Paul Tournier


Swiss Physician and Writer who developed an integrative approach to the practice of medicine, psychology and pastoral counselling

Author Quotes

God has allowed man a greater margin of liberty than the animals in his creation. It is not only the organic margin of deviation of which we have spoken, and which by its fluctuations maintains the life of the body: it is a margin of more moral disobedience which maintains, if I may put it so, his spiritual life. Viewed in this light, the moral conscience is seen to be exactly comparable with the organic sensitivity described in the works of Dr. Maurice Vernet. (see note) It is when we stray from the direction ordained by God, for his purpose, that it comes into action in order to bring us back. This coming back, which is repentance, reconciles us to God, and rekindles our spiritual life.

Those old Greek gods are not just poetry and legend. In them the Ancients personified living realities -- intelligence, beauty, love, or lust, which are still at work in our hearts, and which fashion our persons. The language they speak is that of image and myth, which touches the person much more directly than the explicit language of science and the intellectual dialectic of the modern world. It is also the language of the Bible, of the parables of Christ, which the rationalist of today finds it so difficult to understand, of the Word of God which demands of us not a discussion but a personal decision.

I have no methods; all I do is accept people as they are.

Thus God's plan for our spiritual life is realized, as in the life of the body, in a succession of corrections of our deviations. We sense great uneasiness when we recognize that we are not what we thought we were or wanted to be - such moments are so many decisive stages of our spiritual life: we are forced to our knees, and there find once more, through God's grace and forgiveness, harmony with him and with ourselves. Even complete sincerity at such moments, is an unattainable ideal. But what is attainable is the periodic movement of sincerity, the movement, in fact, when we confess that we are not as we have sought to appear; and it is at those moments that we find contact with God once more.

It is a lovely thing to have a husband and wife developing together and having the feeling of falling in love again. That is what marriage really means: helping one another to reach the full status of being persons, responsible and autonomous beings who do not run away from life.

Thus, in the spiritual life too, automatisms, the necessary servants of life, are at the same time its tomb. These habits of piety, indispensable as I have shown them to be, can very quickly become emptied of their truly creative substance, to become nothing more than the cloak of a devout personage. There are bigoted stick-in-the-muds in every church. In a pious family it is easy to mistake for a living faith what is in reality only a system of rigid principles which imprison life.

Life, the Spirit, the person, are not substantial realities which we can hold in our hands. They cannot be docketed, analyzed, or described. They are as fleeting as a lightning flash-by the time we have seen their light and heard the rumbling that follows them they have already gone. We cannot reach the person either by means of introspection or by objective scientific study. We must therefore, seek another way of approach. And that approach must by through the Spirit.

To be right is dangerous, it has ever been the source of all intolerance.

Many of the people I see yearn for a stable spiritual life. They blame themselves, after bursts of fervor, for falling back into luke-warmness, and after victories of obedience, for backsliding into sin. In this they are doubtless right - and I blame myself for the same thing; but I must at the same time bring them to see that it is our normal human condition. There is scarcely any such thing as a stable spiritual life. In any case it is rather a Hindu than a Christian ideal - the disappearance of the person, absorbed into the great Whole.

To be sure, a fruit is a living thing. At the moment when the breath of the Spirit blows, all these qualities enumerated by the apostle well up like a spring of fresh water. But, inevitably, they gradually crystallize into new automatisms, and form a new' personage. Thus piety is manifested in all the habits which go to make up this personage: regular prayer, confession, Bible reading, the Church with all its rites and ceremonies. (He who, on a plea of preserving spontaneity, refuses to submit to any religious discipline, will find his piety becoming extinguished, just as we were unable to grasp life apart from the automatic living phenomena of the body and the mind, so we cannot conceive of spiritual life detached from all concrete and regular expression.

Nobody can develop freely in this world and find a full life without feeling understood by at least one person.

We do not possess God. We find him periodically.

Our spiritual life itself also presents the double aspect I have described: it is made up of intermittent creative flashes and permanent automatisms. In art, too, we find the same mixture: a work of art springs from a creative inspiration, but it can be manifested only through a technique, that is to say through acquired automatisms.

Without the invisible conductor the astonishing correlation which exists between the organic facts and the psychical facts remains an impenetrable mystery. For example, I am sad - that is a psychical sign - and I weep - which is a physical sign. On what does the correlation between these two signs rest? I may think, with certain doctors, that I weep because I am sad. But that leaves the mechanism unexplained; why does my sadness provoke secretion in my lachrymal glands rather than the contraction of my big toe? I may think, with other doctors, that I experience the sensation of sadness because my lachrymal glands are secreting tears - and of course, because at the same time all sorts of other mechanisms are at work in my vegetative nervous system. But in this case there is no explanation of why these nervous phenomena are accompanied by a feeling of sadness rather than joy.

The creative power is God, the divine Word which calls first the inorganic world into existence, and then the biological world to life.

The great adventure to which I believe the men and women et today are called is, in every field of activity, the reconciliation of technology and faith. It is an immense task, simply because they have for so long he?s kept apart. In the face of all the problems which our civilization has raised, but not been able to solve, people are beginning to realize that scientific study . . . is not of itself sufficient. There is no question of sidestepping scientific stud)', but of giving it new inspiration ..,. Only those who are prepared to take the risks because of their faith, will make any real contribution to the building of a new civilization.

The most tragic consequence of our criticism of a man is to block his way to humiliation and grace, precisely to drive him into the mechanisms of self-justification and into his faults instead of freeing him from them. For him, our voice drowns the voice of God.

The progress of our spiritual life is made up of these kinds of successive discoveries, in which we perceive that we have turned away from God instead of going towards him. That is what makes a great saint like St. Francis of Assisi declares himself chief among sinners.

The real meaning of travel, like that of a conversation by the fireside, is the discovery of oneself through contact with other people, and its condition is self-commitment in the dialogue.

The religious life itself is no different in this respect. Point by point we shall find in it all the features we have noted above with regard to life: the incessant fluctuations, regulations and sensitivity, the elusive and intermittent character of that which is specifically living and creative, and lastly the automatisms which prolong it, and which are at one and the same time its witnesses, its support and its womb.

The same problem crops up throughout the whole field of medicine. From Hippocrates onwards, doctors have always been passionately interested in these psycho-physical concordances, without any satisfactory explanation to them, from the purely scientific point of view, having been found. Kretschmer has shown the concordance between certain types of physique and a predisposition to certain mental diseases. And I might add that even without having made a study of physiognomy, we all judge from a cursory glance at our neighbor's face whether he is an anxious type or a contented one, profound or superficial. Does the mind mold the body, or is it the body which determines the mind?

This is what marriage really means: helping one another to reach the full status of being persons, responsible beings who do not run away from life.

Disgusted by the abuses to which it led, humanity repressed Christianity by which it had so long been dominated. Repressed, but not eliminated. Herein lies, I believe, the essence of the tragedy of modern times. The modern man lives as if Christianity were a negligible hypothesis with no relation to the concrete realities of the world and society. And yet at the bottom of his heart this man remains impregnated with Christianity, so that he lives in a state of perpetual ambivalence with regard to it.

This spiritual life, in its characteristic sudden creative welling up, is therefore entirely subjective, inexpressible, and also inter?mittent. It is not manifested in the order of objectively observable phenomena except by its fruits.

Many ordinary illnesses are nothing but the expression of a serious dissatisfaction with life.

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Swiss Physician and Writer who developed an integrative approach to the practice of medicine, psychology and pastoral counselling