It was not without some pleasure that, in perusing the Review of the French Clergy (June 15, 1903), under the signature of Fr. de la Paquerie, we came across these very pertinent remarks on modern liberalism, especially as it appears in the Clergy:
We can define liberalism in a word: fear. Let it be clear that I am not talking about cowardice. Many liberals have been the bravest and the most chivalrous of men. They were not afraid for themselves, certainly, but rather, for the Church herself. Certainly such an attitude can only be honorable, even touching. But also, it must be said, it is somewhat injudicious, even disrespectful, and even, I am obliged to say, un-Christian. Undoubtedly they would have given their lives to save the Church. That is very good. But it would have been much better, and more realistic, not to tremble for her and not to believe so easily that she needed them so.
They warn that, unless their ideas are accepted, all is lost: religion, the Church. The modern world, they warn, will turn its back on the Catholics, and all will be lost. The Catholics must not blunder, they must make themselves liked, they must not lose their reputation. Catholics must not antagonize the modern world, and so on…
In passing, it can be observed that, even humanly speaking, such advice makes for bad tactics. A brave man makes himself respected, a man sure of himself attracts confidence. On the contrary, if you are afraid, then it is because you are not sure of yourself. And if you are not, then why should anyone else be? In the time in which we live, more than ever, we need people with strong beliefs: distressed souls are looking for a shelter and a place of refuge. Only the Church can provide it. She offers one, but she is not believed; and indeed why should she be, when her most devoted servants anxiously listen to all the noise from outside, and align themselves with a world that they should have dominated.
There is only one category of person that commands respect, the strong. The weak are always despised. The sign of being one of the strong is that one does not need anyone else. What is a sign of strength and draws respect is to be helpful to those who seek help, to have firm beliefs while others do not know what they believe, to remain calm and confident while all other men are tossed by political storms or consumed by insatiable passions. It is to make converts without compromising, attenuating, or disguising anything. But to be afraid of everything, to keep what we have only by making concessions to those who want no part of us, by sacrificing principle for the sake of popularity, to keep the name when the substance has been lost, is weakness, blundering and lack of faith. This is what makes our enemies say that we are finished, and we know it.
Prior to our times, the Church has never played such a contemptible part.
Liberalism has undoubtedly aged, as all errors do:
But the sentiment that inspired it, fear, lives on. It has even spread and multiplied. It has penetrated everything. It has enervated debate, it has dulled and weakened morality and discipline. Those who once abandoned Catholic tradition on just one point — the freedom of error — are the same who now abandon it on a score of other points. And this they do for the same reason: we must change or modify our ideas because the world will never accept them. They do not say that the new theories have been proven, or even that they can be; but just that they are fashionable, science has adopted them, and the Church, by not accepting them, condemns herself to a fatal isolation. The same sentiment is at work: fear — the fear of incredulous scholars and a skeptical public; the fear of making affirmations that might have to be retracted; the fear of re-editing the history of Galileo; fear of the present, fear of the future, fear of everything.
It is this very fear, the foundation of liberalism and of present-day apologetics, that tends to insinuate into the clergy a new spirit. Such is the voice of the new school: it is necessary to go along to get along. The Church must bring herself up to date. If not, she is lost. It is high time to see to it.
The Church, authentic interpreter of the mind of the Incarnate Word neither wishes the priest to confine his activities strictly to the sacristy, in the manner of a Religion professor, nor does she wish him to leave it by discarding his sacred character, by forgetting his divine mission. She desires that the priest, ceaselessly renewed and fortified by intimate contact with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, go about throughout the world in order to give God to souls and souls to God, to work for the progressive establishment of the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to bring to bear Christian influence, not only upon individual consciences, but also upon the entire life of man — domestic, social, and political — so as to Christianize laws and institutions.1
Liberalism, on the contrary, tends to separate politics from religion, public life from private. Consequently, the liberal either wishes the priest to practice religion without concern for the political domain (and by doing so, adopts the Masonic program of no “clericalism” in public life), or else, on the contrary, he wishes the priest to be concerned with the temporal interests of the people without seeking their conversion, to work in a “disinterested” way to the point that his priestly character is practically concealed or becomes an object for apology. Ever present in the liberal’s attitude is this lack of faith, this fear. The liberal would petition for a…:
…clergy less tied to the sacristy, more involved in worldly business, clever at winning influence, capable of heading social or political enterprises. The people is everything in today’s environment; it must be won over, and, as they say, it is necessary to go to the people. But the people is hardly moved by the promise of heaven, it wants heaven on earth, hence it is necessary for the priests to become occupied with earth.
The author concludes his comments on this new-fangled clergy:
I believe that a certain part of the clergy is deluding itself. Some excellent priests, in complete good faith, exaggerate their success. They believe that they have converted those whom they have merely gathered around their person. In reality, the new style priest is not popular. In the parlors as well as in the workplace, people are very wary of them. A priest who is a glib talker, adept at business, conversant with the latest economic theories, full of advice about labor relations, banks, elections — who is competent on a score of topics alien to his supernatural vocation — will often find himself listened to and even applauded. But people will not go to confession to him, they will not turn to him for personal advice or confide alms. What the French of every condition prefer, what they seek or what they fear, according to the nature of their religious dispositions, is the old fashioned priest, a priest exclusively supernatural, detached, charitable, and quite removed from temporal business,…
… unless, once again, it is to exert a Christian influence on them:
Many of the new style priests are very pious and edifying,…
… but by the very nature of things, the domain of their piety will shrink little by little, and its very character will be imperceptibly changed to the point of being adulterated:
Now, practically speaking, this amounts to an abandonment. It is not sufficient to alot a place to piety….For piety to be itself, it has to be master.
In the new system, whatever they do and despite all the good will in the world, they will not be able to prevent piety from descending little by little to the level of moral decency, a sort of exterior convention, an outward observance. It will govern deportment and language, but not the heart and, especially, not the mind….The priest will have an outward appearance of piety, but he will put his hope elsewhere.
A man of faith by his calling, and being nothing but that in the public’s estimation, he will become in fact just an ordinary man with the appearance of faith; but at heart he will be just an earthly man with worldly preoccupations and means. And to get to the heart of the matter, and dot the i’s, we can state that his very purpose will change. As science — and still less mere cleverness — has never served to win heaven, and since the rude multitudes that they want to win over at any price are only concerned with the present world, they may neglect the desire for heaven. In the long run, the goal of their zeal will no longer be the salvation of souls in the future life, but rather the influence of the clergy in the present life. His object will no longer be God, and the Church which leads to God, but rather the Church considered in her this-worldly aspect. Certainly, God and the Church are (in a sense) one and the same, and the interests of the one are the interests of the other. But the point of view is different: God rewards his faithful in paradise; whereas these new style servants of the Church, while not renouncing paradise, firstly want to reap something in this world.
Following upon this shift in perspective, the higher virtues — blind faith, contented poverty, retirement, austerity, silence, mortification that maintains fervor in the soul, as well as spiritual reading and prolonged contemplation — all are relegated to second place. As one no longer expects much from these practices, one no longer applies oneself to them, for what is perceived as useless is quickly abandoned, especially when it is something burdensome. Soon all these pious practices become a formality, a tiresome habit, respectable, somewhat inconvenient. The downward slide comes quick and inevitable.
Once again, I do not believe that they would do so deliberately; I am even convinced that they would make sincere efforts to resist the pull. But I maintain that the new theory leads there, and that piety will lose everything that merely natural means gain. And I say that this is the greatest misfortune that can befall the Church in France. We are taking the wrong road.
In the society in which we live, it is impossible to survive without possessing an immediate and obvious utility. Everything that is useless is condemned to perish. If we, the Church, the clergy, wish to exist in the world, we must have a specific usefulness, a function, something proper to us that we provide our contemporaries and that they cannot get elsewhere. The usefulness we can have to modern France, to a democratized Europe, will not be science, for science gets along quite well without us. Nor will it be to be benefactors to the people, for the people has more than enough benefactors, so many that it does not believe in them any more, and is even persuaded — wrongly, I am willing to believe — that all their benefactors are simply self-interested persons who want to keep them in their pocket.
There is only one function that is properly ours, one domain which belongs to us exclusively: the domain of virtue. In the eyes of the world and the irreligious, we are the officers of morality, useful for reducing crime, and for deadening suffering by the hope of heavenly recompense. Such a definition is offensive and seems disrespectful. Yet in fact it is honorable and true. What else did our Lord propose than to save souls by teaching them to flee from sin, that is to say, to practice morality. What else is the Church than a school of holiness, of virtue; in a word, of morality.
This position is…frank, clear, and unattackable. We want to be influential, granted. It will be by fulfilling this function that we will be. We certainly will not be by our past services, for the past counts for little in real life. We will not be by using devious methods, or relying upon cleverness, intrigue, or by affecting knowledge that will be suspect anyway. Deviousness always brings shame and aversion. We have an official function, and more, a divine vocation: virtue. On that ground we are invincible.
In France today, all the virtues are lacking, and especially those most necessary to men and societies. The fact is undeniable. We alone possess the code and the recipe, tested by hundreds of years of constant experience. Everyone knows it, friends and enemies alike. It is this that always touches those who return to us. How aberrant it would be to go and embroil ourselves in business that is not ours, which affords us no successful issue and where we lose all our advantages, while we abandon the royal road and the straight path by which we are sure of victory.
Let us be men of God. Let us not think so much about saving the Church. The Church does not need our help, she has a much more powerful and enlightened defender than we. One part or other of the Church may be in peril, but that is our fault: we have lacked faith, and the waves have begun to engulf the ship. “Modicae fidei, ut quid dubitastis?”
Let there be scholars amongst us, as there needs must be and will be. Let there be men of works, and there will be, because men of works, if the word is well understood, are men of zeal. But let us not think that we can replace faith and piety by learning. The majority of men and of priests are not made for it. Let us not forget that our main knowledge is Jesus and Him crucified, scandal for the Jews and folly for the Greeks. This is the science we all must master, and it will make up for a lack of many others.
Let there not be amongst us schemers, clever fellows up to date with the latest news. Let us be content, in general, to be the consolation, the refuge, and model of all. Let it be obvious that we work for God, and not for ourselves or our convent.
Our century is entirely plunged in matter, entirely occupied by material progress, money and comfort. We use up our lives and expend our strength and time in stirring up mud. At heart, people are not satisfied, and they would like there to be something else.
Priests, make them see that something else exists. But do so with a firm, confident faith. Show it by your words — which are little — and by your example — which is everything. Make them see that the goods they so relentlessly pursue are hardly worth anything, that it is possible to do without them, and that many people do in fact do without them. Seem to be above it, and what a deep, holy influence you will have. It is said that priests should be above party factions, this has become a commonplace. I ask of you more: be above the world itself, and then you will “draw all to you,” that is to say, all to God by Jesus and Mary, by our Lord and our Lady.
- If, when engaging in public life, Catholics must be themselves, i.e., Catholics — then a fortiori, so must priests. Their aim must be to “infuse into all the veins of the State, as a restoring life and blood, the principles and virtue of the Catholic religion” (Leo XIII, Immortale Dei). [return]