header icons

The Saints Refuse to Accept Evil (Jacques Maritain)

I take the liberty of insisting thereon: if Christians, in effect, were to renounce keeping in their hearts the desire for sanctity (even if they only desire it very distantly, excessively distantly, even if they live in evil), this would be an ultimate betrayal against God and against the world.

The saints participate throughout the course of time in the redeeming work of Jesus on behalf of the world. Their personal relation to the world is paradoxical and mysterious. For them, it seems to me, the world is above all an occasion for dying to themselves in order to be entirely delivered up by love to Love.

Let us try to imagine what takes place in the soul of a saint at the crucial moment when he makes his first irrevocable decision. Let us picture to ourselves St. Francis of Assisi when he throws away his clothing and appears naked before his bishop, or St. Benedict Labré when he decides to become a lice-infested beggar vagabonding along the roads. At the root of such an act there was something so profound in the soul that one does not know how to express it–let us say that it is a simple refusal, a total, stable, supremely active refusal to accept things as they are. This act has to do with a fact, an existential fact: things as they are intolerable. In the reality of existence the world is infected with lying, injustice, wickedness, distress, and misery; creation has been corrupted by sin to such an extent that in the very marrow of his soul, the saint refuses to accept it as it is. Evil–I mean by that the power of sin, and the universal suffering which it drags in its wake–evil is such that the only thing the saint has immediately at hand to oppose it totally, and that intoxicates the saint with liberty, exultation, and love, is to give everything, to abandon everything, the sweetness of the world, and what is good, and what is better, and what is delectable and permitted, and more than anything, himself, in order to be free to be with God. To do this is to be totally stripped and given over in order to seize the power of the cross; it is to die for those he loves. This is a flash of intuition and will above any order of human morality. Once the soul has been touched in flight by this burning wing it becomes a stranger everywhere. It can fall in love with things, never will it take repose in them. The saint is alone in treading the wine press, and among the peoples there is no one with him (Isaiah 63:3).

As for the Emperor of this world (the power of evil), he is the false god of the philosophers when, knowing of the existence of the supreme Being, they fail to recognize his glory, deny the abyss of liberty which his transcendence signifies, and chain him to the world which he himself has made: a false god responsible for the world but powerless to redeem it, who would only be the supreme guarantee and justification of the fabric of the world, and would give his sanction to every evil as well as to every good at work in the world; a god who would bless injustice and slavery and misery, and make the tears of children and the agony of the innocent a pure and simple ingredient of the sacred necessities of the eternal cycles or of the evolution. Such a god would be the unique supreme Being, to be sure, but transformed into an idol, the naturalist God of nature, the Jupiter of this world, the great God of the idolators, of the mighty on their thrones, and the rich in their earthly glory, of success without law and pure fact erected into law. With respect to such a god, the saint is a complete atheist. Such kinds of atheists are the mysterious pillars of heaven. They give the world that supplement of soul, as Bergson said, which the world needs.

But if the other world is done away with, and if, by the same token, God loses his infinite transcendence, then there is no longer any Heavenly Father, there is only the Emperor of this world, before whom everyone should kneel. And the atheists of this false god are finished, Christians are on their knees before the world, and the world has lost the saints.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 7, November 1995 (From The Peasant of the Garonne. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968).