Modern Debasements of the Idea of God
Louis-Edouard-Désiré Cardinal Pie
The first chapter of Vatican I's dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith is entitled: "Of God Creator of All Things": De Deo rerum omnium creatore. Here, Gentlemen, the Holy Church fulfills what, since Jerusalem and Nicaea, it has always placed at the head of its doctrinal work and of its solemn professions of faith. Credo in Deum, says the Apostles' Creed; Credo in unum Deum, says the Nicene Creed. But today, God having been travestied, disfigured, denied, our Council lays down in all its light the revealed doctrine by which God has declared Himself to us: Sancta catholica apostolica romana Ecclesia credit et confitetur unum esse Deum verum et vivam, and the remainder that we will soon explain.
Indeed, the duty and the need of the Church is to confess God before everything. This is its duty. Like Christ who has established and sent it, the Church is born and lives only to render witness to the truth, and especially to the truth from which all the other truths have their origin and their support. The Church is therefore the witness of God, His herald, His perceptible voice.
The Church is at the same time His requirement. Because the abundance of the heart causes words to spring forth, and because the Church has received the Spirit of God, it has in it a plenitude of light, of life, of divine charity which urges it and obliges it to tell God to the world. "It believes and it confesses," Credit et confitetur. Alas! This time, it is more than a homage rendered; it is a reparation made and it is at the same time a remedy presented to men against an ill so frightful that it would seem to have been impossible.
St. John gives the description in the Apocalypse of a woman dressed in red, seated on a red beast, and he says that she is "full of names of blasphemy": plenam nominibus blasphemice.1 This woman represents the city of the reprobates, that Scripture calls also "Babylon,"2 and elsewhere "the church of those who plot evil,"3 or "the Synagogue of Satan."4 Born with sin, this society will continue up to the final judgment; it is consequently contemporaneous with all the centuries. Nevertheless, where the course of time and the movement of men and of things has caused society to pass amid so many vicissitudes, it has, so to speak, its golden ages, where everything lends assistance to it, where its reign is freer and more extended, and where it seems to triumph over the city of God. Hcec est hora vestra et potestas tenebrarum:5"This is the hour of the wicked and the power of darkness."
Will we accuse him for not being an enlightened judge, nor an accurate historian, the one who will say that our century, assuredly great by so many great works that God has accomplished, and by so many remarkable graces which He has deigned to lavish on it, has been for this city of the evil, nevertheless, a singularly propitious and favorable era? Among the liberties claimed, recognized, instituted, carried to a condition of necessity in the order of facts, as well as to the position of principles and of axioms in the order of ideas and of laws, we have had on the first rank the liberty of blasphemy.
This liberty of blasphemy has been diversely named. Like Satan, who is its father, the world is naturally and inevitably a liar. If it were obliged to speak clearly and to call things by their true name, it would be struck with impotence and with death: the truth kills it, and light is deadly to it. Lies, darkness, equivocations are necessary for it to live: lies and equivocations in actions, lies and equivocations in speech. This godless liberty has therefore called itself liberty of conscience, religious liberty, liberty of thought, liberty of the press; but, in fact and truly in right, it was the liberty of blasphemy. It has been amply used and we do not know if, since the origin of the world, we have blasphemed more. There has been learned blasphemy and ignorant blasphemy, jeering blasphemy and serious blasphemy, polite blasphemy and cynical blasphemy, peaceful blasphemy and passionate blasphemy: plenam nominibus blasphemiæ.
But what was bending and was progressively degenerating under the weight of these blasphemies was the true idea of God. We have made gods to our fancy; there has come into being gods of all sorts. We have the God who reigns and does not govern: God splendid and worthy of every respect, but without care for the world, and that the world can better honor only by considering itself too small to merit His attention and, all the more, His intervention. We have had the God-idea: absolute ideal, escaping by its very nature every definition, fleeing so much the more as we seek to comprehend it, and vanishing entirely as soon as we claim to have understood it. We have had the God-Being: the being who is, but who does not exist, who does not live, the God who does not think, nor want, nor judge, nor operate, seeing that these words signify a determination, and by that even a limit, a decrease, a contradiction, a negation of absolute being. There has been the God-progress, the God-aspiration; the God who is a boundless evolution, who tries His strength unceasingly to exist, who seeks to expand and to contain Himself, who tends by every means to His plentitude, to His perfection, to His happiness, to His last end, and who never arrives there because being by essence the infinite aspiration and the eternal progress, His life is moving without ever stopping and always aiming at an always impossible end: that reduces it exactly to the state of the damned. Neighbor and parent of the former, there has been the God-world, the God-cosmic: soul of the world, secret force, fatal, universal, vivifying everything, and if mingled with everything, it is distinct from nothing, and the world is its essential and unique expression. What should I say? There has been the God-nothingness, the God-evil, the God- hostile, jealous, tyrannical, oppressor: I stop.
You see it, Gentlemen, this is a pantheon of blasphemy: plenam nominibus blasphemiæ. But each of these blasphemous names has been given to God by our contemporaries, by our fellow-citizens, and that, more than one time, from the height of the chairs of public teaching. Each of these absurd and detestable ideas has taken the place of the rational and Catholic idea of God, and that even in baptized souls who even believed that they had not formally renounced their baptism.
After that, is it necessary to wonder at the degree of weakness, misery, and shame to which this society, ignorant and contemptuous of God has descended? The sage had said it well: "But all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God." Vani autem sunt omnes homines in quibus non subest scientia Dei.6 Do you hear? Vani omnes: whatever they may be and whatever advantages they glory in, these are no longer truly men, but shadows and phantoms of men, men who are no longer kept upright. They are inconsistent, fleeing, imperceptible men who, themselves, no longer know what to grasp nor to retain: a generation devoted to unhappiness, and which is reduced to look for its saviors among the dead, as if the dead could offer a hope of salvation: Infelices autem sunt, et inter mortuos spes illorum est.7But if these people are taken away captive, if they are torn limb from limb, if they are delivered to the mercy of all their enemies from the outside and from the inside, the cause of it is that they have lost the key of all science and of all wisdom and the principle of all force by losing the knowledge of God: Propterea captivus ductus est populus meus, eo quod non habuerit scientiam this is why its leaders perish from starvation, and its multitudes, made thirsty for order and for peace, waste away in trouble and disorder: et nobiles ejus interierunt fame, et multitudo ejus siti exaruit.8 On account of that, the monster of revolutions, this anticipated hell, has enlarged its soul and opened its mouth without any bounds, and their strong ones and their high and glorious ones have descended into this abyss with the common people: Propterea dilatavit infernus animam suam, et aperuit os suum absque ullo termino: et descenderunt fortes ejus, et populus ejus, et sublimes gloriosique ejus, ad eum.9 Just chastisement by the outraged Divinity. Because He is no longer the unknown God10 of the pagans; He is the ignored God, and ignored by those whom He has instructed Himself, and whom He has honored with His divine adoption: Filios enutrivi et exaltavi; ipsi autem spreverunt me.11
It was therefore necessary,12 for the honor of God and for the salvation of souls, and for the deliverance of societies, it was necessary from the very first to affirm the true God, the only God, the living God, all powerful Creator, eternal, incomprehensible although perfectly knowable and truly known, infinite in His intelligence, infinite in His Will, infinite in His perfections, which are total perfection; a substance being one, sole, absolutely simple, and consequently spiritual, and by that immutable, truly and essentially distinct from the world. It was necessary to affirm of God that He has of Himself and in Himself the plentitude of His happiness: so much so that His happiness, no more than any of His perfections, is not susceptible to any increase; and that He lives, that He exists in a complete independence, at heights which go inexpressibly beyond everything that can, outside of Him, be or be conceived.
It was also necessary to affirm the truth of the perfect liberty, the absolute gratuitousness of the creative act. Without any doubt, this act and the entire universe that He produces manifest the divinity as every work manifests its author. Creation makes God known by the power that He displays, and by the astonishing beauty with which it has pleased Him to adorn it. Creation makes Him even be loved because of the innumerable goods with which He has deigned to bestow on it, and especially by the revelation that creation brings to us of this radical goodness which has inclined Him to create beings out of nothingness. In spite of that, strictly speaking, God does not have any personal interest here, He could not have any benefit, and His nature renders Him incapable of it. Why is it that this contingent glory, for which everything is made and everything had to be made, is not at all necessary to Him, is by itself of no usefulness to Him, is of no advantage? It is for us that He furnishes it, because, this glory consisting completely in that God may be known and loved and the creature being able to be perfect and happy only by this knowledge, it follows that our happiness derives from this exterior glory of God, and appears so much to determine our happiness that it finally becomes identified with it.
This is what a text of St. Hilary, often alleged by theologians to support the doctrine that we have just established, expresses marvelously: "God, [said the great Doctor], wants to be loved by us: not that God derives for Himself any fruit from our love; but this love much rather will profit us, we who will love Him": Amari se a nobis exigit: non utique amoris in se nostri fructum aliquem sui causa percipiens, sed amore ipso nobis potius, qui eum amabimus, profuturo. "The pouring out of the divine goodness, like the radiance of the sun, like the heat of fire, like the fragrance of a plant, is not useful to the one from whom it comes, but to the one who uses it": Bonitatis autem usus, ut splendor solis, ut lumen ignis, ut odor sued, non præbenti proficit, sed utenti.13
Finally, God having been affirmed and the world affirmed as a creature of God, it was necessary to establish their relationship and first the essential relationship on which are founded all the others. It has to be said, in short, that after creation, God and the world do not remain strangers from each other; that the dignity of God as well as His goodness, meaning His nature, obliges Him to incessantly watch and supremely govern the creatures upon whom He has spontaneously conferred existence; that He has His purpose, His plan, His laws, His powers, His resources, His works, and that, as there is nothing nor anyone which escapes His knowledge, there is nothing nor anyone who can be even, for an instant, outside of His reach, outside of His laws, outside of His Will.
1. Apoc. 17:3, 4.
2. Apoc. 17:5.
3. Ps. 25:5.
4. Apoc. 2:9; 3:9.
5. Lk. 22:53.
6. Wis. 13:1.
7. Wis. 13:10.
8. Is. 5:13.
9. Is. 5:14.
10. Acts, 17:23.
11. Is. 1:2.
12. Everything that follows is a paraphrase from the Vatican Constitution Dei Filius. We publish it here as the affirmation of the Catholic truth opposite the errors that Monsignor Pie has just denounced.
13. Hilary, Enarrat, on Ps. II, n. 15..
Translated exclusively for Angelus Press by Mr. & Mrs. William Platz from "Synodal Instruction on the 1st Vatican Constitution" (July 17, 1871. VII, 204-210), Pages choisies du Cardnal Pie (Paris: Librairie H. Oudin, 1916), pp. 103-110. The couple responded to an invitation in The Angelus for translators to make the work of Cardinal Pie, a mentor for Pope Pius X and Archbishop Lefebvre, available in English, for most of it is only known in French.
Louis-Edouard-Desire Cardinal Pie [say: "pea"] (1815-1880), renowned Bishop of Poitiers, France, was a major-league player in the fight against the anti-Catholic movement of the 19th century.
"...He is best known for his opposition to modern errors, and his championÂship of the rights of the Church. Regarding as futile the compromises accepted by other Catholic leaders, he fought alike all philosophical theories and political arrangements that did not come up to the full traditional Christian standard...." His distinguished service to the Church was recognized by Leo XIII, who made him cardinal in 1879. (From the Catholic Encyclopedia, vol.XII, 1913 ed., p. 76.)