University of Notre Dame
Jacques Maritain Center   


A faith to live by. I wonder whether the question is properly posed in these terms. What is necessary? What are we desperately needing? A faith to live by? Or a faith to live for, a faith to live and die for? Just because our very life is at stake, we have to rediscover a faith to live and die for.

Such as many of our contemporaries conceive of it, faith -- a faith to live by -- far from being defined by any intrinsic and irrecusable truth superior to man and humanlife -- is only something measured by human feeling or human needs, and destined to comfort human life's intellectual and social order, man's security in gaining possession of earth and mastery over nature. From the time of Descartes and John Locke on, faith in God progressively became for a great number this kind of a faith to live by. Finally the religious feeling shifted to the cult of man. Our fathers undertook and pursued, with infinite hopefulness, a courageous, stubborn and bright search after a faith to live by, which was faith in man. This faith, during some decades, seemed all-powerful and brought about splendid achievements, yet brittle.

The blunt fact, the terrible fact is that we have lost faith in man.

If such state of despair were to endure, Hitler would have won the war. For the deepest trend of Nazism, its burning lust, was to vilify man, to have man accepting his own baseness, wickedness and vacuity, and renouncing humanity. Europe and the world saw the hell and are still wounded by this vision. Knowingly or unknowingly, in the hidden psyche of common life, men are losing faith in man.

What is termed today atheistic existentialism is the clearest symptom of this fact. Kierkegaard's existentialism was the anguish of faith hunting for incomprehensible and unspeakable reality. Even Heidegger's existentialism hunts for the mystery of being through the heart-rending experience of nothingness. But atheistic existentialism, such as heralded in the recent years by writers who are submissive <2> mirrors of their time, does not experience the anger of man confronting nothingness, it experiences and declares a longing of man for nothingness. It expresses the temptation and desire [not to be longer]. Yet this is impossible. Longing for nothingness and condemned to be, man gives himself over.

Communism, which is the ultimate vicissitude of anthropocentric rationalism, endeavors indeed to save faith in man and offers itself as the last chance of optimism. Its optimism, however, is the optimism of mater's and technique's titanic and coercive energies, its man is totally absorbed in the life of a truthless and loveless god who is human dehumanised community. Faith in man, but in what kind of man? The real man, the human person, is devoured by an idol of man.

Well, has despair the last word? Are we bound to tragedy?

As a matter of fact, reason requests us to have faith in man. Let us turn aside from the present world of man, and look at the world of nature, I mean with unsophisticated gaze: we see that despite the all-pervading law of struggle and conflict, nature in its depths is permeated with an abyssal, supra-individual and inescapabale peace, which is the root goodness and universal strength of being. And man, as part of nature, has an essence which is good in itself. We see that the evolution of the cosmos and mankind is unstoppable, though constantly thwarted, movement toward higher forms of life and consciousness, and that from the age of the cave-man, the slow and painful progression of mankind testifies to energies in man which make any contempt of the human race childish and presumptuous. Consider with a little love any individual whatever in the anonymous common mass of poor humanity: the more you know him, the more you discover in him hidden resources in goodness that evil, however great it may be, has been unable to destroy. Man's hard condition comes from the fact that he is not only an animal of nature, but an animal of reason and freedom -- which are weak in him and are nevertheless his indelible fortitude and a token of abiding dignity. All failures and stains cannot efface his original greatness.

Yes, we see that we must have faith in man. But we cannot. Experience in us <3> keeps reason in check. The present world of man has been for us a revelation of evil, it has broken our confidence. We have seen too many crimes that no revenge of justice can compensate for, too many deaths in desperation, too sordid a debasement of human nature. Our vision of man has been covered over by the unforgettable image of the bloody ghosts in extermination camps. German sadism has let loose devils everywhere. Everything we loved seems to have been poisoned, everything we trusted in seems to have failed. Science and pdrogress turn into our own destruction. Our very being is threatened by mental and moral atomization. Our very language has been perverted, all our words have become ambiguous and seem able only to convey deception. We live in Kafka's world. Where is our faith to live by?

Perhaps we had chosen the wrong road. Perhaps we would have done better in sticking to a faith to live and die for, instead of seeking a faith to live by. Old pagan wisdom knew that man has his noblest, happiest and most human part appendant to what is suprahuman, and that he can only live by whata he lives for and is ready to die for, and which is better than himself. If our humanism has failed, it is perhaps because it was centered in man alone, and utilitarian, not heroic, because it tried to reject death and evil into oblivion, instead of facing them and overcoming them by an ascent of soul into eternal life; because it trusted in techniques, instead of trusting in love, I mean in Gospel love.

St. Paul states that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and he immediately goes on to say: a conviction of things not seen. Faith is an adhesion to super-human truth, an entrance into the realm of invisible and divine things, faith makes our whole life appendant to a living Whole which is infinitely <4> better and more lovable than our own life, faith is a meeting with a Person who is Truth itself and Love itself, and to whom giving oneself is to have supreme freedom, and in whom dying is to have indestructible life.

Then we live for truth, and that truth for which we live is stronger than the world. Then we live for love, and that love for which we live has made the world and will finallyk renew and transfigure it. Then we are free, and nothing in the world can break our faith.

And this God Who is Truth and Love has made man to His image. He has destined man to share in His own life. His Son died to save man. Despite all the catastrophes that man's failures and refusals cause, He leads man's history toward godlike fulfilment and transfiguration. Such is the greatness of man. Here is the rock of our faith in him.

Thus faith in man revives if it is rooted in the supra-human, faith in man is saved by faith in God.

Human history moves in a direction. It depends both on natural and spiritual energies, and among all kinds of conflicts it tends both to the natural fulfilment of mankind -- the progressive manifestation of the essence and potentialities of man, the progressive development of the structures of his knowledge, his moral conscience and his social life, mankind's progressive conquest of unity and freedom -- and to a spiritual fulfilment which is supra-temporal and transcends history relate to two thoroughly distinct orders, and often the weakness of man opposes one while furthering the other. And contrary to them evil also develops in history, so that a downward movement causes losses to increase at the same time as the upward movement causes the sap of the world to produce better fruits. In the happiest periods of history, evil is at work in the hidden. In the darkest ordeals, the good is invisibly preparing unforeseeable conquests. And the good is stronger than evil, finally the saying of the Scriptudre will be fulfilled: <5> TEll the righteous that everything is well. In old Jewish apocalyptic writings, it was stated that the age of the sufferings of the Messiah will be the age of his greatest victories.

In offering his book "On the threshold of the Apocalypse" to one of his readers some thirty years ago, Léon Bloy wrote on the first page: "My dear friend, pray, be so kind as to walk in." It seems that, as a matter of fact, we did walk in. Our age appears as an apocalyptic, a liquidation of several centuries of human history. We are picking the grapes of wrath. We have not finished suffering. But at the end of the crisis a new world will actually emerge.

Then experience -- that very experience which jeopardized in us faith in men -- is transfigured. It takes a meaning. It is not the revelation of the absurdity of existence, but of the pangs and travail of history; not of the root baseness and contemptbility of man, but of his distress laid bare when he falls down from his pride, and of the trials and catastrophes through which the abiding greatness of his destiny goes on to assert itself.

A historical liquidation like that we are undergoing does not take place in one day. Time is necessary to make reason able to control the formidable material means that industrial and technological revolution has put in our frail hands. Time is necessary to stir up, from the depths of human bewilderment, a moral and spiritual revolution which is incomparably more needed than any other revolution. For nothing less is required than a terrestrial triumph of Gospel inspiration in the social behavior of mankind. We don't lose hope. The renewal of civilization that we hope for, the age of integral humanism, the time when science and wisdom are to be reconciled, the advent of a fraternal commonwealth, and of true human emancipation, we don't expect them for tomorrow. But we expect them for the day after tomorow, for that moment which St. Paul announced as a splendor and resurrection of the world.

Every effort made in this direction will finally bear fruit: I mean not only the spiritual struggle of those who have heard, as Henri Bergson put it, the <6> call of the hero, and who awaken men to evangelic love, but also the temporal struggle of all those -- scientists like Pasteur or Washington Carver, poets like Walt Whitman, Hugo or Péguy, pioneers of social justice like the "radicals" called up by Saul Alinsky -- who give themselves to the improvement and illumination of their brothers' lives, and have no rest as long as their brothers are in enslavement and misery. Even if the general state of the world and our stock of piled up errors prevent such efforts from overcoming now the evils which are streaming from all parts, they actually prepare a better era, under God, of dignification of man and expansion of love.

Such is the faith we live for, and, because we live for it, the faith we live by.