3. Cardijn’s Three Truths

Towards a grammar of the JOC

The explosive growth of the JOC quickly created challenges. On one hand, the JOC benefited enormously from its status as ‘authentic’ Catholic Action. On the other hand, even among the movement’s proponents, many understood this in a limited way while others continued to oppose its inductive, self-education methods. Or they viewed its working-class orientation as socialist or communist. Worse, some priests and bishops sought to use the name while modifying JOC principles and methods.

Worried, Cardijn sought advice from Pius XI, who counselled patience, reminding him that ‘language comes before grammar.’ In response, Cardijn progressively developed a series of easily-remembered trinomial expressions, including the see-judge-act, or binomials like the Sillon-derived conscience-responsibility, that concisely captured the movement’s essence.

A movement of study circles

Cardijn had begun this process as early as 1914 with his article ‘Hoe werkt een Studiekring?’ or ‘How does a Study Circle work?’1 ‘Everything in the study circle exists in function of personal formation, personal flourishing,’ Cardijn wrote, drawing on Aristotle and Ollé-Laprune. Hence, the need for ‘an examination of the lived experience of each week,’ Cardijn emphasised, highlighting the core of what later become known as the ‘review of influence’ or the ‘review of life.’

‘Each leader will speak of his/her experience, of what he or she saw, heard and felt him or herself,’ Cardijn wrote. ‘What means, what solutions do they propose?’ Once they have done this, ‘have no fear, your members are won over,’ he argued. ‘So, you can now start to speak of principles based on the intervention of the Church and the State, of particular initiatives, their initiatives and they will understand you.’

This was the basis of the future see-judge-act as Cardijn understood it: ownership of the facts and taking responsibility for their own action would open up the minds of the young workers to the principles defended both by the Church and the state. This was also the way to form ‘a core and an elite’ of young worker leaders.

Yet this personal focus also had a fundamental, outward dimension. ‘The influence on a given milieu by the participants (of the study circle) is incalculable,’ Cardijn continued. ‘By the common action and the personal influence of its members, a good study circle leads to the transformation, the re-creation and the conversion of a milieu,’ he added in his own application of Taine’s theory.

Equally important was the ‘systematic and permanent search for members,’ Cardijn wrote, foreshadowing the movement’s missionary outlook. Above all, study circle leaders should be close to the poor. Indeed, their ‘predilection should be for the poorest, the humblest and the most disadvantaged,’ Cardijn insisted.

By 1922, as the study circles coalesced into a movement, Cardijn’s concern turned increasingly to organisational matters. Young workers must manage ‘their affairs themselves,’ he wrote in 1921, beginning with meeting reports, financial statements, invitations for speakers.2 ‘Have you ever sensed how much the authority that one gives to a person increases their feeling of responsibility, develops their consciousness, awakens their energy and transforms their being?’ he asked, insisting on the need for ‘self-education,’ learning through action and practice, as well as ‘moral education,’ meaning education in virtue ethics.3

Catholic Action in the working class

Cardijn’s first article on ‘Catholic Action,’ entitled ‘L’Action Catholique dans la classe ouvrière’ – ‘Catholic Action in the working class’ – appeared in the movement magazine, La Jeunesse Ouvrière, in August 1924, just one month after the movement changed its name from La Jeunesse Syndicaliste to La Jeunesse Ouvrière Chretienne. 4

Immediately Cardijn began redefining the concept. ‘What does the expression ‘to do Catholic Action in the working class mean?’ he asked. ‘In my view, it can only signify three things,’ he answered:

1. To teach the working class to act in a Catholic way (en Catholique) in all the conditions of his working life: at home, at work, in the street, in both his private and public life;

2. To assist the working class to act in a Catholic way in these circumstances;

3. To organise the working class to facilitate and to generalise this formation and Catholic action.

And we say that in practice these three things – formation – action – organisation, cannot be separated if they are to be effective.

This was significant for several reasons. First was Cardijn’s use – pre-empting Jacques Maritain – of the expression acting ‘en catholique,’ here translated as ‘acting in a Catholic way,’ since it implies acting in one’s own personal capacity in the various circumstances of life rather than as a representative of the Church. As always, the starting point for Cardijn was the life of people, namely the young workers in this instance. ‘Some conditions of their life are diametrically opposed to Catholic doctrine,’ he wrote, citing ‘certain slums, houses, and factories’ where they lived and worked.

The objective of Catholic Action, then, was to enable young workers to take action amidst the real difficulties in which they lived, namely to ‘realise that doctrine and live in a Catholic way, without anyone demanding of them a heroism that one would not dare to demand of Catholics belonging to other social classes.’ Moreover, it was essential to avoid an exclusively doctrinal conception of Catholic Action, which risked becoming ‘Pharisaic.’ This amounted to a form of ‘dualism’ containing the ‘seeds of death,’ Cardijn warned.

The second point of note was Cardijn’s trinomial formulation of the purpose of Catholic Action in terms of education, (assisting) action, and organisation. Why did he choose these terms? We will return to this question below.

The JOC Manuals

As the movement spread, the need grew for a more systematic presentation, leading to the publication in October 1925 of the first edition of the Manuel de la JOC. This led to further criticism of the movement’s focus in its General Program on socio-economic issues. Indeed, not once in the Manual’s 229 pages was there any reference to evangelisation.5 The only mention of Jesus arose in the context of establishing ‘the social reign of Jesus Christ’6 while, in a page devoted to fundraising, the Manual appealed to people to ‘help us generously, thus transforming the material values of this world into unchangeable treasures for Eternity, according to Christ himself.’7

Nevertheless, the movement’s statutes made clear that ‘the purpose of the JOC’ was ‘education with a religious basis for young workers’ and ‘Catholic Action by young workers in the working class.’ This was combined with the need for propaganda ‘in favour of all Christian social organisations, particularly trade unions and mutual societies’ and the need to defend ‘the specific interests of young workers, including vocational orientation, job finding, apprenticeships, holiday programs, etc.8

Justifying this approach, the Manual insisted that the JOC was ‘a vast laboratory through which generations of future workers are formed.’ Rather than theoretical knowledge, the key was ‘knowledge that is lived, conscious conduct and behaviour and a living organisation [to] each complement and condition one another.’9 Moreover, the faith of the JOC leaders and chaplains shone through. A report on the first national congress also noted that Cardijn distributed communion to all delegates ‘to request the grace of being able to immolate themselves with Him for the salvation of the working class.’10

The outcome was that, while the 1925 Manual proved extremely successful, some seem to have thought it underplayed the movement’s Christian dimension. Meeting these criticisms, the 1927 Manuel de la JOCF for the girls’ movement clarified that its task was ‘above all a work of education, safeguard and re-christianisation of young (female) workers.’ Moreover, through its belonging to the general grouping of Catholic Action it intended ‘to participate in the universal apostolate of the Church.’11

Significantly, the JOCF manual now included a section on the Le Cercle d’étude et ses méthodes (The study circle and its methods). The ‘best methods’ here met ‘three needs: to learn to see, to judge and to act,’ formally introducing what was to become the classical expression of the JOC method for the first time.

Second Edition

The 1930 edition of the JOC Manual, which quickly emerged as the definitive reference, was published jointly by the Belgian and French JOCs, albeit with a few minor terminological changes in the French version, greatly increasing its audience. It had now grown to 391 larger-format smaller-print pages, with most extra space devoted to a new Part Five setting out the ‘Jocist method.’12 No doubt fortified by Pius XI’s repeated approvals and encouragement, the manual overtly identified itself as ‘a Catholic Action organisation’ for ‘the mass of young workers.’

Via its methods of formation, action and organisation, the movement sought a) ‘to integrally form’ young workers b) to transform their milieu of life and work and c) to represent all young workers before the public as well as private and state authorities.

Expressed differently, in another Cardijn trinomial, it was ‘a school where they formed themselves ‘among themselves, by themselves and for themselves; it was a service organising a range of educational and professional services useful in ‘the conquest of their milieu;’ and it was ‘a representative body’ that spoke on behalf of young workers.13 In summary, the movement’s role was to educate, serve and represent.

Its methods were active but above all realist, meaning that young workers should learn through their own enquiries:

To see the facts, their situations, the challenges of their work, their future, their life; to judge whether those facts are a cause of happiness or unhappiness, whether they are in conformity with their human destiny and Christian life, to the doctrine of the Church and the Divine Will; to act individually and collectively so that their work, their life and their milieu led to the happiness of people and the glory of God.14

The manual now included most classical elements of a JOC model that was already beginning to mushroom around the globe. There were separate ‘study meetings’ for leaders (‘the elite’) as well as outreach meetings and services targeting ‘the mass,’ plus a variety of publications for leaders, chaplains and the general young worker public.

Particularly important was the emphasis on ‘intégral’ or ‘holistic’ formation. For Cardijn, still faithful to Ollé-Laprune and the Sillon, this meant a life-centred formation, since it was ‘life’ itself, which formed young workers. Hence the need for a wide-ranging ‘intellectual, moral, professional and religious formation’ for young workers enabling them ‘to discover themselves the marvellous realities of the spiritual world, the hidden riches of religious life.’15

An emerging theology

The 1930 Manual also sought to clarify the meaning of ‘Jocist conquest.’ This implied ‘working like the leaven in the dough, not alongside, not at a distance, but in the milieu, within the mass, to radiate, extend and propagate,’ another time-honoured Cardijn expression that would resound at Vatican II. This was ‘the great secret of the Jocist method,’ the Manual argued, although Cardijn would later substitute the word ‘transformation’ for ‘conquest.’

Quoting Pope Pius XI’s 1929 exhortation that Jocists were ‘missionaries of the interior,’ the manual stated that it was ‘the milieu of work and the worker milieu that the JOC wishes to evangelise and re-christianise.16 This was possibly the first time that the JOC and/or Cardijn made explicit reference to ‘evangelisation.’ However, it remained a term that, unlike his French counterparts, Cardijn himself would rarely use before World War II.

Finally, Part I of the Manual on ‘The problem of salaried adolescents,’ after presenting the problems faced by young workers, now added a chapter on ‘Catholic doctrine’ – an initial response to the Honnay critique, no doubt. ‘Young workers – like all people – are destined to the glorious life of heaven and eternal beatitude,’ the manual stated, echoing Gratry:

This eternal destiny is the supreme goal of their life, the source and the foundation of their rights and of all their duties: this is the essential truth that must enlighten and orient the whole of the earthly life of young workers…

In the accomplishment of this temporal destiny, young workers are the conscious and free collaborators of the Creator and Redeemer. Their temporal happiness and their eternal happiness depend infallibly on each other….

Learning to know and to love this temporal and eternal destiny is the task of Christian education that young workers must receive.17

Yet, this magnificent temporal and eternal destiny contrasted with the harsh conditions in which young workers lived and worked, the manual explained. These were ‘a shame for our civilisation’ and had ‘the most disastrous consequences on the future and the eternity of these young people,’ the manual continued in an early expression of what Cardijn would later call his ‘Christian dialectic.’18

This comprised the first significant expression of Cardijn’s developing theology of the movement. Were there also echoes here of the theology of Belgian Jesuit missiologist, Pierre Charles, who spoke of the Church acting as a leaven and who emphasised God’s work of creation and redemption?19 Like Cardijn, Charles was a member of the editorial board of Victoire Cappe’s La femme belge, and had worked to counter the influence of Maurras.20 Indeed, he appears to have been one of the network of progressive Belgian Jesuits who cooperated closely with Cardijn during this period.

Cardijn’s tria munera

Also prominent was the new education-service-representation trinomial and its formation-action-organisation corollary, which Cardijn had already used as the basis of his 1924 definition of Catholic Action. Although Cardijn seems never to have stated it explicitly, it was clear from the context that the theological source of these trinomials was the classical conception of Christ’s triple role as prophet, priest and king – the tria munera or munus triplex.21

Historically, Aquinas had used the concept in relation to Christ, as did the Catechism of the Council of Trent.22 From the time of the Reformation, however, a broader notion of the tria munera applying to the Christian people developed mainly within the Protestant tradition, beginning with John Calvin’s article ‘Three Things Briefly to Be Regarded in Christ, Viz. His Offices of Prophet, King and Priest.’23 Lutheran Christology also emphasised the concept.24 Meanwhile, it fell into disuse among Catholic theologians.

During the nineteenth century, however, the tria munera made a Catholic comeback in part via John Henry Newman. ‘Christ exercised His prophetical office in teaching,’ Newman wrote, in ‘the priest’s service when he died on the Cross,’ and by showing himself ‘as a conqueror and a king, in rising from the dead… and in forming his Church to receive and rule’ over the nations.25

Since Cardijn was familiar with Newman’s writings, it is unsurprising that the former’s conception of the tria munera corresponded closely with the former’s education-service-representation trinomial. In this framework, prophecy corresponded to education, and priesthood to service for both Newman and Cardijn. On the other hand, for Newman, kingship corresponded to ‘receiving and ruling’ over the people. Cardijn, however, interpreted it as ‘representation,’ giving a slightly different emphasis to the kingly office.

In adapting Newman’s tria munera, Cardijn likely also drew inspiration from Pius XI’s first encyclical, Urbi Arcano in 1922 where the pope linked the role of the ‘faithful children of the laity’ to the ‘kingly priesthood’ cited in 1 Pet 2:9.26 Here, it is relevant to recall both the Society of St Vincent de Paul’s and Cardijn’s own previous references to a ‘lay priesthood.’ Thus, Cardijn’s concept of Catholic Action focused on forming lay people to take up their lay share in Christ’s triple office of teaching, sanctifying and governing the (secular) world, transforming it through their own work of education, service and representation of their peers.

Many progressive Belgian theologians began to reflect on this issue during this period, almost certainly inspired at least partly by Cardijn and the JOC. In 1931, Jesuit Paul Dabin expanded on the ‘priesthood of the laity’ in a pioneering study of lay apostolate.27 He complemented this in his 1937 book on Catholic Action, again relating the lay apostolate to ‘the royal priesthood,’ as Pius XI had done.28 His later classical volumes delved further into the biblical and patristic sources of this concept,29 while two years later the Louvain exegete and future Vatican II peritus, Lucien Cerfaux, also published an article on this theme.30

Similarly, Yves Congar, who made contact with the JOC from the late 1920s, also began to reflect on the tria munera, although he drew theologically on his German inspiration Johan Adam Möhler.31 Later he developed the notion further, drawing on Dabin, in his master work Jalons pour une théologie du laïcat.32

Over the next three decades succeeding generations of JOC chaplains, theologians and future Vatican II bishops continued this work. Besides Congar, these included the Chilean Bishop Manuel Larrain, the German Joseph Schröffer as well as Cardijn’s compatriot, Emile-Joseph De Smedt, whose conciliar contribution on this point was characterised by Ormond Rush as ‘crucial.’33

More elements of grammar

In summary, the influence of the 1930 Manual, which was translated wholly or partly into several languages, soon reached every continent including Australia in what was effectively a first draft of the Jocist grammar.

It included the first systematic presentation of Cardijn’s emerging series of trinomials encapsulating the core principles and methods of the JOC. These quickly proved to be an ingenious educational tool for enabling young worker leaders – most of whom had not finished high school – to gain a practical grasp of complex theological and philosophical concepts. Movement chaplains also latched on to these trinomials, many or all of which had deep theoretical – philosophical, theological, sociological or historical – roots.

Moreover, faithful to its Sillonist roots, the 1930 Manual was saturated with references to the importance of promoting ‘conscious’ involvement – and participation – by young workers in every sphere of life, including the liturgy, all with the objective that young workers ‘assume complete responsibility for their Jocist roles.’34 Although no later edition was ever published, the Manual remained a movement reference until Vatican II.

Notes de Pastorale Jociste

Cardijn continued to expand these notions in a series of speeches and articles, many of which appeared in the bimonthly publication for chaplains, Notes de Pastorale Jociste, which was launched and initially largely edited by Cardijn himself.

‘Life, milieu and mass’ were ‘three touchstones of the JOC,’ he wrote in 1932. The JOC is a school that must educate both ‘the elite and the mass,’ in their lives ‘as men and as Christians,’ he added in another article the same year framed in a series of binomial and trinomial expressions. Young workers need to learn to collaborate with ‘God, Christ and the Church,’ he emphasised, ‘in the magnificent work of Creation and Redemption,’ that was becoming a staple element of Cardijn’s theology.35

Other articles insisted on the doctrinal and formative role of the priest while simultaneously hammering the need for young workers to act ‘by, with and for’ themselves under their own conscious responsibility. ‘In some countries, it is the members of the clergy who direct and hold all authority in worker organisations,’ Cardijn warned. ‘This is not the method of Catholic Action,’ he added, in a shot at the more traditional model of ‘Italian Catholic Action’ that he implicitly contrasted with his emerging ‘Specialised Catholic Action.’36

In a 1933 speech to an international congress in Mainz, Germany, Cardijn explained how to make use of the see-judge-act method in the context of ‘active Eucharistic formation’:

Not long speeches, long lessons in front of passive listeners, but concrete and lively discussions teaching young militants to see by themselves the meaning of the Eucharist, to judge its value against all objections and prejudices, and to act by themselves to experience the importance of Eucharistic life.37

For his part, Yves Congar regarded Cardijn’s ‘Ite Missa Est’ speech at the Social Week in Reims in 1933 expounding his life-milieu-mass trinomial was one of his most significant.38

A partnership model

During this period, Cardijn also began to articulate his theology of mutually complementary ‘lay’ and ‘priestly’ apostolates:

The PRIESTLY apostolate is proper to the Ecclesiastical hierarchy ‘potestas ordinis et jurisdictionis’ – it is the depositary and communicator of the Person of Christ, the grace of Christ, the life of Christ, the message of Christ among members of the Mystical Body.

The LAY apostolate is PROPER to LAY PEOPLE acting on lay people in the lay milieux, on lay customs and institutions, transforming their lay life – family, professional, social and political – into a means of apostolate diffusing the grace and truth of Christ.39

In other words, the lay apostolate proper or specific to lay people was different from rather than derivative from the priestly apostolate, just as Ozanam had understood a century before. Moreover, it was the ‘fecund union’ of the priestly and the lay apostolates that comprised ‘Catholic Action advocated by Pius XI,’ he wrote, also recalling Harmel and the Sillon’s search for a new model of lay-clerical partnership.40

In one of his most important articles, ‘Le laïcat,’ later to become Chapter II of his Vatican II book, Laïcs en premières lignes,41 Cardijn further developed his conception of the lay apostolate.

‘There is in effect an apostolate proper to lay people in the Church, which transforms lay life into a life of apostolate,’ he wrote. ‘This lay life, genuine lay family, professional, emotional life, etc. is and will always be the raw material of Catholic Action, material which first and above all needs to be transformed into apostolic matter.42

In other words, although Cardijn did not say this in so many words, Catholic Action transformed ordinary pre-existing ‘lay life’ into ‘lay apostolate’ in a manner analogous to the way in which a Christian marriage transformed natural marriage into sacramental marriage.

Transforming their lives into ‘an apostolate of extraordinary fecundity… their work becomes a missionary life, their engagement to be married becomes a magnificent novitiate and a sublime vocation,’ he explained. So important was this, Cardijn wrote, that ‘without work, there would be no host, wine, paten, chalice, church or even religion’ and ‘without Christian families’ there would be ‘no priests, religious, missionaries or apostles.’ By implication the hierarchical Church was even more dependent on the lay Church than the inverse.

Cardijn thus synthesised his conception of lay apostolate as the ‘raw material’ of

Catholic Action under five points:

1. An apostolate proper to lay people

2. An apostolate different from the sacerdotal apostolate

3. An apostolate complementary to the sacerdotal apostolate

4. An apostolate adapted or appropriate to lay life and milieux

5. An apostolate irreplaceable for the conquest (transformation) of lay life, milieu and mass.43

Two months later in a follow up article, ‘Le laïcat ouvrier,’ which became Chapter III in Laïcs en premières lignes, he added five more points under the heading Action catholique ouvrière – Worker Catholic Action:

6. An essential apostolate belonging to the very essence of the Church

7. An apostolate necessary for the flourishing of the life of the mystical body

8. An apostolate organised in view of conquests (transformations)

9. An apostolate hierarchically organised and dependent on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy but endowed with its own lay hierarchy

10. An apostolate mandated by the religious authorities with an official mandate.44

This ‘conquest’ – or ‘transformation’ as he later preferred to phrase it – of life, milieu and mass took place through the educational, service and representative action organised by the movement, which was itself ‘mandated,’ meaning officially missioned by Church authorities for the task. Here it should be noted that, despite later suggestions, there was no suggestion by Cardijn of a mandate exclusive to the JOC.

Nor, despite the language Cardijn used, was there any suggestion of clerical control over this ‘organised’ apostolate. On the contrary, at a time when there was a generalised assumption that Catholic Action was, by definition, clerically controlled, Cardijn proposed not total independence for the JOC but a mutual relationship between the movement’s ‘lay hierarchy’ and ecclesiastical authority.

Indeed, this was Cardijn’s solution to the accusation by Pius X that the Sillon had ‘escaped’ hierarchical control. Moreover, this autonomy or relative independence of the Specialised Catholic Action model would become one of the marks that distinguished it from ‘Italian Catholic Action.’

The purpose of Catholic Action

In this Cardijn conception, the whole purpose of Catholic Action was to give a Christian meaning to lay life in every sphere of activity. And he said this even more clearly in a long 1935 article ‘L’Action catholique. Une pensée maîtresse du pontificat de Pie XI.’

‘The essence of the lay apostolate flows from the very essence of the Kingdom of God, from Religion and the Church,’ Cardijn wrote. ‘The fundamental, essential and immediate lay apostolate is the apostolate that each person must fulfil as a man, as a Christian and as a member of the Church.’

‘The whole of creation and the whole of humanity, in union with Christ established by Christ is [sic] primarily ordered towards the worship to be rendered to the Most Holy Trinity,’ he continued.

What was significant here was the way in which Cardijn interpreted this:

Therefore, the fundamental, essential, first and immediate lay apostolate is intimate, permanent collaboration by every lay person in the extension of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven, in time as in eternity: it is the free, proud and faithful collaboration in the implementation of the divine plan in the work of Creation and Redemption. It is the participation by every lay life, secular and temporal as well as spiritual and eternal in the worship to be given to the Most Holy Trinity.45

Hence, returning to his tria munera trinomial, Cardijn again characterised Catholic Action as ‘a school of lay apostolate,’ ‘at the service of the lay apostolate,’ and ‘a representative body of organised lay apostolate, recognised and mandated by the Hierarchy’ working to transform lay life, the lay milieu and the lay mass.

It was organised around a ‘triple hierarchy’ comprising:

a) the ‘ecclesiastical hierarchy,’ which had ultimate authority for ‘the apostolic mission’ of Catholic Action,

b) a ‘lay hierarchy,’ which organised the movement from local to international level, and

c) ‘a hierarchy of ecclesiastical assistants,’ i.e. chaplains, who comprised ‘the hyphen’ (trait d’union) joining the ecclesiastical and the lay hierarchies.

And it was this understanding that made it possible to speak of ‘participation in the hierarchical apostolate’ as Pius XI had done, Cardijn argued.

This was the sense in which Catholic Action was ‘the organised, hierarchical and mandated lay apostolate,’ Cardijn repeated, in a sure sign that his message had not been understood:

The Hierarchy recognises this organisation of lay apostolate as its own, grants it its authority, makes it an official institution of the Church, giving it a determined jurisdiction, confiding a genuine mandate such as to make it genuinely participate in its Hierarchical Apostolate in view of the re-christianisation of the lay world, of lay life, the lay milieu, the lay mass, and lay institutions for the methodical and effective struggle and against all the assaults and attacks of secularism.46

This was radically different from the prevailing understanding of Catholic Action as lay participation in the specifically hierarchical apostolate and under hierarchical control. Even many of those who supported and promoted the JOC and Specialised Catholic Action failed to appreciate just how different it was. But Pius XI had understood, adding to the significance of his 1935 autograph letter recognising the JOC as a ‘genuine’ model of Catholic Action.

The Three Truths

Addressing an audience including cardinals, bishops, priests and lay leaders from twenty countries, Cardijn also grasped the opportunity during the first JOC International Congress in Brussels to deliver his iconic lecture, ‘The Three Truths,’ in which he sought to synthesise the foundations of the movement in the form of a ‘Christian dialectic,’ which, as he later explained, was ‘a response to the Marxist dialectic.’47

‘Three fundamental truths dominate and illuminate the problem of the working youth of the world,’ Cardijn stated. ‘They inspire, explain, and direct us towards the solution that the JOC has to give:

1. A truth of faith. The eternal and temporal destiny of each young worker in particular and of all the young workers in general.

2. A truth of experience. The terrible contradiction which exists between the real state of the young workers and this eternal and temporal destiny.

3. A truth of pastoral practice or method. The necessity of a Catholic organisation of young workers with a view to the conquest of their eternal and temporal destiny.48

1. Thesis: Truth of faith

The ‘thesis’ in this dialectic was that each person had a divine origin, a divine mission, and a divine destiny. This destiny was ‘not two-fold: on the one hand eternal, and on the other temporal, without any link or influence of one upon the other,’ he added. Repudiating the Marxist critique of religion as the opium of the masses, he insisted that there could not be ‘an eternal destiny by the side, at a distance from earthly life, unrelated to it.’

A destiny cannot be disincarnate any more than religion can be disincarnate. No, eternal destiny is incarnate in time, begun in time, develops, is achieved, is fulfilled in time, in the whole earthly life, in all its aspects, all its applications, all its achievements; physical, intellectual, moral, sentimental, professional, social, public life. Daily life, concrete and practical. Eternal destiny can no more be separated from temporal destiny than religion is separated from morality.49

Moreover, this ‘fundamental truth’ was ‘the basis of the whole JOC,’ he said, responding to those who claimed that the movement lacked a doctrinal basis.

2. Antithesis: Truth of experience

Yet ‘the life, the actual conditions of existence of the mass of young workers,’ which ‘in terrible contradiction with their eternal and temporal destiny,’ were the very ‘antithesis’ of that truth of faith, Cardijn argued.

‘We must have the courage to face this reality,’ he insisted, remaining ‘with our eyes fixed to heaven and our feet on the earth, as inexorable for the brutality of the conditions of earthly life as we are inexorable for the demands of eternal destiny.’ 50

3. Resolution: Truth of pastoral practice or method

‘No external or arbitrary solution’ could resolve this contradiction, Cardijn contended. Rather, the solution was to be found in the movement’s ‘Truth of pastoral practice and method.’

Here Cardijn set out the essence of the JOC method in 800 dense words structured around his classical trinomial and binomial formulations, which he later presented in tabular form illustrating the structure of the method in a 1957 talk to English YCW chaplains.51

a) Truth of faith: The unique and genuine vocation of young workers
b) Truth of experience: The powerlessness of young workers
The disastrous consequences
For young workers
For worker families
For the Church
c. Truth of method:
A. See-judge-act By, with and for


Representative body

Church movement
Trains & educates
Represents the mvt
B. An apostolic and missionary movement of re-christianisation of
Their whole life
The whole milieu
The whole mass

Cardijn’s ‘Truth of method’ thus enabled young workers to see, judge and act to educate, serve and represent the mass of young workers. They achieved this through the action of leaders (the elite), who conquered or transformed the life of the young worker, the worker milieu and the whole mass of young workers. Whereas the 1930 Manual presented the Cardijn trinomials in a relatively unorganised fashion, the Three Truths now provided a structured framework for understanding the JOC as ‘a movement of the Church.’

As the future JOC international president and Vatican II auditor, Patrick Keegan, would later say, the Three Truths henceforth became Cardijn’s ‘basic thing’ in hundreds of talks delivered around the world. ‘He never varied from this pattern,’ Keegan recalled.52

Thus, Cardijn’s paper on the doctrinal foundations of the movement presented at the JOC International Congress in Brussels in 1950, developed his 1935 talk and also provided a framework for the work of the First World Congress on Lay Apostolate in Rome in 1951.53 Ten years later, the JOC International Council in Rio de Janeiro in November-December 1961, less than a year before the opening of Vatican II, again based its orientation document on the Three Truths framework, which was now globally recognised in Jocist circles.54

In English translation, Cardijn’s 1935 talk was also incorporated into a 1948 compilation of his talks[194] and later into the 1955 book Challenge to Action compiled by the Australian, Geoffrey Chapman, which was reprinted in multiple editions around the world.55

A Proudhonian dialectic

Cardijn’s Three Truths encapsulated his response to critiques of the JOC method that dated back to the Sillon, the ACJF and Le Play. Unlike a Marxian or Hegelian dialectic, which foreshadowed resolving the contradiction between the ruling class and the working class by means of a violent, once and for all revolution that would wipe the slate clean, the ‘Jocist dialectic’ sought to resolve the contradiction between the truths of faith and experience by means of its ongoing ‘method.’

Moreover, its basis was revealed precisely by its form as an ‘ideal-real’ dialectic resolved by a ‘method.’ According to the nineteenth century French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, ‘all the representations with which the human mind concerns itself are divided into two broad categories: the first we will name the ideal series; the second, the real series.’56 For Proudhon, truth was ‘found, not in the exclusion of one of the contraries, but actually in the reconciliation of the two’57 and the outcome of such a reconciliation would be ‘justice,’ Proudhon argued.58

This ‘serial dialectic’ was the motor of ‘progress,’ he suggested. In this sense, ‘everything always needed to begin again,’59 he claimed in a phrase that Cardijn would also make his own. ‘We are always just beginning,’ as he repeated on hundreds of occasions.

Although Cardijn seems never to have acknowledged this link, it corresponded with a revival of interest in Proudhon between the wars, no doubt arising from the search for an alternative to the communist dialectic. Other Jocist chaplains also developed an interest in this subject, none more so than a young French JOCF chaplain, Pierre Haubtmann, the future final redactor of Gaudium et Spes, who eventually devoted twenty years to the study of Proudhon’s work.


In summary, Cardijn made enormous progress in drafting the grammar of the JOC between 1925 and 1939. A whole generation of priests, particularly in the French-speaking European world, had emerged who grasped the theoretical bases of the movement. This was also true in other countries where local translations of the whole or parts of the Manual had been published.

By 1939 the JOC had become identified with both the see-judge-act and to a lesser extent with the Three Truths. In addition, building on Ozanam and Louis Cousin, Cardijn had clarified his conception of ‘the specifically lay nature of the lay apostolate’ while the JOC movement had won pontifical recognition as ‘genuine’ Catholic Action.

Many battles still lay ahead. But the Cardijn dialectic had embedded itself into the consciousness and pastoral practice of a rising generation of priests and lay leaders, many of whom would come to prominence at Vatican II.


1Joseph Cardijn, “Hoe kan een Studiekring werken naar buiten?” in Tijdschrift Geloofsverdediging, N° 6, (1914): 19-34: https://www.josephcardijn.com/en/item/9

2Joseph Cardijn, “Le syndicat des petites apprenties,” La Femme belge (1922): 148-162: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/790

3Joseph Cardijn, L’éducation morale, religieuse, sociale, professionelle, etc. des adolescentes ouvrières. (Louvain: Ceuterick, 1921): https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/850

4Joseph Cardijn, “L’Action Catholique dans la classe ouvrière,” La Jeunesse Ouvrière,” 5, N° 4. (8 August 1924): 85-87: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/863

5Manuel de la JOC. (Brussels: Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, 1925), 4.

6Ibid., 112

7Ibid., 161.

8Manuel 1925, 5.

9Ibid., quoted in Fiévez-Meert, Cardijn, 137.

10Manuel 1925, 14-18.

11Manuel de la JOCF (Brussels: Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne Féminine, 1927), 23-24.

12Manuel de la JOC, 2nd ed. (Brussels: Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, 1930).

13Ibid., 211-212.

14Manuel 1930, 213.

15Ibid., 218.

16Ibid., 283-284.

17Manuel 1930, 21-22.

18Ibid., 9.

19Joseph Masson SJ, “The Legacy of Pierre Charles SJ,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, N° 4 (1974): 118-120: http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/1978-04/1978-04-118-masson.pdf

20Charles Maurras, Maître de la Jeunesse Catholique? (Liège:Editions des Etudes Religieuses, undated (1928?)).

21Ormond Rush, “The Offices of Christ, Lumen Gentium and the People’s Sense of the Faith,” in Pacifica, N° 16 (June 2003): 137.


23John Calvin, “Three Things Briefly to Be Regarded in Christ, Viz. His Offices of Prophet, King and Priest,” Monergism website: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/ppk_calvin.html

24H. Orton Wiley, “Christian Theology, Chap. 22, The estates and offices of Christ,” Wesley Center Online: http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-22

25John Henry Newman, “Sermon 5, The Three Offices of Christ,” in Newman Reader: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/subjects/sermon5.html

26Pius XI, Ubi Arcano, Encyclical Letter, 1922: http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19221223_ubi-arcano-dei-consilio.html

27Paul Dabin, L’apostolat des laïques (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1931), 33.

28Paul Dabin, L’Action Catholique (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1937), 16.

29Paul Dabin, Le sacerdoce royal des fidèles dans les livres saints (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1941) and Le sacerdoce royal des fidèles dans la tradition ancienne et moderne, (Brussels-Paris: Editions universitaires – Desclée De Brouwer, 1950).

30Lucien Cerfaux, “Regale Sacerdotium,” Revue de Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques, Vol. XXVIII (1939):5-39.

31Hendro Munsterman, “Notre mission de prêtre, prophète et roi,” Conférence de carême du 18 mars 2012, Cathédrale de Grenoble, 2/9: https://alsineenspiegel.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/confc3a9rence-de-carc3aame-2012.pdf

32Yves Congar, Jalons pour une théologie du laïcat, Unam Sanctam 23. (Paris: Cerf, 1954).

33Rush, The Offices of Christ.

34Manuel 1930, 290.

35Joseph Cardijn, “La JOC est une école,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 1, N° 2 (1932): 15-17 and N° 3 (1932): 25-27: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1112

36Joseph Cardijn, “Le rôle du prêtre,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 1, N° 3 (1932): 27-28: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1114

37Joseph Cardijn, “La formation eucharistique des jeunes travailleurs,” 1933, AC1357: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1069

38Joseph Cardijn, Ite missa est, Causerie de M. le chanoine Cardijn, donnée à Reims le 26 juillet 1933, à l’occasion de la Semaine Sociale. (Brussels: Editions jocistes, 1933): https://www.josephcardijn.com/en/item/23

39Joseph Cardijn, “Apostolat sacerdotal et apostolat laïc,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 4, N°2 (December 1934): 22-23: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1203

40Cardijn, “Apostolat sacerdotal.”

41Joseph Cardijn, Laïcs en premières lignes, (Paris-Brussels: Editions universitaires – Editions ouvrières, 1963).

42Joseph Cardijn, “Le laïcat,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 4, N° 4 (April 1935): 61-64: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1205 (Cardijn’s emphasis)

43Joseph Cardijn, “Le laïcat ouvrier,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 4, N° 5 (June 1935): 77-81: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1207

44Ibid. (Cardijn’s emphasis)

45Joseph Cardijn, “L’Action catholique. Une pensée maîtresse du pontificat de Pie XI,” undated, probably 1935: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1092

46Joseph Cardijn, “L’Action catholique doit réchristianiser la vie de la masse,” Notes de Pastorale Jociste, 8, N° 4 (1939): 77-79: https://www.josephcardijn.com/fr/item/1236

47Joseph Cardijn, “Au bout de ma route,” Masses Ouvrières N° 197, (06/1963): 48-52.

48Joseph Cardijn, “The Three Truths,” 26/08/1935: https://www.josephcardijn.com/en/item/34

49Cardijn, The Three Truths.


51Joseph Cardijn, “Notes for a talk for English YCW chaplains,” 1956, AJ, England box.

52Transcript of undated interview with Patrick Keegan, Keegan Archives.

53Joseph Cardijn, “The Doctrinal Foundations of the YCW,” 1950: https://www.josephcardijn.com/en/item/53

54JOC Internationale, “Le caractère apostolique de la JOC,” 1961, AJ, 2.1

55Joseph Cardijn, Challenge to Action (Melbourne: Geoffrey Chapman, 1955).

56Edouard Jourdain, “Justice et utopie: Lire ensemble Ricoeur et Proudhon,” Philosophy Today, 58, N° 4 (2014): 527-544 Trans. Jesse Cohn: https://www.academia.edu/31924219/Edouard_Jourdain_Justice_and_Utopia_Reading_Ricoeur_and_Proudhon_Together_

57Henri de Lubac, Proudhon et le christianisme, Les Collections Esprit, La condition humaine (Paris: Seuil, 1945), 167.

58Ibid., 171.

59Ibid., 166.