Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lacordaire, Conferences

The following is continued from Lacordaire's
"God: Conferences delivered at Notre Dame in Paris"

(series begins here)



Before entering upon this comparison, or rather on entering upon it, I will make one observation. It is that God is here below the most popular of all beings, whilst pantheism is a purely scientific system. In the open fields, resting upon his implement of toil, the laborer lifts up his eyes towards heaven, and he names God to his children by an impulse as simple as his own soul. The poor call upon him, the dying invoke his name, the wicked fear him, the good bless him, kings give him their crowns to wear, armies place him at the head of their battalions, victory renders thanksgiving to him, defeat seeks help from him, nations arm themselves with him against their tyrants; there is neither place, nor time, nor circumstance, nor sentiment, in which God does not appear and is not named. Even love itself, so sure of its own charm, so confident in its own immortality, dares not to ignore him, and comes before his altars to beg from him the confirmation of the promises to which it has so often sworn. Anger feels that it has not reached its last expression until it has cursed that admirable name; and blasphemy is the homage of faith that reveals itself in its own forgetfulness. What shall I say of perjury? A man possesses a secret, upon which his fortune or his honor depends: he alone upon earth knows it, he alone is his own judge. But truth as an eternal accomplice in God; it calls God to its help, it places the heart of man to struggle against an oath, and even he who may be capable of violating its majesty would not do so without an inward shudder, as before the most cowardly and basest of actions. And yet what is there contained in those words of an oath? It is the name which all nations have adored, to which they have built temples, consecrated priests, offered prayers; it is the highest name, the most holy, the most efficient, the most popular name which the lips of men have received the grace to utter.

Is it so with pantheism? Where shall we look for it? Come with me, let us knock on yonder door; it is illustrious, and more than one celebrity has already been there. We are in the presence of a sage. Let us beg of him to explain to us the mystery of our destinies, for he has sounded it. What says he to us? That there is in the world only one single substance. Why? Because substance is that which is in itself, and that which is in itself is necessarily unique, infinite, eternal, God. Behold then the whole explanation of our life based upon a metaphysical definition. I do not now examine whether it be true of false, whether the conclusions drawn from it are legitimate, whether it is easy otherwise to define substance, and so overthrow the whole structure of this doctrine. I simply defy mankind to understand it; even you, who from your childhood have been initiated to speculations of words and ideas, you would not seize its tissue without great difficulty were I to expose it to you. Many of you, perhaps, would not succeed so far; for nothing is more rare than metaphysical sagacity, than that vision which dispels before it all realities, and penetrates with a fixed regard the world of abstractions. You would soon feel the swelling veins of your brow, a kind of dimness would seize even upon the most hidden recesses of your thoughts, and all would disappear before you, the real and the ideal, in painful obscurity. And we are to believe that truth lies hidden in such subtle and impossible depths! That there it awaits the human race to declare to it its destiny! Can you believe it? For my part, I do not believe it. I believe in the God of the poor and the simpleminded; I believe in the God who is known in the lowly cottage, whom infancy hears, whose name is dear to misfortune, who has found ways to reach to all, how humble soever they may be, and who has no enemies but the pride of knowledge and the corruption of the heart. I believe in this God. I believe in him because I am a man, and in repeating with all nations and all ages the first article of the Church’s Creed, I do but proclaim myself a man and take my rank in the natural community of souls.

Henri-Dominique Lacordaire
God: Conferences - Notre-Dame in Paris (1871)

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