Monday, 8 November 2010

More on the Christian element in The NCPs


Ramer speaking on page 195.

I have already transcribed most of this passage (which I described as wilfully obscure) in an earlier entry on theology in The NCPs - - here I will try and explicate it, somewhat, line by line. My comments are in [square brackets]:

"Dreaming is not Death. The mind is still, as I say, anchored to the body. [At death, according to (Thomist) Roman Catholic theology, the soul separates from the body - but this does not happen during sleep.]

"It is all the time inhabiting the body, so far as it is in anywhere. And it is therefore in Time and Space: attending to them. It is meant to be so. [While alive we are meant to function in time and be located in space - 'meant' here presumably refers to the divine plan for human life on earth.]

"But most of you [ i.e. Those of you who are Christian.]

"will agree that there has probably been a change of plan [As a result of the Fall, presumably - or perhaps as a result of the incarnation - I'm not sure.] ;

"and it looks as if the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult. [The cure, I think, refers to human life now, after the fall. "Higher and more difficult would then mean by comparison to how things would have been in Eden, before the fall. Or it may refer to life since the the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, as contrasted with pagan of ancient Jewish life - the Christian life being higher and more difficult than either of these.]

"Mind you, I'm only talking of the seeing and learning side, not for instance of morality. [I think this probably refers to the transcendental 'goods' of truth and beauty, but not the other one which is morality. I think Tolkien means that God's intention with dream experiences is about exposing humans to something higher and more difficult in the realms of Truth and Beauty, not Morality.] -

"But it would feel terribly loose without the anchor [meaning the soul altogether cut loose from the body would feel terribly loose.].

"Maybe with the support of the stronger and wiser [I think stronger and wiser refers to angels, and the idea that the detached soul needs to be escorted and looked after by angels - which is a traditional belief found in some of the early Fathers of the Church.] -

"and how it could be celestial [i.e. if the soul was being protected by angels.];

"but without them it could be be bitter, and lonely [i.e. To be a lone soul cut loose from its body.].

"A spiritual meteorite in the dark looking for a world to land on. I daresay many of us [Perhaps he means those who did not get angelic assistance?]

"are in for some lonely Cold before we get back." [Before we get back may refer to purgatory, perhaps? I'm not sure.]

"But out of some place beyond the region of dreams, now and again there comes a blessedness, and it soaks through all the levels, and illumines all the scenes through which the mind passes out back into waking, and so it flows out into this life. [Tolkien means that God sometimes communicates with us in dreams, a foretaste of heavenly bliss.]

"There it lasts long, but not forever in this world, [Just a foretaste, not the full experience - although in this an Eastern Orthodox Christian would make an exception for some Saints, those who are considered to live for sustained periods in both heaven and this world.]

"and memories cannot reach its source. [Its source, presumably, is in divine grace and revelation - and not deriving from experiences which we might remember.]

"Often we ascribe it to the pictures seen on the margin radiant in its light, as we pass by and out. But a mountain far in the North caught in a slow sunset is not the sun." [That is to say, the blessedness comes from God, not from that which is illuminated by God.]


In sum, Tolkien seems to be free-associating on the question of what is the ultimate salvation-related human relevance of spiritual experiences in dreams.

Tolkien states that: "the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult" and that since modern life substantially blocks divine communications during the waking state (or at least it does so for many people, Tolkien included at this point in his life) by excessive noise, chatter and other distractions; this dose is given us - at least partially - during sleep.

This was a very important factor for Tolkien - that dreams were part of creativity, and creativity was (for modern men, who are advanced in corruption) a vital pathway of divine communication.

This links-up with his ideas about sub-creation - the role of fantasy. For Tolkien, the sub-creation of fantasy world is not just an entertainment, but has a profound theological dimension (as he makes clear in the closing passages of his essay On Fairy Stories, when he talks of the Gospel story and relates it to sub-creation).


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