Balthasar and Integralism

Over at The Josias I attempt a response to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s critique of integralism.

14 thoughts on “Balthasar and Integralism

  1. A very interesting response, Pater, and I am sure that you are right in most of it, however, I wonder if you leaning too heavily solely on the teaching of Saint Augustine. I have much respect for him, and indeed he has been my patron since my confirmation as a Soldier of Christ, however, his works are susceptible to being interpreted in a very heretical manner (as has been shown in the case of the Calvinists and the Jansenists). Further his unfortunate predispositions from Manichaeism do not seem to have been fully dispelled, at least in some of his writings. This certainly seems to be the case in this commentary by Father William Most, in which he contrasts some of the teachings of St. Augustine with others from the Church Fathers and the Magisterium.

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    • I agree that a fuller case would have to consider other authorities beside Augustine. Certainly, Augustine is not always right about everything (although I don’t agree that he retained traces of Manichaeism after his conversion). The point of appealing to him in this case, however, was to question the meme that the nouvelle theologie was a return to a more “Augustinian” account of grace, after the long wanderings of Catholic theology through the desert of neo-scholasticism. If the new account of grace is so Augustinian, why does it lead to such un-Augustinian conclusions?


      • The article by Most is breathtaking in its arrogance and is heretical in its claims. Florence defined “the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.” Most claims ” Original sin alone does not deserve hell”. It is clear God does not simply will the salvation of all men because if He did all would be saved (the heresy of universalism) or Him simple will would be frustrated (the heresy of Deism). So Augustine speaks for the entire tradition in his denial that God simply wills the salvation of all men. Most’s claims about the eastern fathers are also false St Gregory Nazianzen expressly teaches that unbaptised infants will be eternally excluded from heaven. The contradictions Most affects to see in Augustine arise from the application of his own Deism to the Doctor of Grace to whom it is utterly alien.


  2. There is an integralism which does have to do with modernnism, though it calls itself anti-modernist, an integralism that which paganizes Christendom, and finds its roots in a syncretistic pagan rationalism. It does not accept the modernist notion that all religions/cultures are the same/equal, but places the real value of Christianity in its being the vehicle of a basically pagan rationalism: the Great Pagan Tradition. Here there is a self-regarding snobism and latent racism which transmutes Christianity into a form of cultura/intellectuall elitism, which is essentially anti-democratic and entertains a corresponding distorted concept of the common good which justifies trampling on the dignity of the person whenever it serves the interests of the State, and its racially and culturally pure elites, a state envisioned in corresponding elitist, rationalist and pagan terms.(Evola, René Guenon. And in this sense one might here have a look also at the curious figure of the American Revilo Oliver. Such champions of anti-modernist traditionalism have, had paradoxically much to do with the ideological justification of modern neo-pagan totalitarianism. Certainly the more Christian representatives of integralism were sooner or later repelled by the Pagan underpinnings of such thinkers as these (and of Maurras), but I ask myself if their integralism itself made them at least partially sympathetic with the tenets of such neo-paganism,


    • Julius Evola and René Guenon were not Integralists by any definition, rather they belonged to a school which identified itself as “Traditionalism”, yet which was really an esoteric Mysticism based on a non-existent past. Evola especially was virulently anti-Christian, to the point of attempting to desacralize the legends of the Holy Grail. The adoption of his works by certain “Christian” reactionaries of a more esoteric type is a complete misrepresentation of his original intentions.


  3. Catholic integralism appeals to Boniface VIII and Gregory VII, and their affirmation of the superiority of the spiritual power with respect to that of the temporal power (which is Catholic doctrine). But adherence to that doctrine does not define Catholic integralism adequately.

    If Julius Evola and René Guenon are not Catholic (or Christian) integralists it is not so much because they are not integralists but because they are not Chrisians.

    Charles Maurras has very much to do with the history of Catholc integralism, though he was an agnostic, and I think that there is a strong argument that the Christendom that he admires is a paganized Christendom which resembles that Great Tradition admired by the fascist and neo-fascist thinkers.

    Catholic integralism misunderstands the superiority of the spiritual power. What integralists seem to want is the reversal of the dictum of Christ about according to which his followers unlike the pagan great ones who Lord it over others and make their authority felt, should strive for a greatness cosisting in serving others, in imitation of Jesus himself who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life in redemption for many.

    Catholic integralism wants to smuggle the pagan conception of poweer inside the Church where it does not belong.


  4. Still I want to say that I thought this piece on von Balthasar was a very good piece. The tone was good, as is generally the case in the writings of Pater Edmund. And I think that taking on von Balthasar in this matter is a big-hearted thing to do So that I almost want to say the criticisms I make of Catholic integralism do not refer to Pater Edmund’s vision as such

    I would accept Catholic integralism if you could define it like this:

    The attempt to renew the consciousness of the continuity Magisterial teaching regarding the relationship of Church and State and the primacy of the spiritual power; the rejection of the reading of today’s magisterial pronouncements as a merely modern and liberal doctrine, in absolute contrast with what the Church previously taught; the attempt to defend the Church not as an abstraction, but as a concrete and visible societ endowed with divine authority, which is at the same time the Mystical Body of Christ.

    Yet I am not sure that you can or should define it like that.

    I recently listened to a conference of Thomas Pink, in which he speaks at length about his understanding of Dignitatis Humanae. At first I was not pleased. But then it occurred to me that if one takes this as a way of building a bridge toward the integralists who reject the conciliar doctrine, then I think his approach is highly valuable.

    He says that DH ought to be read in a Leonine way. I think that is a justifiable remark. It is similar to the justifiable remark of Cardinal Müller that AL ought to be read in continuity with the previous magisterium.

    But reading such a document in continuity does not imply that no doctrinal development has taken place.It is possible to maintain the continuity and affirm the doctrimal development.


  5. Regarding “the natural desire for God”:

    It is a misnomer.

    The desire for God does not come from nature as nature.

    If you defend that the desire for God comes from nature as nature, you cannot maintain its gratuity. Nature as such does not contain grace.

    Still the nouvelle theologie is right in saying that the human heart desires God, not however inasmuch as nature, but inasmuch as human nature (and one is not dealing here with a trivial and external notion of the humanity of human nature, but with the deep Christian-anthropological notion of humanity.

    God could have created a purely natural world (an eternal world–as St. Thomas tells us) but didn’t. In the world he did create nature is elevated by grace. (But the option of the eternal world must be ultimately identical with the option of not creating!)

    This elevation is not properly called a mixing of nature and grace.


  6. Thinking about these matters I turned to Charles de Koninck’s “Primacy of the Common Good, against the Personalists.”

    In presenting a clear intellectual argument one should make it clear what one is defending and correspondingly, what one is arguing against.

    I miss this in this essay. Its complexity does not lead us to some higher order simplicity.

    What is the primacy of the common good? Charles de Koninck doesn’t really tell us. He tells us how, in some sense, the common good, has a primacy.

    But to establish that does not establish the thesis of the primacy of the common good in the sense that he seemingly wants to establish: its primacy over the good of the person/individual.

    Or is that not the thesis he is defending?

    If all he wants to do is to show that there is, in a certain sense, a primacy of the common good, then fine, mission accomplished.

    Creation is ordered in an essential way to God. This implies the primacy of the common good above the partial goods of the parts of creation.

    But the person is not a mere part of creation.

    And on the other hand, de Koninck does not make it clear what the personalism is that he is arguing against. The personalism he is arguing against is simply the counterpart of the primacy that he is arguing for, but it is not personalism as such, but only the “personalism” corresponding to the “primacy” that he has in mind.

    It leaves untouched the essential question about the common good, personalism and primacy.

    This leads into the needless complexity and final fogginess of the essay.

    Ralph McInerney tells us that de Koninck’s primacy leaves Maritain’s personalism unscathed. He praises both conceptions.

    But I think that this is a false irenicism.

    Father Edmund provides us with the snide remark of de Koninck, about having better things to do than reading Maritain.

    (But if one has so little time for the ideas of Maritain, how come one puts so much effort into arguing against them? Another commenator says that it is not Maritain that he is arguing againsst, but the Maritainists. Ah!)

    The question of primacy is from one point of view a question of moral theology: In what circumstances does the primacy of the common good decide a moral dilemna? And in what circumstances does the primacy of the person decide a dilemna?

    It may easily be seen that that in some circumstances the primacy of the common good is the principle that ultimately decides the dilemna, for one may not trample on the common good. The common good is, in this sense, superior to all other goods, including the good of the person/individual: it may not be trampled on

    But in other circumstances the primacy of the common good is not the principle that decides the dilemna. (In these circumstances one is NOT dealing with the same dilemna.) Rather, it is the principle of the primacy of the good of the person that decides the dilemna. In this case it is the principle of the primacy of the good of the person which affirms itself as decisive. The good of the person here shows itself as something that may not be trampled upon by anything, even by the common good.

    Thus it becomes clear that the primacy of common good and the primacy of the good of the person/individual should not be opposed to each other as if they formed a binary in which one must ever prevail over the other in the abstract.

    It is argued that God is the common good of all men, and, in a certain sense, of all creation, and that God is greater than that which merely satisfies the selfish needs of an individual.

    But God is also the final good of the person.

    There is a similar weakness in Father Edmund’s reasonings about integralism. He doesn’t establish well what the integralism is that he is arguing for. He wants integralism to be in a binary relation with modernism, so that all opponents of modernism, must ipso facto be integralists or else be incoherent. Thus von Balthasar must be cast as a modernist, kinda sorta.

    He argues that Cardinal Merry del Val was an admirable person, on the way to beatification, and humble, and that this argues in favor of integralism, because he is integralism incarnate, as it were. But there isn’t much rigorous logic to this argument, is there?

    Von Balthasar argues, more convincingly, that one of the three essential manifestations of integralism is the integralism of reason, something which shows an essential link between integralism and modernism, because the integralism of reason is essentially an anti-rationalism which is linked to the subjectivism which is the essence of modernism, “the synthesis of all errors,” as Pius X affirmed.

    Pater Edmund argues that if you include such an integralism of reason among the parts of integralism one has extended the definition of integralism to such an extent as to make it meaningless.

    But what if the shoe fits?

    In spite of all the protests to the contrary, I find in de Koninck’s affirmation of the primacy of the common good AGAINST the primacy of the good of the person/individual (something that he doesn’t quite dare to say, but which he seems to want us to take home with us) such an anti-rationalism.

    One might think that there is nothing wrong with affirming the primacy of the common good against the primacy of the person/individual.

    But we live in the epoch of the abuse crisis in the Church, and this crisis leads me to affirm that you cannot deal with such a crisis and maintain the primacy of the common good against the primacy of the good of the person.

    Our Lord speaks very clearly about the evil of scandal done to the little ones. Such scandals must be brought to light and not hushed for the so-called good of the Church (i.e. the so-called common good, trumping the good of the person).


  7. With regard to the distinction between human individual and person, which Father Edmund claims to be absurd, and which is supposedly is “blown away” by Grenier:

    The whole thing can be said much more succinctly.

    One is dealing with a formal distinction, not a real distinction.

    If you keep that in mind, I don’t see why what Maritain and Garrigou-Lagrange say about this doesn’t remain standing.


  8. “If in order to save an earthly life it is praiseworthy to use force to stop a man from committing suicide, are we not to be allowed use the same force — holy coercion — to save the Life (with a capital) of many who are stupidly bent on killing their souls?”
    – Jose Maria Escrivá, The Way: 399

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    • Regarding “force”:

      In a recent fit of good writing from Jonah Goldberg:

      …you will find the following:

      “The only thing that turns this natural process of the human condition into a threat is when some group of people flee from fair competition — democratic, cultural, intellectual, and, yes, economic — and seek out the government to protect them (or if, like the Mafia or motorcycle gangs, they opt to operate outside the law).

      Candlemakers have every right to argue that candles are preferable to light bulbs. They have every right to mount a huge ad campaign hyping the benefits of candles. But if they go to the government and persuade (or bribe) a politician or bureaucrat to penalize light-bulb makers — which is just another way of saying penalize light-bulb buyers — they’ve crossed the line. Government is not “just another word for the things we do together”; government is force, full stop. That doesn’t mean governmental force is never legitimate. Force — or, if you prefer, violence — is amoral. Violence when used to stop a rape is moral. Violence in service of rape is immoral. And so is violence to prevent people from buying light bulbs.”

      Thusly, Jonah Goldberg (re: Trump’s new tarrifs).

      The key sentence is this “Force — or, if you prefer, violence — is amoral.”

      This is, however, a paradox; you have what Father Spadaro would call a 2+2=5 moment.

      He is not arguing that violence is amoral (simpliciter), because violence is not amoral. There is God’s Commandment (the Fifth), after all, which tells us that violence is immoral.

      But here you have my problem with the Integralists. They seem not to perceive the paradox. They seem to think that violence really is (simpliciter) amoral. And this is why Integralists end up playing it fast and loose with human rights (and thus with morality).

      Goldberg is applying, rather, the principle bonum ex integra causa malum ex quocumque defectu.

      Let me explain:

      1. Saving a person from rape (by force) is a good act.

      2. This is not because rape is always bad while violence is something morally neutral: it is not because the Sixth Commandment proscribes acts which are intrinsically wrong IN CONTRAST WITH the Fifth Commandment.

      3. It is because a good act can never be realized by an evil means (malum ex quocumque defectu), and saving someone from rape is a good act.

      4. This is not an ends justify the means argument, but the very opposite. It highlights the radical difference between good acts and evil acts.


  9. Integralists such as Father Edmund are right when they tell us that the temporal order is in fact ordered eschatologically, ordered to spiritual finalities, ordered to the final end of man, and that this truth should guide our political thinkingl. But this deep, ontologicial ordering of the temporal to the spiritual cannot be conceived of in a merely juridical way. The error of integralism is not in recognizing this ordering, but in misinterpreting it so that it becomes something merely juridical.

    This comes from an inqequate way of imagining the relation between nature and grace.. One is working with a pagan conception of nature, a merely natural nature, and from there one derives a merely natural conception of the Polis. It is merely natural, but it is subject juridically to the Church and to God, and this gives the Church the right to IMPOSE hereself in the political order, just as She used to, in the good old days, and from there the nostalgia for authoritarianisms, and the lack of comprehension for Christian anthropology proposed by the Council, for the affirmation of the Primacy of Conscience, religious liberty, and the sanctity of life.


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