The Visual Solar Miracle at Fatima

This article provides a new and very different validation of the famous “miracle of the sun” at Fatima.

We are happy to provide this excerpt from Dennis Bonnette’s latest book, Rational Responses to Skepticism: A Catholic Philosopher Defends Intellectual Foundations for Traditional Belief, in which he answers the various charges made against Catholic belief. The strength of Dr. Bonnette’s book is that he counters the spirited attacks made by skeptics, agnostics and atheists—by giving a reasoned response which uniquely defends the Catholic faith.

We have published versions of this defense previously, which you may also wish to read.

Please support Dr. Bonnette’s important work by purchasing a copy and spreading the word.

The number of people–skeptics as well as believers–who gathered at the Cova da Iria at Fatima, Portugal, on 13 October 1917 is estimated to range from 30,000 to as high as 100,000. While many books and articles have been published about Fatima, of special interest is a small work by John M. Haffert, Meet the Witnesses of the Miracle of the Sun (1961). He took depositions from some 200 persons, thereby offering us eyewitness testimony some four decades after the miracle, but still within the lifetime of many witnesses. This book contains detailed eyewitness recounting of events by over thirty persons.

The book summarizes seven significant facts widely documented. They include that (1) the time, date, and place of the miracle was predicted in advance, (2) an extraordinary light that could be seen for many miles sending out “shafts of colored light” that tinted ground objects, (3) what looked like a great ball of fire fell toward earth, causing tens of thousands to think it was the end of the world, (4) the prodigy stopped just before reaching earth and returned to the sky, (5) it left and returned to the place of the sun, so that viewers thought it was the sun, (6) the mountain top where this happened had been drenched with rain for hours, but was completely dried in minutes, and (7) tens of thousands witnessed these events over an area of six hundred square miles (Haffert, 15).
Some online sources also give detailed eyewitness accounts.

It was quickly pointed out by skeptics that no such solar behavior could have actually occurred, since no observatory detected it and, following the rules of physics, such actual solar movements would have caused mass destruction on planet Earth!
Although the vast majority of witnesses reported seeing something they took to be the sun performing roughly similar amazing movements—even though some observers were miles away from the Cova da Iria, it should be noted that multiple sources report that some people at the Cova said that they saw nothing unusual at all.

The fact that the people saw amazing solar displays and even frightening movements of a silver-pearl disc that began its movements from the actual location of the sun—while the real sun could not have actually been so moved in space—demonstrates that massive visions were being experienced by tens of thousands of people simultaneously. This is reinforced by the reports that “…others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.” Certainly, any real extramental visual phenomena—even if they were not from the real sun itself — would have been seen, not just by some, but by all present.

While it is possible that some visual phenomena that day may have followed the normal laws of nature, what is clear is that the most extraordinary Fatima visual phenomena appear to have been in the nature of visions –- possibly even “individually adjusted” to fit the sometimes diverse experiences of different observers.

Since the “solar” phenomena were not all reported to be the same and since not all present even appear to have seen it at all, it must be that whatever took place was not extramentally real as visually apprehended. Rather, it is evident that the phenomena was seen as extramental, but must have been caused by some agent able to produce internal changes in the observers, such that they believed they were witnessing actual external events. This is essentially what marks the experience of a vision. One writer calls it a “miracle of perception.”

Also, purely physical explanations based on some sort of optical phenomena fail to account for the overwhelming fear induced by seeing the “sun” appear to be about to crash into the earth, causing many to fall to their knees in the mud and some to actually call out their grievous sins for all to hear, since there were no priests available!

What critics badly miss is that variances in accounts actually strengthen the case for a miracle, not weaken it. Such a rich diversity of reports supports the case for all the visual aspects being visions that differ in each person. Consider the fact that some were said to see nothing at all. This would support the claim that no external physical changes actually took place in the “dance of the sun.” Rather, this must be a case of massive individual visions –- making the case for an extra-natural explanation only greater.

The plain fact is that tens of thousands of people do not make up a “collective lie,” especially when they cannot even get their story quite straight. Moreover, the plain fact is that the vast majority of those tens of thousands of people experienced analogously similar extraordinary behavior by the sun or by a silvery disc that emanated from the sun. Tens of thousands of people do not have collective hallucinations or anxiety attacks — especially, when the sea of humanity present included believers and non-believers, Catholics and atheists, secular government officials and skeptics alike.

However one explains one of most massively eye-witnessed events in recorded history, it must be accepted that the vast majority of those present experienced what surely looked like the greatest public miracle in history –- even as reported in the atheistic secular newspapers in Lisbon, including O Seculo, whose 15 October 1917 edition published a front page headline, reading, “Como O Sol Bailou Ao Meio Dia Em Fatima,” that is, “How the sun danced at noon in Fatima.”

Could such massive phenomena have been caused by natural agents, space aliens, or even demons? Physicist and theologian, Stanley Jaki, S.J., offers an explanation based on the natural formation of an “air lens” at the site of the solar phenomena. But his explanation immediately confronts multiple difficulties. Even looking directly at the sun through an air lens would damage the eye, and no reports of ocular damage were recorded after the event. Moreover, I have already pointed out that the existence of somewhat conflicting descriptions of the phenomena, as well as the fact that some saw nothing unusual at all, prove that the solar experiences must have been internal visions of externally experienced events — not the result of Jaki’s air lens hypothesis.

Finally, Jaki claims that the heating effect of the lens could have dried the people’s clothes and the wet ground. Unfortunately, while this may work in theory, the amount of energy needed to produce such rapid drying in a natural manner would have simply incinerated everyone involved! Instead, the people only felt comfortably dry. Jaki’s hypothesis appears to be simply false.

This “drying” miracle alone so contravenes the laws of nature that neither space aliens nor even demons could have produced it.

Natural agency of the visual “sun miracle” is ruled out because the phenomena were not external — as I have just shown, but rather, these were visions caused by internal changes in the witnesses. While space aliens might have mastered the technology of holograms, so as to produce some external physical display, that does not explain the number of witnesses who clearly saw nothing abnormal at all. The effects had to be internal and individualized in order to explain variances in what was seen, and especially, what was totally not seen by a number of people. Thus, the effects were not produced by visiting space aliens. Indeed, they were at least preternatural, if not, supernatural in nature.

On the dubious hypothesis that these effects were preternatural, and not supernatural, could they have been produced by angels or demons? Here, a moral analysis suffices.

If somehow done by angels, then they were at the direction of God anyway. But, if done by demons, one is confronted with a message to humans to stop sinning, repent, and pray. I don’t think any further proof is needed to show that demons did not do this.

Finally, while preternatural effects are accomplished by producing a natural effect in an unnatural way, such as a body levitating with nothing seen to be lifting it, these optical phenomena entailed changing the internal vision experiences of tens of thousands of persons simultaneously. Whether merely preternatural powers could produce such an effect is highly debatable. In any event, the previously-given demonstrations show clearly that the “dance of the sun” at Fatima could have been produced solely through the infinite power of the God of classical theism, since it clearly exceeds the power of either man or space aliens to produce such individualized internal visions and moral analysis excludes the agency of spiritual agents other than, possibly, those following God’s command.

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of three books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s ExistenceOrigin of the Human Species, and Rational Responses to Skepticism: A Catholic Philosopher Defends Intellectual Foundations for Traditional Belief, as well as many scholarly articles.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Revolution: The Call of Logos to a Great Cultural Dialogue

At the Telos Conference (New York University, January 13, 2007), to address Pope Benedict’s XVI’s now-famous Regensburg address, Georgetown Jesuit Professor of Government, James V. Schall, maintained that he thought the Pope’s talk in Regensburg constituted a major historical event. I concur. I write this paper to do two things as best I can: (a) analyze the Pope’s address and identify precisely why I think it is of major historical import; and (b) positively critique the Pope’s interpretation of modern reason and the process that he describes leading up to its development. I do these two things in the hope that they might enhance what I consider to be the Pope’s largely superb analysis of the contemporary Western cultural predicament related to an impoverished notion of human reason and the ramifications that this notion has for Western relations with other cultures.

Summary of the Papal Address and Identification of its Historical Import

Pope Benedict XVI begins his Regensburg address with recollections and reflections on the start of his teaching at the University of Bonn, 1959. He describes how, at the time, despite distinctive academic specializations, including two theology faculties, that made communicating with each other difficult, the faculty members constituted part of the whole universitas scientiarum. The reality of each specialization “working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason… became a lived experience.” The university took pride in all its faculty members, including its two theology faculties, who sought “to correlate faith to reason as a whole,” and displayed a “profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason” that even radical skepticism could not shake, including unquestioning acceptance of the necessity and reasonableness of raising “the question of God through use of reason” and “in the context of the tradition of Christian faith.”

Benedict then explains how his recent reading of Münster Professor Theodore Khoury’s edition of part of a late fourteenth-century dialogue that took place near Ankara between “the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both,” had prompted his present recollections and reflections. The dialogue, presumably written by the Emperor, discusses many topics related to faith in Christian and Islamic scriptures. Benedict says that he found interesting one point from Sura 2,356, “rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole,” touching on the theme of holy war, that, “in the context of the issue of ‘faith and reason’” could serve as his starting point for his address: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

Benedict reports that, “on the central question of the relationship between religion and violence,” the Emperor addressed his Persian “interlocutor with a startling brusqueness” that Benedict found “unacceptable.” The Emperor claimed that the only new things that Muhammed had brought were “evil and inhuman, such as the command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Emperor explained that spreading faith through violence is unreasonable because violence is incompatible with the natures of God and the human soul. Shedding blood does not please God, and acting unreasonably is contrary to God’s nature. The soul, not the body, gives birth to faith, through the ability to speak well and reason properly, not through threats and violence. We do not need to strong-arm people, or use violence or threat of death “to convince a reasonable soul.”

Benedict finds decisive this claim in the Emperor’s argument against violent of conversion: “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” So much so that Benedict maintains the only reason he quoted the dialogue between the Emperor and the Persian interlocutor “was purely for the sake of this statement” and that the theme of his subsequent reflections in his address emerge from this statement.

Then he cites the dialogue’s editor’s (Theordore Khoury’s) (a) observation that the Emperor was “a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy” (as such, he accepted this statement about God as self-evident); (b) subsequent claim that Muslim teaching holds God to be “absolutely transcendent”; and (c) quotation of Islamicist R. Arnaldez’s claim that Ibn Hazm went so far as to maintain, “God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”

Benedict finds Khoury’s analysis to confront us with “an unavoidable dilemma” related to understanding God and the concrete practice of religion: Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature limited to a Greek philosophical truth, or is it a universal and eternal truth, true “always and intrinsically?”

In this conviction, Benedict states he believes “we can see the profound harmony between what is best in the Greek sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God.” While Benedict does not precisely explain what he means by the phrase “best in the Greek sense of the word,” his meaning is evident from his initial identification of Greek philosophy as the origin of the ancient Greek conviction about God’s being essentially incapable of irrational behavior. A crucial point to note if we want to follow with precision the rest of what Benedict says in his address and adequately critique it later on: A profound harmony exists between the understanding of God in the best of Greek philosophy and “the biblical understanding of faith.”

Something radical happened in ancient Greek philosophy and early Christian revelation to which Benedict calls our attention: the best of the ancient Greek philosophical idea of God became part of Christian revelation. In my opinion, in this address, Benedict is making a revolutionary theological claim with dramatic metaphysical, social, and political implications for the future. This claim constitutes part of its historical importance.

Early in medieval theology, several Church Fathers favorable to philosophy, philosophical apologists, had made reference to the way in which Greek philosophers had prepared the way for the Western acceptance of Christian teaching through “a revelation of reason” analogous to the revelation of faith paved by the Apostles, Church teaching, and the Scriptures. During the Reformation and Enlightenment, Protestant intellectuals (Sir Isaac Newton is an example) who sought to undermine Catholic theology would periodically make reference to its corruption by Greek philosophy, and would take an especially hostile attitude toward St. Athanasius and the Council of Nicaea, which they considered to have played a chief role in this corruption and to be chief obstacles to us being able to return to the original Christian faith revealed in the New Testament, uncorrupted by Greek philosophical reason.

To my knowledge, however, none of the Church Fathers had ever claimed that this revelation of philosophical reason had become part of the deposit of Christian revelation, and no major Church theologian has ever argued, as Benedict proceeds to do in his talk, that this revelation of reason is an essential part of the Septuagint, the Greek Christian translation of the Old Testament, or that, instead of simply continuing the Jewish Scripture, the Christian Old Testament (the Septuagint) is “a less than satisfactory… translation of the Hebrew text”: “an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation” generated by early Christianity’s encounter with Greek philosophy “that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.”

Clearly, Benedict is doing something historically revolutionary in Western theology and cultural thought that is likely to have dramatic ramifications for religious and political dialogue and relations in the future. He is maintaining, as some Jewish scholars sometimes have done, that, strictly speaking, the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Scripture are not identical; or the Pope is claiming that, if they are identical, later Jewish Scripture cannot be identical with earlier Jewish Scripture.

Benedict argues his case by claiming that St. John had begun his Gospel by modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis to read: “In the beginning was the logos,” the exact word the Emperor uses when he says “God acts συν λόγω, with logos.” Benedict says, “Logos means both reason and word—a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”’’ He claims that “the encounter between the Greek Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.”

Apparently, Benedict means the encounter was providentially guided. For he sees John speaking “the final word on the biblical concept of God” in which “all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis”: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was God.” And he interprets St. Paul’s dream (Acts 16:6-10) in which, seeing the roads to Asia barred, Paul envisioned a Macedonian man pleading with him to come to Macedonia and help them, “as a ‘distillation’ of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.” In short, Benedict sees this rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophy as the necessary condition, and an underlying principle, of Christian revelation.

Benedict argues that this reconciliation had been going on at least since the Jewish prophet Moses and the Greek philosopher Socrates had, in their respective ways, attempted to affect a kind of intellectual “enlightenment” in the ancient world. Benedict thinks that Moses’ reference to God’s name in Exodus as “I am,” and Socrates’ philosophical behavior stand in close analogy as attempts “to vanquish and transcend myth.”

Benedict maintains that, despite attempts by some Hellenistic rulers to accommodate Biblical faith to pagan Greek idolatry and its practices, later wisdom literature of the Hellenistic period displays an evident mutual enrichment of Biblical faith and “the best of Greek thought at a deep level” (that is, Greek philosophy). Hence, strictly speaking, the Christian Old Testament was not the Hebrew-language Scriptures. It was a Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures made by 72 Jewish scholars, influenced by Greek philosophical thought and language, in 72 days in Alexandria, Egypt between the fourth and third century B. C. (reportedly at the request of Egyptian King Ptolemy II): The Septuagint.

The Christian New Testament was written in Greek and depended on the Septuagint. And both reflect the ancient Greek philosophical notion of rationality as being part of reality. Hence, Benedict maintains: “A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined in faith, Manual II was able to say: Not to act ‘with logos’ is contrary to God’s nature.”

Benedict calls “this inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry… an event of decisive importance from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history”: A world-historical event, as Georg Hegel might say. Hence, reminiscent of Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc, Benedict finds no surprise that, “despite its origins and some significant developments in the East,” Christianity “finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe.” Put another way, Benedict claims that this convergence between Biblical faith and philosophical reason, “with its subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”

Baldly stated, Benedict’s thesis is that “the critically purified Greek heritage (that is, the ancient Greek notion of philosophical reason) forms an integral part of Christian faith” and that Christianity so formed created Europe. While not every element that the early Church incorporated into itself needs to be part of the faith, Benedict maintains the imprint of the Greek philosophical spirit exists as part of the New Testament. Hence, “the fundamental decisions about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of faith itself; they are a developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”

This is not to say that no attempts were made in the pre-modern West to sunder this “synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit.” For example, Benedict makes specific reference to John Duns Scotus’s notion of divine freedom, in virtue of which God “could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done,” giving rise to positions that “clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.”

Nonetheless, Benedict claims that the Church has always opposed the notion that God’s nature is capricious, that divine transcendence and otherness are so beyond human reason that our sense of truth and goodness no longer authentically mirror God. Instead, the Church’s faith has always insisted that a real analogy exists between the divine Logos and human Logos. God does not become more divine by becoming more capricious and irrational. “The truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as Logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.” Even God’s behavior must conform to the necessary conditions of created reality when God acts in relation to creation.

Hence, while, in a way, love transcends knowledge and with love we can perceive more than we can with reason alone, Christian religion, Christian worship, which includes love, is, to quote St. Paul, “λογικὴ λατρεία,” worship “of the God who is Logos” and “worship in harmony with the Eternal Word and our reason.”

Despite the fact that Benedict traces the roots of attempts at what he calls “dehellenization” of Christianity at least as far back as the high Middle Ages, the Pope maintains that: (a) a call for Christianity’s dehellenizaton has increasingly “dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age”; (b) “viewed more closely,” we can observe three stages in this program of dehellenization; (c), while interconnected, these stages are “clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives”; and (d) “Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.”

Benedict maintains that, “looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted by a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of faith based on an alien system of thought.””* Consequently, they tended to view the faith of scholastic theology as “one element in an overarching philosophical system,” an alien metaphysics, or belief system, not as “a living historical Word.”

Given this situation, Benedict thinks the Reformers turned to the principle of sola scriptura to “dehellenize” Christianity so as to liberate faith from philosophical metaphysics and be able to return to “faith in its pure primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word.” He claims, further, that, when Immanuel Kant said “that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers never could have foreseen.”’ In so doing, Kant (1) “anchored faith exclusively in practical reason” and (2) denied “it access to reality as a whole.”

Benedict locates the second stage of dehellenization in nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberal Catholic and Protestant theology. In Catholic theology, when he was a student and young teacher, Blaise Pascal’s distinction between the God of the philosophers and that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, became its point of departure. He refers to Adolf von Harnack as “the outstanding representative” of this stage of dehellenization. Specifically, Benedict says Harnack’s “central idea” was “to return simply to the man Jesus and to his message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization.”

Harnack saw Jesus’ message as the culmination of humanity’s religious development. He thought that Jesus had “put an end to religion in favour of morality” and “presented Jesus as the father of a moral message.”*” Simultaneously, Harnack considered modern reason, science, as essentially historical. Hence, Benedict says, Harnack thought that “historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament” (that is, reading it historically as a humanitarian moral message, not as a message of worship) “restored theology to its place within the university” because “theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.” So, Harnack’s goal was twofold, to: (a) “bring Christianity back into conformity with modern reason” and (b) liberate “it from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.”

In short, Benedict sees Harnack attempting to restore theology to the status of a science by making it conform to the modern and Kantian reduction of human reason to practical reason. For Harnack what theology can say critically about Jesus amounts to “an expression of practical reason.” By becoming reduced to an expression of practical reason through the Kantian critique, theology can then become strictly scientific, and “take its rightful place within the university.”

Benedict thinks that the modern concept of reason finds it roots in a synthesis of “Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism.” He claims that a Platonic understanding of nature underlies modern reason’s presupposition that a mathematical structure is matter’s essence and that this mathematical structure makes possible matter’s theoretical and practical intelligibility. And he finds empiricism in modern reason’s reduction of verification and falsification principles to experimentation. Part of modern reason is “nature’s capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield decisive certainty.”

Benedict maintains that, depending on the circumstances, the weight of modern reason can shift from the pole of mathematics to that of experimentation. In this way, he explains how a modern “positivist” like Jean-Claude Monod can declare himself to be “a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.”

Benedict thinks this second stage of dehellenization has resulted in two principles that he calls “crucial to the issues we have raised”: (a) “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific”; and (b) “by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question.”

The first principle requires that we must measure anything that would claim to be science against the criterion of possibility of experimental verification and falsification. In so doing, to become scientific, Benedict maintains that “the human sciences” (by which he means sciences like “history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy”) “attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.” The first and second principles confront us “with a reduction of the radius of science and reason,” which, Benedict claims, we need to question.”

One reason for this need to question is that, given the narrow understanding of modern science and reason, any attempt to accept theology’s claim to be “scientific” would reduce Christianity and “man himself” to fragments of their former selves. This is so because, under this narrow definition of science, the specific questions that religion and ethics raise about “our origin and destiny” become “relegated to the realm of the subjective.” Such questions have no place within the purview of a realist scientific reason. “Subjective ‘conscience’ becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical.” And, in this way, ethics and religion (a) become a completely subjective matter and (b) lose their power to create a community.”

Benedict finds the situation that the modern reduction of reason has caused to be “dangerous for humanity.” When questions of religion and ethics are no longer the concern of reason, Benedict thinks “disturbing pathologies of religion and reason. . . necessarily erupt,” as evinced in our present time. And he claims that attempts to use rules of evolution, psychology, or sociology to construct an ethic “end up being simply inadequate.”

No surprise, then, that the third stage of dehellenization finds us embroiled in sophistic claims that “cultural pluralism” precludes that the synthesis made in the early Church between Hellenism and Christian faith ought not to be binding on other cultures. “The latter,” as the argument goes, “are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux.” Impossible, says Benedict, because the spirit of Greek philosophical reason is an essential part of the Christian Old Testament, which lies at the foundation of the Christian New Testament, and precedes the advent of Christianity by several centuries. We cannot get back to an original New Testament that reflects no imprint of the Greek philosophical spirit of reason for the simple reason that no such New Testament exists. The Greek spirit of philosophical reason is part of the faith and an essential element of the nature of Europe.”

Having finished his analysis of the three stages of dehellenization of modern reason, Benedict describes what he did to be, “a critique of modern reason from within” that he “painted with broad strokes.” He says his criticism is no attempt to turn back the clock to a pre-Enlightenment time and reject insights of the modern age. He unreservedly acknowledges modernity’s positive aspects, is grateful for the marvelous possibilities “it has opened up for mankind and the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.” With the scientific ethos, Benedict says, Christianity shares “the will to be obedient to the truth.” His intention is no “retrenchment or negative criticism;” it is to broaden “our concept of reason and its application” to overcome dangers that the narrow modern understanding of reason has also opened as part of its possibilities.”

Benedict offers his address as a positive critique to help modernity expand the horizons of reason to avoid real dangers that arise from the “self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable. . . . In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.”

Devoid such a broadening of the notion of reason, Benedict addresses a second point of major historical significance: the Western world is incapable of entering into “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” He claims that the West widely holds “that positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid.” This puts the West in diametric opposition to “the world’s profoundly religious cultures” who “see the exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.”

Put slightly differently, the Pope is saying that we cannot enter into genuine dialogue with people unless we enter into rational dialogue with them. Such dialogue must have at least two characteristics: (1) it must be in touch with reality and (2) it must assume the rationality of the interlocutors. Unhappily, the modern Western notion of reason arbitrarily limits rational discussion to talk about mathematical being and sense experimentation. It views all other talk as essentially non-rational. Hence, strictly speaking, people who hold this narrow notion of reason cannot enter into rational debate with other people about moral and religious issues because their narrow understanding of reason cuts them off from rational debate about such issues.

More or less, what the Pope is saying is that, in relation to religious and moral issues, the modern West’s narrow understanding of human reason places it in the same situation as Ibn Hazm. It cannot rationally dialogue with people about these issues because it has relegated religious and the moral being and talk to the sphere of the essentially nonrational, capricious, arbitrary.

The Pope well recognizes that this places the West in an extremely precarious position relative to religious cultures, especially to elements of Islamic culture that think like Ibn Hazm. How are Enlightened Western intellectuals supposed to dialogue with Muslims, who think that God is an arbitrary Will, not subject to behaving according to mind-independent standards of rationality, like non-contradiction, when the Western intellectuals have a view of moral and religious reason as essentially irrational as their Muslim counterparts? The West’s view of moral and religious reason is just as narrowly fundamentalistic as that of Muslim extremists. Hence, strictly speaking, modern Western intellectuals cannot enter the debate because, by their own admission, they are totally incapable of conducting rational dialogue in the areas of religion and morality. Clearly, if such dialogue is to take place, it will have to occur between those in the West and East who do not share such narrow understandings of rationality.

While modern scientific reason has to accept and base its methodology on matter’s rational structure “and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as given,” Benedict claims (a) the real question remains why it has to do so? Moreover, (b) the natural sciences have to remand this question to philosophy and theology to answer because the natural sciences are incapable of addressing the question. Benedict maintains that philosophy and theology are sources of knowledge derived from human experience, much of which come from religious traditions and Christian faith.”

He makes special reference to Socrates’ observation in the Phaedo that extended philosophical argumentation involving “talk about being” might incline a person to mock all such talk, and, in so doing, “be deprived of the truth of existence” and “suffer a great loss.” In a similar fashion, Benedict claims that “the West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer harm thereby.” He thinks that to ignore theological and philosophical sources of knowledge is “an unacceptable restriction or our listening and responding” to reason and is something we do at our peril. Hence, he concludes by asserting that “a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time” with a program that involves “the courage to embrace the whole breadth of reason,” not to deny its greatness. “It is to this great Logos, to this breadth of reason,” he says, “that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.”

Critique of Pope Benedict’s Account of the Rise of the Modern Notions of Reason and Science

Despite the thoroughness of Pope Benedict’s analysis of the current Western cultural predicament, as he admits, he painted his critique of modern reason with broad strokes. In so doing, in some respects, I think his account of the rise of the modern, or, more precisely, the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment, notions of reason and science suffers from an imprecision that, at times, makes some of his claims appear incoherent.

The main problem I find with the Pope’s interpretation of the nature of modern reason and the process that he describes leading up to its development is that, while, on the one hand, he credits ancient philosophical reason with shaping the notion of reason that early Christianity incorporated, he subsequently labels the attempt to excise philosophical reason from Christianity as a process of “dehellenization.” Precisely speaking, I think this label is incorrect. Likewise incorrect, precisely speaking, is locating the start of this process of deconstruction with the Reformation. As Benedict well knows, the early stages of the process start in the movement to neutralize the influence of Aristotle and, especially, his Commentator, Averroes, after Bishop of Paris Stephen Tempier’s famous condemnation of 1277. And they begin to flower long before the Reformation, during the Italian humanism of the Renaissance, chiefly with the work of Francesco Petrarcha (Petrarch) and his followers.

I make these claims because, as Benedict readily recognizes, philosophical deconstruction, not dehellenization, is the essential element that spurred the development of modern, Reformation, Enlightenment, and postmodern reason. The chief fabricators of modern reason were not essentially opposed to Greek thought. As the Pope admits in several places, those who sought to purify Christianity of Greek heritage were chiefly concerned about purging Christian faith of philosophical reason. The Reformers rebelled chiefly against Greek theoretical and philosophical reason, not against Greek rhetoric, or practical reason (which they tended to reduce to the human imagination). Such being the case, why refer to the process as “dehellenization” when essentially it is philosophical deconstruction?

To some extent, the Italian Renaissance did attempt to challenge the Greek claim to be the origin of philosophy. But it initially did so chiefly as part of an ongoing battle of the arts that had started in antiquity and had continued throughout the Middle Ages, not as an attempt to dehellenize Christian faith. Petrarch and his followers used the popular theological depiction of physical nature as a “book” to elevate the status of poetry and rhetoric over philosophy with the hope of reviving the studies of both, and, through them, restore the greatness of Rome. They did this by popularizing the notion that philosophy was an esoteric metaphysical and moral teaching about creation that God had initially given to Moses, which, to protect from vulgar cultural elements, had been transmitted to the security of ancient poets to hide from the culturally backward. These poets included Greeks and Romans.”

In this Renaissance view, the skill of the poet, not the abstraction of the philosopher, spiritualizes hidden philosophical teaching and, thereby, generates universal ideas and makes science possible. Only the poet has the skill to read the book of nature and generate true universal ideas. Hence, during the Renaissance, poetry, which was a division of rhetoric, became the measure of human reason, the canon of scientificity. And from that time to the present, strictly speaking, language arts, linguistic skills (of the poet, mathematician, historian, logician, language analyst), and so on, not mathematics or empiricism, have continued to be the measure of rationality.”

For a period of time the influence of Galileo Galilei and René Descartes overthrew the primacy of the poetic claim to possess the magic ability to read the book of nature and of the human spirit. The mathematician, thereby, became the new shaman of modern reason. But this was only because of the mathematician’s reading ability, not because of mathematical being can transcend language. While the book of nature might be written in the language of mathematics, if nature is book, then mathematics is essentially a language.

This monopoly of the mathematician did not last long because, chiefly through the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Cartesian thinkers started to realize that Descartes’s project to ground science as a system of clear and distinct ideas was a failure. Hence, following Rousseau, and under the influence of prestigious thinkers like Sir Isaac Newton Enlightenment intellectuals like Kant and Hegel started to view the attempt to establish science as a system of clear and distinct ideas to be part of the human project, an essential part of the human spirit’s call of conscience.”

As part of this call, from the period of the Enlightenment onward, the notion of the reality of mystery becomes anathema and so, too, does the claim that any statement can be evidently true. What in the past had been called mystery, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers must forever onward view as pre-scientific, or religious, backward, consciousness. To guarantee their monopoly over rationality, Enlightenment fundamentalists will arbitrarily dictate that we can admit no statement as part of rational speech unless it can pass the intelligibility test of conforming to the language of “the critique,” that is, unless it is the sort of talk that Enlightenment intellectuals consider rational in terms of their political projects. Hence, strictly speaking, not dehellenization, but philosophical deconstruction, total demystification of reality and elimination all evident truths (apart from the supposedly evident truth of the need to submit all thinking to “the critique”), total subordination of reason to socialist political ideology, becomes the essential mark of the modern mind.

Enlightenment thinkers promoted this political ideology posing as Enlightened reason by adopting Rousseau’s epistemological claims that all knowledge, including science, emerges from a moral urge, the call of conscience (pure reason in its infant stage) to come into conflict with its own emotions on different levels and eventually grow into the human system of science. Rousseau, in short, reduced all knowledge to moral self-projection, and all moral self-projection to the historical consciousness of the human species as it attempts to grow itself into the system of science. Following Rousseau, Kant made duty the principle of practical reason. And, in various ways, subsequent German thinkers like Georg Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche reduced reason to the emergence of free poetic spirit.

By overlooking his own central thesis, and stressing dehellenization, not philosophical deconstruction, as the call that gave rise to the narrow notion of modern reason, Pope Benedict fails to identify modern reason and science chiefly as what they are: forms of socialist political ideology, rhetoric, sophistry, essentially hostile to all claims that mystery is part of reality, equally hostile to all legitimate philosophy, essentially anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, and totally incapable of accepting the notion of evident truths, truths needing no proof to make them rational.

Benedict evinces the weakness of his approach in his treatment of Harnack’s theology, where, among other things, he fails to note the evident influence of Rousseau and Renaissance humanism, and of the desire to eliminate mystery from theology, on Harnack’s reduction of religion to morality.

Benedict rightly maintains that Harnack’s goal was to use historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament to bring Christianity into conformity with modern reason by “liberating it… from seemingly philosophical and theological elements faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.” Such behavior makes sense, if as Benedict says, modern reason is essentially positivistic and/or mathematical. Yet, if that is the case, why does Benedict explain Harncack’s goal to reside in Harnack’s view that theology is “essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.” Clearly, Harnack’s attempt to justify theology’s scientific character by appealing to its essentially historical nature makes no sense if Harnack thought modern reason to be essentially positivistic and/or mathematical. It makes perfect sense, however, under the presumption that Harnack saw reality to be totally devoid of mystery and viewed what people call “mystery” as simply primitive, pre-scientific, consciousness.

Moreover, if history makes theology scientific, how can Benedict reasonably maintain, “This modern concept of reason is based… on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism. Whose modern reason, whose rationality is Benedict describing when he claims that, as its Platonic element, modern reason presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently and when he adds that its empiricism comes in with experimentation that enables us to exploit nature for our purposes? Apparently, this is not Harnack’s conception of modern reason. Nor is it Nietzsche’s or a host of other modern, Enlightenment, or post-Enlightenment thinkers.

All these thinkers tend to share in common the reduction of reason to belief systems and separation of reason from reality. Strictly speaking, the Platonism that Benedict sees in modern thought is not Platonism. Plato’s view of reality is richer than the Pope here describes it. Plato was no subjective idealist. But modern Cartesianism and empiricism are both forms of subjective idealism. Both separate reason from reality and reduce knowing to forms of solipsism, sophistry, self-revelation. While Cartesian thinkers might claim that matter is essentially mathematical, matter for them, as it is for all modernity, is simply an idea or a subjective feeling, part of the constitution of human consciousness, not a mind-independent reality.

Strictly speaking, modern reason is reason totally eviscerated. Its canon of scientificity is sophistry, the prevailing opinion of a magisterium of intellectual elites who tend to control the political machinery in Ivy League universities in the West. Its canon of scientificity is not mathematics or experimentation. Modernity tends to reduce theoretical reason to practical reason and practical reason to projections of the human imagination, which it calls by different names. Whatever the name, modern reason is simply a name for a collection of feelings or ideas that supposedly somehow incline to unite together to form a belief system seeking to grow into a logically coherent system of science. Strictly speaking, modern reason (pure reason) is a meaningless notion, a myth, an ens imaginationis, a projection of the human imagination, poetic imagination totally unmoored from reality, which modernity calls upon as a socialist ideological tool to justify its fundamentalist self-understanding as the spirit of humanity that, through the principle of tolerant speech, uses different forms of language (like history, mathematics, poetry) to emerge historically and give intelligibility to an otherwise meaningless reality.

By stressing dehellenization over philosophical deconstruction, I think that Pope Benedict is largely forced to ignore the essentially fundamentalistic, spiritualistic, mythological, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic, poetic nature of the whole of modern scientific reason. By so doing, he robs himself of an enabling means for more completely addressing the current cultural problems facing the West and Christianity and of restoring sanity to Western universities, including Catholic ones.

For this work involves more than simply recovering the Greek respect for essential rationality in a logical sense of respecting the principle of non-contradiction, and avoiding behavioral contradictions. The fact that the Pope’s colleagues at the University of Bonn shared a “profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason” or a will to accept the truth, is no indication that many, perhaps most, of them, were not working under an impoverished notion of philosophical reason. If different academic disciplines are simply so many “belief systems” that become rational by thinking according to the logic of the Enlightenment critique, then the Pope’s universe of reason at the University of Bonn appears to be little more than one of acting with Enlightenment logical consistency. Moreover, as the Pope readily recognizes, saying that God must act in a way that conforms to his nature must mean more than to say that God acts in a way that displays a profound sense of logical consistency. Even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin tended to do that.

As the Pope well knows and readily admits, it must mean that, once created with its own intrinsic order of being and good, in some respect, mind-independent reality must be a measure of rational divine behavior just as it is the measure of rational human behavior. And attempting to overcome the modern cultural predicament involves more than the need to maintain philosophical reason within the West. It involves recovering philosophical reason in the first place. Doing this, however, entails recognizing that (a) philosophical reason has been lost in the West for centuries, and (b) philosophical reason and logic are not identical; and in recovering the Greek philosophical conviction that (a) mystery constitutes part of the physical universe’s essential rationality, and (b) philosophical reason finds its essential starting point, its first principle, in sense wonder, not in principles of doubt, dreams of pure reason, political projects of spiritual emergence, or logically coherent belief systems.

By focusing attention in his address on call to dehellenize Western culture, not on the call to dephilosophize it, as the main source of the West’s contemporary cultural problems, I think that, in an otherwise excellent analysis, the Pope unnecessarily obscures the precise cause of the contemporary Western predicament, which he, nonetheless, appears to see. By so doing, he is unable to maximize the precise solution to this predicament: the recovery of philosophy within the culture.

Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website. A version of this appeared in Telos.

Featured: The Virgin and the Christ Child, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, fresco painted ca. 230-240 AD. (This is the first known image of the Virgin Mary, with a star and roses).

The Church Must Stand Against New Idols

The great ideologies that ravaged the twentieth century were based on the thought of the salvation of man by man, either through the exaltation of a supposedly superior race, or through the revolution that, by overthrowing dominating structures, would bring about peace. National Socialism and Marxism were two versions of the Antichrist in history and two beasts of the Apocalypse. They ravaged the earth and shed the blood of the saints. They were ideologies of redemption against the only Savior. St. John Paul II, who had experienced them in his lifetime, answered them in his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, that Christ is the only Savior of men and that there is no other Name under Heaven by which we must be saved.

New Idols

In the 21st century, we have entered an era in which new idols are rising. They are even more radical because they are no longer directly opposed to the Savior, but consist in a break with the Creator. The refusal of the Son has been succeeded by the refusal of the Father. The refusal to be saved has been followed by the refusal to be created. Today we want to be our own origin and our own end, like the Phoenix which destroys itself and is reborn from its own ashes. We pretend to be the creators of ourselves in the illusion of a pure freedom, radically autonomous from any natural “given” and from any obedience to reality. The current ideology is that of a freedom which refuses its limit and wants to choose absolutely its life as it intends to choose its death. It is not a question of “becoming what we are,” by consenting to our sexual origin, by accepting to be “qualified in being” by our heritage and our body, but of becoming absolutely what we want to be. We heard it on an astonishing program: “I am not a man. I am non-binary. What makes you say I’m a man?”

God creates by separating. He separates day and night, heaven and earth, man and woman, the fundamental distinction between the human, endowed with God’s breath and spiritual freedom, and the animal world, based on instinct. Not a separation as conflict, but as correspondence. Here we are in a time of extreme confusion where the complementarity of man and woman, naturally open to life, is no longer recognized as a reality that sets a boundary to our inordinate will to power—where, even more seriously, the distinction between man and animal appears to be fallacious among certain minority but incredibly violent “influencers.” These great ideologues obstruct any contradiction, in the United States and more and more in Europe, even in that temple of questioning and debate of ideas that should constitute university research.

These Co-Called Wise Men Have Gone Mad

In Nantes, a festival “to celebrate plural masculinities” opened, with a lot of inclusive writing, where we see not only androgynous and asexual silhouettes, but also hybrid beings, mixing the human body with bird or bear faces. “Let a parish be without priests for twenty years. They will worship beasts,” said the holy Curé d’Ars, as if to signify that man can only survive by way of the High and that without an orientation of his whole being towards invisible Love, manifested in the face of the other, and above all of the smallest, he will lose himself in the abyss of his own navel-gazing. Without God, man fades away like a grain of sand. We must go even further—where God loses His face, where He is venerated only as a “Supreme Being,” a “great architect” infinitely detached from history, men also lose their face.

The French Revolution worshipped the “Supreme Being” and lopped off heads by the thousands. Without the God of love manifested in Christ, the face of man is blurred in the uncertain magma of a freedom gone mad, which, like Rimbaud’s drunken boat, is no longer guided by the winds and descends the rivers impassively, at the mercy of the dominant currents and the most intimidating pressure groups. “If God does not exist,” writes Dostoyevsky in The Demons, “then everything is my will.” And the Apostle to the Romans: ” For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves” (Rom 1:22-24).

The Church Will Have to Stand Up

“Take away the supernatural,” said Chesterton, “and what remains is the unnatural.” Christians will have to be faithful to the earth as it sprang from the hands of God. Those who believe in Heaven must have the vocation of giving an anchor to the uprooting of men. The Church in the West will have to resist with renewed strength “a radical liberal ideology of an individualistic, rationalistic, hedonistic type,” Benedict XVI said to Peter Seewald. We must reread his Epiphany Homily of 2013 where he addressed the bishops he had just ordained:

“Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking.”

No doubt the promoters of the “synodal way” in Germany, the native country of Benedict XVI, who in his testament exhorted his countrymen to stand firm in the faith, should be reminded of this.

Extreme Doctrinal Confusion

In a book to be published as his final testimony, the Pope Theologian writes that the Western world, “with its radical manipulation of man and the deformation of the sexes by gender ideology, is particularly opposed to Christianity. This dictatorial claim to be right all the time through apparent rationality requires the abandonment of Christian anthropology and the lifestyle considered ‘primitive’ that derives from it.” The German priests, bishops and even cardinals who preach in front of the rainbow flag unfurled at the altar or erect it on the churches undoubtedly believe that they are demonstrating the Church’s solicitude and its unconditional welcome. If we can only adopt the benevolence of the Good Shepherd for every man in this world, whatever his life situation, we cannot, without perjuring the logos of reason and the wisdom of Revelation, renounce to transmit, in its time, God’s plan for man and Christ’s call to conversion.

To love every man in his particular situation is to show him the way to the holy mountain and humbly try to climb it with him as a poor brother aware of his own sin, between falling and getting up, between shadows and lights, with the certainty that nothing is ever lost to God. Those who love us always believe us capable of a holy life. It is therefore legitimate to ask whether the “path” of the rich German Church—and more generally of those countries where the Church bends to the most liberal injunctions, in defiance of the small remnant of fervent and faithful youth—is not simply enslaved to a progressive agenda and subjected to pressure groups which, under the pretext of reforming the Church, contribute to accelerating its spiritual anemia and the already spectacular fall in its vocations. It is salutary to ask ourselves if they are not leading souls astray into extreme doctrinal and moral confusion by dint of wanting to please the spirit of the world. “But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men” (Mt 5:13).

To Love the World without Making a Pact with its Darkness

The time has come for humble daily courage and supernatural hope. There will always remain the Spirit of God, through whom our sins are forgiven. After having rejected the Redeemer for the illusion of an intramundane salvation, after having wanted to be his own creator in excess of a pride that rejects all limits, there yet remains for man not to refuse eternal mercy—not to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.

Some will be persecuted, at least in the media, for their fidelity to the faith that comes to us from the Apostles. Courageous and faithful pastors will be mocked and humiliated, even inside the Church. It is through their perseverance that they will be able to bear witness to the infinite goodness of Him who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). “To God who reveals himself,” says the Vatican II constitution Dei Verbum, is due “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26).

The only synodal way is the way of Christ and the attentive listening to His Word, as it is transmitted to us and as it radiates in the midst of men. God alone remains in the midst of a world that is constantly changing, which we must love and join, without making a pact with its darkness. This battle is played out in the depths of our hearts. Christ is with us always, the slain Lamb and the Lion of Judah, the humbled meekness and the invincible strength. He alone remains faithful in the benevolence of His infinite demand, who wants us holy for He is holy (Lev 11:46).

Father Luc de Bellescize is the Curate of Saint Vincent-de-Paul in Paris. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Via veritas (The Way is the Truth), by Andrea di Bonaiuto; painted ca. 1365-1367.

On the Incompatibility of the Sacred and Finance

The destruction of the element that Rudolf Otto defines as the tremendum, that is, that perception of the sovereign majesty of the divine that generates in man a feeling of creatural finitude, is indispensable for the unfolding of the absolute subjectivism coessential to the will to power and its presupposition of man as an omnipotent and limitless entity. For this reason—Otto explains—the sacred is the authentic mirum, since it shows the “totally other” (Ganz-Anderes), sending back to a different and superior dimension, with respect to that of only human things. The sacred—Otto writes—coincides with the “the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.” The seductive, as well as treacherous, promise of the serpent—eritis sicut dii—allows us to fully understand how the most desacralizing power, that is, capital, pretends to become more and more similar to God, as omnipotent, unlimited, inscrutable, above everything and everyone. In this meaning, the θέωσις, the “divine becoming” thus emerges as a figure of the unlimited and of pride, quite distinct from the deitas theorized by Eckhart.

At the mercy of techno-scientific Prometheism, and an order of things in which “sudden gains/pride and immoderation have generated” (Inferno, XVI, 72-74), man ceases to recognize himself imago Dei and pretends to be himself Deus-homo homini Deus, with the syntax of the Feuerbach of The Essence of Christianity—in the fulfillment of the ancient temptation of the serpent. Herein lies the arrogant boldness of the man who wants to elevate himself “Who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).

Prevailing over the entire horizon, prefiguring ever new disasters of instrumental reason, is the Promethean will of human self-management of the world with no further links to transcendence and, at this point, guided only by the nihilistic logic of the will to power of the planetary technocracy. The biblical image of Noah’s Ark, which saves the living in the name of God, is contrasted with the Titanic, as an image of unbridled technology and Promethean imperialism, which causes the whole world to sink under the deceptive promise of its liberation.

In the reified spaces of techno-form civilization, there are no longer the limits of the φύσις of the Greeks or of the Christian God—in the age of the ἄπειρον, of the “unlimited” elevated to the only horizon of meaning, there survives exclusively the factual limit, id est, the limit that the uncontainable techno-scientific power finds every time in front of itself and that it punctually surpasses, in order to be able to fully deploy all its premises and its promises. The technoscientific Gestell, the “dominant system” of Technik in the sense clarified by Heidegger, does not promote a horizon of meaning, nor does it open scenarios of salvation and truth—it simply grows without limitation. And it does so by surpassing all limits and by self-empowering itself without end. It emerges, therefore, fully justifying the fear of Zeus, in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, when Zeus fears that man, thanks to the power of τέχνη, can become self-sufficient and autonomously obtain that which previously he could only hope to achieve through prayer and submission to divine power.

As Emanuele Severino has shown, if technique is the condition for the implementation of any end, it follows that not hindering the progress and development of technique becomes the true ultimate end, in the absence of which no other can be implemented. So, following Severino’s syntax, with the decline of truth there remains in the field only technique, i.e., the open space of the forces of becoming, whose confrontation is ultimately decided by its power and certainly not by its truth. In addition to this, the techno-capitalist system reduces the world to the limits of calculating reason, so that what cannot be calculated, measured, possessed and manipulated is, eo ipso, considered as non-existent. The logic of the plus ultra, founding of techno-capital, is determined in the ethical and religious sphere according to the aforementioned figure of the violation of all that is inviolable, which presupposes achieving the neutralization of God as a symbol of the vόμος. The libertarian instance of the Enlightenment is reversed in its opposite, as already evidenced in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufklärung. The annihilation of every taboo, of every law and of every limit, gives rise to the new taboo of life that is sufficient unto itself.

Freedom without limits; or rather—more properly—the anomic caprice and the “infinite evil” of self-referential and deregulated growth, precipitates into the slavery of the compulsion to transgression and the violation of all that is inviolable; hence into the falsely emancipatory imperative that prescribes enjoyment without impediment or delay, aiming only at individual self-interest and the unreflective rage of growth as an end in itself. In this way, calculating reason—the “arid life of the intellect” of which the young Hegel wrote—sets itself up as the judge that distinguishes what is real from what is not real, what is meaningful from what is meaningless, what is valuable from what is worthless. To allow techno-capitalism to develop without limits of any kind, be they material or immaterial—this sounds like one of the most implausible definitions that could be postulated of the regressive myth of progress, civilization’s unreflective cult of integral reification, whose members are increasingly converted, Heidegger emphasized, into mere “priests of technics” and simple apostles of capital’s march of claritate in claritatem.

To provoke the disjunction of Desire with the Law, so that the former can develop without limits and inhibitions, according to the figure of that violation of all that is inviolable on which rests the essence of the absolute chrematistic system as metaphysics of the unlimited, is one of the falsely emancipatory cornerstones of the disordered order of the civilization of the markets. It is what was already glimpsed in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “But then, I ask, what will become of man, without God and without future life? Is everything then permitted, everything lawful?” Tod Gottes points to the fulfillment of nihilism as a process of devaluation of values and the twilight of the foundations. It coincides with the “transvaluation of all values,” the Umwertung aller Werte enunciated by Nietzsche.

The nihilism of the death of God seems to be concretized in four decisive determinations, which trace the contours of the epoch of the existing anomic society of the evaporated father post mortem Dei:

  • on the ontological level, if God is dead, then “everything is possible,” as marketing strategists keep repeating endlessly and as the mechanics of the technical reduction of being to an exploitable depth reveal;
  • on the strictly moral level, if God is dead, then everything is permitted and no figure of the Law survives;
  • his means, therefore, that everything is indifferent and equivalent, without a hierarchical rank or an order of values, in the triumph of a generalized relativism by which everything becomes relative in the form of commodity (the “dictatorship of relativism” thematized by Ratzinger);
  • at both the moral and ontological levels, if God is dead and everything is possible and permitted, it follows that every limit, every simulacrum of the Law and every barrier are, as such, an evil to be overthrown and a limit to be violated and surpassed.

The death of God as the dissolution of every order of values and truth (Nietzsche) and as the evaporation of the very idea of the father (Lacan) is, for this very reason, coherent with the dynamics of development of capital absolutus—in the globalized perimeters of the total and totalitarian market society everything is licit, subject to there always being more and more, and to the availability of the corresponding exchange value, elevated to a new monotheistic divinity. The desertification of transcendence and the depopulation of heaven are coessential to the dynamics of the absolutization of the mercantilized plane of immanence, whose most appropriate figurative expression seems to be identified by the desert, as Salvatore Natoli has suggested.

On the basis of what has been underlined by Heidegger and by Hölderlin, the epoch of economic nihilism corresponds to a Weltnacht in which darkness is so dominant that it makes it impossible to see the situation of misery into which those of us who find ourselves living in the epoch of the fled gods have fallen:

“The default of God means that no god any longer gathers men and things unto himself, visibly and unequivocally, and by such gathering disposes the world’s history and man’s sojourn in it. The default of God forebodes something even grimmer, however. Not only have the gods and the god fled, but the divine radiance has become extinguished in the world’s history. The time of the world’s night is the destitute time, because it becomes ever more destitute. It has already grown so destitute, it can no longer discern the default of God as a default” (Heidegger, “Wozu Dichter?” “What are Poets for?“).

The death of God announced by Nietzsche and evoked by Heidegger corresponds, in effect, to that complete nihilistic de-divinization of the world that produces the loss of meaning and finality, of unity and horizon. The ongoing de-divinization—which, with the Hegel of the Phenomenology, we could also understand as a “depopulation of heaven” (Entvölkerung des Himmel)—corresponds to the emptying of all meaning and of all ulteriority with respect to the capitalist market, which has become the exclusive horizon—capitalist mono-mundane immanentization dissolves any point of reference other than the commodity form, before which everything becomes relative. Things and men, more and more interchangeable, cease to be “gathered” in a framework of meaning. And they are projected, as isolated and unconnected fragments, into the dark infinite space of the global market, hypostatized in the sole sense of petrified universal history.

With Heidegger’s syntax, the “splendor of God” as a value of values and as a symbol of symbols has been extinguished and, with it, the very idea of a sense of the flow of universal history and of a meaning that exceeds mere exchange value. Everything wanders in the cosmic void of fragmentation and global precariousness, ready to be manipulated by the will to power of infinite growth and the déraison de la raison économique. Following Pasolini’s analysis, this is the essence of the new “Power that no longer knows what to make of Church, Homeland, Family”—and that, moreover, must neutralize them as so many obstacles to its own self-realization.

The death of God corresponds to the post-metaphysical nihilistic relativism proper to the unlimited extension of the commodity form elevated to the only horizon of meaning and to the unlimited will to power of technical endeavor. According to the teaching we draw from Weber and his considerations on the Protestantische Ethik, a fully functioning capitalism no longer needs the superstructural system—the “mantle” over its shoulders, in Weberian grammar—that was initially indispensable to it. Taking the discourse beyond Weber, it must precisely discard it, given that now the absence of that powerful support of meaning is as vital as its presence was before.

Post-metaphysical consumerist relativism prevents the recognition of the veritative figure of limits (ethical, religious, philosophical). And, with synergic movement, it empowers the infinite tastes of liberalized consumption, and detached from any perspective of value. Along with that, it draws a reified landscape of monads exercising their will of unlimited consumerist power, free to do whatever they want, as long as they do not violate the will of power of others and, ça va sans dire, as long as they have the corresponding exchange value.

The fanaticism of economics cannot withstand the axiological, veritative and transformative power of philosophy. It is founded, instead, on the power of technoscience, which serves it to produce always new commodities and new gadgets destined to increase the valorization of value. Compulsive consumerism itself, which has become the ordinary lifestyle of the inhabitant of the integrally reified cosmopolis, is nothing more than the subjective reverberation of the techno-capitalist paradigm and its fundamental structure.

The new techno-capitalist power, in Pasolini’s words “is no longer satisfied with a ‘man who consumes,’ but pretends that no other ideologies than that of consumption are conceivable.” It allows the permissiveness of “a neo-secular hedonism, blindly oblivious to any humanist value” to prevail ubiquitously and without any free zones. The new power, with respect to which nothing else is going to be anarchic, does not accept the existence of entities that are not so in the form of merchandise and exchange value: “Power,” Pasolini explains, “has decided to be permissive because only a permissive society can be a consumer society.” Man himself, reduced to the rank of consumer, ends up being himself consumed by the techno-capitalist apparatus.

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 IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Untitled, by Zdzisław Beksiński; painted in 1978.

To Be and To Endure: A Conversation with Padre Christian Venard

Padre Christian Venard studied history and law in Paris, before going to study philosophy and theology in Rome. He became a priest in 1997, and he has been a military chaplain in the French army for 22 years, mainly with the paratroopers. He participated in 16 overseas operations in all the theaters where France was engaged (from Kosovo to Mali, through Afghanistan, etc.). Since September 2020, he has been chaplain of the Monaco Public Force (Carabinieri and Firemen) and episcopal delegate for the Communication and Digital Evangelization Department of the Diocese of Monaco.

He is the author of Un prêtre à la guerre: Le témoignage d’un aumônier parachutiste (A Priest in War: The Testimony of a Paratrooper Chaplain), and La sainteté de A à Z: Dopez votre vie spirituelle! (Holiness from A to Z: Boost Your Spiritual Life).

We are so very honored to have this conversation with him.

The Postil (TP): Please tell us a little about yourself. What led you into the vocation of an army chaplain?

Padre Christian Venard (PCV): I come from a military family, going back several generations. So, when the question of a vocation to the priesthood came up for me, it was quite obvious to me that I wanted to serve Christ and His Church in a military setting.

TP: Is military priesthood different from being a pastor in a parish?

PCV: Yes and no. No, in the sense that one is a priest exactly like any other priest with the same obligations of life and prayer and that one exercises one’s ministry within the particular framework of the diocese of the armed forces.

Padre Christian Venard. Photo © AFP

Yes, because the lifestyle of the military chaplain is similar to that of the “worker priests” in the 1950s and 1960s. The chaplain is immersed in military life, while remaining fully a priest; he adopts the customs and habits, the uniform, the way of life, the training, the departure on operations. His objective: to be as close as possible to everyone—always available, open and welcoming to all. Finally, this ministry allows the priest to be in contact with a whole population that is largely outside the churches: mostly men between 20 and 40 years old!

TP: Are men in the army more religious than civilians? Or, is secularism more predominant than faith?

PCV: The French army is the image of the civil society from which it comes, and this is rather reassuring. The men and women who work in the army are mostly indifferent to religion, and practice a kind of practical state atheism, taught by the French national education system. That being said, the specificities of the military, the official presence of the four recognized religious denominations (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim) and certain sociological particularities (in particular the rate of Catholic religious practice among Saint-Cyrien officers, or the tradition of the feasts of arms) mean that religion is more present within the armed forces than in the rest of society.

TP: What are some of the challenges that you faced as a chaplain?

PCV: The first one is to be accepted in such a particular environment. Certainly, because of my family history, several elements predisposed me to it. However, as for every chaplain, you have to “prove yourself” in some way. One cannot impose oneself only with one’s title of clergyman. It is necessary to show that you have the human qualities that can make you a “member of the clan.” This was particularly true of paratroopers. You had to go through the parachute certification and regularly go jumping out of planes with the guys.

A second challenge will probably surprise you. That of standing up to the hierarchy of military chaplaincy. I have known four bishops in the armed forces, appointed by the Vatican, who knew little about the specific vocation of military chaplaincy. The last three surrounded themselves with advisors who would blinker them in this respect. This put me (and other chaplains) in very distressing situations, and led to misunderstanding, even persecution, because of this hierarchy not wanting to accept the particularities of military life.

TP: What was the most humorous experience that you had as a chaplain?

PCV: One day, with a fellow parachute chaplain, we were with our young people who were learning to jump and were in the plane for their first jump. The two “padres” were each at a door and my confrere said to me in a loud voice, just before the jump: “And you, Christian, what do you think about organ donation?” Imagine the faces of the poor young soldiers, who were already having a hard time. But we were laughing our heads off!

TP: What advice would you give to young people about service in the military?

PCV: Give it your all. Don’t look back. Never compromise yourself. Follow your ideal at the risk of your career. May the young man that I was, be able to look at the old man that he has become one day and not be ashamed of anything. “To be and to endure” (motto of the 3rd RPIMa, my beloved Regiment).

TP: Turning to larger contemporary issues—as the West becomes further de-Christianized, how should the individual Christian, who feels isolated, even “under siege,” respond?

PCV: You know the famous answer of Mother Teresa when asked what needs to change in the Church and she answered: “you and me.” There is no better way to put it. Indeed, Catholics must realize that this old European continent that they have forged through their religion over the centuries is almost no longer fed, in the public sphere, by the values of Christianity. For those who are called upon to exercise important responsibilities (in the public or private sector, it doesn’t matter), it is advisable, in its rightful place, to make the Christian faith shine, through behavior, in decisions, in philosophical choices. For all of us, it is important to bear humble witness in our daily lives, in the strongest possible fidelity to Christ and His commandments.

TP: The Church has called for the re-evangelization of Europe. Despite difficulties, are you seeing any signs of success?

PCV: Is it a distorting mirror? As the person in charge of communication in the diocese of Monaco, I can see that many Catholic initiatives are taken on social networks and with a certain success. This is a hope. Moreover, if, for the moment, the dominant culture remains rather hostile to Christianity, it seems to me to perceive in the younger generations a thirst for transcendence, for meaning, which reopens doors for evangelization. But nothing can be done today, as we well know, by arguments of authority. Only credible witness counts. In this respect, the terrible crisis of pedophilia, the equally serious crisis of authority within the Church, are so many deleterious counter-witnesses.

TP: In the modern world, we have very few heroes; we are overwhelmed by celebrities. Should we see saints as heroes?

PCV: Yes, the heroes (heralds!) of the Gospel. Men and women, whose holiness has been officially recognized, have been, according to the well-known image, illustrations in time and space, of the evangelical virtues. Virtue is both strength and struggle. One does not become virtuous by crossing one’s arms, but by boldly advancing on the path of life, always strewn with pitfalls and temptations.

TP: Who is your hero?

PCV: Many saints inspire me. Charles de Foucault is one of those who touches me the most. The vigor with which he followed the road of sin first, then that of sanctity, pleases me. There is nothing bland about this man. An immense appetite for the absolute. A confounding humility when he discovered the true meaning of his life. A form of activism almost naive in his will to create a “religious order.” Yes, all this speaks to me deeply.

TP: Holiness in our daily lives has certainly weakened, and we seem content with the ever-expanding struggle for “rights.” How can individuals cultivate and advance in holiness, given all the “noise” of the world?

PCV: To find silence, solitude (inhabited by the Spirit). Leave time for God and our soul. To extract ourselves from the tumult. It is virtuous. It is a daily struggle. Accepting the Cross of Christ, in humility and perseverance. To appear to be nothing in the eyes of the powerful—even in the Church—and to rejoice! To dare to be fraternal with those we meet—that is to say, to fully accept the inevitable wounds that will result from this, as rivers of charity for this world.

TP: Many people struggle with faith, and some have even lost it entirely. What do you say to people who cannot believe in God, let alone in Christ?

PCV: This is the question that has been asked by so many men and women after the Shoah. We cannot miss the atheist questioning. I do not know a priori what to say. I know that we must stand by, suffer with those who suffer, weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. To witness that being a son of God is to love one’s neighbor as oneself and God above all else, at the risk of losing oneself, the better to fall into the arms of Love. Our free and respectful response to the atheist is our life. Life is a risk. Witnessing to God is a risk, if we take Him seriously.

TP: Padre Venard, thank you so very much for sharing with us your valuable experiences and ideas, and giving us your deep guidance.

With Charles Péguy in the Marne: A Preface

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Péguy (1873—1914), and by coincidence, next year will mark the 109th anniversary of his death, when he was killed in action at Villeroy, one day before the Battle of the Marne. What follows is the Preface, written by Maurice Barrès (1862—1923), to a book of memoirs, (Avec Charles Péguy de la Lorraine à la Marne, aôut-septembre 1914, With Charles Péguy of Lorraine at the Marne, August-September 1914, published in 1916), by Sergeant Victor Boudon, who served under Lieutenant Péguy,

I adored Péguy. These feelings were reciprocal. He showed me a lot of friendship. You know the penchant he had for handing out roles, so like tasks, to each of his friends; which is quite evident in the extraordinary talks that the faithful Lotte noted. To all those who appreciated him, he intended to give a task in his life. In his eyes, I was a boss, an elder, an “old man” on whom he could rely. One day he said to me, “You are our patriarch.” I was astonished.

I can still hear him, I can still see him, as he was that day, arriving in Neuilly, as usual, in his devilish great coat, his eyes full of fire and insight, but a little turned inward and intent on his own concerns. His bushy, ageless face, radiant with the youth of children and the bonhomie of old people, and thus casting me, with a single word, quite unexpectedly, into the cellars of the deepest old age, as much as into the grave. A patriarch! How fast life goes by!

He named me thus out of affection and to mark out my path for me. I was a subscriber to the Cahiers; the first one; I had announced and celebrated the Joan of Arc. If it had been up to me, he would have had the great prize of literature at the Academy. But all the same, we had obtained for him another prize, an equivalent—he gave a part of his work to my publisher and friend, M. Emile Paul. Then, as he reported in his Entretiens avec Lotte (Talks with Lotte), he and I dreamed that he would enter the Academy quickly.

He was happy with all this; but all this is nothing but trifles and dried grass compared to the real service that I was able to render him, comparable to a source of living water that I was allowed to make gush out and that forever preserves him from death.

On December 12, 1914, a soldier wrote to me from hospital no. 17, in Laval: “I had the honor of fighting alongside and under the command of Charles Péguy, whose glorious death on the field of honor you have exalted. He was killed on September 5th, at Villeroy, next to me, while we were marching to the assault of the German positions.”

Just imagine my emotions of pleasure and piety. What! A man wounded at the Ourcq, struck the day after Péguy fell, was able to speak! On the 26th of the same month, without making a single change, I printed Victor Boudon’s admirable account. Two months later, on February 27, 1915, he put me in a position to offer a complement of the highest importance. Today, here he is publishing his incomparable deposition in all its extent and scrupulous sincerity.

With Péguy from Lorraine to the Marne August-September 1914. “These simple pages,” he says in his introductory dedication, “are the modest testimony of a soldier, to the memory of Charles Péguy, his leaders, his brothers in arms, the glorious dead of the 276th, all those who, by their heroic sacrifice, saved Paris and France in September 1914.” And this book, as Anatole France had already done with his precious collection, Sur la Voie Glorieuse (On the Path of Glory), Victor Boudon, wounded in the war, expressly notes that it will be sold “for the benefit of the Fédération Nationale & Assistance aux Mutilés des Armées de Terre et de Mer” (National Federation and Assistance to the Wounded of the Armies of Land and Sea).

May we add our thanks to the gratitude of all. What is this noble witness? What is the merit of this companion who will never leave Péguy down the centuries?

When the war called him to the regiment, Victor Boudon was a salesman. Before that, still very young, he had worked as secretary to Francis de Pressensé at the Human Rights League. That is to say that no one more than he would have been able to immediately become intoxicated with our friend’s theories on the Mystery of the Revolution and of the Affair, and very quickly with his theories on the Mystery of Joan of Arc. But, curiously enough, Boudon was unaware of these meditations when the chance of mobilization put him under Péguy’s command in August 1914, in the 276th Infantry Reserve Regiment: “I knew,” he told me, “that Péguy was writing the Cahiers de la Quinzaine. I had read a few issues, at the time of the Affair; but since then nothing.”

He regrets not having “exchanged ideas” with Péguy. “I had my place. We hardly spoke. And then it was all so short, so full of fatigue, of events. Yes, I promised myself on occasion to ask him questions and to listen to him.”

Let Boudon rest assured. He knows a truer, more beautiful, more eternal Péguy than the one we used to see; and his testimony brings us the Charles Péguy of eternity.

I am not simply saying that in this Memorial you will see Péguy standing upright in the midst of his men and as posterity welcomes him. He will appear to you in the course of these thirty days of war as a man of the oldest France; and you will see in action what you have already distinguished in Péguy’s geniality, a contemporary of Joinville and Joan of Arc—in short, the Frenchman of eternal France.

Keep in mind that there are, in these pages written by this Parisian of 1916, passages which seem to be of “the loyal servant” of Bayard type (See the place given at night to a poor woman, on page 94).

Such scenes, so pure and, so to speak, holy, are mixed in with other scenes that are far cruder and which, moreover, show prodigiously innocent souls. That is the beauty of this book; one sees in all its reality the swarming of life, the common crowd not yet quite become the warlike troop, the sancta plebs Dei, so dear to the historians of the Crusades.

There was, in the first psychology of our armies of 1914, a shade of sansculottism. A combatant who knew how to observe said to me: “At the beginning of the campaign, I was often struck by the unabashed sansculotte attitude with which the mobilized workers and peasants pretended to maintain, in front of the Kaiser and his henchmen, the right they recognized, to have neither God nor master, to practice a cordial alcoholism and a cheerful anticlericalism as they pleased.”

To what extent had this initial disposition changed? What is the truth behind the stupor in which some seemed to live, the peaceful obstinacy of the majority, the indifference to danger of the best, the docility of most of the others?

Victor Boudon (August 6, 1914).

At present, there is something uniform in many people, with very simple, very primitive feelings, from which emerge above all resentment against the henchmen and exploiters and a certain obsession developed by solitude. Under the influence of suffering, sacrifice, in the gravity of this terrible or tedious life, in short, with experience, everything has changed. It seems that other combinations of qualities, virtues and defects have forced themselves on all, on the professionals as well as on the soldiers coming from the civilian world. Even the small de facto aristocracies that provided the framework have found their value in a different order of magnitude from the one they initially placed as the highest.

But the army that Péguy saw was the army of the early days, which had not yet undergone the crushing and recasting that the war imposed on it, and in which the superb elements of the suburbs and the professional military elements were juxtaposed rather than amalgamated.

Read, at the very beginning of Boudon’s account, this very characteristic scene of the brave mobilized drunkard who quarrels with an officer on the departure platform. Everything goes wrong, but Péguy intervenes with the tone of a Parigot, and the amazed man says: “For a lieutenant, he is a nice guy.”

Throughout the thirty days that Boudon recounts, you will constantly find this popular vein. Observe, for example, with a bit of divination, the feelings inspired in these workers of Belleville and Bercy, in these peasants of Seine-et-Marne, by Captain Guérin, a great figure of an older, more austere model, less completely accessible to those who from the first moment knew how to see in Péguy “a nice guy.” Captain Guérin, a professional of purely military discipline and science, embodied doctrine and tradition. Whether or not he is “a nice guy,” I will let you decide, but that he is a guy, I mean a man who is strongly drawn and who has authority as a model. Péguy knows it. Péguy notices it; accepts the exemplary lesson of a Guérin against whom native independence, more warrior-like than military, is first raised.

Péguy, and this is his incomparable value, is placed at the confluence—do I make myself heard?—of our traditional and revolutionary forces; he can be at the same time the man of doctrine and of the most ardent individual excitations. Our friend, those who know his work and his nature realize it easily, was capable, better than anyone, of recognizing and using the bold independence and the rich humanity of these suburbanites of Paris, of these farmers of Crécy and Voulangis, and making a noble imagination out of them. Son of a worker, grandson of a peasant, given a scholarship, proud of his poverty, regarding himself a journeyman typographer even more than a man of letters, all nourished by Joinville and Joan of Arc, and added to that the infinitely noble and warm heart, Péguy always wanted to operate by way of friendship, without disciplinary measures, for the benefit of a higher friendship, for the benefit of the fatherland. Péguy marched off with his brothers.

No one had the understanding of the companionship of arms, in the old sense of our country, more than him. In the old days, in the France of the Middle Ages, what constituted the political system, was not the fief, the land, the real (landed) relationship, it was the personal relationship. What wove together the threads of the feudal fabric was the attachment of man to man, the faith. And the same need to support the relations of leader to soldier on a free acceptance, on a voluntarily consented fidelity, subsists in our peasants, in our workers, in the bottom of all our hearts. In the past, between leaders and companions, or between companions of the same leader, pacts were formed with extreme energy which sometimes amounted to brotherhood: Oliver and Roland, Amis and Amile, Ogier and Oberon, Clisson and du Guesclin. You will recall the beautiful words of the agreement that Bertrand du Duesclin and Olivier Clisson concluded, putting nothing above their friendship but their loyalty to the king, that is to say, to their country: “Know that… we belong and we will always belong to you against all those who may live or die, except the king of France… and we promise to ally and support you with all our might… Item, we want and agree that of all the profits and rights that may come and fall to us from here on out, you will have half entirely. Item, we will keep your own body at our disposal, as our brother… All which things we swear on the holy gospels of God, corporally touched by us, and each of us and by the times and oaths of our bodies given to each other.” Well! Our Péguy spent his life sealing similar pacts with Joseph Lotte, Charles de Peslouan, the Tharauds, Claude Casimir-Périer, Daniel Halévy, the two Laurens, Suarès, Julien Benda, Moselly, Lavergne, Eddy Marix, Louis Gillet, and with all the regulars of the little store in front of the Sorbonne, or more simply with the subscribers to the Cahiers de la Quinzaine; and then, a little bit further away from this portico open to all the winds, with Monseigneur Batiffol, Dom Baillet, the pastor Roberty, Georges Goyau and Madame Goyau. And then he sealed this pact with each of the “guys,” as he liked to say, whom he led to war.

It is not a game to bring Péguy closer to the noble men of old. If we loved his character with respect, even in his excessive originalities, at the time when he was not yet a hero of France, it is because we recognized in him the ancient virtues that he took as models. And these men of the people, mobilized workers and peasants, if they took to him immediately, it was because they too belonged to olden times; I mean they carried proud and good instincts in them, always vigorous, which could not be better disciplined than by an attachment of man to man.

Victor Boudon has added to his Memorial the letters that Péguy, during his month of war, wrote to his family and friends. Precious treasure. One seeks there what the hero thought. These quick writings are not enough. I give you something better. What Péguy thinks, or rather what forms in his conscience, deeper than his clear thoughts, what animates and obliges him, you will know by meditating on the great book that we have and that he certainly knew, loved and revered. It is Joinville who speaks. He says: “The Sire of Bourlémont, may God bless him! declared to me when I went overseas: You go overseas; beware of returning, for no knight, neither poor nor rich, can return, unless he is disgraced, if he leaves in the hands of the Saracens the little people of Our Lord, in whose company he has gone.”

Thus thought Péguy. And now that you know the warm, animating thought that places him in the direct line of eternal France, watch him act and die as portrayed by his true witness.

Heureux ceux qui sonl morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sonl morts sur un dernier haul lieu,
Parmi lout l’appareil des grandes funérailles,

Heureux ceux qui sont morts, car ils sont retournés
Dans la première argile et la première terre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans une juste guerre,
Heureux les épis murs et les blés moissonnés.

(Charles Péguy, “Prière pour nous autres charnels,” 1913).

Blessed are they who died in great battles,
Laid upon the soil in the face of God.
Blessed they who died on the last high place,
Amidst all the pomp of grand funerals.

Blessed they who died, for they have returned
To the very first clay and the first earth.
Blessed are they who died in a just war,
Blessed the ears ripened and the wheat reaped.

(Charles Péguy, “Prayer for us Mortals,” 1913).

Being Christian in the World: Refuge and Risk

The present situation makes the Benedictine option desirable and plausible, but it is not without the risk of sliding towards communitarianism. And a Christian cannot run away from his responsibilities to a temporal order, and notably the political.

The present situation of the Catholic Church in our country seems to me to be determined by the following three parameters:

First, the rapid decrease in the social presence of Catholicism since the 1960s—a quantitative decrease that is approaching a threshold where the disappearance of the Catholic fact becomes conceivable.

Second, the irruption of a historically unprecedented factor, Islam, which occupies a growing place, visibly growing, in French society.

Third, the enthronement of the ideology of human rights as the exclusive principle of political, social, and moral legitimacy, installing each “me” in an immanence sure of its right.

On whatever side the French Catholic turns, he sees a threat rising up that can seem insurmountable, coming simultaneously from within, from outside and from himself! The temptation is great to respond to this triple offensive by resorting to the eternal strategy of the weakest party: the defensive, the refuge in a stronghold. In fact, we still have sufficient resources to build a good-looking Catholic fortress: sheltered behind its ramparts, we would no longer be demoralized by the indifference or hostility of global society, Muslims would become external and foreign to us again as they were forty years ago, and by “tightening the bolts” of a Christian life delivered from equivocations and timidities, by forming among ourselves this “Christian society” that France is no longer, we would be able to reorient our lives in the direction of the Transcendent.

Need for Social Support

This last argument must be taken seriously. Indeed, as supernatural as it is in its source and its intimate workings, the Christian life inevitably depends on social supports placed at our disposal by the collective organization of which we are members: places of worship, financial means, competent administrators, respected pastors, and in general everything that contributes to the social authority of the religious institution. It is only when they are subjected to systematic persecution—a situation, as we know, which does not exclude great spiritual fruitfulness—that Christians are entirely deprived of such support.

It is, moreover, the need to find such support that in the past led the Church to ask for help from the political authorities, a help that she obtained at the price of obscuring her own vocation, which caused an incurable wound in her credibility. No one today asks for or proposes such political support. It is unthinkable. That is why the withering of the Church’s social vitality (that social vitality which had allowed her in the first part of the last century to adapt with some success to her exclusion from the political sphere) is such a cause for concern or anguish for Catholics today, a concern or anguish which makes the “Benedictine option” desirable and plausible.

However, if this option is to effect—that is its purpose—of concentrating the forces of Catholics and giving them back a sense of strength, this revival would, I believe, be short-lived. This Benedictine option seems to me to have three disadvantages.

  1. Any defensive regrouping entails the risk of sectarian closure, with the inevitable weakening of intellectual and even moral demands, since we would now be “among ourselves.” As soon as we give up trying to convince, persuade or even interest those who are “outside,” a great source of improvement is lost. Moreover, we would be claiming to be reaping before the renewal of Catholic intellectual life (which is the most encouraging aspect of the present situation of Catholicism) has reached maturity.
  2. Since we need collective or social support, we must not exaggerate their contribution to Christian life. Whatever the political and social situation, leading a truly Christian life remains the most difficult and improbable thing in the world; it remains that fragile miracle which constantly enlightens and renews the life of the world. If Catholics, or Christians in general, are sincere, they admit that our little faith, hope and charity are not responsible for anything other than our little faith, hope and charity. The threshold of the Christian life is therefore not the accusation of the “world” or “society” but penance, “the repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
  3. There is no remedy, nor should we seek one, for the situation facing the Christian. It entails a double obligation, of fidelity to the Church and of mission to one’s neighbor, a mission as urgent and perilous today as it was in the time of the Apostles. Let us not covet, but rather fear, the impression of recovered strength that a Catholic “gathering” would easily create. Paul’s authority assures us that there are always enough of us so that God’s strength can be seen in our weakness.

Moreover, our responsibility as Christians is no less political or civic than properly religious. This Europe that turns its back on us, let us not turn our backs on it in turn. If we want to give a generous meaning to what otherwise risks remaining a slogan, the “Christian roots of Europe,” we must hold ourselves responsible for what is happening in Europe, co-responsible with the other citizens concerned about the common fate, but also especially responsible as Christians who claim the unparalleled part—good and bad mixed—that their religion has taken, in the deepening of the European soul.

The Civic Obligation of Christians

This is where the relationship of the Church to herself, to her own life, and her relationship to Europe come together. Christians cannot devote themselves exclusively to the deepening of their sacramental life, however essential it may be. As citizens and as Christians they cannot abandon Europe to its fate. They have an inseparable civic and Christian obligation to preserve what, for lack of a better expression, I call the “Christian mark” of Europe.

Now, the shift imposed by the present pontificate has redoubled the difficulty of this task. On the one hand, ad intra, the sacramental rule is obscured or “blurred,” those thresholds that give meaning and relief to the interior life of the Church are erased. On the other hand, ad extra, religions are equalized, indifference to their dogmatic and moral content is shown, and the religious composition of the European population is shown to be of the utmost indifference.

Thus, the political and religious articulations of the present world are ignored or brutalized. This politically and religiously unformed humanity is the subject and the vehicle of a religion without any other content than emotional or sentimental. In such an involution, the dulling of the religious requirement is one with the darkening of the political view. We see that the urgency for the Christian citizens of Europe is not less civic than religious. For them, it is a matter of preserving or reviving the Christian mark of the European nations, and inseparably of preserving or reviving their political legitimacy. Instead of seeking refuge in a “small Christian society,” accept to be a citizen and a Christian in the greater society, inhospitable as it has always been.

Pierre Manent is a political philosopher at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Centre de recherches politiques Raymond Aron, and Boston College. His many books are widely translated into English, including, Metamorphoses of the City: On the Western DynamicA World beyond Politics?: A Defense of the Nation State, and Modern Liberty and its Discontents. This article appears courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, by Ambrosius Francken I; painted ca. early 16th century.

Win or Die: The Whites on the Big Screen

At the beginning of this year, the first film production of Puy du Fou, Vaincre ou mourir (Win or Die), was released. And what have we heard from the critics? An extreme right-wing, fundamentalist, reactionary, anti-republican (horresco referens), hateful and ideological film. Musty France, the bottom of the rotten barrel. The relentless criticism of Libération further adds so much vitriol that it passes for being funny. These hack-writers carry out their vile orders, driven by a hatred of the Catholic religion, along with a progressive left-wing ideology of the narrowest kind. Their frivolous and superficial agitation seems to appear like a devil thrown into the font or a vampire shrinking from garlic. So, it’s a pleasure to see this film, for the entertainment, certainly, but also to give the middle finger to these paragons of good taste and opinion.

If this film disturbs the media and cultural fauna and flora, it is mainly because it contrasts radically with the current production. The long agony of a French cinema, a slot machine for the small screen, subsidized, petty bourgeois, for easy-consumption, never ceases to churn out painful films, using the same ideas and the same ideology. And sure enough—during the trailers, two films, before the screening, were like pulling teeth. The first one, Léo et moi (Leo and Me) by Victoria Bedos, tells how a teenager, in love with the new boy in her class, tries to approach him during a party by dressing up as a boy. Léo becomes friends with the transvestite and much more, as he falls in love with her. Questions of gender, choice of sexuality, confusion of feelings and identities are all part of the story. And then, Un Homme heureux (A Happy Man), where Luchini, learns that his wife, Catherine Frot, has just changed sex to become a man. And that’s it.

There’s also nothing much to say about Têtes givrées (Frost Heads), either, in which Clovis Cornillac plays a teacher who goes to save a glacier with his students, to fight against global warming—the Ministry of Ecological Transition validated this fi;m. Then, there’s the latest Asterix, entertainment for vegetative underdogs, gorged with filthy inculture and lukewarm Coca-Cola, coming in at a bloated budget of 65 million euros.

Between all this, there is Vaincre ou mourir (Win or Die). This film, without a big budget, without massive promotion, is good entertainment and nice propaganda. For a part of the film, however, something seemed to be wrong—there were no hysterical misandrist crazy women, no soy-boys in overalls, no one-legged black transsexuals, and no crazy non-binary interlopers. On the contrary, the women were as elegant and beautiful as they were virile and warlike; the brave and strong men of the Vendée had their orchids well-cultivated.

It is good to see a film about the period 1793-1796 from the other side. We have too often been formatted by the French Revolution of 1989 and fed with the great preconceived ideas about equality, liberty, the people, the poor against the rich, the evil, very evil nobility, the invincible Republic and the triumph of democracy over tyranny, all summed up in a kind of history for average Frenchmen in the Jack Lang sauce. The Villiers’ film has the merit of speaking to a wide audience about things so far removed from today’s France, so intimate to our society but so deep, however, in our common history—the king and the Catholic faith.

In this film, what do we see? Men who do not want to die out or surrender. They have an ideal: a Catholic and royal order. They will go to death, with bravery; they summon the great Roman virtues; they follow Christ; they go from feast to confession, from gallantry to artillery, sometimes with panache, sometimes with obstinacy. A phrase said by Charette is striking: “They are the new world but they are already old. We are the youth and the light of the world.” The glow in the lantern held by one of the king’s followers in the Vendée in the night, while they are being hunted, illustrates the hope of any struggle; the faith in the ideal, following the Lord who died for the truth. Throughout the film, we see white flags, priests and an ad orientem Mass, a close-up of a raised host. “For God and for the King” and other slogans that one could hardly hear except in meetings of the Action Française among young cubs full of testosterone, reach the viewer’s ears.

This well-paced film, which alternates between captivating battle scenes and informative scenes of hardly any length, pits the Whites against the Blues, the royalist Vendeans against the Republicans, in wars turned into butchery, where pitched battles give way to massacres and ravaged villages; where the art of war becomes a project of extermination of the Vendean race and has as its answer the defense of one’s land, the cult of the dead, the gift for one’s family, the loyalty to the King and the love of God, and oscillates between defeat and victory, hope and bitterness, the multitude of men and the solitude of the hero. A heroic breath breathes in the film. Charette, going to death and glory, becomes the romantic hero of lost causes and ruins. There are no concessions; peace is aborted because of the death of King Louis XVII, so one must either win or die. If one does not win, one dies. A beautiful radicality.

If Hugo Becker as Charette seemed, at the beginning, overcome by his role, undoubtedly himself frightened, he ends up before the firing squad as a martyr, rising to the heavens, alone and weary, piercing. Rod Paradot’s performance as a mad-dog resembles the boldness of the guys in my parish and complements Gilles Cohen’s performance as a quiet force. The actresses who play Céleste Bulkeley and Marie-Adélaïde de La Rochefoucauld are pearls among women. The dialogue sometimes lacks confidence; some lines are hollow, some ideas are avoided; the beginnings of the plot fall apart; but the whole, for lack of an extra sixty million euros, remains good, engaging, well directed.

As Alsatian as I am, far from Cholet and the two Sevres, the love of the Vendeans and the horror of the military expeditions of Kleber, a compatriot, touch me as if I were linked to these dead, French, massacred in hatred of religion and the old world replaced by a new one. The more we move away from the Revolution, the more we measure, in France, its terrible and deep effects; the violence of the ideas and the regime established, authoritarian under the guise of neutrality. This Vendéen heart, which has become a memory, summons a whole string of names, the illustrious viri of our France, and always reminds us, whether we are from the North, the South, or the East, of the blood of these Catholics who were led into genocide.

And the term, thrown like a ball and chain in the public debate, packed with all its explosive powder, does not detonate and divide as much the partisans, who see the mechanical will of the Republic to destroy the soul of the French and of France, with Reynald Secher or Le Roy Ladurie and Jean Tulard, as the more measured historians, like Jean-Clément Martin, cautious about the term “genocide” but sure of abominable massacres.

The film, although partisan, has many nuances. On the side of the Republicans, we find as many little gray and hateful men, little corporals, with the psychology of Manuel Valls, formed by a fascist and racist vision of the enemy, as those who, by opportunism or the march of history, took sides with the Republic for business or by chance. There were Kléber or Haxo, terrorists on legs, and Travot, seen as a just man, combining Catholicism and republic, assuming everything; and also Albert Ruelle, that kind of cynical deputy with the smile of a shrewd merchant. Among the Whites, the Count of Artois has it easy and confirms his mental obesity, his cowardice and his smugness. Against the intrepidity of Prudent Hervouët de La Robrie, there are the peace negotiations and the will to stop the fight by some, which stop the Vendeans from being made into total fanatics. The hero himself, Charette, brilliant, charismatic, brave and good, is caught in the trap of his radicalism, ending up isolated, answering an eye for an eye, worn out, on the verge of madness.

The film succeeds in being complex, and detaches itself from a thesis to be defended by posing a major problem: should the leader of men go all the way, even if it means running towards the massacre and his own defeat, in the name of an ideal, romantic in the end, despite the direction of history, and against political data? Or should he care, above all, about the common interest and his own, seek peace and compromise, if not survival, without ending up lukewarm, a centrist, or a coward in the eyes of history?

This is the difficulty of the one who sacrifices himself and puts his skin in the game, while others are complaining about their hemorrhoids in their country house in the Luberon, and in-between two appointments with the psychologist, as we all too often see, still, on screen, in the cinema.

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.

Featured: Exécution du général Charette place de Viarmes à Nantes, mars 1796 (Execution of General Charette, Place de Viarmes, Nantes, March 1796), by Julien Le Blant; painted in 1883.

Joseph Ratzinger: Revelation and the Cross

Called back to God on December 31, 2022, Pope Benedict XVI built a singular theological work, confronting the intellectual issues of his time with a pastoral concern that thwarts any academic reduction. The Bavarian theologian who, as his spiritual testament made public on the day of his death testifies, worked until the end of his life for the emergence of “the reasonableness of faith,” has laid the groundwork, notably with his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth and his introduction to Christianity, The Faith and the Future, of a Christocentric theology, leaning on the great theological tradition and oriented towards the mystery of the cross, where divine revelation is completed and finalized.

The concern for pedagogy combined with the demand for coherence characterizes Joseph Ratzinger’s intellectual and spiritual approach in the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth and offers the luxury of being able to reveal from the outset, without the risk of misunderstanding, the insight that animates the theologian throughout this article. This intuition, born of meditation on the Gospels and reading the Fathers of the Church, is expressed several times by Ratzinger and can be summarized as follows: Jesus Christ, before bringing a message, a kingdom or a long-awaited pax, brought God. “He brought the God whose face was slowly and progressively revealed from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets to sapiential literature—the God who had shown his face only in Israel and who had been honored in the world of the Gentiles under obscure avatars—it is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God, whom he brought to the peoples of the earth” (I, 63-64).

This thesis, as such, is explicitly repeated in the following volume of Jesus of Nazareth, this time with a significant emphasis on the universal dimension of Christ’s mission. “Even though Jesus consciously limits his work to Israel, he is still moved by the universalist tendency to open up Israel so that all can recognize in the God of this people the one God common to all the world” (II, 31). The answer to the decisive question “What does Christ bring?” naturally raises two other questions: to whom and how does Jesus bring God? This is the pole around which Ratzinger’s Christology is articulated, even though the expression, which he regrets in The Faith is so often opposed to “soteriology” or divided within it between “Christology from above” and “Christology from below” (155-156), only half suits him concerning his own work (cf. II, 10).

This Christology is thus elaborated in three stages. In the dialectic of the “new and definitive” on which Ratzinger, a reader of the Fathers, rightly insists in each mystery of Jesus that he contemplates, lies the key to the delicate articulation between Israel and the pagans. Both “light to enlighten the nations” and “the glory of [his] people Israel” (Lk 2:32), Christ is endowed with a mission whose very essence belongs to universality (III, 120). So much so that in the series of events in which God seems to disappear more and more—”land – Israel – Nazareth – Cross – Church” (176)—Jesus Christ presents himself as both the new Adam in whom “humanity begins anew” (III, 21) and the new Moses, the one who “brings to conclusion what began with Moses at the burning bush” (II, 113). The cross, for Ratzinger, is as much revelation as redemption. Now, what does this meeting of the vertical and the horizontal reveal, if not the identity of God and of man, in the person of the Son, a veiled response to the mysterious name given by God to Moses (Ex 3:14)? The cross, the only place where the divine “I am” can be known and understood (I, 377), consequently becomes the place where Christ reigns, His “throne,” “from which He draws the world to Himself” (II, 242). Christ’s being-open, with arms outstretched on the cross, goes hand-in-hand with Israel’s openness to the Gentiles: Ratzinger’s pro-existential Christology justifies Christian universalism.

“The Jew first, and the Gentile”

The great mission that Ratzinger sets himself at the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth, to represent the “Jesus of the Gospels” as a “historically sensible and coherent figure” (I, 17), amounts to rendering a reason for a “crucified Messiah” whom the Jews call “scandal” and the pagans “foolishness” (1Co 1, 23). Certainly, the passage from “do not go to the Gentiles” (Mt 10:5) to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Christ’s teaching has found, from the earliest times of Christianity, a coherent interpretation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in St. Paul and in the Church Fathers, based on “Israel according to the spirit,” “the time of the Gentiles,” etc. For all that, the fact that Henri de Lubac, in the previous century, saw fit to remind theologians, on the basis of scriptural and theological arguments, of the unity of the Ecclesia ex circumcision—the Church born of Israel—and of the Ecclesia ex gentibus—the Church of the Gentiles, (II, 255)—indicates how much the articulation between the Jewish and the “Greek element” (254) in the Christian mystery, although it is the foundation of all ecclesiology, still gives rise to a certain embarrassment. No doubt the “concern for universality”[3] of the Bible, brought up to date by the author of Catholicism, left its mark on the young Ratzinger. In an era still shaken by the discoveries of historical-critical exegesis, Henri de Lubac reaffirmed a fundamental exegetical principle proper to the Fathers: to learn to read historical realities spiritually and spiritual realities historically.

Strengthened by this spiritual hermeneutic and aware of the importance of the factum historicum as well as its limits, Ratzinger could respond to and overcome the apparent aporias of a historical-critical interpretation which, according to him, “has now given all that is essential to give” (II, 8). For someone familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, this effort at theological synthesis is reminiscent of the method of the Summa Theologiae, whose Tertia pars, by his own admission, influenced Ratzinger’s work (II, 10). In Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are numerous and the theses, even those that the theologian refutes, are deployed to the end. For each mystery of the life of Christ, Ratzinger proceeds, as it were, by questions broken down into various articles within which, to the objections formulated—most often—by historical-critical exegesis, the theologian opposes a sed contra from an authority—Scripture or a Father—before proposing his own answer and solutions, arguing from theological, historical or scientific sources.

This issue of method tells us more about Ratzinger’s primary intention. Behind the demonstrative rigor, we can guess a will to make intelligible a mystery which, for many, appears scandalous or senseless. Intelligence of Scripture for the Jews, intelligence of faith for the pagans. Now the two, far from being opposed, communicate according to a precise hierarchy. The fact, in St. Augustine in particular, that the latter understands the former and exceeds it is justified, originally, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both Jonah—”Καθὼς Ἰωνᾶς” (Lk 11:30)—and “much more than Jonah”—”πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ” (Lk 11:32). Set in motion again by the Son of God, salvation history is also overtaken by Him. Here lies what Ratzinger considers “the central point of [his] reflection.” On the one hand, Christ is indeed a “new Adam” (I, 161), a “new Jacob” (I, 65), a new Samuel (III, 180), a new David (II, 17-18); “new Moses” above all, since the prophet spoke with God himself and received from him his mysterious name (I, 292-293). On the other hand, and at the same time, He is the “true Jacob” (I, 195), “true Solomon” (I, 106) and “true Moses” (I, 101): the Manna, the Divine Name and the Law, the three gifts given by God to Moses, have become one person: Jesus Christ. What God promises in the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant: “by means of the new events… the Words acquire their full meaning; and, conversely, the events possess a permanent meaning, because they are born of the Word; they are Word fulfilled” (III, 39). From His ministry in Galilee to the ascent of Golgotha, Christ not only fulfills the Scriptures and keeps promises—by perfectly fulfilling the mission of the suffering Servant of God announced by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53), He goes beyond it and, by giving Himself up not only for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24) but also for the multitude, He gives it a “universalization that indicates a new breadth and depth” (II, 161).

This return to the first universality, the “new Adam” recapitulating the humanity wounded since the first Adam, was already announced in the existence of the particular people, chosen by God: Israel. According to the Augustinian tripartition, the regime of grace (sub gratia) which begins with Christ, although fulfilling the promises made by God under the regime of the Law (sub legem), gives humanity a new beginning and a universality unheard of since the time before the Law (ante legem). Now, with regard to the promises made to the Jewish people, Ratzinger recalls that in the Old Testament “Israel does not exist only for its own sake” but “to become the light of the nations” (I, 138): “its election being the way chosen by God to come to all” (I, 42). There is no lack of scriptural references to prove this, the most famous of which is found in the Song of the Servant in the book of Isaiah, where the figure of a man, familiar with the Lord and abused by his people, appears. “And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.” (Is 49:6). By carefully analyzing these passages (I, 360, II, 235-237, III, 120), following many exegetes, Ratzinger affirms that by fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah, Christ fulfills the promise of universality made to Israel. As the new Moses, He is the master of “a renewed Israel, which neither excludes nor abolishes the old, but goes beyond it by opening it to the universal” (I, 87). In Jesus Christ, the particular has become universal (I, 103). ” For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh:” (Eph 2:14), writes Saint Paul. So much so that the first affirmation of Ratzinger’s Christology, that Christ brought God, finds its meaning and its definitive scope in the theme of the universality of Jesus, “the very center of his mission” (I, 42). Jesus Christ “brought the God of Israel to all peoples, so that now all peoples pray to him and recognize his word in the Scriptures of Israel, the word of the living God. He has given the gift of universality, which is a great promise, an outstanding promise for Israel and for the world” (I, 139).

The “Burning Bush of the Cross”

Halfway through Ratzinger’s reflection, a question emerges. While it is easy to understand how the hermeneutical rule that Ratzinger borrows from the Church Fathers—the dialectic of “true and definitive” applied to the Old Testament figures that announce Christ—makes Scripture a harmonious whole, one is entitled to wonder what fate Christianity, in Ratzinger, has in store for the Gentile. “The Jew (Ἰουδαίῳ) first, and the Greek (Ἕλληνι)” (Rom 1:16): the formula, recurrent in St. Paul, recalls the order of priorities. However, the Greek is already concerned by the universal history of Israel, and in particular by God’s revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush (Ex 3). At Mount Horeb, the pagans who until then had been worshipping a God without knowing him, the “unknown God” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ) whose inscription St. Paul discovers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:23), are summoned. They are also summoned to Sinai, where another theophany takes place that leads to the gift of the Laws, and, a fortiori, to the “new Sinai”, “definitive Sinai” (I, 87), which Ratzinger identifies with the mountain where the discourse of the Beatitudes takes place (Mt 4, 12-25) and, with even more reason, with Mount Golgotha (I, 167).

Historically, the sum of Ex 3:14 occurs in a context where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chooses a people and orchestrates their liberation from a pagan nation that held them in bondage. The particularity of the mode of revelation of the Divine Name does not, however, contradict the universal scope of its content. Anxious to interpret historical realities spiritually—and vice versa—Ratzinger proves this in various ways. First of all, through Scripture, he interprets the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the return to the Promised Land as a restart of the history of Israel, from its Mosaic origin (III, 159) to the Maccabean revolts. In His incarnation, the Word who was with God in the beginning comes into the world in Galilee, that is, “in a corner of the earth already considered half pagan” (I, 85) and receives Roman citizenship under the reign of Augustus, an emperor considered to be the son of God, if not God himself, and who has, without knowing it, contributed to the fulfillment of the promise by establishing political universality and peace in his Empire (III, 93-95).

From His native Galilee, the Messiah goes to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Lk 13:34), the place where salvation is to come at the end of an ascent to which Saint Luke, in his Gospel, has given a geographical as well as a spiritual connotation. He who found more faith in the pagans, who opened his door to Him, than in most of the children of Israel (Mt 8:10) who did not receive Him, made Jerusalem the center of a revelation that began with the adoration of the pagan magi in Bethlehem and is fully accomplished in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection to all nations. Thus, at the other end of the New Testament, Ratzinger is right to interpret St. Paul’s vision of a Macedonian calling the apostle of the Gentiles to his aid (Acts 16:6-10) as a justification for what has been called, more often than not to criticize, the Hellenization of Christianity. “It is not by chance that the Christian message, in its development, first penetrated the Greek world and became involved in the problem of intelligibility and truth” (35).

Where some, fearing the dissolution of Christian specificity in Greek culture and philosophy, advocate a “retreat into the purely religious” (82), Ratzinger firmly supports the “inalienable right of the Greek element in Christianity” (35). The ontological interpretation that the Fathers of the Church, and the medieval theologians after them, gave to the “I am” by which God calls himself in Ex 3:14, is the basis, a few centuries after the Greek kick-off, for what Ratzinger dares to call the “identification” of the “philosophical concept of God” with the biblical God (66), with several not inconsiderable transformations (84-85). Pascal is at liberty, in a formula which has made history – often for the wrong reasons – to oppose the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to that of the philosophers and scholars, without the choice of “primitive Christianity… for the God of the philosophers against the God of the philosophers”. ) for the God of the philosophers against the gods of the religions” (80), the “primacy of the logos” (91) inherent in the Christian faith would have been flouted and there would probably not be, to this day, philosophers and scholars to oppose to the Law and the prophets. In Ratzinger, we find what justifies the “metaphysics of the Exodus” that Stephen Gilson vigorously defended: the Christian God is the new and true Supreme Being of which Plato and Aristotle speak, once the “gap” that separates him from the biblical God has been reduced (66), once the “first immobile motor” has been transformed by contact with the God of faith (87-89). “In this sense, there is in faith the experience that the God of the philosophers is quite different from what they had imagined, without ceasing to be what they had found” (85).

If, at Mount Horeb, God reveals that He is the Being who subsists in Himself and gives all things their being, the revelation of the Divine Name does not entirely lift the veil on His essence. The sum qui sum, Ratzinger asks, is it not rather “a refusal than a declaration of identity?” (72) Opposing the gods that pass away with the God who is may resolve Moses’ immediate concern: the Divine Name allows the people to invoke God in their struggle and to guard against worshipping pagan idols. However, the immediate presence of God, “which constitutes the very heart of Moses’ mission as well as its intimate reason” (I, 292), is quickly “overshadowed.” The Lord’s answer to Moses’ prayer, “Let me behold your glory” (Ex 33:18), sets the limits of prophetic knowledge of God. The Old Covenant, in the end, “presents only the outline of the happiness to come, not the exact image of the realities” (Heb 10:1). The Old Testament prefigures and prepares (Rom 5:14) the one who will fully accomplish what began with Moses, but of which Moses is only a shadow (Col 2:17). In Israel, God accustoms people to His presence until the moment when, taking up the answer given to Moses on Sinai—”no one can see my face” (Ex 33:23)—he offers people, on His own initiative, to see and know Him in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:18).

To say that “the last prophet, the new Moses, was given what the first Moses could not obtain” (1:25) is not only to emphasize the absolutely unique intimacy and covenant that is born with Christ, the Word of God, but also to consider His coming as the completion of the revelation made to Moses. If Ratzinger is concerned with noting, throughout the Gospels, and especially in Saint Matthew who insists particularly on the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Jesus, the way in which Christ is inscribed in the line of the great mediators of revelation, he does not fail to orient each correspondence towards the Christological summit which is the Cross. Ratzinger’s theology is clearly Christocentric, and his Christology is itself centered on the Cross. Theologia a Cruce, one could say, theology based on or leaning against the Cross, avoiding, with Father de Lubac, the equivocal expression, especially since Luther, of Theologia crucis. For Ratzinger, faithful to the patristic reading of Henri de Lubac, “it is the Cross that dissipates the cloud with which Truth was covered until then”[4]. This is true from the first announcements of the Passion to the “priestly prayer” of Christ reported by Saint John (Jn 17), which Ratzinger comments on in several places and in which he sees a “New Testament replica of the account of the Burning Bush” (76). “I have made known to them your name” (Jn 17:26), says the Son addressing the Father: “The name, which has remained incomplete since Sinai, so to speak, is pronounced to the end” (III, 51). Moreover, “the name is no longer just a word, but designates a person: Jesus himself” (77). Christ appears as the Burning Bush itself, from which the name of God is communicated to men.

In this respect, there is indeed a “metaphysics of the cross” in Ratzinger, which extends and completes the “metaphysics of the Exodus.” In other words, the mystery of the Cross cannot be reduced to the mystery of redemption. In the history of salvation, redemption always follows revelation: God saves by showing Himself, by revealing what He is. This is evidenced by Ratzinger’s distinction between the two types of confession of faith in the Gospel: ontologically oriented confession, based on nouns on the one hand—you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, etc.—and verbally oriented confession based on the other—you are the Son of the living God.

On the other hand, there is a verbal confession oriented towards salvation history—the proclamation of the paschal mystery of the Cross and resurrection, etc.—and a verbal confession of faith in the Gospel. In the light of this fundamental difference, he states that “the statement in strict terms of the history of salvation remains devoid of its ontological depth if it is not clearly stated that he who suffered, the Son of the living God, is like God” (I, 326). In this way, the universality of the mission of Christ is respected, who, on the cross, is not the “king of the Jews,” a typically “non-Hebrew” expression used by Pilate (III, 145), but the “king of Israel,” according to a new kingship, the “kingship of truth” (II, 223), and at the head of an Israel that has become universal. “Universality… is put into the light of the Cross: from the Cross, the one God becomes recognizable by the nations; in the Son they will know the Father and, in this way, the one God who revealed himself in the burning bush” (II, 33). God manifests himself to the Greeks on the Cross: “between the pagan world and the blessed Trinity, there is only one passage, which is the Cross of Christ” (204), Ratzinger writes, quoting Daniélou.

Christology and Ontology

It is clear that for Ratzinger “the Cross is revelation” (206). But what does it reveal? Not “some hitherto unknown propositions” (207). It reveals who God is and how man is. The Cross combines the Ecce homo (Jn 19:5) of Pilate and the “Behold the Lord God” (Is 40:10) of the prophet. Golgotha, the “true summit,” is the condition sine qua non for knowing God, for understanding the “I Am” (I, 377). ” When you shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know, that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak” (Jn 8:28), writes the evangelist. Does this mean that the ontological statement of the Burning Bush would finally receive, with Christ, the object left dangling after the verbal form, ἐγώ εἰμι in St. John? Faithful to St. Augustine, Ratzinger rather sees Christ as the one in whom the Divine Name is pronounced perfectly. Better: the one in whom the Divine Name is realized, becomes actual. Just as in the Psalms, according to St. Augustine, “it is always Christ who speaks, alternately as Head or as Body” (II, 172), so on the Cross Christ becomes the subject of the divine “I am.” The mystery of the Passion of Christ is thus “an event in which someone is what He does, and does what He is” (197).

Here lies the singularity of Ratzerian Christology, marked by Johannine ontology and fertilized by the Aristotelianism of the medieval theologians. The being of Christ, Ratzinger reminds us in The Faith, is identical to his act. Borrowing from the notion of actualitas divina and the idea, of Thomistic origin but which he traces back to Saint Augustine, of “the Existence which is pure Act” (110), the theologian insists on the identity, in Jesus Christ, “of the work and the being, of the action and the person, the total absorption of the person in his work, the coincidence of the doing with the person himself” (151). The fusion, in the phrase “Jesus Christ,” of the name with the title testifies well to this identification of the function and the person (133). Therefore, one cannot separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” as historical-critical exegesis has done on a massive scale, any more than it is possible to oppose a theology of the incarnation to a theology of the Cross. Ratzinger reconciles the two, since Christ’s being is actuality and, reciprocally, His action, is His being, reached to the depths of His being (155).

The same is true of “phenomenology and existential analyses,” to which Ratzinger grants a certain usefulness, while judging them insufficient: “They do not go deep enough, because they do not touch the domain of true being” (154). In the formula dear to Christian phenomenology—God is such as He reveals Himself—the verb “to be” takes precedence: identity is not valid as a simple equivalence—God would be such as He reveals Himself, a simple act of donation, the mode becoming substance—but as a properly metaphysical statement pronounced from the divine esse. The first affirmation of theology, that of Ex 3:14, would rather be: God is “as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). But, having renounced “discovering being in itself” in order to limit itself to the “positive,” to what appears, phenomenology, in the same way as physics or historicism, remains on the threshold of mystery. Ratzinger regrets that in our day “ontology is becoming more and more impossible” and that “philosophy is largely reduced to phenomenology, to the simple question of what appears” (127). But being and appearing, in Christ, are one and the same.

This “pure actuality” of Christ is first verified in the ad intra works of the Trinity. Ratzinger recalls that Father and Son are concepts of relationship. Thus “the first person does not engender the Son in the sense that the act of generation would be added to the constituted person; on the contrary, it is the act of generation, the act of giving itself, of spreading itself” (117). The “solitary reign of the category substance” is broken: “one discovers the “relation” as an original form of the being, of the same rank as the substance.” Consequently, the Johannine formula already quoted according to which the Son can do nothing of Himself, informing us about the Christic doing, also informs us about His properly relational being. “The Son, as Son and insofar as He is Son, does not exist at all on His own and is therefore totally one with the Father” (118). So that the being of Jesus appears to us, in the light of St. John, as a “totally open being,” “coming from” and “ordained to.” In Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger takes up this theme of “being-for” (Sein-für), borrowed in particular from Heinz Schürmann (II, 203). The pro-existence of Jesus means that “His being is in a being for” (II, 158). “In the passion and in death, the life of the Son of Man becomes fully ‘being for,’ He becomes the liberator and savior for “the multitude,” not only for the scattered children of Israel, but more generally for the scattered children of God… for humanity” (I, 360). The universality of the salvation brought by Christ thus finds its origin in this being-for and the implications ad extra of this intra-trinitarian identity of the Son. As a “true fundamental law of Christian existence” (172), the “principle of the for” thus justifies Israel’s reconciliation with the Gentiles (Eph 2:13-16): having given His life for all, Christ becomes the principle of eternal salvation “for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:9).

Jesus Christ brought God to mankind: here we return, after a detour through the history of salvation, to the Christological source of this obvious but fundamental affirmation that Ratzinger has seen fit to recall. As “God who saves,” Jesus is God for men, God among men, “Emmanuel.” The immanence of God, given to Israel “in the dimension of the word and of liturgical fulfillment,” has become ontological: “In Jesus, God has become man. God has entered into our very being” (II, 114). According to Ratzinger, more than vicarious satisfaction, humanity receives its salvation from the identity, maintained in Jesus Christ, of the two natures; and with it, the identity between its being and its doing. On the Cross, the identity of God is perfectly realized in Christ, and thus visible to all: He is truly the one who gives Himself. Redemption is played out first in this perfect fulfillment of the “I am.” The identity of God, which is the subject of so many questions in the Old Testament as in Greek philosophy, is revealed on the Cross and is revealed precisely as an identity. God, in Christ, is truly what He is. On Calvary, “love and truth meet” (Ps 84:11), a theme that Benedict XVI will regularly expound during his pontificate.

Therefore, the divine being is open to the world and offers a previously unknown way to ensure the return of creation to God. Jesus Christ is this way, this “path” (Jn 14:6). The union achieved in Jesus of Nazareth “must extend to the whole of Adam and transform him into the Body of Christ” (182). The path taken by the Lord, in which Jews and Gentiles walk together, presents itself to humanity as an ascent to the Cross combined with a progressive renunciation of self.

Romano Guardini, whose influence on Ratzinger’s theology is well known, writes in this sense in The Lord that Christ’s life consists, after having lowered divinity towards humanity, in “[lifting] his humanity above itself into the divine ocean”[6]. In Guardini’s work, we can already see the literary and theological coincidence between the ascent to Jerusalem, where the King of Glory gradually understands that He will have to pass through the figure of the Suffering Servant, and the constitution of an economy of salvation, faithful to the promise that God’s salvation will reach all nations. The wider opening of salvation and hope has a condition: the deeper humiliation of Christ. What Christ gains in annihilation, humanity gains in elevation; and vice versa, since “the ascent to God happens when we accompany Him in this abasement” (I, 117). “Only with Christ, the man who is “one with the Father,” the man through whom man’s being has entered into the eternity of God, does man’s future appear definitively open” (254). This is the true lordship and authentic kingship that God exercises through Christ: The Master of the universe, fulfilling the ancient proskynesis, lowers himself to the extreme limit of self-emptying, becomes a servant. The “sons in the Son” will be recognized by the fact that they remain eternally in the house where their master (Jn 8:35), because they have asked for it (Jn 1:38), has brought them: the dwelling place of being which is that of love (Jn 15:9). Great mystery of a faith where one reigns in service (I, 360), since the dominus or κύριος, in order to be never again separated from His creation, united Himself to it, engulfed Himself in the “heart of the world” to such a depth that any fall in the future would be a fall in Him.

Augustin Talbourdel: cogito a Deo ergo sum. This article appears courtesy of PHILITT.

The Catholic Challenge to Progressivism

Thomas Michaud’s book, After Justice: Catholic Challenges to Progressive Culture, Politics, Economics and Education, is an attempt to address the decline of Western Civilization. Michaud believes that this decline has occurred incrementally, and he is intent on identifying the reasons for it. Convinced that ideas have consequences, Michaud records how competing ideologies have upset the West’s moral compass. The most conspicuous of these ideologies is Progressivism. For the author Progressivism is something of an umbrella term covering several left-leaning visions of individual and communal life.

Since this volume is a kind of polemic, one might expect it to have a bellicose tone, followed by a mournful quality. But to the contrary, Michaud’s book is curiously bright and hopeful, despite its critical aims. Michaud’s polemic is buoyed by its enthusiastic reliance on Catholic social teaching and Catholic wisdom in general. Michaud is confident that the long historical arc of Catholic wisdom provides the resources to teach how the decline of the West can be arrested.

Michaud discovers in the Catholic tradition the principles of a rich theological and philosophical personalism. On this earth God’s glory is most manifest in a human life fully lived. In personalism the wonder of the mysterious depths of human person as an embodied soul, endowed with intellect and will, is the metaphysical foundation for explaining human nature and civilized life. Accordingly, personalism, comprehensively understood, is the remedy for what ails culture. This book is basically a reminder that Western Civilization is at its heart Christendom, a vision of society built on Jesus Christ as the standard of humanity. Personalism applies its principles on cultural, economic, and political life, since the triad of culture, economics, and government constitutes society and its development. Michaud’s volume shows that Western Culture now is in distress because it has forgotten the person as the proper foundation of this triad.

Upon summarizing the book’s structure, an Introduction and Seven Sections of essays, one can see how Michaud in his own way prosecutes this triad. The Introduction provides autobiographical details which illuminate key elements of Michaud’s own pilgrimage as an educator, philosopher, and Christian intellectual. Next follows the book’s seven broad sections, each containing a “Section Introduction,” which is exceedingly helpful. The Sections cover a wide variety of subject matter. Section I: Lectures and Editorials treats issues ranging from electoral politics to sports. Section II Marcelian Perspectives speaks to the influence of Gabriel Marcel on Michaud’s philosophical work. Marcel’s influence is evident one way or another throughout the entire volume. Section III: Leadership Formation summarizes reflections on the nature of leadership, a subject on which Michaud has lectured extensively, appreciating that principles of leadership disclose how organizations, including civilization itself, can succeed. Section IV: Environmentalism and Realism, a discussion Michaud takes up because of the many ideological assumptions implicit in the environmentalist movement. While environmentalists profess to be green, they also tend to be red since they hope to commandeer big government to advance their various agendas. Section V: Critiques of Progressive Politics, Pluralism, Political Economy and Revolution is a set of essays wherein Michaud speculates about the reasons for social decline. Out of the plurality of essays in this section, Michaud recommends five of them for special consideration: “The Problematic Politics of Postmodern Pluralism,” “Diversity within the United States’ Culture and Politics.” “Democracy Needs Religion” “Blasts from the Preclassical Past: Why Contemporary Economics Education Should Listen to Preclassical Thought,” and “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution.”

The first two of these five essays express Michaud’s conviction that tolerance and justice have been altered by Progressive culture to insinuate a social philosophy akin to Marxism, especially in the form of identity politics. These essays also suggest Michaud’s agreement with John Adams that America will thrive so long as her citizens remain a moral and religious people. As a group, these five essays consider how Left-Wing ideology depersonalizes society, the effects of which are evident in the past few generations. Michaud salutes the influence of Alexis de Tocqueville and Michael Novak for their implicit personalism, especially evident in the way they worry about the erosion of morality and the dignity of the person in economics. The fifth essay reminds us that Progressivism is not just a movement aiming at reform but seeks transformation of Western Culture.

Section VI: Progressivism’s Challenges to Education and Millennials’ Happiness relates how questions of social organization impact individual happiness. The book closes with a fascinating Short Story which narrates an event from Michaud’s autobiographical record.

The persistent theme percolating throughout Michaud’s book is that political correctness is a toxin. Political correctness is not just an annoyance caused by ideological busy bodies. It is an assault on truth by the manipulation of language. By means of that manipulation, people become confused and social standards become transformed, which causes confusion as people habituated in traditional language are bemused by its change. Political correctness in its extreme is Orwellian, represented by Winston Smith conceding in 1984 that indeed 2 + 2 = 5. By control of language, authorities can control thought. This outcome is now evident in the way universities equivocate on truth and turn education into indoctrination.

A keen insight is Michaud’s observation that in recent times, champions of political correctness have refined two social tools to serve their purpose of transforming Western society. These tools are (1) a modified, ideological adaptation of tolerance and (2) an alteration of fairness in the form of social justice.

Tolerance and social justice are subtle devices since they exploit the hope that people will assume that tolerance and social justice today mean what they have meant for centuries. Who would oppose openness and fairness, which principles tolerance and justice imply? However, tolerance today and social justice are a new kind of pluralism and fairness and are effectively equivocations on the ancient meanings of those terms. The politically correct are clever, which is demonstrated by using terms which have appeal because people think they signify what they have traditionally meant. But by the sleight of hand of Leftist ideologues, the meanings of justice and tolerance have changed.

Justice classically means relating to people in a way that they deserve. But social justice is different. It interprets desert not in terms of merit but in terms of identity politics. Consider that political correctness adds an adjectival qualifier which alters meaning. When the word “social” modifies justice, a different meaning is attached to fairness. Traditionally, justice is an individual’s habit or virtue of being respectful of others, who deserve respect. Social justice, on the other hand, is a kind of identity politics, in which one divides people into groups and stereotypes them. Once the groups are stereotyped, the effort is made, often by means of government, to favor some groups and disfavor others. The virtue of justice classically understood implies impartiality and equality of standards in the application of fairness. But this is not how social justice applies today. Instead, social justice suspects traditional ideas about impartiality associated with meritocracy or earned desert. Social justice comfortably accepts partiality and inequality of application, which the politically correct call “equity,” a principle inspired by the aim of restorative justice, the remedy of past wrongs perpetrated by some groups against others.

Aware of these points, Michaud regards social justice as a Marxist trope. By using politically correct language, social justice insinuates that justice is about groups, not individuals. Because human beings are social animals, as Aristotle long ago observed, there has always been sociability implicit in the idea of justice. But the status and significance of the individual was nonetheless at the heart of the classical meaning of justice because it involved individual judgment and habit formation. Social justice, however, is a Marxist tool to eliminate the individual and reduce justice to a matter of group identities and relations. For example, when a teacher discovers that a student is cheating in class, he or she ought not judge that the student is an individual wrongdoer. That would imply that he has autonomy and moral agency. Such judgment is simplistic and does not consider how we are shaped by social forces. No, it is not the cheater’s fault. It is society’s fault, which has somehow made the student a victim. If schools weren’t compromised by an unfair social system, students wouldn’t cheat. Not surprisingly, victimology is common in the exercise of social justice, a point of view that echoes Vladimir Lenin’s conviction that the proletariat cannot commit crimes because of their disadvantage before bourgeoise power. Of course, the radical political implication is that when injustice occurs, social justice warriors cry out for big government intervention to remedy the problem. Hence, social justice becomes an excuse to expand government. As a tool of unbridled political correctness, it can encourage formation of a totalitarian state.

Tolerance is another classical virtue that has been malformed by political correctness. Historically, tolerance was understood as a virtue of justice which impels a person to allow something he disagrees with because, if he were to disallow it, a kind of injustice could follow. In the spirit of traditional tolerance whole peoples with profoundly different beliefs and values have gotten along and have even lived as neighbors. But this vision of tolerance is less popular today, especially when ideological disagreements are the issue. Today, those who profess to be among the most tolerant are often content to seek refuge in tribalistic separateness. Among Progressives, tolerance is a kind of virtue signaling, a way in which a person authenticates himself as an enlightened human being by accepting the directives of politically correct thinking.

Accordingly, Progressives, while preaching tolerance, often appear intolerant. For them, tolerance is not a species of traditional justice but a politically correct instrument to transform society. Of course, one could say that it is a species of social justice. In this way, tolerance conforms to the Leftist agenda to transform the West. Hence, the Progressive’s exercise of intolerance is quite coherent with their own worldview, even though it is out of step with the classical view of tolerance. Conservatives often do not understand this progressive application of tolerance, dismissing the Progressive’s attitudes and practices as inconsistent. But Progressives are consistent according to their own imperative: be intolerant of those who champion traditional tolerance, which is based on corrupt, benighted values. A tolerant person, as Progressives see it, is enlightened, and an enlightened person knows that intolerant people should not be tolerated. Intolerant people are unenlightened, and they are people who do not support or advance the interests of Progressive politics and culture. As a result, they are a social menace. So why should society tolerate them? An intolerant person, on their view, is indeed a regressive person, someone, like a practicing Christian, who tries to maintain traditional values and institutional beliefs that, while they pass as civilized, are, in fact, benighted.

Michaud’s book is a reminder that conservatives could help themselves by better understanding these nuances about tolerance in the Progressive movement. Instead, conservatives tend to complain tirelessly about inconsistency and censorship, failing to grasp and address the deeper motivations in Progressivism. Conservatives must recognize that they are dealing with a collision of worldviews. The Progressive worldview has endured longer than many conservatives realize, having emanated out of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideological heir was Karl Marx.

Conservatives would do well to appreciate how champions of political correctness play them. Michaud appreciates how political correctness has taken over universities. Allan Bloom, in his instructive book, The Closing of the American Mind, explains in detail how the University became a stifling culture against free thought, changing from an institution that sought to instill liberal education, freedom and independence of thought, to a system repressing the exchange of ideas. This happened, Bloom explains, as Leftists indoctrinated students in relativism, claiming there is no truth, and that no idea is more defensible than any other. Bloom explains that this relativism, akin to nihilism, would nullify educators’ efforts to instill moral and intellectual ideals in students. The only virtue, intellectual or moral, that students wanted taught, was openness, a curriculum without judgments. The students would pay a price as this relativism became the cultural norm at the university, an outcome Bloom captured in the subtitle of his book: How Higher Education Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Without moral judgment there is no nutrition for the soul.

Michaud understands that this is what happened to the universities. But, of course, the strategy of political correctness recognized that this nihilism was just an episode. No culture can exist without judgments and constraints. The politically correct just pretended for a while that the university was a bastion of non-judgmentalism. After removing traditions and curricula on grounds that they were biased, the new politically correct leaders took over most universities and imposed a bureaucracy of bias and censorship of their own, mainly through the formation of programs and committees that might make old-time fascists envious. For example, universities made traditional educators remove speech codes and standards. But they celebrated this removal only until they came to dominate the university and inflict innumerable speech codes, behavioral restrictions, and censorship rules of a sundry kind. The politically correct played the Rope-a-Dope game to perfection. The conservatives on campus, wanting to appear open, accommodating, and non-judgmental (in short, wanting to appear “Progressive-Lite”), fell for the strategy: from radical openness to repression in two generations.

Conservatives would do well to learn to resist political correctness at every turn and not play the game by its rules. This is one of the lessons of Michaud’s instructive book: conservatives must learn to fight back, and with intelligence.

Curtis Hancock is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, a Jesuit institution in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, where he held the Joseph M. Freeman Chair of Philosophy for twenty years. He has a B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. from Loyola University of Chicago. He is former President of the American Maritain Association and co-founder of the Gilson Society. He has published several books, including Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education. He has also published numerous articles and reviews.

Featured: The Liberation of St. Peter, by Antonio de Bellis; painted ca. early 1640s.