Monday, 3 January 2011

Traddies compared...

J.R.R Tolkien 100 years ago.

It is J.R.R Tolkien's 119th birthday today. On 2nd January 1969, in a latter to Amy Ronald (whom he affectionately called Aimée, in deference to her love of French, which is fairer), he had explained that his name was John, a name much used by, and indeed beloved of, Christians, and that he was born on the Octave Day of St John the Evangelist (which is, of course, today in the Gregorian Kalendar), therefore taking the saint as his heavenly patron (though with a careful note that neither his father nor mother at the time would have thought of anything so Romish as to have named their firstborn son after a Saint!). I showed this letter to a good friend of mine on the Sabbath of the Advent Quarter Tense (i.e, Saturday last), and he rightly noted that it was interesting that Tolkien reckoned the dates in terms of Octaves - Octaves abolished by Pius XII a decade earlier.

In another letter, written to his son Michael in November of 1963, Tolkien said something quite extraordinary:

''I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.250).

Nothing about the liturgical books of 1962, or the reforms of the rites of Holy Week (or the rapid abrogation of the liturgical books of 1962 and the emergence of the Novus Ordo throughout the 1960s). An end note says that this was possibly a reference to frequent Communion, though I would beg to differ - frequent Communion being a mark of the Roman Church going back even to the days of Sts Bede and Dunstan (see, for example, the Regularis Concordia, or the First Life of Dunstan, though confessedly the custom was nebulous). Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien were both lapsed Anglicans, to whom Liturgy was a purely Sunday affair (Christopher had converted to the Church of England in 1959 in order to divorce his wife, understandably to the rancour of his father, who despised Anglicans), and the general thrust of this collection (very small, Tolkien was a prolific letter writer) of letters is towards the emergence of Tolkien's legendarium, comprising The Hobbit (1937), The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), and finally The Silmarillion (published posthumously in 1977), so passing references to religion are often overlooked or misunderstood. If we consider the reforms of Pius X, which Tolkien experienced as a young man of my age, they effected not just the Roman Breviary, which by 1911 was the province purely of the clergy, but also the Kalendar. Before Pius X's reforms, if a Sunday had an occurring feast, the Mass of the Day was festal, and the Sunday was commemorated. Pius X reversed this, so that occurring feasts were commemorated and the Sunday took precedence (depending, of course, upon the rank of the feast). Whatever the merits of this reform it could hardly have gone unnoticed - in 1911 I expect that most Sundays one's parish priest wore red or white colour vestments. By 1914 this had completely changed, and green took over. I don't know what Carpenter was thinking of when he thought up this end note, but it is clearly not what Tolkien had in mind - and nothing to do with the Council (with which Tolkien was well-informed. On 10th March 1960 Tolkien attended a lecture at Blackfriars to mark the feast of St Thomas Aquinas entitled: ''The Coming General Council of the Church: Everybody's Concern'', given by Fr Jerome Hamer, OP).

J.R.R Tolkien with his family in 1955. Note the presence of his eldest son Fr John Tolkien, ordained a priest in the Roman Church in 1946.

Simon Tolkien, Tolkien's grandson, has this to say about Sunday Mass with his grandfather in the 1960s:

''I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn't agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.''

As a Classicist Tolkien couldn't understand at a personal level the pastoral motives for translating the liturgical rites into English. What must have irked him most in this sense though was the banal, degrading, Bible-in-basic-English (which he complained about to his aunt Jane Neave in 1961, see Letter no.234) vernacular with which he was provided. It doesn't take an idiot to work out that ''Et cum spiritu tuo'' does NOT translate as ''And also with you.'' He must have felt very sour, and alone, to have been ill-fated to die when he did, and to witness with his very eyes the collapse of everything he thought so strong and everlasting, from 1911 even unto 1973. In 1968, in another moving letter to Michael, he said: ''I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord's followers in His earthly life-time?)'' (Letters, no.306). As you can see Tolkien was hanging on by a thread. He died in 1973, in communion with Rome, though Mass for him got so bad that he stormed out. How it angers me that this great man was humiliated in the twilight of his years by the very guardians of the Liturgy, which he loved.

The liturgical material in Tolkien's Letters is woefully scarce, understandably because they were compiled with the purpose of shedding more light on his literary works rather than his personal beliefs. If I am spared so many other cares and commitments I may take the time to personally research Tolkien's unpublished letters in order to piece together a more complete picture of a prominent literary Catholic, who saw throughout his life each stage of the liturgical reform. It is, however, clear enough from the material I have just shown that Tolkien was one of the proto-Traditionalists of the 1960s, in the same class as Evelyn Waugh, who famously said:

''Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church going is now a bitter trial.'' (Letter to Archbishop Heenan, this very day in 1965).

People like Tolkien and Waugh are unlike modern Traditionalists. There has arisen a certain kind of modern Traditionalist (especially in the last three years, where obedience to the precepts of Summorum Pontificum is seen as the yardstick of one's orthodoxy), who mistakes blind obedience to the liturgical whims of the S.R.C or the Pope for righteous, Christian obedience to the teaching of the Church. One oft hears such repugnant things as: ''The Church permits the liturgical books of 1962 to exist side-by-side with the modern Rite'', or ''the whole purpose of Summorum Pontificum was the leitmotif numquam abrogatam'', etc. Please do not be deceived by this kind of pseudo-traditionalism. Evelyn Waugh was not interested in what the Church ''permitted'' in 1962 in matters liturgical; neither would he be fooled (had he lived) by the hackneyed ''numquam abrogatam'' nonsense, which is demonstrably false. Tolkien and Waugh were interested solely in the authentic Tradition of the Church as found in the traditional liturgical rites (pre-Pius XII) with which they were nourished throughout their lives. Pope Benedict XVI errs (or worse) when he says that the liturgical books of 1962 are an ''ancient usage'', were ''never juridically abrogated'', and were moreover ''familiar to them from childhood.'' To whom? Certainly not my 80 year old grandmother, nor even my 53 year old father!

Clearly there are Traditionalists and Traditionalists. Tolkien and Waugh would have Liturgy as it was in all the days of their lives. Who knows what modern Trads want, but their erroneous beliefs and their oft tendency to scoff at their local bishops indicate to me that they are not really traditional in any meaningful sense of that term, nor interested in historical liturgical accuracy, but are just brainwashed Ultramontane types who hang on, in spite of remonstrance to the contrary, to the Pope's every word, whether it be true or false. Is this not an apt description of delusion? Old Traditionalists were in a state of variance with Rome (as was I before Summorum Pontificum); modern Traditionalists are now the most obedient Papal sycophants, and look down their noses at everyone - since they implement Summorum Pontificum and the liberals don't! Whatever they want in the Church they clearly have little in common with Waugh and Tolkien, both of whom, I would say, would have repudiated Summorum Pontificum as repugnant to the Tradition of the ancient Roman Liturgy.


  1. Patrici!

    Happy New Year!

    You quote from Tolkein's letter:

    'I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.250).

    But the reform of St Pius X that he is referring to might be of Canon Law or the Catechism or indeed the foundation of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Why do you think he is writing about the Liturgy here?

    The "however needed" is pregnant. Does Tolkein anywhere else write what he hoped Vatican II would achieve? And if he was writing about the Liturgy what reform did he think was needed?

    PS: If he was born on the Octaveday, and whatever Pius XII did not change that fact, then it is far from strange that he should mention it when speaking about his name. Serendipity?

  2. Bryan, TolkIEN even.

    The quote ''I suppose...'' comes from a letter in which Tolkien wrote extensively about Liturgy; this is why I have interpreted the quote in the light of Pius X's reforms. I have never heard Tolkien speak of Canon Law before, or the Roman Catechism, though he did recount services at other churches, and of course his experiences of the Sacraments (Penance), and the Quarant 'Ore, Pontifical Liturgy at the Throne in Milan in 1955 etc.

    As to the ''however needed'' part, Tolkien wrote bitterly elsewhere that he resented being patted on the back (esp by Anglicans) as the representative of a church which had abandoned its hauteur and seperatism (vis, the Ecumenical Movement); although he did have Ecumenical sympathies.

  3. " Tolkien and Waugh were interested solely in the authentic Tradition of the Church as found in the traditional liturgical rites (pre-Pius XII) with which they were nourished throughout their lives."

    Strange that, in the case of Waugh, as he was born in 1903 and only received into the Church on 29 September 1930. He had been a student at Lancing, however, and, if you're right, must have been nourished in pre-Pian ecclesiastical mores by some form of early Hunwickism.

  4. Ttony, what is your point? Waugh knew enough about pre-Pius XII Liturgy to know that '62 was not what he wanted every Sunday (or Holy Week). The point of this post is to illustrate that people like Waugh and Tolkien would not be satisfied with Summorum Pontificum as modern Trads seem to be.

  5. Whoops! I read "pre-Pius X", not "pre-Pius XII".

    But, actually, it makes for a different point. All one can say definitively about Waugh and Tolkien is that they didn't like the Pius XII changes to the ceremonies of Holy Week.

    Separately, they each disliked other things as well, but these don't make them a School or a Movement or their views in some manner definitively binding.

  6. Patricius,

    Thank you for this post - very informative. I thought I knew Tolkien & his background quite well but you surprised me with that information about Christopher Tolkien. Very sad. I hope you are one day able to research his life & beliefs more deeply.


  7. Ttony,

    I think one can say considerably more about Waugh's attitude. Waugh had written to 'The Tablet' in March 1963 suggesting the promotion of what we now might term an 'Ordinariate' - "Will you [The Tablet] promote an appeal to the Holy See for the establishment of a Uniate Latin Church will shall observe all the rites as they existed in the reign of Pius IX?" (emphasis mine). Waugh was writing during that brief time when the 'liturgical books of 1962' were actually in use, before the mandatory changes of Advent 1964, and his thoughts were clearly about not wishing to promote their use but return to traditional praxis. Waugh's choice of Pio Nono seems rather determined by a rejection of the changes of John XXIII, Pius XII and Pius X.

    A couple of years later Waugh was one of the founder members of the Latin Mass Society established to promote the immemorial rites, not the 1962 rite. The LMS in those days was rather militant hence the split that developed over 'obedience' and Dick Richens setting up the 'loyal to the Holy See' Association for Latin Liturgy.

    Perhaps Waugh's idea is ripe for development and an Ordinariate of Roman Patrimony should be set up?

  8. The LMS was militant: see Hugh Ross Williamson's writings about the New Rite of Mass,and he was Chairman (??- certainly active) and I wonder what Arnold Lunn, another founder member thought of the changes. David Jones wrote and excellent letter to the Tablet about the New 1955 Holy Week, I think it's in one of the Faber books editions of his writings: (The Dying Gaul,maybe ?) Alan Robinson

  9. Thank you all for your comments.

    I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that Tolkien spoke at an early meeting of the Latin Mass Society. If you're all patient I shall get to the bottom of this...

  10. Is Christopher Tolkien still an Anglican, I wonder.

    Also, is there any way of indentifying the individuals depicted in the photograph?

  11. I'm glad I managed to get a houndstooth jacket like Waugh!

  12. The following words of J. Tolkien ''I know quite well that the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go!'' and of Evelyn Vaughn: ''Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church going is now a bitter trial.'' reflect exactly my own feelings. I often think that I would have been better off had i been born into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Or even into the Anglican Church. For, in the darkest years known to the Roman chruch, 1970 - 2007, when the Old Rite was officially forbidden and persecuted, one could still find that Rite openly celebrated amongst some Anglo-Catholics. I find it distasteful that the Vatican now claims that the traditional Roman Rite was never abrogated nor forbidden! This double-speach, of course, is a seemingly useful lying technique which allows the present-day Vatican to save face and pretend that it never makes mistakes, that it has always been the faithful upholder of Tradition, the perfect presider in Charity and the true guardian and defender of the Liturgy and Sacraments, when in fact, it betrayed all three. I was alive and in Rome for most of those years, which I remember well. My experiences have taught me to loathe and mistrust ultramontanism and hyperinfallibilism as much as jansenism and modernism. Nor am I impressed by present-day quasi-traditionalism and neo-conservatism. I can only agree with most of what Hull writes in his excellent book on Heteropraxy in the Roman Church.

  13. Albertus,

    Very wise and brave words - if I were wearing a Canterbury cap, or other form of head gear, I would doff it in your honour.

    Geoffrey Hull's 'The Banished Heart' is one of only two books I ever recommend, and not because Geoffrey was kind enough to put me in the acknowledgements of the latest edition!

  14. Professor Tighe,

    It is hard to say about Christopher Tolkien; he guards his privacy jealously (not that I'd blame him). I would personally blame him for retiring at 51 and earning millions publishing his father's work, but that's another matter.

    Albertus, I agree, though I think that 2007 was a counterfeit and a shambles. Trads may like to think they're implementing Summorum Pontificum when celebrating pre-'62 Liturgy but they are yet to demonstrate how, or to show that '62 was not juridically abrogated. I am yet to read Hull's book though.

  15. I didn't know about Evelyn Waugh's suggestion of a Pius IX unitate church - what a good idea! I'm not sure we could get its promotion though a Latin Mass Society AGM just at the moment, mind you, but who knows what will happen in time?

    The early history of the traditionalist movement in England hasn't yet been written up. That's a task for someone who has time. (The US has "The Smoke of Satan" which is a brief and rather biased account of the Traditionalist movement there in the 1970s and early 80s).

    "My experiences have taught me to loathe and mistrust ultramontanism and hyperinfallibilism as much as jansenism and modernism. Nor am I impressed by present-day quasi-traditionalism and neo-conservatism." Quite so, but someone has to work out in detail the correct theological position. Much of late 19th-early 20th century theology falls into one or other of these pitfalls. Where is the "Doctor Traditionis" who will give us an exposition of the correct position, that avoids all these various errors?

  16. Rubricarius,
    thank you for wishing to doff your headgear in my honour! Though i must confess, that in the past four decades I'd much rather have had the serenity that religion can offer, than the honour of now being courageously - yet bitterly - honest regarding the Church of my birth. As a French theologian once lamented : l'Eglise, ma mere, ma croix!
    How interesting to find you mentioned in Hull's book! And i do own the latest edition, in fact, two copies of it, one of which i would gladly donate to Patricius if he does not already have it.

  17. Rubricarius,
    a propos, please satisfy my curiosity: which of the acknowledements in Hull's book are you? and what is the second book which you recommend?

    DavidForster: indeed, quite a dilemma. I have no answer for you. I do know of a non-professional Catholic theologian who, I believe, does point in the right direction, and does avoid the twentieth century pitfalls. But you probably would find him too audacious, as he is a sort of progressive traditionalist, who prefers Plato to Aristotles.

  18. Albertus: you are teasing, because you're not telling! I suspect it will be the non-professional theologians who will point the way - the professionals have too much too lose by way of academic credibility.
    I'm sure that Aristotle would have agreed that there's much to be said for Plato!