Metaphysics of Eucatastrophe, part 1

If Tolkien’s representation of the divine immanence or presence should turn out to be more Christian and orthodox than some of his commentators have recognized, this is not to say that the way in which he employs the doctrine of divine immanence in his fiction is at all unoriginal. On the contrary, it is precisely his radical conception of divine presence that I want to suggest enables Tolkien—for his own literary and theological purposes which we will turn to shortly—to suppress references to Eru’s presence throughout much of the narrative. As Tolkien himself relates in one letter, the Creator in his mythology is “immensely remote” (L 204), and in another letter he stresses that Eru is “outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers” (235). Instead, they are the Valar and not Ilúvatar who are the “immediate ‘authorities’” of the world (193). Yet I think there is an important distinction to be made (and which some of Tolkien’s readers have not made) between Eru’s unquestionable presence in Tolkien’s fictional world at the metaphysical level, that is to say, at the level of the world’s being or existence, and Eru’s comparative absence at the narrative or historical level. Tolkien himself implies such a distinction when he explains in another letter that in his mythology “[w]e are in a time when the One God, Eru, is known to exist by the wise, but is not approachable save by or through the Valar, though He is still remembered in (unspoken) prayer by those of Númenórean descent” (387, emphasis added). In other words, while creation’s dependence upon the immediate, creative presence of Eru is a matter of constant, metaphysical necessity, Tolkien’s legendarium is nevertheless dealing with a particular historical epoch or dispensation in which Eru, for his and for the author’s good reasons, has deigned not to reveal or relate himself to his creatures in a direct or personal way.

Tolkien’s motivation for portraying the divine being in this way may be considered at a number different levels. The one I’ll mention here is that, contrary to Flieger’s claim that Eru’s remoteness necessarily sets him apart from the biblical God, in one sense it actually makes them quite similar, inasmuch as the Bible itself represents the vast majority of human beings (the “Gentiles”) as having been without any direct knowledge of or access to God until the Christian era, when the “good news” of the gospel, “hidden from ages and generations” (Col. 1:26), was at last to be preached to all peoples and nations without distinction. Inasmuch as Tolkien conceived of his mythical history as taking place prior to the sacred history recorded in Scripture, the relative silence of his mythology concerning the Creator actually achieves a certain profound agreement with the historical record found in Sacred Scripture.

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