Earth & Heaven      

October 20 2019 | by

WISDOM 18:14 reads, “For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone.” This sounds like a tranquil summer evening, but Saint Anthony interprets it differently. First, it is night, the time when the sun (Son) is hidden. It is silent; the Word is unheard. We think of peace being present where God is. However, Anthony reminds us that, in a nation, business, or home controlled by evil, an uneasy peace exists because no one is astute enough to recognize evil or strong enough or brave enough to challenge it. Anthony takes a passage from Luke and applies it to the peace of a kingdom ruled by Satan. “When a strong man armed (i.e. the devil) keepeth his court (the world, or hell) those things are in peace which he possesseth [Lk 11.21].” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals III, p. 315; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).

Consider, he argues, someone stealing eggs from a bird’s nest when the mother is gone; the thief steals peacefully because he meets no opposition. “Thus, Sennacherib (an image of the devil himself) says in Isaiah: My hand hath found the strength of the people as a nest (how the weak guard themselves); and as eggs are gathered that are left (by their mother) so I have gathered all the earth. And there was none that moved the wing (raised a hand against me), or opened the mouth, or made the least noise. [Is. 10.14] This is how quiet silence held all things” (Sermons III, p. 315).


Triumph of evil


“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” wrote Edmund Burke. Doing nothing means keeping silent. Burke also added, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one.” In English novelist J. R.R. Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbit Frodo Baggins is living in ‘gentle silence’ which Tolkien calls “The Watchful Peace.” Frodo is oblivious to evil until he is commissioned by the wizard Gandalf to destroy an evil, but innocuous looking Ring which his cousin Bilbo Baggins had unintentionally found. Frodo, and others who form the Fellowship of the Ring, leave their homes where a measure of peace reigns and go to confront evil in “the gentle silence” of its own territory. They go from doing nothing individually to associating (to use Burke’s term) with one another in the battle for good. The battle takes place in Middle-earth.




In Germanic mythology, the world of men was known as Midgard, Middenheim, Manaheim, and Middengeard, which is also the Old English term. Saint Anthony may have heard this term from the English friar, scholar, and University of Paris lecturer Haymo of Faversham, whom Anthony, along with a few other friars, accompanied to see the Pope regarding the friars’ adherence to Francis’ final Testament. Anthony used the term “middle-earth” in his sermon notes for the First Sunday after Christmas: “Into the midst of the land (‘middle earth,’ between heaven and hell)” (Sermons III, p. 316).

Middle-earth is equivalent to the Norse Midgard which means the human inhabited world. In Tolkien’s ‘middle-earth’, the angelic Valar, Elves, and their human allies struggle against the demonic Melkor or Morgoth (a Vala fallen into evil) and his followers, mostly Orcs, dragons, and fallen human beings. Christians see parallels with the forces of good (angels) and evil (demons) led by the fallen angel Lucifer.

Theater goers to the Lord of the Rings movies will recall elves, men, dwarves, and hobbits leaping from heights into clusters of orcs, dragons, and fallen men in vivid battle scenes likely inspired by Tolkien’s experiences in World War I as a British Army officer. The Book of Wisdom presents a similar image, which fascinated Saint Anthony, “While all things were in mid-silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty Word leapt down from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction, a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment. And he stood and filled all things with death: and standing on the earth reached even to heaven.” [Wisd 18.14-16]. Lest we wonder if Anthony quoted correctly, he writes, “This is the literal text in the book of Wisdom: ‘When all things were in quiet silence’” (Sermons III, p. 314).


Night & day


To both Tolkien and Anthony, we wage battle in our world. The words, “And the night was in the midst of her course,” caused Anthony to reflect, “‘Midst is relative to extremes, the extreme points of night being dusk and dawn. From Adam to the Law was, as it were, dusk. From the law to the Annunciation of Blessed Mary was, as it were, the middle of the night, as regards disobedience to the Law. Neither Adam in paradise nor the people in the desert kept the Law; they were all overshadowed by the darkness of this night, and so they needed the benefit of the Lord’s coming, which began with the angelic salutation. The beginning of night was when the devil, in the serpent, tempted Eve; the beginning of day was the angel’s greeting to Mary. And then, Father, thy almighty Word (the Son consubstantial with you) leapt down from thy royal throne, the bosom of your majesty… As a fierce conqueror” (Sermons III, p. 315).

Like Anthony, Tolkien contrasted light and darkness. The evil realm of Mordor, ruled by the arch villain Sauron (a personification of Satan) is surrounded by three enormous mountain ranges, keeping it continuously dark and in the Land of Shadow, with the huge volcano Mount Doom in its midst. In contrast, Rivendell, the hidden valley of the elves who act on the side of good, is filled with light and beauty.




Aragorn, a Ranger from the North in Tolkien’s novels, is a Christ figure who leads the Fellowship and eventually assumes his rightful place as king of Gondor and Arnor. Saint Anthony’s “fierce conqueror” is Christ. Satan, Anthony notes, “was made to fear no-one. [Job 41.24}. It is only right, then, that there should come a fierce conqueror, over whom he has no power, to come and despoil him. Into the midst of the land (‘middle-earth’, between heaven and hell) of destruction (destroyed by the devil, placed outside the bounds of eternal life)… He leapt down (upon the two feet of divinity and humanity), a sharp sword… The sword is the divinity, hidden in the sheaf of humanity… The devil, who destroyed the earth, was run through by this sword… The Father hath given everything into his hand [Jn 13.3]… And he stood and filled all things with death. He stood with arms outstretched on the Cross, and by his death filled all things that had been emptied by the disobedience of our first parents … And standing on the earth (meaning his humanity) reached even to heaven (the divine nature)” (Sermons III, pp. 316-17).

While Aragorn rules a few kingdoms in middle-earth, and being mortal, eventually dies, Christ, like a giant, unites both earth and heaven through his death, but He, being immortal, rises and beckons us into the eternal life He lives.

Updated on October 20 2019