As Michael Davies put it, “action is the antidote to despair.” We must resolve to act, then, to fight and to keep hope alive during this time of dark disorder. Such is our sacred duty as inheritors of the noble Catholic legacy. Besides, as Ousset points out, there’s nothing new under the sun—including darkness and disorder in the Catholic Church. Michael J. Matt
We have received a letter from one of our subscribers. The following extracts from the letter will suffice for our present purpose.
I notice from the last issue of Permanences that my subscription is now due, but in spite of my keen interest in your work, I do not intend renewing it. My reasons for this are that the incoherence of the religious situation in France, the attitude and statements of certain clerics, the views expressed in the ‘Catholic’ Press, a press highly recommended from our pulpits, the widespread pandering to Teilhard, the scandal caused by the silencing of the clergy in the Pax affair—have all contributed to my total loss of Faith.
As a Catholic layman, I do not accept as my official representative at the Council, the TV commentator, Dubois-Dumes, who spoke on the ‘love letters of a Portuguese nun.’ The outbursts against Cardinals Pizzardo and Ottaviani by the psychologist, Fr. Oraison, quite nauseate me. The blackest disorder exists in the Church where even a non-insignificant prelate dares to speak of ‘over-bloated’ pontiffs. The virulent attacks on all the teachings of Pope Pius XII continue unabated. All this utterly disgusts me. Of what avail is it for you to remain silent and pretend not to notice the daily antics of this scandalous clique. They will get you immediately when the opportunity presents itself, and your efforts will have been in vain; they will finally crush you. Have you forgotten the she-goat in Daudet’s story, ‘La Chèvre de Monsieur Seguin’, the young she-goat who, in spite of having fought the Wolf throughout the night, was nonetheless devoured at the break of dawn?
For my part, I no longer wish to be involved in all these absurdities.
Sir: We admit that all this is true; what you have done is no longer rare. Others besides yourself have described the tragedy of the Church in France, and it is for this very reason that we have been impelled not only to reply to your letter, but also to publish our reply.
It is not a pleasant task replying to your letter, especially as an adequate reply would demand an entire volume, and even then one would not be certain of finding the exact answer to your own personal problem.
Remain silent? I could never accept such a solution, not, I assure you, because I want to run after a lapsed subscriber, but because the warm feelings you have for us, so evident in your letter, call for more than a prudent, disillusioned silence. In my opinion they call for a reply as brutal as the anger which consumes you. Moreover, a reply would be needed if only to point out that anger is a bad counselor, for you are, beyond doubt, eaten up with anger.
You say you have lost the Faith. From your letter, I very much doubt this; it is a revolt against the very object of our Faith – the Church. And the proof is that Faith (in the strict sense of the anti-Modernist oath, adherence to teaching, etc.) is more lucid, more intense in you than it is in certain pious people, those “yes-men” who have no real knowledge of what they believe, and therefore swallow anything and everything they read in the papers sold at church doors nowadays.
Your sin appears to me to be against Hope. Not hope as the world knows it, a hope full of foolish optimism, stimulated by some passing aspiration, but the true Christian virtue of Hope, the theological, serene virtue which has no illusion, but is stronger than death or the worst of scandals; Hope nourished by sound doctrine AND by an adequate knowledge of Church history.
Now even though a sin against Hope can prove as disastrous in its results as a sin against Faith, one does not react to a sin against Hope as one would to a sin against Faith.
I can only compare you to a soldier who would be willing to abandon the love and service of his country because he could no longer endure the hardships, or because he could no longer accept the laxity to be found among far too many of his superior officers. What a tragic situation, yet not as tragic as the final evil of desertion or revolt.
Countless excesses and abuses among the clergy are a source of scandal to you – so you lose the Faith? The fact is that rejection of the Faith has also been based on scandal, different in kind but analogous – “Scandal for the Jews; madness for the Pagans” – the scandal of God abasing Himself and accepting suffering and death on the Cross between two thieves; the scandal of His patient forbearance when insults and abuse were hurled at Him by the members of the established religion who considered His mission to be “the dark disorder” to which you refer; the scandal which, at a stoke, destroyed the first fervour of His disciples until the morning of the Resurrection when the Master chose to reveal Himself to “two of them” on the road to Emmaus and rebuked them saying: “O foolish and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things that were concerning Him.” (Luke XXIV).
The same applies to the Church. Do you think that it is of no consequence that She, too, must suffer as the Master did? That She, too, must suffer before becoming the Heavenly Jerusalem? As though the life and being of the Church were not the Life and Being of Jesus Christ projected into the successive stages of history and among countless nations.
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets….” Such is the method to be followed – beginning with the Church in Her infancy and following Her throughout the centuries. For it is through total ignorance of what the Church has suffered for 20 centuries that our Religion has become an empty ideal. Whereas almost continuously since Calvary, God has allowed, and continues to allow, the history of the Church to be, as it were, a constant religious drama, a drama similar to the Life and Passion of our Blessed Lord.
You speak of the present “Dark disorder.” Even if this were true, it is a weak argument, because it limits itself exclusively to the present “dark disorder”, for, in a sense, the history of the Church is the history of an almost uninterrupted “dark disorder”. So much so, that if one must lose one’s Faith exclusively as a result of the present disorder, it would be to sin by default, not by excess, in invoking only the darkness of today.
Revolt? Why revolt only against the last episode of scandal when there is so much more? To push it to its logical conclusion, the argument would be in reverse. To take the “whole” and not only the “part” which affects us more closely because we are living through it (Beginning at Moses…); or to put it another way, to take the history of the Church from her beginnings and examine each recurrence of Her drama in isolation would be to run the risk of losing one’s Faith. Here lies the danger of looking at the present-day troubles without due regard to the whole.
You are “up against” the scandal of certain clerics. Believe me, you must be “up against” far more if one is genuinely to fall on one’s knees. For this “far more” is such that equivocation is impossible. Like it or not, one must recognize in it a divine drama, the Tragedy of the Redemption which continues and will continue to operate “until the number of the Elect is complete.” Thus the argument ‘against’ becomes the argument ‘for’ from the moment when one begins to meditate on it in the supernatural light of our Lord’s Passion.
Hell has not given up the fight! And what a comfort that is! What a marvelous sign of the eternal reality of our Faith! How we ought to prefer this state of incessant alarm to the life of so many trouble-free “religions” which Satan does not even consider worth attacking. The disaster, the great disaster, is that we, Catholics, do not know—do not meditate on—the history of the Church. Her struggles and upheavals appear to us inadmissible because we think that peace and calm should be the sole marks of Her divine origin. We encourage others to believe that life would be more peaceful, more serene with us than it would be elsewhere, and then we wonder at the general inertia! To quote Bernanos: “They will write on their temples: ‘You will be better fed here than over the way’ and then they will be astonished to discover that their god is their belly.”
A few persecutions coming from without – No cause for alarm. But troubles, treasons, scandals within, amongst ourselves? Our confidence evaporates. And yet, neither doctrine nor the historical precedent of 2,000 years would justify us in stating that, here below, the Church must necessarily consist of edifying laity, of spiritual priests sound in doctrine, of bishops free from human respect, courageous in the face of Caesar and with heartfelt submission to the Holy See, and, above all, …Popes not only infallible but also impeccable!
“Heresies there must be”, writes the far from traditionalist Karl Rahner … for they do not spring merely from man’s free will. They belong to those sinister things which must be, so that no man can glorify himself or his own “wisdom” in the sight of God.
And so the Christian must not be surprised at heresies: on the contrary, he should expect them. He must consider them to be the inevitable temptation, the highest temptation, the most sublime temptation, in which the Prince of Darkness disguises himself as the Prince of Light. And if the Christian is unaware of the heresy, he will not accept his peace of mind without question. Rather, will he ask himself, in fear and trembling, whether the eyes of his spirit have become so blind and his heart so insensible to the difference between the true and the false, that he can no longer recognize heresy as such.
If only we knew the history of the Church better we would have no doubts as to God’s preference for this kind of trial. It is the lack of a true sense of the divine for anyone to ignore, to remain silent or deliberately to hide the darker events in Church history which God has so obviously allowed to flourish. Could He have been mistaken? Or is it not we who prefer comedy to the overwhelming tragedy of the Redemption? The saints, on the other hand, savoured this wine, to the point of total inebriation…We, Christians, supposedly adult, prefer plain water.
A large number of Christians lose heart in the face of so many blows. Strange soldiers of a Church reputedly militant, soldiers troubled by the first sign of battle! Why should God spare us from what He has spared no other Christian generation? Of what, actually, are you complaining? Of the infatuation of some of the clergy with Teilhard, who shocks you because of his obvious disdain for Catholic beliefs? Of the rejection of the teachings of Pope Pius XII? Of dialogue with the Free Masons? Of the immediate defense of the “Catholic” Press when it is attacked, while calumnies are hurled at other Catholics for whom no defense is allowed? Of the TV commentary on the “love letters of a Portuguese nun” by Dubois-Dumee? Of the eulogies on Marxism by Fr. Jolif and Fr. Dubarle, OP? Of the attacks made on former Popes?
All these things appear to you to be signs of a “dark disorder”, which causes you to lose the Faith. But have you never thought of the long sequence of heresies and schisms with their brazen impudence, their revolts, their despicable actions, compared with which our present trials appear to be but pin-pricks?
What of this long list of heresies? –
· 2nd century – Gnosticism, Docetism (condemned by John the Evangelist), Marcionism, Montanism.
· 3rd century – Manicheans
· 4th century – Eutychians, Donatists, Macedonians, Helvidians, Arians
· 5th century – Monophysites, Nestorians, Pelagians
· 6th century – Semi-Pelagians
· 7th century – Monothelites
· 8th century – Iconoclasts
· 9th century – Iconoclasts
· 10th century – Simony and other abuses rampant
· 11th century – Berengarians
· 12th century – Albigenses, Waldenses
· 13th century – Albigenses
· 14th century – Wycliffe
· 15th century – Century of the “Great Schism” (two anti-popes at one time), grave moral disorder
· 16th century – Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Henry VIII
· 17th century – Jansenists, Rationalists
· 18th century – Jansenists, Quietists
· 19th century – Modernists, Old Catholics
· 20th century – Neo-Modernism, Teilhardism
We imagine today that in all past heresies the opposing parties were well defined, the faithful on the one side, the heretics on the other. Actually, for those who experienced them, it was a “dark disorder”, with nobody knowing which side to take. The parish priest was on one side, his curate on the other. There was disagreement among the bishops. Saints like Athanasius and Hilary were a tiny minority. And, as always, it was the “others” who claimed to have “a sense of history” to understand their world and to be witnesses for their generation. The passage of time distorts what was, in fact, a dark and bloody disorder not really unlike what we see now.
Let us now try to imagine how we would have felt had we been obliged to witness the side effects of these errors – suspicions, betrayal, polemics, insults, riots, tortures, murders, apostasies, cowardice – side effects which are no longer considered worth mentioning because history is full of them. And since you bear such a grudge against the clergy, think for a moment of the state of the Church in the 10th century, one of the worst centuries of all – no schools, no teaching. The general ignorance was such that a Church Council (in 909) was actually obliged to insist on education for the clergy, an education so elementary that the mind boggles!
And yet, Sir, one cannot doubt that even during those horrifying periods, Heaven had the happiness of seeing faithful men and women holding fast to the Faith! These were the true consolers of Christ in His agony!
Consider yet more “dark disorders”: The “dark disorder” of the Great Schism. Two and even three Popes hurling abuse at one another. The “dark disorder” of the Council of Basel, which declared the Pope suspect. The “dark disorder” of whole nations, led by their priests, turning to heresy. The “dark disorder” of the Gallican and Jansenist bishops. The “dark disorder” of the trial of Joan of Arc by one bishop, one vice inquisitor, several abbots, the cream of the doctors of the Paris University, who were later to become the “experts” at the infamous Council of Basel, which opened shortly afterwards. How the mother of Joan, and all the good Christians of Domremy must have been tempted either to revolt or to fall into despair – (sublime trial, according to Karl Rahner) – when news arrived of the pyre at Rouen! Joan, it is true, was rehabilitated, but not before the King of France had triumphed – diplomacy being the first consideration even when it was a question of proclaiming the truth and defending the innocent!
And God allows all this! Just as He allowed the cruel Passion of His Son and, as always, for the same reason—His greater glory and the greater glory of His Elect! Mystery of the redeeming Cross! Mystery of the Church! Mystery of the countless trials of the saints – all with but one sole purpose!
It is because our concept of the Church is now divorced from the supernatural and has become rationalistic, searching more and more for the “sense of history” in the hope of finding a purely human messianism, that we are losing the knowledge and the love of that adorable mystery of the Sacred Passion of our Holy Mother, the Church!
What is to be done? Just what Veronica and the Cyrenean did as the Master passed covered with blood, dust, spittle and vomitings, the crown of thorns clogging His hair with congealed blood, the face battered, staggering under the Cross, harried and pushed by the soldiers, humiliated by the people, condemned by the doctors, priests and theologians of the day.
Our duty is clear: first of all, we must have no fear, we must avoid bitterness, we must not become deserters, we must advance, we must remain firm in the Faith!
Since this mystery has been incessantly repeating itself for the past 20 centuries, it is inexcusable that, today, we should be taken unawares. And so, let us be ready, with even more promptness than Veronica, where possible, to recognize beneath any disfigurement whatsoever, the Sacred Face of God, the Sacred Face of His Church. Let us, by gentle, kindly actions, restore to this cherished Face its pristine purity. But while wiping the Sacred Face as Veronica did, let us beware, as she did, of increasing the anguish. Let us not cause further suffering by our anger or impatience; let us not reopen the wounds. She, surely, must have had to force a passage, to reach Him, to push aside the gullible, to disregard legal interdiction, to force a way past the “legionaries”.
Let us help in carrying the Cross as Simon did, truly to lighten the load, but without inflicting fresh wounds. Let us not, above all, turn our eyes from the ignominious sight. Let us learn to recognize both Him and His Church, both apparently faltering before our eyes but ultimately glorious and triumphant. In spite of so many blemishes, so many bruises, let us not forget their fundamental purity, their fundamental holiness. What joy would be ours if, having witnessed the whole tragedy, as did the Centurion on Calvary, we could confess more loudly and more clearly – “This Man was truly the Son of God…and the Church is forever His Immaculate Bride.”
As Isaiah prophesied:
There is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness, that we should be desirous of Him.
Despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity: and His look was as it were hidden and despised. Whereupon we esteemed Him not.
Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our iniquities: He was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and by His bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray, everyone hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Yes, all this is true both of Christ and of His Church. “His great distress,” Bernanos tells us, “was caused by the knowledge that so many in the Church would be held together merely by habit or by fear, and would regard the divine solely as a kind of alibi for their own laziness, for their horror of all manly endeavor, for their unhealthy desire not to suffer, not to endure and be dominated by a master.”
But who would welcome such ‘sheep’ if not the Church? She appeals only to their conscience and claims to reign only in the interior domain to which God alone has access, whereas a political party demands some kind of guarantee. And so, one finds flocking to Her (while relegating the saints to the porch) this crowd of unfortunate people, who, throughout the ages, sought but peace, or honours, or incomes, a crowd incapable of satisfying its covetous longings elsewhere. Only a Pharisee would be surprised to find them there, a Pharisee who would have tossed a disdainful glance at the Rabbi Jesus with His escort of cripples, beggars and blind people…and no doubt some malingerers. For the Church is not exclusively the Pantheon of great men; beneath the fury of the eternal rains and winds She is also the refuge of the most wretched of men, who come to Her in order to receive from God and from His saints their daily sustenance, come what may, until the day of eternal pardon. Without doubt, it is to these unhappy people, lacking all beauty or attractiveness, that Isaiah refers to so frequently. But no less frequently does Scripture refer to the beauty of the children of men, clad in robes white as snow, and with faces brighter then the sun.
The Church, source of sanctity in private lives; the Church, source of civilization, of order and of peace in public life. Mother of saints, Mother of Virgins, Mother of Martyrs, Mother of the Apostles, Mother of Doctors, Mother of liberators from slavery, Mother of healers, Mother of hospitals, Mother of orphanages, Mother of shelters, Mother of schools, Mother of universities, Mother of the dignity of family life, Mother of respect for women, Mother of chivalry, Mother of the teachers of peoples, Mother protector of the arts, Mother of Gregorian chant, Mother of our basilicas, and of our cathedrals, Mother of two Teresas, Mother of Francis, Mother of Bonaventure, of Thomas, of Ignatius, of Vincent.
What is there to better this? Her survival throughout the centuries, despite all the attacks? The quality of Her good works together with the sheer heroism so frequently displayed in carrying them out? Are all these values to be abandoned? Are these reasons for deserting the army, even if, as you claim, a certain clique is waiting for the moment to destroy us? Do you think that Bernanos was preparing to abandon “The Ark of the Covenant” when, in fact, he did not fear to write: “A new Modernist invasion is beginning. A hundred years of concessions, of equivocation, have made it possible for the clergy to become engulfed in anarchy. Few of the pretentious are on the side of law and order. In my opinion, our sons will see ‘soldiers of the Church’ on the side of the forces of death. I shall be shot by Bolshevik priests carrying the Social Contract in their pockets and the Cross on their breasts!”
However, God has not yet allowed this to happen. He is still Master. Or is He holding this in store for us? You spoke of the goat in Daudet’s story; she may have much to teach us – but God hears our prayers. That old she-goat stood her ground against the Wolf throughout the night, refusing to lie down before the dawn. Is there a more enviable lot for any soldier of Christ who refuses to be daunted? Night is the time for the scattering of cowards; for the silencing of the fearful, as Scripture tells us; the time when the bad shepherds prefer to remain in bed; the time when the eye-lids of the Apostles are heavy with sleep. The time for the activities of the Judases. The time for the loneliness of the Master. But it is also the time when the Bridegroom rejoices to find the wise virgins, their lamps full of oil and burning brightly.
It is the night: let us stand fast and fight. Happy are those who, like the young she-goat, are determined to fight to the death, who refuse to lie down and die before the break of day. For it is by enduring till the dawn that true victory is won, that our task is accomplished. And even if the Wolves withdraw only after they have torn us to pieces, the dawn is, in fact, the time when the Wolves flee the light; the time when they take flight from the flock; the time when even the cowardly take heart; the time when the flock can advance without fear.
May God make of us true soldiers of Christ! And when the time comes for us, too, to lie down and die, may we see in the East that brilliant light, not of a star but of that “Lumen Gentium”, of the “Sol Justitiae” which is the Christ: the dawn of a new Christian order in the world!
The rest matters little. Since he who sows does not reap, of what account is it if we are no longer there at the break of day? The glory of the Church is no human glory: She is Holy in spite of our unworthiness.
Would you dare say She has abandoned us with no teaching? Do you lack encyclicals to enlighten you? Are Papal discourses and messages not clear enough? Your reactions against progressive clerics would be less violent if you were less certain of their ignorance of Church doctrine. What would an officer think of a soldier who was prepared to do his duty only so long as nobody around him failed to do likewise? Would desertion be excusable?
We are, indeed, in the throes of an agonizing trial, a trial which is the test of our Hope and of our Faith in the Church: the test of our Hope and our Faith in the Cross. So let us regain our courage, and as the Imitation tells us: “We have begun: we may not go back, nor may we leave off. Take courage brethren: let us go forward together. Jesus will be with us. For the sake of Jesus, we have taken up this Cross; for Jesus’ sake, let us persevere in it. He will be our Helper, Who is our Captain and our Forerunner. Behold our King marcheth before us, Who will fight for us. Let us follow Him manfully, let no one fear terrors, let us be ready to die valiantly in battle; nor let us bring disgrace upon our glory by flying from the Cross!” (The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chap. LVI)