Leon Bloy – fingertips touching the dark

Shepherd at watch, from Rembrandt

“I merely take this opportunity to beg you to be on the watch. Present-day events are certainly hideous, but their tendency has nothing commonplace about it. What is willed absolutely and everywhere is the end of the Church, which cannot end. But indeed it is a theological truth that should there remain but one single Catholic, the Church would live in him, together with all her mysteries, all her miracles, all her power, all her fecundity. . . . I therefore think, once again, that we are at the prologue of an unspeakable drama, the like of which has not been seen for twenty centuries; I invite you to a certain amount of recollection.” — Leon Bloy, from 
Pilgrim of the Absolute, Selections by Raissa Maritain (Pantheon Books, 1947), p. 202

The Maritains took heed of the wild prophet of Paris. These last days of advent leading up to Christmas seem to be a good time to make a final watch. We pray to be such a Catholic, with the fecundity of the Church living in us — awake to the truth of the Incarnation, reverent before the tremendous mystery of the real presence, and sincere in love. The culture and the politics keeps everyone buzzing with the “unreal words” against which Newman preached. We still sleep in our routines, we still let ourselves be drawn to the cheap baubles of gossip and opinion, we still study indifference and envy, even hatred. The sons of Adam are a doomed race. But for a New Adam. And of course, a New Eve.

Frank O’Malley, in “The Passion of Leon Bloy” (Review of Politics, 1948) pointed out a deep similarity between Bloy and Newman:

The years in which Bloy lived were, like Newman’s or Dostoevski’s, or our own, those in which science and invention, rationalism and materialism had accomplished their wondrous domination of the world  — and the bourgeois satisfaction with the status achieved was complete. The anti-Christian spirit had capitalized upon the spinelessness and spiritlessness of “Christendom.” Scientific rationalism had concluded that it could explain everything, that there were no transcendent worlds beyond to reach. The world daily became more ready-to-hand, more easy to manipulate: the darkness of the unknown retreated before the advance of the new seers. Thus all sense of mystery, all sense of reverence, all sense of love — the awesome and self-surrending spirit of the religion — evaporated. But Bloy, no less than Newman and Dostoevski, deplored this wanton dissipation of the most enduring force in man’s life, this spreading out of rationalism and materialism to encompass all that makes life meaningful. Bloy, like Newman, realized that the new and free thought lacked the “center of power”, such a “first element” as was available to every Christian. The thought of Bloy was directed to unity in the personality of Christ, as the object and center towards which everything in creation is drawn — in Claudel’s words, the center and navel of the world. For Bloy, Christ was at the center of everything, taking upon himself all that man bears and suffers.

Bloy said of the little flocks of believers — “when they stretch out their arms in prayer, the tips of their fingers touch the darkness.” (Pilgrim of the Absolute, p. 216) They touch, yes, the darkness of night and early morning – the darkness of the watch — but also the darkness of mystery. Newman began Advent in the dark and cold; Bloy continued the watch in prayer, finger-tips touching the dark, and filled with hope.  Christ-mas is near.

Rembrandt, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1634


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