Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Immaculate Conception; and Tolkein

"I will put enmities between thee and the woman." With these words God announced the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary to our first parents. It was to be the reversal of the friendship with the serpent contracted by Eve, when she listened to his voice and fell under his power. Mary, the New Eve, was never to be under the power of the devil; the enmity between them would not admit any possible exception. This involved the grace of being conceived immaculate. Mary's Immaculate Conception was the foundation of all her graces. The absence of any stain or spot of sin distinguished her from all the rest of mankind. It distinguished her from the holiest saints, since they, one and all, were sinners. Her perfect sinlessness was the source of all her glory and all her majesty; it was this which opened the door to the unlimited graces that she received from God; it was this that qualified her for her divine maternity, and raised her to her throne as Queen of heaven.

"O Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

Tolkien and the Immaculate Conception

7 DECEMBER 2022 by Father Angelomaria Lozzer (

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a coherent Catholic: daily Mass, weekly Confession, attachment to the Roman Church, to the Eucharist, to Our Lady.

Some link his catholicity to the education he received at the college of the Oratorian Fathers founded by Saint Newman, and in particular to the strong and decisive guidance of Father Morgan who was for Tolkien like a real father (after his mother's death he was his mentor); others to the shining example of his own mother, defined by Tolkien as a "martyr", because she paid for her conversion to Catholicism with the abandonment by all her family members, and with it the support and economic help sufficient to be able to cure herself of the disease which would lead to her premature death.

All of this certainly contributed to the birth and development of Tolkien's faith, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his personal cooperation, his constant deepening, his ever more firm and more profound conviction matured over the years, that only in the Catholic Faith is every good to be found: truth, beauty, holiness.

His faith drew life above all from two loves, it rested on two pillars, which form the badge of the Catholic in an England where one lives with the most varied Christian confessions, primarily the Anglican one, alongside which Tolkien lived daily; and these two loves, these two pillars are the Eucharist and Our Lady.

In this he had learned the Canon of the Mass and recited it mentally when commitments prevented him from participating in the Holy Mass, as he also often recited the Magnificat , the Litany of Loreto and the Sub tuum praesidium (an ancient Marian prayer) which he had memorized in Latin.

In his works as a writer, in his poems, in his stories, in his fairy tales, in his mythology these two loves seem to continually emerge and re-emerge even if covertly.

Naturally Tolkien reiterated several times that he had not written any allegory about it. In fact, he was convinced that allegory was not the right way to convey the truth, and that indeed many times it would end up trivializing and ridiculing it. On the other hand, however, he could not deny that from faith and in particular from the Eucharist and from Our Lady he had learned all those concepts of beauty, morality, holiness which are scattered in various degrees through his writings and which aim to be a glimmer of light for the reader, a road to lead him towards what goes beyond the simple natural life of every day, what transcends it.

About the Madonna as source of inspiration, in a letter to his Jesuit friend Robert Murray, he wrote: « I think I know exactly what you mean by the doctrine of Grace; and of course with your reference to Our Lady, on which all my little perception of beauty is based both in majesty and in simplicity ».

From this Marian source he drew inspiration to create the brightest and most celestial, most beautiful and wisest, purest and most angelic female figures in his books. This is the case, for example, of the queen of the elves Galadriel, in whose presence the wayfarers of the Company find rest and refreshment, advice and gifts to carry on their mission. And it makes us think, how Tolkien wanted to reconsider this figure again a month before his death in an attempt to exonerate her from any "original" fault; the guilt which was actualized for the elves at the time of Fëanor's rebellion. If in the previous writings Galadriel was involved in sin, in the last writing instead she comes out unscathed and among the fiercest opponents of the disobedience of the Noldor against the Valar. This version did not enter the "official" text of the Silmarillion, but it does help to understand Tolkien's desire to present an all-holy and immaculate figure who was a historical "anticipation" of the Madonna. I say an anticipation because in Tolkien's mind the world of Arda was nothing but a distant myth in time, a myth that arrived before the Christian Revelation; a myth that in a certain sense anticipates, predisposes and prepares it.

Another figure who "anticipates" the Madonna is the queen of the Valar (those we would define as Angels) Elbereth, the queen of the stars and the bitter enemy of Morgoth, the fallen and corrupted Valar in evil (image of lucifer). They turn to her more than any other, elves and men, who in the midst of the perils of Middle-earth seek protection and refuge from evil. Frodo himself invokes her in the lightless night of the tunnel that leads to the dark land of Mordor, finding salvation, hope and strength. And the list goes on with Arwen, King Aragorn's bride, all beauty, wisdom and majesty; or with the young Lady of Rohan Eowyn who cuts off the head of the wicked King of the Nazgul thus fulfilling the foretold prophecies... All figures that in Tolkien's mind were nothing more than a small glimmer, a small anticipation.

Indeed we could say that even the inanimate things of his stories draw poetic inspiration from the Madonna. For example, the same light appears painted as something alive and feminine that expands purity and holiness, driving away evil wherever it reaches with its benevolent rays. In short, we can say with Caldecott: « The natural beauty of landscapes and forests, mountains and rivers, and the moral beauty of heroism and integrity, friendship and honesty – all things celebrated in Tolkien's imaginary world – are gifts from God which come to us through Her, and she is also the measure, her beauty concentrating their essence ».

"This is the figure of Mary that Tolkien always had in mind, who was at the center of his imagination, enveloped in all natural beauties, the most perfect of God's creatures, the treasure of all earthly and spiritual gifts " (Stratford Caldecott, The Secret Fire, Città di Castello 2008).

The highest and most distant for sublimity and holiness, the closest for warmth and sweetness, mercy and motherhood.

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