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" Immediately after us commences the world we
have named, and will never cease to name, the
modern world. The world that wears a knowing
look. The world of the intelligent, the advanced,
of those who know, of those who have not to be
shown anything, of those who cannot be imposed
upon. The world of those to whom one can teach
nothing. The world of those that look knowing.
The world of those who are not dupes or imbeciles,
as we are. That is to say : the world of those who
believe in nothing, not even in atheism : who devote
themselves to nothing, who sacrifice themselves to
nothing. Precisely : the world of those who have no
mysticism, and who boast of it. Let us not be
deceived thereby, and let no one in consequence
rejoice either on one side or on the other. The
movement of the de-republicanisation of France is,
in a profound sense, identical with the movement of


de-Christianisation. It is altogether one and the


same profound movement of de-mysticisation. It is
because of the same profound movement, because of
the one sole movement, that this nation believes no
longer in the Republic and believes no longer in
God; that it wishes to lead the republican life no
longer, and that it wishes no longer to lead the
Christian life (as it has done tolerably) ; it may almost
be said that it wishes no longer to believe in idols,
and wishes no longer to believe in the true God.
The same unbelief, one sole unbelief, affects the
idols and God together, affects the false gods and the
true God, the antiquated gods, the new God, the
ancient gods, and the God of the Christians. One
and the same sterility dries up the city and Christian-
ity. The political city and the Christian city. The
city of men and the City of God. That is, properly,
the modern sterility. Let no man, then, rejoice,
beholding the misfortune which befalls his foe, his
adversary, his neighbour. For the same misfortune,
the same sterility befalls him."

The considerable sensation caused by this Gainer
proves, if I am not mistaken, that M. Peguy was the
interpreter of preoccupations more widespread, per-
haps, than he supposed. One is grateful to him for
having spoken of republican mysticism and for
having related it to Christian mysticism, for having
shown the thread which joins the republican tradi-
tion to the entire historical evolution of our country.

This self-examination of our generation, in which
the passage from mysticism to politics is illuminated,
in which the author shows with so candid a severity
how, " by the swing and history of events, by the


baseness and sin of man, mysticism has become
political " this self-examination marks a new
moment in the history of our ideas, and the influence
won by M. Peguy shows that if our most unde-
nominational society appears to have lost interest in
synagogues, chapels and churches, it can thrill pro-
foundly the moment a disinterested inspiration
appeals directly to its conscience.

It is a common feature among the prophets that,
being laborious workers, they rarely see the work
already done, and only think of that which remains
to do. M. Peguy is no exception to this rule.
Hence the pessimism which makes him fancy he
belongs to a rearguard when he is a forerunner.

But this pessimism which, in the prophet, is a
homage to God, to the perfection remaining to be
realised, would, in an historical essay, constitute an

The greater part of those who talk of the spiritual
condition of France only know Paris, only think of
Paris, and are ceaselessly tempted to give an im-
portance to the manifestations of our national life
proportioned to the stir they make in the capital.
Partisans l of every shade naturally ask no better
than to think the nation is behind them, and attribute
an historic importance to themselves. They only
possess what one gives them : and it would be better
to count them quietly before getting agitated as to
their number.

The Paris of manifestations, even the Paris of the
people who hang about ministerial ante-rooms,
editors' offices, the purlieus of the Bourse, the draw-

1 Gamelots, see 217 n,


ing-rooms of men in power, and even sometimes of
their hoydens the Paris that Edouard Rod 1 and
Paul Seippel 2 show us suffocating between two
dogmatisms, is not the whole of Paris, still less is
it the whole of France.

Facing his little sanctum, 3 the centre of such virile
and noble endeavour, M. P6guy sees the old temple
of science rebuilt by a Republic which never thought
let us do it this justice of blotting from men's
minds either Robert de Sorbon, the confessor of the
King St. Louis, or Cardinal Richelieu. The day
will soon come when our politicians and gamblers,
our mystification-mongers and their dupes, our
charlatans and our deluded ones, will have dis-
appeared : when one will go to the Sorbonne and the
Pantheon to meditate before Puvis de Chavannes'
frescoes; when one will think that the people from
among whom such creations sprang they, too had
an artistic and mystical ideal which did not yield to
that of any age.

Around this same Sorbonne, grouped close about
it, at the same time attracted by its prestige and eager
to communicate to it a little of their faith, spring up
various institutions; and these, also, are manifesta-
tions of the new orientation of men's minds. " The
School of Advanced Social Studies" 4 and " The

1 V Indocile, Paris, 1905.

2 Les deux Frances et leurs origines kistoriques, Paris, 1905.

3 Les Cahiers de la quinzaine are published at 8 Rue de la

4 Uficole des hautes etudes sociales. Since 1903 this school has
had a department " for the study of religions in their relation
to society."

Some of the lectures given in 1903-4 were collected in a volume
entitled Religions et sofietes, Paris, 1905, In 1909-10, the pro-


Union of Free-thinkers and Free-believers for moral
culture " * are due to different initiative and inspired
by different preoccupations. Yet they have common

gramme of this department was entirely occupied by the course of
M. Edouard Le Roy, Professor at St. Louis College, who studied
" the Catholic attitude and affirmation."

M. Theodore Reinach, Member of the Chamber of Deputies,
and Director of this department, has published a remarkable
summary of its work from the commencement (La Religion dans
ses rapports avec la societe, Paris, 1911, 1 2-page pamphlet). " By
turns entrusted to free-thinkers and believers, to believers of all
denominations, our teaching aims above all at reflecting as faith-
fully as possible, the varied manifestations of contemporary
religious thought, at connecting them with their sources, and deter-
mining their social effect. . . . To follow so complex an evolution
with an attentive eye, without prejudice but with sympathy
(for it is as impossible to write sound religious history without
religious feeling I do not say faith as sound musical criticism
without an ear) to catch a glimpse across the gropings, the storms,
the obscurities of the present hour, of the rays that herald the
smiling and quiet dawn : such is the task we have set ourselves.
Though we may have filled but an insignificant part, we yet feel
we have merited well of science and of the consciences of our
contemporaries, we have taught them to know and tolerate one
another better."

1 Honorary Presidents : Messrs. Hyacinthe Loyson ; Frederic
Passy, Member of the Institute ; Gabriel Seailles, Professor at the
Sorbonne. Standing Committee : Messrs. Leclerc de Pulligny,
Chief-Engineer of Roads and Bridges ; Chairman : G. Belot,
Professor of Philosophy, Member of the Higher Council of Public
Instruction ; Wilfred Monod, Pastor, Lecturer to the Faculty of
Protestant Theology ; Vice-chairman : Jean Kaspar, former
Missionary in Madagascar, Barrister at the Court of Appeal;
General Secretary : J. Anglas, Teacher in the Alsacian School ;
Assistant General Secretary : H. Fillot, Deputy Head Clerk in the
Bank of France ; Treasurer : Ch. Berthomieu, Secretary to the
Editorial Board of the Annales de la jeunesse laique ; Jacques
Marty, Student of Theology; Wautier d'Aygaliers, Pastor;
Secretary: E. Gounelle, Pastor; P. Felix Pecaut, Professor of


features : the worship of truth ; absolute respect
for all those who seek it, whatever their flag; and,
finally, a continual effort to require that science
should translate itself into the reality of life. Is
there not something religious in this faith and
effort ?

The spirit of reciprocal goodwill so strongly
marked in the constitution of the " Union of Free-
thinkers and Free-believers " is, perhaps, more wide-
spread than is supposed. What it especially lacks
is the opportunity to manifest itself.

There is a multitude of Catholic believers who are
profoundly respectful toward Free-thought, and who
do not dream of its according them any favoured
treatment. One feels they are wishful to see, hear,
understand every sincere voice, even those most
opposed to their views.

The allusion to men of goodwill will at once have
brought one name to the minds of many readers
that of M. Leon Chaine, author of the fine book
French Catholics and their Present Difficulties. 1 The
success of this work has made it clear that the theory
of the two " blocs " in which our contemporary
history is generally summed up, is far from being
always accurate.

M. Chaine is by no means an isolated individual.
His voice continues to arouse an ardent sympathy in
every land and in the most varied circles. The
religious activity of this undenominational soul sets

1 Les Catholiques franfais et leurs difficultes acteuls, Lyon, 1904.
See, by the same author, Menus -propos d'un catholique liberal suivi
dfs cotnmentgires de la yresse, preface by Pierre Jay, Paris, 1910,


one dreaming of the Christmas bells; as also do the
efforts of another Lyonnais, the poet and philosopher,
M. Joseph Serre. 1 He, too, is indeed a man of that
passionate race " whose high moral instincts," as
Renan said, " derive not from the reason, but from
the very heart and bowels."

To return to Free-thought and its recognised
representatives, if we were briefly to summarise their
attitude in regard to the various religions which
must not be confused with clericalism we should
say it was a very marked and persevering effort to do
justice to all those manifestations of thought and

These are not formal principles, but ideas which
men who are every day denounced as odious secta-
rians are seeking to propagate. Not to remain
among generalities, this is how one of them, M. Fer-
dinand Buisson, spoke on August 22, 1903, to
M. Aulard in L> Action:

" I say that in every age there is, in humanity-
variable as it is, and passing through all the stages of
its development a phenomenon essentially human,
natural and normal, and, consequently, legiti-
mate the religious phenomenon one of the
characteristic traits of man in distinction from the

"I say that this phenomenon may be manifested

1 See especially, among his woi^s, La Religion de I' esprit large,
Paris, 1908, La Lumiere du cceuf, Paris, 1910. Always pre-
occupied with synthesis, conciliation and harmony, he has devoted
his latest work to an endeavour to draw together Les Silfans et
V action franfaise, Paris, 1911,


under three forms : the religious idea; the religious
emotion; the religious act.

" The religious idea is, at the outset, the confused
intuition and, later, the clear affirmation that we do
not know all, and cannot do all; that man is the
merest particle of this vast universe; that he is neither
the author nor the master of his life; that around
him, outside him, there are forces, laws and powers
upon which he depends, and which do not depend
on him; that in the heart of this infinity he is in-
finitely small, and that, nevertheless, it is from this
imperceptible point that the light leaps forth which
shall illumine the rest of the world the light of the
spirit, of reason, of conscience.

" The religious emotion is the rebound of this idea
in our feelings. By turns, it is a sentiment of terror
before the vastness of the unknown, before the in-
finite that overwhelms us; and then, in the opposite
direction, a feeling of faith in the universal order,
of confidence in the supremacy of the spirit which is
the basis of ourselves and, doubtless, of the universe.
It is the feeling of our relation with those mysterious
forces that rule the worlds, of our participation in the
life universal; the feeling of the nothing we are, and
yet of the infinite value of the reason that is in us;
the feeling of the Beyond which escapes our grasp;
the ideal we are so unhappy never to reach, and which
we should be more unhappy yet not to pursue for

" Finally, religious action is that in which man
forgets himself and sacrifices himself to an invisible
law that no one imposes upon him, that no one shows
him. It is the impulse of devotion, whereby, with-
out hesitating, he joyfully abandons his interests, his


instincts, his happiness, his life, braves every afflic-
tion, endures every torment, to give satisfaction to
an idea which he believes to be just, to a dream he
judges beautiful, to a commandment of the spirit, to
an order of conscience.

" Which of these three roots of the religious fact
do you, my dear friend, believe it your duty abso-
lutely to extirpate from the human soul, as a parasitic
and noxious weed? " x

1 We wanted to give the essential part of this article without
omission to show that free-thinkers do not hesitate to take views
which are full of respect for religion before the most popular
audiences. Many analogous facts might be cited. We will only
mention one : the fine address on *' The scientific Spirit and the
religious Spirit," given on Nov. n, 1906, in the great amphitheatre
of the Sorbonne, by M. Paul Painleve, of the Institute, socialist
Deputy to-day for Paris. It was published in the Revue du mois
for Dec. 10, 1906, Vol. II, pp. 658-68.

In it he said : " It is then by no means absurd to foresee an
epoch, less distant perhaps than we think, when these two tendencies
of man, instead of hurling themselves against one another, will
collaborate as they collaborated in the dawn of civilisation : the
religious spirit always preceding science in the domains the latter
cannot yet reach, stimulating its discoveries, but always ready to
yield to the latter with a good grace each new position it becomes
able to occupy. In return, science owes it to itself not to exceed
in its assertions the limits of truly acquired knowledge, leaving
to each scientist the responsibility for his individual opinions on
questions which still elude positive research.

" But if all conflict between the real scientific spirit and the real
religious spirit be impossible, there may be what do I say ? there
will necessarily, there will always, be conflict between science and
the men who exploit the religious spirit, claiming, instead of
allowing, it to evolve freely to the rhythm of life, to give it style
and stiffen it into an artificial rigidity in conformity with their
interests, their habits or their prejudices. There will necessarily
be conflict between science and all religion which claims to impose
on it by virtue of I know not what revelation, an absurd and
puerile astronomy, geology and cosmogony ; in a word, there will


always be conflict between science and all domineering religion,
which having formerly invaded the ground open before it, refuses
to abandon any parcel of it. It is the inevitable and permanent
character of such a conflict which renders the conviction so general
that there is an irreducible antinomy between the scientific and
the religious spirit."



If the war of 1870 influenced our scholastic organisation, the soul
of the undenominational school has a more distant and a loftier
origin Our undenominational school is the new incarnation
of an age-long religious effort In 1882 it was far from being
anti-clerical Crusade against it preached by the Conservative
parties : the result It is now compelled to give the children
the spiritual nurture they would otherwise lack.

WE come now to the heart of our subject.

For contemporary France the creation of the un-
denominational primary school has been no mere
episode; with the organisation of her military defence
it has been her constant preoccupation.

We must here set these two questions side by side,
for so they stand in reality. But we must not
exaggerate their relationship. After the war, when
we were still hypnotised by defeat, many of those
who strove the most ardently for the diffusi^ft of
instruction found an argument, both too ready and
too oratorical, in the notion that it was the Prussian
schools that beat us, and that by reorganising public
instruction on new foundations we were organising

The argument was not a happy one, for it tended
to give a merely occasional aspect to a movement
which had long occupied France and was leading her
towards a renovation of teaching in every grade.



It was a singular mistake to make of patriotic
claims, however just, the soul of the school. Accord-
ingly, this mistake was of short duration. Little by
little, whatever was transplanted into our soil from
an orientation, from methods and customs, contrary
to our proper genius, was naturally eliminated. 1
To-day, the school no longer dreams of becoming
a barracks : it is the barracks that is getting ready
to become a school, wherein all citizens will not only
learn to handle weapons, but will become conscious
of national solidarity and the duties imposed thereby.
A more considered bravery upon the battle-field will
be yet more brave and more efficacious. The audacity
of our aviators has sufficiently shown how naturally,
without the support of mass-enthusiasm, our soldiers
can face death.

The country has made sacrifices for its schools with
an ardour and perseverance which have not flagged
for forty years. Sacrifices the word has here its
original sense, for those sacrifices, accorded with
extraordinary joy at so difficult a moment, are the
manifestation of a faith which is ignorant of itself
and finds such expression as it may.

That is a social phenomenon of great import, whose
intensity and direction must be grasped if we are not
to misunderstand contemporary history.

For it is by the undenominational school that our
country has sought to conquer herself and has striven
to realise her new dreams. That is why the word
" creation" comes naturally to our pen, and not
"organisation" or some other similar term. The

1 We have not forgotten the ephemeral existence of the " school
brigades " bataillons scolaires.


undenominational school, without intending it, with-
out even thinking of it, has become something other
and more than the dispenser of elementary know-
ledge, and also something other than a government
organ whose function was to prepare future subjects,

The present religious movement has found in it
both a field for experiment and its own concrete
manifestation. In and by it, all the tendencies which
in preceding chapters we have seen somewhat scat-
tered abroad, tend to unite, to embody themselves and
become the generators of a new civilisation.

The adversaries of the undenominational school are
not mistaken when they denounce it as the bulwark
of the new ideas, and concentrate their strength on
attacking it. Where they are completely mistaken
is in failing to see the roots which so formidable an
institution thrusts down into the political, intellectual,
moral and religious life of the whole country, and in
imagining that it is the result of some international
conspiracy. 1

If they had eyes they would perceive that in spite
of all its imperfections the undenominational effort
is the sequel and heir to the tradition, at once Chris-
tian and French, which revealed itself so character-
istically in the thirteenth century.

Dogmatic formulas did not create ogival architec-
ture : it was the faith of the Middle Ages that found
this means of expression. Each of our Gothic
cathedrals sings of God, the desire for the divine
and the beautiful, the city's dream as it sought to
unite hands and hearts, and to partake in an ever-
loftier labour.

1 See p. 225, n. 2.


Under another form, the undenominational school
is an analogous endeavour to express an analogous
faith; and they are but superficial observers who can
recall on this occasion the famous formula : ceci tuera
cela this will slay that.

Our primary school itself is far from knowing
what it is doing and whither it goes. It develops
as an adolescent develops, amazed to note the changes
in itself whereof it is both the witness and author,
and over which it has but slender influence. 1

It was shaped by circumstances, and we should be
much mistaken if we supposed it to be definitively
constituted; its adversaries, attacking and striving to
suppress it, are as maladroit and unwise as those who
think to suppress a lamentable event by causing the
disappearance of the messenger who brings the news.

It is incontestable that in 1 880 no one could foresee
what the undenominational school was about to
become. At that time effort was especially directed
to gratuity and compulsion. The idea of undenomi-
nationalism, when then it began to be defined, was
sometimes inspired by the ready and rather superficial

1 It is somewhat difficult to-day to realise that the school code
of Aug. 17, 1855, in force till June 7, 1880, devoted seven articles
(20-26) to the duties of the teacher in respect to the Churches.
Here is the last : " Religious teaching comprises the reading of the
Catechism and the elements of sacred history. Every day there
must be added a part of Sunday's Gospel, which shall be repeated
entire on Saturday. There shall be a catechism lesson every day,
even for the children who have taken their first communion.
The lessons in religious instruction shall be arranged according
to the instructions of the parish priest."

The catechism was then, in the full meaning of the expression,
" the foundation of national instruction." Father Lecanuet,
ISEglise de France sous la Troisieme Rtpublique, 1870-1878, p. 352,
Paris, 1907.


eclecticism of Victor Cousin, sometimes by pragmatist
views much akin to those which seem to inspire the
Government of the United States in its relation with
the Churches : it was most desirable explicitly to
recognise their distinguished collaboration in the
social task, and to treat them with abundant

This attitude was perfectly sincere. Nothing per-
mits us to suppose that it was a hypocritical and pro-
visional manoeuvre to facilitate the spread of the new
educational theories.

The Government and the Houses of Parliament
had only one wish : to forward the reform of public
instruction without disturbing any one's conscience.
The school must cease to Be a kind of branch of the
Churches and become wholly independent; but far
from making an anti-Church of it, they were
obviously studious to avoid every occasion for con-
flict. In the circular of November 2, 1882, the
Government concluded its instructions to the Pre-
fects by announcing " the pretension, while making
the law respected, to make it also understood and

" The teacher," ran the official instructions for
July 27, 1882, "has not to teach at every point a
theoretic morality followed by a practical morality,
as though he were addressing himself to children
destitute of any previous idea of good and evil; on
the contrary, the vast majority come to him having
already received, or now receiving, a religious instruc-
tion which familiarises them with the idea of a God,
the Author of the universe and the Father of men,
and with the traditions, beliefs and practices of a.
Christian or a Jewish worship. By means of this


worship, and under the forms proper to it, they have
already received the fundamental ideas of eternal and
universal morality; but these ideas are still, for them,
in the state of a naissant and delicate germ; they
have not penetrated deeply into them : they are
fleeting and confused, rather caught sight of than

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Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 17 of 22)