The Screwtape Letters – 13 & 14

This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 13-16 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.

Letter 13 – Small Pleasures:

In this letter, Screwtape berates Wormwood for allowing the Patient to experience a spiritual renewal or second conversion. As a result, an “asphyxiating cloud” has enveloped the Patient preventing any spiritual attacks to come upon him. The source of this renewal was a good book the Patient read for his own enjoyment and a walk in the country to an old mill. These two small real personal pleasures gave the Patient an experience of Reality.

Screwtape goes on to warn Wormwood to keep the Patient away from any non-sinful personal pleasures no matter how trivial. For it is in these pleasures – watching a cricket match or drinking cocoa – that the Patient develops a sort of virtue of innocence, humility, and self-forgetfulness. A person who “truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake” becomes immune from spiritual attack.

Remarkable about this letter is that the Patient’s spiritual renewal does not take place at church. The re-conversation takes place in a book and on a walk. In previous letters, Screwtape has told Wormwood how to attack the patient when in church either by making him feel superior to those around him (Letters 2 and 10) or by making him feel persecuted or divisive (Letter 7). At least from Lewis’ point of view, it is the small pleasures in life, not anything specifically “spiritual” that gives demons the most to worry about.  

As you read through the letter, think about those non-churchy places and times when you have felt a great spiritual renewal. What was it about those places and times that brought you into the presence of the Ultimate Reality? How can a good (secular) book or a good walk in the woods bring us closer to God?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians. 4:8

Letter 14 – Humility:

In this letter, Screwtape expresses his alarm that the Patient is becoming humble. The first antidote that Screwtape proposes is to make the Patient aware of his humility and take pride in it. Nothing defeats humility so readily as to have pride in one’s humility. The second antidote is for Wormwood to have the Patient confuse humility with low self-esteem. Wormwood needs to convince the Patient that his gifts from God are deficient and unworthy.

The problem with humility, as explained by Wormwood, is that humility turns the Patient’s attention from himself to his neighbor. Like the small personal pleasures in letter 13, humility is an exercise in self-forgetfulness. Humility allows the Patient to rejoice when others rejoice and, above all, “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things.”

As you read through this letter, think about the difference between humility and low self-esteem. As Lewis would ask: why is it bad for a beautiful woman to believe herself ugly or a clever man to see himself as a fool? Also, think through how humility is the foundation of loving your neighbor as yourself. If you have time, one of the great discourses on Christian humility is

Step 25 of St. John Climacus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a short meditation on what Christian humility is.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.

Philippians. 2:1-3

We are back in person for our studies. If you are planning to join us, please let us know. Dinner is at 6:00 with the discussion at 7:00.

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