Sangnier, Marc

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Pioneer of Christian Democracy in France, founder of the Sillon movement condemned by pius x; b. Paris, Apr. 3, 1873; d. Paris, May 28, 1950. Sangnier was born into an upper middle-class family and manifested the literary talent of his great-grandfather, Jacques Aucelot, a member of the Académie Française, and the oratorical fluency of his maternal grandfather, the well-known lawyer Charles Lachaud. He accompanied his father, also a lawyer, on travels in Europe and North Africa. The influence of an intelligent and devout mother left an indelible mark on him. At the Collège Stanislas, where the Society of Mary inculcated in the pupils a solid faith rare among men of the time, Sangnier studied under Paul Desjardins and Maurice blondel and won first place in philosophy in a national competition. In 1895 he entered the École Polytechnique to prepare for a military career that he later abandoned for the cause of social education. Between 1914 and 1918, however, he resumed his post as an officer and in 1916 was in charge of a Red Cross mission to Rome. He was elected a deputy to Parliament in 1919, 1945, and 1946.

Origins of Le Sillon. The French Republic of Sangnier's youth was anticlerical, and the masses were rejecting Christianity in spite of Leo XIII's rerum novarum (1891) and pronouncement on the ralliement (1892). Sangnier founded the monthly Le Sillon (18941910) to show that one could be a Christian and a republican at the same time and that a workman could be a Christian without renouncing his fellows. He confided his project to a few companions at the Collège whom he brought together in a kind of cave (la Crypte), telling them, "The truth must be sought with all one's soul," and "Love is stronger than hate." These aphorisms became watchwords of the Sillon movement. The young men took as their models ozanam, lacordaire, and gratry. Archbishop John ireland, stopping in Paris in 1892, praised their work.

Beginning in 1899 this group founded first in Paris, then throughout France, study circles for the social education of youth. All social classes were mingled, all members averred, "We have a common soul." In 1901 the Instituts Populaires were founded to make it possible for workmen to continue their education. When the anticlerical minister J. Combes expelled the religious from France in 1902 and prepared the way for the separation of Church and State that was accomplished in 1905, the Sillonists organized protest meetings. To maintain order in the rallies of miners, Sangnier organized a courageous Jeune Garde, several members of which were seriously wounded by anticlerical demonstrators on May 23, 1903. The Sillonists were outstanding for amity, purity of life, and respect for prayer and the Sacraments. Impressed by the good that they accomplished, Pius X encouraged them on their pilgrimages to Rome in 1903 and 1904.

Democracy. Beginning in 1905, Sangnier concentrated his efforts on democratic doctrine and action. He defined democracy as "a social organization that tends toward the maximum development of individual conscience and civic responsibility." To him the best incentive for the sense of responsibility and the love of others implied in democracy was the moral strength implanted in Christian hearts by the grace of God. This grace he thought the Sillonists should devote to the development of democracy in order to restore Christ to a society that believed it could expel Him by anticlerical laws. The Sillonists founded a weekly, the Eveil démocratique (19051910). Sangnier met leading socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, and representatives of cooperative movements. His group established several successful cooperatives. Its members interested themselves in rural democratic movements, and Sangnier declared before one of these that he was proud to be a Catholic but wished to engage in dialogue with all men of good will.

Each year the Sillonists met in a monastic retreat, where prayer and study were alternated. They also held annual national congresses to determine lines of conduct. At Orléans in 1907 they decided to gather around themselves (while not admitting to membership) non-Catholics attracted by their moral ideals. This new group was called "the greater Sillon." At the Paris congress in 1908 Sangnier announced that the Sillon would establish a new political party, the République démocratique, which would weaken the position of the traditional parties and prove that it was not necessary to be anticlerical in order to adhere to the Republic and to maintain a strong social policy. On two occasions in 1909 and 1910 he ran unsuccessfully in party and parliamentary elections. His campaigns called attention to the new party and its principles. By 1910 the Sillonists had their own daily, La Démocratie, for which they raised the capital themselves, partly by doing without even the necessities of life.

Letter of Pius X. On Aug. 25, 1910, a public letter of Pius X called for the dissolution of the Sillon. The organization was accused of avoiding episcopal direction, of placing so much emphasis upon the human origins of authority as to detract from the divine, of attenuating the divine character of Christ by exaggerating His humanity, of preferring tolerance to truth in giving the impression that men could be united in a religion more universal than the Catholic Church. Sangnier's loyalty to the Church had never faltered, but in order to win over his anticlerical adversaries he had at times been conciliatory to the point of imprudence. He and his disciples submitted immediately to the Holy See and the pope was deeply moved by this proof of their loyalty.

Effort for International Peace. After World War I Sangnier was one of the first leaders in Europe to work toward the reconciliation of peoples, especially toward Franco-German understanding, by means of congresses and other international meetings.

Bibliography: m. sangnier, Discours, 5 v. (Paris 191025); L'Education sociale du peuple (Paris 1899); L'Esprit démocratique (Paris 1905); Le Plus grand Sillon (Paris 1908); La Lutte pour la démocratie (Paris 1908); La Paix par la jeunesse (Paris 1926). a. darricau, Marc Sangnier (Paris 1958). j. g. de fabregues, Le Sillon de Marc Sangnier (Paris 1964). s. and h. galliot, Marc Sangnier, 18731950 (Paris 1960). The Amitiés Marc Sangnier pub. a bulletin L'Âme commune.

[j. caron]