Thursday, November 19, 2015

"la bouille pour les chats"

     "I still recall the stupefaction with which, reading, a very long time ago now, the otherwise very estimable Gospel commentaries of the late Father [Marie-Joseph] Lagrange, I stumbled upon his explication of the 'manifold more' [('surcroît')] promised by Christ, in this world, to those who abandon [(auraient . . . abandonné)] everything for him [(Lk 18:30; cf. Mt 19:29, Mk 10:30)].  The fact is (said this very edifying [(édifiant)] and even more observant [(observants)] religious to us) that when one has pledged oneself to a great order, one finds oneself suddenly provided with all of the comforts one could ever want, without having to do anything to acquire or retain them [(presumably Évangile selon saint Luc, 7th ed., Etudes bibliques (Paris:  J. Gabalda, 1948))]. . . .  It is difficult, in the face of an avowal so simple-minded, not to think of the sarcastic reference to the lilies of the field that Gibbon directed against those he called 'the monks of Magdalen' [(Edward Gibbon, Memoirs; in Miscellaneous works of Edward Gibbon, Esquire, vol. 1 (Dublin, 1796), p. 38)], 'who neither toil nor spin. . . .'
     "But I was still naïve myself at this time.  I was only completely smartened up on this subject about twenty years [later (il y a vingt ans environ)] by my participation in a 'seminar' on 'religious poverty' in conjunction with which I had been assigned the task of setting forth the biblical doctrine on the subject, on the supposition that there was one.  I developed the idea that, according to the whole Bible, poverty 'in spirit' presupposes evidently a real [(effective)] disposition to deprive oneself of the obviously [(bien entendu)] superfluous, and even of a good part of what we all tend to consider the necessary.
     "I had hardly finished speaking when a venerable Jesuit, the most famous specialist in moral theology at that time, rose to address me:  'Father, that biblical poverty about which you have just spoken is a matter of some interest [(c’est très intéressant)], but [surely] you know that this has nothing to do with religious poverty.  [Religious poverty] is defined exhaustively by the renunciation of the ownership of what one utilizes.  According to this [understanding], whether one is in fact more or less provided with the goods that those who have not taken such a vow are able to enjoy, or not, changes nothing. . . .'
     "As if in order to prevent me from assuming that this was only a question of one of those opinions of the schools that one can, in [the context of a commitment to] Holy Church, take or leave at will, a Dominican, just as venerable and scarcely less illustrious, at once finished me off [(paracheva sur-le-champ ma déconfiture)].  'What you have just said is perfectly exact, not only from a canonical point of view, . . . but according to the most strict theology, in truth the only [theology] worthy of the name.  Indeed, the Summa theologiae establishes irrefutably that the vow of poverty, just as that of chastity or that of obedience, does more honor to God, by itself and by it alone, than the practice of that virtue when it is not consecrated by the vow [(ST II-II.88.6?)]. . . .'
     "I can say that after this I [finally] understood that no reform of [(dans)] the Catholic Church that does not begin with a reform of this ascesis in particular, in order that it might have an impact on the ethical and theological levels as well, will ever amount to anything more than [(ne serait jamais de)] a great deal of effort for nothing [(la bouille pour les chats, the [preparation of] gruel for cats, an 18th-century expression whose significance remains somewhat obscure)].  This, at least, had the advantage of immunizing me in advance against all possible deception when the shipwreck of the greatest reform [ever] called conciliar [(la grandissime réforme dite conciliaire)] followed almost instantaneously upon its launch."

     Louis Bouyer, Religieux et clercs contre Dieu (Paris:  Aubier Montaigne, 1975), 119-121.  On those same three purifications, see also here.

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