Peter Kreeft has made an interesting (and successful, I think) attempt at giving a basic introduction to classical philosophy while integrating it with the writings of Tolkien. The title of the book states his project: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to review or analyze the book here, though I do recommend it if you have any interest either in philosophy or Tolkien (it helps if you have both). I just want to share something from his chapter on philosophy of language. There’s not much to do with Tolkien in this passage, however, since what follows is mainly a quote from a George MacDonald anthology edited by C.S. Lewis (you’ll also like Kreeft’s book if you like Lewis, since he quotes from him frequently).
Anyway, here’s the passage. It concerns the passage in the Book of Revelation (2:17) about the giving of the “white stone” with a new name written on it. I have written about this before, because I think it is a profound thing that God gives us a new name—not just a new form of address, but something that identifies and expresses our most intimate interior, known only to Him. It is something that we will cherish for all eternity.
“The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom [i.e., destiny] of the righteous man, the ‘Come, thou blessed,’ spoken to the individual… The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man’s own symbol—his soul’s picture, in a word—the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees who the man is… It is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies… God’s name for a man must be the expression of His own idea of the man, that being whom He had in His thought when He began to make the child, and whom He kept in His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize the idea. To tell the name is to seal the success—to say ‘In thee also I am well pleased.’”
The mysterious white stone is given “only when the man has become his name.” I find this intriguing. How do we become our names? We see in the Scriptures that some characters are named for who they are or what their mission is. Raphael, who healed Tobit of blindness, means “medicine of God.” Peter, of course, is the Rock of the Church, a name given by Jesus Himself. Jesus was given his human name (“YHWH saves”) because, as the angel explained to St Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins.” They all became their names by completing the course of their lives, doing what God called them to do.
But we don’t know yet what our new name will be; we don’t know quite how God sees us. We don’t know what his idea was for the unique image of Himself that is you or I when He created us. We may not yet even know what our true mission in life is. So how can we “become our names,” and in this way find the eternal fulfillment that hinges on our being what we are created to be? Kreeft does not give us the answer in his book, since that is somewhat off the main subject. As for me, I can only give a general guess. We certainly will not become what we are meant to be if we simply live according to our own tastes, desires, or emotions. We can go off in many different directions that way, but ultimately all roads lead to “self” if we are just doing what seems pleasant or profitable. We can only become our divinely-given names if we “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” if we surrender to the will of the One who called us into being, who gives concrete form to his mystical image in us, and who has prepared a unique place for us in his heavenly paradise. It may take time as the particulars of our vocation are manifest and set in place, but if our eyes are always fixed on Jesus we will always be moving in the direction of our true fulfillment. We will gradually become our names, and what delight it will be when that name is finally revealed to us! It will be so utterly perfect and marvelous that we will thank God for all eternity for thinking of us and loving us in precisely that way.
This whole issue came up in Kreeft’s book because of the question concerning “myth of an original language,” and the fact that Tolkien’s names for his characters all seem perfectly suited for them. But we are all characters in God’s magnum opus, his great work of creation and redemption, the history of man and the mysteries of eternity. How wonderful to fit precisely into that plan, and to share eternally in the beauty and music and bliss of Heaven, knowing ourselves to be an integral element in the perfect realization of divine love and creativity. But how horrible to be, as the Book of Revelation puts it, “outside” of the Heavenly Jerusalem, with all those wretched creatures who refused to submit to the will of the Lord, those who would have it their way or no way, those who said no to the perfect harmony of God’s universe and now have to live in the eternal, wrenching dissonance of their own howls of pain and despair. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes the fall of Satan as the introduction of his self-willed dissonance into the wonderful harmonies of the angels who assisted God in the work of creation.
So it behooves us to seek the Lord at all costs, to discover our place in his vision of blessedness, to become our names as we await their full and glorious revelation, which will in fact be an intimate communication between God and our souls. I will close here with a bit more from Kreeft on that “original language” which, he explains, is even beyond words: it is music.
“Music is not ornamented poetry, and poetry is not ornamented prose. Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry. Prose is not the original language; it is poetry made practical. Even poetry is not the original language; it is music made speakable, it is the words of music separated from their music. In the beginning was music…
“In The Silmarillion… God and His angels sing the world into being: ‘In the beginning, Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Iluvatar, made the Ainur out of his thought; and they made a great Music before him. In this Music the World was begun’…”