The French have a saying: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: The more things change, the more they stay the same. That paradox is most apt for this little volume.
For on the one hand, Louis Veuillot’s 1866 book concerns a lost world, that lost world of Nineteenth Century Catholic France, overwhelmed by Republican France …
On the other hand, how heartwrenchingly relevant so much of it remains today!
Who was Louis Veuillot? He was, among other things, a titanic figure in Nineteenth Century France – a crusading Catholic journalist, poet, novelist and more – an Ultramontanist who was battling for everything he held dear.
And when the Apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes occurred in 1858, Veuillot was among the first to arrive. As a journalist, he was instrumental in putting Lourdes ‘on the map’.
Writing this book in the 1860s, Veuillot sees Catholic France endangered on every front by the ongoing Revolution. Because for Veuillot, the Revolution did not end in the 1790s, when the Revolution murdered the king, thousands of nobility and priests and carried out its genocidal ‘scorched earth’ campaign in the Vendée.
No, by 1866 when Veuillot wrote this book, the genocide was over – but the same revolutionary fervour carried on in France, albeit by less bloody means.
Whereas Republican France at least claimed to be concerned with rights to liberty and equality, Veuillot was concerned – with good reason – that it was destroying ‘the greatest, most illustrious and most necessary of the rights of man – which is the right to know and serve God’.
Who was Louis Veuillot? One might also say that he was the ‘spiritual son’ of Joseph De Maistre, the father of Catholic Counter-Revolutionary thinking. De Maistre published his most important works not long after Veuillot was born. And Veuillot acknowledged his indebtedness saying: ‘When I was born, Joseph de Maistre blew the trumpet and I heard it.’
‘It is necessary to place him apart’ Veuillot would also say of De Maistre ‘among the great men, almost among the prophets …’
For Veuillot, the situation of Catholic France provides nothing other than a very, very stark choice: Revolution versus Revelation.
The first option, Veullot maintains, is for a society based on the de-Christianised philosophy of the Revolution – leading to Godlessness and cultural decay.
The second option is for a Christian society that continues to uphold the Church and her traditions.
And what is the Liberal Illusion?
The Liberal Illusion, according to Veuillot, is the fallacy that a third, compromise choice is possible. According to that fallacy, he says, one does not need to choose between being a Catholic faithful to the Tradition or a secularist faithful to the Revolution. It is the fallacy that one can choose a little of the Revolution and a little of Relevation – and end up with Liberal Catholicism.
For Veuillot is clear: if you try to do this – you will have abandoned the Church and joined the Revolution.
The Liberal Illusion is a passionate, poignant and pious cry from the heart: Liberal Catholicism will not and cannot work!
And herein lies its eerie, unsettling relevance today.
Today, we are still witness to the failure of Liberal Catholicism – in terms clearly envisaged 150 years ago by Veuillot. For example – just one example! – Veuillot confronts head-on the notion, which still resounds in Liberal Catholic circles today, that the Church can win popular appeal by accommodating Herself to ‘the spirit of the age’.
Veuillot points out that rather than bringing people into the Church, the actual result is more like a exit door from the Church into the world …
I will not say too much more, dear Reader. In a moment, I will simply leave you with some quotes from the book, which if you are studying the crisis in the modern Church, may well strike you as all-too-poignantly and piercing relevant to the crisis in Catholicism today.
Oui … plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
I will just say this The Liberal Illusion is a very short, compact work – filled with insight. Looking back on it today, after 150 years, I cannot endorse every last word the author says. He was, after all, a fallible human being and like all of us, a product of his times …
Nonetheless this staunch, uncompromising book is studded with gems of insight. If we cannot today subscribe to everything Veuillot says, we can nevertheless find much to admire in this man of passionate verve and intensity.
I have found this little book truly precious.
And now I leave you with the words of Veuillot himself from 1866: words which may strike you as eerily resonant and relevant …
Louis Veuillot on Going with the Flow
‘”Go with the flow” about sums up the high-flown novelties that Liberal Catholicism is so proud of.
And why should we go with the flow, may I ask! We are born, we are baptised, we are consecrated, in order to swim against the flow! The flow of ignorance and misbehaviour found in creatures; the flow of lies and sin; the flow of filth sweeping us away to perdition: we must swim against it and strive to make it run dry. We have no other business in this world.
Our history is the story of the triumph of God by means of the truth … The pagans were liberal. They very much wanted to reach an understanding with the Church. All they asked was that She bring her Christ down a little to the rank of one deity among others. Then Catholic worship would have been set free; Jesus would have been given temples just like Orpheus and Aesculapius, and the pagans themselves would have worshipped Him because of His manifestly superior philosophy.
[But when Christians were persecuted when they refused to accept this compromise honouring pagan Gods they] did not hesitate or say among themselves: “What will become of the Church if we die, and who will serve God?” They professed the one God and they died. That is how they made the sword fall from the hand of the executioner … and snatched the human race from the edge of the abyss.’
Louis Veuillot on the False Promise of Liberal Catholicism
‘Liberalism proclaims … The light (the Church) will shine all the brighter … and only then (after the Church loses its privileges) will it pierce the darkness. As soon as we become more subtle Catholics, modified Catholics, in a word, new Catholics, we will immediately convert the world. This illusion consoles their mind when their heart quails; they cherish it, and their eloquence on its behalf reveals how violently, like Esau, they desire a mess of pottage.’
Louis Veuillot on the Liberal Exit Door Out of the Church
‘In vain, have liberal catholics denied their brothers, scorned papal bulls, and explained away or disdained encyclicals: these excesses earned them scant praise and humiliating encouragements, but no converts. To date, the liberal chapel has no entry door from outside, and seems to be no better than an exit door from inside to let people out of the Catholic Church.’
Louis Veuillot on the Danger of Ambiguous Language
(Although the following quote is from the book, it actually not from Veuillot’s own pen – rather Veuillot has quoted a contemporary he clearly agrees with.)
‘Let us beware of the conclusions one might draw from equivocal language: it is perilous to habituate an entire generation to bringing ambiguity into questions of vital importance …’
Louis Veuillot on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – and Obedience
“Obedience alone can maintain us in the truth; in so doing, it places in our hands the fullness of life. Let us not cheat of its benefits a mankind gone mad. Let us neither betray it, nor corrupt it.
While we are being put to the trial and chastised, let our word so give witness to the truth, that it cease not to beg God’s pardon – the day of which it will hasten.
The world is on its way to losing Christ, and with Him all that He gave it.
The Revolution is squandering the royal heritage while it boasts of taking it over.
Civilisation is slipping toward tyranny, the contempt of man, and the sacrifice of the innocent – all accomplished in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Let us rather uphold that liberty which proclaims that God alone is God: that we must adore only Him, and obey Him alone, whatever tyrants … pass over the face of the earth. Let us uphold that equality which teaches us to bow down our souls before neither power, nor talent, nor success, but before the justice of God alone. Let us uphold that fraternity, the true fraternity that only exists – that can only exist – on this earth if we uphold the fatherhood and the kingship of Christ.’
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