Malachi Martin wants to make our flesh creep. He thinks there is a Jesuit world conspiracy. Many have thought this, just as many have thought there was a Masonic world conspiracy or a Jewish world conspiracy. Such fantasies feed our desires for a world more marvelous, and more coherent in evil, than the commonplace world to which we ordinarily think ourselves to belong. What is singular about Martin’s theory is that he holds that the object of the conspiracy is to corrupt and destroy the Catholic Church from within.

Once, before the Second Vatican Council, the Church, as Martin sees it, was a strong city of shining certitudes, its walls well manned against external enemies and its inner tranquillity guarded by a vigilant central authority quick to put down heresies; and the most important defenders against attack from without and subversion from within were the Jesuits. They have now, Martin charges, fallen away from their role as the Pope’s spiritual army and have gone over to the enemy. In this they have been guided by certain leaders in the Society: Teilhard de Chardin, karl Rahner, and above all the Basque Arrupe, who was general of the Society of Jesus for so long, and whose name Martin uses to label the whole tendency of modern Jesuitism—Arrupism. The Jesuits could not have succeeded—or come close to success (it isn’t clear whether or not Martin thinks they have succeeded)—without the folly and weakness of others, notably Paul VI, who failed to see what was going on or, seeing it, failed to act. Even John Paul II hasn’t been able to act decisively, though he gets some marks from Martin for trying.

The success of the conspiracy, according to Martin, is to be found in the “Modernism” that has overcome Catholicism in all countries. Instead of a religion with a plain, authoritative dogmatic system, whose chief business was “spiritual,” that is, to enable as many men as possible to escape Hell, we now have a tentative, hesitant religion preoccupied with social and political issues and weak on the traditional moral teaching on sexual ethics. Hitherto unheard-of questions, such as the ordination of women to the priesthood, are now debated. The firm anticommunism of the Church, once a rock of certainty in an uncertain world, has been weakened. Indeed, there has been for years, so Martin assures us, a secret treaty of nonaggression between the Vatican and Moscow; and the Jesuits have had a hand in this too.

The point of a caricature is that the subject should be recognizable. Malachi Martin is a clever caricaturist. Some of the things he has to say are plausible, others are carefully fashioned half-truths, others are wantonly conceived fictions, others are absurdities of a kind that used to be found—and are still prevalent in French ultramontane circles (the Intégristes) and were long ago satirized by Gide in Les caves du Vatican. The whole picture is stitched together with malice. The book begins by disgusting the reader who is familiar with the ideas and events Martin is talking about and ends by boring him.

Its effect is likely to be pernicious. It will bring comfort to those Catholics, mostly laymen, grouped around such periodicals as The Wanderer. It will act as a stimulus to all those who have disliked the reforms of the past twenty years, and whose ecclesiastical ideal is the Catholicism of Pio Nono (who promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility), if not that of the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella. It will give support to a Catholic fundamentalism that is quite close on some issues to the evangelical fundamentalism of the television evangelists and will thus strengthen those unpleasant elements of the far right who lust after Armageddon and are easily captivated by apocalyptic fantasies. Above all, it transforms all religious issues that can be rationally discussed into questions of decision by insistently putting the question: Whose side are you really on, that of God or that of Lucifer, the prince of darkness? For Martin this is the question, for the man in the pew, in the rectory, in the bishop’s chancery, in the Vatican. The Jesuits have gone over to the enemies of Catholicism and in so doing have sided with the enemy of the human race.

Martin has little sense of history. He presupposes that Catholicism is uniform from the beginning, and that the present period of discussion and questioning is something new, a break with the entire past of the Church. This view can’t survive examination. There are continuities between the Church of the third century and the Church of the thirteenth or the seventeenth or the twentieth centuries. But the differences are very great and set John Henry Newman the problems he tried to solve in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.


To take one example: the reception of Aristotle in the thirteenth century, which steered theology away from the prevailing Augustinian and Neoplatonic model, seemed as catastrophic to the then conservatives as the assimilation into contemporary theology of the results of historical criticism of the Bible has been for theologians today. The French Dominicans of the 1950s, Yves Congar and M.-D. Chenu, have said that they saw their task as that of dismantling baroque theology; to their amazement, they succeeded. What the present Pope writes, what Cardinal Ratzinger writes, these show that the models of baroque theology have been abandoned. “New theology,” as it used to be called in the days when Congar and Chenu and de Lubac came under heavy Roman displeasure, is no longer a feature of the avant-garde. For those who identified Catholic doctrine with particular formulations of it, with a certain intellectual style, that of neoscholasticism, such changes are painful. The fundamentalist Catholicism Martin takes to be representative of orthodoxy can only be held firmly by those without a sense of history.

The interesting history of the Jesuits is also neglected. Martin portrays them as defenders of an orthodoxy that transcends history. This is unfair to the Jesuits. They revolutionized moral theology—in Pascal’s Lettres Provinciales we hear the cry of an outraged conservative—and were bold in political theory. In the social experiment of the Reductions in South America they were as inventive as the revolutionary theologians of today. Martin’s characterization of Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner as mavericks, rogue theologians, men who have betrayed the Jesuit tradition, simply doesn’t do justice to the originality of their predecessors in the Society.

But I am being too polite to Martin, taking him too seriously, in even appearing to suggest that his chief failure is that he doesn’t reckon with the historical. There are other failings and some of them are more serious. What he writes is often false and malicious. For example, he argues that Jacques Maritain’s famous book Humanisme Intégral (a book much admired by Paul VI) showed that “Maritain adopted a sort of theology of history, as one might call it, built on Marxist philosophy. Religious truth was to be found exclusively in the masses of the people.” Of course, Maritain was never forgiven by the Royalists, Fascists, and other crazy men of the French right, for being against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. But such a view of Maritain’s book is simply false. There is not a paragraph in his book that in any way justifies what Martin here writes. Again, he writes of Congar’s work (Congar too was much admired by Paul VI) as maintaining that “the Church must become the universal sacrament of the new cosmic salvation being ushered into man’s world, not by supernatural grace, but by man’s material struggles to better his economic and social position.” This too is false. There is nothing in Congar’s work over the years that in the slightest degree justifies so gross a misstatement of his position.

The most extreme attempt by Martin to take away a man’s reputation is his attack upon Karl Rahner. Rahner, who died last year, was widely thought to be the most remarkable theologian of the modern world. His range and power were note-worthy, and his work is cited by many of those Martin would wish to have on his side against “Modernism”—by John Paul II, for example. But Rahner is said by Martin to be “subtly vicious.”

Whether lecturing in Europe or ferrying over to the Americas, clad in his acquired prestige, unassailable in his authoritativeness, presenting always the unbeautiful face of the materialist, quick in any bout of infighting, and bowing to no one, Rahner was the apt point man for Catholic self-cannibalism. He taught several generations how to consume their own faith with logic, skepticism, and disobedience.

This passage is pure assertion. There is no serious examination of any of Rahner’s books and articles, just as there is no serious examination of Maritain’s or Congar’s work.

Martin’s own theological outlook is jejune. For instance:

Authority to command and to teach descends through its [the Church’s] hierarchic structure from Pope to bishops to priests to laity. And the sole purpose of the Church in this world is to make sure that each individual has the means of reaching the eternal life of God after death. It is an exclusively otherworldly purpose.

Again, there is a Manichaean flavor about a theme repeated throughout the book: that there is a “spiritual warfare that rages between Christ and Lucifer” and that the weight of the Society of Jesus has been placed on the side of Lucifer.


The Second Vatican Council is thought by Martin to be on the whole a disaster; its dangerous and perhaps heretical feature is the Declaration on Religious Liberty (it is curious that Martin has nothing to say about the American Jesuit John Courtney Murray, whose thought shaped this declaration). The new liturgies are of doubtful orthodoxy. One wonders why Martin isn’t a follower of Archbishop Lefebvre, whose main theses he seems to support.

As a historian Martin has one advantage over others; he has access to a variety of secret sources. From these he derives minute-by-minute and blow-by-blow accounts of private meetings in the Vatican. We are told not only what was said but how this man looked as he was speaking and how other men looked as they listened. He has much exciting information not known to ordinary students of the period. For instance, there are

revelations that certain circles of the international section of the Masonic Lodge in Europe and Latin America were actively organizing opposition to the Pontiff (John Paul II) in Poland, that Vatican prelates—some twenty in all—were formal members of the Italian Lodge, and that once again Arrupe’s Jesuits seemed involved with the Lodge circles opposed to the Pontiff.

If Martin has such important information to give us, it is perhaps unimportant that he is always getting his facts wrong and seasoning his discourse with fictions. Rousseau is said to be an atheist (in fact he thought atheists ought to be persecuted). Pythagoras is said to have given us the saying “Man is the measure of all things”; the most solid of the liberation theologians, Gutierrez, is wrongly said to be a Jesuit; some French bishops are said to have added the name of Karl Marx to the calendar of the saints; and so on.

A tedious, silly, and malicious book.

This Issue

June 25, 1987