Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Other-Powered Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien - Part II

As I mused about being misled to read Lewis and Tolkien in our early homeschool years, I concluded that if I could go back and change anything, I would not have included the Chronicles of Narnia, nor the Lord of the Ring series in our studies.  I have completed my 5-part series on why Bible-believing Christians should not read any of C.S. Lewis's books.  Now, I will look more closely at J.R.R. Tolkien.  You can read Part I here.

I'm not as vehemently opposed to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.  He was a Roman Catholic and always held himself out as such.  He was a writer of many fantasy books, but he is most known for his Lord of the Ring series.  Today, Mr. Tolkien is not known as a voice for the Christian faith or revered for his practical theology like C.S. Lewis.  I'm highly skeptical of C.S. Lewis because he was subversive about his unorthodox Christian beliefs, but I'm not as guarded against J.R.R. Tolkien because was honest about his Roman Catholic beliefs.

To facilitate my analysis, I searched for a book that looked at Tolkien's beliefs using primary sources.  I found The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (copyright 1981, ISBN 0-395-31555-7).  In this post I will examine Tolkien's thoughts on Protestantism and Catholicism.

Historically, Protestantism was birthed out of the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Roman Catholic Church was deemed heretical with its icons, belief in transubstantiation, works-based salvation, and worship of Mary and the saints.  In my series on C.S. Lewis, I showed how purgatory and praying to the saints (Part II), along with transubstantiation (Part III), are unbiblical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.  Are there Christians inside the Roman Catholic Church? Probably, but just like Christians within Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, they will eventually come out.

In 1994 the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document was signed, which called for a need to deliver a common witness to the modern world.  Even though Catholic beliefs and practices had not changed since the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was now considered an alternative community of worship for Christians, even though it still does not worship the same Jesus as orthodox Christianity.  We can see how this mindset began much earlier in the 20th century with Mr. Tolkien's analysis of Protestantism:
"The 'protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness -- which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain.  Because 'primitive Christianity' is now and in spite of all 'research' will ever remain largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance...Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history -- the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set...I find myself in sympathy with those developments that are strictly 'ecumenical', that is concerned with other groups or churches that call themselves (and often truly are) 'Christian'.  We have prayed endlessly for Christian re-union, but it is difficult to see, if one reflects, how that could possibly begin to come about except as it has, with all its inevitable minor absurdities.  An increase in 'charity' is an enormous gain.  As Christians those faithful to the Vicar of Christ must put aside the resentments that as mere humans they feel -- e.g. at the 'cockiness' of our new friends (esp. C[hurch] of E[ngland])," (p. 394, From a letter to Michael Tolkien [dated sometime after August 25, 1967]).
For J.R.R. Tolkien, a Protestant is mistaken and vain.  Mr. Tolkien prays for Christians to united, but for him, a Christian must be faithful to the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.  A true Christian could never bow to an earthly Pope.  From the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:
"The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming," (Chapter 26, paragraph 4).
This sounds harsh to our ecumenically-trained ears.  However, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic, Article 9, Paragraph 4, Section 882 (taken from the vatican.va website) boldly states:
"The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.  For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church denies that the only Head of the Christian Church (in earth and in heaven) is Jesus Christ, (Eph. 5:23).  This denial is not consistent with orthodox Christianity.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Mr. Tolkien unashamedly identified himself as a Roman Catholic and illustrated his beliefs in his writings, including his works of fantasy.  Like C.S. Lewis, he also subverts the Bible's authority by labeling parts of it as "myth".  Here are statements of his Catholic beliefs and how they affect his writings (taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien):
"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," (p. 53, From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941).

"As for Eden.  I think most Christians, except for the v. [very] simple and uneducated or those protected in other ways, have been rather bustled and hustled now for some generations by the self-styled scientists, and they've sort of tucked Genesis into a lumber-room of their mind as not very fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house...I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'.  It has not, of course, historicity of the same kind as the NT [New Testament]," (p. 109, To Christopher Tolkien 30 January 1945).

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.  That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world.  For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism," (p. 172, To Robert Murray, S.J. 2 December 1953).

"'Reincarnation' may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to humanity...but I do not see how even in the Primary World any theologian or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of spirit and body than I believe anyone to be, could deny the possibility of re-incarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures," (p. 189, To Peter Hastings (draft) September 1954).

"*[A note apparently added later:] It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Numenorean) view that a 'good' man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn).  This may have been the nature of unfallen Man; though compulsion would not threaten him: he would desire and ask to be allowed to 'go on' to a higher state.  The Assumption of Mary, the only unfallen person, may be regarded as in some ways a simple regaining of unfallen grace and liberty: she asked to be received, and was, having no further function on Earth.  Though, of course, even if unfallen she was not 'pre-Fall'.  Her destiny (in which she had cooperated) was far higher than that of any 'Man' would have been, had the Fall not occurred.  It was also unthinkable that her body, the immediate source of Our Lord's (without other physical intermediary) should have been disintegrated, or 'corrupted', nor could it surely be long separated from Him after the Ascension," (p. 286, Draft of a continuation of a letter [dated 14 October 1958] To Rhona Beare (not sent)).

"I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic.  The latter 'fact' perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter) asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel as directly described (or through the words of Gimli and Sam) were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary.  Another saw in waybread (lembas)= viaticum and the reference to its feeding the will (vol. III, p. 213) and being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eurcharist. (That is: far greater things may colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy-story.)," (p. 288, From a letter to Deborah Webster 25 October 1958).

"I was particularly interested in your remarks about Galadriel....I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary," (p. 407 From a letter to Mrs. Ruth Austin 25 January 1971).

"Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him -- if that could be done, before he died.  He would have eventually to 'pass away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time.  So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil," (p. 328, From a letter to Mrs. Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963).

"I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for 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 any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly.  I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face...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," (p. 338, To Michael Tolkien 1 November 1963).

"So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved to praise and thanks," (p. 400, To Camilla Unwin 20 May 1969).
As a Roman Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien does not espouse true biblical doctrine.  Thus, it is critical for Christians who read through his fantasy literature to remember that he does not hold to orthodox Christian beliefs.  The books of J.R.R. Tolkien are not Christian; and therefore, should be read with heightened discernment.

***
"Q 1. What is the chief end of man?  A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever," (from the Westminster Shorter Catechism).