This is the final installment of Vendel Endrédy's Prison Memoirs, continuing from yesterdays's post (bold added):
I am not yet able to make a closure and move on. My thoughts repeatedly return to the prison; I relive each of its scenes time and again. I cannot help it.
Prison transforms a human being in some fundamental way. The first thing I tell myself in retrospect is that for no earthly treasure would I give away the sufferings of these six years.
I was given an immense amount of gifts. I finished an education, graduated and now I hold a diploma on which it stands written: an improved human being.
I would have been a bad student of physics if I had not seen in my prison-life a basic law of modern atomic physics proven: “All matter is ultimately light.”
Today even voice can be pictured. Even that is light. We pick up a few grams of dust from the ground, we may precisely measure and calculate the energy its atomic particles could release. It has been proven that a city like Budapest with more than a million inhabitants could be provided with light and heating from the energy contained in a small amount of matter.
Thus, the second conclusion I come to is this: every piece of trash, no matter how riff-raff and valueless it is, can become light, eternal light, if God’s Sun shines on it and releases it from the burden of the horror of evil.
This is why I am unable to feel hatred toward those who have hurt me, those who tormented me. I hate none of these evil men.
I like to pray for them from the bottom of my heart, asking that they may convert and become good human beings.
With this I think I can come to a closure and finish all that I was able to tell about my six years spent in prison.
Continued from yesterday's post (bold added):
On November 1, 1956, a guard opened my cell. Three men in civilian clothes entered with the greeting that sounded like a dream: “Praised be Jesus Christ! The Most Reverend Abbot of Zirc is free!”
It was about 6 PM as I exited from the Central Prison. I was the last prisoner to leave - the last one, because my name could not be found on any list of inmates.
I spent a total of six years in prison as a “secret prisoner,” kept in anonymity in uninterrupted loneliness, without any work or occupation. Of these six years, eight months were spent in custody of the secret police with on-going interrogations, twice with physical torture. By these methods, they “proved” me guilty of crimes I never committed: high treason, espionage, counterrevolutionary conspiracy, possession of foreign currency. The last one of these was true.
They would have pardoned my crimes if I had accepted the role of testifying as a chief witness, with a signed statement, to the immoral lives of the Hungarian bishops and religious superiors, including my own. Since I refused to accept my role as a witness in such a “satanic comedy,” they limited their “proofs” to my personal life.
After the mockery of a so-called trial, played out in detail in the presence of a five-member team under the presidency of judge Olti, I was sentenced to 14 years in prison. I have never seen the text of the sentence and, in spite of my repeated requests, I have never received it.
Until the trial I was kept in three locations, all three in Budapest: # 60 of Andrassy Street [today a museum called The House of Terror,], Main Street in Buda and Marko Street in Pest. My imprisonment continued in three more places: on Konti Street, Budapest, in the state Prison of Vác and in the “Gathering Prison” of Budapest.
Let me make my reader feel the weight of 6 years in exact numbers: 6 years and three days are equal to:
72 months and 3 days
or 315 weeks
or 2195 days
or 53,040 hours
or 3,682,400 minutes.
Each second of this time I was in an environment in which I felt overpowered in my whole being, by two rather different yet all-consuming ways:
The first method was that of the secret police, which in a thoroughly diabolical way tried to destroy me physically and morally. The apparatus of the juridical organization only added to it by choreographing a “satanic comedy,” as it had been determined by their bosses in Moscow.
The second method was my life in prison, where my personhood was simply abolished and I was handled as a mere physical object. An object is deaf, mute and blind. A prisoner is not supposed to see or hear or speak. The experience of prison weighed on me as if I was entombed alive. I felt almost physically that shackles kept in bondage all my physical senses. I was never allowed to be in contact with my natural family or my brothers in the Order. I received no letter or parcel for six entire years.
It was three days before my liberation [by the Revolution] that I was allowed to speak to my nephew. For three years I was not allowed to go for a walk. For almost two years I lived in an unheated prison cell in which my fingers and my toes and also my left ear suffered frostbite.
I encountered physical filth and dirt so incredibly bad that most human beings would not be able to imagine it. I lived in a prison cell in which, during one night, I killed hundreds of bed bugs as they invaded my body. Three times I was treated for life threatening infections of my legs and once for another skin disease, all caused by filth.
My only source of consolation and strength was the Eucharistic sacrifice which I offered in a prisoner’s uniform at those times when I was allowed to do so. No bell rang; only my heart was singing about the Lord’s mysterious presence on the table of the prison cell.
He became my companion—my mysterious and only cellmate—amidst the desert of my life in prison. He heard each one of my sighs and groanings, He wiped away every tear from my eyes, by which I expressed my desire for my dear Cistercian brethren and other loved ones: “Will I ever see them again? Will I ever again embrace those to whom I spiritually belong, those who are mine and whose father I am, as well as my many relatives?”
Yet unexpectedly, one day the door was opened and I was able to walk again on this Hungarian soil upon which the Freedom Fighters’ blood was shed, and I was again able to go home to my monastic family, all scattered but most of them still alive!
Ever since I started living with them again, the prayer we say every morning is so much more meaningful: “Make us worthy to be free…”
Continuing from today's earlier post (bold added):
After sentencing they put me into a car with screened windows. They drove around for more than two hours while I was sitting between two armed prison guards. I thought I was transported to the city of Szeged, but as it turned out they carried me only to another prison in Budapest, about 10 minutes from the courthouse.
For almost three years I lived in this prison, the prison of Konti Street. I was in utter solitude, never meeting anyone. I was one of the so-called “secret prisoners.” As I learned later, there were two other such prisoners there: Msgr. Grösz, the archbishop of Kalocsa, and the former Socialist leader, Arpád Szakasits.
In this prison the guards made me suffer a great deal. Often they did not let me out to the restroom. For hours I was in extreme pain. My cell was filthy, my skin was infected in the dirty cell, three times my face was disfigured by such infections. They fed me with bread made of flour gone bad. But during the winter they heated rather well. Each pair of cells had a common stove.
The day after my arrest I petitioned that I be allowed to say mass. First at Christmas of 1950 then at Easter of 1951 I was given permission to celebrate mass. But only from May 3, 1951, Ascension Thursday, did I receive a chance to say mass daily. They brought to my cell a chalice broken at its handle (I had to fix it with a piece of string) and a Franciscan mass book. Through five and a half years I was able to celebrate mass each day. At Christmas and All Souls’ Day I said three masses. At the beginning they tried to mock me while I was saying mass. But when they saw that I was not paying attention to them, they stopped. From the beginning of my imprisonment I asked for an opportunity to go to confession. I sent letters to the Ministry of Justice with this request but never received an answer.
Otherwise, I did everything to stay busy, keep my mind occupied. Whatever was beautiful in my life, I tried to recall over and over. In this way God’s grace had been doubled in my soul and comforted me in my prison life.
On August 7, 1953, the feast of St. Cajetan, I had my first chance to go out for a walk. One round in the courtyard took 68 steps. I was allowed 12 rounds. Later, my walks were made longer. In the prison to which I was later transferred, I was allowed to walk twice a day. There I was able to stay in the sun, sometimes even to sit down. In 1954 or 1955, in the summer, I ventured to stop, admiring a little piece of weed. The guard urged me in a rude voice: keep on walking!
For the first eight months of my imprisonment I received no books, no paper and pencil or pen. After my sentencing I received numbered sheets of paper, the guards repeatedly checked what I was writing down. I was solving math problems and made notes of the books I was given to read. The prison library consisted mostly of Soviet authors. I read Gorky, Ilya Ehrenburg and others. The rest of the books were atheistic, hateful toward church and clergy and showing employers in the worst light.
A few days before my sentencing, I was offered a chance to request other books. I asked for a Bible, the book Canon Law for Religious Orders, and a book on math or physics. The first two titles were immediately rejected, a book on math and physics was delivered into my hands five years later, on November 1, 1956, the day of my liberation by the freedom fighters. But two months after my trial I received the four volumes of the Breviary. And right after sentencing they gave me a rosary, though not my own.
Throughout the prison years I had to get up at 5:30 AM. The routine consisted of washing, dressing and cleaning the cells. Breakfast was given at 8 AM. In the first years, for breakfast they gave us soup cooked with shortening and flower, later they switched to the black coffee used by the military.8 They gave each day 300 grams of bread (2/3 of a pound), in three allotments. Lunch was given at 12 noon; it consisted of soup (made of canned vegetables) and about half a liter of some cooked vegetables. Once a week 100 grams of boiled meat was offered; on Saturday and Sunday the dinner was cold cuts. At 9 PM we had to go to bed. But in the year of 1956 my food was identical with that of the prison personnel.
In my first prison (Konti Street) I was given a numbered metal bowl and a spoon with the same number on it. The number was 201. When they moved me to another prison, the bowl and the spoon accompanied me so that I would not attempt sending any message of my whereabouts in the way customary among political prisoners.
Right after my arrest there was no heating in the cells in which I stayed, only the hallways were kept warm and from there we received some heat. By the way, underground cells are usually not very cold, only extremely dirty and stinking. The Konti-Street prison was adequately warm. But in Vác, my next prison where I spent almost two years, there was no heating whatsoever. It was there that each finger on both my hands, three toes on my right foot and two on the left as well as my left ear were frozen.
I was otherwise never seriously sick, but I went through the usual prisoner illnesses. I struggled with infections of the digestive system, lack of vitamin C, my teeth became loose, many broke or fell out. I had problems with my sense of balance (inner ear), deficiencies of the heart and sleeplessness.
But my nerves did not give up and I preserved my sense of humor. I was able to rejoice seeing a small bunch of weeds pushing its leaves up in the prison court. I have put its leaves into my breviary; I still keep them.
When I was sick with those “prison illnesses,” doctors of the secret police came to take care of me; their behavior and treatment was impeccable. To such secret prisoners as me, the regular prison doctors were not allowed. The prison cells of the secret police and the restrooms were horribly dirty. They did not clean them, nor did they give cleaning instruments for us to clean them. It was only in the prison on Konti Street that I got for the first time a separate towel, a piece of soap, a wash bowl. There I could treat the floor with oil and keep it cleaner. In the prison of Vác there were countless bedbugs in my cell. On the first three days after my arrival, May 13, 1954, I killed 750 of them. Later I got some DDT in powder and I was able to get rid of them all. In other prisons I found no bugs.
It was like a blessing to get from Vác to my last prison, the Central Prison in Budapest. It happened on Good Friday, March 30, 1956. They placed me in the same cell in which, as I later learned, Cardinal Mindszenty had spent quite some time. Although I was still isolated from everyone, life became much more bearable. I was given paper, pencil and books to read.
About the attitude of my guards working for the secret police, I have already spoken. In the prison on Konti Street they at times turned on the lights 30 times during a single night so that the prisoner would not have a chance to sleep. It was most terrible to hear them blaspheme the name of God, the Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary in the context of incredible obscenities. But I met some more humane guards even at the worst places.
I had a cellmate only during the first months of my imprisonment, while preparing for the trial. I thought, at first, that they were snitches working for the police. My first companion came in January of 1951, he was a former general of the Army. He greeted me with the words: “Please don’t tell a thing about yourself.” I thought from this that he cannot be an agent. Later a captain of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then another colonel of the Army, an engineer, were my companions. But for the next six years I was completely alone.
Throughout these years I had one single visit. Three months before being set free, my brother’s son was allowed to see me. We were allowed to speak to each other for half an hour. It was from him that I learned that on January 16, my mother had died. It was at that time that I also learned about the death of a member of our Abbey, Fr. Justin Baranyai. It hurt me so much to learn that in the prison he had lost his mind and never recovered, even after he had been set free.
When I was freed*, my original clothes in which I had been arrested could not be found. They only found my watch tied to shoelaces; they returned my abbatial ring and a clergy suite.
My life of six years in prison is an asset which I would not exchange for any earthly treasure. By all this, my life was enriched by an incredible extra value. I feel no anger against any person who tortured me.
*As noted earlier in the excerpt, Endrédy was freed by Hungarian freedom fighters during the short-lived 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He was re-arrested after the failed uprising and served out the remainder of his 14-year sentence in a care home for retired clergy.
Continued from yesterday's post.
After two sleepless weeks, when my knees were bruised and infected, they took me into a dirty little room. They called it the “writing room.” Here the prisoners had to write their biographies and confessions, admitting all the charges.
I was very tired, I just fell on a bed stained by blood and puss. A male nurse entered with a syringe in his hand. He said that the doctor sent him and I would get a shot more effective than any sleeping pill. He gave me two shots. In ten minutes I began to feel funny.
In this altered state of mind, which I cannot describe, I was led to another hearing that lasted for the whole night. These were the most painful hours of my life. I had to concentrate all my strength in order to keep my mind and will under control. Obviously, they injected into my system some mind-altering drug. But I was able to keep my mind in control. And yet, besides the horrors, up to this day I could not and cannot recall the details of that terrible night. I cannot recall what questions I was asked.
Six months later I was brought to confront Ervin Papp. As I realized that he was, indeed, organizing a conspiracy, I stated, “I was in no way part of this but, in case, by accepting some part of his guilt, I could help Papp and his fellow-defendants, I am willing to cooperate.” This remark was never included in the minutes of my process.
After eight months of such experiences, I was brought to court. Mr. Vilmos Olti was the judge, the prosecutor was Julius Alapi. The whole procedure was utter comedy. I received detailed instructions about what to say in court. I was warned that if an attorney asks me a question which is not in the script, I am not supposed to reply. I was accused of high treason, espionage, conspiracy and illegal handling of foreign currency.
My sentence was made public June 28, 1951. I was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Continuing from the previous post (bold added):
My first torture took place in an elegant room.
They stripped me naked. Then facing a young officer I was forced to begin deep knee bends. Every time I bent down, I was forced to kiss his boots. This went on till, exhausted, I collapsed. Meanwhile I was supposed to answer questions.
After I had passed out a few times, I was brought to a cell in the basement. I spent two weeks in a little prison cell that looked like a burial cave of 2 by 1.3 meters (7 ft by 5 ft). Above the bunk bed there was a leaking sewage line, constantly dripping on me. I was not allowed to lie down. However, while sitting I was still able to catch some sleep. I got no blanket. It was November. I was constantly cold.
In these terrible days I was constantly praying to God to make me die so that I would not hurt anyone by what I might say.
Two weeks later the interrogations continued. Behind a huge desk sat a colonel, probably the head of the Office of Investigation. They made me sit in front of him, while I was surrounded by five or six plainclothes policemen. To the side three people, two majors and a captain, sat on a leather couch.
The interrogation focused exclusively on the conspiracy of the university students. I told them again that I had participated in no such thing. (At that time I did not know as yet that, disregarding my advice, Ervin Papp had indeed started a subversive organization.) The detectives spat into my face. The colonel asked them, “Do you know any other way than torture to break a man’s resistance.” They all said, “No.”
They then dragged me to the other room where I had been tortured the first time. The same three people were waiting for me: a huge, muscular major, a captain and another man in civilian clothes. They stripped me again and made me do exercises till I collapsed.
Meanwhile with some flat object they dealt immense blows from behind on my shoulder. For three weeks after this I could not move my head. They also kept on kicking my lower back. The blows and kicks did not cause acute pain but time and again I was knocked unconscious.
Yet I do not think I ever remained unconscious for any longer period of time. I kept on concentrating on what to say and tried to answer all the questions which they were asking. For if I remained silent and did not deny any of their statements, they took my silence as an admission of guilt.
I had to undergo a large variety of physical trials. They made me face the wall and forced me to lean onto a pencil-like object set between my forehead and the wall. They put nails and needles under my heels. They pushed against my side the heated plates of electric ranges. When I collapsed they quickly pulled out the plank with the nails and needles and with a few kicks forced me to stand up again.
Another method was to make me squat time and again. They put into my hand weights of 20 to 30 pounds. I was supposed to squat with my heels over the nails until I collapsed. Then again with blows and kicks they brought me back to consciousness. I was also tortured with electric shocks. They conducted electricity to my lips, around my eyes, my nose, my ears, even to my penis.
The game of “Kiss the Cross” consisted in forcing me to kiss a metal cross and a metal plate, the latter being called the “gospel book.” The electric circuit was closed every time I held the plate and kissed it. They said if I told the truth no harm would be done, but if I lie the electric shock would kill me. My lips were burned and a wound as big as a quarter was left on my mouth. As I collapsed a sharp object lying on the floor seriously wounded my knee. This wound became infected and swelled up as large as my palm.
They brought two doctors who dressed and bandaged the wound with the greatest care. One of them asked: “What happened to you?” I softly answered, “It happened during the interrogation...” At that moment a policeman stepped out from behind a screen and harshly interrupted, “He fell down on the steps.”
During the tortures there was a point beyond which I ceased to feel that I was being hit. At times the prison guard would tell me to wipe the blood from my face. I did not realize that I was bleeding.
The following post follows up on my previous two posts (1,2) about Vendel Endrédy, the Abott of the Cistercian order who is a native son of the small Hungarian village I now call home. The following is an excerpt from Endrédy's prison memoirs.
They took me to the infamous secret police station at No. 60 Andrássy Street. The interrogation lasted eighteen hours with two short pauses. In the pauses they lit my face with highpowered lamps; two policemen saw to it that I would not close my eyes even for a minute.
The head of the Bureau of Investigation, whose name I never learned, told me that I had been under surveillance for two years and that they had followed every one of my steps. They had obtained irrefutable evidence about my criminal activities against the State. They told me that they intended to prove my crimes of organizing a conspiracy against the State, of espionage and of illegal dealings with foreign currency. They accused me of sending abroad twenty-four young members of the Order and of exhorting the Order to remain faithful to the Church even after Zirc had been suppressed. By doing this, they said, I wanted to weaken the power of the State and the new democratic regime. At the first interrogation they did not accuse me of conspiring to restore the Hapsburg monarchy, nor did they accuse me of anti-Semitism. These absurdities were invented later.
In the second hour of the interrogation, the colonel indignantly declared how insolent the hearsay was about the tortures done by the secret police. They would not even touch anybody. They had no intention of making a martyr of me. He gave his word “as a gentleman” to confirm all this. At this time, indeed, I could not even imagine that somebody of my age - I was 56 years old at the time - would be repeatedly beaten, kicked, tortured in all sorts of ways, and then given shots with chemicals that would deprive him of his free will.
They spent an awful lot of time telling me all sorts of slander about the personal lives of our bishops, the superiors of the religious orders and of other leading personalities of the Church. They declared who my lover was and made detailed statements about the sexual liaisons of the various bishops. That was followed by a long and detailed list of deviant sexual behavior attributed to these same persons. They, in fact, did not want to turn me into a martyr. To the contrary, they wanted to destroy my personality and turn me into a demoralized, humiliated non-person. They made no secret of their intent.
I was told how they planned to make the press in Hungary and abroad become a participant in this Satanic comedy. I received 72 hours to “think it over.” After that, if I would not cooperate, they would publish all those “facts” of which they had accused me. They would destroy not only my image but also the image of the Cistercian Order and the Church as a whole.
“I need not one minute of reflection,” I said. “There is nothing to think over.”
At the end of my first interrogation they accompanied me to the basement. On an ice-cold pavement floor, they stripped me naked: they wanted to see if I was hiding any items. They tore off the lining of my jacket, they broke off the sole of my shoe, they took off its heel. They took away my shirt buttons, my suspenders, even my eyeglasses.
In the prison cell there was only an incredibly dirty bunk bed. In the first two months I received no blanket. Later I got the kind of cover that one normally uses for horses. In the room the light was always on. Only the noise coming from the street enabled me to distinguish between night and day. I was expected to sit on the bunk bed without leaning back; only with permission was I allowed to lie down. I was expected to keep my hands outside the blanket. In my sleep I had to turn my head away from the wall, facing the light.
This post is a response to a great question in a comment from yesterday's post about Abbot Vendel Endrédy, who chose to leave Hungary after the communists took power but returned shortly afterward with the full knowledge that he faced arrest, imprisonment, and torture once he stepped back into the country.
I am publishing the response here to draw attention to a sorely neglected aspect of what it means to fight in the spiritual war and as an example of how the spiritual war is won.
The comment that motivated my response is a simple question:
For what purpose did he return, or why did he feel he had to return?
I could answer that question by asking one of my own. The communists could have simply killed Endrédy before he left the country or upon his return – why didn’t they?
The short answer to your question: Endrédy understood that the fundamental nature of the war in which he was embroiled was spiritual, not merely political or ideological.
He recognized that the worldly cause against the communists was lost for the time being, but that the spiritual cause against the communists was not. Endrédy understood that being "free for" God meant infinitely more than being "free from" the communists.
In the interest of keeping yesterday’s blog post brief, I skipped over the details of Endrédy's departure and subsequent return to Hungary in 1948, but I'll expand on a few of those details now.
Though it was technically possible to escape from Hungary via clandestine means after the war, men of Endrédy's stature were on the communists' radar, so to speak. This made it virtually impossible for them to leave the country undetected.
The only way men like Endrédy could leave was to petition the communists for a special passport that would allow them to travel abroad for a set time.
Put another way, people like Endrédy had to ask the communists for permission to leave. The communists would only grant this permission if the applicants promised, under oath, to return before the passport expired.
The true spiritual aims of worldly evil reveal themselves in such arrangements. As stated above, the communists only granted permission to those who swore oaths to return. Here's the catch, people who were granted such passports knew they would be arrested the moment they stepped back into Hungary. Thus, the tacit spiritual objectives behind the travel permits become remarkably clear.
The communists did not want the travel permit owners to return; they wanted the permit owners to embrace the freedom they had been "granted" on the communists' terms.
Thus, those who chose to stay abroad under these conditions were doubly defeated.
First, because their physical “escape” was not an escape at all. On the contrary, it was little more than an admission of defeat and a confirmation of the communists’ worldly gains. Second, those who left for good under the conditions the communists established spiritually affirmed that they preferred freedom from the communists over freedom for God.
Endrédy understood that his return was a thumb in Satan’s eye. On the one hand, it was an annoying challenge to the supposed nature of the worldly gains the communists had made. On the other hand, it demonstrated Endrédy’s willingness to fight and eventually win the spiritual war.
The communists could have simply killed Endrédy upon his return, but they didn’t. Their excuse was that they did not want to make a martyr of him, which is partially true.
The last thing the communists wanted to do was kill men like Endrédy while they were aligned with God.
Though the communists openly rejected the spiritual, their actions reveal the spiritual objectives underpinning their actions. Death was inadequate on its own; damnation was the ultimate aim. Death without damanation was a loss, not a gain.
So they went to work on Endrédy and did everything they could to break him spiritually. They arrested him, humiliated him, degraded him, and tortured him, but Endrédy would not break. He remained firmly aligned with God despite the decades' long ordeal the communists inflicted upon him.
From a purely temporal perspective, Endrédy could be considered a tragic figure, but from the spiritual perspective -- the perspective of "real" Reality -- Endrédy emerged victorious from his war with evil because he understood the spiritual reality of what he was involved in.
He showed the communists that his spiritual freedom was more powerful than the freedom they had offered him.
Moreover, he also demonstrated the superiority of his God-aligned agency. In spite of all of their power, terror, victories, and gains in the world, the communists could not secure the one and only thing they truly wanted from Vendel Endrédy.
He proved that his freedom was ultimately greater than their power.
Should you ever travel to the small, non-descript Hungarian village I call home, you will inevitably encounter a large image of a bespectacled priest affixed to the rectory wall facing Main Street. The image depicts the village’s most famous native son, Kálmán Hadarits, who is better known as Vendel Endrédy.
Hadarits changed his name shortly after he was ordained into the priesthood. The adopted surname is a direct reference to the village from which he hailed, which was known simply as Endréd at the time of his birth in 1895 (it is now called Fertőendréd).
After he completed his studies at a Benedictine school in Györ, Endrédy became a monk, entered teaching, and was eventually elected as the Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey in Zirc, but he is remembered primarily for a choice he made in 1948 when he was a fifty-three-year-old man.
The Second World War devastated the abbey’s schools; however, the devastation of war could not rival the devastation the communists inflicted upon the schools when they took them over in 1948. With no hope on the horizon, Endrédy fled to Rome, but he did not stay there long. Knowing he faced imprisonment or worse, Endrédy chose to return to his beloved abbey in Zirc. Upon his return, he brought a message from Pope Pius XII to Cardinal Mindszenty, who the communists had placed under house arrest on December 26, 1948.
In 1950, the communists took over the Cistercian Abbey itself. Endrédy was the last to leave, but he did not get far. The communists arrested him four days later in Budapest. After surviving a ruthless regimen of torture, Endrédy was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1951. The communists forced him to spend the first six of these in utter isolation where he was denied practically everything that may have maintained a connection to the outside world. He was even denied reading material, writing utensils, and paper. After these six terrible years, the communists transferred the 62-year-old Endrédy to a home for aged clerics in Pannonhalma, where lived until his death in 1981.
Whenever I read about a man like Endrédy, I can’t help but compare him to our current crop of clergy and reflect upon the actions churches took during the birdemic in 2020.
Endrédy’s escape to Rome in 1948 is perfectly understandable and justifiable. The situation in Hungary had become hopeless. His freedom and life were both in peril. He could have easily continued his career in Rome. He could have taken a safe and cushy job somewhere in the Vatican, and from that position he could have devised some way to liberate his abbey from the communists. Or he could have just put it all behind him and bidden his time until communism weakened or collapsed.
But he didn’t do any of that. He chose to return. He knew he would be arrested, humiliated, tortured, and imprisoned when he returned, but he returned anyway. When I read about a man like Endrédy, I can’t help but wonder what he would have done had he been the priest of the little church in my village in 2020. Would he have locked the doors as the current priest did? Or would he have chosen differently?
It’s difficult to say. If anything might provide a clue, it is Endrédy’s writings. After suffering through six years of isolation, Endrédy was finally granted access to writing utensils and notebooks. In one of those notebooks, he wrote the following:
Lord, grant that we may be worthy of freedom.
This, from the pen of a man who – from the perspective of most modern people – escaped to freedom in 1948, but decided to give up this freedom and return to his home country to be tortured and imprisoned – which begs the question:
What is the nature of the freedom to which Endrédy refers?
Well, I posit it’s the sort of freedom that nearly all mainstream churches blatantly rejected in 2020 under the guise of loving one’s neighbor.
Speaking of love, Endrédy also had something interesting to say on that subject:
The world has become hell, and the people no longer believe. A superhuman task awaits us; to once again convince the world that God loves.
A few years ago, my mother gifted me a stack of old books that had come with a house she had purchased. The books looked nice, and she thought it wasteful to discard them. The titles and authors were unfamiliar, so I shelved the books without inspecting them. The books caught my eye as I was working in the study yesterday, so I decided to take one down and examine it.
The book in question is a large anthology published in 1933 called Quests and Conquests by Dean C. Dutton Ph. D., a Methodist pastor who divided his work into two distinct parts: Quests - “A search for the Wealth of Life, Truth and Assurances of Reality, and Conquests - Building this Wealth into Personality.
The first part consists of excerpts from literature and the Bible arranged into “One Hundred and Twenty-one Lessons in Life Building.” Among other things, Dutton utilizes the second part – “The Supreme Philosophy" – to expound upon his metaphysics. As I thumbed through the anthology, I quickly realized that the anthology was a “self-help life course” and that Dutton had regarded himself as something of a spiritual “life coach”.
Part One -- “Search for the Wealth of Life, Truth, and Assurances of Reality” -- crackles with the energy and enthusiasm of a well-read, cultured, educated, mid-twentieth-century, American protestant preacher who believes his arrangement and compilation of inspirational “nuggets” taken from the Bible and other great works will save souls and the world. Dutton’s ardor in excerpt compilation and arrangement concludes with a fireworks explosion of self-affirmation aptly titled: “My Reverie”:
The fireworks reverie shines even more brightly when one considers that Dutton’s book appeared in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression.
Part Two – The Supreme Philosophy – begins with a note:
The Scourge of the Ages, a false Philosophy, is sweeping our nation in magazines, movies, materialistic instructors, and in every possible way, attempts are being thrust forth to break down our national life and Christian civilization.
The State, the Church, and the Home are the institutions it would destroy. They prophesy that in fifty years men will not marry. Childbirth out of wedlock will be common. These brats will be gotten out of the way by dumping them on the state. Lust spurns the responsibility of parenthood. The glory and joy of our high idealism they ridicule. They threaten the Heart Throb of our nation.
Never was there such a need for a great sane, constructive philosophy as in this terrific hour. In the light of the newer facts of Science and under the glow of sane, clear, logic we present “The Supreme Philosophy” with glad assurances of Reality.
A cursory browsing of Dutton’s philosophy quickly revealed that he certainly had his finger on the pulse when it came to the “big picture” of Creation:
The logic of the Universal setting calls for a program of unfolding and development. If, therefore, there is to be such an unfolding by what agency is the Universe to come to its development?
Man is the agency by which this earth has come to its development. But man is not allowed to remain here but a little while. Right in the midst of the most interesting developments he is interrupted by a knock at the door – It is the Angel of Death. Man is called out into the Greater Workshop. What does this mean?
We think it means that man is the agency not only to have a part in the development of the earth but we also think he is the agency by which the whole Universe is to be unfolded. We feel that man is allowed to remain on the earth just long enough to learn something about life and things and get acquainted with the WORLD DOMINION business. Then he is promoted to the larger realms – ultimately to be the pal and partner of the Creator in His tremendous program of unfolding and developing the Universe forever.
Man as “the pal and partner” of the Creator drips with the sheer, exuberant Americanism that undoubtedly filled Dutton’s soul but does not diminish the correctness of Dutton’s assumption that God desires to raise man up to the level of co-creator within Creation and that man’s agency is the key to this “raising up.” This assumption forms the core of Dutton’s philosophy, and he employs it as the foundation of his mostly Protestant metaphysics.
My hasty and slipshod skimming of Dutton’s obscure and little-known Magnus Opus leads me to believe that the author intuitively understood the spiritual dead end the West was heading toward in the middle of the twentieth century. He also appears to have grasped the way forward, which he embraced with admirable dedication and zeal.
Dutton was probably able to find that way forward himself, individually, but the life course and Supreme Philosophy he offered the world had no impact on the Great Scourge, which has virtually swept national life, Christian civilization, the state, the church, and the home away for good.
Why did the people of Dutton’s time largely fail to become “partners and pals” of the Creator? The answer lies somewhere within Dutton’s approach to his Supreme Philosophy, which was able to diagnose the problem and identify the cure, but ultimately failed to provide the correct treatment.
The fault seems to be in Dutton’s systematic and business-minded preoccupation with worldly achievement and utility coupled with the dogged belief that filling personality with external sources of greatness would inevitably create spiritual greatness internally and externally. Fill yourself full of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Mozart, Michelangelo, and watch your empire of a spirit expand! The approach appears to have worked for Dutton, but it was likely beyond the reach of most people who purchased his book.
Put more generally, the fault of Dutton’s Supreme Philosophy ultimately lies in his over-idealization of worldly institutions, worldly achievement, and an overly keen sense of American exceptionalism. Though he emphasizes the significance of human agency, Dutton appeared to have been unable to free himself from many idols:
Do we sense the high honor that is ours in being the pilot nation of the world?
Greece was the most highly cultured nation of her time. Rome reached a zenith of power tremendous. Both went down in a crash of selfishness, indulgence, and immorality.
What if America fails? Would it not mean a world collapse? If America fails the world, to whom might humanity cry for help?
World needs are intellectual, spiritual, moral, social, and industrial. We may dole out our millions for bread when they are starving, but what the world wants is to feel that America is living the life that Christian Democracy proposes. If America fails, the whole scheme of Christian civilization fails.
My conclusions about Dutton’s Supreme Philosophy are shallow speculations. Nevertheless, the inherent problem in his philosophy appears to lie not so much in his declaration of having a soul as big as an empire, but in the belief that his empire of a soul required an empire in which to flourish.
Greece and Rome were pagan rather than Christian empires, yet they managed to produce the sort of greatness Dutton admired. (Rome became Christian later, but only toward the end). All of this makes me wonder what how enthusiastic and connected Dutton’s empire soul would feel in today’s failed Christian civilization.
Would he still strive for spiritual heroism and greatness? Would he still approach each day as a blessing? I wonder.
Unlike Dutton, I believe the absence of Christian civilization could be beneficial to God’s creative purposes of raising men up to be co-creators. Man's current predicament may lead him to becoming more conscious of his agency, which may lead to another step toward participating in the unfolding and the development of Creation. But he'll have to discover this on his own, without the aid of any self-help programs.
I suppose it all comes down to what one believes the essence of Christianity to be once God’s creative purposes have been discerned. Quest appeals to me. Conquest? Well, it depends on what we've set our sights on conquering.
Note added: If you can shed any light on Dean C. Dutton or his book, please do. Online information on both is scarce. I don't know how well-known Dutton was in his time, but he appears to be wallowing in obscurity now.
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