Mere Christianity: Part V

Book III: Christian Behaviour (continued yet again)

In addition to the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude, Lewis introduces us to what he designates ‘theological’ virtues: faith, hope and charity.


Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings, but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

So how do we cultivate charity in ourselves? First, we need to recognise that being charitable isn’t a matter of temperament. Those who are ‘cold’ still have a chance to become charitable, and aren’t exempted from trying. Instead of sitting around wondering whether we love our neighbour, we should act as though we did. “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. …  If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” However,  we shouldn’t do that good turn to show the other person what a nice person we are: motives matter.

What about love toward God? What if you don’t feel any love for Him? Lewis gives the same answer: act as if you did. Go do what you would do if you were sure that you loved God. And rest in the reassurance that God’s love for us “is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference”.


Hope, says Lewis, is a continual looking forward to the eternal world. It isn’t a form of escapism and wishful thinking: those Christians who have accomplished much in the present world did so because they were heaven-minded, for example, the Apostles or the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade.

How should a Christian think of  a desire for heaven?

The Christian says,‘Creatures are not born with desires unless the satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were not meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country … I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.’


Lewis describes faith as, in one sense, “… the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Our moods will change, and we therefore need to be constantly reminded of what we believe, or as he puts it, we need to “train the habit of faith”. No belief will automatically remain in your mind; it has to be fed.

And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

Continue to Part 6.