Contemplating the theological meaning of The Lord of the Rings with the Catholic Guy

Over the course of this year, I have become addicted to listening to the Catholic Guy radio show. I had received a free trial of Sirius XM with my new car. Sadly, I couldn’t afford to renew. But most thankfully, the Catholic Guy show does weekly podcasts which are available for free on their website. So I’ve been catching up on older shows.

Lino Rulli (The Catholic Guy) and Father Rob Keighron make me laugh like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, while also sharing the wonders of our Catholic faith. So when I saw a podcast discussing The Hobbit, I couldn’t resist (http://www.linorulli.com/?p=927), expecting the usually tomfoolery to ensue and Fr. Rob’s infectious laughter.

Ultimately, I should not have been surprised to find the discussion centered more on Fr. Rob’s attempts to describe the plot of The Lord of the Rings to Lino and its Christological symbolism. Fr. Rob is convinced that Frodo represents the person of Christ in his quest to Mordor. Callers both support and refute Father’s statements. Now, many months later, I figure why not weigh in myself?

I agree up to a point with Father Rob’s assertion that Frodo is representative of the person of Christ. However, I think Father would do well to read the book to get a fuller view. Frodo represents Christ only in so far as we are all called to be Christ for others. He suffers and sacrifices. He treats others with both wisdom and mercy.

However, in the final test, he fails to destroy the Ring. He claims it for himself.

This is a critical point. In this the success of the quest falls to the power of Providence. As discussed in a few of my previous posts, on eucatastrophe, Frodo and the quest are saved by Grace. His good deeds and empathy towards Gollum lead to the conditions by which the quest is achieved. As for all Christians, Frodo is reliant upon Providence for ultimate success. Like all Christians, he is called to bear his own cross, which are the Ring and its temptations.

In the end chance, or eucatastrophe, the sudden entrance of Grace, saves the day. Yes, Frodo’s extraordinary virtues and labors make the success of the quest possible, but he like us cannot achieve it in a vacuum on his own. We a prone to sin and temptation, the lesson to be learned is that God is there to help us pick up the pieces and by His grace fulfill our full potential.

While I cannot claim the sound theological background or knowledge for my argument, I have been pondering this question ever since listening to the podcast. As in all Tolkien discussions there are no true answers due to his reliance upon applicability in place of allegory. We know, as readers, as Tolkien states The Lord of the Rings is a truly Christian and particularly Roman Catholic work, but he never states what makes it so. That is up to the applicability and inspiration of the reader. For myself, it is yet another reason the reading and rereading of this work is enlightening. As all experiences color my interpretation, so to as I grow in the Faith, the revelations and inspiration that comes from this book change and grow. Ultimately, this makes LotR a highly person experience, in which your own knowledge and experiences dictate the meaning, rather than being enslaved to the author through allegory.

But I still can’t help but wonder, how might Tolkien respond to this question?

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One thought on “Contemplating the theological meaning of The Lord of the Rings with the Catholic Guy

  1. Here is my take on Lord of the Rings and Roman Catholism:
    JRR Tolkien was a devout Catholic and he spent 40 years writing the Lord of the Rings.
    He was also a member of the Inklings and a close friend of CS Lewis (who portrays Jesus Christ as the lion Aslan in his books).

    When you look at it, the map of Middle Earth is like similar to that of Western Europe.
    The following countries are thus represented:
    Gondor = Italy
    Minas Tirith = Rome
    Isengard = Constantinople
    Minas Ithil = Alexandria/Jerusalem
    Mordor = Palestine
    Shire = England

    The characters may be portrayed as such:
    Gandalf = Pope
    Aragorn = Christian Roman Emperor (eg Charlemagne or Constantine)
    Sauron = Muslim leader (eg Saladin or Suleiman the Magnificent) or Satan
    Saruman = Patriach of Constantinople
    Sharkey’s men at the Shire = Protestants
    Denethor = Other Roman Emperor(s)
    Frodo = Jesus Christ
    Samwise Gamgee = St Peter the Apostle
    Gollum = Judas Iscariot
    Orcs = Muslims/Turks

    The story may represent the history of the Crusades as well as the history of the Catholic Church.
    Among the areas covered are:
    Treason of Isengard = Scism between the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox Churches.
    Destruction of Isengard by treants = Plundering of Constantinople by crusaders.
    Plundering of the Shire = Iconoclasm and plundering of Church property by Protestants.

    The war with Mordor represents the Crusades, which are ongoing and will result in stalemate or defeat if not for the actions of Frodo in bringing the ring to Mount Doom (Jesus bringing the burden of sin on the cross at Golgotha/Calvary.)
    Frodo is accompanied by his servant, the faithful Samwise Gamgee (portraying St Peter) and the treacherous Gollum (portraying Judas Iscariot). Thanks to Gollum’s (and Judas’) greed, the mission of Frodo (and Jesus) was successful.

    Coming to think about it, the five Istari (or Wizards) may represent the five ancient Apostolic Sees of ancient Christianity.
    The five Istari are:
    Saruman the White (representing the Patriarch of Constantinople)
    Gandalf the Grey (representing the Patriarch of Rome / Pope)
    Radagast the Brown (representing the Patriach of Jerusalem)
    Alatar & Pallando the Blue (representing the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria – not sure which is which)

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