Avoiding evil demands a good organic and mental constitution. The finest development of body and mind is only possible with the help of asceticism. Athletes, men of science, monks, all submit themselves to strict rules of life and thought. No excess is permitted to those who desire to rise to spiritual heights. Self-discipline is always rewarded by a strength which brings an inexpressible, silent inner joy which becomes the dominant tone of life. However strange such a physiological and mental attitude may seem to modern pedagogues and sociologists, it is none the less the essential foundation of a full personality. It is like an airdrome from which the spirit can take flight.
Little by little, the qualities which give the character its greatness must be made to grow. The Church, with her twenty centuries of experience, rightly places self-examination, purification of mind and feelings and the will to make moral progress at the beginning of the upward path. It is essential to obey this precept and then to proceed to acquiring intellectual integrity, love of truth and loyalty.
Even more than philosophers and priests, scientists engaged in experimental research know how indispensable these qualities are. A single sin, however venial, against truth is promptly punished by the failure of the experiment. In the dangers of our communal, as of our individual life, truth alone can save us.
Slowly the road winds upward through the years. At the outset, many are sucked down into bogs, fall over precipices or lie down in the soft grass and go to sleep for ever. In joy or sorrow, health or sickness, prosperity or the reverse, the effort must still continue. One must rise after every fall and gradually acquire courage, faith, the will to succeed and the capacity to love. Last of all, one must acquire detachment. These nonrational elements of the spirit constitute the magnetism of the personality. Logic never attracts men to the point of carrying them away. Neither Kant, Bergson nor Pasteur were loved by their disciples as Napoleon was loved by his soldiers. Only by their capacity for love, justice and detachment can the humble become superior to the great and powerful and the powerful themselves become great.
The development of the intelligence is quite as imperative as that of the feelings. While we are forging our character we should also be developing our mental activities, activities which school has probably atrophied almost as much as our moral ones. It is only when the individual has escaped from the hands of the professors and is free of examinations and lectures that he can begin his intellectual education. He has to begin by training himself to see, feel, listen, observe and judge; in other words, to make contact with reality.
Manual work is indispensable to everyone, for precision of gesture assists precision of thought. But no one, once he has mastered the technique of any craft, should limit himself only to that technique. A sculptor can, like Michelangelo, also be a painter and an architect. Nothing prevents a financier from following the example of Lavoisier and becoming a chemist or a physicist. The time we waste in idle talk, in illusory worldly duties, in the movies or on the golf course would allow us, if we used it properly, to know the world in which we live and the one in which our forefathers lived. Instead of reading papers and magazines written to please the mentally atrophied, we could learn, from technical books and journals or from reputable works of popular science, things which deal with our own and our children's lives and with the world about us. Then we should have the joy of seeing our horizon extend in the most wonderful way. We should know how the universe of which we form part is constituted and how we are constituted ourselves. We should learn how to develop the hidden powers of our bodies and our souls, how to make our children finer beings than ourselves. No one whose material conditions permit him to widen his scope of knowledge has the right to remain an ignorant barbarian. School certificates and degrees are not the only things which have the power to deliver us from this unenlightened state.
Periods of decadence are characterized by the mediocrity of their leading men. The mass suffers if it has no one to admire them, for hero-worship is a natural human need and also an essential condition of mental progress. In the democratic countries there is no man capable of serving as a model to the young. Happily, society comprises not only the living but the dead, and the great dead still live in our midst. We can contemplate them and listen to them at will. Are they not present in the splendor of the Mont-Saint-Michel, in the luminous grandeur of the cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, in the stern beauty of the Chateau de Tonquedec? Is it not better to keep company with Roland,
Charlemagne, Dante, Joan of Arc, Goethe and Pasteur than with the film stars? In the lives of scholars, heroes and saints, there is an inexhaustible reserve of spiritual energy. These men are like mountains which rise above the plain. They show how high we should try to climb and how noble is the goal toward which human consciousness naturally aspires. Only such men can give our interior life the spiritual food it needs.
The spirit contains elements less known and understood than intelligence, moral sense or character. These elements are quite impossible to express in words. They are intuitions, instinctive impulses, sometimes even extrasensorial perceptions of reality. The strength of the individual and of the nation comes from the richness of this substratum of the spirit. This indefinable spiritual energy is not found in nations who wish to express everything in clear-cut formulas. It has disappeared in France because the French obstinately refuse the irrational; they deny reality to anything which words are powerless to describe. Pascal was nearer to reality than Descartes: poets and mystics know more of man than the physiologists. Those who desire to rise as high as our human condition allows must renounce intellectual pride. They must dispel the illusion of the omnipotence of clear thinking and abjure their belief in the absolute power of logic. Lastly they must increase their own sense of the beautiful and the holy.
One cannot learn to love beauty or to love God as one learns arithmetic. The sense of beauty can only be given by beauty itself. Beauty is to be found everywhere. It is in the prairies of Canada as in the woods of the Ile-de-France; about the bay of San Francisco as on the shores of Corsica. Today, thanks to the advance of technology, even the ineffable ugliness of the factories of Chicago or of the Paris suburbs can shine with reflected beauty. Anyone can hear the works of Palestrina or Beethoven or any other classical masterpiece when he chooses. Without leaving one's armchair, one can travel in the most magnificent countries on earth. It costs hardly anything to buy the works of Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe. Poor people who live in noisy industrial towns or in the most isolated country can, just as easily as the rich, develop their sense of beauty and penetrate those mental realms which transcend the intellect. We can all break the mold into which we were forced at school and let our souls escape into that world which was already familiar to our Cro-Magnon ancestors. The love of beauty leads its chosen further than the love of syllogisms for it sweeps our spirit toward heroism, renunciation and the absolute beauty which is God.
Only on the wings of mysticism can the spirit soar to its full height. This is where the role of religion becomes clearly defined. For this flight in the intellectual stratosphere beyond the four dimensions of space and time and beyond reason is dangerous. The techniques of religion, that is to say of the union of the soul with God, have been developed, step by step, over the course of thousands of years. No one can venture alone without grave risk in the obscure realm of the holy. Without an experienced guide there is serious risk of losing oneself in the marshes or of straying irrevocably into the road that leads to madness. In his sojourn in Paradise, Dante was led by Beatrice.
To sum up, the law of spiritual ascent lays on each one of us the duty of developing the whole range of his mental activities by the effort of his own will. It is a fundamental rule not to limit this effort to only one aspect of consciousness. Exclusive cultivation of either intellect or feeling is equally to be condemned. It is dangerous to be exclusively an intellectual or a mystic, a logician or an intuitive, a scientist or a poet. It is by the simultaneous upward trend of his intellectual, moral, esthetic and religious facility that each one can attain the highest level compatible with his inherited latent powers.