For nearly two centuries, religion has been gradually replaced by the worship of profit and the worship of science. In France it has been banished from the state schools. In modern society, it is practically ignored. But, in spite of the disfavor into which it has fallen, it is far from being dead.
Man continues his eternal pursuit of the spiritual substratum of things. In all ages and in nearly all countries, he has felt the need to adore. The tendency to adore is almost as natural to him as the tendency to love. This search for God is probably a necessary consequence of the structure of our mind. In the carpenter of Nazareth, man has found the God at once sublime and familiar who suits his needs. The words of Jesus penetrate deeply into the reality of life. They ignore philosophy; they break all the conventions; they are so astonishing that, even to this day, we find them hard to understand.
We are, after all, near relatives of the gorillas and the Sermon on the Mount shocks certain of our hereditary tendencies. To him who obeys the law of the jungle, the command to love his neighbor as himself seems absurd.
Nevertheless, Jesus knows our world. He does not disdain us like the God of Aristotle. We can speak to Him and He answers us. Although He is a person like ourselves, He is God and transcends all things. But we can also encounter Him acting in the wood of the table, in the food we eat, in the sunbeam which warms us, in earth, sky and air, because He has created and conserves all things. Wherever we are, at any moment of day or night, He is at our disposition. We can reach Him simply by turning toward Him our desire and our love.(It is an easily observable fact that, even in the society created by science and technology, this need of God has persisted, in a more or less definite form, in a large number of individuals. When it is not satisfied it often, like the sexual instinct, becomes perverted. Its persistence in surviving even in the most unfavorable conditions shows that it would be dangerous to ignore it.
The need of God expresses itself in prayer. Prayer is a cry of distress; a demand for help; a hymn of love. It does not consist in the dreary recitation of words whose sense we do not understand. Its effect is nearly always positive. Everything happens as if God listened to us and gave us a direct answer; unexpected events occur; mental balance is reestablished; our sense of isolation and impotence and of the uselessness of our efforts disappears. The world ceases to be cruel and unjust and becomes friendly while a strange power develops in our own depths.
Prayer gives us strength to bear cares and anxieties, to hope when there is no logical motive for hope, to remain steadfast in the midst of catastrophes. These phenomena can occur in everyone but most of all in those who shut out the tumult and confusion of modern life from their souls. The world of science is different from the world of prayer. But it is not opposed to it any more than the rational is opposed to the nonrational. We must never forget that spirit is composed both of logical and nonlogical activities. The results of prayer are relevant to science as well as to religion. Prayer acts not only on our affective states but also on the physiological processes. Sometimes it cures organic diseases in a few instants or a few days. However incomprehensible these phenomena may be, we are forced to admit their reality. The Bureau of Medical Testimony at Lourdes has registered more than two hundred cases of tuberculosis, blindness or osteomyelitis, cancer and other organic diseases whose almost instantaneous cure is undisputed. Here we are on solid ground. Man needs help: he prays; the help comes. Whatever its future interpretation may be, this fact remains eternally true.
Knowledge of the material world comes to us through the combined efforts of theory and experiment. Thanks to experimental techniques, we have discovered and analyzed a great number of physical phenomena. Subsequently, theory has gathered these facts into a coherent system, foreseen new facts and inspired new experiments. In the same way the knowledge of the spiritual substratum also depends on theory and experiment, that is to say on mysticism and theology. Mysticism is, as we know, the essence of religion. The mystical experience differs as profoundly from philosophical knowledge as love differs from reason. Moreover, it always remains true whereas philosophical knowledge changes just as physical theories have changed and will change again.
Great mystics are as rare as great scientists. The birth of St. Paul was an even more exceptional event than the birth of Newton or Pasteur. The experimental search for God demands long and hard labor.5 No one can engage in the mystical way without first submitting himself to the rigors of the purgative life, purifying his senses and practicing the Christian virtues. Only then can begin the journey whose end is union with God. This union is not intellectual for God always remains indescribable and unknowable. Nevertheless, the apprehension of God by feeling is so strong, evident and immediate that it gives the contemplative complete certainty of its reality. The God thus discovered is Love and not Reason. The dark night which must be traversed before attaining Him appears indeed to be a suspension of the activities of the senses and the reason. One might say that man only attains to God after having extinguished the images of the world in himself and momentarily arrested his intellectual processes. The mystical experience confirms and extends the deductions of theology; it reinforces the traditional teaching of the Church; it is an attestation of the value of religion.
5 Man the Unknown.
Must we ask ourselves if "the mystical experience is true or false, whether it is auto-suggestion or Hallucination or whether indeed it represents the soul's journey beyond the dimension of our world and its contact with a higher reality"? Perhaps it would be wiser to be content to have an operational concept of it and to accept the gifts it brings us without searching for their origin. But we want to know whether the mystics really attain to God and if their experience conforms to the order of things. God, by definition, is an immateral being. He cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. God, if one accepts Aristotle's teaching, is therefore beyond man's reach. But our science is more extensive than Aristotle's. Nowadays we admit the existence of extrasensorial perception. We know too that this phenomenon is more likely to occur when intellectual activity is suspended. Experienced clairvoyants have learned to make their minds a blank. The night of the intelligence, described by Ruysbroek, and the ecstasy of St Theresa of Avila have a striking analogy with the mental void favorable to telepathic phenomena. Moreover, the clairvoyant experiences, like the mystic, the absolute certainty of having attained his object. In both cases this certitude cannot be shaken by any argument There is, thus, a certain analogy between the mystical experience and the extrasensorial perception of thought Is it more extraordinary to communicate with God than with a human being more or less remote from us in space or time? Even though it is not scientifically proved that the mystic does attain God, it would be absurd not to attribute a profound significance to religious experience.
The existence of God explains, better than any other hypothesis, the results of prayer, the phenomena of mysticism and the sense of the holy. It is prudent to consider the need of the divine, not as illusory, but as the expression of structural characteristics of the human spirit which are more or less developed according to the individual. Since the universe is a coherent system, the fact of there being such a need makes us anticipate a means of satisfying it in the external world. For example, the cells of the organism would not be aerobic if there were no oxygen in the atmosphere. Equally, the need of water, fat, sugar or protein implies the existence of these substances in the external environment. It is permissible to attribute the same significance to a more or less obscure need felt by a great number of human beings to communicate with an invisible and sovereignly powerful Spirit; a Spirit at once personal and immanent in all things, which is manifested to us through intuition, revelation and the natural laws.
It is a strange fact that modern man has eliminated all psychic factors from reality. He has built himself up an environment which is exclusively material. This world does not suit him and he is degenerating in it. For thousands of years our ancestors considered the presence of spiritual elements in their environment as essential. Above the village rose the church spire. Religion presided over the important events of life - birth, marriage and death; it gave each person the courage to live. It seemed evident that if it is to avoid a definite collapse into chaos and incoherence, civilized humanity must once again build cathedrals in the bleakly magnificent universe of the physicists and the astronomers.
It is not a question of putting back the clock, of reviving the age of St. Thomas Aquinas or of Chartres cathedral. Nor is it a question of confining ourselves to the universe of Einstein, Shapley or Broglie. In spite of its vastness, this universe embraces only part of reality, for the human intelligence which created it has reserved no place in it for itself. Yet the world of lovers, artists and mystics is quite as real as that of engineers, scientists and philosophers. Art, morality and religion are no less indispensable than science. The modern universe, as conceived by Liberalism or Marxism, is too tight a garment. It would be absurd if external reality were incapable of encompassing man in his totality. It would also be absurd if its structure did not correspond in some measure to our own. It is thus reasonable to attribute the same objectivity to the world of spirit as to the world of matter.