A 1963 essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar, translated by Charles Hughes Huff and Anne Carpenter.

Protestants often envy Catholics that, thanks to Rome, they do not have to endure irreconcilable factions with their unbearable tensions in their church. However, what is not dogmatic but spiritual can [also] set up oppositions in the Church, often nearly approaching the Protestant example.


The first [person] who, as a Christian thinker, was deeply shocked when the current phenomenon of so-called “integralism” came into view and then immediately gave the as-yet unsurpassed [treatment of] the most acute symptoms and diagnosis of this phenomenon was Maurice Blondel in a 250-page issue of “Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne,” never published in bookstores, with the peculiar title La Semaine Sociale de Bordeaux et le Monophorisme (1910).[1] As early as 1904, he wrote to his friend, the philosopher Auguste Valensin, S.J.: “One cannot ignore the fact that every day the tension sharpens between the two directions that Catholics set in opposition to each other in every sphere—social, political, and philosophical. Today one could almost speak of two completely irreconcilable Catholic ways of thinking, and this is a patently abnormal state of affairs, for there cannot be two kinds of Catholicism. I will not hold back from characterizing these two attitudes and showing how the diverse tendencies in each of these opposing systems are internally related.”

The matter probably first becomes tangible as a comprehensive ecclesial phenomenon in the Restoration period (Metternich, De Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortes, Veuillot), though one could trace the school of thought back through the whole history of the Church. The name [‘integralism’] appears late in the official eccelesiastical language, perhaps for the first time in Cardinal Suhard’s famous pastoral letter of 1947. On the whole, integralism is a post-[French] revolutionary mindset and movement that has in its memory and blood the more than thousand-year alliance between spiritual and secular power and, insofar as [this power] in its earlier form is irretrievable, strives to reproduce it in a newer form, this time within the Church. Incidentally, this explains the constant rapprochement between ecclesial integralism and political royalism: at the time of the Restoration, most notably in the movement of Action Française and its aftermath, and [then] probably also in the Spanish Opus Dei[2].

Blondel writes his analysis during the hottest melee of the modernist struggle: Pius X had condemned modernism in 1907 (Pascendi [Dominici Gregis]); in 1908–1913, numerous indexes followed; modern Catholic journals lowered their sails; one of them declared it no longer had a raison d’etre “under the inquisitorial system restored in the Church.” During these years, what Valensin called “the opposite heresy” came to the fore, at the heart of which was a secret society, or rather an association of a variety of secret societies centered at Rome with Mgr. Umberto Benigni, who had been working under the Secretariat of State since 1906 (where Pacelli later replaced him) under the protection of Cardinal Merry de Val and who received 1000 francs a month from the pope. He had founded a general information agency and an organization extending over many countries “for the defense of papal doctrines,” which gathered information everywhere concerning the orthodoxy of persons and groups and sent out corresponding directives. The members fell into three groups: the completely secret, the simply secret, and the public, behind which the former hid. Pius X approved of the institution but was by no means aware of its inner workings. The archives of the integralist headquarters (called “Sapiniere”) fell into the hands of the German army during the First World War [and] parts [of this archive] have been published from 1920 on.[3] A complete edition is said to be in preparation. If Blondel could not yet know this background, the poisoning of the atmosphere was an all-too-palpable fact. He countered the latent terror with peaceful statements.

He sees two different epistemological theories as the basis for the difference: in the case of the Christians who are open to the times, [he sees] the awareness of the interconnectedness of everything that is historically real and the demand to enter into it, through daring action in solidarity, in order to experience it in its inner movement. In the case of the integralists, on the other hand, [he sees] the view that reality can be exhausted in abstract, fixed, and unchangeable concepts, so that it suffices to act in view of the right concepts in order to move the world rightly. In the case of the first, it follows from their approach that the same interconnectedness also prevails in the relationship between nature and revelation; there are paths of God’s grace from the ground up, paths that introduce people of good will into the realm of God’s love through right decisions even outside the Church. In the second, revelation is primarily a system of doctrinal concepts that by definition cannot be found anywhere in the human world, and hence can only be presented by a wholly descending ecclesial authority to lay people for passive acceptance. For Blondel, this rationalist-extrincisist approach results in the reduction of the Christian message to a “law of fear and coercion” instead of a soul-liberating law of love.[4] In the name of the Lord, a harshness is exercised that he never would have exercised, indeed “under the pretext of letting him have his say and striking at his enemies, one perhaps injures him himself.”[5] The blind conformism demanded of subjects is “the most radical perversion of the gospel imaginable,”[6] which opposes modernism as a no less “murderous veterism.”[7] “The logic of integralism is inexorable”: the clear-cut division of a closed realm of nature and an equally closed realm of supernature, which rules from above, demands the representatives of the latter “to identify themselves with the truth of revelation, or rather to identify the truth of revelation with themselves, in order finally to arrive at a purely human-designed theocracy that is constantly denied but nevertheless always practiced.”[8] Since the secular arm is no longer available for this rule, it must necessarily be replaced by an inner-ecclesial use of power; the church as a whole is in a “state of siege”[9] and, since the ideal subject is the blindly obedient one, the tendency will be to drive out of the church all those who are not completely submissive: “in the absence of the compelle intrare [make people come in] the compelle exire [make people leave] will be practiced; … the Lord then left the 99 faithful sheep on their path to follow the lost one, but some would like today to remain with the only one faithful in order better to bind it.”[10] The model now is the “crusade” for the rights of an ecclesial power misunderstood by secular power, is “the small, perfectly trained storm troop of specialists for confessional questions, the docile elite of the sacristan soldiers,”[11] while “humanity becomes the sedia gestatoria of spiritual power, which has everything to give and nothing to receive and therefore imposes its gift as its right to be asserted: by force.”[12]

Blondel’s grim analyses represent, in the words of Alexander Dru, the “watershed” between nineteenth-century and twentieth-century Catholicism. In 1914, the courageous bishop of Albi, Mignot, will for the first time resolutely protest against Rome’s new methods of inquisition; Benedict XV (encyclical [Ad] Beatissimi [Apostolorum], 1914) will disavow heresy hunting; and finally Pius XI will condemn Action Française in 1926. Until then, however, it was good manners among the nobility, military, and high religious intelligentsia to be part of the movement of “religious form from above” (Billot, de la Taille, Janvier, Roland-Gosselin, Garrigou-Lagrange, Clerissac, Dom Besse, and many others, including Maritain and, for a long time, Bernanos). The other clairvoyant besides Blondel was Péguy, who, for [Catholic] youth during 1930–1950, gave Christianity an entirely new, evangelical resonance.

From Blondel’s investigations and beyond their situational contingency, [integralism] can be simply defined: integralism prevails wherever revelation is presented primarily as a system of true propositions to be believed from above and where, as a result, form is placed above content, power above the cross. The integralist strives by all means, visible and hidden, public and secret, first to gain political and social power for the church, and then to proclaim the Sermon on the Mount and Golgotha from this secured citadel and pulpit. This seemingly purely tactical “first” inherently contains, consciously or unconsciously, a higher value. The end value, for whose sake first and foremost the money, earthly power, and organization is collected, hoarded, and launched, inevitably gets caught in the tow of the putative value of the means, if the end value is just the humiliated lamb, the crucified love.

Now it is clear why integralism likes to work in secret. What reasons can there possibly be to justify something secret in the Church, in the midst of the people of God? The church as a whole can be a “sacred public secret” for the blind or jaundiced eye of the world, which was the meaning of the ancient Christian discretion (the discipline of the secret). In the interior of the Church, however, there should be complete transparency everywhere for the faithful. The fundamental secrecy of today’s Roman Inquisition (“the Holy Office”) dates from the time of the closest interweaving of secular and spiritual power. It could at best be explained by reasons of administrative wisdom, here and there even by fraternal love and care. Judgment and opinion about the methods of the ecclesiastical office in our time belong to the pope and [Second Vatican] council in session. That the integralists have always closely followed the Holy Office, that they are, moreover, passionate canonists and understand the Church accordingly, needs no explanation. But what is the purpose of secret or semi-secret organizations in the realm of ordinary Christians? What can and should be hidden here at all? Undoubtedly only agglomerations of worldly power, which prefer to work in the dark, allegedly for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. But every opacity in the Church’s interior creates a deep uneasiness, as experience shows, and if the crisis of terror at the beginning of the century has been overcome today, the uneasiness has taken on new forms, radiating from power structures that not infrequently call themselves secular institutes [lay movements] and severely compromise this fruitful new form of Christian existence in the world. Some of these lodge-like entities have already seen the recent past collapse; others are on a—seldom unchallenged—rise.

At the end of this first line of reasoning, one may observe with surprise that the two extreme parties in the Church, progressivism (cf. our article on Teilhard de Chardin, this journal, 18 Jg. [1963], 339 ff.) and integralism, as antagonistic as they are to each other, nevertheless touch each other and even coincide in their deepest essence. If one brings them to a simple formula, both serve the Christian message as a means to a worldly goal: inasmuch as the goal is praised as the “Kingdom of God” come to earth, the means are justified by the parable of leaven [Matt 13:33, Luke 13:20–21]. Both are therefore only a new and probably even more naïve version of what today is so contemptuously called the “Constantinian Age,” because the grapes hang so high.[13] Progressivism is an emphatically dynamic-evolutive democratic Constantinism, while integralism is an emphatically static-formal, monarchical Constantinism. Against both, it is not a matter of pushing the church “eschatologically” out of the world and spiritualizing it in a vacuum of sacred space. Rather the authentic spirituality of Jesus Christ, with its own unmistakable “power,” must prevail in all areas of the world, “not with eloquent cleverness, lest the cross of Christ be undermined” (1 Cor 1:17). We therefore simply have to ask the integralists about their spirituality.


Since the integralists are not a sect, but fellow Christians in the same Catholic church, their scope can be only roughly delimited in subtle shadings from the center to the periphery. Who among us has never succumbed to the temptation to enforce spiritual matters by worldly means? Probably only the authentic saints, and they too perhaps only after purification. In the following points, therefore, it is not a matter of isolating fellow Christians and pillorying them. These are only indications that something which threatens us all is possible, is sustainable within Christianity. We are in solidarity with what we criticize.

To begin, the speech of an uber-integralist should be posed, one who in his extreme, distorted, and incendiary formulas relentlessly reveals the overall direction: the poet Ludwig Derleth, in his “Proklamationen” (Insel 1904; the later edition is toned down), who liked to have his eaglesque profile photographed in front of a statue of Napoleon. It is worth listening to this voice a little (I quote at random): “It is better not to be born than to be idle. But once you are the light, illuminate the darkness. This scripture means challenge. We are speaking to the warrior sons of Europe and to the children of God in the inhabited world. Sigillamus saeculum.[14] There is a new time in Advent, which appoints the works, the imitatio Christi, to the utmost valor. The Lord says: I return with victorious masses and superior power and forgive those who die for me. You are disciples and plunge into the fire early. If you do not become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom. We raise ourselves up against impudent, unholy people, make ourselves dominant against rulers of mass numbers, distinguish ourselves like kings, and we do not abandon the glorious desire, poured out in blood, which is akin to the highest love and which carried Napoleon the Great, seized by plans through the sleepless night for dominion over state and church and planet. The great masses are by nature fearful and easily aroused by that panicky terror which comes from the pulsating energy of small divisions. The Generalissimo is the one who represents a fact to which his followers relate only as factors, that is, as perpetrators. From this chaotic whole of mankind, he will know how to make his selection, Legio, of coherent, even if contrary, life complexes, closed units as building blocks for Christianity. The union of the world today is deed. I am setting up my kingdom in the heart of this world. We are breaking into the treasure house of history. And the Lord cried out: massacre! Then the heart strengthened the immortals and the sun rose from the red mist. The battle of Mount Tabor. The eagle overcomes the world. The testament of the Christ is the war. The Lord is the last extreme consequence of the Roman world dynasty thought as a person. Soldiers, I am writing with you a sentence, which is the meaning of life. We subdue the world or it perishes. Against the democratic order of the modern world, we set the dreaded example of obedience. Do you want examples? The Roman infantry, the Corps of Assassins, the Company of Jesus. We stipulate in advance: (1) to be poor, chaste, and obedient; (2) that we never separate, even against the appearance of ultimate need and utter abandonment; (3) that the general’s relationship with the division is exclusive and leads to the breaking off of human sympathies; (4) that we treat the earth, which is in apostasy from Jesus, as in rebellion and place it under the Christian law of war; (5) that we are hopelessly lost before men; (6) that the division gives itself to God. Do you think I’m sending you back to the good life, the wives and the dear old business? You are marching into the fire. War and Cross. Shoot the ecumenical synagogue on fire. Go and shine: under a thousand wills lightning in the vault of action. The conductor in the hall of Jesus Christ is Nike. And behold, there is the lamb encamped with the lion under the laurel. Levée en masse pour l’élite ONE proud body of dominion, living and enduring above mortals for the raising and uprising of many. And only when I am exalted and lifted up above all will I draw you to myself.”

More moderate in tone, more tradition- and culture-loving than this Genghis-Khan-Catholicism is the atheistic version of Charles Maurras, who, as said, captivated the elite of French Catholics for more than thirty years. The alliance between his royalist, Mediterranean form of religion and the antique-medieval Neo-Thomism of leading Dominicans, Jesuits, Benedictines, and laymen seemed valid: he directly corresponded to that religious mentality of the minor nobility and the bourgeoisie, which, after the condemnation, was exposed in its pharisaism by Bernanos, Mauriac, Beguin, and many others.

But French integralism is not dead. In the group “La Cité Catholique” with the magazine “Verbe” it celebrates a virulent resurrection,[15] which admittedly suffered a setback with the collapse of the OAS. The syllabus and the anti-modernist church documents are the supporting pillars of this religion, as names are hardly mentioned after the First World War, but [in it] no doubts are left that the entire recent development of the Church—as liberal Catholicism is strongly suspected of heresy—is of the devil. Christ’s kingdom is not de ce monde, but sur de monde, is a main thesis. For the movement [of integralism], what Blondel said about their epistemology and its straightforward, clean-cut concepts applies exactly: the campaign slogans they use are correspondingly directed not least against “the fifth column” within the church.[16]

A related, more popular resurrection of integralism is taking place in the movement of Chabeuil (a few kilometers from Valence), created by the Spanish ex-Jesuit Fr. Valet in 1934 ( 1947) and spreading through his auxiliaries in France and in western Switzerland, especially in Valais. Chabeuil, which can be described as an integralist interpretation of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, is supported by the fiery Chanoine Roustand in Paray-le-Monial, both of whom will have processed in their spirit well over 50,000 retreatants by this time. Here, too, there are the ordinary rank and file and the esoteric initiates. In five days, an attempt is made to convey the core idea of the thirty-day retreat: the wording of the booklet is explained, there is not enough time for the Life of Jesus contemplation, and the emphasis is placed on the so-called contemplation of the “two flags.”[17] But what has biblical and Augustinian meaning in Ignatius—the uncovering the apocalyptic contrast of “Jerusalem” and “Babylon,” the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world, principles that are hidden throughout the mundane world and in every soul and that constantly call us to vigilance and decision—take on a political character in the new interpretation. Jerusalem is the church party “loyal to Rome”; what Babylon is (and against which the crusade is called) can be pointed to with fingers: the Protestants, the Communists, the Modernists, the “nouvelle théologie,” Blondel and Paris-Match, the workers’ priests, and many others who can be mentioned by name.

The strongest concentration of integralist power in the Church today, also of Spanish origin, is undoubtedly Opus Dei, a secular institute with thousands of members, mainly in the academic world, and with worldwide distribution: it owns numerous student houses all over the world, holds a large number of the university Cathedrals in Spain and has recently opened its own university (Pamplona), is closely liaised with the Franco regime, administers high government offices, owns banks, publishing houses, magazines, and newspapers (self-founded and acquired), and is developing a zealous discreet propaganda tactic everywhere, including in Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland. The membership is diverse and complex, ranging from the broadest outer circle to the innermost secret groups and cells (cf. “Orientierung” 1958, 9-10). Wolfgang Dem informs us about questionable and undesirable [activities] in Spain, in particular, in the “Frankfurter Hefte” (Oct. 1963). We ask only about spirituality and receive in hand the printed “Camino” (frequently muted in the German as “the Way”) of the founder and leader Jose M. Escriva, for which the Frankfurt trade fair catalog of the Opus Dei publishing house Rialp proclaims a world circulation figure over one million. Browsing through the 999 aphorisms, maxims, and slogans, we are alarmed: does the author truly think he is developing a real spirituality here, one that is sufficient to feed such a huge elite corps in a Christian way? It is a handbook for Eagle Scouts. Spanish? But “Spanish” is also the authentic mysticism of Ramón Llull, John of the Cross, and Ignatius of Loyola, with the heart-peal of the Gospel and with values for the centuries. Again, a random, small sampling to get the “new sound” in the ear:

“You want to be an average person? To be lost in the masses? You were born to be a leader (caudillo)! There is no place for the lukewarm among us. Don’t let your life be sterile. Be useful. Make a mark. Will—energy! Without it Igigo would never have become Ignatius. Dios y audacia! [God and audacity!] Be strong and manly. In this way, you will first become the master of yourself and then the guide, the leader (caudillo) who commits himself to others, who drives them forward, who carries them away with your example, with your word, with your science, with your superiority (imperio). Marriage is for the foot soldiers, not for the general staff of Christ. Longing for children? Yes, children, many children, and an indelible trace of life is left behind when sacrificing the egoism of the flesh. I do not like so much adaptability; you christen your cowardice ‘prudence’. And this your prudence is an occasion for the enemies of God, with their idea-empty brains, to play themselves up as wise men and to win influence which they should not have gained. Upwards with holy impudence! Be a man! Your character lacks firmness! Be silent, do not be childish! My dear, be a little less naive! You are a punching bag, pull yourself together! Caudillo, steel your will so that God may make you a leader! Don’t you see what the godless secret societies are doing? … much obedience is needed. A layman who sets himself up as a teacher of morals will often misjudge; laymen can only be students of morality. The priest, whoever he may be, is always a second Christ. To love God and not to honor the priest: that is incompatible.” As in Chabeuil, the Spiritual Exercises are reevaluated: “the military perspicacity of St. Ignatius of Loyola lets us spy out the headquarters of the devil.” Let us keep listening to the instruction on what the prayer to God should be about: “of him, of you, of your joys and your sorrows, of your successes and failures, of your good strivings and your daily worries, and above all, of your human weaknesses.” That is, this prayer revolves almost exclusively around the I, that [the I] should become great and strong and endowed with virtues heroic and apostolic and Napoleonic. What should be conveyed above all—the contemplative root of the Word in the “good soil” (Matt 13:8)—what characterized the prayers of the saints, of the great founders, the prayer of a [Charles de] Foucauld, is sought in vain. Thus, one must hope that Opus Dei possesses behind the scenes a quite different reserve of spirit than the meager fare it offers out front. When at the end of his florilegium the spiritual caudillo breaks off a couple roses from Lisieux for his bouquet, they are broken, not grown, and will not last long in the vase. “Didn’t you say you wanted to become a caudillo?” is leading question number 931. Oh no, Monsignor, I don’t think I said that. Despite your assurances that members are free in their political opinions (J. Herranz, “Opus Dei and Politics”), your foundation’s face is still shaped by Francoism, which is “the law that governed your accession.”[18]

Serious questions, which cannot be discussed in depth here, are raised by the “apostolic tactics” of the “work of God,” especially those between “money and spirit.” To take one example: is it possible to buy a hitherto independent magazine, together with its independent editorial and freelance staff, and let people continue to write as before, but with the condition of making a little propaganda for Opus in each issue? So fared the Parisian magazine, “La Table Ronde,” which used to be so brilliant and stimulating, and so may fare other newspapers, perhaps also German ones. The most beautiful journals were always those that were written (“Die Fackel,” Péguy’s Cahiers) or directed (“Hochland” under Muth and Schöningh, “Esprit” under Mounier and Béguin) by a sovereign personality, or at least clearly reflected the spirit of an independent group (“Testimonianze”) or order (“Vie Intellectuelle” etc.). A purchased spirit is a contradiction in terms.

There are still many forms of integralism at home and abroad to describe, and also many gradations from the ecclesial fringe to the ecclesial center. The possible combinations between traditionalism, monarchism, juridicism and martial spirit, secret societies, politics, and high finance are infinite. The problem remains whether and how these (very diverse) spheres of values can be put in the service of Jesus Christ, who as a “lamb” and not a tiger bore the sin of the world, who proclaimed the teachings of the Father on the pillory of the cross and not on university lecterns, who loved his neighbor in an attitude of service (de-mut)[19] and at ground level (humilis=humusnah),[20] simply and without “apostolic tactics” and essentially without regard for his own integrity, as a “Samaritan” across the enemy border.          

[1] [Translator’s note:] This text is available in a more recent edition with nearly the same pagination as Balthasar’s: Maurice Blondel, Une alliance contre nature: catholicisme et intégrisme: La Semaine sociale de Bordeaux 1910 (Bruxelles: Éditions Lessius, 2000).

[2] [Translator’s note:] The Restoration refers to the period after the defeat of Napoleon and the end of the First French Empire’s control over large swaths of European territory.

[3] The older major work on Modernism, J. Rivière, Le Modernisme dans l’Église (1929), can be supplemented by the instructive article by Daniel-Rops, “Une crise de l’esprit: le Modernisme” (in: Table Ronde, Nov.-Dec. 1962) and the short, superior presentation by Alexander Dru, “From the Action Française to the 2. Vatican Council” (in: Downside Review, Sommer 1963).

[4] Semaine 67.

[5] Ibid. 69.

[6] Ibid. 71.

[7] Ibid. 75. [Translator’s note:] Blondel’s phrase reads meurtrier du Vétérisme, rendering a gallicacized vetus (-eris), which is Latin for “old” or “aged.”

[8] Ibid. 99.

[9] Ibid. 101.

[10] Ibid. 103. [Translator’s note:] The Latin references Luke 14:23 (Vulgate).

[11] Ibid. 107.

[12] Ibid. 115.

[13] [Translator’s Note:] An allusion to Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes.

[14] [Translator’s Note:] Another reference to the Vulgate the “seals” (sigilla) in the Book of Revelation (see chapters 5-6, 8).

[15] Cf. especially the 900-page programmatic pamphlet “Pour qu’ll règne” (1959), plus the articles by Fr. de Soras in the magazine “Choisir” 1961, also published separately, and the special issue of “Parole et Mission” Nr. 17 (Éd. du Cerf).

[16] [Translator’s note:] The “fifth column” idiom means “the enemy within” and stems from the Spanish Civil War (originally quinta columna), when it was used to describe four nationalist columns approaching from without and a fifth ready to strike from within. The phrase may have originated with General Emilio Mola or even with Franco; it quickly spread in that context.

[17] On the following and on the “spirituality” of Chabeuil, see the articles of Fr. Nicholas, O.P. (in “La Vie Spirituelle” Dec. 1951), Maurice Giuliani, S.J. (in “Revue Christus” No. 10, April 1956) and Fr. de Soras S. J. (in the magazine “Choisir”).

[18] [Translator’s note:] An illusion to Goethe’s Urworte / Orphisch, from the section Daimon, on fate. We cite here Kirk Wetter’s translation in Demonic History: From Goethe to Present (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2014).

[19] [Translator’s note:] German etymology of Demut, ‘humility’: ‘of courage’.

[20] [Translator’s note:] Proposed etymology of humilis, ‘near to the earth’.

Charles Hughes Huff
Charles Hughes Huff

Charles Hughes Huff is Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Anne Carpenter
Anne Carpenter

Anne Carpenter is Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Mary’s University of California.