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stolen into their soul : and they work so hard that
they may cast it forth.

This intimate, unacknowledged insecurity among
some who display great missionary zeal, whether or


no it be to the Church's profit, is very keenly felt
by the masses of the people.

It is the little rift. And though it is difficult to
fix with precision the exact influence it has had in
the religious movement, that influence may safely be
set down as considerable, and as one of the factors in
the situation.

When believers scarcely believe any longer save
in order to persuade others to do so; or when they
long feverishly that others may believe in the hope
that the faith of these may give new warmth to their
own they have come near indeed to believing no
longer at all : and the Church, be it great or small,
which has many such believers may as well set about
weaving its shroud.

Do the old Churches and the sects born yesterday,
alike, live so far from the conscience of the people
that they cannot see how they shock it by the
display of cordiality, in no wise disinterested, with
which they too hastily receive and make much of
whosoever will join them ?



Effect of the war of 1870 on the national consciousness As
individuals the priests had proved themselves good citizens ;
but on the morrow of disaster the Church could not rise to
her opportunity Attitude of France towards Germany and
Protestantism before 1870 The Prussian victory dealt an
irreparable blow to the prestige of the Reformation.

THE first question that will occur to the reader's
mind will be that of the origin of the present
religious orientation. The human mind loves pre-
cision, even, perhaps especially, where it is least pos-
sible to attain it. It detests saying, " I do not
know; " and detests having it said quite as much.

In the voyage of discovery which we are making
to-day it would be hard indeed to tell with any
accuracy when and where the movement with which
we are dealing began. If it were a question of at-
tempts such as Saint-Simonism or Positivism, which
had a founder and a programme drawn up in advance,
the task would be easy; but the movement we wish
to observe is very different : it proceeds from no man,
but from a most mysterious labour, like Nature's
Springtime. One has to go to the very heart of
society and civilisation in order to find its source.

Let it not be said that to speak of the heart of
society is to set up an entity outside the simple



observation of facts, for the individual is just as much
outside it.

It is not here a question of metaphysics, but of
reality; and reality is ceaselessly showing us indi-
viduals who exist so much the better as they forget
themselves in and for society who receive just so
much more from it as they give it more. The indi-
vidual exists only by and for society.

The glory and power of the Catholic Church lies
in this, that being in fact a society by the side of
other similar societies, she has passed beyond this
idea. Not satisfied to have her place in the sun, nor
even to stand first, she wished to be the only one.
And in so far as she claimed this title she created a
sort of right in her favour. By symbols which are
both the most diverse and the most precise, she pro-
claimed the unity of humanity, even the unity and
solidarity of the whole of nature, thus anticipating
the most lofty preoccupations of our day by a sort of
bold prophecy. 1

1 St. Paul speaks, for instance (Romans viii. 19-22), of " the
earnest expectation of the creation " waiting " for the revealing
of the sons of God," and adds " that the whole creation groaneth
and travaileth in pain together." It was in this spirit he uttered
the famous saying which has been so often misunderstood, " All
things work together for good to them that love God."

Renan scarcely did more than translate this thought into the
undenominational style when he said : " When a revolution be-
comes necessary, nothing hinders, everything serves it."

For St. Francis of Assisi, nature is not merely the realisation,
and, as it were, the expansion of a divine thought, it is a vast body
having a mysterious unity, life and mission. Man participates in
an eminent fashion in this universal mission, and has as his fellow-
workers our lower brothers the animals, to whom, in so far as they
aid him in realising the divine programme, he owes obedience :
" Sancta obedientia facit hominem subditum omnibus hominibus
hujus mundi, et non tantum hominibus, sed etiam bestiis et feris.


Despite defects in our observation and the ceaseless
alteration of the ground examined, we are coming to
recognise in history the labour of a collective con-
science, which scarcely knows political frontiers, and
becomes stronger and more assured day by day a
conscience which at first has neither number nor
strength on its side, but which, with a deliberation
like that of the growth of an oak, through number-
less contradictions and defeats, at last imposes its
judgments upon those who least desire to take them
into account.

Though human memory embraces a mere nothing
of all time, it can follow the history of some of these
judgments; can see their birth on the lips of the pre-
cursors, their unfolding on those of thinkers and
martyrs see them taking possession of a generation,
and becoming so unquestioned that men suppose
them to be an integral part of their existence, and
can with difficulty imagine that, a few hundred
leagues away, there are peoples who have not yet
heard them whispered.

And then an intuitional certainty higher than any
reasoning tells them that they themselves are in the
way of life, that their judgment will triumph because
it ought to triumph. That an Oriental monarch on
the borders of Europe should cause his subjects to be
slaughtered, and suppose that none will hold him to
account because of his sovereignty such a fact seems
to us scarcely possible. We are sure the day will
come when methods like this will appear as abomin-
able to his country and his successors as at this
moment they appear to us.

ut possint facere de eo quidquid voluerint quantum fuerit eis
datum desuper a Domino," Lcwdes et virfutibus t ed, Boehmcr.



Whence comes this conviction ? What is the basis
of this certainty? We should be hard put to it to
tell. It is acquired without thinking of it, and once
acquired is never lost.

The religious movement acts in an exactly similar
way, with the same slowness and reliability. Here
and there its stages are marked by the appearance of
powerful personalities, in whom a group, nation or
civilisation may come to knowledge of itself. We
think of the work as definitive; and, so long as we do
not mean that it is immutable, we are not wrong : it
has found its way into social life and will bear fruit

If the creative genius of the religious movement
is none other than that obscure personage, as little
known as he is powerful, whom we call the Heart of
Society, this creative genius has acted under circum-
stances known to us circumstances which have been
the moulds in which his effort has been realised.

The war of 1870 occasioned a religious crisis in
our country, which still continues.

When, decimated on fields of battle, bereft of two
of her noblest provinces, shaken again by civil war,
impoverished, wounded in her pride, trembling both
with wrath and indignation, France could once more
behold herself and cast a look about her, she had no
heart to ask the charity of a sympathetic tear from
other nations or to take up the complaint :

" O vos omnes qui transitis per viam,
Attendite et videte
Si est dolor sicut dolor meus." *

1 Lamentations i. 12: "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass
by ? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow."


Those who passed by took care to pass at such a
distance that they might not hear her words.

Then she had recourse to the churches.

But the priest, who had been admirable in his
charity and devotion on the field of battle, found next
to nothing efficacious to say to her when she besought
him for the spiritual succour it is his mission to dis-
pense. He celebrated moving requiem services in
honour of her dead; canonising them, as it were, by
giving them a place in the succession of numberless
heroes around whose graves the Church intones her
age-long lament and burns her incense. But when
in the nave, once more silent and cold, the last candles
of the catafalque hurriedly extinguished, the living
asked, "And now what must we do?" the priest
could only commend them to vain devotions, easy
and mechanical, wherein the intelligence had as little
part as the heart : he commended miraculous medals
to them and indulgence-bearing prayers, or the organ-
isation of some resounding pilgrimage to Paray-le-
Monial to beseech the Sacred Heart to re-establish
the temporal power and to save Rome and France-
Rome by France, and France by Rome.

That is all historical, though these are facts which
historians scarcely think of recording. Now it was
especially in those hours of tumultuous affliction
which succeeded the war that the soul of contem-
porary France was fashioned.

One saw the old cathedrals invaded by deeply-
stirred, vibrating crowds, in which the majority was
composed of that working element which called itself
indifferent, sceptical or hostile. Notorious heretics,
members of more or less masonic associations, con-
tended for seats with professed devotees, and were
only remarkable for their attention,


Evidently, all such people were led thither by
somewhat obscure feelings. The notion that their
action might be interpreted as a renunciation of their
ideas did not occur to them. They went to church
because social disturbance creates among men an irre-
sistible need to draw nearer, to take one another by
the hand, to mingle their joy and their tears together.
Without exactly realising it, deep down in their
hearts they were grateful to Catholicism for its
churches always open to all comers, and its tendency
to wish to share in the life of City and Fatherland.
In truth, for some months in 1871, the vast majority
of Frenchmen drew instinctively towards the Church
of their birth.

The simple death of Monseigneur Darboy; the
heroism of many a parish priest on the Eastern
frontier; the devotion with which the rest through
all the territory, organised ambulances and relief all
this had affected the country and profoundly modified
its feelings in regard to the clergy.

The people of France were returning to their
Mother, quite simply and sincerely, to sit down at
her table; for it is a mother's part always to have the
board laid for her sons, even for the prodigals; above
all, for her prodigal sons.

Now the board was not laid. The old mother had
no fatted calf to kill, nor even energy to prepare a
little substantial food for the famishing. She had
only strength left to work herself into a passion and
load them with reproaches. She brought against
them accusations of false doctrines and false prophets;
and her arguments were rarely sound. Not only
were the hungry not satisfied, but they were often
roused to indignation by so much ignorance and


They went away irritated, incensed, and with bitter
regret that ever they had come.

Thus this propitious opportunity for coming anew
into touch with national preoccupations became,
through the action of the Church, a source of fresh

Scholars have given no place in their notes to the
thousands of preachers, illustrious and obscure, who
in 1871 and 1872 went even into the smallest
parishes. In response to the pangs of the nation
they seemed to have but one wish to create vigorous
hatreds: hatred of Italy, the ruler of Rome; hatred
of the men whom they represented as being respon-
sible for the disasters of the war; * hatred of an
undenominational society; hatred of the Republican

Yet the sources of the present religious situation
lie there. It was then that the masses of the people
in the smallest country towns perceived that the
Church clearly did not understand : that she was an
institution engrossed above all else in herself and her
corporate interests; that she was not, after all, the
nation praying and seeking for its way.

On every side, and especially abroad, people are
amazed at the ease with which the Separation of the
Churches and the State has been voted and accom-

1 In 1872, at the Cathedral of Besancon, I heard the thesis
propounded that the war was God's reply to Kenan's impieties in
his Vie de Jesus.

In days nearer our own we have seen most of the papers that
call themselves Catholic make out the earthquakes which over-
whelmed Messina in Dec. 1908, as a manifestation of God's
vengeance against certain verses published by a humorous journal.
See e. g. the article entitled " Blasphemes -provocateurs " in
the Univers for Jan. 27, 1909.


plished. It is true that a law which, according to
those best informed and of the most opposite views
the bishops and M. Dumay, Minister of Worship,
may be mentioned could not possibly be carried into
effect, was applied in the midst of complete indiffer-
ence. One can readily understand why hurried
political writers should wish to attribute the pheno-
mena to some masonic password; but really this is
to give such passwords too much importance; and
during recent years we have seen so many launched
by a power more venerable even than that of Free-
masonry, with means of transmission and resources
which it has not, which even " The Union of Occult
Powers " does not possess, and all without effect.

In reality, the calm indifference of France to the
carrying out of the new laws is an entirely natural
result of the last forty years of her national life. It
can only astonish those who are blind to the fact that
mighty changes have far-off causes, or are determined
not to recognise the part played by infinitely small

They accord no importance to the action of the
feverish Capuchin who, in a certain village, imagines
he has succeeded in reconciling the people with God
when, after terrifying them with threats of divine
punishment, and gathering them round a cross of
white wood, he has got them to cry with him, " Jesus
for ever! The Cross for ever! " (Five Jesus!
Five la croix!)

They accord no importance to the action of the
monk of more modern style who, in the neighbouring
county-town, having been well posted beforehand as
to the parish, its priest and people, organised what he
called the Crusade of God; and left, a few weeks


later, with the amount raised, whereto went the
widow's mite in company with the offering of the
rich man and the ransom for sin.

Similar facts are repeated in ten, a hundred nay,
in thousands of communes, great and small; and
everywhere preachers, full of zeal and evident good
faith, think they have mightily furthered the Chris-
tianisation and conversion of France.

Against their wish, no doubt, they have split the
population into two hostile camps, sown misunder-
standings and kindled hatreds. They have not
understood what the intellectual and moral flower of
France as well as her peasants and artisans ex-
pected from the Church : a word of civic peace, a call
to work, to the raising up of the nation, to an
energetic effort for moral civilisation.

Never has nation honoured its clergy by counting
so much upon them. The event shows it was

Such rebuffs may remain long without apparent
result : the invisible ferments which they have caused
to germinate accomplish their slow work of dissolu-
tion, and before it is observed the crisis is beyond

This incapacity of the Church of Rome to speak to
France " after her heart " l is one of the circum-
stances which have most affected the religious orienta-
tion of our time.

Later, we shall have occasion to remark the isola-
tion in which Protestantism vegetates, but we must

1 Isaiah xl. I ; of which the French rendering is " Consolez,
consolez mon peuple, dit votre Dieu^ Parlez d Jerusalem selon son


indicate forthwith the reason why the notion of seek-
ing from it what had been vainly expected from
Catholicism occurred to next to no one.

Before 1870 Protestantism, without being exactly
popular, had yet inspired the high esteem of a
thoughtful minority. Without really understanding
it, they were grateful to it for its moderation, good
sense, domestic and civic virtues, discreet antipathy
toward all excesses, its spirit of observation, order and
economy, and finally for the welcome it had offered
to science and criticism. It manifested the advan-
tages of a form of religion which kept its own place
and did not meddle in political quarrels.

The prosperity of the Protestant, and the deca-
dence of the Catholic nations, were expressions
beginning to come into such general use that, except
in purely " ultramontane " circles to use the phrase
of that time the very quality of Protestant was a
testimonial and recommendation in itself.

If some Protestants were in favour with the
Government, others were the most effective collabor-
ators of the Opposition. Their presence in the ranks
of the Left conferred upon it, in Paris and in the
departments where they were numerous, that respecta-
bility of which the Opposition parties are often
somewhat destitute.

This marked favour had causes over and above the
characteristics of which we have spoken. Among
many of our fellow-countrymen there was undoubt-
edly a very lively wish to render justice to a minority
against whom the clergy had sometimes employed
poisoned weapons. There were efforts to make
amends, to those who had been persecuted, for the
wrongs inflicted on them by former regimes.


All these feelings, which were accorded less to
Protestantism as a religion than to the Protestants
as an element of society, were further strengthened
by the prestige of German virtues in our literature,
and of German science in our university circles. It
was almost an axiom that in ethics and science the
Germans led all the nations, and that the rest could
not do better than learn of them in the school of
Luther and the Reformation.

More recently France has contrived, for political
motives, to become infatuated with Russia and with
her literature; but this sentiment has never ap-
proached that entertained by her for Germany
towards the middle of the nineteenth century. That
was an esteem unmixed with any self-interest : it was
a deference, a kind of admiration. The men who
were recognised by public spirit on this side of the
Rhine as its leaders looked upon the German uni-
versities and churches as the hearth-fires beside which
those scientific and ethical principles, which should
lead the world towards new destinies, were being
worked out.

It was only natural that something of this com-
plaisance should be reflected upon French Protestant-
ism; and when among the notable representatives of
German science there appeared a number of French
names, men cursed the blindness of Louis XIV, who,
by the Edict of Nantes, had driven beyond our
frontiers such valuable factors of civilisation and

The war of 1870 broke out, and brought in a few
weeks a vast disillusionment.

No one, indeed, dreamed of reproaching Germany
for her victories; but when people saw the horrors


of war, and the conqueror intermingling the roar of
cannon with mystical effusions; when they learnt that
he regarded himself as God's fellow- worker, and
when Protestant voices were naive enough to exclaim
that every Prussian soldier carried a Bible in his
knapsack, and to add that if we had had a Luther we
should have had no Sedan, the hearts of the con-
quered were wounded, and their conscience shocked.
. . . Many experienced a supreme revulsion from
religious sentiment, a sort of aversion for it.

Protestantism, having profited by the favourable
feeling which Germany had formerly inspired, suf-
fered and this was inevitable from the change of

Their enemies have often striven to injure the
Protestants by representing them as bad citizens, and
even as traitors. The indignation felt against such
calumnies may readily be understood. But, after
having reduced their adversaries to silence by proving
to them and it was easy enough that they have
done their duty in good and evil days, perhaps French
Protestants should inquire why ineptitudes so stupid
are still repeated in spite of the constant contradiction
of facts.

They would perceive readily enough that if some-
times France has not appreciated Protestantism, it is
because she, with her history, temperament and needs,
has first lacked appreciation from it, Protestantism
is always speaking as though the choice of a religion,
whether for the individual or for the nation, were a
simple act of will. Now a religion does not bestow
itself from without: it only imposes itself on a
civilised people if it may come to co-ordinate, com-
plete and affirm their latent thoughts if, starting


from their better selves, it may show them a new
stage to accomplish.

I am tempted to think that Protestantism, by
insisting as it has done on its efficiency in organising
the prosperity of the individual, the family and the
nation, wounds the French ideal where it is most
susceptible and most noble. This religious prag-
matism, which values a doctrine according to its
material results, has something repugnant about it.

Our people are only astonished they are not
edified when the individual and commercial pros-
perity of the United States is held up to them as a
sort of ideal towards which they should make their
way by the intermediary of Protestanism : or when
certain persons who profess the strenuous life are
pointed out to them as the masters whose school they
should attend. Such advice is altogether beside their
religious instinct.

In France, the United States is only thought of as
a friend. But friendship does not forbid differences
of judgment on fundamental matters; and on this
side of the Atlantic we ask ourselves, not without
anxiety, whether the ideal of the New World is really
superior to that of the Old.

Thus almost at the same moment the two principal
Churches in France were found, for very different
reasons, incapable of responding to the moral and
religious needs of the country.



The attitude alike of Alsace and of France has transformed the
political question of the annexed region into a moral question
Incorrectness of the formula that patriotism has become
the religion of France New idea of patriotism to which the
Church did not give birth The blossoming of certain ideas,
sown by her in other days, seems sometimes to make against
her The undenominational school must be reckoned among
the factors strongly affecting religious orientation It has
been arraigned as the nursery of crime Mistake of the apologists
of religion who try to turn terror of the hooligan into a motive
for the return to faith By appealing to the unbounded devo-
tion of her sons, the Church, and the Church alone, responds
to the most powerful instinct of the human heart.

AFTER 1870, humiliated France slowly raised up her
head, but not to curse her conqueror.

The dismemberment of the Fatherland was rapidly
transformed into a question of conscience.. The same
travail has been at work beyond the Vosges, and has
mercilessly falsified the forecasts^of diplomats and
governments little accustomed to take moral causes
into their calculations.

After forty years of annexation and a political
regime which has brought them enviable material
prosperity, Alsace and Lorraine are to-day less Ger-
manised than ever. Endeavours somewhat brief
and intermittent to win them over by kindness have



succeeded no better than a stern method, and in spite
of the German inflow on the one side and the cease-
less emigration to France on the other, these two
provinces have forgotten nothing.

There is, however, a great difference between the
present situation and that of twenty or thirty years
ago; for the intimate labour, which on both sides of

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Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 4 of 22)