Augustine vs. Aquinas on the analogicity of theology

Returning to Augustine’s Confessions after a semester’s immersion in Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles, I am struck by the obvious: these two men, for all their similarities, are very, very different. In the Confessions, Augustine revels in linguistic paradox: the ambiguities, subtleties, and sublimities of divine truth are by turns a spur to further intellectual labor, inquiry, and reflection, as well as a profound source of rest and comfort in which alone–when human language and thought are pushed beyond their limits–can there be any full assurance that a true confession of God’s praises (so far as is humanly possible) has been achieved.

Contrast this with the logical and linguistic rigor and precision sought after and achieved in medieval scholasticism: while certainly retaining something of the spiritual and doxological impetus inspiring Augustine and the monastic and mystical traditions, this energy is nevertheless almost wholly co-opted, channeled, and spent in what has been aptly termed scholasticism’s “will to order.” Thus, while an otherwise Augustinian thinker such as Thomas Aquinas will continue to affirm, at least in principle, that all our language about God, for example, is predicated of him “analogically” rather than “univocally,” and he will allow that it is appropriate that Scripture should use metaphors, in the theological science that is the Summa Theologiae neither analogical nor metaphorical speech—the stuff of Augustine’s Confessions—have much if any place.

In summary, in contrast with Augustine’s delightful revelry in and willing surrender to linguistic paradox, in the scholasticism of Aquinas we have a much greater optimism or confidence in the power of human reason and language to speak with unequivocal precision about divine truth.

Chesterton on Aquinas’s anthropology of the angels

In addition to Aquinas’s treatment of angels as metaphysical curiosities, Howard Kainz also speaks of an important anthropological dimension to Thomas’s angelology. Kainz begins by making the point (especially apropos to our interest in Tolkien) that it is “profitable for us to discuss the significance of the angels, in terms of their mythical content,” by which he means the “subjective relevance” of the angelic beings, first, as “projections” of an idealized human existence, secondly, as “external reflections” of a “hierarchy of spiritual values, and thirdly, as “models” for human political ideals such as equality. In other words, in addition to the theoretical significance of the question of their actual existence, reflection on angels was understood to provide important insights into human beings as their immediate yet subordinate neighbors in the hierarchy of being.

Consistent with this anthropological perspective on Thomas’s angelology is the following remark by one of Tolkien’s own mentors in the ways of fairy-land, G.K. Chesterton. In his biography of St. Thomas he writes:

St. Thomas really was rather specially interested in the nature of Angels, for the same reason that made him even more interested in the nature of Men. It was a part of that strong personal interest in things subordinate and semidependent, which runs through his whole system: a hierarchy of higher and lower liberties. He was interested in the problem of the Angel, as he was interested in the problem of the Man, because it was a problem; and especially because it was a problem of an intermediate creature. I do not pretend to deal here with this mysterious quality, as he conceives it to exist in that inscrutable intellectual being, who is less than God but more than Man. But it was this quality of a link in the chain, or a rung in the ladder, which mainly concerned the theologian, in developing his own particular theory of degrees. Above all, it is this which chiefly moves him, when he finds so fascinating the central mystery of Man. And for him the point is always that Man is not a balloon going up into the sky, nor a mole burrowing merely in the earth; but rather a thing like a tree, whose roots are fed from the earth, while its highest branches seem to rise almost to the stars.[1]

As I hope to show in some follow-up posts, it is to this same scholastic tradition of doing anthropology by proxy—that is, of studying man by studying that which is not man and yet nearest to him (man’s “other”)—that both Tolkien’s fictional angels and his Elves may instructively be seen to belong.

[1] Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Dumb Ox,164. David Keck gives a similar account of the anthropological motive involved not only in Thomas’s but in medieval speculation over angels generally when he writes: “Of all God’s creatures, human beings are nearest to the angels, and angelology thus promises to illuminate anthropology. In the modern world, the impulse to learn about human nature from closely related beings has shifted subjects from seraphim to simians. Whereas modern scientists study the origins of the apes to uncover clues about humanity, medieval theologians investigated angels.” Keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages, 16. Collins makes the same point in his study on Thomas’s angelology: “The unity of the source of all being and the analogical similarity of all things guarantee that a knowledge of each grade will shed some further light upon what is below and what is above it in the hierarchy of reality. For the better understanding of God and the creative process, we can turn to that order of being which provides the most intimate created similitude of the first intelligent and free Agent. On the other hand, while it is true (as Pascal observes) that man is neither brute nor angel, still the consideration of him from the perspective of the angel to whom he is inferior as well as of the brute which he surpasses does enable us to determine more accurately his proper stature. Both natural theology and philosophical anthropology may profit by a comparative use of the Thomistic theory of pure forms.” Collins, The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels, xii-xiii.

Metaphysics of the angels

Although there is certainly nothing quite like Tolkien’s sub-creative, demiurgic Valar to be found in the otherwise extensive and speculative angelological reflections of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “angelic doctor”), there is, I think, a very interesting and suggestive similarity in the metaphysical and anthropological functions that these spiritual beings play in the respective philosophies of these two thinkers. For St. Thomas, according to Howard Kainz (Active and Passive Potency in Thomistic Angelology), speculation over the angelic nature had real value both in terms of its theoretical truth and its anthropological implications. In terms of Thomas’s overall theory of being, for example, Kainz makes the case that

a philosophy of the angels is of prime importance for throwing light on the “nature of contingent being.” When we try to apply the categories of essence/existence, act/potency, substance/accident, etc., to the complexities of composite creatures, our discussion often becomes impeded because of the introduction of multiple contingent factors. But if it is within our power to discuss the same categories in relationship to a state of “pure” creaturehood beyond space and time, we should be able to get more easily beyond obfuscating tangents to grapple with the problem of the truly necessary relationship between essence, substance and accident, etc.

As simultaneously created and hence contingent yet immaterial beings, in other words, what angels represented for St. Thomas are an extraordinarily unique instance of the creaturely act/potency and essence/existence distinction, unique because it occurred apart from or without any corresponding form/matter distinction. Put plainer still, angels represented a distinct metaphysical possibility (indeed, reality) that was at once explicable in Aristotelian terms and yet were a possibility and reality of which Aristotle himself seems to have been entirely unaware.

Sovereignty and evil in the Ainulindale

The Ainulindalë contains what is undoubtedly one of the best literary treatments of the relationship of divine sovereignty, providence, or predestination on the one hand, and creaturely freedom and the so-called “problem of evil” on the other (indeed, even measured as a philosophical statement of these issues, the Ainulindalë doesn’t fare too badly). In the early version from The Book of Lost Tales, the Creator Ilúvatar’s explanation to the diabolus Melko(r) concerning the former’s supremacy and purpose over all that transpires is even more explicit and expanded (even if somewhat less poetical). In addition to the logos and pathos of the passage, it is remarkable also to bear in mind it’s author’s ethos. The following was penned sometime between 1918 and 1920 (during Tolkien’s stint working on the Oxford English Dictionary), and hence within a couple of years of when Tolkien had directly experienced the horrors of the Great War and in which, as he himself would later observe, all but one of his closest friends had been killed:

“Thou Melko shalt see that no theme can be played save it come in the end of Ilúvatar’s self, nor can any alter the music in Ilúvatar’s despite. He that attempts this finds himself in the end but aiding me in devising a thing of still greater grandeur and more complex wonder: –for lo! through Melko have terror as fire, and sorrow like dark waters, wrath like thunder, and evil as far from my light as the depths of the uttermost of the dark places, come into the design that I laid before you. Through him has pain and misery been made in the clash of overwhleming musics; and with confusion of sound have cruelty, and ravening, and darkness, loathly mire and all putrescence of thought or thing, foul mists and violent flame, cold without mercy, been born, and death without hope. Yet is this through him and not by him; and he shall see, and ye all likewise, and even shall those beings, who must now dwell among his evil and endure through Melko misery and sorrow, terror and wickedness, declare in the end that it redoundeth only to my great glory, and doth but make the theme more worth the hearing, Life more worth the living, and the World so much the more wonderful and marvellous, that of all the deeds of Ilúvatar it shall be called his mightiest and his loveliest.” (LT 55, emphasis added)

Sam Gamgee as The Silmarillion’s ideal reader

In a 1963 letter Tolkien confessed that he was “doubtful” about his undertaking to write The Silmarillion. What did he mean by this? According to his son Christopher in the foreword to The Book of Lost Tales, his father was “emphatically not” referring to any doubts he had about the intrinsic merits of the work itself: “what was in question for him …was its presentation, in a publication, after the appearance of The Lord of the Rings…” As Tolkien himself wrote, the earlier legends were in dire need of “some progressive shape,” and yet, to his mind, “[n]o simple device, like a journey and a quest, is available.” As noted in the previous post, in The Lord of the Rings the device Tolkien employed to remarkable effect was the “the impression of depth… created by songs and digressions,” by which was achieved (in Christopher’s words) a “backward movement in imagined time to dimly apprehended events, whose attraction lies in their very dimness…” What would be similarly needed in The Silmarillion, accordingly, was “a point of vantage, in the imagined time from which to look back, the extreme oldness of the extremely old can be made apparent and made to be felt continuously.” Christopher confesses that at the time of preparing The Silmarillion for its posthumous publication in 1977, however, he unfortunately “attached no importance to this doubt” of his father’s regarding his legends ability to stand on their own. Tolkien himself had allowed his own initial forays into providing a framework to his legendarium to drop-out (namely the Eriol/Aelfwine saga), presumably on account of some perceived literary inadequacy. The result was that Christopher published The Silmarillion without any such framework that might explain what The Silmarillion is and “how (within the imagined world) it came to be,” an editorial lacuna Christopher now “think[s] to have been an error.” In the absence of said framework, Christopher office the reader this advice: “To read The Silmarillion one must place oneself imaginatively at the time of the ending of the Third Age—within Middle-earth, looking back: at the temporal point of Sam Gamgee’s ‘I Like that!’—adding, ‘I should like to know more about it’.” There it is: Sam Gamgee as The Silmarillion’s ideal reader.

Hobbits: non-mediating mediators

Christopher Tolkien opens The Book of Lost Tales: Part 1 with the well-known and intractable problem of The Silmarillion, namely what many readers have discovered to be its comparative impenetrability. To Tolkien’s credit, two of the main challenges with The Silmarillion noted by Christopher were ones already anticipated by his father. The first problem is, as Christopher puts it, that there “is in The Silmarillion no ‘mediation’ of the kind provided by the hobbits.” With no comic, familiar creatures to lighten the levity and seriousness of mood and theme, in other words, the “draught” of The Silmarillion is “pure and unmixed.” A second source of The Silmarillion’s comparative lack of appeal is that The Lord of the Rings, similar to the Beowulf poem (at least as Tolkien interprets it), gives us a profound “impression of depth” through its subtle allusions to a vast backcloth of “untold stories,” whereas The Silmarillion inevitably must spoil this effect or break the spell somewhat by telling the untold stories themselves, of making the implicit explicit. As Tolkien posed the problem in his own words,

Part of the attraction of The L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. (L 333)

Although Christopher doesn’t make the point expressly, his discussion points to a sense in which these two “problems” with The Silmarillion are really one and the same problem. Just as the hobbits help “mediate” for the reader the epic, mythical, and faerie dimensions of Middle-earth at large, referencing them to the more familiar, prosaic framework of the Shire, so likewise does The Lord of the Rings as a whole, through its narrative immediacy, function as a kind of “hobbitization” of the remote yet expansive, mythical backcloth of Tolkien’s legendarium. We see the coincidence of these two themes, I think, in a passage which Christopher himself discusses. After Gimli’s song about Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam responds with “I like that! … I should like to learn it. In Moria, in Khazad-dûm. But it makes the darkness seem heavier, thinking of all those lamps.” Christopher comments that by means of “his enthusiastic ‘I like that!’ Sam not only ‘mediates’ (and engagingly ‘Gamgifies’) the ‘high’, the mighty kings of Nargothrond and Gondolin, Durin on his carven throne, but places them at once at an even remoter distance, a magical distance that it might well seem (at that moment) destructive to traverse.”

Part of the irony of the hobbits, accordingly, is that their “mediation” is in fact a kind of non-mediation: in providing the reader with a way of access into the remote (to us) realities they experience, the hobbits at the same time draw attention to and thus accentuate that very remoteness, and in that very process (paradoxically) serve to further displace or distance the reader from the world they are helping to mediate. Put more succinctly, in pulling the reader into the wide realm of Middle-earth, the hobbits also help ensure (to the great aesthetic satisfaction of the reader) that that realm never becomes entirely immanentized, realized, or experienced. (To adapt Wittgenstein’s famous distinction, the hobbits help “say” what Middle-earth is without ever really “showing” it.) In this way the hobbits serve to elicit in the reader a profound desire for the world into which they themselves have been thrust, and yet by always intervening between the reader and that world, they also help sustain that desire by ensuring that it remains perpetually unsatiated.

Smart bodies and the imago Dei

Aquinas wonders whether intellectual substances (human souls and angelic spirits) could possibly be united as a form to any other body besides the human (SCG 2.90). He answers in the negative. Why? Bodies are either “mixed” (a complex of parts of heterogeneous nature) or “simple” (a partless conglomeration of a single element). Intellectual substances couldn’t be united as a form to simple bodies, since their very simplicity would preclude the possibility of the conjoined intellectual substance being able to do anything by means of such a body (e.g., what would a human soul or angelic spirit joined to, say, a rock as its form do with such a rock?). What about mixed bodies, then? Intellectual substances, by their very superiority to corporeal reality, could only be joined to the best or “noblest” of such bodies. Such a body would have to “possess that harmonious quality in the highest degree.” But the “most evenly tempered body,” Aquinas avers, “is the human,” a fact confirmed by its exceeding “fine texture and keen sense of touch,” qualities which Aquinas takes as a sure, corporeal “sign” of an otherwise “mental acuteness.” Human bodies, in short, are smart bodies, indeed, the smartest bodies, and therefore no intellectual (“smart”) substance may be joined to any body other than the human.

This raises an intriguing possibility that, to my knowledge, Aquinas himself doesn’t anywhere explore, and that is the role that the human body (and not just the human powers of intellect and reason) may play in man’s being made in the image of God.

Nightingale, image of Eucatastrophe

“[Luthien] Tinúviel’s attendant bird, the nightingale, is a fitting emblem of eucatastrophe, pouring out its fluting song when all is dark. Its symbolic significance may be measured in the words of men on the Western Front. [Tolkien’s friend and fellow TCBS member] Rob Gilson, hearing a nightingale in the early hours one May morning from his trench dugout, thought it ‘wonderful that shells and bullets shouldn’t have banished them, when they are always so shy of everything human’, while Siegfried Sassoon wrote that ‘the perfect performance of a nightingale… seemed miraculous after the desolation of the trenches’.” (Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 265)

The theologization of Ungoliant

In the published Silmarillion the spider-demon Ungoliant, ancestor to The Lord of the Rings‘ Shelob, is represented as a Maiar (i.e., a subordinate angelic deity) who had once been in the service of Melkor:

The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness…

While the Elves generally are said not to know from “whence she came,” some of them (presumably the “wise”) believe her to be an originally created even if an erstwhile grossly corrupted being. This “mature” understanding of Ungoliant, however, seems to represent something of a pious theologization of Tolkien’s original conception of this malevolent force. In her first appearance, found in The Book of Lost Tales, Ungoliant is “Wirilóme,” or “Gloomweaver,” a creature (as John Garth puts it) whose “provenance is a mystery even to the Valar,” and of whom Tolkien writes:

Mayhap she was bred of mists and darkness on the confines of the Shadowy Seas, in that utter dark that came between the overthrow of the Lamps and the kindling of the Trees… but more like she has always been. (Lost Tales 152, cited in Garth 258)

From her origin as a putatively timeless and authentically evil force, to her re-conception as a horribly fallen yet primevally created and therefore presumably good being, we witness the character of Ungoliant in Tolkien’s legendarium undergoing a development from Hesiodic mythos to Augustinian theo-logos. 

Divine sovereignty not in conflict with, but a condition of, creaturely freedom

For Aquinas, not only does everything depend upon the divine will, as Tolkien puts it, “in every detail and moment,” but he also holds that this absolute control represents not a threat to creaturely freedom, but a necessary condition for it.

At the most general level this is true because God is the concurrent source of the finite will’s existence, and therefore of its freedom. Secondly and more particularly, because God has created the will as free, when he acts on the will he does so in a way consistent with the nature he himself has given to it. In a passage from question six of his Disputed Questions On Evil, Thomas argues that, as the ultimate cause of all things, divine providence always acts in a way consistent with the manner of existence of each thing, so that God efficaciously acts on the individual free will, yet in a way that leaves, indeed, preserves, the will in its freedom. (This, incidentally, is why it is problematic to think of miracles, as many moderns do, in terms of divine “violation” of the laws of nature: for grace, or the “supernatural,” never “violates” nature, but always restores, redeems, and so “complements” her.) In his commentary on this passage by Aquinas, Brian Davies observes that human beings “are not free in spite of God, but because of God… [H]uman freedom is compatible with providence because only by virtue of providence is there any human freedom.”

It is precisely this Thomistic relationship between divine providence and free will, as I have been suggesting, that is observed in Tolkien, and as more than one of his commentators have recognized. Peter Kreeft, for example, comments how for Tolkien “divine predestination preserves human free will, because God invented it. As Aquinas says, man is free because God is all-powerful. For God not only gets everything done that He designs, but also gets everything done in the right way: subhuman things happen unfreely, and human things happen freely” (Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien, 64). Similarly, Brad Birzer, in his article on Aquinas in the J.R.R.T. Encyclopedia, writes that “Aquinas argued that… free will could only be understood within God’s sovereignty and predestination.”

Tolkien’s “planes,” Thomas’s “orders”

In advancing his theory that every event, including the free and even evil acts of creatures, falls of necessity under the divine will, Tolkien repeats in his own way much the same position defended by St. Thomas. (Even Tolkien’s interchangeable usage of sub-creation and free will has a parallel in Thomas, who, in the preface to ST 1.45 says that the eighth and last “point of inquiry” to be considered will be whether creation is mingled with “the works of nature and of the will,” yet the form the question actually takes in the eighth article is “whether creation is mingled with work of nature and art.”) Tolkien’s statement, for example, that “in every world on every plane all must ultimately be under the Will of God” is  expressly defended by Thomas in his answer to the question in ST 1.19.6 as to “whether the will of God must always be fulfilled”:

Since, then, the will of God is the universal cause of all things, it is impossible that the divine will should not produce its effect. Hence that which seems to depart from the divine will in one order, is brought back to it in another order, as does the sinner, who by sin falls away from the divine will as much as lies in him, yet falls back into the order of that will when by its justice he is punished. (ST 1.19.6)

Cum igitur voluntas Dei sit universalis causa omnium rerum, impossibile est quod divina voluntas suum effectum non consequatur. Unde quod recedere videtur a divina voluntate secundum unum ordinem, relabitur in ipsam secundum alium, sicut peccator, qui, quantum est in se, recedit a divina voluntate peccando, incidit in ordinem divinae voluntatis, dum per eius iustitiam punitur.

Like Tolkien, who often speaks in terms of there being a hierarchy of “planes” in the causality of an event, Thomas recognizes that there are various levels or “orders” by which one must distinguish and evaluate the causality of things. Thus, at one level or “order” something can be done which is contrary to the divine will, but that nothing can escape the divine will in an absolute sense is evident from the fact that “the will of God is the universal cause of all things.” In order for an effect to escape God’s will completely it would also have to escape completely the order of being, which is to say it would have to become nothing, and thus cease to be an effect at all: if something “wholly escaped from the order of the Divine government, it would wholly cease to exist” (ST 1.103.7 ad 1). Thus, what departs “from the divine will in one order, is brought back to it in another order.”

Tolkien, divine sovereignty, and evil

For Tolkien, the causal dependency of creaturely free will on God’s own creative power is no less true when those creaturely intentions and their effects happen to be “against His Will,” for the Creator “does not stop or make ‘unreal’ sinful acts and their consequences” (L 195). Because it is the divine will that gives being to the finite will and its effects, any potential conflict between the two cannot be ultimate but, like Tolkien’s concept of ananke or Thomas’s concept of chance, is only “as it appears on a finite view,” as Tolkien puts it, implying a higher level at which even sinful actions are invariably made to contribute to the Creator’s greater plan. As Tolkien further explains in the same context, “in every world on every plane all must ultimately be under the Will of God” (L 191). In another place Tolkien writes of the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of the Creator in this way: “He must as Author always remain ‘outside’ the Drama, even though that Drama depends on His design and His will for its beginning and continuance, in every detail and moment” (Morgoth’s Ring 335). In this sense Tolkien is willing to speak of the Creator as in fact “the one wholly free Will and Agent” (L 204).

This point is brought home in the Ainulindalë when Ilúvatar tells Melkor that, despite his rebellious music, in the Vision he will discover “that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined” (S 17). A little later Ilúvatar reiterates the point, telling the Ainur: “This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added. And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory” (S 17, emphasis added).

Free will and sub-creation

The concepts of sub-creation and free will are very closely associated in Tolkien’s mind, and in at least one place he uses them almost interchangeably: “having mentioned Free Will, I might say that in my myth I have used ‘subcreation’ in a special way… Free Will is derivative, and is [therefore] only operative within provided circumstances…” (Letters #153). As the paradigmatic instance of free will, sub-creation becomes for Tolkien something of a model for free action in general. Human praxis, as it were, is a kind of human poesis–human doing a form of human making–inasmuch as every human action seeks to bring about an alternative state of affairs, and therefore to realize an alternative, “secondary world” or reality to the one currently realized. (As Frodo and Sam realize on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, their own heroic quest to destroy the Ring of Sauron and so save Middle-earth is in fact part of an ancient and on-going “tale” that never ends, “[b]ut the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended.”)

The theme of free will, and especially its relationship to divine providence, has received a good deal of attention in the literature on Tolkien, but what I’m presently interested in here (as usual) is the uniquely metaphysical approach Tolkien also takes to this important issue, an approach that, again, leads one back to his Thomistic doctrine of creation.[1] For Tolkien, not only does sub-creative free will dimly mirror the freedom the Creator himself enjoys in the act of creation, but as with its specific application in sub-creation, creaturely free will is likewise wholly dependent for its very existence and exercise upon divine providence. This dependence, however, involves much more than the Creator passively “allowing” or “permitting” his creatures to make their own choices about things (though Tolkien will also speak of the Creator as “accepting” or “permitting” creaturely sub-creating or “Making” when it is used for evil purposes).[2] As Tolkien puts it, free will is not absolute but “derivative,” being “only operative within provided circumstances,” namely, those circumstances in which the Creator himself “should guarantee it” by giving it the “reality of creation.” It is something like this radical sense of causal dependency that the Ainulindalë hints at on its opening page when Ilúvatar invites the Ainur to develop their Music, explaining to them that “since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will” (S 15, emphasis added). For Tolkien, creaturely freedom is not and cannot be threatened by divine providence, for it is the divine Creator who first brings the creaturely free will into being and by whose providence the individual will, its intentions, and its consequent, real-world effects, are continuously and actively kept in being.

[1] On the relationship between free will and divine providence in Tolkien, see Daniel Timmons’s article “Free Will” and attached bibliography in Drout, ed. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

[2] See, for example, Letters 190n, 195, and 259.

The philosopher vs. the poet

In Chesterton’s The Man Who was Thursday, two characters, the Secretary and Gregory Syme, illustrate the contrast between the two archetypes of “the philosopher” and “the poet”:

“For if the Secretary stood for that philosopher who loves the original and formless light, Syme was a type of the poet who seeks always to make the light in special shapes, to split it up into sun and star. The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon.” –G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday 

The malaise of intellectual anonymity

Tolkien writes in an hitherto unpublished 1914 letter to close friend and fellow TCBS member Christopher Wiseman: “It is the tragedy of modern life that no one knows upon what the universe is built to the mind of the man next to him in the tram: it is this that makes it [modern life?] so tiring, so distracting; that produces its bewilderment, lack of beauty and design; its ugliness; its atmosphere antagonistic to supreme excellence” (cited in Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 256).

The Secret Fire

John Garth observes that an entry in Tolkien’s early lexicon of the Elvish language of Quenya helps explain the image of the “Secret Fire” in his creation-myth, the mysterious entity that at once dwells “with Iluvatar” and yet in the act of creation is also sent to “burn at the heart of the world”: “Sā, ‘fire, especially in temples, etc.’, is also ‘A mystic name identified with the Holy Ghost’” (Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 255)

Sub-creational, but not sub-providential

Commenting on Jacques Maritain’s statement that, for Aquinas, the human artist acts as “an associate of God in the making of beautiful works” who does not so much “copy God’s creation” as he “continues it,” Robert Miner suggests that the clearest example of Thomas’s “elevation” of human making occurs in his

treatment of the human participation in divine providence. Although there are no intermediaries in creation proper, ‘there are certain intermediaries of God’s providence, for he governs things inferior by superior… not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures’ [ST 1.22.3]. Providence ensures that creaturely causality will always be something more than it is for an Aristotelian or modern naturalist. All things are created at an instant, through God’s knowledge of his own essence and the diverse modes in which it can be imitated. But things also ‘come to be in time,’ as Thomas says [ST 1.14.16 ad 1; 1.15.3]. Humans do not create in the strict sense, but they are not denied a role in the temporal achievement or realization of the idea. This lends creaturely causality a dignity that it would otherwise lack…” (Miner, Truth in the Making, 9)

In summary, Aquinas denies human art or making any role in God’s own act of creation, of bringing things into being from nothing, but in so doing he reserves for them a role in God’s own work of providence, of bringing, that is, the things he alone has created to their predestined end. Put differently still, the significance of the “sub” in sub-creation is not the denial of human art and making of its ultimately divine significance, but of precisely investing them with such significance by locating them in God’s acts of post-creation. If sub-creation is not protological, it is for the simple reason that it is eschatological