Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Il faut que la France survive 2

It will be clear that French Christianity was going to be quite different, largely because the culture that was baptized with Clovis was so very different from the 'civilized' Romano-Gallic culture which had preceded it. At one level, the Arian Goths in the south and in Iberia were more 'civilized', to the point that when Clovis announced his intention to liberate the Catholic Gauls from their oppression under the heretical Goths, those same Gauls preferred to fight with the Goths against the Franks. They lost, though, and willy-nilly found themselves part of a new, Catholic, France.

The Romans thought that the Franks were rough, uncouth and bellicose. They had a point. It took nigh on a millennium to arrive at the court of the Sun King. There is little to be astonished at that Eastern Christianity looked with barely-concealed or even open contempt at the Western Church, so deep it was in the arms (in both senses) of barbarians.

But we mustn't let the East get away with it altogether; its history, too, was brutal, and Christianity did little to ameliorate that. But the East had both subtlety and scholarship, and it took the Franks a few hundred years to acquire these, beginning under Charlemagne who initiated a deliberate policy of recreating the Western Empire, and began it by himself learning how to read, and of importing all the finest scholars he could find (like Alcuin of York).

One curious difference between East and West was that the East was in a fairly constant state of war; first with the Persians, and then with the Moslems. The West was (comparatively) peaceful; it has sometimes been said (and I'm not really sure how much credence to give this) that, lacking a great deal of real all-out war, the Franks' friskiness was in due course to be channelled into the Crusades, rather than being wasted in beating each other up.

The creation of the Holy Roman Empire had another curious side-effect. Until this point, the Western Church had been fairly undisputedly governed by the Papacy. But in time the Holy Roman Emperors came to want the same sort of influence over the Church that their opposite numbers in Constantinople exercised. In the middle ages, it developed into almost a dual authority structure in the West; some Christians looking to the Emperor, others to the Pope, for ecclesiastical leadership. It was to cause the 'Investiture Crisis', concerning who had the right to appoint bishops. There were even different theological schools. Sometimes the Imperial Church (as it were) seemed in the ascendent, and sometimes the Papal, as when in 1076/7 the Emperor Henry IV was reduced to kneeling barefoot in the snow at Canossa to beg the Pope's forgiveness.

In some ways, this 'Imperial' church survived in France where (as in some other countries) the King appointed the bishops and governed the Church as every other aspect of the country. I think that perhaps you could make a case that this Imperial-style was what Henry VIII was aiming at in his break from Rome. Not a new Church, as such, but independent and secular government of the Church in England. To many a Frenchman, the 'alliance of throne and altar', which essentially dates back to Clovis, is of the very essence of France. France, in this view, is not truly herself without the twin pillars of the monarchy and the Church. They will not disagree, however, that it went very wrong. From the late middle ages, the state began to exploit the Church for its own ends. Abbacies (and of course their incomes) were conferred on laymen whom the King wished to favour. Consequently monastic life went into steep decline. Bishoprics were conferred on politicians and civil servants for the same reasons; and it did not seem to matter much whether the man was a good one or not. Talleyrand, for instance, was, though a known unbeliever, appointed to the bishopric of Autun in the fateful year of 1789 for political reasons. This effective, principled, autonomy of the French Church is what is known as Gallicanism.

There were other negative influences also. The wars of religion during the Renaissance were truly terrible. Catholicism triumphed in the end, but it waded through seas of blood in order to do so. The famous cynical comment of Henry of Navarre, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when confronted with the resolute Catholicism of Paris which was the the only obstacle preventing his taking the crown as Henry IV, that 'Paris was worth a Mass' suggests that, really, the wars had done much to wipe out the fervour of the high middle ages.

Some fervour did return, of course. There were saints, great saints like St Vincent de Paul, St Margaret Mary Alacoque and many others, but much of the fervour was found in the new half-Protestant and 'charismatic' heresy of Jansenism. It, too, was ruthlessly stamped out, but, like Gallicanism, its ghost continued to haunt the French Church for many years. Some would say that it still does.


bedwere said...

Father, what do you answer to those Eastern Orthodox who claim that the division between East and West was due to the Frank theologians who introduced barbaric elements intro Christian thought? Has anybody bothered to repeal these accusations?

geoffthecat said...

I really think you need to develop these excellent analyses and weave them into your next book!

Pastor in Monte said...

Lovely to hear from you! My greetings to the brethren.
I think that one has to admit that the Easterners have at least some of a point. Take 'Filioque', for instance. It is likely that its admission to the Creed in the West was due to Carolingian pressure on the Holy See. This has considerably muddied the waters, for the East, who seem to have held the doctrine beforehand, since have come to reject it, probably in protest at the West's rather high-handed inclusion of it.
But I also think that Constantinople's overweening ambition to overtop the Papacy (with almost no justification, apostolic, historical or patristic) was a major contributory factor. Popes and Patriarchs of C could both be arrogant, but C could really only justify its claim to supremacy on the basis of being the Emperor's city. The most egregious example of this hubris must be Michael Caerularius (/Kerularios) in the eleventh century, who openly despised the Emperor, largely for trying to heal the growing breach with the West, and eventually (after the schism, to which Michael had contributed substantially) deposed him. Much of this was about personalities; Cardinal Humbert, the Papal legate was hardly a model of tact, either, and his 1054 excommunication was invalid in any case, since the Pope had recently died, thus ending his legatine status.
What I mean is that, in my opinion, there is no point trying to whitewash things. The East have real objections, and they deserve to be given proper weight, but they also are still far slower than the West to recognize that a proportion of the fault is on their side.

You know, I think we need a proper post on this stuff soon!

pelerin said...

Your history of French Catholicism is most enlightening Father. Thank you - I look forward to more.

Your comments regarding Gallicanism are interesting especially your comment that it still may exist. I attended some 'catechese' talks recently in France and could not help noticing that several times the expression 'Eglise DE France' was used rather than 'l'eglise EN France.' This made me feel rather uncomfortable but presumed it was because I was English and obviously the Church of England has a different connotation. However following your post perhaps it is another form of Gallicanism?

. said...


Did Catholicism triumph in the wars of religion? We lost the Faithful in huge swathes of northern Europe and in 500 years failed uniformly to recover them. I would argue that in this sense, the Tridentine period was a dismal failure, and that its failures contained many of the seeds that sprung up in the aftermath of Vatican II.

On Eastern Orthodoxy: sometimes they object to Frankish elements, sometimes to elements of Greek philosophy. You can't win: the basis is objection, not what is being objected-to.

As for the P of C, I think Fr.'s explanation is good; though it must be pointed out that for all the objections to the Papal styles, no-one in the East bats an eyelid at the (absurdly over-the-top) stylings and claims of the Patriarch of Alexandria, for example ("The 13th Apostle", and "Arbitrator of the Universe" being but two).

This was once explained to me by an EO convert (who insists that the Latin Church has invalid orders, is heretical, and strictly speaking no longer exists as part of the Universal Church) by claiming that the Eastern patriarches never took all their titles seriously, unlike Rome...

Pastor in Monte said...

Evagrius: quite!
I've never really understood how Constantinople can cavil at Papal titles, and yet call their patriarchs 'Ecumenical Patriarch', a title misunderstood as being 'nice and friendly reconciling unifying Patriarch', when it actually means 'Patriarch of the Ecumene', of the known world, or at least entire empire.
No, my point was to try and show that the 'victory' in the wars of religion was really, if a victory, a pyrrhic one. It did too much harm.

bedwere said...

I'll present your greetings, Father!
I hope you'll grace us with another visit some day.

Forward Boldly said...

I'm enjoying this very much. You should provide links to these posts so your readers can peruse them all in order, or link to them all in one place.