Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: The Need to Close One’s Ears to the Rehashed Messages of the Pope

Last year, when we interviewed Raymond Cardinal Burke (see here) he confirmed Catholics can no longer look towards Rome -- towards Pope Francis -- for guidance on critical issues. The good Cardinal said, instead, to turn to the catechism and tradition.  

With that sage advice in mind, we bring you this guest Op-Ed, written by the highly-esteemed John Rao who, among numerous other things, was Rorate Caeli's first-ever credentialed Conclave correspondent in 2013:

A Not So Surprising Surprise of the Holy Spirit:

The Need to Close One’s Ears to the Rehashed Messages of the Pope

Today we were treated to yet another of Pope Francis’ unending warnings against closure to the divine surprises of the Holy Spirit. These warnings are themselves no surprise whatsoever. They are nothing other than a tiresome rehash of arguments that have repeatedly been offered by the idolaters of change since the time of the Abbé de Lamennais (1782-1854). In particular, they are a rehash of arguments popularized in Latin America after the Second World War by a number of men with close ties to the school of Personalism represented by people like Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950).

Mounier and Company were propagandists for the need for Catholics to abandon their ties to fixed doctrines and practices and open themselves up instead to the “living” and “vibrant” influences of the powerful cultural forces and movements demonstrating such astonishing vigor in the secular and generally non-Christian world; i.e., to abandon the effort to transform all things in Christ and seek to transform Christianity by reference to all things fallen instead.

This form of Personalism deeply admired—and still admires---strength and the strong man. It is in awe of willfulness and the need to submit to it as though it were an expression of the wishes of the Holy Spirit While not racist in character, it nevertheless was very much impressed by Fascism, which it thought that its own intellectual strong men could guide to a happy goal (hence the need for base communities to train unenlightened Catholics). The school set to up in Uriage in Vichy France to prepare officials for leadership in the New Order such men saw coming into being in the wake of the Nazi victory in 1940 was a main center for spreading the kind of thought Pope Francis repeats regularly.

Shaking with rage over his latest statements, convinced that the one not so surprising surprise of the Holy Spirit in our day is the need to shut our  ears tightly to the nonsense coming out of Rome today, and yet having no time at the moment to write a new article on this subject, I beg readers of Rorate to find a piece that I wrote some ago for the Latin Mass Magazine on this subject -- The Bad Seed: The Liberal-Fascist Embrace, which can be found in toto by clicking here -- to understand where the tyrannical Pope’s usurpation of the authority of the Holy Spirit comes from. I cite one small segment of that article below. The names mentioned are leaders and teachers at Uriage; the citations themselves---which, once again, can be found in the article in question---come from a number of valuable works on the Personalist menace, including some from Personalists themselves.

Transformation of the world, according to the doctrine taught at Uriage, was dependent upon the creation of “persons” as opposed to “individuals.” Allow me briefly to remind readers of my last article that “persons” were defined as men who responded to the call of “natural values” which pressed them to surpass in community life their narrow individual desires. One knew that he was dealing with a community dedicated to a natural value constructing true persons whenever he saw that it possessed a discernible “mystique,” and that it led to creative, self-sacrificing activity. One day, the “convergence” of all such mystiques would result in the establishment of a community of communities producing, in effect, Super-persons, “the greatest transformation to which humanity has ever submitted.” The nightmare of the twentieth century was actually “the bloody birth of a true collective being of men,” mysterious indeed, but providential and eminently Catholic (Ibid., p. 178).

Catholicism’s role in this “convergence” was that of giving witness to the supernatural significance of every natural value, reflected in the mystiques of the active communities of self-sacrificing persons it saw around it, and helping each of them to come to its own innate perfection. It must not sit in judgment of them, because Catholicism itself could not fully know what it really was until everything natural had matured and converged. Catholicism was part of a multifaceted pilgrimage to God, linked together by intuition and action, whose destination was unclear. What was important at the moment was encouraging deeply willed commitment to self-sacrifice of all sorts.

Hence Uriage’s stunning ecumenism, testified to in a myriad of ways. Beginning with Segonzac’s ability “to form friendly relations, on the spiritual plane, with Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Moslems, agnostics,” since he “preferred (rooted) people…in their own setting, in their own culture” (Ibid., p. 83), it passed through the Uriage Charter’s proclamation that “believers and non-believers are, in France, sufficiently impregnated with Christianity that the better among them could meet, beyond revelations and dogmas, at the level of the community of persons, in the same quest for truth, justice and love” (Ibid., p. 59) and arrived, in Mounier, at full-fledged Teilhardian rapture over the strange growth of the “perfect personal community,” where “Love alone would be the bound, and no constraint, no vital or economic interest, no extrinsic institution” (John Hellman, Emmanuel Mounier and the New Catholic Left: 1930-1950, Toronto, 1981, p. 85):

Surely [development] is slow and long when only average men are working at it. But then heroes, geniuses, a saint come along: a Saint Paul, a Joan of Arc, a Catherine of Siena, a Saint Bernard, or a Lenin, a Hitler and a Mussolini, or a Gandhi, and suddenly everything picks up speed...[H]uman irrationality, the human will, or simply, for the Christian, the Holy Spirit suddenly provides elements which men lacking imagination would never have foreseen (Ibid., p. 90).

May the democrat, may the communist, may the fascist push the positive aspirations which inspire their enthusiasm to the limit and plenitude.

As John Hellman explains, “Mounier’s belief that there was an element of truth in all strong beliefs coincided with Teilhard’s vision of the inevitable spiritualization of humanity” (Ibid., p. 128).

Let it be emphasized that the message taught at Uriage was not a rational one. Its ultimate justification was intuition and strength of will leading to creative action. Any appeal to logic, either in support or criticism of strongly willed commitment to natural values was dismissed as either belaboring the given, or dangerous, decadent, individualist scholastic pedantry. Better to bury the temptations of a sickly rationalism through the development of the obvious virtue of “manliness,” again, defined in completely anti-intellectual ways: the ability to leap onto a moving streetcar; to ride a bicycle up the steep hill to the Ecole like Jacques Chevalier; to look others “straight in the eye” and “shake hands firmly”; to endure the sweat-filled regimen labelled décrassage devised for students under the inspiration of General Georges Hébert; to sing enthusiastically around the evening fire in the Great Hall; to know how to “take a woman”; and, always, to feel pride in “work well done.” Such manliness was said to have deep spiritual meaning, aspects of which were elaborated in lectures like de Lubac’s Ordre viril, ordre chrétien (Virile Order, Christian Order), and Chenu’s book, Pour être heureux, travaillons ensemble (For Happiness, Let Us Work Together).

Finally, let us note that Uriage’s teaching was unabashedly elitist, the particular mystique of the Ecole being that of developing the natural value of leadership. “The select youth of Uriage” were said to be “the first cell of a new world introduced into a worn-out one” (Hellman, KMV, p. 65), “entrusted with the mission of bringing together the elite from all of the groups that ought to participate in the common task of reconstruction in the same spirit of collaboration” (Ibid., p. 63). Since they were destined to reveal the eternal supernatural significance of the natural values witnessed to by the mystique of all virile communities, Uriage students were actually priestly figures as well. Each class was consecrated and given a great man’s name as talisman. Segonzac especially “took upon himself a certain sacerdotal role, even regarding the wives and children of his instructors” (Ibid., p. 90). This entailed also a “separation between the leaders, the lesser leaders, the lesser-lesser leaders, the almost leaders and the not-at-all leaders” irritating some of the interns. “The central team,” as one of them indicated, “were gods” (Ibid., p. 75).

Fascism was seen by the Uriage gods as a “monstrous prefiguration” of the new personalist humanity waiting to be born. It clearly revealed the presence of strong will, virile manliness, self-sacrifice to the community and even, in the context of the war effort, a commitment to the construction of that European-wide order which the leadership thought to be crucial to a more successful unleashing of the creation of spiritualized personalities. Pétain’s so-called National Revolution was appreciated both because of its anti-liberal bourgeois character and its freedom from the gross “materialist” aspects of Nazism, racism in particular. Nevertheless, the deportation of French youth to forced labor camps, the increasing control by Germany of internal Vichy affairs and the outright takeover of the Unoccupied Zone in the latter part of 1942 moved the leadership of the Ecole closer to the growing Resistance Movement. This tendency was matured by December of that year when Uriage’s enemies at court managed to have it expelled from the Château Bayard.

But Uriage never did anything haphazardly. Building upon the sense of being a modern version of a band of crusading knights, the exiled Ecole leadership created in 1943 a chivalric Order whose inner circle was bound by special vows of a character that Fr. Maydieu compared spiritually to those of marriage. Members of the Order were to sally forth to show the various elements of the Resistance how to perfect their mystiques in the Uriage manner. Thus, high-level emissaries were sent to contact de Gaulle, and “flying squadrons” into the countryside to guide the maquis so that their deficient mystiques could be “transcended spiritually” and “converge” in the construction of the better world of the personalist-Teilhardian faith.

The enthusiasm with which this labor was undertaken was genuine, especially with respect to the Marxist aspects of the Resistance Movement (Marxism, like Fascism, being another “monstrous prefiguration” of a happier future). Here, the Order’s activity was paralleled by the efforts of priests and bishops trying to understand the “mystique” of workers in labor camps and ordinary French factories, training for the latter purpose being offered under the patronage of the supra-diocesan Mission de France. Uriage teachers were themselves involved in these priestly activities – Fr. Dillard, for example, canonizing the Soviets he encountered in the labor camps, and insisting that all workers were born to their task with specific virtues denied to other people. An Uriage-like openness was everywhere in the air. After all, there were “riches in modern disbelief, in atheist Marxism, for example, which are presently lacking to the fullness of the Christian conscience” (Emile Poulat, Les prêtres-ouvrières: Naissance et fin, Cerf, 1999, p. 408). Enlightened spirits had “to share the faith in and the mystique of the Revolution and the Great Day (that of the total Christ)” (Ibid., p. 386), as did one priest who asked to die “turned towards Russia, mother of the proletariat, as towards that mysterious homeland where the Man of the future is being forged” (Ibid., p. 244).

The sons of Uriage retained their wartime sense of being a priestly nation, a people set apart, chosen to judge which mystiques were and were not acceptable on the pathway to “convergence.” Objects of contempt offered themselves aplenty. Soviet apparatchiks did not seem to understand that Marxism was meant to be spiritually transcended. A Stalinist mystique, therefore, had to be jettisoned. American culture was even more hopeless. “The Americans,” Beuve-Mery complained, “could prevent us from carrying out the obligatory revolution, and their materialism does not even have the tragic grandeur of the materialism of the totalitarians” (Ibid., p. 213). Jews were dangerous due to their potential spirit of revenge (Ibid., p. 197). Perhaps most of all, however, traditional Catholicism, which, from Uriage days, had feared the “insistence on bringing together men with different ‘mystiques’ while affecting a ‘manly’ irritation with clericalism, dogma and the orthodox” (Ibid., p. 88), needed to be tossed onto the rubbish heap of contempt.

Mounier is particularly instructive with respect to this growing dismissal of the Church. His vision had always logically involved the possibility of shelving whole realms of Christian scripture, theology and spirituality, should they clash with the “emerging convergence.” By the last years of the war, “there was little place for sin, redemption and resurrection in the debate; the central acts of the Christian drama were set aside” (Hellman, Mounier, p. 255). Nietzsche’s critique of slavish Christianity now seemed to him to be unanswerable, and he “came to think that Roman Catholicism was an integral part of almost all he hated. Then, when he searched his soul, he discovered that the aspects of himself which he appreciated least were his ‘Catholic’ traits” (Ibid., p. 190). Doing what one willed was the unum necessarium. Everything rational from the Greek tradition used to support Christianity and dampen the will was execrated as well. If there was anything valuable in the Greco-Christian heritage it had to come from personalists rebuilding it from scratch; those appealing to the Catholic name and Catholic practice in his day required diagnosis and psychiatric help:

Mounier now flatly denounced old-fashioned Christianity and Christians. Christianity, he wrote, was “conservative, defensive, sulky, afraid of the future.” Whether it “collapses in a struggle or sinks slowly in a coma of self-complacency,” it was doomed. “Christians,” he castigated in even stronger terms in a rhapsodic style worthy of his new master (Nietzsche): “These crooked beings who go forward in life only sidelong with downcast eyes, these ungainly souls, these weighers-up of virtues, these dominical victims, these pious cowards, these lymphatic heroes, these colourless virgins, these vessels of ennui, these bags of syllogisms, these shadows of shadows…” (Ibid., p. 191).

Metaphysical speculation, Mounier declared, was a characteristic of “lifeless schizoid personalities.”…Mounier even referred to intelligence and spirituality as “bodily diseases” and attributed the indecisiveness of many Christians to their ignorance of “how to jump a ditch or strike a blow.” ... “Modern psychiatry,” Mounier wrote, had shed light on the morbid taste for the “spiritual,” for “higher things,” for the ideal and for effusions of the soul…. Thus, many forms of religious devotion were the result of psychosis, self-deception or vanity. Prayer was often a sign of psychological illness and weakness (Ibid., pp. 192-193).