Tolkien: An Unexpected Sainthood

Interest in pursuing Catholic sainthood for J.R.R. Tolkien has lately been re-energized by a special Mass and a new social media campaign.

On September 2, the first mass for the canonization of J.R.R. Tolkien was held. Matt Showering described the service in “A Slightly Unexpected Gathering”, quoted by Reddit’s  r/Catholicism section:

On Saturday 2 September, a Traditional Low Mass was held at the Oxford Oratory to mark the anniversary of the death of world-renowned Catholic writer & philologist JRR Tolkien (+ 1973). The Mass was offered, however, not for the repose of Tolkien’s soul – but rather praying for his Cause for Beatification to be opened.

… The Mass itself was fittingly celebrated in Tolkien’s old parish church (dedicated to St Aloysius) with his granddaughter among the congregation. The Provost of the Oratory, Fr Daniel Seward, spoke in his short homily of Tolkien’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, describing it as “the great romance of his life – though I’m not sure what Mrs Tolkien would’ve made of this!”

And in the weeks that followed the closed Facebook group Cause for the Canonization of JRR Tolkien, administered by Tolkien fan Daniele Pietro Ercoli, and the original Cause for Tolkien Facebook group, have been augmented with a new public Facebook group with the same name as the latter:

This is all very early in the long journey towards sainthood, and we’re still learning the canon law process, but from what we can tell the first step in petitioning for the opening of a Cause for Beatification and Canonization is to form a group, called an Actor Causae, which will submit a formal request for an investigation to the bishop of the diocese where John RR Tolkien died.

Also, a website:

The official website of the Actor Causae for John RR Tolkien’s Cause for Sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Catholic Tolkien fans in Brazil have been actively following the campaign – the Tolkien Brasil site has covered it in a number of articles (in Portuguese). A post dated October 20 tells how several years ago Daniele Pietro Ercoli contacted the Archbishop who would start the canonization process for Tolkien and got back this answer in 2015:

According to the Wikipedia (which is not necessarily infallible in matters of faith…) there are four stages in elevating someone to Catholic sainthood:

  • Servant of God” (“Servus Dei“): A bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual in response to a petition of members of the faithful. …Normally, an association to promote the cause of the candidate is instituted, an exhaustive search of the candidate’s writings, speeches, and sermons is undertaken, a detailed biography is written, and eyewitness accounts are collected. When sufficient evidence has been collected, the local bishop presents the investigation of the candidate, who is titled “Servant of God” (Latin: “Servus Dei“), to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints of the Roman Curia, where the cause is assigned a postulator, whose office is to collect further evidence of the life of the Servant of God.
  • Venerable” (“Venerabilis“; abbreviated “Ven.”) or “Heroic in Virtue“: When sufficient evidence has been collected, the Congregation recommends to the Pope that he proclaim the heroic virtue of the Servant of God; that is, that the Servant of God exercised to a heroic degree the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance). From this time the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is entitled
  • “Blessed” (“Beatus” or “Beata“; abbreviated “Bl.”): Beatification is a statement of the Church that it is “worthy of belief” that the Venerable is in Heaven and saved. …For a non-martyr, all of them being denominated “confessors” because they “confessed”, i. e., bore witness to the Faith by how they lived, proof is required of the occurrence of a miracle through the intercession of the Venerable; that is, that God granted a sign that the person is enjoying the Beatific Vision by performing a miracle for which the Venerable interceded. Presently, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures of infirmity, because these are the easiest to judge given the Church’s evidentiary requirements for miracles; …
  • “Saint” (“Sanctus” or “Sancta“; abbreviated “St.” or “S.”): To be canonized as a saint, ordinarily at least two miracles must have been performed through the intercession of the Blessed after his death…

Here is the text of the Beatification Prayer used at the Mass on September 2.

O Blessed Trinity, we thank You for having graced the Church with John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and for allowing the poetry of Your Creation, the mystery of the Passion of Your Son, and the symphony of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him and his sub-creative imagination. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Wisdom of God Incarnate, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with You. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore…,hoping that he will soon be numbered among Your saints. Amen.


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31 thoughts on “Tolkien: An Unexpected Sainthood

  1. I am deeply interested in what sort of “miracles” this group intends to introduce into evidence.

  2. @JJ: I am deeply interested in what sort of “miracles” this group intends to introduce into evidence.

    Three billion dollars in worldwide box office gross for each trilogy of movies about hobbits?

  3. Do you still need a Devil’s Advocate as part of the process? Or in this case a Mouth of Sauron.

  4. What miracles? A great man to be sure, and a credit to Catholicism (Which could use more such), but a saint is a whole other order.

  5. If I understand the above, there does not have to be miracles for the first level, ”venerable”, only for ”blessed” ( one miracle, except for martyrs none) or ”saint/holy” ( two miracles, except for martyrs one). So maybe he can achieve status as venerable.

  6. Wut. Look, I get that people are fans of Tolkien (I am one), but sainthood?!

    Signed,
    Not a Catholic

  7. I first encountered Tolkien’s work in the form of a battered one-volume paperback edition of Lord of the Rings in a school library when aged around 12 (approaching 40 years ago).

    Over the succeeding decades I’ve read LotR right through around a dozen times, bought multiple editions of it, bought and read all of his other fiction, and bought and read a fair number of volumes about him and his work. Up until now I’ve actually avoided watching any of the Jackson et al films so that their particular visuals don’t override the ones previously built up in my mind’s eye. I have the greatest of affection and respect for Tolkien, as a seminal fantasy fiction author and as a philologist.

    But I am, as it happens, not a Christian, and for some reason I find this proposal both inappropriate (given my admittedly limited knowledge of Tolkien as a person) and deeply distasteful.

    Two of my closest SF/F-fan friends are Catholic, and I’ll be seeing both in the next couple of weeks: I’ll be interested to find out their feelings on the matter.

  8. If I recall correctly, Robert R. Chase’s novel The Game of Fox and Lion mentions a religious painting depicting Sts. Ronald, Charles, and Jack – obviously referring to Tolkien, Charles Williams, and C.S. Lewis (“Jack” to his friends).

    FWIW.

  9. Just one piece of information to be corrected.
    The site Tolkien Brasil only presents information in this respect. It is not spoken in support the cause, only is publish the news is made, without talk of support or not.Please correct this. I am the administrator of the site Tolkien Brasil.

  10. Eduardo: Then I’ll make it “actively following.”

    How did you find the story? Your site has more information than anybody else’s.

  11. I’m a huge and lifelong Tolkien fan, but I’m puzzled as to the reasoning behind this. Why do people think Tolkien should be a saint? Why are they pushing for it? I’m truly puzzled.

  12. Tolkien was a devoted Catholic, and saw his own writing as fundamentally connected to his faith. I am not a Christian myself, and personally I fail to see his stories as primarily religious – but the connections to Christian myth is not hard to see and I can understand how Catholics might read his books (as well as his non-fiction musings writing and creation) as something like a theological treatise.

    Also, beatification is not that big a deal. It happens fairly regularly – according to Wikipedia, Pope Francis have beatified over 1000 people so far since 2013, and Benedict beatified 843 from 2005 to 2012.

  13. I’m a Catholic and I’ve read some of his non-fiction as well as pretty much all his fiction and I am baffled.

    Yes, the Catholic Church seems to have dramatically ramped up its beatification to sainthood pronouncements (not the word I’m looking for, but it’ll do), but it’s still a pretty big deal.

  14. I was Catholic, am Episcopalian, and I greatly admire Tolkien. His work deeply reflects Catholic moral thinking, and everything we know about him says he was a very good man.

    Servus Dei? Totally.

    But sainthood as a goal seems extreme. Not every good, not even every very good person, needs to be publicly declared a saint.

  15. The particularly cynical side of me suspects that the miracles are the easiest part; from what I read, there are enough unexpected favorable reversals in medicine (especially in areas where diagnostic skills are limited) that there will be attestable “miracles” if the first two stages draw enough attention that a lot of people start praying to the Venerable JRR. But I suspect that selling an English don to much of the heavily-Catholic parts of the world will be difficult even if the classism in his fantasy doesn’t come up.

  16. To get my biases up-front and out of the way, I’m a Tolkein fan and a practicing Catholic.

    My first thought when I read this article was “why is this needed?” At the moment it’s my second thought as well. By all accounts I’ve seen, Tolkein was a pious man and I have no trouble believing that in death he rejoices in the Beatific Vision. However, the canonization process isn’t about whether an individual is in heaven (though that is a prerequisite). It’s a legal proceeding to determine if the individual’s life provides a useful example for the Church as a whole.

    As I said, I’m leaning towards ‘no’, but I’m not a Tolkien scholar and I haven’t examined any of the documents related to the cause. I don’t think it’s impossible, because (whatever other flaws one might attribute to it) tLotR has a lot to say about Things and what happens when one starts valuing Things more than people; that’s a rich vein of Catholic thought there.

    In closing, the canonization process results of reams of documents about the theological content and depth of the candidate’s writings, and I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I’m salivating at the idea of being able to read those reports.

  17. Daniele Pietro Ercoli began this ideas in his Tolkien Group. This website site is not “official” as is said and has nothing to do with the inicial ideia of Daniele in 2009.
    Please edit “Catholic Tolkien fans” for “Tolkien fans”. Tolkien Brasil only reproduce news and articles.

  18. My guess is that Tolkien himself would have said if anyone in his family, it ought to have been his mother, whom he described as a martyr for her faith. “My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.”

  19. How so? I know he’s identified as ancient, but it’s unclear to me that he would be regarded as a demon; can you (or anyone who knows Catholic theology) expand?

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