Christian Humanist Profiles 36: Tolkien’s Sacramental Vision

In his introduction to George Macdonald’s Phantastes, C.S. Lewis credits the novel with baptizing his imagination, giving him a taste for the good and the numinous that led, ultimately, to Christian conversion. Some might use that same turn of phrase about Lewis’s own Narnia series, finding in their first introduction to the lion Aslan the beginnings of a desire for Christ himself. But what of Tolkien, Lewis’s fellow Inkling? If we immerse ourselves into Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories, into what spirit have we been baptized? According to Craig Bernthal, professor of English at California State University Fresno, that spirit is a profoundly Catholic one, one especially alive to the working of divine grace in human life. In his book Tolkien’s Sacramental Vision: Discerning the Holy in Middle-earth (Angelico Press, 2014), Bernthal presents a profoundly theological reading of Tolkien, showing that the good professor’s Catholic faith is heard in Middle-earth not merely as grace-notes, but as the central theme of the whole.

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