“Spiritual worldliness”: it is the theological and moral expression of a sin that concerns everyone but, in particular, men of the Church. Dom Vonier was the first to describe it, right in the book The Spirit and the Bride.
Pope Francis, from his first homily onwards, has repeatedly spoken of spiritual worldliness for a reform of the Church that starts from a conversion precisely of those who feel they are already converted. As Catholics, we give in to spiritual worldliness every time we do good, we reject material wealth, luxury and worldliness, but we do it out of humanitarianism, out of moralism, out of a religion of man which seems to have noble overtones, but which it is faith in Jesus. A Church like this, according to Pope Francis, becomes a “welfare NGO” behind which, as Dom Vonier teaches, the devil can hide.
In our day we often hear it repeated that the world is de-Christianized, that even all interest in religious problems is extinguished.
This affirmation, undeniably well founded with respect to the attitude of the masses, appears instead too pessimistic when one considers that quite a few consciences, among the most sensitive, accuse an acute uneasiness and, after having experienced the bleak fruits of the progressive detachment from any idea of the supernatural, they struggle to climb the abyss dug by more than two centuries of secular culture and religious indifference. The man in whom such instances arise, who for Dom Vonier is most often the man of culture, finds in the living reality of his own existence the immediate object of a serious meditation. But he naturally also turns to books, from which he asks for a logical and theoretical scaffolding, not so much to superimpose it on his own experiences, but to validate and harmonize, in the rigor of the system, the data of intuition and his own sensitivity.
In concrete and daily religiosity, as well as in meditative and eschatological religiosity, Dom Vonier sees a constant action, a continuous working of the Holy Spirit, through which other People of the Holy Trinity. A work that can be seen and almost touched by hand within the Bride, or rather the Church, whose constitution and life took place in the light of the Spirit. In reality, when one hears of the Church as the Bride of Christ one thinks of a vague mystical image, without a precise correspondent in real life. While for Dom Vonier the Bride is real, she is concrete, regardless of the walls that compose and delimit her.
«How could the children of the Bridegroom be sad?»
How can the children of the Bride be sad? Dom Vonier wonders. Anyone who welcomes faith in God, in Christ and in the Spirit within himself and cultivates it within and together with the Bride can only be optimistic. The one launched by Dom Vonier is also an appeal to a superior optimism, addressed to the skeptical and resigned world, to the crisis that pervades it, to the anguish of Christians themselves who, seized by the common contagion, have ended up losing sight of the immutable glories of the Church.
When Catholics declare that they are a Church, they take on a very serious responsibility. It is as if a group of people, formed into a well-defined and unmistakable society, proclaimed to the whole world that they form an invincible group of heroes, a society that no power in the world will be able to destroy. Acting like this, underlines dom Vonier, means assuming a frightening responsibility: arousing ferment, provoking hostility, attracting the most bitter criticism, opening the door, in the rest of humanity, to the ruthless attacks of those who act on a biased basis. And so the author asks himself: who would not hesitate, with an air of triumph, to denounce the miseries of a society that proclaims itself divine?
Hatred arises at the very moment in which power or the claim to power is manifested. When the common faith in Christ binds a group of men in a bond of unity and soul of his vital breath, then the benevolent tolerance of strangers turns into fierce hostility.
But this obstinate determination of Catholics to proclaim themselves Church has attracted something worse than the fury of the persecutors: it has provoked that great scandal, which originates from the evident observation that the society which assumes a divine character appears quite different in its life and in its manifestations.
Surely, according to Dom Vonier, if Christianity had preserved that primitive simplicity, by which everyone is free to find Christ by following his own path, to turn to him according to the inclination of his own feeling, many miseries of the spirit would have been spared.
The Spirit became incarnate in the Church, just as Christ became incarnate in human nature. However, for Dom Vonier, it is necessary to distinguish between the sanctity of the Church and her innocence. Holiness is the abundance of works of charity in the Church, innocence is the absence of sin, or at least of mortal sin. The fecundity of the Church in all kinds of good works tends to escape the eyes of many while the faults, real or imagined, of the members of the Church generate scandals and morbidity.
Protestantism’s open attack on Catholicism is now over four hundred years old; the onslaught of modern unbelief has been going on for over two centuries. Has this wave of poison contaminated the Church?
For Dom Vonier missionary action is a path of great hope for the Church and for the Spirit.
The author is a theologian and a man of his time. Today, what he defines as “modern disbelief” has certainly spread and strengthened, but the analysis conducted by dom Vonier is very acute and current. The reading of the introduction by the editors of the work is also very interesting, which helps the reader in understanding the real significance of a writing of similar workmanship.
Dom Anscario Vonier OSB, The Spirit and the Bride (Renzo and M. Cecilia Poggi, edited by), Fiorentina Publishing Library, Florence 2015.
Original title of the work: The Spirit and the BrideBurns Oates & Washington Ltd., London 1935.
Dom Anscar Vonier OSB (1875-1938): Benedictine, then Abbot of Buckfast Abbey, considered one of the greatest theologians of his time and author of manuals on the spiritual life.