A Great Initiate: René Guénon
By M. l’Abbé Curzio Nitoglia
(Translated for True Restoration, by Frankie Logue, as a supplement to "What is Perennialism and Why Should we Know About It?" from the original article starting on page 11, in Sodalitium Volume 47.)
The person and the work of René Guénon cannot be indifferent to anyone who deals with true and false Tradition. An old follower of the Guénonian school, Jacques-Albert Cuttat, defined Guénonian doctrine as, “A neo-traditionalism … as if Guénon had taken and scaled up a wider knowledge … from the Orient the three fundamental theses of traditionalism from the beginning of the 19th century (in particular by Joseph de Maistre and of Lamennais), namely: anti-rationalism, the traditional Unanimity as a criterion of truth, and, above all, the spiritual primacy of the Orient.” (1)
It is well-known that Guénon relativises and reduces Christian Mysticism (which, moreover, is not solely Western) to the level of sentimentalism or ‘devotionalism’ (which has nothing to do with true Mysticism, whereas it does have points of contact with false Mysticism). And this demonstrates the insufficient knowledge of Catholic ascetic and mystical theology on the part of Guénon himself, or at least his anti-Christian spirit. Indeed, the principal dogmas of the Catholic Faith are poorly understood and emptied of their true meaning in the Guénonian work. Guénon, imbued with Cabalist and Masonic esotericism, tried to inject into traditional Catholic circles the false idea of a universal and fundamental primordial Tradition which encompasses all the different religions, whilst keeping his affiliation to Monist Sufism and Scottish Masonry a secret.
With “the Second Vatican Council, it turns out that the Catholic intelligentsia … is orientated in the direction of a perspective which considers the intention of unity of the new generations. (...) to favour meeting points … with non-Christian religions… The tone is no longer to be that of refutation and of exclusion, but of assuming the diversity of human potential and of universal religious patrimony.” (2) It is in this way that Masonic-Esoteric Traditionalism embraced Esoteric-Masonic Modernism.
The Personality of Guénon
The greatest specialist of Guénon, Marie-France James, affirms that his temperament was characterised by “nervousness and sensitivity to which are added instability, impulsiveness and irritability … [nervousness] tempered by powerful intellectual contribution (...) predisposing him to philosophical and religious studies. To all of this we must add an exacerbated susceptibility and a strong sensuality.” (4)
René Guénon was born in Blois, on the 15th of November, 1886. Whilst in fragile health, he completed his early studies in a Catholic school where, despite his numerous absences, he quickly became a brilliant student. In the Autumn of 1901, an incident occurred which, although trivial in itself, was very significant in terms of his personality: René was the first in his class, but his professor, Simon Davancourt, ranked him second in French class. René turned it into a drama and went to bed with a high fever; his father took him out of school and enrolled him in Augustin-Thierry college. (5)
M.-F. James commented: “We already see as a young student the obsessive need of Guénon to be first … Upon returning from summer holiday… our young perfectionist is already grappling with the same obsession, should we say, of the same guilt, the same devastation, of being just fourth… Irritated, the young René reacted with a great sensitivity… a scene followed, a scene whose, as some will know, definitive outcome was the irreversible departure some thirty years later of Guénon to the lands of Islam.” (6)
It is obvious that the desire, the very need to reach the zenith, was a deep tendency in Guénon’s personality. “He is someone who not only wants to, but has to win in all spheres…” (7) For him, to be average would mean failure; to be condemned to imperfection would depress him.
René Guénon, now a young bachelor, met Canon Ferdinand Gombault, a doctor of scholastic philosophy; for more than thirty years, until the departure of Guénon for Cairo, the two intellectuals maintained regular contact, even though they belonged to two different and opposed camps: the canon, a strict Thomist, devoted himself to the apologia of Catholicism; Guénon, influenced by Masonic-Occultist branches, turned to Gnosis. According to M.-F. James, the canon, like all of Guénon’s Catholic friends, ignored his choice until at least the late ‘30s.
Around the age of twenty, Guénon was introduced to the Hermetic School, led by Papus (the pseudonym of Doctor Encausse), and followed the courses that were given there. He was received into the Martinist Order and in various related Masonic-Occultist organizations. In 1908, he collaborated in the preparation of the Spiritualist and Masonic Congress; he tended, however, to move away from the general line (described by him as materialist) of the occult circles of his time; he therefore took a stand against certain ideas of Papus.
The most probable hypothesis, albeit without conclusive evidence, is that Guénon, by 1909 at the latest (the time of his elevation to the Gnostic episcopate under the name of Palingenius), benefitted from key Hindu contacts of the Vedantist branch; anyhow, he joined the Masonic Lodge Thebah that year (the Grand Lodge of France). In 1912, he was initiated into Sufism, and got married … in the Catholic Rite!
The same year, he confirmed his Masonic affiliation to the Lodge of Thebah, a branch of the Grand Lodge of France of the old and accepted Scottish Rite. From 1913 until 1914, he collaborated in La France antimaçonnique (a French newspaper), under the pseudonym of Le Sphinx; it was in these exact pages that - like a true “sphinx” - he had an argument with Charles Nicoullaud and Gustave Bord, collaborators of la Revue Internationale des Sociétés Secrètes, concerning the question of Supérieurs Inconnus.
In 1915, Guénon met a young Thomist student: Noële Maurice-Denis, who introduced him to Jacques Maritain in 1916. In 1916, he suspended his active participation in the work of his Lodge, which he had continued to attend even during his collaboration with La France antimaçonnique! This suspension was not a rupture, but only a tactical putting to sleep, with a view to “bring Catholicism to endorse an elite called to rediscover, from a syncretic perspective … the single lost source … the true metaphysical Knowledge, Gnostic in essence. Thus, until the beginning of the 1930s, Guénon refrained from dealing directly and openly with Freemasonry, limiting himself to deploring its ‘degeneration’ and denouncing the ‘anti-traditional influences’ of which it is itself a victim.” (8)
For Guénon, Catholicism is nothing other than one of the partial and veiled forms through which the primordial and fundamental tradition manifests itself in its fullness. Christianity, for him, in fact, had at its origins an esoteric-initiatory character about which little is known, since the origins of Christianity would be surrounded by an almost impenetrable obscurity, which obscurity was desired by those who led the Church from an obscure and reserved organisation to to a purely exoteric organisation, open to all. However, this transformation of Christianity into an exoteric religion was providential, since the Western world would have remained without any tradition had it not been for the Christian Religion, the then-predominant Graeco-Roman tradition having reached a great degeneration.
Christianity straightened out the Western world, but it lost its esoteric character on that condition. It seems that one can observe, in this rejection of the public dimension, the attitude of intellectual aristocratism typical of the various Gnostic branches. In 1921, Guénon wrote an article in la Revue de Philosophie d’inspiration néo-thomiste. In 1922, he resumed teaching philosophy at a school of the De La Salle brothers. In 1925, he began to collaborate with la Revue universelle du Sacré-Cœur - Regnabit - but this collaboration ceased in 1927, and he instead resumed the argument with the R.I.S.S. (9)
Catholic circles, after a brief hesitation due to the ‘fifth column’ character of the Guénonian work of those years, began to refute his theories, and Guénon, seeing the failure of his project of infiltration, emigrated to Cairo. But he did continue his task of forming a traditional Western elite by attempting to bring together so-called ‘universal’ Eastern metaphysics (or esoteric Gnosis) and Catholicism, which he believed to be identical in substance. For Guénon, Gnosis must be based upon the fundamental Tradition, which in substance is the same everywhere, despite the different forms it takes when it stoops to become a religion, to adapt to each race and each era.
The esoteric goal of Guénon, therefore, was that of re-interpreting, demeaning, minimising and bringing Christianity back to a ‘traditional’ common ground of Gnostic inspiration. Christianity had at its origins an essentially esoteric and initiatory character, but it allegedly lost it from the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicea, by becoming a religion in the proper sense of the term, with its dogmas, its universal morality and its public rites. Guénon therefore denied the divinity and indefectibility of the Church, its transcendence in relation to other cultures, the universal value of the Gospel, and the unaltered understanding of evangelical doctrine as it was revealed by Christ. But, as N. Maurice-Denis wrote, “Certainly his ignorance, his incomprehension of Christianity was huge.” (10) But was this really ignorance? This we will see later.
Guénon and “la Revue Internationale des Sociétés Secrètes” - Mgr. Ernest Jouin
Mgr. Jouin, the last of five children, was born on December 21, 1844, in Angers. An orphan of a young father and of fragile health, he joined his brother Amédée in the Dominican novitiate of Saint-Maximin in 1862, and later transferred to Flavigny. In August of 1866, health troubles forced him to renounce the austerity of Dominican life; for this reason he joined the seminary of Angers, where he was ordained a priest in February of 1868.
“His first years of priestly life were marked by sadness, discouragement, doubt and scruples.” (11) In July of 1882, he was appointed parish priest in Joinville-le-Pont (Seine), where he was attacked by anticlerical circles, and thus began to experience the first of his anti-Masonic struggles. In 1910, he acquired an important Masonic-Occultist library of about 30,000 volumes and in January 1912 founded la Revue Internationale des Sociétés Secrètes, composed of a Judeo-Masonic part (partie gris) and an occultist part (partie rose).
“Abbé Jouin believed in a Jewish desire for universal domination, summed up as follows: ‘Israel is the King, the Mason is his chamberlain and the Bolsheviks his executioner.’ His thesis was … that Jewry and Protestantism was behind Freemasonry; that all three pursue the same goal: the destruction of the Catholic Church.” (12)
Raised to the prelature by Pope Benedict XV and made prothonotary apostolic by Pope Pius XI, he died in 1932 with the blessing and pontifical approval of his Revue, which continued to appear until 1939; his cause for beatification was introduced in Rome by the ‘American friends of Monsignor Jouin.’ (13) Mgr. Jouin was not the first one to support the thesis of the Jewish inspiration of Masonry. He was preceded in the 19th century by Abbé Barruel, Mgr. Deschamps, Crétineau-Joly, Gougenot des Mousseaux, Mgr. Delassus, and Mgr. Meurin. A supporter of integral Catholicism, he was convinced that “nationalist and fascist groups are powerless by themselves to cure evil. War is religious. Our conversion is the only remedy.” (14)
He himself had written, “When Catholics no longer back down, when they draw their courage from the practice of virtue, … when they resume the path of sacrifice to follow their Messiah of misery, to Golgotha, when they no longer beg their salvation of the right or of the left, but will form, at the request of His Holiness Pius X, the party of God, the Jewish question will be solved. (...) But let Catholics realise that, by giving a hand to the Jews, by living like them deep down … they are preparing … the despotic reign of a universal Qahal!” (15)
The R.I.S.S. (1912-1939)
The R.I.S.S., the partie gris (concerned with the Judeo-Masonic) dealt with the external part of this infernal sect and the partie rose (concerned with the Occult) dealt with the internal aspects. It was known throughout the world and given information by Mgr. Umberto Benigni, the founder of Sodalitium Pianum. If Mgr. Jouin put criticism of the political and external work of the secret sects in the foreground in the order of chronology, he preferred to study their internal, esoteric, secret behavior in the order of importance. He was convinced, and rightly so, that only a religious and preternatural motive could explain the frenzied demolition of all good things, which characterises the revolutionary process, advanced by secret societies, and that at the origin of the latter, there was post-Templar Judaism [that is to say after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem], whose father, as revealed by Jesus, is the Devil. (16)
It was precisely against the R.I.S.S. of Mgr. Jouin that Guénon sustained a long controversy, by arguing in particular over the occult, and by trying to discredit its collaborators and by posing as the sole competent person in the matter.
Divergences within the anti-Masonic Movement
It should be noted that there was a division even among those who opposed Masonry. On the one hand, there were the nationalist anti-Masons (Copin Albancelli and Clarin de la Rive), who wanted to fight the sect solely to defend nationalist and patriotic values; for them, the anti-Masonic struggle had to be essentially political or national.
On the other hand, there were the religious anti-Masons (Nicoullaud, Jouin, and Benigni) for whom Masonry is a ‘counter-church’, which seeks to ridicule the research done on the preternatural element of the arrières lodges [see the Taxil maneuver (17)]. According to Mgr. Jouin, to be anti-Masonic, you must first and foremost be Christian: he would therefore face Copin-Albancelli and Clarin de la Rive, who for him were not sincere adversaries of the enemy. The substance of the divergence was that the nationalist anti-Masons refused to study the satanic influence in the occult leadership of Masonry. It was thus that the project of an anti-Masonic federation failed and that polemics between anti-Masons fueled by a newcomer ... the Freemason René Guénon, a.k.a. the Sphinx, continued causing serious damage to the good cause.
The Collaboration of the Freemason Guénon with la France antimaçonnique
In 1896, Clarin de la Rive became director of la France antimaçonnique, succeeding Léo Taxil. From 1913 until 1914 the Freemason, Guénon, contributed to this periodical! “Supposing that Clarin de la Rive did not have the opportunity to consult the registers of the Grand Lodge of France for the year 1912, he could not, on the other hand, have ignored … the conference of the Mason Guénon on Initiatory teaching published in Le Symbolisme of January 1913. The R.I.S.S. even took care to include a relevant criticism of it in its documentary Index (February 1913, p. 561)” (18)
So, how does one explain the collaboration of Guénon and Clarin de la Rive, especially in the field of anti-Masonry? How, then, will Guénon be able to consult, with the permission of Clarin de la Rive, the file on the Taxil (ex-director of la France antimaçonnique) case, from which he will conclude that to support the influence of Satanism on Masonry is to do a counter-initiation?; that, if Luciferian and Satanic groups exist, they are far from belonging to Masonry, which is a traditional organisation which one wishes to denigrate at all costs. It seemed that Clarin de la Rive and Guénon's Catholic friends underestimated his initiation into the sect, as if Guénon had completely broken with Masonry.
Like many others, Guénon used the anti-Taxilian campaign, presenting himself as a man of Tradition who wished to restore to Masonry its true appearance, disfigured by Taxil. He claimed to fight contemporary Masons for their ‘modernism’, for being unfaithful to the true initiatory vocation, so that Masonry can become once again what it had never ceased to be, potentially at least. This devious work was undertaken in la France antimaçonnique, with the complicity (or stupidity) of his Catholic friends.
Guénon cleverly wanted to change anti-Masonic thought from within, and inspire a Catholic current favourable to traditional Masonry, revised and corrected in the light of Eastern metaphysics.
“On the one hand, he [Guénon] affirms that it is necessary to bring back the Masons to the comprehension of their principles and to the conscience of their functions, and on the other to make the Catholics admit that they are wrong to fight Masonry, and that they must, while fighting against degenerate Masons, wish for the restoration of authentic Masonry.” (19) And “after recalling the opinion already expressed by Joseph de Maistre he affirmed that ‘everything that vulgar Masonry announces is a separate and perhaps corrupt branch of an ancient and respectable trunk.’, and that modern Masonry is nothing but the product of a deviation.” (20) The trick succeeded with Clarin de la Rive, but Mgr. Jouin blocked the way.
The Supérieurs Inconnus
In 1913, there was a long controversy between Guénon, alias the Sphinx, for la France antimaçonnique, and Charles Nicoullaud with Gustave Bord for the R.I.S.S. concerning the mysterious question of the Supérieurs Inconnus, whose existence Bord denied as men of mere flesh and blood. The Cahiers Romains, organ of the international agency Roma, of Mgr. Umberto Begnini, replied (on the 14th and 28th of September, 1913) that Bord’s judgement was a little hasty, and that no convincing argument had been presented against the central occult and human power of the sect. Perhaps, added the Cahiers Romains, it consisted of a constant understanding between the leaders to lead the mass of the different sects, the best known and most widespread of which is Masonry. Charles Nicoullaud answered on the R.I.S.S. of October 20, 1913, that if the editor of the Cahiers Romains intended to designate ordinary men in flesh and blood as leaders, he was mistaken.
The Supérieurs Inconnus, to ‘true initiates’, exist, but live in the Astral plane (they are fallen Angels or followers of Satan, that is to say men who have dedicated themselves body and soul to the Devil and who are therefore his preferred instrument). And it is from here that, by means of magic, they rule the leaders of the sects, forming a kind of continual understanding between the human leaders of different sects. For Gustave Bord on the contrary, since there is rivalry between the different Masonic rites, there is no central human power (which does not exclude a preternatural leadership). At this point Guénon stepped into the ring and argued that Nicoullaud and Bord were two very strange antimasons, and he attacked the thesis of the diabolical ‘mysticism’ as the root of Masonry. Guénon rehabilitated the Supérieurs Inconnus as inspirers and guardians of initiation and of the esoteric Tradition.
In 1914, Bord replied through the pages of the R.I.S.S. that the antimasons are divided into two camps: those who believe in the central power of Freemasonry represented by leaders in flesh and blood called Supérieurs Inconnus or members of the arrières-loges; and those who believe that Freemasonry is driven by a nefarious idea and that the Supérieurs Inconnus are the Devil or his henchmen. He joined the latter.
Bord added that he has never found any trace of supreme and known human directors in all of Freemasonry, but instead, has observed the existence of the opposite: Masonic obediences in conflict with each other, founded by known people. Guénon replied that this question cannot be resolved by historians who claim to be based on positive facts alone, proven by written documents, that claim that the Supérieurs Inconnus have left very precise traces of their actions in such circumstances. They would be beings freed from this life, freed from all external limitations, established in the unconditioned and absolute state, in direct contact with the primordial Principle of the universe. Beings in flesh and blood who would have reached the highest summits of spiritual achievement, endowed, according to the Far Eastern tradition, with longevity, posterity, great knowledge and perfect solitude ! The Supérieurs Inconnus are the true masters of the world and not ordinary men (said Guénon).
In summary, while Nicoullaud sees a preternatural and diabolical influence on Masonry, Guénon, on the contrary, sees in it the action of a transcendent Principle which contributes to full spiritual realization. For Nicoullaud, Satan is the root of the sectarian occult power, while Guénon, by means of the theory of ‘multiple states of being’ (a kind of astral intermediaries of cabalist derivation) complicates everything, by relativising the notion of individual and especially the categories of good and evil, and providing a mask for the Devil (21).
Faced with this enormous mass of arguments, the poor reader of La France antimaçonnique did not know where to turn... the Sphinx had reached his goal, had confused everything, and had sowed discord between the anti-masons (even using the Cahiers Romans, trying get them opposed to the RISS); in short, he had done the work of spying.
Guénon and the Institut Catholique de Paris
In 1915, Guénon got a degree in literature from Sorbonne and enrolled, in the Autumn, with his close friend Pierre Germain (also affiliated with the Gnostic Church), in the philosophy of science course of Professor Milhaud. There, as I have already said, he met a young Thomist of 19 years of age, trained by Father Sertillanges and by Maritain. Noële Maurice-Denis (later Boulet), who introduced Guénon to Maritain in 1916. During the summer, the friend Germain, who had rediscovered the Faith in Lourdes, informed Noële Maurice-Denis of Guénon’s past and provided him with the complete collection of La Gnose. N. Maurice-Denis, even if she did not share Guénon’s ideas, admired his clarity of exposition and the seriousness of his thought. The fact that he was consecrated a Gnostic bishop at the age of twenty-three did not surprise her: she saw it only as a youthful error! The young Thomist ignored, like Germain, the Masonic ‘confirmation’ of Guénon into the Grand Lodge of France, as well as his initiation into Sufism in 1912. She knew that Guénon no longer used opium and hash as an aid to medicine … ‘contemplation’ etc. was enough for him!
In December of 1916, Noële Maurice-Denis attempted to have Guénon's thesis published in the Revue de Philosophie. Father Peillaube, director of the periodical, was favourable, but Maritain objected: he had known Guénon for six months and already knew his philosophical orientation. All of this did not in the least discourage the young and naïve Maurice-Denis.
Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines
In June of 1920, Guénon finished writing the General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines, and began looking for a publisher; to this end, he got in touch with the Jew Levy-Brühl and subsequently brought the manuscript to Marcel Rivière, who agreed to publish it. In February 1921, Noële Maurice-Denis published an article on the nature of Mysticism, while in a letter of March 27, Guénon reaffirmed his position according to which ‘metaphysics’ is something more supernatural than mysticism. N. Maurice-Denis attributes the Guénonian position to a substantial ignorance of Catholic doctrine, despite the religious education that Guénon had received, once again downplaying the scope of his error.
As Henry de Lubac later argued (22), Guénon’s position was not attributable to a mere ignorance of Christianity, but rather to hostility towards the Gospel and the Christian spirit; Noële Maurice-Denis replied to the letter of March 27 in two articles published in the Revue universelle (July 15, 1921) under the title Les Doctrines Hindoues; Maritain took part because he wanted the author to maintain that Guénonian ‘metaphysics’ was radically irreconcilable with the Catholic Faith. So he himself wrote the last sentence of the conclusion of the first article by N. Denis: “R. Guénon would like the degenerate West to ask the East for lessons in metaphysics and intellectuality. On the contrary, it is only in its own tradition and in the religion of Christ that the West will find the strength to reform itself…” (23) “If Guénon, despite all his criticisms, retains a certain renown for Greece, Rome, on the contrary, inspires in him contempt alone.” (24) Guénon’s reaction, given his character, was of much irritation.
But let us try and observe the content of Guénon’s article. Hindu ‘metaphysics’ for him is a perfect and absolute Gnosticism, since it results in Pantheism (even if Guénon never quotes the word Gnosis, he nevertheless uses the Sanskrit term jnâna, which is its equivalent). For Guénon, morality is excluded from philosophy, while for Aristotelian metaphysics, natural or philosophical morality exists and it is from this that ethics are derived. In addition, contemplation can be done with human techniques without the help of Grace (something which, for Christians, is unacceptable); finally, Religion, to Guénon, is a ‘sentimental’ or ‘devotional’ tendency to which morality is attached, whereas, for Catholic theology, Religion is not a pure emotion of sensitivity, but a disposition of will and intelligence, by which man, knowing that there is a First Principle, inclines to the desire to render to Him the worship due to His excellence. By Autumn of 1922, Guénon had lost all hope of ‘initiating’ his young friend, because he deemed her incapable of receiving eternal philosophy outside of the specifically Christian form.
Guénon’s Collaboration with the Periodical Regnabit
In 1925 (August-September), Guénon published an article in Regnabit entitled ‘The Sacred Heart and the Legend of the Holy Grail’, with the aim of showing the perfect harmony of the Catholic Tradition with the other forms of the Universal Tradition, that is to say, the transcendent and fundamental unity of all religions, on the homogeneous basis of primitive Tradition. In 1925-6, in three successive articles, he formulated the hypothesis that the Masonic documents prior to 1717 (destroyed by Anderson and Désaguliers) contained the formula of fidelity to God, to the Church and to the King, and for this reason invites readers of Regnabit to see the Catholic origin of the original Masonry (!) and to fight the tendencies of the current religious but Protestant-orientated Masonry in English-speaking countries, and the downright anti-religious Masonry in the Latin countries. The hostility of certain neo-scholastic circles in 1927 prevented Guénon from continuing to write in Regnabit.
The King of the World
At the same time that Regnabit published his last article, Guénon wrote ‘Christ, Priest and King’ in the periodical Christ-Roi (May-June 1927), and Le Roi du Monde, where “he developed the subject by drawing inspiration from the theory of ‘multiple states of being’, itself related to the cabalistic theory of ‘celestial intermediaries’” (25). Guénon presented his version of the mysterious initiatory centre, ‘Agartha’, a centre of the world that is both real and symbolic, underground and invisible, where the ‘King of the World’ reigned. Catholic theology sees in the Guénonian ‘King of the World’ the Prince of the World, of whom the Gospel tells us, and who is none other than the Devil.
The Crisis of the Modern World
In 1927, Guénon published La Crise du Monde Moderne, in which he took up the process of Western civilisation and reiterated the call for the constitution of a ‘traditional elite’ aware of the true intellectuality still preserved in the East, which alone could restore the West’s own tradition, a sort of revised and corrected ‘Christanity’. Error and degeneration began in the West, which is precisely why it is obliged to to regenerate itself from the source of Eastern ‘metaphysical’ doctrines.
Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power
In this book, Guénon asserts, partly correctly (absolute error does not exist), that spiritual (or priestly) Authority is superior to temporal (or royal) Authority.
But throughout Catholic Tradition, we consider Jesus Christ as the Lord of the Universe, while Guénon “never supported the mediaeval conception which makes the pope the Vicar of Christ and the holder of temporal power in a direct or indirect manner.” (26)
Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas, affirms that there is only hope of everlasting peace if individuals and nations recognise the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. He alone, as true God and true man, is our Supreme King and Lord, both in spiritual and temporal matters; however, He did not want to exercise the latter power, leaving it to the temporal authority, while He exercised spiritual power. With His Ascension into Heaven, He left on this Earth a Vicar who would take His place, who has and exercises power in spiritual things; whereas in temporal things, like Christ, he chooses not to exercise it (except in certain special cases and places) and leaves it to the temporal authority. But the latter must exercise it for the common good and in a manner subordinate to obtaining the supernatural final end of man. In case the temporal authority abuses its power, the pope can intervene to call it to order and he can remove it if it does not correct itself.
But that is not Guénon’s conception at all. “For the Catholic Church, the King of the World is always and only Christ. (...) So, we are very far from the conception of Guénon who recognises in the King of the world the one who incarnates the primordial legislator, and is the depositary of the primordial Tradition. Guénon brings back to him by a symbolic filiation the traditional orthodoxy of Catholicism, and instead sees in him a legitimate tradition, but always one among the many resulting from the still living primordial tradition. (...) The vision of Guénon and of the Catholic Church on the King of the World are clearly separated.” (27) In short, the Spiritual Authority for Guénon is Satan, superior to that of temporal kings. For the Catholic Church, the Spiritual Authority is Christ and His Vicar on Earth, the Roman Pontiff. Guénon’s book, Autorité spirituelle et pouvoir temporel, must therefore be seen in light of what has been said about the Roi du Monde and of his Supérieurs Inconnus.
The Triple Hardship of 1928, Departure for Cairo and Death
In January 1928, his wife died of meningitis, and nine months later, her aunt, Madame Duru, who lived with them, also died. Guénon was left all alone with his fourteen year-old niece, Françoise Bélile, whose mother, a widow with several dependent children, demanded that she be returned home.
“The deep attachment to his niece and the impossibility in which Guénon found himself to continue his material life alone had the effect of triggering in him the strongest reactions.” (28) In 1928, he went through a series of hardships which shook him; he sent his friend a marriage proposal, and got rejected; following this refusal, he formed a relationship with Madame Dina, née Marie W. Shillito, daughter of the boss of the Chemin de fer Canadien and widow of the wealthy Hassan Farid Dina, an Egyptian engineer who had a certain interest in occult questions.
An enthusiastic admirer of Guénon, she offered to put her fortune at the service of the cause of ‘traditional’ esotericism.
Between the Pyramids and Mecca
On the 5th of March, 1930, Guénon left for Cairo with Madame Dina, but, after just three months, she returned to France and soon after married the occultist Ernest Britt, a member of a group which was hostile to Guénon. In Egypt, Guénon, who had begun to be called Sheik Abdel Wâhed Yahia, led a modest and discreet life and even converted (at least externally) to Islam: his conversion is linked to a secret intention of which he left no written record; on the other hand, giving great importance to the rites of the exoteric “tradition”, he always scrupulously respected his Islamic exoterism. His apostasy is likely explained more by a reason of spiritual convenience than by a true conversion, since, for him, all traditional forms were equivalent. Islam appeared to him as a hinge between the East and the West; it had the merit of appearing (superficially) reconcilable with Christianity, since it respects Jesus Christ as a prophet (but denies His Divinity). This is the reason for which the Guénonian may become a Moslem and claim to remain Christian. For Guénon, Islam in the 20th century should have played the role that Masonry did in the 18th century: to be the refuge of Christians who wished to escape the hierarchical discipline of the Church, while maintaining some link with a vague (and false) mysticism and with an impure and ‘primordial tradition’.
During this time, Guénon learned Arabic and from 1931 published a series of articles in Arabic, and attended the meetings of Sheikh Salâma Radi. In July 1934, he married the young Fatima Hanem Ibrahim, who gave him four children, the last of which was born in 1951 after his death. In 1939, a “wealthy English Jew who converted to Islam, a fan of his, offered him a furnished bourgeois villa.” (29) And, on the 7th of January, 1951, despite the care of his Jewish doctor friend, Dr. Katz, he died whilst saying the name of Allah.
Is it possible to be Guénonian and Catholic?
Guénon exerted an undeniable influence and alas sometimes a very profound one, even in circles linked to the Catholic Tradition (31). Throughout this article, we saw that this question had already arisen during his life, since he did contribute to Catholic and monarchist periodicals with anti-Masonic and traditional tendencies. However, the reaction of integral Catholics (the R.I.S.S.) who forced Guénon to flee to Egypt (not without having done damage beforehand, mind you). Today, many Guénonians, as the periodical La Sel de Terre of the Avrillé Dominicans admits, have infiltrated the circles of the SSPX of Mgr. Lefebvre (32), and in a forthcoming article I intend to address this topic.
However, there is a radical irreconcilability between Guénonism (or any form of esotericism in general) and Catholicism; it is not for no reason that Guénon presents himself as a ‘spiritual author’, the contributor of an oriental wisdom superior even to that of the Catholic Church! He despised the idea of eternal salvation or damnation, peculiar to Catholicism, and champions a Gnosis or ‘metaphysics’ which leads to the supreme identification with the undifferentiated Absolute (which the reader notices how initiates must hide by big words, like behind a smoke curtain, the nullity of their spirituality!).
The Nature of Guénonian Spirituality
To see more closely of what Guénonian spirituality consists, I base myself on the interesting article of Antoine de Motreff, an ex-Guénonian who converted to Catholicism (33), according to whom the spiritual path proposed by Guénon includes three conditions which form three stages. For Guénon: “initiation implies three conditions in a successive mode…: (1) qualification, constituted by certain possibilities inherent in the nature of the individual, and which are the materia prima on which the initiatory work must be carried out; (2) transmission, by means of attachment to a traditional organisation, of a spiritual influence giving one the ‘illumination’ which will allow him to order and develop those possibilities which he carries within him; (3) the internal work by which, with the aid of ‘helpers’ or external ‘supports’ … this development being carried out gradually, making one pass … the final goal of ‘deliverance’ or ‘Supreme Identity.’” (34)
In summary, in the first stage there is a profound difference between Christian Mysticism, which is passive, and initiation, which is active. In the second, which is the most important one, one receives the spiritual influence during the initiation. It may happen that the initiatory organisations, as a result of degeneration, can only confer a virtual initiation, but they would continue to be the support of this spiritual influence and the initiatory work can always be accomplished. The important thing is that the chain is not interrupted. In initiation there is also a transmission of teaching, but the transmission of spiritual influence remains. The third is the effective initiation and to achieve this requires symbolic meditation. Another means of progressing towards effective initiation is the incantation, quite distinct from prayer: in fact it "is not a request, and even it does not suppose the existence of any external thing ... it is an aspiration of the being towards the Universal, in order to obtain ... an interior illumination ... The final goal to be reached is always the realisation in oneself of the ‘Universal Man.’” (35)
“One of René Guénon’s avowed goals is to allow Freemasons (who still transmit virtual initiation) to achieve effective initiation.” (36)
The Necessity of Being Linked to an Initiatory Organisation
“Initiation properly speaking consists essentially of the transmission of a spiritual influence, a transmission which can only be effected by means of a regular traditional organisation, so that one cannot speak of initiation apart from the attachment to such an organisation.” (37) But initiatory organisations are still acceptable in Europe today? According to Guénon, two remain: Freemasonry and Compagnonnage - “Of all the organisations with initiatory claims that are widespread in the Western world, there are only two which … can claim an authentic traditional origin, and a real initiatory transmission; these two organisations… were originally one, they are Compagnonnage and Masonry.” (38)
Through the initiatory chain, the initiate receives a spiritual influence whose origin is ‘non-human’. “The individual who confers initiation ... is only a link in the 'chain' whose starting point is outside and beyond humanity.” (39) There is nothing magical about spiritual influence, since for Guénon the initiation takes places at a higher spiritual level than magic, which, on the contrary, takes place on the physical or animal level. It is for this reason that Guénon despised those who sought magical powers, being a failure of Westerners who are too attached to phenomena. Magic leaves us as individuals, whereas initiation moves us from individuality to the Universal. But the initiate must gradually become aware of this spiritual influence, and in this the initiatory path is different from the religious one: “In the exoteric domain, there is no harm in the influence received never being consciously perceived ..., since it is not a question of obtaining an effective spiritual development; on the other hand, it should be quite different when it comes to the initiation, and, as a result of the inner work done by the initiate, the effects of this influence should be felt later, which constitutes the passage to the actual initiation.” (40)
Religion, for Guénon, aims to ensure to us eternal salvation and therefore keeps us in the individual state; whereas initiation is absolutely superior, since it tends us towards the attainment of ‘Supreme Identity’ with the unconditioned ‘Absolute’ or ‘Realisation’, which supposes going beyond the individual state and taking possession of states superior to the human state. And it is not just a matter of entering into communication with these higher states, but of taking possession of them altogether (41). So even the transforming union of the third way of the perfect (Mysticism) is inferior to Deliverance which is the goal of initiation (42). This is why the finality of the esoteric path is much greater than that of the religious or exoteric path, and the Christian Paradise for the initiate appears to be too narrow, almost like a prison. (43)
It is not possible to follow the initiatory path without being attached to exotericism
“This point is very important and often not very well known. For René Guénon there is no question of sticking purely and simply to the initiatory path. At the same time, it is necessary to practice an exotericism, which will result … in a religious practice. Guénon himself practiced the Moslem religion in the last years of his life.” (44) He affirms in fact: “It is permissible that an exotericist ignore esotericism … but, on the other hand, it is not as if anyone who has the aim of esotericism wants to ignore exotericism, because the ‘greater’ must necessarily include the ‘lesser.’” (45) And this is why Guénonians infiltrate even traditionalist Catholic circles.
Spiritual influence is not a free grace that comes from God
If spiritual influence is not a grace from God, it either comes from ourselves or an Angel. Indeed, above man there is only God and His Angels.
“The first solution is always possible in theory, and indeed one may wish that many of those who submit to the initiation ceremony would receive nothing at all. But it is still much more likely that ... the recipient is indeed receiving a ‘non-human spiritual influence.’ This is the opinion of those most knowledgeable about Freemasonry, such as Charles Nicoullaud, author of L'Initiation maçonnique, (Perrin, Paris 1931), prefaced by Mgr. Jouin, who says: ‘These extraordinary things [the presence of Satan being felt] are the sad privilege of a few. And these are the Supérieurs Inconnus, as they said in the eighteenth century, of the sect. As direct agents of Satan, they remain his instruments, and it is through them that he penetrates and influences his evil and destructive wills in the bosom of secret societies. They are the priests of the Counter-Church. The Church of Jesus Christ has its saints, Satan ... the monkey of God, has its initiates.’ (p. 145) … It will be objected that this spiritual influence could come from a good Angel ... But the good Angels are the ministers of God ... If they act on men, it is to lead them to Our Lord and to His Church. Yet the struggle against the Church is constant in Freemasonry ... and the case of Guénon has shown us that initiation, far from leading him to better know the Holy Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, had led him to a kind of intellectual stupor with regard to them [and to apostasy, n.d.a].” (46)
The Cause of Guénon’s Apostasy
St. Thomas teaches that “infidelity arises from pride.” (47). This is the gravest of sins after hatred of God. The real reason for an erroneous choice as to the Last End, must therefore be sought in evil works, in solely interior acts of will, such as intellectual pride. Evil works are not only gross immorality, but even subtle immorality: the exaltation of one's own “I”, the pursuit of human glory and the honour of the world.
As the thief shuns the light and loves the darkness in order to be able to act undisturbed, so the proud hates the light, that is, public doctrine, and loves the darkness, that is, esoteric doctrine and practice. The darkness serves to cover his infernal doctrine and his perverse conduct; he hates the light, since it would unmask its inner, hidden perversity! One may thus conclude that a bad life is the cause of all incredulity and especially that of heresiarchs and ‘great initiates’, one of which was certainly René Guénon. As the Devil himself became a fallen Angel through his ill-will (with which he preferred to assert himself, even to the extent of damning himself, rather than to submit to the will of God who asked him for an act of obedience and humility), in the same way that the ‘great initiate’ preferred to refuse the public doctrine of Jesus, in order to be able to take pleasure in his obscure and confused “primordial and common tradition which is lost in the mists of time ...” and which gratified his pride so much that he could be called: Master! Whereas Jesus warned us: “But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master … your Father, Who is in Heaven”(St. Matt. XXIII, 8-9).
May Demons Influence Men?
According to St. Thomas and other Catholic theologians, demons may not act directly on the intellect and will of man, but only on the internal and external sense (memory and imagination), and by means of the sense he may seek to directly influence the intellect and will (48). The initiation ceremony could well be the start of this evil action. “God allows the demon a certain freedom to act in these ceremonies owing to their superstitious character: there is an implicit, at least, invocation of the Devil each time one expects a spiritual effect from a cause which it itself cannot produce one … These ceremonies only act as far as God allows, as a punishment for the sin of superstition. (...) The fact of being attached to a regular initiatory organisation makes the sin of superstition even more characteristic … But nothing prevents the demon from acting in the absence of this chain [initiation], too … initiation, though, provides a favourable ‘atmosphere’ to the activity of the demon.” (49)
Let us conclude this article with the words of Antoine de Motreff, who clearly explained the dangers which mean that: “René Guénon’s analysis of initiation is partly correct: initiation may well confer a spiritual influence of non-human origin, since it constitutes (at least implicitly) a pact with a demon. This influence is exerted on the imagination … so there is a kind of demonic enlightenment … which can allow the initiate to know certain things that he could not know naturally. However, this knowledge will have the effect of leading him away from God, from Our Lord Jesus Christ and from His Church … from a moral point of view, such an initiation constitutes a mortal sin against the virtue of religion.” (50)
1) J.-A. CUTTAT, in Annuaire de l’E.P.H.E., (Vème Section: Sciences religieuses), 1958-1959, p. 68.
2) M.-F. JAMES, Esotérisme et Christianisme autour de René Guénon, Nouvelles Editions Latines, Paris 1981, p. 17. Dans le présent article je me base substantiellement sur le très bon livre de Mme James (auquel je renvoie le lecteur désireux d’approfondir le sujet) et je le complète par différentes autres études et par la lecture des principales œuvres de Guénon.
3) Le rapport qui unit Guénon à une penseuse juive que l’on essaye de présenter comme très près de la conversion au Catholicisme, Simone Weil, est symptomatique. En réalité dans sa pensée on retrouve plusieurs éléments de la Cabale impure et du système talmudique. «Elle n’a probablement pas connu Guénon, à qui elle ne fait jamais référence, mais certaines de ses notes, réflexions et méditations se rattachent singulièrement à la pensée de Guénon, et un livre comme Lettre à un religieux prouve que la jeune philosophe considérait au moins comme probables beaucoup de choses que Guénon considérait comme certaines» (P. Sérant, René Guénon. La vita e l’opera di un grande iniziato, Convivio, Firenze 1990, p. 29). Le religieux qui répondit à la lettre de S. Weil fut le Père Guérard des Lauriers o.p., qui écrivit qu’étant donné les affirmations de S. Weil on n’aurait pu lui accorder ni le Baptême ni l’absolution!
4) M.-F. JAMES, op. cit., p. 29.
5) P. CHACORNAC, La vie simple de René Guénon, éd. traditionnelles, Paris 1958, p. 24.
6) M.-F. JAMES, op. cit., pp. 44-45.
7) Ibid., p. 46
8) Ibid., p. 100.
9) Cf. A. BAGGIO, René Guénon e il Cristianesimo, in «Nuova Realtà», 1987, p. 39.
10) N. MAURICE-DENIS BOULET, L’ésotériste René Guénon, in “La Pensée Catholique”, 77, 1962, p. 23.
11) M.-F. JAMES, Esotérisme, Occultisme, Francmaçonnerie et Christianisme aux XIXè et XXè siècles, Nouvelles Editions Latines, Paris 1981, pp. 156-157.
12) Ibid., p. 158.
13) Cf. SAUVETRE, Un bon serviteur de l’Eglise. Monseigneur Jouin, Casterman, Paris 1936. 14) Ivi.
15) E. JOUIN, Les fidèles de la Contre-Eglise: Juifs et Maçons, p. 139.
16) Jn VIII, 32.
17) A la fin du XIXème siècle, durant le pontificat de Léon XIII, un certain Léo Taxil sortit de la FrancMaçonnerie et en révéla les rites secrets et les cérémonies sataniques dans un livre qui fit beaucoup de bruit et fut souvent cité dans les milieux catholiques antimaçons. Par la suite, ou parce qu’il avait effectivement menti ou à cause des menaces reçues, Léo Taxil rétracta tout, jetant ainsi le discrédit sur les milieux catholiques qui l’avaient cru. Il faut cependant ajouter que des auteurs sérieux comme Mgr Antonino Romeo et le Professeur Giovanni Vannoni affirment que Taxil s’était réellement converti, mais qu’à cause des menaces de mort de la part des francs-maçons, il avait dû rétracter ses révélations; le cas Taxil prête encore à discussions.
18) M.-F. JAMES, Esotérisme et Christianisme, p. 127.
19) P. SÉRANT, René Guénon. La vita e le opere di un grande iniziato, Convivio, Firenze 1990, p. 14.
20) Ivi, p. 198.
21) Pour les références des articles cités cf. M.-F. James, op. cit. pp. 132-162.
22) Lettre de H. de Lubac à N. Maurice-Denis Boulet, 31 déc. 1962. Inédite.
23) N. MAURICE-DENIS, “Les Doctrines Hindoues”, La Revue universelle, 15 juillet 1921, p. 246.
24) P. SÉRANT, René Guénon. La vita e le opere di un grande iniziato, Convivio, Firenze 1990, p. 100.
25) M.-F. JAMES, op. cit., p. 277.
26) P. DI VONA, Evola Guénon De Giorgio, SeaR, Borzano (RE) 1993, p. 191.
27) Ibid., pp. 195-196.
28) M.-F. JAMES, Esotérisme et Christianisme, p. 295.
29) Ibid., p. 303.
30) L. MÉROZ, René Guénon ou la sagesse initiatique, Plon, 1962.
31) E. VATRÉ, La droite du Père. Enquête sur la Tradition catholique aujourd’hui, Guy Trédaniel, 1994.
32) Le sel de la terre, n° 13, été 1995, pp. 34-35.
33) ANTOINE DE MOTREFF, Qui a inspiré René Guénon? in Le sel de la terre, n° 13, été 1995, pp. 33-64.
34) R. GUÉNON, Aperçus sur l’initiation, Villain et Belhomme-éd. traditionnelles, Paris 1973, p. 34.
35) Ibid., p. 169.
36) A. DE MOTREFF, op. cit., p. 42.
37) R. Guénon, op. cit., p. 53.
38) Ibid., p. 41.
39) Ibid., p. 58.
40) R. Guénon, Initiation et réalisation spirituelle, Villain et Belhomme-éd. traditionnelles, Paris 1974, pp. 48-49.
41) Cf. Aperçus sur l’Initiation, pp. 27-28.
42) Cf. Initiation et réalisation spirituelle, pp. 81-82.
43) Ibid., pp. 78-79.
44) A. DE MOTREFF, op. cit., p. 48.
45) Cf. Initiation et réalisation spirituelle, p. 71.
46) A. DE MOTREFF, op. cit., pp. 55-58.
47) S. T. II-II, q. 10, a. 1, ad 3um.
48) S. T. II-II, q. 10, a. 3 in corpore. II-II q. 96, a. 1. II-II q. 97, a. 1. I q. 114. II-II q. 165 a. 1.
49) A. DE MOTREFF, op. cit., p. 61.
50) Ibid., p. 63