Overcoming Idols: A Conversation with Wayne Cristaudo

In this episode of More Christ, Wayne Cristaudo discusses his criticism of the roles of pride and abstraction in the modern world; how our proclivity to succumb to idolatry is at the root of what he calls ‘idea-ism’ and ideology; the primacy of contingent encounters and the Holy Spirit in his own life; and the thinkers he loves.

More Christ is a channel created by Mark Connolly, which is devoted to dialogue about the world, the cosmos, and how the Christian life and the surprises of the Spirit lead to the flourishing of life. The show’s thematics are Christian, its reach universal.

Featured image: “Phoenix,” Aberdeen Bestiary, 12th century.

Did Christianity “Divinize” Jesus?

Has Jesus been “deified” by Christians? This debate, which is quite recurrent in academic circles, is essentially determined by an external view of what Christians are supposed to believe. The idea is to compare the divine dimension of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament with the divinization of the Roman emperors after Augustus—or possibly with forms of divinization in this or that other ancient civilization. However, from comparison we often pass quickly to conflation.

Let us address the question head-on. Does the New Testament “deify” Jesus in any way, or is it something else? This debate is not incidental; it has serious consequences, six of which are defined and analyzed below, even if not everyone will readily recognize them as such. It is important to point out at the outset to what extent they imply each other in a logical sequence, from “B” to “G,” if we state “Proposition A” as the idea of the divinization of Jesus.

Let us begin by mapping Proposition “A”:

A: The presumed Christian idea of divinizing a man comes from, or corresponds to, a tendency in the Greco-Roman world, or more broadly in the pagan world—it is also found in various forms in Eastern Gnosticisms, the question remaining open of locating the origin of the latter in actual history.

On “A” is then built an entire sequence of logical inferences.

From Proposition “A,” the following is then deduced:

Proposition B: Since this presumed “divinization” could in no way be the work of Jews, it was therefore the work of non-Jews, namely of “Christianized” pagans (of the Roman Empire).

From Proposition “B,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition C: It is therefore these pagans who composed the Gospels, which are thus late (after the year 70 AD; this stretch of time needed to manufacture the “divinization”). And, of course, these pagans could only have composed the Gospels in Greek.

[An impressive and lavish publication of more than 700 pages, subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture, Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme {After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity} (edited by Roselyne Dupont-Roc and Antoine Guggenheim, Albin Michel, 2020), largely defends this thesis of the late fabrication of a Christianity that does not owe much to Jesus, “except for a meal in memory of him, and a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer” (we read on page IV). The rest has been “invented,” which requires time—on pages 21-22, Mark’s Gospel is dated 71 AD, Matthew’s and Luke’s between 80 and 85 AD, and John’s 98 AD.]

And a further consequence of “C”: Thus, before these Greek compositions [the Gospels], the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing); and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels would suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

It is then deduced from Proposition “C” that:

Proposition D1: It was Paul, whose writing period we know (between 51 and 64), who first deified Jesus; [Among the many discussions on this subject, this one is quite comprehensive.]

Proposition D2: Under the impulse of the Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) contributed in a determining way by making the dogma of the “Trinity,” in answer to the Arianism which made of Jesus simply a kind of superman.

From Proposition “D,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition E: Since there were Christian communities speaking Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the first century)—and even today, at least one million Aramaic speakers—and since they always professed the divinity of Jesus, they could only have come to exist in dependence on Greek Christianity, and therefore not before the end of the third century; they must only be an outgrowth of Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greek-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

From Proposition “E,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition F: The Aramaic (or Syriac) texts of the New Testament or Peshitta NT were therefore translated from Greek. [Peshitta simply means, “without gloss.”] Thus, these texts must be of no interest. For an exegete, it is therefore unthinkable (and dangerous for his career) to spend time systematically comparing the versions in these two languages in order to find out which is the most original. One does not do research for which one already knows the answer.

From Proposition “F,” it is then deduced:

Proposition G: The Semitic-speaking groups that held Jesus to be a man (not a God) would be, according to research, the true Christians who retained the Christianity of the Apostles. These groups, sometimes called “Judeo-Christian sects,” are referred to as either “pre-Pauline” or “pre-Nicene.” Some traces of them are to be found in the Qu’ran (which is convincingly argued—but are they pre-Pauline or later groups?).

The logic of this sequence of seven propositions from A to G is unstoppable. It rests fundamentally on proposition “A”: to speak of the divinity of Christ is to speak of his “divinization.” We shall therefore look carefully at this postulate, and then, more briefly, at its six successive implications, in particular to see if they correspond to what we know of historical reality.


What do Christians believe? Is Proposition A a legitimate interpretation of their faith, or not?

In the context of this analysis, the postulate of A can be presented as follows:

“Christians believe that God is present in a man (Jesus)” means “Christians have deified a man (Jesus).” Such an understanding of the first proposition would be legitimate, if there were not a completely different understanding than that of A. Indeed, “God is present in a man (Jesus)” is clearly to be understood as meaning “God has made himself present in a man (Jesus);” the totality of Christian writings indicating this. Is it rational to arbitrarily impose another understanding?

If we analyze the problem further, we perceive that the two understandings are radically opposed. The Christian faith undoubtedly mentions a descending movement (on the part of God; more precisely what has been called “Incarnation”); whereas Proposition A supposes an ascending movement (raising a man to become “god”)—it obviously confuses a “descending” movement with an “ascending” one.

We can therefore speak of a serious misunderstanding. But this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the faith of the Hebrews was the victim of many misunderstandings on the part of the surrounding peoples. For pagans inclined to “deify” humans, what could the Jewish (and Biblical) expectation of a God who comes to visit His people mean? In their mind, what was the value of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the place of an invisible and impalpable presence, following the initiative of a God to “come down?” And what could they think of the idea—or rather the hope—that this God would really come to visit His people, according to prophecies where the how is not at all clear? Moreover, were they happy that the Jews considered their practice of putting a statue in a temple and then declaring it a “god” an abomination? Throughout history, Hebrews have sometimes been tempted to reconcile these irreconcilable positions—one might say that this temptation to amalgamate Jewish and pagan cults is the ancestor of Proposition A.

This can be said all the more so since the answer to this amalgam was given in antiquity already, by a Jew. In the early 40s AD, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo († 45) noted in a passage of his Legatio ad Caium, after coming to Rome and seeing the emperor Caius Caligula there publicly displaying himself disguised as Jupiter: “God could rather change into a man than a man into God.”

As a Jew, he was shocked by this masquerade (he wrote it after 41 AD, once Caius had died). This philosopher of Alexandria perfectly understood and expressed the radical opposition existing between the Jewish religious vision and that of the pagans. He may have formulated it on his own, but it is also possible that he had heard of the Christian faith—in Alexandria he could have met many Jewish disciples of the Apostles. [According to the Acts of the Apostles (18:24-25), a former disciple of John the Baptist, Apollos, a native of Alexandria, was traveling through Asia Minor around the year 44 to speak about Christ—Paul, in Antioch, spoke to him about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which he had not heard of. Thus, this Apollos had not yet met any of the Apostles or any of their disciples; but, the text says, “he had been instructed in the way of the Lord”—in Alexandria?] Philo’s expression, “change into a man” corresponds in fact to the way of speaking of the first Jewish Christians—it is found in the apocrypha.

[In some “apocrypha,” one can read very similar formulations. Those given below are essentially taken from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. For this very complex question, see Le messie et son prophète, Vol. I, 2005, section, “Thématique de la venue de Dieu et double Visite” [Theme of the Coming of God and the Double Visit], pp. 166ff.]

In an amplified and clarified form, it is found in the New Testament, notably in this passage by Paul, where he speaks of the “descent” of God into human nature: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form…” (Letter to the Philippians 2:6-7).

No parallelism should therefore be intellectually possible between the Christian faith and pagan cults. It is by virtue of an internal logic, foreign to Christianity, that a system of thought can produce this confusion. To illustrate the problem, let us take the example of Islamic discourse.

For Islam, the Qur’anic text is literally revealed by God through the word of an angel dictating the text to the messenger (rasul) Muhammad. One of its verses reads as follows:

“When God says: ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Mariam, did you say to people:
Take me and my mother for two deities, beside God?” (Sura 5, verse 116)

The internal logic of Islamic discourse therefore requires that Christians have Jesus, Mary and God as the Trinity—it is written in the Qur’an, so God has said it literally. This is taught everywhere in Islam, at least where Christians have little influence, so that this assertion is not immediately ridiculed. And if a Christian disputes this, the answer to him is already prepared in the Qur’an: “See how they lie against themselves” (Sur. 6, v.24).

In fact, the ancient Muslim commentators [Tabari, al-Baydawi, al-Zamahšarî, al-Jalalayn and other lesser-known scholars all indicate that this verse (5:116) refers to the Holy Spirit and not to the Virgin Mary. See Azzi Joseph, Le prêtre et le prophète: aux sources du Coran, p.169]—still knew that the expression “mother of Jesus” (here, “my mother”) refers to the Holy Spirit, according to a way of speaking proper to the tradition of the Aramaic Church (even today), and as the oldest Syro-Aramaic spiritual writings testify. [For example, in Saint Aphrahat (known as the Wise Man of Persia). The “maternal” dimension of the Spirit is so common in the theology of the Church of the East that Saint Aphrahat applies it to the Christian: there is a danger, he writes, that the one who marries forgets “his Father and the Holy Spirit his mother” (The Demonstrations [written between 336 and 345)].

The irony of verse 5:116 relates to the role of judge of Christians, attributed to Jesus, and not to a classical Trinitarian formulation in the Syro-Aramaic context. But a serious problem of internal Islamic and Islamological logic arises. Indeed, if this context constitutes the obligatory explanation of a verse of the Qu’ran, it also determines the framework of the birth of Islam—one is thus led to consider for Islam an original place in northern Arabia. This is unacceptable for Islam. Nor did islamology, at least for a hundred and fifty years, want a place other than Mecca, since it took the Islamic discourse as its starting point. In fact, Islamologists even invented the existence of “Mariamites” to justify the literal Islamic understanding of this verse (5:116). This invention, based on an error, has been taken up by current Islamic propaganda to comment on this verse by mocking the faith of Christians. [Cf. the presentation by Hichem Djaït in Jésus et l’islam. Indeed, it happens that in the suburbs and living only among themselves, Muslims never see a single Christian; so they believe anything about the Christian faith.] It was not until the year 2005 that this gross error was denounced, although it would have been enough for any researcher to go and ask any Aramaic (Chaldean or Assyrian) Christian for this error to be disproved.

We can see, therefore, that internal logic can prevail over knowledge or simple information, even in a milieu of researchers. This is also the case of the confusion between the Christian faith and pagan conceptions, which concerns us here. It is possible that convenience has something to do with it—one always brings back what one knows badly to what one already knows. Hearing about groups of Jewish descent who denied the divinity of Christ early on, often in summary form, some scholars have concluded that their purely human conception of Jesus is the original, true Christianity; and, therefore, that to speak of the presence of God in Jesus is a later belief, influenced by Greek pagan thought. This is logical, but wrong—the so-called “Judeo-Christian” groups to which they refer in this discussion are in fact “ex-Judeo-Christians,” in the sense that they had first been Christians then Jews. Let us read what the apostle John writes in his first letter about these ex-Judeo-Christians who “deny the Father and the Son”:

“They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

What is generally overlooked in the discussion is that those Jewish Christians who first adhered to the message of the Apostles and then turned it around to do something else were thus creating a new religious phenomenon, which would even be the source of many subsequent avatars. The opposition is not, therefore, between a Jewish monotheism and a pagan polytheistic influence—but between the Christianity of the Apostles, which has a Jewish foundation, and the doctrines opposed to that of the Apostles, which also have a Jewish foundation, and which warrant the designatio of “post-Christian.”

In fact, the confusion inherent in Proposition A has created a vagueness that obscures a whole area of research on the formation of the oppositions to the Apostles. The Adversus haereses of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, which has been available to us since the mid-sixteenth century (this book, along with The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, previously unknown), still does not seem to be taken as a reference book for the study of early Christianity and the groups that derived from it.

It appears, therefore, that Proposition “A” does not present the faith of the Apostles, but rather presents a kind of inversion of it. This is unfortunate from a scientific or even a rational point of view. And the successive consequences which follow from it, and which form a set of convictions quite widespread in the academic world, are serious.

Let us review these consequences, B to G.

Proposition B

This proposition follows from A: the “divinization” of Jesus must have been done by non-Jews, namely by “Christianized” pagans (from the Roman Empire).

If there was no “divinization” of Jesus, the question of its alleged authors is settled. However, a word should be said about the historical framework, the lack of knowledge of which favors adherence to proposition B.

The Apostles were Jews, as were the first Popes and the vast majority of Christians for at least a century. As Paul explains, non-Jews were added to the strong Hebrew-Aramaic olive tree—and it had to be a strong olive tree because, from the beginning, the Apostles and their followers went to evangelize every part of the world then accessible, as far as India and China. The result was very quickly a diversity of communities; the common Hebrew-Aramaic “olive tree,” both Biblical and cultic, ensured unity, especially liturgical unity (the Indians of Saint Thomas still celebrate in Aramaic today). When one discovers the extent of the Hebrew-Aramaic Christianity of the Apostles in the world of that time, the idea of an influence of “Christianized pagans” leaves one scratching one’s head.

Proposition C

Preceding from the previous one, this proposal assumes that it was these Christianized pagans who composed the Gospels, and therefore late (after the year 70 AD, the time of the fabrication of the “divinization”); and, of course, they can only have composed the Gospels in Greek. Consequently, the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing) before these Greek texts, and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels must suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

Here we come to the fundamental problem of Western exegesis, posed by German Protestants from the end of the 16th century onwards. Because of their anti-Romanism, they turned exclusively to the Greek manuscripts, considering them a priori better than the Latin texts of the Catholic Church. Of course, other languages were not forgotten—in Pantagruel, Rabelais still indicates that it is necessary to learn Aramaic (Chaldean, he writes)—but, in practice, manuscripts in these languages were greatly lacking. These became available only at the end of the 19th century, because of the scarcity of contacts with Eastern Christianity before then; and in the 20th century, following the massive immigration of persecuted Eastern Christians, more numerous links were established.

Nevertheless, even today, no serious place is given to these Christians in the academic world among teachers, and the Gospels are still presented as the fruit of Greek writers—even though one is beginning to wonder whether they are not originally narrative compositions rather than redactions. In any case, almost no one has yet undertaken a systematic comparison of the best Greek manuscript texts (divided into seven or eight irreducible families, which poses a serious problem) with the Syro-Aramaic manuscripts (which form a single family). And one continues to affirm, in a dogmatic way, that the Aramaic texts were translated from Greek. [For example, here is a random example of this dogmatism: Muriel Dubié states peremptorily that “as early as 170, the Gospels were translated from Greek into Syriac”]. Those who have doubts and want to compare the texts, like the Protestant Jan Joosten, risk a lot.

Rationally, it is however very difficult to believe that the Jewish Christians did not compose stories in Aramaic, which was their language (and that of Jesus), when they were evangelizing in all directions of the world and when Aramaic (and not Greek) was the lingua franca, the English of its time. And that’s not all. The Jews were part of an oral civilization, even though all men had to be more or less able to read the sacred writings during the synagogal worship. Thus, for the Christian Jews, if the important thing was the transmission by word of mouth and from heart to heart, writing down as an aid to memory was an original necessity. What is a sacred transmission must be engraved on stone—on parchment in this case—like the Scriptures. The Gospel in its original sense of “announcement” made of various Gospel recitals (cf. Gal 2:2; Rom 2:16 etc.) is given this rank of Scripture, as is shown by the First Letter to Timothy, probably dating from the year 57 AD.

In fact, Paul quotes a saying of Jesus in parallel with a quotation from the Torah: “The Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain [cf. Deut. 25:4; 24:15] and again, The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). But the second quotation exists only in Mt 10:10 and Lk 10:7.

[There is a small difference as to what the worker is worthy of: in Mt 10:10 he is worthy of saybbārā/Greek trophe, “food;” while in Lk 10:7 he is worthy of ‘agreh/Greek misthos, “wages.” In Aramaic, the key word is the verb šâw’é, expressing the idea of “suitability” (rendered in Greek by axios, “worthy,” for want of a better word): “the worker is šâw’é (it is suitable for him, he deserves) his food” (Mt 10:10—commented translation of the Peshitta by Mgr Francis Alichoran). But in Greek, what one is worthy of should not be food but honor or a reward-wage (as in Mt 20); axios estin o ergastès tès trofès autou is obviously an Aramaicism that reveals a translation.]

In the eyes of a Jewish Christian in the year 57 AD, what text could have the authority of sacred Scripture, if not an aide-memoire, such as the Gospel according to Matthew which was then used (primarily) in the liturgy as had been the Torah?

Moreover, the conviction that the Gospels existed in written form well before the first “Jewish war” (66-70 AD) is not uncommon among exegetes working on Greek—the case of John being special, as this Gospel was composed in two stages. But few still perceive that the aide-memoire of public recitation in Aramaic is the source of the translations into Greek (and into other languages), directly or on the occasion of simultaneous translations written down—it is systematically in Aramaic that the Apostles and other witnesses of the Resurrection gave their testimony; which, if necessary, was translated into Greek or Latin by interpreters, e.g., Mark, for what Peter said. [“Paul had Titus as his translator-interpreter, just as blessed Peter had Mark whose gospel was composed, with Peter speaking and Mark writing down” (St. Jerome, P.L. 22, col 1002)].

It is possible that the first writings in Greek or Latin were private, since the people of these languages no longer had an oral culture (but a written one) and were less able to memorize than the Aramaic speakers. In any case, the need for official writings was felt early on, also because of the dispersion of the Jerusalem community around 37 AD, threatened by unrest, which set the liturgical tone for the other Christian communities: Matthew urgently needed to establish a reference document for the liturgy.

[The sources that place the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic before the Gospel of Mark in Greek allow us to place the first one around 37-38 AD, by virtue of the famous passage in the third book of Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyon, where there is found the matter of the publication of Mark’s Gospel. This passage presents a difficulty, however, since it seems to say that the community of Rome was founded by Peter and Paul—this is inaccurate, since in 42 AD Peter founded this community alone—and since it already existed, Paul had no intention of going there, as he wrote in Romans 15:22. The most likely explanation is that the words “and Paul” were added by a Latin copyist in honor of the Roman feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Here is the amended text: “Thus Matthew published among the Hebrews in their own language a written form of the gospel about the time when Peter [and Paul] was evangelizing Rome [until 42] and founding the Church there. After his departure [exodos, “departure,” which never means “death”], Mark, Peter’s translator, also transmitted to us in writing what Peter preached. Luke, Paul’s companion, also published the gospel while he was in Ephesus in Asia” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III 1,1).

In order to date Mark late, some exegetes have attributed to the word exodos the meaning of “death,” so that the publication of Mark’s Gospel would be later than the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, thus after 64 AD. But they are then in opposition to Eusebius of Caesarea who, quoting Clement of Alexandria († 215) and Papias († ±230), clearly indicates twice that Peter is alive at the time of the publication-translation into Greek: “They [Peter’s hearers] made all kinds of entreaties to Mark, the author of the gospel which has come down to us and Peter’s companion, that he would leave them a book as a memorial of the teaching given orally by the apostle, and they did not cease their entreaties until they had been granted… Peter … rejoiced at such zeal—he authorized the use of this book for reading in the churches. Clement reports this in his sixth Hypotyposis and the bishop of Hierapolis, Papias, confirms it with his own testimony” (Hist. Eccl. II,15 par. VI,14 6).]

The challenge of exegesis then is to rediscover the interplay of Aramaic orality, from the testimonies rigorously repeated by the witnesses themselves and then by their disciples from the 30s AD onwards. If there is a difficulty in discerning these narrative testimonies in our Gospels, it is because they are frequently intertwined. This is because of the very nature of the Gospels—they are organized for liturgical use, and therefore according to the Church calendar. They are lectionaries [Apart from exegetes working on Aramaic and aware of orality, some have nevertheless asked themselves the question of the synoptic Gospels as lectionaries, such as Gordon W. Lathrop, of the United Lutheran Seminary of Pennsylvania, in Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme, p.160]—with the exception of John, which is organized for another purpose—The Gospel of John is organized according to oral patterns in a complex structure of meditation; it is not made for basic evangelization.

This major discovery, made possible by Aramaic oral studies, sheds light on the trial and error that began nearly four centuries ago and that leads each exegete working on the Greek to imagine his or her own plans for accounting for the Gospels—and no two agree. And of course, the idea that the Aramaic Christians of Asia (and of the eastern Roman Empire) lost their texts as a result of Tatian’s Diatessaron, and then had to re-translate them from Greek in the 5th century, with Bishop Raboula of Edessa, is a kind of academic myth—a convenient myth to avoid having to take a serious look at the Aramaic texts.

Proposition D

Proposition D seeks to clarify how the divinization of Jesus would have been invented—first by Paul and then by the Trinitarian definition of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD).

It does not matter that Trinitarian definitions had existed before. The problem is a misunderstanding of the so-called Christological discussions, which some scholars have believed to be about the divinity of Christ itself, when in fact they were about how to express it. It is true, on the other hand, that “Arianism” denied the divinity of Christ. But no Arian was invited to the Council of Nicaea, which met precisely against this denial.

At the time, Christian leaders were faced with the difficulty of agreeing on formulas of faith that would enable them to cope. The discussions at Nicaea and the subsequent councils were held in Greek and were marked by Byzantine ways of seeing and reasoning, which wanted to give conceptual definitions to everything. But sometimes this created more problems than it solved. Take the example of the Aramaic term qnoma, used by Jesus and found several times in the Aramaic New Testament: it was at the heart of certain divergences, because it corresponds neither to the Greek concept of ουσια (“nature”) nor to that of υποστασιϛ (“hypostasis”). The Council of Nicaea did not take sufficient account of the differences in culture and language, which eventually led, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), to the exclusion of the non-Greek speaking apostolic churches, which would be called “pre-Chalcedonian.”

One can understand then the confusion caused by a certain number of inter-faith academics and by Islamologists. They believe that these sidelined churches (the Arameans of the Church of the East from now on designated under the sobriquet of “Nestorians,” and the Copts and the Armenians) defended Christologies comparable to those of groups opposed to the faith of the Apostles, that is to say, catalogued as heretics. And, in the past (and we can go back to medieval scholars), under the influence of Islamic legends, some even imagined that the Christology of Islam (which violently denies the divinity of Christ) was inspired by that of the Aramaic Church of the East—whereas, around 735, John of Damascus compared Islam with Arianism and in no way with the thinking of the Church of the East.

In fact, the idea was to link Islamic Christology at all costs to the Christological discussions of or after Nicaea, for lack of understanding but also for lack of serious research on the origins of Islam. We read until recently: “The Koran… belongs to a movement of Christians who remained pre-Nicene, i.e., churches or Christian communities that did not accept the dogma of the Trinity defined at the Council of Nicaea.” [In particular, it is the legend of the Nestorian monk Serge-Bahira who is said to have recognized the “prophet Muḥammad” while still a child and to have transmitted his Christology to him.]

In the end, only rather crude confusions seek to justify Islamic “Christology” by Christian theological debates; whereas Islam is rooted in a much earlier, post-Christian-Jewish phenomenon, which in fact goes back to the end of the Apostolic period.

It is true that a question, subtle for the historian, lies behind these confusions: what criterion can distinguish what is Christian from what is not? Is it adherence to definitions—but in what language? Before the definitions of the Councils, was there only a vast vagueness? Is belief adhering to definitions—assuming one understands something, which requires explanations that are not always clearer either? Or is it something else? In other words, are definitions fundamentally enlightening—which is what the Byzantines hoped for—or are they merely signposts?

If Christianity is primarily a life, it cannot be put into concepts and definitions. In the Gospels, in Greek, we read six times “Your faith has saved you,” or as in Mt 1:21: “he will save the people from their sins;” where the Aramaic means “Your faith has made you alive,” and Jesus gives life back to the people from their sins. Certainly, the Greek verb sozo has something to do with healing; but taken out of context, the statement “faith saves” could be understood in relation to a conceptual eternal salvation, or one disconnected from concrete life; whereas it is first of all a question of life (re)given here below by Jesus.

Therefore, if there is a criterion of Christianity, it can only be this: the Christian, whether Hebrew-Aramaic or from another cultural or linguistic area, is the one who believes that Jesus holds in Himself the power to vivify. Those who believe that Jesus is under the power of an Other, that is to say that He does not save by Himself but simply intervenes as a superman, or else believe that He is simply a model to be followed, that is to say that everyone must save himself by following this model, do not share the faith of the Apostles but another faith. They adhere to distortions of the Christian Revelation, whether they are of the first or the second type.

These distortions have generally been called heresies, thus creating an unclear catch-all (the Greek word ‘aïresis, which gave rise to “heresy,” simply means “opinion”). This vagueness does not facilitate the distinction between what is Christian and what is not, and often focuses attention on secondary aspects. What determines the Christian faith is that if Jesus saves by Himself, then the God revealed in the Old Testament is present in Him, for God alone can save-vivify. As for the way in which this presence is expressed, this is certainly already an object of the New Testament and will subsequently be the subject of many theological debates—but it is secondary. Unfortunately, these debates have often pitted different, but legitimate, cultural perceptions and expressions of the mystery of Christ against each other. In fact, all the apostolic Christian communities of the world today recognize each other fully and mutually in their faith, expressed in different languages (often not transposable from one to another—that is the difficulty).

Proposition D also leads one to call writings “Christian” that are not, either because they present Jesus as a messiah in whom God acts as an external mover or inspirer (according to the Arian-Messianist perspective), or because they present Him as a guide who, out of compassion, shows how to save oneself (such is the core of all Gnostic systems). Such writings are not Christian, and the groups who wrote them cannot be called “Christian”—nor can they be called “heterodox Jews;” they are in fact also in opposition to rabbinic Judaism (which repays them with the daily curse against the minim). This is why, instead of using the illegitimate term “Christian” for them, serious research leads to the qualification of these groups, which came after apostolic Christianity, as “post-Christians”—they exist historically and logically only in relation to the latter, from which they derive doctrines that would not otherwise stand by themselves.

The confusions linked to propositions A, B and C lead to those linked to proposition D, which is quite logical.

Proposition E

If faith in the divinity of Christ is a late invention, the Aramaic-speaking Christian communities must also be late, and they can only have existed in dependence on Greek Christianity, therefore not before the end of the third century—this is a logical necessity. It is said that they were only an outgrowth of this Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greco-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

This denial of apostolic antiquity of the Eastern Christians is expressed in numerous writings, for example by Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, in her contribution to a book with the evocative title, Après Jésus: L’invention du christianisme (After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity). She speaks of a “staging” by Eastern Christians of a “conversion to Christianity” going back to the Apostle Thomas (p. 570). And in Paul-Hubert Poirier, one reads that “the expansion of Christianity” beyond the borders of the Empire dates from the 3rd century, with “the Christians beginning to use” Latin at the end of the 2nd century, Syriac at the beginning of the 3rd century only, Coptic at the end of the same century, Armenian in the 5th century, and other languages later still (p. 53). Did they not exist before? What is thus obscured is that from the first century until the great massacres by Tamerlane, Asia had more Christians than Europe. Of the twelve Apostles, only three (James, brother of John, Andrew and Peter) went West; the others went elsewhere, with the exception of James the Just, who remained in Jerusalem, considered the center of the world. To think that Christians existed only in the Roman Empire until the end of the third century is simply the result of a postulate; and this negationist postulate is fundamentally rooted in Proposition A.

Proposition F

Since the Syro-Aramaic churches are presumed to have existed only in the late period of time, their New Testament texts were therefore also presumed to have been translated from the already existing texts—i.e., from Greek.

But if the reverse is true, i.e., if early Christianity is no further West of Jerusalem (in the Greek Roman Empire) than East of it (in the Parthian Empire), it becomes essential to compare the best Greek and Syro-Aramaic manuscripts. And then, the Aramaic texts turn out to reflect a state of the text much earlier than the best Greek manuscripts, which appear to be the work of translators (various in fact and in various Greek dialects, which is the main reason for the existence of seven or eight irreconcilable families of Greek Biblical manuscripts). These Aramaic texts can shed light on most of the obscurities of the Greek or Latin texts, even if there is reason to believe that the translators did their best in the context that was theirs.

Proposition G

Since there were groups of Semitic language holding Jesus only as a man, one imagines that they preceded the churches of the same languages (Aramaic, Coptic); and that it was they who preserved the true Christianity of the Apostles (the Greek Christians having invented the divinity of Jesus). They are often referred to under the vague term of “Judeo-Christian sects,” or pre-Pauline or pre-Nicene groups. We have seen above how these labels are misleading. If Semitic or even other language groups speak of Jesus in opposition to the faith of the Apostles which is really known to us through the New Testament (which we can understand through the Aramaic texts even better than those in Greek or Latin), they are post-Christian groups.

The concept of “post-Christianity” was coined to designate the phenomenon of “leaving Christianity” that marked the 19th and 20th centuries, from the point of view of institutions (we also speak of “secularization”). But there is no reason to take into account only the institutional aspect. If we consider the theological aspect (or in other words, that of the Apostolic faith), we can and must look at the phenomenon that begins towards the end of the Apostolic era, that of groups of Judeo-Christians who questioned the faith they held from the Apostles, and who then organized themselves into groups and doctrines opposed to the Apostles (while keeping many traits of original Christianity).

These groups and doctrines, which would later be called “heresies,” are strictly speaking counterfeits (in the sense that a counterfeit is made to resemble the model, but it is no longer the original). These counterfeits, which constitute exactly post-Christianities, are fundamentally and historically of two types, corresponding to the two axes of Christianity (and thus to the two possible ways of counterfeiting it. See here):


The Propositions, from A to G, form a logical system. For this reason, it is enough that only one of these seven propositions turns out to be contrary to the data of serious research for the whole to be invalidated. There is no lack of reasons to question each of these propositions, starting with the first one, which is the most important—and which is even the key to the others. There has never been a “divinization” of Jesus, but rather a consideration of the plan of a God who revealed Himself in order to come and save humanity, which only He can do. The question remains open as to what God will do next, as a Second Coming of Christ is foretold. This is another question, which is not simple either, since Muslims also expect a second coming of Jesus, but it is not the same. It is understandable that some minds find all this very complicated and try to reduce their perception of Christianity to their logical and ideological schemes, from A to G.

It is therefore a new coherent and logical approach to Christian origins that must be promoted and explored, in accordance with Revelation and historical and anthropological data that are not censored or distorted by postulates. Such new orientations will not go without opposition—the seekers of truth are rare—but this is a characteristic of our time in almost all areas, alas.

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

Featured image: “Traditio Legis,” mosaic, Santa Costanza, Rome, 4th century AD.

What Political Commitment for Christians?

The political commitment of Christians in our liberal democracies is not at all obvious, so much so that these democracies oppose the teachings of the Church on many subjects.

Let us first bring to mind the context. Christians cannot be indifferent to politics, understood as a form of higher charity. But in our societies, Christianity is now in the minority and rejected as a public reference. It has therefore become difficult to have an influence by explicitly claiming it. And yet Christians cannot blend anonymously into society. Indeed, they cannot avoid speaking up and becoming visible, if an issue at hand is directly religious. But even if it is a matter of natural law, and when it is unknown to society (marriage for all), Christians are quickly identified as such. The old dilemma is therefore not very helpful—one will always act “as a Christian,” obviously, but also in each case “inasmuch a Christian” without exclusion a priori.

Does the Magisterium give a clear answer as to the directions to take? The principles (the Social Doctrine of the Church) are solid. But the political position has varied considerably—at first hostile to political modernity (19th century), it then oscillated, at least until the Second World War, between restating the principles and a de facto accommodation. Then it tried Christian democracy, which seemed a convenient and promising compromise, but which finally failed, leading to the present position. If it can be summarized, the Doctrine seems to recommend democracy and human rights, like the rest of society—but (at least for John Paul II and Benedict XVI) with an underlying understanding that is quite different from the prevailing one, and more than a little nuanced between the popes. In any case, it is not disrespectful to say that the impact over time has been and remains inconclusive. The only clear case of success, that of John Paul II in the East, was no ordinary political struggle.

It should be remembered, moreover, that the Magisterium exercises its full authority only on faith and morals (the moral foundations), not on decisions of political prudence. The light it sheds is therefore very important, but it leaves open various possibilities, while remaining faithful to the principles. This does not mean that magisterial teaching should be neglected—far from it. But it is not a ready-made manual. This fact is often forgotten when positions taken here and there in the Church are taken without caution. Conversely, it is difficult in practice to claim to be a Catholic in politics while going against this or that expression of the Church of the moment, even if one remains within the legitimate margin of autonomy. For example, a party claiming to be Catholic but restrictive on migrants would probably be criticized in an uncomfortable way.

What References in the Past?

Do we have references in the past? Less than we think. The era of Christianity was too different. Christian democracy did not survive and was a flash in the pan—in a way correlated with the illusion, common at the time, that there was a misunderstanding with the modern world, which just had to be dispelled. But what has emerged is that, as the popes of the nineteenth century perceived (despite their errors and blunders), there are elements of strong and structural opposition between this world and the Christian. In the end, the model of the first Christians seems more inspiring. It is true that there was no democratic political struggle in the Roman Empire, but the dilemma was already known—not to deny the society in which one lives and its elements of legitimacy, while recognizing points of irreducible opposition. And within this framework, the positions could be diverse. Thus, the question of the Roman army—some thought that it was out of the question to fight in it; others made the opposite choice, without denying their faith.

This does not tell us what choices should be made concretely. All the more so since the Christian world is divided politically, with, to simplify things, a basic polarization between “conservatives” and “progressives.” The former are more numerous and transmit the faith better; but the latter, although weakened, hold more levers. That said, the Catholic spectrum thus drawn does not merge with the political spectrum in society, as it is significantly more skewed to the right. The “progressive” Christian is very rarely on the extreme left: he or she will be an ecologist or a Socialist Party member, but often LREM or even LR, like the majority of practicing Catholics. The “conservative” Christian is readily classified by the system as being on the right, or even on the extreme right.

These oppositions also seem irreducible; first of all, of course, on questions of morality and society. In theory, the Doctrine gives clear-cut answers. But not everyone adheres to them (contraception); and the question of what is possible remains open; and thereafter, the division is often sharp (marriage for all). Then there are the migrants. The disagreement between Christians is very bitter here, with the current pope having moreover committed himself radically to one side. Less harsh, but nevertheless clear, is the opposition on Europe and more broadly on the national question. Finally, in the vast field of economic and social issues, including ecology, there is a very wide range of opinions, with considerable differences. This simple reminder shows that it is not possible to unite under one banner the positions in question, whether explicitly Christian or not.

In such a context, frustrations are inevitable on both sides; and not only because the Magisterium seems to support some over others. The “progressive” side suffers from the retreat of this current compared to the 1970s and 1980s. Above all, since the opposition between the dominant spirit of our societies and the Christian faith is denied or relativized, we end up in the wake of the former; and, in practice, the political action we carry out is confused with that of the left or the center. Moreover, the committed progressive is troubled by the right-wing vote of the majority of Catholics, as well as by the insistence of the “conservatives” in regards to matters societal, which is much more visible and the only one associated by the public with Christianity.

Finally, there is difficulty with a magisterial doctrine that remains traditional (despite certain declarations). Hence the temptation of an exacerbated ethic of conviction, notable on the subject of migrants—but there again without any political effect of its own.

The malaise is no less real on the “conservative” side. This may be because of the fact that they are out of step with the hierarchy—not so much on principles as on certain declarations, such as on migrants—but even more so because of frustration over the poor results obtained, for example in societal struggles. This is because we are opposed to the heavy tendencies of society, the relativist paradigm that dominates it. Moreover, on this side also Christian discourse is in the minority, although less than on the left.

The balance sheet therefore does not appear to be encouraging. One can recognize an ardent obligation as a Christian, but in practice it is difficult to implement it in a way that can be identified in Christian terms; the dispersion of efforts is considerable; and the political field does not immediately appear to be fruitful for the Christian who wants to act explicitly as such. But it would be wrong to leave it at that. First of all, of course, what makes an action good or bad is not primarily the result obtained—which for the most part depends on God. It is not up to us to carry the future of humanity on our shoulders; this does not prevent us from doing what we have to do, where we are and where we can; and if possible, intelligently. Doing good around us, including in political matters, is always possible, and obtaining real results, and by making explicit how this manifests our Christian faith whenever possible or pertinent.
Another thing is the manifestation of Christianity in society and in history. Let’s look at its lessons—how many cases of collective successes are there that are the fruit of Christian action, consciously and in principle? I am, for example, one of those who admire Christianity in spite of its defects and limitations; but it was never defined as an objective to be reached; it was given in its time. It will be the same in the future.

Pierre de Lauzun, a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, has worked in banking and finance and has published, among other things, Philosophie de la foi, La finance peut-elle être au service de l’homme? and Finance: un regard chrétien. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured image: “Christ Before Pilate,” Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 6th century.

Catholicism and Democracy: The Misunderstanding

Positioning the Problem

If there is a dilemma that remains unresolved, it is that of the relationship of Catholicism to liberal democracy. This dilemma is based on two fundamental factors. While, for many centuries, Catholicism has developed its attachment to the concept of the person, liberal democracy is intrinsically linked to the philosophical concept of the individual. Moreover, upstream of this divergence are two concepts that are opposite in nature. The Catholic one is rooted in the political philosophy of Aristotle, according to which man is a social animal, a postulate taken up by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The liberal one is based on the idea that men (individuals) do not live politically at first, but in a state of nature and war with each or against each (Hobbes), or in a positive state of nature but destined to degrade (Locke); hence the need to establish a contract between individuals in order to access political life. In other words, whereas in the first case, political life is immediately qualified positively; in the second it is qualified positively only by necessity.

This is what Pope Leo XIII opposed at the end of the nineteenth century and what the Second Vatican Council continues to oppose. But the political teaching of the Roman Magisterium has evolved nonetheless. This is what I would like to examine, by first restating some of the major points of the encyclical Immortale Dei (on the Christian constitution of states) and then restating those of Gaudium et spes (the Church in the Modern World) of the Second Vatican Council. Yet from one to the other of these two teachings of the Roman Magisterium, the historical misunderstanding of what democracy means persists.

The Encyclical Immortale Dei (1885): A Response to Liberal Democracy

In the context of the publication of Immortale Dei, four major facts should be brought to mind. Leo XIII was the first pope who never had a temporal state; he was grappling with the Kulturkampf in Germany and with the secularization of school education in France. Finally, the encyclical is contemporary with the rise of socialism. This is why the political teaching of Leo XIII was completed in 1891 by his social teaching; these two doctrinal bodies being the two legs without which the Catholic Church could not walk in the modern world, which was less and less favorable to it at the end of the 19th century. Five aspects of Leo XIII’s thinking in the encyclical Immortale Dei are evident. All of them oppose the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, by recourse to the political philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, according to which man, a naturally political animal, seeks the common good with his fellow human beings.

But this naturalistic principle had to be complemented by New Testament teaching that all political power comes from God, regardless of the form of the regime. This is the central problem. The modern (liberal) world, anxious for its autonomy from any religious foundation, was turning away from God, the theological and political principle that had organized Christian Europe for centuries. The result for Leo XIII was the need for public worship and the opposition to religious freedom. Leo XIII rejected it because it would lead to the collapse of public worship, which can only be given to the one true God and thanks to which the solid and necessary unity of the political order is guaranteed. There is no legitimate authority without the support of truth, and no viable society without it; but there is also no public worship without recognition of the true God, of whom the Church is the depository through its spiritual leaders, the pope being the head.

The same is true of freedom. The Christian order, which comes from God, does not dispute its relevance, but it is not valid unto itself, being an “element of perfection for man,” which “must be applied to what is true and what is good.” Finally, the representative system of liberal democracy is at most evoked, and in a negative way with the explicit fear that it generates “the right to riot” because of its correlative link with freedom of opinion. Much more important for Leo XIII was the political status accorded to “the people” who have “their greater or lesser share in government,” which share is “not only a benefit, but a duty for citizens.” However, nothing is said about the concrete procedure by which the people take “their share in government.” This matter of democracy in magisterial teaching came back on the agenda at the Second Vatican Council with Gaudium et spes. This raises the question—did the Second Vatican Council embrace liberal democracy, or does it not rather propose a Catholic understanding of democracy?

Gaudium et spes: A Liberal or a Catholic Conception of Democracy?

In the wake of the last world war and the two totalitarian regimes of the Nazis and the Soviets, the Roman Magisterium has undoubtedly evolved; but it has not abandoned its fundamental concepts, especially those of the search for the common good and the political authority required to achieve it. What has changed is that the correlation between the common good and political authority combines the “free will” of citizens to choose their leaders with the traditional idea that “the political community and public authority have their foundation in human nature and through it are subject to an order fixed by God.”

It should be noted, then, that from Leo XIII to Vatican II, there is great continuity in magisterial teaching. It is, however, within this tradition that Gaudium et spes accredits the principle of democracy as the legal functioning of the political community, something that Leo XIII could not accept in such a clear-cut manner. Nevertheless, just as Leo XIII did not want to rally French Catholics to the Republic for philosophical and theological reasons, Vatican II did not advocate rallying to liberal democracy for the same reasons. The Church is therefore faithful to her vision of man in society, especially since the reception of the thought of Thomas Aquinas, while reconsidering it in the light of the norms of liberal democracy. The latter is acceptable, provided that it is rooted in an order of nature that is in every respect opposed to the modern conception of nature of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In other words, Vatican II gives itself the theoretical instruments to think about a Catholic conception of democracy, while accepting in a practical way the achievements of liberalism (freedom of association, of assembly, etc.). Let us also note the conciliation of a Catholic conception of democracy with liberal achievements. This is explicitly demonstrated by the “guarantee of human rights” and the rejection of “all political forms… which impede civil or religious liberty;” or the idea that a political authority which contravenes the common good, “citizens” must “defend their rights… respecting the limits set by the natural law and the law of the Gospel.” This Catholic conception of democracy is corroborated by the defense of religious liberty. Whereas Leo XIII conceded only the tolerance of religions, Gaudium et spes calls for “the right to express personal opinions and to profess one’s religion in private and in public.” It is perhaps this reconciliation that gives the false impression that democracy as defended in Gaudium et spes is basically the Catholic version of liberal democracy. Hence the continuation of the historical misunderstanding that has been simmering since the end of the Council and which is now coming to light through recent societal developments.

Liberal democracy and the Catholic understanding of democracy: a historical misunderstanding that is still relevant today

With Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council undeniably made a great leap forward in allowing Catholics to have their own conception of democracy, not thought of as a counter-society, but as a means of acclimatizing liberal democracy to Catholic culture and vice versa. But what could have been a beautiful symphony did not achieve its goal. Either Catholics secularized themselves into the liberal democratic mold by adopting the rhetoric of humanistic values. Or they sought a self-referential Catholic anchor that looks more like a Christian neo-democracy than a Catholic conception of democracy. Yet it is this ambition that must be pursued so that Catholics can spearhead a revitalized conception of democracy which needs it most.

Father Bernard Bourdin o.p. published, with Philippe Iribarne, La nation, une ressource d’avenir. The nation, a point of balance between the universal and the rooted. This article appears through the generosity of La Nef.

Featured image: “Procession in church,” by Guillaume van Strydonck; painted ca. 1900.

Antoine Arjakovsky: An Ecumenical Metaphysics

Antoine Arjakovsky directs the Politics and Religion Department at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. He is also Director Emeritus of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University.

His research focuses in particular on Russian religious philosophy (Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Shestov), as well as on issues of the theology of politics, such as democracy, justice and fraternity (Votez Fraternité ! Trente propositions pour une société plus juste [Vote Fraternity! Thirty Propositions for a more Just Society]). He has just published Éssai de métaphysique œcuménique [Essay on Ecumenical Metaphysics]. in which he analyzes our troubled times and, above all, proposes a new epistemology based on ecumenical science.

This conversation comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT. [Translated from the French by N. Dass]

PHILITT (PL): In the introduction to your book, you begin by making an observation. Contrary to those who say that our world is going well, and that the impression of the contrary is only a distortion effect, proper to a Western consciousness that has always been haunted by the idea of decadence, you affirm that, on the contrary, our societies are facing a “poly-crisis.”

Antoine Arjakovsky (AA): Yes, but it is not to be a great prophet to note this. You just have to look at the many reports of the United Nations or the IPCC on this subject. For example, the latest Oxfam report published in January 2022 explains that the health pandemic has considerably increased social inequalities in France and in the world. The top five wealthiest people in France have doubled their wealth since the beginning of the pandemic. They by themselves own as much as the poorest 40% in France. Since March 2020, the world counts a new billionaire every 26 hours, while at the same time 160 million people have fallen into poverty.

Antoine ArjakovskyDR.

Everything that formed a coherent whole in the 1990s has disintegrated in less than twenty years. There is, of course, the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis, with the dramatic consequences that we know about, with the coronavirus pandemic. But there is also the crisis of international relations, the rise of social violence, etc. Some consider that these crises have always existed, that there has always been war, violence and injustice. But the truth is that these inequalities and the devastation of forests and oceans have taken on proportions unknown in the past. Add to this the progression, at the speed of a galloping horse, of the postmodern paradigm within most political or media elites—that is to say, of a worldview according to which there is no truth but only interpretations—then you understand why this poly-crisis is deep, long-lasting and, to put it bluntly, quite worrying.

PL: One could use the come-back that this triple economic, ecological and philosophical crisis is purely conjunctural, linked to certain contemporary mutations of the market, of technology and of ways of thinking, and that the system will eventually resolve it.

AA: The current poly-crisis has deep causes, which have to do with the fact that postmodern thinking deprives man of the spiritual energy that would allow him to truly act on the world. Indeed, in such thinking, only the individual can have sufficient resources to survive and transform a world characterized by its power relations, its senselessness and its violence. But this obviously is not the case. On the contrary, we can see that this conception renders man completely powerless. It is time to recover the elementary truth that budgets are moral documents. This is the guarantee that new public policies are possible in order to build not, according to the vision of the Moderns, a sovereign and all-powerful State, but, in a more spiritual way, a State at the service of fraternity.

PL: If I follow you, since the crisis originated in a worldview and epistemology that is both utilitarian and individualistic, its solution can only be to return to a more spiritual epistemology.

AA: Alongside the postmodern paradigm, there is another crystallization of consciousness, which can be called spiritual, that was carried into the 20th century by very different thinkers such as Nicholas Berdyaev and Kate Raworth, Victor Frankl and Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II). This challenged not only the classical and modern worldview but also its postmodern conception.

I will take here only the example of the realization of the Austrian and Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. On October 19, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis. On his return from deportation, he gave a famous lecture in Vienna in which he explained that modern psychoanalysis failed to understand the world because of a faulty epistemology:

“Having an atomistic, energetic and mechanistic concept of Man, psychoanalysis sees him in the last analysis as the automaton of a psychic apparatus. And it is precisely there that the existential analysis intervenes. It opposes a different concept of man to the psychoanalytical concept. It does not focus on the automaton of a psychic apparatus but rather on the autonomy of spiritual existence. ‘Spiritual’ is used here without any religious connotation, of course, but rather simply to indicate that we are dealing with a specifically human phenomenon, unlike the phenomena we share with other animals. In other words, the spiritual is what is human in man.”

This shift in consciousness from a postmodern conception to a spiritual worldview has occurred in an often discrete way in just about every discipline in the 20th and 21st centuries. Today agnostic philosophers, such as Dany Robert Dufour for example, do not hesitate to trace manifestations of the spirit in the life of the world back to the metaphysical and theological figure of the Trinity. Here is the conclusion of one of his recent conferences at the Collège des Bernardins: “I am an atheist betting on a new ecumenism (convivialism) and invoking the Trinity to ward off the devil.”

PL: This new spiritual worldview must, according to you, be developed in what you call an “ecumenical metaphysics.” However, this term seems at first sight to be difficult to understand. In fact, the term “metaphysics” does not have a very good press today, and since Kant it has been associated with the idea of an outdated or even misguided philosophy.

AA: It is urgent to get out of the current schizophrenia of the university which consists in separating the two spheres of belief and rationality. Kant himself, in The Conflict of Faculties, was opposed to such a division. He, the philosopher of pure reason, explained at the end of his life that he was also a Lutheran believer who would like to be able to converse with theologians. The misfortune was that in his time theological rationality was entirely dependent on political power. Today, we are no longer in that situation. On the contrary, we can see how much theological rationality and philosophical rationality have to say to each other in the same way that the Catholic faith has understood that it could be enriched by contact with the Protestant and Orthodox faith. Hence the interest for me to think today about the bases of an ecumenical metaphysics capable of thinking together the universal and the personal, but also the real world and the spiritual world.

In reality, ecumenical metaphysics is a global vision of the world that seeks to understand all reality and to participate in it. Here the term “ecumenical” is understood as the Kingdom of God that comes to earth whenever human beings actualize divine justice. This conception of universality becomes personal and communal. It also breaks down the ancient representation of space-time. History is neither cyclical nor a long empty corridor. It has a vertical meaning, one might say. The kingdom of God on earth is fullness in spirit and truth. This is why I explain in my book that Wilhelm Visser’t Hooft was right when he explained in his book The Meaning of Ecumenical that there is a somewhat forgotten meaning to the term “ecumenical—that of a universality that gives access to reality in a meta-confessional, meta-religious and meta-convictional way. From the Christian point of view, this can be perfectly justified by the fact that Christ himself announced to his disciples: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). But, of course, this personal sense of universality must also be understood in its sapiential dimension, its dimension of wisdom.

PL: You have said on many occasions that this ecumenical metaphysics must be “sapiential,” but also “personalist.”

AA: For Aristotle, metaphysics had to be katholou; that is to say, it had to be capable of taking the whole thing. Metaphysics, when it rediscovers its spiritual sources, in a sapiential and personalist way, becomes fully ecumenical. It is a question of holding together in its entirety God, the world and the human being as a thinker. This is why it is necessary to understand the individual in his infinite dignity as a person, both microcosm and macrocosm. It is also a question of rediscovering the intuitions of figures as different as the author of the Book of Proverbs, of Rumi, of Paracelsus or of Shankara in order to grasp the being in all its sapiential depth, which is at the same time unobjectifiable yet nonetheless describable. This leads to a non-dual understanding of the world, as in the Eastern religions but also in the great Western mystics.

This metaphysics, because it poses a tension between the created and the uncreated world, makes it possible to reconcile four major understandings of truth in the history of philosophy: truth as correspondence between the thing and the intellect (Aristotle); truth as fidelity to a promise (Augustine); truth as coherence between what one says and what one does (Rescher); and finally truth as consensus between the members of a community (Peirce). This existential and “in tension” conception of truth is opposed in this sense to the voluntarist vision of truth, dominant today, which conceives it only as that which functions in relation to what is (Bacon); that is to say in a technocentric way, which leads to the transhumanist utopia, as Franck Damour has shown well.

PL: This ecumenical metaphysics appears to be a culmination of your work, in particular that of Russian religious philosophers, such as Berdyaev, Bulgakov or Chestov, whom you quote extensively in your book.

AA: The Russian religious thinkers of the 20th century, such as Nicolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov or Lev Shestov were among the first to understand that it was possible to understand the universal as a personal and symbolic reality. These thinkers knew German thought very well, from Kant to Marx. They understood with Nietzsche that the modern metaphysics that separated the domain of “why” (which was reserved for special metaphysics) from the domain of “how” (which was reserved for general metaphysics) was absurd. They recognized with Heidegger that Western rationalist thought had enclosed being in objectifying concepts, and that it was henceforth a question of recovering all the depth and all the freedom of it.

For the Russian religious thinkers, although they did not always go to the end of their intuitions, it is appropriate to associate the logic of the subject as Person (Berdyaev), the logic of the verb as Wisdom (Bulgakov), and finally the logic of the predicate as self-consciousness (Shestov). This post-idealist and post-phenomenological worldview has the great merit of renewing metaphysics, as soon as one grasps the complementarity between these thoughts, as I try to show in my book.

Thus, for example, Shestov showed how rational thought was, since Aristotle, based on the principles of identity, non-contradiction and the excluded third. This meant that all reality was equal to itself, that one could not say one thing and its opposite and that there was no third term that was both A and non-A. Rational binary thought, based on these principles, relied on the adequacy between the thing and the intellect to understand the world. And it defined “proof” as the explanation of a phenomenon by its universalizable repetition.

But this is a vision of the world which the different religious traditions, from the East and the West, say is a form of naivety with respect to the non-dual organization of reality. Man, who has however an infinite dignity, must in this rationalist conception submit to the order and to the appearance that the phenomena want to give of themselves. It is, according to Shestov, a form of passivity which leads to fatalism or to war. This form of thinking leads to a priori judgments which force to understand all reality as an abstract and uniform thing. It consequently denies to think truth as the fruit of a personal experience.

Featured image: “The Last Supper,” by the Master of the Amsterdam Death of the Virgin; painted ca. 1485-1500.

A Hundred Books to understand the World

Charles-Henri d’Andigné is a journalist for Famille chrétienne and also contributes to Figaro Magazine. Here he talks about his latest book, Cent livres pour comprendre le monde: petite bibliothèque pour un catholique d’aujourd’hui (A Hundred Books to understand the World: A little Library for Today’s Catholic)—a remarkable synthesis of one hundred important works to know.

He is in conversation with Christophe Geffroy, the publisher of La Nef magazine, to whom we are grateful for this opportunity to publish the English version of this interview.

Christophe Geffroy (CG): In this book you present an impressive array of authors. What was your goal and how did you choose?

Charles-Henri d’Andigné (C-HA): My goal is to offer Catholics, and men of good will in general, a set of books that provide reference points in an era when everything is fluid and changing, and when we are losing sight of the most obvious facts.

Charles-Henri d’Andigné. Credit: DR.

Modern man believes he can do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants, think whatever he wants! We Catholics are more affected than we think by this generalized hubris.

The one hundred books I have written about are so many beacons in this uncertain and changing world: philosophical, theological, historical and sociological beacons.

I wrote my book like a bouquet: there are lilies and roses, and then there are violets—I borrow this metaphor from Saint Therese of Lisieux. In other words, there are the great authors, Maritain, Bernanos, Camus, Brague, and then more modest authors, Alix de Saint-André or Gerald Durrell, to form a whole that I hope is harmonious. And accessible—I am addressing the general public.

CG: Why is it important for a Catholic to have a certain culture when Christ rejoices that his Father did not reveal the things of Heaven to the “wise” and the “clever” but to the “little ones” (cf. Mt 11:25)?

C-HA: The Gospel tells us that Christ did not come for an elite group of people who know, but for everyone, young and old, without leaving anyone by the wayside.

Christianity is not a gnosis for the initiated. However, we must cultivate ourselves, as the farmer cultivates the land, so that it may bear beautiful fruit. As François-Xavier Bellamy reminds us in Les Déshérités (The Disinherited), to which I dedicate a chapter, culture humanizes us, helps us to be more ourselves. This is all the more vital in an era rich in mortifying ideologies. Without true culture, there is no intellectual immunity—ideologies penetrate you easily like a hot knife cutting through butter.

CG: Man, God, history, society are the four main parts of your book. In what way do these themes intersect with the essential problems facing our us?

C-HA: Simply because the great ideologies to which I referred are all more or less materialistic. They turn us away from God; they turn us away from man, who thereby becomes only be an individual driven by his economic or sexual interests; they turn us away from the historical and social facts that then used to impose their propaganda.

I don’t need to tell you to what extent this propaganda is present in schools, in the media and now in big companies which impose re-education courses to their employees.

CG: Although all the authors selected are not Catholics or “conservatives” in the broadest sense, this dual belonging is nevertheless dominant. Do you also take on this marked commitment? And what do you say to those who would reproach you for it?

C-HA: I take on this commitment perfectly. We suffer a lot from “deconstruction,” based on the belief that nothing exists in a natural way, that everything is a social construct and that therefore everything is “deconstructable;” better that everything must be deconstructed, so that we can finally be free. The result is an isolated individual, an offspring of his own works, who does not inherit, does not transmit anything and has no other links with his peers than those related to his interests.

It is therefore urgent to reconnect with our religious, philosophical and historical traditions, in order to preserve what deserves to be preserved. Gustave Thibon, one of “my” hundred authors, defines himself as a conservative anarchist. Of course, conservative does not mean narrow-minded. One can have a conservative sensibility and read authors considered as left-wing, Orwell or Simone Weil to name but a few. Hence my chapters on Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Need for Roots.

CG: For Christians, how do you see the struggle of ideas in society (its importance, its influence)? And do Christians seem to you to be up to this struggle? In other words, is there today a credible Christian intellectual succession?

C-HA: Some Christians seem to have understood the importance of the struggle of ideas after the adoption of “marriage” for all. Having never heard of gender theory, they could not even conceive of the notion of same-sex marriage. Are they now up to the task of fighting this battle of ideas? I fear that this is not yet the case.

But the Christian intellectual succession is there. Let us mention just one name, that of the philosopher Olivier Rey—I dedicate a chapter to Une question de taille (A Question of Size)—one of the finest and most profound minds of his generation.

Featured image: “The Library of Thorvald Boeck,” by Harriet Backer; painted in 1902.

Russia: Tradition and Sacred Geography

Regularly under the spotlight for his supposed influence on the Kremlin, Alexander Dugin has taken up and developed the geopolitical concept of Eurasia. Through this notion, he advocates the use of sacred geography and tradition in contemporary geopolitics.

For Dugin, geopolitics is not a science like any other. If alchemy and magic have disappeared in favor of their modern and secular forms, such as chemistry and physics, the sacred geography of the ancients remains alive through geopolitics. Recalling the Heartland theory of the British geopolitician Halford John Mackinder, Dugin makes Eurasia the centerpiece of sacred geography. With Russia at its center, Eurasia embodies the last bastion of tradition in the northern hemisphere, the only one capable of fighting effectively against modernity.

The Russian thinker holds that geography shapes ideologies, cultures and religions. Civilizations of the plains, steppes or deserts, for example, which are conducive to expansion and conquest, differ from civilizations of the mountains and forests, which are more inclined to preserve the traditions of the people. Dugin also defends the relevance of the traditional opposition thalassocracy-tellurocracy, used to qualify two distinct types of powers. There are those who dominate by the mastery of the sea and those who dominate by the mastery of the land; and it is understood that these modes of domination are not be insignificant on the ideological level.

According to Dugin, tellurocracy embodies stability, gravity, fixity and politics, while thalassocracy promotes mobility, fluidity, dynamics and economy. While the terrestrial empires, often military, are tellurocratic in form, the colonial empires, more commercial, are more thalassocratic. However, the geopolitician notes that this typology does not boil down to a simple water/land opposition and to a strict geographical determinism. There are maritime lands (islands) and terrestrial waters (rivers and inland seas). Similarly, Dugin notes that Japanese geopolitics is tellurocratic, despite its insular character; while he sees in the power of the North American continent a thalassocracy that relies on the dynamism of its maritime and commercial interfaces. Applying this reading grid, the Russian thinker considers that Eurasia, a land continent going from Europe to Asia and whose center of gravity is located in Russia, constitutes the tellurocratic model opposed to the Atlanticist United States of America.

Sacred Geography and Religions

Going beyond the strict framework of geography, this dualism is also found within religious systems. The values of the land transposed to the religious is manifested by depth, tradition, contemplation and mysticism. The Atlanticist principle, on the other hand, is more superficial and materialistic, giving primacy to ritual, to the organization of daily life, and even going so far as to ignore the divine part in man. Thus, Dugin sees Orthodoxy as the earthly aspect of Christianity, while Catholicism and Protestantism constitute its Atlanticist face. Similarly, within Islam, the earthly principle is found more in certain branches of Shi’ism and in Sufism. On the contrary, Salafism and Wahhabism would be more Atlanticist in their emphasis on ritual and their religious dogmatism, which seeks to eradicate the traditional spiritualities of the converted peoples. Faced with American Protestantism and Saudi Salafism, whose geopolitical alliances, since 1945, Dugin points out, the Russian world brings together, on the contrary, religions of a telluric type with Russian Orthodoxy but also Caucasian and Central Asian Islam.

As for Judaism, not only does it not escape this internal opposition, but it is also found in the secular forms of Jewish thought. Dugin analyzes the mystical branches of Judaism (Hasidism, Sabbataism, Kabbalism) as the expression of the earthly aspect of this religion. Talmudism, on the other hand, represents the Atlanticist aspect of the religion, particularly through its emphasis on dogmatic rigor and rationalism. Moreover, recalling the influence of Jewish messianism on the development of Marxism and Bolshevism, Dugin sees the latter as secular forms of earthly Judaism. On the contrary, secularized Atlanticist Judaism contributed to the rise of capitalism and the bourgeois spirit. The Russian geopolitician sees in this internal tension within Judaism the explanation of a recurrent “Jewish anti-Semitism.” Karl Marx’s statement that money is the profane God of Judaism (The Jewish Question) is the empirical embodiment of the mystical Jew attacking the Talmudic Jew, an emanation of tradition against a form of modernity.

The opposition between Eurasianism and Atlanticism does not summarize the vision of sacred geography according to Alexander Dugin, but it is an actualization of the eternal struggle between tellurocracy and thalassocracy, as well as the underlying basis of the war between tradition and modernity. He also relies on the East-West and North-South dualisms. For the champion of Eurasism, the East embodies archaism, tradition and the primacy of the supra-individual over the individual. The West represents on the contrary material progress, modernity and individualism. Faithful to the geographical representations of numerous traditions (biblical, Egyptian, Iranian or Chinese), this opposition is also corroborated by the frequent contemporary representations of the “Western world” and the East. However, in sacred geography, it is the Eastern values that are superior to the Western values. The exact opposite can be observed in modern geopolitics, for which Western values of liberal democracy and individualistic human rights, associated with a strict market economy, are set up as a model.

The Tradition of the North

In the eyes of Dugin, the East-West duality is however only a late horizontal transposition of the primordial geographical duality opposing the North to the South. Divine land par excellence, the North is the land of the spirit and of being. If he refuses the idea of a purely objective North, which would designate only a geographical pole, the Russian philosopher however rejects the definition of a North reduced to an idea. Certainly, the primordial tradition came from the geographical North; but that era is over. The man of the North, almost divine, has disappeared today as such but is still be present in a diffuse way and in variable proportions within all the peoples. The same is true of the man from the South, who embodies the tendency towards materialism and idolatry. If the man of the South venerates the cosmos, often in the form of Mother Earth, he apprehends it only by his instinct and shows himself incapable of grasping its spiritual part. These two types of man are no longer opposed to each other today, but within peoples and civilizations. In no way can this opposition be compared to a Manichean combat of good against evil. The North and the South are complementary; the former embodied in the latter. Nevertheless, Dugin believes that respect for the divine order requires the superiority of the spiritual principle of the North over the material principle of the South.

Although the opposition between the North and the South takes precedence over that between the East and the West, the Russian strategist notes that the first duality takes on a different coloring according to the geographical transpositions that take place. Various combinations can be formed by the spirituality of the North, the materialism of the South, the holism of the East and the individualism of the West. Dugin thus establishes that the sacred values of the North are sterilely preserved by the South, enhanced by the East and fragmented by the West. As for the values of the South, according to their milieu of immersion, they opacify the spirit of the North, transform Eastern holism into a pure negation of the individual, and generate an individualistic materialism in the West. It is under this last form that Western modernity appears in the eyes of the Eurasist philosopher. Fruit of the most negative combination of sacred geography, the supposed success of Western countries, however essentially located in the geographical north, advocates values opposed to tradition. This inversion of the poles constitutes a characteristic of the dark age, or Kali Yuga, in which the world now finds itself.

Nevertheless, Alexander Dugin does not consider that salvation must come from the South. Sterile by essence, the latter would only be able to preserve fragments of northern tradition that the Russian mystic perceives in the Islamic world, in Hindu India, and even in China, despite its partial conversion to modernity. Salvation comes from the alliance between this conservative South and the islands of authentic tradition still present in the North, and particularly in the Northeast. Dugin thus locates in the Russian world the current heart of tradition and the struggle against modernity. The Russian world, including Russia but also its various peripheries, brings together geographical qualities (located in the North-East in the sense of sacred geography), religious qualities (Orthodoxy, Eurasian Islam, Russian Judaism) and the characteristics of a telluric power which allow it to play a decisive role in the struggle against Atlanticist, Western modernity and its opposition to the spirit of the North.

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

Featured image: “Vyaselka,” (Rainbow), by Nikolay Dubovskoy; painted in 1892.

Alfred Delp: Resistance and Theology

Is there a connection between Alfred Delp’s theology and his resistance, between his thought and his martyrdom?

I would like to address this question by comparing key statements of pro-Nazi Catholic theologians with Alfred Delp’s theological and philosophical reflections. This raises, however, another question: was Delp a “modern” or a “traditional” theologian? For it was precisely the “moderns” among German theologians, those who sought a contemporary theology, who wanted a reform of the liturgy, and wanted to strengthen the position of the laity in the church, who were likely to justify Nazism and theological and practical collaboration. Among them were, for example, Karl Adam, Joseph Lortz and Michael Schmaus, whose approaches left their mark on Catholic theology long after 1945. They did not appreciate the reactionary or traditionalist elements of National Socialism, but saw in it an enormous potential for innovation that they wanted to use for their reform projects in church and theology.

An understanding of Delp’s history is fundamental to the explanations that follow; this is followed by the theological themes of “Nature and Grace” and “Image of the Church and Understanding of the Church,” complemented by a presentation of the effects of the heroic ideal in theology. Each of these three points begins with a brief presentation of the statements of pro-Nazi theologians, among whom Karl Adam is especially prominent.

1. Delp’s Conception of History

The basis of Delp’s conception of history is his confrontation with Heidegger’s work Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), which he was one of the first to conduct within the Catholic Church. After the war, when a Catholic Heideggerian school was formed with famous representatives, Delp’s criticism of Heidegger was laughed at and rejected—he did really understand Heidegger and argued not philosophically, but according to his worldview. In particular, the interpretation as heroic tragedy was a misinterpretation. In view of the recent and still difficult discussion about Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism or about the relation of his philosophy to National Socialism, Delp’s criticism takes on a new acuity. However, I do not wish to discuss here whether Sein und Zeit already contains traces of Heidegger’s later adherence to National Socialism, but only to present Delp’s analysis and critique and the importance both acquired for his understanding of man and history.

In Sein und Zeit, Heidegger wants to question being and its meaning without restriction, without committing himself to anything from the outset. The question of being presupposes something that has an understanding of being: this is what Heidegger calls the Da-Sein (= the subject that asks the question). The latter notes that both the questioning of being and the understanding of being are part of itself. The Dasein must therefore only look at itself in order to be able to answer the question about being. This is done with the help of the phenomenological method as description and interpretation of the facts of consciousness. Heidegger calls this the existential analysis of Dasein—it serves to describe and unfold Dasein’s understanding of itself. Dasein thus interprets itself—and the explanation of this interpretation is, for Heidegger, ontology, the doctrine of being. Metaphysics is thus less a doctrine on Dasein than the event of the self-interpretation of Dasein. Now, for Heidegger, the essence of Dasein lies in existence.

The analysis of Dasein leads to the recognition that being means being in the world; that is to say being active in the sense of “being concerned.” The subject is confronted with an object; but the world cannot be grasped from the objects, it must be understood from the subject: the active being-in-the-world is thus the foundation of knowledge.

An important part of being-in-the-world is the existential of sensibility, which means the mood or the being-tuned. Dasein learns there that it is and must be—its origin, however, remains hidden from it. Heidegger speaks here of the being-ness of Dasein.

Heidegger then asks whether there is a state of being that makes being manifest as a unity, and finds the answer in anguish. This anguish prevents Dasein from being completely absorbed in its being-activity and directs the gaze towards the whole, towards the extreme that awaits Dasein: death. Dasein is being-to-death; this shows to Dasein that it goes towards nothingness and that it comes from nothingness.

Thus, Dasein is radically temporal and finite, thus also being as such is finite. Time is the last determinateness of being. The meaning of being is that it becomes. Now, when the radical contingency of Dasein appears, Dasein decides on its destiny and is “determined” to perform its task. From the confrontation with nothingness, Dasein jumps back into a positive conception of life. It becomes its own lawgiver; it gives itself a meaning beyond being-to-death: the mastery of life. This “determination” is for Heidegger the revelation of the inner absoluteness and divinity of Dasein.

It is precisely this, says Delp, this proclamation of courage, strength, and determination, that Heidegger carried to the hearts of young people, because it supposedly took them out of insecurity and existential angst and into a heroic existence.

Delp’s philosophical critique starts at this turn from the experience of nothingness into determination. This turn is a leap, not only in real life, but also in thinking, because there is nothing in the being of Dasein that could provide the reason for such determination. Delp calls this courage to live a great deception, because it is without content and without reason, i.e., also ultimately without meaning. Moreover, this “heroism of finitude” becomes dangerous because of its aesthetics: “Over all these analyses of sorrow: contingency, thrownness, determination, last crash into nothingness, death—over all this lies a somber beauty” (II, 121).

The tragedy of this philosophy, he argues, is that it sought to gain the meaning of being, but can only point to the lifelong preoccupation with mastering life. Moreover, it shows a striking resemblance to the Germanic myth, interpreted in a folk-religious way, of the hero who faces the struggle with full commitment and determination, even if his downfall is sealed—a resemblance that the representatives of the Catholic Heidegger school did not notice or did not want to notice.

At this point, Delp now brings his worldview argument into the field. Heidegger’s claim to make ultimate statements about being cannot be free of worldview, because in the claim to ultimate validity metaphysics and worldview touch each other. Heidegger presents a closed system of a world view, which also implies a certain understanding of man. This understanding is characterized by an ideal of existence, namely the heroic existence, which is carried by the decision to master life.

Delp himself is fascinated by this philosophy of decision, as well as by its departure from finitude and from man—but in the propagation of a total finitude it is for him a myth, dogged immanence that cannot look beyond the world. Delp criticizes Heidegger for not even remaining faithful to this principle of finitude, but for making man absolute in his determination; for this, after all, reveals the divinity of Dasein.

“Where finitude would become practical, one prefers to remain infinite and autonomous. There one puts, on one’s own authority, over this ‘nothing,’ a self-made ideal. The determination, the heroicity of nothingness, is nothing but a denial of the finitude that one had previously emphasized with so much pathos” (II, 137).

[John May, in his commentary in the online edition of theologie.geschichte, points out an interesting parallel that has come to light in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue. The absolutization of finitude in Heidegger can be compared to the re-ontologization of nothingness in Buddhist philosophy. Nothingness, which was understood as the place where non-self becomes True Self (Kyoto School), where non-self means self-forgetfulness and selflessness, becomes in the wider reception a “something” inherent in every being – the Buddha-nature, which is considered the highest realization of nothingness. Just as Heidegger’s absolutization of finitude represents a denial of finitude for Delp, so Buddha-nature as reontologized nothingness can be understood as a denial of nothingness. See also John D’Arcy May, Transcendence and Violence. The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian and Primal Traditions.]

Delp’s judgment, then, for all its fascination, is clear: Heidegger’s philosophy cannot be interpreted or assimilated to Christianity in its consequences. It is not a propaedeutic of Christianity. Nevertheless, this does not prevent him from receiving the concept of Dasein’s decision to master its task in life for his conception of man and his understanding of history. However, he is careful not to transfer any of it to God or Jesus Christ. This area of transcendence, of the supernatural of the Christ-revelation, is determined for him by tradition, revelation and its interpretation. On this basis, his theological critique of Heidegger’s radical concept of the finitude of being is also articulated. The critique of the lack of justification of the leap into determination and of the conflation of philosophy and worldview, on the other hand, is a philosophical critique that could also have been formulated by a follower of critical rationalism.

[Cf. the so-called Münchhausen trilemma, according to which the attempt of an ultimate justification leads either to a regressus in infinitum, a circular reasoning or a dogmatic positing.]

Delp’s engagement with Heidegger left a lasting mark on his understanding of history. The question of the meaning of history and the historicity of man occupied him until his death, and the answers he gives in his more theoretical writings are reflected in his sermons and spiritual writings and ultimately in his fate in imprisonment and death. [See Delp’s Folgenden Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschichte (Following World History and Salvation History (1941); Der Mensch und die Geschichte (Man and History) (1943); Das Rätsel der Geschichte (The Riddle of History) (Bequest)); Die Welt als Lebensraum des Menschen (The World as Man’s Habitat) (Bequest); Der Mensch vor sich selbst (Man before Himself) (Bequest), in Gesammelte Schriften, II, 321-557].

The question of history arises from the subjective experience of history. This can be the turning point or the solidification of a condition caused by an act or event. In the experience of history, the becoming character of the world is revealed. This change of history results in the decision of man, whether he is a maker of history or one who must endure and master it. History thus constantly reminds people of their responsibility, refers them to their conscience.

The question now is, does history have a meaning at all? Does it run according to a plan? It is not the final place of man’s perfection; its meaning is not man’s salvation. Also, God is not to be experienced directly in history; God does not intervene constantly in the history. On the other hand, history has a plan from creation; namely, the task of being the image and re-enactment of the Absolute. The meaning of history is the unfolding of the “order of imagery.” In this sense, there is a development of history—it goes towards a final state; but it also finally has an end, because it does not itself represent salvation.

People are bound by ethical orders as well as by substantive orders. The former imply a direct commitment to God; the latter to the real itself. On both levels people are required to decide; and on both levels they can fall short—in the ethical decision or in the factual one. The former misconduct is sin; the latter disregard and abuse of being, caused by error, sloppiness, arrogance, or the like.

History places humans into always “new situations,” in which they are to prove themselves. Independently of the supernatural order, history has a double meaning—it is to realize the image that God had of it in creation; that is, to fulfill the order of imagery; and it is the place of probation for man; the probation of faithfulness to God and of factual competence and readiness for responsibility.

Are salvation and salvation history now on a completely different level than world history?

Independently of the meaning of history discussed so far, there is for Delp a second word of God that brings about an immediacy of God within history that history does not have of itself. This is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God once again breaks through the order of history and establishes the order of Christ. This is superhistorical, but historically effective; it has its beginning in the election of Israel and the proclamation of the prophets. However, the Christ order does not suspend the “normal” order of history; it is not another level apart from worldly history. Thus, in addition to its double natural sense, history acquires a third—that of being a space for the encounter with God in the Christ order. Natural and supernatural order, however, remain separate in the medium of history. As John May aptly puts it in his commentary: the Christ order works itself out in history and not as history.

Is not the idea of a progressive realization of the “order of imagery” much too optimistic in view of the supremacy and fertility of evil? The ethical decision of man is always demanded even under these circumstances; every historical hour is suitable for it. But there are also historical situations or constellations which must be recognized and tracked down as such, in which the signs of the times must be recognized. In these situations, both the morally good and the factually appropriate decision must be made. Now the fruitfulness of evil often stems from the fact that those who do not shy away from the ethical wrong decision, that is, those who are prepared to take the greater risk, are often “more clear-sighted and finer-nerved” in identifying such situations.

“There may be many reasons to understand, but few to excuse. And this then is the most seductive mask and the most demonic power of evil, that it tackles the posed problems, represents (and corrupts) genuine progress, and in the name of the genuine also and profoundly does, and demands, the unreal. Only this brings about the always occurring confusion of heads and hearts, through which evil rules and remains in regency. Evil is so fruitful in history not because it is more historical or more historically real than good, or because all history is of the devil; it is fruitful because good is so barren, because it misunderstands tradition as conservative sleepiness and habit, because it trivializes ethical neatness into Biedermeier bravado and carelessness; because it so often places the probation of life not in the space of life but beside it” (II, 412).

This is a relatively clear critique of National Socialism, addressing precisely its innovative or perceived innovative character. But Delp exposes this as spurious, as a pretense of progress that spoils real progress. At the same time, it is a harsh criticism of the Church and of Christian piety, which have not recognized that what is decisive is probation in this life and in this history.

For Delp, evil is not something superhuman or superhistorical, but comes from the highest reality of man—from his freedom. It becomes effective only through man himself—that is why its combat must also be done through man’s engagement in this history. Even the suffering of history must be something active:

“Where man strives for this [ethical orderliness—LS] solely by bypassing the bond to the historical probationary space, he misunderstands himself, misses history, leaves it unilaterally to the uninhibited and unopposed forces of the other, possibly erroneous view; violates the law of imagery, and endangers even transcendent faithfulness. Man is just not only there to stand in history or to suffer history. Even this must still be an active engagement, a conscious consummation. Man must make history” (II, 416f).

Therefore, people must not turn away from history, even when it is far from what God intended for them. But they must not sacrifice to it their transcendent bond and their conscience.

“When history or one of its moments of reality degenerates, then the hour has come in which man must not betray history, but in which he must also not sacrifice to it the freedom and God immediacy of his being. If the two directional indicators of his life no longer coincide but cross each other, man must take them both as his cross. Neither the flight into the ‘eternal’ nor the betrayal in history will save him; but only the tremendous effort to hold both together at least in his own will and commitment. This is the first law of human freedom, and to this law freedom must stand, even at the price of personal-historical catastrophe” (II, 381).

Heidegger’s traces are thus unmistakable in Delp’s understanding of history. The human being thrown into existence is determined by his historicity; he is faced with the decision to prove himself; he accepts his finitude. But as a Christian, unlike the tragic hero in Heidegger or in Germanic myth, he knows why he is doing this. It is about the realization of God’s plan of creation and about his salvation, which he cannot find beside history or past history.

Delp is equally “contemporary” and “traditional” in his understanding of world history and salvation history. He receives the most modern philosophy for his anthropology, but remains in more traditional waters with regard to the relationship between nature and grace. “Modern” is his synopsis of world history and salvation history—for him there are no parallel levels of history, but only one; and the order of salvation does not override the natural order of history. At the same time, the traditional Neo-Scholastic distinction between nature and supernature shines through; and ideas of natural law also play a role. With regard to his ethical decision, man is bound not only to the biblical revelation, here the Decalogue, but also to the natural law, which here is not to be understood in natural scientific terms, but as natural law.

Even if some of Delp’s writings at the beginning of Nazi rule betray a certain fascination with the new things that were on the move there, in his later writings on history he is resistant to understanding National Socialism as an innovative force and wanting to use it to drive changes in theology and the church. It is precisely this impression of progress that he exposes as a dangerous and demonic mask of evil.

[This concerns above all Delp’s book project Der Aufbau. Die Existenzmächte des deutschen Menschen (The Construction. The Existential Powers of the German Man), the draft of which is found in I, 195-202, and also the texts under the title, Männerapostolat: Die Katholische Aktion des Mannes (Men’s Apostolate The Catholic Action of Man), in: I, 69-109.]

2. The Relationship of Nature and Grace

By nature, Neo-Scholasticism understood the creative endowment of a being with all that is necessary for its natural development and destiny; but it completely disregarded man’s relationship with God. Grace was strictly separated from this nature in order to preserve the gift character of grace. God was not allowed to be presented as someone obligated to grace because human nature demanded it.

Nature in this context is a philosophical term that does not contain any biological meaning; nor does it correspond to the colloquial use of the word “nature.”

In contrast to Neo-Scholasticism, pro-national socialist theologians regarded nature and grace as belonging together, and organically assigned the two to each other.] Becoming a Christian was regarded by them as a synthesis of nature and supernature—therefore grace needed an empirically tangible basis. The carrier of this synthesis was human nature, specifically German nature. For nature never existed abstractly, but always in a specific imprint through “blood and soil.” There is an intimate connection between German nature and grace, so that the life of grace is formed according to the German national character. Piety and theology, for example, were always völkisch for Adam; and he vehemently opposed all attempts from the Catholic side to deny this connection. The general human was secondary compared to man’s belonging to a certain community of blood and destiny. A universalistic or humanistic view could only find his derision. Adam went so far as to say that if German blood is the basis of grace, then the bond between people of the same blood is also stronger than that between Christians of different blood.

But what happens to the concept of nature in this interpretation? A purely philosophical concept that refers to the nature of a living being is biologized and racially charged. Purely externally, the concept of nature has not changed in this transformation process. Therefore, Adam could keep the scheme of the togetherness of nature and grace unchanged after 1945. He only had to disguise the völkisch and racist interpretation.

Delp, on the other hand, emphasizes the twofold revelation through creation and through grace. [Cf. Kirche in der Zeitenwende (Church at the Crossroads), III. Offenbarung (Revelation), in: I, 126-13.]. In these two orders God speaks to man. In the order of creation, people recognize God through created things; in the order of grace, God breaks through the narrow confines of nature and places himself in a personal relationship with people. The order of nature includes the division of people into peoples, whereas the order of grace transcends time and history, and is—as Delp says—”übervölkisch.”

This distinction between nature and grace is a classical (new) scholastic argumentation. By way of it, Delp attests to völkisch religiosity that it remains purely in the realm of the natural; that is, it can at best be a kind of true natural religion, which it also fails to be due to wrong starting points. Supernatural religion does not come into view at all in the völkisch religiosity.

Delp applies the relation of nature and supernature also to the question whether the ecclesiastical and the “völkisch” man are necessarily in contradiction to each other—and here his interest seems to be rather to bring the two areas together. This is done in the context of a series of sermons on the contemporary service of the German man in the years after 1933, in which Delp reflects on the signs of the times and the foundations of Catholicism in order to give Catholic men help for their current lives in the context of the male apostolate.

The problem of “völkischer Mensch—kirchlicher Mensch” was ultimately the problem of the relationship between nature and supernature. The völkisch man stemmed from creation; the ecclesiastical man from the new creation in Jesus Christ. The natural possibilities of man were decisively weakened by the Fall, but not completely abolished—the traditional Catholic position. Thus, the natural man could no longer accomplish what he actually could by his nature and what he was obliged to do.

The ecclesiastical man had never left creation, the world, the people, because the order of grace did not abolish nature and history. The natural world is elevated in it to the new creation. This means that the “völkische” man can actually realize himself fully only in the ecclesiastical. Only from the supernature can a pure nature be lived. But if the “völkisch” man does not want to go beyond nature, and limits himself to it, then, however, ecclesiastical and “völkisch” man would not come together; which means doom for the latter and his people from Delp’s perspective.

Delp does not seem to be completely uninterested in the völkisch idea. His diction is also quite alienating in parts. Jörg Seiler interprets this in his commentary in such a way that Delp tried to explain the power of the Christian message in the understanding horizon of his time—a closeness to the völkisch thinking should not be attested to the writing about the male apostolate. In the end, national thinking is absorbed by the bond between man and supernature, which does not allow any one-sidedness on the level of nature. Delp makes no secret of the fact that the strength of the ecclesiastical man for the service to the people comes from the Church and not from the blood. Service to the people without leading the people back to God would not be true service to the people for Delp. This means that everything Delp says about the “people,” which may be reminiscent of völkisch thinking, is determined by the binding of the natural order to the supernatural one.

In that this bond is the decisive thing, Seiler is absolutely right. But in my estimation, a certain fascination of Delp with the “new age” cannot be denied. Delp emphasizes the readiness of the will, which now—unlike before—is to be found everywhere: a readiness to think and act beyond one’s own ego. That Delp does not understand this in a “national-monistic, völkisch or collectivistic” (Seiler) way is to be admitted, but he considers it possible to build on this attitude, which others, after all, interpret precisely in a völkisch and collectivistic way. Thus, there is something about the “new age” that lends itself to building the Christian message on it, but then also setting it apart from it. This is similar to Delp’s treatment of Heidegger’s thought, which he fundamentally criticizes, but also accepts in one crucial point: in the topos of man, who is called into the decision to master his life. This human being, however, does not stand in a meaningless space, as in Heidegger, but is—like the “völkische Mensch“—bound to the supernatural order. The fact that Delp sees the possibility of a connection at certain points is certainly also connected with his assessment of modern times and modernity in comparison to the Middle Ages, in which “ecclesiastical and völkisch man” still formed a unity for him.

However, Delp also draws clear boundaries. When he brings nature and supernature together, he is not concerned, like Karl Adam, with creating a völkisch-racist basis of theology, i.e., a particularistic theology, but with asserting and defending the greater right of supernature. That he does not want to create a particularistic theology, for which the German national is closer to the German Catholic than the baptized foreigner, becomes clear from the fact that he emphasizes the universal character of the order of grace and, based on natural law and the doctrine of creation, speaks of universal human rights. The latter in particular is beautifully demonstrated in the sermons for the feast of St. Elizabeth and for All Saints’ Day in 1941, both of which address the topic of “euthanasia.”

For Delp, St. Elizabeth, who is, after all, a princess, reveals a message of the meaning of “the noble man.” This meaning consists in the bond between power and right: the bearer of power is at the service of right and must guarantee right to men. Elizabeth recognizes, in Delp’s words, that man is in possession of rights which no prince or ruler may touch. Further, power must be understood as service to all. Elizabeth’s diaconal activity is not a personal quirk, but a lived worldview.

“Those that gathered around Elizabeth were not the people who stepped forth with important, these were not the people with blazing eyes and the straight backs, these were not the people of great positions, these were the cripples and the sick and the brooding and the poor and the outcasts of life and of existence” (III, 291f).

Even in these people, despite all misery and decrepitude, the image of God becomes visible as something worthy of promotion and protection. Delp thus connects the idea of human rights with the image of God. In this, he articulates a serious message to the German people:

“And who would take it upon himself to destroy an image and likeness, a thought, a will, a love of the Lord God! …Woe to him upon whom a human being was destroyed, upon whom an image of God was desecrated, even if it was in its last throes and even if it was only a memory of a human being!” (III, 292)

The All Saints Sermon takes up the content of the [1941] propaganda film about euthanasia entitled, Ich klage an (I Accuse). The title stems from the fact that in this film a legal system is to be indicted that forces man to live under all circumstances, and thus indirectly a God who allows such a thing. Delp bluntly calls the statements of the film a threefold lie. First, the pure happiness of the couple and the continuing success that prevailed before the wife’s illness is completely unrealistic and pretends that without the illness everything would have remained the same. Furthermore, the appeal to the tear glands and the resulting pity lulls the audience and prevents a rational discussion. Thirdly, the eternal talk of love and redemption is a distraction from the harshness of existence which only seeks to seduce to a more comfortable solution.

Delp interprets the basic message of this film as an escape from the harshness of suffering and from the responsibility of caring. Man remains man even in the worst condition, and he remains an appeal to the ability to love and the power of sacrifice of his environment. Man is deprived of the chance of probation, because suffering is also a place of historical probation. This may seem cynical to some of today’s advocates of active euthanasia, but it means taking man and his responsibility radically seriously. Delp does not stop there, but calls euthanasia not only a lie and an escape, but also a rebellion against God and an encroachment on the inviolable rights of man.

“That people will die who let man die, whether it be man in the very extreme situation. It is indignation against man, who by his birth and existence alone has rights which no one can take from him and which no one may touch without desecrating man and desecrating himself and despising himself” (III, 268f).

That churchmen stand up for human rights may seem natural to us after the pontificate of John Paul II, but at that time it was tantamount to a revolution, since until then the Catholic Church had condemned the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. As far as I know, a positive appreciation of human rights within the Catholic Church appears for the first time in 1941, in the context of the Catholic resistance, especially the Committee for Religious Affairs, with whose members Father Augustin Rösch and Father Lothar König Delp were in close contact. On the one hand, Delp gives a religious legitimation of human rights by invoking the image of God, but he also speaks of the fact that these rights come to man by birth; that is, as human beings. This high regard for human rights was obviously easier in National Socialist Germany for those theologians who, because of their Neo-Scholastic orientation, held to natural law.

[The Kreisau Circle used the term “ius nativum” to circumvent or overcome controversial theological problems regarding natural law; cf. Michael Pope, Alfred Delp S.J. im Kreisauer Kreis, 185-193, esp. 189-193.]

The reflections on the Immaculata, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, also belong to the theme of “nature and grace.” For Karl Adam, they belong to the context of the myth of the Aryan Jesus and form the climax of his racist transformation of the concept of nature. Adam did not go so far as to deny Jesus’ Jewishness altogether, but he did qualify it to the extent that Jesus could not have been a Judean full-blooded Jew, but certainly had some drops of other blood in him because he came from the “racially mixed” Galilee. Also, Jesus’ “racial” independence from Judaism then was due to his mother. Adam interpreted Mary’s liberation from original sin as the endowment of Mary with the noblest hereditary traits. Therefore, he said, Catholics need not worry about the question of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.

“It is personally an uplifting thought to me that in the genetic stock, in the hereditary mass, which Mary transmitted to her divine Son, there were alive, thanks to a mysterious guidance of God supervising the development of her race, the best, noblest dispositions and powers which the human race had at its disposal. This view is based on the truth of faith that Mary was conceived without original sin—’without original sin,’ that is, also without the consequences of original sin, that is, in perfect purity and beauty, that is, with the noblest dispositions and powers. It is this dogma of Mary’s immaculata conceptio which makes all those malicious questions and complaints, as if we had to recognize in Jesus, in spite of all his merits, a ‘Jew-stemming,’ a completely absurd question from the Catholic point of view. For it testifies to us that Jesus’ mother Mary had no physical or moral connection whatsoever with those ugly dispositions and forces which we condemn in the full-blooded Jew. She is, by God’s miracle of grace, beyond those Jewish hereditary traits, a super-Jewish figure. And what is true of the mother is all the more true of the human nature of her son.” [Karl Adam, “Jesus der Christus und wir Deutsche” (Jesus and us Germans), in Wissenschaft und Weisheit 10 (1943) 73-103, here: 91.]

God thus appears as a planned eugenicist; salvation history as a process of “grafting” hereditary traits. This conflation of dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church with Nazi racial ideology was not contained in some private paper of Adam’s, but appeared in 1943 in a theological journal, the Franciscan Wissenschaft und Weisheit (Science and Wisdom).

On the other hand, Alfred Delp’s reflections on the Immaculata in his homily of December 8, 1941, are very different. The Immaculate Conception exemplifies in a human being the exaltation of man in grace [“Immaculata” (1941), in III, 36-45.]. The Sitz im Leben for the proclamation of this dogma was, in Delp’s perspective, the struggle against the absolute materialism and naturalism of the 19th century (the dogma was defined in 1854). The Immaculata, in Delp’s eyes, stands against the law of a biologistic order, against the judgment of a person’s worth by his blood, against the law of the collective that tests people for their usefulness and eliminates them if they fail. She is an I, a person accepted by God, blessed by God and overcomer of everything demonic. In her has happened exemplarily what grace intends for all people—they only have to let themselves be blessed.

Another spiritual address of Delp about Mary, which he probably held on the eve of a Marian feast in a community of Jesuits—the exact date is not known—has a different character [“Maria,” in III, 215-219.]. Here Delp does not foreground the commonality of people with Mary, but on the contrary emphasizes the gap between the Immaculata and the guilty people standing before her, who are members of a great community of guilt—by this community is meant the German people. “Thus, we stand in this hour before the high woman, before the world of holy divine order: in everything her weak, destroyed counter-image” (III, 218).

In this context, Delp makes an allusion to Mary being Jewish, which seems almost like the reverse image of Adam’s utterances:

“Wherever Mary is venerated today, she is called by the word that concludes all her greatness and glory in itself: Immaculata! …Whatever may seem beautiful and high and desirable to men is fulfilled in her. Natural nobility, down to the most biological sense of the word: King’s daughter from the house of David” (III, 216).

So, no preservation of Mary from Jewish hereditary traits, but conscious naming of her Jewish descent. If now the impression arises that Delp does here the same as Adam only under reversed conditions, one must make clear what he actually says here. According to the testimony of the Gospels, Mary did not come from the house and lineage of David at all, but her husband Joseph; and it is very unlikely that Delp was not aware of this. If, nevertheless, he uses here the most “biological” sense of the word, and if we consider this in the context of the recognition of the great guilt of the German people, who are facing Mary, then it can really only be a matter here of making clear that Mary is a Jew (and therefore, of course, Jesus is also a Jew), and of drawing attention to the guilt of the German people, which consists in the persecution and extermination of the Jews. However, this statement remains very coded.

3. The Understanding of Church

The view of the Church as a community and the orientation to experience and encounter became important for a theology that affirmed National Socialism. However, the roots of these concepts go back further.

Even before the time of National Socialism, “community” was the defining idea of ecclesiology for Karl Adam. In the first editions of his famous book, Das Wesen des Katholizismus (The Spirit of Catholicism), he interpreted the nature of the Church as a community. For him, the divine becomes real in the Church, but only insofar as the Church is community. In the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, the Church was already given as an organic community. Adam took up the community ideology of the Weimar period in his doctrine of the Church. This ideology expressed dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic and democracy and attacked the parliamentary system, rationalism and liberalism. In the background was the communitarianism of the youth movement, and especially the war experience of World War I.

Democracy and pluralism were not seen as an opportunity for a better life, but as the cause of conflict and disunity. Therefore, such a diffuse concept as “community” could become a counter-model to parliamentary democracy. This promised the solution to all problems by pretending to resolve all antagonisms in a higher third. This was the basis of the attractiveness of the concept of community for theologians who wanted to abolish the conflictual opposites of nature and grace, but also of laity and clergy, of local and universal Church. This concept allowed them to leave behind both the Neo-Scholastic individualism of salvation and the view of the Church as an institution of salvation. At the same time, it created the conditions for cooperation with National Socialism.

Closely connected with the concept of “community” was the idea of “experiencing” this community and of a community-creating primordial experience. The community thinking of the Weimar period, which continued in National Socialism, was rooted in the war experience of the First World War. Adam was also deeply influenced by it. Like many others, he interpreted the beginning of the war in August 1914 as an overwhelming experience of the unity and community of the German people. This community abolished all political, social, and confessional barriers. “Experience” and “Encounter” became at the same time an epistemological instrument. With its help, Adam rejected the claim of Neo-Scholasticism to justify faith with the help of natural reason. Adam now grounded faith in the irrational, in the encounter. This, however, was not understood as something purely subjective, but as an event that transcended individuality, within a community shaped by authority and hierarchy.

I would like to present Alfred Delp’s understanding of the Church primarily with the help of a text he wrote in prison at the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945. [“Reflexionen über die Zukunft” (Reflections on the Future), “IV. Das Schicksal der Kirchen” (Fate of the Churches), in IV, 318-323]. It is a clear-sighted look into the future of the Church. The fate of the Church would not depend on the political-tactical skill of its leaders, but on its turning to the real need of people in all areas of life. Thus, for Delp, the Church is essentially a diaconal Church. It has to return to its basic function of diakonía.

“No man will believe in the message of salvation and of the Savior until we have bloodied ourselves in the service of man who is physically, psychologically, socially, economically, morally, or otherwise sick” (IV, 319).

This may sound as self-evident as the commitment to human rights, but it is just as little so. For Karl Adam, the self-executions of the Church included dogma, cultus, and morality, i.e., preaching, administering the sacraments, and educational activity, but not diaconal commitment. Adam did propagate the unity of the truth of faith and the life of faith, but he sought it in “experience” and not in [the encounter], in turning to the world and the needs of people. The fact that Adam almost completely omitted the diaconal character of the Church from his ecclesiology enabled him to propagate a church of the strong and healthy and to dream of a Catholic “master man.”

As an example, on the other hand, let us mention Pius XII. He adhered to the traditional image of the Church as an institution of salvation, which must provide everything for the salvation of the individual soul. This means that here, too, diaconal commitment was not in the foreground. It was more important to ensure the continued existence of Church pastoral care and the administration of the sacraments through political cleverness—for it was a matter of eternal salvation—than to protest against the persecution of the Jews.

One can see, then, the importance that Delp’s determination of the Church’s task had. From its diaconal mission and self-execution, the Church must recognize the signs of the times; hear and answer “the calls of longing and of the times, of ferment and of new departures,” and not merely file away “the concerns of each new age and generation in the filing cabinets” (IV, 318). It must also do a reappraisal of its past, i.e., self-critically explore what it itself has contributed to the history of injustice in its 2000-year history.

“A coming honest cultural and intellectual history will have to write bitter chapters about the churches’ contributions to the emergence of mass man, collectivism, dictatorial forms of rule, etc.” (IV, 319).

To secular man, the Church must not meet with presumption; the lost and erring man it must pursue; it must be concerned about human dignity and human rights. “It makes no sense to be content to leave humanity to its fate with a preaching and religious license, with a pastor’s and prelate’s salary” (IV, 23).

The Church must not want to compensate for its real loss of political and social power with alliances of throne and altar of whatever kind.

By the end of these thoughts, which Delp wrote in prison with his hands tied, there are only fragmentary, but all the more forceful, sentences. The Church must turn to the world, must be the sacrament of the world, not the goal of the world. But neither must she dissolve herself in any worldly order and abandon her transcendent reference: “The force of the Church’s immanent mission depends on the seriousness of her transcendent devotion and adoration” (IV, 323).

Thus, Delp’s understanding of the Church reflects his conception of the human being—fully turned towards the world and committed to history; but always living from the transcendent reference. That he calls the Church to a return to one of its fundamental self-fulfillments, diakonia, is thus on the one hand the best tradition of the Church, but also results from his conception of man, which is shaped by modern philosophy. The fact that this view of the Church is also groundbreaking from an inner-Church point of view is something I would like to mention here only briefly and take up again at the end.

4. The Heroic Ideal

Karl Adam emphasized in his Christ books the humanity of Jesus [Christus unser Bruder (Christ our Brother) Regensburg 1926; Jesus Christus (Jesus Christ) Augsburg 1933]., but carried this out in such a way that he projected onto the earthly Jesus a heroic ideal of masculinity and sought to combine this with the traditional Christian virtues, which stereotypically appear as feminine. The product was the physically and psychologically perfect man. With the help of this favoring of the “strong” and “healthy,” Christianity was not to appear as the morbid religion of the weak, born of resentment. Christology is thus functionalized for a church of the “strong and healthy.” The fact that Adam also emphasized the “maternal” traits of Jesus may soften this impression, but in their clichéd nature (“tender, caring and ready for sacrifice”) these cannot relativize the heroic motif.

Delp, like probably most men of his time, was by no means indifferent to the heroic ideal. His youthful dream was to become a soldier and officer. But the First World War also brought a change in this respect. To his provincial, Father Augustin Rösch, he wrote before his ordination in 1937:

“Yesterday, I gave in to a secret childhood love and once again looked at soldiers on parade on the fairgrounds. As you know, I told you once in Feldkirch, I would have loved to become a soldier for my life. My godfather, who was only a few years older than me, was already a cadet and I dreamed of it. Then the war shattered everything. My godfather fell in ‘14 as a young cadet just 17 years old. And after the war everything was different. In the meantime, the divine eagle picked up the foundling and carried it to its eyrie. And now it should get the big wings… That just came to my mind during the ‘heightened combat readiness’ that was also practiced yesterday” (V, 91).

Delp never completely let go of this youthful desire: in 1939 he made intensive efforts to be drafted into field chaplaincy. When his rather impetuous approach to this question led to irritation, he justified himself by saying that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the men in his family.

“The fact that I was so hasty in seeking my war assignment stems from the fact that I wanted to become an officer before my conversion and that I am ashamed to sit at home, while all but one of the male members of my family are in the field. Besides, precisely as a priest and Jesuit, I wanted to prove that the concerns and worries of my people are always a serious duty to me” (V, 106). Delp wrote to Vicar General Georg Werthmann on September 28, 1939.

Given this fascination with the military, it is all the more significant that Delp was completely immune to certain forms of glorification of war and combat, such as we find in Ernst Jünger or Max Scheler. Delp read Scheler’s work Der Genius des Krieges (The Genius of War) and Jünger’s Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (War as Inner Experience) as an inner experience and rejected Jünger’s assertions that war is a law of nature and that it does not matter why and for what one fights, but only how, as well as Scheler’s automatism of purification through war, independent of moral considerations and decisions. Above all, Delp is far from “glorifying war as the ideal state of male life” (II, 247); but he calls for coping with it and mastering it. In this 1940 article from Stimmen der Zeit (Voices of the Time), entitled, “Der Krieg als geistige Leistung” (War as a Spiritual Achievement) [II, 239-248], Delp does not grapple with the question of just war or the moral permissibility of a war of extermination, although it seems between the lines that he is aware of this issue. For the sake of fairness, however, it must be said that positively uplifting articles about the war were required by the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) at this time, and direct criticism of the war would not have been tolerated.

Delp had already dealt with the concept of honor and the ideal of the heroic man in the context of his critique of völkisch religiosity. [“Kirche in der Zeitenwende” (Church at the Crossroads), “VIII. Der Mensch der Ehre im Christentum” (Man and Honor in Christianity), “IX. Der heldische Mensch” (Heroic Man), in I, 165-182].

In the völkisch religious myth, honor is a central concept—honor, however, not understood as an external reputation or good reputation, but as the innermost core of man. Honor then means self-realization and loyalty to the inner self, which gives itself its own laws. This law of honor is considered the highest norm and does not tolerate any other highest value next to it, neither Christian love nor secular humanity. From this results the reproach of dishonor to the Christians; and this reproach Delp wanted to refute and to work out the true meaning of the concept of honor.

The Christian is also obliged to realize himself, to be true to himself, to listen to his innermost voice. This happens when he listens to his conscience. For Delp, the central value of Christianity is man’s likeness to God (through creation) and sonship to God (through grace)—therefore, honor is inconceivable without love. Christian life is thus compatible with the concept of honor; but Christians can have nothing in common with people whose honor does not extend beyond themselves.

The heroic person in the völkisch-religious ideology is the one who lives according to the law of honor. The heroic ideal is a fighting one. The struggle is for its own sake, not for a goal. Only by fighting does the hero realize himself, even if this means his downfall. Certainly, there is no goal that goes beyond man and the earthly world. This absolute world immanence is without goal and for Delp therefore senseless. We have here the same judgment as with Heidegger’s concept of the decision of Dasein to itself. Moreover, this senselessness, Delp criticizes, is not named as such, but concealed as tragedy.

“Thus, self-realization becomes a self-destruction; the march of hammering life a train to abysmal death. This human being must fight, must dare, and yet in the end must not ask what for. He feels the insufficiency of his personal disposition, but this is exactly supposed to constitute his heroism; that it nevertheless pulls unquestioningly and wordlessly into the twilight darkness and perishes in it. Finally, he declares the senseless and the groundless to be the meaning and reason of his commitment; he stands before the new lie of tragedy” (I, 177).

Christian heroism, for Delp, is no less achievement, spirit, and readiness to fight. But there is a great difference between the heroism of the time and the heroism of the Christian. The Christian is committed to a task which is to be accomplished in the world, but which transcends this world. Man does not give himself his goal—here the hero is quite powerless—but he must let God give him that goal.

“To the man of ‘autonomous heroism’ no other result is valid than tragedy. He must finally admit to himself that he knows no answer to the question, why and to what end. Thus, he proclaims the struggle without aim and without sense; the march without direction. The living, honest man defends himself against this worst deception, which was ever tried on people. The Christian, however, is full of certainty and confidence; that he is committed to an effort that holds out the prospect of hardship and toil and wounding and death, and yet is meaningful and productive of results—before God” (I, 180f).

Delp thus takes up, not only for tactical reasons, but out of inner affinity, the motif of the heroic, which is encountered in völkisch religiosity and Nazi ideology, and gives it an entirely different meaning: not the law of honor, not the struggle as an end in itself, not the downfall as a tragedy count; but radical commitment to the world, on the sure ground of God’s grace. Man cannot redeem himself. Any presumed autonomy on this point and any resulting tragedy would be lies.

Delp is also far from projecting the heroic ideal onto Jesus Christ. This goes hand in hand with a very traditional descendent Christology. Karl Adam fascinated many of his contemporaries, and especially young men, by his emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, and by describing this human Jesus as strong, healthy and attractive—a dream of a man. That was modern, innovative, carried people away. Delp, on the other hand, appears here, as Karl Rahner acknowledges about him in the preface to Volume I, actually rather old-fashioned [“Einleitung zu den Texten” (Introduction of the Textx, Karl Rahner), in I, 43-50; here, 46].. For him, Christ is the preexistent Word of God who became man, who descended into the lowliness of human existence—not a strong, tough of will, vigorous, male hero. Delp’s Christology is a kenotic one, a divestment Christology.

Here too, then, it is evident that he takes up and reinterprets contemporary currents, but applies them only to the situation of man, not to God or Jesus Christ.

5. Conclusion

The question of the coherence of Delp’s theology and his resistance can be clearly answered in the affirmative. In his philosophical and theological reflections on man and history, as well as in his spiritual writings, Delp foresaw what he later actively suffered and was forced to master. He not only thought of the Christian’s responsibility in history and for history, but also realized it. The fact that he did not give in to the Gestapo’s efforts to get him to resign from the Jesuit Order, even though that would probably have saved his life, but took his last vows on December 8, 1944, in Tegel Prison, was an outward expression of his decision to remain faithful both to history and to his transcendent goal.

Closely related to his resistance continue to be his diaconal understanding of the church, his commitment to human rights, and his resistance to communal ideology.

Neo-Scholastic theologians in National Socialist Germany found it easier to refer to human rights because they affirmed God-given human rights from natural law thinking and were more universalist-oriented than “völkisch” and racist theologians. This does not mean, however, that all Neo-Scholastics were by definition resisters or even affirmed human rights. In Vichy France, for example, we find the commitment to human rights more among the so-called modern theologians.

For all his interest in orders of a natural or supernatural nature and in the sociality of man, Delp repeatedly emphasized conscience, personal decision, and the responsibility of the individual for history. On the one hand, this may still reflect the Neo-Scholastic individualism of salvation, for Delp is always concerned with the question of salvation in this context, but perhaps even more strongly the reception of Heidegger’s Being and Time, to which Jürgen Habermas ascribes a critical moment, namely that which is contained in the individualistic heritage of existential philosophy. [After 1929, according to Habermas, this critical moment disappeared in Heidegger, and “historical humanity” and “collective destiny” took its place]. Delp, however, retained it; and possibly this made him resistant to the prevailing ideology of community.

Was Delp’s theology a modern, contemporary one, or a more traditional Neo-Scholastic one?

There is no single answer here. Delp was driven by a concern to engage with contemporary thought and to incorporate what he recognized as positive into Christian theology. There is, however, a clear boundary here—as long as it is a matter of illuminating the situation of man and understanding history, he was inspired, for example, by Heidegger or the heroic ideal; but even so, in determining the double meaning of history he opposed traditionally shaped views, even more so when it came to Jesus Christ or God. Delp would probably never have had the idea—not even after the notorious “Kehre”—to transfer Heidegger’s concept of being to God. With regard to Jesus Christ, he remained within the framework of a classical descendent Christology and did not go along with the fashionable trend of putting the humanity of Jesus particularly in the foreground.

Delp’s understanding of nature and grace is also rather Neo-Scholastic. He did not want to tear the two apart; but he does see them as two realms. In the understanding of history, this is shown by the distinction between a natural order of history and the order of Christ. Also, by nature, history has a goal: namely, to become what God intended in creation. These thoughts are more in the Neo-Scholastic discourse; the concept of the unity of world history and salvation history, on the other hand, in the modern. However, Seiler has made it convincingly clear in his commentary that the category of history functions as a link between traditionality and modernity in Delp’s thought. Nature is tied to supernature in a historical way. Consequently, nature and supernature, though two separate realms, are linked by history. The same is true of Christology—the mystery of the Hypostatic Union has made visible a new order of nature, and with it a new dimension of history: being the place of man’s encounter with God in the order of Christ. Everything that is human is embraced by the Christ order. According to Seiler, no Neo-Scholastic thinks in this way. In this respect, Seiler says that Delp’s understanding of nature and grace and Christology is modern in its Neo-Scholastic character.

Absolutely groundbreaking is Delp’s understanding of the Church. Here he had already overtaken the so-called modern theologians of his time, who adhered to the ideology of community. That the Church is a sacrament, i.e., a sign and instrument of the union of man with God and of men among themselves, is the core principle of the Church constitution of the Second Vatican Council. Church as sacrament means first of all service to the world. The sacramental interpretation does not point the Church inward, to a self-sufficient liturgical community, or to the piety of inner circles, but outward to the needs of the world. Whoever had such an understanding of the Church could not dream of a Church of the strong and healthy, or want to push through a Church reform with the help of National Socialism, at a time when millions had already been killed in the death camps and in the war.

Finally, let Alfred Delp himself be given the last say—with a quotation that makes it clear that Christians’ commitment to history is a matter of life and death:

“History, within its order and possibilities, is placed on the testimony and decision of men. It is, from man’s point of view, an agonal event; whoever did not fight for history should not be surprised if he lost it and if it forgot him” (II, 417f.).

Alfred Delp fought for history and lost his life—history did not forget him.

Lucia Scherzberg is Professor of systematic theology at the University of Saarland, Germany. This article appears courtesy of theologie.geschichte.

Featured image: Father Alfred Delp.

The Fate of Churches

This treatise on the role of the Church in modern times was written by Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, while he was in prison, awaiting execution.

The fragmentary sentences near the end were written while his hands were tied. During this time, he wrote to his secretary in which he recounted a cruel comment of his SS guard who, along with some others, had just beaten him severely: “You won’t sleep much tonight. You’ll pray, but neither God nor an angel will come and rescue you. But we’ll sleep soundly and will be fresh in the morning, to give you another good thrashing.”

Despite the grim context, this little treatise is also a testimony of the workings of faith in the face of evil and certain death, and the great strength of Christian hope.

Father Delp was executed, at 38 years of age, by the Nazis, on February 2, 1945; his body was cremated and the ashes scattered in an unknown location in Berlin.

The fate of churches in the coming time will not depend on what their prelates and leading authorities come up with in terms of cleverness, sagacity, “political skills”, etc. Nor will it depend on the “positions” that people have been able to obtain from among them. All that is obsolete.

Within themselves, the churches must, for the sake of their existence, decisively be finished with fanaticism and the lagging, disintegrating liberalism. Hierarchy must be real order and leadership. The Church should know this from its origins.

But order and leadership are something else than formalism and feudal personalism. Above all, the conviction must grow again that the hierarchy does not only have confidence in the errors and follies of mankind. It must be known and felt and experienced again that it hears and answers the calls of longing and of the times, of ferment and of new awakenings, that the concerns of each new age and generation are not just filed away in filing cabinets, but are evaluated and treated as “concerns,” i.e., worries and tasks.

Also, the other way of the exacting Church, in the name of the exacting God, is no longer a path to this generation and to the times to come. Between the clear conclusions of our fundamental theology and the listening hearts of the people lies the great mountain of weariness that the experience of ourselves has piled up.

Through our existence, we have taken away people’s trust in us. Two thousand years of history are not only blessings and commendations, but also a burden and heavy inhibition. And especially in previous times a person become found in the church also only the person become tired, who still committed the dishonesty of hiding his tiredness behind pious words and gestures. A coming honest, cultural and intellectual history will have to write bitter chapters about the contributions to the emergence of mass man, of collectivism, of dictatorial forms of rule, etc.

Whether the Church will once again find a way to reach these people will depend on two things. The first is so self-evident that I will not even mention it. If the churches once again present humanity with the image of a bickering Christendom, they will be written off. We should accept the division as a historical fate and at the same time as a cross. None of those living today would carry it out again. And at the same time, it should be our permanent shame and disgrace, since we were not able to guard Christ’s inheritance, his love, in an unbroken way.

The one fact means the return of the churches to “diakonia”: to the service of humanity. And to a service that is determined by the need of humanity, not by our tastes or the consuetudinarium of an ecclesial community, however established. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). One only has to call the various realities of Church existence once under this law and measure them against this statement, and one actually knows enough. No human being will believe in the message of salvation and of the Savior as long as we have not bloodied ourselves in the service of the physically, psychologically, socially, economically, morally or otherwise sick human being. Man today is sick.

Perhaps in the next few days I will get around to putting down on paper a few thoughts about man’s illnesses. And man today has at the same time become a supreme expert in many fields of life, and who has greatly expanded the space of human power and dominion. He is still quite dazed by this new ability. He does not yet feel some inner loss and atrophy of the organs, which he exchanges for this ability. And he does not need to feel them at all in the beginning. But above all, it is not necessary to tell him and reproach him constantly. A clever and wise leadership will take them into account, but will not talk about them all the time. This able and worldly-wise person is very sensitive to any presumed or real arrogance. The diligence and reliability, to which the technical life forces the majority of today’s people, also give them an eye for the sloppiness and wallowing with which we in the Church perform our “functions” in the broadest sense of the word.

Return to the “diakonia” is what I said. By this I mean the joining of people in all their situations, with the intention of helping them to master them, without subsequently filling out a column and section somewhere. By this I mean the following and wandering even into the utmost perplexities and stupefactions of man, in order to be with him exactly and just then, when he is surrounded by loss and degradation. “Go out” said the Master, and not: “Sit down and wait to see if anyone comes.” By this I mean the concern also for human space and the human order. It makes no sense to leave humanity to its fate, satisfied with a sermon and religious permit, with a pastor’s and prelate’s salary. By this I mean the spiritual encounter as a real dialogue, not as a monologue and monotonous whining.

However, all this will only be understood and wanted if fulfilled people come again from the Church. The “fullness.” This word is important for Paul (Col. 2:9). It is even more important for our concern. The fulfilled people, not the salvation-anxious or pastor-affiliated frightened caricatures, who know themselves again as not only stewards of Christ, but as those who have prayed with all openness: fac cor meum secundum cor tuum. If the churches will once again release from themselves the fulfilled, the creative human being, filled with divine force that is their lot, only then will they have the measure of security and self-confidence that will allow them to do away with the constant insistence on “right” and “heritage.” Only then will they have the bright eyes that, even in the darkest hours, will see the concerns and calls of God. And only then they will have ready hearts that are not interested in saying, “We were right after all.” They will only care about one thing—to help and heal in the name of God.

But how to get there? The churches seem to stand in their own way here by the nature of their way of being that has become historical. I believe that wherever we do not voluntarily separate ourselves from the way of life for the sake of life, the history what has happened will strike us as a judging and destroying thunderbolt. This is true for the personal destiny of the individual church person as well as for the institutions and customs. We are at a dead point despite all correctness and orthodoxy. The Christian idea is not one of the leading and formative ideas of this century. Still the plundered man lies on the road. Shall the stranger pick him up once more? I think we have to take the phrase very seriously: what worries and distresses the Church at present is man. The man outside, to whom we no longer have a way and who no longer believes us. And the man inside, who does not believe himself because he has experienced and lived too little love. Therefore, one should not make great reform lectures and design great reform programs, but rather set about the formation of Christian personhood and at the same time equip oneself to meet the immense need of man in a helping and healing way.

Most of the people of the Church and the official Church itself must realize that for the present and its people the Church is not only an incomprehensible and misunderstood reality, but in many respects a disturbing, threatening, dangerous fact. We are walking on two parallels; and there are no connecting footbridges across and over. In addition, each of the two authorities—the “natural” and the “supernatural”—appears to the other as a competent judge. For the Church, this results in a multifaceted obligation.

The hard and honest consideration of how this could have become so. And not a reflection on the guilt of the other.

The old question of what the consequences are for the revival and the appearance of the Church.

Much more important and deeper—education for reverence towards the other person. Away from presumption to reverence.

The Church must understand itself much more as a sacrament, as a way and a means, not as a goal and end.

A personal understanding is more important today than the original objective integrity.

In general, the question arises whether one can, indeed may, always and under all circumstances, leave the judgment of what has become historical to historical values.

Honest sobriety in the statement that the Church today does not belong to the leading powers and forces of mankind.

And that this fact cannot be presented unilaterally by a d’accord [in French in the original] with other powerful instances of history (throne and altar in any forms), but only by the release of its own, inner vitality and possibility puissance, not force [words in italics are in English in the original].

The force of the immanent mission of the Church depends on the seriousness of its transcendent devotion and worship. The arrogant man, always of evil, is already in the vicinity of the Church, not to mention in the Church alone and even in the name of the Church or as the Church.

Featured image: Father Alfred Delp at his trial, at the People’s Court, Berlin, January 8-9, 1945.

UFOs and Space Aliens: A Theistic and Catholic Perspective

For some two millennia, most Christians have believed that Earth was God’s sole habitat for rational animals in all creation. Moreover, the role of Christ as savior of all mankind was viewed as essential to healing the rift with divinity caused by the first parents of all true humans—a rift repaired by the death of Jesus on a cross, a fall from grace and divine reparation that happened once and for all time and nowhere else in all the cosmos.

Fast forward to today and we suddenly see taken seriously claims about UFOs that may contain intelligent visitors from other and distant parts of space – visitors whose theological relation to earthly humans is now very much in question. Indeed, many now are having doubts about Christianity itself, since they wonder whether the scientific evidence about intelligent life on other planets directly contradicts doctrinal truths essential to Christian revelation.

Today we hear increasing reports about UFO sightings, abductions to alien spaceships, ancient alien civilizations in places like Antarctica, interdimensional visitations, and human interactions with space aliens of diverse species, such as Reptilians, Pleiadians, and Greys. This plethora of reports from diverse sources make many people wonder whether one or more may actually turn out to be true.

My intent is to address directly the challenge that such extraterrestrial humanoid claims seem to pose to traditional Christianity, specifically, to Catholicism. Can one rationally believe that Catholicism would still be authentic divine revelation, if it turns out that such extraterrestrial intelligent humanoids actually exist?

Indeed, what makes this challenge even more daunting is our very lack of knowledge about the truth of these various extraterrestrial or interdimensional claims of alien intelligent life forms. Since we are not yet certain what accounts are true, or even if any of them are true, how can we offer a rational defense of traditional Christianity?

The method I will follow will be to examine the claims for the God of classical theism as well as attendant philosophical tenets presupposed by Christian revelation, specifically Catholicism. That is, some of the preambula fidei (Preambles to the Faith) will be tested for epistemic certainty.

I do not intend to offer a fully developed natural theology here. But, I do intend to show how the ultimate epistemic and metaphysical foundations exist on which to erect a natural theology with perfect certainty. Other foundational truths of philosophy of nature and philosophical psychology will also be shown, which, with like certainty, support Christian beliefs about man having a spiritual and immortal soul.

Metaphysical First Principles and Logic

The Christian metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas centers on the concept of being which is foundational to all metaphysical first principles, such as those of non-contradiction, sufficient reason, and causality. The transcendental validity of these basic truths is absolutely essential to the proofs for God’s existence and to all rational inquiry about reality.

To the metaphysician, “being” or “existence” is first known when the mind is confronted by something actually presented to it by the senses, that is, when it recognizes and affirms existence as actually exercised. As philosopher Jacques Maritain points out in his book, The Degrees of Knowledge (1959), being is first known in a judgment: “Scio aliquid esse” (71-81). That is, “I know something to be or to exist.” I may not know what it is that I have encountered in experience, but I know that it is “something real or existing” in some way.

On the contrary, the logician views existence only to regard it as a type of essence, that is, being as signified. The logician abstracts a concept of existence from actually encountered existence, treating it then as if it were a kind of essence. That is why the logician views existence or being as a univocal term, whereas being or existence as actually found in reality is exercised analogically, that is, as varying from being to being. Whether it be creature or Creator—both exercise existence, despite the incommensurability of their essences.

Since the process of abstraction by which we form concepts captures only essential likenesses between things, its predication is inherently univocal. The logician studies the proper relations between concepts, which are formed secondarily to the judgment in which the mind first knows being in a general manner. But, the being, which is first known in a direct judgment of something existing and which the metaphysician studies, is found in all things, regardless of nature or differences, and hence, is inherently analogous, that is, predicable of anything that has existence—even of things with radically diverse natures, such creatures and God.

Modern analytic logicians attack Thomistic philosophers’ use of “existence” as the first act of any being by claiming that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

They will say that we directly encounter cows from which we can form a concept of “cow-ness,” which can then be licitly predicated of something, as when we say, “Daisy is a cow.” But then they say that we do not encounter “existence” in the same fashion, since it is not directly given in sense experience. Hence, they claim that Thomistic reasoning about the “existence” or “act of existence” of things is based on something that we do not directly encounter in experience. Since modern logic, indeed, all logic, studies second intentions and not first intentions, it is perfectly understandable why Fregeans insist that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

But existence is encountered by all human beings in ordinary everyday life. We make judgments about things being real or not real, existing or not existing, all the time. Moreover, we have a very clear notion of being that is freely applied to all things, including what most people understand as a transcendent God. People do not run around enunciating the proposition, “Being cannot both be and not be.” Still, people understand perfectly clearly that nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. No one has any real problem with these judgments and expressions about being or existence—save for those suddenly trying to do philosophy about such notions as technically expressed in modern logic.

Empirical judgments tell us that things are real in the physical world, but do not explain the sufficient reason why they are actually differentiated from nothingness. Moreover, existence in act cannot be the object of sense experience as such. But it can be known directly in an existential judgment, as when we say, “This horse exists.”

All this is precisely why human knowledge is not merely sensory, but rather is sensory-intellectual. Human experience is not restricted merely to sensation (as Hume assumes), but is simultaneously intellectual in nature.

That is why we say that existence (esse) is known in a judgment, NOT in sensation as such. When we say that “this horse exists,” the physical attributes of the horse are experienced through sensation, but the intellect alone pronounces that the horse and its properties have actual being or existence.

And because existence is known immediately in sensory-intellectual experience, it is, whether it be so in Fregean logic or not, a legitimate predicate of actual things. No, it adds nothing to the properties of the thing (to the essence, that is), but it pronounces the whole thing as real—as not nothing at all.

When we encounter real things, we not only experience their physical attributes, but we also judge that they, and whatever it is that has those properties, are real, that is, that they exist. They have something real in them that differentiates them from nothing at all. If we deny this evident fact, we lose all intellectual contact with reality.

In our first encounter with the existence or being of something – an encounter that is simultaneously both sensitive and intellectual, the intellect immediately forms the judgment that “being is.” From this we immediately combine it with its corresponding negative judgment, “non-being is not,” to form the principle of non-contradiction: “Being cannot both be and not be.” We then add the qualifiers, “at the same time and in the same way,” so as to make sure we are talking about the exact same being from the exact same perspective.

Hence is formed what is called the ontological principle of non-contradiction (PNC): A being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same way. It is a most basic metaphysical first principle that governs not only thought, but all of reality.

Maritain, in his book, A Preface to Metaphysics (1939), says that “the whole of logic depends upon the principle of contradiction” (34). You cannot be sure of the logical form of the principle unless you are first certain of its ontological form. That is, you cannot be sure that the same predicate cannot be affirmed and denied of the same subject universally, unless you are certain of this because of first presupposing the ontological form of the same principle. Otherwise, since propositions are part of reality, it might be possible to affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject.

Indeed, the ontological principle of non-contradiction is absolutely required to establish the very intelligibility of every thought and every utterance and every logical proposition human beings make, since in affirming anything about any reality, even mental reality, it is implicit that one is affirming and not denying what is expressed. Absent that certainty, every thought or utterance or proposition might just as well express the opposite of what it intends to say.

Even the science of semantics itself would be meaningless and unintelligible, reduced to a pile of potentially self-conflicting statements that may or may not have any bearing on reality—absent the ontological PNC.

Moreover, the intelligibility of every judgment made in natural science presupposes the PNC, since otherwise, no judgment might comport with reality.

Some maintain that we say nothing absolute about things. We just make probability estimates of this or that being true or likely to happen. But this presupposes the absolute affirmation of the probability. Are we only 70% sure that we are 70% sure? Would that make us only 49% sure? And 70% probability of that 49% reduces what began as a 70% probability to a mere 34.3% possibility! Mere probability judgments, if applied to everything, would quickly asymptote to a near impossibility! This means, then, that even probability estimates must be made absolutely, and thus, presuppose the PNC in their declaration.

Given that the ontological PNC is undeniably given at the very starting point of all human knowledge, there is no “secondary level” philosophical system or theory that can disprove it, especially since all such alternative epistemologies presuppose the self-same principle of non-contradiction in their own initial premises and expositions. That is why the PNC is a metaphysical first principle foundational to all human knowledge and to all reality or being.

The Foundation of Certitude

If what I experience is merely subjective, like a hallucination, I still have perfect certitude that I have encountered something real in its own order. If I see pink elephants dancing on the ceiling, I may be wrong about their extramental reality, but I cannot doubt that I am experiencing something real. I still know something to be or to exist, even if it is only in my intramental, but real, experience.

Doubt requires a distinction between (1) what I know and (2) what is real, since doubt is fear of error. But to be in error, I must think I know something, which—it turns out—is not really true. So, doubt is the fear that what I think I know is not what is real.

But the reality of my experience is identical with the reality of the content of the hallucination, that is, pink elephants dancing on the ceiling. I can be wrong about a judgment I make that goes beyond the subjective experience itself, but I cannot be wrong about the fact that I am experiencing some form of reality.

It is in that first immediate certitude of being or existence as judged by the intellect that we realize that we metaphorically can “see” being, much like the sight naturally sees color. The mind also then realizes that being is not non-being—a law as universal as being itself. Applying to anything that possibly exists, this first principle is inherently transcendental. For, any possible thing that is real or exists already is being, whereas, any possible thing that does not exist is literally “nothing” to worry about.

The mind not only “sees” being, but it is also self-reflectively aware of its natural conformity to that being. That is, the mind is naturally constituted to know being. That is why we use it to know what is and what is not. Were the mind to lack such ability to know being or reality, it would be entirely useless as an instrument of knowledge.

The Principle of Sufficient Reason

Not only do we trust the mind as an instrument to know being, but we also use it as an instrument to judge all that is real. We engage in reasoning in order to come to know the truth about reality or being.

The mind demands reasons for anything that is not immediately evident. That is, if a thing does not have its own explanation within itself, we properly demand that “outside” or extrinsic reasons be supplied.

No one seriously holds that being can come from non-being. Some foolishly assert that quantum mechanics allows that photons can pop into existence in a quantum vacuum. But a quantum vacuum is not really the “nothing” that philosophers are talking about. Rather, it is merely the lowest possible energy state found in physical reality. We are talking about trying to make something from what is really nothing at all. It is impossible.

The mind demands that being can only come-to-be from being or something already there, which amounts to saying that being must be grounded in being, that is, in some foundation or sufficient reason for its existence.

Some have alleged that certain events or realities are simply “brute facts” for which there is no reason or explanation. But, if that were true, we could never know when anything lacks all explanation, which would make natural science as well as all human reasoning useless. To think something must be true with certitude means to think that is how it must be. But, if it must be in a certain way, that means that there is a reason why it is that way and not some other way. Or else, there is no necessity about what the intellect holds to be true, and hence, no certitude.

Because it thinks in terms of being, the intellect cannot think a genuine contradiction. So, too, the intellect cannot think of anything as real and true without having a reason to do so. If it thinks something is true with certitude, it is because it judges that there is a sufficient reason to do so.

The mind demands true premises and valid inferences in all its reasoning about reality. But premises are true and reasoning is valid solely because they keep the mind in conformity with reality or being. Hence, the mind demands a true foundation in being or sufficient reasons for any claim that does not explain itself by being its own sufficient reason for being. This means the mind demands a sufficient reason both for what it holds true, or, if something is not its own sufficient reason for being as it is, then there must be extrinsic reasons sufficient to make up for what something does not explain within itself.

The preceding is simply a complicated way of defending and stating the principle of sufficient reason: Every being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be either within itself or from some extrinsic sufficient reason or reasons. There can be no such thing as a “brute fact,” since that would be to deny the principle of sufficient reason which flows from the very nature of being itself.

Certitude in Proving God’s Existence

Why, then, are the PNC and PSR key to certitude in proving God’s existence?

Valid proofs for the God of classical theism rest squarely on these two metaphysical first principles. Valid proofs are a posteriori—starting with effects found in the sensible world and arguing back to the need for a First Cause Uncaused in whatever order of reality is used as a point of departure for the proof involved.

The key is to start with something whose sufficient reason is not totally intrinsic, which is what is called an effect. Every effect needs a cause, which serves as its needed extrinsic sufficient reason. That cause, in turn, is either itself uncaused or caused. (PNC) If it is uncaused, the Uncaused First Cause has been arrived at. If caused, then the question of infinite regress among causes arises. That was the central question dealt with in my book, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence.

Put as succinctly as possible, in any regress of intermediate causes, each cause contributes something to the final effect, but none explains the “thread of causality” which runs through the entire series. Hence, if there is no first cause, the entire series lacks a sufficient reason for its final effect. But that is to deny the PSR. Therefore, there must be a First Cause Uncaused.

It is true that an infinite regression in accidental causes is possible, for example, fathers begetting sons forever. But the past no longer exists to explain the present here and now. Fathers are causes of the coming-to-be of their sons, not of their being, once conceived. The father can die, while the son lives on. Present effects need present causes. So, any causal regress must be among proper causes—causes acting here and now to produce their effects. Among such a causal regress, regression to infinity is impossible, as shown above. Therefore, there must be a First Uncaused Cause.

While the above outlines the general format for valid proofs for the God of classical theism, perhaps the best known of these proofs is the First Way of St. Thomas Aquinas, which begins: “It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c). Here, St. Thomas begins with an immediately evident truth given to us directly in sensation. He follows this with a general principle: “Now whatever is in motion is being moved by another” (Ibid.). Again, he is not talking about movers going back in time, but about movers acting here and now to effect the coming-to-be of new states of reality here and now.

The “Law of Inertia” does not explain Motion

Newton’s law of inertia tells us that a body in motion tends to remain in motion. Many falsely think that explains a cosmos in continuous motion. It does not. The law of inertia merely describes how bodies behave. It fails to explain how or why they act this way.

Even without using Aristotle’s famous terminology of “act” and “potency,” it can easily be shown that everything in motion requires an extrinsic mover, using only the first principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason.

When a body undergoes motion or change (this applies to changes in energy states as well), either that change is real or not (PNC). It must be real, since inertia is claimed to explain all real change, even evolutionary progress, in the cosmos. If it is real, then there must be a real difference between the “before” and “after” of the change. That is, the state of things is really different after the change occurs.

It does not matter whether we are talking about changes in position of planets or particles, changes in energy states or of changes in any other hypothesized physical reality. What matters is that reality is different after the change than it was before the change—and the coming-to-be of that new state of reality must be explained.

But it cannot be explained by the “old” or “previous” state of things, since the prior state did not include the reality that comes-to-be. Otherwise, there would be no difference between the before and the after, and thus, change did not take place.

But, change did take place and, since the previous state of things did not include that which makes the subsequent state of things new and different, the previous condition of things cannot explain what comes-to-be. Yet, the PSR demands a reason for what comes-to-be. Therefore, something else than the previous state of things must explain the new state of things.

This something else, then, must have caused what is new in the new state of affairs after the change occurred. Applied to physical motion, this means that whatever is in motion must be moved by another—just as St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle insist. For, what is in motion is changing, and that change—even if it is merely one of physical location relative to some point of reference—still needs a sufficient reason for the newness of the “after,” which was not in the “before.”

The rest is easy. Since there can be no infinite regress among moved movers here and now moving things moved, there must be a First Mover Unmoved, just as Aristotle and St. Thomas conclude.

Now the entire physical universe is in constant motion according to the science of physics. Yet, all its components are finite in nature. That is, they are all limited beings, existing with only “these” specific qualities and/or properties here and now, such as space-time coordinates. The universe as a whole is finite, because it is composed of finite or limited things.

In such a cosmos, all things are limited at any point in space-time to just what they are now—prior to any further motion or change. That is the essence of them being finite.

So, where does the “newness” of what newly comes-to-be after motion or change come from—either considering a single submicroscopic physical entity or when taking the entire cosmic nearly-uncountable parts as a whole? Both are finite. Both are confined to the limited reality of the past. Where does the newness of the next moment in time come from?

Does the newness come from the prior state of all things in this finite universe? It cannot, since the prior state, precisely as prior, does not contain the different and new states of being, which specifically differentiate what is new from what was prior. Non-being cannot beget being. Nor can the new state of things beget itself, since its new properties are “new” precisely because they did not exist in the prior state of things.

But change or motion does occur. Foolish materialists at this point will blurt out recourse to Newton’s descriptive law of inertia. But we have just seen that inertia explains nothing in terms of showing a sufficient reason for the continued motion of bodies which entails continually new and different states of reality, even if they are merely changes in spatial position. After all, these changes claim to explain a progressively evolving cosmos. So, they must be real and, as such, demand a coherent sufficient reason for their coming-to-be.

What is left? We know the cosmos is changing, even down to the least subatomic physical entity, according to natural science. We know it needs a cause of its changes. We know nothing in the finite physical cosmos can be that cause. The sole remaining alternative is that there must exist some first mover or movers unmoved which are not themselves moving, and thus, are not part of the physical universe. We need an immaterial or spiritual First Mover to explain all the motion or change in the physical world.

Coming back to the theme of this article, I should point out that even UFOs, space aliens, and hypothetical interdimensional multi-verses belong to the realm of the physical world of limited or finite beings subject to change or motion. Hence, none of them qualify for the role of an Unmoved First Mover of all motion or change in the finite physical world.

Note also that no deity in the form of pantheism or panentheism can be the First Unmoved Mover, since both of these “theisms” include the physical world as part of the essence of God, and thus, would be subject to the same limitations that prevent any finite world from explaining the newness that is continually generated in it through motion or change.

In his Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c, St. Thomas does not claim to have proven the existence of the God of classical theism through any of his Five Ways. Rather, at the end of each argument, he simply observes that what is concluded to is what all men call God. It takes him another ten questions as well as many diverse arguments before attesting that the demonstrated philosophical understanding of God is such that his nature fulfills the revealed biblical name of God. Finally, in the Summa Theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 11, he asks, “Whether this name, He Who Is, is the most proper name of God?”—a question he answers in the affirmative, “since the being of God is his very essence.”

Since one could easily write a book about Aquinas’s Five Ways alone, I have no desire to present all or most of the classical proofs for God here. Rather, my primary focus has been to reaffirm the certitude of the essential “legs” on which all such proofs stand, specifically, (1) the principle of non-contradiction and (2) the principle of sufficient reason. Beyond that, I have addressed some common misunderstandings concerning: (1) the validity of the analogy of being, (2) the principle that whatever is moved is moved by another, and (3) the question of infinite causal regression.

The purpose of the above is to reassure the reader that the proofs for God’s existence remain on sound footing even in the contemporary sci-fi world of UFOs and space aliens. Nothing has changed. As long as their metaphysical foundations remain secure, the general method of starting with some phenomena that needs explanation, such as motion in the world, the search for sufficient reasons inevitably lead us back through a chain of causes (or even directly to God) that must have a First Cause Uncaused in whatever intelligible order of dependent beings is being explored. Each of the famous Five Ways starts with something different to be explained: things in motion, series of causes of being, things whose existence is contingent, relative perfections found in things, and an order of governance in the world. Those who wish to see the most profound exposition of these Five Ways should read the entire first volume of Reginald Garrigou-Langrange’s God, His Existence, and His Nature.

Still, in examining the phenomenon of motion, we have already seen that there must be a First Mover Unmoved, which cannot be part of the physical world. This means that philosophical materialism has already been defeated. Even if UFOs and space aliens exist, it remains true that the ultimate explanation for motion in the space-time continuum transcends physical reality. A central theme of Christian belief remains true.

Other Themes of Christian Philosophy

One of the unhappy consequences of pure materialism is that its doctrine entails that nothing above the subatomic level actually exists. One need merely ask what happens when two atoms combine, say sodium and chlorine, when they join to form table salt or sodium chloride. Does this make one being, or, is it still two distinct atoms forming a temporary union? According to the materialistic philosophy of atomism, two atoms sharing an electronic link to form a molecule are no more one thing than are two people shaking hands a single organism.

The major historical alternative to atomism is Aristotle’s doctrine of hylemorphism, which says that all physical things are composed of matter and form, where form is an immaterial principle which makes a thing one substance of a certain nature. What is at stake is whether unified things with specific and diverse natures exist above the subatomic level. Are human beings single things of a same nature throughout? Are we just a pile of atoms or are we one thing of a unified nature? Common sense and experience says we are one single substance. Thus, if someone is punched in the stomach, we don’t say that just a stomach was punched. We say the person was punched, since we are human in every cell of our being from head to toe.

But how do we know that we are a single substance, such that the nature of all our parts is human—not a “foot nature,” “a hand nature,” and a “brain” nature? The evidence is abundant.

First, all parts of a whole function for the good of the whole, not just itself. That is, our stomachs do not just digest food for itself, but to feed the metabolism of the entire organism. Our feet sacrifice their comfort on long hikes for the sake of moving the entire person from one place to another.

Even more definitive is our actual experience of existential unity as we react to, for example, the attack of a mad dog. We simultaneously see and hear and feel the attack of the beast with all our senses in a single unified subjective painful and horrified experience. Then, we marshal all our psychological and physical powers to fend off this attack, keenly aware of our same self both as the central receptor of the incoming fire of all the senses and as the central agent of the outgoing actions of all our being to repel this dangerous attacker.

In this vivid experience we are directly and immediately self-aware of the unified nature of our person and all its senses and physical powers interacting with external forces in terms of a “unified command center.” This evident unity of our human person requires a real principle of unity, which accounts for our specifically human behavior—a nature or form (as Aristotle would call it), which makes a single, unified substance existing over and above the physical elements which compose it. This principle of life that makes us an individual human being is what is called the soul.

The Human Soul’s Immaterial Nature

This same self that enables the body to act in a unified manner also exhibits activities and powers that transcend the materiality of the body alone.

First, our senses apprehend the physically extended complexity of our environment in such manner as to grasp whole objects in a single, simple way that is impossible for purely physical things to do. Most clear is the instance of vision, where we can see both tops and bottoms of objects in a single act.

Electronic devices, like televisions, can represent objects physically extended in space solely by having different parts of the representing medium represent different parts of the object. For example, for a television to represent a tree on its surface, hundreds of thousands of pixels across its face are either illuminated or not, so as to depict the parts of the tree. No single pixel “sees” anything, since it is both inanimate and is either illuminated or not. It is only the pattern of illuminated pixels that represents the whole tree.

But a dumb canine, bounding into the room, instantly can see the whole image of the tree, top and bottom, in a single act of sight—unifying the physically extended and disparate parts of the image into a single subjective experience that cannot be itself physically extended in space. Why not extended in space? Because then one part would represent one part of the tree and a separate part would represent a different part of the tree and nothing would “see” the whole. That is the nature of material things. Different parts do different things.

But the act of seeing the whole tree in a single act requires that the sense power involved must not be itself extended in space. And to not be extended in space means to be immaterial.

Thus the sensitive soul, which enables an animal to experience sensation, must itself not be material, since it enables the animal to perform immaterial actions – actions not extended in space.

The Human Soul’s Spiritual Nature

Animals show evidence of immateriality in their simple apprehension of sense objects, as I have just shown. But, the problem for life in the animal kingdom is that even such “immateriality” fails to escape completely dependence upon the animals’ material bodies and organs. This is evident because both sense objects and sense images are always experienced under the conditions of matter, as we humans see in our own sense lives.

Sense experience is always “under the conditions of time and space.” This means that such experiences are always concrete, particular, singular, and have imaginable material qualities, such as specific size, color, shape, weight, sounds, and so forth. If one imagines a triangle or horse, it must always be with a particular color, size, shape, and so forth. Such images are always under such “conditions of matter,” and thus, fail to show complete independence of matter, that is, of material organs, such as the brain.

Like animals, man has sense powers. But, unlike animals, man also exhibits superior intellectual acts, such as understanding universal concepts, judging, reasoning, and making free choices. For present purposes, I shall focus on the first act of the mind: abstracting universal concepts.

Universal concepts or ideas are free of all material conditions and manifest the genuinely spiritual nature of the human soul. Thus, while it is easy to imagine a triangle or a horse, it is utterly impossible to imagine “triangularity” or “horseness,” since such an image would have to simultaneously contain the concrete shape and other qualities of every possible triangle and horse, which is impossible. I can imagine a particular triangle. For most people, this turns out to be an equilateral one! But triangularity can be expressed as well in concrete triangles that are acute, obtuse, and even isosceles. Yes, we tend to associate an image with a concept. But one person may imagine a mouse when thinking of “animal,” while another is imagining an elephant instead. That is why, when communicating with someone, we do not finish by saying, “Did you get my images?” Rather, we say, “Do you understand my meaning?”

Moreover, many universal concepts simply have no physically concrete instances, for example, such inherently spiritual ideas as justice, virtue, beauty, truth, or equality. Conceptual knowledge is radically different from, and superior to, mere animal sensory experience or imagining.

Universal concepts are neither extended in space nor do they manifest being under material conditions, which would, as in the case of images, imply dependence on matter. As such, they are spiritual in nature.

While this is not the only argument for the human soul’s spirituality, it is the most well-known one, dating at least as far back as Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo. Since the less perfect cannot be a sufficient reason for the more perfect, it is clear that merely material organs, like the human brain, cannot account for the formation of spiritual universal concepts. Since man can produce such spiritual entities as universal concepts, it is clear that he must possess such powers, not in his body, but in his soul – a soul, which must be as spiritual as is the concepts it produces.

Thus, philosophical proof exists of the spiritual nature of the human soul. Importantly, this rational truth casts further light on the nature of God.

The Spiritual Soul Must be Created

While the sense knowledge we share with animals is shown to be immaterial (meaning that it is not extended in space), still such knowledge is understood to be dependent on material organs. This is evident because both images and sense objects are always known under the conditions of matter, that is, with a particular shape, color, extension, and so forth. But our intellectual knowledge of universals is spiritual as is the human soul, because, not only are concepts not extended in space, but also they have no sensible qualities at all, which shows that they cannot be the product of sense organs. That is, unlike images, concepts exist independently of matter.

Because of this, the human spiritual soul is utterly superior to organic matter. Sense organs alone cannot produce what is spiritual. Thus, we have a problem as to the origin of the human spiritual soul. For, how can matter produce what is strictly immaterial? How can the lower or less perfect produce what is higher or more perfect? It cannot.

Bodily beings produce only more bodily beings. Spiritual entities exceed the powers of bodily beings to procreate. Since the human soul is not dependent on matter for its existence, it exceeds the procreative power of merely material organs. And a spiritual being cannot be changed into another spiritual being, since they lack the hylemorphic (matter-form) composition needed to explain change in physical nature. Since the human spiritual soul comes to be from neither bodily being nor from pre-existent spiritual being, it can only come into existence through creation, that is, from nothing that preexists its coming into existence (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 90, a. 2, c.).

Since it begins to exist at the beginning of human life, the human spiritual soul must be created by some spiritual agent extrinsic to the human beings, whose procreative activity occasions its creation at the moment of conception.

But to create means to make something without any preexisting material. It takes infinite power to create. St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates this truth as follows:

“For a greater power is required in the agent insofar as the potency is more remote from the act, it must be that the power of an agent which produces from no presupposed potency, such as a creating agent does, would be infinite, because there is no proportion between no potency and the potency presupposed by the power of a natural agent, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3).

What St. Thomas is pointing out here is that the measure of power is taken, not merely from the effect produced, but also from the proportion between what is presupposed by the agent in order to produce the effect and the effect produced. That is to say, while it takes a certain measure of power to make a horse from pre-existing horses, it would take far greater power to make a horse from merely vegetative life—not to mention the power required to make a horse from non-living matter. But, to make a horse, while presupposing nothing at all, requires immeasurably greater power.

As St. Thomas points out, there is no proportion between having nothing at all from which to make something and the thing produced, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being (Ibid.). But, what is immeasurable is literally “without limit,” or infinite. Hence, it takes infinite power to make something while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it.

The Creator

Since we have shown that the human spiritual soul is created, there must exist a creating agent. But creation requires an infinitely powerful cause, as just shown. Therefore, an infinitely powerful creating cause must exist.

But infinite power cannot exist in a finite being. Hence, the infinitely powerful creating cause of the human spiritual soul must be an infinite being. Clearly, such a being must also be spiritual in nature, since physical things inherently have bodily limitations.

But there cannot be more than a single infinite being. If there were two of them, they must differ in some way, or else, they would be the same being. But, if they differ in any way, one must have something the other lacks. In that case, the other, since it lacks some aspect or quality of being, cannot be infinite, since the infinite being is lacking in nothing. So, too, were there three such beings, only one can be truly infinite, since the others must be differentiated by lacking or having some quality that differentiates them. If they lack anything, they are not infinite. If they have something another lacks, then the other is not infinite. The bottom line is that it is metaphysically impossible that there should be more than one Infinite Being or Uncaused Creator. There is but a single Creator because there can be but a single Infinite Being and only an Infinite Being can create.

Once it is shown that solely the unique Infinite Being is the creative cause of all spiritual entities that come into being, it is but a short step to realize that this same Infinite Being must be causing by continuous creation the existence of all finite beings. For, a being that begins to exist through the creative power of God continues to exist through dependence on that same power, since it does not explain its own existence.

It does not take massive insight to realize that, if it takes infinite power to make something come-to-be, while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it, infinite power is also required to enable something to continue to exist as opposed to being nothing. This is even more manifest in light of the fact that we have already proven that an infinitely powerful Creator of spiritual souls actually exists.

The power required to explain why beings exist is not measured by whether they happen to have a beginning in time. Rather, it is measured in terms of that power being the reason why there is being rather than nothing at all. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “…there is no proportion of non-being to being.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3). Hence, the sufficient reason why any finite being exists is that infinite power is making it be and continue to be. Since the Infinite Being alone has such power, all creatures must be being continually held in existence by the infinite power of that unique Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism.

Since it is now evident that God is the First Cause Uncaused and Creator of all finite things, we can use the basic fact that non-being cannot beget being in order to learn something about God’s nature and attributes. Put another way, a being cannot give what it does not possess. So, any perfection we find in creatures must somehow pre-exist in God. Moreover, since God is the First Cause, he can have no composition within his being, since what is composed presupposes a prior cause to compose it. This means that God’s nature is simple, so that whatever attributes he possesses must be identical with his nature, thereby making them infinite like his nature is.

For example, since some creatures are persons, God must be a person.
If some creatures have intelligence, then God must be intelligent. If there is goodness in the world, God must be good. If truth is a value found in creation, then God must be truthful. And all these attributes must be identical to his infinite nature to avoid any hint of composition in God. I am not trying to give here more than an outline of how such reasoning proceeds.

But we also find in creatures many imperfections and limitations, such as pain, sin, stupidity, limitations of space and time, evil, and so forth.

Since these are negations of perfections, the general answer is that non-being needs no cause. Thus, any aspect of creatures that entails imperfection or limitations need not be predicated of God. The most obvious issue posing difficulty here is the problem of evil. But, since contradictions in being are impossible, once we know that God exists and is infinitely good, it is immediately evident that the problem of evil can be resolved in some manner.

While most skeptics claim that the reality of evil in the world is incompatible with the divine attribute of God’s infinite goodness, this objection is easily defeated once we realize several simple truths. First, evil is not simple non-being, but rather it is a defect or perversion in something designed by God to be good. For example, a man lacking proper virtue is morally evil, or, a horse that is swayback lacks its proper skeletal formation.. For this reason, the measure of goodness itself is the natures of the things in the world created by God.

Second, it is morally licit to permit evil so that greater good may result, as when a father allows a young son to smoke a cigar and get sick so that he learns a lesson.

Third, as the divine lawgiver and maker of natural moral law, God has the right to punish those who violate that law—so as to restore the balance of justice. Unless we think we know more than God does, we cannot judge him for permitting certain moral and physical evils so that greater good may ensue.

Fourth, since pleasure and pain serve the good of sensitive organisms to preserve and promote their lives, even the role of pain in the moral development of man may be good for him. Indeed, even the existence of hell cannot be excluded as playing a major role in encouraging man to attain the greatest perfection of his last end and as a requirement of divine justice for the stubbornly reprobate.

Other attributes of the God of classical theism can be established, but that would exceed both the limits and the needs of this paper. From what has been discussed above, it should now be evident that robust evidence and proofs exist to support the essential parts of Christian revelation about God, the world, and man’s spiritual soul and personal immortality.

The key conclusion I propose at this point is that, even were somehow Catholicism and Christianity not true divine revelation, irrefutable reason still shows that the God of classical theism exists. Moreover, since UFOs and space aliens are usually presented in a context of materialistic worldviews, such philosophical views have now been ruled out.

If space aliens exist, they will have to be interpreted in light of a metaphysics that comports with Christian revelation in terms of a good, truthful, infinitely-powerful Creator, who is the God of classical theism, and of a human spiritual soul that has personal and immortal life.

Catholicism’s Clearest Modern Proof

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 affected 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. This is essentially what marks the experience of a vision. One writer calls it a “miracle of perception.”

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

What critics badly miss is that variances in accounts actually strengthen the case for a miracle, not weaken it. Such a rich diversity of reports supports the case for all the visual aspects being visions that differ in each person. 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, S.J., offers an explanation based on the natural formation of an “air lens” at the site of the solar phenomena. But his explanation immediately confronts multiple difficulties. Even looking directly at the sun through an air lens would damage the eye, and no reports of ocular damage were recorded after the event. Moreover, I have already pointed out that the existence of somewhat conflicting descriptions of the phenomena as well as the fact that some saw nothing unusual at all, prove that the solar experiences must have been internal visions of externally experienced events—not the result of Jaki’s air lens hypothesis.

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

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

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

On the dubious hypothesis that these effects were preternatural, and not supernatural, could they have been produced by angels or demons? Here, a moral analysis suffices. If somehow done by angels, then they were at the direction of God anyway. But, if done by demons, one is confronted with a message to humans to stop sinning, repent, and pray. I don’t think any further proof is needed to show that demons did not do this.

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

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!

Similarly, 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.


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 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 two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles.

Featured image: “Coming Through,” by David Huggins.