Creation according to Genesis 1 (and Tolkien’s Catholic paradigm) is a rather straightforward process: it happens via the fiat of God. Tolkien’s Ainulindalё narrative has a much more descriptive explanation of the origin of the world; the history of Arda was planned out according to the musical themes of Iluvatar, two of which he gave to the Ainur, and one which was of himself alone (from which his Children were later generated), and these themes were manifested into physical reality (Arda) by Iluvatar. The most obvious difference in these two creation stories is the addition of a third wheel in the Ainulindalё narrative; where in Genesis there is only God and His creation, in Ainulindalё there is Iluvatar, the created world, and the Ainur. I wish to explore how the Ainur fit into Tolkien’s theological schema.
The Ainulindalё story asserts that the Ainur are “the offspring of [Iluvatar’s] thought,” (Silm.), evoking a relationship rather akin to the Trinity. This is especially apparent in the Ainur’s role in creation. In the Christian Creation story, all of creation exists “through and for [Christ]” (CCC 331). According to the narrative of Ainulindalё, the Ainur are the means by which Iluvatar creates the world; he “declared to them a mighty theme” and had them “show forth [their] powers in adorning this theme,” and he created Arda, the physical embodiment of the “Great Music” they had played (Silm.). While the Ainur rely on Iluvatar to supply inspiration for their music, Iluvatar does not himself play the music, but rather his will is enacted via the Ainur. This description emphasizes the intimate connection between Iluvatar and the Ainur.
However, the interrelatedness between Iluvatar and the Ainur raises an interesting question related to their free will. St. Thomas Aquinas (everyone’s favorite scholastic) kindly explains that God has a completely free will except when limited by necessity: because God is by definition good, “He wills His own goodness necessarily” (ST Part 1. Q. 19. Art. 4). If Iluvatar and the Ainur are interdependent, then according to St. Thomas’ definition of free will, Melkor would not have been free to oppose Iluvatar’s theme (in essence, his will) in his music. The fact that Melkor does oppose Iluvatar suggests that describing the relationship between Iluvatar and the Ainur in Trinitarian terms does not correctly characterize the independence of the Ainur.
In opposition to this view, Tolkien describes the Ainur as “angelic powers” (Flieger 54), and indeed, they do share many characteristics with angels. Just as in the Christian Creation story, God is the creator of all things –including angels – so does Iluvatar explicitly create the Ainur. Angels and the Valar also have similar roles as guardians of the earth, and the Ainur even “sing before [Iluvatar]” like angels before the throne of God (Silm.).
Like the angels, which were bestowed with free will by God, the Ainur are characterized in all versions of Ainulindalё as independent, rational, willful beings, “each with his own thoughts and devices” (Silm.). When Melkor chooses to use his music to oppose Iluvatar and his fellow Ainur, and to create disharmony and imperfection in Arda, his doing so is within St. Thomas’ definition of freedom. This description solves the problem raised above because it considers the Ainur not as “one in being with the [All-]Father,” (Nicene Creed) but as individuals –not as a unity, but as a plurality.
However, this view, too, is imperfect. To describe the Ainur as angels falsely suggests a rigid hierarchy that is much less defined in Ainulindalё than in Christian canon. Thus, the relationship of Iluvatar to the Ainur lies in the middle of the spectrum, between that of the Trinity and that of God to the angels. The Ainur are both one with Iluvatar and separate from him, both created by him and subcreators in their own right. Expressed this way, the similarities between the relationship of Iluvatar and the Ainur to that of God and the Church becomes (to me at least) apparent.
This comparison takes into account the paradoxical conjunction of inseparableness and independence of the Ainur and Iluvatar. According to Catholic doctrine, “Not only is [the Church] gathered around [Christ]; she is united in him, in his body” (CCC 789). The relationship is often described in terms of the Body of Christ. Consider this passage from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.... For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:4-12).
Similarly, the Ainur are given different personalities and talents by Iluvatar, and they use their talents in order to do the will of Iluvatar –first, to expound on Iluvatar’s theme and embellish the plans for the world which he plans to create, and then to guard over it. However, the Ainur are also different aspects of their creator, Iluvatar, or as Flieger describes it, “division[s] of the godhead” (Flieger 55).
However, the Church is not a perfect, unified entity; although “She is one,” she is also “formed of two components, human and divine” –and the human components have a tendency of breaking away from the will of God (CCC 779). Melkor’s revolt against the will of Iluvatar accords with this inherent imperfection of the Church.
As with the other two options described above, this description for the relationship between Iluvatar and the Ainur has its limitations. The most obvious one is that to consider the Ainur as Tolkien’s analogy to the Body of Christ implies that Middle Earth has a Christ –a divine that gives up his divinity in order to redeem the world. Most of the Ainur do not even fall, and so do not need a redeemer. Melkor has neither redeemer nor repentence, and so he would not allow himself to be redeemed even if the opportunity should be presented to him. The fact that Iluvatar is not entirely analogous to God further muddles any effort to compare the two stories. Despite these (and, I'm sure, many other) limitations, I nevertheless think that the description is a useful one. Better than the relationship amongst the Trinity, or of God to the angels, the mysterious bond between Christ and the Church reflects the seemingly paradoxical relationship between Iluvatar and the Ainur.