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possessed, entrusted to the memory rather than to a
conscience, scarcely as yet exercised. They wait to be
ripened and developed by suitable culture. It is this
culture that the public teacher is about to give them.

" His mission, then, is well defined : it consists in
strengthening and rooting into his pupils' hearts for
their whole lives, by causing them to enter into daily
practice, those essential ideas of human morals which
are common to every doctrine and necessary to all
civilised men. He can fulfil this mission without
having personally to adhere to or oppose any of the
various denominational beliefs with which his pupils
associate and mingle the general principles of morality.
He takes the children as they come to him, with their
ideas and their speech, with the beliefs they derive
from their families, and he is only anxious to teach
them to draw from these what is most precious in
them from the social point of view; that is to say, the
precepts of a lofty morality.

" Undenominational moral teaching is, then, dis-
tinct from, but not contradictory to, religious teach-
ing. The teacher neither takes the place of the priest
nor of the head of the family; he joins his efforts to
theirs to make a good man of each child. . . . All
theological and philosophical discussion is manifestly
forbidden him by the very character of his functions,
by the age of his pupils, by the trust of their families
and of the State. All his efforts are concentrated on


a problem of a different nature, not less arduous,
though its nature is exclusively practical : to give all
these children an emotional apprenticeship to the
moral life. Later, when they have become citizens,
they may be separated by dogmatic opinions; but
in practice they will at least be agreed to set the end
of life as high as possible; to have the same horror
for everything base and vile, the same admiration for
what is noble and generous, the same delicacy in the
appreciation of duty; to aspire to moral perfection,
whatever efforts it may cost; to feel themselves united
in that general worship of the good, the true and the
beautiful which is, moreover, a form, and not the least
pure, of religious feeling."

This long quotation was necessary in order to recall
the intentions of the legislators of 1882 to those who
have forgotten them.

We need not here describe the attitude of hostility
and challenge adopted by the party which at that time
claimed to represent the Church of France. Any
weapon was good wherewith it might fight what it
called " the School without God." Jules Ferry,
Ferdinand Buisson, Felix Pecaut, Jules Steeg all
those who actually collaborated in the organisation
of primary education were first attacked before Par-
liament with unheard-of violence; then, frank and
direct legal opposition failing to prevent the voting
of the new laws, a desperate resistance was organised,
even in the smallest hamlets, against their application.
No means was rejected which might serve what was
called the cause of God. The new schoolmistresses
were coming out of the Normal College, and were
specially attacked. When, despite the threats with
which they were assailed, they went to fill their posts,


they were subjected in " Christian" villages to a
formidable quarantine. Not only would no one speak
to them or respond to their greeting, but often the
baker and grocer refused to sell them anything what-
ever. Hostile shouts and base abuse broke out when
they went by; and for months, sometimes for longer,
the undenominational school remained absolutely

We must in a few words recall these manoeuvres
and persecutions, for we are tempted to forget them.
We have good reason to do so from the point of
view of morality and national reconciliation; but from
the point of view of history and of our public conduct
we should be absolutely wrong if we did not profit by
the lesson of these events, for therein lies one of the
factors which have envenomed the present situation.
By organising against the undenominational school
manifestations which did not stop at any vulgarity,
by subjecting to the punishment of isolation and of
the vilest calumnies young women who were often
most religious, certain ecclesiastics not only lowered
themselves to a role foreign to their part ; they created
against the Church, and against all it represents and
teaches, stores of hatred and desires for retaliation,
and precisely among the whole lower middle-class
and the small landed proprietors, that is to say, in
those circles which are like a nursery for the Normal
Schools, and which had till then remained wholly
refractory towards anti-Catholicism. 1

1 The Church was not content with organising obstruction
against all the laws which organised the school. When it saw the
uselessness of its efforts, it created a whole network of institutions
from the infant school to the industrial school and the university.

In other lands one is acquainted with denominational schools,


Here, then, is something of which we must not
lose sight when we want to understand the disaffec-
tion evidenced by France towards her clergy when the
law of Separation was being voted.

If, instead of declaring war on the undenomi-
national school, the Church in France had acted as
it did in the United States, and generally in countries
where it has felt it must accept circumstances in place
of claiming to impose its own control, the enormous
majority of the country, which only wished for peace
with the Church, would have been infinitely grateful
for its collaboration, and probably the orientation of
the nation's life would have been very different. The
Conservative Republic would have entered into our
customs; France would have regarded her rank of
eldest daughter of the Church as a precious title,
and it is difficult to imagine what a Pope as
clever as Leo XIII might not have made of the
situation. 1

but I do not think that there has anywhere been the systematic
effort which has been made in France to take the child from his
cradle and keep him through all his studies from any contact with
thought not strictly denominational.

The Catholic University stands opposite to the University with-
out an epithet. Abroad it may be imagined that the latter gives
in France a kind of anti-Catholic official education. That is
a gross error. A very large majority of the professors of our
universities are, naturally, of Catholic derivation, and if some
among them do not hesitate to manifest their anti-clerical opinions,
there are others, and a great number, who are very orthodox
Catholics, and sgeak and behave as such.

1 For the rest it must be recognised that if under Pius X's
pontificate the crusade against undenominationalism was organised
at Rome, under Leo XIII it was somewhat otherwise : the Crusade
was then organised in France by the remains of the old parties, and
was far from receiving all the encouragement it desired from Rome.


The pacific attitude of the Church would doubtless
have produced results similar to those which it has
produced in America; and in this country it would
have been assured an incomparable position, because
of the profound roots it thrusts down into the soil
of our history.

Those who represented it in fact rather than by
right * commenced the desperate and often odious
struggle of which we have been spectators, less to
defend the rights of conscience and liberty, as they
professed, than because they hoped to be victors and
seize upon power.

Not only was the attempt little worthy of those
who made it or of the cause they desired to serve;
it was ill calculated, and has not ceased to sustain
the most grievous rebuffs; moreover, its organisers
seem to have profited nothing by the lessons of

By refusing such honourable conditions of peace
as were offered them in the, law of 1882, the repre-
sentatives of the Church have obliged France to
reopen the era of hostilities and to go to the very
limits of undenominational claims. To the Govern-
ment and the country, which desired an indefinite
truce, the answer was a formidable mobilisation in
which genuine Conservatives and the sharpshooters
of subversive parties were soon seen fighting side by

By this struggle, devoid of wisdom or dignity, the

1 Then, as to-day, the Clerical Press, while protesting its
absolute respect for hierarchical authority, did not cease to force
its directions upon the episcopate.


Church lost a great part of its prestige in the social
strata in which its moral and religious influence had
been the most considerable.

Certainly it was not wrong in declaring that the
neutrality established by the law of 1882 was im-
practicable, provisional and precarious; a kind of com-
promise which could satisfy neither the Church nor
the State. But is the educational situation so different
in many countries where the Church has completely
accommodated itself to the various enactments? If
at the time the task of collaborating in the work of
Parliament had been permitted, we should have con-
tinued to see what we saw in the first years I mean
the law yielding to circumstance, and accommodating
itself to local environment and traditions. Long
after 1882, and even after 1900, teachers have been
known to sing in the choir, to accompany on the
harmonium, to take their scholars to Mass and super-
vise them there.

The Church did not choose to accept this modus
vivendi without basis in the text of the law, this
situation which varied from commune to commune,
from teacher to teacher : it thought to serve its cause
better by compelling the country to evolve rapidly
towards complete neutrality.

This policy was obviously inspired by the notion
that neutral teaching, being impracticable, would soon
degenerate into anti-religious teaching, and that this
official anti-religion would result in such a decline in
public morals that the nation would be obliged to
cast itself anew into the arms of the Church to escape
final dissolution.

The success of this calculation was not improbable,
for in the least religious quarters many representative


men were of opinion that, as a measure of public
hygiene, a form of worship should be retained at the
base of public education which they would not choose
either for the financial aristocracy or for the intel-

This homage by the comfortable to the Church
deeply shocked the working classes, and is perhaps
one of the major causes for the depreciation of
religion in our country.

The famous phrase : // faut une religion pour le
peuple The people requires a religion has done
more harm to the Church than all the attacks of her

At the present time, educational neutrality,
attacked with equal heat by the clerical and the
anti-clerical parties, is only defended and observed
by a part of the primary teaching body. Setting aside
an insignificant minority of teachers, of whom some
would give a clearly anti-religious character to their
lessons, while some would make them foreign to any
philosophical or ethical outlook, it may be said that,
little by little, the great majority has arrived at a
very clear desire to strengthen undenominational
moral teaching and to give it an unshakable basis.
They want it to possess an efficacy whereto it has not
yet attained; partly, as they think, because it derives
more or less from the morality of the Churches.
It is an imitation without force or originality.
Hence they are seeking for the new soul of the new

These aspirations harmonise with the great bulk of
public opinion. On the one side, this expects and


claims from the school a solid and effective moral
education; on the other, it will no longer admit that
the undenominational school should continue to take
an idea of revelation borrowed from ecclesiastical
dogma as the starting-point for the teaching which
is the very object of its mission.

A complete religious and moral revolution is
taking place around us. Little by little, the school
is being in some fashion compelled to create an
independent moral teaching.

Is it its fault if at last it accepts this task? If it
begins to see that to-day it has to do the work of a
religious apostolate ? Those who accuse it of usurp-
ing a function which does not belong to it make one
think of certain persons in life-saving uniforms who
should reproach a passer-by for flinging himself into
the water to rescue a drowning man whom they
themselves had not heard or seen.

The undenominational school is called to exercise
a religious ministry : who can be surprised that there
have been gropings about, errors, miscalculations and
failures ? The new gospel is no more a formula that
acts by magic than was the old. One needs no great
familiarity with St. Paul's epistles to know that
if the first Christian communities had saints and
martyrs, the teaching of the great Apostle himself
could not preserve them from errors, vices and

Ecclesiastical morality has no right to take a lofty
air with its young sister : if either is vanquished here,
may it not be she who, after having moulded the
conscience of our people for a thousand years, can
no longer furnish the spiritual nurture of which they
stand in need?


We must not indeed make a mistake here. There
may be men here and there who have been glad to
detach themselves from a Church whose morality
curbed their evil passions, but the contemporary crisis
arises above all from the undenominational moral
ideal going, on some points, beyond the religious
moral ideal : it has become more exigent, more eager
to realise itself.

Political equality has succeeded in entering into
our customs, in spite of its great defects, because it
satisfies a certain mystical and Christian ideal. Now
if it had a part in the Gospel ideal, the Church never-
theless has regarded it very suspiciously and striven
against it. In the same way, the desire to establish
peace between the peoples is a Christian aspiration,
and yet orthodox Catholic circles are those in which
pacifism has been combated with the most futile
arguments : and in spite of the verbal contradiction,
there is no hesitation in those quarters in identifying
nationalism with Catholicism.

One could draw up a list of the modern achieve-
ments which have their roots in Christian soil and
have been won without the clergy, often in spite of
them, sometimes against them.

The Church, which owes so much to woman, to
her devotion, to the poetry of her nature, which has
carried the worship of virginity, the ideal of maternity
and of marriage to such a height, has not seen that it
has something yet to do for the protection of woman.
A Christian civilisation has been able to exist through
long ages with entirely pagan principles of matri-
monial legislation.

In what concerns the family and property we still
live according to notions which come to us from


Roman laws anterior to Christ, notions believed by
many Christians to be as sacred and final as though
they formed a part of religious revelation.

The Church is still a wonderful teacher of indi-
vidual morality, but every day she loses touch yet
more with our fellow-citizens, because the political
ideas she has drawn from the Holy Scriptures now lag
behind those they draw from their intellect and heart
moulded by an age-long Christian education.

Public opinion, by claiming with growing insist-
ence that the undenominational school should become
a centre of moral life, is taking up an attitude which
may be unpleasant for ecclesiastical institutions; but
by so doing it proclaims its need for religion and its
settled will to make it the starting-point and goal of

No one will deny that the task accepted by the
French school is the most arduous that civilisation
can assume. And it is not less certain that the whole
country, by facing the perils of such an effort, has
wrought an act of faith, hope and charity which
mystical souls must admire.

People who think themselves wise are astonished
to see a great country running such risks; and meet-
ing with many incredulous and orthodox persons, they
judge it would have been simpler to accept a few
dogmatic formulas without going forth to encounter
formidable difficulties. Obviously, according to their
lights, these counsellors are not wrong : many great
countries may be observed extricating themselves,
now by authoritarian, now by whatever ready methods,
from difficulties which in France thrust agricultural,
commercial and industrial matters into the back-
ground and absorb a great part of our energy.


It remains to be seen whether, by stating with
boyish boldness the social problems that other nations
are trying to avoid, France may not prove true to that
character which in the Middle Ages was summarised
in the formula : Gesta Dei per Francos.



Undenominational effort towards an efficacious and solidly
established morality Moral anarchy from which we suffer
Efforts of Guyau, Pecaut and Wagner The Course of Jules
Payot M. Delvolve's Essay : its generosity towards religious
instruction Is the hesitation of undenominational pedagogy
a proof of failure ? Undenominational mysticism.

THE whole country, in putting forward with painful
anxiety the question of moral education at school,
demands two conditions of its philosophers and
thinkers: the first, that this education be efficient;
the second, that it be based at once upon the intellect,
the heart and the will.

It will matter little by what historic way the
teaching proffered to it may come, so long as it fulfils
these two conditions : for then it will be undenomina-
tional which does not mean that it will necessarily
be in opposition to religion in general, or to the
Churches in particular; but that, if it derive from
religious endeavours, it will have become strong
enough and self-conscious enough to speak to all, to
be true and effective, not only for members of such
and such societies, but for everybody.

We must not allow miserable political struggles
to hide from us the grandeur and beauty to be found
in the movements of opinion wherein we mingle.
Polemics have made the word laique undenomina-



tional a synonym for anti-religious. Such con-
fusions are grievous, because in the long run they
succeed in imposing themselves tyrannically upon
simple minds. Not only is there no anti-religious
element in the undenominational idea, but it would
not take much delving to discover in it a mystical
idea very like that which is concealed under the word
Catholic. Undenominational ethics aims at assert-
ing and strengthening the country's unity by means
of its young people, and establishing a sort of com-
munion of all future citizens; and if it prepares them
for that role and for the duties springing out of it,
it may be said to go further, tending to create in them
broader and loftier interests yet, as members of the
human race.

Do not the representatives of the Churches too
easily forget the long series of centuries during
which traditional morality has been elaborated, when
they wonder that undenominational morality has not
at the first bound overleapt the difficulties before
which its elder sister has paused so long?

We lack as yet the recoil of history to appreciate
the efforts associated with the names of Guyau, Jules
Payot, Jacob, Belot, Diirkheim and Fouillee; but it
is clear that our epoch yields to none in its endeavour
to attain, and its desire to realise, a higher and more
comprehensive ideal than that of our fathers.

No doubt there is great moral disorder; egoisms
are let loose; a brazen self-seeking exhibits itself;
and many, who cover their faces while branding vice,
seem anxious above all to ruin their political foes.
The most vulgar calumnies are repeated by excellent
people who do not like to appear ingenuous or to
show their ignorance; and these fly from mouth to


mouth, reaching our young people and even the
peasants of our country-side, as though to persuade
them that in these days corruption is everywhere,
virtue and devotion nowhere. Much has been said
of late about the deleterious influence exerted on the
people by various judicial cases and criminal stories.
It is perfectly true. Yet in the Press of to-day there
is a corrupting influence still more immediate and
powerful, the senseless accusations circulated by par-
tisans against their adversaries : against men whose
life is public and may be followed, so to speak, from
hour to hour, the silliest legends are invented in the
assurance that their victims have something else to
do than to reply; and it is not recognised that, though
of all this nothing may remain of a nature to injure
the slandered man, yet something of it will always
remain in the minds of those who read the slander.
They fancy themselves knowing, and succeed in per-
suading themselves that whoever is invested with any
social charge, and even any man in the public eye, is
in some way enrolled in the army of corruption and

Calumnies do not generally strike those against
whom they are launched, but they suggest to the
mass of the people that the social staff is filled with
men capable of committing any crime in order to
enrich themselves. Those who profess by such
means to avenge public morality could act no other-
wise if they wished to persuade our people that, since
governments have no ideal save their Own passions
and interests, the governed would indeed be foolish
to show themselves more virtuous.

But if corruption is much greater in appearance
and in the columns of the Press than in reality, it is


no less true that it is formidable, and that in many
quarters there exists real moral anarchy. Whose is
the fault ? On every hand the representatives of tra-
dition are violently attacking those who strive to put
an end to the confusion of conscience.

Is it really undenominational morality that is here
at fault? Would it not rather be right to accuse
ecclesiastical morality ?

We cannot in these pages examine all the essays
which have been made to satisfy the new needs.
They are too many. We shall only mention two or
three among the more recent : either because they are
attempts at organic synthesis, or because, having
aimed at the establishment of moral teaching in the
schools, they have not remained in the region of
philosophic speculation, but have been widely experi-
mented in, and in the primary school exert already a
real influence over conduct.

J. M. Guyau's views have only had an indirect
influence; but still they have here and there awakened
the reflections of teachers seeking a new basis for
moral education. The influence of Felix Pecaut
and, later, that of Charles Wagner has, perhaps,
been more general, because the ideas of these two
eminent moralists are presented under a more simple
practical aspect, and as though bathed in that mystical
poetry and feeling whose absence is too often felt in
the manuals of undenominational morality. But
these remarkable and felicitous efforts correspond
rather to the situation of 1882 than to that of to-day.
They are not positively systematic, and suppose an
intellectual and moral synthesis already made outside
the school.


Now it is evident that, for divers reasons, a great
number of children even, perhaps, a majority-
have come to school during the last few years without
having been brought into explicit, or even implicit,
contact with any religious or moral synthesis what-

ever. 1

This state of things has been keenly felt by some
of the leaders of contemporary thought and peda-
gogy. They have seen clearly that if the school has
no right to replace the family and Church for those
who have one, it can no longer ignore the fact that
many children have neither a family nor a Church.
To give them scattered moral precepts without
giving them wherewithal to bind the sheaf together,
to surcharge their memories with special precepts
without preparing their conscience to act and find
in its own depths the solution of the unforeseen and
formidable questions life will set them, is a moral

We must repeat : the undenominational school did
not desire to erect itself into an institution of moral

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Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 18 of 22)