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What does H.C.F. stand for?

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Michael Gaul » 24 Oct 2005, 14:31

In the preface to Mere Christianity, Lewis refers to the "H.C.F" but does not explain what it means. Does anyone know?
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re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Sven » 24 Oct 2005, 21:16

H.C.F. means "Highest Common Factor". This isn't the same thing as what we in the States call the "Lowest Common Denominator" when used mathematically, but Lewis isn't using it that way. Lewis is using the term as a figurative expression, the same way most folks in the States would use "Lowest Common Denominator", to indicate the most basic component(s) of Christianity.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Stanley Anderson » 24 Oct 2005, 21:55

Sven wrote:H.C.F. means "Highest Common Factor". This isn't the same thing as what we in the States call the "Lowest Common Denominator" when used mathematically, but Lewis isn't using it that way. Lewis is using the term as a figurative expression, the same way most folks in the States would use "Lowest Common Denominator", to indicate the most basic component(s) of Christianity.


And isn't it interesting that, in fact, Lewis' usage is analogously correct whereas the phrase "lowest common denominator" as used figuratively by most people is actually incorrect analogously. Probably because the words "lowest" and "common" in the phrase suggest lower-class or "uneducated" preferences. For instance, if someone describes a movie as appealing to the "lowest common denominator", they generally mean one that ONLY has what may be thought of as "low values" (eg, Porky's or cheap horror or action movies).

But the correct "mathematically" analogous example of a movie that appealed to "the lowest common denominator" for say, a group of people composed of "common", "low", and "high" tastes and morals would have to appeal to all three levels. This is something that Shakespeare was very good at in his plays since they contained a range of qualities (all in a single play, often) from bawdy humour to lofty philosophical investigations (of course, if Shakespeare strove for an even broader expanse of levels than the minimum necessary to cover his audience then it would no longer be the "lowest" common denominator).

Ok, enough math for the day:-)
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re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Michael Gaul » 25 Oct 2005, 00:23

Many thanks!
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby brhoads » 02 Nov 2009, 18:54

Actually, in this context H.C.F. does not mean highest common factor, but Holy Catholic Faith. Lewis was talking about the aspects of Christian faith that we all have in common ("catholic" meaning universal, not the specific sect). We know this because of his deliberate use of capitalization.
Last edited by brhoads on 03 Nov 2009, 03:49, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Sven » 02 Nov 2009, 20:44

Welcome, brhoads.

I admire your ability to create a 'fact' out of thin air.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby Paul F. Ford » 03 Nov 2009, 00:32

brhoads wrote:Actually, in this context H.C.F. does not mean highest common factor, but Holy Catholic Church. Lewis was talking about the aspects of Christian faith that we all have in common ("catholic" meaning universal, not the specific sect). We know this because of his deliberate use of capitalization.


As a reader of the works of C. S. Lewis for nearly fifty years, and as a Roman Catholic theologian with a canonical mission to teach, one who has taken the oath of fidelity and made the profession of faith, I think I am in a position to concur with Sven and Stanley that "H.C.F." DOES mean "highest common factor."
Paul Ford—self-appointed president of the "245-3617 Club" and proud member of the "245-6317 Club"; author of the Companion to Narnia and the Pocket Companion to Narnia.
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby brhoads » 03 Nov 2009, 03:48

I have no investment in my answer and am open to what others say. It simply seemed, from the context of writing about the faith of the apostles, that HCF would mean that faith, ie the holy catholic faith. I would like to know the arguments for highest common factor. Simply listing one's qualifications, as impressive as they may be, doesn't shed any light on the issue. It must have been something that Lewis felt his audience would just know.
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby agingjb » 03 Nov 2009, 11:35

Looking at the context:

"In that way it may possibly be of some help in silencing the view that, if we omit the disputed points, we shall have left only a vague and bloodless H.C.F. The H.C.F. turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all."

I think that it's fairly clear the Lewis meant Highest Common Factor. I do wonder why he did not expand the abbreviation, and also why he used a mathematical term. I suppose it was in common use as an analogy.
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby jayaresee » 04 May 2010, 05:52

He also uses H.C.F. in the section on myth in [u]An Experiment in Criticism[u]. In the context from that work is certainly is for highest common factor
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Re: What does H.C.F. stand for?

Postby donand lil » 12 Aug 2010, 02:45

Lewis uses H.C.F. in the third chapter of The Abolition of Man: "What is now common to all men is a mere abstract universal, an H.C.F...." He also makes it clear in the larger context of the book that he is not speaking about the Christian Faith in this text. I take it from the context that his meaning in every instance where he uses the abbreviation is more likely Highest Common Factor rather than Holy Catholic Faith.
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