Paul Sabatier.

France to-day, its religious orientation online

. (page 14 of 22)
Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 14 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

or even from only accepting scientific methods as a
last resource, extends them in new directions, tests
them, makes them pliable, vivifies them.

All those whom I have just named share in science,
in philosophy and in history, more fully with our
generation than if they had not been Catholics,
because from their childhood their thought has been
directed not only towards the idea of fraternity, but
towards that of a universal cosmic society, whose
name the Church stammers, whose secret science is
searching for, whose realisation democracy pursues. 1

1 In the heart of French Catholicism there is an Association of
which for several years much has been said, Le Sillon (the Furrow).
I have said nothing of the noble efforts of Marc Sangnier and his
collaborators, because, though they offer a splendid affirmation
of faith and virility, they remain aside from the new movement.

Doubtless the Sillon, which aims at realising democracy in
France, and requires its members to saturate their whole life with
the ideal, and to be the frank and glad servants of the faith of the
Church, has found in the spirit of the new age a sort of pre-
established harmony and prevenient grace; but, in choosing his
ground in the political and economic field, the founder of the
Sillon and his official fellow-workers (in some provincial sections
the spirit blows where it listeth) have appeared timid and fearful,
anxious not to compromise their cause with the efforts of philo-
sophers, exegetists or historians. No doubt this prudence was
instinctive, and an application of the principle of the division of
labour; but the Sitton's lack of contact with the intellectual
Catholic movement has been serious for both currents of thought.

By the Bull Notre charge apostolique (the official text is in French),
of Aug. 25, 1910, the Sillon, which counted about 500 sections,
was dissolved and invited to reorganise itself under the direction
of the bishops. Pius X seized this opportunity to set forth at
length the political and social views which he regards as alone


To give an idea of this document we will quote a few lines :
" This \Le Sillon] which formerly aroused such hopes, this
limpid and impetuous stream, has been captured in its course by
the modern foes of the Church, and henceforward is no more
than a wretched affluent of the great movement of apostacy,
organised in every land, for the establishment of a universal Church
which shall have neither dogmas nor hierarchy, nor rule for the
mind, nor bridle for the passions, and which, under pretext of
liberty, will bring again upon the world, if it should triumph,
the legal reign of ruse and force, and the oppression of the weak,
of those who suffer and who toil." Acta A. Sedis, Vol. II, p. 628.

This condemnation was the outcome of an anti-democratic
Press campaign. It is enough to read, among many others, a
brochure by M. Albert Monniot, of the journal La Libre parole,
entitled Le Sillon devant I'episcopat, Paris, Dec. 1909, to see by
what means mere journalists succeed to-day in giving rise to the
more serious decisions of the Holy See.

To know the Sillon one must first of all read the pamphlet of
M. Marc Sangnier, Le Sillon, esprit et metkodes, Paris, 1905,
written at the moment of the institution's full prosperity, when
Rome lavished upon it her most precious encouragements.

Marc Sangnier's attitude, since the Pope's letter, has been defined
by him in a series of addresses given in Paris during the spring
of 1911. They were analysed at length in La Democratic for
April 30, and May 7, 14, 21 and 28, 1911.

A precise conception of the kind of association officially approved
by the Holy See may be obtained by studying, e. g. L* Association
catholique de la jeunnesse franfaise (The Catholic Association of
French Youth), founded in 1886, by M. Robert de Roquefeuil
and his friends, advised and guided at the beginning by the Count
Albert de Mun, to co-ordinate the living forces of Catholic youth,
with the idea of inaugurating a Christian Social Order.

This, in the Conservative direction, is what the Sillon was in the
democratic. V Association catholique de la jeunesse franfaise has
two periodicals in Paris: Les Annales de la jeunesse catbolique
and La Vie nouvelle, completed by a series of regional district
supplements (Offices at 76 rue des Saints-Peres, Paris).

A women's organisation, which shows exactly what political
orientation the Holy See favours in France, is the Ligue patriotique
des franfaises (Patriotic League of French Women),
368 rue St. Honore, Paris presided over by the Baroness
Reille ; 325,000 members, 2000 correspondents and 582 committees.



Or rather its absence of manifestations Unity of the Protestant
character amid its ecclesiastical divisions Individualism The
separation of the Churches and the State has permitted new
schisms in the Reformed Church Why the furthest evolved
among Catholics prove so rigid in regard to Protestantism Its
situation stated by Pastors Lafon and Morize Are Protestants
so much misunderstood as they suppose ? Pastor Wagner and
the Abbe Lemire Dean Auguste Sabatier What it is in
Protestantism that wounds the feelings of France Is Pro-
testant freedom complete ? Pastor W. Monod How far has
he grasped the religious character which atheism may possess ?

IF above we have had to assert the existence of two
Catholicisms in our land, living together side by side
in the same Church, we must now assert the exist-
ence here of one sole Protestantism, divided into a
multitude of sects.

This has a paradoxical air, but it is the most precise
reality. 1

1 " Alike but divided : such to-day are French Protestants.
Or one may say : separated and yet brothers. We live in a monstrous
paradox. There are everywhere barriers and excisemen to examine
merchandise and even to search the passer-by. Yet all pass by,
and all merchandise therewith/ And all opposites are fellows.

" Likewise, before this unfathomable mystery of irrational
and unintelligible divisions, the observer puts questions destined
to remain unanswered, ' wherefores ' which resound in a void of
universal silence. In ecclesiastical matters, French Protestants
can only escape the madness lying in wait for the brain of him who



The Separation of the Churches and the State,
which might, and as many sons of the Reformation
hoped, would occasion a union of hearts and fusion
of wills, or lead at least to a corporal approximation,
has had an absolutely opposite effect. On the morrow
of the crisis, the Reformed Church of France did not
even choose to remember the unity it might have
kept by adopting a common financial administration,
but profited by the opportunity to form itself into
three fragments. 1

tries to comprehend the incomprehensible, by seeking refuge in
an absolute agnosticism, or perhaps by seeking shelter in some
theory of necessary though impenetrable mystery." Pastor
Louis Lafon, editor of La Vie nouvelle. Beginning of leading
article in the issue for Nov. 12, 1910.

1 Before 1905 there were two Protestant Churches united to
the State, which appointed and paid their pastors and maintained
their places of worship : the Reformed Church of France (Calvinist)
and the Church of the Augsburg Confession (Lutherans).

Beside these two Churches there was a multitude of groups,
from clearly constituted associations like the Free Churches or
the Methodist Churches, to more or less amorphous and ephemeral
institutions, mostly bearing the name of the " evangelists " who
founded them. These groups naturally remain what they were
before the Separation, and we shall here only speak of the three
branches sprung from the single Reformed Church of France;
one has called itself, " National Union of Evangelical Reformed
Churches " (orthodox traditional tendency) ; another " United
Reformed Churches " (liberal) ; the third, " Reformed Churches,"
more usually designated under the name of " Union of Jarnac,"
desired to act as a bond between the two preceding and secure
their union, but was compelled to constitute itself separately.
In order to obtain some idea of the activity of French Protestants,
their numbers, geographical distribution, and theological schools,
their organs and literary production, etc., one may consult
V Agenda- annuaire protestant, which has appeared since 1 880;
now under the management of the Rev. Pastor A. Gambier, of


Rare indeed are the doctors in Israel (if indeed
there are any) who could point out the reasons for
which this rupture occurred in spite of all the argu-
ments of expediency, sentiment and good sense which
should have prevented it. It took place, and the
subdivision goes forward, inevitable, implacable, in
the heart of each of the three sections.

How can we, then, speak of Protestant unity in
face of such facts? Because the force which urges
Protestants to subdivision is one. It is stronger than
any choice than any reason; it is the same in all
these men who seem so different, and it creates in
them all an identical mentality.

Obedience produces the unity of Rome; spiritual
pride brings forth Protestant unity and engenders its
incurable divisions. This pride is unconscious; it
even imagines itself to be full of humility because it
relates everything to God.

At the moment when science and philosophy, meet-
ing with the old French religious spirit, speak above
all of unity, solidarity, tradition, evolution and social
effort; when the thought that appears the most novel
and individual is compelled to recognise that it is not
its own, but the result of myriads on myriads of
anterior thoughts the Protestant, the most intelli-
gent equally with the most ignorant, seems only able
to give himself up to his individual task. He
isolates himself from the past and the present, and
"searches the Scriptures" in the persuasion that the
sense of the Bible is obvious. Quite naturally, in
the vast collection he succeeds in finding passages in
harmony with his preoccupations, and confirming his
most extraordinary notions.

Hence some particular point becomes his conquest;


and sometimes the most naiVe, the most destitute of
instruction, becoming an itinerant preacher, will call
this his " message." L

Just as St. Paul, he speaks of his " gospel," and
believes he has received from God the charge of
proclaiming it and, in consequence, of defending it
against error. Thus the very men who claim most
loudly for themselves the liberty of interpreting in
their own fashion such and such a text or book of the
Bible refuse to accord this right to others.

Protestant freedom is thus very far from being
what it calls itself. In Catholicism there is but one
authority, and for that reason it generally succeeds
in its pretensions. In Protestantism, the liberty of

1 This is a hallowed expression. It belongs to the dialect of
Canaan. This term designates a style, impregnated with Biblical
phrases, which prevails with special virulence in " awakened "
circles. It varies from sect to sect, and like all things human
changes with time. Its name comes to it from its abuse of images
borrowed from Canaan. Perhaps the most popular song of
French Protestantism begins with the words :

" En marche ! en marche ! allons en Chanaan
Volons vers la terre promise."

(" Forward, forward ! let us go to Canaan,
Let us fly unto the Promised Land.")


" De Chanaan, quand verrons-nous

Le celeste rivage ?
Vers le Jourdain, entendez-vous ?
Christ nous appelle tous."

(" When, oh when, shall we behold

Canaan's heavenly shore ?
Hark ! towards the River of Jordan
Christ is calling us all.")


each one is ceaselessly limited 1 by the authority of
all the others of each of the others. As all these
various authorities are most usually in disagreement,
it follows that in general you remain free, but not
out of respect for your freedom, only because each
one of these infallibilities finds it impossible to con-
strain you. 2

1 It is very rare for any one to take the trouble to give an exact
account of doctrinal authority in the Church of Rome. People
always argue as though it created, or was supposed to create,
Absolute Truth. It is true that by dint of so speaking about it
they have partially made it believe this.

Really, the authority, whether it be the Pope alone or the
General Council, states the truth, defines it, is its witness and
interpreter : but no more. The infallibility of the Roman pontiff
does not imply that he can make black white, or white black ; but
that he cannot be mistaken when he says that such a thing is white,
and such another thing black. The famous maxim of St. Vincent
de Lerins should be remembered : " In ipsa item caibolica Ecclesia
magnopere curandum est ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper,
quod ab omnibus creditum est. Hoc est etenim vere proprieque
catkolicum, quod ipsa vis nominis ratioque declarat, quts omnia jere
universaliter comprehendit" Quoted by Father Lepicier, De
stabilitate et progressu dogmatis, Rome, 1908, p. 171.

2 We must recognise that eminent Protestants are very far from
sharing our way of looking at this matter. " The only thing that
we may not admit," says Charles Wagner (Libre-pensee et protes-
tantisme liberal, p. 114), speaking of Liberal Protestantism, "is
the government of minds, for it is impossible without constant
usurpations. So it happens that some among us are almost
orthodox while others are of an amazing heterodoxy. But as no
one claims authority, all listen while they discuss together, and
complete one another." Farther on (p. 138): "Free believers
mutually appreciate and accept one another in the diversity of
manifestations given to their faith, while their mutual sympathy
teaches them the art of transposing the speech of their brothers,
so that they may understand and assimilate it." I felt I ought
to quote these words, for the attitude of Liberal, as well as of other
Protestants, produces a considerably different impression upon me.


This jealous individualism separates Protestants
from their fellow-citizens more than the Alps and
the Pyrenees separate France from neighbouring
lands. It leads them to confound the strong personal
convictions acquired by their intellectual labour with
the truth a word which on their lips has nearly all
its scholastic and absolute sense and communicates
to them that doctrinal intransigence, in infinitely
varied forms, which often persists even in those who
imagine they have broken with Protestantism.

There are moments, however, when this grim
independence becomes a great strength. At the time
of the Dreyfus affair, tor instance, almost unani-
mously and without hesitation the Protestants
promptly took the side of revision. 1 Professors
risked their posts, doctors and tradesmen their clients,
and many families friendships which up till then
nothing had shaken.

For a moment one felt that Protestantism had all
at once joined company with the intellectuals, and
that out of this unpremeditated meeting something
new would spring.

Nothing whatever sprang from it. The only corn-
sequence was that next day both sides asked them-
selves how they had managed to understand one
another so well last evening, and to imagine they
could continue in the same road. 2

1 There had been no secret understanding. Protestant person-
ages in Paris were very slow to move ; they saw clearly how formid-
able was the movement of opinion that they who would go against
the current must face.

2 This situation would have greatly astonished the missionaries,
philosophers, political thinkers and even economists who, about
the middle of last century, counted on Protestantism for the


However, the Protestants did not lose all hope,
and on the eve of the Separation one of the most
sympathetic representatives of Liberalism, Pastor
Wagner, whom we have already quoted and whom
we shall often quote again, wrote pages of vigorous
optimism. 1

" In this labour of religious renaissance, of recon-
struction on widened foundations, the advance guard
of Protestantism has its place marked out. By the
force of events and the laws of history, it is the heir
of all the results of human toil in the religious
domain. It is in its ranks, among its indefatigable
thinkers, its laborious pioneers, that the questions are
set and solved upon which the progress of religious
ideas in the world depends. I consider it, then, as
the first of spiritual potencies. Having, of all exist-
ing milieux, by its free and broad organisation, the
greatest number of openings onto every region, and
being able to exercise the widest sympathy without
infidelity to its principles, it is capable of drawing
towards itself, of grouping and binding into bundles,
all the living forces of the past and all those of the

The uselessness of the efforts made by French
Protestantism to enter into any relations whatever
with its fellow-citizens has now for some time been
very generally recognised by the very men who
recently entertained the greatest hopes for it.

regeneration of France. About 1878, Emile Laveleye, the states-
man Frere Orban, the writer Paul Fredericq, and the economist
Frederic Passy, rallied to Protestantism.

1 F. Buisson and Charles Wagner : Libre-fensie et protestantisms
liberal, Paris, 1903, pp. 187-91.


" French Protestantism," said the Rev. Pastor
Louis Lafon, 1 " is like a driving-belt which runs
loose. It throws no part into gear. Intellectually,
morally and socially it remains outside human action.
It has not stirred for a century. And yet in that time
how many things have changed ! "

Nearly at the same time, another pastor, M. Paul
Morize, 2 stated that Protestantism appears " to some
pastors and laymen as a sort of pseudo-Catholicism,
less logical, less grand than the other. ... Its action
is null : some suspect, others drop away, the greater
number are indifferent. Certain strong individual-
ities still conserve a personal influence which would
always make itself felt, and after the same manner,
even if they came out of very different circles from
the one that formed them. They are listened to,
they are loved, they are followed, not because, but
although, they are Protestants. Such is the reality.

" Let us give up speaking urbi et orbi of the
evangelisation of the French fatherland by Protes-
tantism. It has become altogether painful and some-
what grotesque."

And still more recently, the same pastor said : 3

1 In the article cited (at p. 189, n. i). He also notes a very
serious fact for a world which is implacably severe on those who
accept ready-made formulas without troubling themselves over-
much to ascertain their meaning. " Pastors who have, every one,
repudiated the metaphysics of Calvin and the Middle Ages and
the metaphysics of the Councils, preach as though they still
accept them, and scatter through their sermons all the old notions
which the people feel confusedly, but as time goes by, more and
more clearly, to be in contradiction to the whole orientation of
modern philosophy and science."

2 Vie nouvelle for Nov. 26, 1910.

3 Vie nouvelle for Mar. 4, 1911. This article followed and
echoed a 'Tribune libre of the Rev. Pastor Neel, for Feb. II, 1911.


11 In the heart of our poor battered Protestantism
there are still some imaginative men who cherish a
systematic optimism. They hope thus to act by
suggestion upon their co-religionists on whom they
count for supplies or support.

" They do not want to see the reality, still less to
allow it to be seen. . . . French Protestantism is on
the way to disappearance, to decomposition, and by
non-equivocal signs it may be foreseen that the suc-
cession of phenomena heralding the end will be some-
what rapid. . . . The chapels and the faculties 1 also
are becoming empty. Before long the number of
professors will exceed that of the students. The
ministerial average is becoming lower; local churches
adjust themselves with difficulty to the new con-
ditions of their life, and each appointment of a
minister becomes an occasion for division.

44 ... To this balance which is being everywhere
cast upon the wrong side 2 must be added the melan-

1 The Faculties of Protestant Theology of Montauban, Geneva
and Paris, formerly recognised by the State : in which future
pastors study for four or five years, after having completed a course
of classical secondary studies.

A host of works, with pessimistic conclusions, might be mentioned
which have appeared, and are appearing, almost everywhere.
We will be content with noting that of a particularly competent
man, M. Ad. Lods, in the Journal des debats for Nov. 22, 1910.
Professor G. Bonet-Maury, on the other hand, in an article in the
Protestant, March n, 1911, shows himself optimistic.

2 The material balance sheet of the Church of Rome is not
more reassuring. " What statement could be more discouraging
than that which has just been made in the Paris Diocesan Congress ?
1 The capital lacks priests,' says the Archbishop. Last year, only
sixteen ordinations took place ! This year, there will be only
eleven, and next year still fewer. These are the official figures.
Eleven priests only this year, still fewer next ; eight, perhaps six,
for a diocese of three millions ! What a situation !


choly and humiliating enumeration of several other
causes of dissolution. . . . The poor and obsolete
formula of 1872 is supposed still, in 1911, to express
the faith of the majority of our ministers and
Churches. Now that is not true. As to the formal
adhesion, without introductory formula, without re-
servation and without substitutions, demanded since
1906 of pastors, professors of theology (!!) and of
the Churches themselves by the majority is not this
the most audacious negation of all our traditions of
free examination ? "

We must thank the distinguished Pastor of Ber-
gerac for his vehement candour. The situation of
Protestantism is indeed as he paints it, and each of
his assertions is supported by facts which he had no
need to recall, since these were in the memory of all
his readers.

Is this to say he is right all along the line? We
would give him pain if we consented to that. His
anger is justified; but perhaps his discouragement is
not entirely so.

Assuredly, if Protestantism should remain what it
now is : l for some the taking possession of the sacred

" Apart from a small number of privileged dioceses which
almost maintain their ecclesiastical effective force, there is the
same falling off, the same deficit, everywhere. In the great and
splendid diocese of Rouen, so flourishing in old times, the great
seminary scarcely counts forty-five pupils. At the last opening,
out of nine students called away to perform their military service,
only two returned. The situation is still more grievous in many
other dioceses." Arthur Loth: Univers for March 10, 1911.

1 Here is the definition of Protestantism kindly furnished me
by M. Georges Dupont, Liberal Pastor of Montpellier :

" Protestantism is a form of the Christian religion which desires


books of a Church against which one is in revolt;
for others the cohabitation in the same consciousness
of two antithetical spirits, the purely rationalistic and
the mystical, without either of the two ever being
able to act in full freedom if Protestantism should
remain such, its position would be as seriously com-
promised as M. Morize sees it; and, to speak in his
language, the " house-breakers " might divide the

In any case it is noteworthy that he, the pastor of
an important parish, surrounded by the respectful
esteem of his colleagues, can speak thus, and that he
has been able to publish this painful " balance sheet"
in one of the most widely circulated of Protestant
papers, without being stoned on the morrow. Such
self-examination still indicates a certain vitality.

If Protestants could make up their minds to place
their strong individualities in touch with the con-
temporary social movement, which is, as we have
seen, profoundly religious in its aspirations; if they
mingled in it, forgetful of themselves, they might,
with their extraordinary richness in men, render a
priceless service to French civilisation to-day.

Can they give themselves? That is the question;

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 14 of 22)