Afghanistan: Convictions Versus Opinions

Courage is not obligatory, but common sense is. Both seem now to be lacking in the West, having again been replaced by cowardice, as nicely demonstrated by Afghanistan. The West fails to understand that the endgame is to have a repeat of 2015-2016, which nearly brought Europe to the tipping point, with an even larger stream of refugees — the populist Pied Pipers who in reaction come out of the woodwork fit into this grand scheme nicely.

The leftist Gutmenschen, who see Culture as a bourgeois construct, think they can instrumentalise (weaponise) Islam (cf., the French intellectuals who accompanied the Ayatollah back to Teheran in 1979), by creating social discord through multicultural ideology. The Left, who are materialists, however, can never understand religion, which works in categories of eternity.

Islam, however, is in this regard quite different than Christianity. Islam shares with the Left, the idea of an élite (Eric Voegelin would call this the “Gnosis”) that knows what’s best for you (nanny state, run by technocratic experts, or the Ulema) and the idea that Utopia can be created now — William F. Buckley’s one-liner summarising Voegelin comes to mind “Don’t immanentise the Eschaton.” While the Left’s post-revolutionary Utopia and that of Islam are antithetical, they both have a common enemy – Western culture and its Christian underpinnings.

The Left hopes that religions will destroy each other mutually in the short to mid-term; Islam knows it will win on the long-term. The European refugee policy, taking in large numbers of young Afghan men — who were not willing to fight for their country, thus begging the question as to what their contribution to our societies may be — depleted Afghanistan of necessary vitality. The West’s “self-critical” diffidence, about not imposing democracy on other cultures, blah-blah, is contradicted by the fact that seemingly everyone now wants to leave (including those seen on news footage of the evacuation from the Kabul aerodrome speaking Urdu, or now under security detention in their host countries).

Europe and the US —nothing has changed since the Yugoslav crisis, where a commentator not without due irony noted that “the Europeans are gutless, the Americans are witless” — fail to understand that the “Taliban” are a modern phenomenon (not mediaeval), which has replaced the traditional tribal structure (similar to the development of the notion of citizen during the nineteenth century; but then the Islamic variant, belonging to the Umma is a quite different thing).

Democracy, or our notion of “rights” (which must necessarily be symbiotically joined with the notion of “duty”), cannot work in an Islamic society, in which there is no concept of the individual. The notion of “Individual” is intrinsically liked to the Christian idea of individual salvation through Christ’s death and then further formulated by that African, Punic-speaking Berber, who invented the “West,” Saint Augustine (his formulation of the Trinity in three personæ; it is no coincidence that his Confessiones is the first autobiography!). 

We forget that in totalitarian systems — whether socialist, Islamic or fascist, or of some other ilk — the large majority of the population remains ambivalent, paying lip-service to the enlightened elite, especially when it is socially advantageous. This says more about human nature than anything else. The “Taliban,” like “Nazis,” or “Communists” are not extraterrestrial beings; they are fearmongers who thrive among us on the opportunistic maxim, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Totalitarianism thrives on collective cowardice, freedom on individual courage. Tyranny emerges when the categorical imperative is replaced by the hypothetical. By abandoning Afghanistan — the Europeans blame the Americans, the Americans blame Trump (forgetting that in Islam there is no developed concept of juridical persons, i.e., the officeholder being distinct from the person who holds it; whatever the Taliban may have agreed with Trump was for them no longer binding when a new president entered office) — the world sees (dictators of the world unite) that the values we espouse as being universal and self-evident truths are at best “Western,” but in reality not worth the paper they’re written on, because we are unwilling to make a stand for them.

We were rooted out from Afghanistan, with our tails between our legs, not because it is the proverbial graveyard of empires, nor because our soldiers were not up to the military task, but because our complacent leaders, elected by self-indulgent, apathetic societies, lack vision and intrepidity, unlike the Taliban: Natura abhorret vacuum.

Our biggest problem… Well, when Heinrich Heine, the German poet, went on a walking tour of French cathedrals in the nineteenth century, the last stop was Amiens. His traveling companion, a man named, Alphonse, asked Heine, why it was no longer possible to construct buildings such as the Amiens cathedral. Heine responded – “Dear Alphonse, in those days men had convictions, whereas we moderns only have opinions, and something more is needed than an opinion to build a Gothic cathedral.”

The featured image shows, “Courage, Anxiety and Despair,” by James Sant; painted ca. 1850.

Priestly Celibacy – It’s Called, Grace

Boulevard Voltaire is a site whose political courage, including in the defense of Christianity, can only be praised. But the rather mediocre article by Arthur Herlin, on the book co-authored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, reflects an error of thought which leads to an inane conclusion: celibacy is not a dogma.

Obviously, since this is a question about the organization of the Church and not of the content of faith. It is therefore necessary to do a bit of history, and in particular the history of the Gauls, if one wants to understand the question and stop uttering nonsense.

In the fourth century, the Church of France was Gallo-Roman; that is to say that its liturgical language was Latin. But the men who constituted it were also acculturated “Gauls.” Somewhat like Augustine was an acculturated “Punic” who spoke Latin, thought in Latin and prayed in Latin. They were part of the Greco-Latin culture which had been imposed when Gaul was subdued and had entered the orbis romanum. After the great persecutions, of which the frightful martyrdom of the group of Christians of Lyon (with the star of Saint Blandine at their center) was left as a memory in a letter well-known to the historians of ancient Christianity, and which attests to its antiquity, the Church of Gaul could finally organize itself, build monasteries, delimit dioceses and develop freely. From this fifth century, which was an apogee and an interval between the barbarian incursions and the conversion of a conquering Frankish king, we have a rich historiography that only the post-modern inculture of our devastated parishes has plunged into oblivion. It is enough to open and read, without omitting the footnotes, La Gaule chrétienne à l’époque romaine by E. Griffe to become aware of it. For those who doubt.

At the very top of the virtues that the Church demands of its priests is continence. When the new priest came from the world, it often happened that he was married. In this case, the same rule applied to him as to the bishop – he would have to renounce the custom of marriage and live with his wife as with a sister. The bishop’s wife was even called episcopa; the priest’s wife was called presbytera. These women played a major role, relieving their husbands of worldly tasks: “they render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, so that through their husbands they may give to God what is God’s.” And these tasks were not only cleaning the churches (which their maids did) or feeding the guests. They were concerned with the management of temporal matters in the broadest sense.

Such questions cause much debate from the very origins of the diocesan churches. By the fifth century, these imperative constraints had aroused criticism. In the region of Toulouse, a priest named Vigilance (sic) had criticized the continence imposed on priests. St. Jerome’s De septem ordinibus Ecclesiae and Contra Vigilantium attest that the discipline (not the dogma) of celibacy did not take hold among the clergy without reluctance. The authority of the Apostolic See, but above all the favor enjoyed by the monastic ideal among the faithful, contributed to the acceptance of this discipline. This monastic ideal was imposed during these centuries of unhindered development, supported in particular by a monk from the East (from Antioch), John Cassian, who brought the knowledge of the conventual organization of the monasteries of Egypt and contributed to its adoption, while the rule of Benedict of Nursia had yet to be formulated.

Abstinence is the visible face of a spiritual state called “chastity,” a term that our sexuality-crazed world (heterosexual as well as homosexual and soon transsexual) can hardly apprehend anymore and which it sees as an unattainable and destructive ideal of humanity. But this only reflects the state of decay of our post-modern world and in particular the deep contempt that our society feels for the human body, reduced to being only an object of enjoyment. Including, supreme indignity, not to say infamy, the body of children.

Things reveal their secrets with difficulty, and the sexual mystery less so than any other.

We all know, if we have read a little, or loved, that there can be no human love which does not normally include, at least in desire, carnal union. By renouncing it, even in desire, the religious who takes a vow of chastity sacrifices two things. He sacrifices what Augustine calls the flesh, and what constitutes one of its deepest instincts, the properly carnal instinct. But this is only the visible, always somewhat spectacular aspect of the religious state.

Whether he is aware of it or not – and it is better if he is aware of it – the priest or the monk makes a sacrifice which reaches the abyss of man’s natural aspirations. He sacrifices all possibility for him to desire and thus to reach that earthly paradise of nature whose dream haunts the unconscious of our human race and which Jacques Maritain has very nicely and justly described as the mad love between man and woman, that glory and heaven of here below, where a dream from the depths of the ages, consubstantial with human nature, becomes reality, and of which all the hymns sung down the centuries of yore have revealed the nostalgia inherent in poor humanity.

I will add to the list of hymns: the romances on M6 TV, the dramas of passion of the septième art, starting with the adaptations of Tristan and Yseult (although the potion that we made them drink partially absolves them). But this potion can also be understood as the metaphor of a power against which we can do nothing, this madness called amorous passion that can alienate all reason. Human madness which we value in great literary works, but especially in many tragedies. It is of such a renunciation that the vow of chastity is above all the sign. The priesthood, it is sacrificed masculinity.

The priesthood is not alone in being called to this discipline: marriage sanctifies this powerful carnal instinct. There is a marital chastity whose purpose is not primarily the regulation of births. By submitting to a partial continence, which is called a discipline and which is a specific form of the virtue of temperance – man confronts an instinct which is that of his species, an instinct that dwells in his person as a foreign dominator and that holds it and torments it with a tyrannical violence. All literature testifies to this, and Zola as well as Balzac have perceived and shown it with consummate art – a furious force, immensely older than the individual, through whom it passes, and that chastity defeats. I examined many years ago, during a strange colloquium on the Chaste and the Obscene, how Zola shows, in La Curée, the slow path from lechery to obscenity. Our world, which pretends not to hide anything anymore, is an obscene world.

Solely in natural order, chastity is a release and therefore a liberation.

In the spiritual order, it is a mystery, that is to say a super-intelligibility which requires, in order to be adequately understood and interpreted, a little bit of intelligence, reflection and, incidentally, culture.

In the 5th century, these renunciates, called, sancti, priests or laymen, contributed greatly to the evangelization of a Gaul that was largely Christian in number and in its network, but not necessarily yet deeply Christianized.

May (Heaven permit) the aspiration to spiritual chastity, of which continence is only the visible part, return to our Churches. If it is not the whole of holiness, if it does not guarantee purity of heart, it contributes admirably to it.

The priest does not come to the priesthood with a rope around his neck, forced and coerced – he responds to a call in the depths of his being and his flesh as a man.

Why should we doubt that this call will not profoundly transform his very flesh, and give his whole person the strength to assume this renunciation throughout his life? This has a name – sanctification. The man called to the priesthood receives a sacrament, a sign that works what it means. He receives it in the Name of Jesus, who said it himself – my yoke is light.

The brutal forces of the world which surround us, the degraded and degrading vision of human sexuality – everything contributes to make us forget, even to make us reject the basic fact of Christianity: an infinitely superior energy, a divine energy called Grace, communicated by the sacrifice of Jesus, eternally commemorated at each service.

It is because human energies (renewable, but with a lot of entropy) are transformed by this divine energy that the Grace of Baptism requires to be supported by the other sacraments. This is the only interest of ecclesiastical, monastic or other discipline – to allow the Christian to convert in himself this divine force which transforms him, in the God who nourishes him and on whom he nourishes; and this in a world that does not shine by its goodness, nor by its intelligence, let alone its justice.

Continence is a visible state that reveals an invisible state – that of chastity. The Virgin Mary is the most accomplished figure of it, and this is the reason why the priesthood nourishes a devotion to her. More discreet, even more silent, is the other great figure of this chaste humility which is given to us to contemplate in order to accomplish it in ourselves, according to what we are – the figure of Saint Joseph.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

The featured image shows, “Christ Blessing,” by Fernando Gallego; painted ca. 1494-1496.

From The Gulag To Freedom

This month, we are so very delighted to present this unique interview with Nikita Krivoshein who was born in Paris, in 1934. His family of Russian noblemen, fled communism during the First Wave of emigrants. His grandfather, Alexander Vasilievich Krivoshein, was Minister of Agriculture in the Russian Empire and Prime Minister of the Government of Southern Russia, under General Wrangel. His father and uncle were decorated fighters in the French Resistance during World War II. His father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau.

Nikita, along with his father and mother, returned to the Soviet Union, in 1948, thinking that they were going back home to peace and security. Instead, his father was soon arrested and sent into the Gulag.

Nikita himself was arrested in August 1957 by the KGB for an unsigned article in Le Monde about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He was convicted and sent into Mordovian political camps (the Gulag), where he worked at a sawmill, as a loader. After his release from prison, he worked as a translator and simultaneous interpreter, from 1960 to 1970. He was able to return to France in 1971. His parents also returned to France in 1974. He lives in Paris. He has just published a book about his Gulag experiences.

Nikita Krivoshein is interviewed by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.

Christophe Geffroy (CG): You have had an unimaginable journey. Birth in France, then departure for the USSR where you came to experience the gulag and return to France. Could you summarize it for us?

Nikita Krivochein (NK): Heaven was merciful and generous. I was able to return to France, to reintegrate myself, to bring my parents back, to found a home. Among the young emigrants taken to the USSR after the war, those who had this chance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. From Paris, I was able to see the collapse of the communist regime, and this without bloodshed! A great wave of murderous settlements of accounts was more than likely. We survived in the USSR physically as well as in our faith, our vision. But how many “repatriates” preferred to make themselves invisible, to depersonalize themselves to survive. My return to France was, and remains, a great happiness!

CG: Why did your parents return with you to the USSR in 1948, when the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was manifest?

NK: In the immediate post-war period, the totalitarianism was muted and less obvious. From 1943 onwards, Stalin had noticed that the Russians were not very keen on being killed by the Wehrmacht in the “name of communism, the radiant future of all mankind,” so he changed his tune and started to invoke “Great Russia,” its military, its culture, and reopened the churches. He changed the national anthem and renounced the motto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” revived the officer corps. In 1946, he returned to the repression of the Church. In 1949, he launched a very dire wave of arrests (including that of my father). But during the war the illusion of a renunciation of communism worked.

CG: What was the most important thing about your life in the USSR and your time in the camps?

NK: I have intimately felt and internalized that Hope is a great virtue. It would have been enough to stop living it, even for a moment, to sink into the great nothingness of “homo sovieticus.”

Our family was one of the few in the Russian diaspora in Paris who did not live in misery. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, my early childhood was happy. With my parents, we lived in a large three-room apartment on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. We lived in a comfort that was rare at the time, especially in the families of Russian emigrants. My father had studied at the Sorbonne and had become a specialist in household appliances. When I was born, he was chief engineer at Lemercier Frères. My father owned a black Citroën, and with my mother they traveled a lot. I was an only child, born late.

In June 1946, Stalin organized a vast propaganda campaign – amnesty was proposed to all former white emigrants in France, with the delivery of a Soviet passport and the possibility of returning to their homeland. Pravda came out with a new, flashy slogan: “For our Soviet homeland!” – instead of “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And the radio no longer played The International but Powerful Russia… The Russians thought that “debolshevization” was indeed launched.

I found myself in the USSR in 1948 and then for many years I was obsessed with the idea of running away. Our ship, which left from Marseille, docked in the port of Odessa. It had on board many Russians who wanted to return to the country. The next day was May 1st. We were waiting. A soldier in a NKVD uniform entered our cabin, asked my mother to open her purse and confiscated three fashion magazines. “This is forbidden!”

We were told – you are going to Lüstdorf, an old German town near Odessa. On the landing pier, trucks were waiting for us, driven by soldiers. We were taken to a real camp, with watchtowers, dogs, barbed wire and barracks! We were transferred to Ulyanovsk in a wagon (40 men, 8 horses, 12 days trip). In 1949 my father was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps for “collaboration with the international bourgeoisie.” My happy childhood was over. I relate all this in my book.

CG: In your book, you warmly evoke the beautiful figure of Canon Stanislas Kiskis, a Lithuanian Catholic priest. What place did religion have in the Gulag and what relationship did it fashion among Orthodox and other Christians?

NK: This question would require a whole study. In 1958, when I arrived at the camp in Mordovia, an old deportee said to me in French: “Allow me to introduce you to Canon Stanislav Kiskis.” That meeting marked my entire stay in deportation. Our friendship continued after our release.
He was a short, stocky man. His face, his head, what a presence! One could immediately sense that he was a strong person in every respect. A week had hardly passed when Kiskis was transferred to our team to load trucks. There were about ten of us, almost all from the countryside, war criminals, quite a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, all of them certainly not ordinary fellows.

Kiskis had chosen the method of Socrates’ maieutics for his mission.
I guess he had practiced his speech in previous camps. On the subject of the “nature of property,” for example, without addressing anyone in particular, Father Stanislav would ask, “And this pile of stones, who owns it? What about the land on which the pile is located?” The answers were obvious. “To no one.” Or, “to those stupid communists and Chekists!” Or, “We don’t know.”

Stanislav and I used to analyze Roman dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, the rational proof of God’s existence and papal infallibility. We did this exclusively from an analytical and historical point of view. The canon-psychotherapist had to express himself in a more delicate and confused way than when he was dealing with property, but he succeeded in demonstrating what distinguishes work as a punishment inflicted on Adam from that which is the principal sign of our likeness to God. He even succeeded in establishing a quality, a usefulness and a saving side to certain aspects of forced camp labor. On his return to Lithuania, he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy.

CG: You knew Solzhenitsyn. What do you remember about the man and, more than twelve years after his death, what can we say today about the historical role he played?

NK: My father was in the First Circle camp at the same time as Solzhenitsyn. It was a lifelong friendship between them. When I left the former USSR, Alexandr Issaevich honored me by coming to say goodbye and encouraging my decision to emigrate.

CG: More generally, what was the influence of the dissidents in the USSR? In what way are they an example for us today?

NK: It is certain that the resistance fighters in the USSR (preferable to “dissidents”), by their actions, hastened the collapse of the system. They are an example because, according to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, they did not accept to “live in a lie.” But the Communists continue to hate and vilify them.

CG: When we read in your book, the amount of suffering that you and your parents had to face, haven’t we in the West lost the tragic sense of life?

NK: It is enough to be aware of mortality. One can very well do without the Gulag to be aware of the tragedy of existence.

CG: How do you analyze the current situation in Russia? Has the page of communism definitively been turned?

NK: Alas, no! As long as the “stuffed man,” as we used to call the tenant of the mausoleum, remains in his quarters, nothing is irreversible. Stalin worshippers remain numerous, and monuments to this criminal are even erected clandestinely here and there.

CG: While Nazism was unanimously rejected, the same cannot be said of Communism, whose crimes do not arouse the same repulsion (statues of Lenin can still be found in Russia). Why such a difference? And why should Russia not engage in an “examination of conscience” about Communism?
NK: National Socialism never promised anyone a happy life. Communism, on the other hand, has managed to gain acceptance as the “bright future of all mankind.” When a genuine Nuremberg-style decommunization takes place, I will celebrate it wholeheartedly. But the utopia of the earthly paradise has the gift of not setting free its followers.

CG: You are a believer. How do you see the future of our societies, which are moving further and further away from God? And how do you see the future of relations between Orthodox and Catholics?

NK: Five generations of believers have lived under a deicidal regime. The martyrs cannot be counted. The Christian revival was felt in Russia long before 1991. The period of agnosticism that we went through is coming to an end. Man cannot live on bread alone for too long a time. A new generation, not genetically infected with “homo sovieticus,” has appeared. The parishes are full of young people.

This articles appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

The featured image shows, “Rehabilitated,” by Nikolai Getman, ca. 1980s.

My Letter To Pope Francis

At the end of 2013, I wrote to Pope Francis suggesting we have a conversation about the fundamental questions facing Christians in the modern world. It was a naïve proposal, but it never reached him.

The main element and purpose of this article is actually the letter reproduced below, which I wrote to Pope Francis at the end of 2013, with a view to having it delivered by people I thought of as friends of mine who had access to him. It was written in the spirit of a politely-worded offer to assist the pope in clarifying things he had said in a number of recent interviews that appeared either to have been unintentional misspeaks or subject to misappropriation or misquotation. I also wished to dig deeper than any of those interviews had gone, asking the kinds of questions on the minds of serious Catholics rather than liberal-atheistic journalists, especially with regard to the problem of retaining faith in an increasingly pseudo-rational world. At the time I was convinced that he was simply being asked the wrong questions.

The idea was prompted by the first interview he gave to the veteran atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the left-wing newspaper La Repubblica, which made the pope sound like an altar boy who had just served his first Mass. But this had been merely the final straw.

Whereas previous popes had tended to issue communications to the world through encyclicals, weekly homilies et cetera, Pope Francis pursued the kind of engagement more commonly identified with politicians — and a rather unconventional one at that. Sometimes, he made his most newsworthy statements apparently off-the-cuff — perhaps on a long plane journey, when he would approach the media section unannounced. Taken together, these interventions were presented as encapsulating his outlook on a range of important doctrinal matters.

From about September of 2013, just six months into his pontificate, the pope issued a series of rapid-fire pronouncements in a string of interviews, each of which seemed to outdo the last in disintegrating Catholic teaching on everything in sight. He apparently picked up the telephone and called Eugenio Scalfari, who had submitted, presumably, a routine request for an interview. “Why so surprised?” the pope asked Scalfari when he was put through. “You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I’m calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can’t do Wednesday, nor Monday; would Tuesday suit you?”

In the wide-ranging interview that ensued, the pope spoke inter alia about the nature of good and evil, provoking whispered accusations of relativism from many surprised personages within the Church: “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” he told Scalfari. “That would be enough to make the world a better place.” Without naming names, the pope accused some of his predecessors of narcissism, and condemned “clericalism” as inimical to Christianity. He also informed Scalfari that he needn’t trouble himself with the “solemn nonsense” of traditionalists who insist that he “enter by the narrow gate.”

In the wake of the interview, the Vatican was forced into an official denial that Pope Francis had claimed to have abolished sin. Scalfari afterwards told the press: “{T]the most surprising thing he told me was: ‘God is not Catholic.'”

There was much commentary among “conservative” Catholic commentators on the question of whether the pope had been misrepresented. Scalfari never uses a recorder or takes notes. His style is to “recall” the conversations he has had with his subjects, and relate in his own words what he remembers. So far, having done multiple discrete interviews with Pope Francis, 99 per cent of what he has published as the Pope’s thoughts has gone uncontested. It has come to seem that, in speaking through Scalfari (an atheist and former fascist), the Pope was pursuing a deliberate strategy — whether for the purposes of sowing confusion or cultivating liberal approval remains a puzzle.

In a number of interviews just before the encounter with Scalfari, the pope had been musing publicly on the question of the Church’s priorities, postulating that it was too preoccupied with abortion and the destruction of the family. Some weeks earlier, an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, in which he spoke in what appeared to be a similarly “non-judgmental” manner about a number of the headline “moral” issues, was hailed as the manifesto of a pope who had “broken with the past” by announcing new doctrinal initiatives on matters like homosexuality, atheism and women priests:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Pope Francis’s point here appeared to be that emphasising “moralistic” themes serves to suffocate the deeper message of Christianity.

In Ireland, a spokesman for the (generally liberally-inclined) Association of Catholic Priests said he was “absolutely exhilarated” by the Pope’s words. He complained that his association had been criticised for not being more publicly supportive of the bishops during a recent controversy about abortion in Ireland, adding that the Catholic bishops, who had criticized the Irish Government’s proposal to liberalise anti-abortion legislation, had “overegged their case.” Now, he said, “I see that Pope Francis is saying something similar” [to the ACP].

In fact, even while his remarks in this and the Scalfari interview were being digested, events occurred, and were reported sotto voce, that appeared to convey an entirely different impression concerning the pope’s positions and intentions. During a Papal Audience with MaterCare International as part of the group’s 10th international conference in September 2013, Pope Francis spoke clearly on abortion to a group of obstetricians and genealogists, emphasising that they had a responsibility to make known the “transcendent dimension, the imprint of God’s creative work, in human life from the first instant of conception. And this is a commitment of new evangelisation that often requires going against the tide, paying a personal price. The Lord counts on you, too, to spread the Gospel of life.”

“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted,” he said, “has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord.” He urged them to abide by Church teachings, saying: “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things. […] In all its phases and at every age, human life is always sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith, but of reason and science.”

This statement gained close to zero traction in the media, a fact that the pope must surely have noticed. Yet he seemed content to court the attentions of “progressive” journalists without ensuring that they provided a balanced account of his views. The cumulative effect was to create an impression of relaxation in respect of certain core aspects of Church teaching to a media delighted to report that the pope had finally come around to agree with what journalists had been saying all along. The idea that the pope should not talk about such matters “all the time” is hard to argue with, but was hardly the issue. The problem was with giving repeated interviews in which what appeared to be a downplaying of these issues became the headline every time, giving succour to actors and interests with radical intentions concerning Church teaching.

In the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis announced no new doctrinal initiatives, nor was his emphasis significantly different to that of his predecessor, who had, in the eight years he spent as head of the Catholic Church, accrued no credits at all with the kind of people who lionised Francis as the saviour of Catholicism and the liberator of its dissenting elements. Yet, the “liberal pope” headlines kept on coming. Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time magazine, which praised him for his rejection of Church dogma. Not to be outdone, Advocate, an American magazine for homosexuals, also named Francis its 2013 Person of the Year, for the “compassion” he had shown to gay people.

When you examined more closely the total texts of various interviews he had given, it seemed that the pope’s words were being manipulated by selective emphasis. In several passages that gained far less attention, he seemed to tread a more subtle path than the headlines suggested.

For example, when asked in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica what the Church needed most at this moment, what kind of Church he dreamed of, Pope Francis began by endorsing the humility and graciousness of his predecessor and then continued: “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. . . And you have to start from the ground up.

“The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”

Superficially apprehended, it seemed that the problem ought to be dissipated by such passages, and yet it was not. As time passed and the pope became more identified with questioning Church doctrine than upholding it — and he himself remained silent when clarifications appeared to be necessary — the sense of a “progressive” papacy became more and more solidified.

Reading over a chapter I was invited to write for a compendium volume of articles on the Francis pontificate, and completed in February 2014, it is clear that I continued to struggle with these questions for some time even after I had completed the letter to Pope Francis. My contribution to the book was substantively a critique of attendant media culture and its responses to the new pope:

The media have chosen to turn the change of popes into a different kind of story — one that will sell newspapers or advertising space with a narrative of revolution and democratisation. . . Francis, like his predecessor, sees the human person in society as floundering in a mess of relativism and unhope, besieged by ideology and disinformation, driven away from the authentic course of the authentic human journey. Francis presents his explanations in the form of anecdote and analogy, placing the listener into a context where the meaning becomes clear on the basis of personal experience and the deep structural appetite for story that resides in every human heart.

In this passage and otherwise, my verdict on Francis himself might seven years later be described as naïve:

Pope Francis, then, is neither a “rigorist” nor a “loose minister.” He seeks to reconcile not merely those inside the Church with those who have fallen away, but also the necessary dogmatism that goes with Truth with the fluidity essential to a living, breathing faith. He is indeed a “breath of fresh air,” but not in the sense that journalists tend to report, or in the way those who oppose virtually everything the Church stands for would lead us to believe.

I had acquired something of a “special interest” in these matters. Over the first Pentecost weekend of his pontificate, on Saturday May 18th 2013, I stood alongside Pope Francis on the steps of St Peter’s and followed him in speaking to a crowd of 250,000 people, the assembled members of the world’s new evangelical movements. I was impressed with him on that occasion, just two months into his pontificate. I was also greatly moved by what seemed to be the latent power of his presence, the breadth of his charismatic skills in communicating. I was stuck in particular by his physicality — the way his whole body seems to be summoned towards the act of communication, and also by the way he spoke to the gathering as though to one person.

I was transported by his description of the necessity for the Church to move out of its stuffy room and take the risk of meeting the rest of humanity. “When the church becomes closed, it becomes sick, sick,” he said. “Think about a room closed up for a year. When someone finally enters there is an odour and nothing feels right. A closed church is the same way; it’s a sick church. If you go out in your car, you risk having an accident, but this is preferable to remaining closed up at home. We need to become courageous Christians, and go out and search for those who are the body of Christ!”

Catholics, he said, must “touch the body of Christ, take on the suffering of the poor. For Christians, poverty is not a sociological or philosophical or cultural category, it is a theological category,” because Christ made himself poor in order to walk the earth, suffer, die and rise to save humanity. “We cannot become stodgy Christians, so polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those who are the flesh of Christ.”

When I wrote subsequently about the Francis papacy, I leaned over backwards to extend him the fullest credit for the totality of these statements, concluding:

Those who love the Church know now, as they always have, that the “changes” being clamoured for in the world’s media are neither well-advised nor necessary. What is required, as always, is an ear attuned to the heartbeat of the world in time. This must remain the hope of sane people for the pontificate of Pope Francis. The question is: Can the pope stand firm in front of the Truth, against the dictatorship of apparent tolerance?

I was wrong in the substance of these assessments. As the months and years passed, it became clear that either of two things might be true: that the pope’s head had been turned by the favourable attentions of the world’s press (as he increasingly gave them what they wanted); or that he had been Janus-faced from the beginning and had been playing a game of subtle misdirection so as not to scare the traditionalist horses overmuch.

But, as time passed and the pope did almost nothing to disperse the growing disquiet among his own flock, the issue became more and more disconcerting for Catholics who were still disposed to take the Church’s teachings seriously.

One of the most vital questions, then, relates to the role Pope Francis himself may have played in the formation of the narrative surrounding him. At times, it has appeared that he was being, at best, naïve in failing to realize that the media would selectively report and manipulate his words. It also seemed that, in his emphasis on controversial issues, and his selection of sceptical, if not Catholic-averse journalists to communicate with the public, he seemed to be playing to the media’s obsession with issues like atheism, homosexuality, women priests et cetera. It was often unclear whether the confusion the pope left in his wake was a deliberate strategy or the consequence of a chaotic thinking process, but in any event he continued to give succour and comfort to those who hated the Church, while causing dismay to many of those who loved her.

More and more a side of him seemed to emerge that contradicted all attempts to place him in a line following on from Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. More and more he seemed to become a political figure, not just issuing gratuitous and ambiguous statements on the headline moral issues — to the extent that he did indeed appear to be “talking about them all the time” — but relocating the Church in a political context in which it had not hitherto appeared comfortable.

In 2015, in his second encyclical, Laudato si’ , he said: “There is urgent need of a true world political authority.” And later:

“When we acknowledge international organizations and we recognize their capacity to give judgment, on a global scale — for example the international tribunal in The Hague, or the United Nations — If we consider ourselves humanity, when they make statements, our duty is to obey. . . We must obey international institutions. The is why the United Nations were created.’

Very frequently, it becomes impossible to avoid that the pope has become, in effect, the ally of the gravediggers of Europe, extolling Islam to the detriment of Christianity and mocking those who regard Christianity as the cornerstone of European civilisation. It is not just that he regularly contradicted Catholic theology and doctrine, but that he appeared to dislike Catholics who took these things seriously. He was sometimes heard sneering at Catholics who are in his view excessively “orthodox.” He spoke of “diversity” and “enrichment” in the manner of a spotty teenager infatuated for the first time with the absurdities of Woke. He talked almost non-stop about “ecumenism” but often seemed actually to despise the faith he was supposed to be leading. Whenever he heard talk of the Christian roots of Europe, he said on more than one occasion, “I sometimes dread the tone, which can seem triumphalist or even vengeful.” He refused to condemn Islamic violence and on occasion equated Islamist jihadists with traditionalist Catholics. He lacerates Church leaders who spoke of an Islamic ‘invasion’ of Europe. As I suggested in an article on the resignation of Cardinal Sarah back in February, what the pope has said about mass migration is a travesty of Catholic teaching.

As time wore on, things grew worse and worse. In January 2017, LifeSiteNews published a comprehensive review of events over the previous year, which gives a robust sense of how things stood at that time.

In October 2019, the pope gave another interview to Scalfari in which he seems to have told him that Jesus was not divine.

Scalfari wrote of that conversation:

“Those who have had the chance, as I have had at different times, to meet him and speak to him with the greatest cultural confidence, know that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate. Once incarnated, Jesus ceases to be a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross.

“When I happened to discuss these phrases, Pope Francis told me: ‘They are the definite proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not God at all.'”

This time, the Vatican issued what seemed like a robust denial: “As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during conversations with him cannot be considered as a faithful account of what has actually been said, but rather represent a personal and free interpretation of what he has heard, as is quite evident from what has been written today about the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

Yet, the periodic “interviews” with Scalfari continued. The headline statements attributed to the pope — for example, that hell does not exist, that the souls of those who fail to achieve Heaven are simply annihilated rather than eternally punished — remained high up in the mix, while the “clarifications” were forgotten. The confusion of Catholics grew and grew.

Last year, at the height of the Covid-19 global scare, Pope Francis urged Catholics to follow the globalist directives and attacked those who protested against lockdowns. Interviewed for a book by one of his personal evangelists, Austen Ivereigh, he said:

“You’ll never find such people protesting the death of George Floyd, or joining a demonstration because there are shantytowns where children lack water or education, or because there are whole families who have lost their income.”

Did this statement — the holding up of a violent criminal as a worthy martyr and the avoidance of the fact that it was lockdown protestors precisely who drew attention to the escalating losses of incomes, education and hope — represent the real mind of Francis? It appeared so. Last year too, he endorsed the pro-abortion Joe Biden for the US presidency, over the incumbent Donald Trump, the most vocal anti-abortion president in recent history.

Increasingly it has seemed as if, in his own mind, the pope sees himself as something like a monarch or statesman, who contributes to discussion of the mix of forces in conflict in culture, but is in no way serious about the claims of Christianity from the beginning. How could he be serious about these, when he celebrates their antitheses and drops hints that the core teachings of the Church may be simply myths or fables?

My letter to Pope Francis requesting an interview, written as 2013 came to a close, was an act of naiveté on my part, at the time mistaking him for the naïve one. I thought to get to the pope at a time when it seemed he was being grossly manipulated and misrepresented, and, rather than dancing to the tune of the Church’s sworn enemies, have him speak about what was important for the role of the Church in the world.

My objective was not necessarily to have him contradict anything he had said, but to speak about more fundamental things that would not seem important to someone who was not a Christian or Catholic. But I also hoped to give him a chance to contextualise some of his more notorious statements, so that what I presumed at the time to be misquotations might be clarified for the benefit of increasingly confused Catholics.

In this endeavour, I believed I had the support of some senior people in a Catholic lay community, the Italian movement Comunione e Liberazione (CL/Communion and Liberation) which had strong links to the new pope. Although Wikipedia has it otherwise, I was not myself a member of CL, having simply accepted a series of invitations to speak to its membership all around the world over the course of a decade or so.

Initially, I raised my concerns with a senior member of the movement, who agreed with me about what was happening and actually made the suggestion of requesting an interview. At his instigation I wrote the letter, which he greeted with enthusiasm. I made it clear that I was not necessarily proposing myself as the interviewer — I spoke minimal Italian or Spanish, the pope spoke no English — but simply wanted to influence some kind of change in the way the pope was coming across, or at least provoke a more coherent sense of the connections between the pope’s refinements of the Church’s message and fundamentals of Christianity going much deeper than the most pronounced traditionalism. This “self-effacing” notion was repudiated: I should do the interview if it were granted.

The letter was presented to the leaders of CL in Italy, who immediately dismissed the idea — the first clear intimation I had that something more than papal naiveté was afoot. I remember subsequently speaking to the president of the movement, Father Julián Carrón, who told me that there was “no necessity” to clarify what the pope was saying: “Everyone is able to find out what the pope thinks. There is no confusion!” This response confused me a great deal. In due course I figured out that, since Fr Carrón had direct access to both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the chances were that the powers-that-be already knew that a change of wind had occurred and had decided they were not going to do anything that might risk the disfavour of the new boss. In any event, the letter was never delivered.

From that moment, my relationship with the movement began to undergo a radical cooling — from the CL side. This situation was somewhat confused by the fact that Ireland soon afterwards entered a lengthy period of public tumult concerning several of the kinds of issues the pope had seemed to be telling us were no longer important —marriage, parenthood, family, human life, and so forth — and I was to become visible in fighting these battles on what the pope would undoubtedly consider a “traditionalist” or “moralistic” platform.

I was also, very shortly afterwards, targeted by the increasingly virulent LGBT movement, which clearly regarded my presence at the centre of Irish journalism as a possible obstacle to its planned demolition of the Irish Constitution. In fact, although my views on these matters coincided with Catholic teaching, and I was myself a professed Catholic, these two circumstances were not interdependent. By then, my positions were well rooted in my own life experience, and would have survived even a total disenchantment with the Catholic Church.

I don’t know if I would answer to the name of “traditionalist” in any category. I believe in the power and value of tradition, but tend to think the “-ism” part leads to sclerosis, for example to a kind of theme-park Christianity that becomes more a hobby or identity-prop than anything else. As a boy in the last 1960s, I served the Latin Mass, and sang the High Mass in Latin at funerals. I believe the loss of Latin was a critical blow to the connection between the Church and the people. But my principal concern, as my letter to Francis abundantly conveys, was with the erosion of the transcendent imagination of the West, a factor that nobody, now the voice of Ratzinger/Benedict had fallen silent, appeared to be addressing.

The letter episode was more or less the beginning of the end of my relationship with CL. Invitations to speak at its events dried up overnight, apart from a handful of distant outposts where the memo did not arrive, and all of these have since succumbed. This caused me no little distress. I had been deeply attracted to the reasonable, Newmanesque elements of the movement’s founder, Don Giussani’s reflections on the meaning of Christ in the modern world, and also attracted to the spirit of cultural (not religious) modernity in his movement. When Francis arrived, this seemed to change overnight into full-on “progressivism.”

And since this letter of mine to the pope, I would in all modesty and gratitude say, might almost as plausibly have been written by Don Giussani, this left me in no doubt as to the total meaning and direction of things:

My Letter To Pope Francis

Holy Father,

I met you briefly last May, over the Pentecost weekend, when I made a short speech to the assembled members of the new evangelical movements, in your presence, and again next morning when we exchanged a greeting after breakfast.

I am an Irish journalist. For more than 20 yeas I have been a columnist with The Irish Times, which is Ireland’s equivalent of La Repubblica — a ‘liberal’ newspaper addressing the more educated elements of the population. During the time I have been writing for the newspaper, I have undergone many experiences, which I have tried to write about in my columns in as far as they relate to issues of a public nature or matters that may touch the lives of others. One of my themes has been my journey back to faith, which I have chronicled also in a book, Lapsed Agnostic, which I gave you on the morning of our second encounter last May. I perfectly understand that you may not have had time to read it, but the title conveys the general sense of its content. It is the reflection of someone who, having unthinkingly followed the course of the contemporary cultural slide towards unbelief, was arrested by circumstances and obliged to consider things more deeply.

We live in times that may be without parallel in human history. I have a daughter, aged 18, who is of a generation that has started out into a world radically different than the one I grew into a generation ago. Something fundamental has changed in our cultures, which appears to be related to leaps in communication — what technology appears capable of delivering for us now compared to even two decades ago. There is a sense that everything has changed, that some kind of cleaver has come down hard upon our culture, severing the lines of connection to the past — even to parts of the present. More and more people appear to be imprisoned within technological compounds in which their immediate desires and requirements are gratified, and yet their most basic questions are not merely ignored but actually denied, even suppressed. There is an escalating sense that people are slipping into an adjacent but unreal world, in which they can act out a fantasy of living while actually avoiding the reality.

These words of Gabriel Marcel seem apt: ‘At the very depth of ourselves, we don’t know what is happening. We don’t even know if anything is happening. We throw the net of our interpretations into depths that are impenetrable in every respect . . . We draw out only phantasms, or at least we cannot be sure that they may be anything else.’

In these conditions, what reality is has become distorted, so that both the plausibility of and the necessity for a belief in the transcendent have come into question. Faith seems superfluous to a life that might be made as comfortable and satisfying as humanly conceivable by the simple acceptance of a certain limited version of the human. Who needs hope? What is there to hope for? Why not abandon hope and live the moment instead?

In these conditions — which may have been implicit from the start but are certainly exacerbated in our times — it seems that the human person can connect truly with reality only in extreme youth, when what the world calls ‘innocence’ prevents him being caught up in the collective delusion, and in extreme proximity to death, when he realizes that nothing of what he has lived or learned in the cocoon of modernity serves his needs in those guttering moments. Without necessarily anyone planning it, we appear somehow to have generated a form of culture in which ‘not hoping’ appears to be the natural order, the most ‘reasonable’ response and the easiest way of ‘getting though’ life. Religion seems to offer only a desiccated certitude, a determined attempt to elide a total emptiness.

For several years now I have tried to elucidate the meaning of my own journey with a view to combatting these tendencies of our culture, but always struggling against the limits of language and the reductions which modern reality and its self-definitions and self-descriptions has succeeded in imposing on the great questions of existence. I have long felt that, simply by virtue of electing to speak of such things, one becomes trapped on one side of a veil of cultural prejudice, thus rendering it almost impossible to speak in ways that might alert and encourage the one who remains trapped behind that veil — still struggling to reconcile an ‘educated’ awareness of the modern world with an experience of being human that seems all the time to be excluded from everything that hurtles onwards as part of this caravan of modernity. I have tried to explain many times what I have experienced, what I have felt, what I have learned; but more and more it has seemed to me that I communicate only with those who believe they have already understood what I wish to say (and I’m rarely convinced that we speak the same language), whereas those whose realities most dramatically exhibit the conditions from which I have myself lately journeyed are too solidly settled in their assumptions, or too resistant to the kind of language I must necessarily use, to hear anything I might say.

If this syndrome could be said to afflict only myself and my attempts to explain my journey, it might not amount to a great problem. But I believe this condition is now widespread in what we think and speak of as ‘the modern world’. More and more, it seems, words and self-descriptions tend to trap us in definitions that really amount to no more than reactions, or counter-reactions, to phenomena that provoke, disturb or antagonise us. We become, more and more, political beings, whose self-descriptions and outward manifestations of our self-understandings tend to be off-the-peg identikits, which we inhabit by a process of willed certainty. We ‘invent’ ourselves by numbers so as to avoid the given nature of ourselves.

Our mysterious, given humanity, however, is a different matter. It remains bound inside the identikit personality, as though by an ideological girdle. Each of us is accompanied, whether we wish to focus on it or not, by the ineluctable idea of a total trajectory, a careering through the dizzying stratosphere of existence. That we can find no words for this does not change it. But what can indeed change it is the feeling — picked up from the common conversation — that, because we have no words for it, and because the words we do have seem to exclude it, this sense of a total trajectory in infinity must be an illusion. Only under the utmost pressure, or under conditions whereby reality encroaches with a radical determination, is the human person placed again in front of the questions that define him or her. We speak of our beliefs — or unbeliefs — but the language we use is necessarily of a collective conversation out of sync with both reality and with ourselves.

I have recently been re-reading Vaclav Havel’s speech to the 1989 Frankfurt Book Fair — delivered through the voice of the actor Maximilian Schell — when he won the German Booksellers’ Peace Prize that year (just a month before the Berlin Wall came down). Words, he said, ‘are a mysterious, ambiguous, ambivalent, and perfidious phenomenon.’ Were the words of Marx and Lenin, he asked, ultimately liberating or enslaving? Both at once, he hazarded. Were the words of Christ the beginnings of a new era of salvation or the seeds of the inquisitions? Both, too. The word ‘socialism’, he noted, had begun as ‘a mesmerising synonym for a just world’ into ‘an ordinary truncheon used by certain cynical, moneyed bureaucrats to bludgeon their liberal-minded fellow citizens from morning until night.

‘At one moment in history, courageous, liberal-minded people can be thrown into prison because a particular word means something to them, and at another moment, the same kind of people can be thrown into prison because that same word has ceased to mean anything to them, because it has changed from the symbol of a better world into the mumbo jumbo of a doltish dictator.’ No word, he said, comprises only the meaning assigned to it by an etymological dictionary. ‘Every word also reflects the person who utters it, the situation in which it is uttered, and the reason for its utterance. The same word can, at one moment, radiate great hope; at another, it can emit lethal rays. The same word can be true at one moment and false the next, at one moment illuminating, at another, deceptive. On one occasion it can open up glorious horizons, on another, it can lay down the tracks to an entire archipelago of concentration camps. The same word can at one time be the cornerstone of peace, while at another, machine-gun fire resounds in its every syllable . . .’

‘What a weird fate’, he declared, ‘can befall certain words!’

This tendency for words to change their meanings has always existed, but has recently been subjected to a kind of exponential acceleration due to the explosion of technological communication via the Internet etc. The periods of growth, vibrancy and disintegration experienced by particular kinds of words become more and more ‘speeded up’, due to the rapid-fire cultural processes and ubiquitous technologies available to modern culture. And these processes and technologies also have the power to provoke passivity — just as much as reactions — towards such developments in the hearts of observing humanity, and this has the potential to leave everyone behind while seeming to embrace whole races and peoples, for culture to exclude the heart of each man while seeming to address and speak for everyone.

I believe this question of the limits of language is one that needs to accompany us all the time when we seek to speak of what we believe and know. Don Giussani — for whom I know you have a great affection — spoke of finding ‘the least inadequate words’ (to describe the great mysteries of existence). Yet, our cultures and their collective conversations increasingly treat words as though in a courtroom, pinning meanings down to the point where nothing but the words is necessary. Modern societies tend more and more to regard words as if they were fixed and utterly reliable, or capable of becoming so. Positivism, the programme by which our public thought is processed, seeks to deny or ignore the organic nature of language. Ideology, in which not merely thought but also sentiment is disseminated, requires words to have fixed, legalistic meanings, aloof from life. This means that, by definition, we are all — each in his or her own cocoon — adrift from the understandings supposedly held in common, because each of us is mystery, especially to himself. (I would define mystery not as simply the unknown or even the potentially unknowable, but that which is ineluctable but beyond description — what we know but cannot show to someone who refuses to see.)

We use the least inadequate words. Words are really like loose stones that provide for makeshift paths across treacherous stretches of molten lava: If you move quickly you may be able to use them to reach your meaning. If you get stuck on a word, both you and your intentions are doomed. Really, we cannot ‘tell’ one another anything. We can but point, nudge, gesture and look for signs of recognition. If you try to hold one another to our words, they will disintegrate in front of our eyes. But if we take as read their ultimate unreliability to be anything other than stepping stones, we are at the point of take-off.

I am interested in talking with you about how we might go about overcoming these and other difficulties of the modern world. I have observed with great interest, and no little excitement, the manner in which you have entered into your pontificate. I have been struck in particular by your openness, your willingness to talk frankly and plainly about the crises facing the world, and the Church, and the connections between them. Much that you have said has moved me and encouraged me. But there has been, I feel, a certain lacuna, and this relates to what I have tried to outline in the few sentences above. I would describe this really as relating to the most fundamental question(s) of all.

The interviews you have given so far have been extremely helpful to many people — some Christian, some Catholic, but also some who have drifted from faith, or even reacted against it. But so far, I feel, the emphasis placed on the significance of your leadership has tended to dwell on matters doctrinal, political or even ideological. This has not been of your doing, I feel, but rather has to do with the selectivity and emphases with which your words have been presented by those who happened to be your mediators. Still, in spite of these limitations, you have made a striking entrance and caused many people to look up and consider again what might be missing from their lives.

And yet there are these blocks, which I referred to already, which I believe prevent your words penetrating as they need to, into the depths of present-day culture. I was greatly stuck on May 18th last, by your call to the Church to go ‘to the outskirts of existence’ to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The phrase seemed to me to gesture far beyond geography, or sociology, or ideology, or even the idea of allegiance to a faith, or even to faith itself. It struck me really as a call to me as a human being, a man, in my most fundamental essence – beneath everything I have learned, heard or come to believe — to call me to the question of who I am and what my destiny is.

This is why I would like to talk with you with a view to publishing our exchange. What I believe is required is a far more basic conversation, in which the most fundamental questions might be addressed with a clarity that, if I am right in what I sense about this moment, would cause the world to be struck in a new way.

I have in mind questions like this:

‘What is there to know?’

‘What prevents us from knowing?’

‘How do we reintegrate the mysteriousness of our own existence alongside our growing sense of knowledge about so many things that seem to propose a more concrete existence in the present moment, albeit an existence that leads nowhere?’

‘Even if I have arrived at the possibility that there is a “thou” who lives within me, how do I make what appears to be the considerable leap to calling this “thou” by the name of “Christ”?’

‘Is it possible for a modern, educated person to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?’ (The Dostoyevsky question).

‘When I speak of “the presence” of Christ, what do I hope to make visible that is not some sentimental construct, propelled by an insistent moralism? Can I speak truly, really, about such things and not think myself mad, let alone avoid being thought mad by others?’

‘What does it mean to pray? To whom do I speak — someone in the sky, someone within myself? How, in a world which insists on visualisation, do I make this reasonable to myself?’

These questions and many others occur to me. I am not a theologian. Neither am I someone with an agenda within the Church. I do not belong to any faction. I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. I am a man who wants to know, to find words to speak what I have discovered and to initiative conversations to help myself and others. I come to you only from the depths of my own humanity, seeking to formulate sentences which might allow me and others to see more clearly.

My questions are not about ‘the future of the Church’ but about the future of this man, that woman, the child not yet born. My obsession is not with doctrine, but with hope, not with politics but with life and what it may be. To conduct such a conversation would be very difficult, because it would be essential that the words used be of the utmost lightness, refusing the legalistic definitions usually imposed by the codes of journalism and the channels we use to say things.

This is where I believe the richness of Christianity remains vibrantly capable of speaking to the world. The word ‘Christ’ I would call a wordless word. It is a word that dissolves into the mystery it evokes. It takes us to that vanishing point and somehow suggests the possibility of accompaniment beyond. It names a man, but also defines the otherness which we know we belong to but cannot describe, and therefore risk dismissing. It names the Host who inhabits us, but also the Other towards Whom we walk in confidence and anticipation.

The word ‘Christ’ dissolves on the tongue. We can comprehend it in a literal, historical way, but we can also use it as a kind of rocket launcher, to take us elsewhere. It is a word capable of contradicting itself, as only a mystery can. But something strange has happened even to this word: Christ is capable still of animating our imaginations, of proposing a correspondence with our desires that has no equal in the world, and yet the very power of this hope is what causes it to be undermined because it so often seems that our skepticism — arising from our fear of hoping — is stronger, capable of destroying that which we sense can make us whole.

For me, then, the ‘outskirts of existence’ are to be found in each of us, at the extremities of what we think we know, and are able to speak — at that point where we are still able to state, in the most adequate words we can find, what we can say with clarity about what is and what might be. The trouble is that so few today feel equipped or emboldened enough to embark upon this journey, partly because we are incessantly told there is nothing to discover except darkness, and partly because our experience is that the words drag us into themselves, causing us to become lost in the literal and the concrete

There is, I believe, a way of going at these matters with words: to approach the use of words in a manner that will allow them to lift us off into the otherness beyond the literal and concrete, so that we leave all words behind. Any conversation about these matters must obviously bear this paradox in mind. In a sense, we speak words to take us to the vanishing point — to say what we are, what we believe, what we hope for — but then we continue, without words, into the wordless ether, free from everything, including our conventional selves.

So, I would like to go with you, to the very outskirts of human existence, to see what we can see, and see whether we can capture this in words. It is a difficult challenge, as I have outlined. But the very fact that we are aware of the difficulties may make them a little easier to overcome.

Yours in infinite curiosity,

John Waters

John Waters is an Irish writer and former journalist who was at the centre of his country’s cultural and political debate in the past 40 years of unprecedented onslaught on its culture and traditions. He is a playwright, songwriter and the author of 10 books, including two accounts of his efforts at spiritual survival in the encroaching secular tide, Lapsed Agnostic (2008) and Beyond Consolation (2010). His most recent book is Give Us Back the Bad Roads, an account of the unhinging of Ireland under the forces of cultural neo-colonialism (2018). He is a husband and father and lives between Dublin and the Wild West, where he was born.

The featured image shows, a portrait of Pope Francis.

Traditionis Custodes: Mistep Into Incomprehension

Incomprehension is what predominates when reading the motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter to the bishops. One does not understand the justification or the necessity of such a document, and all the more so because the Pope has legislated on the basis of an incomplete argument and false information.

The Incomplete Argument

To say that John Paul II’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei was motivated only by “an ecclesial reason to recompose the unity of the Church” is not accurate. Certainly, that was a major reason, but there was another reason omitted by Francis: “All the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended ‘harmony’ which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit” (Ecclesia Dei n. 5-a).

False Information

Pope Francis affirms that the generosity of John Paul II and Benedict XVI was used by the traditionalists to oppose the Mass of Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, by putting in danger the unity of the Church. He has thus said: “The opportunity offered by St. John Paul II, and with even greater magnanimity by Benedict XVI, to restore the unity of the ecclesial body, while respecting the various liturgical sensibilities, has been used to increase distances, to harden differences and to build oppositions that wound the Church and hinder her progress, exposing her to the risk of division…. But I am also saddened by the instrumental use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, which is increasingly characterized by a growing rejection, not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the unfounded and untenable claim that it has betrayed Tradition and the ‘true Church’…. It is increasingly evident in the words and attitudes of many that there is a close relationship between the choice of celebrations according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical books and the rejection of the Church and its institutions in the name of what they consider to be the ‘true Church.’ This is behavior that contradicts communion, feeding this impulse to divide.”

The very vocabulary used by Francis is that of the Society of St. Pius X. The “true Church!” No traditionalist, faithful to Rome, uses it! So, his statement is true if we limit ourselves to the Society of St. Pius X. But it is false if we apply it to the vast majority of the “Ecclesia Dei” movement; that there are cases that correspond to what the Pope says is true, but they are very much in the minority: why apply a collective punishment for the fault of a few? Would it not have been enough to crack down on those? Obviously, we do not live in the same world as the Pope or his advisors, because their world simply does not correspond to reality; they see it as a homogeneous world that is in fact that of the Society of Saint Pius X alone! Who is advising and enlightening the Pope on these matters?

Based on biased information about the real situation, it is made to appear that the Pope is responding to a demand that is only that of a small minority who have always been fiercely hostile to the Extraordinary Form.

The Pope’s Objective…

…and its predictable dramatic consequences: “It is to defend the unity of the Body of Christ that I am obliged to revoke the faculty granted by my predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of it is contrary to the reasons that led them to grant the freedom to celebrate Mass with the 1962 Missale Romanum.”

In wanting to defend unity, this motu proprio will bring misunderstanding, confusion, drama and finally stir up divisions instead of reducing them. It will achieve the opposite of its objective! In one stroke of the pen, it sweeps away 35 years of efforts by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to calm the situation and bring about a peace that is imperfect but real. Even the synthesis of the CEF, though not very benevolent towards the traditionalist world, recognized that Summorum Pontificum had led globally to a “calmed situation,” which our investigation has largely confirmed.

It will reawaken the liturgical war, exacerbate the resistance of the traditionalists, and, above all, lead to a number of departures towards the Society of Saint Pius X (which must be delighted with this motu proprio which will feed their troops and confirm what they have been repeating since 1988, namely that Rome cannot be trusted; thus confirming their refusal of any reconciliation) – all precisely what John Paul II and Benedict XVI had been able to avoid by their attention to this traditionalist world. This risks becoming an immense mess.

Let us add an important remark from a historical and psychological point of view. Paul VI was ready to make concessions on the Mass, if Archbishop Lefebvre had not rejected Vatican II (it was the famous declaration of November 21, 1974 against the “modernist Rome” of the Council that caused the problem). But John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood that liturgical appeasement was the necessary condition for the most reserved traditionalists to open up to the Council and assimilate it. By tightening the grip on the Mass, Francis will achieve the opposite result to the one legitimately sought.

Double Standards?

The tone of the motu proprio and of the letter is so harsh and severe against the Traditionalists that one cannot help but think that there is a double standard. While Francis insists so often on mercy, leniency, forgiveness – while he is so patient with the Church of Germany which is on the verge of schism – he, the common Father, does not show even a hint of love or understanding for those who are nevertheless a small part of his flock! In these documents, the traditionalists appear as harmful, who are just being tolerated in “Indian reservations,” until they fall into line; the stated objective being to make them disappear (without ever questioning whether they could bring something to the Church, in terms of youth, dynamism, vocations). Are there so many convinced practicing Catholics in the West that it is necessary to drastically limit a part of them?

Recent history has shown that despising and persecuting the Traditionalists in this way does not help them to evolve. On the contrary, it stirs up the resistance of the most hardened. They become more rigid; and this goes against the desired goal of promoting unity.

Let us pay tribute here to the French Bishops’ Conference for their communiqué of July 17, which shows esteem for the “traditionalists:” “They [the bishops] wish to express to the faithful, who usually celebrate according to the missal of Saint John XXIII and to their pastors, their vigilance, the esteem they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to pursue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”

Contempt For The Great Work Of Benedict XVI

These two documents of the pope turn, without any nuance for the work of reconciliation of John Paul II, and especially of Benedict XVI, starting from an analysis of the facts which is false, and proceed right up to cancelling the essential contribution of the pope emeritus who had distinguished the two ordinary and extraordinary forms of the same Roman rite. In so doing, the Pope also eliminates the legal existence of the former Extraordinary Form (as if it no longer existed), thus plunging the Church back into an endless liturgical dispute over the legal status of the Mass of St. Pius V. We return to the regime of tolerance according to more severe modalities than those of 1988, that of the “merciful parenthesis…” which is hardly merciful anymore! That is to say, a setback of more than thirty years by a single act of government.

What Strategy Of Rome Can We See In The Background?

The two documents of Francis show very clearly that the Pope wants to eradicate the Traditionalist world in the Church, to make sure that the Mass of St. Pius V disappears – everything is done to prevent this movement from growing (prohibition of any new group and an obstacle course for the diocesan priest who would like to celebrate with the old Ordo). Everything is being done so that in the long run the traditional Mass will be celebrated only in the Society of Saint Pius X and its satellites.

It seems, therefore, that the Pope’s strategy is to push the recalcitrant towards the Society of St. Pius X, so that the whole of the Traditionalist world will find itself there – they will thus be perfectly controlled and isolated in an “Indian reservation,” cut off from Rome and the dioceses, but with which a minimum link can be maintained in order to avoid a formal schism. This explains why the Pope no longer seeks reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, but shows great generosity towards them by recognizing the full validity of marriages and confessions, by encouraging them to be received in churches during pilgrimages, etc. All this is consistent – and the exact opposite of all the past efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI – for the unity of the Church.

Liturgical Exclusivism?

Is this motu proprio not an opportunity for those institutes that refuse to celebrate the ordinary form (which, let us specify, are in the minority within the “Ecclesia Dei” galaxy) to question themselves very seriously about the liturgical, theological and ecclesial validity of this refusal?

Since 1988, the popes have invited us not to refuse the very principle of the celebration of the new Ordo (it is true that the positions of the Ecclesia Dei Commission have fluctuated on the subject, and not helping to clarify it), which in no way takes away from the charism proper to these institutes for the old Mass. Benedict XVI was very explicit in his 2007 letter to the bishops and, in this regard, it must be noted that the lines have hardly moved since then. By obeying the Pope on this crucial point, would not these institutes demonstrate, by their very example, that Francis is wrong in his analysis?


All this is sad because it is unjust; and it is therefore legitimate to complain about it, to argue, to ask tirelessly for a reform of this motu proprio, or for the most flexible application of this text possible, while respecting the authority and the function of the Pope. The bishops will have an essential role to play. Everything will depend on the way they apply this motu proprio – the first reactions observed are encouraging, and I thank those bishops who are concerned for their entire flock.

It is also up to them to bring back to Rome more accurate information about who the traditionalists really are. Recent history has shown that they are not used to letting themselves be done for without reacting. Let’s hope that most of them do not fall back into a “resistance” that turns into revolt and open disobedience. The example not to be followed is that of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X; and we can see where that leads. It is hard to suffer for the Church, but it cannot fail to bear fruit.

Christophe Geffroy publishes the magazine, La Nef.

The featured image shows the Madonna of Misericordia, by Piero della Francesca, ca. 1460.

Traditionis Custodes: To Guard And Defend Tradition?

Did you notice that the Holy Father affirmed extra ecclesiam nulla salus at the same time he set about limiting and ultimately extinguishing the Traditional Latin Mass? In his Letter to the Bishops accompanying Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis wrote, “to remain in the Church not only ‘with the body’ but also ‘with the heart’ is a condition for salvation.”

The internal quoted material in that passage comes from an anti-Donatist work of Saint Augustine, which was itself quoted in the Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, chap. 2, par. 14): On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book V, chap. 28, par. 39 (the last paragraph of that linked page).

As good is it is to see an affirmation of the necessity of the Church for salvation, the larger context is disturbing:

“In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors [to offer the TLM]. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962. Because “liturgical celebrations are not private actions, but celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity”, [24] they must be carried out in communion with the Church. Vatican Council II, while it reaffirmed the external bonds of incorporation in the Church — the profession of faith, the sacraments, of communion — affirmed with St. Augustine that to remain in the Church not only “with the body” but also “with the heart” is a condition for salvation” [25].

Implicit in that passage is the terrifying notion that the Roman Church’s own liturgical tradition bears within it the seeds of schism. Such logic not only constitutes an unthinkable attack on the Church’s own sacred patrimony; it also affirms the argument of those who say that the new Mass of Paul VI is the lex orandi of an alien religion. And this in a document whose stated purpose is to build up ecclesial unity.

The former Cardinal Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, thinks that the use of the passage from Saint Augustine was inappropriately twisted for use in the Holy Father’s letter:

“The quotation from St. Augustine about membership in the Church “according to the body” and “according to the heart” (Lumen Gentium 14) refers to the full Church membership of the Catholic faith. It consists in the visible incorporation into the body of Christ (creedal, sacramental, ecclesiastical-hierarchical communion) as well as in the union of the heart, i.e. in the Holy Spirit. What this means, however, is not obedience to the pope and the bishops in the discipline of the sacraments [which is the meaning Pope Francis attaches to it in his letter], but sanctifying grace, which fully involves us in the invisible Church as communion with the Triune God” [explanatory bracketed comment mine].

Cardinal Mueller is not alone among bishops and cardinals in being openly critical of Pope Francis’ July 16 documents. He is joined by Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and the Dutch Bishop, Rob Mutsaerts.

Cardinal Burke asks and proceeds to answer a timely and important question regarding the authority of the Supreme Pontiff:

15. But can the Roman Pontiff juridically abrogate the UA? [Usus Antiquior (the more ancient use), which is what Cardinal Burke calls the TLM throughout his document –BAM] The fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) of the Roman Pontiff is the power necessary to defend and promote the doctrine and discipline of the Church. It is not “absolute power” which would include the power to change doctrine or to eradicate a liturgical discipline which has been alive in the Church since the time of Pope Gregory the Great and even earlier. The correct interpretation of Article 1 cannot be the denial that the UA is an ever-vital expression of “the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” Our Lord Who gave the wonderful gift of the UA will not permit it to be eradicated from the life of the Church.

The Dutch auxiliary bishop, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, agrees, but is more blunt:

“Pope Francis is now pretending that his motu proprio belongs to the organic development of the Church, which utterly contradicts the reality. By making the Latin Mass practically impossible, he finally breaks with the age-old liturgical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Liturgy is not a toy of popes; it is the heritage of the Church. The Old Mass is not about nostalgia or taste. The pope should be the guardian of Tradition; the pope is a gardener, not a manufacturer. Canon law is not merely a matter of positive law; there is also such a thing as natural law and divine law, and, moreover, there is such a thing as Tradition that cannot simply be brushed aside.”

Many argue in favor of the Traditional Latin Mass using Quo Primum. This is good, but let us go deeper and realize that what Pope Saint Pius V did in that document was not only positive legislation. It was the Pope using his power to guard and defend tradition, and that tradition which long preexists Quo Primum still stands even if a pope were to have the temerity to attempt an explicit abrogation of Pius V’s bull.

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

The featured image shows Pope Francis by Tony Rubino.

Josef Pieper On Prudence: The Mother Of Virtues

German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, had very much to say about the theological and moral virtues in a number of his writings. Of interest here are chapters in his 1964 collection of previously written studies, The Four Cardinal Virtues, wherein he organizes his material according to the schema of Saint Thomas Aquinas, viz., prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, assuring his readers that this order is not arbitrary, but logical — metaphysical, even.

That the first of the cardinal virtues is prudence is no accident, for it is the “mold” and “mother” of the other cardinal virtues, without which they would not be virtues.

This neglected and much undervalued virtue — Pieper considered it so even in 1959 (!), when he wrote the study on prudence — deserves to be thrust into our spiritual spotlight for at least two reasons: (1) aside from its own excellence and its necessity as a prerequisite to the other cardinal virtues, (2) it can assist us in assessing and countering the perverse and pervasive surrealism that we confront on a daily basis. But that surrealism itself, which obscures reality and is therefore a sort of “heresy against being,” must first be seen for what it is: an obstacle to prudence that must be removed so that we may become truly virtuous.

Regarding the historical artistic movement of surrealism, the source of my analogy, I will say only a few words. First, regarding the name itself:

Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality.

Here is Wikipedia’s general description of surrealism, giving also the revolutionary aims of its ideological partisans:

“Works of Surrealism feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. However, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost (for instance, of the “pure psychic automatism” Breton speaks of in the first Surrealist Manifesto), with the works themselves being secondary, i.e. artifacts of surrealist experimentation. Leader Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement. At the time, the movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism.”

André Breton was a communist who eventually became an anarchist — an ideologue of revolution. Here is his description of the “pure psychic automatism” mentioned above:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern” — First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).

This is “thinking” bereft of Logos, art bereft of aesthetics, expression bereft of morals. Simply put, it is revolutionary irrationalism which necessarily leads to immorality. Numerous of Breton’s surrealist fellows were explicitly and monstrously anti-Catholic. I have no intention here to issue a blanket condemnation of all artists who incorporated some surrealist elements in their work (though it is mighty tempting!). It is the irrational and revolutionary character of surrealism as a movement that interests me, deliberately juxtaposing as it does the real with the non-real in order to make a “super-reality.”

The oligarchs who are bringing us the current Dystopian Fantasy PSYOP (and so much more) are anti-Logos revolutionaries, too, and they are, in the name of an Orwellian New World Order, presenting us with an ugly and deceptive juxtaposition of the real and the non-real worthy of Salvador Dalí at his strangest. Here, though, the craft of our current surrealist practitioners is neither art nor letters nor cinema, but a careful and atmospheric perception management which has its hapless consumers convinced that it is indeed reality. Say what you will about Dalí, none of his connoisseurs mistook his melting watches for real time pieces.

Before citing some illuminating excerpts from Josef Pieper, let me “cut to the chase” and present my readers with the simple thesis of this Ad Rem: Because the perception of reality as it is (or “true-to-being” as Pieper has it) is required for prudence, and because prudence is required for the other moral virtues, the embrace of pervasive surrealist narratives (e.g., among many others, “follow the [pseudo-] science,” “gender [actually, sex] is a social construct and can be changed”) renders prudence impossible. In so doing, it also renders justice, fortitude, and temperance impossible. It follows that the failure of so many of our ecclesiastical and temporal leaders to see reality as it is, to decide and judge based upon a “true-to-being” memory, explains so much of what is currently wrong with the world.

In light of this, the moral imperative for the Church and for all souls of good will is to strive to see reality as it is and to practice true prudence so that we can be genuinely just, brave, and temperate, not only in a natural mode, but, as Christians, in a supernatural mode, aided by grace and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.

In the first chapter of The Four Cardinal Virtues, “The First of the Cardinal Virtues,” Dr. Pieper notes that contemporary ears (in 1959) will find it strange “that the virtue of prudence is the mold and ‘mother’ of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent” (p. 3). “Yet the fact is,” he insists, “that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues” (p. 3).

And what is this “ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”? It is Trinitarian:

“That structure is built thus: that Being precedes Truth, and that Truth precedes the Good. Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.”

By contrast, the modern conception of prudence strips it of its true nobility:

“To the contemporary mind, prudence seems less a prerequisite to goodness than an evasion of it. The statement that it is prudence which makes an action good strikes us as well-nigh ridiculous. … In colloquial use, prudence always carries the connotation of timorous, small-minded self-preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself. Neither of these traits is compatible with nobility; both are unworthy of the noble man.”

And because of this, “A ‘prudent’ man is thought to be one who avoids the embarrassing situation of having to be brave”. Worse, “To the contemporary mind, then, the concept of the good rather excludes than includes prudence.”

Dr. Pieper even laments the degradation suffered by Catholic moral theology on the subject (yes, in 1959): “At any rate, there is no doubt about the result: modern religious teachings have little or nothing to say about the place of prudence in the life or in the hierarchy of virtues.” Later, he has much to say in opposition to the exaggerated casuistry (a “science of sin”) that coincided with the eclipse of the authentic doctrine of prudence.

The great Occidental Christian view of man stands in stark contrast with these modern defects and excesses:

Classical Christian ethics, on the contrary, maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness; that there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust. Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens — All virtue is necessarily prudent.

In fact,

“Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all. For example, there may be a kind of instinctive governance of instinctual cravings; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the ‘virtue’ of temperance. Virtue is a ‘perfected ability’ of man as a spiritual person; and justice, fortitude, and temperance, as ‘abilities’ of the whole man, achieve their perfection only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions. Only by means of this perfected ability to make good choices are instinctive inclinations toward goodness exalted into the spiritual core of man’s decisions, from which truly human acts arise.”

Moral goodness is radically dependent upon prudence, for, “What is prudent and what is good are substantially one and the same; they differ only in their place in the logical succession of realization. For whatever is good must first have been prudent” (p. 7). And this radical dependence implies that there is a sort of mutual interpenetration of prudence and the other virtues: “Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action. Prudence works in all the virtues; and all virtue participates in prudence” (p. 8). “Thus,” Pieper continues,

“…prudence is cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues; it acts in all of them, perfecting them to their true nature; all participate in it, and by virtue of this participation they are virtues.”.

“Truth” is, as Saint Hilary of Poitiers said, “declarative being.” When we men accept the truths of the natural or supernatural order, we unite our minds with the divine Mind who is Being itself. Among the truths that declare their being to us are moral imperatives, the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots,” which are not arbitrary, but are accommodated to man’s reason. (I am here reminded that the Natural Law is, to Saint Thomas, “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” [ST I-II, Q. 91, A. 2], which is itself the product of the divine Mind.) Basing himself on Saint Thomas, Pieper declares that,

“All ten commandments of God pertain to the executio prudentiae, the realization in practice of prudence. Here is a statement that has become virtually incomprehensible to people of today. And every sin is opposed to prudence. Injustice, cowardice, intemperance are in direct opposition to the virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance; ultimately, however, through all these virtues, they run counter to prudence. Everyone who sins is imprudent.”

Pieper goes so far as to say that “the whole doctrine of prudence” is summed up in this “fundamental principle of Thomas Aquinas,” namely, “that ‘reason perfected in the cognition of truth’ shall inwardly shape and imprint [man’s] volition and action.” He hastens to add that the “reason” which is “perfected in the cognition of truth” is not exclusively unaided natural human reason, still less the unchristian pseudo-reason of the so-called Enlightenment, but a “regard for and openness to reality,” and an “acceptance of reality” — “both natural and supernatural reality.”

Therefore, truth, which we know to be the conformity of the mind to reality — to what is — is a necessary precondition for prudence and consequently for all virtue: “Certainly prudence is the standard of volition and action [that is, of willing and doing]; but the standard of prudence, on the other hand, is the ipsa res, the ‘thing itself,’ the objective reality of being.”

The passages from The Four Cardinal Virtues that I have cited so far all come from the book’s first chapter. I have not even gotten to Chapter Two, “Knowledge of Reality and the Realization of the Good.”

But this will not be our last adventure in prudence with Dr. Pieper as our guide. Already, though, we have enough material to support our thesis and show that the atmospheric and revolutionary “false narratives” which make for what I have here called a “perverse and pervasive surrealism” are all contraceptive of prudence and therefore of true virtue. Anything arising from such a defective grasp of reality is doomed to be more-or-less imprudent and therefore not virtuous in the true sense of any of the moral virtues.

Is it any wonder that things in Church and State are such as they are?

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

The featured image shows “Prudence,” by Piero del Pollaiolo, ca. 1469-1472.

Ancestors Of ‘Issa – Meaning Of History, Meaning Of Suffering

The Koran speaks of Moses (Moussa), and the Bible specifies his role in history. When Israel escaped from Pharaoh and left Egypt, God revealed Himself as the One who sees misery and who descends to deliver from the oppressor (Exodus 3, 7-8). He also summons to leave the idols produced by man and to leave occult systems that end up hiding the true God and enslaving people.

On Mount Sinai, Israel said, “Yes” (Exodus 19), and the people progressively came out of injustices, but also from magic (Exodus 22, 17-26). They stopped the sacrifices of infants and the prostitution linked to the magical rites of the Baals that the prophet Baruch qualified as a demonic cult (Baruch 4, 7). This new life was progressively organized in a kingdom, notably with King David (Daoud).

The Koran cites several biblical prophets, such as Nahum, Malachy, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Their era knew grave tribulations. The kingdom of Samaria fell in the hands of the Assyrians in the year 721 BC. There were to be no more victories to comfort believers; only interior signs henceforth were to guide man in his discernment of good and evil.

Jerusalem was burned in the year 598 BC. And God seemed to be silent. The prophets prayed. Were the people or their ancestors obliged to expiate a sin? This was the time to become more humble, infinitely more humble.

Maybe also the people had to live in exile to discover that God was greater than what they had understood up to now. Cyrus, the Persian, believed in one single and unique divinity, Ahura-Mazda, permitting him to peacefully centralize his empire and to unite philosophers and beliefs. But this was an abstract, impersonal divinity. The prophet Isaiah wasn’t impressed; rather, he acknowledged the idea of a unique God. But this God is the personal God revealed on Mount Sinai (Isaiah 44, 6).

One day the exiles came back to the land. The Temple was rebuilt. Some thought humbly that no one could pretend to understand the celestial light, not even the Sanhedrin, for sin too much clouded their hearts. There had to be a Temple for God not made by human hands, a celestial Temple, a new pardon, and then there would be light. “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence” (Isaiah 64, 1).

The prophet Daniel announces the coming of Al-Massih, a Messiah “Holy of Holies,” who resides where God resides. He is also “Prince-Messiah;” hence king, but a “massacred Messiah” (Dn 9, 24-26). His prophecy counts seventy weeks which are read according to the numerical customs of the ancient Orient. Thus, very probably, the weeks are counted as years (Dn 9, 24-25), then counted as months (Dn 9, 26), then as days (Dn 9, 27), with a sum of 70 years; that is to say, for a period that covers the life of Maryam and her son Al-Massih.

The sage reflects on the error of the impious who say: “For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected” (Wisdom 2, 18-20).

And the sage observes: “Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, or hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls /…/ but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom 2, 21-24).

Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.

The featured image shows the Virgin and Child, Mughal, circa 1580.

What A Piece Of Work Is A Man: Dostoevsky And Humanity

Your meeting with a book that became one of the most important books in life remains forever in your memory. And the writer who created that book becomes close to you, like family. Of course, this is not immediately understood, but only after the years go by. You return again and again in your memory to that day and hour when that cherished meeting took place. This happened with me when, as a student of the Urals University, I left the reading room all shaken after reading the novel, The Idiot. It seemed to me that my hair was standing on end, that my soul was as if struck, and it shook from the blow.

And so, from that same university winter, from age nineteen and for the rest of my life, the characters of Prince Myshkin, Nastasia Philippovna, Parfen Rogozhin, and others in that immortal novel entered into the very center of my heart. And later, throughout the course of my life did this novel and Dostoevsky’s fate call back to me, often determining turns in that course—at times even sharp turns.

This is what I want to tell you about today. Especially since we are in the “Year of Dostoevsky.”

Dostoevsky As A Herald Of Christ

After the second year of university, we students of the journalism school were sent for internships to the regional newspaper. I ended up in the town of Bogdanovich in Sverdlovsk province, at the newspaper called, “Flag of Victory”. I was supposed to write about the harvest, and how things stood with dairy yields. And after my ridiculous forays into the fields and dairy farms, my searches for people who were supposed to tell about the business (I could have gotten all this information over the telephone but I was “studying life”), barely alive because I either hitchhiked or used my own two feet, I flopped down on the dormitory bed to have at least a tiny rest. Then I rose early to write my reportage on the zealous work in the fields and farms.

And so, in the morning as I walked past the movie theater to the office, I saw an announcement for the film, “The Idiot”. I was stunned. All that day I only thought about getting to the theater as soon as possible to watch that film.

I watched it. And that same evening I set about writing my first review. I really regret that I didn’t save it. The editor stripped down my “creative torments” to mere notes. His conclusion was that it was “too long”. The newspaper was of a small format—culture and sports, weather, and all the rest that allowed it to pay for itself left but a small spot on the fourth column. Into that spot did they squeeze my ecstatic notes on the film. I’m sure that it must have looked crazy in that newspaper.

It was 1958; after all, the “thaw” had begun, and our dreams were swirling around something as yet unrecognized but definitely significant, and human—something pertaining not to the number of hectares of harvested wheat and rye, but to the life of the human soul.

I recall those notes because when I returned to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), I had something to talk with my brother about. At the time, Anatoly was studying in the acting studio at the drama theater. Of course he had read The Idiot, and we watched the film together, then discussed it vigorously. In the theater, the excellent theatrical production of The Insulted and Humiliated was on, with Boris Feodorovich Iyin, a “people’s artist of the USSR”, brilliantly playing the role of Prince Valkovsky. And the young hero, the writer Vanya, was played by our favorite actor Constantine Petrovich Maximov, Anatoly’s teacher. He knew about my brother’s passion (besides Dostoevsky, we were voraciously reading the poetry of the “Silver Age” and had even organized an “Evening of forgotten poets”).

That is why he confirmed in the role of Andrei Rublev the totally unknown provincial actor, Anatoly Solonytsin, against the opinion of the entire artistic council.

But why does Prince Myshkin touch us so deeply, even stun us with his character, his fate? Why does Feodor Dostoevsky’s hero so stir us, despite the eccentricity of his actions? One critic has aptly compared Dostoevsky’s prose with “congealed lava”. Yes, he writes in such a way that his words as if erupt from the crater of a volcano, flow rapidly down the slope, wiping out everything on their path, and then congeal before our eyes, in our souls. The “golden pens” of the Russian literati, such as Turgenev and Bunin, even accused Feodor Mikhailovich of chaotic and sloppy writing.

Yes, Dostoevsky’s prose really was “unpolished”, as the author himself has said. But that is what makes it so remarkable and unique—its force and impetus. His characters are taken into “borderline” situations, when the “major” issues of life, as the author put it, are in the balance—into man’s existence in general.

Can a person in such moments of life talk without “choking on his own words”, in separate phrases? Moreover his heroes get entangled, and the entanglement comes from the fact that Dostoevsky is not afraid to show man’s “duplicity”, digging down at times to the most hidden depths of the soul. That is why his heroes say one thing but mean something entirely different, twist their way out of it and lie, while Prince Myshkin’s openness and childlike ingenuousness exposes them.

Just as do the exceedingly bold and “reckless” acts of Nastasya Filippovna.

Recall how she throws the bundle of 100,000 rubles Rogozhin brought into burning fireplace. One researcher of Dostoevsky’s works figured out that 100,000 rubles in Dostoevsky’s time would equal over a million USD today.

In the 1960s, out of romanticism I left for Kaliningrad to get a job on the whaling ship, the “Yuri Dolgoruki”. Because I was considered “unreliable” and therefore not someone who could be let out of the country, they didn’t take me out to sea. But I wrote my first stories about sailors “ashore”, and published my first book, with which I was accepted into the Soviet Writers’ Union. This took place at a meeting of young authors of the Northwest in Leningrad. There I saw the famous stage presentation of “The Idiot” with Innokenty Smoktunovsky in the main role.

I am not the only one who was stunned by the show. All who saw how Smoktunovsky played his role understood that a miracle was happening before their eyes. His Myshkin was naïve like a child, open, defenseless—and at the same time protected by the truth of Christ the Savior. It could even be that the actor did not understand that he was embodying on the stage a blessed one, whom everyone around him took for an idiot. Nor did the theater understand this. Years later, just before his death, on a lengthy television program the actor related that he roused the entire theater against himself because he continued to shape the role differently from how everyone—from the chief director down—was telling him to do it. He did it according to his heart’s urgings. The show’s premier was scheduled for December 31. It was four hours long. G. Tovstonogov was prepared for a failure, and that is why the premier was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

For the first time in many years, the theater was half empty. But on January 1, news spread throughout Leningrad that in the Great Drama Theater a miracle had taken place. Then it became simply impossible to get a ticket. Because on that stage, for the first time in nearly century of godless rule, people saw authenticity of feeling, not human but divine truth, which shown in the actor’s eyes, in his inimitable intonation as he pronounced words about faith, love, and God. And the souls of all present in the theater opened up, empathized, wept, and laughed together with him.

Here is what Prince Myshkin says when Parfen Rogozhin asks him whether or not he believes in God:

“An hour ago, as I was returning to the hotel, I ran into peasant woman with her infant. The woman was still young, and the babe would have been about six weeks old. The child smiled at her, as she observed, for the first time since she was born. I looked, and the woman very, very piously, suddenly crossed herself. “What’s that, young lass?” I said (for I asked her about everything then). Well, she said it’s maternal joy for seeing her infant smile at her for the first time; for God has the same joy when He sees from heaven how a sinner starts praying to him with his whole heart for the first time. That is what the woman said to me in almost those exact words; and such a profound, such a subtle and truly religious thought, a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity is expressed in a moment; that is, the whole understanding of God as our own father… It’s a most important thought about Christ! A simple peasant woman!.. Listen, Parfen, you asked me just now and here is my answer: The essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit into any sort of discussion, any actions or crimes, any kind of atheism. Something is amiss there, and it will be that way for eternity. There is something on which atheism will forever slip up and miss the point. But the main thing is that you’ll most probably and clearly notice this “something” in the Russian heart—and that is my conclusion!”

When the show was over, for two or three minutes there was a sepulchral silence. Then the auditorium exploded in applause, shouts, and in such a pervading stormy ecstasy that’s hard to describe. This went on for twenty to thirty minutes. I was told that there were times when it lasted even longer. As the years passed, critics both in Russia and abroad (the presentation played also in London) understood that an event had taken place that was so huge, on a scale so significant that it’s hard to express in words. Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky stood before the people—alive, authentic, the man who is rightfully called a Russian genius.

The role of Prince Myshkin, I think, was the one for which actor Innokenty Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky was born. He played about a hundred roles in the movies. He acted in many good, even excellent theater productions. But none of them reached the heights of Prince Myshkin. The actor did not act, but lived on the stage the life, I repeat, of a man of God. He was also like that in real life—strange, and unfathomable for many. And in his best roles in both theater and film are heard those familiar intonations of Prince Myshkin—pauses, expressions of the eyes, gestures—of a man who is not of this world.

The [communist] party leadership also felt this, and that is why the performance was never videotaped. Only small snippets were saved for programs. Thank God, it was at least preserved on vinyl record disks, and a three-volume album was made available.

I still have my old “music center”, and favorite records. From time to time I listen to the recording of that amazing show, which during atheistic times told of a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of his love of God and people.

What did Feodor Dostoevsky write about in his immortal novel?

To Guess At The Mystery

In a letter to his brother Mikhail, the seventeen-year-old Dostoevsky wrote:

“Man is a mystery. It must be unraveled, and even if you’ve spent you whole life unraveling it, you can’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am occupied with this mystery, for I want to be a man.”

That is how the young Feodor determined the purposed of his life even before he’d written his first short story, Poor Folk, which Belinsky read and then exclaimed ecstatically, “A new Gogol has appeared!”

Feodor Mikhailovich felt with his heart his purpose in life. It is important to determine this purpose, or it would be better to say, calling, which is the meaning of your life. It is important not to betray it, but to walk what is often a thorny path, but a path that calls to you to follow the call of your soul. I don’t in any way want to compare the scope of the great writer’s gifts with those directors and actors who had the fortitude to play and produce the author’s works in theater and film. But the yearning to express in their creative work the hidden mystery that is embedded in his great novels, remains the cherished dream of many. This would include such film producers as Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky. After his films, “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Andrei Rublev”, which brought him international fame, he wrote an expansive proposal for the screening of “The Idiot.” An anniversary date was approaching—in 1981 it was proposed to have a grand celebration of the one hundred years since Dostoevsky’s death, and 160 years since his birth. Tarkovsky had the idea of filming a television series. In his diaries he wrote, “Solonitsyn would be ideal for the role of Dostoevsky.” In his proposal he determined that the author of the novel, i.e., Dostoevsky, should play the role of the narrator. This actor, Anatoly, was entrusted with the role of Lebedev—that very liar who swears his love for the “excellent prince” but at the same time writes an “exposé” about him. Myshkin was to be played by Alexander Kaidanovsky, and Nastasia Filipovna by Margarita Terekhova. My brother and I were transported when talked about the work ahead. Anatoly was even ready to have plastic surgery in order to look more like his favorite author.

“How are you going to play other roles if you undergo such surgery?” Tarkovsky asked him.

“Why would I need any other roles, if I’ve played Dostoevsky?” my brother answered.

The surgery never happened, because Tarkovsky’s proposal was rejected. But Anatoly would yet experience the happiness of embodying the great writer’s image on screen—albeit in a film of a completely different scale.

The film was called, “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevky”.

I’ll tell you in a little more detail why in that memorable time an amazing “coincidence”, as it would seem at first glance, took place.

Anatoly was forty-five years old—just like his hero when in 1866 he dictated the novel, The Gambler (to a stenographer). Like his hero, after a family catastrophe Anatoly had proposed to a girl who was half his age. Like his hero, Anatoly’s love was requited—and she transformed the entire rest of his life.

And hadn’t Anatoly also worked under similar circumstances?

“Well, the novel will have to be rushed by post-horses”, Feodor Mikhailovich said to Anna Grigorievna [his stenographer and future wife].

And the film was also shot as if by “post-horse”. Anatoly was under pressure to make a down payment on a cooperative apartment, and he was in debt up to his ears.

When I arrived in Moscow and met with my brother, I read the scenario and told him about all this.

He smiled, “Do you think they know about this? They hired me as a serious and reliable professional, and that’s all.”

But in fact they didn’t just “hire” him so simply. N. T. Sizov, director of Mosfilm at the time, summoned Anatoly and asked him to help the group of “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevsky”. “People’s Artist of the USSR” Oleg Borisov, who was playing the leading role, had just left the group. Half of the film had already been shot, but the creative formats of the director and the actor, different from the very beginning, had now irreversibly diverged. My brother could not bring himself to refuse the requests of the general director, who had shown both attention and care towards the actor, and of the producer, who had produced Anatoly’s favorite films from childhood on. Anatoly knew that the picture would be filmed under tough deadlines—a plan is a plan, and cinema is also a production line. But as an actor, Anatoly always needed time to “rev up”, time to take on his role. Anatoly was also dissatisfied with much of the screenplay. But after all, we’re talking about Dostoevsky!

“I don’t have enough time… You see, I’m living in a hotel across the street from Mosfilm. We’re punching two shifts in a row… It’s an endless race… You know, the only thing that seems not so bad to me so far … One scene… Where he’s with students, where Anna has taken him. He talks about hard labor in prison, and argues with the youths… And then he has an epileptic fit… Only don’t tell anyone this, understand? (He always began with these words whenever he wanted to tell me something important.) Do you understand, they started applauding. The entire group… That’s not acceptable in filmmaking, it’s sort of against the rules of decency. But they applauded, and Zarkhi didn’t criticize anyone for it. Then another double, and again applause. It’s stupid of course. The guys explained that they couldn’t help it. Well, there you are, I’m boasting… But even without the applause I feel that the scene was successful.”

But that very episode was cut from the film—it supposedly “didn’t reflect the writer’s character.”

Our bureaucrats “of art”, as if they had a mine detector in their hands, always find the very best scenes or pages in books, which they simply must “delete as extraneous”. And this applies not only to the past—even today these “mine detectors” are still in their hands for some reason.

Nevertheless, the film was successful not only in our own country but also on the international level. It represented our film industry at the thirty-first International Film Festival in Western Berlin. Here is what the papers wrote:

“Outstanding in the film was the role by Anatoly Solonitsyn. In conjunction with the sincere ingenuousness of Evgenia Simonova, it all together gives us a glimpse into the creative mystery of those literary works of genius, and into the character of a great man who inspired the whole world’s admiration… (Die Welt).

There is no point in comparing the performances of actors in films and plays in which they played the same roles. Different times determine differently both the position of the producers and, correspondingly, the role of the actors. But there are “breakthroughs”, when the performer of the leading role refuses to conform himself to the will of circumstances, producers, or even collective opinion, and does not waiver from the path leading to understanding a man’s mystery.

So it was with Innokenty Smoktunovsky, who wouldn’t heed the “vulgar” advice of famous actors and a no less famous director, as he expressed it in the foregoing story I’ve told you concerning the play, “The Idiot”. He walked a torturous path to the hidden mystery of the man whom Dostoevsky named, Prince Myshkin.

So also was it with Anatoly Solonitsyn, who against all circumstances, both mundane and creative, was able by force of his God-given talent to break through to the secret of that author, who lived and created to the glory of God.

Alexei Solonitsyn is a prominent Russian actor and film script-writer. This article appears courtesy of Pravoslavie.

The featured image shows a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, by Ilya Glazunov; painted in 1968.

Europe… Trampled To Death

More than forty years ago, historian Pierre Chaunu published a collection of articles written between 1983 and 1985, which recast a history of history. Half of it was religious history: “At the religious heart of Europe” is a book which first of all recalls the essentials – that there can be no theology of final ends without a philosophical introduction; that nothing is lost of our ancient knowledge; that it is prudent to introduce scientific data; and that the Christian tradition has no more to dread the exploration of the soul than that of the atom and the stars. And above all, that the Meaning of life is linked to life itself. The idea of a collapse of our industrial societies is from Pierre Chaunu. Collapse comes from biology; it is the sudden drop in strength with the slowing down of vital functions, causing an intermediate state between syncope and adynamia because of a decrease in the excitability of the brain. The collapse of Europe is now overwhelming. Almost half a century ago it was still prophetic.

Our flagging demographics is a work of demolition, undertaken more than fifty years ago, pursued hypocritically, and which today no longer bothers to hide itself. If you want to survive, you need children. However, the free assassination of fragile life beneath the veil of maternal flesh, organized by active minority interests, has only accelerated its pace and firmly taken the keys of the earthly kingdom: the media. The fertility of a billion men has fallen by half in twenty years. This should rejoice all those who today recite the catechism of the new ecology; that which wants to save the planet by sterilizing part of humanity and by manufacturing sterile transgender people and depravity. If everything stops at death, what is the use of transmitting culture and life: The demographic collapse finds its source in another collapse, which takes place between 65 and 69, when there no longer courses any hope beyond death nor the will to transmit life with reasons for living it… Those who then still profess a hope no longer know how to formulate it. The 1968 crisis was but one symptom of a crisis that affects life first and foremost.

Until the 1960s, the ultimate meaning of life was given by the Church. The sundering immediately followed the Second Vatican Council. The “collapse” was dizzying. The tumbling of empty boxes (Sunday obligation, confession, extreme unction) was nothing; the very content had vanished. We look for meaning in vain today in the mush of Sunday homilies. The concrete reality of the paschal message is no longer the “truly resurrected,” but the entry into politics, or officialized humanitarianism whose diaconia convey the sickly message of charity.

The current poverty of the conclusions proposed at the end of the meetings of the CEF (Conference of Bishops of France) was inaugurated during this period, with the comical thought of making the Industrial Revolution a success at the Ecumenical Council of Churches and at the Council – to advance the Popularum Progressio when the ship had already sailed for the churches. The elementary course in worker sociology, silent on the objective horrors of the Gulags, purred in place of the resounding announcement of the words of Eternal Life. Today, the elementary course focuses on the sociology of Islam. There were two paths, two revelations: The rejection of Apologetics and the betrayal of exegesis. Renouncing the making straight of the paths of the Lord is today’s apostasy, of which Pope Francis’ Laudato Si reflects the total flattening of Bereshit bara elohim, (In the Beginning, God created). For half a century, the so-called religious press has been indifferent to religious content – the magazines, la Croix, la Vie, le Pèlerin have only disseminated the washed-out salt of the new Church that Pope Francis wants to promote with the insipid message that says nothing we do not already know. The desire to believe in survival is powerful; today the belief in another life is reborn under the Eastern model of transmigration.

And Islam offers disoriented women a spiritual incarceration that seems preferable to the perverse, perverted and perverting ethical model of Europe, drunk on its own pseudo-values. The fall in fertility has been accompanied by a breakdown of our education systems. With half the number of children, we want to educate them better – we do not educate them at all. In its broad sense, culture includes everything that is not genetic. Pierre-Paul Grassé liked to recall that we have two memories – a genetic engineering which builds our biological being in an environment, and a cultural memory; and a culture that had to be reprogrammed with each generation, in a variable social environment, organized by a cultural base in which the great founding texts of Europe still played their role. The Koran was not yet part of it.

In 1983, the figures were already known, and appeared in the book by Jean Stoetzel, Les valeurs du temps présent (The Values of Present Times). It was a Europe-wide survey – 300 elegant pages of an illustrated essay, with 63 summary tables and 70 graphs. In this book (the forgetting of which makes the neglect of a Parisian and Salonarde intellectual even more disconcerting) the age variable was underlined. Barring a miracle, said Pierre Chaunu, who had read a lot, and good books at that, in 1986, “the industrial world, in fifty years, will simply be trampled to death.” And here we are. All the ingredients were already there; and he listed them without pity: “Electoral cuisine buttered with pardons, socialism adorning its dear petty criminals, abortions and sterilizations in place of nurseries are nothing but erysipelas, pustules and the insensible plaques of a new leprosy.”

Since 1944, polls have shown that intolerance is politically on the left, and that it is spiritually detached from any positive religious tradition. Until 1965, strong pressure from communist ideas, the sexual revolution, the contraceptive crusade and Third World pacifism crippled American resistance in Vietnam and paved the way for the Khmer genocide. Cambodia still has not recovered from this horror. China is now turning Cambodia into a Las Vegas for its greedy, money-obsessed rich elite. NGOs, especially Anglo-Saxon, abound, more numerous than the mosques in Wahhabi-land.

To have large numbers of children, you need a certain generosity; you have to consider that the child is an asset, and not an element in a program between the car and the house. French socialism nurtures a conception of small civil servants, that of National Education in particular. The anti-natalist ideology is linked to this conception of the world, seen by these small, secure officials who emphasize this security and who are afraid of everything; of risk, of initiative, of free decision, and therefore of life. And for some, more and more numerous, the hatred of this Love took on the face of God on the cross, and which is liberating. The brutal refusal of marriage came from the flattened, foggy and boring societies of the North. Sweden was the first to no longer replace its population. Everyone recently praised its policy of welcoming immigrants… It has just brought that to a screeching halt.

In the 1980s, the best among us were silent – Jean Carmignac, Rémy Chauvin, Claude Tresmontant. We managed to make believe that Jérôme Lejeune, the greatest French geneticist of the time, was nothing but a vulgar doctor who defended the freedom of women to dispose of their wombs. If he had not had the insolence to break the taboo of denouncing premeditated infanticide in utero and the compulsory contribution of all of us in the financing of our self-genocide, a Nobel Prize would have been his reward. We are thinking of canonizing him, if the thugs in cassocks, who rule inside the Church itself, do not stand in the way.

The great asylum of old people, of the non-retransmission of life, is not the asylum of quiet death. Rather, this is where we are at: “Even before eliciting a penetration, invoking an alien invasion, aging creates from within a pretty little hell of Intolerance, resentment and bitterness.” For once, the historian was almost wrong. Almost. This little hell is not that of old age, too tired to hate, but that of youth, that of immigration, and that other, that which only knows how to pour out its shamelessness and its vulgarity, both ordinary and extraordinary, that which has been deprived of culture, which hardly knows how to present itself and which will soon have for language only a dialect of brutes. To communicate, you have to have something to say and to share.

There is no conspiracy. There is only a slow infiltration, the effects of which accumulate and which a combination of circumstances transmutes into a critical mass of transformation. The foreign invasion is here today. And their Tradition, to these men of Islam, is but an inconsistent counterfeit of the Old Testament. The Koran is just a jumble where, here and there, the distorted but still recognizable remains of figures from the Bible float like the wreckage of a ship, with one end of the mast still visible – the figure of Abraham.

Demography is a science whose origins are lost in the mists of time, but it is a science that has long been French and one of the few that continues to speak and write in French. Counting men and counting the things men need is a political act. We must count the living, and we must also count the dead. For the living and the dead will be resurrected in the promised great day of the Resurrection. Demography is a simple science which requires a triple culture: You have to be a good mathematician, doctor, sociologist-psychologist. Alfred Sauvy embraced all three. But who still knows his name? For millennia, until the 18th century, the variable was mortality.

Then the variable became fertility. Statistics was the complementary science. Today it is no more than an instrument of propaganda, in the hands of a power which organized infamy, the collective murder of life under the veil of maternal flesh, and which now organizes the placing under the veil of maternal flesh, the guardianship of populations. The concrete wall around living and free human speech is reinforced. The new watchdogs are increasingly violent, and it is they who hate – they hate the woman who bears the child, born from an act of communication and a promise of fidelity; they hate intelligence supported by the courage of truth; and finally, they hate life and the culture that bore it, along with Tradition gathered in writing.

Fifty years ago, we had three blocks: The rich and creative part of the industrial world in full collapse, and the disorderly and chaotic ebb of third world countries. There was only one bulwark of resistance: The still controlled bloc of Islam. It was already enough to figiure things out in 1984. Around the Mediterranean, with the Latin group (France, Italy, Federal Republic of Germany, Portugal and Greece) we reached 169 million. On the orher, 167 million. But more than 40% under twenty. Which meant that in 2020, the number of young people on the southern slope was five times higher than on the north. And that the reduced and old population would be 30% on-assimilated population of foreign, Muslim origin. The Marangé report already pointed out the refusal to assimilate and integrate these new immigrants.

Those who still arrive are simply not assimilable. They come from archaic, violent societies that are not equipped to understand our structures, not even our structures of receptivity. This anomic violence, sociology had already analyzed thirty years ago.

In 1984, the number one demographic problem was suicide in the industrialized world. But then we got new information: The resurgence of mortality in Third World countries – from illness; not from hunger. One reason for this redeployment of disease – the sanitary systems, that aging indigenous infrastructure in the former metropolises. Prophylactic systems collapsed in entire sections. It was then that the sterilization process was launched for Third World countries – a rocket launched by interventionist technocrats and their vision of little retirees. It was the fear of others that secretly guided the contraceptive revolution. We were afraid of the demographic explosion in the Third World; so, we made a magnificent machine to counter it. That machine has now reached the West. We could have corrected things with a third child policy. We did not. The socialist system continues to pay 20% for the child who lives and gives 80% to kill him, with the encouragement of all the press, under orders.

The threat is not covid 19 – it is senility in the West, and major epidemics in the Third World. The current pseudo-pandemic is just a tree that hides the forest of the West’s doom and devastating diseases, because colonization happened too quickly and badly. Where we die of hunger, it is because there is no civil peace with its benefits. And you only have to open a map of the world to see that more often than not, these are wars waged by the new Islamic order that claims to impose Muhammad’s law on the whole planet. Howl, fir-trees. Cry, fountains. Weep too, women who will bear children, alienated girls in a world without pity for them and which destines them to be but wombs.

Sad observation of the collapse, which we could foresee for more than thirty years. Perhaps it will be useful to wake up a few of the dying, just in time for them to ask forgiveness for the genocide of Europe, in which they were complicit through their denial of reality and their proud “conservative” or “progressive foolishness.” But there will be a small remnant who will learn French as we learned Latin or Greek. There will also be a little remnant to understand and put into practice the teaching of Jesus. We are going to experience the sadness of barbaric violence, the horror of a robotic humanity, the mass murders. In the midst of this near future of the victories of hell, the light of Easter will shine invincibly, because barbarians or artificial intelligence will neither see nor suspect its existence, so much is it of a different nature than their darkness.

The Christian is an agnostic who has been taken by the hand – this is called Grace. The Church still needs to rediscover the memory of her true vocation – to raise up men and women capable of taking by the hand those who no longer see anything but the funereal horizon that they have been designated as their only future, and a future without a future – and to show them the sky. An open sky where angels ascend and descend.

Yes, the angels ascend and descend above the sleeping Jacob. He is offered his Creator to embrace. Let us in our turn opt for the One who said, “I, I am the light of the world” – אנא אנא נוהרה דעלמא.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. [Translated from the French by N. Dass.].

The featured image shows, “Zola leaving the courtroom,” by Henry de Groux; painted 1898.