Dechamps, Victor Auguste

views updated


Theologian; b. Melle near Ghent, Dec. 6, 1810; d. Mechlin, Sept. 29, 1883. When he was 12 the family moved to the Castle of Scailmont near Manage; he and his brother studied philosophy and letters under their father's supervision. They shared a preference for the writings of Lamennais. When the Brabançonnic revolution broke out in 1830, they published their "lamennaisien" opinions in the Journal des Flandres as well as in L'Emancipation.

Victor Dechamps entered the seminary at Tournai in 1832, attended Louvain University, and was ordained in 1835. Feeling himself called to religious life, Dechamps left the University for the Redemptorist novitiate at Saint-Trond. In 1836 he became professor of dogma and Scripture at the Redemptorist scholasticate in Wittem. It was here that he conceived his apologetic method. He later developed this in his great works, especially in Entretiens sur la Démonstration de la Foi (1856); Lettres Théologiques (1861); and in two volumes entitled La Question Religieuse (1861).

This method, called the "method of Providence," contrary to those in the texts of the day, was founded on two factors: man himself in his desire and need for the living divine word (internal factor) and the Church who alone responds to this human desire and proves from within herself that she comes from God by her "subsistent miracle" of unity, universality, indefectibility, and holiness (external factor). This method was the fruit not only of Dechamps's years at Wittem, but also of the rich experiences of his apostolic life.

He left Wittem in 1840. In his own religious community he was several times rector, and became provincial superior from 1851 to 1854. A frequent visitor to Rome on matters of his congregation, he did everything in his power to establish the generalate of the Redemptorists there. In 1855 at the Redemptorist general chapter in Rome he supported those seeking a more strict form of religious poverty. Since they were not a majority he fell into disfavor with his new religious superiors.

The Belgian bishops considered naming him rector of Louvain University. Because his writings were somewhat opposed to the semitraditionalism of the professors of Louvain, his nomination would have been welcomed by Pius IX. But Dechamps refused it. He became bishop of Namur in 1865 and two years later bishop of Malines. At vatican council i (186970), with Cardinal H. E. manning, he led the "Infallibilists." He did not assume doctrinal leadership, but his letters to F. A. P. dupan loup and A. J. A. gratry are famous. His apologetic views on revelation and the credibility of the Church were used in the constitution De Fide. Although esteemed by the pope, he was not made a cardinal until 1875.

Leo XIII asked him to name a professor of Thomistic philosophy for Louvain. He chose Désiré mercier, the future Cardinal Archbishop of Malines. The pope intervened in the Belgian school question, asking Cardinal Dechamps and his suffragans who had condemned severely the "Loi de Malheur" (187980) to be more moderate. Dechamps died a year before the victory of the Catholic party.

Bibliography: Oeuvres complètes, 17 v. (Mechlin 187483). m. becquÉ, L'Apologétique du cardinal Dechamps (Paris 1949); Le cardinal Dechamps, 2 v. (Louvain 1956). r. archambault, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947) 3:508509. a. largent, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 4.1:171182.

[m. becquÉ]