Vision of the Ainur: From Form to Being

Metaphysics of the Music, part 35

To return to our discussion of the Ainur’s Vision, we see, then, that there is an orientation towards the other, an intentionality, in other words, that was absent in the Music but is present in the Vision. It is through this other-directedness of the Vision that the Ainur are pointed away from their own minds and the comparatively pure conceptuality of the Music and challenged with the prospect of a reality whose intractable physicality cannot be reduced to the formal properties of the aesthetic presentation alone.[1] Thus, if the Music in its comparative abstractness should resemble St. Thomas’s account of mathematics, to continue the analogy, we might compare the Vision—as Tolkien himself indirectly does in the figure of Bombadil—to natural science, whose intelligible forms, we recall, abstract from individual matter while retaining an intentional or notional reference to the kind of matter out of which natural substances are actually made. As Robert Collins has put it in an apt application of the Aristotelian terminology of Boethius and Aquinas, “[w]hereas the music had established an abstract pattern, the vision had indicated the nature of Ilúvatar’s translation of form to matter…”[2] This “translation of form to matter” anticipated in the Vision but not in the Music, moreover, far from involving a tragic “fall” of ideal form into matter, implies rather the future realization, perfection, or actualization of those forms in and through the material substances which they are the forms of.[3] Thus, in the Vision we see the comparative “disinterest” of the Music transcended by a new kind of form that is not indifferent to, but is intentionally oriented towards the real, mind-independent and material realization through which the actual existence of these realities must ultimately have its being. Much as the Music represents a state of potency with respect to its corresponding actuality in the Vision, so the later, physical world is the actuality with respect to which the Vision is merely the corresponding state of potency. In either case the Ainulindalë portrays not the tragic motion from a higher existence and actuality to a lower, but dramatizes in a temporal fashion the otherwise logical relationship of the comic and Thomistic trajectory from intelligible potency to existing actuality.

[1] Thus the Ainur’s Vision would seem to embody what Maritain argues on Thomistic grounds to be one of the essential elements of all imitative art: “art as ordered to beauty refuses—at least when its object permits it—to stop at forms or colors, or sounds or words grasped in themselves and as things (they must first be grasped in this manner—that is the first condition), but it grasps them also as making known something other than themselves, that is to say, as signs. … [T]he more the object of art is laden with signification…, the greater and richer and higher will be the possibility of delight and beauty. The beauty of a painting or a statue is thus incomparably richer than the beauty of a carpet, a Venetia glass, or an amphora. It is in this sense that Painting, Sculpture, Poetry, Music, and even the Dance, are imitative arts, that is, arts which effect the beauty of the work and procure the delight of the soul by making use of imitation, or by rendering, through certain sensible signs, something other than these signs spontaneously present to the spirit.” Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 55.

[2] Collins, “‘Ainulindalë’: Tolkien’s Commitment to an Aesthetic Ontology,” 261.

[3] Or, as Flieger puts it using similarly scholastic terminology, “the Music is not the physical act of creation, but only its blueprint. It is the pattern for the world in potentia.” Flieger, Splintered Light, 58.

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