Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reconciliation of Cultures in the Third Republic: Emile Male (1862-1954)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reconciliation of Cultures in the Third Republic: Emile Male (1862-1954)

Article excerpt

Joseph F. Byrnes*

The Lost Catholic Patrimony1

When Emile Male deciphered the art programs of the French medieval cathedrals, and, in fact, religious art from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, he rediscovered a culture2-clerical, artistic, and popular-that had been expressed in the art.3

Over a period of thirty-four years Male published four great syntheses of religious art history. Each synthesis was effected in a different manner, depending upon the sources used to explain the subject matter and the media employed by the artists. In L'Art religieux du XIII si&cle en France (1898), then, it was the Speculum Majus, the encyclopedia of religious thought by Vincent of Beauvais. In L'Art religieux de la fin du moyen age en France (1908), it was the Franciscan theologians of deep religious sentiment; in L'Art religieux du XIII siecle en France (1922), it was St. Bernard, Suger, and the great abbots of Cluny; and in L'Art religieux apres le concile de Trente (1932), it was the theologians of the Counter-Reformation.4 To put it another way, the unity, the synthesizing principle of the epoch and of Male's own work, was thought for the thirteenth century, sentiment at the end of the Middle Ages, the monastic impulse (powerful monastic foundations produced and patronized both religious activity and artistic expression) for the twelfth century, and church authority, organized for defensive-and offensive-action, in the period after the Council of Trent. But thought, sentiment, movement, and institution exist in cultures: elite clerics, artists, and religiously active people from various levels of the social hierarchy-from princes to poor intellectuals and, yes, even some of the farmers and small merchants-transmuted their experiences into a common religious culture.5

In Male's hands, iconography, generally understood to be the classification and interpretation of images, became a study of the ideas and methods that produced the images and of the culture that produced the ideas and methods. The subtitle of his first book, "A Study of Medieval Iconography and its Sources of Inspiration," makes it clear that iconography is, in its primary sense, the actual artistic expression of ideas; secondarily, it is the study of this artistic expression. His achievement was uniquely different from the cataloguing, conservation, and restoration of medieval monuments effected by Arcisse de Caumont, Alexandre Lenoir, Antoine Quatremere de Quincy, Alexandre du Sommerard, and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc; uniquely different, also, from the deciphering efforts of Adolphe-Napoleon Didron, the clerical team of Cahier and Martin-and Roger Gaignieres long before them.6 The religious art of the Middle Ages was not a monument to be preserved and reverenced, a lieu de memoire where one could meditate on France as Nation and Republic.7 Male confronted his colleagues and readers with a French way of life of another age. It was that culture, as signified in the art and reconstituted in his prose, that became the lieu de memoire. My goal is to demonstrate how Male's achievement derives from his powers to place his own culture, the intellectuals and educated readers of the Third Republic, in contact with medieval Catholic culture. He thereby gained broad acceptance of this culture as an element of the French national patrimony.

Formation: Republican and Catholic

The Third Republic was born in turmoil, political and religious. In 1871, the Paris Commune, inspired by an exaggerated revolutionary Republicanism, was accompanied by an anticlerical violence that culminated in the execution of the Archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy. In reaction, the new National Assembly, led by monarchists, voted for public prayers of reparation, a vote reinforced by the activities of mayors, magistrates, and army officers. Early rivalry of the leading Republicans, the Moderate Adolphe Thiers and the Opportunist Leon Gambetta, gave way before the electoral success of the monarchist general Patrice MacMahon and his government of "Moral Order. …

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