became a hero on account of his vitriolic broadsides against the enemies of religion. What appealed to them most was Veuillot's strenuous defence of the idea of France as an overwhelmingly Catholic country in the face of the efforts of secular liberals to represent France as the heir of the French Revolution. For Veuillot - as indeed for the adepts of the revolutionary tradition - the Revolution was not over, and France was a battleground between the champions of the eldest daughter of the church and the apologists for a secular world in which the church would be entitled to no say in public life. In this conflict of good versus evil, there could be no compromise, as liberal Catholics (and many moderate republicans) believed. Compromise, according to Veuillot, was 'the liberal illusion': the fight had to be fought to the finish.1

Thus, by 1880, the Catholic Church had made a remarkable recovery from the ruinous condition in which it had found itself on the morrow of the revolutionary era. In the process, however, it had become a much more militant and intransigent organisation, still haunted by the wrongs it had suffered in the past and ready to resist any future attempts to relegate it to only a marginal social role. The stage was set for a renewal of hostilities with a republican state which, by that time, was willing to nail its colours to the mast of the idée laïque, the realisation of a completely secular polity and society.

Religion and politics: the rise of anticlericalism

Discontent with the clergy was hardly new in the 1870s. On the contrary, irrespective of relations between government and the church, conflicts between priests and their parishioners were a hardy perennial of life in the communes of rural France. Le bon curé, the village priest who lived harmoniously as the good shepherd of his flock, was by no means an entirely mythical figure - witness Jean Vianney, the celebrated curé d'Ars - but all too often villagers found cause to grumble about their clergy, as the archives of the Ministere des Cultes testify. Popular anticlericalism was fuelled by perceived abuses of clerical authority -humiliating families by a public refusal of communion, charging too much for a funeral mass, trying to curb dancing and drinking, and a host of other grievances which were inevitable in the face-to-face interchanges of community life. Significantly, from the 1840s, these conflicts increasingly involved the mayor and the local schoolmaster as figures willing to contest the authority of the priest and to assist with the drawing up of formal complaints to be laid before the minister. By the 1860s, in the context of a very different political

1 L.Veuillot, L'illusion libérale (Paris: Palmé, 1866; reprinted privately, 1969).

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment