Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Apostles Creed in The Lord of the Rings (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series summarizing Dr. Peter Kreeft, PhD.'s work on Christianity in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Part 3 will post soon.

by James Lannan, Theology II - Saint Paul Seminary


Who is Dr. Peter Kreeft, PhD ?

Peter Kreeft is a highly respected Catholic Apologist and professor of theology & philosophy at Boston College. He is lauded as one of the best Catholic philosophers working in the United States. He is a solid Thomist that draws very much from the Christian religious and philosophical Tradition. Some consider Kreeft to be the world's leading literary authority on C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien. He is also a respected commentator on G.K. Chesterton.

As one of the Catholic Church's leading Apologists, he has been teaching for 42 year and has written close to fifty books. His most famous are "Unaborted Socrates," "History of Moral Relativism," "Between Heaven & Hell," "Socrates Meets Jesus," "On Apologetics," and "The Summa of the Summa," "C.S. Lewis in Christian Perspective," "C.S. Lewis in the 3rd Millennium," "Shadowlands of C.S. Lewis," "Heaven & the Hearts Desire: Longing for God," and "The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind Lord of the Rings."

Kreeft holds The Lord of the Rings as perhaps one the greatest literary pieces ever written. He holds it on the level of The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aenid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost.


Why was the Lord of the Rings judged to be a good book by humanity, wherever humanity was asked?

Dr. Kreeft begins by stating that in order to understand why The Lord of the Rings is a great book, we have to look at what makes any book great. Every story has five main dimensions: the plot, the characters, the setting, the style and the theme.

What makes The Lord of the Rings so special is that all five categories are impeccably crafted by Tolkien. Dr. Kreeft finds that the theme - the world and life view - the wisdom is the most important in the Lord of the Rings. In his presentations on this book Kreeft focuses on the theme the most.

Dr. Kreeft states that the "easiest and cheapest" ways to fill a story with wisdom is to use allegory and moralism. Note, this is not meaning morality. Rather, it is moralism, a direct and explicit preaching of right vs. wrong. Dr. Kreeft points out that while there is nothing wrong with either of them, the concern with these styles of writing is that they can ruin "the story-ness of the story."

For anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, they know that Tolkien's love was the story. Apparently, Tolkien disliked allegory and moralism. While Tolkien's writing does have religion, morality, and philosophy present, "they are all there for the story, as dimensions of the story," says Dr. Kreeft.

Where are these dimensions in The Lord of the Rings?

They are everywhere! Dr. Kreeft teaches how any story can be religious in four ways, corresponding to Aristotle’s Four Causes:

  • 1. in the story’s material cause: its subject matter or raw material

  • 2. in the story’s final cause: its purpose or end

  • 3. in the story’s formal cause: its form or structure

  • 4. in the story’s efficient cause: its origin

Material Cause: Subject Matter in the Lord of the Ring

Dr. Kreeft states what is clear to anyone who has read the series. The Lord of the Rings is not religious in the book's subject matter. Why is this the case?

The reason for this, according to Tolkien himself, is precisely to make the story altogether more religious. Tolkien wrote,

"I have cut out practically all references to anything like religion—to cults or practices in my imaginary world—in order for the religious element to be observed, more readily, into the story and the symbolism.”

Final Cause: Purpose or End in The Lord of the Rings:

Also, The Lord of the Rings "is not religious in its conscious originating motive or purpose; its final cause," says Dr. Kreeft. Tolkien did not write his opus because he wanted to be an Apologist or Evangelizer. Yet, the story is still relevant to Apologetics in its theme, end, and origin. Kreeft likes to point out that Tolkien did not start out thinking, “how can I convert or sanctify my readers and then invent this story as a means to that end?”

Formal Cause: Form or Structure in The Lord of the Rings

According to Kreeft, If The Lord of the Rings is religious, it is in its form and structure. We see this in the structure of the plot and the characters. Kreeft specifically identifies how "both--plot and characters--manifest themes" such as:

  • Grace
  • Divine Providence
  • Resurrection
  • Humanism
  • Duty
  • Obedience
  • Authority
  • Heroism
  • Hierarchy
  • Glory
  • Piety
  • Tradition
  • Humility

Efficient Cause: Origin & Inspiration in The Lord of the Rings

Kreeft says that it is "somewhat" religious in its Efficient Cause; "that is a kind of natural or generic divine inspiration." Kreeft suggests that while there are many "instrumental or proximate causes" of any great book found in an author's personality and culture of origin, The Lord of the Rings' Ultimate Efficient Cause is that "in all of its graces is Christ, the incarnate logos, the mind of God, the designer of all finite forms — from apes to archangels."

Kreeft says,

“From Him (Christ) all the Hebrew Prophets derive all their moral greatness, the greatness of goodness. From Him derive all the Greek Philosophers derive all their intellectual, greatness, the greatness of truth. Also, from Him all the myth-makers, artists, poets, and story tellers derive their aesthetic and imaginative greatness, the greatness of beauty.”

This photo is an image from both the book and the movie, The Fellowship of the Rings when eight members of the original Fellowship, missing Gandalf, are canoeing down the Anduin, the "Great River."

We have curiosity and wonder about ancient civilizations and our interest in learning about the Near Ancient East and the history of the people of Israel is driven by our faith. We see an ancient civilization such as this in Middle Earth. We have awe and wonder about a great and civilized cultures in the peak of their existence.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the man:

Kreeft smiles to tell his students that Tolkien was not a saint. Kreeft suggests that Tolkien was "wise, good, and loveable." Yet, Kreeft also describes Tolkien as "endlessly niggling, procrastinating, cantankerous, grouchy, dysfunctional, despairing, obstinate, and depressive." Kreeft's love of Tolkien is evident because he really has done his work in researching this great author. He laughs saying that list is not "such a bad batch of vices." Every man has his vices. However, in saying all this, Kreeft believes Tolkien was a very pious man. In fact, he describes him a "deeply pious."

J.R.R. Tolkien on allegory and how allegory it is NOT in The Lord of the Rings:

Many people who criticize Christian love for The Lord of the Rings often stumble in their reasoning in two ways. First, some will say that it is not allegory; assuming that all Christians ever like to read is surface level or cheap allegory. Yet amazingly, the other way they stumble is that they cannot recognize where Christianity is present in the book because it is not explicit "moralism"; what they would describe as finger pointing, saying this is right and that is wrong. So in these assumptions they are not wrong in that Tolkien did not use allegory or moralism, says Kreeft. Where they are wrong is when they cannot see that The Lord of the Rings is, in fact, terrific Christian literature. It would have to be bad literature in order for them to spot it. Kreeft says, because they do not know what good books are, they do not know what the Lord of the Rings is about the Glory of Christ!

Kreeft refers to Tolkien from the author's personal correspondence:

"I have deliberately written a tale that is built out of religious ideas, but it is not an allegory of them.”

Why did Tolkien reject allegory?

Because Tolkien went made the story, Middle Earth, the characters, and the reason for their existence the means to express his love for Christ. He describes Tolkien’s piety as "deeper." Kreeft explains, "as Elijah found God in the “still-small-voice,” rather than in the earthquake, storm or fine, we still find Tolkien’s piety deeply imbedded in his unconscious; imbedded in his mind not merely as an object of thought, but as the very forms of thought; not only looked at, but looked with the shape of his mind and heart."

Living Word of God:

What forms are they? Here Kreeft identifies where Catholic Apologetics are most relevant. He says, "they are the forms of God, the words of God, the ideas of God, the truths of God." Christ was Tolkien's inspiration and the fire of His love lived inside him. Kreeft explains that those who do not see religion, God, Christ, Christianity, & Catholicism in Tolkien's Middle Earth fail to do so for one reason--it is not on the surface, not literal.

Apostles Creed in The Lord of the Rings

Christianity is first defined in the Apostles Creed. Kreeft teaches that we can find something of the substance and truth of each of the 12 Articles of the Apostles Creed in The Lord of the Rings. Kreeft explains, The Creed is divided into twelve Articles, but Kreeft condenses them into nine, by condensing the four Christological Articles into one.

Tolkien is writing about a time before Christ, so you could hardly expect the details of the Gospel to be in his book. But we do have the following:

  • 1. God, the Father Almighty,
  • 2. the Creation of Heaven & Earth.
  • 3. We have Christ in many forms.
  • 4. There is the Holy Spirit,
  • 5. The Holy Catholic Church,
  • 6. The Communion of Saints,
  • 7. The Forgiveness of Sins,
  • 8. The Resurrection of the Body,
  • 9. and the Life Everlasting."

To be continued...

{Next: God the Father Almighty}

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