Saturday, June 02, 2018

A Literary Marvel

We've reading CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to our daughter the last week. I freely admit it's one of my favorite works of literature. Most people immediately think of Aslan's death on the Stone Table as the perfect Christian allegory about Jesus. While a powerful scene, and indeed one of my favorites, I think most people miss the allegory in the next chapter that I would argue is perhaps CS Lewis' allegorical masterpiece, more so than even the Stone Table scene.

The scene, of course, begins in the Easter morning scene where Aslan is resurrected in front of Lucy and Susan, much like the women at the tomb in the Jesus story. The true allegorical storytelling magic, I think, actually begins after that. Lucy and Susan ride on Aslan's back to the Witch's Castle to free the Narnians who had been turned into stone by the evil White Witch when she is in her full power. Aslan of course goes round and breathes on all the stone statues bring them back to life. That in itself is re-pleat with scriptural allusions, the breathing of the breath of life into that which is inanimate is a very Jewish theological notion, found in the Creation stories all the way down to the Middle Ages with the folktales about the golem, the zombie-life creature that Rabbis create to protect the Jews by breathing the holy name of life into a clay sculpture. In most of the golem stories, the soulless create wrecks havoc on the faithful, but that's a discussion for another blog. This, of course, was one of the major sources that Mary Shelley used to create the Frankenstein monster.

The beauty of the scene that we are looking at here is that in a very few pages, CS Lewis brilliantly retells the story of the Harrowing of Hell: when Jesus descends into hell, hades, or the grave. There is much debate on where exactly Jesus went and what it meant, with some Evangelical Protestant theologians rejecting the whole notion by claiming there is no scriptural warrant for it. I have literally seen them get into online hissy fits about the whole notion.

There is scriptural warrant for it, as well as the fact that it is critical to almost all early Church theology, as found in the creeds (the creeds actually predate the closing of the Christian canon by at least a half century). I will come back to this in future blog posts, as I plan to discuss and make digestible the idea of the Christus Victor soteriology of the early Church. (Don't worry, I love unpacking 50 cent seminary words.)

What Aslan does in this scene is breathe life into the Witch's captives in the grave and give them new life. That is, in CS Lewis' theological masterstroke, the traditional teaching of the Harrowing of Hell. I love that scene. It truly is brilliant story telling, and completely theologically orthodox. Christ storming the doors of hell or hades and preaching to those in prison and bringing them back to life.

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