Friday, January 15, 2010

Truths, in the eyes of the beholders

As you may recall from a post last summer, Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy was reviewed by Richard West for Tolkien Studies. He had very good things to say about the collection overall, but he spared only a few words for my essay. They were neither complimentary nor dismissive, but merely descriptive. But more recently, two new reviews have arrived, and these engage with my contribution a good deal more.

John Rateliff reviewed the book for Mythlore (the 2009 Fall/Winter issue). You can read the entire review online at the Mythopoeic Society’s website by following this link, but here is what Rateliff had to say about my essay:

The second essay focused on Tolkien, by Jason Fisher, looks at the question of whether or not Tolkien’s cosmology incorporates the idea of the ‘Fortunate Fall’ or Felix Culpa — the idea that greater good comes about as a result of evil than would have been the case had the evil never taken place. Here we have a case of a single essay, of moderate length, that tackles a major topic with vast ramifications and implications and yet manages to be relatively thorough within a short space. Fisher discusses all three Falls that take place within the legendarium (that of Morgoth, that of the Noldor, and that of the Númenóreans) and reaches the rather unusual conclusion that Tolkien himself did not believe many of the core theological positions underlying his mythology – for example, that “Tolkien’s world doesn’t seem to incorporate the idea of Original Sin” (101) but “certainly Tolkien himself, in his Primary World beliefs, would have subscribed to the doctrine of Original Sin” (109n15). And again, Fisher asserts “As a devout Catholic, Tolkien would have firmly believed that Lucifer played no part in God’s creation of the World” (102). I remain unpersuaded, but it’s an intriguing idea, and I’m curious to see if others will take up this proposed barrier between Tolkien’s real beliefs and the beliefs upon which he based his life’s work.
Having also mentioned me by name in his introductory remarks, Rateliff does so again in his conclusion, calling my essay one of the book’s “high points”:
In the end, this is not an essential purchase for Inklings scholars, especially given its high price for such a slim volume. But there’s certainly enough of interest here to make the book worth reading, with the high points being Khoddam’s quote from The Quest of Bleheris, Himes’s valiant attempt to sort out the mess regarding The Dark Tower, Howard’s reminiscences, and the essays by Fisher and Shippey.
I was very pleased to see this, as you can well imagine! That Rateliff isn’t fully convinced is not a great surprise. Editor Jonathan Himes and I, when discussing my essay as we maneuvered it through several rounds of revision and expansion, always knew the thesis would be a somewhat provocative one, especially among readers with an interest in theology.

More than unconvinced, however, was Charles Huttar, who reviewed the collection for VII: An Anglo-American Review, Volume 26 (2009). This review just appeared, and it is not available online, but Jonathan kindly shared a tear-sheet with me. Incidentally, Huttar blurbed the collection way back at the beginning of 2008, as I mentioned here. Huttar was just such a reader as I had in mind when I revised the essay several times in the attempt to forestall the kinds of theological objections I saw as the most likely to be raised. Had I not made such revisions, Huttar’s objections might have been more severe, but he still finds fault. Here’s what he had to say:
Jason Fisher, in “Tolkien’s Fortunate Fall and the Third Theme of Ilúvatar,” systematically shows how the omnipotent One takes all the evils that enter his creation, whether through Melkor, through Elves, or through Men, and makes them part of a larger pattern of his own devising that is good. Granted that none of these “falls” is ultimately disastrous, but is it valid to call them “fortunate”? Repeatedly the argument depends on fallacious reasoning; one example will have to suffice. “Thus, though tragic, the Fall of Man necessarily precipitates vastly greater good in the later ages of the world — is distills the good of the faithful and leads to the ultimate banishment of Sauron and his sinful influence from Middle-earth, just as the Fall of the Elves led to the banishment of Morgoth” (101). But the word “necessarily” begs the question; the phrase “greater good” rests on a comparison only with the immediate results of the evil, not with what good might have been in store had the evil not occurred (which cannot be discounted though of course it cannot be known); and the repeated “leads to ... led to” assumes a causality not proved or even argued: post hoc non ergo propter hoc [Latin for, “after this not therefore because of this”]. (Shall we sin that grace may abound?)

For the most part, I can accept these remarks as a perfectly legitimate reaction to my thesis, well within the range of responses I anticipated. I bristled just a bit at his judgment that my reasoning is repeatedly “fallacious”; his one example (to me) does not justify such a blanket assertion. I understand the limits of space imposed on reviewers as well as anyone, but if you are going to say “repeatedly”, I think you owe me at least two examples. :)

The one example given could easily prompt a protracted debate, which I will not enter into here lest I seem overly defensive. But anyway, there is no need. Why not? Because such questions as “could the good that would have arisen without the intervention of evil have been greater than the good evil itself brought about” are inevitably unanswerable, but — and here is where I lay the emphasis — that is beside the point. The point is that the Roman Catholic Tolkien would have believed in the Fortunate Fall without the need for explanation, justification, or debate. Its contrary assertion (that evil brought about greater good than would have occurred without it) is simply a matter of orthodox belief. That he would endow his Secondary World with such an element as he believed to be present in the Primary World should surprise no one; indeed, I would have expected this to be the most uncontroversial assertion I make in my essay. In other words, the very questions Huttar raises about my view of the world of Middle-earth might as easily be raised about the Fortunate Fall in our own world, but it was not the aim of my essay to tackle that thorny question. Perhaps I could have been clearer.

Overall, Huttar seems to find as the collection’s weakest essays some of the very ones John Rateliff found to be its highlights — and vice versa. For example, while Rateliff appreciated “Howard’s reminiscences”, Huttar feels Howard’s paper is “out of place in this volume. It was doubtless much appreciated as an after-dinner talk, but it does not make the kind of scholarly contribution a published paper should aim at and that the other papers in the book do achieve. In both style and content it does less than justice to the author’s stature as a contributor to Inklings studies over the years.” If you’re anything like me, you will immediately recall Tolkien’s words in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings — “the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved.”

It just goes to show you: three different reviewers, three very different reviews. But I am pleased to have been singled out for extended commentary by two of the three — even when the reviewer disagrees with my methods or conclusions. This is all part of a larger conversation, an incremental grasping to understand and appreciate the vast depth of Tolkien’s creation. To all my reviewers, thank you for taking the time to read my essay and ponder its conclusions. For one of you, I have already returned the favor; perhaps the other two will feel the weight of my pen one day to come.

26 comments:

  1. I wish I had the book - but it's pricy, and I usually have to reserve my money allocated to my amateur Tolkien hobby for books that focus more soley on him. So I can't read your article en toto.

    However, from your highlights here, I had two questions: 1) Why do you see no evidence of the Original Sin doctrine in Tolkien's Middle-earth work? 2) What do you think it would look like if he had? Specifically, what is missing that would mark out Original Sin to you?

    It is conceivable, at least to me, that because we do not have a specifically Christian context in the Middle-earth world, we would not have to have one-to-one correlation. And I think it is an interesting position to take up, since Tolkien mentions that his work was Catholic thoroughly, as I think he says, "unconscious at first, but more intentional in the rewrite." Perhaps I'm remembering the quote way off-base, but if not, then it would seem he had meditated on the ways in which his work was Catholic.

    I do think we could understand some moves of the story, such as everyone's eventual submission to the power of the Ring, when exposed long enough, as evidence of Original Sin. Also, the doctrine of Original Sin is something Tolkien would apply, I think, specifically to Man, because the Catholic doctrine deals specifically with the curse of death passed on to all Men. So the Elves not having Original Sin would be appropriate. And the three Falls named are not THE Fall, which I had taken Tolkien to allude to in the Silmarillion when the Men say they were fleeing "a darkness." Also, if memory serves, does not in some drafts Tolkien write about Melkor going away to do some deed, which could be interpreted as Satan going to be that Old Serpent?

    Sorry if the thoughts seem scattered. Just thinking through what you're saying. I remember you mentioning an earlier debate about whether or not the Elves had Free Will; sometime I would like to get your thoughts more clearly on that too. I tend to interpret Tolkien Catholically, and so I'm interested in your retiscence to that.

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  2. Hey Alex, thanks for the interesting comments and questions. To answer them fully would probably require something as long again as the original essay (more than 7,000 words), but let me see if I can give you some idea of my thinking. Even to do that, I’m going to have to break this up into two comments!

    However, from your highlights here, I had two questions: 1) Why do you see no evidence of the Original Sin doctrine in Tolkien’s Middle-earth work?

    Original Sin is defined very specifically as a blemish or stain with which all human beings are born, and for which (without repentance) death and damnation are the punishment. Tolkien doesn’t describe people (Men, Elves, anyone really) in this way. In Tolkien’s theology, death is Man’s gift, not his punishment; nor is there any way to escape it (e.g., repentance). You might recall the words of Elrond in the Council of Rivendell, “For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.” One might argue that “evil” does not mean the same thing as “sinful”, but then we’d have to go off on one of those very lengthy digressions out of which 7,000-word papers are made! :)

    From another angle, Tolkien says that the very fabric of the World was flawed with evil from its inception, but remember that unlike the World, Elves and Man were created entirely and solely by Ilúvatar, so the evil introduced into Arda by Melkor could not have tainted his Children in their nature. Certainly, evil in the world touches them and affects the choices they make, but this is willfully chosen sin, not inherent Original Sin.

    I am not the only scholar, by the way, who has concluded that Tolkien’s fictive world seems to lack Original Sin. Jared Lobdell came to the same conclusion almost thirty years ago.

    2) What do you think it would look like if he had? Specifically, what is missing that would mark out Original Sin to you?

    From his review of my essay, it looks like John Rateliff might regard the Orcs as an example of Original Sin. They certainly seem to be “born bad”, but I deliberately avoided the whole issue of the Orcs in my essay because the subject is fraught with complications. Tolkien himself seemed far from any definitive conclusions about them. So, to give an answer to your question, if Tolkien had included Original Sin, the Orcs might be something close to it. But to be honest, I think Orcs are a convenient “baddie”, but don’t fit neatly into the theology of Middle-earth — and I think Tolkien became rather uncomfortable with this.

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  3. It is conceivable, at least to me, that because we do not have a specifically Christian context in the Middle-earth world, we would not have to have one-to-one correlation. And I think it is an interesting position to take up, since Tolkien mentions that his work was Catholic thoroughly, as I think he says, “unconscious at first, but more intentional in the rewrite.” Perhaps I’m remembering the quote way off-base, but if not, then it would seem he had meditated on the ways in which his work was Catholic.

    Remember, Tolkien said that The Lord of the Rings was a Catholic work; he did not say this of The Silmarillion. He may have believed it too was a Catholic work — but he may not have. At one point, too, Tolkien called his Athrabeth, which contains a sketch of the first Fall of Man, “already [...] too like a parody of Christianity.” It is pretty clear that Tolkien was not altogether comfortable with making his more theological works a direct echo of Roman Catholicism. There are harmonizing elements, to be sure, but there are also dissonances with it. In any case, you are right that we should never expect a one-to-one correlation. But then the questions become, which elements are Catholic, and why; and which are not, and why?

    I do think we could understand some moves of the story, such as everyone’s eventual submission to the power of the Ring, when exposed long enough, as evidence of Original Sin.

    So you’re suggesting we can read temptation as Original Sin? Maybe. But in the real-world, a Roman Catholic would say that even babies have Original Sin, in utero. The original submission to temptation (not the temptation itself) by Adam and Eve is what stained all of humankind to follow with Original Sin. So it’s not really the same. Moreover, in Tolkien’s legendarium, temptation is a sin affecting Man, Hobbit, Elf, Dwarf, and even Maia, which also presents problems for interpreting it as Original Sin.

    And the three Falls named are not THE Fall, which I had taken Tolkien to allude to in the Silmarillion when the Men say they were fleeing “a darkness.” Also, if memory serves, does not in some drafts Tolkien write about Melkor going away to do some deed, which could be interpreted as Satan going to be that Old Serpent?

    Yes, Tolkien alludes to an earlier Fall of Man which occurred “off stage” (as he puts it in his letters). But again, it’s very difficult to attempt to overlay a Roman Catholic theology onto Tolkien’s own fictive theology. The creation stories are enormously different, so you’re in trouble right off the bat. If you want to suggest that Melkor’s going “off stage” was to play Serpent to Man, are you thinking then that Tolkien means for us to believe there is an Adam and an Eve, alone somewhere in a Garden in the extreme East? Why would there be a single human Man, out of whom was made the first Woman (to match Genesis), if the Elves and Dwarves were not made in anything like the same way?

    Rather, I think that Tolkien’s Catholicism inspired some of the broad brush-strokes for his theology, and certainly provided its moral compass, but the details are very largely his own.

    Sorry if the thoughts seem scattered. […] I tend to interpret Tolkien Catholically, and so I’m interested in your retiscence to that.

    I’m not reluctant to interpret Tolkien according to Catholicism, not at all, not when I see a sound basis for it. But neither do I think one must see every aspect of Tolkien’s work through that lens. He was profoundly inspired by pagan theologies, for example, which are totally incompatible with Catholicism (despite efforts, mostly poor, to force them together in the Middle Ages). Much of Tolkien’s work and thought is illuminated by Catholic interpretation, no doubt about it — just not all of it. :)

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  4. Jason, thanks for your thorough response! Again, you impress me with your knowledge of Tolkien studies. I’m nowhere near as well-versed as you. But I want to take advantage of your knowledge to think through this with you. I really hope you do not mind my insanely long comments. And if they are too much to get to, I TOTALLY understand.

    You make some really good points. I dig what you’re saying about being careful not to treat LotR and the Silmarillion the same. And your point about the Gift – I have some ways that I make sense of that, but I must confess, it’s hard to square with any Christian theology, Catholic or otherwise. Unilaterally, death is part of the curse. And then the bit about the Athrabeth – I think this is really good for your case.

    You did misread me a bit though. I can’t figure out how to type this without it sounding biting or defensive, so let me preface this next statement by saying it’s not emotional or anything, and I enjoy good discussion (or even debate, but I would not call that what we’re doing here) . But I’m a theology student – historical theology to be exact – and have been for about 5 years now. I’m actually acutely aware of what Original Sin is, and have done some work tracing its development from Tertullian through Cyprian to Augustine, when it really starts to take its definite shape within Catholic theology.

    So to the temptation bit first. I’m not arguing at all that we should understand temptation as Original Sin (that would be weird). I’m suggesting (rather modestly) that we could see everyone’s eventual giving in to temptation as signs of Original Sin. Original Sin, as defined within Catechism, marks a weakening in human nature, and part of the effects of that weakening is an inclination to sin, and a struggle overcoming it. My comment about Frodo was only to say that Tolkien’s decision for him to finally succumb, beyond simply the engineering of the eucatastrophe, could be seen as evidence at least for the influence of Original Sin doctrine, even if we don’t want to view it as a conscious choice to embody the doctrine. This especially when we have gone through such pains to show how resilient he is.

    Frodo is a Hobbit, of course. This is a weakness of the Frodo argument – why would his succumbing be OS? He wasn’t human. Indeed. I’m not trying to systematize Tolkien’s world, because I don’t really think that’s possible. With mythologies such as these, that never works. Christians have been trying that with the Bible for years, and they always come up short. All I meant to suggest was that, while we may not see the overt doctrine of Original Sin at work, we might see its influence on Tolkien’s world.

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  5. Indeed, I would personally think of the Orcs as a very bad example of Original Sin, to misunderstand it quite severely. OS is not a doctrine that says we are born evil in the kinds of ways Orc in their society are born evil (if Tolkien envisioned them simply born that way, not raised that way). Indeed, not all of Catholic belief through the years has even followed Augustine’s original assertion that unbaptized babies go to hell. The “Limbo of Infants” was at least as early as the 12th century. OS should not be here confused with Total Depravity, which is a different doctrine.

    OS is a state of accursedness, accompanied by suffering, the domination of Death, and the propensity to sin. And that’s why the distinction you make between “willfully chosen” sin and OS is actually the same distinction the Catholic Catechism makes, although their language is that of OS and “personal sins.” All humans are born without personal sin, but under the taint of OS. Our propensity to sin comes from, according to the doctrine, the fact that OS robs us of our original holiness and justice first bestowed to Adam (meant to go to all of humanity, as his personal sin has transmitted to all of humanity). I don’t think this fits the Orcs. And besides, the Orcs are not even Men, anyway, but came out of Angband (or was it Utumno? I know you’ll know!). I personally agree with the assessment that Orcs are just convenient baddies, so we don’t have to feel bad about killing them (in fact, I would really love to get some direction from you on where Tolkien expressed his discomfit with the Orcs; I have understood Tolkien to be almost opposed to violence – but not totally! – and thought the Orcs might have been, among other inspirations, a reason for this, either early or late).

    This is why I would contend with the example for Elrond. The specific doctrine as related in the Catechism explicitly says that OS is not in any way a total corruption; we are not simply evil to begin with – that may come later in personal sins. And the way in which we are “evil” through OS is something I would argue is not behind Tolkien’s (through Elrond, if we assume that Elrond is speaking Tolkien’s opinion) words there. He’s not talking about an accursed state, I would contend, but marked by acts of willful, or personal, evil. And the “escape from Death,” even in Catholic theology, is not a physical escape from it in this age. So I don’t know if the absence of a clear escape from death marks the absence of the marks of OS. And I would also add, for whatever it’s worth, that Elves and Men have different paths after Death, which I’m sure you’ve thought of.

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  6. And you could make the case about the Fortunate Fall being a part of the gift to Men; i.e. yes, Death sucks, but since there is a salvation coming from Death, the greater good is coming, and thus even Death is a gift. This would actually follow the reasoning articulated by St. Thomas when he cites the Exsultet of Easter Vigil. Here, I think the terminology of “gift” could actually bolster your original argument, if you were not already reluctant to interpret Death as part of the Fall in Tolkien’s cosmology.

    But that does bring me to a last point. I don’t think the fact that the Dwarves and Elves have a different beginning must draw us to the conclusion that Man had the same kind of beginning in Tolkien’s world. I get the reasoning, but it’s just as easy to countervail it with the rationale of uniqueness. I mean, Man could just have a different beginning. And Man is the only beginning we are not privy to in the Silmarillion. And I should here note that I have always interpreted Tolkien’s Middle-earth to be OUR earth, from another time. The mythology was, I thought, meant to be indigenous, meant to represent something from our pasts, in a strange way. There are pitfalls in taking this interpretation too far, I completely concede. But scholars have noted it.

    Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression by revealing my theological interests. They play a part in the way I interpret Tolkien, for sure, but I don’t feel any need to harmonize Tolkien with Catholic theology, as if him straying from orthodox doctrines would somehow offend my conscience . I agree completely that we need other lenses, including pagan theologies (like Tolkien’s most stirring elements of despair, and related battle-courage), to interpret Tolkien, and that has been redoubtably proved by several Tolkien scholars. I just wanted to press the idea that a) Tolkien doesn’t incorporate the idea of OS at all in his Secondary World, and more implicitly, get you to talk about this conclusion that b) Tolkien, in Rateliff’s words, “Tolkien himself did not believe many of the core theological positions underlying his mythology.” I don’t know if you stated it this way in your essay, but that idea is intriguing to me. I have my own disagreements with the various Orthodoxies, and so this is not unbelievable to me. But I have never understood Tolkien that way.

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  7. Last thing! All the odd squares are supposed to be smiley-faces. And the deleted comment was just because the first one came out without spaces between the paragraphs, not because I said something really mean or anything :). Also, my statement that I was "acutely aware" of what OS is was not to imply that I have the definitive interpretation of it, but rather that I have a fair working knowledge of what it is, how it has come down to us through history, and that I am not ignorant of what the doctrine states.

    Sorry again to be so dreadfully verbose! If you don't have time to respond, I understand, but if you do, I look forward to it - I always appreciate your musings :).

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  8. Alex, no need to apologize for the length of your comments — fascinating stuff all of it! — but they clearly reveal exactly what I meant in my first comment when I warned that such conversations have a tendency to become lengthy! Not that I’m complaining! And let me also grant, with from the get-go, that your knowledge of matters theological is clearly superior to mine. I had forgotten that you are a theology student, and I certainly didn’t intend my rather facile definition of Original Sin to come across as condescending.

    You’ve given me a lot I could respond to, but I’m afraid I can’t take all of it on just now, or I would get nothing else done today, hahae. I will reply to some of the points you raised, but I won’t be able to do so until this afternoon. Stay tuned! :)

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  9. Jason, thanks for getting back. I'm really looking forward to your response!

    Also, after looking over the thread again, I see there might be a place where I have misunderstood you. You see, in my studies, I use the word "mythology" in so many ways so very often, that I think I misread the way Rateliff used it (and thus, by extention, how he was representing your thesis). So were you saying that Tolkien did not believe certain doctrines of his Catholic mythology, or rather (as I am now inclined to think) that he did not believe some of the theological doctrines upon which he built his Secondary World?

    An important distinction. If the latter, then I would say that I agree with you completely, and have often felt that. Would you say this is a controversial conclusion within Tolkien studies? I am persuaded that Tolkien struggled with the same kinds of things the persons of his subject - the Beowulf poet, for example - struggled with: being stirred by the raw power of the former Northern, pagan world, and unable to reconcile much of it to Christianity (thus unable to believe it).

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  10. Right, now you’ve got it. As I said earlier, Rateliff’s wording was a bit misrepresentative. I did not say in my essay that Tolkien disbelieved in certain doctrines of Roman Catholicism. What I said was that some of the doctrines Tolkien developed for his fictive world do not square with what he himself believed in the real world.

    I don’t think this is (or should be) controversial, yet I have heard from more than one person that it is. To me, the only way it could be a controversial conclusion would be if one thought that Tolkien believed in the theology of Eä. But that seems absurd. Moreover, I would submit that those who find my conclusion particularly controversial might do well to remember that the world of Tolkien’s imagination is not the real world. Obvious, yes, but forgotten surprisingly often. :)

    Your comparison of Tolkien to the Beowulf-poet is right on!

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  11. Further comments (again, split into two because of Blogger limitations).

    So to the temptation bit first. I’m not arguing at all that we should understand temptation as Original Sin (that would be weird). I’m suggesting (rather modestly) that we could see everyone’s eventual giving in to temptation as signs of Original Sin.

    Ah, okay, I’ll grant this is a possible reading; however, to me, it comes with too much assumption on too little evidence. A fictive theology does not require Original Sin to explain Man’s weakness and propensity for sin. To put this another way, you are certainly entitled to read Tolkien in this way, if you find it adds to your enjoyment or appreciation, but we still don’t know whether Tolkien intended his legendarium to include Original Sin.

    Frodo is a Hobbit, of course. This is a weakness of the Frodo argument – why would his succumbing be OS? He wasn’t human.

    Well this certainly isn’t a problem for your reading, because Hobbits are human! Tolkien says this explicitly — e.g., “The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race” (a footnote in the Milton Waldman letter).

    And the “escape from Death,” even in Catholic theology, is not a physical escape from it in this age. So I don’t know if the absence of a clear escape from death marks the absence of the marks of OS.

    But in Catholicism, death (= damnation, not physical death) is the wages of sin. Do you see Tolkien’s theology that way? I don’t. That’s a fundamental difference, however you interpret death qua gift. In Tolkien’s theology, death (= physical death) is called a gift, regardless of what comes after.

    And you could make the case about the Fortunate Fall being a part of the gift to Men; i.e. yes, Death sucks, but since there is a salvation coming from Death, the greater good is coming, and thus even Death is a gift.

    But where does Tolkien say that salvation and greater good are coming for Man after the Gift of death? And then there are the strange exceptions mortal Men who escape the fate of their kindred: Beren, Eärendil, Tuor. And this is setting on one side the whole (very un-Catholic) idea of Elvish reincarnation.

    I mean, Man could just have a different beginning [from Elves, Dwarves, etc.]. And Man is the only beginning we are not privy to in the Silmarillion. And I should here note that I have always interpreted Tolkien’s Middle-earth to be OUR earth, from another time.

    Certainly, they could have a different beginning, but in the absence of a creation story for Man, I don’t think we are justified in making any assumption that it should be an Adam/Eve/Eden story, simply because Tolkien was Roman Catholic. On the other hand, you are right that Tolkien intended Middle-earth to be our world. Indeed it is, as he states very explicitly in his letters, as in the letter to Rhona Beare, where he says, “I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place.”

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  12. The mythology was, I thought, meant to be indigenous, meant to represent something from our pasts, in a strange way. There are pitfalls in taking this interpretation too far, I completely concede. But scholars have noted it.

    Yes, that’s close enough to Tolkien’s intentions, I think. In the same letter I just quoted, he wrote: “May I say that all this is ‘mythical’, and not any kind of new religion or vision. As far as I know it is merely an imaginative invention, to express, in the only way I can, some of my (dim) apprehensions of the world. […] Theologically (if the term is not too grandiose) I imagine the picture to be less dissonant from what some (including myself) believe to be the truth. But since I have deliberately written a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them (or anything else), and does not mention them overtly, still less preach them, I will not now depart from that mode, and venture on theological disquisition for which I am not fitted.”

    Bottom line: a strong Catholic undercurrent, yes, but not at all a direct one-to-one correlation — on which you and I have both already agreed. And as you’ve also agreed, his tales are woven from many threads, including pagan, folkloric, historic, and linguistic elements which have little to do with Catholicism and may even disagree with it, but together, these many threads form a coherent and compelling tapestry.

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  13. Hi, I came in to post something more on roots, and instead I found this very thoughtful discussion on Catholicism. I hate to butt in, but I think I might contribute something to chew. The role of Death in Catholic theology and anthropology is far more complex than outlined in the comments, and there is actually a strong tradition which considers it precisely as a kind of gift, in the light of the consequences Original Sin has had on Mankind. As recently as 2007 Pope Benedict XVI was quoting Saint Ambrose on the subject, in his Encyclical Letter "Spe Salvi":

    [QUOTE] But then the question arises: do we really want this -- to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever -- endlessly -- appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end -- this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable. This is precisely the point made, for example, by Saint Ambrose, one of the Church Fathers, in the funeral discourse for his deceased brother Satyrus: "Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin ... began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing". A little earlier, Ambrose had said: "Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation". [UNQUOTE]

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html

    There are two distinct aspects here. First there is the more evident one advanced by the Pope: the endless continuation of life as we know it becomes unbearable, and death puts an end to that. But there is another, deeper aspect contained in Ambrose's words: the sorrows of life are a consequence of sin, and death is meant to restore humanity.

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  14. As far as I know, the description of Death as a "Gift" in Arda is always made from an internal viewpoint; i.e., it is always Ilúvatar talking to the Ainur, or the Elves calling it that. Even in his letters Tolkien gives this view as his characters' (e.g. #212, "the Elves called it the Gift of Ilúvatar", or "the Elves would say"); and *I believe* he deliberately insisted on the first aspect when describing the Elves' envy for the Gift of Men, because a *doctrine* of Original Sin is absent from Middle-earth (as different from there not being OS). That may be why the element of "restoration" appears downplayed if at all. See for example the context of the same letter (*emphasis* added):

    [QUOTE] Mortality, that is a short life-span having no relation to the life of Arda, is spoken of as the given nature of Men: the Elves called it the Gift of Ilúvatar (God). But it must be remembered that mythically these tales are Elf-centred, not anthropocentric, and Men only appear in them, at what must be a point long after their Coming. This is therefore an 'Elvish' view, and *does not necessarily have anything to say for or against such beliefs as the Christian* that 'death' is not part of human nature, but a punishment for sin (rebellion), a result of the 'Fall'. It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death -- not being tied to the 'circles of the world' -- should now become for Men, *however it arose*. A divine 'punishment' is also a divine 'gift', if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make 'punishments' (that is changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained: a 'mortal' Man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher *if unrevealed* destiny than a longeval one. [UNQUOTE]

    Sorry - I *did* mean to keep this short :P

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  15. Just one short remark – whether Death of Man is a consequence of his Fall is – as far as I understand – not unambiguously answered either in the Athrabeth or in the Genesis.

    Andreth is of the opinion that the Death of Man is the result of his Fall, but Finrod thinks otherwise. Admittedly, Finrod’s view seems to prevail – especially if the situation in Númenor is taken into account; one may argue that there the consequences of Man’s Fall are lifted, there they do not suffer premature death and illness – but still they die. Thus, it seems plausible that Death is indeed a Gift to Man; but that it has been tainted, and this taint is heritable – not far from Original Sin, isn’t it? (I’m not a theologian, obviously!)
    But the question isn’t really answered with authority, is it?

    In Genesis there is some ambiguity as to this question as well, if I’m not entirely mistaken …

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  16. @Jason: Sorry so long on a response. Thanks once again for sharing your wealth of knowledge! I LOVED the bit about Hobbits actually being a branch of humanity - what a fortunate find! I was thinking: have you ever thought of doing a post of the ten most important books in your journey for Tolkien scholarship? I know Shippey has such a list, and perhaps yours differs (or includes his books :). Or perhaps you could do a primary source list and a secondary source list? Just a thought. Oh, and I'm still really interested in getting the source for your stuff on Tolkien's discomfit with his Orcs.

    @Hlaford: Dude, DIG the stuff from St. Ambrose, via Pope Benedict. Most of the investigating I've done with St. Ambrose has been political; however, that is something to chew on. I think as we keep digging, we'll find what humans are always saying and trying to say about Death: it sucks, and yet, we're trying to develop a level of peace about it.

    Great point about the "Gift" language always coming from the Elves; I wonder what Jason will say about that. I alluded that Death does not have to be viewed badly in Tolkien's world, i.e. the connection of Gift langauge with the Felix Culpa. And in defense of my simplified representation of Death in Catholicism - :) - of course, everything has it's complexities, but I think overall in theology and human experience, Death has been viewed as something terrible. So while accompanying some aspects of celebration or peace in Christian thought (as early as Phil.1:23 and Heb. 2:15), the main thread is that Death is part of the Curse, and not God's original intention (though perhaps leading to something better). I have not made the Christian view of Death my study, though, so I of course invite correction.

    Hey, and I would love to get your source on that last quote. Is it from Tolkien?

    @Eosphoros: Yeah, I think whenever you are talking about Death, you're going to find ambiguities. And I think you're right, we're not going to answer this question with authority (poor Jason - I think his comment on OS in his piece was just an aside! Then us theological thinkers came and made a mess of it, which we always do :).

    Apropos your comment on Genesis, that depends on how you read it. Any document with the problematic historical complexities that Genesis has is going to be difficult to get a clear reading, especially when I don't think the intent of Genesis (either as a redacted document, holy Scripture, or strands of early Ancient Near East Israelite tradition) is to answer the question of Death. But I think you could find material to say many things, good and bad, about death.

    All comments asking for sources are not because I question your fidelity, but rather because I'm interested in investigating the matters myself! :)

    Cheers, y'all!

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  17. What a fascinating conversation this has become! I should have expected it, really, and I’m pleased to see that you guys have started talking amongst yourselves. Please feel free to keep it up!

    @Hlaford: Great stuff. I wasn’t aware that such an interpretation of death had entered into mainstream Catholicism. This idea of death as the gift of release from the burden of living in a sinful world seems to resonate very well indeed with Tolkien’s fictive theology, but I still find it difficult to square with other passages in Scripture — e.g., Romans 6. (This is the source, by the way, of the concluding paraphrase in Charles Huttar’s review.)

    Regarding your observation that the Gift of Ilúvatar is only so-called from the Elves’ point of view, yes, very true! I allude to this vantage, and some of its concomitant difficulties , in my essay. I need say no more about it here, except to point out that it makes drawing conclusions about whether / to what extent Catholic doctrine might be present in the theology of Tolkien’s human race even more difficult. Even Tolkien was evasive on the question. :)

    @Alex: I was thinking: have you ever thought of doing a post of the ten most important books in your journey for Tolkien scholarship? I know Shippey has such a list, and perhaps yours differs (or includes his books :). Or perhaps you could do a primary source list and a secondary source list? Just a thought.

    Good idea! I should give that a little thought. I think it might make a useful post. The Tolkien scholar John Rateliff recently posted something similar.

    Oh, and I’m still really interested in getting the source for your stuff on Tolkien’s discomfit with his Orcs.

    Oh, sorry! What I had in mind was Tolkien’s late writings on the Orcs, published in Morgoth’s Ring, in the final section of that book, called “Myths Transformed”. One essay begins, “The origin of the Orcs is a matter of debate” — such wording is usually a clue to the reader that Tolkien was still going back and forth, trying to make up his own mind. Another set of jottings begins, “Their nature and origin require more thought. They are not easy to work into the theory and system.” Tolkien then enumerates some of the difficulties he’s made for himself. In short, were Orcs “ruined” Elves or were they “ruined” Men? On that question rests another: were they mortal or immortal? Or were they some other kind of independent creature (like Aulë’s Dwarves)? Tolkien tried to work through some of these questions late in his life, but he never arrived at any conclusive answers. Christopher Tolkien summed up, “this then, as it may appear, was my father’s final view of the question […]. But, as always, it is not quite so simple.” One meets enormous difficulties in trying to reconcile what we know of the Orcs with what Tolkien says of the theology of Arda. Do they have free will, for example? Can they repent? What happens to them when they die? And so forth.

    There are also difficulties of another sort. It has not been widely discussed in Tolkien studies, but the earliest conception of Tolkien’s Orcs may have had more to do with the horrors of World War I and the kind of xenophobia and even racism that war inspires. In the “Qenya Lexicon” (published in the linguistic journal, Parma Eldalamberon), there is a cluster of entries including kalimbo “a savage, uncivilized man, barbarian — giant, monster, troll”, and kalimbardi “the Germans” (!!). Later, as the legendarium evolved, the Germans were quite sensibly dropped, and the word was newly glossed, along with another word, Orqi, as just “goblins” — that is, Orcs. Put another way, the earliest conception of the Orcs was simply as a faceless horde of Enemies in War, and indeed they were inspired by a particular Enemy in a particular War. Tolkien obviously changed his mind about this, but we should keep these origins in the backs of our minds.

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  18. @Alex: Sorry, I should have made clear that by Genesis I was just referring to the story of the Fall (in chapters 2–3). This just goes to show my very limited knowledge and understanding of the matter.

    Specifically, I thought of JHWH’s prohibition:
    ‘“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”’ (Genesis 2:17, KJV)
    But when Adam puts it to the test, we find that he does not die instantaneously – which seems to be the obvious meaning of the threat. Instead, he gets kicked out of Eden and as a consequence has to suffer premature death.
    The ambiguity is that no statement is made concerning Man’s life expectancy prior to his Fall; as I understand it, he was either immortal, feeding on the Tree of Life, or he had a ‘númenórean’ life span …

    Well, I hope what I say is neither totally off the mark nor old hat …


    P.S.: A thought just strikes me … in Tolkien’s legendarium the Second Fall of Man is because he grasps for immortality; cf. ‘“[…] lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden’ (Genesis 3:22–3, KJV)

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  19. Sorry, I should have made clear that by Genesis I was just referring to the story of the Fall (in chapters 2–3). […] Specifically, I thought of JHWH’s prohibition: ‘“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”’ (Genesis 2:17, KJV) But when Adam puts it to the test, we find that he does not die instantaneously – which seems to be the obvious meaning of the threat. Instead, he gets kicked out of Eden and as a consequence has to suffer premature death.

    Ah, you’re getting into very thorny territory here, Eosphoros. :)

    First, I should say in full disclosure that I am not someone who believes you can take Genesis literally. In fact, I am not a Christian at all. So to my way of thinking, we needn’t bend over backwards, grasping for ways to force the account make literal sense. (Others may disagree, and I’m particularly curious to know what Alex might have to offer here.) Myself, I don’t quite understand the story. In a world before sin, Original or otherwise, why would God place a forbidden Tree in the Garden in the first place? All of this sounds like tampering with the story by later men. But that’s beside the point.

    As for your question about instantaneous death, I think that a believer would probably interpret the prohibition to mean something more like, “as soon as you eat from that Tree, it’s fait accompli that you are going to die.” I know that’s not what it says, strictly speaking, but it’s probably reasonable to read it that way.

    But I also have to ask, in Eden, in a world before sin and death, how is this a threat Adam and Eve could possibly understand? They don’t have any idea what death is, and they don’t even know it to fear it. God might just as well have said, “because I said so,” and left it at that. The fear of death, I would submit, has to come after the fact of it.

    P.S.: A thought just strikes me … in Tolkien’s legendarium the Second Fall of Man is because he grasps for immortality; cf. […] (Genesis 3:22–3, KJV)

    For what it’s worth, I think this might be a fair point of comparison. If so, then Tolkien’s Second Fall of Man is one which actually never occurred in the real world. In Eden, it was a potential Fall, but in Arda, one that actually took place. Yet another dissonance between the theology Tolkien practiced and the one he invented.

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  20. Well, I am a Christian, but I hope this isn’t relevant in this discussion ;-)

    @ taking the story in Genesis literally:
    It’s just a story. (I won’t divulge what I think of people who believe it to be an account of what really happened some millennia ago. I don’t want to get insulting.) But in my opinion, the first step in understanding a story is to take it literally.

    @ the prohibition: The reasons for and sense of the prohibition are indeed foggy; Lewis makes some remarks on prohibitions and obedience in Mere Christianity … but you are right, according to the inner logic of the story (if read literally), it is problematic. I take this inconsistency to mean that the story cannot be fully understood at the literal level.

    But all that is not quite what I mainly wanted to get at; rather:
    As we just demonstrated, the threat ‘[…] thou shalt surely die’ is ambiguous – and the snake takes advantage of this!* The snake essentially says: You are certainly not going to drop dead the moment you eat that fruit! Which, of course, is shown to be true. (But it implies that Eve must have understood the threat in this way.)
    So, what we ‘know’ is that the fruit of the tree isn’t ‘poisonous’; therefore, the reading of the threat you gave must be nearer the mark:
    “as soon as you eat from that Tree, it’s fait accompli that you are going to die.”
    So, the Fall has somehow affected Mortality; but it remains unclear (to me?) in what way exactly

    I should probably add that unfortunately I am not able to recur to the original texts …

    *Mark how it twists the prohibition: ‘“hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”’ (Genesis 3:1, KJV)

    Yet another dissonance between the theology Tolkien practiced and the one he invented.
    There’s a quote somewhere – after having explained the theological or mythological underpinnings of his legendarium to someone, Tolkien adds that he does not know if that is ‘good theology’, i.e. orthodox Roman Catholic faith. I don’t remember where exactly this may be found.

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  21. P.S.: in Eden, in a world before […] death, how is this a threat Adam and Eve could possibly understand? They don’t have any idea what death is
    I’m afraid I have to be nit-picky on this – it’s not stated in that story that they don’t know what death is. Although, I concede, they hadn’t experienced it first-hand yet.
    As I said above, it is not clear (to me) whether they were mortal in Eden …

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  22. Eosphoros, I agree with basically everything you wrote in the two previous comments. The quote you mentioned, there are a couple of letters you might have in mind, but most likely, it’s this:

    “Since ‘mortality’ is thus represented as a special gift of God to the Second Race of the Children (the Eruhíni, the Children of the One God) and not a punishment for a Fall, you may call that ‘bad theology’. So it may be, in the primary world, but it is an imagination capable of elucidating truth, and a legitimate basis of legends.” That’s a footnote in a draft letter to Peter Hastings, September 1954.

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  23. @Jason: Regarding your observation that the Gift of Ilúvatar is only so-called from the Elves’ point of view, yes, very true! I allude to this vantage, and some of its concomitant difficulties , in my essay.

    Hi, I'm sorry I haven't access to it, as to most of the interesting literature on Tolkien :(

    In a world before sin, Original or otherwise, why would God place a forbidden Tree in the Garden in the first place?

    To retolkienize the topic, I would like to recall Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories", where prohibitions (even those apparently arbitrary) are regarded as a constituent part of stories: "Peter Rabbit .... contains a prohibition, and .... there are prohibitions in fairyland (as, probably, there are throughout the universe on every plane and in every dimension)" (p.10), or "Even where a prohibition in a fairy-story is guessed to be derived from some taboo once practised long ago, it has probably been preserved in the later stages of the tale's history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition. A sense of that significance may indeed have lain behind some of the taboos themselves. Thou shalt not — or else thou shalt depart beggared into endless regret. The gentlest 'nursery-tales' know it. Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden, lost his blue coat, and took sick. The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation." (p.33).

    Yes, he doesn't actually answer the question, but it didn't seem irrelevant to me. I believe that Tolkien's direct source of inspiration for this idea is Chesterton's chapter "The Ethics of Elfland" in "Orthodoxy", where you can find such things as:

    [QUOTE] the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.[UNQUOTE]

    Chesterton in that chapter does offer his own explanation of the meaning of prohibitions, but it's useless to copy the whole thing here.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/130/pg130.html

    @Eosphoros: The reasons for and sense of the prohibition are indeed foggy .... according to the inner logic of the story (if read literally), it is problematic. I take this inconsistency to mean that the story cannot be fully understood at the literal level.

    I am not a theologian or anything of the kind (just a philologist interested in the history of Western ideas), but common sense tells me that it is one thing to doubt that it was a historical apple that caused the trouble, and quite another thing to doubt that there was some kind of prohibition and a transgression. The first is an allegorical story, even if obscure or flawed; the second is another story, and removing the prohibition theme would kill whatever sense the story was intended to make.

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  24. @Eosphoros: Tolkien adds that he does not know if that is ‘good theology’, i.e. orthodox Roman Catholic faith

    Apart from what Jason quoted, another important passage on this subject is "I don't feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology" (Letter #269). But I would like to draw a distinction between "faith" and "theology", for they are not interchangeable and I think doing so may mar the discussion.[*] Roman Catholic faith, in the sense of a series of tenets that constitute the Roman Church's creed (the "articles of faith"), is a well-defined set of beliefs deriving mostly from the Nicean creed, and it is this what Tolkien as a Catholic would have been compelled to believe; and Theology is (considered) a science - and very heterogeneous at that, since it may be related to a particular religion or not, and methods will vary enormously, etc. In the Catholic church the force of theology is considerable as historically having informed its faith, but the relationship between a believer and "formalized Christian theology" is wholly different from his relationship with his or her faith. As a science, theology is all the time under construction, new perspectives are added, and is ultimately fallible - i.e., an honest theologian is open to correction by another theologian using the accepted tools of theology. Faith for a Catholic believer is a virtue, and only tangentially a matter of knowledge; it is so only in so far as any virtue implies some kind of knowledge and can be enhanced (but not obtained) by it.

    [* Wild oversimplifactions follow.]

    Notice that Tolkien clearly makes a distinction of this sort. Browse his letters for "faith", and you will find things completely different from the "theology" quotes; for example, things like "In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love" (#250 - not talking about his writings at all).

    I very much doubt he would have ever said something like "I don't feel compelled to adjust my stories to my (real-world) faith", for a variety of reasons, which may (or may not) be illustrated by letter #328:

    [QUOTE] I had one [letter] from a man, who classified himself as 'an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling ... but you', he said, 'create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp'. I can only answer: 'Of his own sanity no man can securely judge. If sanctity inhabits his work or as a pervading light illumines it then it does not come from him but through him.'[UNQUOTE]

    "Writing something that is not in accordance with my faith", if anything, would probably have meant something intimate and dreadful - in some sort of way, doing something against faith as a virtue, that is, sinning. I'm not sure how this can be done in writing a fantasy novel, though I guess it's possible; and I believe it is this that we would be shocked to find acknowledged in one of his letters, just as much as the sadness and remorse we perceive in his confessions to his son in #250 ("Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practise my religion ... 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)".)

    In this context, his (cold?) claims of "deviating from Catholic theology" acquire a new meaning. My personal interpretation is that "deviating from theology" did not imply for Tolkien anything "contrary to faith".

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  25. Still, there can be no doubt that Tolkien's interest in and knowledge of theology was wide ("fidens quaerens intellectum"). I'll put just one example of him posing a difficult problem of theology, closely related to the matter at hand: whether the severing of body and soul by death is natural to mankind or not. In the Athrabeth Finrod is surprised at Andreth's saying that in her belief men were originally deathless, and he very sensibly argues that "one would not hope for this House a life longer than Arda of which it is part"; Andreth states that the body "is a house made for one dweller only, indeed not only house but raiment also; and it is not clear to me that we should in this case speak only of the raiment being fitted to the wearer rather than of the wearer being fitted to the raiment". Finrod then infers that, if this is true,

    [QUOTE] lo! a fea which is here but a traveller is wedded indissolubly to a hroa of Arda; to divide them is a grievous hurt, and yet each must fulfil its right nature without tyranny of the other. Then this must surely follow: the fea when it departs must take with it the hroa. And what can this mean unless it be that the fea shall have the power to uplift the hroa, as its eternal spouse and companion, into an endurance everlasting beyond Ea, and beyond Time? [UNQUOTE]

    This is a strong claim: that part of the matter of an allegedly finite world can somehow subsist eternally. It justifies Finrod in saying immediately afterwards that "if this can be believed, then mighty indeed under Eru were Men made in their beginning". But it so happens that this very closely mirrors one of St. Thomas Aquinas' arguments in the Summa Theologiae. In the First Part of the Second Part, Question 85, art. 6 the question is "Whether death and other defects are natural to man?", and the objections rest mostly on the natural corruptibility of matter. In a word, Thomas' answer is that the particular form of a man is his soul, which is incorruptible by nature; and that the general nature of an individual (man in this case, his general nature being that of matter) is secondary to its particular nature (given by its form, the soul in the case). Thomas puts it much better here http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2085.htm of course :P The whole argument requires a grasp of Thomas' reception of Greek philosophical categories. But you can easily translate his Aristotelian terms into Finrod's: "what can this mean unless it be that the fea shall have the power to uplift the hroa, as its eternal spouse and companion, into an endurance everlasting beyond Ea, and beyond Time?"

    BTW, Thomas does not talk of "death as a gift". This idea seems to have been characteristic of the Eastern tradition. I confess I found Pope Benedict's quote by just googling the Vatican site for "gift" and "death". Now I see that Dr. J. Ferro in his book "Leyendo a Tolkien" (Buenos Aires 1996) quotes theologist J. Daniélou to illustrate this theme in Christian tradition. Daniélou does not use Ambrose, but says that, according to St. Irenaeus,

    [QUOTE] expulsion from Paradise and death are not a punishment, but the means for salvation: "Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God." (Contra haer, III,23; 964A). We will find again these ideas throughout the great Eastern tradition, in St. Athanasius and Gregorius Nyssenus [UNQUOTE]

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  26. NB: This post has now taken the lead as the most heavily-commented in the history (thus far) of Lingwë – Musings of a Fish. :)

    Hlaford, you’ve certainly given us all a lot to think about. I wouldn’t argue with anything you’ve said, and you have deployed the words of the authorities themselves to back up each point. Well done. I found your comments about prohibition as a frequent element in fairy-story particularly astute. In fact, a colleague of mine is currently researching that very topic, and he will be presenting some of his findings in a paper next weekend. :)

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