Breaking the Enchantment of Worldliness

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By David W. Fagerberg

If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to pick my favorite CS Lewis quote, I would narrow it to this one. Well, actually there are three or four more, and I’d try to wrestle the gun out of his hand, but I’ll just share this one with you:

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

The enchantment from which he hopes to wake us, I think, can be called “worldliness.” That accounts for a strange collision in theology. The world is good, worldliness is bad. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for it (John 3:16), and yet it is those worldly people that cause division (Jude 1:19), and worldly grief produces death (2 Cor 7:10). How does the world become worldly?

Lewis sums up worldliness in that final line: it is the philosophy that suggests our good is to be found on this earth. So nothing about the world changes, something in our attitude toward it changes.

Are there goods on this earth? Yes. Can man and woman enjoy those goods? Yes. Are they our final good? No. And to think so makes the world into something it shouldn’t be. The enchantment turns the world from sacrament into idol.

If he is right about this, he may also be right when he says we have need of the strongest spell possible to awake us from this enchantment. And that would be a spell that comes from God himself. It would be the Holy Spirit pervading our sensibilities, so that we could see the world the way it was meant to be seen.

Now, this is connected to my daily work in two ways. First, I am a liturgical theologian, and my mentor, Aidan Kavanagh, used to define liturgy as “doing the world the way the world was meant to be done.” Second, the application of this healing poultice upon our wounded psyche is called asceticism, and though I’m not a very good ascetic, I do what academics do: I write about it. My book On Liturgical Asceticism was about restoring the capacity to do liturgy.

My new book at Angelico Press is connected to liturgical asceticism like the second panel of a diptych. Consecrating the World concerns the liturgy after the liturgy; it tries to see the world with unenchanted eyes; it is mundane liturgical theology; it considers our conspiracy with the Holy Spirit (con+spirate, breathing together); it sees the world liturgically and sees the liturgy splendoring the world; it is what flows from the altar through the nave across the threshold of the narthex into our daily life; it is seeing what the world is, not just what it is made of; it is the third hypostasis of the Trinity opening all our senses to see what the second hypostasis of the Trinity has created in matter; it is about the effects of ordo amoris; it is understanding the acorn because we have been shown the oak; it is fastening the wings of the cross so we can fly above the banal; it is why we are homesick at home.

David W. Fagerberg is professor in the department of theology, teaching mainly liturgical theology and sacraments, and a little about CS Lewis and Chesterton. He wishes that liturgy be seen as the foundation for theology, for the good of both theology and liturgy. This was explored in Theologia Prima (Hillenbrand Books, 2003), into which he has integrated the Orthodox understanding of asceticism as preparing the liturgical person, in On Liturgical Asceticism (Catholic University Press, 2013).

Copyright 2016 David W. Fagerberg

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