I have never trusted those who hide behind a cloak of anonymity. It seems to me that they do not have the courage of their convictions, or else that they have something to hide. I have, therefore, been very suspicious of an anonymous “priest” who gives talks on the internet attacking J. R. R. Tolkien as a heretic and attacking me as a heretic because of my books elucidating the deep Catholicism of Tolkien’s work. In these talks Tolkien is condemned as a Gnostic and I am a Gnostic for defending him.
Up until now I have chosen to ignore this “priest” because I will not argue with those who will not show themselves. I am, however, breaking my silence because I have heard that some people have burned their copies of The Lord of the Rings after hearing the “priest’s” talks. Faced with such hard evidence for the harm he is doing, I have decided to confront him. I am doing so in the hope that he will have the courage to come out of the closet and reply to me as a man of honesty and integrity, using his true name, and that he will not continue to lurk in the shadows, out of sight, in masonic secrecy, like a cloak and dagger villain who stabs his victims in the dark.
Before proceeding to the arguments the “priest” employs to suggest that Tolkien is a heretic, I would like to take a closer look at the “priest” himself, insofar as we can know anything about one who hides from those who seek him. On the website, he describes himself as “a traditional Catholic priest… in good standing with his local ordinaries and Rome, incardinated with normal faculties and jurisdiction, and serving in North America.” Perhaps I might be accused of skepticism, but I am suspicious of someone who says that he is “in good standing” but who fails to reveal himself, or one who claims to be “incardinated with normal faculties and jurisdiction” but who refuses the normal decency of appending his name to such assertions. How do we even know that this anonymous person is even a Catholic priest, “traditional” or otherwise? He could be anyone! Such masonic shenanigans should not go unquestioned.
And what reason does the “priest” give for his decision to lurk in the shadows, thereby avoiding the light of day which would allow his interlocutors to see the whites of his eyes? Here is what we are told on the website:
Because this priest has duties and responsibilities to care for the souls of the Faithful entrusted to him, he chooses to remain anonymous. By remaining unidentified, attention to his flock will not be divided with those outside of his parish who might seek him out for questions rather than going to their local priests. Moreover, the message he is preaching—the Catholic Faith—is what is important, not the human being who is preaching it.
This is all very high-sounding but it is not very high in terms of ethical accountability nor very sound in terms of reason. Is this “priest,” if priest he be, holier than the numerous saints in heaven who, during their earthly lives, had the courage to put their names to their words and deeds? Did these saints fail to give due attention to their flocks by answering questions from those who were not of their flocks? Indeed, who exactly is excluded from the flock? Why should this “priest” refuse to answer questions? Why on earth should “local priests” be able to answer the questions which his own sermons prompt? And, contrary to the “priest’s” claim to the contrary, why should we trust that someone is preaching “the Catholic Faith” properly if the person doing the preaching doesn’t trust us with his name? Who is he? Is he really a priest? If so, is he really in good standing? How “traditional” is he? We can’t check any of these facts because we are being deliberately kept in the dark. We only have the “priest’s” word for it, if indeed he is a priest.
This long preamble was necessary not merely as a means of introducing my rebuttal of his claims of heresy against me and Tolkien but as a means of showing that masonic “cloak and dagger” secrecy is never a bona fide way of engaging in discourse. It is worthy of neither man nor priest.
Proceeding to the actual content of the “priest’s” talks, I must say that his arguments against the deep Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings are so poor as to be pathetic. They are, in fact, so poor that I wonder that anyone would resort to the burning of their copies of Tolkien’s work having heard them.
The first thing that is clear is that the “priest” is not in the habit of reading books. He announces that he was in the habit of listening to The Lord of the Rings annually and makes no mention of ever having read it. I have nothing against listening to books, and The Lord of the Rings especially lends itself to being read aloud, but you cannot study a text unless you read it. It is essential that particular passages be read closely and perhaps repeatedly to glean the depth of their meaning, and it is equally essential to be able to compare passages from different parts of the book, side by side, to see the thematic threads that an author is weaving into his work. None of this is possible with an audio “reading” of the work, or at least it is much more difficult. Listening to a book is fun as recreational “reading” but it does not offer a deep enough engagement with the text for anything that could be called or considered a scholarly reading.
Similarly, the “priest” mentions that he had prepared for his talk by listening to my eight-part course on The Lord of the Rings for Catholic Courses. He seems to have never read any of the three books I’ve written on Tolkien’s works, nor the fourth book of academic essays on Tolkien’s works which I have edited, though he claims to have “looked through various parts” of my books and my articles on the subject. His engagement with my critique of Tolkien is, therefore, largely superficial, or, at least, is much more shallow than it ought to be if his arguments against my reading of Tolkien are to be taken seriously. That said, let’s proceed to the arguments he presents.
In essence, the “priest’s” arguments are based upon an inadequate understanding of “allegory” and “myth.” Citing Tolkien’s oft-quoted words from the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegory, the “priest” condemns Tolkien for criticizing allegory on the grounds that “God loves allegory.” What the “priest” doesn’t mention, though he should have known if he’d listened to my lectures carefully, or had read the right “parts” of my books, or had studied Tolkien’s own works in greater depth, is that Tolkien’s lamentably loose use of language in the foreword was not representative of his true understanding of allegory. In fact, in several of his letters he refers to The Lord of the Rings as being “an allegory,” which, on the banal level of argument on which the “priest” is working, would presumably mean that God loves The Lord of the Rings! There is no space within the confines of this article to examine Tolkien’s use and understanding of allegory at greater length, though I will devote a whole essay to it in the near future.
Having seen that the “priest’s” understanding of allegory falls short of the manner in which Augustine, Aquinas and Tolkien understood it, we then come to see that his understanding of “myth” is equally deficient and defective. There are two ways of using the word “myth.” The first is to see a “myth” as being synonymous with a lie. This is the way that the “priest” sees it and discusses it. The second is to see it as a “story,” which being the fruit of the God-given talent of creativity, contains truth in some form. This is the way that Tolkien, Chesterton and C. S. Lewis use the word. Since God is Himself a Storyteller, history being His Story, and since Jesus taught many of His most important lessons by telling stories about fictional characters, such as the Prodigal Son, story or “myth” has been sanctified. Our own stories or myths are good, true and beautiful insofar as they reflect the goodness, truth and beauty of the True Myth which God is telling. Compare this sublime understanding of truth and myth, which Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton had, with the banal level of argument that the “priest” employs: “Freemasonry is very much based on the myth concerning Solomon’s Temple. In other words, masons love myths.”
One hardly knows where to begin in responding to such a line of irrational “reasoning.” First of all, we would have to insist that “the myth concerning Solomon’s Temple,” being biblical, is a true myth, which means that “God loves myths,” irrespective of whether masons erect a lie upon the true foundations.
In the final analysis, and resorting to allegory, the “priest” is like the proverbial man in a glasshouse who should beware of throwing stones. One wonders why one who insists on secrecy, placing the Ring of invisibility on his finger, should have the gall to use the freemasons in a pejorative sense.
My final words of exhortation to the “priest” is that he should take the Ring from his finger so that he can leave the realm of shadows and enter into the light, because, as Samwise Gamgee reminds us all, “above all shadows rides the Sun.”
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.