Eru Ilúvatar


Eru Ilúvatar is a fictional deity in J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Middle-earth legendarium. He is introduced in The Silmarillion as the creator of all existence (called in Elvish). In Tolkien’s invented language of Elvish, Eru means „The One”, or „He that is Alone” and Ilúvatar signifies „Father of All”. The names appear in Tolkien both in isolation and paired (Eru Ilúvatar).

Eru as Creator

Eru is a supreme being, analogous to God. Eru is transcendent, and completely outside of and beyond the world. He first created a group of angelic beings, called in Elvish the Ainur, these holy spirits were co-actors in the creation of the universe through a holy music and chanting called the „Song of the Ainur”, or Ainulindalë in Elvish.

Eru alone can create independent life or reality by giving it the Flame Imperishable. All beings not created directly by Eru, (e.g. Dwarves, Ents, Eagles), still need to be accepted by Eru to become more than mere puppets of their creator. Melkor desired the Flame Imperishable and long sought for it in vain, but he could only twist that which had already been given life.

Eru created alone the Elves and Men. This is why in The Silmarillion both races are called the Children of Ilúvatar. The race of the Dwarves was created by Aulë, and given sapience by Eru. Animals and plants were fashioned by Yavanna during the Music of the Ainur after the themes set out by Eru. The Eagles of Manwë were created from the thought of Manwë and Yavanna. Yavanna also created the Ents, who were given sapience by Eru. Melkor instilled some semblance of free will into his mockeries of Eru/Ilúvatar’s creations (Orcs and Trolls).

Eru’s direct interventions

In the First Age, Eru created and awakened Elves as well as Men. In the Second Age, Eru buried King Ar-Pharazôn and his Army when they landed at Aman in S.A. 3319. He caused the Earth to take a round shape, drowned Númenor, and caused the Undying Lands to be taken „outside the spheres of the earth”. When Gandalf died in the fight with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring, it was beyond the power of the Valar to resurrect him; Ilúvatar himself intervened to send Gandalf back.

Tolkien on Eru

A clear explanation of this appears in a draft of a letter that Tolkien wrote in 1954 to Peter Hastings, manager of the Newman Bookshop (a Catholic bookshop in Oxford). In the letter, Tolkien, himself a devout Catholic, defended the non-orthodox portrayal of God (Eru) in his writing as rightly within the scope of his legendarium, as an exploration of the infinite „potential variety” of God.

Regarding the possibility of reincarnation of Elves, Hastings had written:

God has not used that device in any of the creations of which we have knowledge, and it seems to me to be stepping beyond the position of a sub-creator to produce it as an actual working thing, because a sub-creator, when dealing with the relations between creator and created, should use those channels which he knows the creator to have used already.

Tolkien’s reply explains his view of the relation of (divine) Creation to (human) sub-creation:

We differ entirely about the nature of the relation of sub-creation to Creation. I should have said that liberation „from the channels the creator is known to have used already” is the fundamental function of „sub-creation”, a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety […] I am not a metaphysician; but I should have thought it a curious metaphysic — there is not one but many, indeed potentially innumerable ones — that declared the channels known (in such a finite corner as we have any inkling of) to have been used, are the only possible ones, or efficacious, or possibly acceptable to and by Him!

Hastings had also criticised the description of Tom Bombadil by Goldberry — „He is” — saying that this seemed to imply that Bombadil was God. In reply, Tolkien said:

As for Tom Bombadil, I really do think you are being too serious, besides missing the point. […] You rather remind me of a Protestant relation who to me objected to the (modern) Catholic habit of calling priests Father, because the name father belonged only to the First Person.

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