In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Tolkien describes the “Birth of Christ [as] the eucatastrophe of Man’s history” in his seminal essay ‘On Fairy-Stories.’ This joyous event marks the pinnacle of all creation: the moment when the Word, when the divine cast as myth, was made incarnate and entered the world. All sub-creation aspires towards this singular event, reflecting a shattered fragment of the ultimate Truth.
C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien famously discussed the nature of the Gospels; discussions which ultimately would lead to the former’s conversion. Initially, Lewis claimed “myths are lies, even though…breathed through silver” (Biography, 151). Tolkien’s iconic poem ‘Mythopoeia’ forms the backbone of his response. Man is fallen, and therefore may only grasp at the perfection and Truth known before the Fall. All words, stories and myth, through sub-creation, yield only a glimpse of Truth; but Truth is there.
The Nativity of our Lord, celebrated today, marks the beginning of the Great Myth, “a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened” (Biography, 151). This “story is supreme; and it is true…art has been verified…legend and history have met and fused” at the moment of the Incarnation of the Word (OFS). Christmas does not negate myth and legend, “it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending’” (OFS). Myths evoke the human condition, expressing the deepest Truths known to Man, especially the desire for the divine.
Tolkien was a devout Catholic, with great devotion and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament:
“I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon the earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”
“The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.”
I was struck this morning at Mass, contemplating the Nativity of our Lord, by an awesome fact; one which I probably would overlook without knowledge of Tolkien’s views on myth. At the moment of consecration, the moment of transubstantiation, the Word is made incarnate, present, God with us, Emmanuel once more. The Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life, in which we reenact the sacrifice of the Lamb. The bread and wine do not change in appearance or taste, yet they are ontologically different. By transubstantiation, in the Eucharist, Christ is born to us in our sight! The Word is made flesh! Myth made True. It is a simple shift of perspective, but makes the miraculous nature of the incomprehensible gift of the Eucharist more precious, particularly at this time of year.
Christmas (the Gospels) is not just a story, some myth far removed by time. It is made present to us each day in the Mass. The Incarnation story is ever present, with God with us if we but let Him into our hearts.
I wish you all a most blessed and joyous Christmas. May this great eucatastophe of our history open your eyes to recover the miracles taking place all around us in every moment.