Loisy et Ses Amis

Article excerpt

Loisy et ses amis. By Emile Goichot. [Petits Cerf-Histoire.] (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf. 2002. Pp. 197. EUR21.)

A biographer of Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) faces a daunting task. There is the sheer quantity of publications. In his bibliography of Loisy's works Emile Poulat lists sixty books and 263 articles-to which could be added numerous reviews. Moreover, their author's style could be subtle and highly nuanced (not always adequately captured in English translations, by the way), which poses a challenge to any attempted summary of their contents. This is particularly true of the writings of the Modernist period, whose historiography raises its own difficulties. Moreover, within Loisy's oeuvre there is a sizable quantity of autobiographical publication, which must be approached with the caution due all such attempts at self-fashioning. Despite the amount of available data, Loisy has proven to be an enigmatic figure-reflected in the variety of Loisys portrayed by biographers and commentators, and adding a further interpretive layer to be reckoned with in any attempted assessment of the man. In the case of Smile Goichot's Loisy et ses amis there is a further hurdle to be surmounted, set by the parameters of the series in which this biography appears: to engage its subject in a relatively short compass for a nonspecialist audience in an accessible style.

Loisy's was a singularly focused life, centered on the religious problem. In making this the focus of the biography, Goichot leaves aside the more technical side of his subject's work on exegesis and the history of religion-surpassed in significant measure by subsequent scholarship-and concentrates on writings produced for a less specialized readership, especially the "little red books" that gained notoriety for their author. Loisy's practice of incorporating large extracts from his journals and correspondence in his autobiographical writings provides access to his thought contemporary to the events of a given period, as distinguished from retrospective interpretation. Comparison with their originals has satisfied Goichot that Loisy has represented such materials fairly and intelligently. The author's extensive research into Henri Bremond enables him to deal with the Modernist period evenhandedly, and gives him a firm grasp of issues that engaged both Loisy and Bremond following the former's excommunication in 1908.

Chapter 1 passes rapidly over Loisy's early life, his vocation, seminary experience, and situation at the Paris Institut catholique, ending with his initial publications in the 1890's. The second chapter begins with the event that led to Loisy's dismissal from the Institut, the expansion of his concerns from exegesis to apologetics, and the first official censure of his writings by Cardinal Richard in 1900. It also continues to develop the et ses amis of the biography's title, with sketches of EA. …