Saturday, 17 September 2011

Il Faut que la France Survive 6

And so we find ourselves in the twentieth century.

Those secularists, in particular Georges Clemenceau, set their minds firmly against the Church, expelling many religious orders, several of whom came to England and did wonderful work. The Grande Chartreuse, having scented trouble, built the great Charterhouse of Parkminster in West Sussex, just in case (though I don't think it ever actually moved there). The Solesmes Benedictines founded Quarr on the Isle of Wight, and actually did live there for several years. And many orders of women came too and founded schools where they insisted on teaching in French, not English, and this chauvinistic impulse made many Catholic Englishwomen bilingual, to their, and their country's, benefit.

Clemenceau was every inch a child of the revolution. After the devastation of the First World War (in which France suffered truly appalling losses) he set about building a new Europe. In this he was assisted by Woodrow Wilson, the president of the USA, who was determined to 'get rid of all those old Kings' (or something like that). No doubt the idea was that it was precisely this old alliance of throne and altar which had led to monarchs being able to devastate their own and others' countries for some abstract notion of glory. Gott mit uns was a common notion on all sides, and it probably was a major contributor to the advance of secularism.

For the French, the gulf deepened between those who held to the old vision, and the secularists.

………It's just occurred to me that I never mentioned de Lammenais and the Ultramontanes in my account of the nineteenth century. Another time! ……

Come the nineteen-fifties, there was a great division in French society; the Church and the integrists on one side, and the workers and secularists on the other. Everyone knew that something had to be done to heal this wound, and it was as a result of this that the Worker Priest movement was born. The Church reached across the gulf to embrace the working world and, some would say, was making progress.

And then Vatican II happened.

It seemed that the Church herself had leapt that gulf, and in 1968 embraced the working people. The windows had been opened and the world and the Church were joined once more. The whole aesthetic of the Church was no longer elitist and separatist, but vernacular in every sense, of the people. Priests abandoned the soutane and embraced the grey suit and blue polo shirt. Choirs were dismissed, and the people would do the singing.

The trouble is that the average workman wasn't that more attracted to this than to what went before. In fact, probably less. He was not convinced that the Church had anything to say to him, and certainly he wasn't impressed by a priest who didn't dress like one, who clearly didn't have the courage of his convictions.

And the old Integrists were horrified at this sell-out, this tawdry abandonment of the vision of a millennium and a half. So they embraced their Gallican heritage and went their own way. But the word Gallican is important; there was not, is not, and cannot be a notion of breaking Roman Communion: it is an essential part of the Gallican 'creed' that it is part of the Catholic Church; simply that it exercises a certain independence of action. It is entirely within the (Integrist) French psyche that

(a) France has a mission for the Church and the world.
(b) France is the eldest daughter of the Church, and has an eldest daughter's privileges and responsibilities to teach her younger siblings.
(c) France is a loyal daughter of the Roman Church, but not her slave.
(d) The appalling division within French society is the work of the devil who seeks to strike just where it is most crucial that there be unity. It is France's greatest shame, and the Revolution is the greatest manifestation of this shame. The perpetuation of the celebration of the Revolution (July 14th and all that) is rubbing salt in the wound.

And hence the insistence of the Society of St Pius X and its co-runners that it has never ceased to be Catholic; rather it is doing its best to make the rest of the Church properly Catholic. One does not need to obey the Pope's sillier decrees to be a proper Catholic, in other words. There is more than simple blind obedience.

Within France, the trouble is that the Integrists have not really found a message that will speak to the masses. Le Pen and his political cronies are willing to use the Integrists, but they are not Integrists themselves. They lay on the Old Mass for their supporters, recognizing that there are a lot of committed Integrists who might well vote for them, but it is really just a flag of convenience. They can speak to the masses, but their message is about immigration and all those other things familiar to our own National Front. They are as republican as the other parties, in effect. The alliance between the Integrist Catholics and the Front Nationale is at best an alliance of convenience; the two in reality have very little in common except conservatism, of a sort.

So what holds this riven France together? Simply, the notion of being French. In all the troubles that beset that fascinating country, every party has been intensely proud of being French. They have disagreed about almost everything else, to the point of copious bloodshed, but the spirit of Clovis and his Franks is still alive to that extent. All of them agree that France is, simply, THE country to live in. It is, to them, self-evident. They have none of that irritating smugness of the Italians about Italy; it is simply self-evident to every intelligent person that France is the best.

And that is why, to them, il faut que la France survive.

In one more post, I'd like to look at why it is necessary for the rest of the world, for us, that France survive.


Michael Gollop said...

As someone with a certain interest in the subject - a couple of hectares to be precise - thank you so much for this fascinating survey. I can't wait for your conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Happily I had Walloon sisters for lower form, French sisters for upper form. They never said "Dieu". It was always "le bon Dieu" or "le beau Dieu"

Vive la France!

NBW said...

I can't wait for your next post on France. This has been excellent so far ! Have you seen the dvd; "The Eldest Daughter of the Church" ?

the owl of the remove said...

Father! just a word of thanks for your outstanding series on France - perhaps a book on the horizon?

Anonymous said...

Surely the heroism of the French Catholic chaplains in the Great War secured privileges for the Church afterwards? How else do you explain the amazing church building programme achieved in Paris by Cardinal Verdier? This produced some of the finest modern churches of their time. By modern I don't mean Modernist; that came much later. I have seen most of them and they are magnificent in form, furniture and stained glass. A French friend explained that national gratitude led to their foundation.

bedwere said...

A scary quote from Wilson:

“Why has Jesus Christ so far not succeeded in inducing the world to follow His teachings in these matters? It is because He taught the idea without devising any practical means of attaining it. That is why I am pursuing a practical scheme to carry out His aims.”

Woodrow Wilson