Saturday, August 19, 2006

Georges Bernanos

My soul is stunned, and delighted, and faintly feels the healing touch of a pure joy encountering the work of Georges Bernanos for the first time, having just finished the short novel Mouchette.
Here is a rich wealth of insight.

"Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns.
She has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table." Proverbs 9:1-2

She has indeed- in such writings as Bernanos's, and elsewhere. Here are some quotes from Bernanos's later essays:

Excerpts from The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos, translated by Joan and Barry Ulanov (Chicago, Henry Regnery Company, 1955) (culled from a larger list of quotes compiled at the following location place:

"It’s a question of knowing who will win, technology or man."

"The millions don’t care a bit about learning that we don’t despair of ourselves. What they want to know is if they can place their hope in us. They care nothing about our optimism. Our optimism does not reassure them at all. Quite the opposite, it sends a shiver down their spines."

"I realize that anyone who refuses to be deceived today must someday or other pursue his path all alone, as I have been doing for a long time. I’m used to it now. I even think that a little solitude is not too high a price to pay for certain modest privileges which no one dreams of trying to take away from me, such as the right to speak the way I do—with a tranquil frankness—in my own name alone."

"Speculation commanded machines, and thanks to machines commanded power as well. Thus, in a fabulously short time, by the single miracle of technology and of all techniques, including that which not only allows the control of worldwide opinion but also the making of it, it has created a civilization in the image of a prodigiously diminished and shrunken man, a man no longer made in the image of God, but in the image of the speculator—that is to say, of a man reduced to the two states, both equally miserable, of consumer and taxpayer ".

"It is necessary above all to re-spiritualize man. . . . It is right to put these ideas back into circulation, as formerly people took old coins and melted them down [LW: not repackaged] into gold and silver again "

"Hope is a heroic virtue. People think it easy to hope. But the only people who hope are those who have had the courage to despair of illusions and lies in which they had once found a security they falsely took for hope."

"But what if man really was created in the image of God? Suppose there is in him a certain element of freedom—however small one may imagine it—to what would their experiments lead then, if not to the mutilation of an essential organ? What if in man there does exist that principle of self-destruction, that mysterious hatred of himself which we call original sin, which the technologists have not failed to observe, for it explains all the frightful disappointments of history? It’s true that they don’t attribute these disappointments to man’s sin but rather to an evil organization of the world. But what if they are mistaken? What if the injustice is inside man himself and all their constraints do nothing but reinforce the evil-doing? What if man can only fulfill himself in God? What if the delicate operation of amputating his divine part—or of systematically making this part atrophy until it falls off, dried up, like an organ in which blood no longer circulates—should turn him into a ferocious beast? Or worse, perhaps, a beast forever domesticated, a domestic animal? Or, even worse, something abnormal, deranged? "

One understands nothing of man if one imagines him to be naturally proud of what distinguishes him, or seems to distinguish him, from animals. The average man is not at all proud of his soul; he wants only to deny it and does so with great relief, as upon awaking from a terrible dream. He thinks, with a kind of incomprehensible pride, that he has just discovered that it really doesn’t exist. Metaphysical anxiety in the average man is almost always shown by this sly denial, this pride, the thousand tricks which only tend to lay aside some part, it doesn’t matter which, of this burden, this harassing consciousness of good and evil. . . . If only that soul didn’t exist! If it does by some mischance exist, if only it were not immortal! Very far from being the consoling illusion of the simple-minded and the unknowing, belief in liberty and in the responsibility of man has been for thousands of years the tradition of the élite; it is the spirit of civilization, civilization itself, transmitted through genius. For ages, billions of fools, fools without number, in languages without number, have said again and again, with a knowing look, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” If they haven’t said these exact words, it was because they didn’t dare, because they were ashamed to say them; they preferred to trust in those more learned than they, the wise ones. But as soon as the prestige of the wise and the authority weaken, as soon as civilization gives way, the men of the masses begin again to look for a vacant lot, a street corner, on which to lose their immortal souls, with the hope that no one will bring them back to them. And suddenly now, in our time, this gesture held to be ignoble, until now, has been adopted by the wise men too. Those one always thought of as guardians of the highest traditions of the species have refused to keep it in their charge (ibid.).There is something more in man than those deceivers think who believe him inspired only by self-interest. There is in man a secret and incomprehensible hatred, not only of his fellow men but of himself. One may cite for this mysterious feeling any cause or explanation one wishes, but one must explain it. As for us Christians, we believe this hatred reflects another hatred a thousand times deeper and more clear—that of the Unspeakable Spirit who was the most resplendent of the stars of the abyss, who will never forgive us for his terrible fall. Apart from the assumption of original sin, that is to say of a basic contradiction in our nature, the concept of man becomes clear, but it is no longer man. Man has passed byeond the definition of man, just like a handful of sand between his fingers (ibid.).. . . a world without a god . . . will soon be a world without men. Thus, it makes more glorious still the mysterious solidarity of God and man which is the most august mystery of Christianity (ibid.)."

"I blush at the idea that [a non-Catholic] may think I address him from the depths of my security as a believer—as from a safe and warm resting place—that I hold myself apart from the risks he runs. It isn’t true, no, it isn’t true, that faith is security, at least in the human inflection of the word."

"The scandal of the universe isn’t suffering but freedom. God made His Creation free—that’s the scandal of scandals, for all others proceed from it."

"Right now, in our world, in some obscure church or some old house or at the bend of a deserted road, there is some poor man who is joining his hands and from the depths of his misery, without really knowing what he is saying, or perhaps without saying anything at all, is thanking the good Lord for having made him free and capable of loving. Elsewhere, it doesn’t matter where, there is a mother who is hiding her face for the last time against the little heart that no longer throbs, a mother, close to her dead child, offering God the moaning of an exhausted resignation, as if the Voice that threw the suns into the great void the way a hand disperses grain, the Voice that makes the earth tremble, had just sweetly whispered in her ear: “Forgive Me. One day you will know, you will understand, you will thank Me. But now, what I await from you is your pardon. Forgive Me.” Those people—the harassed women, that poor man—are at the heart of the mystery, at the core of the universal creation and even inside the secret of God Himself. What can I say of this? Language is at the service of intelligence. But what these people have grasped, they have understood by a faculty superior to the intelligence, though not at all in conflict with it, or rather by a profound and irresistable impulse of the soul which engages all the faculties at the same time, which thoroughly absorbs all that is natural in them. . . . "

"In his recent book, Les problèmes de la vie, the distinguished University of Geneva professor, M. Guyénot, has gone back to the distinction between body, mind, soul. If one accepts this hypothesis, which Saint Thomas did not reject, one tells oneself, with horror, that innumerable men are born, live and die without even once making use of their souls, really making use of their souls, even if only to offend the good Lord. To what extent are we not of the same species? Won’t Damnation be the tardy discovery, the discovery much too late, after death, of a soul absolutely unused, still carefully folded together, and spoiled, the way certain precious silks are when they are not used? Anyone who makes use of his soul, however clumsily, participates in the life of the universe, becomes a part of its great rhythm, and at the same time enters on a level with the saints that communion of the saints that which is the communion of all the men of good will to whom Peace was promised, that Holy Invisible Church which we know includes pagans, heretics, schismatics or non-believers, whose name God alone knows (ibid.)."

"For, after all, it is as easy for us to recognize what the Church has of the human in her as it is difficult to know what she has in her of the divine. How else then would you explain the oddity that those most entitled to be scandalized by the mistakes, the deformations, or even the deformaties, of the visible Church—I mean the saints—are precisely those how never complain about her?"

"The saint is the person who knows how to find in himself, and to make gush forth from the depths of his being, the water of which Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman: “Those who drink of it will never thirst.” The water is there in each of us, the deep cistern open under the sky. Undoubtedly the surface is cluttered with debris, broken branches, dead leaves, from which arises the smell of death. On it shines a cold and hard light, that of the rational intelligence. But immediately under that pernicious layer, the water is so limpid and pure! Still a little lower, and the soul finds herself again in her native element, infinitely purer than the purest water, in that uncreate light that bathes all Creation—in Him was life, and the life was the light of men—in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum (ibid.)."

"For there is something which is worse than dying—it is to die deceived."

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