Under The Gaze Of The Black Madonna

Few other ideas have so fascinated the imaginations of those on the right than the idea of a re-Christianization of Europe. Faced with the dual threats of mass Muslim immigration to the continent and the demographic crater caused by decadent secularism, it would seem to be the only way Western Civilization can save itself. Much of Benedict XVI’s papacy was predicated on this concept–the best illustration of this impulse was his establishment of the “Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization” to coordinate efforts and increase dialogues concerning how Western society should be re-evangelized.

However, these earnest and pious discussions where ultimately answers to the wrong question. The real issue was never whether or not Europe should be re-evangelized but, rather, whether or not it can be.

No other recent literary work, fiction or nonfiction, has attempted to answer this question with more honesty than Michel Houellebecq’s Submission. The book received much fanfare due to its scandalizing near-future premise: a peaceful Muslim takeover of a spiritually exhausted France.

Most of the novel’s publicity has come from the negative reviews of unsophisticated progressives, who decried its allegedly “Islamophobic scaremongering.” This charge can not cease to bemuse anyone who has read the book, as not only is Islam presented in a relatively positive light, but it isn’t even the main subject of the narrative. The novel’s real subject of scorn isn’t Islam, or even the played out secularist hedonism Houellebecq caricatures so well. The real subject of scorn is Europe’s lost faith: the Catholic Church itself.

The main plotline of Submission is a kind of classic spiritual journey set against political upheaval. The protagonist François is a moderately successful academic who specializes in the 19th-century decadent author Joris-Karl Huysmans. His life is one of similar decadence; François’s middle age orbits mostly around smoking, seducing his students, and selecting an appropriately appealing microwave dinner when he returns home to his empty studio apartment. Like Huysman himself, who in middle age left his libertine existence to convert to Catholicism, François seems more than ready to embrace a more transcendent solution. Houellebecq’s original intent for the novel had been as a Christian conversion tale, as he told the Paris Review:

But my project was very different at the beginning. It wasn’t meant to be called Soumission—the first title was La Conversion. And in my original project, the narrator converted, too, but to Catholicism. Which is to say, he followed in Huysmans’s footsteps a century later, leaving naturalism to become Catholic. And I wasn’t able to do it.

This failed Catholic conversion stands at the center point of the novel and is the event through which all the preceding and following events can properly be understood. François leaves the chaos and political upheaval of Paris for the tranquility of the French countryside and finds himself drawn to Rocamadour and especially its legendary and ancient shrine to the Virgin Mary. François stands before the Black Madonna and is struck by its mysterious beauty:

It was a strange statue. It bore witness to a vanished universe. The Virgin sat rigidly erect; her head, with its closed eyes, so distant that it seemed extraterrestrial, was crowned by a diadem. The baby Jesus–who looked nothing like a baby, more like an adult or even an old man–sat on her lap, equally erect; his eyes were closed, too, his face sharp, wise, and powerful, and he wore a crown of his own. There was no tenderness, no maternal abandon in their postures. This was not the baby Jesus; this was already the king of the world. His serenity and the impression he gave of spiritual power–of intangible energy–were almost terrifying.

This vanished universe François bears witness to is none other than the lost world of Medieval Christendom and its muscular, unapologetic faith, a faith so incredibly different than the Catholicism of the contemporary West. As François noted:

This superhuman image was a world away from the tortured, suffering Christ of Matthias Grunewald, which had made such a deep impression on Huysmans. For Huysmans the Middle Ages mean the Gothic period, really the late Gothic: emotionally expressive, realistic, moralizing, it was already closer to the Renaissance than to the Romanesque. I remembered a conversation I’d had, years before, with a history professor at the Sorbonne. In the early Middle Ages, he’d explained, the question of individual judgment barely came up. Only much later, with Hieronymus Bosch, for example, do we see those terrifying images in which Christ separates the cohort of the chosen from the legion of the damned.

Although temporarily enraptured and hypnotized by the gaze of the Black Madonna, François is ultimately unable to follow her beckoning call. Not for lack of allure, but due to the fact that the Madonna in whose presence he knelt no longer existed in the soul of the Church that had been built around her. The distinction between the awful spiritual power of the Black Madonna and the Catholics who venerated her could not have been starker.

Throughout the novel, François continually notes the distinctive, milquetoast form of “Humanitarian” Catholicism he found practiced by the contemporary members of the Church. This stood out to François, especially in regards to the nativist movement led by Marine Le Pen, which remained the only barrier left to the full Islamization of the country. While Le Pen herself was Catholic, François noted, her voters were distinctly secular, since France’s Catholics “care too much about welfare and the Third World” to ever bring themselves to support her candidacy. François again sees  this brand of Catholicism at the shrine of the Black Madonna herself:

I sat in the next-to-last row; attendance was sparse. Most of the audience was made up of young people in jeans and polo shirts, all with those open, friendly faces that for whatever reason you see on young Catholics… The alexandrines rang out rhythmically in the stillness, and I wondered what the patriotic, violent-souled Peguy could mean to these young Catholic humanitarians…did they love their homeland? Were they ready to give up everything for their country? I felt ready to give up everything, not really for my country, but in general.

Ultimately, it is this disconnect that thwarts François’s conversion to Catholicism. Between the Ancient Christian faith he sees within the terrifying majesty of the Black Madonna’s gaze and the banal, pseudo-Arian humanitarianism preached from the pulpits of the contemporary Church. It was hard not to conclude that the Christianity of the Black Madonna was as inaccessible as the very 11th century that had built her. Some event, both catastrophic and violent, had happened between then and now, forever severing François and by extension France itself, from the strength and virility of the faith the Black Madonna represented. She now stood silent, as a simultaneously both a witness to a forgotten past and a judge upon a present that could only be unrecognizable to her. François ends his journey with a bitter realization: “That old queer Nietzsche had it right; Christianity was, at the end of the day, a feminine religion.”

Does such insight not drive so much of the despair of the Right? After all, how does one revive a “Christendom” without a Christianity?

The popular intellectual parlor game of “where the West went wrong” has been played over and over again. Theories abound, with everyone from Martin Luther to Saint Augustine being forwarded as a prime suspect in the “decline of the West” and the rise of the Enlightenment. Catholic traditionalists like to point to William of Ockham and nominalism as the moment of Modernity’s birth and the beginning of the end of Western Christendom. The Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, tend to locate the crisis as having originated perhaps in the work of Aquinas, with his importation of Aristotelian rationalism into Christian theology, thus giving rise to a to a fastidious and suffocating Scholastic rationalism.

Oswald Spengler, the melancholy German chronicler of Western decline, was more well read than Nietzsche and had the advantage of possessing a far deeper knowledge of Christianity than his more famous predecessor. This enabled him to forward a diagnosis that, if not ultimately more precise, was at least more quixotic and interesting.  Spengler was able to distinguish between the organic “Magian” Christianity of the first millennium and the acutely “Faustian” variety to which Nietzsche had been subjected to in his native Germany. As he states in The Decline of the West:

The Moral Imperative is Faustian and only Faustian. It is quite wrong to associate Christianity with the moral imperative. It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity.–and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction. The “it” became “I” the passion-charged centre of the world, the foundation of the great Sacrament of personal contrition. Will-to-power even in ethics, the passionate striving to set up a proper morale as a universal truth, and to enforce it upon humanity, to reinterpret or overcome or destroy everything otherwise constituted.

As Spengler states, this particular interpretation of Christianity remains a Faustian phenomenon which would have been completely foreign to the eyes and ears of the men who carved Rocamadour’s Black Madonna.

It is the religion of our “enlightened” humanitarians and social workers, of Immanuel Kant and G.W.F Hegel, the religion of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, as well as of the Argentine Jesuit, who currently sits on the throne of Saint Peter. It is the desire for the establishment of a neutral morality deducible by reason alone–a neutral morality that can transcend culture, biology, religion and even the very Christian gospel that spawned it.

The Grace dispensed by the Black Madonna’s gaze transformed nature, but the grace preached by acolytes of the Faustian God can only destroy that which it seeks to save.  Every facet of the natural order of the world will be sacrificed to the Faustian god of “Reason” and “Progress” in hopes of achieving Hegel’s violent Gnostic fantasy of the “Absolute Spirit”. As Albert Camus observed in his brilliant meditation “Helen’s Exile”:

Our Europe, on the other hand, off in pursuit of totality, is the child of disproportion. She negates beauty, as she negates whatever she does not glorify. And, through all her diverse ways, she glorifies but one thing, which is the future rule of reason…Our Reason has driven all away. Alone at last, we end up by ruling over a desert. What imagination could we have left for that higher equilibrium in which nature balanced history, beauty, virtue and which applied the music of numbers even to blood-tragedy? We turn our backs on nature; we are ashamed of beauty. Our wretched tragedies have a smell of the office clinging to them, and the blood that trickles from them is the color of printer’s ink.

It is this Faustian Christianity, with its perverse idolatry of universal “reason,” which gave birth to the “Hollow Men” of T.S. Eliot’s eponymous poem and the “Last Men” against whom Nietzsche so justifiably railed. The Christianity to which Houellebecq could simply not bring himself to submit his protagonist.

Faustian Christianity led its current representative, Pope Francis, to condemn the Islamic attack that ended in the martyrdom of one of his own priests merely as another example of “absurd violence.” He continued and stated that it wasn’t fair to “equate Islam with violence,” that it was ultimately a religion which “sought peace” and equated the recent orgy of Islamic terror attacks to Catholics who kill their girlfriends.

When faced with such displays of moral cowardice, of such transparent dishonesty, is it any wonder that François (serving as a stand-in for France and all of Western Europe) could not bring himself to convert? To join a religion that no longer even believed in the tenets of its own faith? Is one not forced to agree with Nietzsche? To recognize this Faustian Christianity as merely the milquetoast creed of Hollow Men, nothing more than an empty form of Trotskyism with a Catholic face?

The West and its people are in crisis and as Heidegger so perceptively observed: “Only a God can save us.” But if a new salvation is to appear it will not be at the hands of the god of Faustian Christianity and his Grand Inquisitors–a god who demands his followers perform a Consolamentum of self-immolation to atone for their sin of merely existing, who is worshiped by a camp of saints dedicated solely to engendering the sanctimonious collective suicide of their own societies, in the mad hope that it will cleanse them of their original sin: the sin of being born European.

It is in the face of this pitiless religion of ressentiment that the West, if it is to save itself, must relearn the value of Blasphemy, of the feel of whips and cords in its hands as it begins the defenestration and eventual restoration of the Church which has been desecrated for so long.

Only then will her enemies relearn that most primal of all sensations, which is the beginning of all wisdom: fear.

This fight for restoration, is a defense of beauty itself, as Camus noted: “All those who are struggling for freedom today are ultimately fighting for beauty.” Only once the Black Madonna’s gaze is freed from her Modernist tomb, guarded with vigilance by earnest “humanitarians” like Francis and his band of resentful eunuchs, will Europe finally, perhaps, be able to return to her. And on that day, if it ever comes, perhaps François will pray, and mouth something like Peguy’s own words of repentance:

Mother, Behold your sons who fought so long
Weigh them not as one weighs a spirit,
But judge them as you would judge an outcast
Who steals his way home along forgotten paths

 


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34 Comments

  1. ConantheContrarian August 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Will the Identitarian movements in various European countries help revive the belief in Jesus Christ and in a more muscular Christianity? Is there an underlying Christian element to Identitarian movements? I am aware of these movements, but I don’t know enough about them to have any hope in them and in Europe.

    1. Well, I know the French right has a strong traditionalist Catholic element. They also have that peculiarly French situation of a bunch of agnostics advocating a greater role for the Catholic Church as I understand it as well.

      Now Britain First has an overtly evangelical plank to it. Greece is in a weird situation, in that I think elements of the Orthodox Church are involved in movements there, but Golden Dawn tried to revive the worship of the Greek gods back in the 70s (that’s a classic new right panic move right there).

      Can’t speak to Italy, Spain, or the Nordic countries.

  2. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?

  3. Well-written and perceptive on the true subject of Soumission.

    The idea of ‘Faustian Christianity’ I’d heard before but I suddenly find very interesting and double-sided; it sounds elegant and has a ring of truth, but I am not sure what that truth really is just yet… there is psychological depth and dynamism to Goethe’s Faust, who is, let’s say, not very Christian (cavorting with witches, devils, pagan gods, etc.) until ‘redeemed’ against his reason and ambition by the grace of the eternal-feminine.

    Spengler takes the non-Christian Faustian and claims this man changed Christianity to be more morally individualist. However, the Christianity that Faust returned to in the story is not about the ‘I’, but about the submission of the ‘I’ to a feminine ‘Them’ (i.e., a feminine archetype rather than a particular woman). Perhaps also the Heideggerian ‘Them’?

    The final, Christian Faust is not what Faustian man means to Spengler–he has in mind Faust the scholar, the ambitious reasoner. This Faust is not so subservient to the feminine, which seems a mismatch to our current Christianity and the Christianity that saved Faust.

    However, this double-sidedness might be a strength of the image rather than a weakness. There is something initially compelling to me about describing our Christianity as a two-faced combination of early-Faustian and late-Faustian. It actually has done something of a split into one religion turned to more rationalized and individualistic morality, together with a second religion turned to saving femininity, softness, and redemption for the individuals who long to return back to the fold. The “I” and the “They” expand in role at the expense of the “Us” in the masculine frame. The “Us” becomes dominant in the feminine. (And so reciprocally the “I” becomes more masculinized/rationalized and the “Us” more feminized/mysticized.)

    But that’s all preliminary word salad brainstorming. What I mean to say is, again: well done. The article combines several familiar ingredients in a thought-provoking way. I wouldn’t have been so struck this time by “Faustian Christianity” without the thoughtful links to Soumission, Heidegger, etc., and I’m sure the article will inspire more, other thoughts later, also.

  4. The Restoration in the Church is coming.

    Look to the SSPX.

  5. thinking about it August 11, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    You can’t have an identitarian movement based around a universalist religion that values compassion and charity (Christianity) over xenophobia and hatred(Islam)
    Abandon it. Come back to your ancestral naturalist Gods, the philosophy of Plotinus, the rituals of the Romans.

  6. “Abandon [Christianity]. Come back to your ancestral naturalist Gods, the philosophy of Plotinus, the rituals of the Romans.”

    This may or may not be the optimal solution for those who a) know exactly what Roman family they descend from, and b) on that basis, additionally know just which household cult in particular they’re supposed to observe. For anybody else, it’s absurdly superficial, an identitarianism with a phony identity.

    1. In time it won’t be.

      Its a fake till your grandchildren make it, to mangle an American expression. The first generations who build the new faiths and rituals from the old won’t necessarily be the ones who benefit the most anyway.

      Its for our future and our posterity.

      Granted not an easy path but I suspect one that is worthwhile. It among those has the most likelihood of removing the crippling guilt and tendencies to self abnegation so many modern Europeans have . They don’t exist in Heathen or Pagan thinking.

      Christianity for all its virtues still is foreign, a Universal Judaism mixed with bits and pieces of European folk-ways , maybe and I mean only maybe, its time has come and gone and its time to try something else.

      1. Only problem is, the pagan Roman religion is no more resistant to corruption and degeneration than the Christian Roman religion. Indeed, it’s rather more so.

      2. If our societies have reached the point where they aren’t able to operate Christianity any longer, then they won’t be able to operate its predecessor forms, either. Materialist political ideologies with the external trappings of religion (e.g. milquetoast Christianity), or which carry or duplicate some religious-type themes (e.g. pseudo-Puritan SJW activism), will continue to act as surrogate vehicles for the satisfaction of the religious impulse. On the bright side, the West probably won’t be converting to Islam en masse any time soon.

        1. “On the bright side, the West probably won’t be converting to Islam en masse any time soon.”

          Why not? And you left an open gate with “anytime soon.” If they believe, or pretend to believe, in “human rights” they will. They will become dhimmis. Meanwhile, the rich will insulate themselves.

          1. If Westerners in fact end up forced to convert, entryists are going do to Islam what they’ve already done to Christianity; Islam will be butchered beyond recognition into Leftist/SJW political ideology with mosques, and before the more orthodox Mohammedans even understand what’s happening to them. I can already imagine assorted Western entryists insisting that the true meaning of jihad is a call for moar anti-racist social justice activism, that dhimmitude really implies love and tolerance for all faiths, and so on like that. The poor old Islamic trads are going to rue the day they forced submission on the White devils…

          2. LOL. I dunno. A few neck chops and head rolls streaming live might cause second thoughts.

      3. All this talk of God and Gods, religions and rituals and faiths and progeny, and not one mention of Truth, or a concern for what is true.

        Is religion nothing to you but a plaything? A tool or weapon to be wielded to your end? “What matter is the truth, we are dying and need a weapon! That is all the truth I need know!” is the cry of imbeciles.

        If you make God a servant of your politics, or of your flesh, you are doomed before you begin. You don’t even believe your “faith” in that case, how will your sons? If you make your flesh and your politics and your life a servant of God however, what can stand against you? When you serve God, who opposes you, opposes the Lord himself.

        Laudate Dominum.

  7. If the true Pope, Benedict XVI, do not believe in catholic teaching and traditions, as it’s the case with his declared “Teilhardism”, there is no way to re-Christianize Europe without the rebirth of the Church from its ashes.

  8. Interestingly, Plotinus was profoundly anti-Christian. Not so the school of thought for him founded. As Troeltsch affirmed, Catholicism is the last conquest of the classical culture.

    1. You’re probably thinking of Porphyry since Plotinus did not mention Christianity in any of his writing.

      1. Mostly true. Plotinus was a terrible writer and it was Porphyry who gave the final form (Six Enneads) to the teacher’s writings. Plotinus considered Christianity “a fraud that is taking over the world”.

  9. It is in the face of this pitiless religion of ressentiment that the West, if it is to save itself, must relearn the value of Blasphemy . . .

    Excellent. Defy the god Ressentiment. It flows through all institutions and individuals. This weird, sexless god has deeply inculcated itself into being. As antidote to the poison observe steadfast counter-ritual and focus your mind on powerful mythical images.

  10. I think what appealed to the Traditionalist School ( Guenon, Evola, Schuon, and now Dugin) was the possibility of including within the Judaic-Islamic-Christian religions the pre-Christian pagan religions, from Nativism to the Vedas—although of these men Guenon seems to to have been more centered on finding mystical truths wherever they may be. Schuon was on the right track when he studied Native American religions as reflecting ancient religious traditions from Northern Europe and Asia, especially since it seems that there could have been Cro-Magnon type Solutreans in America before the Asians.

    But with all due respect I believe this all adds up to a dead end regarding future religious philosophy, especially when the Traditionalist School turns away from the modern world and rejects Western science in their mystical or religious pronouncements. The real synthesis comes from including science in religion (Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism does at least try to include modern science.) The real religious problem comes from the non-material spiritualism of both paganism and traditional religions, which now need to take a secondary backseat to the vital evolutionary elements of religion.

    The ancient and traditional religions all advocated the Inward Path of asceticism to experience the so-called non-material God Within, applying ascetic methods from sweat lodges to monasteries. But that Inward Path was only symbolic of the Outward Path of material evolution to real supermaterial Godhood, which will be certainly aided by modern science. The real illusion is not the materialism defined as illusion from Nativism and Platonism to the Traditionalist School, the real illusion is the so-called spiritual, non-material God, which was, and is, only a symbolic hint of the Outward Path of material evolution to real supermaterial Godhood.

    This brings Traditionalism to Theological Materialism, where the old Inward symbolic God is conservatively included but transformed. Can Traditionalism accept it? I believe a positive future for evolving life, and attaining Godhood, depend on it.

    1. Kenneth, do you believe in human rights?

      1. Before we define human rights we should first define real human nature, which I think has little resemblance to the view of human nature that now rules the West in the guise of the political correctness of cultural Marxism, whose universalism and equality came off religious errors in defining real human nature and human rights…I say begin with the science of sociobiology (E. O. Wilson version) then see if its views on human nature and human rights can can fit into reformed religion and reformed politics. That fits the healthy pattern of conservatism. I also think a new reformed religious philosophy can grow from there…Religion could die without it. Or something like Islam will rise with more vigor than the cultural Marxists in not allowing such studies as the largely biological origin of cultural behavior.

    2. That vision is exactly the same “Teilhardism” shared by Benedict XVI.
      See Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: The Heart of Matter, Harcourt, 1978.

      1. The big difference here is Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s God remains, as usual, non-material, spiritual, and uncreated, whereas the Godhood of theological materialism is supermaterial and only evolved to in the material world.

        1. Teilhard de Chardin thought the Christ incorporated to all matter through evolution.
          “It is Christ, in very truth, who saves, – but should we not immediately add that at the same time it is Christ who is saved by Evolution?” (Op. cit. p. 92)

  11. Very well written but I think it misses that the ancient Romans regarded Christianity as a religion for slaves and women.

    Everything good that Christianity has came from the Romans.

    Civic religion is a wonderful thing, especially when the rightful rulers do not believe it.

    1. This is a popular charge given the little evidence for it. The major anti-Christian rhetoric from ancient Rome does not point out the membership of the Church as its chief concern. Rather it accuses it of blasphemous or perverse rituals due to the secrecy surrounding the Sacraments in those days. It also doubts the patriotism of the Church – quite wrongly, given that Christians fought in the military and practiced Christ’s injunction to “give unto Caesar what it Caesar’s” in all things but religious devotion. Moreover, Roman noble and/or wealthy families were members of the Church from its earliest days. The martyrs Marcus and Marcellian, Agnes the Virgin-Martyr, and the controversial Origen are some examples.

      1. Glad you brought that up, I had a professor way back who was interested in Christian involvement in the Roman military. Interestingly enough Christianity had a reputation as a soldiers religion, similar to Mithraism. A lot of the condemnations of Church leaders to military service had more to do with the pagan nature of the Sacramentum of the time (with an attitude that if you converted after you had already taken the Sacramentum, that ship had sailed and you didn’t necessarily have to leave the service). Additionally the Romans started offering a non pagan version that would be acceptable to Christian recruits.

    2. thinkinga bout it August 12, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      Interesting, Early Christianity being thought of as a religion for women and slaves. Sounds a lot like the Democratic coalition of today.

      Adds credence to Moldbug’s claim that modern Progressivism is, at its core, not very different from Christianity.

      Meaning all the Christian writers popping up on Social Matter are Entryists. The Cathedral’s shock troops, camouflaged in alt-right clothes, leaving the door ajar for more egalitarianism and universalism and “compassion”.

      1. This is Nietzsche’s gloss; it was not a disinterested gloss.

        You’re not a Moldbug completist.

      2. Christian writers popping up on Social Matter are entryists? Hmm. I seem to recall Social Matter’s early days having more Christian–especially Catholic–writers than not. To the best of my knowledge NRx has never been inimical to Christianity per se which is more than what I can say for the Identitarian alt-right stream, unfortunately.

        1. Yep, your analysis is accurate.

  12. I call balognia on “faustian christianity.” Roman Catholicism was doing just fine until Vatican-2, when the weasel infiltrators turned it into a shitty form of protestantism, lacking only in gay priestesses. Latin Mass and SSPX types will revive it if it ever revives.
    I’m not sure Spengler would have agree with your characterization of “faustian christianity” but if he did, he was wrong. FWIIW, Spengler thought a revived Russian “tragic Dostoyevskian Christianity” would be the next great civilization. I always thought that was a weird thing to say, but they certainly look in better shape in many ways than the West.

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