Paul Sabatier.

France to-day, its religious orientation online

. (page 2 of 22)
Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 2 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


with too much enjoyment and enthusiasm to suppose
that he resembles in the least degree that ideal his-
torian of whom he spoke just now : but the attacks
he will incur from every direction at once will suf-
ficiently prove that he does not write to serve the
passions of the hour. His attachment to Protestant-
ism, the milieu of his derivation, his education and
his thought, will not at least he hopes it will not
have distorted his judgments on his fellow-believers,
for as far back as he can remember he has sought
to understand and love both Catholicism and Free-
thought.

If in this respect he feels himself to be without
reproach, he wishes to be under no illusion, and not
to let it be supposed he has written without a leading
thought, without a deep faith which will inspire these



This faith is first of all an intense joy not only of
living in our age but of sharing the life of our age, of
feeling that something new and ineffable is preparing,
and that we all are preparing it : the persuasion that
a new faith, whose germ was in the old, is being
carried in the womb of contemporary society, and
that to-morrow will be better than to-day. It even
seems to him that we cannot truly behold to-day's
crisis save on condition of considering it well; and
that so to consider is already to love, already to desire
to free ourselves from our hatreds and pettinesses,
and to prepare for action,



12 FRANCE TO-DAY

It is obvious that these views exceed and bear sway
over historic data; I realise this, and should have
preferred not to have to make public confession of
it here. But pray let those who may be tempted to
cast too large a stone at me turn upon themselves and
ask if they are without sin; if, when they have had
occasion to deal with delicate matters of contemporary
religious history, they have been able to do so un-
influenced either by dogma, or by the philosophic
thought around which their intellectual life and
activity has shaped itself, or by the tendencies which
are so much a part of their moral being that they
never even dream of acknowledging their existence.

The meekest realities escape from us on some side,
and the sincerest efforts we can make to express them
only end in subjective outlines. 1

Legends are 'hard to kill : that of the superficial
Frenchman has penetrated everywhere, and with

1 If we are not greatly deceived the very title [of the series in
which this book was published in France] " Library of the Social
Movement " implies a sort of act of faith in this fact of experience
that man exists no longer as an isolated individual that that is
a mere intellectual concept ; that he really is, willy-nilly, a member
of an infinitely vast society, complex and ramified ; and that the
effort of civilisation to-day ought to lead those who have already
attained consciousness of themselves, as members of the family
and nation, to complete another stage and attain consciousness
of what they are and should be as members of society.

Here, as elsewhere, the inspired labour of scientific sincerity is
no vain, random effort. It records experiences, persuaded they
have not taken place for naught, and that their record may have
its use. The publisher of this series [M. Armand Colin] has
obviously desired to collaborate in his own way in the social move-
ment by setting on foot an inquiry that may serve as the basis of
fresh progress,



INTRODUCTION 13

such success that some of our compatriots receive it
as a kind of unquestionable fact, because it is un-
questioned. Most foreigners, encouraged by this
appearance of universal assent, judge us by what they
gather of Paris in their hasty visits, glancing through
some society papers, and seeing the kind of literature
displayed on our railway boolcstalls. If they read
this book, they will recognise what is superficial in
such a judgment. It is true that the importation
of strange and foreign cults has upon the whole pro-
duced deplorable results, and even that the efforts of
some of our compatriots to endow the country with
a brand-new religion by the cleverest maker, have
miserably failed. So reformers of ancient cults and
imitators of new, have alike gone away shocked,
repeating the famous saying, " There is not religion
enough in France to make two."

One may perhaps be allowed to question whether
our country's very genuine disdain for what already
runs to a long series of religious experiments is really
the result of scepticism.

May it not come instead from a deep religious
feeling much too exigent not to perceive the lament-
able intellectual and moral gaps in the formulas
proffered to it?

Nothing is more like religion than love. Is it
from lack of heart or incapacity for the dream and
desire of making a home that a girl dismisses one
by one a whole series of wooers ?

Very often Her persistent refusals only show that
she has set her ideal higher.

The religious expectation of France to-day is some-
what analogous : her apparent scepticism may well be
a faith ignorant of itself.



CHAPTER I

RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION

Search for a definition of religion valid for our age and civilisation
Essentially ethical basis for which many simple minds are
looking in religion Spontaneous and unconscious symbolisa-
tion in dogma Religious change always achieved at the cost
of the Churches The Catholic Church and her right to the
gratitude of France Efforts of the Church to control public
opinion La Bonne Presse Uselessness of its activity The
new religious orientation.

AT the outset it is desirable to determine precisely
what religion shall mean in these pages. Of attempts
at definition the latest to attract attention is that of
M. Salomon Reinach. For him it is " a body of
scruples that thwart the free exercise of our facul-
ties, 5 ' * or, in a word, a body of taboos. 2

The introduction of this Polynesian term into our
current speech may be necessary in order to indicate
certain aspects of the Polynesian religion that could
not be rendered in the ordinary words of our lan-
guage. But is it really scientific to write as though
this idea of taboo were characteristic of religion in
one of the countries in which religious feeling is most
developed, and in which it is, for most of those

1 Orpheus, Histoire generate aes religions , Paris, 1909, p. 4.

2 " Taboo, in Polynesian, means, properly speaking, that which
is withdrawn from current use ; a tree one must not touch is
a taboo-tree, and one speaks of the taboo on a tree to indicate
the scruple which stops a man who is tempted to touch or fell
this tree." Ibid.



RELIGION AND ORIENTATION 15

associated with it, the very opposite of a body of
taboos ?

For a definition to be just, it must not only appear
so to him who makes it, but it should satisfy those at
whom it is aimed, or at least they should be able to
recognise themselves in it.

One may admit that M. Reinach points out and
throws into relief one element of religion as it exists
amongst the most blunted spirits in our civilisation, 1
yet even for these it is but one element among many;
and just in proportion as they emerge out of physical
and intellectual destitution the part of the taboo
decreases in importance.

In order that a definition of religion may apply to
the whole past and to every people it must indicate
the amazing plasticity of religions and the rapidity
of their evolution in spite of all ecclesiastical attempts
to keep them immutable; it must suggest their pro-
digious dynamism and creative power. Here, by
way of documents, are some recent definitions :

" Religion is a physical, metaphysical and ethical
explanation of everything by analogy with human
society, under an imaginative and symbolical form.
It is, in a word, a universal sociological explanation
under a mythical form" 2

" Religion comprises all non-scientific knowledge
and power." 3

4 * Religion is the urge of the soul, that, reinvigor-

1 M. Levy-Briihl has recently published a work on primitive races,
by no means for the exclusive benefit of specialists, in which
interesting, new and well-authenticated suggestions are super-
abundant : Les Fonctions mentales dans les societes inferieures.

2 M. Guyau, Irreligion de Vavenir, 1st edition, p. iii.

3 Darmesteter, Revue philosophique, seventh year, Vol. II, p. 76.



1 6 FRANCE TO-DAY

ated at the springs of being, conceives a transcendent
ideal, and, in order to approach it, acquires a strength
surpassing that of nature. It is essentially the
creator of patterns for life, and of strength capable of
realising them. It is recognised by this sign, that it
moves from duty to power, not from power to duty.
Nemo ultra posse tenetur is the cry of mere nature.
What you ought, you can, is the good tidings that
religion brings us. The activity of religion in society
is evidenced by the appearance of types and examples
of perfection which surpass the given forms. And the
principle and means of propagation of these modes
of existence is the communion of men in God." *

" Always and everywhere, religion has been under-
stood as the body of feelings, perceptions and volun-
tary actions occasioned in the individual or the group
by the consciousness of personal relations with the
higher sovereign powers at work in the universe in
whose midst it moves." 2

1 mile Boutroux, Revue des Deux Mondes for Sept. I, 1910,
see below, Chap. VII, p. 115.

2 L'abbe Bricout, Revue du Clerge Franfais, Oct. I, 1910,
Vol. LXIV, p. 15.

There are several definitions of religion to which we would call
close attention because they spring from two sciences which are
in course of formation and will reshape many of our ideas : the
history of religions, and religious psychology. In speaking thus, we
are thinking above all of Messrs. Flournoy and Marillier; but we
fear to spoil the thought of the eminent Genevan philosopher
by a quotation. One must read him very slowly, live alone with
him, and let oneself be bathed in his thought in order to realise
its fecundity and life. His pages do not lend themselves to being
parted from one another and sent wandering to and fro like the
pictures that travel from gallery to gallery. His definition of
religion is to be found in a study entitled " Les Princi-pes de la
psychologie religieuse " inserted in the Annales d,e psychologic ,
Geneva, Dec. 1902, p. 44 et seq*



RELIGION AND ORIENTATION 17

These definitions, and most of the others one could
cite, leave still obscure the power of development that
religion possesses, a power at once so striking and so
strange. To take only the sacred books of Chris-
tianity, one finds prescriptions in these which are in
absolute contradiction to one another. And yet they
are not merely in the same collection which might
have been gathered by chance they proceed out of
one another : the God who in the Old Testament
bids the Levites massacre their brothers and friends
is the authentic ancestor of Him who, in the New
Testament, commands love love of one's neighbour
and love of one's enemies.

Why should we not admit the impossibility of
finding any single definition for religion ? l

To-day, among those who seem its most authentic
representatives, it has put off certain of the character-
istics which in other epochs appeared to be essential
to it. It has eliminated them by its own virtue. 2

Leon Marillier, who has also directed his labours toward
scientific history and experimental psychology, has said : " Religion
is by no means a body of dogmatic affirmations, or ethical precepts,
it is an ensemble of emotional states, feelings and desires which
have their own originality." In his preface to the translation
of Lang, Mytbes 9 cultes et religion, Paris, 1896, p. xxvi.

1 American philosophers have well shown the uselessness of
efforts to define the essence of religion. See in particular Professor
Leuba's article Introduction to a Psychological Study of Religion
in the Monist, Vol. XI, p. 195 (Jan. 1901). Cp. W. James's
L 'Experience religieuse (translation of Varieties of Religious
Experience, by Abauzit, Paris, 1908), p. 24 et seq.

2 This may be remarked, for example, in the divinatory practices
so strongly condemned by the Mosaic law. These were super-
stitious, according to the etymological sense of the word : residues
of an ancient worship that the later religion endeavoured to
efface.



1 8 FRANCE TO-DAY

Its word to-day may be the opposite of its word of
yesterday; yet this does not merely replace that, but
is its veritable sequel, or rather its legitimate heir and
child. All of which may perhaps be wanting in logic,
but it is true, and that is sufficient. Only by patient
observation, then, can we discover the succession of
religious facts.

And is it not observation that alone can show
that the winged butterfly of to-day, the chrysalis of
yesterday, and the caterpillar of the day before are
one and the same being?

Since we are concerned with contemporary history,
and our field is limited to France, it will be enough
if, without preconceived ideas, we seek to observe
religion as it exists around us.

And first, we must remark that, implicitly, most
religious men have two definitions for religion : one
which they learnt by heart in their infancy, or which
in later years they have borrowed from the doctors
of their Church; the other, a more or less deliberate
expression of their individual thought and experience.

Now it is very exceptional for these two definitions
to coincide. They may even be antithetical. A Pro-
testant, for instance, who has learnt in the catechism
that, according to Schleiermacher's definition, religion
is "an absolute feeling of dependence," may end by
discovering in his faith an ineffable feeling of free-
dom, the possession of a limitless moral power and
of an inner law which he will apply to himself and his
surroundings, and transmit to his sons, stronger,
suppler and more effective.

The Catholic accepts with deference the official
definition given him by his Church; but even the
humblest peasant has a feeling that it requires com-



RELIGION AND ORIENTATION 19

pleting by a more personal view. That is what
generally happens to definitions in which the relation
between religion and ethics is thrown into strong
relief. 1

May it not be said that, for our contemporaries,
religion is the instinctive need by which a man is
led to realise his better self, to unite with those who
can serve him as guides or companions in that difficult
task, and to endeavour to realise together with them
what the inner witness prescribes?

In so far as man considers, reflects and discusses,
philosophy exists. Religion exists when man, ceasing
to be merely a witness of his own life and that of the
community, throws his will into the balance, proclaim-
ing himself a collaborator in the eternal task which
he apprehends and to which he devotes himself.

But does not this definition exclude religions
founded on revelation ? In no wise : even the

1 In the Cevennes, where I can closely observe the humblest
social strata, discussions sometimes take place in the villages between
Catholics and Protestants. The speakers never dream of claiming
advantage from their Churches' divine origin. They always
esteem them according to their moral efficacy and agree that true
religion consists in loving one another. They regard the Churches
as schools and homes of moralisation. For either of them, dogma
plays an insignificant part. It is a flag which one is ready to plant
at his window, or around which one may rally, at once a heritage
and a symbol, nothing less, but nothing more.

Perhaps it may seem strange that a population which at first
sight seems so religious should reach thereby a kind of symbolism.
So it is, however. There is much to surprise one among these
peasants if only one have patience to listen to their talk.

It may be said that in those regions in which the man of the
fields sees especially the moral basis of religion, the townsman sees
especially its intellectual and metaphysical systematisation.



20 FRANCE TO-T5AY

Churches which claim such an origin, while they
wholly deny man's right or power to criticise their
claims, offer them, nevertheless, for his acceptance.
There is an occasion on which a man gives or refuses
his adhesion to them.

If he assents, it is because he thinks he will find
in revelation a support, a concurrence, a light to guide
him in his efforts. Revelation is above him, but in
some way he confirms it, and thus re-enters into the
definition given. When a believer says, "I am a
Catholic because this is the religion which offers the
highest ideal," he implicitly declares that he has made
something like a choice.

On the opposite side, some will think this defini-
tion allows not only the most dissimilar forms of wor-
ship to use the name of religion, but even admits
enterprises undertaken against it.

The contradiction is, however, only apparent.

In every epoch of history the most powerful
religious efforts have been regarded in the hour of
their greatest vigour as anti-religious. The first
Christians did not escape this general law, and were
accused of atheism. 1

To cast down the statues of the gods is not always
an act of unbelief. It is usually the proclamation of
a higher conception of divinity.

From this point of view it may be said that religion

1 M. Guyau has already said : " The irreligion of the future
will conserve what is finest in religious feeling ; on the one hand
admiration of the Universe and of the infinite powers therein
displayed; on the other, the search after an ideal not individual
only, but social and cosmic, which surpasses present reality. . . .
Irreligion, as we understand it, may be considered as a higher
stage of religion and of civilisation itself." Irreligion de Favenir,
p. xiv et seq.



RELIGION AND ORIENTATION 21

presents itself as the human affirmation par excellence,
the exercise of man's procreative will in the spiritual
kingdom. The religious man not only affirms what
is good, he becomes its soldier, and despite all defeats,
he predicts its triumph. In the midst of ruins he
catches sight of the future city, which he builds in
advance, ideally, before he has yet power to build it
in reality. The great moments of his life are not
those in which he pauses to rest and enjoy the verities
achieved, but those in which he anxiously sets out
again on a new stage, because the mysterious voice
has said, " Get thee v out of thy country and from thy
kindred, unto a land that I will show thee." * He
seems to renounce himself when, on the contrary, he
is finding himself: far from committing suicide, he
is creating himself.

The cosmologies and doctrinal systems in which,
from century to century, man has sought to express
his faith, are not religion, they are but its neces-
sarily imperfect and provisional language, eternally
perfectible.

All the foregoing will make evident how far from
synonymous are the two terms " ecclesiastical " and
" religious." Often confounded, this confusion is
the source of numberless errors.

If our task were to study the ecclesiastical situa-
tion, it would be singularly easy. What is ecclesi-
astical is to be seen and declared. It would be enough
to recur to the abundant and precise literature fur-
nished by the Churches. But the very fact that the
Catholic Church of France, after so many centuries

1 Genesis xii. I.



22 FRANCE TO-DAY

during which, without a thought of its own life, or
the need to realise its activity, it was yet the soul of
the country, begins now, all at once, to review its
work, to prepare the exactest possible lists of its
organs and to take stock of its moral resources is not
this a sign of the times ? * Does it not mark the close
of a working year in the religious labour of human-
ity? There is joy on the farm when the last load of
the autumn harvest comes in, but something of
melancholy also broods over it.

The ecclesiastical situation of France must not,
then, be confused with its religious situation; nay,
more than this, the one is almost the antithesis of the
other. The power that formed the Churches is also
that which crumbles them. It is love which builds
the nest, and love which bids abandon it.

At no period has the Catholic Church, to speak
only of her, been more clearly conscious of all that
she has done for her children. Advancing towards
them with inexpressible sadness she asks, as on Good
Friday: " Popule meus, quid fed tibif aut in quo
contristavi te ? Responde mihi." 2

O France, have I not tilled thy soil, and brought
forth thy soul? Is it not I who proffered thee the
ideal of the valiant knight; who opened thy universi-
ties, built thy cathedrals, wrought the sanctity and
radiance of thy home, strewed all thy life with poetry,
harmony and power?

France knows it all : she hearkens, deeply moved,
grateful at once and embarrassed. She would kneel

1 See p. 24, note.

2 " My people, what have I done to thee ? In what have I
grieved thee ? Answer me." Chanted during the Adoration of
the Cross. *



RELIGION AND ORIENTATION 23

down beside her old mother, and continue to let her-
self be lulled by the familiar croon. But she cannot.

She must arise, and forward; she must in her turn
bring to birth.

It has been thus always. The Jewish Synagogue
condemned Jesus to death, being unable to imagine
that he, this rebel, this blasphemer, this impious
man, this heretic, was about to realise the prophetic
vision and make the tabernacle of Israel a Bethel for
all peoples. 1

Never has the activity of the Church been so in-
tense or its organisation so strong as in France to-
day ; 2 but the complaints and cries of alarm which

1 Isaiah Ivi. 7 : " Mine house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples."

2 To have some notion of ecclesiastical energies and the perfection
of their organisation, it is enough to open, for instance, the Guide
df Faction religieuse (Reims, Office of the Action populaire, published
yearly), in which " religious " is, of course, constantly being con-
founded with " ecclesiastical." You are impressed by this im-
mense effort, provided with infinitely complex agencies which
penetrate everywhere, but which, almost ignored by our people,
attain scarcely any appreciable result.

The multiplicity of the means only throws into stronger relief
the exiguity of the results.

Among the forces enumerated in this book, there is one which
for some years has been developed by predilection. I mean La
Bonne Presse. No more methodical attempt has ever been made
to take possession of public opinion.

Under this generic name of Bonne Presse y the Assumptionist
Fathers have succeeded in giving to French Catholicism a body of
newspapers and magazines answering to every need, which ought
to relieve the peasant as well as the townsman of the slightest
desire to read anything whatever that does not issue from their
houses.

For the general public there is every day La Croix^ with its six



24 FRANCE TO-DAY

arise on every hand tell plainly enough that it is
uneasy, and realises the gravity of the present crisis.

When so vast a crusade has been set on foot in a
country; when it has succeeded in turning aside to its
own profit part of the moral inheritance of that
country, and when, along with all this, it professes
to have supernatural means l at its service, it is likely

pages, which, in spite of its illustrated Sunday supplement, has
a lower subscription rate than most of the Paris dailies.

For dwellers in the country there is the phalanx of district and
local editions of La Croix, with special ones for soldiers and sailors ;
the Notl, for children; Le Mois, a large illustrated magazine, which
deals with literature, art and music; and other monthly or bi-
monthly publications which aim at special classes of readers
Rome, Jerusalem, UEuckaristie. There are even those that
touch on scientific matters : the Cosmos (Catholic review of the
sciences and their application), and others which are propagandist
organs, Le Pelerin, Les Conferences, Les Contemporains, the Vie
des Saints, the Causeries du dimancbe ; or documentary bulletins,
remarkably edited, which constantly place in the hands of lawyers
and jurists such texts and materials as may be useful to them in
defending ecclesiastical institutions, e. g. the Revue d* organisation
ft de defense rtligieuse. And there are even collections of authori-
ties, like the Questions actuelles, which furnish on the one side the
authentic and complete text of documents bearing on political,


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 2 of 22)