Plato, Tolkien, and Mormonism, Part 3: Inclusive Monotheism and Fabula

By December 22, 2015

This final post on Plato, Tolkien, and Mormonism explores the boundaries between theology, fantasy, and literature, particularly in the context of inclusive monotheism. Barbara Newman points out that many theologians who embraced Plato’s Timaeus and its inclusive monotheism in the 12th century were condemned while writers who embraced the Timaeus through fabula, or literature, were not. “Poets, through much of the Middle Ages, had license to proclaim with impunity ideas, however radical, that if voiced as formal theology could have provoked swift, hostile response. Because of it unofficial status, mere literature might well be denounced (as Ovid so often was), but it was hardly worth the trouble repressing.”[1]

Tolkien mixed Platonist and Christian themes in his creation narrative in The Silmarillion and W. W. Phelps began his “Paracletes,” which also mixed these themes, with “Once upon a time.” Yet for Phelps, “Paracletes” was a higher form a literature: “And let me say that I have began this story of the ‘Paracletes,’ or Holy Ones to counterbalance the foolish novel reading of the present generation. My story is not revelation, but the innuendoes relate to holy transactions, which may lead good people to search after truth and find it.”[2] Andrew Michael Ramsay had a similar intent in writing his Travels of Cyrus, which also mixed Christian and Platonic creation ideas: “We have here a fruitful source of luminous ideas, beautiful images and sublime expressions, such as we find in the holy scriptures, and in Milton, who has copied them.”[3]

What Tolkien meant by the Ainulindalë I’m not sure, but like many others he used fabula to give expression to inclusive monotheistic ideas held by some of the West’s most notable thinkers.

[1] Barbara Newman, God and the Goddess: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 65.

[2] [W.W. Phelps] “Paracletes,” Times and Seasons 6 (May 1, 1845): 892.

[3] Chevalier (Andrew Michael) Ramsay, Travels of Cyrus: To Which is Annexed, A Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans (1727, reprint; Albany: Pratt and Doubleday, 1814), xxi.  See also Ronan’s series at BCC, which discusses similar themes (1, 2, 3).

 

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