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Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

You might like to compare Tolkien’s “Ainulindale” (the Elvish account of the creation of the world through music, in The Silmarillion), with the following meditation on the Exercises of St Ignatius by Gerard Manley Hopkins, taken from The Notebooks and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, pp. 348-51.

The angels, like Adam, were created in sanctifying grace, which is a thing that affects the individual, and were then asked to enter into a covenant or contract with God which, as with Adam, should give them an original justice or status and rights before God. The duties of this commonwealth were, for them, to contribute each in his rank, hierarchy, and own species, towards the Incarnation and the great sacrifice. Sister Emmerich saw this under the figure of the building of a tower: it might perhaps also be called a temple and a church. It was in fact the Church and the heavenly Jerusalem. It is also compared to a concert of music, the ranks of the angelic hierarchies being like notes of a scale and a harmonic series: the working of the commonwealth and the building of the tower or temple would be like the playing on these notes, like the tune, the music. They are also compared to the heavenly spheres, planetary distances, and so on; and indeed these things, music and astronomy, are compared among themselves (in the Music of the Spheres and the morning stars singing for joy)…. And lastly they are compared to a pedigree, to generations; and through such a pedigree or tree of generations in some sort it is likely that Christ passed, taking the stead but not the true nature of a race or series of angels.

Hopkins then describes how Christ calls on the angels to worship God. But the song offered by Lucifer, like that of Melkor in Tolkien,

was a dwelling on his own beauty, an instressing of his own inscape, and like a performance on the organ and instrument of his own being; it was a sounding, as they say, of his own trumpet and a hymn in his own praise. Moreover it became an incantation: others were drawn in; it became a concert of voices, a concerting of selfpraise, an enchantment, a magic, by which they were dizzied, dazzled, and bewitched. They would not listen to the note which summoned each to his own place (Jude 6) and distributed them here and there in the liturgy of the sacrifice; they gathered rather closer and closer home under Lucifer’s lead and drowned it, raising a countermusic and countertemple and altar, a counterpoint of dissonance and not of harmony. I suppose they introduced a pathos as of the nobler nature put aside for the higher and even persuaded themselves that God was only trying them; that to disobey and substitute themselves, Lucifer above all, as the angelic victim of the world sacrifice was secretly pleasing to him, that selfdevotion of it, the suicide, the semblance of sin was a loveliness of heroism which could only arise in the angelic mind; that it was divine and a meriting and at last a grasp of godhead.

He concludes that this rebellion of the angelic host marked the lower world, the world of matter, “with the confusion, clashing, and wreck which took place in the higher one and was there repaired at once but not here all at once.” Thus the Devil’s first sin was not the temptation of Eve, but preceded the creation of the Garden. He “tried to destroy by violence before he succeeded in ruining by fraud.”

I should explain what Hopkins means by the “great sacrifice” to which the angels were supposed to contribute. He was speaking of a cosmic redemption, the descent of the second Person of the Trinity into human form in the midst of creation, in order to raise, first his Mother, and then the rest, to union with God:

for redeem may be said not only of the recovering from sin to grace or perdition to salvation but also of the raising from worthlessness before God (and all creation is unworthy of God) to worthiness of him, the meriting of God himself, or, so to say, godworthiness. In this sense the Blessed Virgin was beyond all others redeemed, because it was her more than all other creatures that Christ meant to win from nothingness and it was her that he meant to raise the highest (p. 345).

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1 reply to this post
  1. This perspective is an interesting counterpoint to the nature of evil found in Melkor’s acolyte Sauron. Unlike his teacher, the erstwhile Maiar seemed to intend, then act to ward the end of ordering the perceived disorder and variety of creation. Of course, ultimately this meant subordinating all free wills to his. As distinct as this may seem from Melkor’s indigenous strain of vanity in having all things worships him, the two strains come together in that they are both unhappy with the established harmony, or order, of creation. Nicely done.

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