Friday, July 29, 2016

Tolkien and Christianity

Something not everyone realizes is that Tolkien was a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic in fact.  I've commented on it before, but I rarely hear Christians people mention him.  I can't even count all the times I've heard references to C.S. Lewis in homilies or lectures, but rarely is Tolkien's wealth of knowledge drawn upon.

Well, I'm here to share a Tolkien quotes on Christianity that I found very deep and moving.

Tolkien writes:

"You [Michael Tolkien, Tolkien's son] speak of 'sagging faith', however.  That is quite another matter.  In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love.  Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).  'Scandal' at most is an occasion of temptation--as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses.  It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat.  But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on-so we pray for 'final perseverance'.  The temptation to 'unbelief' (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us.  The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be 'scandalized' by others.  I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the 'scandals', both of clergy an laity.  I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even pad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which of me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly.  I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord and fraud to His face.
"If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent--=that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud.  If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all--except that we may band should be deeply grieved.  But we should grieve on our Lord's behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot 'take Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James' mother, trying to push her sons.
"It takes fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really 'happened', and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him--so incapable of being 'invented' by anyone in the world at that time: such as 'before Abraham came to be I am' (John viii). 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: 'He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life'.  We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.  I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame.  (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)
"The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion.  Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us.  Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.  Frequency is of the highest effect.  Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste.  Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children--from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn--open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered.  Go to Communion with them (and pray for them).  It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people.  (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand--after which [Our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come).
"I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit* dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising.  But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that does (and still does) ever defend the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place.  'Feed my sheep' was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life.  It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was launched--'the blasphemous fable of the Mass'--and faith/works a mere red herring.  I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pus X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve.  I wonder what state the Church would now be but for it.
"This is rather an alarming and rambling disquisition to write!  It is not meant to be a sermon!  I have no doubt that you know as much and more.  I am an ignorant man, but also a lonely one.  And I take the opportunity of a talk, which I am sure I should now never take by word of mouth.  But, of course, I live in anxiety concerning my children: who in this harder crueler and more mocking world into which I have survived must suffer more assaults than I have.  But I am one who came up out of Egypt, and pray God none of my seed shall return thither.  I witnessed (half-comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church; and received the astonishing charity of Francis Morgan.  But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning--and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again: but alas! I indeed did not live up to it.  I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little.  Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practise my religion--especially at Leeds, and at 22 Northmoor Road.  Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger.  I regret those days bitterly (and suffer for them with such patience as I can be given); most of all because I failed as a father.  Now I pray for you all, unceasingly, that the Healer (the Hoelend as the Saviour was usually called in Old English) shall heal my defects, and that none of you shall ever cease to cry Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini
"*Not that one should forget the wise words of Charles Williams, that it is our duty to tend the accredited and established altar, though the Holy Spirit may send the fire down somewhere else.  God cannot be limited (even by his own Foundations)--of which St. Paul is the first & prime example--and may use any channel for His grace.  Even to love Our Lord, and certainly to call him Lord, and God, is a grace, and may bring more grace.  Nonetheless, speaking institutionally and not of individual souls the channel must eventually run back into the ordained course, or run into the sands and perish.  Besides the Sun there may be moonlight (even bright enough to read by); but if the Sun were removed there would be no Moon to see.  What would Christianity now be if the Roman Church has in fact been destroyed?"  (Letter #251 from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Doubts Answered 


 In this letter, Tolkien was consoling his son Michael who appeared to express having some "sagging faith", apparently because he was frustrated with people in the Catholic Church not doing things "right".  Tolkien remarks that theoretically this should not phase any Christian, particularly Christians who know their history.

It's so very true that Christians have not always behaved virtuously throughout the ages.  But you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater!  You wouldn't, for example. say that representative democracy is a terrible idea just because it's been misused or misapplied throughout the ages.  The same goes for Christianity.  Christians have done things (often in the name of Christianity) that are completely unacceptable.  But that doesn't mean that Christianity itself is wrong more immoral.

With, or Against?


 Tolkien also points out that if you're not with the Lord, you're against Him.  To leave the Church is to deny everything it teaches, and not just to disassociate with the people within it you find unpalatable.

I also like how Tolkien points out that denying the Bible is not just saying "you don't think it's true" it's also saying that it is a deliberate lie.  People today sometimes try and say "well I don't believe Jesus was God, but I think he's a good moral teacher."  This does not follow.  Jesus states multiple times that he is the Son of God.  He is either right, or he is making a horrible, blasphemous claim.

Not About the People


Wow, Tolkien's comments about going to mass with distracting people really hit home with me.  My church is one of those hideous renovated ones from the 70s made completely of drab stone with as little color and beauty as possible.  There are a lot of young people at my church who clearly don't care about being there, let their kids go to the bathroom in the middle of the consecration, etc.  I get very frustrated with the lack of respect during mass (as it appears Tolkien sympathizes with).  But what I need to remember (and what Tolkien lays out for me here) is that it's not the people around me who matter, but the consecration happening and the actual mass itself.  I'll work hard to keep that in mind from now on.

Sacrifice Shall not be in Vain


Tolkien finishes out by commenting on how much his mother sacrificed in order to raise her children Catholic.  By converting to Catholicism, she lost all connection with her family (they practically disowned her), her money, and her means of living.  Eventually she took ill very young and actually passed away (probably because of her meager living conditions), leaving Tolkien and his brother Hilary to live with Fr. Morgan as orphans.

Tolkien clearly remembers his mother's sacrifice and never wants it to be forgotten.  Calling oneself a Christian is not to be done lightly as many have sacrificed so much to be able to take on that title.

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My point in spending my time typing up this (long!!) quote and then leaving some rambly commentary is to point out that Tolkien has a lot to say about Christianity that I find is very valuable.  I encourage any and all Christians to not stop with C.S. Lewis' work, but look into Tolkien's work as well.  Happy Friday, y'all!

(P.S. Maybe if a couple miracles are attributed to Tolkien's intercession we can get him canonized as a saint! ;)

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2 comments:

  1. Hi! Wow, this is such a lovely blog! I'm glad I found it - I am also Catholic, and J.R.R. Tolkien is my absolute favorite author:).

    I also have "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," and I'm particularly fascinated by the letters in which he discusses his Catholic faith. The one you quoted is a such a gem . . . I could ramble about it indefinitely, but the part about going to Mass with distracting people struck me as well. I witness a lot of irreverence at Mass, and sometimes even the priests fail to set a good example. Tolkien reminds me that the Consecration is still a miracle, regardless of the surroundings. I try to focus on being grateful that I can go to Mass in the first place, because so many people can't in other parts of the world . . .

    This is also a sublime quote that puts everything in perspective:

    "Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires."

    Letter #43, to Michael Tolkien

    - Ellen Gianna

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much :)

      Wow, we have a lot in common then!

      That is definitely so important to remember. You put it beautifully.

      Oh that is a wonderful quote, thank you for sharing it :)

      Thank you so much for commenting!

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