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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 people does not proceed primarily from an aversion to religion, but from a deep though wrongly directed feeling for personal and temporal freedom, and above all from two dreadful fears -- the fear of being constrained in matters of conscience by external force and political pressure; and the fear of being oppressed by a return to power of the former ruling classes and of the reactionary parties which claim to be the defenders of the Church.
Each time some historical event occurred to substantiate either of these two fears you could be sure that the old anti-clerical trend was about to be resumed and that it was due to reach some new climax. Thus at the base of the distrust felt by the French common people for the Church in the nineteenth century lay memories of the Terreur blanche and dislike of the political and social pressures which the propertied classes exercised at the same time that they invoked the interests of the Church and received the support of many of its representatives. Coming to a much more recent period, let me cite the foolish attitude taken at the time of the Dreyfus affair by the upper Catholic bourgeoisie and some powerful Catholic newspapers. Out of blind prejudice, and against the advice of the Pope, they involved themselves in the support of a judiciary error, in the face of a nation aroused by its passion for justice (a passion betrayed by its own politicians and ideologists). Their attitude has rightly been considered one of the chief causes of the anti-clerical crisis which occurred on the eve of the First World War.
The anti-religious legislation adopted during those years was stupidly unjust, particularly as regards the religious orders, schools and hospitals.[i] Besides despoiling the Church of many of its goods, it seemed to mark the final giving over of France to irreligion. Yet, concerning the internal disposition and spirit of France, the reality was quite the opposite. It was at this very moment that the spiritual and intellectual forces which for a long time had been preparing a new religious life in the inner fabric of the nation began to take the upper hand. After the First World War, the vexatious anti-religious measures ceased to be applied and bit by bit the anti-clerical laws grew obsolete. The truth was that they no longer corresponded to the feeling of the nation. A powerful moral and religious upheaval was occurring among the people, particularly among young workers and the intellectual youth. Even in political circles and among the most skeptical politicians the old anti-clericalism was exhausted. On the eve of the Second World War, Cardinal Verdier could say that never had the relations between the Catholic Church and the French State been more peaceful, with the single exception of the school question, which had not yet been satisfactorily solved.
Thus (before passing to further measures) the abolition of the anti-clerical decrees by the Vichy Government simply gave the force of law to a state of fact already existing. On the other hand, the policy of Vichy threatens the freedom of the Church in a much more dangerous and treacherous fashion, by attempting to tie the fate of religion to that of a clique that not merely betrays the material interests of France but its spirit also.
France has had a longer experience than any other nation with the sad but instructive problems of religion and politics, and in this way has learned many things. Thus French Catholicism has come to understand that what is essential is to overcome misfortune by means of an inner awakening of life's higher forces, and that this is true from the viewpoint both of the gospel laws of spiritual purification and of the natural laws of a living organism's nutrition and growth.
Now let me try to indicate the principal reasons for the religious renewal which took place in France in the last two or three decades.
1. The law of separation between Church and State had been introduced as a weapon against the Church. But its main result was the freeing of the French clergy from all the external impediments and internal constraints which are implied in being connected with the administrative machinery of a state. The French clergy lost most of their goods and had to accept a state of poverty which in the case of the great majority of the country priests meant a standard of life hardly imaginable in the United States. But their spiritual forces were liberated. And the word of God was to work with renewed energy. At the same stroke, the people also felt freed from their hereditary feeling of distrust for any religious power which even seemingly operated on behalf of the state power. The element of trust, which is the first condition in such situations, was restored.
Another law adopted by the French Parliament in a grossly anti-clerical spirit obliged priests to enlist in the army as soldiers. They accepted it, however, in a spirit of extraordinary good will. They felt that exemption from military service, required as a matter of right by the ecclesiastical state, loses its proper significance in real existence when it comes to be looked on by people as a social privilege; and they thought that an iniquitous law gave them an opportunity of sharing the common fate of their people and of passing through their common sacrifices together. Paradoxically, sometimes at the price of serious evils, they accepted an obligation which is repugnant to the priest's condition, involving as it does even the risk of shedding blood, out of an evangelical love for people's souls and a passion for apostolic activity. The result during the First World War was a meeting and merging of the priests with the people to a degree hitherto unheard of. This fellowship in the mud of the trenches, face to face with death, could not thereafter be forgotten.[ii] Let me cite a fact in this connection. In World War II chaplains in the French Army had the rank of captain. Despite their devotion, they often failed to win the same degree of trust among the troops as did the soldier-priests. Why? Because the men saw the insignia of rank on their caps. "How," they said, "can I make my confession to a captain?" But they confessed themselves willingly to the other priests, their fellows in common suffering.
Each time the French people sees the official blessings of the State bestowed upon the ministers of the Church, it begins to move away from the Church. I do not say this is reasonable behavior. I say it is a fact.
2. In the intellectual realm, the religious trend which had been operating during the nineteenth century, but which had been overcome by opposite currents in the years 1850-1890, appeared with renewed strength in the years after the First World War. What I want to note here is the fact that this intellectual renewal had been prepared on the one hand by religious leaders like Lacordaire, Ozanam, Lamennais, Montalembert, and on the other, a little while later, by a movement of thought which was of lay origin and sometimes depended on non-orthodox writers. This movement was a surging up from the distressed depths of the soul, a strange and disquieting cry toward the Church, which, busy with its own concerns and with its bourgeois or bien-pensants elements, at first seemed not to listen. Among those chiefly responsible for the awakening of theological values in the French intelligence were poets like Baudelaire, writing in the most thankless years of the last century, and Rimbaud, who had a decisive influence in the matter of Claudel's conversion.
The action of Catholic writers like Barbey d'Aurevilly, Villiers de l'Isle Adam and Ernest Hello, working in solitude in the last years of the nineteenth century, bore its fruit after their death. They struggled in a romanticist and heroical mood against the spirit of their time. The transcending figure in this group was that writer of genius, the magnificent recluse Léon Bloy, poor, abandoned and vociferous Pilgrim of the Absolute. But the one most dear to Frenchmen today is Charles Péguy, who was killed in September 1914, leading his battalion against the Germans in the first days of the Battle of the Marne. As a Socialist, Péguy had a religious, ethical and heroical conception of the revolution. "The social revolution will be moral," he said, "or it will not be." Because of the circumstances of his own life, even his intense Catholic faith did not succeed in making him obey the common regulations of the Church. But his paradoxical and sorrowful position, his genius, his spiritual experience, and his communion of feeling with the people enabled him to exercise a most stimulating effect on the intellectual youth. Today everybody in France invokes his name, even people who distort his thought in a way that would have made him highly indignant. Young Catholics have learned from him -- as from Jeanne d'Arc -- that we must never surrender.
Finally, the first four decades of the twentieth century, and especially the years following the First World War, witnessed a Catholic intellectual renaissance which takes on outstanding importance in the history of France. It is enough to mention the names of Ernest Psichari, Renan's grandson, killed like Péguy in 1914, Paul Claudel, Francis Jammes, François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Etienne Gilson, Louis Massignon and Charles Du Bos, and to allude to the extraordinary movement of conversion which took place among poets, artists and writers; to the liberating influence and the personal spiritual evolution of Bergson; to the philosophical work of Maurice Blondel; and to the Thomistic renewal. One who witnessed this renaissance, Stanislas Fumet, was able to write a book on the "Reintroduction of God into French Letters."
3. In France, as elsewhere, it was possible to distinguish two different categories of believers -- namely, the politically-minded and the gospel-minded. The essential fact is that the preponderance of strength -- qualitatively and in motive power -- belonged in the long run to the latter. At the time of which I am speaking, the gospel-minded trend was so indissolubly united with religious orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Church -- as it still is -- that it could resist any attack and the stress of any crisis. And neither attacks nor crises have been lacking.
In his book "La Grande Crise de la République Française," Yves Simon describes the importance of the condemnation of the Action Française by Pope Pius XI. That act broke the absurd link which, for many people, connected respect for eternal truths and sincere religious convictions with a political devotion to a pagan pseudo-order, with a class spirit, and with an utterly non-moral or Machiavellian conception of politics, which derived from a philosophy of enslavement and tended towards what was in fact a kind of non-Christian Catholicism. Pope Pius XI's action caused the scales to fall away from many eyes. It was as if the dynamic energies of the Gospel, the true spirit of Christianity, obfuscated from without by unconscious oppressive errors, had suddenly been set free. Henceforth the animating spirit of French Catholicism claimed men free of everything save God.
This spirit, though opposed by many, inspired the youth movements, the French "Catholic Action," and the young clergy who dedicated themselves in poverty and enthusiasm and love to preaching the Gospel to the working people, to putting an end to the "great scandal of the nineteenth century," the divorce between those people and the Church.
4. In these years, French Catholics spent much time reflecting on spiritual and social problems. They were aware that "Clericalism" -- by which I mean the exploitation of religion for the worldly benefit of classes or parties seemingly favorable to the power of the clergy -- is the very antithesis of the genuine spirit of the Church. They came to see that it is as bad as "anti-Clericalism," or even worse, for it attacks Christianity from within and is a chief cause of the anti-clerical trend. Sometimes they even went too far in their soul research, and seemed to forget that the misfortunes and persecutions of Christianity were surely not always the fault of the Christians.
An invaluable spiritual gain has none the less been obtained. Those French Catholics have understood that, even in the field of social and political realizations, what they have above all to aim at is the penetration of the spirit and existential reality of the New Law into the very structure of human life rather than a mere affirmation of its letter. A deep purification was thus on the way. The question of the temporal mission of Christians -- their mission for the common good of the civil community and of civilization -- was posed in inescapable terms. The aim became the preparation and building up of a new Christendom.
This was in profound accord with the main directions of the Catholic Church. The fact was obvious in the enthusiasm with which the progressive parts of French Catholicism undertook the social work prescribed by the Popes, as well as in their support of the lead of Benedict XV and Pius XI regarding missions.
5. The chief obstacle to the people's return to Christianity was their old idea that the Church was the ally of the possessing classes, of the old aristocracy and of conservative or reactionary political circles. This prejudice persisted despite the efforts which had been made by Catholic leaders like Albert de Mun and his friends. Of course it was greatly strengthened by the attitude of many newspapers which represented themselves as the natural defenders of Christianity but which always supported the interests of the upper bourgeoisie, and of bankers and industrialists. It was sad to see sincere Christians reading such newspapers every day, and feeding on the narrow and petty views carefully handed out by irresponsible or sometimes corrupt writers.
This situation had to be reversed; and some fifteen years ago the struggle was undertaken by a few Catholics, both priests and laymen. Inspired by a tenacious and indefatigable man, Father Bernadot, and animated by the spirit of Lacordaire, a group of Dominicans launched a series of publications, notably the bimonthly magazine La Vie Intellectuelle, and, later on, the weekly Sept. The object of these periodicals was to treat everyday events from a genuinely Christian point of view. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, and under Spanish and Italian pressure, the suppression of Sept was ordered by the Master General of the Dominican Order. At once a new weekly, Temps Présent, was founded by Catholic laymen, with the same ends in view. The standpoint of the editors was not political, merely Christian. They tried to remain above political parties. For this reason they did not play a very efficacious rôle in the political ordeals then wracking France. But the spirit which they radiated reached all through the country.
Meanwhile another group represented by the magazine Politique and the daily paper l'Aube was carrying on a similar struggle in the political field. They sometimes seemed insufficiently aware of the necessity of reconsidering and renewing their political philosophy. Yet they defended Christian democracy ardently and faced intrepidly the violent attacks of their Rightist adversaries.
During the same years a third group was at work -- the editors and friends of the magazine Esprit. This monthly had been started about 1933 by some young Catholics eager to find their own way against both Fascism and Communism, and to lay the foundation of a Christian revolution. Catholics, Protestants and unbelievers were coöperating in this task. The work developed on a plane which was more intellectual and theoretical than political. But it was able to kindle a deep sense of fellowship and to awaken the excited interest of French youth. Despite certain inevitable errors, the work of Esprit was extremely fruitful, particularly as regards the chief aim indicated above: to destroy the prejudices and misunderstandings which caused Christianity to be confused with the forces of wealth and social reaction.
The diverse groups which I have mentioned did not, of course, represent the whole of French Catholicism. On the contrary, they were subjected to attack and denunciation by all the elements lenient towards dictatorship. Yet comparatively few as they were, they were able -- and this is especially true of the leaders of Sept and of Temps Présent -- to spread an extraordinary network of friendships and sympathies all through the nation, and to create a conscious Christian feeling in a great many Frenchmen who had become unaware of their Christian roots. They were supported by large sections of the clergy, by various Catholic philosophers and writers, and by the youth movements, particularly that of the Young Christian Workers.
Thus were planted in French soil the seeds of reconciliation between two ancient opposing traditions -- the France of religious faithfulness and spirituality, and the France of human emancipation. A living love for freedom, a deep-rooted consciousness of the demands of the Gospel, raised up the élite of French Catholics against the spiritual evils of anti-Semitism and racism, and against Fascist and Nazi as well as Communist totalitarianism. These same energies exist today. They stir the Christian youth of France against the German oppressors.
To sum up what I have been trying to say here. In the years before the present war the French people were beginning to recognize the true countenance of Christianity. Much remained to be done. The new language which was necessary in order to establish communication between Christianity and the masses, for a century unfamiliar with a religious vocabulary, was still to be discovered. Yet the work was under way. And when Pope Pius XI died, after the intrepid fight of his last years against totalitarian idols, the entire French nation was stirred by an extraordinary religious emotion and looked toward the Church with indescribable hope.
Let me now describe the features of the religious renewal which allowed Christian influence and ideas to become an active and leading force in France.
In the intellectual domain, an outmoded and essentially false opposition which had been created between reason and faith was dissolved. Intelligence and Christianity met in a new embrace. The importance of the Thomist movement, and of the development of a Christian philosophy, aware of itself and of modern problems, should be emphasized in this connection.
The renaissance was particularly successful in the spiritual domain. Studies of ascetic and mystical life were restored,[iii] and the works of the great mystics were freshly edited. All these publications dealing with spiritual life, among them the great "Literary History of Religious Sentiment in France," by Brémond, were read enthusiastically, both by the young clergy and by the laity. There was a new understanding of the value of Christian contemplation.
The religious renewal was also marked in the field of social thought and activity, despite strong opposition from many blindly conservative elements. Here special mention should be made of the patient, courageous and tenacious work of the Christian trade-unions, the activities of the Semaines Sociales, the Jesuit group of the Action Populaire, and above all the J.O.C., the association of young Christian workers founded in Belgium by Abbé Cardijn, which gathered together hundreds of thousands of young people and became the outstanding example of "Catholic action." Other organizations of the same type began to develop among young farmers and among students. Sometimes these groups were tempted to imagine that purely religious activity was sufficient to rebuild the whole of temporal society. The fact remains that the spiritual leaven they injected into everyday life was a necessary prerequisite to any successful attempt at effectively rebuilding that life. They were both respected and feared by the Communist youth. They were -- they still are -- firmly attached to freedom.
The weakness of the Catholic renewal was in the political field. Conflicts, passions and hatreds between parties and factions poisoned the whole French political atmosphere, and an irremediable confusion was engendered by Communist and Fascist propaganda and the plots of the extreme rightist groups. In this situation it was practically impossible to create a new political organization. Moreover, sufficient preliminary reflection and thought had not been given to problems of politics in their relationship to religion. Only a few people grasped the necessity of creating not a Catholic political party (an unnatural thing in itself, and peculiarly unadapted to the French situation), but a political movement inspired by Christian principles. I often deplored this lack, and tried to call attention to it. Christian politics is as necessary as Christian philosophy. Yet it is much more difficult to conceive, and to put into being, for it deals with the practical, not with the speculative order.
The result was that the community of fate between Christianity and liberty, though recognized by many persons intellectually, did not find an appropriate political interpretation. Books, pamphlets, lectures, articles, manifestoes were the only means at our disposal. It was a period of manifestoes and counter-manifestoes, and Catholic writers spent much time in drawing them up. As a result, it could at any rate be said that a Christian stand on temporal questions was taken publicly.
Thus after the riots of February 6, 1934, a manifesto "For the Common Good," signed by 52 Catholic writers, bore evidence that there would be strong opposition among French Catholics to any attempt to exploit religion to the advantage of Fascism. In 1934, too, there was a manifesto declaring that the bloody repression of the Viennese Socialist workers by the Dollfuss Government, which presented itself as a type of Catholic government, was to be considered an historic misfortune. In 1935 came a manifesto condemning the Fascist aggression against Ethiopia, in response to a scandalous manifesto issued by some supporters of Mussolini. In 1936 still another manifesto stigmatized the savage campaign of calumnies by means of which the filthy paper Gringoire had driven Salengro, Minister of the Interior in the Blum cabinet, out of his mind and had pushed him to commit suicide.
Some months later, a manifesto asserted the truth about the destruction of Guernica by German bombers and denounced the abuse of the Christian name by General Franco. This declaration provoked a great storm of imprecations on the part of the reactionary elements which were endeavoring to deceive opinion by a corrupted press, various reactionary salons, and the influence of the French Academy. The Spanish Civil War was indeed a test. Those French Catholics who took an equally firm stand against the "holy war" and against the slaughter by Communists and anarchists, and who tried to persuade the European democracies to intervene effectively to end a fratricidal fight which obviously might kindle a universal conflagration, were dragged through the mud by an irresponsible, so-called Catholic press. This happened in other countries also.
Today we see that in France at that time the split had already occurred between those who in the future would become "collaborationists" and those who wouldremain faithful to the vocation of their country. The elements favorable to the European dictatorships enjoyed powerful means, both financial and political. Through the so-called "grande presse" they exerted strong pressure upon large sections of Catholic average opinion. It can fairly be said that in France as well as elsewhere a discrepancy was observable between the real feelings of the most Christian strata of the Christian people and the voices that pretended to give them public expression.
The chief political act of this period was the statement issued by Cardinal Verdier, the Archbishop of Paris, at the time of the sit-down strikes. His appeal for coöperation and a recognition of the workers' aspirations prevented a civil war from breaking out. Later on, the Cardinal confided that he had received the inspiration for this statement while praying in the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre.
The fact remains that although a salutary work of social education had been begun among the Catholic masses, their political education, on the contrary, was still deficient in many respects. Faced with tremendous events and deadly threats, they remained disarmed -- the prey of a pernicious confusion of ideas.
The disaster of France has not put an end to this confusion. The large majority of Frenchmen hate the Nazi oppression, have an utter disgust for each and every one of the old political parties, and hope for a British victory and liberation. Yet it is obvious that there still is a division between French Catholics on political matters. The situation is too confused and chaotic for any detailed analysis. Yet in broad outline the following description may be considered accurate.
On the one hand there is a very small minority which has made up its mind in favor of the policy of collaboration and of the German "new order."[iv] On the other is a considerable number of persons who are more or less apathetic. Leaving both these aside, we find the following paradoxical situation prevailing among the active elements in French Catholicism: in official and outward appearance, trust in Marshal Pétain's person and in his personal power; but in the living reality, powerful resistance to the German "new order" and to the whole policy of collaboration.
Many religious leaders have adopted a dual attitude -- to support Marshal Pétain fully in domestic "reconstruction" and, at the same time, to defend the French spirit against Nazi influences and to strengthen the hope for a British victory. They assert in private their disapproval of the decrees imposed under German pressure -- especially the racist decrees -- and take every opportunity to help distressed and persecuted people. They try to stimulate patriotic feelings, yet they are unable to prevent these very feelings from being exploited by French official policy to betray France's true mission. The official cult, as symbolic as it may be, of Marshal Pétain, makes it difficult for these religious leaders to take any public initiative in opposition to the Marshal's policy or to give any clarifying political advice to the confused population, except on a few essential points such as religious freedom and opposition to the state regimentation of youth. From the point of view of official appearances and official statements, the most successful achievement of Marshal Pétain's policy will have been the apparent linking of French Catholicism with his "national reconstruction," which is only a decoy and disguises a paternalist autocracy which leads toward totalitarianism.[v]
At many official ceremonies in France today the public sees the bishop seated on the platform next to the mayor, the prefect and the local chief of the Legion. People may imagine that the advantages at present enjoyed by the Church, especially the laws -- in themselves just -- which rehabilitate it in its rights, are paid for by an official support of the "armistice government" and the present ruling clique, one of the most corrupt that French history has ever witnessed. Despite the dauntless deeds of certain bishops, despite the wise and resolute action by which Cardinal Gerlier stopped the decrees issued by M. Jacques Chevalier which brutally and clumsily enjoined the teaching of Christian metaphysics in all public schools,[vi] an effort is made to attribute the religious renewal in France (which in fact had been developing for a long time, and in altogether different ways) to a political régime whose ideal is symbolized by the names of Pétain and Franco. And many shortsighted Christians lend themselves to that confusion. If the French people did not have such a capacity for distinguishing reality from appearance, one might fear that that whole great work of evangelization of which I spoke in the first part of this article would be in jeopardy, and that much resentment against the Church, and perhaps a new and disastrous moment of anti-clerical violence, would be released with the coming of national liberation.
The truth is, however, that although many priests and laymen are yielding to the temptations of a state religion, and accepting the resultant inner deterioration of Christian values, the living forces of the French religious revival are not in the least misled. Even when they sacrifice to the ambiguous myth of the old Marshal, they struggle to prevent that acceptance of enslavement to the victor which is but the fatal sequel to the Armistice. Those bishops who are most intrepid in affirming the truth and in braving civil displeasure are the ones who enjoy an enthusiastic popularity.
I should like to quote here two public statements by Mgr. Saliège, Archbishop of Toulouse. In a letter issued on the occasion of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, he wrote:
It is the future of the Christian spirit which is at stake in this hour -- a future that may extend over centuries. Many priests, many Catholics, do not realize this. That is why I forewarn them, why I officially put them on notice. Let them take care not to become impregnated with errors which have been condemned, or to be carried away by words of vague and unprecise meaning. Their mission is to save and to spread the Christian spirit. May they keep that spirit whole in themselves, without permitting it to become corrupt or mixed. There is no reading more suited to the moment than the reading of the Gospels. There is nothing more serious than the Gospels, nothing more solid, nothing more contemporary than these pages, which are at once human and divine. Let us impregnate ourselves with the Gospels. Let us read St. Paul and tell ourselves that since the fall of the Roman Empire, Catholics have had no more beautiful or greater mission -- the salvation of the world, not through clericalism, of which the Church disapproves and of which we want nothing at any price, but the salvation of the world through the Cross of Jesus Christ, the manifestation and the symbol of infinite love.
On the day of the Sacred Heart -- June 20, 1941 -- a prayer containing the following lines was read by the Archbishop's order in the Cathedral of Toulouse:
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have pity on us. Have pity on our prisoners. Have pity on all those who suffer, whatever their race, their religion, their nationality . . . Make firm and watchful both pastors and sheep, and make more unshakable than ever the bond of all to the Chair of Peter and to Your Cross, sign and symbol of your Heart, to Your cross outside of which there is no salvation for mankind . . . Sacred Heart of Jesus, I beg of You, do not permit the chivalrous soul of France to become the prey of error, of evil deeds and of brutality. Do not permit that the dignity of the human person and the right which that person possesses from its Creator -- that the dignity of the family, which is not merely a supplier of children -- that the dignity of the Fatherland desired by God, which is not an idol -- shall ever disappear from a world from which Your kingdom is banished.
Even in the organizations most carefully set up by the government authorities, and apparently most devoted to Marshal Pétain, the spirit of the youth is "Gaullist" and sometimes manifests itself very boldly. The Christian workers' trade unions are now in full accord with groups of the former C.G.T. (Confédération Générale du Travail) which have remained faithful to the ideal of freedom. Together they strengthen the spirit to resistance and the civic pride which has begun to revive in the working class. So many country priests have kept bright the flame of fidelity that Admiral Darlan found it necessary to issue a blunt threat to "les curés." Many convents and seminaries, as well as many Catholic lay people, have helped (in an unforgettable manner, and by all conceivable stratagems) the poor and persecuted and have saved numbers of hunted Jews and political refugees, thus ransoming, at their own risk, the honor of their beloved country. And some members of the clergy, risking all, give in France, on the moral plane, the same heroical testimony to liberty that a Father Louis de la Trinité (Commandant d'Argenlieu) is giving as a naval commander in the fleet of Free France. I may only allude to, without describing, the underground work which is going on everywhere. Some of those who coöperate with the government do so sincerely -- mistakenly to my mind -- in an effort to preserve, even in those circles, something of French honor. Others among them are secretly acting for liberty. The "Legion" itself hides many anti-Vichy elements. All over the country courageous youths fight the perilous fight of illegal literature and clandestine newspapers.
Some of those whom I described as politically-minded believers are acting ardently against Hitler, for they detest Germany (even more than dictatorship). All of those whom I have called gospelminded believers have had only to remain themselves in order to be able to withstand Nazism. They recognize in it the very mystery of lawlessness. They hate the ocean of lies, the betrayals, the baseness, the ignominy, which is poured out onto the soil of France. Aware of the utter failure of both the Right and the Left, they understand that Marshal Pétain's coup d'état has, in spite of himself, resulted in enabling the German leaders to conceal their destructive policy and their world-wide designs behind the prestige of his name.
There are innumerable diverse currents in France, but only two camps. All the old groups and parties have split up into two categories: the men of the New Order and of collaboration, and the men of France and of liberation. It is the honor of the French Catholic spirit that its most vigorous and truest exponents belong to and strengthen the second category -- that is, the very people of France. The most faithful and courageous of the French newspapers, the Catholic weekly Temps Nouveau,[vii] the continuation of Temps Présent, the standpoint of which was essentially spiritual and which ceaselessly emphasized the Christian vocation of France, was recently suppressed by the Vichy government, together with the magazine Esprit, whose attitude also was too bold.
Through suffering and hope the gospel-minded forces of Christianity and the people of France are attaining a closer union. Here lies a ray of hope that once this fearful war is over France may be able to spare herself the horrors of a civil war. Sad to say, those who know they are lost if Germany is defeated are working in the opposite direction.
The capacity to build up France anew if and when the world is liberated can only emanate from the intelligence and experience of the French people itself. That intelligence is being activated by the Christian ferment now at work. It is heightened by the example of those who, in France and abroad, struggle indomitably for liberty. It is in this way that the historical task of modern France -- to reconcile her own deep-rooted diverse traditions, and to discover the means and conditions of bringing together communion and freedom -- might be achieved.
The American people surely are aware of the tremendous hope, the desperate hope, that the enslaved peoples of Europe place in them. May they also understand that the soldiers of France who keep on fighting side by side with England do not represent only their own individual wills and their own calculable power, but also the collective will and the latent power of millions of Frenchmen.
[i] For a more detailed analysis, see Yves Simon, "La Grande Crise de la Republique Française." Montreal: Editions de l'Arbre, 1941.
[ii] In the recent war the law in question was applied in a much more intelligent and liberal manner. Many priests, instead of becoming privates, were put in the sanitary corps. The resulting increase in the soldiers' trust in the clergy was the same.
[iii] Particularly thanks to the Dominican group which founded the magazine La Vie Spirituelle just after the First World War -- the same which afterwards started La Vie Intellectuelle and then the newspaper Sept.
[iv] A high member of the clergy -- fortunately the only one -- recently endorsed "the noble common enterprise which Germany is directing" against Russia, in behalf of a "holy brotherhood renewed from the Christian Middle Ages."
[v] A dispatch in the New York Times of October 31, 1941, quotes an interview with Pierre Pucheu, Minister of the Interior, in the weekly Gringoire, in which M. Pucheu implied that the "New French State" will be totalitarian and supported by a single party based on the War Veterans Legion, and that at the same time the French will retain their rational sense and their "traditional Catholicism." According to the Associated Press, M. Pucheu also said that "France would be needed in the new European order to prevent a struggle between the Catholic Church and the totalitarian States after the war." Some French Fascists quite understandably long for a kind of Catholic totalitarianism. It would be, however, the worst sort of self-contradiction. And to conceive it and work for it is to prepare new and violent anti-religious crises.
[vi] Later, M. Carcopino was to replace M. Chevalier as Minister of National Education, and "Christian Civilization" was to replace "God" in the school programs.
[vii] Do not confuse this Temps Nouveau of Lyons with the pro-Nazi Nouveaux Temps of Paris.