"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 6 March 2012


Commonweal / 20 December 2011

Jim Forest (click)

Myth is a necessary way of understanding, but it is deeply misunderstood. The place of myth -- and its misplacing -- have a lot to do with the divide between fundamentalists and other believers. Myth does not mean “things that aren’t true.” Rather, the “language” of myth has to do with what is truly timeless. Myth is not bound by the limits of historical thinking, which deals with time-bound and passing phenomena.

Myth is a witness to the fact that some things are true forever. Jesus told stories that are not historically true (the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example) but point us to enduring truths.

There is a debate in Christian circles over the historicity of the Fall. It exists in muted form even in non-fundamentalist circles. What primordial event might have happened to explain our current sad state? In the Orthodox Church, interpretations have ranged from the allegorical to the literal. In the Roman Catholic Church, Pius XII (who opened up Catholic biblical studies in many ways) wanted to hold on to some version of Adam and Eve having actually existed.

The caution of a religious or theological tradition is understandable. To throw out or doubt the truth (which is not to say the facticity) of a traditional story, rather than try to see it clearly in its context, without present prejudices, leads to wildly silly things, like just about anything Bishop John Shelby Spong writes.

But to be so cautious as not to see how myth works is also to develop, even cultivate, a tin ear. Were Adam and Eve a real couple (the only one, really) at the dawn of human being? My own belief, one pretty well backed up by tons of scientific and, more important, mythic evidence, is that this is impossible scientifically, and undesirable symbolically. The idea that the Fall is in any way historically true, an event in time, distracts from the truth of the story, which really is timeless. The story of Adam and Eve is more true than Waterloo or Watergate, because what it means goes so much deeper, involving our most basic motivations and appetites and longings. We want to be our own gods and to have our own lives in our own hands, and we cannot. The desire we have is to live in Eden without the self-emptying that real gratitude and true worship entail. This is eternally true of us, to our sorrow.

The ancients knew this. The compilers of the Hebrew Scriptures put contradictory creation stories side by side, not because they didn’t notice the difference between the first two chapters of Genesis, which anyone can see, but because both stories told the truth, and both were found in the story-telling culture of ancient Israel. Both were worth holding on to, and passing along to succeeding generations. The efforts of biblical literalists to reconcile them are pitiful examples of missing the point. The fundamentalist sees the slippery slope everywhere. If Adam and Eve and the flood and Jonah aren’t all historically factual, why not see the Resurrection as a mere allegory?

Looking at what myth means at its depth, however, we can make the argument that at one important level the Resurrection really is outside of history -- and to that extent mythical. It really is more than historical. If all the Resurrection means is that a corpse got out of a grave, it’s a zombie story. On the other hand, if, as in the alternative, homeopathic liberal version you occasionally encounter, all it means is that Jesus lived on in the hearts of his disciples, it is a sentimental cliché.

I believe that the tomb was really, literally empty. No one can comprehend the fullness of what this means, or even the edge of a part of it. The tomb is empty -- but Jesus is not what we might expect. Mary mistakes him for a gardener, until he addresses her by name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize him until the (obviously eucharistic) breaking of the bread, when he vanishes, leaving them to remember how their hearts were burning within them. The disciples have to be reassured that he is not a ghost, and by eating something he shows them that -- as transformed as he obviously is in some ways -- he is really flesh.

It is clear from these accounts that the life of the risen Christ has to do with something real, embodied, and not within our power to imagine in simple historical or physical ways. This is reality at a level we are not yet capable of understanding. I want to suggest that this really is a part of myth’s realm, and that it’s real. The tomb is empty, in factual history as well as in myth. History says only that the tomb is empty.

Myth points us toward what this might mean. Unless Jesus really rose -- that is, unless our death, all death, was in some ways overcome by his death, and he lives in a fullness that includes his flesh, which is to say the fullness of his humanity, a fullness that allowed him to share his divinity with us -- our faith really is in vain.

This does not mean that myth has no place in the story, only that their mythic dimension does not empty the Resurrection stories of their purchase in real time. Those moments open real time onto a deeper reality, one that in its complicated “already -- and not yet” way is even now a sign of something present to us that will finally be fully disclosed. As we will be.

* * *
C.S. Lewis on Myth and Reality i

In a review of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings":

The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’… If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book (Tolkein’s) applies the treatment not only to bread or apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.

from a letter of October 18, 1931
Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I like it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho' I could not say in cold prose 'what it meant'.

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myth: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call 'real things'. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a 'description' of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The 'doctrines' we get out of the true myths are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of the wh. God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened.

from Miracles (1947)

From a footnote to Chapter 15: "My present view--which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction--would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God's becoming incarnate as Man so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History. This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history . . . nor diabolical illusion . . . nor priestly lying . . . but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination. The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology: but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology--the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical. . . . It should be noted that on this view (a) Just as God, in becoming Man, is 'emptied' of His glory, so the truth, when it comes down from the 'heaven' of myth to the 'earth' of history, undergoes a certain humiliation. Hence the New Testament is, and ought to be, more prosaic, in some ways less splendid, than the Old; just as the Old Testament is and ought to be less rich in many kinds of imaginative beauty than the Pagan mythologies. (b) Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response. It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as to the conscience and to the intellect. One of its functions is break down dividing walls.

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