Catholicism’s Greatest Modern Proof

The following article is excerpted from my book, Rational Responses to Skepticism (En Route Books, 2022), 527-542. It shows with objective certainty that true miracles occurred at Fatima, Portugal, on 13 October 1917—events caused by God alone, the Creator of the universe—and could not have been caused by man, space aliens, or demons. Moreover, since the heavenly person appearing to the children whom God chose as recipients of the Fatima message called herself “the lady of the Rosary,” the uniquely Catholic nature of this authentic divine revelation is proven. Not even Eastern Orthodox Christians have the Rosary.

In no way do I intend to denigrate the fine work of Christian and Catholic apologists, who offer overwhelming evidence in support of divine revelation occurring in and through the person of the Lord of History, Jesus Christ.

While the greatest miracle of all time is the Resurrection of Christ, the unfortunate fact for many people today is that that event, which took place some two millennia ago, requires careful historical research in order for them to be convinced of its reality. But, we live in an age of high technology, where even the least newsworthy incidents get recorded for broadcast on the evening news in a clip from some bystander’s cellphone. This makes it difficult for many to be convinced of an event that took place long before today’s “eyewitness” proof of a cellphone video.

Fortunately, for contemporary man, God has deigned to give us a modern miracle that offers undeniable proof of its authenticity and divine origin in terms designed to disarm present-day skeptics. It is set in a time so recent that modern means of electronic communication, photography, and newspapers existed, but not so recent that GCI or other high tech fakery was yet developed.

The whole world knows that, on 25 March 2022, Pope Francis publically consecrated Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—thus manifesting Catholicism’s intimate connection to events that took place at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

The Fatima story is well known—even to many unbelievers. Indeed, movies have been made about it, including The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) and Fatima (2020). For those who know nothing of it, the story begins in May of 1917, when Pope Benedict XV made a direct appeal to the Blessed Virgin to end WWI. Just over a week later, three children, tending their flock of sheep in Fatima, Portugal, suddenly saw a lady bathed in light, who told them not to fear and that she came from heaven. She asked them to return on the 13th of each month at the same hour for the next six months. The lady also asked them to pray the Rosary, which the children began doing fully each day thereafter.

Over time, others joined the children at the appointed time each month and, by July, numbered two or three thousand people. During the September 13th visit, the lady promised that in October she would tell the children who she was and would perform a miracle “so that all may believe.” The apparitions occurred each month on the 13th, except for August, when the anti-religious authorities seized the children and threatened them with death, thereby preventing them from attending the scheduled apparition. By 13 October 1917, predictions of a public miracle had become so widely known that literally tens of thousands of people, believers and skeptics alike, converged on Fatima from all directions.

The Miracles of Fatima

The message of Fatima, which led to the 25 March 2022 consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Francis and all the bishops, is not my primary concern in this essay. Rather, my intent is to show that the miraculous events at Fatima could have been effected solely through the power of the God of classical theism and that they prove with certitude the authenticity of Catholic religious revelation.

While many focus on visual aspects of the “sun dancing in the sky” on that day, I shall examine three diverse phenomena, any one of which might be considered a contender for the category of a miracle: (1) the prediction, (2) the solar observations, and (3) the sudden drying of the people’s clothes and of the ground. We should remember that the term, “miracle,” means, “by God alone.” A true miracle is an event, outside the order of nature, that nothing less than the Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism, can cause. No lesser phenomena meet the qualification for the term.

The oldest child, Lucia, tells us that the lady who appeared to them on 13 October 1917 said, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” In all six apparitions, the lady told the children and the world to pray the Rosary. This confirms the specifically Catholic nature of this private revelation. If any genuine miracles took place that day, they confirm the truth of the Catholic religion.

1. The Prediction Miracle

The tens of thousands of witnesses appearing from all over Portugal show, without doubt, that the prodigies which occurred at Fatima on 13 October 1917 were the result of a clear prediction. This is evinced by the very fact that such a multitude expected some sign from heaven that many traveled even large distances to Fatima to witness the events. The miraculous phenomena were predicted as to date, hour, and location—by three children, the oldest of whom was just ten. And the prediction was stunningly fulfilled.

Some have claimed that spiritualists predicted ahead of time that something amazing and good for humanity would happen on 13 May 1917, which turned out to be the day of the first vision at Fatima. Since Catholicism condemns such superstitious and possibly demonic practices as spiritualism, it has been argued that this might suggest the whole Fatima story is the work of the devil or even space aliens.

We must recall that the children reported the appearance of an angel who gave them Holy Communion in 1916. If that is true, then demonic estimates of future events could have been triggered, making the nature and date of a subsequent contact from heaven well within the paranormal powers of demons. After all, just by doing merely human software data mining, Clif High has made some amazing predictions of future events. The preternatural powers of demons should far exceed such human abilities.

While Catholicism condemns spiritualism, this does not mean that authentic information could not be given by demons to certain spiritualists. There is no need for space aliens to explain these spiritualist predictions, even assuming they are true.

In any event, the very public nature of the children’s predictions of a miracle, “so that all may believe,” was widely known before the fact and stunningly fulfilled in a manner and scope unique in human history. Since I shall show later that the miracle of the sun itself could not have been produced either by space aliens or demons, the only adequate cause of this uniquely exact prediction of such a massive miracle must solely have been the God of classical theism.

2. The Visual Solar Miracle

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. 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 “miracles of perception” that differ in each person. Like 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 eyewitnessed 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, O.S.B., 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 perceptions and moral analysis excludes the agency of spiritual agents other than, possibly, those following God’s command.

3. The Sudden Drying of Everything

Some critics, who were not themselves eye witnesses, try to explain away aspects of what happened at Fatima that day over a century ago by saying that, while certain things were physically real, they were not all that abnormal and were merely over-interpreted by those present.

The problem with such explanations is that they simply do not fit the actual experiences of those present at the time. For example, facile explanations of the sun’s behavior as being merely natural phenomena fail to note the reactions of those who fell to their knees in the mud, thinking it was the end of the world, or of those persons who cried out their personal sins before everyone, since there were no priests present!

A peer-reviewed article suggests that biological mechanisms can produce subjective visual phenomena similar to those reported at Fatima. See “Apparitions and Miracles of the Sun” by Auguste Meessen. Meessen directly looked at the sun on two occasions. The first time he experienced as “the initial phase of a typical ‘miracle of the sun” in which “the sun immediately converted into a grey disc.” The second time he saw “impressive colours,” multiple expansions of the sun, and the sky becoming more luminous.

Yet, if this phenomenon is so easily reproduced, why hasn’t it been reported countless times and part of conventional science? Meessen lists some dozen instances of “sun miracles”—all within religious contexts. He mentions some similar instances lacking “apparitional context,” but fails to give sources. It really seems that so easily-duplicated natural phenomena would be widely known—and this especially so, were the phenomena anything like the astounding, crowd-terrifying ones experienced by many thousands of eyewitnesses at Fatima. Why hasn’t the same frightening solar experience happened to a stadium full of football fans some time—or, many times — in the past? Instead, medical science warns us strictly not to look directly at the sun to avoid retinal damage! Possibly, some mechanisms such as Meessen describes do exist, but God transformed the Fatima phenomena so radically that observers thought they were about to die and the world was about to end!

Even if Meessen were correct in projecting observed mechanisms so as to explain all of the astounding Fatima solar phenomena, that would still not refute the demonstrated miraculous nature of (1) the predictions of the exact time and place that the visual solar phenomena would take place and (2) the sudden drying of clothing and land that accompanied the predicted event—effects producible by God alone: miracles.

For hours before the sun miracle it was raining and soaking both ground and those present—as evinced by the sea of umbrellas seen in some photos. Suddenly, the clouds withdrew and the various shocking movements seen by the people as being from the sun took place. As the brilliant silvery disc finally drew back to the original position of the sun, many suddenly noticed that they, their clothes, and the ground were completely dry.

Later critics challenge this interpretation of events. They claim that photos do not appear to show so much water or that evaporation may have taken place as the sun bathed them for some ten minutes of its “dance” or that not all reported this alleged “miracle.”

But the critics were not there. First, there are photos of a sea of large umbrellas, covering the entire crowd at one point. Further, many witnesses affirm the essential facts: the initial soaking rain followed by sudden and complete drying. For one example, Dominic Reis of Holyoake, Massachusetts, in a television interview, made these selected remarks: “And now it was raining harder.” “Yes, three inches of water on the ground. I was soaking wet” (Haffert, Meet the Witnesses, 7). After the sun miracle occurs, he continues: “…the wind started to blow real hard, but the trees didn’t move at all. … in a few minutes the ground was as dry as this floor here. Even our clothes had dried.” “The clothes were dry and looked as though they had just come from the laundry” (Ibid., 11). Many other witnesses make similar statements: “I was all wet, and afterward my clothes were quite dry” (Ibid., 69). Understandably, some remembered nothing about the drying: “I was so distracted that I remember nothing but the falling sun. I cannot even remember whether I took the sheep home, whether I ran, or what I did” (Ibid., 41).

Given that the people attest to the truth of the ground and themselves being very wet, and yet, completely dry in the space of a few minutes, it is evident that some force beyond normal physics obtained here. It is possible to dry objects that quickly, but so intense a heat would doubtless kill the people in the process. This extra-natural character of this sudden drying exceeds the natural physical laws, which limit both the ability of space aliens and even the preternatural powers of demons.

This third miracle of Fatima—the sudden drying—is uniquely important, since it provided a more lasting and evident physical corroboration of events that the witnesses might otherwise think was simply a brief visual experience. Once again, we see a true miracle, something that could be effected solely by the God of classical theism.

Findings

Fatima’s miracles are unique in history because of the immense number of witnesses combined with three distinct simultaneous events that meet the definition of the miraculous, that is, something that solely the God of classical theism could effect. Nor can be ignored the intimate connection between these public miracles and a message from heaven that is clearly and intimately intertwined with the presence of “the lady of the Rosary,” who asks for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. The Rosary appeared in Catholicism after the Eastern Orthodox split from Rome. The miracle of Fatima is clearly a divine approbation of the Catholic religion.

This unique historical event demonstrates divine approval of Christian revelation in general and of Catholicism specifically. Moreover, it confirms the divine message given to the visionaries, concerning the need for prayer and repentance and even of a special instruction of what would be necessary for God to give the blessing of the conversion of Russia and world peace.

The whole point of this article so far has been to establish two basic and unchangeable truths: (1) that the God of classical theism can be known to exist with certitude through the use of unaided natural reason, and (2) that Christianity in its specifically Catholic form can be shown with objective certitude to be the authentic revelation of the God of classical theism.

No future discoveries or revelations can alter or diminish these two fundamental truths that undergird human existence on this planet.

UFOs and Space Aliens

Now we come to the much delayed and truly fascinating part of this article. What about the UFOs and space aliens? Do they really exist as extraterrestrial biological intelligent beings or as non-bodily intelligences? I hate to let the reader down, but I intend to suspend judgment on most of this intriguing topic for the simple reason that the truth about space aliens is not yet publicly acknowledged one way or the other.

There are those who claim that the military knows that extraterrestrials from other planets exist, but that they hesitate to inform the public for fear of its reaction to the news.

On the other hand, there is talk about something like Project Blue Beam existing. This would entail a false space invasion being foisted on an unsuspecting public. The means would be based on use of new-technology holograms, which are so convincing that people would think that they are seeing the Second Coming appearing the heavens or, alternatively, a fleet of spacecraft hovering over us and prepared to wipe out humanity.

The latter space threat could be used to intimidate all mankind into submission to a one world government in order to meet this alleged “threat.” This new global government would then turn out to be part of the Great Reset, which aims to impose tyranny on the entire human race, combined with a program of depopulation.

We need not entertain all these speculative and controversial claims and theories in order to point out something basic that is true regardless of what we finally may discover about extraterrestrials, namely, that nothing we discover can undo the eternal truths already known with certitude through unaided natural reason or infallible divine revelation.

We already know that the God of classical theism eternally exists and that Christian revelation in its Catholic expression is the authentic revelation of God.

Do extraterrestrials exist? Of course, they do! We know this, because it is part of Christian revelation. But these “extraterrestrial” creatures are pure spirits, directly created by God in the form of the angels. Those who fell from grace, we call devils or demons.

What we usually mean, when we ask if extraterrestrials exist, is, “Do intelligent bodily creatures originating from other planets in the cosmos exist? Or, perhaps, do such creatures exist in interdimensional physical reality (whatever exactly that may mean!)? In either event, the answer remains the same as far as our belief systems are concerned, namely, what we know from reason about God and from revelation about religion remains unaltered—since truth is eternal.

When we know that 2 + 2 = 4, we do not lay awake nights worrying that tomorrow the sum might change to 5. The same is true here. What has already been established by reason and revelation with objective certitude cannot be changed by new data. One might add to what is already known, but the basic truths about an eternal, omnipotent, infinite, all-good God, the spiritual and immortal nature of the human soul, and the dogma of the Catholic Church cannot and will not change their objective truth and meaning.

Wherever interpretations may be required in order to integrate the fact of alien species existing with existing revealed doctrine, that is for theologians to discuss and the Church to decide. This is much like what happened when the explorers first found the native peoples of the New World. Catholic theologians had to explain (1) that these people were human beings, just like the European explorers were, (2) that they had spiritual and immortal souls, and (3) that they needed conversion and baptism as Christ commanded for all men. That is why all of Latin America right up to the southern American border eventually became Catholic. At the same time, this new recognition of the humanity of these New World “aliens” changed nothing in the basic truths of the Faith as previously held.

If alien intelligences exist, the very fact that they have spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel alone would demonstrate that they are intellectual, rational bodily beings. Since man is a rational animal, they would be, by philosophical definition, part of humanity—maybe not Earthly humanity, but human beings nonetheless, philosophically speaking. We might call them by some other name, but they would still have spiritual and immortal souls, as simply evinced by possessing such intellectual abilities as judging and reasoning.

Recall, too, it is not a question of degree of intelligence that determines possession of an intellectual, spiritual soul. Any ability to understand the nature of things at all is sufficient to demonstrate possession of an intellectual soul.

How they are to be theologically integrated with humans native to Earth is, again, a speculative and practical problem for the professional theologians and the Teaching Authority of the Church to determine.

From the above discussion, it should now be evident that we have nothing to fear from any potential encounter with space aliens with respect to either what we hold philosophically or believe theologically, since the essential truths about human nature and God and religious revelation will remain forever unchanged and unchangeable.


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 Beliefas well as many scholarly articles.


Featured: Part of the crowd at Cova da Iria looking at the Sun on October 13, 1917. Photo taken by the journalist Judah Ruah of the newspaper O Seculo, and published in Illustracao Portugueza, 1917-09-29.


The Christian Roots of Europe: A Living Past for a Living Future

I.

Introduction

Europe’s Christian identity has been a fundamental component of its history and culture, shaping not only the religious sphere but also politics, morals and way of life. This article sets out to examine the multiple layers of Christian identity in Europe, highlighting its historical roots, influences over time, and how it faces the challenges of an increasingly pluralistic and secular society.

By Way of Prologue…

Two immense interconnected problems haunt us with alarming urgency. The birth rate of this Europe of ours, which is slowly aging and dying without replacement, without a sufficient replacement rate; and the key to immigration, which responds to the fact that there is no one to take on certain jobs in our society.

Much more depends on how both are dealt with than we think. There is an almost threatening perspective of survival of a certain culture, the European one. Of a whole wealth contributed to the human family that is in danger of being truncated, of no longer growing, of no longer being able to give itself to humanity. History has already shown us similar falls. Some major, others minor. But falls of civilizational models for analogous reasons. In other ways, certainly, but analogous. But even more, it is a threat more than only to Europe, because it intends a global domination that destroys also other cultures, nations and peoples in their true being, to make them stateless without soul, nor roots. Slaves, just like the Europeans, of the power of money that pursues a dehumanized global social model.

Crossing through the middle of the construction of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, but it would fit the image for any European city, with workers of many different nationalities but hardly Spaniards working, and with the news that there is a lack of waiters and restaurant cooks by the thousands throughout Spain, but also with the caregivers of the elderly that any morning are seen pushing wheelchairs of the elderly in the sun in our streets, it is evident that migrants come to do the work that the nationals do not want to do.

And why don’t they want to do it? One line of answers has to do with working conditions: low pay, much effort. Employers—and individuals—are unable to offer better conditions: some because they cannot, others because it is not convenient for them. This expels nationals and makes immigrants also victims, precariousness fodder, almost slavery; and hand in hand with it, fodder of delinquency and generators of insecurity.

Another line of analysis is linked to a very Western zeitgeist that has to do with comfort, consumerism, hedonism, inflated horizons and university goals, lofty aspirations and the loss of the value of effort, sacrifice, the value of work, humility, realism, or the elimination of everything that is not enjoyable in the fast time of the here and now, even at the cost of giving the power of your life to the machines of AI. There is here a mixture between seeing life as leisure and intuiting a certain renunciation of hope in progress, which says that no matter how much you do, you will not be able to improve. Between the crude conformism and the illusory aspiration based on a simplistic egalitarianism that clashes with the reality of the world, vital inaction, the enemy of realism, is achieved. The digital and virtual world of immediacy, satisfaction and quick self-happiness, of meta-vertical fantasies of perfect lives of luxury and leisure, of Instagramers of brands and lies, of needs created as ways to fill much deeper deficiencies, also contributes to this.

And politics is incapable of dealing with it, entangled in its own social engineering, in its own ideological biases, in its servitude to international agendas, in its particular plans to hold power and benefits, in its privileges of separate strata, in its petty quarrels, in its lack of greatness and aspiration, in its clientelism of interest. And so much so, that one cannot help but think that maybe the supporters of the conspiracy are right. It seems that what is happening is happening on purpose. That they deliberately lead us here to that “you will have nothing, you will owe everything to the state and the corporations, you will not be who you were, and you will only serve the money power as a producer-consumer, without roots or identity or aspirations… and we will make you believe that this way you are happy.” A paranoid and dehumanizing mix between communism and liberalism that leads to terrible dystopias.

But there is hope. There is always hope. Not only because of the resistance to the imposition of this demonic model of man and society that is happening here and now in so many places in our world and in so many different ways. From concrete political movements to cultural battles, to alternative lives that generate different communities, or those dedicated to beauty, true knowledge and the spirit. But also because—and this is what the resistance has to support in its strategies, actions and planning—the human being is not a machine that can be programmed just like that, not until biotechnological transhumanism is imposed.

There are innate cues that will sooner or later—and that later is the dangerous one—make it explode. There are primary human instincts—physical and spiritual—radically incompatible with that dictatorial anti-human dystopia. And that will ensure that evil will never triumph definitively. What is frightening is that until these primordial human forces are set in motion, perhaps the human being suffering too much, allows himself to be dominated too much, is manipulated excessively, is dehumanized as a way for the power of money to achieve its omnipotent domination. The process of technological and economic development in the West has accelerated these dynamics, something that other peoples have not yet experienced because of their level of development—yet. But memory, the achievements of history, tell us that these forces are also real in Europeans. It is a question of setting them in motion, awakening them, activating them.

And that happens by resisting this zeitgeist that dominates us, and by continuing to row in the opposite direction in our own personal and communal selves. They can win, but it will not always be like that. Man will awaken again.

How to rearm him?

Where can we find the personal and social energy to take up again the paths of life and not continue walking along paths of cultural, vital and human suicide?

There is no need to look for these energies far away from us.

In our own European cultural history, in what configured European culture as such, there is an immense vein of energy that from the modernity born with the French Revolution in origin, to the current rampant aggressive and anti-Christian secularization—granddaughter of each other—has been progressively abandoned, like one who moves away from himself and from what nourishes and feeds him, to the point of being estranged from himself and exhausted. Europe has been leaving behind that vital force of its very own, inexhaustible by its very definition to be capable of giving life, which has been Christianity as a unifier of what has been received and a generator of identity and life, to the point of almost ceasing to be, to the point of almost becoming deformed in its own face by the distancing of Europe’s own Christian roots.

And I say almost, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that if not deformed, then caricatured. Some factions are still recognizable, some identifying elements of the European Christian identity, manage to continue to appear and be present; the roots are strong and they are not reached by the ice and frost that seems to dominate the surface; and it is precisely this strength and this true rootedness in the European soil after almost two millennia, after having been shaped by Christianity, that can be returned to them, that are capable, like an old oak apparently dry, that allow the best of one’s own identity to sprout.

Europe’s Christian Roots: A Deep Cultural Heritage

Europe, the cradle of ancient civilizations, has been shaped over the centuries by diverse influences. None, however, has left as deep an imprint as Christianity. Europe’s Christian roots go back to Antiquity, when this religion took root and became the cultural foundation of the region.

Christianity arrived in Europe in the first centuries of our era, spreading from the Middle East to the West. The central figure of Jesus Christ and His teachings resonated among European populations, and the Christian faith became a unifying element amidst the continent’s cultural diversity.

Over time, Christianity merged with previous Greco-Latin social and political structures as well as those that came to Europe with the barbarian invasions, shaping the Middle Ages and defining the concept of Christendom. The Catholic Church played a crucial role in everyday life, influencing morals, education and politics. Monasteries and cathedrals stood as centers of learning and faith, preserving the cultural and literary heritage of classical antiquity.

The Crusades, which took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, were a testament to the power of the Christian faith in European life. Although driven by diverse motives, the Crusades reflected Europe’s fervent commitment to the defense of Christianity and the expansion of its principles.

The Renaissance, a period of cultural renewal in the 14th-17th centuries, was also steeped in the Christian heritage. Although marked by a revival of interest in classical antiquity, many of the great Renaissance artists and thinkers found inspiration in biblical narratives and Christian theology. The Baroque reached a cultural and artistic dimension never equaled in any other geographic area linked to culture.

The 19th and 20th centuries, children of the liberal revolutions, brought about a series of social and cultural changes of such magnitude that they began to deform the Christian face of Europe until the rampant secularization of modern times; but in spite of this, Christian roots continued to be an essential part of European identity. Christian ethics have influenced the formulation of laws, moral norms and fundamental values that have endured over the centuries and are still a central part of who we Europeans are, and indeed who we can be.

II.

Historical Roots

The adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire marked the beginning of Europe’s Christian identity. From the teachings of the Church Fathers to the consolidation of medieval Christianity, the historical roots laid the foundations for the understanding of the faith on the continent.

Greek Philosophy and the Construction of Christian Identity in Europe

The connection between Greek philosophy and Christian identity in Europe has been a complex journey that has evolved over the centuries. This link began in Antiquity, merging the teachings of philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle with emerging Jewish and Christian traditions. The Church Fathers, such as Augustine of Hippo, integrated philosophical concepts into Christian theology, marking a crucial convergence. The Greek and Latin Fathers built their early theological thought from the understanding that Greek philosophy was the most adequate tool to shape the use of reason in the understanding of theological science. The conviction that the reason of the human being is an immense attribute meant to unite the message of the human dignity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the same anthropological gifts in one of the first contributions to the European being: the intrinsic value of the human being created in the image and likeness of God, Who gave him the tools, while perfecting himself with the revelation, to reach a good life. Hence the immense contribution that Stoicism, already in the Roman imperial phase, made to the creation of Christian morality.

During the Middle Ages, the Aristotelian Renaissance influenced scholastic theology, led by figures such as St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, both Dominicans. Aquinas sought to reconcile reason and faith, highlighting the compatibility between Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology in his monumental work “Summa Theologica”, and the value of philosophy as an instrument of dialogue in his “Summa contra gentiles”.

The Renaissance consolidated the interconnection, with Christian humanists embracing the fusion of classical scholarship and Christian faith, with the paradoxical example of Erasmus of Rotterdam. The emphasis on classical education and ethical values of Greek antiquity marked this phase in a movement that led to the development of an entire Christian philosophy and ethics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of which the School of Salamanca, addressing the problems and issues of its historical context, was the humanistic apex.

The Enlightenment introduced challenges, but the influence of Greek philosophy persisted. Greek values, such as freedom, were mixed with the Christian heritage, generating secularized conceptions of morality and politics, incomprehensible without the aforementioned contribution of human dignity of Gospel root.

In conclusion, the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christian identity has been dynamic and enriching. From Antiquity to the Modern Age, this connection forged the intellectual and cultural tradition of Europe, demonstrating the capacity of ideas to shape and seek the true face of the identity of a civilization such as the European one.

Enduring Influence of Roman Law on Europe’s Christian Identity

The connection between Roman Law and Christian identity in Europe has been a journey through the centuries, marked by a profound and lasting influence. From the earliest days of Christianity, when both realities coexisted in the context of the Roman Empire, to the present day, the heritage of the Roman legal system has shaped the institutions, morals and social structure of Christian Europe.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Roman legal framework provided the necessary structure for the propagation and organization of Christianity. The notion of Roman citizenship merged with Christian teachings, creating a unique synthesis that influenced equality and social responsibility. Legal and political structures, from the very understanding of the family to the structures of municipalities and dioceses, involved a fruitful interrelationship that shaped the face of Europe.

The Church, during this period, adopted administrative structures of the Roman system, reflecting imperial divisions. The legal and moral authority of the Pope, based on the imperial tradition, took root in the Christian conscience.

The preservation of Roman law in ecclesiastical institutions and the creation of legal codes, such as the Code of Justinian, contributed to the continuity of the Roman legal tradition. These codes served as the basis for civil and canonical legislation, reflecting the synthesis of secular and Christian moral laws.

The recovery of classical knowledge revitalized the influence of Roman law in the Middle Ages. Medieval scholars applied Roman legal teachings in legal education and practice, further consolidating the links between the two disciplines.

The connection between Roman law and Christian identity was reflected in the formulation of fundamental legal concepts. The idea of natural rights and the conception of law as a reflection of divine reason resonated with Christian principles.

As Europe moved into the Modern Age, the influence of Roman law persisted in the legal and political structure of Christian nations. Law as an instrument for the pursuit of the common good and social justice and the protection of individual as well as community rights remained central, rooted in the fusion of Roman tradition and Christian ethics.

In short, the connection between Roman law and Europe’s Christian identity has been a complex and enduring phenomenon. The Roman legal heritage has permeated institutions, morals and the very conception of law in Christian Europe, shaping its collective identity in a way that transcends time and continues to influence the understanding of justice and morality in contemporary European society.

The Influence of the Barbarian Invasions

The barbarian invasions that shook Europe during the last years of the Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages not only left a trail of destruction and political change, but also played a crucial role in the formation of the continent’s common Christian identity. These invasions, carried out by Germanic, Slavic, Norse and other tribes, had a profound impact on the cultural and religious configuration of Europe.

In the decline of the Roman Empire, various barbarian tribes broke through the frontiers, bringing with them their own religious beliefs and practices. As they settled in the conquered lands, they came into contact with the Roman population, which was already marked by the identity of Christianity. This cultural and religious encounter was a complex process that contributed to the creation of a shared Christian identity.

Despite initial tensions between the barbarian communities and the Roman Christians, an integration of these cultures gradually took place. The Church, with its hierarchical structure and its role as a social unifier, played a crucial role in this process. The barbarian leaders, by adopting Christianity, saw in it a tool to consolidate their authority and legitimize their rule in the eyes of the Romanized population.

The barbarian invasions also led to the emergence of new Christian kingdoms in Europe. The Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Lombards, Franks, Angles and other groups adopted Christianity, and this act of conversion became a unifying factor in their territories. The figure of the Christian king, invested with a divine mandate, helped to consolidate the identity of these kingdoms and to forge a stronger connection between Christian faith and secular authority.

One of the most significant events was the conversion of the Franks under the reign of Clovis I in the 5th century. In Spain, the figure of Reccared in the kingdom of Toledo was another. This conversion to Christianity, and in particular to Catholicism, not only united the Hispanic Franks and Visigoths under a common religious identity, but also established ties with the Church in Rome. This link with the Papal See strengthened the connection between the Christian regions of Western Europe.

As the Middle Ages progressed, the common Christian identity was further consolidated. The Muslim invasions in the Iberian Peninsula were a reaction that strengthened, in the process of the seven centuries of reconquest, that European Christian identity, shaping a way of being in the cultural and social world totally impregnated with the Christian fact. The Crusades, launched to defend Christianity and recover the Holy Land, were an example of the union of European kingdoms under the banner of Christianity. The Church played an important role in the organization and promotion of these expeditions, contributing to the creation of a European Christian identity that transcended political boundaries.

In conclusion, the barbarian invasions, although initially chaotic and destructive, were a fundamental catalyst in the construction of Europe’s common Christian identity. Through cultural interaction, conversions and the establishment of Christian kingdoms, these invasions contributed to the formation of a shared narrative that endures to this day, shaping the history, culture and identity of Europe.

The Role of the Middle Ages in the Construction of Europe’s Christian Identity

The Middle Ages, also known as the medieval period, played an essential role in the formation and consolidation of Christian identity in Europe. This period, which spanned from approximately the 5th to the 15th century, witnessed a complex interplay between Christian faith, ecclesiastical institutions and socio-economic transformations, contributing significantly to the construction of Europe’s collective identity.

From the collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, the Catholic Church emerged as a central force in European life during the Middle Ages. Medieval Christianity not only influenced the spiritual sphere, but also shaped politics, culture and education. The Church provided an organizational structure in a world undergoing dramatic changes, thus consolidating the Christian faith as an integral component of European identity. The bishops as social heads and the pope as head of Christendom came to fill the vacuum produced by the power crisis generated by the fall of the Roman Empire, giving in turn accompaniment and light to a new world where cross and sword were in full union.

One of the most prominent aspects of the Middle Ages was the feudal system, which structured society around relationships of vassalage and mutual obligations. The Church played a crucial role in legitimizing this social structure, linking feudal hierarchies with Christian principles of care, hierarchy and the pursuit of the common good. Religious authority supported the idea that monarchs and feudal lords ruled with a divine mandate to care for their subjects, contributing to social cohesion under the banner of Christianity. And this in spite of all the deficiencies that can be argued, because the same human condition, fruit of its anthropological twisted shaft—Kant dixit—that in believers bears the name of original sin, obviously carries. But in spite of such deficiencies, the social orientation models, fruit of Christianity, are the ones that build identity. We are not only who we are, but who we would like to be, as an engine that orients us and pushes us towards a personal and cultural development that marks our identity.

Gothic architecture, with its majestic cathedrals and abbeys, also stands as a tangible testimony to the influence of the Christian faith on medieval European identity and as an image of that desire to ascend, metaphysically, spiritually and ideally, man and society. These monuments were not only places of worship, but also symbols of the greatness of God and the central role of the Church in the life of the community, as well as signs of where society wanted to go—always upwards. Gothic architecture not only elevated the buildings, but also the spirituality of medieval Christianity.

The rise of monastic orders, such as the Benedictines and Cistercians, highlighted the importance of monastic life in the construction of European Christian identity. These monasteries became centers of learning, preservation of classical knowledge and religious practice. Monks and nuns played an essential role in education and in the transmission of the faith, thus contributing to the spiritual cohesion of Europe. Monks guarded the idea of Europe and shaped it with their lives.

The Crusades, military expeditions undertaken in the name of Christianity to reclaim the Holy Land, also left an indelible mark on European identity. Although motivated by a variety of factors, the Crusades reflected Europe’s fervent commitment to the defense of Christianity and the expansion of its principles in a context of interaction with the Islamic and Eastern world.

As the Middle Ages progressed, intellectual movements emerged that fused classical philosophy with Christian theology. Scholasticism, represented by figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas, sought to harmonize reason and faith, thus contributing to a deeper and more articulate understanding of Christian identity. The theological and philosophical debates of this period left a lasting mark on the European worldview.

In conclusion, the Middle Ages played a crucial role in the construction of Europe’s Christian identity. Through the Church, monastic institutions, monumental architecture and intellectual movements, this period left a lasting legacy that influenced the way Europeans understood their faith and their place in the world. The Middle Ages were not a time of darkness, but a time of ferment and development that helped forge the Christian identity that remains an integral part of Europe’s heritage.

The Renaissance and its Contribution to the Construction of European Christian Identity

The Renaissance, a period of cultural and artistic renewal that flourished in Europe from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, left a profound mark on the construction of the continent’s Christian identity. Although often associated with a revival of interest in classical Greco-Latin culture, the Renaissance also played a crucial role in the evolution and affirmation of Christian identity.

During this period, humanist currents rediscovered and revalued the works of classical antiquity, including the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. However, this revival of classical thought did not come at the expense of Christian identity; rather, it merged in a unique way with the Christian tradition, giving rise to a distinctive cultural synthesis.

Renaissance humanists advocated an education that incorporated both Christian principles and the ethical and aesthetic values of antiquity. This holistic approach allowed for a deeper appreciation of the Christian faith by placing it in a broader context of knowledge. Figures such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, Luis Vives or Francisco de Vitoria, promoted the idea that classical scholarship and Christian faith were not incompatible, but, on the contrary, complemented each other.

Renaissance architecture also reflected the interconnection between Christian identity and classical ideals. Churches and cathedrals, while often incorporating classical architectural elements, retained their function as places of Christian worship. The grandeur and elegance of these structures not only highlighted the glory of God, but also symbolized the spiritual rebirth of Christianity.

Renaissance art, characterized by a more realistic and humanized representation of the human figure, also influenced the visual expression of Christian identity. Religious paintings and sculptures captured devotion and spirituality with renewed intensity, providing the faithful with a more intimate connection to their faith.

In addition, the Renaissance brought about a revival of biblical and theological studies. Figures such as Thomas Aquinas, despite belonging to an earlier era, experienced renewed interest and study. The fusion of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology, known as scholasticism, found an intellectual renaissance during this period, allowing for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the faith.

In short, the Renaissance contributed significantly to the construction of European Christian identity by integrating classical values with the Christian tradition. This cultural synthesis not only enriched knowledge and artistic expression, but also provided a solid basis for understanding the faith in a broader context. The Renaissance did not mark a separation between the classical and the Christian, but instead fostered a harmonious coexistence that influenced European identity for centuries.

The Construction of European Christian Identity in the Baroque: An Artistic and Spiritual Splendor

The Baroque period, which spanned roughly from the seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century, was a time of cultural and spiritual transformation in Europe. This period not only witnessed political and social changes, but also played a fundamental role in the construction and consolidation of Christian identity on the continent.

The Baroque emerged at a time of tensions and conflicts, such as the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. These movements had a profound impact on European religiosity and contributed to the shaping of Christian identity during this period. The Catholic Church, in particular, sought to revitalize its spiritual influence in response to the challenges posed by the Reformation. The threat of Islam through the Turkish danger was of course also the driving force, in Carl Schmitt’s inspiration, of an enemy against which to reaffirm and strengthen the common identity, as Lepanto or Vienna showed.

Baroque architecture, with its opulence and theatricality, became a crucial means of expressing Christian identity. Baroque churches, with their ornate detailing, use of the play of light and shadow, and the monumentality of their designs, sought to inspire a sense of awe and devotion. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is an outstanding example of this Baroque architecture that sought to elevate the soul to the divine, but all of Europe, from Lisbon to Prague, from Seville to Vienna, shows it.

Baroque painting and sculpture also played an essential role in the construction of Christian identity. Masterpieces by artists such as Caravaggio, Zurbarán, Rubens and Velázquez depicted biblical scenes and portraits of saints with an emotional intensity and realism that sought to directly involve viewers in the religious narrative. Baroque sculpture, with its dramatic and dynamic imagery, provided a palpable representation of Christian spirituality.

Baroque music, especially sacred music, played a central role in expressing Christian identity. Composers such as Bach, Handel and Monteverdi created masterpieces that celebrated the faith and were performed in liturgical settings. Opera, although often secular in theme, also incorporated religious and moral elements, contributing to the cultural richness of Christian identity.

Baroque literature addressed religious themes with philosophical and spiritual depth. The works of mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross explored the intimate relationship with the divine; the dramas of a Calderón de la Barca or a Lope de Vega brought that identity to the common people, while theological treatises provided—Friar Luis de Granada, a true bestseller of his time—an intellectual basis for understanding the faith. Baroque poetry, often rich in symbolism and biblical allusions, also contributed to the construction of Christian identity.

The Baroque was deeply marked in a Catholic key by the Counter-Reformation, an effort by the Catholic Church to revitalize and reaffirm its doctrine in response to the criticisms of the Protestant Reformation. Baroque popes, such as Innocent X and Alexander VII, played an important role in promoting the Catholic faith and building a unified Christian identity.

The Nineteenth Century and the Transformation of Christian Identity in Europe: Challenges, Renewal and Spiritual Evolution

The 19th century was a time of profound changes in Europe, both socially and culturally, changes that were the children of the civilizational debacle that was the French Revolution. These changes had a significant impact on the Christian identity of the continent, generating challenges, but also giving rise to new forms of spiritual expression and renewal.

The 19th century witnessed a series of social changes that challenged the historical position of the Church in European society. The rise of nationalist movements, accelerated industrialization, and the ideals of the Enlightenment influenced the perception of religious authority. Secularization gained ground, leading to a decline in the direct influence of the Church in the public sphere.

Despite the challenges, the 19th century was also a time of reform movements within the Church. In the Catholic Church, the Catholic Restoration movement sought to revitalize and strengthen the Church’s position in the face of social change. This impulse of spiritual renewal spread through various religious orders and lay movements, marking an effort to adapt to the demands of the time, especially in the field of education, with the birth of a multitude of religious congregations, mostly female, which came to address the new situations that the nascent liberal states were unable to meet.

Spiritual renewal in the 19th century was expressed in movements such as the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church and the revival of Catholicism in several European countries. These movements sought to revive religious devotion, deepen theological understanding and restore liturgical elements considered essential to Christian identity, as well as theology and scholarship.

In parallel, religious awakening movements developed, such as the Second Great Awakening in America and its echoes in Europe. These movements emphasized the personal experience of faith, conversion and active participation in the religious community. New denominations and Christian communities emerged that advocated a spirituality more centered on individual experience.

The 19th century was also a time of missionary expansion, with a renewed emphasis on evangelization at the time of African and Asian colonialism in non-Christian regions of the world. This cultural and religious encounter raised questions about the diversity of beliefs and traditions, contributing to a deeper reflection on Christian identity in a global context.

The 19th century also witnessed the emergence of theological and philosophical developments that influenced the understanding of faith. Philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard explored the relationship between faith and reason, while theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher argued for a more focused interpretation of religious experience. Even from critical paths with a bourgeois model that was being imposed and that also affected the common believers, such as Leon Bloy, with his verbal scourge and religious depth, or Dostoevsky with his existential novels of deep spirituality.

Slavery, industrialization and social inequalities posed ethical challenges that Christian identity had to confront. Social justice movements inspired by Christian principles emerged to address these issues, making connections between faith and social action. And at the same time to confront the materialist movements of the three revolutions, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, which were giving birth to a new world increasingly removed from the faith and Christian principles that had shaped Europe for more than a millennium and a half.

In short, the nineteenth century was a period of complexity and change for Christian identity in Europe. Although it faced significant challenges because of secularization and social change, it was also a time of spiritual renewal, reform and theological reflection that laid the foundation for the diversity and evolution of Christian identity in the twentieth century and beyond.

The Twentieth Century to the Second World War: Challenges and Resilience in Europe’s Christian Identity

The 20th century witnessed a series of events that profoundly impacted Europe’s Christian identity. From geopolitical tensions to social and cultural changes, this period posed significant challenges, but also evidenced the resilience and persistence of the Christian faith in the midst of adversity.

It began with global conflicts and political tensions that had a direct impact on Europe’s Christian identity. The First World War truly marked the beginning of the century and left European society marked by devastation and loss, yet open to such technological change, as Ernst Jünger saw so well, that it would mark the following century.

The totalitarian regimes that emerged in the 1930s presented additional challenges to religious practice, as several European countries under absolute state regimes, such as Soviet communism or Nazism in Germany, sought to control and manipulate religious expression. Religious persecution affected Christian communities, evidencing the struggle of faith in the face of totalitarian ideologies that sought to suppress any allegiance other than to the state.

Despite the political challenges, the 20th century also witnessed significant efforts in favor of interreligious dialogue and ecumenism. Movements such as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Catholic Church and the Edinburgh Conference (1910) in Protestantism sought to promote unity and understanding among the various branches of Christianity, as well as with other religions.

The 20th century witnessed important theological developments that influenced Christian identity. Figures such as Chenu, Congar, Schillebeeckx, Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer responded to the challenges of the time, reflecting on the relationship between Christian faith and social responsibility in a context marked by war and injustice.

During World War II, the Church played a key role in the resistance against totalitarian regimes. In some cases, such as the resistance of the Catholic Church in Poland, it became a beacon of hope and resistance against oppression. After the war, the Church also participated in reconstruction efforts, seeking to restore not only physical structures, but also communities and faith, and as a reminder, especially under the countries of communist terror, of authentic European Christian identity.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by the crisis of modernity, where the Christian faith faced challenges related to secularization, loss of institutional authority and growing cultural diversity. However, spiritual renewal movements also emerged that sought to revitalize religious practice in a changing context.

Despite the difficulties, the 20th century saw the development of numerous charitable and social organizations based on Christian principles. From local charities to international organizations, the Church and individual Christians played an active role in addressing social and humanitarian problems, demonstrating a continuing commitment to the Christian principles of love and justice, which best represent the face of European identity.

In summary, the 20th century up to World War II was a complex and challenging period for Europe’s Christian identity. Despite conflicts and tensions, the resilience of the Christian faith was manifested in interreligious dialogue, ecumenical efforts, the Church’s active role in resistance and reconstruction, and the continuing ethical and social influence of Christianity in European society.

The Second Half of the Twentieth Century: Transformations and Continuities in Europe’s Christian Identity

The second half of the 20th century was a period of radical changes that continued to influence Christian identity in Europe. From the impact of the Cold War to the emergence of social and cultural movements, the Christian faith faced new challenges and adapted to a constantly changing world.

The Cold War divided Europe into opposing ideological blocs, and religion was often caught in the middle of this conflict. In Eastern Europe, communism imposed significant restrictions on religious practice, especially in countries such as the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe controlled by the communist bloc.

The second half of the 20th century witnessed counterculture movements and significant social changes that affected the perception of religion in society. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, the rise of individualism and the emergence of new ethical paradigms posed challenges to traditional structures, including Christian identity.

In the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962 and 1965, marked a crucial moment of renewal. The council sought to adapt the Church to contemporary challenges by promoting openness to interreligious and ecumenical dialogue. These efforts influenced the understanding of Christian identity in a context of growing religious pluralism.

The second half of the 20th century also witnessed the emergence of charismatic movements within Christianity, especially in the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations. These movements, characterized by intense spiritual experiences and an emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sought to revitalize the faith and attract a new generation of believers.

A special emphasis on Social Justice and Human Rights characterized this period, which saw a rise in the Catholic Church especially, but also the Reformed Churches, in social justice and human rights. Religious leaders from John XXIII to John Paul II advocated for the defense of human rights and solidarity with the oppressed, contributing to the construction of a Christian identity committed to justice and human dignity.

Technological advances, changes in family structure and ethical debates on issues such as abortion, contraception and sexuality posed significant ethical challenges to Christian identity in the second half of the 20th century. The Church was forced to address these issues from an ethical and theological perspective, influencing the understanding of faith in the modern context. Although perhaps not always knowing how to respond fully.

Despite efforts at renewal, the second half of the 20th century also witnessed a decline in religious practice in some regions of Europe. Secularism and the influence of secular culture contributed to a decline in affiliation with religious institutions and a change in the dynamics of Christian identity. Consumer, technological, secular, secularist, materialistic models—both liberal and communist—have been gaining the upper hand in the neglect of Europe’s true Christian identity.

In short, the second half of the 20th century was a complex and dynamic period for Europe’s Christian identity. The Church faced significant challenges, but also responded to them through efforts of renewal, dialogue and adaptation to changing social and cultural dynamics. Christian identity, although affected by the transformations of the times, proved to be resilient and able to try to adapt to the challenges of a changing world.

Christian Identity in the Construction of the European Union: Between Religious Diversity and Shared Values

The European Union (EU) has been a project that has sought unity and cooperation among nations with rich cultural, historical and religious diversity. In this context, Christian identity has played a complex role as the EU has evolved in an environment characterized by religious plurality and commitment to shared values.

European history is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. The influence of Christianity has been evident in the formation of institutions, laws and values that have shaped European civilization. From the Holy Roman Empire to the contribution of Christian thinkers to philosophy and ethics, Christian identity has left an indelible mark on the building of Europe.

The fathers of the European Union, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Paul-Henri Spaak, were clear about this, even beyond their own personal convictions. Europe would not be Europe without the recognition and care of its Christian identity.

Christian ethics have contributed to the formulation of fundamental principles underpinning the EU. Human dignity, social justice and solidarity; Christian values rooted in biblical teaching, have been adopted as guiding principles in building a united and peaceful Europe.

Certainly, as the EU has grown and expanded, religious diversity has become more evident. Interfaith dialogue has become an essential component in promoting mutual understanding between different faith communities. Despite its Christian roots, the EU recognizes and respects religious plurality as an integral part of its contemporary identity. But one certainly cannot engage in dialogue by renouncing who one is.

Throughout the negotiations for the formation of the EU, there has been an attempt, perhaps excessively so, to balance Christian roots with a secular approach to decision-making. The European institutions have adopted a secular approach, ensuring separation between religion and government to guarantee equality and religious freedom for all citizens, in a move beyond pendulum swinging, almost renouncing them.

Christian movements, such as the Taizé Community, have played an active role in promoting European unity and building bridges between communities. Their commitment to Christian values of reconciliation and fraternity has resonated with the vision of a united and peaceful Europe. But, and here is one of the main lessons that we should not lose, without renouncing our own identity.

In the 21st century, the EU is facing challenges related to religious diversity, the rise of secularism and the growing pressure of political movements that seek to highlight national identities or marginal and minority identities. Reflection on Christian identity in this context involves finding a balance that celebrates the Christian heritage while committing to an inclusive and respectful approach towards all faiths and non-beliefs, but without giving up what has made Europe who it is.

In conclusion, Christian identity has left a profound mark on the construction of the European Union, influencing its fundamental ethical values and contributing to the vision of a united Europe. However, the EU has also evolved to embrace religious diversity and ensure that its principles reflect respect and equality for all citizens, regardless of their beliefs. Christian history and identity remain significant elements in the evolving cultural and ethical fabric of the European Union.


Vicente Niño Orti, OP is a Dominican friar. He studied the Law and Theology and is the Area Director of the Saint Dominic Educational Foundation.


Featured: St. Helena and the True Cross, by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano; painted ca. 1495.


Democracy and Liberty

Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803–1876), the famed American thinker, understood that political democracy is a failed project from the outset, becaause it could establish a moral framework, which is necessaary for liberty. In other words, how can amoral man be free? And by extention, how can a Godless man be free?

Our Democratic brethren are upon the whole a fine set of fellows, and rarely fail to take whatever turns up with great good humor; otherwise we should expect to lose our ears, if not our head, for the many severe things we intend in the course of our essay to say to them and about them. We shall try them severely; for we intend to run athwart many of their fondly cherished prejudices, and to controvert not a few of their favorite axioms; but we trust they will be able to survive the trial, and to come forth as pure and as bright as they have from that which the Whigs gave them in 1840.

Mentioning this 1840, we must say that it marks an epoch in our political and social doctrines. The famous election [259] of that year wrought a much greater revolution in us than in the government; and we confess, here on the threshold, that since then we have pretty much ceased to speak of, or to confide in, the “intelligence of the people.”The people, the sovereign people, the sovereigns, as our friend Governor Hubbard calls them, during that campaign presented but a sorry sight. Truth had no beauty, sound argument no weight, patriotism no influence.They who had devoted their lives to the cause of their country, of truth,justice, liberty, humanity, were looked upon as enemies of the people,and were unable to make themselves heard amid the maddened and maddening hurrahs of the drunken mob that went for “Tippecanoe, and Tyler too.” It was a sorry sight, to see the poor fellows rolling huge balls, and dragging log cabins at the bidding of the demagogues, who were surprised to fin dhow easily the enthusiasm of the people could be excited by hard cider and doggerel rhymes. And we confess that we could hardly forbear exclaiming,in vexation and contempt, “Well, after all, nature will out; the poor devils,if we but let them alone, will make cattle of themselves, and why should we waste our time and substance in trying to hinder them from making themselves cattle?”

An instructive year, that 1840, to all who have sense enough to read it aright. What happened then may happen again, if not in the same form, in some other form equally foolish, and equally pernicious;and, therefore, if we wish to secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of freedom and good government, we must secure stronger guaranties than popular suffrage and popular virtue and intelligence. We for one frankly confess,–and we care not who knows it,–that what we saw during the presidential election of 1840, shook, nay, gave to the winds, all our remaining confidence in the popular democratic doctrines–not measures–of the day; and we confess, furthermore, that we have seen nothing in the conduct of either party since, that has tended to restore it. During the extra session of congress in the summer of 1841, the Democratic delegations in both houses behaved nobly, and acquitted themselves like men; they won the victory for their country, as well as lasting honor and gratitude for themselves from the wise and good everywhere; but our friends seem to have been more successful in gaining the victory than in securing its fruits. The rapid and overwhelming successes which have followed in the state elections,seem to have intoxicated the whole [260] Democratic party, and unless Godsends us some sudden and severe rebuke, there is great danger that we shall go into power again in 1845, without having been in the least instructed by defeat, or purified by adversity. Adversity is easy to bear; it is prosperity that tries the man. But enough of this.

From the fact that popular suffrage, and popular virtue and intelligence, have proved, and are likely to prove, insufficient to secure the blessings of freedom and good government, it must not be inferred that popular suffrage is an evil, and should therefore be abandoned; much less that popular forms of government have proved a failure, and that we should therefore go back to aristocracy or to monarchy. We draw for ourselves no such inference. We have lost no confidence in nor love for popular institutions. The struggle for democratic forms of government has, moreover, been too long and too severe, has enlisted too many of the wise and the good, and been consecrated by too many prayers, sufferings, and sacrifices, to permit us, even if our confidence of ultimate success were altogether less than it really is, to think even for one moment of ceasing to continue it. Humanity never does, and never should, retrace her steps. Her course is onward through the ages. In this career, we have left aristocracy and monarchy behind us; and there let them remain, now and for ever. We may encounter both hunger and thirst in the wilderness; let us trust that the God of our fathers will rain manna upon us, and make water gush from the rock,if need be, rather than like the foolish Israelites sigh to return to the”flesh pots of Egypt,” for we can return to them only by returning to the slavery from which we have just escaped. No: our faces are forward; the promised land is before us; and let the command ran along our ranks, Forward,march!

We assure our democratic brethren, then, in the Old World as well as in the New, that if we have words of rebuke for them, we have no words of consolation or of hope for their enemies. Thank God, we are neither traitors nor deserters; we stand by our colors, and will live or die, fighting for the good old cause, the CAUSE OF THE PEOPLE. But if our general made an unsuccessful attack yesterday, and was repulsed with heavy loss, and all in consequence of not choosing the best position, or of not taking the necessary precautions for covering his troops from the enemy’s batteries, we hope we may in the council held to-day, without any dereliction[261] from duty, advise that the attack be renewed under an officer better skilled to conduct it, or at least that it be renewed from a more advantageous position. We see in the fact that democracy has hitherto failed, no reason for deserting its standard, but of seeking to recruit its forces; or, without figure, we see in our ill success hitherto, simply the necessity of obtaining new and stronger guaranties than popular suffrage can offer, even though coupled with popular intelligence. We would not, we cannot dispense with popular suffrage and intelligence, and we pray our readers to remember this; but they are not alone sufficient, and we must have something else in addition to them, or we shall fail to secure those results from the practical working of the government, which every true-hearted democrats laboring with all his might to secure.

We have not erred in laboring to extend popular suffrage,–though thus far its extension has operated almost exclusively in favor of the business classes, or rather of the money power,–but in relying on it as alone sufficient. There is not a tithe of that virtue in the ballot-box which we, in our Fourth-of-July orations and caucus speeches, are in the habit of ascribing to it. The virtue we have been accustomed to ascribe to it, we have claimed for it on the ground that the people always know what is right and will always act up to their knowledge. That is to say,suffrage rests for its basis, as a guaranty of freedom and good government,on the assumed intelligence and virtue of the people. Its grand maxim is, “The people can do no wrong.” Now, this may be very beautiful in theory,but when we come to practice, this virtue and intelligence of the people is all a humbug. We beg pardon of the sovereign people for the treasonable speech; but it is true, true as Holy Writ, and there is neither wisdom nor virtue in pretending to the contrary. Perhaps, however, our remark is not quite true, in the sense in which it will be taken, without word or two by way of explanation.

To the explanation, then. We are in this country, we democrat sand all, most incorrigible aristocrats. We are always using the word people in its European sense, as designating the unprivileged many, in distinction from the privileged few. But this sense of the word is with us really inadmissible. We, we the literary, the refined, the wealthy, the fashionable,we are people as well as our poorer and more coarsely mannered and clad neighbors. We are all [262] people in this country, the merchant,the banker, the broker, the manufacturer, the lawyer, the doctor, the office-holder,the office-seeker, the scholar, and the gentleman, no less than the farmer,the mechanic, and the factory operative. We do not well to forget this.For ourselves, we always remember it, and therefore when we speak slightingly of the intelligence and virtue of the people, it is of the whole people,not of any particular class; in a sense which includes necessarily us who speak as well as those to whom we speak. When, then, we call what is usually said about the virtue and intelligence of the people all a humbug, we do not use the word in its European sense, and mean to speak disparagingly of the intelligence of plebeians as distinguished from patricians, of the “base-born” as distinguished from the “well-born;” for the distinctions here implied do not exist in this country, and should not be recognized even in our speech. When it comes to classes, we confess that we rely as much on the virtue and intelligence of proletaries as on the virtue and intelligence of capitalists, and would trust our mechanics as quick pandas far as we would our merchants and manufacturers.

There is, if we did but know it, arrant aristocracy in this talk which we hear, and quite too frequently in our own ranks, about the virtue and intelligence of the people. Who are we who praise, in this way, the people? Are we ourselves people? And when we so praise them, dowel feel ourselves below them, and looking up to them with reverence? Or do we feel that we are above them, and with great self-complacency, condescending to pat them on the shoulder, and say, after all, my fine fellows, you are by no means such fools as your betters sometimes think.” If we were in England, where there is a recognized hereditary aristocracy, and where the word people is used to designate all who do not belong to the nobility or privileged class, we could understand and even accept what is said about the virtue, intelligence, and capacity of the people; for there it would be appropriate and true. There it would simply mean that the unprivileged classes–the commons–are as able to manage the affairs of the government, and as worthy of confidence, as are the nobility, they who are born legislators; which we hold to be a great and glorious truth,worthy and needing to be preached, even to martyrdom, in every country in which the law recognizes a privileged class. But here it has no meaning,or one altogether inappropriate, [263] false and pernicious. To praise the people here for their virtue and intelligence is either to show that we feel ourselves above them, and praise them solely because we wish tousle them; or it is simply praising ourselves, boasting of our own virtue, intelligence, and capacity. The people should beware of the honeyed voices perpetually sounding their praise. He who in a monarchy will flatter the monarch, or in an aristocracy will fawn round the great, will in a democracy flatter the people; and he who will flatter the people in a democracy,would in an aristocracy fawn round the great, and in a monarchy, flatter the monarch. The demagogue is the courtier adapting himself to circumstances.And yet, flattery is so sweet, that he who can scream loudest in praise of the sovereign people, and whose conscience does not stick even at the blasphemy of Vox populi est vox Dei, will be pretty sure of receiving the largest share of their confidence and favor–another proof of their virtue, intelligence, and capacity!

One thing, by the way, we must own,–the people will bear with more equanimity to be told of their faults than will other sovereigns, or we ourselves should be drawn and quartered for our reiterated treason. But, if they would only lay our treason to heart, and profit by it, we would willingly consent to be drawn and quartered. But, alas! we may speak,and our good-natured sovereign will merely smile, call for his coffee and pantoufles, sip the beverage, throw himself back in his easy-chair, and doze. It is a virtue to commend him, and whoso does not, he disregards. Whoever among us expresses any want of confidence in the people, notwithstanding their apparent forbearance, is supposed to be their enemy, and is sure to be read out of the Democratic party; or to be laid up on the shelf, till some difficulty occurs in which his strong sense and stern integrity become indispensable. But after all, what is the ground of this confidence in the people? A strong party is springing up among us, which builds entirely upon this confidence, and says that if the people were only left to themselves they would always do right; and that all the mischief arises from our attempting to govern the people, and to prevent them from having their own way. Hence,say they, let us have as little government as possible, or rather let us have no government. “All we want government for,” said Dr. Channing one day to the writer, “is simply to undo what government has done.” If the people are worthy of all the [264] confidence demanded, why not yield it? Why not rely on the people? Why seek to bind them by constitutions, and to control them by laws, which in the last resort the military may be called in to enforce? If the people always know the right, and always act up to their intelligence, government is a great absurdity. But we do not find our friends generally confiding in the people to this extent, though the doctrine they preach goes thus far. As much as they confide in the people,they do not feel willing to leave them to vote in their own way. We have our caucuses, and various and complicated machinery, without which we feel very sure that the people would not vote at all, or if voting, not on our side. In a majority of cases, we are so afraid that the people will not vote, or not vote aright, that we, through committees, caucuses, conventions, nominations, party usages, &c., so do up all the work, that the voting becomes a mere form, almost a farce–yet we preach confidence in the people!

But once more. What is the ground of this confidence in the virtue, intelligence, and capacity of the people? Do we really mean to say that the people acting individually or collectively never do, and never can do any wrong? Whence, then, comes all this wrong of which everybody is complaining? The people are virtuous,–whence, then, the vice, the crime, the immorality, the irreligion which threaten to deluge the land? What need of swords, pistols, bowie knives, jails, penitentiaries, pains, penalties, laws, judges, and executioners? What need of schools, churches, teachers, preachers, prophets, and rulers? Nobody is so mad as really to pretend that nothing among us is wrong. Let alone private life, go merely into public life, enter the halls of justice and legislation–is all right here? No; everybody complains; everybody finds somewhat to condemn; some one thing, some another. And yet who has done this of which everybody is complaining? The people. What hear we from every quarter, but denunciations of this or that measure of public policy; of the profligacy of the government,or of its administration? And after all who is in fault? Whose is the government? The people’s. The people are sovereign, and of course the government and its administration, the laws and their execution, are just what the people will they should be. Is it not strange, if the people always perceive the right, and perceiving, always do it, that nevertheless where they are supreme,and what ever is done, is done by them, there yet should be so much wrong done? [265]

But touching the intelligence of our American people, we would ask with still more emphasis, Where have they shown it? Was it in the presidential campaign of 1840? Have they shown it in the several states in contracting abroad some two hundred millions of dollars or more of state and corporation debts? Have they shown it in introducing, extending and sustaining almost from their infancy the ruinous system of paper money? Do they show it by advocating the falsely-so-called American system–the”protective policy,” thereby crippling commerce, and enslaving the operative,for the very questionable benefit of a few manufacturing capitalists? Do they show it in their insane support of the immense system of corporations which spread over the country like a vast network, and which, flooding the market with stock, gives to a few individuals who have contrived to maintain their credit, the means of controlling and laying under contribution the whole industrial activity of the country? Have they shown it, in their very general condemnation of the only measure which would separate the revenues of the government from the general business operations of individuals,and secure to the government that financial independence, without which it ceases to be government, and becomes merely an instrument in the hands of one portion of the community for plundering the other? We demand of the statesmen who publicly boast, that during their whole continuance in office, “they have made it their duty to ascertain and bow to the will of the people;” –we demand of them, wherein they find this infallible popular intelligence on which they bid us rely? The people, we shall be told, rejected the elder Adams, elected and sustained Mr. Jefferson. Be it so, and yet, will any one tell us wherein the policy of Mr. Jefferson, so far as it bore on the practical relations of the people, and their every-day business interests, differed essentially from that of Mr. Adams? They rejected the old federal theory of government, it is true, and adopted the democratic; but it may be a very serious question, whether the latter theory, as the people understand it, is so much in advance of the former as we sometimes imagine. We shall be told that the people sustained General Jackson in his anti-bank policy; but it was General Jackson and not his policy,for they refused to sustain his successor, who pursued with singular consistency and firmness the same policy; and they would have sustained a new bank,had not Mr. Biddle’s bank failed at the very moment [266] it did, spreading alarm and distress through the land. Nine tenths of our business men even now fancy that we can add to the wealth of the country by increasing the paper circulation, and attribute the present embarrassments of the country to the want of confidence, when in fact these embarrassments have resulted almost solely from an excess of confidence; and can be relieved, not by any increase of confidence, but of that which gives to confidence a solid basis–solid capital.

In fact, no measure of public policy can be proposed, so absurd or so wicked, but it shall find popular support. What could be a more bare-faced violation of the constitution, more profligate, or more absurd as a measure of public policy, than the act of congress distributing the proceeds of the sales of the public lands among the several states? And yet where has it aroused any popular indignation? How many of even the Democratic states have had the virtue to fling back the bribe that was offered them? Has New York? Pensylvania? Ohio? Illinois? Missouri? Mississippi.? Georgia? Virginia? Maine? We recollect now, out of all the Democratic states, only three–South Carolina, Alabama, and New Hampshire–that have had the virtue to refuse to receive their portion of the spoils. A good Democrat introduced resolutions into the Massachusetts legislature declaring the act unconstitutional, and that the state ought not to accept its portion of the money; but he was induced by his own party, while agreeing with him in the unconstitutionality of the act, to amend his resolutions so as to leave out the clause which required the state to refuse to receive money unconstitutionally distributed. And what is remarkable, the amendment was proposed and urged by one of the most influential members of the party in the legislature, and who has been regarded for years as the leader of the ultra or radical portion of the Democratic party in the state. So little popular opposition has this measure encountered, a measure which would have been, no doubt, cheerfully acquiesced in by a large majority of the people, as the settled policy of the country, had it not been defeated by the presidential veto.

We might go even further, and venture to predict that the assumption of the state debts by the federal government, all unconstitutional and wicked as such assumption would be, will yet be adopted. There are so many stockholders, both at home and abroad, interested in its adoption,[267] that it must come at last, unless Providence interpose in our behalf.The people,–we mean the mass of the people, of the constituencies–are now, we fear, prepared for it, and nothing but the virtue of a few public men now delays it. If it be ultimately defeated, it will be through the influence of these few patriotic individuals; perhaps, nay, most likely,by the executive veto. The merchants to a considerable extent will sustain the measure, because it is one which will help to sustain or facilitate their credit abroad; the manufacturers will sustain it, because it will afford a pretext for the imposition of high duties on foreign imports;the operative and the farmer must sustain it, because the first depends on the manufacturer and trader for employment, and the last for the sale of his produce; against these the planters will hardly be able to sustain themselves, especially when several of the planting states are themselves to be directly relieved by assumption from the embarrassments which now cripple their energies. Where, then, is the power to defeat the measure?Yet we go on lauding the virtue and intelligence of the people!

Let us return for a moment to what is called “the protective policy.” The Lynn shoemaker clamors for protection, for high duties to diminish foreign imports and to secure to him the monopoly of the home market. If he can only exclude French shoes, he shall then have this monopoly.Very well. Where does he, and where must he find the principal market for his shoes? South and West. The value of that market to him, then, will depend on the ability of the South and West to buy shoes. Whence this ability?It depends, of course, on the ability of the South and West to sell their own productions. The principal market for western produce is at the South.The ability of the West to buy Lynn shoes depends, then, on its ability to sell its productions to the South. Whence, then, we must ask again,the ability of the South to buy western produce and Lynn shoes? In its ability to sell its rice, cotton, and tobacco to the foreigner. Whence the ability of the foreigner to buy the rice, cotton, and tobacco of the South? In his ability to sell his own productions or manufactures to us.If we will not buy of him, he cannot buy of us. Consequently, just in proportion as the Lynn shoemaker places an impediment in the way of the foreigner selling to us, does he place an impediment in the way of his selling his shoes to the South and West. In proportion as he secures, by [268] prohibitory duties, the monopoly of the home market, he diminishes its value, by diminishing the ability of the people to consume. Here, at best, he loses on the one hand all he gains on the other. Yet we boast of the intelligence of the Lynn shoemaker, and his intelligence, by the by, is above the average intelligence of the country.

But, absurd as the protective policy would be under any state of things,–implying that industry can be more energetic and efficient if bound than when left to the free use of its limbs,–it is doubly so when coupled, as we have coupled it, with the paper money system–a system which, though somewhat shaken, the mass of the people are still attached to, and the abolition of which scarcely a public man who values his reputation dare even propose. Very few of the people have ever thought of inquiring into the operations of the two systems when combined. In the first place,the paper money system, by depreciating our currency below that of foreign nations, operates as a direct premium, to the percentage of the depreciation,in favor of the foreign manufacturer; because the foreigner sells to us at the high prices produced by our depreciated currency, but buys of us,always, according to his own appreciated currency. This, for years in our trade with England, very nearly neutralized the tariff intended to protect our own manufactures.

In the next place, the tariff operating with the banking system tends to increase instead of diminishing the advantage of the foreign manufacturer. The first effect of a protective tariff, if it have any effect at all, is no doubt to diminish the imports, and to bring them, in fact, below the exports; which throws the balance of trade in our own favor.This cuts off all foreign demand for specie, and sends specie into the country, if needed. This, freeing the banks from all fear of a demand for specie to settle up foreign balances, and rendering it easy for them to obtain specie from abroad, if necessary, enables them to employ their capital in discounting freely to business men, even to speculators, and to throw out their paper to an almost unlimited extent. This expands, that is, depreciates the currency; prices rise; and the foreign manufacturer is able to come in over our own tariff, sell his goods at our enhanced prices, pay the duties, and pocket a profit. This, in turn, swells the revenue, which,if deposited in the banks, becomes the basis of additional discounts, which expand still more the currency, enhance prices still more, till the whole land [269] is flooded with foreign imports, which shall, as we have seen in our own case, notwithstanding our agricultural resources, extend even to corn, barley, oats, and potatoes; thus crushing not only our home manufactures,but the interests of every branch of industry but that of trade; and at length even that by destroying its very basis. This is no theory, it is fact; it is our own bitter experience as a people, from the terrible effects of which we are not yet recovered; and still we hold on to the policy,and the majority of the American people, even today, after all their experience,believe in the wisdom of continuing both systems!

But enough of this. We have heard so much said about the wisdom and intelligence of the people, that we perhaps are a little sore on the subject, and may therefore be disposed to exaggerate their folly and wickedness. But we have seen enough to satisfy us, that if we mean by democracy the form of government that rests for its wisdom and justice on the intelligence and virtue of the people alone, it is a great humbug.The facts we have brought forward prove it so; nay, more, that in destroying all guaranties, and in relying solely on the wisdom and virtue of the people,we are destroying the very condition of good government.

We may be told, as we doubtless shall be, by our democratic friends, that the errors we have pointed out, were not, and are not the errors of the people. Of whom then? “Of the people’s masters; of bankers,stock-jobbers, corporators, selfish politicians, &c.” And who are these? Are they not people? And how came they to be the people’s masters? And why do the people, if they are so wise and virtuous, submit to be controlled by them? We shall be told, and truly, that the principal measures or acts we have condemned, have been supported, not by the Democratic party, but by the Federalists and Whigs. But who pray are Federalists and Whigs? Are they not people just as much as are the Democrats? Is not what is done by them as much done by the people, as what is done by us? In speaking of the people we must include all parties, for we are as we have seen,in this country, all people, and the most numerous party is always the most popular. The American people are as responsible for what the Whigs do, as they are for what the Democrats do. So we cannot throw off from the people the responsibility of any of the systems of policy the government adopts, by saying it was adopted by this or that party. [270]

We of course shall not be understood in these remarks to intend any thing against the general wisdom and justice of the aims and measures of the Democratic party. As we understand its aims and measures, they are wise and patriotic, just and philanthropic. The Democratic party, at heart, is opposed to paper money, to a high protective tariff, to the growing system of corporate or associated wealth, and to a consolidated republic; and is in favor of the constitutional currency, free-trade, state rights, strict construction of the constitution, low taxes, an economical administration of the government, and the general melioration in the speediest manner possible of the moral, intellectual, and physical condition of the poorest and most numerous class. Taking this view of its aims and its measures,we must needs hold it to be the party of the country and of humanity. As such we are with it and of it, and no earthly power shall prevent us from laboring to advance it. But the doctrines which some of its members put forth on the foundation and authority of government, and which threaten to become popular in the party, nay, its leading doctrines, we own we do not embrace and cannot contemplate without lively apprehensions for the fate of liberty, civil and personal.

The great end with all men in their religious, their political,and their individual actions, is FREEDOM. The perfection of our nature is in being able “to look into the perfect law of liberty,” for liberty is only another name for power. The measure of my ability is always the exact measure of my freedom. The glory of humanity is in proportion to its freedom. Hence, humanity always applauds him who labors in right-down earnest to advance the cause of freedom. There is something intoxicating to every young and enthusiastic heart in this applause–always something intoxicating, too, in standing up for freedom, in opposing authority, in warring against fixed order, in throwing off the restraint of old and rigid customs, and enabling the soul and the body to develop themselves freely and in the natural proportions. Liberty is a soul-stirring word. It kindles all that is noble, generous, and heroic within us. Whoso speaks out for it can always be eloquent, and always sure of his audience.One loves so to speak if be be of a warm and generous temper, and we all love him who dares so to speak.

In consequence of this, we find our young men–brave spirits they are too–full of a deep, ardent love of liberty, and ready to do battle for her at all times, and against any [271] odds. They, in this, address themselves to what is strongest in our nature, and to what is noblest; and so doing become our masters, and carry us away with them. Here is the danger we apprehend. We fear no attacks on liberty but those made in the name of liberty; we fear no measures but such as shall be put forth and supported by those whose love of freedom, and whose impatience of restraint,are altogether superior to their practical wisdom. These substitute passion for judgment, enthusiasm for wisdom, and carry us away in a sort of divine madness whither we know not, and whither, in our cooler moments, we would not. It is in the name of liberty that Satan wars successfully against liberty.

We mean not here to say that we can have too much liberty, or that there is danger that any portion of our fellow-citizens will become too much in earnest for the advancement and security of liberty. What we fear is, on the one hand, the misinterpretation of liberty, and, on the other, the adoption of wrong or inadequate measures to establish or guaranty it. We fear that a large portion of the younger members of the Democratic party do misinterpret liberty. If they analyze their own minds, they will find that they are yet virtually understanding, liberty as we did when the great work to be done was to free the mass of the people from the dominion of kings and nobilities. They will find, we fear, that they have not thought,that in order to secure freedom any thing more was necessary, than to establish universal suffrage and eligibility, and to leave the people free to follow their own will, uncontrolled, unchecked. Hence, liberty with them is merely political. Where all are free to vote and to be voted for, there is all the freedom they contemplate.

Perhaps this is stated too positively. Perhaps it would be truer to say, that they do not see that any thing more is necessary,in order to render every man practically free; than the establishment of a perfectly democratic government. Where all the people take part in the government, are equally possessed of the right of suffrage and that of eligibility, and where the people are free to take any direction, at anytime, that the majority may determine, they suppose that there perfect freedom is as a matter of course. But this we have seen is not the fact,and cannot be the fact till the virtue and intelligence of the people are perfect, instead of being, as they now are, altogether imperfect, [272]and, in reference to what they should be, in order to render certain the end contemplated, as good as no virtue and intelligence at all. But ignorant of this fact, confiding in the virtue and intelligence of the people, feeling that all the obstacles liberty encounters are owing to the fact that the will of the people is not clearly and distinctly expressed, they labor to remove whatever tends in their judgment to restrain the action of the people, or the authoritative expression of the will of the majority. But when they have removed all these restraints, broken all barriers, and obtained all open field and fair play for the will of the people, what is thereto guaranty us the enjoyment of liberty?

This question leads us to the point to which all that we have thus far said has been directed. We solemnly protest against construing one word we have said into hostility to the largest freedom for all men;but we put it to our young friends, in sober earnest too, whether with them freedom is something positive; or whether they are in the habit of regarding it as merely negative? Do they not look upon liberty merely as freedom from certain restraints or obstacles, rather than as positive ability possessed by those who are free? They assume that we have the ability,the power, both individually and collectively,–when once the external restraints are taken off,–to be and to do all that is requisite for our highest individual and social weal. Is this assumption warrantable? Is man individually or socially sufficient for himself? Should not our politics,as well as our religion, teach us that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, and that he can work out his own salvation, only as a higher power, through grace, works in him to will and to do.

This bring[s] us back to the old question, Are the people competent to govern themselves? What we have said concerning the virtue and intelligence of the people, has been said for the express purpose of proving that they are not competent to govern themselves. We confess here to what we know in the eyes of our countrymen is a “damnable” political heresy, but, an’ they should burn us at the stake, we must tell them this notion of theirs about self-government is all moonshine; nay, a very Jack o’ Lantern, and can serve no better purpose, if followed, than to lead them from the high road, and plunge them in the mire or the swamp from which to extricate themselves will be no easy matter. The very word itself implies a contradiction. There is a government only where there is that which governs, and [273] that which is governed. In what is called self-government, the governor and the governed are one and the same, and therefore no government. That which governs is that which is governed; but how can the governor be the governed, or the governed the governor? We assure our readers, we are not playing on terms, nor quibbling about words. In this doctrine of self-government, the people as the governed,are absolutely indistinguishable from the people as governors. Tell us,then, in what consists the government? Tell us wherein this doctrine of self-government differs from no-government? But do we not need government?

“But you mistake the question. The question is not, Are the people competent to govern themselves? but, Are they able, of themselves, to institute and maintain wise and just civil government?” They who put the question in this form, admit that government is necessary; but they contend that the people, seeing this, will institute government, and voluntarily put a restraint on their own power. This is what we have done in this country. The people here are sovereign, but they have drawn up and ordained certain constitutions or fundamental laws, which limit their sovereignty and prescribe the mode in which it shall be exercised.

But who or what guaranties the constitution? In other words, assuming the constitution to be adopted, what is there back of the constitution that compels its observance, or prevents its violation? In short, what is the basis, the support of the constitution? A constitution,which is merely a written constitution, is only so much waste paper. There is always needed a power that shall make the written constitution the real,the living constitution of the people. Where in your democracy is this power? In the people unquestionably. “The people make the constitution,and they will have respect unto the work of their hands, and will therefore protect the constitution.” Admirable! The people voluntarily adopt a constitution,which constitution when adopted has no power to govern them, but what they voluntarily concede to it! Pray, wherein does this differ from no constitution at all? If the people are competent to frame the constitution and to maintain it, they are competent to govern themselves without the constitution, which we have already seen is not the fact. The constitution, if entrusted to the voluntary support of the people themselves, is worth nothing; for if the people will voluntarily abstain from doing what the constitution forbids,they would voluntarily [274] abstain from doing it even were there no constitution.The constitution in this case can give no additional security, for it gives nothing that we should not have without it.

What we insist on here is, that the constitution, if it emanate from the people, and rest for its support on their will, is absolutely indistinguishable from no constitution at all. What we want is something which shall govern. This, we are told, is the constitution. But the constitution, if it emanate from the people, and have no support but their will, is the people; and whatever power it may have, is after all only the power of the people. But it was the people, and not the people as individuals, but the people as the state, or body politic, that needed to be governed; and we have, even with the constitution, only the people with which to govern the people. They who tell us that the people will voluntarily impose and maintain the necessary restraints on their own will, do then by no means relieve us of our difficulties; for the will imposing the restraints,is identically the will to be restrained; and, therefore, they give us in the state but one will, and that will, since it imposes all restraints that are imposed, is really itself unrestrained. If the people are to be governed at all, there must be a power distinct from them and above them,sufficient to govern them. Now, can the people create this power? Will theyvoluntarily place a power above them, which can govern them;and therefore to which they must submit, whether they choose to submit or not? If so, we must cease, when they have so done, to talk of self-government,or of government by consent of the governed; for this power, whatever it be, wherever lodged must be, when constituted, distinct from the people and their sovereign. If the people have a sovereign, they cannot be themselves sovereign.

In all their speculations, they who differ from us, overlook the important fact that government is needed for the people as the state,as well as for the people as individuals. They assume, consciously or unconsciously, that the people, as the body politic, need no governing, and that, so viewed, they have in themselves a sort of inherent wisdom and virtue, which will lead them always to will and ordain what is wise and just, and only what is wise and just. They therefore seek government,not for the people as the body politic, but for the people as individuals.That is to say, they [275] seek not to restrain the power of the sovereign,but are willing to leave it absolute. Hence they proclaim the absolute sovereignty of the people, never ceasing to repeat, in season and out of season, that all legitimate power emanates from the people, and that the chief glory of the statesman is to find out and conform to the will of the people. We do not err in declaring that this is that theory of democracy which is becoming the dominant theory of all parties in the country. But,when we have reduced this theory to practice, when we have made the people supreme in the sense, and to the extent here implied, where is the practical guaranty for freedom? On what can we rely to protect our rights as men? Nay, what are we all in this case, as individuals, but the veriest slaves of the body politic? We have talked of certain inalienable rights, that is, rights which we possess by virtue of the fact that we are men, which we cannot ourselves surrender up, and which cannot be taken from us; but what is the use of talking about rights when we have no power to maintain them? My rights are worth nothing beyond my might to assert and maintain them against whosoever or whatsoever would usurp them.

Democracy is construed with us to mean the sovereignty of the people as the body politic; and the sovereignty of the people again is so construed that it becomes almost impossible to draw any line of distinction between the action of the people legally organized as the state, and the action of the people as a mob. The people in a legal or political sense, properly speaking, have no existence, no entity, therefore no rights,no sovereignty, save when organized into the body politic; and then their action is legitimate only when done through the forms which the body itself has prescribed. Yet we have seen it contended, and to an alarming extent,that the people, even outside and independent of the organism, exist as much as in it, and are as sovereign; and that a majority–aye, a bare majority counted by themselves–of the inhabitants of any given territory, have the right, if dissatisfied with the existing organism, to come together,informally, without any reference to existing authorities, and institute a new form of government, which shall legitimately supersede the old, and to which all the inhabitants of the territory shall owe allegiance!Admit this doctrine, and we ask our friends who have, we must believe,hastily and without reflection adopted it, what distinction they would make between the people and the mob? [276]

Let us look at this doctrine of popular sovereignty for a moment. We say, for instance, if the people of Massachusetts do not like their present form of government, they may make such alterations, acting through the existing forms, as they choose. These alterations, wise or unwise, would be legal, and binding upon the citizen. But suppose a number of individuals, dissatisfied with the existing provisions of the constitution,should call a meeting of individuals, who should frame a new constitution,send it out, and indeed obtain for it a majority of the votes in what is now the state of Massachusetts; this new constitution, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be the supreme law of the land. Be it so. But why restrict this to a majority of the inhabitants of the state?The men who are forming the new constitution must, of course, assume the nullity of the old, at least so far as their action is concerned, and also so far as it concerns the adoption of the new constitution. Assume the nullity of the constitution, and where would be Massachusetts? There would be, in a political sense, no Massachusetts at all. Why, then, cannot the new doctrine be applied to a section as well as to the whole territory?Why may not the majority of the inhabitants of what is now a county, a town, or a school district, if they choose, set up the same theory, and form and enforce a constitution for themselves? Outside of the existing organism there is no state, county, town, or school district, for these are all creations of the existing organism. Then we see not what there is to prevent the application of the doctrine to themselves by any number of individuals who choose. Nay, what is there to prevent its adoption by single individuals, and to make it not absurd for an individual to say to the state, “I disown you; I am my own state; I ask nothing of you, and I will concede you nothing. I am a man; I am my own sovereign, and you have no authority over me but by my consent. That consent I have never given; or if I have heretofore given it, I now withdraw it. You have, then,no right over me, and if you attempt to control me you are a tyrant.” This is no fancy sketch. This language we have actually heard used in sober earnest by one who knew very well what he was saying, and who so strongly believed in what he was saving, that he has chosen himself to be put in gaol rather than to acknowledge the authority of the state by paying a tax. Once proclaim the absolute sovereignty of the people, acting without[277] reference, to political organisms, that is, as a mass of individuals,or once proclaim, as the governor of New Hampshire does in his letter to the governor, or acting governor of Rhode Island, that the people are”sovereigns,” that is, making, each individual a sovereign, and you can exercise through the state no authority over any man, not even to punish him for the greatest social offence, without his consent. Your collector goes with his tax bill, the individual rightly exclaims, “Away, I know you not.” A family is living in open violation of the laws of God, you send your police to arrest them; they have a right to answer, “We are sovereign;we do not acknowledge our obligation to obey your sovereign; we are not accountable to your laws; we have formed our own constitution, and make our own laws; we hold to self-government.” The good sense of all parties, of course, would arrest the application of the doctrine long before it could come to this extent; but to this extent the doctrine we combat may be legitimately carried and in this fact we may and ought to see its radical unsoundness.

For ourselves, we object to the definition of democracy, which makes it consist in the sovereignty of the people. The sovereignty of the people, in the sense commonly contended for, we own we do not admit.The people, as an aggregate of individuals, are not sovereign, and the only sense in which they are sovereign at all, is when organized into a state, or body politic, and acting through its forms. No action of the inhabitants of a given territory, even if it include ninety-nine out of a hundred of all the individuals, is done by the PEOPLE, unless done in and through the forms prescribed by the political organism; and all action done in opposition to that organism, no matter how many are engaged in it, is the action of the mob, disorderly, illegal, and to a greater or less degree criminal, treasonable in fact, and as such legitimately punishable.

We do not wish to be too severe on the advocates of the doctrine we oppose. It has been with most of them only a momentary error, and which, though pelting us unmercifully for exposing it, they will quietly abandon, and without confessing it, feel shame for ever having advocated. Confident of this, we give them leave to say all the hard things of us they please; for we acknowledge that for a moment we too fell into the same error. Our sympathy with the end which we saw a portion of our friends struggling [278] to gain, and by means which were justifiable only on the doctrine in question, blinded us for a time, as we presume it has others,to the real character of the doctrine itself. Let this confession suffice for us and for our brethren. They of course will not accede to it, but we venture to predict, that, as the excitement of the struggle to which we have alluded subsides, and matters reassume their orderly and peaceful course, there will be found few so bold as to reiterate the doctrine.

But the fact that this doctrine has been put forth, in sober earnest, by men in high places as well as by men in low places, is itself an argument in our favor, and goes to prove that the people are not to be relied on so implicitly as some of our democratic friends pretend.The case we have had in mind, strikingly illustrates the sort of danger to which, under a democracy, interpreted to mean the absolute sovereignty of the people, we are peculiarly and at all times exposed. The ends the people seek to gain, are, we willingly admit, for the most part just and desirable; but the justice and desirableness of the end, almost always blind them to the true character and tendency of the means by which they seek to gain it. They become intent on the end, so intent as to be worked up to a passion for it,–for the people never act but in a passion,–and then in going to it, they break down every thing which obstructs or hinders their progress. Now, what they break down, though in the way of gaining that particular end, may after all be our only guaranty of other ends altogether more valuable. Here is the danger. What more desirable than personal freedom? What more noble than to strike off the fetters of the slave? Aye, but if, in striking off his fetters, you trample on the constitution and laws, which are your only guaranty of freedom for those who are now free, and also for those you propose to make free, what do you gain to freedom? Great wrong may be done in seeking even a good end, if we look not well to the means we adopt. Philanthropy itself not unfrequently is so intent on the end, that in going to it, it tramples down more rights than it vindicates by success. We own, therefore, that the older we grow, and the longer we study in that school, the only one in which fools will learn, the more danger do we see in popular passions, and the less is our confidence in the wisdom and virtue of the people.

“But what is our resource against all these evils? What [279] remedy do you propose?” These are fair questions, but we do not propose to answer them now. We may hereafter undertake to do it, and what we shall have to say will be arranged under the heads of the constitution, the church, and individual statesmen. Without an efficient constitution, which is not only an instrument through which the people govern, but which is a power that governs them, by effectually confining their action to certain specific subjects, there is and can be no good government, no individual liberty. Without the influence of wise and patriotic statesmen, whose importance,in our adulation of the people as a mass, we have underrated, and without the Christian church exerting the hallowed and hallowing influences of Christianity upon the people both as individuals and as the body politic,we see little hope, even with the best constitution, of securing the blessings of freedom and good government. But these are matters into the discussion of which we cannot now enter. Our purpose in this article has been to draw the attention of our political friends to certain heresies of doctrine which are springing up amongst us, and enlisting quite too much sympathy,and which we believe pregnant with mischief.

Democracy, in our judgment, has been wrongly defined to be a form of government; it should be understood of the end, rather than of the means, and be regarded as a principle rather than a form. The end we are to aim at, is the freedom and progress of all men, especially of the poorest and most numerous class. He is a democrat who goes for the highest moral, intellectual, and physical elevation of the great mass of the people, especially of the laboring population, indistinction from a special devotion to the interests and pleasures of the wealthier, more refined, or more distinguished few. But the means by which this elevation is to be obtained, are not necessarily the institution of the purely democratic form of government. Here has been our mistake. We have been quite too ready to conclude that if we only once succeed in establishing democracy,–universal suffrage and eligibility, without constitutional restraints on the power of the people,–as a form of government, the end will follow as a matter of course. The considerations we have adduced,we think prove to the contrary.

In coming to this conclusion, it will be seen that we differ from our friends not in regard to the end, but in regard to [280]the means. We believe, and this is the point on which we insist, that the end, freedom and progress, will not be secured by this loose radicalism with regard to popular sovereignty, and these demagogical boasts of the virtue and intelligence of the people, which have begun to be so fashionable.They who are seeking to advance the cause of humanity by warring against all existing institutions, religions, civil, or political, do seem to us to be warring against the very end they wish to gain.

It has been said, that mankind are always divided into two parties, one of which may be called the, stationary party, the other the movement party, or party of progress. Perhaps it is so; if so, all of us who have any just conceptions of our manhood, and of our duty to our fellow men, must arrange ourselves on the side of the movement. But the movement itself is divided into two sections,–one the radical section,seeking progress by destruction; the other the conservative section, seeking progress through and in obedience to existing institutions. Without asking whether the rule applies beyond our own country, we contend that the conservative section is the only one that a wise man can call his own. In youth we feel differently. We find evil around us; we are in a dungeon; loaded all over with chains; we cannot make a single free movement; and we utter one long,loud, indignant protest against whatever is. We feel then that we can advance religion only by destroying the church; learning only by breaking down the universities; and freedom only by abolishing the state. Well, this is one method of progress; but, we ask, has it ever been known to be successful?Suppose that we succeed in demolishing the old edifice, in sweeping away all that the human race has been accumulating for the last six thousand years, what have we gained? Why, we are back where we were six thousand years ago; and without any assurance that the human race will not reassume its old course and rebuild what we have destroyed.

As we grow older, sadder, and wiser, and pass from idealists to realists, we change all this, and learn that the only true way of carrying the race forward is through its existing institutions. We plant ourselves, if on the sad, still on the firm reality of things, and content ourselves with gaining what can be gained with the means existing institutions furnish. We seek to advance religion through and [281] in obedience to the church; law and social well-being through and in obedience to the state. Let it not be said that in adopting this last course, we change sides, leave the movement, and go over to the stationary party. No such thing. We do not thus in age forget the dreams of our youth. It is because we remember those dreams, because young enthusiasm has become firm and settled principle,and youthful hopes positive convictions, and because we would realize what we dared dream, when we first looked forth on the face of humanity, that we cease to exclaim “Liberty against Order,” and substitute the practical formula, “LIBERTY ONLY IN AND THROUGH ORDER.” The love of liberty loses none of its intensity. In the true manly heart it burns deeper and clearer with age, but it burns to enlighten and to warm, not to consume.

Here is the practical lesson we have sought to unfold. While we accept the end our democratic friends seek, while we feel our lot is bound up with theirs, we have wished to impress upon their minds,that we are to gain that end only through fixed and established order; not against authority, but by and in obedience to authority, and an authority competent to ordain and to guaranty it. Liberty without the guaranties of authority, would be the worst of tyrannies.

(1843)


Featured: Orestes Augustus Brownson, by George Peter Alexander Healy; painted in 1863.


Providential Divine Right and Doctrine of the Bourgeois State

It is traditional in the doctrine of French law, of a state formed by eight centuries of monarchy, to begin the treatment of public powers from the theological justification of power itself. This is followed by the exposition of the theory of divine right and the distinction between “doctrine du droit divin surnaturel” and “doctrine du droit divin providential,” attributing the affirmation of the former to the Kings of France (Barthélemy – Duez) and particularly to Louis XIV and Louis XV, or Bossuet (Hauriou); while for the latter the attribution is concordant to de Maistre and de Bonald. The distinction between the two conceptions is set forth as follows by Hauriou:

“Theological doctrine had two successive forms in France: 1) The doctrine of supernatural divine right (Bossuet), which consists in maintaining that God Himself chooses rulers and invests them with their powers: this conception is compatible only with absolute monarchy; 2) The doctrine of divine providential law (de Maistre and de Bonald), according to which power, in its fundamental principle is part of the providential order of the world, but is at the disposal of the rulers through human means; this doctrine equally adequately allows for both the justification of minority power, exercised by an elite, and majority power, exercised by the majority of the people (vox populi vox Dei).”

Hauriou goes on to point out the advantages of this second theory: 1) to signify that the instinct of power is in human nature, and in that sense, pre-social; 2) to place the origin of power above both the social collectivity, the right of the rulers, and anyone: that is, to lead to no absolutism; it is most conducive to freedom; 3) coming from God, power is by nature oriented toward reason, justice and the common good.

Most importantly, as becomes evident from the systematic context of these considerations, it allows for reconnecting pouvoir de fait and pouvoir de droit, that is, for “opening” law to the changes of history. In a more specific sense, to ground constituent (human) power above the constitution itself. Barthélemy and Duez argue, likewise, that the doctrine of divine providential law is not necessarily aristocratic or monarchical, because any man or class can be chosen by Providence to execute its designs: thus it is not contrary to democracy. Both Barthélemy and Carré de Malberg regard the doctrine of divine providential right as already formulated by St. Thomas and followed by most Catholic theologians.

This conception, however, is not considered by all jurists to be an “antecedent” to modern democracy. Jellinek, in writing about modern democracy—and republics—traces them back to Reformation conceptions, particularly Calvinist. Otto von Gierke believes that it was “the Reformation that revived theocratic thought with new energy. Through all the differences in their conceptions, Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli and Calvin agreed in insisting on the Christian function and thus the divine right of rulers. Indeed, since on the one hand they more or less decisively subject the dominion of the Church to the state and on the other hand they legitimize the existence of the state on the basis of the fulfillment of its religious duties, they give St. Paul’s principle omnis potestas a Deo a hitherto unknown scope.”

However, von Gierke does not neglect the doctrine of Second Scholasticism, and writes that the most ardent opponents of the Reformation, “particularly the Dominicans and the Jesuits wielded all their spiritual weapons in favor of a purely temporal construction of the State and the right of sovereignty” (also to support the thesis of potestas indirecta implying a limited subordination of the State to the Church).” Leaving out of account, however, the relations with the Church, they actually developed a doctrine of the state devoid of any dogmatic presuppositions, on purely philosophical foundations: This is true not only of the authentic monarchians of this group: Even the leading theorists of this tendency agree that the state union has its roots in natural law, that by virtue of this it is incumbent on the associated collectivity to have sovereignty over its members, and that all rights of the rulers come from the will of the collectivity to which natural law attributes the faculty and obligation to transmit its powers.”

Carl Schmitt argues: “According to the medieval conception, only God has a potestas constituens, as far as this can be spoken of—the phrase, “all power (or authority) comes from God” (“Non est enim potestas nisi a Deo,” Rom. 13:1) means the constituent power of God. The political literature of the Reformation era also adheres to this, especially the theory of the Calvinist monarcomacs,” and continues that with Sieyés’ doctrine of pouvoir constituant; it is the nation that is the subject of constituent power; despite the development of absolutism in the 17th century, the absolute prince is not yet defined as the subject of constituent power, but only because the idea of a free total decision, made by men, on the form and species of their political existence very slowly could develop into political action: The consequences of theological-Christian conceptions of God’s constituent power in the 18th century, despite the Enlightenment, were still too strong and vital.”

It remains to be seen to what extent the theory of pouvoir constituent—and by extension, of national sovereignty—is the result not only of the Enlightenment, the conceptions of Rousseau and the Jacobins, but of Christian political theology and more specifically, of the theory of divine “providential” law.

That Sieyés’s conception was the secularization of political theology, with the Almighty Nation in place of the Almighty God is clear; it is less so whether such a conception was tributary to the reflections of seventeenth-century philosophers—particularly Hobbes and Spinoza (and, later, Rousseau)—or to Catholic and Reformed theology, particularly of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or to jurists who were theorists of natural law. Indeed, the connotations of such a conception, which serve to distinguish it, are, in addition to those indicated by Hauriou, others, present in the thought of the revolutionary abbot.

Sieyés argues that the “Nation exists before everything; it is the origin of everything: its will always conforms to the law; it is the law itself: Before it and above it there is only natural law” and continues, “In every part of it, the Constitution is not the work of the constituted power, but of the constituent power: No kind of delegated power can change anything about the conditions of its own delegation. It is in this sense and in no other that constitutional laws are fundamental. The former, those constitutive of legislative power, are founded by the national will before any Constitution. They form its first step.” He repeatedly insists on the concept of will, “which is outside all form,” and that “a Nation can neither alienate nor interdict to itself the faculty of will; and whatever its will may be, it cannot lose the right to change it should its interest demand it;” thus, “When even it is granted it, a Nation must not bury itself in the fetters of a positive form: It would be tantamount to risking the irrevocable loss of its freedom, for it would only take a single occasion favorable to tyranny, to bind the people, under the pretext of the Constitution, to a form that would prevent them from freely expressing their will, and thus freeing themselves from the shackles of despotism.” It is clear that in this way, the community’s “right” to give itself the institutional form it prefers without the morphopoietic will of the Nation being subject to any legal constraint is founded.

In effect, such a conception of Sieyés means that there is no right to the power of anyone by divine investiture, but only the potestas of the community to give itself the form it prefers: the shaping of the form, and thus the right and choice of who exercises power is left to human will and work. To some extent, it “updates” the thinking of Christian theology, and Thomist theology in particular, on tyranny, based on the principle that “tota respublica superior est rege.”

Similarly, in Sieyés, the human tendency to associate is natural: man is a political animal, as Christian theology has always repeated, so he is naturally inclined to associate the political instinct—of order and power—is therefore natural and, even, pre-social, as Hauriou argues. And theologians in various ways have argued both the character of natural law and the reasonableness of the aggregation of men in society; mostly explaining it by human weakness, man not having natural weapons such as fangs, claws and having to defend himself from beasts, as well as from other men; hence the need to constitute a common power and enforce the law. Not unlike the representations of the theologians is what Sieyés wrote: “There is, in truth, a great inequality of means among men. Nature creates them strong or weak; to some it grants intelligence, while to others it rejects it. It follows that there will be among them inequality of labor, inequality of results, inequality of consumption or enjoyment; but it does not follow that there can be inequality of rights,” whereby “the right of the weak over the strong is the same as that of the strong over the weak. When the strong succeeds in oppressing the weak, it produces an effect without producing an obligation. Far from imposing a new duty on the weak, it revives in them the natural and imperishable duty to resist the oppressor,” and “So a society founded on mutual utility is in harmony with the natural means offered to man to achieve his end; in this sense this union is a good, and not a sacrifice, and the social order becomes an extension, a complement of the natural order.” Association in society is reasonable because the welfare state does not tend to degrade, to demean men, but, on the contrary, to ennoble them, to perfect them.

Thus “society does not weaken, does not reduce the particular means which each individual brings to the association for his personal benefit; on the contrary, it increases them; it multiplies them, by developing moral and physical faculties; it increases them still through the fundamental concurrence of labor and public relief,” and, “Man, by entering society, does not therefore sacrifice a part of his freedom: even when there was no social bond, no one had the right to harm another.” And, “Far from limiting individual freedom, the welfare state amplifies and secures its enjoyment; it removes a multitude of obstacles and dangers to which it was exposed, when it was secured solely by private force, and entrusts it to the omnipotent control of the whole association. Thus, since in the social state man increases his moral and physical means, while at the same time removing himself from the restlessness that accompanies their use, it is not erroneous to say that freedom is completer and more absolute in the social order than it can be in the so-called state of nature.” Contrary to Rousseau’s assertion, therefore, the judgment on the welfare state is positive, as Christian theology has always maintained. There is nothing of the heartfelt beginning of the Contrat social: “Man was born free and is everywhere in chains,” nor of Rousseau’s explanation of the welfare state in the Discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, as a solution that favors the richest, who secure with public power their positions.

Bossuet explains the well-known passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as follows: princes act as God’s ministers and His lieutenants on earth; their throne is not that of a man, but that of God Himself; the person of the king is sacred, even if he is not Christian like Cyrus , because he always represents the Divine majesty. Authority is in the image of God: the prince is the material image of (God’s) immortal authority. In the prince, man may die but authority never dies; the only principle that can ensure the stability of states is that every subject must respect the exercise of public powers and judgments. On the other hand, according to Bossuet only to the prince belongs the power to command legitimately and to him alone the exercise of coercion. If this were not so, the state (the community) would fall back into anarchy; from which it emerged precisely because it constituted (became) a people under a sovereign.

Indeed, as can be seen, the conception of the pouvoir constituant bears a close affinity with the conception of divine providential law with which it shares the main points of contact: That then the theory is itself, as mentioned, the secularization of Christian theology, with the Nation being given the connotations of God is even more evident: the absence of (legal) limits—the omnipotence of the will of the nation; its ability to “create” order, bestowing by the constitution on the one hand an order (a form) that “surpasses” chaos, and on the other hand the very capacity for political action (and existence); the resolution of the distinction/antithesis between being and ought-to-be.

But it is no less true that, in his defense of the “goodness” of the association of men, Sieyés took up what Christian theology has always maintained: in fact, already St. Augustine linked order, peace, and civitas, emphasizing the concord, which, in “temporal” things there was between the earthly city and the heavenly city. On the other hand, the conception of divine providential law was expounded in other respects, more articulated than those mentioned so far, by St. Robert Bellarmine. The latter, in also refuting the theses of the Anabaptists, adduces five proofs, three of them “logical” (deductive-rational) and two “historical.” Of particular interest is the distinction between authority (willed by God is therefore good in itself, being part of the order of creation) and those who exercise it, namely the ruler (who, as a human being is always subject to sin and error): “To what the Anabaptists say to the contrary, I affirm first of all that it is not true that kings and princes are generally evil: for we are not dealing here with a particular state, but with political power in general; and in this sense, Abraham was king and prince also.” He continues: “the examples of evil kings do not prove that political power is evil in itself; for bad people often make use of good things; but the examples of good kings prove that political power is good, because good people do not make use of bad things. Further, bad princes are often of more benefit than harm, as was the case with Saul, Solomon and others. Besides, it is even more useful for a state to have a bad prince than to have none; for where there is none, the state cannot preserve itself for long: Solomon himself said so (Prov. 11:14): “Where there is no governor, the people shall fall: but there is safety where there is much counsel.” Better a bad ruler than the anarchy of non-government.

On political power: “In this regard, however, some observations are to be made. The first is this: political power in general, i.e., not considered in its particular forms of monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, comes immediately from God alone, since it is a necessary consequence of the nature of man;” and originally resides in the multitude: “For since this power is of divine right, this right did not give power to any particular man; it therefore gave it to the whole multitude.” And, “natural law itself transfers political power from the multitude to one or more individuals. For the multitude cannot exercise this power itself, and therefore it is obliged to transfer it to one or a few individuals. Therefore, the power of princes, considered in general, is itself of natural and divine right, and mankind, even if all men agreed in this, could not establish the contrary, that is, that there were no princes and leaders.” However, “the particular forms of political regime are ‘de jure gentium‘ and not of natural law, since it is clear that it depends on the free will of the multitude to determine that it governs a king or some consuls or other magistrates; and, if there is a legitimate cause, the multitude can change a monarchical regime into an aristocratic or democratic one and vice versa, as we know happened in Rome.” The conclusion is “from what has been said it follows that political power, considered in particular, certainly comes from God, by means, however, of human deliberation and election, like everything “de jure gentium.”

This “jus gentium” is like a consequence deduced from natural law through human intervention. Clear in such theses of Bellarmine are the presuppositions of as many of the cornerstones of modern political and constitutionalist thought; the distinction between authority (good and necessary because it is ordained by God) and those who exercise it (human and therefore sinful, like those who are governed). This is the foundation of the conception developed in the bourgeois state whereby, precisely because rulers are not angels, checks are needed on them, as written in the Federalist Papers. Which led to the exceptional increase in the organization of liberal democracies, of the legal (and political) system of “brakes and counterweights;” and, likewise, to the impossibility of legal controls over the ruler (subject only to limitations of an ethical, religious and ontological nature i.e., of “natural law” not positive law, in any case not susceptible to coercion). This confirms at once the necessity of political power (by divine right) and the accidentality of the forms in which it is ordered and the subjects chosen to exercise it. It reaffirms the distinction between “ownership” of political power to the whole multitude, obliged to transfer it to one or more, by “natural right” (i.e., by objective necessity) and thus affirms the necessary character of representation; while the forms in which it is organized, which are not of natural right (see above) depend on the free will of the multitude, which can always change them precisely because they are not of natural right but de jure gentium. And it can all be done by decision (by an “act”) which also anticipates the conception of modern constitutionalism that sees the constitution (mostly) as deliberation of the constituent power.

The latter theses have also transited into law and, even more, into the (political and) legal doctrine of the liberal democratic state. To recall one, the most important—in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Article 3 thus proclaims “Le principe de toute souveraineté réside essentiellement dans la nation. Nul corps, nul individu, ne peut exercer d’autorité qui n’en émane expressément.” This statement in which the “multitude” is replaced by the Nation, always contrasted with the pouvoirs constituées, was repeated in similar forms in all subsequent French constitutions (except, of course, in that of 1814).

Hauriou argues that law does not escape the rule that, behind every physics, there is a metaphysics. Which normally does not manifest itself; rather it is carefully concealed by a layer of law, and so it remains, if one stops at the appearance (as is normal in a normal situation, that is, almost always). But “when the legal covering fails, as in de facto power, one falls back to the metaphysical or theological background.” Which happens when a radical revolutionary change is produced. For modern France this has been repeated—Hauriou wrote in 1929—at least four times since the revolution of 1789. De facto power tends to become—and mostly succeeds in doing so—a power of law: but to do this a law is completely unnecessary: “Un gouvernement provisoire n’a jamais fait voter une loi pour déclarer qu’il devenait légitime.” In such affairs, the régle de droit finds no use; indeed much of the law created by such governments, even if not ratified, is often validated by jurisprudence: this is because, Hauriou writes, government is necessary, a de facto government is better than no government, and power is a natural thing and of divine origin. He concludes, “Tel est l’enseignement de la morale théologique; tel est celui de la sagesse et telle est la pratique.”

One wonders why the conception of divine providential law is so conspicuously present in the theory of law and the bourgeois state. The answers could be several and competing: that indeed modern philosophy, especially that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is largely tributary to the natural law and theology of Second Scholasticism, and that through this “secularization” it came to the French constituents and thence to European constitutionalism; or because it was a Catholic nation such as France that made the revolution, and in it there had great importance a priest such as Abbé Sieyès, educated by the Jesuits. But the argument that seems most important—and preferable—is that such a conception, as Hauriou has well seen, allows the relationship between fact and law, being and ought-to-be, power and order, transformation and preservation, freedom and necessity, to be explained in a manner that is both realistic and rational. In fact, the different conception of supernatural divine law carries in itself defects similar to those Hauriou identified in the theories of law, contemporary to it, of Duguit and Kelsen, which he lumped together as static systems.

Such systems “willingly present themselves as objective, and indeed they are so because they eliminate the work of man, which is the source of the subjective; but they are above all static because of their erroneous conception of the social order, and under this static aspect we shall examine them because it makes manifest their incompatibility with life.” In Kelsen’s system, the legal and state order is considered the expression of a categorical imperative of practical reason; moreover, it is an “idealistic monism,” where state and law are confused. And, indeed, it is the static profile that prevails over the dynamic one. Thus, while such a theory succeeds in avoiding the conception of domination power, it does not avoid the domination of a categorical imperative involving a necessitating social order.

But the yoke of such a philosophy “serait pour le droit pire que celui de la théologie. La théologie catholique pose le primat de la liberté humaine: l’ordre divin se propose à l’homme par la grace.” Instead, in Kelsen’s system the order of “idealist pantheism” imposes itself as a constricting necessity. Hence, he concludes that in France he will have no luck “parce que ses tendances sont inconciliables avec celles du droit. Seule une philosophie de la liberté créatrice est compatible avec lui.” As for Duguit’s system, this takes as its starting point “la notion positiviste d’un ordre des choses sociales conçu comme le prolongement de l’ordre des choses physiques. De cet ordre des choses découlent des norms.” His great concern is to suppress power as the source of law. But this implies the static nature of the system, for the negation “du pouvoir subjectif de création du droit, le mouvement juridique, qui résulte surtout des forces subjectives, est arreté.” And, except for the cases of exceptions in the system. le droit ne peut se développer que dans la mesure des normes établies ou par l’établissement de nouvelles normes, mais c’est là une formation coutumière d’une extreme lenteur. Le système tend donc vers l’immobilité coutumière.” And he concludes from this that Duguit’s system is, like Kelsen’s “impropre à la vie.”

Indeed, in analyzing the consequences of the doctrine of supernatural divine right, one sees that, obviously for different reasons, it has the same drawbacks as those of Kelsen and Duguit. First of being static, since it crystallizes power relations and the rules for accessing them: he who has the power, has the right to command and to demand the obedience owed to him; any innovation is, not coming from he who holds the power, against divine right. Second, to put law before fact, which is precisely the opposite of what happens, for example in international law, where it is the fact of a state’s control (of population and territory), and not the legality of the settlement, that makes a revolutionary government an international interlocutor. If this were not the case, if one were to rely on the criterion of “supernatural divine right” (or pure “normative” assessment), Italy would have to be represented by a Savoy, Germany by a Hohenzollern and Russia by a Romanov. With the effect of pitting law against reality (and life); and making (also) the one unfit to address the latter. There is, moreover, a radical antithesis between Bellarmine’s distinction between authority and ruler (sinner) and that “vous étes des dieux” addressed by Bossuet to monarchs: which Hauriou rightly considers compatible only with absolute monarchy.

But the fortune of the conception of divine providential law is not only that it is “dynamic,” that is, realistic, but also that it explains the relationship between force and law, again in realistic terms. By deeming necessary the living in society and under a government but not its forms, it is open to innovation and the nomogenetic character of force, aimed at ensuring communal existence The rate of innovation this introduces serves to ensure its adaptation to the changing conditions of history, that is, its vitality. The realism of the conception under consideration is given essentially by the relationship outlined between natural law and jus gentium; in other words, between necessity and human freedom.

Recognizing that among the laws of nature is that of associating under a political government, Christian theology had identified one of the “constants,” defined by Miglio as the regularities of politics; as such unchangeable by the human will. Which, conversely, the “absolute” utopias believe they can modify, believing they have found “the solution to the enigma of History,” as the young Marx wrote; from history punctually belied, with the almost simultaneous collapse of almost all the regimes of real socialism, which were the realizations of that utopian vision.

But the belief that one can alter “regularities,” which is particularly clear in the case, like communism, of realized utopias—and promptly confined to the archives of history—is not exclusive to those, being present albeit to a more limited extent in other ideological conceptions, from certain types of pacifism to liberal fringes (not to liberalism, which retains a realist approach, as is evident from the “problematic” conception of man, derived from both Christian theology and political thought).

This immutability of the “constants” is contrasted with—and complements—the mutability of political forms, which are left to the power-and therefore the freedom-of human communities: this conception founds political freedom in the primary sense of the free “conformation” of the social and political order: in this is the specification, within the community of St. Thomas’ definition “Liber est qui sui causa est”: not to be limited except by divine (and natural) law, from which no one is dispensed. In this way, this conception grants to human communities all possible freedom, without any legal constraint except self-imposed by them.

Moreover, returning to the character of dynamism, it is worth mentioning that Hauriou, like other great jurists, does not link the concept of social order to “conformity” between norms and behavior, that is, to something static, but to something quite different, namely, to the “slow and uniform” movement of the human community. He returns to this concept several times, specifying that it is the movement “of an ordered whole and is the result of organization and results from what order is essentially organization;” and to clarify the concept he resorts to a biological comparison. Just as living organisms retain form (which changes, but slowly), while subject to extremely rapid turnover of cells and tissues, so do social groups behave like living organisms, provided they are organized, and last for centuries retaining a similar form, even though the “cells,” i.e., humans, are completely changed. And for such reasons, that is, (also) because of the ability to adapt to political and social life, he judged that the doctrine of divine providential law, by placing the origin of power above the social collectivity and anyone else, does not lead to any absolutism, and is therefore the most conducive to freedom. Not only to individuals, but also to that of the community to give itself the form it prefers.

We had begun by asking why in French doctrine at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the doctrines of divine right, and in particular the “providential” doctrine, are carefully considered. Within the limits of this paper, we have identified a few reasons, mostly from those already indicated by Hauriou himself, relating to the essence of the social and political) order and relationship.

There is also another reason, implicit in the doyen’s thinking: it is that Hauriou was a staunch supporter of Western civilization (and thought), to which he devotes some of the most interesting pages, even for those who read them today. “Western civilization,” he writes, “by its strength, its activity and its ideas, dominates the world, but it has not completely assimilated it. At the same time, it is undergoing one of its internal crises; many doubt the value of its cornerstones. Although the sedentary civilization will probably survive in partially different forms, the European peoples are in danger of disappearing in a blizzard, after much suffering. At this juncture it is not the external, but the internal enemy that is the most dangerous; therefore,” Hauriou continues, “Western civilization should not be doubted, for what it achieved “en fait d’oeuvres de beauté et de vérité intellectuelle, est devenu classique, c’est-à-dire a réalisé l’idéal humain.” Communism itself, then newly realized in Russia, seems to him incompatible with sedentary and individualistic society, and, rather than an “extreme” phase of modernity, it seems to him a return to the legal forms typical of nomadic societies.

In contrast to the attention French scholarship pays to the conception under consideration, it is rare to read similar considerations elsewhere, especially in Italy. For example, consulting the entry “Democracy” in the classic “Dictionary of Politics,” one can read everything from Herodotus to Rousseau, from the democracies of the ancients to socialist democracies (and beyond): however, any mention of this one, which has probably influenced the form of the contemporary state no less than the others and whose traces are (largely) present in our Constitutional Charter, is missing; and, which is equally relevant, the consequences of this one are, today more than yesterday, and despite all efforts to the contrary, common sense.


Teodoro Katte Klitsche de la Grange is an attorney in Rome and is the editor of the well-regarded and influential law journal Behemoth.


Featured: The Ascension, in the Drogo Sacramentary, Folio 71; ca. 845-855.


Practical Policies for a Distributist Economy

Part One.

Distributists want as many people as possible to own the means of their production. A farmer should own the farm, a baker should own the bakery, and factory workers should own the factory. But how do we bring this about? Anyone from a libertarian to a socialist may identify as a distributist, agreeing on the end goal but disagreeing completely on what will get us there. So answering “how?” is the key to any distributist politics. I argue that once we get past the false dilemma of government intervention, we must pursue three lines of progress: countering capital concentration, directly distributing capital, and expanding the commons.

The Question of Government Intervention

The first disputed question between distributists is: how much should the government intervene in the economy so as to bring about the distributist goal?

This is a meaningless question. Government intervention is what every economic system is composed of! Of course the libertarian wants to say that a truly free market with all goods and services owned privately and traded voluntarily is a state of minimal government involvement. But this is an illusion. Private property itself is a government program. You own property only to the extent that the government says you do. You may claim to own your coat, but if I file suit claiming the coat belongs to me and the court decides in my favor, then the coat is mine even if you continue to illicitly possess it. Even such minor instances of private property are a government program.

This is even more clear in the case of large assets like vehicles and real estate where ownership is established directly by government in the form of title documents, and all the more so for fictitious entities such as corporations, whose very existence depends completely on the government. So a “free market” is not “free” of government intervention. Just the opposite: it is constituted through and through by government interventions. Distributists, then, should seek the most effective and just forms of government intervention to achieve their goals, and should repudiate objections that doing so is coercion, theft, or giving power to the State. The real question is: in what ways should the government intervene in economic life?

Countering Capital Concentration

Distributism is not “nice capitalism”. It is bluntly anti-capitalist. But what I mean by capitalism is not “free markets and entrepreneurialism.” That is just a market economy. Capitalism is the system where a class of people are paid simply to own the means of production. Not paid to develop or utilize capital, nor to allocate itwisely; just paid to be the person who is on some government form somewhere listed as the owner. Distributism would have all capital owned by the people who use it: by the workers, and ideally in as small and local units as possible.

But how do we dismantle capitalism without lopping off heads? Can we radically change our world without the violence and chaos of revolution? As explained above, private property is a government program, so we begin by looking at how government creates capitalism in order to see how we should dismantle it.

Any free market economy is going to tend toward the concentration of wealth: specifically and most importantly of capital. As businesses compete inevitably some will out-compete others and acquire their capital and their market share. Smaller numbers of companies continue to compete and consolidate, gaining competitive advantage through economy of scale as they go. This trend is accelerated by capitalism which demands that the consumer pay 5-10% more than the cost of production. That portion goes to ownership, which increases the owners’ share of national wealth year by year. Occasionally concentration gets disrupted here and there by luck, by technological change, and by exceptionally skilled or ruinous management. Still, the overall trend of wealth concentration is inevitable and unquestionably proven by all historical evidence since the beginning of capitalism. Let’s find the apparatuses set up by the state to enable and protect this concentration, and reroute them toward widespread distribution.

If you’ve ever tried to create a company more complex than a sole proprietorship, you’ve seen that the state has detailed rules about who in the partnership, LLC, or corporation has what rights and what responsibilities, and who gets what in the event of dissolution. It could just as well be written into all business law that the state and the employees must get some equity and/or profit share in any business.

I’m the founder and current sole owner of a business. I realize how much effort and risk and how little reward a founder often sees in the first few years of a company. That should be compensated. Our economic well-being depends on the entrepreneurial drive and it should be incentivized. But it does not follow that the founder of a successful company naturally “deserves” a lifetime (much less his descendant’s lifetimes!) of increasing income just because his name is on the charter.

The workers who build and maintain the company deserve their share of the success. Distributists believe every worker should own the means of his own production. We could simply require that all employees get a share of annual profit, and any employee who stays at a company more than a few years starts accruing equity in the company. Couple this with increased worker protections so that employers can’t just fire employees to prevent them from getting equity, and eventually the company becomes (at least to a significant degree) employee owned. In an age when unions continue to shrink, this would empower employees to have some say in the conditions of their employment while giving them more of a stake in their company’s success.

For larger companies, I’d suggest they should also be partly publicly owned. Our original corporations were created by the government to provide some public benefit, such as the transcontinental rail roads, that purely private business would never undertake. There was an understanding that these corporations were to serve the public good, not just their shareholder’s private financial interests.

Perhaps it’s too late to go back to that form of the corporation, but we could turn the purely financial drive of corporations to the public good by having a significant part of the shares of any publicly traded company automatically go to a sovereign wealth fund. The income generated by the sovereign wealth fund would provide public goods such as infrastructure, health care, education, or direct income. A sovereign wealth fund ensures that the public benefits from the profitability of that part of the private sector most dependent on government support.

We’d also do well to consider limiting corporations’ ability to own property in multiple states, and certainly in multiple nations. Part of the reason our government must to be so large is because business is so big (thanks to government enabling). By limiting the geographic reign of corporations we could scale back the level of government needed to regulate them.

States cannot stand up to national corporations because those corporations wield enormous economic power over states. They are able to play one state off of another to see who can cut regulations and taxes most, sacrificing good governance for the sake of procuring the corporation’s favor. Thus ten thousand small acts of different businesses have the unintended result of growing the centralized, federal government because they are the only ones left to direct the market as the corporations require.

We now see this race to the bottom in the service of capital on a global scale. Yet there is no natural reason a New York corporation must be able to buy a factory in South Carolina, or an American corporation buy a factory in Honduras; it only happens because the state and federal governments choose to allow and enable it. Limiting corporations to smaller geographic areas would allow smaller governments to regulate them, and would open up space for smaller businesses to compete with them.

Countering capital concentration is the negative side of the distributist program. It is an ongoing necessity, but in itself it only provides the open space for widespread ownership. The ground is tilled but the seed must be planted and watered. [Next] I will describe how we can continually replenish an ownership society through distribution of capital and expanding the commons.

Part Two

Directly Distributing Capital

Countering capital concentration is only half the solution to the distributist goal of widespread capital ownership. The positive half is actually getting capital into the hands of each worker. I’ve already identified one way to do that – mandatory equity for all employees. The American Solidarity Party supports worker-owned cooperatives, but an employee equity mandate would give that support real teeth. Worker ownership is not just a nice idea, it’s a requirement of justice.

We can also distribute capital to individuals directly by transfer payment. A substantial bit of real capital should be provided to every adult at the beginning of their career. It’s nice to be born into a family business that you learn as you grow, and then help take over as an adult. But that’s not a realistic opportunity for most children, and wouldn’t be for those born to parents in worker-owned cooperatives either. If every citizen had, say, $50,000 seed money available for use pending approval, using something like the same process as loan approval but with no repayment needed, everyone would have an opportunity to launch into an ownership economy without usury. Even if it were used on a prudently considered home purchase, this would allow stability of place and economic freedom to resist the forces of capitalism that turn people into atomized wage slaves.

Free post-high school education and training would lift a heavy burden from the working and small-business owning classes, and it would widely distribute one of the most useful forms of capital. “Human capital” (a problematic phrase, but makes sense when talking about skills and qualifications rather than about people) is especially valuable in a distributist sense because it can never be alienated from the worker: you can’t sell off your welding skills to pay for a kidney transplant. Wherever you may need to travel, that training accompanies you, and your employer must pay enough to access it.

This sort of capital distribution is especially amenable to cheap, local-scale solutions. Currently professional accreditation programs (i.e. universities) have become a sort of cartel designed to create scarcity and drive up costs, thus supporting a massive industry of accreditation suppliers, and a constrained class of accredited elites. This drives up the costs of all kinds of professional services (medicine being the most obvious). And it keeps many talented people out of the most respected and high paying vocations. The state has participated heavily in creating this state of affairs, and it could do much to reverse it. We probably all know more than one disgruntled philosophy or English MA who can’t find an academic job, but who could lead a book discussion more worthwhile than any intro-level Gen-Ed class in a seven hundred student lecture hall.

The Saxifrage School in Pittsburgh was (as far as I know it is currently stalled out) an attempt to create an accredited asset-free college program. The idea was students would meet with instructors in public spaces such as libraries and coffee shops. The professors would be free-lancing, so the only expense would be paying for the professor’s time and the administrative cost of the program. The government could facilitate and fund such decentralized educational programs as they do state schools. Everyone who wants to get two years of liberal arts and/or two years of vocational training (white or blue collar) should be able to get it for free, and we could do it a lot cheaper than the current university system by using existing resources in our own communities.

Expanding the Commons

In our agrarian past ‘the commons’ was land available to all for grazing, hunting and gathering fuel. The commons provided a resource for people who had lost all private property, enabling them to survive and get back on their feet. We should expand the concept and the content of the commons in ways suitable to our modern context. I think we can turn some expensive goods into public goods provided to all free of charge. We already do this with many of the goods businesses depend upon, like roads, fire fighting, crime prevention, trade regulation, and primary research. Let’s do more of the same for workers. What are expensive goods that don’t work well as market commodities which we could add to the commons?

I’ve already explained why and how post secondary education should be added to the commons. Let me reinforce that bit by noting that education is often bought with little to no price-based rational analysis. No 18-year old knows if $100,000 of debt is worth it, nor are they likely to make a prudent decision at that age anyway. And frankly parents are hardly in a better position to make the evaluation, even the few who are in a position to pay. It just doesn’t make sense for education to be a market based commodity. Prices become distorted by lack of information, prevalence of irrational decision, and collusion between supplier and regulators. Rather education should be in the commons, available freely to all who can make the most of it.

Health care is another socially-created good that does not work well as a market commodity. Very few people have the resources to pay for it personally when needed, and when it is needed no one is able to make a free and rational decision about what health care to get. You’re basically the victim of a stick-up at that point. A personal anecdote: in the early days of starting my business I was providing for a wife and two kids on income of about $30,000 a year and simply could not afford health insurance. One day I received a visit from the appendicitis fairy and was rushed to the emergency room. I was never asked what treatment I wanted or told any prices, but to be honest, I would have said yes to anything, especially once the euphoria of the first dose of pain medication set in!

When I received $12,000 of bills from about six different providers, I was lucky enough to negotiate major reductions and assistance on all of them except the anesthesiologist. When that bill went to collections I had many entertaining conversations with debt collectors arguing about whether we should negotiate the price after the fact. Considering that when service was rendered I was on death’s door, under the influence of drugs and had no recollection of being offered a choice of services or told their price, I thought we could make a deal. Those conversations ended only when I was doing well enough to just pay the bill in order to save my credit score. A more prudent person, foreseeing this possibility, would never have started my business. They would have chosen a job with Monsanto, something which offered health insurance. We can change that calculus. Free universal health care would allow many more workers to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs or just be independent homesteaders without the fear of losing employer provided health insurance. And it would allow small business owners to survive, both literally and financially, a surprise injury or illness. We should stop hedging about this as a ‘possible option to be explored’ and fully support free universal single-pay health care.

Finally and most controversially, we should support Universal Basic Income without reservation. UBI would enable employees to stand up for better pay and working conditions because they can hold out longer during a strike or period of unemployment. It would enable entrepreneurs much more freedom to strike out on their own, sustaining them during the lean start-up years that crush many new businesses. It would support homesteaders on the path to economic independence. And for the unsuccessful business owners who lose their personal capital to bad luck or poor management on the first try, UBI would give them a surer way to build up capital and try again, wiser for the experience.

Although as distributists we should want wage labor to be a minimal part of the economy, there will always be a role for it, especially as a way for new workers to enter the economy before they become long term owners in their own business. UBI would allow the wage labor market to be a truly free market. No one would be coerced into taking an exploitative job by material need, and businesses would not have to pay an arbitrary minimum wage. If, say, we had a UBI equivalent to $10/hr full time (or whatever covered the necessities of a modest but decent life), a business could offer $2/hr for an unneeded but valued greeter position. That would allow someone who has few skills a chance to participate in work life and improve their financial situation through their own effort. At the same time no one would be forced to take demeaning or grueling jobs at low pay simply because they lack the credentials for more respectable and high paying work. With a UBI we might find that a business has to pay just as much to get someone to clean the toilets as to design the website. Our current system values white-collar work at the real expense and dignity of blue-collar workers. But manual labor, be it cleaning the toilets or raising children, is what allows the website designer to work at all. The world has existed without website designers; we cannot survive as a species without waste management. UBI would make us acknowledge the real value of all jobs, as opposed to our current system which artificially inflates some while denigrating others.

In these two posts I’ve laid out some concrete policies distributists should advocate to bring about the goal of widespread capital ownership. We should counter capital concentration by mandating public and employee equity in corporations and by limiting companies’ ability to own property; we should directly distribute capital through mandated employee equity, transfer of funds for capital purchase, and free education; and we should expand the commons to include education, health care and universal basic income. Some of these ideas might seem distant and far-fetched, but it is only by boldly naming our destination and then taking the first incremental steps directly towards it that we will ever arrive.


Zebulon Baccelli is a father of five in rural western Pennsylvania. He runs a business selling organic produce grown by a local community of Amish farmers. The Baccellis are active in their Byzantine Catholic church community and in a Catholic-Orthodox home school cooperative. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Imago Dei Politics.


Featured: Reapers, by Edith Hume; painted ca. 1890.


Denying the Spirit of the Age

It seems that in contemporary Christian thought, and particularly among Catholics, the spirit of the age is received without ever being filtered, as if it had always been there. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, many of those who profess to think take seriously what the spirit of the age whispers to us when it asserts that, in the West, we live in a perfectly neutral public space, which imposes nothing on us, so that, strictly speaking, the spirit of the age does not exist: it is just an empty place where everyone is equally entitled to speak. Secondly, there is a large faction of Christian intellectuals for whom criticism of the West is unacceptable, in the sense that such criticism is, in essence, immoral. These distant heirs of Christian democracy believe that, since liberal democracy is the absolute good, politically speaking, and the West is populated by liberal democracies, there is nothing to say about the spirit of the age other than to congratulate themselves on the fact that it is heading steadily in the right direction. Finally, there are all those—and there are many—for whom, Christianity having once strayed into the camp of “reaction,” there is no salvation except in instinctive reverence for “progress” and whatever presents itself as such, whether this automatic adherence to the past is a means of atoning for the past, or whether it reflects a genuine conviction that the Western world is moving in the right direction and that it is moving a little more in the right direction every day.

Thus, with the exception of the meagre cohort of “fundamentalists” for whom the present age has a pact with Hell, as has every age for the past two centuries, there is no one within the sphere of Christian intellectuals to actually question our times, to question the profound forces at work in them. This absence is all the more surprising given that, from the point of view of religion in the West, our era is not just any era—it is the moment when the Christian framework of our societies is collapsing almost everywhere, even though, until the 1960s, this framework was still relatively solid. Even if, in this field, which ultimately concerns the secrets of souls, we are not overly fond of statistics, it has to be said that whatever the variable we take into consideration—Sunday Mass attendance, for example, or the number of baptisms—we are witnessing in Western countries, and in those that have joined the West in recent decades, such as the countries of Eastern Europe, a spectacular decline which, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, has often taken the form of a collapse.

Such spiritual tectonic movements are rare in history. In fact, to find the equivalent, we would probably have to go back sixteen centuries, when, following the conversion of emperors, the populations of the Roman Empire became predominantly Christian in the space of a few decades. Thus, from a religious point of view, we cannot pretend that our time is a banal era in which nothing significant is happening. And yet, as in Edgar Poe’s short story, ” The Purloined Letter,” the evidence of the radical and massive de-Christianization of the West that is literally before our eyes is of little interest to theologians and other Christian thinkers. This general lack of interest can be explained by the reasons I mentioned above. For those who take seriously the discourse of our societies on their neutrality, their principled plurality, de-Christianization cannot be the “fault” of our Western world, by definition “benevolent” and “enlightened.”

The inability to think seriously about the link between de-Christianization and the spirit of the age is obviously not anecdotal. In particular, by failing to think seriously about this link, contemporary Western Christianity is reduced to considering that if there is massive de-Christianization in the West today, it is necessarily Christianity’s own fault: contemporary Western Christianity alone is responsible for de-Christianization. Within Catholicism, the enemy kins of conservatism and progressivism are in perfect agreement on this point. For the former, the crisis is simply the result of “going too far,” while for the latter, on the contrary, the crisis is the result of “not going far enough.” But, in all cases, the collapse is not because of the spirit of the age, which either does not exist, or is moving in the right direction—that of progress.

All these explanations, or pseudo-explanations, spontaneously agree to rule out another approach, which will be developed here. This approach postulates that the spirit of the age does indeed exist, that it differs essentially from that of earlier eras in the West, and that this spirit of the age is fundamentally hostile to Christianity. Put another way, this assertion is tantamount to declaring that a fundamental mutation has taken place in the recent history of the West—one that can also be described as a metaphysical mutation—which has tipped the West into a new spiritual universe where opposition to Christianity, far from being reduced to the anticlerical reactions of yesteryear to the “power” of the Church, constitutes a decisive element in the physis of the contemporary Westerner, so that he has no real choice as to whether or not to be anti-Christian: by nature, by his very nature, he is opposed to Christianity.

One can fight one’s nature. Some people do this remarkably well, which explains why so many genuine Christians remain in the West. Nevertheless, this struggle against one’s nature is exhausting, and requires a continuous expenditure of spiritual energy, so that one cannot go beyond the struggle against one’s nature. What is more, the decision to go against one’s nature, because of the courage and energy it requires, can only concern a minority. The vast majority prefer to let themselves go where their nature invites them, without giving further thought to the nature of their nature. This explains why Christianity in the West today is nothing more than a minority affair, with the question of the positive or negative nature of this minority status constituting another interrogation unrelated to the present reflection.

However, we cannot be satisfied with the assertion that, a few decades ago, the West underwent a metaphysical mutation that makes the current spirit of the age the natural enemy of Christianity. But we need to characterize this metaphysical mutation, to understand it in order to grasp it. When it comes to metaphysics, there is no other way forward than to question what lies at the very heart of all metaphysics—its relationship with the notion of truth. It is not just a question of the content of this notion, of what it tells us is “the true,” but also, and perhaps above all, of the status of this notion in the metaphysical galaxy that employs it. To say, for example, that the truthfulness of a thing is the sole basis of its value, the absence of which deprives the thing of all value, is to confer on the notion of truth a decisive status, since truth is, from then on, the origin of all other values. Contrary to the spontaneous belief of pure and probing souls, this determining status of truth is not found in all metaphysics. In fact, it is rare.

This intuitive perception of the notion of truth as a substantial determinant remains rooted in our representations, even our collective ones, more than we might think, since millennia-old spiritual reflexes cannot be erased in the space of a few decades. It does, however, complicate our search for the truth of the metaphysical moment we are living through, as it postulates that “modern” truth is to be found in exactly the same place as “ancient” truth—in other words, modern truth should structure all our modern values, stating what, from the point of view of Western modernity, is evil and what is good.

But this is not the case. Truth, in the modern sense of the term, is in no way located where it once was in the West. Let us take a few examples to help us understand. In the past, questions such as, “Is there a God and eternal life;” “If God is, what is the religion that expresses His Word;” or “If God is not, does Marxist-Leninist ideology provide the meaning and sense of the human adventure”—constituted the highest place of confrontation with truth, because our predecessors believed that the answer to these questions engaged human existence in its highest and most decisive form.
Today, such questions have, in practice, lost all importance. Few Westerners care whether or not there is a God, because deep down, this question seems of little importance to them. It is also revealing that, in an age confronted with the awakening of Islam and the challenges posed by this awakening, to the point of devoting numerous debates to it, not many people in the West are interested in the truth, or otherwise, of Islamic revelation, any more than they are in the truth, or otherwise, of the Christian faith. This is because the metaphysical site of truth has shifted. In earlier times, truth was an affirmative category: truth was stated as a universally valid assertion, always and forever. The consequence of this affirmative character was to separate the world and life into what was true and what was not, into truth and falsehood.

What has become of the modern order of truth? At first glance, one might think that truth has simply disappeared, so much so have the great theorists of post-modernity—Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze in particular, as well as their epigones—shown reticence towards the notion of truth, judged in turn to be “excluding,” “intolerant,” but also “old-fashioned,” even “reactionary.” In fact, the discourse of Western modernity avoids the term “truth” wherever possible, preferring instead, for example, “diversity” or “singularity.”

And yet, truth has not disappeared. Indeed, no human discourse on the world and on life can dispense with the notion of truth, because every human discourse of this kind enunciates a word which, even quite unconsciously, is based on “what is”—in other words, on truth, in relation to what is not, error, illusion; and this despite the assertion that there is only illusion, that life is an illusion. The question, then, is less that of the absence of truth than that of its formalization—that is, of the new form that truth has assumed in our world.

What is this new form? As I said earlier, truth used to be affirmation. In other words, truth was not something naturally deduced from human existence, but something that had to be said, named and proclaimed. In this respect, Descartes’ famous statement, “cogito, ergo sum” was no different from the explicitly religious assertions of the traditional Christianity of his time. In our time, on the contrary, truth does not need to be said; it does not need to be named. And if it does not need to be named, it is because it is a process.

What does “being process” mean? It means that truth, according to Western modernity, is so embedded in us that it takes on the appearance of sensible evidence. Truth needs no enunciation, because it presents itself to us as the very expression of existence, the way in which the verb “to live” gives itself to us. Modern truth is not an enunciation which, by the very fact of its enunciatory status, rejects what is not that enunciation, thus organizing the world on the basis of the two fields of truth (even if invalid) and error (even if partial). It is a process, the very process of human consciousness, which cannot be other than this process.

It is sometimes said that Western modernity is reverting to a form of “paganism.” This is not true. In paganism, or at least Greco-Roman paganism, the task of consciousness was to conform to nature, because it recognized a sacred order in nature. Modern Western consciousness, on the other hand, sets itself no such task. Being itself is enough. This is because “Western being in the world” does not seem to it to be one of the possible historical forms of consciousness’s encounter with the world. “Western being-in-the-world” is the only effective and authentic form of being-in-the-world. It is the sensible evidence.

The confrontation between the “Western being in the world” and other forms of being in the world of consciousness, whether these are earlier in the history of human civilizations, or located elsewhere, in other geographical spaces, is, from the Western point of view, absolutely not a confrontation between “representations of the world.” It is a confrontation between the obvious and what stands outside the obvious, on the side of illusion, alienation and lies. It is precisely insofar as it is conceived as a “confrontation” that this representation is linked to truth. There is evidence, which is of the order of truth, and what stands outside evidence, which dissociates itself from this order. However, evidence is not thought of, not directly at any rate, as truth. It is sensible evidence—and that is all, since that is enough. Sensible evidence does not need truth, or so it believes. It does not need truth because it is undeniable. Being undeniable, means it does not need enunciation. We do not need to name it, to describe it, to circumscribe it, because it is there, and it is in nobody’s power to prevent it from being there. It is what is, the “put there” of the world.

Because it is the “laying there” of the world, sensible evidence does not operate according to the categories of “truth” and “error.” It obeys another dichotomy: that of wisdom and folly. The wise man is the one who recognizes the evidence of the senses and instinctively accepts it as the “there and then” of the world. On the other hand, he who does not receive this evidence is not, or is only subsidiarily, in error. He is mad, since it is the very nature of madness to refuse the obvious, by claiming, for example, that it is sunny when it is actually night. This perception of the refusal of the obvious as “madness” explains why contemporary Westerners, unlike their predecessors, do not see those who contest the sensible obvious as consciences in error, to be converted, but rather as alienated consciences, to be cured. For Westerners (I am referring, of course, to those who currently determine the rules of the game in the West), the world is not divided into those who are right and those who are wrong: it is divided into wisdom, i.e., health (the West and all those who associate themselves with it) and folly, i.e., madness (the rest of the world). As for the madman, wisdom teaches us that we must try to cure him, but that if he becomes dangerous in his madness, he must be locked up: cure or lock up, that is the alternative the modern West imposes on the rest of the world.

This representation of truth as a process, as nature, making sensible evidence the only reality, enables contemporary Westerners to construct a sense of history. If, from time immemorial, sensible evidence has indeed been the only reality in the world, it has nevertheless been necessary for human beings to become aware of the evidence. Our era is the first—within the spiritual perimeter of the West, of course—to recognize and acknowledge the obvious, and is thus the highest, most enlightened epoch in human history, and the path that has brought the human caravan to our time is what we usually call “progress.” Western “progressism” is thus nothing other than the cult of the obvious, and the effort to propagate this cult, and impose it, if necessary, on those who remain resistant.

It therefore takes a real spiritual detoxification to dare question the “obvious” nature of sensitive evidence. Today, such questioning is much more difficult than it was when religious faith was called into question in earlier eras. Back then, religious faith was explicitly presented as faith, i.e., as adherence to an invisible reality which, because it was invisible, did not impose itself on the senses. Faith contained within itself, in its essence, the possibility of doubt and rejection. In our system, on the other hand, evidence is unquestionable, unless, as we have seen, one is insane. The question of its possible non-obviousness cannot and must not be asked, and it is up to each individual to control his or her reason so that it does not clash with sensible evidence. Each individual is the guardian of his or her own sanity. But to do so, he must constantly monitor himself to ensure that he does not diverge, and that he continually adheres to the sensible evidence.

The contemporary Western world has thus invented a new kind of totalitarianism, a totalitarianism that can be said to be perfect because it is not based on an external constraint—and therefore perceptible to anyone with a modicum of lucidity—but on an internal constraint, with everyone in charge of their own control and zealously participating in this function from which they can only free themselves through death. Representing truth no longer as an assertion but as a process comes at a cost: one has to constantly work on oneself to conform to the process, one has to perform. “Performing” means eliminating, as phantasms, all suggestions of the mind evoking the possibility of a beyond to the sensible evidence; it also means nurturing a relationship of enamored obsession towards what presents itself to us as sensible evidence. It means organizing ourselves to continuously enjoy the sensible.

This is the other side of the coin. Modern ideology generally presents itself as a culture of freedom, offering the subject the freedom to “realize” himself as he sees fit. But this is just an ideology. If we question it as an ideology, i.e., as an artificial and/or self-interested representation of the world, we realize that the actual reality of our concrete existences is the very opposite of the expression of this divine freedom. The reality of our world is that every individual, far from being free, is constantly assigned to the task of grasping as much of the world as possible in order to appropriate it and derive what we call “jouissance“—a term that is far from confined to the realm of sexuality.

But to understand this reversal, we must first determine what is non-obvious, what is constructed, in the relationship to sensible evidence. This representation of truth presupposes, in the first place, the existence of two entities which, despite appearances, have nothing in common: firstly, the subject, and secondly, the rest of the world.

In this day and age, you are not a Westerner if you do not believe in the subject. It is all very well to assert that the subject is manipulated, alienated, trapped by the “system,” as some on the Left claim. But even and especially those who develop a so-called “critical” theory of the subject do not question the notion of the subject, which they take for granted. On the contrary—the end of history seems to them to coincide with the effective advent of a subject finally lucid and liberated from all conditionings, who can realize his freedom with full knowledge of the facts.

But what exactly is a subject? An individual consciousness, you might answer. And indeed, each of us instinctively feels like an individual consciousness. But it would be wrong to regard this feeling as universal. One need only have studied history to realize that there are entire civilizations for which the existence of an individual consciousness seems highly problematic, the primordial “I” seeing itself not as an autonomous individual but rather as a simple, humble part of a whole—whether that whole be the cosmos or the tribe.

The question, then, is rather why we instinctively believe in the subject, to the extent that, for a Westerner, it is possible to lose everything, but inconceivable to lose one’s status as subject. Let us also consider the place that modern morality increasingly accords to the notion of the subject’s “consent” or lack of “consent” in determining crimes and misdemeanors. Let us also consider the transcendent legal status of the subject, which is like the ridge beam of all our law.

Why do we believe in the subject in this way, without knowing that we believe in it, since for us the subject is? The answer lies in our relationship with sensory evidence, or, more precisely, in the way it forces us to conceive our relationship with the world. It leads us to perceive everything as a support object. Let us explain these two terms. Object: the universe is made up of nothing but inert objects, even when they have a biological existence on the surface. Unlike earlier ages of the world, which were fundamentally structured around the distinction between sacred and profane, the contemporary West proceeds to a radical equalization of the world, making it a mere collection of objects which are, to use an expression employed earlier, simply “put there,” existing only through this status of “put there,” and which can, at any moment, be extracted from the world, without damage to themselves or to the world.

But these objects are also supports. To be a “support” means that every object, in the world and in its “place there,” is oriented. It has always been oriented towards its use—whatever that use may be. The character of “the util,” to borrow a phrase from Martin Heidegger, is the essence of the object, of every object. It is this orientation that determines the subject, who has a monopoly on detecting the utilitarian in the object, because the object is necessarily oriented towards him. The subject is thus the only one who, as a subject (it can of course be an object for another subject), distinguishes itself from all objects thanks to its ability to detect the orientation of each object.

Thus, the subject does not exist without objects, and without the representation of the world as a sum of indefinitely separable objects. If there is a subject in the West, or, more precisely, if we believe there is a subject, it is simply because the Westerner, for a long time already, but in our time with a radicalism and logical fanaticism infinitely superior to those of previous ages, sees in the world only objects oriented towards him. Because he sees the world in this way, as a vast space for the determination of supporting objects, the Westerner instinctively sees himself as a subject, since to be a subject is nothing other than to determine things in the direction of their use. As for making truth the process of adherence to sensible evidence, this is nothing other than naturalizing this representation of the world according to which each thing is only an object, and each object is only for the subject.

It is paradoxically deduced from these elements, since its official raison d’être is exactly the opposite: the subject is nothing in itself. It only comes into being through the object, and through the assignment it imposes on the object. The subject is this permanent work of assignment, and nothing else. To exist, in the contemporary West, is to be able to operate on things. It is 1) things, and 2) the ability to operate on them, that make the subject. Thus, there is no subject in itself that triumphantly emerges from history to assert its being, its power and its juridical, economic and moral value, and then begins to act on the world. The opposite is true. The subject is the product of the work of assigning things, which, by positing the thing as “the util,” generates the distinction between the oriented object and the subject that notes this orientation and takes technical, economic, psychological advantage of it.

We must now turn to the precise characteristics of this organized power over things, for at this stage of our reasoning, we are still behind the real singularity of our age. That the world is organized in such a way as to be oriented towards a subject who works on it, is something the West has been convinced of for several centuries now. The Promethean titanism of twentieth-century totalitarianism is precisely the product of this conviction. What changes in our time, however, is the nature of the orientation of things towards the subject. In the past, before the radical break of the second half of the twentieth century, the orientation of things, their use by the subject, responded to a will to power. This will to power could be technological, economic or existential in nature. Its aim was to increase the subject’s power through scientific and technical “progress,” the force of arms or the economy. Often, moreover, the subject was collective: it was a people, a civilization that projected its power through overt and explicit domination of the world of objects.

Since the great turning point of the second half of the twentieth century, the world’s orientation towards the subject has changed axis. This new axis is based on principles that are no longer governed by the will to power: the first of these principles is the notion of the singularity of the subject, which makes the aggregation of subjects impossible, so that the subject can only experience itself as a subject in a grasp of things forever distinct from that operated by other subjects. It is like a privatization, to use an economic analogy, of the notion of the subject, which of course needs to be analyzed more closely to assess its relationship with neo-liberalism, the dominant economic and political ideology of our time.

Secondly, the orientation of objects is no longer magnetized by the will to power. The modern, or post-modern, subject does not care about leaving his name in history, about expanding his being in the manner of an Alexander or a Napoleon. What he does want, however, is to derive jouissance, i.e., a sensitive interest, from each of the objects he grasps. It is a mistake, moreover, to say that the subject wants jouissance. In reality, he wants nothing conscious. Quite simply, he cannot apprehend the world in any other way than through interested jouissance. For him, the world does not exist outside this tactile grasp, just as many animals are radically incapable of understanding altruistic feelings like gratitude. The modern subject is nothing without self-interested jouissance. He cannot conceive of existence beyond this permanent search that applies to everything: sexuality, of course, but also “friendship,” “leisure,” “politics,” “culture.” All these categories are, for the modern subject, unthinkable if they do not filter through the skimmer of self-interested jouissance. In particular, we must not imagine that the modern subject could, at certain moments in his existence—for example, when he is no longer represented in society—rid himself of this obsession. For him, life is this obsession.

What remains to be understood is how jouissance is obtained. Naïve minds, shaped by our world, insist on believing that self-interested pleasure is a purely “natural” process that cannot be governed. Of course, this is not the case. Jouissance can be worked on, and not just sexually. The entire Western world is occupied by an immense amount of work that subjects impose on themselves, because this work is the necessary condition for maximizing jouissance. Paradoxically, our world, which prides itself on being free of constraints and subjection, which proclaims itself to be “free,” is governed entirely by a demand for performativity which, deep down, makes Westerners the least free of men and women. At all times, in all circumstances, we must perform in order to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. This general demand for performativity means, in particular, not to “waste time”—in the modern sense of the term, of course. Given the limited duration of a human existence, we need to choose the right opportunity at every moment, and make the most of it. This is why the ideology of free choice is so highly valued, in a world where, strictly speaking, no one freely chooses anything, because every subject is governed by the demand for performativity that imposes all his “choices” on him.

It would be a mistake, moreover, to believe in a free market-style confrontation of the respective performativities of one subject and another, giving everyone a fair chance in a game of egalitarian interactions between independent subjects. Each subject quickly understands that the surest way to force objects to move in the direction of self-interested jouissance is to control them. Firstly, because the control exercised over what is external to the subject induces, in itself, a form of jouissance. Secondly, and above all, because controlling objects is the guarantee that they will not rebel against the destination assigned to them. Everything one controls is, willy-nilly, subject to the will of the controller, the ultimate aim being to instill in the controlled the decision to go “freely” to the destination determined by the controller, to “freely” make the choice of subjection.

Control is the expression of power. Power is clearly distinct from the will to power. Power is the explicit and joyful expression of the expansion of one’s being. It certainly needs objects, but uses them as mere means and proof of its expansion. Power, on the other hand, never makes itself explicit. It never makes itself explicit because it has neither the will nor the time. It could not care less about the glory and trappings of power. Its task is constantly to control, to control better and more, and it never rises above this process of control. Thus, it is far less visible than power; it passes through subterrains, follows mysterious itineraries and revels in its invisibility, which facilitates the twists and turns of its action.

Power is the only serious passion of our time in the West. This is because power is the fundamental condition of self-interested jouissance. Every subject is obsessed, sometimes without being clearly aware of it, by the desire to constantly extend his control over things (including other subjects) and to exploit more effectively the things he controls. Power is an obsession that is obviously not limited to the political confrontation between parties. It is everywhere. It is in the couple, for example, even in the intimacy of the couple. It is also to be found in the supposedly “disinterested” expression of civil society; it is on the side of order and on the side of disorder, on the side of governments and on the side of non-governmental organizations. In this respect, it is revealing that in the feminist movement, power is the sole objective (provided, of course, that it is stripped of the verbiage of “equality” that serves as its veil). “Conquering power” and “being a woman of power” are symbols that resonate because everyone, men and women alike, knows deep down that power is the only significant issue in our world.

The passion for power determines a sociology: this sociology, however, is a little more complex than the far-left’s ritornello about the exclusive domination of capital, and financial capital in particular. Of course, financial capital is an important factor in the acquisition of power. But it is not alone. In this respect, it is rather strange that academics who regard Pierre Bourdieu’s work as their Bible or their Koran are so reluctant to draw concrete consequences from Bourdieu’s typology of capital, through the notion of “cultural capital” in particular. But perhaps they are so timid because an extensive conception of the notion of capital, including cultural capital, necessarily and mercilessly brings them back into the camp of the dominant class.

In this day and age, capital cannot be reduced to financial capital. It includes other forms of capital which, while not directly transformable into money, can easily be used to arrogate power. Let me cite two examples of these new forms of capital: cultural capital, already mentioned above, and symbolic capital. Cultural capital is the best-known: it is based on the possession of recognized but unshared knowledge, distinguishing those who know (technically or conceptually) from those who do not. Cultural capital, which is based on genuine knowledge, is the realm of the engineer and the university professor, and, more generally, of any effective and recognized specialist in a science. Symbolic capital, on the other hand, differs from cultural capital in that it is not based on scientific knowledge: it resides in the mastery of networks and signs, in tactile knowledge of what is in and what is out, or what is going to be tomorrow, in the possession of the right behavior and the right word in all circumstances of the social game, in the ability to make people believe that you belong to the ruling class, whose imposing figures you know and whose clichés and tics you know how to reproduce.

Despite appearances, symbolic capital has no claim to serious knowledge. It has no such claim because, for it, serious knowledge is of no importance. What counts, exclusively, is practical, non-conceptualized knowledge, which consists of feeling “instinctively” (this “instinct” having generally been worked on from an early age) what to do and say, who to know and who to ignore, so that the powerful of this world perceive them as one of their own, and the rest of society is convinced in turn.

To begin with, symbolic capital is linked to power, since it is nothing other than the greedy quest for power, based on the use of signs. Thus, it is only natural that, of all forms of capital, it should play an essential role in our age, since it is an integral part of the spirit of the age. As we have seen, the truth of our world is that we want power for power’s sake, if possible while pretending that we do not want it at all, that we are eminently disinterested. This is why, based on the possession of symbolic capital, a new type of bourgeoisie has emerged, one that can be described as hyper-bourgeois, because it systematizes and hypertrophies the pursuit of selfish interest that lies at the heart of the bourgeois spirit. The bourgeoisies of past centuries retained a form of restraint, which was like a retrospective tribute to the morals of the past: they considered, for example, that while interest could and should ruthlessly dominate in the world of “business,” the values of honor, duty and selflessness should continue to dominate, in the family, in social life, and wherever the icy waters of economic calculation did not prevail, to speak as Marx did.

The contemporary hyper-bourgeoisie, on the other hand, considers that the quest for selfish interest and power must reign absolutely everywhere in the social game. This is particularly true of the great symbolic languages of the human being, such as aesthetics and morality. Modern taste is not a question of taste: it is a calculated investment in the fame of a particular painter, which functions as a sign of recognition of, say, the open-mindedness, the sense of modernity, of the person who praises this fame. In this way, the work of art is not valued for its own sake, but for what it enables: the valorization of aesthetic judgment, understood as an unmistakable sign of belonging to the elite. Similarly, morality—or, more accurately, “ethics”, to use a term that is less frightening to our contemporaries—has never been so often evoked. But this is to draw, with a stroke of fire, the dividing line between consciences of what is right and what is wrong, i.e., between good and bad consciences and, from there, to distinguish between the good guys (the hyper-bourgeoisie) and the bad guys (all other classes, with a special mention for the middle and lower-middle classes). Another characteristic of modern ethics is that it is devoid of any practical consequences.

Through the use of the great symbolic languages, but also through the mastery of techniques that have nothing to do with scholarly knowledge but are organized around the conquest of power, the hyper-bourgeoisie has indeed become the dominant class of our time in the West. As such, it plays the decisive role in the production of ideologies that make jouissance and power the only true realities, the only sensible evidences and, consequently, the only horizon of our existences. The hyper-bourgeoisie is constantly working to convince the other classes of society that there is nothing beyond pleasure and power. It does this not just because it believes in it—although it fanatically adheres to the new gospel—but because this work of conviction is the basis of its own power over society. The more the hyper-bourgeoisie imposes the valorization of jouissance as a goal, of power as a means but also as an ideal form of jouissance, the more society effectively becomes a society governed by the obsession with jouissance and power, and the more the hyper-bourgeoisie sees itself confirmed in its function and enriches itself pecuniarily and/or symbolically, marginalizing older forms of capital, cultural capital in particular.

Like the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, the contemporary hyper-bourgeoisie unites a wide variety of groups, from Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial neo-capitalists to media hosts and gender or race activists. These groups ignore, envy and/or detest each other, but they all share the same solidarity of capital, which forces them, at vital moments, to unite without hesitation. Beyond appearances, they share the same representation of the world and the same interests. Their watchword and objective is identical: concern for the self, i.e., the conviction that every subject must have the ability to find himself, to emancipate himself and, in emancipating himself, to fulfill and realize himself.

In absolute terms, the search for the self, whatever name we give it, by dressing it up in the mantle of “self-fulfillment” and philosophical pseudo-“wisdom” for example, is an absurdity: as we have seen, the subject only exists through the things it appropriates to derive jouissance from them. The “self” does not exist in itself, and by virtue of the basic rules of logic, that which does not exist cannot be found. The subject is, literally, nothing; there are only souls engaged in a spiritual adventure in which they find salvation or condemnation. And yet, even if the self is a mere illusion, the quest for the self is not mere entertainment, in the Pascalian sense of the word, harmful to the soul but harmless to the world. A preoccupation with the self leads us to become ever more involved in the devastation of the world, whether material or spiritual, and to convince ourselves that there is nothing else in life other than this material or spiritual devastation, since “being oneself” simply means appropriating as much of the world as possible in order to derive as much jouissance as possible from it. The “self” is simply the addition of possessions, a compulsive hoarding of objects that we take and throw away almost immediately to turn to a new object and so on. The debilitated existence of the People, who hypertrophy this quest for possessive jouissance, is thus presented as the model of the good life and therefore the example to follow within our means.

I mentioned earlier that self-concern leads us to move from object to object in order to force them. One of the fundamental principles of sensible jouissance is its rapid exhaustion as soon as an identical object is constantly used as a support for jouissance, so that, in order to maintain an identical level of jouissance, we need to renew the stock of new objects available ever more quickly, in order to reproduce a jouissance that is also being exhausted ever more quickly, due to the phenomenon of satiation. For, paradoxically, the age of “self-care” that we are sold as an age of liberation and fulfillment is, for most people, first and foremost an age of widespread frustration. If, for the most part, the hyper-bourgeoisie, beyond the tiny stratum of the super-rich, manages to obtain remuneration levels that are more or less in line with the need for increasingly rapid rotation of objects, the other classes of society are proving incapable of keeping pace. They sink into the frustration that, in their own eyes, manifests their existential bankruptcy, i.e., their inability to reach the marvelous paradise of the subject. Their “self” is a constantly unhappy “self,” condemned to possess the object of their desire too rarely and too slowly. Far from being possession, their self is nothing but “frustration,” i.e., lack, negativity.

Despite this frustration, or rather because of it, a dynamic is set in motion. This dynamic seeks to persuade everyone that the remedy to existential frustration lies in the ever more intensive and extensive consumption of the world. To consume ever more objects, and if possible, the rarest and those once considered sacred, and at the same time to obtain ever more intense jouissance from the objects we consume—this is, this must be, in our world, the sole objective of human existence. And if, despite this consumption, frustration continues to prevail, the fault lies with the dominated classes, backward-looking and reactionary, incapable of intelligently managing the world of objects, unlike the hyper-bourgeoisie.

The goal of widespread, intensive consumption of the world is first and foremost ideological: today, in all Western countries, there is a whole literature whose sole function is to incite the “self” to be interested only in the “self,” and to conduct a continuous work of domestication of the “self” to teach it to care only about the moment, to consider the rest of the world as a mere assembly of consumer goods, and to constantly stimulate the need to consume goods, obviously indispensable to finally be “self,” and to experience the blossoming of “well-being,” and so on.

Over and above this ideology, an entire consumer economy has developed, i.e., an economic system in which consumption is the strategic variable. This strategic nature of “consumption” imposes a simple rule: the world’s consumption must constantly increase, in a mad rush, so that the frustration resulting from the consumption of goods dissolves into the desire for new goods to consume, which promise us ever greater jouissance, ever more exciting, than the previous consumption. Naturally, this promise is always, in the end, disappointed, and the system must produce, in a hysterical frenzy, ever more goods, ever faster, ever more intensely, in order to survive without being overwhelmed by the accumulation of frustrations. This mechanism has no end; or rather, it has an end, still distant, but dramatically approaching—the exhaustion of the world.

But our system, like all totalitarian systems, is not limited to the field of institutional economics. It also produces its own legal order, based on the fantasized existence of entirely free and autonomous legal subjects, whom no institution or higher principle should hinder, or simply impede, and who realize themselves exclusively through the accumulation of rights—the most powerful subject being the one who has succeeded in accumulating the maximum number of rights, in a logic in which the constant invention of new rights is essential to keep the subject occupied and give him reason to believe in his “autonomy” and “freedom.”

The field of morality, too, is entirely occupied by the logic of pleasurable consumption, through mechanisms such as the good conscience, acquired in full and forever by certain groups, and the bad conscience, which can paradoxically be the gateway to the good conscience, allowing one to enjoy one’s status as a beautiful soul and delicate conscience. And we could go on to cite many other areas of life in and out of society, i.e., in the intimate folds and recesses of the “subject,” where the mechanics of power, self-interested pleasure and obsessive consumption reign supreme, intertwined with each other.

At the end of this quick tour, perhaps we can better understand why the contemporary Western world (it being understood that one can be governed by the values of this world, while being geographically distant from it) is opposed to Christianity. This opposition is neither anecdotal nor circumstantial. It is not a rehash of the old anticlericalism. It is radical—in other words, it is in its very essence that the dominant system confronts the essence of Christianity. The economy of Western modernity is, in each of its terms, opposed to the founding principles of Christianity. This system is not obsessed with Christianity; it does not even think about it. Quite simply, in the course of its deployment, it “collides” in some way with the Christian truth that stands in its way, and needs to break this truth in order to complete its deployment, until it occupies the entirety of our world.

Let us examine the terms of the confrontation.

In the first place, and as I mentioned earlier, in our world there are and must be only the obvious and the certain. Believing in invisible truths, to use the classic definition of faith, is not an option. Why not? Because the idea of a reality that refuses to submit to the discipline of evidence and certainty instantly devalues the values of consumption and power. Something is, perhaps, and this something can only be reached through faith. In other words, such a reality introduces us to an entirely different metaphysical order than the consumption of the world—where, in our world, objects without mystery come naturally to us to be appropriated, faith commands us, on the contrary, to journey, without any certainty whatsoever, towards the invisible. Faith is consubstantial with what we call transcendence, and transcendence is unacceptable in our world, because all it takes—even the smallest possible space—is for it to reveal the alienation we impose on things, by revealing that the essence of things, or of certain things, cannot be reduced to their visibility. Our world tolerates just about everything, because in this “everything,” nothing bothers it, but it cannot tolerate transcendence. Muslims, who are unfortunately more vigilant on this point than Christians, have clearly sensed the stumbling block; that is why they resist so strongly on this metaphysical frontline, and why we should imitate them a little more in this area.

Secondly, for our modernity, there can be no soul, that is, no transcendent spiritual destiny doomed to salvation or loss. First, because time experienced as eternity does not exist; there are only instants that superimpose and fade away, so that, strictly speaking, the future, let alone eternity, does not exist. It is only an infinitely dilated present. Second, the soul has no place because there are only “selves,” that is, egoistic, closed instances, totalities that have no need of grace because they are, from the start, perfectly self-sufficient and therefore have no awareness of sin and no need of redemption. The self generates a world within itself, illusory but infinite, and exploring all the intricacies of the “self,” immersing oneself in it, probing its walls is the modern occupation par excellence, the contemporary form of entertainment, to use a Pascalian term.

Thirdly, as we have seen, the “self” does not exist as such. It only comes into existence through the continuous appropriation of things, and to do this, it needs to become power; in other words, control, concealment and manipulation. This power serves the principle of sterile accumulation, which can be likened to what the Gospels call “wealth.” The “rich man,” according to the Gospel, is the one who believes he can dispense with the Word, because in his granary he has accumulated and accumulates again and again the wheat he believes will keep him warm and plentiful for the rest of his life. It is hardly necessary to recall the many condemnations in the Gospels that accompany this figure of the rich man. Condemnations which, of course, do not happen by chance. The Good News is the opposite of the cult of accumulation: it teaches that it is, on the contrary, through the path of giving, which is both detachment and expenditure, that man succeeds in saving himself, abandoning the search for illusory worldly goods to enter the world of true goods, those that enrich insofar as they are given.

Thus, what is the Christian’s position in relation to the spirit of the world, the spirit of this world?

The prevailing response is that Christianity must adapt to our world, either because, from a Christian point of view, the values of this world are positive, or because these values are “neutral” and therefore do not stand in the way of the Christian message, or because, quite simply, this world is our world and we therefore have no choice but to act within it. But, as we have seen, this is, in any case, a pernicious illusion. There is nothing “natural” about the Western value system; it is neither “neutral” nor “positive.” It does not even offer the possibility of remaining external to it, so that we can retain our autonomy of judgment in relation to it. This value system is an arbitrary, unfolding process, not a static device. Why is it a process? Because it is never finished. The quest for power over things and people, the cult of consumerism, never has a limit, because it is always possible to go further in the exploitation of the world in the service of self-interested jouissance, just as a drug addict is never finished with drugs until he or she gets high. In the consumption of the world, there is a mechanism of jouissance and then frustration that demands ever greater consumption in order to postpone, as far as possible, the inevitable existential and economic collapse. The contemporary Western world no longer has the choice of escaping this mechanism, because it has become its lifeblood, guiding the direction of all its endeavors and justifying them. It needs to consume ever more intensely and consume ever more things to prove to itself that it is still what it says it is, a “liberation” and “progress,” and, by extension, to support itself.

Because it is a process, the Western value system wants to convert. It does not want to convert because it believes in a truth and wants to reveal it to the world. Such a concern is alien to its nature. It wants to convert because it sees itself as the logic of the obvious, and everyone must recognize the obviousness of the obvious if it is to escape any suspicion of being merely biased. This demand for conversion imposes continuous, implicit and, if necessary, violent pressure on the “I” of consciousness to conform, at least outwardly, to the new canons and gradually accept all their consequences. In this logic, there is never an armistice, never a pact, never a limit that can be set to the process; there can only be purely tactical retreats, before launching a new offensive.

How, then, is the Christian conscience to react when it is blind to the force and meaning of the process? The first thing to do is to give the process a few tokens, representing these tokens to ourselves as the concessions we need to make in order to be heard in our world. In this way, the “subject” is substituted for the soul, and the truth of Christianity becomes just another truth—a tradition, certainly venerable, but which must coexist with other equally venerable traditions, or simply an individual opinion. Putting things in the best possible light, Christians will be asked to be the chaplains of modernity, spreading a few drops of holy water of “spirituality” over our world parched by self-interest.

But that is not enough, and it never will be. A little while longer, and the notions of sin, and therefore of redemption, are abandoned in favor of rights, and the great enterprise of commodification of things, including and especially those held to be the most holy, is turned into a vector of progress and “emancipation.” Christianity is thus flattened out, stripped of transcendence and eschatology, to become nothing more than a club of right-thinking people, who are kind enough to provide the dominant hyper-bourgeoisie with the backing of their beautiful souls and their virtuous but empty discourses, which, in truth, are indistinguishable from the other virtuous but empty discourses that abound in our world.

We have all known, in our own circle, those Christians who define themselves, quite sincerely, as “humanists” or “progressives” (these are the terms they use to describe the movement of our modernity) and who become, themselves or in the next generation, Christian “humanists” or “progressives” before becoming, in the end, nothing more than “humanists” or “progressives.” For the process of being swallowed by contemporary Western ideology is infallible. From the moment we surrender to the prodromal signs of this ideology, from the moment we accept to reside on its metaphysical site, which we have apprehended on the basis of the contemplative notion of truth and its status, we must then follow this path which inevitably, eviscerates and sterilizes Christianity, replacing it with a wicker dummy which, in time, will fray and unravel ever further, until all that remains of Christian physis is its specter.

The temptation of submission, or even just “conciliation,” is therefore fatal to the Christian soul. But there are other ways to lose oneself in the face of Western modernity. Some people imagine, for example, that there is a political path for Christians in our world: not so much in the form of a Christian Democrat-style political party (we can see what has become of the Christian Democrats, who are undoubtedly still democrats, but less and less Christian), but rather through adherence to a political contestation of the existing order, under the banner of defending the “excluded,” the “oppressed,” the “migrants.” But this is to misunderstand the place of politics in our world. It has no autonomy from the metaphysical principles that effectively govern us. Even, and perhaps above all, the movements that present themselves as the most “radical,” the most “critical” are, in reality, nothing more than forces of adhesion to the great mechanics of our world. These movements, for example, advocate an ever broader, ever more intense “emancipation” of the individual subject, a liberation from the last remaining poles of opposition to the demand to consume “everything, right now,” without realizing that this “liberation” of the subject actually produces a confinement of the soul, reduced to the status of consuming subjects, obsessed by the claim to a formal freedom that is only the other face of effective enslavement to the world of commodities.

On the other hand, some Christians claim to be going back to the “good old days” of Christianity, campaigning for the defense of the Christian “identity” that has been damaged by Western modernity and the influx of migrants from other cultures. Apparently, they do not realize that this “good” time was not so “good” after all, since, as far as we know, Western modernity originated in countries of old Christianity. One day, Christian minds aware of the harmfulness of our world will have to ask themselves the question of the responsibility of the “old times” in the genesis of the new, and verify what, in the Christianity of yesteryear, already unconsciously authorized the drifts of which we are the culmination. What is more, defending Christian “identity” means fully embracing our world. Christian “identity” also means other “identities,” and basically reduces the religious phenomenon to a tribal dimension, with its fetishes and signs of belonging, in competition with the fetishes and signs of other tribes. But religion does not belong to the “words of the tribe,” to borrow a phrase from Stéphane Mallarmé. It is linked to a spiritual reality of a far greater magnitude, which is truth—truth for all time and for all. That is why the battle we are waging is a battle for truth, not a battle for identity.

The only fair and realistic position in the face of Western modernity is to be what you are. What does this mean? It means, first of all, that we must stop obsessing about modernity and defining ourselves in relation to it. To define ourselves in relation to it is to accept, even implicitly, its categories, and above all to see in it a fundamental metaphysical phenomenon—angelic or demonic, as the case may be. Nietzsche wrote that “you should never look into an abyss, because in the end, it is the abyss that is looking back at you.” Precisely, too many Christians contemplate Western modernity as if it were the abyss at the bottom of which human history finds its end. But our modernity deserves no such honor. It is, in fact, nothing more than a temptation, as Christianity has known many throughout its history.

Perceiving modernity as a simple, banal temptation leads us down familiar paths. For, throughout its historical development, Christianity has been confronted with temptation, whether Christians are dominant or dominated, whether the princes in power claim to be God or the Devil, the goddess of reason or faithful to idols, the Holy Church or atheism. If modernity is merely a temptation, as Christians have known so many times, then we can learn a lot from our past. Take, for example, the situation of Christians under the Roman Empire. Like us today, they were in the minority. Like us, they were subject to external injunctions to sacrifice to the gods of the Empire; in other words, to accept that they were just another religion at the service of the goddess Rome, her emperor, and her Stoic, Epicurean or Platonic reason. And yet, despite their small numbers, the Christians of that time were not impressed by the military and philosophical paraphernalia that surrounded them on all sides. They simply were what they were, and through the coherence between their faith and their deeds, they gradually founded an alternative model to the dominant values which, slowly but surely, undermined these values and brought them into disrepute.

These men and women thus proposed and opposed to the world a lifestyle, i.e., a coherent, and therefore aesthetic, structuring of being, thinking, willing and practicing. This radically new style, striking at all the weaknesses and contradictions of the dominant style, proved extraordinarily attractive, both metaphysically and morally, generating an aesthetic superior to what Rome was proposing, if we understand aesthetics as the signposting of truth.

Faced with a somewhat similar situation, we should take our inspiration from exactly this example. It is by proposing a style which, through its inner strength, devalues the style of Western modernity that we will succeed in overcoming it. Where the dominant style values possession, the obsession with consumption, the infinite egoism of self-concern, lies and manipulation, we must express, without useless affectation, but without weakness, a style that is immediately identifiable, both simple and frighteningly logical: instead of the dictatorship of the moment, to place our lives under the sun of eternity; to be sober and attentive to things and the world, rather than seeking to devour them or twist them to our advantage; to say what we think and mean what we say without any consideration of interest or power; to revere what deserves to be revered; believing in sin and redemption; knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no;” being faithful in good times and bad; treating our bodies as sanctuaries and not as commodities; facing evil and suffering without ever despairing; giving without regret and fighting without hating; teaching without moralizing.


Laurent Fourquet is a senior civil servant at the French Ministry of the Economy and has published four books: L’ère du Consommateur, (2011), Le moment M4 – Une réflexion sur la théorie de la valeur en Economie (2014), Le christianisme n’est pas un humanisme (2018), and Le raisin et les ronces (2020).


Featured: Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum, by Konstantin Flavitsky; painted in 1862.


The Practice of the Presence of God

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610 in Herimenil, Lorraine, a Duchy of France. His birth records were destroyed in a fire at his parish church during the Thirty Years War, a war in which he fought as a young soldier. It was also the war in which he sustained a near fatal injury to his sciatic nerve. The injury left him quite crippled and in chronic pain for the rest of his life.

The details of his early life are few and sketchy. However, we know he was educated both at home and by his parish priest whose first name was Lawrence and who was greatly admired by the young Nicolas. He was well read and, from an early age, drawn to a spiritual life of faith and love for God.

We also know that in the years between the abrupt end of his duties as a soldier and his entry into monastic life, he spent a period of time in the wilderness living like one of the early desert fathers. Also, prior to entering the monastery, and perhaps as preparation, he spent time as a civil servant. In his characteristic, self deprecating way, he mentions that he was a “footman who was clumsy and broke everything”.

At mid-life he entered a newly established monastery in Paris where he became the cook for the community which grew to over one hundred members. After fifteen years, his duties were shifted to the sandal repair shop but, even then, he often returned to the busy kitchen to help out.

In times as troubled as today, Brother Lawrence, discovered, then followed, a pure and uncomplicated way to walk continually in God’s presence. For some forty years, he lived and walked with Our Father at his side. Yet, through his own words, we learn that Brother Lawrence’s first ten years were full of severe trials and challenges.

A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight, knowing that outside distraction “spoils all”. It was not until after his death that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, representative and counsel to the local archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet. The following year, in a second publication which he titled, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, de Beaufort included, as introductory material, the content of four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence.

In this small book, through letters and conversations, Brother Lawrence simply and beautifully explains how to continually walk with God – not from the head but from the heart. Brother Lawrence left the gift of a way of life available to anyone who seeks to know God’s peace and presence; that anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, can practice -anywhere, anytime. Brother Lawrence also left the gift of a direct approach to living in God’s presence that is as practical today as it was three hundred years ago.

Brother Lawrence died in 1691, having practiced God’s presence for over forty years. His quiet death was much like his monastic life where each day and each hour was a new beginning and a fresh commitment to love God with all his heart.

Introduction

At the time of de Beaufort’s interviews, Brother Lawrence was in his late fifties. Joseph de Beaufort later commented that the crippled brother, who was then in charge of the upkeep of over one hundred pairs of sandals, was “rough in appearance but gentle in grace.”

First Conversation

The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favor in his conversion at the age of eighteen. During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul. This view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since.

Brother Lawrence said he had been footman to M. Fieubert, the treasurer, and that he was a great awkward fellow who broke everything. He finally decided to enter a monastery thinking that he would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he would commit, and so he would sacrifice his life with its pleasures to God. But Brother Lawrence said that God had surprised him because he met with nothing but satisfaction in that state.

Brother Lawrence related that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.

He said we ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It was lamentable we had so little. Instead of taking faith for the rule of their conduct, men amused themselves with trivial devotions which changed daily. He said that faith was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God with regard both to things temporal and spiritual and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will. Whether God led us by suffering or by consolation all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.

He said we need fidelity in those disruptions in the ebb and flow of prayer when God tries our love to Him. This was the time for a complete act of resignation, whereof one act alone could greatly promote our spiritual advancement.

He said that as far as the miseries and sins he heard of daily in the world, he was so far from wondering at them, that, on the contrary, he was surprised there were not more considering the malice sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them. But knowing that God could remedy the mischief they did when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.

Brother Lawrence said to arrive at such resignation as God requires, we should carefully watch over all the passions that mingle in spiritual as well as temporal things. God would give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.

At the end of this first conversation Brother Lawrence said that if my purpose for the visit was to sincerely discuss how to serve God, I might come to him as often as I pleased and without any fear of being troublesome. If this was not the case, then I ought visit him no more.

Second Conversation

Brother Lawrence told me he had always been governed by love without selfish views. Since he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.

He said he had been long troubled in mind from a certain belief that he should be damned. All the men in the world could not have persuaded him to the contrary. This trouble of mind had lasted four years during which time he had suffered much.

Finally he reasoned: I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God. I have endeavored to act only for Him. Whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God. I shall have this good at least that till death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him. From that time on Brother Lawrence lived his life in perfect liberty and continual joy. He placed his sins between himself and God to tell Him that he did not deserve His favors yet God still continued to bestow them in abundance.

Brother Lawrence said that in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence. Then, after a little care, we would find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty. He expected after the pleasant days God had given him, he would have his turn of pain and suffering. Yet he was not uneasy about it. Knowing that, since he could do nothing of himself, God would not fail to give him the strength to bear them.

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me”. And then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

Brother Lawrence said we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen. God never failed to grant it, as Brother Lawrence had often experienced.

He said he had been lately sent into Burgundy to buy the provision of wine for the community. This was a very unwelcome task for him because he had no turn for business and because he was lame and could not go about the boat but by rolling himself over the casks. Yet he gave himself no uneasiness about it, nor about the purchase of the wine. He said to God, it was His business he was about, and that he afterwards found it very well performed. He mentioned that it had turned out the same way the year before when he was sent to Auvergne.

So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God and asking for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed there. He was very pleased with the post he was now in. Yet he was as ready to quit that as the former, since he tried to please God by doing little things for the love of Him in any work he did. With him the set times of prayer were not different from other times. He retired to pray according to the directions of his superior, but he did not need such retirement nor ask for it because his greatest business did not divert him from God.

Since he knew his obligation to love God in all things, and as he endeavored to do so, he had no need of a director to advise him, but he greatly needed a confessor to absolve him. He said he was very sensible of his faults but not discouraged by them. He confessed them to God and made no excuses. Then, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.

In his trouble of mind, Brother Lawrence had consulted no one. Knowing only by the light of faith that God was present, he contented himself with directing all his actions to Him. He did everything with a desire to please Him and let what would come of it.

He said that useless thoughts spoil all – that the mischief began there. We ought to reject them as soon as we perceived their impertinence and return to our communion with God. In the beginning he had often passed his time appointed for prayer in rejecting wandering thoughts and falling right back into them. He could never regulate his devotion by certain methods as some do. Nevertheless, at first he had meditated for some time, but afterwards that went off in a manner that he could give no account of. Brother Lawrence emphasized that all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless unless they serve to arrive at the union with God by love. He had well considered this. He found that the shortest way to go straight to God was by a continual exercise of love and doing all things for His sake.

He noted that there was a great difference between the acts of the intellect and those of the will. Acts of the intellect were comparatively of little value. Acts of the will were all important. Our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God. All possible kinds of mortification, if they were void of the love of God, could not efface a single sin. Instead, we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the blood of Jesus Christ only endeavoring to love Him with all our hearts. And he noted that God seemed to have granted the greatest favors to the greatest sinners as more signal monuments of His mercy.

Brother Lawrence said the greatest pains or pleasures of this world were not to be compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state. As a result he feared nothing, desiring only one thing of God – that he might not offend Him. He said he carried no guilt. “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so. I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself. If I fail not, then I give God thanks acknowledging that it comes from Him.”

Third Conversation

Brother Lawrence told me that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a high notion and esteem of God in faith. When he had once well established his faith he had no other care but to reject every other thought so he might perform all his actions for the love of God. He said when sometimes he had not thought of God for a good while he did not disquiet himself for it. Having acknowledged his wretchedness to God, he simply returned to Him with so much the greater trust in Him.

He said the trust we put in God honors Him much and draws down great graces. Also, that it was impossible not only that God should deceive but that He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly resigned to Him and resolved to endure everything for His sake.

Brother Lawrence often experienced the ready succors of Divine Grace. And because of his experience of grace, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand. When it was time to do it, he found in God, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do. When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself. He said he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion in retirement.

Brother Lawrence said that the worst that could happen to him was to lose that sense of God which he had enjoyed so long. Yet the goodness of God assured him He would not forsake him utterly and that He would give him strength to bear whatever evil He permitted to happen to him. Brother Lawrence, therefore, said he feared nothing. He had no occasion to consult with anybody about his state. In the past, when he had attempted to do it, he had always come away more perplexed. Since Brother Lawrence was ready to lay down his life for the love of God, he had no apprehension of danger.

He said that perfect resignation to God was a sure way to heaven, a way in which we have always sufficient light for our conduct. In the beginning of the spiritual life we ought to be faithful in doing our duty and denying ourselves and then, after a time, unspeakable pleasures followed. In difficulties we need only have recourse to Jesus Christ and beg His grace with which everything became easy.

Brother Lawrence said that many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises while they neglect the love of God which is the end. This appeared plainly by their works and was the reason why we see so little solid virtue. He said there needed neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him and to love Him only.

Fourth Conversation

Brother Lawrence spoke with great openness of heart concerning his manner of going to God whereof some part is related already. He told me that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to God. We might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him with freedom and in simplicity. We need only to recognize God intimately present with us and address ourselves to Him every moment. We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have completed them.

In our conversation with God we should also engage in praising, adoring, and loving Him incessantly for His infinite goodness and perfection. Without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord. Brother Lawrence said that God never failed offering us His grace at each action. It never failed except when Brother Lawrence’s thoughts had wandered from a sense of God’s Presence, or he forgot to ask His assistance. He said that God always gave us light in our doubts, when we had no other design but to please Him.

Our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works. Instead, it depended on doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. He thought it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works which they performed very imperfectly by reason of their human or selfish regards. The most excellent method he had found for going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men but purely for the love of God.

Brother Lawrence felt it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its season. His own prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love. When the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might. Thus he passed his life in continual joy. Yet he hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer when he grew stronger.

Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us. We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our care and to our exceeding great delight.

The whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity. In the practice of these we become united to the will of God. Everything else is indifferent and to be used as a means that we may arrive at our end and then be swallowed up by faith and charity. All things are possible to him who believes. They are less difficult to him who hopes. They are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, and as we hope to be through all eternity.

We must, from time to time, honestly consider and thoroughly examine ourselves. We will, then, realize that we are worthy of great contempt. Brother Lawrence noted that when we directly confront ourselves in this manner, we will understand why we are subject to all kinds of misery and problems. We will realize why we are subject to changes and fluctuations in our health, mental outlook, and dispositions. And we will, indeed, recognize that we deserve all the pain and labors God sends to humble us.

After this, we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions, and contradictions happen to us from men. We ought, on the contrary, to submit ourselves to them and bear them as long as God pleases as things highly advantageous to us. The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.

Being questioned by one of his own community (to whom he was obliged to open himself) by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of God, Brother Lawrence told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had considered God as the end of all his thoughts and desires, as the mark to which they should tend, and in which they should terminate.

He noted that in the beginning of his novitiate he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God so as to convince his mind and impress deeply upon his heart the Divine existence. He did this by devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith, rather than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. By this short and sure method he exercised himself in the knowledge and love of God, resolving to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His Presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.

When he had thus, in prayer, filled his mind with great sentiments of that Infinite Being, he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was then cook for the community). There having first considered severally the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, both before and after his work, in prayer.

When he began his business, he said to God with a filial trust in Him, “O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections.” As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering to Him all his actions.

When he had finished, he examined himself how he had discharged his duty. If he found well, he returned thanks to God. If otherwise, he asked pardon and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again. He then continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it. “Thus,” said he, “by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it.”

As Brother Lawrence had found such an advantage in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others. More strikingly, his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose. His very countenance was edifying with such a sweet and calm devotion appearing that he could not but affect the beholders.

It was observed, that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season with an even uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.”

Letters

Introduction

Brother Lawrence’s letters are the very heart and soul of what is titled ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’. All of these letters were written during the last ten years of his life. Many of them were to long-time friends, a Carmelite sister and a sister at a nearby convent. One or both of these friends were from his native village, perhaps relatives.

The first letter was probably written to the prioress of one of these convents. The second letter was written to Brother Lawrence’s own spiritual adviser. Note that the fourth letter is written in the third person where Brother Lawrence describes his own experience. The letters follow the tradition of substituting M— for specific names.

First Letter

You so earnestly desire that I describe the method by which I arrived at that habitual sense of God’s presence, which our merciful Lord has been pleased to grant me. I am complying with your request with my request that you show my letter to no one. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all the desire I have for your spiritual progress would not be enough to make me comply.

The account I can give you is: Having found in many books different methods of going to God and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly God’s. This made me resolve to give the all for the All. After having given myself wholly to God, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He, and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world.

Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge. At other times I beheld Him in my heart as my Father, as my God. I worshipped Him the oftenest I could, keeping my mind in His holy presence and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I made this my business, not only at the appointed times of prayer but all the time; every hour, every minute, even in the height of my work, I drove from my mind everything that interrupted my thoughts of God.

I found no small pain in this exercise. Yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred. And I tried not to trouble or disquiet myself when my mind wandered. Such has been my common practice ever since I entered religious life. Though I have done it very imperfectly, I have found great advantages by it. These, I well know, are to be imputed to the mercy and goodness of God because we can do nothing without Him; and I still less than any.

When we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy presence, and set Him always before us, this hinders our offending Him, and doing anything that may displease Him. It also begets in us a holy freedom, and, if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, where, when we ask, He supplies the graces we need. Over time, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God becomes quite natural to us.

Please give Him thanks with me, for His great goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently express, and for the many favors He has done to so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things praise Him. Amen.

Second Letter

Not finding my manner of life described in books, although I have no problem with that, yet, for reassurance, I would appreciate your thoughts about it.

In conversation some days ago a devout person told me the spiritual life was a life of grace, which begins with servile fear, which is increased by hope of eternal life, and which is consummated by pure love; that each of these states had its different steps, by which one arrives at last at that blessed consummation.

I have not followed these methods at all. On the contrary, I instinctively felt they would discourage me. Instead, at my entrance into religious life, I took a resolution to give myself up to God as the best satisfaction I could make for my sins and, for the love of Him, to renounce all besides.

For the first years, I commonly employed myself during the time set apart for devotion with thoughts of death, judgment, hell, heaven, and my sins. Thus I continued some years applying my mind carefully the rest of the day, and even in the midst of my work, to the presence of God, whom I considered always as with me, often as in my heart.

At length I began to do the same thing during my set time of prayer, which gave me joy and consolation. This practice produced in me so high an esteem for God that faith alone was enough to assure me.

Such was my beginning. Yet I must tell you that for the first ten years I suffered a great deal. During this time I fell often, and rose again presently. It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God Himself were against me and faith alone for me.

The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sins always present to my mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did me, were the source of my sufferings and feelings of unworthiness. I was sometimes troubled with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my imagination, which pretended to be so soon where others arrived with great difficulty. At other times I believed that it was a willful delusion and that there really was no hope for me.

Finally, I considered the prospect of spending the rest of my days in these troubles. I discovered this did not diminish the trust I had in God at all. In fact, it only served to increase my faith. It then seemed that, all at once, I found myself changed. My soul, which, until that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest.

Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love. I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.

As for what passes in me at present, I cannot express it. I have no pain or difficulty about my state because I have no will but that of God. I endeavor to accomplish His will in all things. And I am so resigned that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His order or from any motive but that of pure love for Him.

I have ceased all forms of devotion and set prayers except those to which my state requires. I make it my priority to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I maintain a simple attention and a fond regard for God, which I may call an actual presence of God. Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God. This gives me much joy and contentment. In short, I am sure, beyond all doubt, that my soul has been with God above these past thirty years. I pass over many things that I may not be tedious to you.

Yet, I think it is appropriate to tell you how I perceive myself before God, whom I behold as my King. I consider myself as the most wretched of men. I am full of faults, flaws, and weaknesses, and have committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Touched with a sensible regret I confess all my wickedness to Him. I ask His forgiveness. I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what He pleases with me.

My King is full of mercy and goodness. Far from chastising me, He embraces me with love. He makes me eat at His table. He serves me with His own hands and gives me the key to His treasures. He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways. And He treats me in all respects as His favorite. In this way I consider myself continually in His holy presence.

My most usual method is this simple attention, an affectionate regard for God to whom I find myself often attached with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at the mother’s breast. To choose an expression, I would call this state the bosom of God, for the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there. If, at any time, my thoughts wander from it from necessity or infirmity, I am presently recalled by inward emotions so charming and delicious that I cannot find words to describe them. Please reflect on my great wretchedness, of which you are fully informed, rather than on the great favors God does one as unworthy and ungrateful as I am.

As for my set hours of prayer, they are simply a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I consider myself as a stone before a carver, whereof He is to make a statue. Presenting myself thus before God, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul and render me entirely like Himself. At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all my spirit lifted up without any care or effort on my part. This often continues as if it was suspended yet firmly fixed in God like a center or place of rest.

I know that some charge this state with inactivity, delusion, and self-love. I confess that it is a holy inactivity. And it would be a happy self-love if the soul, in that state, were capable of it. But while the soul is in this repose, she cannot be disturbed by the kinds of things to which she was formerly accustomed. The things that the soul used to depend on would now hinder rather than assist her.

Yet, I cannot see how this could be called imagination or delusion because the soul which enjoys God in this way wants nothing but Him. If this is delusion, then only God can remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me. I desire only Him and to be wholly devoted to Him.

Please send me your opinion as I greatly value and have a singular esteem for your reverence, and am yours.

Third Letter

We have a God who is infinitely gracious and knows all our wants. I always thought that He would reduce you to extremity. He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever. Thank Him with me for the favors He does you, particularly for the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions. It is a plain mark of the care He takes of you. Comfort yourself with Him, and give thanks for all.

I admire also the fortitude and bravery of M—. God has given him a good disposition and a good will; but he is still a little worldly and somewhat immature. I hope the affliction God has sent him will help him do some reflection and inner searching and that it may prove to be a wholesome remedy to him. It is a chance for him to put all his trust in God who accompanies him everywhere. Let him think of Him as much as he can, especially in time of great danger.

A little lifting up of the heart and a remembrance of God suffices. One act of inward worship, though upon a march with sword in hand, are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God. And, far from lessening a soldier’s courage in occasions of danger, they actually serve to fortify it. Let him think of God as often as possible. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise. No one sees it, and nothing is easier than to repeat these little internal adorations all through the day.

Please recommend to him that he think of God the most he can in this way. It is very fit and most necessary for a soldier, who is daily faced with danger to his life, and often to his very salvation.

I hope that God will assist him and all the family, to whom I present my service, being theirs and yours.

Fourth Letter

I am taking this opportunity to tell you about the sentiments of one of our society concerning the admirable effects and continual assistance he receives from the presence of God. May we both profit by them.

For the past forty years his continual care has been to be always with God; and to do nothing, say nothing, and think nothing which may displease Him. He does this without any view or motive except pure love of Him and because God deserves infinitely more.

He is now so accustomed to that Divine presence that he receives from it continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.

If sometimes he becomes a little distracted from that Divine presence, God gently recalls Himself by a stirring in his soul. This often happens when he is most engaged in his outward chores and tasks. He answers with exact fidelity to these inward drawings, either by an elevation of his heart towards God, or by a meek and fond regard to Him, or by such words as love forms upon these occasions. For instance, he may say, “My God, here I am all devoted to You,” or “Lord, make me according to Your heart.”

It seems to him (in fact, he feels it) that this God of love, satisfied with such few words, reposes again and rests in the depth and center of his soul. The experience of these things gives him such certainty that God is always in the innermost part of his soul that he is beyond doubting it under any circumstances.

Judge by this what content and satisfaction he enjoys. While he continually finds within himself so great a treasure, he no longer has any need to search for it. He no longer has any anxiety about finding it because he now has his beautiful treasure open before him and may take what he pleases of it.

He often points out our blindness and exclaims that those who content themselves with so little are to be pitied. God, says he, has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take so little through routine devotion which lasts but a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God, and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully. There they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.

Yet we often stop this torrent by the little value we set upon it. Let us stop it no more. Let us enter into ourselves and break down the bank which hinders it. Let us make way for grace. Let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left. Death follows us close so let us be well prepared for it. We die but once and a mistake there is irretrievable.

I say again, let us enter into ourselves. The time presses. There is no room for delay. Our souls are at stake. It seems to me that you are prepared and have taken effectual measures so you will not be taken by surprise. I commend you for it. It is the one thing necessary. We must always work at it, because not to persevere in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord who reposes in it. He will quickly calm the sea.

I have taken the liberty to impart to you these good sentiments that you may compare them with your own. May they serve to re-kindle them, if at any time they may be even a little cooled. Let us recall our first favors and remember our early joys and comforts. And, let us benefit from the example and sentiments of this brother who is little known by the world, but known and extremely caressed by God.

I will pray for you. Please pray also for me, as I am yours in our Lord.

Fifth Letter

Today I received two books and a letter from Sister M—, who is preparing to make her profession. She desires the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular. I think she greatly values your support. Please do not disappoint her. Pray to God that she may take her vows in view of His love alone, and with a firm resolution to be wholly devoted to Him. I will send you one of those books about the presence of God; a subject which, in my opinion, contains the whole spiritual life. It seems to me that whoever duly practices it will soon become devout.

I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone, without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases unless it be left vacant to Him. There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Only those can comprehend it who practice and experience it. Yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise. Let us do it from a principle of love, and because it is God’s will for us.

Were I a preacher, I would above all other things preach the practice of the presence of God. Were I a director, I would advise all the world to do it, so necessary do I think it, and so easy too. Ah! knew we but the want we have of the grace and assistance of God, we would never lose sight of Him, no, not for a moment.

Believe me. Immediately make a holy and firm resolution never more to forget Him. Resolve to spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence, deprived of all consolations for the love of Him if He thinks fit. Set heartily about this work, and if you do it sincerely, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it.

I will assist you with my prayers, poor as they are. I recommend myself earnestly to you and those of your holy society.

Sixth Letter

I have received from M— the things which you gave her for me. I wonder that you have not given me your thoughts on the little book I sent to you and which you must have received. Set heartily about the practice of it in your old age. It is better late than never.

I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God. For my part I keep myself retired with Him in the depth and center of my soul as much as I can. While I am with Him I fear nothing; but the least turning from Him is insupportable. This practice does not tire the body. It is, however, proper to deprive it sometimes, nay often, of many little pleasures which are innocent and lawful. God will not permit a soul that desires to be devoted entirely to Him to take pleasures other than with Him. That is more than reasonable.

I do not say we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve God in a holy freedom. We must work faithfully without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to God mildly and with tranquillity as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in God. We must lay aside all other cares and even some forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in routinely. Those devotions are only means to attain to the end. Once we have established a habit of the practice of the presence of God, we are then with Him who is our end. We have no need to return to the means. We may simply continue with Him in our commerce of love, persevering in His holy presence with an act of praise, of adoration, or of desire or with an act of resignation, or thanksgiving, and in all the ways our spirits can invent.

Be not discouraged by the repugnance which you may find in it from nature. You must sacrifice yourself. At first, one often thinks it a waste of time. But you must go on and resolve to persevere in it until death, notwithstanding all the difficulties that may occur.

I recommend myself to the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular. I am yours in our Lord.

Seventh Letter

I pity you much. It will be a great relief if you can leave the care of your affairs to M— and spend the remainder of your life only in worshipping God. He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration. Sometimes to pray for His grace. Sometimes to offer Him your sufferings. And sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles. Console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him at your meals and when you are in company. The least little remembrance will always be pleasing to Him.

You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. And we do not always have to be in church to be with God. We may make an oratory of our heart so we can, from time to time, retire to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God, some more, some less. He knows what we can do.

Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage. We have but little time to live. You are nearly sixty-four, and I am almost eighty. Let us live and die with God. Sufferings will be sweet and pleasant while we are with Him. Without Him, the greatest pleasures will be a cruel punishment to us. May He be blessed by all.

Gradually become accustomed to worship Him in this way; to beg His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time; in the midst of your business, even every moment if you can. Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules or particular forms of devotion. Instead, act in faith with love and humility.

You may assure M— of my poor prayers, and that I am their servant, and yours particularly.

Eighth Letter

You tell me nothing new. You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving. But the will is mistress of all our faculties. She must recall our stray thoughts and carry them to God as their final end.

If the mind is not sufficiently controlled and disciplined at our first engaging in devotion, it contracts certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation. These are difficult to overcome. The mind can draw us, even against our will, to worldly things. I believe one remedy for this is to humbly confess our faults and beg God’s mercy and help.

I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer. Many words and long discourses are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.

One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times. Keep your mind strictly in the presence of God. Then being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings. I have told you already of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of God. Let us set about it seriously and pray for one another.

Ninth Letter

The enclosed is an answer to that which I received from M—. Please deliver it to her. She is full of good will but she would go faster than grace! One does not become holy all at once. I recommend her to your guidance. We ought to help one another by our advice, and yet more by our good example. Please let me hear of her from time to time and whether she is very fervent and obedient.

Let us often consider that our only business in this life is to please God, that perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity. You and I have lived over forty years in the monastic life. Have we employed them in loving and serving God, who by His mercy has called us to this state and for that very end? I am sometimes filled with shame and confusion when I reflect, on the one hand, upon the great favors which God has done and continues to do for me; and, on the other, upon the ill use I have made of them and my small advancement in the way of perfection.

Since, by His mercy, He gives us yet a little time, let us begin in earnest. Let us repair the lost time. Let us return with full assurance to that Father of mercies, who is always ready to receive us affectionately. Let us generously renounce, for the love of Him, all that is not Himself. He deserves infinitely more. Let us think of Him perpetually. Let us put all our trust in Him.

I have no doubt that we shall soon receive an abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and, without which we can do nothing but sin. We cannot escape the dangers which abound in life without the actual and continual help of God. Let us pray to Him for it constantly.

How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often? And how can we often think of Him, but by a holy habit which we should form of it? You will tell me that I always say the same thing. It is true, for this is the best and easiest method I know. I use no other. I advise all the world to do it.

We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.

Tenth Letter

I have had a good deal of difficulty bringing myself to write to M.—. I do it now purely because you desire me to do so. Please address it and send it to him. It is pleasing to see all the faith you have in God. May He increase it in you more and more. We cannot have too much trust in so good and faithful a Friend who will never fail us in this world nor in the next.

If M.— takes advantage of the loss he has had and puts all his confidence in God, He will soon give him another friend more powerful and more inclined to serve him. He disposes of hearts as He pleases. Perhaps M.— was too attached to him he has lost. We ought to love our friends, but without encroaching upon the love of God, which must always be first.

Please keep my recommendation in mind that you think of God often; by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you. Leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who came to visit you. Why, then, must God be neglected? Do not forget Him but think on Him often. Adore Him continually. Live and die with Him. This is the glorious work of a Christian; in a word, this is our profession. If we do not know it, we must learn it.

I will endeavor to help you with my prayers, and am yours in our Lord.

Eleventh Letter

I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray earnestly that God gives you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross. He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy are those who suffer with Him. Accustom yourself to suffer in that manner, and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He judges necessary for you.

Worldly people do not comprehend these truths. It is not surprising though, since they suffer like what they are and not like Christians. They see sickness as a pain against nature and not as a favor from God. Seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress. But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of God, out of His mercy and as the means He uses for their salvation, commonly find sweetness and consolation in it.

I pray that you see that God is often nearer to us and present within us in sickness than in health. Do not rely completely on another physician because He reserves your cure to Himself. Put all your trust in God. You will soon find the effects in your recovery, which we often delay by putting greater faith in medicine than in God. Whatever remedies you use, they will succeed only so far as He permits. When pains come from God, only He can ultimately cure them. He often sends sickness to the body to cure diseases of the soul. Comfort yourself with the Sovereign Physician of both soul and body.

I expect you will say that I am very much at ease, and that I eat and drink at the table of the Lord. You have reason. But think how painful it would be to the greatest criminal in the world to eat at the king’s table and be served by him, yet have no assurance of pardon? I believe he would feel an anxiety that nothing could calm except his trust in the goodness of his sovereign. So I assure you, that whatever pleasures I taste at the table of my King, my sins, ever present before my eyes, as well as the uncertainty of my pardon, torment me. Though I accept that torment as something pleasing to God.

Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you. However happy you may think me, I envy you. Pain and suffering would be a paradise to me, if I could suffer with my God. The greatest pleasures would be hell if I relished them without Him. My only consolation would be to suffer something for His sake.

I must, in a little time, go to God. What comforts me in this life is that I now see Him by faith. I see Him in such a manner that I sometimes say, I believe no more, but I see. I feel what faith teaches us, and, in that assurance and that practice of faith, I live and die with Him.

Stay with God always for He is the only support and comfort for your affliction. I shall beseech Him to be with you. I present my service.

Twelfth Letter

If we were well accustomed to the practice of the presence of God, bodily discomforts would be greatly alleviated. God often permits us to suffer a little to purify our souls and oblige us to stay close to Him.

Take courage. Offer Him your pain and pray to Him for strength to endure them. Above all, get in the habit of often thinking of God, and forget Him the least you can. Adore Him in your infirmities. Offer yourself to Him from time to time. And, in the height of your sufferings, humbly and affectionately beseech Him (as a child his father) to make you conformable to His holy will. I shall endeavor to assist you with my poor prayers.

God has many ways of drawing us to Himself. He sometimes seems to hide Himself from us. But faith alone ought to be our support. Faith is the foundation of our confidence. We must put all our faith in God. He will not fail us in time of need. I do not know how God will dispose of me but I am always happy. All the world suffers and I, who deserve the severest discipline, feel joys so continual and great that I can scarcely contain them.

I would willingly ask God for a part of your sufferings. I know my weakness is so great that if He left me one moment to myself, I would be the most wretched man alive. And yet, I do not know how He could leave me alone because faith gives me as strong a conviction as reason. He never forsakes us until we have first forsaken Him. Let us fear to leave Him. Let us always be with Him. Let us live and die in His presence. Do pray for me, as I pray for you.

Thirteenth Letter

I am sorry to see you suffer so long. What gives me some ease and sweetens the feeling I have about your griefs, is that they are proof of God’s love for you. See your pains in that view and you will bear them more easily. In your case, it is my opinion that, at this point, you should discontinue human remedies and resign yourself entirely to the providence of God. Perhaps He waits only for that resignation and perfect faith in Him to cure you. Since, in spite of all the care you have taken, treatment has proved unsuccessful and your malady still increases, wait no longer. Put yourself entirely in His hands and expect all from Him.

I told you in my last letter that He sometimes permits bodily discomforts to cure the distempers of the soul. Have courage. Make a virtue of necessity. Do not ask God for deliverance from your pain. Instead, out of love for Him, ask for the strength to resolutely bear all that He pleases, and as long as He pleases. Such prayers are hard at first, but they are very pleasing to God, and become sweet to those that love Him.

Love sweetens pains. And when one loves God, one suffers for His sake with joy and courage. Do so, I beseech you. Comfort yourself with Him. He is the only physician for all our illnesses. He is the Father of the afflicted and always ready to help us. He loves us infinitely more than we can imagine. Love Him in return and seek no consolation elsewhere. I hope you will soon receive His comfort. Adieu.

I will help you with my prayers, poor as they are, and shall always be yours in our Lord.

Fourteenth Letter

I give thanks to our Lord for having relieved you a little as you desired. I have often been near death and I was never so much satisfied as then. At those times I did not pray for any relief, but I prayed for strength to suffer with courage, humility, and love. How sweet it is to suffer with God! However great your sufferings may be, receive them with love. It is paradise to suffer and be with Him. If, in this life, we might enjoy the peace of paradise, we must accustom ourselves to a familiar, humble, and affectionate conversation with God.

We must hinder our spirits wandering from Him on all occasions. We must make our heart a spiritual temple so we can constantly adore Him. We must continually watch over ourselves so we do not do anything that may displease Him. When our minds and hearts are filled with God, suffering becomes full of unction and consolation.

I well know that to arrive at this state, the beginning is very difficult because we must act purely on faith. But, though it is difficult, we know also that we can do all things with the grace of God. He never refuses those who ask earnestly. Knock. Persevere in knocking. And I answer for it, that, in His due time, He will open His graces to you. He will grant, all at once, what He has deferred during many years. Adieu.

Pray to Him for me, as I pray to Him for you. I hope to see Him soon.

Fifteenth Letter

God knows best what we need. All that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we would always be ready to receive both the bitter and the sweet from His Hand. It would make no difference. All that came from Him would be pleasing. The worst afflictions only appear intolerable if we see them in the wrong light. When we see them as coming from the hand of God and know that it is our loving Father who humbles and distresses us, our sufferings lose their bitterness and can even become a source of consolation.

Let all our efforts be to know God. The more one knows Him, the greater one desires to know Him. Knowledge is commonly the measure of love. The deeper and more extensive our knowledge, the greater is our love. If our love of God were great we would love Him equally in pain and pleasure.

We only deceive ourselves by seeking or loving God for any favors which He has or may grant us. Such favors, no matter how great, can never bring us as near to God as can one simple act of faith. Let us seek Him often by faith. He is within us. Seek Him not elsewhere.

Are we not rude and deserve blame if we leave Him alone to busy ourselves with trifles which do not please Him and perhaps even offend Him? These trifles may one day cost us dearly. Let us begin earnestly to be devoted to Him. Let us cast everything else out of our hearts. He wants to possess the heart alone. Beg this favor of Him. If we do all we can, we will soon see that change wrought in us which we so greatly desire.

I cannot thank Him enough for the relief He has given you. I hope to see Him within a few days. Let us pray for one another.


Brother Lawrence died peacefully within days of this last letter.


The Church is just a Building?

For some strange reason, in numerous conversations I have had with Protestants, the same statement has been made over and over by the other party while discussing the nature of the Church: “The Church is not a building!” The observation is most often accompanied with a special sort of emphasis — the cultivated certitude, the dead-eye look, the relish of one enlightening a fellow human being trapped in the depths of ignorance, topped off with a dramatic pause at the end allowing the auditor to savor the profundity of it all. It is same rhetorical flare that often accompanies that other great revelation:“You know, it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.”

The curious thing is that this arresting disclosure that the Church is not a building is often said at the beginning of a discussion of what constitutes the true Church, and it has never been in response to me saying, “You know, the Church is a building.”

I am convinced that these various interlocutors all heard this negative definition of the Church from preachers versed in the same “ecclesiology”—which is probably the wrong word because what they learned is less like theology and more like bad rhetoric about the Church. My reaction to this claim has invariably been to agree with it and to point out that this higher, more spiritual, and less material reality that we are both calling “the Church of Christ” is actually the one to which I belong. After all, my objective in these conversations is — of course — to communicate to the other party that the one true Church of Jesus Christ is indeed the Catholic Church.

But I think I have been wrong in my approach all along. Consider:

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

“Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God. Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:19-20).

“I will build…”; “built upon”: this is not pure symbolism. It would be much more true to say that the churches (oratories, chapels, etc.) that we worship in are the symbols. Regardless of the practical functions that they fulfill as places both of worship and of shelter from the elements, these earthly edifices stand as symbols of the more sublime reality that Jesus came to build, the one that extends beyond our time and space into Purgatory and Heaven itself.

My preferred hand missal, the Saint Andrew’s Daily Missal, has this gem of a paragraph in its brief commentary for the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Nov. 18; spelling and styles as in original):

The Dedication of St Mary Major at Rome was celebrated on August 5, that of St Michael on September 29, St John Lateran on November 9; the local feast of the dedication of all the consecrated churches has been fixed in many dioceses about this time; finally, today we celebrate the dedication of the Roman basilicas of St Peter and St Paul. These dedication feasts are fittingly placed in this season: after having celebrated the Kingship of Christ, we have remembered two provinces of His Kingdom: the Church triumphant (All Saints) and the Church suffering (All Souls): our material churches, carved with chisels and mallets (Vespers hymn), are an image of the Church militant. [Emphasis mine.]

The “Vespers hymn” mentioned by the Saint Andrew’s editors is the Cœlestis urbs Jerusalem. It is one particularly beautiful part of the liturgy for the dedication of a church, which, in its Mass, Divine Office, and pontifical ceremonies of consecration, is itself a sublime ceremonial edifice.

Let us not forget that Jesus was derided by some of His unbelieving critics not only as “the carpenter’s son” (Matt. 13:55), but also as “the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mark 6:3). When the creative Logos became Man, He through whom all that is made was made had as His earthly father a carpenter from whom He received that trade. It is most fitting that the humble Patriarch of Nazareth, the great Saint Joseph, toiled at this particular craft, for he was an image of the Eternal Father, the Creator of all things, “of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:15).

Jesus came as a builder. His saving mission included building a Church. The Church is a building.

But what a building! It is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, that “stone which the builders rejected,” who “is made the head of the corner” (Mark 12:10), and “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Atop that foundation other stones are laid. Speaking to Christians, Saint Peter, who knew something about rocks, refers to this same Old-Testament passage that Jesus and the Evangelists invoke (Psalm 117: 22) and builds upon it. We Christians, he says, come to Christ, “as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen and made honourable by God”; then follows the apostolic admonition: “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 2:4-5).

In I Cor. 3:9-17, Saint Paul employs similar imagery, concluding his exhortation with these words:

Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are.

There is a tropological reading of all this “building” language (see The Four Senses of Scripture if you would like an explanation of the word tropological). If we are the living stones upon which the Church, the Temple of God, is built, then we must be chiseled, hammered, shaped, scraped, and put into our place, whether visibly resplendent in the structure or ingloriously crammed into some crevice to be seen by God alone.

In other words, in this life, we must be both perfected by prayer, penance, and patient suffering, and fit into our place by accepting our proper vocation or state in life and virtuously fulfilling its duties. God willing we do so, we will overcome our enemies (the world, the flesh, and the devil) and become pillars in the New Jerusalem, that glorious heavenly temple the Apostle saw from Patmos (Apoc. 21:1-5a):

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.

The title of this Ad Rem is ironic, if only slightly so—because of the word “just.” The Church is a building, as I believe the Scriptures make amply clear. After all, it is built by Jesus Christ. But it is a building that is also a bride, and a bride that is also a city, and a city that is also a kingdom, and a kingdom that is also a Mystical Body.

Let us make sure to remember all this when someone says to us, “The Church is not a building!”


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.


Featured: West Front of Rouen Cathedral at Sunset, by Henri Vignet; painted in 1903.


The Preface of the Roman Mass

As a neophyte to Catholic tradition in the early 1990’s, I was struck by the beauty of that part of the Traditional Latin Mass called the “Preface.” The chant that accompanies it, sung by the celebrant alone, is not only stirring and commanding of the congregation’s attention, but it is also remarkably anticipatory, appropriately betokening that ineffably Great Thing that is soon to happen. If done right, the chant of the Preface perfectly introduces the angelic hymn of Trinitarian adoration, the Sanctus, which, whether it be sung in one of the Gregorian tones or according to one of any number of polyphonic settings, beautifully commences the Canon of the Mass. In a feature unique to the classical Roman Rite, once the grand strains of the Trisagion die down, the Canon then proceeds in total silence that is only interrupted by the peel of the bells at the double consecration.

Here, the beauty of the rite showcases the sublime truth and supernal goodness of what is actually taking place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Only a few years ago, when I expressed my love of this particular chant to a visiting priest from London, he told me that I was not alone in my love of the Preface Tone. No less a musician than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart considered it great music. In its entry on Ecclesiastical Music, the old Catholic Encyclopedia makes reference to this opinion of the great Austrian composer:

Mozart’s statement, “that he would gladly exchange all his music for the fame of having composed the Gregorian Preface,” sounds almost hyperbolic.

Hyperbolic or no, the appreciation it expresses from a musical genius is no doubt real.

In the earliest centuries of the Roman Rite, the text of the Preface was longer and was included as part of the Canon of the Mass. Along with the Trisagion (“thrice holy”) that we Latins call the Sanctus, it is found in all the rites of the Church. Our Eastern Christian brethren — whether of the Alexandrine, Antiochian, Byzantine, Armenian, etc., Rites, — still have what we call the Prefatio and Sanctus as part of their Anaphora, which is the “Eucharistic Prayer” that corresponds to our Canon. For them it still contains, as it did for us Occidentals in the earliest centuries, a lengthy litany of divine favors throughout salvation history for which we must be grateful.

It is, in fact, the very gratitude expressed in the Preface (Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and later: vere dignum et justum est… gratias agere: “it is right and just… to give thanks”) that attaches the word Eucharist (Thanksgiving) to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as one of its earliest and most universal appellations. The Mass is, par excellence, the Great Act of Thanksgiving, and it is the Preface that gives words to this reality.

Aside from the shortening of the text over time—mostly before the Leonine Sacramentary came into use—the Preface went through another important series of changes. Unlike its Eastern counterparts, the Roman Preface was a changeable part of the Mass. In the Leonine Sacramentary, which was in use from the fourth to the seventh centuries, there were 267 Prefaces. That changed in the later Gelasian Sacramentary to 54. The Gregorian Sacramentary had only 10, but then added another hundred in an appendix. At the time Adrian Fortesque wrote the entry, “Preface,” for the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911), there were eleven Prefaces in use:

The Roman Missal now contains eleven Prefaces. Ten are in the Gregorian Sacramentary, one (of the Blessed Virgin) was added under Urban II (1088-99). The pope himself is reported to have composed this Preface and to have sung it first at the Synod of Guastalla in 1094.

But that needs to be updated! The 1952 Saint Andrew’s Daily Missal that I use regularly, has fifteen prefaces, which corresponds exactly to the contents of an old 1935 Altar Missal we have in our sacristy. They are:

Christmas
Epiphany
Lent
The Holy Cross (for Passiontide and Feasts of the Holy Cross)
Easter
Ascension
The Sacred Heart
Christ the King
The Holy Ghost
The Holy Trinity
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Saint Joseph
The Apostles
Common Preface
Preface for the Dead

A 1962 Altar Missal we possess has one added preface listed with these others, the Preface for the Chrism Mass, which I assume is owing to the Bugnini “reform” of Holy Week. In addition, this same Missal, published by the FSSP, lists four “particular Prefaces” that are used in certain dioceses: for Advent, the Blessed Sacrament (Corpus Christi and votive Masses), the Saints (All Saints and titular patrons of churches), and, lastly, the Dedication of a Church.

What is proper to the different Prefaces are brief, compact liturgical texts that are very useful for mental prayer.

There are two ceremonies in addition to the Holy Mass that employ the Gregorian “preface tone” so beloved of Mozart and yours truly. One is the ordination rite, and the other is the traditional Praeconium Paschale (Easter Proclamation) chanted by the deacon on Holy Saturday, known more commonly by its first word as “the Exsultet” (you can listen to it on YouTube; the melody of the preface tone comes in around the 3:15 mark of the video). The ancient Preface tone was applied to these rites later, by way of imitation of its use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

What follows is a passage from Dom Guéranger’s masterful Explanation of the Holy Mass; it is the pious and learned Abbot’s sublime commentary on the Common Preface (all orthography, punctuation, capitalization, etc., as in the original English translation by Dom Laurence Shepard, O.S.B.).

***

ALTHOUGH the Priest has been making his petitions [of the Secret] in a low voice, yet he terminates this his Prayer aloud, exclaiming: Per omnia saecula saeculorum; to which the Faithful respond Amen, that is to say, we ask also, for what thou hast been asking. In fact, the Priest never says anything in the Holy Sacrifice without the assent of the Faithful, who, as we have already noticed, participate in the Priesthood. They have not heard what the Priest has been saying, nevertheless they join therein and approve heartily of all, by answering their Amen, yea, our Prayer is one with thine! The dialogue here begun between Priest and people is maintained for a while, at length leaving the final word to the Priest alone, who gives thanks solemnly, in the name of all there assembled.

The Priest then salutes the people, but this time without turning to them, saying: Dominus vobiscum, the Lord be with you: lo! now is the most solemn moment of Prayer! And the Faithful respond: Et cum Spiritu tuo, may He be with thy Spirit, may He aid thee, lo! we are one with thee! — Then the Priest says: Sursum Corda! lift up your hearts! The Priest requires that their hearts be detached from earthly thoughts, so that they may be directed on God alone; for the Prayer he is about to make is that of

Thanksgiving. Admire how well placed is this Prayer here, for the Priest is on the point of accomplishing the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and this Sacrifice is verily for us the Instrument of Thanksgiving; it is the Means whereby we are enabled to render back to God that which we owe Him. So Holy Mother Church, delighting with intensest relish in this magnificent Prayer, would fain arouse her faithful children with this cry: Sursum Corda! in order that they too may appreciate, as she does, this great Act of Thanksgiving, whereby she offers unto God a Something that is Great and worthy of Him. And now the Faithful hasten to express their reassurances to the Priest: Habemus ad Dominum! we have our hearts raised up unto the Lord! Then, replies the Priest, if indeed it is so, let us all unitedly give thanks unto the Lord: Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. And the Faithful at once add: Dignum et justum est. Thus do they unite themselves wholly with the Thanksgiving of the Preface which the Priest is about to speak. — This dialogue is as old as the Church herself, and there is every reason to believe that the Apostles themselves arranged it, because it is to be found in the most ancient Churches and in all Liturgies. As far as possible, the Faithful should make an effort never to be seated on any account during these acclamations. Now does the Priest take up the speech himself and continues thus alone: Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique, gratias agere: Domine Sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, per Christum Dominum nostrum. So it is truly just to give Thee thanks, O Almighty God, tibi to Thee, Thyself, semper et ubique, always and everywhere, and to render Thee this our Thanks, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Yes, indeed, it is through Jesus Christ that our Thanksgiving must be made, for were we to do so in our own name, there would be the Infinite between God and ourselves, and so our Thanksgiving could never reach unto Him; whereas, made through Jesus Christ, it goes straight up, and penetrates even right to the very centre of the Divinity. But, not only must we, human creatures, go to the Father through Our Lord, but the very Angels even, have no access except through Him. Hearken once more to the Priest: Per quem Majestatem tuam laudant Angeli; by Whom, (i.e., Jesus Christ), the Angels praise Thy Majesty: for, since the Incarnation, they adore the Godhead, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, the Sovereign High-Priest. Adorant Dominationes, the Dominations adore through Jesus Christ; tremunt Potestates, the Powers too, those beauteous Angels, make their celestial thrillings heard, and in awe, tremble before the Face of Jesus Christ: Coeli, the Heavens, that is to say, Angels of still higher order; Coelorumque Virtutes, and the Heavenly Virtues also, Angels yet more exalted; ac beata Seraphim, and the Blessed Seraphim, who by their pure love come nighest unto God, — socia exsultatione concelebrant, all these stupendous Choirs blended together in one harmonious transport concelebrate, through Jesus Christ, the Majesty Divine. The Prefaces thus terminate by mentioning the Angels, in order to lead the Church Militant to sing the Hymn of the Church Triumphant. Cum quibus et nostras voces ut dimitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes; yea, fain are we to join anon our feeble voice to that mighty angelic strain, and we crave leave to begin even now whilst here below, and sinners still, the great: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Thus all Prefaces are formed on the one great idea of Giving Thanks to God, gratias agere; and of making this Thanksgiving through Jesus Christ, because it is by Him Alone that we can come nigh unto God, yea, approach in union with the Angels too, with whom we join in the celestial chorus of their Trisagion.

Besides this the Common Preface, Holy Church offers us others wherein we invite the Heavenly Spirits to celebrate with us, in one joint Act of Thanksgiving, the principal Mysteries of the Man-God, whether at Christmas or in Lent, or at Passion-tide, or at Easter, or, again, at Ascension or Pentecost. Nor does she fail to remember Her by whom Salvation came to this our earth, the Glorious Virgin Mary; as also the holy Apostles by whom Redemption was preached to the entire world.

The Preface is intoned on the very same melody used by the ancient Greeks when celebrating some hero in their feasts, and there declaiming his mighty deeds in song.


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.


Featured: The Mass of Saint Gregory, by the Spanish Painter; painted ca. 1490–1500.


Teilhard de Chardin: Putting an End to the Myth

Pasolini once wrote that theology is one of the branches of fantastic literature. We will reserve this assertion for the theology-fiction of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Despite eleven condemnations by the Church, which silenced him because of the “serious attacks on Catholic doctrine” developed in his books, his theology enjoyed incredible success in the 1950s and especially the 1960s, supported by the Society of Jesus. Even good souls were seduced by its lyrical prose, full of neologisms and appealing, if bizarre, poetic flights of fancy. His euphoric project of reconciling modern science and faith was very much in the spirit of a time bathed in optimism against a backdrop of technological advances.

And yet, not only are the Jesuit’s theses devoid of scientific credibility, they are also contrary to the most elementary truths of faith. This is what Wolfgang Smith demonstrates at length in a very insightful work. Smith is both an inspired philosopher and a leading scientist, physicist and mathematician, who has taught at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Teilhard was a paleontologist of no particular genius, incompetent in both biology and physics, and the knowledge he gained from his profession (the discovery of fossils) had no connection with his ideological construction, as he acknowledged in his correspondence. This explains why his theses were criticized by renowned scientists.

Teilhard’s intention was to reintroduce God into a scientific vision dominated by evolution. He made no secret of his intention to re-found Christianity—an “improved Christianity,” an “ultra-Christianity,” a “meta-Christianity,” as he put it—on new foundations. The universe was conceived in a pantheistic mode: “There is in the World neither Spirit nor Matter; the Fabric of the Universe is Spirit-Matter.” According to a great “law of Complexity of Consciousness,” “everything that exists is Matter that becomes Spirit.” For him, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is contradicted by the “temporo-spatial enormity,” the “energetic immensities,” and the “unfathomable organic connections of the phenomenal World.” For Teilhard, “grace represents physical over-creation. In other words, it is properly biological in nature.”

We must also abandon our conception of a God above time: “Around us and within us, by the encounter of his Attraction and our Thought, God is in the process of ‘changing’… By the rise of the Cosmic Quantity of Union, his radiance, his hue are enriched!” Rejecting the law of the universe’s increasing entropy, Teilhard asserts that everything converges irresistibly towards an “Omega Point,” which is none other than the cosmic Christ.

One of the stumbling blocks between Teilhard’s vision and Church teaching is the dogma of original sin. In what is perhaps the most fascinating chapter of his book, Wolfgang Smith explains how Adam’s Fall fits into a different representation of origins than the Jesuit’s: ” it is this primordial catastrophe—and not a Darwinist ascent—that is responsible for the human condition as we know it today.” On the contrary, for Teilhard, evil is simply disorder caused by natural processes. This conception led him to an astonishing relativization of man’s sinfulness. His “neo-humanist” political vision is based on the phenomenon of “socialization,” aggregation through collectivization, which brought him to a singular complacency to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. In 1938, he wrote: “I do not know where to fix my sympathies, at the present time: where is there more hope and ideal at present? In Russia, or in Berlin?”

In the end, all the truths of faith are reinterpreted in his own way, as best he can, or, in the case of the most troublesome, abandoned.

We recommend this book to all Teilhardardians, and in particular to the Jesuits, who have just opened a Centre Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on the Plateau de Saclay [the European Silicon Valley], with the ambition of making it “a space for dialogue between science, philosophy and spirituality.” It would have been preferable to choose better sponsor.


Denis Sureau is the editor of the review Transmettre and the bi-monthly newsletter Chrétiens dans la Cité. He is the author of Pour une nouvelle théologie politique. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.