Georges de Nantes.
The Mystical Doctor of the Catholic Faith.
8. FIRST CONTROVERSIES
INTELLIGENCE does not suffice to defend the truth. The gift of Counsel is required. “ Wisdom comes imperceptibly to those who listen to their masters, and from the child is born the man, from the seminarian the priest, over the years, according to the providence of fortunate encounters as well as the hazards of temptations and the snares that an acquired prudence, a beginning of personal common sense enables you to avoid. Today, I remember a few unimportant events in which I had to chose my way, on the spur of the moment, among several others on the right and on the left. ” 1
BETWEEN PAPISM AND INTEGRISM
The Catholic right-wing, “ prostrate since the bloody purge that had decimated, dispersed and decapitated it, and the despoilment of the press that deprived it of all possibility and thus of all liberty of expression, ” was recovering. One day in 1946, Georges de Nantes received the visit of Georges Grasset, a correspondent of the Cité catholique that Jean Ousset had just founded. He wanted “ to invite me, not warmly but directly and strongly to adhere to it. ” Georges de Nantes was unable to accept for three reasons :
“ The first dealt with the Cité catholique’s claim to a doctrine of complete action for the restoration of Christian society, a doctrine drawn in its entirety from the teaching of the Church. ” The crux of the matter was to know, after having set down the principles, how to descend to the level of the practical consequences when taking a bold stand on current events :
“ ‘ I say to you that you will descend from your stratosphere within sight of the congested landing ground, but at the moment of landing, in order to avoid a crash, you will nose up and return to the clouds, and after another round, and so forth endlessly. ’
“ ‘ Not at all ! ’
“ ‘ No ? Well ! I will be happy to see you again when, in the name of Jesus Christ, you have decided on the reprobation of the Resistance, the condemnation of the M. R. P. 2 and the obligatory rehabilitation of Marshal Pétain. ’ ”
A correlative objection of de Nantes was : the “ Church’s social doctrine ” alone gives neither the means nor the power for resolving these disputes.
“ ‘ All the same, ’ he firmly replied, ‘ we can gather Catholics together on a platform of broad accord for civic action without inciting partisan exclusions ! ’
“ ‘ Then I predict that you will resemble braggarts, but will soon become perpetual impenitent liberals, like Leo XIII, in practice of course, not in theory ! You will lead your Catholic elite step by step to rallying to all the parties in power up to and including the most anti-French and the most subversive ! ’ ”
Still another objection, the most disquieting of the three in the climate of the three-party government that was then in power : “ ‘ You affirm that the encyclicals of contemporary popes are the basis and the whole of your knowledge, and that you will not put forward anything that is contrary or even alien to them [...]. ’”
However, “ ‘ you recruit people who were Pétainists yesterday, Maurrassians the day before yesterday, resolute adversaries of the Christian Democracy that is presently sharing power with the Communists and Socialists. These latter put them in charge of justice and the purge and they stained their hands with innocent blood. Imagine that one day these fine people fear you and want to bring you down. Do you believe that it will be difficult for them to obtain a papal encyclical, radio message or a pontifical motu proprio that will be directed at you and condemn you more or less clearly, like Leo XIII’s letter on the Ralliement or Pius XI’s maudlin speeches against Maurras’ paganism ? What will you do then ? Will you offer the blind submission and disappearance desired by the Pope, or revolt and appeal from the Pope badly informed to the Pope well informed ? This banana skin will suffice to make you fall. ’ ” 3
What clear-sightedness ! What maturity in this young twenty-two year old man ! Subsequent historical events have confirmed the truth of his warnings.
On another occasion, it was Georges de Nantes who went clandestinely to visit Fr. Luc Lefèvre at the head office of “ La Pensée catholique. ”
“ Fr. Lefèvre seemed old to me but baby-faced, as though he were made up. Youthful stupidity ! He could not have been sixty then, scarcely fifty ! He had a large pair of glasses that made his eyes look smaller, and white hair. Nevertheless, his gaze was gentle, his voice subdued. His manners were courteous and his speech was mellifluous and solemn. He had a very, very good smile. I was beside myself with contentment. He showed me into his cramped office where the rows of books, and the piles of books, files and accumulated papers, reduced the space to that of a submarine gangway. He invited me to take a seat while he casually took up his cigarette again and relit it with the brownish fingers and yellow nails of a chain smoker [...].
“ I was dazzled, all the same ! I wanted to admire everything in this priest who stood up to defend our Faith in great danger of a Neo-Modernism, and for the survival of our traditions, of our ideas, of our school of thought thrice decapitated: by the condemnation of Action française, by the acts of violence of the Popular Front and its red Christians, now by the killings and proscriptions of the Liberation, this ‘ slaughterhouse regime ’ as Fr. Panici dared to call it from the pulpit of Notre-Dame ! When taking leave, I embraced him and, putting his cigarette butt on the ashtray, he blessed me. He is unaccustomed to making the gesture ; in my twopenny-halfpenny mysticism, that offended me. I returned and slipped into the seminary without a hitch, and I waited impatiently for the second issue of La Pensée catholique.
“ Then things took a turn for the worse. Among remarkable articles, a certain study on biblical exegesis troubled me. How, in 1946, could one be so ignorant or worse, resistant to modern exegesis, and thus discredit La Pensée catholique from its beginnings ! I opened my heart about it to one of my professors [Fr. Vimal], who had a good laugh about this resurgence of integrism. It was an anachronistic remake of Benigni’s La Sapinière ! 4 Then he informed me about what this secret society was, the Sodalium pianum, that undertook to spy on the priests and scientists suspected of Modernism and to denounce them to Pius X ! ‘ They have the nerve, de Nantes, to chose as their rallying sign… a cedar tree ! Just look at the cover of their journal ! The cedar tree looks more like the fir tree of La Sapinière in the days of Pius X ! In any case, it will not be a renaissance, believe me ! Rather, it will be, and I am going to be charitable, an unfortunate reaction that will bring Pius XII’s pontificate to ruin by assimilating it to what is most unreceptive and the most retrograde in Rome and in Paris ! ’ ”
A second meeting with Fr. Lefèvre took place, which turned sour : “ However much I defended myself, protested that I was a fervent disciple, that I only wanted to spare our work – I said : our work – our magnificent work, a few blunders which, from my viewpoint, seemed catastrophic. I was told harshly that Saint-Sulpice had always been a centre of liberalism, Gallicanism and Jansenism, and now, it so happened, Modernism. It was a settling of scores that devastated me in passing. I learned all sorts of unpleasant things about my venerated Sulpicians. I had to recognise in this flow of accusations, too many truths that were cruel to me. The late hour forced me to break off in the middle of the storm and to flee, to run even, in order not to be late for spiritual reading. This was truly the second and last time that I spoke with Fr. Lefèvre.
“ Life, his and mine, went by [...]. How can we not regret that the French Catholic right-wing had such a man, so very Parisian, as an advisor and a friend in the priesthood ? I bless Heaven for not having had confidence in integrism, seen through him, and for having returned wisely to my masters of Saint-Sulpice, never more to stray from them, although not without struggles. ” 5
In these “ struggles, ” we are going to see the young seminarian getting his bearings against a second “ Reform, ” worse than Luther’s, already at work in the Church of France.
IT WAS WITH FATHER CALLON THAT “ THE GREAT AFFAIR OF MY LIFE ” BEGAN
1946-1947 : “ Having almost reached my destination, my little boat came close to sinking. It all began in the first class of dogmatic theology ” taught by Fr. Callon, “ an experienced and universally esteemed professor, who had to teach us the difficult treatises on Grace, on Predestination, on the Supernatural, on Hell and on the Demon, all of which are dogmas that we must believe without seeking too much to understand, but which raise so many questions, so many objections. ”
As director of conscience of the “ late vocations, ” he preached to them renunciation of their right-wing convictions.
“ In two years the damage was done, and it was irremediable. He had raised them so high, so high that, when the wind blew towards the left, our mystical aeronauts, who had lost sight of the earth, let themselves all be carried, without the slightest attention or malice, to the furthest point from their conservative or reactionary ideas, into the left-wing follies and other Christian Democratic utopias that were in vogue at the time.
“ Later on, in the agitation of the purge in 1945, I learned that our Fr. Callon was a rabid old Christian Democrat, a disciple of Marc Sangnier, an enthusiastic admirer of Aristide Briand, a friend of Francisque Gay whose son had just left the seminary, and a participant in the Franco-German meetings of Bierville before the war. The dreadful thing was that this passion for Germany had persisted through the war and through France’s defeat and her occupation, which was only enveloped in silence. It so happened that, in June 1941, he even showed new issues of the German review Signal, taken from a cupboard at the bottom of his bookcase, to certain seminarians under his spiritual direction. In them, they saw magnificent colour photos of the young army of the great Reich in long columns of ochre tanks, plunging into the immense fields of ripened wheat in the invaded Ukraine. He was jubilant ! He had his spiritual sons admire this Teutonic chivalry of our magnificent new Europe !
“ Obviously, his tone changed at the Liberation, but he transferred his Sillonist fervour to Georges Bidault’s party in which all his Christian Democratic friends were surfacing, sharing power with the Socialists and the Communists, in a furious rage to take vengeance on the nationalist, Maurrassian and Pétanist right-wing that had plotted against the Republic, established its loathed ‘ National Revolution ’ and dominated the country by force for four years. The blood and tears of those people were flowing now. That was only right and proper !
“ Fr. Callon was, as I was to understand too late, a man of influence rather than of words. ” In other words : one could not trust a word he said ! Here is a gripping description :
“ A word, ordinarily dreadful but which in my head only had an entomological value, sprang to my mind after observing him. He was a big, black spider, huddled up in his hidden lair, with one foot on some strand of his web through which arrived information and from which his impulses were sent off towards all the vital organs of the seminary [...]. It was he, always playing secondary roles, who held and retained the essence, the secret tradition, the obscure and inviolable soul of the Society of Saint-Sulpice. If he was swarthy, hunchbacked, with a disquieting gaze, face and voice, that was how fifty years of Jansenist, Gallican, Mennaisian, Dreyfusard and Sillonist, and finally semi-Modernist passion had sculpted and jig-sawed him.
“ Was I going to attack this bastille, no, this temple, this influence ? Had I known, I would have been wary. I, however, imagined the spider to be without venom and I entered into his web like an innocent fly, curious about what I would learn there. ”
THE TREATISE ON GRACE
“ The introduction of his first lecture made us admire the importance of the immense subject matter that we had to study in this single year. It was brief. All of us, with fountain or ball-point pen held over new thick notebooks, were ready for this race and did not want to overlook anything. The first treatise was that on ‘ Grace. ’ The pens traced the title in big letters while Fr. Callon began his subject with a hazy voice, at a meditative pace. I heard him there, at that moment. He punctuated all-the-syl-la-bles, separating one-from-the-o-thers ; it was not disagreeable, it allowed for reflection, and we had the time to note everything leisurely :
“ ‘ Grace, ’ these were the first words, ‘ is-some-thing-or-some-one. It is not something like a knife that one might have in his pocket. Thus it is some-one. ’
“ I will spare you the rest of this speech that initiated us into the depths of the mystery of grace. It can be summed up in a few words. If grace is not an object set there, that is possessed, that can be lost and found again, it is therefore someone, someone invisible, elusive, who cannot be appropriated. This someone, obviously cannot be a man or an angel ; it is God. ‘ Grace ’, we wrote at his dictation, without astonishment or murmur, ‘ is God within us. ’
“ Then, he entered into the theological debate, taking us along, still copying his statements as though they were Holy Writ. This explanation of grace was that of the Greek Fathers, whom he admired with infectious fervour, while the Latin Fathers and, in their school, St. Thomas Aquinas, – oh, he said it regretfully, sorry for having to upset them ! – considered grace as an object, yes a thing, that they referred to by the abstract expression : the ‘ created gift. ’ In fact, for them, this thing was necessary and preliminary to the welcoming of God into ourselves, which they referred to as : the ‘ uncreated gift. ’ We had to accustom ourselves to these scholastic distinctions if we wanted to understand all the disputes, and finally the divisions, that would be caused in the West on these questions. From the Latin perspective, the main thing is to know whether one is ‘ in a state of grace ’ or not, if one has ‘ the created gift ’ or if he has lost it, for the divine life in us depends on it ! The Greeks did not enter into these insoluble quibbles and controversies. For them, grace is quite-sim-ply God. It is God-in-us, un-con-di-tion-al-ly ! Man becomes God. Perhaps scholasticism achieves greater clarity and infinite precisions, ‘ but I think, ’ he admitted to us with a tone of trusting abandon, almost of complicity, ‘ for me, the view of the Greeks is more beautiful and consoling. ’
“ Thus the first class went by peacefully, and others followed likewise. We copied down, then learned ; we recited and were graded accordingly. For the thirty-fourth or thirty-fifth year, Fr. Callon would have once again led his sixty or so students to the subdiaconate and to the happy end of their stay at Issy-les-Moulineaux, had I not, unfortunately, stumbled over his first words that I would have really liked to understand : ‘ Grace is some-thing or-some-one. ’ What goddess Reason or what rebellious spirit had whispered to me, as we went along, this mocking counterpoint that would put the course off the track : No, it is not something, but it is not someone either, and above all it is not God ! For if I am in a state of grace, – easy does it, my dear fellow ! – I am not for all that in a ‘ state of God ! ’ The Greeks were undoubtedly right. God is not far from a man in a state of grace, but we know that God is everywhere [...].
“ For a good fifteen days I ruminated over it. Finally, I had the idea of going to verify Fr. Callon’s teaching in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Theological Summa, and the light was cast on me in words so simple that, first, I was brought back forever to the Angelic Doctor, and secondly, I was filled with the most total contempt, not affective but intellectual, towards this pathetic Callon who was abusing our ingenuous imbecility. Grace, St. Thomas taught, is obviously neither a thing nor a person. In philosophical terms : it is not of the order of substance ; thus it is of the order of accident. It is a manner of being added to our natural being, and furthermore, it has this peculiarity, that it is not only a perfection that fortifies or enhances some specific power or faculty of the spiritual being, but it is an ‘ entitative ’ gift, i.e. a perfecting of the very substance of the being, which affects it in its nature, in its radical principle of action, in its roots. Thus, in the end, by means of this ‘ created gift, ’ the man or the angel finds himself even capable of taking advantage of and enjoying God Himself (uti et frui), Who has become for him in this way such a mysterious and magnificent ‘ uncreated gift, ’ to be known and loved by him in time and in eternity.
“ These streams of light were too much happiness for me alone ! I said it and it was repeated. Before the month of October was over, it had thrown the seminary into quartan or quintan fever, the development of which no one was able to foresee. The tragedy had opened and, at the account of this first scene, I shudder with anxiety at the thought of what I must now relive. May God forgive me ! I was twenty-two years old and totally rash. ” 6
WAS I CRAZY ?
Some people will persist in claiming that he was ! Georges de Nantes, however, saw taking shape behind this confrontation, as he would write later on, “ the harbinger of an immense perversion of the whole Church, and even the first seeds of what one day might become the apostasy of the clergy. ” 7
“ Within the memory of the Sulpicians, no one recalled a declared opposition between a master and a student on a philosophical thesis or the interpretation of a dogma [...]. It so happened that far from abating, my opposition to Fr. Callon’s teaching hardened with each passing chapter of this treatise on grace so strangely begun. The breach unceasingly widened, making all agreement, hence all peace, impossible. ”
The controversy is surprisingly topical : “ If grace is God Who gives Himself to man, just like that, mysteriously, marvellously; if it is the Holy Spirit, Love, Who comes down into us and sanctifies us by His mere Presence, then this grace has no name, it is indiscernible, indefinable, without nature, limits, or conditions. It supposes nothing in man; it finds no obstacle that impedes it; it requires no particular disposition or effort. Thus, the question of ‘ the salvation of infidels ’ is settled in the twinkling of an eye. The Holy Spirit would fly over all our borders without making any distinction of race, class, religion or sex, giving himself to everyone gratuitously.
“ What about original sin ? What about baptism ? What about the state of grace, venial or mortal sin, and confession ? There remained but one criterion: the intimate experience of the fire of Love, of the peace and the joy that the Spirit distributes to whomever He wishes, with a generosity that it is not for any man to monitor or submit to his own strictures. The Divine Presence, an exhilaration of the heart – this is what could summarise Fr. Callon’s theology of grace, supposedly taken from the Greek Fathers. ”
Therein lies the whole illuminism that would prevail twenty years later in the Council. De Nantes was already standing in the breach :
“ Settled in my nook, halfway up, a little to the side, with St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica on my desk, instead of scribbling all that the old man was enouncing syl-la-ble by syl-la-ble, I was discovering in the Angelic Doctor this delicate mechanism of nature and grace through which a new creation takes place in man, like a graft of divine energy on the trunk of the human apparatus, seeking his free consent, his prayer, his cooperation, in order to enter more into him and adjust or sanctify him in all his parts or spiritual faculties. ”
The habit was formed. At the end of class, a “ counter-class ” was held in the book procurator’s office of which de Nantes was in charge with “ two close confreres, procurators just like me. ” (This office of procurator of goods in the seminary foreshadowed the role he would play as a judicial procurator in his case against Rome many years later.)
A SERIES OF CONSEQUENCES
On ‘ Predestination, ’ “ the most insoluble of all theological questions [...], Callon led us by tiny steps towards his solution, which was pitifully unsound. God, he said, is Almighty and Sovereign Master of all things. Therefore nothing escapes Him and there is no space of liberty outside of Him. He can, however, create such a space by withdrawing ‘ in some fashion ! ’ from some part of Himself, by moving aside and digging ‘ as it were ! ’ in Himself a ‘ no man’s land, ’ a zone of liberty for man in order that he may be able to save himself on his own initiative and by himself. Otherwise he would be but an object, a marionette whom God would cast into Hell or call to Heaven arbitrarily. This ‘ no man’s land, ’ forbidden to God but open to men, I laughed at it to myself with indignation. Then it’s a ‘ no God’s land ? ! ’ ”
In any case, God throws no one into Hell : “ God was too good ! Man was too weak, too blind for such an eternal punishment to sanction justly some miserable instant of pleasure or some foolish rebellion ! Now, that was not St. Thomas’ opinion, nor was it that of any Doctor of the Church or any saint, quite the contrary ! ” 8
The conflict grew more bitter. “ The rumour went about : ‘ De Nantes wants to put everyone in Hell ! ’ ” Considering only the truth, Georges de Nantes protested : by his deleterious teaching, Callon “ is doing all that is necessary for many priests and, through them, because of them, by their fault, masses of poor sinners to fall into Hell because they are not on their guard, because they let themselves fall into a hundred mortal sins to the point of final impenitence. The one primarily responsible for this is Callon !
“ ‘ If, ’ I continued, ‘ at forty years of age (alas ! they did not wait to be forty,) the priests that he has trained meet some endearing or provocative woman, and let themselves be taken in, at the limit of temptation, what will stop them from defrocking to leave with her ? Callon’s speeches will be for us an incitement to sin, no longer being held back by the fear of Hell. On this point, I was an exact prophet, for I do not invent a word about what I report here concerning my remarks of 1947. I still tremble with the same shock. I added that these thirty or thirty-five generations of seminarians would not be as prompted as the preceding ones by the sentiment of their duties as parish priests, by the same pastoral zeal, to get up at night at the call of the dying, less still by the call of their families begging them to come, to force their way through the barriers in order to approach an ungodly person, a Freemason, a divorcé and, if possible, to save him in extremis from eternal Hell. There also, was I a false prophet ? ’ ”
This teaching was also the death-knell of the missions :
“ After all, according to Callon, neither the Chinese, nor the Eskimos, nor the Patagonians need us to rush to them, to call them insistently to convert to Christ, if there is no Hell ! If God is so disinterested in His own work : the crucified Christ, the Church and her sacraments, may He also be willing to save all men irrespective of their religion ! ” 9
Without any doubt, the Second Vatican Council was already in embryo in Fr. Callon’s teaching, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation was in embryo in the criticism of the seminarian, Georges de Nantes ! Instinctively, this latter felt that “ each banderilla shot at these famous Dominican and Jesuit theologians of the Catholic Counter-Reformation [of the 16th century] was aimed at him. These theologians were blamed in particular for having obtained from Rome the condemnation of a certain Baius, of whom none of us had ever heard ! ” De Nantes wasted no time in asking a reliable source, namely his “ incomparable friend, ” about the one hundred and nineteen errors of Michael du Bay that St. Pius V condemned in 1567 : “ Callon was a hundred percent Baianist ! ” in the school of Fr. de Lubac.
“ By having us consider man in his present condition as a mutilated being who aspires to the perfection of his original nature, Fr. Callon persuaded us one step at a time that Christ was bound to come, that grace was bound to be given to us. The reason for this was to make up the deficit of being for which we were not responsible and which we would have to attribute to injustice on the part of the Creator, were it not compensated by the Christian supernatural order [...]. God is duty bound, and He owes it to us, by the very fact that He created us thus, ” to satisfy our ‘ natural desire ’ for divinisation.
“ I raised my hand very high. Fr. Callon, seated at the bottom of the amphitheatre, completely hunchbacked, bent over his notebook that he was reading phrase by phrase did not see, or did not want to see my raised hand. I snapped my fingers, somewhat loudly, more loudly, very loudly : he still heard nothing but his voice broke, then cracked. He was unable to conceal his fear. Then casting his eyes, which were certainly full of gentleness but distraught, in various directions, he asked :
“ ‘ What is it ? Does some-one have a ques-tion ? ’
“ And since my confreres were pointing me out.
“ ‘ Ah ! Master de Nantes, ah, yes ! What is the matter ? ’
“ ‘ You are interpreting St. Thomas in the wrong way, that’s what’s the matter. ’
“ ‘ Ah, Do you really think so ? Have you read him well enough yourself ? ’
“ ‘ I believe so. ’
“ ‘ Well ! We can discuss this after the class… ’
“ ‘ No, here and now. St. Thomas means that if we have a vital need to drink, it is necessary that in this same natural order of things God also should have created the water indispensable to our life. He does not, however, have the duty to bring water to every thirsty man lost in a desert ! ’
“ ‘ Obviously, but we are speaking in general… ’
“ ‘ So am I ! ’
“ ‘ Then, I don’t understand… ’
“ ‘ It is, however, quite simple. St. Thomas teaches that if we have the natural desire to see God, that means that there is a God and that this God is the real object of our spiritual faculty, capable of grasping Him and desiring Him so strongly. Thus God can make Himself seen by man. He can do so – supreme grace – but it would be Baius’ heresy to infer that He must, that he necessarily does so. ’
“ He shook his head as one would before a frenetic man whom it is advisable to pacify with gentleness :
“ ‘ Yes, I see that we do not understand things in exactly the same manner. If you don't mind, however, we will clarify this point later on. ’
“ He continued in an authoritative tone : ‘ Take your Tanquerey, page 135. ’ ”
“ There was the sound of the pages that we were leafing through and murmurs from all the benches. It was not the right page. Chalendar intervened :
“ ‘ Father, I believe that it is on page 185. ’
“ Callon humbly fell in with this advice : ‘ Ah, yes ! That’s right ; I had the wrong page. I must admit it ; I was wrong. One must always humbly admit when one is wrong, as is the case here. Thank you. ’
“ He was saved ; he read Tanquerey in Latin and translated it in a class that had returned to normal, in which nothing ever happens. At that moment, the clock chimed : ding, dong… and he picked up his things saying :
“ ‘ We will come back to this tomorrow, ’ and putting his turnip watch into his fob pocket : ‘ Master de Nantes presented me a difficulty that I was not expecting, and it will have to be clarified. ’
“ The students were dumbfounded. He stood up and was leaving ! One of them close to his desk remarked to him : ‘ But, Father, it is quarter past, nine fifteen, that just rang. ’ It was a certain Yot, not at all courteous. Then he added laughingly : ‘ You still have three-quarters of an hour ! ’
“ The poor soul thought that he was finished, so much had this heated exchange hounded him, unhinged him. He was pitiful and remained so during the rest of the hour, stammering out what he forced himself to read in his notebook. As for me, I was frightened by his collapse. What I had said was so true that nothing more could be done to soften this mortal blow. What would tomorrow bring ? Would there even be a tomorrow ? ” 10
BASE MANOEUVRING THWARTED
“ At the same time, the students whose names went from L to Z had to do their moral theology dissertation and choose the subject from a list made by Fr. Callon. My choice fell straightway on ‘ The Natural Desire to See God ’ ”
Fr. Vimal provided him with the thick photocopied document signed Joseph Chavasse, a theologian from Lyon, who brilliantly treated of this subject by reconciling “ a ‘ natural ’ so strong that one would almost affirm that divine grace and predestination are useless, and on top of this, a ‘ supernatural ’ which is so gratuitous, creative and innovative that the weakness of the human terrain in which it is established matters little. ” It was inspired ! Alas ! De Nantes received a bad mark, barely average. Here is why : “ You were not asked to resolve by yourself controversial questions, for you are not yet, hem ! capable of such discernment for which the theological habitus is required. ” 11
The injustice was flagrant, but Fr. Callon all the same could not honour the insolent student who was denouncing his heresies ! Nevertheless the controversial professor of dogma was replaced by the superior, Fr. Baufine, who took it upon himself to teach the course on the Eucharist. “ It was unusual for a superior to expose himself by teaching some course. Thus it was, however, that an end was put to our polemic, by a change of air. From one day to the next, the fighting ceased for want of an object, for want of combatants, to the extent that one could believe that he had dreamed it. ”
It was thanks to this same Fr. Baufine that the Council of Directors admitted Georges de Nantes to the subdiaconate. This ordination marked the end of his time of seminary at Issy-les-Moulineaux. This admission, however, was a true miracle, not only because of serious oppositions within the Council, but also because of an inner turmoil that arose in the soul of the applicant, which almost made him abandon everything. We cannot read without shuddering the account of the ignominious snare that his confessor, Fr. Lesourd, set for his penitent by making him feel ashamed of his past sins. Fr. Lesourd recited them to him by heart ! He did so, even though he had absolved him of them without addressing him the slightest caution !
“ Then, it’s all up with me ? No ! This voice that lovingly conducted my meteoric course in this labyrinth whispered to me the words – the simplest of words – that I needed to escape from the snare, while I was turning the handle of the door : ‘ Thank you, Father, I am going to reflect and seek advice. ’ I can see myself, outside, free to leave but perhaps also… to remain. ”
He ran to Fr. Baufine’s, but worry pierced this sensitive conscience :
“ To all intents and purposes, I was refusing to accept the verdict of my spiritual judge and, for convenience’s sake, I was seeking another who would submit to my will ; finally I was going to abuse the kindness of my dear Father Superior to achieve my aim : to be a priest ! – as a means for prevailing over an adverse fate, not in order to hear him speak God’s will. If my plan were to succeed, that is at least what I would be tempted to reproach myself with until I died, having lost in one stroke both my innocence and my peace. If my plan were to fail, would I go somewhere else, pursuing my own will against everyone, or would I admit being defeated by God Himself and rejected by the Church after the second or the tenth failure ?
“ The little voice, however, said the contrary, reminding me that for not one instant of my life had I imagined another path, nor had I felt the slightest turmoil or revulsion for this sovereign and charming vocation, which although in me, was not mine [...]. Anyway, I was going to place all that in the hands of a true Father ; I was already in his antechamber. ”
He knocked on Fr. Baufine’s door. He did not want to hear anything concerning past, forgiven sins : “ He gave me to understand that since the main obstacle had been overcome in the Council and my application successfully accepted, ‘ despite some strong oppositions that were to be expected, ’ I should not reconsider this decision [...]. ‘ No, my dear Georges, ’ he exclaimed, as though he were no longer able to contain himself, ‘ the true, the only reason that could be raised against (and I understood clearly that he meant : that was raised against you in the Council, but that remained secret), would be your Maurrassism. It would be necessary, however, to agree on the words, for there are words that are murderous ! ’ [...].
“ This voluntary digression, from my personal experience, of so little interest, into the domain of ideas, delivered me of a frightening weight. Ah ! Thus it was still the same passion, the same sectarianism that was pursuing me under the guise of the director of conscience, even in the sacred ministry of Confession. What was in question was the man of the right, the disciple of Maurras, the follower of Marshal Pétain, the seminarian who was steeped in St. Thomas and not in de Lubac or de Teilhard, the devotee of Pius X – who at the time was neither saint nor blessed, but defamed, held in contempt and hated ! – and not of Pius XI, of his Catholic Action and of his murderous, leftist and Gaullist Christian Democracy [...] ! Ah, if it was for such motives that the band wanted to expel me, or rather bring me around to withdrawing myself for reasons of conscience too shameful to mention and obedience to some secret pressure from my director, I was duty bound not to yield. Thus, in the Council Fr. Baufine must have jammed the mechanism of this guillotine, saving me from certain ruin ; he did not want to see me bring my own head there out of qualms of conscience. ”
The crisis only lasted one day, “ and all was re-established in my lifelong vocation, forever ! ” What stayed with him, however, was the bitter feeling of his unworthiness : “ From that day on, the horror of myself no longer abandoned me. ” 12
The Mystical Pages bear witness to this :
“ I long immensely for rest because I am weak and cowardly. I laugh to think that people imagine me to be strong and so sure of myself that I could ride the clouds in foolish pride ! If they only knew that each morning I must beg from the Church the necessary offering of her prayers and sacraments ! ” 13
Rest in peace, my dear Father !
(1) Mémoires et Récits, Vol. II, pp. 269.
(2) The M. R. P. (Mouvement républicain populaire). This was the Christian Democrat Party that governed France after the World War II in conjunction with the Socialist and Communist Parties.
(3) Ibid., pp. 270-273.
(4) Saint Pius X, who succeeded Leo XIII, was the first to identify Modernism as a movement. He frequently condemned both its aims and ideas, and was deeply concerned by the ability of Modernism to allow its adherents to go on believing themselves strict Catholics while having an understanding markedly different from the traditional one. In July 1907 the Holy Office published the document Lamentabili sane exitu, a sweeping condemnation which distinguished sixty-five propositions as Modernist heresies. In September of the same year Pius X promulgated an encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, followed in 1910 by the introduction of an anti-Modernist oath to be taken by all Catholic bishops, priests and academic teachers of religion.
To ensure enforcement of these decisions, Monsignor Umberto Benigni organised, through his personal contacts with theologians, an unofficial group of censors who would report to him those thought to be teaching condemned doctrine. This group was called the Sodalitium Pianum, i.e. Fellowship of Pius (X), which in France was known as La Sapinière (a fir tree forest).
(5) Ibid., pp. 274-279.
(6) Ibid., pp. 281-289.
(7) CRC no. 6 (suppl.), March 1968, p. 18.
(8) Memoirs and Anecdotes, Vol. II, pp. 291-297.
(9) Ibid., pp. 304-305.
(10) Ibid., pp. 317-319.
(11) Ibid., pp. 323-329.
(12) Ibid., pp. 337-342.
(13) Mystical Page no 47, “ What does Faith offer you ? Life everlasting, ” p. 230.