The Condemnation of Action Française and the Birth of Vatican II

The Condemnation of Action Française and the Birth of Vatican II

Posted by Sacerdos Romanus at 2/27/2016 @ Rorate-Caeli

Pope Pius XI’s condemnation of a political party supported by many French Catholic royalists was a revival of the ralliement of Pope Leo XIII, a dangerous ecclesiastical policy that was reversed by St. Pius X [see comment below]. The condemnation paved the way for the rise of a new theology that would be of great influence at Vatican II.


The Condemnation of Action Française and the Birth of the Nouvelle Theologie

Anthony Sistrom

The Condemnation of Action Française signaled the end of Thomist dominance in French seminary studies and the arrival of the nouvelle theologie. As a result three leading Thomists were fired from their jobs: Fr. Henri LeFloch, cssp, rector of the French seminary in Rome, Cardinal Louis Billot, SJ who taught at the Greg and Fr. Thomas Pegues, OP regent of studies at St. Maximin in Provence.

On the eve of the Condemnation, Fr. Marie Vincent Bernadot, OP and Fr. Etienne Lajeunie, OP met with Pius XI. They found common goals. Pius XI wanted to normalize relations with the French government and an opening for his beloved Catholic Action. Frs. Bernadot and Lajeunie wanted the removal of Fr. Pegues from his post at St. Maximin and a ban on Action Française as the bastion of Thomism.

In the wake of the condemnation Fr. Bernadot would launch his journal, La Vie Intellectuelle and a publishing house, Editions du Cerf that would publish Catholicism by Fr. Henri de Lubac, SJ. The conventional account of this affair is newly told by Fr. Peter Bernardi, SJ “Action Française Catholicism and Opposition to Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae” in the festschrift A Realist Church: Essays in honor of Fr. Joseph Komonchak. Fr. Bernardi tries to convict Cardinal Billot of antiliberalism, failing to convict Pius XI for a monumental error which Pius XII would reverse in his first act as pope. Vide Philippe Prevost, “Condamnation de l’Action française : preferer la verite historique a route papolatrie.” But the last word belongs to a saint. Fr. Roger Thomas Calmel, OP writes at the end of his life (1974):

Between the two modernisms there was the savage condemnation of Action Francaise; in that lamentable affair a pope very authoritarian unable to understand that his repressive operations carried out according to his desire, had no. other outcome than disaster; first the crushing of Catholics attached to the Syllabus, then the rise of an episcopacy not opposed to modern errors; regarding the famous Catholic Action, it would not find any advantage other than politicizing itself and bending in the direction of socialism.

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3 comments on “The Condemnation of Action Française and the Birth of Vatican II

  1. “The ralliement of Leo XIII: a pastoral experience that moved away from doctrine” – by Roberto de Mattei

    Posted by New Catholic at 3/19/2015 @
    Roberto de Mattei
    Corrispondenza Romana
    March 18, 2015

    The 1905 Separation, the complete failure of Leo XIII’s policy of ralliement:
    “The Separation: ‘Let us separate – I will keep your assets.'”

    Leo XIII (1878-1903) was certainly one of the most important Popes in modern times, not only for the length of his pontificate, second only to Blessed Pius IX’s, but above all for the extent and richness of his Magisterium. His teaching includes encyclicals of fundamental importance, such as Aeterni Patris (1879) on the restoration of Thomist philosophy, Arcanum (1880) on the indissolubility of marriage, Humanum genus (1884) against Masonry, L’Immortale Dei (1885) on the Christian constitution of the States and Rerum Novarum (1891) on the question of work and social life.

    The Magisterium of Pope Gioacchino Pecci appears as an organic corpus, in continuation with the teachings of his predecessor Pius IX as well as his successor Pius X. The real turning point and novelty of the Leonine pontificate, by contrast, is in regard to his ecclesiastical politics and pastoral approach to modernity. Leo XIII’s government was characterized in fact, by the ambitious project of reaffirming the Primate of the Apostolic See through a redefinition of its relationship with the European States and the reconciliation of the Church with the modern world. The politics of ralliement, that is, of reconciliation with the French, secular, Masonic Third Republic, formed its basis.

    The Third Republic was conducting a violent campaign of de-Christianization, particularly in the scholastic field. For Leo XIII, the responsibility of this anticlericalism lay with the monarchists who were fighting the Republic in the name of their Catholic faith. In this way they were provoking the hate of the republicans against Catholicism. In order to disarm the republicans, it was necessary to convince them that the Church was not adverse to the Republic, but only to secularism. And to convince them, he retained that there was no other way than to support the republican institutions.

    In reality, the Third Republic was not an abstract republic, but the centralized Jacobin daughter of the French Revolution. Its program of secularization in France was not an accessory element, but the reason itself for the existence of the republican regime. The republicans were what they were because they were anti-Catholic. They hated the Church in the Monarchy, in the same way that the monarchists were anti-republican because they were Catholics who loved the Church in the Monarchy.

    The encyclical Au milieu des solicitudes of 1891, through which Leo XIII launched the ralliement did not ask Catholics to become republicans, but the instructions from the Holy See to nuncios and bishops, coming from the Pontiff himself, interpreted his encyclical in this sense. Unprecedented pressure was exercised on the faithful, even going as far as making them believe that whoever continued to support the monarchy publically was committing a grave sin. Catholics were split into two currents of the “ralliés” and the “réfractaires”, as had happened in 1791, at the time of the civil Constitution for clergy. The ralliés accepted the Pope’s pastoral indications as they attached infallibility to his words in all fields, including those political and pastoral.

    The réfractaires who were Catholics with better theological and spiritual formation, on the other hand, resisted the politics of ralliement, retaining that, inasmuch as it was a pastoral act, it could not be considered infallible and thus could be erroneous. Jean Madiran, who did a lucid critique of ralliement (in Les deux démocraties, NEL, Paris 1977), noted that Leo XIII had asked the monarchists to abandon the monarchy in the name of religion in order to conduct a more efficacious battle in defense of the faith. Except that, far from fighting this battle, with the ralliement, he effected a ruinous policy of détente with the enemies of the Church.

    Despite Leo XIII and his Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla’s endeavor, this policy of dialogue was a sensational failure and unable to obtain the objectives it proposed. The Anti-Christian behavior of the Third Republic increased in violence, until culminating in Loi concernant la Séparation des Eglises et de l’Etat on December 9th 1905, known as “the Combes law” which suppressed all financing and public recognition of the Church; it considered religion merely in the private dimension and not in the social one; it established that ecclesiastical goods be confiscated by the State, while buildings of worship were given over gratuitously to “associations cultuelles” elected by the faithful, without Church approval. The Concordat of 1801, that had for a century regulated the relations between France and the Holy See, and that Leo XIII had desired to preserve at all costs, fell wretchedly to pieces.

    The republican battle against the Church, however, encountered the new Pope along its way, – Pius X, elected to the Papal throne on August 4th 1903. With his encyclicals Vehementer nos of February 11th 1906, Gravissimo officii of August 10th of the same year, Une fois encore of January 6th 1907, Pius X, assisted by his Secretary of State Raffaele Merry del Val, he protested solemnly against the secular laws, urging Catholics to oppose them through all legal means, with the aim of conserving the traditions and values of Catholic France. Faced with this determination, the Third Republic did not dare activate the persecution fully, so as to avoid the creation of martyrs, and thus renounced the closing of the churches and the imprisonment of priests. Pius X’s politics without concessions, proved to be far-sighted. The law of separation was never applied with rigor and the Pope’s appeal contributed to a great rebirth of Catholicism in France on the eve of the First World War. Pius X’s ecclesiastical politics, the opposite of his predecessor’s, represents, in the final analysis, an unappealable historical condemnation of the ralliement.

    Leo XIII never professed liberal errors, on the contrary, he explicitly condemned them. The historian, nevertheless, cannot ignore the contradiction between Pope Pecci’s Magisterium and his political and pastoral stance. In the encyclicals Diuturnum illud, Immortale Dei e Libertas, he reiterated and developed the political doctrine of Gregory XVI and Pius IX, but the policy of ralliement contradicted his doctrinal premises. Leo XIII, far from his intentions, encouraged, at the level of praxis, those ideas and tendencies that he condemned on the doctrinal level. If we attribute the significance of a spiritual attitude to the word liberal, of a political tendency to concessions and compromise, we have to conclude that Leo XIII had a liberal spirit. This liberal spirit was manifested principally as an attempt to resolve the problems posed by modernity, through the arms of diplomatic negotiation and compromises, rather than with the intransigence of principles and a political and cultural battle. In this sense, as I have shown in my recent volume Il ralliement di Leone XIII. Il fallimento di un progetto pastorale (Le Lettere, Florence 2014), the principal consequences of ralliement, were of a psychological and cultural order more than a political one. To this strategy the ecclesiastic “Third Party” was called upon, which throughout the 20th century tried to find an intermediate position between modernists and anti-modernists who were contending the issue.

    The spirit of ralliement with the modern world has been around for more than a century, and the great temptation to which the Church is exposed to, is still [with us]. In this regard, a Pope of great doctrine such as Leo XIII made a grave error in pastoral strategy. The prophetic strength of St. Pius X is the opposite, in the intimate coherence of his pontificate between evangelical Truth and the life of the Church in the modern world, between theory and praxis, between doctrine and pastoral care, with no yielding to the lures of modernity.

    • I had once heard that Rampolla was either a Freemason or a revolutionary, and that the veto from Emperor Franz Joseph saved the Church. The following confirms that Rampolla was pro-French (meaning the revolutionaries, I’d assume).

      Mariano Cardinal Rampolla y Tindari is little remembered today – but, had the conclave of 1903 been allowed to proceed without interference, he would have been pope.

      Mariano Rampolla had risen through the Catholic hierarchy – a Papal Nuncio to Spain, he was elevated to the Cardinalate in March 1887, being appointed Papal Secretary of State three weeks later. His secretary in both postings was one Giacomo della Chiesi.

      Rampolla’s policies were seen as being pro-French and against the Triple Alliance. He was also regarded as taking on a dominant role with the elderly Leo XIII (elected 1878 in his late sixties) and seen as overbearing. Francis Joseph of Austria Hungary had been displeased by the way in which Rampolla had denied a church funeral for Crown Prince Rudolph when the latter had committed suicide.

      While the Cardinals were supposedly neutral in papal elections, they were often subject to secular and other influences: various states and organisations favoured or opposed particular candidates on a range of grounds. Three countries in particular, Austria-Hungary, France, and Spain had, on the basis of earlier protection supplied to the Papacy, claimed the right of veto against particular candidates they felt would not operate in the State’s best interests. In some periods this was accepted as a trade-off – but with the rise of non-monarchical government the situation became somewhat anomalous.

      Papal elections

      Pope Leo XIII died in 1903, aged 93, having been in failing health for some time. The usual jockeying occurred among the cardinals thereafter and Rampolla was seen as a leading candidate among several papabiles.

      During the conclave support for Rampolla was reaching a sufficient level to win him the election, when Cardinal Jan Puzyna de Kosielsko, archbishop of Krakow, on behalf of Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, delivered the veto (Jus Exclusivae). This was accepted under protest by the other cardinals and Giuseppe Sarto, patriarch of Venice, was elected Pius X. Dislike of Rampolla and also his pro-French policy may have played some part in the acceptance of the situation.

      • I have read the story of Cardinal Rampolla’s alleged freemasonry in various sources. A good one is “Did a Freemason Almost Become Pope? (The Story of Cardinal Rampolla)” Catholic Family News | August 2003 edition | Craig Heimbichner (no longer available on the CFN website but at the Free Republic as linked).

        Pope St. Pius X transferred Cardinal Rampolla from Secretary of State to Secretary of the Holy Office. Under the previous Code of Canon Law the Pope was the Prefect (head) of the Holy Office with a Cardinal-Secretary to do the day-to-day work. His Holiness appointed Rafael Merry del Val as Secretary of State, who initiated and executed the campaign against the Modernists. Thus, His Eminence was doing the job that the Cardinal-Secretary of the Holy Office would normally do, rendering the incumbent’s position as superfluous. Was Cardinal Rampolla’s transfer to the Holy Office an example of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” or “being in a good place to keep eyes on him” (i.e., under the watchful eyes of his “subordinates” in the Holy Office executing Cardinal Merry del Val’s policies against the Modernists)?

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