By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
Described as one of the most brilliant minds that rose from out of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century was the French Jesuit, Henri-Marie Joseph Sonier de Lubac (1896 – 1991). Writing during World War II, in the midst of the NAZI occupation of France, de Lubac assisted in the publishing of a journal, Christian Witness, that spoke strongly against the values of the Third Reich. After the collapse of the Vichy Government, de Lubac released a number of works, that had all the while been germinating in his mind over the dark years. One of these works, was Drame de l’humanisme athée (1944), published later in English as, The Drama of Atheistic Humanism (1949).
The Drama of Atheistic Humanism, is a monumental work, for at its core is the thesis of what exactly is the nature of man. Henri de Lubac argues that the great ‘isms’ of the fascist and communist era were not primarily political or economic movements, but were philosophical machinations, that set about tearing apart the fundamental Christian belief, that man was made in the image and likeness of God. Marx, Feuerbach, Comte and Nietszche, are all pointed out by de Lubac, as men who attempted to kill God, only to leave a moral vacuum in God’s place. In opening up his third chapter of The Drama, entitled, The Spiritual Battle, de Lubac notes that the greatest problem today that exists for humanity, is the spiritual problem. It is the question of what is man, in a world where many cite the Gospels, but reject Christ. In a dramatic piece of writing in this chapter de Lubac quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: “He whom men worship as the Messiah turns the whole world into an infirmary. He calls the weak, the unfortunate, the disabled his children and his loved ones. What about the strong? How are we ourselves to climb if we lend our strength to the unfortunate and the oppressed, to idle rogues with no wits and no energy? Let them fall, let them die, alone and wretched. Be hard, be terrible, be pitiless! You must thrust yourselves forward, forward! A few men, but great ones, will build a world with their strong, muscular, masterful arms on the corpses of the weak, the sick and the infirm!” (de Lubac, 1995, p. 120). Now if the reader has read Rilke’s text speedily, I ask them to go back and read again. There is in Rilke’s passage more than just faint echoes of Nietszche’s Übermensch (the overman or superman), and his untermensch (the subhuman). Henri de Lubac expands his thesis, as such: in a world where there no longer exists a human person made in the image and likeness of God, what we are invariably left with, are the strong and the weak; the strong left to their own devices and self-interest, invariably oppress the weak, because they have the way and the means to do so. Read Rilke again, and you will see the terrible implications of his thought process: Who is to care for the strong? I am one of the strong! Let these weaklings die out! The Christ that you sing hymns in honour of – He is running an infirmary. Another author inspired by Nietzsche, Pierre Lasserre, shocks yet more, when he writes, that the pity and mercy offered by Christians to those who are suffering is the worst form of human hatred: “The hatred I read in Christian eyes of this kind is something definite; it is the quintessence of Christian hatred of the earth. It is when they are gentlest that Christian eyes are shiftiest … At bottom, is it not the last trick of incurables to set about loving their infirmity and exalting it?” (de Lubac, 1995, p. 121). Using Lasserre’s logic, it would be the greatest service to humanity, to rid the world of undesirables. But who is it that determines which people are undesirable or not? That is the big question that begs for an answer in a world where there is no God to be made in His image. In such a world all our lives are forfeit, according to whim. In Lasserre’s mind we don’t need charity, we need a vivisectionist. Such theory calls to mind the scene in the motion picture, Schindler’s List, of the truck-load of Jewish children in Auschwitz, singing cheerful songs as they are driven away to a ‘better world.’
What we see in de Lubac’s text is an appeal for humanity to recognize its higher calling. Henri de Lubac, knew only too well what happens when the world separates itself into categories of strength and weakness; for the strong not only set upon the weak – but set upon each other, in order to make those who rival their strength, weak. This fight for superiority among the strong, would be ceaseless, for if one stopped to take a breath from taking advantage of another, they would find themselves quickly in the position of the weak, and thus a potential undesirable. Thus de Lubac claims that long after the military war has finished, we will be in the midst of a spiritual battle, a battle that was always at the core of the bombs and the bayonets – for communism and fascism, tore out the soul, only to replace the eternal with stone, and iron. The human spirit can be enslaved – but eventually it will revolt, knowing that it is by nature, free, and that this freedom is Divinely given. The thoughtful and spirit-led human person understands, that if all there is to life without God, is death – then give me God, and let me breathe and live. For atheistic humanism, is self-limiting, limited by the finite nature of the human person, devoid of God. True, we can exalt the human person, in a Godless fashion, as in the days of Soviet Cult of Personality, where mega-sized portraits of the heroic Stalin cast a shadow over cities, yet people may be intimidated by such displays of ego, but they are not so easily fooled. Where is the ‘glorious’ Stalin today, they will ask, as I deal with my day-to-day troubles? For as the Russian Orthodox theologian and dissident, Sergius Bulgakov would profoundly conclude, and forewarn in The Lamb of God: “man bears the Image of God, that is, that humanity in the world presupposes the Divine-Humanity. And one should not surrender this idea to militant atheism, which distorts it by understanding not man on the basis of Divinity but Divinity on the basis of man.” (Bulgakov, 2008, p. 116).
Of course Henri de Lubac’s spiritual battle goes on today – because the moral debates that plague our societies, all retreat back to the fundamental issue and paradigm as to what is man. If man is but a conglomeration of cells, and there is no God; then deal with him according to the nebulous and fluid nature of your particular law of the land. For as Bulgakov writes: “’Satanized’ man desires to destroy the image of God in himself, to abolish the very idea of God.” (Bulgakov, 2008, pp. 150 – 151). But if man is indeed, created and believed to be, little less than God, and that this reality is acknowledged as to apply to every individual, male or female, Catholic, Muslim, Jew and to all races, then a problem exists – a universal, binding spiritual and social contract that shouts across the eons. For there can be no slaves, where all have God as their parent – and one must be treated with the highest of respect, if by our actions, one ultimately answers back to God, for how we treat our neighbour, made in His image.