My gracious and lovely youngest daughter endured the natural discomfort of being seen in public with her father long enough to see the latest Harry Potter movie. it was an enchanting move (pun intended). This episode, like all of them, is shot-through with overt theological themes: ontology, good and evil, cosmology, sin, and redemption. Part way through, I remembered something that Bob Godfrey said a while back, something that I’ve read and observed: One of the more important things the Reformation accomplished, which is resented by docents across Europe and Britain as well as by Anglo-Catholics and Romanists everywhere, was the de-sacralization of the world.
By “sacralize” I mean to “enchant” the world, to make creation per se more than it is, to make the world sacramental and to endow it with power to communicate divinity to us. The Reformation diligently and consistently re-asserted and re-defined the world as good but but only a creature and not sacramental per se. Obviously we believe that God uses creational elements as sacraments, but that’s another matter altogether.
The medieval church made the world a magical place by endowing with power, either by nature or by divine fiat. In short, the medieval church tended to an over-realized eschatology. As lovely as the great, ancient, European cathedrals are, they do reflect that very Tendenz. Certainly the medievals taught, believed, and confessed the fall but they also mitigated the effects of the fall and making the world magical was one way of such mitigation.
The charm of the film (no pun intended this time) is that we’re led into an animated world and even an animistic, magical world. Despite, or perhaps because of, their adventures, the characters are not hard-boiled. They still wonder. There are moments in the film when one can almost imagine a world without sin, where creation is in harmony and joy is unspoiled. Yes, evil is present in the world of Harry Potter and so is redemption. Harry is a messianic character. He is “the chosen one.” The world in which Harry exists, which (not having read the books), I suppose Harry shall have to save (perhaps at the cost of his own life? —don’t spoil it for me) is a magical world. Some can see and even manipulate the magic and others cannot.
The only sacred creation I know existed before the fall. There was when there was not sin. The garden was a holy place and Adam (and we in him) were meant to act as priests and guardians of that sanctum sanctorum. Of course, tragically, Adam failed to guard and to keep the garden holy. He not only allowed it to be defiled with lies, he participated in its defilement. God offered him immortality upon condition of perfect obedience but Adam refused that offer and chose to accept the offer of the evil one, to keep covenant with him instead. From that moment the harmony of creation was disrupted and cursed. In a sense, the “magic,” as it were, was gone and not to return until the consummation of the kingdom. That kingdom has been inaugurated in Christ, the chosen One.
The “magic” that Jesus encountered in his earthly ministry was very dark indeed. It is a mark of the gospels that Jesus is confronted by genuine spiritual evil repeatedly. He defeats that evil not by harnessing the latent magical power in creation but by asserting his divine power and divine right as king and Creator. He sealed his victory over the lying serpent not with a wand but with his own suffering, blood, and death. He manifested his righteousness in his resurrection. He cleansed the temple. He did battle with the evil one and he conquered.
Before the fall there was no need for magic because we had righteousness and because we had righteousness we had power and authority over creation. After the fall, we turn to magic (and to a magical world) because we lack righteousness and therefore we lack power and authority. We turn to religion as a source of magic, i.e., as a source of power, because we want the original power of creation and the glory that would have been ours had we obeyed. In the medieval church that desire for power manifested itself in development of “sacramentals” (not quite sacraments) into “sacraments” and in the turning of mere ministers announcing the truth into priests with power to perform magic. Where the apostles and the early church simply announced the law and the gospel and administered those two divinely instituted signs and seals of Christ’s kingdom, the medieval church morphed them into priests with the ability to impanate God the Son and to ritually sacrifice him as a propitiation at will. Oil became not just a prayer but a sacrament. Marriage became not just a creational norm and a witness to the consummation, but a sacrament. Gradually the medieval world became increasingly magical. The priest before the congregation turned his back and performed his magic in an secret tongue, just like Harry Potter.
One of the functions of the second commandment is to remind us that we are mere creatures, that there is no magic and that Christianity is no place for magic. The truth is too important and reality is elusive enough without the confusion created by ostensible priests, performing ostensible, illusory magic. The function of the second commandment is to drive us back to reality, to the truth as it is in Christ. There is only one priest: Jesus the God-Man. There is only one sacrifice: The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is only one way to approach the holy God who is: the way that he has ordained.
The truth is that what we need is not magic at all. What we need is grace and that grace is not divinity or even a semi-divine substance dispensed by priests. It is divine approval merited for us by our Mediator Jesus and given freely to unworthy and disobedient sinners and found only in Christ. That is true power. What we need is worship governed by God’s Word and not by sentimentality and smoke.
The desire for magic is a corruption of a once-holy desire: to obey God and to exercise divinely-given authority in his kingdom as his vice-gerants. Now, after the fall, after the incarnation, we have to trust Christ, to live by every Word that proceeds from his mouth, to be washed by his baptism, to be fed by his body and blood and to wait. We do not live in a sacred world but there is such and the Revelation of St John witnesses to its reality and to its in-breaking into time, space, and history each Lord’s Day. Harry did battle with the half-blood prince but we wait for the prince of Ps 110, to whom the Father said, “Sit at my right hand….” He has has inaugurated his kingdom and we wait for its blessed consummation.