Jacques Maritain Center : The Range of Reason

Chapter Seven



A Rediscovery of Being

IF civilization is to survive, the coining age must be an age of spiritual as well as social integration.

Today the human mind is torn and divided between Positivism and Irrationalism. Pragmatism succeeded in obliging philosophers to take certain basic aspects of reality into consideration, and in developing what might be called the sociology of knowledge; as a universal system of knowledge and life -- as a philosophy -- however, Pragmatism has been a failure. The same can be said of Idealism's attempt at a supreme synthesis, an attempt which at times had unquestionable grandeur, but which wound up in a dream of dialectical reason, because it was centered solely upon the human mind.

What is essentially needed is a renewal of metaphysics. The conceptions of modern science -- the unification of matter and energy, physical indeterminism, the notion of space-time, the new reality vouchsafed both to quality and duration, the concept of a cosmos of stars and electrons in which the stars are the heavenly laboratories of elements, and which is subjected everywhere to genesis and transmutation, a universe finite but whose limits cannot be attained because of the curvation of space, a world which dynamically evolves in a definite direction, namely, both toward the highest forms of individuation and concentration and toward a simultaneous degradation of the quality of its total energy -- all this is, no doubt, external description and scientific imagery rather than ontological insight, and cannot directly serve the purpose of any philosophical or metaphysical extrapolations; yet all this Constitutes at the same time a basic representation of the world incomparably more favorable to the edification of a philosophy of nature and more open to the deepening labor of metaphysical reason than the old Newtonian physics. The opportunity is now given for that reconciliation between science and wisdom for which the human mind thirsts. What is needed first and foremost is a rediscovery of Being, and by the same token a rediscovery of love.

This means, axiomatically, a rediscovery of God. The existential philosophies which are today in fashion are but a sign of a certain deep want and desire to find again the sense of Being. This want is now unfulfilled, for these philosophies are still enslaved by Irrationalism and seek for the revelation of existence, for ontological ecstasy, in the breaking of reason, in the experience of Despair and Nothingness. True existentialism is the work of reason. The act by virtue of which I exist and things exist, transcends concepts and ideas; it is a mystery for the intellect. But the intellect lives on this mystery. It does so in its most natural activity, which is as ordinary, daily and vulgar as eating or drinking: for the act of existing is indeed the very object of every achieved act of the intellect, that is, of every judgment. It is perceived by that intellectual intuition, immersed in sense- experience, which is the common treasure (all the more precious as it is natural and imbues the depths of our thought) of all our assertions, of all this mysterious activity by means of which we declare either ita est or fiat! in the face of the world or at the moment of making a decision. Now, when the intellect passes the threshold of philosophy, it does so by becoming aware of this intellectual intuition, freeing its genuine power, and making it the peculiar weapon of a knowledge whose subject-matter is Being itself. I do not here refer to Platonic essences. I refer to the act of existing insofar as it grounds and centers the intelligible structure of reality, as it expands into activity in every being, and as, in its supreme, uncreated plenitude, it activates and attracts to itself the entire dynamism of nature. At their ontological peak, in the transcendence of the Pure Act and the Absolute, Being and Reason are one and the same reality. In the created realm Reason confronts Being and labors to conquer it, both to transfer Being into its own immaterial life and immaterially to be or become Being. In perceiving Being Reason knows God -- the self-subsisting Act of being -- in an enigmatic but inescapable manner.

Yet my thesis does not deal only with philosophers and philosophy, but with the mental behavior of the common man. Werner Sombart used to say that modern man was neither "ontological" nor "erotic," had lost the sense of Being and the sense of Love. Torture and death as Europe has beheld them have made us aware of the meaning of that very existence they themselves scorned. Hate has awakened an awareness of the meaning of that very love it derided. Let us emerge from sleep, cease to live in the dream of magic of images and formulas, well-systematized words, practical symbols and world-bursting kabbala! Once a man is awakened to the reality of existence and the true life of Reason, to the intelligible value of Being, once he has really perceived this tremendous fact, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes disgusting and maddening: I exist, he is henceforth taken hold of by the intuition of Being and the implications it involves.

A Rediscovery of God

Precisely speaking, this prime intuition is both the intuition of my existence and of the existence of things; but first and foremost of the existence of things. When it takes place, I suddenly realize that a given entity, man, mountain, or tree, exists and exercises that sovereign activity to be in its own way, in an independence from me which is total, totally self-assertive and totally implacable. And at the same time, I realize that I also exist, but as thrown back into my loneliness and frailty by such aflirmation of existence in which I have positively no part, to which I am exactly as naught. So the prime intuition of Being is the intuition of the solidity and inexorability of existence; and, secondly, of the death and nothingness to which my existence is liable. And thirdly, in the same flash of intuition, which is but my becoming aware of the intelligible value of Being, I realize that the solid and inexorable existence perceived in anything whatsoever implies -- I don't know yet in what way, perhaps in things themselves, perhaps separately from them -- some absolute, irrefragable existence, completely free from nothingness and death. These three intellective leaps -- to actual existence as asserting itself independently from me; from this sheer objective existence to my own threatened existence; and from my existence spoiled with nothingness to absolute existence -- are achieved within that same and unique intuition, which philosophers would explain as the intuitive perception of the essentially analogical content of the first concept, the concept of Being.

Then a quick, spontaneous reasoning, as natural as this intuition (and, as a matter of fact, more or less involved in it) immediately springs forth, as the necessary fruit of such primordial apperception and as enforced by and under its light. That is a wordless process of reasoning, which cannot be expressed in articulate fashion without sacrificing its vital concentration and the rapidity with which it takes place. I see that my Being, first, is liable to death; and, second, that it depends on the totality of nature, on the universal whole whose part I am. I see that Being-with- nothingness as my own being is, implies, in order to be, Being-without nothingness -- that absolute existence which I confusedly perceived as involved in my primordial intuition of existence. And I see that the universal whole, whose part I am, is Being-with-nothingness from the very fact that I am part of it; so that finally, since the universal whole does not exist by itself, there is another Whole, a separate one, another Being, transcendent and self-sufficient and unknown in itself and activating all beings, which is Being-without-nothingness, that is, self-subsisting Being, Being existing through itself.

Thus, the inner dynamism of the intuition of existence or of the intelligible value of Being, causes me to see that absolute existence or Being-without-nothingness transcends the totality of nature -- and makes me face the existence of God.


This is not a new approach to God. It is the eternal approach of man's reason to God. What is new is the manner in which the modern mind has become aware of the simplicity and liberating power, the natural and somehow intuitive characteristics of this eternal approach. The science of the ancients was steeped in philosophy. Their scientific imagery was a pseudo-ontological imagery. Consequently there was a kind of continuum between their knowledge of the physical world and their knowledge of God; the latter appeared as the summit of the former, a summit which was to be climbed through the manifold paths of the causal connections at play in the sublunar world and the celestial spheres; and the sense of Being that ruled their universal thought was for them a too usual atmosphere to be felt as a surprising gift. At the same time the natural intuition of existence was so strong in them that their proofs of God could take the form of the most conceptualized and rationalized scientific demonstrations, and be offered as skillful unfolding of logical necessities, without losing the inner energy of that intuition. Such logical machinery was quickened unawares by the basic intuition of Being.

We are in a quite different position now. In order enigmatically to reach physical reality and to conquer the world of phenomena, our science has become a kind of Maya -- a Maya which succeeds and makes us masters of nature. But the sense of Being is absent from it. Thus, when we happen to experience the impact of Being upon our mind, it appears to us as a kind of intellectual revelation, and we realize dearly both its liberating and its awakening power and the fact that it involves a knowledge which is separated from that sphere of knowledge peculiar to our science. At the same time we realize that the knowledge of God, before being developed into logical and perfectly conceptualized demonstrations, is first and foremost a natural fruit of the intuition of existence, and forces itself upon our mind in the imperative virtue of this intuition.

In other words, we have become aware of the fact that human reason's approach to God in its primordial vitality is neither a mere intuition, which would be suprahuman, nor is it that art-like philosophical reasoning by which it is expressed in its achieved form, each step of which is pregnant with involved issues and problems. Human reason's approach to God in its primordial vitality is a natural reasoning, that is, intuitive-like or irresistibly vitalized by and maintained within the intellectual flash of the intuition of existence. In this natural reasoning it is the very intuition of existence which, grasping in some existing reality Being-with-nothingness, makes the mind grasp by the same stroke the necessity of Being-without- nothingness. And nowhere is there any problem involved, because the illumining power of this intuition takes hold of the mind and obliges it to see: so that the mind then naturally proceeds, within a primary intuitive flash, from imperative certainty to imperative certainty. I believe that from Descartes to Kierkegaard, the effort of modern thought -- to the extent that it has not completely repudiated metaphysics, and if it is cleansed of the irrationalism which has gradually corrupted it -- tends to such an awareness of the specific naturality of man's knowledge of God, definitely deeper than any logical process scientifically developed, and of the primordial and simple intuitivity in which this knowledge originates. Availing itself of any true progress achieved by the critique of knowledge, and realizing its own existential requirements, philosophy must now assimilate explicitly this new awareness and make clear in this way the manner in which the eternal approach of man, of the common man, to God proceeds.

On the other hand, becoming heedful of the subconscious life of the spirit, and considering not only our theoretical but also our practical approach to God, philosophy will have to lay stress on the following fact. When a man experiences, in a primary act of freedom, the impact of the moral good and is thus awakened to moral life, and directs his life toward the good for the sake of good, then he directs his life, even without knowing it, toward the absolute Good, and in this way knows God vitally, though unawares, by virtue of the inner dynamism of his choice of the good -- even if he does not know God in any conscious fashion and by means of any conceptual knowledge.{1} Thus, Conscience, with its practical intuition of the moral good, in reference to a practical and preconscious knowledge of the supreme existing Good, has its own approach to God, just as Reason has its own approach with its speculative intuition of existence and in reference to the theoretical and conscious knowledge of the supreme existing Being.

A Rediscovery of Love

Finally, the rediscovery of the value of existence not only means the rediscovery of God, it also means the rediscovery of Love. For when the intuition of Being and Existence takes place in me, it normally carries along with itself another intuition, the intuition of my own existence or my Self, the intuition of Subjectivity as Subjectivity. Now Subjectivity, insofar as it is Subjectivity, is not an object presented to thought, but rather the very wellspring of thought -- a deep, unknown and living center which superabounds in knowledge and superabounds in love, attaining only through love its supreme level of existence, existence as giving itself.

This is what I mean: Self-knowledge as a mere psychological analysis of more or less superficial phenomena, a wandering through images and memories, is but an egotistic awareness, however valuable it may be. But when it becomes ontological, then knowledge of the Self is transfigured, implying the intuition of Being and the discovery of the actual abyss of Subjectivity.{2} At the same time, it is the discovery of the basic generosity of existence. Subjectivity, this essentially dynamic, living and open center, both receives and gives. It receives through the intellect, by superexisting in knowledge. It gives through the will, by superexisting in love; that is, by having within itself other beings as inner attractions toward them and toward giving oneself to them, and by spiritually existing in the manner of a gift. And "it is better to give than to receive. Spiritual existence as peculiar to love is the supreme revelation of existence for the Self. The Self, being not only a material individual but also a spiritual personality, possesses itself and holds itself in hand insofar as it is spiritual and insofar as it is free. And to what purpose does it possess itself and dispose of itself, if not for what is better in actual existence and absolutely speaking, namely, to give itself? Thus it is that when a man has been really awakened to the sense of Being or Existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure, living depth of the Self and Subjectivity, he experiences, by virtue of the inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or a more or less intense emotion, but the root tendency and very meaning of his being alive. He becomes both an "ontological" and an "erotic" man; he is man anew.

And not only does he know, by virtue of his primordial intellectual grasping of existence, that God exists and is the absolute Being, the self-subsisting Esse. He also knows that because of this very fact, God is absolute ontological generosity, the self-subsisting Love; and that such transcendent Love inherently causes, permeates and activates every creature, which in answer loves God more than itself. This basic love for God, this natural and universal eros, is the very virtue and innermost vitality in which all beings desire and love, act and strive.



In the preceding pages I have emphasized our new awareness of the eternal approach to God. Summing up what I have often tried to point out, I should like now to outline what may be called, properly speaking, a new approach to God, not in the field of knowledge but in the field of culture and in the historical life of man.

Every great age of Culture receives its deepest meaning and direction from a particular constellation of spiritual factors or dominating ideas; let us say, from a particular historical heaven. And the most significant factor to be considered in such moving appearances of the zodiac of history is the peculiar approach to God characterizing a given period of culture. What are, from this point of view, the main characteristics of the human approach to God, or of the human attitude toward God, in the new age of civilization that is emerging?

The Medieval Age was a humble and magnanimous age. I would say that, at the end of this sacral era, man experienced not humility but humiliation. Whereas new forces awakened in history, he felt overwhelmed and crushed by the old structures of a civilization which had conceived of itself as a God's stronghold built upon earth. From the Renaissance on, he endeavored to become aware of and establish his own dignity through the sole effort of his own reason, by liberating himself both from the old structures of the world, and from all sorts of disciplines and authorities which confronted him, in the name of God, as being the keystone of these structures. He isolated himself progressively from God. God, the heavenly God of Christianity, or the immanent and evolving God of pantheism, was but the supreme guarantor of our own greatness and power. We expected progress and happiness from the effort of man centered upon himself and set apart from God. We realized our own dignity; we became the masters of nature. But we were alone. The age was an age of anthropocentric humanism. It ended in human devastation.

If civilization is to be saved, the new age must be an age of theocentric humanism. Today human dignity is everywhere trampled down. Still more, it crumbles from within, for in the mere perspective of science and technology we are at a loss to discover the rational foundation of the dignity of the human person and to believe in it. The task of the emergent civilization (which will doubtless not appear tomorrow but which may possibly appear the day after tomorrow) will consist in refinding and refounding the sense of that dignity, in rehabilitating man in God and through God, not apart from God. This means a complete spiritual revolution. Then all the conquests of the preceding epoch will be both purified and saved, redeemed from the errors of this epoch and transfigured -- brought to a new flowering. The age will be an age of dignification of the creature, in its living relation with the Creator, as vivified by Him, and as having in Him the justification of its very existence, its labor on earth, its essential claims and its trend toward freedom. It will be again, at least for those capable of understanding, an age of humility and magnanimity but with a new awareness of human potentialities and of the depth, magnitude and universality of human problems. The new approach to God will be a new approach to the true God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the true God of the Gospel, Whose grace, perfecting nature and not destroying it, transcends reason in order to strengthen not to blind or annihilate it, makes moral conscience progress in the course of time, and leads human history, that is, the ceaseless and ceaselessly thwarted effort of mankind toward emancipation, in the direction of its supratemporal accomplishment. This new approach will proceed neither in the adoration of creatures, which was the foolishness of our time, nor in that bitter contempt which too many Christians mistake for the divine madness of the saints. It will manifest itself in a deeper respect for and understanding of the creature and in a greater attentiveness to discover in it every vestige of God.

Hence appear a number of consequences which I should like merely to enumerate. Doubtless metaphysical anguish, the great anguish of Augustine and Pascal, will always play its part in the human search for God. Yet it seems that in the present situation of mankind it is rather through the practical effort to rediscover man, through the actual experience of the basic conditions for personality, justice, freedom, respect and love for our fellow men, that ordinarily we shall be led to the rediscovery of God. On the other hand, it appears that the controversial front of religious thought has henceforth shifted. The main issue now is to promote rather than to humble reason. Religious thought will not so much have to defend itself against philosophical (critical) reason, as at the time of the Enlightenment, as it will have to defend philosophical (ontological) reason both against sheer irrationalism or a metaphysics of despair and such ultimate fruits of rationalism as pseudoscientific positivism and dialectical materialism. It will have to defend the existence of supernatural reality less against naturalistic exaltation than against naturalistic destruction of nature. In the structure of human knowledge theology occupies and will always occupy the highest position. Yet with regard to the role played in fact by the various kinds of wisdom in the inner stimulations of culture, it is mainly through Christian philosophy that the new civilization will be spurred, at least to the extent that it will be Christianly inspired. The momentous question will be more than ever: What is man? I mean man not only essentially, but existentially. In the very perspective of religious thought there must be developed a philosophical ethics, as distinguished from moral theology and encompassing anthropology as well as sociology. The notion of natural law, cleansed of the spurious interpretations of a naive rationalism that preyed upon it, will be re-examined and restored. Whereas for centuries the crucial issues for religious thought were the great theological controversies centered on the dogmas of faith, the crucial issues will now deal with political theology and political philosophy.

Yet since the preaching of the gospel, what has had, in the supreme regions of knowledge, and will always have, a characteristic and all- pervading significance for a given period of civilization, is the peculiar way in which the human mind is able to grasp the mystery of human freedom and divine grace. I think that the emergent civilization will not fail to have its say in the matter. At the same time the reverse mystery, which displays our capacity for refusal and nothingness, the problem of evil, will be scrutinized anew in its metaphysical and psychological recesses and implications.

Finally, shall we seek to determine the deepest characterization, from the spiritual point of view, of the new age we are considering? It would be necessary to make clear that the spiritual dynamism at work in human culture implies a twofold movement. First, there is the movement of descent, the movement by which the divine plenitude, the prime source of existence, descends into human reality to permeate and vivify it. For God infuses in every creature goodness and lovability together with being, and has the first initiative in every good activity. Then there is the movement of ascent, which is the answer of man, by which human reality takes the second initiative, activates itself toward the unfolding of its energies and toward God. Speaking absolutely, the first movement is obviously what matters most; to receive from God is of greater moment for man than to give to God, and he can only give what he has received.

At this point we would observe that the great error of modern times, from the Renaissance on, has been to believe that the second movement matters more than the first, or to expect from man the first initiative; let us say to forget that the word of God always precedes man's answer, and finally to consider the answer to be the first utterance.

And we would conclude that a new age of civilization will realize again that the descent of divine plenitude into man matters more than the ascent of man toward self-perfection. In this new age the movement by which the human being answers God's movement of effusion would not take place, as in the Middle Ages, in a childlike, ignorant-of-itself humanity. Its new simplicity would be a mature and experienced, self- awakened simplicity, enlightened by what might be called a free and evangelical introspection.

Such will be, I believe, the new approach to God peculiar to this age. Man will understand that he ascends toward his own fullness and toward God all the better because he himself espouses the movement of descent of the uncreated Love and in so doing gives all that he is and possesses. He will understand that he can build only in order to deal out such an effusion. Gospel generosity, by accustoming human life to the divine ways, appears at the same time as a manifestation of the "philanthropy of our God," as St. Paul puts it,{3} and corresponds to that rehabilitation and dignification of the creature in God of which I spoke above. Man will find anew his internal unity by preferring once and for all the evangelical loss of himself which is produced by love -- that readiness to give everything, the mantle and the tunic and the skin -- to the rationalist self- achievement which is the conquest of illusion and delusion, and to the irrationalist self-achievement which is a loss of oneself into despair and absurdity.



The Dialectic of Anthropocentric Humanism

The dialectics of anthropocentric humanism developed within three centuries. Man's approach to God changed accordingly. For the notion of God -- to the extent that it ceases to be encompassed and kept pure by revelation -- is connected with the general state of culture, and its fate then conforms to that of culture.

At the first moment of humanistic dialectics, God, as we noted above, became the guarantor of man's domination over matter. He was a transcendent God, but imprisoned in his transcendence and forbidden to interfere in human affairs. He became a decorative God, the God of the classical rationalist world.

At the second moment, with Romanticist philosophy and the great Idealist metaphysicians, God became an idea. He was an immanent God engulfed in the dialectical progress of the self-asserting Idea and the evolving world. This God of pantheism and of the romanticist world was but the ideal borderline to which tended the development of mankind. He was also the absolute, total and unbending justification of good and evil -- of evil fully as much as of good -- of all the crimes, oppressions and iniquities of history as well as of its conquests and progress, particularly its progress in taking hold of material goods and power.

At a third moment, Feuerbach was to discover that God -- such a God -- alienated man from himself; Marx, that He was but an ideological mirror of the alienation or dehumanization of man accomplished, he thought, by private property. And Nietzsche was to become exhilarated by the mission with which he felt himself endowed, namely, to proclaim the death of God. How could God still live in a world from which His image, that is, the free and spiritual personality of man, seemed definitely destined to disappear? God as dead, God in the grave, was the God of the final agony and self-destruction of an age of civilization which had proclaimed the self-sufficiency of man. Atheism is the final end of the inner dialectics of anthropocentric humanism.

Practical Atheism and Absolute Atheism

Thus, we are confronted with the problem of atheism, the significance of which I shall discuss in the following chapter. There are several kinds of atheism. With respect to the first act of freedom{4} I have distinguished between pseudo-atheism and true or absolute atheism. Let us say now that in point of fact the division is threefold. There are Pseudo-atheists who believe that they do not believe in God and who in reality unconsciously believe in Him, because the God whose existence they deny is not God but something else. There are practical atheists who believe that they believe in God (and who perhaps believe in Him in their brains) but who in reality deny His existence by each one of their deeds. Out of the living God they have made an idol. There are absolute atheists who actually deny the existence of the very God in Whom the believers believe and who are bound to change entirely their own scale of values and to destroy in themselves everything that connotes His name.

What is the meaning of this absolute atheism? Practical atheism does not pose any special problem for the philosopher, except the problem of the possibility of a deluded conscience and of the disagreement or cleavage between the intellect and the will, theoretical belief and actual behavior, or, in theological terms, between faith (dead faith) and charity. Dead faith is faith without love. The practical atheist accepts the fact that God exists -- and forgets it on all occasions. His case is a case of voluntary, stubborn forgetting.

Quite different is the case of the absolute atheist. He does not forget God, he steadily thinks of Him -- in order to free himself from Him. When he has acquired the intellectual persuasion that God does not exist, his task and endeavor is not finished; this very negation delivers him over to an inner dialectic which obliges him ceaselessly to destroy any resurgence in himself of what he has buried. For in denying God he has explicitly denied Transcendence. But in actual fact the good which every being desires, even without knowing it, is in the last analysis self-subsisting Good; and thus, in actual fact, the dynamism of human life, because it tends toward good and happiness, even if their true countenance is not recognized, tends implicitly, willy-nilly, toward Transcendence. Doubtless the absolute atheist may ascribe to superstition, or to human stupidity, or to human "alienation," every vestige or trace of Transcendence he contemplates in the common behavior and beliefs, and the individual or social life, of men. Yet within himself is the real drama. In proportion as the dialectic of atheism develops in his mind - - each time he is confronted with the natural notion of and natural tendency to an ultimate End, or with the natural notion of and natural attention to absolute values or unconditioned standards, or with any metaphysical anxiety -- he will discover in himself vestiges of Transcendence which have not yet been abolished. He must get rid of them. God is a perpetual threat to him. His case is not a case of practical forgetting, but a case of deeper and deeper commitment to refusal and fight.

Thus absolute atheism is in no way a mere absence of belief in God. It is rather a refusal of God, a fight against God, a challenge to God. And when it achieves victory it changes man in his own inner behavior, it gives man a kind of stolid solidity, as if the spirit of man had been stuffed with dead substance, and his organic tissues turned into stone. As I shall try to point out in the next chapter, atheism begins with a kind of new start in moral activity, a determination to confront good and evil in an absolutely free experience, by casting aside any ultimate end -- a determination which is mistaken for enfranchisement and moral maturity and boils down in reality to the complete giving of self to some earthly "Great Being": either Mankind as for Auguste Comte, or, as for others, a Work to be done or a Party to serve. At the same time the relation to the absolute Good which the moral good essentially implies is abolished, and as a result the very nature of the moral good is changed and is replaced by an idol.{5} As I noted a while ago, the appearance of absolute atheism in human thought -- with that violence which manifested itself at first in the philosophers of the "Hegelian Left" -- was the conclusion of a progressive degradation of the idea of God. It heralded the beginning of a new age in which the process of death and the process of resurrection will develop together, confronting each other and struggling against each other.

With regard to culture, atheism is a mirror of the state to which the human being has been reduced. For since man is the image of God, it is but natural that he thinks of God according to the state in which that image presents itself at a given moment of culture. Absolute atheism means that the personality of man is definitely endangered; and that all the masks, the words, the shams, the facades, the palliatives, the plasters and cosmetics with which human conscience tries to deceive itself and to give us the appearance of men are henceforth useless and will be cast away. Picasso's art, in its present character, is the true art of atheism; I mean of that thorough defacement of contemporary man, which is mirrored in atheism. We are no more persons than the distorted, imbecile faces of those ferocious females are true human faces.

Absolute atheism is also a translation into crude and inescapable terms, a ruthless Counterpart, an avenging mirror, of the practical atheism of too many believers who betray their belief -- Christians who keep in their minds the settings of religion, for the sake of appearances or outward show, or because of the class or family advantages that religion seems to them to protect, but who deny the gospel and despise the poor, pass through the tragedy of their time only with resentment against anything that endangers their interests and fear for their own prestige or possessions, contemplate without flinching every kind of injustice if it does not threaten their own way of life. Only concerned with power and success, they are either anxious to have means of external coercion enforce what they term the "moral order," or else they turn with the wind and are ready to comply with any requirement of so-called historical necessity. They sport a clear conscience, and live and act as if God did not exist. Such men and women invoke the name of God and do not believe in Him in their hearts. They live on empty formulas and stereotyped phrases, on mental c]ichés. They cherish every kind of sham that will flatter and deceive them. They await the deceivers. They are famished for deception, because first they themselves are trying to deceive God.

In their own existence absolute atheists have substituted the cosmic dynamism of nature for the supratemporal life of the soul. Spiritually they are the walking dead, wagging powerful hands. At least they appear as they are. In some of them, moreover, the process of death is not yet complete; there still remains a hidden germ of life, a living thirst. And this subsisting germ, thwarted, denudated, stripped of every rational support, calls for an inner transformation all the more desperately as it resists the destruction and havoc which atheism has brought everywhere else into the spiritual substance of man. Such errant persons, if they receive the grace of faith, may become Christians for whom nothing is of account except God and the gospel. For them atheism will have been a sort of hellish purification.

Practical atheists also have buried their souls. But they have the appearance and color of life although they are dust within. The gospel terms them whited sepulchers. It would be too optimistic to pretend that their time has passed. Yet to say that they will be of no great use in the coming struggles and hazards of civilization seems to be an understatement.

The Requirements of Living Faith

Atheists and believers are crossing together the threshold of the future. They will travel a long way, each asserting his own position against the other, each endeavoring to inculcate the human mind and civilization with his particular philosophy. Under penalty of death civilization will have to overcome atheism and free itself of its inspiration. This cannot be done by external means of pressure, nor will the finest propaganda serve to achieve it. The workings of reason -- deep and thorough intellectual enlightenment -- are necessary. But first of all the testimony of love is needed. If it is true that absolute atheism is primarily the fruit and condemnation of practical atheism, and its reflected image in the mirror of divine wrath, then it must be said that the cardinal prerequisite for getting rid of absolute atheism is first to get rid of practical atheism. A decorative Christianity is henceforth not enough. A living Christianity is necessary to the world. Faith must be actual, practical, existential faith. To believe in God must mean to live in such a manner that life could not possibly be lived if God did not exist. For the practical believer, gospel justice, gospel attentiveness to everything human must inspire not only the deeds of the saints, but the structure and institutions of common life, and must penetrate to the depths of terrestrial existence.

This is not conceivable, even in the imperfect ways of humanity and amid the hard conflicts of the coming age, if in those who believe in God the true sources are not alive, and if the life they must give to the world does not flow down into them from the heights of God-given wisdom. A great deal of wisdom, a great deal of contemplation will be required in order to make the immense technological developments of our day truly human and liberating. At this point one should recall Henri Bergson's observations on the mutual need which "mystics" and "mechanics" have of each other, and on the supplément d'âme, the "increase in soul" that must vivify the body of our civilization, a body now become too large. Contemplative life, perhaps in new forms, and made available not only to the chosen few but to the common man if he actually believes in God, will be the prerequisite of that very activity which tries to make the leaven of the gospel penetrate every portion of the world.

As I pointed out many years ago,{6} the deepest requirement of a new age of civilization, to the extent to which Christianity inspires it, will be the sanctification of secular life. For pagan antiquity, holy was synonymous with sacred; that is, with what had been set apart to be physically, visibly, socially assigned to the service of God. But the gospel has made moral life and sanctity retire into the inner world of the hearts of men, into the secrecy of the invisible relations between the divine Personality and the human personality. Both, the men involved in the secular or temporal order and those involved in the sacred order, must tend to the perfection of human life; that is, to the perfection of love, and to inner sanctity.

In these perspectives we may understand that a new "style" of sanctity (I do not speak of a new "type" of sanctity, for sanctity has its eternal type in the person of Christ), a new step in the sanctification of secular life, is needed for the rejuvenation of the world. Not only will the spirit of Christ overflow into secular life, and seek for witnesses among those who labor in yards and factories, in social work, politics or poetry, as well as among monks dedicated to the search for perfection; but a kind of divine simplification will help people to realize that the perfection of human life does not consist in a stoic athleticism of virtue or in a humanly calculated application of holy recipes, but rather in a ceaselessly increasing love, despite our mistakes and weaknesses, between the Uncreated Self and the created Self. There will be a growing consciousness that everything depends on that descent of the divine plenitude into the human being of which I spoke above, and which performs in man death and resurrection. There will be a growing consciousness that man's sanctification has its touchstone in the love of his fellow man, which requires him to be always ready to give what he has -- and himself -- and finally to die in some manner for those he loves.

{1} See Chapter VI.

{2} 1948, chapter III.

{3} Ep. to Titus, III, 4. (Greek text.)

{4} See Chapter VI.

{5} See above pp. 84-85.

{6} Cf. Humanisme Intégral, Paris, 1936 (True Humanism, 1938).

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