University of Notre Dame
Jacques Maritain Center   

Western Civilization and Religious Faith


11. It is with a view to Western civilization that the previous issues were discussed. Now what about our present Western civilization and the other civilizations in the world? The world is one world in a somewhat obscure sense which I would like to call the physical or historico-dynamic sense, in the sense that the discharges of historical forces which take place in any part of the world affect the world as a whole, and in an irreversible manner.

The world has become one world in the economic sense, -- meaning the strict interdependence of all nations in the economic field.

But the world is not one world in the religious sense, -- meaning a community of religious belief. The world is not one world in the cultural sense, -- meaning a community of civilization. The world is not one world, is not yet one world in the political sense, -- meaning a politically organized world society, a World Government. As long as the world is not politically one world, as long as there is no World Government, the unity of the world at the merely physical or historico-dynamic level, and at the merely economic level, is bound to carry men along into conflicts and wars and disaster, perhaps total disaster, as well as into peace and cooperation.

Now what are the possibilities of cooperation and mutual understanding, of human fellowship among men at the cultural level, or in the order of civilization, and of the multiplicity of, and tensions between civilizations? At this point we are confronted with our third and last issue, -- the relationship between Western civilization and the other civilizations. I do not pretend to discuss such a problem in all its implications. I should like only to offer a few tentative views about it.

12. In his "Outline of History", Arnold Toynbee, after putting aside the primitive societies, some six hundred in number, enumerates for historical times twenty-seven distinct civilizations, five of which still survive today.

The five civilizations distinguished by Mr. Toynbee are: The Chinese and Far Eastern civilization; the Hindu civilization; the Islamic civilization; the Western civilization, which stemmed from mediaeval Catholic Christendom (and which, he reminds us, extends not only to Europe and the New World but to all the navigable seas and their ports); and the civilization developed in the historical framework of Orthodox or Greco-Russian Christendom.

It is in this fifth area of civilization that the Communist Revolution took place, and from this area that it endeavors to overflow into other historical areas of civilization. At this point I should like to make only three general remarks: First. As long as Communist inspiration preserves its dynamism and power of expansion, only extrinsic or transitive human exchanges and relationships, -- which are enough (unfortunately just enough) to keep peace between two antagonistic worlds -- no intrinsic, or vitally uniting, human exchanges and relationships, that is, no constructive cooperation, are possible between Western civilization and the Communist-minded world: because of the basic opposition between the formative spirit in the one and the other.

Second. Time works, in the long run, against any power contrary to nature. The breaking down of human freedom and conscience, because it engenders everywhere fear and insecurity, is in itself a process of self-destruction for the body politic. The power of a State which becomes more and more of a giant as regards the external and technical forces, and more and more of a dwarf as regards the internal, human, actually vital forces, is bound to wind up in disintegration.

Third. When a social or political regime oppressive of man and destructive of a given civilization becomes, after the explosive period, merely structural, and loses its inner vital dynamism, at the same time the basic inclinations of human nature and aspirations of the human soul, as well as the spiritual energies, deep-rooted in history, which gave birth to this imperilled civilization, may revive and rise up in the people, thus bringing about an internal transformation. If such a phenomenon comes about some day in the peoples oppressed at present by the totalitarian-communist iron rod, it will be first and foremost a religious revival, starting from the naked and bared springs of man's soul, that future observers will contemplate.

13. Let us now come back to the five typical civilizations we mentioned. The first three, -- namely the Chinese, the Hindu, the Islamic, -- may be called civilizations of pre-mediaeval origin; the other two -- namely, the Western civilization, and the today largely destroyed Greco-Russian Orthodox civilization -- may be called civilizations of mediaeval origin.

The crucial fact that we are facing with the civilizations of pre-mediaeval origin -- let us call them, collectively, Near and Far Eastern civilizations, -- is the fact that they do not know (or conceive only in an imperfect way -- I speak here of Buddhism) the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal order, the things which are Caesar's and the things which are God's. In them the temporal, social and juridical on the one hand, the religious on the other, are intimately commingled.

The other fact is that today these civilizations are invaded by the worst by-products of Western civilization (technique-worship, materialism, secularism, etc.), -- and react for self-defense by blind nationalism -- and are, at the same time, threatened by Communism, which inflames in its own way the other two evils.

Given this situation, we see what kind of obstacles confront the problem of the cooperation and fellowship between civilizations. And we also see how far remote (not to say utopian) appears the idea of a unification of the world in the order of civilizations.

There is, not doubt, another, superior order. There is the preaching of the Gospel, the work of Christian missionaries. But this work deals with the expansion of the Kingdom of God, not with the expansion of any earthly civilization; and it can genuinely develop only on the condition that it respects and saves -- to transfigure them from within -- the native spirit of the various cultures and civilizations into which it brings a divinely transcendent leaven. Moreover it is not for today or tomorrow, it is with a view to an indefinite future that such work is being pursued.

At the level and in the order of civilization, the point I should like to make is that we should be wary of taking for granted that a number of particular concepts which seem self-evident to us, children of Western civilization, can be made available to, and readily accepted by, the peoples brought up in the spirit of the other civilizations. In this connection a great and difficult intellectual task is required: on the one hand to disengage from our typically occidental connotations, and to bring out in their purest and most universal meaning the fundamental values by which we live; on the other hand, to offer our own concepts, as true as they may be, with as much humility as conviction, and with respect for the thought and human heritage of those to whom we speak.

The political technique of democracy can be adopted by Near and Far Eastern civilizations and spread over the world, as well as scientific or industrial techniques, or any other technique. Such external uniformity is meaningless and delusive, and has nothing to do with a real coming together of men. If it is true that the democratic persuasion, in its inner vitality, has emerged, as we have seen, from the slow historical workings of Christian inspiration in the depths of secular consciousness, then we can hardly expect that the democratic persuasion should suddenly be transplanted into, and permeate, the consciousness of the non-Christian world.

How, then, can we characterize, in its full significance, the intellectual task to which I alluded a moment ago? I would say that it is the task of Christian reason. We can and we must trust the power of Christian reason. A new -- and genuine -- Enlightenment is to be expected in our day, -- from Christian reason. In the order of the natural insights and achievements of the intellect, say, in the philosophical order, Christian reason, that is, human reason quickened by Christian faith, is able to appeal everywhere to the anima naturaliter christiana, to afford a basis for actual cooperation between man of every language and cultjure, and to put on the market, as a matter of free exchange and discussion, those genuinely universal values and genuinely universal truths -- dealing with the natural knowledge of God, with natural morality and natural spirituality, with the dignity of the human person, with human rights, with freedom, with justice, with fraternal love, with integral humanism, -- which are of a nature to gain the assent of minds through the weight of evidence. To the extent to which men belonging in non-Christian religious faiths will cooperate in this work of reason, and elaborate for themselves such common goods of the intellect, it will be up to them to adjust the rational values and truths in question to the traditional fabric of their own civilization and religious belief.

14. I have just emphasized the crucial role which Christian reason, or Christian philosophy, is called to play, in my opinion, in our age of civilization. Yet I know that intellectual enlightenment, necessary though it may be, is not enough. Men need tangible signs and the testimony of facts. They need the virtue of the example. And men need temporal hope.

In its effort to survive, and to ensure and increase its cooperation and fellowship with the other civilizations, Western civilization is primarily demanded to renew itself, and to go ahead; to bring about within itself, more and more really and more and more extensively, the achievements of social justice, interracial justice, equal opportunity for all, actual freedom at each stage of the life of individuals, civic friendship and love; Western civilization is demanded to be aware of its responsibility toward the world and toward those who live in dire distress in the other areas of civilization; and to discover the ways in which it may arouse the terrestrial hope of mankind, toward a great concrete ideal to be pursued; and thus to provide men with the example and testimony of what a free and freedom-loving world is capable of. May I add, at this point, that for such a common effort of Western civilization, which history is bringing to pass with surprising speed, under the leadership of this country, those who know the power of freedom and who are anxious for the destinies of mankind have a special confidence in the American people.

Finally there is another example and another testimony than those given by any terrestrial achievement. In the last analysis the moral life of mankind is appendent to what Henri Bergson has called the "appeal of the hero" in spirit and love, that is to say, the appeal of the saint. To be sure, there are saints today, as in each moment of human history -- concealed in some corner of the earth and of everyday toil. For the revival of our civilization and the revival of the world, we crave desperately, however, for visible and manifest saints, saints who operate in the virtue of signs that our eyes can see, and who speak the truth to the world, and who give guidance to the peoples. I am not sure that such a request is not a token of our human weakness; it is only in mosaics or frescoes that the saints have their haloes on; and it seems that the ways that God prefers are always hidden ways. Yet, even if it should remain aloof from the public life of peoples, a thirst and aspiration for that spiritual experience of love which comes to full fruit in saintly souls is unquestionably developing now in the most various spots of the world. A phenomenon which is especially striking in this country, but which exists everywhere. And that is enough for our hope.

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