Owen Barfield & C.S. Lewis

Some key dates in the friendship between Owen Barfield and
C.S. Lewis:

1898 Both born in November, OB on 9th  and CSL on 29th
1919 OB & CSL meet at Oxford University
1922 to 1930 The “Great War” years:  an intense debate concerning imagination and truth, the outcome of which was that CSL became a theist
1923 OB marries Maud (née Douie), CSL becomes a frequent visitor to the Barfields
1925 OB publishes The Silver Trumpet, a fairy tale for children
1927 to 1939 OB & CSL go on annual walking tours together at Easter; as well as weekend walks throughout the year
1928 OB publishes Poetic Diction dedicated to CSL
1931 Barfields leave Oxford for London
1935 CSL becomes Godfather to Lucy Barfield
1936 CSL publishes Allegory of Love dedicated to OB
1940 to 1946 Barfields move back to near Oxford during WW2
1942 OB establishes the “Agape Fund” to administer CSL’s charitable donations
1948 Premiere of OB’s verse drama Orpheus, with “Programme Note” by CSL
1949 OB is received into the Anglican Church
1950 The first Narnia book is written for and dedicated to Lucy Barfield
1952 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is dedicated to Jeffrey Barfield (née Geoffrey Corbett)
1954 CSL nominates OB to succeed him in Oxford; blocked by College faculty
1963 Death of CSL; OB and A. C. Harwood are co-trustees for the CSL Estate
1967 OB appoints W. Hooper as co-trustee
1979 OB passes control of the CSL Estate to the beneficiaries, David and Douglas Gresham
1989 OB publishes Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis
1997 Death of OB on Dec. 14th, aged 99.

The following is a summary of statements made by Barfield in his book, Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis
(first published 1989).

Contrasting views of the relationship between God and Humanity:

Ever since CSL died, opinions and views have been attributed to CSL that he did not hold. And they have been supported by quotes from OB, on the mistaken assumption the two friends shared the same outlook – they did not.

What they did agree on is:

  1. The disappearance from general awareness of the very idea of sin is a most threatening sign of the times.
  2. The relationship between God and Humanity is expressible only in metaphor. (But their choice of metaphor differs.)

For CSL the relationship was:

  • one of ‘otherness’
  • with an emphasis on Transcendence
  • taking an anti-historicism view –  seeing all human souls, from all time, as equidistant from ‘Eternity’.

For OB the relationship was:

  • one of ‘sameness’
  • with an emphasis on Immanence
  • taking the view that human history has meaning – seeing the Evolution of Collective Consciousness as a whole.

Differences listed by theme:

Humanity – For CSL, humanity represents a collection of individual souls, each limited to one lifetime alone. For OB, humanity as a whole is a spiritual reality continually evolving.

Christianity – For CSL, Christianity entails membership of an organisation which shares his own view of what is meant by ‘Revelation’. For OB, Christianity includes all who accept the ‘Incarnation’ and ‘Resurrection’.

Moral/Spiritual Life – For CSL spiritual life is a succession of choices, each exclusive and each in the direction of hell or heaven. For OB spiritual life is a flow (or development) towards a new way of being.

Hierarchy – For CSL, hierarchy is needed for healthy social structure, including relations between Men and Women. For OB, hierarchy is a phase of evolution which is disappearing.

Belief / Knowledge – For OB, belief is a kind of consciousness that was necessary in the medieval period. But for humanity to survive, what in the Middle Ages had to be accepted on Faith, now needs to become a matter of Knowledge. For CSL, belief couldn’t be known.

Myth – For CSL, myth holds no relation to knowledge or truth.  For OB, myth does hold a relation to knowledge and truth.

Imagination – For CSL, Imagination is an end in herself, and CSL maintained a pure detachment between Imagination and Truth. For OB, Imagination is a means to some other end, and OB maintained Imagination was a way of discovering Truth. The example given by OB is it’s as if Imagination is an Edwardian Lady – kept pure and chaste – and sheltered from active participation in the practical business of life. CSL wanted to place her apart as a mistress to be enjoyed. While OB wanted to set her free to participate in life. OB even goes so far as to say that her co-operation is essential for the survival of humanity.

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.