Kreeft on Christ in The Lord of the Rings

My beloved wife is totally into Tolkien and his world. She audited a class at her alma mater, Connecticut College, this past spring and has continued tracking down lots of critical works on The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. She has a thesis brewing in her mind about J.R.R.'s biblical inspirations. One of the books recommended to her by her professor is by Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The worldview behind The Lord of the Rings (2005). When she finished it, she thought I would enjoy the concluding chapter, subtitled, "Can any one man incarnate every truth and virtue?" The answer is, yes, but only one, Christ.
Cover of
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There is so much good in this brief chapter, which is published in full online here. It's written like an old time sermon. I need to quote a few paragraphs from it.
Throughout the New Testament we find a shocking simplicity. Christ does not merely teach the truth, He is the truth; He does not merely show us the way, He is the way; He does not merely give us eternal life, He is that life. He does not merely teach or purchase our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, but "God made [Him] our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). How can all these universal values and truths be really and completely present in one concrete individual person? Only if that Person is divine (thus universal) as well as human (thus particular); only by the Incarnation; only by what [C. S.-jpu] Lewis calls "myth become fact". p.221
I'm impressed with how much theology Kreeft just did there in so few words. I have much to learn from him as a communicator. In the next paragraph, he explains to us non-Catholic readers, what theology accompanied Tolkien to the story.
Tolkien, like most Catholics, saw pagan myths not a wholly mistaken (as most Protestants do), but as confused precursors of Christianity. Man's soul has three powers, and God left him prophets for all three; Jewish moralists for his will, Greek philosophers for his mind, and pagan mythmakers for his heart and imagination and feelings. Of course, the latter two are not infallible. C. S. Lewis calls pagan myths "gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility" (Perelandra, p. 201)...
Tolkien's Catholic tradition tends to have a high opinion of pagans who know and follow the "natural law", for it interprets these pagans not apart from Christ, but as imperfectly knowing Him. For Christ is not just a thirty-three-year-old, six-foot-tall Jewish carpenter, but the eternal Logos, the Mind of God, "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn. 1:9). So Christ can be present even when not adequately known in paganism. pp.321-322
I must admit how impressed I am with the grace of the Roman Catholic theology to unbelievers. But the grace, truly magnificent as it is, was not the main reason I wanted to share a few paragraphs from Kreeft's book. I have a more mundane reason, his understanding of how Tolkien hid Christ in the Lord of the Rings.
There is no one complete, concrete, visible Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings, like Aslan in Narnia. But Christ is really, though invisibly, present in the whole of The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings is like the Eucharist. Under its appearances we find Christ, who under these (pagan, universal) figures (symbols, not allegories), is truly hidden: quae sub his figuris vere latitat. [what really lies in the forms- jpu via google translate].

He is more clearly present in Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, the three Christ figures. First of all, all three undergo different forms of death and resurrection ... Second, all three are saviors: through their self-sacrifice they help save all of Middle-earth from the demonic sway of Sauron. Third, they exemplify the Old Testament threefold Messianic symbolism of prophet (Gandalf), priest (Frodo), and king (Aragorn). These three "job descriptions" correspond to the three distinctively human powers of the soul, as discovered by nearly every psychologist from Plato to Freud: head, heart, and hands, or mind, emotions, and will. For this reason many great tales have three protagonists: Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn; Mr. Spock, Bones McCoy, and Captain Kirk; Ivan, Alyosha, and Dmitri Karamazov; St. John the philosophical mystic, St. James the practical moralist, and St. Peter the courageous leader and Rock. pp.222-223

I admire anyone who can interconnect Frodo, Bones McCoy, and St. James. I think I've shared the best stuff, but the rest might hit you with more impact. So please take the time to read the rest of Kreeft's essay, your almost halfway through it already.

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Barry K. Wilde said…
I have studied lots on the myth precursur to the ultimate real myth of Jesus and tried to write about it as I make sense of Tolkien and Lewis writings, especially Lewis' Space Trilogy. Kreeft is a genius and I would recommend you read more of him.

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