Intellect chose to take its first great flight from the tiny promontory which Asia sends out into the Atlantic ocean to the north of the Mediterranean. With one beat of its wings it rose, in ancient Greece, to a height it has hardly surpassed today. From the very first it attacked redoubtable problems; problems which succeeding philosophers from Pythagoras, Plato and Socrates to Kant and Bergson have not yet been capable of solving. But the intellect did not rest content with philosophy. From Greece it emigrated to the west of Europe where, in a flight of genius, it created science. Then its success became prodigious. During the short time which separates the age of Galileo and of Newton from that of Claude Bernard, Pasteur and Planck, it discovered the essential laws of the inanimate and the animate world. Thanks to it, "men obtained the mastery of everything on the face of the earth except themselves."
Feeling, under the form of art, poetry, moral greatness, religious inspiration, has been the light of humanity since the dawn of prehistoric times. As soon as it emerged from original night, the mind attempted to reproduce the beauty of things in wood, ivory or stone and to express it in music and poetry. There had been unknown artists in the Cro-Magnon era. Later there had been Phidias, Praxiteles and
Virgil. At the same time the mind had been aspiring to the idea of moral beauty, of truth and of God. It had raised up Plato, Aristotle, Zeno and Epictetus. Then, suddenly, it took a tremendous flight.
In an unknown village of Palestine, on the shores of Lake Tiberias, a young carpenter announced some astonishing news to a few ignorant fishermen. We are loved by an immaterial and all-powerful Being. This Being is accessible to our prayers. We must love Him above all creatures. And we ourselves must also love one another.
A new era had begun. The only cement strong enough to bind men together had been found. Nevertheless, humanity chose to ignore the importance of this new principle in the organization of its collective life. It is far from having understood that only mutual love could save it from division, ruin and chaos. Nor has it realized that no scientific discovery was so fraught with significance as the revelation of the law of love by Jesus the Crucified. For this law is, in fact, that of the survival of human societies.
Only in individual life was the evangelical law applied to a certain extent. Although man still had in the depths of his nature the savage and lustful appetites of the gorilla, he felt the beauty of charity and renunciation. He was drawn to the heroism which, in the hell of modern warfare, consists in giving one's life for one's friends; and in having pity on the vanquished, the sick, the weak and the abandoned. This need for sacrifice and brotherhood became more defined in the course of centuries. Then appeared St. Louis of France, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul and a numberless legion of apostles of charity.
Even in our own base and egotistical age, thousands of men and women still follow, on the battlefield, in the monastery or in that abomination of desolation the modern city, the path of heroism, abnegation and holiness.
At the same time a still bolder and more astonishing aim came to be specified. This was to attain awareness of the unknown realm which extends beyond science and philosophy: the realm on whose threshold the intellect automatically comes to a standstill. Inspired souls such as St. Benedict, St. John of the Cross, Eckhardt and Ruysbroek taught men in the West how they could attain God by following the path of asceticism and mysticism. They taught them in other words, how to satisfy the age-old desire of the human soul to unite itself to this Being immanent in all things who, instead of being coextensive with nature like the Wisdom of Heraclitus, dominates it like Jehovah and, like the God of St. Francis of Assisi, has a father's love for us.
Our civilization has, in truth, forgotten that it is born of the blood of Christ; it has also forgotten God. But it still understands the beauty of the Gospel narratives and of the Sermon on the Mount. It is still moved by those words of pity and love which bring peace, and sometimes even joy, to the broken, the afflicted, the sick and the dying; to all of us who will sooner or later be crushed by the pitiless mechanisms of life.
Today, in spite of the failure of ideologies and universal confusion, intellect and feeling continue their soaring flight. True, humanity leaves behind it an innumerable crowd of the mediocre and the feeble-minded, of moral imbeciles, madmen, criminals, and degenerates of all types. Nevertheless, it does not cease to engender people of greater and greater mental power. Are not the rulers, heroes, scholars and saints produced by modern civilization superior to Pericles, Caesar and all the great men of antiquity? Although the brain has not measurably increased its volume since the Neanderthal era, i.e. for more than four hundred centimes, its functional value has been immensely enhanced. This may be the result of qualitative changes in the nervous cells or in the secretions of the glandular cells which, mingled with the blood, steep the brain; modifications which our histological and chemical techniques cannot yet reveal. Perhaps it is simply due to the handing on of accumulated knowledge and to better living conditions. Whatever the reason, mental power is gradually increasing in the race in spite of the unworthiness of the majority of individuals.
The emergence of mind from matter very likely constitutes the whole point of evolution and the most important event in the history of the universe. On all the evidence, this sudden rise of consciousness in living forms is the expression of a fundamental mode of life.