Friday, 15 May 2009

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).

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