Romano Guardini


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A RELIGIOUS process of incalculable importance has begun–
the Church is coming to life in the souls of men.

This must be correctly understood. The Church has, of
course, been continuously alive in herself, and at all times
of decisive importance for her members. They have accepted
her teaching, obeyed her commands; her invincible vitality
has been their strong support and the ground of their trust.
But, with the development of individualism since the end of
the Middle Ages, the Church has been thought of as a means
to true religious life–as it were a God-designed framework
or vessel in which that life is contained–a viaduct of life
but not as life itself.[1] It has, in other words, been
thought of as a thing exterior from which men might receive
life, not a thing into which men must be incorporated that
they may live with its life. Religious life tended
increasingly away from the community and towards the
individual sphere. The Church, therefore, came to be
regarded as the boundary of this sphere, and perhaps even as
its opponent. In any case the Church was felt as a power
fettering personality and thereby restricting the religious
life. And this external regulation appeared either
beneficent, or inevitable, or oppressive, according to the
disposition of the individual.

This is inevitably a one-sided presentation. Actually there
were very many exceptions; transition and development made
the picture far more complicated. Nor was this attitude to
the Church without its greatness. To-day all the catchwords
of the age are against it: but we should ask nevertheless
what valuable contributions it has made to religious life as
a whole. Perhaps it is the right moment to do so, just
because we inwardly stand apart from it and can therefore
look at it objectively.

What was the basis of this attitude? The answer has already
been indicated–the subjectivism and individualism of the
modern age.

Religion was considered as something which belonged to the
subjective sphere–it was simply something within a man, a
condition of his soul. We are not speaking of conscious
scientific theories, but of the spiritual tendency of the
age. Objective religion represented by the Church was for
the individual primarily the regulation of this individual
and subjective religion; a protection against its
inadequacies. That which remained over and above–the
objective religion in its disinterested sublimity, and the
community as a value in itself often left the individual
cold and aroused no response in his heart. Even the
acceptance and the enthusiasm which the Church evoked were
largely external and individualistic, and psychologically
had a strong affinity with the earlier “patriotism.” When we
look more closely we see that often enough there was no
genuine belief in the existence of objective religious
realities. This subjectivism dominated religious life all
through the second half of the nineteenth century and during
the beginning of the twentieth. Man felt imprisoned within
himself. That is why from Kant onwards, and particularly in
the more recent idealism, the problem of knowledge became so
urgent–indeed for many it constituted the whole of
philosophy! The man of this age considered the very
existence of an object as doubtful. He was not directly and
strongly conscious of the reality of things, at bottom
indeed not even of his own. Such intellectual systems as
consistent solipsism did not rest upon logical conclusions,
but were tentative interpretations of this personal
experience. It is impossible to explain on purely
intellectual grounds such philosophies as the new idealism
for which the subject is a mere logical entity. They arose
from the attempt to replace the objective reality of things,
which had become doubtful, by a logical reality. Thus
originated the conception of the a priori as having
objective validity logically, although its subjective
validity was only empirical; and the doctrine that
experience is based upon the subject and not upon the thing,
and similar forms of philosophic subjectivism. The primary
experience of reality was lacking. Sometimes this fact would
suddenly dawn upon a student of philosophy when a leading
representative of the new idealism declared, in a University
for example, that “Being” is a “value”! It would be
impossible to express more shortly or more bluntly how
impossible this attitude was, and how it could only have
originated in a profound spiritual impotence. Reality as
experienced had no longer any solidity or force. It was a
lifeless shadow. And in this philosophy did but translate
into its formulas and its idiom what all felt in one way or
another. In spite of the much vaunted “realism,” in spite of
natural science, technical achievement, and a realist
politics, man could not see the real object, the finished
article, nor even himself. He lived in an intermediate
sphere between being and nothingness, among concepts and
mechanisms among formulas and systems, which sought to
represent and control objects, but which were not even
coherent He lived in a world of abstract forms and symbols,
which was not linked up with the reality to which the
symbols referred. We are reminded of a wholesale
manufacturer, who knows exactly what workmen, officials,
buyers, and contractors he employs, and has particulars of
the whole in his register, including descriptions of all his
raw materials and goods, labeled in the most accurate
methods of physico-chemical research–but who knows nothing
of his employees as human beings, and has no innate feeling
for fine material or good work.

This attitude was also making its influence felt in the
religious sphere. Nothing which was not an immediate
experience or a logical datum had power to convince, was
accepted without further question. The individual was sure
only of that which he personally experienced, perceived, and
yearned for, and on the other hand of the concepts, ideas,
and postulates of his own thought. Consequently the Church
was of necessity experienced not as a self-justified
religious reality, but as the limiting value of the
subjective; not as a living body, but as a formal

Religious life was thus individualistic, disintegrated, and
unsocial. The individual lived for himself. “Myself and my
Creator” was for many the exclusive formula. The community
was not primary; it took the second place. It no longer was
a natural reality which existed from the first by its own
right. It had to be thought out, willed, and deliberately
set up. One individual, it was believed, approached another,
and went into partnership with him. But he was not from the
outset bound up with a group of his fellows, the member of
an organic community, sharing its common life. There was
indeed no community, merely a mechanical organization, and
this in the religious sphere as in every other. How little
in Divine worship were the faithful aware of themselves as a
community! How inwardly disintegrated the community was! How
little was the individual parishioner conscious of the
parish, and in how individualistic a spirit was the very
Sacrament of community–Communion–conceived!

This attitude was intensified by another factor–the
rationalistic temper of the age. That alone was admitted
which could be “comprehended” and “calculated.” The attempt
was made to substitute for the properties of things, as
given in indissoluble unity of the concrete object,
mathematically defined groups of relations; to replace life
by chemical formulas. Instead of the soul, people talked
about psychic processes. The living unity of personality was
viewed as a bundle of events and activities. The age was in
direct contact only with that which could be demonstrated by
experiment. That something lay behind what was perceptible
to the senses had first of all to be made credible by a
distinct process of reflection. Already the mysterious
depths of individual personality whatever moved and lived in
the soul, was being questioned. And the supra-personal unity
of the community was not seen at all. The community was
regarded as a mere aggregate of individuals, as an
organization of ends and means. Its mysterious substance,
its creative power and the organic laws governing communal
growth and development, remained inaccessible.

All this naturally exerted its influence upon men’s
conception of the Church. She appeared above all as a legal
institution for religious purposes. There was no limit
perception of the mystical element in her, everything in
fact which lies behind her palpable aims and visible
institutions, and is expressed by the concept of the kingdom
of God, the mystical Body of Christ.

* * * * *

This entire attitude, however, is now undergoing a profound
change. New forces are at work busy in those mysterious
depths of human nature where the intellectual and spiritual
movements which now shape the life of a human culture
receive their origin and direction. We are conscious of
reality as a primary fact. It is no longer something dubious
from which it is advisable to retreat upon the logical
validity which seems more solid and more secure. Reality is
as solid, indeed more solid, because prior, richer and more
comprehensive. Proofs are accumulating that people are
willing to accept concrete reality as the one self-evident
fact, and to base abstract truth upon it. We need not be
astonished at this new Nominalism. The consciousness of
reality has burst upon mankind which the force of a new and
a personal experience. Our age is literally rediscovering
that things exist, and moreover with an individuality
incalculable, because creative and original. The concrete,
in its boundless fullness, is being once more experienced,
and the happiness of being able to venture oneself to it and
enter into it. It is experienced as freedom and wealth–I am
real, and so also is this thing which confronts one in its
self-determined abundance! And thought is a living relation
between myself and it–perhaps, who knows, also between it
and myself? Action is a real communication with it. Life is
a real self-development, a progress among things, a
communion with realities, a mutual give and take. That
extreme critical aloofness which was formerly considered the
acme of rationality, is becoming more and more
incomprehensible to us, a stupefying dream, which imprisoned
man in an empty, dead world of concepts, cut off from the
luxuriant life of the real world. Modern idealism–against
which the assaults of logic were so long delivered in vain,
because the foundation of the system was not proof, but a
dogmatic foundation of the mental attitude of the entire
age–no longer needs to be refuted. The bottom has fallen
out of it. Its spell is broken, and we ask ourselves how it
is that we endured it so long. A great awakening to reality
is in progress.

And it is an awakening moreover to metaphysical reality. I
do not believe that any man who is not tenaciously
persisting, is not clinging to an attitude adopted long
before, any man who is living in the age or even in advance
of it, any longer seriously doubts the reality of the soul.
Already there has been talk of a “world of spiritual
objects,” that is to say, the psychic is experienced as
sufficiently real to necessitate our acceptance of an entire
order of being beyond the sensible. The more difficult task
for the scientist is now to make the transition from the
former denial, which had become a scientific article of
faith, to the inevitable admission of the self-evident fact
that the soul exists. And the existence of God is equally
self-evident. Spiritualism and anthroposophy–in themselves
so unsatisfactory–prove how powerful the consciousness of
metaphysical reality has already become. In the face of such
movements we find ourselves obliged to defend the pure
spirituality of God and of the soul, while upholding the
reality in their own order of empirical objects. And the
revival of a Platonic type of thought points in the same
direction. Spiritual forms are again viewed as metaphysical
forces, and no longer as merely involved in the logical
structure of consciousness. And many other signs of the same
tendency could be adduced.

Community is admitted just as directly. The attitude of
withdrawal into the barred fortress of self no longer
passes, as it did twenty years ago, for the only noble
attitude. On the contrary, it is regarded as unjustifiable,
barren and impotent. Just as powerful as the experience that
things exist and the world exists, is the experience that
human beings exist. Indeed, the latter is by far more
powerful, because it affects us more closely. There are
human beings like myself. Each one is akin to me, but each
one is also a separate world of his own, of unique value.
And from this realization springs the passionate conviction
that we all belong one to another; are all brothers. It is
now taken as self-evident that the individual is a member of
the community. The latter does not originate through one man
attaching himself to another, or renouncing part of his
independence. The community is just as primary a fact as
individual existence. And the task of building up the
community is just as primary and fundamental as that of
perfecting personality.

And this consciousness of interdependence assures a most
significant expression; it develops into the consciousness
of nationality. “The people” does not mean the masses, or
the uncultured, or the “primitives,” whose mental and
spiritual life, and whose system of facts and values are as
yet undeveloped. All these uses of the term derive from the
ideas of liberalism, the “Aufklarung” and individualism. An
entirely new note is now being sounded; something essential
is being born. “The people” is the primary association of
those human beings who by race, country, and historical
antecedents share the same life and destiny. The people is a
human society which maintains an unbroken continuity with
the roots of nature and life, and obeys their intrinsic
laws. The people contains–not numerically or
quantitatively, but in essential quality–the whole of
mankind, in all its human variety of ages, sexes,
temperament, mental and physical condition; to which we must
add the sum total of its work and spheres of production as
determined by class and vocation. The people is mankind in
its radical comprehensiveness. And a man is of “the people”
if he embraces, so to speak, this whole within himself. His
opposite number is the “cultured” man. He is not the people,
developed and intellectualized, but a malformation, a one-
sided, debased and uprooted being. He is a product of
humanism, and above all of the “Aufklarung.” He is a human
type which has cut itself adrift from the ties which make
man’s physical and mental life organic. He has fallen away
on the one hand into a world of abstraction, on the other
into the purely physical sphere; from union with nature into
the purely scholastic and artificial; from the community
into isolation. His deepest longing should be to become once
more one of the people; not indeed by romantic attempts to
conform with popular ideas and customs, but by a renewal of
his inmost spirit by a progressive return to a simple and
complete life. The Youth movement is an attempt in this

And already a new reality is beginning to appear above the
horizon. Here also the use of the word needs to be purified.
It need not denote the rationalist conception of “humanity,”
but the living unity of the human race, of blood, destiny,
responsibility, and labor; that solidarity which is
postulated by the dogma of original sin and vicarious
redemption, mysteries which no rationalist can understand.

The individual self is conscious of enrichment not only by
the experience of real things, but also by the community,
which expands its self-consciousness into a consciousness of
a communal self. By direct sympathy, what belongs to another
becomes mine own, and what belongs to me becomes his.

The fully-formed community owes its existence to a
combination between the awareness of objective reality and
the communal consciousness. Law, justice, and the order of
society are seen to be the forms by which the community
exists and operates and maintains the ground of its
stability. They are not limitations of life, but its
presuppositions. They do not petrify it, but give it force
and enable it to energize. They, of course, in turn, must be
really genuinely alive. And profound changes will occur in
the Social Structure, legal changes for example, as soon as
the realization becomes more general that a matured national
community needs not an individualistic but a communal system
of public law; not a system of abstract principles existing
merely upon paper, but a system shaped by the vital growth
of the community; that its constitution cannot be the
product of abstract reasoning but must grow out of the real
being and life of this people.[3]

In like manner the stream of life has burst its dams. Side
by side with reason and on an equal footing with it stand
the will, creative power and feeling. Being is given equal
importance with doing, indeed greater. Development and
growth rank with or above action; personality whose very
reality was once called in question is accepted as the most
obvious or familiar object of experience. Its
incomprehensibility is a datum as primary as the logical
comprehensibility of its abstract concept. And the problem
to be solved is that of the relations between concept and
intuition, theory and experience, being and action, form and
life; the way in which one depends for its existence upon
the other, and unity is achieved by the conjunction of all
these factors.

This life is also stirring in our consciousness of the
community. We are as immediately and acutely conscious of
the communal life bearing us on its current, of those
creative depths from which the being and work of the
community arise, as we are of the form it assumes and the
logic that form expresses. A biology and, moreover, an
ontology of the community are being disclosed–laws of its
physical and mental nature, its organic rhythm and the vital
conditions which determine its growth, usages and culture;
the essential significance of its moral phenomena; the
nature of such institutions as the family, the township the
State, law and property.

* * * * *

Those revolutionary changes must necessarily have their
repercussions in the religious community. The reality of
things, the reality of the soul and the reality of God,
confront us with a new impressiveness. The religious life
alike in its object, content and development is reality; the
relation between the living soul and the living God; a real
life directed towards Him. It is neither mere emotion nor
mere theory; it is imitation, obedience, receiving and
giving.[4] In the Youth movement in which the springs of the
new age must be sought, the fundamental question is no
longer “Does God exist?” but “What is He like? Where shall I
find Him? How do I stand towards Him? How can I reach Him?”
It is not “Should we pray?” but “How should we pray?” not
“Is asceticism necessary?” but “What kind of asceticism?”

In this religious relation our fellow men have a vital part.
The religious community exists. Nor is it a collection of
self-contained individuals, but the reality which
comprehends individuals–the Church. She embraces the
people; she embraces mankind. She draws even things, indeed
the whole world, into herself. Thus the Church is regaining
that cosmic spaciousness which was hers during the early
centuries and the Middle Ages. The conception of the Church
as the “Corpus Christi mysticum,” which is developed in the
Epistles of St. Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians, is
acquiring a wholly new power. Under Christ the Head the
Church gathers together “all which is in Heaven, on earth,
and under the earth.” In the Church everything–angels, men
and things–are linked with God. In her the great
regeneration is already beginning for which the entire
creation “groaneth and is in travail.”

This unity is not a chaotic experience; it is no mere
outburst of emotion. We are concerned with a community
formed and fashioned by dogma, canon law, and ritual. It is
not merely a society, but a religious community; not a
religious movement, but the very life of the Church; not a
spiritual romanticism, but her existence.

This consciousness of the community is, however, caught up
and permeated by the consciousness of a supernatural life.
As in the sphere of natural psychology “life,” which is at
once so mysterious, yet so completely evident, is everywhere
finding recognition, so it is in the supernatural sphere.
Grace is real life; religious activity is the development of
a higher vitality; the community is participation in a
common life, and all forms are forms of life.

And if in the natural sphere we have acquired a clear vision
for the structural laws and the organic purpose of life; if
we have discovered how one thing fits another and where
man’s intellectual objectives lie; if consciousness of the
organic is everywhere awakened, the same thing is occurring
here. The profound formulas of theology once more reveal
their inexhaustible significance for the spiritual life of
every day. Our life, whether the life of the individual, or
the life of the Church, is “in Christ, through the Holy
Ghost, to the Father.” The Father is the Goal, and to Him
the great and final Object, is focused the vision which
alone gives our religion a fixed aim.[5] He is the sublimest
and all-embracing sovereign power, and the wisdom which
pervades the world, the sublimity which lifts us from narrow
ways. The Son is the Way, as He Himself has told us. By His
Word, by His life, and by His whole Being He reveals the
Father and leads us to Him: “No man cometh to the Father but
by me.” He who acknowledges Christ, he who “seeth” Him,
“seeth the Father also.” In proportion as we become one with
Christ we approach the Father more closely. And the Holy
Ghost, the Spirit of Jesus, is the Leader, and shows us the
way. He bestows Christ’s grace, teaches Christ’s truth, and
makes Christ’s ordinances operative. This is the law
governing the organization of Christian life–the law of the
Blessed Trinity. Only where order is, God is. The Father has
sent the Son, and He has sent the Holy Ghost from the
Father. In the Church we become one with the Holy Ghost; He
unites us with the Son, “and he will surely take of his own
and give to us.” And in Christ we come back to the Father.

* * * * *

An event of tremendous importance has happened. The
religious life no longer rises solely in the self, but at
the same time at the opposite pole, in the objective and
already formed community. There also life originates and is
thus a reciprocal movement between these two poles. It is
once more what of its very nature it should be, a phenomenon
of tension, an arc of flame. And it is full and free only
when its process is an arc rising from two extremities. The
objective is no longer merely the boundary of the subject to
which religion in the strict sense is confined. It is an
essential factor of the religious life, given from the very
outset. It is the presupposition and content of religion.

The religious life is being released from its fatal
confinement within the subject, and draws into itself the
entire fullness of objective reality. As once in the Middle
Ages, all things are re-entering the religious sphere, and
moreover with a religious coloring and as religious values.
The rest of mankind and the things of this world once more
are invested with a religious atmosphere and a profound
religious significance. As a result the feeling for
symbolism is coming back; concrete objects once more become
the vehicles and expressions of spiritual reality. We
understand how every department of a real world could find a
place in the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, in its “Summas,”
universal histories, encyclopedias and cycles of legend, and
moreover not as an incongruous accessory, not as an allegory
stuck on from without, but filled with religious content and
itself invested with a spiritual character. Many signs point
towards the re-emergence of a religious world. This,
however, is the Church, which gathers together under one
head “what is in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth.”
The moment seems near for a genuine religious art, which
will not be content to depict religious subjects with an
unconsecrated brush, but will see the whole world
spiritually as a vast kingdom of realities, comprising good
and evil powers,[6] and in which the Kingdom of God is taken
by storm.

All this, however, can be summed up in one word–“the
Church.” That stupendous Fact that is the Church is once
more becoming a living reality, and we understand that she
truly is the One and the All. We dimly guess something of
the passion with which great saints clung to her and fought
for her. In the past their words may sometimes have sounded
empty phrases. But now a light is breaking! The thinker,
with rapture of spirit, will perceive in the Church the
ultimate and vast synthesis of all realities. The artist,
with a force that moves his heart to the depths, will
experience in the Church the overwhelming transformation,
the exquisite refinement, and the sublime transfiguration of
all reality by a sovereign radiance and beauty. The man of
moral endeavor will see in her the fullness of living
perfection, in which all man’s capacities are awakened and
sanctified in Christ; the power which contrasts
uncompromisingly Yea and Nay, and demands a decision between
them; the determined fight for God’s Kingdom against evil.
To the politician–forget, reader, the ugliness which is
usually implied by the term; it can bear a noble sense–she
is revealed as that supreme order in which every living
thing finds its fulfillment and realizes the entire
significance of its individual being. It achieves this in
relation to beings and the whole, and precisely in virtue of
its unique individual quality combines with its fellows to
build up the great “Civitas,” in which every force and
individual peculiarity are alive, but at the same time are
disciplined by the vast cosmic order which comes from God,
the Three in One. To the man of social temper she offers the
experience of an unreserved sharing, in which all belongs to
all, and all are one in God, so completely that it would be
impossible to conceive a profounder unity.

All this, however, must not be confined to books and speech,
but must be put with effect where the Church touches the
individual most closely–in the parish. If the process known
as the “Church movement” makes progress, it is bound to lead
to a renewal of parochial consciousness. This is the
appointed way in which the Church must become an object of
personal experience. The measure of the individual’s true–
not merely verbal–loyalty to the Church lies in the extent
to which he lives with her, knows that he is jointly
responsible for her, and works for her. And conversely the
various manifestations of parish life must in turn be such
that the individual is able to behave in this way. Hitherto
parish life itself has been deeply tainted by that
individualistic spirit of which we have spoken above. How,
indeed, could it have been otherwise?

And confirmation is the Sacrament by which the Christian
comes into full relation with the Church. By Baptism he
becomes a member of the Church, but by Confirmation he
becomes one of her citizens, and receives the commission and
the power to take to himself the fullness of the Church’s
life, and himself to exercise–in the degree and manner
compatible with his position as a layman–the “royal
priesthood of the holy people.”

* * * * *

It is in the light of what has already been said that we can
understand the liturgical movement. This is a particular
powerful current and one more exceptionally visible from
outside than within the “Church movement”; indeed, it is the
latter in its contemplative aspect. Through it the Church
enters the life of prayer as a religious reality and the
life of the individual becomes an integral part of the life
of the Church.

Here the individual is as one of the people, not a member of
an esoteric group of artists and writers, as, for instance,
in the books of J. K. Huysmans, but essentially one of the
people. That is to say, he is comprised in the unity which
finds room at the same time for the average man and the most
extraordinary possibilities of heroism, the unity which
comprises both the surface and the deepest roots of
humanity, hard, every-day common sense and profound
mysticism, which can even include crude popular beliefs
which verge on superstition: and which is nevertheless alone
competent to judge the realities of life and of the Church
because it alone really faces life–its possibilities of
development hampered in innumerable respects by poverty and
narrow surroundings, and yet, as a whole, the sole complete
humanity. The liturgy is essentially not the religion of the
cultured, but the religion of the people (cf. p. 19). If the
people are rightly instructed, and the liturgy properly
carried out, they display a simple and profound
understanding of it. For the people do not analyze concepts,
but contemplate. The people possess that inner integrity of
being which corresponds perfectly with the symbolism of the
liturgical language, imagery, action, and ornaments. The
cultured man has first of all to accustom himself to this
attitude; but to the people it has always been inconceivable
that religion should express itself by abstract ideas and
logical developments, and not by being and action, by
imagery and ritual.

The liturgy is throughout reality. It is this which
distinguishes it from all purely intellectual or emotional
piety, from rationalism and religious romanticism. In it man
is confronted with physical realities–men, things,
ceremonies, ornaments–and with metaphysical realities-a
real Christ, real grace. The liturgy is not merely thought,
nor is it merely emotion; it is first and foremost
development, growth, ripening, being. The liturgy is a
process of fulfillment, a growth to maturity. The whole of
nature must be evoked by the liturgy, and as the liturgy
seized by grace must take hold of it all, refine and glorify
it in the likeness of Christ, through the all-embracing and
ardent love of the Holy Ghost for the glory of the Father,
whose sovereign Majesty draws all things to Itself.

Thus the liturgy embraces everything in existence, angels,
men and things; all the content and events of life; in
short, the whole of reality. And natural reality is here
made subject to supernatural; created reality related to the

This full reality is shaped by the constructive laws of the
Church–by dogma, the law of truth; by ritual, the law of
worship; and by canon law, the law of order.

The growth itself does not take place according to a program
or regulations carefully thought out, but as all life grows-
-rhythmically. But we cannot develop this point further now.
What proportion and equilibrium are in spatial construction,
rhythm is in sequence–systematic repetition in change, so
that the following step repeats the previous one, but at the
same time goes beyond it. In this way life grows to its
fullness and the transformation of the soul is accomplished.
The liturgy is a unique rhythm. Incalculable discoveries
still await us in this field. What the Middle Ages
experienced as a matter of course, what is already contained
in the Church’s rubrics, but which has vanished from the
consciousness of religious people, must be rediscovered.

Its substance, however, is the life of Christ. What He was
and did lives again as mystical reality. His life, infused
into those rhythms and symbols, is renewed in the changing
seasons of the Church’s year, and in the perpetual identity
of Sacrifice and Sacrament. This process is the organic law
by which the believer grows “unto the measure of the age of
the fullness of Christ.” Living by the liturgy does not mean
the cultivation of literary tastes and fancies, but self-
subjection to the order established by the Holy Ghost
Himself; it means being led by the rule and love of the Holy
Ghost to a life in Christ and in Him for the Father.

We have yet to realize what constant discipline, what a
profound fashioning, and training of the inner life, this
demands. When we do, no one will any longer regard the
liturgy as mere a aestheticism.

Creation as a whole embraced in the relation with God
established by prayer; the fullness of nature, evoked and
transfigured by the fullness of grace, organized by the
organic law of the Triune God, and steadily growing
according to a rhythm perfectly simple yet infinitely rich;
the vessel and expression of the life of Christ and the
Christian–this is the liturgy. The liturgy is creation,
redeemed and at prayer, because it is the Church at prayer.

At Pentecost, when the fullness of the Spirit came upon the
Apostles, all those tongues were not sufficient to declare
the “wonderful works of God.”

It often seems as though a breath from that mighty tempest
is stirring in our own time! Our Religion rises before us as
a shape so majestic that it leaves us breathless.

But why do I speak of religion? Did the primitive Christians
or the Middle Ages talk about “Religion” as we use the word?
Is there such a thing as “religion” for the Catholic? He is
a child of the living God, and a member of the living


1. This and the remarks which follow are intended merely to
describe how people felt and what consciousness was theirs.
It is not concerned with the essence and significance of the
Church herself.

2. Naturally much in this individualism is necessary and
true. These criticisms are directed solely against a false
one-sidedness which impoverishes human life; against
subjectivism, not against the subjective. This will be
obvious from all that follows.

3. At this point the real meaning of politics becomes clear.
It is no technique of deceit, lying and violence. But it
means the noble art which accepts all the concrete phenomena
of life, races, classes, and without violating their
distinctive characters finds room for all, but in such a
fashion that their combined life and functions build up a
powerful and richly endowed society. Here moral and
educational problems intervene which, to the best of my
knowledge, hardly anyone with the exception of F.W. Foerster
has seriously tackled.

4. The constant repetition of the idea of “realization” in
the writings of Newman, who experienced the individualistic
crisis so intensely, is most significant. By this he means
the transforming of an object from a purely verbal and
conceptual entity into an experience, in which it is
apprehended as a reality. This will in turn make our lives

5. Because this had been widely forgotten, it was possible
for Harnack to present the message of the Father in so one-
sided a manner as the content of the work of Christ, that it
became, so to speak, colored with Protestantism. Every page
of the Breviary, every prayer of the Mass loudly proclaims
that the aim and aspiration of our whole life is directed to
the Father.

6. For belief in that which is opposed to God is also
religious. Only coldness and intellectual pride are
irreligious. He who believes in the devil as a reality, by
so doing believes in God also.


IF the first lecture has fulfilled its object, it has
displayed the spiritual environment in which the Church
appears before us to-day. We have seen how as the Church
grows in strength a process develops which embraces our
entire spiritual life. And now we have to inquire, what is
the meaning of this Church, which rises before us in such

This is the object which we must keep in view. We shall not
attempt to prove that the Church is true; we shall take
belief in her divinity for granted. But when a scientific
investigator has established the existence, in a given part
of the body, of a particular organ, formed in a particular
manner, he proceeds to investigate its significance for the
life of the organism. In the same way we shall seek to
discover what is the Church’s significance for the religious
life as a whole. This is the sense of our question. We
shall, it is true, considerably limit the scope of our
question. For we shall leave out of account the primary and
deepest meaning of the Church, which is that she is God’s
spiritual universe, His self-revelation and the
manifestation of His glory. We shall consider only its other
aspect. This concerns the Church in her relation to man’s
existence and salvation, and her significance for the men
who are her members. But we must make a further restriction.
We must leave mankind out of account and concentrate wholly
upon personality. That is to say, we shall inquire what is
the Church’s significance for the personal being and life of
the man who makes his membership a living reality, for whom
the Church is his very life.

* * * * *

What is the Church? She is the Kingdom of God in mankind.
The Kingdom of God–it is the epitome of Christianity. All
that Christ was, all that He taught, did, created, and
suffered, is contained in these words–He has established
the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God means that the
Creator takes possession of His creature, penetrates it with
His light; He fills its will and heart with His own burning
love and the root of its being with His own divine peace,
and He molds the entire spirit by the creative power which
imposes a new form upon it. The Kingdom of God means that
God draws His creature to Himself, and makes it capable of
receiving His own fullness; and that He bestows upon it the
longing and the power to possess Him. It means–alas, the
words are blunted by repetition and our hearts are so dull,
or they would catch fire at the thought!–that the boundless
fecundity of the divine Love seizes the creature and brings
it to that second birth whereby it shares God’s own nature
and lives with a new life which springs from Himself. In
that rebirth the Father makes it His child in Christ Jesus
through the Holy Ghost.

This union of man with God is God’s Kingdom. In it man
belongs to His Creator, and his Creator belongs to Him. Much
more of profound significance could be said about this
mystery, but we must be content with these few words.

This elevation of the creature is not a natural event but
God’s free act. It is bound up with the historical
personality of Jesus of Nazareth, and with the work which He
accomplished at a particular period of history. Nor is it a
natural process, but an operation of Grace, exceeding all
the forces of nature.

Let us examine it more closely. From the standpoint of God,
it is something quite simple. But in the creature it
develops to its maturity according to the forms and laws
which God has established in the Spirit of man.

God’s Kingdom resides in mankind. God takes possession of
mankind as such, of the unity, welded by all the biological,
geographical, cultural and social ties which bind one human
being to others; that mysterious unity which, though
composed entirely of individuals, is more than their sum
total. If this whole is to be laid hold upon by God, it is
not necessary that all men should be numerically included in
it. It is sufficient that God’s grace should take hold of
the community as such, that something which transcends the
individual. This, however, can be accomplished in a small
representative group. The little flock at Pentecost was
already “mankind,” because it was an objective community, of
which the individual was a member; it was in a condition to
expand, until it slowly included everything, as the mustard
seed becomes the tree in which “the birds of the
air…dwell.” That is to say we are concerned with a line of
force, the direction along which the divine Action operates.
God takes possession of men, in so far as a man reaches out
above his natural grasp; inasmuch as men belong to a supra-
personal unity, and are, or are capable of becoming, members
of a community.

In so far, therefore, as God’s remodeling and uplifting
power is directed towards the community as such, the Church
comes into being. The Church is the Kingdom in its supra-
personal aspect; the human community, reborn into God’s
Kingdom. The individual is “the Church,” in so far as the
aim of his life is to assist the building up of the
community, and he is a member, a cell of it. This, however,
is the case in so far as he is employing those capacities of
his being which have a more than merely individual reference
and are ordained to the service of the whole, which work for
it, give to it and receive from it. The Church is the supra-
personal, objective aspect of the Kingdom of God–although
of course she consists of individual persons.[1]

The Kingdom of God, however, has a subjective side as well.
That is the individual soul, as God’s grace takes possession
of it in that private and unique individuality by which it
exists for itself. The Church embraces a man as he reaches
out beyond himself to his fellows, capable and desirous of
forming in conjunction with them a community of which he and
they are members. The individual personality, however, is
also based upon itself, like a globe which revolves around
its own axis. And as such, also God’s grace takes possession
of it. By this I do not mean that there exists in human
beings a sphere which lies outside the Church. That would be
too superficial a notion. It is truer to say that the whole
man is in the Church, with all that he is. Even in his most
individual aspect he is her member, although only in so far
as this individuality and its powers are directed to the
community. His whole being belongs to it; it is in its
social reference–his individuality as related to his
fellows and incorporated in the community. But the same
individuality has an opposite pole. His powers are also
directed inwards to build up a world in which he is alone
with himself. In this aspect also he is the subject of God’s

For God is the God of mankind as a whole. As such He is
concerned with the supra-personal, the community, and its
members jointly find in Him the social Deity of which human
society has need. But He is also the God of each individual.
This is indeed the supreme and fullest revelation of His
life–that for each individual He is “his God.” He is the
unique response to the unique need of every individual;
possessed by each in the unique manner which his unique
personality requires; belonging to him, as to no other
besides, in his unique nature. This is God’s Kingdom in the
soul, Christian personality.[3]

Clearly this Christian personality is not a sphere lying
outside the Church, or something opposed to her, but her
organic opposite pole, demanded by her very nature, and yet
at the same time determined by her.[4]

We have contrasted the Kingdom of God as the Church with the
Kingdom of God as personality. We were obliged to do so, in
order to grasp clearly the distinctions between them. But
the question at once arises, what is the relation between

We must reply at once and as emphatically as possible: they
are not two things separable from each other; not two
“Kingdoms.” They are aspects of the same basic reality of
the Christian life, the same fundamental mystery of grace.
There is only one Kingdom of God; only one divine possession
of man by the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Ghost. But
it develops along the two fundamental lines of all organic
development. And it manifests itself in accordance with the
two fundamental modes of human nature–in man as he is self-
contained and asserts himself as an individual, and in man
as he merges in the community which transcends his

The Kingdom of God is at once the Church and individual
personality, and it is both a priori and of its very
essence. It is definitively the Church; for the Church is
the transfiguration of man’s nature by grace, so far as he
is within the community. It is a kingdom of individual
personality in every believer. It is thus both the Church
and the individual Christian. They are not independent
spheres. Neither can be separated from the other, even if
each can be considered separately. On the contrary, of their
nature and a priori they are interrelated and

For the nature of the community as Catholicism understands
and realizes it, is not such that individual personality has
to struggle for self-preservation against it. It is not a
power which violates personal individuality, as Communism
does, or any other variety of the totalitarian state. On the
contrary, Catholic community presupposes from the outset and
requires the free individual personalities as its
components. In particular the Church is a community of
beings, which are not simply members and instruments of the
whole, but at the same time are microcosms revolving on
their own axes, that is, individual personalities. Mere
individuals can constitute only herds or human antheaps;
community is a mutual relationship of personalities. This is
an ethical requirement, for morality demands a free
intercourse. It also results from the very structure of
being, for it is only when units with their individual
centers, their own “modus operandi” and a life of their own,
come together, that there can arise that unity, unique in
its tension and flexibility, stable, yet rich in intrinsic
possibilities of development, which is termed a community.
(See below, pp. 44, 45.)

And Christian personality is not so constituted that it is
only as an afterthought associated with others to form a
community. Its membership of the community does not
originate in a concession made by one individual to another.
It is not the case that individuals by nature independent of
one another conclude a contract, by which each sacrifices a
part of his independence, that by this concession he may
save as much of it as possible. That is the view of society
held by individualism. Personality as Catholicism
understands it, looks in every direction, and thus a priori
and of its very nature is social, and man’s entire being
enters into society. A mere sum total of individuals can
produce only a crowd. If a large number join together merely
by a contract for some definite object, the sole bond which
constitutes their society will be this common purpose. A
genuine community on the contrary cannot be formed in this
way by individuals. It exists from the outset, and is a
supra-individual reality, however hard it may be to
comprehend from an intellectual conception of its nature.

It is this which fundamentally distinguishes the
relationship between the community and the individual as
Catholicism understands it from all one-sided conceptions of
it, such as Communism and the totalitarian state on the one
hand, and individualism or even anarchy on the other. It is
not based upon a one-sided psychology or a mental
construction, but on reality in its fullness. The Catholic’s
conception of personality differs from every type of
individualism essentially and not merely in degree. For the
same individual who is a self-centered unit is at the same
time conscious in his whole being, he is a member of the
community, in this case of the Church. And in the same way
the community is not a mere feeble social restriction or
state bondage, but something fundamentally different. It
differs as does living being with its innumerable aspects
from an artificial construction without flesh and blood For
the community realizes that it is made up of individuals;
each one of which constitutes a self-contained world and
possesses a unique character. This is a fundamental truth
which it is most important to understand thoroughly. Unless
it is grasped the Catholic view of the Church, indeed of
society as such, must be unintelligible. We must not get our
sociological principles either from Communism, State
Socialism, or individualism. For all these tear the living
whole to pieces to exaggerate one portion of it. All are
false and diseased. The Catholic conception of society and
of individual personality starts on the contrary–like all
Catholic teaching–not from isolated axioms or one-sided
psychological presuppositions, but from the integrity of
real life apprehended without prejudice. In virtue of his
nature man is both an individual person and a member of a
society. Nor do these two aspects of his being simply co-
exist. On the contrary, society exists already as a living
seed in man’s individuality, and the latter in turn is
necessarily presupposed by society as its foundation, though
without prejudice to the relative independence of both these
two primary forms of human life.

From this point of view also the Catholic type of humanity
is reappearing at the present day, and shaking off at last
the spell of State worship on the one hand, of a
disintegrating self-sufficiency on the other. Here, too, we
are again handling realities instead of words, and we
recognize organic relationships instead of being dominated
by abstract conceptions. It is for us to decide whether we
shall allow ourselves to be re-enslaved or remain conscious
of our mission to be true to the fundamental nature of
humanity and express it freely and faithfully in word and

The Church then is a society essentially bound up with
individual personality; and the individual life of the
Christian is of its very nature related to the community.
Both together are required for the perfect realization of
the Kingdom of God. An electric current is impossible,
without its two poles. And the one pole cannot exist, or
even be conceived, without the other. In the same way the
great fundamental Christian reality, the Kingdom of God, is
impossible, except as comprising both Church and individual
personality, each with its well-defined and distinctive
nature, but essentially related to the other. There would be
no church if its members were not at the same time mental
microcosms, each self-subsistent and alone with God. There
would be no Christian personality, if it did not at the same
time form part of the community, as its living member. The
soul elevated by grace is not something anterior to the
Church, as individuals originally isolated formed an
alliance. Those who hold this view have failed completely to
grasp the essence of Catholic personality. Nor does the
Church absorb the individual, so that his personality can be
realized only when he wrenches himself free from her. Those
who think this do not know what the Church is. When I affirm
the “Church,” I am at the same time affirming individual
“personality,” and when I speak of the interior life of the
Christian, I imply the life of the Christian community.

Even now, however, the mutual relationship has not been
fully stated. Both the Church and individual personality are
necessary. Both, moreover, exist from the first; for neither
can be traced back to the other. And if anyone should
attempt to ask which of the two is the more valuable in the
sight of God, he would see at once that it is a question
which cannot be asked. For Christ died for the Church, that
He might make her, by His Blood, “a glorious Church, not
having spot or wrinkle.” But He also died for every
individual soul. The state in its human weakness sacrifices
the individual to the society; God does not. The Church and
the individual personality–both, then, are equally
primordial, equally essential, equally valuable. Yet there
is a profound difference between these two expressions of
the Kingdom of God. Priority of rank belongs to the Church.
She has authority over the individual. He is subordinated to
her: his will to hers, his judgment to hers, and his
interests to hers. The Church is invested with the majesty
of God, and is the visible representative in face of the
individual and the sum total of individuals. She possesses–
within the limits imposed by her own nature and the nature
of individual personality–the power which God possesses
over the creature; she is authority. And, however aware the
individual may be of his direct relation to God, and as
God’s child know that he is emancipated from “tutors and
governors,” and that he enjoys personal communion with God,
he is notwithstanding subject to the Church as to God. “He
that heareth you, heareth me.” “Whatsoever thou shalt bind
upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven.”

It is a profound paradox which nevertheless is alone in
harmony with the nature of life, and, as soon as the mind’s
eye is focused steadily upon it, self-evident.

* * * * *

From all this one fact emerges. The personal life of the
Christian is engaged to its profoundest depth in the Church
and affected by her condition. And conversely the Church is
to an incalculable degree affected by the spiritual
condition of her members. What concerns the Church concerns
me. You see at once what this implies. It does not simply
mean that a child for instance will be badly taught if the
servant of the Church who has charge of his education is
inadequate to the task. On the contrary, between the
individual and the Church there is an organic solidarity of
the most intimate kind. The same Kingdom of God lives in the
Church and in the individual Catholic, The state of each is
correlative, as the surface of the water is determined by
the pipes which supply it. The individual can as little
dissociate himself from the state of the Church;–it would
be the illusion of individualism–as the individual cell can
dissociate itself from the state of health of the whole
body. And conversely it is of a matter of incalculable
concern for the Church whether the faithful are men and
women of strong and valuable personality, character. The
Church could never aim at a power, strength, and depth to be
achieved at the expense of the individual personality of her
members. For she would imperil the power, strength and depth
of her own life. This must not be misunderstood. The Church
does not depend for her existence and essential nature upon
the spiritual and moral condition of individuals. For, were
this the case, she would not be an objective reality. And
everything said hitherto has insisted upon her essential
objectivity. But in the concrete the abundance and
development of her life do depend in every age upon the
extent to which her individual members have become what God
intended them to be, developed personalities, each unique,
with a unique vocation and unique capacities to be
fulfilled. The relation between the Church and the
individual should never be understood as though either could
develop at the expense of the other. This misconception is
at the root of the un-Catholic attitude to this question,
whether in its Protestant or Byzantine form.

We are Catholic in so far as we grasp–or rather, for this
is insufficient–in so far as we live the fact, indeed feel
it as obvious in our very bones as something to be taken for
granted, that the purity, greatness, and strength of
individual personality and of the Church rise and fall

* * * * *

You now realize, I am sure, how very far short of this
Catholic frame of mind our ideas are, and even more our
deepest and most immediate feelings; how far the
contemporary tension between the community and the
individual has affected our view of the relation between the
Church and the individual, thereby imperiling its very

We are conscious of a tension between the Church and the
individual personality, and the most enthusiastic speeches
cannot abolish it. And it is not the tension of which we
have already spoken, the tension inherent in the nature of
their relationship, which is a source of health and life,
but an unnatural and destructive tension. In the Middle Ages
the objective reality of the Church, like that of society in
general, was directly experienced. The individual had been
integrated in the social organism in which he freely
developed his distinctive personality. At the Renaissance
the individual attained a critical self-consciousness, and
asserted his own independence at the expense of the
objective community. By so doing, however, he gradually lost
sight of his profound dependence upon the entire social
organism. Consequently the modern man’s consciousness of his
own personality is no longer healthy, no longer organically
bound up with the conscious life of the community. It has
overshot the mark, and detached itself from its organic
context. The individual cannot help feeling the Church to
be, with her claim to authority, a power hostile to himself.
But no hatred pierces deeper than that between complementary
forms of life, from which we may form some idea of what this
tension involves.

It will be the mission of the coming age once more to
envisage truly the relation between the Church and the
individual. If this is to be achieved, our conceptions of
society and individual personality must once more be
adequate. And self-consciousness and the sense of organic
life must again be brought into harmony, and the inherent
interdependence of the Church and the individual must again
be accepted as a self-evident truth. Every age has its
special task. And this is equally true of the development of
the religious life. To see how the Church and the individual
personality are mutually bound together; how they live the
one by the other; and how in this mutual relationship we
must seek the justification of ecclesiastical authority, and
to make this insight once more an integral part of our life
and consciousness is the fundamental achievement to which
our age is called.

If, however, we wish to succeed in this task, we must free
ourselves from the partial philosophies of the age such as
individualism, State Socialism, or Communism. Once more we
must be wholeheartedly Catholic. Our thought and feeling
must be determined by the essential nature of the Catholic
position, must proceed from that direct insight into the
center of reality which is the privilege of the genuine

Individual personality starves in a frigid isolation if it
is cut off from the living community, and the Church must
necessarily be intolerable to those who fail to see in her
the pre-condition of their most individual and personal
life; who view her only as a power which confronts them and
which, far from having any share in their most intimate,
vital purpose, actually threatens or represses it Man’s
living will cannot accept a Church so conceived. He must
either rise in revolt against her, or else submit to her as
the costly price of salvation. But the man whose eyes have
been opened to the meaning of the Church experiences a great
and liberating joy. For he sees that she is the living
presupposition of his own personal existence, the essential
path to his own perfection. And he is aware of profound
solidarity between his personal being and the Church; how
the one lives by the other and how the life of the one is
the strength of the other.

That we can love the Church is at once the supreme grace
which may be ours to-day, and the grace which we need most.
Men and women of the present generation cannot love the
Church merely because they were born of Catholic parents. We
are too conscious of our individual personality. Just as
little can that love be produced by the intoxication of
oratory and mass meetings. It is not only in the sphere of
civil life that such drugs have lost their efficacy. Nor can
vague sentiments give us that love; our generation is too
honest for that. One thing only can avail–a clear insight
into the nature and significance of the Church. We must
realize that, as Christians, our personality is achieved in
proportion as we are more closely incorporated into the
Church, and as the Church lives in us. When we address her,
we say with deep understanding not “thou” but “I.”

If I have really grasped these truths, I shall no longer
regard the Church as a spiritual police force, but blood of
my own blood, the life of whose abundance I live. I shall
see her as the all-embracing Kingdom of my God, and His
Kingdom in my soul as her living counterpart. Then will she
be my Mother and my Queen, the Bride of Christ. Then I can
love her! And only then can I find peace!

We shall not be at peace with the Church till we have
reached the point at which we can love her. Not till then. .
. .

* * * * *

May these lectures help a little towards this consummation.
But I must make one request–do not weigh words! A
particular word or proposition may well be distorted, and
even erroneous. It is not my purpose to offer you nicely-
calculated formulas, but something deeper–trust. You are, I
trust, listening to the underlying meaning I wish to convey,
and that in the light of the whole you will correct for
yourselves any verbal deficiencies or misstatements. In
short you will, I am sure, make of these lectures what all
speech and hearing, all writing and reading should be–a
joint intellectual creation.


1. We must, however, bear in mind the following
qualification. What we have said refers solely to that
aspect of the Church with which sociology can deal. What the
Church is–her actual essence–can never be conducted a
priori. There is no such thing as a philosophy of the Church
if it is understood to mean more than the consideration of
those social phenomena to be found in her, which are also to
be found in natural communities, and which reappear in the
Church simply because she is a community of human beings.
But in the Church these very phenomena differ from their
counterparts in all other societies. Even in her natural
aspect the Church is unique. And her essence, her
distinctively supernatural character is exclusively the
effect of a positive work of God, of the historical
personality of Christ and her historical institution through
Him. Only from revelation can we learn what the Church is in
her essence. We can never do more than describe her as that
community of faith and grace which Christ founded, and which
continues to live on in history as the Catholic Church, with
her distinctive and unique character. Only on this
presupposition are such books as Pilgram’s “Physiologie der
Kirche,” or Andre’s “Kirche als Keimzelle der
Weltvergottlichung” valuable, indeed, of very considerable

2. This is not a contradiction, but a contrast. One term of
a contradiction precludes the other–good and bad, yes and
no, for example, exclude each other. Every living thing,
however, is a unity of contrasts which are differentiated
from each other, yet postulate each other. The firm, yet
flexible, simple, yet creative, unity of the living organism
can only be grasped intellectually as a web of contrasts. I
hope to explain this point thoroughly in another book.

3. This word is not a good one. It is colored by the
associations of individualism, the doctrine of individual
autonomy and above all of pure ritualism. St. Paul certainly
would not have talked about “personality.” The notion of
Christian personality is as different from its philosophic
counterpart as the notion of the “Church,” Christ’s Church,
differs from that of the “Religious Society.” However, I
know of no better word; I use it, therefore, in the sense in
which Our Lord speaks of a “child of God,” and St. Paul, in
his Epistles, of the individual Christian as distinct from
the community.

4. This personal sphere has been detached from the religious
life as a whole by Protestantism and every other
individualistic system and developed in a one-sided manner.
Thus the direct communication between God and the redeemed,
who is, however, at the same time a member of the Church,
was perverted into the autonomy of a completely independent
and self-sufficient personality. And the healthy tension of
the relationship established by the very nature of its terms
was replaced by an unnatural constraint.


WE propose to consider the meaning of the Church. I have
already attempted to sketch it in general outline. For the
individual the Church is the living presupposition of his
personal perfection. She is the way to personality.[1] Before,
however, we go into details, allow me to make a preliminary
observation. When I tried to explain the Church’s
significance for individual personality, objections,
perhaps, came into your minds. Your inner glance saw many
defects confronting it. Your thoughts traveled back to many
personal disillusionments, and therefore you possibly felt
that what I said was untrue. You thought that what I said
was indeed true of the ideal, of a spiritual church, but
that the actual Church is not, and does not accomplish, what
I was maintaining. I owe you an answer to this objection.
Those who could speak of the meaning of the Church must also
speak of her defects. Even the Church cannot escape the
tragedy inherent in all things human, which arises from the
fact that infinite values are bound up with what is human
and consequently imperfect. Truth is bound up with human
understanding and teaching; the ideal of perfection with its
human presentation; the law and form of the community with
their human realization; grace, and even God Himself–
remember the Sacrifice of the Mass–bound up with actions
performed by men. The Infinitely Perfect blends with the
finite and imperfect. This, if we dare say it, is the
tragedy of the Eternal Himself, for He must submit Himself
to all this if He is to enter the sphere of humanity. And it
is the tragedy of man, for he is obliged to accept these
human defects, if he would attain the Eternal. All this is
as applicable to the Church, as to every institution that
exists among human beings. But in her case it has an
additional poignancy.

For the highest values are here involved. There is a
hierarchy of values, and the higher the value in question,
the more painfully will this tragic factor be felt. Here,
however, we are concerned with Holiness, with God’s Grace
and truth, with God Himself. And we are concerned with man’s
destiny which depends on this Divine Reality–the salvation
of his soul. That the State should be well ordered is, of
course, of great importance, and so is a well-constructed
system of the natural sciences; but in the last resort we
can dispense with both. But the values bound up with the
Church are as indispensable on the spiritual plane as food
in the physical order. Life itself depends upon them. My
salvation depends upon God; and I cannot dispense with that.
If, however, these supreme values, and consequently the
salvation of my soul, are thus intimately bound up with
human defects, it will affect me very differently from, for
instance, the wrecking of a sound political constitution
through party selfishness.

But there is a further consideration. Religion stands in a
unique relation to life. When we look more closely, we see
that it is itself life; indeed, it is fundamentally nothing
but that abundant life bestowed by God. Its effect,
therefore, is to arouse all vital forces and manifestations.
As the sun makes plants spring up, so religion awakens life.
Within its sphere everything, whether good or bad, is at the
highest tension. Goodness is glorified, but evil
intensified, if the will does not overcome it. The love of
power is oppressive in every sphere, but in the religious
most of all. Avarice is always destructive, but when it is
found in conjunction with religious values or in a religious
context, its effect is peculiarly disastrous. And when
sensuality invades religion, it becomes more stifling than
anywhere else. If all this is true, the human tragedy is
intensified in religion, since any shortcoming is here a
heavier burden and more painfully felt.

Yet a further point. In other human institutions the
realization of spiritual values is less rigid. They leave
men free to accept or refuse a particular embodiment. The
value represented by a well-ordered political system, for
instance, is indeed bound up with particular concrete
states. But every man is free to abandon any given state and
to attach himself to another, whenever he has serious
grounds for taking the step. In the Church, however, we must
acknowledge not simply the religious value in the abstract,
nor the mere fact that it is closely knit with the human
element, but that it is bound up with this, and only this
particular historic community. The concrete Church, as the
embodiment of the religious value. demands our allegiance.
And even so, we have not said enough. The truth of
Christianity does not consist of abstract tenets and values,
which are “attached to the Church.” The Truth on which my
salvation depends is a Fact, a concrete reality. Christ and
the Church are that truth. He said: “I am the truth.” The
Church, however, is His Body But if the Church is herself
Christ, mystically living on; herself the concrete life of
truth and the fullness of salvation wrought by the God-man;
and if the values of salvation cannot be detached from her
and sought elsewhere, but are once and for all embodied in
her as an historical reality, the tragedy will be
correspondingly painful, that this dispenser of salvation is
so intimately conjoined with human shortcomings.

Therefore, just because the Church is concerned with the
supreme values, with the salvation of the soul, because
religion focuses the forces of life and thus fosters
everything human, both good and bad, because we are here
confronted with an historical reality which as such binds us
and claims our allegiance, the tragedy of the Church is so
intense. So intense is it that we can understand that
profound sadness which broods over great spirits. It is the
“tristezza cosi perenne,” which is never dispelled on earth,
for its source is never dry. Indeed, the purer the soul, the
clearer its vision, and the greater its love for the Church,
the more profound will that sorrow be.

This tragedy is an integral part of the Church’s nature,
rooted in her very essence, because “the Church” means that
God has entered human history; that Christ, in His nature,
power and truth, continues to live in her with a mystical
life. It will cease only in Heaven, when the Church militant
has become the Church glorified. And even there? What are we
to say of the fact that a particular man who should have
become a saint and who could have attained the full
possession of God, has not done so? And who will dare to say
that he has fully realized all he might have been? We are
confronted here by one of those ultimate enigmas before
which human thought is impotent. Nothing remains but to turn
to a Power which is bound by no limits, and whose creative
might “calleth those things that are not, as those that
are”–the Divine Love. Perhaps the tragedy of mankind will
prove the opportunity for that love to effect an
inconceivable victory in which all human shortcomings will
be swallowed up. It has already made it possible for us to
call Adam’s fault “blessed.” That the love of God exceeds
all bounds and surpasses all justice is the substance of our
Christian hope. But for this very reason what we have
already said remains true.

To be a Catholic, however, is to accept the Church as he is,
together with her tragedy. For the Catholic Christian this
acceptance follows from his fundamental assent to the whole
of reality. He cannot withdraw into the sphere of pure
ideas, feelings, and personal experience. Then, indeed, no
“compromises” would be any longer required. But the real
world would be left to itself, that is, far from God. He may
have to bear the reproach that he has fettered the pure
Christianity of the Gospel in human power and secular
organization, that he has turned it into a legal religion on
the Roman model, a religion of earthly ambitions, has
lowered its loftiest standards addressed to a spiritual
elite to the capacity of the average man, or however the
same charge may be expressed. In fact he has simply been
faithful to the stern duty imposed by the real world. He has
preferred to renounce a beautiful romanticism of ideals,
noble principles and beautiful experiences rather than
forget the purpose of Christ–to win reality, with all that
the word implies, for the Kingdom of God.

Paradoxical as it may seem, imperfection belongs to the very
essence of the Church on earth, the Church as an historical
fact. And we may not appeal from the visible Church to the
ideal of the Church. We may certainly measure her actual
state by what she should become, and may do our best to
remove her imperfections. The priest is indeed bound to this
task by his ordination, the layman by Confirmation. But we
must always accept the real Church as she actually is, place
ourselves within her, and make her our starting point.

This, of course, presupposes that we have the courage to
endure a state of permanent dissatisfaction. The more deeply
a man realizes what God is, the loftier his vision of Christ
and His Kingdom, the more keenly will he suffer from the
imperfection of the Church. That is the profound sorrow
which lives in the souls of all great Christians, beneath
all the joyousness of a child of God. But the Catholic must
not shirk it. There is no place for a Church of aesthetes,
an artificial construction of philosophers, or congregation
of the millennium. The Church man needs is a church of human
beings; divine, certainly, but including everything that
goes to make up humanity, Spirit and flesh, indeed earth.
For “the Word was made Flesh,” and the Church is simply
Christ, living on, as the content and form of the society He
founded. We have, however, the promise that the wheat will
never be choked by the tares.

Christ lives on in the Church, but Christ Crucified. One
might almost venture to suggest that the defects of the
Church are His Cross. The entire Being of the mystical
Christ–His truth, His holiness, His grace, and His adorable
person–are nailed to them, as once His physical Body to the
wood of the Cross. And he who will have Christ, must take
His Cross as well. We cannot separate Him from it.

I have already pointed out that we shall only have the right
attitude towards the Church’s imperfections when we grasp
their purpose. It is perhaps this–they are permitted to
crucify our faith, so that we may sincerely seek God and our
salvation, not ourselves. And that is the reason why they
are present in every age. There are those indeed who tell us
that the Early Church was ideal. Read the sixth chapter of
the Acts of the Apostles. Our Lord had scarcely ascended to
Heaven when dissension broke out in the primitive community.
And why? The converts from paganism thought that the Jewish
Christians received a larger share than they in the
distribution of food and money. This surely was a shocking
state of affairs? In the community through which the floods
of the Spirit still flowed from the Pentecostal outpouring?
But everything recorded in Holy Scripture is recorded for a
purpose. What should we become if human frailties actually
disappeared from the Church? We should probably become
proud, selfish and arrogant; aesthetes and reformers of the
world. Our belief would no longer spring from the only right
motives, to find God and secure eternal happiness for our
souls. Instead, we should be Catholics to build up a
culture, to enjoy a sublime spirituality, to lead a life
full of intellectual beauty. The defects of the Church make
any such thing impossible. They are the Cross. They purify
our faith.

Moreover, such an attitude is at bottom the only
constructive type of criticism, because it is based on
affirmation. The man who desires to improve a human being
must begin by appreciating him. This preliminary
acknowledgment will arouse all his capacities of good and
their operation will transform his faults from within.
Negative criticism, on the contrary, is content to point out
defects. It thus of necessity becomes unjust and puts the
person blamed on the defensive. His self-respect and
justifiable self-defense ally themselves with his faults and
throw their mantle over them. If, however, we begin by
accepting the man as a whole and emphasize the good in him,
all his capacities of goodness, called forth by love, will
be aroused and he will endeavor to become worthy of our
approval. The seed has been sown, and a living growth begun
which cannot be stayed.

We must, therefore, love the Church as she is. Only so do we
truly love her. He alone genuinely loves his friend who
loves him as he is, even when he condemns his faults and
tries to reform them. In the same way we must accept the
Church as she is, and maintain this attitude in everyday
life. To be sure we must not let our vision of her failings
become obscured, least of all by the artificial enthusiasm
aroused by public meetings or newspaper articles. But we
must always see through and beyond these defects her
essential nature. We must be convinced of her
indestructibility and at the same time resolved to do
everything that lies in our power, each in his own way and
to the extent of his responsibility, to bring her closer to
her ideal. This is the Catholic attitude towards the Church.

My introduction has been lengthy. But it was important; so
important indeed that I believe that what follows will seem
true to you, only in proportion to your agreement with what
has been said hitherto.

We saw in the last lecture that the problem we have to face
is not the alternative “the Church or the individual?” It
concerns rather the relation between these two realities. In
theory our aim must be a harmony between the two in which of
course the precedence of the Church is fully safeguarded.
But the intellectual and spiritual current of a period
always flows in a particular direction. Harmonious syntheses
are achieved only in brief periods of transition between two
different epochs, for example when an age whose outlook is
extremely objective and in which the social sense is
powerfully developed is yielding to an epoch of
individualism. Soon, however, one tendency predominates, and
moreover, that which is Opposite to the former. The Catholic
attitude does not preclude the emphasis being laid on one
aspect, otherwise it would be condemned to a monotonous
uniformity and would deprive man of history. It demands only
that the other aspect shall not be rejected, and coherence
with the whole be preserved. That is to say, a particular
aspect brought into prominence by the historical situation
is emphasized, but is at the same time brought into a vital
and organic relationship with the whole. A door is left open
to the particular disposition of the historical present, but
it is attached to the whole, which always in a sense
transcends history. This whole is less actual, but in return
it partakes of eternity. It is less progressive, but instead
wise, and in the depths is alone in accordance with reality.

Our age is in process of passing from the individualistic
and subjective to the social and objective. A stronger
emphasis will therefore be laid on the Church. And these
lectures will do the same. They will inquire how individual
personality, by surrender to the Church, becomes what it
should be. My lecture to-day will show how the Church is the
way to individual personality. And I shall proceed from the
fact that the Church is the spiritual locality where the
individual finds himself face to face with the Absolute; the
power that effects and maintains this confrontation.

* * * * *

Let us try to realize how deeply we are sunk in relativism,
that is, the attitude of mind which either denies an
Absolute altogether, or at any rate tries to restrict it
within the narrowest limits.

We have lived through the collapse of an edifice which we
expected to endure for an incalculable period of time, the
collapse of the political structure of our country and its
power, of the social and economic order existing hitherto,
and with it of much besides. We can watch the social sense
changing. And our mental attitude towards objects and life
in general is equally changing. These changes go too deep to
be dismissed with a few words. Artistic vision has changed;
the expressionism, which had gradually become familiar, is
already yielding, and the desire is springing up for a new
classicism. A scientific and philosophical view of the
universe is forming, which strives to attain a loftier and a
freer understanding of objects in accordance with their
essential nature.

Faced with these profound changes we become rather more
acutely conscious of what in truth is always happening–that
the attitude of the soul towards itself, its environment,
and the first principles of being, is continually shifting.
The forms of human life, economic, social, technical,
artistic and intellectual, are seen to be in a state of
steady, if slight, transformation.

We live in a perpetual flux. As long as this flux is not too
clearly perceived, as long as a naive conviction ensures a
strong underlying reserve of vitality, or deeply-rooted
religious beliefs balance the increase of knowledge, life
can endure it.

But in periods of transition, and when centuries of
criticism have worn away all fixed belief, the flux forces
itself on the mind with an evidence from which there is no
escape. The condition ensues which ten years ago was
universally predominant, and is still widespread to-day; a
sense of transitoriness and limitation takes possession of
the soul. It realizes with horror how all things are in
flux, are passing away. Nothing any longer stands firm.
Everything can be viewed from a thousand different angles.
What had seemed secure disintegrates, on closer inspection,
into a series of probabilities. To every thing produced
there are many possible alternatives. Every institution
might equally well have been ordered otherwise. Every
valuation is only provisional.

Man thus becomes uncertain and vacillating. His judgments
are no longer steady, his valuations unhesitating. He is no
longer capable of action based on firm conviction and
certain of its aim. He is at the mercy of the fashions
prevalent in his surroundings, the fluctuations of public
opinion, and his own moods. He no longer possesses any
dignity. His life drifts. He lacks everything which we mean
by character. Such a man is no longer capable of conquest.
He cannot overcome error by truth, evil and weakness by
moral strength, the stupidity and inconstancy of the masses
by great ideas and responsible leadership, or the flux of
time by works born of the determination to embody the
eternal values.

But this spiritual and intellectual poverty is accompanied
by a colossal pride. Man is morbidly uncertain and morbidly
arrogant. The nations are confused by pride, parties are
blinded by self-seeking, and rich and poor alike are the
prey of an ignoble greed. Every social class deifies itself.
Art, science, technology–every separate department of life
considers itself the sum and substance of reality. There is
despairing weakness, hopeless instability, a melancholy
consciousness of being at the mercy of a blind irrational
force–and side by side with these a pride, as horrible as
it is absurd, of money, knowledge, power, and ability.

Impotence and pride, helplessness and arrogance, weakness
and violence–do you realize how by the continued action of
these vices true humanity has been lost? We are witnessing a
caricature of humanity. In what then does humanity in the
deepest sense of the term consist? To be truly human is to
be conscious of human weakness, but confident that it can be
overcome. It is to be humble, but assured. It is to realize
man’s transience, but aspire to the eternal. It is to be a
prisoner of time, but a freeman of eternity. It is to be
aware of one’s powers, of one’s limitations, but to be
resolved to accomplish deeds of everlasting worth.

What is a complete humanity? When neither of these two
essential aspects is obscured, but each is asserted and
developed; when they neither destroy each other nor drive
each other to extremes, but blend in an evident unity
replete with inner tension yet firm, imperiled, yet assured,
limited, yet bound on an infinite voyage, this is a complete
humanity, And a man is human in so far as he lives,
consciously, willingly, and with a cheerful promptitude as a
finite being in the midst of time, change, and the countless
shapes of life–but at the same time strives to overcome all
this flux and limitation in the eternity, and infinity,
which transfigure them. A man is human in so far as he truly
and humbly combines these two essential aspects. Herein lies
the inexpressible charm of all things human–a mystery
pregnant with pain and strength, desire and confident hope.

* * * * *

Well then–the Church is always confronting man with the
Reality which creates in him the right attitude of mind:
namely, the Absolute.

She confronts him with the Unconditioned. In that encounter
he realizes that he himself is dependent at every point, but
there awakens in him the yearning for a life free from the
countless dependencies of life on earth, an existence
inwardly full. She confronts him with the Eternal, he
realizes that he is transitory, but destined to life without
end. She confronts him with Infinity, and he realizes that
he is limited to the very depths of his being, but that the
Infinite alone can satisfy him.

The Church continually arouses in him that tension which
constitutes the very foundation of his nature: the tension
between being and the desire to be, between actuality and a
task to be accomplished. And she resolves it for him by the
mystery of his likeness to God and of God’s love, which
bestows of its fullness that which totally surpasses the
nature. He is not God, but a creature, yet he is God’s image
and therefore capable of apprehending and possessing God.
“Capax Dei,” as St. Augustine says, able to grasp and hold
the Absolute. And God Himself is love. He has made the
creature in His own image. It is His will that this
resemblance should be perfected by obedience, discipline,
and union with Himself. He has redeemed man, and by grace
has given him a new birth and made him god-like. But all
this means that God has made man for His living kingdom.

But observe this encounter with the Absolute, in which man
faces the Infinite and sees clearly what he is, and what It
is; but which at the same time awakens the longing for this
Absolute Godhead and the confident expectation of its
fulfillment by His love–this fundamental experience of
Christianity, truth, humility, yearning love, and confident
hope in one, is the moment in which for the first time in
the spiritual sense man becomes truly human.

This transformation of a creature into man in the presence
of the Absolute is the work of the Church.

* * * * *

She accomplishes it in various ways. In the first place,
through her very existence, through that character which
Jesus compared to a rock, the living self-revelation of the
eternal God in her.

But in particular there are three essential expressions of
the Absolute in the Church–her dogma, her moral and social
system, and her liturgy.

The thought of modern man is relativist. He sees that
historical fact is at every point conditioned by something
other than itself, and everything, therefore, appears
subject to change. Experimental research has made him
extremely cautious, and he is wary of drawing conclusions.
He has become accustomed to critical thinking, and does not
readily venture beyond hypotheses and qualified statements.
Statistics have taught him conscientious regard for
exactitude, and he is apt to demand of any conclusion a
complete experimental proof which is unattainable. He has
thus become uncertain and hesitant where truth is concerned.

At this point the Church comforts him with dogma. We shall
not discuss its detailed content. We are solely concerned
with the fact that we are here presented with and apprehend
truths unconditionally valid, independently of changing
historical conditions, the accuracy of experimental
research, and the scruples of methodical criticism. Nor
shall we consider the factor of Catholic doctrine which is
itself temporally conditioned and therefore changeable. We
are dealing only with its unchangeable content, with dogma
in the strict sense. He who approaches dogma in the attitude
of faith will find in it the Absolute. He thus comes to
realize how extremely unreliable is his own knowledge. But
he is confronted by Truth divinely guaranteed and
unconditional. If he honestly assents to it, he becomes

He has a correct valuation of himself. His judgments are
clear, free and humble. But at the same time he is aware
that there is an Absolute, and that it confronts him here
and now in its plenitude. By his faith he receives the
Absolute into his soul. Humility and confidence, sincerity
and trust unite to constitute the fundamental disposition of
a thought adequate with the nature of things. Henceforward
the unconditional organizes the believer’s thought and his
entire spiritual life. Man is aware of something, which is
absolutely fixed. This becomes the axis upon which his
entire mental world turns, a solid core of truth which gives
consistency and order to his entire experience. For it
becomes the instinctive measure of all his thinking even in
the secular sphere, the point of departure for all his
intellectual activity. Order is established in his inner
life. Those distinctions are grasped without which no
intellectual life is possible–the distinction between
certainty and uncertainty, truth and error, the great and
the petty. The soul becomes calm and joyful, able to
acknowledge its limitations yet strive after infinity, to
see its dependence, yet overcome it.

This is what is meant by becoming human.

Moral purpose is relative; ideals of perfection, standards
of goodness, and codes of individual and of social behavior
are fluctuating and unstable. Effort is thus crippled, and
the will, powerless when important decisions must be made,
will in compensation give a free rein to arbitrary impulse
in some particular sphere.

The Church confronts man with a world of absolute values, an
essential pattern of unconditional perfection, an order of
life whose features bear the stamp of truth. It is the
Person of Christ. It is the structure of values and
standards which He personified and taught, and which lives
on in the moral and hierarchical order of the Church.

The effect thus produced is the same, as before, though now
in the field of valuations and moral judgment, in the life
of practice and production; man is confronted with what is
unconditionally valid. He faces and acknowledges his own
essential limitation. But at the same time he sees that he
can attach his finite life at every point to God’s Infinite
Life, and fill it with an unlimited content. He there finds
rest. He rejoices in the fact that he is a creature, and
still more that he is called to be a “partaker of the Divine
Nature.” His inner life becomes real, concentrated around a
fixed center, supported by eternal laws. His goal becomes
clear, his action resolute, his whole life ordered and
coherent–he becomes human.

Men envisage their relationship with God in various and
shifting fashions. One man beholds God in every object, in
tree and stone and sea. To another He speaks from the rigid
and sublime laws of thought and duty. A third sees Him as
the Great Organizer and Architect. Yet another finds Him in
the life of the community, in love and in neighborly
assistance. One man has a clear conception of God; for
another He is a vague entity, the Great Incomprehensible; to
a third He is an abstraction. Indeed the same man may have
different conceptions of God according to his age,
experience, or moods. The danger thus arises that man may
make God in his own image, and so form a finite and petty
conception of Him; that his longing and prayer may no more
reach out freely beyond himself, but may degenerate into a
dialogue with an enlargement of his own portrait.

In the liturgy the Church displays God as He really is,
clearly and unmistakably, in all His greatness, and sets us
in His presence as His creatures. She teaches us those
aboriginal methods of communion with God which are adapted
to His nature and ours–Prayer, Sacrifice, Sacraments.
Through sacred actions and readings she awakes in us those
great fundamental emotions of adoration, gratitude,
penitence and petition.

In the liturgy man stands before God as He really is, in an
attitude of prayer which acknowledges that man is a creature
and gives honor to God. This brings the entire spiritual
world into the right perspective. Everything is called by
the right name and assumes its real form–face to face with
the true God, man becomes truly man.

* * * * *

That man should see with perfect clearness what he is a
creature; but that he should rejoice in this fact, and
regard it as the starting point of his ascent to the Divine,
that he should be humble, but strive after the highest;
sincere, but full of confidence, and so for the first time
be truly human; is the work of the Church. She tells man
everywhere, “Thou art but a creature, yet made in God’s
image, and God is Love. Therefore He will be thine, if only
thou dost will it.”


1. The way, that is an indispensable, but not exclusive way.
The more resolutely an individual acknowledges himself for
what he is, and at the same time endeavors to become and to
work out that which God has destined for him by his
individual nature, the more powerfully can the Church affect
him and complete the personality to which she can raise him.
It must once more be repeated that the individualists
imagine a contradiction in this an “alternative,” where
there is in reality the indispensable pre-condition of
organic change. The more unreservedly I live in the Church,
the more completely I shall become that which I ought to be.
I can, however, live in the Church as God, and she herself
require it, only to the degree in which I mature, awaken to
my natural vocation, and became a self-realizing
personality. There is a mutual reciprocity of cause and


WHEN the Catholic Christian handles a vital issue
theoretically or practically, the situation should be
immediately altered. It should be as when something is
brought out from a false light into the full and clear light
of day; or an object previously held in the violent grasp of
some boorish bully has been released from his possession and
passes into the hands of one who can respect and appreciate

Every object brought into the Catholic sphere of influence
and subjected to the Catholic spirit should recover its
freedom and once more fully realize its nature. The Catholic
spirit should impose the true standard, the great should
appear great, and the petty, petty; and light and shadow put
in the right place…. Yes–so it would be if one were
really Catholic! Then indeed we should possess that true
Goodness which sees all things as they are, and brings
freedom. And life, which everywhere is suffering violence,
would again breathe freely in all that we are and do, and
all things be made new!

This is certainly expected of the Catholic Christian by
those who are looking on at him from without. They do not
expect him to talk brilliantly, or to live in an exceptional
fashion remote from life, arbitrary and one-sided. There is
an intelligentsia which in an intellectual fashion does
violence to life more brilliantly and more significantly
than he. These onlookers do not expect this from the
Catholic. They expect him to possess something of Adam’s
pure vision, and that creative power with which the first
man named all things according to their nature. They expect
to find in him a glance which proceeds from the center of
the soul and penetrates the heart of objects, and to which
they reveal themselves completely; that great love which
redeems the silent misery of the world.[1]

But we are not really Catholic, if the term is to be
understood in its full and exacting implication, and it is
our great, if painful, good fortune that we realize how
little we are Catholic. But to be truly Catholic is the
real, indeed the only genuine form of human existence, its
way of life dictated at once by man’s deepest nature and by
divine revelation. It is a way of looking at things and of
thinking about them which becomes instinctive. This,
however, can be formed only in the operation of a long
tradition, when the personal attitude of individuals has
taken shape in objective forms, customs, organizations,
practical achievements, and these exert a formative
influence upon individuals, to be in turn remolded by them.
The Reformation and the “Aufklarung” have wrought
incalculable destruction; we are all under the influence of
the individualistic, naturalistic, and liberal spirit.

We are, therefore, no doubt taking a risk when we speak
about human life, without being really Catholic. But we to
it tentatively, and well aware that the greatest merit we
can achieve is to be forerunners. Our master is St. John the
Baptist, who said that after him One was to come Whom the
Holy Spirit would baptize with fire. It is only after us
that there will come those who will think, feel, produce and
speak, out of the fullness of Catholic life. Ours must be
the meager joy of being allowed to prepare their way.

* * * * *

We are going to speak about one of the supreme treasures of
life–about freedom.

How shop-soiled this word has become, and yet it is one of
the most noble! How often have we Catholics allowed the most
intimate of our possessions to be taken from us; and filled
with the spirit of error, and then listen suspiciously to
what our soul should utter with the deep accents of her
native speech! Freedom–what a dubious connotation the word
has acquired! Yet it contains the sum of what Christ has
brought us. It is one of those royal words with which the
spiritual masters of the Middle Ages described the majesty
of God. “God the free,” they called Him.

* * * * *

What then is freedom? What sort of man, exactly, is the free

To answer that freedom is the absence of external
constraint, the power to choose, according to one’s own
will, among several possible courses, gives no notion of the
wealth comprised in the term. For it cannot be contained in
a short phrase.

Let us try to bring to light something of this treasure.

Each one of us possesses a pattern of his being, the divine
idea, in which the Creator contemplated him. It comprises
not only the universal idea of human nature, but everything
besides, which constitutes this particular individual. Every
individual is unique, and a unique variety of human nature.
Indeed, the Rembrandt-German[2] could say truly, could even
maintain, strictly speaking, that a number of people should
not be counted together, because in reality each is unique,
and cannot be compared with the rest.

When this unique quality of a man’s individual being is
allowed to emerge, and determines all his existence and
activities; when he lives from the center of his own being,
not, however, putting an artificial restraint upon himself,
but naturally and as a matter of course, he is a free man.
He is free who lives in complete harmony with the divine
idea of his personality, and who is what his Creator willed
him to be. He has achieved a complete equilibrium, the
effect of a tension but a resolved tension, a powerful yet
gentle rhythm of life, a life at once rich and concentrated,
full yet restrained.

All this, however, is but a part of true freedom. The free
man must also see things as they are, with a vision not
clouded by mistrust, nor narrowed by prejudice, nor
distorted by passion, whether hatred, pride, or selfishness;
must see them in the fullness of their objective reality,
and in their genuine measure. He must see them in their
entirety, rounded off, displayed on all sides, in their true
relations with other objects, and in their right order. He
will thus see them from the standpoint of their divine idea,
just as they are. His glance will pierce from the center of
his soul to the center of its objects. His love, issuing
from an entire heart, will embrace their entire fullness.
And his action, supported by a personality not divided
against itself, grasps the world steadily and draws from it
that which had awaited the hand of God’s child, to be
brought pure and complete into the light.

That man should respond to the true nature of things with
the integrity of his own nature and in the unique fashion of
his divinely ordained individuality, that the divine idea
within and that without encounter each other in his personal
life–this is freedom.

* * * * *

But freedom is even more than this. A man is free when he
can see the great as great, and the small as small; the
worthless as worthless and the valuable as valuable; when he
views correctly the distinctions between different objects
and different conditions; the relations between objects and
their measure. He is free when he recognizes honestly the
hierarchy of objects, and their values, placing its base and
its apex, and each intermediate point in its right position.
He is free when he apprehends the idea in its purity, but
contemplates in its light the complete reality; when he sees
everyday life with all its rough and tumble and all its
shortcomings, but also what is eternal in it. He is free
when his vision of the idea does not blind him to reality,
and everyday existence does not make him oblivious of the
idea, when he “can gaze upon the stars, but find his way
through the streets.”

To see all this, to hold fast to the vision with stout heart
and unswerving will, and act in accordance with it amid the
confusion of appearances and passions–this is freedom.

But he must do this not because a compulsion is upon him,
but because he himself is resolved upon it; not merely as
the laborious and painful application of principles, but
because the impulse and volition of his own nature impel
him, and because the very heart of his personality is
thereby fulfilled–thus and not otherwise is he free.

Freedom is a great thing–the supreme fulfillment and the
purest standard of worth, truth and peace.

And with all that we have said we still have not plumbed the
ultimate depth of freedom. It is that the man who is truly
free is open to God and plunged in Him. This is freedom for
God and in God.

You will ask, if that is freedom, are we free? Outwardly, of
course, we are often free. We can resist a palpable
restraint. Psychologically also, for we can choose between
right and left. But freedom in the comprehensive sense which
we have given? No, we must certainly acknowledge that we are

Here once more we encounter the mission of the Church–she,
and she alone, conducts us to this freedom.

* * * * *

What are the bonds which a man must break to win this
complete freedom?

There are in the first place those external circumstances
which impede a man’s development. These can be very strong;
but if his energy is sufficient, he will in the end overcome
them, either outwardly, by altering them, or inwardly, by a
free renunciation which raises him above them.

The intellectual environment binds more potently, through
current opinions, customs and tradition; through all those
imponderable but constantly operative forces of example and
of influence, mental and emotional. These things penetrate
to the profoundest depths of the spirit. Even genius cannot
wholly break their spells. And we average people are all
subject to these influences, whether we consent to them or
oppose them.

Just consider for a moment the extent of their sway. What
cannot be effected by a slogan if the environment is
favorable? No one can altogether escape its power. How
powerful are the intellectual tendencies of an epoch! So
potent can they be that ideas which are simply
incomprehensible when the intellectual situation has changed
may receive the unquestioning credence due to dogmas of
faith. Do we not ask ourselves with amazement to-day how
certain ideas of Kant’s could have been accepted as so many
dogmas, disagreement with them regarded as a proof of
intellectual weakness? Remember, too, how powerful a
compulsion is exercised by highly developed forms of art if
the cultural environment is congenial. Think of the manifold
ways, often so subtle as to defy discovery, in which certain
political, social, or economic forms, for example, democracy
or capitalism, mold a man’s entire psychology; how a type of
humanity recognized as ideal, for example, the knight, the
monk, or the traveler, shapes men by its influence to the
very core of their being. Against such forces the individual
is powerless.

Reflect how, under the spell of such a general tendency, a
particular age, the Renaissance, for example, with the
decision born of the sense of an immeasurable superiority,
rejects what another age–in this case the Middle Ages-had
ardently embraced, how we are only now beginning to regard
the Renaissance and what followed it as a disaster, and the
Middle Ages as–rightly understood-our future. And bear in
mind that this was no mere change of externals, but of man’s
attitude to essentials, values and ideas. In view of all
this we have only one choice. Either we must canonize
relativism in one shape or another, whether in its cruder
form, the doctrine of the milieu, or in the form given to it
by Keyserling, psychologically more profound and resting on
a metaphysical basis, or embrace with our whole soul a power
which can emancipate us.

It is the Church

* * * * *

In the Church eternity enters time. Even in the Church, it
is true, there is much which is temporal. No one acquainted
with her history will deny it. But the substance of her
doctrine, the fundamental facts which determine the
structure of her religious system and the general outlines
of her moral code and her ideal of perfection, transcend

In the first place, of her very nature she thinks with the
mind, not of any one race, but of the entire and Catholic
world. She judges and lives, not by the insight of the
passing moment, but by tradition. The latter, however, is
the sum total of the collective experience of her past. She
thus transcends local, national and temporal limitations,
and those who live and think with her have a “point d’appui”
above all such restricted fields of vision, and can
therefore attain a freer outlook.

The Church of her nature is rooted, not in particular local
conditions or particular historical periods, but in the
sphere above space and time, in the eternally abiding. She
enters, of course, into relation with every age. But she
also opposes each. The Church is never modern. This was the
case even in the Middle Ages. We have only to read between
the lines of the “Imitation” to detect it. The present
always reproaches the Church with belonging to the past. But
this is a misconception; the truth is that the Church does
not belong to time. She is inwardly detached from everything
temporal, and is even somewhat skeptical in her attitude to

And she has also had to endure the constant charge that she
is not national, that she represents foreign nations, not
the particular nation in question. It is a misconception of
the truth. In the last resort she is not concerned with
nations, but with humanity as a whole, and individual men
and women. These, however, are the two expressions of
humanity which touch eternity, while everything lying
between them, and in particular political and national
organizations, are bound to time.

The Church, therefore, stands amid the currents of
intellectual fashion like a vast breakwater. She is the
power which resists the spell of every historical movement,
no matter what. She opposes the strength of her misgivings
to every force which threatens to enslave the soul–economic
theories, political slogans, human ideals of perfection,
psychological fashions–and repudiates their claim to
absolute validity. The Church is always the opponent of the
contemporary. When an idea is new, it exercises a special
attraction. It is fresh and novel; opens up to the mind
unexplored avenues of thought, and thus arouses far more
enthusiasm than its intrinsic value merits And when a people
becomes acquainted with a culture previously unknown and the
conditions are favorable, it takes an irresistible hold upon
that people, as Asiatic culture, for example, is affecting
us to-day. In the same way new tendencies in art, new
political principles, indeed novelties in every sphere down
to such externals as fashions of dress and the conventions
of social intercourse. If the environment is receptive,
everything new is doubly potent, like oxygen “in statu
nascendi.” Very often its power bears hardly any proportion
to its true value, with the result that our picture of it is
falsified to the point of distortion. The present,
therefore, is always to a certain extent an hallucination
and a prison. It has always attacked the Church, because it
is over-excited, and her timeless calm resists its petulant
importunacy; because it is one-sided, and her
comprehensiveness transcends its limited vision. And the
Church has always been the foe of the present, because its
unspiritual violence enslaves the soul and its obtrusive
clamor drowns the voice of eternity. In every age the Church
opposes what is Here and Now for the sake of For Ever; the
contemporary tendencies and “politics,” for the sake of
those aspects of humanity which are open to eternity–
individual personality and mankind. When this has been
understood, a great deal becomes clear.

He who lives with the Church will experience at first an
impatient resentment, because she is constantly bidding him
to oppose the aims of his contemporaries. So long as he
regards what is being said everywhere, the public opinion
prevalent at the moment, as the last word on any question,
and makes parties or nations his criteria of value, he will
inevitably feel himself condemned to obscurantism. But once
the bandage has been removed from his eyes, he will
acknowledge that the Church always releases those who live
in her from the tyranny of the temporal, and to measure its
values gives him the standard of abiding truth. It is a
remarkable fact that no one is more skeptical, more inwardly
independent of “what everyone says” than the man who really
lives in the Church. And as a man abandons his union with
her, to the same degree does he succumb to the powerful
illusions of his environment, even to the extent of sheer
superstition. And surely the decision between those two
attitudes involves the very roots of human culture. The
Church is indeed the road to freedom.

* * * * *

But we have not spoken so far of the strongest bonds of all,
those imposed by a man’s own character.

There are, in the first place, psychological characteristics
common to all men as such, passions, for example, and
tendencies of the will. Only if we could conceive knowledge
as the purely logical operations of a purely logical
subject, as a kind of intellectual mechanism, which always
functions smoothly, and which can immediately be set in
motion under any conditions, would it be possible to regard
it as unaffected by the other psychological functions. But
the subject of thought is not an abstract, logical subject,
but a living man; thought is a vitally real relation between
man and the object of his thought. In the function of
thinking all his other activities and states participate,
fatigue, for example, and energy strung to the tensest
pitch, joy and depression, success and failure. The
experience of every day proves that our intellectual
productivity, the direction of our thoughts and the nature
of our conclusions, are influenced by the vicissitudes of
daily life. Our psychological states may assist, hamper or
completely prevent acts of knowledge, strengthen or weaken
the persuasiveness of arguments. Desire, love, anger, a
longing for revenge, gratitude–anyone who is honest with
himself must admit how enormously the force of an argument,
apparently purely logical, fluctuates in accordance with his
prevalent mood, or the person who puts it forward. Even the
climax of the cognitive process–the evidence, the
subjective certainty of a judgment, a conclusion, a
structure of reasoning–is to an enormous extent subject, as
you can see for yourselves, to the influence of
psychological states and the external environment. It is a
strange chapter in practical epistemology.

So far we have been speaking only of speculative thought.
There remains the whole order of values, judgments,
pronouncements about good and evil, the lawful and the
unlawful, the honorable and the dishonorable, the valuable,
the less valuable, and the worthless. How enormously these
judgments depend on the fact that the man who forms them
acknowledges, esteems, and loves the value in question, or
rejects, hates and despises, and on his general attitude
towards men and things; whether he is receptive or self-
contained trustful or suspicious, has keener eyes for good
or evil.

When you reflect upon all this, you must admit that our
thought and valuations are permeated to the depths by the
influences of a man’s personal characteristics, his stage of
development, and his experiences.

By this I do not mean that our thought and judgments are
merely a product of our internal and external conditions; no
reduction of thought and valuation to psychological and
sociological processes is implied. Their nucleus is
intellectual, but it is embedded in those processes. Thought
has an objective reference, and is always striving to
realize it more purely, that is to say, to grasp more
perfectly objective truth. It has an objective content, this
very truth–and becomes more perfect as this content becomes
richer and more distinct. In spite of this, however, thought
is life, and valuation is life–a vitally real relation
between man and the object. And everything which affects
that man or the object plays its part in the process.

What will bring us release from this imprisonment? Most
certainly no philosophy; no self-training, no culture. Man
can be set free only by a power that opens his eyes to his
own inner dependence and raises him above it, a power that
speaks from the eternal, independent at its center of all
these trammels. It must hold up unswervingly to men the
ultimate truths, the final picture of perfection, and the
deepest standards of value, and must not allow itself to be
led astray by any passion, by any fluctuations of sentiment,
or by any deceits of self-seeking.

This power is the Church. As contrasted with the individual
soul she may easily give an impression of coldness and
rigidity. But to the man who has grasped her essence, she
becomes pure life. Certainly it is a life so abundant that
the weakly, irritable man of to-day cannot easily experience
it. The Church clears the path to freedom through the
trammels of environment and individual psychology. In spite
of all her shortcomings, she shows man truth seen in its
essence, and a pure image of perfection adapted to his

He is thus enabled to escape his personal bondage.

* * * * *

Once more we must delve deeper, and at last we shall reach
our conclusion.

We have spoken of the inner pattern contained in every
individual personality which determines its unique quality.
The individual is not a human being in general, but bears a
stamp peculiar to himself. He embodies a distinctive form in
virtue of which he realizes human nature in a special way.
It is the organic ideal and fundamental law of his entire
being and activity. It is expressed in everything he is or
does; it determines his disposition and external attitude.
It is, however, the task of the individual–we shall return
to this point later–to acknowledge this individual form,
bring it out, see its limitations, and place it in its due
relation to the world as a whole. The strength of the
individual lies in this unique quality. It represents what
God desires him to be, his mission and his task. But at the
same time it is the source of his weakness.

Consider first those more general mental types which
classify men into distinct groups, that is to say,
fundamental types of character. Thought is determined by
them, the way in which things are seen, will and emotion,
and the attitude towards self, man, the world, and God.

We shall sketch one example of these types of character,
though only in general outline. We shall call it the
synthetic type. A man of this type is interested in
similarity and combination. This is already evident in his
own nature. There thought, will, activity and emotion
strongly tend towards unity and effect a thoroughgoing
harmony. Such a man gets quickly into touch with things, and
can easily pass from one to another. In objects he sees
first of all their similarities, the connecting links and
numerous transitions between them. He is powerfully aware of
their unity, and if he gives a free rein to his native
temper he will reach some type of monism, that is to say, a
conception of the universe based wholly on the tendency to
likeness and unity which pervades reality. He is, of course,
aware of the distinctions between things, but regards them
as of secondary importance and is disposed to relegate them
increasingly to the background and to explain them away as
mere stages of development, transitional forms, and modes of
the one great unity. He will even by degrees transform the
relation between God and the universe into a unity, and
regard Him as simply the Energy at work in all things,
maintaining and animating them. And his practice will
correspond with his thought. His fundamental attitude will
be one of conciliation unless, indeed, as a result of the
law of psychological ambivalence, he develops a passionate
antagonism towards external objects, which, however, is at
bottom determined by his sense of affinity with them. In
every sphere he seeks a compromise. He explains evil as due
to accidental imperfections, or as a necessary step in the
development of good. Thus in practice and theory he is a
monist, though his monism may wear a rationalist, aesthetic
or religious color.

A man of this type proves and disproves, unaware of the
extent to which he is in the power of his own disposition.
He persistently selects from reality those features which
suit his nature, and passes over or distorts those which are
opposed to it. In the last resort his entire view of the
world is an attempt to establish his personal preference by
rational proofs.

The opposite temper may express itself similarly. It gives
birth to that fundamentally critical attitude which in any
sphere notices past and present unlikenesses, what
differentiates one object from another, their limitations
and dividing lines. For men of this type the world is
dissolved into isolated units. The distinctive qualities of
objects stand out sharply side by side; the classifications
made by thought are not linked up with sensation and desire.
The distinctions between what is and what ought to be,
between duty and right, and moral choices stand out rigid
and inexorable. Conflicts, the decision between
alternatives, are universal.

If this type of man follows his bent to the full, he also is
enslaved. He, also, chooses, values, and measures in
accordance with “his own mind,” and is convinced that the
result is objective truth. When the intellectual processes
of a mind dominated by its period are listed in the light of
their psychological presuppositions, the effect is
peculiarly devastating. A host of affirmations, chains of
reasoning and systems of valuations, apparently purely
rational, prove but the slightly veiled expression of a
particular psychological temperament. One of the most
striking instances of this is Kant. His writings develop a
system of thought at first sight as purely objective as
could be conceived. But simultaneously they reveal their
author’s most intimate personality. To us, whose mentality
is so utterly different, this latter aspect stands out
clearly, like the original writing of a restored palimpsest,
and we cannot understand how a philosophy so largely the
self-expression of a genius could be mistaken for a
discovery of the fundamental nature of objective reality.
But unless some higher source of truth safeguards us against
the danger, we shall inevitably yield credence to some other
teacher who proclaims as objective truth what is but the
expression of his own mentality, or formulate as serious
fact, and with a great display of reasoning, matters which
we have devised to express our personal attitude to life.

To return to the two types we described above-neither is
free. First and foremost both are slaves as men, as human
types. For there exists in every human being, side by side
with his predominant mentality, its opposite. Therefore, the
synthetic type of mind is also capable of criticism, and the
critical type is not devoid of the power of synthesis. But
in each case the complementary disposition is weaker; the
mentality takes its character from the predominant tendency.
But every living organism is subject to a law we may term
the economy of force. It tends to use those organs which are
particularly developed, so that the rest become increasingly
atrophied. Each type, therefore, should develop its
complementary aspect to the utmost of its power. Only by
this mutual balance it will achieve complete and harmonious
development. But the man who is left to himself develops
one-sidedly. The predominant trait of his inner
psychological composition increasingly asserts itself and
thrusts the rest into the background. Over-developed in one
direction he is stunted in another. Such a nature, however,
is an enslaved nature, for only a being which has developed
freely and harmoniously all its native capacities is free.

Moreover, a man whose development is thus one-sided is not
free in relation to his environment. For of the rich
abundance of its concrete reality he can see only one
aspect–that aspect which is adapted to his particular
temperament, and for which the powers he has specially
fostered have given him a peculiarly acute vision and
comprehension. He is thus held captive by it, and incapable
of taking an all-round view of reality.

Such men do not live with their full nature, nor in
accordance with the idea of their personality, which,
whatever its particular emphasis, is always a whole, but
merely with a fragment of their true selves. And their life
is not in contact with objects as concrete wholes, but
merely with artificial selections from them. Each, however,
by a singular delusion, maintains that he is complete and
his attitude the right one, his impoverished and mutilated
world God’s free world of full reality.

There are other types and corresponding ways of regarding
the world. Each is a power, each the way to a distinctive
outlook. But each is also a net liable to entangle the man
who casts it. The different types mingle, and the degree of
their combination varies. Their energy, warmth and wealth
vary. To these must be added national, local and vocational
characteristics, and those derived from heredity or
environment. And finally, there are those enigmatic
qualities which may be said to constitute the coloring,
idiosyncrasy or mannerism of the individual, that wholly
unique something which belongs to the one individual alone.
All these blend with his fundamental type and foster its
independent development.

Remember, also, that the instincts of self-preservation,
self-love, and the sense of honor, feed a man’s predominant
disposition, that all his personal experiences are viewed in
its light and adjusted to it. You will now be able to gauge
its strength.

How then can a man thus in bondage to his disposition be set

He must acknowledge, and to the very core of his being, that
reality includes all its possible aspects, is all-round. He
must recognize that this reality can be grasped only by a
subject equally comprehensive in his knowledge, his
valuations and his activities; and that he himself does not
possess this comprehensiveness, but is fragmentary, the
realization of one possibility of human nature among a host
of others. He must recognize the errors which this one-
sidedness produces, and how they narrow the outlook and
distort the judgment.

He must indeed fully accept his own special disposition, for
his nature and his work are based upon it. But he must also
fit it into the entire scheme of things. He must correct his
own vision of the world by the knowledge of others, complete
his own insights by those of other men, and thus stretch out
beyond himself to the whole of reality; and this not only in
his knowledge, but in his judgments of value and practical

That is to say, he must not efface his distinctive character
and attempt to make his life a patchwork externally sewn
together. His distinctive character must always remain the
foundation. But character must become vocation, a mission to
accomplish a particular work, but within an organic whole
and in vital relation to it. Then one-sidedness will become
fruitful distinction, bondage be replaced by a free and
conscious mission, obstinate self-assertion by a
steadfastness in that position within the whole which a man
recognizes to be his appointed place.

Anyone who honestly attempts this task quickly realizes that
he cannot accomplish it by himself. Then is the moment of
decision. Will he abandon the attempt? Will he acquiesce in
the impossibility? Will he become a skeptic? Or will he
arrogantly endeavor to make his inner impotence tolerable by
declaring it the only right attitude? In either case, he
remains the slave of his own inner bonds, in the deepest
sense a Philistine, however eloquent the language with which
he proclaims his servitude. Or else his determination to
possess truth, reality, the whole, is ready for the
sacrifice which alone will lay the way open, ready “to lose
his soul, in order to save it.” If this is his disposition,
he will experience the Church as the road to freedom.

Of her nature the Church is beyond and above these bonds,
and he who “surrenders his soul to her, in her shall win it
back,” but free, emancipated from its original narrowness,
made free of reality as a whole.

* * * * *

The Church is the whole of reality, seen, valued, and
experienced by the entire man. She is co-extensive with
being as a whole, and includes the great and the small, the
depths and the surfaces, the sublime and the paltry, might
and impotence, the extraordinary and the commonplace,
harmony and discord. All its values are known, acknowledged,
valued and experienced in their degree and this not from the
standpoint of any particular type or group, but of humanity
as a whole.

The whole of reality, experienced and mastered by the whole
of humanity–such, from our present standpoint, is the

The problems with which we are faced here involve experience
as a whole. No part of it may be detached from the whole.
Every partial question can be correctly envisaged only from
the standpoint of the whole, and the whole only in the light
of a full personal experience. For this, however, a subject
is required which itself is a whole, and this is the Church.
She is the one living organism which is not one-sided in its
essential nature. Her long history has made her the
repository of the entire experience of mankind. Because she
is too great to be national her life embraces the whole of
humanity. In her men of diverse races, ages, and characters
think and live. Every social class, every profession and
every personal endowment contribute to her vision of the
whole truth, her correct understanding of the structure of
human life. All the stages of moral and religious perfection
are represented in the Church up to the summits of holiness.
And all this fullness of life has been molded into a
tradition, has become an organic unity. Superficialities are
subordinated to deeper realities; intermediate values take
precedence of the trifling and the accidental. The
fundamental questions of man’s attitude to life have been
the meditation of centuries; so that the entire domain of
human experience has been covered and the solution of its
problems matured. Institutions have had to be maintained
through vicissitudes of period and civilization, and have
reached a classical perfection. Consequently, even from the
purely natural point of view, the Church represents an
organic structure of knowledge, valuation and life, of the
most powerful description. To this we must add her
supernatural aspect. The Holy Ghost is at work in the
Church, raising her consistently above the limits of the
merely human. Of Him it is said that He “searcheth all
things.” He is alone the Spirit of discipline and abundant
life. To Him “all things are given.” He is enlightenment and
Love. He awakens love, and love alone sees things as they
are. He “sets in order charity” and causes it to become
truth with a clear vision of Christ and His Kingdom. He
makes us “speak the truth in love.” Thus the Church is
sovereign above man and above the world, and can do full
justice to both.

Dogma that is revealed and supernatural truth binding our
assent, is the living expression of this living organism.
The entire body of religious truth which it records is seen
by a complete man. And it determines the attitude towards
truth of the individual Catholic.

And that form of religion in which the entire man enters
into a supernatural communion with God–namely, the liturgy-
-is another living expression of this living organism. It
determines the Catholic attitude towards religion in the
stricter sense.

Finally, the Church’s discipline and constitution–her moral
law and ideal of perfection–are yet another living
expression of this organism. They determine the Catholic
attitude towards ethics.

The Church holds up before man this truth, this scale of
values, and this ideal of perfection; and not as merely
possible or advisable, but as obligatory. She calls upon man
to rise above his narrowness and grow up to this complete
truth, this comprehensive ideal and universal rule of life.
She commands it, and disobedience is sin. Only thus does the
demand receive sufficient weight to counterbalance human
selfishness, with its exaggerated and tenacious self-

If man obeys and accepts the fundamental sacrifice of self-
surrender and trusts himself to the Church; if he extends
his ideas to the universal scope of Catholic dogma, enriches
his religious sentiment and life by the wealth of the
Church’s prayer, strives to bring his conduct into
conformity with the lofty, complete pattern of perfection, a
pattern, moreover, which molds the private life of the
spirit presented by her communal life and her constitution,
then he grows in freedom. He grows into the whole, without
abandoning what is distinctively his own. On the contrary,
for the first time he sees his individuality clearly when it
is confronted with all the other human possibilities to be
found in the Church. He sees its true significance to be a
member of the whole. He perceives it as a vocation, a God-
given task, the contribution made possible by his unique
character as an individual, which he has to make towards the
great common task of life and production.

Thus man develops into a personality. It is rooted in his
individuality, but essentially related to the whole. It
involves an individual outlook, the consequence of its
uniqueness, but this individual outlook is harmonized at
every point with the outlook of others because it never
loses sight of the whole. It involves also a joyful
determination to realize its own nature, but within the
framework of the entire organism. Thus the outlook of the
genuine personality is comprehensive and recognizes other
men’s points of view. He divines their meaning, and views
his own vocation in relation to the whole. Such a man will
not display instant enmity towards a personality of
different type to his own, as one species of animals is
hostile to another. On the contrary, he will co-ordinate
both within the superior unity to which both belong, in the
performance of a common task in which each supplements the
other. He evinces that great power of acceptance which finds
room for other types, and is therefore able to share their
life. Thus his wealth increases, for what belongs to others
is also his.

My attention has been drawn to a saying of St. Paul’s in
which the Christian’s consciousness of this supreme freedom
of his entire being finds striking expression: “The
spiritual man judgeth all things: and he himself is judged
of no man.” (I Cor. ii. 15.) The true Christian is
sovereign. He possesses a majesty and a freedom which remove
him from the jurisdiction of the unbeliever. He cannot on
principle be subject to his judgment, since the unbeliever
cannot focus the Christian within his field of vision. The
vision of the former, on the contrary, embraces “all
things,” and his standard is absolute. How remote is the
impoverished consciousness of our Catholicity from this
attitude of St. Paul, in which perfect humility–all his
Epistles reveal it–is united with the knowledge that he
possesses, not one point of view among others, but the
unique and absolute point of view; genuine humility combined
with the sublime consciousness of absolute and perfect

This is the meaning of “sentire cum Ecclesia”–the way from
one-sidedness to completeness, from bondage to freedom, from
mere individuality to personality.

Man is truly free in proportion as he is Catholic. But he is
Catholic to the extent that he lives, not within the narrow
confinement of his purely individual and separate existence,
but in the fullness and integrity of the Church, to the
extent, that is to say, that he has himself become
identified with “the Church.”


1. I do not think that I am exaggerating the case. What else
are those numerous men and women seeking in the Church, who
are looking towards her to-day? No doubt some may be
influenced by a romantic preciosity, others, by the desire
to find something solid in whatever quarter, without any
genuine conviction that here, and here alone, truth is to be
found; and fashion also plays its part, as in the interest
in Buddhism or primitive cultures. This cannot be denied.
But there is more than this. We can detect the expectation
that in Catholicism the Essential–the Eternal, the
Absolute–finds its due recognition. The man of today
expects to find a substantial piety in the Church,
independent of time, place or fashion, reality–of being and
conduct–in every department of life. And it will be a
bitter disappointment for which we shall all be jointly
responsible, if this expectation is disappointed, not by the
Church, but by her members.

2. Julius Langbehn, 1851-1907. He became famous as a result
of his book “Rembrandt als Erzieher,” published in 1890.
This work is a criticism of German pre-war culture, which
Langbehn viewed as heading for disaster. At the same time it
sets forth his belief in the passing of the “age of paper”
into a new “age of art,” which was to be brought about
through the primary forces inherent in the German people.
Langbehn was received into the Church in 1900. (Translator’s


IDEAS have their seasons, as plants have their seasons of
growth, flowering and ripening of fruit. The seed is capable
of growth from the beginning, but does not germinate until
the spring comes. So it is with ideas. Every idea is
abstractly possible at any period, but in the concrete
cannot become a living growth either in the life of the
individual or of society at any epoch indiscriminately. This
would be possible only if thought were to be a mechanical
process, the operation of an isolated reason. It is on the
contrary a vital process of a living person, and therefore
affected by the forces and states both of the individual and
the community to which he belongs. An idea becomes powerful
and fertile in a man only when its due season has come; when
his other ideas are so ordered that it can take its place
among them; when his soul gives it a vital response, and
there are psychological tensions, which it relaxes or
intensifies. And in society an idea becomes fruitful, takes
root, and develops its intrinsic possibilities only when the
soil is prepared for it.

Thus the idea–or rather the experience–of society has
found its appointed hours. Only a little while ago man felt
himself a self-contained microcosm. His ties with his
fellow-men–the State for example, the family affinity of
ideas–he was apt to regard either as illusions or as
institutions serving purely utilitarian ends or assuring his
safety. The one thing of which he was certain was himself,
his existence in and for himself. Of others, and of
fellowship with them, he was conscious only as something
dubious and shadowy.

This was due to a psychological defect. He lacked the
instinctive awareness of external reality, and in particular
of other minds. He was not conscious of their inner life as
a datum of his own experience, at least not as something
actively affecting him. This attitude could find expression
in totally different ways, from icy indifference to ruthless
violence. A desire, it is true, for others made itself felt,
the longing to be assured that a fellow-man is indeed there,
a longing for understanding and comradeship. But it was
always cut short by the despairing thought, “It is
impossible. I am imprisoned in my solitary isolation.” A
fundamental sentiment of individualism cut men from their

If man was to escape despair or weary resignation, there
remained nothing for him but to make a virtue of his dire
necessity, and a very stern and bitter virtue it was. He
must transform his yearning into pride, and his desire into
refusal; he must attempt to convince himself that “the
common life makes men common,” and a proud isolation is the
only noble attitude.

But when men’s eyes were opened, how false all this was seen
to be! They were opened, not by arguments–arguments are so
weak in vital questions–but by a psychological
transformation. Man became totally changed. New forces were
at work in his soul, and he outgrew individualism. For his
new outlook the possibility of a community has become self-
evident. Nor does it arise from the deliberate conjunction
of self-contained individuals. This is the erroneous
conception which is impoverishing our social life and
dividing the nations No society is something to be taken for
granted which requires no proof. It is as primary and as
necessary as individuality. And to-day we ask ourselves how
could we have put up so long with our self-imposed isolation

Is not the present distress of Europe the last and most
terrible spasm of this old disease? When the right time
comes, the perception will triumph that one nation is as
dependent upon the others, as one individual upon his
fellows. The doctrines of the philosophy of isolation have
not succeeded in keeping men apart. They possessed a shadowy
existence so long as men’s souls were strangers to each
other. But as soon as the social sense of community awoke,
all such theories were swept away. For the nations also this
spring will come. Their eyes will be opened; and they will
see that they belong to each other. On that day all
doctrines of national selfishness, all the economic and
political systems based on mistrust and mutual isolation,
will vanish in smoke.

Yes, this experience of human community has come to many,
and the rest have at least been influenced by it The path to
the souls of others lies open. What matter to us the
doctrines of individualism, subjectivism, and solipsism? Is
the way to the soul of another man after all so much further
than the path to my own? The spell is dissolving. The common
life does not make men common. That is true only of the
wrong type of community A good society is the source of
happiness and power. It tests the pliability and power of
resistance of our personality. It is in the highest sense a
task, and a lofty enterprise.

* * * * *

So strong indeed has the will for community become-the word
indeed, like every other valuable thing, is already
deteriorating into a cheap slogan–that it is attracting men
almost too powerfully to their fellows. Already we are
becoming aware of the baneful possibilities of an
exaggerated cult of the community. It is capable of
destroying personality. We are beginning to understand the
element of truth in the older individualism and to realize
that society also has its problem.

The problem whether the souls of others are or are not
accessible to us is not the only one. It was answered once
and for all when man’s fundamentally social nature was first
experienced. But the answer has raised a further problem:
what is the relation between the free individual and
society? What kind of society is valuable, what kind the
reverse? What kind of society is noble, what kind degrading?
Recognizing independent personality and real community with
others as the two poles of human life, we inquire, how
should the one be constituted, if the other is to co-exist
with it? How is the one to be made perfect by the other?

I will ask you to be patient while I tell you something
about the last meeting of the Quickborn Association[1] at Burg
Rothenfels. On that occasion the demands of the community
were emphasized. The individual, we were told, is bound to
his fellows by a natural loyalty, and is pledged to them
with all he is and all he has. He must regard himself as a
member of the same community with other classes and sections
of his countrymen, giving to them all and receiving from
them all.

Suddenly in the midst of these discussions, as though by a
concerted plan, there sprang up at various points, and
gathered strength, the idea of personality. The community
must be so constituted that the dignity and inner freedom of
the individual personality remain possible within it. For
free personality is the presupposition of all true
community. Those who grasped what was happening were
astounded. Never before had I so profoundly experienced the
power of life to maintain itself spontaneously, when it is
not repressed by force.

This indeed is the supreme problem–how can a society be
full-blooded and deep-rooted, a mutual surrender of its
members very selves, and at the same time inherited
personality continue to flourish vigorously and freely?

Once more I must repeat, it is beyond the scope of man’s
natural powers. One of two things must happen. Either the
power of community will burst all bounds, swamp the free
personality of the individual, and strip him of spiritual
dignity, or else the individual personality will assert
itself victoriously, and in the process sever its organic
bonds with the community. So deeply has original sin
shattered the fundamental structure of human life.

But the Church stands before us as the one great Power which
makes possible a perfect community when members are genuine

* * * * *

First and foremost she produces a true community. She
effects a community of truth, the common possession those
supreme supernatural realities of which faith makes us
conscious. They are the foundations of the supernatural
life, for all the same–God, Christ, grace, and the work of
the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean for the community? All its members stand
upon the same foundation. In all alike the same forces are
at work. The same aims are acknowledged by all. Their
judgments are based on the same standards of valuation. They
recognize the same ideals of human moral perfection, and
their fundamental dispositions are identical. In spite of
all their dissimilarities, how close must be the bond
between men, who take their Catholic faith seriously. How
deep must be the knowledge one can have of another! For he
knows the motives which finally decide his moral decisions
and the beliefs which guide his conduct of life.

One man can have this knowledge of another because the lives
of both are rooted in the same ultimate realities. One can
help another, because he no longer need find reasons for
trusting him. The deepest grounds of mutual trust are
evident to both. Real consolation becomes possible, because
its grounds are admitted by both parties. There is a common
seriousness of purpose, a common consecration, and a common
worship, for the same sublime facts and mysteries are
honored by all alike. There is a common endeavor and a
common struggle, because the final aims of all are the same.
There is a common joy–the joy of the Church’s festivals–
for a cause of rejoicing need not be sought far afield, and
after anxious search. Joy is everywhere, and can therefore
be a factor and bond of community.

There is also a community of sacrifice, a community of
mutual love, of command and obedience. No one can genuinely
yield interior obedience if he is not aware of an ultimate
bond between himself and his superior. But when he is aware
of it, trust enters into his obedience, confidence into the
command. Moreover, there can be no community of love without
a bond, upon which the mutual self-surrender is based. Thus
the community of truth becomes a community of love, of
obedience, and of command. These, however, are the forces
which constitute society, also the ways in which a bridge is
built between man and man, by superiority, subordination,
and equal co-operation.

And all this is realized, not timidly and distrustfully, but
from a professed consciousness of interdependence, by a
mutual trust, and responsibility. But this is possible only
when that first fundamental community of truth exists, the
foundation of all other manifestations of community.

* * * * *

There is a community of life, and it is immeasurably deep.
The same current of grace flows through all alike, the same
active power of God. The same real Christ is present in all,
as the ideal and prime exemplar of perfection, our incentive
to pursue it and the creative power which makes it possible.

The sacrament of community, Communion, is incomprehensible.
In it man is one with God; God is personally united with
him, and is given to him as his very own. But with this one
God not only one man is united, but all his fellows. And
each receives God into his personal being; yet each receives
Him on behalf of the others also on behalf of husband or
wife, of children, parents, relatives and friends–for all
those to whom he is bound by ties of love.

There is a community of spirit and spiritual life–the
mystical Body of Christ. Through Baptism the individual is
born into it, into new, supernatural life common to all who
live by it. But as yet he is merely a member of this
organism. Confirmation makes him an adult member, and gives
him rights, duties, and responsibilities in it. It gives him
the commission and the power to pursue his calling as work
for the Kingdom of God, with and for others. Holy Communion
deepens his community with God, with others in God. By sin
it is ruptured or impaired; in the sacrament of Penance man
acknowledges his fault before the divinely appointed
representative of the ecclesiastical community, makes
satisfaction to it, and is received back into it. Extreme
Unction gives him the strength to remain loyal to it in
sickness and death. Marriage intertwines the roots of the
natural community of the individual and the race with those
of the supernatural community. Finally, in Holy Orders, he
who has been baptized and confirmed receives a power to act
as God’s representative, command and lead. Thus the
sacraments are forms and processes, in which the life of the
supernatural community begins, progresses, recovers lost
ground, and is continually propagated.

Holy Mass is throughout a communal act. This truth has been
widely forgotten. It has often been made the private
devotion of the individual. But the evidence of the first
Christian centuries proves its communal character to the
hilt. The bishop officiated, and his priests concelebrated
with him, as at the present day newly-consecrated priests
concelebrate at their ordination. The people brought their
gifts to the altar, and from among these were chosen the
bread and the wine which were to be the material of the
sacrifice offered for all. And these offerings were
themselves recognized as symbols of the community. As the
bread consists of many grains of wheat, and the wine has
been pressed from a multitude of grapes, the mystical Body
of Christ consists of many individuals. The people brought
their offerings to the altar in person, that all might be
drawn into the mystical unity to be effected when the
substance of the bread and wine could be changed into the
Body and Blood of Christ. All shared in the divine banquet,
after they had banished from their hearts by the kiss of
peace everything inimical to community life. When the sacred
Bread was broken, portions were taken to prisoners and the
sick. One bishop would send them to another, as a sign that
all were united in a community transcending the limitations
of space. And after each celebration a particle of the
sacred Bread was preserved until the next and dipped in the
Chalice, to show that this unity transcended time. To
discover the roots of this sentiment we must read Our Lord’s
discourse after the Last Supper (John xiii-xvii.), and the
Epistles of St. Paul and St. John. These sources bring home
to us with an overwhelming force the fact that Christ
instituted His Sacrifice and Sacrament as communal acts,
expressions of the community between God and man, and
between men in God, all “in Christ,” Who “has made us
partakers of the divine nature.” Such was the belief and
practice of the Apostles, and of the Church after them. Read
what the Apostolic Fathers wrote on this topic, the epistles
of St. Ignatius, for instance, and then above all read the
liturgy itself. And though to-day, this communal character
of the liturgy is not clearly brought out in its details,
the Holy Sacrifice, or indeed the liturgy as a whole, is
intelligible only by those profoundly imbued with the
communal spirit and the will to participate in the community

* * * * *

Contemplate for a moment those dogmas of the Church
specifically concerned with the Community.

In the beginning we find a community of responsibility and
destiny. So profound is the solidarity of mankind, that the
obedience of the first man would have been the safeguard of
all; and his guilt was the guilt of all. This is the mystery
of original sin. It is intolerable to the individualist, who
has not grasped the extent of human solidarity. But the man
who has understood that every self exists also in his
neighbor; that every man shares the life of all other men,
and that this happiness and suffering are bound up with
theirs, will realize that, in the dogma of original sin, the
Church has really touched the very foundation of all human

But it is this very solidarity which makes the community of
redemption possible. Since every man in his profoundest
being is thus bound up with his fellows, so that another’s
guilt can become his, the atonement made by the One can be
the atonement made by all the rest. God’s Son becomes Man,
and takes upon Himself the guilt of the entire human race.
This is no empty phrase, or sublime imagination. Gethsemane
is sufficient proof that it was a most awful reality, a most
real experience. Jesus became our representative, and His
sufferings thus became the property of our race. He redeemed
us, not by His example, doctrine or instructions–all these
are of secondary importance–but by the representative and
atoning satisfaction in which He assumed before God the
responsibility of our guilt. So far reaching is this
objective community of atonement, that by its power any
child, without any co-operation on its part, is reborn into
a new life and mode of existence.

We now come to the solidarity between the regenerate, that
is, the community or Communion of Saints. The one grace of
Christ flows through them all as a single stream of life.
All live by the same pattern, this example which influences
them all. The one Holy Spirit is at work in them all. Each
possesses grace not merely for himself, but for all the
rest. He passes it on in every word, every encounter with
others, every good thought, and every work of charity. Every
increase of the grace he possesses, by the greater fidelity,
the deepening and inner growth of his spiritual life which
it effects, swells the stream of grace for all the others.
Whenever an individual grows in knowledge and love, the
others are also affected, and not only through speech,
writing or visible example, but also directly, by an
immediate and substantial transmission of love and light
from soul to soul.

The prayer of my fellows, their works, their growth in grace
and purity are mine also. When we encountered a pure and
profound spirit–a man nearer to God than ourselves, and in
whom the current of life flows fresh and strong–did we not
form the wish, “I would like a share in you”? In the
Communion of Saints this actually comes to pass. There is
something unutterably magnificent and profound in the
thought that I am to share in all the purity and fullness of
supernatural life hidden in the souls of others, and it is
mine, too, in the solidarity of Christ’s Body.

Have you ever thought about the community of suffering? Have
you considered that one man transmits to another not only
the force of example, speech and instruction, not only the
superflux of grace and the efficacy of prayer and
intercession, but also the power of suffering? Have you ever
contemplated a truth of awe-inspiring profundity: that
whenever one member offers his suffering to God for others
in the community of Christ’s Passion, that suffering becomes
a life-giving and redeeming force for those for whom it has
been offered up, and where nothing else could bring them
help at any distance in space and in spite of any barriers

Not one of us knows to what extent he is living by the power
of grace which flows into him through others–by the hidden
prayer of the tranquil heart, the atoning sacrifices offered
up by persons unknown to him, and the satisfaction made on
his behalf by those who in silence offer themselves for
their brethren. It is a community of the deepest and most
intimate forces. They are silent, for nothing noisy can
produce these substantial effects. But it cannot resist them
because their source is God.

This community transcends all boundaries. It knows nothing
of distance. It embraces all countries and peoples. It
transcends the bounds of time, for in it the past is as
active as the present. From this point, tradition, which is
so often regarded in a purely external aspect, becomes a
living realization. And this community transcends the
boundaries of this life, for it extends beyond the grave,
embracing–both the Saints in Heaven, and the souls in

“That they all may be one”: thus Christ prayed in the hour
before His Passion: one in God, and one with each other.
That prayer is being continually fulfilled in the Church.

The Church is “the truth in love,” as St. Paul so
magnificently describes it. She is truth, in the deepest
sense of living truth, essential truth; a flawless harmony
of being a divine fullness of life, a living creation. But
it is a fullness of truth which is love, and is constantly
striving to become a greater love. It is a light, which is
at the same time a glowing heat, a treasure which cannot be
contained in itself but must communicate itself to others, a
stream which needs must flow, a possession which must be
common to all, must give itself freely to all. The Church is
love. She is truth, which communicates itself. She is the
treasure which must be the common property of all. She is
the life, which multiplies itself, takes hold of all and of
its very nature must be a common life, a life of boundless
mutual donation in which all belongs to all.

* * * * *

Our contemplation must here ascend to the perfection and
exemplar of society, the Triune God. My best utterance here
is but a stammering. But permit me to speak as best I can.

God is the pure life of truth. Its fullness, however, is so
vast that it is productive, and God possesses it as the
Father–that is to say, as a generating Person–and
transmits it to the Son. And when in turn–I speak according
to our human usage, in terms of before and after, though in
reality the whole process is eternal–the Son stands before
the Father as the begotten Fullness of divine Truth, their
mutual knowledge kindles a mutual and eternal love, and this
love of Father and Son flames up as the Holy Ghost.

This community is infinite. It is an infinite life, an
infinite possession, in which all things are mutually
surrendered in perfect community. Everything is in common–
life, power, truth, happiness–so perfectly indeed that
there is no longer simply a possession of the same object,
but the existence of identical life, and the community is an
identity of the same substance and the same nature.

This divine community is externalized in the Church. For
what is it that we then possess in common? What is that All
which we receive and give? It is nothing less than the
everlasting life of God, in which we are “given a share”
through the mystery of regeneration, and which ever and
again flows into us in the mystery of the Holy Communion.
God is in me, and in you, and in us all. We are all born
again from the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Ghost. He
is in us, and we in Him. Only read those wonderful chapters
of St. John which speak of this mystery, Our Lord’s parting
discourse to His disciples.

Yet all this is but feeble words. No human utterance can go
further. At this point we may quote the final words of St.
Bonaventure’s treatise on the Ascent of the Spirit in God–
(“Itinerarium Mentis in Deum”), when he tells his readers:
“If you desire further knowledge, question silence, not
speech; desire not the understanding; the heartfelt
utterance of prayer, not reading and study; the bridegroom,
not the teacher; God, not men; darkness, not daylight. Do
not question light, but fire, the fire which kindles every
heart it touches to a flame that rises up to God in the
ecstasy of an overflowing heart and burning Love.”

This infinite mystery of truth which has become love, of a
possession which belongs to all, this community without
limit or end, this giving without reserve–that is the
Church, the earthly extension of the divine community, the
reflection of God’s mutual self-donation. In his last work,
which death did not allow him to finish, the “Discourses on
the Hexameron,” “Collationes in Hexameron,” St. Bonaventure
has spoken most illuminatingly of this mystery. And you may
gather further light from Scheeben’s “Mysterien des
Christentums” (Mysteries of the Christian Faith).

We have followed the mystery of society to its fountainhead-
-God. There, too, however, we find a counterpart to this
society, namely, self-maintenance.

The Father bestows all things upon the Son, and Father and
Son all things upon the Holy Ghost. All but one thing–the
personal self. That remains immutably contained in itself.
Personal unity, the dignity and sublimity of the self, can
never be given away. In the process of mutual donation, in
the excess of unity, we behold a point of rest, something
abiding, surrounded by an impenetrable and sacred circle. It
is personality. It can neither be given nor received. It
rests in itself. In the very heart of the perfect society it
stands alone, fixed in itself. This constitutes its
essential inviolability. This inviolability of the person
has its counterpart in God’s relations with man. To be sure
we all possess the same God. To every man He gives Himself
and His entire self. But He gives Himself to each in a
unique fashion, corresponding to his unique personality. In
God we are all one, members of a community indescribably
close. But at the same time each may be sure that God
belongs to him in different fashion from that in which He
belongs to anyone else, and that in this relationship, he is
alone with God. The value of friendship is diminished when
it is shared with many. But I know that God–and this is the
miracle of His infinite life–belongs to all, but to each in
a unique fashion. The holy circle of pure isolation
surrounds that peace in which a man’s inmost self is alone
with his God.

And this law is repeated in every community worthy of the
name. This is a truth of the first importance. A profound
communal solidarity unites all the members of the Church,
but in it the individual is never swallowed up in a
featureless identity. It is often said that the communal
life of the Church is cold. It is we who are cold, because
we are still individualists. We all of us continue the
frigid isolation of the social contract and the machine. But
we desire to become wholly Catholic. Then, indeed, we shall
experience the meaning of community. Then we shall become
conscious of a living current passing from man to man, of
the pulse throbbing from the heart of Christ through all His
members. And yet that hallowed circle will always surround
the inmost sanctuary and keep it inviolate. No one will be
permitted to approach another too closely, to force his way
into another man’s soul, to lay a hand upon his inner
independence, or override it. A profound reverence for human
personality will govern everything. For it is the foundation
of the Catholic style, whether solemn or joyful, in the
Catholic manner of making requests or giving presents, the
Catholic way of looking at things, the Catholic attitude:
in short, of everything truly Catholic.[2]

Catholic commands are always inspired by reverence for their
subject. They are based upon the knowledge that personality
is sacred. To command in the Catholic style demands
humility, not only from the man who obeys, but from the man
who gives the command. It rejects violence, and the more
completely, the more defenseless the subordinate in
question. The Catholic superior knows that he is the servant
of God’s authority, and that it is his duty to increase by
degrees the independence of his subordinates, and so make
them as free as himself.

Catholic obedience is always dignified. It is not
obsequious, or a weak leaning on the support of another, but
the free and honorable submission to that reasonable
obedience, in which the subject knows its limits, and keeps
his own independence.

The Catholic way of sharing with others, of giving and
receiving, is chaste. It never surrenders the final
independence of the person, never breaks down that holy
peace within which the soul enjoys her deepest community
life, alone with God.

Catholic charity gives help, without wounding the
recipient’s dignity.

Catholic friendship recognizes this mystery, and ensures
that the parties to it always remain new to each other.

Catholic marriage is the perfect isolation of two human
beings, and this is the source of its perennial youth.

All this is a sublime ideal. But it is the very soul of
Catholic community life.

At Rothenfels one of those present remarked, “Our fellowship
must be such that its members are prepared if necessary to
give and sacrifice all for each other. Nevertheless it does
not proceed directly from man to man–that is the nature of
fellowship in which free individuals bind themselves to
their fellows by ties of friendship or love–but from me to
God, and from God to you.” These words were spoken of a
particular association. But they state a law which applies
in some degree to every true community–however complete it
may be, personality must remain inviolate. All community
life presupposes this inner isolation.

And it is also the beginning and the end of form. For form
signifies that there is a genuine community, but that it is
limited in every direction by a consciousness of inner
difference between man and man. Forms are but ways in which
this fundamental attitude finds an appropriate expression in
the various manifestations of community life, and becomes
the law which preserves that life from corruption.

The road towards this goal, however, and not only for the
elite alone, but for every man of good will, is the Church.
She makes it possible for “all” to “be one,” and “have all
things common.” And she also brings home to us as a living
conviction the fact that it does not profit a man “if he
gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul.”


1. The Quickborn Association of Catholic Youth was founded
in 1910 with Burg Rothenfels a. Main as its headquarters.
Its aim is the permeation of the whole of life, literature,
and art, with the Catholic spirit. In 1921 it numbered about
6,000 members. (Translator’s Note.)

2. I should like here to sketch another line of thought.
Catholicism regards every human being as the child of God.
In this respect all are fundamentally equal. It is the human
being alone that counts in all the essential religious
relationships, such as in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in
the Sacraments, in the approach to the various religious
activities and responsibilities. I do not know if any other
social organization besides the Church exists, in which men
meet so naturally as man to man, even if one of the parties
is an officer of the society. In Confession, for instance,
both priest and penitent are removed from their respective
social positions and confront each other in their essential
characters. Within the spiritual sphere of the Church “the
soul,” “the human being,” “the priest,” “the sinner,” “the
man,” “the woman,” are in evidence, in short the entire
collection of essential human types and aspects detached
from their social environment. And this as a matter of
course. Once the threshold of the Church is crossed, the
fundamental categories of humanity occupy the scene. A
simplification of the personality is effected. It is reduced
to its essential human elements, cleared of all the
obscurations introduced by human imperfections or the
influences of a particular epoch. In this consists that
unique sense of equality in the Church, which is the more
perfect, because it passes without special notice.

On the other hand, the Church is the uncompromising foe of
the “democratic” spirit, which would obliterate all
distinctions of rank and natural capacity. In this sense she
is whole-heartedly aristocratic. This is indeed involved in
the tremendous power of tradition. “Democratism”–not
democracy–is a wholly modern conception and a novelty. It
makes genuine choice, valuation, and testing impossible. The
power of tradition, on the contrary, compels the present to
submit to a test and rejects those factors which are not
strong enough to endure it. Kierkegaard’s “Buch uber Adler”
has brought out in a very remarkable manner this selective
and testing force of tradition. Authority also is
aristocratic, if it really possesses the courage and
strength to rule, and is not merely disguised weakness. The
“democratistic” attitude of mind can neither command, nor

Moreover, the Church, by her teaching and institutional
embodiment of the evangelical counsels, has set before each
one of us the possibility of an extraordinary vocation. She
is charged with having established a double morality, one,
more easy-going for the world, and another more lofty code
for the cloister. If old historical prejudices and scarcely
disguised hatred did not stand in the way, it would soon be
recognized that this economy is alone in accordance with
man’s nature. From every man the Church requires perfection-
-that is to say, with all his strength he must love God, do
His Will, and work for His Kingdom in his particular sphere.
She exhorts every man to grow more and more deeply into God,
and so by degrees to make his entire life the service of
God, until he can truly say, “I live, now not I: but Christ
liveth in me.”

This is the Christian attitude to life. It admits, however,
an essential difference in the rule of life which gives it
practical embodiment. The Christian attitude is the
readiness to follow the path to which God is calling. But He
does not call all by the same road. The majority He calls to
follow the ordinary, a few the extraordinary road. The
ordinary rule of life is that in which the natural and
supernatural values and demands are brought into an
harmonious balance. The extraordinary rule of life is that
in which even in the external conduct of life everything is
directed immediately to the supernatural. The former
commanded; the latter counseled. The former is open to all
men, the latter only to those “who can take it.” To deny
that there is any difference between the two rules of life
is to deny the actual conditions of human existence. And it
is untrue to say that every man is suited to the
extraordinary path. It is untrue even in the natural sphere;
how much more therefore in the religious. It is Philistinism
and democratism which demand the abolition of the
extraordinary rule of life, that the follower of the
ordinary path may not suffer from a sense of inferiority. On
the other hand it is fantastic–and an extremely foolish and
dangerous fantasy, too–to maintain that all are called to
follow the extraordinary path. Everyone who has once
considered what this implies will agree. The Church
distinguishes the two rules. This expresses her aristocratic
attitude, which refuses to surrender to any cravings for

Yet we can show that it is precisely by this distinction
that each rule of life makes the full development of the
other possible, so that the complete structure of human life
can be built up. The rule of life in which the extraordinary
principle finds objective expression is that of the
evangelical counsels–poverty, chastity, and obedience.
These are means by which man in the concrete wholly
transfers the momentum of his life to God, places surrender
at every point above self-preservation, the supernatural
above the natural. Actually the way of life resulting from
these counsels can either be followed freely “in the world,”
or else in the regulated forms represented by religious
orders. What, then, is the significance of the latter for
the community? I am leaving out of account here the actual
services they perform, for example their care of the poor
and the sick, the intercession for the community made by the
religious rule, who in their contemplation present the
entire human race to God. I am concerned solely with the
consideration of their sociological effect. The
extraordinary fact of a perfect voluntary renunciation–and
not as an ephemeral exception, but as a perpetual
phenomenon–gives that great majority who follow the
ordinary path, that independence of the possessions
concerned, which is the more indispensable perquisite of
their right use. To take one instance; marriage, is the
isolation of two persons in God, and as a form of community,
which is more than the mere sum of two partners and
something higher, the image of God’s Kingdom, the Church;
and in every aspect as a fertility duly ordered. As such it
cannot be established merely upon the basis on those natural
forces which tend towards marriage (To many this may seem a
paradox; and it is. But when we have long pondered the forms
of human life; the relation between their aims arising from
their very nature and the forces actually at their disposal,
the relation between one form and another; and the intrinsic
economy of life, we come to understand that what
superficially seems a paradox is often the only truly
natural thing. Paradox is embedded in the very heart of
normality. It is so here.) The forces which normally produce
marriage are insufficient to make a marriage which fulfills
its own inner nature. Such a marriage requires a perfect
capacity of assent and surrender, but also an equally great
independence of the sexual factor. Without the former the
union is too superficial; without the latter it lacks inner
dignity and the capacity for fidelity. Nature, however
cannot by itself produce this. It is only that perfect
surrender in the conduct of life, which “thinks only of the
things that are God’s,” which, by the constant influence it
has exerted upon others through the centuries, awakens in
the married also the strength requisite for complete
surrender, with all the sacrifices that this entails. And
their total renunciation of sex creates that freedom from
the excessive power of sex, which in its turn reacts upon
the mass of men and women and alone can make marriage
faithful and chaste. To deny the possibility of this
renunciation and surrender to God is also to deny man’s
noblest capacities and shake the foundation of true
marriage. On the other hand, if a renunciation is to be
truly heroic, the thing renounced must admittedly be
valuable. An epoch must be fully aware of the value of
marriage, of the treasures it comprises, if the sacrifice of
the celibate is to be seen as something truly extraordinary.
Marriage must display that profound inner wealth, must
possess that nobility, must be that miraculous product
fashioned by the co-operation of natural and supernatural
forces, which Christ willed, Paul suggested, and the Church
has always cherished. For the distinctive sacrifice in
virginity is its renunciation of the perfect community and
creative powers which only marriage can produce. Thus the
loneliness of the extraordinary path can alone ensure that
the rule, namely, marriage, shall become noble and profound.
But conversely only marriage makes that sacrifice what it
must be, if it is to realize the values inherent in its
nature. Marriage, too need be heroic, if the life of
virginity is to escape the danger of becoming commonplace.
The extraordinary is not heroic simply as such. On the
contrary it consists in the perfect purity, generosity, and
fidelity with which the extraordinary vocation is fulfilled.
Similarly the ordinary is not of its nature commonplace. It
also becomes heroic when it is realized with perfect purity,
courage and fidelity. We must not confuse the characteristic
distinctions between the two ways with distinctions of moral
dispositions. There “extraordinary” may also be very
“commonplace,” the ordinary very heroic. Marriage and
virginity or more generally–the rule and the exception–
duty and counsel–are forms of Christian life. “Mediocre”
and “heroic,” on the contrary, are attitudes towards life.
Every form of life can be lived in an heroic or in a
mediocre spirit. And the resolve to live a life of heroic
and unreserved self-devotion does not of itself determine
the form of life in which it shall be accomplished. The
“good will” decides the former choice, “vocation” the
latter. We need men and women to live the extraordinary form
of life heroically. But we have just as great need of others
to live the ordinary form of life heroically. Heroism in
marriage is just as indispensable as heroism in virginity.
And it is certain that both types of heroism, viewed from
the sociological standpoint, mutually support each other.

So deeply are aristocracy and–the right term does not
exist–democracy interwoven in the Catholic spiritual order.

Those who take the right point of view will observe at every
turn, with a delight mingled with a certain awe, how
marvelously, how even uncannily right the Church is in all
her values and arrangements; and how her attitude so
commonly charged with hostility to life is in complete
accord with life’s most profound demands. We have, indeed,
good cause to trust the Church! We have but to encounter
such a masterpiece of the divine penetration and fashioning
of human life, and all objections vanish into thin air….


THESE lectures have not attempted to establish by scientific
reasoning, but to state as my firm conviction, that the
sphere of Catholic faith–the Church–is not merely one
alternative among many, but religious truth, pure and
simple, the Kingdom of God. The Church is not something
belonging to the past, but absolute reality, and therefore
the answer to every age, including our own, and its
fulfillment. And this fulfillment will be the more perfect,
the more substantial and the more complete our acceptance of
the reality displayed by the Catholic faith and the more
serious our endeavor to make our own the spiritual
disposition it involves. This genuine Catholicity, which is
seriously convinced of the supernatural and dogmatic
character of Catholicism, is the most open-minded and the
most comprehensive attitude, or rather the only open-minded
comprehensive attitude, in existence. If by open-mindedness
we mean the intellectual outlook which sees and values all
objects as they really are, the Church can claim this
description, because in face of the superabundant wealth of
human experience she occupies the sole perfectly stable,
clear and determined position Both the wealth and the fixity
enter into the Catholic mind. For the man whose outlook is
narrow and timid and whose experience of reality is
impoverished, falls as far short of the Catholic outlook as
the man who is incapable of an unconditional affirmative or
negative, or who waters down her definitely supernatural
teaching, or explains away the clear historical facts upon
which it is based.

But more remains to be said. Already in my second lecture I
pointed out that we are concerned with the actual, not the
ideal Church, not with a spiritual one, but the historical
Church as she exists to-day. The Church is not an ideal,
which can be constructed a priori, and upon which we may
fall back when reality fails us, as, for instance, we may
elaborate an ideal state. Fundamentally there is no such
thing as a philosophy of the Church. She is on the contrary
a unique fact. Her position in this respect resembles that
of a man. If anyone were to say that a particular judgment
was applicable not to his friend in the concrete, but only
to his ideal, and in consequence were to divert his approval
from the man to the ideal, he would be guilty of an
injustice to his friend’s personality. It would indeed be
worse than an injustice; it would be disloyalty. For it
would be a complete blindness to the essential decision with
which human personality confronts us to accept or refuse it
as it actually is. It demands yes or no, hostility or
loyalty, but cannot admit a retreat into the abstract and a
denial of reality in the name of the ideal. Such an
attribute would be metaphysically false, because it would
ignore the essential nature of individual personality by
treating it as nothing more than a particular instance of a
universal, and it would be morally unacceptable, because it
would substitute for the attitude which must be adopted
towards a person the attitude proper in the case of a mere
thing. It is equally irrational to distinguish between the
reality and the ideal of the Church. This, however, makes a
further distinction the more indispensable. We must inquire
whether the real inner form of the Church, her inner
perfection ordained by God, is revealed by any given
external of manifestation. Are forces which spring from her
very essence fully operative in the visible expressions of
her life? Is her inner nature visible in her members? No one
can evade this question, for it concerns each one of us
personally. When a man reaches the conviction that the
Church is absolute in her actual nature and in every age
teaches the way to perfection and the strength by which it
may be achieved, his immediate reaction will be an intense
gratitude. But this gratitude must not induce him to settle
down in spiritual comfort, but must be felt as a demand. The
parable of the talents is applicable also to our relation to
the Church. We are all responsible for her, each in his own
way, the priest in virtue of his Ordination, the layman in
virtue of his Confirmation. Upon each one of us depends the
degree of harmony achieved between the nature of the Church
and her outward semblance, between her inner and outer
aspects. Here, too, we bear a heavy responsibility towards
those outside the Church. It requires the vision of love and
of faith to see the inner nature of the Church beneath
expressions often so defective. Even her own members
sometimes lack this vision. How much less then is it to be
expected from those who regard the Church with distrust as
strangers, blinded by the prejudices and false values of
their education! We cannot blame them if they regard the
assertions made in these lectures as theorizing. For it is
indeed true that a valid argument in this sphere should be
conducted by Catholics, whose lives inspire confidence.
Their proofs, it is true, are not without their intrinsic
value. But their power to bring conviction is strongest when
they are supported by a living “proof of power.”


Written by Juan Gabriel Ravasi

octubre 20, 2012 a 8:16 pm


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