Poor Sam! It is so long since he has enjoyed what he would call “proper” food and the wine has gone to his head. Add to that the way in which talk has drifted away from the melancholy decline of Gondor and its people to the abiding beauty of Galadriel, “Hard as di’monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars,” and Sam’s guard is gone completely and he has told Faramir about his brother, Boromir’s desire for the Ring.
And so Faramir is put to the test: “In the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings”. He has within his grasp the means to bring victory to Gondor, to vanquish the ancient enemy of his people and perhaps even to restore the dream of Númenor that he has nourished for so long. So why then does he turn down the opportunity to take the Ring from Frodo and Sam? Why does he pass the test and Boromir fail?
Faramir tells us: “We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.”
Perhaps Faramir is a little too generous in his assessment of the moral quality of his people. After all Boromir was present at the moment when Frodo was charged by the Council in Rivendell with the task of taking the Ring to the Fire in order to unmake it and in choosing to be one of the Fellowship committed himself to defend the Ring from those who would seek to take it. Perhaps he shows us his humility by speaking not of his own virtue but of that of his people. For we have seen that the vision of Númenor and of Gondor that he has nourished has not been one of greatness as a mighty power, “a mistress of many slaves” but greatness of wisdom and of beauty, “not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” It is moral greatness that Faramir desires above all else and it is in the cherishing of this desire that he passes the test.
In the 16th century a young Spanish soldier called Íñigo López de Loyola nourished his soul with tales of military romance such as the tales of the knights of Camelot, dreaming of the kind of greatness that they achieved. We can imagine that the young Boromir would have done likewise so learning to dream of his own glory. Eventually Íñigo was badly wounded in battle and during the enforced rest that followed found that the only book available to him was a Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony in which the reader is encouraged to place her or himself imaginatively within the Gospel stories. So began a new spiritual and imaginative practice that changed his life and led to the formation of The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Pope Francis is a member of this society.
We cannot avoid spiritual discipline. As soon as we begin to make conscious choices we nourish our souls by means of our imagination. It is not that Íñigo’s dreams of military valour were bad. He took the ardour, the passion, that they inspired to his reading of the Gospels and the Lives of the Saints, especially that of Francis of Assisi, and to a courageous life as a follower of Christ that inspired many other young men to join him. But it was the conscious discipline of meditating on the Gospels that transformed him. We have seen in our recent reflections that Faramir is a man of disciplined reflection and so when the Ring comes within his grasp he shows his quality. He renounces all that the Ring might give both to himself and his people.
After the successful conclusion of the battle against the force from the south Faramir begins an interrogation of his prisoner. When Sam awakens from his sleep he finds Frodo standing before Faramir’s men seated “in a wide semicircle, between the arms of which Faramir was seated on the ground… It looked strangely like the trial of a prisoner.”
At the heart of Faramir’s questioning is the verse that Boromir took to Rivendell in order to seek counsel from Elrond.
Seek for the sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur’s Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand.”
It is Isildur’s Bane about which Faramir shows most interest and Frodo tries to deflect this by speaking of the sword of Elendil and about Aragorn for Isildur’s Bane is the Ring of Power that Isildur took from the hand of the Dark Lord and which slipped from his finger so betraying him to the Orcs that had ambushed him. Frodo has already seen what the Ring can do when he narrowly escaped from the clutches of Boromir; now he learns that Faramir is Boromir’s brother and for the first time he learns that Boromir is dead.
Frodo may have tried to deflect Faramir from asking more about Isildur’s Bane but at no point does he try to deceive his captor. Frodo is a truth teller and he simply tells Faramir that he cannot speak more of his errand or of the nature of what Isildur’s Bane might be.His authority comes, not from himself, but from the Council that charged him with his task. When he speaks to Faramir and his men it is as if Elrond himself stands there and alongside him Gandalf, Aragorn heir of Elendil and Glorfindel, long ago the conqueror of the Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul; for all were present at the Council and all charged Frodo with the task of taking the Ring to the fire in order to destroy it. Frodo is their messenger and he does not speak for himself alone.
When a person with authority speaks to another who has authority and a person who sis a truth-teller speaks to another who is a truth-teller they will recognise each other. Frodo feels in his heart that Faramir though “much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser”; and Faramir says to Frodo, “there is something strange about you… an Elvish air, maybe.” So Faramir chooses not to make a final judgement but to take Frodo and Sam to his secret refuge in order to give himself time to think more about what he should do.
Only those who speak the truth can discern the truth when it is spoken to them. Faramir’s caution in dealing with Frodo is not the consequence of a mistrust of the one with whom he has to do but a consequence of the gravity of the choice he has to make.
There is a lovely story in the gospels of an encounter between Jesus and a Roman Centurion, whose servant is near death. Jesus, the man of occupied Palestine, gives the centurion of the occupying army an order. Immediately the centurion recognises that Jesus has the right to do this, obeys the order and finds his servant healed. Those who learn to live most effectively in the world are those who learn to live under the authority of the deepest reality of all.