What Is True Catholic Calm?

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

MNF Meeting, September 25, 1986

“A Roman and Apostolic Catholic, the author of this text submits himself with filial devotion to the traditional teaching of Holy Church. However, if by an oversight anything is found in it at variance with that teaching, he immediately and categorically rejects it.”

 The words “Revolution” and “Counter-Revolution” are employed here in the sense given to them by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, the first edition of which was published in the monthly Catolicismo, Nº 100, April 1959.


Rothenburg, Bavaria, Germany

For man, there are two different types of calm: one earthly and the other heavenly. What is true calm on earth and what do you understand by calm? Let me first deal with good calm and then compare it to bad calm. Today hardly anyone knows what good calm is, and there are so many distortions of its meaning that it would need an explanation before praising calm. I believe the current notion of calm identifies with that of relaxation. In other words, a person is calm when he is relaxed, and when he is tense he is not calm. But is this notion accurate? I think this is false because it contains the idea that an individual at the peak of his vitality is not calm. I dispute this and I think that an individual at the peak of his vitality can be perfectly calm and that this would be true calm.

What would be an example of complete calm? Imagine that one of us was invited to go on a boat ride on the Loire, the Rhine or in Venice. The ride on the Rhine would seem particularly attractive to me at the moment. It is an amazing river with those verdant mountain hillsides, planted with vineyards, charming villages, many castles, all passing by slowly as the person rides up the Rhine toward its source. During the whole time the person sees things of great vitality. He can become satisfied, happy, laugh, take a picture, or do a number of other things. Will he lose his calm because of this? Someone might, but when a person legitimately goes through all these impressions he does not lose his calm.

Calm is not relaxation. It is a state of soul by which a person’s temperament and all of his instincts and sensibility react in a way fully proportional to what he has before him. This is the meaning of calm. There can be calm in wrath or in fear, but as such these feelings are opposed to calm. The object of calm should be to place man before things that are pleasant or at least not disagreeable, and hence not in a state of fear. Fear as such easily leads one to lose his calm. Fear is intrinsically opposed to calm and when one is startled by some evil that threatens him, whether proximate or remote, likely or unlikely, it legitimately causes him to lose his calm. Therefore, the perfectly proportioned attitude of a man facing a serious threat is to lose his calm. But note that the current language allows a meaning that is opposed to what I am saying. For example, “so and so” did not lose his calm even during a huge fight. So was he calm or not? Calm here should not to be confused with psychological distance.

The word calm has two meanings. One meaning is to be calm when not faced with an object worthy of anger, fear, panic or apprehension. Another is a way of being angry or apprehensive whereby an individual maintains his self-control. This can also be called calm in another sense of the word. Since calm is complete self-government, one can call calm the fact that an individual retains his self-government in a situation that places him in a state of shock or tension. In that struggle, he is no longer calm in the full sense of the word but preserves some calm within the noblest part of his soul by keeping an entire proportion with truth. Yet this is no longer calm properly speaking, but only after a fashion. In its noblest aspect, calm is to retain full balance and objectivity during an adverse situations but this is not calm in the sense of absence of tension, fright and anger. It’s the calm of a person placed in a situation in which his sensibility boils. But through sheer willpower his effervescence is strictly reduced to its initial bubbles and goes no further. In other words, depending on the circumstance, there is something that an individual cannot overcome because it is not natural for him. Nevertheless, he remains victorious over it to the full degree that is humanly possible for him.

Here is a common but very illustrative example: a martyr who enters the arena and sees the lion that will eat him alive. Save for a higher action of grace, his instinct of preservation immediately reacts and produces a certain effect which he can nobly prevent from taking over. But he will unavoidably feel some initial disturbance. What he can do is to keep that initial disturbance within bounds. Then he has calmness par excellence, which is to stand before the lion and remain calm but this is not calm in the full sense of the word. A martyr has calm in the splendor of his “being,” but he is not “well.”

Now something very important is that calm presupposes that the individual have enjoyment or repulsion of the thing to degree reason indicates and that is in the nature of things and of his temperament. Certain individual characteristics legitimately enter into this. Something that in a normal person, does not cause him to leave his normalcy. This is temperance. Calm and temperance are not necessarily reversible. Temperance, for example, includes one who is entirely calm and thinking of something that will give much pleasure if and he possesses it. That does not take away your serenity. This is temperance but will cease being so if you think about it longer than you should. If you do, something enters that will disturb your nerves because it is already touches on immoderate concupiscence. Every act of immoderate concupiscence, however remote the object may be, contains some little vibration that is out of line. It is important for us not to lose the main idea that the true and legitimate enjoyment of life begins the moment an individual is taught the delight of calm. When he understands that calm is the greatest pleasure in life, he has understood what life is and that it is a game worth playing. If he did not understand that calm is the greatest delight of life, he understood nothing and does not know how to live because the remainder of his life is built upon this foundation.

Imagine the Doge of Venice embarking on the Bucentaur (the state ship of the Doges of Venice that was destroyed by Napoleon in 1798), for Venice’s nuptials with the sea in that marvelous celebration. If he didn’t have the calm to enjoy it, he would actually fail to do so. He would be accompanied by an anxiety that is the opposite of enjoyment that brings an element of pain, and joy is not as perfect in the presence of pain as it is in the absence of pain. From this standpoint one can understand well, how chastity is the supreme pleasure in life. Imagining chastity as a pleasure seems to be as bold a thesis as it can get. But it is the greatest pleasure in life. The reason being, that the chaste man needs no one else to find his own equilibrium and he has that self-sufficiency without rooting for something, dependency, longings or dreams, so that in his daily life he can often isolate himself and enjoy his own being independently from anyone else. I have the impression that most of us have not been brought up with this concept.

I believe that if I were to enumerate the graces I received in the past, this is one that I should include with special gratitude because very early on, I discerned a taste for calmness. I was really delighted feeling the independence of my virtue, the independence of my chastity and how pleasant it was for me to live without needing anyone else to have around me; all I needed was a balanced enjoyment of all things so that I could truly be me. I never discuss this with anyone because I knew they would abhor the idea but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying it. I believe it was a grace, as I enjoyed it intensely.

In our house there was a garden with a very large unoccupied area all around it. It was a good size garden for our neighborhood with many birds and was very well taken care of. The terrace was nice and had a porcelain floor like the one in the little balcony off my room in the Seat of the Reign of Mary. I always enjoyed taking something to eat on the terrace, because eating was always part of my well-being. I would frequently have breakfast in the open air sitting on the terrace sensing my purity and comparing it with the anxiety that others suffer such as: “my girlfriend just called and she’s arriving, but is now she’s going out with someone else, she doesn’t like me anymore…” I would think, calm down! Forget about this rubbish and let her like whomever she wants; I will take care of myself and not be concerned with these problems. Or I could think; “so-and-so just bought a new car or, doesn’t have a car…” If he doesn’t have a car, let him work something out without one; I for one live well without a car. I am myself. Calmness was the source of my fruition, which took the place of both cars and romanticism.

Possessing calm is necessary for the soul to do everything, including thinking. Since thinking is something eminently proper to the soul, calmness is very conducive to thinking but isn’t just for thinking. Here is something I used to do to enjoy the small and innocent pleasures of life. There were many sparrows around my house, and I had heard they were little birds as worthless as stray cats. They would come to the wide parapet of the terrace and jump up and down, and after a closer look I noticed their joyous and happy frolicking. After a moment, I began to pay attention to the sparrows’ feathers. I found their colors very charming and began to notice how their movements were graceful and how they were small but well proportioned little gems. It was a joy and a pleasure to see sparrows jumping around in that environment of the old São Paulo, and I suddenly realized how stupid were those who found sparrows so banal. They had never had the independence or criterion to realize how sparrows can be interesting and appealing. At that point, all my differences and fights with those people came to mind and a somber cloud beckoning something painful and irritating appeared. I thought to myself; “this is not the time to think about it; that will come later. Let me think about the sparrows.” So I left that thought for later and continued eating and looking at the sparrows. This is calm.

Do you think it’s possible to regain calm? Perhaps one of us might have to reacquire calm. In what points are we not calm? In general, the loss of calm, therefore of temperance, stems from the idea the person would enjoy things more intensely if he took fruition to a paroxysm. That is the mistake because it’s Satan’s lie. In our innocence we had that calm, and if we hadn’t forced this enjoyment, we would have had everything. By forcing it, we lost everything. Now then, can calm be preserved in the face of something extremely appetizing and highly desirable? Yes it can, but note that very desirable things lead man later to not desire less desirable ones, therefore one must exercise some caution. Thanks to Our Lady, that was very easy for me to do because there was a side in my temperament whereby things extremely desirable tired me when they lasted a bit and I wanted to get back to normal, feeling a greater appetite for normalcy than for other things.

As a child I had some day dreams before realizing they were evil. As ridiculous as it is, I remember dreaming what life would be like if I had won a great victory and a large crowd was cheering me. Would I like that? What would be ideal? There was a hotel in São Paulo where the Matarazzo building (city hall) stands today, a beautiful hotel on par with the old Automobile Club. From there I could imagine the overpass packed with a crowd and I appeared under a large arcade that opened into an inner hall to receive a standing ovation. Then I imagined myself alone in a very beautiful room, eating a stupendous meal, knowing that the crowd would come to cheer me at any moment; so I would leave for a moment, receive the ovation and excuse myself to continue my dinner alone, and the post-ovation part of the dinner was more pleasant than the ovation. Why? Because the ovation came, I received it and now go back to my calm.

Question: What did you imagine enjoying in that ovation? The concept of a standing ovation is completely different from what you are saying; it is a kind of delirium.

There was no delirium at all. I saw that ovation as something I had deserved for some very great deed I had done, which the others recognized and so it was an exchange of affection and mutual recognition, something that magnified me in the eyes of God. There was also a little self-appreciation, but no delirium at all. You can see that the dinner was really the central part of this whole dream. Now, that dream was dangerous, and I gave it up as soon as I realized that it could easily degenerate into pride and inebriation with crowds. Our Lady helped me, and it never arrived to that point. At any rate, this is to explain a bit what it means to dwell in calmness and how an individual should build his plan for earthly happiness.

Man’s vitality is so great that he must spend it in effort, struggle, work and things that make him suffer. It is more or less like a person who cannot stand still because his imprisoned vitality produces damaging effects on his organism and psyche. So he cannot stay in that state without going through enormous pains, and he needs to fight and to bear his sufferings while keeping calm: “I have decided to bear with it and bear it I will.” And so I throw myself into the fight and go on with my life. So, can this calm be recovered? The answer is simple: with prayer, yes; without prayer, no. It’s over. But it must be deeply desired and considered a goal of ones spiritual life. I don’t know what apex the human race would have reached if the myriad capabilities of so many people were not lost in useless suffering and their resources had been taken advantage of with calm.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was the communicative figure of calm par excellence! He is calm itself. He was calm throughout His entire life in every possible sense and gradation of the word. He never ceased to be calm. His own figure, including on the Shroud of Turin, communicates calm. The prayer: “Anima Christi, sanctifica me,” communicates ineffable calm. Every solemnity implies calm and this is one of many reasons why the industrial revolution revolted against solemnities, ceremonies, respect and calm. In fact within calm, respect as such, is the acknowledgment of a higher value to which it pays homage. Now, in order for us not to lose these notions completely, I would recommend that we pray at least one decade of our daily rosary, I couldn’t ask for less, begging Our Lady for the calmness that only She and Our Lord had. For example, Our Lady received the Annunciation; She was perplexed, gave her fiat and immediately conceived by the action of the Holy Ghost. Now, if that had happened at lunchtime, she would have simply gotten up afterward and started making lunch with complete calm. At the same time as she prepared eggs for St. Joseph and for herself, she began communicating a very elevated prayer to the Word of God within her. This is calm and may Our Lady give you a great desire to be calm.

Let us now deal with false calm. The calm I just described is one full of vitality and flexibility. While I observed those little sparrows as a boy, and someone would have given me an article from a magazine, I would have read it or played with a toy they had given me just like any boy. In other words, having flexibility to accept a variety of things and not get tied up in one thing to the exclusion of others. This is a kind of flexibility of soul analogous to the joints and flesh of a living organism; when faced with everything that is happening, it gradually accepts, molds itself or refuses things within life’s goodness and well-being. This is a good calm.

Bad calm tends toward something melancholy, gloomy, closed up and wary. It has an attitude towards life as if to say, “life, I only have one position in relation to you: to defend myself and to close my shutters. I don’t want you to engage my lack of emotion because everything from you makes me suffer and this is the only way I can live. Therefore I feel nothing, suffer nothing and am happy with nothing in order to not play your evil game but to live in my own Olympic weakness, despising other men who become carried away by your vicissitudes.” Deep down, this is a refusal of self, a refusal of life and a refusal of God: “I refuse everything!” This is wrong. Someone may say: but I have no other way of avoiding excessive attachments. I answer, “My son, then keep this thing which is less difficult to combat than excessive attachments, but let us reduce these attachments until you can come out of this jail into the normal flow of life,” for this is a sarcophagus.

So the idea is to gradually and wisely replace a bad solution with a good one. If you eliminate it all at once you may fall into an excess of your vice, so do it slowly, but you must do it. The normal thing is, when something good happens, we accept it; when a bad thing comes, we dislike it; when nothing comes, we don’t become sullen but remain flexible, floating back and fourth on the waves of life’s vicissitudes. I would like to say a quick word about the relationship between this state of spirit and Gnosis. This cold position before life corresponds to the Gnostic idea that Creation is evil. Gnostics don’t have the idea of Creation; they think that man is a particle detached from God. He shouldn’t have detached himself from God; there was a disastrous mistake in God, and since I was born of this mistake, what I should now want is to keep myself in a kind of nirvana or nothingness until the happy moment arrives when I can reintegrate into God. So I shall sulk during my entire life.

Is the world moving toward the Buddhist position?

Of course: Clearly, the exaggerated impassibility of some British,, when taken to its final consequences, in a very broad perspective constitutes a step that, with other contributions, may facilitate access to Buddhism. Let’s say that the Lazzarone of Naples and a Spaniard are further away from Buddhism than him.

What about the phlegm?

I don’t know the etymology of the word phlegm, but when someone is said to be phlegmatic he is one who has remained impassive in an almost supra-rational or sub-rational way, before something that is not normal.

If you pay attention to the debacle of the industrial revolution we are witnessing, and a man from an ideology most distant from the TFP were to speak about the Brazilian crisis, he would say, “It’s true, but all of this is both the cause and effect of agitation, a general nervous disturbance, for our century is the century of psychoses”. Most people would find this to be a normal opinion. If our century were not so psychotic, events wouldn’t have such violent ups and downs. Most people accept this as a valid opinion because it is obvious.

Now, if you imagine a person gradually stripped of all pleasures in life where he ends up with nothing, this would necessarily produce in him an attitude of apathy similar to the one that is dominant in Russia. This is where a person finds himself in the complete impossibility of reacting and resigns himself to moan stupidly and take care of his little life as well as he can. Nothing gives him any joy because joy has disappeared. This produces a people who have been completely beaten and lose their reactivity along life’s journey. What will their children and grandchildren be like? Today, grandparents and parents tell their offspring about the events of their days that produce a kind of emptiness in which a pseudo-enjoyable inner sensation enters like a ray of light. However, this is a tease of the devil, because the person surrenders to the emptiness. This is where things are gradually headed. All forms of pleasure are disappearing.

What should the Counter-Revolution do in the face of this? I think the only way would be to rally as many innocent souls as possible that don’t join the wave of behavior I just described. In fact, I think that once this mentality of giving up is established, there is no fixing it without a miracle. Imagine a city like Rothenburg, Bavaria, Germany, whose inhabitants were entirely innocent. Would there be any tourists interested in seeing it, perhaps today but in another 10 years? I don’t think so. I think they would set the town on fire on one pretext or another.

So the next question would be, how can the TFP stop this? The TFP must fight to the end even if the struggle becomes sterile, with the certainty that Our Lady will reward it with an angelic intervention like that story of Jericho whose walls turned into flour. Our days are days that constitute a Jericho whose walls must turn into flour.