Brad Gregory on where the doctrine of God went off the rails

John Duns Scotus

The first chapter of Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation, ‘Excluding God’, is in many ways a restatement, albeit a more historically documented and richly textured one, of the arguments made by the nouvelle theologie and Radical Orthodoxy, that much of the confusion about God and creation in modernity can be traced back to the idea of the ‘univocity of being’ proposed first by Duns Scotus and radicalized by William of Occam. Univocity of being means that when we speak about the being of some creature and the being of God, we are talking about the same kind of property, despite the tremendous differences in scale and type of being. In the later philosophy of Occam, ‘insofar as God existed, “God” had to denote some thing, some discrete, real entity, an ens–however much that entity differs from everything else’ (p. 38). God’s agency in creation, although invisible, omnipotent, etc., is thus the same kind of agency as creaturely agency on a supremely vast, humanly incomprehensible scale.  Thus, as the natural order came to look sufficient in itself in light of increasing scientific knowledge, God’s agency became a hypothesis that could be discarded as unnecessary. God’s agency came to be invoked as a kind of competing explanation (in other words, God became ‘God of the gaps’) for what happens in ‘nature’, and in the light of the explanatory success of the natural sciences, it was no longer a compelling or necessary explanation.

But there’s only one problem: the God who can be rationally domesticated through the invocation of univocity of being and then discarded as an obsolete hypothesis by shaving him off with Occam’s razor has virtually nothing in common with the God of the Christian tradition. Alasdair MacIntyre has quipped that ‘the God in whom the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came to disbelieve had been invented only in the seventeenth century’ (MacIntyre and Riceour, The Religious Significance of Atheism, p. 14), and this is nearly correct, as Gregory says: ‘Ironically, and in fact, despite undermining Aristotelian cosmology, science left untouched the biblical conception of God within a sacramental worldview–despite the widespread rejection of the latter, and despite the lack of recognition by early modern Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, about just how science and the traditional view were compatible’ (p. 53). Gregory goes on to make the startling claim that nothing conceptually has been added to the conversation about God and the natural order, despite increasing refinement of intellectual treatments of the natural order within the framework of metaphysical univocity in the past few centuries: ‘its intellectual bases remain what they were in the seventeenth century, and even more deeply, what they were in the late Middle Ages: a univocal conception of being and the use of Occam’s razor in the relationship between natural causality and alleged divine presence, whether in the United States, Britain, or Europe. Nothing conceptually original, including Darwinian evolution, has been added for many centuries’ (p. 64). Gregory’s point is not that there has not been conceptual advance, but that the advance has been entirely within the deeply rutted channel dug in the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. I think this account is substantially correct.

In Patristic Christianity, and more articulately and sophisticatedly in the high medieval systems of Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, God is not a being among beings, albeit the highest among beings in the created order, God is Being itself, who out of love creates all that is in a lesser sense ex nihilo, and upon which all created being depends. This does not necessarily mean, as the Fathers recognized, that God creates at a certain ‘moment’ in time.  As a Augustine puts it in Confessions, when God created all that is, he created time with it. God’s eternity is of a different temporal order than created time and contains all moments contemporaneously within God himself, just as all created being is equally present to God himself. Precisely because God is not a being like the beings in the created order, God is immanently present within, without being identified with, the created order. Nothing simply ‘is’, but rather everything has being insofar as it depends upon God for its being. In other words, creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing and why that something is meaningful. Gregory writes that

The difference between Christian and other ancient views of God (or gods) is more fundamental than is often recognized, and goes far beyond a distinction between monotheism and polytheism. According to this Christian view, God is not a highest, noblest, or most powerful entity within the universe, ‘divine’ by virtue of being comparatively greatest. Rather, God is radically distinct from the universe as a whole, which he did not fashion by ordering anything already existent but rather created entirely ex nihilo. God’s creative action proceeded neither by necessity nor by chance but from his deliberate love, and as love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8) God constantly sustains the world through his intimate, providential care. Although God is radically transcendent and altogether other than his creation, he is sovereignly present to and acts in and through it. There is no ‘outside’ to creation, spatially or temporally, nor is any part of creation independent of God or capable of existing independently of God. (pp. 29-30).

So far, Gregory’s book is providing a much needed, clearly written antidote to many of the current culture wars swirling around the incommensurability of science and religion. But is Gregory right about the provenance of metaphysical univocity? And is the Reformation to blame for the turn toward univocity? I’ll take a brief look at why Gregory places the onus on the Reformation in the next post.

Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation

The blogosphere, or at least that part of the blogosphere which I frequent, has been lighting up with discussions of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. Catholicity and Covenant has a brief discussion of it, and Sublunary Sublime has a much more in depth discussion of the book, which includes a link to Dale van Kley’s (a thoughtful, engaging, and evangelical historian) review of Gregory’s book in the most recent Books and Culture. In the coming week, I am going to add to the blog chatter about this book by doing a series of my own. I’ll start here by locating the genre of Gregory’s book. It is a sophisticated example of the ‘history of influences’ genre, which most historians hate, because such histories are inevitably episodic and incapable of doing justice to the richness of causality of the range of phenemona they are addressing. Inevitably the historian’s pet issues are highlighted at the expense of other causal factors. And this is the case in Gregory’s book as well. Gregory acknowledges all this in the introduction, but he also notes (and I agree with him) that these kinds of works are also necessary and desirable.

van Kley further locates Gregory’s book within the world of Catholic apologetics. Despite the rich historical documentation and the deft methodology, it is pretty clearly a ‘tract for our times’, as van Kley puts it. And it employs, at least implicitly, a time-honored argument of classic Catholic apologetics – the idea that Protestantism is fissiparous whereas Catholicism is not. Thus, in a visible, empirical way, Catholicism manifests the unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity of the church in a way that Protestantism does not and cannot. The claim has powerful and dramatic narrative cache, especially in the early 21st century, especially in America.

But as van Kley points out, it’s a narrative that simultaneously ignores or trivializes the real theoretical and practical gains that have come via modernity, and by focusing on the external possession of the marks of the Catholic church, it downplays the very real internal fissures within Catholicism. van Kley begins the rundown of schismatic forces within the Catholic communion with the de auxiliis controversy between the Jesuits and Dominicans, but he might have started earlier, with the dreadful exclusion of the spirituali – those favorable to a Lutheran understanding of justification – such as Gasparo Contarini and Reginald Pole, from the decision making process at the Council of Trent and the relentless hounding, imprisonment, and torture of these figures by Carafa, later Pope Paul IV, following the Council. We could go back earlier than this and focus attention on the Great Schism and the inability of East and West to hold together divergent views on nature of episcopal authority, clerical celibacy, the doctrine of the Trinity, Eucharistic practice (especially whether leavened bread should be used), among other things, in a single communion. These very real internal and external schisms problematize the Catholic insistence upon the external marks as a basis for its claims to be the only true church, at least in the west. From what I’ve read so far, there are a lot of really provocative and probably true claims made in Gregory’s book, but we need to not prematurely judge the Reformation to be a ‘deformation’ in the way Gregory seems to want us to.

Christian Smith on Converting to Catholicism, part II

In part I of this post, I discussed some (there are many more) problems with Christian Smith’s How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Steps.  In this second part, I want to point out that Smith does highlight some genuinely unfortunate overarching tendencies within contemporary evangelicalism in this book. There are two charges that Smith makes that really do stick, in my estimation. The first is #16: ‘Begin noticing how allergic evangelicals are to Mary’. International evangelical subculture has been formed, as have other forms of Protestantism, more by what they are against than by what they are for, and this has led to a tragically diminished role for Mary within the economy of salvation. No one was more scathing than Desiderius Erasmus toward the crass paganism of popular Catholic adoration of Mary, yet he also realized how deeply destructive the dismissal of Mary in Protestant theology would be:

‘Although I am unarmed, you shall not cast me out unless you cast out the son I am holding in my arms together with me. For I shall not be parted from him. Either you cast him out together with me, or you let us both remain here–or do you prefer a church without Christ’? (Desiderius Erasmus, quoted in Scott Hendrix, Recultivating the Vineyard: The Reformation Agendas of Christianization, p. 33)

Of course, I do not think that the recovery of the veneration of Mary as theotokos, the God-bearer, as the Council of Ephesus in 431 professes her to be, requires becoming Roman Catholic. Robert Jenson and Carl Braaten have demonstrated how possible it is from a Lutheran or Anglican context to recover a high place for Mary within the theology and piety of the church.  But Smith is right to point out that American evangelicals have been ‘innoculated’ against Mary, and that therefore she does not appear within the life of the church except where she cannot be avoided, namely at Christmas. And he is right that evangelicals become very nervous about idolatry whenever Mary’s name is brought up.

The other charge that sticks is #18: ‘Note your dissatisfaction with the heavily cognitive, often rationalist, nature of much of Protestantism’, which is closely linked to #33: ‘Consider the historic sociological connection between the Reformation and secularization’. The latter charge is quite a bit more specious historically and is probably impossible to substantiate. I have yet to read the latest attempt to do this, Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation, but I sincerely doubt that Gregory will be able to succeed where Louis Dupré and others have failed. But the former claim, that evangelical Protestantism is heavily cognitive and most often lacks a sacramental imagination, seems basically sound to me. And it’s clear that without a sacramental imagination, one cannot properly value the material, such that one is almost inexorably bound to capitulate to the gnosticism of late modern American culture. But once again, I think this is more of an historic connection within evangelicalism than a necessary one. There is no reason why evangelicals cannot read the Fathers, or even read Calvin and Bonhoeffer, and develop a sacramental theology while retaining all that is fair within evangelicalism. That is what I hope to do and what I hope I have been doing. I have a great appreciation for Roman Catholicism, especially for the nouvelle theologie that has done so much to restore the place of mystery within Catholic theology, but nothing that Smith has written here has convinced me that the time has come to swim the Tiber.

Christian Smith on Converting to Catholicism, part I

I’ve now read through Christian Smith’s other book explaining his journey to Roman Catholicism, which is actually presented as a ‘how to’ manual – How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps. He doesn’t say it, but I suppose the ninety-five steps nicely mirror Luther’s ’95 Theses’, which as Smith points out at one point, is actually a deeply Catholic document and not a ‘protest’ text in any meaningful sense of that word. Smith invokes Thomas Kuhn’s famous ‘paradigm shift’ model of scientific change to describe how an evangelical might end up as a Roman Catholic. Kuhn’s argument, in essence, is that scientific theories are ‘world pictures’ that do not change gradually, simply on the basis of accumulating evidence. Scientists work within an established paradigm of what he calls ‘normal science’, and over time anomalies inexplicable within the current theoretical framework begin to accumulate. Efforts are made to accommodate the paradigm to these anomalies, but if there are a sufficient number of such anomalies and another paradigm is suggested that is able to explain and integrate these anomalies, a theoretical revolution is likely to take place in which new paradigm of normal science takes the place of the old. Something like a paradigm shift rather than a gradual accumulation of evidence is necessary, according to Smith, for someone to go from being a ‘good evangelical’ to a ‘committed Catholic’.

Smith’s book is pretty snarky towards the evangelicalism from which he has emerged, and the ‘descriptive’ passages of the work make very little effort to hide it. I definitely don’t mind a little sarcasm here and there, so this feature of Smith’s writing doesn’t bother me. For instance, I’m a fan of this barb:

People around you and maybe you yourself pray with a lot of particular, but by now so-familiar-that-they-usually-go-unnoticed, phrases, such as, “Father God”, “we would lift up”, “I just have a heart for”, “as unto the Lord”, “nit our hearts together”, “we are convicted”, “if be your will”, “pray a ‘hedge’ around”, and “in Jesus’ name”. About 10-20 percent of the words used in the informal prayers of more than a few of the people around you consist of the one word “just”–as in, “Lord, we just ask that you just give us the eyes just to see you, Lord”. Your community believes in praying authentic, spontaneous, personal prayers–not rote, ritualistic, formal, dusty, traditional prayers. It once occurred to you, however, that most people’s spontaneous, personal prayers sound an awful lot alike. They actually seem to follow standard formats. (pp. 21-2).

But what does bother me is that the snark is in service of painting an inexcusably broad-brush portrait of American evangelicalism. I’m sure the logic and practice of the communities that Smith is describing as the ‘normal science’ of evangelicalism exist somewhere, but it is not descriptive of the communities of which I have been part. What’s really inexcusable is his tendency to lump together confessional and non-confessional evangelical traditions together. Non-denominational Bible churches and Reformed churches such as the CRC or the PCA, which are creedally oriented, have very little in common together. The latter have a de facto teaching office in a way that the former do not, which provides both the framework for and the limits within the Bible is to be read. Even if these communities as a whole tend to use the rhetoric of biblicism in defense of their confessions, i.e. that the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Confession are a mere distillation and systematic presentation of ‘gospel’, the theologically astute within these denominations explicitly see themselves as operating within a tradition governed by creedal commitments.

Christian Smith, Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism, and Christocentric Readings of Scripture, Part II

I think it is virtually incontestable that evangelicals in America have for centuries invested themselves in an epistemology and consequent hermeneutic of Scripture that is indefensible.  Smith spends some time in the book outlining some of the relevant history, lighting upon, for instance, the common sense realism of the Scottish Enlightenment that funded the theology of Old Princeton. This ‘mental science’, as Mark Noll and Brooks Holifield, among others, have noted, became the adjunct to 19th century Princetonian theology that Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic philosophy was to the medieval university.  As Smith puts it, ‘implicit in Scottish commonsense realism is a ‘picture theory’ of language, which says ‘words are directly knowable by the mind, and, in addition, are direct representations of the objects ot which they refer. Logically, therefore, words and sense impressions are identical in that each refers directly to objects. Those objects, in turn, are directly and with utmost certainty known by the mind” (p. 56). Adoption of commonsense rationalism led Charles Hodge to affirm that Bible was the storehouse of revelatory facts for the theologian in the same sense that nature was the storehouse of natural facts for the scientists. One still finds these kinds of affirmations in theologians like Wayne Grudem, but they are damaging for evangelicalism because they are simply not true. They constitute a stipulative form of foundationalism that results in a false certainty about the meaning of Scripture and fissiparous and schismatic tendencies on the basis of these false certainties. The irony, as Smith points out, is that evangelicalism’s ‘practice of sola scriptura [which, as many have noted, means something different than it did in the Reformation] in America as a means to arrive at pure doctrine and practice is that the populist pursuit of Bible-only-ism started off as an ideological project not of conservatives but of heterodox liberal Protestants driven by Enlightenment ideals’ (p. 84).

I am qualifiedly in agreement with him as well that we need to acknowledge the ambiguity and multivocality of Scriptural texts and the need to distinguish between dogma, doctrine and opinion, especially as the freedom to admit a realm of adiaphora opens evangelicals not to relativism but to tradition, mystery and charity:

‘Evangelicals today cut themselves off from a relevant and important vocabulary–which, when properly used, often describes well Christian faith and life–when they expunge from their theological vocabulary the category of mystery.  They also in so doing perpetuate the problematic tendency in much of evangelicalism toward a dry, know-it-all rationalism in the form of a systematic cognitive covering of all intellectual bases–which ultimately has more to do with modern Enlightenment than scripture’ (p. 145).

I don’t think the answer to the false turns in evangelicalism is to convert to Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. My concern, however, is not that evangelicals will convert but that they will fail to acknowledge the ways in which their tradition has maintained (albeit in a theoretically anemic and hermeneutically deficient way) a high view of the inspiration and normativity of the Scriptures and the uniqueness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For all their faults, evangelicals have by and large heeded the warning of Roy Harrisville: ‘Whoever you are, if you do not repent and believe the testimony laid down in this book concerning God and his Christ, it will judge you to inconsequence, render your reading of it, your interpretation of it, your preaching on it a comic  spectacle to the world to which you believed you had to adjust it, and your church will die. As well it should’ (‘The Loss of Biblical Authority and Its Recovery’, in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, eds. Jenson and Braaten, pp. 60-1). If evangelicals do not learn the lesson that the solution to the fundamentalist and evangelical varieties of modernism is something old and not something new, shiny and relevant, they will fail to be faithful. And that will be a great loss for the church and the world.

Christian Smith, Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism, and Christocentric Readings of Scripture, Part I

Christian Smith, who I’ve mentioned before on this blog, was received into the Roman Catholic communion in 2011. I have no plans at this point of following him, but I am extremely interested in reading the books he put out in the process of coming to his decision to do so.  Earlier in the year, I read Robert Gundry’s critical review of The Bible Made Impossible, Smith’s book arguing that the predominant hermeneutic (method of reading Scripture in the contemporary context) of evangelicalism, which he calls ‘biblicism’, is self-defeating because it results in what he calls ‘Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism’ (PIP). Biblicism in its most basic form is ‘Bible-only-ism’, or the idea that one can and should read the Bible without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation. PIP refers to the massive number of private, idiosyncratic, often self-interested readings that result from biblicism. PIP is a problem for biblicists, because they believe that every aspect of life is addressed by Scripture either directly or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, through deduction by good and necessary consequence thereof. If in fact it turns out that PIP results from biblicism, this undermines the biblicist contention that the Scripture is clear and a sure guide in every area of life.
Gundry’s review of Smith’s book struck me as defensive and evasive, engaging in mostly ad hominem and tu quoque analyses of Smith’s book. Smith’s recommendation of Karl Barth’s Christocentric reading of Scripture meets with this purely anecdotal quip: ‘For in Basel during the fall of 1960 I regularly climbed out of the basement of biblical studies to attend the theological seminars held by Barth upstairs, only to hear him repeatedly engage in subjective judgments on what in the Bible carries authority and what therein does not’. Without further ado, Gundry dismisses Barth as a ‘subjectivist’. Pretty sure you can’t dismiss the 20th century’s most important Protestant theologian without a greater sense of gravitas. And in response to Smith’s recommendation of creedal readings of Scripture and a stronger teaching office in the church, Gundry’s sole response is that PIP can be found elsewhere than in biblicist evangelicalism. Of course, Gundry virtually ignores the fact that Smith concedes this point and that his argument is not that Christocentric and Christotelic readings of Scripture resolve PIP, but that they are more faithful to the apostolic hermeneutic of Scripture and to the tradition of interpretation in the church and therefore that they are more authentically evangelical readings of the text.  Smith’s point is that the Bible is not God’s ‘handbook’ for life but rather God’s self-revelation to his people culminating in Christ, who becomes the hermeneutical key that unlocks the meaning of the rest.

Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Never Drop F-Bombs

At the beginning of Advent, just when nights are getting long, cold, and perfect for fiction, I decided that I wanted to read something classic and I found a collection of Jane Austen’s work for cheap in half-price books.

I began reading Pride and Prejudice.  I had never read it before even though I had seen the Colin Firth movie version multiple times, which is great, and the Kiera Knightly movie version, which is lousy.

Once I picked it up, I read it daily as much as I could. I never wanted to put it down. I finished it on Christmas day in front of a cheery fire knowing that I had a new book in my top ten list.  Austen’s writing is bright and makes me feel clean and hopeful.

The whole time I read it, I thought a lot about virtue and, specifically, I thought about the fruit of the spirit.  For Advent, Jonathan and I gave up cursing. It’s not that I really think cursing is bad thing. A well-placed cuss word can be just right at times.  But for people like us who are rich in words and poor in kindness, cursing is a gateway drug to over-anger. A dashed out curse word can take a little argument or a little annoyance and make it rage, like fuel on a small bit of kindling.  Trying to give up bad tempers altogether was more than we could tackle, but we could give up cursing. Since we cuss enough that we both do it without noticing even, having to simply slow down and think about what to say in situations of stress, conflict, or tiredness, helped us to be calmer and kinder.  Because of this Advent “fast,” December was full of thoughts and conversations about gentleness, kindness, patience, peace, and self-control.I come from a long line of bickerers. I have grandparents that through their decades of marriage honed bickering into a near art-form.  I have come to realize that knowing how to speak politely to family members, isn’t really something that comes naturally to me or that I’ve had much training in. Texans call a damn spade, a spade, which is a great thing that I don’t want to give up, but I wondered how to hold onto this kind of truth-telling and learn gentleness as well.  I really feel like, as embarrassing as this is, I need a tutor in basic civility and kindness in my home.  I found this in Austen’s characters.Elizabeth Bennett (and even Jane) are not at all simpering mealy-mouthed saccharine dolls. They are strong and opinionated. They understand themselves and the world around them. Elizabeth has this way of telling people around her that they are idiotic or obnoxious while remaining careful, respectful, and even polite. She is honest and authentic and yet kind and gentle.

Virtue, in Austen’s writing, is not bland, legalistic, or passive.  It is powerful, bold, and charming. Restraint does not diminish the honesty of a conversation, but allows hard truths to be spoken (about too much pride and too much prejudice) in a way that doesn’t belittle a person.

Austen knows that politeness and manners can be empty and shallow and a veneer for all kinds of vice. See Mr. Collins and his obsequious, over the top formality. But she points to another kind of disciplined civility in her characters that gives them, well, character.

I’m not about to start speaking to Jonathan in Victorian English, but a little bit more Miss Bennet (and Mr.Darcy) in our manner would certainly make the Warren Manor a more peaceful place.  I’m grateful for the tutorial in, as Austen would say,  “domestic felicity.”

Tolkien, Allegory, and Sub-Creation

If you don’t know Ralph Wood‘s work yet, you should. His work centers on the mutual indwelling of faith and imagination, and he’s also written monographs on the theological basis for the writings of Flannery O’Conner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and most recently, G.K. Chesterton. Right now I’m reading through his book on Tolkien, The Gospel according to Tolkien, published by Westminster John Knox in 2003.

Tolkien was, of course, great friends with C.S. Lewis, but their ideas on the how the craft of literature was inflected by the Christian faith were extraordinarily different. Lewis, after his conversion, became an apologist for the faith, and he did not hesitate to enlist his generous literary talents in this endeavor. His justly famous Chronicles of Narnia make inspiring reading, but there are allegorical correspondences that make their evangelistic character plain. It should be said that Lewis himself did not see the books as allegories, calling their Christian character a ‘supposition’ and intending only heuristic correspondences between Aslan and Jesus. Interpreters of Lewis have likewise tried to distinguish between parable and allegory in locating the literary genre of the books. But whether or not the books should expressly be read as allegories, if one does not see Jesus in Aslan, one has missed the point of the books.

In whatever light one sees the Narnia series, however, it is clear that Tolkien was doing something different in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tolkien confessed that he had a ‘cordial dislike’ of allegory and avoided it in his own writing. The presence of the gospel in his story is thus indirect, as an informing presupposition rather than didactic feature of his writing. Whereas in Narnia, Aslan has a distinctively Christological character, dying as ransom for the Narnians and rising from the grave in victory, all of the central characters of LotR have Christological properties, but none of them are to be read as Christ. The vision of goodness cast by the gospel is everywhere present, but nowhere concentrated in LotR. As Wood writes, ‘Tolkien the Catholic is confident that the sacramental and missional life of the church will convey the Gospel to the world without the assistance of his own work’ (p. 8).

The work was intended to function autonomously as literature, but it was not for that reason construed as being less true than explicitly Christian literature. For Tolkien, the meaning of our createdness was not only that we might worship but also that we might in turn create.  He refers to the worlds of his own making as ‘sub-creations’, and these miniature products of imagination, as with God’s creation, bear the imprint of their makers. Tolkien writes this illuminating poem in his ‘The Monsters and the Critics’ and Other Essays:

Man, Sub-Creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seeds of dragons–’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made. (p. 144)

For Tolkien as a Catholic Christian, this meant that his sub-creation would be pregnant with the sacramental vision of the cosmos. The fictive element would express, precisely through its mythic dimensions, the power of Catholic faith, fides quae creditur. As dark and forbidding as the literary world of LoTR can be, there is a hopefulness in it that is never extinguished. Tolkien puts this virtue of hopefulness on the mouth of the elf Haldir in Lothlorien: ‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater’ (LotR, 1.363). In my view, Tolkien’s understanding of literature as sub-creation can be seen as an application of the Catholic truth that grace does not destroy but elevates and perfects nature.