Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Laicization and Its Discontents in Early Twentieth-Century France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Laicization and Its Discontents in Early Twentieth-Century France

Article excerpt

LAICIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS IN EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY FRANCE Le Grand Exil des congrégations religieuses françaises, 1901-1914: Colloque international de Lyon Université Jean-Moulin-Lyon-111 12-13 juin 2003. Edited by Patrick Cabanel and Jean-Dominique Durand. (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2005. Pp. 489. euro59 paperback.)

Les paroisses parisiennes devant la Séparation des Églises et de l'État, 1901-1908. By Jacques Sévenet. (Paris: Letouzey & Ané. 2005. Pp. 316. euro31 paperback.)

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the position of the Catholic Church in France underwent dramatic and lasting changes. Renewing the drive for laicization begun in the 1880's, the Third Republic enacted a series of laws abolishing the vast majority of religious congregations and ending the Napoleonic Concordat which had both privileged and constrained the Catholic Church within France for a century. The legislation included the law of July 2, 1901, which legally recognized associations but closed the establishments of non-authorized religious congregations; the law of July 7, 1904, which effectively barred the remaining congregations from teaching; and the Law of Separation on December 9,1905 abrogating the Concordat, which terminated clerical salaries and subjected the state-owned Catholic churches throughout France to compulsory inventories. Although only two of the thousands of protestors were killed in the sporadic clashes that erupted in early 1906 during the inventaires, the spectacle of les deux France, most recently evoked during the bitter, protracted Dreyfus Affair, reinforced itself as an image of a modern French nation at war with itself. While historians have avoided taking at face value the simplistic trope of "two Frances," one cannot deny the enduring presence and volatile power of this concept in French national discourse in the early part of the century. The moderate premier René Waldeck-Rousseau overreached himself on the rostrum at the time, throwing before the crowds such shibboleths such as the milliard (referring to the alleged wealth of the congregations) and les deux jeunesses. As the 1902 election results materialized, Waldeck-Rousseau faced figures indicating a leftward shift in the Chamber favoring Radicals and Radical-Socialists, "Il sont trops" he said, as his majority escaped him. "Opportunist" premiers had long balanced rhetorical anticlericalism and limited social reforms, but the ex-seminarian EmUe Combes' more sincerely aggressive reading of la laïcité proved crucial in the final escalation of the anticlerical campaign. Any representation of a France divided in two therefore has to coexist with a narrative explanation of how shifting coalitions, changing perceptions, and unforeseen consequences shaped the national debate over the future of church-state relations. Two new books, joining an overdue handful of studies marking the centennial of the anticlerical legislation of 1901-1905, promise to advance scholarly reflection on the contemporary complexities and long-term impact of what the author of the preface to one of these books calls the "veritable psychodrama" of the times.

In Le Grand Exil des congrégations religieuses françaises, Patrick Cabanel and Jean-Dominique Durand gather twenty-five contributions from a 2003 conference. Dealing with legislation, expulsions, and places of exile, the book devotes approximately haË its pages to the third subtopic. The international thrust of this collection is reflected in the diverse locations of the scholars involved, mostly French, but also others from Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Canada, and the United States. It is clear from the outset that a global approach WË1 come to bear as an overarching theme throughout the book, as indicated in Cabanel's introduction. Le Grand Exit's articles range in length from ten to twenty-nine pages, and include both works of sometimes impressionistic synthesis and archival studies occasionally offering statistical tables. …

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