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.


Resume of the First Part

In the Form of a Dialogue


SCIENCE. You will never make me believe in the existence of God.
FAITH. You have not the privilege of believing, but you will never prove to me that God does not exist.
SCIENCE. In order to prove it to you, I must first know what God is.
FAITH. You will never know it. If you knew it, you could teach it to me; and when I knew it, I should no longer believe it.
SCIENCE. Do you then believe without knowing what you believe?
FAITH. Oh, do not let us play with words! It is you who do not know what I believe, and I believe it precisely because you do not know it. Do you pretend to be infinite? Are you not stopped at every step by mystery? Mystery is for you an infinite ignorance which would reduce to nothing your finite knowledge, if I did not illumine it with my burning aspirations; and if, when you say, "I no longer know," I did not cry, "As for me, I begin to believe."
SCIENCE. But your aspirations and their object are not (and cannot be for me) anything but hypotheses.
FAITH. Doubtless, but they are certainties for me, since without those hypotheses I should be doubtful even about your certainties.
SCIENCE. But if you begin where I stop, you begin always too rashly and too soon. My progress bears witness that I am ever advancing.
FAITH. What does your progress matter, if I am always walking in front of you?
SCIENCE. You, walking! Dreamer of eternity, you have disdained earth too much; your feet are benumbed.
FAITH. I make my children carry me.
SCIENCE. They are the blind carrying the blind; beware of precipices!
FAITH. No, my children are by no means blind; on the contrary, they enjoy twofold sight: they see, by thine eyes, what thou canst show them upon earth, and they contemplate, by mine, what I show them in Heaven.
SCIENCE. What does Reason think of it?
REASON. I think, my dear teachers, that you illustrate a touching fable, that of the blind man and the paralytic. Science reproaches Faith with not knowing how to walk upon the earth, and Faith says that Science sees nothing of her aspirations and of eternity in the sky. Instead of quarrelling, Science and Faith ought to unite; let Science carry Faith, and let Faith console Science by teaching her to hope and to love!
SCIENCE. It is a fine ideal, but Utopian. Faith will tell me absurdities. I prefer to walk without her.
FAITH. What do you call absurdities?
SCIENCE. I call absurdities propositions contrary to my demonstrations; as, for example, that three make one, that a God has become man, that is to say, that the Infinite has made itself finite, that the Eternal died, that God punished his innocent Son for the sin of guilty men. …
FAITH. Say no more about it. As enunciated by you, these propositions are in fact absurdities. Do you know what is the number of God, you who do not know God? Can you reason about the operations of the unknown? Can you understand the mysteries of charity? I must always be absurd for you; for, if you understood them, my affirmations would be absorbed by your theorems; I should be you, and you would be me; or, to put it better, I should no longer exist, and Reason, in the presence of the infinite, would halt, blinded for evermore by your doubts, which are as infinite as space.
SCIENCE. At least, you should never usurp my authority, or give me the lie in my own domains.
FAITH. I have never done so, and I could never do so.
SCIENCE. So! You have never believed, for example, that a virgin could become a mother, without ceasing to be a virgin, in the physical, natural, positive order of things, in spite of all the laws of Nature; you do not affirm that a piece of bread is not only a God, but a real human body with its bones and its veins, its organs, its blood; such, in short, that you make of your children who eat this bread a little race of cannibals.
FAITH. There is not a single Christian who would not be revolted by what you have just said. That sufficiently proves that they do not understand my teachings in this positive and gross sense. The supernatural which I affirm is above Nature, and consequently could never oppose itself to her; the words of Faith are understood only by Faith; Science has only to repeat them to pervert their proper sense. I employ these words because I have no others; but since you find my remarks absurd, you should conclude from that that I give to the same words a meaning which escapes you. When the Saviour revealed the dogma of the real presence, did he not say: "The flesh profiteth nothing, but my words are spirit and life." I do not give you the mystery of the incarnation for an anatomical phenomenon, nor that of transubstantiation for a chemical manipulation. By what right do you exclaim "Absurd!"? I do not reason about any of the things you know; by what right do you say that I talk unreasonably?
SCIENCE. I begin to understand you, or rather, I see that I shall never understand you. This being so, let us remain separate; I shall never have need of you.
FAITH. I am less proud, and I recognize that you may be useful to me perhaps. Perhaps, too, you will be very sad and very desperate without me, and I will not leave you unless Reason consents.
REASON. Be well 'ware of doing so! I am necessary to both of you. And I, what should I do without you? In order to be just, I need to know and to believe. But I must never confound what I know with what I believe. To know is to believe no longer; to believe is not to know as yet. The object of Science is the known; Faith does not occupy itself with that, and leaves it all to Science. The object of Faith is the unknown; Science may seek it, but not define it; she is then obliged, at least provisionally, to accept the definitions of Faith which it is impossible for her even to criticize. Only, if Science renounces Faith, she renounces hope and love, whose existence and necessity are as evident for Science as for Faith. Faith, as a psychological fact, pertains to the realm of Science; and Science, as the manifestation of the light of God within the human intelligence, pertains to the realm of Faith. Science and Faith must then admit each other, respect each other mutually, support each other, and bear each other aid in case of need, but without ever encroaching the one upon the other. The means of uniting them is — never to confound them. Never can there be contradiction between them, for although they use the same words,, they do not speak the same language.
FAITH. Oh, well, Sister Science; what do you say about it?
SCIENCE. I say that we are separated by a deplorable misunderstanding, and that henceforward we shall be able to walk together. But to which of your different creeds do you wish to attach me? Shall I be Jewish, Catholic, Mohammedan, or Protestant?
FAITH. You will remain Science, and you will be universal.
SCIENCE. That is to say, Catholic, if I understand you correctly. But what should I think of the different religions?
FAITH. Judge them by their works. Seek true Charity, and when you have found her, ask her to which religion she belongs.
SCIENCE. It is certainly not to that of the Inquisition, and of the authors of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.
FAITH. It is to that of St. John the Almoner, of St. Francois de Sales,[5] of St. Vincent de Paul, of Fenelon, and so many more.
SCIENCE. Admit that if religion has produced much good, she has also done much evil.
FAITH. When one kills in the name of the God who said, "Thou shalt not kill,"[6] when one persecutes in the name of Him who commands us to forgive our enemies, when one propagates darkness in the name of Him who tells us not to hide the light under a bushel, is it just to attribute the crime to the very law which condemns it? Say, if you wish to be just, that in spite of religion, much evil has been done upon earth. But also, to how many virtues has it not given birth? How many are the devotions, how many the sacrifices, of which we do not know! Have you counted those noble hearts, both men and women, who renounced all joys to enter the service of all sorrows? Those souls devoted to labour and to prayer, who have strewn their pathways with good deeds? Who founded asylums for orphans and old men, hospitals for the sick, retreats for the repentant? These institutions, as glorious as they are modest, are the real works with which the annals of the Church are filled; religious wars and the persecution of heretics belong to the politics of savage centuries. The heretics, moreover, were themselves murderers. Have you forgotten the burning of Michael Servetus and the massacre of our priests, renewed, still in the name of humanity and reason, by the revolutionaries who hated the Inquisition and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew? Men are always cruel, it is true, but only when they forget the religion whose watchwords are blessing and pardon.
SCIENCE. O Faith! Pardon me, then, if I cannot believe; but I know now why you believe. I respect your hopes, and share your desires. But I must find by seeking; and in order to seek, I must doubt.
REASON. Work, then, and seek, O Science, but respect the oracles of Faith! When your doubt leaves a gap in universal enlightenment, allow Faith to fill it! Walk distinguished the one from the other, but leaning the one upon the other, and you will never go astray.

[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.

[5] Levi was certainly never the dupe of this boudoir Theologian. He accepted him without perusal, as the Englishman accepts Shakespeare and Milton. —O. M.

[6] And habitually commanded the rape of virgins and the massacre of children. 1 Sam. xv. 3, etc. —O. M.

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