Seven unpublished lectures on faith
by Francois Varillon
Collected and presented by Dominique Salin
Lessius/Jesuit Editions, 180 p., €19
The Jesuit François Varillon (1905-1978) cannot be said to be the man of a single book. Nevertheless, it is through his Joy of believing, joy of living, published posthumously for the first time in 1981, that the author of The Humility of God (1974) and The Suffering of God (1975), is the most known. Sold in more than one hundred thousand copies, this book which presented the Christian faith at new costs, touched many readers, Christians or still in search.
In recent years, François Varillon still speaks, through the re-edition of some of his books or the publication of unpublished texts taken from his personal papers or from notes taken by others during retreats or conferences. This is indeed the case of this last work which takes up the text of seven lectures given at the Collège de la Trinité in Béziers in 1974 and 1975, collected and presented by the Jesuit Dominique Salin. Their themes each time touch on subjects as important as they are sensitive to the content of the Christian faith: original sin; miracles; the sacraments; the death of Christ for us; the Eucharist; the meaning of death for the Christian; Tradition and traditionalism, presented as an “error denounced by Vatican I”.
A place left to mystery
As usual, the author is always simple and profound. It is often based on examples drawn from everyday life or even sometimes on personal experiences. Of course, almost half a century later, certain elements may seem a little dated to today’s reader, such as the frequent allusions to Marxism.
That being so, Father Varillon generally remains highly topical and always opens the mind and heart of his reader to spiritual realities. He also doesn’t want to answer everything, leaving open questions about the mystery. Thus, for example, from the first chapter on original sin, he writes about evil: “There will always be an ultimate why to which it will not be possible to answer. If evil could be explained, it would no longer be evil, it would enter into an intelligible system”…
On miracles, he offers this fine reflection: “The public life of Jesus is in a way squeezed between two refusals of miracles. The public life of Jesus begins in the desert. Satan said to him, “You should perform a miracle: turn stones into bread.” But Jesus refuses. (…) At the end, at Calvary, the soldiers say to him: “If you are the son of God, come down from the Cross.” Jesus did not come down. This is where the main thing is. A God who does not intervene all the time. A God who respects his creature enough not to manipulate it. »
Transubstantiation, a word that has become unintelligible
On the Eucharist, “food which constitutes the mystical body of Christ”, he launches an invitation which will perhaps astonish certain readers: “Avoid the word of the Council of Trent, which is not false since it was adopted by the Church for several centuries, but which has become absolutely unintelligible to our contemporaries, is the word: transubstantiation, that is to say change of substance. It is a language that we can no longer maintain, because, for our contemporaries, this concept of substance has nothing in common with what was, for the Council of Trent, the concept of substance”! Even if he cannot find another word that is completely adequate, he suggests using the word “conversion” or, for children, “transformation”.
Varillon finally offers a reflection which articulates with accuracy Tradition and Church as well as Revelation, Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. “In the Church, it is tradition that comes first,” he wrote. The Bible, which is the book of the Church, was born in tradition and, to say more, the Bible was born in tradition. Tradition precedes Scripture, Scripture is the writing of a living tradition. We sometimes imagine that there is first Scripture, say the Gospel, and then Tradition, just as we imagine that there is first the Gospel, and then the Church; it’s wrong ” ! In short, a little book to read without moderation and to be read around you.
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