The End of the Christian Caucasus?

The fact is little known outside a few specialists: a large part of the territory of today’s Azerbaijan corresponds to the borders of an ancient Christianized kingdom (probably as early as the 2nd century) known as Caucasian Albania (or Alwania). It disappeared in the 8th century, partly as a result of the Muslim conquest, and partly under pressure from its large Armenian neighbor.

The coveted Karabakh (known as Artsakh) is one of the regions of this small kingdom attested by Greco-Latin and Armenian historiographical sources.

The discovery of an Albanian lectionary in 1975 at the Sinai monastery suggests the early Christianization of Albania, with links to Jerusalem, where Albanian communities financed the construction of several churches. The discovery was not widely publicized, but is well recounted by Bernard Outtier.

While this vanished Christianity is of no interest to the Christian or Catholic world, the Turks are particularly well-informed about the history of the Albanians of the Caucasus (the Baku school of history), and they are today exploiting this knowledge admirably to support their claim to Nagorno-Karabakh and assert their legitimacy over this territory, which they regard as a “proto-Azerbaijan.”

In February 2022, AZERTAC (Azerbaijan’s State Information Agency) posted an article by Mr. Rahman Mustafayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Holy See: ” Les racines chrétiennes du Caucase. L’histoire de l’Église d’Azerbaïdjan [“The Christian Roots of the Caucasus. The history of the Church of Azerbaijan”]. In it, the author begins by tracing the main lines of the history of this small kingdom, which was Christianized very early on, a Church that, if not apostolic, was at least closely linked to the chain of the first disciples. And what he traces is consistent not only with what academic research has elaborated, but also with extant traditions, often oral.

The problem lies in the Azeri account of recent history: “At the beginning of the 19th century, following the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars, won by the Russian Empire, the process of settlement of Armenians from the Ottoman and Persian Empires began on the territory of the Karabakh, Erivan and Nakhchivan Khanates of the Russian Empire.”

All these territories were Armenian long before the Muslim occupation. It is not a question of “appropriating” Muslim territories, but of reappropriating the land from which they have been dispossessed, and this of course involves major human problems on both sides.

Assuming that the Armenians had to familiarize themselves with an Albanian architectural heritage and that they restored and renovated the monuments by introducing elements of Armenian architecture “that are not characteristic of Albanian architecture,” why is this scandalous? The two architectures, while not twins, are very similar. To claim that the Armenian epigraphy on medieval Albanian monuments constitutes the beginning of a process of “Armenization” is quite absurd, because the “Albanian” community has practically disappeared today. What remains is a “Udi” church, and a few speakers of the Udi language, which researchers admit is the heir to the Albanian language. In April 1836, the Tsarist government had abolished the Autocephalous Church of Albania, which was then subordinate to the Armenian Gregorian Church, according to the ambassador, in order to strengthen the position of the Armenian population and clergy in the Muslim territories of Transcaucasia. This may well be the case, and it was undoubtedly a pity for the little Albanian church. But it was also a political act. Since 2003, this small Albanian church has once again become autocephalous.

The extravagance of Azerbaijan’s accusations is astounding. If we are to believe their allegations, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian Gregorian Church—with the authorization of the Russian Holy Synod—destroyed all traces of the archives of the Albanian Church, as well as the library of the Patriarchs of Albania in Gandjasar, which contained the most precious historical documents, as well as the originals of Albanian literature. The destruction (or concealment) of archives would thus have enabled Armenian historians and archaeologists to deny the autocephalous nature of the Albanian Church, the Albanian ownership of the Christian temples (?), monasteries and churches located on the territory of today’s Karabagh region, and to claim that they are the cultural heritage of the Armenian people and the property of the Armenian Church.

Today’s Albanian heritage obviously belongs to the Church of Armenia, not to the Muslim Azeris. To believe that the Azeri state has set up the great dome of secularism to give all churches their place in the country is to be naive or totally ignorant.

It is true that in the 8th century, Chalcedonian Albania was pressured by its large and prestigious neighbor to submit to Armenia’s anti-Chalcedonian choice. And after the conquest of the Caucasus by the armies of Islam, while Georgia emerged as a regional power and Armenia survived as a Christian power, Albania disappeared, at least politically. This is a matter for historical research. It is delicate because Albanian history is known mainly through Armenian historiography, and since history shows that spiritual and theological divisions were reflected in relations between states and kingdoms, religious theological conflicts were unfavorable to the small Albanian kingdom.

When the ambassador to the Holy See rejoices at “the liberation of Karabakh after 30 years of occupation,” and asserts that a new stage is beginning, so that “the Christian churches are returning to their masters, to the Albanian-Sudinian Christian community of Azerbaijan,” he is mocking us. The Albanian-Azerbaijani community is a mere pittance located in three cities in Azerbaijan (not even Baku). Are they naive enough to believe that their heritage will be restored to them under a Muslim regime? We are not. We have been searching the web in vain for images of the Albanian community so highly praised by the Azeris.

The tourist guides tell us: the Artsakh Ministry of Culture has restored the conventual buildings of the Gandjasar monastery, a major center for the copying of illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages, and has set up a Matenadaran (Yerevan’s BNF, albeit on a more modest scale) with the same functions: to exhibit the manuscripts created on Artsakh soil, some 100 of which are housed in the Matenadaran.

Vatican News has relayed Pope Francis’ call to protect the spiritual and architectural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh. Here is what it says, written by Delphine Allaire:

“Nagorno-Karabakh’s millennia-old spiritual heritage makes it the cradle of Armenia. This pivotal region contains hundreds of churches, monasteries and tombstones dating from the 11th to the 19th century. Being mountainous, it was not evangelized at the same time as Armenia. However, Christianity in Nagorno-Karabakh is mainly because of the action of King Vatchagan the Pious who came to the throne in 484. He spread the cult of saintly relics, and the region owes him the construction of Karabakh’s oldest religious monument, the mausoleum of Grigoris, grandson of Saint Gregory the Illuminator and Catholicos of Albania in the Caucasus. Today, this monument is the Amaras monastery in eastern Artsakh. The history of Armenia and Caucasian Albania has been linked since the Christianization of the two countries in the early 4th century.”

This calls for a few comments.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient region of Caucasian Albania, and thus the cradle of the Christian Albanians. But of these Albanians, only a tiny community remains: the Udi, whose language is that of the ancient Albanians, but whose writing has been lost. Thus, there is nothing wrong about this, and it is no falsification to claim it as the historical cradle of medieval Armenia, once the Albanian kingdom had disappeared.

At the beginning of January 2022, journalist Anastasia Lavrina (in the pay of the Azerbaijani government) carried out a curious investigation in Karabakh into “how the Christian churches of Karabakh were destroyed by Armenian separatists,” which was published on the website of the Journal musulmans en France a few days later. An impressive video shows the alleged exactions of the Armenians, as well as the testimony of an Orthodox priest from Baku on the freedom of worship enjoyed by the churches and the repair of this fabulous ancient heritage of which they are so proud. The images only show a priest commenting on all this in front of a small pile of old stones.

The same Journal des musulmans de France plagiarized Ambassador Mustafayev’s text to proclaim the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh: “A new stage… in the history of Christian churches in Azerbaijan—a stage of restoration after destruction and historical falsifications, a stage of healing wounds, of rebirth to life in the name of peace and cooperation between all religions of Azerbaijan.”

Who can believe that Azerbaijan will finance the restoration of Armenian heritage once it has emptied the country of all Armenians? We know the devastating rage of Islam. Mosques will cover the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, erasing Christian memory and the religious roots of humanity, just as Turkey did in two bloody genocides.

But there is a lesson to be learned from all this propaganda, and it is an important one: Muslims have admitted the existence of a very old Albanian Christianity, old enough to confirm a very old, apostolic first evangelization, which Eastern tradition has maintained to the last.

Over and above this ancient history and the existence of a third Christianity in the Caucasus (totally ignored by the Caucasologists of our French media), most articles specializing in Caucasus affairs never cease to evoke “ethnic” or “racial” hatreds, and never mention “religious hatreds.” This ignores the Armenian genocide, which has been documented, even if not recognized by the nation historically responsible for it.

Almost all the articles available do not go beyond 1993, the supposed start of hostilities between Azeris and Armenians.

This silence is irresponsible, not to say guilty.

The question of Nagorno-Karabakh is an old one, whose seeds of death were sown by the British when they awarded Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1919. Stalin merely ratified their decision.

At the end of 1918, Great Britain moved into the Caucasus. Through diplomacy, it made up for the few material resources it had in this “turbulent” region, as the experts put it. The cunning, deceitfulness, cynicism and well-understood self-interest of this England of the dying empire are well known. Her own, of course. The pretext invoked by the most imperialist circles in London to justify this presence in the Caucasus is that it was one of the roads into India. In reality, it is because of Baku’s oil. During British rule in 1919, Azerbaijan still had access to the oil that crossed Georgia to the port of Batumi (promised to Georgia, but occupied by the British). As for Armenia, it had been promised vast territories in Anatolia. But without the means to conquer or hold on to them. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees were crammed into a tiny territory. Of what was then called “Turkish Armenia,” only one vilayet remained, that of Sivas, and only a handful of Armenians.

For Turkey, the Batumi treaties were nothing more than legal façades providing a pretext for invading the Caucasus. At the beginning of August 1918, Nuri Pacha demanded the annexation of Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The Armenian Republic refused. Once. Then a second time. The Turks then sent a Turkish-Azeri detachment against the capital, Shushi, which the Turks entered on October 8. The villages went into sedition, and the following month, taking advantage of their withdrawal, the Armenians regained control of the region.

In October 1918, Enver Pasha sent precise instructions to the Army of the Caucasus for the regions between the Transcaucasian republics and the line of retreat of the Turkish forces. Before withdrawing, the army was to arm the Kurdish and Turkish populations, leaving behind officers capable of organizing the region politically and militarily. The main objective was to prevent the repatriation of Armenians.

The commander-in-chief of British forces in the Caucasus, General William Montgomerie Thomson, was on the best of terms with the Azerbaijani government, which enabled Great Britain to obtain very large quantities of oil. On January 15, 1919, he authorized the appointment of an Azeri governor for the provinces of Karabakh (165,000 Armenians vs. 59,000 Azeris) and Zanguezur (101,000 Armenians vs. 120,000 Azeris).

In February 2019, the Azerbaijani administration entered Karabakh under British protection, while the Armenians held their fourth assembly in Shushi, which still refused to submit. Talks continued at the fifth assembly, held at the end of April with the participation of the Azeri governor and General Digby Shuttleworth, Thomson’s successor.

Armenian refusal persisted, and relations soured. On June 2, the Azeris attacked.

In August 1919, the Armenians accepted Azeri authority. Did they have any other choice?

On January 8, 1920, the Armenians signed an agreement with Major General George Forestier-Walker, commander of British forces in Batumi, for the establishment of an Armenian civil administration in Kars. When it arrived, escorted by the British, the Muslims refused to submit and, at the end of a large congress, proclaimed the provisional national government of the south-west Caucasus. General Thomson arrived in Kars and de facto recognized this government, while the Armenian administration turned back. With the Turks and Kurds making it impossible to repatriate Armenians to the west, the Armenians decided in January to attack Nakhichevan.

Thomson offered to help the Armenians take control of Kars and Nakhichevan, if they agreed to cede Karabakh and Zanguezur to the Azeris. Following an agreement in principle, Thomson occupied Kars on April 13 and dissolved the South-West Caucasus government. The British withdrew from Nakhichevan, leaving the administration to the Armenians. In July, the Muslims of Nakhichevan attacked the Armenians and forced them to evacuate the district.

When Colonel Alfred Rawlinson visited the Kars region in July, he found that, apart from the towns, the rest of the territory was held by the Kurds, from the Aras valley to Oltu and Ardahan.

What about the French? They knew, of course.

On December 10, 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre-Auguste Chardigny, commander of the French detachment in the Caucasus, sent a six-page letter to the Minister of War, in which he outlined the situation in the Caucasus and the proposed organization of the country.

He pointed out that “recent attempts at Russian colonization have produced a complete mixture of races and an incredible dispersion of populations,” and asked whether the organization of the Caucasus into four independent republics, “following the collapse of Russian power and the threat of Turkish invasion, is likely to provide the populations with the peace and prosperity to which they aspire?”

This is no rhetorical question. Here is the answer in extenso.

What is this organization?

1. It is none other than the realization of our enemies’ plan, which can be summed up as follows:

a) Constitution of a large Muslim state in the Caucasus, uniting under Turkish protectorate the highlanders of the North Caucasus and the Tatars of Azerbaijan. This concept, of purely pan-Islamic origin, would have brought the Crescent to the edge of the Caspian Sea in the event of victory for the allied powers. The Republic of Armenia, born of necessity and reduced to infinite proportions, would have been short-lived, the disappearance of what remained of the Armenian people being the direct and fatal consequence of the Turkish plan.

b) Creation of an independent Georgia, under the protectorate of Germany, which would itself be responsible for exploiting the natural wealth of the most favored region in the Caucasus.

2. That none of the four new republics had sufficient resources to create an independent life for themselves, ensuring the country’s future development. Two of them, that of Azerbaijan and that of the Montagnards, do not even have an educated class large enough to ensure the direction of affairs, the mass of the people having so far remained in a state of profound ignorance.

In a note, the lieutenant-colonel pointed out that while in Georgia all Russian civil servants had been replaced by Georgians, in Azerbaijan, given the absolute lack of educated Muslims, Russian civil servants had been retained.

…Georgians and Tatars (Azerbaijanis), supported by German and Turkish bayonets, incorporated parts of the Armenian regions into their respective territories.

Lieutenant-Colonel Chardigny concluded with a novel and intelligent proposal: that the Swiss model should be copied in the Caucasus and the region organized into “cantons.”

And he concluded, with a certain realism, that to save order in this country, a foreign master was needed, who could only be the Allies, acting in the name of Russia, until calm had been restored.

He concluded this intelligent letter with the fate of Russian Armenia (Caucasian Armenia) and that of Turkish Armenia, “a devastated and deserted country whose reconstitution would be a long-term task.”

The constitution of a large Muslim state in the Caucasus, uniting under Turkish protectorate the highlanders of the North Caucasus and the Tatars of Azerbaijan, is still on the agenda.

This is President Erdogan’s project.

The “fourth republic” of the North Caucasus did not last, but there is still Azerbaijan, a Turkish protectorate (or satellite) that takes the Crescent all the way to the Caspian.

The great Muslim state of the Caucasus, in a Turkish-speaking zone stretching from the Bosphorus to Central Asia: that is Turkey’s geopolitical vision.

Erdogan is moving forward, barely masked, with the same determination of his great predecessors, the gravediggers of the Christian Caucasus who did most of the work, with the duplicitous complicity of the Entente powers.

Today, France’s absurd support for Ukraine and the press’ aversion to Putin have foolishly deprived it of Russian gas. Today, it is turning to Azerbaijan (Baku) to obtain, in an unnatural alliance, what it could have continued to negotiate if it had chosen realism and common sense: to leave Zelenski to his destructive madness and demented plans; to turn away from a war decided and willed by NATO; to develop ties with Christian Russia prepared by three centuries of political, cultural and linguistic history.

Today, the gravediggers of the Christian Caucasus are still there, slyly preparing the ruin of the small Armenian state, an unfortunate landlocked state which today lies on the route of tomorrow’s oil pipelines.
And by the same token, irresponsibly organizing a future Muslim Caucasus.


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. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.


Featured: Albanian Church in Kish, Shaki Rayon, Azerbaijan.


Practical Policies for a Distributist Economy

Part One.

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

The Question of Government Intervention

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

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

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

Countering Capital Concentration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two

Directly Distributing Capital

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding the Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Denying the Spirit of the Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us examine the terms of the confrontation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The Practice of the Presence of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

First Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters

Introduction

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

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

First Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Letter

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Letter

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

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

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

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

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

Sixth Letter

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh Letter

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

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

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

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

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

Eighth Letter

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

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

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

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

Ninth Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenth Letter

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

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

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

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

Eleventh Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twelfth Letter

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

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

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

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

Thirteenth Letter

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

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

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

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

Fourteenth Letter

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

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

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

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

Fifteenth Letter

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

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

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

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

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


Brother Lawrence died peacefully within days of this last letter.


Overcome Evil by Doing Good

Drawing on the Book of Proverbs, St. Paul offers a simple admonition to his readers:

“…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)

He then adds:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It is a very simple statement. However, when anyone begins to suggest what that might look like, critics quickly begin to offer egregious examples that would ask us to bear the unbearable, with the inevitable conclusion: “Kill your enemies.” What is suggested, in effect, is that Christians should respond in the same way as any tyrant would, only a little less so. “Kill your enemies, but not so much.” (I use the term “kill” in this example only as the most extreme form of violence). A question: What is it about the Kingdom of God that gave Christ and the Apostles such a confidence in its non-violence?

Consider these verses:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (Jn. 18:36)

And

“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Lk. 22:38)

And

“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52)

There is something of a mystery in Christ’s instruction to buy a sword. Many consider it simply a metaphorical way of saying that troubles are coming. Indeed, one of those two swords is drawn and does terrible damage to a man when Christ is arrested, earning a rebuke. I have always wondered if Peter (the one who wielded the sword) thought to himself, “But I thought He said bring a sword!” As it is, Christ restored and healed the ear of the injured man.

The key, I think, is found in Christ’s statement to Pilate that His Kingdom is not “of” this world. That does not mean that the Kingdom is located somewhere else. Rather, it means that His Kingdom’s source is not found within the things of this world. It is a sovereign act of God. As such, its reality is independent of our actions and will. There is nothing in the Kingdom of God that requires our swords (or even our words). It is heaven-breaking-into-our-world. It is unassailable.

This is the faith of the martyrs. The long history of the Church’s faithful who have gone to their deaths include many stories of terrible persecutions and tortures. They also include an abiding witness to an abiding sense that everything being done to them somehow misses the point. When Christ stood before Pilate, He was threatened with the might and power of Rome. “Don’t you know I have the power to release you or to kill you?” Human beings have no power over God. The Kingdom of God willingly enters into the suffering of this world, willingly bears shame, willingly embraces the weakness of the Cross. The martyrs acted as they did because their lives were not of this world. Christians should not live in this world thinking about a world somewhere else (heaven). Rather, Christians themselves are heaven in this world. It is that reality to which we bear witness (martyr means “witness”).

Modern nation states came into existence slowly, as one of the consequences of the Reformation. Some, like England, had a head start, inasmuch as it was partially defined by its shoreline. But most, like France and Germany, evolved more slowly. We imagine today’s modern states as though they were defined by blood and language. However, that is a fantasy, little older then the 19th century. Nationalism, sadly, was one of a number of romantic movements that served to replace the common life of the Church with romantic notions of lesser, tribal belongings.

The patriotic mythologies that came into existence together with modernity’s nationalisms are siren songs that seek to create loyalties that are essentially religious in nature. World War I, in the early 20th century, was deeply revealing of the 19th century’s false ideologies. There, in the fields of France, European Christians killed one another by the millions in the name of entities that, in some cases, had existed for less than 50 years (Germany was born, more or less, in 1871). The end of that war did nothing, apparently, to awaken Christians to the madness that had been born in their midst.

I have noted, through the years, that the patriotism that inhabits the thoughts of many is a deeply protected notion, treated as a virtue in many circles. This often gives it an unexamined character, a set of feelings that do not come under scrutiny. Of course, there are other nation-based feelings and narratives, some of which are highly reactive to patriotism though they are driven as much by the passions and their own mythology. These are the sorts of passions that seem to have risen to a fever-pitch in the last decade or so, though they have been operative for a very long time.

These passions are worth careful examination, particularly as they have long been married to America’s many denominational Christianities. I think it is noteworthy that one of the most prominent 19th century American inventions was Mormonism. There, we have the case of a religious inventor (Joseph Smith) literally writing America into the Scriptures and creating an alternative, specifically American, account of Christ and salvation. It was not an accident. He was, in fact, drawing on the spirit of the Age, only more blatantly and heretically. But there are many Christians whose Christianity is no less suffused with the same sentiments.

Asking questions of these things quickly sends some heads spinning. They wonder, “Are we not supposed to love our country?” As an abstraction, no. We love people; we love the land. We owe honor to honorable things and persons. The Church prays for persons: the President, civil authorities, the armed forces. We are commanded to pray and to obey the laws as we are able in good conscience. Nothing more. St. Paul goes so far as to say that our “citizenship [politeia] is in heaven.” The assumption of many is that so long as the citizenship of earth does not conflict with the citizenship of heaven, all is fine. I would suggest that the two are always in conflict for the simple reason that one is “from above” while the other is “from below,” in the sense captured in Christ’s “my kingdom is not of this world.” There is a conflict. We should not expect that the kingdoms of this world will serve as the instrument of the Kingdom of God. Such confusions have yielded sinful actions throughout the course of the Church’s history.

St. Paul notes in Romans 13 that the state “does not bear the sword in vain.” It has an appointed role in the restraint of evil. Such a role, however, is not the instrument of righteousness. It can, at best, create a measure of tranquility (cf. the Anaphora of St. Basil). The work of the Kingdom of God cannot be coerced, nor can it be the work of coercion. It is freely embraced, even as it alone is the source of true freedom.

My purpose in offering these observations is, if possible, to “dial down” passions surrounding our thoughts of the nation and politics in order to love properly and deeply what should be loved. That this is difficult, and at times confusing, is to be expected. We live in a culture in which the passions are marketed to us in an endless stream, carefully designed for the greatest effect. If these thoughts of mine help quiet the passions to some degree, then I will have done well. If, on the other hand, they have stirred reaction, then, forgive me and let it go.

If the Kingdom of God were a ship (an image sometimes used of the Church), then we should not be surprised when the seas become boisterous and the winds become contrary. Nor should we panic if we find that Christ is asleep in the back of the boat. His sleeping, indeed, should be a clue as to what the true nature of our situation might be. There are some who imagine that the work of the Kingdom can only be fulfilled once we’ve learned to control the winds and the seas. We fail to understand that they already obey the One who sleeps.

And so we come to overcoming evil by doing good. It is a common teaching in the Fathers that evil has no substance – it only exists as a parasite. All created things are good by nature. It is the misuse of the good that we label “evil.” To do good thus has the character of eternity. It is not lost or diminished with time. Christ said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

When the final account is given, the nations will not be named. Their wars and empires will pass into what is forgotten. However, the many cups of cold water and other such acts of goodness will abide. I could imagine such actions on the part of a nation, and there are probably plenty. They likely go unnoticed, or even derided as wasteful.

I think that our politics and patriotism want to measure the seas, where God is measuring cups.


Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


Featured: Arrest of Christ, by Heinrich Hofmann; painted by 1858.


The Church is just a Building?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The Preface of the Roman Mass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Teilhard de Chardin: Putting an End to the Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Light of God in a New Light

Reflections on the Divinity of Jesus, Formless Matter, and Conceptualization in the Human.

Here, I will endeavor to try to grasp the way in which the symbol of light is deployed on several levels of meaning, which are themselves linked to correspondent levels in the architecture of reality. Namely: those levels of meaning that are God considered in His ideality, God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness, God considered in His incarnation into the universe, and the consciousness of God considered in its incarnation into the consciousness of Jesus. On that basis, I will endeavor to overcome those three philosophical cleavages that are the opposition between radical Arians and the Trinitarians on the issue of whether Jesus is divine; the opposition between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether there was formless matter instead of a temporal beginning of matter; and the opposition between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas on the issue of whether the mind of God (rather than the human mind) is what conceptualizes in the human mind.

I understand God, let us recall, as follows: an infinite, eternal, substantial, volitional, and conscious field of singular ideational models which is completely incarnated into the universe while remaining completely external to the universe, completely ideational, and completely subject to a vertical (rather than horizontal) time; and which is not only completely sheltered from any forced effect (whether ideational or material) with one or more efficient causes in its willingness, but which, besides, is traversed, animated, efficiently-caused, and unified by a sorting, actualizing pulse which stands both as the active part of God’s will and as the apparatus, the Logos, through which God incarnates Himself while remaining distinct from His incarnation.

Considering some entity from the angle of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering how the property in question is inscribed within the whole of the entity’s (present at that point) properties. Considering some entity independently of one of its (present at some point) properties consists of considering what are the other (present at that point) properties in the entity when the property in question is ignored. In the majority of ideational entities and of material ones, the fact of ignoring some property lets all the other properties apply. In the case of that material entity that is the universe, some of its properties present at some point apply depending on whether the universe is considered from the angle (or instead independently) of that substantial relational property that is the incarnation relationship of the universe with respect to God.

Neantial, Ideational, and Material Conceptual Objects

A concept is a unit of meaning: it signifies a certain object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties (rather than from the angle of all of its properties). The properties (including constitutive) of a conceptual object coincide with the properties (including constitutive) that are imputed to the concerned conceptual object depending on whether material or ideational reality validates the imputation of the imputed properties. In a material or ideational conceptual object, its existential properties of (i.e., those of its properties that are relating to whether the object exists, and to how it exists or inexists) rank among the constitutive properties of the conceptual object in question. A neantial conceptual object is a conceptual object that contains no existential properties; just as every neantial conceptual object is contra-material or contra-ideational, no neantial conceptual object is material nor is it ideational.

Just as every conceptual object is material or ideational or neantial, every conceptual object is fictitious (in a weak or strong mode) or matching (in a weak or strong mode). Just as a fictitious material conceptual object and a matching material conceptual object are respectively a material conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the material field) and a material conceptual object which happens to exist (in the material field), a fictitious ideational conceptual object and a matching ideational conceptual object are respectively an ideational conceptual object which happens to not exist (in the ideational field) and an ideational conceptual object which happens to exist (in the ideational field). Just as a fictitious neantial conceptual object and a matching neantial conceptual object are respectively a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having not actually preceded the universe and a neantial conceptual object which is a type of nothingness having actually preceded the universe, a contra-ideational neantial conceptual object and a neantial contra-material conceptual object are respectively a type of nothingness substituted for the field of the Idea and a type of nothingness substituted for the field of matter.

A concept and its linguistically accepted definition (i.e., its definition accepted in a certain language) are considered synonymous in the considered language; that synonymy, instead of being true or false independently of reality (whether ideational or material), is nevertheless true or false according to ideational reality (in the case of the ideational objects and of the contra-ideational neantial object), or according to material reality (in the case of the material objects and of the contra-material neantial object). Just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between an ideational object (for example, God) and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned ideational object are those alleged by the accepted definition, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a material object (for example, Chi) and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties (including existential) of the concerned material object are those alleged by the accepted definition. As for the neantial objects, material reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-material neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether material reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition; just as the ideational reality validates or invalidates the synonymy between a contra-ideational neantial object and its accepted definition depending on whether the ideational reality validates whether the constitutive properties of the concerned conceptual object are those contained in the accepted definition.

The object of the concept of light is a matching material conceptual object, i.e., a material conceptual object that happens to exist in the material field. The concept of light means light taken from the angle of its constitutive properties; the linguistically accepted definition of light, which evolves as language evolves, must be judged true or false in the light of material reality. The currently accepted definition of light is as follows: “electromagnetic radiation whose wavelength, between 400 and 780 nm, corresponds to the sensitivity zone of the human eye, between ultraviolet and infrared.” Our knowledge of reality remaining irremediably perfectible, that definition is subject to a hypothetical revision one day or another (under the hypothetical progress of physics on that level); we will start from that definition, which we know is “true” until further notice.

Light: Symbol of the Ideality of God

Every light has: its source (i.e., what it emanates from), and its object (i.e., what it illuminates). We cannot correctly grasp what the symbol of light refers to without focusing on that conceptual trio—luminaire (i.e., source of light), illuminated object, and light. The light of a candle manifests itself via the flame which envelops the wick, and via the wax which the light of the candle illuminates; however the light of the candle is not visible itself. More generally, light manifests itself without making itself visible: in other words, it manifests itself in a mode other than that which would consist for it of making itself visible. In order for light to manifest itself via its source, a necessary, sufficient condition is that light manifests itself via the illuminated object; it is by illuminating its object that light manifests itself via what it illuminates, but it is, besides, by manifesting itself via the illuminated object that light manifests that it emanates from a certain luminary (and manifests which is its luminary). In other words, just as it is by illuminating that object it illuminates that light manifests itself through the illuminated object, it is by illuminating that object that light manifests itself through the luminaire.

A symbol is a concept that allows one or more other concepts to be glimpsed while leaving them in obscurity; it is both an incomplete path towards those other concepts, and a completely hermetic enigma about them. Let us endeavor to see what the concept of light opens up to: to begin with, the ideality of God. Just as matter is that which exists in a consistent, firm mode, the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness. Just as materiality is what a material entity is composed of, ideality is what an ideational entity is composed of. Reality is subdivided into a material field and an ideational field; the universe occupies (and summarizes) the material field, but God occupies (without summarizing) the ideational field. The supramundane field is to be not confused with the ideational field: the supramundane field, in that it encompasses everything that is beyond the world, encompasses the ideational field as well as the neantial field (i.e., the field of the nothingness prior to the temporal beginning of the material field).

Interstellar vacuum, energy, or thought are modes of matter: they are as consistent as is wood or fire, but consistent in a different way. Light is a certain mode of matter; but it is a mode of matter which is so “fine” in its consistency that it evokes the ideality of which God is made. Let us specify that the Idea (which Plato and Pythagoras deal with) must be distinguished from the idea: the Idea is that which exists in a mode devoid of the slightest consistency and firmness, but the idea is a material entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of a material entity) or an ideational entity (in the case of an idea lodged in the mind of an ideational entity). God is an Idea; but the concept of God in the mind of a certain human is an idea lodged in the mind of said human. Let us also clarify that physics only deals with a certain mode of matter: namely that mode of matter which has mass and extent. Thought (which has neither mass nor extension), as well as the void (which has extension but is devoid of mass), are both excluded from the field of physics; they nonetheless remain modes of matter. Light, although it falls within that mode of matter which occupies physics, evokes a mode of being which is beyond physics; although light is material, it evokes a mode of being that is truly immaterial.

Light: Symbol of God Considered in His Relationship to Contra-Material Nothingness

The light which crosses the void where the celestial bodies “float” barely manifests itself because it barely illuminates the celestial bodies; in other words, the void is black because the light emanating from the stars barely illuminates the celestial bodies. In that regard, light is a symbol of God considered in His relationship to contra-material nothingness. Namely that God—just as starlight barely illuminates the black of the interstellar void that it travels through—does not dissipate at all the contra-material nothingness that it overhangs.

Every conceptual object is either supramundane or intramundane. Just as every supramundane object is ideational or neantial, every intramundane object is material. Just as every conceptual object is intra-mundane or supramundane, every intra-mundane conceptual object is: either fictitious in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or matching in a strong mode; the same is true of every supramundane conceptual object. A fictitious object in a weak mode is a fictitious object which could have been a matching object had this world been different or had another world existed; a fictitious object in a strong mode is a fictitious object which would have been fictitious even if this world had been different or if another world had existed. A matching object in a weak mode is a matching object which could have been a fictitious object had this world been different or had another world existed; a matching object in a strong mode is a matching object which would have been matching even if this world had been different or if another world had existed.

Every intra-mundane object matching in a strong mode is a material object; but a supramundane object matching in a strong mode is either ideational or neantial. Every matching intra-mundane object is a material object matching in a weak or strong mode; but a matching supramundane object is either an ideational object matching in a strong mode, or a neantial object matching in a strong mode. Every fictitious intramundane object is a fictitious material object in a weak or strong mode; but a fictitious supramundane object is either an ideational object fictitious in a strong mode, or a neantial object fictitious in a strong mode. A supramundane object of an ideational type is either matching in a strong mode, or fictitious in a strong mode; the same applies to every supramundane object of the neantial type. Every intramundane object (and, thus, every material object) is either matching in a strong mode, or matching in a weak mode, or fictitious in a strong mode, or fictitious in a weak mode.

Two modalities of the concept of nothingness are valid: a matching modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-material nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of matter; a fictitious modality (in a strong mode) that is contra-ideational nothingness, i.e., that sort of nothingness that is substituted for the existence of the Idea. Of those two modalities of the concept of nothingness, the former has as its object the contra-material nothingness (i.e., the absence of matter) which effectively preceded (chronologically) matter: at least, matter considered independently of the incarnation relationship of matter with regard to God. The latter modality has as its object contra-ideational nothingness (i.e., the absence of any ideational entity), which is fictitious. That the absence of matter was chronologically prior to matter (at least, matter considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) is a fact which would have occurred even if our world had been different or if another world had existed; thus, contra-material nothingness is a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is matching in a strong mode. God exists from all eternity (whether matter is considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), and His existence would be eternal even if our world were different or if another world had existed; contra-ideational nothingness is thus a modality of the concept of nothingness whose object is fictitious in a strong mode.

Matter, in that it had a temporal beginning (if we consider it independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God), was preceded by contra-material nothingness. By Himself, however, God cannot dissipate contra-material nothingness; no more than starlight can dissipate the black of the interstellar void. Precisely, the black of the interstellar void symbolizes contra-material nothingness. By itself, the ideality of which God is made cannot dispel that darkness; what is ideational cannot get substituted for the absence of what is material, no more than it can generate ideational effects substituted for the absence of what is material. The only way God can dispel that darkness, and introduce matter in place of darkness, is for Him to change Himself into what He is not: matter.

Light: Symbol of the Incarnation of God into the Universe

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the Gospel of John tells us. The sorting, actualizing pulse which unifies, animates, and traverses the field of ideational essences present within God, and which operates the incarnation of God into the world (while allowing Him to remain external to the world which is His incarnation), is that “Word” whose mystery occupied the apostle John (or the Johannine community). It is inaccurate to say of God that He is His Word; the Word of God is nevertheless the active part of His will, as well as the apparatus of His incarnation. The Word, although it unfolds in a time that is eternal (i.e., which has neither beginning nor end) and vertical (i.e., where past, present, and future are simultaneous rather than successive), does unfold; in other words, the Word operating in the ideational field is gradual as is every speech formulated in the material field. Just as God creates (by incarnating Himself) in a gradual mode, the universe exists in a gradual mode; like a discourse that is being held, the universe is unfolding. That joint gradualness in the creation on the part of God, and in the existence of the universe, lets itself be glimpsed in these terms in the Koran: “And, with Our powers, We have built the sky, and assuredly, We continue to extend it.” For its part, the fact that God creates through His Word lets itself be glimpsed here as follows: “When He decides a thing, He simply says: “Be”, and it is immediately!”

What light is a symbol of is not only God considered from the angle of His ideality or of His relationship to contra-material nothingness; it is also God considered from the angle of His incarnation into the universe. Light, let us recall, does not manifest itself in the way that would consist for it of making itself visible. Instead of making itself visible, it manifests itself through its source (what illuminates), and its object (what is illuminated); and it is by illuminating its object that it manifests itself both through its object and its source. Let us see how the symbol of light illuminates the creation by God through incarnation. God is (symbolically) a light that stands out in three ways from the light of this world. In the first place, that light is its own source; it is both the lighting and the light that illuminates, the luminaire and what emanates from it. In the second place, that light that is God does not manifest itself by what it illuminates; God certainly enlightens the universe, but the universe does not manifest the presence of God who enlightens it. In the third place, the light that is God engenders what it illuminates; the light of God brings the world into being by illuminating it. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of God incarnated into the universe correspond three properties of the incarnation of God into the universe. In the first place, God is substance, i.e., exists from all eternity and without having any efficient cause. In the second place, God remains external to the universe; that exteriority of God with respect to His own incarnation, that independence of God with respect to His own creation by incarnation, it follows from it that the universe does not manifest the presence of God. In the third place, God remains that which created (and is incarnated into) the universe; God is certainly external to His creation, the universe nonetheless remains what God created by means of His incarnation.

Light: SDymbol of the Incarnation of the Consciousness of God into the Consciousness of the Son of God

It is useful to remember that the light of God is ideational, whereas the light of our world is a modality of matter. God, who hardly manifests Himself through His creation by incarnation that is the universe, nevertheless inspired the words of the prophets; that inspiration, although it did not manifest God through the speech of the prophets, allowed the prophets to express themselves about God. God inspired what was said about Him; His inspiration, however, was not His manifestation. The Gospel according to John, however, says of God that while “no one has ever seen God [until then],” “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, is the one who has made him known.” That inspired symbolic language can be deciphered in these terms: God, who until then had no more manifested Himself (were it partly) in His creation than His consciousness had been incarnated within the world, saw His consciousness become a human consciousness (i.e., the consciousness of the earthly soul of a certain human), but neither His consciousness nor anything of God manifested itself on that occasion.

Just as in any novel the plot can be considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation, a same statement with respect to a novel’s plot can be true or false depending on whether the novel is considered from the angle of the creation relationship of the novel with regard to the novel’s author, or considered independently of said relationship of creation. Let’s take a novel whose plot ends on a cliffhanger: in the novel considered from the angle of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot ends on the cliffhanger in question; but, in the novel considered independently of its relationship of creation with regard to its author, the plot continues after the cliffhanger (instead of stopping at the end of the novel). The universe is a novel whose author is God, which He writes by means of his Word; but it is a novel whose words are incarnated into what they say (while remaining external to that material incarnation). Just as God’s words are those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes, the respective incarnation of God’s words is the respective incarnation of those ideational essences that He selects and actualizes. Jesus, in that he is the incarnation of the ideational essence of Jesus, is the incarnation of a certain part of God; but, in his consciousness, Jesus is also the incarnation of a certain (other) part of God in that the consciousness of God is incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus.

The consciousness of Jesus is symbolically a light, but it is a light that stands out in three ways from the non-symbolic light. In the first place, that light is its own object; it is both what illuminates and what is illuminated, the light and what the light illuminates. In the second place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus illuminates its object while nevertheless leaving it in the shadows; that light illuminates itself without making itself visible. In the third place, the light that is the consciousness of Jesus does not manifest the source from which it emanates, no more than it manifests that it is an emanation. To those three properties of light taken as a symbol of the consciousness of Jesus correspond three properties of the consciousness of Jesus. In the first place, the consciousness of Jesus is at the same time the incarnated consciousness of God (regarding his consciousness in the universe considered from the angle of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God) and the consciousness of the soul nestled in the human Jesus; thus the consciousness of Jesus is both a property present in God (regarding the consciousness of Jesus in the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God) and a property present in that non-divine entity that is the soul of the human Jesus. In the second place, the consciousness of Jesus, although it existed in the world, was no more manifested in the world than the consciousness present in some conscious material entity is in a position to manifest itself in the world; what is ideational and nevertheless in the world cannot manifest itself alongside any material entity. In the third place, the consciousness of God taken in its exteriority with regard to its own incarnation into the consciousness of the earthly soul of the human Jesus was not manifested in its incarnation; it was incarnated without that incarnation being manifestation.

Grasping what, of Jesus, is of God requires that we go beyond what John (or the Johannine community) seemed to understand from his own symbolic language when he expressed himself in these terms in his Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” What, of God, became flesh is not His word, but it is the respective ideational essence of those entities endowed with flesh (including the entity Jesus); what makes Jesus a Son of God is that are respectively incarnated a certain ideational essence into Jesus, and the consciousness of God into the consciousness of Jesus. The word of God is what operates the selection and actualization of some ideational essences; the ideational essence of Jesus, in witnessing its selection and actualization get carried out, witnesses Jesus come into the world with a substantial essence that includes the property (that is itself inscribed in the ideational essence of Jesus) of the incarnated consciousness of God. The universe is indistinct from God (although distinct from God who remains external to His own incarnation that the universe is); for his part, Jesus is indistinct from the ideational essence of Jesus and, thus, from a part of God (although distinct from his ideational essence which, while incarnated into Jesus, remains external to Jesus), but the consciousness of Jesus is indistinct from the (totality of the) consciousness of God (although distinct from the consciousness of God which, while incarnated into the consciousness of Jesus, remains external to the consciousness of Jesus).

Overcoming the Divide between Radical Arianism and the Trinitarian Doctrine

The entire universe, not just Jesus, is the incarnation of God; but, although God is entirely incarnated into the entire universe, the consciousness of God is only incarnated into the consciousness of one or more human individuals precisely elected so that their respective consciousnesses be the incarnated consciousness of God. The consciousness of God, while incarnating itself into one or more human consciousnesses, does not see the object of the consciousness of God incarnate itself into the object of those human consciousnesses in which the consciousness of God gets incarnated. The object of God’s consciousness is (at every point) one’s existence and the entire field of the ideational essences and the (simultaneous) past, present, and future of the operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, as well as the entirety of the (successive) past, present, and future of the universe; but the object of the consciousness of the one or those in whom the consciousness of God is incarnated is (at every point) one’s existence and a certain part of the universe, and hypothetically (and in a mode which is, at best, approximative) a certain part of the field of the ideational essences. Only a handful of humans (rather than all or the majority of humans) or a single human (rather than several humans) sees the consciousness of God incarnate itself into theirs; Jesus was either the only human whose consciousness was the incarnated consciousness of God, or one of those few humans (through the ages) whose respective consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God.

In the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is both the incarnated consciousness of God and the consciousness of the soul of Jesus; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is only the consciousness of the soul of Jesus. Likewise, in the universe considered from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is at the same time a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God (in that his consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God) and a human who in his consciousness has nothing divine nor anything of God; but, in the universe considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is in his consciousness only human (instead of being endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God). In that the consciousness of God is co-eternal with God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with God in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; but, just as much in the universe taken from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God as in the universe taken independently of said relationship of incarnation, Jesus (instead of being co-eternal with God) has a temporal beginning and end.

The soul, as I expressed myself on that subject in a previous writing, is an Idea which, like the ideational essence, is eternal although endowed with an efficient cause (through God); but which, unlike the ideational essence (which remains within God, and which sees God communicate to it His consciousness and will), is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God, and with an existence external to God. The soul retains its consciousness both when the soul is supramundane (i.e., located in the ideational field) and when it is earthly (i.e., located in a living entity within the material field); but, whereas the earthly soul is without any willingness and without any mind (although every terrestrial soul is nested in an entity that is, if not endowed with a mind, at least endowed with a willingness), the supramundane soul has a willingness and a mind respectively distinct from the willingness of God and from the mind of God. The (supramundane) soul rises to the rank of a god in the ideational field by having experienced, during its stay or stays (as an earthly soul) in the material field, a heroism that is sufficient in order for God to grant it a divine rank. Every divine soul is supramundane; but no earthly soul is divine, just as not every supramundane soul is divine. Although the soul of Jesus became divine at the end of the earthly stay it effectuated in the biological entity that Jesus is, the soul of Jesus had nothing divine during the stay in question.

Heroism and exploit, as I expressed myself on that subject in the same previous writing, must be taken respectively in the sense of the accomplishment (as a conscious material entity) of one or more exploits; and in the sense of an act that is jointly exceptionally creative (i.e., characterized by the mental creation of one or more exceptionally creative ideas), exceptionally successful (i.e., characterized by the complete achievement of an exceptionally difficult goal), and exceptionally endangering for one’s material subsistence. The (earthly) soul of Jesus rendered itself divine (on its return to the ideational field) by experiencing an earthly stay (as Jesus) which saw Jesus accomplish an exploit great enough for that stay to be sufficient to render divine the (supramundane) soul of Jesus. That exploit is that of having created a new, semi-worldly, and multi-millennial religion by dying on the cross. Each supramundane soul knows perfectly the content of each ideational essence; thus each supramundane soul pre-knows perfectly what its earthly stay will be when it opts for a certain earthly stay. God, although each supramundane soul makes use of a self-determined willingness in its decision to opt for some particular earthly stay rather than for another one, perfectly pre-knows the decision of each supramundane soul on that level. God, although He elected the (supramundane) soul of Jesus so that his (earthly) soul be the earthly soul (or one of the earthly souls) whose consciousness is the incarnated consciousness of God, saw the (supramundane) soul of Jesus make use of a self-determined willingness in its choice of an earthly stay characterized by the incarnation of the consciousness of God into the consciousness of the (earthly) soul.

God, while incarnating Himself in the world, remains external to the world which is His incarnation; but the world, for its part, remains indistinct (rather than distinct) from God whose incarnation it is. A same statement can nevertheless be true or false depending on whether we consider it in the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or in the world considered independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God. In the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness that is both indistinct from the consciousness of God and distinct from the consciousness of God; but, in the world taken independently of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God, Jesus is endowed with a consciousness distinct from the consciousness of God (rather than indistinct from all or part of the consciousness of God). Accordingly, the overcoming of the cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine is constitutive of a correct answer to the question of the divinity of Jesus (i.e., the question of knowing whether Jesus is divine). Moderate Arianism considers Jesus as a human who, in that he is the incarnated Father, was both created by the Father and created as indistinct (though distinct) from the Father; and who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father whose incarnation he is. For its part, radical Arianism envisages Jesus as a human who has nothing divine and who, in that he was created by the Father in a mode other than a creation by incarnation, is human (rather than God) and distinct from the Father (rather than indistinct from the latter); and as a human who, in that he has a temporal beginning and end, is not co-eternal with the Father. Whereas, according to moderate Arianism, Jesus is (incarnated) God without being co-eternal with the Father, Jesus, according to radical Arianism, is neither God nor endowed with anything divine nor is he co-eternal with the Father (although he is created by the Father).

Intermediate positions are found between radical and moderate Arianisms; but all modalities of Arianism have in common that they are opposed to the Trinitarian doctrine, for which Jesus is both the incarnation of God (instead of being a creature without anything divine nor anything of God) and an entity co-eternal with God. Knowing which modality of Arianism was the one that Arius actually defended is a problem on which I will not take position here. The cleavage between radical Arianism and the Trinitarian doctrine sees my position on the question of the divinity of Jesus operate an overcoming in these terms. The entire universe (and not only Jesus within the universe) sees God incarnate Himself into it, what is beyond the understanding of the Trinitarian doctrine and of radical Arianism (as well as of all modalities of Arianism). The assertion (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is both human and indistinct from God (rather than a part of God) is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation of God (rather than in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God), Jesus is his incarnated ideational essence (and thus an incarnated part of God), and a human endowed, besides, with a consciousness which is both the consciousness of the (earthly) soul of Jesus and the incarnated consciousness of God. For its part, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus has nothing divine is partially true in that, in the case of the world taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, Jesus is a human who is no more an incarnated ideational essence than he is a human endowed with a consciousness indistinct from the consciousness of God.

In the case of the world taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, the consciousness of Jesus is co-eternal with the consciousness of God; but (whether the world is taken independently of its incarnation relationship with regard to God) Jesus himself does have a beginning and an end in (horizontal) time. As such, the assertion (in radical Arianism) that Jesus is not co-eternal with God is true; but the affirmation (in the Trinitarian doctrine) that Jesus is co-eternal with God retains a part of truth in that the consciousness of Jesus in the world taken from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

Overcoming the Divide between Gersonides and Saint Thomas Aquinas

The question of formless matter (i.e., the question of whether the universe, instead of having known a temporal beginning from contra-material nothingness, experienced a formless matter that was without any temporal beginning) is another question which demands the overcoming of a certain philosophical cleavage: here, the cleavage between Gersonides and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas formless matter is matter that exists without entering into the composition of any material entity, arranged matter is matter that enters into the composition of a certain material entity (within which it coexists with formal properties). The Gersonidean position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter (which had always been) from which God operated to create a universe which be endowed with form and not only matter; for its part, the Thomist position on the question of formless matter is that the universe, instead of having experienced a formless matter (without any temporal beginning), had a temporal beginning which saw the universe begin with an already arranged matter.

Each of those two positions has a part of truth (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship), and a part of falsehood (depending on whether the universe is considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God, or from the angle of said relationship). The relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God is co-eternal with God; but the relation of incarnation of a given entity within the universe with regard to its own ideational essence is no more co-eternal with the ideational essence in question than a given entity within the universe (whether the latter is considered independently of the relationship of incarnation of the universe with regard to God or from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) is co-eternal with its own ideational essence. The universe is nevertheless co-eternal with God when it comes to the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God; regarding the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation, the universe, instead of being co-eternal with God, is endowed with a temporal beginning. The universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God certainly saw arranged matter begin temporally; but, whereas the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God sees the temporal beginning of arranged matter follow a phase (without any temporal beginning) of the universe that was characterized by formless matter, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God saw the universe begin temporally (from contra-material nothingness) and begin with an already arranged matter.

What renders partially true the Thomist affirmation of the temporal beginning of the universe (from contra-material nothingness) is that the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God is (unlike the universe considered from the angle of said relationship of incarnation) effectively endowed with a temporal beginning. Likewise, what renders partly true the Gersonidean assertion that the universe, instead of having experienced a temporal beginning (from contra-material nothingness), experienced a formless matter is that the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God has (unlike the universe considered independently of said relationship of incarnation) actually passed through the phase (without any temporal beginning) of a formless matter rather than through the phase of an arising from contra-material nothingness. Every entity (whether ideational or material) is a compound of form and composition: the universe considered from the angle of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was therefore a semi-entity so long as the matter which composed it was a formless matter. For its part, the universe considered independently of its relationship of incarnation with regard to God was an entity as soon as its existence began temporally.

Overcoming the Divide between Averroes and Saint Thomas Aquinas

Conceptualization consists of producing a concept or a definition of said concept or a description of all or part of the object of said concept; conceiving a concept consists of conceptualizing, or judging that a concept or a certain definition of said concept or a certain description of all or part of the object of said concept are valid. The question of conceptualization in the mind of God (i.e., the question of whether it is the mind of God, not the human mind itself, which conceptualizes in the human mind) has been the subject of a cleavage between Averroes and saint Thomas Aquinas. Whereas the former conceives of the human mind as incapable of conceptualizing, and the mind of God as that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind, the latter conceives of the human mind as capable of conceptualizing (just like the mind of God), and the conceptualization in the human mind as the work of the human mind itself.

Every concept (i.e., every unit of meaning) is an idea; but every idea is either a concept or an association of concepts. Every definition is an association of concepts; but not every association of concepts is a definition. The willingness (i.e., the pursuit of one or more ends) is either acting (i.e., employing one or more means for the purpose of an end), or non-acting (i.e., pursuing an end without employing any means for the purpose of that end); in God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, the Word, is the acting willingness. An object of willingness (i.e., an end that a willingness pursues, or the means or the various means that it employs for the purpose of an end) is never an idea; in every conscious volitional entity, willingness (whether it is acting or non-acting) is nevertheless accompanied by the idea of the object of willingness. Just as a volitional idea is an idea that accompanies an object of willingness (without causing the object in question), an actional volitional idea and a non-actional volitional idea are respectively a volitional idea that accompanies an end or means present in an acting willingness; and a volitional idea which accompanies an end in a non-acting willingness. In God, the sorting, actualizing pulse, in that it merges with acting willingness, is distinct from volitional ideas; each operation of said pulse is nevertheless accompanied by a correspondent idea in the mind of God. Just as an actional volitional idea in God is a volitional idea which corresponds to a certain operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse, an actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to a means in acting willingness and a non-actional volitional idea which, in God, corresponds to an end in acting willingness are respectively a volitional idea which corresponds to a selection and actualization; and a volitional idea which corresponds to an incarnated ideational essence. From an ideational entity present in the material field, nothing can be the object of an experience by a material entity; but it is possible for a human material entity to have an experience (which nevertheless is, at best, approximative) of all or part of an ideational essence, as well as of the consciousness of God or of a supramundane soul, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, as well as of all or part of (what are at the moment of that experience) the ideas in the mind of a certain supramundane soul.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.

A non-actional volitional idea in God is an idea corresponding to an end which is certainly in the will of God, but which does not relate to the operations of the sorting, actualizing pulse. Just as an ideational essence present in God must be distinguished from that essence’s concept present in the mind of God, the direct grasping of an ideational essence in God must be distinguished from the direct grasping of an idea in the mind of God. In the mind of God, ideas that are other than non-actional volitional ideas are also those ideas that God does not allow humans to grasp; in the mind of God, non-actional volitional ideas are those ideas that God allows humans to grasp, but a grasp that is, at best, approximative and whose effectiveness varies from one individual to another. The mind of God, although capable of conceptualization, is no more the mind that conceptualizes in the human mind than humans are incapable of conceptualizing; the Thomist position that the human mind, like the mind of God, is itself a conceptualizing mind (instead of the mind of God being that mind which conceptualizes in the human mind) is true. The Averroist position that the human mind, although incapable of conceptualization, sees the mind of God conceptualize in it remains partially true: on the one hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasping of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas in the mind of God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another. On the other hand, in that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing from a direct grasp of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God, a grasp whose effectiveness is, at best, approximative and varies from one individual to another.

Conclusion

Genesis distinguishes between primordial light and the light of the sun and the moon; the primordial light was created before the first day, with “the heavens and the earth,” but the sun and the moon were created only on the fourth day. Genesis tells us of God that He creates by “speaking,” and that the primordial light is His creation. As God invites humans to complete His creation that is the universe, the word that He inspires invites humans to deepen the symbolism it contains. The primordial light, we think, is a symbol of God envisaged in that ideality that is evoked by the finesse of the mode of matter that is light; a symbol of God envisaged in His inability to replace contra-material nothingness so long as He is only a light in the darkness; a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that He incarnates Himself into the world as a light which would create, by illuminating it, the illuminated object itself; and a symbol of God envisaged in the fact that His consciousness, while seeing itself incarnated in the consciousness of Jesus, remained hidden in that incarnation like a luminaire that its light would not manifest.

The “beginning” with which Genesis and the Gospel according to saint John open is no chronological beginning, but a pre-chronological one. In other words, the time of origins, instead of being the beginning of the time of this world, is that time without beginning and without succession from which the beginning of the succession of time in this world stems. Saint John, who symbolically identifies “the Word” to “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man,” adds that this light “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” The deciphering of those inspired symbolic words involves the overcoming of these three ancient philosophical cleavages: the cleavage between radical Arians (for whom Jesus is a creature with a temporal beginning and end, and a creature who is God-created without being incarnated God) and Trinitarians (for whom Jesus is a creature co-eternal with God, and a creature who is incarnated God) on the question of the divinity of Jesus; the cleavage between Gersonides (for whom a formless matter without temporal beginning, not contra-material nothingness, was prior to the compound of form and matter in the universe) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom the universe had a beginning in time and began as a composite of form and matter) on the question of formless matter; and the cleavage between Averroes (for whom it is the spirit of God which conceptualizes in the human spirit) and saint Thomas Aquinas (for whom it is the human spirit which conceptualizes in the human spirit) on the question of conceptualization in the mind of God.

It is false that God is entirely incarnated into Jesus; it is no less false that there is nothing of God that is incarnated into Jesus. Jesus sees a part of God incarnate itself into Jesus, and an (other) part of God incarnate itself into a part of Jesus. What, of God, is incarnated into Jesus is a certain ideational essence; but what, of God, is incarnated into that part of Jesus that is the consciousness of Jesus is the consciousness of God. Jesus (whether the world is taken from the angle of its incarnation relationship with regard to God, or independently of said incarnation relationship) has a beginning and an end in time; but the consciousness of Jesus in the world considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the world with regard to God is indeed co-eternal with the consciousness of God.

The universe considered from the angle of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God has experienced—instead of a temporal beginning which would have seen it begin with an already arranged matter—a formless matter which never began temporally, but from which God operated to create a universe which be veritably a composite of form and matter. Concerning the universe considered independently of the incarnation relationship of the universe with regard to God, the latter—instead of having passed through a formless matter whose phase would never have begun in time, but would have temporally preceded the phase of a universe composed of arranged matter—has effectively begun in time with an already arranged matter which temporally began from contra-material nothingness.

The human mind (rather than the mind of God) is what conceptualizes in the human mind; the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is nevertheless in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of all or part of the ideational essences contained in God. Besides, the human mind, with an efficiency which varies from one individual to another, and which is, at best, approximative, is in a position to conceptualize from a direct experience of the consciousness of God and of all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in the mind of God. Precisely, the mystical experience is the suprasensible experience a conscious material entity makes of the consciousness of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field), or of one or more ideas contained in the mind of an entity that is ideational (and present in the ideational field). To humans, God allows the grasp (in a mode that is, at best, approximate) of all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas; of His mind, it prevents him from grasping (even in an approximate mode) the slightest idea other than a non-actional volitional idea.

The Word, which incarnated the consciousness of the ideational entity that is God into the consciousness of the soul of the human entity that is Jesus, made himself the object of the symbolic discourse inspired to Jesus; thus it can be said symbolically of the Word that he is “the true light, which, when coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Jesus saw his consciousness incarnate the consciousness of God in the world, and the (global) incarnation of God into the universe, while having formless matter precede the universe considered as incarnation, caused the beginning in horizontal time of the universe considered independently of that incarnation, and the consciousness of God, although it manifests itself in the mystical experience of the consciousness of God, was not manifested in its incarnation; thus it can be said symbolically of God that He is a light which “was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.” God, who no more manifests Himself in His incarnation into the world than He manifests Himself in the incarnation of His consciousness into the consciousness of (the earthly soul of) the human Jesus, manifests in suprasensible experience (which is carried out in a mode which is, at best, approximative) all or part of the ideational essences contained within Him, as well as all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind. Suprasensible experience—when it has as its object all or part of the field of the ideational essences in God, or all or part of the non-actional volitional ideas contained in His mind—is that through which God illuminates us; the grasp of what are (at a given moment) all or part of those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God (at the concerned moment) is that by which God reveals to us the content (at the concerned moment) of that which is sometimes considered His heart.

The fact that a certain human entity, at a given moment, is grasping in an approximative mode all or part of what the non-actional volitional ideas are at the moment in the mind of God is inscribed in the ideational essence of the human entity in question, just as is inscribed in the ideational essence in question what are those non-actional volitional ideas present in the mind of God at the moment of the grasping. The same applies to a grasping whose effectiveness is less than approximative. God is not constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some non-actional volitional ideas in mind at a given time; He nevertheless ensures in the operation of His Word that, when a certain actualized ideational essence states what all or part of His non-actional volitional ideas are at a given moment, what His non-actional volitional ideas are effectively at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. Likewise, no supramundane soul is constrained by any actualized ideational essence to have some ideas in mind at any given moment; but God, in the operation of His Word, ensures that, when a certain actualized ideational essence declares what all or part of the ideas are at a given moment in a given supramundane soul, what the ideas are effectively in the soul in question at the moment in question validates what the ideational essence states about all or part of those ideas. If the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of God at a given moment and the content of the mind of God at the moment in question were to fail, then the universe would not fail to implode and to experience a reset; the same is true of the parallel between what a certain actualized ideational essence states about a certain idea present in the mind of a certain supramundane soul at a given moment and the content of the concerned supramundane soul at the concerned moment. Although God makes Himself capable of errors in His quest to make the universe evolve towards ever-increasing order and complexity, He is (and forever remains) incapable of errors in His approach to ensuring that never any of those parallels fails.


Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website.


Featured: God separating the water from the land; engraving, Nazerene Brotherhood, 19th century; published in 1937.


The Song of All Creation

“The world has been disenchanted.” This is a sentiment first voiced by Max Weber in 1918. Nothing since has been able to convince the world otherwise. There is, however, an increasing awareness that a disenchanted world is less than desirable. We want elves, orcs, wizards, and demons. We want magic.

This is an observation that can easily be made by looking at how we entertain ourselves. Movies, books, gaming, and more point towards a cultural appetite for fantasy. It is well-suited to a world in which much of our time is spent in front of a screen. You’re never more than few clicks away from Middle Earth.

What we fail to understand is that the life of Middle Earth (and any other well-crafted fantasy) is as far-removed from entertainment as possible. In Middle Earth, fighting dragons is not a form of entertainment – it is a matter of life or death. In the well-supplied world of modernity, we take life itself for granted, its only real problem being that it’s boring. All of our dragons are in books, movies, or games. Indeed, such distractions easily serve to help us ignore the true dragons that lurk in the heart.

It is interesting that Lewis and Tolkien, two writers who wrote brilliantly in fantastic fiction, both shared the common experience of the trench warfare of World War I. The brutality and futility of that war are beyond description. Some 20 million perished in its maw. Lewis was grievously wounded by shrapnel in the leg and abdomen. Both men lost their best friends and a large part of their generation in the struggle. At its end, there was no great sense of accomplishment – only a relief that it had ceased. Two decades later, the battles would begin again.

What is quite certain is that neither Lewis nor Tolkien saw themselves as entertainers. I suspect both would have been loath to have seen their work taken up by Hollywood. And though both clearly had children in mind as they wrote, they would have seen such story-telling as a very serious business.

G.K. Chesterton offered this observation:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon [G.K. Chesterton, writing the original lines, in Tremendous Trifles, Book XVII: The Red Angel (1909)].

From within Orthodoxy, it is possible to say that the world is more than enchanted. It is magical and wonderful, as well as dangerous and deadly. All of us will die at its hand.

The difficulty with a materialist account of reality is its total indifference to every form and instance of suffering as well as its emptiness of meaning (perhaps the greatest suffering of all). It is little wonder that entertainment (as a form of escape) is such a strong feature of our culture. It assuages the boredom of an empty world.

The classical Christian witness, though, is that the world is not empty. It is filled with a depth of meaning and witness, of presence and signification. As clearly as we are wired for hunger, for fear, for sight and sound, so we are wired for transcendence. Without it, our lives begin to shrink and we fail to thrive.

C.S. Lewis once said that it would be strange to find a creature with an instinctive thirst that lived on a planet without water. It seems clear from the evidence (including the Biblical evidence) that human beings were late in coming to believe in the One God. But we have no evidence of human beings without transcendence. It is only in our very latest years that so many of us have come to despair of anything beyond ourselves. And so we turn to fantasy of the most empty kind. One whose very emptiness and make-believe can only deepen our despair by its lack of substance.

I recall my first exposure to Tolkien and Lewis. The books amazed me, not because they suggested a world of fantasy that I could enjoy. Rather, it was the amazement of realizing that someone else had sensed something that I already knew was true. And I knew that they knew it as well or they could not have written in such a common language.

There has only ever been one door in all of history that truly mattered: the door of Christ’s Empty Tomb. It is that place where that which was hidden beneath and within showed forth into what is present and clear. The meaning of all things (the Logos) revealed Himself and spoke with us. If we saw Him then, or see Him now, then we are not wrong to see Him in every tree, rock, and cloud – in all created things.

St. Paul is among those who saw Him. Of Him, he said this:

All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17)

St. John who also saw Him, handled Him, and heard Him speak, said this:

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5)

The world is enchanted, but with a Magic deeper than our fantasies. In every individual, the drama of the Nativity, Holy Week, and Pascha are re-enacted, re-lived. We are baptized “into the death of Christ,” and “raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” Each moment of our existence is the life of Christ. St. Paul described it, “Christ within us, the hope of glory.”

Modern culture may indeed have become “disenchanted.” It represents a cultural amnesia, a forgetting of the fulness of our humanity. When we become lost in our entertainments, we become prisoners of the passions and seemingly immune to true wonder. The passions are an easy mark for a culture lost in commerce. Nonetheless, there remains within us a quiet suspicion that there is more to the world than meets the pocketbook. That suspicion, along and along, can blossom into faith when doors are opened, or we perceive the One Door that truly matters reflected in the world around us.

Within all things, there is the quiet hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life…”


Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


Featured: Creation of the World, Stammheim Missal, ca. 1170.