Catholic Propaganda

SIGRID UNDSET

Well-known cases show that the normal and expected result of evangelical "conversion" is the feeling of safety. Catholic "conversion" results in a feeling of repentance. If a thoroughgoing Protestant is asked, "Are you saved?", and he has experienced a "conversion", he will without hesitation answer affirmatively. But no Catholic would dare to say more than that he hopes for salvation.

Sigrid Undset
1882-1949

If a thoroughgoing Protestant is asked, “Are you saved?”, and he has experienced a “conversion”, he will without hesitation answer affirmatively. But no Catholic would dare to say more than that he hopes for salvation. These two answers do more than express dogmatic propositions: they have their own psychological value. The Protestant feels himself saved. He is assured of a condition of safety and trust. He theologizes over the cause and purpose of this safety and trust; the interpretation is moot, but he feels and is intensely assured of what his feelings confess. Psychologically, he is “saved” because he feels he is safe. With a Catholic, on the other hand, the most powerful feeling is one of sorrow and hope, the warp and woof of repentance. [1] Completely aside from dogmas, [2] he is unable truthfully to answer the question “Are you saved?” affirmatively, because his sins are ever before his eyes. No reader of the lives of the saints would dare to deny that this is the normal psychical experience of the truly “converted” Catholic. St. Teresa does not speak of herself as a great sinner in any dishonest or conventional way: to the irritation of many good, lukewarm Catholics. She who had led a singularly spotless life made herself one in perpetual penance with the life of a great penitent, St. Augustine. [3]

“Is not considering these two types of conversions identical a game of words? They are clearly two different kinds of psychosis.” [4]

However, it is true that the Catholic feeling of insecurity is not directed toward God but toward oneself. There is no room in the Catholic Church for different concepts about the being of God or about the divine-human nature of Jesus Christ or about the motherhood of the Virgin Mary; because Christ himself is the way to God’s kingdom and because his death on the Cross is the secret which opens God’s kingdom to the descendants of Adam, his blood truly cleanses the sinner from all his sin, his body is truly the food which is the life of believers. He who does not believe this is not Catholic but something else. If he is a priest, the Church says he is not her priest; if he is a layman, the Church denies him the sacraments, because she is convinced that they harm rather than help the one who does not believe; the Church excommunicates, that is, she breaks her relationship. And if one is a Catholic, one thinks that this is her right and duty. If Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word who was in the beginning, the way, the truth, and the life, who has promised to be with his own every day to the end of the world, who said to his messengers: who hears you, hears me — the inner being of the Church is as infallible as that of God.

But redemption is a drama which is played out between two parties. Floating in the infinite personality of God, the human personality rests, an infinitesimal speck in infinity just as the earth is a speck in the part of the universe which our knowledge can comprehend. The earth, men, atoms, become almost equally small when measured against infinity — and each person is as complex as a planet or an atom. With the same understanding, one understands the distance between the heavenly bodies and his own littleness in relation to Sirius, the age of the earth and the relative nothingness of his own lifespan, and he sees, even if he does not understand, concepts like eternity, the infinity of space and time. Seen from the standpoint of matter or biology, his body is an animal body with senses and desires like an animal’s. But seen from our animal standpoint, the senses and desires of man, by some baroque complication, can be the cause of things. That is one of the difficult questions here on earth: What is the viewpoint of the animals, have they any? They have eyes and we have eyes — but we are alone in our mania to reproduce that which we have seen with all kinds of additions of unseen things which we seem to find in ourselves or nowhere; cave paintings, stone carvings, the Eidsvold monument. Apes have ears and hands, but they have neither harmonicas nor philharmonic orchestras (when I was a child I used to think, when I heard the ape theory, that if there were anything to it, the apes might become angry and do something to renounce this relation; as long as they are not bothered, we do not need to be either). Animals feel the temperature as do we, but only we have lit bonfires in the forest and installed electric fans in hotel dining rooms. Animals mate and we mate, but how have we not managed to complicate our sexual life — even going to such peripheral phenomena as jokes and anecdotes about mothers-in-law. The animals must have food and drink and we must have food and drink, but so far no animal, as far as I know, has thought of getting food in order to arrange an exchange of food products, for example, to organize an agency to take the leftovers of factories and wine bars and banana boats? Mankind itself has often explained its tragic isolation from the animal kingdom by conceiving of a supersensual world, peopled with invisible beings, bodiless but yet with personalities of the highest degree. And it is this world which has never left mankind at peace, and men have never been able to leave it in peace.

I

Christianity explains — in unity with other religions — that the invisible infinity is God. He has created all things visible and invisible out of himself and all rests in him. By a special act he has created man in his image — in Catholic theology that means, as white light is broken up by a prism, God’s uncompounded being is broken into human properties. (This picture is incomplete; as St. Thomas bids us remember, all attempts to explain God are limited by the limitations of our being. To speak of the finger of God, the shadow of God’s wings, the anger of God, is to use inescapable anthropomorphisms. Had the poor Christians in On God’s Way, which builds its faith on independent Bible study, stood in direct or indirect contact with the great scholastic master, they might have been spared many shocks, as the young Kallem frightens them with the revelation that the Holy Spirit began by being feminine — in some Semitic language — in Greek he is neuter. As St. Thomas reminds us, all gender language about God, with the exception of the Son becoming man, is grammatical gendering.)

Therefore, the first human couple, created in the image of God, may certainly have looked more like a pair of chimpanzees than like Michelangelo’s fantasy picture of Adam and Eve. That we find “development” attractive reflects our own taste. Christianity by nature is somewhat sceptical about “development” on the whole. Had the fall into sin not taken place, development would have proceeded in another manner in any case. Perhaps the pyramids would still have been built, but they would not have been built by slaves. Gunpowder would not have been discovered — nor the first stone axe or the latest explosive material: God knows, what would they have been used for?

“Minuisti eum paulo minus ab Angelis”— you have made him a little lower than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honor, you have set him over the work of your hands; you have laid all things under his feet, beasts great and small and the wild animals, human self-assurance says about humanity. On the other hand, in the storm-driven Psalms 94-96, God shall come to judge the peoples: “Tunc exultabunt omnia ligna silvarum a facie Domini . . . Flumina plaudent manu. (Then shall all the trees of the woods rejoice before the face of the Lord, because he comes to judge the world; the streams of the sea shall clap their hands.)” This is because at last they will be of us and our lordship. Abel’s blood cries to heaven from the whole earth. “In former ages, at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers through the prophets; in these last days he has spoken to us through the Son whom he has made the heir of all things, through whom he has also created the world.”

“He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to be the children of God.” This is Catholic faith, that an act of the will on the part of man is unconditionally necessary before he can be saved. The will is the center of the person; with the accompanying properties such as the intellect, feelings, and fantasy it is a unity, as the glowing interior of the earth and the mountains and soil and water and vegetation make a globe. By his will, man turned from God; with his will he turns back to him. God pours out his saving grace for us because of love alone and not because in the least measure we have deserved or earned it the Catholic Church teaches nothing else. If you want to find confirmation of this, you can, for example, open a Missal and find the prayer “Nobis quoque peccaloribus” in the Canon of the Mass, and you can also examine the different Offices. [5] A person may “receive” this grace of God in Jesus Christ, as St. John expresses it. In reality, the fight between the Church and the “reformers” concerned this: What is human will? What is its worth? Free will, says the Church; the will in bondage, says Luther. God knows beforehand who shall be saved and who shall be lost. He knows this, says Calvinism, because he has predestined some to the eternal light and some to eternal fire. The Church says, God does not will the death of any sinner, but he knows the will of each person from eternity better than the person himself knows it. It is true that this is a cross for the man controlled by our time; why did God create men who would be lost? Scholasticism answers bravely: being is a good in itself. In reading Dante’s Inferno, what scholasticism meant becomes more understandable: in hell, Farinata degli Uberti is still Farinata, the proud. Here thoughts collide: the business of indulgences was mostly a pretext, the fight with the papacy a consequence. And the countless sects which have developed out of the work of Luther and Calvin have forgotten what the fight was about to begin with; Rome remembers and stands where it stood: None is condemned unless he wills it; none is saved unless he himself wills it — rather, lets his will be in harmony with the will of God.

From these presuppositions, Luther claimed that human nature with its inherited sin was so lost that man lies like a decayed stick of wood; he becomes as if wrapped in grace. The merits of Christ cover his sins with the forgiveness of sins, if the sinner merely believes. Moreover, what Luther has uttered about the power of the grace of faith automatically causing good works in the poor will-less being — even as he warns against scrupulosity and uses the less well-chosen expression admonishing people “to sin boldly”— is something else again. To find any consistent, well-thought-out principle in Luther’s own writings other than his fight against the teaching regarding the freedom of the will and the divinely instituted teaching office is a difficult puzzle. And Catholics and Protestants never find the same solution.

The teaching of the Church on inherited sin is that it is a kind of innate eye disease of the soul. Man was created for blessedness —the vision of God as he is. With the fall into sin, man loses the ability to see supernaturally. In the supernatural world, which has become an invisible world to him, he proceeds like a blind man, using the sense of touch. Not everything he feels is wrong but only imperfectly understood. When “the morning star visits us from on high”, it shows a person what he had his hands on when he was in the darkness: poisonous monsters and flowers, and stones which become jewels in the light — that explains the relation of Catholicism to heathenism, that is, as the non-Catholic expresses it, it has taken to itself heathen elements. In the countryside around the newborn Rome, the parents worshipped the good powers which they sensed, watching over their children — they could not know what kind of powers they had felt in the dark before our Lord told them the shining answer: it was their angels. Our fathers made offerings to their parents in the grave, as most other men have done; the Church answers, this is right. Death does not break the fellowship between friends and relations, but it is a fellowship in prayer and the worship of God; the dead have no use for food and drink. The Norwegian-born Bishop of Skalholt, Jon Halldorsson, proposes the custom in one of his tales that the De profundis for the dead should be learned by all as a table prayer said for the dead.

Since people are blind to the supernatural light, it not only follows that they pick up poisonous snakes or go into the bog or over the cliff; fear of darkness is also a consequence and so is a perverse pleasure derived from forcing others downhill, from hurting others and themselves, so that they become moral cripples.

Through grace, man receives back his supernatural vision — inherited sin is really taken away. But the power of sight which now should teach us to endure the full strength of the light of God is still weak. God may give his children both tempering and purgatory, here or there or both places. It is becoming morally adult, more or less; there are men who have so much natural moral strength and thought that they are good enough from a natural standpoint, but even they, when they have gained their supernatural vision and begin to discern God, find what a poor empty picture they had of him. For Catholics, grace is a medicine which sinners may ever inhale and bathe in, that they might grow up rightly — become saints, [6] be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. Only when we are as good as God are we good enough.

Because “renewal” in the Catholic sense is a renewal to activity —to work with God and not against him — no Catholic can be at peace because he is “saved”. He cannot comfort himself with the thought that sin is human nature, unless he becomes faithless after his “conversion”. He cannot understand concepts such as sin and punishment for sin and the vengeance of God in such a human- juridic sense that God becomes like a judge of criminals who gives sentences of a certain amount of suffering proportionate to the crime, except that, for the faithful, Jesus has paid, so he escapes the punishment — or the punished one snarls and it seems that God’s sentencing to punishment is not reasonable. For the Catholic, after “renewal”, sin is clearly not natural but a weakness after an unnatural life; each faithlessness shows how much he falls short of coming to full health — the wholeness of sanctity. He not only continually prays to God for forgiveness, for more of his medicine, that God may never loosen his grasp on his soul — even if there comes a time when the soul involuntarily struggles to be free —because the physician’s hand touches such sore wounds that it, seemingly, is more comfortable to let the sickness take its course than to treat it. He must, in any case, have a proper will to subject himself, to do as God says; as God himself has spoken, he shall gain his sight. And with this we come to the dogma that, for a person to be saved, good deeds are of absolute necessity.

The inclination of man’s mind to create idea associations, to gather perceptions into complexes, to push down frightening or disgraceful desires or concepts into a kind of dark cellar of the mind, or to deck them out as modern and pleasing if one wants to keep them up — the Church has always acknowledged this inclination, and she has worked on the basis of this knowledge of humanity, which she has expressed in different ways through the ages. Richard of St. Victor (c. 1140) expressed it, for example, sometimes in hopelessly tiring allegories, sometimes in passages where each phrase shines like a naked blade. We think that it is natural for the Church to have this breadth because we believe that in a mysterious way she is one with him who created us. But it is rather strange to see how modern psychology occupies itself with the laws of the creation of a complex — it was on these laws that St. Ignatius built his Spiritual Exercises — or how psychoanalysis accepts phenomena which every confession manual at least from the twelfth century to the present is directed against. (I don’t understand how anyone can confess to another person comfortably, whether the matter is small or great, unless one is convinced that he is not confessing to another person but to a priest in the place of God. That someone can trust a doctor in that way, to surrender part of his soul to attain physical benefits — I have never been able to understand.)

For the Catholic Church it is important always to find the center of each complex of feelings which react against the grasp of Christ. Weakness and sensual enjoyment can join together in spiritual laziness just as in sensitivity before the experience of pain or in the desire to be admired; sensitivity or love of gossip can join in a lack of courage or in misplaced self-criticism or in unrighteous overestimation of other poor sinners. It is worthwhile, then, to grab hold of the tallest weeds; afterward it is relatively easy to pluck away the small weeds from the loose earth. And then it pays to plant one of the “theological virtues” which, with its complex of ideas, is most capable of smothering the weed as it grows. Obviously, there is no Catholic who believes he can do that without an unceasing influx of supernatural grace — through prayer and the sacraments. Using the image of St. Teresa: for the silkworm to become the butterfly, it must continually work and spin the case in which the mystical development will take place, but the silkworm gives itself the ability to spin no more than it created the world of leaves in and from which it lives.

When therefore, for example, Friedrich Heiler calls scrupulosity a sickness to which Catholics are especially prone, to some degree that is true. However no Catholic dreams of considering as a criterion for a religious truth something which is pleasing for a life of sensation and pleasant impression or spontaneously strange or pure secular energy or is felt to be especially fitting for a certain type of people. Religious rationalism was a fiasco because it was not rational; the great mass of people who have contact with the unpleasant realities of life turn their backs on false religious optimism — they are tempted to jump the ship of any such Christianity and by their own strength, to drag themselves away, in any case, from evil which is materially felt, or they run after fire-and-brimstone preachers. Lacking a religious system that reveals wider and deeper perspectives, people will at least listen to a person who has discovered the fact that we all are in danger of being damned; and whatever else our Lord is, “reasonable” in the human sense he is not.

Naturally it also happens in the Catholic milieu that scrupulosity degenerates into real sickness of the soul — in any case priests theoretically are familiar with a general oppression which is sin, essentially different from faint-heartedness before concrete difficulties. Still, we believe that while, for example, mental illness as a consequence of “renewal” occurs so seldom in the Church, it occurs rather generally in sectarian revivals, and this was also true in the Middle Ages with heretical movements like the Fraticelli. Nothing like this was depicted in the story-spinning craft of the priests or in the Church’s treasury of human experience, but only that the Church teaches and acts according to the law of normal religious life. Fear and hope drive the soul forward; they teach it to watch and pray and thus gain a growing knowledge of God — and as a consequence more and more to lose its egoistic concern for itself and to become unselfish, with adoring love for God: this is the fruit which the soul may bring forth at last, so also the saints confess in choir. Love cannot be inactive; if the soul has not discovered the relation between our good deeds and the reward which God has promised us for them, it understands it now; would any father or mother drive away a little child who comes and gives them the stalk of a plant which has lost its flower or a fist-full of sand? Their concern and love is not a reward for the funny little gift, but the gift is received, as is proper, as a reward for love. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself — the soul discovers that it is nothing and becomes loved, and no other soul can be a more complete nothing than the soul which is without God; it ought not to doubt that it is possible for anyone to become what it has become. God has given us various commandments to do certain things for our neighbor —now we see that what he said is literally true, that everything we have done or neglected to do for one of these very small ones, we have done or neglected to do for him.

This is the unceasing energy of Catholic Christianity — there is no peace in the Catholic sense in salvation — but deep anguish about defrauding oneself, an audacious hope that it is going to persevere after all: “I will lift my eyes unto the mountains, from whence my help comes”, as it says in the Breviary, an intense and burning knowledge that the Lord whom we know will conquer. And, having a burning sorrow and shame in thinking of the price he has eternally paid for the victory, the Church ever holds the crucifix before our eyes — on which he fought for our salvation against each one of us.

We do not want to be impolite in directly contradicting Archbishop Soderblom when, in the book about the schismatic church organizations meeting in Stockholm, he declares, “If we compare the Church’s hymns and prayers with the Bible, we see, if our eyes are open, the extent to which the thought of eternal salvation has devoured Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God and the New Testament concern for the neighbor and common life. Really, the kingdom of God has first gained its rightful place in Christian teaching and interpretation in our time.” [7] But one can point to many explanations and excuses for the rather striking lack of initiative on the part of the different church organizations through the years, when it comes to work for the victory of God’s kingdom here on earth. It seems to me, inter alia, that it might be hard to know what should be done when it is hard to know what one believes. For most of the church organizations that are direct products of the “reformation” in the sixteenth century, it is also true that they have taken a position between that of a protegee and a housewife in relation to the power of the civil state. It is not easy for them to protest when the power of the state takes purely material viewpoints and, from these, attempts to solve the tasks which the Church until the “reformation” had worked at solving. But it should be understood that the Church was successful in getting rid of the problems of the world, or she as much as promised that she would someday do so forever. It is a fact that poverty, need and illiteracy can cause people suffering — but worldly wisdom has a tendency to want to attend to these things by getting those who are better placed materially to look after the unfortunate, the enlightened to teach the ignorant. The Church has wanted to point to the fact that, just as a man can be a criminal because he is poor and oppressed, he can be the same because he is rich and powerful; he can be repulsive because he is poor, but he can be even worse if he is rich; he can be superstitious because he is uneducated, but enlightenment can make him many times more superstitious. It was the Church’s program for the unfortunate rich to be helped by the unfortunate poor, and conversely; the taught and the untaught should help each other to become wise. She has ever and always looked sceptically at do-gooders who do not perceive that at times her own consecrated and sworn servants did not take care to steer clear of the danger of riches. The “reformers” in their anger over this kind of an arrangement nevertheless gave the patrimonium pauperum to kings and rulers. It can never be easy for the state church to resist the economic system of a government that threatens to return some part of the people to near slavery. When the Stockholm Conference suddenly discovered that these state churches are now strongly interested in the worker question, it caused both Catholic and free churches to remark, in human terms rather than Christian, on what the inheritors of Luther and Cranmer have become at last, they who once were “mighty lords and hereditary rulers”. The state churches have often attempted to find a modus vivendi in which they could adopt much that was originally foreign to them but, even more, that which they used to strive against. Even the “spiritual freedom” which afterward they learned to praise is not completely Lutheran or Calvinistic but more than anything else a fruit of the spiritual currents of the eighteenth century whose most dramatic representative in our area was Streuensee. [8]

Also, speaking in human rather than Christian terms, Catholics have muttered that the “reformed” churches first took a serious interest in sending missionaries to countries when, because of the colonization policies of the great powers, there was relatively little danger of martyrdom. The Catholic Church has had missions to the heathen continually since St. Peter and St. Paul lived on earth. In the time of the “volkswandring” and the raids of the Vikings, which harassed Catholic lands, the Church replied by sending missionaries out among the ravagers; if convents and churches were burned, monks and nuns murdered, the Benedictines set out to convert the murderers.

Tollak Mathiesen wrote a letter to Gula Tidend that was printed February 2 of this year. He said that the introduction of Christianity into Norway was not carried out without blood witnesses to the old faith. I believe it is true to say that our fathers found this not so horrible: the modern type of whimpering girl who cries when someone wants to do to her what she had done or promised to do to someone else has had the help of the “reformation” spirit in her development. From the Protestant side, it is certain that there has been infinitely more praise for the courage of Luther when he traveled to the Diet of Worms — not without the purpose of finding powerful protectors there — than has been spoken from the Catholic side for the courage of all the English Catholics who, from the time of Henry VIII to Charles II, sacrificed their goods to the last penny and their lives and the lives of their dear ones for their faith — without the least shadow of a hope of finding a protector on earth. In a desperate adventure, young and old men fled England by the hundreds to the seminary for priests in Douai, that they might be competent to fight for their faith. With the weapon of learning, they underwent intensive studies; then they sneaked home again. Daily they practiced their priesthood in danger of their lives, fully knowing that it was probable there would be only one way out of the struggle — sooner or later Judas would whisper, and there would be a trial in the torture chamber, while all their members were stretched out in pain, to be loosed on crutches only to be dragged to the public hearing, with its ridicule of all they held holy. And at last the place of execution, where the “mass priest” was hanged on the gallows but then cut down before he lost consciousness and stripped so that the executioner could eviscerate him — and his body was divided up for its last resting places, stakes and the wheel. And they endured this torture with prayer for the Church and the enemies of the Church; they turned the public hearing into a disputation, so that the room was cleared of people for the sake of the poor reformed priests who came off so ill; at the gallows they made sharp and serene ripostes. When the executioner in his roughness tried to stop their prayer because it was time for the slaughter, the brothers kissed the hand of the executioner, for the sake of the blood of martyrdom, when their turn came. But I am not at all sure that, for example, any Norwegian paper would print the presentation with enthusiasm, if I decided to translate a handful of the most thrilling and dramatic eyewitness accounts of the fear of God and courage displayed by English Catholics. From the school in Douai alone there were more than 150 priests killed in this way — and that is only a small portion of the martyrs of the English “reformation”.

Some of the medieval missionary orders to the Muslims still exist as general mission orders. When they began, they had the task of redeeming Christian prisoners; young and strong monks gave themselves in exchange for sick and exhausted slaves or for men who were fathers of families.

St. Francis Xavier came to Japan in 1549, and there were 300,000 Catholics in the land around 1590. Six years later, the Japanese persecution of Christians broke out, the worst known in the entire history of the Church. Mass crucifixions of monk-priests in Nagasaki took place in 1597; in 1622, fifty two martyrs were burned. Also in Nagasaki, some years later, 37,000 Christians were massacred in the province of Arima. Then Japan was closed to Europeans, and during this time, which lasted two hundred years, a number of persecutions of Christians occurred. Some Jesuits and Dominicans had the courage to push into the closed land, and they received the fate they expected. In 1859, when Japan was opened again to Europeans, they found that there were still about 5o,ooo Christians there; as in China, the Church has always tried to transfer the priesthood to natives as soon as possible, because the sacraments should be offered continually, independent of political situations. Protestant missionaries came to Japan in 1859. The position of the Church during the French revolution can be discovered in Brandes: Reaction in France; for the martyrs in Mexico, refer to the daily papers [in 1927]. The Church never grows wiser. But when the worst is said that can be said about the fanaticism and cruelty of Catholic Christians to other religions, the Church is able to answer in every case: We have not done anything to others that we did not will that they should do to us, nothing which untold thousands of the Church’s own children have not joyfully accepted. And we do not believe that human nature has changed, and we know that the Church cannot become wiser. We can each have doubts about ourselves, about what we would be able to do, but we do not doubt that there are enough of our sisters and brothers who can do all for our Lord.

Sigrid Undset
(1882-1949)


Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, for her remarkable description of life during the Middle Ages in Scandinavia, the 3-volume Kristin Lavransdatter.

She wrote 36 books, the mediaeval novels being one part. Another part are her contemporary novels of Kristiania (now Oslo) and Oslo between the turn of the century and the 1930s, the third part being literary essays and historical articles. Her authorship is wide-ranging and of remarkable depth and substance. None of Sigrid Undset's books leaves the reader unconcerned. She is a great storyteller with a phenomenal knowledge of the labyrinths of the human mind.

By Sigrid Undset: Kristin Lavransdatter: The Bridal Wreath, the Mistress of Husaby, the Cross; The Master of Hestvike (in four volumes): The Axe, The Snake Pit, In the Wilderness, The Son Avenger; Jenny.


We are invited to doubt ourselves but to believe in God and in all other persons, to judge ourselves but not others. The Church refuses to deal with human opinions when she accepts a revealed dogma, and she forbids us to call by any other name what our Lord has called sin. At this point she is exclusive and unbowing. But she refuses to have purely human opinions about secular things — such as constitutional matters or foreign affairs — making them dogmas; there we have been given freedom to do and take counsel in a given situation as it seems wisest, to the extent that what is done is without sin. And she forbids us to judge the nature of any individual, the inmost part of his hidden being. She cannot solemnly bury heretics or suicides, partly because she can help only those who believe and simply in human terms, it is not customary to bury troublemakers or deserters beneath the regimental colors. But this does not bar priests or laymen from hoping and praying for all, for none knows what can happen between God and the soul even if it happens in the very last second. Her saints have never felt sure of victory before the last minute of death, and she gives the same comfort to the sinner who prays for grace at the last second, purely out of fear of hell, as she gives to one who has all his life grieved over his difference from our Lord with the eternal warmth of love. She is as full of paradoxes as the so-called “simple gospel” of the New Testament itself, as full of seemingly unresolvable contradictions as the Creed of St. Athanasius. She came into the world in a society which seemed to rest immovably on the foundation of slavery — the Church said not a word to the slaves about organizing and bettering their lot or about it being unworthy for a person to be unfree — just the opposite. She pointed to the lack of freedom of the slave owners, and they were seized by a longing for freedom which made the foundations of slavery crack and crumble. She claimed that suffering and the cross were necessary for salvation; rightly understood, sickness and poverty are special graces, and people ran after the poor with gifts and built houses for the sick. [9] She claimed that one thing was necessary, and no learning was necessary to learn what that was — God has not made human salvation dependent on practical skills like silent reading — and monks and nuns became teachers. In the English “chantries”— privately established chapels — the chaplain was to read free of charge with all who asked him for this in God’s name. Plundering these chantries brought 180,000 pounds into the treasury of the “reformation” kings. Yet, in 1645 there did not exist a single free school beyond what remained of the “chantries”. The Church celebrated her worship in dungeons and cemetary chapels where the dead one himself was the altar boy, beneath God’s open sky and in churches with complicated ceremonies having the formal beauty described by St. John when he attempts to use human language to describe his heavenly visions — and everywhere she has fed her children with bread.

And out of this forceful activity, restlessness, unease, and striving, out of the hard commandment to consider one’s own sins and not the sins of others — confession becomes sacrilegious if the one confessing, directly or indirectly, is tempted [10] to tell on others or set forth excusing circumstances — springs the deep peace in Catholic churches, idyll and feast in the Catholic popular life. We can agree that life on earth is a vale of tears; the Protestant should feel that he can slip out of it — the Catholic cannot be too sure of that; in fear and trembling he is to work out his salvation. But he must work! And also, or therefore, the sourness and tearfulness which one so often meets in the Protestant “revival” circles is as good as unknown in Catholicism.

Is it strange that we think that beneath the perspective of other Christians and non-Christians with their seeming reasonableness and connectedness lies a deep unreasonableness; they are simply far from life. Catholicism’s unreasonableness, contradictions, and problems point to a fundamental, organic connection. The Church is built on a rock. Catholicism does not explain all the problems of existence, but it explains more and goes deeper than any other philosophy of life. If the world is a battleground where God and Satan fight and there is no hope that the battle shall be finally over before judgment day, not even on that day will it become more humane; on the contrary, it shall become more grim. As St. John prophesies, we should be prepared for the worst. The best soldier is not the one who hasn’t the sense to be afraid, but the one who is braver than he is fearful. And each joy, each victory, each good thing becomes wonderful — a surprise, an experience and extra delicious — A la guerre comme a la guerre.

II

In reality, consequently, the religious life of many Protestants develops in just this way. Protestants experience those stages which a Catholic psychologist calls the way of purification, the way of enlightenment, and the way of union, or heat, calor, as Richard Rolle calls it. Here the danger, from a Catholic viewpoint, is, on the one hand, the fear of acknowledging that a sinner may will and work, even if he knows he is very weak and miserable. As the teaching of sola fide was in reality unnatural, so life has opposed it in many ways. A sinner sins, trusting that he can be washed clean in the blood of Jesus, when it pleases him. Jesus pays the sinner’s account on the day it comes due, whether the person is insolvent because of an honorable inability to pay or from speculation. These ideas are more common in anti-Christian novels than in life, but I have met Protestants who reasoned in this way. In our time, the rationalization often is that God is not so little and narrow-minded as people want to make him — the basic meaning: he is exalted enough to see the thing the way I see it myself. “Our Lord is a reasonable man.”

Another consequence of the general fear of the Protestant sects to point to perfection as the distant goal of humanity is that the sin, from which conversion must first take place, is seen not as an inescapable infection but as sins — against other persons or the criminal law or civilized drinking habits, etc. In Catholic countries one often meets men who probably have not committed a real sin since, at seven or eight, they celebrated their first Holy Communion; hardly have they been heard to speak a word which should have been left unspoken: they have never wanted to do anything but to serve God and to live in God. They are, least of all, persons tempted to rely on themselves. St. Teresa pictures the water which looks very pure in the wooden cup stuck in the corner, but put it in a clear glass and hold it up to the sun! In Protestant lands one often meets both young and old persons who say, Why should they be converted? They are not worse than others. For them, civil propriety is the same as righteousness. As Bjornsson said, right after he had presented a fine cast of people, “Where good people go, there is God’s way.” The state church has certainly played a large part in shaping this kind of thinking because it has always tried to go hand in hand with civil morality as expressed in the law. It has avoided such situations as, for example, the Church created for herself in medieval Norway: murder was punished as a sin at a time when private revenge was the enforcer of the law, and she considered engaged persons who lived together as having a valid marriage, even when the woman’s relatives demanded a fine from the bridegroom because he had not waited for the day when it was proper for them to deliver to him the right to be her guardian.

A very funny result of this attempt to unite civil morality and the ideals of the Christian ethic may be seen in much of the newer spiritualist writing. [11] From an understandable wish that all men might be saved — a wish that Catholics share with all their hearts — they portray the “other side”, above all, as bridge parties and lectures and fellowship, conceived as at least as materialistic but undeniably much less amusing than Valhalla or the paradise of Australian natives. And all are educated there, until they are “good and wise”— if there is anyone who is so desperately self-willed that he won’t let himself be educated, they do not say. I think that this perspective with compulsory education and babysitters is more unpleasant than Dante’s Inferno.

The reaction against “faith alone”, a reaction which demands life and work, results, then, as it should, in the demand for life and not dogmas. It should not be forgotten, however, that the very concept of holiness demands certain dogmas, if it is going to claim to be essentially different, not just different to a degree, from the demands of pre-Christian and non-Christian religions moral purity, endurance, honor, and prudence. The danger is that one may turn back to the worship of the one, true God toward which all religions are finally directed — the Catholic Church has always known this — but then reject his answer, his work, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, “filius unicus” or “unigenitus”, as is said in the creeds. One may turn away from the morning sun toward the twilight of the gods, go still more wild because one is going from light to dark and is feeding, instead of from the sacraments, from the warmed-over pot of the mixture of religions which has gone on simmering for thousands of years. That was why St. Peter and St. Paul and their converts were martyred — because they could not put their faith in the great common kettle into which, even in that time, new religions were continually added. None in our time believes that the world had anything essential against the newborn Catholic Church other than that she taught that she was infallible and unique. Jahve-Ammon or Jupiter Jahve, Kristus-Apollo or Jesus-Mithra would have been received with full honors into the hospitable Roman pantheon and no one would have done anything to the Christians, if only their convictions had permitted them to respect the convictions of others enough to offer a pinch of incense to the genius of Caesar or to the principle of motherhood in nature. If the Church had not always known what Mary, the Mother of mercy, is, many controversies would have been avoided. But —“Hail Mary —blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”, who has sweat blood for our sake — therefore, “pray for us sinners”; she is great, loving and at the opposite pole from the grim mothers.

A special modern phenomenon is the deistic and Jesus-istic readiness in religiosity to work together with all possible idealistically and altruistically colored forms of materialism — the view of life which claims that this is Rhodes, and here we shall dance. Religion has the right to exist only if it will serve this life — it can be allowed to dream about a life after death, but only if it does not demand that there be suffering and sacrifice here on earth in order for the soul which pretends to be immortal to gain the kingdom of God which is not of this world. It is true that consistent, correct materialism often demands bloody sacrifice and patient suffering from its confessors, and faith beyond all understanding —in the possibilities for human development and in the ability to love and to will. For us Catholics, it remains the case that even the act of the will that is needed to stop one’s ears against the whisper of the other world when, once in good faith, it is considered to be a siren song — to harden oneself against visions which can be considered hallucinations — even this costs a great deal. Although we know that between materialism as a worldview and Catholicism there is a life-and-death struggle, and there is no work of giving or receiving pardon — yet it is in these camps that we have seen enemies whom we can really love, the persecutors we can pray for. And this not only out of obedience — what we do for everyone, since God does not demand of us more than we are able to do — the subjection of will and deed — we humans are not masters of our feelings and moods. But there is a kind of modern, confused deism, more or less Christian sounding, colored by a kind of Jesus worship that is not worship of God but of a hero. It is prepared all too willingly to enter into company with whatever king of altruistically colored materialism, without understanding that the Christian and materialistic ideals are incommensurate, even when outwardly they look exactly alike. Every idealism is first and foremost directed toward the temporal — to get the most spiritual and material goods for the largest possible number here on earth. This idealism lets it stand as, at best, an open question whether or not there is a “hereafter”— and sooner or later, but seldom later, accustoms itself to believe that these ideals cannot be realized unless the majority are persuaded or forced to obey a minority. Neither can people be led forward to material salvation without lords who command and chiefs who keep discipline. But this is just what we Catholics will not subject ourselves to — we do not agree that a man has the right to rule over other people. In purely secular matters, we want to choose our own leaders; we will not accept dogmas beyond the supernatural revelation; human ideas can be more or less valid and worth fighting for, but they can never be claimed as dogmas —political dogmas, for example. This is really the crux of the Holy Father’s response to Action francaise; the monarchy cannot be made into a dogma for French Catholics, even if they have good reasons for their position that the monarchy is the form of government best suited for the French Catholic kingdom. We do not want to hear of more than one papacy, the papacy of the immortal St. Peter, to whom our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the instructions that whatever he bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven. Where one person rules over others by right of might or right of wisdom, or with the — humanly speaking — right of being better, there society built on slavery has been raised again. We do not want to be part of this — as much for the sake of the lords as for that of the slaves. We who believe that the Church of Christ shall stand until judgment day and that the gates of hell shall not overcome her — we choose to fight for all that entails. Decimation, exile to the ends of the earth and under the earth, the Church has been through all this so many times before. We fight for the freedom of the Christian person, not the varied freedoms from military discipline, from the regime of the great camp, which the “reformers” complained about — for a person’s freedom to obey God alone and in the manner which he ordained when he said to his disciples: “Who hears you, hears me. And lo, I am with you until the end of the world.” Finally, there is only one who will be able to evaluate and judge a person — he who has created mankind and knows it better than it knows itself.

Does anyone really believe that the feeling of freedom is especially alive in our time or in our country with the Lutheran state church, to which 97 percent of the population belongs? The state’s encroachment on the rights of parents should suffice as an example in this regard, as it practically forces almost all to send their children to state schools whose direction and goal are set by party politics. It has been rather peacefully discussed in the papers — with only one woman [12] protesting, as far as I have seen — whether the state should take over the regulation of population growth. This means that whoever is in power at the moment in the state could decide on the basis of his own standards which men and women should live naturally as man and wife and which should be condemned to some unnatural form of marriage. Against the Manichaeans and Albigensians and the Cathari of the Middle Ages, who taught that the devil had created human beings as men and women, the Church claimed that creation was God’s work and that the right to live as man and woman in marriage within the limits given by our Lord was a human right. Against Luther she claimed that man is not a slave, living in the bondage of the will dominated by his drives, and whom God would not want to help were he to renounce his inheritance of a natural good in order to serve God or humanity in a special way. Against the Renaissance worship of the body, she claimed that man was fallen and his original drives perverted, so that force, deceitful buying and selling, infidelity, and meanness affect even the relation between man and woman; she has reminded spouses that one’s spouse is neither more or less than a redeemed partner, equal as a Christian and that they should pray as they remember this, both when they are inclined to mutual idolatry and when they are inclined to scream at each other “You skinflint”, “You squanderer”.

She has fought against the devil and hexes because of their effort to paralyze the human faculties. Now it looks as though the Church is going to fight a battle against all of these old enemies.

Here is a rather illustrative little example of the Protestant feeling for human freedom and dignity: a year ago the National Theater presented an English drama that was called something like “The Journey to Radioland”. That isn’t accurate, but the title was something like that. A group of men and women come aboard a remarkable ship without knowing each other, but as the ship sails the group guesses where it is going — yes, isn’t it blasphemous to use the old expression the “land of life”. They learn that there they shall be placed before, not a judge, but a censor. After the journey they meet the censor; he is a deceased English gentleman who received his training at one or another of the earth’s reputable institutions of learning. He begins with judging his neighbors and asks if he has gotten to their privatissima! With good reason, the censor avoids going into their inner life. There is no testimony of witnesses either. When it cannot be thought that the deceased doctor or detective — whatever the figure was when alive — has found out all this about his captives with the help of some kind of immanence or transcendence, Sjol finds out where he has dug up all the stories he has confronted them with. Unfortunately, the piece illustrates only by intimation how gossip is carried about in the other world. Some of the Oslo priests were invited to see this edifying piece — but I never heard anyone, priest or layman, protest against its main theme, which is the coarsest kind of blasphemy against God and man: that even in eternity man will judge man!

Protestantism has been so bothered by the relation of Catholicism to heathenism — that the Church has made the sign of the cross on some heathen relics and confirmed some heathen thoughts about the hidden God — that the `reformed’ churches have not bothered really to look at what Catholicism received as flowers and what it tread under foot as poisonous snakes. And all around the country, Protestant sects open the door to let in the most poisonous aberrations of heathenism — people’s worship of what they have created instead of the Creator, and mankind’s worship of itself.

III

I am certain that many will think that the words I am using about the Protestant “freedom of the spirit” unnecessarily harsh and critical. However, I will ask these persons: without prejudice, think a little about the point in many of the stories about the fools of Mols. What people from outside this village took for dumbness, from the standpoint of the fools is seen as an example of the need for independence, the will to build everything on one’s own experience, the will to the free and unqualified, subjective solving of life’s problems. When Archbishop Soderblom’s book about the Stockholm meeting made me involuntarily think about the basic mood in the classic stories of fools, it may have been due to the peculiar style of the Swedish Archbishop — in that throughout all of the 926 pages, it is essentially he who is the speaker in this long work. If the different participants at the meeting had been quoted verbatim at length, perhaps the impression might have been different. But it is a fact that many Catholics, especially converts, look at the whole concept, of which the Stockholm meeting is an example, with great impatience — they consider it as a fools’ council of war in the middle of the battleground, while the battle is going on between Christ and the ruler of this world. Truly, it is not that we doubt that the men who took part in the ecumenical meeting desire to see God whom Jesus Christ calls our Father in Heaven —even if they are not quite united about how our Lord knew that God was that; either Christ is God’s incarnate Word or he is a man who spoke from his own subjective religious experience, different from us in degree but not in substance. There was something in the meetings’ discussions about how the world should be made more Christian which reminded us — at least in the Archbishop’s account of it — of the fools’ discussions when they wanted to get fish in their pond. It was decided to put in two salt herring who would reproduce. And if they were so lucky as to lay hands on the opposition which unceasingly works against the kingdom of God on earth, we are not certain that they would not do as the fools did with the eel — they sailed out into the fjord with it and drowned it. To us, it is remarkably naive for the Archbishop to speak as if he were somewhat hurt that Rome had commented on the meeting in a manner not deserved, because the meeting said nothing at all about Rome. We believe in complete seriousness that the peace of Christ cannot be advanced in the world unless we confess with Peter, literally and without interpretations: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” and, therefore, accept all his words as the word of God, including the word in which he appointed St. Peter as the shepherd for his sheep and lambs. As we well know, it is not immediately pleasing to humans to be called sheep, but we proceed, knowing that our Lord also knew this, and he knew better than we know ourselves that naturally we all prefer to be individualists on an adventure rather than sheep in a flock, and, further, that, in a certain quarter which he called the world, sheep is anything but a flattering nickname. And if we cannot take comfort in the fact that our Lord has conquered the world, so truly I know of nothing else which we poor Catholics can take as comfort.

Another matter is that we believe that the peace of Christ is attainable for each individual who has a good will to serve God, presupposing that he really is outside of the Church not by his own will and not because he doesn’t want to be called a sheep or because he doesn’t want to admit that his Lord has the right to set a shepherd over him.

It is possible, naturally, for a temporary peace to be reached in the world by mutual work between all or most of the religious organizations which count themselves as disciples of Jesus from Nazareth — whoever he was. Either he is the one who has created us, the one to whom we pray, when we pray as he has taught us, since he and the Father are one: “I am the ground of thy beseeching”, [13] or he is a human, hopefully for us a superman, who spoke from a self-assurance so superhumanly audacious to the invisible Almighty, as we Catholics say: Si non est Deus, non est bonus, or one believes with the Arians and all the Gnostic sects from the first to the twentieth century that he really belonged to a completely different sphere of the cosmos than ours and appeared here on earth as if he were wearing the costume of a human body. We Catholics believe in a gathering together with Christ as a program, because we are at one as to who he is, because we are at one about the Gospels, whether they are words about the Word or a hero saga — which can, in any case, not bring the peace of God which the world can neither give nor take a single bit nearer to us. We are afraid that such a peace would soon appear to be peace without freedom or freedom without peace. We think of dogmas as formulae for revealed truths in contrast to human discoveries which we can evaluate for ourselves. Dogmas reproduce the content of revelation correctly but not completely (they are like photographs: as photographs of the same scene can be more or less clear, dogmas can be formulated so that more or less of their content is distinguishable). Between accepting the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church and experiencing the spiritual reality of the content of the dogmas, there is the same difference as there is between a photograph of Rondane and a foot trip through it. Or between studying the map in a general’s office (if the map is completely reliable) and walking out in the terrain. First of all, one has accepted the map because it seemed to be reliable as far as the terrain was known. The freedom to discard a dogma because a person was not there and perhaps never will go right there, is a freedom which is worthless to a Catholic — about as valuable as the freedom not to believe; there are bogs or viscous seas or a field which the map does not show because none has been in that area, or it has been covered over today, or one is nearsighted. In a pleasure trip, it can be fun to go on an adventure without a map. But if the world is a battlefield where King Christ fought for the world against the enemy and was slain, then young and fiery Catholics can look at different Christians and Christic [Kristicistiske] sects in no other way but as so many regiments of fools. And in answer to the chattering about the Catholic Church being the refuge for tired souls, they answer somewhat impatiently, “Yes, we are tired — not of battles, not of the defeats we have suffered and shall suffer, for we know that our Lord shall finally conquer and we with him, if we endure to the end. But we are tired of the small talk about freedom which costs freedom, and we are tired of nonsense.”

IV

With such a view of existence, it is self-evident why all Catholics want to be propagandists for the Church. And when the editor of Vor Verden asks me what I believe will be the future of Catholicism in Norway, I can answer at once: sooner or later there will be no other Christians in Norway — taking the name in its historic sense — but Catholic Christians. That is not to say that Catholics will ever be in the majority in the country. It is not completely certain that Trondheim Cathedral will ever again be used for the purpose for which it was built. [14] It may become a concert or festival center, or a lecture hall, a temple for one or another human cult. The majority of our people may join a completely different materialist confession which claims that the goal of existence is this present existence and the human spirit is the spirit which should be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Therefore one can worship the manifestation of the human spirit in the form of leaders — that is, people cannot very well keep themselves from doing this —Buddhas and Christs. One can call oneself a follower of the Jesus of the Gospels in the same way that people have been followers of Plato and Karl Marx. And, from the puzzle of paradoxes in the New Testament, one can choose a line and emphasize Christ or Jesus in the same way as people have been Platonists or Marxists. And such a development of the religious condition does not in any way mean a lowering of the level of material culture, at least not in the foreseeable future. Quite the opposite — it is conceivable that the modern type of person could organize a slave state where the slaves are well taken care of. I am pleased to point to a little pamphlet by Haldane and Russell, “Daedalus and Icarus”, which was translated into Swedish in the series Mutid och Framtid [Present and Future.] It is probable that things will not happen quite as the authors have predicted, but can anyone say they won’t go that way? When I was little, whenever I got a new doll head, my mother used to cut up newspaper and stuff it, so it would stand up better when knocked around. Nevertheless, it always got broken and the bits of paper always showed. I must confess that I remember these catastrophes rather often when I hear about the type of modern man who has his head stuffed full of clippings of learning. It is also a question of whether man at length can get people used to not thinking at all — with respect to religious questions as well. The Gospels with all their paradoxes cannot be accommodated in any simpler thought system than the theology of the Catholic Church. All other attempts to systematize the contents of the Gospels have been more or less unsuccessful.

The reformers shared the Renaissance’s somewhat puerile concept of humanity, which had absolutely no experience of how people would respond to book learning, when everyone was to be forced to be educated, for example, to read and write. People today should know that everyone simply cannot learn to read and write. There are people who have gone for six or seven years to the public school and read only the papers and movie billboards, write letters with abortive dependent clauses and no orthography, and have no ability to understand a printed or written phonetic picture. If anyone wants us to believe that showing this type of person a printed authority is useful — then too much is being asked of us Catholics. Our ability to believe just copes with what the Church expects of us, not that supernatural signs are more fantastic than those of the Church. I won’t even name all the tragedies of lost childhood faith which proceed from a kind of “Bible” faith. I saw this illustrated best in an anti-Catholic pamphlet which was sent to me, anonymously, of course. (I don’t want to insinuate that there is something about Protestantism itself which causes a moral leprosy with a loss of feeling of honor, but it is amazing how many Protestants write anonymous letters; perhaps 97 percent of them.) On the one side stood the poor Catholic, blindfolded and led by some priests on a kind of dog leash; on the other side, the freed Protestant stretched his hands out toward the Bible, which came descending from heaven, ready set, nicely bound in one volume with a cross on the cover. In Luther’s time, in an emergency, one could accept his assertion that every person had a reliable guide in his own conscience. A modern person with a tiny bit of psychological knowledge who reads Luther’s own writings wonders if Luther himself was able to distinguish conscience from mere thoughts and idiosyncrasies. And each day one is constrained to admit that there are quite a few of one’s own fellows who do not have any conscience discernible to the human eye; one, it is hoped, may even be willing to admit that perhaps the decisions of one’s own conscience need to be confronted a bit with a supernatural teaching authority. This is clearly one of the central points in the struggle between the Church and the sects. When there is someone who needs to be taught, corrected, disciplined — if only by the police for the sake of civil order — anyone should understand that there are some persons who do not want to be taught, corrected, or disciplined. And does anyone dare to take it on himself to teach, correct, or discipline them or to take this on only out of self-confidence or with a merely human mandate? This is the shortcut back to tyranny and the slave state — and the worst thing about our age is that those who have the best chance to become tyrants are those who say and believe that they will only tyrannize their neighbors for their own good. We are threatened with submission to tyranny by a kind of babysitting — somewhat different from Well’s fearful fantasies about a future with men who are like gods. When parish priest Klovstad in an article in Tidens Tegn for January 26 of this year speaks of human opinions as “holy”, we Catholics can only answer that we simply do not acknowledge human opinions as holy — only One is holy, and not as long as we live do we consider ourselves as completely identical with him. But for Protestants, the latent danger, clearly, is that they can easily make the little blasphemy of Falk their own:

I or the lie — one of us shall decide.

V

Propaganda is also part of the nature of the Church. But non-Catholics’ ideas about the nature of Catholic propaganda are certainly very completely wrong, often misty and not seldom crazy — as are their ideas of Catholicism as a whole.

For the most part, only one thing is taught in schoolbooks: that the Church is fundamentally demented. This goes back to the reformation period’s lying and tendentious portrayal of the teaching and the state of the Church. Our Protestant historians portray the facts from an interpretation based on lies and slanted history — Lange’s, Keyser’s and Munch’s use of our historical sources swarm with examples. Or they imagine that they know something about Catholic teaching and practice and do not bother doing the research to find out whether what they have convinced themselves of is true. For example, in Nordahl Rolfsen’s reading book, part three, the late Bishop Bang has an article, “A Day in Hovedoens Convent”. We are told about the benefactors of the convent: “Every year on the anniversary of their death, a soul Mass was held for each one of them; it often happened that a few monks were busy from morning to evening with this tiring and spiritually deadening work.” A priest fasts, that is, he does not even take a sip of water, after midnight when he is going to say holy Mass; the last Mass in a church or convent must be celebrated not later than noon. Besides this, only under exceptional circumstances can a priest say more than one Mass a day. The nonsense cited above is written by the author of Den Norske Kirkes Historie under katholicism [Norwegian Church history during Catholic times]. The Jesuit debate in parliament last year and the discussion in the media of the Eskeland case revealed the most fascinatingly arrogant ignorance of the essence of Catholicism, about the nature of its case and of the Church’s relation to the state in those countries where there is cooperation between church and state. In no place in the world is the Catholic Church the “state religion” in the same sense as the “evangelical Lutheran” church is the state religion in Norway. In all countries, both state and Church understand that the Church cannot bow to any demand from the side of the state which would harm her nature as the Church of Christ, as she conceives this. Whenever the political division of power in the state makes demands on her, she may refuse them — even if the Church is willing to be as accommodating as possible for the sake of peace, this possibility is limited. As to schools, the Church cannot accept a ruling which, based on purely human ideas about how other people’s children should be raised, prescribes how she should fulfill her own responsibility in teaching children the faith into which they have been baptized. No Catholic priest, father, or mother could be content with a non-Christian teacher of religion for their children who merely does not tell them that he himself does not believe what he is teaching. It is completely different [from Norway] in a country where the Catholics are in the majority — as in Belgium — or where they constitute a sizable minority — as in Holland where one-third of the population is Catholic. There the state supports all public schools: secular, sectarian, or Catholic. The chairs for special disciplines at the universities are often given to professional people who profess something other than Catholicism.

When parish priest Klovstad in Tidens Tegn for January 26 of this year points to a number of actions of the Catholic Church which illustrate the constraint of conscience in the Catholic Church and concludes “so, when Mr. Eskeland says his being driven out was done in the name of Luther, it can be answered with full right: `It was done in the name of the pope’”, the parish priest is completely disoriented. The papal decrees which Mr. Klovstad mentions are directed against modernism and are meant for persons who with the mandate of the Catholic Church and in her name want to practice spiritual responsibilities or occupy theological teaching positions. If they want to work in the service of the Church, this stands as a guarantee of what they teach and confess — they must recant, for example, whatever they say contrary to the teaching of the Church. If they cannot, they must leave their position or join another church organization. Anyone who wants to teach something else besides the specific Catholic Faith may not teach in the name of the Catholic Church or disseminate his teaching as Catholicism. [15]

For many years it has been known that Lars Eskeland stood close to the Catholic idea of Christianity; his teaching of history has been colored by this. If Eskeland had been content to catholicize within the spacious state church, which takes care that the populace is supplied with orthodox and christic and rationalizing and gnosticizing priests — would this have been all right? If Lars Eskeland had, as a teacher in a school of confessional Lutheran character, taught Catholic theology and at the same time claimed he was a good Lutheran, demanding the right to share his views, unbound by any old confessional writings, then the state church would have been dealing with him in precisely the spirit of the papal Church if they had thrown him out. The spirit of the state church seems to be horrified and offended when someone really believes that there are religious issues which do not belong within it. The Catholic Church cannot cooperate with the state unless it can remain Catholic. It cannot be like the state church, allowing her priests to marry the divorced contrary to the word of the Lord, which “reformed” priests ever since the days of Luther, Melanchthon and Cranmer have jumped over like a goat — I think the expression is Fernanda Nissen’s. Or receive in the Church the corpse of a man who claimed, almost with his last breath, that he did not want to belong to the Church, merely because the Church can “honor” the dead by burying him — this contradicts both the idea of the nature of the Church and her dignity — as well as the dignity of the dead resister.

Therefore, when Bishop Bjornes-Jacobsen, in an article dated January 26 and printed in Nationen and Akershus Amtstidende — and perhaps other places — speaks of “Catholic countries” in the same sense as there are “Lutheran countries”, he is completely befuddled. Forget that he builds his considerations on purely inconsequential and shallow considerations. Certainly, natives and foreigners can find lovely playgrounds where they can “amuse themselves” in, for example, Vienna — but doesn’t the Bishop know the reputation Oslo (and Copenhagen) have among foreign naval officers: one of the worst towns in Europe for young men to visit, because in no other city do loose women swarm in that way and in no other city are they so forward. Or what kind of reputation do young Norwegian girls have in Paris? It is accurate about the loose morals in Vienna — there are certain elements of the population which parade down all the streets — like Tordenskjold soldiers. It is very true that a part of the population begs in the street, as they do in other places in Catholic countries, while in Lutheran countries they are largely cared for by the state. But, “when concern for the poor has permeated our laws and our civil life to the extent which it has”, everyone knows that this depends fully as much on non-Christian idealism as it does on impulses from the state church. It is very true that the Church has not worked against beggary because she claims that it is honorable for a needy person to ask for help; and as for the person who gives, he is merely doing his duty. But he does not have the right to give something which is not his. If most of the Norwegian people were to become Catholic again, we would stop being the pioneer state until we could afford it. To bless towns with electric power plants and folk schools and old peoples’ homes and then send the bill to the next generation — for Catholic morality, that is just as laudable as taking money from a young person doing an errand on the street, for example, and then giving it away.

In this country — as far as my personal experience extends —sacrifices are required for the special Norwegian concept of savings: debt and repayment are asked. The daily snowfall of letters I receive seldom contains fewer than one request in each delivery from someone who asks for help because he has bought land and small factories and his own home and pianos and dairy stores and suits and temperance cafes and installation firms and I don’t know what, often for fantastic prices a few years back, and then there is a stereotypical expression that it was “perhaps” foolish when they had nothing, but. Or he asks for a loan to do one of the above things. Then all the hundreds who are in need come, pure and simple: they have only enough from the community barely to keep alive; they work at one of the industrial plants which now lies down and dies. It wouldn’t occur to me to blame the state church for the economic development which has caused these daily, monotonous cries of woe — except to the degree that the Lutheran-ecclesial ideas about religious freedom and these state economic ideas spring from the same lack of ability to distinguish between that which can be wished and that which is possible. I am willing to believe that the inner circle of the church — the real church people — have been tempted to put on the brakes or at least to be a little more careful in their own affairs — but 97 percent of the population belongs to the state church! Also, we are the same people as we have always been: jaunting off to foreign lands is our proudest ancient remembrance. We have been out in a stream of ideas which has promoted in our people all the elements which counteract self-help, and those in Norwegian society who are able to help themselves have worked and kept quiet. The Italians are defiant beggars, as can be seen there, but they are also the same people who have cultivated whole provinces of land as a single field, where they reap three crops a year, build up the fields in terraces from top to bottom, and plant in dirt which they have borne up to the terraces in baskets. The family life (not in Catholic countries, for they do not exist, but in Catholic homes) is more beautiful, warmer, cleaner, and more loving than in any other place in the world. I have never heard this denied by people who have been lucky enough to see it. In Catholic settlements — that is, where most of the population are really practicing Catholics — childbirth outside of marriage is very uncommon. Divorce with its resultant remarriage is completely out of the question — the Catholic who enters into such a thing excommunicates himself; he cannot receive the Sacrament. In countries with a mixed population, it is not uncommon for them to go over to one or another Protestant sect. Moreover, the Bishop should know a little about statistics on births outside marriage, for what it is worth. In Norway I have known more unmarried women who have been lovers without having children than I have unwed mothers. They viewed this, not as a sin or a shame, but as a little secret that they were proud of. At least twenty women whom I remember individually have confided to me: of course they were unmarried and old, or they had for other reasons lost hope in having a home and husband and children, but things weren’t so bad that they deserved the nickname “old maid”. One or another man had been interested in them for a period of time, and then he separated from them, leaving them with “wreck” stamped on them. They were not at all loose women; they were very serious, many of them very religious in their way — confident that God was not so narrow as people; he was happy that they had “lived once”.

That is not as bad as what an exasperated woman wrote to me some years ago. I had replied to Mrs. Katti Anker Moller’s piece on “The Politics of Women Giving Birth”. I was called medieval, and the projected educational institute of Mrs. Anker Moller ought to be called “The New Luther Foundation”.

The bitter and narrow-minded, disturbed, eccentric, unthinking, comic old maid figures in very serious psychological novels about “unused eros” and the syrup-and-water stories for young girls: Do the priests of Lutheranism suspect in the least what our having imported this kind of thinking from Luther’s homeland means? That a being who unites femininity, virginity, and maturity must be a thing of humor and that her life must be a wasted life?

We have youth who are not afraid to give witness, even if they are so few and so against the stream — not with chatting and idle talk, but with their lives, in their prayers and intercessions. It has been said so many times, and what is said is true: preaching plays a subordinate role in the Catholic Church, in comparison to what the Protestant experiences. This is also true of the Catholic witness. Every one of our young Catholic boys and girls who lives a good Catholic life, every one of our sisters in orders, every brave and faithful Catholic mother and father and every one of our small children who receives First Communion with a heart of love, a little soul which is still so pure, and who has a good will to let himself be led and taught of the Master — they are obviously of much greater value for propaganda than we can be with wordy writing and educational lectures. Does anyone think it would have profited the missionaries of St. Olav to come and invite the heathen Norwegians to hear a lecture? The Fulda monks did more preaching in Germany with their lives than with their preaching. St. Olav converted more of Norway to Christianity with his fight against his own warlike and rash mind than with all the outer institutions he organized, no matter how energetic they were. No one in the Church wants Lars Eskeland to go around like a roaring lion and see how many of his students he can talk into becoming Catholic. He will be good propaganda by being a good Catholic. And there are some of our Catholic youth in any case who cannot repress a certain happy expectation.

Slowly the determined Protestants will succeed in making Lars Eskeland’s conversion to Catholicism into strong propaganda —now that they have driven Eskeland away from the school which he himself created. And they will see, when Voss high school comes under other leadership, that it was this man who made the school what it was.

Heaven knows what they have deluded themselves into thinking Catholic witness is. As is well known, no one can be received into the Church without basic instructions — it is not enough to have “everyone who wants to be saved, raise your hands”, as I have had the experience of hearing at a revival meeting. The Church does not receive capitulations who only join, after having been momentarily stirred either by intoxicating feelings or emotional worship services; she demands that the convert should know what she teaches and understand what she says. The convert has months, years if he will, to think things over before he takes the step. People talk about the cunning of Catholic priests which no one can resist. Yes, a Catholic priest must go through a strict school, learn both to teach himself and to teach others, as a candidate for the priesthood he is sifted and tested. Then he accepts ordination — giving up his birth-right as a man to call some other person his nearest one. He shall be all-in-all to others and find that they often expect the impossible of him. He must go where he is sent, without seeking another call because his family is growing or trying to move to town for the sake of the children. No one doubts that most Lutheran priests are as sacrificial and zealous as they should be, when they must consider their family as a gift which Christian men are also pledged to, but the double bands to which he is pledged limit him. It is to be hoped that these men are more knowledgeable in other areas than we get the impression they are when they speak of Catholicism.

Obviously we reserve to ourselves the right to correct when obvious nonsense and misunderstanding is presented about our Church. The danger is, however, that, after these last demonstrations against the Church, all too many of our young men have become very angry, having studied and joined in the work of education — it does not matter if only they remember that this is not what is most important: the important thing is Catholic life itself.

Finally a word: It is not the Catholics who have caused trouble, both concerning Lars Eskeland and my conversion, buzzing around with rumors beforehand and reflections afterward, both in time and preferably out of time, with public statements by bishops and the suspicions of journalists as to why and wherefore we came to enter into the Roman trap. Finally, their ears rang with their own chatter, talking about Rome in a way which advertises its celebrated trophies! Whether this talk is accurate or not, the Catholic Church is accustomed to having converts from all denominations find their way home — God be praised — but she does not know the Protestant snobbery which is often manifest in a naked enthusiasm every time, for example, a noted author honors religion with his interest. And now Protestants, and not we, in discussions of the Eskeland case, have drawn in the word “martyr”. We understand completely that this seemingly endless discussion must be unspeakably painful for Lars Eskeland. He has already attempted once to separate himself from the school; he besought his fellow teacher of thirty years, Olav Holdhus, to take over the leadership. He was asked to stay on; the Minister of the Church, Tveiten, among others, had asked him to stay on. Eskeland let himself be persuaded; it is reasonable for a person to want to remain with the work of his youth and his manhood, most of all when otherwise he would have to hand it over to others who would probably slowly take its life. No one could say to Eskeland, I want to be your successor. Also, if Lars Eskeland were canonized, it would be under the rubric of Confessor. We do not call a man a martyr even if he undergoes large and small unpleasantries for his convictions. We say this because there will be attempts to replace the talking martyr with a good old Norwegian word, “blood witness”! That word was used by our Catholic fathers just as we use it and not as modern whining girls use the word “martyr”.

Lillehammer, February 28, 1927

Endnotes:

  1. “Repentance” is used in the Catholic theological sense: the sorrow of the conscience which drives the will to arise and make its way forward through existence in a new direction — in contrast to the unfruitful sorrow of conscience which does not change the course of life but only causes loathing, bitterness, self-abandonment, and desperation. Back to text.
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II, q.112. It is impossible to have metaphysical assurance of God’s friendship. On the other hand, from certain signs we can have experiential assurance: in feeling joy in God and in divine things, indifference in the face of worldly things, and in that we are not conscious of mortal sin. Back to text.
  3. St. Francis is another case in point. He knew no “assurance of salvation” in the Protestant sense. St. Francis is very popular with Protestants. Back to text.
  4. John Howley, M.A., Psychology and Mystical Experience (London, 1920). Back to text.
  5. It is, moreover, curious that people who discuss Catholicism and the teaching of the Church have hardly ever looked in a missal. Missals with Latin and German, French or English texts can be had in any bookstore, a new edition of the Latin-Danish Missal has recently been published; it had been out of print some years, the last edition of it having been burned at Louvain. We hope for a Latin-Norwegian missal one day. Back to text.
  6. By saints, the Church denotes all the dead who have come to the point where they can see God as he is. For some of these, God has made known by miracles that they have run the course to its finish — Catholics, who have not known them in life, ask for their intercession and choose them as examples. But in all Catholic families, parents and children, for example, ask their deceased small children to intercede for them. Back to text.
  7. Kristenhetens mote i Stockholm, p. 237. Back to text.
  8. Johann Streuensee was the Minister of the Privy Council under Christian VII of Denmark. He was a typical apostle of the Enlightenment but was so corrupt that he was condemned to death in 1772. Back to text.
  9. Professor Ehlers estimates the number of lepers in Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century was around nineteen thousand; after that there was a steady decline in the sickness until the reformation. Back to text.
  10. Note: Although the translator has verified that “is tempted” follows the original, Sigrid Undset is theologically in error here. A temptation itself is not a sin — Christ himself was tempted — ED. Back to text.
  11. Sir Oliver Lodge, Byfoged Dahl. Back to text.
  12. Mrs. Martha Floer in Tidens Tegn. Back to text.
  13. Julian of Norwich, ca. 1373. Back to text.
  14. Editor’s note-Catholic Mass was finally celebrated in Trondheim Cathedral in the summer of 1993. Back to text.
  15. For a more thorough discussion of the Klovstad statement, see St. Olav, no. 6 of this year; it was submitted to Tideres Tegre, but they did not publish it. Back to text.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Undset, Sigrid. “Catholic Propaganda.” In Sigrid Undset: On Saints and Sinners 6 (Ignatius Press, 1993): 232-272.

Reprinted by permission of The Wethersfield Institute and Ignatius Press.

THE AUTHOR

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was a Norwegian novelist. She became a Roman Catholic in 1924, after which her work deepened in religious intensity. Her masterpiece, Kristen Lavransdatter (3 vol, 1920-22), tells a graphic story of love and religion in 14th-century Norway. She was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1928.

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Sigrid Undset's best known novels today are Kristin Lavransdatter (in 3 volumes), The Master of Hestvike (in 4 volumes), and Jenny.

Copyright © 1993 Ignatius Press




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