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Jacques Maritain's Notebooks

Chapter Four: Meeting with Pierre Villard

 


I. Letter from a Stranger

[In the sequel to Les Grandes Amitiés which Raissa so much desired to write, and which she was obliged to renounce, first by our stay in Rome and the burdens which it imposed on her, afterwards by the illnesses which did not cease to afflict us, it was to Pierre Villard, to the Thomist Circles, to our friends of Meudon that she intended to devote her first chapters. The notes which follow would like to satisfy in part the purpose which she was not able to accomplish. I regret their dryness, when I think of the gift which she had of again possessing the past in a kind of fresh-like-the-dawn melody which issued forth from the living sources of memory.]

18th of April, 1917. Received from a stranger the following letter, which touches me very much.

Tours, the 16th of April 1917

Sir,

At the beginning of 1915, I was able to hear some of your lectures on "German Philosophy" which I have remembered with special vividness. In listening to you, every attentive listener discerned behind the philosopher, following with a lucid eye the chain of causes and of effects, the personality of a man for whom the difficult problem of living well had posed itself in all its gravity, and who had resolved it. It is to this man that I permit myself to come to ask counsel in my profound intellectual isolation. I thought, Sir, that you cannot remain indifferent to the void of a soul if indeed you know the fecundity of the principle which delivers and also all the value of time.

I shall tell you more rapidly my modest intellectual history by naming to you the three authors to whom I am the most indebted: Charles Maurras, Georges Sorel and Pascal.

From the first, I have above all kept a taste for order, an accurate definition of politics (which is neither morality nor religion), the idea that we are governed more by historical laws than by our abstract constructions, and finally the sense of our historical participation.

From the second, I have loved the intense pessimism from which flow his conceptions on right and violence and on the genesis of every great realization of the human spirit.

But to Pascal especially I owe the revelation of the soul: sole stable point in the midst of our internal flow, sole fortress in which we can escape from our individuality and from contingencies, sole living principle capable of introducing a little order into our chaos. To show that the soul is absent from our natural life and that nevertheless it is the principle of all action and that consequently everything decays and falls without it: is this not the main point of the Pascalian argumentation? Then the value and the use of reason, the mistrust in which we must hold ourselves vis-à-vis ourselves, the necessity of the spirit of sacrifice and of the faith which creates, are explained.

In spite of these powerful aids I am more miserable than ever, because I have not been able to succeed in utilizing their method and in incorporating it into my personality. In the presence of events which demand the greatest strength of soul, I fluctuate in the worst moral uncertainty. What foolish pride would keep me from confessing that never having met a pure human affection, my heart wanders without refuge in hours of distress!

My difficulties in succeeding seem as insurmountable in the temporal order as in the spiritual order:

a) Causes of my lack of temporal certitude.

The catastrophic events which we are going through have taken from me, I dare not say all hope, but at least unshakable faith in the future of the great temporal works for which (in the absence of purely spiritual ends) it is beautiful and good to love and to sacrifice oneself. But the grace of joyous sacrifice is accorded only to him who dies with a thought ot love inseparable trom an absolute faith in a great realization ot the tuture. What makes me doubt about the future is less the dreadful sum of the present destructions which are not yet wholly consummated, than the ignoring of the laws of all temporal construction in all domains. I, too, would like to ignore these laws, I would wish that those who taught them to me should have been mistaken in order to be able to hope for the impossible. Renan, after 1870, wrote Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale: what would he not write today! I can unfortunately not give to my thought all the developments and all the precisions which it would require, but in order to speak here, only of the highest of temporal realities, the one for which so many of our friends have died: France, do you believe that France can recover its past glory and power with methods of government as primitive as those with which we are and apparently must remain afflicted?

If at least war brought us some progress in the moral order? It is an illusion which I no longer share. In order that "evil as suffering may triumph over evil as malignity," it is necessary:

1. that an energetic will served by a rigorous method of interior life effect this transformation: this first condition is manifestly lacking;

2. that suffering not surpass a certain limit beyond which it can only brutalize man instead of elevating him: but the present war slowly empties the brain and even the heart of the combatants.

The majority of those who will come out of this war will experience only a formidable appetite for enjoyment which no instruction will come to temper and which will lead us more surely towards universal mediocrity.

Pascal was very struck by our smallness in the face of the grandeur of the universe; I experience the same fright in considering our weakness in the presence of social movements whose inexorable march no will seems to be able to check.

b) Causes of my lack of spiritual certitude.

Incapable of finding repose of soul in the pursuit of purely temporal ends, I am left to seek, in an issuing forth of spiritual life, a more profound explanation of present events. My heart, famished for a substantial good, seemed to have to lead me onto this path, if here again I had not met the most serious difficulties.

Religion has only one goal: it is to render to the soul its free movement, contingencies (of which our individuality is the center) tend constantly to let us ignore our soul -- first principle of all profound life -- and lead us to do without its action. But psychological observation proves that our nature is so clever at deceiving us that we can never distinguish what comes from our soul and what comes from nature. There remains a single solution: it is to withdraw ourselves from nature, to abdicate all self-will and, objectifying the term of the progress of the soul (God is only the purified and perfectly ordered soul), to anticipate our present state and to live in a continual conversation with God from Whom alone we await our strength and our inspiration. But we can escape from nature in order to elevate ourselves to the supernatural only by still relying on this nature. Moreover, the supernatural is not completely heterogeneous to nature: it is only purified and ordered nature. The relations which we shall maintain with God will therefore have nothing specifically different from human relations; on the contrary, they will take the form of the strongest of human sentiments, that of the family. Arrived at this point, the difficulty reappears. We shall in vain have wished to create for ourselves the framework of a purified nature (or Supernatural) in order to escape from impure nature, we shall receive no aid from this Supernatural if we have not first of all taken precautions not to reduce this Supernatural to the level of our impure nature. This is the permanent danger from which the present Church has unfortunately not been able to preserve the flock of her faithful. But the danger is as menacing in solitary religious life: this is where the real practical difficulty exists for me. We cannot maintain in solitude direct relations with the celestial world without fearing the worst aberrations of the intelligence and of the heart. It would be necessary to be of a truly naive optimism to believe that mystical inspiration can renew itself constantly by itself, and above all not to understand that such a wholly ideal life (which does not even enjoy the advantage which human relations have of being subject to the inestimable control of reality) leaves the door wide open to the malignity of nature. Inevitably the effort to triumph over individualism, over intellectualism, over sentimentalism and over idealism, would turn against itself.

Conclusion. Unless he is an exceptional genius no man can accomplish such a bold religious experience without the aid of a group of companions having adopted the same judicious and rigorous discipline.

This group of companions is lacking to me and this is the reason why I judge it useless to attempt such a capital experience without any chance of success.

You will object to me: And the Church?

I do not think that the Church in the state in which she finds herself can be of any help to me. Very young I left her; I do not think that I can enter her again. If solitary religious life is perilous if not impossible, religious life in society is as full of snags: the faithful relies on the spiritual society and on its leaders to take charge of maintaining pure and alive the hidden meaning of doctrine; he forgets that a personal and constant effort is alone capable of causing him to recover the inspiration which he is losing the thirst for; the materiality of his relations with his co-religionists leads him to allow himself equally easy relations with God; the letter kills the spirit in him and little by little the routine of practices enslaves him to the point of causing him to forget their reason and the great unique goal: to restore to the soul its free movement. How few Christians today have kept the sense of the soul and a profound comprehension of the Christian method? Such a contact could only cool me and weaken me instead of stimulating me. Why did the Church not understand that it was necessary to watch above all over the purity of doctrine and over its practice rather than to modernize it and to popularize it in the vain design of gaining the multitude of the mediocre? This politics was to lead her to the degree of abasement in which we see her.

Georges Sorel often returned to this idea that one cannot meditate too much: the fact is that it is the regular Orders which have made the grandeur and the astonishing youth of the Church. It is necessary that a few groups of severely selected men, perfectly trained thanks to the monastic life, be dedicated to the search for the absolute, in order to maintain the living religious tradition.

"There is no doubt," writes Sorel, "that certain religious Orders have been very efficacious educators of heroism; unfortunately, for a number of years the monastic institutes seem to have made serious efforts to take on the secular spirit with a view to better succeeding with society people. As a result of this new situation the Church today lacks the conditions which have so long occasioned the appearance, maintained the energy, and popularized the direction of heroic leaders; conciiators no longer have much to fear from the spoil-sports."

A second objection prevents me from embracing the Christian religion, although convinced of the eternal truth of the method of Christian life. I wish to be of my century: not in order to espouse its errors, but to understand its preoccupations, its needs, its tendencies, in order to be able to mingle with my contemporaries and to act on them by the strength of my convictions. But I doubt that the Christian myth can flourish again in the state of the present world; we will no longer know the high civilization of the Middle Ages. Then would it not be better to seek to utilize the Christian method in another manner?

I did not believe that I ought to disguise any of my thoughts or any of my judgments. I regret only that time did not permit me to give them a somewhat less imperfect form. But the main thing was to act by writing to you: already it seems to me that I am a little less ready to sink into despair because perhaps you will be able to give me the alms of some advice or to indicate to me some salutary reading.

Pardon the boldness which impelled me to write to you; but then who said: "Knock and it shall be opened to you." Receive, Sir, the expression of my grateful sentiments.

P. Villard

Villard Pierre, volunteer in the 112th Infantry regiment, presently convalescing at Nice, Grand Palais, 2 Bd de Cimiez (Maritime Alps).

P.S. I will be arriving in Paris for a short stay on Thursday the 19th, in the evening. I shall remain there Friday the 20th, Saturday the 21st, and perhaps Sunday, before leaving again for Nice. If I could have the opportunity of meeting you either in Paris or in Versailles, I believe that I would derive the greatest profit from it. If this were possible for you, you could let me know by leaving a word for me at General Delivery rue Vaugirard, opposite the Luxembourg (Paris-Luxembourg Office).

21st of April, 1917. Visit of Pierre Villard. In this poor soldier with the face of a contemplative one divines a soul eager for purity and for the absolute, for whom to feel the things of the spirit has become the great need, and whom the loss of faith (if indeed he truly lost it) has left in a vacillation without remedy; for he is too perspicacious to be content with a substitute. He is in great anxiety, which resembles a spiritual trial sent by God. He committed himself to follow a very vivid internal light which showed him with all the brilliance of evidence the value and the fecundity of sacrifice. Now this light has completely disappeared, and he finds himself caught as it were in a trap in the distressing miseries of that military life which he himself went to seek, and in the terrible reality of that total risk which he himself willed -- no longer knowing (at least sensibly) if he was right to will it.

8th of May, 1917. Wrote to Pierre Villard, in answer to a letter from him dated the 3rd of May (see further on).

[I saw Pierre Villard again two or three times, in the course of leaves; correspondence with him continued regularly; his letters, especially the last ones, indicate an admirable and profoundly moving spiritual progress. In May 1918 he is sent to the front. He is killed the 28th of June 1918. (The military medal was granted to him posthumously in 1921.)]

6th of July, 1918. Learned of the death of Pierre Villard. The news of this death is given to us by Abbé Charles Rolin, the stretcher-bearer in the same regiment, in a letter (sent to Paris, it follows me to Vernie, then from there to Versailles) which both grieves us and shows us the mercies of God concerning a soul which was dear to us and for which we prayed a great deal. Friendship which took shape in a climate of eternal snows -- we knew of him only his moral solitude, his high desires, and the heroism of his heart.

 


II. Correspondence between Pierre Villard and J. M.

[I received twenty-three letters from Pierre Villard (including the first, which was read above). I publish here this correspondence between him and me, cutting out some passages that are irksome or devoid of interest.

This correspondence exists (as also the letters which we received from Léon Bloy) in the archives of the Study Center at Kolbsheim.]

From Pierre Villard: Nice, the 3rd of May, 1917.

Dear Sir, in leaving you I felt entirely incapable of thanking you, so much did every human expression seem weak to me in comparison with the aid which you very kindly granted me in such a grave debate. Also, I thought that the best manner to show you my gratitude was to tell you that I was a little nearer to the Source of life to which you invite me, and that consequently I was able to better appreciate the wholly special quality of your solicitude. But I have waited in vain, and I can unfortunately not announce to you this good news.

I take refuge in vain in the "cell of self-knowledge," the conviction of my natural weakness no longer appears to me as profound nor above all as rich in insights as formerly. I try in vain to gather together my ideas, to interrogate them, to squeeze them: I do not succeed in finding again their substantial reality. I suffer above all from not being able to know again the reality of that Idea which was at once all Sentiment and all Will so indissolubly united that emotion seemed to me to be in direct ratio to the precision and to the logical rigor of thought. Towards it, all realities caused my mind to converge, for it illuminated them all and assigned to each its just value: I had a "watch," as Pascal says. I defined this Idea as follows: the soul become intoxicated with itself because having abdicated all intoxications; the soul attaching itself solely to Being and rejecting every germ of death; the soul having re-established its order and becoming conscious of all that it owed itself; and also: the soul having realized all measure and all spontaneity through the virtue of sacrifice. I now see well that all these forms of the same Idea fused into a sentiment of Love which vivified them all. But in vain I strive to go deeper into all these diverse expressions, to gather together all these scattered fragments, I cannot give re-birth to this Idea which gave them their whole reality.

Rereading notes taken at that time, I remember how much I was struck by this thought of Pascal: that an end could not be a true end if it is not the principle. Thought taken up again by Bergson and which Péguy and Sorel have so well illustrated. I discovered then that ends were not lacking (and most noble and most beautiful ends!) which proposed themselves to the activity of man, but that in actual fact man did not pursue any of them because he did not nourish his soul on them and had not realized them first in himself through love, and that thus he stove for great phantoms.

I remember also that having recognized how little man is inclined to good, how incapable he is of working at a great work for the sole glory of this work and not for his own, I judged that the main thing was to teach man to love and for this to know himself and to sacrifice himself. But at the same stroke I had perceived by a sudden illumination the soul as principle of action, and this soul which I envisaged first as a means of a great social work appeared to me as the only true end of every temporal work.

I know all of this by memory, but can no longer even repeat it with that perfect logic which convinced my mind. My soul has ceased to desire, and I am listless.

Perhaps at that time my heart was more sensitive to earthly goods: I sought to snatch my father from death and I knew better the value of life; I hoped that my country would again find the wise method of a realist politics and I loved France better, I thought of returning to service, and fearing this separation for my family I had a better sense of how disinterested a father's affection must become. Péguy had also helped me to admire all human greatness. Also, when I began to think that all this greatness was only miserable greatness if it did not have for its end the greatness of the soul, I understood at the same stroke the infinite value of this soul. Is this not an explanation of the reflective and cold (if I may venture to say so) enthusiasm which then supported me? Did not the passage of Pascal into worldly life (Méré, Miton) have a great influence on his conversion?

I could not bring back with me from Paris the books which you recommended to me (the bookshops closing at 6 o'clock). I received them only last Saturday.

Up to Chapter X, The Life of St. Catherine{1} disturbed me a little. I have little taste for these attempts at edification. Even if one considers that it is a question of a select creature in communication with the Absolute, there are stories which seem extravagant because they touch on the absurd.

On the contrary, the Dialogue of St. Catherine filled my mind with satisfaction: what admirable good sense allied to such boldness! What sureness of psychological observation! What incredible richness of life! How she knows how to lead us "with a firm step and with a light hand" as far as the highest summits of contemplation, this little saint who always repeats to us: "Act courageously!"

I also read the encyclicals: I would need elucidations and commentaries for them.

If I am to receive inspiration and strength from On High, I ask you, dear Sir, to please pray God to make Himself known to me under the form of Light. St. Catherine advises us indeed to renounce even "spiritual self-esteem"; but I am still very far from this perfection and indeed I must admit that I will be able to believe in this God whom I have already sought so long only in the measure in which He will be willing to reveal Himself to my intelligence. May I be able to prepare myself well to receive the fruit of your prayers!

I still have thirteen days before me and I desire with all my heart to employ them to the best of my ability in this search. When I am in the army, my mind will no longer be able to adhere to Truth if it has not already done so, for I would be afraid of believing in God under the pressure of events as in an object of consolation, whereas I wish first to see in Him only a creative principle.

Please accept, dear Sir, the expression of my most profoundly grateful sentiments.

From Jacques Maritain: Versailles, 8th of May, 1917 (St. Michael the Archangel).

Dear Sir and friend,

Excuse me for not having replied to your good letter as rapidly as I would have wished. I have a multitude of urgent affairs to settle, having been assigned on the 30th of April to armed service (I have never been a soldier), and having to leave in a few days (unless I am granted a postponement until the end of the school year).

If I have not written to you, at least I have thought of you a great deal, and each morning at Mass I ask God to lead you into His admirable Light. Your soul, I believe I have well perceived, is made for contemplation, it will breathe only in the pure and virgin air of living Truth; and as well for God who loves you and wants you, as for you who wants life, I have an immense desire that you both find rapidly that which you seek -- that you find each other.

For this I can only pray, and offer to Jesus the few troubles which He is pleased to send me -- and I do it gladly. For the rest, it is He who acts, it is He who works within you, and who will show Himself to you at the bend of the road. And would you seek Him, if you had not found Him? It is asked of you only to prepare your soul and to hold it disposed, in waiting and desire. Expectans expectavi -- et consolatus sum [I awaited with hope -- and I was consoled]. I cannot remember without emotion, and without thinking of the days when I suffered like you, the words of that poor father who said to Jesus: Credo, Domine, adjuva incredulitatem meam [I do believe, Lord! Help my unbelief].

What you tell me of your interior state does not surprise me at all. You had for a moment -- favored by a whole concurrence of natural circumstances, and by one of those marvellous coincidences of intellectual fecundity and of love's ardor which are so rare in ordinary life -- a grace of illumination. I do not believe that you can regain it just as it was, for it was given to you for something else, and for something more beautiful and greater; so that wishing to seize it again artificially and by your own strength can only give you the impression of reassembling lifeless fragments.

It is because the Idea which you then lived, and that kind of revelation of the Soul, were only a messenger sent from very far before the face of the King, and charged with announcing His approach. Ecce sponsus venit, exite obviam ei [The Bridegroom is coming. Go to meet Him]. Once the Message had been brought, the Messenger went away again. It is not you who had sent him, it is not you who can call him back. And if you took for an end or for a term this means and this call, you would exhaust yourself in a vain individualism, and in a kind of egoism. There is a truth infinitely more beautiful than what you guessed was there; or rather, what you sensed in an unstable intuition and which you will no doubt later find still very-dim and very-earthly, it is this same Truth which is wholly pure in the light of Revelation, and which lets us know in Himself the very-good Father from whom we come. There is only one means of possessing it in a stable, and truly divine, and deifying manner. It is to receive it from God through the public, universal, catholic, intellectually defined teaching of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, of that mysterious Society, visible like the city built on the mountain, although secret in its profound life and in its spirit, which alone says: I have the deposit of the infallible Word and I am myself infallible, I engender for divine life, I can cure souls and remit their sins, I give them grace by my sacraments, I unceasingly produce Saints, I distribute the Blood of God, I offer without interruption a Sacrifice, not fictitious or symbolic, but true and real, in which every sacrifice has its exemplar and its power.

Then, when you have abandoned yourself, and when you have, by an act of rational submission, adhered by faith to the First Truth, then, under a new form, the spiritual joys of which you have had a foretaste will be given back to you, a hundredfold and with a superabounding measure. "Ah!" said Ruysbroeck the Admirable, "if we knew the sweetness that God gives, and the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit!"

-- Certainly yes, I pray God that He will reveal himself to your intelligence, that He will make himself known to you under the form of Light, He who is Light par excellence. There is no "spiritual self-esteem" in asking for this, for we are made for Light.

I am happy that you like the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna, which I also like so much. Do you have the Catechism of the Council of Trent? Do you also have a New Testament? I must finish this letter in haste. If you need any elucidations concerning the encyclicals or concerning another of your readings, do not hesitate to write, I shall reply to you as soon as I can.

Believe, dear Sir and friend, in my profound sympathy and in my affectionate devotion.

I am sending you an article which now dates back several years and which will perhaps interest you, in spite of its imperfections. . . .

From Pierre Villard: 17th of May, 1917.

I am leaving Nice in a few hours.

I hope that military life will be a purifying life for me. I am taking along the Dialogue of St. Catherine, and Pascal.

From Pierre Villard: 4th of June, 1917.

I am now completing in a training-center behind the lines a period of instruction as grenadier, which is to conclude at the end of this week. Immediately afterwards, I will leave in support. I had taken along with me "Christ in the Church" (by Benson) in order to continue reading it, but on arriving here a comrade who was going up to the front asked me to give him this book. So I was very happy to receive the copy which you sent me.

I strive to follow my métier as a soldier gladly. I suffer above all from not finding around me any "faith" of métier. What has become of that conception of the army as school of pride and fortress of honor which Psichari revealed to us?

In hours of rest I try to find again some spiritual thought and to nourish myself on it. But how difficult it is to create in oneself a true interior silence! This silence which I have known, and which alone lets one perceive the voice of the soul: sensation having ceased to fascinate, the intelligence to stir and the heart to beat madly. Will I again taste this pure serenity? Sometimes I wonder if I am not pursuing a vain phantom and, with astonishment, watching other men live, if I have not lost contact with realities and abdicated my good sense. Then it seems to me that never was my intelligence so weak and my heart so dog-tired and so dry. Nevertheless, impelled as it were by the force of the memory of a lost good, I continue to seek in spite of my discouragement and my weakness.

From Jacques Maritain: 21st of June, 1917.

The army Psichari was thinking of, the one he loved, was the professional army. .

How will you judge Benson's book? I do not know if its manner, quite specially English, will please you. What I would have wished you to discern is that the Church is not a material collection of individuals and of decrees, but a living mystery and a holy Person, incomprehensibly identified with Jesus Christ.

It pains me to think of your moral isolation, and for my part I do not cease to pray for you each day. Alone? No, you are not alone, for God stands at the door of your heart, and he knocks. You feel His presence, I believe, very near, behind this door: it takes so little for Him to enter, scarcely a heart-beat, a moment of kindness, a movement of surrender.

From Pierre Villard: 24th of June - 3rd of July, 1917.

I do not exaggerate at all: for whoever reflects on the march of events and knows the immense internal misery of modern society, it clearly appears that the last human institutions are collapsing, that the end of a great civilization will soon be here and that barbarism is again going to cover the world.

How in these conditions is one to observe the first commandment of all Christian life: to live constantly in joy?

Suffering in the present war can only be endured: thus it loses all elevating value. From the first chapters of the Dialogue, St. Catherine puts us on guard against false interpretations of the role of suffering. She affirms with vigor: "I have shown you, very dear daughter, how fault is not expiated in this finite time by any suttenng endured only as suttering. I have told you that it is expiated by suffering endured with desire, love, and contrition of heart, not by reason itself of the suffering, but by reason of the desire of the soul."

I carry too tired a soul in a still more tired body to practice such a Christianity which demands the greatest vigor and the most constant courage. Thanks for having thought of me on the occasion of the Feast of St. Peter.

I return exhausted with fatigue and with heat: we work the whole night a few hundred metres from the Germans. In order to get some rest we have to go through interminable kilometres of communication trenches every day. Sector moreover very tranquil except for the gas, against which we have to be perpetually on guard.

From Pierre Villard: 6th of July, 1917.

I have just learned that I go up tomorrow in support: probably to the 26th Infantry regiment, crack regiment of the 20th Corps. I do not hide from you that I am a little affected by it: but not dejected. Never have I felt stronger, more resolved, more happy to have enlisted.

My sole fear is to meet death without having arrived at the full Light. May I die -- if such is my destiny -- in a thought of faith and of hope!

More than ever I need your help and your counsels.

From Pierre Villard: 9th of July, 1917.

I hasten to tell you my new address: Soldat au 26e d'Infanterie, 10e Cie, S.P. 126.

Forty-four hours spent in the 26th Infantry regiment have sufficed to correct my pessimism: what lofty morale! What magnificent spirit of submission and of sacrifice!

Finally I breathe a pure air: a truly French air. I am profoundly happy.

From Jacques Maritain: 12th of July, 1917.

I just now received your letter giving me your new address, and I write you this note in haste to tell you with what affection I follow you in my thoughts and in my heart.

The difficulties which you indicate to me in a preceding letter would vanish of themselves before an act of faith, for they stem now and always only from the observation of the radical powerlessness of man, left to his own strength, in the temporal order and in the spiritual order.

As to suffering endured, it is meritorious and elevating from the moment that it is endured with love; and this love which we cannot give to ourselves, God gives it to us gratuitously, the vigor and the courage required by Christianity do not come from us, it would be folly to expect them from ourselves. They come from God alone. Come quickly to my help, said St. Philip Neri to God, otherwise I am capable of becoming a Mohammedan! -- Without Me, said Jesus, you can do nothing, sine me nihil potestis facere. You are asked, my dear friend, to turn away from yourself and to turn towards God, and to expect no good except from Him alone, from Him, I say, who is the living God, Being Itself, the Principle of all reality and of all goodness -- and not an ideal projection of yourself -- of Him without whom you can neither be, nor act, nor think, nor will.

I am sending you a medal of the Blessed Virgin, and it would be very nice if you would wear it on you, not through superstition, but as a sign of our spiritual affection, and because the humblest material signs can be the occasion of a blessing or of a grace from God.

From Pierre Villard: 2nd of August, 1917.

Dear Sir, Just a word to tell you how much I appreciated your letter of the 12th. I have attached your medal of the Blessed Virgin to a rosary which my father always carried on him and from which I do not part through filial piety. It is with a sentiment of the same order, still wholly human, that I preciously keep this image of the Blessed Virgin.

I was not able to reply to you sooner although I often planned to. For three weeks I have been undergoing a very great physical effort, scarcely sleeping three hours a day, and besides in what conditions! I hope to go on leave soon and to be able to write to you in full liberty of spirit.

My first impressions of the 26th regiment were tinged with a little too much enthusiasm and my optimism resulted in great part as the effect of contrast with the 112th regiment. This is to tell you that I still live in a great moral solitude. Does there still exist a living faith of whatever nature it may be?

I feel very abandoned, not hoping for any temporal compensation for my efforts, of any kind, not even that (which would be, however, the only true one) of believing in the usefulness of my sacrifice. More than ever I discern in the course of my daily observations how much the human is incapable of sufficing for itself.

Nevertheless, I believe myself less incapable of abandoning the pure critical attitude in order to attain to and to participate in Life. I perhaps glimpse the dawn of Hope. . . .

Believe, Dear Sir, in my profoundly grateful and affectionate sentiments.

From Pierre Villard: 5th of August, 1917.

I am planning to go and spend 24 hours in Paris. But I am not at all certain of being able to realize this plan.

From Pierre Villard: 27th of August, 1917.

Received with joy your letter of the 20th.

Know only that I live in union of heart with you and believe myself closer to your thought. St. Catherine enlightened me on a grave error of method which you had already pointed out to me. I am more eager for spiritual enjoyments and spiritual consolations (of which I am moreover totally deprived: which is logical) than for the real progress of my soul. It seems to me that I am on the point of leaving the hell of doubt, of anxiety and of confusion to enter into the kingdom of certitude, of strong assurance and of free action. All that I suffer from grave anxieties, from indifference, from hatred and from ingratitude; above all, the frightful void of my acts which drove me to despair: all these griefs would therefore not be sterile.

From Jacques Maritain: 7th of September, 1917.

All that I can tell you -- in a very imperfect manner -- is that I feel very vividly and very profoundly that God loves you.

I am sending you a little book which I like very much: a catechism written at the behest and according to the counsels of Saint Pope Pius X. You will perhaps be happy to have at hand this very simple résumé of a doctrine vast like the infinite.

From Pierre Villard: 26th of September, 1917.

Although my reflection is annihilated by the tyranny of my métier, a profound and hidden work takes place in me which will cause you joy.

From Pierre Villard: 21st of October, 1917.

You rightly guessed that I was in a new disposition of mind which rendered possible to me the understanding of the catechism. Arrived at the point where I am, this reading became opportune for me, even indispensable. How can one not be touched by the admirable wisdom of a doctrine which expresses itself in such full and such firm formulas! Thus the doctrine of distrust of ourselves is the one which has been able to conquer uncertainty of soul, the greatest evil of man.

I am infinitely grateful to you, dear Sir, for not having been afraid to speak to me the language of Faith and of Charity, in spite of my so great estrangement.

From Jacques Maritain: 21st of October, 1917.

In these days in which you have perhaps to suffer more than usual, my thought goes towards you with a particular affection.

But yes, in the depths of your soul there is taking place between God and you things more important than the course of the earth and of the stars; for it is a question there of the Unique Necessary.

I wonder if sending some book would be acceptable to you? I have, however, the impression that in the lofty debate in which you are engaged, external helps are very little. The soul is alone in treading the wine-press, alone in making the decisive choice. Around it there is only the absolutely hidden presence of the prayers of Heaven and of earth.

From Pierre Villard: 27th of October, 1917.

Dear Sir, My leave is advanced contrary to my expectations.

I hope to be in Paris on the 30th, barring hindrance still to be feared. I shall not fail to go to Versailles: true goal of my trip.

From Pierre Villard: Nice, 1st of November, 1917.

Very dear Sir, I arrived this morning at my mother's. I found her in her bed paralyzed and voiceless, struck by an attack for five days. She retains however all her lucidity of mind: I was only too convinced of it when I met her gaze full of an inexpressible tenderness. You guess my distress. . . .

I no longer have anyone but her. And I have sacrificed her to my self-esteem perhaps more than to my duty.

What is the meaning of this new misfortune? May I be able to penetrate it and to inspire my whole life with it.

Thanks for your support which my weakness prevents me from appreciating as it merits.

I venture to hope that you will still keep Léon Bloy in spite of his great age. With all my heart to you.

From Pierre Villard: 3rd of November, 1917.

Dear Sir, I lost my mother yesterday. With her has died the last profound affection which I kept on this earth.

I am transporting her body to Tours where my father already rests, while waiting until I can bring them back to Nancy after the war.

I have thought of you a great deal during these three days: your friendship is for me a refuge against despair.

It is at such times that I truly appreciate its unique quality. With all my heart to you.

From Jacques Maritain: 4th of November, 1917.

Very dear friend, I find your letter{2} today on returning from Bourg-la-Reine, where I passed the night sitting up with the body of poor Léon Bloy, who died Saturday at 6 o'clock in the evening after a long agony. With all my heart, dear friend, I share in your suffering I pray to God for your mother and for you. God, by the very fact that He is God, treats us in a manner whose meaning our human gaze can scarcely penetrate, or rather which it understands only after the event, when time, and our experience of the graces that suffering brings, have been able to disengage for our eyes the tenderness which hides itself in this always strong and generous treatment. Without yet knowing in what manner, I am sure that this new misfortune, which brings you nearer to the living mystery of the Cross, which causes this mystery to throb at the very center of your heart, will increase the light and purity in your soul. But be strong, do not let yourself be shaken by scruples whose value is absolutely unverifiable, do not ask if you have acted through self-esteem or otherwise. Hurl all the past into God. Do we not know that we are nothing, that we can do nothing good by ourselves? Does not St. Paul affirm that everything, absolutely everything, even the faults which they have committed, cooperates for the good of those who love God? Diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum [all things cooperate for the good of those who love God]. Turn yourself entirely towards Him from whom every hope comes, turn yourself entirely towards the light which is before you, not behind you, and whose promise is already present and active in you. Tell God that you do not want to refuse Him anything, and He will give you everything.

Tell me news of yourself, and of your dear invalid person. I hope that this letter written in haste will reach you in Nice before your departure. Believe in all my affection.

From Jacques Maritain: 9th of November, 1917

What to say to you in these sad days except that I am thinking of you with tenderness, and that I am praying for you with all my heart? Suffering has a power not only purifying, but illuminating, and there are truths which one sees better through tears. I ask God to give to your suffering the plenitude of this power, I ask you to hope, more than ever.

From Pierre Villard: Tours, 13th of November, 1917.

Dear Sir, Before leaving this land of Touraine where my father and my mother now rest, where so many human grandeurs solicit the soul towards a Superior Order, an Order which is substantial and true, I wish to address to you a short note of remembrance.

I have tried in vain until this day to fortify my weak heart which devours itself in its aridity. However, I understand more what transformations these two little words could accomplish in me: God exists. Such a proposition, if it were believed, but believed with all the consequences of an absolute and total belief, must convulse the world. "I am Who am, you are the one who is not." O immense wisdom expounded in brief syllables! said St. Catherine. All the divine mercy overflows from this Existence towards this nothingness: "If one intends to say that man is too little to merit communication with God, one must be very great to make this judgment." Once again the inflexible logic of Pascal triumphs over my blind heart.

Shall I soon find the strength of abandonment into the arms of God? Or shall I never know anything but the weakness of abandonment to inhuman matter and to the chaos of events?

Shall I be stronger tomorrow than yesterday, when every human aid will have left me and when I shall bend under the weight of the horrible necessity of war?

I remain always very affectionately yours.

From Jacques Maritain: 10th of December, 1917.

More than ever, my dear friend, you are alone with God. With God who is more father, more mother, more brother and more friend to you than any creature. And who breaks everything in us in order that we love Him entirely. But in this solitude, think that the prayers of the whole Church invisibly envelop you.

From Pierre Villard: 4th of January, 1918.

I can only deplore the absence of all intellectual life rendered totally impossible by the rigor of the temperature and the difficulties of the war. Virtue cannot increase without the exercise of the intelligence, and the latter necessitates a minimum of physical wellbeing. This experience makes it clearer to me what high moral intentions could inspire the proletarian claims and what civilizing power they acquired from this fact, even in their most violent explosions.

Military life has become for all of us soldiers a slow burial of all our faculties. This is perhaps what is most profoundly sad in this war. We act mechanically under the immediate influence of necessity or of an order, but without any spontaneity, because in our métier the principal motives which cause a man to be interested in his task are absent.

These conditions of existence constitute an obstacle to all life, however incomplete it may be: a fortiori to Christian life, life constantly gathered upon itself and tending towards action. I do not believe I form a false idea of Christian life in saying that it is the highest expression of artistic life; I mean that the Christian models the external works to which he devotes himself under the inspiration of the Truth which illuminates him, as the sculptor models the clay under the constant inspiration of his Idea. The Christian spirit is inventive because it does not abandon itself to habit, but constantly refers to the voice of God, from whom alone it awaits grace, that is to say, strength and inspiration. It is, by this very fact, unifying of all the moments of existence, anxious to have Truth penetrate into all its acts, even the most humble, even the most routine, precisely in order to take away from them this mechanical character and to fecundate them with a new meaning. A lively circulation establishes itself between [on the one hand] ourselves and all the moments of our life, which are so to speak the members -- and [on the other hand] God, who is the heart. To cut oneself off from God for a single moment is strictly speaking to die, and this is indeed why the Christianity of our moderns who make two parts in their life -- one for God, the other for the world -- is a dead and sterile Christianity.

But this "artistic" conception presupposes that all our external acts lend themselves to receive this new meaning which divine inspiration confers on them and that in some manner we are free to fashion our external works as the sculptor models the clay. In other words, a material base is needed for our interior life. The external work is nothing by itself, but insofar as it incarnates the spirit and because it strengthens it and purifies it in contact with reality, it becomes the necessary condition for the rationality and for the enrichment of the interior life.

This impossibility of devoting myself to external works, of causing divine Truth to produce fruits outside of myself, to penetrate all my acts with it: this is precisely what prevents me from adhering to this Truth. I do not wish to fall into idealism. I do not feel any taste for a Christianity cut off from reality, which turns inevitably to sentimentalism and begets only powerlessness and debility.

From Jacques Maritain: 18th of January, 1918.

This "burial of all faculties" caused by military fatigue could be compared, I believe, in a soul like yours, to one of those "passive purifications," by interior darkness and interior aridity, of which the mystics speak. God does his own work, while the soul perceives in itself only nothingness and inertia. What you write to me about the Christian life is certainly very true, and we must indeed tend to be free, fresh and alert under the influence of grace. But do not forget that in this life we are not the first cause, but mere instruments of one stronger and wiser than we, and all the better the more we are instruments. This life is not our work, but that of God in us. There is therefore no reason at all to be disheartened if God wishes to use our heaviness and our powerlessness rather than our spiritual activity and our spiritual agility. Everything is equally good under His hand. A prayer, an act of faith, an act of love -- these are very positive and very real works and fruits, and ones which we can produce in any situation. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can and should prevent us from adhering to divine Truth, because this adhesion is a matter between It and us, without any external consideration having to interfere with it, and because we must trust in this Truth, sure that it will indeed be able to transfigure our life when we will have abandoned ourselves to It. Who will separate me from the charity of Christ? said St. Paul.

From Pierre Villard: 17th of January, 1918.

How can we not not feel a burning desire to introduce a little seriousness and order into our life? But can total confidence exist if an essential goal is not recognized and practiced?

My thoughts turn towards you with ever more confidence as towards the last fixed point capable of resisting the flux of events.

A week ago I sent you my new address in a letter which, I hope, has reached you.

From Jacques Maritain: 20th of January, 1918.

I just now received your letter of the 17th of January, which crossed with the one which I just wrote to you. I would like to answer you today with a single remark: -- Can total confidence exist if an essential goal is not recognized and practiced? Certainly not. But the essential goal is there: it is to do that for which we were made, that is to say, to save our soul, which is not made for the earth or for any terrestrial goal, but to be united with God in eternity. All the rest is purely secondary.

And the means of recognizing and of practicing this goal is there also. It is Faith, and it is the life of grace, which do not come and cannot come from us and from our efforts, but from God alone; and which we are assured of obtaining if we ask them of God through prayer and of the Church in the Sacraments. "I believe, Lord, help my unbelief," said the father of a family to Jesus. And this prayer pleased Jesus.

Believe, my dear friend, in all my affection.

[My letters after this date are missing in the packet which was given to me after the death of Pierre Villard.]

From Pierre Villard: 28th of March, 1918, Holy Thursday.

Think a little for me who cannot find in my perpetual agitation a single hour of substantial and fruitful reflection. Ought not well-conducted thought always end in a prayer?

From Pierre Villard: 1st of May, 1918. -- Tours.

Dear Sir, I left you yesterday evening with my heart a little less charged with bitterness, joyous even, as I had not been for a long time.

I felt myself rejuvenated by contact with you, and as it were bathed with the tranquil lights of your intelligence.

But how not to curse once more this life which war imposes on us, which takes away from us the sense of the Absolute and the taste for the substantial happiness for which we are made?

I have begun reading the work of Father Clérissac{3}: my interest increases with each page.

Very respectfully yours.

From Pierre Villard: 10th of May, 1918.

Dear Sir, I very much regretted not being able to bring back to you myself the work of Father Clérissac which you kindly entrusted to me. I returned it to you by mail before leaving Tours. My first too hasty reading left me longing to meditate as they deserve these strong and dense pages, several of which have awakened a profound echo in me. I neglected to make a note of the publisher: I would ask you when the opportunity arises to tell me the name so that I can have this work sent to me as soon as it is published.

Although still too distracted from myself by extraneous preoccupations, I have been able however during my leave to enjoy a few hours of fruitful solitude and to renew the thread of my abandoned reflections. In proportion as my hungry intelligence bit into the substantial truths for which it is made, I experienced from them a more profound serenity.

First result: I succeeded in getting rid of a doubt concerning the orientation of my life. I often wondered if my search for an interior life was not solely and in the last analysis the sign of a weakness: my inaptitude to lend myself to events and to society, and to move in the midst of them. Certainly this inaptitude is a weakness; but I augmented it with another weakness which consisted not in the search for an interior and substantial good, but in doubt concerning the legitimacy of this search.

This baneful doubt could only prevent me from developing my proper virtualities, leading me into a way which I was not destined to follow. Is my lot so bad? I am refused the knowledge of how to enjoy contingencies and to dominate them (temporally), but I am given the taste for spiritual goods. The first power would reserve for me, it is true, immediate satisfactions and the esteem of men: but which is more desirable: the world or God?

I was confirmed in this sentiment by the reading of a chapter on "Maine de Biran" in the beautiful posthumous work of Victor Delbos, Figures et doctrines de philosophes. I can only be very sympathetic to the thought of Maine de Biran because he ran into the same difficulty as I: that of maintaining that subtle and unstable harmony between what he calls "his self" and his internal or external impressions. Incapable of abandonment to external events, yet too passionately fond of life not to feel the void of a Stoic will, he had inevitably to seek the proper Object of his soul. Object to which the soul can abandon itself without fearing to lose itself, Object source of life.

If the Germans allow me, I promise to follow through his Journal In time that long and sorrowful elaboration of the sense of God of which Maine de Biran has left us a precious testimony.

I desire with all my heart, dear Sir, to be able, during this period of four months, to work a little in order to draw nearer to your thought whose lights and fruitful sweetness I envy. Very respectfully yours.

From Pierre Villard: 18th of June, 1918.

Dear Sir, I came out alive from Courcelles; but many of my comrades found a cruel end there. My Company Commander,{4} of whom I thought very highly, was killed first. Of the eight officers in our two engaged Companies, only one returned from the lines . . .

During these frightful hours I felt myself in the hand of God; and I thought at what infinite value should be esteemed the time granted for the work of God, by those whom death avoids.

The distress of my body smothered that foolish Stoic pride which prevented me from praying to God for an end which is not solely spiritual; remembering that other great distress, the one which impelled Péguy trembling for the life of his child to go and throw himself at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, I asked this tender Mother to preserve my life at least until the day when I shall perceive Light in its very Source.

I am entirely exhausted physically; on the other hand the march of events and the spectacle of the ruins accumulated in the heart of France distress me infinitely. In your friendship alone I draw some consolation for the barbarism of our age.

Consequently your letters are always the most welcome of all.

I thank you very much for having found the Letters of St. Catherine of Siena for me. Could you ask the bookstore to send it to me at my uncle's, "Docteur Villard, avenue de la Gare, Avize (Mane)." I add to my letter fifteen francs to that end. I do not dare to have it sent here, for we are going to find ourselves again in conditions such that no package could reach us.

Believe, dear Sir, in my affectionate gratitude.

From Pierre Villard: 27th of June, 1918.

Very dear Sir, In this night watch I reread with all the composure of which I am capable your letter received yesterday, which has caused me such a sweet and such a full joy. I would like the great breath of love which inspires it to pass into my soul without losing anything of its spontaneity, of its power and of its light.

In a few hours I shall traverse trials as difficult as those of Courcelles. These last ones were salutary for me, and so God in His goodness sends me new ones. It is necessary therefore that I feel little and miserable in my body, after having felt little and miserable in my still proud spirit, in order to compel my prayer, and to know that serene confidence, that tender abandonment into the hands of the Master of the eternal Order.

Oh! yes, open and "gaping" I am. May the All Substance pour into my heart an always growing desire for His Love and His Light.

I am more fraternally yours than ever.

From Abbé Charles Rolin: 30th of June, 1918.

Sir, I have just fulfilled a very painful mission: one of the last wishes of your friend Pierre Villard had been that you be informed in case of accident. This sad event has just taken place. Pierre was struck mortally in the course of a relief by the fragment of a shell. His body rests now near a bit of the earth of France recently regained from the enemy by our regiment. As priest I shall tell you that this dear departed one had taken a great step towards Jesus Christ. Grace for a long time had worked his soul which was very upright and eager for moral perfection. He was incontestably of the soul of the Church, if not already of the body, and in spite of the doubts and the obscurities which still remained in him, I had judged it fitting to give him the sacrament of forgiveness which he had come to seek from the minister of Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Church I come to thank you for the spiritual charity which you had for him, for many times he spoke to me of you and told me to what degree you had been the instrument of this interior work of grace in him.

He leaves among his comrades and with his leaders many regrets, because for the latter he was the model of a conscientious soldier and for the former of a goodness which touched even the most insensitive.

What a misfortune that so many young persons, assets of the France of tomorrow, disappear in this way without having been able to do the good which one expected of them! But fortunately, thanks to the Communion of Saints, they will continue to live among us, to speak to us, to teach us, to raise us towards Heaven. I do not doubt that Pierre Villard, whom we had here on earth for friend, is for is, in Heaven, a protector.

Receive, Sir, in union of prayers and of suffering, the assurance of my devotion in Christ.

Ch. Rolin, stretcher-bearer Sergeant, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Section 126.

 


III. Gratitude to Pierre Villard

[It is astonishing to find oneself suddenly the debtor of someone whom one believed destitute of the goods of this world, and the heart is all the more full of gratitude as one was already bound to him by admiration and affection. The feelings of gratitude and the kind of astonishment which Pierre Villard's legacy to me excited in us always remained deep-rooted in our hearts. I would like our friends to continue to maintain, after us, the same sentiments towards this great soul.

A certain amount of material independence is a singularly favorable condition for devoting oneself to the works of the intellect, for trying in particular to enter into the profound life of a highly elaborated philosophical tradition, to enlarge its horizons and to transmit its message, while discerning the renewals and the recastings which it requires. Pierre Villard gave me this measure of independence. Without him it is probable that the extremely low salaries then paid at Institut Catholique would have obliged me to take on additional tasks which would have devoured my time and been an obstacle not only to study and to reflection, but also to the availability and the liberty of movement required by every real action, that is to say action of person to person, action on men and on the spirit of the time. Without the generosity of Pierre Villard and his purpose to have a half of his fortune serve the radiance of the ideas and of the inspiration for which he did me the honor of believing me missioned, the work of my whole life -- of our whole life, Raissa's, Vera's and mine -- could not have been what it was. Our liking for a modest life and for "humble means" was too profound to change; Raissa and Vera detested luxury and idleness, and in France as later in America we always worked hard and lived on a small scale. But the liberty which we enjoyed at Meudon enabled us to devote ourselves entirely (entirely? to tell the truth, what had been for Léon Bloy the cross of total poverty, the cross of illness was for us) to that life of the intelligence which we have always regarded as inseparable from the spiritual life and from the love and from the service of souls.]

24th of August, 1918. -- Letter from an attorney at Nancy, informing me that Pierre Villard appointed me his residuary legatee, conjointly with Maurras. Thunderstruck at the idea that he whom I took to be a poor student was the heir of a considerable fortune, deeply touched by his confidence. The will of Pierre Villard, writes Mr. Houot, bequeaths to the city of Nancy the property of Saurupt, for the Hospice des Orphelins de la Ville. The remainder is to be divided between Maurras and me.

30th of August, 1918. -- I learn of two letters of Pierre Villard joined to his will. One is of the 6th of May, 1918; the other, dated the 12th of July, 1917, is addressed to Maurras, Georges Sorel and myself (when he had drafted it he was thinking of also making Sorel his residuary legatee, afterwards he had renounced this idea). He tells us his desire that the fortune of his family "contribute to safeguard what remains of the intellectual and moral patrimony of our country" -- "the more I listen to the lessons of reality the more I am convinced that this patrimony cannot be saved without a return to the Christian method and without a gushing out of faith" -- and that he leaves us full liberty as to the modalities of the use of his inheritance, contenting himself with designating for us its general intention. Same clause in the letter of the 12th of July, 1917.

In this letter of 1917 he addresses himself first to Maurras and to Sorel. Then he writes, in the page which concerns me: "What is the living principle which will save me at once from intellectualism and from sentimentalism? Where can I draw the spirit of submission necessary for the clear view of painful realities and the strength to surmount them?

"I opened Pascal. You know, Monsieur Maritain, what lights then appeared to me and enraptured me. But you know also the hesitations and anxieties which remain with me.

"I have not yet the happiness of leading a life of positive faith. However, it seems to me that the true Christian is only the superior expression of the conscientious and obscure worker whom, in my métier of soldier, I am striving to become. Loyalty towards oneself, towards the work to be accomplished, towards France -- is it to lead me to loyalty towards a God whom I do not yet know?

"I am convinced that happiness belongs only to hearts perpetually obliged to pray, perpetually pure. I envy these limpid souls who are the living mirrors of God. I desire that through them, the Church will rise again from the profound abasement in which we see her. I do not wish to encourage mediocrity: I believe that a single holy soul would be more useful to humanity than a multitude of believers destitute of any mystical élan."

Autumn 1918. -- Examined recently the question of modalities. Consulted M. Millot, my confessor, whose advice is categorical. It is clear that he is right. Here I am charged with a responsibility which I alone can fulfill. In order to contribute to the renewal which Pierre Villard has in view weapons will have to be wielded freely. Maurras and I will each have to use them for the undertaking to which he has devoted his life. The means which Pierre Villard gives me I must employ in the service of Christian thought and of Christian spirituality: 1st through my effort in the philosophical and cultural order; 2nd through an action on souls exercised thanks to some center of spiritual radiance.

9th of January, 1920. -- Maurras proposes that he and I each put 50,000 francs into the Revue Universelle, in this manner the twofold status of the review would be indicated; the review would be on the one hand a forum for the ideas of Action française in the political order, on the other hand a forum for Christian thought, and in particular Thomist thought, in the philosophical order. Massis had spoken to me of this plan of a review last September, but not emphasizing so much the part of Action française; the review, he said, would need the audience of Action française in order to start, but would be an independent organ, without express connection with them.

I hesitate, consult, and decide to accept -- above all in memory of Pierre Villard, and of the manner in which he joined in his thought the work of Maurras and my own.

[Thus there was accentuated, alas, that kind of "friendly understanding" between Action française and me -- founded on an ambiguity and owing to my political naiveté at that time as also to the influence of Father Clérissac -- which I so much reproached myself for later, and which was to end at the time of the revolt of Action française against the Roman censures. All positive cooperation remained however limited to the undertaking of the Revue Universelle.

With regard to my proper field of activity, and the part attributed to it in the intentions of Pierre Villard, it was the house at Meudon, acquired in 1923, which was going to constitute the center of spiritual radiance which I envisaged. And of this house itself the center was to be its chapel (semi-public) with the Blessed Sacrament constantly present.

Casting a glance backwards now, I thank God for the way the decisions arrived at a little more than forty years ago fructified, regarding the manner in which I had to implement the intentions of Pierre Villard. However tempting it might have been in certain respects, no kind of "institutionalization" shifting my responsibilities on others, such for example as the foundation of a chair at the Institut Catholique de Paris,{5} could assure the impulse and diffuse the waves which these intentions called for. The task to be accomplished had to be a personal adventure, risking everything for everything. I was young then; and when I think of the kind of calumnies with which certain men of Action française or of Vichy were to beset us later, it occurs to me to wonder if I did well to have arranged nothing which could have protected us against them, to have bet solely on the evidence of our conscience and of our reason, and the confidence in our honor on which I did others the honor of counting. Be that as it may, I took these risks. If we consider the historical moment and the awakening to which, in spite of my lacks, our attempt contributed, I am far from regretting it.

I speak of these things now with a curious feeling of objectivity, because they have now become for me something foreign, and because it is as another than myself that I see myself involved in them. For some years I have been put by Him whom I serve on the too well lit road of the knowledge of oneself and of one's misery; and since a certain day of November 1960 I scarcely live except in the manner of a phantom. I can therefore say without fear of vainglory: it is a simple truth to state that in what happened at Meudon (I think of all the souls who came there to seek an inspiration, of the baptisms which took place there, of the conversions, of the religious vocations which originated there, of the Thomist Studies Circles and of their annual retreats, of the witness borne by collections like Roseau d 'Or and Les Iles, of the impulses which, born of Meudon, contributed to renewals in the spirit of the time, some of which have already passed into the common heritage) -- as in the long adventure constituted by my philosophical work and by my books, and by the books of Raissa, there was the very kind of combat of spirit with which Pierre Villard desired to be united. Whatever may have been the weaknesses of the man engaged in this combat, he conducted it as best he could. And in all things Raissa, in the midst of sufferings and of illness which expiated for him and for many others, constantly and magnificently assisted him in an admirable spirit of renunciation and of fervor.]


{1} [By Raymond of Capua.]

{2} [Of November lst.]

{3} [The Mystery of the Church.]

{4} [10th Company of the 26th Infantry.]

{5} What I was nevertheless able to do in this respect was to have appointed at the Institut Catholique de Paris, as my substitute, to whom I yielded my salary for some years, a young philosopher whose intellectual value and devotion to St. Thomas I particularly appreciated. His career as philosopher was thus assured.

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