Two initial realities: Church and life

Réflexions et suggestions

In his third note (Note 3) dated 15 December 1960, Cardijn offers his “Reflections and Suggestions” in response to the proposed plan of work of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate as outlined by its secretary, Mgr Achille Glorieux, during the first plenary meeting of the commission in November.

A theoretical framework

Framed very abstractly, the program read as follows:

1. Notions and definition of the lay apostolate

2. Forms and methods

3. Formation for the lay apostolate

4. Submission to the hierarchy

5. Priests and laity

6. Catholic Action

7. Relationship between the various forms of the lay apostolate

8. Charitable action

9. Drafting of texts to be presented to the Central Commission.

Many comments could be made about this framework, beginning with the fact that it appears to assume the objectives of the lay apostolate are clear and well understood.

Notable also is the fact that the issue of “submission to the hierarchy” features prior to discussion of the roles of priests and laity, a completely top down conception of the Church to say the least.

Strangely, while “Charitable action” and “Social action” are listed, there no mention of “Evangelisation”, which was the subject to be studied by the first sub-commission to which Cardijn had been appointed.

Two initial realities: Church and life

Despite the politeness of his response, it is evident immediately that Cardijn is not happy with this framework. He therefore suggested:

“In order to clarify the concept and definition of the apostolate of the laity, we can began with two initial realities :

“1. The Church, its mission, its composition: the Hierarchy and its collaborators consecrated by means of a sacrament or a vow (priests and religious), their own mission; all the other faithful, members of the People of God who are the Church and who may be called laity in the ecclesial sense – hence the apostolate of the laity in the Church.

“2. The life, the needs of all people, created by God and who have a mission and a vocation received from God : a mission, vocation and apostolate that they fulfill in their own life, with all other people and in all human institutions, to use the whole of creation for their divine destiny. The apostolate of the laity in the ecclesial sense is necessary with respect to all other people and in all human institutions in order to enable people to discover and realise the mission of humankind and the world.”

As usual, Cardijn thus refuses to focus on the Church on its own or by itself. Instead, he seeks to confront the twin “realities” of

a) the Church and its mission with

b) the life and mission of the people “created by God” and the world they live in.

The contrast with the approach proposed by the PCLA could barely be greater.

Apostolic formation based on the see-judge-act

Cardijn further develops these ideas in his comments on the subsequent paragraphs of the draft plan.

The forms and methods of lay apostolate must be “appropriate to the life, milieux as well as to the problems and institutions of life, they will give birth to the specialised lay apostolate, which by its effectiveness and competence acquires a power of penetration and representation not only within a limited local field but also at national and international levels,” he argues.

Formation “is essentially apostolic,” he continues. “There can be no deep religious formation without formation for the apostolate. Humankind has received a divine mission from God; It is by recognising it and fulfilling it that it truly gives glory to God, collaborating in the establishment of his Kingdom, “on earth as in heaven.” Prayer, sacraments, liturgy, worship and interior life cannot be separated from apostolic life, just as the latter cannot be separated from the sources and expressions of religion.”

The jocist method educates the individual to see, judge and act “as a person, and as a Christian and apostle,” he insists.

“Could the Council insist on the urgency of integrating the apostolic formation of the laity at the heart of all religious formation, especially during the age of vocation (14 to 25 years)?” Cardijn proposes.

Regarding “submission to the hierarchy,” he recognises the primacy of the clergy in doctrinal and sacramental matters but insists on limiting this in other areas.

“Temporal, professional, social and cultural matters, submission to the Hierarchy will be expressed by virtue of and to the extent of the competency of the latter,” he argues.

“This submission must never be or appear to be a form of tutelage, an impediment to the initiative and responsibility of the laity,” Cardijn warns. “On the contrary, it must be and must ppear to be a guarantee of authenticity, an encouragement and support for all initiatives, all efforts and often all the sacrifices that are necessary for the extension of the Reign of God and for the salvation of people.”

Collaboration across the board

Concerning the relations between priests and laity, he emphasises the need to determine “the proper role and the complementary link between the priestly apostolate and the lay apostolate in the mission of the Church, both for the formation of the laity in their apostolate as well as in the permanent collaboration between priests and laity in the exercise of this apostolate.”

He calls for clarification of the notion of Catholic Action and insists on the need to find ways for Catholics to cooperate “with all the various non-Catholic and non-Christian lay organisations and institutions, whether private or public, governmental or non-governmental, local, national and international.”

He insists on the need for collaboration between the various forms of lay apostolate as well as emphasing the importance of both charitable and social action.

A declaration by the Council

Finally, in relation to the drafting of conciliar documents, Cardijn proposes “a kind of solemn declaration by the Council insisting on the current importance of the apostolate of the laity, its growing necessity before the current problems of the world to which the Church must and desires to provide a response.”

“This declaration would also be addressed to non-Catholics and non-Christians, recalling the divine mission of the whole of creation and the whole of humanity, expressing how much the Church desires to collaborate with all people and all human institutions against the terrible scourges that threaten the world and in favour of the complete progress of the human race,” he explains.

“This union of all people in a common effort to overcome obstacles to human freedom and to promote genuine progress responds closely to the desire of the Creator and the Redeemer,” Cardijn explains.

“The Church desires to be the leaven of this union in peace for the respect, raising up and happiness of all,” he concludes, offering his vision of a Church acting from within society rather than from on high.

“The Church’s call to the faithful, members of the Church is also addressed to all people who are all created by the same God and saved by the same Christ in order that together they may be united at this decisive hour for the peace of the world and the salvation of the human race,” he notes in a final appeal for the Council to look beyond the confines of the Church itself.

SOURCES

French Original

Joseph Cardijn, Réflexions et suggestions (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English translation

Joseph Cardijn, Reflections and suggestions (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Allies in the Diocese of Tournai: Mgr Joos and Bishop Himmer

Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer

Cardijn had only been back a month from the first plenary meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate (PCLA) in Rome but he was already on the move again, this time to Africa for an important leaders training session of the International YCW.

Before leaving, he hurried to complete two more notes for the Commission numbered as Note 2 and Note 3. Note 3, entitled “Quelques réflexions et suggestions (A few reflections and suggestions) and dated 15 December 1960, offered a detailed response to the PCLA’s proposed plan of work.

Note 2, again entitled simply “L’apostolat des laïcs” (The apostolate of lay people) and dated 16 December 1960, explained what Cardijn characterised as the “two essential, primordial and inseparable aspects” of the lay apostolate, namely “its relationship with God, Christ and the Church; with the plan of God in the work of Creation and Redemption,” and on the other hand “its relationship with the fundamental problems of man and the world, with their influences and their depth, in their total dimension.”

Seeking theological counsel – but not in Brussels or Louvain

Before sending these notes to the PCLA, Cardijn therefore sought to get feedback from a trusted confidant and theologian, namely Mgr Désiré Joos, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Tournai in the industrial south of Belgium. Why Mgr Joos rather than say Mgr Gerard Philips, a recognised expert on the theology of the laity at the University of Louvain whom Cardijn had previously consulted?

Cardijn does not explain of course. Nevertheless, he had previously come into (theological) conflict with Philips during the preparation and holding of the Second International Congress on Lay Apostolate in Rome in October 1957 where the latter was a keynote speaker. Moreover, Philips appeared to have allied himself with the Malines-Brussels auxiliary, Bishop Léon-Joseph Suenens, who had also criticised Cardijn’s approach.

Indeed, Suenens had published a major 1958 article in the Belgian Jesuit journal, Nouvelle Revue Théologique, entitled “L’unité multiforme de l’Action catholique” (The multiform unity of Catholic Action) in which, without mentioning Cardijn, he accused the Specialised Catholic Action movements of seeking a “monopoly” of Catholic Action.

Mgr Désiré Joos and Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai

Cardijn’s choice of Mgr Désiré Joos from Tournai was therefore highly significant. Just 20km from the northern French city of Lille, Tournai lies in the middle of the coal mining belt that extends across Belgium and into France.

Its bishop was Charles-Marie Himmer (photo above), originally from the neighbouring Diocese of Namur, who had been a JOC and Specialised Catholic Action chaplain from the 1930s. As a bishop, he had already made himself known for his closeness to the working class.

In 1952, he had organised a Social Week that began with an enquiry carried out in every parish of the diocese into the “economic and social problems” in each parish. Addressing JOC chaplains at the conclusion of this enquiry, he took as his subject “Le problème ouvrier” (The worker problem), emphasising the importance of the work of the JOC in educating young workers to enable them to face up to the issues that had emerged.

“J’ai pratiqué à plein la méthode de Cardijn : voir, juger, agir,” Bishop Himmer also said on another occasion. “I fully practised the method of Cardijn: see, judge, act.”

“J’y suis resté fidèle, et j’y crois toujours,” he continued. “I have stayed faithful to it and I still believe in it.”

So it’s little surprise that he would also choose a vicar-general cut from the same jocist cloth. Thus, Mgr Joos, who served as Himmer’s vicar-general from 1954 to 1977, was also responsible for the Specialised Catholic Action movements in the diocese.

Cardijn’s letter

Mgr Joos was therefore clearly a man in whom Cardijn had great confidence and who shared his vision of the lay apostolate, particularly among workers.

Cardijn wrote:

“You are aware that I am a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of the Laity in preparation for the next Ecumenical Council. I had to take an oath to maintain secrecy concerning all the documents I receive – and I believe this also applies to the meetings,” Cardijn wrote, clearly vexed by these restrictions.

“However, I need to consult with people more competent than myself or seek the assistance of collaborators in relation to many issues,” he continued.

“I am not able to type and I don’t understand Italian!” he lamented. “Moreover, other collaborators are also bound to the same secrecy as I am!”

“Given these circumstances, could I ask you to read and evaluate the next two notes that I would like to send to the Commission soon,” Cardijn requested. “I also enclose the first note which I sent earlier prior to the meeting that took place last November.

Cardijn’s twin concerns: Church and world

Apologising for several repetitions in the notes, Cardijn now moved to the crux of his concerns, namely “the relationship of the lay apostolate with God, with Christ, the Church and the Hierarchy in the Church; and on the other hand, the relationship with the problems to be solved by the laity and the apostolate of the laity in our modern world.

“This second relationship is often overlooked, if not ignored, particularly in the statements and definitions. Is there a way to overcome this?” Cardijn asked. “This problem really haunts me.”

Behind his polite language, Cardijn was in effect accusing the PCLA was ignoring the world and focusing only on the Church! What kind of conception of the apostolate of the laity could there be that ignored this issue?

“The Council is a unique opportunity which will not come again for a long time,” Cardijn warned. “And by then, the problems will have been solved either by us or despite us.”

Although he does not name Bishop Himmer, we can surmise that Cardijn also wanted Mgr Joos to relay these concerns to his bishop to the extent that this was possible without compromising Cardijn’s oath of secrecy.

“By the time you receive this letter,” Cardijn concluded, “I will have left for Africa where I will remain until 24 or 25 January. On 30 January, I need to be in Rome for the second session of the Commission. However, the note needs to reach the secretariat without delay (by December 22, it seems!). Could you entrust your precise remarks to Mademoiselle Fiévez who will take care of the sending the documents once the typing is finished?

“But after my return from Africa, perhaps I could see you for a moment just before my departure for Rome and discuss all this with you again.

Please excuse me for bothering you in this way. But you will me doing me a great service. And if in your view my request seems to contradict the oath that I have taken, please feel free to reject it,” Cardijn wrote.

SOURCES

Cardijn to Mgr Désiré Joos, vicar-general of the Diocese of Tournai (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Cardijn à Mgr Désiré Joos, vicaire-général du Diocèse de Tournai (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Tournai : décès de Mgr Désiré Joos (Agence de Presse Internationale Catholique)

Charles-Marie Himmer (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer (Catholic Hierarchy)

Mgr Charles-Marie Himmer, Le problème ouvrier (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Léon-Joseph Suenens, L’unité multiforme de l’Action catholique (Nouvelle Revue Théologique)

The PCLA starts work

After the pomp and ceremony of the previous day, finally the first plenary meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate (PCLA) began on 15 November 1960.

No doubt Cardijn and his colleagues must have felt a sense of anticipation if not excitement to learn more about the task that they had been given.

They did not have long to wait because, after analysing the vota, i.e. the responses received from bishops conferences around the world, the Central Commission had decided upon the three major subjects the PCLA would tackle.

These were:

I. The apostolate of the laity:

Determine the domain and the goals of this apostolate and its relations with the hierarchy. What are the best means for the apostolate of the laity to respond to current necessities?

II. Catholic Action:

1. To determine the notion, the domain and its subordination to the hierarchy;

2. Review its constitution in order that it be better adapted to our times;

3. Determine the relations between Catholic Action and the other associations (Marian congregations, pious unions, professional unions, etc.)

III. Associations:

To study how the activity of existing associations could better respond during our time to the ends that they propose (charitable and social action).”

Whatever sense of elation Cardijn felt at the opening of the session must have quickly evaporated upon reading these terms of reference.

A stark contrast

Just nine years earlier in October 1951, he had opened the First World Congress on Lay Apostolate with his landmark keynote speech “The world today and the apostolate of the laity.”

Drawing on his Three Truths dialectic and See Judge Act method, he had laid out the problems and issues facing the world, which ranged from demographic challenges to industrialisation, changes in the workforce, racism and colonialism as well as to cultural transformations and the arms race.

He had contrasted this reality with the Christian vision for humanity based on the “Creator’s plan of love.” And finally Cardijn had set out his own conception of a transformative, organised Christian lay apostolate:

“· Christians who intensively live their Christianity, their belonging to Jesus Christ ; who consciously live His message, His Gospel, in all their personal life, in all its worldly demands . . .

· Christians who are conscious of an explicit mission, who know that they are called to work for the extension of the reign of God . . .

· Christians who penetrate all the sectors, all the aspects, all the institutions of the modem world, as witnesses of Christ, carrying the doctrine of the Church with them . . .

· Christians who understand the whole importance of forming apostolic communities, of having an organised apostolate …”

And Cardijn’s 18-page 30 October note on “The apostolate of lay people” prepared specifically for the Prep Com further expanded and developed this vision.

Yet how little of Cardijn’s vision was reflected in the tasks given to the Commission.

At best, a faint echo of his concerns can perhaps be detected in the first question submitted to the commission: “What are the best means for the apostolate of the laity to respond to current necessities?”

Clearly, however, there was much greater concern over relations between laity and hierarchy and ensuring the “subordination” of Catholic Action movements as well as to pacify tensions between Catholic Action groups and others with a more “pious” orientation.

Nor did the reference to “charitable and social action” come anywhere near Cardijn’s vision of Christians living the Gospel in their “personal life,” working to “extend the reign of God” or penetrating and transforming the various sectors and institutions of the modern world.

From Cardijn’s point of view, the mission given to the PCLA was not back to the future but back to the past.

After the earlier misunderstanding (and disappointment) over a sub-commission involving lay people, it was not a promising start.

SOURCES

Ferdinand Klostermannn, “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity,” in Herbert Vorgrimler (ed.), Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Herder and Herder, New York, 1969,273-404.

Joseph Cardijn, The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, “The world today and the apostolate of the laity,” World Congress on Lay Apostolate, October 1951 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

The Church and the world of work

Five weeks after returning from Rome, Cardijn sent a 5000 word document entitled “L’Eglise face au monde du travail” (The Church facing the world of work) to Archbishop Dell’Acqua to assist in the drafting of an encyclical to mark the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum.

“The note, which I wrote in a single session, focuses particularly on the international aspect of the world of work and the problems it raises. I certainly have not presented the Church’s whole doctrine on justice as would have been necessary. The text in fact is merely a series of reflections drafted by hand without any pretensions.

“I have just opened the book by Fathers Calves (sic, should be Calvez) and Perrin SJ: “Eglise et société économique : l’enseignement social des Papes, de Léon XIII à Pie XII (1878-1953)“. Collection « Théologie » publiée sous la direction de la Faculté de théologie S.J. de Lyon-Fourvière – Editions Montaigne, Paris 1959 (“Church and economic society: the social teaching of the Popes, from Leo XIII to Pius XII (1878-1953)”. “Theology” collection published under the direction of the SJ Faculty of Theology of Lyon- Fourvière – Editions Montaigne, Paris 1959.) It includes a very broad selection of pontifical texts.

“As I suggested to Your Excellency in my previous letter, a study committee could prepare a draft, as was done for Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno.

“I beg Your Excellency’s pardon for the simplicity of my suggestions but I believe that the time is truly ripe for a psychological shock in the world. Perhaps we could announce the new encyclical a little later and thus prepare great publicity for it and a great impact in every continent,” Cardijn wrote.

The Church faces the world of work

He takes up these themes in greater detail in his actual note, which is organised around his iconic Three Truths of Reality (See), Faith (Judge) and Method (Act) dialectic.

I. Truth of Reality: The universal dimension of the problem

“Never has the worker problem experienced the dimension, significance or gravity that it has today,” Cardijn begins in his usual apocalyptic style. “All the more so since its present dimensions do not signify the ultimate end point; on the contrary this is merely the beginning of a vertiginous transformation, both concerning work itself and all the actors who are engaged in it, and concerning the unheard of repercussions of this transformation on all aspects of the life of the whole of humanity.

“Not only the manner and life of work have been and are continuing to be transformed from day to day, but labour is in the process of turning the whole world on its head, creating an increasingly technological world, changing the very regime of work as well as the various aspects of human life – personal, family, social, cultural and recreational, political, national and international,” he insisted.

He continued noting that while both Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) and Pius XI (Quadragesimo Anno) had dealt with the issue of work and labour in their encyclicals, Pius XII had not done so even if he had taken up various aspects in many of his speeches.

Now, however, the issues of work and labour had taken on a “universal dimension.”

“Today, the future of work has become a global problem, the No. 1 problem, one might say. It is increasingly becoming so: through the perfecting of new labour processes, which have spread rapidly in every country and among all races; through the growing number of wage workers, both young and adult – and particularly women and young girls – in all sectors of professional life (production, trade, finance, administration, teaching, transport, publicity); through the power of new technologies which overcome all obstacles and thus transform the face of continents as well as the life of peoples; through scientific, social and ultimately philosophical problems that have led to this evolution, through which man increasingly masters matter at the risk of allowing himself to become dominated by it,” Cardijn wrote.

He paints a dramatic picture of the effects of all this:

“It is technology with its applications in every aspect of life – which enables the most primitive peoples to move without any transition to the most modern conditions of life; it is also technology which multiplies the tentacles of urban and industrial agglomerations, which are also the source of deep-seated uprootedness; it is also technology which responds with irresistible advertising for the most unhealthy products, the most upsetting processes and aspirations, the most sensational news.

“In the frenzied race to conquer the world and the insatiable search for immediate profit, work, expenses and the labour regime, the growing number of workers are all dragged into a world that is divided into two economic groups: the under-developed and the over-developed, and into two ideological groups: the communist world and the capitalist world. This economic, social, cultural and ideological transformation is unfolding under our very eyes at a time when so many new peoples, and especially in Africa, which are achieving independence and are seeking capital, technicians, political alliances which will assist them to achieve their destiny.”

II. Truth of Faith: The truth about work and the world of the worker

Cardijn continues with one of the most developed outlines of his theology of work.

“In the present conditions of the world transformed by work, the anniversary of Rerum Novarum presses the Church to proclaim more solemnly still the TRUTHS which must be the base of a world regime for truly human and Christian labour. It has received a divine mandate to spread the knowledge of it,” he wrote.

1. The end of work is the transformation of the wealth of nature for the service of people and for the glory of God.

Work is not a punishment for sin, a kind of condemnation. Nor is it the supreme end for those who work; one cannot turn it into an absolute, a god.

Human work is a privilege, an honour, because it demands the collaboration of man in the divine work of Creation and Redemption in order to satisfy in an increasingly adequate way the needs of the community. Without work, there is no genuine humanity, no genuine civilisation. The fatigues and abuses that accompany work are the consequences of sin.

Therefore workers are not “the wretched of the earth”, machines or slaves; they are not objects, instruments of toys; they are the sons and daughters of God; they are the very end of work.

2. This is why the Church, as divine Providence itself, desires, encourages and recognises the value and the legitimacy of all progress in science and technology. It wants them, not for the benefit of a tiny minority, but so that they will enable the needs, both spiritual and material, of the whole of humanity to be satisfied.

3. Technological and economic progress demands an increasingly sophisticated organisation of labour, within which various interests must be reconciled for the good of all.

4. The more the world of labour becomes an international complex, either in the sourcing and use of new products, or in the search for new manufacturing processes, or in the distribution of products manufactured on a market that has become global, the more the sense of responsibility and international justice must inspire a collaboration and a solidarity, that ensures the access of all in justice – not the privileged few but the innumerable mass of the most humble – in all the material and spiritual progress of civilisation.

5. However no form of economic, social or cultural organisation – as perfect as one could conceive of it and implement it – will be able alone to transform man (individual human life, family life and social life), neither to satisfy all the needs, whether secular or religious.

One can only arrive there by spreading, inculcating a new conception of the world, a unified and solidary world; and in changing the mentalities on the basis of mutual understanding and assistance; and to say it all by changing people in line with the teaching of the Gospel.

This transformation of man from the inside must be the object of an ongoing education: that of the child, that of the young man and of the young girl, that of the adult. And it will be all the more necessary in the future, since personal and social life will be more influenced by technology and by the complexity of human problems to resolve.

An integral human education supposes and demands a climate of freedom and unconditional support which alone can guarantee its effectiveness. Religion must play a fundamental role in the whole effort of social and international education. Also the Church has the right to respect and consideration all the more necessary since its task in this field will be increasingly urgent and more difficult. In such a manner that its action powerfully helps to give a real value to technological progress: far from enslaving or downgrading man, it must serve to raise and save him, in order to finally result in a totally solidary humanity.

III. Truth of Method: The specific role of the Church

“The Church’s mission is not to realise itself the transformations which have just been mentioned, nor to create scientific, technological, economic, social and political institutions responsible for the world of labour. The means for achieving these objectives forms part of the immediate responsibility and initiative of people themselves, both governments and private associations,” Cardijn writes.

“However, as has been said, the Church has the duty to spread the eternal truths that must guide both individuals and collectivities in the search and use of technologies and institutions, which all must be at the service of man, his temporal vocation and his eternal destiny. Teaching these truths, integrating them into the whole of human and Christian life, forms an integral part of its evangelising mission, in which the hierarchy, the priesthood and the laity have their distinct but essential roles in the expansion of the Reign of God on earth.

“And while it wants to achieve the full dimensions of this task, the Church cannot allow itself to be enclosed in the community of the faithful which constitute it; it must open out to all people of good will. This is why it wishes to collaborate with all the human institutions, both private and public, national and international, which seek in the respect of their reciprocal mission, the means to ensure the happiness of peoples and the Reign of God,” Cardijn explained.

The Church had several specific roles in this, Cardijn proposed:

a) Teaching the social doctrine of the Church

b) Formation of the laity

c) Formation of young people in particular for the world of work

d) Promoting collaboration and fraternal union.

A manifesto for Vatican II

Although he made no mention at all of the coming Council, it is difficult to interpret this magisterial document as anything other than his own personal manifesto and proposed agenda for the Council.

SOURCES

Original French

Cardijn à Archbishop Dell’Acqua (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, L’Eglise et le monde du travail (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English Translations

Cardijn to Archbishop Dell’Acqua (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, The Church and the world of labour (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)