The Family Catechism Day on Thursday 17th November will see another talk by Seminarian Thomas on Catholic themes woven into JRR Tolkien's literature. Below is a taste of last month's talk.
‘You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and
escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?’
‘There was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-Maker…
Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.
In which case you were meant to have it.’
Commentators on Tolkien’s works, such as Joseph Pearce, have recognised in these words of Gandalf an expression of the Catholic teaching concerning Divine Providence. Gandalf informs the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo that there is a higher power at work in Middle Earth, guiding the events in which they find themselves. Bilbo’s discovery of the Ring was planned by a power greater than Sauron and this is ‘an encouraging thought’ because now Frodo has hope that the evil of the Ring can be overcome.
This higher power is obviously God, and Providence is the name we use to describe the way in which He orders all things in the world. St. Thomas Aquinas defines Providence as the ‘type [or plan] of the order of things towards their end’ and the actual carrying out of this plan is called Governance.
Some people may look at the world and deny the existence of Providence. How, they ask, could the world be governed by an all-powerful, supremely good God, if there is evil? The answer that theologians such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas provided to this problem is illustrated very well by Tolkien.
Going back in the history of Middle Earth to its creation, Tolkien tells how God (whom he calls Ilúvatar) created the Ainur, taught them to sing, and then brought into reality the themes they had sung. Melkor, the most powerful of the Ainur, rebelled and made up his own themes, foreshadowing how he would seek to corrupt the work of the other spirits in Middle Earth and bring his own will to completion. In response, Ilúvatar tells Melkor ‘that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ Melkor here clearly represents the devil, who had been the highest of the angels, but who rebelled against God, seeking to find his own way to perfect happiness, rather than humbly following the path God had set out for him. The devil brought evil into the world: he tempted Adam and Eve to try to prevent them attaining the purpose God had proposed for them, and he continues to try to ruin souls and prevent the fulfilment of God’s providence. He cannot, however, succeed. Although God could prevent all evil, He allows it because, as St. Augustine says, God is so good that He can bring a greater good out of it. Thus the evil of sin was permitted for the greater good of our Redemption by Christ.
Picture top: Frodo and Gandalf at Bag End by Adam Lee.
Bottom: Bilbo finds the Ring from the movie Fellowship of the Ring.