Monday, 21 March 2011

The burden of belief; the burden of experience I

Since blogging time has been strictly limited in the past ten days, it occurred to me that I could simply tell you a little about the material I have been researching, and about some of its wider applications which spring to mind. The topic has been Georges Bernanos, and the focus his three pamphlets published in the late 1930s before the Second World War: les Grands Cimetières sous la lune, Scandale de la vérité and Nous autres Français. The questions which articulate the wider significance of these pamphlets are there in the title of this post: what is the burden of belief and what is the burden of experience? I'll explain those in just a moment.

Bernanos might be known to some readers for his fiction: Journal d'un curé de campagne or Sous le Soleil de Satan. Indeed he is a most striking and adventurous novelist, who helped drag secular realism towards what he calls Catholic realism, i.e. a way of depicting reality which does not eliminate the supernatural domain. He was at the same time one of those French intellectuals whom we class as engagé or committed, i.e. he was not some remote artist, doodling on his writing pad or fiddling while Rome burned. He was a keen observer of affairs in France and elsewhere, especially in the period between 1925 and 1948 (the year of his death). He had been in his youth a monarchist and member of the League of Action Française whose neo-royalist tripartite doctrine of Monarchism-Catholicism-Classicism sustained many a French Catholic under the onslaught of French secularism, or at least gave all the appearances of doing so.

What prompts the three pamphlets I have mentioned above, however, was his experience of the Spanish Civil War. He was living on Majorca in 1936 when the pronunciamento was declared, and while his eldest son went off to join the Falanje, Bernanos - his legs broken and crippled by an earlier motorbike accident - cheered the Nationalists from the sidelines. Until he saw how they were prosecuting the war on Majorca. I will mention a few of the most shocking stories over the next few posts throughout this week. But in essence he was totally stunned by what he saw, not only because it was barbaric and violent in the extreme, but also because the local Church was complicit in the atrocities which unfolded over the following months. These concerns are unpacked mainly in Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune, but their consequences are also central to the two later pamphlets written before the outbreak of the World War.

And so to the two questions. The burden of belief is one way of labelling the strain which he felt on his faith in the face of the complicity of churchmen with the atrocities on the island. How can this be the Church? How can representatives of Christ behave like this?

The burden of experience is the twin of the burden of belief. How can one deny what is before one's eyes? How can one give an account of it without destroying all hope? How can one so much as hide the least truth from exposure?

With such questions will the next few posts this week be concerned. For now the burden of experience tells me I need to run for my train!


Anagnostis said...

Great stuff - looking forward to it!

Dominic said...

Very much looking forward to reading these posts.

Mark said...

I'm looking forward to reading your answers to Bernanos's two questions. I remember being utterly horrified when I first read about the Church's complicity in the Ustasi atrocities in Croatia. I hasn't realised it was as bad as this in Spain.

Ben Trovato said...

I've long been a fan of the Journal, so will be very interested to read more about Bernanos.

Ttony said...

You might not care, but if you want to avoid a tide of ignorant vituperation, it might be worth trying to add context with discussion of what had happened to the Church in Mallorca (as well as in the rest of Spain) during the period 1931-1936; and in comparing and contrasting what was done by the Church and what was done by Churchmen.

@Mark: it was much worse than in Croatia, but the perceived provocation was much worse as well. And it was a civil war, which apparently absolves members of the two factions from any need to behave with honour, in spite of the consternation of foreign observers.