It was through the poem Beowulf that I came to appreciate the beauty of our Western Spiritual Tradition. The number one scholar of the poem Beowulf was J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and history and more importantly he was a Roman Catholic and his Lord of the Rings as well as his Silmarillion were infused with his Catholic faith. He didn’t see the early Medieval period as a Dark Age but as an age when the Light of Christ was kept alive and burning through the great cultural revivals of the Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian Renaissances. These revivals built upon the bedrock of the Classical world that preceded it to form the beginnings of our Western Christian Civilization. The poem Beowulf is very important because it is a transitional poem between the world of the Anglo-Saxon pagans and the world of the Anglo-Saxon Christian. The world of the pagan was dark and without hope but the Christian world was filled with the Light of Christ who gives hope to those who are lost. This speaks to my soul and Tolkien showed me the way.
According to Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is; “of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” The Lord of the Rings lacks any organized religion in it or anything explicitly Catholic or any reference to Catholic teachings or writings. But as one reads the books there is a sense of something deep and hidden that speaks to your heart and stirs your soul. What Tolkien managed to do is take the essence of Jesus Christ and spread it throughout the entire work. There is no reference to Christ in the books but the presence of Christ is there among the words and in the characters of the story. Tolkien also had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and her attributes are also found in the books. All of the female characters have at least one attribute of Mary. If in some way you could compress the entire three volumes of The Lord of the Rings into two names, those two names would be Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. When you come to understand Tolkien and his writing’s, you begin to see the real world that surrounds you in a new way. You begin to see that nature, people, the stars, the moon and the sun are permeated with the Light of Christ and that there is always hope in a new dawn even though the world may be dark for a time. This is J.R.R. Tolkien and I believe he is one of the greatest mystics of the twentieth century.
J.R.R. Tolkien as well as his friend C.S. Lewis are known as Defenders of the West and they believed that Western Society was losing its way. The West to them was becoming to secular and materialistic and was moving further and further away from its Christian roots. In order to survive, they believed the West had to re-discover its Christian values. It had to re-connect to its Christian roots. For Tolkien the last bastion of the Christian West against a secular and materialistic world was the Roman Catholic Church and preserving its traditions and teachings was fundamental in preserving Western Civilization. For him, defending what was right, true and beautiful in this world equaled defending two thousand years of Christian history, traditions and teachings.