The Torn Cloak

High in the steeple the bells were conversing. Two of the younger ones were vexed and spoke angrily, “Is it not time we were asleep? It is almost midnight, and twice have we been shaken, twice have we been forced to cry out through the gloom just as though it were day, and we were singing the call for Sunday Mass. There are people moving about in the church; are we going to be tormented again, I wonder? Might they not leave us in peace?”

At this the oldest bell in the steeple said indignantly, in a voice which though cracked had lost none of its solemnity, “Hush, little ones! Are you not ashamed to speak so foolishly? When you went to Rome to be blessed, did you not take an oath, did you not swear to fulfil your duty? Do you not know that in a few minutes it will be Christmas, and that you will then celebrate the birth of Him whose resurrection you have already celebrated?”

“But it is so cold!” whimpered a young bell.

“And do you not think that He was cold, when He came into the world, naked and weak? Would He not have suffered on the heights of Bethlehem had not the ass and the ox warmed Him with their breath? Instead of grumbling and complaining, let your voices be sweet and tender in memory of the canticles with which His mother lulled Him to sleep. Come, hold yourselves in readiness. I can see them lighting the tapers; they have constructed a little manger before the Virgin’s altar; the banner is unfurled; the beadle is bustling about. He has a bad cold, the poor man; how he sneezes! Monsieur le Curé has put on his embroidered alb. I hear the approaching sound of wooden shoes; the peasants are coming to pray. The clock is about to strike the hour—now—Christmas! Christmas! Ring out with all your heart and all your might! Let no man say that he has not been summoned to midnight Mass.”


It had been snowing for three days. The sky was black, the ground white; the north wind howled through the trees; the ponds were frozen; and the little birds were hungry. Women, wrapped in long mantles of brown wool, and men in heavy cloaks slowly made their way into the church. They knelt and with bent brows murmured the answer as the priest said, “And the Lord said unto me, ‘Thou art my Son, whom this day I have begotten.'” The incense was smoking, and blossoms of hellebore, which are the roses of Christmas, lay before the tabernacle in the light of the tapers. Behind one of the pillars, near the door of the church, knelt a child. His feet were bare. He had slipped off his wooden shoes on account of the noise they made. His cap lay on the floor before him and with clasped hands he prayed, “For the soul of my father who is dead, for the life of my mother, and for me, for your little Jacques, who loves you, O my God, I implore you!” And he knelt all through Mass, lost in the fervor of his devotion, and rose only when he heard the words,—

“Ite missa est.”

The people crowded together under the exterior porch. Every man lighted his lantern, and pulled up the collar of his cloak; and the women drew their mantles closely around them. Brrr! how cold it was! A little boy called out to Jacques, “Are you coming with us?”

“No,” said he, “I have not time;” and he started off on a run. He could hear the village people far away singing the favorite carol of olden France as they walked home,—

“He is born, the Heavenly Child.

Ring out, hautbois! ring out, bagpipes!

He is born, the Heavenly Child;

Let all voices sing his advent!”


Jacques reached the thatched cottage at the far end of the hamlet, nestling in a rocky hollow at the foot of the hill. He opened the door carefully, and tiptoed into a room in which there was neither light nor fire.

“Is that you, little one?”

“Yes, mother.”

“I prayed while you were praying. You must be half asleep; go to bed, child. I do not need anything. If I am thirsty, I have the water-jug here where I can reach it.”

In a corner of the room near Marguerite’s bed, Jacques turned over a litter of ferns and dry grasses, stretched himself upon it, drew the ragged end of a blanket over him, and fell asleep. Marguerite, however, did not sleep. She was thinking, and her thoughts wrung tears from her eyes. She was evoking the happy days when her husband was with her, and life seemed so full of hope. She lay still, so as not to waken her boy, her head thrown back on the bolster, the tears trickling off her bony cheeks, her hand pressed to her hot chest.

Marguerite’s husband had been the pride of his village, a hard worker and an upright man. At the call of the Conscription he went to the wagon train, for he was a good driver, kind to his horses, a man who made his own bed only after having prepared their litter. He spoke with pleasure of the time when he had been “in the army of the war,” and would say laughingly, “I carted heaps of glory in the Crimea and in Italy.” His return to the village was a source of rejoicing. He had known Marguerite as a child; he now found her a woman, and married her. They were poor, Marguerite’s trousseau consisting of a three-franc cap, which she bought in order to make a good appearance at the church ceremony. They owned the cottage,—a miserable, dilapidated hut; but they were happy in it because they worked hard and loved each other. The village people said, “Marguerite is no simpleton. She knew what she was about when she married Grand-Pierre. The sun does not find him abed. He is strong, saving too, and no drunkard.”

Yes, Grand-Pierre was a good workman, spry, punctual,—a man of much action and few words. He had resumed his old trade, and drove his teams through the mountains for a man who was quarrying granite. He drove four stout-haunched, wide-chested horses, and excelled in manœuvring the screw-jack, in balancing the heaviest blocks, and driving down the steep declivities that opened into the plain. When he came home after his day’s work, he found the soup and a jug of cider on the table, and Marguerite waiting for him. Everything smiled upon them in the poor little home, where there was soon a willow cradle.

But happiness is short-lived. There is an Arab proverb that says, “As soon as a man paints his house in pink, fate hastens to daub it black.” For eleven years Pierre and Marguerite lived happily together and laid their plans with no fear of the future. Then misfortune came and made its home with them. One raw, foggy winter’s day Grand-Pierre went out to the mountain. He loaded his wagon; and after having left the dangerous passes of the road behind, he sat on the shaft for a rest, and leaned against a great block of granite. He was tired; and lulled by the swaying of the vehicle and the monotonous jingle of the bells, he involuntarily closed his eyes. After a little the left wheel went over a great limb that lay across the road. The shock was violent. Pierre was pitched from his seat; and before he could move, the heavy wheels rolled slowly over him and crushed in his chest.

The horses went their way unconscious of the fact that their driver, their oldest friend, lay dead behind them. They reached the quarriers and stopped at the door.

“Where is Grand-Pierre?”

Inquiries were made at once. Men were sent to the cottage. Marguerite grew anxious. As the light failed, they took torches and went up the mountain, shouting, “Hello there, Grand-Pierre!” but no voice answered. At last they came upon the poor man lying in the middle of the road on his back with outstretched arms. The wheels had cut through the cloak and the edge of the rent was crushed into his chest and black with blood.

All the villagers followed the corpse to the church and the cemetery, and held out their hands to Marguerite, who stood white and immobile, like a statue of wax, muttering mechanically under her breath, “O God, have pity! have pity!” Jacques was then in his tenth year. He could not appreciate the greatness of his mother’s sorrow, and only cried because she did.

Then misfortune had followed misfortune,—poverty, illness, misery. And so through this Christmas night Marguerite lay stifling her sobs as she recalled the past.


Jacques rose at dawn, shook off the dry grasses that stuck to his hair, and went over to his mother. Her eyes were half closed, her lips very white, and there were warm red spots on her cheeks. When she saw the boy, she made a faint movement with her head.

“Did you sleep, mother? Do you feel well?”

“Yes; but I am very cold. Make a little fire, will you?”

Jacques searched every corner of the hut, looked in the old cupboard, went through the cellar which had formerly contained their supplies, and said,—

“There is no wood left; and there are no roots either.”

“Never mind, then. It is not so very cold, after all.”

Jacques picked up a stone, hammered at the nail that secured the strap of his wooden shoe, slipped his foot into it, pulled his cap down over his ears, and said resolutely,—

“I am going out to the mountain to get some dead wood.”

“Why, you forget that to-day is Christmas, my child!”

“I know; but Monsieur le Curé will forgive me.”

“No, no, you must not go; it has been prohibited.”

“I will see that the rural guard does not catch me. Please let me go; I will be back soon.”

“Well, go, then.”

Jacques put his pruning-knife in his pocket, threw a rope over his shoulder, and opened the door. A gust of wind thick with snow dashed him back and whirled through the room.

“What a storm!”

“Holy angels!” cried Marguerite; “it is the white deluge! Listen, little one: you are not warm enough. Open the old chest where your father’s things are, and get his cloak,—the cloak he had on when they brought him home. Wrap it around you, and see that you do not take cold. One sick person in the house is enough.”

Jacques took the cloak, upon which a twig of blessed box had been laid. It was one of those great black and white cloaks of thick wool and goat-hair, with a small velvet collar and brass clasps. There was a gaping black rent in it, and here and there an ugly dark spot. It was very long for Jacques, so Marguerite pinned the edges up under the collar. When he was halfway out of the door she called out to him,—

“Jacques, if you pass the Trèves do not forget to say a prayer.”


Jacques started off at a brisk pace. There was not a human being to be seen anywhere. The fields were gloomy and desolate. The snow seemed to shoot along horizontally, so violently was it lashed by the north wind. On the high, frosted limb of a poplar a raven was croaking. Jacques stopped every now and again to knock off the snow which gathered and hardened on the soles of his wooden shoes. He was not cold, but he found his cloak very heavy. He had gone a long way and had reached the first undulations of the mountain, the edge of the forest, when he stopped petrified before the rural guard, who appeared suddenly at a turn in the road, imposing with his cocked hat, his sword, and the word “Law” glittering on his belt.

This Father Monhache, who had been a sapper before he became a rural guard, was greatly dreaded in the land. He was the terror of the village boys, for whenever he found any of them stealing apples, shaking the plum-trees, or knocking down nuts, he swore at them terribly, and then led them by the ear to Monsieur le Maire, who sentenced the delinquents to a paternal spanking. Jacques was therefore aghast when he found himself face to face with this merciless representative of the authority.

“Where are you going, Jacques, in this devil of a storm?”

Jacques tried to concoct some story to explain his expedition; and before he had decided which would be the most effective, he caught himself saying simply,—

“I am going to the mountain, Father Monhache, to get some dead wood. We have none at home, and my mother is ill.”

The old guard dropped an oath and said in a voice which was by no means harsh,—

“Ah, so you are going to the mountain for dead wood, are you? Well, if I meet you in the village this evening with your fagot, I will close one eye and wink the other, do you understand? And if you ever tell anybody what I said, I will pull your ears.” And he walked off with a shrug. He had not gone ten feet when he turned and shouted, “There is more dead wood in the copse of the Prévoté than anywhere else.”


“He is not such a bad man, after all,” thought Jacques.

He was now climbing the mountain, and it was a hard struggle for his little legs. Every now and then he heard what he thought was a moan in the distance,—the breaking of a limb under the weight of the snow. Look as he would through all those branches, he could not see a single blackbird, nor even a jay. Not a little mouse ran along the slope. A few intrepid sparrows alone, black spots on the white ground, hopped about in search of food.

Measuring his steps to the time, Jacques began to sing in a low tone,—

“He is born, the Heavenly Child,—”

and walked along with a great effort, leaning forward. He sunk into hollows where the snow was deep. He knew that he was not far from the copse of the Prévoté, so he took courage, though he stubbed his foot against the hard, concealed ruts, and tumbled into holes. Father Monhache was right; there was surely no lack of dead wood at the copse of the Prévoté.

Over the shivering heather and the crouching brier, lay the fallen branches in their furrows. Jacques fell to work; and how he toiled! He had taken off his cloak, that his movements might be freer. His legs sunk deep in the snow. His hands and his arms were drenched and chilled, while his face was hot and wet with perspiration. He would stop every minute or two to look at his pile of wood, and think of the bright flame it would make in the hut.

When he had all he could carry, he tied it in a fagot, threw his cloak over his shoulders, and started along the shortest cut to the village. His legs trembled. Now and then he was compelled to stop and lean against a tree.


After a little he came to a cross-road. This was Trèves. In the days of the Romans it had been called Trivium, because of the three roads that met there. On that spot had formerly stood an altar to Mercury, the protector of roads, the god of travellers, and the patron of thieves. Christianity had torn down the Pagan altar and replaced it by a crucifix of granite. On the pedestal, gnawed by lichens, one may still find the date, A. D. 1314. During the Hundred Years’ War the statue was shattered, and the cross-road strewn with its fragments. Then, when the foreign element which sullied our land had been cast out, when “Joan, the good maid of Lorraine,” had returned the kingdom of France to the little king of Bourges, the statue was raised, and from that time it has been the object of special veneration through the country. Every peasant bows before it, and even the veterinary, who delights in laughing at priests, would not dare pass the Trèves without raising his hat.

With his hands nailed to the cross, his brow encircled with thorns, the Christ hangs, as though he were calling the whole world to take refuge in his outstretched arms. He seems enormous. In the folds of the cloth which girds his loins wrens have built nests that have never been disturbed. His face is turned toward the East; and his hollow, suffering gaze is fixed upon the sky, as though he were looking for the star that guided the Magi and led the shepherds to the stable in Bethlehem.


Jacques did not forget his mother’s instruction. He laid down his fagot, took off his cap, and there, on his knees, began a prayer, to which the wind moaned a dreary accompaniment. He repeated some prayers which he had learned at the Catechism class; he said others too,—fervent words that rose of themselves from his heart. And as he prayed, he looked up at the Christ, lashed by the storm. Its parted lips and upturned eyes gave it an expression of infinite pain. Two little icicles, like congealed tears, hung on its eyelids, and the emaciated body stretched itself upon the cross in a last spasm of agony. Jacques began to suffer with the suffering embodied there, and he was moved to console the One whom he had come to invoke.

When his prayers were said, he took up his fagot and started on his way; but before he had left the cross-road behind him, he turned and looked back. The Christ’s eyes seemed to follow him. The face was less sombre; the features seemed to have relaxed into an expression of infinite gentleness. A gust of wind shook the snow that had accumulated on its outstretched arms. One might have believed that the statue had shivered. Jacques stopped. “Oh, my poor God,” said he, “how cold you are!” and he went back and stood before the crucifix. Then with a sudden impulse he took off his cloak. He climbed upon the pedestal, then putting his foot upon the projection of the loin-cloth, and reaching about the shoulders, he threw the cloak around the statue.

When he had reached the ground again, “Now, at least, you will not be so cold!” said he; and the two little icicles that had hung on the eyelids of the divine image melted and ran slowly down the granite cheeks like tears of gratitude.

Jacques started off at a rapid pace. The cruel north wind blew through his cotton blouse. He began to run, and the fagot beat against his shoulders and bruised them. At last he reached the foot of a declivity and stopped panting by a ravine sheltered from the snow and the wind by a wall of pines. How tired he was! He descended into the ravine and sat down to rest, only for a minute, thought he,—just a minute more, and he would be up again and on his way to his mother. How tired he was! His head, too, was very hot, and felt heavy. He lay down and leaned his head against the fagot. “I must not go to sleep,” he said. “Oh, no, I will not go to sleep;” and as he said this, his eyelids drooped, and he became suddenly engulfed in a great flood of unconsciousness.


When Jacques awoke he was greatly surprised. The ravine, the snow, the forest, the mountain, the gray sky, the freezing wind,—all had disappeared. He looked for his fagot, but could find it nowhere. He had never seen or even heard of this new country; and he was unable to define its substance, to circumscribe its immensity, or appreciate its splendors. The air was balmy, saturated with exquisite perfumes, and it exhaled soft harmonies that made his heart quiver with delight.

He rose. The ground beneath his feet was elastic, and seemed to rise to meet his step, so that walking became restful. A luminous halo hovered about him. Instead of the old torn cloak, he wore a mantle strewn with stars, and it was seamless, like the one for which dice were cast on the heights of Calvary. His hands—his poor little hands, tumefied with chilblains, and which the cold had chapped and creviced,—were now white and soft like the tips of a swan’s wings. Jacques was amazed, but no feeling of fear agitated him. He was calm and felt strangely confident. A great burden seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders; he was as light as the air, and aglow with beatitude.

“Where am I?” he asked; and a voice more harmonious than the whispering of the breeze answered,—

“In my Father’s House, which is the home of the Just.”

Then through a veil of azure and light a great granite crucifix arose before him. It was the crucifix of the Trèves. Grand-Pierre’s cloak, with the rent across it, floated from the shoulders of the Christ. The coarse wool had grown as diaphanous as a cloud, and through it the light radiated as from a sun. The thorns on his brow glittered like carbuncles, and a superhuman beauty lighted his countenance. From fields of space which the sight could now explore came aerial chants. Jacques fell upon his knees and prostrated himself.

The Christ said,—

“Rise, little one; you were moved to pity by the sufferings of your God,—you stripped yourself of your cloak to shield him from the cold, and this is why he has given you his cloak in exchange for yours; for of all the virtues the highest and rarest is charity, which surpasses wisdom and knowledge. Hereafter you will be the host of your God.”

Jacques took a few steps toward the dazzling vision and held out his arms in supplication.

“What do you want?” said the Christ.

The child said, “I want my mother.”

“The angels who carried Mary into Egypt will bring her to you.”

There was a great rustle of wings, and a smile shone on the face of the granite Christ.

Jacques was praying, but his prayer was unlike any that he had ever said before. It was a chant of ecstasy, which rose to his lips in words so beautiful that he experienced a sense of ineffable happiness in listening to himself.

Far away, on the brink of the horizon, pure and clear as crystal, he saw Marguerite borne toward him on billows of white. She was no longer pale, worn, and sad. She was radiant, and glowed with that internal light which is the beauty of the soul, and is alone imperishable. The angels laid her at the foot of the crucifix, and she prostrated herself and adored. When she raised her head there were two souls beside her, and their essences blended in one kiss, in one burst of gratitude. The granite Christ wept.


High in the steeple the bells are conversing. The two younger ones are sullen. “The people in this village are mad. Why can they never be quiet? Were not yesterday’s duties sufficiently tiresome?—midnight Mass, Matins, the Mass of the Aurora, the third Mass, High Mass, Vespers, the Angelus, to say nothing of supplementary chimes. There was no end to it! And now to-day we must begin all over again. They pull us, they shake us,—first the toll for the dead, the funeral service next, then the burial. It is really too much! Why will they never leave us in peace on our frames? Our clappers are weary, and our sides are bruised with the repeated strokes. What can be the matter with these peasants? Here they come to church again in their holiday clothes. Father Monhache wears his most forbidding scowl; his beard bristles fiercely; every now and then he brushes something from his eyes with the back of his hand. His cocked hat has a defiant tilt. The boys had better be on their guard this day. Far down the road there, I see two coffins, one large and one small. They are lifting them on the oxcart; see! But what is that to us, and why are we expected to ring?”

The old bell, full of wisdom and experience, reproved them, saying,—

“Be still, and do not shame me with your ignorance. You have no conception of the dignity of your functions. You have been blessed; you are church-bells. To men you say, ‘Keep vigil over your immortal souls!’ and to God, ‘O Father, have pity on human weakness!’ Instead of being proud of your exalted mission, and meditating upon what you see, you chatter like hand-bells and reason like sleigh-bells. Your bright color and your clear voices need not make you vain, for age will tarnish you and the fatigues of your duty will crack your voices. When years have passed; when you shall have proclaimed church festivals, weddings, births, christenings, and funerals; after having raised the alarms for conflagrations, and rung the tocsin at the invasion of the enemy,—you will no longer complain of your fate; you will begin to comprehend the things of this world, and divine the secrets of the other; you will come to understand how tears on earth can become smiles in heaven.

“So ring gently, gently, without sadness or fear. Let your voices sound like the cooing of doves. A torn cloak in this world may be a mantle of eternal blessedness in the next.”

Maxime Du Camp (1822 – 1894) was an inflentual French writer and friend of the more famous Gustave Flaubert.

Featured: Carrying of the Cross, by Raphael; painted ca. 1516.

Moralism and Immoralism

In an effort to better understand the notion of the individual, often expressed in libertarian discourse, we give here a fresh translation of an essay by Georges Palante (1862—1925), the French philosopher and sociologist. In this essay, Palante articultes the notion of the individual in relation to morality and immorality. Palante was also the first to read Nietzsche outside the reactionary model often employed for the German philosopher. Palante’s work is little known in the English-speaking world, hence also the necessity of this essay.

The spread of Nietzscheanism has given rise to a new problem: that of Immoralism. By this word, we mean a reversal of the traditional scale of moral values; a disregard for the Christian, altruistic and gregarious virtues: obedience, benevolence, mercy, even-handed justice, circumspection in social relations, seeking the esteem of one’s neighbor, submission to the opinion of the herd; and on the contrary, a glorification of the instincts of rebellion and aggression, of combativeness and audacity, of conquest and prey, of harshness and cruelty; an affirmation of triumphant, brutal Human Energy, ruthless to oneself and to others.

At last, a new sound resounded; “the voice of the cicadas eternally singing their old song” fell silent in astonishment. Until now, the most daring moral innovators, including Schopenhauer and Guyau, have upset old principles and provoked many a hue and cry of horror. But after causing much turmoil and commotion, in the end they came to more or less the same practical conclusions as their predecessors: they always restored the Christian virtues: for Schopenhauer, Pity, and for Guyau, Altruism.

Christian morality basically inspired all the morality of the century that has just ended. Monsieur Rémy de Gourmont has finely noted this. The 19th century, despite its airs of freedom, was a religious century. “Wise as a wise child, it never withdrew its hand from the hand of its good mother: religion.” Tolstoy closed this cycle of Thought.

Opposite and antithesis: Nietzsche and Immoralism. The nature of immoralism in Nietzsche’s thought is complex. First and foremost, there is the anti-Christian feeling of a diminution of humanity caused by Christian moral culture. Second, Heine—a precursor of Immoralism—had already expressed this sentiment in almost Nietzschean terms. “We feel,” he says, “a great weakness in our limbs: the holy vampires of the Middle Ages have sucked so much precious blood from us!… We will have to offer matter great expiatory sacrifices so that it forgives us our old offenses. It would not even be a bad idea to institute sensualist festivals and compensate matter for its past sufferings; for Christian spiritualism, incapable of annihilating it, has withered it at every opportunity; it has belittled the noblest pleasures; the senses have been reduced to hypocrisy… We must clothe our women in new clothes and new feelings, and spend all our thoughts in the smoke of perfumes, as after the ravages of the plague” (Heine, De l’Allemagne, Volume I).

Nietzschean Immoralism, too, is precisely the rehabilitation of concern for “things to come,” instead of mystical daydreaming lost in the clouds. It is a horror of the hypocritical disregard for “things to come,” of the perpetual lie that makes us assign pretexts and distant reasons to all our actions: for example, the procreation of children to voluptuousness.

Nietzsche deserves to be called, like Goethe, “a great Pagan.” But Nietzsche’s Paganism is a special kind of Paganism. This Nietzschean paganism goes far back into the past, farther back than that Classical antiquity we perhaps appreciate for its already Christian aspects, for its Socratism and Platonism, precursors of the Church Fathers. Nietzsche’s paganism goes beyond, to the distant source of the initial energies of the Greek race, to that mysterious Dionysian spring where Nietzsche sees the triumphant affirmation of Nature and Life. “What is astonishing about the religiosity of the ancient Greeks,” says Nietzsche, “is the unbridled abundance of gratitude they exuded: they were a very noble species of men, who had such an altitude before nature, before life! Later, when the populace had the upper hand in Greece, terror emboldened religion: Christianity was in the making” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, § 49).

Today, fallen, we are so far removed from this primitive song of triumph of the instincts, that we can hardly picture it. And yet, who knows? Perhaps the law of eternal return is bringing us back to the threshold of renewed vitality. Let us face it, this renewal of vitality—at least those of us who are up to it!

Nietzsche’s immoralist Song, a reminiscence of the ancient Dionysian spirit, rises into the air with the pantheistic serenity of the Goethean song, the song of which Heinrich Heine said: “Spinoza’s doctrine has emerged from its mathematical chrysalis and is fluttering around us in the form of a Goethean song…. Hence the fury of the orthodox and pietists against this song. They try to grasp with their pious bear paws this butterfly that keeps escaping them… For nothing is so lightly winged, so ethereal, as a song by Goethe” (Heine, De l’Allemagne, Volume I.). Similarly, in the dry, fine air of the Midi, in the Italian limpidezza (recall Nietzsche’s love of the Midi, of Bizet, whom he calls the Midi of music), the philosopher’s fine pagan sensuality laughs at the moral heaviness of Kantian and post-Kantian clericalism.

For Immoralism sees in Kantism and its extensions no more than a disguise for the Religious Imperative and, willingly, imitating Swift’s irreverent manner in his The Tale of the Tub, it would show Kant once again re-tailoring the old Christian cloak, already trimmed by Peter of Rome, by John Calvin and by Martin Luther.

The moralist also rejects, and all the more so, the self-righteousness and moral pedantry of the zealots of bourgeois moralism. Indeed, nothing can match the platitude of this apotheosis of comfortable and convenient bourgeois virtues, which their followers have the effrontery to cover with the noble flag of the categorical imperative. This is the maximum debasement of Christianity. “Christianity,” says Nietzsche, “has left aside God, Freedom and Immortality; all it has retained is a precept of social benevolence and decent living…. This is the euthanasia of Christianity…”

But democratic and demagogic moralism finds no more favor with Immoralism than bourgeois moralism. Heinrich Heine had already noted the affinity between moral Kantism and authoritarian democracy. In De l’Allemagne, we recall the witty comparison he drew between Kant’s moralism (basically a shaggy, despotic clericalism) and Robespierre’s suspicious, guillotine-like moralism. There is, however, a difference to be noted on this point between Heine and Nietzsche. Heine believed in democracy as much as Atta Troll could believe in anything. Nietzsche, on the other hand, sees the democratic idea as nothing more than an extension of the Christian ideology, and therefore, like it, an impoverishment of human energy. He identifies democracy with the gregarious spirit.

[We do not insist on the intellectual and sentimental kinship between Heine and Nietzsche. This kinship exists to some degree. Both are passionate, restless, slightly sickly glorifiers of Life. Nietzsche would agree with Heine: “I am the most faithful son of Life” (Romanzero)].

This is where the radical individualism that lies at the heart of Nietzschean immoralism emerges. Basically, what Nietzsche hates in all Christian or Kantian moralism is Herd morality, the annihilation of the Individual, the Isolated, the Independent, the Original; it is the negation of individual egoism in favor of the hypocritical, preachy egoism of groups. “At present,” says a character in a German novel, an interpreter of Nietzsche’s immoralist theories, “at present those who rule are the least free men and the most incapable of freedom; and if there are a few vigorous intellects among them, they pretend to share Universal Slavery, so as not to risk otherwise setting a dangerous example to the herd. But the time is coming when it will truly be free men who rule.”

The teleologies that form the infrastructure of all Christian moralism, Kantian or otherwise, all have the more or less roundabout consequence of subordinating the individual to the social principle. In the past, this teleology was transcendent; in Kant, it still is, since it is basically God’s will that we fulfill by conforming to the Categorical Imperative. Since Kant, moralism has become naturalistic and scientific, but its fundamental purpose has not changed. For Jhering, for example, social conservation is the goal of law, the supreme law of the individual. Thus, Moralism may change its costume, but its essence remains the same: the subordination of the Individual to the ends of the social group, and through it to the ends of the Race and the Species. And yet what is the social group, if not an abstraction? What is the Species itself, from the point of view of a well-understood Darwinism, if not the result of an enormous accumulation of individual variations! More and more, in biology itself, the concept of Species is disappearing before the concept of Individual. Immoralism is therefore right to shake off the yoke of false teleologies and, in a revolution similar to that of Copernicus, put the Individual back where it belongs: at the center of things.

This is how we can identify these terms: Immoralism and Individualism. Immoralism is—and this is its true and profound moral and social meaning—the vindication of the rights of the Individual, of the freedom of the Individual, against the so-called rights and ends of society.

This is the starting point for judging Immoralism.

Basically, the problem lies in individual consciousness. It is a question of knowing which instincts in individual consciousness are truly profound, truly dominant, those that are destined to absorb the others.

For the philosopher, the problem of lmmoralism and morality is transformed, as Monsieur Fouillée strongly emphasized in his fine article in the Revue philosophique, into the ancient problem of the relationship between Egoism and Altruism A. Fouillée, “Les Jugements de Nietzsche sur Guyau,” December 1901). Nietzsche affirms the primacy and indestructibility of the instincts of struggle and prey, and their necessary role in the evolution of life; Guyau affirms the future gradual disappearance of egoism before altruism.

In our opinion, the question of which is primordial, egoism or altruism, is an indecipherable metaphysical enigma somewhat reminiscent of the question of whether the egg comes first or the chicken.

There is only one experimental way to solve this enigma. It would be to question individual consciences. But the answers would vary too widely. Napoleon and Francis of Assisi, Bakunin and Tolstoy would speak very different languages.

From a factual point of view, all that can be done is to observe the fundamental reducibility of certain types of human character. Despite transitions and nuances, they are found everywhere, and it is with good reason that Schopenhauer makes such a classification the foundation of his moral psychology. For Schopenhauer, egoism, malice and pity are the three fundamental human exemplars. In an admirable analysis, Schopenhauer emphasizes the difference between simple egoism and wickedness. The first principle,” concludes the philosopher, “is rather bestial; the second rather diabolical…. It is always one of these two that prevails, or the other, except where Mercy dominates… Hence the broad outlines of a moral classification of characters. Moreover, there is no man who does not fit into one of these three types” (Schopenhauer, Le Fondement de la Morale, p. 110).

The simple egoist, the wicked man who rejoices in the evil of others, and the helpful and generous man—these are the three types of humanity that each of us has encountered and experienced in life.

Monsieur Ribot, for his part, sets us on the path to a similar classification of human types, according to their moral dominance.

Going as far back into the problem of egoism and altruism as we can on the basis of facts, Monsieur Ribot points to two fundamental tendencies or directions within egoism itself: one destructive, the other constructive, one combative and aggressive, the other helpful and peaceful. Man can pour out the expenditure of his activity on things; he cuts, prunes, destroys, overturns; this is a destructive activity; he sows, plants, builds; this is a conservative or creative activity. It can be applied to animals or men; it insults, harms, mistreats, destroys; or it helps, heals, saves. Destructive activity is accompanied by pleasure, but pathological, because it is the cause of an evil; conservative or creative activity is accompanied by pure pleasure, which leaves no painful feeling after it” (Th. Ribot, Psychologie des sentiments, p. 287-238).

It seems to us that, on the basis of this psychological distinction, we could recognize two human types: one, where the aggressive and destructive tendency dominates; and one, where the opposite tendency dominates and asserts itself as the continuous fabric of individuality. Moreover, we find it difficult to regard the destructive type as pathological, if we give the word pathological its empirical meaning, which is synonymous with infrequent, uncommon; for in fact, this type seems to be very widespread in humanity, and probably about as widespread as the opposite type.

In our view, Schopenhauer’s classification of human traits into three types (simple egoism, malice, helpful kindness), or into two types (destructive and conservative or creative), must remain irreducible. If there are mixed, floating, inconsistent individualities, there are also, according to a remark by Monsieur Ribot, immutable types of character. “True character,” he says, “does not change” (Ibid., p. 39).

These characters, with their more vigorous expression, seem to personify in a particularly striking and symbolic way the various forces that stir in the depths of the will-to-live and introduce so much turmoil and tragic violence into the human drama.

We do not believe we can hope with Guyau that the day will come when wolves will become sheep, when moral unity will be achieved in humanity. Such moral unity would be neither possible nor even conceivable. It would be the very end of movement and life. Nietzsche, speaking of the sacrifice of lovers, one to the other, says that absolute renunciation on the part of both is impossible. “If the two lovers were to renounce themselves for love, the result would be I do not know what—perhaps the horror of emptiness” Nietzsche, The Gay Science, § 363). Perhaps the same applies to an ideal of absolute charity in humanity.

[It seems to us that the exact point on the Guyau-Nietzsche debate is given in the following passage by Mr. Jules de Gaultier: “Guyau found the equivalents of Duty in the need for expansion that results from an intense condensation of life, in a surfeit of strength eager to employ itself. Thus, in a noble way, he reconstituted the social virtues to which Christianity had assigned humble origins, rooted in feelings of weakness and resignation. Guyau can be criticized for remaining attached to an ideal too close to the one opened up by Christian perspectives and the culture developed by them. The future undoubtedly entails greater randomness, more risks and changes at sight, which will delight those who are no better satisfied than the old lethargic Eden, the humanitarian paradises of sociology. Nietzsche, in his hypotheses, has left more room for chance, by which he better satisfies our instinct to play (Jules de Gaultier, “État de la Philosophie en France,” Flegrea, Nov. 20, 1901)].

Faust left the question open: “I do not want to hear any more debates,” he said, “about whether in the world to come one still hates or loves, and whether in those distant spheres there is also an above and a below” (Faust, Part I).

The movement of life seems to indicate that these forces—egoism, wickedness, creative goodness—will eternally entangle their action; they will multiply their points of application; they will capitalize on their effects; they will widen to infinity the weft they weave on the noisy loom of time; but they will remain eternally immutable in their essence and also in the hearts and works of men.

The essay first appeared in Revue philosophique, September 1902.

Pius XII, Independent Ends, and the Inseparability Principle

Recently, a person on social media, after erroneously attributing to me the idea, written in this article, that traditional Catholic morality represents a “discounted, fearful teaching that has no bearing or relevance for the faithful,” told me that in any case “the inseparability principle is demonstrated to be false.” The context of our exchange was obviously Catholic sexual ethics, and he referred to the principle (used in Humanae Vitae) according to which the two meanings of the sexual act (procreative and unitive) cannot be separated. My discussion with him proved to be revealing of some common misinterpretations regarding this topic and is therefore useful to report.

I must say that I was puzzled by his sharp statement as I had never heard of such an allegedly obvious truth about a principle I myself explained many times in classes and writings. So, I just replied that the inseparability principle is one of the most beautiful and solid cornerstones of magisterial teaching, and that I have never read any credible arguments that would deny it.

Does “Independent Meaning” Equal “Separable Meaning?”

I thought this was enough for our friendly exchange on the social network, but he soon came back to me strongly claiming that the principle was old stuff, that,

The primary purpose of marriage (procreation) is independent of the secondary, and therefore is “separable,” because it does not depend on the secondary to exist.

I’m not that comfortable with this use of the term “independence” to indicate the potential relationship between marriage’s ends but I don’t mind following the reasoning and language of my interlocutors, at least initially. Having said that, the first thing that caught my eye in this sentence was the logical confusion of necessarily linking “being independent” with “being separable,” as if the inseparability principle could imply the impossibility of one of the meanings to exist without the other. I wasn’t totally sure if this was his actual problem, but I thought it was relevant, so I replied,

You’re making a typical logical error in ethics. Every moral norm or principle implies the factual possibility of breaking it. For example, the fact that it is possible to give birth or raise a child without love does not mean that it is morally licit to do so. When we use the term “impossible” in morality we express an ought, not a factual impossibility. The principle of inseparability of the procreative and unitive meanings must obviously be understood in a moral sense. The factual possibility of separating the meanings is not an objection, it is a logical premise of the moral principle. If they couldn’t be separated de facto, there would be no need to formulate the ethical principle.

Does “Independent” Equal “Primary,” Equal “Essential?”

I thought this would settle the matter, but I was wrong because he, in addition to confusing independence with inseparability, also confused “primary” with “essential” and thought that the principle of inseparability implied affirming the existence of two primary ends. For reasons unknown, he attributed to me this eccentric idea that there were two primary ends,

The primary is independent. The secondary is dependent. There is only one primary (essential) purpose to marriage. You are saying there are two primary purposes. The # must be correct before liceity of any marriage-related issue can be identified.

Of course, he had to admit that I had never said such a thing, but he added,

It’s not your quote, however “two primary purposes” is the necessary result of “inseparability.” How many, do you say, of the purposes of marriage are essential to it?

Not without some patience and good humor, I had to remind him that the classical view has nothing to do with the idea of two primary ends,

Well, the traditional view, which is my own too, is that there are two ends, one primary and one secondary.

But he immediately insisted on going back to the alleged intrinsic connection between the concepts of “primary” and of “essential,”

Okay, of the two ends, how many are essential to marriage?

My answer, of course, was “Both.” So, he insisted again,

If both are essential, then neither is independent of the other. However, the Church teaches that the primary purpose of marriage does not depend on the secondary in its essential perfection. How is this contradiction remedied?

This reply revealed some deeper metaphysical shortcoming. I therefore decided to provoke my interlocutor with a metaphysical analogy which highlighted other types of essential elements of which one was primary and one secondary and which did not imply inseparability. I also asked for specific quotes from the Magisterium so to better understand from where his doubts were coming:

Are being animal and being rational both essential to the human being? Which one is primary? Are they dependent on each other? How is death possible? Where exactly is the Church teaching what you say? Please provide exact quotes for what you claim.

Pius XII

At my solicitation, he revealed the magisterial source of his conviction. It was Pius XII:

An essential “purpose” can exist independent of its secondary purpose. But the secondary purpose cannot exist without the primary. This is why the legal object of marriage consent is the primary purpose only, and not the secondary. Here is Pius XII condemning “dependent primary.

This line still reveals the confusion between “essential” and “primary,” but at least he added a reference to a document which, although drafted by Pius XII, was issued by the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (Decree on the Ends of Matrimony, April 1, 1944). My interlocutor strangely missed that the whole point Pius XII wanted to make was to reaffirm the doctrine according to which there are certain “goods” or “essential properties” of marriage (Pius PP. XI, Casti Connubii, 1930) of which one is primary (procreation) and other secondary, and that secondary goods cannot be interpreted as independent.

This is how the Decree from 1944 (quoted by my online friend) put it:

A novel manner of thinking and speaking was born hither unto fomenting errors and uncertainties; seeking to avert these things, the most Eminent and Reverend Fathers of this Supreme Sacred Congregation, charged with safeguarding matters of faith and morals, in the plenary session of Feria IV, held on the day of March 29, 1944, to the dubium put before them: “Whether the opinion of certain modern [authors] may be admitted, who either deny that the primary end of matrimony is the generation and raising of offspring or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end but are equally paramount and independent?”; they have decreed the response: Negative” (Decree on the Ends of Matrimony, April 1, 1944).

And this is how Pius XII himself summarized what happened with the dubium and the Decree:

Now the truth is that marriage, as a natural institution, by virtue of the Creator’s will does not have as its primary and intimate purpose the personal improvement of the spouses, but the procreation and education of new life. The other ends, although they too are intended by nature, are not in the same degree as the first, and even less are they superior to it, but are essentially subordinate to it. This applies to every marriage, even if it is infertile… Precisely to cut short all the uncertainties and deviations, which threatened to spread errors about the scale of the ends of marriage and their mutual relations, We Ourselves drew up a few years ago (March 10, 1944) a declaration on the order of those ends, indicating what the same internal structure of the natural disposition reveals, what is the patrimony of the Christian tradition, what the Supreme Pontiffs have repeatedly taught, what was then established in the due forms by the Code of Canon Law. Indeed, shortly afterwards, to correct the contrasting opinions, the Holy See with a public decree pronounced that the sentence of some recent authors could not be accepted, who deny that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of offspring, or who teach that secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but equivalent to and independent of it (S. C. S. Officii, April 1, 1944—Acta Ap. Sedis, vol. 36, a. 1944. 103). (Pius XII, Speech of His Holiness PIO PP. XII to the participants in the congress of the Italian Catholic Union of Obstetricians, Monday, October, 29 1951).

And again,

Two tendencies are to be avoided: the one which, in examining the constituent elements of the act of generation, gives weight solely to the primary purpose of marriage, as if the secondary purpose did not exist or at least were not finis operis established by the Orderer of nature himself; and that which considers the secondary end as equally principal, freeing it from its essential subordination to the primary end (Pius XII, Speech to the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, Friday, October 3, 1941).

Thus, this is how I replied to my interlocutor’s quote:

This document does not say that unity is not essential to marriage but that it is subordinate to the primary (essential) end, which is exactly what I’ve been saying all along. You keep confusing the concepts of “essential/not essential” with those of “primary/secondary.” The secondary meaning of marriage is essential to marriage too even if it is essentially subordinate to the primary end. I don’t see any logical problem here.

Yet, he had done more than confuse those meanings. Surprisingly, he had claimed that “the legal object of marriage consent is the primary purpose only, and not the secondary.” Thus, I politely reminded him what the Code of Canon Law actually states,

You may like to consider canon 1096, which clarifies, in terms of validity, what is essential to the existence of the marital consent: “Can. 1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.” The concept of “permanent partnership” includes a reference to unity (secondary end), which is as essential to the contract as the primary end (“ordered to the procreation”) is.

Matrimonial Consent and the Conjugal Act

He insisted,

When legally defining marriage, “unity” refers only to exclusivity AKA faithfulness AKA fidelity. If “inseparability” is true, then no purpose of marriage is independent, correct?

I interpreted this further response as a difficulty in connecting the unitive meaning to love, also generating an eccentric contrast between love, on the one hand, and the legal concepts of exclusivity, faithfulness, and fidelity, on the other. After all, he had just claimed that “the legal object of marriage consent is the primary purpose only” (i.e., he thought that unity was not part of the essence of the contract). He was clearly trying now (after I recalled Canon 1096 about “permanent partnership”) to legally interpret “unity” in a different way than that expressed by the inseparability principle. Thus, in my reply I focused on the important consistency that must exist between legal definitions and the substance of things.

The legal definition of the existence requirements must correspond to the substance because it indicates what is essential to the real existence of marriage, in this case with respect to the purity of the will. If the will does not include the essential, the marriage does not come into existence. If the will does not include some important but accidental elements, marriage comes into existence but could be vitiated (annulment). In all the explanations I know (including Aquinas’) indissolubility is linked to the purity of spousal love (unity) and not to procreation because procreation per se, conceptually, does not require indissolubility (but at most a certain stability for enough years: cf., Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 122). Still, procreation is the primary meaning of marriage. Obviously, the inseparability of the meanings of marriage does not imply inseparability with respect to all acts internal to marriage, except in the case of the conjugal act. A nice outing with the wife and a hug when she is frightened need love in themselves but not procreation. The conjugal act needs both because outing and conjugal act are very different things, even within marriage. Logically, it’s very different to refer inseparability to the marriage as a whole or to the individual acts that the spouses continuously perform within the marriage. There is only one act within marriage which is so defining of it that it necessarily includes both meanings, and coincidentally this act (the conjugal act) is also necessary for the actual conclusion of the marriage, which makes it indissoluble.

Analogical Predications

My interlocutor has never allowed himself to be involved in my conceptual solicitations. His only problem was maintaining the logical objection that the principle of inseparability is denied by the claim that the primary end is independent of the secondary ones and, therefore, separable:

“Inseparable” purposes of marriage = no purpose can exist independently of the other. Pius XII says the primary purpose of marriage is “independent” of the secondary purpose. Was he wrong?

Philosophers always feel the primary need to clarify the meanings of terms, especially when there are various analogical meanings involved. I sensed that this was a case where this need had to be satisfied. So, I wrote the following,

You cannot reduce analogical meanings to univocal meanings. Both “inseparability” and “independence” can refer, for example: (a) to the marriage contract; (b) to a marriage in fieri as a partnership; (c) to the object of each single action; (d) to the intention of the agent. There is no contradiction, e.g., in saying that the two meanings are inseparable compared to “(a)” and not compared to “(c)” or “(d).” Humanae Vitae says that they are inseparable compared to “(c)” in the specific context of the conjugal act.

The point is that the doctrine of the inseparability of the two meanings has been used in Humanae Vitae to explain the immorality of contraception compared to its object. It was not used to explain the morality of every possible action performed by the spouses as a married couple. This doctrine or principle does not mean that even in the act of choosing movie night at home those two meanings must be present and inseparable. Clearly, marriage as a whole—the life together of the spouses—essentially requires both meanings, but as to specific acts of married life, there is only one act capable of encompassing the very essence of marriage, the conjugal act.

Again, the analysis of the human act can be done with respect to the object, the end, and the circumstances. In the case of intrinsically evil acts, the analysis of the objectivity of the act precedes and renders superfluous (at least in this respect) that of the end and of the other circumstances. This means that Humanae Vitae, even with respect to the conjugal act, did not need to refer the inseparability principle to the spouses’ intentions and/or to their entire marital life. Humanae Vitae focuses on the order of objective morality of the conjugal act.


The online discussion with my friend didn’t end here and maybe it will never end, but this is enough to clarify at least some important points regarding this topic. At the end of the day, his doubt was about the possible contradiction between the inseparability principle and the alleged independence of the primary end. How should we handle this doubt? One answer is that Pius XII and the Magisterium only used the concept of “independence” to deny erroneous theses which sought to make the secondary purpose independent. A more logical answer, which tries to save a possible correct use of the term, lies in the analogical predication and the logical distinctions I mentioned.

Essential, defining features cannot be independent in the sense that if one is missing the relevant thing is not there. Being animal and being rational are both essential to the human being. If one is missing, there is no human being. From this point of view, it does not matter if one feature is primary (being rational) and one secondary (being animal). This, however, does not mean that everything pertaining to the human being needs to have both defining features. For example, digestion, cellular mitosis, or sleeping do not need to be defined in terms of both animal and rational activities. There is one sense in which they all pertain to the human being and another sense in which they are not rational per se. Other crucial acts, on the other hand, essentially include the definition of the human being: e.g., (moral) choice.

Similarly, marriage is essentially defined in terms of both procreation and (loving) unity, but this does not mean that every act in married life includes both elements as defining features. In many ordinary acts that characterize married life (cooking a nice dinner, embracing after a fright, or defending one’s child from a stranger) the two meanings can be described as separable and independent (or, to use a better term, “distinct”).

Separability and independence can also be predicated in many cases of the order of intention compared to the objective moral order (without underestimating the difference between the habitual end and the intention of the proximate end). Spouses do not need to constantly think about procreation in every act of their life. They just ought to act in a context in which the purpose of procreation is objectively respected.

One final note on love and procreation. Many don’t understand why love in marriage, while more important per se, is secondary. Love is the highest meaning (inseparable from any other, at least as a habitual end) in any human reality because it is the first commandment of the law and the reason of our entire existence. Yet, love can exist without sex (think of angels, or love for children). The only reason for the existence of sex is procreation, but procreation must occur in the human reality, which is informed by the precept of love. In the same way, we can say that the primary meaning of the hammer is to drive nails even if we use the hammer to build our house. In this case, the house is a higher meaning of the hammer but not its primary meaning. Sexual life is primarily ordered to procreation but is also essentially ordered (as everything else in our existence) to love God and our neighbor. In the loving order of creation, procreation too—and the diachronic existence of the human race in history—is ordered to the love of God.

Fulvio Di Blasi, Ph.D., Esq., is an expert in moral philosophy and author of God and the Natural Law: A Rereading of Thomas AquinasFrom Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas: Natural Law, Practical Knowledge, and the Person, and Vaccination as an Act of Love? The Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemic.

Featured: The Marriage at Cana, by the Master of the Retable of the Reyes Catolicos; painted ca. 1495-1497.

The Four Reformers

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), the famed Scottish writer, in his leisure hours also turned out some remarkablle fables. One of them, The Four Reformers, speaks to our own era rather precisely. It is difficult to say when it was written, but likely before 1888. His fables were collected and published postumously, in 1896.

IX. The Four Reformers

Four reformers met under a bramble bush. They were all agreed the world must be changed. “We must abolish property,” said one.

“We must abolish marriage,” said the second.

“We must abolish God,” said the third.

“I wish we could abolish work,” said the fourth.

“Do not let us get beyond practical politics,” said the first. “The first thing is to reduce men to a common level.”

“The first thing,” said the second, “is to give freedom to the sexes.”

“The first thing,” said the third, “is to find out how to do it.”

“The first step,” said the first, “is to abolish the Bible.”

“The first thing,” said the second, “is to abolish the laws.”

“The first thing,” said the third, “is to abolish mankind.”

Featured: Four Men at a Cafe, by Yiannis Tsaroychis; painted in 1927.


An ascent of the soul in search of God, a dialogue, a true encounter, “an intimate friendship in which we often speak alone with the God we know we love,” a test of solitude, diligence, interiority and faith… what exactly is an “orison?”

The word “orison,” unlike many others in the religious vocabulary, has retained its Christian specificity; yet its quasi-synonym “meditation” is used in other religious systems, and even in a context that may be areligious, such as “mindfulness meditation.” There is a kind of irreducibility to the word’s passage outside Christianity. To help us understand this, three traditional definitions of prayer are presented.

An Ascent of the Soul

Following Evagrius, the Fathers teach us that prayer is an ascent of the spirit, or soul, towards God. It is thus an activity that enables us to seek out a transcendent Being beyond the human sphere; but contemporary mentality, which refuses with Kant that God can present Himself to us as an object of knowledge, rejects this claim, stigmatized as a dream of selfishly sought union with a transcendent divine, and opposes it to prophetic prayer, where ultimately it is “man who expresses himself.” However, far from being a contamination of Christian thought by Neoplatonism, this conception of prayer is rooted in the Word of God: man must seek God, but his thoughts are not those of man (Is 55:8).

A Conversation

Prayer is also defined as a conversation with God, a dialogue. It is a relationship between two people: the one who prays and the living God, both transcendent and accessible. The Latins wanted to explain the word orison, derived from the verb orare, from the word, “mouth,” “bone;” even if the etymology is not confirmed by specialists, we can retain the idea: the one who prays speaks, opens his mouth to address God. This is only possible if God has spoken first, revealed Himself. Prayer, then, is a response to God’s first word, the beginning of a conversation. Prayer is thus a face-to-face encounter, so to speak, as Deuteronomy says of Moses (5:4). The mystery of prayer is that, although we cannot see God’s face, we can nevertheless enter into a relationship with Him. Is this not also where He gives us His Spirit, His breath of life? It is a kind of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for those of us who are drowning—we need his vital breath. In the desert of Egypt, Saint Anthony the Great already understood this, pointing out in his last exhortation that prayer is a kind of supernatural breathing (Life of St. Anthony by Saint Athanasius, no. 91). Pope Francis takes up the image himself: Christians “find an exclusive concern with this world to be narrow and stifling, and, amid their own concerns and commitments, they long for God, losing themselves in praise and contemplation of the Lord” (Gaudete et exsultate, n. 147).

The Secret

In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Christ gives us a valuable catechesis on prayer: “When you pray…” You must withdraw, close your door, pray to the Father in secret. You will not see Him, but He, your Father, sees in secret: He will hear you. Your Father knows what is best for you even before you tell Him. Could we not object that, in that case, there is no point in talking to Him? That would be a bit short-sighted, since our very relationship with God, regardless of what He may grant us, is already a great good for man. Dom Guéranger writes in the preface to his Liturgical Year: “Prayer is the first good for man, since it puts him in relationship with God, for there man is in his place before his Creator and Savior.” This is true of all prayer, of petition and thanksgiving, but more particularly of prayer itself.


Saint Teresa of Avila formulated the classic definition: “it is an intimate friendship, in which we often converse alone with the God we know we love” (Autobiography, 8.5; Gaudete et exsultate, n. 149). Solitude, assiduity, interiority, faith—these are the characteristics of interior prayer. We have already seen the dimension of dialogue. Saint Theresa specifies that it should take place in solitude, a faithful translation of the Gospel text mentioned above. Above all, she insists on the frequency of prayer: we must “converse often with God.” Repetition itself shapes our soul, refines its orientation. For it takes time to become accustomed to God, to detach ourselves from the things of the world. And at the same time, we need to give God time to work in us. “The Word of God dwelt in man and became son of man to accustom man to grasp God, and accustom God to dwell in man, according to the mind of the Father,” writes Saint Irenaeus (Adv. haer., III.20.2).. Aristotle had already pointed out that friendship can only be established “when the measure of salt has been exhausted,” i.e., when we have eaten so many meals together that we have emptied the salt shaker. If we want to grow in charity, that divine friendship with God, we need to devote time to it.

Finally, faith. We “converse with the God we know we love” through faith, without feeling or experiencing the charity of God that envelops us and calls us to His intimacy. God is Spirit, and it is spiritually that we go to Him, even if sometimes our very sensibility can be touched. The Spirit prays within us with unutterable groanings, St. Paul tells us (Rom 8:26), and this prayer is not perceptible to the one praying either. St. Anthony the Great said: “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself and of the fact that he is actually praying” (John Cassian, Conference 9:31).

The practice of prayer is intimately linked to God’s self-revelation in Christ. Faced with an absolutely transcendent God, man is called to submission, not to a trade in friendship; in a religious climate dominated by law, he may be content to observe commandments; but if God reveals himself as Father in Christ, then it is a need to seek Him in secret, to take time for Him, to wait for Him.

This meditation is offered by a monk of Fontgombault Abbey. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Repentance, by Oleg Vishnyakov; painted in 1995.

God’s Answer to the Poet Baudelaire

Baudelaire died just over 150 years ago, having received the sacraments of the Church. It would be short-sighted to see him only as a hashish-smoking debauchee, a dandy crushed by ennui, an heir who squandered his fortune. If he took on to his very core the darkness of a world without hope and stirred up “the infamous menagerie of our vices,” he has nothing in common with the bourgeois who quietly confesses his atheism. It is worth rereading the contempt with which he holds, in Pauvre Belgique! the “prêtrophobes” and freethinkers who have stunted the scope of the world by extirpating from the conscience any idea of divine retribution: “Having imagined suppressing sin, the freethinkers thought it ingenious to suppress the judge and abolish punishment. This is exactly what they call progress.”

There is something prophetic in his denunciation of a soulless life, where everything is bought and sold. In this sense, Baudelaire is an anti-bourgeois, an “anti-modern” in the line of the Psalms: “And man when he was in honour did not understand; he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them… They are laid in hell like sheep: death shall feed upon them.” (Ps 48:13;15). He could have written Nietzsche’s words, which mock the health-idolatry of the pagan world: “We have our little pleasure for the day, our little pleasure for the night, but above all we revere health.” Houellebecq also participates in his spirit when he writes: “I am a Catholic in the sense that I show the horror of the world without God.” The poet’s restless soul has something of the mystical about it, like an inverted kinship. He responds to the allure of the Divine by probing his own abyss. “His poetry of unrepentant supplication was so sacrilegious that it became, by antinomy, suggestive of adoration,” writes Bloy in Un brelan d’excommuniés.

He pursues an “unknown God,” masked and versatile, who gives “suffering / As a divine remedy to our impurities” (Bénédiction). Bloy wrote of him that he “was a reverse Catholic, like the demons who ‘believe and tremble’ according to the words of Saint James” (James 2:19).

Like Augustine, Baudelaire had a restless heart. He was implacably lucid on man’s lies, on wounded nature, on the ambiguity of beauty, whose gaze is at once “infernal and divine.” He scrutinized “to the very core the dark and obscure stone” (Job 28:3) of a world in despair. Like Job, who cursed the day of his birth, he made his mother’s mouth fill with the anguish of having given birth to a monster: “Ah! why did I not give birth to a whole knot of vipers, / Rather than nourish this mockery” (Bénédiction).

He is the poet of sin, which implies the knowledge of a deeper clarity and the revelation of a wounded love. He was the man of De profundis that cried out in the valley of tears. He regretted that the priest of Honfleur had not understood that his poems were based on “a Catholic idea,” that of the sinner who awaits redemption through death. Baudelaire descended into the underworld, into the opacity of a world that confusedly awaited the light. He is the poet of Holy Saturday. Did he rise again? Did he experience Easter morning? Nadar asked him just before his death: “How can you believe in God?” With “a cry of ecstasy,” he showed the Place de l’Étoile, illuminated by “the splendid pomp of the setting sun.” “He certainly believed,” concluded Nadar.

Little Thérèse was born just after his death, like a little sister. She lived in the heroic faith of a world devoid of hope. She faced the darkness of the ultimate temptation, that of despair. Her manuscripts should be reread as a mysterious response to the “cursed poet”: “I suppose I was born in a country surrounded by a thick fog…. The King of the homeland with the shining sun came to live thirty-three years in the land of darkness. Alas! the darkness did not understand that this Divine King was the light of the world… But Lord, your child… asks you for forgiveness for her brothers. She agrees to eat as long as you want the bread of sorrow and does not want to get up from this table filled with bitterness where poor sinners eat until the day you have marked…”

May she “throw flowers” to the picker of Les Fleurs du mal, who begged Beauty to finally open the door “to an infinite that I love and have never known.”

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

Featured: Portait of Baudelaire, by Gustave Courbet; painted ca. 1848-1849.

Frodo’s Last Lesson

Frodo failed.

If you’re a reader of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (or just a movie-goer), then you know that the central, heroic character, the young Mr. Frodo, ring-bearer, fails to throw the Ring into the fires of Mt. Doom at the end of his arduous journey. Everything he loved, his home, his friends, every scrap of goodness, depended on the Ring being tossed into those fires, and, when it came down to it, he was unable to let it go. Fortunately for Middle Earth, the wraith-like, pitiable creature, Gollum, bit Frodo’s finger off in order to have the Ring again for his own, and accidentally slipped and fell into the fires, saving Middle Earth in the bargain. All of that drama resolved by an accident?

It is genius.

Tolkien was not writing an allegory. Things in his story do not stand for something else. Nevertheless, Tolkien’s Catholic Christianity is woven throughout Middle Earth. Tolkien believed that in Jesus Christ, all “myth” was fulfilled. The Story that every story longed to be true and anticipated in some vague sense, was incarnate and made true in the God/Man, Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection. Middle Earth, were it to have any element of truth at all within it, were it to somehow ring true in the hearts of its readers, could not ignore the larger Story, the Great Story. Nor can we.

It has been something of a commonplace in the past number of years for writers to draw lessons, or parallels, from Tolkien’s work and the Christian story. One of my favorites is The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle Earth, by Ralph Wood, who taught at Baylor for many years and who has become a friend over the past decade or so. I frequently marvel at the insight in Tolkien’s charming tale and find my mind drifting to it as I think through various aspects of the Christian journey.

Frodo’s failure at the last moment is deeply interesting. Frequently, in our imagining of the Christian journey, the notion of failure at the last moment is appalling. We think to ourselves that a life-time of struggle can be undone in a single moment. It is, I think, a terrible caricature and diminishment of the mercy and grace of God. Our culture champions the notion of free-will and the power of choosing – as if those magical words somehow captured the whole of who we are.

Frodo’s failure is an excellent foil to this fantasy. He agreed to be the “Ring-bearer.” Through terrible sufferings and hardship, he sludges his way towards Mordor and the fires of Mount Doom. Even then, without the assistance of his friend, Sam Gamgee, he would have failed. He manages, against all odds, to stand at the very Crack of Doom, hovering over the fire. It is there that he is overpowered by the Ring itself and the malevolent will that owns it. Frodo did not “choose evil” – he was “defeated” by it. There is a world of difference.

The most astounding aspect of Frodo’s tale is the simple fact that, when all was said and done, he was standing where he was supposed to be. He had not quit.

When we proclaim, as Christians, that we are “saved by faith,” we all too easily mistake this for a proclamation about what we “think.” The simple fact is that, from day to day, what we “think” about God might waver, some days bordering or even lapsing into unbelief. The same can be said of a marriage. We love our spouse, though there might well be days that we wish we weren’t married. Faith (and love) are not words that indicate perfection or the lack of failure. “Faith,” in the Biblical sense, is perhaps better translated as “faithfulness.” Much the same can be said of love within a marriage. In both cases, it matters that we do not quit.

We cannot predict the future. The classical Western wedding vows acknowledge, “for better or worse, for richer for poorer, , in sickness and in health…” That is an honest take on life. The same is true of our life in Christ.

Modernity has nurtured the myth of progress. Whether we’re thinking of technology, our emotional well-being, or the spiritual life, we presume that general improvement is a sign of normalcy and that all things are doing well. This is odd, given the fact that aging inherently carries with it the gradual decline of health. Life is not a technological feat. It is unpredictable and surrounded by dangers – nothing about this has changed over the course of human history.

I have been an active, practicing Christian since around age 15. I have been in ordained ministry for over 43 years. Over that time, I have seen a host of Christians come and go. When I preside at the funeral of a believer (which I have done hundreds of times), I am always struck by the simple fact of completion. “I have finished the race,” St. Paul said. (2Tim. 4:7) That is no mean feat.

The most striking feature of the Twelve Apostles is their steadfastness. The gospels are filled with reminders that they frequently misunderstood Christ. They argued with Him. They tried to dissuade Him from His most important work. They complained. They jockeyed with each other for preferment and attention. Peter denied Him. Only Judas despaired. Of the others, all but one died as martyrs.

In Frodo’s tale, the final victory accomplished by the destruction of the Ring, came about both by his long struggles, but ultimately by a hand unseen throughout the novels that seemed to be at work despite the plots of Sauron. In the Scriptures we are told: “Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16 LXX).

The hand of God is often “secret,” unseen both by us and by those who oppose us. The mystery of the Cross is easily the most prominent example of God’s secret hand. St. Paul said that the demonic powers had no idea that the Cross would accomplish their defeat (1Cor. 2:7-8).

That same hand is at work in the life of every believer. Though we stumble, He remains faithful. We cling to Christ.

There is a Eucharistic promise that seems important here: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:56).

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: Faramir, Tolkien Calendar June 1977, by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

The Way, The Truth, The Life

Christ’s famous phrase, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6) provides Christians with an invaluable route to conversion. Here are some explanations.

I. “I am the Way”

First of all, whatever our vocation—our path is called Jesus. It’s all about following Jesus. He chooses the way, and I walk behind. Sometimes we’re tempted to organize our lives as we see fit, and once we’ve got everything organized, we pray to Jesus to make our plans a success. In other words, we say to Jesus: come and follow me! It seems to me, however, that in the Gospel it’s the other way around: it’s Jesus who tells us—come and follow me!

You can’t choose your path! “I would never have chosen to have a fourth child right away,” says one mother. We don’t choose our path; we accept it as a mystery.

However, we do choose how to move forward along that path—by dragging a ball and chain, or by saying a big “yes” to this path offered by providence. To say yes to the path is to say yes to Jesus; “I am the way” says Jesus!

So, I have to love my real situation today, however imperfect it may be. Of course, I can and must hope that this path will become smoother and clearer—I must hope to get married, have a child, find work, heal from a health problem or a wound of the heart—but in the meantime, I must love this path as it is, because it’s the one Jesus wants me to follow.

Let’s listen to the words of Wanda Poltawska, the spiritual little sister of Saint John Paul II, a Polish mother in great pain: “Loving God also means loving the path he has laid out for us. Very often, in fact, we sincerely want to love God… but we hate the path he leads us along!”

We need the strength of Grace to love the path God has laid out for me, to fully consent to what providence is giving me to live today. Let’s be gentle and patient with ourselves—sometimes we have to wrestle with God like Jacob, bumping up against His will, going through stages of inner anger or discouragement, before we can say a total, “Yes.” Yet however far we may be from true inner peace and authentic holiness, Jesus is with each and every one of us today; right where we are. Jesus did not say: “I am the end of the road”—but: “I am the way.”

II. “I am the Truth”

Jesus goes on to say, and here we hear something quite unexpected—truth is not a theory, nor a set of dogmas, however beautiful they may be. Truth is first and foremost—someone: “I am the Truth,” says Jesus. He is the Word in Whom God says everything, without the slightest lie.

Whereas for us, in our hearts and in our actions, truth and lies are inextricably intertwined. To say that someone is false does not inspire confidence! Only Jesus is “true”: “He was not yes and no,” writes Saint Paul, “but yes in him” (2 Cor 1:19).

So, it’s not just a question of adhering to a doctrine, but to someone, to Jesus. To know the truth is to know Jesus in an ever more personal way, to become a friend of Jesus, to live with Him, to stand close to Him, to listen to Him and talk to Him.

Isn’t my faith too cerebral, in the sense that it consists solely of my mind adhering to truths about God? Pope Francis often warns us against the danger of intellectualism. We need the Holy Spirit to bring our faith down from our heads into our hearts, to teach us to truly encounter Jesus, to let Him set His eyes on our souls, on our miseries, on our sins, not to shy away from the light of His gaze in order to get to the truth about ourselves.

III. “I am Life”

…says Jesus. Don’t we sometimes look at the banality of our daily lives and exclaim: “This is no life. I don’t want to go on like this! I want to live life to the full! We’re all waiting, more or less consciously, for something better, for fulfillment, for success, for liberation. Yet the years go by, life moves on, and nothing happens! Life remains the same, the daily dullness returns every morning!

But let’s make no mistake—the novelty we’re hoping for won’t come from external events, in a life that’s finally become exciting. The only novelty that can free us from routine lies within us. This inner source has a name and a face. It is not light or energy. It is Someone—the Holy Spirit. We sing in the Creed that He gives life: vivificantem. For Saint John Paul II, this was the most beautiful and important word in the Creed. This true life is expressed by St. Paul: “I live, but it is no longer I; it is Christ who lives in me. (Gal 2:20) This is the real liberation we’ve been waiting for! I live, but it’s no longer me. It’s no longer an existence confined solely to my ego—my health, my reputation, my plans, my fulfillment… We suffocate when we remain centered on ourselves! True life is the one that frees me from my ego, my isolation and my narrowness, and transforms the little things of each day into permanent praise.

So, in the words of Saint Elisabeth de La Trinité, “One is never banal! Oh,” she continues, “how empty is everything that has not been done for God and with God! Please, mark everything with the seal of love! If I were to start my life all over again, how I’d never waste another moment! It’s so serious, so serious, I’d like to live every minute full!”

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us live in truth on the Paschal path traced out by Jesus. It is Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit, but it is Mary who draws Him!

Father Louis (Père Louis) is Prior of the Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux, France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef

Featured: Christ Pantocrator and the Last Judgment, mosaic in the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, by the Florentine master, ca. 1300.

Open Up to Wonder

Blanche Streb is a mother, essayist and columnist, who holds a doctorate in pharmacy. She has just written a remarkable book, Grâce à l’émerveillement (Because of Wonder) which invites us to rediscover our sense of wonder that can allow us to embrace life with enthusiasm, as we marvel at the mystery of being. Through the kind courtesy of La Nef, we are happy to bring you an excerpt.

The times we live in are fascinating and worrying. More and more technology, more and more speed, more and more so-called rights, more and more material goods. And yet… ever less time, ever less meaning, ever less hope. So much so that all around us, and within us, temptations to flee the present are multiplying—by becoming dizzy in the hustle and bustle or in front of our screens, by taking pride in our illusions of mastery and possession, by hardening ourselves in jadedness, by dozing off in the drone of what’s the point.

And then, one day, we come to realize that the misdeeds we deplore are first and foremost causes to be combated, rather than effects to be lamented. And we feel an inner act of resistance emerging. No! cries out our whole being. I don’t want to sink into indifference. I don’t want to miss out on my life. I don’t want to give in to swan-songs or those of sirens, I don’t want this ordeal to take everything with it. I’m here, alive. And I want to live fully, here and now.

In this world thirsting for meaning and hope, there is an eternal science of life to be (re)discovered today, a sovereign antidote to the disenchantment and cynicism that plague our times—Grace and the power of wonder. This intuition that precedes us, we all have already perceived its presence and active force in the corners of our lives. For this is a science reserved neither for the wise nor the learned, neither for children, nor for the spoiled-of-life. On the contrary, it is the inspiration of inspirations that wishes to pass through each and every one of us, whatever our gifts or what we do, in the brightness as well as in the discretion, in the small things and small nothings of everyday love.

Wonder is an innate disposition of the human heart. Some are richly endowed. Others are meagerly endowed. Some people, because they have lived through a profoundly “transforming” experience or even come close to the end, rediscover this science of life. It’s as if the nearness of death gives rise to an urgency to live. As if consenting to the end were in fact consenting to everything that needs to be lived.

Wonder seizes us, in the banality as in the extraordinary of our lives, and plants a seed of enthusiasm that delicately deflects our trajectory, breathing new life into us, giving a different consistency, substance and depth to what surrounds us, lives within us and around us. Wonder is not a simple, silly or childish emotion. It’s not an escape from the real world, but a doorway to the essential. It is lived in a sharpened awareness, capable of seeing beauty where it is, but also the goodness of acts and people, courage, fortitude. It doesn’t erase hardship or make the ordinary wonderful, but allows us to see the marvelous in the ordinary, the new in the familiar, the possible in the existing. It keeps our eyes from losing the grace to open up to the world each time as if for the first time. This gift of wonder enables us to see beyond what we see, beyond nature and its laws, to glimpse that the world is not limited to the visible, and that reality is vaster than we think. Through it, we gain access to another kind of Knowledge, far higher than the one lurking in our wherewithal—and to an encounter with the Other. This gift of wonder can be summed up in four words—do not be indifferent. And more than anything else, it’s up to us to open the door to it, to choose to live it, to cultivate it.

At the end of this month, the Church celebrates Pentecost. The coming of the One promised to us from all eternity. The One who strengthens and comforts us. He nurtures in us the spiritual flair that clears our path and helps us discern between what to seek and what to flee, what to love and what to hate. Where we must think big—for nothing is impossible for God—and where we must remain small—for we are neither perfect nor all-powerful. I deeply believe that many of the evils of our time would vanish if only our disposition served His gifts. In them lies what can heal so many wounds and think of ways to guard against them. These are not easy times. The moral and spiritual crisis we are going through is real and profound. It leads to so many lies, illusions, irresponsibility and absurdities. “This era demands of us a spiritual conflagration,” wrote Solzhenitsyn in 1978 in his famous Harvard speech.

Nothing counts more than human faculties and virtues, to steer our soul. Wonder is one of them. A powerful faculty. It gets us off the couch, out of our egos. We don’t marvel at ourselves, or only through a Grace we feel has passed through us, but for which we know we were neither the source nor the completion. Yes, let us dare to say to Grace—Come, enter my home! It’s at work, it’s (working) on us. These small steps of God in our lives can only make us more confident and “hopeful,”

There are so many aspirations that seek their way into the depths of our clogged souls—the desire for the good, the beautiful, the worthy; to be more, better, happier; to serve, to progress. Let’s set them aglow. Let’s turn them over to God. It’s going to be contagious.

Featured: Morgen im Riesengebirge (Morning in the Riesengebirge), by Caspar David Friedrich; painted ca. 1810-1811.

Ukraine, or Hatred as Virtue

The conflict in the Ukraine has brought unexpected clarity to the meshwork of contradictions that bestrew the so-called “civilized.” The West breathlessly presents itself as “righteous” and “good,” while very little inside it can still be described as such: “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27).

For example:

  • The law has been unhinged entirely from actions once deemed criminal. Children are avidly and maliciously taught sexual perversions in schools, even to the destruction of their own bodies, while actions once thought criminal are simply “reparations” and therefore never to be punished.
  • Transvestitism has become a great campaign to rewrite humanity itself.
  • Anti-white racism is now the “normal” Western habit of mind.
  • Mass immigration has destroyed indigenous Western populations, despite the West’s rhetoric of care for indigeneity.
  • Deindustrialization has transitioned into defarming so that food can cease being abundant.
  • The age-old anti-Catholic assumptions have expanded into a total war against the last vestiges of Christianity, the foundational moral-structure of the now atheistic West.
  • Economics, once designed to sustain and expand human welfare, is now a tool to destroy it.
  • Culture, which once housed the strength of Western values, is now a tool to destroy them.
  • “Human rights,” “freedom,” “democracy” are empty phrases, repeated piously, while nothing in present-day Western society suggests that these qualities actually exist.
  • The traditional understanding of technology as a helpmate of humanity has become a method for its control, and even its destruction.
  • Care for nature has veered into anti-natalism and the hatred of humanity itself.
  • Truth is no longer needed, since the lie serves far more important purposes and constructs.

The project of the West is no longer to expand the benefits of civilization, but to destroy civilization so that a new world may be born, in which there are only as many humans as needed. This is known as “progress” and is the very lifeblood of the West today.

A single thread unites all these progressive efforts—the lie, and the chief attribute of the lie is hatred. Those that deny the lie must be hated. One becomes virtuous in the West by proudly hating what is supposed to be hated. The government marks for the public what and who is to be hated and loved. And the people, with the help of the media-education-entertainment complex suitable adapt their emotions, and express outrage or approval as mandated. Such manipulation is no longer subtle; it is in-your-face, because the public has been lied to for so very long that they can no longer understand subtlety. They demand coarseness—the more vulgar, the better.

The conflict in Ukraine, among many other things, is one such Western construct, a glossography, where lies and hatred exquisitely intertwine. Russia is to be lied about and openly hated—because Russia is the government-approved “enemy,” and dutifully all the gourmands of hatred try to outvie each other to see who can spew the vilest of hate against the “enemy.” This competition has strongly united nations and populations. How do I hate thee, let me count the ways…

The examples of such pharisaical expressions are now dime-a-dozen and easily found, even in the most unexpected of places. Examples of Western Russophobia are endless, and there is little point in repeating them, from the never-ending rounds of sanctions against Russia (round 11 is now being packaged), to Zelensky of Ukraine prohibiting Russian books form being published or imported into his country, lest the purity of his nation be destroyed by contact with Russian, to some rich author canceling her own book because it was thoughtlessly, horror of horrors, set in Russia. Or, just ordinary folk letting off a bit of steam.

But the honor of uttering the foulest venom must go to Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland. Needless to say, the government of Poland specializes in fomenting rancor against Russia—it feels that this is its God-given role now in the world—to make the world realize just how beastly and evil Russians are. Such is the divine mission of Polish politicians, and they certainly revel in it.

On June 23, 2023, for example, in an interview given to a Ukrainian TV Channel (Espreso), Duda dropped these gems of wisdom:

“Russia cannot be allowed to win because it will continue to advance. This will support its imperialism. It is like a wild beast that will eat a human being. If a wild beast eats a human being, it is usually said that it should be hunted down and shot because it is used to eating human flesh. The same with Russia.”

Such sphinxian knowledge Polish politicians, like him, alone possess:

“Perhaps the West does not understand this, but we know it very well.” To clarify: “it” being Russia, the man-eating beast.

Just replace “it” with… say… “Israel” and see what happens, as you’re hauled off to jail, in any “free” and “democratic” Western country, for hate-speech. But Russia. No problem. Say what you like. All hatred is acceptable. Knock yourself out. Your government expects you to hate Russia. If you don’t—there’s something seriously wrong with you, and more than likely you’re a Putin agent. I won’t mention the Two Minutes Hate à la 1984. Duda is the Virgil of our age, in an anti-Divine-Comedy of his own contrivance, his pansophical finger pointing out the nine-levels of depravity of the Russian beast. Quite the calling!

You see, Russia is the new “infidel” that must be routed and annihilated. Only a Russia-less world can be truly “free” and “democratic.”

But before long, Duda remembered that he was the president of some country or other, and shoved in a tad of lawyer-gibberish, to give himself that air of authority:

“This is a necessary condition [killing the man-eating beast] for a successful and just end to this war. What should it be? At least in such a way as to restore the supremacy of international law. International law will be restored when Russia is pushed out of all occupied lands in Ukraine.”

Murdering an entire nation is justice, and the only way this war in Ukraine can end “justly” is when Russia is killed off, like a rabid beast. What’s mass murder among Western friends? It’s all to restore “the supremacy of international law,” after all. Nothing wrong with that at all, is there?

And then Duda catches himself, with an olive branch to any Ukrainian peacenik that might be listening to the Espreso interview (there must be such a creature, somewhere in Ukraine. Rara avis, no doubt and seldom sighted, but there must be one. A hint to birders). Duda suggests that the death-blow should not be quick and painless. Oh no. That would be anticlimactic and therefore disappointing. He has readied the scarpines for Putin. Yes, indeed:

“We must make sure that we, together with Ukraine, tire Russian society and torture Putin.”

But then Duda knows a thing or two about torture, given how you get treated in Polish prisons, so that the penal system needs a regular check-up.

On a side note, in order to hate Russia properly, you also have to show excessive love for Ukraine, and especially for Zelensky. Is this why every Western leader that meets him has to hug him, and look longingly into his eyes and just hug him again. There’s a lot of homoerotism going on with Zelensky; but then Zelensky is used to such affection.

This is why, Duda had to come out of the closet at last and let it all hang out:

“President Zelensky and I love each other, but we are involved in politics.”

And once politics is done, look out world!

This would explain the special hugs reserved for his great love.

One can only hope that one day the good people of Poland will wake up and refuse to be led by such crackpots. But that is an awakening that needs to happen throughout the West. We’re all sick and tired of our leaders. Maybe Duda was actually on to something about how to treat man-eating beasts…

C.B. Forde is a full-time farmer and part-time reader of books, even those suggested to him, at times, by his wife.