Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why the Chronicles of Narnia Are Not Allegorical

I am in the process of rereading The Chronicles of Narnia and will blog about each of the seven books. I will focus on a single theme from each book and discuss it in light of Christianity. It is important to note, however, that Lewis never wanted The Chronicles of Narnia to be read as an allegory. Rather, Lewis wondered what would happen if instead of God becoming incarnate in our world, He had been the Lord of an imaginary place called Narnia. While the distinction between allegorical fantasy and what Lewis calls a “supposition” may seem insignificant, Lewis has an important reason for placing emphasis on that distinction. To understand further what he means, we need to be introduced to another famous work by C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters are a series of letters written by a senior devil named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is in charge of destroying the faith of a newly baptized Christian whom the devils call the Patient. Why is it that Lewis chooses to write from the devils’ perspective and not from God’s? The answer can be found in the preface to his book:

 “Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.

To write definitively about God when it comes to matters of salvation is always a dangerous endeavor. After all, Lewis is not a prophet. From the scriptures and from his own personal experiences, Lewis has ideas about how a person is ultimately saved or why a person suffers, but as neither of us living know fully the details of God’s workings in the world (for God works in mysterious ways), neither of us can definitively know why people are put to the test (whether or not they always are) or what we will experience on the other side of the grave. This is not to say that Truth is relative because it is not. But some things have not been revealed to us.
When an author like Hal Lindsey or a man like Harold Camping write and speak definitively about the end times or about how God works in people’s lives for their ultimate salvation, they speak with false authority. At best, they simplify others’ sufferings. At worst, their failed promises discredit Christianity in the eyes of non-believers. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters speak of suffering, salvation, temptation, and the end-times – issues that we do not fully understand. When Lewis writes The Screwtape Letters from the devils’ perspective he acknowledges the fact that he may not be fully correct, and that is alright since the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). To write about Aslan’s workings in an imaginary place called Narnia as a thought experiment rather than as an allegory liberates Lewis to write as a fictional author who happens to be Christian rather than as a prophet.

Sometimes false prophets don’t even know that they are speaking falsely. For example, most of us have probably seen billboard signs with quotes like ”Don’t make me come down there – God” as if this is how God feels about the world, as if we don’t wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ (Roman Missal). As I write posts on the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia keep in mind that the books are a supposition and not an allegory. In many places, Aslan seems to quote Jesus and circumstances in Narnia may seem to echo passages in the Bible, but C.S. Lewis’ fictional books never replace the Bible or claim to no more about God than has been revealed to us. This is what impresses me the most about Lewis. Let us not be afraid to question the author. Let us not confuse Aslan with Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Wisdom From Pope John XXIII

The passage below is taken from Pope John XXIII’s opening speech to the Second Vatican Council: Gaudet Mater Ecclesia (a.k.a. Mother Church Rejoices).

The Origin and Reason for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, "Ecumenical Council." We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervour throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the Council.

There have elapsed three years of laborious preparation, during which a wide and profound examination was made regarding modern conditions of faith and religious practice, and of Christian and especially Catholic vitality. These years have seemed to us a first sign, an initial gift of celestial grace.

Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church–we confidently trust–will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual co-operation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.

And thus the holding of the Council becomes a motive for wholehearted thanksgiving to the Giver of every good gift, in order to celebrate with joyous canticles the glory of Christ our Lord, the glorious and immortal King of ages and of peoples.

The opportuneness of holding the Council is, moreover, venerable brothers, another subject which it is useful to propose for your consideration. Namely, in order to render our Joy more complete, we wish to narrate before this great assembly our assessment of the happy circumstances under which the Ecumenical Council commences.

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

It is easy to discern this reality if we consider attentively the world of today, which is so busy with politics and controversies in the economic order that it does not find time to attend to the care of spiritual reality, with which the Church's magisterium is concerned. such a way of acting is certainly not right, and must justly be disapproved. It cannot be denied, however, that these new conditions of modern life have at least the advantage of having eliminated those innumerable obstacles by which, at one time, the sons of this world impeded the free action of the Church. In fact, it suffices to leaf even cursorily through the pages of ecclesiastical history to note clearly how the Ecumenical Councils themselves, while constituting a series of true glories for the Catholic Church, were often held to the accompaniment of most serious difficulties and sufferings because of the undue interference of civil authorities. The princes of this world, indeed, sometimes in all sincerity, intended thus to protect the Church. But more frequently this occurred not without spiritual damage and danger, since their interest therein was guided by the views of a selfish and perilous policy.

In this regard, we confess to you that we feel most poignant sorrow over the fact that very many bishops, so dear to us are noticeable here today by their absence, because they are imprisoned for their faithfulness to Christ, or impeded by other restraints. The thought of them impels us to raise most fervent prayer to God. Nevertheless, we see today, not without great hopes and to our immense consolation, that the Church, finally freed from so many obstacles of a profane nature such as trammeled her in the past, can from this Vatican Basilica, as if from a second apostolic cenacle, and through your intermediary, raise her voice resonant with majesty and greatness.

The complete address can be found here: Opening Speech to Vatican II Council