Simone Weil On “The Patriotism Of The Church”

Simone Weil was a French Jewish Christian mystic and philosopher. This is an extract (translated by me) of a letter she sent to a priest:

The intellectual obstacles that had stopped me at the threshold of the Church, I can look at them as gone, as long as you do not refuse to accept me as I am. Yet obstacles remain.

After some thought, I think they come down to this. What I am afraid of is the Church as a social thing. Not only because of her stains, but because of the very fact that it is, among other things, a social thing. Not that I am very individualist. I am afraid for the opposite reason. I have within myself a very gregarious tendency. I am naturally very easy to influence, too easy to influence, and especially by collective things. I know that if I had before me right now twenty young Germans singing Nazi songs, a part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness. But this is the way I am. I do not think it is useful to fight directly our natural weaknesses. We must fight ourselves to act as though we did not have those weaknesses under circumstances where our duty demands it imperiously ; and in the ordinary course of life we have to know them, prudently acknowledge them, and try to make good use out of them, because all of them can be turned to good uses.

I am afraid of this patriotism of the Church that exists in Catholic milieus. I mean patriotism in the sense of the sentiment which is granted to an Earthly homeland. I am afraid of it because I am afraid of being contagiously infected by it. Not that I see the Church as unworthy of inspiring such a sentiment. But because I want in myself no such sentiment. The word “want” is improper. I know, I feel with certitude that any such sentiment, whatever its object, is deadly to me.

Saints have approved the Crusades, the Inquisition. I am unable to think they weren’t wrong. I cannot recuse the light of conscience. If I think that on a certain point I see more clearly than them, I who am so much lower than them, I have to conclude that on this point they were blinded by something extremely powerful. That thing is the Church as a social thing. If that social thing hurt them, how badly would it hurt me, I who am so vulnerable to social influences, I who am almost infinitely weaker than them?

No one ever said nor wrote anything that went as far as the words of the Devil to Christ in Saint Luke, about the Kingdoms of this world: “I will give you all this power and all the glory attached to it, because it was given to me, to me and to anyone I share it with.” The result is that the social domain is irreducibly the domain of the Devil. The flesh makes one say “me” and the Devil makes one say “us”; or to say, like the dictators, “I” with a collective meaning. And, according to his own calling, the Devil makes a false imitation of the divine, substitutes of the divine.

By “social” I do not mean everything that is in relation to the city, but only collective sentiments.

I know well that it is inevitable that the Church be also a social thing; otherwise, it would not exist. But insofar as it is a social thing it belongs to the Prince of this world. It is because it is a body that conserves and passes on Truth that there is an extreme danger for all those who, like me, are excessively vulnerable to social influences. Thus, what is most pure and what sullies the most, being made alike and blended into the same words, become a mélange that is almost impossible to pick apart.

“Patriotism of the Church” is indeed a grave evil. Let us be always on guard against it, especially nowadays.


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  • NicholasBeriah Cotta

    This is a very important point to contemplate and you picked a very good quote to embody it.
    I think Church patriotism has to do with defining a “Church within the Church.” To start creating groups within the professed Church body itself is to give weight to a thing that is not a person and is not the Church; in other words, a figment of our imaginations. I always think that every person’s opinions are given consideration until they’re excommunicated and I just assume that if someone’s opinions are dangerous enough, the Holy Spirit would excommunicate them – until then, a base hit that hits the foul line is still a base hit.
    Of course, we must create ideas and groups and build on our ideas, but I think it is good to keep in mind that the ultimate definitions of the Church are guided not by men but by the Holy Spirit.

    • That’s also a problem, but there is also a patriotism of the Church in general.

      • NicholasBeriah Cotta

        What I’m saying is that the “general” patriotism is always a sort of general consensus (like the saints re: the Crusades/Inquisition) that does not come from the Church itself. It comes from some idea or groupthought within the visible Church politic and people mistake a general consensus or groupthink for an idea from the Church. Even the people here on earth who run the visible Church do not embody the entire Church and keeping that in mind will guard against letting the current patriotism unduly influence our actions.
        When the quote says “that it is inevitable that the Church be also a social thing; otherwise, it would not exist” I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is not entirely correct. Our Church is a visible and an invisible entity and the visible aspect is the part subject to sociability and thus the Prince of this world. By keeping in mind the difference between the visible and invisible Church, it will help guard your thoughts against worldly patriotism.

  • Nathaniel Torrey

    Thanks for translating this, Simone Weil is one of my favorite Christian thinkers.

    That being said, I find that she often veers into this “holier than thou, Church of one in order to remain untainted” mentality that I find distressing. The patriotism of Church as institution (as opposed to Church as Church) is a problem and it is one that the Orthodox in America feel acutely (Church as cultural bazaar-o center). But can any of us really shirk that burden? Do we really believe that God would give us a pass on being a part of His Body just because we think it will lead to certain temptations?

    Trying not to be too harsh, I really like her stuff! But this tendency needs to be checked in someway.

    • I agree, and she does veer in that territory in the rest of the letter, which is why I just excerpted this part. If I’d been her correspondent, I would have found things to retort. But I see this patriotism of the Church everywhere, and it is a grave evil.

      • BTP

        I take the point, but: don’t you think the danger is very much the other way, these days? Does it do any good, when the Republic is marching on the Vendee, to wring one’s hands over too much patriotism for the Church?

        My point is just that, between a crowd cheering a heretic being burnt and a crowd cheering a Republican marriage, one should probably flip the patriotism switch.

      • I guess I don’t understand. Maybe because to me, the Church is everything right that I see wrong in America and France.

    • Antiphon411

      “…Simone Weil is one of my favorite Christian thinkers…”

      Saints preserve us! The woman seems to have been more inspired by the devil than the Holy Ghost.

      I must admit I have never been interested to know anything about her, so I had to spend the last few minutes reading up on her (…yes, on wikipedia…): a bolshevik who supported (and aided in!) the rape of the Spanish Church by the communists during the Spanish Civil War. She disdained to be baptized and apparently thought that all “religions” contained elements of revelation.

      It is interesting that she did not like the Crusades or Inquisition, but apparently loved Bolshevism and the communist crusade against Catholic Spain. I guess it wasn’t the violence that she abhorred, just the cause, viz. the defense of the Catholic Church.

      You might try reading a bit more broadly. There have been some other Christian authors. Alas, some of them probably loved the Church too much, though.

  • Jim Christiansen

    I love your blog, but I’m not convinced that patriotism of the Church is a “grave evil.” True, where the Church as a social entity is opposed to Christ — where, for example, it is anti-Semitic, or indifferent to the poor — then must prefer Christ to the Church. But where, as is more ususually the case, the “Church social” is merely beset by the sluggish imperfections inherent in an entity composed of fallen sinners, then I think the worse sin is to hold back, to prefer the purity of one’s own isolation — which I think was Simone Weil’s sin.
    Nor do I see Church patriotism as particularly pernicious at the present time. On the contrary, it seems to me that in our time we tend to be insufficiently patriotic — to remember the Inquistion, but to forget that for a thousand years, every school and hospital and library in Europe was maintained by the Catholic Church, for the glory of God.

  • Antiphon411

    What a load of nonsense!

    Step aside St. Dominic, Pope St. Pius V, Blessed Urban II, St. Bernard, St. Raymond of Penyafort, St. Louis and all you other gravely evil men who thought that the Church must be defended against her enemies both internal and external.

    Next time we pray the Leonine Prayers at the end of the Mass, I shall cover my ears and think of Simone Weil as the priest prays “for the liberty and exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church.”

    Incidentally, I think there is probably more to worry about from those who hate the Church in our day, rather than those who love Her too much.

  • Antiphon411

    “Saints have approved the Crusades, the Inquisition. I am unable to think they weren’t wrong.”

    And I have never seen the least thing wrong with the Crusades or Inquisition in principle. Of course there were abuses, as there are in all things–but in principle they were good things. Many holy men and women supported them and were participants in them. Even before I was Catholic I thought that the Crusades were a glorious thing. Once I entered the Church the logic of the Inquisition became perfectly clear.

    • Paul S.

      One thing in particular I remember from my Seton Homestudy high-school history books (written by Ann & Warren Carroll) was the Crusades. It’s unfortunate that all of the Crusades are lumped together. The first few were clearly just, though the latter ones had less and less going for them.
      Re: the Inquisition, I understood that the nations that had them were interested in them as a matter of national security – Spain vs the Moors, Protestant English… and if everyone was an intellectually pure Catholic, then they wouldn’t be undermining the nation. However, while error has no rights, forcing someone to accept the truth at the point of a sword is incorrect… and no doubt lead to people who were Catholic in name while still holding to their past beliefs.

      • Antiphon411

        Yes, there were good and bad Crusades. An interesting academic book on the subject is Jonathan Riley-Smith’s The Crusades: A Short History (Yale, 1987). He treats the entire movement from the Holy Land to Spain to the south of France to the Baltics. Overall his assessment is positive (and he is an academic historian, mind you!).

        The same might be said about the Inquisition–there were many Inquisitions. The general principle is sound: Heresy must be suppressed. Heretics have no right to corrupt their neighbors and speak publicly against the Faith. Let us remember that one target of the Spanish Inquisition was Jews and Mahometans who pretended to convert (voluntarily!), but continued to practice their false “religions” in private.

        The Inquisition was not concerned to “forc[e] someone to accept the truth at the point of a sword”. It was rather prevent the spread of heresy. It was a thoroughly Catholic society (someone get the smelling salts for Pascal-Emmanuel!) in which those who dissented from the Church’s teachings were expected to keep their errors to themselves.

        I see less of a problem with the Crusades/Inquisition (with their human faults) than with the histrionics of a John Paul II going around apologizing for everything rather than attempting to explain what was really at issue–perhaps he didn’t know? Some Catholics seem to me to be rather eager to accept the Black Legend about the Church spread by Her enemies. I suppose “St.” Simone Weil would approve.

        • Paul S.

          I’m not defending Weil. Of course it was regrettable JPII apologized for the Crusades. But since the American experiment mostly succeeded, a world of one-religion nations is clearly inferior. Sure the American Catholic church leaves much to be desired, but that doesn’t mean Charles Carroll was wrong when he signed his name to the Declaration. That’s Zmirak’s point here: It’s fantasy at this point to daydream about a Catholic theocracy.

          • Antiphon411

            “…since the American experiment mostly succeeded…”


            “It’s fantasy at this point to daydream about a Catholic theocracy.”

            No, daydreaming is all we can do. It would be fantasy to imagine that Catholic confessional states will be restored.

            And, please, “theocracy”?

          • Paul S.

            Ok then, Ignatius J Reilly…

          • Antiphon411

            Okay, then, yourself.

            I came to Patheos like Diogenes with a lamp looking for a man. I have met with about the same success he did. Instead of finding robust Catholicism, I found the V2-JPIItheGreat-ecumenical echo chamber. This will be my last comment here.

            Enjoy the canonizations tomorrow! Pray an extra set of Luminous Mysteries! Maybe Francis will add some more…the Nebulous Mysteries or perhaps the Ambiguous Mysteries. Also, stay tuned for the beatification of Paul VI–coming your way!

          • Paul S.

            That last paragraph hardly applies to me, sir. But I wish you well as you continue the search.

          • I live in America, and I don’t think the American experiment has succeeded. In fact, I largely believe it has failed.

      • Actually, “people who were Catholic in name while still holding to their past beliefs.” were the ones persecuted by the Inquisition in Spain and Italy, at the very least. It wasn’t “the Jews” or “The Islamics” in general (most of those had already retreated) it was the fake Christians who couldn’t be trusted in secular matters that were the victims.

        And even in that, the number was far, far smaller than most people today think.

  • When did Simone live? And did she have the same problem with the modern secular Inquisition against climate change deniers?