Monday, January 6, 2014

Sacramental Writing.

Christ gave us the sacraments to establish His relationship with us two thousand years ago. So we, as pious saints, have been fighting about their nature ever since. The important thing, for now, is that the differing views of the sacraments has affected Christian writing. Since I don't have time to explore all the sacraments (or their number), I will focus on communion. There are four different views; each of with many caveats and intricacies. I am going to simplify, so feel free to correct me if I get anything wrong.

The first is the Catholic/Orthodox view of transubstantiation: the belief that the essence of the elements (the bread and the wine) literally becomes that of the body and the blood of Christ. So the Catholic writer also sees his writing, in a way, as something which is ordinary, but also something which can become utterly holy. You can see this in the works of Dante, Tolkien or Chesterton. They pay far more attention to intricate beauty than to announcing that they are Christian. Since the ordinary and mundane elements are transformed into the holy, there is no need for the Catholic author to put the holiness directly in writing. 

The second view is Sacramental Union (or consubstantiation), the view held by Lutherans and some Anglicans. The doctrine of Sacramental Union is profoundly relational, it centers around the presence of Christ near to the sacraments. It's not that the bread and wine are physically changed. They gain a new essence--that of Jesus Christ's. Writers from this group center around Christ's relationship with his people. C.S Lewis' sacramental theology was probably closest to that of Union, and so The Chronicles of Narnia center around Aslan's relationship with the children of Adam and Eve.

Next comes the Reformed view of the pneumatic presence, held by some Anglicans, Presbyterians who have read their confessions and a few Baptists. The Reformed Christian believes that the Sacrament actually affects the heart of the believer, and that he is renewed by the Holy Spirit. Writers who held to this view of the sacraments, such as John Bunyan and Jonathan Swift,  tend to write in allegory. Just as the sacraments are seen as an spiritual allegory (note: not just a symbol, but a real spiritual representative ), the Reformed often see their writing as an allegory.

And finally, we come to the doctrine of memorialism, the doctrine held by most of evangelical Christians today. Communion is merely a symbol to remind us of Christ's sacrifice until he comes, they say. It will be fine, they say. Most Christians who hold to this view crave to bring their Christian views into their writing, however, since they don't believe in a real presence, the only way to bring Christ into their work is to make it explicitly Christian. Thus was the genre of Christian Fiction born. Usually these books contain either a miracle or a conversion experience--at least. This is the doctrine of communion that brings us Frank Perreti, who is decent, and the Left Behind series, which is not. 

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