In the Daily Telegraph, Tim Stanley writes:
A chance click on a blog by Alejandro Bermúdez, head of the Catholic News Agency, leant me a fascinating insight into [the Pope’s] intellectual character. During his first homily, Pope Francis quoted the 19th century French convert Léon Bloy. And it’s a striking quote:
“When one does not confess Jesus Christ, I am reminded of the expression of Léon Bloy: ‘He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.’ When one does not confess Jesus Christ, one confesses the worldliness of the devil.”
Oh my! To anyone who doubts Pope Francis’ orthodoxy, there it is in black and white. God is a reality and to reject him is to embrace the only real alternative – the devil. Note that it’s “the devil” with a small “d”, because he’s much smaller than God and cannot possibly win the Final Battle between the two. Satan is a pipsqueak and a born loser, and you’d have to be pretty dumb to pick him for an ally.
Bloy was a radical Catholic. He was obsessed with capturing and embodying the essence of Christian doctrine, to the degree that it made him the sworn enemy of compromise. Born in 1846, he was raised in Paris in the French republican tradition – rationalist, secularist. In his twenties he underwent a dramatic conversion to Catholicism that left him craving constant encounter with the divine. Like anyone who thinks they have discovered The Truth, he was impatient with the fake consensus that others tried to force him to live by. Christ on the Cross was the only fact worth knowing, martyrdom was the only death worth experiencing. Bloy embraced poverty and gained the nickname “the ungrateful beggar” for his habit of refusing to get a job, begging for money, and then using the fresh ink he acquired to attack the lifestyles of the rich who kept him. We might today call him a hippie bum, but no bum ever wrote with this kind of passion:
“Every man who begets a free act projects his personality into the infinite. If he gives a poor man a penny grudgingly, that penny pierces the poor man’s hand, falls, pierces the earth, bores holes in suns, crosses the firmament and compromises the universe. If he begets an impure act, he perhaps darkens thousands of hearts whom he does not know, who are mysteriously linked to him, and who need this man to be pure as a traveler dying of thirst needs the Gospel’s draught of water. A charitable act, an impulse of real pity sings for him the divine praises, from the time of Adam to the end of the ages; it cures the sick, consoles those in despair, calms storms, ransoms prisoners, converts the infidel and protects mankind.”
Purity not just in deed but in purpose. Bloy wanted us to live heroically as living saints; always giving, never taking – motivated in everything by pure love. A barrier to love was wealth (if you have it and you love others, why wouldn’t you give it away?), so Bloy hated the wealthy….
Ah yes, always the hate. It’s curious how often advocates of “pure love” of this type seem to have so much room for hate.
To be sure, it’s important to note (as Stanley does) that this was just one citation by Francis, and it’s even more important to admit that I’d never heard of Bloy until yesterday. That said, even very cursory research throws up some fairly disturbing information about him. Long-distance medical diagnosis is always a dangerous temptation, and it rarely yields much more than a glorified guess. Nevertheless, on this occasion I shall give in to it: It certainly looks as if Bloy had some sort of breakdown, and, sadly, the personality that emerged from this “dramatic conversion” (if you prefer that gentler term) was both unpleasant and more than a little sinister.
Stanley attempts to draw a distinction between Bloy’s rhetoric and the language of Marxism by focusing on the fact that Marxism is a materialist creed. Superficially, perhaps, but Marxism is better seen as a manifestation of the old millennialist tradition of which Bloy-style Catholic radicalism is yet another expression. To read Bloy’s turn-of-the century ravings is to glimpse a shadow of the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution and the “Democratic Kampuchea” to come.
To get a very quick flavor of Bloy, read the rest of Stanley’s fascinating article and then go over to the French wikiquote. See Bloy sounding off against Protestantism, democracy and modernity, (vaccination was “un ordure”, apparently, a favorite word of this somewhat excrementally-obsessed writer, and cars and trains were not much better). Check out the repeated demonization of the rich and the bourgeois as “pigs”, dehumanization of a sort that was the prelude to so much twentieth century massacre.
Bloy’s morbid and violent prose appears to be the product of a genuinely totalitarian spirit (”Je suis pour l’intolérance parfaite”), and of a mind that recognized only one truth. God, so to speak, help anyone who disagreed.
For Francis to quote this man was, well, interesting…