We were created for God’s glory. When man does not work for that glory — when he fails to see, to love, and to seek God in all things — a threefold division takes place. The first division is between man and God, the second between man and man, and the third within man himself. Thus the alienation of the individual from God, of men from each other, and of man from himself.
This triple division is part of life on earth after the Fall. Grace remedies the division, if we but avail ourselves of it and cooperate with the divine action. The tragedy is that we so often do not.
The foregoing is my rapid summary of some of the central ideas of that great Carthusian spiritual writer, Dom François de Sales Pollien (1853-1936) in his monumental work, The Interior Life Simplified and Reduced to Its Fundamental Principle. Given my current preoccupation with other matters, my regular time for study and writing has been greatly diminished, so I have decided to share some of the spiritual gems of Dom François with my readership, in the hopes that you may profit from their reading at least as much as I have.
In the excerpts below, the only ellipsis that is mine is marked in brackets, indicating that I have omitted some paragraphs in the interest of space. Otherwise, the ellipses are employed by the author or editor of the book from which I have taken the text.
For more “Carthusian thoughts” on our website, see, among other pieces, my “Lessons from the Charterhouse” and “Sanctity: Our Counterrevolutionary Grand Strategy.”
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39 THE STATE OF SOCIETY. This evil [the division that exists between God’s glory and my interests] is also the great evil of society. In social conditions everything is organized for man; human interest dominates everything, inspires everything, directs and sums up everything. What place is given to God’s glory in families, associations, and corporate bodies? Where is the idea of God in industries, in commerce, in science, in politics, in history, and the rest? — In human relationships, it is human interest which universally engrosses people’s thoughts, feelings, and efforts. All converges towards this. The thought of God and His glory gets weaker and weaker and disappears; man is driving out God.
I take what is, perhaps, the most striking example, that of history. History should be nothing else than a picture of God’s glory amidst human vicissitudes, of divine action amidst the agitations of human affairs. Today it is no more than the miscoloured picture of the convulsions of mankind. Thus everything belies its origin and its end. It is the great and revolutionary heresy, man put in God’s place.
40 BIBLE IDEAS. Contrast all this with the Bible! In the life of the patriarchs, we feel that God, their God, is everything to them. He dominates, inspires, and, in practice, guides their lives. In their history, we feel at every moment a sense of the Spirit of God. It is the same throughout the history of the chosen people. It is God who is the centre of everything. If human passions cause His memory to be forgotten, punishments recall it; and, beneath the rod, the cry that arises and begs for victory over enemies is always in the first place God’s honour. “For the glory of Thy name, O Lord, deliver us” (Ps. lxxviii. 9). And when the victory is won, they rejoice above all, because God is glorified. When Moses, Judith, and Esther wish to obtain the salvation of their people, they do it by invoking God’s glory, and this is the motive which moves God to save His people. In the Psalms, what a place is given to the glory of God! It is the supreme and constant end of these sublime songs.
41 THE AGES OF FAITH. In the ages and countries of faith, how much more real and living was the place assigned to God in the customs of His faithful peoples! Nothing expressed it so vividly as popular speech. It is in the turns of everyday conversation that we find the best reflection of this state of mind. But how and when was God spoken of in the times and ages in which the notions of faith prevailed? — The name of God perpetually occurred with an appropriateness and reality which were indeed admirable. They used to say with such simplicity and sincerity: “Thank God,” “God be praised,” “Please God,” “With God’s help,” and so forth. Private documents began with the sign of the cross, and public deeds were drawn up in the name of the Blessed Trinity, and laws were promulgated in God’s name; the custom of giving first-fruits, inherited from the ancient faith, consecrated to God the first-born of everything; paternal, judicial, and civil authority acted as a delegation of that which is divine; there was respect for persons and solemnities and things sacred; the dread of the punishment of blasphemy and so many other customs, unfortunately so far removed from our days; all these testified in practice how far the thought of God held the foremost place in everything. God lived in people’s thoughts and conduct, in their customs and institutions. Human wretchedness no doubt made its appearance; for it always does. But God also was manifested above human wretchedness. It was felt that He was the King of souls and bodies, of individuals and peoples, of time and eternity, and His sovereignty remained above all.
42 IDEAS OF TODAY. In our utilitarian age, if we still have recourse to God, it is rather because we need Him than because of His glory. We still know what carnal love means, but what of the love of benevolence! … To ask above all else that God may be glorified, and to rejoice above all that He is glorified, this is the case of a few, but they are daily becoming fewer. And the great heresy which breaks asunder the union of God with man, the co-ordination of the One with the other, is drunk in by everyone, it enters everywhere, it darkens the mind, it misleads the feelings and perverts action. “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vain” (Ps. xciii. II). Even in the sanctuary and in the cloister this cloudy and unwholesome atmosphere has found its way; and slowly, in small doses, but constantly and surely, its poison filters in.
Oh, how terrible it is to have to walk in this fog which is as thick as darkness, and to inhale this air which is as heavy as death! … And how hard it is to cast out the virus from the spiritual organism and to render mind, heart, and act, completely sound! … If, however, we mean to live, it must be done at all costs; otherwise the virus, daily creeping in more and more deeply, will kill us, will kill all Christian vitality in us, and induce the putrefaction of death itself. Alas! how sick we are!
45 THE WORTH OF SENTIMENTAL BOOKS. I can now take account of the worth of the books of piety which swarm on all sides, the whole skill of which consists in stirring up our sensibility. To cure the soul by means of the emotions when the great evil is in the intelligence! … Really, this is like trying to cure consumption by rubbing a little ointment on the foot! This is what all the worth of such books amounts to. Who will give us back the devotion based upon theology of the great ages of faith? Verily, we may ask ourselves if the unfortunate and too copious production of sentimental books of devotion is not as disastrous a plague as that of the unclean literature which splashes us with its disgusting popularity! For, after all, the unclean books only appeal to those who grovel in the gutter. But devotional books are addressed to higher souls whom God calls to raise and elevate the masses. By lowering and withering their spiritual life, do not such books deal a more damaging and disastrous blow to society, by preventing these higher souls from raising it, since they do not elevate themselves? And this all the more, because higher souls are relatively scarce, and the evil which is done to them is felt by all those whom they ought to attract. Sentimentalism in piety is the explanation of materialism in society, and there is much to be learnt from the parallel advance of these two kinds of literature.
46 “DOGMAS MAKE NATIONS.” So says M. de Bonald: such is one of the most profound remarks of this profound thinker. And if they make nations, they also make men. “I shall never cease saying or thinking,” says another deep thinker, M. de Maistre, “that a man’s worth depends upon his belief.” Man’s worth does, indeed, depend upon his ideas, and he is what he thinks. It is the weakening of truth that makes sanctity vanish from amongst mankind. Hence, my most urgent and primary necessity is to rectify my ideas as to myself, as to creatures, and as to the use I ought to make of them. As long as these remain uncorrected, nothing will be restored in me; as long as my efforts are not directly brought to bear upon this point, they will remain fruitless. It is faith that purifies the heart. Faith is the vision of the truth; truth is God’s glory seen in everything. And truth is the primary element which directs piety. When I have this clear, habitual, and dominant vision, my heart will soon be purified, my life devout.