Contemplation and Controversy

Author: Jean Danielou


Jean Danielou

In the situation in France at the moment one of the important attitudes is controversy, which is found at various levels. There is controversy about structures considered to be no longer suitable for social and cultural reality. Such controversy is the very expression of life. No one need the "movement of March 22nd" to tell them that the structures of the universities were no longer suited to the needs of the students, did not meet these needs, nor the structures of the nation or modern methods of work. It is equally clear that the whole population of the country as a whole did not benefit proportionally in the general increase in national wealthy, and that a readjustment of the distribution of such wealth had become necessary.

But today we are in the presence of a current of thought which inspires the extreme tendencies of the student movement, and has its theoreticians like Marcuse, for whom controversy is something much more radical. For them it is the very expression of thought, and of its permanent form. Everything is always and totally contested. Understood in this way controversy seems to us a typical instance of a certain perversion of the intelligence, which cannot lead to anything, and against which we must take a radical stand. Besides, it is nothing new. What we are witnessing is the surfacing on the collective level of what has been taught to our young people for some time now by their teachers and lecturers. But the most astonishing thing is the ingenuity of those whom this uprising has taken by surprise.

For us, the perversity of such a way of thinking lies in the fact that it puts the accent exclusively on the critical function of the intelligence, entirely ignoring the pre-eminence of its contemplative aspect. Such a method is the expression of a revolt not against what is evil, but against what is. It is for this reason that on occasions we see all kinds of resentments showing up.

Now for us there will always be a supremacy of the "yes" that we call contemplation. We say "yes" to God, who is the abyss of glory. We say "yes" to history, which is the unfolding of love’s designs. And is just because we say this "yes" that we are rooted in the real, that our questioning of society has a meaning; it is a light to ensure that structures are at the service of the authentic vocation of man.

Radical controversy is, in any case, absolutely sterile. Having no point of reference it can only go round in circles and return to its starting point. It is absurd to want a clean sweep of all that has been won, and has value. There is nothing more reactionary. Pure revolution and pure reaction are synonymous. We do not believe there is anything to be gained by it. Disputation on the scientific plane brings us beyond, but does not deny the discoveries of the past. Democracy was won in too hard a battle against all forms of oppression that we should be willing to lose the benefits; the question is, rather, to make it more widespread. In the present controversy about humanism, on which civilisation rests, there is an ignoble denial that reveals only the inconsistency of a few irresponsible intellectuals who will be swept away by future events.

Whatever is true of society in general is true also of the Church. Some Catholic intellectuals warned us recently that she is deceiving herself if she believes she can escape the general movement of contestation. But the Church did not wait for them to make her "aggiornamento", that is, to undertake certain reforms in structure to adapt herself better to her authentic vocation and to contemporary circumstances. It is these intellectuals who deceive themselves if they think the Church will change what constitutes the permanent reality of her hierarchy, her dogma and her sacraments.

On the contrary, it is precisely because the fundamentals of the hierarchy, of faith and its sanctity are immovable that she is fit to discern in the world of today what comes from the Spirit of truth, to question whatever is inspired by the Prince of falsehood, and that she will be a rock of the world in the future.

But for this it is essential that contemplation should prevail over controversy within the Church. And it is for this reason that, in as much as it threatens the sense of God, of adoration and the sacred, the present period is the worst. Consequently Christian people beg their pastors to assemble them in prayer; they rebel against those transform churches into place of disputation, whereas their purpose is, more than ever, to be the place of contemplation.

Defending this contemplative dimension is not the destiny of the Church alone, but it is also of the society of tomorrow, and of the growing youth that the Church is to serve.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 August 1968, page 7

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