Academic journal article Mythlore

"Surely You Don't Disbelieve": Tolkien and Pius X: Anti-Modernism in Middle-Earth

Academic journal article Mythlore

"Surely You Don't Disbelieve": Tolkien and Pius X: Anti-Modernism in Middle-Earth

Article excerpt

The early Twentieth Century was an exciting time to be raised Roman Catholic in England. Historian Sheridan Gilley writes, "Catholic England came of age, when Pope Pius X in his Constitution Sapienti Consilio of 29 June 1908 declared England no longer a missionary territory" (34). English Catholics witnessed the consecration of Westminster Cathedral in 1910, but the optimism of its growth and renewed strength was tainted by external persecution--a procession of the Blessed Sacrament was cancelled due to "Protestant sentiment" in 1908--and by suspicions of disloyalty among members mounted from within the Church itself (Leonard 270-1). In 1907, Pius X issued the encyclicals Lamentabili and Pascendi dominici gregis to combat what he called "Modernism," a faith-corrupting force. In 1910, Pius X's witch-hunt climaxed with Sacrorum antistitum, an oath against Modernist philosophy to be taken by all Catholic clergy and theologians. Tolkien was young when all of these documents were first published, but the scholarly fathers following the rule of St. Philip would have discussed them in the Oratory, where J.R.R. Tolkien lived and visited with his friend and guardian Fr. Francis Morgan. (1) An intellectually sophisticated and orthodox Catholic, Tolkien also exhibited awareness of early twentieth-century Church policies later in his life. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings all parallel the anti-modernist rhetoric of Pascendi dominici gregis in their assertion of truth in ancient stories, suspicion of historical criticism with its glamour of intellectualism, and their condemnation of a tool that is too dangerous to be used.

Catholic Modernism is not to be confused with the larger Modernist movement in Western culture. Pius X used the term to describe what he perceived was a unified attack on the Catholic Church by its own members; "the criticism We are concerned with is an agnostic, immanentist, and evolutionist criticism. Hence anybody who embraces it and employs it, makes profession thereby of the errors contained in it and places himself in opposition to Catholic faith" (Pascendi [section]34). (2) Indeed, the danger of simply "embracing" and "employing" the tools of Modernism already sounds like the hobbits' forbidden relationship to the Ring, an object that can ensnare one simply by being carried too closely. Agnostism and immanentism represent the negative and positive sides of Modernist thought, the former arguing human reason can only consider scientific phenomenon, the latter arguing that religion comes entirely from within the human psyche (Jodock 4). Darrel Jodock explains that "Modernism wrongly asserts, according to Pascendi, that religion arises out of the human subconscious and that faith has no basis outside this internal religious sentiment" (4-5). By evolutionist criticism, Jodock says the Pope means "any notion that dogma may have evolved or that it may need to change again"; related to evolution is "the historical criticism of the Bible" (5). Jodock outlines the other "heresies" of Modernism, all of which appear to be favorite topics of Tolkien's letters to Michael: "views of faith and science, of dogma and the sacraments, of the inspiration of Scripture, of the church, and of church-state relations" (6).

This paper will first examine how Tolkien's personal letters during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s actually reiterate language and arguments devised by Pius X. Connecting Tolkien's religious philosophy to his fantasy reveals anti-modernist influences through The Silmarillion and the conclusion of The Hobbit, which specifically re-inscribes the anti-modernist faith in Providence despite human involvement in history. Moving to The Lord of the Rings, the paper shows how Pius X's descriptions of Modernist thought resonates with depictions of Saruman and Boromir. The paper concludes by discussing how Pascendi might explain the disappearance of explicitly religious imagery in Middle-earth despite its retention in Tolkien's scholarship. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.