The Faith of Vincent de Paul in the Midst of an Unbelieving Society

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

THE FAITH OF VINCENT DE PAUL IN THE MIDST OF AN UNBELIEVING SOCIETY

by: Luis González-Carvajal Santabárbara

(This article first appeared in Anales No. 3, May-June 2010, Volume 118 and is reproduced here in English with the permission of the editors of Anales).


For the purpose of making it easy to understand my presentation I will follow step by step the outline which the title of my presentation has established (probably it is necessary to be as holy as Vincent de Paul in order to follow the adorable Providence of God step by step[1] but to move step by step in the presentation of a conference it is enough to be methodical).

Therefore I will begin with an explanation of faith, followed by an examination of Vincent’s experience of faith. I will then analyze the reality of unbelief in our society and finally, we shall explore what Vincent’s faith can teach us as we live our life in the midst of a society of unbelief.

What is faith?

Previously theologians, utilizing a concept inspired by Saint Augustine, spoke of three forms of belief[2] in relationship to God:

---Credere Deum, an accusative without a preposition whose literal translation into Spanish is difficult to the ears: to believe in a God, that is, to believe that God exists and to believe the truths that are related to God.

---Credere Deo, a dative, that is, to believe God, to give credit to God. We do not believe the truths of faith because these ideas came into our consciousness in some way nor because they appear to be reasonable. Rather we believe these truths because God has revealed them and his word is trustworthy.

---Finally, but no less important, in fact, just the opposite, we have credere in Deum. In Latin, the preposition in with the accusative indicates an end toward which a real or imagined movement is directed. Therefore, credere in Deum indicates that the act of belief is not directed toward the truths of faith but rather toward God to whom these truths refer. As a result of this, to have faith means that we have a personal experience of God, an experience which, though necessarily limited in this life, longs for the time of the consummation of all things … in accord with Saint Augustine’s famous prayer: Our hearts are restless until they rest in you[3].

In the third meaning, the most important, faith supposes a confident handing over of self to God. It is significant that the Hebrew word which means believe (sS}Y{A<H, he’enim) is derived from the root sYA (‘mn) = to be firm and means, to know with confidence, to find support in someone, to base all of life on someone[4]. We recall that Isaiah affirmed: Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm (7:9), and Saint Paul wonderfully expressed a confident handing over of self when he said: I know in whom I have believed (2Timothy a:12).

Faith, as a trusting handing over of self to God, allows one to lead a human life aware of all its risks. At times the saints have accomplished surprising feats and said: God will provide! They have spoken these words with the same certainty as when they say¸ the sun will rise. We recall the introduction of the great witnesses of the faith which the author to the Hebrews makes:

---By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out not knowing where he was to go (11:8).

--- By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king’s fury, for he persevered as if seeing the one who is invisible (11:27).

---By faith others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment … the world was not worthy of these individuals (11:36, 38).

It is not strange that the author of the letter to the Hebrews, recalling the complete trust of Jesus in the Father, designates Jesus as the leader and the perfecter of faith (12:2).

In the language of Cervantes, two distinct nouns are related to the verb to believe, namely, belief and faith …two words that are inseparable but we should be careful not to confuse them. A proof that these words are distinct is that while we can speak of belief in the plural, we always use the word faith in the singular.

The word belief refers to what our elders called credere Deum, that is, the acceptance of the existence of God and a series of truths related to God.

With regard to the word faith, this is reserved for credere Deo and credere in Deum. We have faith because we accept the truths related to God not because we have become aware of these truths in some human manner, but because God has revealed these truths and God is trustworthy (credere Deo). Above all, we have faith because we have had a personal experience of God who allows us to confidently place ourselves in God’s hands (credere in Deum). Saint Thomas Aquinas said that through faith Christians celebrate a type of matrimony with God[5] and he cited the text from the prophet Hosea: I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord (2:22).

The Faith of Vincent de Paul

We will now reflect on the faith of Vincent de Paul. We should remember, however, that Vincent died 129 years before the French Revolution and 20 years before the beginning of the crisis of the European conscience that was analyzed in the excellent work of Paul Hazard[6]. Those who know anything about the classes of the society of the Ancient Regime also know that it was humanly impossible for the son of a poor peasant to do all the things that Vincent de Paul did:

---At a time when there was extreme poverty throughout France[7], Vincent assisted hundreds of thousands of poor people and rescued ten thousand children from a situation that appeared to be certain death[8]. He put in place a complex network of gathering together, storing, and distributing materials that arrived from all the different parts of France. The letters from the government officials of the different regions and cities (Saint-Mihiel, Pont-à-Mousson, Verdum, Saint-Quentin) are quite significant since these individuals continually urge Vincent to continue to provide assistance … any interruption of this process would mean the death of countless people[9]. Vincent’s liberating activity even reached those condemned to the galleys and the Christian slaves in Muslim countries.

---Since the spiritual poverty was no less extreme Vincent began to preach popular missions (the Missionaries at the house of Saint-Lazare organized almost 1,000 missions). When Vincent realized that this spiritual assistance required more formation/preparation than the majority of priests were able to offer (some priests did not know the words of absolution), he established seminaries and organized retreats for ordinands (between 1628-1660, the year of Vincent’s death, these retreats were given to more than 13,000 ordinands). He also provided for the on-going formation of priests by initiating the Tuesday Conferences which began in Paris and were later extended to many other cities[10]. Also, in a country that had seen bishops appointed at the age of four, Vincent was concerned about renewing the leadership of the church. From his position as a member of the Council of Conscience, which advised the Queen with regard to the appointment of bishops and the conferral of ecclesiastical benefices, Vincent was able to influence the emergence of a new generation of bishops, abbots and pastors. The powerful Cardinal Richelieu wrote that in ecclesiastical matters M. Vincent has more influence with the Queen than I have … Even I, who know more about her Majesty’s intentions than anyone, dare not intervene until M. Vincent has studied the matter as much as he wishes[11].

---Vincent was an influential promoter of the lay apostolate. The Ladies of Charity, founded by him, developed an impressive social ministry. Vincent helped these women understand that they were the protagonists of an historical event when he told them: For eight hundred years or so, women have had no public role in the Church; in the past there were some called Deaconesses, who were responsible for seating the women in the churches and teaching them the rubrics then in use. About the time of Charlemagne, however, by a discreet working of Divine Providence, this practice came to an end; persons of your sex were deprived of any role and haven’t had any since then. And now that same Providence is turning today to some of you to supply what was lacking to the sick poor of the Hôtel-Dieu[12]. Several of these women, especially those who ministered at the hospital, developed roles of leadership that led to the implementation of new initiatives[13]. These women also provided for the spiritual needs of the people: between 1635-1660 some 20,000 individuals made their retreat at Saint-Lazare (counts, nobles, lawyers, councilors, marquises, presidents, members of Parliament, soldiers, judges, merchants, pages and footmen).

---When the only possible form of religious life for women was to live a cloistered life, Vincent, with the foundation of the Daughters of Charity, established a new form of religious life, one that allowed women to live in the midst of the world. This new form of religious life has been a source of inspiration for almost all the religious institutes that were established thereafter. Also the Congregation of the Mission, a society of apostolic life, was viewed in the following manner by Rome: We establish that the Congregation should not therefore be considered of the number of religious Orders, but that it is of the body of the secular clergy[14]. The Congregation was described in this manner despite the fact that its members professed vows. This was also a new reality with regard to the Church’s understanding of religious life.

---Vincent reacted to the preaching of his era. At the time sermons were often proclaimed with the use of flamboyant, verbose and complex language. Vincent was able to restore a simple style to preaching, one which explained the gospel message in a way that made it understandable to the people, a style that Vincent referred to as the “little method”[15].

When we speak about Vincent de Paul’s faith we become involved in the unfolding of the secret of a surprising life. Jesus spoke about faith in the following manner: Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20). In fact, the famous Brother Mathieu Régnard, who was entrusted with the distribution of assistance valued at more than 1.5 million livres, was convinced that God enabled him to survive so many dangerous situations because of the faith and the prayers of Vincent de Paul[16].

Simone de Beauvoir’s atheism would not have prevented her from understanding the situation of Saint Vincent because in a reference to Saint Theresa of the child Jesus and Saint Catherine of Siena she stated: their trust in God is the result of a strong self-confidence[17], which enabled them to rise above the role that was assigned to women of their era.

Captivity in Tunis

According to the letter of July 24, 1607 which Vincent sent to Monsieur De Comet[18], the Turks attacked the ship on which he was traveling as it approached the mouth of the Rodano River. All the passengers were brought to Tunis where they were sold as slaves: When they had had us make five or six rounds through the city with a chain around our neck … the merchants came to examine us just as one does when buying a horse or an ox. They made us open our mouths in order to look over our teeth; felt our ribs; probed our wounds; and made us walk, trot, run; then carry loads and wrestle to judge each one’s strength; and a thousand other kinds of brutalities[19]. Vincent was bought by a fisherman but was sold two months later to an old man, a Spagirite doctor, a master at drawing out quintessences, a most benevolent and amenable man[20]. When this man died, the man’s nephew received Vincent as part of his inheritance but was soon sold to a renegade from Nice name Guillaume Gautier, a former Franciscan priest who had been captured by the Turks. Guillaume had forsworn his faith in order to be freed from slavery and was now living in the company of three women. Vincent convinced him to repent of his apostasy and together they escaped in a little skiff and arrived in France on June 28th, 1607. The following day the renegade professed his faith publically in the church of Saint-Pierre in Avignon and he was granted absolution in the presence of the congregation.

It is a known fact that from the time of 1927, when Redier[21] first questioned the historicity of these events, an intense debate has ensued with regard to the accuracy of the details of this letter. Dodin, for example, has no doubts about classifying these events as the tale of a thousand and one nights[22] … a story that the young priest invented in order to explain his mysterious silence during the previous two years. Father Ibáñez, from whom I learned so much about Vincent de Paul, was also very skeptical about these events[23]. Nevertheless, in this matter I find the conclusion of Father Román most convincing. After analyzing the arguments for and against the historicity of these events, he states: As long as we have no proof that Vincent was in some other part of France, or in some other foreign place, between 1605 and 1607, we have to accept his statement that he was a captive in Tunis at that time[24].

I suppose that Vincent’s situation during those two years would have been similar to that which cultural anthropologists call cultural shock[25]. Vincent was surrounded by Muslims who viewed Christianity as an aberration and therefore he was unable to share with anyone else who professed the same Christian faith. A European, for example, who lives in the midst of the people of New Guinea where everyone has a firm belief in the existence of evil spirits, will surprisingly discover that in a short period of time he/she begins to question his/her scientific vision of the world. To combat this cultural shock anthropologists periodically return to their country of origin and when this is not possible, they seek the company of people from their own culture or, at the very least, they will seek to communicate with such people.

According to Vincent’s account, during his captivity one of the wives of his master asked him to sing. Holding back his emotions he remembered the psalm that the Jewish exiles in Babylon sang, a psalm that expressed their yearning for Jerusalem: By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars of that land we hung up our harps. There our captors asked us for the words of a song: our tormentors, for a joyful song: “Sing for us a song of Zion!” But how could we sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights (Psalm 137:1-6). With tears in his eyes Vincent sang the Salve, Regina and several other hymns which enabled him to maintain a lively faith [26]. As we know he was not only able to maintain his faith but was also able to help his master recover his faith.

Vincent’s “dark night”[27]

We return to France. There Vincent endured a serious crisis of faith. In light of the phrase used at the beginning of this section perhaps we should refer to this as a crisis of belief. First, let us recall the events:

After his adventure in Tunis and despite the fact that Vincent was a priest for only seven years, he was determined to advance so as to obtain the means of an honorable retirement[28]. In February 1610, the Queen, Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Henry II and the wife of the repudiated Henry IV, appointed Vincent as one of her chaplains and entrusted him with the responsibility of distributing alms. In the Queen’s palace Vincent met a doctor of theology who had been the Canon Theologian of his diocese and was distinguished for his activity and his eloquence during the time of the Calvinist controversy. Now, however, the apostolic zeal of those previous years vanished and this man was attacked with such severe doubts and scruples that he wanted to leap to his death by throwing himself out the window.

In a conference to the Missionaries Vincent spoke about this man’s powerful temptations against the faith[29], but he was silent about the events that followed, events that we have become aware of as a result of the information that Abelly was able to gather together after of the death of Vincent de Paul[30]. This priest confided in Vincent and told him about the terrible spiritual crisis that he was confronting. Vincent attempted to help him with the means that were available to him. He asked God to allow him to bear the trials of this man. It was as though the Lord had listened to him. The man, who had been tormented, recovered his spiritual peace while Vincent saw his beliefs and the things that he held as certain from the time of his childhood … all these things began to crumble and fade away.

Vincent did everything to bring this trial to an end. He drew the symbol of the faith on a piece of paper, signed it and placed it close to his heart. He told God that each time he placed his hand over his heart he was affirming the faith of the Catholic Church even though he was unable to speak a single word. He intensified his prayer life and multiplied his penances: the discipline, hair shirt, arm and waist bands with rubber points … I admit that I find it difficult to understand Coste’s comment when he states that the saints have always been ingenious in mistreating their bodies[31]. I believe in this regard that Vincent was a product of his time but I also admit the possibility that my inability to appreciate self-inflicted mortifications makes it difficult for me to understand all of this. Regardless, all these things proved to be useless and the crisis of faith continued. Vincent then began to visit the patients in the Charity Hospital that was administered by the brothers of Saint John of God and later began to preach missions on the de Gondi estate. Moved by the incredible material and spiritual poverty that he saw, he made a firm and irrevocable decision to dedicate his life, out of love for Jesus Christ, to the service of the poor. Immediately the doubts left him and he recovered a sense of peace. The crisis of belief, which lasted for three or four years, occurred between 1611 and 1616 … we cannot provide a more precise timeframe.

Let us reflect on what all of this teaches us

In the first place we should not be surprised by the fact that Vincent, even though he lived in the midst of a Christian environment, experienced these doubts with regard to his beliefs. Thomas Aquinas said that faith is less certain than knowledge because the truths of faith transcend the understanding of the human person[32]. We should also remember that around the same time Louise de Marillac, who had not yet encountered Vincent de Paul, experienced a similar torment during the ten days between the feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, 1623 … at that time she doubted the immortality of the soul and the existence of God[33].

We see then that Vincent passed through this dark night when he decided to dedicate his life to service on behalf of those persons who were poor. We should not be startled by Saint John’s words: Let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8). When Vincent dedicated his life to the service of the poor he discovered the face of God which he had not known: he discovered the God who did not dwell in the palace of Queen Marguerite or in the house of the de Gondi’s … he discovered the God of the humble and those who lived in misery, the God of the oppressed and those who had lost hope; the God whose very nature consists of restoring sight to the blind, consoling those who are sad, justifying sinners, and saving those who are lost and condemned. Vincent discovered the God of Jesus Christ.

We will often experience a situation of crisis with regard to our own beliefs because we have a poor image of God, one that has been fabricated by our imagination. Remember the words of Voltaire: God made man in his image and man has returned him the favor[34]. The dark night of faith, as painful as it might be, is often an opportunity to know God in a new way, an opportunity to purify a defective image of God that we can no longer accept. Tolstoy stated: If the thought comes to you that everything that you have thought about God is mistaken and that there is no God, do not be dismayed. It happens to many people. But do not think that the source of your disbelief is that there is no God. If you no longer believe in the God whom you believed before, that is because there is something wrong with you faith that has to be corrected in order to better grasp that which you call God. When a savage ceases to believe in his wooden god, this does not mean that there is no God, but only that the true God is not made of wood[35].

Vincent’s faith and the faith of the Church

Vincent had discovered a new image of God but --- like Paul who felt the need to go to Jerusalem to let the leaders of the Church know that he was proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles and therefore not laboring in vain (Galatians 2:2;) --- he needed to assure himself that his faith was the faith of the Church. One day he explained to the Missionaries that all my life I’ve been afraid of finding myself at the start of some heresy. I saw the great havoc wrought by that of Luther and Calvin and how many persons of all kinds and conditions had sucked in its pernicious venom by wanting to taste the false sweetness of their so-called Reformation. I have always been afraid of finding myself enveloped in the errors of some new doctrine before realizing it. Yes, I’ve fear that all my life[36].

Remember that credere Deum is based on credere Deo; we believe not because the truths of faith appear to be reasonable or cease to be reasonable but because God has revealed all of this.

Thus we can understand Vincent’s opposition to Jansenism. Today any student of theology knows that this doctrine was heresy[37] , but when this controversy began it was not that easy to come to that conclusion, especially when we recall that many wise and virtuous individuals adhered to that doctrine. Vincent understood at once that those ideas of extreme rigorism were contrary to the faith of the Church and therefore, while he was a member of the Council of Conscience, he struggled resolutely against this doctrine. He played an important role in Pope Innocent’s condemnation of the five propositions of Jansenism[38]. When he was removed from the Council he no longer felt obliged to become involved in external activities that did not affect his foundations and therefore he focused his efforts on the Daughters of Charity, the Visitation Sisters and the Missionaries … taking precautions so that these men and women would not become ensnared in this doctrine.

The mystical experience of Saint Vincent

The time has come to examine the essence of Vincent’s faith, that which the Christian tradition refers to as credere en Deum, that is, Vincent’s personal experience of God or, if we prefer to say it another way, Vincent’s mystical experience. Obviously we have come to a very difficult point in our reflection because as the little prince of Saint Exupéry said, what is essential is invisible to the eye[39].

More than one person would find it difficult to call Saint Vincent’s experience a mystical experience because in the collective imagination mysticism appears to be bound up with extraordinary phenomena: the ecstasies of Saint Teresa, the levitations of Saint Joseph Cupertino whose contemporaries referred to him as the flying friar, saints who survived a whole year while receiving the Eucharistic host as their only nourishment (a study on the physical phenomena of mysticism has a chapter entitled: The mystics on a hunger strike[40], and Jacques Maître poses the question: should Saint Catherine of Siena be declared the patroness of those inflicted with anorexia[41]), etc., etc.

In this sense then Vincent’s vision of Mother Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot Chantal entering into glory, a vision which he had while celebrating the Eucharist on December 13, 1641 was the only extraordinary mystical phenomenon that we know he experienced[42].

Extraordinary phenomena, in themselves, have no value. They can often by explain by psycho-somatic or socio-cultural causes[43] and in many situations have been proven to be fraudulent. (We recall here the young woman who cut herself with a pen-knife in order to simulate sharing in the scourging of Jesus Christ. Vincent spoke with her and said: Mademoiselle, the real stigmata of Jesus Christ should be the imitation of His virtues[44]). The church’s process of canonization reveals a cautious attitude, one with many reservations when dealing with these phenomena.

Let us forget about these extraordinary phenomena. The dictionary of the Real Academia defines mysticism as the experience of the divine[45]. Mysticism is simply knowledge of God that is not intellectual but rather experiential. In the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas mysticism is an affective or experiential knowledge of the divine will and goodness[46]. We could say that mysticism and contemplation are practically the same reality. Mysticism is a characteristic trait of the religious life of certain individuals and contemplation is an intense living of this mysticism at specific moments of one’s life. Logically, the time of contemplation cannot continue for a length or extended period of time. As one of the great students of the psychology of religion has stated: except for extraordinary cases, a half hour, or at the most an hour or two, appears to be the limit for these experiences … after that they disappear[47].

Therefore the wisdom of God that the mystics possess is not the result of study but the result of experience; or --- if you prefer --- is not the result of knowing but the result of savoring. It is such a joyful experience that, like Peter on Mount Tabor, they shout: It is good that we are here (Mark 9:5).

We return to Saint Vincent. As stated by Father Ibáñez, it is necessary to remember … that this revolutionary philanthropist knew how to pray[48].

Naturally Vincent never explains his personal experience of God because the mystical experience does not lend itself to words but rather one prefers to remain silent before this indescribable mystery. We recall the abrupt manner in which Saint John of the Cross concludes his commentary on The Living Flame of Love: I would not speak of this breathing of God, neither do I wish to do so because I am certain that I cannot and indeed were I to speak of it, it would seem then to be something less than what it is in reality … this is the reason I can say nothing more[49].

No one is able to explain his/her experience of God and other people are unable to see another’s experience of God. The mystic savors the experience and others are able to see the effects of this experience. The same occurs with the wind, we do not see it but we do see its effects: it moves the branches of the trees and it purifies the atmosphere.

Vincent said that the words that are spoken from the perspective of faith are always accompanied by a certain heavenly unction that diffuses itself secretly in the hearts of the listeners[50]. This is exactly what occurred when Vincent spoke. Certainly all of us have experienced this as we have read his conferences and his letters … his words have a special power, the power of one who has had a profound experience of God. If we experience this when we read a transcript of his words, we can imagine what those individuals experienced who were present when Vincent first spoke those words. An elderly bishop said: there is such an unction of the Holy Spirit in your words that we are all touched[51]. The great orator, Bossuet, recalled with great emotion that we listened to him with the greatest eagerness, for we felt profoundly that the words of the Apostle were realized in him: “If anyone speak, let his words be as the words of God[52].”

Bremond is accurate when he includes Vincent de Paul in his monumental history of religious experience. He refers to Vincent in the third volume which deals with the French school of mysticism. As he analyzes Vincent’s personality he states: those who view Vincent as more of a philanthropist than a mystic and those who do not see Vincent as a mystic in any sense of the word have an image of a Vincent de Paul who did not exist. A few pages later he concludes his analysis with the following words: mysticism has given us the greatest man of action[53]. Those words, however, need another section where we can discuss that idea at greater length.

Belief implies commitment

We have spoken about faith but we could not conclude without speaking about the commitment that faith implies. Saint Paul said that only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6) is valid and Saint James affirms that faith without works is useless (James 2:20)[54].

To believe is not only to accept intellectually the fact that God exists (credere Deum), but also involves a personal relationship with God (credere Deo and credere in Deum) that commits the believer. In the post-conciliar years there was a famous book entitled Creer es comprometerse[55] (Belief is commitment). Theologically the title is not very precise because belief is not only commitment and not only commits those who believe; it is possible to be committed without believing because God guides men and women even when they are unaware of it[56]. It is true, however, that it is impossible to believe without committing one’s self.

Unamuno accurately stated: if someone were to tell me that they believe that there are inhabitants on Saturn, I would in turn ask them: among the things that you do or can do, which of these would you stop doing if there were no inhabitants on Saturn … or among the things you do not do, which of these would you do if there were no inhabitants on Saturn. If they told me that everything would continue as usual, I would then reply that the matter of inhabitants on Saturn or other similar matters are not a question of faith[57].

Vincent neither believed nor disbelieved that there were inhabitants on Saturn … this was not a matter that he was concerned about. He believed in God and not just in any God. As we saw before he believed in the God that he discovered when he was relieved from the terrible dark night of belief: the God of the poor. His faith led him to recruit people who were willing to make God’s concern for the poor present in the midst of the world. As he said when speaking to the Sisters: You are going to make known to everyone … the goodness of God; for, when they see that God takes such care of His creatures as to establish a Company of persons who devote themselves to the service of those who are poor … they’ll be forced to admit that God is a good Father[58].

He used similar words when speaking to the Missionaries as he remembered the Calvinist from Montmirail who returned to the church when he saw that the Missionaries were committed to those people who formerly had been abandoned by the church: What a happiness for our Missioners to verify the guidance of the Holy Spirit on His Church by working, as we do, at the instruction and sanctification of poor persons[59].

Present day unbelief

As we move step by step through this presentation, we ought to analyze the situation of unbelief. In my opinion this situation has four characteristics:

1. It is a situation that affects the majority of the population. In recent studies on the religiosity of the people of Spain and as noted by Pedro González Blasco, there are significant differences between the percentage of people who state they are indifferent and those who say they are non-practicing Catholics. The total number of people in both these groups continues to remain at 40%. This makes us think that there are many coincidences between these groups which provide individuals with a certain flexibility when describing themselves as indifferent or non-practicing Catholics[60] … indeed, it is difficult to distinguish between these two groups. In addition to these two groups we have to add another 6% of the people who state they are atheists and 4% who declare themselves agnostics … thus about 50% of those who responded to this question fall into these four categories: atheist, agnostic, indifferent, non-practicing Catholic.

2. In the second place, unbelief is on the rise. From the time that these studies began in Spain, about sixty years ago, the number of non-believers has continued to increase and there is nothing that makes us think that this will not continue to be the trend in the future, especially in light of the fact that this reality affects primarily the most dynamic sectors of society:

a) Young people, who biologically represent the future, the next generation, are less religious that their elders. It does not appear to be a problem for people at this stage of life, that is, a problem for those people who are referred to as youth. Indeed many of these individuals do recover their faith as they grow older. Rather this appears to be a generational problem because older people were more religious during their youth than young people today.

b) Unbelief increases according to an individual’s level of study and reaches its highest point among students at the first level of their university studies, and these individuals slowly recover their faith during the second level of their studies.

c) Men are less religious than women, however among women who work outside the home we find levels of unbelief that are close to those of men. This leads us to consider the fact that unbelief is not a question of genes but rather is the result of being in contact with the present culture.

3. In the third place, we are talking about a post-christian unbelief. In an unpublished manuscript written between 1885 and 1886 Nietzsche wrote: We are not Christians. We have moved beyond Christianity because we have lived not very far removed from it and yet too close to it, but above all we are not Christians because we have left it behind us. This statement is extremely important. Present day unbelief would not be so dangerous if it were a phenomenon imported from other places, but unbelief had its beginnings in Europe and was a reaction to Christianity. Without a doubt our contemporaries have a deformed image of Christianity but they believe that this “image” is Christianity and it is very difficult to convince them of something different. For these people, Christianity had its opportunity and it did not take advantage of it.

4. Finally, unbelief today has an extraordinary cultural relevance. For example, let us look at the world of literature. Eloy Bueno has studied more than a hundred Spanish novels there were published during the last decades, giving preference to those that have been most influential either because of their marketing success or their literary quality. With the exception of the writings of José Jiménez Lozano and Miguel Delibes, he was not able to find any others whose protagonists’ lives and existence were nurtured and dignified as a result of Christianity. In present day Spanish novels religious belief has been reduced to that which is practiced by those in the stage of infancy or by anxious, repressed wives. Religious experience is a phenomenon that places blame and reduces one to an infantile state, presented always in absurd and pejorative language proper to this flock of sweet and bovine creatures who attend Mass on Sundays (Lucía Extrebarria, in Beatriz y los cuerpos celestas, 1998). The priests push matters to an extreme, so much sin, so much evil and so much other #$%&? (Ray Loryga in Lo peor de todo, 1992)[61]. The Church appears as a ghastly institution in the past and the present history of Spain: seeking power, no qualms in using violence to repress dissidents and block the expression of freedom. It is true that the novels almost always describe fictional scenes but they are written with elements that their readers consider real and plausible.

TEACHINGS OF VINCENT DE PAUL AS A BELIEVER FOR PRESENT DAY NON-BELIEVERS

Finally, let us look at Vincent’s experience of faith in order to discover its significance for today.

To believe in the midst of a hostile environment

The sociology of knowledge has revealed that the opinions of those persons who surround us have a great influence on our personal convictions. As a result the environment of unbelief has deprived faith of the structures of plausibility[62], structures which it had in former times. This makes it more difficult to be a believer.

It would appear that Vincent’s situation has nothing in common with our own since he lived in the midst of a Christian environment. Mollat has shown that the impossibility of incredulity[63] was absolute during the XIV and XV centuries. Even during the time of Vincent the number of people who did not believe in God was minimum and those few individuals would not dare to profess publicly their atheism[64].

Nevertheless, Vincent’s situation during the two years of captivity in Tunis where he was surrounded by people who were convinced that Christianity was harmful is not that different from our own situation where we find ourselves surrounded by indifference. In a certain sense his situation might have been more difficult since he had no one, absolutely no one, to affirm his beliefs. This included his master who had at one time been a Christian and a priest but had made a decision to embrace Islam. Nevertheless, Vincent not only persevered in his faith, but helped his master return to the Christian faith.

Vincent’s reaction, when he sang with tears in his eyes the Salve and other hymns which enabled him to maintain a lively faith, was one of cultural resistance.

In the present era faith education ought to include learning how to be distinct without living the distinctiveness in a way that would make this appear to be a curse … and this is not easy to do. In his book, El Miedo a la Libertad, Erich Fromm examined the ease with which individuals conform to their environment and the difficulties that these same individuals encounter when they attempt to go against the current trend[65].

Naturally the attitude of cultural resistance that I propose does not presume an absolute rejection of the present culture which perhaps was the model of thinking before the Council. At that time it was necessary to insist on the fact that we should be like other people, and we were. But at the present time it is no less urgent to insist on the need to be different from others, thus revealing our own identity, like Christ who became one with us in everything but sin (cf., Hebrews 4:15). Therefore we ought to live with this delicate balance between the incarnation and cultural resistance because as Chesterton said, a generation of people will be saved because these individuals knew how to act in a way that was opposed to their wants[66].

To believe at the time of doubt

Unamuno said that at this time no one believes without experiencing some moments of doubt. In the most hidden recesses of their soul believers hear a voice that says: Who knows! They do not want to listen, but they hear. The same occurrence takes place in the soul of those who are atheist. The atheists will say to themselves: Ah! One must live this passing life to the fullest since there is no other life! But they hear a voice within them that says: Who knows! … and these individuals do not want to listen, but nonetheless they hear[67].

There are times during the life of the believer when doubts can become the source of great anguish, like that which occurred to Vincent de Paul during his dark night. As we saw previously, during the three or four years of this anguish Vincent acted as Saint Ignatius counseled: during the time of desolation never make a change[68]. Vincent remained faithful to prayer and went out of his way to serve the poor which enabled him to pass through this dark night and discover a new image of God. Thus this individual who had up to that time been a priest with no great ideals became a saint. Oh happy dark night!

Abelly explained that when Vincent told others about his crisis of faith and how he overcame it, he did this to bring them to use similar remedies and to obtain relief in the trials they were undergoing[69]. We should remember this when we experience a similar dark night.

To believe without any personal “originalness”

In 1898 when Ferdinand Bruneti?re, a famous French literary critic, was asked about his beliefs, he responded: What do I believe? Go and ask Rome! Today, however, polls indicate that the beliefs of Catholics do not necessarily coincide with the proclamations of the See of Peter. It seems that the time has passed when dogma is accepted with no discussion. Today people examine the etymology of words and what was once viewed as dogma is now seen as an opinion and therefore it seems to be possible to have distinct opinions without feeling that one is outside the church. In a study on the religiosity of the people of Spain, Amando de Miguel stated that the present rejection of ecclesial mediation in the determination of orthodoxy is equivalent to a silent protestant reform in the interior of the Catholic Church[70].

In reality when we exclude some beliefs of the Christian faith because they do not appear to be reasonable, we are in actuality saying that we accept the other beliefs of our faith not because God has revealed these truths or because the Church has proposed these truths to us, but rather, we accept these, because unlike the other truths, these ones are reasonable. This is not credere Deo, that is, believe God, but rather belief in ourselves.

For those Christians who dispense themselves with jovial nonchalance from accepting some teaching of the Church … this should serve as a warning, like it was for Vincent, with regard to finding themselves at the start of some heresy.

To believe because we have seen and heard

According to what we said before, Vincent was a mystic, that is, he had a profound personal experience of God. At the time of Saint Vincent and at the present time, this experience had been theologically necessary in order to believe because as Saint Thomas said the act of faith does not terminate with the acceptance of the truths that refer to God but rather terminates with an encounter and a relationship with God.

What is new at this time is that the personal experience of God, besides being theologically necessary for belief, has also become sociologically necessary for belief. Given the fact that, in our current situation of unbelief, faith lacks external supports, if it also lacked internal supports, it would disappear. We recall here the words of Karl Rahner: Christians of the future will either be mystics, that is, persons who have experienced something, or they will not be Christians[71].

What is unfortunate is that few people seem to have had this personal experience of God. Gironella published two books: Cien españoles y Dios and, twenty-five years later, Nuevos cien españoles y Dios, in which he questioned a series of famous people about their religion. In these interviews we can observe that not only have the non-believers not had a personal experience of God --- which is perfectly logical --- but the majority of those persons who identified themselves as believers stated that they had not had any religious experience that was worthy of mention. José María Aznar added: I don’t expect nor do I desire such an experience[72].

Therefore it is necessary that Christian education include an initiation into mystical experience. It is true that people cannot transmit to others their experience of God. Therefore the task of faith educators is more humble: with complete circumspection they are limited to offering (if they can) a little assistance for the purpose of enabling God and the individual human person to be able to meet one another in a direct manner[73]. Here we recall the occasion when Vincent explained to the Missionaries that prayer is experienced not learned: My dear confreres, I fear several of you are not making your meditation properly … and that you’re wasting too much time searching for reasons and passages, and to adapting and arranging them which is not really meditation but rather study[74].

Initiation into the faith concludes when those individuals who were born into a Christian environment are able to say to their parents and catechists the same words that the inhabitants of the Samaritan village spoke to the woman who had told them about Jesus: We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world (John 4:42).

To believe … personally

The worst aspect of the epidemic of unbelief that we are experiencing is that it has infected us, we who are believers --- with more or less strength as the case may be --- and the fact that we are unaware of this makes it doubly dangerous.

It is true that we generally keep our generous commitments but we do so without daring to speak about God. Jesus that said from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) and since we are convinced that our hearts have been filled we have adopted the implicit law of being politically correct and therefore we speak of solidarity and justice without any reference to God.

Unfortunately those things that are not expressed slowly cease to exist for others and also for ourselves. Therefore the presence of this implicit law that prohibits us from speaking about God is precisely what we should be invited to speak about. Seventy years ago Cardinal Suhard began his famous pastoral letter on God with the words: The profound reasons we want to speak about God is that he is not spoken about[75] .

Unbelief --- more or less internalized, more or less conscious --- also weakens our own identity and we find it difficult to free ourselves from the grasp of this unbelief … and this includes those men and women who have consecrated themselves as members of a religious institute or congregation. A theologian from Spain has stated that during the last decades a new form of consecration has arisen, one that is called consecration à-la-carte: a consecration that draws up its own “menu”. The individuals who adhere to this new form of consecration select those “plates” or aspects of consecrated life that they find most pleasing and most convenient. Such individuals choose the people with whom they will live and the place where they will carry out their mission. They are attracted to a mysticism that is based on non-religious wisdom, oriental theories and psychological techniques. They are attentive to present day fads, to the cult of the body and they clothe themselves in the latest fashions. They know the gospel. The result of all of this is a cocktail or a prêt-à-porter that is pleasing and acceptable to each one. They become adept with that which is light (decaffeinated coffee, light drinks, food that is low in calories, the man or woman with no specific attributes). Is the consecrated individual one who is weak in faith, weak in dedication, weak in living a community life, weak in living a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and virtue[76]?

On several occasions the bishops of Spain have spoken out on this serious problem that involves an internal secularization of the Church[77]. When the church and ecclesial institutions have been secularized internally they become a Church and institutions that have become devoid of all meaning and significance[78].

In order to confront this cancer of internal secularization, we ought to be mindful of the words that Vincent addressed to the Missionaries: the interior life is essential; it has to be our aim; if we lack that, we lack everything. Those who have already failed in this should be troubled, ask God’s forgiveness, and set things right[79].

Conclusion

I will now conclude. If we were to become aware of the fact that some living species suffered a spectacular decrease in numbers similar to that which the Catholic population in Spain has experienced during the past four decades, we would suspect, and rightfully so, that the habitat of that species had become hostile. Those who do not see this are those individuals who prefer to ignore the reality. Once we admit that the environment that surrounds us is hostile toward the faith we ought to remember what Saint Augustine said to those who complained about bad times: Bad times! troublesome times! this men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times[80].

We have seen that even though Vincent lived in the midst of a situation seemingly different from our own, he did not find it easy to believe. His experience teaches us that the difficulties of life can become an authentic moment of kairos for the faith because, as mature love is that love which has overcome deception, so too mature faith is always faith that conquers the world (1 John 5:4).

Footnotes:

[1] Saint Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, newly translated, edited and annotated from the 1920 edition of Pierre Coste, CM, New City Press, Brooklyn (1985-2010), Volume II, p. 237, 527. Further references to this thirteen volume work will be indicated with the initials CCD, followed by the volume number and the page number.

[2] Cf., Pierre (religious name, Thomas) Camelot, Credere Deo, credere Deum, credere in Deum. Pour l’histoire d’une formule traditionnelle: Les Sciences Philosophiques et Theólogiques (1941-1942), pp. 149-156.

[3] http://www.piercedhearts.org/theology_heart/teaching_saints/hearts_restless_st_augustine.htm

[4] H. Wildberger, ‘mn [JENNI, Ernst, (ed.), Diccionario teológico manual del Antiguo Testamento, Vol. I, Cristindad, Madrid, 1978, cols. 276-320].

[5] Thomas Aquinas, Exposición del Símbolo de los Apóstoles, prólogo (Escritos de catequesis, Rialp, Madrid 1975, P. 29).

[6] The French historian wrote: What a contrast! What a brusque change! The hierarchy, the discipline, the power of authority to assure, the dogmas that frequently regulated life: this is what the people of the XVII century loved. The hindrances, the authority, the dogmas, this is what the people of the XVIII century detested, that is, the immediate successors of the others (…) The first group lived with joy in the midst of a society divided into unequal classes, while the second group dreamed about equality (…) The majority of the French people thought like Bossuet and then suddenly they thought like Voltaire: this is a revolution (…) A civilization founded on the idea of duties, duties toward God and duties toward the monarchy was replaced by the new philosophers with a civilization that was established on rights: the rights of the individual conscience, the right to criticize, the rights of reason, the rights of men and women and the rights of citizens (…) The time of unorthodoxy has arrived; everyone is unorthodox, undisciplined and rebellious. (Paul Hazard, La crisis de la conciencia europea, 1680-1715, Pegaso, Madrid, 3.a ed., 1975).

[7] Cf., José María Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, Sigueme, Salamanca, 1977, pp. 64-79 (“Miseria y pobreza en el siglo XVII”) and p. 79-113 (“Los pobres en el siglo XVII”).

[8] Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1952, p. 255-280 (“The Foundlings”).

[9] Some examples of these letters can be read in Pierre Coste, CM., The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vol. II, p. 378-379, 391-392.

[10] Pierre Coste, CM., The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul., Vol. II, p. 118-149 (“The Tuesday Conferences").

[11] José María Román, CM, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, Melisende, London, 1999, p. 542.

[12] CCD:XIIIb:432.

[13] Cf., Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vol. I, p. 278-335 (“The Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu”).

[14] CCD:XIIIa:418.

[15] Cf., Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vol. II, p. 197-225 (“The Reform of Preaching”).

[16] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, New City Press, New Rochelle, 1993, Vol. II, p. 331.

[17] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/index.htm.

[18] CCD:I:1-11; there is second letter that is found at CCD:I:11-15.

[19] CCD:I:4-5.

[20] CCD:I:5.

[21] Cf., Antoine Redier, La varie vie de Saint Vincent de Paul, Grasset, Tournair, 1927.

[22] André Dodin, Vincent de Paul and Charity, New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 1993, p. 19.

[23] Cf. José María Ibáñez, La fe verificada en el amor, Paulinas, Madrid, 1993, pp. 30-31, no.5.

[24] José María Román, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, p. 83. No new information has come to light about the details of these letters but the investigations of Father Bernard Koch have supported the thesis of the authenticity of these letters.

[25] Cf. Peter L. Berger, Rumor de ángeles, Herder, Barcelona, 1975, p. 24.

[26] CCD:I:8.

[27] I place the words dark night in quotation marks because I do not use this expression in the same sense as John of the Cross. The dark night of John of the Cross was the dark night of faith. We recall his words: Once in a dark of night, / inflamed with love and wanting, I arouse / O coming of delight! / And went as no one knows, / When all my house lay long in deep repose (http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/09/saint-john-of-cross-dark-night-of-soul.html). On the other hand, Vincent’s dark night was an experience of the lack of faith.

[28] CCD:I:15.

[29] CCD:XI:26-27.

[30] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, Vol. III, p. 113-116.

[31] The saints have always been ingenious in mistreating their bodies is a literal translation of the Spanish text as found in Coste which in the English text is translated in the following way: the saints have always been ingenious in methods of self-mortification. I believe the author of this presentation finds it more difficult to understand the literal translation rather than the nicer sounding English translation. Cf. Pierre Coste, CM., The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul.,Vol. III, p. 299.

[32] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2-2, q.4, a.8 (Suma de Teologia, BAC, vol. III, Madrid, 1990, p. 85).

[33] Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 1-2 [A:2]. Further references to this work will be indicated with the initials SWLM, followed by the page number and the number of the document in parenthesis [].

[34] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire.

[35] http://honors-scripture.setonhallprep.groupfusion.net/modules/groups/integrated_home.phtml?gid=66664&sessionid=ce2e741dddb800f488740b037881dadb.

[36] CCD:XI:30-31.

[37] Cf., Mary Louise Cozens, Manual de herejías, Herder, Barcelona, 1964, pp.108-117.

[38] Innocent X, Constitución Cum occasione, May 31, 1653 (DH 2002-2007: Denzinger, Heinrich, and Peter Hunermann, El magisterio de la Iglesia. Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, Herder, Barcelona, 1999, pp. 587-588).

[39] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Little_Prince

[40] Herbert Thurston, Les phénom?nes physiques du mysticism, Rocher, 2nd edition, Monaco, 1986, chapter 15.

[41] Jacques Maître, Sainte Catherine de Sienne: patronne des anorexiques? Clio 2 (1-8-1995), pp. 109-132.

[42] Vincent shared with M. Codoing the essential elements of that vision (CCD:II:240-241), but spoke about the details of the event in the third person, saying that this was experienced by a trustworthy person, who I am sure would rather die than lie (CCD:XIIIa:138).

[43] Cf., Carlos Domínguez Morano, Experiencia mística y psicoanálisis, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1999.

[44] Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vol. III, p. 197.

[45] Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la Lengua Española, p. 1,381.

[46] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2-2, q. 97, art. 2, ad 2 (Suma de Teologia, vol. IV, BAC, Madrid, 1994, p. 1580.

[47] William James, Las variedades de la experiencia religiosa, Península, Barcelona, 1986, p. 286.

[48] José María Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl, realismo y encarnación, Sigueme, Salamanca, 1982, p. 21.

[49] St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, Thomas Baker, London, 1919, p. 129.

[50] CCD:XI:26.

[51] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, Vol. III, p. 38.

[52] Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vol. II, p. 221.

[53] Henri Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France depuís la fin des guerres de religion jusqu’à nos jours. Vol 3-1: La conquête mystique (l’école française). Bloud et Gay, Paris, 1925, pp. 246 and 257.

[54] This is a translation taken from the New American Bible, the literal translation of the Greek would be: charity without works is sterile (a?rgo¿j, argós).

[55] José María González Ruiz, Creer es comprometerse, Fontanella, 5th edition, Barcelona, 1970.

[56] John Paul II, Centesimus annus, #62.

[57] Miguel de Unamuno, Viejos y jóvenes (Obras Completas), Vol I, Escélicer, Madrid, 1966, p. 1,079.

[58] CCD:X:448.

[59] CCD:XI:30.

[60] Cf., Pedro González Blasco y otros, Religión [Miguel Juárez, (dir.), V Informe sociológico sobre la situación social de España, t. 1, Foundación FOESSA, Madrid, 1994, 9. 754].

[61] Eloy Bueno de la Fuente, Dios en la actual novela española [José Luis Cabria y Juana Sánchez-Gey (eds.), Dios en el pensamiento hispano del siglo XX, Sigueme, Salamanca, 2002, p. 496].

[62] Peter L. Berger, Para una teoría sociológica de la religión, Kairós, Barcelona, 1971, pp. 74-82.

[63] Michel Mollat, La vie et le pratique religieuses au XVI si?cle et dans la premi?re partie du XV, principalement en France, Centre de Documentation Universitaire, Paris, 1963, p. 1.

[64] Cf., Lucien Febvre, Le probl?me de l’incrouyance au XVI si?cle, Albin Michel, 2.a. ed., Paris, 1968.

[65] Cf., Erich Fromm, El miedo a la libertad, Paidós, 6.a ed., Barcelona, 1982.

[66] Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas¸ http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/aquinas.html

[67] Miguel de Unamuno, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida (Obras completas, t. 7, Escélicer, Madrid, 1969, p. 179).

[68] Ignacio de Loyola, Exercicios spirituales, 318 (Obras, BAC 5.a ed., Madrid, 1991, p. 295).

[69] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, Vol. III, p. 116.

[70] Amando de Miguel, Los españoles y la religión. El “Evangelio” de Amando, Random House, Mondadori, Barcelona, 2006, p. 25.

[71] Karl Rahner, Espiritualidad antigua y actual (Escritos de Teología, t. 7, Taurus, Madrid, 1969p. 25).

[72] José María Gironella, Nuevos 100 españoles y Dios, Planeta, Barcelona, 1994, p. 50.

[73] Karl Rahner, Palabras de Ignacio de Loyola a un jesuita de hoy, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1990, p. 9.

[74] CCD:XI:232-233; see also CCD:XI:359-360.

[75] Emmanuel Suhard, “El sentido de dios” (Dios, Iglesia, Sacerdocio. Tres pastorales, Rialp, Madrid, 1953, p. 143).

[76] Bartomeu Bennassar, Virtudes cristianas ante la crisis de valores, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1995, p. 16. In accord with the present tendency I have substituted the word consecrated for the word religious because consecrated has a broader meaning. In reality, however, neither the Vincentians nor the Daughters of Charity are religious.

[77] The heart of the problem, which future pastoral activity will have to give maximum attention, is that of internal secularization. The primary question that the Church in Spain must confront today is found not so much in society or in the cultural environment but in the very Church itself; it is a house problem and not just a problem outside the house. Conferencia Episcopal Espanola, “!Mar adentro!” (Luke 5:4). Plan Pastoral de la Conferencia Episcopal Española para el trienio 2002-2005, Ecclesia, n. 10:3087 (9 de febrero de 2002) 195. The primary question that the church of Spain must confront is that of internal secularization. Conferencia Episcopal Española, “Teologia y secularización en España. A los cuarenta años de la clausura del Concilio Vaticano II” (30 de marzo de 2006), 5: Ecclesia 3,305-3,306 (15-22 de abril de 2006) 543.

[78] Translator’s Note: the Spanish text continues with a reference to The Rock, a work of T.S. Eliot. I was unable to find the section of this work that is cited in the text and I am very reluctant to attempt to translate the work of such a well known poet. The text in Spanish reads: Vuestros padres edificaron sobre Christ Jesús / que es la piedra angular. / “Pero vosotros, ¿habéis construido bien, para que ahora / os quedéis sentados, desvalidos, / en una casa arrunida? / (…) / Vosotros, ¿habéis edificado bien, o habéis olvidado la piedra angular / hablando de relaciones justas de hombres, / pero no de relaciones de hombres con Dios?” My humble attempt to translate these words: Our ancestors built on Jesus Christ / who is the cornerstone / but you, have you built well so that now / you remained seated and destitute / in a house of ruins. / (…) / You, have you built well / or have you forgotten the cornerstone / as you speak about just human relationships / but not about relationships of men and women with God? The reference in Spanish reads: Thomas Stearns Eliot, Coros de “le Piedra” (Poesías reunidas. 1909-1962, Alianza, 2.a ed., Madrid, 2002, pp. 173-174).

[79] CCD:XII:111.

[80] Saint Augustine, http://www.ewtn.com/library/PATRISTC/PNI6-7.TXT

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM