An armchair thinker about integralism

Artist Jan Toorop's portrait, made in 1907, is probably the best known depiction of Fr. Ariëns.

I’ve been reading part of a biography of Fr. Alphonse Ariëns, titled ‘Er zijn weinig heilige priesters’ (‘There are few holy priests’) by H. Lohman ofm. I have reached the chapters that discuss the difficulties that Fr. Ariëns encountered from certain Catholic circles because of his work for better living standards for workers and the rights of women. A significant amount of that criticism, which seriously affected Fr. Ariëns, came from a small but vocal orthodox circle around the priest Marie Thompson. They were proponent of integralism, a reactionary movement opposed to modernism, which to them also included the separation of church and state, ecumenism and women’s right to vote. Fr. Ariëns was in favour of those, but without denying a shred of his Catholic identity. That was mostly visible in his willingness to work with other Christians in the unions and anti-alcoholism movement and the importance he attached to education for women. He was very active in both those fields. 

What struck me most in those chapters was not so much the opinions and position of the integralists. I think they’re incorrect and so did Pope Benedict XV, who wrote the encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum in 1914. He confirmed there that modernism was “the synthesis of all heresies” (25), but also condemned integralism as a serious excess of anti-modernist criticism. 

The striking thing about Fr. Ariëns and the integralists, as Lohman describes it, was the intensely personal nature of the criticism. Thompson, in various daily and weekly magazines, was keen to condemn any person, layman, priest or bishop, who was not Catholic enough in his opinion. He even stooped to outright lies, which took quite a lot of work from Fr. Ariëns and several other priests to correct. Thompson’s main point seems to have been that any approach towards other Christians or any gesture that was not solidly supported by an almost literal reading of the Bible or the application of Tradition, took away some part of the ‘Catholicity’ of the person making the gesture or the approach. And sicne that person was then, in the opinion of the integralists, ‘less of a Catholic’, he was a suitable target for slander and lies. After all, he was perceived as a threat. 

Lohman’s words about these events , despite that fact that they happened a century ago, were not unfamiliar. Integralism is not dead. We see it in certain circles within and without the Church, and it has found its way into the Internet as well. Perhaps that’s a specific environment where it can flourish. Even a shallow sampling of the Catholic blogosphere will turn up one or more examples of the Thompson variant of integralism, complete with personal attacks and slander. 

It’s something to be watchful about. Integralism, as I understand it following an admittedly limited reading on the subject, is a negative theory. It speaks about what we should not be, what we should not do. Christianity is the polar opposite of that. Jesus Christ teaches us every day anew what we should do and be. His angle of attack, so to speak, allows for a human, no, more than human approach to the problems we face, Rather than attacking our (perceived) opponents and staring blindly at what (we think) they did wrong, Christ teaches us to lead by example. To show and share our own qualities and His gifts through faith. Ultimately that will have a far more lasting effect than rubbing people’s noses in their mistakes.