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.
This chapter gives a detailed description of a paradox and a coincidence. The paradox is a period of profound secularisation in France, from which emerged a generation of Catholic writers and intellectuals who were convinced that the rumours about God's death had been greatly exaggerated. The coincidence is that, in the same period, English literature too saw a significant revival in Catholic writing. France's Catholic writers, their lives and works, are explored from a variety of perspectives. Though wide and intense critical attention focuses discretely on two contemporaneous literary tendencies, there are few comparative studies of them. The most ironic intellectual consequence of religious fragmentation and technological consciousness is the final emergence of relativism in the early twentieth century to answer the difficulties posed by the collision of differing worldviews. The chapter aims to place these writings back within the context of the conditions of belief and unbelief in which they were published.
This chapter attempts to synthesise some of the most common accounts of the history of secularisation in France and England during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It provides an understanding of the nature of individual and societal secularisation in England and France, and assesses, in spite of the vast differences, what correlations can be drawn between the two countries. The study of the secularisation of mentalities examines the pluralisation of worldviews, which came about through individualism and technological consciousness. Trends in secular thinking revolutionised comprehension of the world, affected the dominant religious traditions and multiplied the alternative accounts of human destiny. It addresses the secularisation of societal activities and institutions that examine the ways in which English and French society moved away from their erstwhile religious dispensation. The chapter aims to identify the shifting patterns of secular thought and organisation that prevailed in spite of religious revivalism.
The conditions of individual secularisation posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns the mapping out of human behaviour 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 English Catholic literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many French and English Catholic writers depict the individual's relationship to God not as amorphous or anthropocentric but as circumscribed by grace (God's help) and virtue in a theocentric collaboration, which leads to a form of communal life between God and the human person. This chapter shows that religious porosity must itself be buffered in some way against the influence of secular society.
The secularisation of mentalities in France and England was denoted by the shift towards a more anthropocentric conceptualisation of humanity and by the way in which certain secular discourses came to dominate the public mind. This chapter addresses how the French and English Catholic writers seek to undermine what Owen Chadwick famously called the secularisation of the European mind. The chapter considers the critique of naturalistic readings of the material world, of mechanisation, scientism and the secularising influence of German thought. Such critiques exemplify the need they felt of being buffered against secular mentalities at large. It examines the views of intellectual and anti-intellectual Catholic writers about the proper methodology with which to attack secular thought. This study shifts through the ways in which they asserted meaning in the cosmos by re-establishing links between the material and the spiritual domains.
This chapter discusses the ways in which French and English Catholic writers perceive and portray secular society's potential for individualistic fission. This is viewed as a result of the Reformation or the Revolution of 1789 and is encouraged and epitomised by particular groups, notably Jews and Freemasons. The chapter also explores the secularising trends identified by French and English Catholic authors in several important areas of societal life, including politics, economics and education where State centripetalism or State arbitration of individualism had become the modi operandi. These models of contractual society unwittingly establish secular parodies of the Church, both in their assumptions concerning the autonomous individual and with regard to their solution for life in society. Politics and economics are simply not estranged from religion but also unfold in a world invested with divinely ordered meanings and purposes.
This chapter provides a useful paradigm to analyse anti-secular alternatives. It outlines ways in which French and English Catholic writers seek to reimagine society and economics on a sacred basis. Cavanaugh's Eucharistic counter-politics has helped to draw out some of the governing dynamics at work in their writings. In spite of the religious shape of cultural and historic roots, the passionate neo-monarchism of the French Catholic writers—monarchism shaped more by Maurrassian influence than anything else—apes Republican State idealism, with its absolute confidence in monarchy as a panacea. The roots of such confidence arguably go back to the direction taken by the French monarchy under the influence of the divine right of kings, a paradoxically secular model—because conflating religion and politics and subjecting the former to the latter—in religious clothing.
All corporate entities are actualised by a set of values, which unify their activities and lend them a sense of identity. French and English Catholic writers 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. Catholic writers attempted to bring the public domain into a redemptive relationship with God. The relationship between France and the Church was a central concern for many writers of the French Catholic literary revival. The Catholic literature delves into the societal arena not simply because it is indulging in a veiled form of secular politics but because of its confidence in the universal validity of faith.
This chapter aims to explore some of the inner dynamics of French and English Catholic literary revivals in ways that cast more light on the confrontation between secularisation and resistance to it. One possible objection to the critics of secularisation is that the indices of religiosity in society show that secularisation has not occurred, or that it is at the least mitigated. This study provides an analysis of secularisation in which the model of the buffered individual poses two problems for religion when it is considered corporately. The first is that the buffered individual's mind-centred view of reality tends to undermine confidence in a commonly received meaning and purpose in the cosmos. The second is that the buffered individual's capacity for disengagement from this community of knowledge reinforces the model of radical individual autonomy, which Cavanaugh identifies as the basis on which secular politics is constructed.
Cavanaugh's analysis of the secular State indicates the role individualism played in the genesis of contractual political theories. The gathering into the Church envisaged by many French and English Catholic authors sometimes adopts supernatural or enchanted dimensions, especially through their depiction of prophecy, the miraculous and the mysterious sharing of grace between members of the Church. This chapter discusses the themes as they appear in the works of French and English Catholic writers. It encounters their view of the Church as an institution whose very dynamics illustrate their belief in the divine agency continually at work in the material cosmos. Miracles and prophecy, the fruit of some special gift or intervention of God, help enact the Church not hierarchically but charismatically. Vicarious suffering and sainthood provide an ecclesial context for those gifts and, at the same time, portrays most dramatically the unity that can be achieved between individuals.