In Letter 142, Tolkien called the Lord of the Rings a "Catholic work", quote:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it.

Of course, some parallels with Christianity are obvious, like Gandalf's resurrection. But what makes this book closer to Catholicism in contrast to other branches of Christianity? Did Tolkien ever elaborate on this? Or did he ever mentioned what in Catholicism made him personally prefer it over, say, Anglicanism, except of it being the faith of his parents?

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    Depends on which version of the word catholic he meant. He may not be using it in a Christianity sense but rather as an indicator of correctness and adherence. No way to know out of context tho. Is it possible to quote a bit before and a bit after? – Broklynite Sep 23 '16 at 9:19
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    @Broklynite - He's used it with a capital C. There's no way he meant catholic/all-encompassing. – Valorum Sep 23 '16 at 9:34
  • I can't think of any specific questions of theology that would not be so if Tolkien had been a modern mainstream Protestant, but I think the question is ill-founded: nothing is deliberately different, the work is just steeped in who he is. – Shamshiel Sep 23 '16 at 10:03
  • @Neith thank you, that does cement which version of the word he used. – Broklynite Sep 23 '16 at 11:40
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    I like Paul's answer, but there's no obvious reason to think that Tolkein would have necessarily phrased it any differently even if there hadn't been anything about it that was specifically Catholic, as opposed to Protestant, say. In this context, at least, he may well have considered "Catholic" and "Christian" to be essentially synonymous. – Harry Johnston Sep 25 '16 at 23:42

Catholics (and Christians generally) see the universe as the handiwork of God, and therefore essentially Good. However Satan introduced Evil and seeks to set himself up as better than his creator. The parallels between this and the creation of Middle Earth by Illuvatar at the start of the Silmarillion are very plain. Illuvatar is God, Melkor is Satan, and the Ainur are the Angels. In the music of Illuvatar Melkor seeks to introduce his own themes to rival that of Illuvatar, and thereby spoils the work of the creation. However it turns out that this was all part of Illuvatar's plan. This is all straight Catholic theology.

This world-view also affects TLotR. Catholics see the world as "fallen", and hence on a downward trajectory. They expect things to get progressively worse as sin leads humans away from God, until Judgement Day arrives. This view can be seen across TLotR, where the fight against Evil has exhausted the forces of Good. The Elves leave Middle Earth, the Three Elven Rings fade, and places like Lothlorien and Rivendell will become just ordinary bits of woodland instead of places of extraordinary beauty.

  • I'm not sure that this addresses why it's a Catholic work specifically, as opposed to a Christian work. As a Baptist, there's nothing here I would disagree with (though I suppose that a few small denominations or individuals might take exception to the idea that things are getting worse - I would say they're the exception, however). – Turambar Dec 15 '16 at 18:59

Adding up to the previous answer: if we keep to LotR and The Hobbit, the Seven Virtues of Catholicism are predominant in all Tolkien's work. The most vivid examples of the virtues I can think of, in a cetain disorder:

  • Charity, in a self-sacrifice and generosity sense. Frodo accepts to risk everything so as to cast the One Ring into the fire. No one asked explicitly for him to continue on, and there were countless other great figures, Elves, Men and Dwarves alike, at the Council of Elrond. When Frodo decides to take upon the burden, Elrond responds to him:

"I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right, and though all the mighty elf-friends of old, Hador, and Hurin and Turin, and Beren himself were assembled together, your seat should be among them."

  • Patience, from which comes forgivness, mercy. What would have been the fate of the world would not have Bilbo spared Gollum on his way out of the Misty Mountains?

Frodo: "It's pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had a chance!"
Gandalf: "Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. And some that died deserve life. Can you give it to them Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."

  • Kindness, which radiates from positive thinking and outlooks. Probably the best example is Frodo's relationship with Gollum during his journey trying to enter the dark land of Mordor: Gollum almost gives up to his remorse before they enter Shelob's lair. Also, the cheerful talking is what keeps Frodo and Sam going even in the darkest of the places, like Cirith Ungol stairs:

'It's saying a lot too much,' said Frodo, 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. [...] 'Why, Sam,' [Frodo] said, 'to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written.'

  • Humility. Although knowing his glorious lineage, Aragorn stays humble throughout his entire life. After the siege of Gondor and the great battle of Pelennor's field, he stays at the entrance of Gondor and continues to go among ordinary people and heal best as he can.

[...] men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night. [...] And when he could labour no more, he cast his cloak about him, and slipped out of the City, and went to his tent just ere dawn and slept for a little.

  • Temperance from which comes restraint, honor, justice. Faramir treats Frodo fairly, and later by extent Gollum too, as he swears he's no orc spy but their guide. When lecturing Sam, after the Ithillien ambush:

'Patience!' said Faramir, but without anger. 'Do not speak before your master, whose wit is greater than yours. And I do not need any to teach me of our peril. Even so, I spare a brief time, in order to judge justly in a hard matter. Were I as hasty as you, I might have slain you long ago.'

  • Diligence, which gives persistence, fortitude. Examples are plenty, although the most striking one is the pursuit by Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli of the two captured hobbits.

  • Chastity. Sexuality is never really tackled in Tolkien's work. However, Aragorn is promised Arwen since he was young, relatively speaking, if he's deemed worthy by Elrond, and for all we know, Aragorn may have very well waited this long for his love.

As to the difference with other Catholic branches, such as Anglicism or Protestantism, can be mainly viewed with the Pope's authority.

Gandalf, well-known magician in most part of the world, can be compared to an archbishop. After his death, although successfully defeating the Balrog in Moria, he becomes the Pope: head of the White Council by Ilúvatar's decree. Everyone listens to his advice, those who don't usually get somewhat of a bad fortune (Boromir and Denethor come first into mind). Like in historical events, he even crowns Aragorn king.


The Letters give a few examples of how Tolkien saw his work as specifically "Catholic" (rather than Christian in general), or recognised that others did so.

Letter 153 includes a footnote about the lack of overt religious behaviour, which (as an exception) compares a prayer to Elbereth to a Catholic's prayer to a Saint.

They had little or no 'religion' in the sense of worship. For help they may call on a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien: Letter 153

Letter 213 mentions that he is not sure his Catholic faith could be deduced from his writing, but gives as an example the fact that a critic had compared the way Galadriel was viewed to the Catholic devotion to Mary.

I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic. The latter 'fact' perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter) asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel as directly described (or through the words of Gimli and Sam) were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien: Letter 213

Finally, Letter 320 acknowledges that the character of Galadriel draws on the Catholic view of Mary.

I was particularly interested in your remarks about Galadriel. .... I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary, but actually Galadriel was a penitent: in her youth a leader in the rebellion against the Valar (the angelic guardians). At the end of the First Age she proudly refused forgiveness or permission to return. She was pardoned because of her resistance to the final and overwhelming temptation to take the Ring for herself.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien: Letter 320


Oddly enough, I was just at a conference this weekend, where one of the speakers discussed this in passing.

As far as general Christian imagery goes, Tolkien intended Elves and Orcs (who began as enslaved Elves) to represent Angels and Demons (fallen Angels). This is fairly well-known. However, when you consider this in the light of Tolkien's life-long Catholic faith, you have to also consider lembas, the Elven waybread. A small amount will nourish even a large man for a long journey. This clearly represents the Eucharist, which has been called the "bread of angels." Even the name "waybread" is similar to the Latin word viaticum, as the Eucharist is known when it is administered to someone close to death.

This is just one example of many, and the only that easily jumps to mind (that hasn't already been mentioned) without the books in front of me.


Joseph Pearce is the leading expert on the Catholic influences of Shakespeare and Tolkien.

For LotR's Catholic influence, see:

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    Could you add some quotes from these works? Right now, this answer does not really explain much. – Adamant Oct 3 '16 at 22:39

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