Chapter One (5/10)

Doctrinal framework

What sources nurtured Arizmendiarrieta’s thought? It has already been indicated, when talking about the family, that the thought of the early Arizmendiarrieta should be understood, basically, as a development of Christian social doctrine, as it was habitually developed in the academic life of seminarians. Now, trying to frame it more broadly, there is the need to insist on this again, though without forgetting that this was not his only source.

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An in-depth study of Arizmendiarrieta’s sources does not turn out to be easy, because in his writings, he very rarely cites the sources used. This difficulty is compensated by the fact that his library has been preserved almost intact, as well as his file cabinet and his notes.

His religious thought (God the Father, Divinity of Christ, nature and grace, etc.) seems to rest on the theological literature that was common among priests around the years of the Civil War. It is notable that, with his theological studies finished in 1940, almost no theological books found access to his library after that. Hans Küng is an exception. This continues to be significant.1

The opposite happens with social issues: his library was endlessly enriched in this field. (In the bibliography we attach at the end of the book, the titles from his library have been collected which may be considered most significant).

However, when it comes time to frame or historically situate Arizmendiarrieta’s thought in general, two sources or spheres should be especially highlighted, from which and in which he developed constantly: these are Christian social doctrine and the Personalist philosophy (Maritain, Mounier). Below we refer to both, briefly, leaving the relevant details in each case for the relevant place.

Pontifical doctrine

The feeling of finding oneself in a world in bankruptcy, or in a total crisis of ideas and values, must have been very personal in Arizmendiarrieta; his formulation is closely tuned to pontifical texts at all times.2 It is interesting here to underscore, first and foremost, the eminently moral and religious, not analytical, character of this vision.3 The following text from Pius XI could serve as a good summary of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought as expressed in his first texts: “Humanity, regrettably, moved away from God and from Jesus Christ. This is why it has come to fall from the previous state of happiness into this abyss of evils, and this is why all the attempts made to repair the evils and save the remains of so many ruins frequently fail. God and Jesus Christ have been excluded from legislation and government, the source of authority has been put in man, not in God; because of this, laws have lost the guarantee of true and imperishable sanctions, and have stayed detached from the sovereign principles of the law, whose unique source, according to the pagan philosophers themselves, such as, for example, Cicero, was the eternal law of God. The fundamentals of authority have disappeared, because of the suppression of the fundamental reason for the right of the ruler to rule and the obligation of the governed to obey. The inescapable consequence was the cataclysm of all human society, lacking any base or solid defense, and made into a prison of political actors who struggle for power, seeking their own interests, not the interests of the homeland.”4

According to this (theological) vision of history, all evils—wars, revolutions, injustices and social disorder—come from mankind having distanced itself from God. More concretely, social injustices that, according to Pius XII, “cry to heaven” with their gravity, have the following “causes”:

  • marginalization of religion in public and social life, which is thus deprived of firm principles,5 with the consequent moral deterioration.6 All other causes must be understood as an explanation of this one.
  • the violence unleashed by “modern freedoms,” that have “divided nations into two classes of citizens.”7 With the ancient guilds now dissolved, and the order that kept the weakest protected now broken, “the times senselessly handed the solitary and defenseless workers over to the inhumanity of business owners and the unbridled greed of competitors.”8
  • individualism or “individualist liberalism”9 and, additionally,
  • selfishness, “which orders and subjects everything to its exclusive benefit, completely ignoring or infringing on the good of the rest.”10
  • greed, usury, avarice, etc., that have become universally accepted in the liberal economic order, being practiced with all honorableness “under a different appearance.”11

It should be added that moral corruption, the ultimate root of social conflicts in the Pontiffical analysis, is not exclusive to the dominant classes: it has also taken over the working classes, causing struggle without quarter between classes. Pius XI expressed it in what has become a celebrated phrase: “From the factories, inert material comes out ennobled, but men are corrupted and are made more vile.”12 In a society with corrupted leaders, the corruption of the subjects seems a condition of self-defense and survival: “the leaders of the economy,” says the Pontiff himself, “following a path so deviated from righteousness, it was natural that workers would wander en masse into the same abyss.”13 We underscore, finally, that since Leo XIII (Quoad Apostolici), the so-called “social doctrine” of the Church14 has tended to reduce liberalism and socialism (or communism) to identical common causes.15

The two World Wars appeared in this perspective as the best evidence that a social order is not possible while disregarding God, which is to say, “the natural and traditional basis of society.”16 “The present troubles,” Pius XII declared on the eve of the Second World War, “are the most impressive argument for Christianity, as there cannot be a greater one. From the gigantic vortex of errors and antichristian movements, such bitter fruits have been harvested, that they constitute a condemnation whose efficacy overcomes all theoretical refutation.”17

This was the first source of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought. Today’s reader, who is probably somewhat surprised by what we have discussed, also needs to be able to situate it in the atmosphere in which it had its origin. During the first half of the twentieth century, all Western thought, on the left or right, is dominated by the feeling of bankruptcy, from O. Spengler, who believes the sinking of the West is unstoppable, to the last Scheler, Klages, Ortega y Gasset, for whom it is rationalism that has entirely failed in the face of life, and even the Marxists and Personalist thinkers, for those whom liberal civilization has definitively entered into the phase of violent self-destruction, or the existentialists, not to mention the so-called “conservative revolutionaries,” more or less neighbors of fascism. Among these thinkers, it will be the Personalists, as has been said, those who will have the most influence on Arizmendiarrieta’s thinking. But this general atmosphere was also reflected in the Church, including the Spanish Church. Following the short triumphalist parenthesis, in which doubts seemed no have place, the end of the Second World War brought the old issues back to light. That something was failing miserably in Western culture was unquestionable: two consecutive world wars demanded an explanation that reached the root of evil.

With the conflict over, Ecclesia wondered, between the victors and the vanquished, who was truly bankrupt. “Christianity has not failed,” it responded, “but rather the negation of Christianity.” Arizmendiarrieta gives the same response. No, there cannot be peace without God.18 And, more concretely, without God, there cannot be social peace. As Pius XII declared in his message to Spanish workers: “without the Church, the social question is unsolvable.”19

Point by point, as we have been able to verify, the young Arizmendiarrieta adheres, in the topics he deals with, to the Pontifical teachings, well equipped with quotes.

Beyond what we have said, this also constituted, at least on the more explosive issues, a whole method to prevent possible censorship and reprisals. Years later, at the time of the Vatican II and of John XXIII, we still see social apostles who faced situations under a dictatorship, armed with pontifical quotes. In Arizmendiarrieta’s writings, the massive use of pontifical texts disappears almost entirely by the late ’40s. But until then, it was also very frequent for him to raise social demands or harshly criticize injustices based on Christian social doctrine. It is, without a doubt, the same tactic which can be seen today in some countries, where criticism of “real socialism” seeks support in texts by Karl Marx.

However, Christian social doctrine will soon seem insufficient to him, and, above all, “too scholastic” and abstract. It must come down, he says later, from the Olympus of ideals to the “vulgarity” of real facts.20

In this descent, he seems to have needed other help more urgently than Christian social doctrine.

Personalist roots: Maritain

The authors with the most works in Arizmendiarrieta’s library are Ortega y Gasset and Maritain.

A direct influence of Ortega y Gasset on Arizmendiarrieta’s thinking does not seem to be detectable, unless it is a very vague and generic influence. It is instructive in this respect to observe which passages Arizmendiarrieta underlined in Ortega’s texts in his reading21: they are precisely the ones that seem to coincide with Arizmendiarrieta’s very characteristic vision of the open man, creator of himself through action, through invention. To limit ourselves to a single example, in the book Meditation on Technique, the following text is underlined: “In the hole that overcoming his animal life leaves, man takes on a series of nonbiological chores, which are not imposed on him by nature, which he himself invents. And precisely that invented life, invented as a novel or a work of theater is invented, is what man calls human life, well-being,”22 At the end of the book, we again find this passage underlined: “But human life is not just a struggle with the material, but also man’s struggle with his soul.”23 These are classic Arizmendian thoughts.

We said in the conclusion of the previous section that Christian social doctrine ended up seeming too distant from reality to Arizmendiarrieta (similarly, he would counterpose, in 1945, real Marxists and book Marxism, cf. CAS, 18). We wish to transfer here one last text of Ortega, strongly underlined by Arizmendiarrieta in pencil:

“It is proper for the intellectual who is close to things to manage them; material things, if he is a physicist, human things if he is a historian. If the German historians of the nineteenth century had been more political men, or even more “men of the world,” perhaps history would today be a science, and together with it, a really effective technique would exist to act on large collective phenomena, before which, it is said with shame, modern man is like Paleolithic man before the lightning bolt.

The so-called ‘spirit’ is a too-ethereal power, which gets lost in the maze of itself, of its own infinite possibilities. It is too easy to think! The mind, in its flights, finds little if any resistance. Therefore, it is as important for the intellectual to experience material objectives and learn, in his dealings with them, a discipline of content. The bodies have been the teachers of the spirit, as the centaur Chiron was the teacher of the Greeks. Without things that are seen and touched, the presumed ‘spirit’ would be no more than dementia. The body is the gendarme and the pedagogue of the spirit.

(…) All the creators of the new science realized their consubstantiality through technique. So it was with Bacon and Galileo, Gilbert and Descartes, Huygens and Hooke or Newton.”24

Ortega, still without seeking a confrontation with the regime, was far from being the master of thought who wanted Francoism in the 40s.25

The teachers consecrated in the new “Spanish science” were, rather, Donoso Cortés, Menéndez y Pelayo, Balmes, the latter even with the express recommendation of Pius XII26 and the support of Ecclesia, voice of the Spanish Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.27 On the contrary, the same magazine had not hesitated to severely criticize Ortega’s thought.28 And, in 1946, censorship would expunge some writings considered inappropriate (i.e., republican) from the edition of his Complete Works. “Just the sound of the name of Ortega y Gasset after the war, amplified by demagogic claims, brought very dangerous resonances of separatism, picaresque, individualist “me-ism,” in the spirits of the Spanish and in the homeland itself.”29 The mere fact of such a (relatively) numerous presence of the works of Ortega y Gasset in Arizmendiarrieta’s library is significant. Indeed, the topic awaits a more detailed analysis.

The influence of the Personalists turns out to be very palpable and concrete throughout all of Arizmendiarrieta’s work, especially that of Maritain and Mounier. Because Arizmendiarrieta is an essentially Personalist thinker, we will have to return to this topic consecutively in the various chapters. Here, we will limit ourselves to the question that concerns us: the perception of the crisis of Western culture.

Remember the first chapter of Maritain’s Humanismo integral, which discusses “the tragedy of humanism.”30 The description of the crisis Arizmendiarrieta has given us, though without the clarity and brilliance of the original, continues to be a faithful echo of Maritain’s analysis.

Alongside the Supreme Pontiffs’ “theology of history” and as a complement to it, Maritain could represent for us a “Christian philosophy of history,”31 which was very characteristic of that era wracked by the crisis. The dissolution of the Middle Ages and of its sacral forms, writes Maritain, has given way to a profane civilization, which has separated itself progressively from the Incarnation: from the worship of man-God, it moves to the worship of mankind, worship of the pure man. Maritain characterizes the spirit born of the Renaissance and the Reformation as the spirit of the “anthropocentric rehabilitation of creation.” We have a perceptible symbol of this process in the transition from Roman or Gothic art to Baroque.32

After analyzing the various stages of this process, Maritain shows how the very dialectics of anthropocentric humanism, of faith that “man himself is the center of man,” has led to this tragedy of humanism, to “inhuman humanism.”33 To be able to properly understand it, it must be observed that, for Maritain, as for Arizmendiarrieta, the transcendent dimension belongs essentially to all humanism. This dimension should be understood in the most general sense of self-improvement, transfiguration of modern man, aspiration to a superior reality of transformed human nature, which can be understood, for example, to include the aspiration to the Marxist new man, not only the Christian new man. In this sense, the heroic element would constitute a basic element of all humanism. To offer man what is purely human as an aspiration, says Maritain with Aristotle, “is to betray man and to desire his disgrace, because, by the greatest part of him, which is the spirit, man is called to something better than a purely human life.”34 Humanism, he continues, “essentially tends to make man more truly human, and to manifest his original grandeur by making him participate in everything in nature and in history that can enrich him (“concentrating the world in man” as Scheler approximately said, and “expanding man to the world”); it demands, at the same time, that man develop the potentialities contained in himself, his creative force and life of reason, and to work to make the forces of the physical world instruments of his freedom.”35

So, then, the tragedy of humanism (the three tragedies of man, of culture, and of God) begins when, with the pretension of radical humanism, it was desired to dispense with all transcendental reference, “enclosing” man, essentially open by nature, in himself. At the dawn of the modern era, rationalism, first with Descartes and then with Rousseau and Kant, forged an image of the human personality, haughty and splendid, unbreakable, jealous of its eminence and of its autonomy and, finally, essentially good. Every external instance was excluded, whether this was an instance of revelation or of grace, of tradition, of any law of which man himself was not the promulgator, of a sovereign Good that asks for his will, even of an exterior objective reality to measure and regulate his intelligence. But in little more than a century, observes Maritain, “this proud anthropocentric personality has died out, has collapsed rapidly, dragged into the dispersion of its elemental materials.”36 First Darwin and then Freud showed that man, so highly deified, is no more, in the deepest part of his being and of his origin, than “the fatal movement of polymorphic larvae of the subterranean world of instinct and of desire (…), and that all the beautifully rendered dignity of our personal consciousness appears as a deceitful mask.”37 The person appears as a battlefield on which blind forces face each other in conflict—the libido and the instinct of death. Man, wanting to pass himself off as an angel, appears as a monster.

This process of rapid decomposition of anthropocentric humanism has not prevented us, confesses Maritain, from continuing to claim human sovereignty with more energy than ever. Except, this no longer lies in the individual human person, but rather in the collective (State, nation, race, class).38

Alongside this tragedy of man—we hope that in the preceding ideas, their close relationship with Arizmendiarrieta’s thought could be recognized without difficulty—the tragedy of culture has developed, which we will outline briefly. At first, there was an attempt to set up human order based on reason alone (16th-17th centuries, the classical period). After that, an awareness developed that a culture that intends to separate itself from supernatural norms should take sides against them: this, then, is about freeing man from every religious “superstition” and of assuring the human spirit earthly well-being (18th-19th centuries, the bourgeois period). The twentieth century represents the third stage, the revolutionary stage, in which man, being no longer able to bear the machine of this world, starts a desperate war to make an entirely new humanity emerge from radical atheism.39

Maritain, in the middle of the war, blamed this for “the current disintegration of family life, the crisis of morality and rupture between religion and life, and in the end (…), the crisis of the state and of civil conscience and the need for democratic states to be reconstructed according to a renewed ideal.”40 He also warns of the need to “cure reason, disintegrated by a collective delirium and by the racist and Nazi cancer.”41

“Our need and our crucial problem,” he writes, “is to return to find the natural faith of reason in the truth.”42 But, he underscored, above all, the need the West has to renew itself in its sources of Christian inspiration: “(…) If the present agony of the world is, first of all, in my opinion, the sign of a supreme crisis of the Christian spirit, which, for so long, was forgotten and betrayed in the democracies, and against which political totalitarianism emerged as a definitive threat, it is obvious that a renewal of the Christian conscience and a new work of evangelism will be the primary and incontestable conditions of this undertaking of moral re-education that man in our civilization so badly needs.”43

Always moving within these schemas of interpretation, the early Arizmendiarrieta understands the crisis that has already exploded in two world wars, not as a circumstantial or partial crisis (economic, for example), but as the crisis of the very fundamentals of a civilization, with all its principles and values, which, beginning by deifying man, has ended up consecrating the slavery of man by man, or his nullification in the collectivist ocean. Removing from the heart of man, says Arizmendiarrieta, that feeling of fear of a God who rules or governs the world with his laws means man ends up rushing into the abyss and roasting on the fire that he himself has caused. “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” he exclaims with Voltaire (SS. II, 211).44


  1. From what we have been able to infer with difficulty, the theological books most used for his conferences and sermons appear to have been the following: Buysse, P., Los fundamentos de la fe [The Fundamentals of Faith]. Dios, el alma y la religión [God, the Soul and Religion], Ed. Litúrgica Española, Barcelona 1930. Olgiati, Mons. F., Silabario del cristianismo [Syllabary of Christianity], Ed. Luis Gili, Barcelona 1940. Sertillanges, A.D., Catecismo de los incrédulos [Catechism of the Unbelievers], Ed. Poliglota. Barcelona 1934. As can be seen, the apologetic and rationalist tendency strongly dominates.
  2. In Pontifical doctrine, this vision has formed part of their fierce opposition to the modern liberal or democratic world until very recently. Such reactionary aspects are not lacking in Arizmendiarrieta’s thinking, either, in his early years. This is why an explicit acceptance of democracy is not found in Arizmendiarrieta until Pius XII’s Christmas radio message of 1944; “freedoms” generally will be judged negatively, and he will insist that the Church is indifferent to any political regime; he longs for the religious unity and solidity of medieval principles, even though, on the other hand—doubtlessly due to Maritain’s influence—he approves of the death of “that Christianity.” In all this, Arizmendiarrieta will experience a radical evolution.
  3. Calvez, J.I., Perrin, J., Iglesia y sociedad económica, Mensajero, Bilbao 1965, 466-467, 474-475, 491.
  4. Pius XI, Ubi Arcano, in: Pontifical Doctrine, Social Documents, B.A.C., Madrid 1959, 564 (in the future, this edition of social papal documents will be cited by the initials DS/BAC).
  5. Leon XIII, Rerum Novarum, DS/BAC, 312.
  6. Id., 311.
  7. Id., 346-347. It should be observed that Leo XIII seems to take as his own the Marxist thesis of society divided into two antagonistic classes.
  8. Id., 312.
  9. Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris, DS/BAC, 856.
  10. Id., Caritate Christi, DS/BAC, 782.
  11. Leon XIII, Rerum Novarum, DS/BAC, 312.
  12. Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, DS/BAC, 760.
  13. Id., 760.
  14. For the current discussion of this concept, see Chenu, M.D., La “doctrine sociale” de l’Eglise comme idéologie, Ed. du Cerf. Paris 1979.
  15. Calvez. J.L.- Perrin. J., op. cit., 111.
  16. Pius X. Letter of 25 August, 1910, in: Pontifical Doctrine, Political Documents, Library of Christian Authors, Madrid 1958, 408.
  17. Pius XII. Summi Pontificatus, 20 October 1939. In all these ideas—social disasters as a result of moral decay, wars as a result of sin, chaos originates from the abandonment of God, etc.—Arizmendiarrieta is immersed in a broad theological tradition which, through St. Augustine (cf. Pegueroles, J., El pensamiento filosófico de San Agustín, Labor, Barcelona 1972, 110-111) connects with Deuteronomic and prophetic thought in the Old Testament (cf. Von Rad, G., Theologie des Alten Testaments, vol. 1, Ch. Kaiser, Munich 1969, 346 ff., 395 ff.), even though it is necessary to recognize that “crime and punishment” connection certainly overflows the margins of confessions. However, these aspects do not constitute more than an introduction to Arizmendiarrieta’s own thought. Our interest is, first and foremost, in that they illuminate the genesis of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, in which the ethical foundation will prove to be decisive.
  18. “Where Christ does not reign, there is constant war,” we read in Buomberger, F., La crisis de nuestra cultura y las leyes eternas, Biblioteca de Promoción Social, Cádiz, 1942, 20. Arizmendiarrieta used this book extensively in his discussions of the current crisis. Various literary references (Montesquieu, p. 10; Dupanloup, p. 21, etc.) could likewise come from the cited study.
  19. Pius XII, Address to Spanish workers, 11 March 1951, DS/BAC, 1098.
  20. Letter from 8 November, 1974 A.D. José María Setién (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).
  21. It must be observed that the library, in this sense, cannot be an exhaustive reference for us. Arizmendiarrieta knows and cites in his writings works that are lacking today in his library (for example, Ortega’s La rebelión de las masas is missing, and the same thing is said of important works by Maritain). Still, a detailed study of underlined passages in Arizmendiarrieta’s books could be illuminating.
  22. Ortega Y Gasset, J., “Meditación de la Técnica,” Revista de Occidente, Madrid 1957, 33.
  23. Ib. 100.
  24. Ib. 96-97. One page earlier, 95, the critic of the “universidaditis” (FC, III, 306) underlined: “Galileo is not in the University, but rather in the arsenals of Venice, among cranes and winches. There, his mind is formed.”
  25. His return from exile in August of 1945 had been interpreted as a sign of approval from the regime, cf. Gallo, M., Histoire of l’Espagne franquiste, Marabout Université, Verviers 1969, vol. 1, 188. This illusion will soon vanish.
  26. Rodriguez de Coro, F., Colonización política del catolicismo, CAP, Saint Sebastian 1979, 165-170, 186. See also Tamames, R., La República. La Era de Franco, Alliance, Madrid 1975, 579.
  27. Ecclesia, 19 August 1944, 791.
  28. Ecclesia. 2 May 1942, 429-430.
  29. Rodriguez de Coro, F., op. cit., 153; cf. 501, note 16.
  30. Maritain, J., Humanisme intégral, Aubier, Paris 1968, 17-43. Keep in mind that this book, published for the first time in 1936, is the text of the lessons taught by the author at the Universidad de Verano de Santander in 1934, and published in Spanish with the title Problemas espirituales y temporales de una nueva cristiandad, Signo, Madrid 1935.
  31. On the debate on a “Christian philosophy,” cf. Bars, H., Maritain en nuestros días, Estela, 1962, 219-288.
  32. Maritain, J., op. cit., 24.
  33. Ib. 36.
  34. Ib. 9-10 (the translations are ours).
  35. Ib. 10.
  36. Ib. 37.
  37. Ib. 38.
  38. Ib.39.
  39. Ib.39-41.
  40. Maritain, J., La educación en este momento crucial, Desclée de Brouwer, Buenos Aires, 1950, 153. See pp. 162-163 on the importance of family education.
  41. Ib. 180.
  42. Ib. 191.
  43. Ib. 179.
  44. The studies we find in Arizmendiarrieta on the assessment of the person in paganism and in Christianity could have their origin in Mounier, who made use of this comparison on several occasions. For a brief history the notion of person and of the personal condition, cf. Mounier, E., Le Personnalisme, P.U.F., Paris 1950, 8-14.