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Old 08-21-2021, 07:32 AM   #1
UralBolivar
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What was Tolkien's view of the Eastern Orthodoxy and Cathodoxy in general?

I'm not sure whats the appropriate forum to post this in. So mods please move it to where you feel is proper. I'm just posting it here for now because I can't find subforum specifically devoted to Tolkien himself and am desperate to find answers for this question. So move it to where you think its best to be in mods!

I already know Tolkien despised Anglicanism for being a shadow of its formerly Cathodox style denomination.

But I am curious how he viewed Eastern Orthodoxy and the other Cathodox churches (Coptic, Ethiopian Tewahedo, Armenian Apostolic, Nestorian, Syriac, and practically any post-Nicene church that survives today and completely founded on the Council of Nicene in principles).

I know Tolkien would have probably be a member SSPX or some other hardcore traditionalist Catholic church in today's world as its obvious by his contempt of vernacular language and fanatical insistence on only using Latin for Roman Rites. But than again he was liberal in his time including condemning anti-Semitism and as opposed to most Catholics at the time who tended to be insular (especially in Britain), he did not mind mingling with Protestants.

However as I mentioned earlier he was so insistent on Catholicism whenever religious matters came he openly commented he's a devout Roman Catholic and would often boast how Catholicism is the original Christianity, etc and his writings imply he's willing to face torture and execution for his faith. So I am curious of his views on other Cathodoxy, in particular Eastern Orthodoxy which has a big grudge against the Vatican and historically suffered persecution from Catholics while simultaneously targeting Catholics for persecution and even mass murder in Orthodox majority countries prior to the Protestant Reformation; the Reformation simply added Protestant Christians to their list of targets by Eastern Orthodox churches.

Did he view Eastern Orthodoxy and other Cathodox denominations as a shadow of lost tradition much like Anglicans? Or did he have a warmer opinion on other early post Nicene Churches much like he did on Jews? Does he consider the 1054 schism a grave tragic error much like he does with the Protestant Reformation?
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Old 08-21-2021, 02:56 PM   #2
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My first inclination is to think that he probably didn't have much of an opinion. Orthodox Christianity doesn't have much of a presence in England, so (unlike Anglicans or Methodists) it's not something he would have had to face on a day-to-day basis.

That said... letter 306 was written by Tolkien to his son Michael, and touches on some relevant points. It was written in 1967, which places it solidly after Vatican II - ie, the 'changes' and suchlike that he mentions are probably exactly the sort of thing you meant when saying "Tolkien would have probably be a member SSPX or some other hardcore traditionalist Catholic church in today's world". Excerpting freely here (ellipses like . . . . are from the source; like [...] are my additions):

Quote:
'Trends' in the Church are . . . . serious, especially to those accustomed to find in it a solace and a 'pax' in times of temporal trouble, and not just another arena of strife and change.

[...]

I think there is nothing to do but to pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.

[...]

Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interactions of its bequeathed divine life and history

[...]

The wise may know that [the development of Christianity] began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and power it had now reside in the Tree. Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites, and so forth. [...] But they will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils. The other motive [...]: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this, 'ecumenicalness' has also become confused.

I find myself in sympathy with those developments that are strictly 'ecumenical', that is concerned with other groups or churches that call themselves (and often truly are) 'Christian'. We have prayed endlessly for Christian re-union, but it is difficult to see, if one reflects, how that could possibly begin to come about except as it has, with all its inevitable minor absurdities.
So, far from being in one of the societies which stand in opposition to Vatican II (whether or not they've explicitly broken from the Catholic Church), Tolkien advocated "the virtue of loyalty". Reading the rest of the letter, I think he does feel a personal loyalty both to the Church and the Pope, whatever they do.

Looking at the changes, he saw three strands there:
  • A drive to return to "primitive Christianity", which he ridiculed. There's a scathing quote: "The 'protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness - which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain." His very realistic view is that Christianity has always had problems, even back in its earliest days.
  • Updating and modernising, which he passed over very briefly in the big quote above. Yeah, we can probably take that to mean he was Not Happy.
  • 'Ecumenical' changes to bring Catholicism more in line with other churches, which he's strongly 'in sympathy' with. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that Protestant and Orthodox churches were treated in the same breath at Vatican II, so they're probably part of what he's thinking of. One thing they're probably not included in is his very snarky comment later in the paragraph: "As Christians, those faithful to the Vicar of Christ must put aside the resentments that as mere humans they feel - e.g. at the 'cockiness' of our new friends (esp. Church of England). One is now often patted on the back, as a representative of a church that has seen the error of its ways..."

Of course, Catholicism and the CofE have a long history - it's worth remembering that we still burn a Catholic in effigy on the closest thing we have in England to a National Day (I mean... in theory; I've never actually seen a Guy Fawkes in the wild), and Tolkien himself talks in the letter about how "Roman Catholics still suffer from disabilities not even applicable to Jews" in England. (Not sure what he's specifically thinking of, though an obvious one is that no Catholic could inherit the throne of Great Britain.) So I feel like his antipathy to the Church of England was specifically to that church, not to non-Catholic denominations in general.

But that's speculation! I don't actually know anything. I'd be fascinated to hear if anyone does.

hS

(PS: Random Latin Mass fact of the day... all the kerfluffle over the change becomes wildly amusing when you realise that Mass was originally said in Latin in the Roman Empire... when Latin was the language of the people hearing it! Far from being a mystery, it was done that way so the faithful could understand it... ^_^)
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Old 08-22-2021, 02:02 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
(PS: Random Latin Mass fact of the day... all the kerfluffle over the change becomes wildly amusing when you realise that Mass was originally said in Latin in the Roman Empire... when Latin was the language of the people hearing it! Far from being a mystery, it was done that way so the faithful could understand it... ^_^)
A fact that has somehow eluded many great minds for centuries.
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Old 08-27-2021, 09:18 AM   #4
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As early as the late 5th or early 6th century, a Gallic bishop remonstrated with his priests to give the sermon, if not the liturgy, in "the common Latin of the people," meaning proto-French.
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Old 08-27-2021, 09:23 AM   #5
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I would say though that Tolkien would have little problem with Orthodoxy, historical political conflicts with Rome notwithstanding. The Catholic position on the Eastern Church was always merely "schismatic," i.e. not obedient to the Pope, rather than the "heretical" label that was applied to all Protestants until modern times. Orthodox Christians then and now are permitted Communion in Catholic churches, unlike Protestants.
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