Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The "Common Ground" Tactic and Religious Indifferentism
One can never over emphasize the fact that the above-described tactic is praised and recommended not only for use in individual talks, but also in newspapers, magazines, lectures, placards and in a word, in every promotional activity of Catholic Action. Some circles of Catholic Action worry exclusively about the effect of their words over souls placed outside the fold of the Church because they underestimate, in favor of the so-called "apostolate of conquest," the apostolate to make the good more fervent and waging a preventive combat against error in the ambiences still preserved from it. In the preceding chapter we placed ourselves in the same field for the sake of argument but looked only at the ominous effects that such a strategy might bring if hoisted as a regular means of apostolate. However, the practice of apostolate does not place us only in the presence of people whose souls need to be purified from some error in order to introduce some truth. In our time, superficiality, immediacy, and disregard for everything that does not produce material gain have multiplied the number of people totally indifferent to everything and devoid of any ideas about Religion. They are souls able to listen to most vigorous attacks against certain enemies of the Church without prejudice or irritation, and who will hold the Church in higher esteem if a vigorous apologetic unveils before their eyes the secondary reasons for which the Church is usually attacked. We do not see how it would be possible to help one of these souls—for example, a free-thinker or a totally indifferent, worldly person—by not acting in this frank and apostolic way, which would elevate the Church in their concepts and at the same time immunize them against a possible assault from the partisans of evil.
The "Common Ground" Tactic and Fervent Catholics
As for environments that are already Catholic, the most important consists in teaching truth rather than fighting error. In other words, it is better to have a solid knowledge of the Catechism than some training in the fights of apologetics. However, it is perfectly feasible to join one advantage to the other, and it will always be praiseworthy to engage in showing the children of light all the dark intellectual and moral abjection that prevails in the kingdom of darkness. How many prodigal sons would renounce their criminal abandonment of the home if a prudent counselor warned them of the innumerable risks to which they expose themselves by leaving their father’s domains! The abyss separating the Church from heresy and the state of grace from mortal sin is immense; and it will always be an outstanding work of mercy to show unwary Catholics the frightening magnitude of this abyss so they do not plunge inconsiderately into its depths.
In view of all this, and since, as we have shown, the highest interests of the Church and the gravest obligations of charity lead preferably to act upon brothers in the Faith, we reach the conclusion that it is a serious error to make the famous "common ground" tactic the dominant and exclusive note of Catholic Action’s outreach.
Imagine the concrete effect on our Catholic masses of a promotional campaign whose exclusive and invariable leitmotiv would be that we are separated from Protestantism only by a tenuous barrier; that we are all linked by a common Faith in Jesus Christ and that the bonds between us are much greater than the barriers. Whoever succeeded in making this tactic prevail among Catholics would certainly deserve a great decoration from Protestants.
A curious example of the danger the Holy See finds in this tactic of constantly emphasizing existing analogies between Catholic doctrine and the fragments of truth that exist in all errors can be seen in the express and radical proscription of the expression "Catholic socialism" by His Holiness Pope Pius XI in the encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno.
As everyone knows, the term "socialism" served as common denominator for all social and anti-individualistic currents running the full gamut from some clearly conservative nuances all the way to communism. Thus, as Leo XIII had presented himself as radically anti-individualistic, the expression "Catholic socialism" opened a "common ground" between all anti-individualist doctrines and the Church. From the viewpoint of compromise, the expression had the advantage of not further affecting relations between Catholics and individualists, already irremediably broken as a consequence of previous attitudes of the Holy See. Nevertheless, Pius XI surprised the many advocates of compromise by breaking with, and proscribing, this ambiguous term because of the evil meaning that could be attributed to it.
The True Attitude
In this area, as in all others "oportet haec facere et illa non omitere." One must be objective and truthful first and above all else. Let us not hide the abyss that separates all that is Catholic from what is not, an immense and profound abyss it would be mortally dangerous to not see. On the other hand, let us not also reject the vestiges of our truths that could have survived amid the errors of the adversary. But let us always be careful, in our speech, to never take attitudes that might harm the perseverance of the good and their horror of heresy, on the pretext of conquering the wicked. Besides, the value of some fragments of good or truth that may have been kept among heretics is much less than what is thought. In this sense, let us see, for example, what Saint Thomas teaches about Faith.
—Can infidels make acts of Faith?
—No sir; because they do not believe in Revelation, in other words because ignoring it they do not place themselves confidently in the hands of God, nor subject themselves to what He demands of them or because, knowing it, they refuse to render consent to it. (10)
—Can impious men do it?
—No they cannot do it either, because, even though they consider as certain the revealed truths founded in the divine veracity, their faith is not an effect of respect and submission to God, Whom they hate, though they are obliged to confess Him against their will. (5, 2, ad 2)
—Is it possible that there are men without supernatural faith, and that they believe this way?
—Yes, sir; and in this they imitate the faith of the demons (5, 2).
—Can heretics believe with supernatural faith?
—No sir, because though they admit some revealed truths, they do not base their consent on divine authority, but on their own judgment (5, 3)
—Therefore, are heretics farther away from the true faith than the impious men and even than the demons?
—Yes sir; b0ecause they despise what they had believed in virtue of the divine word (12).
—Can sinners believe with supernatural faith?
—They can as long as they keep the faith as a supernatural virtue, and can have it, though in an imperfect state even when as an effect of mortal sin they are deprived of charity (4, 2,ad 4).
—Therefore, not all mortal sins destroy the faith?
—No, sir (10, 1, ad 4). (1)
His Holiness Pope Benedict XV wrote in a letter to the author that he knew “how to accommodate within the reach of both wise and ignorant, the treasures of that eminent genius (Saint Thomas Aquinas) by synthesizing in clear, brief and concise formulas, what he wrote more largely and abundantly." It is, thus a summary of great authority, which excuses us from quoting Saint Thomas more extensively.
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Before going to another aspect of the matter, we would like to emphasize that the great and very wise Saint Ignatius prescribed a rule of conduct that is precisely the opposite of the famous, exclusive “common ground” tactic. The Saint said that when in an epoch a tendency exists to exaggerate a certain truth, a diligent apostle should not talk too much about this truth, but above all speak of the opposite truth. Are people exaggerating when talking about grace? Speak about free will. And so on. The more intelligent this proceeding is, the more efficacious and sure it will be.
An Important Reservation
This obviously does not mean that collaborating with some adversaries against other more terrible ones should invariably be rejected. Although history shows the inefficacy of this conduct in many cases, there are others—albeit rare—in which it is advisable. Thus, His Holiness Pope Pius XI recommended and praised the cooperation against communism of all who believe in God. But this cooperation must be put into practice with common sense, avoiding exaggerated and unwholesome enthusiasms and above all without creating confusion between the camp of truth and that of error on the pretext of fighting even worse errors. Indeed, as soon as Catholics become sleepy enough to accept more or less ambiguous formulas of cooperation, this will be exploited by their allies and compromise the whole work in common. To show that we do not err by raising this hypothesis, let us argue with the most modern of examples: Nazism, a great contemporary heresy certainly more important for the Church at present than Protestantism, Spiritism, the schismatic church, etc. Nazi leaders in Germany were quick to perceive how suitable it was for them to come up with the excuse of a single united front against communism; and the generic expression, "belief in God," presented as a common ground between Catholics and Nazis wound up by covering the most infamous mystifications, to such a point that it became necessary to warn the faithful against the ambiguity of certain Nazi documents. Here is a translation of one of the leaflets in this regard distributed by the German Catholic movement:
The hour for decision has arrived. Everyone will be asked: Do you believe in God or profess Faith in Christ and his Church? In the new tally of religions, believing in God does not have the sense of our first article of Faith. Today, believing in God means only believing in Him as Turks or Hottentots do; and it also means rejecting Jesus Christ and His Church. Anyone who accepts such a God has denied Christ and separated himself from the Catholic Church. The time to decide has come. Thus, when you are asked individually if you believe in God, the hour will have come for you to make a profession of Faith without hesitation, subterfuge or compromise: “I am a Catholic, I do not only believe in God, but also in Jesus Christ and His Church." (2)
For this reason, in his Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, against Nazism, His Holiness Pope Pius XI lays out a lengthy argumentation to prove that anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ Our Lord does not have a true belief in God; and anyone who does not believe in the Church, does not really believe in Jesus Christ.
Let Us Not Hide the Austerity of Our Religion
The affirmation that Catholic Action should hide, in its apostolate, all the truths that might perchance turn away souls because of their austerity, deserves an equal reservation. Terms or expressions that might give the idea that the life of the faithful is one of fight should be carefully avoided so as to fully cloak under joyful appearances the sufferings imposed on those who follow Jesus Christ. This is not how the Divine Savior acted. He declared more than once that the Cross is the necessary companion of anyone wishing to follow Him. Nor did the Apostles act in this fashion. His Holiness Pope Benedict XV thus praises Saint Paul:
To make men know Jesus Christ better and better, and to make that knowledge have a bearing, moreover, not only on their faith, but on their lives as well, was the object of that apostolic man's every endeavor. This was the object of every throb of his apostolic heart. Therefore all Christ's doctrines and commands, even the sterner ones, were so proclaimed by St. Paul that he did not restrict, gloss over or tone down what Christ taught regarding humility, self-denial, chastity, contempt of the world, obedience, forgiveness of enemies, and the like, nor was he afraid to tell his hearers that they had to make a choice between the service of God and the service of Belial, for they could not serve both, that when they leave this world, a dread judgment awaits them; that they cannot bargain with God; they may hope for life everlasting if they keep His entire law, but if they neglect their duty and indulge their passions, they will have nothing to expect but eternal fire. For our "Preacher of truth" never imagined that he should avoid such subjects, because, owing to the corruption of the age, they appeared too stern to his hearers. Therefore it is clear how unworthy of commendation are those preachers who are afraid to touch upon certain points of Christian doctrine lest they should give their hearers offense. Does a physician prescribe useless remedies to his patient, merely because the sick man rejects effective ones? The test of the orator's power and skill is his success in making his hearers accept the stern truth he is preaching.…Lastly, what end did St. Paul have in his preaching? Not to please men, but Christ. "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." [Gal. 1:10] (3)
As can be seen, this precious rule of conduct for preachers who speak in the name of the Church could not fail to apply to the lay apostle as well, entirely dispelling any possible doubt in this regard. He should, therefore, aspire with all his heart that his interior life be such that he can incite all men to do penance, with these magnificent words: "With Christ I am nailed to the Cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me." (4)
One could object that since oratory and apostolate are made to attract, they should not deal with subjects that repel by their very nature. This is an erroneous argument, rejected by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation in a resolution of June 28, 1917:
the preacher should not covet the applause of his listeners, but should strive exclusively for the salvation of souls, the approval of God and of the Church. Saint Jerome used to say that teaching in the Church should not raise acclamations of the people but moaning; and the tears of listeners are the praise of the preacher.
It seems to us that no one could have expressed himself more clearly. In other words, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ "by Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world," should never be left out in preaching. (5)
Let Us Not Deify Popularity
As for the fear of offending heretics with a bold speech, we must emphasize that Catholic doctrine certainly prescribes that we must act with charity and even make heroic sacrifices if necessary to avoid anything that could displease our separated brethren. But the interests of our separated brethren themselves and the rights of just souls thirsty for the truth should never be sacrificed to this fear of displeasing others. Attitudes capable of irritating them are often indispensable for the apostolate and are therefore frankly praiseworthy. The most obvious common sense shows that there are occasions when it becomes necessary to displease men, and at times many men, so as to serve God, following Saint Paul's example. This is typically the case seen in the Gospel in regard to Our Lord Jesus Christ, as we just demonstrated. No one could have perfumed his apostolate with more delicate charity than the Divine Savior. Yet He was unable to make himself liked by everyone; and humanly speaking—judging only the immediate appearances—his work failed, becoming so unpopular as to reach the extreme of the crucifixion. Barrabas was preferred to Him of Whom the Apostle was able to write "pertransiit benefaciendo."(6) If popularity were the necessary consequence of every fruitful apostolate, and if conversely, unpopularity were the distinctive note of an unsuccessful one, Our Lord would have been the perfect prototype of an inept apostle.
In the Office of Tenebrae of Good Friday, the Church reads the following lesson of Saint Augustine about the energy with which our adorable Savior stigmatized the errors of the Jews, not recoiling in front of the immense hostility it caused, which He had certainly foreseen.
He did not keep silent about their vices so as to inspire in them horror for those vices, rather than hatred of the physician who tended to them. But paying this solicitude with ingratitude, like frenzied men enraged by an ardent fever against the physician who came to heal them, they fashioned the design to kill him. (7)
Hence we can see how unfounded and erroneous is the idea that popularity is a necessary reward of every successful apostolate. If that were true, the apostolate would take on demagogic airs so as to never displease public opinion. In fact, never did Our Lord or the Apostles retreat for fear of becoming unpopular.
Meanwhile, not only did His Church triumph over all that unpopularity, but from the Apostles to this day She has been overcoming the torrent of calumnies, persecutions and blasphemies that are unceasingly raised against her. Just like her Divine Founder, Holy Mother Church—a true rock of contradiction—has stirred up an immense and terrible deluge of hatred; a deluge much smaller than the flood of love with which She has not ceased to fill the earth.
The Church neither Despises nor Rejects Popularity
This does not mean that the Church, motivated by her motherly heart, does not strive to please her children or does not enjoy the loving tribute they pay her. Far from us the blasphemous idea that the Church should seek to be unpopular and disdainfully keep a distance from the masses. But that is a far cry from making popularity the exclusive fruit of the apostolate, a distance that common sense refuses to straddle. Let our rule be the beautiful Dominican motto: "veritate charitati." Let us speak the truth with charity and make charity a means to attain the truth, but let us not use charity as an excuse for decreasing or deforming reality in any way, be it for gaining applause, avoiding criticism, or uselessly trying to please everyone. Otherwise, through charity we would attain error rather than truth.
Nor Does She Make It the End of Her Efforts
And if perchance the wickedness of men sows with hatred the paths trod by our innocence, let us be consoled with the examples of the Saints. Benedict XV says about Saint Jerome,
With his strong insistence on adhering to the integrity of the faith, it is not to be wondered at that he attacked vehemently those who left the Church; he promptly regarded them as his own personal enemies. "To put it briefly," he says, "I have never spared heretics, and have always striven to regard the Church's enemies as my own."[S. Jerome, Dial. contra Pelagianos, Prol. 2.] To Rufinus he writes: "There is one point in which I cannot agree with you: you ask me to spare heretics -- or, in other words -- not to prove myself a Catholic."[S. Jerome, Contra Ruf., 3, 43.] Yet at the same time Jerome deplored the lamentable state of heretics, and adjured them to return to their sorrowing Mother, the one source of salvation;[S. Jerome, In Mich., I:I0-IS] he prayed, too, with all earnestness for the conversion of those "who had quitted the Church and put away the Holy Spirit's teaching to follow their own notions."[S. Jerome, In Is., 16:1-S]
We have seen with what reverent yet enthusiastic love he attached himself to the Roman Church and to the See of Peter, how eagerly he attacked those who assailed her. So when applauding Augustine, his junior yet his fellow-soldier, and rejoicing in the fact that they were one in their hatred of heresy, he hails him with the words: “Well done! You are famous throughout the world. Catholics revere you and point you out as the establisher of the old-time faith; and -- an even greater glory -- all heretics hate you. And they hate me too; unable to slay us with the sword, they would that wishes could kill.”[S. Jerome, Epist. ad Augustinum, 141, 2; cf. Epist. ad eumdem, 134,1.]
Sulpicius Severus quotes Postumianus to the same effect: “His unceasing conflict with wicked men brings on him their hatred. Heretics hate him, for he never ceases attacking them; clerics hate him, for he assails their criminal lives. But all good men admire him and love him.[Postumianus apud Sulp. Sev., Dial., 1, 9.]”
And Jerome had to endure much from heretics and abandoned men, especially when the Pelagians laid waste the monastery at Bethlehem. Yet all this he bore with equanimity, like a man who would not hesitate to die for the faith. (8)
We have just seen the behavior of a Doctor of the Church and one of the greatest saints in her history, praised by a Pontiff. So there could be no greater guarantee that this behavior is not only licit but often required by the highest and noblest principles and interests of the Church.
Let us summarize our way of thinking by condensing it into some items that will make our thought more precise and show that neither sweetness nor energy should have an exclusive place in the apostolate:
1. Given the immense variety of souls and the multiple and complex situations in which they may find themselves, the same words and language should not be used indistinctly for all of them even if they were found in identical situations. Leo XIII said positively that an apostle can never use only one method of action. On the contrary, he affirmed that the methods of apostolate are many, and an apostle who does not know how to use them all is ineffective:
Wherefore it is needful that the man who has to contend against all should be acquainted with the engines and the arts of all-that he should be at once archer and slinger, commandant and officer, general and private soldier, foot-soldier and horseman, skilled in sea-fight and in siege; for unless he knows every trick and turn of war, the devil is well able, if only a single door be left open, to get in his fierce bands and carry off the sheep."(De sacerdotio iv., 4.) (9)
Moreover, Saint Paul warned that we should fight "in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left." (10)
This variety of strong and manly processes is very far indeed from the dull "apostolic smile" now being foisted as the only or almost only weapon of apostolate! How very different is this mutilated and saccharine apostolate from what Saint Paul describes:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ. (11)
2. For this reason, God raises in Holy Church saints endowed with different temperaments and guided by grace through different spiritual ways. This diversity—a legitimate expression of the fecundity of the Church—is providential. Seeking to reduce those varied manifestations to an essential uniformity is to work against the Holy Ghost and to attempt against the fecundity of Catholic Action.
3. This variety should be kept in mind when preparing the "technique of apostolate," by not seeking to form apostles in only one mold but by teaching every one the true limits in which charity reigns so that Fortitude does not trespass them and harm Goodness. For its part Goodness must not transgress those limits lest it should become a dangerous and reprehensible weakness. Within these limits, it is well for everyone to act according to the holy liberty of the children of God, without being forced to mold his personality to that of others. In this sense, all should have a brotherly understanding and cooperate to serve the Church better within the variety of their temperaments and to carefully prevent that providential variety from giving rise to frictions that would ultimately prejudice Holy Church. (12)
Charity Cannot Obfuscate the Truth
To confirm all we have seen, let us mention at last the advice of Pius XI in his masterly encyclical on Saint Francis de Sales:
He, by his example, teaches them in no uncertain manner precisely how they should write. In the first place, and this the most important of all, each writer should endeavor in every way and as far as this may be possible to obtain a complete comprehension of the teachings of the Church. They should never compromise where the truth is involved, nor, because of fear of possibly offending an opponent, minimize or dissimulate it.… When it is necessary to enter into controversy, they should be prepared to refute error and to overcome the wiles of the wicked. (13)
Since the early times of the Church, this has been her language. (14) If a Catholic newspaper were to say about heretics, that they are "as irrational beasts, naturally tending to the snare and to destruction" the indignation in some of our circles would be immense. Saint Peter, however, said it. (15) If a Catholic newspaper were to write about socialists, liberals or Nazis,
these are fountains without water, and clouds tossed with whirlwinds, to whom the mist of darkness is reserved. For, speaking proud words of vanity, they allure by the desires of fleshly riotousness, those who for a little while escape, such as converse in error: promising them liberty, whereas they themselves are the slaves of corruption. For by whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave. For if, flying from the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they be again entangled in them and overcome: their latter state is become unto them worse than the former. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them. For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: “The dog is returned to his vomit” and, “The sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (16)
If a Catholic newspaper, we repeat, were to write such things, what would happen to it?
We find identical expressions in the language of the saints. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, martyr of the second century wrote before his martyrdom several letters to various churches. In these we read the following expressions about heretics “ravening dogs, who bite secretly," (17) "wolves," (18) "beasts in the shape of men," (19) "plants of the devil," (20) "evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit…not the planting of the Father,” (21) “becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire." (22)
Saint Polycarp was undoubtedly one of the dearest disciples of Saint John, the Apostle of Love. Saint Irenaeus learned from Saint Polycarp that once the Apostle went to the baths but left without washing himself, because he saw there Cerinthus, a heretic who denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He "rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, ‘Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.’" (23) One can well imagine Cerinthus was not amused! One day, Saint Polycarp himself met Marcian, a docetist heretic; the latter asked him if he knew him, so he answered: “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan." (24) Moreover, in this, they followed the advice of Saint Paul: "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: Knowing that he, that is such an one, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment.” (25)
If Saint Polycarp himself happened to meet heretics, he would cover his ears, saying: "God of mercy, why did You keep me on earth for me to have to endure such things?" And would immediately flee to avoid such company.
In the fourth century, Saint Athanasius tells that Saint Anthony the Hermit, called the speeches of heretics a poison worse than that of serpents. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the placid and angelic Doctor, called William of the Holy Love and his followers who were heretics opposed to the Virginity of Our Lady: "enemies of God, ministers of the devil, members of the anti-Christ, enemies of the salvation of mankind, detractors, reprobates, perverse, ignorant, equal to Pharaoh, worse than Jovinianus and Vigilantia." Saint Bonaventure, Seraphic Doctor, called Gerald, his contemporary, "perverse, slanderer, madman, poisoner, ignorant, liar, wicked, fool, perfidious." Saint Bernard, the Mellifluous Doctor, said about Arnold of Brescia that he was disorderly, a vagabond, impostor, vessel of ignominy, scorpion thrown up from Brescia, looked at with horror in Rome, with abomination in Germany, despised by the Roman Pontiff, praised by the devil, worker of iniquities, devourer of the people, mouth full of curses, sower of discord, fabricator of schisms, ferocious wolf.
Saint Gregory the Great said of John, Bishop of Constantinople that he had "a worldly and abominable pride, the pride of Lucifer, prolific in stupid words, conceited and of small intelligence." Likewise spoke Saints Fulgentius, Prosper, Pope Siricius, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Gregory of Nazianzen, Basil, Hillary, Alexander of Alexandria, Cornelius and Cyprian, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement and all the Fathers of the Church, who distinguished themselves by their heroic virtues.
The most suave Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales summarized in an admirable way the principle that inspired that behavior by so many saints: "Of the enemies of God and His Church we must needs speak openly, since in charity we are bound to give the alarm whenever the wolf is found amongst the sheep." (26) Obviously we do not recommend that only this language be used. But neither do we find it just to brand it as contrary to the charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Example of Bishop Vital Maria Gonçalves de Oliveira
In another chapter of this book we emphasized the similarities between concepts of members of certain confraternities of the time of Bishop Vital Maria Gonçalves de Oliveira, in regard to the respect due to the Ecclesiastical Authority, with those of some theoreticians of Catholic Action. The similarity is also significant in regard to apostolate strategy. In one of his sermons to the people of Olinda, the remarkable Bishop Vital alerted:
Nowadays there are all kinds of men who, denying the principle of authority…pretend to teach the bishops that they should be all sweetness and conciliation and never make use of a fatherly severity. Now, if we look at the first pages of the history of the Church, what do we see? Saint Paul, whose epistles breathe the sweetest charity of the Lord, tells the guilty Christians of Corinth: "I will go to you with a whip in my hand.” And he issued against them the punishment of excommunication. (27)
Brazil was able to overcome one of the most serious religious crises of its history thanks to the fact that the illustrious Bishop did not allow such one-sided ways of doing apostolate to become rooted in his spirit.
Let Us Adjust Our Methods to the Present-Day Mentality
We should clarify that, if both the apostolic language impregnated with love and sweetness and the one that inspires fear and vibrates with holy energy are equally just and should be used at any given time, it is also certain in some epochs there is a greater need to place more emphasis on austerity and in others on sweetness. However, this worry should never be taken to the extreme of employing only one and abandoning the other—which would be a lack of balance.
In which case does our own time fall into? The ears of contemporary man are obviously full of exaggerated sweetness, accommodating sentimentality and the frivolous spirit of preceding generations. But the greatest mass movements of our time have not been set in motion through a mirage of easy ideals. On the contrary, it was in the name of the most radical principles, by appealing to the most absolute dedication and pointing to the rough and steep trails of heroism that the main political leaders have enthralled the masses to the point of delirium.
he greatness of our epoch resides precisely in this thirst for the absolute and for heroism. Why not quench this laudable craving by boldly preaching the absolute Truth and the supernaturally heroic morals of Our Lord Jesus Christ?
The spirit of the masses has changed and we must open our eyes to this reality. Let us not fall into the error of driving them away from us—which will inevitably happen if all they find in our ambiences is the diluted ideas of 19th century doctrinal homeopathy.
Shortly before his death, the illustrious Cardinal Baudrillart wrote an article showing that the piety of the faithful was increasingly venerating, in Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the heroism of her death in expiatory holocaust to the Merciful Love, rather than only feeding their devotion by meditating on the sweetness, however admirable, of the Saint of Lisieux. And His Eminence concluded that it is by preaching heroism that the Church can today, more than in any other epoch, draw the masses back to Jesus Christ.
We should not forget this very serious warning. Let us give souls the strong bread they are asking for, rather than the rose water that no longer pleases them.
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It would not be superfluous to deal here with yet another subject. Some people claim a lay apostle must always and necessarily display a joyful look overflowing with happiness, lest he should put souls to flight.
In this sense, the most beautiful thought of Saint Francis de Sales –”a sad saint is a sorry saint"—has been very much abused.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas aptly teaches, and Saint Francis himself confirms, "sorrow can be good or evil, depending on the effects it produces in us." (28) Thus, it is fitting for the virtuous soul to experience good sorrow and even let it show on his face without fear of scaring anyone away from the Church. In fact, this is the edifying sorrow which Our Lord suffered when He said: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death." (29) And just as the most holy sorrow of Our Lord converted innumerable souls, if the same sorrow is seen on the face of a pious soul it can only attract and edify. It is about this sorrow that the Holy Ghost said: "by the sadness of the countenance the mind of the offender is corrected." (30) And more: "The heart of the wise is where there is mourning, and the heart of fools where there is mirth." (31)
Indeed, there is a holy joy that edifies and a worldly joy that scandalizes. It was about the latter that the Holy Ghost spoke when He said: "For as the crackling of thorns burning under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool: now this also is vanity." (32)
Bonum ex integra causa: (33) Hence, the edification of one's neighbor can come from holy sorrow as much as from holy joy in those who do apostolate. Malum ex quocumque defectu: only the opposite of edification can result from worldly joy and sorrow.
Therefore, it should not be understood that in order to do apostolate one must be always happy. What is really needed is that we remain always united with God whether our appearance is joyful or sad.
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The people who fall into these errors also profess a delirious enthusiasm for the virtue of simplicity. But how erroneously they understand it!
According to them, a Catholic should believe everything he is told and be as "innocent as a dove."
Now, the innocence of the dove, when unaccompanied by another virtue equally elevated, evangelical and noble—the cunning of the serpent—easily turns into folly.
About such “doves” the Holy Ghost says, they are “decoyed." (34) Indeed, "The simpleton believes everything, but the shrewd man measures his steps. (35)
Because of this a well-formed Christian "when he [the enemy] shall speak low, trust him not: because there are seven mischiefs in his heart." (36) Indeed, the prudent man is able "an enemy is known by his lips, when in his heart he entertaineth deceit." (37)
Thus, the well formed apostle knows how to place his perspicacity at the service of the Church, following the advice of Scripture: "Catch us the little foxes that destroy the vines: for our vineyard hath flourished." (38)
According to a commentary by Father Matos Soares, this advice means: "The foxes symbolize heretics, who are just as cunning. It is necessary to stop them right at the beginning, when they are still small (little foxes), otherwise later on they will be the desolation of the Church." (39)
It is the same holy cunning that we should develop to "be in peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counselor. If thou wouldst get a friend, try him before thou takest him, and do not credit him easily." (40) The same book orders us: "Separate thyself from thy enemies, and take heed of thy friends." (41) And finding difficult the observance of this conduct is a proof of weakness: "How very unpleasant is wisdom to the unlearned, and the unwise will not continue with her. She will be to them as a mighty stone of trial, and they will cast her from them before it be long." (42) Filled with sentimentalism, they will not know how to practice the advice: "According to thy power beware of thy neighbor," (43) or this other counsel: "Tell not thy mind to friend or foe." (44) For that reason, they are unaware that "a man is known by his look." (45) Nor do they know how to discern with sensible heart someone’s deceitful words by his countenance, like one’s taste discerns a dish of venison.
A most important observation should be made in this regard. We have already heard in certain circles—obviously those in which the effects of original sin have been forgotten, in practice if not in theory—that Catholic Action acts very wisely when it entrusts posts of responsibility and leadership to persons still unproven from the standpoint of doctrine or fidelity. This show of confidence encourages the neophyte and hastens his complete conversion of ideas and of life.
The trouble with this and many other errors that we refute here is the formulation of general rules based on possible but exceptional situations. Indeed, in some concrete cases it is possible some people would draw great spiritual benefit from being treated thus. However, it is easy to see how the generalization of this rule would lead to abuse. A comparison will fully elucidate this matter. We know that one thief or another can be converted to a life of moderation if someone gives him a proof of trust that stimulates his self-respect and opens a path of regeneration that he saw as hopelessly lost. Should we deduce from that strictly possible but very rare event, that it would be a wise general rule of conduct to entrust thieves with keeping one’s coffers? Now if we deem this rule dangerous when it comes to keeping our perishable treasures, why should we be less prudent when it concerns the custody of the imperishable treasures of the Church?
Obviously, this does not mean that a leader of Catholic Action should not, when possible, encourage beginners with affectionate words and—within the bounds of prudence—give them some proof of confidence, like a temporary duty. But there is a huge distance between that and a post, particularly one of responsibility. In principle, and except in extremely special and therefore very rare circumstances, that distance should not be bridged.
The same should be said of praising in public. A person in Catholic Action made a spirited remark to the effect that he has the impression that in the eyes of many people, the Church is like everyone’s destitute sister who must content herself with leftovers and trifles while the best is saved for the secular use of mere temporal institutions. Precisely because of this, when a person of some importance approaches certain Catholic ambiences, the manifestations of pleasure are at times such and so many that even before undergoing the investigations and tests that prudence imposes, the neophyte is already canonized! At times, that "rapprochement" is pure illusion: a gesture, a word and even an insinuation are seen as proof of an authentic and lasting conversion that deserves immediate and ardent applause and a seal of total and unimpeachable Catholicity.
1) Fr. Tomas Pegues, O.P. A Summa Theologica em forma de Catecismo, pp. 92-93.
2) Testis Fidelis, Christianity in the Third Reich, vol. 2, p. 103.
3) Benedict XV, Encyclical Humani Generis, June 15, 1917, no. 19, www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xv/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xv_enc_15061917_humani-generis-redemptionem_en.html
4) Gal. 2:19-20.
5) Gal. 6:14.
6) “He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).
7) Office of Tenebrae, Good Friday, II nocturn, fifth lesson.
8) Benedict XV, Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus, Sept. 15, 1920, nos. 38, 60, at www.papalencyclicals.net/Ben15/b15spiri.htm
9) Leo XIII, Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Nov. 18, 1893, no. 17, www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18111893_providentissimus-deus_en.html
10) 2 Cor. 6:7.
11) 2 Cor. 10:4-5.
12) As is generally known, the Holy See tried, in the beginning of this century, to use all persuasive means to prevent the movement, Le Sillon, directed by Marc Sangnier, from falling into the crudest liberalism. One of the defects of this movement, even before going astray, consisted precisely in seeking to use only methods of so-called soft persuasion and starting a violent campaign against all Catholics endowed with a different personal outlook. Let us listen to the fatherly warning that the Holy Father St. Pius X addressed to pilgrims of Le Sillon discouraged at their inability to impose their methods on all French Catholics:
“Do not let yourselves be downcast if all who profess the same Catholic principles are not always united to you, in the use of methods which aim to a common aim for all and that all wish to reach. The soldiers of a powerful army do not always use the same weapons and the same tactics; all should, however, be united in the same enterprise, keep a spirit of cordial fraternity and obey promptly the authority who directs them. May the charity of Christ reign among you and the other young Catholics of France. They are your brothers; they are not against you but with you. When your forces meet in the same field, support one another and never let a holy rivalry degenerate into an opposition inspired in human passions, or insufficiently elevated human viewpoints. It would be enough to have all the same Faith, the same feeling, and the same will, and victory will be granted to you." (Allocution of September 11, 1904.)
13) Pius XI, Encyclical Rerum Omnium Perturbationem, Jan. 26, 1923, no. 33, at www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11PERTU.HTM
14) In this regard, see the magnificent work of Rev. Fr. Felix Sardá y Salvany, Liberalism Is a Sin, from which we extracted the majority of the following quotes.
15) 2 Peter 2:12.
16) 2 Peter 2:17-22.
17) Ephesians, 7 at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm
18) Philadelphians, 2 at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm
19) Smyraens, 4 at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm
20) Ephesians, 10 at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm
21) Trallians, 11, at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0106.htm
22) Ephesians, 16 at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm
23) St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Bk III, ch. 3, no. 4, at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103303.htm
25) Titus 3:10-11.
26) St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books & Publishers, Inc., 1994), part 3, ch. 29, p. 208.
27) Rev. Fr. Louis de Gonzague, O.M.C., Monseigneur Vital (Antoine Gonçalves de Oliveira) Frere Mineur Capucin, Eveque d’Olinda: Une Page de L’Histoire du Brésil, (Paris: Editions Saint-Remi, 1912) p. 328.
28) Saint Francis de Sales, Pensamentos Consoladores (1922), p. 178.
29) Mark 14:34.
30) Eccles. 7:4.
31) Eccles. 7:5.
32) Eccles. 7:7.
33) Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu: An action is good when good in every respect; it is wrong when wrong is any respect.
34) Osee 7:11.
35) Prov. 14:15 (NAB).
36) Prov. 26:25.
37) Prov. 26:24
38) Cant. 2:15.
39) Fr. Mato Soares, Bíblia Sagrada: Antigo Testamento (dos Salmos até o segundo livro dos Macabeus)
40) Ecclus. 6:6-7.
41) Ecclus. 6:13.
42) Ecclus. 6:21-22.
43) Ecclus. 9:21.
44) Ecclus. 19:8.
45) Ecclus. 19:26.