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The Pagan Empire and the Power of God

ISSUE:  Spring 1939

The Bible condemns the world. What is meant by the world in this case is not nature, but is rather nature in so far as nature pretends to be self-sufficing and to have no need for the endowments of God; and what is meant is not politics, but is politics in so far as politics pretends, by its functions alone, to govern the life of man and to be above the truth of God who made man in His image.

Politics thus understood and thus lived has a much more profound and mysterious significance than is ordinarily believed. It tends, ultimately, toward the creation within the center of mankind of a collective element which, drawing to itself the human substance, pretends to accomplish of itself the bringing of man to the divine state. It moves toward that Pagan Empire described in the Apocalypse, and it is against this Empire that Christ set himself. Between Christ and the kingdom of the world there is no compatibility: all Neros, old and new, have known this. And they know also that only Christ can triumph over the kingdom of the world. That kingdom, by virtue of a dynamism which would be all-powerful were God not more powerful, would make divine the political order and the leader who stands at its head: it sets up politics as the supreme rule and measure, superior to eternal law and the grace of God.

What is the motivating principle of politics thus understood and thus acted upon? One of the most intelligent theoreticians of National Socialism, Carl Schmitt, suggests it to us when, describing the political concept phenomenolog-ically, he tells us that it consists essentially in the relationship with the friend against the enemy, and that it is fundamental to the political community to act against someone. The principle is one of being against others or the principle of constitutive hatred. In the politics of the kingdom of the world, hate of the external or internal enemy of the body politic flows concurrently and from the same impulse as does its love and is inseparably joined to it and is equally primo-genial with it. It is by setting itself up on the principle of being against an enemy that the political community knows truly with whom it is allied; it is in making it a principle of its own existence to crush others that the State knows who are its own. It is a sovereignty of hate.

That such be the law of politics understood in its real nature I am not willing to concede. If Christ is the savior of the world, then politics also can be saved—that is, it also can be infused and made to live with the grace of Christ, and it is therefore not a rebel to that grace, to justice or to love. It suffices, moreover, to think to what horror and guilt the so-called political realists—those who know, do they not, that Christ spoke meaninglessly—now reduce this unhappy planet, to appreciate the results for the common good of mankind, and to judge of the worth of worldly politics.

Therefore, I do not think that the formulas of Carl Schmitt disclose the essence of politics itself. But they show us the essence of pagan politics and of the foundations of the Pagan Empire. They show us the essence of that terrible reality which is politics separated from divine law and the life-giving powers of Christ—politics such as the spirit of the world puts it into practice, and with what energy, and with what ferocity.

It is quite true that enmity, the existence of an enemy and the hate of an enemy, is the foundation of political life such as that terrible reality shows it to us. It is quite true that in the kingdom of the world it is against another, against the enemy, against the wicked that the political stronghold has set itself up in the very beginning, knowing who are its own and who are the good. It is quite true that for this kind of politics, politics separated from morality and from divine law, the height of intelligence is the discernment of the enemy. It is quite true that the kingdom of the world cannot draw toward itself the sap of humanity, so that it may have of it its divine fruits, except in setting about the conquering and enslavement of the rest of the world. For, in the end, man without God cannot find union except against another. That is why the totalitarian states, of their very nature, move toward internal or external war—by virtue of a metaphysical law much more powerful than the will and the reckonings of statesmen. It is the mystical law of paganism and of pagan politics, it is the mystical law of the spirit of the world that hate overcomes love and that one loves one’s own only to the degree that one hates others. Whence it immediately follows that the unity of the State and the “friendship”—what friendship!—among its members is realized only on the basis of collective hate, of the hate of the clan; and that it demands in consequence the snuffing out of individual life and of the rights of the individual; and that it is in itself incompatible with liberty.

Such is the law of the spirit of the world, in the sense of this word as used in the Bible. The Bible itself, in complete opposition to the spirit of the world, brings forward the new commandment against which the whole pagan realm will destroy itself, and from which one may not fly. It proclaims that love triumphs over hate and that love is given to all men, because all men are the sons of God, because each is a being endowed with an immortal soul which is worth the whole corporeal universe, because each is a person redeemed by the blood of Christ and called to the liberty of the sons of God, and because God Himself is eternal Love, Bens caritas est

“A new commandment I give unto you,” says Jesus, “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

“And a second like unto it is this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“And who is my neighbor?” asks the doctor of laws. And Jesus answers by telling him the story of the man who was coming down from Jerusalem to Jericho and whom robbers I left half dead upon the road. And a priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. And it was a Samaritan who had pity upon him.

“Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among the robbers?”

The man answered: “He that showed mercy on him.”

“Go, and do thou likewise,” Jesus said to him, showing us in that way that only our lack of pity and our lack of love keep us from recognizing in every man our neighbor.

To quote the Bible again: “Love your enemies. . . . For if ye love them that love you what reward have ye? . . . And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the same?”

Yes, even the pagans do as much. Their love stops short, to give place to hate, at the frontiers of their earthly stronghold, of their temporal community or nation, of race, of empire or of party. But the Church of Christ is not an earthly city, the Holy Ghost is not a spirit of empire or of party, of nation or of race, of clan or of faction. And as for the political city itself, such as it should be conceived in its true nature and according to Christianity—not according to the kingdom of the world—it is not necessary to its nature that it be set against an enemy. If it has enemies (and it has, as is well known), that is a result not of its essential nature but of original sin. And even in struggling against these enemies it must still love in them the creatures of God and must respect human dignity in them.

To hate evil is Christian; but to hate the wicked will never be Christian! “Where there is love and mercy,” says the Church, “there God is.” He is not elsewhere, unless by that aspect of immensity through which He is also in stones and in demons.

I do not say that Christian civilization had brought to pass the Word of God—the saints alone come near to doing this. I say that Christian civilization, and even what still remains to us of secularized Christian civilization, knew at least that the Christian table of values is the true table of values. And this is what the spirit of the world, or the spirit of paganism, of the Beast denounced by St. John—that is, the spirit of the dominion of hate—is in the act of destroying before our eyes.

The spirit of the kingdom of the world has two ways of attacking Christianity: from without and from within. Russian Communism and German racism openly undertake to put out of existence, and especially out of political existence, everything that has within it a Christian value. Thus, at least, they lift the mask. And thus, without knowing it, they do service to Christians. Hitler, in his book, “Mein Kampf,” condemned the practice of making war upon religion, and today he conducts a treacherous and implacable war against religion. Nevertheless, one sometimes wonders if he might not have set himself up as the champion of Christianity against atheism? If the leaders of National Socialism had had the cleverness to protect religion, what indulgences would their great political sophistries and plots not have found among deceived believers? But the cleverness of which we are speaking was metaphysically impossible; and there, doubtless, is to be found the greatness of Hitlerism. For to protect religion would not have been sufficient, it would have been necessary in addition to accord a certain minimum of liberty to the Word of God; and, however small this minimum, it will always be too great for the Pagan Empire. And, above all, the spirit of racism is attached, as the demon to his flame, to the hate of the God of Calvary and of the God of Sinai.

In a small book published a few years ago I pointed out the fault which consists in thinking of the spiritual community of the Kingdom of God as if it were itself a temporal community or an earthly city. Let us go deeper. If one reflects upon the opposition which I have just pointed out between the Pagan Empire and the Holy Word, it is necessary to say that each time that a Christian thinks and acts as if hate could triumph over love, and as if the Christian community based itself upon hate of the enemy, of the enemy of the group, of the wicked, just so much does it give way to the spirit of the Empire of the pagan, to the spirit of the world. It would be naive to be astonished that we have followed often the spirit of the world more than the spirit of Christ; it would be a graver matter to hide the fact that, in so far as we betray thus the spirit of Christ, just so much do we wound in the heart Christianity and civilization.

I say, then, that if we believe that true Catholicism is that of two apostles—Pentecost had not yet taken place—who wished to have the fire of Heaven descend upon the wicked, in so much our Catholicism is not according to Jesus, but according to the world. Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of, Christ said to those who asked him thus to convert the unbelievers into ashes.

I say that if we believe that the real proof of faith in God and love of God is not only, as some have said it is, to be ready to die for Him but to kill for Him—by just so much are we following the worldly spirit instead of the spirit of Christ, and by just so much are we blaspheming faith in God. For to kill for the Empire is the supreme sign of faith in the Pagan Empire, but the supreme sign of faith in God is to give one’s life to God—not the life of another. “Greater love hath no man than this,” according to the words of Christ, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

But there are still other psychoses. I say that if we put the hate of any one race at the base of Christianity and the community which it implies, just so much are we perverting the idea of such a community and are conceiving of Christianity itself, the temporal Christian community, in the spirit of the Pagan Empire. I wrote a year ago to this same effect: “That Christians can be anti-Semites is surely possible, since such cases are to be found frequently enough. But that is possible to them only in obeying the spirit of the world, not the Christian spirit.”

Those who did not like these truths that I then recalled will perhaps be willing to hear what the late Pope said to a group of Belgian pilgrims a few months later. Commenting upon the words of the canon of the Mass Sacrificium Patri-archce Nostri Abraham, the Sacrifice of Our Father Abraham, the Pope exclaimed: “Notice that Abraham is called our patriarch, our ancestor. Anti-Semitism is not compatible with the sublime thought and reality which are expressed in this text. That movement is one in which we Christians can have no part. . . . Spiritually we are Semites.” Spiritually we are Semites—no stronger word has been uttered by a Christian against anti-Semitism, and this Christian was the successor to the Apostle Peter.

When it is understood how great a triumph racism represents for the world over Christ, in the depths of the human soul, and when the visible results are looked upon—when it is known to what an extent, in countries where this scourge rages, may go malice on the one hand, contempt for the human individual, sadistic cruelty, savage stupidity, and suffering and agony on the other, one doubtless is not astonished that everywhere professionals of vileness and of hate give to such a festival their fullest cooperation. But the fact that the racist state of mind can find collaboration in souls who believe they serve God stands in its true perspective, which is that of the agony of Jesus Christ, which continues to the end of the world.

Our time offers to homicidal demons unheard-of feasts. Stalin has given them the kulaks; Hitler has given them the Jews. And each of them has given them Christians. The vast outcry which rises up from the concentration camps is not perceptible to our ears, but it penetrates the hidden fibers of the life of the world and tears these apart.

The day when the President of the United States asked all men of goodwill to pray for the unfortunates in other countries who are in such distress; the day when, before the terrible impotence of the civilized world to aid so great a crowd of persecuted innocents, the head of the state turned thus to Heaven, he showed how great are the real dimensions of the problem which today shakes the conscience of mankind. Never before in the history of the world have the Jews been persecuted in so universal a fashion; and never before has that persecution fallen, as it does today, upon Jew and Christian alike. It is one of the signs of the profound trembling of our civilization. But let us not fear, for a time the triumphant unjust may do as they wish; they know themselves that this time is short. That is why they show such horrible haste.

I have spoken of the spirit of the Pagan Empire, of the spirit of the world. May I be permitted to add that French Catholics, grouped with their bishops and their cardinals, and devoted with all their hearts to the memory of the great Pope who suffered and fought untremblingly for the freedom of the Word of God, which nothing may enslave, are determined with the aid of God not to bow their hearts before the spirit of the Pagan Empire, before the spirit of brutality and of hate. Referring to certain dangers which are not illusory, the patriarchal Cardinal of Lisbon recently denounced the political, non-evangelical concept of religion, which of its own accord de-Christianizes Catholicism.

He wrote: “To want a Church empty of its treasure, divine life, having no influence save through external constraint, maintaining itself only through official protection, making its position sure only through the equilibrium of the mortal wisdom of its organization and government—that is a de-Christianizing of the Church itself, a denial of Christian Redemption, a continuing of the work of modern secularization. All of that would not make greater the Kingdom of God, but would establish a new ecclesiastical tyranny. . . .”

“Many,” he said further, speaking of the late Pope, “many have been astonished at the invincible energy of this august aged man who, with the Bible in his hand, fearless in his faith, condemned Communism, totalitarianism, statism, racism, pagan nationalism, all the new idols of our time before which bow down the gathered masses who lose a sense of their dignity and. of their freedom as soon as they lose Christ. Those who are shocked at the supreme condemnation by the Pope of the persecutor regimes, which boast of having saved Europe from Communism, do not know (as the Bible has said) of what spirit they are.”

No, I do not expect to advance greatly in professing but a so-called Christianity which knows not of what spirit it is, which would mingle in practice with political state-worship or with Hitlerian racism, and which would find its learned doctors among the journalists of totalitarian states, a self-styled Christianity which would base its communion on hate of the political enemy, which would lean upon violence and upon external constraint rather than on grace and mercy, which would have no hope for the soul of the people or for the moral vigor of religion and would despair of penetrating the temporal life of the nations. A self-styled Christianity of this kind will not find a place among us.


Recently I was in the United States. The thing by which I was most impressed was that not only are they clearly conscious there of the peril which threatens civilization and of the responsibilities which such a peril makes men assume, but that America feels the need to revise its table of moral values and to make anew its political philosophy. And that is, in my opinion, a phenomenon of first importance. America understands that she must at the same time defend democracy and work out a new democracy, and that this work is possible only if Christian values are made a vital, integral part of it. That I found to be true everywhere that I went.

One example of this is the reply which American priests gave to a letter from the late Pope which urged them, as an important duty of their office, to promote social and political studies in such a manner as to “develop a program of constructive social action, adapted in its details to local needs, and susceptible of commanding the admiration and adhesion of all men of goodwill.” Their response, given in October of last year, was: “His Holiness calls us to the defense of our democratic institutions, which are governed by a constitution which protects the inalienable rights of mankind. . . . The carrying out of this order of the Holy Father makes it necessary that our people, from childhood to maturity, be instructed, in a manner ever more complete, in the true nature of Christian democracy. . . .” According to a remark of Father La Farge’s, the term Christian democracy, used first by Leo XIII, and which was to cause so many disputes, has thus been officially reintroduced by the American priesthood into the Catholic vocabulary.

Another example is the insistence — and you know with what energy—by President Roosevelt that democracy, respect for the human individual, liberty, and international good faith all have their most solid foundation in religion and give to religion its best guarantees. His message of January 4,1939, is on this point an event of considerable importance. Walter Lippmann, that excellent commentator upon political events, saw in that speech a decisive change in Western thought. “It registers,” he wrote, “a change of ideas which is absolutely fundamental, a change not only in Mr. Roosevelt’s own mind, but, and this is much more significant, in the mind of the great masses of men here and abroad, of whom he is, by virtue of his office, the most representative spokesman. The message marks the reconciliation which is now in progress, after more than a century of destructive conflict, between patriotism, freedom, democracy, and religion. . . . That the President, who is the most influential democratic leader in the world, should recognize religion as the source of democracy and of international good faith is not a mere matter of words; it is a fundamental reorientation in the liberal democratic outlook upon life.” And, after having alluded to the lucidity of the French spirit and to what has happened in recent months in France in these same matters, the American writer concludes that “this message contains within it, by implication and in embryo, the outline of that reconstruction in their moral philosophy which the democracies must undertake if they are to sur-vive.

You can therefore see that statesmen have brought upon the political scene this problem of a new humanism and a new democracy, which we philosophers have not failed to consider on our own account. The word democracy leads to so many misconceptions from the speculative point of view that it would probably be desirable to find a word which would itself be new. But, in fact, it is usage and the common concept which fixes the meaning of words in their practical application; and further, to tell the truth, the contempt which the partisans of absolutism have for the word democracy is sufficient for the moment to give to this word fresh color. Against the standards of servitude it is still good enough.

If it is correct that there will always be temperaments of the Right and temperaments of the Left, it is nevertheless also correct that political philosophy itself, on the other hand, is neither of the Right nor of the Left. It must simply be true. And in times of general crisis, such as ours, it is especially necessary that the effort of the spirit should transcend the ironbound confines of psychological predispositions or of parties.

As for myself, I have criticized without tenderness the myths stemming from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the homicidal errors of individualistic liberalism, which might be called abortive democracy. But this very fact has permitted me to understand better and to affirm with more vigor that it would be a mortal fault to condemn, along with the errors of the Nineteenth Century, the truths and the authentically human aspirations upon which these errors parasitically lived. There is another democracy than the democracy of Rousseau, and it is to the values contained in this other democracy that many brave men in modern history, misled by some false ideology, were really aspiring.

Abortive democracy and abortive humanism derived from an anthropocentric inspiration. Materialism, atheism, anarchy in the mask of statism, and finally dictatorship; these were the fatal results. In saying to man: you are a god by nature and through your will, they have degraded man.

An integral humanism and an organic democracy, a democracy inspired by Christian principles, such as that spoken of by the American episcopate, and which in my opinion should be placed under the doctrinal sign of Saint Thomas Aquinas, proceed from a theocentric inspiration. These two say to man: you are made from nothing and yet you are the likeness of God, you are a god through the endowment and the evocation of God, a god to be and a god on suffranee and in hope. They respect human dignity in the real sense, not in an abstract, intemporal, and unexisting individual, who knows nothing of historical conditions and differences and who devours unpityingly the human substance, but in each concrete person, both as a living being and in the historical context of his life. They know that in the hierarchy of values it is the growth of the life of the spirit, meditation, and love which hold first place. The chief thing for them in the labor of politics is not the satisfying of covetousness, nor the physical domination of material nature or of others; it is the slow and difficult progress toward the historical ideal of brotherly love among the poor hurt children of an unhappy species which was made for absolute happiness. And, finally, this democracy and this humanism, even though they recognize the rights of the political community and of the common political good, recognize also and in the first instance the rights of the family and the rights of the human individual. And if you ask what these inalienable rights of the individual are, I will quote to you the words of Pius XI, in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris: “The right to life, to soundness of body, to the necessary means of existence; the right of association, the right to the possession and the use of property. . . .” To which might be added: the right not to have to serve, under pain of death, either brown, or black, or red; the right not to be reschooled in a concentration camp.

The Christian religion is not attached to any temporal regime; it is compatible with all forms of legitimate government ; it is not its concern to decide what form men should select hie et nunc; it does not in any way interfere with their preferences. Nor does it insist either (when certain superior principles are safeguarded) upon any set political philosophy, be it very general and valid for no matter what form of legitimate government. But the question which arises here is one of quite another order, it is a question of fact which concerns, as in the case of slavery and of its progressive abolition, the natural germinations produced in the center of the profane and temporal conscience itself by the activation of the Christian ferment. It is a question of knowing, besides, whether at the present moment and in the present circumstances, the chances of religion, of the conscience, and of civilization do not coincide with those of liberty.

But let it be well understood, it is in no way a question of sewing new pieces upon a worn-out fabric. It is a profound purification which is needed. And in the realm, of facts, and in the realm of historical sanctions, it is this purification which is taking place in atrocious forms under our eyes. We are witnessing the historical liquidation of the world of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. If for several years it has seemed that in the political domain the democracies were losing with each stroke, it was not only because of the errors which they still commit; these very errors and the very weaknesses seem fatal each time. The fatality which works against modern democracies is that of the false philosophy of life which for a century corrupted their authentic vital principle, and which, paralyzing this principle from within, makes the democracies lose all faith in themselves. All this while the totalitarian dictatorships, which are much more skillful practitioners of Machiavelli, have confidence in their own guiding principle, which is force and trickery—and they are risking all upon this. The historical ordeal will continue until the root of the evil is discovered and, at the same time, the principle—at last shown forth in its true nature—of a renewed hope and an invincible faith.

If the Western democracies are not to be swept away, and a night of many centuries is not to come down upon civilization, it is on condition that they rediscover in its purity the democratic life principle, which is justice and love, the source of which is divine. It is on condition that they reconstruct their political philosophy and that they thus find again the sense of justice and of heroism in again finding God.

In the twilight of the evening in which we now are, certain signs—those even to which I have above referred—cause us to think that already the uncertain light of a dawn is beginning to show itself. I believe that the cooperation of France and of the United States—and chiefly in the intellectual and spiritual realm, and in relation to the new political philosophy whose appearance Mr. Walter Lippmann signaled—can play a providential role. In this light one sees the importance of the lecture which His Eminence, Cardinal Verdier gave, and in which he emphasized in so elevated and in so generous a fashion his agreement with President Roosevelt. In this he spoke of the new axis of civilization which France has to build up with the Church.

Is it, however, too late for Europe? It is not too late if, whatever may be the vicissitudes of politics, moral stamina and the will to renewal are sufficiently firm. The totalitarian states are not unaware of the importance of moral unanimity. They strain all efforts to attain it and they can only reach it through intimidation and constraint. In the last analysis, as regards the inner adherence of the heart, these methods are of a doubtful worth.

The question is to know whether or not the peoples of countries still free are capable of reaching, through the ways of liberty and the ways of the spirit, a sufficient moral unanimity and to know whether or not they are capable of resisting the corrupting elements within their consciences. Each time that anyone gives way in a free country to some infiltration of the totalitarian spirit—Communist, Fascist, or racist—under whatever disguise, that is a battle lost for that country and for civilization. The question is to know whether or not, in front of a hitherto unseen loosing of pagan violence and of all the means which draw their strength from the degradation of the human being, we understand that it is necessary to return once again to the source of spiritual energies and of that violence which ravages the Kingdom of Heaven, and which alone can increase the natural powers of man—for struggle and for patience— to a degree in which they truly hold sway over history.


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