Beckett: Christ Figures – Dragon Age’s Grey Wardens

The taint of the darkspawn and the taint of sin. What do these two things have in common? First, for those of you who are unaware, a short explanation of what the darkspawn are from developer BioWare’s Dragon Age.

The Darkspawn and their Taint

First of all, Dragon Age is a fantasy game that has different races similar to those of other fantasies like The Lord of the Rings, such as humans, elves, and dwarves. There are also mages, but in the Dragon Age universe, the mages are an oppressed people. Mages consist of elves and humans; dwarves cannot possess any magical abilities and neither are they capable of dreaming. There’s another race called the Qunari who also have mages in their group, but their classification of being a “race” is rather complicated and they don’t have much participation with the other races, so I won’t get into that here. Anyway, who are the darkspawn?

According to the lore of the video game, there are varying versions of the origin of the darkspawn. One version comes from the Chantry. The Chantry is the principal religious institution in the Dragon Age universe. If any comparisons can be made, they are like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.

Darkspawn hurlock.

According to the Chantry, powerful mages from the Magisters Sidereal in the Tevinter Emperium entered the Golden City of the Maker. This would be the equivalent of the builders of the Tower of Babel actually succeeding in their foolish plan to get to God. As a result, their corruption tainted the Maker’s realm and when they returned to Thedas (the only known continent in the Dragon Age universe), they returned as the first darkspawn. Thus, mages are often blamed for the Maker’s abandonment of Thedas as well as the cursed spawn of the darkspawn and the following Blights.

Dwarven lore differs slightly in comparison. They don’t leave much credence to Chantry lore and they don’t have much of an origin story but as far as they’re concerned, the darkspawn first appeared undeground. This is unsurprising considering that dwarves live underground their entire lives (with a few exiled and shunned exceptions), and the first darkspawn dug deeper and deeper into the earth, leaving the dwarven empire in ruins with the exception of Orzammar and later on, Kal-Sharok. Some dwarves have theorised that there is a queen broodmother—like an Alpha Female—that gave birth to the first darkspawn.

Lastly, there is the Tevinter version. Tevinter magisters deny any involvement in the corruption of the Maker’s realm and subsequently the First Blight. Their claim is that darkspawn have always existed. Though due to their unbecoming reputation as slaveowners and haughty pride, this is highly unlikely. They’re more than likely trying to save their own hides from any culpability of the state of the world, much like we do when we don’t blame ourselves for evil and suffering in the world.

Whatever the true origin story is (I find the Chantry version to be compelling), one thing all can agree on is the Taint inherent in the darkspawn. The Taint is what makes the darkspawn, well, the darkspawn. They have no capacity for intelligent speech and thought (with very few exceptions) and all they know how to do is destroy. Through this corruption within them, they hear the call of the Old Gods, which are extremely ancient, sleeping beings taking the form of dragons. When the darkspawn find an Old God, it awakens as a tainted Archdemon and sets forth a merciless Blight.

Aside from killing the Archdemon to end a Blight—an extremely difficult task (which must be done by the hand of a Grey Warden, no less)—there is virtually no good weapon to fight against the darkspawn and their Taint. Through contact with darkspawn blood, fluid, and certain objects, the Taint can infect a person that will inevitably turn them into a darkspawn. This process is seldom slow; it usually takes effect quickly. So, how do you fight against a Taint for which there is no cure?

Grey Warden Alistair (Dragon Age: Origins).

Enter the Grey Wardens. The Grey Wardens are a group of warriors who have the rare courage to undergo a ritual called The Joining. By ingesting darkspawn blood and various other ingredients in this ritual, the person becomes immune to the darkspawn taint and, therefore, a Grey Warden… temporarily. The mortality rate is extremely high—arguably 100%. Not everyone who undergoes the ritual survives; many perish during The Joining. Even when one survives the ritual, they are not immune forever.

It is more like the effect of the taint is incredibly slowed down rather than causing immunisation. Eventually, each Warden will have to answer the Calling (the same calling of the Old Gods the darkspawn hear) and enter the Deeproads (where the darkspawn dwell during “peace times” and where the dwarves live), during which they will either fight to their death or fight until they become one of the darkspawn. Until then, Grey Wardens are the only ones who can fight the darkspawn without suffering its immediate effects when engaging in bloody battle with them. A grim fate, indeed.

The task of the Grey Wardens is a brave and selfless task. There are always exceptions to the rule, but nobody really wants to become a Grey Warden. It’s literally a death wish. Ironically, the taint of the darkspawn is their only useful weapon against them. Somebody has to take the taint of the darkspawn upon themselves to save the world from it. Yet their sacrifice is not enough. No matter how many Blights they undergo—and no matter how many Grey Wardens sacrifice themselves—no sacrifice is ever enough.

The Taint of Sin

Hence why the Grey Wardens point to Christ. Just as the darkspawn are all corrupted with the Taint, so all of us are corrupted with the taint of sin. The Lutheran Confessions describe this corruption as a “spiritual leprosy”:

Before God, [human beings] are thoroughly and utterly infected and corrupted by original sin, as by a spiritual leprosy. Because of this corruption and because of the fall of the first man, the human cause of the fall of the first man, the human nature or person is accused or condemned by God’s Law. So, we are by nature the children of wrath…

Original sin (in human nature) is not just this entire absence of all good in spiritual, divine things. Original sin is more than the lost image of God in mankind; it is at the same time also a deep, wicked, horrible, fathomless, mysterious, and unspeakable corruption of the entire human nature and all its powers. It is especially a corruption of the soul’s highest, chief powers in the understanding, heart, and will. So now, since the fall, a person inherits an inborn wicked disposition and inward impurity of heart, and evil lust and tendency.

FC SD I, 6, 11

The darkspawn illustrate this spiritual leprosy of original sin quite well. That is us—bent inward upon ourselves toward disaster, even in our most “good” of works.

The Israelites sacrificed animals according to the Law to make atonement of sins, but it was never enough. Ancient pagan religions sacrificed people—even born and unborn infants—for a similar effect, that is, the favour of the gods. God prevented Abraham from sacrificing his only son not only because that sacrifice would not be enough, but also because God Himself would provide that sacrifice.

That sacrifice was God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ took our taint of sin upon Himself, though He Himself was untainted. Rev. Jonathan Fisk describes this graciousness of Christ brilliantly:

But nothing in creation, not even the good angels in heaven whose wills were untouched by the fall, could enter human flesh and not also be subject to its impurity. No being is so good that evil cannot corrupt him. Except for one. Only one. Only God—the only being who is not only good but is the very source of goodness—could possibly enter a flesh that was evil and be good enough to swallow the evil whole without being tainted by it in the least.

Evil is a filthy thing. It rubs off on everything. Like leprosy. Like leaven. It can’t be gotten out just by rubbing it with some soaps and salts. When you rub your finger across a dusty table, the dust might come off the table, but it only does so because it sticks on you. But what if there were a being so clean, so unable to be dirtied, that when He ran His finger across the table the dirt didn’t come off on Him? What if instead His pure cleanness came off on the dirt?

Echo, 138-139

That is precisely what Jesus did when He died for you and me. Jesus is so perfectly pure, clean, and good that when He took yours and my sin upon Himself, He not only remained pure and clean, but He also made you pure and clean.

This is also “why it was God who had to die,” Fisk continues. God’s solution to sin was to literally do the impossible. When wanting to disprove the existence of God, atheists will put forward the supposed impossible problem, “Could God make a rock so big and heavy that He could not lift it?” To which my response is, “Yes, then He would lift it anyway.”

How do I know this? Because God has already done the impossible. God cannot die, but He did the impossible for you by becoming human so that God at the same time dies while being human. God, as a human in Jesus Christ, suffered life just like you do, and upon the cross He took your sins upon Himself as both human and God and died for you.

But because He is God, because it is impossible for God to die, the inevitable had to happen: Jesus had to rise. And that is just what He did. Death could not hold Him back. Death both killed God and it died with Him. When Jesus rose, death was defeated. And when the taint of sin died with Him upon the cross, so it has died in you.

The impossible task of the Grey Wardens points to the impossible thing Jesus did. Just as the Grey Wardens willingly undergo The Joining to fight the darkspawn, so Jesus willingly underwent the crucifixion to fight death and the Devil. Yet unlike the sacrifice of the Grey Wardens, Jesus’ sacrifice was enough. It was more than enough for you, 2,000 years after His death, could believe this and be delivered from death into eternal life by virtue of faith in this promise and your Baptism, in which He makes you totally clean in His own perfect cleanness.

Bibliography

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, A Reader’s Edition on the Book of Concord, ed. Paul Timothy McCain, Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, Robert Cleveland Baker, and dGene Edward Veith, 2nd ed (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).

Fisk, Jonathan, Echo: Unbroken Truth. Worth Repeating. Again (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018).

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