When I recently summarized Tolkien's theology of the fall and resurrection -
- I had forgotten that I had already read about this in Stratford Caldecott's book Secret Fire: the spiritual vision of JRR Tolkien - which I re-read recently.
This is an edited version of what Caldecott says pp 104-5:
[Finrod concludes] that the gift of death, which involves the separation of soul from body, was not intended to take this tragic form.
Melkor's greatest success has been to turn it into an unnatural suffering, but in death before the Fall, rather than leaving it behind to rot, the soul of Man was to have taken the human body with it out of the whole realm of Arda, into etermity.
This would have meant nothing less than a kind of assumption into heaven.
The body would have been released from the limitations of time and space, and healed from all the damage Melkor has wrought since the beginning in the substances of Arda.
Tolkien's speculation has a long history behind it. The theologians of the Catholic Church have all agreed that the separation of body and soul in Man is an 'unnatural' state; that in some way the two components of human personality cannot be separated, and that they need each other.
Since the most 'natural' human state is (by theological definition) that which existed before the Fall, some have asked themselves whether Adam and Eve would have died at all, if they had not eaten the forbidden fruit. The Book Of Genesis tells us that after the original sin, God expels man from the garden lest he 'reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'.
This seems to imply that a tree of life had been placed in the garden for man to eat when the time was right, but that sin removed it beyond his reach.
In other words, there was to have been a moment when death came to Man, but in that moment he would have eaten by God's permission from the tree of life.
In the original plan, therefore, death would have occurred, but it would have taken a different form.