Thursday, January 21, 2021

Paragraphs to Ponder

As Rod Dreher wails, I was struck by this passage in Eugen Weber's, The Hollow Years. In many ways, France in the 1930's was much like the U.S. is today.

Then came defeat--not quite, as Maurras put it, a divine surprise, but as in 1871, explained as providential. "France's calamities," opined the rector of Questembert, "provided a providential occasion to re-forge Christendom" where it had gone to pot. Conveniently for the soldiers who now ran the show; priests everywhere clamored that the 'War had been lost by godless schoolteachers, or else by the stupidity of universal suffrage, or else by failures in Church discipline. A major cause of the country's punishment, Canon Chaplain of Lambezellec informed the diocesan school inspector, was the profanation of Sunday. Chastisement was well deserved. Re-sanctify the Lord's Day and all would change for the better. French sins justified divine punishment, wrote Monsignor Salige, archbishop of Toulouse, who would become a cardinal at the Liberation for his Resistance activities. Given how the victory of 1918 had been wasted, what would the French have done had they been granted victory in 1940? Better penitence. The annual pilgrimage of Rocamadour at the end of June would in 1940 be "penitential": dedicated to accepting the country's harsh ordeal "in a spirit of reparation."

The progressive Cardinal Lienart became an ardent supporter of Philippe Petain, perhaps because of the subsidies that Vichy now provided to Catholic schools. So did Alfred Cardinal Baudrillart, who shortly before had found in Hitler "our only sheet anchor against Bolsheviks and Communists." Most of the episcopate took similar positions, declaring their "veneration" for Petain and calling on the faithful to support his endeavors. They were hardly exceptional. Most of the French supported Petain, at first with hope and then with resignation. Why should their Church be different? 

 The intra-Catholic war meanwhile continued. Aube and Esprit were prohibited; Mounier, who wanted "to arm French souls against Nazi contamination," was imprisoned. Traditional Catholics continued to denounce progressive heretics like him, his friends, and those of Aube, Christian Democracy, resistant to reaction, bred resistants to the order that reaction introduced: Edmond Michelet in Correze, Charles d'Aragon in the Tarn, Maurice Bye and Etienne Borne in the Haute Garonne, and those still better known, like Maurice Schumann and Georges Bidault. Some of the most visible collaborators--Henriot, Brasillach, Darnand--were also visible Catholics. Numerous members of Darnand's militia died crying, “Long Live Christ the King," at their execution. But Catholics who fought Vichy and the Germans were even more visible; 216 priests were killed or executed, 118 members of the Catholic student association, too. The role they and their fellows played to the Resistance defused what hostility to the Church there was. As one Catholic wrote to the bishop of Marseilles. without their courage to disobey their pastors and follow their, consciences "neither you nor most of your fellow bishops would sit in your seats today.

It's a real bother, said God. When the French won't be around any more, there are things that I do, there won't be anyone to understand them." But Charles Peguy, who wrote these words, never thought, though well he might have done, that the French, who understood so well the things God did, fathomed them in a variety of ways. Catholics did not agree among themselves, sometimes within themselves. Would Peguy, the Christian patriot, have been in London with de Gaulle or in Vichy with Petain? Both claimed him for their own, as they claimed God. And God could have been on the Right with either.

I have absolutely no doubt that Peguy would have sided with De Gaulle. He, like De Gaulle, shared "a certain idea about France."