These two are connected: Providence and Hope. Introduction:
Hope is one of the primary Christian virtues [Love and Faith being the others] and Providence is caught up in the mystery of the Fatherhood of God and His guiding love. We hope is these things.
In its simplicity, the whole mission of destroying the Ring in the Lord of the Rings is one of Hope. If those making the decisions, i.e. Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Aragorn or the Council of Elrond didn't have hope that destroying the Ring could actually work, would they have done it? Forget about whether it is the right path to choose or not. If there was no Hope, then why try?
Intrinsically embedded in the story is an attitude of immense hope even though it is far-off and frail. A hope that all evil could be completely rid of by choosing a path that is both right and possible; though obviously fraught with danger and seemingly foolish from a logical and rational perspective. But still possible and therefore an option, and one of Hope.
As Elrond said;
"I have seen three ages of the West of the world, and many defeats and many fruitless victories." [LotR p.237]
He had learnt and drawn wisdom from it, that the only way to deal with the Ring was to choose the Path that was the hardest but 'rightist'. He had been present when Isildur took the Ring for himself, and therefore knew how it would always work its way back to Sauron if a definitive solution wasn't chosen.
Frodo trusts Gandalf and Elrond's instruction, but also understands the reasons outlined at the Council of Elrond for destroying it. They decide to choose the right path and trust in providence. Elrond himself said that they had been summoned in the nick of time;
"...that is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance it would seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find council for the peril of the world." [LotR p.236]
There is a sense here of an external will leading them to find council for the peril of the world and choose the appropriate path. They are obedient to wisdom and not temporal gain or temporal safety or natural sight.
All, except Boromir trust in the fools hope that destroying the Ring will be the definitive solution of the evil at hand; even though the other paths seem like the easier way. Elrond mentions;
"...the Western road seems the easiest. Therefore it must be shunned."- a very Christian message which is relevant in today's world and echoes the Gospel truth that 'the way to life is narrow and few tread it, but the road to perdition is wide and many choose it'. [LotR p.260] [Mat 7:13]
They trust in doing what is morally right to produce the results and not what is just necessary to produce the desired result.
"A Fools Hope..." is what Gandalf admitted was what they had chosen, in sending Frodo and Sam into Mordor to destroy the Ring; a lovely echo of God's own choices in our world in choosing the 'foolish and simple' to confound the wise. [1 Cor 1:19-2:5] [LotR p.797]
Elrond himself admits;
"If I understand aright all that I have heard, I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no-one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their fields to shake the towers and councils of the Great, Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Of if they are wise, why should they expect to know it until the hour has struck." [LotR p.264]
It is almost like Frodo was appointed by some higher power, and this is further enforced by his own free choice to take on the task;
"'I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way', as if some other will was using his small voice ..." [LotR p.264], and giving him the strength and courage to accept and take up the burden.
U' ' "J—M.
It is interesting to see what Tolkien himself wrote of this moment;
"Frodo was given 'grace': first to answer the call [at the end of the Council] after long resisting a complete surrender; and later in his resistance to the temptation of the Ring..." [Letters p.326 - footnote]
Just previous to this comment Tolkien writes of grace;
"...as the enhancement of our powers as instruments of Providence..." This further confirms Tolkien's theme of Providence in the Lord of the Rings. [Letters p.326 - footnote]
In fact the whole tale of the Ring reaching Frodo is one of providence itself, as Gandalf says to Frodo...
"It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far. Bilbo arrived and put his hand on it in the dark. There was more than one power at work Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to his master" - Gandalf regarding Bilbo finding the ring. [LotR p.54]
"Behind that there was something else at work, more than any design of the Ring-Maker." [LotR p.54]
"Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also are meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." - Gandalf. [LotR p.55]
Gandalf is seeing that there are other powers at play that are influencing the outcome of Middle-earth, and so he should. He himself was sent from the West to aid Middle-earth and is indeed a Maiar [or Archangel - angelic spirit]; an "...incarnate angel..." taking on physical form, but capable of pain, weariness and fear. [Letters p.202]
Throughout the entire tale are moments of pure providence as an apparent Finger of God intervenes when some dire sequence or important occasion needs it.
The fact that Merry and Pippin go with the Fellowship due to Gandalf's intervention is extremely important. Gandalf himself knew this was important. He says to Elrond;
"...it would be well to trust in friendship than to great wisdom." [LotR p.269]
Merry and Pippin end up having a great effect on the outcome of things, e.g.
• helping in the redemption of Boromir.
• being kidnapped and meeting Treebeard which ends up bringing down Saruman.
• Pippin looking into the Palantir which causes Sauron to strike early.
• Merry stabbing the Witch King that helps in his killing, but also saves Eowyn.
• Pippin helps save Faramir in Minas Tirith.
Gandalf mentions the fact when he says;
"It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir's sake. But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains."
The Dream of Boromir gives one another sense of pure providence in Middle-earth. Boromir and Faramir both receive the dream, but it is Boromir who takes on the task of discovering its meaning. Boromir describes that in the dream he saw;
".the Eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice remote but clear, crying..." [LotR p.240]
"Seek for the Sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur's Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand."
Once again the feeling of the Powers-from-Above guiding those who resist Sauron is tangible.
Aragorn certainly understood the dream in this way;
"His own plan, while Gandalf remained with them, was to go with Boromir, and with his sword help deliver Gondor. For he believed that the message of the dreams was a summons, and that the hour had come at last when the heir of Elendil should come forth and strive with Sauron for the mastery." [LotR p.359]
Other examples are found in Frodo and Sam's journey where they seem to providentially receive some gift or grace of strength and courage. Firstly Sam seems to receive strength when wearing the Ring;
"And then he bent his own neck and put the chain upon it, and at once his head was bowed to the ground with the weight of the Ring, as if a great stone had been strung on him. But slowly, as if the weight became less, or new strength grew in him, he raised his head, and then with a great effort got to his feet and found that he could walk and bear his burden." [LotR p.716]
"That day it seemed to Sam that Frodo had found new strength, more than could be explained by the small lightening of the load that he had to carry." [LotR p.917]
Then he receives strength when carrying Frodo;
"As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely the strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear and homeless wandering, or because some gift of strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire." [M&M p.113]
It is also shown when Sam speaks aloud the verse to Elbereth when confronted by Shelob - a voice rises from within his heart;
"And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know." [LotR p.712]
At the end of the story Merry refers to higher powers guiding the fortunes of Middle-earth and providing good:
"...the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer in the world could tend his garden in what he calls peace, but for them." [LotR p.958]
The men of the south talk of Faramir;
"He leads now in all perilous ventures. But his life is charmed, or fate spares him for some other purpose." [LotR p.645]
Another example of providence is that of the White Tree sapling appearing on Mt Mindolliun and Aragorn finding it guided by Gandalf.
Imbedded in the Mythology is the foresightedness of the wise in Middle-earth. Galadriel's messages for Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli show she is foresighted and prophetic. In fact all of the wise; Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, even Aragorn seem to understand and trust in other powers at play. They understand that fate is not guided by chance, but providence, as is shown by Galadriel's comment in Lorien;
"Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thoughts of the road ahead. Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them..."[LotR p.359]
Perhaps the greatest providential occurrence in the Lord of the Rings is Gollum's last act and Frodo's apparent failure.
Jesus being killed on the Cross is the supreme example of God's Providence and Plans working through anything. The overall providence of Gollum's last act and Frodo's apparent failure is a classic epitome of how a mission, quest or important work can be achieved through a combination of imperfect intentions and acts. The Good Lords plans can make a vocation out of our mess ups if you like [as long as our hearts truly desire to do His will].
As already pointed out, infiltrating the essence of Providence in Middle-earth is an attitude of Hope. Often the nostalgic and bitter-sweet taste in the Lord of the Rings is confused with one of no-hope or melancholy. Yet this is far from the truth. The story is overflowing with Hope from start to finish. This does not exclude sorrow and suffering and fear from the story, but these, rather exemplify the need for Hope.
All through the story, Tolkien emphasizes this reliance on Hope and an underlying joy:
"There is little hope for that now. Yet not no hope ... " says Gandalf regarding Gollum's cure [LotR p.54]. He is often an instrument of providing hope for others.
Galadriel says to the Fellowship, "But even now there is hope left." And again she reiterates, "Yet hope remains while the Company is true." [LotR p.348]
And to Aragorn she declares, "... and now it comes to you as a token of hope." [LotR p.366], referring to the green stone she transfers to him.
Other examples are in descriptions of Gandalf and Aragorn.
While in Minas Tirith with the wizard;
"Pippin glanced up in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard's face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy; a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth." [LotR p.742]
Frodo also finds joy in his heart on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol;
"...and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth." [LotR p.697]
And in the 'Tale of Aragorn and Arwen' found in the appendix, Tolkien writes of Aragorn;
"Thus he became the most hardy of living Men, skilled in their crafts and lore, and was yet more that they; for he was Elven-wise, and there was a light in his eyes that when they were kindled few could endure. His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid on him, and yet hope dwelt ever in his depths of his heart, from which mirth would rise at times like a spring from the rock." [LotR Appendix A p.1035]
A clear example of this is in a small but beautiful text where Frodo and Sam are in the depths of Mordor, the land of the enemy. Frodo had already fallen asleep.
"There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even that of his master's, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep." [LotR p.901 ]
This attitude, that the shadow is only a small and passing thing, is one that flows from his faith.
In early manuscripts of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes that after the destruction of the Ring, Gandalf raised a toast to Frodo and Sam exclaiming:
"...I name before you all, Frodo of the Shire and Samwise his servant. And the bards and minstrels should give them new names: Bronwe athan Harthad and Harthad Uluithiad, Endurance beyond Hope and Hope Unquenchable." [The History of Middle-earth, vol. IX, Sauron Defeated: "Many Partings", p.62]
This was eventually removed and never used in the final text, but continues to underline the essence and reliance on hope.
Frodo and Sam epitomize the virtue of Hope. Even when the whole mission and world around them seemed on the brink of destruction, they forged on. Even if they themselves have no chance of surviving after they completed the act, they continued in the quest for the sake of others. If Frodo was succumbing, Sam would give him strength. They hoped beyond hope.
They also were the Hope of the Western world, even though few knew of the quest, they carried on their shoulders the Fate of the World.
Not only does Tolkien consider hope, but he spells out the errors of despairing, as is shown at the Council of Elrond;
"Despair is for those who see the end beyond all doubt, we do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy!" [LotR p.262]
Denethor despaired from what he had been lead to believe from looking into the Palantir, but the Lords of the West continue to hope beyond hope in the Quest and the final destruction of Sauron.
What is interesting here is the difference between Denethor, Steward of Gondor, despairing from what he sees in the Palantir, and Aragorn, true King of Gondor, acting in hope from what he sees in the Palantir [he takes the Paths of the Dead].
Gandalf also states, "I hope for victory, but not by arms." [LotR p.861 ]
In one of his letters Tolkien makes a comment;
"I am only concerned with Death as part of nature, physical and spiritual of man, and of Hope without guarantees." [Letters p.237]
This is also re-enforced by the comments of Men in the Silmarillion:
"...of us is required a blind trust and a hope without assurance." [Sil p.265] [Celebration p.98]
This notion of hope without guarantees brings into light the Catholic understanding about salvation offered through Jesus.
This salvation is conditional, there are no guarantees that we will persevere, thus Catholics believe that there is no complete assurance of salvation in this life unless we are faithful unto the end. Then there is a moral assurance of salvation. i.e. God has promised us and He will keep his word.
Catholic belief is that there are four parts to our salvation: God's Grace, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.
We are ultimately saved through God's Grace alone, because everything is merciful grace and it is He who works all things and forgives all sins and knows all hearts.
"Mankind will never understand the depths of My Mercy."- Our Lord to St Faustina.
There is nothing we can do to merit our salvation because it has been freely given. [1 Tim. 2:5-7].
But, He has put in place a plan and made us partners in it, so that if we accept the message of Jesus, are Baptized, and love him as Our Lord and Saviour we become Justified by His Grace, through Faith in Him. But this alone is not enough; because tomorrow we may apostasize [reject Jesus] and abandon a morally good life.
[James. 2:24, Rom. 2:6-8, 1 Cor. 3:9, Matt. 25:34-40, Luke 6:46, Matt. 7:21-23, 19:16-21, Pet. 2:20-21]
After justification, comes Sanctification; this is basically faithfulness to Our Lord throughout the long race we run through life and suffering; living the Gospel and allowing grace to work in our lives which will bear fruit, lead to good works and make us holy; i.e. loving one another. [Gal. 6:2, Gal. 6:6-10, James. 2:24, Phil. 2:12, Hebrews 12:43-56]. The action of God's Grace in us will cause purification in our lives and daily conversion. This can only happen through a healthy prayer life.
We can never earn our salvation through good works but if we truly are disciples and love Jesus, these acts of love will be present in our lives. John says if we say we love Him and do not keep his commandments then we are liars.
[1 John 2:3-4, 3:19-24, 5:3-4, John 15:5-6, Rom. 11:22-23, 1 Cor. 15:1-2, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 9:16].
Mother Teresa once said, "It is not how much we do... but how much love we put in the doing."
This message is very relevant in the 21st century. This is St Therese of Lisieux 'little way' of doing every action in our small lives with the greatest love. [St Therese]
After this, comes Glorification where God welcomes us into his Kingdom and we share in His paradise.
For those who have never known Jesus [God alone knows each soul], they will be judged on love i.e. their charity.
Thus, we have immense hope in God through what He has promised to us in Jesus [and God always keeps His promises], but there is no guarantee, because we have free will and could reject him later in life. We don't know what we may do; therefore it is conditional upon our faithful response.
Tolkien talks of his story being about, "...Hope without guarantees..." which continues to remain in line with the Order of Grace and the Catholic doctrine about our salvation. It also reflects the Christian struggle in this world that each believer faces.
The heroes in the Lord of the Rings carry a hope without any guarantees. They struggle in their fight without any assurance that their efforts will be successful, but this makes their Hope and Trust in Providence all the more meritorious.
In the end their efforts bear fruit and the Quest is fulfilled and their Hope is consummated. Frodo decides to depart over the seas to find rest. [LotR p.967]
There is great joy and peace in Middle-earth but the end of the story is tinged sorrow and sadness as Frodo leaves Sam and his friends. Gandalf says to the hobbits;
"I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil." [LotR p.1007]
This mixture of joy and sorrow is summed up by Tolkien with the words;
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