Greetings and we will be discussing the Appendices in Nature of Middle-earth, featuring the Middle-earth themes, most particularly Appendix I as the second Appendix is the Index. Appendix I involves the Metaphysical and Theological Themes of this work – which is very prevalent.
Introduction + the core of the Middle-earth Themes
“The Lord of the Rings is a Fundamentally Catholic Work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” (Letter # 142)
This has puzzled many critics, as in LOTR and his legendarium seem to be devoid of any religious cultus, or a Catholic system of rites and worship. However, morals could be there – and the most important word in the claim, ‘fundamentally,’ is saying that his broader legendarium is at its core and foundation, based on his personal beliefs and thoughts.
Though this doesn’t mean that one needs to have much knowledge of the Catholic faith to enjoy his works – it’s mainly describing that as one of his influences, another, for example being classical and Norse Mythology.
The Catholic faith has a worldview of a distinctive theology, metaphysics, cosmogony, and anthropology. These are highlighted and explored in the lore, as mere inspirations, rather than a direct use of the theology.
Middle-earth Themes – #1: Ages of the World
P.39: “we being in 1960 of the 7th age…” (NoME, p. 39)
Many of us are familiar with this concept of numbered ages, such as this one, in classical mythology, and the Catholic Church – though it is far less well known that the latter is the case.
Middle-earth Themes – #2: Body and Spirit
This was described as the repeated emphasis on the hröa (‘body’) and the fėa (‘spirit’).
This mind-body dualism is commonplace since the Enlightenment, thanks to Descartes. The human person as a spirit or soul inhabits and uses a body that isn’t important to the nature of the person. Furthermore, the person is also not known as incomplete when the soul leaves the body.
This dualist anthropology is also a “revival of the ancient Platonic/Gnostic/Manichaean belief in the superiority of the spiritual to the material,” which also goes hand in hand with Catholic anthropology, where the nature of the human person and the relation of this person to the body and the spirit is what Tolkien ascribes to the Incarnates, the Elves and Men.
Discussion: In the beginning, was he implying that spiritual was superior?
Middle-earth Themes – #3: Contingency of Existence
Furthermore, Eru, the Middle-earth deity, “is outside Eä but holds the whole of Eä in thought (by which it coheres).” (NoME, p. 289)
In Catholic metaphysics, the existence of this material universe is contingent, in that it “does not exist by necessity but rather by a gratuitous act of Divine creation,” which is the consistent nature of God and his continuous will of existence.
Tolkien’s statement was that the whole of material and temporal existence coheres in Eru’s thought, which also echoes scripture in Col. 1:17 in particular:
Middle-earth Themes – #4: Evil as a lack of perfection
Aquinas, like Augustine and Plato, said that evil had “no independent existence.” While evil can be done by rational beings, the evil itself doesn’t have a “being.”
The Thomistic view is that this is a lack of a ‘perfection of form,’ as in a failure or prevention of a thing to be what it’s ought to be.
The Elvish definition of the good and its impairments is based on a pattern which a thing or being realizes, or fails to realize where the thing or a being is unmarred.
The “unmarred” state of Arda was true to its nature, but this perfection was impaired by Morgoth so everything after that in Arda has been subjected to an evil.
Middle-earth Themes – #5: Evolution (theistic)
Evolution, when used in this context, could potentially be just an idea or a term, when something grows over time, as opposed to the term evolution in a religious sense.
p.251: “This the Valar say is how the variety of Arda was indeed achieved: beginning with a few patterns, and varying these or blending pattern with pattern.” (NoME p. 251)
In Tolkien’s theory of patterns and forms, this allows for the beginnings to begin at various times, depending on species. This forms a variety of patterns, which are all subordinate to Eru’s “Great Pattern” subject to his will.
This seems to be aligned with the “long-standing feature” of “young-earth Creationism,” where all species were created within a short period of time. This was also a literal interpretation of Genesis.
Middle-earth Themes – #6: The Fall of Man
p.222: “The Eldar thought that some disaster, perhaps even amounting to a ‘change of the world’…had befallen Men which altered their nature, especially with regard to ‘death’” (NoME, p. 222)
The Eldar also guessed that it came from rebellion against Eru.
Unlike the Men, the Elves didn’t fall corporately, mirroring what unfallen Men could have been. The Númenoreans or the Dúnedain, were still fallen, but were able to have special grace to approach nearest to the unfilled Quendi in their relations and incarnate existence, and also their interests and arts in the natural world.
Middle-earth Themes – #7: Hylomorphism
Hylomorphism is an Aristotelean-Thomistic metaphysic. This was derived from the Greek words of ‘wood, matter’ and ‘form.’ This holds that all material things are comprised of matter and form, which is Divinely-willed.
The living things are comprised of a ‘prime substance,’ erma, and the arkantiër, the ‘great pattern,’ being developed in response to Erkantië, Eru’s Great Pattern.
This is similar to another distinctive, which is that the nature of Incarnates contains a unity of a body and a spirit.
Middle-earth Themes – #8: Incorruptibility of Saints
P.273: “Men report that the bodies of some of their Dead long maintain their coherence, and even sometimes endure in fair form as if they slept only. That this is true the Elves know by proof; but the purpose or reason is not to them clear. Men say that it is the bodies of the holy that sometimes remain long incorrupt: meaning those of whom the fėar were strong nd yet were turned against Eru in love and hope.”
Incorruptibility is most often associated with saints, and this incorruptibility means that the body doesn’t show signs of decomposition even long after death.
Middle-earth Themes – #9: Marriage
Elves, Men, and the Númenoreans – they all had a similar desire of marriage, typically once and for all, unless the wife was left widowed. However, the only case of a breach that we saw was Míriel and Finwë which is a conundrum.
Middle-earth Themes – #10: Odour of Sanctity (odor sanctitatis)
The Maiar, being typically invisible when unclad, but presence was revealed by their fragrance. Likewise the bodies of holy people were also known to emit a fragrance compared to flowers while alive, and also at and after the moment of death. The saints were incorruptible and can emit this odor sanctitatis long after death.
Middle-earth Themes – #11: Prime Matter
“Prime matter” in Aristotelean-Thomistic metaphysics is the “fundamental, created, but undifferentiated matter from which all material things are made,” through forms that were Divinely willed.
This is evident in Tolkien’s term, erma, ‘prime substance,’ which is where all nassi, or ‘materials,’ are derived from, “by the agency of kantiër ‘patterns.’” This agency of patterns was mediated by the Valar, but ultimately from Eru.