Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Thomistic Metaphysics of Ainulindale

0.5 Intro to Ainulindale

Ainulindale is Tolkien's version of the creation story, in which Iluvitar, (God), creates the Ainur (angels), and then, through them, creates Middle-earth using something analogous to music. In it, Melkior, (the devil), falls through his pride and desire to make things of his own.

1. God, Angels, Knowledge, and the Residence of Essences

“There was Eru, the One, Who in Arda is called Iluvatar, and He made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of His thought, and they were with
Him before all else was made. And He spoke to them, propounding to them themes
of music, and they sang before Him, and He was glad.”

“Iluvitar said to them: ‘Behold your music!’ And He showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World
made visible before them.”

“No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in Me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.”

“’I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other. Therefore I
say: Ea! Let these things be!”

Obviously, Iluvitar represents God, and the Ainur His angelic creatures. This ought to be, and probably is, common knowledge among Tolkien’s followers. What
is probably less known is the incredible combination of relatively obscure
Thomistic metaphysics with the obvious drama of the text.

First, it can be inferred that Iluvitar and the Ainur are spiritual, not
material, beings. Obviously, this is the first impulse of the reader. Second,
Tolkien calls the Ainur the offspring of “His thought.” If Tolkien intended the
Ainur to be material beings, why would he specify the “thought?” And if the
Ainur are spiritual, Iluvitar must be as well.

When constructing his philosophy, St. Thomas faced a problem concerning
spiritual beings: how they know things. They obviously do not perceive, as
humans do, for they have no bodies and thus no senses, yet God knows all things,
and the angels are obviously quite intelligent. St. Thomas states that
(1) God knows all things, even the contingencies of free human wills, as author,
not as perceiver, and
(2) communicates this knowledge to His Angels. (Existing and performing the act
of creation continuously, for God is outside of time, God holds even our wills
in existence, even when they make evil choices.) This knowledge (3) further
constitutes the essences of all things that are or are yet to be, even the free
creations of human art, thus making all artistic creation a form of discovery,
for God knows all things, even essences, and his knowledge of these essences
would play a role in the things that possess these essences. (1) and (3) are
supported by the statement “No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost
source in Me [the themes are the things by which things are made, and God would
of course know those things from all eternity}, nor can any alter the music in
my despite.” (2) is supported by the fact that He communicated the themes to
his Angels, and then revealed to them that the things were real; they did not
perceive the world without His specially granting it to them. These things, of
course, were made real, as Iluvitar so gloriously states when He decrees “Ea! Le
these things be!”

2. What is “The Flame Imperishable?”

“I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your
powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he
“He [Melkor] had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought of the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he had not found the fire, for it is with Iluvitar. But being alone, he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.”

“And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall be; and those of you that will may
go down into it.”

A school of the philosophers called the Stoics also spoke of a airy flame, the logos, the source of reason, a pantheistic deity that performed the function of
being the soul of the universe. (The Logos that St. John speaks of in the
gospels is a variant on this concept, The Word as the source of reason, but not
a pantheistic deity, of course.) Souls, the stoics stated, were material, made
of air and fire, and by moving throughout a substance, they gave the substance
its cohesion and its proper level of life: nonliving, plant, animal, rational,
and logos. Is the Flame Imperishable the same as the Stoic logos? No, for two

Melkior was not stupid, just proud and impatient. The logos would not be found in void places, for the Stoics believed that place was not material and did not exist, so therefore it could not possess logos. In Thomistic metaphysics,
however, God is present in all places by His power that gives places their
existence and power of having things placed within them.

If this doesn’t convince you (and it shouldn’t, for one could believe in logos but not the stoic theory of void places), it must be remembered that Iluvitar is not a pantheistic deity, as the Ainur are the offspring of His thought, not His
thoughts themselves, and Arda is itself separate from them. (If they are
separate, they cannot both be part of God, for God is entirely simple and has no
parts.) How then to explain the remarks of “Yet he had not found the fire, for
it is with Iluvitar,” and “I will send forth into the Void the Flame
Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall
be,” remarks that seem to imply that whatever this thing is, it is part of the
world, and of God as well.

In Thomistic metaphysics, God is perfect Existence (but existence is not God). By His power, all things participate in His existence without actually being
Him. Hence, the Flame Imperishable, which seems to represent existence, is “At
the heart of the world” not “Is the world” and “Is kindled within the Ainur” not
“is the Ainur,” but is “with” Iluvitar.

One ending note: Melkor seeks for the Imperishable Flame, but everywhere else, Existence is called the Flame Imperishable. Why the change of order? By
putting Imperishable first, Tolkien accentuates the imperishableness of the
flame. The Flame, like the Ring, grants imperishability, yet imperishability is
not its prime function, just as one who seeks the ring for immortality becomes a
parody of a human, just as Melkor is elsewhere said only to mock, not create.

So ends my post on The Ainulindale.


Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I commented here so that you would actually read the post. One on Dracula is coming. Never Fear, Ancient Greek Philosophier!

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Good!!! I can't wait!!!! Interesting post you have here, though. I'll have to read it in depth sometime.