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their solidarity with them.

Not long ago, a certain morality sought to forbid
this knowledge of the past; it would have hidden
from the child the uncertainties and difficulties
through which our actual morality has been formu-
lated. The purpose was excellent : to have parents
respected, to have them regarded as infallible, and to
give the child the impression Moses must have pro-
duced upon the Israelites when, descending from
Sinai, he placed the two tables of the Eternal Law
in the Ark of the Tabernacle. But unfortunately the
means was not so good as the end. Children, even
quite little ones, were not always the dupes of pious
parables, and while they made a show of belief began
to mistrust the whole of the education given them.
Some even wondered if society were not tacitly agreed
to deceive children.

To-day, this method seems to have been aban-
doned. The theory of parental infallibility beat itself
against too many lamentable contradictions.

The depth of the evolution, which in this respect
is being wrought in our customs, was revealed in the
course of the very interesting discussions that took
place a few years ago on scholastic matters. Entirely
new ideas sprang up in answer to the question " To
whom does the child belong ? " We have not time to



THE PRESENT MOVEMENT 145

discuss the subject at length, but must indicate it in
a word; for the solution manifestly adopted by public
opinion was neither that ordained by the Church nor,
again, that which is inscribed in our civil law. It
was inspired by the moral and religious orientation
we are endeavouring to outline.

Conservative polemics have not dared to hark back
to the old orthodox idea, pure and simple, though in
theory it still exists, that the child belongs to God;
that is to say, in practice, to the Church, or rather to
its head, the Pope, and to his delegate, the priest.
Without confessing their change of front, they said :
" The child belongs to its parents." This was to
return to the old secular and pagan notion; but only
in appearance, for those who reclaimed for the parents
all rights over their children added mentally : in order
to direct these children conformably to the teaching
of God (of the Church).

Strange that this point of view, which should, if
taken as it was carefully set forth, have flattered the
amour propre of parents, left them instead completely
indifferent ! In this respect the great effort made by
all the elements of the various Conservative parties,
and attempted, moreover, in complete harmony, was
without success. This fact, which passed unobserved,
is nevertheless a sign of the profound changes going
on in the thought and habits of society.

A similar check has been sustained by a small
number of theorists, who opposed their claims to the
Conservatives, saying : " The child belongs to the



social



group



The response made to both theories by the refusal
of public feeling even to take them into consideration
has not been clearly formulated in any record, but it



146 FRANCE TO-DAY

is formulating itself all the time in facts. In opposi-
tion to the old pagan idea which still inspires many
of our laws in that which touches the family we
now admit that the child is not made for its parents,
but that it is the parents who are made for the child.
The child is a living stone brought to the building
of the future. Our tears when a child dies are not
all selfish tears, and the transports of procreative love
are not a shameful concupiscence of the flesh. The
day will come when men will recognise the beauty,
the incomparable grandeur, of the communion of
bodies; when they will no longer be able to separate
it from ineffable communion with the mystery of the
worlds. We do not turn our backs on truth, on life
and revelation. We come thence and, more truly
still, we go thither : we are of truth, of life, of revela-
tion; we even make them, in so far as we enrich the
still too restricted domain humanity has created by
its labour, tears and love.

Seeing the mistakes of the past, the mistakes of
our parents, we lose our pride. We learn to suffer
the mistakes of the men around us; we divine that
we ourselves are not exempt, and thus become more
modest, patient and strong.

The old philosophy taught that it is not worth
while to spend one's life in the pursuit of a perfec-
tion which is not absolute with the certainty that
one will not attain it. That was to traduce human
nature, which is much less enraptured with the
absolute than some schools of philosophy would have
us believe. The labourer is not sure he will harvest
the corn he sows. There is something infinitely sweet
in planting trees under whose shade we shall not rest.

These trees will not be immortal; perhaps next



THE PRESENT MOVEMENT 147

winter's north wind will wither them up. Take
heart ! Let us plant them, for all that : it is not
our concern that they thrive, but that they be planted.
Moreover, they will thrive after some fashion; their
poor boughs, blackened by frost, shall yet be, for
those who come after us, a witness of our faith.

Let us, then, plant trees, sow ideas, shape institu-
tions, as did those who went before us. Far from
being hindered by the notion that our strivings will
inevitably fall short, let us sustain ourselves with the
assurance that they prepare for others, and yet others
ad infinitum; and that our labour has entered as a
harmonious note into the eternal symphony.

The silence that is generally preserved before those
who debate theoretically as to whom the child belongs
is worth noting.

It is a mark not, as has been sometimes said, of
scepticism in the public or of disinclination to discuss
serious matters, but simply of a tendency to see things
as they are and to decline to indulge in mere words.

Our people are tired of verbal polemics which do
not enlighten the mind and give rise to misunder-
standings. They perceive that life draws together
and unites.

Last year, on the national holiday, a village mayor
in the Cevennes, proposing his toast to the Republic,
spoke somewhat after this fashion : " I recall our old
teacher, forty years ago, telling us that political life
resembled the ascent of a man who is trying to climb
towards the summits of the Alps which glisten
yonder, higher, always higher. Ours is one of the
most advanced communes in the department. I am
proud of it, as you are. But let us continue our



T 4 8 FRANCE TO-DAY

advance. Who knows if there are not some higher
than we, whom we cannot see? It is, however, of
those behind we ought, above all, to think. Do not
let us throw stones at them, do not let us abuse
them. That would be to waste our time. Besides,
we should be making them believe a lie; for, at
bottom, we love them well. Without them we
should not have advanced so quickly. We are proud
of our legs, but it is largely emulation which has
pushed us forward. And besides, while criticising
them and laughing at them sometimes, we feel our-
selves their brothers. Where they are now, there
were we a few years back. Sooner perhaps than may
be thought they will be where we are to-day. You
know it is for them as much as for ourselves we are
working. We are an advance guard. All credit to
us! But we cannot triumph alone; and we would
not if we could!

" I conclude as I began, by reminding you of the
fine things our worthy old schoolmaster used to tell
us of the Republic, one and indivisible; I did not
understand them forty years ago, but it seems to me
that now I am beginning to; and I raise my glass to
those who shall follow us, who will be better servants
than we to our Country and Republic.' >

These simple words, uttered with perfect natural-
ness in the village market-place, are not exceptional;
they indicate the attainment by some of our rural
populations to a political and even local conception
which exceeds that of " stagnant ponds."

The desire to understand the past is no longer
unusual; and even in the mountains, people begin to
reverence all its vestiges, of whatever nature, with
a kind of pious love toward those who left them.



THE PRESENT MOVEMENT 149

In such milieux, there is in this neither snobbish-
ness nor mercenary preoccupation, but a feeling of
historic solidarity and of a love for the local soil that,
after seeming a long while as though about to dis-
appear, is manifesting itself anew with unexpected
intensity.

No doubt each generation is the daughter of the
preceding, but in old days the feeling of filiation
only existed among the highest ranks of the social
hierarchy, while to-day it is becoming general and
changing its content : modelling itself on scientific
tendencies, and instead of showing us the ideal far
behind, revealing it now before us, won hour by
hour not by a monotonously repetitive toil, but by
an effort which is ceaseless creation and perpetual
progress.

The Church spoke to us of tradition and its value
in religious teaching; life discovers to us the power
of tradition in every domain, and while showing us
what we are, suggests what we should and may
become.

Realising our solidarity with the past, we are
brought to see that evolution may be fulfilled by
very various ways; that it may be achieved in a
direction we call good, and that we can help it to
set forth, persist, and more rapidly and surely advance
therein.

From this we may derive all the features of an
entirely undenominational morality which owes too
much to its seniors to make war upon them, and
feels itself neither poor nor insecure.

Realising the endeavour which runs through his-
tory, and indeed constitutes it, we unite ourselves
to it with all our might; we offer ourselves to it, and



150 FRANCE TO-DAY

feel that in this sacrifice we are acting as the citizens
of a city both present and eternal.

Is not this a new faith a Religion that does not
come, cross-bow on shoulder, to decapitate statues
or defile sanctuaries, but will frequent these as one
who loves them more and better than those who
naively imagined themselves their owners ? She will
not drive them away, but will make their holy places
yet more precious to them by telling them their
history : no dead history, no catalogue of the names
of problematical architects, lists of unknown bishops,
enumerations of questionable relics, fragments of
charters, bulls and edicts, but the living history
wherein the cathedral is seen springing from the
ground, in a whole city's superb ardour of faith, the
religious affirmation of God's commonalty trembling
with ineffable love for her who said :

" Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,

dispersit superbos mente cordis sui ;
Deposuit potentes de sede,

et exaltavit humiles ;
Esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes." 1

Thus the originality and power of the present
religious orientation is seen to be due to its pro-
ceeding from life and reality, and to its essentially
social and even solidary character.

i Lukei. 51-53. R.V.:

" He hath shewed strength with his arm ;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
He hath put down princes from their thrones,
And hath exalted them of low degree.
The hungry he hath filled with good things ;
And the rich he hath sent empty away."



CHAPTER X

OUR PRESENT RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION ESSENTIALLY

FRENCH

The unity of France is not chiefly political How it expresses
itself in the movement we are studying Moderate enthusiasm
of our country for industrial and commercial success Our
present religious orientation not of foreign origin France
unable to enter into intimate relation with the German mental-
ity, whether political or theological Renan the precursor of
present tendencies Dr. Harnack Manifesto of a broad-
minded German pastor who proclaims the piety that may
exist among Atheists Why " unconscious Christianity " would
have no success in France.

BEGOTTEN, not created; such, when we seek its
sources, is the clearly marked quality of the orienta-
tion we are engaged upon. It is born on the soil of
France, and results from the toil, the thought and
spiritual activity of our whole country seeking out
its way.

Considered aright, our national unity was never
so strongly affirmed, for it infinitely exceeds a terri-
torial unity cemented upon battle-fields; it exceeds
the unity of customs, civilisation and politics, which
already in the Middle Ages had set our knights
dreaming of la douce France; it is again becoming
that unity of ideal striving which it was in the
thirteenth century and at some moments in the
Revolution. In every age nations have been seen



152 FRANCE TO-DAY

to rise up as one man before the enemy, finding in
the common danger a cohesion they had not known
before. The union of France at the present moment
is of quite another character : her children press close
to one another not for defence or attack, but for
understanding, for labour, in the desire to realise
something already present in them all, which is,
nevertheless, still to come.

I have already endeavoured to indicate the feelings
we cherish in respect to Germany. As to the friend-
ship we feel for our other neighbours, it is no vain
word, but corresponds to a profound reality. Our
diplomacy, by concluding " ententes cordiales" has
only followed opinion which goes beyond what official
relations stipulate.

One has but to open one's eyes to see that the
movement carrying us toward other nations is
as a rule entirely disinterested. Eminent publicists
who flash in our eyes the commercial successes we
might attain here or there by methodical activity
remain, as a rule, amazed at our indifference to the
world of which they talk. That is because much
more than utilitarian interest is needed to set a whole
people repeating that dictum of the poet-philoso-
pher: "Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum
puto," and saying it over with the fulness of feeling
that Terence himself put into it.

Family unity is not created by community of
material interest. The necessity for a common
struggle, good sense, custom and instinct itself would
not suffice. All these are needed, but something
more : the common search for an ideal, and the
common worship of that ideal. Now it is just this
that our country is at this moment essaying, through



ESSENTIALLY FRENCH 153

inevitable mistakes and innumerable misunderstand-
ings.

Even the form of government influences this state
of mind. Under the old regime, national unity was
realised after a fashion in the king's person. To
serve the king was to serve France. The disappear-
ance of royalty, far from striking a fatal blow at
unity, on the contrary fortified it. Every citizen
was led to realise what united him to the national
community.

And it is because this spiritual unity is completely
realised that we reach a stage from which this unity
can envisage new problems international relations,
for example and examine without political pre-
occupations peace, war, commercial interests, etc.

People are sometimes amazed at the extreme
indulgence of the juries at assizes in cases of anti-
militarism. Instead of being shocked and giving
fantastical interpretations of these acquittals, it would
be better to try to understand them. It would soon
be seen that the plain citizens composing the juries
have not chosen to apply to the accused laws which
no longer correspond to our condition. They do not
wish to endorse certain anti-militarist follies, but no
more do they wish to mistake the excellent feelings
whereof these follies are but the hasty, ill-considered
consequence. Constantly in contact with social pre-
occupations in the most varied circles, these men
recognise that among many of our contemporaries
Conservative just as much as Radical there is an
unhealthy exaltation, a kind of religious intoxication.
Their clemency is no endorsement; it signifies that
prison is by far too primitive a cure for certain aberra-
tions whose origin is a generous one; it also signifies



154 FRANCE TO-DAY

that these aberrations are bound up with crises of
conscience, with very profound views of faith which
are eminently worthy of respect. They refuse to
judge in cases which look to them like trials for
heresy.

In the spiritual situation of France there is, then,
at the moment, something extraordinary and incom-
municable. The glance we are now casting over its
life is especially directed to those gropings, so difficult
to characterise; those often disordered velleities; those
accesses of mysticism in non-mystical individuals,
followed by discomfort, sudden faintness and fits of
depression all those traits which cause our country
to be at times so misjudged, even by her best friends.

This feverish state was never so characteristic as
to-day; and if behind the words we try to grasp the
realities, we shall see that this sickness proceeds from
a spiritual crisis. For there are several ways of being
religious : one consists in belonging to a Church,
obeying it, making moral and material sacrifices for
it; while another consists not in giving religion its
share, but in desiring to quicken with it the whole
of our activity.

Between the man who devotes his life to the
increase of his wealth, but gives a generous tithe to
his Church, making himself the good providence of
the parish priest between him and the unbeliever
who ignores priest and Church, but cultivates his
mind and makes no least effort to enrich himself,
how are we to decide which is the more religious ?

The economists who despair over the miscarriage
of their efforts to persuade France that she must
needs launch into great commercial enterprises and



ESSENTIALLY FRENCH 155

create industries, seem never to have dreamed of one
of the reasons why they so often agitate themselves
in vain : that there is a commercial and industrial
prosperity of which we have no desire. There are
certain forms of material success which are not worth
the trouble of winning, even when they are respect-
able. And how often they are not! Doubtless
poverty is not synonymous with virtue, but there is
a disdain of money which really is the beginning of
wisdom, faith and freedom.

The poverty of the Latin lands is much talked of.
Those who alarm themselves about it would, how-
ever, do well to inquire if it be not for nations what
it has so often been for individuals the mark of
election.

However that may be, one of the essential charac-
teristics of the religious orientation of France to-day
is that it cannot be isolated from the political and
intellectual life of the nation. It would be quite
otherwise if it were one of those foreign importations
which have abounded in our country. If it were a
matter, for instance, of studying such a movement as
Spiritualism, an almost daily outline of its progress
could be made; the part played by its founders could
be marked out, and that of its recruits; its crises,
conquests, miscarriages and all the rest could be
indicated. All that'would, on the whole, be easy.
A somewhat expert patience would be sufficient for
the task, because there is no point of contact between
French thought and the new doctrines. Their history
consists of a succession of episodes. In the religious
movement it is, on the contrary, a matter of often
invisible currents which create an unexpected atmo-
sphere in our spiritual life.



156 FRANCE TO-DAY

Scientific views, or a metaphysical system, may be
borrowed from a neighbouring nation; but a nation
cannot be asked to respond to preoccupations other
than its own, or to point out the right way on
paths it has not travelled. By a curious coincidence,
it is at the very moment when France has Become
more than ever eager to understand other nations, to
maintain fruitful relations with them at this very
moment that she must solve problems in which her
sisters can be of no assistance to her.

We have seen above how, after having exhibited
her enthusiasm with manifest goodwill for every
foreign literature and philosophy, France has at last
been compelled to fall back upon herself.

She could not go to Germany to seek example and
inspiration; that nation had, naturally, the mentality
of a conquering people, widely different from that of
a conquered people, especially when the conquered
was not hypnotised by the longing for vengeance. 1

1 Bismarck's influence has been no more potent in France than
Nietzsche's. His Will to Power (Wille zur Machf) has remained
as foreign to us as the imperialistic spirit that succeeded him. The
idea of brutal revenge has never, even at our moment of greatest
suffering, been more with us than a kind of physical return shock.
To-day that is all past : it was replaced, first, by an intuitive feeling
of the profound labour which is achieved in civilisation, and soon
this vague sentiment became transformed into a more conscious
choosing of that which it followed. The physical suffering of
former days has become ethical and more intense. Those who
suffer for the sake of Germany, seeing this great and noble nation
assume an attitude other than that of her better self, become more
and more numerous.

In speaking thus, I am thinking of certain manifestations which
unfortunately made more stir in Europe than the severe criticism
they evoked from representative men in Germany itself. In reply
to the blustering declarations of Dr. Stengel, of Munich, Professor



ESSENTIALLY FRENCH 157

By the side of this political mentality our eastern
neighbours had another also, that of theologians in
general and exegetists in particular; but in this direc-
tion again we had not been prepared to profit by the
lessons they were so much disposed to give us and
which we were so eager to receive. 1



Kohler, Dean of the Law Faculty at Berlin, wrote in the Zeitschrift
filr Folkerrecht und Bundesstattenrecbt, of which he was (1910) the
editor, an article entitled The Pacifist Movement and International
Law y which one would like to quote entire : " When a Dutchman
or a Belgian," he there said, " undertakes to justify war, it has no
political importance and may simply be neglected. But when
Germans, at a time of extreme political tension, make similar
manifestations, they may greatly prejudice our cause. Declara-
tions of this kind contribute more than anything else to support
the suspicion which, as I am personally convinced, other peoples
entertain with regard to us. As though our love of peace were
not sincere, as though we had no other aim than to attack and crush
other nations under the superiority of our arms ! Arguments
such as ' We are hemmed in by foes/ are corrected by ' We are
surrounded by civilised peoples of whom none desire war, and we
desire it even less.' This is why it is in the highest degree impolitic
to assign as the ideal of our activity the affirmation of the national
will against the tendency of nations to associate together juridically.
The foreigner would be justified by this in pointing to Germany as
a State which refuses to adapt herself to the community of nations,
and would feel an increase of that antipathy from which we suffer.
The dictum Oderint dum metuant is a false political principle.
With such maxims have the distrust and suspicion been sown, and
that anti-German nervousness excited which we have observed
myself in England, and Professor Manes even in the Australian
Colonies."

1 I cannot resist the pleasure of laying before my readers' eyes
a page in which Dr. H. Weinel summarises the tendencies of the
Protestant scientific elite of his country (Hibbert Journal, July 1909,
pp. 730-2) : "What unites us all is not so much our method as
a strong and common determination to apply our studies to the
service of life, to rescue Christianity from its state of isolation in
regard to the modern world, and to put our fellow-countrymen



158 FRANCE TO-DAY

The admirable exegetical effort of Germany only
carries its full value in the country of its birth. There
it has developed with wonderful fecundity, because
it was necessary there. Germany, a Protestant
country, had given the Bible an importance which
it never had in Latin lands. In these it has never
been placed outside history, nor regarded as the sole
authority in matters of faith.

The eagerness with which its theologians have
devoted themselves to exegesis is not the outcome
of a passion for erudition; at the last analysis, it
springs from the need to free themselves from the

once more in possession of its best elements, its eternal content,
which amid the vast technical and intellectual development of
the last centuries it had almost lost. We are all agreed in an un-


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Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 11 of 22)