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Full text of "The terrors of the year two thousand"

THE TERRORS 

OF THE YEAR 
TWO THOUSAND 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

University of Toronto 



http://www.archive.org/details/terrorsofyeartwoOOgils 



THE TERRORS 

OF THE YEAR 
TWO THOUSAND 



by 
ETIENNE GILSON 



University of 

St. Michael's College 

Toronto 1984 



© 1949, 1984 University of St. Michael's College 
Printed in Canada 



FOREWORD 

The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand was first 
published by St. Michael's College, Toronto, in 1949. It is 
now re- issued in 1984 to mark the hundredth anniversary 
of the birth of its author, Etienne Gilson, which took place 
on 13 June 1884. St. Michael's honours the memory of its 
most distinguished professor of philosophy who lectured 
in its classrooms almost annually from 1929 to 1972, and 
who was the founder and life-time director of its Pontifical 
Institute of Mediaeval Studies. Gilson died in Auxerre in 
Burgundy, France, on 19 September 1978. 

A member of the Academie Franchise, Etienne Gilson 
is possibly the most renowned medievalist of his 
generation. He was professor of medieval philosophies in 
the Sorbonne and in the College de France from 1921. He 
became also visiting professor of medieval thought at 
Harvard (1926) and at Toronto (1929). In the course of his 
long productive life he delivered, in addition to countless 
individual lectures, the following outstanding series: the 
Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen; the Henry James Lectures at 
Harvard; the Powell Lectures at Bloomington, Indiana; the 
inaugural lectures of the Mercier Chair at Louvain; and the 
fourth series of the Mellon Lectures in the National 
Gallery, Washington. The published bibliography of 
Gilson's full-length books and articles (Margaret McGrath, 
Toronto, 1982) contains 1210 items, all of them rich, 
revolutionary, beautiful and totally Christian. 

As a national figure, Gilson represented France at 
many international meetings: after World War I in London, 
Naples and Cambridge (Mass.); after World War II at 
important conferences held in San Francisco (United 
Nations), London (UNESCO) and the Hague (United 
Europe). For two years he was a conseiller or senator in 
the French government. 



The story of how Gilson came to write We Terrors of 
the Year Two Tliousand carries its own interest: it is partly 
the product of his friendship with Henri Focillon, partly 
his love of the Church in the persons of two French 
archbishops, cardinals Suhard and Lienart. Focillon, like 
Gilson, was a philosopher whose interests carried him 
deeply into other disciplines and arts. Focillon called 
himself "an engraver-philosopher" and most of his books 
on art history are generously adorned with reproductions 
of medieval treasures. Gilson became Focillon's friend 
and admirer during the 1920's and 1930's. In 1938, 
seconded by Paul Yalery. Gilson sponsored Focillon's 
appointment to the College de France. When the results 
proved favourable. Gilson and Paul Valery rushed 
hilariously up the rue Saint-Jacques announcing the 
appointment to all and sundry. 

It was Focillon who first impressed upon Gilson the 
importance of an artist's hands. In the case of painters 
especially it is the hands that really matter: creation 
through the hands is more fundamental to great art 
(Croce, who in any event is only a critic, notwithstanding) 
than creation through the mind. Focillon and Gilson were 
still close friends when Focillon died in 1948 leaving his 
treatise on Van mil unfinished. Gilson already knew the 
contents of Van mil, and especially of that book's 
important Part I on "The problem of the Terrors" which 
dealt with the extravagant histoires of the chronicler Raoul 
Glaber. It is from this Part I of Van mil that Gilson in the 
present essay launches into his moving treatment of the 
philosophical terrors besetting a world which is now 
moving toward Van deux mille. 

The other part of the story of the Terrors is as simple 
as two-plus-two equals four. The two cardinals invited 
Gilson as an intellectual to share his special competence in 
the field of thought with the French episcopate. Like 



Focillon's death, this too happened in 1948. Gilson 
immediately teamed up with Paul Claudel, Romano 
Guardini and Robert Speaight to revive the once 
successful but now moribund Semaines des Intellectuels 
Catholiques. 

Gilson prepared a brilliant talk on the topic "The 
Intellectuals and Peace" in which he examined peace in 
terms of the Nietzschian atheism permeating the existen- 
tial thought of Jean-Paul Sartre, for whom existentialism 
was the will to extract the necessary consequences from a 
coherent atheism. Gilson used for this talk his own 
historical and philosophical methods joined to the 
methods of his deceased friend Henri Focillon to draw a 
comparison between the outlook of people of 948 who 
were expecting Antichrist and the people of 1948 who 
have been told by philosophers that there is no God. If, 
said Gilson, there is no God, then everything is permitted. 
It was this essay "The Intellectuals and Peace" that Gilson 
reshaped for his North American audience into the 
imaginative piece you are about to read. 

The Terrors of the Year Two TJionsand is, in very truth, 
a beautiful, frightening, penetrating prose-poem. Gilson 
gives it to us without scholarly references, even enigmati- 
cally in what concerns his medieval base, the histoires of 
Raoul Glaber. Yet the analysis of what some philosophers 
would do to us is devastating. This little book is a 
self-standing work of art consisent with Gilson's inmost 
being. It will be in the inmost being of the modern reader 
that The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand will live. 



Laurence K. Shook, 
Pontifical Institute of 
Mediaeval Studies, 
Toronto. 




Etienne Gilson 



M M F OLD> CHILDREN were caught to hold 

■ ^fl | as certain that around the year One 

M ^ m W Thousand a great terror took possession 

^^^p M of people. We were told so, .it am rate, 
^^fcj-^md we believed it, and the really amazing thing 
is that all was not completely false in this story. The 
scholars of today make fun of it and treat it as a legend. 
Nowhere, they say, can we find trace of this so-called panic 
which is supposed to have then paralyzed whole 
populations in the expectation of the approaching end of 
the world. These historians are right, at least to a degree, 
but even if they were wrong, we would probably smile as 
we read today, in the Chronicle of the good monk Raoul 
Glaber, the report of all sorts of wonders which marked 
the last years of the tenth century. A war. a pestilence, a 
famine, a fiery dragon and a whale the size of an island? We 
have witnessed much better! This time the enemy of 
mankind has got an earlier start; he has even improved his 
methods considerably, and if the terrors of the year One 
Thousand are not a certainty for today's historians, those of 
the year Two Thousand will surely be so for future 
historians. 



Page One 



From 1914 to 1918, the world was ravaged by a war 
which had known no parallel. A mighty people broke 
through its boundaries and spread over Europe, leaving in 
its wake ruins past numbering, dead by the millions, and 
historical materialism, master of Holy Russia, whence later 
we have seen it menacing the whole earth. Even during 
that armistice of twenty years which we took for peace, 
what tragic bloodshed! China in perpetual war seems a 
little far away for us to worry about what happens there, 
but have we already forgotten what took place during that 
barbarous civil war in Most Christian Spain, where man 
was so cruel to man that those who saw it lower their 
voices to speak of it, and murmur: "Anything, rather than 
see that again!" The tenth century famine? But I have only 
to shut my eyes for a moment to see once more, in the 
villages of the Ukraine and on the banks of the Volga, the 
dead children in 1922, whose little corpses lay abandoned 
in their emptied schools; or again, wandering along the 
railways, those bands of children reduced to savagery who 
later were to be mowed down with machine guns. At the 
beginning of the twentieth century, as at the end of the 
tenth — official documents bear witness to the fact — 
parents devoured their offspring. Fathers and mothers like 
our own, like ourselves, but who knew the meaning of that 
frightful word: hunger. 

That, however was but a modest beginning. We saw 
the German army hurled upon Europe a second time, like 
a great tidal wave; Poland vanquished, plundered, 
butchered; nations falling one after the other under the 
blows of an irresistible conqueror. France in agony, her 
very honour wounded. Paris crumbles in its turn, and the 
echo of its downfall reverberates in the silence of an 
astonished world. A Raoul Glaber of the year Two 
Thousand would never stop multiplying the chapters of 
this woeful tale. He would have to describe the prodigious 

Page Two 



series of disasters which now swoop down upon the entire 
world and to which we ourselves, who witnessed them, 
can scarcely bear testimony. The sky everywhere furrowed 
by fiery dragons much more formidable than those which, 
on the threshold of the year One Thousand, crossed from 
north to south the sky of France; in Japan, in the South Sea 
Islands, in China, in Russia, in Germany, in France, in Italy 
— in that very England which believed itself sheltered 
behind our army, its fleet and the depths of its surrounding 
seas — a heap of ruins which has not yet been cleared away 
and which is there for us to see; the numbers of dead 
increase and they are still in our hearts for us to mourn; a 
whole race condemned to destruction, savagely wiped 
out, pursued by a hatred fierce and ingenious as only man 
is capable of conceiving for man. Germany opened for the 
Jews, and closed upon them, charnel pits whose numbers 
we still do not know. Of course, all this was to be brought 
to a close by a liberation, but we know what further details 
and further ruins this was to cost, even to that bomb of 
Hiroshima, whose solemn detonation announced to a 
terrified world, with the supposed close of a war which no 
peace has yet followed, the dawn of a new era where 
science, formerly our hope and our joy, would be the 
source of greatest terror. 

Man has just made the most outstanding of his 
discoveries, but by a symbolism the more striking for 
being quite involuntary, the great secret that science has 
just wrested from matter is the secret of its destruction. To 
know today is synonymous with to destroy. Nuclear fission 
is not only the most intimate revelation of the nature of the 
physical world and the freeing of the most powerful 
energy 7 that has ever been held, but at the same time and 
inevitably the most frightful agent of destruction which 
man has ever had at his disposal. The three are 
inseparable. Atomic piles can be built more and more 

Page Tfjree 



powerfui, and immense quantities of useful energy can 
thus be produced, but the operation of these piles yields as 
a by-product the very explosive of the atom bomb. Not 
only does man know today so many things that he wonders 
if he will be able to control his own domination, but the 
conditions of his rule are such that they present to the 
scientist this tragic dilemma: formerly, it was by obeying 
her that one mastered nature, now it is by destroying her. 

And yet we are only at the beginning. The age of 
atomic physics will see the birth of a new world, as 
different from our own as ours is from the world before 
steam and electricity. Doubtless, it will be even more so — 
for things will move quickly — especially when to the era 
of physics there will succeed the still more redoubtable 
one of biology. Very few of those who work in laboratories 
doubt it: we are on the verge of a great mystery which may, 
any day, surrender its secret. We will be able to work, not 
only on inert matter, but even on life, and it is not only the 
breadth of our power but its very nature which will 
become terrifying; and the more so that here again, and for 
the same reason, the possibility of good is inseparable 
from that of evil. 

Pasteurian arms is today a common term. It is a 
horrible term, and it carries with it a symbolism that is 
more impressive because it is entirely independent of all 
human intention. Pasteur never cultivated microbes 
except to attenuate the virulence of their cultures, and thus 
save human lives. Today, on the contrary, we are striving to 
increase their virulence in order to kill and no longer to 
cure. The biology of tomorrow will allow more subtle, but 
not the less formidable, interventions in human destiny. 
Can we imagine the repercussions which the free 
determination of the sexes will have some day, perhaps in 
the near future? Can we picture what would happen in a 
world where we could not only turn out males and females 

Page Four 



at will, but select them and produce human beings 
adapted to various functions as do breeders with dogs or 
horses or cattle? In that future society which will know 
how to give itself the slaves and even the reproducers 
which it needs, what will become of the liberty and dignity 
of the human person? For once, the most daring 
prophecies of H. G. Viells appear tame, for in We Island of 
Dr. Moreau they were still only working to transform wild 
brutes into men; in the future society, it is men whom they 
will be transforming into brutes — to use them to foster 
the ends of a humanity thenceforth unworthy of the name. 

And these are not today — as in 948 — fears localised 
in a small corner of the earth. It is a world-wide terror, with 
the whole planet as its domain, from Vladivostock around 
the world to Alaska, by way of Moscow, Berlin, Paris, 
London and Washington. But do we really know its cause? 

These men of the tenth century knew at least what 
they feared. Not at all — as has been erroneously 
reiterated — the end of the world, but an event which, on 
the contrary, was to precede it by a sufficiently long 
interval of time which was announced prophetically in the 
Apocalypse, ch. 20. v. 7: "Then, when the thousand years 
are over, Satan will be let loose from his prison, and will go 
out to seduce the nations that live at the four corners of the 
earth — that is the meaning of Gog and Magog — and 
muster them for battle, countless as the sand by the sea." 
That is the way St. John himself had said it, the enemy of 
God was soon to appear, ushering in a fearful era of 
abomination and desolation. 

By what signs would we recognize it? The question 
was asked with that curiosity which always tempers 
anxiety; and moreover the Middle Ages had on that point 
precisions that surprise us a little. The Beast with seven 
heads and ten horns was Satan "and the names it bore on 

Page Fit } e 



its heads were names of blasphemy", which the 
Apocalypse describes: like a leopard, but it had bear's feet 
and a lion's mouth. A secret number formulates his 
essence, and "let the reader, if he has the skill, cast up the 
sum of the figures in the beast's name, after our human 
fashion, and the number will be six hundred and sixty-six". 
Why? It is, as St. Irenaeus says, that Noah was six hundred 
years old at the time of the flood, the statue of 
Nabuchodonosor was sixty cubits high and six cubits wide: 
add the age of Noah and the height and width of the statue 
of Nabuchodonosor and you get six hundred and sixty-six. 
This is not only clear, it is evident! Would you know his 
name? Evanthas, Lateinos, Titan, perhaps another. 
Irenaeus knows everything. He even informs us that the 
Antichrist will devastate the whole earth, reigning in the 
Temple three years and three months; and after that will 
come the end of the world when creation will have lasted 
six thousand years. 

Today we cannot read these details without at first an 
amused smile on our lips. On that subject the Bishop of 
Lyons knows so many things, that the future unfolds before 
him with all the regulated precision of the scenario of a 
super-film. We ourselves enter into the spirit of the thing 
and put a few questions to him, but he has an answer for 
everything. Why should the world last exactly six thousand 
years? It is because creation lasted six days and since a day 
of creation is worth a thousand years, the world will come 
to an end after the six days of creation have run their 
course. The answer is perfect! But here we stop smiling 
and an uncomfortable doubt slips into our mind. Six 
thousand years? But how old was the world at the time of 
Christ? Suppose the six thousand years of the world were 
not finally to have expired until around the year Two 
Thousand? The scourges which have struck us, the menace 
of the blows which await us, do not favour abandoning this 

Page Six 



hypothesis. If the drama which we live does not announce 
the end of the world, it is a rather good dress rehearsal. 
Shall we see worse than Buchenwald. Lydice and 
Oradour-sur-Glane? Perhaps it is not impossible, but it is 
difficult to believe. At this point in our reflections, we cast 
our eyes about and ask anxiously: "But where is 
Antichrist?'" And behold, he is right there! 

Ecce homo, said Friedrich Neitzche of himself: 
behold the man! This time, no longer God who becomes 
man to make him divine, but man who makes himself God 
to usurp his place and who wishes to be his own god. We 
are surprised at first, for he bears no resemblance to the 
fantastic beast of the Apocalypse. However, like it he has a 
number, and it is a human number. On the body of a man, 
a man's head with a hard, wilful chin, a broad intellectual 
forehead crowned with blasphemies, and in his beautiful 
eyes the anguish of insanity. His name is none of those 
which they had told us. He does not call himself Lateinos, 
Evanthas but Zarathustra, and behold he speaks like the 
one of whom St. Paul formerly prophesied, who will go so 
far as to sit "in God's temple, and proclaim himself as 
God". (II Thess. ii, 4). 

That is indeed what Nietzche does, when he puts 
himself forward as the sole guardian of the terrifying 
explosive which humanity does not yet know and which 
will nevertheless change its destiny. More pow-erful than 
the bomb of Hiroshima which it prefigures, and a 
thousand times more devastating still, the terrifying 
message that Zarathustra murmurs to himself as he comes 
towards us is contained in these few very simple words: 
"They do not know that God is dead". He himself, at least, 
knows it, and that is why his name is Ante-christus as well 
as Anti-christns. "Have you understood me?" he asks. 
"Dionysus face to face with the Crucifix". He does not only 
come before Christ but against Him. 

Page Seven 



This is the capital discovery of modern times, the 
event of which all the rest, tragic as they may be, are only 
the corollaries or the sequels. Trace back as far as you like 
the history of humanity and you will find no upheaval to 
compare with this in the extent or in the depth of its cause. 
The demoniac grandeur of Nietzsche is that he does know 
and that he says so. This is not just our imagination; it is 
enough to read hisEcceHomo to have proof of it: "I know 
my fate. A day will come when the remembrance of a 
fearful event will be fixed to my name, the remembrance 
of a unique crisis in the history of the earth, of the most 
profound clash of consciences, of a decree enacted against 
all that had been believed, exacted and sanctified right 
down to our days. I am not a man, I am dynamite." Do you 
doubt for an instant that he would have said today "an 
atomic bomb"? And how right he is! From his very 
beginning, man had thought nothing, said nothing, done 
nothing that did not draw its inspiration from this certitude 
that there existed a God or gods. And behold, all of a 
sudden, there is no longer one, or rather, we see that there 
never was one! We shall have to change completely our 
even- thought, word and deed. The entire human order 
totters on its base. Antichrist is still the only one who 
knows this, the only one who foresees the appalling 
cataclysm of the "reversal of values" which is in the 
making, for if the totality of the human past depended on 
the certitude that God exists, the totality of its future must 
needs depend on the contrary certitude, that God does not 
exist. But see the folly of men who do not yet know this, or 
who continue to act as if two or three among them did not 
know it already! Everything that was true from the 
beginning of the human race will suddenly become false, 
but what will become true? Whether he knows it or not, 
man alone must create for himself a new formula of life, 
which will be that of his destiny. 

Page Eight 



Very well, let us get to work. But man will never use 
his creative liberty as long as he believes that what is 
already dead is still living. Nietzsche has definite 
knowledge of his mission to destroy: "When truth opens 
war on the age-old falsehood, we shall witness upheavals 
unheard of in the history of the world, earthquakes will 
twist the earth, the mountains and the valleys will be 
displaced, and everything hitherto imaginable will be 
surpassed. Politics will then be completely absorbed by 
the war of ideas and all the combinations of power of the 
old society will be shattered since they are all built on 
falsehood: there will be wars such as the earth will never 
have seen before. It is only with me that great politics 
begin on the globe ... I know the intoxicating pleasure of 
destroying to a degree proportionate to my power of 
destruction." 



Have we understood at last? That is not certain, 
because the announcement of a cataclysm of such 
magnitude ordinarily leaves but a single escape: to 
disbelieve it and, in order not to believe, to refuse to 
understand it. If Nietzsche speaks truly, it is the very 
foundations of human life which are to be overthrown. 
Before stating what will be true, we will have to say that 
everything by which man has thus far lived, everything by 
which he still lives, is deception and trickery. "He who 
would be a creator, both in good and evil, must first of all 
know how to destroy and to wreck values." They are, in 
fact, being wrecked around us, and under our very feet, 
everywhere. We have stopped counting the unheard of 
theories thrown at us under names as various as their 
methods of thought, each the harbinger of a new truth 
which it promises to create shortly, joyously busy 
preparing the brave new world of tomorrow by first of all 
annihilating the world of today. 



Page Nine 



Destroying today to create tomorrow, such is indeed 
the mission of the seducer. "I am the first immoralist, I am 
thereby the destroyer par excellence." He knows his 
mission, and his disciples too have understood it. It is not 
only to some of their novels, it is to their entire work that 
The Immoralist of Gide would serve as a rather good title. 
That is merely literature? Doubtless, and it is sometimes 
beautiful — but have we not long known that the seducer 
would be handsome? That we should not have foreseen 
him, is still forgivable. But that we should not understand 
what he is doing while he is doing it right under our eyes, 
just as we were told he would do it — that bears witness to 
a stranger blindness. Can it really be that the herd of 
human beings that is being led to slaughter has eyes and 
yet does not see? 

It is none the less very simple! Whatever criticism can 
be levelled at the venerable Artisan of the Bible, let us at 
least do him the justice of admitting that he knew quite 
well what "to create" means. He did not take himself for 
some Greek demigod, fashioning to his idea a material 
which did not owe him existence. Insofar as a thing is 
made out of another, concession must be made to the 
material which is used. To create, on the contrary, is truly 
to make something of nothing, in the supreme freedom of 
an act which, since it is producing ex nihilo, nothing 
conditions, nothing determines, nothing limits. A truly 
gratuitous act of which one is the sole and complete 
author, that is the only act which is truly creative because it 
alone is truly free. In an eternity which transcended time, 
Jehovah was free; but we are not, for even if the world was 
not created, everything appears to us as if it had been 
created, for it exists. And it is indeed that world which 
restricts us! Try as we may to fashion it and remodel it, in a 
hundred different ways, we shall only make of it what its 
nature allows us to make. We shall perhaps be great 

Page Ten 



manufacturers, but creators — never! To create in his turn 
ex nihilo, man must first of all reestablish everywhere the 
void. 

It is too soon yet to create, but one can begin to 
destroy. Man is thus occupied on all sides with that 
intoxicating joy which Neitzche has just told us is as great 
as his power of destruction. Perhaps that is the answer to 
the poignant question which so many of us are asking 
ourselves: what does man want? Has he gone mad? Yes, in a 
sense, but only with the supremely lucid madness of a 
creature who would annihilate the obstacle which being 
places in the way of his creative ambitions. Such is the 
profound sense of our solemn and tragic adventure. 
Antichrist is not among us, he is in us. It is man himself, 
usurping unlimited creative power and proceeding to the 
certain annihilation of that which is, in order to clear the 
way for the problematic creation of what will be. 

We are then in the decisive moment of a cosmic 
drama. Quis ut Dens? It is I, says man. When we no longer 
want to be the image of God, we still can be his caricature! 
The explosion of Hiroshima did not only silence that 
atrocious clamour which swelled towards us from the 
camps of slow death and the charnel pits of Germany, it 
will resound for a long time, as a solemn assertion with a 
definite meaning. We have at last seen through the secret 
of matter! We know exactly how it is made, since we are 
able to destroy it. How will the world end? We used to 
think we knew; then science accustomed us to consider 
these answers as myths, and behold it now produces its 
own answer. On the threshold of a new millenium, man 
has the proud conviction that the day is perhaps not far off 
when he himself will be able to explode the planet. Let us 
admit that the adventure is enticing. You press a button, 
and the earth bursts like a gigantic bomb whose 
pulverized fragments are lost in a shower of stars which 

Page Eleven 



the startled eyes of the Martians — if there be any — will 
see shooting through the night into space. As a child who 
amuses himself by breaking his toy for no reason at all, just 
to see what it is like inside, so man will have smashed the 
world. It is possible that another will then be born, but that 
is not certain; in the meantime, what is certain is that ours 
will be ended. 

At least, it will be said, man is free! One can 
henceforth attempt all things, and especially in the realm 
of the mind. So wrote Stephane Mallarme, whose whole 
work attests what has been called "the obsession to 
abolish", but who would abolish everything only that he 
himself might perform a pure act of creation and thus, as it 
has been said, "became equal to God". Is not that precisely 
the sacrilegious effort whose meaning we would like to 
decipher? The terms which a critic of Mallarme used to 
describe his poetic enterprise fit exactly the mad 
ambitions of modern man: "to construct a poetry which 
would have the value of a preternatural creation and which 
would be able to enter into rivalry with the world of 
created things to the point of supplanting it totally". 

To abolish existing creation in order to create 
another: that is also the ambition of authentic surrealism, 
by which I mean the one which Andre Breton defined a 
short while ago as: "something dictated by thought, 
released from all control of reason, divorced from all 
aesthetic or moral preoccupation". We will then be able to 
say everything as well as to do everything. If we start by 
annihilating everything, what limits can stop us? None 
whatever. Everything is possible, provided only that this 
creative spark which surrealism seeks to disclose deep in 
our being be preceded by a devastating flame. "The most 
simple surrealist act consists in this: to go down into the 
streets, pistol in hand, and shoot at random, for all you are 
worth, into the crowd." Why not? This massacre of values is 

Page Twelve 



necessary to create values that are really new. "Everything 
is still to be done", affirms Andre Breton, "every means 
becomes good when employed to destroy the ideas of 
family, native land, religion." Now that is not only 
necessary: since God is dead, it has become possible. The 
eternal obstructor who has encumbered the heavens ever 
since the beginning of the world has suddenly disap- 
peared. The terrible interlocutor to whom, during ages 
without number, man gave only trembling reply — behold 
he has suddenly vanished, leaving for the first time man, 
face to face with himself, alone in a world empty of God, 
and at last master of his destiny. "But, Smerdiakof ', says 
old Karamazov, "if God does not exist, then everything is 
permitted." What a prodigious liberation! Man knows 
henceforward that he can do anything without the echo in 
his ear of the redoubtable summons of the sovereign 
judge, Adam, where art thou?" There is no longer any 
judge, save Adam himself, who, since he alone makes the 
law, alone applies it, without knowing yet that man is for 
himself the hardest of masters and that, by a comparison 
with the yoke which he lays on his own shoulders, that of 
the Lord was light to bear. 

To learn this, he needs a bit of time. Long after the 
amazing discovery that all is henceforth permitted, man 
still continues to act as if that which had formerly been 
forbidden still remained so. The ancient law of good and 
evil continues to rule his actions, but instead of being 
called the divine law it is called the voice of conscience. 
Nothing has then been gained, and man has merely 
changed the name of his master; until the inevitable day 
when conscience, finding herself but the lees of long use, 
doubts in her turn that even she has authority- to impose 
law. It is only then that all becomes actually permissible, 
and to the question: what must we do?, there is no longer 
an answer, but from the moment when there is indeed no 

Page Wirteen 



longer anything that man must do, he no longer knows 
what he will do. As the soldier, on leave, knows the 
desolation of twenty-four hours passed with nothing to do, 
man knows today that infinitely more tragic desolation of a 
life which is all spent in the idleness of a liberty 7 he is 
powerless to use. 

It is this nausea that has engendered contemporary 
existentialism and, we must admit, its courageous decision 
to dispel it. "Existentialism", says Sartre, "is nothing other 
than an effort to draw all the consequences from a 
coherently atheistic position." That is true, and these 
consequences are terrible. Everything is permissible if 
God does not exist, but also, as a consequence, man is 
abandoned, for he finds neither within nor without 
himself anything on which to rely. Then begins for him the 
stern martyrdom of the paths of liberty. "We have neither 
behind us nor before us, in the bright domain of values, 
any justification or excuse. We are alone, without excuse. 
That is what I would express in saying that man is 
condemned to be free . . . man, without any support and 
without any help, is condemned at each moment to invent 
man." A truly exhausting task, that of a perpetual invention 
of self, without model, without purpose, without rule. The 
father of existentialism is not Prometheus bound, nor even 
unbound, but rather Sisyphus, "the hero of the absurd". 
Tragic hero, because he knows, and by that very fact is 
superior to his destiny. Is he not stronger than his rock, 
asks Albert Camus, since he rolls it eternally? "To live is to 
make the absurd live. To make it live is above all to 
contemplate it." 

That the absurd creates itself out of nothing is not 
astonishing, nor that it nauseates him. But these are the 
sports of the princes of the mind. For unless we welcome 
the eerie invitation to suicide, our problem is to live. A 
half-dozen intellectuals may find a meaning for the absurd 

Page Fourteen 



in the literary success they gain by it. but such a justification 
has no value for the masses of ordinary men, liberated by 
atheism and who, having become gods without asking for 
it, do not know what to do with their divinity. The latter 
make no pretence to save themselves, they eagerly beg to 
be saved. Then there appear other men who undertake to 
exploit atheism in their turn, and who organize the cult of 
the new god. It is not without a profound philosophical 
reason that Marxism required atheism as one of its 
necessary principles. 

"Aragon and I", Andre Breton used to write. Let us not 
be surprised that Aragon, a Marxist writer, made his debut 
under the chief of the surrealists. Their paths have since 
parted, but all the creative ambitions of the man who 
makes himself god at least find a harmony in the will to 
destroy which they presuppose. How could Marxism be 
able truly to free man, if it did not first free him of God? 
Since Feuerbach, we know exactly what is the essence of 
Christianity and how man, who believed himself the 
creature of God, is on the contrary His creator. Since there 
is no longer anything between man and himself, there is 
no longer anything between man and other men. Once 
again, he is free, but is he truly free? Once he is free of God, 
he is no longer free of other men, between whom and 
himself there never existed any other protection but God 
and the law of God. It is a very old story. We read in die 
Book of Judges (xxi, 24): "In those days there was no king 
in Israel: but even- one did that which seemed right to 
himself. 1 ' The day came, however, when this free people 
grew tired of its liberty, and as the prophet Samuel was 
growing old, they went to him and said: "Make us a king, to 
judge us, as all nations have." At these words, Samuel 
experienced a great sadness, for he thought he had always 
judged according to the law of God, but he feared he had 
committed some fault and by it had turned men from that 
law. 

Page Fifteen 



The Lord knew his thoughts, and said to him: 
"Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to 
thee. For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should 
not reign over them." However, before granting the Jewish 
people the king that they asked, God made known to them 
the rights that their future masters would not fail to claim: 
"He will take your sons and put them in his chariots, and 
will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to 
run before his chariots. And he will appoint of them to 
plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him 
arms and chariots. Moreover, he will take the tenth of your 
corn to give to his servants.' 1 We have seen these things and 
worse still, for if governments today were satisfied with an 
income tax of ten percent, what a sigh of relief would we 
hear in the world! Since men have refused to serve God, 
there is no longer an arbiter between them and the State 
which dominates them. It is no longer God, it is the State 
which judges them. But who, then, will judge the State? 

To know the answer to this, it is enough to glance at 
what is going on round about us. To judge the State, there 
is no one left. In every land and in all countries, the people 
wait with fear and trembling for the powerful of this world 
to decide their lot for them. They hesitate, uncertain, 
among the various forms of slavery which are being 
prepared for them. Listening with bated breath to the 
sounds of those countries which fall one after the other 
with a crash followed by a long silence, they wonder in 
anguish how long will last this little liberty they still 
possess. The waiting is so tense that many feel a vague 
consent to slavery secretly germinating within themselves. 
With growing impatience, they await the arrival of the 
master who will impose on them all forms of slavery, 
starting with the worst and most degrading of all — that of 
the mind. Blessed be he who will deliver us from 
ourselves! Alone under a heaven henceforth empty, man 

Page Sixteen 



offers to whoever is willing to take it, this futile liberty 
which he does not know how to use. He is ready for all the 
dictators, leaders of these human herds who follow them 
as guides and who are all finally conducted by them to the 
same place — the abbatoir. 

What, then, is to be done? To this question permit me 
to reply by another: In this year of grace, 1948, how much 
grace is there still left? And this would be the whole 
question if there did not remain a second one: Is man 
willing to receive what still remains of grace today? For it is 
not by wallowing in the evil but in turning our backs on its 
cause that the remedy can be found. Let us not say: it is too 
late, and there is nothing left to do; but let us have the 
courage to look for the evil and the remedy where they 
exist. It is in losing God that man has lost his reason: he will 
not find it again without having first found God again. 

There was in the thirteenth century a philosopher to 
whom the sight of the world did not give nausea, but a joy 
ever new, because he saw in it only order and beauty. Man 
did not seem to him a Sisyphus hopelessly condemned to 
the liberty of the absurd, for he read in his own heart the 
clear law of practical reason. On all sides, within as well as 
without, a single and self-same light enlightens the 
understanding and regulates things, for the spirit which is 
found in them reconstructs them in the mind according to 
the order of the same creative intelligibility. This harmony 
of thought and reality which in our time Einstein describes 
as the most incomprehensible of mysteries, does not 
astonish our philosopher, for he knows its source — that 
same God Whose pure existence is at the origin of all 
reality as well as of all knowledge. And what is liberty for 
created man, unless it be to accept himself lovingly, even 
as his Creator wants and loves him? What is it to act as a free 
man unless it be to regulate the will according to reason, 
and reason itself according to the divine law? The vastest 

Page Seventeen 



community is the universe. God, Who created it, governs it 
according to the eternal law, of which the natural law, the 
human and the moral law are only so many particular 
expressions. Not a sin, not a moral fault is there which is 
not first of all an error made to the detriment of intelligible 
light, in violation of the laws of the supreme reason. 

Eminently habitable, because it is Christian, is this 
universe of St. Thomas Aquinas still ours? I am afraid not. It 
is, however, the only one in which man can live without 
having to create himself in the permanent anguish of his 
own nothingness, without having eternally to push up 
again and again the rock of Sisyphus or to yield to the 
fascination of a slavery which will deliver him even from 
the memory of liberty. This world is that of the divine 
wisdom which penetrates everything with its power and 
orders all with sweetness. Raoul Glaber reports that after 
so many misfortunes and fateful presages, a sort of peace 
came into the heavens and the earth was covered with a 
white robe of churches. Thus disappeared the fears of the 
year One Thousand. Salvation is the same today. There still 
remains only God to protect man against man. Either we 
will serve Him in spirit and in truth, or we shall enslave 
ourselves ceaselessly, more and more, to the monstrous 
idol which we have made with our own hands to our own 
image and likeness. The cause of so many miseries is 
indeed the ignorance which men have of an important 
message: they no longer know that a Saviour is born to us. 
This is not the message of Zarathustra, it is the promise of 
peace which rang out, nearly two thousand years ago, in 
the skies of Bethlehem. 



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