Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy


Brief Remarks in Conclusion

The method followed in this book
1. May I be permitted to confess that the composing of this large work has brought the author, in addition, a satisfaction of a subjective order? It was, at a time of life when the soul turns towards higher regions, a way for me to pay my respects to, and thus take leave of, the philosophers -- in particular the modern philosophers, whose historical work it was once claimed I purely and simply rejected. I believe on the contrary that I have given due credit to them, and that I have, at least after my early years, shown them the sort of intellectual friendship which is proper among seekers and disputants each attached to his own vision. How better to honor them than by taking their effort seriously; by trying to understand and penetrate their movement of thought; by applying oneself to disengage their central intuitions and intentions, and the advances one owes to them; finally, by criticizing them, where they are in error, without indulgence or caution (what philosopher ever asked for indulgence?) but with more attention doubtless and more true respect than they ordinarily show one another. However, I will not be sorry to shake them off.

But let us leave that. The real purpose of my book has nothing to do with the subjective satisfaction mentioned above. As I indicated in the Preface, what I proposed to do was to employ an historical and critical analysis of sufficient depth as an instrument of exploration of the field of moral philosophy. The unfolding of the ethical theories that can be considered the most significant, the apperceptions from which they have sprung, the errors from which they have suffered, thus enable one to have a better awareness of the problematic proper to moral philosophy. And many essential truths are at the same stroke gathered in along the way, in a manner that is nonsystematic but perhaps more stimulating for the mind, because they emerge from the long reflection that is pursued from age to age, with its advances and its failures, and from the successive occasions that it offers for discussion. I think that in a general way such a procedure, turning to account, under a resolutely critical light, a heritage of time-honored labors and disputes, could be carried out with advantage by the disciples of the philosophia perennis in the most varied fields.

2. It was, I believe, particularly necessary to have recourse to this historico-critical method in the field of moral philosophy, so as to rediscover in a sufficiently concrete and comprehensive manner its place and function among the philosophical disciplines, and at the same time to recognize its essential distinction from anthropology, on the one hand, and moral theology, on the other, with both of which it is however closely associated.

In the course of our long study we have thus seen take shape little by little the basic notions that must be regarded as the primary notions of moral philosophy, and with which the various thinkers we have considered have all had to do in some way, sending them back and forth, so to speak, from one to the other, to play with them in different ways. "When you play tennis," Pascal said, "you both play with the same ball, but one places it better."

We have likewise seen take shape the principal problems to which the ethician must apply himself, the first of which has to do with the very nature of moral philosophy, its practical and normative (in a sense not at all Kantian) function, its essentially reflexive character, its dependence with regard to certain great metaphysical truths and its dependence with regard to experience, the relations it maintains with the religious experience of mankind and with the theological data concerning the existential condition of man. We have met on our way many other fundamental problems, in particular the problem of natural law and the problem of the relationship between ethics and supra-ethics.

I shall not undertake to enumerate here all the primary notions and all the basic problems to which I have just alluded. Indeed, our whole second volume, given over to the doctrinal examination of the great problems, must constitute the normal conclusion to the long historico-critical introduction that has been the object of the present volume.

On some possible renewals
3. I should like to propose now some remarks of a quite different order. The first have to do with the great challenges to accepted ideas that took place in the course of the nineteenth century, and from which the coarsest materialist metaphysics or anti-metaphysics at first tried to claim the profit. I am thinking of the three great intellectual shocks that shook the confidence of man in himself, and which in reality could be salutary and powerfully assist moral philosophy if we knew how to understand things as they should be understood, and if modern man, instead of abdicating under humiliation, stood erect again in the two conjoined virtues of humility and magnanimity.

The first great disturbance was produced by Darwinism, with the theory of the animal origin of man. Such a shock can have a double result: a result ruinous for moral life, and which dehumanizes man, if one believes that man is only an evolved monkey; one has then the materialist ethic of the struggle for life.

But the same shock can have a salutary result if one understands things in another way, if one understands that the matter out of which man is made is an animal matter, but an animal matter informed by a spiritual soul, so that there is biological continuity in the sense of the natural sciences between the universe of the animal and the universe of man, but irreducible metaphysical discontinuity. The scientific concept of evolution is then likely to lead us to a better appreciation of the vicissitudes and the progress of human history, and to an ethic more conscious of the material roots of the rational animal, of the depths of the dynamism of the irrational element in him, but also of the deeper depths of the dynamism of the spirit in him that makes his grandeur.

4. A second shock was that of Marxism, with its insistence on the economic substructure of our moral ideas and of our rules of moral behavior. Here again a double result is possible. The result is ruinous for human life if one fancies that all that is not the economic factor is only an epiphenomenal superstructure; one moves then towards a materialist ethic -- either towards a materialist ethic suspended from the myth of technocracy organizing human life on the basis of pure productivity; or towards a materialist ethic such as the Marxist ethic, suspended from the myth of revolution and from that of the self-creation of man manifested by the titanic struggle of the working class freeing itself through violence from a condition presumed to be irremediably servile, and by the final coming of a universal communist society.

The result can be salutary if the shock in question forces us to be aware of the interdependence and interaction, interpreted in an Aristotelian sense, of economic factors and moral or spiritual factors. Ethics becomes then more conscious of the concrete situation of man, and of the meeting of structures and conditionings dependent upon material causality with what, in the order of formal causality, constitutes morality. A new field of exploration is opened up for ethics, a field independent in itself of the Marxist theory, which however supplied the impulse for this new problematic.

5. The third shock finally was that of the discoveries of Freud, bringing to light the autonomous life and the swarming activity of the unconscious, and the ruses by which it seeks to take control of human conduct.

The result is ruinous for human life if man is looked upon as a creation of mere infra-rational tendencies, of libido and of the unconscious of instinct, without reason being thought to possess any vitality and energy of its own or to exercise any control other than a purely extrinsic one over the forces in conflict in the determinism of nature, and without one's according any reality to the universe of liberty which is the very universe of morality.

The result is salutary if the shock in question leads us to recognize the immense universe of instincts and tendencies at the point of which reason and liberty work. Then ethics becomes more conscious of the concrete situation (no longer social, but psychological) of man, and of the meeting of the precombined structures and disguises of the unconscious with moral conscience. Thence an ethic more truly human, in this sense that it will know better what is human, and in this sense that it will care with more pity for man and his wounds.

The great problem of the relations between the conscious and the unconscious will be one of its principal concerns. It will be a question of establishing a normal relation between the dreaming and sleeping part of man and the waking part. It can happen that the waking part may exercise no rule, no control, or a pseudo-control only, over the dreaming part. Man is then the plaything of unconscious tendencies, which a banal process of lying rationalization will endeavor only to justify.

It can also happen, on the contrary, that the waking part may mistrust the dreaming part, hold it in contempt, and fear it, to such a degree that it may wish at any price to become conscious of all that takes place in us, to light up forcibly all the innermost recesses and to put conscious reason and deliberate will at the origin of all the movements of the soul. It is to be feared that this second method succeeds mainly in developing neuroses and in bringing about the victory of the disguises and ruses of the unconscious.

In other words, a despotic regime with regard to the unconscious is no better than an anarchic regime. What should be sought is -- to use one of Aristotle's words -- a politic control, that is, a control exercising an authority that would be without violence and based on friendship, taming to the spirit the vital spontaneities, in short, supposing a certain confidence in the sleeping part of man and a progressive purification of it. Such a purification is not brought about by trying to make this unconscious emerge from sleep, but by being at once attentive to this sleep and respectful of it, and by recognizing with an entirely frank and pure glance, without fright and without connivance, all that emerges from this sleeping part.{1}

What would also be required, and first of all, is to recognize the existence in man of another unconscious{2} than the animal unconscious of instinct, desires and images, repressed tendencies and traumatic memories, which asks only to be closed up in itself as an inferno of the soul. This other unconscious is the unconscious or pre-conscious of the spirit, which is not separated from the world of conscious activity and the works of reason, but on the contrary is their living source. It is on the activating motions -- when man does not betray them -- and the radiance of this spiritual unconscious on the whole soul, that depends above all the long work through which the instinctive spontaneities can be, as I said above, tamed to the spirit.

Man and the Human Condition -- a problem preliminary to any moral systematization
6. The considerations that follow do not have to do with doctrines and systems, they bear on human conduct itself and on the most general options with which our attitude in life is linked. These considerations are connected however in an indirect way with the philosophical positions examined in the present work; every great moral system, indeed, is in reality an effort to ask man, in one manner or another and to one degree or another, to go beyond his natural condition in some way. But either these same great philosophical doctrines refuse to acknowledge the effort in question, or else they leave in a wholly implicit state the problem it envelops. To my mind, on the contrary, it is important to disengage the problem explicitly. One sees then that it concerns the moral life of each one of us in such a fundamental way, and involves so profoundly the individual subjectivity, that it depends, to tell the truth, on a sort of metaphysics of conduct which precedes moral theories and systematizations. If one tries to examine it in itself, reducing things to the essential, one is led, it seems to me, to distinguish the four different attitudes I am about to discuss, of which the first two, more or less outlined, in fact, in the lives of certain among us, but impossible to carry through, are too irrational to correspond to any definite doctrine; and of which the last two correspond, one to the thought of India, the other, inchoatively, to the Western philosophical tradition, and, under its perfected and really effective form, to Christian thought.

The fact is, I believe, that in the background of all our moral difficulties there is a fundamental problem which is ineluctably posed for each of us, and which in practice is never fully resolved, except in those who have entered into the ways of perfection: the problem of the relation of man to the human condition, or of his attitude in the face of the human condition.

This condition is that of a spirit united in substance with flesh and engaged in the universe of matter. It is an unhappy condition. In itself it is such a miserable condition that man has always dreamed of a golden age when he was more or less freed of it, and so miserable that on the plane of revelation, the Christian religion teaches that mankind was created, with the grace of Adam, in a superior condition in which it was free of sin, of pain, of servitude and of death, and from which it fell through its own fault. The Judeo-Christian tradition also teaches that after the end of history and in a new world the human condition will be supernaturally transfigured. Those who believe neither in the state of innocence nor in original sin put the golden age at the end of history, not at the beginning, and fancy that man will attain it in the last stage of his terrestrial adventure, through his own liberating effort, thanks to science and to radical social transformations; others, who want no part of consoling illusions, try to escape the spectacle of this planet by surrendering to some powerful passion which distracts them day after day from themselves and from the world, or by the ardor of a despairing pity which in a way appeases their hearts while it corrodes them little by little.

Indeed, the tragic perplexity in which we are placed consists in the fact that we can neither refuse the human condition nor accept it purely and simply. I will explain later on in what sense I understand the expression "to accept purely and simply the human condition". As to refusing the human condition, it is clear that it is a question there only of a moral disposition. Such a refusal belongs to the world of dream; but man nourishes himself on dreams, and a dream which has its roots in the depths of the individual psychology of the subject can determine his fundamental attitude in life.

The temptation to refuse the Human Condition
7. It is solely in the perspective of nature that we shall consider things in this and the three following sections. We have just noted that the human condition is an unhappy condition. The state of intermediary species is in general a state little to be envied; and it is in a paradoxically eminent manner that the human species, at once flesh and spirit, is an intermediary species. The heavens tell of the glory of God, but the earth that He has made is dreadful to man. A "vale of tears", yes, and this is not a mere poetic image.

It is not a question here of any sort of Manichaeism. It is quite true that the material universe abounds in wonders and is resplendent with an inexhaustible beauty that makes apparent the mark of the Spirit Who created it; it is quite true that despite the cruelty and voracity which inhabit it the world of nature is penetrated with the goodness and the generosity of being, and embraces finally all things in the imperturbable peace of its great laws, and of its great rational necessities which superbly ignore us; it is quite true that in man himself the world of the senses, whatever bitterness it may harbor, is made first and above all to enchant us with its sweetnesses and its joys; it is quite true that human nature is good in its essence, and that for every living being, but eminently for man, to live is a marvellous gift. And yet, for all that, a spirit whose operations have need of matter surmounts matter only at a formidable price and by running immense risks, and is most often scoffed at by it. The spirit is immortal, and matter imposes the law of death on the body animated by it. Man has more grandeur than the Milky Way; but how easy evil is for him, how inevitable (if one considers the species collectively) it is, in a being in which sense and instinct, and the animal unconscious, ask only to elude or to twist the judgment of the mind. As for suffering, it is already a frightful thing to see an animal suffer, but the suffering of beasts is of small account in comparison with the suffering that pierces a flesh united to spirit, or spirit itself.

8. Thus we can understand that the temptation to refuse the human condition has a greater chance of worming its way into us when man has in one manner or another become better aware of the natural exigencies of the spirit in him -- of that spirit which is his soul, and which reveals itself to him in the highest powers of the soul. Such a temptation does not exist in the primitives. We may believe that in the collective history of mankind it is largely this temptation which, at work in us without our being aware of it, makes the very progress through which civilization advances go side by side with delusions which impair it or degradations which corrupt it.

To refuse -- in one's innermost heart -- the human condition, is either to dream of leaving our limits and to wish to enjoy a total liberty in which our nature would expand through its own powers; or else to play the pure spirit (what I once called the sin of angelism); or else to curse and try to disown all that presents an obstacle to the life of the intellect, and to live in a state of interior revolt against the fact that one is a man; or else to flee by no matter what frenzy, even if it be in the folly of the flesh, this situation of a reason everywhere at loggerheads with matter which is a permanent challenge to the demands of the spirit in us. It is hardly surprising that those who devote themselves to the life of the intelligence, the poet in particular, and the philosopher, are more or less exposed to this temptation. The ancient sages of Greece succumbed to it when they said that the best thing for man is not to have been born.

In the life of an individual the most frequent occasion for this temptation -- which does not justify it for all that -- is that the man who endeavors, as Aristotle said, "to live according to the intellect", is more conscious than those who live "according to the human" of everything we said above concerning the misery of the human condition. Often even the man dedicated to meditation forgets that the spirit finds, through the senses, the source of its life in the very matter that torments it; he forgets too that the evils that matter causes are made transitory to a certain extent by matter itself, since it is a root principle of change.

But above all, if he pays attention to the lessons of history and to the long cry of the poor and the abandoned, he understands that naked suffering, horror, anguish without consolation -- all this is the true background of the world for us, however generous nature may be, and however admirable the victories won by human generations to make things less hostile to man and the structures of his own life more worthy of him, through the progress of civilization, of art and of knowledge. It may be that for a long while we almost lose sight of this background of the world. But every now and then it reappears to us.

The man who has passed the threshold of the life according to the intellect understands all that is offensive and humiliating -- for that spirit in which his specific difference itself and his dignity consist -- in the radical contingency linked with matter and the dependence with regard to matter which constitute the metaphysical infirmity of our existence. In the eyes of material nature is a man worth any more than the sound of the brook? To pursue its work there the spirit struggles ceaselessly against the fortuitous and the useless; its very movement depends not only on the absolute values in which it has its proper object, it depends also on chance, on good and bad encounters; it advances from generation to generation enduring a perpetual agony, only to have in the end what it has produced here on earth fall -- I mean with regard to men, and unless it is divinely protected -- under the law of decay and futility which is the law of matter, and only to have what is immortal in itself be received by our species only at the cost of equivocations and misunderstandings that are perpetuated throughout time.

The fact remains that all that must be accepted. Even when they do not repeat in their own way, and however pitifully, the story of Faust, there is no sadder and more fruitless distress than the distress of men who under the pretext of wanting to live according to the intellect allow themselves to be carried away by the temptation to refuse the human condition. They are vanquished beforehand, and their defeat aggravates their subjection.

The temptation to accept purely and simply the Human Condition
9. Would the solution therefore be to accept purely and simply the human condition? -- This pure and simple acceptance would be just as costly, and is no less impossible. It would be a betrayal of human nature not to recognize the demands, which are consubstantial to it, of the superhuman in man, and this nature's need of the progressive movement of the spirit, with its torments and its dangers, in other words, its need of perpetually going beyond the presently given moment of our condition on earth. And if we want to go beyond it, it is because to that extent we do not accept it without reserve.

It is fitting moreover to see the whole import of the expressions one uses. To accept the human condition is to accept -- with all that life offers of the good and the beautiful and the pure, and with all the grandeurs of the spirit, and with "the call of the hero" -- the radical contingency, the failures, the servitudes, the immense part of sorrow and (as regards nature) of inevitable uselessness of our existence, sickness, death, the different kinds of tyranny and hypocrisy which prey on social life, the stench of gangrene and the stench of money, the power of stupidity and of the lie. But if it is a question for a man of accepting purely and simply the human condition, why then, after all, in accepting all the evil of suffering that our nature entails, should he not accept at the same stroke all the evil of sin to which it is inclined? He has been made as he is, with the weaknesses of his flesh and the covetousness that is in him, with the longing for pleasure and power and the rage of desires, of that obsessing desire especially which does not come from him but from his species, to which his individual person matters little but which has need of his chromosomes in order to perpetuate itself. All that also is part of the human condition. To accept purely and simply (if that were possible) the human condition, means to accept it in its entirety, with the misery of sin as well as with the misery of suffering.

This cannot be, moreover, without a fundamental contradiction and without additional torments. For the social groups -- horde or society -- and the state of culture without which the human species cannot endure on earth require rules and taboos guaranteed by terrifying sanctions; and it is essential to the human condition that the sense of moral obligation, and of the distinction between good and evil, which exists naturally in the soul of each one of us (and which is in itself contradictory to the acceptance of moral evil as supposedly required by our nature), exert itself at least under the wholly exteriorized form of obedience to tribal prohibitions, and according as good and evil appear only as what is permitted or forbidden by the social group. To accept purely and simply the human condition is therefore an intrinsically contradictory moral disposition (although more or less outlined in fact in a great number of human beings) -- a disposition to accept not only subjection to Sin as well as subjection to Suffering, but also subjection to the law of Fear, which forbids certain definite faults as infractions of the general conduct and the rules of the closed society.

Supposing that it could be fully carried out, such an acceptance of the human condition would make man live on the edge of animality; it is, as we have noted, as impossible in reality as the refusal of the human condition, because to accept fully subjection to moral evil, in whatever manner one conceives it, is not possible for the human being. What we are calling pure and simple acceptance of the human condition is only a limit to which, even in its most primitive representatives, our species has never attained. Indeed, it is in more or less approaching this limit that many among us seem to accept purely and simply the human condition. They accept it almost purely and simply. They not only have the code of their gang, their class or their accustomed social group (which implies already, though under a very inferior form, the prohibition of wrongdoing), they have also an outline at least, and often a great deal more than an outline, of authentic moral life, by reason of which they do not love the evil that they do. But even if their conscience has in other respects firm convictions, there are a certain number of domains -- notably the domain of sex, and, in certain periods, that of "honor" (duel), and that of war -- in which to act without taking account of the moral law seems normal in their eyes: it's the human condition that requires it, they believe that at this point it imposes another code on them. Perhaps however they will repent one day of the actions thus committed in contempt of the moral law (not to speak of many others among us who violate the law only in the pangs of remorse). To do evil and to repent of the evil that one does is the minimum of what the human being is capable of to testify that it is impossible to give in completely to the temptation to accept purely and simply the human condition.

The answer to Indian spirituality
10. What is asked of man is neither to accept purely and simply nor to refuse the human condition -- it is to transcend it.{1} Here too however two very different ways can be envisaged. It can be a question of transcending the human condition in a manner which implies a certain refusal of it (because in this case it is through his own forces that man has to transcend his condition, he must then engage himself in an effort against the grain of nature); or it can be a question of transcending the human condition while consenting to it (because in this case a "new nature" has been grafted on human nature, and permits man to transcend his condition by going, not against the grain of nature, but higher than nature). The first way corresponds to what we shall call, to be brief, the Hindu-Buddhist solution; the second, to what we shall call the Gospel solution.

By abolishing, by means of a sovereign concentration of the intellect and the will, every particular form and representation, the wisdom of India adheres, through the void, to an absolute which is the Self in its pure metaphysical act of existing -- experience conceived as leading at the same stroke either to the Transcendence of Being (Atman) or to total indetermination (nirvana). All the forms of illusion in the midst of which our life is spent have disappeared, everything is denied and annihilated, there remains only the Self in contact with itself.

It is clear that to attain such an end (not to speak even of the "powers" for which one is supposed to search without pause), is to transcend the human condition by dint of spiritual energy. But it is also clear that it is to transcend it by the means of refusal. The living delivered one gains a sort of interior omnipotence by falling back upon himself and separating himself from everything human; he enters into a solitariness incomparably more profound than the solitude of the hermit, for it is his soul itself which has broken with men and all the miseries of their terrestrial existence. To pass beyond illusion, and to deliver oneself from transmigration, or at least from all the sorrow that it carries with it and perpetuates, is at the same stroke to deliver oneself from the human condition. The refusal of this condition is there but a means of transcending it, it is not an act of revolt against it, a pure and simple refusal. It remains however essential to the spirituality of India. That is why, even when the sage, as in the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), spreads his pity over men, it is as it were through the condescension of a being who no longer belongs to their species, and whose heart -- by the very exigency of solitariness in nirvana -- is not wounded by their troubles and does not enter into participation with them.

How can we not see in the implicit refusal of the human condition of which I have just spoken one of the weak points of the spirituality of India? If one considers in itself (independently of the graces which in fact can supervene in a soul of good will) this effort to escape the state in which we are naturally placed by our coming into the world, it manifests, along with an exceptional courage, an exceptional pride of spirit. Moreover such a refusal is in reality doomed, whatever victories it may bring, to a final defeat. Courage and pride are precisely two of the most profound features of the human condition. The Hindu or Buddhist sage quits the human condition only by showing in spite of himself his belonging to it -- I mean, by the very negations to which he is led and all the apparatus of exercises and techniques he needs, and by the kind of never-ending tour de force by means of which he comes to transcend this condition. And the living delivered one still has to die like the others; he is not delivered from that which is the most tragically human in the human condition.

The Gospel answer
11. What of the Christian or Gospel solution? It takes us beyond pure philosophy and pure reason, and yet, by a strange paradox, it is in it and in the mystery that it proposes to us that an authentically rational attitude toward the human condition becomes possible for man.

I said above that every great moral system is in reality an effort to ask man, in one manner or another and to one degree or another, to go beyond his natural condition in some way. These systems in fact (let us mention here only those which have been examined in the present work) ask man -- while he rejects moral evil but accepts the suffering to which the human condition is exposed -- to go beyond the human condition: either, as with Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus, Kant, Sartre or Bergson, by attaching himself to a good superior to human life, or to a happiness in which human life is achieved rationally, or to virtue, or to pleasure decanted to the point of indifference, or to duty, or to liberty, or to the sovereign love to which the great mystics call us; or, as with Hegel, Marx, Comte or Dewey, by deifying nature. But even in those cases where the effort to go beyond the human condition is the most authentic, there is no question, except in Bergson (and, in the name of faith, in Kierkegaard) of truly transcending it. And the attempt to go beyond the human condition by the sole means of man remains in the last analysis doomed either to futility or to illusion. It is only with Christianity that the effort to go beyond the human condition comes to real fruition.

It is superfluous to remark that I am not speaking here of the average behavior of the mass of people of Christian denomination. I am speaking of the exigencies of Christianity such as they are proposed to every one -- and almost completely realized only in saints.

The question for the Christian is to transcend the human condition but by the grace of God -- not, as for the Indian sage, by a supreme concentration on oneself -- and in consenting at the same time to this condition, in accepting it, although not purely and simply, without balking; for the Christian accepts it as to all that pertains to the evil of suffering proper to the human condition, not as to what pertains to moral evil and sin. Rupture with the human condition as to sin, acceptance of the human condition as to the radical contingency and as to the suffering as well as to the joys that it entails: that is demanded by reason, but is decidedly possible only by the configuration of grace to Him Who is sanctity itself because He is the Word incarnate. At the same stroke, the acceptance of the human condition ceases to be simple submission to necessity; it becomes active consent, and consent through love.

That in a certain measure every soul inhabited by the gifts of grace, and in a full measure the saint, the one who has entered into what we called in a previous chapter the regime of supra-ethics, transcends the human condition -- this is obvious to anyone who holds that grace is a participation in the divine life itself. It is the other aspect of the Gospel solution, the simultaneous acceptance (except as to sin) of the human condition that it is important for us to insist on here.

In the human condition thus transcended and accepted at the same time, everything, to tell the truth, remains the same and everything is transfigured. If grace makes man participate in the divine life and if it superelevates his nature in its own order, nevertheless it is a nature still wounded which is thus superelevated, it is a man still devoured by weakness who shares in eternal life and in God's friendship. The human condition has not changed. It has not changed because the Word of God assumed it such as it was and such as it will remain as long as history endures. In taking upon Himself all the sins of the world, He who was without sin also took upon Himself all the languors of the world, and all the suffering that afflicts the human race, and all the humiliation of its dependence with regard to the contingent and the fortuitous. What matter henceforth the contingency and the metaphysical futility to which our existence is subjected, since the most insignificant of our acts, if it is vivified by charity, has an eternal value, and since the Son of God has accepted to undergo Himself the servitudes of our condition?

During His hidden life He was a poor village workman, and His activity as preacher and miracle-worker took place in an historical milieu which made weigh on Him all its circumstances of time and place and all its hazards. He willed to die as the most unfortunate of men died in His time. His passion was an atrocious condensation of all the agony and abjection attached to the human condition since the Fall.

Consequently, when what I called just now the true background of the world -- the world of naked suffering, of horror, of anguish without consolation -- reveals itself to the Christian and takes possession of him, this matter of accepting (as to the evil of suffering) the human condition takes on an entirely new sense for him, comes to enter into the redemptive work of the Cross, and to participate in the annihilations of Him Whom he loves.{1} No wonder the saints are desirous of suffering. Suffering, because it is for them a signature of their love, and cooperation in the work of their Beloved, has become for them the most precious of goods here on earth.

There they are, then, the saints, who by an apparent contradition give thanks to God for all the goods He heaps upon them and for all the protections, consolations and joys He dispenses to them, and give thanks to Him at the same time for all the evils and afflictions He sends them. We who are wicked, do we give a stone to our children when they ask us for bread? And yet thanks be to God when He gives us bread, and thanks be to Him when He gives us a stone and worse than a stone. The evil of suffering, while remaining what it is, and while being fully experienced as such, is transvalued now in a superior good, one perfectly invisible besides, unless there appear for an instant some sign of the more than human peace that inhabits the tortured soul.

12. The unbeliever sees here only a ghastly facility that religion allows itself, playing on two boards at the same time. The believer sees here the supreme grandeur of a mystery accessible to faith alone, and which can -- in faith -- be attained in some fashion and stammered by the intelligence, but which remains in itself as incomprehensible as God Himself.

It is doubtless for the philosopher that this mystery is the most incomprehensible, because the philosopher knows too well that essences do not change, and that in the ordinary course of things, suffering, unless the one that it visits undertakes bravely to surmount it, degrades and humiliates the human being. He would be a fool however if he did not bow before the testimony of the saints. But in his perspective as a philosopher the best he can say is that God's love is as transcendent as His being, which is as no thing is; and that it is more difficult still for the heart of man to apprehend the transcendence of Love subsisting by itself than it is for the human intelligence to apprehend the transcendence of Being subsisting by Itself. "Believe that God loves you in a way that you cannot imagine," said Dostoevski.{2}

And here again can the philosopher refrain from asking some questions?

He is astonished by another apparent contradiction in the behavior of the saints. They desire suffering as the most precious of goods here below. After all, that's their affair, or rather an affair between God and them. But what about the others, those whom they love, and who comprise all men? Do they not desire for them also this most precious of goods here on earth? Yet this is not what they do, they spend their time trying to lessen the suffering of men and to cure them of their wounds. The answer, to the extent that one can catch a glimpse of it, concerns the very structure of the spirit.

In itself suffering is an evil, and will always remain an evil. How then could one wish it for those one loves? The simple knowledge possessed by the Christian (and so frequently recalled to his attention by the commonplaces of pious literature) that suffering unites the soul inhabited by charity to the sacrifice of the Cross, superimposes on suffering, ideally and theoretically, a quality thanks to which this knowledge helps one to accept suffering; it cannot make it be loved or desired, it does not transvalue it. If there is real and practical transvaluation, it can only be in the fire of the actual and absolutely incommunicable love between the self of a man and the divine Self; and that remains a closed secret, valid only for the individual subjectivity. Thus the saints would keep for themselves alone what they consider to be the most precious of goods here on earth. Singular egoists! They want suffering for themselves, they do not want it for others. Jesus wept over the dead Lazarus, and over the sorrow of Martha and Mary.

But the philosopher has still other questions. What strikes him above all in the human condition is not the suffering of the saints, it is the suffering of the mass of men, the suffering they have not willed, the suffering that falls on them like a beast. How could he resign himself to the suffering of men?

He knows that the struggle against suffering is one of the aspects of the effort through which humanity goes forward, and that in this struggle the work of reason and the ferment of the Gospel, the progress of science and the progress of social justice, and the progress of the still so rudimentary knowledge that man has of himself, enable us constantly to gain ground. He is not tempted to adore the Great Being, but he renders thanks to the men -- to the innumerable workers known and unknown who throughout the course of an immense history, by dint of inventive genius and sacrifice of self, have applied themselves and will always apply themselves to making the earth more habitable. But the philosopher also knows that as one gains ground in the struggle against suffering, new causes of suffering begin to abound, so that man, despite all his progress, will never have done with suffering just as he will never have done with sickness.{1} Modern man suffers in other ways than the cave man. On the whole, one can wonder whether he suffers less; one can wonder whether all the victories gained in the struggle against suffering do not result in maintaining, by compensating the progress in suffering, a kind of middle level at which life as a whole is almost tolerable. However this may be, there will always remain enough suffering to put the heart and the intelligence in anguish.

Thus the answers that the philosopher gives himself in thinking about the suffering of men are valid but insufficient. There is another answer still, one that not only concerns terrestrial history but also and above all eternal life. It was given in the Sermon on the Mount.

If there is in humanity an immense mass of suffering which is not redemptive like that of Christ and His saints, it is in order that it may be redeemed, and that everywhere at least where human liberty does not intrude its refusal, those who have wept in our valleys may be consoled forever.

<< ======= >>