Academic journal article Theological Studies

Yves De Monteheuil: Action, Justice, and the Kingdom in Spiritual Resistance to Nazism

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Yves De Monteheuil: Action, Justice, and the Kingdom in Spiritual Resistance to Nazism

Article excerpt

IN RECENT DECADES, deep reflection and impassioned debate have been provoked in Christian theology by the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime against the Jewish people and other groups, the personal suffering inflicted on numerous individual lives, and the countless heroic acts of resistance to persecution. Much of this theology has German and Protestant origins, and has posed many searching and challenging questions: Where was God in Auschwitz? Why did God constitute the world in such a way that unjust suffering on a massive scale was possible? What is the place or value of suffering in God's plan for the salvation of the world? In this article, while in no way denying the crucial importance of these and associated questions, I want to consider a different type of theological response to Nazism, one round in the writing and witness of a little known Jesuit theologian and martyr.

Yves de Montcheuil provided the spiritual resistance of the French Church to Nazism with major theological impetus and practical assistance. (2) Henri de Lubac, writing in 1987, nevertheless described him as "almost forgotten," while Etienne Fouilloux, in 1995, referred to his progressively declining theological influence over the preceding quarter century as a "second death." (3) Born in 1900 in Paimpol on the north coast of Brittany, Montcheuil attended a Jesuit college in St. Helier on Jersey and entered the Society of Jesus in 1917, remaining in St. Helier at the Maison SaintLouis. This was an exile: clergy and members of religious orders were not permitted to teach in French schools following the 1902 Combes legislation secularizing the education system, and parents who wanted their children to have a religious education had to send them abroad, often to religious communities in exile. In 1919, Montcheuil commenced his Jesuit training in Canterbury, which was interrupted by two years' compulsory military service in France. Having earned a licentiate in philosophy from the Sorbonne, in 1934, following four years of theological study in Lyons, he received a doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome. He then accepted a teaching post at the Institut Catholique in Paris, which he held until being shot by the Gestapo on August 10, 1944. (4) Montcheuil was among the most theologically significant Catholic martyrs of the Second World War, developing a theology of action, justice, and the kingdom that he lived out in active spiritual witness against Nazism.


Montcheuil's doctoral thesis, "L'Intervention de Malebranche dans la querelle du put amour," addressed the notion of disinterested love (l'amour desinteresse) in the Augustinian theology of Nicholas Malebranche, and sought to resolve aspects of the disputes about whether or not this conception of love amounted to a quietist one. Montcheuil wished to demonstrate the impossibility of any apolitical notion of love, arguing that a true love of self is inseparable from the sews love of God and of justice. These loves might, moreover, have practical implications, and call people of faith to shape the world in greater conformity with the order of justice divinely willed for it.

Malebranche had argued, in his 1680 Treatise on Nature and Grace, that God acts in nature mostly by means of his general will. (5) This enabled Malebranche to develop an account of the existence of natural evils not as directly willed by God, but as the result of God willing a world reflecting divine wisdom and simplicity by producing the greatest number of effects by means of the fewest laws. Malebranche believed, as an occasionalist, that God is the only true cause of effects in nature, but also maintained that human freedom is among the greatest of the effects of divine wisdom.

These intuitions provide the background to Malebranche's 1684 Treatise on Ethics, which argued that moral action requires a love of the immutable order that God reveals to those souls under grace. …

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