The well-known Parisian weekly L’Express recently published an article by Jean François Revel entitled “La fin des berceuses,” that is, “The End of Lullabies.” The dictator Tito appears on the cover in a photograph one could call surrealistic, but which in fact, is magnificently realistic, thoroughly revealing his sinister face, physiognomy and mentality. The matter, treated with elegant French precision, includes an introduction, an explanation divided into twelve points, and a conclusion. The title could, perhaps, be more precise. It speaks of “lullabies” but the article deals with only one of them. There was at least one more of transcendental importance. As a matter of fact, the two lullabies did not put to sleep just any two babes, but a mother and son who are respectable and unique. The mother is 2000 years old; the son, 1500. Apparently decrepit, the mother on close observation shows signs of a life that will last as long as the human race. But her poor son, only some centuries younger, shows in his speech an accentuated arteriosclerosis of the brain; and in his movements, an advanced case of Parkinson’s disease.
The son is the Latin-Germanic world that rose out of the Barbarian invasions of the 5th Century. The Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church gave him supernatural life by baptizing and evangelizing him, thereby bringing him forth for Christian Civilization. The mother — how it pains us to say it — from various points of view appears so old, so shriveled, that from certain angles she gives one the illusion that she has been dead for quite some time. On attentive analysis from other angles, however, she shows beyond any doubt that her life is indestructible. The aging she manifests from time to time is but a transitory epiphenomenon, a macabre episode that at the end of each process (today’s has reached a literally unimaginable apex) never results in death but rather in a new springtime. The more tragic the wintry symptoms of hopeless senility, the more splendid the springtime.
Revel’s article concerns only the West, the States of Europe and America. The Church seems absent from his field of observation.
The explanation of the article’s title is right in the first paragraph: “Why has `detente’ failed? — Because in the mentality of Westerners it meant the suspension of Soviet aggressiveness, and in the mentality of the Soviets, the suspension of all Western response to their aggressiveness.” So that lullaby was `detente,’ and the drowsy infant, the West.
The West alone? No. The Church, which encompasses not only the West but the whole world, has also suffered the numbing effects of a similarly lugubrious lullaby. I can affirm it, now more than ever, because I was one of the constantly diminishing few who affirmed it with unflagging continuity all through the years when nearly the whole world appeared to be lulled in that sinister sleep. Among the Catholics on center stage, no thought was considered so obtuse and no style of action deemed so hickishly backward and counterproductive as that of anti-communism.
In that twilight of anti-communism, the owls soon began hooting for joy as darkness was covering everything. The cocks, crowing their unshakable hope the light would return, were being muffled. But now at the dawn of the cold war, the owls are growing silent; the hens gaily awaken, apparently intent on cackling louder than the cocks crow. As the media discover that detente is over, I can already hear the festive hubbub of certain anti-communist voices that had been prudently silent until just recently, Ah! How delightful it is to be an opportunist!
The Soviet lullaby aimed at Catholic opinion was the same one sung for the laicized states of the West, merely adapted to religious themes. It began during the reign of Pius XI as “the policy of the extended hand.” The vigorous Pontiff silenced the serpent’s canticle in 1937 with the Encyclical, Divini Redemptoris. But Jacques Maritain, the suave philosophical meadow lark, took up the melody again under Pius XII. Even though this Pontiff maintained the irreducible and polemic position of his predecessors toward Communism, he let the philosopher sing. When John XXIII ascended to the papal throne, the lullaby spread to ever wider areas of the Church. At Vatican Council II, the mutism of the august assembly toward the greatest adversary the Church ever had in her whole history — a silence that will scandalize centuries to come — plainly indicated that the lullaby was already victoriously putting the whole Catholic world to sleep. In saying this, I am not going beyond Paul VI’s own testimony. He lamented that the Church was going through a mysterious process of self-destruction (Allocution of 12/7/68), and that the “smoke of Satan” had penetrated her (Allocution of 6/29/72). These two affirmations clearly referred to a desolation even greater than the torrential infiltration of Communism in Catholic circles. For we must also take into account the expansion, so akin to it, of progressivism. After all, in the final analysis, what is progressivism but a philosophical, theological and canonical disguise of the Communist wolf?
It would be easy to continue the history of the effects of the Soviet lullaby, at least in our country. However, that would make it necessary to reprint here my whole book The Church in the Face of the Rise of the Communist Menace – An Appeal to the Silent Bishops. To do that would amount to giving up the journalistic treatment of the matter.
I propose to do something much simpler. Take Revel’s list of the illusions with which the Soviets’ lullaby put the West to sleep and transpose it to the religious and ecclesiastical sphere, stressing the similarity of its effects on the Catholic world.
This is what I shall do in the next article.
In the guise of a bridge to the next article, I cite again the opening phrase of Revel, duly adapted: “Why has detente led the Catholic world to a failure? — Because in the mentality of the Catholics it meant the suspension of Soviet aggressiveness, and in the mentality of the Soviets, the suspension of all Catholic response to their aggressiveness.”
One couldn’t make a more realistic summary of what actually happened.
The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo on February 8th, 1980 . It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.