Rebuilding the social body (3)

This is the final article in a series drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905). The section of his work translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of society, the disastrous effects of human tampering and the means of restoring Christian society. This series began in April 2022 with “How states are formed”.

At the present time, the French nation is no longer properly speaking a society, since we do not find there the social organisation which, in all civilisations, has made a multitude into a society. The multitude is still maintained in a certain cohesion by the network of public services which girdle it around; but its life is gone, and there is no one who does not fear to see how the signs of death have multiplied over the last few years in all orders of things.

It is the heart which dies last, and the heart of France is the elite of her children, composed of those who have kept something of the old spirit. The heart of France is the clergy, secular and religious priests who have not let themselves be won over by the spirit of the age, who conserve doctrine and present it in its purity, and who preach by example as much as by word; this includes those admirable women of the Lord’s own flock, who, in consecrating themselves to Him, have gone to the aid of the neediest and most suffering of his forlorn creatures. The heart of France is that part of the nobility which has remained true to the faith, to the principles of honour and to the sentiments of Christian charity. The heart of France is the virtuous middle class, the part of the army and of the magistrature, of industry and commerce, which remains attached in spirit and in heart to Catholicism, which keeps its soul open to noble sentiments and closed to scepticism and cupidity.

It is in this elite that society can hope at present, it is from this heart that life will once again take possession of the whole body if it proves vigorous enough to drive the pure and vivifying blood that still remains through the whole organism in continuous movement. How many efforts are made to paralyse and even to corrupt it!

Some revolutionary ideas, at least in principle, have insinuated themselves into the clergy under the pretext of pity for the common man and love of justice. And other ideas, more radically opposed to the Christian faith, are presented to them under the mantle of a seductive science. Elsewhere, with an indefatigable perseverance over a whole century, they have seen themselves deprived of all means of action, up to and including — for the most faithful to their duty — the bread of the body necessary for the activity of the soul. Seductions of another kind besiege the nobility: those of pleasure and of swindles committed to feed that pleasure. 

Men of the army and the magistrature find themselves enveloped in a network of spies and informants, who give them no choice but to execute the orders of freemasonry. Industry and commerce are in decline, all fortunes are threatened, and with fortunes fall the situations from which salutary influences can flow over the people. 

And yet, despite all the restrictions and persecutions; despite even the defections and the discouragements that they are of the nature to produce, it is necessary (more necessary than ever) that the elite be maintained and that it act. Let it first act upon itself — each one endeavouring to become better — then on its entourage: the priest in his parish, the father in his family, the employer in his workshop, the captain in his company, each one on all those whom he can reach in order to develop the nucleus of the aristocracy that God has left us, not wishing us to suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorra (cf. Is 1:9).

Let the father of the family remember that the fall still weighs down the children of men, and let him use the authority with which God has invested him to redress souls, to discipline and elevate them. Let him turn his gaze beyond the cradles which surround him and let him do everything in his power to perpetuate his spirit in his descendants — as long as it they last.

And in the same way, let all those whom providence has placed in a position of power, however small it may be, put all their soul and all their strength into making descend from there, onto those they see lower down, the true and the good. It is for this that God has made the heights, in order that they receive from Him, and spread into the valleys the gifts of His infinite bounty, whence all good flows, requiring only conduits. Happy are those to whom He gives this honour. 

“The principle of hierarchy,” says Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Ecclesiastical hierarchy, “is the Trinity: source of life, essential goodness, unique cause of everything, Who, in the effusion of His love, has communicated to all things being and perfection.” In the Celestial hierarchy, he completes his thought thus: “The hierarchical order is that some be purified and that the others purify; that some be perfected and that other perfect, and that in this way each one have its mode of imitating God.”

Those to whom God has given light have the duty of working to propagate it; those who have arrived, in whatever order, at a perfection must help their brothers to attain it. This is what it means to imitate God, to imitate Him in the most noble of His attributes — bounty — which according to St Thomas Aquinas, diffuses that which is in it. It is for the common man to imitate this bounty in his family, the nobleman in his lands, the industrialist in his factories and the priest in his fold.

In 1886, in a discussion that took place at the Academy of Sciences on the social question, Félix Ravaisson-Mollien indicated its solution in these terms:

“If, with all their strength, the higher classes renew the tradition of ancient generosity which everywhere (but perhaps in France more than elsewhere) has brought about everything which is great, we will see a united, and therefore durable society, reformed. … In my opinion, the only possible solution to what they call the “workers question”, and the social question more generally, is a moral reform which would reestablish the reciprocity of devotion and of service. This reform must result from a new education given to the nation, and it is for the higher classes to undertake this education, but beginning with themselves.”

The great error of democrats who have pity for the common man at heart is to want to raise all men at once by rulings and laws. This cannot be done. The mechanism of man is in his soul. Laws are only a restraint, a part of the outer workings incapable of stimulating life. Life comes from God. The first to profit from the benefices of Redemption and civilisation must lend a hand to others, helping them to follow, bringing them little by little towards the good: “And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant” (Mt 20:27). This path is assuredly less hasty than that of the law, but only it can lead to the end. The end is the elevation of all, the extension of the superior classes to the whole nation by the dilation of aristocracies, by the generalisation of capital and of the virtues which create it. Is it necessary to call this “democracy”? Evidently not, since the common man is thereby called to replace the aristocracy. But he can only be enlightened and aided by those who have already become “better” — in a word, by the aristocracy.

Translation by Peter Newman