The Key of the Mysteries

Part I

Religious Mysteries

Problems for Solution

  1. — To demonstrate in a certain and absolute manner the existence of God, and to give an idea of Him which will satisfy all minds.
  2. — To establish the existence of a true religion in such a way as to render it incontestable.
  3. — To indicate the bearing and the raison d'être of all the mysteries of the one true and universal religion.
  4. — To turn the objections of philosophy into arguments favourable to true religion.
  5. — To draw the boundary between religion and superstition, and to give the reason of miracles and prodigies.

Preliminary Considerations

When Count Joseph de Maistre, that grand and passionate lover of Logic, said despairingly, "The world is without religion," he resembled those people who say rashly "There is no God."

The world, in truth, is without the religion of Count Joseph de Maistre, as it is probable that such a God as the majority of atheists conceive does not exist.

Religion is an idea based upon one constant and universal fact; man is a religious animal. The word "religion" has then a necessary and absolute sense. Nature herself sanctifies the idea which this word represents, and exalts it to the height of a principle.

The need of believing is closely linked with the need of loving; for that reason our souls need communion in the same hopes and in the same love. Isolated beliefs are only doubts: it is the bond of mutual confidence which, by creating faith, composes religion.

Faith does not invent itself, does not impose itself, does not establish itself by any political agreement; like life, it manifests itself with a sort of fatality. The same power which directs the phenomena of nature, extends and limits the supernatural domain of faith, despite all human foresight. One does not imagine revelations; one undergoes then, and one believes in them. In vain does the spirit protest against the obscurities of dogma; it is subjugated by the attraction of these very obscurities, and often the least docile of reasoners would blush to accept the title of "irreligious man."

Religion holds a greater place among the realities of life than those who do without religion — or pretend to do without it — affect to believe. All ideas that raise man above the animal — moral love, devotion, honour — are sentiments essentially religious. The cult of the fatherland and of the family, fidelity to an oath and to memory, are things which humanity will never abjure without degrading itself utterly, and which could never exist without the belief in something greater than mortal life, with all its vicissitudes, its ignorance and its misery.

If annihilation were the result of all our aspirations to those sublime things which we feel to be eternal, our only duties would be the enjoyment of the present, forgetfulness of the past, and carelessness about the future, and it would be rigorously true to say, as a celebrated sophist once said, that the man who thinks is a degraded animal.

Moreover, of all human passions, religious passion is the most powerful and the most lively. It generates itself, whether by affirmation or negation, with an equal fanaticism, some obstinately affirming the god that they have made in their own image, the others denying God with rashness, as if they had been able to understand and to lay waste by a single thought all that world of infinity which pertains to His great name.

Philosophers have not sufficiently considered the physiological fact of religion in humanity, for in truth religion exists apart from all dogmatic discussion. It is a faculty of the human soul just as much as intelligence and love. While man exists, so will religion. Considered in this light, it is nothing but the need of an infinite idealism, a need which justifies every aspiration for progress, which inspires every devotion, which alone prevents virtue and honour from being mere words, serving to exploit the vanity of the weak and the foolish to the profit of the strong and the clever.

It is to this innate need of belief that one might justly give the name of natural religion; and all which tends to clip the wings of these beliefs is, on the religious plane, in opposition to nature. The essence of the object of religion is mystery, since faith begins with the unknown, abandoning the rest to the investigations of science. Doubt is, moreover, the mortal enemy of faith; faith feels that the intervention of the divine being is necessary to fill the abyss which separates the finite from the infinite, and it affirms this intervention with all the warmth of its heart, with all the docility of its intelligence. If separated from this act of faith, the need of religion finds no satisfaction, and turns to scepticism and to despair. But in order that the act of faith should not be an act of folly, reason wishes it to be directed and ruled. By what? By science? We have seen that science can do nothing here. By the civil authority? It is absurd. Are our prayers to be superintended by policemen?

There remains, then, moral authority, which alone is able to constitute dogma and establish the discipline of worship, in concert this time with the civil authority, but not in obedience to its orders. It is necessary, in a word, that faith should give to the religious need a real satisfaction, — a satisfaction entire, permanent and indubitable. To obtain that, it is necessary to have the absolute and invariable affirmation of a dogma preserved by an authorized hierarchy. It is necessary to have an efficacious cult, giving, with an absolute faith, a substantial realization of the symbols of belief.

Religion thus understood being the only one which can satisfy the natural need of religion, it must be the only really natural religion. We arrive, without help from others, at this double definition, that true natural religion is revealed religion. The true revealed religion is the hierarchical and traditional religion, which affirms itself absolutely, above human discussion, by communion in faith, hope, and charity.

Representing the moral authority, and realizing it by the efficacy of its ministry, the priesthood is as holy and infallible as humanity is subject to vice and to error. The priest, qua priest, is always the representative of God. Of little account are the faults or even the crimes of man. When Alexander VI consecrated his bishops, it was not the poisoner who laid his hands upon them, it was the pope. Pope Alexander VI never corrupted or falsified the dogmas which condemned him, or the sacraments which in his hands saved others, and did not justify him. At all times and in all places there have been liars and criminals, but in the hierarchical and divinely authorized Church there have never been, and there will never be, either bad popes or bad priests. "Bad" and "priest" form an oxymoron.

We have mentioned Alexander VI, and we think that this name will be sufficient without other memories as justly execrated as his being brought up against us. Great criminals have been able to dishonour themselves doubly because of the sacred character with which they were invested, but they had not the power to dishonour that character, which remains always radiant and splendid above fallen humanity.[1]

We have said that there is no religion without mysteries; let us add that there are no mysteries without symbols. The symbol, being the formula or the expression of the mystery, only expresses its unknown depth by paradoxical images borrowed from the known. The symbolic form, having for its object to characterize what is above scientific reason, should necessarily find itself without that reason: hence the celebrated and perfectly just remark of a Father of the Church: "I believe because it is absurd. Credo quia absurdum."

If science were to affirm what it did not know, it would destroy itself. Science will then never be able to perform the work of faith, any more than faith can decide in a matter of science. An affirmation of faith with which science is rash enough to meddle can then be nothing but an absurdity for it, just as a scientific statement, if given us as an article of faith, would be an absurdity on the religious plane. To know and to believe are two terms which can never be confounded.

It would be equally impossible to oppose the one to the other. It is impossible, in fact, to believe the contrary of what one knows without ceasing, for that very reason, to know it; and it is equally impossible to achieve a knowledge contrary to what one believes without ceasing immediately to believe.

To deny or even to contest the decisions of faith in the name of science is to prove that one understands neither science nor faith: in fine, the mystery of a God of three persons is not a problem of mathematics; the incarnation of the Word is not a phenomenon in obstetrics; the scheme of redemption stands apart from the criticism of the historian. Science is absolutely powerless to decide whether we are right or wrong in believing or disbelieving dogma; it can only observe the results of belief, and if faith evidently improves men, if, moreover, faith is in itself, considered as a physiological fact, evidently a necessity and a force, science will certainly be obliged to admit it, and take the wise part of always reckoning with it.

Let us now dare to affirm that there exists an immense fact equally appreciable both by faith and science; a fact which makes God visible (in a sense) upon earth; a fact incontestable and of universal bearing; this fact is the manifestation in the world, beginning from the epoch when the Christian revelation was made, of a spirit unknown to the ancients, of a spirit evidently divine, more positive than science in its works, in its aspirations, more magnificently ideal than the highest poetry, a spirit for which it was necessary to create a new name, a name altogether unheard[2] in the sanctuaries of antiquity. This name was created, and we shall demonstrate that this name, this word, is, in religion, as much for science as for faith, the expression of the absolute. The word is CHARITY, and the spirit of which we speak is the spirit of charity.

Before charity, faith prostrates itself, and conquered science bows. There is here evidently something greater than humanity; charity proves by its works that it is not a dream. It is stronger than all the passions; it triumphs over suffering and over death; it makes God understood by every heart, and seems already to fill eternity by the begun realization of its legitimate hopes.

Before charity alive and in action who is the Proudhon who dares blaspheme? Who is the Voltaire who dares laugh?

Pile one upon the other the sophisms of Diderot, the critical arguments of Strauss, the "Ruins" of Volney, so well named, for this man could make nothing but "ruins," the blasphemies of the revolution whose voice was extinguished once in blood, and once again in the silence of contempt; join to it all that the future may hold for us of monstrosities and of vain dreams; then will there come the humblest and the simplest of all sisters of charity, — the world will leave there all its follies, and all its crimes, and all its dreams, to bow before this sublime reality.

Charity! word divine, sole word which makes God understood, word which contains a universal revelation! Spirit of charity, alliance of two words, which are a complete solution and a complete promise! To what question, in fine, do these two words not find an answer?

What is God for us, if not the spirit of charity? What is orthodoxy? Is it not the spirit of charity which refuses to discuss faith lest it should trouble the confidence of simple souls, and disturb the peace of universal communion?[3] And the universal church, is it any other thing than a communion in the spirit of charity? It is by the spirit of charity that the church is infallible. It is the spirit of charity which is the divine virtue of the priesthood.

Duty of man, guarantee of his rights, proof of his immortality, eternity of happiness commencing for him upon the earth, glorious aim given to his existence, goal and path of all his struggles, perfection of his individual, civil and religious morality, the spirit of charity understands all, and is able to hope all, undertake all, and accomplish all.

It is by the spirit of charity that Jesus expiring on the cross gave a son to His mother in the person of St. John, and, triumphing over the anguish of the most frightful torture, gave a cry of deliverance and of salvation, saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"

It is by charity that twelve Galilean artisans conquered the world; they loved truth more than life, and they went without followers to speak it to peoples and to kings; tested by torture, they were found faithful. They showed to the multitude a living immortality in their death, and they watered the earth with a blood whose heat could not be extinguished, because they were burning with the ardours of charity.

It is by charity that the Apostles built up their Creed. They said that to believe together was worth more than to doubt separately; they constituted the hierarchy on the basis of obedience — rendered so noble and so great by the spirit of charity, that to serve in this manner is to reign; they formulated the faith of all and the hope of all, and they put this Creed in the keeping of the charity of all. Woe to the egoist who appropriates to himself a single word of this inheritance of the Word; he is a deicide, who wishes to dismember the body of the Lord.

This creed is the holy ark of charity; whoso touches it is stricken by eternal death, for charity withdraws itself from him. It is the sacred inheritance of our children, it is the price of the blood of our fathers!

It is by charity that the martyrs took consolation in the prisons of the Caesars, and won over to their belief even their warders and their executioners.

It is in the name of charity that St. Martin of Tours protested against the torture of the Priscillians,[4] and separated himself from the communion of the tyrant who wished to impose faith by the sword.

It is by charity that so great a crowd of saints have forced the world to accept them as expiation for the crimes committed in the name of religion itself, and the scandals of the profaned sanctuary.

It is by charity that St. Vincent de Paul and Fenelon compelled the admiration of even the most impious centuries, and quelled in advance the laughter of the children of Voltaire before the imposing dignity of their virtues.

It is by charity, finally, that the folly of the cross has become the wisdom of the nations, because every noble heart has understood that it is greater to believe with those who love, and who devote themselves, than to doubt with the egotists and with the slaves of pleasure.


Article IV

Solution of the Fourth Problem


The objections which one may make against religion may be made either in the name of science, or in the name of reason, or in the name of faith.
Science cannot deny the facts of the existence of religion, of its establishment and its influence upon the events of history.
It is forbidden to it to touch dogma; dogma belongs wholly to faith.
Science ordinarily arms itself against religion with a series of facts which it is her duty to appreciate, which, in fact, she does appreciate thoroughly, but which she condemns still more energetically than science does.
In doing that, science admits that religion is right, and herself wrong; she lacks logic, manifests the disorder which every angry passion introduces into the spirit of man, and admits the need that it has of being ceaselessly redressed and directed by the spirit of charity.
Reason, on its side, examines dogma and finds it absurd.
But, if it were not so, reason would understand it; if reason understood it, it would no longer be the formula of the unknown.
It would be a mathematical demonstration of the infinite.
It would be the infinite finite, the unknown known, the immeasurable measured, the indicible named.
That is to say that dogma could only cease to be absurd in the eyes of reason to become, in the eyes of faith, science, reason and good sense in one, the most monstrous and the most impossible of all absurdities.
Remain the objections of dissent.
The Jews, our fathers in religion, reproach us with having attacked the unity of God, with having changed the immutable and eternal law, with adoring the creature instead of the Creator.
These heavy reproaches are founded on their perfectly false notion of Christianity.
Our God is the God of Moses, unique, immaterial, infinite God, sole object of worship, and ever the same.
Like the Jews, we believe Him to be present everywhere, but, as they ought to do, we believe Him living, thinking and loving in humanity, and we adore Him in His works.
We have not changed His law, for the Jewish Decalogue is also the law of Christians.
The law is immutable because it is founded on the eternal principles of Nature; but the worship necessitated by the needs of man may change, and modify itself, parallel with the changes in men themselves.
This signifies that the worship itself is immutable, but modifies itself as language does.
Worship is a form of instruction; it is a language; one must translate it when nations no longer understand it.
We have translated, and not destroyed, the worship of Moses and of the prophets.
In adoring God in creation, we do not adore the creation itself.
In adoring God in Jesus Christ, it is God alone whom we adore, but God united to humanity.
In making humanity divine, Christianity has revealed the human divinity.
The God of the Jews was inhuman, because they did not understand Him in His works.
We are, then, more Israelite than the Israelites themselves. What they believe, we believe with them, and better than they do. They accuse us of having separated ourselves from them, and, on the contrary, it is they who wish to separate from us.
We wait for them, the heart and the arms wide open.
We are, as they are, the disciples of Moses.
Like them, we come from Egypt, and we detest its slavery. But we have entered into the Promised Land, and they obstinately abide and die in the desert.
Mohammedans are the bastards of Israel, or rather, they are his disinherited brothers, like Esau.
Their belief is illogical, for they admit that Jesus is a great prophet, and they treat Christians as infidels.
They recognize the Divine inspiration of Moses, yet they do not look upon the Jews as their brothers.
They believe blindly in their blind prophet, the fatalist Mohammed, the enemy of progress and of liberty.
Nevertheless, do not let us take away from Mohammed the glory of having proclaimed the unity of God among the idolatrous Arabs.
There are pure and sublime pages in the Qur'an.
In reading those pages, one may say with the children of Ishmael, "There is no other God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet."
There are three thrones in heaven for the three prophets of the nations; but, at the end of time, Mohammed will be replaced by Elias.
The Mussulmans do not reproach the Christians; they insult them.
They call them infidels and "giaours," that is to say, dogs. We have nothing to reply to them.
One must not refute the Turks and the Arabs; one must instruct and civilize them.
Remain dissident Christians, that is to say, those who, having broken the bond of unity, declare themselves strangers to the charity of the Church.
Greek orthodoxy, that twin of the Roman Church which has not grown greater since its separation, which counts no longer in religion, which, since Photius, has not inspired a single eloquence, is a church become entirely temporal, whose priesthood is no more than a function regulated by the imperial policy of the Tsar of All the Russias; a curious mummy of the primitive Church, still coloured and gilded with all its legends and all its rites, which its popes no longer understand; the shadow of a living church, but one which insisted on stopping when that church moved on, and which is now no more than its bloated-out and headless silhouette.
Then, the Protestants, those eternal regulators of anarchy, who have broken down dogma, and are trying always to fill the void with reasonings, like the sieve of the Danaides; these weavers of religious fantasy, all of whose innovations are negative, who have formulated for their own use an unknown calling itself better known, mysteries better explained, a more defined infinite, a more restrained immensity, a more doubting faith, those who have quintessentialized the absurd, divided charity, and taken acts of anarchy for the principles of an entirely impossible hierarchy; those men who wish to realize salvation by faith alone, because charity escapes them, and who can no longer realize it, even upon the earth, for their pretended sacraments are no longer anything but allegorical mummeries; they no longer give grace; they no longer make God seen and touched; they are no longer, in a word, the signs of the almighty power of faith, but the compelled witnesses of the eternal impotence of doubt.
It is, then, against faith itself that the Reformation protested! Protestants were right only in their protest against the inconsiderate and persecuting zeal which wished to force consciences. They claimed the right to doubt, the right to have less religion than others, or even to have none at all; they have shed their blood for that sad privilege; they conquered it, they possess it; but they will not take away from us that of pitying them and loving them. When the need to believe again takes them, when their heart revolts against the tyranny of a falsified reason when they become tired of the empty abstractions of their arbitrary dogma, of the vague observances of their ineffective worship; when their communion without the real presence, their churches without divinity, and their morality without grace finally frighten them; when they are sick with the nostalgia of God — will they not rise up like the prodigal son, and come to throw themselves at the feet of the successor of Peter, saying: "Father, we have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and we are no more worthy to be called thy sons, but count us among the humblest of thy servants"?
We will not speak of the criticism of Voltaire. That great mind was dominated by an ardent love of truth and justice, but he lacked that rectitude of heart which the intelligence of faith gives. Voltaire could not admit faith, because he did not know how to love. The spirit of charity did not reveal itself to that soul which had no tenderness, and he bitterly criticized the hearth of which he did not feel the warmth, and the lamp of which he did not see the light. If religion were such as he saw it, he would have been a thousand times right to attack it, and one would be obliged to fall on one's knees before the heroism of his courage. Voltaire would be the Messiah of good sense, the Hercules destructor of fanaticism. … But he laughed too much to understand Him who said: "Happy are they who weep," and the philosophy of laughter will never have anything in common with the religion of tears.
Voltaire parodied the Bible, dogma and worship; and then he mocked and insulted that parody.
Only those who recognize religion in Voltaire's parody can take offence at it. The Voltaireans are like the frogs in the fable who leap upon the log, and then make fun of royal majesty. They are at liberty to take the log for a king, they are at liberty to make once more that Roman caricature of which Tertullian once made mirth, that which represented the God of the Christians under the figure of a man with an ass's head. Christians will shrug their shoulders when they see this knavery, and pray God for the poor ignorants who imagine that they insult them.
M. the Count Joseph de Maistre, after having, in one of his most eloquent paradoxes, represented the hangman as a sacred being, and a permanent incarnation of divine justice upon earth, suggested that one should raise to the old man of Ferney a statue executed by the hangman. There is depth in this thought. Voltaire, in effect, also was, in the world, a being at the same time providential and fatal, endowed with insensibility for the accomplishment of his terrible functions. He was, in the domain of intelligence, a hangman, an extirminator armed by the justice of God Himself.
God sent Voltaire between the century of Bossuet and that of Napoleon in order to destroy everything that separates those two geniuses and to unite them in one alone.
He was the Samson of the spirit, always ready to shake the columns of the temple; but in order to make him turn in spite of himself the mill of religious progress, Providence made him blind of heart.

[1] A dog has six legs. Definition. It is no answer to this to show that all dogs have four. — O.M.

[2] Who, however, had the word laid aside against the time when Paul should give it a meaning. — O.M.

[3] Sublime houmour of sophistry! Levi asserts, "Any lie will serve, provided every one acquiesces in it," and reprehends Christianity for disturbing the peace of Paganism. Or, indicates that Christianity is but syncretic-eclectic Paganism, and defends it on this ground. — O.M.

[4] The Priscillianist heresy was disturbing the Church, especially in Spain. The Emperor Maximus, a Spaniard, was inclined to put it down with a strong hand and confiscate the heretics' property. The Gallic clergy hounded him on, and the Councils of Bordeaux and Saragossa encouraged him. Two Spanish priests, Ithacus and Idacus, clamoured for the heretics' punishment by the secular arm. But St. Martin of Tours, stalwart champion of orthodoxy as he was, resisted, and in 385 he went to Treves to plead for the persecuted Priscillianists. He prevailed. So long as Martin stayed at court the Ithacan party was foiled. When he left they had the upper hand again, and Maximus gave the suppression of the heretics into the hands of the unrelenting Evodious. Priscillian was killed. Exile and death were the fate of his followers. Heresy blazed the stronger, and a worse persecution was threatened. Then St. Martin left his cell at Marmontier, and set out a second time to Treves. News of the old man coming along the road on his ass reached his enemies. They met him at the gate and refused him entrance. "But," said Martin, "I come with the peace of Jesus Christ." And such was the power of this presence that they could not close the city gates against him. But the palace doors were closed. Martin refused to see the Ithacans or to receive the Communion with them, and their fury at this is eloquent testimony of their sense of his power. They appealed to Maximus, who delivered over Martin bound to them. But in the night Maximus sent for Martin, argued, coaxed, persuaded him to compromise. The schism would be great, he persisted, if Martin continued to exasperate the Ithacans. Martin said he had nothing to do with persecutors. In wrath the Emperor let him go, and gave orders to the Tribunes to depart to Spain and carry out a rigorous Inquisition. Then Martin returned to Maximus and bargained. Let this order be revoked, and he would receive Communion with the Ithacans next day at the election of the new Archbishop. The order was revoked, and Martin kept his word. But when he knew the cause of Humanity safe, he departed, and on his way back to Tours experienced a great agony. Why had he had dealings with the Ithacans? In a lonely place he pondered sadly. An angel spoke to him. "Martin, you do right to be sad, but it was the only way." Never again did he go to any council. He was wont to say with tears that if he had saved the heretics he himself had lost power over men and over demons.

They have outraged the meaning of the episode who explain Martin's protest as merely against the surrender of the Church to Secular Power. It was lèse-humanité of which he held the Ithacans guilty.

St. Martin of Tours was often called Martin the Thaumaturgist. He was noted for his power over animals.

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