George McCartney (“The First and Final Command,” In the Dark, June) seems to believe that the Trappists of Tibhirine died as Christian martyrs. I do not. If the film he reviewed, Of Gods and Men, portrays them accurately, they prayed in the local mosque regularly; in other words, they repeatedly and publicly worshiped a false god. The Church has always and everywhere condemned this action as the commission of apostasy. Apostates cannot be martyrs (witnesses) for a Faith they reject.
The actual (not cinematic) Dom Christian de Chergé’s testament, written shortly before his disappearance, contains these words: “My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: ‘Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!’ But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.”
These are not the words of a Christian martyr, but of a deluded man who believes in a god that sees the “children of Islam” in possession of the fruits of the Passion of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. These words unmistakably convey doctrinal indifferentism, and they are not worthy of intellectual respect, much less of being regarded as the spiritual fruit of the actual, historical Christian Faith. Dom Christian, as proclaimed by his own words, did not die for the only true God, the Holy Trinity, but for the false god of pan-religious syncretism.
One may certainly admire the monks portrayed in this movie for the courage of their convictions. Their convictions, however, as represented by Dom Christian, were not those of the Church.
—Fr. Steven Allen
St. Clair Shores, Michigan
Dr. McCartney Replies:
I am surprised that Father Steven presumes to know Dom Christian de Chergé’s mind. As far as I can tell there’s only One who has certain access to the monk’s thoughts. Unfortunately, we can’t e-mail Him for immediate confirmation. So, with the understanding that I have not yet heard from on high as to De Chergé’s intentions, let me say that his reported actions and written testament reveal a man passionately convinced that all human beings are God’s children, whatever their respective beliefs. It seems likely that De Chergé believed we would all be infinitely better off to keep this in mind in our dealings with one another. By attending services in the Algerian mosque, De Chergé was simply testifying, I believe, to this conviction. He was making visible his brotherly love for Muslims. It hardly follows that he was worshipping Islam’s, let us say, special conception of God. He was simply recognizing that, regardless the official religions in which we happen to find ourselves, we all harbor the presence of the Second Person of the Trinity within ourselves. This is not always a comfortable belief—for one thing, it gets in the way of properly hating others—but I’m afraid it’s as orthodox as one could demand.