Tolkien And Thomism:
Middle-Earth And The States Of Nature

Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas - by GOZZOLI, Benozzo - from Musée du Louvre, Paris .  .  .  .
The Inscription beneath the Glory containing Christ, expresses His agreement with the Theological Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
BENE SCPSISTI DE ME, THOMMA ("You have written well about Me, Thomas"). The Saint is enthroned in the centre between Aristotle and Plato. At his feet lies the Arabic scholar Averroes, whose writings he refuted. In the lower part of the picture a group of clergymen can be seen on either side of the Pope, who according to Vasari is Pope Sixtus IV.

 

The Moral Dimension in The Lord of the Rings is Powerfully Applicable to our Lives. Concepts such as Self-Sacrifice; the Exaltation of the Humble; the Power of Humility versus the Destructive and Self-Negating Futility of Pride (Theologically Understood) are at the Center of Everybody's Lives — even if they don't realize it!

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you".

 

The Thomistic States of Nature
(i.e. Saint Thomas Aquinas)

by Andrew Nimmo, Centre for Thomistic Studies

book3.jpg (3221 bytes) In the light of the much anticipated film of the Lord of the Rings next month (Dec 2001), I thought it would be interesting to look at certain aspects of the Book in the Light of Thomism. Why should I single-out this Work of Fiction? Fundamentally because I believe it has met C. K. Chesterton's challenge in The Everlasting Man to present Christianity in 'Foreign Garb', in order to Startle and Delight, Complacent or Lapsed Christians.

 

Lord of the Rings is a Work of Genius. In his Essay on the Lord of the Rings, C.S.Lewis describes it as 'Lightning appearing in a Cloudless Sky'. He says it is Brilliant because it is Original. It has no Precedent, but has become a Precedent for a Whole Genre of Fantasy Novels which imitate it, more Materially than Formally. Most of the Imitators of Lord of the Rings Fail to Capture its True Greatness, which is a Moral Greatness. Tolkien has done something amazing - he has successfully created, for Generations of People with no interest in Christian or Human Virtue, an Epic which makes Moral Uprightness 'Desirable' and even 'Thrilling'.

 

Tolkien Believed that Certain Truths could be more Effectively Conveyed through the Medium of Mythology, than through any other Literary Medium. Consequently, he set-out to Create a Mythological World in which to have room to Speak Truthfully.

Tolkien disliked 'Allegory' because he saw it as a rather Crude Literary Form. In an 'Allegory', the writer begins with the Point he wishes to make, and then makes up a Story to make his Point. The Story is really little more than a Means of Illustrating the Moral.

Tolkien believed that a Myth should not be 'Allegorical', but that it should be 'Applicable'. In other words, the Truth that Emerges in the Story can be Applied to the Truth that Emerges in Life.

Dr Joseph Pearce, Professor of Literature at Ave Maria College

 

ring pix.jpg (14718 bytes)

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the Sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their Halls of Stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to Die,
One for the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows Lie.
One Ring to Rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the Darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows Lie.

Lord of the Rings is not an 'Allegory' for Christianity, but is in the Genre of 'Sub-creation'. Both Tolkien and Lewis discuss this, as does Father James Tierney here in Australia, who has written some beautiful pieces on Tolkien's Work. 'Sub-creation' "is the Creation of a Believable World in Imitation of the Real World". It is Artistic Praise of the Creator. While the World of Tolkien is not meant to be an 'Allegory' of this World, it does not mean that what is discovered in it cannot be applied to this World. This is the difference between 'Applicability' and 'Allegory'.

For those who have not read Lord of the Rings, it tells the Story of a Quest to destroy a Ring which is a Source of Great Power, but is a Force only for Evil. Its Maker, Sauron, invested Half of his Power in it, but lost it Centuries ago. If he can recover the Ring, he will become Lord of the World, and a Reign of Darkness will ensue. If the Ring is Destroyed, Sauron's Power will be Extinguished and the World will be Free of a Great Tyranny. This is the Story of the War of the Ring.

John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli in the Film Version, was recently quoted as saying:

"There is also a Resonance (to the Story) that is particularly appropriate at this time. Although it is a Fantasy Relief, it (the Trilogy) was written in 'Time of War' and I think it will be Perceived in a 'Time of War'.

"When it gets down to it, Tolkien is talking about Good and Evil, about standing up to defend your Culture and your Whole Being and the existence of your Societies. And, if you don't do that, Darkness will fall right across the Earth". 1

The Aspect of Lord of the Rings which I am considering here is the 'Thomistic Doctrine on the States of Nature'. The 'States of Nature' are the various States in which Man can be in or has been in. Some are Historical, others Hypothetical. Both Father Garrigou-Lagrange and Dr Woodbury examine these in their respective Treatises on Grace.

 

The 'States' can be Schematised thus:

States
of
Nature
Hypothetical *State of Pure Nature
*State of Integral Nature
Historical *State of Innocence or Original Justice
*State of Fallen Nature
*State of Restored or Repaired Nature

 

The State of Pure Nature

The State of Pure Nature is the State-of-Man unadorned by the Gifts of Integrity or Grace. In this State, Man is created with the Endowments-of-Nature - Body, Soul, Intellect, Will, Senses, Appetites etc. - but nothing more. He is Subject to Pain, Death, and Liable to Ignorance and Concupiscence. Man, in the State of Pure Nature, is Ordered to a Natural Happiness and is given Natural Helps by God to that End. This State is Hypothetical, only because Historically, Man was originally-created in a State of Grace and Ordered to a Supernatural Happiness, i.e. the Beatific Vision.

 

The State of Integral Nature

The State of Integral Nature is the State-of-Nature, Perfected by the Gifts of Integrity. In this State, Man is so Perfected that he is Free from the Sequels of Nature. These Gifts are called Preternatural because, while they do not Elevate Man to a Higher Nature, they so Enhance his Nature as to make him Quasi-Angelic. He is still Human, and his Powers are still Human Powers, but they are Strengthened beyond what Nature Produces - somewhat like a Miracle.

The Gifts of Integrity give Man Freedom from Suffering, Death and Concupiscence. They make Life, and the Practice of Virtue, Pleasant and Easy. Man, in this State, is still Ordered to a Natural Happiness and the attainment of it is Effortless. The State of Integral Nature is again 'Hypothetical', and yet the Gifts of Integrity were originally-bestowed on Human Nature, but as an Effect of Grace.

 

The State of Innocence or Original Justice

Supernatural Order
(Resides in the Essence of the Soul)

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)

Natural
Order

Supernatural
Order

Natural Body -
Emotions/Passions
Feelings/Senses/
Appetites

Natural Soul -
Intellect/Will/
Reason/Heart/
Conscience

Supernatural Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The Supernatural Order is the Ensemble of Effects exceeding the Powers of the Created Universe and Gratuitously produced directly by God for the purpose of raising the Rational Creature above its Natural Sphere to a God-like Life and Destiny.

The State of Innocence is the State in which Man was originally Created. Our First Parents were created in a State of Grace. This Grace had Two (2) Effects. The more important was its Elevation of Human Nature to Participate in the Inner Life of God. Grace, a Supernatural Gift, made Man an Adopted Son of God, Friend of God and Heir to Heaven. It Adorned his Soul with Supernatural Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit by which Man could live a Divine Life and perform Divine Acts.

The Other Effect was that it Produced in Man the Preternatural Gifts which Perfected Man's Nature to such a degree, that he was Free from all those Sufferings which ordinarily accompany Nature: Pain, Death, Concupiscence and so on. Adam and his Descendents were to live a Life of Virtue and Holiness in the Terrestrial Paradise for a time, and then be taken to Heaven, without Dying. If Adam had not Sinned, Grace would have been passed-on through Natural Generation and the Life of each of his Descendents would have begun as an Immaculate Conception and ended in a Bodily Assumption into Heaven. Of the greatest Significance here is that God Ordered Man to a Supernatural End, that is the Attainment of the Beatific Vision, seeing God face-to-face, the means to which is Grace.

 

The State of Fallen Nature

As we know Adam did Sin and he was thrown-out of Paradise. His Sin brought a Two-fold Death, Spiritual and Corporeal, on the Human Race. We are Conceived and Born-in Original Sin, that is without Grace, and we are Born-into a Life which will result in Bodily Death. In this State, Man is not only Deprived of the Supernatural and Preternatural Gifts, but he is also Wounded in his Nature. In addition to the Suffering and Death which are Punishments for Adam's Sin, there are also the Wounds of Ignorance in the Intellect, Malice in the Will, Weakness in the Irascible Appetite and Concupiscence in the Concupiscible Appetite. In this State, Man cannot reach Happiness.

 

The State of Restored Nature

God did not Abandon Man, however, but promised Adam and Eve a Redeemer. He came Himself to Redeem us in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. Our Lord, through His Passion and Death, won for us again the Life of Grace and the Hope of Heaven. He did not, however, Restore to us the Preternatural Gifts which make Life Pleasant and Easy. Our Path to Glory now is that of the Cross. Grace and its Properties have been Restored, not to Nature this time, but to Persons through Baptism. And it is Christian Grace which is given to us - that Grace Merited by Christ in His Redemptive Sacrifice. A new Quasi-Property of this Christian Grace is Suffering. Suffering is now Sanctified and Elevated to an Instrument for Growth in Holiness. This is a Great Mystery, the Mystery of the Cross. God takes Suffering, that which we Fear and Recoil-from, and makes it Desirable, not for its own sake, but as it can be an Occasion for an Increase in Charity. There is no Greater Proof of Love than Sacrifice. The Sacrifice of Calvary is the Cause of our Redemption and the Exemplar of the Life of Loving Sacrifice to which we are called as Christians. Christian Grace has Two (2) Effects on the Baptized: to Elevate the Soul to the Supernatural Order, and to begin to Heal the Wounds of Fallen Nature. In this State of Restored Nature, Man lacks the Pleasant Benefits of the Preternatural Gifts, but Lives a Life of Grace won by the Blood of Christ. Saint Thomas says that on account of the Benefits of the Incarnation - the Mass, the Sacraments, Our Lady as our mother, and other Benefits as well - that it is Possible for Christians to Reach a Higher Degree of Holiness than Man before the Fall.

 

Races of Middle-Earth

Outline of Tolkien's Creatures:
Creatures
Of
Middle-Earth
Quasi-Angelic Sauron
The Istari:
Saruman, Gandalf
Tom Bombadil
The Ringwraiths
The Balrogs
Rational Animals The Ents
The Elves
Men
Dwarves
Hobbits
The Orcs

Now to a consideration of the Races of Middle-Earth in the Light-of the Preceding Exposition. As has been noted in Speculation as to whether there might be Life on other Planets, Philosophically speaking, if there are Creatures on other Worlds which are both Corporeal and Intelligent, then they are Human. This may seem an odd thing to say, but it is simply that there are only certain Grades-of-Being possible, and any Creature composed of a Body and a Rational Soul is defined as a Man. There may be Accidental Differences in Appearance and so on, but essentially you have a Rational Animal.

What this means for Tolkien's World is that the Races, Differentiated on Different Scores, are all Essentially Human. This is so even allowing for the Fictitious Beings of Artistic License, such as Angels with Bodies or Plants that can Speak, etc. This is more of an issue in his other work, The Silmarillion, in which there are Beings which are Angelic, but with Human Characteristics. They are somewhat more difficult to Diagnose. Of course, they have a presence somewhat obscurely in Lord of the Rings in the Figures of Sauron, the Istari and the Balrogs. The Schema at the Right, provides an Outline of Tolkien's Creatures:

 

The Istari

The Istari were sent to Middle-Earth to assist the Races there in their Battle against the Evil Sauron. They had Great Power, but were forbidden to use it at Full Strength against Sauron and his foes, because a Battle at that Level would have had a Destructive Force as devastating as that of a Nuclear War. Their Mandate was to Advise-and-Guide the Peoples of Middle-Earth in their Efforts to Defeat the Enemy.

Their Wisdom was therefore Practical in Nature. Their Appearance was of Old Men, and they seemed to be Mortal. My opinion is that they were Spiritual Beings, who for their Duration of their Mission, assumed Bodily Form and were Subject to the Limitations of a Body. This occurs in numerous places in Tolkien's Writings. In trying to understand the Istari, there are more Questions than Answers. The fact that one of the Istari, Gandalf, appears to Die and return from Death, and that another, Saruman, Betrays his Mission in Ambition to replace Sauron, and yet has the Possibility of Repentance at the End of the Story, makes Problematic the Diagnosis of their Nature. I think this is where we allow for Artistic License and realize that we are dealing with a Fictitious Being.

gandalf.jpg (6624 bytes) In the Figure of Gandalf we see the Archetype of an Old Testament Patriarch, his Staff apparently having the same Power as that possessed by Moses. In his apparent 'Death' and 'Resurrection', we see him Emerge as a Christ-like Figure. His 'Resurrection' results in his 'Transfiguration'.

Before he Laid-down his Life for his Friends, he was Gandalf the Grey; afterward, he becomes Gandalf the White. He is Washed White in the Purity of his Self-Sacrifice and Emerges more Powerful in Virtue than ever.

 

Sauron and the Balrogs

balrog.jpg (5675 bytes) Sauron is the Diabolical Figure of the Lord of the Rings. Although never directly seen in the Story, it is known from The Silmarillion that he does have a Physical Appearance. Balrogs, 'Spirits of Fire', are some of his Servants. From my reading of The Silmarillion I would say that both Sauron and the Fearsome Balrogs are of the same Nature as the Istari. They would seem, however, to be confirmed in Evil.

The Ringwraiths

Ringwraiths.jpg (12188 bytes) The Ringwraiths, Servants of Sauron, are Nine (9) Men who have sold their Souls in return for Immortality and Power. They live a Hellish Life, taking a Human Appearance and using Animals such as Birds and Horses for Movement within Middle-Earth. Their State is that of Damnation.

 

Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil is possibly the most Mysterious Figure in Lord of the Rings. His Immunity to the Power of the Ring and his apparent Indifference to Affairs outside the Forest, make him somewhat Enigmatic, perhaps even Problematic. As to his Nature, his Title as 'Eldest' may be a Clue. He was the Oldest of all Living Creatures and may somehow be a Personification of the Earth. He would appear to be Immortal and Invulnerable to any other Force in Middle-Earth.

 

The Ents

ents.bmp (238438 bytes) The Ents are a charming creation of Tolkien. They are Intelligent Beings in Arboreal Form whose Job it seems to be to look after the Trees, Tree-Shepherds, if you like. They are Deep and Ponderous Thinkers, are capable of Local Movement and though, very long-lived, may not be Immortal.

 

The Elves

elves.jpg (10643 bytes) The Elves are of fascination to readers partly because, it seems to me, they represent something of a Golden Age which was lost to us. They are Corporeally Similar in Appearance to Men, but enjoy a life Superior to them in many ways. The Elven Senses are more Refined. The Elves do not need sleep in the way Men do - they take Repose in a Form of Contemplation. They are regarded by the other Races to be Wise and Learned. The Wisdom I think that the Elves Excel-in is Speculative - Understanding the Natures of things. They appear to be able to Communicate Telepathically, although this is barely touched upon by Tolkien. They are Conditionally Immortal, able to be Killed in Battle and can Die of Grief. This means that many, if not most of the Elves encountered, are Centuries or Millenia in age, although in the Prime of Health and Physical Perfection. The Places which the Elves Inhabit and Cultivate resemble Paradise, seemingly resistant to the Vicissitudes and Inclemencies of the World. The Elvish Life is one of Human Life, Perfected by a Participation in the Preternatural Gifts. Those who have read The Silmarillion know that within the Race of Elves there are Grades of Perfection, and that some have Higher Degrees of Preternatural Gifts than others. The Elves then perhaps enjoy the State of Integral Nature.

 

Men

man.jpg (9362 bytes) The Race known as Men bear the closest Physical Similarity to us. They are Inferior to the Elves in almost every way, but have been given something curiously called a Gift: the Gift of Death. The Mortality of Men is presented as a Blessing because of something awaiting Men after Death that the Elves may not attain. Tolkien is unclear about what this Afterlife is, but it appears to take Human Souls beyond the Confines of the World to something better. Could this be a hint of the Beatific Vision? Elves, although Superior to Men, are Restricted to the World until the End of Time. I think that Tolkien meant there to be a Final Judgment and Heavenly Reward for all the Just, where Elves and Men would live together in Eternity. It is again in The Silmarillion that Montheism is made Explicit. In it is related that Eru, the One, Created the Universe with an Act of Will and directs all things to His Glory, intending a Final Consummation in which His Creatures will, after the History of the World, enjoy His company forever. Being in the Realm of Fiction, we can only Speculate what 'State' Tolkien intended for Men. It could be the State of Pure Nature, or perhaps something more.

 

The Dwarves

dwarf.jpg (2692 bytes) The Dwarves are similar to Men, but Shorter and Longer-lived, though still Mortal. For more information about the origin of the Dwarves, one must read The Silmarillion. But the Question is Posited as to the Final Fate of the Dwarves, whether they will join the Children of Eru, Elves and Men, at the End of Time. It is not made clear as to whether they have an Afterlife. I am inclined to think they do, given Tolkien's Appreciation of the Order of Things. I do not think that he would deny Immortality to the Souls of Intelligent Beings. It would go against his Orthodoxy.

 

The Hobbits

hobbit.jpg (15170 bytes) The Hobbits are a Creation of Tolkien which have delighted readers for decades. They are in appearance Short Men, "Halflings", and have a rather Parochial View of the World. They are very much concerned with their own World and somewhat wary of Outsiders. They are certainly Mortal, and perhaps can be classed as Men in terms of their Nature and Fate.

frodo.jpg (4398 bytes) gollum.jpg (5337 bytes)

Frodo

Gollum

The Character of the Hobbit Gollum is Debased by his Attachment to the Ring, the Symbol of the Sin of Pride. The Possessor of the Ring is Possessed-by his Possession and, in consequence, is Dispossessed of his Soul. The Wearer of the Ring always becomes Invisible to those that are Good, but at the same time becomes More Visible to the Eyes of Evil. Thus we see that the Sinner Excommunicates himself from the Society of the Good and enters Satan's World.

The Bearing of the Ring by Frodo, the Humble Hobbit, and his Heroic Struggle to Resist the Temptation to Succumb to its Evil Powers, is akin to the Carrying of the Cross, the Supreme Act of Selflessness.

 

The Orcs

orcs.jpg (8474 bytes) The Orcs are a Class alone, in that they are the most Problematic for Thomistic Psychology and Ethics. Tolkien would have accepted that all things by Nature are Good, yet we have a Race whose Origin and Nature appear to have no Redeeming Features. It is thought that the Orcs were descended from Elves or Men who were somehow Mutated by the Dark Lord Millenia ago. The Attitude of the Elves, Men and Dwarves is that the Orcs are Evil and are to be Killed on Sight. How does one resolve this? What makes the Orcs Confirmed-in Evil? Why are they never regarded as Innocent-Life? Tolkien does not answer this, so we can only Speculate. Again we are dealing with Artistic License. It would appear that the Orcs are in a State of Fallen Nature, yet Unredeemable. This would suggest that they are not in the Wayfaring State, but are in fact in a State of Damnation - yet how is this Reconcilable with the fact that they are Mortal? A possible solution is that their Bodies are not Animated, but moved about by Evil Spirits who simulate the Appearance of Rational Life in these "Orcs". That could Justify the Practice to Destroy them on sight. Again this is Speculation.

 

The Question of the Supernatural

There is no mention of the Order of Grace in Tolkien's Creation, so the State of Original Justice and the State of Restored Nature are not an issue here. Whether there are Allusions to it can be considered, but there is no doubt that Tolkien's profound Catholicism has flowed over into his Magnificent Narratives. Perhaps the following Passage is an example of what I said above about 'Applicability' as distinct from 'Allegory':

"'What about Rivendell and the Elves? Is Rivendell safe?'

'Yes, at present, until all else is conquered. The Elves may fear the Dark Lord, and they may fly before him, but never again will they listen to him or serve him. And here in Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, Lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both Worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great Power.'

'I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?' . . . . (Glorfindel = Elf -Lord, and Mighty of the Eldar, who resided at Rivendell and played a part in the War of the Ring.)

'Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the Mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of a House of Princes.'"

- "Many Meetings"


In Applying it to our State, what does it mean to Live in Two (2) Worlds at once? The Perfection of this, is that of the Just Wayfarer. He Lives in the World, but is not of the World. Heaven is inside him. Grace is Perfecting his Nature, Transforming all his Virtuous Actions. He converses verbally with his Fellow Wayfarers, and at the same time, Converses Spiritually with God and the Blessed.


Notes

1. Cinescape, 8/11/01, http://www.cinescape.com/ quoting the Toronto Sun.

 

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