Title: The Liberal Illusion
Author: Louis Veuillot
Publisher: Angelus Press
TradReviews rating: Intermediate
Why: presupposes some historical reference
Excellence: 5 stars
Summary in a sentence: One of the finest Catholic works written by a layman in the last 120 years
This book is absolutely essential. It is not only well translated (as it was originally written in French), with excellent and highly appropriate cover art, but it also includes excellent commentary as well as an easy-to-read summary and chart by His Lordship, Bishop Richard N. Williamson. The book is 38 chapters, but don’t let that fool you – at 133 pages it is not only manageable, but the chapters are no more than 5-6 pages long. The language is readily accessible. The book is written almost as a series of editorials, but is at the same time highly coherent and highly purposed. It will join Open Letter to Confused Catholics as a book I read no less than every 6-12 months to recalibrate my Sensus Catholicus. Let’s dive in.
To understand Veuillot’s (pronounced Vil-yo) book, you must be aware of a few things first. First, he is writing in 1866, less than one hundred years after the absolute horror known as the French Revolution. He is also writing within living memory of the monarchies of Charles X Bourbon and the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe Orleans. He alludes to their (these monarchs’) historical importance briefly, but a working understanding of what happened in 1789, as well as the turbulence that beset Europe following its events, up to and including: Napoleon, Metternich, the Congress of Vienna, and the Revolutions of 1848, frames his book most excellently. For those unfamiliar with that time period of European history, suffice it to say that it was privy to a first hand witnessing of the absolute hatred of Christianity – not by the passive hatred that we witness today in countries like America, but by the absolute hatred which murders bishops, priests, and nuns, outlaws the Mass, and literally imprisons Popes (Pius VII, of felicitous memory).
Veuillot frames the book by proposing a conversation with a “Liberal Catholic” who is very impassioned about his ideas. He allows him to put forth his positions, even following his lines of “reasoning” to their logical conclusions. That alone condemns the position. Like Liberalism is a Sin (by Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany), Veuillot’s book exposes Liberalism and Liberal Catholicism (so-called) for what it is – an illusion and a false solution. The book will sound eerily timely and some of the predictions Veuillot made have indeed come to pass, sadly.
To do this book fair justice I would simply reprint all of the text and Bishop Williamson’s commentaries. As it is, I will just try to select what I think are the most essential and salient ideas. I do not think that by this you will not want to read it – indeed, by soaking up just a few of this man’s wholly and entirely Catholic thoughts, your appetite will be whetted. Bishop Williamson says that the book must be read slowly. I agree – to an extent – there are some like myself who will read it as a starving man eats food, for to hear such solid Catholic thought is uncommon in this age – but instead of causing me to be sick, indeed, this book will serve as the widow’s (in Elias) replenishing urn, consistently refuting the worst errors of the modern world.
This chapter ends with a phrase that the modern mind grasps (alas) all too readily: “The state is concerned with public order, and that is all.” Yet the Catholic mind immediately senses the lie between the lines – a state is made up of individuals. Individuals have their duty before God to save their souls and lead Christian lives. Hence, the state, made up of those same individuals, has that same duty. People at times complain about Dr. Droleskey constantly speaking about the Social Reign of Christ – but let me ask – is there anything more important at this time? We certainly aren’t deprived of our freedom of worship here in America – so now let us fight for the rights of God’s Church not to be attacked verbally or intellectually, not just tolerated along with the other false religions, behind the hidden premise of religion being a necessary “opiate of the people.”
Two interesting lines of thought are in this chapter. The first is a line espoused by our current Holy Father, and which Veuillot, never dreaming that a Pope would ever subscribe to such logic, places within the framework of an argument that a “liberal Catholic” would put forward: “The (Church) Fathers spoke for their time, we must speak for ours.” This is exactly the reasoning put forward by Benedict XVI in his discussions regarding the Syllabus – that it was appropriate for the Church in that time period, but that Vatican II and its ideas and approaches are now appropriate for the Church in the modern period. Such reasoning seems to argue against the fact that the Church is “semper idem” and that it is not her job to “stay current” but to “stay faithful” to Our Lord and his teachings, come what may. Measuring relevance by man’s acceptance is a bad barometer. Indeed, Our Lord probably lost thousands the day he announced the Eucharist. Should He have then made his words “more relevant”?
It is the first great illusion (and really, the whole of the spirit of the illusion) of Liberal Catholicism that simply “repackaging” the Gospel will be the cause of a sudden and precipitous mass conversion to Catholicism – indeed, here is the next salient line in the chapter: “the Faith hobbles beneath the yoke of a protective authority; she will stand up tall if she is forced to defend herself, and an impassioned struggle will breathe new life into her.” Indeed, by this reasoning the Church is actually worse off (sic) in an environment where she is giving her due privileges and pride of place in society. The next chapter contains more of such “wisdom” as Veuillot continues to allow the Liberal Catholic to make his case.
At this point, one of Veuillot’s companions in this conversation tries to make some counterpoints. Veuillot sums up the demeanor of the Liberal Catholic as such: “He listened with the expression of someone who isn’t so much considering what is being said as he is searching for a way to refute it.” Haven’t we all had that experience at some time or another with NeoConservative Catholics? For them, there is always one more betrayal or one more compromise they are willing to accept – never willing to accept black as black, but willingly conceding that black might be white if the Pope says so, and that furthermore, it’s even logically possible that black might be white.
Veuillot confesses that as he heard his companion (whom he agreed with 100%) speak, he began to be worried.
“I felt with a pang how essentially powerless his (Veuillot’s companion’s) reasoning was. In such matters, the multitude must decide, and when it decides, only its feelings count. Reason is a weight it cannot bear. The multitude follows its passions and loves destruction; it applauds whenever it senses something is being torn to the ground.”
“Henceforth I understood the liberal Catholic to his very depths; I knew by heart his false arguments, his illusions, his bullheadedness, and his tactics. Alas, none of this was new to me. The liberal Catholic is neither liberal nor Catholic…his true name is ‘sectarian.’”
“These (the liberal ideas) are pipe dreams that reason must not challenge on her own; she will be defeated, not by the pipe dreams, but by the sympathy souls have for them.”
“The truth is suddenly false and falsehood true. You lend an ear; you are soon repeating enormous falsehoods. You no longer have any difficulty in admitting that since 1789 everything has quite changed, not only on earth but in heaven as well; that there is a new mankind on earth, and a new God in heaven. Typical of heresy! Explicitly or implicitly, every heresy has uttered the same blasphemy.”
This chapter contained a quote that was my first “wow” moment of many in this book. By that I mean a moment where I encountered, in its pure and unadulterated form, a distillation of Catholic thought that was priceless.
“Wow” quote #1:
“In Christian terms, we can say that most men are either not born, or are already dead and serve no further purpose than the spreading of death.“
Veuillot lived before the evil time that widespread global abortion blighted God’s creation, so we know he is not talking about that but about “spiritual birth” i.e. baptism. Most men are not baptized – this was true in Veuillot’s time and is even more true now – but how many men have never seen the light of day – have never “found the door” as Chesterton so eloquently speaks about in his poem “By the Babe Unborn”?
Veuillot goes beyond simply stating that most men are not baptized – hence not “born” – but he says they are “already dead” – by ignoring the vivifying command of Baptism to all nations – they are a strange mutant creature – never born but already dead – and only purposed to serve death, and its master, sin.
His Lordship further comments: “Man today is, in general, as ignorant, as childish, and as imperfect as ever, yet Liberal Catholicism supposes that he has so come of age that God must defer to him and he no longer needs the Catholic Church to teach him.”
A condemnation of ambiguity:
“A heresy which doesn’t quite deny truth and doesn’t quite proclaim error opens a channel for such idle waters; they rush in from both sides to swell the torrent.“
An argument against “living Tradition:”
“This rock (the Papacy and the Church) is no rolling stone…The Rock does not mold itself according to the age, to its time. People glibly repeat that the Church ought to belong to ‘its time.’ With all due respect, that is silly nonsense at best.”
I smiled because I often use “silly” when I want to say something much stronger, and it was clear here that Veuillot felt the same way.
“Wow” quote #2:
“The children of Christ, the children of the King, are themselves kings. They form a society far superior to any other, and it should take possession of the earth and reign there in order to baptize all men and raise them up to the same supernatural life, to the same kingship and glory to which Christ has destined them. They ought to tend always towards this end, because the universal sway of Christ alone can bring about universal liberty, universal equality, and universal fraternity. For the liberty proper to man is the liberty to attain his supernatural end, namely, to attain Christ, and the only society ever known to have recognized all men for equals and brothers is the society of Christ’s disciples.
Christian society, under normal circumstances, maintains itself and extends its domain by means of two forces that ought to be distinct but not separate, united but not confused, subordinated one to the other, and not equal. The one is the head, the other is the arm; the first is the pontiff’s supreme and final word, the second is the secular power.
Since Christian society is first and foremost Christian, it submits everything to this first law; and thus it puts everything in its rightful place, since it first puts Christ in His rightful place, has the only true Lord and Master.
It puts him in His place as sovereign within society just as all the faithful put him in his sovereign place within their souls; and from there spring order, liberty, unity, greatness, justice, sovereignty, and peace.”
Veuillot continues his discussion of the “two swords” principle of Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam by imaging the Holy Father with Christ in Gethsemane (when he ordered Peter to put up his sword):
“The first sword, the one that rends merely the darkness, remains under the patient, infallibly enlightened control of the Pontiff. The other, the physical sword, is in the hands of the representative of society, and in order that he not err, he must obey the commands of the Pontiff. It is the Pontiff who has it sheathed or unsheathed.”
This chapter is the apostrophe to the thoughts in Chapter 10. Veuillot concludes the chapter thus:
“We would not have to search the face of the earth for very long at all to find a population that would have everything to gain – and life itself – if the Vicar of Christ could say to the earthly king: ‘Put your sword back into its sheath.’”
Bishop Williamson’s commentary on the chapter ends thus:
“Any secular power that is not Christian necessarily means a theocracy, or rule, of evil. Christians may endure such a rule, but if they promote it, they are betraying their fellow-men, just as a maker of idols is an accomplice to idolatry.”
Which dovetails nicely into Veuillot’s first paragraph:
“Such being the situation (what he has discussed as normative in the pages before) before God and the Church of the Christian who is bound to obey, I deny him any right to let his state disobey. I deny him the right, not only to create, but even to accept without protest, any worldly power which would establish itself independently of God.”
This principle is the same that I have tried to bring forth in my articles on America here, here, and here. It is one thing to be grateful for life on earth and a country like America in today’s time, for at the very least we are given the free exercise of Mass. But this is not enough for Catholics. Not only is it not enough, it is unacceptable and unCatholic to promote America as a “model” or as “the greatest country ever” for the simple reason that it does not pay allegiance to Christ – and what country can be called great which does not obey such a simple command?
“But to seek actively, or to establish with our own hands, a government that would be atheistic in principle – to consecrate a thing so vile and absurd – would be a betrayal of mankind.”
This chapter contains the phrase “Si cadens adoraveris me,” which is the conditional statement that the devil implicitly attached to each temptation he presented to Christ when He was in the desert. Veuillot makes the point that Liberal Catholics simply rehash this:
“They always come up with the same conditions: Leave the camp of Israel, get off the sterile rock of Rome, close your ear to the monotony of the Holy Ark of the Covenant always making the same old pronouncements, in short, fall down, adore the Liar and believe him alone.”
“It is true that Liberalism proclaims…’The light (the Church) will shine all the brighter…and only then (after the Church loses its privileges) will it pierce the darkness. As soon as we become more subtle Catholics, modified Catholics, in a word, new Catholics, we will immediately convert the world.’ This illusion consoles their mind when their heart quails; they cherish it, and their eloquence on its behalf reveals how violently, like Esau, they desire a mess of pottage.”
Haven’t we heard this before? From people who think that once there is a so-called “universal indult” that everything will be fine? Or from priests who are so-called “traditionalists” who pronounce their adherence to “traditional ways” instead of the “traditional Mass.”? There is no “traditional way” to celebrate the New Mass – for it is of itself a violation of tradition.
“Conservative Catholicism,” which Veuillot would have immediately labeled liberal Catholicism – is imbued with the spirit of compromise. Compromise and false “obedience” above all. Compromise in which everyone loses. I know, for I used to drink this kool-aid before I found Tradition. Such deviancies can hardly be called compromises, for they are rather a true vitiation of Tradition. The mental illness of a priest capable of celebrating both the Traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo is a condition to be pitied and one that begs prayer for healing, and verily, for the faithful, to be avoided.
“Wow” quote #3
“(when asked to offer incense to pagan gods) These Christians did not hesitate or say among themselves: ‘What will become of the Church if we die, and who will serve God?’ They professed the one God and they died. That is how they made the sword fall from the hand of the executioner…and snatched the human race from the edge of the abyss.”
No whiny, “what if” Catholicism.
As I said above, Veuillot could never have seen that some statements that he made would indeed be contradicted. This chapter contains one such statement:
“But for the sake of argument, let me grant that we will all go with the flow. I say all of us, except the Pope, for the hypothesis cannot go that far.”
Amazing. Veuillot rules out the simple intellectual possibility that Popes would “go with the flow” and yet what do we have as examples of Popes? John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, all of varying degrees of infelicitous memory (JPI’s reign was too short to judge). We can’t blame Veuillot, though, for he had the first pope-saint in the making since Pius V was at the helm of Peter’s Barque.
“Wow” quote #4:
“When the Church can no longer preach Jesus Christ whole and entire; when nations will no longer understand that it is necessary to obey God rather than men; when a voice will no longer rise up to profess the truth openly and without compromise, then liberty will have disappeared from the face of the earth. Then human history will be nearing its end.”
Veuillot had to suspect that such a trend was indeed in motion, even in a time when the Pope still was the sovereign of his own lands, before Italy stole them from him. He continues:
“Wow” quote #5:
“Nevertheless, as long as there remains one man with his faith intact, that man will be free from the bonds that enchain the world, and will hold in his hands his fate and the fate of the world; the world will exist only for his sanctification. And if this man also came to apostatize, and to say to the Antichrist, not that he is right in persecuting God, but simply that he is allowed not to use his strength to bring about God’s reign, then the apostate would be uttering his own condemnation and that of the world. God would no longer make the sun to shine on an earth that had ceased entirely to offer up to divine truth the testimony and the adoration that are its due. Deprived of the counterweight of obedience and prayer, blasphemy itself would no longer be hurled at heaven, but would collapse immediately, tumbling by its own weight into the pit of hell.”
“Modern liberalism would like to be anointed by the children of the Church, and it addresses them as the Saracen king addressed Louis of France, saying: ‘If you wish to live, make me a knight.’
The captive saint replied to him: ‘Become a Christian.’”
This Chapter asserts some ideas that are still within living memory – i.e. the existence of a Catholic state – as Franco’s Spain was, before the current monarch betrayed him and Our Lord.
“When the Church signs a concordat, she does treat with nations as a subordinate, but as a superior; it is she who does the granting; she does not receive privileges, she bestows them…she grants, where the secular power insists, what it wants, but only to everyone’s disadvantage.”
“Wow” quote #5 is not from Veuillot, but from a source he quotes, a Mr. Edward Lucas:
“Let us beware of the conclusions one might draw from equivocal language: it is perilous to habituate an entire generation to bringing ambiguity into questions of vital importance, and when we are too enthusiastic to point out how uprightly our enemies apply wrong principles, we ill prepare our youth to fight and survive future persecutions.”
What an important quote! Indeed, in the past (sadly) I have myself praised some for being “upright” in their erroneous principles – but to do so is also to compromise.
This chapter contains the most salient “wow” quote of the book, having covered all the previous ground.
“Wow” quote #6:
“…when the time comes, for truth to prevail and for the social edifice to be rebuilt according to the eternal rules, whether it be tomorrow or centuries from tomorrow, Catholics will organize all things as they would for themselves. Without worrying about those who would prefer to dwell with death, they will set up the laws of life. They will put Jesus Christ in His rightful place, on top, and He will be insulted no longer. They will raise children to know God and honor their fathers. They will maintain the indissolubility of marriage, and if the dissidents are displeased with that, their children on the contrary will appreciate it. They will impose religious observance of Sunday on behalf of society as a whole and for its good, reserving the right to let Jews and freethinkers celebrate Monday or Saturday on their own behalf. Those that this law may bother will be bothered. Respect will no longer be refused to the Creator, nor rest to the creature, for the sole purpose of contenting a few fanatics, whose frenzy causes an entire people to sin foolishly and with insolence. Moreover, their houses will be more solid for it, like our own, and their fields more fertile.
In a word, Catholic society will be Catholic, and the dissidents that it will tolerate will experience its charity, but will not break up its unity.”
Veuillot’s reference to Sunday rest is so vitally important. As long as Catholics dash out on Sunday to do shopping or run errands, when such things may be accomplished on Saturday with just a little bit of foresight and planning, we encourage by our dollars the disobedience of the Divine command to rest on Sunday. Sunday should be a day of worship, rest, and time with family and friends. It must be divided from the rest of the week. While some might (and we can hear the squeaking from the Purgatory Catholics already) say, “Well, it’s not a grave sin, for example, to buy some batteries, if I need it, on a Sunday.” One has to examine the circumstances. If the batteries are for the remote control to your television, not only would it be silly, but a mockery of God. If the batteries are for your razor or toothbrush, perhaps use the manual version of each for the day. If the batteries are for your alarm clock so you can wake up on time for work, well, perhaps that might be an exception – but that’s what Catholics must realize – exceptions prove bad rules – and we should habituate ourselves to rest on Sunday just as much as we habituate ourselves to abstinence on Friday.
Indeed, the command to not work on Sunday is from God, and dates back to the book of Genesis, but the command to abstain from meat is from man, and is a bylaw of the Church. Yet, in a mis-ordering of priorities, Catholics who abstain from meat on Friday have no problem doing things on Sunday the way they do everything else during the week – if shopping needs to be done, if errands need to be run, so be it. Alas, observing Sunday in a Catholic way is such a small (yet vitally necessary) part of restoring Christian culture.
Now, as far as eating at restaurants on Sunday, as many Traditional Catholics often do, each individual case must also be examined. Most of the faithful I know travel from quite a distance to get to Sunday Mass, and these are the only days that they have to socialize with real Catholics. Here in Southern California, I personally go out to breakfast with fellow parishioners every Sunday, and many drive from a very great distance. I certainly don’t expect moms, who have quite a time just getting the troops into the car, to also pack a picnic lunch – I would just say, if you live in a community like St. Marys, where most people live near the church (some within walking distance), that it would be much better for you to have people over at your house for breakfast rather than to go out and support the business of restaurants that are open on Sundays. The families could take turns on different Sundays paying for and preparing the meals, and the children (and the adults) for that matter, would be free to play (and the adults to converse) as long as they would like without interruption or hard looks from others. This is to say nothing of the money savings that eating at a friend’s house would involve.
Certainly, the Church does not forbid restaurants being open on Sunday – but she only tolerates such an occurrence. Never does she support or encourage such an endeavor apart from absolute necessity. What a shame that Protestant-owned establishments like Chick-Fil-A get it, and do not allow their franchises to be open on Sunday (or Inn-N-Out Burger, which closed its many very profitable restaurants on Easter Sunday).
The final chapters of the book are devoted to exposing compromise, the great desire of the Liberal Catholic, as pointless and a condition the revolutionaries will not accept. Indeed, they hate compromise and want Christianity done away with.
Veuillot spends the last 4 chapters of the book exhorting Catholics to rally around the Pope, and surely, in 1866, 4 years before the infamous theft of the Papal States, he must have seen the handwriting on the wall.
Alas, in those days, Catholics would have rallied around a Pope who believed in the idea of the Catholic state as superior to a secular state. Unfortunately, our current Holy Father believes the opposite.
I have quoted many words here, and yet there are many more to be read in this deeply insightful, timely, and relevant work. As fresh in 2006 as in 1866, it is heartily recommended. I leave you with the passages that close the work:
“Obedience alone can maintain us in the truth; in so doing, it places in our hands the fullness of life. Let us not cheat of its benefits a mankind gone mad. Let us neither betray it, nor corrupt it. While we are being put to the trial and chastised, let our word so give witness to the truth, that it cease not to beg God’s pardon – the day of which it will hasten. The world is on its way to losing Christ, and with Him all that He gave it. The Revolution is squandering the royal heritage while it boasts of taking it over. Civilization is slipping toward tyranny, the contempt of man, and the sacrifice of the innocent – all accomplished in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity. Let us rather uphold that liberty which proclaims that God alone is God: that we must adore only Him, and obey Him alone, whatever tyrants His fury allows to pass over the face of the earth. Let us uphold that equality which teaches us to bow down our souls before neither power, nor talent, nor success, but before the justice of God alone. Let us uphold that fraternity, the true fraternity that only exists – that can only exist – on this earth if we uphold the fatherhood and the kingship of Christ.”