Saturday, February 08, 2014

Priest criticizes Tokien and people flip out

A priest whose homilies can often be found on Audio Sancto and whose words have done me much good has kicked a hornet's nest. He gave two talks on J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Narnia and space series that were critical of the works. Rorate Caeli has part of the text of his talks here and you can find the full content on You Tube.

 I don't know about you but here on the East Coast you are not really considered an educated Catholic unless you can quote from C.S. Lewis.  Lord Of The Rings, the Narnia series and Lewis's space series can be found in every well stocked Catholic bookstore.  This priest seems to me, to be saying that these works don't deserve such reverence. This stuff is fiction--not a retelling of the Bible or Imitation of Christ or the Lives of the Saints. He also asks how many people were converted by reading The Hobbit. 

 I like LOTR but it's not my life.  Some people have gone so far into the fantasy that they've become nuts and lash out if anyone dares point that out. It's very much like the hysterics some Medjugorje and Harry Potter fanatics go into if you don't love their thing 100%. I may not agree with all of what was said in these talks but I  revere  good priests. Father does not attack Tolkien as a Catholic.  He says the books are not Catholic literature and that Catholic writer, Professor Joseph Pearce is horribly mistaken in his understanding of Tolkein's body of work . He put forth a theory that is open to debate and that's not my real concern.  I took this as an interesting parlor debate because as I said before, LOTRs is not my life.

 The thing that caught my attention and really disturbs me is the reaction to these talks. I saw Tweets and comments on various blogs that were personally insulting to this priest.  If you are going to get so upset at a priest to the point of calling him and anyone who agrees with him, offensive names because he doesn't' like your favorite book you need to check yourself. What are you, ten?


Wendy in VA said...

Very sensible of you, as usual. I find the reactions fascinating as well. My oldest daughter lost some friends over a Harry Potter discussion gone beserk a few years ago; I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it firsthand.

R J said...

Hallelujah, Mrs. Dymphna. As one who has never succeeded in finishing LOTR even once (I read the first 60% of it at the age of 16, purely in order to keep up with the cool kids in the playground, and even that was a real struggle) I am constantly amazed at the people who assure me that my failure to grovel at the Tolkien shrine makes me A BAD CATHOLIC.

But really this hobbitomania is a particularly provincial disease of the English-speaking world. Ask a French or Italian or German or Mexican Catholic if he's read Tolkien, and chances are 99 to 1 that he has had better things to do with his life.

I read C. S. Lewis's stories when I was a kid and enjoyed them - they struck me as far superior to LOTR - but it would never occur to me now, any more than it occurred to me then, to regard them as a substitute for theology.

Mrs. H. said...

If you do not love LOTR and name your dog Gandalf, you are not only a bad Catholic, but STUPID as well. Oh yes, and uneducated and ignorant and stupid . Oh, I already said that....guess I must be stupid. Well, I guess I am, because try as I might, I could never get enough interest up to finish that book.

Joe Potillor said...

An Idolatry of LOTR and fantasy type genere is good to be called out on. Reasoned thoughts as always.

New Catholic said...

I couldn't have said it better. I was actually quite embarrassed by the reaction - which shows a Catholic public unhealthily obsessed with a work of entertainment.

Thank you for your readership,


Martina Katholik said...

I wish Catholics would defend Dogma as much as they defend Tolkien, women in immodest clothing and Pop or Rock mucic.

Steve Dalton said...

I have never read LOTR. I prefer the real Norse sagas that Tolkien based his works on. They are much more fascinating than anything Tolkien ever wrote, and the hero's and villain's of those stories are real historical figures. And the later sagas tell of the conversion to Christianity of their hero's and villain's, something JRR never did in his books and stories.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Steve, has it occurred to you that the setting of The Hobbit and the rest is pre-Flood?

How much of the creed was publically known to the faithful back then?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Now, to Rorare Caeli:

"The reaction from many quarters was stronger than might have been expected if we had posted a denial of an article of the Creed!... In a sense, even though I personally disagreed with much of what Father had to say, it seems to me that this bizarre overreaction validates much of his concern over a sacralization of texts which, as loved as they may be by many, are just a modern piece of entertaining fiction, and, let us be quite honest about it, regardless of the academic brilliance of the author, are not part of the canon of great literature of Christian Civilization."

Christianity has a canon of sacred Scripture. Tolkien, Shakespear, Dante (who invented things and perhaps was wrong on things and nevertheless was approved by Benedict XV), Virgil, Homer, Greek Tragedy, Cervantes, Racine, Corneille, Malory, NONE OF THESE is sacred Scripture. Nor is Beowulf.

As to "canon" in the lower sense, saying Tolkien does not belong there is by now quite out of date, readers have decided otherwise.

If the world lasts (which I don't think it will) another century or two or three, I think getting Tolkien out of the canon before that is hard even then. Impossible, if the world is lasting only a decade or less. As I suspect.

Now, I react to this as, if I were fond of dancing, I would react to a priest condemning dancing.

Catholic culture generally allows it (though not necessarily of the rock n roll type, and perhaps especially not of the lambada type, a bishop of Havana and Pope St Pius X have differed over Tango, the Pope being more generous).

I do not want to go to confession to a priest who either would withhold openly the absolution, unless I renounced reading Tolkien and CSL, like poor Don Quijote was forced to renounce novels of chivalry on his death bed, nor, even less, to one who was giving it on the understanding (not substantiated on my part) that I of course had no attachment to that amusement.

The academic brilliance of the author is quite beside the point.

The pleasure of reading LotR or enjoying the sound of A Elbereth Gilthoniel is distinct from the more academic pleasures of noting how right close to Welsh the sound of Sindarin is in phonetics. Or how close to Arthuriad, Chanson de Geste or whatever else the main action is.

If he had never been linguist, he could not have written it. But supposing he had, and hadn't been so, or his work had been unrecognised by Academia, the pleasure of his work remains.

So does the bitterness of some lessons, admitted by Boromir or Thorin, or shown in Denethor or Grima or Saruman.

"In any event, precisely because this does not involve an article of the faith, but a prudential judgment on which Catholics may reasonably disagree, we would be more than happy to post a rebuttal of the conferences from a traditional Catholic perspective, in case it is also authored by a traditional priest and is, of course, respectful towards his fellow man of the cloth."

In case it was also authored by a priest?

I think Bishop Williamson would count as one.

But why the restriction?

If Catholics may differ, why the implication you cannot as a Catholic LAYMAN differ from that priest?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"To carry this to yet another step. Consider for a moment that none of the Fathers of the Church, nor any of our saints has ever taken up the myths of old as something good, something to be commented upon or something to imitate as a way to transmit some truth. According to the renowned expert on the Church Fathers, Johannes Quasten,"

I am sorry, but considering how that on the transscript anonymous "traditional Catholic mission priest and friend of Rorate" (perhaps personal chaplain of the blogger?) bungled the definition of myth, that is simply not true.

Since he included "popular ideas concerning nature or historical events", this definition of "myth" leaves the expert Quasten a liar or an academic bungler.

It is a popular idea about nature that some kind of spirits are conducting the courses of the stars and planets, of sun, moon and stars.

Far from St Justin trying to correct this or no Church Fathers commenting on it, St Augustine does comment on it, without rejecting it in Book 8, chapter 2 of On the Trinity.

It is a popular idea about history that Hercules and Romulus existed.

The idea these were sons of gods, half divine, half human, were very certainly rejected with a sound thrashing of arguments.

But the rest of their biographies, which according to the anonymous priest's definition would be "myths" were most certainly NOT so rejected by the Church Fathers.

//Yet, Pope Pius XII has addressed this issue in Humani Generis no. 39: … “whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of [including] the Old Testament, is so apparent that our ancient sacred writers must be admitted to be clearly superior to the ancient profane writers.”//

Oh, the priest is an admirer of Humani Generis ... so, Pius XII would have been saying things like Hercules' Twelve Labours or Romulus' growing up at a shewolf with his brother or Helios driving the Sun as a chariot are "more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth" ... well, why did the Church Fathers not say so, then?

I am NOT an admirer of Pius XII. He is a discreet modern, precisely as Putin is discreetely a lot Obamaish.

This word may indeed disqualify me with a LOT of "tradition" (as in traditional movement), who like to regard Pius XII as "last traditional Pope", but others have instead called him "the first modern Pope".

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Turning to our subject today, it is well established that JRR Tolkien, a philologist…someone who studied words and languages, enjoyed researching and discussing mythology, especially that of Northern Europe. As a result, he developed a sort of “philosophy of myth” while shunning allegory, saying, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations.” He criticized C.S. Lewis for his too transparent allegories and resisted all attempts to make his own works allegorical. Here we already have a problem because God loves allegory. He placed allegories in the Scriptures as St. Paul explains in Galatians. Thus, one of the main ways to interpret the Sacred Scriptures is the allegorical sense. A whole school of thought in the early Church, the Alexandrian School, has contributed many things to the exposition of the Scriptures using allegory. The Fathers of the Church, the Doctors and the Saints employed allegory to explain the faith."

The priest is confounding "allegoric sense" of a given text with the inverse operation, writing a text so as to allegorically reflect a given sense.

Tolkien as a Catholic cannot be accused of rejecting the allegoric sense, just because he rejected the allegoric literary form.

Which, by the way, unlike the nameless priest's claim, Dante's Divina Commedia is not. It is, like Cosmic Trilogy, a kind of "theological science fiction" - precisely as Narnia about God creating another world or Tolkien giving a version of long age "pre-Biblical" history which at least respects Mark 10:6 (unlike all evolutionist versions).

"There is Dante’s Divine Comedy…but it is more an epic poem that is allegorical in nature rather than mythical."

It is NOT allegoric in nature. It is, like the Narniad and Cosmic Trilogy, Theolgical Science Fiction.

"Then there is St. Thomas More’s Utopia which is a novel that was by no means disconnected from this world nor was it attempting to show origins of any kind. In fact, it spawned all sorts of discussions of important matters touching on human life and the state."

And so do quite a few of the passages in LotR.

Like the question what contemporary phenomena can be classed as "spirit of Saruman".

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"What Tolkien has given us here in his creation story is not Catholic but rather Gnostic."

Well, my mother was studying Theology, did not come far, some terms of OT Hebrew and NT Greek, but a first term was comparative religion.

Gnosticism is clearly a thing which Tolkien's Ainulindale is not.

In gnosticism, it would have been Melkor who defiled the song of the rest by saying "ea" to give it material existence. In Ainulindale it was not so.

//St. Thomas says: “It is impossible for any creature to create, either by its own power, or instrumentally—that is, ministerially” (I,45,5).//

For one thing, it would be ministerial creation, if at all. On part of the ainur.

Then, is it really they who create?

Look at the definition used by St Thomas:

"I answer that, It sufficiently appears at the first glance, according to what precedes (1), that to create can be the action of God alone. For the more universal effects must be reduced to the more universal and prior causes. Now among all effects the most universal is being itself: and hence it must be the proper effect of the first and most universal cause, and that is God."

Well, who is conferring being to the song? Eru.

Now, St Thomas also considers ministerial creation.

"It happens, however, that something participates the proper action of another, not by its own power, but instrumentally, inasmuch as it acts by the power of another; as air can heat and ignite by the power of fire. And so some have supposed that although creation is the proper act of the universal cause, still some inferior cause acting by the power of the first cause, can create. And thus Avicenna asserted that the first separate substance created by God created another after itself, and the substance of the world and its soul; and that the substance of the world creates the matter of inferior bodies. And in the same manner the Master says (Sent. iv, D, 5) that God can communicate to a creature the power of creating, so that the latter can create ministerially, not by its own power."

Whom is St Thomas calling "the Master" here?

Peter Lombard, the Master of Sentences. ALSO a Catholic authority. Indeed, he was to St Thomas much as St Thomas' Summa Theologica is to us.

So, though one can not really say that Tolkien ever DOES give the ainur ministerial creation under Eru, if he had, this would not have been Gnostic, since it would have been approved by Peter the Lombard.

And no one before this priest has dared to call Peter the Lombard a Gnostic, though St Thomas in the next words called him wrong on that particular matter.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Another close friend of Tolkien admitted, “I am rather fond of The Silmarillion,... the idea that God allows the archangels to take part in the Creation .... It strikes me that his picture of the archangels is surprisingly like small children with their father,"

And angels were God's children before we were.

Seeing them in their bliss either before the Fall of Satan and the testing of Michael or even after their eternal confirmation in bliss as "small children with their father" in relation to God is so exactly right.

That they are not small children in relation to us is quite another matter.

But this is the exact opposite of how Pagans depict the relations between the spirits.

Helios in relation to Zeus is not a small child in relation to his father.

Angels given stars (including Sun and Moon) as a task but also like a joyride by their common creator is very much like small children in relation to their father - and therefore not pagan.

// All of this is the background to The Lord of the Rings as having been created by the archangels, the Valar, under the direction of the One.” //

I wonder if this close friend was CSL or not, but the resumé is other than the actual content of Ainulindale. At least as we have it published after the author's death. Perhaps CSL had read a more Pagan draft which JRRT later rejected?

"Instead of passing on the truth through his myth, he is promoting heresy, namely that of Gnosticism, and it is being well received!"

And this priest is promoting false accusations, namely equation of Ainulindale with Gnosticism and of Silmarillion/LotR in general with Ainulindale (as if these were based on it, rather than Tolkien actually tinkering around and making Ainulindale later than much else, and thanks to his friendship with the equally anonymous Rorate blogger, he can level this accusation at least in the written form (I have not seen if he appears in face on the youtube, yet) anonymously.

AND this false accusation is being, in some quarters well received!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"in case it is also authored by a traditional priest and is, of course, respectful towards his fellow man of the cloth."

How respectful to fellow men of the cloth were traditional priests back in the 70's?

This kind of false accusation, turning "Traditional Catholic" pastoral into a variety of narrowminded Pentecostal or less open one is hardly deserving of respect.

Also, in case he was not more open about his identity on the youtube than on the Rorate blog, his anonymity well befits an academic bungler risking his credentials in literature (confusing diverse senses of "allegory", calling Divina Commedia "allegoric"!) in theology (calling Ainulindale Gnostic!) in history of ideas (considering every sense of what we call "myth" in tales of Pagans was equally rejected by Fathers of the Church) and such a thing as not looking up what the Fathers actually said, but instead relying on Johannes Quasten's resumé.

Which might have been adressing other issues than the one which "father anon." is trying to pull him in to.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Now, the thing is, LotR is not my life either.

But CSL and Tolkien are as much my EDUCATION, my late childhood and teens, as George MacDonald and Chesterton were to them.

I am offended at the implication that because THIS was my education, I need to get another one and renounce this one, before I can have any kind of right to write and be read by Catholics.

And if Father Anon. is not implying this, certain other people are doing so.

Sts Augustine and Jerome may as men of God not have had much time to reread Virgil, but they never renounced him.

St Jerome was not corrected by angelic bullies for loving myths (though disbelieving whatever conflicts with Christian dogma, which is not all), but for being meticulously correct about Latin.

The angels did not tell him "Virgilianus es, non es Christianus" in reference to his pleasures for epic, but "Ciceronianus es, non es Christianus" for his Classic grammar.

Again, I am not quite sure whatever superior was praying about that was totally wise.

Φιλολoγικά/Philologica : Iunctim, Iuncta or Simul

Even less should such strictures be applied to a lay Catholic author.

Even Father Anon. does not renounce Chesterton. And if some have pretended he was a prophet or a saint, no one has pretended he was a man of the cloth.

Steve Dalton said...

Hans, I don't know what you're talking about.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Only my first comment was directed to you, rather than answering the priest.

Here is what you had said:

"And the later sagas tell of the conversion to Christianity of their hero's and villain's, something JRR never did in his books and stories."

Well, if Njál's saga involves the year 1000 AD that is natural.

As to Tolkien's stories, when he in Letters discussed whenabouts of it, he once answered fall of Barad Dûr as occurring "25 of March 4004 BC" - the year Ussher set for Creation and a year even Christmas Chronology of Catholic Church, which is longer, makes pre-Flood.

So, a pre-Flood or even pre-gap (between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1, if that is how Tolkien counted on reconciling his myths with Christian truth) and in the latter case even pre-Adamite humanity is supposed to make direct references to Bethlehem and Calvary?

That is what I am talking about in my answer to you.

In the rest of the answers, I am quoting and answering a certain "Father Anonymous", friend of Rorate blogger, whom I consider as being a very possible Zuhlsdorf, even though Zuhlsdorf has his own blog.

The Patristics expert he cited was one Johannes Quasten - which is a German name.

I am in each piece copy-pasting from the Rorate-blog, to which Dymphna linked.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I may have been wrong in suspecting Zuhlsdorf.

Here is the tolkien related stuff on his blog:

I contacted him, and he did not say outright I was wrong, though.

Plus the rorate post was from a period in which Z was not writing posts on subject. The one post after was about linguistics, not stories.

So, I am not sure.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

On the other hand, Rorate blog cites quite a lot of priests on blogroll, including Wigratzbad seminary.

Father Z is not on their blogroll, it seems.