Tag Archives: the sacramental

Story, the imagination, the sacramental: J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis, and Charles Williams


A fine essay in Colin Duriez‘s J. R. R. Tolkien Handbook (Baker, 1992) opens up the topic of the theology of story. Though the handbook focuses on Tolkien, this particular essay ranges richly between Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and even a bit of G K Chesterton. (Again, the following uses my typical abbreviations; “xn” is Christian, “xnty” Christianity, “T” is Tolkien.)

I appreciate in this essay especially Duriez’s keen grasp of the romantic underpinnings of the theological meaning of story and imagination for the Inklings, as well as the sacramental element in Williams’s and Tolkien’s thought (what Williams identifies as “the Affirmative Way”). My overall comment on the usefulness of this essay to my “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants” project follows, and then the essay itself sprinkled with a few of my notes

[Duriez’s essay on Tolkien and Christianity, from the same book, is here.]

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Dorothy L. Sayers: Reclaiming the “integrated medieval worldview” for today


I’ve been at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL for a couple of days now, looking through a slew of sources on C S Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton, who will be the key modern “guides” in my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants. Below are notes from one fruitful source I ran into today, on Sayers.

The words in block capitals at the beginnings of some paragraphs relate to my chapter topics (search on the book’s title on this blog, or look back to early posts via the calendar, and you’ll find summary descriptions of each chapter). I’ve short-handed the thematic chapters Creation, Tradition, Theology, Ethics, Monks, Emotions, Incarnation, and Death. Here are the notes from my new-found source:

Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism
(Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991)

[The “voices” are Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Butler, F. D. Maurice, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and William Temple]

From the Sayers chapter:

THEOLOGY          “Dorothy learned to play the piano and the violin, and even as a child she liked to sing hymns—especially those that were about ‘Prowl and prowl around, good swinging thick stuff, with a grand line or two about heresies and schisms, with all the sinners deeply wailing, the Father on His sapphire throne and the lowly pomp, and all the Good Friday hymns, wallowing in a voluptuous gloom.’” (95)

THEOLOGY          “It was also very early on that she was exposed to modest catechetical training. She found the doctrine of the Trinity intriguing and the language of the creeds overwhelming: ‘I know I should never have dared to confess to any of my grown-ups the over-mastering fascination exercised on me by the Athanasian Creed . . . So I hugged it as a secret delight.’” (95) Continue reading

J. R. R. Tolkien: the faith behind his writings


One of the first challenges I encountered in putting together an issue of Christian History & Biography on J R R Tolkien was justifying the topic. Tolkien? Wasn’t he a writer of secular fantasy stories? What did he have to do with Christian history? At the time the issue was being crafted, I reflected on this question in an online article:

Saint J. R. R. the Evangelist
Tolkien wanted his Lord of the Rings to echo the “Lord of Lords”—but do we have ears to hear?
Chris Armstrong

His family and friends called him by his second given name, Ronald, but his first name was John, in honor of his patron saint, John the Evangelist. And when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Books that have now spawned The Movies, his work was deeply colored by the convictions of his Roman Catholic faith. Continue reading

How do I hate thee, modernity? Let the Inklings count the ways


Tom Bombadil as depicted in The Lord of the Ri...

Tom Bombadil, from The Lord of the Rings. Now there's an antimodern fellow!

My forthcoming Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants will draw on a group of 20th-century British Christian imaginative writers who also happened to be scholars of the Middle Ages. G K Chesterton, C S Lewis, Charles Williams, J R R Tolkien, and Dorothy L Sayers faced the many tentacles of modernity with a sense of alarm deepening into cultural embattlement. And they sought in medieval faith and culture antidotes to modern malaises.

(A clarifying note: I use the term “Inklings” of this group, recognizing that this is a loose usage. “The Inklings” is the name adopted by the group of writers who met in C S Lewis’s rooms at Oxford to read aloud their works to each other and engage in stimulating discussions and debates. I have stretched the group to include Chesterton, who pre-dated them, and Sayers, who was a friend of Lewis’s but never attended a meeting of the all-male group. All shared Christian faith and profound similarities in cultural and literary outlook, though the group certainly represented a wide variety of opinion on any number of important topics.)

A couple of years ago, as I prepared to teach a new course titled Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry at Bethel, I sketched out one of those “mind maps”–a diagram with a single organizing concept at the center, surrounded by connecting lines and circles containing related concepts. The central concept was “Anti-modernism among the Inklings.” Here are the surrounding circles, in no particular order: Continue reading