An embarrassment

One hesitates to recommend a book, such as Jean Daniélou’s Scandaleuse Vérité (“Scandal of Truth” is a mild translation), because it will be misunderstood. By the half-attentive, English-thinking reader, it may be taken as the pretentious blather of a French intellectual — which, since it came out in 1961, is now sufficiently dated to be ignored. Yet from its start, invoking Justin Martyr, it points to the heart of our Western crisis, and locates it beyond the pressure of “events.”

The truth has always been embarrassing. It was embarrassing, too, in the ancient world, and the worldly-wise have always cringed at the poor taste of those who present it. Seldom will they actually oppose claims made on behalf of the verities, for even by opposing the truth they would be dragged into an unpleasant debate, finally with their own souls. Their only defence can be the glibness with which the word is placed in dismissive quotes. The truth is reduced to “words, words, words” in a time when human testimony has been degraded. Our world, as surely all will agree, is so full of lies that the cynical may easily sneer upon the very notion of trust. Yet the existence of lies does not preclude the existence of truth.

As we see in society at large, and now hear even from Rome, sincerity becomes the substitute for faith. What is true can only be “true for me,” and the genuineness of a feeling substitutes for the content of the faith itself.

This is what a pope is now preaching: not against the content of the Catholic faith, which all his predecessors accepted as true; rather against their view that this content has importance — that, in effect, the truth is true, and commands our adherence because it is true, whether we find comfort and pleasure in it, or not. Instead, any view sincerely held is taken as acceptable, and though we might technically allow it is in error, we must “accompany” the holder to death’s door.

This is hardly a view originating in the Holy Father. I mentioned the publication date of Daniélou’s remarkable book — before Vatican II had congregated. Before it had ever been announced, the “dictatorship of relativism” had been proclaimed, in the world around us. In retrospect, it seems to me, no Church Council called in that environment could avoid a direct, and very embarrassing, clash with the modern world; for otherwise it would be infected. And that direct clash was avoided.

I have touched only on the opening remarks in Scandaleuse Vérité. The book goes on to deal with things more fatal than indifference to truth, or than the scandal with which it is received. It deals with the elevation of the ungodly; with counterfeit hierophanies and lofty “ideals” which occupy the very place in the soul that yearns for truth and meaning. We face, ever more plainly, a grand attempt to raise atheist man to the station of his own God and Maker. And this, such that the tragic consequences of our anti-religions — the casualties of wars and abortions — are not so bad as the soul-destroying scheme itself.

Paradoxically, I reflect, the principal accomplishment of this grand scheme or project is that man is in fear — not of God, but of himself. We have tasted our own destructive powers, and rightly we are frightened by them.