What Josephin Péladan WANTED

Josephin Péladan by Marcellin Desboutin
Josephin Péladan by Marcellin Desboutin

Here are further extracts from my upcoming book, Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Materialism and the New Age to the Catholic Mystery.

Worth mentioning is that this is taken from a chapter that focuses on desire: on what people want. The chapter tries to evoke how desire is collectively channelled through different collective structures.

For example, the structure of the Church or the structure of a society that has been aggressively assaulted by Capitalist marketing …

Extracts from Cor Jesu Sacratissimum

In a moment, Lector, I will invite you to join me in looking at the very significant divide between our contemporary “Americanised” world and that of Catholic France over a century ago. …

I have been repeatedly struck by the sense of limitation not only in space but also in time.

In space, I am referring of course to a certain cultural geography – one of Anglophone, secular and Protestant heritage. But what of provincialism in time?

Here I confess a known friend of mine rises in my awareness. Known friend: How you strike me as acutely reflective and moral! You were born in 1970, friend and forgive me, if I should offend.

But how profoundly it seems to me that your assumptions can be shaped by four decades of mainstream British culture bracketed: 1970 – 2010.

Like so many others, your harried, hectic life will not easily permit the reading of history and your media does little or nothing to compensate.

Known Friend – I address you in these pages and I do not think that you will object.

For you stand for countless others, including many unseen friends, who are also filled with heartfelt idealism.

Friends seen and unseen, I see your horror of the world, your sincere longing to find solutions, and I see your despair.

How I want to cry out loud: do not allow yourself to bracketed by a narrow slice of culture in time and space! Do not let yourself be limited to Anglophone assumptions, circa 1970-2010. For otherwise there may be nothing left to do, but despair indeed.

It is with all this in mind, that I want to rescue from obscurity a very different voice than that of contemporary “Anglo-Saxondom”. It is the voice of one Josephin Péladan, who wrote a long-forgotten series of novels in the nineteenth century, which bore the collective title of Le Vice Suprême.

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Josephin Péladan was writing as a French Catholic, a hundred years after the Revolution – the Revolution that had killed the king, countless nobility, priests, monks and nuns. And Péladan does not want what he regards as the results. He does not want a desacralised world, a world of banality he sees falling ever more into cultural decay …

No, Péladan wants a different world, he wants Christendom once more. He wants a world centred on Jesus Christ. He wants a world oriented to Cor Iesu, rex et centrum omnium cordium. He wants the Church, the Pope and the King, Christian and Catholic; he regards them all as necessary to a Sacred Order.

He thirsts for the Sacred Mystery that he sees sacramentally expressed through all these things. And as we shall shortly see, he does not want a secular world falling into capitalistic decadence. He does not want the “Godless Republic” he believes is being imposed on him and his people.

Now my purpose in emphasising that which Péladan wants is not to advocate everything he desires. For there are things he desires, that seem undesirable to me. For example, perhaps Péladan did not want the rights of woman. Like many men of his time, he was probably conditioned to want the privileges usurped by men.

But again, the intent here is not to unconditionally extol all that Péladan holds dear. Rather it is to suggest how his culture led him to want very different things than our own culture leads us to want.

For this can be a stimulus to our imagination – to see what a man representative of a culture not so far removed from us in time wanted and valued. That is, to see how radically different this can be.

For it should be emphasised that Péladan was no lone crank. He was representative of a vast tract of Catholic culture, which spread out across not only France, but much of Europe then.

He was a very successful novelist, partly because he spoke for the ideals of millions of Catholic French at the time. His first fiction would create a sensation, being rapidly reprinted in 1884.

When motion pictures would arrive decades later, his oeuvre was still sufficiently popular, for there to be a serious proposal to film his fiction. Translations of his work were made into a number of European languages. All this speaks to broad appeal. Yet how different this appeal is to popular English fiction today …

Significantly with only one exception (that I know of), Péladan was never translated into English. It is not hard to imagine the reason for this: Passionate Catholic traditionalism did not go down very well in England and America!

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Here then is yet another example of how we Anglophones may never even hear very popular concerns outside our Protestant-conditioned orbits.

Let us listen then awhile to a voice from a world that may well strike us as bizarre.

Here in Le Vice Suprême, the novel’s protagonist Merodack encounters something, which has now become all too commonplace in our modern society. However in the Paris of 1884, it was still a relatively new institution:

Merodack crossing the Plaza of the Stock Exchange, saw Mérignas who – in contrast to his habit of intellectual idleness – seemed preoccupied.

“Where is your laziness?”

“My laziness is very shaken,” and with a gesture, he indicated the squalid building from which came a clamour.

“Would you have an interest in this brothel?” asked Merodack.

Merignas persuades his friend to visit the scene of squalour. Merodack, like Péladan is evidently disgusted by this early manifestation of capitalism. For there the hero sees what the author describes as an:

Angry mob, delirious … jackals fighting over a carcass, crazy, wild with hunger.

From the context of the novel, it is clear Merodack himself now voices Péladan’s own sentiment:

“What desecration of the Word!” Merodack said … “prostituted in the cant of gold and its screaming. The day the prayer of the churches no longer drown out this uproar …”

He made a gesture as if to say: finished.”

Indeed, Péladan belongs to a society in which the Prayer of the Church still seems louder to him than the Crash of the Market. He is shocked by that which we have long since ceased to be shocked by.

Yet he pens his novel with ominous foreboding. He sees what is coming: what he will believes will finish civilisation.

The Supreme Vice: for Josephin Péladan it involved a secular materialism, which everywhere he looked began to rear its ugly head.

2023 Update:

The book was published years ago now and can be purchased through the advertisements on this page. I will just mention that the book owes very much to both my experience of Catholic France and Meditations on the Tarot by Valentin Tomberg. These themes are also explored in this nearly five hour video regarding Tomberg and Christendom:

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9 responses to “What Josephin Péladan WANTED”

  1. Cologero Avatar

    Before assuming Peladan wants what his culture offers, consider this recent posting:


    Peladan was well aware that popular culture was contrary to the faith, just as certainly in 19th century France as in the Anglosphere. He writes:

    “Baptism [as an initiation rite] makes us children of God, but Society dooms us to evil through is laws and education. Faith enlightens us, but it is in perpetual conflict with Society. The initiate, in order to make the grace of baptism full and effective, must renounce anew Society, its boundaries, its crimes, so that the fear of God makes him prefer the intimate greatness to the degrading favours of the country.”

    And: “Before you think and choose, society takes over your being and moulds it, as is its right. Once you think and choose, remove those received imprints, that is to say, liberate yourself from contemporary habits, as is your right.”

    It takes courage to liberate oneself from “contemporary habits”, even those we are very tempted to accept. That is the gift and virtue of Fortitude. Do not assume Peladan is wrong in certain areas, just because you would prefer him to be wrong.

  2. roger Avatar

    Cologero, I thank you for this.

    You seem to indicate we might be disagreeing. But if indeed we are, I think we have significant accord here, as well.

    I wonder if I was less clear than I would like to be.

    Certainly I did not mean to imply that “Péladan wanteds what his culture offers” as you put it, inasmuch as Péladan was surrounded by the ever-more dominant culture of the Third French Republic, which he was horrified by.

    He was horrified by all that Republic did: forcibly appropriating the property of the French Church, closing monasteries, expelling the Jesuits from France, working to end Christian education …

    These are only the more obvious and flagrant things that Republic did. Péladan would have also been disturbed indeed by countless more subtle and insidious aspects of the secular society being imposed around him.

    There is more here than I can easily address in a comments box. But I will note that although I have studied Péladan’s biography, my reading of his writing is drawn almost entirely from his first novel, published when he was 26.

    People change greatly in their lives. Your reading may better reflect the more mature Péladan. And maybe I need to revise here … I will ponder.

    Finally, I like indeed what you say following Péladan:

    “It takes courage to liberate oneself from “contemporary habits”, even those we are very tempted to accept. That is the gift and virtue of Fortitude.”

    Indeed, yes …

    1. Cologero Avatar

      Not necessarily a disagreement, but rather a call for a more balanced and complete approach. We don’t know what you mean by the “rights of women” … are you perhaps referring to the right to abortion? Maybe not, but then that is not what others may desire.

      Our personal desires, that is our personal spiritual activity, are of no consequence, or else they will block the mystical awareness of the Holy Spirit. So what we should desire for society is what is just. That you need to address. Now in the legal theses, VT writes that what is just may not necessarily be “reasonable” at a certain time. Is that what you mean, that what Peladan desires is simply not reasonable at this time? Or do you mean he desires an injustice?

      Then we could go on to the whole notion of rights. This, for example, is rejected by Eliphas Levi in favour of the notion of Duty … but that is getting far afield.

      1. roger Avatar

        Thank you Cologero. This is indeed helpful.

        I will certainly ponder revising for the printed version.

        For now, let me be clear that a purported “right to abortion” was the furthest thing from my mind!

        You speak of desiring ” for society what is just” … Indeed.

        It was very much nineteenth century injustice that I had in mind.

        I do not know the specific French laws of 1884, but it was typical of that century that women were deprived of property. This was inherited along the male line. Great suffering resulted, but many in this time did not question this.

        There are of course many other privileges and opportunities denied to women of the epoch. In democracies, they had no vote. Education was frequently denied etc

        Again, I really thank you for the feedback.

        And everyone else, privately and publicly.

        All this feedback definitely sharpens one’s sense of how one is communicating – or not.

        A longer extract from the book should be going up in the articles, in the next week or so – and I would much value feedback, again privately or publicly.

        Meanwhile I am about to put up a lengthy book review which I feel is one of the most important I have attempted here …

  3. Cologero Avatar

    Every age has its own forms of injustice. But that implies we understand what justice is; that is what needs to be defined, and by Traditional — not modern — standards. But there is a concept in Tomberg’s law degree thesis that he calls “reasonable”, not that it is easy to understand its intent. He seems to be saying that injustice is tolerated if it is reasonable at a given era due to the general attitudes and mores of the population. I don’t see how this can avoid turning into compromise. It just seems to me that if one is making a journey from liberalism to Tradition, then he ought not stop until he reaches the destination.

  4. roger Avatar

    Thank you again Cologero. Tomberg’s law theses are somewhat removed from the topic of this post. But I will say this. I do not think Tomberg wanted to justify the liberal excesses of our society. Far from it! I understand how his thought might be read that way, however.

    For me it is helpful to reflect on the Fall in this matter. Because you and I are deeply fallen, we are unjust. I commit and partticipate in injustice every day of my life. Some forms of injustice are such that they need to be dealt with with law. Others less so.

    To give perhaps a slightly ridiculous example: Noone should be able to penalise me because out of fallen greed, I ate an extra piece of cake last night, when people are going hungry … Because fining people for overeating is not reasonable.

    However, God is merciful to my fallen nature. He knows that I cannot help but be injust even if in relatively “minor” ways. I use the quotes because in one sense they may not be minor at all … Still they exist within a realm not controlled by statutory law.

    In any event Tomberg is appealing for a return to law that has the divine as its foundation. Not the materialistic conception of law that has allowed so many modern monstrosities.

  5. […] For example in a weblog entry (here), I indicated how provincial that modern mind is, in terms of both space and time. […]

  6. […] I also touch on counter-revolution and counter-Enlightenment matters here and there. […]

  7. […] Peladan’s works are hardly available in English (although we have a little more about him here, including a translated passage that is revealing in this context.) […]