I am in the Church
Many Christians today give the impression that they do not feel at ease in the Church and that they only remain faithful to her with difficulty. I must say that my experience is contrary to theirs. The Church has never disappointed me. It is rather I who would be inclined to accuse myself of not having drawn profit enough from all that she had to offer to me. A theologian once wrote that he could understand Simone de Beauvoir leaving the Church as she knew it, as though it were necessary to wait until Vatican II to find a Church in which one could breathe!
The Christian environment in which I grew up was the same as Simone de Beauvoir's. Its masters were Gilson and Maritain, Bernanos and Mauriac, Mounier and Garric. This environment was of an exceptional quality. And this would have sufficed to enable me to become devoted to it.
But other people may not have had this privilege. They may have encountered Christian milieus which were narrow minded, mediocre or oppressive. They may have felt bullied in their legitimate aspirations. Moreover, they may have noticed a disagreement between the faith as it is professed and the way it is practiced. They may have felt that intellectual freedom, the struggle for justice, human fulfillment could be found to a greater extent somewhere else. And it is true that the Church, in the concrete and Sociological reality of the milieus which represent her that which Peguy used to call "the Christian world," can be a disappointment.
If the reasons for remaining in the Church or for separating from her were of this order, then they would not be very strong. That is why I do not admit that one leaves the Church on such grounds, any more that I remain within the Church because of contrary motives. If we want to find fraternal communities, generous people, inventive minds, these can, after all, be found elsewhere.
What draws me to the Church is not the sympathy that I feel towards the people who compose her, but what is given to me through these men, no matter who they are, that is to say, the truth and life of Jesus Christ. I am attached to the Church because she cannot be separated from Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ freely gave himself' to her, because I cannot find Jesus Christ in any authentic way outside her. That is the answer to those who say: "Why the Church?" Any search for Christ outside the Church is an illusion. It is to the Church alone, who is his spouse, that Christ gave the riches of his glory for distribution to the world.
First, what Christ gave to the Church is his truth. What interests me is not the personal ideas of this or that theologian. It is the truth of the faith. Now this truth is not at the mercy of one or another particular interpretation. Christ did not turn his message over to the arbitrariness of individual interpretations. He confided it to the Church that he founded. He assured this Church of his assistance to keep her intact, to make the riches of her doctrine explicit, to proclaim it to successive generations, to reject alterations in it.
It is essentially to his Apostles united with Peter and to the successors of the Apostles united with the successor of Peter that Christ has entrusted this deposit. In a Church where unfortunately today the most controversial opinions are expressed, where there is no article of the Creed which is not emptied of its contents by the new sophists, in order to adapt it to the taste of the times, just as Saint Paul had long ago predicted, I cannot express sufficiently the joy I felt in reading the profession of faith of Paul VI. It is the pure crystalline form and undistorted echo of what I believe.
It is the Church who, by her Magisterium, preserves, preaches, and spreads the truth of Jesus Christ. She has been doing this for almost two thousand years. She has been confronted by all ideological currents. From the gnostics of the second century to the modernists of the twentieth, these currents have tried to penetrate her and to alter her faith. Theologians have been carried off by these currents; but the Church has preserved the truth without impairment.
How many times was she not told that this or that dogma of hers was no longer acceptable to the intellectuals of the day. But these systems have collapsed and the faith has endured. We have here a spectacle to strike us with awe. Man is not condemned to the complete uncertainty so contrary to the nature of his intellect, made as it was to grasp reality, it is the delight of the intellect to rest in the truth. And it is this joy which the Church provides.
Some will accuse her of pride, of triumphalism, even of being possessive. "We do not possess the truth, we are in search of it," said one bishop, who was badly inspired that day and confused by accusations like these. And certainly no human intellectual authority has the right to require this unconditional assent of the mind which is faith.
But the point is that the infallibility of the Church is not dependent on any human authority. It is the very infallibility of God. "And how can we not believe in God," asked Clement of Alexandria. This infallibility is not something the Church has dreamed up on her own. She is only a poor woman. She receives it from her Spouse. But it is something real that she receives. And that is why she can acknowledge it in humility, for she knows that she had no part in making it up. But she cannot relinquish it to please certain ears, for, in doing so, she would betray her Spouse.
Who can rob me of this joy? It will certainly not be those sad spirits who hold in doubt the very trademark of the intellect and regard certainty with a suspicious eye as a kind of misguided search for comfort and consolation. And all their psychoanalytical warnings about the need for security will never embarrass me in the serenity of my faith. It is their intellect which is ailing, with their sick relish for distrust, which is the opposite of a healthy and joyful critique. For there is a healthy type of critique which is, within the bounds of the faith, the very mainspring of progress. But there is an unhealthy distrust, which paralyzes adherence to the faith, shakes certainty and renders contemplation sterile.
With the Church of Jesus Christ, with the plain common women of my village, with Pope Paul VI, with Bernanos and Claudel, I profess the Creed of visible and invisible things, I contemplate the immense spaces which Revelation displays before the wondering eyes of my heart. I contemplate Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father and pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh. I contemplate innumerable angelic persons, the saints who gaze on the face of God and who watch over me, and among them, the Virgin Mary exalted in glory in her soul and in her body.
And I allow these gentlemen to explain to me gravely, with their pedantry, that religious sociology makes us see in this representation the mirror of feudal society, with its gradated hierarchies, and that our democratic society requires seeing things in a more horizontal arrangement. I leave them to suspect that the angels are perhaps only a way of expressing the fact that God is manifesting Himself-and that, in any case, the fact that God expresses Himself is an anthropomorphism linked to a pre-critical and pre-dialectical stage of theology-and that finally the very sense of the word "God" is dependent on a structured research which will allow it to be situated in the system to which it belongs.
They wear looks of consternation when we speak of the profession of faith of Paul VI and they attempt to explain that they have nothing to do with this type of Church. But they are the ones who will always be behind the times, always ready to embark on the second. last boat, but never getting there in time. Apollinaire had more than instinct going for him, when he wrote in La Belle Rousse: "Pope Pius X, it is you who are of men the most modern."
For what the Pope says has the youthfulness and freshness of truth. And what they say has always the tired and old-fashioned look of the pseudo-modern. They want to institute democracy in the Church at a time when she is in the throes of a crisis of authority, and secularism, when the world is crying out for the sacred.
They remain in the Church in spite of the Pope, doing their best to dilute papal authority. I myself remain in the Church because of the Pope and not in spite of the Pope. I am Catholic because of infallibility and not in spite of infallibility. For what I am seeking is not the best form of government-we could argue about that indefinitely-but the authority of God, beyond human uncertainties. Now it is ultimately by Peter and by Peter's successors that the Church enjoys the presence of this divine authority, which is precisely what I am looking for beyond all human opinions.
The authority, they will tell me, is the Word of God as contained in the inspired Scriptures. And this word of God receives an interpretation sometimes in one sense, sometimes in another, by the exegetes. It one had to wait on them in order to know if there are three persons in God, if Christ is truly the pre-existing Son of God, if he was really conceived by the Holy Spirit, if he was resurrected from the dead, one would have to wait for a long time. For some say white and others black. Not that they have failed to render any service. But it was not to these that Christ entrusted the interpretation of the Scriptures. He entrusted this to Peter and to his successors.
I am in the Church because it is the Church alone that gives me the divinely authorized interpretation of the Scriptures. It is she who, throughout the centuries, has explained with authority what was implied in the affirmations of the Scriptures. It is the Gospel I am looking for, but it is precisely in the Church alone that I find the Gospel, because it is to the Church alone that Christ gave his Gospel. To want to go directly to the Gospel without passing through the Church is to substitute a human interpretation of the Gospel for the authorized interpretation of the Gospel.
I leave the dead bury the dead. I let the morticians dissect a dead scripture. I let the grave-diggers discover, as they say, a tibia of Jesus Christ, and this, they add, would not change anything. If Christ is not resurrected, that is to say if his fleshly body has not been transfigured by the Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee that my own fleshly body will be transfigured by the Holy Spirit, then my faith is useless, as Saint Paul has already said.
For me Jesus Christ is alive and he is alive in the Church. And it is through the living Church that he is still talking to me today, "making me understand by his Holy Spirit all that he had taught me." It is to this living word that my faith adheres. I am interested in what the exegetes say. But I believe what the Church teaches.
Another reason that causes me to cling to the Church is the sacraments. If I remain in the Church, it is because she is a vital milieu. She is the paradise where the energies of the Holy Spirit are at work. This is where the great rivers of living waters wash me of my stains, where the tree of life nourishes me with its fruit. Tertullian said: "We, the little fish, we cannot live outside the water." I cannot live outside the milieu of the sacraments. There is no spiritual life which does not bathe in this vital milieu. For the love of God has been diffused in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and it is to the Church that the Holy Spirit was given and it is by the sacraments that he is communicated.
But they have discovered a new religion which is the religion of the "word". We know very well where this originated. It was in the theology of Karl Barth and in the article logos of the dictionary of Kittel. But the "word" has become their specialty. They began hammering on the "word" in May ‘69. They have used it so much that we must now beg them to be silent; so much that the young are going to Taize asking for a silence that the churches are unable to offer them anymore.
They have mixed together the Word of God, the Kerygma of the Apostles, the whole universe of words. Radio and television have offered them a wonderful instrument for their chattering. And what they say creates a screen of words which bears the stamp of mystery.
All of a sudden, poor pastors no longer know what to do. They had become priests to distribute the sacraments. And they were quite right. It is indeed for this reason that we become priests. And it is always this which is asked of priests, But now they have been told that it is the ‘word" which is the important thing and that the sacraments are secondary. They have been informed with scholarly airs that the ritual is a vestige of the Old Testament and of paganism, reeking of superstition. And so, they try to become as useful as they can, in doing their psychoanalysis, in building their apartment blocks, in teaching sociology, and, of course, in streaming out words without tiring.
But how is this going to change the world? How is this going to change life? Jesus Christ did not come to make speeches. He came to change life. He changed it by his death and his resurrection. He introduced our flesh into the glory of the Father. And as Christ's flesh transfigured by the Holy Spirit is one with our flesh, from the flesh of the resurrected Christ the life of the Spirit is bent on communicating itself to all flesh, just as fire, once kindled in the brush, sets the whole forest ablaze. Now it is by the sacraments that this life of the Spirit is communicated. And it is by the priests that the sacraments are given.
I do not need any other teacher. If Jesus was only a good example, an enthusiastic model, a call for action, he would not interest me any more than other teachers. The Christian language as a language does not interest me. It only interests me by what it says, through its poor human words. It tells me that God loved me and sent his Son who is God, wisdom of God, power of God, to pick me up in the midst of my perishable condition, to liberate me from sin and death, to make me, from now on, a spiritual being, before incorporating me, after my death, into his incorruptible life.
What is important to me in the sacraments is that they are the means by which this life is communicated to me. It is important to me that the effectiveness of God is working through these visible signs. Believing in them has nothing to do with some sort of magic, it is the essence of my faith, the object of which is the presence of a divinizing power in the Church. I plunge into the sacraments as into living waters to renew my life in them, as when a little child I was immersed in them to receive that life. The sacraments are not in the first place the exterior signs of my adherence to the faith. They are primarily the visible signs of God's actions.
But they will tell me: "You seem to think that baptism takes away original sin. But you must first explain what original sin is." If I had to wait for their learned explanations in order to believe, if I had to suspend my faith in parentheses until they have finally explained everything, where would I be with all this? Explanations follow on and on with no result.
Original sin, the fact that I bear the burden of death and sin and that only the power of God can deliver me from this, is what Saint Paul tells me, what the Church teaches me, and what I believe in. And it is because of this that baptism is not, first of all, the exterior sign of my engagement in the Church. Before all else, it is the sign of Christ's action destroying original sin. And that is why little children are baptized, in order to receive the gift of God, to be alive.
The Eucharist renews life in me by communion with the resurrected Christ who is really present under the species of bread and wine. What is important to me is this Real Presence. I know that the Church alone possesses this. I know that this presence can only be real when constituted by validly ordained ministers. That is what I am looking for and what I do not find anywhere else. I am hungry for the Body of Christ-and not for some kind of symbol: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have life."
The certainty that I will find this Real Presence in the Catholic Church is what keeps me attached to her, apart from the interest suggested by any other consideration.
In the sacrament of penance, man's reconciliation with God, which is an essential aspect of the divine action accomplished by Jesus Christ, is continued by the ministry of the priest. For the power to forgive sins depends on God alone. Christ possesses this power by his divine nature and he gave it to the Apostles-and not to every Christian. The Apostles transmitted their power to their successors. It is a divine action which is performed through their hands. It restores friendship with God to those who have lost it. It regenerates the life of grace. It intensifies anew the energies of charity. It enables man to live with the freedom of God's sons, which is not the false freedom of those who scorn the law, but liberation from the slavery of sin, reconciling man again with the plan of God and making him taste the sweetness of His law.
I love the Church because I am looking for life. The goal of divine action in Christ through the Spirit is to make man a person alive in the spirit. The goal of divine action is to open the intellect to the mystery of God, to lead man into the furthest depths of reality, to make him realize that the ground of being is the eternal love of the divine persons and man's participation in this love. The goal of divine action is to expand supernatural charity which moves me to help my brother men, not only in the human dimension of their earthly life but in the realization of their divine vocation.
The goal of divine action is to beatify my heart in the possession of God's benefits, in incorruptible life, in contemplation of the face of God. Now this life, this charity, this understanding can only breathe and develop in the life-giving atmosphere of the sacraments. The sacraments remain sterile if they do not bear the fruits of charity. But charity cannot bear fruit if it is not engrafted on Christ by means of the sacraments.
Charity is the growth of that life whose germ is given only by the sacraments. Without this charity, you can indeed find generosity and dedication, intelligence and virtue, happiness and beauty; the reason is that all that God has created is good. But this is true for all men, Hindus and Moslems, deists and atheists. All this does not form part of the special gift from Christ and can well be found outside the Church. But what is His gift is given only by the sacraments of the Church.
The word has no other goal but to tell us of God's action. It tells of his action in Abraham and Moses. It tells of his action in the Incarnation and in the Resurrection. It tells of his action in our days in the sacraments. For the sacraments are the continuation of God's marvels in the Old and in the New Testament: "Whoever will believe and be baptized will be saved."
It is not the word which makes up the substance of the sacraments, it is the sacrament which gives the word its substance. The sacrament is not a rite to be deemed as slightly superfluous or, eventually, useless, a pagan survival in a secularized world. It is the instrument by which Christ communicates his life.
But they no longer believe in the power of the sacraments. They have invented a theory of an implicit and anonymous Christianity, according to which every man is a Christian by the very fact of his belonging to human nature. The Church then, the Church instituted by Jesus Christ, becomes a luxury for a few elite.
This opens the way for ridding the Church of the poor, and any one else who comes along, because, after all, they can get along perfectly well without her. But why then should I concern myself with this Church, if she no longer corresponds to a vital need? Why should I desire to attract others to her, if they can do perfectly well without her? And the moment she becomes a luxury, she quickly looms as an obstacle. Eventually, she will have to disintegrate amid the forward movement of humanity.
And this is exactly their aim. They think that they are the prophets of the new church which is humanity on the march. And they persist in destroying the Church, the true Church, the one that Jesus Christ instituted, this Church that is the only dispenser of the gifts of grace. They seek to impose a sort of bad faith on those who believe in this Church and who should thereby end up with feelings of guilt for remaining within her. And how does their proposal affect me? If I am interested in humanity on the march, I can choose for a guide anyone I wish among Brezhnev or Mao, Nixon, or Franco, or any other you care to mention. But the life of God can only be given to me by the Church of the sacraments.
They want to politicize the Church. Her mission would be to direct humanity in its search for justice and peace. But there the old anticlericalism of my Breton ancestors awakens within me. My ancestors had seen too much of those Breton pastors who wanted to direct their parishioners in politics. And this caused them to rise against a Church that interfered with what was none of her business. Despite this, they remained fundamentally Christians-and sometimes even more so than their pastors. Today I feel the same reaction. It is always the same pastors who want to direct politics. They have only changed their political sentiments.
What we are asking of priests is to give baptism, penance, communion. We are not asking them for political advice. And above all, we are asking them not to lay down political conditions for the reception of the sacraments. They have done this more than enough in the past. They have brandished their threats of excommunication too often. I knew some who refused absolution under the German occupation to those who were in favor of De Gaulle.
They are beginning to do the same thing again. They are making socialism an article of faith, as they did with the monarchy. They admit to their Catholic action groups only those who display not the white robe of baptism, but the red flag of the revolution. Let them mind their own business!
And what is their business that is so great. They imagine that modern man takes no interest in God any more and that is why they try to relocate themselves in the political arena. Once more, they are a century late. For today the world is thirsting for God. It is searching for where to find him. And the mission of the Church, and the singular mission of priests is to give God to this world in its longing for him.
If I were not a priest, I would become a priest today, because I feel that priests are the great need of the world. If I were not a Catholic, I would become a Catholic, for the Church, the trustee of the fullness of the divine gifts, is what the world needs.
People were starting to come to them. And they are the ones who are leaving. Prejudices began to fall. Their Churches were filling up, their schools were flourishing, their monasteries were brilliant. And it is they who want to auction all this off, as signs of the visible Church they detest. They are ready to sell the churches, to close the schools, to scatter the monasteries. It is as though they were ashamed to be themselves. They want to hide in their lairs. They seem to be humiliated by the good feeling tendered them by civil officials; they call this constantinianism; they have a masochistic taste for persecution. And it is true that persecutions call forth exemplary virtues. The people's democracies are proof of that. But by creating elite groups of Christians, they are destroying the Christian people.
I have declared my unchanging reasons for belonging to the Church. They concern what the Church is in her substance and what an irreplaceable dowry she brings. But the Church is also the Church of historical fact, the Church in the concrete, as she exists today with her historical heritage, inserted into contemporary society, under the forms taken by her institutions. It is frequently this aspect of the Church which leads some to take leave of her.
To cite the most characteristic example, the encyclical Humanae vitae was the occasion for a certain number of priests and of the faithful to separate from the Church. Are the Church's positions regarding the great problems of today a reason for being still more attached to her, or, on the contrary, for separating from her?
I just said that she is not supposed to get into politics. That is to say, she is not to hold or impose a political stance. But this does not mean, that she must avoid intervening in political matters, insofar as things pertaining to politics are also dependent on the law of God. She does not, however, judge them in the name of political criteria, but in the name of the law of God.
And here she has something to say, when liberties are oppressed or when liberties are oppressive. She has no business choosing between economic arrangements with their balance of advantages and disadvantages. But she must judge the good or the bad uses of these arrangements. She must condemn an unrestrained use of money which is poisoning our Western world. And she must condemn an oppressive state which violates legitimate freedoms.
We know how difficult these steps are. Some would like to relegate the Church to the sacristy and forbid her to make any type of intervention in political affairs. But the Church cannot accept this, for man's destiny, for which she is responsible before God, is also fulfilled through political things. She must, in other respects, by the very fact of her prophetic mission, continually denounce the abuses of political power or of economic liberties. And she must, as an institution, establish relations with these powers and these liberties.
It is clear that, in a given circumstance, the stand she takes can be contested. But what is essential is that she refuse to allow any power or any liberty to be set up as a supreme judge, and that, as court of last resort, she exercise the right to judge any other power.
It is most important that the Church not be under the influence of politics. It is important that she approve what is sound in the existing order and that she condemn what is unacceptable in the existing disorder.
Every society is always a mixture of good and bad. And the Church must pass judgment on this. It is at such times that her interventions are valid. They may clash with certain interests. But this means little. She must condemn what is unjust even though, sometimes, she may have to suffer for this in the temporal order. But people will listen to her, if it is clear that she is inspired only by a concern to be faithful to that which God asks of her. For she is expected to remind as constantly of the requirements of fidelity to the divine law.
In this sense, the powerful effort by the Church in struggling against what is contrary to justice in our world draws me closer to her. She has not failed to speak out. Too often it has been the case that Christians do not listen. The summons addressed by the Synod to Christian laymen, to struggle in a more active way to make God's Law reign in the contemporary world, must be heard. This has nothing to do with partisan politics. It is simply a question of obedience to God. Professional, social, political action has a moral character, And the Church has the duty to remind us of their moral requirements.
But we must add that this is true in all areas. Now, some who reproach the Church for not being demanding enough on the social level, reproach her for being too demanding when it comes to sexual problems. They suspect her of abiding by out of date concepts, of not taking into account progress in biology or demographic conditions. She is told that these absurd requirements will make many people turn away from her. As for me, the same reasons which make me wish that the Church be demanding an the level of social duty, also make me wish that she be so on the level of sexual ethics. The encyclical Humanae Vitae, by the courage of its position against the modern degradation of love, was for me one more reason to love the Church.
I know the difficult problems encountered by many couples. I know the dramatic problems raised by demographic evolution. But I also know that the way love and marriage are lived is essential to a civilization. I know how much they touch the deepest zones of the human persons More than this, I know how much they are dishonored and degraded in the modern world.
I know that by maintaining its requirements the Church is defending the most precious human values. I would loose respect for her if she were to become the lax accomplice of a contemptible world. I want to see her filled with infinite compassion, for I want her to be open to all. But I want her to be uncompromising, for that is how she will uphold all that is best in man.
It is the same with the responsibilities of the intellect. Here again, it often happens that those who blame the Church for not being demanding enough on the social level, accuse her of being intransigent, obscurantist and sectarian on the intellectual level. As if the domain of the intellect were a place where everything is to be permitted, as if it had no serious side, as if it did not engage responsibility. Now the area of the intellect is the most serious of all. For it is finally the views of the mind which govern the orientation of the cities.
What our contemporary world misses the most is not material resources, but the norms which would permit those resources to be put at the service of man. And our time is precisely one in which the intellect is undergoing one of its gravest crisis, in which it is the most perturbed part of man.
Here too, the demands of the Church are what makes me love her. In a world which opposes one arbitrary system to another, where minds see in thought nothing more than the projection of their subjectivity, where the requirements of action become the only rule, the Church believes that the human intellect is able to attain the knowledge of reality and that this agreement with reality constitutes truth. I love the Church that believes that there is truth and there is error. I love the Church that refuses to let people consider metaphysical truths as just some opinions among others. I love the Church that sees in the denial of God, in the denial of man's immortality, in the denial of objective ethics, perversions of the mind.
I am not turned away from the Church by her positions on the important questions of our time, as declared by her responsible representatives; on the contrary, I am all the more firmly attached to her. At present she defends authentic human values against those who destroy them. She defends authentic justice, authentic love, authentic intelligence. And she defends, against a world which would like to do without God, the religious dimension which is constitutive of man and of man's society. Without reference to this religious dimension, other human values are unable to find that which ground, and justifies them.
And precisely what hurts me is to see Christians and priests rejecting these requirements, which are the reason why I love the Church. When I see them blaming the Church for not understanding modern man, I think that she understands him far better than they do. For they are making themselves the accomplices of what is less good in him. They accept the surrender of intelligence and the loosening of morals. The Church, precisely because she loves all that is in ferment in today's world and in particular in its youth, does not accept that all this should be destroyed and perverted. Her intransigence is the expression of her love.
I remember having heard an observer remark, during the Second Vatican Council, that the great freedom of speech enjoyed by the bishops came from the fact that they knew their critics could blast the outer walls, but could never shake the rock. I feel free in the Church, free to tell what hurts me or what displeases me. And I love this freedom in others-but on condition that it proceed from love. But when such criticism gets to the point where it is destroying the substance of things and seeks to overthrow the rock, then I detest it and I feel how much I love the Church-above all for the divine gifts that she alone has to offer, but also for that certain quality she confers on things human.
Jean Danielou, S.J.