(urth) Wolfean theologies

John Watkins john.watkins04 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 4 08:33:46 PST 2009

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:17 AM, David Stockhoff <dstockhoff at verizon.net>wrote:

> Dan'l:However, outside the work, I personally don't see much difference,
> because to me they are all characters, and the world is plainly big enough
> for infinite variations. Christ himself was partly derived from characters
> who preceded him. I would identify a character with stigmata and a spear
> wound who carries the Divine Spark as one with a much more *specific*
> relation to the Christ than Frodo would have.

I chuckled here because this isn't a great example of your point (which I do
take.)  Frodo obviously does not have a stigmata or a spear wound in the
side (he is stabbed in the side by a spear, but his mithril coat deflects
the thrust.)  But there is specific imagery from the Stations of the Cross
applied to him--he is wounded three times in the text (stabbed in the
shoulder, stung by Shelob, and loses his finger) paralleling Christ's three
falls carrying the cross.  What we're supposed to take from this, of course,
is that Frodo partakes of the Christ-nature in a very specific way--he is a
type of Christ the Cross-bearer, not Christ the Teacher or the Son of God.

Likewise I think Severian might be an attempt to isolate and examine
Christ's career as a miracle worker uninformed by moral teachings.  (It is
logical that such a figure would at least have pretentions of being an
divine figure.)  Silk (in Long Sun, anyway) might be said to be the
opposite--a great moral teacher and religious/political leader who is not a
miracle worker or disguised transcendent being.

> Second, I asked, if Severian experiences in TUotNS, as he relates he does,
> at least a glimpse of what it's like to be God/a god/a godling/whatever (I
> don't see support in the text for useful distinctions between these), then
> what does that mean for the work? To this question, I got John's suggestion
> that Severian's divinity might have been temporary, and Brunian's. It's
> still open. Is this passage part of TUotNS's New-Sun-for-Dummies role, or
> does it tell us something specific, like Severian is divine? is he divine
> temporarily or inherently? Or am I jumping to conclusions? Perhaps, read
> properly, it tells us Severian is NOT divine?
I think it tells us that Severian is an instrument of the something far
greater than himself--it's his experience, one might say, of being
"possessed."  I think there are parallel sequences in That Hideous Strength
when planetary angels possess mortals--Lewis does not thereby posit that
planetary intelligences are equivalent to God, but just that to a human
being, the angel is sufficiently above him to induce a numinous experience.

What I think it doesn't tell us is that Wolfe's conception of the divine in
compatible with the flaws in Severian's character.  That is too wildly
implausible for a writer of Wolfe's background to suggest.  My biggest issue
is not with the idea of interrogating Severian's role as a chosen one, an
instrument, or a savior figure--it's with imputing moral sanction to all of
his actions and especially the destruction of Urth simply because Wolfe is a
Catholic and bestows Christ-like attributes to Severian.


Message: 3
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2009 16:11:27 -0800
From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <danldo at gmail.com>

> Subject: Re: (urth) Urth Digest, Vol 53, Issue 59
> To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
> Message-ID:
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> David,
> "Guardian of the Sacred Texts" is childish and insulting.
> But I should lay my cards open on the table: I am, like Wolfe, an adult
> convert to Roman Catholicism.
> *Independently of this,* I believe that the Catholic episteme offers
> perspectives on Wolfe's work that point, if not to his achievement, at
> least to his intent.
> For example, there are a _lot_ of scenes in the Briah cycle that parallel,
> parody, or otherwise reflect upon the Eucharist. Reading these scenes
> with a knowledge of the Eucharist imbues them with a narrative energy
> that is simply not present without that knowledge.
> That doesn't mean that a specifically-Catholic reading of Wolfe is "right"
> or
> even "better than others."
> But it _does_ make a reading that's aware of Catholic practice and
> imagery a whole lot more interesting -- at least, to me.
> The text is the text and, finally, any reading in good faith is a good
> reading. (But we are always already in bad faith with this or any
> text...) A reading that completely ignores the generically Christian
> and specifically Catholic imagery and ideas can be valid.
> Such a reading, however, strikes me as like a reading of "Ulysses"
> by someone without (or who doesn't show) the slightest knowledge
> of  the Odyssey. I've read such readings, and they can be interesting
> enough, but they lack a dimension.
> > This is where we disagree: "As a result, it is legitimate to say that
>> > Severian is "Christ-like," but
>> > not to say that he is "a Christ." "
> I overspoke my case by saying "legitimate." I would say however that
> a reading that made Severian "a Christ" would be (a) contrary to the
> author's intent, for what that may matter to you, and (b) less interesting
> than one where Severian is "Christ-like."
> Why less interesting? Well: for one thing, "a Christ" is too far removed
> from the merely-human for me to find much application to my daily
> life. (This is a problem for me in my own religious life, you betcha.)
> A Christ-like person, with the sinfulness and failings that beset all
> humans but One, is far more interesting to me.
> (And, as a side note, Severian is clearly a sinful human himself in
> need of redemption, not a perfect Redeemer.)
> For another, making Severian "a Christ" forces a schema on the book
> that I think just doesn't fit. Some of Severian's adventures clearly
> reflect, refract, distort some of the episodes of the Gospels - probably
> most obvious, his encounter with Typhon, as a reflection of Christ's
> temptation in the desert; but there are quite a number of others.
> But to make Severian "a Christ" seems to me to require us to seek
> these parallels everywhere in the text, even where they simply
> don't exist.
> But then ... you seem to mean something different by "a Christ" than
> what I would mean. It may be that, if we could decode each other
> properly, "a Christ" in your language might mean something more like
> what "a Christlike person" does in mine.
> Or not?
> -- Dan'l Danehy-Oakes ------------------------------ Message: 4 Date: Tue,
> 3 Feb 2009 21:09:18 -0500 (EST) From: brunians at brunians.org Subject: Re:
> (urth) Urth Digest, Vol 53, Issue 59 To: "The Urth Mailing List" <
> urth at lists.urth.net> Message-ID: <
> 3865. at brunians.org> Content-Type:
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> > David,
>> >
>> > "Guardian of the Sacred Texts" is childish and insulting.
>> >
>> > But I should lay my cards open on the table: I am, like Wolfe, an adult
>> > convert to Roman Catholicism.
> And politically and culturally and so on you are very much like him,
> wouldn't you agree? You and he share many attitudes about the individual
> and society and traditional roles and values etc?
> .
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