The history of the Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God is rather unusual.  Jacques Maritain was praying one day and had the idea that what the Church needed in its post-conciliar turmoil was for the pope to make a profession of his faith, but without condemning any errors. He told Charles Journet, newly a cardinal, about his idea, and Journet was enthusiastic, as he always was about Maritain’s ideas.  A bit later, Paul VI said to Journet, ‘What do you think we should do to mark the end of the Year of Faith?’  Journet said, ‘Why don’t you make a profession of your faith, suited for the times?’ The pope said, ‘Not a bad idea, can you draft something for me?’  Journet went away and told Maritain, and Maritain drafted it.  Journet then went back to the pope, and said, ‘Here it is.  I didn’t know what to put, so I got our friend Jacques to do it’ (the discerning reader may see that I am paraphrasing a bit).  Whether the Supreme Pontiff was at all embarrassed at having a profession of faith written for him by a lay man, history does not relate.  But he obviously liked it, since almost all of the Credo that he pronounced on 29th June 1968 in St Peter’s Square is taken from what Maritain had written, even word for word.  Yet there are some things which Maritain wrote which didn’t get in.  Here are some of the main differences:

The pope said: “We give thanks, however, to the divine goodness that very many believers can testify with us before men to the unity of God, even though they know not the mystery of the most holy Trinity”.  Maritain had mentioned the Jews and Muslims explicitly; the pope took this out.

Speaking of our Lord, Maritain had written ‘this man was aware from on high of his divinity’.  Paul took this out, presumably because it had not been defined as dogma.

Maritain got in a plug for Journet’s book at one point by using the phrase “the Church of Word incarnate”; Paul changed this to ‘the Church’.

Speaking of our Lady’s perpetual virginity, Maritain said that Muslims believe in this, and that this fact is a sign of hope amid the sadness of our world.  Paul took this out, and it does seem a bit out of place in a creed.

Speaking of the Assumption, Maritain said that Jesus and Mary are ‘this centre of world of the beyond (ce monde de l’au-delà) that we metaphorically call heaven’. Paul took this out, perhaps because he didn’t quite know what it meant.  On the other hand, he added: “The Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church continues in heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.”

Maritain mentioned the fall of the angels, and the fact that they tempt us.  Paul took this out.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps he thought it would provoke ridicule; or perhaps it was because no other creed has mentioned this.

Maritain said some things which didn’t quite teach the evolution of men from apes but suggest it, especially about how Adam and Eve ‘appear at the summit of animality’.  Paul took these things out.

Maritain had a lot of anonymous Christianity, about how people who didn’t know Christ could still be living in grace and charity and were invisibly members of the Church.  He even wanted the pope to say of the phrase ‘out of the Church no salvation’ that “it is true in itself but has often been badly understood in the past”.  Paul made sure that he didn’t say anything that went beyond Lumen gentium.

Talking of the Blessed Sacrament, Maritain wanted him first to use the language of substance and accidents, then to say that the doctrine of transubstantiation was expressly taught by the Council of Trent, and then (inadequately, as far as I can see) to say that if to-day any misguided philosophers refused the concept of substance, they still have to maintain that the bread and wine which exist independently of our minds cease to exist after the consecration.  The Pope removed the mention of people denying the notion of substance, saying that all philosophical accounts of the mystery must maintain that the bread and wine which exist independently of our minds cease to exist after the consecration.

Maritain, which I didn’t realise, used the rather beautiful phrase about the Blessed Sacrament being the living heart of each of our churches.  Paul kept this, though for some reason he removed another phrase, about Christ’s presence being a mysterious sign of His love for each person.  Perhaps he thought that this was too personal an addition of Maritain’s, rather than a simple repetition of past teaching.

Where the difference is really apparent is toward the end.  Maritain went into full throttle integral humanism mode about three-quarters of the way through his draft, saying that the Church passes through different historic ages in which she frees herself from everything which obscures her true countenance, and that “the second council of the Vatican has inaugurated one of these new ages of the Church”, and that the Church has “definitively renounced all claim of authority (apart from moral and spiritual) over the governance of the things of the world”, so as to “manifest henceforth her own freedom in its fulness”.  He also says that parallel with this new historic age of the Church, there is also a new historic age of the world and of culture going on.   This must have all appealed to Papa Montini, but none of it appears in the Credo.  I suspect that Ottaviani told him that it wouldn’t do.  One imagines Paul looking on rather wistfully as the cardinal scrunched up that particular sheet of paper and dropped it calmly into the nearest bin.

The Dutch have produced a new theological review called Concilium – with what kind of a team?! Congar, of course, Kung, Rahner, Chenu, Lubac, Schillebeeckx and the others (and with what right does this wrecking-crew [ces naufrageurs] put themselves ‘under the sign of the Council’?) It’s a swindle.

(from a letter to Charles Journet, February 17th, 1955)

In the application of the liturgical reform, what appears terribly serious to me is above all the fundamental principle which it is following – to desacralize the service of God as far as possible (just the opposite is what is needed: to sacralize as far as possible the offering of the people who take part.)   This is an attack on the divine Transcendence, since the Christian people come to know the divine Transcendence through the sensible signs of the Liturgy.  […]

The second thing that is needed, it seems to me, and it is key, is to ask that the behaviour shown toward the Eucharist, and the reserved sacrament, should be what is required by the faith.  I find it shocking that the attention of the faithful should be directed to the celebrant alone, and not at the same time and by the same movement to the living God present among us in the tabernacle.  They tell me that the tabernacle is a late invention (16th or 17th century, I’m not sure).  This is a strange objection from people who are so keen on novelty and progress – what matters is to see whether it is in itself a good thing and a real progress.

[…] The third thing that seems necessary to me relates to the French translation of the ordinary of the Mass.  It has something unacceptable in it: the words ‘of the same nature’ in the Creed, instead of ‘consubstantial’.  A man with his own, individual nature, is of the same specific nature as another man with his own individual nature, a lion and another lion, likewise.  So, taken literally, this (semi-Arian) expression, óf the same nature doesn’t teach us the Trinity, but tritheism […]  I am astonished at the docility with which, by obedience, the Little Brothers [of Jesus] recite this creed in French without any trouble.  I would rather die than allow the words ‘of the same nature as’ to come out of my mouth.


There is a fourth thing which seems necessary to me, but which it is probably pointless to hope for, and this is the manner of speaking or reciting.   At Mass, with the Little Brothers, the priest and the others recite recto tono, and that by itself helps to elevate things and give them some dignity, and to make the French bearable.  But everywhere else, people use the tone of common conversation, the tone of voice in which you say ‘pass me a glass’, or ‘I read in the paper this morning’.  It’s a horrible thing when the human voice is used this way in a church

(from a letter to Charles Journet, 8th August, 1966).

Perhaps the greatest trauma of my school-days were the art classes. They would sit us down with some rather stiff paint brushes and a few pots of paints, and tell us to paint something. I don’t think that there was any other subject where so little instruction was given. When we began Latin, our teacher didn’t just throw us a copy of the Aeneid and tell us to get on with it.

However, I suspect that I could have sat at the feet of Michelangelo for a dozen years and been no better off. My lack of talent in the visual arts was innate, complete. While other boys would come up with a passable imitation of a cloud or a horse, or whatever it was, my efforts would prompt the derision of my peers and the kindly silence of the master. How I used to dread those classes, as others must have dreaded P.E. or double maths.

Yet having no skill in painting needn’t stop one talking about it. Who would not, asked Plutarch, rather contemplate a sculpture of Phidias than sculpt it? And even if he was only being (as Maritain says) a snobby pagan, I suppose that someone who doesn’t know a hammer from a chisel may still commission a marble.

So, here are four paintings that I should like someone to paint. All involve meetings that have really happened, but which, as far as I know, have not yet been represented in this way.

The first is a meeting between Newman, Pusey and Keble. It didn’t happen in the hey-day of the Oxford Movement, but long after Newman had converted. An elderly man now, and finding himself once more in Oxford, he made an unannounced call on his dear Keble, whom he hadn’t seen since 1845. He didn’t know that Pusey, whom he also hadn’t seen since then, and with whom his relations were particularly strained, was visiting at the same time. When the front door was opened, Newman and Keble were so uncertain of who the other one was that they had to show each other their cards; and Pusey, siting inside, spontaneously shrank back from Newman’s gaze.

What a painter could do with that scene: doubt, dawning recognition, painful affection, and unbridgeable separation, would be portrayed on all their faces.

The next two meetings happened a bit later, both in the late 1880’s. One of them also involved Newman. A very old man now, and a cardinal, he was giving out the prizes at the Oratory school. One of the successful school-boys was Hilaire Belloc. What a meeting: the old man, with his frail body and penetrating gaze, the young man, with a certain fine unconscious arrogance, each admiring and pitying the other, while unbeknownst to either the torch of Catholic England was passed on!

The other is quite famous. It occurred when Therese of Lisieux, I think at the age of 14, visited Rome with a group from her parish, and got to see Pope Leo. Instead of just kneeling to kiss his ring and moving away like the other pilgrims, she placed her hands on the old man’s knees and looked up imploringly into his face, asking him to let her enter Carmel, until finally she had to be dragged off by the Swiss guards.

Like the meeting of Newman and Belloc, this would be a study in contrasts. Only here there would be a note of humour: armed guards having to deliver the pontiff from the importunity of a school-girl, and in the background her parish priest fretting. ‘I told them all quite clearly that no one was to speak to the Holy Father. That Martin girl is simply impossible. She’ll come to a bad end, that’s only too plain.”

The final one was photographed, but I do not know that it has been painted. It is the meeting of Archbishop Lefebvre and Padre Pio, not long before the latter’s death. The archbishop had made the pilgrimage to San Giovanni to ask St Pio’s prayers for the seminary he was intending to found. He asked the Capuchin for a blessing, but St Pio naturally said, in effect: ‘Me bless an archbishop? Of course not; it is you who must bless me’, and he knelt to receive it.

If an artist painted that right, I think we should have the impression of two prophets, each with an incommunicable burden, brought together by divine providence for a brief moment to their mutual solace, as the chaos and darkness grew around them.

So, I have had the ideas: and is that not the principal part of every work of art? As for the bit with the camel hair and the wet stuff, well, I leave that to others.

Some seven summers ago, I was taking coffee or ice-cream with a worthy Polish lady outside an Italian café, when we discovered that we were both readers of the Remnant. Placid by temperament, she became animated on learning this. ‘I love the Remnant’, she said, ‘it’s so – depressing!’

I feel rather the same about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Reading it is like being shown round some peaceful English cemetery outside a country church, and finding that all the paths meet at one’s own open grave, complete with a head-stone that awaits only the inscription of a date.

Maritain says somewhere that Ecclesiastes is the most perfect existentialist work ever written: haunted, I suppose he meant, by a twin sense of the countless possibilities open to human freedom, and the inevitability that all our actions, humanly speaking, come in the end to nothing.

St Jerome also seems to have been drawn to the book; at least, he chose to comment on it first, before any other work of Holy Writ. At one point, he asks what King Solomon meant by saying, A living dog is better than a dead lion: because the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten; their love also, and their hatred, and their zeal are all perished, neither have they any part in this world. The Jew who taught him Hebrew, Jerome remarks, said that his people understood this to mean that someone still alive and teaching, however ignorant, is better than a perfect teacher now dead; so a village rabbi might be the dog, and Moses or some one of the prophets, the lion.

But our saint is dissatisfied with this:

Let us aim at higher things. With the gospel, let us say that the Canaanite woman who was told, ‘Thy faith has saved thee’ is the dog, and that the people of the circumcision is the dead lion, of whom the prophet Balaam said, ‘Behold the people! It will rise up like a lion cub, and like a rampant lion.’ Thus, it is we from the nations who are the live dog, and the people of the Jews, abandoned by our Lord, who are the dead lion. To Him, this living dog is better than that dead lion. We are alive, and know the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are dead and know nothing. They have neither promise nor reward to look forward to; their memory is finished […]

The love with which they once loved God has perished, and so has the hatred of which they boldly used to say: ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and did I not waste away over thy enemies?’ Their zeal, too, which was shown by Phineas, and which made Mattathias’s knees shake, has perished. It is evident, too, that ‘neither have they any part in this world’; they cannot say, ‘My portion is our Lord’ (PL 23:1137-38).

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.