Crisis of Confidence and Essential Values

Author: Jean Danielou


Jean Danielou

There is at present a general crisis of authority and not only in the Church. In this general crisis there is, incontestably, as in every period of crisis, the expression of a certain growth. It is clear that there are ways of exercising authority which today no longer suit certain needs of modern man, and this in every area: from marital authority and paternal authority to professional authority. There was a way of exercising authority which a legitimate sensibility in the man of today no longer accepts. In this sense we are in a time of participation, and we can and we should wholeheartedly accept it. Why? Because, (as John XXIII clearly stated in Pacem in Terris) there is among all persons today a greater consciousness of their own autonomy and of their own personality, as a result of which they no longer accept certain forms of subordination. There is, as it were, an awakening to a greater sense of personal responsibility. It certainly constitutes progress, when, for example, in a family a wife is more fully associated in the direction of the home, and it is normal in a state that all the citizens should feel themselves responsible and not only "taken in charge". It is normal in a university that the students should feel more closely associated in decisions which concern them. There is nothing worse, on the other hand, than irresponsible and tacit obedience. Catholic Action in its positive aspect has been the call of the Church to all the laity to a greater participation in their responsibility.

It should not be necessary, therefore, to term a "crisis of authority" the fact that there is an evolution in the manner of exercising authority, and that in general there is a call for the taking of greater responsibility in all phases of life on the part of all. But there is a crisis of authority today which is insidious. I mean that there is a fundamental contestation of authority as such. Here it is of the utmost importance to give to authority its true significance. "Authority" does not in the first place signify "power"; "authority" in the first place signifies "competence". When we say that in a particular branch of knowledge a person is "an authority", We are givingthe word its original meaning and it is this meaning which is fundamental. Authority is indeed a competence to which there is a corresponding right to confidence.

Incompetence discreditsAuthority

What discredits authority, therefore, is its being exercised by a person who does not inspire confidence. Then authority is undermined at its root. But that there is a right and a duty to place confidence in those who are competent in fields in which we are not is a truth of common sense. For example, I have a literary formation. From a scientific point of view, all that at present I consider true, I believe through in act of confidence in persons whom I consider competent. It is absolutely impossible for me by myself to verify all the intermediate calculations whereby he who is known as a scientist has arrived at a particular discovery. Throughout our life, we are making acts of trust in authority in every field. The authority of the father is based on the fact that in many things in which the children could not yet have experience themselves, they know that they can depend on those who have a greater competence, and thence arises their normally spontaneous confidence.

Most men incapable of confidence

Now this is true in the domain of the Church. Obedience to the authority is first of all confidence in a competence, but in a competence of a particular order. It is not a competence like that of a professor which arises out of engagement in studies, but a competence which derives from a unique experience. Such a competence is first of all that of Christ himself who alone is competent to speak of the Father and to reveal to us the purpose of the Father for us, since he alone shares in the secrets of the Father. This is the competence which Christ communicates to the Church, giving to her his own Spirit. And it is this competence which justifies our right of having confidence in those to whom Christ has given his Spirit, in a way quite special, giving them responsibility for his Church. And therefore confidence in the Church is something profoundly normal which arises not out of any so-called infantile attachment which must today be superseded by an "adult Christianity", but is arises from fundamental rights which justify confidence in the authority conferred on it by Christ.

But why is authority being attacked in every area of life today? It is because that what men today are perhaps most incapable of is confidence.

We are faced these days with a massive crisis of confidence. The man of today is essentially diffident. It he is diffident, it must be acknowledged that it is because he has been too often deceived The man of today no longer believes what is said, because he distrusts all words. He knows that publicity lies; he knows that propaganda lies. He knows that he is in a world in which everything is distorted or invented, and he ends by no longer giving credence except to what he has power to verify for himself. And perhaps this is one of the principal causes of the crisis of faith. For faith consists in believing in things which we cannot verify for ourselves, but about which we have confidence in those who have verified it for themselves. Christ puts the question of confidence to us. It is the same for the Church. The Church puts a question of confidence to us.

Faith holds essential role

Are we justified in having confidence in the Church? Should we believe that the Church is assisted by the Holy Spirit in all that concerns the ultimate problems of existence? In the present crisis of authority in the Church, there is that which results from a need of Christians to understand and to participate more, and that is good; but there is also, it must be said, a fundamental contestation of any authority, which is something deeply unhealthy, since an impotence to grant confidence, even where confidence is justified, is an illness of the spirit.

It must be added that if there is inthe Church an authority, anauthority which is essentially that of the Bishop of Rome; it is founded in the intention of Christ himself. Certain historians would have us believe that in the beginning the Church was given a kind of mystical impulse, and that only later did there appear an authority, the foundation for which was purely human. This is, historically, absolutely false, since if there is one thing historically certain, it is that Christ devoted the three years of his public life, not first of all to preaching, but to gathering the apostles, to forming them, and to giving them powers in virtue of which after his ascension to his Father they would continue his own Mission. It should be said that authority as we have just now defined it belongs to the structure of the Church as Jesus Christ willed it, that it constitutes an essential and fundamental component of it. From this point of view, an attack on this authority of the Church, or to question it radically, would strike at a constitutive element of the structure which Christ willed to give it.

I would like to close by saying that pervading all the problems confronting us, there is today a lack of trust greater than in any other epoch. I think that such a want of trust does not represent a threat at all to what we believe: belief in God, faith in dogma, confidence in the authority of the Church. I truly believe, on the contrary, that this faith is destined to exert an essential role in the world of tomorrow. I believe the great problem is to give a technical civilization a divine dimension without which it would be a barbarity. I believe this to be the magnificent mission to which Christians are called.

They will have to consider this their incomparable privilege, their duty to help the society of tomorrow to build itself in body—and it is this we do when we struggle against hunger, against misery—also in its soul, and this truly is the task of us all. It is a magnificent task. It should have power to electrify youth who are today searching for an ideal. I am thinking of the millions of young men who are searching now. The situation is more open, perhaps, in this year 1969 than it was thirty years ago, because many structures have been shaken. Considering this, it would be tragic if there were a weakening of faith within the Church among the laity and among priests. This amounts to a weakening of faith—and that not for valid reasons but simply through a sort of diffidence when confronted with the challenges of the modern world—at a time when the great need is for a stronger faith. Precisely because of this, we must rediscover the dynamism of our faith to animate action in our civilization.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 March 1969, page 10

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