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Moments in Time Christian aliens

By Gary Macy

Space travel has greatly stimulated modern imaginations, raising all sorts of interesting new questions. One of the most fascinating for Christians must certainly be the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. How would these beings relate to Christianity and how could Christianity account for their relationship to God? One medieval writer, amazingly, has already addressed the issue.

Writing in the 12th century, Marie de France produced some beautiful stories called lais to be recited to the courts of France. In one of the stories titled “Yonec,” Marie relates how a beautiful young woman was forced to marry an ugly old man who locked her away in a tower out of jealousy. One day, a large and stately hawk flew to the only open window in the lady’s tower cage. The hawk jumped to the floor and turned into a handsome prince. Astonished, the lady realized that the prince was a shape shifter from the land of Fairy and not human at all.

To reassure the lady that he was not a devil, the fairy prince recited the creed. To further dispel her doubts, he agreed to take Communion by the ruse of again changing shapes, this time into the fair form of the lady herself. The real maiden called for the elderly lady who watched over her, begging her to send a priest to give her Communion. The lady hid herself when the caretaker arrived accompanied by a priest who dutifully offered the sacrament to the disguised fairy prince. Marie continues, “Then the chaplain left and the old lady closed the door. The lady lay beside her love -- there was never a more beautiful couple.”

Well, best draw the curtain there. At least for Marie, there was no problem with intelligent life other than human life. Such creatures could be good Christians (and really good looking, too).

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, January 19, 2001