O Antiphons: O Dawn! O Oriens!


By Tom Palanza, Jr.

The recent release of the third “Hobbit” movie put me into a Tolkien mood and the recent close of the academic year gives me more time to think about my love of Tolkien again.  So, of course, I could not help but use a favorite scene of mine from the Two Towers in my reflection on the antiphon of the day.  Towards the end of the battle of Helm’s Deep, after a long, cold, rainy night of fighting for their lives, defending themselves and their families from a massive, swarming army of human sized goblins (Uruk-hai) hell-bent on slaughtering them all, Aragorn, the long awaited king of men, pauses from the battle.

At last, Aragorn stood above the great gates, heedless of the darts of the enemy.  As he looked forth he saw the eastern sky grow pale.  Then he raised his empty hand, palm outward in token of parley.

“What are you doing here?” they answered.  “Why do you look out?  Do you wish to see the greatness of our army?  We are the fighting Uruk-hai.”

“I looked out to see the dawn,” said Aragorn.

“What of the dawn?” they peered.  “We are the Uruk-hai: we do not stop the fight for night or day, for fair weather or for storm.  We come to kill, by sun or moon.  What of the dawn?”

“None knows what the new day shall bring him,” said Aragorn.  “Get you gone, ere it turn to your evil.”

I’ve read the Lord of the Rings ten or eleven times – all three books – and it is worth it every time.  Tolkien was so good that you can always gain a little more from each read of his work.  As I continue in my theology studies, I have become especially more and more attentive to his subtle theology (intentionally or accidentally woven into the story).

This particular passage is strongly infused with theological flavor and allusions – too many to talk about all of them right now!  I would like to focus on the very different reactions that Aragorn and the Uruks have to the dawn, for it can similarly be applied to our reaction to Christ.

Aragorn stops what he is doing – during the middle of a battle!  That’s not a good idea.  But he does it anyway.  He does it so that he can look at the Dawn.  Aragorn appreciates the fact that there are things above and beyond him, greater than his own life and situation.  He is open to the transcendent and is therefore capable of hope even in the worst of times.  “No one knows what the new day shall bring him.”

The Uruks, however, do not care at all about the Dawn.  In fact, they are proud that they don’t care about it and that it does not affect them.  They see only what they are capable of doing, they rest in their own strength.  But their self-absorption works against them.  When things don’t go their way, they have nothing to stand on and fall easily.

So, with the Dawn fast coming upon us – how will we react to it?  Are we open to the Dawn?  Are we willing to stop everything we are doing to welcome it?  Do we believe that the sacrifice of stopping our own work, of not trusting in our own strength is worth what the Dawn can give us?  Are we ready to look outside of ourselves, to rise up out of our own narrow contexts in order to set our eyes on the Dawn above us?  May God give us what we need to proclaim with all out heart, soul, strength, and mind: “Praise, O Dawn!”

Quote from: Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine Books. 1982.