Baptism in Narnia
Under the veil of subtle allegory, we are certain to discover the Christian story in CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis himself invites us to see it this way, “Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?” Let's take Lewis's invitation and explore Narnia looking for the sacrament of Baptism.
The Veil and the Wardrobe
As Lucy first discovers the wardrobe she pulls down a linen veil to reveal the door. This revelation or ‘unveiling’ is what begins her adventure. In the Jewish temple, there was a veil that separated the presence of God from the people, the holy of holies from the holy room. That same veil is torn by God from the top down when Jesus says ‘it is finished’ and breathed his last. Because of what Christ accomplished, our sacramental access through the veil, to the Father begins with Baptism. Through it, we become a living, breathing, walking temple of God who makes his abode in us.
The wardrobe door that Lucy passed through signifies Baptism. Baptism is indeed a door through which we enter into the strange and mysterious world of grace. “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC 1213).
In Baptism as in Narnia, we are adopted as his own. We are claimed by Christ and stolen from the clutches of Satan in the water’s depths. It is the beginning of the turbulent spiritual life in which we die and rise over and over in a thrilling adventure of life in God’s own family. His story recorded in the Bible becomes our story, his people (the Church) becomes our family, his Father becomes our Father and his mother becomes our mother. His arch-enemy becomes our enemy and his angel army becomes our protection.
In ancient times baptism was also called “illumination,” and being baptized meant “having been illuminated”. After the water rite, the new Christian receives a lighted candle. This reinforces our understanding that Baptism changes us. We become members of the Body of Christ who is the Light of the world. Illumination (faith), the desire for heaven as our home (hope) and the capacity to self-sacrifice (love) are all given in seed form. These three theological virtues make it possible to navigate a new world of grace in the Church.
Like most Christians who are called to do hard things, the children are full of self-doubt. After Susan defiantly informs the beavers, “We’re not heroes, we’re from Finchland” the children slowly realize that they must play a role in the epic battle between good and evil. They are called to participate in the overthrow of the White Witch and advance the Kingdom of Aslan (God). Like the apostle Peter, Peter Pevensie is the leader. In a burst of courage, he leads the forces of good. In full armor and with a sword drawn, he is out front on his charger the first to make contact with the enemy. Our first contact with the Enemy happens in Baptism.
Before the water rite, the chest of the recipient is anointed with the oil of warriors called the Oil of Catechumens. Like an armored breastplate, this anointing is a strengthening and preparation to enter into the battle of life and death which awaits him or her in the water rite. Like a boxer, any blows would glance off the well-oiled fighter. For ancient warriors, wounds were immediately treated with olive oil to stem the bleeding. This protective anointing is appropriate when we consider the early church Fathers’ theology of the water rite. For them, and for St. Paul, the water rite is about life and death…
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rm 6:3-11)
Equipped with our oily battle armor, we enter into the depths of the baptismal font where we are freed from the deadly grasp of the ancient dragon, the serpent. The battle scene is the highlight of the film. Just when it seems as though Peter is going to be defeated by the White Witch, the resurrected Aslan arrives. The final death blow delivered upon the White Witch is from Aslan Himself. What follows is a total reversal of the winter without Christmas into an eternal spring.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe culminates with the four Pevensie children receiving crowns in the presence of Aslan. After our Baptism, we are truly crowned and anointed. A perfumed Chrism oil is traced over our foreheads, the crown of our heads. This cross-shaped anointing makes us little ‘anointed ones’, little ‘christs’. It is here when those gathered realize that we have become priests, prophets and royalty. Once we were no people, now we are God’s people. Our new family is God’s family and our new home is heaven. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” ( Pet 2:9). In death, we look forward to exchanging our earthly crown of thorns for a crown of righteousness as an eternal reward. As St. Paul tells us,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but to all who crave His appearing (1 Tim 4:6-7).
I think, if he were still around Pope Saint Leo the Great would have loved this story. I will give him the final word on the matter of Baptism.
'Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom'.