The Return of Esotericism

Father Jean-Christophe Thibaut has been following the “new spiritualities” for over twenty years. He has published a fascinating book which allows us to better understand and apprehend this phenomenon. He is in conservation with Christophe Geffroy of La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interview.


Christophe Geffroy (CG): How did you become interested in magic and esotericism?

Father Jean-Christophe Thibaut (FrJ-CT): From a very young age, I asked myself questions about the meaning of life. My parents, who were atheist and anti-clerical teachers, were unable to provide the answers I was looking for. So, I decided to do my own research with what I could get my hands on. At the age of 8, I discovered the use of the pendulum, then, at 13, spiritualism. From there, I devoted myself entirely to the study of esotericism and occultism. During my studies at the university, I even became a Luciferian. It was in this context that, against all odds, I experienced Christ the Savior. A few years after my conversion, when I entered the seminary, the bishop of my diocese asked me to train in this field in order to help those who, like me, are tempted by magic and esotericism.

CG: Could you define precisely what magic and esotericism are? And where do they come from, what are their stories?

FrJ-CT: Magic and esotericism are not synonyms. Magic uses techniques to obtain material results, but using supernatural means, with the help of rituals (incantations) and certain objects (crystal ball, wand, cards, pendulums, etc.).

Father Jean-Christophe Thibaut. [Credit: Maury GOLINI]

Esotericism is a “catch-all” term in which we group together all the somewhat strange subjects (UFOs, divination, alchemy, etc.) without them necessarily having a link between them. But, originally, this neologism, coined in 1828 by a Protestant pastor, designated a group of beliefs that had Christian appearances, but were based on principles different from those taught by the Church. What they had in common was the belief that salvation depended not on divine grace, but on a primordial knowledge—the Tradition of the Ancients—which man had forgotten since the fall of his soul into matter (the body), but which he could recover thanks to a few initiates. Those who reach this “gnosis” (knowledge) are not satisfied with the “exoteric” teaching of the Churches, but reach a knowledge so powerful that it provokes an illumination, a “transmutation” of the impetus made capable of “going up” to its First Principle (God) from which it emanates. Occultism, for its part, designates the application of this esoteric knowledge in different fields, such as alchemy, astrology, divinatory arts, magic, etc.

CG: What do magic and esotericism represent today? What percentage of the population does it affect? And does it concern a particular fringe of the population or not, in other words who is affected by this phenomenon?

FrJ-CT: It is not possible to give precise figures, especially since some people today use magical principles without always being aware of it. For example, some alternative therapies or personal development methods are based on principles directly inspired by magic. What is certain is that sociologists note a development of a “magical mentality.” This phenomenon affects all social classes, cities as well as the countryside. The latest surveys show that one Frenchman in four consults fortune tellers and that 58 percent declare that they believe in an occult science. There are more than 100,000 declared astrologers and mediums, to which we must add those who practice secretly. But it is above all young people who are seduced by esotericism: 70 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds have a favorable opinion. We are witnessing a strong return of witchcraft, spiritualism and shamanism.

CG: How can we explain such a craze for magic and esotericism in a society where Christianity, although in retreat, proposes a much more coherent spirituality that has shaped our historical being?

FrJ-CT: First of all, it should be noted that many of our contemporaries differentiate between religion and spirituality. Religion is perceived as a confinement in dogmas and rites to be accomplished, where one must follow an imposed truth. On the contrary, spirituality is considered as a space of freedom where each one can seek God, the divinity, the absolute, as he wants and in the way he likes. Each person is the priest of his own religion, which he builds according to his desires and intuitions.

Moreover, for many, spirituality is necessarily Asian (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and not Western, let alone Christian. Meditation is preferred to prayer as a deeper experience of the inner life. Instead of Mass, we prefer various practices (shamanism, sophrology, hypnosis, yoga, reiki, etc.) that claim to open people to spiritual dimensions buried within them. However, there is a profound misunderstanding, because these Eastern religions have been reformatted to Western taste, and, above all, emptied of their religious content. These pseudo-spiritualities are more like personal development techniques, where the search for God is only a pretext for a quest for oneself, for one’s deepest self.

Spirituality is only of interest insofar as it can bring something immediate and concrete: a well-being, an inner peace, a better physical and psychological health. There is therefore no gratuitousness, no search for truth and no love. Spirituality has become a marketing product, while the Christian religion is perceived as a relic of the past in the process of disappearing.

CG: How are magic and esotericism dangerous, and what are the possible consequences for people who practice them? How to get out of it?

FrJ-CT: Magic, like esotericism, is based on the principles of ancient paganism: there is no creator God, but everything that exists is an emanation of a first principle (God and the cosmos are one). The Earth is a living being. All the elements of the world, the macrocosm (Earth, planets, etc.) and the microcosm (men, organs, cells) are in correspondence: we are thus subjected to forces which exceed us. There is no good or evil; they are only polarities that must be brought into harmony, etc.

All this thinking is contrary to biblical revelation. By adhering to this thought, one rejects all that God has revealed to us from Abraham to Jesus Christ. And this, it seems to me, is the real danger: by following a false thought, by preferring to trust in spirits or occult forces rather than in God and His divine Providence, we play into the hands of the Liar. Esotericism is a form of idolatry and magic always ties us to a demon. By distancing ourselves from God and the truth, we risk losing ourselves. Damnation is the Devil’s primary goal. To practice magic is to open the door to demonic forces. We must close them with determination by returning to God, through the sacrament of reconciliation, or sometimes by asking for the help of the prayer of exorcism and deliverance when necessary.

CG: Why does the Church speak out so little on these issues?

FrJ-CT: I believe that if the Church of the first centuries was very attentive to preserving the “deposit of faith” and avoiding falling into the traps of the devil, the Church today perhaps does not pay enough attention to these questions which are nevertheless of primary importance. There is a fear of the irrational. But it is enough to return to what the Fathers of the Church and the theologians have taught us. There is an urgent need for formation and training of the clergy.

CG: What advice would you give, especially to parents, to avoid falling into the trap of magic and esotericism? Is fantasy literature a risk in this respect for young people? How to discern?

FrJ-CT: Magic and esotericism are fascinating. And yet, they often lead to a real confinement. I think it is important to talk about it, not to make it a taboo. We must also be careful when we adopt relaxation methods, seductive therapies. It is not because they “work” that they are necessarily good. One must accept to make a discernment.

Fantasy literature is not bad in itself, but one must be careful that it does not distill an esoteric message. It is good for parents to read these books or at least talk about them with their children. Television series currently focus on witchcraft and magic, while presenting Christianity in the cheesiest light. Peacefully, with humor and tact, but firmly, we must denounce all forms of manipulation of thought. The first Christians did it in their time. It is our turn to remain vigilant!


Featured: “Hermes Trismegistos,” from Stolcius, Viridarium Chymicun, 1624.

Why Turbo-Capitalism wants to de-Christianize the West

In keeping with the theoretical framework outlined in my book, Minima mercatalia. Filosofia e capitalism [Small Business. Philosophy and capitalism], absolute-totalitarian capitalism or turbo-capitalism, as it has been implemented since the sixties of the “short century,” acts by annihilating every limit that can hinder or even slow down its logic of development and reproduction. This logic consists in the colonization without residue of the real and the symbolic, according to the rhythm of omni- mercantilization [conversion of everything into market and commodity], whose only teleological orientation is the unlimited and boundless will to power, and whose foundation is the destruction of every material or immaterial limit—turbo-capitalism becomes absolutus, “perfectly complete,” as soon as it becomes “liberated from” (solutus ab) every limit that can contain it, discipline it and, perhaps also, halt its advance. The incessant demolition of frontiers and bastions of resistance to this conversion of everything into a market is what, with total intentionality, is celebrated as “progress” by the new mental order generated by the completely new world order under the banner of capital.

In contrast, “regression” [“involution”] is the term with which the order of the dominant discourse delegitimizes every figure of the limit or, more simply, of non-alignment, with respect to the enveloping global movement that transforms everything into merchandise, reifying the world and life. And this, in post-1,989, is valid both for “material” and political elements stricto sensu, such as the national sovereign State (which I dealt with in Glebalizzazione. La lotta di classe al tempo del populismo [Glebalization: The Class Struggle in the Time of Populism]—“glebalization,” the serial production of new exploited, underpaid and precarious servants)—the last bastion of popular sovereignty and of the autonomy of the political; and for the properly spiritual dimension linked to cultural identities (at the center of my Difendere chi siamo. Le ragioni dell´identità italiana [Defend Who We Are. The Reasons for Italian Identity], to critical thought (which I studied in Pensare altrimenti [Think Otherwise]) and, especially, to the religion of transcendence.

That unlimitedly self-empowered will to power, in order to be able to realize itself, must colonize the entire planet, following the dynamics of what we usually call “globalization” (a pious name for the new figure of all-inclusive imperialism), and must, “uno motu,” take hold of each and every conscience, provoking the destruction of any cultural and spiritual sovereignty, specifically the dis-identification (the annihilation of all identity) and the de-divinization of the world (the neutralization of all sense of the sacred and of transcendence).

In this perspective, Christianity is in every way incompatible with the new spirit of capitalism since, apart from guarding the sense of the sacred and of transcendence, it lives historically in concrete institutions which, like the Church of Rome, have their own autonomy and, if you will, their own political as well as spiritual sovereignty. So that the so fashionable slogan “war of religion,” with which the postmodern discourse tends to liquidate tout court all religion of transcendence, insofar as it can be assimilated to the fanaticism of potentially terrorist revolts, can perhaps be replaced by the opposite locution “war against religion,” a formula with which, by means of a gestalt reorientation of thought, we refer: A) to the already evident incompatibility between religion of transcendence and atheistic religion of the market, between Christianity and capitalism; and B) to the no less adamantine “war”—now open, now underhanded—that the civilization of markets has declared on the religion of transcendence “ut sic.”

The “retreat of Christianity” is also explained, in part, in connection with the struggle against religion led by the materialistic and spiritless inspiration characteristic of the technocratic order. In the context of this “war against religion,” which is deliberately concealed under the rhetoric of the “war of religion” from the sphere of the globalized free trade zone, Christianity is granted only one possibility: to adapt to relativistic nihilism by pretending to remain itself and thus to lead the faithful and the West itself into the abyss of the nothingness of the civilization of the markets. In other words, and in accordance with what has been pointed out, turbo-capitalist globalization asks Christianity either to allow itself to be “killed” by the nihilism of techno-capitalist civilization, or to “commit suicide” by voluntarily diluting itself in this nothingness; that is, to redefine itself as a mere appendix of the civilization of the markets, assimilating and spreading the same relativistic and nihilistic vision of the world, stripped of any link with transcendence and the sacred, to ultimately end up being transformed into a megaphone of the same political, social and economic conception based on the dogmas of the sans frontières market, the free circulation of merchandise and commodified people, the neoliberal and American-centric one world, and the whims of consumption with rainbow tones for the ruling classes, improperly designated with the noble title of “civil rights.”

In short, globalization asks Christianity, sic et simpliciter, to continue to exist by renouncing its being and becoming an integral part of the very project of globalization founded on the fanaticism of the free market. And when attempts are made to escape this destiny, recovering the spirit of transcendence and the sacred, of tradition and the divine, as occurred during the brief but heroic pontificate of Ratzinger, the clash between Christianity and capitalism becomes irreconcilable. There is shown, in all its crudeness, the real enmity that pits the religion of the sacred against the nihil of the “horrendous order”—as Pasolini called it—of the civilization of capital; an enmity that, in this case, has been resolved in favor of the latter, through the restoration—with the appointment of “Pope” Bergoglio—of a new and more stable compromise of Christianity’s submission to the neoliberal oligarchic bloc. Pope Ratzinger was the extreme and epic attempt of Christianity to reverse its own tendency of evaporation and self-dissolution, resisting nihilistic relativism, thanks to a recovery of the heart of Christian doctrine and tradition, and vindicating in the full sense the reasons of the sacred, the eternal, the transcendent and the Corpus Christianorum.

In the preceding figure of “dialectical capitalism,” just as we have codified it in Minima mercatalia, religion was presented as an essentially dialectical element: it could justify both revolt in the name of the kingdom of heaven and subordination to the constituted power as an image of divine justice, depending on whether the “hot current” or the “cold current” of Christianity prevailed, to use Ernst Bloch’s syntax in Atheism in Christianity. At the time, religion could be used as an instrument of government and it was possible to find a bilateral agreement with it, as for example happened in Italy with the Lateran Pacts (1,929).

Absolute-totalitarian capitalism, for its part, not only no longer needs the religious phenomenon to prop up its own power, but it must get rid of it, recognizing it as an impediment—potential or real, depending on the context—to its own logic of development and reproduction. From a different plane, the Christian religion refers to a higher order that, however, should not necessarily always be understood as a structure of domination and power. Undoubtedly, in the past Christianity has represented an obstacle, because power also needed a religious justification. The power of truly totalitarian neo-capitalism and potentially superior to everything that has preceded it, no longer needs a “celestial” justification: it is strong enough to be self-sufficient. Furthermore, it fears that any possible reference to the higher order of the transcendent may turn out to be intrinsically contradictory, if only because of its appeal to a different and higher dimension than that of the totally colonized real in the form of a market.


Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the Intellectual, The Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns. [This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].


Featured: “Christ Expelling the Money-Changers from the Temple,” by Nicolas Colombel; painted in 1630.

Flavigny the Sweet

Flavigny can pass for one of the most beautiful villages of Burgundy. Its houses of ashlar, noble, old places gnawed by lichen and moss, with the windows fashioned in the old way, surround the church at the center of the village, mounted like a crown upon a tooth. The narrow nave of the church of Saint-Genest shows vaulting of a delicate gothic style; a lace tribune connects the two lateral parts of the building. A whole battery of statues attracts the eye: the wooden monks of the stalls, the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin breastfeeding, with a little Jesus suckling greedily in her arms.

Downstairs, at the village gate, the seminary of the Society of St. Pius X sends out a number of young abbots who pass through the narrow streets in black cassocks, without buttons or buckles on their belts. The park where these good seminarians stroll opens onto the Alesia valley. A huge Crucifix at the end of the park dominates the view like a victory on a ship that triumphs over the horizon—the sentinel before the barbarians. We then learn that Louis de Funès participated in the renovation of part of the church and that one of the first bishops of Mosul rests in the cemetery among the sisters. At the entrance of the village, not far from the large gate of Saint Joseph, the old abbey of Saint Peter houses the confectionery, remarkable for its aniseed with exquisite perfumes: mandarin, violet, rose. The loving shepherd and the greedy shepherdess, he dowdy, she the pretty pearl, illustrate these very good sweets and never fail to charm.

There are abbeys which look like citadels in the scrubland; others are havens and border a river; the abbey of Flavigny is a castle in the countryside. These Benedictines lived happily first in Clairval, Switzerland, in the early 1970s, stemming from the Olivetan order. Then, following Dom Joly, they made their way through the peasant lands of Burgundy. No, they have not been there for a thousand years. Recently arrived, on the scale of Christianity, as if no accident of history had jostled them, they seem peaceful in their home. The abbey is housed in a former 18th century pleasure castle.

In the main street, in front of a Swiss household, owners of a black tractor, the facade of the abbey. Straight, severe, sober. A statue of Saint Joseph, another of the Holy Queen. The church is a kind of upturned ship’s hold, carved in one piece. On the polished and shiny marble floor is engraved the cross of Saint Benedict. At Compline, one can only see the cuckoo clock, as you let yourself be carried off by the wave of the Psalms in the darkness, borne by the determined voices of the monks. Then the statue of the Virgin lights up for the Salve Regina. Mary dazzled replaces the moon’s luminescence.

After crossing the courtyard of the Ursulines, where a crucifix is planted, bearing the words: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” the sun turning around the cross like a dial, the main building, in the heart of the abbey, shows a classical and neat façade. The stone is round and polished, the forms majestic and masterful. From the main staircase, where a magnificent Piéta is enthroned, you arrive at the refectory of the 1950s, tiled as in a hospital. Through a door, you pass from a wooded and classical sacristy to the chapter house, a former ballroom with deep mirrors and precious moldings. From the outside, the courtyard of honor has cachet, the façade has allure; a kind of grace that a classical play of the walls and high windows, as was savored during the Regency period, gives this abbey, set on this Burgundian acropolis, the appearance of a hermitage and a hunting lodge; a place of retreat from the world without austerity or pain.

A statue of the merciful Christ rises above the building. The effigy, dipped in gold, shines. In front of this main courtyard is a terrace; from the terrace, an exquisite walk leads down to the gardens. From the fruit trees, the Mirabelle plums, one passes through an alley of narrow trees to a vegetable garden, where a brood of hens lives among fields of leeks and potatoes. Further down is a bush artfully trimmed according to the laws of topiary at the level of a remarkable belvedere. And further down still, sloping paths descend into the forests. You should see the monks dressed in white, on their monastic 31, processioning on August 15 with Mary crowned. The walls are then covered with a blue sheet printed with fleur-de-lis. Long live Mary, Protector of France, Mother of priests, Guardian of our homes!

October mornings are filled with joy: a sheet of light wool spins over the valley. Out of nowhere a polished amber stone rises, rolls into the sky and spreads its golden rays from west to east. The whole village ends up embellished in yellow gold. The trees rain their leaves in the park. The leaves die with their colors more varied, more sonorous than those of life. The splendor of autumn here results from a degradation of organs from which life has withdrawn. The singing services, the bellowing of the cows below, resounds in the cells and accompanies the awake monk in falsetto.

It was not only the delicate and powdered nobility that sought to flee the city and enjoy the relaxation of the countryside, nor even the great families of the cities to escape boredom, Schifanoia, or the monarchs of Prussia to covet without care. The Benedictines too are happy here; hermits of the pastures, dead to the world and alive in the woods. They themselves in this countryside seem carefree. They are quiet, quiescent, neither hurrying nor running. We see them getting busy and then disappearing, suddenly, going underground, we don’t know; or sitting in a tractor, unloading a lot of manure and a mound of vegetables. Sometimes they wander in nature. On Thursday, day of relaxation, they go around the lakes of the region and rest. Festina lente. Saint Joseph de Clairval is about joy.

Life turns with the flavor of the seasons, without hardness nor fatigue. Matins, rings the hour, when Paris wakes up. The monks in cool, white robes, shine for God, who rejoices their sparkling youth. And the wise bent monk carries his thirty years in white. The church, immersed in a skillful ballet of light and shadow, draws frozen figures of monks for Lauds, one in white on his knees, the other in black prostrate among the massive stalls. They take time for the short offices, and shorten the long ones; they never dine or lunch without abundance, with little wine, little fantasy, and a proportion to contemplative reverie.

The Abbot says a Pater noster in the measure of a military chant, at a walk. You might have known Father Thomas leaning on his cane, explaining masterpieces of Christianity, lucid and gifted with an unimaginable energy under the plenitude and the quietude that his blue eyes illustrate. And Father Alphonse, charismatic like those actors of the 70’s who have disappeared, serious and gentle, deep and slow like the rare old car engines; or Father Vianney, the pivotal tower of this chess game, prior, director of the printing house, father-hotelier, Catholic sphinx, with a face as thin as a mask, mobile gait of changeless time, measured transport of humility. These monks and others have practiced the retreats of St. Ignatius in Flavigny and everywhere in the kingdom of France.

These methodical exercises for the soul, comparable to a gymnastics of the body, are for the spirit the means of washing the soul with bleach. Alternating teachings and meditations, over five days, you passes from the underworld to the glory of the Lord, under the standard of Christ and against the standard of the devil. These exercises, which have made the merit of the saints, known and recognized in history, effervescent in consciences like a pill against stomach aches of passions and troubles, have the hardness about them, the memory of a Catholicism of combat. Everywhere one celebrates, and hell exists. While we had perhaps forgotten it, here are the meditations reminding us of it. We are not laughing. We are faced with our creaturely misery, as if we were fat, grey, bloated, in the mirror, in front of the portrait of our condition. It is with a fear mingled with love for the good God that you make your way to the end of the retreat, falling moved, after the general confession, reassured by the preacher monk as to his own discouragement. And after five days of silence, the world comes back to us, and we come back to ourselves reassured, strengthened, galvanized in the perspective of our salvation and our duty.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

In the Footsteps of Pascal

Pierre Manent has published a new book, entitled Pascal et la proposition chrétienne (Pascal and the Christian Proposition). It is a rich and dense work which seems to us to be of the utmost importance. It is nevertheless a demanding work, and I fear that many of our contemporaries will not be able to penetrate it, so much has Christianity in particular and the question of God in general have become foreign to their preoccupations and even to their culture.

It is on this theme that Pierre Manent’s reflection opens. The doubt that assails Europeans, the self-hatred that they often manifest, the forgetfulness and even the rejection of their history, stem from the fact that “Europeans do not know what to think or what to do with Christianity. They have lost the intelligence and the use of it. They no longer want to hear about it” (p. 7). We no longer perceive the new radicality of Christianity, nor do we measure the change brought about, after the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, by the progressive implementation of the “sovereign State” which, in the name of a supposed philosophical and religious “neutrality,” has ended up monopolizing all authority, including the spiritual authority of “values”—”There is no law above that of the Republic”—so much so that the power of the Sovereign State has become limitless.

A Religion Like No Other

Now, it was in the middle of the 17th century that the sovereign State was being fashioned, and it is in this unprecedented context that Pascal, in an unfortunately fragmentary and unfinished way, reflected afresh on the “Christian proposition,” to use Pierre Manent’s expression, namely that of the Christian faith, of the very possibility of the Christian faith. Because of this reflection, Pascal is particularly adapted to our time, a precious guide, but a guide difficult to follow without a sure master to lead us. This is what Pierre Manent does in a pedagogical and luminous way, by developing for us the way Pascal envisages this “Christian proposition.”

We know that Pascal was very engaged in the quarrel between grace and freedom and that he chastised the Jesuits for advocating a more accommodating religion so as not to see so many lukewarm souls, indifferent to the Gospel, drift away from the Church—the parallel with a certain current situation will not escape anyone! Yet, Pascal pleads, Christianity is not a religion among others. He does not justify it by the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but by the unique fact that it alone “adequately accounts for the principal ‘contrariety’ of the human condition, divided between greatness and misery” (p. 361)—it alone also dares to go against some of the most universal springs of human nature, such as love of enemies or forgiveness of offenses. The dogma of original sin accounts for this “contrariety”: “Certainly nothing strikes us more harshly than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists, and turns in this abyss. So that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man” (Pensées, 122, quoted on p. 239-240).

The Enlightened Choice of the Heart

Pascal is not a theologian who seeks to rationally prove the existence of God. Faith does not need proofs; these are addressed to reason but it is not there that faith is decided: it is a gift of God who puts it in the heart of man. Pascal thus seeks to address the will—the famous “wager”—more than the intelligence, an approach which, nevertheless, is in no way opposed to reason: “The prophecies, the very miracles and the proofs of our Religion are not of such a nature that one can say that they are absolutely convincing, but they are also of such a nature that one cannot say that it is to be without reason to believe them” (Pensées, fr. 682, quoted p. 316). And Pierre Manent adds: “Nothing is more foreign to Pascal than the ‘leap of faith.’ He gives us rather a course of reason which leads us to a choice of the heart, of the knowing heart” (p. 361), because it is not a blind choice, but a reflected and enlightened one.

And yet, Pascal points out, few seem to make this choice: “The most significant fact is not the authority acquired by Christianity but, on the contrary, the theoretical or practical atheism of the immense majority of human beings, Christians included” (p. 365). Today even more than in Pascal’s time, the idea that the only great matter of life is the choice of God with what it implies for the salvation of the soul or its eternal loss does not interest many people. This brings us back to the problem of God’s grace being offered to all, and human freedom having that power to refuse it. “There is enough light for those who only wish to see, and enough darkness for those who have a contrary disposition” (Pensées, 139, quoted on p. 367).

To make the believer and the non-believer “live together” is not easy: the solution of modernity has been to push religion to the margins of public life. Pascal does not provide a political solution; but he does provide us with a demanding path, and one that is adapted to our time of incredulity: “And all we need to know is that we are miserable, corrupt, separated from God, but redeemed by Jesus Christ; and this is what we have admirable proof of on earth” (Pensées, fr. 402, quoted on p. 406).


Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.


Featured: “Blaise Pascal” portrait. Unknown artist, ca. 17th century.

Are You Aware?

And are you aware of your unawareness?

The general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find about the truth but also become unable to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language (Josef Pieper).

Vision will blind. Severance ties. Median am I. True are all lies (Meshuggah).

There is a broad spectrum, as broad as the distance between heaven and hell, describing the level of awareness of people as to what is truly happening now in the world today, and why. The awareness abyss between those who know the truth and those who don’t is a result of many things, including bad education and formation, a culture of lies, and the effect of the innumerable choices for or against reality people have made in their lives, from the moment they became responsible for their choices, at the dawning of the age of reason, to the present moment. But the main reason for where people stand today vis-à-vis reality is the state of their souls vis-à-vis God. If I know and love God as a saint does, I will be aware of reality as it is; if I know and love God as a demon does, I will not be.

Let me try to describe the awareness of someone on the lower side of the spectrum. There are myriad varieties of these people, depending on accidents of education, culture, socio-economic status, belief system, and political leanings, but at core the lack of awareness and alienation from reality is the same for all of them, and for the same reasons. I will begin from the most specific and superficial, in terms of geopolitical awareness, and end with the most general and profound, in terms of spiritual awareness. I don’t pretend to be at the highest level of awareness, but as Plato teaches us, it is true that when we leave one cave, we do know that we’ve left it, even if there are many more to discover and escape from.

The low-level-awareness persons think that there actually was a global pandemic, and that it is, for all intents and purposes, over, as Biden has told them, thanks to the Vaccine, the wise leadership of people like Tedros and Biden and Fauci and Gates, the heroic efforts of the best and brightest scientists and doctors, and the sacrifices and cooperation of the many good, responsible, loving citizens throughout the world—and it would have been over a long time ago if it weren’t for Trump and the small number of his selfish, irresponsible, and disobedient followers, who, like spoiled children, wouldn’t lockdown and mask-up and get the shot, and who believed in and promoted conspiracy theories that endangered public health and led to many deaths that could have been avoided. Biden said that they are an imminent and grave threat to our democracy, and he told the truth.

These low-level-awareness persons think that in Ukraine the entire world is defending freedom from Russia that is led by an insane new Hitler, and who is being opposed by a courageous hero and new leader of the free world. Such persons think that Ukraine is winning and will win, thanks to American assistance, just like in World War II when America rescued the Jews and the entire world from Hitler. These persons think that once Ukraine is liberated and Russia justly punished and chastised into submission (like Germany was), we can get back to the real and most formidable evil the world is facing, climate change. Such persons are ready for all the sacrifices our leaders will ask us to do in order to bring about the final unification of the world under a global government, which will come about when divisive, racist, and outdated nations disappear; and just like with the pandemic, we will vanquish this great evil of nationhood that our unenlightened predecessors bequeathed to us, which is the final obstacle preventing us from establishing a new world order of peace and prosperity and happiness for all. Oh, and the high gas and food prices? Those will go away soon, these persons assure us, just as soon as the MAGA people are eradicated, Putin is assassinated, and everyone gets their eighth booster. Sit tight and be patient and get used to less white privilege. Eating bugs isn’t that bad. Less calories.

Such persons see the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade as only a temporary setback in the ongoing and inexorable struggle for individual freedom, whose victory is assured and imminent, as witnessed by the exponential increase in freedom over the last decade, with the right to gender-reassignment surgery for children being only the latest triumph among many more to come. These persons await eagerly the new technological advances that will, like contraception and abortion pills, mRNA vaccines, and the Metaverse, enable humans to further evolve into full adulthood and take control over that evolution, so that the last vestiges of our imprisoning givenness can be sloughed off and we can finally become the kind of beings that we for way too long have projected onto gods and God due to the ignorance, self-hatred, and cowardice of our religious forebears. These persons like what they sees in Pope Francis, and especially the German Synod, because he is taking the Catholic Church in the right direction, although it has a lot of catching up to do.

Why these views? For the answer, we have to move from a description of these persons’ low-level, reality-averse awareness of what is happening socially, culturally, and politically to their even lower-level awareness of historical, metaphysical, and moral reality from which they derive their asinine opinions. The following is one version of their historical narrative, translated into the highfalutin English of the typical idiotic academic:

Only in secular modernity did man finally achieve his liberation from oppression and ignorance, from superstition, magic, tyranny, and priestcraft, from the dark forces of religious power, fanatical belief, and sectarianism. Man achieved this liberation primarily through the secularization of reason, morality and society, which included the separation of religion from the political order, the church from the state. Ever-increasing religious and ideological pluralism ensued as soon as men of good will were permitted to exercise freely their reason and act on their consciences. It is certainly the case that when Christendom was finally broken up in the wake of the Reformation, religiously intolerant, confessional, monarchical states emerged, but these evolved quite quickly, historically speaking, into the secular, tolerant, pluralistic, democratic states we have today. The rise of secular society after the sixteenth and seventeenth-century wars of religion was rendered possible only by the removal of religion from all positions of political significance and power. Good-willed, reasonable people were ready and willing to accept the desacralization of the state after decades of incessant bloodshed over religion. Sequestered, depoliticized, and privatized, religion and the sacred would now no longer cause war, divisiveness, and oppression, and the newly liberated, autonomous, politically secular individual could finally thrive. In the religiously tolerant, secular, pluralistic liberal democracy governed by the rights of men, not God, the sacred would still have a place and a capacity to exert influence over politics, but now it would have to coexist with the many competing sacreds residing in the same city, proliferating and dwelling together in peace precisely because none are permitted to obtain societal, cultural, and political power, let alone a monopoly on power.

In short, secular modernity was born when the archaic, violence-inducing sacred lost its public, political hegemony and influence, being relegated to the sub-political, private sphere of men’s fancies and hearts. What took its place in the public square is what should have always been there in the first place, the right of individuals to self-determination, to freedom of thought, action, speech, and religion. In modernity man had the courage and intelligence to attempt, for the first time in human history, to construct a political order not based upon the religious, the sacred. While not denying the right of every citizen to believe in a sacred, superhuman, cosmic, divine, transcendent power as the true ground of man’s existence, both personal and social, the theoreticians of the modern paradigm, people such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Madison, decided that secular values and rights, codified in a social contract, would replace any supposed power or will higher than man. And we are so thankful they did.

Such are these persons core metaphysical beliefs: Mindless Matter is all there is, well, except for my Mind, which is free and limitless, though determined by economics—but I’m free. I am a free spirit. And truth is the opinion of the powerful, which is oppressive and untrue, unless I’m in power; or perhaps it’s the opinion of the marginalized. And all opinions are equal, except those that aren’t, like Science and Critical Race Theory.

And as for morality—it’s relative, period. Except for racism and sexism and homophobia, which are absolute evils. And MAGA is evil. But good and evil are the labels of the intolerant, or the rationalizations of class consciousness, but vaccines are absolutely good and people should be forced to get them, and Putin is evil. And we today in the 21st century are morally superior to everyone who lived before us, except that we’re all equal. And abortion is good, so it should be imposed on everyone, but morality is relative. Freedom is the Good, and the Good is Freedom—except for the freedom to try to make something other than freedom the Good, which must be stopped, by force if need be.

Spiritually, these persons believe in love, or power, or both, or nothing. The diversity of religions is willed by God, except those religions that claim to be the true religion, which God, who probably doesn’t exist because we are God, hates. Jesus was a nice man and a good moral teacher, but some of his disciples were antisemitic, such as St. John and St. Paul. Crusades. Inquisition. Nazism. Trump. We know this now, and have sought or demanded forgiveness and groveling, and that’s why we love Pope Francis. The universal religion of love is sweeping across the planet, as we await its definitive spokesperson. It is already showing itself, as evidenced by divinely inspired masterpieces of art like this one:

The lockdowns were the first fruits of the New Spirit, bringing us all together in sacrificial love and Science. And the Vaccine is our new sacrament:

The moral, metaphysical, and spiritual beliefs of the low-level awareness people are, in a word, incoherent, a mishmash of relativism, absolutism, particularism, universalism, self-righteousness and self-deprecation, individualism and collectivism, nihilism and crusaderism, materialism and idealism, atheism and idolatry. They indicate the lowest level possible of spiritual awareness because, in spite of the illusion of diversity, they all reject the law of non-contradiction, which is the first principle without which truth-knowing and truth-telling are impossible. It would evince a higher level of metaphysical awareness to be a full-fledged materialist or atheist or nihilist, for at least there would be an implicit recognition of the possibility of truth, even if the truth claim itself is self-contradictory and false. But this eclectic spirituality, rooted in a chaotic moral and metaphysical soup, is the very nadir of human consciousness and is the perfect breeding ground for global totalitarianism and the Antichrist who will soon embody it, literally.

Why would someone holding this set of moral, metaphysical, and spiritual attitudes or moods—let us not dignify them with the word beliefs—endorse the forced covering of one’s face and injections into one’s body, the placing of the entire world under house arrest, the censoring of all speech not in line with arbitrary “expert” claims, the requiring of papers to merely exist in society, the greatest wealth transfer in history to the richest elites on the planet, and a NATO war of aggression against a nuclear power, on the one hand, and the genital mutilation and sexualization of children, the goodness of murdering babies, sodomy, and cannibalism (coming soon), and the replacement of popular entertainment with satanic occult rituals, on the other? It is because the upshot of those “beliefs” is the promise of power to their adherents, for they are all predicted on the rejection of any authority above man’s will, either his individual or collective will. And since the collective will always trumps the individual one due to the dynamic of sheer power, which is all that is left when there is nothing above the human will; since the most powerful and ruthless elites always dominate the collective will; and since Satan always dominates the most powerful and ruthless, the will of Satan will be done on earth as it is in Hell when the conditions are ripest for his enthronement, and those conditions exist perfectly among the lowest-level awareness people, and to only a slightly lesser extent among those of higher-level awareness, which, apart from the very highest, is still very, very low. It is only those with the very highest-level awareness who stand in the way of the Antichrist at this time.

What are the geopolitical, moral, metaphysical, and spiritual beliefs of those with this highest level of awareness? Well, I wish I knew them, and to say that I do is to arrogantly imply that I am among these. I daresay that I try to follow those institutions, traditions, and personages that have proven their exquisite level of awareness by their works and fruits, their holiness, integrity, courage, charity, and prophetic witness. Suffice it to say, I try to know, love, and obey reality, a sign of a high-level awareness in an Age of Unreality. What is this reality according to these authorities?

For geopolitical reality, if it is true that we are in a state of full-fledged global totalitarianism, and to see this one must already have a high level of awareness, then those institutions and people telling the full truth would be infallibly detected by the vehemence of the attacks against them by the Global Regime of Lies. The highest level of awareness, then, can be described accurately and simply by compiling the claims of these.

There is no institution that is attacked more frequently, ferociously, and insidiously than the Catholic Church, both from without and within, both by intimidation and persecution, seduction and infiltration. Therefore, just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for an infallible description of the highest level of awareness in terms of moral, metaphysical, and spiritual truth. For a more detailed account of metaphysical awareness in terms of the history of philosophy, I would recommend E. Michael Jones’ Logos Rising: A History of Ultimate Reality:

In terms of historical narrative, the highest level of awareness can thus be found by rejecting any political history that denigrates the Catholic Church and rejects its true reality as the Mystical Body of Christ, and that doesn’t see the Incarnation as the center of human history. For example, awareness knows that The City of God is founded on a love of God that leads its citizens to contempt for themselves, counting all earthly things as worthless…. Augustine argues that the temporal ought to be ordered to the eternal (Civ. Dei XIX,17), but that this ordering will never be achieved entirely harmoniously till the second coming of the Lord. For, there is a second city here on earth in addition to the city of God— the civitas terrena, the earthly city. This city is founded on a love of self to the contempt of God (Civ. Dei XIV,28). And these two cities are in conflict… The earthly city is always opposed to true religion…. Justice consists in giving each his own, thus no society is just that does not give God the worship due to Him.

The following narrative of liberal democracy and the so-called Enlightenment is the high-awareness counterpoint to the low-awareness narrative described above, based upon the fact that anyone holding anything like this narrative would be immediately fired from any mainstream academic or government position:

Since his creation, man has attempted to flee the ubiquitous reality of God through creative abstraction from the natural things of His creation and the supernatural plan of His redemption. Fallen man has always been offended at the “scandal of particularity,” always seeking to live in a universe of his own devising, always abstracting from the concrete, contingent, particular, fleshy, historical realities in which he, as a creature of matter and spirit, finds himself, and through which God has chosen to communicate Himself to him.

All was well in the Garden until Adam and Eve began abstracting: “It can’t be this particular fruit on this particular tree that could be so significant to God and to our happiness!” For the ancient Greek philosophers, God’s existence was knowable; for the Jews, He was a living presence. But that he would limit Himself to a backwater village in the Middle East, or become anything less than a divine conqueror, was foolishness to the former and a stumbling block to the latter. Martin Luther accepted the truth that the universal became particular in the Incarnation, but denied that this Incarnation should be seen as continuing mystically in a particular, historical, visible institution demanding man’s obedience. Enlightenment man accepted the existence of God and absolute truth, but demanded that these be universally accessible solely through man’s reason. “Enlightenment” would be the result of abstracting from one’s particular and contingent cultural and religious “superstitions” to attain the universal truth transcending them. But such a position was tantamount to abstracting the Incarnation out of reality, to rejecting the entire supernatural order made manifest in and through Our Lord, and denying the necessity of His grace and teachings for an accurate understanding and practice of even natural truth and virtue. Postmodern man appeared to have overcome this error, rightly rejecting Enlightenment man’s facile claim to have discovered self-evident absolute truths in abstraction from particularist commitments. He discovered that the historical, the cultural, the societal, that is, the particular, cannot be so easily cut out of the picture. “Self-evident”—to whom? A fair question, that. Yet by denying the possibility of attaining universal truth through and in its particular embodiments, the atheist-oriented postmodernists rejected the reality of transcendence for the abstraction of pure immanence. In short, every error of man throughout history has been the result of missing the balance between immanence and transcendence, the human and the divine, the particular and the universal, by abstracting out some particular realm of natural or supernatural reality.

The diabolically fomented World Wars of our past century, the plandemic, and the WWIII we are now in, sapped the life out of the religious and cultural tradition of the West, with the anti-traditional abstractions of communism, fascism, Nazism, neo-liberalism, and the Great Reset serving as demonic parodies of the Catholic Church. But Lucifer’s coup de grâce would be saved for our century. To his dismay, his all-out destructive assault on tradition in the first half of the twentieth century had provoked a robust counterattack by men of goodwill in the second half. Lucifer learned his lesson: men cannot exist without some sort of tradition. Thus, instead of attempting again the direct destruction of the Western Christian tradition (rendered rather vestigial, decrepit, and paltry, it must be admitted, from his first assault), this time he pursued a subtler but more effective method. Realizing that any authentic tradition, even a barely-breathing one, is a receiver and transmitter of the divine, his stroke of genius was to inspire the construction and establishment of an abstract anti-tradition that would receive and transmit nothing. Although similar in its unreality to the abstractions of communism, fascism, Nazism, and globalism, it would bear such a striking resemblance to the Christian tradition that it would escape detection. Implemented surreptitiously and cloaking itself in the form of its host, it would serve as the tradition to end all tradition. Not only would there be no counterattack this time, men of good will would have no idea what hit them—or even that they had been hit.

Secular liberal democracy is the cave, liberalism the shadows on its walls, and “conservative,” “liberal,” and “radical” shadows of various shapes and sizes. For those in the cave, reality is contacted by comparing and choosing among the shadows; certain shadows appear “true,” while other shadows seem “false.” But since shadows are all they know, it cannot be said that they really know any of these shadows at all. They do not know the shadows as shadows. They may use the word “shadow” in their many echoey, cave discussions, but they do not know of what the shadows are. Indeed, if they ever recognized the shadows as shadows, they would escape the cave.

Liberalism is just such a cave. People in the modern West may use the term “liberalism,” and identify “other” points of view in contrast to it, but because they are inside liberalism and do not know it, they do not recognize the liberalism of liberalism. They do not see it as an alien, artificial ideology projected upon the walls of their minds by the elitist puppeteers of academia, religion, bureaucracy, and media, but simply as “just the way things are.” They are like fish that never recognize their immersion in water because they know of nothing else.

Liberalism claims to provide a religiously neutral social framework within which individuals can autonomously determine their own vision of the world in perfect freedom. But we must reject liberalism’s official public claim that it lacks any particular conception of the good and any restrictions on others’ conceptions of the good. Since liberal culture is founded upon a particular conception of the good and a particular doctrine of truth—namely, the good of the privatization of all claims to truth, and the truth of the irreducible plurality of conceptions of the good—and since the publicly authoritative rhetoric of liberal culture denies having any substantive conceptions of its own, what liberalism amounts to is an established and intolerant belief system—a religion—that indoctrinates citizens into disbelieving in its very existence. Just as the puppeteers must ensure that the shadows are never recognized as shadows, lest the cave be identified as a cave and the prisoners break their chains; liberalism must never be exposed as liberalism, that is, as a historically contingent, non-necessary, manmade ideology. It must at all costs be identified with “the facts,” “the way things are,” as the inexorable social reality. In short, as the great Nietzschean ironist Stanley Fish, a cave-puppeteer with a genius for exposing his fellow puppeteers to the light, has confessed: “liberalism doesn’t exist.”

The problem, however, is that it does, and its existence is no longer limited to an abstract idea or a revolutionary experiment—it is now a well-established social reality. The liberal incubus has found a willing consort in the decrepit culture of the secularized West, and unfortunately, we citizens of the modern liberal democracies of the West are its traditionalists. Cavanaugh’s name for liberalism is the “worship of the empty shrine”:

“The public shrine has been emptied of any one particular God or creed, so that the government can never claim divine sanction and each person may be free to worship as she sees fit…. There is no single visible idol, no golden calf, to make the idolatry obvious . . . officially the shrine remains empty…. The empty shrine, however, threatens to make a deity not out of God but out of our freedom to worship God. Our freedom comes to occupy the empty shrine. Worship becomes worship of our collective self, and civil religion tends to marginalize the worship of the true God. Our freedom, finally, becomes the one thing we will die and kill for.”

And the priests of the empty shrine have become quite zealous of late to evangelize, both through preaching in a variety of media (McDonalds, MTV, pornography, gender-reassignment surgery, poison “vaccines”…) and, especially since 2003, through inquisition—democracy and freedom at the end of a gun, a white phosphorous bomb, or an electric shock to the genitals. The god of the liberal state is a jealous god, commanding its devotees to kill for it. As Cavanaugh writes: “You may confess on your lips any god you like, provided you are willing to kill” for the State—and to be killed for it. As MacIntyre wryly put it: “It is like being asked to die for the telephone company.”

With a track record of human sacrifice, how has the empty shrine of liberal nothing-worship (to conflate names for a moment) managed to escape our detection? The short answer is that it has removed our eyes. Authentic traditions, both natural and supernatural, embody and transmit the ultimate realities of man’s existence, the transcendent origin, end, and meaning of things that cannot be grasped by the isolated individual, and cannot be fully rationalized or defined.

Ultimate reality must be experienced through and in its incarnation in tradition. It is in this sense that tradition is the eye that allows men to see the spiritual, eternal, and transcendent meanings hidden in the physical, temporal, and mundane facts of everyday existence. Participants in the anti-tradition of liberalism, however, are prevented from ever seeing themselves as participants in a tradition, even though they are its slaves. They are blinded to their God-given identity as members of a common good higher than themselves, even as they serve as mere cogs in the liberal machine. The freedom cult includes all others, even the cult of the Eucharist, and so it is more universal, more “catholic,” and therefore more divine than the Eucharist. By not prescribing any particular object of public devotion, the State’s empty shrine appears to allow all devotions to exist and thrive more successfully than if there were an exclusivist, established cult, such as Catholicism. However, all of this is a grand illusion. As David Schindler points out: “The state cannot finally avoid affirming, in the matter of religion, a priority of either ‘freedom from’ or ‘freedom for’—both of these imply a theology.”

As for the geopolitical reality described by high-level awareness, if you look at what those whom the Regime of Unreality hate the most are saying, it amounts to something like this:

The incredible evil we have witnessed and suffered over the past two years amounts to the greatest crime against humanity ever committed. The plandemic was an all-out assault on every human being on the planet. Though its most obvious effects were economic and political, at its core it was a spiritual and psychological-terror operation knowingly and deliberately orchestrated by a small global elite of unspeakably evil and psychopathic people. It was executed by a larger group of lower-tier cooperators ignorant of the master plan but vicious enough to use their power and influence to inflict untold harm on those in their charge. And it was enabled by the masses of idolatrous, fearful, alienated, rootless, selfish, and cowardly men, the rotten fruit of a godless and decadent liberalism, a liberalism that encourages children to mutilate their bodies, allows mothers to murder their babies, and celebrates when men penetrate the rectums of other men.

In the end, we are each responsible for our level of awareness, and God created us to aspire to the highest level possible, the intimate awareness of Him. We can only become aware of our unawareness by His grace, and we need His minute-by-minute help to ascend to higher and higher levels, lest we fall backwards into our own darkness and blindness. Let us practice the presence of God always so that we become more and more aware of His indescribable love for us and share this awareness with all whom we meet.


Dr. Thaddeus Kozinski is former Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Wyoming Catholic College and Academic Dean. He teaches Political Philosophy at John Adams Academy and Great Books for Angelicum Academy. He is also a tutor for the Catherine Project. His latest books are Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos, and Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers.


Featured: “Allegory of Human Folly,” by Cornelis Saftleven; painted in 1629.

Concerning Consciousness, with Reference to Franz Brentano

With modernity a Copernican turn occurs in philosophy, as Kant observes, and the metaphysics that until then started from the question of the entity as entity, now starts from the subject. It is thus transformed into a metaphysics of subjectivity, as Heidegger rightly noted.

This metaphysics that is born from Descartes’ ego cogito has a second stage that is inaugurated with the detailed analysis of consciousness. And the first to study it in itself and in detail was Franz Brentano from 1860-1870, until he finally published his The Classification of Mental Phenomena (Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene) in 1911.

Let us begin with Brentano, a German philosopher of Italian origin who taught in Vienna. José Gaos, a Spaniard living in Mexico, who was Brentano’s first translator of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), affirmed that Brentano was a heteroclite philosopher; that is, he departed from the ordinary rules of what a philosopher should do or say. Thus, Brentano had as disciples and students important figures, such as Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Christian von Ehrenfels, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Kazimierz Twardowski, Anton Marty and many others—who excelled in phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Gestalt theory, object theory, language theory, logical positivism, symbolic logic, value theory, etc. Moreover, behind the Vienna Circle and the great contemporary studies on Aristotle (Jaeger, Ross, Owens, Zürcher, Aubenque) is the figure of the philosopher Marienberg.

But then why has Brentano not been studied in the universities as his contemporaries have, such as Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, Frege, Dilthey? Because Brentano subjected Kant to a merciless and severe criticism. He called Kant prejudiced by his a priori. He called him ignorant of the history of philosophy and mathematics. And this was not forgiven by the German universities and thereafter by the rest of the universities. Thus, it was that the Catholic universities, where scholastic philosophy is taught, ignored him thoroughly, even though Brentano was an excellent connoisseur of Thomas Aquinas whom he quoted assiduously and knew to perfection. [Without delving further, on the subject of conscience, he often resorts to Aquinas whom he cites in his support. It is a subject that has not been studied, the use of Thomas Aquinas in Brentano. It would be good if someone would do it]. All this explains why Brentano has never been studied. And if he is mentioned in the faculties of philosophy, it is only in relation to the intentionality of consciousness when Husserl and phenomenology are taught.

Let us now turn to the subject at hand.

There are at least two terms to speak of consciousness: consciousness and conscience. The first is closer to its Latin roots and indicates the capacity of the human being to know and perceive reality. And the second, which is in common use, indicates rather a knowledge of what is right or wrong. The former translates the German word Bewussbeit, which alludes to our capacity to have psychic phenomena and to realize that we have them and which refers to that special capacity we human beings have—often manifested in the form of an inner voice—to know what we should do and what we should not do.

Both terms are limited to the phenomena of knowledge in such a way that they do not contribute much to the study of consciousness itself or whatever its meaning may be. Brentano makes his contribution: “I prefer to use the word consciousness as equivalent to psychic phenomenon or psychic act.” Thus, psychic phenomena are those to which something is inherent. Consciousness is always “consciousness of.” As the great Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri maintained in his thesis on Husserl in 1921: “Brentano discovered that things are something independent of experience but consciousness is not something empty.”

The experience of psychic phenomena that are the constitutive of human consciousness and of which the rest of reality is the object or intentional correlate are lived as immediate and original evidence.
And these phenomena are true in themselves: “as they appear to be, so they are in reality; a fact attested by the experience through which they are perceived.” That is to say that each psychic act is lived as such before any conceptualization. This way of living the psychic is the true way of experiencing the real. And consciousness lives and experiences it at the same time, representatively, judicatively and affectively. Internal perception is infallible and there can never exist in us a psychic phenomenon of which we have no representation.

Thus, consciousness as a psychic act is composed of three fundamental kinds of psychic activities: representation, judgment and emotion, interest or love. If psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry are clear about this Brentanian liminal distinction, which he traces back to Descartes and J.S. Mill, they will advance on a sure step, otherwise they will get lost in a thousand confusing and sterile subtleties. Or worse, be harmful.

[In his Metaphysical Meditations III, Descartes calls “representations” ideae, “judgments” judicia, and “emotions” voluntates sive affectus. Aristotle calls the latter ορεζις, “desires,” and all the medieval philosophers “representations” and “judgments”].

In representing, something always appears to us. Thus, when we see something, a color appears to us; when we hear something, we represent a sound; when we imagine something, a product of the imagination, and so on. The purpose of names is to arouse representations: “We understand by representation not what is represented but the representing. This representing constitutes not only the foundation of judging, but also of craving and willing.”

Those representations, when we accept them as true or reject them as false, bring abouit the judging. And although representing and judging are phenomena of thinking, judgment cannot be reduced to simple representations or combinations of these. If I say “mountain of gold,” I express a representation; and as long as I do no more than that, I express no judgment.

As for the emotions or phenomena of love or interest, they comprise the phenomena that affect our appetite or will. And so, every judgment takes an object to be true or false, every emotion takes an object to be good or bad.

Basically, all three are different modes of reference of the consciousness to the object. The difference between them is that the intentional mode in judgment is to admit if it is true, or reject if it is false, while the intentional mode of reference in the emotions is to like or dislike.

Whereas in representing (the term best expresses the psychic act of representation) there can be no analogy, for I can represent to myself black or white, but I cannot represent to myself, for example, black or white in two opposite ways.

The internal experience of consciousness immediately shows the difference in the content of the three primary psychic activities.

It should be clarified that every psychic act is conscious because it gives itself a consciousness of itself; but at the same time it has a consciousness according to three modes: the representation of it, the knowledge of it and the feeling towards it. “Every psychic act, even the simplest, has a fourfold aspect from which it can be considered.” Thus, we can distinguish, even though the psychic phenomenon is unitary, a primary object (e.g., sound, the act in which we hear), and a secondary object (the phenomenon in which the sound is heard). The object of consciousness is only represented in the first place; knowledge constitutes a second moment, the same as feeling or interest because “representations are also the foundation of craving and feeling.”

Just as the content of a judgment insofar as it is true is admissible and as false rejectable, in the same way, in the case of feeling and liking, of sentiment and will, the good is pleasant and the bad unpleasant: “It is about the value or disvalue of an object.”

All these representations arise from the internal experience of these phenomena. This third kind of activity of the consciousness is not a judgment “this is to be loved or that is to be hated;” but it is simply a loving or hating that the internal perception shows us in an evident way.

At this point, Brentano argued that there is no fundamental distinction between feeling and will as proposed by Hamilton, Lotze, Kant and Wolff, among others, because the term appetite (apetitioI) is not adequate “to cover all psychic phenomena other than thinking,” so that the acts of joy and sadness cannot be considered appetitive acts.

[Brentano states in note 27 of Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint: “Only occasionally do we see signs of an emancipation from this tradition – of designating with the term appetite the psychic phenomena of feeling and will – for example, in Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa theologicae I, q.37, a.1 and elsewhere) uses the term amare as the more universal name of the class].

To this also contributed the ignorance of the relation between representation and judgment that led to confusion about the relation between feeling and will. And he reproaches Kant for limiting the feeling of pleasure and displeasure “unilaterally to the judgment of aesthetic taste.”

If representation and judgment are psychic phenomena of a different class, and feeling and will are phenomena of the same class when the ideas of the true, the good and the beautiful are applied to them, they will correspond in this way: “The supreme perfection of the representative activity resides in the contemplation of the beautiful, whether through the influence of the object or independently of it”… The supreme activity of the judicative activity resides in the knowledge of truth, naturally and above all, in the knowledge of truths that reveal to us a rich fullness of being more than others… Finally, the supreme perfection of loving activity lies in the free elevation to the higher good.”

The ideal of ideals consists in unity of all that is true, good and beautiful whose representation shows infinite beauty, infinite truth and infinite goodness. “The triad of ideals (of the beautiful, the true and the good) can very well be explained by the system of psychic phenomena.”

We see once again, as it happened with other great philosophers of the twentieth century (Heidegger, Eugen Fink), how the classical theory of the transcendentals of the entity appears, although in a different form from that formulated formerly. In this case through the system of psychic phenomena of representation, judgment and emotional phenomena.

Moral Conscience—it is understood as the instance that deals with our own moral experience. Modern philosophy established it as the main mode of moral knowledge, as opposed to the “prudence” of classical antiquity and medieval prudentia. In introspection it allows us to delve into both our personal life and the life of the historical world. That is why when we speak of ethical questions, we speak at the same time of ourselves, of our experience, especially the older we get.

Moral conscience exists above all as an “inner voice” that guides us in our actions, but we cannot base ethics on moral conscience as Kant and the neo-Kantians tried to do, who, in order to understand ethics, started from the analysis of moral conscience. But this is not possible because we cannot free ourselves from the quantum of subjectivity of our conscience. And science cannot be built on subjectivity.

The philosopher does not draw the norms from himself but finds them in his vital situation; he finds them in that which governs the tasks of an epoch, as the most intimate conscience of this epoch. Of course, he can dissent and propose others, but this is only for a great philosopher who can leap over his time, thus contradicting Hegel’s saying that no one can leap over his time.

If we would like to use moral conscience as a norm, we must necessarily complete it with historical objectivity, with the great cultural systems; that is to say, great effective and affective nexuses that unite men to carry out historical achievements, in order not to keep reinventing the wheel. This explains the tremendous effort made by Hegel, the greatest philosopher of the metaphysics of subjectivity in his Phenomenology of Spirit, as a science of the experience of consciousness (1807), in order to justify the experience of moral and political consciousness.

Moral consciousness emerged as a process of emancipation from theology carried out by the Enlightenment in order to achieve with it an internal subjection of the modern subject. This was known by the term of the “principle of autonomy,” which began from the certainty of internal experience, and ended with the exaltation of the individual over the community, in an exaggerated liberalism: “I look after Number One”—in a society of exorbitant consumption and in a man transformed into a homunculus.

Moral conscience is there, present, it exists and we make daily use of it; but that does not mean that we can transform it into a norm, nor as a principle of freedom, for as Nicolai Hatmann, a former member of the Marburg School, observes very well in his magnificent Ethics: “One cannot make a conclusive argument for the freedom of the will from the phenomenon of the consciousness of freedom. Therefore, neither from the consciousness of self-determination, a more reduced consciousness, but qualitatively equivalent to it.”

And still less to raise it as a paradigm of universal history, as Hegel pretended in that enormous “sulfur factory” in which German idealism ended.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.


Featured: “Man repels the Appeal of Conscience,” by Frederic james Shields; painted in 1910.

Hilaire Belloc: The Permanence of the Heretical Spirit through History

Editions Artège has brought out an unpublished French translation of Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies. By showing how the great heresies of Catholicism result from permanent forms of mind in history, the British thinker underlined the genius of Catholicism and its incompatibility with modernity, itself the fruit of the Protestant mind.

The publication of this translation is an opportunity to discover the prolific author that was Hilaire Belloc. A historian by training, a close friend of G. K. Chesterton, but also a poet, novelist, member of parliament and military chronicler, Hilaire Belloc was British on his mother’s side but a fervent Catholic, born in France in 1870, to a French father. In Les Grandes Hérésies (The Great Heresies), first published in 1938, Belloc presents and analyzes the main heresies that successively opposed Catholicism: Arianism; what he calls the Mohammedan heresy; the Albigensian heresy; and Protestantism.

In the introduction to the book, the author recalls the etymology of the word “heresy” which comes from the Greek hairetikos meaning “who chooses.” A heretic is one who adheres to a dogma except for one aspect of it that he specifically chooses to reject. Heresy is characterized by the nature of that choice which corrupts the unity of the dogma in question. Belloc thus defines heresy as “the enterprise of deconstructing a unified and homogeneous body of doctrine by the negation of an inseparable element of the whole.” For example, the heresies of the early centuries of the Church specifically attacked the mystery of the incarnation. With Arianism, then Nestorianism and Monophysitism, it was a question of debating first the exact nature of Christ, then the ways in which his two human and divine natures coexisted.

The Permanent Temptation to Rationalize Dogma

Behind the conceptual and dogmatic battles waged between the Church and heresies, Hilaire Belloc perceived, however, something other than simple intellectual quarrels over dogmatic details. The great heresies actually embodied permanent types of mindsets in history. Belloc thus highlights the propensity of the great heretical currents to rationalize, simplify and demystify Catholic dogma.

The first great heresy that was Arianism illustrates this tendency. Arianism, doctrine professed by the Alexandrian Christian theologian Arius at the beginning of the 4th century, denied the divine nature of Jesus Christ. For the Arians, Christ was the Son of God, but he was still a man and not a God. It was by confronting the supporters of Arius that the Catholic Church proclaimed the dogma of the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Despite all the care taken by the Church to choose the vocabulary used to qualify the relation between the Son and the Father, the Arian heresy continued in new forms which refused to admit the strict equality between the Son and the Father. Arianism therefore sought to elucidate the question of the incarnation, the mystery of which it refused.

Other ancient heresies such as Nestorianism and Monophysitism pursued this desire to rationally solve the “problem” of the incarnation. It was necessary to explain by reason the nature of this son of God who was Christ. For the Nestorians, the divine and human natures of Christ were necessarily strictly separated, man and God cohabited in the figure of Christ. For the Monophysites, it was the human nature of Christ that was called into question. In both cases, God did not become fully man. In the midst of these attempts at logical and rational explanations, the Church maintained its complex and mysterious dogma of the one but triune God.

It is this same desire for simplification and rationalization that Hilaire Belloc perceives in Islam, which he qualifies as Christian heresy. Coming from a pagan background on the margins of the Roman Empire that had become Christian, Muhammad adopted a Christianity purged of its dogmatic complexities.

Islam takes up the idea of a single god, creator of the world and granting life after death, but denies the incarnation by making Jesus a prophet. For the British historian, Islam foreshadows the heretical quest for rationalism and the abolition of the Catholic mysteries that was then the Reformation. All these great heresies had in common the simplification of Catholic dogma by trying to purge it of the mysteries that proud human reason could not grasp.

The Heretical Rejection of Matter

For Belloc, the study of heresies reveals another tendency of the mind that also emerges chronically in history—that consisting in condemning matter. This matter is bad while the spirit is the only source of the good. The Albigensian heresy perfectly embodied this tendency by condemning any carnal compromise with matter: sexual relations, marriage, procreation, consumption of meat and alcohol were prohibited. The ideal of purity advocated by the Cathars (from the Greek katharos: pure) conceived matter as intrinsically evil. Belloc sees in it the resurgence of the ancient Manichean heresy but also the precursor of Protestant puritanism. These heresies are all based on the mortifying detestation of matter and carnal life; whereas the Catholic Church condemns this dualism and values the union of spirit and flesh.

Rejection of mystery, thirst for rationalism and refusal to inhabit the world carnally are the pillars of the great heretical currents. However, Belloc does not reduce heresies to their religious and spiritual dimensions. As a historian, he is interested in the practical reasons for the success of the great heresies. He thus notes the social dimension of heresies, which can feed on worldly postures and use the dynamics of local particularisms to prosper. Arianism thus spread within the old pagan elites and in Roman military circles, anxious to differentiate themselves from the very popular religion that Catholicism was becoming.

The Albigensian heresy was also a means for local identities to assert themselves in medieval southern France. Belloc is fascinated by the continuing success of Islam. He attributes this success in particular to the fact that the Mohammedan heresy developed outside the Church and was able to benefit for centuries from a constant renewal of its fighters who also came from barbarian worlds. Noting the possible compatibility between Islam and the modern world, he prophesied a probable return of the vitality of Islam, despite the “physical paralysis” in which this religion found itself, when he wrote his book in the middle of the 20th century.

The Revolution of the Protestant Heresy

But it is to the Protestant heresy that Belloc devotes his longest chapter. It is a fundamental heresy from which modernity emerged and which shook the foundations of the Church. He traces its genesis in detail during the 14th and 15th centuries. Belloc considers, however, that Protestantism was not condemned to become the heretical religion it has become. The Reformation could have been a simple reform of the Catholic Church without altering its faith or dogma. The historian finely traces how Protestantism finally became heretical and above all how it altered Catholicism and then generated the spirit of modernity.

For Belloc, the particularity of Protestantism is to constitute more a “moral atmosphere” and a disposition of the mind than a religion. Calvin’s doctrine no longer governs the modern world, but its spirit would endure: “the fruits of Protestantism prove to be permanent, despite the fact that its doctrine has disappeared.” Founded on the contestation of authorities and the primacy of rational individual examination, Protestantism dissolved its own theological and scriptural foundations to give birth to modernity.

Belloc’s entire book tends to highlight the specificities of Catholicism, which has never yielded to the temptations of simplification and rationalization of the mysteries of its dogma. For the English author, however, the Protestant Reformation constitutes a turning point which manages to make Catholicism doubt its own dogma. Secularization of the Protestant spirit, modernity also appears as the fruit of this doubt of the Church on itself.

The Great Heresies is the work of a historian who assumes his Catholic fervor and tries to explain why the study of heresies allows us to better understand both Catholicism and the modern world. By becoming incarnate on Earth to save mankind from original sin, the Christian God irrevocably entered into history. The great religious currents that appeared afterwards are all linked to Christianity. Religion can only be Catholic or heretical.

For Belloc, the advent of modernity cannot be a return to the noble paganism of antiquity. This return is impossible after the coming of the Savior. Unable to make people forget Christ, modernity can only be an inversion of Catholicism. Modernity and Catholicism are then be engaged in a struggle to the death. Belloc admits that the organic laws of history could support the near-end of Catholicism. But the faith of the Catholic author forces him to maintain the hope of a safeguard of the Church and the resurgence of its mysteries.


Bertrand Garandeau is an anarcho-conservative sovereignist, based in France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.


Featured: “First Temptation of Christ,” fol. 28v, Livre d’images de Madame Marie; ca. 1285-1290.

Believing in the Marvelous: The Rediscovery of the Imaginary

The world of tradition is saturated with marvelous images that modern thought has often depreciated to the rank of “imaginary” productions of Man. This desacralization of the sign, which deprives the religious reference marks of any possible comprehension, is based however on a fundamental ignorance—that of the “imaginal,” of which the hermeneuticist Patrick Geay, in Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) [1996], presents the rediscovery as the key for resolution of the disenchantment of the world.


Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) is the name given by Patrick Geay to his philosophy thesis, published in 1996 and republished in 2010, to illustrate a quite decisive project—that of remedying the divorce of myth and reason, of mythos and logos, upon which philosophical modernism made the mistake of founding itself. Hermes is first of all a god—the god of secrets and stratagems in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Iris. He is also and above all Hermes Trismegistus, author of a doctrinal corpus which Iamblichus said delivers the hidden science of all things, and which gave its name to “hermeticism,” on the refusal of which modern hermeneutics has built its project. Against it, the director of the journal of traditional hermeneutics, La Règle d’Abraham (The Rule of Abraham), sought to “judge a form of anti-metaphysical philosophy, [namely] critical philosophy,” by the yardstick of the “traditional doctrines” of which the work of René Guénon provides the method of comparison and understanding.

Deepening the philosophical rediscovery of religious symbolism by Jean Borella, Patrick Geay works on a metaphysical rediscovery of the “imaginal.” Largely forgotten, ignored, denied, and sometimes misinterpreted, the imaginal, solidly theorized by the Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, nevertheless proves to be essential to the understanding of all that traditional religions conceal of the marvelous. By listening to the great visionary tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Patrick Geay abolishes the reduction of the imagination to the human imaginary, showing that it extends well beyond the limits that modern psychologism assigns to images and their genesis. In doing so, to use the words of the philosopher Bruno Pinchard in his Preface, the author restores the conditions necessary for understanding the “true laws of the constitution of the religious,” against the demystifying undertakings of materialism and neo-spiritualism found at work in the human sciences.

Demythologization

Modern religious thought is based on a serious hermeneutical contradiction—that of interpreting images and sacred texts without recognizing their sacred character. This contradiction has a name—”demythologization.” Initiated by the Protestant philosopher Schleiermacher, who reduced the interpretation of sacred texts to the simple “psychological and grammatical study of the works,” it consists in saving the relevance of sacred texts only by emptying them of all that is mythical; that is to say, extraordinary, miraculous, supernatural—in a word: sacred. Thus undertaken, hermeneutics contradicts itself—it wants to study the sacred without recognizing its sacred character, as Ricoeur admits when he justifies the “oblivion of the signs of the sacred” by the “loss of man himself as belonging to the sacred.” As soon as it is posed, the object of hermeneutics is removed from its study.

Marcel Gauchet tried to save this logical contradiction by conceiving of Christianity as “the religion of the exit from religion;” that is to say, a religion without the supernatural, a religion which, by its monotheistic affirmation, “contributes to placing the unique God outside and beyond the world of men.” For Marcel Gauchet, Judeo-Christianity would thus be the religion of the absence of God in this world. However, in so doing, the philosopher only completes a contradiction with an ignorance; for, as Patrick Geay points out, “this forced and distorting approach to Hebrew prophetism [ignores] the function of the Shekinah as the Presence of the Divine in the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant, which is recounted in Exodus. Marcel Gauchet’s interpretation of Judeo-Christianity also ignores “the very rich Jewish visionary literature, as found in the famous writings of the Merkabah,” as well as the symbolic profusion of “medieval Christian visionary narratives.” In sum, Marcel Gauchet reduces his conception of monotheism to its modern, heterodox version, which came out of the Protestant Reformation. From Paul Ricoeur to Marcel Gauchet, modern hermeneutics, by proposing to the human sciences the method of demythologization in order to satisfy “their claim to have knowledge of the religious,” has thus taken the risk of making them “systematically miss their target for lack of sufficient metaphysical and initiatory preparation” (Bruno Pinchard). This unpreparedness has for cause a progressive dismantling of the symbolic sign by modern philosophy, from nominalism.

The Great Split

The dismantling of metaphysical knowledge consisted in an increasing reduction and confinement of the faculties of the human mind, the stages of which Patrick Geay rigorously traces. As time went by, the image was less and less understood, because it was more and more separated from the idea. Starting with the nominalist William of Ockham, a Franciscan doctor of the 14th century, who held that “words are created by imposition,” “language is no longer the privileged reflection of being; ideas, concepts, the universal have no reality except in the soul” of individuals. In other words, “the names of things… no longer derive from their nature.” Ideas no longer have the value of objectivity and universality that the Neoplatonists of the early Middle Ages recognized—they are entirely mentalized, to be no more than psychological concepts. The word is no longer the real name of an intelligent thing (formally received by the intellect), but the conventional sign of a purely mental conception.

The nominalistic mutilation of the concept is pursued, in modern times, against the imagination. Initially, Descartes separated, in his sixth Meditation, imagination and conception (itself confused with intellection). His argument is the following: if there are things that one can both imagine and conceive, like the triangle, there are however things that one can conceive without imagining them, like the chiliogone (polygon with a thousand sides). Descartes, who differentiates the soul and the body as two distinct substances, takes advantage of it to found on his first dualism that of the concept and the imagination: “the imagination being naturally rather on the side of the body cannot succeed in conceiving any idea of what it simply puts in image, if it even succeeds in doing so.” With Descartes, the image no longer implies the concept in its existence; the imagination without the concept is indigent. Just as the body is, in itself, reduced to its mechanism, so the image is unintelligible by itself.

This split between the concept and the image is completed a century and a half later by Kant who, in his Critique of Pure Reason (A15/B29), bases his theoretical enterprise on the postulate according to which there are “two strains of human knowledge which perhaps start from a common root, but unknown to us; namely, sensibility and understanding; by the first one, objects are given to us; but by the second one, they are thought.” The consequence is obvious: as Geay notes: “this separation makes the corporeal world a neutral, empty form, since, according to Ilya Prigogine’s expression, nature is by it rendered ‘dumb.’” Indeed, for Kant, there is no real giving of meaning. There is only thought produced by the internal activity of understanding—the images that we perceive sensibly do not cause any thought in us; they do not deliver any meaning; but it is we who confer it on them: “in a priori knowledge,” Kant summarizes in his second Preface, “nothing can be attributed to the objects but what the thinking subject draws from himself.” The image is decidedly no longer intelligible, any more than beauty is for Kant a property of the object: “the universe is consequently reduced to the state of confused ‘matter’ to be organized; it is a priori dispossessed by Kant of its semantic content; that is to say, of an intrinsic symbolic structure that man would only have to unveil.” Philosophical modernity is founded thus, from Occam to Kant while passing via Descartes, on the big split between thought and the real, and within thought, between the concept and the image.

Several contemporary attempts, in the 20th century, were made to give back to the images their nobility, and to the images of the supernatural an interest against the materialist impoverishment of the world—Gaston Bachelard, in his “new scientific spirit,” as well as Gilbert Durand, within the framework of his “new anthropologic spirit.” However, impressed by the psychoanalytical theory of the imagination, their common mistake was to reduce the imagination to the fantasy of the human conscience or unconscious. For Bachelard, who saw in alchemical symbolism only an “immense sexual reverie…. a reverie of wealth and rejuvenation… a reverie of power,” while the religious imagination was only human poetry. For Durand, who confused traditional data with that of psychoanalysis, its “transcendental fantasy… remained locked in psychological categories… of ‘fabulation,’ whose ‘supreme meaning’ lay in euphemism; that is, in the human power of ‘improvement of the world.'” Patrick Geay’s conclusion is without clear: the revaluation of the image and the marvelous is not possible within the framework of the modern theory of the imagination, since it deprives of intelligibility any possible mythical content.

Remythologization

What modernity, timidly or resolutely, has dislocated, tradition, on the contrary, has reunited. On the one hand, the concept and the image are the two inseparable modalities of the same thing—the symbol. On the other hand, the symbol is, in its turn, inseparable from the reality of which it is the sensible sign—the idea. This second point can be understood by the fact that “if, in the rational mode, we can say that we know an object through its notion, it is because this notion is still something of the object; that it participates in its nature by expressing it in relation to us,” as René Guénon explained in his Générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues (General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines) [III, 9], underlining here the realism of traditional logic. As for the first point, contrary to Kantian separation of the sensible given and the thought, Patrick Geay remarks that “there is no pure sensation which is not already an act of the consciousness.” Sensation is not unintelligent, because man perceives accidents (figures, colors, etc.) which never exist separately from a given essence, but which belong to it and thus inform us about it. This is why Saint Bonaventure noted that “all pleasure derives from a ratio of proportion,” just as beauty is objectively “an equation of numbers” (Journey of the Soul into GodItinerarium Mentis in Deum, I, 5). No more than the world according to the tradition is this homogeneous space of Galileo and Descartes reduced to extent; the images are not dumb matter, but on the contrary, “imprints” (vestigia), whose contemplation can lead us “to see God in any creature which enters in us and by the bodily senses” (II, 1).

The “despisers of the body,” to paraphrase Nietzsche, are therefore not the traditional and orthodox representatives of Christianity, but rather its modern innovators. For Tradition, the physical body is neither unreal nor autonomous, but it derives its reality from its iconic character: it is the image of an essence. Now the image is neither an obstacle to knowledge (iconoclastic error), nor knowledge itself (idolatrous error)—but its iconic means to reach the Idea of which it is the representation. If, therefore, the image puts man in contact with the world, and if this world has an organizing and creating principle (God), then the imagination cannot be reduced to a purely human faculty. Thus Ibn ‘Arabi recognizes three states of imagination—contrary to modern anthropological postulates that reduce imagination to the mere “combining imagination” (psychological) of Man, “it was necessary to conceive, beyond the human imagination qualified as imagination in conjunction with the subject (khayâl al-muttasil), a divine encompassing imagination, dissociable from the subject (khayâl al-munfasil), “having a subsistence in itself.” As the prototype of the human capacity to imagine, the absolute divine Imagination (khayâl al-mutlaq) is thus, so to speak, the container of the joint imagination.” If, therefore, the human imagination is contained in the divine imagination, the latter can allow itself to be contemplated by the former and reveal itself there, in accordance with its own coordinates of representation. The place of this contemplation is not imaginary, since it is not produced by human fantasy; but on the contrary by the divine intelligence—the imaginal belongs to the “creative imagination” of God. It is the intermediate world of the soul, where spiritual principles become sensible, where sensible bodies become spiritualized by being perceived in their principle. The “mixed constitution” of the imaginal thus corresponds to “the mathematical structure of the body of the world” that Plato looked at in the Timaeus as the mediation between the intelligible and the sensible.

“Solidary with a true metaphysics of the image, by which the Invisible is made visible,” the knowledge of the Imaginal and its “cosmological function, which is to unite the corporal plane to the spiritual plane,” is thus doubly required to understand the possibility of the perception of the divine as well as the religious function of the icon and of all sacred symbolism (illuminations, liturgical songs, architecture of the temples…)—for what is an icon or a sacred symbol, if not a spiritual body, or a corporeal spirit? Also, man is a fortiori called to become himself an icon; that is to say a saint who is the carnal image of the spirit, an incarnation of the universal truth. The problem of the imagination thus shows how much “the progressive oblivion of the esoteric tradition,” however “alone capable of allowing an in-depth illumination of religion,” is “the deepest cause of the metaphysical decline in the conscience of men.” The anti-metaphysical separation of mythos and logos is as false and arbitrary as is the anti-symbolic dualism of concept and image.


Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].


Featured: “Sir Isumbras at the Ford,” by John Everett Millais; painted in 1857.

Writing Grace: An Interview with Thibault de Montaigu

Thibault de Montaigu is the author of five novels, the most recent one, La Grace [Grace] recounts his conversion and was awarded the Prix de Flore (2020). He is in conversation with Christophe Geffroy of La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interesting discussion.


Christophe Geffroy (CG): For you, is there a “Christian literature?” Does the label “Catholic writer” seem relevant to you?

Thibault de Montaigu (TM): At the end of the 19th century, when this notion was coined, one could distinguish two kinds of Catholic writers, even if very few claimed this label—the official ones like Paul Bourget or Henry Bordeaux, who sought to defend Catholic civilization, and the “converts” like Bloy, Claudel or later Péguy who sought, with fury and intransigence at times, to regain the breath and ardor that modernity was extinguishing. It goes without saying that the former have aged very badly, while the latter retain an eternal radiance and freshness. For it is the Spirit that guides their pen and not their pen that tries to impose the Spirit on their readers.

Thibault de Montaigu.

CG: Can literature be apologetic, explicitly or implicitly? Do you have any examples of works that have made an impression on you in this sense?

TM: Literature, like any artistic experience, is first of all a matter of emotion. Its vocation is not to defend a position but to make you feel the invisible. “My novels do not deliver messages, there are telegraphists for that,” rightly wrote Morand. But apologetics essentially takes the steep path of reason to convince its reader. Even if Pascal in his Pensées can captivate us with his words and his jibes, he will never touch our hearts as St. Augustine does in his Confessions.

CG: How would you define grace, which is also the title of your book its title? Are there, in your opinion, any particular difficulties in giving a literary account of it?

TM: I don’t consider grace from a theological point of view, because I wouldn’t be able to do that, but only from an experiential point of view. For me, it is the unique possibility of a carnal contact with the beyond. This point of tangency between the earthly and the absolute. In other words, it is God who agrees to descend to us in order to raise us up to Him. But obviously words are very poor at telling of such a miracle, because in the very moment when God ravishes us, we cease to exist for ourselves. Consciousness dissolves to let His light and His love penetrate. What can literature do in the presence of His face?

CG: Is there a “Catholic writer” who has had a special impact on you?

TM: St. Augustine never ceases to amaze me; and the genre of confessions, which he invented, was a model for writing Grace. He is the direct inspiration of great mystics whose work I hold in high esteem, such as Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Angela of Foligno.

As for the moderns, I have a particular tenderness for those who, in their books, relate the struggle in the heart of each man between gravity and grace. Bernanos, of course, but I am also thinking of Julien Green’s magnificent Journal non-expurgated, which Bouquins has just published, or the chiaroscuro poems of Pierre Jean Jouve. It is hard to enclose in one work both the beauty and the misery of man, the mark of original sin—that is to say, of the distance from God—and the possibility of salvation, which is offered to each of us. These authors, to whom I can add Dostoyevsky, tell of this fundamental rupture that is both our cross and our hope.

CG: As a convert, how do you see the Church today and this modern world that seems so far from God?

TM: In writing Grace, I was struck by how the Franciscans, many of whom are men inhabited by a luminous faith, have lost their way in our times by abandoning the robe and sometimes transforming themselves into charities—which is, of course, a large part of their mission but not the only one. Today it is an order that is withering away, while the Augustinians, with whom I had the good fortune to stay in Lagrasse, attract a large number of the faithful and give birth to many vocations. They have kept the habit and the traditional liturgy but also work outside their monastery. Ora et labora. This is, in my opinion, the right balance to keep. God is manifested in love for others but also in the beauty of hymns and churches. I can testify to this, as I was struck by grace during the Office of Compline at Le Barroux Abbey. In the face of the de-structuring of the modern world, the sacred will always remain the greatest bulwark.


Featured: The Lamb at the Foot of the Cross, a leaf from the Beatus Manuscript, ca. 1180.

Three Bodies of Christ: An Ecclesial Misunderstanding?

Today, ecclesiology, or reflection on the Church, is faced with new questions, even a crisis. Such a situation is not strictly new in two thousand years of history. Each time, it is up to Christians to discover or rediscover aspects of the Revelation transmitted by the apostles, according to the problems that arise. Thus, certain points that were commonly accepted, but which were due more to historical developments than to the apostolic tradition, are sometimes called into question.

The question of the “three bodies of Christ” is one such question, in the sense that one may ask whether or not it is necessary to add the human body of Christ, which has entered into glory since his resurrection, the Eucharist which makes us partakers of his body and blood, and the Church “body of Christ,” according to what was originally a metaphor of the apostle Paul. Irenaeus of Lyons was familiar with this Pauline comparison between a body made up of members and the Church [The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, nr. 1]., but he does not take this image as a reality, which would lead to making the Church a third body; or, as we would say in Western theology, a sort of continued or renewed incarnation of Jesus, or “Christus prolongatus” [Michel Deneken speaks about “the ecclesiology of the continuing Christ, a recurrent temptation of Catholic theology of the past centuries” (“Ecclésiologie et dogmatique. L’Église sujet et objet de la théologie, ” in Revue Théologique de Louvain, 38-2, 2007, p.206), and also Mark Saucy]. For Irenaeus, the expression “body of Christ” refers exclusively to the body conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary, suffering the Passion [The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, nr. 71], and entering into glory.

An objection may be raised that the Holy Spirit can inspire developments of Revelation; and if these developments are not “orthodox,” it is because they are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. But how can we know? Wouldn’t it be simpler to avoid too many new concepts or notions and to try to conform to Revelation, of which we may not know as much as we think we do, and thus which must be rediscovered in each generation? It is clear that the culmination of the “developments” of the Church as, so to speak, the “third body” of Christ is the 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis of Pius XII, and that it raises some big questions which, for the most part, the Second Vatican Council did not really answer.

These questions would have to be looked at in much greater depth than what is possible in this article, which is rather the outline of a larger study.

1. Glorious Body and the Eucharist: A Unity to be Perceived?

The most extraordinary thing that the New Testament says about the human body is undoubtedly what happened to Jesus’ body after he “rose from the dead”—hence the word “resurrected,” taken from Latin.

A Resurrected Body

According to Mt 28:6, angels say to the women who came to the tomb: “He is not here, for he has been raised as he had said.” But where is he then? They specify: “Behold, he precedes you in Galilee; there you will see it.”

That same evening, he showed himself to the apostles (who were ten at the time). Their reaction is described as follows: “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). Then the apparition invited them to touch it: “See that it is I myself,” said Jesus, who had been transformed by the Resurrection; and he ate a piece of grilled fish in front of them (Lk 24:43).

The many testimonies relating to these manifestations of Jesus over forty days deserve to be all looked at, but let us instead ask the question that interests us. What happened to his body? How can a material body become present in a place and then disappear just as suddenly?

Less than a year earlier, a certain clarity had been given in advance to three of the apostles, Peter, James, and John his brother, at the top of a mountain (Tabor no doubt), when the body of Jesus “changed” before the eyes of these apostles (Mt 17:2; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:29—Aramaic, ḥlp), and that Moses and Elijah appeared at His side. Luke adds the idea of glory: Moses and Elijah, “They appeared in glory” (Lk 9:31), and the three disciples saw the “glory” of Jesus (Lk 9:32)—this disciple and evangelist thus makes an interpretation of the primitive witness of the Apostles, interpretation made in the light of the Resurrection, when the apostles, “startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). We may also recall the account of the birth of Jesus where the angels sang the “glory” of God (Lk 2:14). This property of “glory” that manifested itself at that time helps us to perceive a little of the reality of what must have happened at the tomb where the body of Jesus crucified rested. [See in particular these two articles of mine, here and here].

As a quick summary, we can say that the “rising from the dead” is not only a physical phenomenon, affecting the body of Jesus passing through the cloths (shroud and strips) so to speak and leaving them collapsed as a result of a kind of sublimation, but a passage into glory. What John believes is not simply a logical interpretation of what he sees (he was present at the burial; he sees that nothing has been moved) but the fact that the body of Jesus has obviously (in his eyes) entered into glory. So do not look for His body nearby. Jesus had made it clear: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). In fact, the few apostles present end up leaving, certainly taking away the Shroud, without fully understanding what had happened (Lk 24:12 insists on Peter’s astonishment), while the holy women remain wondering where the body is.

Being Touched and Touching

From what perspective should we look at the Eucharist body and blood of Christ in relation to Him glorified? First of all, it is a double means, divinely invented, to come and touch our personhood, down to our materiality—it is the body-side; and to direct personal life—it is the blood-side: in this way something of the glory of Christ is already communicated and prepares the communion in the glory. What Western Christians call “Mass” (a meaningless term), Syrian-Aramaic Christians call “Qurbana,” i.e., touching [God] or being touched [by Him]. The name carries its own definition. They also speak of the “mysteries”—the Greeks too; while the Greek word “Eucharist” simply means “thanksgiving.”

Let us note that union with Christ in the liturgy is not only a reality of body but also of life in the sense of a becoming expressed by wine, which tends to be forgotten in the West, while this double aspect, so to speak, is brilliantly anthropological (and, of course, biblical).

The term “transubstantiation” captures well this mystery of the body and the blood which, separated, testify to the death of Christ, and as well as His resurrection. We can say that what is changed in them is their “substance.” What we perceive and see, that is to say, the “accidents,” remains as it is, unless the Lord wills to give a sign occasionally to a specific person or to several; in these cases, we speak of signs, or “Eucharistic miracles.” What is changed, “in itself,” is not the object of a perception of our senses. The Council of Trent consecrated the use of the term “transubstantiation,” borrowed from Thomas Aquinas for whom it was simply obvious.

If this definition is relevant, it does not emphasize the purpose of the Eucharist. Of course, the bond with the faithful who receive it follows from this: they are touched to their substance, they are sanctified by the humanity and divinity of Christ present in the “holy species,” and this in a way that is not only moral or intentional (I want to associate myself with the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus). The Eucharist really operates in the faithful (as long as they do not oppose it), similarly to the reality of Christ’s presence in it.

The Crucial Perspective of Finality

However, what sanctity of the faithful do we thus have in view? Personal, communal, eschatological? This question readily appertains to the first centuries of the Western tradition which, unlike those of the East especially non-Greek, has difficulty thinking about the global meaning of history (or collective eschatology). In this Western tradition, in fact, the purpose is placed almost exclusively in relation to the personal afterlife: communion sanctifies me so that, after my death, I may participate in the communion of the saints of Heaven. And are others, and the world, involved? If this is the only perspective, we inevitably come to individualism and even to a certain sacramental consumerism: each one thus achieves his own salvation, thanks to the ecclesial institution and to the clerics who devote themselves to it.

Historically, individualism began to develop in the elites of the Middle Ages and eventually produced Renaissance humanism, of which Machiavelli’s thought was a part. For if men are individuals without ties, they need rules and leaders to ensure social cohesion. This was the conviction of many princes; namely some of those whose small kingdoms formed the Holy Roman Germanic Empire; using Luther, they carved out independent kingdoms for themselves at the expense of the Germanic whole. This conviction was not without totalitarian ulterior motives [according to William Cavanaugh, there were less “wars of religion” than wars of modern states, wanting to impose a unifying conformity around a single language, a single economic market and a single religious idea, under the control of the Prince]—the idea that the Prince had the right to direct the consciences of his subjects was not the prerogative of the English King Henry VIII. Gradually, the Christian people were also won over by individualism, and even by the skepticism of the elites, from the 18th century onwards.

The idea that the Church is like a body was less and less socially experienced in the West. Since the community dimension was fading, the institutional reaction was to replace it with legal ties (essentially obedience), with the ecclesial institution becoming a kind of administrative body. In reality, this shift had begun long before the Renaissance, as we shall see, and quite smoothly and without provoking any real debates.

If we return to the fundamental problem, we see that it is a question of giving a common perspective to Christians and avoiding fragmentation. Is speaking of the “ecclesial body” the only way to do this? If it worked for centuries in the West, it was not without many hazards, and it finally failed. Perhaps there was an error in perspective.

What unites people is not so much an affirmation of unity, even if accompanied by promises from Heaven, as a common perspective on the future. That will always be the case. Now, precisely, Christians have a formidable common perspective: to prepare for the Glorious Coming of Christ, which is not the end of everything as Augustinism imagined, but which is at the same time “the fulfillment of the present time” (sunteleia tou aïonos) and the beginning of another era—aïon —and this in anticipation of ultimate glorification.

[The expression “sunteleïa tou aïonos” often comes up, especially in Matthew: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be so will it be at the fulfillment of the present age (Greek: en tei sunteleïai tou aïonos). The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:40-43).

Similarly in Mt 13:49, we find en tei sunteleïai tou aïonos, corresponding to Aramaic b’šuwlameh d’´alma`hana`, “at the fulfillment of the present time,” as well as in verse 39 without the preposition.

Also in Mt 28:20: “And I am with you always, to the end of the present time” (eos tes sunteleïas tou aïonos).

In Mt 24:3 meaning is confirmed by context: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the present time (sunteleïas tou aïonos)?”

Only an intentional misinterpretation can translate sunteleïa tou aïonos as “the end of the world,” implying that there will be nothing afterwards (see next note). For there is no question of final destruction but of the end of the present time, followed by regeneration (palin-genesia, Mt 19:28).

In Heb 9:26 we still find this expression but with aïon in the plural, thus with a different meaning: “…he has appeared once for all at the fulfillment of the [past] ages (epi sunteleïai ton aïonon) to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself… he will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save (Aramaic: “for the vivification of”) those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:26b;28b). No one would imagine translating the term here as, the end of the world.

In 1Co 10:11 there is also aïon in the plural, in the sense of past time: “These things happened to them [experienced by our fathers] to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (ta tele ton aïonon)”].

Western Greco-Latin thought has great difficulty in entering into this revealed vision that involves thinking about the global meaning of history, as we have already noticed. [This difficulty in thinking about the global meaning of history is linked to the Augustinianism of the Middle Ages. It is a certain thought of St Augustine that is hardened and moralistic. Morality does not look at history but at the laws and rules to be applied. Resulting from the secularization of a sense of history not lost to everyone, Western messianisms became very moralizing (not only Calvin in Geneva)]. However, there is nothing like this to indicate the community dimension of the “Mass,” normally celebrated ad orientem, that is to say turned towards the place where the sun appears on Easter Day: the faithful are united in a common expectation.

This rising sun is the risen Christ, whose glorious coming is awaited. The Eucharist must be seen less from a static point of view than from an “eschatological” point of view; that is to say, from the point of view of what is still to come for the earth and even for the whole of creation.

Hence the importance of knowing what is to come. For decades, for a good part of the Latin Catholic intelligentsia, what was to come owed nothing to Christ, who served as a pretext—the prospect was the construction of an ideal world, a socialist world, of which the current dream of global governance is the heir. These dreams obscured and counterfeited the true hope of the Kingdom of Christ linked to His Coming in glory, the meaning of which is still difficult to rediscover, according to the phases which are given, in particular, in 1Co 15:22-27:

“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order:

Christ the first fruits (or first fruits—Aramaic)—[Step 1];

afterwards (ep-eita—Greek/bāṯarken—Aramaic, behind) at his coming those who belong to Christ—[Step 2]; [Some translations in French, including that of the liturgy, replace here (1Co 15,24) the adverb “ensuite” (afterwards) by “alors” i.e., by “at the same time as,” truncating the meaning of the passage: in this way step 2 becomes the final step—which removes any meaning from verse 25. And to suppress the time of preparation that is the time of the “kingdom of the righteous” on earth (Irenaeus of Lyon), under the gaze and presence of Christ, is to make incomprehensible the purpose of glory of all creation. A parallel deformation, which can hardly be a fortuitous error equally, reads in other parts of the New Testament (see parenthetical note above)].

Afterwards (eita / wəhāydēn, next, later) comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father—[Step 3],

after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power [the forces of Evil, whose submission is the object of Step 2 precisely].

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death [Step 3, since there is no longer a generation or death in glory]. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet [reminder of Step 2]” (1 Cor 15:22-27).

In these three steps, what is most problematic for the Latin mind is the ultimate purpose of glory that is reserved for all creation—the world we see thus has an end (in both senses of the word), and this end is not a “Big Crunch” (a crushing of the material), but rather the opposite. This is the key. Rather than believing in what is ideologically proposed to us as “science” and which, as we have seen around the Covid crisis, is too often at the service of private interests and totalitarian projects, it is preferable to believe in the perspectives given by Revelation for the future, and which are rooted in the Resurrection.

The body of Jesus, as well as that of every person, is like a synopsis-summary of the whole of creation; it is the masterpiece of creation that appeared last. Therefore, since the body of Jesus has entered into glory, creation itself is called to enter into it (Rom 8). Clearly, there is a divine project of glory for creation, which cannot happen without preparation, and in particular without the inclusion of humanity, which the Church can gather—that is, necessarily according to the three stages indicated by Paul himself (see above). To put it another way, the present world is not at all ready to enter into this glory, where there is no room for sin or corruption—that is why a time analogous to the time of purification of the souls of those who have already died is necessary for humanity on earth, explains Irenaeus of Lyon. All this is presented and developed in the book on the subject available since 2016 [2019], The Glorious Coming of Christ.

It is therefore absolutely essential to connect the Eucharist to this ultimate and cosmic end of glory, and thus it is intrinsically linked to the glorious body of Christ. If the faithful receive the body and blood of Christ, they in fact are received in the glory of Christ by a union of corporeal life. Much has been sought of this mystery in terms of the how, but little in terms of the why—whereas the question of the why is always more important and decisive. In light of this, it becomes clear that there are not two “bodies of Christ,” one glorious and the other Eucharistic (in doing so, the Holy Blood is always somewhat forgotten), but only one, the first. And the actualization of the sacrifice offered for sins appears all the better—this glorious body having passed through death, and uniting with Christ, the faithful offer themselves to the Father, living in their earthly life also something of the Passion and Resurrection. If there are not two “bodies of Christ,” there are even less three.

Let us start from what Paul, the apostle of the nations, wrote in a few passages that may have led to the conception of such a “third body” derived from a metaphor.

2. The Metaphor of Paul: Another “Body of Christ?”

It was the apostle Paul who compared the Church to a body—no other passage in the New Testament uses this metaphor, which is a kind of comparative picture. What did it mean?

The Five Pauline Passages

In his letter to the Romans, which dates from the year 58, Paul wants to emphasize the interdependence and mutual aid that must exist between all those who follow Christ. To do this, he takes up the image of the body applied at that time to the Roman Empire, very organized and where everyone is presumed to have his place and thus contribute to the proper functioning of the whole. It is important to note that here he does not speak of the body “of Christ” but “in Christ”:

  • “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5).

Paul’s fundamental idea is that of organic solidarity. Earlier in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul had added the idea that Christians are members of the “body of Christ”:

  • “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12-13), and verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

The image is used in two different ways, but the idea is to compare the Church to a large, living, well-organized whole, reminding us that Christ is present in this larger whole.

Four years after the Letter to the Romans, in writing to the Ephesians, Paul takes up this theme of Christ’s presence several times, and it is here that the idea of presenting His relationship to the Church as that of the head to the different parts of the body appears (in the ancient languages “head” and “ruler” are one term):

  • “He [God the Father] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23).

Later, Paul tries to clarify the comparison: [In relation to the Jews, according to the logic of the image, Paul further indicates that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6)].

  • “From whom (Christ) the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).

It is clear that this is a way of speaking, because physical growth is rather due to the organs of the digestive tract, provided they have enough food to assimilate. To take this set of images at face value and materialize them would be aberrant. But this is what was done later in the West: the Church thought of itself as being really the body of Christ.

This is how the Letter to the Colossians, written shortly after Ephesians, is interpreted in this passage:

  • “He (Christ) is the head of the body, [that is] the Church… I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:18; 24).

But does it take a head-to-member relationship to say that our own humanity is united with that of Christ (“it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” Paul writes in Gal 2:20)? Or, to say that we suffer for the whole Church? The mention of a “head” in relation to the body is absent from 1 Corinthians and Romans. This, in itself, poses some problems, as we shall see later. In the meantime, let us confine ourselves to what Paul means.

Other Images to Express the Mystery of the Church

In fact, Paul puts forward two ideas that are contradictory in one and the same image:

  • as the leader, Christ is above the Church, as the emperor is the head of the Roman Empire. Resurrected, He leads it and first founded it, especially during the forty days after Easter, when he appeared to his apostles and discussed with them what each will have to do—according to several texts and Oriental traditions;
  • at the same time, he is “all in all” (Eph), and we are “in Christ” (Rm)— but the emperor is not within the society, nor are his members really united to him.

Such a presence of Christ in each member of the society-body is only possible, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, of which Paul speaks abundantly [“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm 8:15-17). “Because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess 1:5). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple[a] of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 2For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). “He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:4). Etc.]

Precisely by minimizing and then forgetting the work of the Spirit, the Western tradition cut off the image of the Church-body from the rest of Paul’s thought. In fact, it came to reify this image, even if it meant calling it “mystical” in order to make it less material (in the 12th century, “mystical” was still a simple adjective that qualified the ecclesial body in relation to the Eucharistic body). To put it another way, by virtue of making Jesus both the head and the presence (He does everything, He is in everything), there is no more room for the Holy Spirit than marginally.

Moreover, Paul does not only use the image of the body to represent the Church, he gives two other images.

The first is the traditional one of the bridegroom and the bride, largely established in the Old Testament (Eph 5:32). Even if it was not a great success in Western theology, it did remain alive for a long time in spirituality, as witnessed by this magnificent 12th century mosaic in Rome itself, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere—Mary is clearly the figure of the Church as the bride of Christ, a bride who shares the throne of Christ. But Christ is in the center of the apse; He embraces His bride with His right hand (Song 2:6), and on her book is read: VENI ELECTA MEA ET PONAM IN TE THRONUM MEUM, “Come, my chosen one, and I shall put you on my throne.”

Mosaic, Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (12th century).

The duality of the Groom and Bride is put forward, a duality that the reified image of the “body of Christ” tended to erase.

Born in Egypt (183-254), Origen was the first to write a Commentary on the Song of Songs. In it, he expressly quotes the passages of Paul that we have looked at [Origin, The Songs of songs, Commentary and Homilies, II. 7, p.144-145], and he often speaks of the Church as an organic body in solidarity – as he does in his other books. But he never reifies this image, which tends to identify Christ with His Church; nor does he give it a juridical meaning—in the Song there are indeed two distinct characters and a game of exchange between them, whose spiritual meaning is to be discovered. Origen also presents the relationship between Christ and the Church as that of the soul to the body (Against Celsius, 6: 48). As for the relationship to the world, Origen was the first to call the Church “the city of God” (Ibid., 4:22), an idea that would be popularized by Augustine a century and a half after Origen.

The other image Paul uses is that of a construction-edifice: “…you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it” (1 Cor 3:9-10).

This image is necessary for him in relation to the conviction that the Christian is the new Temple, that of the Spirit: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17).

And he writes in yet another letter: “[You are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Eph 2:20-22).

This image is that of a Temple or palace, not a pyramid; the apostles are the foundations; and of these foundations, and Jesus is the keystone (or cornerstone). It can also be said that this Temple is made up of a multitude of small temples inhabited by the Spirit, and Paul admits to having played a small role in this. Here we have a very realistic picture that highlights the human work (which is faith) carried out on the basis of what the apostles left.

In the Gospels themselves, we find yet another image, probably the richest of all, and given by Jesus himself—that of the vine (or the trunk of the vine) and the branches. The vine has roots that draw their water from the Hebrew-Aramaic tradition, the eighteen centuries of pre-Christian preparation, and its leaves receive sunlight, which transform the sap into nourishment—the sun then representing the Holy Spirit.

If we go beyond the New Testament, there is yet another analogy that theology might have retained for the Church. In the Epistle to Diognetus (circa the year 200), we read that the Church is like the soul of the body that is the world: “What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. The soul is spread in members of the body like Christians in the many cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, and yet it does not belong to the body, as Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.”

Such an image is powerful. It refers to the parable of the Kingdom of God buried like leaven in the dough (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:21), an image that was used and even widely abused after Vatican II to say that the Church and her institutions should disappear into the world.

And yet, of all these images, the only one that has been privileged in the West is that of the Church as the “body of Christ.” Of course, this image is contradictory with the previous one: if Christians form a body (that of Christ), they can hardly be at the same time a soul (that of the world). So be it. But what is specific about the image of the body? Without doubt, the idea of complementarity and solidarity between the members, in their diversity. If we want to highlight the union of the humanity of Christians with that of Christ (living with Him, thinking with Him, acting with Him, etc.), the biblical image of the husband and wife is more telling. And overall, it is the image of the vine and the branches that seems to capture all these aspects best. The question then arises: why did we choose the image of the Church as a body?

3. Reifying the “Church-body” Image: Why?

If we want to emphasize that Christians—or Christian communities—need each other in the face of the temptations or oppositions of the world, then the image of a body seems the most eloquent; such an image carries a pastoral concern, which is a concern that Paul often expresses in his letters. The need expressed by the image is vital, as much for each member as for the whole; it is fully understood in the context of persecutions, and Paul certainly knows something about that! “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

Is it with such a pastoral concern that, later on, the Church will be said to be a body? This is evident in Origen, who, as a child, witnessed the execution of his father because he was a Christian. It is much less obvious later on.

Let us add that Paul”s very concrete pastoral concern was also about the organization of the “body”: “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another… And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor 12:25; 28).

What he describes here of the functioning of the communities he knows has inspired much less the way in which the Churches have been structured than the very image of the Church-body.

Guaranteeing Ecclesial Unity

Greco-Latin thought, as we have seen above, struggles to design history: it is a prisoner of a cosmological tradition where everything is immutable, and in which fate (moira, fatum) always has the last word, even among the gods. Famous heroes and characters leave their mark on their time, but in the end, everything is still as it was before. This vision is in direct opposition to that of Revelation, given in Hebrew and Aramaic. This difficulty predates Jesus, but it persisted in the Greco-Roman Christian world and rendered futile the justification of Christian unity in a historical-eschatological perspective—that of working together to prepare the Second Coming. Yet, anthropologically, it is well known that what best unites people is to collaborate in common interests. In contrast, this perspective works in the Semitic world, marked by the revealed certainty that creation has a beginning, a meaningful history, and an end-goal.

It therefore was necessary to identify something else to found the unity of Greco-Latin Christians.

In fact, there is not much choice. One could say that faith makes for unity; but it would have to be identical, since from the start, the diversity of cultural differences created difficulties. At the beginning of the 12th century, Hugues of Saint-Victor raised the question again and indicated that baptism received with faith achieves the unity of the people of God (De sacramentis christianae fidei, lib. II, pars 2). But it is obviously the Eucharist that came to be seen as the place and cause of the unity of Christians, since it brings them together every Sunday.

Better still, communion with the body—and, we might forget, with the blood of Christ—is the means of unifying the faithful in what they are celebrating—we know the famous formula of Saint Augustine (354-430): “Receive what you are—the body of Christ.” But he meant it very symbolically [Augustine, Sermon 272 (PL 38, 1246-1248) and Sermon 227 (PL 38, 1099-1101): “Since you are the body of Christ and its members, it is your own mystery that rests on the Lord’s table, it is your own mystery that you receive… Be what you see, and receive what you are… This (Eucharistic) sacrifice is the symbol of who we are”]—in the same way, when he defines the ecclesia of which Christ is the head as being one man, the total Christ: unus homo, unus vir, una persona, Christus integer or totus; of this ecclesia, the angels are part, without it being said clearly that they are members of his ‘body.’ What the bishop of Hippo wants to say above all, says Yves Congar, is that “Christ prays in us, suffers in us, is holy in us” [Congar Yves, L’Église, de saint Augustin à l’époque moderne, Paris (Les Editions du Cerf, 1970), p. 4]. Without this spiritual consideration, there is only one more step to take to reify the image and almost identify the Church with Christ. This is obviously very effective in justifying Christian unity, but isn’t it dangerous?

For Augustine, the Holy Spirit is part of the mystery of the Church; he is the “soul” of the Church; [For example, in his Sermon 267, On the Feast of Pentecost, 1.4, n° 4 (PL 38. 1231D): “What our spirit, that is to say, our soul, represents for our members, is the same thing that the Holy Spirit represents for the members of Christ, for the Body of Christ which is the Church”]—a new image is thus superimposed on that of the “Church, the body of Christ” and introduces a kind of mediation in it, avoiding an identification of the Church with Christ. But this superposition, in turn, ends up posing a problem.

“In the body-soul representation,” writes Michel Deneken, “the Holy Spirit is no longer considered for what he reveals himself to be, namely a free and gratuitous gift, over which no one has any control, and which must be constantly asked of the Father. Ecclesiology has long been exposed to the danger of identifying the Holy Spirit with the most intimate heart of the Church, leading to a kind of ecclesiological monophysitism which almost totally dissolves in the divinity Its constitutive part of humanity. As a final consequence, such a reification of the Holy Spirit can lead to a divinization of structures and to a confusion between the human will of the members of the hierarchy and the will of God. While St. Augustine, when he affirms that the Holy Spirit acts in the Church as the soul acts in the body, is still conscious of having recourse to an analogy that is a metaphor, Bellarmine (1542-1621) and the bulk of the theology of the post-Tridentine Church, understands this affirmation as a formal principle that necessarily leads him to affirm that the Spirit is the soul of the Church” [Michel Deneken, “Ecclésiologie et dogmatique. L’Église sujet et objet de la théologie,” in Revue théologique de Louvain, 38 (2007), p. 210-211].

Of course, the liturgy came to be influenced by the evolution of ecclesiology. We will give only two brief examples, since this is not our subject. Very symbolic in Augustine, but gradually reified, the identification between the Eucharistic body of Christ and the Christians-bodies-of-Christ had a very concrete consequence—the communion of the faithful was restricted to the Eucharistic body of Christ by the Council of Constance in 1415. Why would they need communion with the Eucharistic blood since they already receive what they are supposed to be? The latter is reserved for the celebrating priest, who has reason to wonder what the meaning of all this is.

Another liturgical consequence may be seen in the Roman desire to standardize the rites. If the glorious body, the Eucharistic body and the Church are three in one, the rite must reflect this unity. One thinks of the nineteenth or twentieth century when the Roman Latin liturgy was imposed everywhere and exclusively; the reform of 1969 being imposed with the same concern for uniformity; while in the twenty-first century some aspects of this uniformity tend to be imposed even in the (Catholic) Churches of the Eastern rite. In reality, such a desire for uniformity has distant roots, as witnessed by Alexander II, pope from 1061 to 1073, who forbade the Greek rite in southern Italy, as well as the Hispano-Visigothic rite in Spain—and he wanted the Latin language to be used in the liturgy to the exclusion of all others in the West [Example cited by Yves Congar (1970), p.27. In fact, Latin then was not the only liturgical language—to take an example, until the French Revolution, in Provence, Mass was usually celebrated in Provençal (the author had in his hands an old Provençal missal of that time)].

If a provisional conclusion can readily be drawn, it appears that trying to articulate the “three bodies of Christ” from a composite and static point of view leads to difficulties, to say the least. Many theologians have seen the need not to remain with a “static conception but, on the contrary, to develop a dynamic vision of the Church. The convergent evolution of theologians from different backgrounds points in the same direction” [Deneken (2007), p. 220]. But is the problem to introduce more of the Holy Spirit in order to energize what is static? Isn’t the real dynamic rather the consideration of purpose?

Whether in Christ or in the Spirit, the idea or desire to “divinize” the Church seems to exceed what is necessary to justify the unity of the Church. Such an idea must have another reason for being.

Exalting the Bishop of Rome and His Power

Indeed, the reified image “Church-Body of Christ” has a flaw, and this flaw played an important role in the increasingly juridical evolution of Latin ecclesiology.

When we say that the Roman Empire was like a “body,” we imagine the emperor as its “head”: he was part of the empire and, from Rome, he directed the empire. But the risen Christ is neither in Rome nor in Jerusalem, but in Heaven; He is not part of the whole that He directs; how then does He function as “head?” In this same static vision, how can He be said to be the head of a body that He Himself is, unless one considers that the Church on earth is, if one may say so, a body without a head?

This last consideration is interesting, if we want to exalt the papacy. The Church is not headless because there is the pope who takes the place of Christ (the title Vicarius Christi has come to take on this strong meaning). This bears thinking about.

Augustine, frankly, did not think about it. In his struggle against Donatism, he simply affirmed the need to be in communion with the See of Peter, or better still, in communion with Christians in the “whole world” (“orbis terrarum”—Contra epistolam Parmeniani, III. 4, 24). He recognized the mission of the Roman see to confirm the faith, but he did not appeal to its authority; he did not separate it from the other episcopal sees (“apostolica sedes et romana cum ceteris”—Contra lulianum I. 4,13) whose disciplinary and canonical independence he recognized.

However, there is a problem with the bishop of Hippo, who is steeped in Greco-Latin thought—the static aspect of his ecclesiology. At the beginning of his episcopate, he was still very much influenced by the sense of history taught by Irenaeus of Lyons, and one can see a remnant of this in the distinction he makes in The City of God (20.9) between the regnum militiae, the reign of militancy, and the reign quod erit post finem saeculi, “which will exist after the end of this century,” if we translate it literally. But the formula is ambiguous; it could mean that the kingdom after this “century” is Heaven. But Augustine indulged more and more in such allegorical interpretations. Thus, the time of the “thousand years” of the Apocalypse which “elapses between the first and the second advent” would already be now. In other words, Augustine shifts the “thousand years” from after to before the Glorious Second Coming. From then on, “the Church is now both the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven” on earth, and the “judges sitting on thrones” mentioned in Rev 5:10 are the Bishops. As for the “first resurrection” (1Co 15), it is an allegory of conversion (The City of God, 20,7.9). The Anti-Christ or “man of ungodliness” (2Th 2:3b) also becomes a simple timeless allegory of men dedicated to evil. In this way, the entire meaning of the story lost its consistency.

But then, where to stand? What to cling to? To the seat of Peter.

This is where exegesis would have helped Western thought, in relation to John 21:15-25. This passage, which is crucial as regards the role entrusted by Jesus to Peter, is very bland in Greek; what we retain is that three times Jesus tells Peter to “feed” his flock. In Aramaic, the emphasis is on the complement of the direct object; and then a much richer meaning appears [Where the Aramaic has three words, the Greek has only two (lambs, arnia and sheep-ewe, probata); and we can no longer understand the meaning of the passage]:

“When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs!’ (ܐܡܪܝ ’emray in Aramaic). Again, he said to him for the second time: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep!’ (ܥܪܒܝ ‘erbay in Aramaic). He said to him for the third time: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was saddened that he said to him for the third time, ‘Do you love me?’, and replied, ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let my bearing ewes graze!’ (ܢܩܘܬܝ nəqawāṯ in Aramaic).”

The lambs are an image of the little ones in the faith, the catechumens and the newly baptized. Jesus asks Peter to watch over them; that is understandable. But not only over them: over the sheep that are the adult Christians and that, as we don’t live in an ideal world, still need to be supported. And that’s not all. Jesus also asks us to look after the healthy ewes, i.e., those who bring new Christians into the world, the missionaries, the housewives who welcome and train, the deacons, the bishops and the priests. In other words, Jesus said to Peter: “Those who train others, even if they are old enough to take care of themselves, you must still be concerned about them, too.”

In connection with Mt 16:18 (“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”), this passage from John defines the Petrine ministry—the focus of unity and stability that Jesus calls Peter to be implies concern for all the faithful who belong to Christ (“my lambs/etc.” he tells Peter, not “yours”). Peter will have to intervene when things go wrong, no more, no less.

Putting these words into practice is certainly not easy, especially if, focused only on “feeding,” their meaning is diverted and understood as power.

Leo I the Great, pope from 440 to 461, recognized that the entire episcopate is characterized by the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18); but he suggested that it began with Peter. Thus, the other apostles would have a somewhat derivative episcopate. From then on, the Church had to be organized as a society-body, according to a juridical conception whose visible head is the successor of Peter (since Christ the head is invisible). The life of the body-Church thus depends on the popes—this became the “basis of all Roman ecclesiology” [Congar (1970), p. 9].

With Gregory VII, pope from 1073 to 1085, the question of papal primacy took a political turn, even if this pope conceived it in a spiritual way. In fact, in the Holy Roman Empire, the emperor appointed the bishops in charge of principalities, who thus had an important administrative and civil responsibility in addition to their spiritual mission, even if in practice, civil power was exercised by a council—this is how the principality of Liege functioned for almost a thousand years. The emperor also reserved for himself the “investiture” of other bishops and his influence was preponderant in the choice of the pope. Anxious to defend the independence of the Church, for which so many martyrs had given their lives in the past, Gregory defended the opposite position—only the bishops could designate the pope; they must be appointed by the pope, and the emperor himself must be subject to the pope, since the latter was of divine right, whereas kings were not. In the absence of a common ground, the confrontation with the emperor Henry IV was inevitable and turned, roughly, to the advantage of the pope. Ipso facto, the pontifical function took a legal turn, even if nobody noticed it at the time, troubled by many other problems.

Juridicalism, Sacramentalism, Clericalism

Doctrinally, the supreme power in the Church is held by the assembly of bishops gathered in council and by the pope. This traditional ecclesiology, mystery-linked and sacramental, remains, but another ecclesiology is gradually emerging, juridical and clerical, in which the pope plays the role of head of a body which would be Christianity itself. He takes the place of Christ (i.e., is His place-holder)—this is the meaning of the title Vicarius Christi that Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) reserved for himself, whereas it had previously been borne by bishops and emperors. Note that Pope Francis has abolished this papal title.

In the Church, with the contribution of Roman law, all power was henceforth defined as coming from the pope, but all Christians continued to think that the council was superior to the pope. This contradiction came to a head during the Great Schism. What has been called “conciliarism” tended to take in hand the life of the Church by councils, where, in addition to the bishops, sat princes and especially academics, which was not new. But certain excesses contributed, by reaction, to reinforce still papal monarchic absolutism.

The infallibility of the pope is not a question that arose at that time; it is resolutely modern. In medieval times, the pope’s “inerrancy” was spoken of, in connection with the assembly of bishops, by the fact that the universal Church could not err in matters of faith. But in the sixteenth century, it began to be said that the pope himself could not err.

One can thus speak of an evolution tending to reinforce the powers of the pope at the expense of those of the assemblies of bishops (where not necessarily only bishops sit), and also at the expense of each of the bishops—the juridicalism that took hold was at the same time more and more centralizing. Christian devotion itself evolved in such a way that the person of the pope became an object of it. It is true that the anticlerical state policies of the 19th century pushed Christians to appeal to the pope who escaped these pressures thanks to the Papal States, notably in the matter of the appointment of bishops; but the policies of de-Christianization of the youth and of secularist indoctrination could only be slowed down. The question arises as to the extent to which ecclesiastical juridicalism does not contribute to stifling Christian vitality; while the virtue that is praised above all is a very juridical obedience, and Christian life is reduced to the sacramentalism of which priests are the ministers. The ecclesial institution becomes a sort of pyramid of powers, which modern means of communication allowed to reinforce in the 20th century. We are quite far from obedience in love, as Origen describes it, between the Bride and the Groom. [Obedience is rooted in Christ’s obedience to his Father (Phil 2:8), so that Christians bear the likeness of the Word of God (Origen, Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques, Tome I, Sources Chrétiennes 375 [Paris: Cerf, 1991, Livre II, 6, 11-13, p. 389-393]). “The adornment and jewel on the neck of the Church is the obedience of Christ,” writes Origen (Ibid, Livre II, 7,14; Tome I, p. 401). “This obedience,” comments Françoise Breynaert, “separates the bride from vanities and idols, and detaches her from her own will—the bride is, then, a virgin of all that is not God, impoverished of her own self, fully available, docile, she is then truly married; her will participates in the divine will to form only one, divine will” (De l’Église primitive à l’humanité restaurée, Lire le Cantique des cantiques avec Origène (Preface, M. Canevet), Paris: Cerf, 2017].

For its part, the Code of Canon Law states that the pope “possesses by virtue of his office the ordinary, supreme, plenary, immediate and universal power, which he can always exercise freely” (CIC no. 331); and that “By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only possesses power over the whole Church, but also obtains over all the particular Churches and their groupings the primacy of ordinary power” (CIC no. 333). In all of this, the 1983 Code differs from that of 1917 only in omitting the pope’s immediate power over each of the faithful, which does not change much because the most important thing here is—the bishops have become subordinates of the pope. [“§1 The Roman Pontiff, successor of St. Peter in his primacy, has not only the primacy of honor, but the power of supreme and complete jurisdiction over the Universal Church, both in matters which concern faith and morals, and in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world. §2 This power is truly episcopal, ordinary and immediate, exercising itself both over all the churches and each one of them and over all the pastors and each one of the faithful; this power is independent of all human authority” (CIC 1917, No. 218)].

Of course, the CIC of 1983 did not contradict the conciliar constitution Lumen Gentium, which formally recalled the traditional doctrine concerning the order of bishops, who “also constitute, in union with the Roman Pontiff, their head, and never outside of this head, the subject of a supreme and plenary power over the whole Church,” relativizing it radically with this apposition: “power, however, which can only be exercised with the consent of the Roman Pontiff” (3.22). In short, if the Church is a body, it is clear that the pope is its only head.

This is well explained in the 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis, of Pius XII; its full title is “Encyclical Letter on the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ and on our Union in it with Christ”. With this text, the concept of the “body of Christ” reaches its apogee—unless it was in the writings of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which we will look at later.

The adjective “mystical” has long been used to distinguish the glorious body of Christ from his other body, the Church, according to the reified reading of the Pauline passages cited above. There is nothing new in this Encyclical of Pius XII from this point of view. Its raison d’être is found elsewhere, following Leo XIII, in the desire to oppose a conception of the Church which, on the one hand, would be “only composed of social and juridical elements and principles,” or which, on the other hand, would be “only spiritual (pneumaticum), in which the many Christian communities, although divided from one another by faith, would nevertheless be united by an invisible bond.”

The balance (or synthesis?) to be found between these two deviations is obedience to the pope, guarantor of Christian unity. In particular, the bishops must obey him: “In their government they are not fully independent, but they are subject to the legitimate authority of the Pontiff of Rome, and if they enjoy the ordinary power of jurisdiction, this power is immediately communicated to them by the Sovereign Pontiff.”

The justification given is as follows: “Christ … without ceasing to govern the Church mysteriously by himself, nevertheless directs it visibly through him who holds his place on earth [the pope], for since his glorious Ascension into heaven, it no longer rests on Him alone, but also on Peter as on a foundation visible to all. That Christ and his Vicar together form but one Head.”

In short, the body without a visible head has found one, and this head is even the channel par excellence of the holiness coming from Christ: “[Christ] divinely enriches with supernatural gifts of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom his Pastors and Doctors, first and foremost his Vicar on earth.”

And the Holy Spirit in all This?

With regard to the Holy Spirit, Mystici Corporis said, for the sake of form, a few expeditious words: “Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Letter, Divinum illud, expresses this presence and operation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ with these concise and nervous words: ‘Let it suffice to affirm that, if Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is its soul’.”

But how does one go about listening to a soul? Is it enough just to speak about it?

In the second half of the twentieth century, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there was a certain reemphasis of the Holy Spirit, which gave some leeway to the juridicalism weighing on the Latin Church. In this, the latter came closer to the Eastern Churches, especially the Orthodox, whose tradition “speaks readily of the double pneumatological and Christological dimension of the Church understood from the mystery of the Incarnation and Pentecost,” notes Michel Deneken [Deneken (2007), p. 217], who relays the orthodox reproaches made to the Latin Church, that “Christocentric sacramentalism would prevail over pneumatological prophetism, hierarchy over the freedom of faith, the Petrine dimension over the Pauline, which produces clericalism and the hypertrophy of the ministry of Peter” [Deneken (2007), p. 230].

However, a greater openness to the Holy Spirit has prevented neither the implosion of the Latin Church as to the number of its members, nor the persistence of a Roman monarchism that has taken a less juridical but more authoritarian turn, depriving the bishops even of their right to establish new communities in their diocese. The solution suggested by Deneken is to “develop a dynamic vision of the Church.” But he does not say what such a vision should aim for. Can there be a constructive dynamic at work if there is not first of all a rediscovery of the revealed meaning of history?

4. Further Developments of “Church, the Body of Christ”

Shortly before Pius XII, the concept of the “Church, Body of Christ” was already very fashionable and had undergone various developments. Not the least of these were those proposed by Teilhard de Chardin in the context of his Christic evolutionism. With him, the Pauline image of the Church-body, mixed with faith in the Eucharistic body (which is not an image), also encompassed the world. A disciple and good commentator of Teilhard, Jean-Marc Moschetta, recalled in 2016 what the objective was: “Teilhard thus proposes a modernized Christian reading of the universe that integrates the intimate scientific knowledge of matter with the Pauline vision of the Body of the Universal Christ: a cosmic body in the process of sublimation, under the transforming action of the energies of love” [Jean-Marc Moschetta, Le sens cosmique de l’Eucharistie, Teilhard, Colloque Teilhard of December 3, 2016. See also].

We thus slip from the “Church, body of Christ” to the “world, body of Christ”: “There is only one Mass in the world, in all times: the true host, the total Host, is the Universe that, always a little more intimately, Christ penetrates and vivifies… the whole of Nature undergoes, slowly and irresistibly, the great Consecration. Only one thing has been done, basically, since always and forever in Creation: the Body of Christ” (Teilhard, Le Milieu Divin, 1957).

And if we still have not yet understood, Moschetta quotes Moltmann (The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions), who explains in other words: “It is from the experience of the Eucharist of the Church that his [Teilhard’s] vision of the “Eucharization” of the cosmos, that is, the change of the cosmos in the Body of Christ, is born. In the end, his Christology of evolution is nothing less than the vision of the cosmic Eucharist by which God is mundane-ized and the world divinized.”

It should be noted that Mystici Corporis does not respond in any way to Teilhard’s cosmic-evolutionist elucubrations, as if these had not already had a great influence on the ecclesial intelligentsia before the war. It is true that, in 1943, Pius XII did not lack other worries. In any case, it is Vatican II that inherits the Teilhardian ideological confusion, which clearly inspired some of the Council’s leaders, such as Cardinal Suenens. How did the Council try to cope with this?

In no less than nine Council documents, the expression “Body of Christ” is used almost 50 times, with or without the adjective “mystical,” not counting all the times when the term “body” is used alone to refer to the Church. On rare occasions, the expressions “Body of Christ” or “Body of the Lord” designate the Eucharist; and this among passages where “Body of Christ” designates the Church—it is the context that allows us to know what we are discussing. Let us look at this in more detail.

First, how do these documents speak of the Church-body of Christ? Most often, they refer to the Church on earth, rarely to the Church in heavenly glory; and even more rarely to both—sometimes the context does not allow us to decide. It should also be noted that the glorious body of Christ appears very little, as does the expression “Body of Christ,” to speak of the Eucharist (and the expressions “Eucharistic body” or “sacramental body” do not appear at all). Such discretion certainly contributes to avoiding the question of knowing how many bodies Christ has. It is nevertheless salutary to ask questions, especially when, for years, a certain theology has tended to separate the historical Jesus from the Christ-Logos with multiple bodies—Teilhard had done so; and he was not the only one. [The idea of separating the historical Jesus from a mythical and universal Christ-Logos is also at the heart of the “theology of religions” that Cardinal Ratzinger denounced in Dominus Iesus in 2000. Since then, the idea of a Christ present in all “religions” has been replaced by that of the Spirit with the same attributions].

By proposing a sort of definition—”Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, the Head and his members” (mystico Iesu Christi Corpore, Capite nempe eiusque membris)—the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, sought to shed light on the “mystical body” as something that straddles heaven and earth. Another probable desire for clarification—to speak of the Eucharist (twice), this same document replaces “Christ” with “Lord” in the expression “body of Christ” and uses it only to speak of the Church and with the adjective “mystical.”

These efforts at clarification do not prevent us from saying, for example, that “the body of Christ nourishes the body of Christ” in a way that is no longer merely allegorical, in the manner of Saint Augustine. Preaching and liturgical hymns have developed this theme to the point of inviting Christian assemblies to feed themselves; that is, to create self-centered and self-made celebrations. Let’s not deceive ourselves—such celebrations have existed in great numbers after the Council, and there is no end in sight! In order to avoid these, or at least not to allow them to be justified by confusions of words and images, it would have been enough to put the Eucharistic mystery back into relation with the glorious body of Christ (and with the celestial liturgy, as the Orientals say), as we have seen above. Such was not the case.

And this is not the only difficulty. What is the meaning of the statement in Presbyterorum Ordinis (On the Ministry and Life of Priests, December 1965)—Christ builds the body of Christ (literally)? [The two passages: “The ministry [of Christ]… constantly builds up the Church here below, so that it may be the People of God, the Body of Christ” (cuius ministerium, quo Ecclesia in Populum Dei, Corpus Christi et Templum Spiritus Sancti, hic in terris, indesinenter aedificatur); and: “Christ Himself builds, sanctifies and governs His Body” (Christus Ipse Corpus suum exstruit, sanctificat et regit)]. Let us pass over the challenge to the logical mind: building one’s own body is a completely mythical language. Doesn’t this language, so far from the rich simplicity of the New Testament, open ideological doors that should remain closed? What then would be a self-construction of Christ, or more exactly of the Church according to the old Latin theology of “Christ continued” (cf. note 2) and of ecclesio-centrism? Is it any wonder then that baptism is considered only as the entry into a club-Church, where the great movement of the future is built, under the guidance of enlightened bishops and the pope? How can this ecclesio-centrism be overcome, other than by the need to prepare for the Coming of Him who has been glorified in body and soul? This perspective has not been pursued, either.

5. Breaking the Deadlock (and the Misunderstanding)

Even if no human institution ever does do so, it is appropriate for the ecclesial institution, insofar as it is divine in its foundations, to be able to make the distinction. There are not “three” bodies of Christ. There is only one. And one of the main consequences of the self-exaltation of the Church as the body of Christ must also be remedied; namely, the weakening of the authority of the bishops—as successors of the apostles, each of them is accountable only to God, as is said of the commander of a ship on the high seas. That is to say, not to the State, nor to a Party, nor even to the pope—only to the Church as a whole, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Tens of thousands of Christians were martyred because they defended this freedom of the bishops from political or financial powers, a freedom that guarantees the freedom of the Church and the faith of all Christians. It was not so that it could be confiscated by the pope. Besides, no one would put all their eggs in one basket, at the risk of losing everything at once. The autonomy of each bishop guarantees the survival of the Church, even if it means also that they help each other on a regional level (as in the old archdioceses). The Church will not die because one of the branches of the vine withers. Jesus himself explains it: “He [the Father] removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit” (Jn 15:2). This is how He himself constituted His Church, not as a pyramid of powers but as a communion in which Peter constitutes the pole of unity, through which he will have to intervene, if things do not go well (cf. Jn 21:15-25 above).

And to put an end to the abusive interpretations of the images used by the apostle Paul, let us imagine for a moment that he was living today. What image from the world would he have used to describe the Church? He would certainly have been interested in the global phenomenon of information technology and the computer model. All the parts of the computer are necessary for it to function (1 Cor 12), some are less noble (and less expensive) than others; but all the parts work together so that the growth of information is harmonious (Eph 4:16); and the computer’s processor is Christ (Col 1:18).

This being the case, it is not certain that we would have escaped Roman ecclesio-centrism. A few years after Paul, we would probably have seen an encyclical entitled, Mystici Computeri which would explain: since the processor in Heaven is not very functional in practice, we must connect to the replacement processor on earth, which is in Rome, so that it can coordinate and control the whole thing—with the Holy Spirit simply providing the basic software. Note that these images have an advantage over Paul’s—they include the idea of updates (e.g., Councils), which the body image does not. Obviously, there can be bugs in the updates. In short, if we must be wary of images, this mistrust is not enough to get out of the deadlock. The crucial question can no longer be set aside—how can the Church define herself other than in the perspective of the Glorious Second Coming? Like the Spouse who awaits the Bridegroom?

Such a perspective is certainly not without consequences, especially for the way the Bride sees the world, and for the coming judgment of that world whose Prince is not Christ. These are disturbing consequences. But it is precisely the gaze towards glory, where Christ as “first-fruits” awaits the humanity that chooses Him, and even ultimately awaits the whole of creation (1 Cor 15:23-24; Rom 8), that makes it possible to stand in the midst of the contradictions of this world.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial  Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


Featured: “The Transfiguration of Christ,” by Giovanni Bellini; painted ca. 1487.