Life in community – living and working together – is nothing less than a necessity for us. It is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think.
Our own plans and efforts are not what have been decisive for us in choosing to live this way. Rather, we have been gripped by a certainty – a certainty that has its origin and power in the source of every necessity, a source able to transform all compulsion. This source takes anything that seems a necessity and overwhelms it with superior power. We confess: this source, this power, is God.
Faith and Community
God is the source of life. In him and through him our common life is built up and led time and again through acute struggles to ultimate victory. In such a life, one will seek in vain for a pleasant idyll of human comfort or the fulfillment of romantic yearnings; much less will this life satisfy any egoistic desires for personal happiness. No, this is a way dedicated to the unconditional will to love, a way that shares in God’s own will to community. It is an exceedingly dangerous way, a way of deep suffering, which leads straight into the struggle for existence and a life of labor, into all the difficulties created by the human character. And yet, just this is our deepest joy: to see clearly the momentous conflict – the indescribable tension between life and death, man’s position between heaven and hell – and still to believe that life, love, and truth will triumph over all opposition, because we believe in God.
This faith is not a theory for us; neither is it a dogma, a system of ideas, a fabric of words, or a form of worship, nor is it an organization such as a church or sect. Faith means receiving God himself – it means being overwhelmed by God. Faith is the strength that enables us to take this path. It helps us to find trust again and again when, from a human point of view, the foundations of trust have been destroyed. Faith gives us the vision to perceive what is essential and undying. It gives us eyes to see what cannot be seen, and hands to grasp what cannot be touched, although this intangible reality is present always and everywhere.
Faith gives us the ability to see people as they are, not as they present themselves. It frees us from viewing others in the light of social custom or according to their weaknesses. It cannot be deceived by the masks of good manners and convention, of business respectability, of middle-class morals, of pious observance, or of political power. For faith sees that all these masks, fashioned as they are by our Mammon-worshiping, unclean, and murderous society, amount to a lie.
Yet neither will faith be deceived in the other direction and made to think that the maliciousness and fickleness of the human character (though real) are its actual and ultimate nature. To be sure, faith takes seriously the fact that we human beings, with our present natural makeup, are incapable of community. Temperamental mood-swings, possessive impulses and cravings for physical and emotional satisfaction, powerful currents of ambition and touchiness, the desire for personal influence over others, and human privileges of all kinds – all these place seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of true community.
But with faith we cannot be deluded into thinking that these real weaknesses of human nature are decisive. On the contrary, in the face of the power of God and his all-conquering love, they are of no significance. God is stronger than these realities. The community-creating energy of his Spirit overcomes them all.
Here it becomes abundantly clear that the realization of true community, the actual building up of a communal life, is impossible without faith in a higher Power. In spite of all that goes wrong, people try again and again to put their trust either in human goodness (which really does exist) or in the force of law. But all their efforts are bound to come to grief when faced with the reality of evil. The only power that can build true community is faith in the ultimate mystery of the Good: faith in God.
- Arnold of Brescia (1090–1155) was an Italian priest and monk who protested an over-powerful clergy and argued that the church should renounce its property and live in “apostolic poverty.” He was excommunicated and eventually executed on the orders of the Roman Curia. —Ed.
- The Brothers of the Common Life, a monastic order that existed from the end of the fourteenth century until the Reformation, lived by the work of their hands, especially by copying. Their best-known member was Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471), author of The Imitation of Christ.—Ed.
- Jean de Labadie (1610–1674) was a French Pietist who founded a community that practiced community of goods, joint education of children, and a simple lifestyle. —Ed.
- Immanuel Kant describes the freedom of the good will in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (first published in 1785). —Ed.
- Kees Boeke (1884–1966) was a Dutch reformist educator and (at the time of writing) a Christian anarchist and pacifist. His 1957 book Cosmic View would go on to inspire the 1968 films Cosmic Zoom and Powers of Ten. —Ed.
- The original includes details about Arnold’s community’s enterprises, which are omitted here. —Ed.