Why March 25th Might Be The Most Important Date of all History

We could easily refer to March 25th as the most important date of all history, both in our own world and in the history of Middle-Earth. And that, if you might've guessed, is no coincidence. Tolkien created Middle-Earth with painstaking detail and wove importance and hidden meaning into nearly every page of The Lord of the Rings - and the dates of important events are no exception. March 25th marks the date when the One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom - so what is the significance? 

Turns out this date is incredibly important in Christian history, and Tolkien would've known this. 

In The Spirit of Liturgy, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) explained, “Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice... This day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception.." This date is also the officially celebrated Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the Incarnation, Mary's fiat

Considering its importance in Jewish and Christian tradition, it feels natural that Tolkien chose for March 25th to bear such significance to the history of Middle-Earth. Three major events took place on March 25th: first and foremost, it is the date on which the One Ring is inadvertently destroyed by Gollum; secondly, on the same date the following year, Frodo returns home to the Shire; and the following year, Elanor the Fair is born. 

And so it is on this date that we encounter, in so many beautiful ways, Christ's humbled and sacrificial love. Mirroring Christian history, Tolkien presents to his readers an incredible juxtaposition of life and death. Mary's acceptance of Christ's Incarnation - her fiat - was a death to her own plans or desires for her life; Christ's humiliation, torture, and crucifixion was the ultimate act of love brought about through death. 

Through Frodo's death to himself, he conquers the evil of Sauron and brings about an age of peace for Middle-Earth. 

Through Christ's death to himself, he conquers death and brings about eternal life. 

So this date is quite an important day for us all - and now that you know, I hope you'll find a little way to celebrate. :) 

More thoughts on this: The Tolkien Road Podcast, Episode 57: Concerning March 25th

I'd love to hear your thoughts & insight - join our facebook community to share! 

How Does Christ Battle Evil?

I so loved the comparison Bishop Barron made between Jesus and Frodo in his discussion of The Lord of the Rings. The way that evil is ultimately defeated, by both Christ and by the Fellowship, is so unexpected. Evil isn't conquered by a greater evil, it is conquered by good -- the ultimate expression of goodness: self-sacrificial love. The love that holds nothing back, that offers oneself entirely no matter the consequences. He "allows the evil of the world to spend itself on him." 

 

"How does Christ battle evil? He doesn't come as a warrior. He doesn't come fighting evil on its own terms -- I will beat injustice with a greater injustice, I will conquer violence with a greater violence.  Rather, he allows the violence of the world, and the evil of the world to spend itself on him. He journeys into Mordor -- so he journeys into the land of sin and death, and then he explodes it from within by swallowing it up in the divine mercy." - Bishop Barron on The Lord of the Rings (Part One) 

Frodo carries the ring, the embodiment of evil, until it ultimately consumes him.  An imperfect image of Christ, Frodo gives himself entirely to his quest in order to shield the rest of the world from the evil he knows and understands so intimately.

And though the innocence and goodness of the hobbit was ultimately unable to withstand the power of the ring -- much like we as imperfect humans fall short -- we find that Christ was able. He offered himself up to the cross and allowed the weight of our sin to cover him. He left behind the beauty and goodness of the Shire, he journeyed into Mordor, and he did it all for us. And for that I am so thankful. 

This essay was originally published at www.lilyandmama.com

How Tolkien's Middle-Earth Introduced Me to Catholicism

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Years ago, we began listening to Catholic radio for no reason, like it was a joke. And we started going to Midnight Mass on Christmas eve just to experience it. Our family would ask, "which one of you is Catholic?" to which we'd shrug, neither of us. We're just doing all of this Catholic stuff for no reason, for fun, we thought to ourselves. And around that time, in the earliest beginnings of our inadvertent journey into the Catholic Church, I somehow discovered that J.R.R. Tolkien had been a devout Catholic. And for some reason, it stuck with me. I joked with my husband,

"if it's good enough for Tolkien, it's good enough for me."

But I couldn't stop thinking about it, really. This was a man who, though I had never met, I had great respect for. He was kind of my hero. And the world he created was filled with so much truth and goodness - so where did it come from? He depicts so perfectly the innocence of hobbits, the destructive lust for power and glory, the heroic value of suffering and dying to oneself, the beauty of life and our duty to preserve it, and the slow rot as evil creeps into our hearts and minds. 

Christianity is so thoroughly woven into every aspect of The Lord of the Rings; it must have been written, I had decided, by someone who was thoroughly steeped in Christian truth.

 So imagine my surprise when I learned it was written by a Catholic. A devoted one, at that. 

There is something to be said about knowing someone of a certain religion, worldview, or lifestyle that makes it feels so much more reasonable, tangible, understandable. And through his published works and letters, I felt like I knew him. Before Tolkien, I had never known a Catholic; I hadn't even known of a Catholic, really.

My childhood had been relatively devoid of them; I had never been evangelized by one, as I had been by by members of other denominations and religions. I had attended a non-denomination high school where I believed what I was taught about The Church without question. And so Catholicism was never even an option or possibility in my mind.

But there I was. Letting the concept sink into my brain. Tolkien was Catholic - on purpose - so maybe this whole thing deserved a little thought on my part.

I was searching for truth and was beginning to realize this might be a good place to look. 

There were a few more years to go before my husband and I were confirmed into the Church, and many more hours of praying and softening my heart and reading the Bible, the Catechism, and the Church Fathers. But this, in a small way, may have been my first step.

As I've grown in my faith and my love for Middle-Earth, echos of Tolkien's Catholicism have become even more apparent throughout The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. I've come to recognize the life-sustaining grace of the Eucharist in the Elven Lembas. In the beauty and strength of Elbereth Gilthoniel and Lady Galadriel, I catch a glimpse of Our Lady, whom Tolkien was quite devoted to. 

"“I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”
- Letters of Tolkien

Middle-Earth is not based in allegory, as Tolkien himself was quite annoyed by it, but it is woven with Catholic truths. He explained, in his letter quoted below, that it was unintentional at first but intentional in revision. For anyone who might not have grown up in a Christian home or within the Catholic Church, the elements which make The Lord of the Rings a Catholic work can be such a beautiful and encouraging starting point in a quest for truth.  

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it."
- Letters of Tolkien

 

More on Tolkien & Catholicism:

 

 

Why Middle-Earth Matters: 11 Reasons We Need to Read Tolkien

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It's a cold and rainy morning but the library is calm and warm, and so we visit. I hold Augustine’s hand in mine as he tries to pull each book from its home, and we slowly pass rows and shelves of books. We turn down “Fantasy”, and wander down the row to the “T’s”.

T IS FOR TOLKIEN.

I pick up an illustrated copy of The Hobbit and flip through the pages as Augustine points at sketches of dwarves and mountains. 

I like to say that Tolkien is my patron saint. An awkward and perhaps unorthodox joke, of course, because he hasn't been canonized and most people don't realize he was even Catholic, but still, I make it. My patron saint.

His writings have meant more to me than those of any other, with the exception of course of God (The Bible) and perhaps some of the Popes. Here are eleven reasons. 

a beloved classic

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are widely regarded as two of the greatest works of fiction of modern time. Over 150 million copies of The Lord of the Rings, and 100 million copies of The Hobbit have been sold worldwide. Tolkien's Middle-Earth is epic in every sense. He breathes life into Middle-Earth, writing as if he were recounting both history and legend, and draws us into a world that feels more real than our own. Millions have fallen in love with Tolkien's work and with good reason.

A Literary Standard

The Lord of the Rings is a profound, classic example of well-written fiction. Whether you are an aspiring author yourself or someone who simply enjoys literature for its beauty, The Lord of the Rings is both a joy and a standard. In libraries filled with sparkling vampires and multiple shades of grey, Tolkien reminds us what literature -- or more specifically, fantasy -- ought to be.

A Flight to Reality

Walk the gardens of the Shire, sleep under wooded stars, climb the slopes of Doom. Through these pages, you will grow - alongside characters that begin to feel more real than the people standing beside you. You will mourn their deaths, you will glory in their triumphs. 

This journey will feel real, because it is. “Fantasy is a flight to reality,” we say. 

“HE MAY HAVE LOST THE NEIGHBOUR’S RESPECT, BUT HE GAINED--WELL, YOU WILL SEE WHETHER HE GAINED ANYTHING IN THE END.”
- THE HOBBIT, AN UNEXPECTED PARTY

a fundamentally catholic work

As Tolkien was himself a devout Catholic, his Christian worldview spilled into nearly page of his work. In the creation account of The Silmarillion, we see shadows of our own creation in Genesis. In the One Ring, we feel the allure and corrupting power of sin. In his characters, we meet echoes of Christ, of his Apostles, even of Our Lady. Yet his work is not an allegory -- he was insistent of that. Rather, it is an outpouring out of his understandings of God, of the world, of the natures of sin and goodness, into the fibers of Middle-Earth -- perhaps even unintentional -- into a story that begins to feel as real as our own.

Without being explicitly Catholic or purposefully theological, He explained the Lord of the Rings as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Tolkien realizes philosophical and religious truths, bringing them to life for even those who might otherwise have rejected them; we might even say that his work could serve as an introduction to Christian philosophy.

“BUT AS A FRUIT OF THE IMAGINATION, THE LORD OF THE RINGS IS INFUSED WITH THE SAME LIGHT THAT ILLUMINATED THE MAN WHO WROTE IT. AND THAT LIGHT IS TRUE, FOR IT REVEALS THE REALITY OF THE WORLD AND LIFE. AND IT IS ALSO GOOD, BECAUSE IT HEALS OUR BLINDNESS.”
- PETER KREEFT, PHILOSOPHY OF TOLKIEN

an epic battle of good and evil

Through the storyline of the Ring, we come to a new understanding of the natures of goodness and evil. We feel the slow-rising tide of temptation, of power, of the Ring. We wrestle with the complexities of pride and humility. We witness the heroic virtue of self-sacrifice. We cherish friendship. We walk alongside hobbits and with them, we find our courage.

an homage to nature

Through his famously descriptive depictions of forests, of hill country, of water, or mountains, we begin to see our own Earth in a new light.

We grow to gain a deep appreciation, and perhaps devotion, to nature. We realize the importance of our relationship to the Earth; Tolkien’s protagonists live in harmony with the Earth, while his antagonists seek to destroy, overcome, or manipulate her.

“TOLKIEN’S FORESTS DO NOT REMIND US OF OURS; OUR REMIND US OF HIS.”
- KREEFT, PHILOSOPHY OF TOLKIEN

An Experience with War

As we journey through Middle-Earth alongside hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men, we experience many battles and come to understand war in a new light. We see it not in a romanticized or whitewashed way, but with all its complexities, horrors, great losses and triumphs. As Tolkien himself fought in the First World War, he weaves his experiences into his story.

A lesson on providence

We begin to recognize the hand of God in both the extraordinary and the ordinary. Fate, or what we might understand as Providence, is arguably the most important character at work in Middle-Earth.

“GOD IS IN THE SILMARILLION EXPLICITLY, RIGHT FROM SENTENCE ONE, AS THE SINGLE CREATOR, ILUVATAR (ALL-FATHER). BUT HOW IS HE IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS? NOT AS A NAMED CHARACTER, BUT AS THE SUN IS IN THE SUNLIGHT. THOSE WITH EYES TO SEE CAN DETECT HIS PRESENCE EVERYWHERE.” - PETER KREEFT, PHILOSOPHY OF TOLKIEN

A reminder of the past

By reading his works, we can grow to love and appreciate medieval and ancient cultures. Tolkien himself was quite fond of  mythology, specifically Norse, Finnish, Greek, Celtic, and English. A professor of Old English/Anglo-Saxon and Middle English studies at Oxford University, he was passionate about ancient life and culture. In an often self-obsessed Western culture, Tolkien reminds us of times long ago. 

a celebration of simplicity

Hobbits teach us to value simplicity and goodness. They are excellent and admirable in their ordinary goodness and we have much to learn from them. They cherish time spent with good food and good company and they think little of other things.

“IF MORE OF US VALUED FOOD AND CHEER AND SONG ABOVE HOARDED GOLD, IT WOULD BE A MERRIER WORLD.” - JRR TOLKIEN

 

BUT ABOVE ALL,
THIS IS WHY MIDDLE-EARTH MATTERS.

Because you were created for truth. You were created for beauty. 


The Lord of the Rings, through its philosophy and its characters and its world, reveals to us such an expanse of beauty and truth. Here, we encounter a story so deeply rooted in the divine truth that it begins to feel as real as our very own, and this is a good thing.  Its great mythologies echo the great history of our world, one which we are a small but important part of.

In the many races of Middle-Earth, men, dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards, orcs even - we find pieces or echoes of ourselves. We are unified as one people through a multitude of characters. We are reminded of our strengths and our weaknesses. We are pointed to a redeemer.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS HOLDS UP A FANTASTICAL MIRROR AND IN IT, WE SEE OURSELVES.  

AND THROUGH IT WE ARE POINTED TO OUR OWN DIVINE AUTHOR, GOD HIMSELF.


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*And note, the titles briefly discussed are merely three of his many published works - view his full list of published works here.  This essay was originally published at www.lilyandmama.com earlier this year.