Lamennais, Hugues Félicité Robert de
LAMENNAIS, HUGUES FÉLICITÉ ROBERT DE
French priest, writer, philosopher, apologist for ultramontanism, and pioneer of Catholic liberalism; b. Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), France, June 19, 1782; d. Paris, Feb. 27, 1854.
Early Career. He came from a well-to-do, upper-middle-class family of Brittany. His grandfather added to the family name the title de La Mennais. Félicité signed his name F. de La Mennais until his alignment with the democratic movement led him to adopt the signature F. Lamennais. During his early years he steeped himself in the works of rousseau and other rationalistic authors of the French enlightenment, and became indifferent to religion. The influence of his brother Jean de lamennais was instrumental in restoring his Catholic faith (1804). Félicité began a serious private study of religious problems. In collaboration with his brother he wrote Réflexions sur l'état de l'Église en France au XVIIIe siècle (1809) and Tradition de l'Église sur l'institution des évêques (1814). He was ordained in 1816 without attending a seminary. Thereupon he devoted himself to apologetic studies with the aim of restoring to the Church the self-confidence it had lost during the french revolution. He intended also to provide a religious basis for civil society in the spirit of Joseph de maistre, Louis de bonald, and other defenders of tradition. Both purposes were evident in his widely acclaimed Essai sur l'indifférence en matière de religion (4 v. 1817–23) in which he claimed that certitude must be sought in the raison générale or sens commun, the common conviction of men in general. This norm he valued as a participation in the divine omniscience and, therefore, infallible. A "natural" belief in the testimony of humanity, according to this outlook, is the basis of certitude (see traditionalism). Lamennais further asserted that the highest expression of truth comes from the Church. This reasoning was defective because it confused cause with effect and concluded that certitude for the individual results from the "common sense," whereas the "common sense" results from the totality of individual certitudes. Despite this shortcoming the book provided a powerful attack on widespread religious indifference. The author's fame spread quickly throughout Europe.
La Chesnaie, a country house acquired in 1799 by the two brothers, was the center from which Félicité diffused his ideas. He began there a campaign to restore society from a state that seemed to him to be verging on dissolution. In 1828 he founded the short-lived Congregation of St. Peter, designed to inaugurate a new type of religious institute more flexible in its organization than existing religious orders. It combined a broader outlook on the world with a training, considered better suited to modern needs, that introduced members to the founder's ideas concerning the revival of Christianity.
Catholic Liberalism. From his study of history Lamennais became convinced that union with the civil power does not aid religion. He concluded that a Catholic revival would occur only when the Church was liberated from dependence on the state and its Bourbon rulers. Soon he thought of allying Catholicism with liberalism (see liberalism, religious). In his book De la religion considérée dans ses rapports avec l'ordre politique et civil (2 v. 1825–26) his views on the proper relation between the spiritual and temporal powers opposed those of gallicanism and upheld those of ultramontanism. A second book, Des progrès de la révolution et de la guerre contre l'Église (1829), insisted that the Church utilize the fundamental liberties granted by the government in the charter and abandon all claims to a privileged position, thereby accepting, at least de facto, the liberal notion of the state instead of the traditional Christian one.
The revolution of 1830 in France convinced Lamennais of the correctness of his ideas. To propagate them he started (1830) a newspaper, L'Avenir, which became the voice of Catholic liberalism. Its motto was "God and Liberty." gerbet, guÉranger, lacordaire, montalembert, rohrbacher, and other disciples of Lamennais were on the distinguished list of collaborators. In his belief that liberty and Christianity were equally necessary, Lamennais appealed to both liberals and Catholics to accept "everybody's right to do anything that is not against right." L'Avenir sought complete religious liberty, freedom for the Church in education, freedom of the press and of association, universal suffrage, and governmental decentralization. Basing its stand on the legal one of common law, even where the Church's rights were concerned, L'Avenir advocated complete separation of Church and State. It held that the state must keep aloof from all religious groups and exercise no authority over them, but must respect the liberty of each of them. As a result the French concordat of 1801 should be abolished, episcopal nominations left to the Church, and the clergy removed from the public payroll. L'Avenir publicized a campaign for educational and religious liberty organized by the Agence générale pour la défense de la liberté religieuse, founded by Lamennais in 1828. The intent was to bring before the civil courts every encroachment on the Church's liberty.
L'Avenir was concerned with such delicate problems, and its harsh denunciations of opposing views aroused the hostility of the government and the bishops, most of whom were Gallicans who owed their appointments to the provisions of the concordat. Several bishops publicly opposed some methods of L'Avenir, such as open controversy and recourse to trials in the civil courts, and some of its ideas, such as those on liberty, democracy, popular sovereignty, and complete separation of Church and State. Thereupon the number of subscribers to L'Avenir declined rapidly.
Condemnation. With a crisis inevitable Lamennais, Lacordaire, and Montalembert departed (December 1831) for Rome to submit their program to the pope. After a formal audience with gregory xvi, the trio returned to France, leaving behind for examination a memoir that exposed their ideals. Meanwhile several French bishops had forwarded to Rome a document called the "Censure of Toulouse," which requested the condemnation of certain propositions extracted from the writings of Lamennais. The French and Austrian governments also applied pressure on Rome to gain a condemnation of doctrines and activities that were regarded as subversive of the state. Notwithstanding this pressure the Vatican conducted a more careful study than Lamennais realized. At its conclusion Gregory XVI issued the encyclical Mirari vos (Aug. 15, 1832); its warnings against the evils of the age contained implicitly a censure of L'Avenir. In a letter to Lamennais Cardinal pacca revealed that the Holy See was grieved with the editors mainly because: (1) they had taken it upon themselves to deal publicly with very delicate questions that should be handled only by the heads of the Church and the State;(2) their doctrines on civil and political liberty tended of their nature to foment a spirit of revolt; (3) their views on liberty of worship and of the press were exaggerated and contrary to the Church's teachings and practice; and (4) their suggestion of collaboration between Catholics and all who wanted to work for liberty was most disturbing to the pope.
The Roman censure was justifiable because L'Avenir failed to make the necessary distinctions in its defense of complete separation of Church and State. The liberalism with which an alliance was sought regarded religion as merely a personal question, a subjective matter; and this outlook led inevitably to relativism and indifferentism. The term liberalism recalled to Catholic minds the excesses of the French Revolution; yet Lamennais failed to distinguish between the true and the false in liberal ideology. He neglected also to make essential reservations in proclaiming his alliance with the liberals. L'Avenir 's editors did not accept the philosophical bases of secular liberalism or the indifferentism to which Mirari vos reduced these bases, but they gave the impression of doing so by making the concessions they did and by taking positions that led logically to what was legitimately objectionable in the liberal standpoint. This impression was strengthened by the polemical expressions utilized by the editors and by the failure to disassociate the paper's views on liberty and democracy from the violently anti-Catholic, secular bias that characterized many champions of these ideals.
It was a profoundly disappointed Lamennais who drafted an act of submission on behalf of the editors of L'Avenir and of the council of the Agence générale (Sept. 10, 1832), but it cannot be proved that this submission was insincere. During the following two years, however, Lamennais changed his attitude toward the papacy and transferred his campaign to the purely secular level by avoiding the theological aspects of questions. Contributing to his subsequent tragedy was the inconsiderate attitude of Bishops D' astros and De Lesquen. Lamennais was required to reiterate his submission four more times. Finally he became embittered and abandoned all priestly functions (January 1834).
Four months later he published Paroles d'un croyant, which bitterly denounced political tyranny. The book exercised a baneful influence despite its condemnation in the encyclical Singulari nos (July 15, 1834) as undermining the entire civil order. In Affaires de Rome (1836–37) Lamennais made a serious but incomplete attempt to justify himself. The book was placed on the Index (Feb. 14, 1837). By this time Lamennais had abandoned the Church and his former associates had broken with him. Five more of his works were also placed on the Index between 1838 and 1846.
Last Years. The solution of the growing social question and the defense of democracy were his chief concerns in his remaining years. Regeneration of society had, to be sure, ever been his constant driving force; it gave consistency to the seeming contradictions in the various periods of his career. He was not strictly a socialist even though his views at times approached socialism. His conviction was that mankind was approaching a regime in which the working class would predominate. He sympathized with the proletariat and believed in its moral superiority over other classes. After the revolution of 1848 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, but the effect of his brief term in the legislature was disillusionment. Soon he retired from public life. His last important publication was a translation of Dante's Divine Comedy; its lengthy introduction may be considered his spiritual and intellectual testament. His faith deteriorated into a strange mixture of Christianity, pantheism, and naturalism. He died unreconciled with the Church.
Appraisal. Scholarly studies in mid-20th century have tended to recognize the great merit and significance of Lamennais in many fields. Despite the failure of his priestly vocation and the imprudence and inaccuracy of some of his proposals, he has exercised profound influence on Catholicism. He supplied a new impetus to Catholic apologetics, demonstrated the need for an improved program of clerical studies, and did more than anyone else to popularize ultramontanism and to weaken Gallicanism among the French clergy. His attempt to obtain the active participation of the laity in the Church's defense was laudable. It was with him that the reconciliation of the Church with democracy began. He pioneered in social Catholicism by seeking to satisfy popular longings for social justice. In his impetuosity he went too far and too fast. Several of his ideas reappeared, however, in mitigated form later in the 19th century. Outside France Lamennais exercised considerable influence as an apologist. His notions of liberty were utilized by the Church later in its struggles for emancipation. Among the more prominent Catholics influenced by Lamennais were dÖllinger and Görres in Germany, gioberti and rosminiserbati in Italy, balmes and donoso cortÉs in Spain, Malou and Van Bommel in Belgium, J. G. Le Sage ten Broek in the Netherlands, wiseman in England, and o'connell in Ireland.
Bibliography: h. talvart and j. place, Bibliographie des auteurs modernes de langue française (1801– ) (Paris 1928– ) 11:167–229. f. duine, Essai de bibliographie de F. R. de Lamennais (Paris 1923). Works. Oeuvres complètes, 12 v. in 6 (Paris 1836–37). There is a mediocre Eng. tr. of the first v. of the Essay on Indifference in Matters of Religion by h. e. stanley (London 1895); Oeuvres posthumes, ed. e. d. forgues, 3 v. (Paris 1856–59); Paroles d'un croyant: 1833 (Paris 1834), critical ed. y. le hir (Paris 1949), Eng. The People's Prophecy, tr. c. reavely (London 1943); Articles de l'Avenir, 7 v. (Louvain 1831–32); Essai d'un système de philosophie catholique (Paris 1834), critical ed. y. le hir (Rennes 1954); Correspondance inédite entre L. et le baron de Vitrolles, ed. e. forgues (Paris 1886); Lettres inédites de L. à Montalembert, ed. e. forgues (Paris 1898). c. f. montalembert, Lettres à L., ed. g. goyau and p. de lallemand (Paris 1932). Literature. c. boutard, Lamennais: Sa vie et ses doctrines, 3 v. (Paris 1905–13). f. duine, L.: Sa vie, ses idées, ses ouvrages (Paris 1922). p. dudon, L. et le Saint-Siège (1820–1834) (Paris 1911). a.r. vidler, Prophecy and Papacy: A Study of L., the Church and the Revolution (New York 1954), excellent. f. j. vrijmoed, L. avant sa défection, et la Néerlande catholique (Paris 1930). c. carcopino, Les Doctrines sociales de L. (Paris 1942). y. le hir, L. écrivain (Paris 1948). r. remond, L. et la démocratie (Paris 1948). j. b. duroselle, Les Débuts du catholicisme social en France, 1822–1870 (Paris 1951). a. dansette, Religious History of Modern France (New York 1961) v.1. a. gambaro, Sulle orme del L. in Italia (Turin 1958– ). j. r. derrÉ, L.: Ses amis et le mouvement des idées à l'époque romantique (Paris 1962). c. constantin, "Libéralisme catholique," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951– ) 9.1:506–629. a. fonck, ibid. 8.2:2473–2526 i. daniele, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:1786–88.
Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais
Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais
The French political writer Hugues Félicité Robertde Lamennais (1782-1854) was a former priest whose liberal political and religious ideas greatly agitated 19th-century France.
Félicité de Lamennais was born on June 19, 1782, into a well-to-do family in the town of Saint-Malo in Brittany. As a bright, sensitive young man, he was deeply impressed by the ideals as well as the horrors of the French Revolution. He gradually became convinced that social revolution must be accompanied by a firm religious faith. In 1816 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Over the next 6 years Lamennais became widely known in Europe for his Essay on Indifference in Matters of Religion, in which he argued that a genuine improvement in man's social condition must be based on religious truth. Since the Roman Catholic Church possessed the fullest expression of religious truth, Europe's hope for a better future lay in accepting that Church's beliefs and structure.
Pope Leo XII invited Lamennais to Rome and offered to make him a cardinal. The passionate and dedicated young priest refused and returned to France, where, with a group of talented and equally dedicated disciples, including the Comte de Montalembert and Jean Baptiste Lacordaire, he started the journal L'Avenir (The Future) in 1830. The group pressed the Church's officials to renounce its connections with the government and take up instead the cause of the people. Lamennais wrote that the Church should support democratic and revolutionary movements wherever they appeared. Most of the French bishops, who owed their positions to an agreement the Pope had made with Napoleon, reacted strongly against Lamennais. His ideas were labeled subversive by the governments of both France and Austria, which joined with the bishops in pressuring the Pope to silence L'Avenir.
In 1832 Pope Gregory XVI issued an encyclical letter, Mirari vos, calling the ideas advocated in L'Avenir "absurd, and supremely dangerous for the Church." Lamennais, bitterly disappointed, submitted. But a year later, after the Pope had publicly supported the Russian Czar in suppressing the Polish peasants, he left the Church. In 1834 he wrote a short, biting book, Words of a Believer, in which he denounced all authority, civil as well as ecclesiastical. In the next decade his thinking moved further and further to the left. He believed in the moral superiority of the working class and foresaw a time when governments would be overthrown and the workers would rule. During his last years he spent time in prison and was also elected to the Chamber of Deputies. After his death in Paris on Feb. 27, 1854, Lamennais was buried without funeral rites, mourned by thousands of intellectual and political sympathizers around the world.
Peter N. Stearns, Priest and Revolutionary: Lamennais and the Dilemma of French Catholicism (1967), a perceptive portrait, is the best book on Lamennais in English. Alexander R. Vidler, Prophecy and Papacy: A Study of Lamennais, the Church, and the Revolution (1954), is an excellent scholarly study. See also W. J. Linton, Biography of Lamennais (1892). William Samuel Lilly wrote a lively essay on Lamennais, "A Nineteenth Century Savonarola," in Studies in Religion and Literature (1904). □