The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters Letter XIV Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The patient has regained his faith in Christianity, Screwtape has learned from Wormwood, but—very alarmingly for the devils—he has not made any big resolutions. Instead, he has just promised himself to use Christianity to make his life better and avoid temptation. To counteract this dangerous development, Wormwood should try to fill the patient with pride at his new humility and piety.
One problem with Christianity, Lewis implies, is that Christians think that they have to use their religion to accomplish “big plans,” when in reality, Christianity is meant to satisfy the most ordinary, everyday needs—happiness, friendship, etc. Demanding huge changes or blessings thus often leads to disappointed faith.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Screwtape advises Wormwood to influence the patient to forget the true meaning of humility. True humility is the forgetting of the self, not, as many people think, the denial of one’s talent or character. Screwtape observes that God wants humans to believe that they could build “the best cathedral in the world,” know the cathedral is beautiful, and also be no happier with the cathedral than if someone else had built it.
Lewis makes a complicate distinction here. The fallacy of pride, he suggests, is to believe that one’s work is one’s own, when in reality, it belongs to God. So long as one corrects this error, one can still take pleasure in one’s creations—delight in a job well done isn’t inherently sinful at all.
Themes
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
In a sense, Screwtape speculates, God wants humans to replace one kind of self-love with a different kind. Humans should love themselves because they are alive—they should be able to recognize their own talents and abilities. At the same time, humans should be able to forget their own talents, acknowledging that they have received these talents from God, rather than winning them for themselves. By the same logic, God doesn’t want men to dwell on their sins—it’s better for humans to sin, repent, and move on with their lives.
Lewis alludes to the Book of Job once again. When Job questions the punishment God has inflicted upon him, God tells Job that Job is lucky simply to be alive—he doesn’t “own” himself, let alone his own fate, and so he should be grateful to God even for his misfortune. Lewis also offers his own interpretation of Christianity here—where some other Christians emphasize the importance of acknowledging one’s sins again and again, Lewis wants Christians to forget their sins as soon as they repent of them.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon