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Jean Mouroux and the Christian Sense of Man (1943)


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Juan Luis Lorda |

Jean Mouroux's work The Christian Sense of Man, original and panoramic, represented a great advance in the exhibition of the Christian image of the human being, contributed to Gaudium et spes, and maintains its validity and interest.

Jean Mouroux signed the foreword to this book in Dijon on October 3, 1943. He probably did so at seminar where he was trained, taught for many years (1928-1967) and died (1973). Practically his whole life was devoted to seminar, except for a two-year licentiate degree in letters in Lyon, which were very enriching for him because he met De Lubac and established a long-lasting relationship. In fact, this book, like others of his, was published in the collection Théologie (Aubier) directed by the Jesuits of Fourvière, with the number issue 6. It was translated into Spanish and republished by Palabra (Madrid 2001), an edition that we use.

The date also deserves attention, because in 1943 France was occupied by German troops and in the midst of the world war. But Jean Mouroux, like De Lubac and others, was convinced that the most profound remedy for that terrible crisis was Christian renewal. And that gave him the courage to work.

A consistent work

From his position as a professor at seminar in a "provincial" city (as they still say in Paris), he knew how to create a consistent work. He chose his readings well and procured the best (also with De Lubac's committee ), prepared his classes very well and wrote with a wonderful style and an astonishing capacity for synthesis. In him were combined a hardworking and persevering work , an undoubted theological talent, and also a deep love for the Lord that is transparent in his works.

The Christian Sense of Man is the first and most important of the eight books he wrote. But others are also "important" because they deal with central themes, were widely read and continue to inspire: I Believe in You. Structure staff of Faith (1949), The Christian Experience (1952), The Mystery of Time (1962) and Christian Freedom (1968), which develops themes already treated in Christian Meaning.

The Christian Sense of Man (1943)

The first thing that can be said about this book is that, in reality, nothing like it existed before. It is a novel and happy Christian idea of the human being. It has a double merit; it integrates many materials that we could call "personalist", which were then emerging, and gives them a natural order.


It was a real leap in quality and has not lost interest. When Gaudium et spes was being prepared, and they wanted to describe the Christian idea of the human being, it was the most complete book of reference letter. And, in fact, he was called to collaborate, although his already weak health only allowed him a short stay in Rome (1965).

"Around us there is the conviction that Christianity is a doctrine foreign to man and his problems, impotent in the face of his tragic condition, uninterested in his misery and his greatness. The following pages would like to show that the Christian mystery springs solely from the divine friendship with man, which perfectly explains his misery and his greatness, which is capable of healing his wounds and saving him by divinizing him" (p. 21).

It has ten chapters, divided into three parts: temporal values (I), carnal values (II) and spiritual values (III). Temporal values refer to the insertion of the human being in the temporal (also in the temporal city and the human world) and to his place in a marvelous universe that is divine creation. Carnal values (although in Spanish they have preferred to translate as "corporal") are the values of the body itself with its greatness and miseries, and with the admirable and definitive fact of the Incarnation. In Spiritual Values, it covers three dimensions of the human spirit: to be a person (a being staff), to have freedom (with its miseries and greatness) and to be fulfilled in love (with the perfection of charity). Great architecture.

Time values

The first thing that strikes us is Mouroux's positive awareness of the temporal as a place of realization of the human vocation: "What is the Christian's attitude in the face of this marvelous reality? The answer seems very simple: joyful acceptance and partnership enthusiastic" (32)... which does not mean naive, precisely because the Christian knows that there is sin. It is a "positive" love (34), "oriented" (37) with the proper order of values, and, with the financial aid of God, "redemptive" (42). The Christian must try to look at the things of this world "with pure eyes, to use them with a right will and to reorient them to God through adoration and thanksgiving" (43).

For its part, the universe is "an immense, vital and inexhaustible book where things manifest themselves to us and manifest God to us" (48). The human being forms with nature an organic whole and, at the same time, "only he alone can with full consciousness, with knowledge and love, bring the world to God, giving him glory" (51). But this is realized in the "tragic ambiguity" (52) that sin has inserted in man's relationship with nature. The last point deals with the "Perfection of the world by Christian action", and is parallel to chapter 3 of the first part of Gaudium et spes (1965).

Carnal" values

From entrance, we must start from "The dignity of the body", created by God. But "few subjects cause more ambiguity, even among Christians [...]. We can say the most contradictory things about it" (73). He proposes to study the greatness and misery of the human body "showing that Christ came to cure its misery and exalt its dignity" (73). Certainly, the outline greatness-misery is an evident echo of Pascal's Pensées.

The body, positively, is the instrument of the soul, the means by which it expresses and communicates itself, and forms with it the fullness of the person, which cannot be conceived without it. And this is the Christian meaning of the final resurrection of the body, anticipated in Christ, first fruits, promise and means.

Certainly, the imprint of sin produces a dysfunction, which is expressed in resistance, difficulty for spiritual life and relationship: "The body is also a veil. It is opaque. Two souls can never understand each other directly" (98). And the conflict between flesh and spirit is raised: "The body, besides being resistant and opaque, is a dangerous subject " (102). Body and spirit are made to live in unity, but they also contrast by nature and fight for sin: "The human body is not now the body that God wanted. It is a wounded and defeated body like man himself" (114). These curious dysfunctions, natural and due to sin, are manifested above all in the affectivity. But, in the Economics of salvation, the same unsatisfactory status , trace of sin, becomes pathway of salvation, giving a new meaning to bodily misery.

By becoming incarnate, the Lord sample the value of the body and its destiny. "In its relationship to Christ, the human body - a mystery of dignity and misery - finds its explanation final and its total perfection. The body was created to be assumed by the Word of God" (119). The Body of Christ becomes, on the one hand, a revelation of God, a means of expression that reaches us in our language and at our level. On the other hand, it becomes a means of redemption. Not only in the cross, but in all the Lord's human activity.

"Thirty years of mortal life offered at once for the salvation of the world. Thus, all the activities carried out by means of the body constitute the beginning of the Redemption. The carpenter's work during the hidden life, the evangelization of the poor with his preaching [...]. Prayer on the roads..." (126-127).

Christ's redemption of our body begins with Baptism: "Henceforth, the purified body, anointed and marked with the cross, is consecrated to God as a holy mansion, as a precious instrument, as the companion of the soul, initially evangelized and converted [...]. This consecration is so real that to stain the body directly by impurity is a special profanation" (133). There is a path of purification and identification with Christ (also in the body and in pain) that lasts a lifetime. It leads to our final resurrection in Him.

Spiritual values

The third part, with its five chapters, is the largest and occupies almost half of the book. With a beautiful chapter dedicated to the person and its aspects: incarnated spirit, subsistent in itself and, at the same time, open to reality and to others, person understood as a vocation to God, but in the world. It also studies "the person in his relationship with the first and second Adam", because the Christian life consists in this journey from one to the other, from the status of created and fallen to the status of redeemed and realized in Christ.

There follow two consistent chapters devoted to human freedom. The first studies freedom as the most characteristic act of the human spirit, with its implication of intelligence and will. With an ultimate sense of human happiness and fulfillment that the Christian knows to be in God. And with the limitations that appear in real life, among illnesses and conditionings of all kinds subject.

On this more or less phenomenological description, the Christian faith, in addition to clearly showing the meaning of freedom, discovers its state of slavery, because it is bound by sin and in need of grace. It is not prevented from doing the most normal and "earthly" things, but precisely in order to be able to love God and neighbor as is our vocation. She needs grace and thus Christian freedom, so beautifully illustrated by St. Augustine, is given. These themes will be expanded in his 1968 book (Christian Freedom).

But the person and his or her freedom would be frustrated if it were not for another dimension, which is also illuminated by the Christian faith: love. He first studies the "Christian sense of love", which can be directed to God (fontal love and origin of all true love), to others, and also be "nuptial" love, with its own characteristics that faith illuminates.

The chapter on charity closes this third part: "We would like to give a glimpse of the mystery of charity. And to achieve this, we would like to discover and rethink its essential features, as presented to us in the word of God, who is love" (395).

It is sample first of all as an absolute gift (submission of oneself), an act of service and obedience, and of sacrifice; which, after God, is realized in authentic fraternal love. Moreover, "charity is, at the same time, love of desire and love of submission [...]. It would be an attack on the condition of creatureliness to want to eliminate the radical indigence that desire engenders or the substantial dignity that submission provides. It would be, at the same time, to be unfaithful to the demands of this supernatural vocation that calls us to possess God and to give ourselves to him" (331).

Res sacra homo

This is the title of the conclusion: "The more we delve into man, the more he reveals himself to us as a paradoxical, mysterious and, to say it all, sacred being, since his paradoxes and inner mysteries are always based on a new relationship with God" (339). Much is at stake in the preservation of the meaning of "sacred," Mouroux emphasizes, still with the uncertainty of the outcome of World War II. Man is a "mystery", "immersed in the flesh, but structured by the spirit; inclined towards subject and, at the same time, attracted by God" (340). "He plays out his adventure in the midst of the whirlpools of the flesh and the world. This is the drama we all live" (341). "The essential of the human being is his relationship with God; therefore, his vocation" (342).

Fallen, altered and redeemed. With a concupiscence, but also with a call to Truth and Love. Sacred by its origin and destiny in God, sacred by its salvation in Him. His fall is not so serious in the material or carnal aspect as in the spiritual, in his remoteness from God. That is why, in a materialistic culture, perhaps it is not so much grade what is missing when its dignity is lowered to exist in the temporal.

By contrast, there is the wonder of Christian living in the Trinity. Thus there is a triple dignity in man because of his resemblance to God (image), his vocation to meet him and his filiation. "We understand, then, the close relationship that exists between the human and the sacred, since, in fact, the sacred is nothing other than the noblest appellation and the deepest truth of the human" (347). And this full truth of the human being and his vocation has shown itself especially in Mary. And it is alive in the best of us.

In Spain, Professor Juan Alonso has devoted particular attention to Mouroux, has a prologue to the book cited above and has several programs of study that can be found online. In this series we also dedicate to Mouroux a general article : Jean Mouroux o la teología desde el seminar.