Libraries & Spaces
The Construction of a Christian Culture1
John Courtney Murray, S.J.
I. Portrait of a Christian
The original title for these three talks was "The Concept of a Christian Culture." But I have changed it to "The Construction of a Christian Culture." For my desire is to present you not merely with a thesis, but with a task.2 I shall attempt to outline for you the basic ideas upon which a Christian culture must be built; a firm grasp on them is the essential preliminary to all effective action. But it is not enough to have grasped the idea of a Christian culture; that idea must be given shape in the world of human life.
The task of constructing a culture is essentially spiritual, for culture has its home in the soul. It is difficult to describe in itself, but is very manifest in its effects. Its proper effect is to bring order into human life, the order proper to a human life, namely, a spiritual order, that alone makes a life authentically human. For a human life, like a body is humanized in that it is brought under the direction of an intelligence that is conscious of itself and of its spiritual destiny, and in that it is brought under the domination of a will disciplined enough to maintain order among its subservient instincts and actually to import to the whole of life a spiritual purpose.3
Culture, then, means man's effort to be fully human and hence his effort to bring spiritual order and spiritual purpose into his life. It follows therefore that the proper instruments for the construction of a culture are intelligence and will, man's two spiritual powers. Do not think [intelligence and will] weak equipment. Intelligence and will were, so to speak, all that God himself had wherewith to create us and this world of ours; and it is solely by their use that he rules his creatures and guides them to their appointed spiritual destiny. The Word and the spirit, as Irenaeus said, are the two hands of God, and in sharing them with you, he shares with you his omnipotence. And omnipotence ought to be enough for any task.
And notice this: it is not within the province of intelligence and will actually to create a spiritual order for human life; in fact, they do not have to. That spiritual order already exists; it is objective, "given." It is for man to discover it by his intelligence and submit to it by his will. Consequently, all man's cultural effort is at bottom an effort at submission to the truth and the beauty and the good that is outside him, existing in an ordered harmony, whose pattern he must produce within his soul by conformity with it.
Our first question must be: what is the actual problem confronting us here today in America? What have we actually to do?
It would seem that our American culture, as it exists, is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world. It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots, the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material, of the social over the individual.
Hence in view of the fact that American culture is built on the negation of all that Christianity stands for, it would seem that our first step toward the construction of a Christian culture should be the destruction of the existing one. In the presence of a Frankenstein, one does not reach for baptismal water, but for a bludgeon.
And truly, American culture does present itself as something of a monster, the like of which has surely never been seen on this planet. Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism; it would seem to be orientated almost wholly to matter and the things of sense.
It has had, in fact, one dominating ideal: the conquest of a material world, with the aid of science, a conquest that has made one promise: a more abundant life for the ordinary man and woman, the abundance being ultimately in physical comfort. It turns out one typical product: the "homo oeconomicus," the business man, in a busi-
ness suit, whose dreams of paradise are of a land in which there is no red ink.
It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for. And its achievement may be summed up thus: it has gained a continent and lost its own soul. Say rather that it has lived so much on the surface that it has lost contact with its soul.
A profound religious truth is at the basis of democratic theory and practice, namely the intrinsic dignity of human nature, the spiritual freedom of the human soul, its equality, as a soul, with others of its kind, and its superiority to all that does not share its spirituality. Yet, that truth, which we sum up in the Kantian phrase: "the individual man is an end in himself," has been corrupted to the point of blasphemy. And that is a blasphemy whose punishment is death. That corrupted belief, widespread, is the destruction of all spiritual order, all social order, all order within the individual personality and hence the ruination of all genuine human culture.
How did it America succumb to those temptations? Briefly, the process was this: the ideals of humanist democracy, received very largely from France in the revolutionary period, had been divorced from their proper religious setting in the Christian revelation, but still had the form of a philosophy. Later they were stripped of their intellectual content by the Calvinist spirit of the Northern States and made over into a moral postulate, that animated a program of economic individualism. And, finally, when Calvinistic moral earnestness had died out, they survived as a humanitarian emotion, three degrees removed from their original source of inspiration.
Thus from a philosophic doctrine, the idea of individual dignity and liberty became a moral postulate and, from a moral postulate, it became a mere emotion. And it is upon that idea, emotionalised into a caricature of itself, that we are trying to live today, very dangerously. For if democracy as a doctrine is dangerous, as an emotion it is big with disaster:
Let me speak briefly of the second stage, which was the decisive one. I blame for it the Calvinistic Puritanism4 of the Northern States. Consider three things. First of all, the fact that the Calvinist soul was
probably unique in the history of souls for its abhorrence of what we term humanism. Puritanism, as a religion, was exclusively a culture of the will, imposing an inhumanly rigid ethical discipline, professedly anti-intellectual and on principle contemptuous of all aesthetic and sensuous culture. Democracy as a basis for a genuinely humanist way of life had no meaning for it.
Secondly, consider the fact that Max Weber in his much-controverted, but still essentially sound book, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, has pointed out, that Calvinism brought one thing into the world that was "unquestionably new: the valuation of the fulfillment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume" (Weber-Parsons, p. 80). To the English or American Puritan, business activity for profit was a definitely religious "Beruf," vocation, a divine call, towards which he had an ethical obligation; his success in it was the evidence of his "election," the source of his "certitude of salvation," the single goal of his religious striving.
For a combination of moral earnestness and business acumen one can find no equal to John Milton's "unscrupulous merchants" in the Puritan circles of England in the late 18th century, or to certain early American industrialists, with their peculiarly pious ruthlessness. Even the history of the Standard Oil Co. reveals those qualities.
If you wish the typical American incarnation of the Calvinist spirit, just at the time when it was beginning to decay, take Benjamin Franklin and his Necessary Hints to Those Who Would be Rich, or his Advice to a Young Tradesman, or even his Autobiography—books that have been of incalculable influence in forming the culture of America.
Consider lastly the unprecedented inner loneliness of the Calvinist soul, bred into it by its dogma of predestination, the belief that man follows his path alone to a destiny decreed for him from eternity, alone, isolated, beyond the help of anyone or anything. This inner loneliness, accentuating the all-importance of the individual, was moreover still further emphasized by persecution that roused in the Calvinist breast an angry spirit of protest against external authority.
In terms of three qualities of the Puritan soul, its anti-intellectualism and anti-humanism, its this-worldly morality, its intense individualism, you will, I think, find a major (though obviously not in itself adequate) explanation of the transformation of early American ideals of democracy. They were dehumanized, deintellectualized, moral-
ized, clothed with fierce emotion and made the justification for the unregulated activity of the individual in the field that absorbed him—business, economic life. Thus American culture became doubly material: material in its body, its economic order, and material in its soul, emotional individualism.
Now, if the foregoing analysis has any validity, our cultural problem should be as clear in its outline as it is urgent in its demands for a solution. It is, I said, a problem of construction, and the point of insertion for our effort, has, I hope, been made clear. At the basis of our culture is a spiritual idea, a religious truth that has been impoverished and deformed. The truth, I mean, that man is a person, sacred, inviolable, gifted with the divine prerogative of freedom and charged with all the responsibilities of that gift, that reach horizontally out to the farthest confines of human life and vertically up into the heart of eternity.
The world owes that truth to Christianity; it did not exist before Christ; it came to earth in him.5 The Hellenic mind, intellectualist, abstract and at bottom determinist, had but a slight apprehension of it; the Oriental mind today, save where it has been influenced by Western teaching, still does not apprehend it.
And if we have it, it is because of Him who said: "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8, 32). Christianity is throughout, as von Hügel finely said, "the revelation, through the Person and example of its Founder, of the altogether unsuspected depth and inexhaustibleness of human personality and of this personality's analogue in God" (The Mystical Element in Religion, I, p. 26).
It is this vision of the Christian soul, stamped in the image of the Most Blessed Trinity, given us in Christ, that we must give to America. It alone will fill up the spiritual void that exists at the center of our culture and that explains its materialism and profaneness; it alone will be the interior vital principle that will give to our democracy and its economic achievements a spiritual purpose and hence a permanent vitality.
Here, then, is the solution for our cultural problem that I wish to propose. I would take as the creative principle of our Christian culture the full, metaphysical theology of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, I mean, not as understood by Paul Elmer More or Mr. Middleton Murray, but as understood by Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus, and by Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon. Hence the theology that regards Christ, not as the incarnation of the ethical ideals of humanity, but as the Incarnation of the Son of God, His subsistent Word and Image.
To develop this thesis, let me first state the theology of the Incarnation and then draw out, briefly, its cultural significance. Thus I shall, I think, be tracing the portrait of a Christian, whose strong and gentle, beautifully human features we must strive to engrave upon the countenance of America.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us. Of this fullness we have all received." So St. John states the fundamental fact of Christianity. And St. Paul: "When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal 4, 4. 5).
And this faith of John and Paul received its classic formulation at the Council of Chalcedon (fourth ecumenical) in the year 451. This faith of Chalcedon was formulated by the universal Church with anguished accuracy, for upon the exactness of its phrases the life of mankind depends: Christ is God, perfect in divinity, Christ in man, perfect in humanity; Christ is not two, but One. God is one with man and man is one with God. God is still God and man is still man, yet they are one: The Word was made Flesh, the Son of God was born of a woman.
And the primary cultural significance of this theology is that it is this light that man, as St. Thomas said, now dares to think worthily of himself. Think of the consequence: now a Humanity can and must be adored. Let me put it thus strongly: the dreams of all idolaters have come true: a thing of flesh and blood has become so one with the divine that before it "every knee must bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Phil 2, 11). Chalcedon does not shrink before that conclusion; rather it smites with its anathema Nestorius, who would not adore the man, Christ Jesus, with the same adoration that he gave to the Person of the Word. Equally Chalcedon teaches, in the eighth of the Cyrilline anathemas, one worship and one hymn of
praise goes up to Emmanuel, God with us, for the Word has become Flesh. A human nature has become adorable and has launched, on metaphysical foundations, the cult of man.
What philosopher's theory of the dignity of man can rival this? Yet it is no theory, but a sober historical fact.
But there is more. The Incarnation is not only a revelation of what man is, but of what he can become, if he chooses to lay hold of the new divine energy (grace) that has been put at his disposal through the Humanity of Christ. I mean that man can become lord of creation and like to God: "for to as many as received him, he gave them power to become the children of God," enjoying the freedom of his house on earth, having access to the mansions of his own blessed immortality.
Thus in Christ man received the answer to the two fundamental questions that vexed the mind of pagan antiquity and that must, in fact, vex any human mind that reflects upon itself. The first was this: how shall man achieve "salvation" from the tyranny of destiny, the "eímarméne" the iron law of fate that apportions him a place in the scheme of things entire? How shall he achieve the spiritual freedom that he obscurely knows to be his birthright, but that he feels himself powerless to seize? How shall he rescue himself from beneath the hoofs of Time and break the chains that bind him to the wheel of matter? The second question is correlative: how shall man become like unto the gods, perfect in their perfection, sharing their changeless beatitude, quaffing the nectar of immortality?
The anguished note of these two questions shaped all philosophical and religious thought. To find the answer to them were directed all the philosopher's contemplative effort and all the solemn initiations of the mystery cults.
But one answer never entered their heads: that God himself should raise them to his blessed freedom and immortality, by coming down to them, to share in time their slavery and thus to shatter it, to grapple in combat with their death and thus to overcome it. It was the historical fact of the Incarnation that certified the eternal hope, somehow native to the human soul, of becoming like to God.
Secondly, the Incarnation answered the spiritual desire that, in spite of thwartings, man has always cherished, namely, the dream of becoming master of the world of nature and master too of the dark powers of evil whose presence in the world he has never ceased to feel. Through the Incarnation, which teaches man his proper dignity,
comes to him his long-sought enfranchisement from all earthly servitudes. Now there is divinity in man; how shall he serve what is beneath him?
Do you see emerging now the portrait of a Christian, the man who believes in God made man? The first of his features is a noble Christian pride, born of his likeness to God and God's likeness to him; born too of his position as master of material things, in that he is one with God, who has all creatures beneath his feet. In the power of this Christian pride man puts forth his noblest effort, to make himself master of creatures in fact, as he is their master in right; to control them, to order his love for them, to free himself from the seduction of their charms, to direct them toward the cause of humanity.
It was this Christian pride that the great Leo taught his flock: "Realize, o Christian, your dignity; you have been made to share in the divine nature; then betray not your nobility, by conduct unbecoming it; go not back to your former baseness." So too, in the name of this pride Gregory Nazianzen sent his people into battle with their fiercest enemy, against whose dominion they must always struggle: "Trusting in the seal set upon you, say (to the devil): I also am the image of God; I have not yet, like him, been thrust down from the glory of heaven because of pride; I have put on Christ; by baptism I have claimed him for my own: do thou adore me!" (orat. 40, 10). There are the authentic accents of a Christian man, commanding adoration from the devil himself, an adoration due him of right, because he is clothed with Christ.
Beside those ringing words, how cheap and vacuous sound the voice of the modern liberal humanitarian, shouting of his freedom and his individual dignity. The Christian man has a reason in history to believe in his dignity and his spiritual freedom. And I very much fear that unless the liberal humanitarian leaves off shouting long enough to think out for himself a reason for it, his shouts will soon be drowned out by the clankings of the chains he is forging for himself.
One last point, that has been shown to man in the theology of the Incarnation. It is this: that now man, since he is capable of divinity, is capable also and, for the first time, of full humanity. Old Aristotle saw truly: a man cannot and will not be perfectly human unless somehow he becomes divine.
Now however that the "semen Dei," as St. John calls it, the germ of divinity has entered his nature, man is free to develop all the
hidden possibilities of his nature, in fact, to shatter its limitations and make himself over in the image of Christ, "perfect in humanity."
Hence that powerful expansion of humanness that has characterized the Christian era. Man has asserted his freedom to love and to use all things human, because all things human have been sanctified for him in Christ, in whom, as the Council of Florence teaches, "nothing of God is separated from man, and nothing of man is separated from God" (D 708).
It is to the Word of God made Flesh that humanity owes its pride in being human, its joy in human life, and its dreams of ever fuller humanity. But notice: this pride and joy and aspiration have within themselves that which protects them from excess and self-destruction. They are tempered by an inner austerity. The theology of the Incarnation does indeed inspire the Christian with a deep sense of his dignity as a man; but no less strongly does it wake in him the consciousness of his nothingness were he merely a man, apart from God who makes him all he is. Consequently the dignity of the Christian is the most noble of all human dignities, being the dignity of a profound humility.
Here, then, is the second feature in the portrait of a Christian: his lowliness before God, his utter dependence upon God. That trait was given its proper expression by Him who was "perfect in humanity," and who nevertheless said: "Why do you call me good? There is One who is Good, God" (Lk 18, 20). And He too drew its last consequences: "I am in the midst of you as one who serves" (Lk 22, 27).
I must be content with having set before you thus briefly these two essential characteristics of the Christian soul, stamped upon it by its belief in God-made-Man. They must be expressed in paradox. The first is a pride in human nature that is willing to serve the lowliest of humanity; the second is a humility that exalts itself in a refusal to serve aught that is not God. He who is thus lofty and thus lowly can truly call himself a man, a Christian man, for he reflects the image of the perfect Man, Christ Jesus.
Briefly to sum up. I said that our first effort toward the construction of a Christian culture in America must be to rescue from its debasement the essential idea upon which a democratic culture must be erected, the idea of the dignity of human nature and of man's spiritual freedom. That idea has been sentimentalized into a dangerous caricature of itself; it has become a mere instinct, a thing "felt," a
visceral stirring, not an intellectual conviction. Instead of being a spiritual force at once inspiring and controlling, a humanizing, ordering force, it has become the servant of selfish impulse, the all-sufficient excuse for lawless economic life. In a word it has become materialized and in the process it has lost its proper power to create a personal and social life that might justly be termed human and Christian.
We must, I said, rescue that idea, spiritualize it, by bringing once more into contact with its sources in Christian history and Christian truth. Only he who believes in the fact of God made Man will have a true spiritual idea of man's essential dignity and freedom. Only he will be effective in redeeming our culture from its soulless mechanism and in transforming it into a way of life authentically human. Only he will be able to eradicate from the face of American culture the ugly features of the economic man and to imprint upon it the gentle, noble, divinely-human features of the Man, Christ Jesus.
II. Personality and the Community
A second major cultural problem confronts us today in America, as it confronts the whole world. It is, in fact, the most acute of all contemporary problems. I call it that of personality and the community.
In its main political form, it is termed the conflict between Democracy and Statism, between the theory that asserts the right of the individual to rule his own life and the opposing theory that asserts the right of the State to rule it for him.
The democratic theory advances the claims of the individual: his autonomy and liberty. The statist theory advances the claims of society: order and obedience to authority. In the concrete, these claims would seem to be antagonistic and, as a matter of fact, they do conflict.
We know the solution (political and cultural) that their conflict has received in Europe. Our problem is to decide what solution it will receive here in America. Shall we embrace democracy or statism? If it were merely a political problem, the answer is clear. We do embrace democracy. We repudiate and execrate statism with all the power of our American and Christian souls. I take that answer as self-evident.
But the deeper cultural problem is not answered simply by a dedication of ourselves to the political ideals of democracy. For dictatorship, as history abundantly proves, is the natural and inevitable way out of the disorder that is engendered by a regime of undisciplined individual liberty. It is but one step from a regime of liberty
that recognizes no law that is not its own creation to a regime of law that recognizes no liberty that is not its own concession. Contemporary totalitarianism is the logical outcome of individualism as the modern man has understood it.
Hence, if our dedication to democracy means nothing but a rededication of ourselves to the ideals of individualism, as conceived in a system of naturalistic and materialistic philosophy, then we are dedicating ourselves to ruin. We are completely misconceiving the problem that confronts us; we are closing our ears to the lessons of history and covering our eyes before the realities of the present moment.
We stand today at a turning point in history (c.f. Christopher Dawson, "Modern Dilemma" (p. 100). The change may be briefly characterized thus: the age of individualism has ended and the age of collectivism has begun.
When I say that the age of individualism has ended, I mean that age which was dominated by a false theory of personality, whose essential tenets have been these. It makes the sovereign liberty of the individual the source from which all things flow: truth, religion, morality, the family, society. It reduces to a vanishing point all dependence of the individual upon those who share his human nature and upon God who is the author of human nature. It teaches that the development of personality requires that the individual free himself from all constraints upon his liberty, that he refuse to recognize any law that he does not impose upon himself. Its concept of society and of humanity has been of a mass of individuals, mathematical equal in their rights, whose mutual relations are established simply in terms of contracts, entered into with sovereign freedom, to be dissolved with sovereign freedom, whenever they become distasteful or cease to serve self-interest.6
Hence its essential denial has been that humanity is one, one in nature, antecedent to any contractual unities; one in its common origin, one in its common destiny, one in the obedience it owes to a common truth and law of life, one in its responsibility to a common Master, God.
When I say that the age of collectivism has begun, I am also registering a fact. For the 20th century has made one cataclysmic discov-
ery: that mankind is one and that the individual man lives in the collective life of humanity. He is what he is in dependence upon the totality of man. He is not an isolated phenomenon, but a social being, the termination of a human genealogy, the product of a family, a race, a soil, whose life is maintained by exchanges with his fellows—a being whose mind and character are formed by tradition and environment. The individual is what he is, in what is most essential to him, only by being the very same his fellows are: a man among men.
The causes of this new sense of human unity are many. Most prominent is the fact that now the economic life of man has become one: a whole country cooperates in sustaining the life of its citizens, the whole universe in sustaining the life of a country. Secondly, the natural barriers between man and man, space and time, have been annihilated: the airplane, newspaper, and radio has made distant continents next-door neighbors, the world is a geographical unit.
Truly, today no man is alone; there is such a thing as humanity. Each of us is but a trifling part of it. It exists, it is real, it is one. Such is the discovery of our times. It has profoundly affected the mentality of men; it has caused the major preoccupation of today to be, not the life of the individual, but the collective life of humanity. It has created a new will in man, the will to unite with that which he recognizes as himself and more than himself. It has given birth to a new spirit, that of human solidarity.
True it is that the most obvious manifestations of this new spirit are bizarre, outrageous, extreme, even inhuman: Bolshevism, Nazism, Fascism, nationalisms of all sorts, plans for collective security, dreams of international federations of states. But their fundamental significance is that they are signs of the times,7 that betray the powerful leaven at work in the soul of humanity; they are all forms of social organization, of social regeneration; they are all attempts at a new order, based on humanity's new experience: that the individual was not made for isolation, but for community, that it is not good for man to be alone, for alone he perishes and, if he would live, he must insert himself into the life of his fellow man. Only in union with humanity can he save himself.
The cultural problem that confronts us is the problem of reconciling the new collectivism with the old individualism, in such a way that we shall lose none of the genuine human values in each. In searching for a reconciliation, we must reject the worship of the idol of the past, the individual man who sets himself from the human community, and the idol of the present, the collective man who sets himself over the individual.
And we must seek the solution of our problem by regarding man as he has been made in the image of God, a personality, living in community. Hence, neither liberalistic individualism nor pagan totalitarianism, but Christian personalism. To the development of this idea of Christian personalism, I must now turn.
My thesis: as the traditional theology of the Incarnation must be the first creative principle of our Christian culture in that it gives us the Christian idea of the dignity of human nature and its natural superiority over the material world, so the traditional theology of the Trinity must be the second creative principle, for it gives us the Christian idea of personality and its relations to the community.
Is not that natural? It is precisely this vision of God as a Trinity in Unity that is of the very essence of Christianity. It consequently must inspire all our efforts at the construction of a Christian culture (c.f., Basil of Caesarea: adv. Eunom., 2, 22; PG 29, 620).
The Christian is he who begins his prayers: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," for that formula sums up his belief in God, a Trinity of Persons in a Unity of Nature. Hence it sums up, too, his belief in himself, a human person, in a unity of nature with all men, who he calls his brothers, every one, for that they are all the sons of God, in Christ Jesus.
The parallelism is perfect. It is a man's vision of God that gives him his vision of himself and illumines for him the whole of life. This was the chief part of the Son's doctrinal mission to earth, to lift a little the impenetrable veil that hides from man the Face of God and answer a little the fascinating question with which man has always been tormented: What is God? What is his life? What is the secret of his being? How is man in His image?
And his answer was simply this, that God is truly a Father, who has a Son, and a Spirit, too, who is also the Spirit of his Son. On this answer our Blessed Lord looked back at the Last Supper, when in his High-priestly prayer he summed up his work: "I have made thee known upon earth, I have finished the work thou gavest me to do. . . .
I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world" (Jn 17, 4. 6). Nor was it the name of God as Creator that he revealed, nor as the Father (in a metaphorical sense. i.e.) of men, whose designs on them are loving. The Jews of the Old Testament had called God by the names of Lord and Father. The new name of God, that makes the newness of the New Testament, was the name of Father in it is proper, metaphysical sense8: the Eternal Father of an Eternal Son, who is, as the Council declared, "of his very substance, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father." And the revelation was completed by the third Name, the Holy Spirit, "who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and, with them, is glorified and adored."
It is this vision of God, given us, not in a philosophic speculation, but in a living Person, the Incarnate Word of God, that is formulated theologically in that great "war-song of faith," as Cardinal Newman called it, the creed "Quicumque": "This is the Catholic faith: one God in a Trinity, and a Trinity in a Unity, do we venerate; neither confusing the persons, nor dividing the substance; for other is the person of the Father than the person of the Son, and other still is the person of the Holy Spirit; yet Father and Son and Holy Spirit are one divinity, in glory they are equal, in majesty coeternal."
This Christian vision of God is dark indeed with mystery, yet luminous in its darkness. For it sheds light upon the problem that so vexed the mind of the pagan philosopher, the problem of a solitary God, lofty, lonely, majestic but loveless. It was a feeling for this problem that made the Indian philosopher put in the mouth of the one Absolute he worshipped: "Ah, if I were Many!"
Herein precisely lies the cultural significance of the Christian notion of God. When the Christian raises his eyes to God, he sees not a solitary, separated individual, but a Community. He sees a triplicity of distinct persons, each with his own distinctive and characteristic personality, yet whose life is utterly and ineffably one: for these three, Father Son and Holy Spirit, have but one nature, one mind, one will.
Such is by definition a community, a unity of life amid a diversity of personalities.
The nature of God is infinitely One; yet at the very interior of his unity, as at once its fruit and its consecration, arises a mysterious plurality, three distinct Personalities, perfect as personalities, perfect, too, in their community. Such is the mystery of God's infinitely perfect spirituality.
I do not say that human reason can comprehend this mystery. My point is that faith here can touch, though it cannot see, the profound truth that is verified also in human life and that constitutes it basic paradox: personality is achieved in community, it is in communion with others that one finds oneself.
Traditional Christian theology teaches that the whole personality of the Father is simply his Fatherhood, as the whole personality of the Son is his Sonship. That is, each is but a subsistent relation to the other: each is turned wholly to the other. And it is precisely by perfectly "relating" himself to the others that each is constituted a person. Their mutual relations oppose them to each other and thus distinguish them from each other, with a distinction that is real. But, just as unity is not confusion, so distinction is not separation: the relation that distinguishes the Father from the Son also binds them together with a living link and situates each at the interior of the other. A relative demands its correlative.
Let me put it in ordinary language, very defective. The Father, in order to be what he is, Father, "needs" the Son. It is in the Son that the Father "finds" himself. And he "finds" himself precisely in giving to the Son all he has, the one divine nature, in an eternal act of love, called generation. The Eternal Father is but an eternal generosity toward his Eternal Son and, by this generosity, he is both one with the Son in nature and distinct from him in personality.
And the whole mystery is summed up in the classic phrase of Hilary: "Unum sunt qui invicem sunt": They are one who are wholly for each other. It is the paradox of personality and the community realized in the plane of infinity: each of the divine persons is himself by being wholly "for" the others, and each of the divine persons is one "with" the others because wholly "for" the others.
You see the consequence: the perfection of personality and the perfection of community are achieved by one and the same movement, an active self-giving of each to the other. This active self-giving
has the name of love; and hence the mystery of God, as St. John saw, is a mystery of love: perfect personalities in perfect community.
Now, all this may seem very rarefied and abstract. Let me then give some concreteness by drawing out its cultural consequences.
The first is this: both liberal individualism and totalitarianism are a sin against the Christian God, as revealed to us in Christ. Liberal individualism sins against his Unity and totalitarianism against his Trinity. For individualism would shatter the community in the name of the individual, and totalitarianism would suppress the individual in the name of the community.9 Consequently both are blasphemies: as Christians we are forbidden to destroy personalities in the name of unity, nor disrupt community in the name of personality. Both of these opposing cultures, then, is based on a theological error; neither is capable of offering man a full human life. For a full human life is made in the image of God's life: a life of full selfhood, that is found in community with others.
And the way to it is clear to the Christian soul that has penetrated into the revelation of personality given it in the mystery of the Trinity and learned the difference between individualism and personalism. If individuality as such is simply itself and nothing more, personality is not only itself, it is a limitless desire to be more than itself. Your individual is but the cow in the pasture, seated placidly in the midst of the herd, but immeasurably alone, contentedly closed in her private self, wholly absorbed in her individual cud. But your person is the man on the windswept hill of earth, conscious of his spiritual self and its absolute value, yet restless within himself, looking up into heaven and longing to give himself into communion with the Infinite Truth and God for which his restless heart was made, and looking out, too, over the world and longing to give himself into communion with all that shares with him a human spirit.
Personality is all openness. What counts for the person is not its "self," but the "other," for it is in the other that it finds itself. The psychologists have established the fact. The infant wakes to the consciousness of self through experiencing the otherness of things around it. "The you is earlier than the I."
That is the point that the individualist—that willful child who has wrecked the world and shattered himself to pieces—never understood, that the dignity of personality is not in its freedom but in its obedience, in its free submission to the demands of objective order, religious, moral, social.
The individualist never understood the meaning of person. In the original Latin it meant one who played a role, who was cast in a part, one of the "dramatis personae." And that meaning still holds. To be a person is to be entrusted with a role in the great drama being played out on the stage of earth—humanity's search for union with itself and with God. And when the curtain is rung down, we shall each be rewarded, not according to the brilliance of our ad-libbing, but according to our fidelity to our role and the support we lent to the other members of the cast.
The individualist, in a word, never understood the profound solution given once for all to the problem of personality by Him who knew the heart of man as no one else has known it: "He that tries to find his soul, shall lose it, and he that loses his soul for my sake shall find it" (Mt 10, 39; cf. Lk 17, 33: "Whosever shall seek to secure his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose it shall give it life"). A man must lose his individual self, which is limited, isolated, immersed in the material, in order to find his true self, which is spiritual, large and wide and free, because it is lived, as God lives his life, in a community of spirit with others.
Curious paradox: the more united you are to others, the more completely you are yourself; the more you give to others, the more you have yourself; you possess yourself only by giving yourself away; you find yourself by losing yourself.
Curious paradox, but one that may not be spurned with impunity; for its converse also holds true. If you refuse to lose yourself, if you seek yourself alone, in isolation from others, then you will indeed find yourself alone, in isolation with others. But that is, by very definition, what both God and man mean by Hell, whether in this world or in the next—the place where the soul is isolated.
Through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Spirit of Love and Unity, and the Spirit too of Personality has been given back to the world, to dwell in man and, through his alliance with man, to renew the face of the earth. It is the Spirit of Christ, indwelling in man, that gives meaning and direction to the whole historical process, making it the progressive realization of the prayer of
Christ, made on the eve of his death: "that they, the men for whom I am about to die, may all be one, as thou, Father, in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us" (Jn 17, 21).
The spiritual unity of all men with each, with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, that is the goal of history. In the collective destiny of humanity, each human person has a share and toward it each individual and each nation has a responsibility. The realization of that universal human unity is the proper role of personality.
One final point: in the material unification of the world that is the achievement of the 20th century, in the creation of a unified economic life, no nation has had a greater share than America. And we were, I think, whether we knew it or not, cooperating with the Spirit of God, as were Roman engineers when they built the roads on which Christianity travelled throughout the Empire.
But we as a nation and each one of us as a human person miss our rendezvous with destiny, if we do not strive to complete our work by consecrating ourselves to the spiritual unification of mankind. For economics will never unite men permanently nor solidly. Their principle of unity must be spiritual; it must be the attachment of all men and nations to a common source of life, that may express itself uniquely in each. And that source of life is Christ; he alone is the life of the world. And only by his Spirit, the Spirit of Love, dwelling in them and leading them, shall men be both united into one and personalized.
Our duty and our vocation, then, is clear,. We must use our liberty to teach the world how to obey; we must put forth that Christian effort to lose ourselves that we may find ourselves. The lot of each of us is linked to all that bears the name of man; and we shall only save ourselves by helping to gathering into one the scattered children of God.
III. The Humanism of the Cross
These lectures have been inspired by one conviction, namely that Christian truth is the guardian of human life, so a return to the full Christian truth is the only remedy for the inhumanities of the present world. A Christian culture can only be erected on the basis of Christian theology. We have already considered two dogmas of that theology and their link to our society.
Today we come to what is undoubtedly the crucial cultural problem confronting us. I use the word crucial in its original sense, since I
mean the problem of the Cross. We must make the momentous decision as to whether or not we shall admit as a creative principle of our culture the Christian dogma that historically man has been redeemed by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Blessed Lord and that apart from sharing in that redeeming death there is for him no redemption. Let me first of all, then, explain the problem.
Any culture obviously professes to be a humanism, that is, a development of man into full humanity, the expansion of his human energies and the creation by them of patterns of life that will satisfy man's vital needs, above all, his vital need for the happiness to be found in personal, free, creative effort.
But a Christian culture professes a technique for the humanizing of man that has always been found a stumbling-block. It proposes the development of man by self-denial, the expansion of his energies by self-discipline, the satisfaction of his vital need for happiness by self-oblivious service for others. And all this because a Christian culture would humanize man in this world by teaching him resolutely to look beyond its horizons into the perspectives of eternal life in the next world. A Christian culture is, in fact, wholly dominated by the idea of another world, to which this world is wholly relative. Consequently it is dominated by the idea that self-renouncement, a certain withdrawal of self from the things of sense, is the indispensable instrument of true human perfection.
The Christian hierarchy of cultural values is erected in obedience to the principle: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his justice and all these things, the things necessary for an adequately human life in this world, will be added unto you" (Mt 6, 33). And the humanizing efforts of Christian humanism are controlled by the paradox: "He who loveth his life shall lose it; and he who hates his life in this world (that is, he who prefers to it the higher life beyond the grave) shall keep it unto life everlasting" (Jn 12, 25).
Yet, since the 18th century belief in the reality of another life has progressively declined and the surviving measure of belief has been almost totally inoperative as a cultural force. Man has increasingly regarded himself as self-sufficient, an absolute, unrelated to any transcendent God. He has regarded his temporal life as self-contained, an absolute, unrelated to another life beyond the grave.
In a word, culture may be defined as an earthly idealism, the search for earthly felicity, based on the belief in the indefinite perfectibility of human nature and its assured power to control the world.
Western man, in M. Maritain's words, has devoted himself to "a courageous and untiring effort to make human life yield its maximum earthly output" (Essays in Order, I, Religion and Culture, p. 14). The boundaries of his efforts were the limits of this earth.
Europe today should indeed make us distrust the redemptive value of earthly idealism and weigh the ultimate, inhuman consequences of banishing the idea of Heaven in our efforts to set the world right. And let us beware of the temptation to which the unthinking cede when viewing Europe from what we fondly hope is a safe distance. Right here among us is error, basically the same error that has convulsed European civilization. I mean the error of earthly idealism. Would anyone be so venturesome as to assert that the modern principle, "Everything in this life," has not dominated American culture in its origins and development? Would anyone seriously challenge Mr. Christopher Dawson's statement, that: "The Communists may have deified mechanism in theory, but it is the American who have realized it in practice"? (Essays in Order, I, Christianity and the New Age, p. 167). Would anyone undertake to prove that self-renouncement and the subordination of the body to the soul are characteristic American virtues? Above all, would anyone presume to say that the doctrine of the soul's immortality is a vital, controlling factor in American life and that the idea of a future life tempers and qualifies the ordinary American's devotion to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Moreover, if we survey the results of America's earthly idealism, as pursued, for several centuries, I doubt if anyone will be satisfied with them. Ours is a land of immense material comfort, so much so that the very word "comfort" is used in Italy and France to designate a peculiarly American thing, which they do not possess, nor even consider very desirable.
On the other hand it is a land of immense suffering, of a peculiarly soul-destroying kind. Poverty in no country in the world, save perhaps England, which is as materialistic as we are, is so destructive to personality as it is among us. For in a land where money is the passport to happiness, the lack of it means a cramped and narrow life, generative of rebellion, or of apathy.
America has raised the standard of living to historically unknown heights; it is extremely doubtful if it has raised the quality of life to anything like a proportionate degree. We have multiplied our needs endlessly and thereby multiplied our sorrows. We preach the abundant life for all. In late years we have imposed upon a grow-
ing number of people the worst kind of asceticism, that which they have no grace to support. We have sought first our kingdom of earth and we begin to discover that in the process millions upon millions have been disinherited from both the Kingdom of earth and the Kingdom of God. It is time for us to examine our earthly idealism and see if it really be the way to our ideal, the full, free, human life. For we have no grounds for confidence that our national earthly idealism will be immune from the fate that has overtaken other brands.
A nation is not like an individual. An individual can somehow live without a faith or a spiritual purpose or a care for his immortal soul. For he can be a parasite on society, his life sustained by the spiritual powers it contains. But a nation that loses faith and purpose and soul is doomed.10 And our national faith is today the heritage of a diminishing number; soon there may be but an Isaian remnant left. We must remember that "remnant of Israel" saved itself indeed, but it did not save Israel.
How, then, shall we be saved? How shall we assure ourselves and others of this full, free human life that is our natural aspiration?
We begin by remembering that historically mankind has been saved. By his Passion, Death, and Resurrection Christ accomplished the redemption of mankind. God did not leave the task to human powers, which were entirely inadequate to it; he descended in human form and took it in hand himself. Nor did he do it by beautiful sermons, by proposing brilliant economic programs or techniques of social adjustment. Rather, he did it by being obedient unto death, even unto the death of the Cross. Christian theology has attached the redemption of mankind to the Passion and Death of Christ; and it is this theology of redemption that must be made the third and greatest creative principle of our Christian culture.
Obviously a total exposition of the theology of the Redemption is impossible here. I must omit its inner mystical meaning, the total dedication of mankind in sacrifice to God by Christ, the Head of Humanity, who carried us all in himself. Let me merely select several aspects of the mystery that have a cultural significance of the first order.
First, we recall that the mystery of Christ is primarily a mystery of resurrection, the definitive revelation to humanity that death is not
an end, but a beginning, that the soul of man is immortal and that no man has the power to slay it.
St. Matthew tells us that on the first Easter morning there was an earthquake when, through the unbroken seals of his tomb, the Man who had been crucified came forth, gloriously alive, into the sweet light of dawn. Well there might have been an earthquake, for an idea burst upon the world in a new clarity. To Plato, the greatest mind of pagan antiquity, the immortality of the soul had been, as he called it, a "glorious risk": kalos gar o kindunos. A costly risk, as he saw, for it entailed upon man the renouncement of the pleasures of the flesh and the goods of the world, by the practice of temperance, justice, courage, and love of the truth—virtues imposed on man by the hope of an eternal life, wherein virtue would have its recompense in a blessed beatitude.
But what to Plato had only been a glorious risk, an enchanting hope, became in Christ a thrilling certainty. The first Christians on the first Easter evening touched with their own hands the solid flesh of a Man who had been dead and who rose again, never more to die. And by that touch they reached the certainty that the great mind of Plato had failed to achieve, that they, too, would rise again.
Such is the first cultural significance of the fact of man's redemption, inasmuch as it is a mystery of Resurrection. It carries the condemnation of all that I have called earthly idealism, the theory that a man can be a man, even though he does not live now in the light of a life to come. It was from the error of earthly idealism that Christ redeemed man by rising from the dead. Henceforth the risen Christ and his immortal life is man's ideal of manhood.
The second cultural significance of the dogma of redemption is this: that if the mystery of Christ is primarily a mystery of life and resurrection, it is also a mystery of crucifixion and death. The two mysteries are inseparably linked and they both find expression in the same word: the Pascha Domini, the "passage of the Lord," from death to life, from total self-renouncement to total self-achievement, from self-loss to self-finding, from the darkness and isolation of Calvary to the light and reunion of Easter.
If you realize the meaning of this passage, you will see, I think, the concrete task that lies before you, individually and as a group, in the construction of a Christian culture. With its double movement, the redemption of self unto personal freedom will be accomplished and the redemption of the humanity unto union with itself.
The final paradox is that, when our hearts are lifted up to God in the desire of his pure light, then only are we truly in contact with the earth and able to exert upon the earth a redemptive action. Only the heart that is lifted from the earth can give to life on earth a meaning and a value, and rescue it from the tragedy of so many lives, futility. Only when our dwelling is in the heavens can we hope to fulfill our vocation on earth. Only when in the presence of God we possess ourselves can we give ourselves away to others.
And if we do not understand the world and why it was made, what right have we to meddle with it? If we do not know that man is made in the image of God, how dare we live with him or attempt to fashion his life?
But the Christian humanist has a vantage point from which to view the world and understand his work in it. He stand on Calvary, the place where God met all mankind and blessed them as his children, bought with the blood of his Son. From Calvary one can truly see the earth in its full reality: beautiful, splendid, heroic, mean, sordid, ugly, thrilling, heart-breaking, backbreaking.
The place where the Son of God once pitched his tent, to be warmed by its sun and to pray beneath its blanket of stars, to eat its bread and to drink the fruit of its vines, to feel its affection and the blast of its hate, to give it words of truth and life and to be crucified by its raging injustice. A queer world indeed, but he loved it and he still loves it. On it he lavishes the gifts of his own Spirit of Love, for on it he sees stamped the image of his face.
Have you ever seen that image— tearstained, bloodstained, defiled with spittle, whitened and drawn beneath the anguish of pain, injustice and loneliness, but a holy Face. For it is the face of the Son of Man, as it shall be until the end of time. Perhaps if we withdrew into thoughtful prayer long enough, we could catch the vision of the Face of the suffering Son of Man reflected in the world. It would illuminate for us the highest and holiest task of the Christian humanist—to share something of the sufferings of the sons of men, to seek some measure of union with their age-long crucifixion—that thus made over into the image of the Son of Man crucified on Calvary, he may have some share in the world's redemption, Man's passage into the possession of God.
(1)Editor Note: Three talks given in February 1940 at St. Joseph's College. Original text in Murray Archives, file 6-422. I have edited out about one-fourth of the original text, removing mostly redundancies and material not applicable to our present topic. I have also supplied some transitional phrasing, where needed.
(2)Editor Note: Murray wrote in the margins of a long section directed to St. Joseph students that they were to be an elite, a "fifth column," in the task of social reconstruction. For a similar vision of Catholic action, see 1946b: "Operation University."
(3)Editor Note: One objection Murray had to the work of Scheeben was its down playing of the role of human intelligence in redemption (see 1987 : Matthias Scheeben on Faith: The Doctrinal Dissertation of John Courtney Murray).
(4)Editor Note: Murray claims he does not want to blame this development on Calvin, "whose intellectual qualities and religious genius I have rather an admiration." For a later treatment of American Protestantism, see 1960a: "Morality and Foreign Policy, Part I & II," in WHTT, 273–94.
(5)Editor Note: Compare this assertion to Murray's later claims that the church had little role in modern developments of human dignity (1966c: "The Declaration on Religious Freedom," in section III).
(7)Editor Note: "Signs of the Times" is of course a term John XXIII used to indicate an international demand for human dignity, understood as the responsible exercise of the democratic and economic rights of all peoples.
(8)Editor Note: By 1963 Murray granted a priority to the "existential (biblical) problematic" (see 1964c: The Problem of God, Yesterday and Today), without, however, missing a beat on the importance of later Trinitarian doctrinal development (see 1966j: "The Status of the Nicene Creed as Dogma " in this collection).