Tuesday, June 14, 2016

La trahison des clercs -- The Treason of the Clerks

This is a rare, serious essay that continues to develop recent themes that have appeared in this ephemeris lately. The Bear hopes you enjoy it.

La trahison des clercs

In 1929, French essayist Julien Benda published a prescient attack on intellectuals called La trahison des clercs. The treason of the clerks. It is not a stretch to see the connection between "clercs" and "clerics." They have the same origin: the Latin clericus meaning "priest." One may go all the way back to 2nd century Greek, where klerikos had come to mean "clergy."

It is realistic to observe that Catholics have been betrayed by their clergy in countless ways, especially within living memory. Today the only way for a faithful Catholic to avoid scandal is to remain completely ignorant of Church news. We are spoon fed poisonous scandal every day by our treasonous clerics at all levels of the hierarchy.

But that is not exactly what Benda had in mind. In medieval times, clerc simply meant someone who could write. A scribe; by extension, an intellectual. So the actual translation into English is The Treason of the Intellectuals.

The Bear just wrote about French Benda's German contemporary, Oswald Spengler, who authored The Decline of the West. ("Optimism is cowardice.") The famous quote by British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Gray in 1914 also comes to mind. "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." 

Sir Edward was optimistic. Despite our iPhones and ephemera, only a few of us are still waiting to see those lamps again. But it is realistic to acknowledge that night has fallen, and the moral luminaries of civilization are all but forgotten. Our great-great grandchildren shall not see them lit again. 

Pope Pius X and Pascendi

Let us not forget the startlingly prophetic 1907 encyclical of Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis which prepared the Church to meet a terrifying new heresy: Modernism, "the synthesis of all heresies." La trahison des clercs indeed. Although it is well before the period we are examining, Pope Gregory XVI's encyclical Mirari Vos stands in forgotten condemnation of our present treasonous clerics. 

Sometimes, a realistic Catholic might recognize contradictions, and could choose between popes with conflicting visions for the Church. It is not supposed to work that way, and the Bear cannot represent that as an officially sound Catholic practice. But if, hypothetically, he had to choose, he would go with Pope Gregory in his condemnation of, say, indifferentism. It would not be an arbitrary or uninformed choice, if a choice there had to be.

The Wicked Wind and Many Prophets

What is the Bear weaving here? The alert reader will have noticed that we are orbiting the general vicinity of WWI. WWI was far more historically significant than WWII, which was merely the bigger sequel, made nearly inevitable by the vindictive treaty that ended WWI. WWI took the heart out of Europe. 

The first real thing the Bear wishes to share is that the best minds of the age, in different countries, and varied positions, all sensed something wicked in the wind. 

The Bear believes they were right. It was not just an ill wind, but wicked indeed, and it blew through every institution in the West. La trahison des clercs captures it perfectly. Now every institution is in an advanced stage of failure, and they have all failed in the same way at the same time. Treason.

Passion Bearers Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga and Maria.

This achingly beautiful photograph of Tsar Nicholas II is the most haunting picture the Bear knows. It was taken about four years before the last Romanovs were awakened at 2 a.m. and told to get dressed. The date was July 17, 1918. (It is impossible to escape the gravitational pull of WWI.) This decent, close and devout family was herded into a basement and murdered in the most brutal fashion by the Bolsheviks. The wicked wind was howling across Russia.

The following year, 1919, Irish poet W.B. Yeats gave the same portents in The Second Coming. It begins with striking imagery of some strangely undramatic failure of a fundamental requirement of order. Yeats, in Ireland, felt the same wicked wind as other great minds of Europe. We cannot say we were not warned.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The Bear believes God gives us prophets, and when we are unworthy of prophets, he gives us poets, and when we are unworthy of poets, there falls a terrible silence. What real poets do we have today?

14th of April, Ruination Day

We need to draw this essay to a close with a little space left for revisiting La trahison des clercs. If there is a symbolic beginning of the wicked wind that has swept nearly everything away, it rises in the cold, North Atlantic ocean at precisely 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. 

The reality was that RMS Titanic had been warned by other ships of icebergs. As we have recently discussed, ignoring reality eventually invites consequences. Titanic stayed on course, full speed ahead. 

She struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. It is a perfect image of the great achievements of Western civilization steaming into disaster in glorious folly and being taught a hard lesson about reality. One that the West paid not the slightest attention to.

April 14th is the same date that President Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865. It is also the same date that saw the Black Sunday dust storm of 1935. This harbinger of the dust bowl swept down through Texas and blotted out the light as people huddled blindly in whatever shelter they could find. A perfect symbol for the the black and wicked wind that Pope Pius X foresaw in 1907, followed by so many others, who probably sensed they would be ignored. This essay proves in a small way that they were wrong about that.

La trahison des clercs captures the essence of the betrayal by the thinking class: 

Formerly, leaders of States practiced realism, but did not honor it; … With them morality was violated but moral notions remained intact; and that is why, in spite of all their violence, they did not disturb civilization.

In a word, the real treason of the intellectuals was to destroy "moral notions." It is true that states violated morality in the past, but at least they never denied the morality they were violating. And so, "they did not disturb civilization." Today, the moral consensus has been deliberately destroyed. All we have left is a disjointed collection of taboos imposed by the worst of us. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Unthinkably, even the Church seems uncertain of moral notions. The treason of the clerics.

Restoration Day -- Unknown, Probably Not Soon

We -- who the Bear will boldly call "the best of us" in Yeats' sense -- must remain in the Church as witnesses at all costs. We must keep moral notions alive in the face of the ever-growing collection of taboos and special pleading encouraged by the grievance industry and other agents of evil. We must step up as our generation's intellectuals, as presumptuous as that sounds. We must mercilessly expose the clerks -- and clerics -- for what they are: hollow men and liars. We must have the courage to be real, and to fight for reality in our culture, and in our Church.

We are off to a surprisingly good start, considering the traitors control all the levers of power in every institution. We know what we're up against, and without any sort of plan we have formed our little platoons. We have to think of it as a movement, and consciously do what we can to make it grow. Always, if possible, cultural powers that avoid reality must be confronted by each of us in our own way. We will fight in the night, but we will not be without light.

The 14th of April, Ruination Day, is behind us. Never doubt that Restoration Day is coming.

Here is a haunting song by Gillian Welch called Ruination Day that weaves together the three disasters of April 14th. It is hard to understand, but she sings "the great barge sank," referring to the Titanic, and "the okies fled" referring to Black Sunday. "The Great Emancipator" is, of course Lincoln. The reference to Casey Jones (whose famous train wreck actually occurred on April 30) is a more Americana version of the Titanic sinking.


  1. I think the above comment needs to be deleted, Bear.

    1. The Bear is not really into censorship. But some posts drive property values down. The Bear is not really into Jews one way or another, but prefers to choose his own controversies on his ephemeris. Concur, no hard feelings.

    2. I think you just proved my point.

    3. OC -- what? That you get to decide what controversies my ephemeris takes on? Sorry, Bear does fine on his own in that department. Do a search for Jews in the convenient search box and see how thrilled the Bear was about Koch's New Jew View where Jews have a magical Jew way to salvation without Jesus. ADL news release said Church needs Jews, but Jews don't need the Church.

      Legitimate news. Heresy. But we're not going to go all Protocols of the Elders of Zion here. Not Bear's thing.

      If you have a comment that is not just stirring s**t fine, my friend, have at it.

      It so happens the Bear was with Lenin on the Petrograd station platform and was awarded Hero of the Bolsevik Revolution. It was mainly a misunderstanding and he was later decorated by General Wrangel. The Bear knows exactly who the players were. But a story for another time.

  2. Wow...that was incredibly powerful and profound.

    I think of the remnant here and now as the modern-day Vendee. The storm is certainly breaking.

    And you are indeed right, dear Bear....call out the scoundrels.

    1. The Bear has gone rogue. Of course, he's still more orthodox than many top Catholic celebrities. In peacetime, peacetime rules apply. The Bear has made his own decisions for this time. They're his, and they're classified. And a theme is developing that starts with cold reality.

    2. Bear, we must find some means to get more exposure for your outstanding thinking. Your essay above was brilliant as usual. If anyone can come up with some way to get more visibility for the Bear I will $upport it.

      My idea at the moment is that the Bear could have some of his better stuff published by 1 Peter 5, Crisis Magazine and The Catholic Thing, and The Remnant. Today, I noticed Vox Cantoris blog published The Bear.

      Folks want The Bear, folks need The Bear, folks demand the Bear up in that tree yelling Stop.

    3. Gosh, Bear -- this essay deserves to be read by millions more people than will see it here (crowded woodland notwithstanding). Please submit it to every reasonably respectable mainstream publication you can think of (you never know what God's grace might accomplish :-). Or at least to "First Things", which I am guessing would very much want to claim the honor of publishing it.

    4. Yes, Vox Cantoris published the jawbone rippin' the Bear gave Cupich. And the Bear appreciates that.

      Everyone wants to see the Bear tear someone apart. That's the coolest thing about Bears, after all.

      Most people don't want to see the Bear in a tie and sweater, smoking his pipe and serenely riffing off a French book about random bits of early twentieth century history to lyrically illustrate why the world is as it is today.

      The Bear doesn't reach millions. But his readership is enough to make him feel like he's reaching an audience. But thank you so much for the vote of confidence. Knowing that the people he really respects have approved of something he has written is the best reward he could wish for.

  3. At Mass on Sunday, the priest commented on the incident in Orlando as follows (I'm paraphrasing and including parts I remember verbatim): those people in the club were "out dancing and enjoying themselves"; the gunman was offended by "the affection of two men" and, all the more troubling, "in the name of religion."

    The main point of the sermon was that we need to "see people," "really see them," past all of the rules and labels (at one point, Canon Law was condescendingly referred to). The "beauty of diversity" was later praised with a specific reference to the rainbow.

    He did offer prayers for all those who died as well as for the murderer.

    Later, along the lines of really seeing people, the priest lamented the Church's prior decision to automatically excommunicate the divorced and remarried, subtly mocking the way some refer to their situations as "irregular" (he said "so-called irregular situations"), saying "think of the pain"--meaning think of the pain those who are referred to as such must experience.

    A final point I recall vividly, and one made several times, is that, according to this priest, the "lack of hospitality" is the single worst sin there is. "Biblical virtue" is hospitality. To lack hospitality is the very worst sin one can commit. He emphasized this strongly at least three times. (I think he must have been thinking of the popular modern take on Sodom and Gomorrah--the connection and reason of course need no explaining in light of his "sympathy" for the affection of two men).

    I was not totally shocked by what I heard as I could suspect, based on past experiences with the priest, what he thought of this or that. But I was shocked by his boldness this time. This was the furthest I've seen him go, including the textbook Francis talking points.

    1. When I hear these clerical parrots say "lack of hospitality", I believe they are talking about welcoming potential enemy invaders to our shores. If we do not throw open the gates (if we even have gates) and rush down to the waters and bring them home, we are probably not "hospitable". These men deny history and reality, and throw stones at people for just defending their right to exist.

    2. In the context of his approval of the "affection of two men," I thought the priest was going for the angle that Sodom and Gomorrah wasn't about homosexuality, but about a lack of hospitality, which is a novel yet popular 'reading' of the text.

      But certainly, I think he'd also agree with throwing open the gates indiscriminately.

  4. Beautifully written.

    A long time ago I had the same conversation with two professors - one the under chair of the theology department and the other a fledgling SJ from South America. They were both teaching nonsense that they, if you read between the lines, didn't actually believe. So I asked them why didn't they teach according to what they believed, which was what the Church taught. The answers from the one with decades of experience and from the one with only months were the same: they had their keepers and this is what was to be taught and I should just keep my head down and get with the program if I wanted to get anywhere.

    There are three places where books are kept that everyone who reads this should go and look and see what is on the shelves. First, your library. Second, the local book store, Third, your local University book store, especially if it is Catholic (do this before the start of fall term not during summer term). Go and look what is in the theology section.

    Grasp with both hands La trahison des clercs and understand how black the night really is. Lucky those who still can find mostly light.

    More later. Great Bear has given Owl a lot to digest.

    1. A thousand will read. 750 will understand. 500 will agree. 1 will accept.

      Seriously. It is one thing to agree that we are ruled by traitors in every single institution of the West. It is another to grasp the true significance of that and re-think one's loyalties.

    2. One is enough. We all came from one. One will be enough.

      But seriously, go yourself and look at what is on the shelves this fall. The worse stuff is in the copied handouts, but one cannot easily get their paws on that stuff.

    3. Sadly, one will not be enough. One is enough for a gesture. Gestures are not reality. You will understand better than anyone that good ideas will never gain a foothold in the thinking institutions.

      The realistic assessment is that only the total destruction of current thinking institutions will resolve the problem, since all are controlled by traitors. Only fellow-traitors have any chance of rising in these institutions. Try researching Intelligent Design at any university in the country.

      The Bear currently sees no feasible way to fix this. So, we wait until reality reasserts herself in some no doubt horribly destructive way. Probably a long, long time from now.

      The Bear will soon write about his own experience at a school of theology.

    4. Sadly, one will not be enough. One is enough for a gesture. Gestures are not reality. You will understand better than anyone that good ideas will never gain a foothold in the thinking institutions.

      The realistic assessment is that only the total destruction of current thinking institutions will resolve the problem, since all are controlled by traitors. Only fellow-traitors have any chance of rising in these institutions. Try researching Intelligent Design at any university in the country.

      The Bear currently sees no feasible way to fix this. So, we wait until reality reasserts herself in some no doubt horribly destructive way. Probably a long, long time from now.

      The Bear will soon write about his own experience at a school of theology.

    5. Lurker's comment about the profs teaching what they are told by their keepers recalls a recent interview I had to teach pre-calc at a local uni. I was glad that I wouldn't have to prepare a curriculum since it was short notice. On the other hand, it took away academic freedom to pre-determine what I would teach. K-12 is very lockstep. All elementary teachers have exact same projects and text every year. In HS, math dept, eng dept, all coordinate, which in a sense is good for continuity among courses, but is highly controlled. Further, another rural town 10 miles down the road does the same exact projects we do in say 5th grade.

      Somewhat off topic, but I can imagine the difficulties in college and grad school if there is a master to follow, a master which is not about true learning. It's about making obedient worker bees for Bill Gates and others still willing to hire Americans.

    6. Pete~

      This is late but nonetheless...

      After WWII the US Educational System was restructured intentionally to bifurcate the population, into, don't quote me, 1/3 agricultural, 1/3 industrial, 1/3 white collar. The intent was to modernize the workforce and produce the correct number and types of worker bees. There are several good documentaries on this.

      It is a bit unfair to say that Bill Gates wants "worker bees" -- that is not the name of the game for MSFT.

      I work in a K-8 school -- we do a fairly good "product", at least in terms of what government standards are. It is not real education, nor is it not without some major skill-set holes. The various state and federal standards keep the curriculum changing. The teachers here are in a real bind. It appears to me that the tests and standards are developing individuals who produce the acceptable range of answers rather than individuals with strong skillsets or ability to reason though things. This reminds me of several Ray Bradbury stories.

      There has always been an argument about the purpose of education...is it about acquiring a skillet, is it about acquiring certain facts, is it about the creative leisure of rational thinking.

  5. Btw, the Tsar's daughters are, l-r, Marie, Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia.

    1. Thank you, Jane. I can't tell you how delight I am to see you post. I understand completely that this ephemeris is very different than it used to be, and nightingales cannot be heard over the growling and screams of the victims in the night. Perhaps things will change again. It is real to acknowledge that most readers enjoy controversy. There is always a temptation for Bears to play to the crowd. (And the Bear loves the crowd, don't get him wrong.) But the Bear has pushed through the general anger (although can still go Bear-angry on specifics) and would like to organize original thinking on what he sees as the predicted, general collapse of the West. The Church is just one institution, that we tend to focus on. But what if the disease that has nearly killed the West is caused by one virus, and all institutions are sick in the exact same way?

      Now that would be something to write about.

  6. The Bear is touched by the reception of his essay. Sometimes he forgets he is not just a show Bear, or fighting hounds in the Bear pit. Then sometimes he remembers. He did feel this one was inspired. Thank you.

    The whole idea of submitting any of his articles to more respectable venues is unappealing for some reason, though.

    Back when Pewsitter was under different management, the Bear knew he could shoot an email to Frank and he would probably publish it. (Maybe not this one.) Beyond that he just doesn't know how to go about getting into mainstream journals like First Things (who pays authors, not a huge amount, but some). That would not work for the Bear.

    No one knows how much time the Bear puts into this ephemeris. Original content, every day, being active in the comment box, now tending the Facebook page, which has significantly increased the Bear's reach.

    He is not complaining. He loves it. But the idea of shopping articles around... there's just an instinctive tickle of warning. Not only the hassle, but, let's face it. The Bear is the Bear. He is mercurial, unpredictable, sometimes Bearish in the extreme. He would not want to feel he had to cultivate some respectable image in order to conform to respectable publications' image.

    He has often tried to fit into human society. Suppress his Bear-ness. Now, finally, he is free to be a Bear in the Woodlands. Clown, vicious animal, thoughtful essayist. If he became "a success," he would be tempted to protect that success. He fears you would lose your Bear.

    IMPORTANT POINT. You are always free to share the Bear any time you want. That's how a lot of stuff used to get into Pewsitter. People would just send it in. If you think OnePeterFive, or some other site would like to run it, and are motivated to send in a link in a "great essay by the Bear, thought it was up your alley" email, great. If you're on Facebook, you can share on social media.

    The Bear doesn't ask anyone to do this. Just saying you can. The Bear is content to cast his bread upon the waters. Or doughnuts, depending on his mood that day.

  7. Yes Bear. You can really turn an eloquent phrase.

  8. Bear you really are an intellectual, but in the best sense. This is a great essay. You are so very talented. I always feel badly about the Romanovs. Weren't they under the spell of that devilish man, Rasputin?

    1. Alexandra was, but Nicholas went along despite misgivings after Rasputin apparently saved their son. He was not trusted by the royal family's circle, or anyone, much. He was murdered in a famously difficult and protracted attempt to bring the attack to a lethal end.

    2. I'm primarily familiar with the Romanovs via Rasputin. He has been considered possessed by some, especially given the difficulty in killing him. When you invite the devil into your home and give him influence, it is not expected that things will end well.

      Nicholas had authority over his household and should not have permitted even the initial contact with Rasputin.

  9. Love the Bear just because your THE BEAR.

  10. Bear...July 17 is also the day the 16 Carmelites were guillotined to their martyrdom during the so called 'enlightenment'...

  11. You ask where are our poet/prophets today? I have always felt that Leonard Cohen sort of fit that bill, especially this one, which has always struck me for its similarity to Yeats' Second Coming. Every news cycle seems to make this song increasingly relevant:

    The Future

  12. I won't get into a deep essay here. I hate writing a lot in comboxes. Not well suited for it.
    Russia and French revolutions were very similar. My kid's 6th grade history teacher did a good job making a comparison for the kids. King and Church thrown out and killed by atheists. French "citoyen" a precursor to "comrade." I have come to think of these French and Russian royals as Christian martyrs. Post-revolution France was very unstable as was Germany/Prussia during the 19C. Marx developed his ideas not just in the industrial revolution but in the quest to overcome kings. Interestingly, it also seemed that he wanted a way for Jews to fit into Western Civ. He had to destroy the Church for that. There were many mini civil wars in France and Germany. France and Prussia/Germany fought over Alsace-Lorraine--in French territory since WW1. Have you read about Verdun and its destruction? My ancestors in both parents' families came from that area...during the 19C unrest. I read enough bios and history books about WW1/post WW1 era to see how significant that time was. Young people had enough of fighting for king and country across Europe. Labour/socialist parties rose to power. Many working class liked the Soviet ideas that took over Russia. The monarchs were through. The Roman Austro-Hungarian Empire was through. English Queen Victoria's plan of placing all her children throughout Europe failed miserably.

    1. A good Barbara Tuchman book is The Proud Tower, which covers the period immediately preceding WWI. The English aristocrats felt an obligation to rule. The Orthodox Church designated the Romanov family as Passion Bearers... not quite martyrs, but good people accepting death in Christian manner. I have sometimes wondered about the genetic impact of mass slaughter of a whole generation.

    2. Pete:

      Good for the teacher, but he overlooked the Elephant in the Revolution Room, and failed to tie in the American Revolution as the actual precursor (in implementation, not simply in posited theory). The Founders rejected class, too. Americans are not allowed to have personal titles. They threw out King and Church as well, even if "religious liberty" was granted privately. The Declaration was Deist, and the Constitution expunges even that.

      The American Revolution and the errors of the Founders led into the French Revolution and Marxism/Communism. No doubt, it is a bitter pill for Americans to swallow, but Catholic Americans should be able to transcend American mythology and take an honest look at the intrinsic errors embedded in the establishment of the US.

  13. Yes. She wrote The Guns of August as well about WW1, presumably a "sequel" to The Proud Tower.

  14. P.S. A dense, heavy (in many ways) survey of Western Civ is by Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence. Takes us from Martin Luther to end of 20C.


Moderation is On.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...