J. R. R. Tolkien University Model – An Authentic Liberal Arts Formation for the Re-galvanisation of Western Thought.
I met a man who was spreading Gaudi’s cause yesterday at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona I told him that I was part of Tolkien’s cause for beatification. Between tears and deep humanity, we spoke of the beauty of the sub-creative imagination. This is the imagination that is captivated by the Origin, which is the source of all Beauty. This allows nature to be permeated by supernatural, as all reality if Subsumed by the light of the eternal Word – in truth we enter into sacramental vision. (Painting my own; ice stream in lighted forest, 2014)
Western civilisation is grounded in a Trinitarian vision of the human person. In this vision there is an eternal “exitus” (outpouring) and “reditus” (return) from the transcendent Divine Godhead to the human person, grounded in the Logos; the Divine Word. The Divine Word is the basis of Western Civilisation and its defence of individual human dignity and freedom. It is upon the Logos that Western civilisation has fought the long battle to erect an “authentic civilisation of truth and love.” Cultivating this model of society has been an authentic Catholic liberal arts movement that has at once been grounded in the philosophical impulses of classical thought, as well as bringing forth new fusions and synthesise with the contemporary philosophies – always in constructive dialogue subordinate to “love” as the final goal. The Catholic vision of the human person grounded in the Trinity is ultimately inexorable with the flourishing of “truth in love” of each individual in their unique alterity, which promotes unadulterated freedom and delight in beauty as the pinnacle of human culture. St. John Paul II gave us the keys to this vision of a renewed culture when he said, bringing a culture to Christ does not destroy that culture but rather beautifies its latent goodness from within (Fides et Ratio).
Drawing from the tradition of John Henry Newman and G. K. Chesterton who have contributed to the idea of a Western Roman Catholic liberal arts university formation, the true “amateur” and author Stratford Caldecott has provided both a lens and horizon for understanding the future of Roman Catholic thought beyond the “dead-marshes” of post-modern degeneration and degradation. In his analysis of Tolkien (The Secret Fire of J. R. R. Tolkien) and his thesis on liberal arts formation (Beauty for Truth’s Sake), “Strat” has showed us just how romantic the “new orthodoxy” is and how appealing it would be to a society tired of irrational and soulless discourse. Stratford’s vision, wholly grounded in Tolkien, sees philology and the arts as the touchstone for redeeming the West. It will be through the words of our children and the archetypes and narratives that form their burgeoning consciousness that the soul of Western civilisation will either perish or bud. In the prophetic words of Aragorn at the hellish Black Gate, “This day is not today, for all that you hold dear in the world, I bid you stand.”
Drawing from the romantic and holistic tradition of Newman, Chesterton, Tolkien, and Caldecott, the desire to renew the liberal arts can find a spirit of freshness and wild power in the enthusiasm of St. John Paul II in the “Letter to Artists.” The Bardschool of Sarah De Nordwall, now growing in international scope, has long contributed to the emerging landscape of a renewed Western culture. To further promote this vision of the rebellion of “beauty” and “truth” perceived in logos and mythos, a new model of university must emerge in the West. However this model must note the “eternal revolution” of Chesterton, that such a rebellion against tyranny will be so new it is the oldest – “as the Father is younger than we.” To rebel against tyranny, radical individual human flourishing and conquest for truth must be promoted. A J. R. R. Tolkien liberal arts University would be a place of encounter with the wisdom of the ancestors; the elves, dwarves and hobbits; from the very “soup” that was boiled for generations on the stoves of our cultural “home.” It is from this daily wisdom that the juncture is found for building a holistic vision for the future. In this new emerging West, post-modernity will encounter the reality of the Balrog, and rather than shirk from the tyranny of scepticism at the existence of his fiery demonic whip of slavery, will declare with a voice of eternal youth, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire; you shall not pass.”
Wherever this university would start, it would be filled with the Spirit that animated, Gaudi’s vision and Tolkien’s “Sagrada Familia of English Literature.”