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Chapter X: Conclusion

I should wish this last chapter to be like the finale of a symphony, in which I shall try to bring together the principal themes which have followed one another during the course of these lectures. Needless to say, I shall not be satisfied simply by a sort of summing up. What I wish to do, if I may so express it, is so to state these themes that each may become aware of the importance they hold for his own life.

Let me digress at this point. There have been periods in history when a philosopher's audience could listen to him in a certain atmosphere of serenity. They could look upon their future on this earth as being comparatively safe, not, of course, from the accidents to which every individual life is exposed, but at least from the great historical cataclysms which, by an odd optical illusion, already seemed to belong to the past. Such was the case, for example, during a great part of the nineteenth century. But our situation today is precisely the opposite. Without there being any question of prophesying or of simply giving way to a fatalism which, for my part, I consider unlawful and culpable, we must admit the extreme probability that we are heading for catastrophes even more terrible, even more uprooting, than those which many of us have witnessed during the last thirty-five years. For my part—and you must have realized this—not only do I not allow that it is possible for the philosopher to abstract from a situation which must unhesitatingly be qualified as eschatological, but I even deny his right to do so. Even if we need not subscribe to the idea—apocalyptic really—that we are already in the last period, the days that precede the end of the world and Christ's return, at least we have good grounds for a very serious belief that if this catastrophe comes to pass, it will mark the end of an historical era; and after that it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to imagine what man's future can be.

Such being the case, it is perfectly legitimate for us to wonder what sort of help we can hope to find in the type of philosophy, some of the essential features of which I have tried to sketch in the course of these two series of lectures. Therein lies the fundamental question, and around it revolve the following developments. I have often felt, it is true, that what I have tried to do is beyond my powers: but I should feel that I had completely failed in my purpose if I did not succeed in defining at least with a minimum of precision the spiritual attitude which we must adopt when we are faced by a situation which is indubitably without precedent in human history. It is of course quite absurd to try to comfort ourselves by imagining what might have been the horrors of the year 1000. Whatever may be said of them, those horrors were still in fact relatively infantile. Things are very different today; man has reached a point where not only does he regard himself as questionable (fragwürdig), or question his own being, but he works out methods of destruction, the use of which might well make the most densely populated parts of our planet uninhabitable for an indefinite period; and this with the added horror that there is no possibility whatever of localizing the effects. It is fruitless to put forward the objection that the range of these methods of destruction may be much smaller than we imagine; there is only one thing that matters, and that is the idea of them that is held, rightly or wrongly, by those who cold-bloodedly mean to use them during the awful struggle that has already begun. We are faced with the extension of totalitarianism to the cosmic, or at all events, the planetary, plane. Under such dreadful conditions, should we be right in saying that the considerations put forward in our discussion of faith or hope, may well be not only ineffective but also untimely? Ever since I realized that philosophy was my vocation, I have been at pains to keep clear of abstractions; and if we have managed to do so now, was it not by confining ourselves to the sphere of private experience? But is not this private experience, with all the treasures around which it is concentrated, itself threatened with destruction by the blind powers that have loosed themselves on the world?

But I must add another warning. Can we speak of blind powers in this connection, in the same way as we might be entitled to do if we were discussing an earthquake or a flood? While we must not be too hasty in saying that these powers are human in essence, we must at least confess that even if they are not ‘of man’, even if they are for example devilish, they have enlisted on their side instincts and passions which are indeed ours. It is actually extremely difficult, perhaps quite impossible for us to see what these powers are in themselves—even if we admit that these instincts or passions are only their vehicle, yet it is only in them and through them that they can be glimpsed. Moreover there are times when each one of us, provided he is quite sincere, can realize how open he is to contamination; and that is why he can pass on his own instincts or passions a judgment against which there is no appeal. His judgment has no bearing on something other than himself, which by its nature is a stranger to him; but he can speak unerringly of what he finds in the depths of his own self.

From another point of view, we must start by preventing ourselves from being intimidated by the gigantic as such, as were those primitive men who were much closer to us than we imagine. I should even go so far as to say that, spiritually speaking, everything which is gigantic is intrinsically suspect. It is probable that the most profound religions, Christianity in particular, have always felt this. There is no plane on which this is not true, and a young and very remarkable French sociologist, J. Bardet, is going to publish quite soon a work which I think of prime importance, in which he stresses the part which the increase in micro-mechanics can and must play in the humanization of industry. The same author condemns the sort of violence which man has done to nature during the last few centuries, and the ruinous consequences which have been its result for the economy of the human world. A superficial reader might think that such remarks had no metaphysical value, but in the perspective I have taken up during these lectures, it is obvious that they are of the utmost importance; they apply to incarnate being, by which I mean the zone in which we have seen the conjunction of freedom and grace. Any sort of mechanical representation can only, indeed, distort the nature of this conjunction. We are in a position to become aware of it without being in any way able to understand how it happens; and it is here the part of secondary reflection to enable us to realize why this understanding is impossible—one might even go so far as to say, why this impossibility of understanding has a positive value, for we could not understand it without substituting for grace itself a natural power of a very dubious character. But when we see, for example, the waste of natural wealth of which in some places man has been guilty, we are at any rate prepared to condemn his unbridled misuse of gifts which have been granted him not by some external power which might be conceived by our imagination, but by Him whom we must call the Creator or the Father; gifts, to use a more metaphysical expression, whose source is the unrepresentable and uncharacterizable Being who constitutes us as existents.

It was not without design that I headed this last chapter by some concrete remarks which are mainly intended to draw your attention to the tragic issue which is at stake; their chief function in my mind, however, is to disclose the distinctive character of the propositions we have reached at the end of our enquiry.

The most important of these propositions consists, I think, in asserting philosophically, (that is to say short of any theological specification) the indissolubility of hope, of faith, and of charity. It is true that I have very seldom used the word ‘charity’ in my earlier lectures. But we cannot fail to see that intersubjectivity, which it is increasingly more evident is the cornerstone of a concrete ontology, is after all nothing but charity itself; I do not think I need decide whether it is a question of agape or philia—when the two notions, or the two ways of expressing it, are pushed sufficiently far they cannot but converge. As far as faith and hope, indeed, are concerned, one might be inclined at first to object by asking whether we have not known beings in whom faith seemed to be accompanied by a real deficiency in hope, perhaps even by a deep-rooted doubt of the spiritual import that can be attached to it. I think, however, that this apparent dissociation concerns only psychological consciousness. It may happen that my hope is vague or inarticulate to the point of seeming nonexistent to me; but if I really have faith, this does not make the presence of hope in the depths of my being any less real, and I can doubt it only if the notion I form of hope is a constricting and distorting idea which amounts to confusing it with a personal desire for happiness. But, as I have explained, to hope cannot but be to hope for us—for all of us. It is an act which in some way embraces in itself the community which I constitute with all those who have been sharers of my own venture. Péguy, that great Frenchman who sang a clearer song of hope than any man of our own time, has many passages which might be quoted here. Another thing we should do is to look very closely at the type of universality with which we are here concerned. I should be prepared to say that it is essentially polyphonic, and that we shall be completely lost if we try to represent it to ourselves as in some way arithmetic, which is what is done by those who take as the starting point of their thought the mass or the multitude; that is to say the infra-individual and not the supra-personal. We can see how in our own time a most formidable confusion arises between those two spheres. There is still room for a more accurate determination of this point, but it is only in negative formulae that it can be done without distortion. We are in no position to know whether all human beings who now exist or who have existed are called or not to what we designate by a vague term, for which, however, there is no substitute—salvation. The truth goes further: these arithmetical operations can in the end apply only to things, to beings treated as things. In fact, however, the idea of salvation is empty of any meaning if it is referred to beings so treated.

At this point I may hazard a remark the significance of which must not be exaggerated; nor must it be taken as a dogmatic assertion: you have only to devote your attention for a short time to the hypothesis of successive reincarnations—an hypothesis which, in my opinion, the philosopher as such has no right whatever to dismiss as absurd—to realize that any arithmetical reckoning, wherever beings as such are concerned, is perhaps self-contradictory.

This may be an opportunity for stressing the fact that we must fight in ourselves without respite against that spirit of excommunication of which unhappily theologians, from whatever church they may claim their authority, have in the past afforded and sometimes still do afford, such distressing examples. The universality with which we are here concerned might be defined as a will for non-exclusion, and, which comes to the same thing, as a kind of spiritual welcoming, as opposed to all the ostracisms which derive from the spirit of abstraction.

This welcoming ought not of course to be identified with a spurious syncretism.

But here, as elsewhere, we have to take into account the fundamental fact that our condition is that of creatures, who can never cease to be such, and who are compelled to think of themselves only in this perspective. This amounts to saying that we are completely debarred from putting ourselves in the position of a judge who can pronounce exclusive judgments or even decide degrees of precedence. On the other hand it would be a serious mistake to interpret hope simply as an attitude that we have to take up: that would be as good as saying that we have to act as though we were hoping for all of us, the object of the hope being what one may call salvation—a word whose significance I shall shortly try to define more accurately. Here it is that faith comes in; it is the presence of faith that gives to hope its intelligible frame. This makes it all the more important to emphasize that we are always open to the temptation of interpreting faith itself in a purely voluntarist sense. It is precisely at this point that we can appreciate the full value of the line of thought we developed earlier concerning the bond between freedom and grace. Each one of us is in a position to recognize that his own essence is a gift—that it is not a datum; that he himself is a gift, and that he has no existence at all through himself. On the other hand, however, it is on the basis of that gift that freedom can grow or expand—that freedom which coincides with the trial in the course of which each man will have to make his own decision. This trial implies a decisive option. I can put my meaning to you by saying that the physical possibility of suicide which is engraved in our nature of incarnate beings is nothing but the expression of another much more profound and more hidden possibility, the possibility of a spiritual denial of self or, what comes to the same thing, of an impious and demoniac affirmation of self which amounts to a radical rejection of being. There is a sense in which that rejection is the final falsehood and absurdity; for it can exist only through someone who is; but as it becomes embodied it develops into perverted being.

It may perhaps be objected that if faith is understood in this sense, it does not seem to agree very closely with what is commonly meant by the word. The objector might ask me whether I have not systematically tried to shirk the fundamental question; that question will always be the existence of God. I am faced by two alternatives. Either I am in danger of reducing faith in God to an incommunicable psychic event, which implies the end of any sort of theology, and that means of all universality; or else I must try to find a way of framing something resembling a proof of the existence of God. The answer must be that everything we have said in the course of these lectures tends to show that this dilemma must be rejected—I should rather say transcended. It might well be that the idea of a proof, in the traditional sense of the word, of the existence of God, implied a paralogism or a vicious circle. To assess this correctly, it would be necessary to proceed to an analysis of the phenomenonological conditions of the act of proving. Proving always implies a ‘I undertake to…’ But this claim seems itself to be guaranteed not by the personal consciousness of a power, but by an essential unity which cannot but be apparent to a thought which has acquired for itself a certain degree of inner concentration. It is here that we can see the exemplary character of mathematical demonstration: whether or not it implies an intuition as its basis, is immaterial; for even if that intuition exists, it is something quite other than a subjective datum. One fact, however, remains: the proofs that have been given of the existence of God have not always seemed convincing—far from it—even to the historians of philosophy who expounded them the most minutely. We might say briefly that when they spoke of ‘proofs’ they put the word in inverted commas. We certainly cannot maintain that these historians failed to understand what they were saying. Should we, then, say that they had exposed a sophism which had escaped the notice of those who took the thought behind those proofs at its face value? That would be just as difficult to assert.

If the cosmological proof or the ontological proof ‘mean nothing’ to a man—which implies that as far as he can see they do not get their teeth into reality, they skate on its surface—it may be that he is no further advanced on the high road of thought than those who are satisfied by them (I have in mind, briefly, the fact that the Kantian argument set up in the Transcendental Dialectic does not seem to have finally exploded the proofs.) From another angle, however, I am no more inclined to think that those who wish to uphold the proofs can legitimately counter-attack by claiming that their opponents are guilty of a kind of fundamental ill-will which is basically pride. That is, indeed, too easy a method of discrediting one's opponent. In the first place this alleged ill-will calls for an effort of intelligent sympathy. We have reason to believe, as I have written before, that if the man against whom the charge is brought were to make his refusal fully explicit, he might say, ‘I refuse to follow this road, because it leads where I do not want to go’. In one sense this is instructive, in another it is quite ambiguous. Why does the man not want to reach the affirmation of God which awaits him at the end of the journey? It may be because the affirmation seems to him incompatible with the fundamental data of experience, with the existence, for example, of suffering and all the forms which evil takes. A man like Albert Camus, for instance, cannot see how a God worthy of that name can tolerate the sufferings of children. But it may just as well be that in the atheist's eyes the affirmation of God would deaden the impulse that drives him, in his quality of free creature, to assert himself as an infinite in power; in that case, ‘where I do not want to go’ would mean ‘I do not want God to be, because He cannot be without limiting me, that is, denying me’. This explains the singular fact that what the ‘prover’ puts forward as perfection is taken in an entirely opposite sense by his opponent; the latter takes it as an obstacle to the expansion of his own more or less divinized being, as a negation, that is, of the Sovereign Good. What is lacking here is the necessary minimum of agreement about ends, about the supreme value. But every proof presupposes, if it is to be given, at least this minimum of agreement. When that is lacking, the conditions in which proof is even possible are no longer present. The history of modern philosophy, as I said before, seems to supply abundant illustrations of the progressive replacement of atheism, in the grammatically privative sense of the word, by an anti-theism whose mainspring is the will that God should not be. If, then, we consider the ineffectual character of the proofs of the existence of God, we cannot but notice again that deep split in the world of men to which I called your attention at the beginning of last year's lectures. So we stumble on this paradox: the proofs are ineffectual precisely when they would be most necessary, when, that is, it is a question of convincing an unbeliever; conversely, when belief is already present and when, accordingly, there is the minimum of agreement, then they seem to serve no useful purpose. If a man has experienced the presence of God, not only has he no need of proofs, he may even go so far as to consider the idea of a demonstration as a slur on what is for him a sacred evidence. Now, from the point of view of a philosophy of existence, it is this sort of testimony which is the central and irreducible datum. When, on the other hand, the presence of God is no longer—I shall not say felt, but recognized, then there is nothing which is not questionable, and when man models himself on Lucifer, that questioning degenerates into the negative will which I have already described. Can I hope to show this Lucifer-man his mistake? The truth seems to be that there is room for only one thing here, and that is a conversion which no creature can flatter himself he is capable of bringing about. There is hardly any phrase which is more detestable than ‘so and so has made so many conversions’. It amounts to dragging conversion to the level of a piece of magic. Spiritually speaking such a comparison is outrageous. This, we have seen, is the domain of grace; it is also the domain of intersubjectivity, where all causal interpretations are a mistake.

All this is an illustration of the essentially paradoxical situation, in Kierkegaard's sense of the word, we find ourselves in when we are in the presence of God. Nothing we have said here can enable us to minimize its distressful and agonizing character; and yet it should by now be manifest that from the point of view I have adopted, anguish is not and cannot be the last word. I should be so bold as to say, on the contrary, that the last word must be with love and joy; and this I say from my innermost heart. If we want to satisfy ourselves of the truth of this, we must emphasize the intelligible aspect of faith; and in doing so, we shall be obliged to diverge very considerably from the views both of the Danish philosopher and even perhaps of the writer in whom we may well be inclined to see his precursor—I mean Pascal; for there is a connection which it is the philosopher's duty to underline with the utmost emphasis, the connection which binds together faith and the spirit of truth. Whenever a gap begins to open between these two, it is a proof either that faith is tending to degenerate into idolatry or else that the spirit of truth is becoming arid and giving way to ratiocinative reason; and I think we have made it amply clear that this split is contrary to its nature, to its own proper impulse. The spirit of truth is nothing if it is not a light which is seeking for the light; intelligibility is nothing if it is not at once a coming together and the nuptial joy which is inseparable from this coming together. The more I tend to raise myself towards this Uncreated Light, without which I am left in the dark—which would mean that I have no being at all—the more I in some way advance in faith. Alternatively one might say that therein is to be found one possible way of progress at least, and it is the one which it is certainly the philosopher's duty to mark out first. If it is looked at in this way, the voluntarist error is seen in all its gravity, in as much at least as will is distinct from intelligence—a distinction, however, whose value is really quite superficial. A will without intelligence would be a mere impulse, and an intelligence which lacked will would be devitalized. But we shall only make it possible for ourselves, I shall not say to understand faith, but to discover some of its essential characteristics, if we establish ourselves at the ideal point of junction of these wrongly dissociated faculties; and we could, of course, add to this analogous statements concerning affectivity in its relations with intelligence and will. One can never keep too clearly in mind that the act of faith, the ‘I believe’, is the act of the person considered in his concrete unity; that does not mean, however, except in the case of the saint, that around this act there is not bound to be a fringe of hesitation or even of unspoken refusal. It is in the light of these reflections that we should look at the question of knowing whether our belief is to be our own responsibility. Here again, I think, we must take a via media. To say that the act of faith is a free act is to put it ambiguously; it is true only if we take up the line we did before when we were speaking of freedom. The truth is that we have to rid ourselves of prejudices which block the path to faith, or again to make ourselves open to grace—although that does not imply that grace is automatically released for us; and we can see that the more clearly when we realize that it is not comparable to a force. There is no doubt, however, but that we must add that this reflection which thus operates in a way before grace, certainly implies in its origin something which is of the same order as grace. ‘Everything’, says Bernanos’ country priest, ‘is grace.’1 But that saying is one that can be uttered with complete sincerity only by a saint. Were I, for example, to say it, I could not do so without reservations which would make it only a half-truth; for we must insist again that here we are in the existential; a word (une parole) as such cannot be reduced to a content which is to be assessed according to pre-existing standards: there is a being for whom it is ‘my word’; it is supported, very unequally supported moreover, by the man who utters it. I can, it is true, say that the saint is right, but if I am fully assured that he is I shall certainly have to follow him on the road of sanctity. Here again we have the fundamental idea of an existential weight in the assertion; but it cannot be understood if we cling to a monadist conception. It is only on the plane of intersubjectivity that certain contradictions or semi-contradictions can survive; they must, moreover, develop one way or the other; either they become more pronounced, or they have the contrary tendency to be resolved, finally to disappear, but this can take place only, I think, in a world which is no longer ours and which is beyond the compass of our imagination. I can believe in another man's faith without that faith becoming absolutely my own; but if I make myself at home in that position, there is a danger that it may become a lie. If, on the other hand, I strive to release myself from that attitude without being completely successful in doing so, then it will be found that it can help me on the road to salvation.

Once again our thoughtful attention is drawn to this word ‘salvation’. Can we define its philosophical significance more exactly, without encroaching on the strictly theological sphere? The first question to answer would be under what conditions the idea can hold a meaning for us. For a start, I think, evil must be recognized as presenting a certain reality, I might almost say a certain substance. That was my meaning in suggesting its identity with death. Salvation is nothing if it does not deliver us from death. But the connection with what we said about hope is quite clear enough for us to be justified in stating the principle that all hope is a hope of salvation. But can this final deliverance be thought of, say, in the temporal universe such as we see it, the universe in which we are caught up in our quality of terrestrial beings? The great illusion which seems to be the solace of the followers of Marx or even of Hegel, appears to me to lie in that belief. The truth is rather that there is not and cannot be any salvation in a world whose very structure makes it liable to death. Are we to imagine some perfection of technique which would alter this actual structure? That, I fear, is quite fictitious. If we really look deeply into the matter, we shall be obliged to ask whether death is not in some way the price to be paid for sin, though we should not take that literally nor apply it within the framework of individual existence. If that is true, it is inconceivable that technique—and it does not matter what form it may take—can ever overcome death. At the same time, I am far from blind to the difficulties involved in this notion, the notion, I mean, that we can form of sin; but I cannot at this point think of undertaking a full statement on this matter. We are again in the order of what can be found and taken into account rather than of what can be understood. My meaning, however, is in no way that every man is necessarily conscious of having himself sinned. It may well be that even while he accuses himself of the faults of which any man has been guilty in the course of his life, he still maintains that he entirely lacks this feeling. But if he is in good faith, he will have at least to admit that he is much too closely bound to those who are manifestly sinners to be able to protest his innocence like the Pharisees. ‘There is a communion of sinners’, says one of my characters. Each one of us is involved at all events in countless structures in which a spirit of good faith cannot fail to perceive the presence of sin.

This may be too much for your patience, and you will ask what definition of sin can be suggested? What we can say, I think, is that all authentic sin is sin against the light; in other words, against the universal. At root, it is the act of shutting oneself in on oneself or of taking one's own self as the centre. On this point, moreover, all the great religions seem to be in agreement. Again, however, it is not only a question of individual acts, but of something which has the appearance of a world or a kingdom; or, better, of an anti-kingdom. We must not, then, follow the catechism class and say that death is the wages of sin. Its implications are infinitely more complex and obscure. Let it be enough for us to acknowledge that the world of sin is a world in which death is in some way at home. That slight phrase is the most precise expression we can give to the connection which we must trace. On the other hand we cannot fail to see with equal clarity that if this world can be conquered, it can only be in the thick of a hard and even tragic fight; in this fight we have to engage in conditions which are not of our choosing, neither are they strictly speaking imposed from without; in reality they form a part of our vocation. The extreme difficulty which we confront in such a matter arises from the fact that we cannot do without the assistance of imagery; or we can put it more accurately by saying that if we try to dispense with imagery, there is a danger of relapsing into abstraction. The relation between the philosopher and the man of religion which has to be established here is probably not that which Spinoza, for example, conceived; for Spinoza almost certainly under-estimated the value of imagination as a concrete and positive stimulative power. Must not the philosopher admit that we cannot really free ourselves from some key-images—for example that of heaven as the abode of the blessed—provided that he shows that these images are bound up with the conditions of existence which belong to a wayfaring creature, and that they cannot accordingly be considered as literally true. In this sense I would say, for example, that heaven can hardly appear to us, who are of the earth, as other than the sky above; but in so far as the bond which holds us to the earth is relaxed or changes its nature, it will be bound to present a different aspect to us. We are fated to undergo a metamorphosis whose nature we can foresee only very imperfectly, and it is just on the idea of this metamorphosis that rests the revival of orphism whose imperious demands must be familiar to many of us today. Hence again it follows that salvation can also be better conceived by us as a road rather than a state; and this links up again with some profound views of the Greek Fathers, in particular St. Gregory of Nyssa.

I may add that if there is a sense in which salvation is indistinguishable from peace, it is a living peace that is in question; it is certainly not a spiritual stand-still, our being as such getting congealed in the contemplation of some fixed star. This living peace, however, could be nothing but a progress in love and in truth, the consolidation, that is, of an intelligible city which is at the same time and above all else a city of souls. From this point of view, it is perhaps on the Christian idea of the mystical body that the philosopher may be called to concentrate his attention.

From this we may see, as we have long been able to anticipate, that every philosophy which is still to any extent in the grip of history and historical categories, thereby betrays the exigence of transcendence which has been the connecting thread of all our enquiry. If such a conception is condemned on the ground that it does not conform to the sense of history, then that condemnation cannot be taken as acceptable. We are in a position to discern that this notion of the sense of history is itself full of ambiguity and will probably break down under analysis. It may well be that we are witnessing a deterioration of the human species and of the existential modalities that have characterized it in what are called civilized periods. This can be contested only if one endorses the eighteenth-century optimism, of which Marx, when all is said and done, is still the heir, and accepts as a principle that the movement of history can be only towards a sort of fulfilment. But if that assertion is stripped of all strictly religious reference, it becomes no more than a completely arbitrary postulate. The simple fact that we have been able to witness the re-establishment of slavery, and that on a colossal scale, the re-introduction, that is, of a state of affairs which men who lived at the end of the nineteenth century believed to be overthrown for ever, is sufficient to arouse the gravest doubts. I realize, of course, that if the reality of progress is affirmed on religious grounds, it puts the matter in a very different light. But, unless we are bound to subscribe to an essentially rationalist deism, we must admit that we cannot see what lies behind God's plans; we cannot force them into rational frames like those in which a man confines himself who speculates ingenuously on the beneficial consequences which the progress of science entails for mankind, provided that it has at last become conscious of its mistakes and crimes. It is precisely on the awakening of this consciousness, that our doubts must bear. What right have we to suppose that the disasters it has suffered will eventually open the eyes of the mass of humanity? The ghastly experience of more than thirty years leaves little room for optimism on this point; and, granted that the survivors of a new war may be able to draw some elementary lesson from it, we may feel doubtful about the spiritual quality of this incipient wisdom. As we have already seen, everything goes to show that the alternative lies between conversion and non-conversion; our final task must be to attempt an elucidation of the meaning of this conversion.

In the first place, let us make no attempt to hide our ignorance. We cannot even get an inkling of the conditions under which such conversions can take place, for, by definition, they lie beyond the power of our own incentive. It may be that they are of the specifically miraculous order. I do not see that the philosopher has any right to exclude such a possibility. I would even say that they are almost certainly of the miraculous order, without implying either that the miracle in question is of the physical order or that grace necessarily manifests itself through materially super-normal phenomena. What is more important and more within our powers, is to see in what this conversion can consist. Can it affect the will exclusively? That, however, would be to reinstate the distinction I have already rejected. Change of will cannot itself automatically be bound up with the change in the light thrown upon life, and I wonder whether in the last analysis it is not with a supra-temporalization of the latter that we have to deal. This is a most difficult matter, and I shall try to be as explicit as it permits.

The first thing is to avoid a possible misunderstanding: it cannot be a question, strictly speaking, of our overstepping the bounds of time; that would be an escape into pure abstraction. What we have to do, I think, is rather to get rid of a certain temporal schematization, which in reality is applicable only to things and to ourselves only in so far as we can be assimilated to things. Unhappily the world of men is becoming more and more organized as though such an assimilation could be completely effected to the last detail; such, it seems, is the state of affairs to which the applied sciences are directed when they are in the service of a totalitarian state which is progressively more radically technocratic. In Le Monde des Accusés, for example, a recent book by the young German novelist Walter Jens, or in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, that situation is described with realistic and terrifying accuracy. We may note, however, that in this situation terror still plays a leading part; but we can, if necessary, imagine a mechanization of human relations so ruthless that there would be no need to rely on terror, which may be required only during a period of transition.

Still, a reflection which is kept alive by contemplation discloses this, that our world is integrally doomed to destruction, and this for the profound reason that it is already itself destruction. It is just such a world to which we have to refuse our assent, even if it enrols us by force, even if it tries to crush us and goes so far as to do so physically. We must maintain that in so far as we are not things, in so far as we refuse to allow ourselves to be reduced to the condition of things, we belong to an entirely different world-dimension, and it is this dimension which can and must be called supra-temporal. ‘One thing I found after the death of my parents’, says one of the principal characters in a recent play of mine2 ‘It was that what we call survival is really undervival; we find that those whom we have never ceased to love with all that is best in us, become a sort of throbbing vault: it is invisible, but yet we can just feel its presence, it almost touches us; as we move forward under it we have to bend ourselves lower and lower; we become more and more drawn out of our own selves until the moment when everything has been swallowed up in love.’ We should, I think, devote much thought to this profession of faith of Antoine Sorgue in L'Émissaire; to Arnaud Chartrain's phrase, too, in La Soif, ‘In death we shall lay ourselves open to what we have lived on when we were on earth’. In other words we must become aware that we are literally arched over by a living reality; it is certainly incomparably more alive than our own, and we belong to it to the extent, unhappily a very limited extent, to which we release ourselves from the schematizations to which I have referred. The great service that philosophy should render us—and here, of course, I fall in line with one of the great Platonic themes—would be constantly to increase our awareness, even this side of death, of this reality which quite certainly surrounds us on all sides, but from which, thanks to our condition of free beings, we have the awful power systematically to withhold ourselves. Everything goes to show with increasing clarity that the power is given to us of in some way locking ourselves more firmly in the prison in which we elect to live. That is the terrible price we have to pay for the incomprehensible power we have been given, or which, still more, makes us to be ‘ourselves’. On the other hand, in so far as we allow ourselves to give ear to the solicitations—countless in number even if slight in substance—which come to us from the invisible world, then the whole outlook undergoes a change: and by that I mean that the transformation takes place here below, for earthly life itself is at the same time transfigured, it clothes itself in a dignity which cannot be allowed to it if it is looked at as some sort of excrescence which has budded erratically on a world which is in itself foreign to the spirit and to all its demands. Let me make use again of one of the musical comparisons for which you know I have a taste, and say that from the moment when we open ourselves to these infiltrations of the invisible, we cease to be the unskilled and yet pretentious soloists we perhaps were at the start, and gradually become members, wide-eyed and brotherly, of an orchestra in which those whom we so inaptly call the dead are quite certainly much closer to Him of whom we should not perhaps say that He conducts the symphony, but that He is the symphony in its profound and intelligible unity; a unity in which we can hope to be included only by degrees, through individual trials, the sum total of which, though it cannot be foreseen by each of us, is inseparable from his own vocation.

I agree that all I have said does not reach as far as revelation, properly so called, and dogma. But it is at least a way of approaching it; it is a difficult road and strewn with obstacles, but it is by following this pilgrim road that we can hope one day to see the radiance of that eternal Light of which a reflection has continually shone on us all the time we have been in this world—that Light without whose guidance we may be sure that we should never have started our journey.

  • 1.

    In Le Journal d'un Curé de Campagne.

  • 2.

    L'Emissaire, Paris, 1949