Houtin, Albert

views updated


Historian of Biblical criticism and of the religious and moral crises at the time of Modernism; b. La Flèche, France, Oct. 4, 1867; d. Paris, July 28, 1926. He was ordained (1891) for the Angers diocese and taught at the minor seminary. He left his diocese (1901) because of difficulties with his bishop over research on local ecclesiastical history and went to Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he was in touch with many of the chief figures in Modernism. His La Question biblique chez les catholiques de France au XIXMe siècle was placed on the Index (1903), a fate shared by four of his other books. About 1900 his faith began to deteriorate. By 1912 he put aside clerical garb and worked from 1913 on at the Musée pedagogique, whose director he became in 1919.

From a broad idea of the evolution of dogma he moved to a Christian theism akin to that of the Unitarians, then to a conviction that there is no revealed religion, and finally to a philosophy of distrust that considered religion as "humbug." As a "disabused Don Quixote" he looked continually in history for the "pious lie" and considered the Church as the personification of it. His ultimate position questioned the sincerity of all men, systems, and beliefs, a stance that he denied was misanthropic. Houtin had a strong, uncompromising mind, which was neither supple nor subtle. His narrowing of vision to a search for insincerity and fraud led many observers, including several figures in Modernism, simultaneously to prize certain facts that he had documentated and to assail his evaluation as vitiated by his personal assessment of the presence of insincerity. His two volumes on La Question biblique and the Histoire du modernisme catholique (1913) are his best known works. The ceremonies at his funeral were civil only. His body was cremated.

Bibliography: a. houtin, Mon expérience, 2 v. (Paris 192628). j. riviÈre, Le Modernisme dans l'Église (Paris 1929). É. poulat, Histoire, dogme, et critique dans la crise moderniste (Tournai 1962).

[j. j. heaney]