Sunday, 31 May 2009

J.R.R Tolkien & the Problem with Blogging...

I have ''writer's block'' again (I think...and on Pentecost of all days!). I really ought to continue with my ''synopsis'' of The Silmarillion, only I can't honestly be bothered with it; its very hot and writing something of that sort can be quite laborious. I have found that the best ''synopsis'' of the whole Middle-earth stuff is provided by Tolkien himself in a letter he wrote to Milton Waldman in 1951, shortly before the publication of The Lord of the Rings. The letter is about 15 pages long, if you can take the time to read it; its quite in-depth but doesn't go into as much detail as I have (for example, Tolkien used a few short paragraphs to propound the creation and early history of Arda; I, on the other hand, have used several posts of about 1000 words each!)

Detail and succinctness present problems in a subject such as Tolkien. The immense work is so detailed, so meticulous that you really can't say anything without saying too much (and therefore also too little!) without taking something fundamental away from the whole. Certainly, one problem that I have (and this is reflected in some of my academic work too; for which I am often marked down) is that I ''don't see the wood for the trees'' (I think that is how that saying goes). Some details that I pick up on, not just in Tolkien but in any piece of literature, seem fundamentally important and I get distracted by elaborating upon them - I could explain the implications of one word in relation to another, or some concept, using several paragraphs. Consequently, I loose sight of the ''big picture.'' People sometimes forget that details make up a big picture (trees make up a woodland don't they?)

I do enjoy writing posts about the Legendarium, and if readers find them interesting too, then I shall continue with them. I started this blog in order to help and encourage people in the reading of Tolkien's work and to present it in its Catholic understanding, which is the only real understanding of Tolkien. I have great enthusiasm for it (I am not a ''fan'' though; since I hate that word). I am not socially-aware, at the best of times. This presents another problem too. Writing on Tolkien is easy for me, if done in the comfort of my own home with no distractions. But since trying to articulate this enthusiasm in a social context proves extremely difficult (you must remember that I have to juggle Tolkien with other pressing thoughts such as when to say ''please,'' ''thank you,'' ''excuse me,'' when or if to interrupt or disagree with someone - it becomes impossible when more than one person is speaking to me at the same time, thats when I switch off) blogging seemed the only logical alternative.

This is becoming an alarming blog post! It isn't meant to be! Anyway, I think I have gone on long enough. Tomorrow, I shall post something either on the origin of the Orcs or the passing of the Elves into the West (it may be easier to talk about Orcs though, considering where I shall spend tomorrow afternoon!) Happy Feast Day all readers!

Friday, 29 May 2009

A day in the life of Patricius...

I am in good spirits today; it has been a beautiful day, nice and warm and sunny. I had a meeting to attend today at the University (a tedious affair but they are part of the work so one has to put up with them); I got there an hour early so I decided to go and read in the Library. I picked up Bugnini's ''Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975'' from the shelf and just crouched down. I didn't read much of it, just flicked through the pages. But I did read the stuff on the cover, and was grieved to be reminded that he was in so many influential positions in the Curia for so many years, and under three Popes. What I didn't like reading, however, was the editor's claim that he had more of a right to discuss and document the ''liturgical reform'' than anyone else because of this. Bugnini was no liturgist however; he was a Freemason and a pseudo-philosopher, and worst of all a modernist. Real liturgists (and this principle applies to any discipline, not just theology) do not seek to project their modernist obscenities onto the Liturgy, even worse try to inflict them on everyone else as Bugnini did, in the vain delusion that their views, which run counter to 2000 years of devotion and sound Tradition, are right and are relevant to contemporary man. Real liturgists humbly engage in the Liturgy (it is certainly not their subject or area), expound its riches and remain faithful to the constant Tradition of the Church - like Dom Prosper Guéranger. But I digress, I put the book back after a few moments, and went to my desk to do some work.

The meeting over, I went to do more work. I did (part of) a translation from The Cambridge Latin Course and read one of my Latin fairy stories. I really need to do more grammar though, as I sometimes wade into greats such as Horace or St Leo, which leave me with few practical results! Translation and comprehension give me great pleasure. One task I have set myself when my Latin is sufficient is to try and read De Imitatione Christi in the original. As yet, I have only managed to translate the first three paragraphs of Chapter I (and with some difficulty). Maybe one day something will ''click'' and I'll be able to do anything; that day is a long way off though...

When I had finished in the Library, I wandered off to say a few prayers in the Cathedral. I stayed to listen to the choir sing ''Vespers'' too, which was ok. The choir sang the Veni Creator Spiritus (which I find profoundly moving) - only ruined by the spectacle of a woman getting up from her pew and doing some kind of ''liturgical'' dance - all in the spirit of Vatican II I'll warrant. Got the train home, ate my fish and chips, and then turned on my Nintendo. My dinosaur of a TV kept switching itself off though, so I came online. And thats me up to now! The Sun hasn't quite set yet, but it promises to be magnificent. As Tolkien wrote in August 1944 ''it may portend some celestial merriment in the morn, as the glass is rising.''

Now in his Palace of the West, Sinking to slumber, the bright Day, Like a tired monarch fann'd to rest, 'Mid the cool airs of Evening lay; While round his couch's golden rim The gaudy clouds, like courtiers, crept-- Struggling each other's light to dim, And catch his last smile e'er he slept. (Thomas Moore, The Summer Fete).

Have a great Pentecost all readers!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

St Bede the Venerable

Sorry for not posting this yesterday, but ''life'' often gets in the way of fun stuff like blogging. ''O my heart, it is all a very odd life,'' as Charles Williams wrote.

Anyway, yesterday was the Feast of St Bede the Venerable (c.672/3-c.735), one of the greatest minds the Church has ever known. As yet, he is the only English Doctor of the Church (St Anselm doesn't count, as he was Italian by birth) which makes him even more special, at least to me.

What is known of the life of St Bede, he himself reports at the end of his most famous work The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, finished in the Year of Grace 731. He was born in Northumbria, near the monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow. At the age of seven, he was taken into the care of the Abbot, a certain Benedict, and then of Ceolfrith, and he was educated by the monks. From an early age, he lived according to the austere Holy Rule of St Benedict, singing in the Church and applying himself to the august study of the Holy Scriptures. At the age of nineteen, he was ordained Deacon, and at thirty a Priest. He wrote and translated many works on Scripture, commentaries and exegeses that a friend of mine (a Church historian) said were more coherent than those of the more famous St Augustine.

The vast scholarly contribution of St Bede can be summed up by Wordsworth:

The recreant soul, that dares to shun the debt
Imposed on humankind, must first forget
Thy diligence, thy unrelaxing use
Of a long life, and, in the hour of death,
The last dear service of the passing breath.
(The Ecclesiastical Sonnets, I.23, II. 10-14).

St Bede the Venerable, pray for us.

I'd like to know why he is called ''Venerable.'' My old Philosophy teacher asked me to find that out years ago, but I never did. I spoke to an historian about it, but he said to me that he himself did not know, but that it was his supposition that like many other ''titles'' such as Seraphic Doctor, Angelic Doctor etc, it was merely added on by the devotion of the faithful.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

St Philip Neri and the Congregation of the Oratory

Today is the Feast Day of St Philip Neri (22nd July 1515-27th May 1595), Confessor. This post does not aim at completeness, as I know very little about this ''Apostle of Rome;'' it is just out of deep personal interest in relation to J.R.R Tolkien's spiritual formation at the Birmingham Oratory that I produce this inadequate post.

St Philip Neri was born in Florence to noble parents. Educated by the Dominicans in the famous convent of St Marco, it was here that he received his early religious impressions. As a young adult, he took a business appointment near Naples run by his uncle, who planned to make Philip his heir. However, in 1533, Philip underwent a ''conversion'' experience and went to Rome, penniless and without plan, to live in poverty. Living in an attic, he paid his rent by giving lessons to the sons of the landlord. It was during this period that he studied Theology and Philosophy.

After some time, he turned to an active apostolate. He talked to young men in public places, banks, shops. He won friends easily, and inspired by the exemplary piety of St Philip, they too turned to ascetic lives and to true devotion, tending the sick and visiting the many churches of Rome. In 1544, he became a friend of St Ignatius Loyola.

Philip was ordained priest in 1551 and went to live in a community of priests in San Girolamo della Carita. He would here spend long hours in the Confessional, absolving sins and directing souls in the ways of piety and penance. His daily meal consisted merely of bread and water, but he kept this penance hidden. At one time, he had a mind to become a missionary abroad, but a Cistercian told him that Rome was to be his place of Mission - hence he is often called the Apostle of Rome.

His active apostolate proved successful, and it later developed into the Congregation of the Oratory, so called because Philip with his disciples used an oratory built over the nave of San Girolamo, to which the faithful were summoned to prayer by the ringing of a bell. The priests there shared a common life, were obedient to Philip but did not take vows, nor renounce their poverty.

In 1575, the Congregation was approved by Rome, and Pope Gregory XIII gave the Oratorians the church of San Maria in Vallicella, which Philip rebuilt. The Congregation was very popular, and Philip would often receive people from all walks of life, Cardinals, foreigners, the poor. Philip retired as provost in 1593 in favour of Baronius, the Patristics scholar and later Cardinal. The last years of his life were on and off periods of sickness and recovery. At one point in 1594, whilst in a spasm of pain, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself appeared to St Philip and cured him. He died in 1595, giving his blessing to the Fathers of the Oratory. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1615, and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622.

In 1906, when J.R.R Tolkien was 14 years old, his mother Mabel died, a martyr for the Faith. John with his brother Hilary were then taken into the care of Fr Francis Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory. Here, he was expected (and usually did) serve Mass early in the morning before school, after which he would eat breakfast with the Oratorian Fathers. He would then cycle to King Edward's school where he'd spend all day reading Latin and Greek...

I don't know how well Tolkien knew St Philip Neri, but there were many resonances of that joyous saint, to whom God gave a ''heart of fire,'' in Tolkien's own spiritual life. He went to Mass daily for most of his life, only ceasing when the unfortunate aliturgical changes of the 1960s were brought in...Anyone who wants to know more about St Philip Neri ought to read the article here.

St Philip Neri, pray for us.

Monday, 25 May 2009

St Gregory VII

Today is the Feast Day of St Gregory VII (c.1020-25th May 1085), Pope and Confessor. The greatest of all our Medieval Popes, he was a pious and courageous defender of the rights of the Church against a bullying secular world. I produce here a short history of the period and a ''biography'' of one of the greatest Men of all time.

Born Hildebrand, a name that amusingly signified ''bright flame'' to his friends, and ''brand of Hell'' to his enemies, in Tuscany, he was of very humble origins. His father is believed to have been a carpenter. At a young age he went to Rome to be educated by the monks of Santa Maria on the Avertine Hill; and it was here that he was first imbued with those high principles of pious reform of the Church, of which later in life he was a fearless exponent. On account of his knife-sharp administrative and political sense, Pope Gregory VI chose him as his chaplain, and so he shared in the Pontiff's exile in 1046. Hildebrand retired to Cluny on the Holy Father's death in 1047, and in 1049 returned to the Eternal City with Pope Leo IX, just elected Pontiff, and was soon created Cardinal-Subdeacon and was placed in charge of the Patrimony of St Peter's. Under the Pontificate of Leo IX, Hildebrand recovered much of the lost revenue of the Church, which had fallen into the hands of Roman nobility and the Normans. However, all of his pious deeds before he was elected Supreme Pontiff need not here be told.

In the Year of Our Lord 1073, Hildebrand was himself elected Supreme Pontiff to cries of: ''Blessed Peter has chosen Hildebrand the Archdeacon!'' and ascended the Apostolic Throne. He immediately went about securing his own position as Pontiff, and went to Southern Italy to negotiate treaties with the Normans. On returning to Rome, he set about that pious reform of the Church, already begun by his predecessors, with the aim not only of ridding the Church of the evils of Simony and Clerical inconstancy, but he also embarked on a quest for the libery and exaltation of the Church in practice by forbidding lay investiture of Ecclesiastical offices.

This may require some background explanation. In the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, the problem of lay control of the Church became particularly troublesome. The collapse of a central authority in Western Europe during this period, caused by relentless Viking and Muslim invasions, created a situation where rich landowners could extend their authority over churches, monasteries and even Episcopal sees. Thus, Priests, Religious and even Bishops could and were appointed not by the Church, but by laymen. Who has the authority to appoint Bishops? Kings or Popes?

But, St Gregory had little chance of bringing about the Gregorian Reform if he lacked the power to name the Bishops - a power that in the 11th century was being exercised wrongly by European princes. Besides, as long as laymen were naming priests, abbots and bishops, the moral decline of the Church would continue indefinately. St Gregory wrote of this woeful situation:

''The Eastern Church has fallen away from the Faith and is assailed on every side by infidels. Wherever I turn my eyes - to the west, to the north, or to the south - I find everywhere bishops who have obtained their office in an irregular way, whose lives and conversation are strangely at variance with their sacred calling; who go through their duties not for the love of Christ, but from motives of worldly gain.'' (From the Catholic Encyclopedia)

St Gregory's Lenten Synod of 1074 enacted the decrees that would eventually be obeyed, but at the time received considerable opposition from almost every corner of the West; especially in Germany. In Germany, the matter was fought with great bitterness on both the Church and secular sides, and King Henry IV convened a synod of the German bishops who in their insolence dared to depose Gregory. St Gregory countered this by excommunicating Henry in 1077. German magnates agreed then that Henry should loose his crown within a year unless he did penance for his sins. And so, this led to the famous confrontation at the castle of Canossa where Henry abased himself, and sought the intercession of Matilda, Countess of Tuscany; Henry spent three days in the snow, accused himself, and received absolution. However, his humility was feigned, and Henry was again excommunicated and deposed. The insolent German bishops in turn deposed St Gregory, and elected Antipope Clement III. Henry then marched on Rome and after a siege of more than two years, captured the Eternal City. St Gregory fled with the Normans, and retired in sorrow to the great Abbey of Monte Cassino, 80 miles south of Rome. He died in exile in Salerno on this day in 1085, uttering the famous words: Amavi iustiam et odivi iniquitatem; propterea, morior in exilio - I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.

St Gregory VII, pray for us.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Ave Maria in Quenya...

In the 1950s, J.R.R Tolkien translated five Catholic prayers into Sindarin and Quenya, the two prominent dialects of Elvish found in The Lord of the Rings. I did have a nice rendering of the Ave Maria in Quenya in a ''favourite'' on the Internet, with the Tengwar script and with the Latin as well, but when I tried to load it up the site wasn't recognised, how typical! So anyway, here it is without the fair characters!

Aia María quanta Eruanno i Héru as elyë. Aistana elyë imíca nísi ar aistana i yávë mónalyo Yésus. Airë María Eruo ontaril á hyamë rámen úcarindor sí ar lúmessë ya firuvammë. Násië.

Omnia bona spiritualia et temporalia vobis in Domino invoco.

Of the Quendi

As has been told, the Valar dwelt in the light of the Trees for long years whilst all Middle-earth lay in darkness under the ancient stars, and under the power of Melkor. In the ancient forests walked the eldest creatures, furtive on account of the darkness, but strong. Under the power of Melkor, the Valar came seldom to those lands, and only in great secret. Yavanna, in grief, set a sleep upon many things that should awaken in a time that was yet hidden from her, in some far distant day when perhaps the power of Melkor would crumble.

But the power of Melkor grew and grew as the long ages past, and he did not sleep, but watched and laboured and his realm spread ever southwards over the whole of Middle-earth. In Utumno, the Balrogs gathered about him, and in that time Melkor made many other monsters that long troubled the unhappy world. In that time, Melkor wrought another fortress not far from the north-western shores of the Great Sea to resist any assault that might come against him from the West, and its charge was laid to Sauron his lieutenant, and the name of that fortress was Angband.

But in the West, the Valar held council, for they were troubled by the news that Yavanna brought to them concerning the evil realm of Melkor, and she urged them to that war that they must wage for the succour of the Firstborn. At the bidding of Manwë, Mandos (the Doomsman of the Valar) spoke, and he said:

''In this age the Children of Ilúvatar shall come indeed, but they come not yet. Moreover it is doom that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness, and shall look first upon the stars. Great light shall be for their waning. To Varda ever shall they call at need.''

Varda is the principal Marian arthetype in Tolkien's legendarium. Tolkien writes of her: ''Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy. Out of the deeps of Eä she came to the aid of Manwë, for Melkor she knew from before the making of the Music and rejected him, and he hated her, and feared her more than all others whom Eru made.'' And so Varda left the council of the Valar and climbed to the pinnacle of Taniquetil and looked east over the Sea and beheld the dark lands of Middle-earth; and fearing for the Firstborn of Ilúvatar, she began a vast labour, greater than any since the Ainur entered the world in the deeps of Time. Gathering the silver dews of the Tree of Silver, she scattered them across the dark skies, making new and brighter stars, and she strung together many of the ancient stars and made signs with them, and one great constellation she set in the northern sky as a challenge to Melkor, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar, and the sign of doom.

Even as Varda ended her labours, the Elder children awoke by the waters of Cuiviénen, the ''Waters of Awakening,'' a bay in the far north-east of Middle-earth. The Elves awoke and first saw the Stars of Varda; and in silence they beheld many wonders. They lived there long, and soon began to make speech and to give name to things. They called themselves the Quendi, signifying ''those who speak with words'' for as yet they knew of no other living things that spoke or sang.

It chanced that the Vala Oromë (who was wont to hunt the evil creatures of Melkor in Middle-earth) turned eastward in his hunting and came to that region where Cuiviénen lay; and suddenly his great horse Nahar set up a great neighing and stood still, and the Vala listened. And far off in the silent lands, he heard the voices of singing. And so it was that at last the Valar discovered the Elder Children of Ilúvatar, and looking upon them from afar, Oromë was filled with love and wonder. Then he went to meet them, but the Elves were filled with dread at his coming, and many fled and were lost; and this was the work of Melkor. For Melkor, ever vigilant, was first aware of the coming of the Elves and he sent shadows and evil spirits to spy on them and to devour them, and he sent lying whispers among them that they should shun Oromë if ever he came among them. Long years before the coming of Oromë, tales were told by the Elves at their ancient home that shadow shapes would at times walk in the woods and the hills around Cuiviénen, and of a dark Rider on a wild horse that would capture those that wandered far from the shores of Helcar alone and would devour them.

And so, after a short while, Oromë returned to the West and brought the news to the Valar, and they rejoiced. Then, they debated among themselves what counsel it were best to take for the safeguard of the Children from the shadow of Melkor, and they resolved then to make war on Melkor for the mastery of Middle-earth...
The above image is Ted Nasmith's rendering of Cuiviénen.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Of Dwarves, Ents and Eagles...

As yet I have spoken only of the Ainur and of the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). I expect that some readers will be wondering where Dwarves come into the picture, or the Ents. The origin of the Dwarves is of exceptional interest, not just their origin within the legendarium, but within the mind of Tolkien himself. In the Lost Tales, the Dwarven kindreds are spoken of in scorn by Ufedhin (one of the Gnomes); saying that they are strange, none know their origin, they are eminently recognisable for their furtive natures, they are marvellously skilled in craft, and that they have not heard of Ilúvatar (or hearing they disbelieve). The origin of the Dwarves is expounded in the Quenta Silmarillion together with that of the Ents and of the Eagles, and is rather different to that of the Lost Tales (although some similarities remain).

Aulë the Smith (that Vala concerned most with the substances of which the world was made) first fashioned the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall beneath the mountains in Middle-earth. So greatly did he desire the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar that he was unwilling to await the will of the Creator in the matter, and so he made the Dwarves even as they are seen in later ages, short, fat, with long beards, because the forms of the Children were unclear in his mind. He made them in secret, keeping his work private from the other Ainur for fear that they might blame his work, and in the hour that his work was complete, and he began to talk to the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves (rather like life-like dummies I expect) God spoke to Aulë, and hearing the voice of God, Aulë was silent. And God said to him:

''Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority? For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?''

And being filled with repentence and humility, he wept and offered to destroy the work of his presumption, and he took up a great hammer to break the Dwarves with; but God had compassion upon Aulë, and the Dwarves shrank away from him and begged for mercy. And seeing that the Dwarves had minds of their own, and accepting the forgiveness of Ilúvatar, Aulë took the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves and laid them to rest in far sundered places beneath stone, and it was the will of God that they should not come until after the coming of the Firstborn (the Elves). God, therefore, adopted the Children of Aulë and blessed his work even as it was made. And so, Aulë returned to Valinor.

Now Yavanna, the spouse of Aulë, was ill-pleased that he should have kept this labour from her; and she said that the Dwarves would have little love for growing things for this reason. And being anxious about the influence of Melkor, she approached Manwë and told him of all her concerns. She said: ''All my works are dear to me. Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many?'' And holding Trees dearest among her works, she bethought her of trees that spoke on behalf of all growing things and punished those that wronged them. The thought seemed strange to Manwë, but it was in the Great Music:

''For while thou wert in the heavens and with Ulmo built the clouds and poured out the rains, I lifted up the branches of great trees to receive them, and some sang to Ilúvatar amid the wind and the rain.''

Then Manwë went to seek the counsel of Ilúvatar, and returning to Yavanna he assured her of the clemency of God, that He had heard all of the Great Music, even the least sound of the least voice, and it was His will that among the trees should walk the Shepherds of the Trees. But it was also the will of God that there should be the great Eagles of the Lords of the West, that would hear the voices of those that cried out to them. Then Yavanna was glad and she blessed Ilúvatar, and returning to the house of Aulë she said: ''Eru is bountiful. Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.''

In 1969, Tolkien responded to a letter from a young girl (the daughter of his publisher in fact) who asked him what the purpose of life was. The letter, now just over 40 years old, is very touching and perfectly encapsulates the nature of this chapter in The Silmarillion. He took her through the classical theistic arguments first (starting, inevitably, with the argument from Design), arguing that ''purpose'' is superfluous if there were no design, that patterns in the world proceed endlessly from an inexhaustible fountain of invention. We arrive, therefore, at true purpose when we do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis Deo; we praise Thee, we call Thee holy, we worship Thee, we proclaim Thy glory, we give Thee thanks for the greatness of Thy splendour. Tolkien writes:

''And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf, as is done in Psalm 148, and in The Song of the Three Children in Daniel II. PRAISE THE LORD...all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no. 310)

This really is too beautiful for explanation or analysis. Those of you who remember Treebeard (probably my favourite character in the whole Legendarium) will remember that he often sang the praises of God's Creation. I'm afraid this post is too long, and too short, for my sentiments on this matter.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Favourite Simpsons character...

I don't look like him by the way...

The Two Trees of Valinor

This is the scenario so far. The Valar have fled from the ruin of Middle-earth and have established their kingdom of Valinor in the West. Melkor is now the sole lord of Middle-earth, wielding dominion from his throne in the fastness of Utumno, and since the destruction of the Lamps, the lands of Middle-earth are now wholly dark, cold and dumb, the growth of things is checked, although the great forests remain. The Ainur are basically shut out of Middle-earth, and can now come there only in great secret; Yavanna would wander the great woods of Middle-earth and grieve for them, healing the hurts of Melkor as she passed, the Vala Oromë would ride his great horse Nahar and pursue the creatures of Melkor to the death.

At some distance from the western gates of Valmar, the city of the Valar in Valinor, there was a green mound called Ezellohar. Around this, all of the Ainur gathered and listened to the song of Yavanna, who chanted a song of Power seated on that green mound, and the whole world was silent in that hour - I imagine that that fair song must have been heard in every corner of the world, and Melkor heard it in Utumno and hated it, but listened perforce. The Vala Nienna thought in silence and watered the mould with her tears - an important point which I'll elaborate in some later post. And as the Valar watched, upon the mound there appeared two shoots, and under the song of Yavanna the shoots grew into two slender trees, tall and fair, and came to flower. And so the Two Trees of Valinor were made, the fairest and most beautiful trees that ever were. Around the fate of these two trees, the whole fate of the world would be woven.

The Two Trees of Valinor serve as an archetype for the Sun and Moon; Telperion the Tree of Silver, and Laurelin the Tree of Gold. Indeed, one major point that distinguishes Tolkien's legendarium from other myths is that the Sun and Moon are seen as a second-best thing - it is of course to be noted that in the Genesis account of Creation, God made Light first, and later the Sun and Moon...The trees, as has been said, were beautiful. Tolkien describes them thus:

''The one [Telperion] had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadows of his fluttering leaves. The other [Laurelin] bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light.''

The reckoning of Time according to the waxing and waning of the Trees is quite a complex business. In seven hours each tree waxed to full and waned again - each tree about an hour before the other. So, twice a ''day,'' there was a period of softer light, where one would be waning, and the other waxing - this period is called the ''Mingling of the Lights.'' Each ''day'' of the Valar has twelve hours - each ''hour'' being equivalent to several hours of our time. One Year of the Trees corresponds roughly to ten years of the Sun; one ''Age'' of the Valar is 100 Valinorean Years. I did know of a table that Tolkien drew up explaining this in more detail, but I can't find it anywhere. O me miserum!

With the creation of the Two Trees comes the Second Spring of Arda (the first being that of the Lamps). Valinor becomes fairer than Almaren was, and the Valar are content. But because of the mountains of the Pelóri, the mountains of defence, none of this Light reaches east over the Sea to Middle-earth, which remains under the tyranny of Melkor.
The above image is a photo I found on Google Images. It does not depict either of the Trees, but I love to look at it. I imagine Telperion looked a bit like it, at least the shape of Telperion has always taken that sort of shape in my mind.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Good book to have...

I love to read. One of the many joys of life, and a supreme Art form, is the written word. I have here the title, rather long-winded, of a good book to read - at least I found it interesting (for personal reasons). The book is called: ''The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'' and takes on the nature of a kind of Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. You can purchase it from Amazon.

Here is a good question: Is it a sin to attempt to ''cure'' (assuming hypothetically that there were a ''cure'') an Autism-Spectrum Disorder? Take into account that mental illnesses can be just as crippling as lost limbs - at least to some people. But also take into account the great gifts that some people on the Autism Spectrum have - albeit at the expense (a great expense) of things that perhaps most of us take for granted; for example, the ability to sustain a conversation comfortably or being perhaps more flexible as regards routine and its inevitable breakdown in the face of new situations, circumstances, everyday chances etc. How would a person ''formerly'' on the Autism Spectrum go about their lives, now that their routines were no longer necessary; or their intense personal interest not quite so intense anymore? Very complex questions of psychology perhaps, but also worth musing over...

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione, Alleluia!

Today is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There isn't much that I can say about this triumph of the Risen Lord, just a few words of praise taken from my Breviary:

Pater, manifestavi nomen tuum hominibus quos dedisti mihi; nunc autem pro eis rogo, non pro mundo, quia ad te venio, Alleluia.

Let us praise Christ, for He is risen and has ascended to the Father as He said, Alleluia. Praise Him with great praise!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

I saw Water flowing...

''The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty hath thundered, the Lord is upon many waters.'' (Psalm 28:3)

As we are in Paschaltide, a post about the Rite of Sprinkling before the principal Mass of Sunday seems apt. The celebrant, vested in cope, kneels at the foot of the Altar, intones Vidi Aquam, and then sprinkles the Altar three times, first in the middle, then the Gospel side and lastly the Epistle side, he then taps the ball of the sprinkler on his head and signs himself, rises, genuflects, and then sprinkles the Minsters (if it is a High Mass) other clergy (assuming there is a liturgical choir), then the servers, choir and congregation, reciting in a low voice, or not uncommonly, chanting the prayer with the choir. The Vidi Aquam is longer and more complex than the Asperges, and I think more beautiful. I produce here the text with my translation:

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latare dextro, Alleluia; et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista salvi facti sunt, et dicent: Alleluia, Alleluia. Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus; quoniam in saeculum misericordia eius. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Vidi aquam...

I saw water flowing, forth from the Temple on the right side, Alleluia; and all those to whom that water came were saved, and they shall say: Alleluia, Alleluia. Confess the Lord because He is good; because His mercy is from of ages. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen. I saw water...

Holy Water is one of many Sacramentals, sacred signs that reflect the Seven Sacraments and have the power of driving away venial sins to prepare the Soul for God's Grace. The Rite of Sprinkling is therefore a very fitting ceremony to precede the august Sacrifice of the Mass, as each one of us falls short of the glory of God (as St Paul writes), and since God's house is a small portion of His Kingdom on earth, the Rite of Sprinkling makes us worthier to stand in His presence and to partake of the Blessed Sacrament. Incidently, it is told in The Silmarillion that there lives yet an echo of the Music of the Ainur in water...

Anyone who wants to listen to a very good recording of the Vidi Aquam should go here.

Of the Eldest Days

The Ainur, freed for a while from the menace of Melkor, begin to prepare the world for the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar - it must be noted, however, that the Ainur knew little as yet concerning them; all they know is that they will come at an appointed time (hidden from them) and that they must do their best to secure the world from the shadow of Melkor.
And so, the Ainur bring order to the lands, calm to the seas and bury the primeval fires. At the prayer of Yavanna (that Vala most concerned with nature), Aulë fashions two Great Lamps, Illuin and Ormal, and these are set atop great pillars in the far North and South of Middle-earth, and illumine the world. Then, the seeds that Yavanna had sown begin swiftly to sprout and burgeon and there arose the eldest forests, great trees almost as tall as mountains. Content with things, and free from the shadow of Melkor, the Ainur establish an island kingdom called Almaren in the midst of Middle-earth, where the light of the Lamps mingled.

But Melkor was aware of all that was done, having watched from afar, and having secret spies among the Maiar (probably one of them was Sauron), and he was filled with hatred. Gathering a great many Maiar about him, therefore, he descended once again upon the world, this time in the far North and in secret, and delved for himself a vast subterranean fastness called Utumno beneath the mountains. In Sindarin, it was called Udûn - those of you who remember the confrontation of Gandalf with the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm will recall that Gandalf called it a ''flame of Udûn'' - this is a referrence to that time when the Balrogs, those Maiar of fire, first gathered about Melkor in the pits of Hell.

When he deems the time to be ripe, Melkor once again declares war on the Ainur and casts down the great pillars of the Lamps, destroying Almaren and many lands were drowned under the sea in that time, or scorched by great fires, and the Ainur are once again driven out of Middle-earth. This time they head westward over the sea to a far continent called Aman, and there they establish their new kingdom, saving what they could from the tumult of Middle-earth. As a defence against Melkor, they raise the mountains of the Pelóri around their kingdom, and so Middle-earth, the place of the coming of the Children, remains in the power of Melkor.
The above image I found in Google Images. It is almost (but not really) how I imagine the woods of Middle-earth after the departure of the Ainur, which became haunted, very dark, places of fear.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Of the Ainur at the Dawn of Time

After the Ainulindalë, the next cycle in The Silmarillion deals with the Ainur - their characteristics, their powers, their relation with the world and its elements, and with eachother etc. There isn't really much to say about the Valaquenta, as it is quite straightforward, but I'll do my best for the benefit of those readers who perhaps haven't read The Silmarillion.

When, with the grace of God, the Ainur entered the world at the dawn of Time, they were ''divided'' into two groups, depending upon their ''stature,'' called the Valar and the Maiar. The differences between these two can be said to resemble the differences between, say, a Seraph and an ordinary Angel in the real celestial hierarchy. Together, the Valar form a pantheon, with the Maiar as their servants and helpers. Each Maia was attached to one Vala (sometimes more than one), becoming one of their people. For example, Melian the Maia was of the people of Vána and Estë, and was akin before the World was made to Yavanna herself. More famously though, Olórin (who later became Gandalf the Grey) was of the people of Manwë and Varda.

I won't go through each individual Ainu one by one as I expect this may be tedious. As Tolkien explains, the primary function of the Ainur is to prepare the way for the Children of God (Elves and Men) and to exercise delegated authority within their spheres (NOT creation, making or reform). The Ainur had no part in the Great Music with the creation of the Children of Ilúvatar; as is told in the Ainulindalë: ''For the Children of Ilúvatar were conceived by him alone...and none of the Ainur had part in their making.''

Now, it was the task of the Ainur to fashion the world according to the design of Ilúvatar, to prepare the world for the coming of the Children, and the chief among these were Manwë, Ulmo and Aulë who were there from the beginning, but Melkor (Tolkien's Lucifer) was there before them and he contended with all that was done and drove the Valar into retreat. This would have been a time of primeval chaos and cataclysm - as yet there are no habitable lands, just roaring seas, darkness, tempests etc, but the Valar called upon aid from beyond the world and there gathered about them a great many companions, and they do battle with Melkor and his hosts for the mastery of Creation. But it was not easy. Tolkien describes Melkor thus: ''And he descended upon Arda in power and majesty greater than any other of the Valar, as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold.'' But for all that, by the grace of God, Melkor was defeated, for Tulkas the Strong came then to the aid of the Ainur and Melkor fled before him. The world then had peace, and the Ainur brought order and established their kingdom, but Melkor brooded in the outer darkness.
The above painting is Ted Nasmith's rendering of Illuin, one of the primeval ''Lamps of the Valar'' which gave light to the world long before the Sun and Moon.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra

Flowers appeared in our land...I don't know about my readers, but I love gardens (I have a Hobbit-love of gardens in fact) although I am the so-called ''kiss of death'' when it actually comes to growing anything myself! I brought some Hyssop a few months ago for my parish, and it arrived on Ash Wednesday, but I have since left the poor plant in my father's capable hands!

Well anyway, it is the Month of Our Lady and many flowers remind me of her. I expect we'll all be thinking of the most common Marian flower, the Rose, but there are others that are associated with some aspect of her life, Lavender the flight into Egypt, Lily-of-the-Valley Our Lady's sorrow at the foot of the Cross (said to have bloomed on the hill of Calvary when her tears fell to the earth), or perhaps even the Snap-dragon and the Infant Christ's feet. The gundelia, a thistle, is believed by many to be the Crown of Thorns that surrounded Christ's holy head when He was Crucified for our Redemption. And so, let us explore the Mary Garden...

A Mary Garden is an enclosed garden, filled with divers trees, plants and other flowers that are associated with Our Lord and Lady, designed for prayer and contemplation upon God's creation. The origins of the Mary Garden go back even to the time of St Benedict, who planted a Rosarium in the grounds of Monte Cassino in the 6th century. Before the golden age of Christendom, many flowers were cherished by pagans and named in honour of their gods. These flowers were then ''baptised'' as it were, by the Church and by the devotion of the faithful, and were thence associated with Christ and His Mother, the Pentecost Rose (Peony), Our Lady's Tears (Spiderwort), Our Lady's Mantle (Morning Glory) etc to give a few examples. During the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment periods, these flowers were given new ''reasonable, non-superstitious'' names, and their original meaning has fallen out of the knowledge even of most Catholics (including myself until recently); but they are still loved by some Catholic gardeners for their true meanings.

More information on Mary Gardens can be found here.

Rosa Mystica, ora pro nobis.

Interesting but annoying...

To keep my Latin up (without having recourse to the Venerable, albeit boring, St Bede), I amuse myself by reading and translating short stories from various books that I have. Sometimes I also try to tackle more ''advanced'' stuff, such as St Leo's sermons, or the Odes of Horace but this is often self-defeating! Anyway, the one I have done today is based on the Pardoner's Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (a masterpiece of English literature, and very religious), and is called ''In Pursuit of Death.'' I produce here the Latin text with my translation:

Tres iuvenes in taberna bibebant et deos immortales magna voce vituperabant; tristissima erant, et non sine causa. 'eheu!' dicebant; 'morbus dirus urbem nostram affligit. Mors omnes amicos nostros interficit. Mortem quaerere debemus. Necesse est nobis Mortem ipsum interficere.'
Itaque iuvenes ex urbe contenderunt et mox senem invenerunt. Ille baculum tenens lente procedebat et terram pulsabat, semper 'cara mater,' clamans, 'admitte me!'
Iuvenes eum rogaverunt: 'Mortemne vidisti? nam quaerimus eum.'
'Et ego eum quaero,' respondit senex. 'Nuper eum sub illa arbore sedentem conspexi.'
Iuvenes igitur ad arborem festinaverunt. Ibi multum aurum in olla celatum invenerunt.
'Euge! divites nunc sumus,' inquit iuvenis natu maximus. 'Ad urbem contendite! nunc cenare et bibere debemus.'
'Festina lente!' inquit iuvenis natu minimus. 'Melius est noctu aurum ad urbem ferre. Tum nemo nos videre potest.'
'Ita vero!' inquit medius iuvenis. 'Sed nunc cibum consumere et vinum bibere possumus. Tu ad urbem furtim contende! Cibum et vinum nobis compara!'
Iuvenis natu minimus, ubi ad urbem advenit, non solum cibum et vinum emit, sed etiam venenum potentissimum. Venenum in amphoram vini miscuit. 'Ita,' inquit, 'omne aurum habere possum.'
Sed postquam ille ad amicos rediit, iuvenis natu maximus bracchia eius comprehendit. Deinde medius iuvenis pugionem inter costas impulit. Ille, ab amicis suis superatus, mortuus decidit.
'Nunc etiam divitores sumus!' inquit iuvenis natu maximus. 'Vinum bibe et bonam fortunam saluta!'
Vinum igitur avide hauserunt. Mox venenum, per venas manans, ad corda advenit. Illi quoque mortui deciderunt.
Iuvenes, a sene ducti, Mortem ipsum re vera invenerant.

Three young men were drinking in the pub and with great voice were cursing the immortal gods; they were very sad, and not without cause. 'Alas!' they were saying, 'a terrible disease has afflicted our city. Death has killed all our friends. We ought to seek after Death. It is necessary for us to kill Death itself.'
And so the youths hurried from the city and soon found an old man. The same holding a staff was proceeding slowly and was striking the earth, always crying 'dear mother admit me!'
The young men asked him: 'Have you not seen Death? For we seek him.'
'And I seek him,' responded the old man. 'Recently I have caught sight of him sitting under that tree.'
Therefore the young men hurried to the tree. There they found much gold hidden in a pot.
'Hurray! Now we are rich,' said the eldest. 'Hurry to the city! Now we ought to eat and to drink.'
'Hurry slowly!' said said the youngest. 'It is better to bring the gold to the city at night. Then no one will be able to see us.'
'It is so,' said the middle one. 'But now we are able to eat food and to drink wine. You hurry back to the city in secret! Obtain for us food and wine!'
The youngest, when he came to the city, not only brought food and wine, but also a most powerful poison. He mixed the poison in a large jar. 'So,' said he, 'I am able to have all the gold.'
But after the same returned to his friends, the eldest seized his arm. Then the middle one thrust a dagger between his ribs. He, overcome by his friends, fell down dead.
'Now we are even richer!' said the eldest. 'Drink wine and salute good fortune!'
Therefore they eagerly drank the wine. Soon the poison, working its way through the veins, came to their hearts. They also fell down dead.
The young men, led by the old man, found Death itself in truth.
For those familiar with Chaucer, this is generally true to the original. It is simple Latin for a simple mind (my own), but what has annoyed me is that the author has paganized the text by introducing something completely alien to Chaucer - ''deos immortales'' - this may seem a triviality to some of you, but for me this sort of thing is important and represents two things. One, a mistaken belief that Latin died with the ''fall'' of Rome (that is another error, Rome never ''fell,'' taken to mean suddenly, and that civilisation then failed and someone declared the Dark Ages to have begun; it was a gradual process of decline) and was not continued by the Church of Rome, the only true builder of Western civilisation, in her Liturgy and in her monasteries. Two, this sort of thing represents, to me at least, that modern tendency (alas! all too easy to find nowadays) to downgrade the role of the Church in education. Also, because of this novelty, the text reads pretty much as a pagan fable, with only a loose ethical message. As such, Religion is treated as a private taboo, a burden that we take on ourselves, and certainly not to be enforced upon anyone (Heaven forbid that we do as Christ told us and bear witness to Him!). Oh well, in these times of darkness, I ought not to expect much else.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Mary Most Holy...

Mater Maria me valde amat, et ego eam. As it is the month of Our Lady, the glorious and immaculate Mother of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I think a post in her honour is long overdue. Perhaps readers could join me in saying a few Rosaries this month, being mindful of the Holy Father and his recent trip to the Holy Land, but especially the Family which as we see on all sides is constantly under attack from the forces of secularism...would that I had an army of Hobbits with extra large Rosaries and I could convert the world to the Lord in no time at all!

Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Two new Tolkien books...

For those who are interested, there will be two new books published later this year (I am not sure when) by J.R.R Tolkien. The first will interest owners of a Jerusalem Bible, which is Tolkien's translation of The Book of Jonah, with a handsome front cover. The second is rather obscure, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which tells the story of the Norse hero, Sigurd, the Dragon slayer, the revenge of his wife Gudrún and the Fall of the Nibelungs. I have never personally read this work, though I had heard of it, so this should be interesting for me too. You can pre-order them from Amazon now.

Christopher Tolkien discusses Sigurd and Gudrún here. The article calls Christopher Tolkien reclusive, which is typically vindictive and inaccurate. Why should someone who wishes to retain his privacy be called ''reclusive?'' J.R.R Tolkien himself complained enough about being harassed by so-called ''fans'' of his during the 1960s, ringing him at odd hours and turning up at his front door unannounced (and unwanted). Notice also that the article misspells the name of Tolkien's old publishers!
Sorry about the untidiness of this presentation. For some obscure reason, you can't cut and paste images properly, or edit them, when posting. If any bloggers out there have any advice on this, they are welcome to comment.

Commonly asked Question...

I am often asked in which order it is best to read Tolkien's work. I would say start with The Hobbit, a masterpiece of children's literature, and then read The Lord of the Rings afterwards. For a ''beginner'' to begin with The Silmarillion is going to be quite difficult; I can only compare it to the spectacle of an amateur Latinist (like me) trying to tackle Caesar or Cicero, or instead of teaching children the Roman Catechism, giving them volumes of detailed theology.

The Silmarillion is a very, very complex book. Not only does the narrative span several thousands of years, but the composition of the work itself spanned several decades of Tolkien's life. I can only vaguely imagine the frustration of Christopher Tolkien, comparing two accounts of the same event, written 20 years apart, and trying to decide which was the ''final'' version, or at least which was more consonant with the rest of the mythology. Knowing somewhat of the highly scrupulous nature of the man, I find it interesting to consider whether so great a work as The Silmarillion was ''finishable'' for Tolkien. Names underwent many changes (even in more ''finished'' versions of some legends, such as the Narn-i-Chîn-Húrin as found in Morgoth's Ring, place-names such as Teiglin were changed to Taiglin, and then changed back to Teiglin again; these sorts of things depended upon two things: changing tastes in Tolkien's linguistic aesthetic, or simply his memory!), the same with dates, there is also want of continuity in some texts, again due (probably) to Tolkien's memory.

When I first read The Silmarillion (I was about 15 or 16, on the bus home from the bookshop!) I too was puzzled by all the strange names and concepts I'd never encountered in literature before (to be honest, I still get names mixed up) but I just read it, then read it again (and again and again!) and eventually got the ''gist of it.'' After The Silmarillion, you can go onto things such as Unfinished Tales, and if you're really interested, you can try and read the 12-volume History of Middle-earth! Omnia autem honeste, et secundum ordinem fiant. (1Corinthians 14:40).

Theology of Creation

In reality, this sort of thing is thesis material. I could write endlessly on the implication of one word in any published work of Tolkien's (which represents that special meticulosity of so great a philologist); and in a sense, that really is the ''backbone'' of the Legendarium (if I may make so bold); the attempt, by Tolkien, to explore the full meaning of one word; that word of command uttered by the Creator in the deeps of Time ''Eä,'' let these things be. Verlyn Flieger makes a similar point in her book ''Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World.'' I am not sure, however, that Tolkien himself saw it that way. But, in a similar vein he did surprise one reader when he said that the reason he created a ''secondary universe'' was to have fair speakers of the language he had devised!
But I digress, we're exploring here the ''theology'' (that sounds absurdly gradiose, but there is no other word that conveys the meaning) of The Music of the Ainur. Hmmmm where to begin! As I said in the previous post, it is a cosmogonical Creation myth, and it sets the ''scene,'' as it were, for the legendarium as a whole. For Tolkien, as a Catholic, God is the Supreme Creator ex nihilo; the world is not eternal, it is not itself divine, it is not to be worshipped etc. These two quotes illustrate this point:

'''Who was Ilúvatar?' said Eriol. 'Was he one of the Gods?'
'Nay,' said Rúmil, 'that he was not, for he made them. Ilúvatar is the Lord for Always who dwells beyond the world; who made it and is not of it or in it, but loves it.''' (The Book of Lost Tales, Part I, Chapter II The Music of the Ainur). And again:

'''Now none of us know, though the Valar may know, the future of Arda, or how long it is ordained to endure. But it will not endure for ever. It was made by Eru, but He is not in it. The One only has no limits. Arda, and Eä itself, must therefore be bounded.''' (Morgoth's Ring, Part IV, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth).

The next point I wish to make is that everything God created was essentially good; even the Dark Lord Melkor; ''For nothing is evil in the beginning'' as Elrond said at the Council of Elrond. Anything that emanates from the Godhead must necessarily be good. Interestingly, harking back to my days of Old Testament studies, the Jewish concept of ''goodness'' as found in Genesis (and God saw that it was ''good'' etc.) conveys a sense of holiness, wholeness, Divine approval etc. The modern view of Empirical philosophers, therefore, that to pronounce something as having a ''good'' quality, is subjective, is mistaken. Tolkien was well aware of these arguments, and rejected them. Creation, for Tolkien, is about obedience to the Creator, because He is good; the ''Fall'' occurred later, when a creature, already endowed with the greatest gifts of knowledge and beauty, wanted to have subjects and to be adored in spite of the Creator (sound familiar?).

Music, a supreme (if not the supreme) Art form, is a central theme of the Creation, and to the understanding of much of Tolkien's mythopoeic aesthetic. I am sure that many readers will be familiar with that famous verse from the Book of Job: ''Where wast thou...When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?'' (Job 38:7). Tolkien knew it too, but there is more. The Classical Greek concept of the Harmony of the Spheres, discussed by Plato and Aristotle, and ''baptised'' (as it were) later by Boethius in the 6th century (you'll also find it discussed in Dante's Divine Comedy) would have been deeply set in Tolkien's education (he spent most of his time at school learning Latin and Greek!). But alas, a thorough examination of the Harmony of the Spheres in relation to The Music of the Ainur is beyond the scope of this small post.

Coming back to the importance of language though. St John deepens our understanding of Creation by expounding his theology of the Logos, his theology of the Word, in the beginning of his Gospel. Much has been said concerning the meaning of the term ''logos,'' and I will not elaborate that all here. Philo used the term ''logos,'' although to him it was merely the impersonal manifestation of the Wisdom of God. St John, writing at Ephesus, tells us of a personal, eternal Word, who was with God and, paradoxically, Is God. The Ainulindalë is more or less consonant with the Johanine account of Creation on this point. God utters, it is created. God's Word brings about order, harmony, meaning and above all goodness (understood properly), because He is good.

I have not said all that I could have (by a long way!) and this is a mere résumé, but as Tolkien himself wrote, one has to stop somewhere (to be honest, I can't quite remember where he said that, but it was in relation to the end of The Lord of the Rings!) so I shall end lamely by saying that to understand The Silmarillion, one has to read The Music of the Ainur through the eyes of the Church, so to speak, for that is how Tolkien saw it. Viditque Deus cuncta quæ fecerat, et erant valde bona. (Genesis 1:31).

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Music of the Ainur

'''Tell me,' said Eriol, 'for I long to learn, what was the Music of the Ainur?''' (The Book of Lost Tales Part I, Chapter II, The Music of the Ainur).

A reader asked for a ''synopsis'' of The Silmarillion. Now, where before I said it was ''impossible,'' that is not so; at least not if we take a look at the various legends that form The Silmarillion individually. I think this is the best way forward. It seems, therefore, logical to look at the first legend, called in High-Elven Ainulindalë, the Music of the Ainur. Since the history, nature and theology of the Music are huge, I shall devote this post to the ''synopsis'' requested, and another, perhaps two others, to the implications.

The Music of the Ainur is essentially a cosmogonical Creation myth. It defines the relationship of the One (Eru Ilúvatar) supreme Creator God with the Ainur (the Holy Ones), angelic beings who dwelt with God before aught else was made. The story first appears in The Book of Lost Tales, cited above, where it is said that the mariner Eriol, who sailed Westward (and found the Straight Road into the ''true'' West), was told the story by a certain Rúmil, a loremaster of the Elves, in the garden of the Cottage of Lost Play.

Like the Genesis account of the Creation of the World, there are various stages found in The Music of the Ainur. The first is that there is God, there was God, there shall ever be God. The second; He made first the Ainur, and taught them; and their power, wisdom, and being are derived solely from Him. The third, God propounds to them a Great Theme, and beckons them to sing to Him of this Theme. And they then sing. The story goes:

''Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchangeing melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.'' (The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë).

But the greatest of the Ainur, Melkor (the primeval Dark Lord, the supreme spirit of pride and hatred - that is, Tolkien's equivalent of Lucifer), began soon to sing of things that had not their origin in the Great Theme of the Creator, and there arose then great discord, so that those that sang nigh to Melkor either faltered, and their own thoughts that derived from the Thought of the Creator were sang of no more; or others attuned their thoughts to that of Melkor; and the discord spread and spread until, it is said, about the throne of Ilúvatar ''there was a raging storm.'' Then Ilúvatar intervened and introduced three new Themes, each of which Melkor contended with, so that at each time, the violence of his voice and the voices of his followers, arose to new violence and new anger. And then, God raised both His hands, and the Music stopped.

And then, Ilúvatar showed to the Ainur a vision of their Music, and the Ainur were amazed. Tolkien writes:

''[They] looked upon this habitation set within the vast spheres of the World, which the Elves call Arda, the Earth; and their hearts rejoiced in light, and their eyes beholding many colours were filled with gladness...'' (Ibid.)

Ilúvatar, knowing the desire of their hearts, then gives ''reality'' to the Vision, and utters the word ''Eä,'' which means ''Let these things Be.'' The Silmarillion then begins in earnest, with the legends of the sub-creation of the Ainur, the primeval wars for the supremecy of Arda and of course the legends surrounding the origins of the Children of Ilúvatar.

Whenever I read The Music of the Ainur, I am reminded not so much of the Book of Genesis as the Book of Revelation, particularly the visions of countless choirs of Angels around the Throne of God, casting their crowns at the feet of God and unceasingly proclaiming: ''Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honour, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were, and have been created.'' (Revelation 4:11).

The above image is a ''sketch'' by the Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, depicting what he thinks The Music was like.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Deliciae Latinae

This new book arrived the other day called ''Fairy Tales in Latin.'' I haven't had time to read much of it yet, save on the small lunch break I get at work (and even that is not entirely rid of distractions), but by the looks of it, it will be fun to read and translate. Looking at the first story, called ''Tres Porcelli,'' I noticed something amusing:

''Clamavit lupus: 'Ergo huffabo, et puffabo et tuam domum inflabo!'''

English verbs given Latin future tenses! I am not really supposed to be doing this though...I have more important Latin to revise for, and an essay to write on the Venerable St Bede. A very good Latinist, a theologian and a very pious monk, but rather tedious I have found. I much preferred studying Cicero, who was fun and witty.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Note on the term ''legendarium''

It seems worth making a note about the term ''legendarium.'' Tolkien employed this Latin noun as a sort of ''umbrella'' term to refer to the entire mythology, that is, the great mythopoeic work that began with The Music of the Ainur and ended with the departure of the Ring-bearers from Mithlond at the end of the Third Age (it is in this sense that I shall make use of the term in future posts). However, it is actually rather difficult to define specifically, because those familiar with Tolkien's great work (such as Christopher Tolkien, Joseph Shaw and others) all seem to use the term in slightly different (although not conflicting) ways. Christopher Tolkien uses the term in The History of Middle-earth to mean, roughly, the continuity from one stage of composition to another, by such phrases as ''primary'' legendarium. John D. Rateliff, in The History of The Hobbit, defines the term more broadly as the whole collection of narrative material dating from 1917 with The Lost Tales, through the '20s and '30s with The Sketch of the Mythology, the Grey Annals and the Annals of Aman, the Quenta Silmarillion etc.

The origin of the term is fascinating. Originally, a ''legendarium'' was a collection of legends (hence the name) surrounding the lives of a saint or saints. Essentially, they were illuminated manuscripts, beautifully decorated, very much like old Books of Hours. Tolkien's use of the term is significant in this respect, because he conceived of himself not so much as an ''inventor'' of a secondary universe, but as a recorder of facts, or a chronicler; very much like Bilbo Baggins. In a deeply moving draft letter to Carole-Batten Phelps from 1971, Tolkien wrote that when in conversation (about his work) with someone who read and enjoyed it, he was astounded to be asked by him: ''Of course, you don't suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?'' Tolkien, in his characteristic humility, responded: ''No I don't suppose so any longer.'' In that same letter, Tolkien made reference as to why The Lord of the Rings feels like real history and said: ''It was written slowly and with great care for detail, & finally emerged as a Frameless Picture: a searchlight, as it were, on a brief episode in History, and on a small part of our Middle-earth, surrounded by the glimmer of limitless extensions in time and space.''

This sense of ''real history'' finds expression in what might appear to be the unlikely character of Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo (one of my favourite characters) spent the best part of his life ''composing,'' or rather, gathering together from divers sources, the so-called ''Red Book of Westmarch.'' I like to think that Tolkien thought of the Red Book as like an illuminated manuscript; it was certainly supplemented with maps. Once I had a dream that The Lord of the Rings (or any of Tolkien's work) was never published, but that I had wandered into Merton College Library one late Autumn evening and discovered this ''illuminated manuscript'' stuffed in a drawer or relegated to some top shelf. I took it down, and began to read it, and was intoxicated with it, as though I had never known literary pleasure. Sed tantum in somniis...

The above picture is taken from a Belgian Book of Hours. It seemed appropriate, as it is the month of May, the month of Our Lady.

A Sacred Legendarium

It may come as a surprise to some readers that The Lord of the Rings is the culmination of a much greater history. Even to many ''fans'' (I hate that word) the legends that comprise The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth, are completely unknown, or if they are, they are perceived as garbled accounts of an obscure, un-Hobbit-like period, badly written, and they are perhaps left unread.

When J.R.R Tolkien was about my age, during the First World War, he began to write a collection of stories that were later collected and published posthumously (in 1983 and 1984 respectively) as The Book of Lost Tales Part I, and Part II. In these stories, or legends, first appear Elves* and Men, conceived as the Children of Ilúvatar (the Creator), the Valar (Powers, angelic beings equivalent, in some respects at least, to some pagan gods, and forming a kind of ''pantheon''); the satanic Dark Lord Melko, called the ''foe of Gods and Men'' by Úrin the Man, Balrogs, Orcs, Valinor (the blessed land in the West and home of the Valar), and the ''Great Lands'' which later became known as Middle-earth. Hobbits were thought of years later, and were not then conceived as part of these stories (let alone as a significant part).

However, to produce a kind of ''synopsis'' of these legends is, I think, impossible. As Tolkien himself wrote in an undated letter to Milton Waldman (it was probably written late in 1951): ''It is difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like, and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no: 131).

Instead of inflicting all this on you in one post, over the next few days I shall write several posts about the different stages of composition. By the way, I have called the title of this post ''a sacred legendarium'' - I can't remember why now, perhaps I had a fleeting moment of inspiration or some fantastic notion that has long gone.

* I shall write many posts on the ''Elves;'' a name that Tolkien didn't much like. The word is too often understood as referring to tiny, twinkly fairies with magic wands; and not an ancient and noble people, only equivalent to what can only be described as ''unfallen'' Men, a people like Men, but with enhanced aesthetic abilities, wiser, longeval.


I go to both an ordinary and an extraordinary parish. It is ''ordinary'' in the sense that it is a real parish, with real families and friends who all know and pray for eachother. It is ''extraordinary'' in the sense that, unlike most parishes, we have regular Masses in the Old Rite. For many years before I became a parishoner, I was accustomed to going to Masses (most of them Low Masses) in odd churches dotted around various places, and at odd times (First and Second Fridays, Second Saturdays at such-and-such a time for example), where I didn't know anyone (save by sight) not even the Celebrant.

That sort of ''faith-on-the-run'' scenario has largely changed in the last two years (since the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of the most Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI). Inspired by the ''liturgical reform'' being brought about by the Holy Father, orthodox priests and laity everywhere have taken heart and are turning back (albeit gradually) to the true and authentic worship of God in the Sacred Liturgy. So in a sense these ''odd churches'' and ''odd times'' were not entirely isolated, they just seemed to be. The triumph of orthodoxy is something that I never omit in my prayers. The title of this post was inspired by the ''house-church'' of St Gregory of Nazianzos at Constantinople. At a time when the Catholic faith was scoffed at (well it still is) by heretics, St Gregory established a small ''haven'' of orthodoxy in the Imperial city, which later became known as Anastasia, the place of the resurrection of the Faith. So too, churches that offer the Old Rite can be seen in this light, small havens of orthodoxy, scenes of the resurrection of the Faith.

I shall end this post with an extract from The Lord of the Rings that perfectly conveys my sentiments on this matter:
''Frodo sighed and was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo's hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach...He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep and untroubled sleep.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter II, The Land of Shadow)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Tolkien Post...

I would like to do a Tolkien post, but I don't have any ideas yet. I'd be grateful if any readers had any suggestions. Many thanks,


St Gregory of Nazianzos

Today is the Feast Day of St Gregory of Nazianzos (c.330-390), Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. One of the Cappadocian Fathers, we generally remember him as merely the contemporary of the great St Basil, but his own life was interesting enough.

At a time of hopeless persecution, God raised Theodosius to be Emperor of the East; and in the Year of Our Lord 379, the faithful remnant of Constantinople, churchless and shepherdless, called upon St Gregory to be their priest and bishop. After a short period of hesitation, he acquiesced, and established his church in a small house in the Imperial City - at that time, steeped in the Arian heresy (''Suscitans a terra inopem: et de stercore erigens pauperem: Ut collocet eum cum principibus: cum principibus populi sui'' Psalm 112:7-8). This house later became known as ''Anastasia,'' the scene of the resurrection of the Faith.

In AD 380, Theodosius was himself received into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism and restored the great churches of Constantinople to the homoousian faithful (those faithful to the Trinitarian doctrine of the Nicene Creed).

According to Luigi Gambero, author of the invaluable book ''Mary and the Fathers of the Church,'' St Gregory of Nazianzos was the first author to propound the Marian title Theotókos (''God-bearer,'' or as we would generally say, ''Mother of God'') as a criterion of orthodoxy. The Byzantine Church, who call him the ''Theologian'' (on account of his great learning and piety), honour St Gregory on 25th January, and again on 30th January with St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom. Apparently, he is the Patron Saint of those who do not want to be Bishops!

St Gregory of Nazianzos, pray for us.

Friday, 8 May 2009

At St John of Jerusalem...

Yesterday, I went to the Hospital Chapel of St John of Jerusalem, at St John's Wood, for the Society of St Catherine of Sienna's annual Mass, a Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool in the Old Rite (it was the real Old Rite too); and rather enjoyed it. It was a Votive Mass of St Catherine of Sienna. The Celebrant was Mgr. Malcolm McMahon, the Bishop of Nottingham, Assistant Priest was Mgr Andrew Wadsworth of the Oratory, the Deacon was Dr Laurence Hemming, Subdeacon Fr Timothy Finigan and the first Master of Ceremonies was Dr Alcuin Reid. The choir of the London Oratory school sang beautifully. The Bishop preached on a variety of topics surrounding the life of St Catherine, on witness to the Truth, and it was quite humorous.

Photos of the event can be seen here.

A New Blog...

Hello readers and welcome to my new blog! In case you're wondering about the title, it does not refer to me! It refers to the great 20th century author J.R.R Tolkien, to whom this small personal endeavour is dedicated. Perhaps not many of you know that he was a Catholic, indeed a very devout Catholic, and that his great mythopoeic work is profoundly religious. I have often found, in reading Tolkien, that my mind and heart are elevated to loftier regions, far removed from the general ''sameness'' of everyday life, and I get this from no other modern author - I do, however, get a similar feeling from devout participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church; albeit in a different way.

Needless to say, this is a ''Catholic Blog,'' with a view to focusing on issues surrounding the Church in general, particularly the Sacred Liturgy, a topic of which I am especially fond, but also other things of my own personal interest. I hope you all enjoy reading them!