Honourary Beard: Clive Staples Lewis

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by Timothy Braun

 

By the Lion’s Mane!  What is this nonsense? Bearded Gospel Men featuring a beardless man?  It’s outrageous!

I’m sure most of you who frequent this site are at least somewhat familiar with CS Lewis.  Perhaps best known as the author of the classic children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis was also one of the most brilliant Christian minds of the 20th century.  His works of apologetics, most notably Mere Christianity, are legendary and have provided countless Christians with confidence and clarity in their walk with Christ.  That Lewis was a Gospel Man I don’t think anyone would debate; so what about the beard?

Well, we here at BGM believe that, while beardedness is best expressed outwardly, it is truly a matter of the heart (you know, kinda, almost, sort-of like Rom. 2:28-29).  A true Bearded Gospel Man is one from the inside-out; his beard is an extension, an outflowing of the beardedness of his soul!

I believe Lewis was bearded at heart.

Even a cursory glance through his works of fiction show that Lewis provided beards for all of the noblest and wisest of his characters.  Father Christmas, for example, Lewis describes as having “a great white beard, that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest” (LWW, chapter 10).

Now, Father Christmas is a bit of a gimme (as would be references to bearded dwarves), but beards are all over Lewis’ works.  Take centaurs for example.  Lewis’ centaurs always have beards:

The two Centaurs, one with a black and one with a golden beard flowing over their magnificent bare chests, stood waiting for them, bending their heads a little so as to look into the cave.  Then the children became very polite …   No one thinks a centaur funny when he sees it.  They are solemn, majestic people, full of ancient wisdom which they learn from the stars, not easily made either merry or angry; but their anger is terrible as a tidal wave when it comes” (The Silver Chair, chapter 16).

And then, in The Last Battle, once the followers of Aslan are in ‘the new Narnia/heaven,’ the High King Peter introduces Tirian to Digory “whose golden beard flowed over his breast and whose face was full of wisdom” (chapter 12).

But perhaps my favourite description of a beard from Lewis’ fiction comes from the last book in his science fiction triology, That Hideous Strength.  In this scene Jane, the female protagonist, meets Dr. Elwin Ransom for the first time.  Due to his previous adventures Lewis has Ransom take on the mythic role of the Fisher-King,  here described as “the wounded man.”   All quotes are taken from chapter 7, The Pendragon:

Jane looked; and instantly her world was unmade.   …  Winter sunlight poured through the glass; apparently one was above the fog here.  All the light in the room seemed to run towards the gold hair and the gold beard of the wounded man…  Of course he was not a boy – how could she have thought so?  The fresh skin on his cheeks and hands had suggested the idea.  But no boy could have so full a beard.  And no boy could be so strong.  It was manifest that the grip of those hands would be inescapable…

She had, or so she had believed, disliked bearded faces except for old men.  But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood – and the imagined Solomon too…   For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself with all its linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.

Ah, yes!  Wisdom and power, mercy and sacrifice all embodied in the ageless awesomeness that is the beard.  That’s beautiful stuff, that is!

Even in Lewis’ more serious, thoughtful writings beards show up.  In The Screwtape Letters Lewis has his fictional demon, Screwtape, advise his novice, Wormwood, in how to tempt and corrupt Christians.  In his unendingly witty and backward way Lewis gets his points across.  In Letter #20 Screwtape says:

The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.  Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females – and there is more to that than you might suppose.”

There you have it!  Lewis (sort of) declared that the unbearding of men is a diabolical act!

And as a final point we look to Lewis’ biography by George Sayer:

A few years before his death, Lewis was able to visit Greece for the first time. His biographer, George Sayer, writes that Lewis was moved by his visit to a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Rhodes during Pascha in 1960, where, with his ailing wife, Joy, he attended part of the Paschal service as well as an Orthodox wedding. In Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, Sayer writes, “Whenever the subject came up between us, [Lewis] said that he preferred the Orthodox liturgy to either the Catholic or Protestant liturgies. He was also impressed by the Greek Orthodox priests, whose faces, he thought, looked more spiritual than those of most Catholic or Protestant clergy.”  [quote from: http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_29/Shine_As_The_Sun.pdf  (pg. 55)]

What could he possibly mean about the faces of Orthodox Priests other than their beards?

And so, the case has been made:  CS Lewis constantly associated nobility and wisdom with beardedness.  He attributed society’s preference for the clean shaven man as a diabolical corruption while referring to the perennially bearded clergy of the Orthodox Church as the most “spiritual” of all clergy.  And, it should also be mentioned that Lewis’ spiritual mentor, George MacDonald, had a rather large beard.

So why did Lewis himself not grow a beard?  That is one question I don’t have the answers for.  Was it his work in the Universities of Great Britain that forbade beardedness?  Perhaps.  But I don’t know.

However, what seems clear to me is that our dear brother Jack was a man with a bearded heart.
And so, for his work in furthering the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the clear promotion and reverence of beardedness we hereby bestow an honourary beard on Professor Clive Staples Lewis (posthumous).

 

 

Notes & Ideas:

Narnia:

From “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Chapter 10:

Father Christmas: “He was a huge man in a bright red robe… with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard, that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.”

From “The Silver Chair,” Chapter 16:

“At that moment there was a sound of horse-hoofs tapping on rock from the mouth of the cave, and the children looked up.  The two Centaurs, one with a black and one with a golden beard flowing over their magnificent bare chests, stood waiting for them, bending their heads a little so as to look into the cave.  Then the children became very polite and finished their breakfast very quickly.  No one thinks a centaur funny when he sees it.  They are solemn, majestic people, full of ancient wisdom which they learn from the stars, not easily made either merry or angry; but their anger is terrible as a tidal wave when it comes.”

From “The Last Battle,” Chapter 12:

“He [the High-King, Peter] brought him [King Tirian] next to a man whose golden beard flowed over his breast and whose face was full of wisdom.  ‘And this,’ he said, ‘is the Lord Digory…’”

 

Screwtape:

  • Letter #20 (pg. 77)

“The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.  Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females – and there is more to that than you might suppose.”

Space Trilogy:

From Chapter 7, “The Pendragon”:

“Jane looked; and instantly her world was unmade.”

“Winter sunlight poured through the glass; apparently one was above the fog here.  All the light in the room seemed to run towards the gold hair and the gold beard of the wounded man.

“Of course he was not a boy – how could she have thought so?  The fresh skin on his cheeks and hands had suggested the idea.  But no boy could have so full a beard.  And no boy could be so strong.  It was manifest that the grip of those hands would be inescapable…”

“She had, or so she had believed, disliked bearded faces except for old men.  But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood – and the imagined Solomon too… For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself with all its linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.”

 

CS Lewis and the Orthodox Church:

A few years before his death, Lewis was able to visit Greece for the first time. His biographer, George Sayer, writes that Lewis was moved by his visit to a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Rhodes during Pascha in 1960, where, with his ailing wife, Joy, he attended part of the Paschal service as well as an Orthodox wedding. In Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, Sayer writes, “Whenever the subject came up between us, [Lewis] said that he preferred the Orthodox liturgy to either the Catholic or Protestant liturgies. He was also impressed by the Greek Orthodox priests, whose faces, he thought, looked more spiritual than those of most Catholic or Protestant clergy.”  (my emphasis)

[taken from: http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_29/Shine_As_The_Sun.pdf  (pg. 55)]

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8 thoughts on “Honourary Beard: Clive Staples Lewis

  1. Sonny says:

    I was taught at a young age from the fellowship I was in that having facial hair was considered worldly. Then after a backside I grew a mustache and gotie. What an experience. And guess What? When I started my way back to serving God I felt no shame. Let every mans conviction be his own I pondered. Then I just did not care because what Experienced was Jesus Christ and his amazing grace, healing and love the rest didn’t matter. I’ve Been in Pentecostal most of my life. I regained my walk with my Lord Jesus Christ with facial hair. I cannot understand why some preach against it completely. I can see the view of it making one fleshy but when you are really serving the Lord with all your heart you don’t think about the facial hair as carnal.

  2. I am currently reading the collected letters of C.S. Lewis. One quote he wrote at the end of a letter to his brother you might be interested in

    ‘I have grown a beard- Good night’ -C.S. Lewis

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