LOTR and the Council of Trent

Greetings. I heard a priest in a sermon once say that Catholics are forbidden to read books dealing with magic; whether it be white or black magic. He based his positin on the Council of Trent which says the following:

“All books and writings dealing with geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, oneiromancy, chiromancy, necromancy, or with sortilege, mixing of poisons, augury, auspices, sorcery, magic arts, are absolutely repudiated. The bishops shall diligently see to it that books, treatises, catalogues determining destiny by astrology, which in the matter of future events, consequences, or fortuitous occurrences, or of actions that depend on the human will, attempt to affirm something as certain to take place, are not read or possessed.[2] Permitted, on the other hand, are the opinions and natural observations which have been written in the interest of navigation, agriculture or the medical art.”

So, would the LOTR series or The Chronicles of Narnia fall under this canon?

Trent was in the 1500’s.
The printing press was just barely invented by that time (1440, to be exact.)

Yes, Catholics are permitted to read LOTR, Narnia, and yes, Harry Potter, too. :thumbsup:

The church only forbids the pursuit of the “occult”.

“Occult” means “secret knowledge”, and refers to hidden powers that could be manipulated by man. These powers are not mentioned in scripture; the reason that these hidden powers are not mentioned in scripture is because these powers do not exist!

Pursuing these fraudulent powers necessarily makes one doubt the Gospel, the truth in our God and Lord Jesus Christ. Scriptures tells us all we need to know about human nature and our relationship with God. Thinking that God is hiding magic powers makes us jealous and doubtful.

The church also forbids superstition. The church forbids the pursuit of the occult* because it is fraudulent*. To believe that that the occult has any strong influence is to be deceived into doubt as to how great and almighty our LORD actually is.

The Lord of the Rings does not purport to be true. It is not false knowledge meant to undermine faith in God (indeed, it was actually written as metaphor of God!). There is thus NOTHING sinful about Lord of the Rings or other similar fantasy works.

To believe Lord of the Rings is sinful for evoking “magic” is to have superstitious fear, and that superstition fear may actually be spiritually harmful.


In other words, pursuit of the occult could be similar to the pursuit of money, the pursuit of power, the pursuit of sex, the pursuit of fame…the pursuit of things that a person could use to replace God in his life.

Which did not prevent 1500s from being a time of the tremendous development in publishing business.

Are you aware that J.R.R. Tolkien (the author of the Lord of the Rings) was a devout Catholic?

Trent declared dealing in magic and the pursuit of occult spells, formulas, rituals, etc. off limits (but then again so did the Old Testament).

Fantasy novels/writings where a character or characters are using magic in the story would not fall into this prohibited category (but remember it is a fantasy read for entertainment). If the book contained instructions on casting a spell, specifics on brewing a potion, etc. it would fall under the prohibition of Trent.

Not to nitpick - because everyone has given as far as I can see correct answers on this thread…is the prohibition against reading a purported “spellbook”, or against reading it with the intention of learning a “spell” from it? I’m only asking to satisfy my pedantry :rolleyes:

Well, I would imagine librarians, archivists, book publishers, et al, would be permitted to observe a purported “spellbook” for the expressed professional purpose of appraisal or whatnot.

In the 1500’s everyone thought magic was real. I’m not sure the idea of fantasy was thought up! As long as you can distinguish reality from fantasy, you are ok.

The Council of Trent is in no way opposed to the Council of Ents.

That is referring to books about actually doing these things–they weren’t fantasy fiction or allegories. That canon is no different than these passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

By the way, this Catechism was from 1992, not the 1500s.

I would agree, but it DID take longer for Trent to decide on things than the Council of Ents did. :smiley:

One thing to keep in mind is that we are also to avoid temptations to sin. Even when a book is fictional, if it presents occult practices as good/exciting/desirable etc., then it very well could be wrong to read such material. Again, depends on who’s reading it and why. (Eg. adult reading it to see if it’s okay for their child to read versus a young gullible child or someone not well formed or solid in their faith.)

Thank-you! :slight_smile:

Definitely similar, but most of your examples have legitimate purposes when pursued in moderation (support of family, defense of the vulnerable, sacramental marriage, etc).

The pursuit of the occult is simply a dead end. :frowning:

As others have noted, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. And in fact, LOTR is Catholic through and through. If you look at the symbolism and other typology, its abundantly clear.

Galadriel the elf queen - BVM
Sauroman, the wizard who betrayed - Judas
The one ring - forbidden fruit in Eden, sin, power, etc
Return of the King - Jesus 2nd Coming when all is made right after Armageddon-like battle
Eagles - angels who come to help humans at their desperate hour
Goblins & Orcs - demons and the evil people of the world
Stewards of Gondor - Popes who are the stewards/vicar of Christ until He returns (good and bad ones)
Gandalf’s fall and death, then purification from Grey to White - Purgatory

There are MANY more.

There is no actual magic in the world of the Lord of the Rings. Other characters in the books who have greater or lesser understanding of the world they live in may or not refer to certain events as magica thoughl. Galadriel actually tells Samwise in one exchange in the book that she does not even like the word magic and considers it the sort of word Sauron might use. Gandalf, Galadriel, Sauron, Saruman etc. all have powers inherent to their natures and are not ‘magical’ which is why Galadriel so detests the term. She can do what do she can because she is who she is. The same is true for Gandalf, the majority of the other characters do not realise who he really is, only Galadriel and a few others probably know throughout the book and Aragorn may have either guessed or given who he is have been let know. Given the fact that one of Aragorn’s defining characteristic is humility (which he shows plainly at several points) and he is also wiser than most other men of his time I’d say he probably knew especially as Galadriel was related to his wife to be.

Narnia does have some magical elements but generally the books draw a very clear distinction between using magic for good or evil. Also when it’s used for good in the books the magic is often close to what evolved into our modern sciences. Also even when not the books are set in another universe and although the essential moral rules don’t change local conditions and circumstances vary somewhat from our own Earth. Tolkien’s world was rather better worked out in many ways (not all, let’s not mention the ‘what are the Orcs or do Balrogs fly?’ controversies…) than Narnia but there’s little dangerous in either the work of Lewis or Tolkien. The most dangerous thing either writer could do to a child is make them think, although of course that is I suppose dangerous indeed in it’s own way.

Tolkien is Catholic, and his works are full of Catholicism. :wink:

When this question comes up, I like to point out the book of 1 Samuel contains necromancy. Therefore, merely having necromancy exists as part of a narrative cannot possibly be forbidden.

I think others answered the question about LOTR and Tolkien dealing with fiction. Also, if we merely take a logical pause, it would be silly to think Trent meant to avoid anything that even refers to magic because that would mean you couldn’t even read Trent because it mentions magic.

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