Friday, September 21, 2018

Catholics, Orthodox, and Tolkien, Chesterton, and Lewis

I'm absolutely appalled by most of my Orthodox brethren's treatment of Catholicism. Modern Orthodoxy's selective sense history (not to mention the ignoring of their own canons and anathemas) is frustrating. Don't get me wrong, there's problems with Catholicism, and they're all tied in with the Pope and Rome and the centralization of their ecclesiastical power. But there's still some hope for unity, and I think that's thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien, Chesterton, and Lewis

I mean, sure, who doesn't love LOTR? Well, quite a few. But there are a number of Orthodox who love Tolkien, who attribute their Orthodoxy, in part, to Tolkien. Even the most die-hard ROCOR I've met has sang Tolkien's praises. And it's not hard to see why. Tolkien's worldview is decidedly Orthodox: people fall and succeed because of their limited qualities, not because they're good or bad or whatever, the world is infinitely larger than the characters but can be profoundly affected by them, and victory is because of the divine, not the human. But the inherent tragedy of human existence, coupled with the fact that, for us Christians, death is no longer the tragedy it once was, is at the beating heart of Tolkien's works, which lines him up with Orthodoxy's hymnography and doctrine. And people can feel that out.

G.K. Chesterton is another great example of a Catholic who the Orthodox love to quote. His books Heretics and Orthodoxy and some of the most quotable and hopeful books I've ever read in my life and were part of my (still very much so ongoing) recovery from cynicism and a dead life. Chesterton's take on life as being a fairy tale that all others are based on is impossible to ignore, let alone talk down. Chesterton's fiction isn't quite as good as his non-fiction, but it has a charm that's all its own.

I don't know of a single Christian group that can actually hate C.S. Lewis. While he was nominally Anglican (c'mon, people, the Great Divorce puts him squarely into Orthodox territory at the least, if not Catholic)the fact of the matter is that The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy have put Lewis as secondary only to Tolkien in the Christian world, and even that's arguable for a number of people.

Like I said, Orthodox and Catholic alike hold up these three giants without any shame. And that, to me, speaks to a much greater commonality than people on both sides would like to admit. An Emperor of China, when he wanted to know what his people were like, would go out and find out what art they were creating and consuming. And the fact of the matter is that, if a right-right ROCOR Orthodox can love Tolkien as much as a modern Novus Ordo Catholic, not all is lost. We can figure this out, somehow.

It very well may take the Anti-Christ to do it, but that's to be expected. We are only human, after all, and are a rather thick bunch.

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