Recollections of My Youth
Ernest Renan

Part 3 out of 4

Saint-Germain des Pres. His tender and susceptible piety took umbrage
at many things which had hitherto been looked upon as harmless--for
instance, at a tavern situated in the charnel-house of the church and
frequented by the choristers. His ideal was a clergy after his own
image--pious, zealous, and attached to their duties. Many other
saintly personages were labouring towards the same end, but Olier set
to work in very original fashion. Adrien de Bourdoise alone took the
same view as he did of ecclesiastical reform. What was truly novel in
the idea of these two founders was to try and effect the improvement
of the secular clergy by means of institutions for priests mixing
with the world and combining the cure of souls with the training of
students for the Church.

Olier and Bourdoise accordingly, while carrying on the work of reform,
and becoming heads of religious congregations, remained parish priests
of St. Sulpice and Saint-Nicholas du Chardonnet. The seminary had its
origin in the assembling together of the priests into communities, and
these communities became schools of clericalism, homes in which
young men destined for the Church were piously trained for it.
What facilitated the creation of these establishments and made them
innocuous to the state was that they had no resident tutors. All the
theological tutors were at the Sorbonne, and the young men from St.
Sulpice and St. Nicholas, who were studying theology, went there for
their lectures. Thus the system of teaching remained national and
common to all. The seclusion of the seminary only applied to the
moral discipline and religious duties. This was the equivalent of the
practice now prevalent among the boarding-schools which send their
pupils to the Lycee. There was only one course of theology in Paris,
and that was the official one at the Faculty. The work in the interior
of the seminary was confined to repetitions and lectures. It is true
that this rule soon became obsolete. I have heard it said by old
students of St. Sulpice that towards the end of last century they went
very little to the Sorbonne, that the general opinion was that there
was little to be learnt there, and that the private lessons in
the seminary quite took the place of the official lecture. This
organisation was very similar, as may be seen, to that which now
obtains in the Normal School and regulates its relations with the
Sorbonne. Subsequent to the Concordat the whole of the education of
the seminaries was given within the walls. Napoleon did not think it
worth while to revive the monopoly of the Theological Faculty. This
could only have been effected by obtaining from the Court of Rome a
canonical institution, and this the Imperial Government did not care
to have. M. Emery, moreover, took good care never to suggest such a
step. He had anything but a favourable recollection of the old system,
and very much preferred keeping his young men under his own control.
The lectures _intra muros_ thus became the regular course of teaching.
Nevertheless, as change is a thing unknown at St. Sulpice, the old
names remain what they were. The seminary has no professors; all the
members of the congregation have the uniform title of director.

The company founded by Olier retained until the Revolution its repute
for modesty and practical virtue. Its achievements in theology were
somewhat insignificant, as it had not the lofty independence of
Port-Royal. It went too far into Molinism, and did not avoid the
paltry meanness which is, so to speak, the outcome of the rigid
ideas of the orthodox and a set-off against his good qualities. The
ill-humour of Saint Simon against these pious priests is, however,
carried too far. They were, in the great ecclesiastical army, the
noncommissioned officers and drill-sergeants, and it would have been
absurd to expect from them the high breeding of general officers. The
company exercised through its numerous provincial houses a decisive
influence upon the education of the French clergy, while in Canada
it acquired a sort of religious suzerainty which harmonised very well
with the English rule--so well-disposed towards ancient rights and
custom, and which has lasted down to our own day.

The Revolution did not have any effect upon St. Sulpice. A man of cool
and resolute character, such as the company always numbered among its
members, reconstructed it upon the very same basis. M. Emery, a
very learned and moderately Gallican priest, so completely gained
Napoleon's confidence that be obtained from him the necessary
authorisations. He would have been very much surprised if he had been
told that the fact of making such a demand was a base concession to
the civil power, and a sort of impiety. Thus things recurred to their
old groove as they were before the Revolution, the door moved on its
old hinges, and as from Olier to the Revolution there had not been
any change, the seventeenth century had still a resting-place in one
corner of Paris.

St. Sulpice continued amid surroundings so different, to be what it
had always been before--moderate and respectful towards the civil
power, and to hold aloof from politics.[1] With its legal status
thoroughly assured, thanks to the judicious measures taken by M.
Emery, St. Sulpice was blind to all that went on in the world outside.
After the Revolution of 1830, there was some little stir in the
college. The echo of the heated discussions of the day sometimes
pierced its walls, and the speeches of M. Mauguin--I am sure I don't
know why--were special favourites with the junior students. One of
them took an opportunity of reading to the superior, M. Duclaux, an
extract from a debate which had struck him as being more violent than
usual. The old priest, wrapped up in his own reflections, had scarcely
listened. When the student had finished, he awoke from his lethargy,
and shaking him by the hand, observed: "It is very clear, my lad, that
these men do not say their orisons." The remark has often recalled
itself to me of late in connection with certain speeches. What a light
is let in upon many points by the fact that M. Clemenceau does not
probably say his orisons!

These imperturbable old men were very indifferent to what went on
in the world, which to their mind was a barrel-organ continually
repeating the same tune. Upon one occasion there was a good deal of
commotion upon the Place St. Sulpice, and one of the professors, whose
feelings were not so well under control as those of his colleagues,
wanted them all "to go to the chapel and die in a body." "I don't
see the use of that," was the reply of one of his colleagues, and the
professors continued their constitutional walk under the colonnade of
the courtyard.

Amid the religious difficulties of the time, the priests of St.
Sulpice preserved an equally neutral and sagacious attitude, the only
occasions upon which they betrayed anything like warmth of feeling
being when the episcopal authority was threatened. They soon found out
the spitefulness of M. de Lamennais, and would have nothing to do with
him. The theological romanticism of Lacordaire and of Montalembert was
not much more appreciated by them, the dogmatic ignorance and the very
weak reasoning powers of this school indisposing them against it. They
were fully alive to the danger of Catholic journalism. Ultramontanism
they at first looked upon as merely a convenient method of appealing
to a distant and often ill-informed authority from one nearer at hand,
and less easy to inveigle. The older members, who had gone
through their studies at the Sorbonne before the Revolution, were
uncompromising partisans of the four propositions of 1682. Bossuet
was their oracle on every point. One of the most respected of the
directors, M. Boyer, had, while at Rome, a long argument with Pope
Gregory XVI. upon the Gallican propositions. He asserted that the Pope
could not answer his arguments. He detracted, it is true, from the
significance of his success by admitting that no one in Rome took him
_au serieux_, and the residents in the Vatican made sport of him as
being "an antediluvian." It is a pity-that they did not pay more heed
to what he said. A complete change took place about 1840. The older
members whose training dated from before the Revolution were dead,
and the younger ones nearly all rallied to the doctrine of papal
infallibility; but there was, despite of that, a great gulf between
these Ultramontanes of the eleventh hour and the impetuous deriders
of Scholasticism and the Gallican Church who were enrolled under the
banner of Lamennais. St. Sulpice never went so far as they did in
trampling recognised rules under foot.

It cannot be denied that mingled with all this there was a certain
amount of antipathy against talent, and of resentment at interference
with the routine of the schoolmen disturbed in their old-fashioned
doctrines by troublesome innovators. But there was at the same time
a good deal of practical tact in the rules followed by these prudent
directors. They saw the danger of being more royalist than the king,
and they knew how easy was the transition from one extreme to the
other. Men less exempt than they were, from anything like vanity,
would have exulted when Lamennais, the master of these brilliant
paradoxes, who had represented them as being guilty of heresy and
lukewarmness for the Holy See, himself became a heretic, and accused
the Church of Rome of being the tomb of human souls and the mother of
error. Age must not attempt to ape the ways of youth under penalty of
being treated with disrespect.

It is on account of this frankness that St. Sulpice represents all
that is most upright in religion. No attenuation of the dogmas of
Scripture was allowed at St. Sulpice; the fathers, the councils, and
the doctors were looked upon as the sources of Christianity. Proof
of the divinity of Christ was not sought in Mohammed or the battle of
Marengo. These theological buffooneries, which by force of impudence
and eloquence extorted admiration in Notre-Dame, had no such effect
upon these serious-minded Christians. They never thought that the
dogma had any need to be toned down, veiled, or dressed up to suit
the taste of modern France. They showed themselves deficient in the
critical faculty in supposing that the Catholicism of the theologians
was the self-same religion of Jesus and the prophets; but they did not
invent for the use of the worldly, a Christianity revised and adapted
to their ideas. This is why the serious study--may I even add, the
reform--of Christianity is more likely to proceed from St. Sulpice
than from the teachings of M. Lacordaire or M. Gratry, and _a
fortiori_, from that of M. Dupanloup, in which all its doctrines are
toned down, contorted, and blunted; in which Christianity is never
represented as it was conceived by the Council of Trent or the Vatican
Council, but as a thing without frame or bone, and with all its
essence taken from it. The conversions which are made by preaching of
this kind do no good either to religion or to the mind. Conversions of
this kind do not make Christians, but they warp the mind and unfit men
for public business. There is nothing so mischievous as the vague; it
is even worse than what is false. "Truth," as Bacon has well observed,
"is derived from error rather than from confusion."

Thus, amid the pretentious pathos which in our day has found its way
into the Christian Apologia, has been preserved a school of solid
doctrine, averse to all show and repugnant to success. Modesty has
ever been the special attribute of the Company of St. Sulpice; this is
why it has never attached any importance to literature, excluding it
almost entirely. The rule of the St. Sulpice Company is to publish
everything anonymously, and to write in the most unpretending
and retiring style possible. They see clearly the vanity, and the
drawbacks of talent, and they will have none of it. The word which
best characterises them is mediocrity, but then their mediocrity
is systematic and self-planned. Michelet has described the alliance
between the Jesuits and the Sulpicians as "a marriage between death
and vacuum." This is no doubt true, but Michelet failed to see that
in this case the vacuum is loved for its own sake. There is something
touching about a vacuum created by men who will not think for fear of
thinking ill. Literary error is in their eyes the most dangerous of
errors, and it is just on this account that they excel in the true
style of writing. St. Sulpice is now the only place where, as
formerly at Port-Royal, the style of writing possesses that absolute
forgetfulness of form which is the proof of sincerity. It never
occurred to the masters that among their pupils must be a writer or an
orator. The principle which they insisted upon the most earnestly was
never to make any reference to self, and if one had anything to say,
to say it plainly and in undertones. It was all very well for you, my
worthy masters, with that total ignorance of the world which does
you so much honour, to take this view; but if you knew how little
encouragement the world gives to modesty, you would see how difficult
it is for literature to act up to your principles. What would modesty
have done for M. de Chateaubriand? You were right to be severe upon
the stagey ways of a theology reduced so low as to bid for applause
by resorting to worldly tactics. But what does one ever hear of your
theology? It has only one defect, but that is a serious one; it is
dead. Your literary principles were like the rhetoric of Chrysippus,
of which Cicero said that it was excellent for teaching the way of
silence. Whoever speaks or writes for the public ear or eye must
inevitably be bent upon succeeding. The great thing is not to make
any sacrifice in order to attain that success, and this is what your
serious, upright and honest teaching inculcated to perfection.

In this way St. Sulpice with its contempt for literature is perforce
a capital school for style, the fundamental rule of which is to
have solely in view the thought which it is wished to inculcate, and
therefore to have a thought in the mind. This was far more valuable
than the rhetoric of M. Dupanloup, and the teaching of the new
Catholic school. At St. Sulpice, the main substance of a matter
excluded all other considerations. Theology was of prime importance
there, and if the way in which the studies were shaped was somewhat
deficient in vigour, this was because the general tendency of
Catholicism, especially in France, is not in the direction of very
high and sustained efforts. St. Sulpice has, however, in our time
turned out a theologian like M. Carriere, whose vast labours are in
many respects remarkable for their depth; men of erudition like M.
Gosselin and M. Faillon, whose conscientious researches are of great
value, and philologists like M. Garnier, and especially M. Le Hir, the
only eminent masters in the field of ecclesiastical critique whom the
Catholic school in France has turned out.

But it is not to results such as these that the teachers of St.
Sulpice attach the highest value. St. Sulpice is, above all, a school
of virtue. It is chiefly in respect to virtue that St. Sulpice is
a remnant of the past, a fossil two hundred years old. Many of my
opinions surprise the outside world, because they have not seen what
I have. At Sulpice I have seen, allied as I admit, with very narrow
views, the perfection of goodness, politeness, modesty, and sacrifice
of self. There is enough virtue in St. Sulpice to govern the
whole world, and this fact has made me very discriminating in my
appreciation of what I have seen elsewhere. I have never met but one
man in the present age who can bear comparison with the Sulpicians,
that is M. Damiron, and those who knew him, know what the Sulpicians
were. A future generation will never be able to realise what treasures
to be expended in improving the welfare of mankind, are stored up in
these ancient schools of silence, gravity and respect.

Such was the establishment in which I spent four years at the most
critical period of my life. I was quite in my element there. While
the majority of my fellow-students, weakened by the somewhat insipid
classical teaching of M. Dupanloup, could not fairly settle down to
the divinity of the schools, I at once took a liking for its bitter
flavour; I became as fond of it as a monkey is of nuts. The grave
and kindly priests, with their strong convictions and good desires
reminded me of my early teachers in Lower Brittany. Saint-Nicholas du
Chardonnet and its superficial rhetoric I came to look upon as a mere
digression of very doubtful utility. I came to realities from words,
and I set seriously to study and analyse in its smallest details the
Christian Faith which I more than ever regarded as the centre of all

[Footnote 1: I am speaking of the years from 1842 to 1845. I believe
that it is the same still.]



As I have already explained, the two years of philosophy which serve
as an introduction to the study of theology are spent, not in Paris,
but at the country house of Issy, situated in the village of that name
outside Paris, just beyond the last houses of Vaugirard. The seminary
is a very long building at one end of a large park, and the only
remarkable feature about it is the central pavilion, which is so
delicate and elegant in style that it will at once take the eye of a
connoisseur. This pavilion was the suburban residence of Marguerite
de Valois, the first wife of Henri IV., between the year 1606 and her
death in 1615. This clever but not very strait-laced princess (upon
whom, however, we need not be harder than was he who had the best
right to be so) gathered around her the clever men of the day, and
the _Petit Olympe d'Issy,_ by Michel Bouteroue,[1] gives a good
description of this bright and witty court. The verses are as follows:

Je veux d'un excellent ouvrage,
Dedans un portrait racourcy,
Representer le paisage
Du petit Olympe d'Issy,
Pourven que la grande princesse,
La perle et fleur de l'univers,
A qui cest ouvrage s'addresse,
Veuille favoriser mes vers.

Que l'ancienne poesie
Ne vante plus en ses ecrits
Les lauriers du Daphne d'Asie
Et les beaux jardins de Cypris,
Les promenoirs et le bocage
Du Tempe frais et ombrage,
Qui parut lors qu'un marescage
En la mer se fut descharge.

Qa'on ne vante plus la Touraine
Pour son air doux et gracieux,
Ny Chenonceaus, qui d'une reyne
Fut le jardin delicieux,
Ny le Tivoly magnifique
Ou, d'un artifice nouveau,
Se faict une douce musique
Des accords du vent et de l'eau.

Issy, de beaute les surpasse
En beaux jardins et pres herbus,
Dignes d'estre au lieu de Parnasse
Le sejour des soeurs de Phebus.
Mainte belle source ondoyante,
Decoulant de cent lieux divers,
Maintient sa terre verdoyante
Et ses arbrisseaux toujours verds.

* * * * *

Un vivier est a l'advenuee
Pres la porte de ce verger,
Qui, par une sente cognuee,
En l'estang se va descharger;
Comme on voit les grandes rivieres
Se perdre au giron de la mer,
Ainsi ces sources fontenieres
En l'estang se vont renfermer.

* * * * *

Une autre mare plus petite,
Si l'on retourne vers le mont,
Par l'ombre de son boys invite
De passer sur un petit pont,
Pour aller au lieu de delices,
Au plus doux sejour du plaisir,
Des mignardises, des blandices,
Du doux repos et du loysir.

After the death of Queen Marguerite, the house was sold and it
belonged in turn to several Parisian families which occupied it until
1655. Olier turned it to more pious uses than it had known before,
by inhabiting it during the last few years of his life. M. de
Bretonvilliers, his successor, gave it to the Company of St. Sulpice
as a branch for the Paris house. The little pavilion of Queen
Marguerite was not in any way changed, except that the paintings
on the walls were slightly modified. The Venuses were changed into
Virgins, and the Cupids into angels, while the emblematic paintings
with Spanish mottoes in the interstices were left untouched, as they
did not shock the proprieties. A very fine room, the walls of which
were covered with paintings of a secular character, was whitewashed
about half a century ago, but they would perhaps be found uninjured if
this was washed off. The park to which Bouteroue refers in his poem
is unchanged; except that several statues of holy persons have been
placed in it. An arbour with an inscription and two busts marks the
spot where Bossuet and Fenelon, M. Tronson and M. de Noailles had
long conferences upon the subject of Quietism, and agreed upon the
thirty-four articles of the spiritual life, styled the Issy Articles.

Further on, at the end of an avenue of high trees, near the little
cemetery of the Company, is a reproduction of the inside of the Santa
Casa of Loretta, which is a favourite spot with the residents in the
seminary, and which is decorated with the emblematic paintings of
which they are so fond. I can still see the mystical rose, the tower
of ivory, and the gate of gold, before which I have passed many a long
morning in a state betwixt sleep and waking. _Hortus conclusus, fons
signatus_, very plainly represented by means of what may be
described as mural miniatures, excited my curiosity very much, but my
imagination was too chaste to carry my thoughts beyond the limits
of pious wonder. I am afraid that this beautiful park has been sadly
injured by the war and the Communist insurrection of 1870--71. It was
for me, after the cathedral of Treguier, the first cradle of thought.
I used to pass whole hours under the shade of its trees, seated on a
stone bench with a book in my hand. It was there that I acquired
not only a good deal of rheumatism, but a great liking for our damp
autumnal nature in the north of France. If, later in life, I have been
charmed by Mount Hermon, and the sunheated slopes of the Anti-Lebanon,
it is due to the polarisation which is the law of love and which leads
us to seek out our opposites. My first ideal is a cool Jansenist bower
of the seventeenth century, in October, with the keen impression of
the air and the searching odour of the dying leaves. I can never
see an old-fashioned French house in the Seine-et-Oise or the
Seine-et-Marne, with its trim fenced gardens, without calling up to
my mind the austere books which were in bygone days read beneath the
shade of their walks. Deep should be our pity for those who have never
been moved to these melancholy thoughts, and who have not realised how
many sighs have been heaved ere joy came into our heart.

The mutual footing upon which masters and students at St. Sulpice
stand is a very tolerant one. There is not beyond doubt a single
establishment in the world where the student has more liberty. At St.
Sulpice in Paris, a student might pass his three years without having
any close communication with a single one of the superiors. It is
assumed that the _regime_ of the establishment will be self-acting.
The superiors lead just the same life as the students, and intervene
as little as possible. A student who is anxious to work has the
greatest of facilities for doing so. On the other hand, those who
are inclined to be idle have no compulsion to work put upon them;
and there are very many in this case. The examinations are very
insignificant in scope; there is not the least attempt at competition,
and if there was it would be discouraged, though when we remember that
the age of the students averages between eighteen and twenty, this is
carrying the doctrine of non-intervention too far. It is beyond
doubt very prejudicial to learning. But after all said and done, this
unqualified respect for liberty and the treating as grown-up men of
the lads who are already in spirit set apart for the priesthood,
are the only proper rules to follow in the delicate task of training
youths for what is in the eye of the Christian the most exalted of
callings. I am myself of opinion that the same rule might be applied
with advantage to the department of Public Instruction, and that the
Normal School more especially might in some particulars take example
by it.

The superior at Issy, during my stay there, was M. Gosselin, one of
the most amiable and polite men I have ever known. He was a member of
one of those old bourgeois families which, without being affiliated
to the Jansenists, were not less deeply attached than the latter to
religion. His mother, to whom he bore a great likeness, was still
alive, and he was most devoted in his respectful regard for her. He
was very fond of recalling the first lessons in politeness which
she gave him somewhere about 1796. He had accustomed himself in his
childhood to adopt a usage which it was at that time dangerous to
repudiate, and to use the word citizen instead of monsieur. As soon as
mass began to be celebrated after the Revolution, his mother took him
with her to church. They were nearly the only persons in the church,
and his mother bade him go and offer to act as acolyte to the
priest. The boy went up timidly to the priest, and with a blush said,
"Citizen, will you allow me to serve mass for you?" "What are you
saying!" exclaimed his mother; "you should never use the word citizen
to a priest." His affability and kindness were beyond all praise. He
was very delicate, and only attained an advanced age by exercising the
strictest care over himself. His engaging features, wan and delicate,
his slender body, which did not half fill the folds of his cassock,
his exquisite cleanliness, the result of habits contracted in
childhood, his hollow temples, the outlines of which were so clearly
marked behind the loose silk skull-cap which he always wore, made up a
very taking picture.

M. Gosselin was more remarkable for his erudition than his theology.
He was a safe critic within the limits of an orthodoxy which he never
thought of questioning, and he was placid to a degree. His _Histoire
Litteraire de Fenelon_ is a much esteemed work, and his treatise on
the power of the Pope over the sovereign in the Middle Ages[2] is
full of research. It was written at a time when the works of Voigt and
Hurter revealed to the Catholics the greatness of the Roman pontiffs
in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This greatness was rather an
awkward obstacle for the Gallicans, as there could be no doubt that
the conduct of Gregory VII. and Innocent III. was not at all in
conformity with the maxims of 1682. M. Gosselin thought that by means
of a principle of public law, accepted in the Middle Ages, he had
solved all the difficulties which these imposing narratives place in
the way of theologians. M. Carriere was rather inclined to laugh at
his sanguine ideas, and compared his efforts to those of an old woman
who tries to thread her needle by holding it tight between the lamp
and her spectacles. At last the cotton passes so close to the eye of
the needle that she says "I have done it now!"--'Not so, though she
was scarcely a hairsbreadth off; but still she must begin again.

At my own inclination, and the advice of Abbe Tresvaux, a pious and
learned Breton priest who was vicar-general to M. de Quelen, I chose
M. Gosselin for my tutor, and I have retained a most affectionate
recollection of him. No one could have shown more benevolence,
cordiality and respect for a young man's conscience. He left me in
possession of unrestricted liberty. Recognising the honesty of my
character, the purity of my morals and the uprightness of my mind, it
never occurred to him for a moment that I could be led to feel doubt
upon subjects about which he himself had none. The great number of
young ecclesiastics who had passed through his hands had somewhat
weakened his powers of diagnosis. He classed his students wholesale,
and I will, as I proceed, explain how one who was not my tutor read
far more clearly into my conscience than he did, or than I did myself.
Two of the other tutors, M. Gottofrey, one of the professors of
philosophy, and M. Pinault, professor of mathematics and natural
philosophy, were in every respect a contrast to M. Gosselin. The first
named, a young priest of about seven and twenty, was, I believe, only
half a Frenchman by descent. He had the bright rosy complexion of
a young Englishwoman, with large eyes which had a melancholy candid
look. He was the most extraordinary instance which can be conceived of
suicide through mystical orthodoxy. He would certainly have made, if
he had cared to do so, an accomplished man of the world, and I have
never known any one who would have been a greater favourite with
women. He had within him an infinite capacity for loving. He felt that
he had been highly gifted in this way; and then he set to work, in
a sort of blind fury, to annihilate himself. It seemed as if he
discerned Satan in those graces which God had so liberally bestowed
upon him. He boiled with inward anger at the sight of his own
comeliness; he was like a shell within which a puny evil genius
was ever busy in crushing the inner pearl. In the heroic ages of
Christianity, he would have sought out the keen agony of martyrdom,
but failing that he paid such constant court to death that she, whom
alone he loved, embraced him at last. He went out to Canada, and the
cholera which raged at Montreal gave him an excellent opportunity for
attaining his end. He nursed the sick with eager joy and died.

I have always thought that there must have been a hidden romance
in the life of M. Gottofrey, and that he had undergone some
disappointment in love. He had perhaps expected too much from it, and
finding that it was not boundless, had broken it as he would an idol.
At all events he was not one of those who, knowing how to love have
not known how to die. At times I fancy that I can see him in heaven
amid the hosts of rosy-hued angels which Correggio loved to paint: at
others, I imagine that the woman whom he might have taught to love
him to distraction is scourging him through all eternity. Where he was
unjust was in making his reason, which was in nowise to blame, suffer
for the perturbation of his uneasy nature (or spirit). He practised
the studied absurdity of Tertullian and emulated the exaltation of
St. Paul. His lectures on philosophy were an absolute travesty, as his
contempt for philosophy was made apparent in every sentence; and
M. Gosselin, who set great value upon the divinity of the schools,
quietly endeavoured to counteract his teaching. But fanaticism does
not always prevent people from being clear-sighted. M. Gottofrey
noticed something peculiar about me, and he detected that which had
escaped the paternal optimism of M. Gosselin. He stirred my conscience
to its very depths, as I shall presently explain, and with an
unrelenting hand tore asunder all the bandages with which I had
disguised even from myself the wounds of a faith already severely

M. Pinault was very much like M. Littre in respect to his concentrated
passion and the originality of his ways. If M. Littre had received a
Catholic education, he would have gone to the extreme of mysticism; if
M. Pinault had not received a Catholic education he would have been
a revolutionist and positivist. Men of their stamp always go to
one extreme or another. The very physiognomy of M. Pinault arrested
attention. Eaten up by rheumatism, he seemed to embody in his person
all the ways in which a body may be contorted from its proper shape.
Ugly as he was, there was a marked expression of vigour about his
face; but in direct contrast to M. Gosselin, he was deplorably lacking
in cleanliness. While he was lecturing he would use his old cloak and
the sleeves of his cassock as if it were a duster to wipe up anything;
and his skull-cap, lined with cotton wool to protect him from
neuralgia, formed a very ugly border round his head. With all that he
was full of passion and eloquence, somewhat sarcastic at times, but
witty and incisive. He had little literary culture, but he often came
out with some unexpected sally. You could feel that his was a
powerful individuality which faith kept under due control, but which
ecclesiastical discipline had not crushed. He was a saint, but had
very little of the priest and nothing of the Sulpician about him. He
did violence to the prime rule of the Company, which is to renounce
anything approaching talent and originality, and to be pliant to the
discipline which enjoys a general mediocrity.

M. Pinault had at first been professor of mathematics in the
university. In associating himself with studies which, in our
view, are incompatible with faith in the supernatural and fervent
catholicism, he did no more than M. Cauchy, who was at once a
mathematician of the first order and a more fervent believer than
many members of the Academy of Sciences who are noted for their piety.
Christianity is alleged to be a supernatural historical fact. The
historical sciences can be made to show--and to my mind, beyond the
possibility of contradiction--that it is not a supernatural fact, and
that there never has been such a thing as a supernatural fact. We do
not reject miracles upon the ground of _a priori_ reasoning, but upon
the ground of critical and historical reasoning, we have no difficulty
in proving that miracles do not happen in the nineteenth century, and
that the stones of miraculous events said to have taken place in our
day are based upon imposture and credulity. But the evidence in favour
of the so-called miracles of the last three centuries, or even of
those in the Middle Ages, is weaker still; and the same may be said
of those dating from a still earlier period, for the further back one
goes, the more difficult does it become to prove a supernatural fact.
In order thoroughly to understand this, you must have been accustomed
to textual criticism and the historical method, and this is just what
mathematics do not give. Even in our own day, we have seen an eminent
mathematician fall into blunders which the slightest knowledge of
historical science would have enabled him to avoid. M. Pinault's
religious belief was so keen that he was anxious to become a priest.
He was allowed to do very little in the way of theology, and he was
at first attached to the science courses which in the programme of
ecclesiastical studies are the necessary accompaniment of the two
years of philosophy. He would have been out of place at St. Sulpice
with his lack of theological knowledge and the ardent mysticism of his
imagination. But at Issy, where he associated with very young men who
had not studied the texts, he soon acquired considerable influence. He
was the leader of those who were full of ardent piety--the "mystics,"
as they are now called. All of them treated him as their director, and
they formed, as it were, a school apart, from which the profane were
excluded, and which had its own important secrets. A very powerful
auxiliary of this party was the lay doorkeeper of the college, Pere
Hanique, as we called him. I always excite the wonder of the realists
when I tell them that I have seen with my own eyes, a type which,
owing to their scanty knowledge of human society, has never come
beneath their notice, viz., the sublime conception of a hall-porter
who has reached the most transcendent limits of speculation. Hanique
in his humble lodge was almost as great a man as M. Pinault. Those who
aimed at saintliness of life consulted him and looked up to him. His
simplicity of mind was contrasted with the savant's coldness of soul,
and he was adduced as an instance that the gifts of God are absolutely
free. All this created a deep division of feeling in the college. The
mystics worked themselves up to such a pitch of mental tension that
several of them died, but this only increased the frenzy of the
others. M. Gosselin had too much tact to offer them a direct
opposition, but for all that, there were two distinct parties in the
college, the mystics acting under the immediate guidance of M. Pinault
and Pere Hanique, while the "good fellows" (as we modestly entitled
ourselves) were guided by the simple, upright, and good Christian
counsels of M. Gosselin. This division of opinion was scarcely
noticeable among the masters. Nevertheless, M. Gosselin, disliking
anything in the way of singularities or novelties, often looked
askance at certain eccentricities. During recreation time he made a
point of conversing in a gay and almost worldly tone, in contrast
to the fine frenzy which M. Pinault always imported into his
observations. He did not like Pere Hanique and would not listen to
any praise of him, perhaps because he felt the impropriety of a
hall-porter being taken out of his place and set up as an authority
on theology. He condemned and prohibited the reading of several books
which were favourites with the mystical set, such as those of Marie
d'Agreda. There was something very singular about M. Pinault's
lectures, as he did not make any effort to conceal his contempt for
the sciences which he taught and for the human intelligence at large.
At times he would nearly go to sleep over his class, and altogether
gave his pupils anything but a stimulus to work; and yet with all that
he still had in him remnants of the scientific spirit which he had
failed to destroy. At times he had extraordinary flashes of genius,
and some of his lectures on natural history have been one of the bases
of my philosophical strain of thought. I am much indebted to him, but
the instinct for learning which is in me, and which will, I trust,
remain alive until the day of my death, would not admit of my
remaining long in his set. He liked me well enough, but made no effort
to attract me to him. His fiery spirit of apostleship could not brook
my easy-going ways, and my disinclination for research. Upon one
occasion he found me sitting in one of the walks, reading Clarke's
treatise upon the _Existence of God_. As usual, I was wrapped up in a
heavy coat. "Oh! the nice little fellow," he said, "how beautifully he
is wrapped up. Do not interfere with him. He will always be the same.
Fie will ever be studying, and when he should be attending to the
charge of souls he will be at it still. Well wrapped up in his cloak,
he will answer those who come to call him away: 'Leave me alone, can't
you?'" He saw that his remark had gone home. I was confused but not
converted, and as I made no reply, he pressed my hand and added, with
a slight touch of irony, "He will be a little Gosselin."

M. Pinault, there can be no question, was far above M. Gosselin in
respect to his natural force and the hardihood with which he took
up certain views. Like another Diogenes, he saw how hollow and
conventional were a host of things which my worthy director regarded
as articles of faith. But he did not shake me for a moment. I have
never ceased to put faith in the intelligence of man. M. Gosselin,
by his confidence in scholasticism, confirmed me in my rationalism,
though not to so great an extent as M. Manier, one of the professors
of philosophy. He was a man of unswerving honesty, whose opinions were
in harmony with those of the moderate universitarian school, at that
time so decried by the clergy. He had a great liking for the Scottish
philosophers, and gave me Thomas Reid to study. He steadied my
thoughts very much, and by the aid of his authority and that of M.
Gosselin, I was enabled to put away the exaggerations of M. Pinault;
my conscience was at rest, and I even got to think that the contempt
for scholasticism and reason, so stoutly professed by the mystics, was
not devoid of heresy, and of the worst of all heresies in the eyes of
the Company of St. Sulpice, viz., the _Fideism_ of M. de Lamennais.

Thus I gave myself over without scruple to my love for study, living
in complete solitude during' two whole years. I did not once come to
Paris, readily as leaves were granted. I never joined in any games,
passing the recreation hours on a seat in the grounds, and trying to
keep myself warm by wearing two or three overcoats. The heads of the
college, better advised than I was, told me how bad it was for a lad
of my age to take no exercise. I had scarcely done growing before I
began to stoop. But my passion for study was too strong for me, and
I gave way to it all the more readily because I believed it to be a
wholesome one. I was blind to all else, but how could I suppose that
the ardour for thought which I heard praised in Malebranche and so
many other saintly and illustrious men was blameworthy in me, and
was fated to bring about a result which I should have repudiated with
indignation if it had been foreshadowed to me.

The character of the philosophy taught in the seminary was the Latin
divinity of the schools--not in the outlandish and childish form which
it assumed in the thirteenth century, but in the mitigated Cartesian
form which was generally adopted for ecclesiastical education in the
eighteenth century, and set out in the three volumes known by the name
of _Philosophic de Lyon_. This name was given to it because the book
formed part of a complete course of ecclesiastical study, drawn up a
hundred years ago by order of M. de Montazet, the Jansenist Archbishop
of Lyons. The theological part of the work, tainted with heresy,
is now forgotten; but the philosophical part, imbued with a very
commendable spirit of rationalism, remained, as recently as 1840, the
basis of philosophical teaching in the seminaries, much to the disgust
of the neo-Catholic school, which regarded the book as dangerous and
absurd. It cannot be denied, however, that the problems were cleverly
put, and the whole of these syllogistical dialectics formed an
excellent course of training. I owe my lucidity of mind, more
especially what skill I possess in dividing my subject (which is
an art of capital importance, one of the conditions of the art of
writing), to my divinity training, and in particular to geometry,
which is the truest application of the syllogistical method. M. Manier
mixed up with these ancient propositions the psychological analysis
of the Scotch school. He had imbibed through his intimacy with Thomas
Reid a great aversion to metaphysics, and an unlimited faith in common
sense. _Posuit in visceribus hominis sapientiam_ was his favourite
motto, and it did not occur to him that if man, in his quest after the
true and the good, has only to explore the recesses of his own heart,
the _Catechisme_ of M. Olier was a building without a foundation.
German philosophy was just beginning to be known, and what little I
had been able to pick up had a strangely fascinating effect upon me.
M. Manier impressed upon me that this philosophy shifted its ground
too much, and that it was necessary to wait until it had completed its
development before passing judgment upon it. "Scottish philosophy," he
said, "has a reassuring influence and makes for Christianity;" and
he depicted to me the worthy Thomas Reid in his double character of
philosopher and minister of the Gospel. Thus Reid was for some time my
ideal, and my aspiration was to lead the peaceful life of a laborious
priest, attached to his sacred office and dispensed from the ordinary
duties of his calling in order to follow out his studies. The
antagonism between philosophical pursuits of this kind and the
Christian faith had not as yet come in upon me with the irresistible
force and clearness which was soon to leave me no alternative between
the renunciation of Christianity and inconsistency of the most
unwarrantable kind.

The modern philosophical works, especially those of MM. Cousin and
Jouffroy, were rarely seen in the seminary, though they were the
constant subject of conversation on account of the discussion which
they had excited among the clergy. This was the year of M. Jouffroy's
death, and the pathetic despairing pages of his philosophy captivated
us. I myself knew them by heart. We followed with deep interest the
discussion raised by the publication of his posthumous works. In
reality, we only knew Cousin, Jouffroy, and Pierre Leroux by those
who had opposed them. The old-fashioned divinity of the schools is
so upright that no demonstration of a proposition is complete unless
followed by the formula, _Solvuntur objecta_. Herein are ingenuously
set forth the objections against the proposition which it is sought to
establish; and these objections are then solved, often in a way which
does not in the least diminish the force of the heterodox ideas which
are supposed to have been controverted. In this way the whole body of
modern ideas reached us beneath the cover of feeble refutations. We
gained, moreover, a great deal of information from each other. One of
our number, who had studied philosophy in the university, would recite
passages from M. Cousin to us; a second, who had studied history,
would familiarise us with Augustin Thierry; while a third came to us
from the school of Montalembert and Lacordaire. His lively imagination
made him a great favourite with us, but the _Philosophie de Lyon_ was
more than he could endure, and he left us.

M. Cousin fascinated us, but Pierre Leroux, with his tone of profound
conviction and his thorough appreciation of the great problems
awaiting solution, exercised a still more potent influence, and we did
not see the shortcomings of his studies and the sophistry of his mind.
My customary course of reading was Pascal, Malebranche, Euler, Locke,
Leibnitz, Descartes, Reid, and Dugald Stewart. In the way of religious
books, my preferences were for Bossuet's Sermons and the _Elevations
sur les Mysttres_. I was very familiar, too, with Francois de Sales,
both by continually hearing extracts from his works read in the
seminary, and especially through the charming work which Pierre le
Camus has written about him. With regard to the more mystical works,
such as St. Theresa, Marie d'Agreda, Ignatius de Loyola, and M. Olier,
I never read them. M. Gosselin, as I have said, dissuaded me from
doing so. The _Lives of the Saints_, written in an overwrought strain,
were also very distasteful to him, and Fenelon was his rule and his
limit. Many of the early saints excited his strongest prejudices
because of their disregard of cleanliness, their scant education, and
their lack of common sense.

My keen predilection for philosophy did not blind me as to the
inevitable nature of its results. I soon lost all confidence in the
abstract metaphysics which are put forward as being a science apart
from all others, and as being capable of solving alone the highest
problems of humanity. Positive science then appeared to me to be the
only source of truth. In after years I felt quite irritated at the
idea of Auguste Comte being dignified with the title of a great man
for having expressed in bad French what all scientific minds had
seen for the last two hundred years as clearly as he had done. The
scientific spirit was the fundamental principle in my disposition.
M. Pinault would have been the master for me if he had not in some
strange way striven to disguise and distort the best traits in his
talent. I understood him better than he would have wished, and,
in spite of himself. I had received a rather advanced education
in mathematics from my first teachers in Brittany. Mathematics and
physical induction have always been my strong point, the only stones
in the edifice which have never shifted their ground and which are
always serviceable. M. Pinault taught me enough of general natural
history and physiology to give me an insight into the laws
of existence. I realised the insufficiency of what is called
spiritualism; the Cartesian proofs of the existence of a soul distinct
from the body always struck me as being very inadequate, and thus I
became an idealist and not a spiritualist in the ordinary acceptation
of the term. An endless _fieri_, a ceaseless metamorphosis seemed to
me to be the law of the world. Nature presented herself to me as
a whole in which creation of itself has no place, and in which
therefore, everything undergoes transformation.[3] It will be asked
how it was that this fairly clear conception of a positive philosophy
did not eradicate my belief in scholasticism and Christianity. It was
because I was young and inconsistent, and because I had not acquired
the critical faculty. I was held back by the example of so many mighty
minds which had read so deeply in the book of nature, and yet had
remained Christians. I was more specially influenced by Malebranche,
who continued to recite his prayers throughout the whole of his
life, while holding, with regard to the general dispensation of the
universe, ideas differing but very little from those which I had
arrived at. The _Entretiens sur la Metaphysique_ and the _Meditations
chretiennes_ were ever in my thoughts.

The fondness for erudition is innate in me, and M. Gosselin did much
to develop it. He had the kindness to choose me as his reader. At
seven o'clock every morning I went to read to him in his bedroom,
and he was in the habit of pacing up and down, sometimes stopping,
sometimes quickening his pace and interrupting me with some sensible
or caustic remark. In this way I read to him the long stories of
Father Maimbourg, a writer who is now forgotten, but who in his time
was appreciated by Voltaire, various publications by M. Benjamin
Guerard, whose learning was much appreciated by him, and a few works
by M. de Maistre, notably his _Lettre sur l'Inquisition espagnole_.
He did not much like this last-named treatise, and he would constantly
rub his hands and say, "How plain it is that M. de Maistre is no
theologian." All he cared for was theology, and he had a profound
contempt for literature. He rarely failed to stigmatise as futile
nonsense the highly-esteemed studies of the Nicolaites. For M.
Dupanloup, whose principal dogma was that there is no salvation
without a good literary education, he had little sympathy, and he
generally avoided mention of his name.

For myself, believing as I do that the best way to mould young men of
talent is never to speak to them about talent or style, but to
educate them and to stimulate their mental curiosity upon questions
of philosophy, religion, politics, science, and history--or, in other
words, to go to the substance of things instead of adopting a hollow
rhetorical teaching, I was quite satisfied at this new direction given
to my studies. I forgot the very existence of such a thing as modern
literature. The rumour that contemporary writers existed occasionally
reached us, but we were so accustomed to suppose that there had not
been any of talent since the death of Louis XIV., that we had an _a
priori_ contempt for all contemporary productions. _Le Teleinaque_ was
the only specimen of light literature which ever came into my hands,
and that was in an edition which did not contain the Eucharis episode,
so that it was not until later that I became acquainted with the few
delightful pages which record it. My only glimpse of antiquity was
through _Teleinaque_ and _Aristonoues_, and I am very glad that such
is the case. It was thus that I learnt the art of depicting nature by
moral touches. Up to the year 1865 I had never formed any other idea
of the island of Chios except that embodied in the phrase of Fenelon:
"The island of Chios, happy as the country of Homer."

These words, so full of harmony and rhythm,[4] seemed to present
a perfect picture of the place, and though Homer was not born
there--nor, perhaps, anywhere--they gave me a better idea of the
beautiful (and now so hapless) isle of Greece than I could have
derived from a whole mass of material description.

I must not omit to mention another book, which together with
_Telemaque_, I for a long time regarded as the highest expression
of literature. M. Gosselin one day called me aside, and after much
beating about the bush, told me that he had thought of letting me read
a book which some people might regard as dangerous, and which, as a
matter of fact, might be in certain cases on account of the vivacity
with which the author expresses passion. He had, however, decided
that I might be trusted with this book, which was called the _Comte
de Valmont_. Many people will no doubt wonder what could have been
the book which my worthy director thought could only be read after
a special preparation as regards judgment and maturity. _Le Comte de
Valmont; ou, Les Egarements de la Raison,_ is a novel by Abbe Gerard,
in which, under the cover of a very innocent plot, the author refutes
the doctrines of the eighteenth century, and inculcates the principles
of an enlightened religion. Sainte-Beuve, who knew the _Comte de
Valmont_, as he knew everything, was consumed with laughter when I
told him this story. But for all that the _Comtede Valmont_ was a
rather dangerous book. The Christianity set forth in it is no more
than Deism, the religion of _Telemaque_, a sort of sentiment in the
abstract, without being any particular kind of religion.[5] Thus
everything tended to lull me into a state of fancied security.
I thought that by copying the politeness of M. Gosselin and the
moderation of M. Manier I was a Christian.

I cannot honestly say, moreover, that my faith in Christianity was
in reality diminished. My faith has been destroyed by historical
criticism, not by scholasticism nor by philosophy. The history of
philosophy and the sort of scepticism by which I had been caught
rather maintained me within the limits of Christianity than drove me
beyond them. I often repeated to myself the lines which I had read in

"Percurri, fateor, sectas attentius omnes,
Plurima qusesivi, per singula quaque cucurri,
Nee quidquam invent melius quam credere Christo."

A certain amount of modesty kept me back. The capital question as to
the truth of the Christian dogmas and of the Bible never forced itself
upon me. I admitted the revelation in a general sense, like Leibnitz
and Malebranche. There can be no doubt that my _fieri_ philosophy
was the height of heterodoxy, but I did not stop to reason out the
consequences. However, all said and done, my masters were satisfied
with me. M. Pinault rarely interfered with me. More of a mystic than
a fanatic, he concerned himself but little with those who did not come
immediately in his way. The finishing stroke was given by M. Gottofrey
with a degree of boldness and precision which I did not thoroughly
appreciate until afterwards. In the twinkling of an eye, this truly
gifted man tore away the veils which the prudent M. Gosselin and
the honest M. Manier had adjusted around my conscience in order to
tranquillise it, and to lull it to sleep.

M. Gottofrey rarely spoke to me, but he followed me with the utmost
curiosity. My arguments in Latin, delivered with much firmness and
emphasis, caused him surprise and uneasiness. Sometimes, I was too
much in the right; at others I pointed out the weak points in the
reasons given me as valid. Upon one occasion, when my objections
had been urged with force, and when some of the listeners could not
repress a smile at the weakness of the replies, he broke off the
discussion. In the evening he called me on one side, and described
to me with much warmth how unchristian it was to place all faith in
reasoning, and how injurious an effect rationalism had upon faith. He
displayed a remarkable amount of animation, and reproached me with
my fondness for study. What was to be gained, he said, by further
research. Everything that was essential to be known had already been
discovered. It was not by knowledge that men's souls were saved. And
gradually working himself up, he exclaimed in passionate accents--"
You are not a Christian!"

I never felt such terror as that which this phrase, pronounced in
a very resonant tone, evoked within me. In leaving M. Gottofrey's
presence the words "You are not a Christian" sounded all night in my
ear like a clap of thunder. The next day I confided my troubles to M.
Gosselin, who kindly reassured me, and who could not or would not
see anything wrong. He made no effort, even, to conceal from me
how surprised and annoyed he was at this ill-timed attempt upon a
conscience for which he, more than any one else, was responsible. I am
sure that he looked upon the hasty action of M. Gottofrey as a piece
of impudence, the only result of which would be to disturb a dawning
vocation. M. Gosselin, like many directors, was of opinion that
religious doubts are of no gravity among young men when they are
disregarded, and that they disappear when the future career has
been finally entered upon. He enjoined me not to think of what had
occurred, and I even found him more kindly than ever before. He did
not in the least understand the nature of my mind, or in any degree
foresee its future logical evolutions. M. Gottofrey alone had a clear
perception of things. He was right a dozen times over, as I can now
very plainly see. It needed the transcendent lucidity of this martyr
and ascetic to discover that which had quite escaped those who
directed my conscience with so much uprightness and goodness.

I talked too with M. Manier, who strongly advised me not to let my
faith in Christianity be affected by objections of detail. With regard
to the question of entering holy orders, he was always very reserved.
He never said anything which was calculated either to induce me
or dissuade me. This was in his eyes more or less of a secondary
consideration. The essential point, as he thought, was the possession
of the true Christian spirit, inseparable from real philosophy. In his
eyes there was no difference between a priest, or professor of Scotch
philosophy, in the university. He often dwelt upon the honourable
nature of such a career, and more than once he spoke to me of the
Ecole Normale. I did not speak of this overture to M. Gosselin, for
assuredly the very idea of leaving the seminary for the Ecole Normale,
would have seemed to him perdition.

It was decided, therefore, that after my two years of philosophy
I should pass into the seminary of St. Sulpice to get through my
theological course. The flash which shot through the mind of M.
Gottofrey had no immediate consequence. But now at an interval of
eight and thirty years, I can see how clear a perception of the
reality he had. He alone possessed foresight, and I much regret now
that I did not follow his impulse. I should have quitted the seminary
without having studied Hebrew or theology. Physiology and the natural
sciences would have absorbed me, and I do not hesitate to express my
belief--so great was the ardour which these vital sciences excited in
me--that if I had cultivated them continuously I should have arrived
at several of the results achieved by Darwin, and partially foreseen
by myself. Instead of that I went to St. Sulpice and learnt German
and Hebrew, the consequence being that the whole course of my life
was different. I was led to the study of the historical
sciences--conjectural in their nature--which are no sooner made than
they are unmade, and which will be put on one side in a hundred years
time. For the day is not we may be sure, very far distant when man
will cease to attach much interest to his past. I am very much afraid
that our minute contributions to the Academie des Inscriptions
et Belles-Lettres, which are intended to assist to an accurate
comprehension of history, will crumble to dust before they have been
read. It is by chemistry at one end and by astronomy at the other, and
especially by general physiology, that we really grasp the secret of
existence of the world or of God, whichever it may be called. The one
thing which I regret is having selected for my study researches of a
nature which will never force themselves upon the world, or be more
than interesting dissertations upon a reality which has vanished
for ever. But as regards the exercise--and pleasure of thought is
concerned--I certainly chose the better part, for at St. Sulpice I was
brought face to face with the Bible, and the sources of Christianity,
and in the following chapter I will endeavour to describe how eagerly
I immersed myself in this study, and how, through a series of critical
deductions, which forced themselves upon my mind, the bases of
my existence, as I had hitherto understood it, were completely

[Footnote 1: Paris, 1609-1612.]

[Footnote 2: First Edition, 1839; second and much enlarged edition,

[Footnote 3: An essay which describes my philosophical ideas at this
epoch, entitled the "Origine du Langage," first published in the
_Liberte de penser_ (September and December, 1848), faithfully
portrays, as I then conceived it, the spectacle of living nature as
the result and evidence of a very ancient historical development.]

[Footnote 4: In the French the phrase is, "L'ile de Chio, fortunee
patrie d'Homere."]

[Footnote 5: I went a short time ago to the National Library to
refresh my memory about the _Comte de Valmont_. Having my attention
called away, I asked M. Soury to look through the book for me, as
I was anxious to have his impression of it. He replied to me in the
following terms:

"I have been a long time in telling you what I think of the _Comte
de Valmont._ The fact is that it was only by an heroic effort that I
managed to finish it. Not but what this work is honestly conceived and
fairly well written. But the effect of reading through these thousands
of pages is so profoundly wearisome that one is scarcely in a position
to do justice to the work of Abbe Gerard. One cannot help being vexed
with him for being so unnecessarily tedious.

"As so often happens, the best part of this book are the notes, that
is to say, a mass of extracts and selections taken from the famous
writers of the last two centuries, notably from Rousseau. All the
'proofs' and apologetic arguments ruin the work unfortunately, the
eloquence and dialectics of Rousseau, Diderot, Helvetius, Holbach, and
even Voltaire, differing very much from those of Abbe Gerard. It is
the same with the libertines' reasons refuted by the father of the
Comte de Valmont. It must be a very dangerous thing to bring forward
mischievous doctrines with so much force. They have a savour which
renders the best things insipid, and it is with these good doctrines
that the six or seven volumes of the _Comte de Valmont_ are filled.
Abbe Gerard did not wish his work to be called a novel, and as a
matter of fact there is neither drama nor action in the interminable
letters of the Marquis, the Count and Emilie.

"Count de Valmont is one of those sceptics who are often met with in
the world. A man of weak mind, pretentious and foppish, incapable of
thinking and reflecting for himself, ignorant into the bargain, and
without any kind of knowledge upon any subject, he meets his hapless
father with all sorts of difficulties against morality, religion and
Christianity in particular, just as if he had a right to an opinion on
matters the study of which requires so much enlightenment and takes up
so much timed. The best thing the poor fellow can do is to reform
his ways, and he does not fail to neglect doing this at nearly every

"The seventh volume of the edition which I have before me is entitled,
_La Theorie du Bonheur; ou, L' Art de se rendre Heureux mis a la
Portee de tous les Hommes, faisant Suite ait 'Comte de Valmont_,'
Paris Bossange, 1801, eleventh edition. This is a different book,
whatever the publisher may say, and I confess that this secret of
happiness, brought within the reach of everybody, did not create a
very favourable impression upon me."]



The house built by M. Olier in 1645 was not the large quadrangular
barrack-like building which now occupies one side of the square of St.
Sulpice. The old seminary of the seventeenth and eighteenth century
covered the whole area of what is now the square, and quite concealed
Servandoni's facade. The site of the present seminary was formerly
occupied by the gardens and by the college of bursars nicknamed
the Robertins. The original building disappeared at the time of the
Revolution. The chapel, the ceiling of which was regarded as Lebrun's
masterpiece, has been destroyed, and all that remains of the old house
is a picture by Lebrun representing the Pentecost in a style which
would excite the wonder of the author of the Acts of the Apostles. The
Virgin is the centre figure, and is receiving the whole of the pouring
out of the Holy Ghost, which from her spreads to the apostles. Saved
at the Revolution, and afterwards in the gallery of Cardinal Fesch,
this picture was bought back by the corporation of St. Sulpice, and is
now in the seminary chapel.

With the exception of the walls and the furniture, all is old at
St. Sulpice, and it is easy to believe that one is living in
the seventeenth century. Time and its ravages have effaced many
differences. St. Sulpice now embodies in itself many things which were
once far removed from one another, and those who wish to get the best
idea attainable in the present day, of what Port-Royal, the original
Sorbonne, and the institutions of the ancient French clergy generally
were like, must enter its portals. When I joined the St. Sulpice
seminary in 1843, there were still a few directors who had seen M.
Emery, but there were only two, if I remember right, whose memories
carried them back to a date earlier than the Revolution. M. Hugon had
acted as acolyte at the consecration of M. de Talleyrand in the chapel
of Issy in 1788. It seems that the attitude of the Abbe de Perigord
during the ceremony was very indecorous. M. Hugon related that he
accused himself, when at confession the following Saturday, "of
having formed hasty judgments as to the piety of a holy bishop." The
superior-general, M. Garnier, was more than eighty, and he was in
every respect an ecclesiastic of the old school. He had gone through
his studies at the Robertins College and afterwards at the Sorbonne,
from which he gave one the idea of just emerging, and when one heard
him talk of "Monsieur Bossuet" and "Monsieur Fenelon",[1] it seemed as
if one was face to face with an actual pupil of those great men.
There is nothing in common except the name and the dress between these
ecclesiastics that of the old _regime_ and those of the present day.
Compared to the young and exuberant members of the Issy school, M.
Garnier had the appearance almost of a layman, with a complete absence
of all external demonstrations and his staid and reasonable piety. In
the evening, some of the younger students went to keep him company in
his room for an hour. The conversation never took a mystical turn.
M. Garnier narrated his recollections, spoke of M. Emery, and
foreshadowed with melancholy, his approaching end. The contrast
between his quietude and the ardour of Penault and M. Gottofrey
was very striking. These aged priests were so honest, sensible and
upright, observing their rules, and defending their dogmas, just as
a faithful soldier holds the post which has been committed to his
keeping. The higher questions were altogether beyond them. The love of
order and devotion to duty were the guiding principles of their lives.
M. Garnier was a learned Orientalist, and better versed than any
living Frenchman in the Biblical exegesis as taught by the Catholics a
century ago. The modesty which characterised St. Sulpice deterred him
from publishing any of his works, and the outcome of his studies was
an immense manuscript representing a complete course of Holy Writ, in
accordance with the relatively moderate views which prevailed among
the Catholics and Protestants at the close of the eighteenth century.
It was very analogous in spirit to that of Rosenmueller, Hug and Jahn.
When I joined St. Sulpice, M. Garnier was too old to teach, and our
professors used, to read us extracts from his copy-books. They were
full of erudition, and testified to a very thorough knowledge of
language. Now and then we came upon some artless observation which
made us smile, such, for instance, as the way in which he got over
the difficulties relating to Sarah's adventure in Egypt. Sarah, as we
know, was close upon seventy when Pharaoh conceived so great a passion
for her, and M. Garnier got over this by observing that this was not
the only instance of the kind, and that "Mademoiselle de Lenclos" was
the cause of duels being fought, when over seventy. M. Garnier had
not made himself acquainted with the latest labours of the new German
school, and he remained in happy ignorance of the inroads which the
criticism of the nineteenth century had made upon the ancient system.
His best title to fame is that he moulded in M. Le Hir, a pupil who,
inheriting his own vast knowledge, added to it familiarity with modern
discoveries, and who, with a sincerity which proved the depth of his
faith, did not in the least conceal the depth to which the knife had

Overborne by the weight of years, and absorbed by the cares which the
general direction of the Company entailed, M. Garnier left the entire
superintendence of the Paris house to M. Carbon, the director.
M. Carbon was the embodiment of kindness, joviality and
straightforwardness. He was no theologian, and was so far from being a
man of superior mind, that at first one would be tempted to look upon
him as a very simple, not to say common, person. But as one came to
know him better, one was surprised to discover beneath this humble
exterior, one of the rarest things in the world, viz., unalloyed
cordiality, motherly condescension, and a charming openness of manner.
I have never met with any one so entirely free from personal vanity.
He was the first to laugh at himself, at his half intentional
blunders, and at the laughable situations into which his artlessness
would often land him. Like all the older directors, he had to say
the orison in his turn. He never gave it five minutes previous
consideration, and he sometimes got into such a comical state of
confusion with his improvised address, that we had to bite our tongues
to keep from laughing. He saw how amused we were, and it struck him
as being perfectly natural. It was he who, during the course of Holy
Writ, had to read M. Garnier's manuscript. He used to flounder about
purposely, in order to make us laugh, in the parts which had fallen
out of date. The most singular thing was that he was not very mystic.
I asked one of my fellow students what he thought was M. Carbon's
motive-idea in life, and his reply was, "the abstract of duty."
M. Carbon took a fancy to me from the first, and he saw that the
fundamental feature in my disposition was cheerfulness, and a
ready acquiescence in my lot. "I see that we shall get on very well
together," he said to me with a pleasant smile; and as a matter
of fact M. Carbon is one of those for whom I have felt the deepest
affection. Seeing that I was studious, full of application, and
conscientious in my work, he said to me after a very short time--"You
should be thinking of your society, that is your proper place." He
treated me almost as a colleague, so complete was his confidence in

The other directors, who had to teach the various branches of
theology, were without exception the worthy continuators of a
respectable tradition. But as regards doctrine itself, the breach was
made. Ultramontanism and the love of the irrational had forced their
way into the citadel of moderate theology. The old school knew how
to rave soberly, and followed the rules of common sense even in the
absurd. This school only admitted the irrational and the miraculous up
to the limit strictly required by Holy Writ and the authority of the
Church. The new school revels in the miraculous, and seems to take
its pleasure in narrowing the ground upon which apologetics can be
defended. Upon the other hand, it would be unfair not to say that the
new school is in some respects more open and consistent, and that it
has derived, especially through its relations with Germany, elements
for discussion which have no place in the ancient treatises _De Loci's
Theologicis_. St. Sulpice has had but one representative in this
path so thickly sown with unexpected incidents and--it may perhaps
be added--with dangers; but he is unquestionably the most remarkable
member of the French clergy in the present day. I am speaking of M. Le
Hir, whom I knew very intimately, as will presently be seen. In order
to understand what follows, the reader must be very deeply versed in
the workings of the human mind, and above all in matters of faith.

M. Le Hir was in an equally eminent degree a savant and a saint. This
co-habitation in the same person, of two entities which are rarely
found together, took place in him without any kind of fraction, for
the saintly side of his character had the absolute mastery. There was
not one of the objections of rationalism which escaped his attention.
He did not make the slightest concession to any of them, for he never
felt the shadow of a doubt as to the truth of orthodoxy. This was due
rather to an act of the supreme will than to a result imposed upon
him. Holding entirely aloof from natural philosophy and the scientific
spirit, the first condition of which is to have no prior faith and to
reject that which does not come spontaneously, he remained in a state
of equilibrium which would have been fatal to convictions less urgent
than his. The supernatural did not excite any natural repugnance in
him. His scales were very nicely adjusted, but in one of them was a
weight of unknown quantity--an unshaken faith. Whatever might have
been placed in the other, would have seemed light; all the objections
in the world would not have moved it a hairsbreadth.

M. Le Hir's superiority was in a great measure due to his profound
knowledge of the German exegeses. Whatever he found in them compatible
with Catholic orthodoxy, he appropriated. In matters of critique,
incompatibilities were continually occurring, but in grammar, upon the
other hand, there was no difficulty in finding common ground. There
was no one like M. Le Hir in this respect. He had thoroughly mastered
the doctrine of Gesenius and Ewald, and criticised many points in
it with great learning. He interested himself in the Phoenician
inscriptions, and propounded a very ingenious theory which has since
been confirmed. His theology was borrowed almost entirely from the
German Catholic School, which was at once more advanced, and less
reasonable, than our ancient French scholasticism. M. Le Hir reminds
one in many respects of Dollinger, especially in regard to his
learning and his general scope of view; but his docility would have
preserved him from the dangers in which the Vatican Council involved
most of the learned members of the clergy. He died prematurely in 1870
upon the eve of the Council which he was just about to attend as a
theologian. I was intending to ask my colleagues in the Academie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres to make him an unattached member of our
body. I have no doubt that he would have rendered considerable service
to the Committee of Semitic Inscriptions.

M. Le Hir possessed, in addition to his immense learning, the talent
of writing with much force and accuracy. He might have been very witty
if he had been so minded. His undeviating mysticism resembled that of
M. Gottofrey; but he had much more rectitude of judgment. His aspect
was very singular, for he was like a child in figure, and very weakly
in appearance, but with that, eyes and a forehead indicating the
highest intelligence. In short, the only faculty lacking, was one
which would have caused him to abjure Catholicism, viz. the critical
one. Or I should rather say that he had the critical faculty very
highly developed in every point not touching religious belief; but
that possessed in his view such a co-efficient of certainty, that
nothing could counterbalance it. His piety was in truth, like the
mother o'pearl shells of Francois de Sales, "which live in the sea
without tasting a drop of salt water." The knowledge of error which
he possessed was entirely speculative: a water-tight compartment
prevented the least infiltration of modern ideas into the secret
sanctuary of his heart, within which burnt, by the side of the
petroleum, the small unquenchable light of a tender and sovereign
piety. As my mind was not provided with these water-tight
compartments, the encounter of these conflicting elements, which in
M. Le Hir produced profound inward peace, led in my case to strange

[Footnote 1: I should like to make one observation in this connection.
People of the present day have got into the habit of putting
_Monseigneur_ before a proper name, and of saying _Monseigneur
Dupanloup_ or Monseigneur Affre. This is bad French; the word
"Monseigneur" should only be used in the vocative case or before an
official title. In speaking to M. Dupanloup or M. Affre, it would
be correct to say _Monseigneur_. In speaking of them, _Monsieur
Dupanloup, Monsieur Affre; Monsieur, or Monseigneur l'Evqeue
d'Orleans,_ Monsieur or Monseigneur l'Archeveque de Paris.]



St. Sulpice, in short, when I went through it forty years ago,
provided, despite its shortcomings, a fairly high education. My
ardour for study had plenty to feed upon. Two unknown worlds unfolded
themselves before me: theology, the rational exposition of the
Christian dogma, and the Bible, supposed to be the depository and
the source of this dogma. I plunged deeply into work. I was even more
solitary than at Issy, for I did not know a soul in Paris. For two
years I never went into any street except the Rue de Vaugirard,
through which once a week we walked to Issy. I very rarely indulged
in any conversation. The professors were always very kind to me. My
gentle disposition and studious habits, my silence and modesty, gained
me their favour, and I believe that several of them remarked to one
another, as M. Carbon had to me, "He will make an excellent colleague
for us."

Upon the 29th of March, 1844, I wrote to one of my friends in
Brittany, who was then at the St. Brieuc seminary:

"I very much like being here. The tone of the place is excellent,
being equally free from rusticity, coarse egotism and affectation.
There is little intimacy or geniality, but the conversation is
dignified and elevated, with scarcely a trace of commonplace or
gossip. It would be idle to look for anything like cordiality between
the directors and the students, for this is a plant which grows only
in Brittany. But the directors have a certain fund of tolerance and
kindness in their composition which harmonises very well with the
moral condition of the young men upon their joining the seminary.
Their control is exercised almost imperceptibly, for the seminary
seems to conduct itself, instead of being conducted by them. The
regulations, the usages, and the spirit of the place are the sole
agents; the directors are mere passive overseers. St. Sulpice is
a machine which has been well constructed for the last two hundred
years: it goes of itself, and all that the driver has to do is to
watch the movements, and from time to time to screw up a nut and oil
the joints. It is not like Saint-Nicholas, for instance, where the
machine was never allowed to go by itself. The driver was always
tinkering at it, running first to the right and then to the left,
peering in here and altering a wheel there, not knowing or remembering
that the best mounted machine is the one which requires the least
attention from the man who sets it in motion. The great advantage
which I enjoy here is the remarkable facility afforded me for work
which has become a prime necessity to me, and which, considering
my internal condition, is also a duty. The lectures on morals
are excellent, but I cannot say as much of those on dogma, as the
professor is a novice. This, coupled with the great importance of the
_Traites de la Religion et de l'Eglise,_ especially in my case, would
be a very serious drawback, but for my having found substitutes for
him among the other professors." As a matter of fact, I had a special
liking for the ecclesiastical sciences. A text once implanted in my
memory was never forgotten; my head was in the state of a _Sic et Non_
of Abelard. Theology is like a Gothic cathedral, having in common with
its grandeur its vast empty spaces and its lack of solidity. Neither
to the Fathers of the Church nor to the Christian writers during the
first half of the Middle Ages did it occur to draw up a systematic
exposition of the Christian dogmas which would dispense with reading
the Bible all through. The _Summa_ of St. Thomas Aquinas, a summary of
the earlier scholasticism, is like a vast bookcase with compartments,
which, if Catholicism is to endure, will be of service to all time,
the decisions of councils and of Popes in the future having, so to
speak, their place marked out for them beforehand. There can be no
question of progress in such an order of exposition. In the sixteenth
century, the Council of Trent settled a number of points which had
hitherto been the subject of controversy; but each of these anathemas
had already its place allotted to it in the wide purview of St.
Thomas, Melchior Canus, and Suares remodelled the _Summa_ without
adding anything essential to it. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries the Sorbonne composed for use in the schools handy treatises
which are for the most part revised and reduced copies of the _Summa_.
At each page one can detect the same texts cut out and separated from
the comments which explain them; the same syllogisms, triumphant,
but devoid of any solid foundation; the same defects of historical
criticism, arising from the confusion of dates and places.

Theology may be divided into dogmatics and ethics. Dogmatic theology,
in addition to the Prolegomena comprising the discussions relating
to the sources of divine authority, is divided into fifteen treatises
upon all the dogmas of Christianity. At the basis is the treatise
_De la vraie Religion_, which seeks to demonstrate the supernatural
character of the Christian religion, that is to say of Revealed Writ
and of the Church. Then all the dogmas are proved by Holy Writ, by the
Councils, by the Fathers, and by the theologians. It cannot be denied
that there is a very frank rationalism at the root of all this. If
scholasticism is the descendant in the first generation of St. Thomas
Aquinas, it is descended in the second from Abelard. In such a system
reason holds the first place, reason proves the revelation, the
divinity of Scripture and the authority of the Church. This done, the
door is open to every kind of deduction. The only instance in which
St. Sulpice has been moved to anger since the extinction of Jansenism
was when M. de Lamennais declared that the starting-point should be
faith, and not reason. And what is to be the test in the last resort
of the claims of faith if not reason!

Moral theology consists of a dozen treatises comprising the whole body
of philosophical ethics and of law, completed by the revelation and
decisions of the Church. All this forms a sort of encyclopaedia very
closely connected. It is an edifice, the stones of which are attached
to one another by iron clamps, but the base is extremely weak. This
base is the treatise _De la vraie Religion_, which treatise does not
hold together. For not only does it fail to show that the Christian
religion is more especially divine and revealed than the others, but
it does not even prove that in the field of reality which comes within
the reach of our observation there has occurred a single supernatural
fact or miracle. M. Littre's inexorable phrase, "Despite all the
researches which have been made, no miracle has ever taken place where
it could be observed and put upon record" is a stumbling-block which
cannot be moved out of the path. It is impossible to prove that a
miracle occurred in the past, and we shall doubtless have a long time
to wait before one takes place under such conditions as could alone
give a right-minded person the assurance that he was not mistaken.

Admitting the fundamental thesis of the treatise _De la vraie
Religion_, the field of argument is narrowed, but the argument is a
long way from being at an end. The question has to be discussed with
the Protestants and dissenters, who, while admitting the revealed
texts to be true, decline to see in them the dogmas which the Catholic
Church has in the course of time taken upon herself. The controversy
here branches off into endless points, and the advocates of
Catholicism are continually being worsted. The Catholic Church has
taken upon herself to prove that her dogmas have always existed just
as she teaches them, that Jesus instituted confession, extreme unction
and marriage, and that he taught what was afterwards decided upon
by the Nicene and Trent Councils. Nothing can be more erroneous. The
Christian dogma has been formed, like everything else, slowly and
piecemeal, by a sort of inward vegetation. Theology, by asserting the
contrary, raises up a mass of objections, and places itself in the
predicament of having to reject all criticism. I would advise any one
who wishes to realise this to read in a theological work the treatise
on Sacraments, and he will see by what a series of unsupported
suppositions, worthy of the Apocrypha, of Marie d'Agreda or Catherine
Emmerich, the conclusion is reached that all the sacraments were
established by Jesus Christ during his life. The discussion as to the
matter and form of the sacraments is open to the same objections. The
obstinacy with which matter and form are detected everywhere dates
from the introduction of the Aristotelian tenets into theology in the
thirteenth century. Those who rejected this retrospective application
of the philosophy of Aristotle to the liturgical creations of Jesus
incurred ecclesiastical censure.

The intention of the "about to be" in history as in nature became
henceforth the essence of my philosophy. My doubts did not arise from
one train of reasoning but from ten thousand. Orthodoxy has an answer
to everything and will never avow itself worsted. No doubt, it is
admitted in criticism itself that a subtle answer may, in certain
cases, be a valid one. The real truth does not always look like the
truth. One subtle answer may be true, or even at a stretch, two.
But for three to be true is more difficult, and as to four bearing
examination that is almost impossible. But if a thesis can only be
upheld by admitting that ten, a hundred, or even a thousand subtle
answers are true at one and the same time, a clear proof is afforded
that this thesis is false. The calculation of probabilities applied
to all these shortcomings of detail is overwhelming in its effect
upon unprejudiced minds, and Descartes had taught me that the prime
condition for discovering the truth is to be free from all prejudice.



The theological struggle defined itself more particularly in my case
upon the ground of the so-called revealed texts. Catholic teaching,
with full confidence as to the issue, accepted battle upon this ground
as upon others with the most complete good faith. The Hebrew tongue
was in this case the main instrument, for one of the two Christian
Bibles is in Hebrew, while even as regards the New Testament there can
be no proper exegesis without Hebrew.

The study of Hebrew was not compulsory in the seminary, and it was
not followed by many of the students. In 1843-44, M. Garnier still
lectured in his room upon the more difficult texts to two or three
students. M. Le Hir had for several years taken the lectures on
grammar. I joined the course at once, and the well-defined philology
of M. Le Hir was full of charm for me. He was very kind to me, and
being a Breton like myself, there was much similarity of disposition
between us. At the expiration of a few weeks I was almost his only
pupil. His way of expounding the Hebrew grammar, with comparison of
other Semitic idioms, was most excellent. I possessed at this period a
marvellous power of assimilation. I absorbed everything which he told
me. His books were at my disposal and he had a very extensive library.
Upon the days when we walked to Issy he went with me to the heights
of La Solitude, and there he taught me Syriac. We talked together over
the Syriac New Testament of Guthier. M. Le Hir determined my career. I
was by instinct a philologist, and I found in him the man best fitted
to develop this aptitude. Whatever claim to the title of savant I may
possess I owe to M. Le Hir. I often think, even, that whatever I have
not learnt from him has been imperfectly acquired. Thus he did not
know much of Arabic, and this is why I have always been a poor Arabic

A circumstance due to the kindness of my teachers confirmed me in my
calling of a philologist and, unknown to them, unclosed for me a
door which I had not dared open for myself. In 1844, M. Gamier was
compelled by old age to give up his lectures on Hebrew. M. Le Hir
succeeded him, and knowing how thoroughly I had assimilated his
doctrine he determined to let me take the grammar course. This
pleasant information was conveyed to me by M. Carbon with his usual
good nature, and he added that the Company would give me three hundred
francs by way of salary. The sum seemed to me such an enormous one
that I told M. Carbon I could not accept it. He insisted, however, on
my taking a hundred and fifty francs for the purchase of books.

A much higher favour was that by which I was allowed to attend M.
Etienne Quatremere's lectures at the College de France twice a
week. M. Quatremere did not bestow much preparatory labour upon his
lectures; in the matter of Biblical exegesis he had voluntarily kept
apart from the scientific movement. He much more nearly resembled M.
Garnier than M. Le Hir. Just another such a Jansenist as Silvestre de
Sacy, he shared the demi-rationalism of Hug and Jahn--minimising the
proportion of the supernatural as far as possible, especially in the
cases of what he called "miracles difficult to carry out," such as the
miracle of Joshua, but still retaining the principle, at all events
in respect to the miracles of the New Testament. This superficial
eclecticism did not much take my fancy. M. Le Hir was much nearer
the truth in not attempting to attenuate the matter recounted, and in
closely studying, after the manner of Ewald, the recital itself. As a
comparative grammarian, M. Quatremere was also very inferior to M. Le
Hir. But his erudition in regard to orientalism was enormous. A new
world opened before me, and I saw that what apparently could only be
of interest to priests might be of interest to laymen as well. The
idea often occurred to me from that time that I should one day teach
from the same table, in the small classroom to which I have as a
matter of fact succeeded in forcing my way.

This obligation to classify and systematize my ideas in view of
lessons to be given to fellow-pupils of the same age as myself decided
my vocation. My scheme of teaching was from that moment determined
upon; and whatever I have since accomplished in the way of philology
has its origin in the humble lecture which through the kindness of
my masters was intrusted to me. The necessity for extending as far as
possible my studies in exegesis and Semitic philology compelled me to
learn German. I had no elementary knowledge of it, for at St. Nicholas
my education had been wholly Latin and French. I do not complain of
this. A man need only have a literary knowledge of two languages,
Latin and his own; but he should understand all those which may be
useful to him for business or instruction. An obliging fellow pupil
from Alsace, M. Kl----, whose name I often see mentioned as rendering
services to his compatriots in Paris, kindly helped me at the outset.
Literature was to my mind such a secondary matter, amidst the ardent
investigation which absorbed me, that I did not at first pay much
attention to it. Nevertheless, I felt a new genius, very different
from that of the seventeenth century. I admired it all the more
because I did not see any limit to it. The spirit peculiar to Germany
at the close of the last century, and in the first half of the present
one, had a very striking effect upon me; I felt as if entering a place
of worship. This was just what I was in search of, the conciliation
of a truly religious spirit with the spirit of criticism. There were
times when I was sorry that I was not a Protestant, so that I might
be a philosopher without ceasing to be a Christian. Then, again, I
recognised the fact that the Catholics alone are consistent. A single
error proves that a Church is not infallible; one weak part proves
that a book is not a revealed one. Outside rigid orthodoxy, there was
nothing, so far as I could see, except free thought after the manner
of the French school of the eighteenth century. My familiarity with
the German studies placed me in a very false position; for upon the
one hand it proved to me the impossibility of an exegesis which did
not make any concessions, while upon the other hand I quite saw that
the masters of St. Sulpice were quite right in refusing to make these
concessions, inasmuch as a single confession of error ruins the
whole edifice of absolute truth, and reduces it to the level of human
authorities in which each person makes his selections according to his
individual fancy.

For in a divine book everything must be true, and as two
contradictories cannot both be true, it must not contain any
contradiction. But the careful study of the Bible which I had
undertaken, while revealing to me many historical and esthetic
treasures, proved to me also that it was not more exempt than any
other ancient book from contradictions, inadvertencies, and errors.
It contains fables, legends, and other traces of purely human
composition. It is no longer possible for any one to assert that the
second part of the book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah. The book of
Daniel, which, according to all orthodox tenets, relates to the period
of the captivity, is an apocryphal work composed in the year 169
or 170 B.C. The book of Judith is an historical impossibility. The
attribution of the Pentateuch to Moses does not bear investigation,
and to deny that several parts of Genesis are mystical in their
meaning is equivalent to admitting as actual realities descriptions
such as that of the Garden of Eden, the apple, and Noah's Ark. He
is not a true Catholic who departs in the smallest iota from the
traditional theses. What becomes of the miracle which Bossuet so
admired: "Cyrus referred to two hundred years before his birth"? What
becomes of the seventy weeks of years, the basis of the calculations
of universal history, if that part of Isaiah in which Cyrus is
referred to was composed during the lifetime of that warrior, and if
the pseudo-Daniel is a contemporary of Antiochus Epiphanes?

Orthodoxy calls upon us to believe that the biblical books are the
work of those to whom their titles assign them. The mildest Catholic
doctrine as to inspiration will not allow one to admit that there is
any marked error in the sacred text, or any contradiction in matters
which do not relate either to faith or morality. Well, let us allow
that out of the thousand disputes between critique and orthodox
apologetics as to the details of the so-called sacred text there are
some in which by accident and contrary to appearances the latter
are in the right. It is impossible that it can be right in all the
thousand cases and it has only to be wrong once for all the theory
as to its inspiration to be reduced to nothing. This theory of
inspiration, implying a supernatural fact, becomes impossible to
uphold in the presence of the decided ideas of our modern common
sense. An inspired book is a miracle. It should present itself to
us under conditions totally different from any other book. It may be
said: "You are not so exacting in respect to Herodotus and the poems
of Homer." This is quite true, but then Herodotus and the Homeric
poems do not profess to be inspired books.

With regard to contradictions, for instance, no one whose mind is
free from theological preoccupations can do other than admit the
irreconcilable divergences between the synoptists and the author
of the Fourth Gospel, and between the synoptists Compared with one
another. For us rationalists this is not of much importance; but the
orthodox reasoner, compelled to be of opinion that his book is right
in every particular, finds himself involved in endless subtleties.
Silvestre de Sacy was very much perplexed by the quotations from the
Old Testament which are met with in the New. He found it so difficult,
with his predilection for accuracy in quotations, to reconcile them
that he eventually admitted as a principle that the two Testaments are
both infallible of themselves, but that the New Testament is not so
when it quotes the Old. Only those who have no sort of experience in
the ways of religion will feel any surprise that men of such great
powers of application should have clung to such untenable positions.
In these shipwrecks of a faith upon which you have centred your life,
you cling to the most unlikely means of salvage rather than allow all
you cherish to go to the bottom.

Men of the world who believe that people are brought to a decision in
the choice of their opinions by reasons of sympathy or antipathy will
no doubt be surprised at the train of reasoning which alienated me
from the Christian faith, to which I had so many motives, both of
interest and inclination, for remaining attached. Those who have not
the scientific spirit can scarcely understand that one's opinions are
formed outside of one by a sort of impersonal concretion of which one
is, so to speak, the spectator. In thus letting my course be shaped by
the force of events, I believed myself to be conforming to the rules
of the seventeenth century school, especially to those of Malebranche,
whose first principle is that reason should be contemplated, that man
has no part in its procreation, and that his sole duty is to stand
before the truth, free from all personal bias, ready to let himself be
led whither the balance of demonstration wills it. So far from having
at the outset certain results in view, these illustrious thinkers
urged in the interests of the truth the obliteration of anything like
a wish, a tendency, or a personal attachment. The great reproach of
the preachers of the seventeenth century against the libertines was
that they had embraced their desires and had adopted irreligious
opinions because they wished them to be true.

In this great struggle between my reason and my beliefs I was careful
to avoid a single reasoning from abstract philosophy. The method of
natural and physical sciences which at Issy had imposed itself upon me
as an absolute law led me to distrust all system. I was never stopped
by any objection with regard to the dogmas of the Trinity and the
Incarnation regarded in themselves. These dogmas, occurring in the
metaphysical ether did not shock any opposite opinion in me. Nothing
that was open to criticism in the policy and tendency of the Church,
either in the past or the present, made the slightest impression upon
me. If I could have believed that theology and the Bible were true,
none of the doctrines which were afterwards embodied in the _Syllabus_
and which were thereupon more or less promulgated, would have given me
any trouble. My reasons were entirely of a philological and critical
order; not in the least of a metaphysical, political, or moral kind.
These orders of ideas seemed scarcely tangible or capable of being
applied in any sense. But the question as to whether there are
contradictions between the Fourth Gospel and the synoptics is
one which there can be no difficulty in grasping. I can see these
contradictions with such absolute clearness that I would stake my
life, and, consequently, my eternal salvation, upon their reality
without a moment's hesitation. In a question of this kind there can
be none of those subterfuges which involve all moral and political
opinions in so much doubt. I do not admire either Philip II. or Pius
V., but if I had no material reasons for disbelieving the Catholic
creed, the atrocities of the former and the faggots of the latter
would not be obstacles to my faith.

Many eminent minds have on various occasions hinted to me that I
should never have broken away from Catholicism if I had not formed so
narrow a view of it; or if, to put it in another way, my teachers
had not given me this narrow view of it. Some people hold St.
Sulpice partially responsible for my incredulity, and reproach that
establishment upon the one hand with having inspired me with too
complete a trust in a scholasticism which implied an exaggerated
rationalism, and, upon the other, with having required me to admit as
necessary to salvation the _suimmum_ of orthodoxy, thus inordinately
increasing the amount of sustenance to be swallowed, while they
narrowed in undue proportions the orifice through which it was
to pass. This is very unfair. The directors of St. Sulpice, in
representing Christianity in this light, and by being so open as to
the measure of belief required, were simply acting like honest men.
They were not the persons who would have added the gratifying _est de
fide_ after a number of untenable propositions. One of the worst
kinds of intellectual dishonesty is to play upon words, to represent
Christianity as imposing scarcely any sacrifice upon reason, and in
this way to inveigle people into it without letting them know to what
they have committed themselves. This is where Catholic laymen, who dub
themselves liberals, are under such a delusion. Ignorant of theology
and exegesis, they treat accession to Christianity as if it were a
mere adhesion to a coterie. They pick and choose, admitting one dogma
and rejecting another, and then they are very indignant if any one
tells them that they are not true Catholics. No one who has studied
theology can be guilty of such inconsistency, as in his eyes
everything rests upon the infallible authority of the Scripture and
the Church; he has no choice to make. To abandon a single dogma or
reject a single tenet in the teaching of the Church, is equivalent to
the negation of the Church and of Revelation. In a church founded
upon divine authority, it is as much an act of heresy to deny a single
point as to deny the whole. If a single stone is pulled out of the
building, the whole edifice must come to the ground.

Nor is there any good to be gained by saying that the Church will
perhaps some day make concessions which will avert the necessity of
ruptures, such as that which I felt forced upon me, and that it will
then be seen that I have renounced the kingdom of God for a trumpery
cause. I am perfectly well aware how far the Church can go in the way
of concession, and I know what are the points upon which it is useless
to ask her for any. The Catholic Church will never abandon a jot or
tittle of her scholastic and orthodox system; she can no more do so
than the Comte de Chambord can cease to be legitimist. I have no doubt
that there will be schisms, more, perhaps, than ever before, but
the true Catholic will be inflexible in the declaration: "If I
must abandon my past, I shall abandon the whole; for I believe in
everything upon the principle of infallibility, and this principle
is as much affected by one small concession as by ten thousand large
ones." For the Catholic Church to admit that Daniel was an apocryphal
person of the time of the Maccabaei, would be to admit that she
had made a mistake; if she was mistaken in that, she may have been
mistaken in others, and she is no longer divinely inspired.

I do not, therefore, in any way regret having been brought into
contact, for my religious education, with sincere teachers, who would
have scrupulously avoided letting me labour under any illusion as to
what a Catholic is required to admit. The Catholicism which was taught
me is not the insipid compromise, suitable only for laymen, which has
led to so many misunderstandings in the present day. My Catholicism
was that of Scripture, of the councils, and of the theologians.
This Catholicism I loved, and I still respect it; having found it
inadmissible, I separated myself from it. This is a straightforward
course, but what is not straightforward is to pretend ignorance of
the engagement contracted, and to become the apologist of things
concerning which one is ignorant. I have never lent myself to
a falsehood of this description, and I have looked upon it as
disrespectful to the faith to practise deceit with it. It is no fault
of mine if my masters taught me logic, and by their uncompromising
arguments made my mind as trenchant as a blade of steel. I took
what was taught me--scholasticism, syllogistic rules, theology, and
Hebrew--in earnest; I was an apt student; I am not to be numbered with
the lost for that.



Such were these two years of inward labour, which I cannot compare to
anything better than a violent attack of encephalitis, during which
all my other functions of life were suspended. With a certain amount
of Hebraic pedantry, I called this crisis in my life Naphtali,[1]
and I often repeated to myself the Hebrew saying: "_Napktoule elohim
niphtali_ (I have fought the fight of God)." My inward feelings were
not changed, but each day a stitch in the tissue of my faith was
broken; the immense amount of work which I had in hand prevented
me from drawing the conclusion. My Hebrew lecture absorbed my whole
thoughts; I was like a man holding his breath. My director, to whom
I confided my difficulties, replied in just the same terms as M.
Gosselin at Issy: "Inroads upon your faith! Pay no heed to that; keep
straight on your way." One day he got me to read the letter which St.
Francois de Sales wrote to Madame de Chantal: "These temptations are
but afflictions like unto others. I may tell you that I have known but
few persons who have achieved any progress without going through this
ordeal; patience is the only remedy. You must not make any reply, nor
appear to hear what the enemy says. Let him make as much noise at the
door as he likes without so much as exclaiming, 'Who is there?'"

The general practice of ecclesiastical directors is, in fact, to
advise those who confess to feeling doubts concerning the faith not
to dwell upon them. Instead of postponing the engagements on
this account, they rather hurry them forward, thinking that these
difficulties will disappear when it is too late to give practical
effect to them, and that the cares of an active clerical career will
ultimately dispel these speculative-doubts. In this regard, I must
confess that I found my godly directors rather deficient in wisdom. My
director in Paris, a very enlightened man withal, was anxious that I
should be at once ordained a sub-deacon, the first of the holy orders
which constitutes an irrevocable tie. I refused point-blank. So far
as regarded the first steps of the ecclesiastical state, I had obeyed
him. It was he himself who pointed out to me that, the exact form of
the engagement which they imply is contained in the words of the Psalm
which are repeated: "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and
of my cup; thou maintainest my lot." Well, I can honestly declare
that I have never been untrue to that engagement. I have never had any
other interest than that of the truth, and I have made many sacrifices
for it. An elevated idea has always sustained me in the conduct of
my life, so much so that I am ready to forego the inheritance which,
according to our reciprocal arrangement, God ought to restore to me:
"_The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly

My friend in the seminary of St. Brieuc[2] had decided, after much
hesitation, to take holy orders. I have found the letter which I
wrote to him on the 26th of March, 1844, at a time when my doubts with
regard to religion were not disturbing my peace of mind so much as
they had done.

"I was pleased but not surprised to hear that you had taken the final
step. The uneasiness by which you were beset must always make itself
felt in the mind of one who realizes the serious import of assuming
the order of priesthood. The trial is a painful but an honourable one,
and I should not think much of one who reached the priestly calling
without having experienced it.... I have told you how a power
independent of my will shook within me the beliefs which have hitherto
been the main foundations of my life and of my happiness. These
temptations are cruel indeed, and I should be full of pity for any one
who was ever tortured by them. How wanting in tact towards those who
have suffered these temptations are the persons who have never been
assailed by them. It is no wonder that such should be the case, for
one must have had experience of a thing thoroughly to understand it,
and the subject is such a delicate one, that I question whether there
are any two human beings more incapable of understanding one another
than a believer and a doubter, however complete may be their good
faith and even their intelligence. They speak two unintelligible
languages, unless the grace of God intervenes as an interpreter. I
have felt how completely maladies of this kind are beyond all human
remedy, and that God has reserved the treatment of them to himself,
_inanu mitissima et suavissima pertractans vulnera mea_, to quote St.
Augustin, who evidently speaks from experience. At times the _Angelus
Satanae qui me colaphizet_ wakes up. Such, my dear friend, is our
fate, and we must abide by it. _Converte te sufra, converte te infra_,
life, especially for the clergy, is a battle, and perhaps in the long
run, these storms are better for man than a dead calm, which would
send him to sleep.... I can hardly bring myself to fancy that within
a twelvemonth you will be a priest, you who were my schoolfellow and
friend as a boy. And now we are halfway through life, according to the
ordinary mode of reckoning, and the second half will probably not
be the pleasanter of the two. This surely should make us look upon
passing ills as of no account, and endure with patience the troubles
of a few days, at which we shall smile in a few years' time, and not
think of in eternity. Vanity of vanities!"

A year later the malady, which I thought was only a fleeting one, had
spread to my whole conscience. Upon the 22nd of March, 1845, I wrote a
letter to my friend which he could not read, as he was on his deathbed
when it reached him.

"My position in the seminary has not varied much since our last
conversation. I am allowed to attend all the lectures on Syriac of
M. Quatremere, at the College de France, and I find them extremely
interesting. They are useful to me in many ways; in the first place
by enabling me to learn much that is useful and attractive, and by
distracting my mind from certain subjects.... I should be quite happy
if it were not that the painful thoughts of which you are aware were
ever afflicting my mind at an increasingly rapid rate. I have quite
made up my mind not to accept the grade of sub-deacon at the next
ordination. This will not excite any notice, as owing to my age, I
should be compelled to allow a certain interval to elapse between my
different orders. Nor, for the matter of that, is there any reason why
I should care for what people think. I must accustom myself to brave
public opinion, so as to be ready for any sacrifice. I suffer much at
times. This Holy Week, for instance, has been particularly painful
for me, for every incident which bears me away from my ordinary life,
revives all my anxious doubts. I console myself by thinking of Jesus,
so beautiful, so pure, so ideal in His suffering--Jesus whom I hope
to love always. Even if I should ever abandon Him, that would give Him
pleasure, for it would be a sacrifice made to my conscience, and God
knows that it would be a costly one! I think that you, at all events,
would understand how costly it would be. How little freedom of choice
man has in the ordering of his destiny. When no more than a child who
acts from impulse and the sense of imitation, one is called upon
to stake one's whole existence; a higher power entangles you in
indissoluble toils; this power pursues its work in silence, and before
you have begun to know your own self, you are tied and bound, you know
not how. When you reach a certain age, you wake up and would like
to move. But it is impossible; your hands and arms are caught
in inextricable folds. It is God Himself who holds you fast, and
remorseless opinion is looking on, ready to laugh if you signify that
you are tired of the toys which amused you as a child. It would be
nothing if there was only public opinion to brave. But the pity is
that all the softest ties of your life are woven into the web that
entangles you, and you must pluck out one-half of your heart if you
would escape from it. Many a time I have wished that man was born
either completely free, or deprived of all freedom. He would not be so
much to be pitied if he was born like the plant family, fixed to the
soil which is to give it nourishment. With the dole of liberty allowed
to him, he is strong enough to resist, but not strong enough to act;
he has just what is required to make him unhappy. 'My God, My God, why
hast Thou forsaken Me?' How is all this to be reconciled with the
sway of a father? There are mysteries in all this, and happy is he who
fathoms them only in speculation.

"It is only because you are so true a friend that I tell you all this.
I have no need to ask you to keep it to yourself. You will understand
that I must be very circumspect with regard to my mother. I would
rather die than cause her a moment's pain. O God! shall I have the
strength of mind to give my duty the preference over her? I commend
her to you; she is very pleased with your attentiveness to her. This
is the most real kindness you can do me."

[Footnote 1: _Lucta mea_, Genesis xxx. 8.]

[Footnote 2: His name was Francois Liart. He was a very upright and
high minded young man. He died at Treguier at the end of March, 1845.
His family sent me after his death all my letters to him, and I have
them still.]



I thus reached the vacation of 1845, which I spent, as I had
the preceding ones, in Brittany. There I had much more time for
reflection. The grains of sand of my doubts accumulated into a solid
mass. My director, who, with the best intentions in the world, gave
me bad advice, was no longer within my reach. I ceased to take part
in the sacraments of the Church, though I still retained my former
fondness for its prayers. Christianity appeared to me greater than
ever before, but I could only cling to the supernatural by an effort
of habit--by a sort of fiction with myself. The task of logic was
done; that of honesty was about to begin. For nearly two months I
was Protestant; I could not make up my mind to abandon altogether the
great religious tradition which had hitherto been part of my life;
I mused upon future reforms, when the philosophy of Christianity,
disencumbered of all superstitious dross and yet preserving its moral
efficacity (that was my great dream), would be left the great school
of humanity and its guide to the future. My readings in German gave
nurture to these ideas. Herder was the German writer with whom I was
most familiar. His vast views delighted me, and I said to myself, with
keen regret, if I could but think all that like a Herder and remain a
priest, a Christian preacher. But with my notions at once precise
and respectful of Catholicism, I could not succeed in conceiving
any honourable way of remaining a Catholic priest while retaining my
opinions. I was Christian after the fashion of a professor of theology
at Halle or Tuebingen. An inward voice told me: "Thou art no longer
Catholic; thy robe is a lie; cast it off."

I was a Christian, however; for all the papers of that date which I
have preserved give clear expression to the feeling which I have since
endeavoured to portray in the _Vie de Jesus_, I mean a keen regard
for the evangelic ideal and for the character of the Founder of
Christianity. The idea that in abandoning the Church I should remain
faithful to Jesus got hold upon me, and if I could have brought myself
to believe in apparitions I should certainly have seen Jesus saying
to me: "Abandon Me to become My disciple." This thought sustained and
emboldened me. I may say that from that moment my _Vie de Jesus_ was
mentally written. Belief in the eminent personality of Jesus--which is
the spirit of that book--had been my mainstay in my struggle against
theology. Jesus has in reality ever been my master. In following out
the truth at the cost of any sacrifice I was convinced that I was
following Him and obeying the most imperative of His precepts.

I was at this time so far removed from my old Brittany masters
in respect to disposition, intellectual culture and study that
conversation between us had become almost impossible. One of them
suspected something, and said to me: "I have always thought that you
were being overdone in the way of study." A habit which I had acquired
of reciting the psalms in Hebrew from a small manuscript of my own
which I used as a breviary, surprised them very much. They were half
inclined to ask me if I was a Jew. My mother guessed all that was
taking place without quite understanding it. I continued, as in my
childhood, to take long walks into the country with her. One day, we
sat down in the valley of Guindy, near the Chapelle des Cinq Plaies,
by the side of the spring. For hours I read by her side, without
raising my eyes from the book, which was a very harmless one--M. de
Bonald's _Recherches Philosophiques._ Nevertheless the book displeased
her, and she snatched it away from me, feeling that books of the same
description, if not this particular one, were what she had to dread.

Upon the 6th of September, 1845, I wrote to M. ----, my director, the
following letter, a copy of which I have found among my papers,
and which I reproduce without in any way attenuating its somewhat
inconsistent and feverish tone:--

"SIR,--Having had to make two or three journeys at the beginning of
the vacation, I have been unable to correspond with you as early as I
could have wished. I was none the less urgently in need of unbosoming
myself to you with regard to pangs which increase in intensity each
day, and which I feel all the keener because there is no one here to
whom I can confide them. What ought to make for my happiness causes
me the deepest sorrow. An imperious sense of duty compels me to
concentrate my thoughts upon myself, in order to spare pain to those
who surround me with their affection, and who would moreover be quite
incapable of understanding my perplexity. Their kindness and soothing
words cut me to the quick. Oh, if they only knew what was going on
in the recesses of my heart! Since my stay here I have acquired some
important data towards the solution of the great problem which is
preoccupying my mind. Several circumstances have, to begin with, made
me realise the greatness of the sacrifice which God required of me,
and into what an abyss the course which my conscience prescribes must
plunge me. It is useless to describe them to you in detail, as, after
all, considerations of this kind can be of no weight in the resolution
which has to be taken. To have abandoned a path which I had selected
from my childhood, and which led without danger to the pure and noble
aims which I had set before myself, in order to tread another along
which I could discern nothing but uncertainty and disappointment; to
have disregarded the opinion which will have only blame in store
for what is really an honest act on my part, would have been a small
thing, if I had not at the same time been compelled to tear out part
of my heart, or, to speak more accurately, to pierce another to which
my own was so deeply attached. Filial love had grown in proportion as
so many other affections were crushed out. Well, it is in this part
of my being that duty exacts from me the most painful sacrifice. My
leaving the seminary will be an inexplicable enigma to my mother; she
will believe that I have killed her out of sheer caprice.

"Truly may I say that when I envisage the inextricable mesh in which
God has ensnared me while my reason and freedom were asleep, while I
was following with docile steps the path He had Himself traced out for
me, distracting thoughts crowd themselves upon me. God knows that I
was simple-minded and pure; I took nothing upon myself; I walked with
free and unflagging steps in the path which He disclosed before me,
and behold this path has led me to the brink of a precipice! God has


Back to Full Books