C. S. Lewis, Part 3: Mere Christianity
The Cardinal Virtues

by Terry Heames


For the first lecture on "Mere Christianity" I chose the question of why did a confirmed atheist like C.S. Lewis accept the concept of God.   What is his God like?   Is it God you are familiar with?

In that presentation, I only gave an overview of the two concepts that Lewis derived:

  1. That rational thought does not come from mere evolution and
  2. That the concept of right and wrong is also inherent in man.
The first implies that God is rational and the second implies that God is just.   Therefore, we will assume these as givens, as Lewis does, so that arguments that do not explain there presence can be found unacceptable.

In the second presentation I continued Lewis' thoughts as he goes from a concept of God to Mere Christianity.  I attempted to show his reasoning for

  1. A single God,
  2. Free will or why evil exists,
  3. That Christ is God, and
  4. The difference between just being good and Christ living within us.
All these are fundamental tenets of Mere Christianity.

In this presentation:

I will discuss "Christian Behavior", that is as opposed to the behavior of those who do not follow the Judeo-Christian walk.  I will give an overview of the Cardinal virtues, "Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude", these are the ones recognized by all civilized people as the way to get along with other people.  Then Lewis' covers the "Great Sin" and follows that with the three theological virtues, "Faith, Hope, and Charity."  Lewis covers the four Cardinal virtues in one chapter, the great sin in another, and then has two chapters on Faith, one on Hope, and two on Charity (Love).  In this section of the book he also included several chapters on Morality, that I decided to skip, but if you have the chance you should read.  In fact I heartily recommend reading the entire book, which can be purchased from your favorite Christian bookstore.

The Cardinal Virtues -- How to get along with others in a civilized society:

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think about what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says, Christ wants a child's heart but an adult's head.   He wants us to use what sense we have and not be fools.   One only has to take a brief walk into Proverbs to see what God thinks of fools, well over 75 verses.

Temperance means moderation, primarily in the indulgences of the natural appetites and passions.   There was a time when most people would have said it refers to only drink, i.e. teetotalism, but the reality is that it refers to all activities that people can become addicted to: not only alcohol, but also drugs, gossip, golf, television, and work to name a few.   Activities that may not be bad in themselves, but without moderation may verge on becoming an idol and we all know how God feels about placing idols before him.   Remember, God reads your heart.

Justice means more than the stuff in courts, it is also the name for everything we now call fairness.   You know, "honesty, truthfulness, keeping promises" all those things that cause partnerships to break apart.

Fortitude means both types of courage, the part that faces danger and the part that endures and "hangs in there" when things are not going well.   It is the one that allows you to do the other three on the long term.

One more thing about virtues, there is a difference between doing a just act and being a just man.   Someone who is not a good tennis player, that's me, may occasionally make a good shot.   What you mean by a good player is someone who can consistently make the good shot.  The same applies to a "just" man.  He is the one who persona is consistently "just" because he does it for the right reason, and not because of public opinion.   And what does God want for us?   To be someone who follows the rules or someone of the right character?

We may be sure that perfect courage, perfect moderation, or any virtue will not be attained by human efforts.   You must ask for God's help.  After every failure, ask forgiveness and try again.   Very often what God helps toward is not the virtue itself but just this power of trying again.   For however important this virtue may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul, which are more important.   We learn that we cannot do it by ourselves, even in our best moments, and that even in our failures we are forgiven.

The Great Sin:

The center of Christian morals lies not in pleasures of the flesh, but in the spiritual realm where pride is in control.   Webster defines pride as an unreasonable conceit of one's own superiority over others.   [I am not sure how it has come to mean self-respect or personal responsibility].   It was through pride that the devil became the devil.  It leads to every other vice and is the complete anti-God state of mind.  Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.  Greed may drive a man into competition for more if there is not enough to go around, but pride will make him want more, even after he has more than he can possibly use.   The Christians are right; it is pride that has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the beginning of time.   Other vices can bring people together, if only for a short time, to drink or be unchaste or unjust.  But pride is enmity, both between man and man as well as between man and God.  You know those who are vain, always looking for a compliment.  If I do something good, pride demands that it be recognized.   These are the lower levels of pride.  The higher levels are in those that don't care what others think because "Their opinion is of little worth".   Whenever we find that our religious life is making is making us feel we are good -- especially if we feel as though we are better than others -- we may be sure that this is the devils work.   Pride builds that sense of self-importance.

Lewis calls pride a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.   Therefore, he says to love and admire anything outside of yourself is to take one step away from spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well as long as we admire anything more than we love and admire God.

Humility is the virtue in opposition.   Lewis states that if you ever meet a "humble" person, all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent person who took a real interest in what you said to him.   If you do dislike him it is probably only that you are envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily.   He will not be thinking about humility and he will not be thinking about himself at all.  If anyone would like to acquire humility, the first step is to acknowledge that you are proud.   Your motive for serving should be the well-being of other people, the lifting up of other folks, the ministry of the menial as it has been called.

Remember Philippians 2:3-4

The Theological Virtues -- The God centered virtues that define Christian behavior


Charity is defined as the good affection, love, or tenderness which men should feel toward their fellow men.  Sounds like 'Love, in the Christian sense'.   As in Matthew 22:39 -- "

But how do you do it?   Lewis argues that the key is in how you love yourself.  Clearly there are times when you don't like yourself, like after a night out.   Therefore, loving your neighbor doesn't mean we have to like our neighbor.   Or has been said many times, "hate the bad man's actions, not the man'.  What this leads to is; that we must wish that he would not be bad again, and to hope that he may be cured.   In other words, wishing good things for him.  Lewis states it as: "Do not waste your time bothering about whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did".   It is not the emotion, not the feelings, but that state of the will. Although it sounds cold, it leads to affection.  The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he likes them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on-including people he could not have imagined liking in the beginning.

Many Christian writers use the word charity to describe not Christian love between human beings, but also God's love for us, and man love for God.  It is the last of these that cause many to worry.   They just can't conjure up the feelings in themselves to love God.   So what is one to do? Just the same thing as before, don't manufacture feelings just ask, "If I were sure that I loved God what would I do?"   Then go do it.   Christian love toward man or toward God is an affair of the will.  If we are trying to do his will we are obeying his commandment:  Matthew 22:37 --

He will give us feelings of love, in His time.  Remember that even though our feelings may come and go, but He still loves us.


Hope is a continual looking forward to a better time [Webster adds that there also is also an expectation or a belief that it is obtainable]. 2 Timothy 3:16 states:

Yes, the Bible is the word of God and in the Bible God has made promises including when Jesus said: John 3:16

If you are a Christian, then it is a desire for the eternal life.   It is important to occupy your mind with heaven, and I would love to say that it is easy.  The problems is our education system, our job, our life tends to fix our minds on this world.  Lewis discusses the concept of unfulfilled desires at this point and brings forth the observation that many of our desires, like contentment and longings for the perfect vacation, or marriage, or career can not be satisfied in this life and jus evade us.   He states that there are three ways that people adapt to this state of affairs.   The fools way; the vacation, the spouse, the field of work was at fault, I will just try another spouse, vacation, or hobby.   The second is the way of the disillusioned or 'sensible man' who learns not to expect much from life and just moves on.   This is the more common way as we age, and is a sign of not believing that God's promise is true, that there is an eternal life.  How sad to die and find out our common sense has led us so far astray.  The third is the Christian way; that says that creatures are born with desires that can not be satisfied until we reach heaven and that the pleasures of this world were only meant to arouse the desire, the looking forward, for the next.


Faith is defined as "the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another; firm and earnest belief on probable evidence of any kind".  Lewis goes to the real point by defining it as "accepting as true the doctrines of Christianity".  He has no problem with the definition but rather with the concept of calling it a virtue.  After all, a man accepts or rejects any statement because the evidence for it seems to be good or bad.   This however has an assumption built into it, that is that the human mind once rendering a statement as true continues to do so until new evidence comes along to dissuade it.  You know, the human mind is always reasonable.

Have you ever had surgery? You know that anesthesia always works, but just before they start did you get concerned it won't?   How about going on a thrill ride, you know that harness will hold, but do you ever have doubts?   I thought Lewis' best example was learning to swim.  Remember, you knew you would float every one else did, but when the instructor let go, did you have a few doubts?   As Lewis states, the battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.   Now suppose a man's reason has decided the doctrines of Christianity are true.   There will come a moment when he is in trouble, or he wants to tell a lie, or he feels very proud of himself.   And guess what happens, that's right his desires, wishes, and feeling will start a blitz on him.   Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

One must train the habit of faith.   The first step is just to recognize that your moods change.   The next step is to recall daily some of the truths that you have accepted.   That is why you have been told that daily prayer, scripture readings, and church going is so essential.   We need to be fed.   Most people who have lost their faith, have not been reasoned out of it by honest argument but rather have just simply drifted away.

There is however, a higher sense of faith.   To find it Lewis argues that one must first decide to make a serious attempt at practicing these Christian virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) on a daily basis.   A week is not enough, because we all can do them for a while, go for 6 weeks.  By that time you will have fallen back in to your old lifestyle, or perhaps even worse.   No one knows how bad they are until they try to be good.   Only when you try to resist that temptation to gossip or whatever, do you know how strong it is.  We never find out the strength of an evil impulse inside of us until we try to resist it.   The main thing we learn is that any serious attempt to practice Christian virtues will fail.   But this is not the real point. Lewis goes on to explain that most people who believe in God, has an idea of an exam, or of a bargain, in his mind.   You know, an idea that if we could perform our side (by being good) that it would only be fair for Him to let us in to heaven.   Well Christianity just blows that idea out of the water.   But if you think about it, it will dawn on you that even if you devoted every moment of your life to His service it still wouldn't be enough.   After all, who gave you everything?   Lewis uses the analogy of a small child asking his father for some money to buy him a present for his birthday.   Of course he does and is pleased with the result . But is the father wealthier for it?   So if you can't bargain your way in by good works, what is one to do?

Faith in Christ.   But that implies trusting Him and trying to do all that He says.  But trying in a different way.   Lewis states it as not hoping to get to heaven as a reward, but wanting to act in a way that pleases Him.   Wayne would say not in a religious way but as Christ living within you.  Out of faith in Him good actions will inevitably follow.   Wayne also likes to equate the word faith with the word surrender, hence one could also say, "out of our surrender to Him, good actions will follow".

In summary:

Today I have given an overview of the four cardinal virtues, "Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude", the ones recognized by all civilized people as the way to get along with other people.   In my opinion the key is practice.   Remember that there is a difference between doing a courageous act and being a courageous man.   Lewis' analogy was: someone who is not a good tennis player may occasionally make a good shot.   What one means by a good player is someone who can consistently make the good shot.   The same applies to a "courageous" man.  He is the one whose persona is consistently "courageous", because he endures for the right reason, not just to follow the rules but because he has the right character.

I then discussed pride, the "Great Sin", and the difficult virtue of humility.   Lewis reminds us that your motive for service should be the lifting up of others, that you should show them that you have a real interest in what they say, and less of what you are interested in.

Finally I talked about Lewis' ideas concerning the virtues that define Christian behavior, the three theological virtues, "Faith, Hope, and Charity.  Surrender to Christ, the looking forward to heaven, and love of God and neighbor.

As Lewis says, if your focus is on God, the world will be a better place.