Mere Christianity

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Mere Christianity Book 3, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The previous chapter, Lewis explains, was originally meant to be broadcast on the radio—therefore, Lewis missed his chance to mention some important points. In this chapter, Lewis will fill in some of the details about Christian virtue. Christian thinkers have divided virtue into seven categories: four Cardinal virtues and three Theological virtues. For now, he’ll look at the Cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.
In the previous chapter, Lewis spoke about the concept of virtue in general; now it’s time for him to get into the details of specific virtues, including the seven virtues he names here.
Themes
Morality, Religion, and Reason Theme Icon
Christianity and Practice Theme Icon
Prudence is defined as “taking the trouble to think out what you are doing.” Critics argue that Christians celebrate stupidity and childishness; Christians are discouraged from understanding the universe. But although God wants people to be innocent and, in a sense, child-like, he also wants them to be intelligent during the course of their time on the Earth. One cannot be very moral without prudence.
It’s no coincidence that Lewis begins his discussion of virtue with a discussion of prudence. Lewis dislikes the stereotype that Christians are somehow ignorant or naïve in their view of the world; he wants to make it clear that good Christians can also be highly intelligent and insightful.
Themes
Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Christianity and Practice Theme Icon
Temperance, nowadays, means teetotalism, but it used to mean restraint and moderation in all pleasures, not just drinking. Christianity never says that it’s necessary to be a teetotaler. Indeed, it’s generally not the Christian way to say that anything is inherently bad; when a good Christian gives up drinking, meat, or cinema, they recognize that they have a problem with the item in question, rather than saying that drinking, meat, or films are intrinsically “evil.”
Lewis spends as much time talking about what temperance isn’t as he does defining what temperance is. In general, he suggests that true Christianity doesn’t demonize any specific objects or activities—as we saw in Part One, Christianity argues that material things are sometimes good and sometimes bad.
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Justice encompasses many different ideas, including honesty, truthfulness, and fairness. Fortitude represents two distinct kinds of courage: first, the kind of courage that faces danger; second, the kind of courage that remains under pain (i.e., “guts”).
Lewis will explore justice in more detail in the chapter on marriage—for now, he just offers a cursory overview of this virtue.
Themes
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There’s a difference between moral behavior and being a moral person, Lewis says, just as there’s a difference between occasionally making a good shot in tennis and being a good tennis player. The problem with mixing up moral behavior with being a moral person is that it creates the mistaken impressions that 1) it doesn’t matter why we do things, provided that we do them; 2) God wants his followers to obey him blindly instead of understanding why they obey moral law; and 3) the only reason for moral behavior is to resolve a problem of some kind (e.g., if there’s no danger, there is no need for the virtue of bravery). In general, humans should engage in moral actions in order to reshape themselves into moral people.
Lewis makes a subtle distinction between behavior and intention. It’s not enough simply to do good things; one must also be a good person (even though, as we’ll see later on, Lewis thinks that being a good person is fundamentally tied to doing good things consistently). Humans are more than just the sum of their actions; Lewis believes that there is an innate “self” (arguably, the soul) that makes decisions, absorbs life experiences, and becomes either better or worse over the course of a lifetime.
Themes
Good, Evil, and Free Will Theme Icon
Christianity and Practice Theme Icon
Faith, Works, and Salvation Theme Icon