As we saw in Chapter 7 , the French and EnglishCatholic writers conceptualised dogma, the incarnation and liturgy in ways that favoured the corporate form of Catholic religiosity while undermining buffered individuality and the notion of a meaningless and purposeless cosmos. Still, the problems for a Church that claimed divine origins were considerable in a secular context. Secular culture considered the notion of God’s direct intervention in history as problematic. Likewise, secular mentalities all too often saw the hierarchical Church as an authoritarian and
The figure of the buffered individual takes on a different meaning when we move from the realms of psychology, moral choice and belief into the public domain. As French and EnglishCatholic writers explore political, social and economic issues, the stakes of secularisation become societal in nature.
As we saw in the Introduction, Cavanaugh’s essay on the secular State emphasises two trends of particular note. The first is that theories of politics in the early modern period posited the radical autonomy of the
The conditions of individual secularisation described in Chapter 1 posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns how human behaviour is to be mapped out if belief in God has become deistic or has collapsed into atheism. The second concerns the alternative moral criteria to counter the anthropocentrism transmitted by individual secularisation. These two sets of problems provide vital perspectives from which to read French and EnglishCatholic literature in the late nineteenth and
The aim of this book has been to cast light on the paradox of French Catholic literary resistance to secularisation in the period 1880–1914, and on its coincidental parallels among EnglishCatholic writers of the same period. The task of remapping these writings against an analytical grid of secularisation theory was prompted by the weaknesses which we argued were inherent in approaching these writings simply under the confessional label of ‘Catholic’. This process has meant not discarding the category of Catholic literature, however
This book has so far sought to explore the writings of the French and EnglishCatholic literary revivals in the context of the secularisation of the individual and society. The aim has been to get beyond the limitations of confessional labels and to explore some of their inner dynamics in ways that cast more light on the confrontation between secularisation and resistance to it.
One possible objection, however, to the critics of secularisation is that the indices of religiosity in society show that
The conditions of unbelief, according to Taylor, are affected by the pluralisation of worldviews and the multiplication of alternatives to erstwhile Christian certainties. 1 It is logical, therefore, that in responding to secularisation many French and EnglishCatholic writers should subject such worldviews and alternatives to sometimes far-reaching scrutiny.
As we saw in Chapter 1 the secularisation of mentalities in France and England was denoted by the shift towards a more anthropocentric conceptualisation
Cavanaugh’s essay on societal secularisation provides us with a useful paradigm from which to begin analysing anti-secular alternatives. 1 Exploring this paradigm in all its theological resonances is unnecessary. The political and socio-economic dynamics which it outlines correlate with, and in other ways challenge, French and EnglishCatholic writings about societal organisation.
On the political level, Cavanaugh argues that ‘Eucharistic counter-politics’ have the capacity to undermine the secular State in two
anthropocentric, melioristic and, with regard to religion, increasingly pluralist, indifferentist and sometimes even hostile.
Reading French and EnglishCatholic writers from this perspective yields much of interest. They make a variety of attempts to associate the Church with the secular political dispensations in which they were living – the problem was in fact how to resacralise the State – without at the same time undermining their religion by subjecting it to the legitimisation of the secular State. Crucially, most did not attempt to resacralise
Philippe Lejeune, ‘Autobiography in the third person’, in On Autobiography , ed. Paul John Eakin, trans. Katherine Leary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), pp. 31–51.
On the use of third person in religious autobiography as a development of monastic convention see Richard John Lawes, ‘Accounts of intense religious experience in autobiographical texts by EnglishCatholics 1430–1645, and in the writings of George
This book is a comparative study of the French and English Catholic literary revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These parallel but mostly independent movements include writers such as Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, J. K. Huysmans, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton and Lionel Johnson. Rejecting critical approaches that tend to treat Catholic writings as exotic marginalia, this book makes extensive use of secularisation theory to confront these Catholic writings with the preoccupations of secularism and modernity. It compares individual and societal secularisation in France and England and examines how French and English Catholic writers understood and contested secular mores, ideologies and praxis, in the individual, societal and religious domains. The book also addresses the extent to which some Catholic writers succumbed to the seduction of secular instincts, even paradoxically in themes which are considered to be emblematic of the Catholic literature.