Gandalf, O.S.A.

That’s “Order of Saint Augustine,” for my Protestant readers. I’ve commented before on the Augustinianism of Tolkien’s view of political authority (God has ordained it to humble our pride) and Gandalf’s view of torture (to be avoided if at all possible but may be necessary in dire circumstances). I’ve also noted (as doubtless others have as well) the apparent presence of Augustine’s opposition to capital punishment in the interest of mercy and repentance behind Gandalf’s reply to Frodo’s statement that Gollum “deserves death”:

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.”

Gandalf’s speech is not exactly a verbatim quotation of Augustine, yet if Tolkien had any particular passage in mind in drafting the above, it would have to be the following from the Bishop of Hippo’s sermon “On the Feast of St. Lawrence.” Speaking of how “no one is allowed to strike [a condemned criminal] except the person who holds the appropriate office,” Augustine admonishes his congregation:

This office belongs to the public executioner; it’s his job to execute the condemned man. But suppose the judicial clerk puts him to death when he is already condemned and sentenced to death. Certainly the person he kills has been condemned. But still, the clerk will be found guilty of murder. True enough the man he killed was already condemned and sentenced to punishment; but it still counts as murder if someone is attacked against the regulations. Yet if it counts as murder to attack someone against the regulations, then please tell me what it counts as if you attack some crook who has not been given a hearing or been judged, and when you have no authority to attack him? I am not defending those who are bad, and I am not denying that they are bad. But leave the judges to account for this. Why do you want the difficult task of accounting for someone else’s death? The burden of authority isn’t yours to carry. God has given you the freedom of not being a judge. Why take over someone else’s position? You need to be giving an account of yourself. (Augustine: Political Writings, 114-5)

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