A Centenary Meditation on a Quest for “Purification” Gone Mad
(Gardone Lectures, July 2018.)
I. The Peace, the War, and the Longing for Purification
(Gardone Lectures, July 2018.)
I. The Peace, the War, and the Longing for Purification
Despite its claims of openness to everyone and anything, friendliness to time gone by is sorely lacking in our pluralist society, and this for very good reason indeed. Pluralism needs to destroy knowledge of the past in order to survive. Historical wisdom makes the depth and longevity of the intellectual, spiritual, and practical divisions in our daily life all too clear to those seeking to learn its lessons. Such wisdom diverts attention away from the only acceptable pluralist solution to human problems: the satisfaction of those material passions to whose endless permutations, monotonous as they ultimately really are, fallen man in his dullness seems ceaselessly attracted.
Unfortunately, we Catholics living in an all-encompassing pluralist society are ourselves subject to its soporific effects. We also have a tendency to don an historical blindfold, to focus on immediate material concerns and their time-bound explanations of current events, and, thus, to replace real intellectual judgments with shallow, pluralist-approved mantras. The result is that our own appreciation of the causes of our present ecclesiastical debacle is both too mundane as well as much too limited historically in its scope. And, sadly, this prevents us from dealing with its horrors effectively.
January 18, 2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference. This conference was called to restore order after the “war to end all wars”---an “end” which endured for a mere twenty-one years, from 1918-1939. Brief though the brittle interwar period over whose birth the Paris gathering presided was, it was central to the maturation of the present-day Catholic collapse, along with the deep, pluralist-induced sleep that prevents our awakening from the living nightmare that this disintegration has engendered.
Ironically, the era gained this unhappy distinction through its nurturing of the longing of those many people who, from 1914 onwards, vocally expressed the hope that first the battlefield and then the peace to follow would somehow result in the purification of a decadent western civilization. Alas, all that the development of such a longing actually did achieve was to bring what was indeed a very deeply rooted western illness guaranteeing decadence to its terminal stage. The hundredth anniversary of this quest for purification gone mad provides a valuable framework for a serious meditation upon that tragic truth.
A useful introduction to the longing for purification and its potential problems is The Magic Mountain of Thomas Mann, published in 1924, but set in the years leading up to the outbreak of hostilities. This novel depicts for us a prewar Europe whose spiritual illnesses and divisions ensure a paralysis represented by the frenetic but frustratingly pointless interaction of the patients of a tuberculosis sanatorium in Davos, in the Swiss Alps. I seriously doubt that Mann would have agreed with me, but as far as I am concerned, all of these inmate’s woes, in one way or another, were the nefarious, long-term effect of Gnosticism, Nominalism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment on Western Civilization. Each of these forces, from the twelfth century onwards, had contributed mightily to an attack on Reason, Faith, and legitimate authority, resulting in the “liberation” of the individual irrational will from reality. What they created, bit by bit, was the chaos of modern intellectual and physical libertinism, individual as well as social. Each has also helped to ensure that the ensuing instability would be dealt with through an appeal to one form of another of the Triumph of the Will.
Hans Castorp, the protagonist of The Magic Mountain, well indicates the depth of the sickness of the society in which he lives, along with the dangerous “cure” a poisonous modernity ultimately prescribes for it. He is not seriously ill at all, but chooses to join the simultaneously sybaritic and paralytic Alpine community voluntarily. Even more in need of a purpose in life than physical recovery, he and his fellow patients are only “mobilized” for action through the pressure of brute strength: to begin with, that provided by a Dutch planter from the East Indies by the name of Mynheer Peeperkorn, and, finally, by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 itself. At the novel’s end, it seems as though it is only be through the self-sacrificing suffering of the totally irrational “energy” of the wretched wartime frontline experience that Castorp---and western man as a whole--- might inexplicably entertain hopes for a purification and transfiguration.
It was that same sense of awakening from a meaningless sleep to a euphoric bout of unifying, communal, vital activity, irrationally bringing purification in its train, that numerous witnesses of what the Germans called the “August Experience” testify was felt by a vocal segment of the belligerent European population in 1914. Many authors depict for us the continued impact of this theme in the frontline itself, with reference to the psychological experiences of soldiers in the trenches, as found, for example, in the early postwar writings of Ernst Jünger (1895-1998): Storm of Steel (1920), The Fight as an Inner Experience (1922), Sturm (1923), and Fire and Blood (1925).
The Roman Catholic Church might be said to have shared in this widespread hope for a purification coming from out of the war and its effects, but only in a negative fashion. Her wartime hope was that the insanity of the conflict might finally open the world’s eyes to the accuracy of the warnings she had been giving for three quarters of a century regarding the disastrous direction taken by “modern civilization” as a whole. Those warnings were themselves rooted in a broader, nineteenth century Catholic positive meditation upon the full meaning of the Incarnation and the role of the Mystical Body of Christ in purifying--- or, more accurately, “divinizing”---the faithful, in tandem with a social order whose authoritative aid was crucial to making men truly “sons of God”.
That meditation was itself also a rediscovery; a rediscovery stimulated by the realization that Catholics had been cheated out of the fullness of their own Tradition by pastoral-minded “reformers” hiding its doctrinal treasures “under a bushel” for fear of offending the precepts of the supposedly liberating Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; an Enlightenment, once again, that had served as a conduit for the still earlier destructive influences of Gnostic, Nominalist, and Reformation character. But liberation in the Enlightenment sense was seen by nineteenth century Catholic prospectors for the real Tradition as producing the very opposite of what its promoters and their forbears might well have desired. On the one hand, its basic naturalism meant the imprisonment of human life in a purely earthly cell. On the other, its individualist attack on authority guaranteed that that stultifying naturalism resulted in an irrational and willful war of materialist wills against one another ending in the unjust victory of the stronger over the weaker. Catholic “traditionalists” of the 1800’s argued that a triumph of the strongest irrational wills could only be reversed through a return to a Faith opening everyone and everything to purification and transformation in Christ.
The Roman Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850, was one central contributor to the nineteenth century movement of rediscovery of the fullness of the Faith, helping mightily to shape the Syllabus of Errors of Blessed Pius IX of 1864, the subsequent development of Catholic Social Doctrine, and the entire Christian understanding of how a purification of the West might be effected along with it. To expand upon the title of one of its early articles summarizing the gist of their entire argument, “either Christ will be king of the universe---with respect for Reason and with freedom for all---or man will be its king---by means of the imposition of willful, irrational force”.
Achieving Christ’s sovereignty in a “war of all against all” was seen by the thinkers stimulating the Catholic revival as a militant operation involving an “occupation” of all of the “spaces” of life: “spaces” of a spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic, as well as political and social character. Such a practical labor, as the Council of Trent had clearly taught, had to be rooted in solid doctrine. It required a full and firm presentation of the Church’s teachings to Catholics and the world at large without any apologies for the disagreements that these would arouse. Pastoral activity without strong doctrinal roots was nothing other than a “sitting duck” for manipulation of naïve believers by the innumerable representatives of the uncorrected, fallen world who form a kind of “Grand Coalition of the Status Quo”, demanding an unquestioning enslavement to earthly “business as usual”.
Commitment to the full message of the Faith, our Catholic thinkers insisted, was something quite different from adherence to the ideologies offered by the complex of forces slowly responsible for degrading Western Civilization. For the Catholic Faith was free from the various reductionist interpretations of existence, limited even in their grasp of the full promise of nature itself, whose unexamined acceptance earth-bound ideologies rigorously demanded. In consequence, the Faith was also open to understanding the important role that was played both by each and every aspect of earthly and supernatural life, as well as by the manifold communal authorities expressing them, and cooperating with one another in a proper hierarchy of values. It validated all of these authorities in their fruitful work for the ultimate benefit of individuals whom God created not as isolated atoms, but as complex social beings.
On the other hand, Trent had also underlined the fact that sound doctrine could not make its impact felt without a practical savvy displaying cognizance of the changeability of earthly conditions. Achieving Christ’s sovereignty over the world demanded a recognition that the application of Catholic teaching at any time in history was in no way a straightforward mechanical process, much less an easy one. “Feeding the sheep” always entailed insightful pastoral nuance, combining acceptance of the fact that the basic strength of the Church lies in her supernatural message and the grace that she offers for the transformation of nature with an acute awareness of the particular concrete problems of securing the victory of the Catholic position in any given historical situation.
Pastoral occupation of the” spaces of social life” was especially difficult in a western world that had been converted to the Enlightenment naturalist spirit in a highly patchy manner. This conversion had not taken place in a completely hostile fashion. Rather, it had often involved a cooption of aspects of Christian ideas and Christian inspired institutions in support of quite contradictory secularist positions---as our nineteenth century thinkers recognized had indeed happened in the Catholic world in the 1700’s. Moreover, there remained “social spaces” in Enlightenment conquered territory still subject to the continued, though weakened, influence of solid religious beliefs and authorities.
All this guaranteed that the contemporary West was a “mixed bag”. Purification of its confusing elements required a demanding surgical operation carried out in a way that removed “modernity” as a dominant and destructive ideology from the merely “modern” aspects of the social body. The potential value of what was merely modern could then be confirmed, purified of its fallen flaws, and transformed for the greater glory of God and the secular benefit of society. In performing their earthly tasks properly, the manifold purified authorities of a complex society would then also work effectively to raise individuals to the appreciation of things divine and fulfillment of the divine plan. What was left from contemporary life---the infection of modernity---could at that point happily be isolated and tossed onto the rubbish heap of history.
II. Dangers on the Purification Front
Unfortunately for Catholics, the Church’s quest for purification of the spaces of public life in 1918 was a hotly contested one, with her Gnostic, Nominalist, Reformation, and Enlightenment shaped opponents either potentially or immediately wielding more power than she might ever hope to command on her own. Dangers on the purification front were international, national, and broadly cultural in character, with most of the threats in question ultimately perilous on all these levels. La Civiltà Cattolica continued to apply and develop the conclusions reached by the revival movement of the previous century to understand and parry them. Therefore, much of what I have to say below is fit into the broad framework that this journal’s interwar analysis provided.
One of the two newer, but historically rooted perils of the interwar period emerged from the United States. Due to her entry into the European conflict, and President Woodrow Wilson’s statement of allied goals in his Fourteen Points, his response to Pope Benedict XV’s peace proposals, and his popularization of the worldwide struggle as “the war to end all wars”, America loomed large as a potential purifying influence on November 11th, 1918 and in the months thereafter. Although the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles by the United States Senate and her consequent failure to participate in the League of Nations removed the imminent threat of New World competition for the political control of spaces in the Old, America’s “isolationism” in the interwar years was never truly complete. Latin America and East Asia remained public American concerns and fields of action, and New World cultural impact---the American way of life ---also continued to grow unabated in much of Europe as well. Cultural “Americanism” eased the way to American political domination of the European world in the wake of the second global conflagration. By 1945, mobilization of the American Way---what then came to be called pluralism---as a weapon for coaxing the reawakened Catholic Faith of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries back into its eighteenth century dogmatic slumber was complete.
A second new force competing with the Church for the occupation and purification of social spaces came out of Russia, which, although it played no role as a nation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, was nevertheless “present” in everyone’s mind at that gathering. For the seizure of power in Russia by Lenin’s Bolsheviks---formally known as the Communist Party from March, 1918 onwards---and the impact that Marxism-Leninism immediately exercised outside that troubled country’s fluctuating borders gave grave significance the world over to what was happening therein. This was certainly true in the defeated nations, Germany’s Communist movement sparking the Sparticist uprising of the weeks preceding the opening of the Peace Conference, and Hungary experiencing a Soviet style government briefly thereafter. But the spirit of the Revolution was not unknown to the victors either, with Red Guards seizing factories and agricultural estates and dreaming of an Italian imitation of the distant Russian model.
Naturalist competition for the occupation of the spaces of life in the interwar world also came from more familiar liberal and liberal democratic victims of the western illness. These were represented by the existing governments of the core powers of the Entente Alliance who ultimately subscribed to the treaties coming out of the Paris Peace Conference: France, Britain, and Italy. Still bound, publically, to Wilson’s millenarian rhetoric, the victorious Entente states could not avoid working through the League of Nations whose creation he had championed, shoring up its weaknesses through a policy of Great Power “collective security” supposedly assuring Europe and the world the eternal peace that the American president had promised. The mockery, in practice, of the hopes for a purification represented by a peace guided according to the pure will of the victors and their more familiar liberal manifestation of the western disease was very much emphasized by the Civiltà editors. Hence, they criticized the Paris Peace Settlement as doing nothing other than bringing all the influences of the European liberal interpretation of the Gnostic-Nominalist-Reformation-Enlightenment order of things that the journal had already outlined in 1850 to their logical conclusions.1
What did this entail? To begin with, it meant a continued heyday for the materialist, parochial-minded, liberal-approved form of nationalism that still dominated the worldview of the victors. Diseased national feeling was said to be obvious in the vindictive injustices inflicted upon Germany, Austria, and Hungary in the three treaties dealing with them that came out of the Paris Peace Conference; injustices reaching their peak with the occupation of the Ruhr region in 1923, brought about by German failure to pay the exorbitant reparations demanded of that economically shattered and psychologically demoralized country. Moreover, the imperialism this unjust nationalism generated was worsened after the war by the expansion of colonialism throughout the carcass of the Ottoman Empire; something that particularly concerned the Church with respect to the British opening of Palestine to Zionist migration and what this might mean for the ultimate fate of the holy city of Jerusalem. Finally, power in the hands of a “League of Nations” with no serious roots in European society, simply ensured the organization’s manipulation at the hands of the victorious allies---or, rather, whoever it was that controlled their governments internally.
Speculation regarding the real powers behind the throne brings us to the Civiltà’s unchanging emphasis upon the basic consequences of the evisceration of legitimate social authorities, already begun by the secularizing “absolutist” monarchies of the pre-revolutionary world, and then carried forward more successfully by Enlightenment liberalism under the claim that such surgery was necessary to “free” the individual from tyranny. What this emasculation of authority had actually guaranteed was not the liberation of all but, rather, the empowering of the stronger and better-organized bullies of any given country to manipulate their fellow-citizens in the social vacuum thus created.
Incited by a given passion—and liberalism potentially blessed and divinized them all—partisan groups rushed for control of the arms of the weakened liberal State, insisting that it was transmitting into action the “will of the people” for an unquestionable good. A State directed by the “will of the people”, as interpreted by the liberating faction actually seizing power, then proceeded to destroy all remaining non-governmental social authorities that were hostile to its desires. Since potential private usurpers of the functions of the weakened liberal State were legion—capitalists, the press, unions, gangs of armed soldiers or vigilantes, libertines, and madmen of every stripe—the hostile authorities destroyed must eventually lead to the disarmament of all survival social institutions. Hence, the liberal project ends with the individual confronting an oligarchic party controlling a supposedly weak State which now, in practice, is made capable of doing whatsoever pleases the faction in question: in the name of “The People”, although against the population’s own true will. “Everything”, the Civiltà wrote at the beginning of the interwar era, “has been obscured and overturned due to the lack of a social sense, in order to serve the triumph of individual and collective egoisms”. 2
Financial magnates, the journal argued, were still the real oligarchic powers behind the throne of the victors at the time of the Paris Peace Conference. Atomistic liberalism, justifying an individualism which sinful men quite eagerly aimed towards obtaining property for the satisfaction of material desires, had provided the capitalist with his ticket to a destructive journey across the nineteenth-century Europe. The weakened State had collapsed before his excessive desires and therefore became his ideological tool. Justice, to the capitalist, was nothing but the assurance that the defenseless and the unambitious received no protection from his exorbitant demands. And it was not just the European continent that was littered with the results of his wrong-headed “freedom”, but also its global colonial empires and Wilson’s proto-Pluralist America.
Catholic counter-revolutionaries had a long history of viewing militant socialism as a providential scourge for capitalism’s indifference to human suffering. Given this history of injustice, La Civiltà Cattolica was not surprised that liberal economic freedom had also engendered support for a militant, revolutionary, Marxism-Leninism. Yes, this movement might in one way seem to be a purely cerebral one, in that it, like all Marxist exponents, saw the emergence of the final communist stage of history as an inevitability. Nevertheless, its sense that the birth of this "end time" involved a purification of the bourgeois decadence that was the accompaniment of the penultimate phase of man's experience on the earth, and its cultivation of an elite party as the righteous torchbearer of a welcome purifying fire, demonstrated its share in the particular quest characterizing the particular age and place we are discussing.
But reaction to an internal power vacuum filled first by liberal capitalists and now threatened by a Soviet-focused, international communism was to bring up one other materialist, passionate, irrational competitor for occupation and purification of the spaces of life: fascism. Born in a victorious but severely troubled Italy, this new phenomenon was essentially shaped by Benito Mussolini’s (1883-1945) recognition of the bonding of frontline soldiers with one another under obedience to the orders of officers who shared their sufferings in an “egalitarian” way in the trenches. It was the vision of what the transfer of self-sacrificing, energetic, manly action in subordination to a “comrade-leader” from the trenches to the peacetime world might achieve in the way of purifying the nation and solidifying national unity that really gave the movement its strength.
And it was this same vision that fueled the creation of fascist parties throughout the world, each of them adding local variations to what was deemed essential for the purification of the country concerned properly to take effect. In Spain, this engendered the call by the Falange for purification through a worldwide revival of pride in the Hispanic achievement. In Germany, it entailed National Socialism’s insistence upon a purification of a biological nature, with racial cleansing as the necessary foundation for a fruitful national community---a Volksgemeinschaft--- all of whose elements might then work democratically “in gear” with one another---Gleichschaltung---in obedience to the will of the comrade-leader.
Interwar Europe, faced as it was with a variety of irrational, willful partisan forces, all the hatreds that their clash had to engender or intensify, and a multiplicity of projects for purification of the western disease was, in the Civiltà’s mind, a disaster waiting to happen---“and please God that a new and more profound destruction does not take place”.3 Alas, that destruction appeared to the editors to be more than likely. “We foresee more ferocious warfare”, they lamented as the Paris Peace Settlement went into effect, “more difficult conditions for the good, a more menacing future for society as a whole”.4
III. Purification and Doctrine in the Interwar Era
Insistence on a purification achieved through submission of the natural to the supernatural world, taught by the nineteenth century Catholic revival movement and vigorously supported by the Papacy since the time of Pius IX (1846-1878), very clearly still characterized the teaching, in encyclicals, allocutions, and letters to individual bishops and episcopacies, of the two quite different popes of the bulk of the interwar period: Benedict XV (1914-1922) and Pius XI (1922-1939). Both placed emphasis upon doctrines and devotions that well illustrated how nature was purified through connection with the supernatural, perhaps most significantly with reference to those concerning the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as in Pius XI's Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928) and Caritate Christi compulsi (1932). A lasting postwar purification, this same pontiff declared in Ubi arcano dei consiglio (1922), was only possible by ensuring the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ.
Purification, in the minds of the nineteenth century protagonists of Catholic revival, was intellectually very much dependent upon a deeper ecclesiology, one that truly understood the Roman Catholic Church as the Mystical Body and the fullness of her role as such in transforming the world in Christ. The earlier historical development of Catholic ecclesiology had been interrupted because of the politicization of the Papacy and the influence of an anti-speculative, philosophical and theological Nominalism from the thirteenth century onwards. Serious progress was only begun again at Trent, but here, too, had still been severely hampered due to the opposition of regalist States demanding firm control of their “national” churches. First Vatican Council’s much more serious labors in the ecclesiological realm were also halted in the face of numerous factors, theological and political, so that what was accomplished under its aegis proved tragically incomplete.
Nevertheless, Ultramontanist pressure at Vatican One ensured the definition of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, thereby greatly strengthening the position of the Holy See in the life of the Universal Church. This stronger influence was reflected in the new code of Canon Law of 1917 (Providentissimus Mater) and took yet further practical shape in the interwar era. A “papal” outlook was encouraged through the clerical elite formed at the various national and specialized colleges of the Eternal City, which then transmitted the Roman message back to their homes. Certain prelates, men like William Henry Cardinal O’Connell (1859-1944), the Archbishop of Boston (1907-1944), were looked upon by many as serving as something akin to papal “viceroys” in their specific countries. This ultramontane exaltation of the Holy See was further confirmed through the canonization of saints known for their commitment to Rome, such as Robert Bellarmine (1930) and two of the English martyrs, John Fisher, and Thomas More (both in 1935). It was therefore a much more self-confident Papacy, certain that the Roman Church held the key to the purification of a troubled world, that rejected, in Mortalium animus (1928), the appeal for an ecumenical Christian effort to purify the globe made by men such as Charles Brent (1862-1929), Episcopal Missionary Bishop of the Philippine Islands and Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), the Archbishop of Uppsala, at such postwar gatherings as those at Oud Wassenaar in the Netherlands in 1919.
Mobilization of all intellectual forces to aid in teaching the doctrines of the Incarnation, the Mystical Body, and Christ as King of a purified universe flowed from the very nature of the concepts involved. In philosophical terms, Rome continued to argue that good teaching required offering of pride of place to the Thomist revival officially promoted by the Church since the pontificate of Leo XIII. Both the encyclical Studiorum Ducem, issued in the context of the general celebration of the six hundredth anniversary of the canonization of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1923, as well as the canonization of Albertus Magnus in 1931, helped to make this Roman commitment clear. Men like Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964), Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges (1863-1948), Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Etienne Gilson (1884-1978), and, on the popular level, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), all contributed to the interwar era’s reputation as a great age of Catholic Neo-Thomism.
Nevertheless, the reigns of Benedict XV and Pius XI allowed much more scope for the expression and mobilization of non-Thomist theological and philosophical schools of thought as well. While never condemned as such under Pope St. Pius X, these other approaches had indeed been treated as ipso facto suspect at the height of the anti-Modernist campaign. An easing of tensions permitted further opportunity for the teachings of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), and Max Scheler (1874-1928) to find their way into the work of phenomenologists like Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) and Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977). Those of Henri Bergson (1859-1941) had an impact even upon such passionately Thomist thinkers as Maritain.
Positive theology, which had also fallen into the shadows under Pope St. Pius X, was another beneficiary of the change of atmosphere. The influence of the biblical criticism of Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange (1855-1938) and his students took firmer root. The last volume of Ludwig von Pastor ‘s (1855-1928) History of the Papacy was published in 1930, with further critical work being done by Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), the young Henri Daniel-Rops (1901-1965), and, once again on the popular level, by men like Chesterton and his compatriot, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953). Agostino Gemelli, O.F.M. (1878-1959), a psychologist, was instrumental in founding the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan (1921) for the broad education of Catholic men and women.
Speculative and positive theological studies were given official organizational backing in Rome. The Dominican dominated Angelicum, where Garrigou-Lagrange taught from 1909-1960, was the key Thomist center. A “Gregorian Consortium”, created by the Jesuits in 1930, combined the original institution bearing that name together with the Biblicum, established in 1907, and the Oriental Institute, founded in 1917, wherein the influence of Eugene Tisserant (1884-1972), another student of Lagrange, was to become significant. The Gregorian of the interwar years expanded the scope of its work, missiology (1932) becoming one of the additions most pregnant with consequences, as will be seen below. Meanwhile, an already existing scientific institution was transformed in 1936 into the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and placed under the leadership of Gemelli, with eleven Nobel Prize winners among the early members.
These intellectual forces then, in turn, worked to validate and stimulate human effort to enlist each and every natural element to play its role in God’s redemptive---and purifying---plan. No Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was needed to convince the contemporary Roman Catholic Church intellectually just how much occupation of the "spaces" of culture in general--- that of the masses as well as of the elite---was essential to a victory over society at large. Roman concern for artistic matters was reflected in papal addresses of various kinds, focusing on the newer cultural problems of mass sport, radio, and the cinema, along with those of more venerable character. The Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi of the Pantheon, another old establishment given new life by Pius XI in 1928, sought to encourage architects, painters, filmmakers, sculptors, academicians of art and music, poets, and novelists alike. This grasp of the importance of control of the culture was also very much reflected in the interwar period in the extremely perceptive commentaries of the contemporary Portuguese Catholic economist, statesman, and general social critic, Antonio Oliveira de Salazar (1889-1970). And, needless to say, interwar Europe did indeed witness a flowering of Catholic activity in manifold cultural spheres.
Intense spiritual reinforcement was given to the Catholic teaching of the need for a purification of all the spaces of life obtainable only through nature’s recognition of its dependency upon the supernatural. Perhaps most symbolic in this regard was the establishment of the Feast of Christ the King through Quas primas (1925). The four canonizations completed under Pope Benedict and the twenty-one of Pius XI all emphasized the role of Mary and the saints in grasping or reflecting the consequences of natural-supernatural union made palpable by the Incarnation. Hence, the canonizations associated with saintly devotion to the Sacred Heart, such as those of Margaret Mary Alacoque (1920) and John Eudes (1925), or with Mary as the conduit for the “health” of the world in general---as seen through the raising to the altar of Bernadette Soubirou (1926) and recognition of the “purifying” significance of the grotto at Lourdes. It is instructive to note in this regard that Pius XI viewed the canonization of Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Thérèse of Lisieux (1925), the saint most linked with the offering up of all the smallest aspects of life ad majoram Dei gloriam, as the star of his pontificate.
International congresses promoting a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and its liturgical context were another powerful interwar spiritual tool. These were held the globe over: in Rome (1922), Amsterdam (1924), Chicago (1926), Sydney (1928), Carthage (1930), Dublin (1932), Buenos Aires (1934), Manila (1934), and Budapest (1938). Eucharistic congresses not only served as a spur to practical personal sanctification, but also, through the purification of the individual, to the proper functioning of social institutions, ecclesiastical and secular alike. For it was only by means of men and women awakened to their need to transform themselves in Christ through the Eucharist that the world could be given the authorities of Church, State, and society at large capable of carrying out their purifying missions in a truthful, virtuous, Christian manner.
Nineteenth century theorists deeply concerned with this purification of the social order as a whole retained Trent's conviction that practical labor be rooted in sound doctrinal principles. Such work had to be preceded by a clear understanding of what the Faith sought to achieve through the occupation of public spaces; what they labeled the Catholic “thesis”. Given the character of the Church’s central mission, the Catholic "thesis" had to emphasize the primacy of the spirit, and “the spiritual, above all else” could easily be viewed as the motto of the Papacy in the interwar period.
Pius XI was deeply disturbed by Catholic temptations to succumb to pressures to subordinate the spiritual to natural guidelines. This temptation was impressed upon him before becoming Pope, when, as Nuncio to the newly restored Poland, he was told by the local episcopacy that it required no theological “update” after all the years of subjection to non-Catholic rule, since a proper understanding the Faith was already guaranteed by mere possession of the “national soul”. Such a statement was redolent of the error of the Abbé de Lamennais (1782-1854), condemned in the previous century, which taught that the sense of the Faith, and therefore the guide to understanding its teaching, was something emerging from the natural endowment of Catholic Peoples themselves---in effect, aside from and potentially in opposition to the supernatural magisterium of the bishops and the pope. Pius XI was vehement in his insistence that Catholics active in the political and social realm accept the primacy of the supernatural revelation and avoid this and other inversions of the hierarchy of values, tantamount to proclaiming what was essentially natural as the key to things spiritual.
Still, a basically spiritual Catholic "thesis", was nevertheless rooted in the reality that the supernatural had been linked with nature in a new way through God becoming man. This meant that the supra-rational truth of the Incarnation, the fact that God had confirmed the validity of a natural world which nevertheless had to be redeemed and corrected of its flaws, had practical consequences which the Catholic purifier of the social order was obliged, doctrinally, to take into account in his work.
The first of these was that both the knowledge of the specific natural character of any aspect of life as well as its subjection to the supernatural tools of correction and transformation were essential to Catholic Action. Hence, to take but one example, the natural functioning and "laws" of economic life must be taken seriously, but always with a recognition of their human and sinful limitations and need to be subordinated to the supernatural laws of justice and charity. The natural and the supernatural must be made to work together simultaneously.
Secondly, just as the Incarnation and the creation of the Mystical Body taught that the individual can only be purified through membership in and obedience to Christ and His Church, their message for all of man's earthly activity underlined the truth that individuals are meant to work on the natural plane as social beings, through societies, under the guidance of social authorities. The individual is perfected naturally and aimed upwards towards the worship of God not as an isolated atom, but through social institutions, whose purpose is fulfilled insofar as they recognize that this perfecting and uplifting labor is their raison d'être.
The need for the Catholic to treat as doctrine the spiritually rooted "thesis" insisting upon the value and harmony of all things natural and supernatural, individual and social, as the basis for every aspect of human life and action was stressed throughout the interwar period, as in the encyclicals on education (Divini illius Magistri, 1929), on the family (Casti connubii, 1930), and on economics (Quadragesimo anno, 1931). A doctrinal need to reject as unacceptable any modern ideology that denied the primacy of the spiritual, the validity and harmony of things earthly and supernatural, and the need of the individual to be subject to social authorities which understood their mission to be that of the perfection of the human person according to both natural and divine law was also made clear. Hence, the condemnations of an economically materialist communism in Acerba Anima (1932), Dilectissima nobis (1933), and Divini Redemptoris (1937) and a racially materialist National Socialist in Mit Brennender Sorge (1937), both of these forces fundamentally subordinating the spirit to nature, and in ways that were destructive to the dignity of each individual body and soul. Rome’s doctrinal trenches in an interwar period that manifested dangers on all fronts might, therefore, be viewed, as though they were well manned and well maintained. Commitment to the “thesis” seemed to be assured.
IV. Practical Questions and a Quest for Purification Gone Mad
Catholics in 1918 had available to them a treasure trove of practical speculations from nineteenth and early twentieth century activists regarding how to put the "thesis" into practice. Here one could find highly specific suggestions regarding how to work with, but correct, the moral and structural flaws of the existing socio-political order. But one also encountered a variety of plans for the complete replacement of what many called the “established disorder” by what was referred to as a “corporate society”.
Corporatists of Catholic mettle envisaged the creation of a modern version of what they argued was organically developing in the Middle Ages: a society composed of many diverse societies, all of whose authorities worked to aid the individual, both on the earthly and supernatural level, under the ultimate direction of Church and State. Among those Catholics who continued to promote corporatism in the 1920’s and 1930’s were the Portuguese economist and Prime Minister, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, identified above for his broad achievement as a social and cultural critic, the ex-soldier and Austrian Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss (1892-1934), and the editor of the newspaper that the chancellor funded, Der Christliche Ständestaat, the phenomenologist Dietrich von Hildebrand. We have seen that Salazar very clearly understood the need for a proper Christian international order to stand guarantor for the success of the Catholic "thesis" in any given European country. Due to Austria’s peculiar and precarious interwar situation, Dollfuss was also very eager to stress the need for a victory of Catholic principles of international law to ensure the survival of the “German, Christian, corporate State” he envisaged.
Reformers of the existing socio-political order were convinced that modern though this might be, it did not have to be considered hopelessly corrupted by the spirit of modernity. They believed that a separation of the chaff from the wheat could be made. Meanwhile, corporatists rejected arguments that their “thesis” was hopelessly “nostalgic” in character, since they insisted that it was based upon the very nature of things, adjustable, in practice, from age to age, in the ways they sought to identify. And both could make a case that their particular approaches were justified by papal documents relating the Catholic "thesis" to practical matters, such as Quadragesimo anno with respect to economics.
Attempting a practical Catholic purification of the social order based upon sound doctrine has obviously always been a daunting enterprise. This is true even when such a labor has been undertaken in societies openly confessing the Faith. After all, such societies may publicly pay their respects to the Church’s teachings and the primacy of the spirit in human life, but nevertheless still ignore, do damage to, and even totally subvert Catholic doctrine in practice. Human fallibility, compounded by the sinfulness of the spiritual and political heads of Catholic Christendom as well as her ordinary members, make these dangers a constant threat. Pastoral success in a fallen world requires possession not just of the words of the Faith, but also a deep sense of humility, tact, the wisdom of serpents, and a day-to-day tenacity gained only through confession, communion, fasting, and prayer.
Moreover, maintenance of a purified social order requires an apostolic spirit further demanding that the existing Christian community not “stand pat”. That spirit calls for an effort to go beyond the status quo to evangelize disbelievers and purify the societies they control. If Catholics do not respond to this call for further apostolic effort, they fail to live up to the Gospel message and jeopardize the security of societies which at least on the surface appear already to have been won to Christ, making them smug in their Catholicism and perilously indifferent to the continued impact of the disbelieving outside world upon them.
Throughout Church History, this evangelization of the non-Catholic world has involved the taking of serious risks that might or might not be successful; risks whose mistakes could only be handled through maintenance of a truly self-critical attitude on the part of believers prepared to entertain objections to their decisions and correction of them; risks taking into account the peculiar conditions of their time and place. Wise and humble Church authorities, evangelists, and socio-political activists eager to make judgments regarding how Catholics should work practically and effectively to purify the interwar European world had to understand the real conditions of their own time that made the attainment of the “thesis” difficult and perhaps even temporarily impossible: what their nineteenth century forbears labeled the “hypothesis”. Consideration of the hypothesis in the years 1918-1939 involved distinguishing among four different kinds of contemporary influences: three of them, while significantly diverse, nevertheless offering a common problem for the “official” Catholic position in what might called a “soft” or seemingly friendly manner; the fourth, “hard” influence being openly and aggressively hostile to purification in the Catholic manner.
A first “softly” problematic force encompasses a number of monarchist and army-guided movements that publically argued in favor of a central role for the Roman Catholic Church in social life. These sometimes cooperated with one another, as in the case of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The “soft” force that counted the most in terms of its intellectual influence was the Action Française of Charles Maurras (1868-1952), which taught the need to build a strong France on the basis of its identifiably constructive historic elements: the legitimate monarchy, Catholicism, a socio-political decentralization evoking much corporatist thought, and the beneficent influence of Greco-Roman culture.
A second “soft” problem must be introduced with reference to a serious cultural dilemma; that offered by the many immensely gifted and vocal men and women deeply marked by the war experience. Seeing the world around them turned upside down, such “burned” Westerners became seekers, looking for a way out that often led them to a rediscovery of the Catholic past. Nevertheless, this rediscovery was frequently mingled together with an exploration of the esoteric aspects of western cultural history, a fascination with modern literary and artistic iconoclasm, an enthusiasm for exotic ideas and practices from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Indian Latin America, and sundry baggage from their personal past, including that coming from their varied frontline war experiences. Unfortunately, these other elements, often shorn of any “seeker” interest in or even accompanied by an open contempt for the Faith, very much remained a foundation for the cultural work of other talented but anti-Christian men and women of the era.
Still, there is no denying the emergence from among the seekers of men of profoundly Christian moral and mystical feeling cultivating undeniably modern and esoteric interests and style, such as T.S. Eliot (1999-1965); of slowly evolving writers like Ernst Jünger, who moved from glorifying the purification that came from the cult of irrational violence in his early works to a militant defense of things truly rooted in nature in a strange but beautiful novel-allegory, Auf dem Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs, 1939); or of men of letters similar to Josef Roth (1894-1939), who longed deeply for the restoration of the order of the old "sacred" Austrian Empire, and is said to have asked for a Catholic funeral alongside his Jewish one.
Mention of Roth cannot help but call up a further reference to his fellow Jew and former compatriot, the multifaceted Karl Kraus (1874-1936), editor of a Viennese journal called Die Fackel (The Torch). Kraus, a master of venomous ridicule, shared almost all the criticisms of the modern world---if not necessarily the key to correcting them---enunciated by the editors of La Civiltà Cattolica. He, too, was convinced that he was living in the barbaric “last days of mankind”, where “hell reigns”; a world which, while moving inexorably towards a new war, could only truly be purified (echoing Jünger) by getting “back to the basics”. As the composer Ernst Krenek relates:5
At a time when people were generally decrying the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai, I met Karl Kraus struggling over one of his famous comma problems. He said something like: ‘I know that everything is futile when the house is burning. But I have to do this as long as it is at all possible; for if those who were supposed to look after commas had always made sure they were in the right place, Shanghai would not be burning.
Separating out the valid use of things modern and the study of diverse natural ways of presenting eternal truths from acceptance of the ideology of modernity or an uncritical plunge into the nostalgic or the esoteric was an awkward enterprise on the cultural plane. These same difficulties were paralleled politically by the problem of dealing with liberals and liberal governments “burned” by the disillusionments of the war, and now often seemingly ready to contemplate listening to what Catholics had to say in a more open way. The existence of a group of more friendly liberals was a fact of life in the interwar period, but complications in responding to their apparent change of heart emerged from their expectation that the Church should be ”reasonable” and modify her own position in exchange. Sharing certain common enemies with her, these friendlier liberals wished to use her influence to combat their joint foes, and either misunderstood or feigned belief in the ease of gaining friendship with Catholics to win her help. Some fascists in various countries also become part of this camp, and for precisely the same reasons.
A related and final “soft” problem came from the ambiguously “isolationist” United States. This was a nation very much shaped by the English Whig experience that was also instrumental in giving birth to European liberalism in general. “Americanism” argued that its own particular liberal constitutional system had become “the last, best hope of mankind”, providing everyone enjoying its blessings the greatest freedom ever known in history. Many American Catholics, believing this claim, then insisted that the nation’s commitment to “freedom” offered the best possible chance for an institution like the Roman Church to thrive, unmolested, to fulfill her mission; that the liberty characterizing their country was far more likely to bring about the triumph of the Faith than any traditional union of Church and State.
While indeed distinct, these three forces are at times hard to distinguish in terms of the practical dilemmas they create for a Catholic purification of society. While seeking an alliance, they continued to praise ideas or pursue policies which were anti-Catholic, and which they apparently expected the Church to ignore lest the battle against “the real threat” to purification of the social order should profit by their open disagreement. The most basic error in their position from the standpoint of the Catholic "thesis" was their primary emphasis not upon spiritual questions but on political systems and politics in general: politique d’abord, "politics first", in the words of Charles Maurras. Interwar Catholic authorities and activists open to the “hypothesis” would have had to combine a response to their friendly embrace with the maintenance of a certain distance from their grip, recognizing that an uncritical alliance with them could easily lead to their own seduction, and the gradual abandonment of the fullness of the "thesis". But the temptation on the part of Catholics to give themselves over, heart and soul, to what such “soft” forces wished was increased by the fear on the part of believers of actually doing what their potential “ally” repeatedly claimed any open chastisement of their flaws would ensure: namely, guaranteeing the victory of whatever was identified as “the greater evil”.
Finally, interwar Church authorities and Catholic activists dealing with the “hypothesis” would have had to admit that the era in which they lived was filled with men and governments utterly and openly contemptuous of the Church and in no way interested even in manipulating her for their own purposes. The clear goal of communists, many fascists, a good number of old line liberals, and others too varied to mention was the outright destruction of the Faith.
But here, too, dilemmas arose, for these open enemies of Christ were, after all, still natural human beings, and sometimes represented understandable reactions to previous flaws and injustices. They awakened in a number of fervent Catholics a laudable concern for their conversion. Such evangelists of the open enemy argued that the Church especially had to understand the reasons why ideas and movements seemingly closed to the message of Redemption had proven capable of obtaining such mass appeal and political power. She had to do so, they insisted, if only for the purpose of developing a pastoral strategy that would either counter their dangerous influence or demonstrate to them that any valid hopes for purification that they nurtured could only be fulfilled through the message of Catholic Christianity.
Even if we presume that the best of Catholic wills lay behind the practical decisions taken to purify the "hypothesis" represented by the interwar world, I believe that their overall quality was sorely deficient. Unfortunate mistakes of terrible consequence were made by Church authorities and lay Catholic political forces. Moreover, a current of thought promoting an abandonment of the vision of the nineteenth century revival movement and departing from the simultaneously doctrinal-pastoral pathway to purification so properly stressed by the Council of Trent matured throughout the years in question. This new vision of Christian order came to full fruition in the political and social climate presided over by the victors of the Second World War and through the strange work of Second Vatican Council.
I do not think that criticism of the mistakes of the interwar era should focus upon supra national affairs. Rome did what she could with the international community, friendly or hostile as it might be, without backtracking on the teachings of the Catholic Faith. While theoretically critical of the Paris Peace Settlement as a whole, the papal court worked openly to lessen the vindictiveness of the victors in a truly Christian manner. It encouraged the reintegration of Germany into European life signaled by the Locarno Pact of 1925, along with Aristide Briand’s further initiatives for Franco-German reconciliation and world peace, seeing in them an opportunity to make of collective security a truly just enterprise and the League of Nations a more credible force for the global common good.
Alas, we have seen that Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was well aware that everything that physically weak countries---such as his own---and physically frail institutions---like the Roman Church--ultimately believed and hoped to achieve remained totally dependent upon what the Great Powers decided to do. Great Power decisions were in turn based upon their own internal situations. It was “locally” that the fate of the international community, both in Europe and the world at large, would be determined. Let us therefore undertake our critique of the flawed Catholic strategy for purification on precisely this level, and begin to do so by giving greater flesh to the “hypothesis” faced by Catholics in the interwar period on the national level.
Enlightenment-minded liberals, always terrified by the “demagogic” consequences of democracy, expected a postwar Europe dominated by universal manhood suffrage to result in governments of a Catholic or socialist character, both of them deemed disastrous for the materialist, individual economic freedom they cherished. 1918 saw them very much on the lookout for some means of defusing this seemingly inevitable but unwanted victory. Non-liberal but also non-Catholic and non-socialist rightist forces, including the army leadership of certain countries, as well as irregular bands of both returning soldiers and civilians upset by civil disorder in their home countries, were equally unhappy with the possible radicalizing consequences of democratic changes.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 and its potential spread through fellow travelers in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and elsewhere from 1918 onwards offered a way out of the dilemma. Liberals and the rightists in question, to which the budding fascist movements in Italy and Germany can also be added, were openly anti-Bolshevik. But so were Catholics and other religious minded counterrevolutionaries. Moreover, they were joined in this hostility by the mainline socialist movement, angered by the fact that the Bolshevik victory had split the International in two, with a significant minority abandoning commitment to democratic politics to follow the Marxist-Leninists in their support of a militant, dictatorial party as the agent of revolutionary change.
Two “Party of Order” camps---in many ways reminiscent of the French movement initially using this term to create an alliance to oppose the first practical appearance of Socialism as a political force in Paris in 1848--- thus quickly came into being after the war’s end to fight the communist menace, with each of them making an appeal for Catholic support. One of these operated through liberal democracy, even if all of its supporting elements did not necessarily approve of liberalism or democratic institutions, as was the case with the German General Staff in its backing of the anti-communist but basically liberal-Catholic-socialist run Weimar Republic. The other was authoritarian in its structures, even if not necessarily anti-democratic in spirit, and often aided by many liberals, due, above all else, to its perceived friendliness to their private property interests. There were many variations of this second Party of Order camp, often army dominated, but frequently after 1922 being seen as having its best chance for success through some kind of imitation of Italian fascism.
These two camps achieved a certain stability that nevertheless was sometimes threatened in the 1920’s due to internal factors in one country or another. Stability was then much more broadly menaced after 1929 as a result of the Great Depression, the apparent inability of liberal capitalism to deal with its ravages, and the renewed influence for communism, unleashed by the enthusiasm surrounding the first Soviet Five Year Plan, fed by the propaganda of the Comintern and its fellow travelers.
A rebirth of European-wide instability resulted in a pronounced tilt in the direction of the authoritarian Party of Order camp, with new fascist and army victories in many places. In Germany, the army leadership, convinced that liberal democracy could no longer stave off the communist menace, threw its support to Hitler’s National Socialist movement. From the death of President von Hindenburg in 1934, the Führer, backed by the armed forces, was totally free to mobilize all aspects of life to work democratically "in gear" with one another (Gleischschaltung), and to erect the racial community (Volksgemeinschaft) considered essential for social purification. National Socialists, fascists, army-led forces, or other authoritarian representatives of this Party of Order camp, whether successful as in Spain after its bitter Civil War, or merely hoping to gain power as in France throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, all, in different ways, continued to appeal to Catholics for support against the greater communist evil.
But who was it, politically, that would be the mouthpiece for the Catholic response? One possibility was the network of Catholic political parties, Catholic lobbies, and Catholic unions that had been created in the latter part of the nineteenth century to defend the "thesis" from hostile attacks and to work for social justice as the Church understood it. The German world and the Lowlands had played a central role in developing this network, and the Catholic parties of Germany, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands were still powerful forces in the interwar era. But before addressing their labors from 1918-1939, we must first note that they had to contend with powerful inner-Catholic difficulties, beginning with those offered by the highest authorities of the Church.
For Rome was not fond of much of this existing network of basically lay organizations with broad political and social goals. The Holy See did not like the idea of political parties calling themselves “Catholic” and appealing to believers under such a title. It appreciated it even less when clerics were involved in party activities, thereby taking time and energy away from their spiritual role. The Papacy saw the institutional Church as the only force that could legitimately use the Catholic name, because she alone could vouch for the doctrinal accuracy of the path to purification being taken. On the one hand, Rome felt that political parties, especially modern ones obliged to elaborate comprehensive electoral programs for democratic support, could easily succumb to the temptation to call “Catholic” whatever might appeal to the voters. On the other, she feared that broad partisan electoral programs would make being Catholic seem to demand support for all manner of public policies about which believers could legitimately disagree and which might therefore unnecessarily turn potential converts away from the misrepresented Faith.
Already by the turn of the century, the Holy See had come to the conclusion that a suitable lay activity that could justly be given the name “Catholic” would have to be more lobby-like in character; a “Catholic Action” composed of a variety of organizations. Each of these would be entrusted with specific tasks---such as the defense of education---whose doctrinally solid character could clearly be identified for the sake of a proper purification of their precise “spaces” of life. This unambiguous, lobby-like Catholic Action would then be kept to the straight and narrow path under a firm and properly spiritually focused clerical control.
La Civiltà Cattolica gave instructive contemporary flesh to the spirit of this Roman position, first of all with respect to the Italian situation.6 Articles in the journal from the 1920’s clearly spelled out the Holy See’s suspicion of the Italian Popolari Party, led---once again, to Rome’s intense dislike---by a priest, Don Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959), and aided by a former member of the Austrian Parliament and postwar Italian citizen, Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954). The Civiltà argued that maintenance of a liberal-democratic political order rather than the attainment of any specific Catholic "thesis" seemed to be the chief goal of the Popolari. This, in Rome’s eyes, made it guilty of placing greater hope for the purification of society in the structures of a particular form of government---and one which in Italy had historically proven generally to be very anti-Catholic---than in the purifying effects of the Faith. Sturzo, de Gasperi, and the Popolari were, in effect, accused of compounding this error by playing a double game, seeking to convince Catholics that they had an obligation to support the party program as believers, while simultaneously making a purely secular appeal for the backing of non-believing Italians. Moreover, the Civiltà did not appear to have had confidence in this non-Catholic “Catholic” party’s ability to fend off what, once again, was indeed seen by the Holy See to be the greater evil: the radicalization of the Italian socialist movement, to the ultimate benefit of the communists.
Articles in the Civiltà concerning France and l’Action Française gave a second important insight into the Roman attitude regarding proper Catholic political activity in the interwar era, but they require a bit of background to understand. Anticlericalism had gained great influence over the Third Republic from the late 1870’s onwards, reaching its peak with the unilateral denunciation of the Concordat of Napoleon in 1905 and its after effects. Anticlerical policies had aroused great bitterness against the existing government among the faithful, particularly over questions involving Catholic education and the religious congregations that had been active in providing it. Although the Union Sacrée during the war had eased these tensions a good deal, they nevertheless flared anew in the 1920’s.
French believers never developed anything like the network of lay organizations to be found in Germany. Still, they had created certain groups that seemed to fit into the papal model of “Catholic Action”. And many Catholics in the interwar period actively took part in the La Ligue des Droits du religieux Ancien Combattant and the Fédération Nationale Catholique, both of them focused primarily on fighting for Catholic schools and the religious orders needed to staff them.
Before the First World War Frenchmen had also been attracted to Marc Sangnier’s (1873-1950)’s more broadly political Sillon, as well as the above-mentioned Action Française of Charles Maurras. The first of these movements had been created in 1894 in response to Leo XIII’s call for a French Catholic hypothesis-like “rallying” to support of the Republic in order to work within it to purge it of its anticlerical tendencies. But it was condemned by St. Pius X in 1910 for falling prey to the repeatedly reproved error of treating a political system---in this case, the democratic system---as itself redemptive, and thereby more important than the Faith for the purification of society.
Maurras’ Action Française, founded in 1899, gradually came to refer to a daily newspaper of that name, the school of thought it promoted, and a league for practical political and social action. Although the movement as a whole suffered from the vigorous papal rebuke of December of 1926, it was actually the newspaper and the school of thought that was the object of the pope’s attack, as noted in the pages of La Civiltà Cattolica. Amidst a rather exaggerated assault on the movement’s classicism, what the journal once again insisted was at stake was a placing of a political system---in this case, the monarchical---above the spiritual in importance: a politique d’abord, The basic error was said to be worsened by the fact that even though the non-Catholic leader of the movement admittedly gave the Catholic Church a major role in a legitimate French monarchy, he justified it on positivist grounds, merely as a force for social order and not as the teacher of the world. Catholics were thus---as in Italy, but in a different manner--- made to feel obliged to support a movement built upon non-Catholic and even potentially anti-Catholic principles.
Rome’s attitude, given clout by her abandonment of the Popolari, papal condemnation of major aspects of the work of the Action Francaise, and, even more so, by direct diplomatic negotiation between the Vatican and the governments of individual countries in Europe, aroused a great deal of resentment on the part of local Catholic lay activists. Despite the obvious complaint that the Holy See could not possibly understand all of the peculiar conditions affecting public life in every nation around the globe, questions regarding its interference in what ought to be a primarily lay-directed secular activity in a dangerously clericalist and therefore itself ultimately anti-Catholic manner also emerged.
One can easily grasp why this was the case. For, despite Rome’s solid doctrinal teaching, her commitment to working for the victory of the Catholic “thesis” under the conditions of the interwar “hypothesis” does seem to have been open to suspicion. Theoretical speculations on how the thesis could be put into practice were certainly never a particular Vatican strong point. Even the Holy See's apparent interest in the importance of broad cultural issues does not appear to have translated into much practical labor. It is very difficult, to take but one example, to uncover anything impressive undertaken by the Papal Academy designed for precisely such a task.
Quite frankly, the interwar Papacy followed an "hypothesis" policy which had remained basically unchanged since the time of Leo XIII: that of finding some mere modus vivendi with all existing authorities, whoever they might be, generally for the sake of avoiding "greater evils". This was true even under St. Pius X, who approved of agreements made with the liberal government of Italy to avoid the danger of a socialist victory in pre-First World War Italy; the so-called Gentiloni Pact. What counted was only some basic protection for the cult and its ministers to survive and for communism to be kept at bay. The result was the signing of thirteen Concordats and twenty-six Conventions and accords with varied forms of government---liberal, democratic, fascist, or authoritarian though they might be---the most important of which, at least for our purposes here, were the Arreglos with Mexico (1929), the Lateran Accords ending the Holy See’s Risorgimento-born conflict with Italy (1929), and the Reichskonkordat with Germany in 1933. In fact, until brutally rebuffed in its efforts, Rome began the interwar period with a display of willingness to make a deal even with the communist government in Russia regarding the protection of the cult and its ministers.
Any kind of truly imaginative, energetic, militant effort to purify interwar Europe, especially one calling upon the aid of the laity to do so, would appear to have been shunned by the Vatican in favor of cooperation with existing powers, and this at a time when Rome was speaking very vigorously about the need to create a New Christendom in missionary lands. Here, too, La Civiltà Cattolica is helpful in understanding the position of the Holy See. Articles in the journal praised the idea-less, obedience-focused character of fascism as offering an opportunity to guide the Duce down a proper direction on an issue-by-issue basis in a manner that avoided the possible ideological and political subversion of the Faith by outright Catholic movements.
In order for such an approach to be successful, Rome would actually have had to do something dramatic to insist upon the defense of the Catholic "thesis”. And yet despite the many serious benefits granted, on paper, by the Lateran Accords, and the theoretical outrage of the Papacy at the ill treatment of Catholic Action in fascist Italy that almost immediately followed their implementation, the battles in the peninsula between Church and State amounted to temporary verbal clashes. There was precious little in the way of a Gramscian “counter-cultural” formation of the faithful useful to pressuring the “idea-less” leadership to bend to its will. What counted, once again, was simply the basic survival of cult and clergy. Yet even a defense of the basic cult conducted primarily by the laity was not greeted with enthusiasm. Here we have the example of the Mexican situation, where an American brokered agreement with the anti-Christian government was preferred to any fervent support of the Cristeros.
In sum, the papal policy in the interwar period simply did not work. It demonstrated a kind of faith in written documents more liberal than Catholic in character. Admittedly, negotiating with the powers-that-be was a clear necessity, if only for dealing with diocesan changes required by changing borders after the end of the world conflict. But government after government violated the agreements that had been painstakingly negotiated, that of Germany included. Pius XI swiftly became so vehemently anti-Nazi in consequence as to vary the policy described above, giving Engelbert Dollfuss’ openly Catholic lay movement the kind of backing he generally did not wish to provide elsewhere, as a means of keeping the greater National Socialist menace out of Austria. But one wonders whether he regretted the fact that at the crucial moment of Hitler’s establishment of his power in 1933, he opted for a Party of Order solution in Germany, regarding him as the only statesman in Europe who fully understood the evils of communism.
Perhaps worst of all, given its long-term effects, the Roman condemnation of the Action Française, only lifted in 1939 after the damage had long been done, did nothing to prevent the victory of the politique d’abord mentality. Aside from alienating many Catholics, who now saw the only hope for their particular political views to succeed as involving the same kind of reliance on the fascists that the Civiltà had baptized in the 1920’s, what it also accomplished was a resurrection of the "democratic politics first" position of the Sillon. This then played an enormous role in the reshaping of a French episcopacy more and more open to a democratic secularist vision of society, along with their “higher education” in what this might actually mean by intellectual forces to be mentioned in more detail below; an episcopacy, which, through men like Achille Lienart (1884-1973), appointed Archbishop of Lille in 1928, was to be one of the central radicalizing forces of Second Vatican Council.
Rome, in short, opted for a general policy of fitting in with whatever Party of Order force worked best. In doing so, she was in a much better position to protect herself from policy criticism than ever before in history, due to the added strength that came from popular Catholic exaggeration of what was owed in the way of obedience to "infallible" papal governance since First Vatican Council, enhanced even further by the exaggerations of the anti-Modernist campaign. The Holy See’s abandonment of any militant, specifically Catholic purification of the interwar order is especially ironic, given the fact that the revival movement of the nineteenth century, angered by the weak conformism of national episcopacies, had vigorously fostered the ultramontanist and infallibilist campaigns, seeing in Rome precisely the force that would guarantee support for commitment to full realization of the "thesis".
Not surprisingly, the interwar performance of local bishops as counter-cultural architects of a purified Catholic society was not a stellar one either. There was little to indicate any overwhelming movement away from their nineteenth century conformism. Fresh from an almost unanimous, enthusiastic support of the justice of their various opposing countries’ war involvement, prelates generally continued to go with the national flow rather than courageously trying to call its unacceptable currents to task. I will have more to say about this below with respect to the situation in the United States. Suffice it say at the moment that one of the most organized of national episcopacies in Europe, that of Germany, joined Rome in missing its opportunity at least to attempt to halt the National Socialist takeover when it might have been stopped, in the confusing months prior to January of 1933---primarily, once again, out of “Party of Order” considerations. Yes, there was some sign of episcopal energy later, in fighting the consequences of Nazi eugenics, but Gleichshaltung had by then rendered the formerly powerful German Catholic Church and her network of lay associations a shadow of their formal self.
What can we say about the record of the network of movements and organizations whose existence began our discussion of the Catholic response to the interwar situation? We have already seen that these continued to have an impact in small countries like Portugal and Austria, committed to international cooperation and Catholic corporatist ideas, although whatever happened here, as we have now repeatedly cited Salazar as lamenting, was incapable of succeeding unless the Great Powers were on their side. And mention has also been made of yeoman efforts in defense of the cult, clergy, education, and social life in general in larger countries such as France, Mexico, and Spain.
In all fairness, however, I think it has to be admitted that the Papacy was correct in pinpointing many problems in lay Catholic political and social activity, especially concerning the flirtation with politique d’abord. Even if, for prudential "hypothesis" reasons, a politique d’abord policy might temporarily have been of benefit to the Catholic cause in one nation or another, the temptation to adopt it as a principle seemed often irresistible. The “Catholic” Popolari were indeed a problem in their adulation of liberal democracy, just as the spirit of the Sillon in France before the First World War and in its renewed influence after 1926 were dangerous in the extreme. The flip-flops of the Catholic Centre Party in Germany, giving substance to Bismarck’s complaint about it representing every opinion imaginable depending upon what “worked”, politically, for its various factions, was often painful to observe. Throughout its history, its deputies had offered support for everything from what was truly in line with the "thesis" to the backing of extreme nationalist, liberal capitalist, and Marxist outlooks, with the Party of Order principle in the interwar period always playing a central role.
Sadly, the presumption that the purification of life in a Catholic manner would somehow come from an uncritical dedication to the heroic cause of a Redeemer System, a Redeemer-King, a Redeemer-General, or even the redemptive “roar of the fascisti” was too common to make maintenance of a distance from potential allies a regular hallmark of the official movements of the era.7 Yet, without that proper distance, the baptizing of non- or anti- Catholic recipes for purification as the Catholic thesis was a constant threat. And it was a threat that ultimately was dramatically realized, after the Second World War, with reference to the two fresh secularist competitors on the purification scene in 1918, America and Russia, in the form of a then “matured” Pluralism and Soviet Communism.
One ought to begin a discussion of Pluralism by noting that Europe already possessed a pluralist model before the First World War in The Netherlands. Nineteenth century battles of secularist forces versus a pro-religious Catholic-Protestant alliance had created what was referred to in that country as the “pillar system”, which reflected many of the elements that were proclaimed as positive pluralist goals. Through this system, all Dutchmen were educated and, in effect, lived out their lives, in a Catholic, Protestant, or a secularist “pillar” of society, according to the principles approved by each of these. Pillarization seemed to work.
Nevertheless, its survival was dependent upon each of the pillars honestly leaving the others their independent space, and their avoidance of any internal subversion. The Catholic pillar would have required something more nourishing to feed on than the clerical-cult-devotional mentality prevalent in The Netherlands to understand how to defend itself from the determined aggression and subversion---particularly subversion---it eventually faced. Moreover, even if better prepared, it would, as Salazar could have pointed out to it, have had a hard time fending off the more destructive form of Pluralism coming from a great, outside, power: namely, the United States.
Although the Civiltà and her allies had critiqued “the American way” later referred to as Pluralism from the 1850’s onwards, a very useful native guide to the character of its underlying poisons can be found in President Calvin Coolidge’s address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 1925.8 Here, the president explains how the splendor of the United States as a land where the supreme cause of individual liberty had triumphed over governmental tyranny provided the basic framework for the particular freedom enjoyed by the American press.
Now the Americans, Coolidge assures his audience, are an idealistic people. But their idealism never precludes a concern for “practical” affairs, with the press itself understanding that its very survival is tied up with a cultivation of “business”. This is especially important in the United States because “the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world”: in other words, with "business d'abord".
Coolidge dismisses any fears regarding the dangers coming from a business mentality---which in the press’s case might center on the threat of collusion with the wealthy, and complicity in dragging the public’s attention down to profitable but ultimately rather debasing material concerns. For rather than cheapening existence, the entire business project enables men and women to realize the intense and ennobling American idealism that I have already noted Coolidge as identifying above:9
It is rare indeed that the men who are accumulating wealth decay. It is only when they cease production, when accumulation stops, that an irreparable decay begins. Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means, or so little regarded as an end, as today.
Here, in a concise nutshell, the Chief Executive reproduces the mainstream Moderate Enlightenment, Whig, liberal, Anglo-American understanding of the relationship of the individual and society, with its insistence upon an intimate connection of free, practical, profitable activity and the high-minded consequences of nurturing it. This pleasant tale defines the good polis to be that which holds individual freedom to be its driving force, knows that that liberty will be used chiefly to gain wealth, but rests secure in the conviction that the wealth attained is the sine qua non for supporting unquestionable, traditional, higher goals: the intellectual and spiritual exaltation of the human person and the world in which he lives.
Personally, I do not doubt that President Coolidge is honest in his expectation that the philanthropic “dissemination of intelligence” and “encouragement of science” he lauds would support a number of higher, traditional goals in his day. These goals would have been defined by the “basic common sense” that the Whig, Anglo-American society of 1925 continued to treat as defending obvious “givens”, and which did, indeed, still possess some influence over its citizens at that time.
Unfortunately, the substance of that remaining “obvious common sense”, along with the higher and traditional goals so readily funded by a freely sought wealth, was constantly being whittled away at and dragged downwards by the materialist weightiness of the Whig concept of freedom. It was already much worn away in 1925 as compared with 1900, and Coolidge himself points to its basic intellectual and spiritual emptiness in his address to the editors. For in this talk he indicates that “the idealism of the American people is idealism”---providing no further defining guide to the idealism of individuals other than the telling fact that it is always “practical”.
We have no time now fully indicate what the effects of an unchecked American pluralist development would be on the cultural plane. Plato describes some of them brilliantly in The Republic in his discussion of “democratic man”. Besides, we can observe them all around us every moment of every day in our own moment in time. Suffice it say for now that it stimulates the creation of a pseudo-culture build upon an immense amount of indiscriminate kinds of self-humiliating, individual, elitist, or mass supported decadent elements, whether in the form of pornography, low level kitsch, or overbearing expressions of raw power, and in every realm of life, from music and film to architecture to social manners. Anything generating wealth is culturally good; anything not, a waste of time. Those wanting an internal American critique of the products and social manners this culture puts on display can look for a more detailed elaboration of the problem in Sinclair Lewis’ (1885-1951) Babbit (1922) or in some of H.L. Mencken’s (1880-1956) essays, such as The Libido for the Ugly and On Being an American.
The sole obstacle to the spiritual decay of a “practical idealism” in a Whig---and that means John Locke, and behind him an Enlightenment, Reformation, Nominalist, and Gnostic---driven society is the maintenance of the conventional agreement of the existing community. This can provide a powerful brake on any corrosive development due either to the continued strength of forces that do not necessarily grasp the full logical consequences of a polis with no substantive existence aside from the wishes of individual, liberty-obsessed, business-focused “idealists” and therefore continue to attack them according to long-established norms, or to those who do recognize them, dig in their heels, and refuse to accept them. In practical terms, both forms of resistance require the doctrinal firmness of the Roman Catholic Church and her commitment to the primacy of the spirit in all political and social realms to survive and have an impact.
As much as Catholics overwhelmingly took for granted the existing political system within the United States, and, when given the opportunity to do so, happily militated within the ranks of the existing parties, they certainly engaged in some distinct social activism. To take perhaps the most important example, Catholics, whether practicing or not, were active---and critically active---in the budding American labor. Criticism of the economic problems of the country was most effectively linked together with the mainline of Catholic thought on social justice by Fr. John Ryan (1869-1945), an academic and social activist. Ryan was central to producing the so-called “bishops program” on social justice in 1919, coming out of the National Catholic War Conference, which became at the conclusion of the conflict the National Catholic Welfare Conference.
Still, the original foundation of the NCWC illustrated the conformism of American Catholics, similar to that of their fellow believers in Europe, and this despite quite laudable papal attempts to convince believers to stay above the battle. If the American government supported the war, the war was right, and Catholics were told by their bishops and the NCWC not to criticize it. Even the “papal viceroys”, like O’Connell, sometimes appear to have played a kind of double game of their own, serving as conduits for Roman initiatives in some matters so as to leave the American bishops free to follow their own peculiar national path on everything else.
In fact, with a few notable exceptions, the national conformism of the American episcopacy was such as to make the local bishops generally hostile to the “bishops’” program. It was too “socialist” for them, and thereby anti-American and, ipso facto, anti-Catholic in character. They were ecclesiastical businessmen who had businessmen’s goals for construction of churches and schools and sought approval for their "business d'abord" successes from the Establishment. Ryan was a danger to them. What they preferred was an integration into contemporary society, all too much in line with the flip side of the interwar isolationist mentality: the insistence upon the need for existing foreign elements to avoid being "divisive" and "integrate themselves" as good Americans. Catholics had the freedom to pursue their basic cult and their devotions under the guidance of a secular clergy. What more did they need from "the last, best hope of mankind"? “Americanism, liberal capitalism, the general moral consensus, and Sunday Mass, now and forever, one and inseparable" could easily have been inscribed on most bishops' banners.
Promotion of Catholic social justice in the United States seemed to get a new lease on life with the Great Depression and its effects both in Rome and at home. Quadragesimo anno (1931) gave new and better support to Catholic Social Doctrine positions than Rerum novarum (1891), which it commemorated, had ever done. Ryan and other Catholics, such as Fr. Charles Coughlin (1891-1979), a man who knew how to utilize the radio to spread a popular message, along with a few significant bishops, took heart with the victory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the institution of the New Deal. The National Relief Administration, calling for a communal “war” effort, under General Hugh Johnson, with participants in its mission forming a so-called “Blue Army’ symbolized by the display of a “Blue Eagle”, whatever the motives of its creators might have been, reflected some clearly fascist elements, but in an American context that appeared to be quite open to the Catholic vision.
Ryan was destined to stand by Roosevelt throughout his time in office. Nevertheless, the condemnation of the first New Deal by the Supreme Court and its reorganization in a way that Fr. Coughlin deemed suitable to manipulation both by international capitalism and communism, brought the radio priest into a vocal opposition, not surprisingly condemned by conformist bishops urged on by the Administration. Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Peter Maurin (1877-1949), whose newspaper, The Catholic Worker, was, for a time, the chief competitor of the communist Daily Worker in the United States, were also concerned about a deeper change in the existing system in a way that emarginated them both ecclesiastically and politically.
A dedication to the cult, its devotional practices, and the protection of the clergy could do little to win America for Christ the King in the midst of the reigning non-divisive, integrating, conformist mentality. The best that could be accomplished, and this because the general moral consensus was still basically united in such a regard, was to tame gross immorality in the cinema, through the Legion of Decency and the Code forced upon the Hollywood moguls. And this, as the United States moved into the Second World War, did not prevent American openness to all religious belief being praised with Catholic blessing, in films such as those about the modernist-minded Fr. Duffy in The Fighting Sixty Ninth, or the model cleric being depicted as the easy-going Bing Crosby in Going My Way. American Catholics, “integrated” into their society more than ever before in a period of real isolation from continued European influences, believed in the message of the "last, best hope of mankind" by 1945. They were ready to accept its complete equation with all the goals of the Faith, especially in the face of danger coming from "a greater evil": Soviet Communism.
We have seen why Catholic thinkers saw Marxist movements and their call for a purification of capitalist bourgeois decadence as more than understandable reactions to real injustice. On the other hand, La Civiltà Cattolica could not help but recognize in Soviet Communism, the second "new kid on the block" in 1918, a development of the same naturalist illness as all of the other Gnostic-Nominalist-Reformation-Enlightenment engendered competitors of the Catholic Church, that produced in America included. Here, instead of willful, individual capitalist exploiters of the people, it was the ideologues, operating through commissars and petty bureaucrats to manipulate the masses they claimed to serve, who were the active agents of irrational willfulness and purely materialist self-interest. Communism’s cultural influence in the interwar period was enormous. This ran the gauntlet from the exaltation of overbearingly materialist raw power to that of a culturally permissive environment meant to reflect Marxist-Leninist progress and freedom: at least until the vision of Stalin and the demands of the First Five Year Plan inside the Soviet Union rendered the latter dangerous to dictatorship and production. It differed from the raw power adulation of the American skyscraper and relentless American cultural permissiveness only in that the New World expression was promoted, praised, or at least accepted in so far as it created personal wealth. It is interesting to note, in passing, that the cultural pressure to demonstrate one's undying "happiness" at being "part of the gang" was a common element in the Soviet, American, and fascist atmosphere. In any case, anyone being shaped culturally by conformism to such forces was not being shaped in a way that gave glory to Christ as King.
Despite the solid doctrinal rejection of Marxism-Leninism and the general Catholic practical cooperation with representatives of the two versions of the Party of Order noted above, there were certain anti-liberal, anti-fascist believers ready to join the communist call for a Popular Front against the advances of Mussolini, Hitler, and their imitators in the interwar period. Moreover, the period 1918-1939 was rich in intellectual forces constructing an argument that could easily lend support to such a choice. This argument presented a new approach towards "Catholic" purification based upon a spirit that might be labeled milieu d’abord: “milieu first”. And it was through the progress of that spirit, and the enchantment with the milieux and mystiques of the victors of the Second World War that a perverse equation of Catholic purification with that offered not just by Soviet Communism but also by the American Pluralism was to come about. This would bring the revival movement of the nineteenth century to a tragic and resounding end and lull Catholics back into their eighteenth century dogmatic slumber. Ironically, however, discussing this perversion requires a brief return to the revival movement in question to elaborate.
Nineteenth century Catholic activists had recruited into their ranks men of the deepest and most unquestionable zeal for militant evangelization and transforming action both abroad and at home. They wanted success and saw this as urgently needed to prevent man as opposed to Christ becoming king of the world. Nineteenth century Catholics---following the example of militant Protestants---began to speak of the overall enterprise of evangelization as being directed down two distinct paths: that of the Outer Missions (focused on bringing the Faith to non-Christian peoples) and the Inner Missions (those aimed at the secularized populations of what were considered generally as already Christianized lands). The milieu d’abord vision grew out of speculations regarding how best to succeed in both of these fields of endeavor.10
Outer missionaries had always operated under a variety of irritations coming from both internal Church disputes regarding jurisdiction and episcopal authority, as well as from European colonial powers aiding or limiting evangelization based upon reasons of State. Certain groups, like the Moslems and the bulk of the Chinese population, seemed invulnerable to conversion. Building upon the experience of generations of missionaries in the tradition of Matteo Ricci, a number of those engaged in the Outer Missions became more and more convinced of the need for a deeper effort to “get under the skins” of the groups whom they were trying to evangelize—to “inculturate” the Faith, as one would say in our own day. They hoped that in doing so, Christianity could be stripped of any appearance as an alien force, and be viewed as best suited to the natural development and perfection of the communities in question instead.
The names Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) and Vincent Lebbe (1877-1940) are very important to Catholic developments in this area with respect to evangelization of the Moslems and the Chinese, and one might also add to theirs that of Mgr. John Österreicher (1904-1993), whose Pauluswerk focused upon conversion of the Jews in interwar Europe. Catholic clerics in Münster, Louvain, Lille, and Paris played a major role in this enterprise as well, imitating Protestant evangelists in the creation of “missiology”: the deeper study of all of the elements needed to understand the peoples whose conversion was being pursued, including ethnology, sociology, psychology, and anthropology.
We have seen that missiology was added to the curriculum of the Gregorian in 1932, and the Holy See encouraged many other new initiatives in the missionary field. It was stimulated to do so by the conviction that Europe was committing suicide, thus requiring serious work for preparing the foundation of a “New Christendom” outside its borders. Benedict XV, in Quo efficacius (1920) and Maximum illud (1922), and Pius XI in Romanorum pontificum (1922) both stressed the need for all Christians—not just the clergy---to recognize their responsibility to build this New Christendom as “outer missionaries”. Peter Canisius’ canonization and the memory of his never-ending travels inside Europe were offered as an indication of the self-sacrificing activity demanded of such a labor in foreign fields.
Rome’s deeper commitment to the task led it to call the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, along with experts in missiology, to establish their headquarters in the Eternal City. An international congress of missiology was held there in 1922, the two hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Support for the concept of inculturation was demonstrated not just by means of the strengthening of the higher education of indigenous clergy at the Urbaniana, but also by the consecration of the first Chinese bishops in 1926 and the lifting of the prohibition against practicing the so-called Chinese rites in 1935, and those prevalent in Japan in the following year.
A new kind of Catholic focus on the Inner Missions, once again also aided by imitation of Protestant efforts in this regard, developed out of work that began in Italy and Belgium from the 1890’s onwards. The Opera dei Congressi, the nationwide Catholic lay movement dealing with the problems presented by the new, anticlerical Kingdom of Italy, gave birth in 1896 to an organization concerned directly with the youthful milieu, the Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana or FUCI. Somewhat later, the Belgian priest, Fr. Joseph Cardijn (1886-1967), became convinced of the need to create a “specialized Catholic Action” that distinguished milieu from milieu and developed a fervor within each of these specific ambiences giving birth to evangelists ready to bring the light of Christ to others like them in the world at large. His Jeunesse Ouvrières Chrétienne (1924), aimed uniquely at young workers, was very influential as a model in the “years between”.
Fr. Jaques Sevin (1882-1951), along with a fellow French Jesuit, Fr. Paul Donceour (1880-1961), following the model for guiding youth offered by Baden-Powel in Britain several decades earlier, were crucial to the foundation and guidance of the very important Catholic Scouting Movement in France in 1920.
Laborers in the Outer Missions were worried about the effects on their work in environments made still more difficult due to the influence of growing native religious revivals, along with disgruntlement over the mass conscription and stricter control of populations disturbing life in the colonial world in the First World War. Inner Missionaries grew more militant after 1918 due to the fact that their lack of success was made painfully obvious by the general indifference to religion that activists---who had really not ventured forth from their own limited milieux beforehand---encountered among their fellow soldiers in the trenches during the conflict. Everything from the libertinism of frontline soldiers to their enthusiasm regarding the news from Russia made the meager Catholic efforts to change men’s minds and hearts appear pathetic in comparison. Lay activists sympathized with the outrage of clerics and seminarians compelled by a number of belligerent countries to fight during the war and forced by the Church to undergo a purification rite for having done so afterwards, believing that this all too clearly revealed a failure on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities to understand the realities imposed by the outside world upon contemporary Catholics.
A third force that contributed to the creation of the milieu d’abord approach in a manner that tied in with the concerns of the Outer and Inner Missionaries was the Liturgical Movement. Very much associated with the nineteenth century revival of interest in the Roman Rite and Gregorian Chant---as with the work of Dom Gueranger at Solesmes in France---this had expanded to involve a popular education of the laity ensuring its deeper participation in the Mass that had been blessed by Pope St. Pius X. A popularly understood liturgy became still more important in the minds of liturgists seeing it as a major ritual tool in the quest for purification reaching fever pitch during the First World War. This, in turn, then stimulated discussions regarding how the liturgy, by means of an emphasis on the Roman Rite’s “noble simplicity”, could be made more accessible to the average person, and, through deeper appreciation of the specific needs of distinct groups, to the different milieux of missionary lands and Specialized Catholic Action. Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960) in Belgium; Abbot Ildefons Hergewegen (1874-1946) of Maria Laach, Romano Guardini (1885-1968), and Josef Jungmann (1889-1975) in Germany; and Maurice de la Taille (1872-1933), Jean Maydieu, (1900-1955), Victor Dillard (1897-1945), and Donceur in France were all active in this project.
Finally, ecumenical initiatives on the part of liturgists and certain Catholic prelates and intellectuals eager to understand the causes of continued Christian division also aided the milieu d’abord mentality. Beauduin, who created an ecumenical minded journal called Irénikon in 1926, took part in the Malines Conversations of 1921-1927 with Anglican High Churchmen. Numerous French clerics and laity were eager to engage in dialogue with the Russian Orthodox exiles active at the Institut de Saint-Serge in Paris, a discussion entertained by Anglicans and Orthodox in Britain clerical and lay, through formation of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. The Russian Orthodox, in particular, through the nineteenth century concept of sobornost, encouraged a Christian mentality that was community minded in a way that evoked aspects of the milieu d’abord position.
The interwar years offered an influential explanation for how to correct the lack of success experienced by the Outer and Inner missionaries, with crucial consequences for the Liturgical and Ecumenical Movements as well, through the arguments of representatives of the personalist movement. Personalism, as it developed at the time, perhaps ought to be referred to as a tendency rather than a specific idea. Many diverse circles of thinkers used the term, and some of the themes associated with it. It is in this sense that Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), principally thought of in conjunction with Thomism and Integral Humanism, may also be cited as a personalist.
More directly associated with the movement were men such as Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950), editor of the journal l’Esprit, whose so-called Communitarian Personalism, like Maritain’s somewhat related Integral Humanism, was destined to have a wide impact beyond Europe in radicalizing the Catholic camp after the Second World War. Mounier had pre-war contacts with a kaleidoscope of thinkers engaged in similar speculations: Jean Danielou (1905-1974), the future cardinal; Jean Guitton (1901-1999), who would one day become a close friend and advisor to Pope Paul VI; Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948)—the most important representative of the mystical, anti-scholastic, anti-legalist, Russian Orthodox position—and a network of friends who met at Jacques Maritain’s home outside Paris; Henri Daniel-Rops (1901-1965) and his fellow members of the organization Ordre Nouveau (New Order); Belgians inspired by the “spiritualized Socialism” of Henri de Man (1885-1953); proponents of European cooperation like Otto Abets (1903-1958), the future Nazi ambassador to a defeated France; and a group of “revolutionary National Socialists” gathered in the early 1930s around the Hitler rivals Gregor (1892-1934) and Otto Strasser (1897-1974).
Interwar Personalism had its roots in late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century romantic and vitalist thought concerning the importance of “energy” and “action” as guides to truth. Lamennais’ heritage played a major role in transmitting such interest among Catholics, and modernist thinkers in further disseminating it. The emphasis upon energy and action as a program for life was, once again, enhanced still more by meditation upon the experience of those front-line soldiers during the First World War who heroically sacrificed themselves together in a common cause despite their divisions into so many different religious, political, and social factions at home.
Insofar as one can summarize a highly variegated vision, personalism can be said to argue that the individual, trapped inside his private intellectual and behavioral concerns, is a dead man. To become a full “person”, capable of realizing his deepest potential and fulfilling his true destiny, he must find a way to get out of himself and his deadening introspective existence. This he can achieve by diving into the richer life provided by communities---milieux---and the “natural values” they incarnate and pursue. Which communities? Which natural values? The communities and natural values in question were those that moved men to cohesive, energetic, effective action by means of a unique, discernable, vital, milieu “mystique”. Action in union with such mystiques transformed limited, sterile individuals into truly microcosmic personalities.
Catholic personalists with such ideas saw the kind of believer who approached his faith as a set of precepts that might be studied intellectually and then put into practice on the individual level as a self-crippling, introspective personality. Nineteenth and early twentieth century “revival” Catholicism, with its emphasis on speculative theology, private devotions, and concern for individual sanctification, was said to produce just this type of faithful. A better grasp of the Christian Faith, a richer life, and a full perfection of “personhood” required something quite different. It demanded the individual’s abandonment to the “mystiques” of the energetic and highly effective milieux-communities that he saw around him. Yes, these might appear to be promoting purely “natural values”. Nevertheless, the energies that they unleashed, and the successes they enjoyed, demonstrated that there was something more at work through them: the providential power of the Holy Spirit in history. The Catholic missionary’s task was that of “witnessing” to his faith in a quiet, humble fashion, by nurturing the natural value of the community to which he was sent so that it might be brought to its innate perfection. Such witness would also be enriching for him, since he would learn things about Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit in history that he could never have known before plunging into the mystique and life of the vital group in question.
One day, the Holy Spirit would guarantee the “convergence” of all these seemingly contradictory milieux and their mystiques. The result would be the establishment of a community of communities capable of producing what would, in effect, be super-persons, “the grandest transformation to which humanity has ever submitted.” The seeming nightmare provided by a variety of often quite violent twentieth century forces hostile to the Faith was actually a splendid call to hope. One was witnessing through their maturation the bloody birth of a true collective being of men—mysterious indeed, but Spirit-guided and therefore eminently Catholic.
Believers must not sit in judgment of milieux-mystiques on the path to convergence. For they could not even fully know what the Catholic Faith entailed and where the Holy Spirit was leading it until the natural values that the various mystiques enshrined had all unfolded and then merged together. Rather than criticism, total immersion in energetic milieu, their communities and their mystiques was required. Such immersion demanded a root and branch obliteration of all previous education and practice that gave the militant missionary a different perspective from someone who was already a part of the providential community to which he was sent to witness. Reliance on the dry, intellectual, introspective teachings and private devotions of official Catholicism presented an obstacle to victory. Christ and His Spirit were to be found in the vital community and its mystique—not in textbooks of theology mulled over by self-limiting individuals who stubbornly refused to become truly active and effective persons.
Nineteenth-century Catholics opposed to Lamennais knew what to expect from his vision. Their critique, enunciated in the writings of the Jesuit editors of La Civiltà Cattolica and their allies, also points to the problems of Catholic personalism. All calls for submission to vital, active, milieu community’s guidance from the time of Lamennais to that of Mounier have always entailed two consequences: first of all, the destruction of any means of distinguishing between a good and bad manifestation of communal energy; and, secondly, the determination, in practice, of what is or is not acceptable as a “natural value on the path to maturation” through the Diktat of charismatic interpreters of the “right kind of vitality”. Tossing away the crutches of the self-crippling, introspective individual has regularly ended in immersion in anti-Christian community passions to begin with, and enslavement to the obsessions of “vanguards of the people” that arrogate to themselves the right to explain what a society “really” energetically feels forever thereafter.
“Spiritualization” of everything natural, as practiced by the interwar personalists, must end in the naturalization of a world that is really meant to undergo correction and purification in Christ. The progress of the Holy Spirit in history becomes merely another way of describing the triumph of the strongest human will. Morever, those accepting this approach are also helpless in combating the frightful willfulness of successful, charismatic, and criminal nineteenth and twentieth century ideologies—liberalism, communism, fascism, and American pluralism. In fact, those subscribing to this vision find themselves incapable of responding to any energetic fraud; “barren in the face of a Ramakrishna”, as the much more cautious, Thomist, friend of philosophy, Jacques Maritain, complained.11
V. The Interwar Spirit on the March to the Present: “Catholic” Purification as the Triumph of the Strongest, Mindless Will
Many personalists looked, greeted the early fascist victories of the Second World War hopefully. A number of them, long convinced of the innate weaknesses of the liberal bourgeois “established disorder,” expressed little surprise over the conquests of Nazi Germany. What really concerned them was whether Catholicism could find some way to turn a potentially apocalyptic “purification” down the proper pathway. For fascism was seen to be a “monstrous prefiguration” of the new personalist humanity waiting to be born. It clearly revealed the presence of strong will, virile manliness, self-sacrifice to the community, and even, in the context of the war effort, a commitment to the construction of that European-wide super society which many thought to be crucial to a better New World Order.
Pétain’s so-called National Revolution was appreciated by French personalists both because of its anti-liberal bourgeois character and its freedom from the more gross “materialist” aspects of Nazism. They hoped to make Vichy France a wartime laboratory for educational and evangelical schemes designed to reshape the world in a spiritual way. One major example of educational experimentation incorporating both contemporary Catholic ideas as well as features of the fascist Ordensburgen—the castle training centers for the new elite of German youth—was the École Nationale des Cadres at the Château Bayard above the village of Uriage, near Grenôble. Founded in the waning months of 1940, this institution became especially significant by June of 1941, when the Vichy regime determined to require a session at the Ecole for all future high government functionaries.
The teachings of a vast array of Catholic luminaries and their fellow travelers were marshaled under the banner of the National Revolution to play a role at Uriage. Still, under the day-to-day direction of Pierre Dunoyer de Segonzac (1906-1968) and the guidance of the Study Bureau of Hubert Beuve-Mery (1902-1989), Mounier’s “communitarian personalism” was central therein. This was true even after political problems led to Mounier’s removal from its staff. For his vision continued to prosper through the similar teaching of his friend, Jean Lacroix (1900-1986), and their common master, Jacques Chevalier (1882-1962), professor at Grenôble and sometime Vichy Minister of Education.
Allied with personalism at Uriage was the radicalizing influence of the budding New Theology. This arrived via the Dominican houses of Saulchoir and Latour-Maubourg, the Jesuit center at Fourvières, the journals La vie intellectuelle, Sept and Temps present, the French scouting movement, and specialized Catholic Action groups stimulated through the activity of Joseph Cardijn with young Christian workers in Belgium. Segonzac and Beuve-Mery had frequented such circles before the war. They happily brought to Uriage priests like Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), Jean Maydieu (1900-1955), Victor Dillard (1897-1945), and Paul Donceour (1880-1961). These men, in turn, introduced students to the writings of Lamennais, Henri Bergson (1859-1941), Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), Charles Péguy (1873-1914), Marie-Domenique Chenu (1895-1990), Yves Congar (1904-1995), Karl Adam (1876-1966), Romano Guardini (1885-1968), Charles de Foucauld and, perhaps more importantly than anyone else, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Uriage also had links, direct and indirect, with Frs. Louis Joseph Lebret (1897-1966) and Jacques Loew (1908-1999), founders of the Catholic social movement, Economie et Humanisme, which was destined for a significant “progressive” future in Latin America as well as in Europe.
Students at the École were thus familiarized with currents of biblical, historical, spiritual, liturgical and philosophical thought that, while marginal at the moment, would become immensely powerful and instrumental in guiding the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Church. And this team, “ensconced in a chateau up in the mountains with a commission to completely rethink and transform the way France educated its young people”, was absolutely and enthusiastically convinced that it was the prophetic guide to the future.12
Correction and transformation of the world, according to the doctrine taught at Uriage, was, once again, dependent upon the creation of “persons” as opposed to “individuals.” Hence Uriage’s stunning ecumenism, testified to in a myriad of ways. One could see Segonzac’s ability “to form friendly relations, on the spiritual plane, with Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Moslems, agnostics,” since he “preferred (rooted) people…in their own setting, in their own culture”.13 Uriage’s Charter proclaimed the truth that “believers and non-believers are, in France, sufficiently impregnated with Christianity”, so that “the better among them could meet, beyond revelations and dogmas, at the level of the community of persons, in the same quest for truth, justice and love”.14 And Mounier, in full-fledged Teilhardian rapture, prophesied the mysterious and convoluted growth of the “perfect personal community,” where “love alone would be the bond” and “no constraint, no vital or economic interest, no extrinsic institution” would play a role:15
Surely [development] is slow and long when only average men are working at it. But then heroes, geniuses, a saint come along: a Saint Paul, a Joan of Arc, a Catherine of Siena, a Saint Bernard, or a Lenin, a Hitler and a Mussolini, or a Gandhi, and suddenly everything picks up speed...[H]uman irrationality, the human will, or simply, for the Christian, the Holy Spirit suddenly provides elements which men lacking imagination would never have foreseen.
May the democrat, may the communist, may the fascist push the positive aspirations which inspire their enthusiasm to the limit and plenitude.
As John Hellman explains, “Mounier’s belief that there was an element of truth in all strong beliefs coincided with Teilhard’s vision of the inevitable spiritualization of humanity”.16 This belief, Uriage as a whole made its own.
Let it be emphasized once more that the message taught at Uriage was not a rational one. Its ultimate justification was the prophetic intuition of teachers giving witness to the coming New Order and their strength of will in leading men to creative action. Any appeal to logic, either in support or criticism of strongly willed commitment to the natural values they approved was dismissed as either belaboring the given or as dangerous, decadent, crippling, individualist scholastic pedantry. Better to bury the temptations of a sickly rationalism through the development of the obvious virtue of “manliness”—a virtue defined in completely anti-intellectual ways: the ability to leap onto a moving streetcar; to ride a bicycle up the steep hill to the École like Jacques Chevalier; to look others “straight in the eye” and “shake hands firmly”; to endure the sweat-filled regimen labeled décrassage devised for students under the inspiration of General Georges Hébert; to sing enthusiastically around the evening fire in the Great Hall; to know how to “take a woman”; and, always, to feel pride in “work well done.” Such manliness was said to have deep spiritual meaning in and of itself, aspects of which were elaborated in lectures like de Lubac’s Ordre viril, ordre chrétien (Virile Order, Christian Order), and Chenu’s book, Pour être heureux, travaillons ensemble (For Happiness, Let Us Work Together).17
Finally, let us stress that Uriage’s teaching was unabashedly elitist. In fact, the particular mystique of the École was that of developing the natural value of leadership. “The select youth of Uriage” were said to be “the first cell of a new world introduced into a worn-out one”18, “entrusted with the mission of bringing together the elite from all of the groups that ought to participate in the common task of reconstruction in the same spirit of collaboration”.19 Since they were destined to reveal the eternal supernatural significance of the natural values witnessed to by the mystique of all virile communities, Uriage students were in some sense priestly figures as well. Each class was consecrated and given a great man’s name as talisman. Segonzac especially “took upon himself a certain sacerdotal role, even regarding the wives and children of his instructors”.20 This entailed also a “separation between the leaders, the lesser leaders, the lesser-lesser leaders, the almost leaders and the not-at-all leaders” irritating to some of the interns. “The central team,” as one of them indicated, “were gods”.21
Nevertheless, for those manly spirits ready to leap off of streetcars moving towards indeterminate destinations, sit down in a café, and indulge in a little logical scholastic debate, the education imparted at Uriage might easily seem to be sacrificing the corrective and transforming mission of Catholicism at the altar of fascism rather than taming the “monstrous prefiguration of the future” that it represented. But, then again, the reader is all too familiar with such spiritually disguised labors on behalf of the Coalition of the Status Quo. He knows that this particular manifestation of an age-old phenomenon emerged out of the same concern to restore a shattered western social order by appeal to the non-rational will of virile communities stirred to action by charismatic prophets central to the school of Lamennais. And it was, of course, to this heritage that the teachers of Uriage appealed.
Yes, many of the particular obsessions of contemporary fascists may have been of secondary importance to the Catholic personalists we have been discussing, but the canonization of a submission of the individual to the will of the leaders of a non-rational community was common to both. What difference did it make if Uriage teachers employed Catholic-friendly words and phrases like “person” and the “Mystical Body of Christ” in their enterprise? How could one know what, exactly, these words and phrases signified when rigorous philosophical-theological examination of their meaning was ridiculed as decadent and unnecessary to men with “deep faith” working to lead men to the better world in the making? Alas, the consequences of this fascist mentality for Catholicism were, ironically, only fully to be seen when fascism itself was thought to have been unconditionally defeated, after 1945. And the postwar age that followed was to prove to be a time when the “business as usual demands” of “nature as is” were to triumph more completely than at any moment since the conversion of the Roman Empire; an era when the very Mystical Body of Christ herself, the “salt of the earth”, seemed to lose her savor—to the detriment both of true community and the dignity of the individual human person.
Fascist Europe was doomed by the time that the United States and the Soviet Union were linked with Britain in the war against Germany. These first two countries were to prove to be the real victors in that conflict. Both found that that victory was useful as a postwar propaganda tool in demonizing the opponents of their guiding ideologies: Americanism---re-baptized in the postwar world under the more suitably international, freedom and diversity friendly name of “pluralism”---and Marxism-Leninism. All they needed to do in order to maintain this demonization was to keep the drama of the Second World War alive as a never-ending “current event”. Memory of the war was to prove to be a “Punic terror” that might always be evoked to stimulate a fear sufficient to maintain unity among any of their wavering troops.
By repeatedly recalling the evils perpetrated by Hitler, the victorious ideologies were able to drive home the argument that everything non-Marxist or non-pluralist was, ipso facto, National Socialist; that anyone who opposed tyranny, bloodshed, and genocide had better fall in behind their banners and dread the consequences of breaking rank. Human awe in the face of victorious armed strength, combined with terror at the prospect of being labeled a fascist, badly crippled and even totally silenced opposition of any kind. The only weak point in this powerful ideological weaponry was the fact that it could be—and swiftly was—used by the two victors against one another as well as against their common enemies. Marxist-Leninists were the new fascists for the pluralists, and pluralists for the Marxist-Leninists—another example of the age-old divisions within a Grand Coalition of the Status Quo solidly unified only in its joint disdain for the corrective and purifying mission of the Word Incarnate.
Although Marxism-Leninism, for a time, seemed to match American pluralism in its appeal as victor, it was ultimately the latter force that won the contest for exploiting a good story about the good war on its behalf. Using the innate and often unconscious power and prestige that came from conquest, the United States worked mightily to reshape the spiritual, intellectual, economic, and social systems of Western Europe in order to channel them to the service of its own pluralist vision. What could be more appealing to a world worn out by the incalculable human suffering accompanying ideological hatred and deadly political conflict than the pluralist offer of a practical, pragmatic “method” for dealing with the diversity and divisions of modern life; a method guaranteeing freedom for all beliefs and cultures to co-exist peacefully, subject only to the dictates of a “basic common sense” ensuring “public order”? What could be more suitable than the peaceful, “free marketplace of ideas and life styles” that it cherished? Persecution would end and every tear would be wiped away. If attempts to resist such a magnificent vista were not indicative of sympathy for the genocidal madness of the defeated fascists, then they could only represent a state of insanity pure and simple.
Gradually, the influence of the pluralist message over every aspect of life, over every judgment regarding what one should think and how one should behave, became more and more inescapable. It was reinforced in daily imagery, from morning until night, from infancy until old age. So pervasive was it that the average youth in the Old World came to understand his counterpart in America even without a common spoken language and even as his own particular tradition became more and more incomprehensible to him. The pressure exerted upon individuals and institutions by the subtle and overt presuppositions and demands of the daily environment created by the American pluralist vision was, in short, overwhelming, rendering the idea of any protection against its ravages or any open resistance to it from any quarter whatsoever utterly utopian. This was a Defender of the Peace of whom the Nominalists and Regalists of the Late Middle Ages and the Reformation might truly be proud.
Many European Catholics were as awed and acquiescent before the victors as everyone else on the Old Continent. The enormous difficulties of explaining a Christian position built upon theological, philosophical, and cultural arguments rejected by them frustrated a second group of Catholics into silence. A third Catholic element did speak out against whichever of the two victorious ideologies it deemed more dangerous, while remaining quiet regarding the errors of the other, and eventually even praising its own similar acceptance of the demands of “nature as is”. Yet another segment of the Catholic population, ashamed by the fact that some fellow believers had either been attracted by fascism or had seen in it a useful tool against a much more dangerous Marxist threat, enthusiastically embraced the message of the victors to compensate for sins which, uncontested, might be used as a pretext for casting aspersions upon the whole Church’s honor. And, finally, the atmosphere created by the “good story” about the “good war” allowed misled Catholics who were actively committed to Marxism or pluralism an audience and an impact that they otherwise might never have had. This was especially true if those activists had performed courageous deeds during the great conflict that might give them enormous prestige in the postwar anti-fascist world.
Mention of this last group brings us back to the Catholic personalists. There is no denying that fascism, with its vibrancy, was intensely appealing to many personalists. But the dominant National Socialist strain of fascism was unavoidably and unacceptably tied to the Volksgemeischaft, and personalists, despite their other temptations, never succumbed to that of modern racism. After all, different races could be just as energetic in the support of their beliefs and traditions as the Nazis were of Aryan supremacy. In fact, it was precisely this truth that had led important missionaries into the personalist camp in the first place. In any case, a number of personalists courageously and openly opposed Nazi racism from the outset, both through membership in the Resistance Movement as well as in journals like the French Témoignage chrétien. They thereby gained understandable prestige as heroic exemplars for future generations.
Even more significant in assuring personalist condemnation of all of fascism, non-racist as well as racist, was the simple fact that it had not been sufficiently vital to win the Second World War. Through defeat it lost the credibility it had once possessed as an engine of success. Victory in that conflict had been carried off by the Soviet Union and the United States. One might thus legitimately conclude that Marxist-Leninist and American-guided communities were those that possessed the greatest vigor and successful energy---and therefore the infallible stamp of approval of the Holy Spirit.
Both conviction and prudence thus told personalists who had openly tried to collaborate with a non-racist fascism that the entire movement, at least as presently constituted, had to be jettisoned. Nowhere was this more felt than at Uriage. The deportation of French youth to forced labor camps, the increasing control by Germany of internal Vichy affairs, and the outright takeover of the Unoccupied Zone in the latter part of 1942 had already moved the leadership of the École closer to the growing Resistance Movement, long before allied victory was absolutely assured. This tendency matured by December of that year, when Uriage’s enemies at Vichy managed to have it expelled from the Château Bayard.
But Uriage never did anything haphazardly. Building upon its sense of constituting a modern band of crusading knights, the exiled École leadership in 1943 created a Chivalric Order whose inner circle was bound by special vows of a character that Fr. Maydieu compared spiritually to those of matrimony. Members of the Order were to sally forth to show the various elements of the Resistance how to perfect their “mystiques” in the Uriage manner. Thus, high-level emissaries were dispatched to contact de Gaulle and “flying squadrons” into the countryside to guide the maquis so that their deficient mystiques could be “transcended spiritually” and “converge” in the construction of the better world of the personalist-Teilhardian Faith.
The enthusiasm with which this labor was undertaken was genuine, but especially so with respect to the Marxist component of the Resistance Movement. Many, if not perhaps most personalists, felt a preference for the vital energy of the Marxist-Leninist element in the United Nations Alliance. Despite the fact that its classic mish-mash of Enlightenment mechanism and willfulness violated the basic Catholic understanding of man’s simultaneously natural and supernatural, individual and social character, the Soviet communal emphasis was more immediately satisfying to the personalists’ pronounced social sense. One sees this not only among members of the Order but also in the writings and labors of priests and bishops trying to understand the “mystique” of the proletariat in German labor camps and ordinary French factories. Systematic training for the latter purpose was offered, from 1943 onwards, under the patronage of the supra-diocesan Mission de France.
Uriage teachers were themselves deeply involved in these priestly activities. Fr. Dillard, for example, canonized the Soviet citizens he encountered in the labor camps and insisted that all industrial workers were born to carry out their tasks with the aid of specific virtues denied to other people. But an Uriage-like openness was noticeable in other, similar-minded circles. All such enthusiasts explained that there were “riches in modern disbelief, in atheist Marxism, for example, which are presently lacking to the fullness of the Christian conscience”.22 Enlightened spirits thus had “to share the faith in and the mystique of the Revolution and the Great Day (i.e., when all spiritually valid approaches would converge)”,23 as did one priest who asked to die “turned towards Russia, mother of the proletariat, as towards that mysterious homeland where the Man of the future is being forged”.24
One major problem with this enthusiasm was that the Catholic peoples who ultimately came under Soviet control did not show themselves as open to the charms of Marxist-Leninist communal energy as its personalist supporters had done. Yes, a movement of so-called Pax Priests, with an underlying theme of shared Catholic and Marxist pathways to international harmony and social justice, eventually did develop. However, it was tainted by its association with the governments of the Peoples Republics and the practical material benefits that could be gained for its adherents through such an alliance. In general, the experience of Soviet Marxism-Leninism, linked as it was with the reality of a party dictatorship backed by the military strength of the Red Army, did not become popular with the believing Catholic masses. This was especially true in those post-war years when the Papacy vigorously preached an anti-communist message. Moreover, insofar as the Russian authorities did feel the need to cooperate with religious forces, they usually found attempts to collaborate with national Orthodox Churches simpler and more fruitful than efforts to manipulate an international Roman Catholicism. Rome was as resistant to the allurements of the Marxist Defender of the Peace as she had been to that of medieval times.
Another difficulty with Marxist-Leninist communal energy was its closure to the crucial prophetic mission of the personalists. One must remember that the sons of Uriage always retained their wartime sense of being a priestly nation, a people set apart, chosen to judge which aspects of burgeoning mystiques were and were not acceptable on the road to convergence. Marxism-Leninism, like fascism, was indeed acceptable in spirit. But it was acceptable as yet another “monstrous pre-figuration” of a happier future that had to be spiritually transcended in order to fulfill its true destiny. Uriage personalists were called upon to “witness” to the Marxist-Leninist “mystique” by raising it to a higher and fully appropriate level of consciousness---inside the Soviet Bloc as much as elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the Stalinist cult of personality, the omnipresence of the Red Army, and the jealous apparatchiks of the postwar era stood in the way of their prophetic vocation. Worse still, with the fall in 1964 of a highly anti-religious Nikita Khruschev who at least possessed the virtue of rocking the Soviet boat to promote the meritorious within the communist ranks, “security for the apparatchiks” became the primary goal of the whole of the shaken party membership. Hence, the growth of that pervasive cynicism that affected not only the Soviet population at large but the system’s functionaries as well. For party functionaries understood that they survived as an elite only by demanding as little as possible in the way of labor, discipline, and the cultivation of “special virtues of the proletariat” from the common run of socialist mankind.
None of these realities meant that Marxism was no longer still worth “transcending”; only that different paths to ensuring fulfillment of the sacred socialist mission were required. Divergent paths would have to be found outside of the sphere of influence wherein ran the writ of the apparatchiks and the Red Army. Still, many other vital cultural forces, some of which had already begun to attract personalist attention before 1939, were manifesting their potential for mobilizing energetic mass support in more pronounced ways during the postwar era. Some of these, like the feminist and sexual liberation movement, were vigorous in the western world. But, perhaps even more importantly, numerous other vital forces were to be found in the newly independent nations of Asia, Africa, and Oceania as well as in the semi-colonial protectorates of Latin America. Such energies reflected either flips on familiar European Enlightenment themes on the one hand or a resurgence of local, native beliefs and customs on the other.
Of course, all these vibrant developments of western and indigenous cultures also desperately needed witness and prophetic transcending to ensure their perfection and ultimate convergence in the Holy Spirit. Latin America became particularly appealing to personalists and fellow travelers like Mounier, Chenu, Lebret, and even Maritain. Here, such men found social unrest in conjunction with an accelerated industrial development fueled by foreign capital, all of which seemed to portend the growth of a new and seemingly more “spirit-friendly” Marxism throughout the region. The energy unleashed by Fidel Castro (b. 1926) and Che Guevara (1928-1967) excited an especially explosive enthusiasm. Personalists thus began to hope that they would be able to use Latin America as a proving ground, diving into its “real world of the oppressed”, giving testimony to its budding message of impatience and rage with “structures of sinful dependence”, and rousing it to the kind of Marxist liberation that the Holy Spirit wanted but the apparatchiks of the Soviet Bloc stubbornly refused to permit. Yes, the mass of inert Latin American believers might not yet understand its own victimization---just as the bulk of Catholics had not grasped what the spiritually awakened Lamennais had to tell them. But that was always the job of the prophet: to shake a sleeping people out of its dogmatic slumbers to an appreciation of its true energy and the goal towards which it was unconsciously striving.
Dictatorial and aging apparatchiks were certainly an obstacle to the emergence of a better world, but they were not the only danger standing in the path of vital energies and their future convergence. Traditional Catholicism itself, which from Uriage days had “feared the insistence on bringing together men with different ‘mystiques’”, was increasingly seen to be at least as great a threat as an unresponsive Soviet Marxism, arousing in personalists “a ‘manly’ impatience with clericalism, dogma and the orthodox”.25 Catholic authoritarianism, manifested in its insistence upon adherence to frozen teachings and rituals, had to give way to changes dictated by diving into the living realities and vibrant energies of the day. Hence, the deeply committed Fr. Dillard ended by saying that his work in the vibrant forced labor factory was more important than his Mass, and, indeed, that the very machine on which he toiled itself actually had a soul of its own.
Mounier is particularly instructive with respect to this intensifying dismissal of the whole of the Church’s traditional teaching and practice. His vision had always logically involved the possibility of shelving entire realms of Christian scripture, theology, and spirituality, should they clash with the “emerging convergence.” By the last years of the war, “there was little place for sin, redemption and resurrection in the debate; the central acts of the Christian drama were set aside”.26 Nietzsche’s critique of slavish Christianity now seemed to him to be unanswerable, and he “came to think that Roman Catholicism was an integral part of almost all he hated. Then, when he searched his soul, he discovered that the aspects of himself which he appreciated least were his ‘Catholic’ traits”.27 Doing what one willed was the unum necessarium. Not surprisingly, everything rational from the Greek tradition that had been used to support Christianity and dampen the vital will was execrated along with Catholicism as well. The Socratics, for him, were indeed Seeds of the Logos---and, as such, had to be driven into the wilderness with a fiery sword. Those obsessed with Catholic dogma, Catholic practice, and the philosophical hunt for the Logos all required diagnosis and serious psychiatric help.
Hence, Mounier now flatly denounced old-fashioned Christianity and Christians. Christianity, he wrote, was “conservative, defensive, sulky, afraid of the future.” Whether it “collapses in a struggle or sinks slowly in a coma of self-complacency,” it was doomed. Christians were castigated, in Nietzschean style, as “these crooked beings who go forward in life only sidelong with downcast eyes, these ungainly souls, these weighers-up of virtues, these dominical victims, these pious cowards, these lymphatic heroes, these colourless virgins, these vessels of ennui, these bags of syllogisms, these shadows of shadows…”.28 Metaphysical speculation, Mounier declared, was a characteristic of “lifeless schizoid personalities.”…He referred to intelligence and spirituality as “bodily diseases” and attributed the indecisiveness of many Christians to their ignorance of “how to jump a ditch or strike a blow.” “Modern psychiatry,” Mounier wrote, had shed light on the morbid taste for the “spiritual,” for “higher things,” for the ideal and for effusions of the soul…Thus, once again, he dismissed many forms of religious devotion as the result of psychosis, self-deception or vanity. Prayer was often a sign of psychological illness and weakness that analysis could do much to heal. Vigorous exercise would help as well.29
This brings us back to the liturgical question, the liturgy obviously being one of the most important aspects of daily Christian life that would have to change with the emergence of a new and more vital personalist order. Uriage recognized as much, and was therefore permeated by the spirit of “pastoral concern” characterizing the more recent liturgical movement. This movement, in fact, was formative in shaping its own understanding of the importance and methodology of accommodation to active “mystiques” for the sake of the creation of the self-sacrificing individuals that true personhood required.
Fr. Maydieu was already active before the war, together with “friends of Sept”, celebrating new style Masses, during which the priest faced the people and provided a French narration.30 Fr. Doncoeur, terrified that vital life was passing inert Catholics by, became enthusiastic for pastoral liturgical developments in Germany as early as 1923. He used the model of games and sports events, along with the general desire of youth to cooperate as a group, to guide the French scouting movement down a new liturgical direction:31
Games can also be an excellent preparation for worship, which to the little ones appears to be very little different from a game. This should not scandalize us. The word game is not in the child’s vocabulary, and particularly in the realm of scouting, it is a synonym for diversion. A game is an action, passionate insofar as it is sincerely played. Well, official worship is eminently sincere. Children sense this. They find satisfaction in this atmosphere of truth. They savor this serious action, wherein all participate, body and soul, this collective and ordained action, similar in nature to those grand modern sports events wherein modern youth finds its discipline and sometimes its mystique. But the little faithful heart senses well that worship is more noble than sports. Worship is the Big Game, the Sacred Game which is being played for the Chief of Chiefs….Among the troops the Mass is generally a Dialogue Mass at which all actively participate. Certain among them make the offering. The cadets which Father Doncoeur leads each summer with knapsacks across France’s roads also have the Dialogue Mass. Gathered before the altar, they respond to the liturgical prayers, make the offering of the host which will be consecrated for them at the Offertory….
Concerned as it was with using all communal tools to build persons possessing the “leadership mystique”, Uriage turned the entire day into a “manly” liturgical experience. Bonfires were lit, backs slapped, virile poems and hymns composed, and special pageants mounted. Uriage claimed that all of these were, of course, inspired by “deep feeling,” constituting demands upon the developing persons of the community, rejection of which would have been a breach of Volksgemeinschaft equivalent to an individualist sin against the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, all of this new, “natural”, participatory, creative---and expensive---liturgical life was being elaborated while Frs. Maydieu, Doncoeur, Chenu, Congar and others were bringing into existence what would be the extremely influential “Center for Pastoral Liturgy”, designed to effect similar changes in ordinary ecclesiastical life.
Worker-Marxist-Soviet mania from 1942 onwards increased the reformers demand for a liturgy based upon a pastoral response to particular mystiques to fever pitch. This often played upon Pius XII’s well-known willingness to take risks on the pastoral level if real success could be demonstrated to emerge from them. In any case, Henri Godin’s (1906-1944) famous work, France: Pays de Mission? (1943), outlining worker dechristianization, had created a sense of crisis in France that the pope could perhaps be counted upon to take seriously. This book argued that the loss of Church influence among the working class was so dire that all prudence had to be tossed aside. Lack of any precise plan for how to guide the pressing need to dive into the worker mystique was attributed to the spontaneous genius of those participating in the program and their unfailing faith in the Holy Spirit.
One thing alone was certain: the liturgy and the priesthood were out of sync with the vital world of the laboring man. All that was associated with what Paul Claudel disparagingly called the “mass with one’s back to the people” had therefore to be abandoned.32 Such a mass had become the precious toy of little minds and bigots who could not understand the New Order emerging around them. Hence, also, the critique of Fr. Dillard, who dismissed any supposed difficulties emerging from a total rejection of an anachronistic Catholic priestly mission. He insisted that his worker clientele would be able to sense the superior spirituality of what others might be tempted to call a secularized clergy due to a je ne sais quoi emanating from its own fresh sacerdotal mystique: 33
My Latin, my liturgy, my mass, my prayer, my sacerdotal ornaments, all of that made me a being apart, a curious phenomenon, something like a (Greek) pope or a Japanese bonze, of whom there remain still some specimen, provisionally, while waiting for the race to die out.
Religion as they [the workers] knew it is a type of bigotry for pious women and chic people served by disguised characters who are servants of capitalism….If we succeed in ridding our religion of the unhealthy elements that encumber it, petty superstitions, the bourgeois “go to Mass” hypocrisy, etc. we will find easily with the Spirit of Christ the mystique which we need to reestablish our homeland.
Yes, there was no doubt that the constraints of traditional Catholicism had to be relaxed, along with those of nefarious Soviet apparatchik influences, if the good spirits of Marxism and other energetic movements in Europe and the Third World were to come to fruition and converge. But how, practically speaking, could this work of liberation be accomplished? The only other viable political and social vision was that of American pluralism, and this outlook did not at first appear to many personalists to be all that promising. “The Americans,” Beuve-Mery, who went from Uriage to the management of the highly influential postwar French newspaper, Le Monde, complained, “could prevent us from carrying out the obligatory revolution, and their materialism does not even have the tragic grandeur of the materialism of the totalitarians”.34
Still, a number of personalist fellow travelers, Jacques Maritain prominent among them, were much more hopeful, arguing that American pluralism was an immensely powerful revolutionary force suitable for breaking down many petrified traditions—if only it were witnessed to properly. Through the Marshall Plan and its support for supra-national, continental economic reconstruction, pluralism’s powerful vision had already begun to break down traditional authorities and work for that European union that so many personalists—along with the Nazi New Order itself—had also longed to achieve. Maritain argued that American pluralism might even lend itself to a convergence with the most vital spiritual elements of a Marxism whose true transcendent mission was being botched by the Soviets.
Besides, one simply could not deny that the impact of the pluralist message of a practical openness to a world of diversity was as strong on European Catholics as it was on everyone else on the war-weary Continent. They, too, were tired of a divisiveness that had seemingly produced nothing but hatred and conflict. The words of the conqueror were beautiful words indeed, and Maritain could point to the fact that American Catholics were among their most fervent propagandists. Pluralism could become the Defender of the Peace and the Defender of Freedom for everything and everyone, including fresh, exciting, energetic developments noticeable in the Old as well as the New and Third Worlds. It could, therefore, powerfully aid the work of personalists in witnessing to their many vital mystiques and assuring their convergence in fulfillment of the message of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps. But the Holy Spirit in question was one whose teaching would have been recognizable to Lamennais, and, in one way or another, to supporters of the whole “tradition” of Gnosticism, Nominalism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, from whose decadent path to “purification” the Catholic revival movement of the nineteenth century had passionately sought to remove the Church in her Head and Members.
VI. A Time Game End Game
Let us end this lengthy meditation on a quest for purification gone mad with a “time game”. I play such games regularly in dealing with past ages, transposing my sixty-seven years----1951 to the present---to an earlier era in order better to grasp what kind of influences would have shaped our ancestors living within a similar time frame. A time game of this sort will illustrate the importance of the years 1918-1939 in a way that should resonate quite effectively among traditionalists.
Given the fact that the Roman Forum discussed the topic addressed in this meditation at its Summer Symposium of 2018, let us play the game here, once again utilizing my sixty seven year life span as a model, but conjuring up the image of a man from Brescia, the diocese in Italy in which our program is held. If we place his birth not in 1951 but in 1897, he would have been raised in pre-war Europe, reached conscription age at the time that Italy entered the First World War in 1915, and become a mature adult of twenty-one at its conclusion. The interwar period would thus have been his truly formative professional era.
Our “time game” demands one further speculation. Let us presume that our young man from Brescia is an intelligent Catholic who would have known what the authorities of the Roman Church deemed to be the intellectual and spiritual causes of the First World War and what they were convinced would be needed to achieve a just and lasting peace once it ended. Shaken, like all westerners, by the profundity of the war crisis and its aftermath, we may also conjecture that this young man meditated on the “official” Roman vision in this, his formative era, perhaps questioning its accuracy. Shaped by his own particular circumstances, he may well have mulled over alterations he would make to it if ever given the opportunity to do so. Such a man would have reached my sixty-seven years not in 2018-2019, but in 1964.
Alas, our hypothetical man from Brescia was an actual historical reality. He was Giovanni Batista Montini (1897-1978), born into a family with its own rather critical outlook on contemporary Catholic life, educated for the priesthood under circumstances different from that of most seminarians, and destined for a formative ecclesiastical career at the center of power of the Roman Church in the interwar period. Montini was eager for Italian entry into the First World War, lest it miss participation in this “vital” activity. He visited monasteries engaged in liturgical experimentation soon after the conflict’s end. As the sometime Ecclesiastical Assistant for the Specialized Catholic Action movement of FUCI, one of whose student members, Aldo Moro (1916-1978), became a life-long friend, he became known for his disapproval of a number official intellectual approaches and pious devotional practices. An appreciation for “something different” was stimulated still further by an enthusiasm for Jacques Maritain’s Integral Humanism and aspects of the New Theology.
In 1964, as the sixty-seven year old Paul VI (1963-1978), Montini was in the midst of putting the visions that he nurtured in the interwar period into practice. Moreover, he was doing so with the aid of a battery of fellow prelates and theologians, many sharing almost exactly the same time frame as his own, and, thus, the identical historical background that had stimulated his personal desire for change. Their understanding of what would bring about a true purification of the Church and the world was not that of the nineteenth century Catholic revival movement.
Second Vatican Council proved to be the tool—not the prime cause, but the chief tool—through which the forces maturing in the interwar period imposed their marching orders upon the Mystical Body of Christ. The Council ensured that Catholic personalists and their allies---taking advantage of the pluralist spirit sweeping the western world due to the victory of the United States in the Second World War and the pressure employed to maintain it afterwards---could seize control of the powerful machinery of the Universal Church. Having done so, they then encouraged a Catholicism that “gave witness” to vital energies of varied milieux. These “energies” promoted every possible logical deduction from the Gnostic, Nominalist, Reformation, and Enlightenment poisons infecting the western world from the Middle Ages onwards, ranging from Marxism and Liberation Theology to Third World Theology to the final ravages of Locke-inspired individual Liberalism as developed in the United States. In short, they promoted anything “strong”, whose inevitable “convergence” in fulfillment of the “plan” of the Holy Spirit had to be prepared by a caste of “special” Catholics who believed themselves in possession of a prophetic vision.
The result has been the greatest disaster for the spread of the corrective and purifying message of the Word in history. That message, the only truly different, vital, energetic force in human life, was the one force that these prophets of the Spirit would not permit to have further impact within a camp of the saints whose consciousness had been raised. They would not allow such an impact because it seriously could and must change man and society. Hence, the conquest of the Church and Catholics by the “Grand Coalition of the Status Quo”, its word merchants, and its program on behalf of “business as usual” demands of “nature as is” leading to the triumph of the strongest wills. Hence, the “spiraling downwards” of control of the Catholic world into ever more ideologically insane, libertine, or criminal hands.
On the procedural level, the disastrous developments briefly outlined above must be ascribed to Second Vatican Council’s failure to follow the wisdom of Trent. Trent, the reader will recall, had opted for a simultaneous treatment of doctrinal and pastoral questions—the thesis and the hypothesis---even in the face of tremendous pressure to ignore the former. It had sound reasons for making this choice, given the fact that powerful new heretical forces were highly active in contemporary Europe and ready to shape any purely “pastoral” decisions to fit their packed doctrinal program. Doctrinal clarity gave Trent a much more solid control over pastoral initiatives.
But erroneous beliefs and ideologies merely increased in number and violence over the following centuries. If anything, what might not have been as clear more than four centuries earlier, ought to have been absolutely transparent by the 1960’s: namely, that a “pastoral” policy that did not address real, existing, powerful divisions of belief could easily lead to the triumph of hidden doctrines promoted by determined minorities. Nineteenth century promoters of Catholic revival had warned that anyone who failed to appreciate the errors of the modern definition of freedom and tried to act “pragmatically” on the basis of its teaching would drag what was, in historical fact, a weak Church into a “free” and “open” co-existence and competition with immensely willful and strong enemies. And, under such conditions, she was, at least humanly speaking, bound to lose. Such “pragmatism” would, in reality, be tantamount to tempting Providence.
A Catholic pragmatism, one that was dictated by the message of the Word Incarnate, recognized the central importance of doctrinal clarity, authoritatively taught, in defending the only truth that could honestly set men free. It understood just how much weak, struggling, sinful human beings needed all the concrete assistance they could get in order to grasp the fullness of truth and to do what was right and necessary for both their earthly happiness and their eternal salvation. Accordingly, it preached the obligation to correct and purify human societies and institutions so that they themselves would embody and teach sound natural and supernatural lessons. The omnipotent God could indeed protect the Church within a “free market place of ideas and life styles”, where truth was accorded no privileged place among the seductive and often violent advertising of ideological commodities. But He would do so through the heroic sufferings of His faithful and not through the merits of the personalist or pluralist “method”. A true Catholic pragmatism could not legitimately force believers into the spiritual equivalent of a game of poker with a team of card sharks and then blithely demand supernatural intervention from God to protect them. What one was likely to get, in consequence, was a new but disguised dogmatic teaching, uniting the Church with the State and the world more tightly than any past regalist thinkers could ever have dreamed possible.
Still, even though Trent’s reasons for rejecting a purely pastoral approach towards dealing with problems within the universal Church were as valid as ever, and the nineteenth century promoters of Catholic revival had identified further grounds for following in its footsteps, the anti-dogma camp had also gained many new adherents in the intervening period. Trent’s own emphasis on the importance of demonstrating practical success had helped to give “pragmatic-minded” prelates, priests, and lay activists some justification in the decades and centuries following its closure. Numerous pressing, scientific, political, and social changes exposing gaps—if not errors—in the Church’s corrective and transforming labors also worked to bring pastoral matters to the forefront of many faithful and concerned Catholics’ minds and hearts. In short, “pastoral” became a “good word” whose recitation could cover a multitude of treasonous acts, sins, and doctrinal stupidities. And personalists, along with pluralists, translated this “happy” attitude towards a non-dogmatic pastoral strategy from 1918-1939 and beyond.
The post-Second World War climate of opinion offered the “purely pastoral” camp its latest and most powerful source of support. Taking advantage of the Zeitgeist, a partisan organizational talent that had gone from strength to strength since the end of the First World War, and a powerful sense of mission, the personalist-pluralist alliance steered Second Vatican Council away from the much more Tradition-friendly methodology its original program envisioned. Instead of a Tridentine-inspired, joint dogmatic-pastoral approach, a purely pastoral language and strategy was adopted. This ended by serving the cause of the willful manipulators of freedom and the word merchants profiting from their custom. In the name of a practical, pragmatic openness to understanding and dealing with the new and diverse needs of “modern man”, the inevitable happened. The council proceeded to confront a host of problems on the basis of a personalist and pluralist definition of what the words “pastoral” and “pragmatic” meant. And we have now clearly seen that this definition works in union with a vision of nature, man, and freedom that are not only different from traditional Catholic teachings on the subject, but also totally destructive to the corrective and transforming message of the Word in history.
Vatican Council as such could not and did not claim to act infallibly once it specifically proclaimed its intention to deal with issues on the pastoral as opposed to the doctrinal plane. Therefore, it could only bind consciences to those of its edicts that actually recalled already known teachings on faith and morals. Unfortunately, however, the personalist-pluralist victors at the council had as little interest in the substantive teaching of the “old” Magisterium regarding infallibility as on any other subject. Their concern was simply how the principle of infallibility could practically be used to promote their agenda. Joining together to interpret the council’s “spirit”, they were happy to play upon believers’ respect for the traditional teaching Church to give to what were purely pastoral decisions the aura of dogmatic pronouncements---more than that, the sole dogmatic pronouncements that modern Catholics were obliged to heed and obey in the future. Exaggeration of the extent of Papal Infallibility was enormously valuable in this enterprise. Hence, the victory of a powerful faction serving an ideology blessing an irrational mindlessness was unjustifiably cloaked with the authority of the Holy Spirit—that same Holy Spirit whose infallible doctrinal guidance was at first rejected, lest it manifest the intolerant, closed, and pastorally divisive behavior that authoritative direction was chastised for displaying in the past.
Moreover, the fideism underlying the personalist and pluralist mentality choked a true Catholic inquiry into this mysterious return of the Holy Spirit from exile, just as it choked a true examination of anything else that happened at the council. Instead, it used its usurped magisterial role to demand Catholic recitation of the usual slogans regarding the need for pragmatism, openness, freedom, and peace as an alternative to serious Faith and Reason. Harping on its mandate from the Holy Spirit, it then tossed to the winds that entire corpus of nineteenth and twentieth-century theological, philosophical, political, historical, psychological, and sociological wisdom that had painstakingly analyzed exactly why such pastoral methodology could only end in a willful assault upon the full message of the Word in history. It ignored the fact that such pastoral methodology had actually already engaged in a similar assault once before, in the eighteenth century. Along with this wisdom went the guidance of the Church Fathers, previous ecumenical gatherings, the decisions of nearly two millennia of Popes, the canonical tradition, and everything else that could be cited to understand the extent of the council’s authority or put it into its proper historical and dogmatic perspective. The conquerors of the council insisted that a failure to heed their interpretation of its decisions, if not a sign of insanity pure and simple, could not signify anything other than a stubborn closure of one’s heart to the triumphant judgment of the Holy Spirit. In short, the triumph of openness was celebrated by shutting the door imperiously on the whole teaching of the Word Incarnate in history and the Seeds of the Logos harmonized together with it. “Words” alone were allowed to proclaim the Incarnate Word; words that servants of “nature as is”, from the time of the original Sophists onwards, would have much appreciated—and similarly abused.
Before moving on, let us remember that another extremely dangerous contemporary accusation lurked behind every attack upon a critic’s stubborn closing of his heart to the will of this new kind of Holy Spirit: namely, his possession of a “fascist mentality”. The fascist label was used as an effective club to brutalize and silence any and all criticism. The outside secular world, ecstatic over the council’s acceptance of the reigning Zeitgeist, joined in the rhetorical game, with the late Pope Pius XII turned into the symbol of an evil fascist spirit still festering in the bosom of the Catholic beast. Ironically, a Church that had been consistently chastized for the slightest interference in the realm of the State was thereby proclaimed guilty of not having interfered enough, at least where the Nazis were concerned, and of continuing to harbor villains justifying this unforgivable failure of ecclesiastical responsibility in her sacred precincts. The agents of a purge deemed to be essential to the restoration of Church health were personalists who, more than anyone else, had themselves nurtured a philo-fascist outlook in the interwar period. And, sadly, all this was to prove to serve a new and global unity of Church and State, designed to ensure the “public order” dear to the hearts of legalists of all previous ages on the basis of a religion submissive to the demands of “nature as is” alone.
Pity the poor opponent of the “Spirit of Vatican Two” who unwittingly wanders into the realm of the post-conciliar personalist or pluralist interpreting the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church! He is like someone going to a dinner party given by a man who has declared cannibalism to be the expression of the deepest spiritual longing of his personal milieu. Terrified at the thought of taking exception to his host’s proclivity--- lest he be identified as an unrealistic, shriveled-up, anti-social individualist lacking faith in the action of the Spirit, and a fascist to boot—the poor soul will be eaten alive; devoured, ironically, at the command of the only true representative of the principle of the Triumph of the Will who is present. At least the victim can console himself with the thought that he is not alone in his misery. For the same fate has befallen all of the teaching tools of the Mystical Body of Christ; all the teaching tools, and the Catholics in the United States, Europe, and the Third World along with them.
Paul VI died in August of 1978, at least partially under the shock of seeing the real effects of this approach: that of allowing a superhuman “Mynheer Peeperkorn”—Satan---to move into a position of strength in the Church as a whole. The pope’s decline and death were most certainly also stimulated by having lived to see his interwar protégé, Aldo Moro, the Christian Democratic leader famous for seeking an “Historic Compromise” with the Italian Communist Party, murdered by Red Brigades, themselves outraged by such pointless dialogue, just three months earlier.
Desperately trying to avoid admitting the real cause of the disasters in both Church and State, the depressed pontiff honored his deceased comrade by repetition of the empty mantras of the new age. “We have kept the faith!” he insisted. “We have kept the faith, I can say today, with the humble but firm consciousness of never having betrayed the Holy Trinity”. Paul VI may well have wished these empty mantras to be true, but they simply did not represent the reality. What he and his colleagues had done was to leave the Church, as Maritain feared that the most dangerous forms of personalism would inevitably do, “barren in the face of a Ramkhrishna”; exposed to manipulation by all of the irrational, willful forces discussed above. More than this, the errors of personalism and pluralism have lulled Catholics into the deep, anti-intellectual, naturalist sleep mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, with its antipathy to history, its lessons, and, their guide back to dogmatic and pastoral sanity.
Fourteen years intervened between Paul VI’s sixty-seventh birthday and his death in 1978, long enough for him to see---in his mind, if not necessarily in his heart and his words---the end result of his labors. Let us hope that we, fourteen years from my comparable age today, may live to see the happier conclusion to our battle against the nightmare that Paul VI had begun to cultivate in the interwar period. And if this does not happen, let us pray that we will at least take our final breath having kept the faith with the True Faith.
Ernst Jünger, points the way to how we, in our current powerlessness, can maintain our spirits. He does so in his powerful work of 1939 On the Marble Cliffs. His protagonists here are two brothers horrified by the triumph of the barbaric will of a tyrant identified as the Oberförster over the civilized order of a place called the Marina. The first step of these heroes is to make an “inner break” with the degenerating ethos of the Marina itself; that inner break that seems so defeatist to the mindless activist but actually is the spiritual mainstay of anyone oppressed by the brute force of overwhelming might. In their “retirement”, the brothers return ad fontes, to the sources, and dedicate themselves to the study of nature. They know that they will some day have to fight the Oberförster, and with an odd conglomerate of seemingly dubious and compromised allies. They are ready to accept this perilous coalition because their peculiar future comrades all still have a clear, underlying sense of the tyrant’s evil, and because the heroes know that they themselves were once “part of the problem” that these forces represent. They, like Jünger in his real life involvement with parochial-minded nationalist organizations, had once “ridden with the Mauritanians”—one of the groups that may, unwittingly, have aided the Oberförster’s rise. But they, like their future front-line friends, had proven to be open to change, and they know, as brother Otho says, that an error only becomes disastrous if men stubbornly persist in refusing to correct it. When they ride off again, it is with this band of brothers in a battle against demonic willfulness. Despite the odds, they ride off in a spirit of Heiterkeit; a spirit of cheerful serenity; a Catholic Christian spirit.
Jünger’s vision was still flawed when he wrote Auf den Marmorklippen, because he had not yet come to that Catholic Faith and the Catholic vision of purification, which he finally did accept in the last years of his very long life. But believers should certainly take heed of the message of the very modern “Seed of the Logos” that his novel offers them. Men like Jünger’s heroes and their allies are lost and wandering in our age as perhaps never before. Migrants are to be found everywhere, both physically as well as intellectually and spiritually. Some of these migrants wandering through the desert we call modernity will strive to understand the Logos of things. New Socrates will emerge to guide them on a rational journey toward the light; towards ultimate supernatural correction and transformation in Christ. Believers in the Word Incarnate who nurture the true Catholic pilgrim spirit will recognize them as allies and will welcome them in their midst. They will join in the fight against the Oberförster. But their involvement will only be a healthy one so long as we maintain our distance from their errors and our commitment both to an unchanging doctrinal solidity and a humble, self-critical, correction of our pastoral mistakes. Our potential allies are not our Redeemers and can never be treated as such. We possess the Light of the world.
Let us now end this overly long meditation on a quest for purification gone mad. It has taken us across a vast terrain. Let us complete our journey with a touch of Heiterkeit, somewhat playfully and fancifully perhaps, but seriously enough, given the nightmare through which we are still struggling, by mulling over in our own situation the last words of Thomas Mann to Hans Castorp in the trenches in 1914 in The Magic Mountain:
Farewell---and if thou livest or diest! Thy prospects are poor. The desperate dance in which thy fortunes are caught up will last yet many a sinful year; we should not care to set a high stake on thy life by the time it ends. We even confess that it is without great concern that we leave the question open. Adventures of the flesh and in the spirit, while enhancing thy simplicity, granted thee to know in the spirit what in the flesh though scarcely couldst have done. Moments there were, when out of death, and the rebellion of the flesh, there came to thee, as thou tookest of thyself, a dream of love. Out of this universal feast of death, out of this extremity of fever, kindling the rain- washed evening sky to a fiery glow, may it be that Love one day shall mount?
1 See J. Rao, “Catholicism, Liberalism, and the Right: a Sketch from the 1920’s”, http://jcrao.freeshell.org/CatholicismandtheRight.html. Much of the following is also taken from J. Rao, Black Legends and the Light of the World (Remnant Press, 2012), pp. 504-562. Only direct citations are footnoted.
2 Rao, “A Sketch”, Op. cit., note 7.
3 Rao, “A Sketch”, note 2.
4 Ibid., note 11.
6 See above, J. Rao, A Sketch from the 1920’s.
7 See Rao, op. cit., section IV.
8 Calvin Coolidge: "Address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D.C.," January 17, 1925. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=24180.
9 Coolidge, in Op. cit.
10 The rest of the argument in this article comes from J. Rao, The Black Legends, pp. 563-630. Only direct citations are specially footnoted.
11 J. Hellman, Emmanuel Mounier and the New Catholic Left (McGill-Queens, 1997), p. 42.
12 Hellman, The Knight Monks, of Vichy: Uriage, 1940-1945 (McGill-Queens, 1997) p. 56.
13 Ibid., p. 83.
14 Ibid., p. 59.
15 Hellman, Mounier, pp. 85, 90.
16 Ibid., p. 128.
17 Hellman, Knight Monks, pp. 4-52, 68-92, 139-162.
18 Hellmann, Knight Monks, p. 65.
19 Ibid., p. 63.
20 Ibid,, p. 90.
21 Ibid., p. 75.
22 Poulat, Les prêtres-ouvrières (Cerf, 1999), p. 408.
23 Ibid., p. 386.
24 Ibid., p. 244.
25 Hellman, The Knight Monks, p. 88.
26 Hellman, Mounier, p. 255.
27 Ibid., p. 190.
28 Ibid,, p. 191.
29 Hellman, Mounier, pp. 192-193.
30 J. Duquesne, quoted in D. Bonneterre, Le mouvment liturgique (Fideliter), p. 39.
31 Bonneterre, p. 38.
32 Cholvy and Hilaire, Jeunesses chrétiennes au xxe siècle (Ouvrières, 1991), III, 274.
33 Poulat, Les prêtres-ouvrières, pp. 329, 333.
34 Hellman, The Knight Monks, p. 213.
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