Meditation of the Day
Led by Aragorn, whom Gandalf once described to Frodo as “the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world,” the hobbits have so far evaded the pursuing Black Riders; but as they linger on the summit of Weathertop, the enemy perceives them and they must brace themselves for the onslaught during the night hours. As they huddle nervously around their campfire, Aragorn does his best to “lift up [their] hearts” by chanting a song from the Elder Days, the Tale of Tinúviel. He warns them that it is a fair but sad tale. What is it about his distant ancestor, Lúthien the Nightingale (Tinúviel) that makes her story so inspiring at this perilous moment? At least two features of the story (told more fully in The Silmarillion) come to mind.
The first is the theme of a love that overcomes death itself (see Song of Songs 8:6). Lúthien, an Elfmaiden, and her human lover Beren were renowned for the extreme heroism and daring they showed in infiltrating the realm of Morgoth, the Great Enemy, “of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant,” to wrest one of the Silmarils (greatest of jewels) from his crown. They cast him down from his throne. Afterward Lúthien rescued Beren from the dungeons of Sauron. Yet what so enkindles Aragorn’s heart is not her virtue of courage so much as the matchless love that fuelled it: love for a mortal man, like himself. Love that proved stronger than death, because when Beren was slain, Lúthien chose mortality so that she could follow him “beyond the confines of this world.” This is the only kind of love that, in the end, can defeat evil, and redeem the world.
When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.John 13:1
This holy love is the inheritance that Lúthien passed on to her children, in all their generations. We know it is such love that animates Aragorn, for he already declared to the hobbits in Bree: “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will” (Bk1 Ch10). We will learn that this love-unto-death also lives in the heart of his beloved, Arwen daughter of Elrond (also descended from Lúthien, through a different line). It is this holy love that every true warrior of light must possess; and Aragorn, the Servant-King, knows how to enkindle it in the hearts of his followers. When Frodo will stand up to the Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen, we will hear him call on the names of both Elbereth and Lúthien: “‘By Elbereth and Lúthien the Fair,’ said Frodo with a last effort, lifting up his sword, ‘you shall have neither the Ring nor me!’” (Bk1 Ch12).
The second feature of the Tale of Tinúviel that makes it especially encouraging to weak Hobbits about to face vastly superior and unspeakably evil foes is that her tale reveals the secret wisdom, hidden in creation, unknown to all but the Creator, according to which it is not the wise and powerful who will achieve definitive victory over evil, but the foolish and the weak:
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.”1 Cor. 1:27-28
Here is Tolkien’s own explanation of how this theme is exemplified in the story of Beren and Lúthien:
Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak – owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the Children of God into the Drama. It is Beren the outlawed mortal who succeeds (with the help of Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty) where all the armies and warriors have failed: he penetrates the stronghold of the Enemy and wrests one of the Silmarilli from the Iron Crown. Thus he wins the hand of Lúthien and the first marriage of mortal and immortal is achieved.J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman (1951)
The Blessed Virgin is the creature who most perfectly embodies both love-unto-death and the lowliness that is necessary to overcome evil, in our fallen world. It is she, the “Woman” (John 19:26; 2:4), who stands with her Son at the Cross, when virtually all His disciples have fled; and it is she who waits in silent hope for the dawn of the Resurrection, when all others are lost to grief and despair. What better Advocate can we poor mortals find, when we are burdened with unbearable trials and distress?
“By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy fatherland. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.”Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen gentium, no. 62
Mary of Nazareth, our Lúthien, is the lowly maiden chosen out of all the women in history to bear the world’s salvation. Her soul magnifies the God who “puts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). To imitate her lowliness is to be assured of victory, no matter what foes are arrayed against us.
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen.
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen. (Partial Indulgence)
Ortírielyanna (Tolkien’s Translation into Quenya)
- Both Mary’s maternal love for her children and her humility are clearly manifested in the way she addresses the visionaries to whom she has appeared down through the centuries. What tender sensitivity and gentleness she shows to them! For example, read her affectionate words to St. Juan Diego or her courteous request to St. Bernadette in the third apparition. (The visionaries Our Lady has chosen are such luminous icons of her, aren’t they?)
- What would a mother not do to rescue her child from danger? What would Mary not do to rescue you? What has she already done in your life, through her unceasing intercession? Be sure to thank her.
To Go Deeper
- St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater, nos. 42-47.
- Shaun Gunner, “Who Are Beren and Lúthien?”
- John Carswell, Tolkien’s Requiem
- Danny Oscar Rutilio, “Kenosis of the Secret Fire: An Adventure through Middle-earth into the Divine Imagination“