It is well-nigh impossible to be well-read these days without at least knowing the names of the English writers G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien has captured the imagination of the world through his great epic, The Lord of the Rings, and the at times densely theological, at times amusing writings of Chesterton are enjoying a real renaissance in Christian circles.
What do these men have in common? First, they’re both British. Both were photographed wearing waistcoats and smoking, and they both were realists who embrace beauty and romance while rejecting sentimentality.
Chesterton and Tolkien were both family men devoted to their wives. Their Catholic faith permeated every facet of their lives and work. These two men were acutely aware of the dangers of movements of false “progress” in the culture.
They both have advocates championing their causes for beatification towards canonization! Here’s a quick look at a why Tolkien’s cause for sainthood is being set forth:
Evangelizing through beauty
J. R.R. Tolkien, in this writer’s opinion, has one of the best innate grasps of evangelizing through beauty of anyone writing in the 20th century. Why? Because his work is permeated with a Catholic understanding of beauty. That which is beautiful is pleasing to the senses, but doesn’t stop at a surface level, rather acting as an icon that draws you into deeper realities and encounter with the Divine.
The world Tolkien created in Middle Earth is steeped in this beauty and nobility that raises your mind upwards and calls you to higher things. You can’t read his epic work without feeling stirred to your very bones to live a life of greatness, rather than comfort.
Is it possible that even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself was thinking of the small hobbit Frodo Baggins when he exhorted us that “we are not made for comfort, but for greatness”?
Well, maybe not.
But it certainly applies, and the story is a grace of inspiration and encouragement for those who wish to take the path less traveled and embark on that narrower road which leads to salvation.
Tolkien’s Catholic worldview
Tolkien speaks about how his understanding of beauty flows out of his relationship with Mary when he says that “all my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady.” Known to be a common attendant at daily Mass, he also writes of the great organizing Principle of His life – the Holy Eucharist: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.”
These passages from his personal communications give a beautiful insight to just how deeply Catholic Tolkien’s worldview really was. His characters’ perception and acknowledgement of the beautiful throughout The Lord of the Rings is oftentimes key to their perseverance in the virtue of hope – which gives them the grace and strength to keep going and to fulfill their missions. A clear takeaway from Tolkien’s worldview and The Lord of the Rings for this reader is that to keep one’s heart open and receptive to encounters with what is truly beautiful is to keep one’s heart open and receptive to Who is the completion of that beauty, because true beauty always points to true love, to the One Who is Love.
Life and literature
But what about the man, and not just the work? Does his own life reflect his faith as well as his literature does?
That is part of the official Church research if his cause for beatification is pursued. But some brief observations lend credibility to his holiness of life.
For instance, Tolkien was a faithful Catholic, husband and father. He was deeply devoted to our Lady and to the Holy Eucharist. The English don was content with a simple life (he gardened, he taught, he loved his family). In an age where faithfulness in marriage and family is particularly attacked, his witness is particularly beautiful.
The official cause for beatification
On September 2, 2017, the Oxford Oratory offered its first Mass for the intention of Tolkien’s cause for beatification to be opened. The Oxford Oratory – also known as St. Aloysius Gonzaga – was Tolkien’s parish church when he lived in Oxford. If you find yourself walking the streets of Oxford, don’t miss this stop!
Join the group for his beatification on Facebook to stay in the loop on any news of Tolkien’s beatification cause!
A prayer for Tolkien’s cause
Most importantly, you can join in prayer for his cause to be opened. This prayer was written specifically for his cause:
“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. 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.”
Tolkien’s potential patronage
Who would turn to Tolkien with prayer requests? He’s the potential patron saint of the hopeless, the wanderers, and (of course) romantics.