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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
1 Feb 2005

Lamennais, Rousseau, and the New Catholic Order

by Dr. John C. Rao

The Abbé Félicité de Lamennais

A good case could be made for entitling a history of modern Catholicism The Age of the Abbé Félicité de Lamennais (1782-1854). Son of a Breton bourgeois family ennobled one year before the outbreak of the Revolution, Lamennais left a profound and permanent mark on the life of the Church. On the one hand, he stimulated studies and activities which contributed mightily to a healthy Catholic self-consciousness and growth. On the other, he promoted certain exceedingly dangerous doctrines at the heart of the current crisis, not only of our religion but of our entire civilization.

Lamennais was ordained a priest in 1816. The success the following year of the first volume of his Essay on Indifference in Matters of Religion (four volumes, 1817-1823) caused many to view him as a modern-day Church Father. His enthusiasm for a revitalization of the Papacy and the episcopacy, clerical and lay political and social action, an impregnation of the State, education, the economic order, music, and art with a religious sense, a mobilization of the press as a teaching tool, and an organization of Catholic energies on the international level quickly resonated throughout the European world.

The young priest's charisma can be measured by the quality of the men drawn to the Congregation of St. Peter, which he assembled at his estate of La Chênaie to study methods for resuscitating dormant Christendom. The Mennaisiens, as they were often contemptuously labeled by their opponents, included in their ranks a large number of those who were to play major roles in all fields, lay and clerical, for many decades to come. Among these were Charles de Montalembert (1810-1870), future leader of that "Catholic Party" which fought for freedom of education in the French Parliament during the July Monarchy (1830-1848); Charles de Coux (1787-1864), social thinker and professor of economics at the University of Louvain; Jean Baptiste Lacordaire (1802-1861), who was instrumental in reestablishing the Dominican Order in France; Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875), Benedictine founder and proponent of liturgical reform; Olympe Philippe Gerbet (1798-1864), the theologian of the movement and Bishop of Perpignan; Alexis-François Rio (1797-1874), author of De la poésie chrétienne (1836); and René Rohrbacher (1789-1856), the Church historian.

Yet despite the brilliant careers of such disciples, Lamennais' own position within the Roman Catholic world was soon destroyed. His theories regarding Church-State relations-one of the keystones of his labors-- were rejected in Gregory XVI's (1831-1846) encyclical letter Mirari vos (August 15, 1832). He himself was personally excommunicated by the same pontiff through Singulari nos (June 21, 1834). Lamennais died in 1854, unreconciled with the Church. What evil spirit, his admirers have wondered, could possibly have induced Rome symbolically to burn this male Joan of Arc at the stake, and precisely at the moment when he was pointing the way to a true liberation of the Catholic genius?

Certainly, an "evil spirit" that actually saw a great deal of good in much of what Lamennais had to say. Neither his vocal critique of the manipulation of religion by existing European states, nor his concern for a freedom of association, exploration of a variety of new disciplines, and openness to untraditional systems of government came under papal attack. Gregory XVI, the demonized scourge of Lamennais, himself dedicated the Papacy to a liberation of the Church from secular domination in Commissum Divinitas (17 May, 1835). He supported the famous German activist campaign protesting the Prussian government's imprisonment of Archbishop Clemens August von Droste zu Vischering (1773-1845) of Cologne after that prelate tried to enforce canonical requirements regarding mixed marriages. The same pontiff recognized the Latin American republics which had revolted against the legitimate Spanish monarchy and worked with the liberal-catholic Belgian Union. Moreover, Gregory never required Mennaisiens who had broken with their master to abandon the practical activist paths that he had marked out for them, politically controversial though these might be. Neither did he rein in Catholics, Jesuits prominent among them, who developed contacts with representatives of "modern" schools of philosophical, political and social thought. If a masculine Joan of Arc had been symbolically burned at the stake, many of the followers of his cult seemed to be thriving nicely.

Where, then, did the real problem lie? In Lamennais' "liberation" of a Catholicism which was actually a new and different Faith than that of his Breton forebears; in his support for a belief system that seemed, at first glance, to exalt the supernatural, but ended by tossing it into an secular house of contradictory horrors from which it could never escape. For this "modern Church Father" did not ultimately base his religion upon the Apostolic Faith. Instead, he refashioned that Faith in a manner that reflects both the form of Enlightenment naturalism espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) as well as the evolutionary concept of change through palingenesis.

Rousseau, perhaps the most readable and influential of eighteenth century writers, followed the Enlightenment injunction to found all judgments upon an honest observation of nature and nature alone. Unlike those philosophes who observed in nature the reign of objective mathematical and scientific laws, however, his studies revealed a universe inhabited by energetically "feeling" individuals whose real character could never be uncovered by books or laboratory experiments detached from mens' inner passions. Rousseau insisted that anyone wishing to join him in becoming a true observer of life had to begin by examining himself to see if he were honestly speaking and acting in line with his spontaneous nature, however passionate and non rational this might prove to be. Such an investigation required an abandonment of all the masks, pretensions, and hypocrisies which men embraced in order to "fit with the program" dictated by tyrannical, external, passion-challenged forces operating in the name of objective reason. Once an individual succeeded in breaking his chains and getting in touch with his real self, he became natural, and, through nature's innate value, correspondingly "virtuous".

Virtue, for Rousseau, was not something built through the repetition of petty, daily, "good" actions. Rather, it was attained by entering into the aforementioned ontological state of being a liberated "natural man". Rousseau reached this natural, virtuous condition through his Confessions (published posthumously, 1782). Here, he revealed to the world all his deepest, passionate, non-rational feelings and their affect on his actions, without consideration for the effect such disclosure might have upon public opinion and his personal fortunes. Having thus accepted himself, he became virtuous, and need not be ashamed of deeds that others thought to be reprehensible; deeds which would, indeed, still be blameworthy if done by men seeking praise from the artificial, outside, "objective" world. Rousseau could permit himself no rationalist post-mortem on the validity of his deeply-felt virtue. All "looking back" amounted to a renewed embrace of the unjustifiable rules of a soul-killing artifice and duplicity.

Moreover, natural virtue transformed Rousseau into Everyman. Nature possessed integrity. It was all of one piece, honest and good, and could not help but speak with a single voice. Therefore, others who sincerely stripped themselves of the obstacles standing in the way of expression of their spontaneous natural feeling would inevitably be indistinguishable from, and united fraternally with Rousseau. It is this indistinguishability which ensures that the various lovers in his widely-read Nouvelle Héloise (1761) are actually only loving themselves in other people, and the teacher in his enormously influential educational treatise, the Emile (1761), can be said by Rousseau to both ensure the child's self-fulfillment and yet remake him totally in the tutor's image at one and the same time. (Blum, p. 67). Conversely, anyone who was not Rousseau-like, anyone who criticized Everyman's feelings and spontaneous actions, anyone who failed to pity him in his trials, revealed himself as being unnatural. He could thus be neither free, nor virtuous, nor truthful. In fact, he could not even be labeled human, and did not deserve any fraternal consideration whatsoever. Blum describes the situation well in commenting on Rousseau's discussion of himself as the "spectator-animal" contemplating the suffering of one such pointless being.

The Spectator animal was denied pleasurable pity in regarding the suffering animal because the suffering animal was evil and hence unworthy of sympathy. Since Rousseau knew that mankind was, like him, good, he was forced to the awful but inevitable realization that the creatures who treated him so heartlessly were not really people at all, that the key to the mystery was that 'my contemporaries were but mechanical beings in regard to me who acted only by impulsion and whose actions I could calculate only by the laws of movement'. He was now really alone, the only human being left amid a throng of automatons; the human race existed solely in him (Ibid., p. 99).

Unfortunately, that non-virtuous and non-human world had shown regularly that it was dedicated to Rousseau's destruction. The pressing duty of Everyman was, therefore, to remake a dangerous, aggressive universe in his own image. Failing this, he had to annihilate it before it could cause him any further damage. There could, again, be no doubt about this either-or choice. As the voice of a holistic, harmonious nature, Rousseau possessed infallibility. The sincere, natural, virtuous, free, liberated Everyman simply could not possibly err. Any personal hesitation regarding his position would once more reveal continued susceptibility to the sham world of hostile, rationalist hypocrisy that the virtuous man must categorically reject and move vigorously to obliterate.

One final, exceedingly important point. Although totally earth-bound in his approach, Rousseau's emphasis on the overriding importance of non-rational feeling and passion in human life does give his "natural world" a certain unpredictably mysterious glow. Rousseau's "nature" is indefinable, and fueled by seemingly superhuman feelings that continually shock and awe. Hence, while no one would view the mechanical-minded naturalism of many of his Enlightenment opponents as being somehow "spiritual", many people have been led to see Rousseauian naturalism in precisely this light. Instead of being viewed as merely the wilder version of the same earth-bound vision shared by all philosophes, it has often been depicted as open to sacralizing influences that the mathematician and scientist cannot allow. Many enthusiasts have even gone so far as to limit the very definition of the spiritual to the kind of universe within which Rousseau works, equating the presence of God and of God's blessing only with the existence of strong feelings, and the vital, energetic, conquering action they release. Terrible error indeed! For anyone succumbing to such a temptation blocks himself off entirely from access to what Catholics believe to be the true source of the spiritual: supernatural truths and supernatural grace coming from outside of limited, created nature and the human persons inhabiting it. Anyone falling victim to this kind of "spirituality" refuses to permit God to be what the adjective supernatural indicates that He is: above His handiwork. Moreover, he loses all ability to see that his flights of deeply felt enthusiasm may be caused merely by madness or adolescent hormonal activity.

Rousseau-like statements of one form or another make an appearance in the writings of practically all revolutionary thinkers of the nineteenth century. One finds them in the novels of Victor Hugo and Stendhal, in the political proclamations of the leaders of democratic and nationalist movements, and in the manifestos of the representatives of varied forms of contemporary socialism. One is constantly told that the proponents of The Cause are "feeling" men who have sincerely got in touch with their true nature, and thus possess a virtue, an infallibility, and a kind of spiritual excellence that only dead souls could fail to recognize. One regularly learns that Enemies of the People cannot be judged by the same standard as the revolutionary Hero if they do not subscribe to his Teaching and are not incorporated into his Mystical Body. Thus, for Hugo, the revolt of the People accepting the Hero's message is redemptive; the rebellion of the inhabitants of the Vendée is a vile riot. The massacres perpetrated by the former are Christ-like; a tap on the finger by the latter is the most wretched of crimes. Virtue lies all on one side, however animalistic its actions may be; animalism on the other, however rational and peaceful the behavior of its victimized supporters.

Lamennais served as one of Rousseau's chief conduits into the Catholic world. His path to becoming a passionate, natural, virtuous, infallible, heroic, revolutionary Rousseauian Everyman was first paved by acceptance of the concept of "traditionalism". Traditionalism, in the nineteenth century, did not mean what it popularly signifies in 2005. In Lamennais' day, it identified a philosophical-theological outlook disdaining the role of reason both in grasping truth and teaching the Faith. Truth, for Lamennais and nineteenth century traditionalists as a whole, was learned by individuals as social beings, under the active guidance of the historical institutions at the very core of society's "nature". In effect, it was the wholehearted opening to the vital force of these institutions which created believing, energetic Catholic Peoples. Truths lying behind institutional vitality were passed down through the process of living in the society which they formed. The Revolution's battle versus truth was effective not because of any rational struggle against ideas, but due to its temporarily successful efforts to crush two crucial traditional institutions, the Church and the Monarchy, whose unified active energies had led the society of men to live and accept the Faith. If Church and Monarchy were ravaged, spiritual life and knowledge of the truth were also destined to be lost. Individuals could not be expected to understand the doctrines of the Faith as independent thinking atoms.

But here Lamennais encountered a terrible paradox. The Church, restored to legal institutional life after the Revolution, was not acting as the vital social force that she must be in order to have the desired effect. She ran the awful risk of not really electrifying men's social existence, and thus not passing down the message of Faith. It was necessary to shake Church structures out of their formalistic torpor and revive their will to give vital witness to the truth. This was ultimately the point of the Essay on Indifference, which was not an call for devotion to the intellectually-enunciated doctrines of the Catholic Faith, but, rather, a condemnation of half-hearted or lazy commitment preventing that "felt" witnessing to the truth which alone could be effective.

Committed, sincere witness could scarcely be offered if basic Church institutions were unable to live in accord with their own true "nature". Thus, the Papacy, so thoroughly emasculated by the Enlightenment and the Revolution, had to have its integral rights and powers fully recognized and revived. Similarly, each national episcopacy had to be freed to follow its proper path under papal guidance. Place the Papacy and national episcopacies back in touch with their supernaturally "natural" character, and the spontaneous energetic life that would flow through their arteries would end religious indifference. The result would be an electrified, creative civilization of believing social individuals.

Lamennais had seen in the traditional Bourbon Monarchy of the French Restoration (1814-1830) the force most apt to work together with the Church as a battery charging Christian society and Christian man. He was a fervent contributor to legitimist journals such as Le conservateur and Le drapeau blanc. Gradually, however, the young priest became convinced that the monarchy actually had either little interest in or ability to do what was necessary to electrify Catholic civilization. It had turned its back on its own historical nature and mission. One strong segment of legitimist opinion, represented most vigorously by François de Reynaud, the comte de Montlosier (1755-1838), in his Mémoire à consulter sur un système religieux et politique tendant à renverser la religion, la société et le trône (1826), was vigorously hostile to the idea of a Church living a spontaneous, independent life alongside a believing Monarchy. Even more upsetting to Lamennais was the French Church authorities' apparent connivance in this betrayal. Legitimists, Lamennais began to think, sacrificed or redefined Church goals to suit their own unnatural and self-destructive ends. Catholics were culpable in trusting and even adulating these misguided secularist Pied Pipers. His reaction, in 1828, was to argue for a total end to a union of the deluded, abused Church with the unnaturally manipulative legitimist State. Separation alone could guarantee the former a chance to get back in touch with her real nature and do her job as it ought to be done if the Faith were to survive.

1830 saw a Catholic-Liberal Union in Belgium triumphantly overthrow a legitimist Dutch monarch who had proven to be harmful to both their quite different interests. France also succumbed to revolutionary fever that fateful year, replacing the legitimist Charles X with the liberal Orleanist Louis-Philippe. Lammenais seized what he considered to be a general providential moment to found an outspoken journal, L'Avenir (The Future), whose first issue appeared on October 16, 1830, under the motto "God and Liberty". L'Avenir was designed to become the mouthpiece of an international coalition of vital Catholics, a Holy Alliance of Peoples. Through its work, believers themselves would achieve what the old union of self-interested legitimist State and deceived national Church could or would not accomplish. In other words, if hypocritical or emasculated monarchies and episcopacies refused to undertake the necessary labor of getting in touch with their true nature and reanimating Christian society, then sincere, unpretentious, committed, believing Peoples as a whole would themselves energetically propel Church and State in Catholic nations to do their duty.

Opposition from powerful circles in France and elsewhere was nevertheless so strong that the embattled Lamennais felt the need for papal confirmation of his vision. He thus temporarily suspended publication of L'Avenir in November of 1831, and set off with Lacordaire and Montalembert on a Roman "pilgrimage of liberty" to gain the blessing of Pope Gregory XVI. But despite the support of the Theatine philosopher, Fr. Gioacchino Ventura (1792-1861), and even of several cardinals, Rome proved to be unfavorable to his message. One by one, the "pilgrims of liberty" read the handwriting on the wall and left, Lamennais the last of all. The axe began to fall shortly thereafter, with Mirari vos. Then, following two years of further controversy regarding L'Avenir, Mennaisien enthusiasm for the Polish rebellion against Tsarist Russia, and the publication of Lamennais' controversial Paroles d'un croyant, came the aforementioned excommunication.

Our pilgrim of liberty was shocked. First, the French episcopacy had proven to be useless. Now the Papacy, the institution destined to benefit the most from an end to unnatural, legitimist State controls and episcopal collaborationism, had rejected the summons to vitality. The sincere, European-wide coalition of traditional-minded Catholic People was thus left entirely to its own energies if Christianity were to survive and prosper. Lamennais called upon this Silent Catholic Majority to take up the task of teaching the Faith through the example of its vital living of its message, even in opposition to the pronouncements of its erstwhile international leader, dethroned by his public display of "indifference".

A counterrevolutionary defense of the Faith now seemed, ironically, to be based upon a concept very much resembling the revolutionary principle of popular sovereignty. Lamennais had little trouble admitting as much, as he had by this point come to believe that vitality itself was a sure sign of the divine presence. Already in 1829, in Progress of the Revolution, he noted that the energetic fervor with which revolutionaries supported the doctrine of popular sovereignty demonstrated that there must be something solid and good behind it. Upheaval in 1830 merely confirmed him in this conviction. All that seemed to be lacking to the revolutionary vision was a recognition that the truths taught by an energetic populace were not purely earthly ones. Vital Catholic Peoples possessed supernatural truths to which they had to testify, and would be able to give witness more effectively through further, democratic, revolutionary changes.

This brings us to the second influence on Lamennais, that of the concept of palingenesis. Formed from the Greek words "again" and "birth", palingenesis was the notion that a "Third Age of Humanity" was emerging in the nineteenth century out of traditional western forces that many thought erroneously to be dead. Palingenesis was appealing to all defenders of modern ideas who still possessed a spiritual sense and did not want to jettison the entire Christian baggage of European civilization. These included men like Claude Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourrier (1772-1837). Barthélemy Enfantin (1796-1864), Saint-Amand Bazard (1791-1832), and Auguste Comte (1798-1857). Such thinkers, horrified by destructive revolutionary violence, sought to illustrate how modernity could grow and develop, organically and peacefully, through the ages. They showed how one vital historical era was inevitably the prelude to the next; how the teachings of Jesus, the cult of the Virgin, a hierarchical priesthood, a liturgy, and many other elements of western civilization still played an energetic, though transfigured role in modern life.

Lamennais shared this palingenesist vision. Contemporary Catholicism, as far as he was concerned, was deeply flawed. "How far", he bitterly lamented, "we still are from that religion of devotion, of self-forgetfulness for the good of all; in sum, of that fraternity of which one speaks so much!" (Mayeur, X, p. 866). Nevertheless, historical Christianity had performed its basic task well. Its earlier vitality had prepared the way for a syncretist, universal religion which would electrify the Third Age of Humanity. If the familiar historic Faith were now dying, it was only because it was meant to be reborn in this new and better form.

Sincere, energetic, believing Catholic Peoples were to be the midwives of that birth. Following Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), poet and religious philosopher, and his friends, Alexander Towianski (1795-1878) and Julius Slowacki (1809-1849), Lamennais believed that Catholic Poland was pointing the route to the future. For, as Mickiewicz demonstrated in his Book of the Nation and of the Polish Pilgrims (1834), the preface for which was written by Montalembert, the contemporary revival of the seemingly dead Polish people was making it into the Christ among nations. Poland was destined to carry forward and improve upon the salvific mission of the Savior, uniting all peoples and religions into a new, common worship of the Almighty, transforming and perfecting a praiseworthy but superannuated Catholicism. (Ibid., pp. 860-863).

This Third Age of Humanity would usher in a socio-political order both republican and socialist in character; an "age of gold under the sign of universal fraternity through social justice" (Ibid., X, p. 864). The energy behind the republican movement illustrated its divine favor, proving that "the republicans of our days would have been the most ardent disciples of Christ eighteen centuries ago" (Ibid., X, p. 848). A similar statement could be made regarding socialism; that contemporary socialists would have been the original Christians as well. Republicanism and socialism would not only set right the injustices suffered by the People in a changing, industrializing Europe; they would also avenge the humiliations that Lamennais, palingenesist facilitator, had himself received at the hands of a vicious but dying Establishment (Ibid. p. 892). Eventually, they would be responsible for other developments as immeasurably exciting and mystical as they were incredibly vague in their Mennaisien formulation.

Europe, according to Lamennais, faced a stark choice between hope and despair. It could either place its faith in the People and palingenesis, or it would be delivered over to Nihilism. "There will be no more middle way between faith and nothingness", he wrote to de Maistre with respect to the dilemma facing the world-in-birth; "Everything is extreme today. There is no dwelling place in between" (Billington, p. 123).

The choice for Faith was, however, complicated by the horrible fact that the Catholic Peoples themselves seemed to lack the requisite energy to accept, live, and thereby teach the activist, palingenesist program. They, too, were resistant to the command to get in touch with their true nature, indifferent to performance of the tasks vital to their role, and even susceptible to the continued influence of the hypocritical, artificial ecclesiastical and political authorities around them. Still, there was a way out of this nightmare. If the Catholic Peoples remained unconscious, then their unquestionable message could still be expressed, temporarily, by an enlightened Prophet, a Rousseauian Everyman. Lamennais was that man. He must himself speak for the "dumb" Catholic Peoples and work to raise their consciousness from its unnatural torpor. He must destroy those who would stand in the way of their maturation. Hence, his openness to Giuseppe Mazzini's (1809-1872) call to leadership of a regenerated, God-loving priesthood; a vanguard that would establish the new heaven and the new earth; a "Church of Precursors which I should like to see you found while waiting for the People to rise" (Mayeur, X, p. 893).

Why do you only write books? Humanity awaits something more from you...Do not deceive yourself, Lamennais, we need action. The thought of God is action; it is only by action that it is incarnated in us...So long as you will be alone, you will only be a philosopher and a moralist in the eyes of the masses; it is as a priest that you must appear before it, a priest of the future, of the epoch which is beginning, of that new religious manifestation of which you have a presentiment, and which must inevitably end in that new heaven and new earth which Luther glimpsed three centuries ago without being able to attain it, since the time had not yet come (Ibid.).

We are now in a much better position to understand the depth of the problem behind the project central to our "Joan of Arc's" ecclesiastical condemnation: his call for a total separation of Church and State. Mennaisien separation, quite simply put, is a monstrous fraud, made possible by the convoluted reasoning of Rousseauian naturalism. That fraud has been remarkably successful, convincing the average thinking man that separation finally ensures the possibility for a liberated Church to operate according to her own spiritual nature in a free and properly focused State. Yet, under the cover of a public Church-State divorce, it actually ensures that these two institutions are more dangerously fused together than ever before in Christian History; that they are both placed under far more devastating secularist, demagogic control than at the most corrupt moments of traditional regimes professing an official union.

Unnatural fusion comes from the fact that, for the first time, in the revolutionary universe, ultimate authority in both institutions lies in exactly the same hands: those of "the People's Prophet". This man (or party) understands that People's true character and desires. He must do everything in his powers to arouse it to an awareness of what he knows they unconsciously long to know and destroy anyone standing in his path. The reason why Lamennais does not have to worry about clashes between an independent Church and State on matters where their jurisdiction over creatures of body and soul intersect is because a collision, in his system, cannot possibly take place. How could there be any tension of authorities when all power is invested in the hands of the Everyman-Prophet, from whose judgments only the Rousseauian Enemy of the People might think of making appeal? And how could any such Enemy, non-human as he is, be permitted to point out the incredible swindle that was being perpetrated, or treated seriously if he succeeded in having his animalistic voice heard? What Lamennais had illegitimately and surreptitiously linked together, let no dehumanized supporter of a dignified public union put asunder.

Vulgar, secularist demagoguery triumphs in the Third Age of Humanity due to Church and State's submission to an Everyman-Prophet/Party whose decisions are rooted in a willfulness disguised as the height and limit of spirituality. Ultimately, it is only energetic passion and vital will which are king in the land shaped by the new Christianity that they represent. Religion, republicanism, and socialism mean what the Prophet/Party want them to mean. When the victory of the Spirit is lauded by Lamennais and his disciples, one can be absolutely certain that this will surely entail, on the contrary, a total immersion in what everyone sane recognizes to be either irrational willfulness or its ideological justification. When they condemn Gregory XVI's supposed slavishness to secularism, they are really criticizing the pope's efforts to enunciate a truly supernatural sense of Christian evangelization, its consequences, and the difficulties of defending it effectively in a world of sinful men, both hypocritical and "sincere".

Quicksand lies everywhere in Lamennais' Rousseauian Third Age of Humanity. One thing always dissolves into another within it. Spiritual truths are grounded in commitment to passion and will. Energetic Catholic Peoples opposed to palingenesis are condemned for their lethargy. Getting in touch with their true nature requires annihilation of what they themselves believe that nature to be. A single individual speaks infallibly and democratically for an entire hostile People armed with rational arguments and enthusiastically eager to crush his wishes. Contradiction after contradiction piles up. Whoever unmasks the deceptions somehow proves his own artifice and dissembling hypocrisy, voluntarily resigns from the human race, and justifies his future obliteration at the hands of the Prophet of the humble and the weak.

Despite his condemnation, Lamennais' negative influence has come back again and again to haunt the Catholic world, in 2004 much more than in the 1830's. "Defeated" by Gregory XVI, it was promoted in more "prudent" form in the Liberal Catholicism of the 1850's and 1860's, and then more determinedly again in the Sillon of the 1890's and 1900's. Driven underground by Pius X, it re-emerged with reference to natural law analogies in Integral Humanism from the 1930's onwards. Its mystical adulation both of the fraternal community as well as the individual or elite raising its sleeping consciousness was reaffirmed by Personalism at the same time. Liberation Theology took up the torch shortly thereafter. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) provided its palingenesist evolutionism a further biological-spiritual support. Triumphant Americanist Pluralism, with its exaltation of thoughtless action, has served as an effective ally, and a seemingly all-conquering one since 1945. Each time the Mennaisien spirit returns, it announces itself to be strikingly new, startlingly energetic, invincible, and yet, predictably, the humble victim of persecuting forces. Every time it appears, it raises the banner of the primacy of the Spirit, and proceeds to reduce the Christian mission to a set of pressing political imperatives. Over and over again, it insists that it is ushering in an age of Christian victory and Catholic freedom, though the greater its successes, the less there is anything distinctly Christian about it, and the more that the very word Catholic tends to disappear entirely from its lexicon.

Many of the proponents of the faith of Lamennais, like Lamennais himself, have been exceedingly gifted men with valid criticisms of Church life, and imaginative, workable solutions to specific problems. They, like Lamennais, have thus drawn serious Catholics into their orbit. And once within it, the creed that they oblige everyone to profess in the energetic People, the Prophet who must rouse it from its lethargy, and the forcible witness that it is then compelled to give to a "spontaneously" emerging, universalist Christian culture poisons all that they do.

Perhaps Lamennais' remarks to Joseph de Maistre were true; that, in modern times, there would be no middle ground; that only extremes could function. Unfortunately, the extreme represented by this new faith, and shared in varied forms by other groups in contemporary western society, reduces in the long run to an apotheosis of the independence and freedom of the sincere, vital individual masquerading the Triumph of the Will. That "will", unchecked by true Christian faith and grace, leads its possessor and the society that he victimizes into an eternal abyss of meaningless passion. To cite the title of an article in La Civiltà Cattolica, the choice was and still is one that is simple: either God is King, with a true freedom, or Man is King, based on the use of raw power alone.


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