Table of Contents


There may be some typing mistakes.

Harmless Religion?

‹‹‹ One page missing ›››  Irae and has even added the Alleluia. 72 But this suppresses the human aspect of death, which is after all something terrible, and a punishment for the fall. The grief which is motivated by the human aspect of death is not simply eliminated by the fact that we have been redeemed by Christ, and that death can be the entrance to eternal blessedness. Even in the light of faith death remains something ultimately serious, indeed something to be feared, because in it we encounter the judgment of God. It remains the great moment of decision. A supernatural view of death discloses the majesty of God, the great importance of the fate of every human soul, the ultimate significance of holiness and sin. The joy of the Alleluia is here artificial, ungenuine it not only distorts the moment in which everything is at stake for man, it also deprives the Alleluia of its true blissful ring. It is in general a great mistake to jump over and to suppress the human aspect of things, and to pretend that the Christian sees only the supernatural aspect of things. For this would not be a triumph of faith, or even a false supernaturalism, but rather, curiously, a result of this-worldliness and of losing sight of supernatural reality.

To see the purely human aspect of things is a necessary foundation for seeing the supernatural aspect. One who does not see the human aspect is insensitive and superficial, and his attitude is incompatible with the true faith. The deeper one sees the natural tragedy of death, then the more one is able to grasp the tremendous significance of our redemption through Christ, and the more one possesses that true faith which St. Paul expresses by asking. “O death, where is your sting?” But as soon as one jumps over the human aspect without passing through it, one does not ascend to the supernatural aspect. but rather replaces the natural with the supernatural aspect, which can only be attained by faith one treats the supernatural aspect as if it were the natural, one takes it for granted, and omits that sursum corda, that ascent into the supernatural world which is possible only in faith. If the human aspect is not duly seen, then the aspect of faith is naturalized, and dragged down to the level of the obvious. If the human aspect is suppressed or omitted, then the aspect of faith becomes ungenuine, unreal.

Thus the Alleluia and the elimination of black vestments in the Requiem not only ignores the human aspect of death, but also distorts the supernatural perspective on death. The death of a man is the moment of judgment, it is the great and fearful encounter with the divine Judge. Although death is transfigured by hope hope for our dead beloved one, and for all who loved him and mourn for him this hope does not take away ultimate seriousness and holy fear. It is simply not the right form for the Mass for the Dead when this Mass gives the impression of celebrating the entrance of the deceased into eternal blessedness. How, then. does the Mass for the Dead differ from a feast day in honor of a saint, of whom we know in faith that he has entered into eternal blessedness?

The optimism of the new Mass for the Dead, as well as its tendency to introduce a harmless note into the theme of the judgment of God (there was none of this in the Tridentine Requiem) is deeply related to this-worldliness, and to a loss of a sense of the supernatural.

This-worldliness leads to yet other expressions of harmlessness in religion. Long before Vatican II there was the danger of religion becoming harmless, bourgeois, conventional. Opposition to conventionalism in religion was to be the work of the Council. But unfortunately an effort was made to overcome this conventionalism and harmlessness by aggiornamento by adapting to “modern man.” The hope was that especially in the post-conciliar period, religion could be given new vitality by being plunged into the rhythm of daily life but the result was not only a failure to sanctify daily life, but a deeper and deeper lapse into a desacralization of religion.

The danger of harmlessness in religion is deeply rooted in human nature. Kierkegaard waged a magnificent and relentless war against the attempts of Danish Protestantism to render the Christian Revelation harmless. And we find Newman waging this same war before his entrance into the Catholic Church as well as after. In one of his Anglican sermons, he begins by speaking of the religious danger of earlier, more primitive times: “The age was rude and fierce. Satan took the darker side of the Gospel: its awful mysteriousness, its fearful glory, its sovereign inflexible justice; and here his picture of the truth ended, ‘God is a consuming fire.’ ” Then Newman turns to the present and asks: “What is Satan's device in this day? A far different one; but perhaps a more pernicious. He has taken the brighter side of the Gospel its tidings of comfort. its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man's condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth. . . . Religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal, are the first of sins.” 73

Holy Fear

If in Kierkegaard's time conventionalism and harmlessness took the form of making Christianity acceptable to fashionable society, today it takes the form of destroying the ultimate seriousness of our situation before God, of lapsing into a harmless optimism, of suppressing all fear of God, all trembling at the thought of the day of judgment. This is something incomparably worse than the pre-conciliar conventionalism. We have already mentioned the ostrich-policy with respect to the tragedy of death viewed in its human aspect, and to the tremendous seriousness of the judgment which awaits us after death. But we constantly encounter today in many other ways this blindness for the seriousness of man's metaphysical situation. Although Christ so often speaks of hell, of the narrowness of the way which leads to heaven, of the guest who was not dressed in a wedding garment, and although He has said. “Many are called but few are chosen,” nevertheless we hear so little of all this today in sermons, pastoral letters, and even in encyclicals.

It is only to be expected that the fear of God is more or less forgotten when the main emphasis is transferred from the “things which are above,” as St. Paul says (Col. 3:2), to earthly progress to the relief of earthly needs and sufferings, and the elimination of poverty and war. When one renders the supernatural harmless, so as not to be distracted in one's work of improving the world, or in the cheerful, optimistic development of one's natural powers, then one tries to eliminate the cross from the life of the Christian. In fact one avoids even mentioning the existence of hell in sermons, catechisms, pastoral letters and thus it is quite consistent to avoid mentioning holy fear.

Holy fear and trembling in the presence of the incomprehensible greatness and holiness of God, which is to be sharply distinguished from slavish fear, is an essential element of any real religion. Holy fear goes far beyond the response of reverence, which is so centrally important. It was holy fear which led St. Peter to say, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man"; and it is holy fear which Rudolph Otto has in mind in speaking of God as mysterium tremendum. This fear is a value response to God. It is a centrally important religious act, and without it there is no real religion at all. 74

But there is another holy fear which is a response to God as judge and which plays a prominent role in the Judeo-Christian Revelation. This fear is bound up with our awareness of being sinners and of having to answer to the divine Judge. Love of God in and through Christ indeed goes far beyond this response of holy fear. but not by excluding it, or simply replacing it. The more one loves God, the more one responds with holy fear to His unapproachable majesty and to Him as Judge. Of course this holy fear of the day of judgment is permeated by hope and love and faith in our redemption through Christ, but it is never replaced by a false security. Real love for God presupposes fear; there is no love of God without real fear of God.

Of course love for God drives out slavish fear, but never true holy fear of God. Love goes gloriously beyond this holy fear, but not by eliminating it. We find something similar in the relation between obedience and love: love of God goes far beyond mere obedience, it is something quite new with respect to obedience, but it does not eliminate obedience quite the contrary, love presupposes obedience and strengthens our will to obey. Our relation to God, Who is infinitely holy and the absolute Lord, must be one filled with adoration and trembling reverence. But while we are on earth we must also fear God as Judge, and fear the loss of eternal union with Him whom we love above all else. The Dies Irae expresses this fear of God: “Rex tremendae majestatis qui salvandos salvas gratis: salva me fons pietatis” (O King of fearful majesty, You Who save the elect without any merit of their own, save me in your unfathomable merciful love). But this holy fear of God, in which we become aware of the great seriousness of our situation before God. does not lead to a gloomy self-preoccupation, or to constant restlessness and anxiety; it is rather united, in and through Christ, with blissful hope and love.

Holy Zeal

Turning to a related subject: we find a further sign of this-worldliness in the disappearance of burning zeal for the glorification of God, for the imitation of Christ, and for His holy Church. In the Introduction to his Rule, St. Benedict distinguishes between good zeal, and the zeal of bitterness. Today there is truly no lack of the zeal of bitterness every Communist agent is an example of an evil zeal which is matchless. But even in the holy Church we find this evil zeal at a high pitch among those who want to destroy the Church, or at least make it this-worldly. We have only to think of IDOC (Information Documentation sur l'Eglise conciliaire) and of countless other powerful organizations of the radical progressivists and modernists. But burning zeal for the truth, for God, for Christ and His holy Church, is looked on as fanatical, intolerant, and incompatible with charity.

Of this burning holy zeal, which every true Christian necessarily possesses, Newman says: “Now I fear we lack altogether . . . firmness, manliness, godly severity. We are over-tender in dealing with sin and sinners. We are deficient in the jealous custody of the revealed Truths which Christ has left us. We allow men to speak against the Church, its ordinances, or its teaching, without remonstrating with them. We do not separate from heretics, nay, we object to the word as if uncharitable. . . .” 75 In another place Newman speaks in a wonderful way of the deeply Christian union of burning zeal and love: “Oh, that there was in us this high temper of mingled austerity and love! Barely do we conceive of severity by itself, and of kindness by itself; but who unites them? We think we cannot be kind without ceasing to be severe. Who is there that walks through the world, wounding according to the rule of zeal, and scattering balm in the fulness of love; smiling as a duty, and healing as a privilege; loving most when he seems sternest, and embracing them most tenderly whom in semblance he treats roughly?” 76

In the saints we find this union of burning zeal and triumphant love of neighbor one has only to think of the Apostles, of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, or of St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Theresa of Avila, and countless others.

We see another symptom of this-worldliness in this decline of burning zeal for the glorification of God and the salvation of souls, and in the increase of zeal for the improvement of the world and for what is supposedly progress. This shift of emphasis which we find even with regard to zeal is united in a terrible way with the trend to make the Christian Revelation harmless, bourgeois. This harmlessness, which Kierkegaard fought so magnificently in Danish Protestantism, and Newman in Anglican England, is, as Newman himself says, a perpetual danger. But today we find a twofold evil: harmlessness and loss of holy fear, as well as loss of burning zeal for supernatural things, have not only penetrated into the sanctuary of the Catholic Church they even claim to be progress, to be a “triumph of tolerance” to involve “abandoning the ghetto,” “overcoming superstition,” etc.


72. That the Alleluia is not prescribed for the new Mass for the Dead (but merely allowed and often sung), does not change the fact that such a Mass introduces a deplorable harmlessness into religion and a misunderstanding of the metaphysical situation of man. For this Alleluia is not an abuse which has been forbidden (as blasphemous Masses) but is sometimes tolerated by bishops; it is rather something that has been officially permitted. This holds even more for the omission of the Dies Irae. Today, when many “renewers” treat things which are allowed as if they were required, the fact that the Alleluia is allowed tells us a great deal about a prevailing tendency.

73. Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. I, sermon 24. “The Religion of the Day.” This and the following quotations from Newman are taken from an excellent article by Dr. John Crosby, “Holy Fear and Buming Zeal.” Triumph, April, 1972.

74. Even in Eastern religions, which believe in a non-personal God, this fear is found, even if only in an analogous form. There is an element of fear in the awareness of the “sacred,” which plays such a prominent role in these religions. Here, too, God is conceived as mysterium tremendum, although in a very different way from that of the monotheistic religions, in which God is conceived as absolute person.

75. Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. II, sermon 23.

76. Ibid., vol. III, sermon 13.


Table of Contents


ページに直接に入った方はこちらをクリックして下さい→ フレームページのトップへ
inserted by FC2 system