J.R.R. Tolkien and St. Augustine Knew That We Are Exiles

Sometimes we need to read a little fiction to gain spiritual insights into who we are and why we are here. Such was the case when I stumbled upon this passage from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarilion:

“Therefore [Iluvatar] willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein.”

This short passage possesses such immense truth in regards to the very core of what it means to be human. It echoes (and could have been influenced by) one of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes:

For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”

Both Tolkien and Augustine describe how men were created by God and were made to find fulfillment only in Him and not in this passing world. The Catechism confirms this idea and elaborates on it: “[t]he desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27).

One does not need to look far to see how we are constantly searching for happiness on earth, but never find fulfillment. Our hearts yearn for God, but we try and try to stuff it full of junk. Or as the saying goes, “we have a God-shaped hole in our heart” and we always think that we can fill it with other things. We act like a small child who endlessly tries to put a triangle into the circle whole.

We Are Pilgrims In Exile

Furthermore, Tolkien later on refers to the race of Men in The Silmarilion as “Guests” and “Strangers.” This again asserts that men are not created to dwell here forever, but to pass on to another realm where their heart can have true rest. Not surprisingly, this idea that we are only “guests” is confirmed in a common term used by many Christians. Often when referring to a Christian congregation the term “parish” is used. The Greek roots of this word stem from a Hellenistic term “paroikos” meaning “sojourners.” This term reminds Christians that we are called to live our lives as “strangers and pilgrims, refrain[ing]…from carnal desires which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11 Douay-Rheims).

Our life on earth is also referred to as living in “exile.” This place we live in is only temporary, for Heaven is our true home. The Catechism again confirms this idea:

 “The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king” (CCC 769).

How can this change my life? It is very simple, yet profound: we will never find perfect happiness here. No matter how many material things I have, I will never be satisfied here on earth. No matter how much I desire a perfect relationship, it will never be perfect. No matter how much I desire to fill my heart with so many temporal pleasures, I will never be filled. This means that I should not live for this present world, but for the world beyond ours. It means that I should live for Heaven and not earth. It means that no matter how much darkness creeps over our world, it is only a passing shadow.

In the end, we will only find fulfillment in the Age to Come, where every tear will be wiped away and we will meet the One who made us; the One whom we were made for.

Miniature from a 13th-century Passio Sancti Georgii (Verona).

St. George: A Saint to Slay Today's Dragons

COMMENTARY: Even though we don’t know what the historical George was really like, what we are left with nevertheless teaches us that divine grace can make us saints and that heroes are very much not dead or a thing of history.