[The following passage is from The Peasant of the Garonne, by Jacques Maritain, 1968.]
Twenty years ago [the mid-1940s] a friend of mine who was a great French theologian—and whose friendship has never faltered—told me one day that he had a bone to pick with me, and he didn’t go any too gently about it. Just what kind of reproach was it? He was upset because whenever I dealt with a non-Christian, I always assumed that he was acting in good faith. But the contrary must be assumed, he maintained. Hadn’t the New Law been promulgated? Hadn’t the Word of God been proclaimed in almost every country on earth? Was grace lacking to anyone? When we spoke to non-Christians, it was a duty to truth to presuppose—save for exceptions (when, for example, a certain person was excused by that exceedingly rare thing called “invincible ignorance”)—that they were not in good faith.
Such an attitude completely failed to take into account the dependence of the human mind upon age-old traditions, cultural environment, and, broadly speaking, the deadweight of history. I don’t believe there is anyone today who would accept the views of my friend. Twenty years ago they seemed self-evident to a theologian of high merit. They conformed to the line of behaviour toward non-Christians, to the pattern still accepted at that time (but not for very long).
[The following passage is from Sir Arnold Lunn’s And Yet So New, 1958. Of all countries, England has perhaps the strongest claim to being the birthplace of Liberalism, both in the economic and the wider philosophical sense. After his conversion to Catholicism in 1933, Lunn did not leave his liberalism behind, a liberalism that has since become the norm throughout Catholic intellectual culture. Before Vatican II, however, the liberal attitudes that currently prevail in Western secular democracies could not be assumed in certain Catholic countries and circles. However, in a 1966 interview with William F. Buckley, Lunn also reminds us of the stubborn tendency of certain self-professed liberals to act very illiberally the moment partisanship or antipathy come into play. I don’t think one has to look far to find contemporary examples.]
I remember arguing . . . with a Spanish ecclesiastic who insisted that error has no rights against the truth—an odd remark for a trained theologian to make, for he must have known that neither truth nor error has rights, since rights can only be predicated of men and not of abstractions. Men in error have very definite rights, civic rights among them, and Catholics equally have a definite obligation to respect the consciences of men in error.
I know, of course, that the Spanish Hierarchy’s attitude to Spanish Protestants is influenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Protestants throughout the world sympathized with the Red Government. During a recent visit to America there was a violent radio attack on Catholicism as the enemy of freedom. Many of the examples chosen to support this thesis were taken from Spain, beginning with the Inquisition and ending with the modern treatment of Protestants. The Press published a reply in which I stated that though I strongly disapproved of molesting Protestants I did not think that American Protestants were in a strong position to protest in view of their deplorable attitude in the [Spanish] Civil War.
None the less, it must not be forgotten that many prominent Protestants, my own father among them, took a splendid stand on the side of Catholic Spain.
I appreciate the fact that a Government has the right to forbid any public demonstration which is likely to create a breach of the peace. Mr. Asquith, when Home Secretary, forbade a Catholic procession to carry the Host through London streets at the time of the Eucharistic Congress, and he was fully justified in this veto in view of the threats of militant Orangemen to break up the procession. The Spaniards would be no less entitled to forbid any public demonstration of militant Protestantism which could only lead to trouble in a country as deeply Catholic as Spain and as untutored in the practice of tolerance.
Moreover, it would not be unreasonable to forbid the entry of American Protestant missionaries. Spanish Protestants, I hold, should be permitted to propagate their views by word of mouth or in book or pamphlet form, just as Danish Catholics, who are in a small minority, are free to do what they can to convert their Protestant neighbours, but the Danish Catholics would be the first to protest if foreign Catholic missionaries settled in Denmark and opened a violent campaign of insult and invective directed against the Danish Protestants. Yet this is precisely the procedure of many American Protestant missionaries in Spanish South America. I have seen some of the tracts distributed by the kind of Protestant missionary who is as devoid of culture as of charity.
I remember a conversation in Madrid in 1941 with a beautiful woman, daughter of a famous Carlist leader. She exclaimed contemptuously, “You English Catholics will never understand our Catholicism. We Spanish Catholics never compromise with the truth. Nous ne transigeons jamais avec la verité.”
“If that be so,” I said, “how is it that one cannot buy in Madrid the papal encyclicals against Fascism and Nazism, and that your Press never mentioned the Pope’s denunciation of Nazi behaviour in Poland? I’m only an English Catholic, and what’s worse a convert, but I had always understood that when the Vicar of Christ spoke it was the duty of all Catholics to listen and of all Catholic governments to give every facility for the publication of such pronouncements.”
The Carlist looked embarrassed. “Well, you know, we have the Germans on the frontier.”
“I know that full well,” I replied, “and I am not being censorious about the censorship of Papal pronouncements, but you will understand why I am not impressed by your brave boast ‘Nous ne transigeons jamais avec la verité.’ After the war you must come to Protestant England to read these encyclicals. You’ll find them quite interesting.”
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