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My Philosophical Testament by Jean Guitton

Jean Guitton

JEAN GUITTON, 1901 - 1999, was a Christian philosopher, writer, painter, novelist and journalist.

THE DEVIL (Ancient Greek: diabolos = 'slanderer' or 'accuser') is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind.   The Devil is commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers.  The Abrahamic religions have variously regarded the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel or demon that tempts humans to sin or commit evil deeds.  Others regard the Devil as an allegory that represents a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment.  In mainstream Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans, with the Devil seeking to lure people away from God and into Hell.

Part 1: My Death.  First Interview - with the Devil.

How a stranger sowed trouble in my soul

Some strange things happened in my Parisian appartment on the night that I died.  I was practically a hundred years old, and I was leaving this world quite peacefully.  I wasn't suffering, was hardly anxious, and as I was passing away I was reflecting.  But I was also waiting.

It was about nine in the evening and I was alone in my room.  On the other side of a partition my nephew, Theophile, was conversing with Marzena, my indispensible, Polish secretary and nurse.  Their discussion wasn't interesting.  I was hearing without listening.  My nephew was worried.

- He's hanging on!

- One would think he was waiting for something - or someone.

- It's so unlike him.  He loathes waiting.  What did he say?

- Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Whenever I go into his room, he shivers through half parted lips, before drifting off.

- It's been like that for eleven days.  Oh, somebody's ringing.  Excuse me.  Perhaps it's the doctor.

lucifer
Lucifer

I heard the door open; then a silence.  He, whom I had been waiting for, entered.  He was elegantly dressed in a black suit, about fifty and with a pointed moustache.   I didn't see, but I sensed him.  I also sensed that he cast his eyes on my clutter, in the half light, on the scattered canvases, piles of books, papers strewn about.  My nephew interrupted my thoughts:

- You aren't the doctor?

- Monsieur Guitton, if you please.

- Monsieur Guitton is in no state to receive you, said Marzena.  Who are you?

- He is waiting for me.

- Monsieur Guitton isn't waiting for anybody.

- A moment ago you said otherwise.

- How do you know that?

- Because I am he, for whom he waits.  Tell him I am here.

- Whom should I announce?

- Tell him his appointment has arrived.

Marzena was stunned into opening my door.  I had my eyes closed to give myself time to think.  As she approached my bedside on tip toe, I sensed that only my nephew remained with the stranger.

- Have you known Monsieur Guitton for long?

- Since his birth.

- Since his birth!?  But he's a hundred.   How old are you?

- Where I come from age has no meaning.

- Ah.  Um.  I'm his nephew, Theophile.

- I know.

- Really?  No doubt we met at an award ceremony.

- No.  You've never seen me.

- Ah, we've never met.  So it seems.  Or I would have recognised you.  But you know I'm his nephew, and you've known him since my birth.  Or rather since yours.  Or rather since his.  I don't know any more.  I have to leave.  Excuse me Monsieur.

Les Invalides
Les Invalides

- We'll meet again on Friday at Les Invalides.  That's where he'll be buried.

- Who?  Guitton?

- Who else?  Napoleon?

- Excuse me.  I haven't slept for ten days.  But at least he hasn't died.

- Tomorrow.  That will be tomorrow.  Now we have to converse.

While my nephew left, somewhat distrait, my secretary returned with my instructions.

- Monsieur Guitton will receive you.

- Just as I told you.  Why are you looking at me like that?

- Who are you?

lucifer
Guitton
lucifer
Lucifer

He smiled, leant towards her and whispered in her ear.  She fainted onto the sofa.  Without another glance the stranger entered my room, and seated himself, familiarly, on the edge of my bed.  I was lying down, my head propped up a little on a pillow.  Now my eyes were wide open.  I spoke with difficulty.  My voice was hoarse.

- You have been waiting for me? he asked.

- Eleven days.

- I'll come straight to the point.  You know why I have come.

- Indeed.  It is a matter of losing my faith.  Do you think I am in any state to hold a discussion?

- Your brain is still in working order.  Are you frightened of talking with me?

- Talking tires me.  Leave me.

- You only have to think.  I can read the depths of your soul.

- You know it's not possible.  My soul is a sanctuary you cannot enter.

- Very well.  If you lack strength, don't attempt to speak.  You can murmur.  In the frailest movements of your lips, I can read your most subtle thoughts .  You agree?

- I accept.  Suddenly I feel what may be the euphoria one experiences before death.  Let's take advantage for the last time to duel over what interests us.  Please ask the nurse to adjust my pillow.

- I'll do it

He looked me straight in the eye.

- You do want to to talk to me?

- Not really.  I've never had a liking for you.

- But you were waiting for me.

Guardian Angel
Guardian
Angel

- I knew you were coming.  That's all.

- Why do you think your guardian angel didn't stop me coming?

- I don't know.  You ask him.

- Perhaps, quite simply, he doesn't exist.

- In that case, neither do you.

- Well said.  Just suppose I don't exist.  Suppose, for a moment, I just disappeared and left you alone with your thoughts.  You would see how how insidious they are.  Are they really yours and can you resist them?

At that he disappeared.  For the first time in my life I was afraid of being alone.

- Where are you?  Where are you?

Nobody.  Silence.  Was it really him?  Had he really been there?  Had I been dreaming - or hallucinating?  No - no - I knew these were his thoughts.  But how? - I seemed to be full of thoughts that weren't mine; but they still seemed to exist.  My thoughts!  Bid me be at peace.  In a few hours my sails will be lowered, and I will meet God, so that He will give Himself to me; the end of strife; Life and Victory.  These are true, Christian thoughts!  So what is this force, this evening, that has made me feel hollow?  Who has derailed me?  You poor old fool, Guitton, you have played and you have lost.

lucifer
Blaise Pascal

You thought yourself as intelligent as that gambler, Pascal, but your pockets are as empty as his.  In a few hours you will no longer exist.  Just a fine statue of a philosopher - made of wax - lasting only for the ceremony.  They will photograph you for Paris Match, your rosary between your frozen fingers, revealing your illusions, your fear of nothingness, the last lie that you called your faith.  You will rot in the juice of your own coruption.  Ha, ha, ha.

I shivered with horror at this laugh, which seemed to come from me, but which wasn't mine.

- Who laughed?

- Yourself, I seemed to reply.  You laughed, because you have lied to yourself, all your life.  You are too intelligent not to admit it, but you haven't the strength to continue the comedy.  That's how you have been made my poor little friend.  So you have defended the mask of a little child, of a little Christian, of a little slave.  You've never had the strength to take risks.  You've forgotten to taste the forbidden fruit, to see the radiance of pagan beauty, to show dumb insolence to God, to spit in the face of the Heavens.  You have lost everything, you are naked, and tomorrow you will be dust.

Nietzsche
Friedrich
Nietzsche

- You really have gone too far, my friend.  Now I'm sure you are there, because you imitate my thoughts so badly.  I've often dreamt that I've gone astray, but Ive never been so quite pathetic.  If I were really convinced by all you say, would I make up such stories, that are unimportant and in any case never happened?  Anyway it's putting the cart before the horse to start by discussing immortality and the soul.   If you really want to debate, stop behaving like an adolescent Neitzche, like a ludicrous vampire, and behave, I pray you, like a rational being.

At that the stranger reappeared.

- How can you be so inhumanly cerebral?  Don't you have flesh?

- You, who are pure spirit, ask me that?

- I've never taken on that role; though I've sometimes tried. You haven't even rendered an account of yourself.  You're a sacristry virgin!

- Perhaps I appear not to have rendered my account.

- Are you so virtuous?

- I don't make a claim to virtue, more to a natural sobriety, and, when needed, to divine grace.

He gave a start.

- Guitton, why do you agree to this dialogue?  Aren't I your mortal enemy?

- My worst enemy is my best friend.  Nothing is more useful to me than an enemy.

- But I oppose your ideas.  I want to make you change your opinion.  I want to confuse you. And I arrive at the worst possible moment for you, when you need to hold onto your certainties, to keep your faith.  Were you convinced of your Christianity, you would see in me a danger to your eternal salvation, you couldn't listen to me without hating me.

- Forgive me, but I don't feel that.  I don't accept your perception.  For me an enemy is always an ally.  I don't know whether you can understand that.  Having different opinions does not interest me. It's the portal to who knows what.  But to have the truth, the absolute truth, that is difficult.  That is beautiful.

- What pride! he cried.

- Call it what you will.  It isn't your judgement that concerns me.  Tomorrow I shall be dead.  At this moment I am thinking of a whole century.  For ninety years I have said: Guitton, before you die, you need to know with certainly what will happen after your death.  I have searched and searched for the truth on this question.  I have searched all my life.

- And have you found it?

- I think I will only find it, if I continue to look.  That's the sole reason, I haven't shown you the door.

- If you are always looking, that's because you haven't found it.

- As soon as one doesn't search any more, one loses what one has found.  On the contrary, the more one finds, the more one searches.

- I don't understand.

- Perhaps because you have neither searched, nor found.

- One up to you, he laughed.  But many people don't even begin to search, he said with a sideways glance.   You, on the other hand, are quite a case.

- What do you know about it?  That's the question.

- Let's admit you are searching.  What the devil do you expect to find?

- Devil take it, if I don't search, how do you think I can find?

- Have you found it, in the end?  Yes or no?

Socrates
Socrates

- It seems so, but I am still questionning.  I am always afraid, you see, of being a little too demanding; too partial; too self indulgent. That's why I love to have an enemy.  Refute me Callicles.  Thus spake Socrates.

-To sum up, you want me to prevent you dying as an idiot.

- It's stronger than I am.  The proof of an idea does not come without being put to the test.  Proof tested by an adversary is more conclusive.

- I am indeed your adversary, he said, looking me straight in the eye.  Let's get down to essentials.  Let's talk about faith.  When you began to search for the truth about Christianity, you were already a Christian.   You were already attached to Christianity by your education, your tradition, your habits.   How can you pretend to be objective?  You have only looked for reasons, which permit you to believe, and tried to refute those that authorise you to doubt.  Thus you rationalise a decision taken a priori and without reason.

- I accept your argument, I replied calmly, but it applies to you as much as to me.  Since you want Christianity to be false, you look for reasons not to believe in it.

- That means that neither you nor I can arrive at certainty about anything, Guitton.  That's exactly what I have been saying.  

- You're going too fast.  We often research what we have an interest in.  This is a difficulty in research, but it can also spur us on.  Anyway how could you research what doesn't interest you?  I fear you are confusing objectivity and indifference.  Basically research is based not on indifference, but on one's interest, and on one's love for the truth.

- But you don't want the truth, he hissed.  You want to prove to me that your Christianity is true.

- You mistake me.  My intention is not to prove anything to you, but to discover for myself what is deep down.  The only sceptic I want to convince is myself.  You benefit me, dear enemy - forgive my egoism - because you are useful to me in my personal search for the truth.  You help me to be objective, to reveal the sceptic that I sense within me.  The only way to conquer this interior sceptic, is to convince it.

He smiled and lowered his voice.

- Do you mean, to persuade it?

- To persuade truly, that's to say without manipulation, is to convince the heart that it has found the true good.

- True good!  That's another matter.  What does it mean?

- That's what I have searched for all my life.

- And what is this true good?

- That's of no interest to you, leave me to die.

- You're not dead yet.  In two words?

- Universal love.

- Pff!

- Sublime truth!

- Truth!  My poor Guitton, what is truth?

- There was a time when the word signified nothing to me too.  But I knew it must signify something.  When I think of this period in my life, I seemed to live in a kind of fog.  but the sky cleared.

He began walking up and down by my bed.  He was furious.

- You are always talking about truth.  But you are a fake.

- The one lie is this truth that you keep mouthing.... You are driving me crazy.  I don't know where I am ...  Oh yes, Guiton, you've debased the debate.  The heart of the matter is that you don't doubt.   How can you be honest if you don't doubt?

- But you pretend to doubt.   How can you be honest if you don't doubt your doubt?

- Because doubt is part of the rational method of arriving at the truth.   Doubt creates a tabla rasa.  And in this is born liberty.  And this liberty, Guitton, excludes your faith.

- You have to doubt, but to doubt well.  Are you sure that you really doubt?  A truly universal doubt would include a doubt about doubt.   A truly critical spirit would criticise criticism.  That is way, you see, dear enemy, my friend, that I am a critic - or that I try to be.  It seems more rational to me.  And this doubt does not create a tabla rasa.  It introduces a more sustantial liberty, which marries well with my faith.

- You renounce reason.

- No more than one renounces the Republic when one abolishes the guillotine.

- You have a reply for everything.

- Alas, no.  But I am happy to search for the truth with a truly critical reason.   If I have never lost the faith, it seems to me that I should betray critical reason in abandonning the faith.  To sum up, it is by the critical spirit that I keep the faith.  As if I were a believing rationalist and a liberal thinker.  Do you understand me better now?

- Guitton, you are diabolical.

- You are an angel, Lucifer.

And the visitor disappeared.

Second Interview - with Blaise Pascal.

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