Priest, Prophet, King and The Lord of the Rings

There is no character named Jesus Christ in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. God also makes no appearance. The protagonists don’t attend church, or even pray. Yet The Lord of the Rings is a Catholic work, equal to or overshadowing C.S Lewis’s Narnia series in the depths of faith. Tolkien weaved Catholic theology, philosophy, and tradition throughout The Lord of the Rings, but he also despised the idea of allegory. Therefore, there is no character, such as Aslan in Narnia, who represents Christ. But there are characters, three in particular, who offer insights into the three traditional vocations of Christ: priest, prophet, and king.

ImageKing: Perhaps the easiest of Christ’s vocations to find in The Lord of the Rings is Aragorn. Aragorn is the “King returning.” Like Christ, he has an extensive lineage that dates back to the leaders of his people long ago and is fashioned by prophecy, but appears not in glory but humbly – “all that is gold does not glitter.” Aragorn reunites Arnor and Gondor through his reign and brings together the once feuding peoples of the Elves and Dwarves, as embodied by the friendship of Gimli and Legolas: how can one not see here parallels to Israel and Judah, or the Jews and the Gentiles? Aragon is a king that serves and heals. He does not meet the people’s expectations: he does not enter the city of Minas Tirith openly, and labors in shadows to defend the Shire with his Dunedain under the Hobbits’ noses. Nobility meets selflessness in the character of Aragorn, and the kingly vocation of Christ is quite easily noticed.

ImageProphet: Gandalf embodies many of the qualities and characteristics of the prophetic vocation of Christ. Certainly, Gandalf’s “death” hints at multiple moments in the life of Christ – for example, Gandalf wrestles with a demon in a deep underground tomb, dying only to return again in new form. That new form can also be seen as a “transfiguration” of Gandalf (bright white clothing and hair being a common feature); Gandalf’s struggle with a Balrog does not take place only under but also on top of a mountain. Like a prophet, Gandalf was sent by the benevolent gods of Middle Earth – the Valar – to work against Sauron. Also similar to many prophets, Gandalf does not originally desire to go, and he is mocked as unworthy by his compatriot Saruman. Saruman, as the foil to Gandalf, shows the temptation of the prophet fulfilled: taking power for his own. Instead, Gandalf guides without forcing, and his abilities come from knowledge, words and runes. Like Christ, Gandalf strangely balances the world of Middle Earth and the divine Valinor from which he comes, shaping in small ways the struggle against Sauron.

ImagePriest: Finding the priestly vocation in The Lord of the Rings is probably the hardest of the three – after all, there are no “priests” because there is no open religion. Yet, Christ’s role as priest plays out in part by Frodo in Tolkien’s tale. Frodo bears the Ring throughout the tale, the embodiment of temptation, sin, and evil – in a sense, like Christ he bears the weight of the evil of the past and present that grows ever heavier as he approaches the Ring’s ultimate destruction. Because of this, Frodo seeks silence and solitude often. As well, Frodo’s path mimics the Via Dolorosa, the “way of tears” leading to Christ’s crucifixion, as Frodo goes through hardship after hardship: abandoned by friends, (seemingly) betrayed, tempted and tired. Frodo then “dies” through Shelob’s sting and arrives in Mordor, a very representative Hell, which Frodo is forced to harrow to save those he loves. Frodo, in short, is the sacrificial lamb, contending with Gollum as the mirror of his own soul’s fight ultimately brings about a new world.

The insights, of course, only go so far. As no character is Christ, there are limitations to each of them. Frodo, after all, ultimately fails to destroy the ring. Gandalf’s role might better be described as an angel than as a prophet. They are, in some capacity, all mortal and all flawed. But each present a new way of understanding the vocations of Christ, vocations that all Christians are called to live out in their own times. In following Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, we follow Christ: in work, in suffering, and in glory.

Michael Fischer is a senior in the SFS and a Knight of Columbus. He serves as Baking Scheduler for the Nightly Mass Community and President of the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Society.


Christ as Arthur

It is said that in ages past, in a Britain now lost to the mists of time, a great leader arose to rule over his countrymen.  Whether it was fate, a wizard’s spell, or God’s will, Arthur was called from obscurity to unite the Britons as king.  For a time, he was able to bring peace to the isles.  For a time, he demonstrated to the Britons what their kingdom could become.  When he was at last slain through treachery, his body was taken to the Isle of Avalon where he now sleeps.  According to legend, he will return in Britain’s darkest hour and rule once more.

Arthur at Avalon- He demonstrated what their kingdom could become
Arthur at Avalon- He demonstrated what their kingdom could become

Perhaps because I was so enthralled by the tales of Arthur and his knights when I was young, I came to see Jesus’ story as paralleling that of the High King of Britain.  Two thousand years ago, God became incarnate and dwelt among us for a time.  From the obscurity of a little town, Jesus was called to teach the people of Israel and bring salvation.  For a time, He lived with them and opened their eyes to what humanity could become through faith in Him.  When He too was betrayed, He died, rose from the dead, and then ascended into Heaven where He will wait until He comes again at the end of time.

Now as any student of British history can attest to, Britain has rarely lived up to Arthur’s ideal of a unified and peaceful realm.  Too often greed, mistrust, and even petty politics proved the undoing of the fledgling kingdom and it was thrown into bloody civil wars.  The problem was that mere humans had been entrusted with the task of creating a perfect Britain relying simply upon their own strength.

Despite all of our talent and knowledge, we Georgetown students realize that we too are imperfect.  Many of us will leave this school and try to improve the world, some of us will no doubt become leaders with incredible influence, yet we are still human, and we will not always get it right.

The Britons were given the task of building an ideal earthly kingdom, but as Christians we are entrusted with building the very Kingdom of God.  While it may instill a sense of pride in us that God assigned us such a crucial role, we are still human and are simply incapable of accomplishing this on our own.  It would seem then, that God in fact has little regard for humanity- commissioning them to improve their world and all the while knowing that they will fail.

If mankind is left to toil on in Jesus’ absence as the Britons do while Arthur sleeps, we should despair of ever managing anything but the most fleeting and inconsequential of victories.  Yet if we are to believe Christ’s words, we have been granted bountiful blessings to strengthen us as we strive to act according to God’s will.

We are told that at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, emboldening them to spread the Good News throughout the known world.  At the Sacrament of Confirmation, we too receive this infusion of grace as we beg to be granted the Gifts of the Holy Spirit not for our own sake, but that we might better serve God here on earth.  As the priest lays his hands on us, the very same portion of God comes into our hearts that enabled fishermen from a small town to set the world on fire with God’s love.  This Spirit works through our lives, granting us the necessary grace to do God’s work in ways otherwise impossible.

Christ the King, with whom we cannot fail.
Christ the King, with whom we cannot fail.

God’s gifts are overflowing, and do not merely end with the promised Holy Spirit.  In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ comes down to dwell among us once more in physical form.  As the bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood, we are invited to accept Him into our lives.  God’s love for us is so vast that He cannot help but come into our midst again and again through this Sacrament.

He is not an absentee king, ruling from some palace far away.  He is a servant king who willing comes among us to provide aid and comfort in our struggles.  God’s salvation is ongoing as He lovingly offers us to the grace to do His will.  Through His grace, we are enlivened with a power beyond measure as we act not for our sakes, but for the greater glory of God.

Pat Brookhouser is the Lecturer for the GU Knights and is a sophomore in the SFS.