THE religious question in France before the outbreak of the present war involved a paradox. On the one hand, the anti-clerical policy which had been enforced since 1880, and which had reached its climax with the legislation put into effect by M. Combes before the First World War, had continued to inspire the political ruling clique and certain powerful intellectual circles. On the other hand, an extraordinary spiritual and religious renewal had been developing in some of the most efficient, intelligent and active strata of French life.
The great quarrel of anti-clericalism in France is something very old. In broad outline, this quarrel goes back to the Middle Ages. It then consisted of conflicts inside the bosom of Christendom -- conflicts between the laity and the clergy, both of them firmly established in the Christian faith. Despite the bitter and tragic forms which it assumed in the struggle between the priesthood and the Empire, or between Philippe le Bel and Boniface VIII, or in the time of the advent of the Communes, it remained in essence a quarrel between a parson and his parishioners. But it was a parish quarrel which turned out badly.
After the wars of religion of the sixteenth century the conflict passed over into the intellectual and philosophical field, where oppositions are absolute and irreconcilable, and took on the nature of a fight against both the Church and religion. Later on, political persecutions were to occur. It was the misfortune of French democracy that it began by disregarding the genuine evangelical roots of the democratic state of mind. In the same way it was the misfortune of modern science and philosophy to have at first turned away from theology -- a misfortune for which theologians also shared the responsibility.
Yet, behind the ideological and philosophical bitterness that the conflict assumed in the French mind, the real basis of the religious problem in France has always been of a practical and temporal order. The anti-clerical trend in the French
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