The Devils of Loudun Page 7

Among these victims were the monks of the various orders which had, since the cessation of open hostilities between Huguenots and Catholics, established houses in the once Protestant city. Grandier’s prime reason for disliking the monks was the fact that he himself was a secular priest and as loyal to his caste as the good soldier is loyal to his regiment, the good undergraduate to his school, the good Communist or Nazi to his party. Loyalty to organization A always entails some degree of suspicion, contempt or downright loathing of organizations B, C, D, and all the rest. And this is true even of component groups within a larger, superordinated whole. Ecclesiastical history exhibits a hierarchy of hatreds, descending by orderly degrees from the Church’s official and oecumenical hatred of heretics and infidels to the particular hatreds of order for order, school for school, province for province and theologian for theologian.

“It would be good,” St. Francis de Sales wrote in 1612, “it would be good, through the intervention of pious and prudent prelates, to bring about union and mutual understanding between the Sorbonne and the Jesuit Fathers. If in France the bishops, the Sorbonne and the orders were thoroughly united, in ten years it would be all up with heresy” (Œuvres, XV, 188). It would be all up with heresy because, as the saint says in another place, “Whoever preaches with love preaches sufficiently against heresy, though he may never utter a controversial word” (Œuvres, vi, 309). A Church divided by intestine hatreds cannot systematically practise love and cannot, without manifest hypocrisy, preach it. But instead of union there was continued dissension; instead of love there was the odium theologicum and the aggressive patriotism of caste and school and order. To the feud between the Jesuits and the Sorbonne was soon added the feud between the Jansenists and an alliance of Jesuits and Salesians. And after that came the long-drawn battle over Quietism and Disinterested Love. In the end the Gallican Church’s quarrels, internal and external, were settled, not by love or persuasion, but by authoritarian ukase. For the heretics there were the dragonnades and finally the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. For the squabbling ecclesiastics there were papal bulls and threats of excommunication. Order was restored, but in the most unedifying way possible, by means the most coarsely unspiritual, the least religious and humane.

Partisan loyalty is socially disastrous; but for individuals it can be richly rewarding—more rewarding, in many ways, than even concupiscence or avarice. Whoremongers and money-grubbers find it hard to feel very proud of their activities. But partisanship is a complex passion which permits those who indulge in it to make the best of both worlds. Because they do these things for the sake of a group which is, by definition, good and even sacred, they can admire themselves and loathe their neighbours, they can seek power and money, can enjoy the pleasures of aggression and cruelty, not merely without feeling guilty, but with a posuvresitive glow of conscious virtue. Loyalty to their group transforms these pleasant vices into acts of heroism. Partisans are aware of themselves, not as sinners or criminals, but as altruists and idealists. And with certain qualifications this is in fact what they are. The only trouble is that their altruism is merely egotism at one remove, and that the ideal, for which they are ready in many cases to lay down their lives, is nothing but the rationalization of corporate interests and party passions.

When Grandier criticized the monks of Loudun, it was, we may be sure, with a sense of righteous zeal, a consciousness of doing God’s work. For God, it went without saying, was on the side of the secular clergy and of Grandier’s good friends, the Jesuits. Carmelites and Capuchins were all very well within the walls of their monasteries, or conducting missions in out-of-the-way villages. But they had no business to poke their noses into the affairs of an urban bourgeoisie. God had decreed that the rich and respectable should be guided by the secular clergy, with a little assistance perhaps from the good fathers of the Company of Jesus. One of the new parson’s first acts was to announce from the pulpit that the faithful were under an obligation to make confession to their parish priest, not to any outsider. The women, who did most of the confessing, were only too ready to obey. Their parish priest was now a clean, good-looking young scholar, with the manners of a gentleman. One could not say as much of the average Capuchin or Carmelite director. Almost overnight the monks lost most of their fair penitents and, along with them, most of their influence in the town. Grandier followed up this first broadside with a succession of uncomplimentary references to the Carmelites’ principal source of income—a miracle-working image called Notre-Dame de Recouvrance. There had been a time when a whole quarter of the city was filled with inns and boarding-houses for the accommodation of the pilgrims who came to beg the image for health or a husband, for an heir or better luck. But now Notre-Dame de Recouvrance had a formidable rival in Notre-Dame des Ardilliers, whose church was at Saumur, only a few leagues from Loudun. There are fashions in saints, just as there are fashions in medical treatment and women’s hats. Every great church has ts history of upstart images, of parvenu relics ruthlessly displacing the older wonder-workers, only to be elbowed out of public favour, in their turn, by some newer and momentarily more attractive thaumaturge. Why did Notre-Dame des Ardilliers come to seem, almost suddenly, so vastly superior to Notre-Dame de Recouvrance? The most obvious of the doubtless very numerous reasons was that Notre-Dame des Ardilliers was in charge of the Oratorians and, as Grandier’s first biographer, Aubin, remarks, “all the world agrees that the Priests of the Oratory are able men and more cunning than the Carmelites.” The Oratorians, it should be recalled, were secular priests. Perhaps this helps to explain Grandier’s sceptical coolness towards Notre-Dame de Recouvrance. Loyalty to his caste impelled him to work for the profit and glory of the secular clergy and for the discredit and ruin of the monks. Notre-Dame de Recouvrance would certainly have sunk into oblivion, even if Grandier had never come to Loudun. But the Carmelites preferred to have another opinion. To think about events realistically, in terms of multiple causations, is hard and emotionally unrewarding. How much easier, how much more agreeable to trace each effect to a single and, if possible, a personal cause! To the illusion of understanding will be joined, in this case, the pleasure of hero-worship, if the circumstances are favourable, and the equal, or even greater pleasure, if they should be unfavourable, of persecuting a scapegoat.

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