Brother Roger’s Immanentized “Conversion”

Did he convert or didn’t he?  According to the purveyors of ecumenical bomfoggery, including Brother Roger’s own Taize community, that’s the wrong question. The concept of conversion, like so many other distinctions between one thing and another in Catholic thought, has vanished in a post-Vatican II haze of ambiguity. But this is only the result of a process that has produced the “immanentized human mind” of Protestant, liberal and Masonic civilization.

Christopher A. Ferrara


Pope John Paul embraces

Brother Roger Schutz

(POSTED 09/10/06 The Remnant ignited an international controversy when it published a newsletter report by the acclaimed French Catholic writer, Yves Chiron, that the late Brother Roger Schutz, who was head of the ecumenical “Taizé community,” had undergone a “discreet” conversion and was really a Catholic when he died. This, Chiron suggested, would explain why Brother Roger was allowed to receive Holy Communion at the hands of then Cardinal Ratzinger during the funeral Mass for John Paul II.  This “discreet” conversion, Chiron reported, took place in 1972, when, in the chapel of the Bishop of Autun, Brother Roger was administered Holy Communion by a Monsignor Le Bourgeouis after he had made “profession of the Catholic Faith.”

The problem with Chiron’s report is that the Taizé  community itself, now headed by a German Catholic,  “Brother Alois,”  has substantially and vehemently contradicted it. The community’s press release of September 6, 2006 essentially claims that Brother Roger’s “discreet conversion” was so discreet that it was not a conversion at all. Chiron’s report of a conversion is dismissed as the claim of a “small newsletter issued by Catholic traditionalist circles that misrepresents his true intentions and defames his memory.”  The community protests that Chiron has misused a document of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity to “support the thesis of a ‘conversion’ undertaken by Brother Roger, although the text says nothing of the kind.”  The press release further notes that the bishop emeritus of Autun has “qualified his words” by “[r]ejecting the term ‘conversion,’” and by declaring to  Agence France Presse: “I did not say that Brother Roger abjured Protestantism, but he showed that he subscribed fully to the Catholic faith.”

If the press release is accurate, Brother Roger’s alleged full subscription to the Catholic Faith never occurred. Rather, says the press release, Monsignor LeBourgeois, “simply gave him communion for the first time, without requiring any other profession of faith from him besides the Creed recited during the Eucharist, which is held in common by all Christians.”  If that is so, then Brother Roger did not actually affirm a single point of Catholic doctrine or dogma at variance with his Protestant convictions.  How, then, would anyone know that Brother Roger “subscribed fully to the Catholic faith”?  And if this is not knowable with certainty, how can it be known that Brother Roger died a Catholic, or that he was Catholic when he received Holy Communion from the hand of Cardinal Ratzinger?

As the press release indignantly declares,  “Whoever speaks of ‘conversion’ in this respect has not grasped the originality of Brother Roger’s search….” Brother Roger is quoted as having said to John Paul II: “I have found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.”  As the press release concludes: “Those who at all costs want the Christian denominations each to find their own identity in opposition to the others can naturally not grasp Brother Roger’s aims. He was a man of communion, and that is perhaps the most difficult thing for some people to understand.”

Hence both Brother Roger and his community insist that in some obscure manner he “reconciled” the “faith of [his] origins”—Lutheranism—with the Catholic faith.  And this reconciliation was not a conversion to Roman Catholicism, but what Brother Roger himself called “my own identity as a Christian.”

No wonder (as I noted on these pages a year ago) in July 2005 the Vatican issued an “informal statement” to the effect that, as Catholic News Service reported, Brother Roger’s reception of Holy Communion at the papal funeral Mass was “all an unfortunate mistake…” As CNS explained: “Brother Roger, it seems, had been moved to a closer vantage point at the start of the Mass and had unwittingly ended up in the section reserved for those receiving Communion from the chief celebrant, Cardinal Ratzinger. When he was wheeled forward, ‘it did not seem possible to refuse him the most Blessed Sacrament,’ the Vatican said. Vatican officials insist that ‘the Catholic rule against shared Communion still holds, and inter-Communion is not practiced at Taize.’” (CNS report, August 24, 2005).  So it seems that the Vatican itself was unwilling to say that Brother Roger was a member of the Catholic Church as of July 2005, despite his alleged “discreet” conversion 23 years earlier.  What sort of “conversion” was this?

Even John Allen of National Catholic Reporter has been skeptical of the alleged conversion of Brother Roger. In an article published in NCR (September 16, 2005) shortly after Brother Roger was stabbed to death during an ecumenical service at Taizé, Allen noted: “Some ecumenists in Rome, for example, keep their distance [from Taizé] because they think Taizé almost pretends that divisions among Christians don't exist, never quite violating rules on matters such as inter-communion, but downplaying the distinctions among the various Christian bodies. This tension was clear, for example, in reactions to the news that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger administered Communion to Schutz at the April 2 funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. Some applauded what they saw as ecumenical generosity, while others complained about a compromise in the church's identity. Some even speculated that perhaps Schutz had secretly ‘converted’ to Catholicism.”

Allen quoted Taizé spokesman, “Brother Emile,” who said that “People underestimated how far he [Schutz] had gone. He was living something that does not yet exist.” Living something that does not yet exist?  What was meant by this nonsense?  Emile attempted to explain the nonsense to Allen. It seems that Schutz had embraced Catholicism without ceasing to be a Lutheran!  “To call Schutz’s embrace of Catholicism a ‘conversion’ would be a kind of category mistake,” Emile told Allen. “What he had achieved was inner reconciliation with Catholicism without any breaking of communion with his origins.”

This strange idea prompted Allen to ask “the $64,000 question—is it Taizé's position that one can be both Catholic and Protestant at the same time?” And here is Emile’s even more nonsensical answer:  “This has to be worked out. The aim is to value one’s own tradition and let go of what is artificially against another's tradition.”

And what was that supposed to mean?  Unsatisfied, Allen persisted: “Is that a ‘yes’?” In reply, Emile offered still more nonsense:  “This can't be understood in traditional categories. Divisions are always very clear, but not the unity underneath them. This should not be judged in a cheap way.” A cheap way?  That was a rather smug and oh-so-French dismissal of the basic rule of thought that there is a difference between one thing and another. Applied to this question, there is a difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, and one cannot claim to be both at the same time.

Allen noted that “Emile quoted a line from Paul Ricouer, a French philosopher who devoted the latter part of his life to Taizé. He was once asked what remained of his Protestantism, and he responded: ‘Everything that is positive, and nothing that is negative.’”  Perhaps this is what passes for profundity in ecumenical thought, but the attentive reader will notice that the statement is utterly meaningless.  It tells us absolutely nothing about the answer to the question how one can claim to be a Catholic while not ceasing to be a Lutheran.

Emile further informed Allen that “You can't understand Taizé if you have a legalistic concept of the church. It’s totally incomprehensible, that you can live this reconciliation. For Brother Roger, Christ is not divided. Our divisions are an accident of human history. He believed that when people give their lives for the gospel, something of the undivided church can emerge.”

So there we have it: the ecumenism practiced by the Taizé community is “totally incomprehensible.”  “Something” of the “undivided church” can emerge, but it will not be the Catholic Church. What, then, will it be? Don’t ask, because, you see, the answer is “incomprehensible.”  (Sound of swelling sitar music.)

What we see at work in the increasingly vexed case of Brother Roger is a kind Zen ecumenism in which human reason is suspended in favor of self-contradiction and bogus “mystery.”  The “legalistic idea” of the Church—namely, that there is, in fact, a Catholic Church, a divinely founded visible institution radically different from Protestant sects—is buried in Zen-like locutions so that the practitioners of this bomfoggery never have to reject Protestant errors and embrace Catholic truth.  But then, that is what “ecumenism” everywhere is all about: an absurd refusal to come to grips with the inescapable reality that, as every Pope before Vatican II insisted, the only way to Christian unity is for those outside the Catholic Church to enter.  The nonsense of ecumenism—a confusion that goes beyond any mere heresy—is what Sister Lucy meant by “diabolical disorientation” in the Church.

The confusion over the “conversion” of Brother Roger, and the novelty of ecumenism as a whole, are but artifacts of a long process of philosophical degradation, beginning with Descartes, that finally took its toll on Catholic theology during and after the Second Vatican Council, at least at the level of common opinion, if not binding pronouncements of the Magisterium as such.  In his masterful study of the development of modern atheism, God in Exile, Cornelio Fabro describes this process as arising from “the indifferent neglect of being.”  In the aftermath of the Protestant “Reformation,” which cast into doubt many of the truths of the revealed religion and produced a profusion of warring sects, philosophy turned from absolute truth toward the subjectivity of thought in the individual subject. That is, philosophy turned from being as the beginning of knowledge—knowledge as the conformity of the mind to the objective reality of the good, the true and the beautiful—to thought or consciousness as the beginning of knowledge.

Hence the Cartesian cogito—I think, therefore I am (cogito ergo sum)—by which Descartes sought to retreat from the storm of uncertainty in post-Reformation thought into the supposed surety of the correspondence within the mind of “clear ideas” to one another.   As Fabro notes, the cogito makes thought the foundation of being, when being is actually the foundation of thought.  Descartes should have said, in accordance with sound philosophy, I am, therefore I think. Resting on the porous philosophical foundation of the cogito, which is essentially the ontological analogue of the Protestant principle of private judgment, theology collapsed into the rubble of Enlightenment philosophy, with religion becoming an exercise in subjective thought rather than the conformity of the mind to the extrinsic and distinct being of the Word Incarnate, and the communication of God’s grace through the external physical realities of the sacraments.

As Fabro writes, this neglect of objective being in favor of the subjectivity of thought “has led, as was inevitable, to the loss of the Absolute.” The cogito, says Fabro, led by degrees to abandonment of the God of religion, the personal God who gives His laws to man, intervenes in history, founds a Church, judges and grants grace. Driven inward by the cogito, religion would tend more and more to derive not from what was received by hearing it from an external source (ex auditu)—God and the Church—but from the thought of the individual human subject pondering matters religious (ex cogito). Religion became entrapped (with philosophy) in the mental tomb of the principle of immanence (from the Latin in + manere = to remain in): truth is to be found in the mind (consciousness), rather than in the mind’s conformity to being that is extrinsic to itself; hence religious truth is to be found in the mind; and, ultimately, God is to be found in the mind, which is nothing other than atheism.

Roger Schutz, it would appear, was a Catholic in his own mind.  His “conversion” was a thoroughly immanentized event that, as his own community maintains, cannot really be called a conversion at all—that is, a turning away from a gravely defective being (the man-made church of Martin Luther) in order to embrace another being: the perfect society of the Catholic Church.  Schutz felt interiorly that he had achieved communion with the Catholic Church through mental operations by which he supposed he had “reconciled” Roman Catholicism with the contrary doctrines of the religion founded by Luther. His version of Catholicism was born of the cogito: I think I am Catholic, therefore I am Catholic.

Schutz’s recitation of the Creed at the time of his putative conversion would represent, therefore, only an affirmation of what he thought the Catholic faith to be, as opposed to what that faith is objectively and what it objectively requires one to believe: particular truths divinely revealed by Christ and the Apostles, communicated in concrete language by the Catholic Church in her infallible definitions, and received ex auditu by the believer. We have no way of knowing if Schutz accepted all these truths, or even understood them, because he went no farther exteriorly—and his community insists upon this point—than to profess a “faith” that is supposedly “held in common by all Christians” by reciting the Creed. But it is manifest that not even the Creed is held in common by all Christians in the Catholic sense of its terms, nor held in common among the Protestant sects themselves.  What faith, then, did Brother Roger profess?  We really do not know.  Only he knew—“within myself,” as he put it.

In the vast haze of ecumenism, the very meaning of Roman Catholicism has been immanentized, reduced to an exercise in human thought, thus becoming in practice merely one of the many collections of thought seeking reconciliation with the others in “ecumenical dialogue.” This reconciliation—the one that Brother Roger performed in his head—does not, of course, require any repudiation of error, because immanentized religion cannot be said to contain error. John Locke, who picked up where Descartes left off by helping to found a deistic common-denominator religion stripped of contentious points of revelation, put it this way in his Letter Concerning Toleration: “everyone is orthodox to himself” and “every church is orthodox to itself.” And so, indeed, was Brother Roger orthodox to himself.

Ecumenism, then, with its conversions that are not conversions, is but one of the innumerable results of the degradation of Catholic thought under the influence of the philosophical and theological errors of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment liberalism, which are the creedal propositions of the Masonic social order that surrounds us and has even penetrated the Church.  One can only hope that good men like Yves Chiron will recognize the magnitude of the problem represented by Catholic confusion over the alleged conversion of Brother Roger.  As Dietrich von Hildebrand famously observed when the post-conciliar crisis had only just begun: “the poison of our epoch is slowly seeping into the Church herself, and many have failed to see the apocalyptic decline of our time.”[1]

[1] Dietrich Von  Hildebrand, The Devastated Vineyard, p. 75.