For as the master builder of a new home must have care of the
According to the grace of God that is given to me, as a wise
1. Leibniz, even in his day, lamented the lost unity of Christian culture. This unity has been breaking apart for four centuries now. As has often been remarked, in three great spiritual crises -- the humanist Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the rational Enlightenment -- man accomplished a historic revolution of unparalleled importance, at the end of which he took himself to be the center of his history and the ultimate end of his action on earth, and arrogated to himself that properly divine privilege of absolute independence or all-sufficiency which theologians call aseitas. The immense deployment of brutal force over the surface of the globe to which, under the pretext of industrially subjugating matter, Europe delivered itself over in the nineteenth century, is but the expression in the sensible order of this spiritual usurpation. Under the optimistic trappings of positivist pseudo-science, a kind of false unity of the human spirit then arose like a vast mirage, and men believed that they were approaching the goal, that they were becoming the masters and possessors of themselves, of the whole of nature and of history. They were approaching catastrophe. While matter, seemingly dominated and vanquished, imposed on human life its own rhythm and the demands, multiplied without end, of the satisfactions that it procures, man found himself more divided than ever, separated from others and separated from himself: matter, a principle of division, can engender only division. Nations against nations, classes against classes, passions against passions, in the end it is human personality itself that is dissolved: man searches for himself in vain in the disjointed (yet scrutinized with what perspicacity!) pieces of his unconscious wishes ,and of his inconsistent sincerities; a fever of despair takes possession of the world.
On what conditions can this lost unity be, not recovered such as it was, for time is irreversible, but fashioned anew under new forms? One truth seems to me to command the whole discussion: man does not find his unity in himself; he finds it outside himself, above himself. It was in willing to be self-sufficient that he lost himself. He will find himself by clinging to his first principle, and to an order which transcends him. Like pure materiality, pure subjectivity disperses. Nothing is more illusory than to ask immanentism to reconcile man with himself. Man becomes reconciled with himself only on the cross, which is hard and exterior to him: that cross to which he is nailed. Objectivity is the first condition of unity.
There are other conditions, which are of the material order and which must not be neglected. But objectivity is fundamental, for it concerns the two noblest activities in man: intelligence, insofar as it is faithful to object, and therefore to First Being; and love, insofar as it unites us to our first principle and to our true Whole.
A resurrection of metaphysics and a new expansion of charity: before all else this is the prerequisite for the return to human unity, to that unity which was perfect only in the Garden of Eden and in the heart of Christ in Gethsemane, but the longing for which will never cease to haunt us.
2. At the different moments of history, especially at the moments of major transformation, we can find, if we cut into the tissue of human events, two very different elements. There is an element that is very important as to matter, as to volume, and which represents the massive result, the residue, as it were, of past effort: an element that we could call the static factor or the factor of resistance, and which signifies above all something done, concluded, finished.
And there is another element which is nothing as to volume and appearance, but which is a great deal more important as to energy: an element that we could call the dynamic factor or the factor of living energy, and which signifies above all something in the making or about to be made, something in active preparation, something having the formal part to play in the generation of the future.
As far as the first element, the static factor, is concerned, what strikes us in the contemporary world, dominated as it is by anti-theological and anti-metaphysical civilization, is this unfortunate product called modern man, this being cut off from all his ontological roots and from all his transcendent objects, who, for sought his center in himself, is no longer, as Herman Hesse put it, anything but a wolf howling in despair towards eternity. But by this very fact, too, we see that the world has tried and is finished with the experiment of positivism, pseudo-scientific skepticism, subjectivist idealism, and that this experience has been sufficiently demonstrative. These things are dead: they will be able to encumber us for a long time still, like the products of dead bodies, but they are done.
If we consider the other historic element, the dynamic factor of the present world, what we perceive, on the contrary, is a profound, an immense need of metaphysics, a great elan towards metaphysics, towards the restoration of ontological values. The world which wishes to be, the world which wishes to emerge in the future, is not a world of positivism but a world of metaphysics.
It is not, alas! sufficient to say: a resurrection of metaphysics. This metaphysics must be true metaphysics. I do not wish to ignore all the services that the Bergsonian movement in France, the neo-Hegelian movement and then the pragmatist and pluralist movements in England and America, and the phenomenologist1 movement in Germany have in fact been able to render. But in the last analysis it must be said that a metaphysics that would conclude either in pure change and a more or less monist evolutionism, or in a polytheist moralism, or in an atheistic ontology, would be no remedy for humanity. The resurrection of metaphysics means above all that we are about to enter an era of great metaphysical conflicts, of great battles of' the spirit: and not only will systems issued from Western speculation enter the lists, but also Asiatic systems rejuvenated by very informed and very remarkable modern thinkers, such as are already to be found in Japan and India.
What guide can we ask to lead us through the maze of all these metaphysical conflicts? Thomas Aquinas teaches us to make in the intellectual order that discernment of the good and the bad, of the true and the false, which is, as it were, an operation of angelic sifting; to save all the intentions of truth contained in the diversity of systems, and to rectify the rest in a synthesis balanced on the real. For, as has often been observed, one of the characteristics peculiar to his thought is, not indeed a feeble eclecticism devoid of principles, but on the contrary such an elevation and such a rigor of principles that it reconciles in its eminence, the while it transcends them, the most opposed doctrines, which then appear to be merely the opposite slopes, so to speak, of the same mountain.
Saint Thomas, in his probing the intimate nature of knowledge and the peculiar life of the intellect, establishes better than any other thinker -- against positivism, but respecting the full role played by experience, and against idealism, but respecting the full role played by the immanent and constructive activity of the mind -- the objectivity of knowledge, the rights and the value of the science of being. But he establishes also -- against the false systems of metaphysics which threaten to assail us, against the pantheistic immanentism which some would impose on us in the name of the Orient, against the pragmatism of the West, against the Hegelian divinization of becoming and against the diverse forms of radical atheism which have sprung up in the world since Feuerbach, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx -- he establishes, I say, the transcendence of Him Whom we know through His creatures but Who is without common measure with them; Who is being, intelligence, goodness, life, beatitude, but Who overflows and surpasses infinitely our ideas of being, goodness and all the other perfections: in short, Whom our concepts attain through analogy but do not circumscribe.
Thus metaphysics rises in his hands above agnosticism and rationalism; it starts with experience and mounts right up to Uncreated Being, and thus reestablishes in the human spirit the proper hierarchy of speculative values, and initiates in us the order of wisdom.
3. If it is a question now of ethical values, and of the conduct of human life, then it is only too easy to see to what an extent the contemporary world is, as a rule, a world of selfishness, meanness and coldness. And how could it be otherwise, from the moment that man undertook to be self-sufficient? In truth, love lives only on God or on that which it deifies; and when it realizes that what it has deified is but a bit of nothingness, it turns to hatred and scorn.
But as far as the second historic element referred to above, the dynamic element, is concerned, what the contemporary world reveals to us, precisely by reason of the kind of impossibility of living created by anthropocentric egoism, is the need and the presentiment of a vast effusion of love. But here again we must be on our guard against counterfeits; just as we must be on guard against false systems of metaphysics, so we must be on guard against false forms of love.
A false humanitarian mysticism, pseudo-Buddhist, theosophical, or anthroposophical; a false reign of the heart which would claim to establish itself at the expense of intelligence, and in defiance of the creating and forming Word and Its laws; a kind of quietist heresy which would reduce us to no longer being men, because we would have lost the very notion of truth, and which would dissolve us in an equivocal poetic sensuality, unworthy of the name of love -- these are some of the evils which threaten us from this point of view. We are far from the materialism of the nineteenth century: it is from the side of a pseudo-spiritualism and a pseudo-mysticism that the greatest dangers of deviation will arise for our time.
The Angelic Doctor shows us the right road: he reminds us that order is at the heart of holy love, and that if, in God, Subsistent Love proceeds from the Father and the Uncreated Word, in us too love must proceed from truth, must pass through the lake of the Word; otherwise it spreads only to destroy.
He reminds us also that there is only one efficacious and authentic way to love our brothers, and this is to love them with that same charity which first makes us love God above all. Then -- according to that admirable order of charity which is described in the second part of the Summa Theologiae, and which goes out to all without injuring the natural rights of anyone-the love which joins us, above being, to the first principle of being, pours out upon creatures with a divine force: it breaks down every obstacle and melts every coldness; it opens up a new world which reveals the divine attributes in a more profound, an unsuspected manner, a world in which beings not only know one another but recognize one another; it makes us will good to our enemies. Thus must we affirm, faced as we are with the deliquescences of sentimentality and the naturalist cult of the human species, the true nature of divine love.
And against the hardening due to the worship of force, to the naturalist cult of the individual, of class, of race, or of nation, it is the primacy of this very love that we must affirm. Caritas major omnium. Is there any need to remark here that the whole ethical theory of Saint Thomas is based on this doctrine, which he gets from the Gospel and from Saint Paul? He constructed on this Gospel teaching an unbreakable theological synthesis, in which he shows how Love, which makes us desire undeviatingly our last end, has an absolute practical primacy over our whole individual and social life, and constitutes the very bond of perfection; how it is better to love God than to know Him; and how without this love no virtue is truly virtue or attains its perfect form, not even justice. And Saint Thomas knows that this love truly becomes master of human life and is an efficacious love of God above all things and of one's neighbor as one's self, only if it is supernatural, rooted in faith, and proceeding from the grace of Christ, which makes us, in the image of the Crucified, the sons and heirs of the God Who is Love. Let us follow the Angelic Doctor and we shall understand that peace in man and among men (the direct work of charity, opus caritatis, "for love is a unitive force, and the efficient cause of unity") descends from that super-essential Peace, from that eternal Love Which resides at the heart of the Trinity.
4. The disease of our time, we stated at the beginning of this chapter, issues from the fact that culture, which is a certain perfection of man, has taken itself for its ultimate end. It began by ignoring, in its Cartesian and philosophical phase, everything that surpasses the level of reason; it ends by ignoring reason itself, and suffering at once the law of the flesh and the spiritual vertigo that irrationality inevitably entails in man. "The error of the modern world has been to claim to assure the reign of reason over nature by refusing the reign of super-nature over reason."2 This is why, even in the order of knowledge, metaphysics, of which we were speaking above, remains an inadequate remedy. Another wisdom, higher and more divine, is born of love itself, thanks to the gifts of the Holy Ghost. It is above all for this mystical wisdom that our distress hungers and thirsts, because it alone satisfies hunger and quenches thirst, being experiential union divine things and beatitude begun. And yet it leaves us hungering and thirsting, because vision can fully saturate us with God.
Saint John of the Cross is the great "experimental" Doctor of this wisdom; Saint Thomas Aquinas is its great theologian. And because be determined better than any other Doctor the central truth which one cannot ignore without dealing a mortal blow to contemplation, and to Christianity itself -- I mean the distinction between nature and grace, and their living compenetration, and the whole organism of the infused gifts -- he explains better than any other the true nature of mystical wisdom, and defends it more effectively than any other against all the counterfeits.
This is the highest benefit we can expect of from the point of view of the restoration of Christian culture: for in the last analysis it is on this wisdom and on this contemplation that the whole Christian order depends here on earth.
5. What determines the unity of a culture is first and above all a common philosophical structure, a certain metaphysical and moral attitude, a common scale of values -- in short, a common idea of the universe, of man and of life, of which the social, linguistic, and juridical structures are, so to speak, the embodiment.
This metaphysical unity has long been broken -- not completely destroyed, certainly, but broken and as it were effaced in the West. What constitutes the drama of Western culture is that its common metaphysical basis is reduced to an absolutely insufficient minimum, so that it holds together now primarily through matter, and matter is incapable of keeping anything together. This drama is all the more serious for us because everything at the moment has to be done over again, everything has to be put back in place in our European house. Just suppose that a common philosophy would succeed in gaining acceptance by an elite in the Western world! It would be the beginning of the cure for this world.
As Thomas Aquinas united in his marvelously balanced temperament the talents of men of the North and South, of Norman and Lombard; as he integrated in his Doctor's mission the Italy of the Popes, the Germany of Albert the Great, the France of Saint Louis and of the University of Paris; as he joined to the heritage of the Fathers and of Christian wisdom the treasures of the Greeks and the Latins, of the Arabs and the Jews, in short, the whole contribution of the known world of his time - - so also his uniquely comprehensive and organic theology, open to all the aspects of the real, offers to the intellectual tendencies peculiar to the different nations the means of exercising themselves freely, not in mutual destruction but in mutual completion and consolidation.
The fact is that Saint Thomas succeeded in constructing a philosophical and theological wisdom elevated in immateriality that it is truly delivered from every particularization of race or place. Alas! in the course of the last few centuries we have witnessed an utterly opposite phenomenon, a kind of racial lowering of philosophy. Descartes is one of the glories of France, but he hypostatizes certain deficiencies, certain temptations peculiar to the French intellectual temperament. Hegel does the same for Germany; William James and John Dewey, the pragmatists and the instrumentalists, for the New World. It is time to turn toward truth itself, which is neither of one country nor of another; it is time to turn toward the universality of human reason and of supernatural wisdom. This is all the more urgent now, as it seems that the advent of a new philosophical age is imminent.
Imagine for a moment that Catholics in the various countries understood their whole duty. Let us dream of this utopia. Imagine that they understood the fundamental importance of intellectual questions, of metaphysics and theology, that they renounced silly prejudices against Scholasticism, and that they saw in it, not a medieval mummy to be studied archaelogically, but an armor of the living intelligence and the necessary equipment for the boldest explorations; imagine that they realized in themselves the ardent desire of the Church, which is not to win over partisans as if Catholicism were a human enterprise, but to serve everywhere divine Truth in souls and in the universe; imagine that they surmounted internal divisions and the petty rivalries of the school, which everywhere render their activity sterile; and, finally, that they saw the necessity for a serious and continuous intellectual cooperation among Christians of all nations -- a cooperation which, when it comes to our dissident brethren, is obviously much easier on the philosophical than on the theological plane.
The Common Doctor would then become in all truth their common master; under his guidance they could work efficaciously for the restoration of the West and its unity. Then there would be workers for the harvest. Then, in the speculative sphere, Thomist metaphysics could assimilate into a true intellectual order the immense body of the particular sciences, which at the moment are delivered over to chaos, and whose admirable advances are in danger of being exploited by aberrant philosophies. In the moral sphere, physics and theology could preside architectonically over the elaboration of that new social order, that Christian economy, that Christian politics, which the present state of the world so urgently needs. Finally, to revert to the great initial symptoms and the great initial causes of the divisions afflicting us, Humanism, Protestantism, and Rationalism, having been able in the course of time to experience both the various ravages engendered by their initial delusion and the value of many of the realities which this delusion disregarded, would be astonished to find in the treasury of the Angelic Doctor the very truths which they coveted without seeing them clearly and of which they generally fell short.
I would add that Greek and Russian piety, which differs, it seems, from Catholic piety not so much by divergences of dogma as by certain attitudes of spirituality, is much less hostile, in my opinion, to Thomist thought than might at first be supposed. It approaches the problems from another angle and the usual Scholastic presentation irritates and defends it. But these are merely questions of modality; and I am convinced that the Thomist synthesis, when well understood, would dispel innumerable misunderstandings and permit many unexpected meetings of minds. I also believe that when our dissident brethren are led, under the pressure of the errors of our age, to a more systematic and more developed defense of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is in the principles elaborated by Saint Thomas that they will be brought to seek trusty weapons against vain philosophy.
In all this Saint Thomas appears as the intellectual renovator of the West.
Need it be added that we would be ignorant of human nature if we believed in our utopias? Nevertheless, if a serious effort were not made in the direction indicated above, one might proclaim that Western culture is doomed. One can hope, in spite of everything, that this effort will be made.
6. I have spoken of the West. Where does the West really begin? We should not form too restricted an idea of it: let us remember that we are always east of someone.
It is at Golgotha that the West begins. It is Calvary, the center of the world, that marks the dividing line between East and West, and there Christ extends His redeeming arms over East and West alike. If we want to form an adequate cultural idea of the Western world, let us say that it is a world whose axis stretches from Jerusalem to Athens and Rome, and which extends from the deserts of Egypt and the Berber Lands to the Atlantic and Pacific shores of America, and to the northern seas, embracing in one same community the richest variety of national traditions, institutions and cultures.
Greek and Byzantine culture, oriental in relation to Latin culture, and to the heritage of the Western Empire as history has defined it in the narrower sense of the term, is nevertheless an integral part of Western culture. Constantinople's break with Rome caused her to be confined within herself (and yet not so completely as is commonly thought) in the bosom of that culture; it did not tear her from it.
And if Eurasians are right in considering Russia as a continent apart, in which Europe and Asia are but one, if today the Communist Revolution draws this continent to the side of Asia, nevertheless the fact remains that by all its cultural past it belongs to the spiritual community of the West.
And now I put the question: is one entitled on any ground whatsoever to identify the Western world with the Christian religion? No! To do so would be a deadly and supremely impertinent error, which the words of some clumsy apologists would sometimes seem to countenance, but which is essentially repugnant to the character par excellence, to the catholicity, of the religion of Christ.
Is this to say that the West does not have a particular mission to fulfill in regard to this religion? To say this would be another error. Pope Leo XIII himself underlined the importance of this mission. If the West, which owes so much to the Church, served Christian culture so long as a kind of secular body, it is precisely because it had been chosen to evangelize the rest of the world -- not to enslave the universe to its military or commercial interests, but to serve the universe by bringing to it the message of Redemption.
Whatever may have been and whatever may still be the heroic effort of its saints, its missionaries and its martyrs, Western civilization has too long failed in this its duty. This duty is now imposed upon it under pain of death: it can now save itself only by serving the universe.
To attach oneself to the particularities of a country, to its language, its customs and its liberties, and thus to prolong a little more the beauty of perishable things, the works and the days with which the privilege of the place is charged, is the business of poets.3 The statesman, too, is, in a way, particularist: for he is entrusted with the common good of a country, which must be his first aim, yet in such a way that while loving his country more than others, he does not therefore cease to love the others and to will them good, and does not injure the rights of the human person nor the interests of the human race.
But in the order of intelligence, of thought, of culture, one must be resolutely universalist. All the barriers of intellectual protectionism are now things of the past. Every book, every newspaper article (and Catholic writers ought to realize this) has readers on the banks of the Ganges and the Yellow River no less than the Rhine and the Thames. All the products of the spirit cross and mingle from one end of the world to the other. We must choose between an abominable confusion and the spiritual unity of Christian culture, with all that this unity involves of rigorous formation, discernment and articulate thought. it is towards the establishment of this spiritual unity of a new Christendom that all the ardent desires of the Church of Christ tend today, because the message of Redemption is addressed to all men and because this message must be delivered.
Whatever the partisans of the absolute heterogeneity of languages and culture4 may say, man is everywhere essentially the same, his mental and affective structure is found to be essentially identical in all climates. The testimony of missionaries is very clear on this point, whether it is a question of so-called primitive peoples or of peoples of the most refined civilizations, such as the Chinese. I am happy to recall in this connection the phrase of Emile Meyerson, one of the most eminent French philosophers of science, affirming the catholicity of reason.
And above reason the Church unites again all men in a transcendent and divine unity, which is that of the kingdom of Heaven, of the very life of God participated in here below, and, if I may so put it, of the universe of the Incarnation; and it is when sustained from above by this supernatural unity of the life of grace, that the natural unity of reason succeeds in producing its fruit.
May I be permitted to observe once more: "The Church is universal, because she is born of God, all nations are at home in her, the arms of her crucified Master are extended over all races and all civilizations. She does not bring to peoples the benefits of civilization, but the Blood of Christ and supernatural Beatitude . . . This is why she reminds us that her missionaries must renounce every worldly interest, every concern with national propaganda, must know only Christ, and that they are sent to found Churches which will be self-sufficient, complete with their own clergy. She does not affirm that all nations and all races have the same historical vocation and an equal human development, but she does affirm, and in the most significant manner, that they are all called of God, all alike enveloped in His charity, that each has its legitimate place in the spiritual unity of Christendom and is capable of supplying bishops for the flock of Christ."5
7. This double unity, this double catholicity of reason and grace, of the human spirit and the Church, needs an intellectual organ to manifest it, strengthen it, and diffuse it.
At a time when East and West are exchanging all their dreams and all their errors, when all the scourges that Europe almost died of -- positivist scientism, atheism, either materialism or anti-intellectualism, the religion of automatic Progress and of the deification of man -- hurl themselves, exported by Europe, on Africa and Asia as so many gospels of destruction, when in all countries the intelligence is struggling against the most subtle enchantments of the philosophers of this world, are we to believe that Christian culture is not itself obligated to employ a perfectly equipped intelligence, a tried and true doctrine? It is the most highly developed and the most perfect form of Christian thought, it is the lofty wisdom placed under the sign of the Common Doctor of the Church, that provides Christian culture with this indispensable instrument.
"It is from this wisdom that we must draw -- under appropriate forms of presentation, and by thoroughly examining it in all its rigor and according to the real exigencies of each problem -- the intellectual values which every country in the world needs. A form that preserves all that is universal and lasting, it alone can revive the West, give it back again the free and living use of its spiritual riches, its tradition and its culture; it alone can save also the heritage of the East, and reconcile the two halves of the world."6
Let me give an example. In an address delivered in 1928, Louis de la Vallee Poussin, the eminent historian of Buddhism, drew attention to the work accomplished in India by Father Dandoy and his associates: "They publish in Bengal an excellent little paper, called Christ, the Light of the World,7 in which they show how one can pass, nay, how one must logically pass, from the Vedanta, the traditional philosophy of India, to Christianity. Good Sanskrit scholars, they study in lucid notes the five or six forms of this philosophy which vacillates, in gradations of which Indian scholars have never been able to make head or tail, between a monism which appears absolute and a theism too dualist to be orthodox in our sense.
"Such investigations, from the Indian point of view, are more than praiseworthy. They bring to light especially the religious and mystical character of Indian speculation, even of such of it as offers the most rationalist aspect.
"From the practical point of view, I have a definite feeling that they are hitting the mark. Saint Thomas is right as against Sankara, Ramanuja and the rest: he offers the only solution in which the ends of all the chains are solidly held; he reconciles, in going beyond them, the opposing theses of the Vedantic schools; he is, in a word, the true doctor of the Vedanta. . . .
"Cultured Indians, we are told, found the German scholar Paul Deussen's book, Das System des Vedanta, a weak exposition -- it is, in fact, a Vedanta concocted of some imperfectly understood Sankara diluted in some Schopenhauer and with a dash of Hegel. . . . On the contrary, the investigations pursued by my friends in Bengal seem to be taken very seriously by the pundits. Father Dandoy and his associates have gone to great trouble to read the texts and the commentaries; you have the feeling that they know in detail -- and this is very important -- what they are talking about; they engage in no polemic, import no arguments from the West; but they do offer, with an exactitude of theological learning which I greatly admire and on the most elusive of subjects, a discourse whose movement is genuinely Indian and a new, perfectly informed and convincing commentary on the old Brahmasutras. Without adopting, as did Robert de Nobili before them, the dress of the Brahmin, these very modern apologists have fashioned for themselves a psychology as subtle as you could want, very Thomistic and yet Bengali."8
This example9 shows us how Saint Thomas Aquinas has prepared for us the conceptual and notional equipment, the metaphysical equipment of intelligence, that Christian culture needs, and thanks to which we can hope that it will achieve its unity in the entire world.
And this is indeed the highest privilege of Western culture, what makes it precious among all others: the fact that it itself is basically universal, that, born in Judea, trained by that strength and piety of natural reason which characterized ancient Greece and Rome, and formed then by the Church of Christ, it has been able to produce first a Plato and an Aristotle, then a Saint Paul and a Saint Augustine, and then a Saint Thomas. May the incomparable intellectual instrument thus prepared be put to work not only by apostles of the white race but also by an elite among the colored races, who will learn the lesson taught by Thomas Aquinas as the sons of the Gallic, Celtic or German "barbarians" have learned the lesson of Aristotle. It is here that that intellectual cooperation among Christians of all nations referred to above is more than ever a pressing necessity.
But let it be well understood: nothing solid, nothing lasting will be achieved without this recourse to the wisdom of Saint Thomas. It would be a tremendous illusion to think that in order to realize more rapidly the work of unity it were necessary to jettison the whole heritage of truths acquired at such a fearful price on the shores of the West. It is precisely this heritage that the world needs; it is the dispersion of it throughout the world that will unite the world. We must not jettison it! We must mobilize it. And to mobilize it is not an easy matter, for the solution to all the new problems which are thus raised is not to be found ready-made in Saint Thomas: to bring out this solution a new and original effort is required, an effort that demands as much boldness in applying one's self to the real as fidelity to the slightest principles of the master.
No philosophy whatever can be baptized as it stands. It must first be corrected and, in most cases, transformed. And often too the task proves to be impossible. If Aristotle could be baptized by Saint Thomas, it is because his metaphysical principles were founded in objective reality. And if the great metaphysical systems of ancient civilizations remain, unlike modern ones, turned toward being and therefore open to universality, by this very fact they have, as it were, a longing for the emendations Aristotelianism and Thomism would supply. How much more soothing to our indolence, bow much more gratifying to our spirit of adventure, what a relief to play truant and to dispense with the disciplines of the philosophia perennis! But culture cannot dispense with these disciplines, it will never be able to dispense with the Greek Aristotle transfigured by the Angelic Doctor.
I do not say that the wisdom of Saint Thomas must be imposed as a dogma. The Gospel is free of this wisdom. I do not say either that we should keep of the spiritual treasures of the Orient only what would already be formulated in the letter of a system we would regard as complete and closed. Quite the contrary! I say that through love and through respect for these treasures -- and in order to have them take on their highest dimensions, as also in order that one may cooperate loyally in upholding them against the forces of destruction -- those who want to integrate them in a lasting cultural achievement must fortify themselves with an indefectible doctrinal equipment.
And Thomist philosophy will be the better for it. It will take leave of the eternal controversies of the school, it will go out into the highways and byways, it will spread its wings. What Saint Dominic said with regard to men, must also be said of ideas: "Grain rots in the heap but is fruitful when sown." Thomist philosophy is of its very nature a progressive and assimilative philosophy, a missionary philosophy, a philosophy constantly open to the demands of First Truth. And Saint Thomas is not a relic of the Middle Ages, with whom only history and scholarship would have to concern themselves. He is in all the fullness of the term the apostle of modern times.
8. In a more or less narrow and servile way, according as their metaphysical level is more or less elevated, all religions other than the Catholic religion are integral parts of certain determinate cultures, particularized to certain ethnic climates and to certain historical formations. Only the Catholic religion, because it is supernatural and has come down to us from the pierced Heart of God dying upon the Cross, is absolutely and rigorously transcendent, supra-cultural, supra-racial, supra-national.
This is one of the signs of its divine origin. It is also one of the signs of contradiction which will occasional till the end of time the passion of the Church, raised like her Master between heaven and earth. We can think that the world, from this point of view, is entering a phase of particularly difficult conflicts, comparable perhaps to those of apostolic times, under the Rome of the Caesars. On the one hand, non-Christian peoples do not know how to separate their native cultures, with all their human values, worthy in themselves of respect and filial reverence, from religious creeds stained with error and superstition. And Christian universalism will have to show them how this discernment is to be made, and how the Gospel respects and superelevates -- and transfigures little by little -- these particular values. This demonstration is not performed, as a rule, without sweat and blood. And the silly dogma of positivist sociologism, taught in all countries in the name of European science, and according to which all religion is but a specific product of the social clan (and Christianity, therefore, a specific product of the European races), will not make it any easier.
On the other hand, it happens that among Christian peoples, when faith and charity diminish in the mass of them, many of them come to think that Christianity, because it has been the vivifying principle of their historical culture, is essentially bound and tied to it. Are not certain apostles of Latin culture (I bear it no grudge, let me assure them) convinced that -- this is the way it was put to me one day -- our religion is a Graeco-Latin religion? Such an enormity is full of significance. Without knowing of what spirit they are, and forgetting the divine transcendence of that which makes the life of their life, they end up in practice worshipping the true God in the same way as the Ephesians worshipped Diana and as the primitives worship the idols of their tribe. Christian universalism will have to remind them how the Gospel and Church, without injuring any particular culture or the state or the nation, prevail over them all nevertheless with a pure and unsullied independence, and subordinate them all to the eternal interests of the human being, to the law of God, and to the charity of Christ. And this demonstration too is not made without resistance.
9. One point should, I think, be emphasized here. If the Kingdom of God, for the extension of which we are bound to work unceasingly, belongs to the order of the spiritual,10 that is to say, to the order of eternal and supernatural life already begun here below, what we call civilization or culture11 belongs, on the contrary, to the order of the temporal, refers immediately to a common good which is not simply material, to be sure, which is also and above all intellectual and moral, but which in itself is of the natural and terrestrial order: though ordered to the Kingdom of God, which superelevates it in its own order, and from which it must receive its highest rule and measure, culture or civilization relates directly to this perishable life and to the development of human nature on earth.
This is why, in this world ravaged by sin, cultures and civilizations are naturally in opposition and at war.
When we speak, therefore, of Christian culture and of its unity we are in reality speaking of the superelevation produced by Christianity in the various particular ethnic and historical cultures, and which impresses on them, without destroying their diversity, an image of the supra-cultural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.
In other words, "civilization is the expansion of the truly human life of the body politic. It belongs, of itself, to the natural order: art, metaphysics, science, politics are strictly civil virtues. . . . But it can expand fully only under the supernatural sky of the Church.... Christian civilization is the by-product of the Kingdom of God."12
The consequence is clear. A philosophy, a theology even, is part of a culture: if they are to attain to the pure universality required of them by natural reason and by reason enlightened by faith, it is absolutely necessary that they be also superelevated by the influences of grace, assumed by the Mystical Body of Christ. We thus come again to a truth which seems to me essential and on which I have already had occasion to insist.
The privileges inherent in the doctrine of Saint Thomas are to be explained only by the fact that Thomas Aquinas is truly the Common Doctor of the Church, because this doctrine (although the Church never imposes it as a dogma of faith, for it is a human synthesis) is the appropriated instrument of the intellectual life of the Church. This is what maintains it in a purity of which man by himself alone would not be capable, what assures it that sovereign degree of spirituality and universality which makes it truly catholic, and what prevents it from being restricted or particularized by the means it uses.
The metaphysics and the theology of Saint Thomas are expressed in a system of signs, in a language and an order which are Latin, but in itself this wisdom no more bound to Latinism than it is to the astronomy of Aristotle or Ptolemy. It is bound to no particularity of climate, of race or of tradition: this is why it alone is capable of recreating among minds, under the superior light of the Gospel, a true unity of culture, of restoring a spiritual Christendom. For six centuries now it has been tested in its principles and in its rational springs, purified, stripped of all that which weighed it down accidentally. It appears today in its true youth. Let it be careful to remain "separate, in order to command," as Anaxagoras said of the Intellect, to keep itself from being particularized, any local circumstances of tradition and of culture or by any one of its partisans. To this end it must remain jealously attached to the superior virtues on which its integrity in the souls of men depends, and to its ministerial role with regard to the Gospel and the holy contemplation of the Church of Jesus Christ.13
If all that has just been said is true, we can understand that if the Thomist synthesis offers us a means par excellence of achieving the unity of Christian culture, nevertheless, and by very reason of the fact that with regard to such a practical goal it is but a means, an instrument, it does not suffice for this unity. It would be a great mistake to think that philosophical or theological science can by itself alone, and taken as principal agent, so to speak, exercise a truly formative and rectifying influence on culture.
We must begin with Christ. It is not Saint Thomas, it is Christ Who makes Christian culture: it is Christ -- through the Church and through Saint Thomas, through the contemplation of the saints and the love which joins them to the agony of the Son of Man, through the labor of the theologians and the philosophers -- Who brings into the service of the Son of Man all the virtues of the intellect and all its scattered riches.
It follows from this that the thought of the Common Doctor will shed its light on culture only as it appears together with the Gospel and the Catholic Faith -- these two radiances, the one divine, the other human, helping each other and multiplying each other, according to the great law of the reciprocity of causes: causae ad invicem sunt causae.
l0. Three philosophers were talking together one day in the late nineteen twenties, one Orthodox and two Catholics; a Russian, a German, and a Frenchman -- Nicholas Berdyaev, Peter Wust, and the writer. We were wondering how to reconcile two apparently contradictory facts: the fact that modern history seems to be entering, as Berdyaev puts it, a new middle age, in which the unity and universality of Christian culture will be recovered, and extended this time to the whole universe; and, on the other hand, the fact that the general movement of civilization seems to be drawing it towards the universalism of Antichrist and his iron rod rather than toward the universalism of Christ and His liberating law, and in any case to prohibit the hope of the unification of the world in a universal Christian "empire."
The answer, in my opinion, is the following. I think that two immanent movements cross each other at each point of the history of the world and affect each of its momentary complexes. One of these movements draws upward everything in the world that participates in the divine life of the Church (which is in the world but not of the world), and follows the attraction of Christ, Head of the human race. The other movement draws downward everything which belongs to the Prince of this world, head of all evildoers. It is in undergoing these movements that history advances in time.
Thus human affairs are subjected to a distension of ever increasing force, until in the end the fabric gives way. Thus the cockle grows with the wheat; the capital of sin increases throughout the length of history, and the capital of grace increases also and superabounds. In proportion as history approaches Antichrist and undergoes in all its visible structure transformations which prepare his coming, so also does it approach Him Whom Antichrist precedes and Who conceals beneath this same chain of events in the world the holy work He pursues among His own. In this perspective I wrote: "Today the devil has so contrived everything in the regime of terrestrial life that world will soon be habitable only to saints. The rest will drag their lives out in despair or fall below the level of man. The antinomies of human life are too exasperating, the weight of matter too oppressive; merely to exist, one has to expose himself to too many traps. Christian heroism will one day become the sole answer to the problems of life. Then, as God proportions His graces to needs, and tries no one beyond his strength, we shall doubtless see coincide with the worst state of human history a flowering of sanctity."14
Hence it is no doubt true that we are moving toward a new middle age, towards a rediscovered unity and universality of Christian culture. But, whatever may be the more or less lasting terrestrial triumphs we may hope for the Church, we realize that this restoration of
Christendom, both in the social order and in the order of the spirit, must be effected in a world more and more tragically contested.
This is to say that instead of being grouped and assembled, as in the Middle Ages, in a homogeneous integrally Christian body of civilization, limited however to a privileged portion of the inhabited earth, it seems that the unity of Christian culture must now extend over the whole surface of the globe, but, in return, represent only the order and living network of Christian temporal institutions and Christian centers of intellectual and spiritual life spread throughout the world in the great supra-cultural unity of the Church. Instead of a mighty fortress raised up amidst the lands, we should rather think of the army of stars distributed in the sky. Such a unity is not any less real, but it is diffuse instead of being concentrated.
Whatever be the truth of these hypotheses, my object in writing these pages was to show that Saint Thomas Aquinas is our predestined guide in the reconstruction of Christian culture, the steward and minister of that great blessed kingdom which the Church, in the admirable Preface to the Mass of Christ the King, calls the kingdom of truth and of life, of sanctity and of grace, of justice, of love and of peace: regnum veritatis et vitae, regnum sanctitatis et gratiae, regnum justitiae, amoris et pacis.
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