J. R. R. Tolkien was not only the author of the best-selling novel ever written, but a fierce Catholic. Nearly 55 years ago in a letter penned to his son, Tolkien offered a prophetic message on having unwavering Faith despite grave scandal in the clergy.
“Besides the Sun there may be moonlight but if the Sun were removed
there would be no Moon to see. What would Christianity now be if the Roman Church has in fact been destroyed?” – Letter 250, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
It’s no secret the Holy Mother Church is experiencing a time of turbulence and unrest following a string of abuse scandals, along with allegations of cover-ups that reach the highest echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. To Tolkien, scandal is no cause for sagging faith, eloquently illustrating that even in the most dire of times Faith finds its inspiration in love.
“Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons.”
For those that find the revelations so disheartening they see no other option but to leave the Church, Tolkien says scandal is an occasion of temptation – temptation to falter in our Faith because “scandal tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat.” To have unwavering Faith in the face of tribulation is not a single decision, but instead a permanently repeated act of will in praying for our final perseverance.
Tolkien offers the cure for sagging faith: participating in the “perfect, complete, and inviolate” Blessed Sacrament. Just like Faith is a repeated act of will, so too must Communion be continuous. Tolkien believed that frequency was of the highest effect, and Communion seven times a week was very nourishing.
“We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.”
Tolkien said that he suffered from “stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests,” but these are not reasons to leave the Church, because to leave the Church would be abandoning Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Instead, we should grieve for and with Christ, “associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints.”
His letter is a beautiful hymn on the Faith and Eucharist, and a sorrowful lament on scandal and sin. He reminds us sin was present from the beginning of the Church and will remain present until the Second Coming. The Church is made of sinners in need of redemption, but the Church made of sinners is not our own. The Church is the Living Body of Christ, and to abandon the Church would be to abandon Christ Himself.
Read below from Tolkien’s letter:
You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however, that is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on – so we pray for ‘final perseverance’. The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.
If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.
It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: ‘He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)
I agree with Tolkien, unwavering faith despite grave scandal in the clergy.
Thank you for posting this. Very encouraging from my favourite writer Posted it to my Facebook page.
[…] saw – HERE – an excerpt from a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son in the 60’s, about the time of […]
Thank you and most helpful.
[…] saw HERE – an excerpt from a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son in the 60’s, about the time of the […]
Yes, not all people will able to see the “I AM”, but that doesn’t mean we are “Loved” any less. The Holy Spirit is in charge now, as always has been, and always will be. I have been banned from the “Holy Eucharist” in the Roman Catholic Church, because of a ” convalidation” issue. That has not caused me to weaken my faith in Jesus, but has made my faith stronger. I can now relate better with the reformers in earlier history of the Church. I now have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
Thanks be to our most gracious and loving God!
I can’t spend a day without my Jesus. When I am faced with difficult challenges and heartbreaking trials, as I (we) are now, it is then that I need Him most. I am confident that He will not allow the Church that He established and died for to disappear from the face of the earth just because of the sins of a few Judases.
hey, Jess, my old friend…I agree 100% If it were not for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, where would we be?!?
I shudder to think….
I agree, my faith is in God not man, we are a people of sin, imperfect, frightened, and scared but if we have faith in Christ we will be sustained and nourished.
That’s right. And we are nourished by Jesus in the Eucharist.
[…] Most of my other reading has been, as I said, online. In the rush of commentary and Hot Takes, most useful have been Rod Dreher – a long-time acquaintance of mine, who takes heat for focusing on scandals of the Church he left (for Orthodoxy), but who is doing work that no one else is doing in collating information and news in ways that are accessible and well-organized. A few more: Phil Lawler, who has also been writing about these things forever and Fr. Gerald Murray in First Things and some words from Tolkien. […]
That was the best and most reassuring take on Church scandal I have seen. And, I think it is very shareable with all the Tolkien fans. Thank you for getting it out there.
Your great work in making these words known is being used third hand at Canon212.com, the very good Drudge Report for Church news, and also by Father Z’s very popular blog.
IMHO, there is a big difference between having faith in God and accepting and embracing Jesus as one’s savior and blindly accepting a church and its leadership that would ‘fall down’ in sin when it comes to molestation, power broking, and concealment of sin amongst its priests and lay leaders. Tolkien was a wise and faithful man and I think his words are worth reflecting on, but I don’t feel they should be used to soften the harsh light of exposure. My heart hurts for those faithful and ethical religious leaders and for the millions of faithful, but I pray they don’t turn their backs from dealing with those who exploited their station and hid the guilty for all these years and years.
If you knew the history of the Church, I don’t think you would readily abandon it in the throes of these evil men intent on destroying the Church with their perversion.
What a beautiful letter!!! Thank you for posting it along with your thoughts. Yes, more than ever, the Church needs faithful Catholics.
Thank you! I’d be interested to know what the original text is in the phrase “a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state”, which seems to be a typographical error.
[…] Lastly, my friend Jeremy shared a quote that hits home for me from one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) in a letter to his son about scandal, you can read commentary and the full letter here. […]
[…] EXCERPT BLOG: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lost Prophetic Message on Abuse in the Church […]
Thanks for posting Tolkien. The reminder is hugely important right now.
Susan Reibel Moore, Sydney
My Church is my Church; my Faith is my Faith, my God is my God. Humans will be humans, regardless of their profession of choice. Tolkein knew it and I appreciate his writing.
Beautiful. Just beautiful. Will definitely post a link here from the Catholic Answers Forum website; also, who do I write to, to get reprint permissions? I’m thinking of seeing if my parish would reprint this in the bulletin, also about having copies made to place at our local Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel.
The imperfect church still Christ beloved church, I believe in my One ,Holy ,Catholic and Apostolic church. I wil not let those scandalizers of the true Church run me away
My Faith does not waver, because of this scandal and the clergy at the highest level, these rumors have been about for a long time. Thank you Vigano for your courage in exposing these evil men.
I am thankful to the Lord that He chose me to find and belong to the Holy Catholic Church the Traditional Latin Mass with all the original prayers, devotion and reverence. Thank you Jesus.
Our country has also experienced scandals at the highest levels, yet we have not abandoned it or it’s ideals. Likewise, we must support our Church and our faith. In the thousands of years it had existed, it has done so much good for humanity. Let’s not forget that. The Church is made up of humans who commit sin. It is times such as these that we must come together in our faith, pray for healing, and ask for forgiveness for those violated by men who have committed these horrendous acts against our children. The Catholic Church has survived many other trying times. We will make it through this as well.
Well, Father Altiers , pastor of a parish church in Minnesota, pointed out that the whole “Lavender Mafia” thing started as far back as 1924, and was part of the Communist infiltration of the Church to destroy her from within. Why did they want to destroy the Church? There are two reasons for this. One is simply that, as long as people are willing to accept that suffering is a necessary and even salutary part of life, they will never accept Communism, which attempts to create a utopia on earth. The other is just a sinister: Bella Dodd, a former Communist who testified before Sen. McCarthy’s Committee on Anti-American Activities, stated that their briefing from the KGB informed them that the Soviets knew they would never be able to get America on board because of two factors: Our morality, and our patriotism. So they struck at both. The Church was the source of our morality, so it must be destroyed, or at the very least discredited. Our patriotism was a little harder. But they succeeded at both.
But here’s the thing: They’ve discredited the MINISTERS of the Church, who are as human and subject to concupiscence as anybody else. But they will never destroy the Church. We have the promise of Our Lord Himself on that. As faulty as her ministers may be, she still is the only repository of the COMPLETE truth about God and the way we should live. “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life,” St. Peter said, and that should be our answer, as well.
Remember, the grace-giving effects of the Sacraments are not dependent on the priest’s state of grace or lack thereof. The Eucharist is still the Body and Blood of Christ; absolution is still valid, even when the advice the priest gives you may be a little dodgy. As others have said, this is not the time to abandon the Church. This is the time to stand with her and fight. We fight with our prayers, and with our letters to the clergy, and simply by spreading the Gospel, even if only by example. I’m not sure which saint said it, but spread the gospel any way you can. Use words if necessary.
As ST Josemaria Escriva said… ours is a “crisis of saints”. We need holy and saintly priests, laymen as well…and it all starts in the family…faithful and loving couples whose fidelity and love for one another reflects that of our Father, Abba in Heaven
Please correct an error in the article–it’s not associating with scandalizers but with scandalized heirs–I have a feeling this was autocorrect gone wrong….
I wonder if J. R. Tolkien had any idea of the atrocities his son, a priest, was perpetrating upon the 11-year old set. Not that he is responsible for his son’s sexual deviance and perfidy, mind you. But it does make one wonder what kind of unhealthy environment his son grew up in (the same priest son admitted he had been sexually abused by a much-beloved friend of his father’s in his own house growing up. See Betrayed: The English Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis by Richard Scorer–it’s not pretty).
To be clear, the son who was the abusive priest was John, not Michael, to whom the letter quoted in the article was written.
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