Divinisation and the Divine Story

“He is a strange creature”
― Elrond, The Council of Elrond

Imagine if the greatest possible story you could conceive was true? When I found out that Joost Van De Loo, a film-maker, was trying to “Find Tom Bombadil”, an empirical journey to find a convincing legal case with all the insurmountable evidence that the Master of Joy was real, truly there, I rang Him up immediately and said “I believe too!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLSqw0m9VcM ). Whilst we haven’t agreed yet if we have indeed found a way of understanding each other linguistically and paradigmatically, it has been a tremendous joy to find someone so passionate about “finding Tom.”

So who is Tom Bombadil to me? To answer this question I take the theme “Divinisation and the Divine Story” as a way of expressing an artistic intuition or arc, that could give a meaningful contour to this question. Whilst Joost might claim that I am regressing into a certain mysticism, one that is not of the same technical empiricism of being able to validate the existence of Tom B (as someone getting “into the plane they just built for you, alongside you and flying with you!”) I would counter-argue, that there are different paths to the same finality. This has been upheld by the Apophatic tradition (the way of Negation – finding God by saying “what He is NOT”) and the Cataphatic tradition (the way of Affirmation – finding God by saying “what He is through affirmation”). Whilst J. R. R. Tolkien was not a fan of allegory (in the sense of Lewis’ artistic technique) and stated categorically that Tom Bomabdil was not the Incarnate God-head of his sub-creation, Joost has argued in His film that perhaps Tolkien “sensed his presence” in the empirically verifiable world. Tolkien experimented with this idea in the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth about a future incarnation or Eru into his subcreation…but that would be something still to come in mythos, it has not happened yet. The ring has no influence over Tom, and during the council of Elrond they discuss whether they should give the ring to Tom Bombadil, but they decide not to. So who is Tom? Amd how can or could he be “sensed”… can sub-creation partcipate in the empirically verifiable world and how?

To answer this question and as to if humans can meet Tom Bombadil, I want to pick up on what Joost said in an interview about his film and if he was to hypothetically meet Tom, then what would happen later, he essentially says; “people will come to me and say find this character, because this is a fantastic character, or I’ve written it myself, or I’ve read about this character or saw him in a film and I really want this character to be found” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShIDXvZTsNc&t=40s)… So at this juncture of finding the mysterious person at the yearning of all imagination and willing them to be incarnate before me and touchable, I want to return to the notion of sacramental imagination (Catholic imagination refers to the Catholic viewpoint that God is present in the whole creation and in human beings, as seen in its sacramental system whereby material things and human beings are channels and sources of God’s grace) and the greatest conceivable story…these two passages help: Platinga reviving the bishops Anselm’s argument about the “greatest conceivable being”:

A being’s excellence in a particular world depends only on its properties in that world; a being’s greatness depends on its properties in all worlds. Therefore, the greatest possible being must have maximal excellence in every possible world.

Another Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, characterizes Plantinga’s argument in a slightly different way:

It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

These arguments give a good example of the yearning of the human mind for infinity. Karl Rahner the Jesuit theologian, expresses this yearning in his metaphysical anthropology as follows in what he calls the “supernatural existential”;

…the supernatural existential for Rahner is bestowed upon a huma being “at the initial moment of the human person’s existence, in other words at the moment of his or her creation. This follows from the fact that God never had any other intention for human beings than their destination to divine friendship. Hence Rahner states with emphasis that the human person must have this destination “always.” It is not as though pure nature existed first in its own right and was then determined. Rather, creation and determination take place together, though creation belongs to the level of nature, and determination in some way to the level of grace. Nor is the existential simply added to nature; it transforms nature in its coming into being. And the transformation will remain forever, unaltered by anything the person may or may not do subsequently.” (David Coffey, THE WHOLE RAHNER ON THE SUPERNATURAL EXISTENTIAL)

The <> is a remarkable expression of Thomas Aquinas’ summation that the human person is destined for eternity, by borrowing the language of experience… he shows that we can “sense” through our mind, imagination, reason and will… this capacity for infinity, this capacity for the eternal and this capacity for a transcendent love.

How does this all link to Tom Bombadil? So what about if Tom was an imaginative expression of this perfection of nature, made possible by the Incarnation, what if he shows in a person, what our nature senses as being its infinite goal? Tom Bombadil is filled with joy and rapture, he understands the inner songs of nature and his marriage to Goldberry is born of a glorious peace with things being “just as they should be.” It seems that in Tom the story is in its fulfillment state (he is not affected by the Ring) but this is not opposed to his nature as Master of the creation but rather is a “perfection from within” of it, that leads to a profound harmony…

This kind of profound ecstasy and fulfilment of inner yearning has been consistently taught in the Catholic tradition from writers such as Origen who said in Heaven we would be like spheres or globes ,as we will be maximally fulfilled; this is an idea ancient and new as in Rahner. The Globe is the fulfillment of the supernatural existential, where nature has reached out and grasped infinity within its own unique nature.

Fr Michael Gaitely in “The One Thing is Three” does a lot of work in a few lines to explain the destiny of the human person” as this yearning for communion with infinity, as a story develops. The infinity and the supernatural existential, have been made possible by the Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union, human nature is made for elevation into the Divine Nature. I will pick out some of the best lines from Fr Michael, on what is know in the Catholic tradition as “Divinisation” (becoming one with God as members of the body of Christ):

“Heaven is the participation in the very life of God, as C.S. Lewis says , we will be in the “Great Dance” and with one another. The point is, we will literally be part of the action…” because we want something “that can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part it…

At this time when Lent reaches Easter, we have had this yearning in our hearts, minds and imaginations for a long time, and probably directly in our experience, we feel like things aren’t just quite where they should be yet. We might feel like the “story” just hasn’t started yet in our lives or hasn’t become fulfilled yet, in the way that would really make us feel satisfied. It is so hard to be in a place where things just are not where we want them to be yet? We want our deepest desires and yearnings to be fulfilled right now in the flesh. We want to be listened to and understood, and for what we really want, to “become real” in a way is empirically and spiritually nourishing. Anything else makes us feel hurt, unloved and without consolation. We want absolute love, goodness, beauty and truth, to come to us and reveal itself absolutely and in a way that is epistemically and empirically undeniable.

Fr Michael tells the following story from his time in seminary when he heard the following from a lesson and then observed a pupils response, in His book, the “One Thing Is Three”:

“In every culture, in every society, in every family throughout history, people like to tell and listen to stories, but nobody likes a story without a point, and we love happy endings. That’s because we all recognise deep inside that our lives are both gift and task, the task being that we are called to make our lives into good stories! That is, they should have a point to them, and we want them to have a happy ending. The way our lives become good stories and have happy endings is by doing God’s will. God has a plan for our lives, there’s a specific way that He wants us to bring all of creation back to himself, and our happiness comes from helping him to do this according to our gifts and talents and in the way he wills for us.

One of the students, an unbeliever who heard Fr Clarke speak this way, raised her hand and gave a remarkable response:…

Father, this makes sense and painful sense. I don’t feel that my life is a good story. Instead it’s more like the sitcoms I watch on TV. They’re just a series of episodes. There’s no real point to them as a whole. They just go from one stupid joke to another with no end in mind. That’s my life and the life of so many of my friends: We just go from one weekend to weekend, doing our best to have “fun” so as to avoid the gnawing, inner ache of a hidden desperation. But you’re right. There is indeed soemthing else inside me that’s crying out, “Make your life a good story!” And in my own small way, I want to help the cosmos return to its source. (my emphasis)

So perhaps in all this, Tom Bomabdil is the vision of the being that returns the cosmos to its source? But is he really out there. I pointed Joost to the bi-location of Padre Pio, to the miracle of the Tilma of Guadalupe and to the miracles of the Eucharist where the bread and wine literally become flesh and blood. What is the point of these miracles and how do they relate to Tom Bombadil. I think it comes down to perception and reality… Jesus says in Old English

“ge synd middengeardes leoht” – “you are the light of middle earth.” (Matthew 5)

This means that as members of the Body of Christ, a true miracle happens of transformation of creation, that we are returned to the Source of the Father, through the Holy Spirit and become fully into communion with the deepest Reality. The whole cosmos refinds its harmony and communion with us, and with the order of the angels too. This is an Incarnate reality as human beings are a bridge between the Heavens and Matter, that is fulfilled in a Person, who comes to us within the deepest yearnings of our own story. The harmony and the dance of this communion of Peace, between us and this Person, brings forth a light that shines through Middle-Earth as a resonant interplay between ecstasy and communion… The Incarnation and Resurrection brings forth a song of ecstacy… and as the Franciscans such as Duns Scotus have argued, The Incarnation fulfills God’s desire to pour forth His love super-abundantly, which is the Good News of the Kingdom, which was an outpouring (they argue) that was not just a “rescue mission” in response to the Fall and Original Sin but rather an eternal desire to unite God and the cosmos through a man and his mystical marriage to his bride in a total harmony:

Tom Bombadil’s joy in his marriage with Goldberry is interweaving with this Cosmic Narrative:

I have always delighted in the Franciscan Romanticism of the Incarnation… “God has such burning love for us, that from the first moment of Creation, Duns believed, God knew he must incarnate himself as Emmanuel, that is, to be ‘God-with-us’. God planned this in order to unite himself more deeply with his creatures- irrespective, Duns argued, of whether any of us would ever use our free will to sin. The incarnation of Christ, on this standard Catholic view, is therefore not a ‘divine rescue mission’ hatched on a whim over humanity’s Fall into sin, akin to the adventures of pagan deities (like Perseus, the son of Zeus, saving the island of Seriphos). Rather, the Incarnation was the logical culmination of the Divine Reason built into the foundation of reality, out of Love. This also explains why Jesus is able to preach ‘the Good News’ before he had died on the Cross. Because that news is not merely his atoning death, as supposed by popular Reformed/Evangelical Christianity, but is primarily the mystical union of God and humanity achieved through Christ.

Yet none of this means that the Cross of Christ, his crucifixion, is not important for Eastern and Catholic Christians– far from it. The following interpretation is from a Christian perspective but provides a meaningful way for non-Christians to think about the Cross also. When I talk about sin I am not talking about anything shameful like a stain upon a person, but merely the absence of harmony with God’s life living in us- and actions which bring such disharmony.

The Gospels are clear that Jesus saw his death on the Cross like a new Passover, the Jewish festival of deliverance from oppression. In this model Jesus is understood as the Passover lamb, sacrificed in obedience to the God the Father, transformed for the liberation of God’s people, a shared feast of God’s gifts.

The sacrifice of the Cross is efficacious for our salvation because it is Jesus completing the work of his incarnation by sharing in our death and hence fully uniting himself with humanity. This means that we, joined to the cosmic body of Christ, will not die in sin, but through his resurrection will share with him in the life of God. Christ here does not merely take our place as a substitute, but participates in us – as we do in him. Hence, Jesus’ blood is spilled for us, not as a vindictive punishment or a human sacrifice to appease God’s anger, but as the sharing of his divine lifeblood with us.” (Peter Hardy: Mystical Marriage & Meanings of the Cross; https://vibrantbliss.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/mystical-marriage-meanings-of-the-cross/)

So what does “Bombadilic” harmony feel like in the Jewish experience and yearning? :

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

And as Tolkien writes in his “sense” of how Tom Bombadil and Goldberry should be and perhaps are:

Old Tom Bombadil had a merry wedding,
crowned all with buttercups, hat and feather shedding;
his bride with forgetmenots and flag-lilies for garland
was robed all in silver-green. He sang like a starling,
hummed like a honey-bee, lilted to the fiddle,
clasping his river-maid round her slender middle.

Lamps gleamed within his house, and white was the bedding;
in the bright honey-moon Badger-folk came treading,
danced down under Hill, and Old Man Willow
tapped, tapped at window-pane, as they slept on the pillow,
on the bank in the reeds River-woman sighing
heard Barrow-wight in his mound crying.

Old Tom Bombadil heeded not the voices,
taps, knocks, dancing feet, all the nightly noises;
slept till the sun arose, then sang like a starling:
‘Hey! Come derry-dol, merry-dol, my darling!’
sitting on the door-step chopping sticks of willow,
while fair Goldberry combed her tresses yellow.

As Easter comes with her song, let us believe in the vision of cosmic harmony that Tolkien sensed and that Joost is searching for an “empirical verification” of. I commend Joost he has inspired me. I am delighted in his sincerity. It reminds me of Thomas the apostle:

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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