Late Modern European -- Cardinal Lavigerie: Churchman, Prophet and Missionary by Francois Renault and Translated by John O'Donohue

By O Donnell, J. Dean, Jr. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Late Modern European -- Cardinal Lavigerie: Churchman, Prophet and Missionary by Francois Renault and Translated by John O'Donohue


O Donnell, J. Dean, Jr., The Catholic Historical Review


Cardinal Lavigerie: Churchman, Prophet and Missionary. By Francois Renault. Translated by John O'Donohue. (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Athlone Press. 1994. Pp. vii, 470. $60.00.)

"He has the face of a banker: wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury. This one-liner appears in numerous studies on the "ubiquitous Cardinal Lavigerie." The definitive biography of Charles-Martial Allemand-Lavigerie (1825-1892) now sets in perspective his projects for Christianity and for France. Francois Renault is one of several White Fathers who have worked on theses d'Etat in the Archives Lavigerie of the order's Generalate, now at Rome. He effectively integrates complex issues of Church-State struggle under the French Concordat, Vatican politics, relations among a dozen Christian and Muslim sects in the Ottoman Empire, and the high politics of European diplomacy on three continents. Renault considers all in the context of ecclesiology, with due attention to Lavigerie's early stance between Gallicans and Ultramontanes. He evolved by 1870 to strong support for Papal Leadership--the essential for unity among Christians and the anchor for the French Church under attack.

Renault comes to grips with an extraordinary personality. Seminary peers and professors remarked Lavigerie's indolence, chafing restlessness of spirit, practical mind, and practical jokes. The cardinal vacationing at Biskra, where the desert climate eased his chronic rheumatism, loved organizing camel races. He was grand in pontifical regalia and solemnities, spare in his table and household. He sometimes spurned compliments and honors, confessing their temptation. He raged at associates and underlings, abjectly begging forgiveness later. Hard-charging impatience obscured his humanity. He used the word "tender" for feelings of open affection toward his Arab orphans, compassion for a tubercular seminarian, and desolation for the parents of missionaries murdered en route to the mission field. Despite doctorates in letters and theology, Lavigerie did not dwell on abstractions. For him, like his soulmate Leo XIII, practical situations called for flexibility on behalf of core principles. Bismarck was the only man Lavigerie praised in the same breath with Leo XIII: "They are great men because they possess will power" (p. 301).

Between Paris and the Vatican Lavigerie pursued his goals as an honest banker, called by some "the real Nuncio." One of his more revolutionary visions had the Republic posting a few of its six cardinals of the Crown to Rome, where other nations would have to put cardinals for counterweights. Thus de-Italianizing the Curia would have enhanced the Church's universality (as well as counterweighed the French Ambassador to the Holy See).

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