The Religion of the Humble? Cardinal Pell and the Peril of Institutional Atheism

ABC – Religion and Ethics

Scott Stephens

Prior to entering the conclave that would elect him as Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the opportunity to warn his brother Cardinals against succumbing to an “evil which is so grave” – that of spiritual worldliness. This admittedly strange term was not Bergoglio’s at all, but rather comes from the remarkable final meditation of Henri de Lubac’s book, The Splendour of the Church.

In his chapter on “The Church and Our Lady,” de Lubac points to Mary as “the perfect worshipper,” as the “consummation of the religion of the humble” and, as such, she is “the ideal figure of the Church” and “the mirror in which the whole Church is reflected.” What makes her such is that, in her humility, she directs all people toward the glory of God: “Soli Deo gloria – everything in Mary proclaims that.” For de Lubac, the opposite of this Marian disposition – a disposition which, he insists, belongs to the Church’s “very principle” – is the tendency of the Church to conduct its affairs in a manner that effectively renders it opaque, that arrogates glory to itself by becoming the focus and end of its own activities.

This, according to de Lubac, is a form of “spiritual worldliness” which feigns the appearance of a kind of “other-worldly” orientation but behaves as though God did not exist. De Lubac is here deeply indebted to the English Benedictine Anscar Vonier, Abbot of Buckfast Abbey, who writes in his book, The Spirit and the Bride:

“To become worldly is a peril that is never absent; when we say that worldliness is [the Church’s] snare we mean by worldliness a more subtle thing than is usually meant by this expression. We generally understand by worldliness the love of wealth and luxury amongst the Church’s dignitaries; this is, of course, an evil, but it is not the principal evil. Worldliness of the mind, if it were ever to overtake her, would be much more disastrous for the Church than worldliness of apparel. By worldliness of mind we understand the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on what is the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man …”

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