfare can flow only from a Christian life, and that a Christian life can be promoted in the community only by an authoritarian State which has swept away the last vestiges of the hated `Liberal' infection. He thinks Fascism not so much an evil as a good thing perverted, regards democracy as a monster whose victory would be a defeat for Christianity, and is tempted to accept even Fascist assistance, hoping that he and his friends will prove the leaven in a lump of British Fascists. Stativus is equally devout and equally Christian. Deeply conscious of the Fall and therefore convinced that no human creature can be trusted with more than the minimum power over his fellows, and anxious to preserve the claims of God from any infringement by those of Caesar, he still sees in democracy the only hope of Christian freedom. He is tempted to accept aid from champions of the status quo whose commercial or imperial motives bear hardly even a veneer of theism. Finally, we have Sparticus, also a Christian and also sincere, full of the prophetic and Dominical denunciations of riches, and certain that the `historical Jesus', long betrayed by the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Churches, demands of us a Left revolution. And he also is tempted to accept help from unbelievers who profess themselves quite openly to be the enemies of God.

The three types represented by these three Christians presumably come together to form a Christian Party. Either a deadlock ensues (and there the history of the Christian Party ends) or else one of the three succeeds in floating a party and driving the other two, with their followers, out of its ranks. The new party --- being probably a minority of the Christians who are themselves a minority of the citizens --- will be too small to be effective. In practice. it will have to attach itself to the un-Christian party nearest to it in beliefs about means --- to the Fascists if Philarchus has won, to the Conservatives if Stativus, to the Communists if Sparticus. It remains to ask how the resulting situation will differ from that in which Christians find themselves today.

It is not reasonable to suppose that such a Christian Party will will acquire new powers of leavening the infidel organization to which it is attached. Why should it? Whatever it calls itself, it will represent, not Christendom, but a part of Christendom. The principle which divides it from its brethren and unites it to its political allies will not be theological. It will have no authority to speak for Christianity; it will have no more power than the political skill of its members gives it to control the behaviour of its unbelieving allies. But there will be a real, and most disastrous novelty. It will be not simply a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal. It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time --- the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith. The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great. Can any more fatal expedient be devised for increasing it than that of dubbing a small band of Fascists, Communists, or Democrats `the Christian Party'? The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost; the formation of a Christian Party means handing over to him the most efficient make-up we can find. And when once the disguise has succeeded, his commands will presently be taken to abrogate all moral laws and to justify whatever the unbelieving allies of the `Christian' Party wish to do. If ever Christian men can be brought to think treachery and murder the lawful means of establishing the regime they desire, and faked trials, religious persecution and organized hooliganism the lawful means of maintaining it, it will, surely, be by just such a process as this. The history of the late medieval pseudo-Crusaders, of the Covenanters3, of the Orangemen4, should be remembered. On those who add `Thus said the Lord' to their merely human utterances descends the doom of a conscience which seems clearer and clearer the more it is loaded with sin.

All this comes from pretending that God has spoken when He has not spoken. He will not settle the two brothers' inheritance: `Who made Me a judge or a divider over you?'5 By the natural light He has shown us what means are lawful: to find out which one is efficacious He has given us brains. The rest He has left to us.

(1) The Guardian was a weekly Anglican newspaper founded in 1846 to uphold Tractarian principals, and to show their relevance to the best secular thought of the day.

(2) Jacques Maritain, Scholasticism and Politics, trans. M.J. Adler (London, 1950)

(3) The bodies of Presbyterians who in the 16th and 17th centuries bound themselves by religious and political oaths to maintain the cause of their religion.

(4) Members of the Orange Association (founded in 1795) who defended the cause of Protestantism in Ireland.

(5) Luke 12:14.

BCF The Bible and Social Justice