Mercier, Désiré Joseph

views updated Jun 08 2018


MERCIER, DÉSIRÉ JOSEPH (18511926), a leading figure in Roman Catholic neoscholastic philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century and Cardinal Primate of Belgium (19061926). Born November 21, 1851, in Braine-l'Alleud, near Waterloo, Mercier studied philosophy and theology at Malines and earned a licentiate in theology at Louvain University (1877). Subsequently, he studied psychiatry in Paris.

Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1874, Mercier became a staunch supporter of Pope Leo XIII's call for a revival of Thomistic thought in the encyclical Aeterni patris (1879). Initially a professor of philosophy at the Malines seminary in 1877, Mercier then became the first holder of a new chair for Thomist philosophy at Louvain University in 1882. He soon sought papal approbation for a new institute at Louvain, and in 1889 Leo XIII approved the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie with Mercier at its head. Calling former students together from around the globe, he assembled an international group of disciples.

Working in opposition to Mill's positivism, and above all to neo-Kantian idealism, Mercier became a major figure in the development of Roman Catholic neoscholastic thought, which sought to mediate between modern natural science and traditional Thomistic metaphysics. While neoscholastic thought of the nineteenth century was concerned mainly with questions of epistemology and the soul-body relationship and locked its responses to these problems into a rigid anti-Kantian tradition, Mercier strove to make Thomistic philosophy dependent upon the thought of his time: to see the "new" in the "old." His main area of concentration was psychology, and in 1892 he founded the first experimental laboratory at his institute in that discipline; later laboratories, emphasizing his regard for experimental methods, followed in cosmology, chemistry, and physics.

In contrast to most Roman Catholic thinkers of his time, Mercier saw philosophy as distinct from theology, and above all as an enterprise that should be free of all apologetics. Without abandoning all tradition, he sought to imbue philosophy with the same ethic of investigation that marked other university disciplines; philosophy must address the people, their times, and their problems. Even when dealing with such questions as truth and certitude, Mercier appealed to human experience. This led to his system of "illationism," which admitted that truth and certitude came from intellectual reflection, but that the content of such abstract thought always had its origins in concrete experience. Though this direction produced much controversy in neoscholastic circles, it was unable to sustain itself as a "school" at Louvain University. Mercier gave expression to his thought in a series of textbooks (his Course in Philosophy ) that dealt with logic, psychology, metaphysics, and the criteria for truth and certitude (18921899). In addition, he founded the influential Revue néo-scolastique de philosophie (1894), in which many of the movement's most important debates were carried out.

Appointed archbishop of Malines in 1906, Mercier was created a cardinal by Pius X in 1907. Though never a leading figure in the controversy of modernism that rocked the Roman Catholic church at the beginning of the twentieth century, he did issue a famous Lenten pastoral letter in 1908 against the work of George Tyrrell (18611909), a prominent Irish modernist thinker; his letter prompted a vitriolic but brilliant rejoinder by Tyrrell in his Medievalism (1908). As a pastorally concerned leader of his diocese, Mercier was deeply involved in the spiritual life and development of both his clergy and the laity; indeed, he sought greater cooperation between both groups as well as advances in social justice. Though Mercier never became a strong political figure in Belgiumhis attachment to French culture hindered his understanding of the Flemish and their problemshe did become a figurehead for the Belgian people during the German occupation of World War I (19141918), strengthening their morale through sermons and pastoral letters. This proved so effective that the Germans placed him under house arrest, which earned him great prestige among the Belgian people and much praise from the Allies after the war.

Mercier's final years after World War I were dedicated to more universal problems, particularly those of church reunion. He founded the Institute of the Monks of Union at Chevetogne in Belgium in order to further reunion and reconciliation with the Eastern churches and made perhaps his most influential and lasting effort in hosting and participating in the famous "Malines Conversations" (19211925). Suggested by Lord Halifax (Charles Lindley Wood, 18391934), these meetings were concerned with aiding the mutual understanding and relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Mercier's most famous moment came in the fourth session when he presented his paper on "The English Church United Not Absorbed," in which he proposed that the archbishopric of Canterbury be made a patriarchate, that the Roman code of canon law not be imposed in England, that England be allowed its own liturgy, and that all of the historical English sees be left in place while the newly erected Roman Catholic sees (1850) be suppressed. These suggestions generated much controversy and opposition in Rome, and Mercier's death on January 26, 1926, in Brussels effectively meant the end of the "Conversations."


Works by Mercier

Mercier's main work, the Cours de philosophie, 4 vols. (Louvain, 18941899): vol. 1, Logique (1894); vol. 2, Métaphysique générale, ou Ontologie (1894); vol. 3, La psychologie (1899); and vol. 4, Critériologie générale, ou Théorie générale de la certitude (1899), represented his sequence of philosophy courses given at the Higher Institute for Philosophy at the University of Louvain. Many of Mercier's writings and public utterances were collected in the Œeuvres pastorales (Brussels and Louvain, 19111929), in seven volumes. Finally, his famous exchange of letters with the commandant of the German occupation forces during World War I appeared as La correspondance de S. E. cardinal Mercier avec le gouvernement général allemand pendant l'occupation, 19141918, edited by Fernand Mayence (Brussels, 1919); in English translation as Cardinal Mercier's Own Story (New York, 1920). The most complete bibliography of Mercier's published writings should be consulted in the commemorative volume Le cardinal Mercier, 18511926 (Brussels, 1927), pp. 341372.

Works about Mercier

Of the several biographies of Mercier, one may profitably consult John A. Gade's The Life of Cardinal Mercier (New York, 1934). A full-scale and scholarly biography of Mercier, taking advantage of the many particular studies that have appeared since his death, and which would place him more accurately in the troubled and multifaceted context of his time, still must be written. Among the most important of these investigations are Alois Simon's major studies, particularly Le cardinal Mercier (Brussels, 1960), which provide an assessment of Mercier's contributions both to renewed scholasticism and the general philosophical conversation at the turn of the century in Europe. For new information concerning Mercier's ecumenical activities, one should consult Roger Aubert's "Les conversations de Malines: Le cardinal Mercier et le Saint-Siège," Bulletin de l'Academie Royale de Belgique 53 (1967): 87159; and R. J. Lahey's "The Origins and Approval of the Malines Conversations," Church History 43 (September 1974): 366384.

Gary Lease (1987)

Mercier, Désiré Joseph

views updated May 18 2018


Founder and first president of the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie at Louvain (Belgium), cardinal archbishop of Malines; b. Braine-l'Alleud (near Waterloo), Nov. 21, 1851; d. Brussels, Jan. 23, 1926. He was the son of Paul (180858), manufacturer and artist, and of A. M. Barbe Croquet (181582), sister of Msgr. Adrian Croquet (d. 1902), apostle of the Oregon native tribe. After his studies in the classics, philosophy, and theology at the seminary of Malines, Mercier was ordained (1874), obtained a licentiate in theology at Louvain (1877), and became professor of philosophy at Malines the same year. In 1882 he was commissioned to inaugurate the chair of Thomistic philosophy created at the University of Louvain at the request of Pope Leo XIII. Mercier endeavored to realize the program formulated in the 1879 encyclical aeterni patris : to restore the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, harmonize it with the progress of modern science and thought, and extend its influence to the scientific and social disciplines. On the basis of his initial successes, he asked for, and received, the support of the pope for the creation of an Institut Supérieur de Philosophie that would provide a complete education in the various philosophical areas. When named president of this institute in 1889, Mercier gathered collaborators from among his first students and with their assistance formed an international group of enthusiastic and devoted disciples. The Revue Néo Scolastique, founded in 1894, made the writings of the institute available throughout the scholarly world.

Philosophy. Mercier's views concerning philosophy differed greatly from those of most of his Catholic contemporaries. For him philosophy was a purely rational discipline distinct from theology; not only this, but it had to be free from every apologetical preoccupation. Furthermore, philosophy cannot be considered a finished work. It must be animated with the spirit of research found in other university disciplines. Without breaking with tradition, philosophy must address itself to men in their own times. It must stay in contact with the empirical sciences and gain support from them, while yet aspiring to explanations that transcend the order of observable data.

This view of philosophy explains why Mercier appealed to experience when treating the transcendental character of truth and goodness, finality, and other themes. It is also apparent in his view of psychology, Mercier's favorite discipline. Fighting the "exaggerated spiritualism" and the mechanism that flowed, according to him, from Cartesian dualism, Mercier appealed to biology, physiology, and neurology to show the substantial unity of man and to elaborate the hylomorphic explanation of this unity. In 1892 he installed at the institute one of the first laboratories of experimental psychology, under the direction of A. Thiéry (18681955). In the same way he encouraged D. Nys (18591927) to unite cosmology with physics and chemistry and S. Deploige (18681927) to link ethics with the social sciences.

Mercier recognized the critical problem as one of furnishing a criterion for truth and certitude. This criterion, he believed, must be furnished in and by reflection. Since the latter is characteristic of intelligence, the criterion must be the evidence arrived at in the domain of abstract ideas. Yet he made appeal to the principle of causality to explain that the content of these ideas comes from experience and to guarantee thereby the real character of the evidence. This "illationism," later abandoned at Louvain because of the influence of L. Noël, had the merit of stimulating a fruitful controversy.

Episcopacy. On Feb. 7, 1906, Mercier was named archbishop of Malines. He administered this diocese of2.5 million inhabitants with continual solicitude for every type of Catholic activity and deep concern for the spiritual development of his priests. As primate of Belgium he convoked a Catholic congress in 1909 to coordinate religious activity in the whole of Belgium. At the 1920 provincial council, he examined the rehabilitation necessary in the aftermath of the war. If at first he was actively engaged in the political life of the countrywhere a powerful Catholic party seemed to him the best guarantee of Church liberty and the surest defense against a de-Christianizing Marxismhis concern after the war centered more on national understanding and specifically religious action. Lacking somewhat in political adaptability, Mercier was led to identify "la patrie" unconditionally with a unitary Belgium. This deficiency, coupled with his native attachment to French culture, explains his lack of understanding in the face of Flemish grievances. During the war he was convinced that his duty was to build and sustain the morale of his countrymen, to protest against the excesses of the German troops, and to cry against the injustices of the occupying government. This attitude won for him enormous prestige in his own country and among the Allied nations, as witnessed by the enthusiastic welcome accorded him in the United States in 1919.

When created a cardinal in 1907, Mercier took a lively interest in problems of the universal Church. Resuming after the war the work undertaken by the Fribourg Union, he created the International Union of Social Studies and presided over its work; this led, among other things, to the publication in 1927 of a social code. He was preoccupied also with Church union, and he installed in Belgium the Institute of the Monks of Union (Chevetogne) to further reconciliation with the churches of the Orient. Most importantly perhaps, he presided over the Malines Conversations (192125); at the initiative of Lord Halifax, these studied the conditions for union between Catholics and Anglicans.

See also: scholasticism; neoscholasticism and neothomism.

Bibliography: Works. Logique, v. 1; Métaphysique générale, ou Ontologie, v. 2; Psychologie, v. 3; Critériologie générale, ou théorie générale de la certitude, v. 4, all 4 v. are in Cours de philosophie (Louvain 189299); Les Origines de la psychologie contemporaine (Louvain 1897); Oeuvres pastorales, 7 v. (Louvain 191129); La Correspondance de S. É. le cardinal Mercier avec le gouvernement général allemand pendant l'occupation, 19141918, ed. f. mayence (Paris 1919). d. j. mercier et al., Traité élémentaire de philosophie à l'usage des classes, 2 v. (Louvain 1906). Literature. j. a. gade, The Life of Cardinal Mercier (London 1935). j. j. harnett, "Désiré Joseph Mercier and the Neoscholastic Revival," The New Scholasticism 18 (1944): 303339. l. de raeymaeker, Le Cardinal Mercier et l'Institut Supérieur de Philosophie de Louvain (Louvain 1952). a. simon, Le Cardinal Mercier (Brussels 1960); Position philosophique du cardinal Mercier: Esquisse psychologique (Brussels 1962).

[a. l. wylleman]

Conrad, Joseph

views updated May 18 2018

Joseph Conrad

Born: December 3, 1857
Berdyczew, Poland

Died: August 3, 1924
Bishopsbourne, England

Polish-born English writer and novelist

Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad is one of the great modern writers of England. His novels reflect his concerns with the complex individual, and how sympathy and imagination can blur clear judgmentwhich is essential to life. The character development in Conrad's books is engaging and powerful.

Childhood in Poland and Russia

Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) was born to Joseph Theodore Appollonius Korzeniowski and Evelina Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, in Berdyczew, Poland. His father was a writer and a translator of the works of William Shakespeare (15641616). He was also a member of a movement seeking Polish independence from Russia. In 1862 the family was forced to move to Russia because of his father's political activities. Conrad's mother died three years later in 1865. It was not until 1867 that Conrad and his father were allowed to return to Poland.

In 1868 Conrad attended high school in the Austrian province of Galicia for one year. The following year he and his father moved to Cracow, Poland, where his father died in 1869. From the time spent with his father, Conrad became a lover of literature, especially tales of the sea. After his father's death, his uncle, Thaddus Bobrowski, took Conrad in and raised him.

Merchant marine service and marriage

As a teenager the future novelist began dreaming of going to sea. In 1873, while on vacation in western Europe, Conrad saw the sea for the first time. In the autumn of 1874 Conrad went to Marseilles, France, where he entered the French marine service. For the next twenty years Conrad led a successful career as a ship's officer. In 1877 he probably took part in the illegal shipment of arms from France to Spain in support of the pretender to the Spanish throne, Don Carlos (17881855). At about this time Conrad seems to have fallen in love with a girl who was also a supporter of Carlos. The affair ended in a duel with an American named J. M. K. Blunt. This was the first time Conrad thought of taking his own life.

In June 1878 Conrad went to England for the first time. He worked as a seaman on English ships, and in 1880 he began his career as an officer in the British merchant service, rising from third mate to master. His voyages took him to distant and exotic places such as Australia, India, Singapore, Java, and Borneo, which would provide the background for much of his fiction. In 1886 he became a British citizen. He received his first command in 1888. In 1890 he traveled to the Belgian Congo, Zaire, and Africa, which inspired his great short novel The Heart of Darkness.

In the early 1890s Conrad had begun to think about writing fiction based on his experiences in the East. In 1893 he discussed his work in progress, the novel Almayer's Folly, with a passenger, the novelist John Galsworthy (18671933). A year later he retired from the merchant marines and completed Almayer's Folly, which was published in 1895. It received favorable reviews and Conrad began a new career as a writer.

In 1896 he married Jessie George, an Englishwoman. Two years later, just after the birth of Borys, the first of their two sons, they settled in Kent in the south of England, where Conrad lived for the rest of his life. John Galsworthy was the first of a number of English and American writers who befriended Conrad. Others were Henry James (18431916), Arnold Bennett (18671931), Rudyard Kipling (18651936), Stephen Crane (18711900), and Ford Madox (Hueffer) Ford (18731939), with whom Conrad collaborated on two novels.

Early novels, political novels

From 1896 through 1904 Conrad wrote novels about places he visited as a merchant marine and he explored themes such as the uncertainties of human sympathy. His early novels included An Outcast of the Islands (1896), The Nigger of the "Narcissus" (1897), The Heart of Darkness (1899), and Lord Jim (1900).

The next three novels reflected Conrad's political side. The theme of Nostromo (1904) was the relationship between man's deepest needs (his psychology) and his public actions and decisions. The description of London, England, in The Secret Agent (1907) was similar to Charles Dickens's works. It portrayed a city of mean streets and shabby lives. In Under Western Eyes (1911) Conrad examined the Russian temperament.

Conrad's next novel, Chance (1914), was a study of solitude and sympathy. Because of its financial success and the efforts of his American publisher, he was able to live without worrying about money for the rest of his life. Victory (1915), his last important novel, further examined the theme of solitude and sympathy.

Last novels and death

Although Conrad's last novels, The Shadow Line (1917) and The Rover (1923), were written as a farewell, he received many honors. In 1923 he visited the United States to great fanfare. The year after, he declined an offer of knighthood in England.

On August 3, 1924, Conrad died of a heart attack and was buried at Canterbury, England. His gravestone bears these lines from Edmund Spenser (15521599): "Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas,/ Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please."

For More Information

Baines, Jocelyn. Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960. Reprint, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975, 1960.

Karl, Frederick R., and Laurence Davies, eds. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991.

Conrad, Joseph

views updated May 14 2018

Conrad, Joseph (1857–1924). Writer. Conrad was born in the Ukraine, son of a revolutionary who was sent into internal exile. His mother died when he was 7, his father when he was 12. He went to sea, first visiting England in 1878 and becoming a British citizen in 1886. Though he never spoke English fluently, he wrote in it, publishing Almayer's Folly in 1895. It was followed rapidly by An Outcast of the Islands (1896), The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897), Lord Jim (1900), and Nostromo (1904). Conrad published prolifically, making money on Chance (1914). He gained great recognition and declined a knighthood in his last year. Conrad drew on his own experiences at sea to write adventures with an important moral dimension. In Lord Jim, based upon a real episode, Jim, chief mate of the Patna, ‘eaten up with rust’, abandons ship unnecessarily, is disgraced, and redeems himself by sacrificing his life. ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1902), a long short story, based on Conrad's time in the Congo, is, among other things, a sharp critique of imperialism.

J. A. Cannon