Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The Vision of Denethor
I am reminded recently by Fr. Jonathan Tobias in his lament for one recently deceased of the vision of Denethor.
For those who have not delved into one of the more significant literary feats of the 20th century, Denethor is a man whose role was as a steward, taking care of a kingdom which had lasted for centuries without its king, awaiting his return. As part of his stewardship, Denethor gained access to a sort of crystal ball which showed him things as they truly are. Yet his seeing stone was under a dark, demonic influence. So, while what he saw was true, his vision was selective and often misinterpreted. He so fell under the evil influence of his clairvoyant experience that when the king returned, he jealously guarded the throne that was not his and then finally committed suicide in despair and madness.
Denethor's vision and its accompanying madness are rampant in our time. There are many of the literati who see quite clearly, and they often act as ironic critics of society. Yet because they look at the world without the context of Christ, the returning King, they do not see the inexorable march of history toward its fulfillment in Him. Instead, they see only one more criticism, one more exception, one more "demythologization." Though he can see truth, there is nothing for a Denethor to believe in, and so when it comes time for him to participate in the One Who is Truth Himself, he does not recognize Him and instead guards his deconstructive critical theories with zeal befitting only a martyr.
But it is a dark zeal, an ideology that overthrows belief and faith yet itself has no center. If you were to ask Denethor what he was seeking, he could probably give no answer. He only seeks to maintain his sub-throne at the foot of the steps which lead to the true throne which lies empty.
This is a spiritual sickness which can afflict people of any kind, whether religious, Christian or no, though it tends especially to afflict the intellectual. Part of the sad reality of this form of delusion is that it is often mistaken by the deluded as being the same as the prophetic call to repentance of the prophets, apostles and all the saints. But the big difference is that the saints are simple and child-like in their calls to repentance, and they willingly pour themselves out for others. Christ calls us to be like children in our coming to Him, but there is nothing of their simplicity in this kind of madness, because their innocence and humility would instantly banish such a ravenous semi-ideology. And Denethor never pours himself out, but rather watches others poured out and comments on the precise landing place of each drop.
It makes me sad to encounter such people, because into their agnosticism of whatever variety (even Christian agnosticism, if there can be such a thing), the Gospel cannot penetrate. Nothing will ever be good enough for them. Nothing will ever be free from endless speculation, criticism: "Yes, but, but, but!" It is a closed system with no product and no center. Its only consummation—no, not consummation, but simply ceasing—is a return to the nothingness out of which we were called.
As Gandalf says to Denethor when he tries to burn himself and his son alive in the tombs of his forebears:
The houses of the dead are no place for the living. And why do men fight here in the hallows when there is war enough before the Gate?