Theology as Fantasy

According to Tolkien, one of the primary tasks of fairy-story is that of “Fantasy,” of presenting an alternate, secondary world characterized by an “arresting strangeness” and element of “unreality,” by means of which the sub-creator achieves a second goal of fairy-story, that of “Recovery,” the “regaining of a clear view” of reality, a vision freed from the possessiveness and appropriation of triteness and familiarity. In The Word Made Strange, however, John Milbank argues that this task which Tolkien assigns to fairy-story and sub-creation in our time peculiarly belongs to to theology: “In the past, practice already ‘made strange’, already felt again the authentic shock of the divine word by performing it anew, with variation…. Yet today it can feel as if it is the theologian alone (as in another cultural sphere the artist, or the poet) who must perform this task of redeeming estrangement…” (1). In rendering the world fantastical and so recovering it in its original, created authenticity, however, the theologian does not do anything that God himself does not do, preeminently in the Incarnation: it is “the theologian alone who must perpetuate that original making strange which was the divine assumption of human flesh, not to confirm it as it was, but to show it again as it surprisingly is.” The theologian, like the Tolkienian sub-creator, “makes strange,” for they do so in the image of the God who not only makes things strange, but in doing so makes and recovers himself as strange.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

(Tomorrow’s post: Theology as Eucatastrophe.)

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