(Work in Progress)
Q. You write about characters in LOTR as though they were real persons. Are they?
A. I do tend to speak about various characters in LOTR as having thoughts, feelings, and lives of their own beyond what is described in the book. I believe this is legitimate because Tolkien did not merely create a work of fiction; he created (or more properly, sub-created) a complete mythical world, which just like the real world, once created, begins to have an existence independent from the mind of its author. We can rightly describe the world of Middle-earth as a symbolic world, one that draws its power from the real world that it symbolizes and gives us real access to it—at least, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Many of the deepest and truest realities in God’s created world can only be accessed by human beings through symbols. It is in this sense that myths can be “true.” So it is not inadmissible to speculate, for example, about what Gandalf, Frodo, or Aragorn may have been thinking, feeling, or doing at this or that point of the narrative, or even outside the narrative altogether. We do this with Bible characters all the time, even though this violates the interpretive standards of scholarly exegesis. In particular, because certain characters in Tolkien’s world are icons of real sanctity—epitomized in love that pours itself out even unto death—, we can actually learn about holiness from them, and imitating them can make us really holy.
Q. Do you think J.R.R. Tolkien was a saint himself, and should be recognized as such by the Catholic Church?
A. I submit fully to the future judgment of Holy Mother Church on this point. However, as my private opinion, I find it impossible to imagine that a person could express through an artistic medium such a coherent, all-encompassing, and fruitful vision of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, in a way that has given life to millions of readers for decades now, without sharing in the fullness of that Primary Reality himself. Tolkien does not preach or lecture; he eschews allegory; yet people of no faith as much as people of faith have been drawn closer to God by encountering his work. I can only attribute this to genuine divine inspiration.
By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. (Cf. LG 40; 48-51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, CL 16,3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal” (Ibid., CL 17, 3).CCC 828
Q. What is the status of the Cause for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Canonization?
A. In the words of Fr Daniele Pietro Ercoli, an Italian Salesian priest who started the “Cause For the Canonisation of Tolkien Facebook Group” on December 31, 2008:
“I found that there are a lot of people who consider professor Tolkien a Saint. Why, then, don’t we ask for the cause of beatification and canonization of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien? A Saint is a human being who has fullfilled the universal call to holiness. Anyone in Heaven is, in the technical sense, a Saint, since they are completely purified and holy. There are many people believed to be in Heaven who have not been formally declared as Saints. But a formal declaration will authorize Catholc faithfuls to look at him as a model, and to pray him as intercessor. The bishop of the diocese in which the person whose beatification is being requested died is responsible for beginning the investigation. Thus, we wrote to Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth. The Bishop answered that although Bournemouth, the city in which JRR Tolkien died, belongs to his diocese, he lived for the greatest part of his life in Oxford, Archdiocese of Birmingham. He suggested to approach Archbishop Bernard Longley with our proposal, said he would be supportive of it and assured his prayers.” The response of Archbishop Bernard Longley was received on the 16th July 2015, suggested a private prayer could be composed and that those who would want to formally open a Cause should seek to inform the public more widely of J. R. Tolkien’s Catholic Faith and how it influenced his life and writings. It read as follows:
Q. Has a prayer been composed to seek J.R.R. Tolkien’s intercession?
A prayer for private devotion had been in circulation before Archbishop Bernard Longley’s letter was published publicly in 2017 by Fr Daniele. The prayer that was composed in an early form in English by Daniel Cote Davis as early as 2011, has been translated into Finnish, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish and most recently Neo-Quenya (!) and is now in its latest version as follows:
O Blessed Trinity, we thank You for having graced the Church with John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and for allowing the poetry of Your Creation, the mystery of the Passion of Your Son, and the symphony of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him and his sub-creative imagination. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Wisdom of God Incarnate, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with You in The Daily Eucharist, when Heaven weds earth. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore . . ., hoping that he will soon be numbered among Your saints. Amen.
Q. What further steps toward opening J.R.R. Tolkien’s Cause for Beatification have been taken since then?
A. In 2018:
On Saturday 2 September, a Traditional Low Mass was held at the Oxford Oratory to mark the anniversary of the death of world-renowned Catholic writer & philologist JRR Tolkien (+ 1973). The Mass was offered, however, not for the repose of Tolkien’s soul – but rather praying for his Cause for Beatification to be opened. The Mass itself was fittingly celebrated in Tolkien’s old parish church (dedicated to St Aloysius) with his granddaughter among the congregation. The Provost of the Oratory, Fr Daniel Seward, spoke in his short homily of Tolkien’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, describing it as “the great romance of his life – though I’m not sure what Mrs Tolkien would’ve made of this!”
On September 4, 2018, a further Traditional Latin Mass, Missa Cantata, was held in the U.S. at the Church of Saint Rocco to mark the anniversary of the death of world-renowned Catholic writer & philologist J.R.R. Tolkien. The Missa Cantata was offered for Tolkien’s Cause for Beatification to be opened.
A Conference was held at St Margarets, University of Oxford, celebrating the legacy of Tolkien that came to fruition through prayer for his Canonisation Cause to blossom. The More Than Memory – Tolkien Spiritual Conference 2019 brought a diverse range of speakers together contributing to a spiritual growth in public devotion to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Q. Are any future events planned?
A. As a fruit of the spiritual growth described above, a Conference is being planned for 2021 on the theme of Heroic Virtue. The focus of the conference is to help promote the cause for John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Sainthood into the Roman Catholic Church, and will be held at Exeter College, Tolkien’s own College at the University of Oxford.
Q. What are the stages toward canonization in the Catholic Church?
A. There are four stages in elevating someone to Catholic sainthood:
1. “Servant of God” (“Servus Dei“): A bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual in response to a petition of members of the faithful. Normally, an association to promote the cause of the candidate is instituted, an exhaustive search of the candidate’s writings, speeches, and sermons is undertaken, a detailed biography is written, and eyewitness accounts are collected. When sufficient evidence has been collected, the local bishop presents the investigation of the candidate, who is titled “Servant of God” (Latin: “Servus Dei“), to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints of the Roman Curia, where the cause is assigned a postulator, whose office is to collect further evidence of the life of the Servant of God.
2. “Venerable” (“Venerabilis“; abbreviated “Ven.”) or “Heroic in Virtue”: When sufficient evidence has been collected, the Congregation recommends to the Pope that he proclaim the heroic virtue of the Servant of God; that is, that the Servant of God exercised to a heroic degree the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance).
3. “Blessed” (“Beatus” or “Beata“; abbreviated “Bl.”): Beatification is a statement of the Church that it is “worthy of belief” that the Venerable is in Heaven and saved. For a non-martyr, all of them being denominated “confessors” because they “confessed”, i.e., bore witness to the Faith by how they lived, proof is required of the occurrence of a miracle through the intercession of the Venerable; that is, that God granted a sign that the person is enjoying the Beatific Vision by performing a miracle for which the Venerable interceded. Presently, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures of infirmity, because these are the easiest to judge given the Church’s evidentiary requirements for miracles.
4. “Saint” (“Sanctus” or “Sancta“; abbreviated “St.” or “S.”): To be canonized as a saint, ordinarily at least two miracles must have been performed through the intercession of the Blessed after his death.