8. FIRST CONTROVERSIES
IT WAS WITH FATHER CALLON THAT “ THE GREAT AFFAIR OF MY LIFE ” BEGAN
1946-1947 : “ Having almost reached my destination, my little boat came close to sinking. It all began in the first class of dogmatic theology ” taught by Fr. Callon, “ an experienced and universally esteemed professor, who had to teach us the difficult treatises on Grace, on Predestination, on the Supernatural, on Hell and on the Demon, all of which are dogmas that we must believe without seeking too much to understand, but which raise so many questions, so many objections. ”
As director of conscience of the “ late vocations, ” he preached to them renunciation of their right-wing convictions.
“ In two years the damage was done, and it was irremediable. He had raised them so high, so high that, when the wind blew towards the left, our mystical aeronauts, who had lost sight of the earth, let themselves all be carried, without the slightest attention or malice, to the furthest point from their conservative or reactionary ideas, into the left-wing follies and other Christian Democratic utopias that were in vogue at the time.
“ Later on, in the agitation of the purge in 1945, I learned that our Fr. Callon was a rabid old Christian Democrat, a disciple of Marc Sangnier, an enthusiastic admirer of Aristide Briand, a friend of Francisque Gay whose son had just left the seminary, and a participant in the Franco-German meetings of Bierville before the war. The dreadful thing was that this passion for Germany had persisted through the war and through France’s defeat and her occupation, which was only enveloped in silence. It so happened that, in June 1941, he even showed new issues of the German review Signal, taken from a cupboard at the bottom of his bookcase, to certain seminarians under his spiritual direction. In them, they saw magnificent colour photos of the young army of the great Reich in long columns of ochre tanks, plunging into the immense fields of ripened wheat in the invaded Ukraine. He was jubilant ! He had his spiritual sons admire this Teutonic chivalry of our magnificent new Europe !
“ Obviously, his tone changed at the Liberation, but he transferred his Sillonist fervour to Georges Bidault’s party in which all his Christian Democratic friends were surfacing, sharing power with the Socialists and the Communists, in a furious rage to take vengeance on the nationalist, Maurrassian and Pétanist right-wing that had plotted against the Republic, established its loathed ‘ National Revolution ’ and dominated the country by force for four years. The blood and tears of those people were flowing now. That was only right and proper !
“ Fr. Callon was, as I was to understand too late, a man of influence rather than of words. ” In other words : one could not trust a word he said ! Here is a gripping description :
“ A word, ordinarily dreadful but which in my head only had an entomological value, sprang to my mind after observing him. He was a big, black spider, huddled up in his hidden lair, with one foot on some strand of his web through which arrived information and from which his impulses were sent off towards all the vital organs of the seminary [...]. It was he, always playing secondary roles, who held and retained the essence, the secret tradition, the obscure and inviolable soul of the Society of Saint-Sulpice. If he was swarthy, hunchbacked, with a disquieting gaze, face and voice, that was how fifty years of Jansenist, Gallican, Mennaisian, Dreyfusard and Sillonist, and finally semi-Modernist passion had sculpted and jig-sawed him.
“ Was I going to attack this bastille, no, this temple, this influence ? Had I known, I would have been wary. I, however, imagined the spider to be without venom and I entered into his web like an innocent fly, curious about what I would learn there. ”
THE TREATISE ON GRACE
“ The introduction of his first lecture made us admire the importance of the immense subject matter that we had to study in this single year. It was brief. All of us, with fountain or ball-point pen held over new thick notebooks, were ready for this race and did not want to overlook anything. The first treatise was that on ‘ Grace. ’ The pens traced the title in big letters while Fr. Callon began his subject with a hazy voice, at a meditative pace. I heard him there, at that moment. He punctuated all-the-syl-la-bles, separating one-from-the-o-thers ; it was not disagreeable, it allowed for reflection, and we had the time to note everything leisurely :
“ ‘ Grace, ’ these were the first words, ‘ is-some-thing-or-some-one. It is not something like a knife that one might have in his pocket. Thus it is some-one. ’
“ I will spare you the rest of this speech that initiated us into the depths of the mystery of grace. It can be summed up in a few words. If grace is not an object set there, that is possessed, that can be lost and found again, it is therefore someone, someone invisible, elusive, who cannot be appropriated. This someone, obviously cannot be a man or an angel ; it is God. ‘ Grace ’, we wrote at his dictation, without astonishment or murmur, ‘ is God within us. ’
“ Then, he entered into the theological debate, taking us along, still copying his statements as though they were Holy Writ. This explanation of grace was that of the Greek Fathers, whom he admired with infectious fervour, while the Latin Fathers and, in their school, St. Thomas Aquinas, – oh, he said it regretfully, sorry for having to upset them ! – considered grace as an object, yes a thing, that they referred to by the abstract expression : the ‘ created gift. ’ In fact, for them, this thing was necessary and preliminary to the welcoming of God into ourselves, which they referred to as : the ‘ uncreated gift. ’ We had to accustom ourselves to these scholastic distinctions if we wanted to understand all the disputes, and finally the divisions, that would be caused in the West on these questions. From the Latin perspective, the main thing is to know whether one is ‘ in a state of grace ’ or not, if one has ‘ the created gift ’ or if he has lost it, for the divine life in us depends on it ! The Greeks did not enter into these insoluble quibbles and controversies. For them, grace is quite-sim-ply God. It is God-in-us, un-con-di-tion-al-ly ! Man becomes God. Perhaps scholasticism achieves greater clarity and infinite precisions, ‘ but I think, ’ he admitted to us with a tone of trusting abandon, almost of complicity, ‘ for me, the view of the Greeks is more beautiful and consoling. ’
“ Thus the first class went by peacefully, and others followed likewise. We copied down, then learned ; we recited and were graded accordingly. For the thirty-fourth or thirty-fifth year, Fr. Callon would have once again led his sixty or so students to the subdiaconate and to the happy end of their stay at Issy-les-Moulineaux, had I not, unfortunately, stumbled over his first words that I would have really liked to understand : ‘ Grace is some-thing or-some-one. ’ What goddess Reason or what rebellious spirit had whispered to me, as we went along, this mocking counterpoint that would put the course off the track : No, it is not something, but it is not someone either, and above all it is not God ! For if I am in a state of grace, – easy does it, my dear fellow ! – I am not for all that in a ‘ state of God ! ’ The Greeks were undoubtedly right. God is not far from a man in a state of grace, but we know that God is everywhere [...].
“ For a good fifteen days I ruminated over it. Finally, I had the idea of going to verify Fr. Callon’s teaching in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Theological Summa, and the light was cast on me in words so simple that, first, I was brought back forever to the Angelic Doctor, and secondly, I was filled with the most total contempt, not affective but intellectual, towards this pathetic Callon who was abusing our ingenuous imbecility. Grace, St. Thomas taught, is obviously neither a thing nor a person. In philosophical terms : it is not of the order of substance ; thus it is of the order of accident. It is a manner of being added to our natural being, and furthermore, it has this peculiarity, that it is not only a perfection that fortifies or enhances some specific power or faculty of the spiritual being, but it is an ‘ entitative ’ gift, i.e. a perfecting of the very substance of the being, which affects it in its nature, in its radical principle of action, in its roots. Thus, in the end, by means of this ‘ created gift, ’ the man or the angel finds himself even capable of taking advantage of and enjoying God Himself (uti et frui), Who has become for him in this way such a mysterious and magnificent ‘ uncreated gift, ’ to be known and loved by him in time and in eternity.
“ These streams of light were too much happiness for me alone ! I said it and it was repeated. Before the month of October was over, it had thrown the seminary into quartan or quintan fever, the development of which no one was able to foresee. The tragedy had opened and, at the account of this first scene, I shudder with anxiety at the thought of what I must now relive. May God forgive me ! I was twenty-two years old and totally rash. ” 6