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Rejecting Communism for Christ: one man’s story

Cardinal Danielou ‘saw clearly that a humanism divorced from faith in Jesus Christ ends in ruin and despair’

By on Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Vatican II Opening Ceremony 1962

In the most recent on-line edition of Catholic World Report Carl Olson has written an article about the late Cardinal Jean Danielou (1905-74) in relation to the Second Vatican Council. According to Olson, Danielou’s father (described in Wikipedia as an “anticlerical politician”) was a Communist. Olson writes that his son, however, “was not taken in by the starry-eyed optimism of the early Sixties; on the contrary, he saw clearly that a humanism divorced from faith in Jesus Christ ends in ruin and despair”. Olson quotes from Danielou’s book The Scandal of Truth (1962) in which the latter writes: “While man may be destined for happiness, he has been injured by sin and can be healed only by the Cross”.

In his introduction to this book, Danielou made a pointed and prescient address: “Above all, I want to say to young Christians that they should not allow themselves to be overawed by the false vestiges of modern-day doctrines, whose murkiness masks the uprightness of eternal truth. The shocking bankruptcy of Marxist optimism and of the philosophies of despair as well has nothing about it that should impress them.”

Olson thinks that remark as appropriate today as when it was written 50 years ago; in his article he adds, “This, of course, was written before ‘Marxist optimism’ in various forms set the Western skies aflame and sent shockwaves through campuses and governments in the late sixties.” One might add that it was also written before the same “Marxist optimism” dominating the East European countries began to crumble with increasing speed at the end of the 1980s, revealing to the West the “ruin and despair” behind the Iron Curtain, created by Stalin at the end of the Second World War.

I know there is no answer to this question – but it makes me ponder the difference between Cardinal Danielou, who saw the flaws in his own father’s political position and rejected it wholesale, and the late Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who died last month. How could the first discern the destructive tendencies of Marxist thinking and the second remain wedded to it all his long life, despite the damning evidence of history? According to the Telegraph obituary of Hobsbawm of 1 October, he was “long a loyal member of the Communist Party [who] wielded enormous influence during the 1960s and 1970s when his ideas helped to provide the intellectual underpinning of Left-wing revolutionary activism in the West”. The obituary continues: “There was no getting round the fact that he persisted in defending the record of totalitarian Communism long after it ceased to be fashionable or indeed defendable.”

It seems that Hobsbawm refused to surrender his Party card after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and it was “only a little while before the Party itself dissolved in 1991 that he let his membership lapse.” Incredibly, as the obituary informs us, in 1994 he wrote that “the achievements of… the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent dictatorship of Stalin had been positive and wrote of the “far from unimpressive records” of dictators like Honecker and Ceaucescu.”

But perhaps the most notorious aspect of Hobsbawm’s partiality for Stalinism is revealed in his reply to the television interviewer who asked him whether, for such an accomplishment to take place, “the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?” “Yes” replied Hobsbawm. That says everything. To be prepared to consign 20 million men, women and children to oblivion in the interests of “state progress” is indeed a philosophy of despair. One might start with starry eyes – though I can’t think this phrase would ever have accurately described Stalin – but it always ends with the Gulag, the Lubyanka Prison and the KGB. Danielou, who turned away from his father’s political ideology and towards the person of Christ, towards self-sacrifice rather than the sacrifice of others, chose the better path.

  • Peter

    “..a humanism divorced from faith in Jesus Christ ends in ruin and despair”This strikes at the heart of the Catholic faith.God became human in Jesus Christ and demanded that we love and support the weakest of humans because, in doing so, we love and support Jesus himself.    This is so important that he made this an explicit condition of our salvation.   By loving and caring for humanity we demonstrate in his life our love and care for Christ.Love for humanity and love for Christ are one and the same thing.  Any attempt to separate them, to proclaim a humanism while at the same time professing contempt for Christ, will end in disaster as Communism has shown.

  • Benedict Carter

    “If My requests are not granted, Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martryed, the Holy Father will suffer much and various nations will be annihilated.”

    (Our Lady of Fatima, 1917)

    The economic system that was Communism has gone, but the militant atheism and the attempt to create a new kind of human being, emptied of all spirituality and sanctifying Grace that is the core of Marxism, remains and has grown so strong that it has conquered the West. These errors Russia has indeed succeeded in spreading throughout the world, even within the Catholic Church.

    Danielou may have spoken about this in 1962, but where was the Church? Where was the condemnation of Communism that 500 Council Bishops begged Paul VI for?

    Not allowed even to be debated, because at Metz John XXIII has already made an agreement with Khruschev not to condemn Communism. 

    Politics, not supernatural means, is the first love of the post-Vatican II Church.

  • Woodie

     I really don’t see how someone could become a communist if they believed in Christ, and aren’t you confusing contempt for Christ with a contempt for the belief in Christ (one would not have contempt for something they did not believe existed)?

  • Peter

    I think the track record of Communist contempt for Christianity speaks for itself.

  • mollysdad

    To be prepared to consign 20 million men, women and children to oblivion in the interests of “state progress” is a crime for which Stalin and Hobsbawm ought to have been executed.

  • Guest

    As ever with the CH’s articles on Communism there is too much conflation of historical events. Some English Socialists are genuinely wedded to the Bolshevik uprising because it came from the hideous circumstances of the first world war. Perhaps the Russian communists thought they had more support than they actually had, so although the revolution was won. the country was immediately pitched into civil war (exacerbated by Western influence) followed by famine. The urgency of the times probably did not allow for the slower and safer (?) cumulative social progress that Catholic social teaching emphasises.

  • Benedict Carter

    The Bolsheviks know that they had very little support. 

    The Revolution was, as has been pretty conclusively shown by Prof. Richard Pipes, a coup d’etat. The only time the Bolsheviks went to the people, in the election of 1920, they were booted unceremoniously out of government. 

    Reaction? They disbanded the Constituent Assembly and started all the killings again. 

    Bolshevism was a millenial sect movement which sought to kill God. 

  • Benedict Carter

    The number is between 40-60 million, according to Russian historians. No-one knows nor will ever know the exact number. Add that to the millions of dead of the Civil War (more than the total number of dead in the First World War), the 27 million killed in WWII, and you have the reasons for the wasteland that was the former Soviet Union in 1991. 

  • Woodie

    As you must be well aware, that was not my point

  • Peter

    The Christian Church is the body of Christ on earth.  Contempt for the Church is contempt for Christ.

  • Woodie

    not if they don’t believe that Christ exists! At least make some effort to understand another persons point of view. Is that really too much to ask?

  • Sweetjae

    As yet again a useless diatribe and rant against the post-Vatican Church and Popes! Though the first and second paragraph are true the last two are NOT and by nature,  false accusations.

    It’s easy to condemn Pope John XXIII, his sincerity to serve and protect catholic and non-catholic lives in communist countries. The audacity to think of no consequences, no regard to what may have happen if the pope had publicly condemn that time, which actually had been condemned already so many times by the Church before. Maybe a million more  would died? More churches closed? More clerics beheaded? Definitely so, so I gave my wholehearted support and benefit of the doubt to Pope John XXIII. 

    We don’t judge not like these people.

  • Peter

    The murder of hundreds of thousands of priests by the Soviets – the nailing of their bodies to church doors – and the systematic destruction of thousands of churches, was motivated by a profound hatred of Christ.  That is the bottom line.

    What you are asking is for me to deny the above fact. I cannot do that.

  • Woodie

     “What you are asking is for me to deny the above fact. I cannot do that”
    what nonsense

    my original points were
    A. how could someone become a communist if they believed in Christ?
    B. how could someone have contempt for something they did not believe existed i.e. you are confusing contempt for Christ with a contempt for the belief in Christ

  • Peter

    You are splitting hairs.  Contempt for belief in Christ is contempt for Christ.

    It is not mere absence of belief but a burning hatred which motivates wholesale murder and destruction.

  • Woodie

     Far from splitting hairs, I am pointing out your total refusal to understand the thinking of others.
    There is a massive difference in viewpoint from those who believe in Christ and those who do not believe he exists

  • Peter

    The wholesale murder and destruction by the Soviets of anything representing Christ does not reflect an absence of belief in Christ but a sheer hatred of him.

    I have an absence of belief in reincarnation but I don’t go around murdering Buddhists and destroying their temples.

  • Woodie

     My original questions to you were as follows
    A. how could someone become a communist if they believed in Christ?
    how could someone have contempt for something they did not believe
    existed i.e. you are confusing contempt for Christ with a contempt for
    the belief in Christ

  • Parasum

    It is surely time for atheistic Communism to be shown up – again. People like Douglas Hyde wrote books about it – as a former Communist, he knew what he talking about. Communism is no better than it was in 1937, when Pius XI denounced it. It was evil then, and it is evil now.

    “The Year of Faith offers Catholics the chance to profess “the faith in fullness and with new conviction, confidence and hope”, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has said.”

    If we are going to do that, how are Catholics supposed to be friendly with an inherently materialistic & anti-Christian movement like atheistic Communism ? It is inherently evil, because it is based on the rejection of God. Catholicism is based on absolute and total acceptance of the claims of Christ our God – the two movements cannot be reconciled. It is a huge blot on V2 that the Council did not condemn Communism – which was killing millions in China, even as the Council sat. What happened to meeting the needs and aspirations of modern man ? Did the Chinese aspire to be slaughtered ? The betrayal of the entire Church of Silence was another huge blot. But Paul VI forbade Cardinal Mindszenty to speak against Communism. One of the worst evils of modern times was not to be condemned. For Christians, including bishops, to have welcomed Communism because of what is good in it is a terrible error. Karl Marx was a prophet – but a false prophet.

    We need a clergy who are supernatural-minded – they will be no earthly use otherwise. If God is not given His due – IOW, absolutely everything - we can forget about justice and peace. It is surely right to long for the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom of Righteousness & Peace; the mistake atheistic Communism makes, is to want it, but not the God Who Alone gives it value. To have the Kingdom of God without its God or at the price of rejecting its God leads to the tyranny of some men over other men. It is wrong less because of political reasons, than because of the theological reasons that shape its politics. The only justice & peace worth having, in the soul or in nations or among the nations of the earth, is that of Christ – no substitutes are possible or acceptable.  

  • Jack Andthe Beanstock

    Re, the election of a Constituent Assembly in 1917 (not 1920). It was not called by the Bolsheviks, but by the Provisional Government.  They did disband the Constituent Assembly when it met, for one day, in January 1918.  The Bolsheviks did not have a support of the majority of Russians, let alone non-Russian people in what was left of the Tsarist Empire. Nevertheless, they had the support of a significant minority – they won about 25 % of the votes for the Constituent Assembly.  Bolshevism was in many respects a political religion but  it was one which succeeded, with a mixture of terror and the prospect of future prosperity, in mobilizing mass support behind it. It is important not to under-estimate its appeal, particularly to the young.

  • Parasum

    The similarities between Communism & Christianity are great enough for the aspirations that life in Christ can satisfy to seem to be able to be satisfied by Communism. The attraction of each overlaps – they are similar enough for Communism to seem more Christian than it is.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    There was an election in 1920 or 1921 in which the Commies were hammered. I think Ben is correct. it was this loss that forced Lenin and the rest of them to give up their pretence to any legitimacy and rule by naked force (which they had been doing since the Revolution of course).

  • Matthew Roth

    Why would they profess Marxism, which by its definition demands revolution, if they wanted the slower progress of Catholic social teaching?