The Catholic University of America Press

Maurice Blondel, Social Catholicism, and Action Francaise

The Clash over the Church's Role in Society during the Modernist Era

Peter J. Bernardi

Cloth 978-0-8132-1542-6 $79.95
December 2008 In Print Add to Cart
E-Book 978-0-8132-1837-3 $79.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

How does the Church realize its public mission? How do different theological and philosophical commitments influence the conception of the Church's role in the public square? This work casts light on contemporary arguments over social Catholicism and the believer's role in society by illuminating a similar dispute among French Catholics during the Modernist Crisis (1909-1914).

In the first decades of the twentieth century French Catholics were sharply divided over what strategy the Church should adopt to re-Christianize society. This conflict of mentalities found expression in a po-lemical exchange between lay philosopher Maurice Blondel and Jesuit Pedro Descoqs that occurred at the height of the Modernist crisis. On the one hand, Descoqs offered a defense of a Catholic alliance with the proto-fascist, monarchist Action Fran├žaise. On the other hand, Blondel defended the democratic, social Catholics against the charge of social modernism in his "Testis" essays. Blondel's trenchant analysis of the integralist mentality that he found in Action Fran├žaise Catholics has been described as "the most penetrating analysis of this phenomenon of Catholic integralism that . . . represents an ever recurrent temptation for militant Catholics."

Peter J. Bernardi's study presents a thorough exposition and analysis of this significant controversy. While highly sensitive to historical context, Bernardi primarily highlights the philosophical and theologi-cal positions involved. He maintains throughout the book that political allegiances and orientations col-ored theological arguments and makes clear that the issues at stake then are still relevant in understanding ecclesial tensions today. As eminent historical theologian Joseph Komonchak notes in the foreword, "the controversy analyzed and described addressed issues so basic in importance and so broad in implication that the work will also be read with profit by others outside of the historical guild."

"There are other books on modernism, but they do not address the controversies of social modernism as this one does. Bernardi has carved out and brought attention to neglected areas of Blondel's thought and of the modernist crisis. Bernardi is a reliable and careful guide to the nuanced and complex maneuvering of Blondel."--John Sullivan, professor of Christian Education, Liverpool Hope University


Peter J. Bernardi, S.J., is associate professor of religious studies at Loyola University, New Orleans.


"Bernardi's book has at least two great, and related, values. First he attempts to do justice to Descoq's position. . . . Second, Bernardi concludes by applying the insights of both Blondel and Descoqs to contemporary debates. The result is a helpful contribution to historical theology." -- Harvey Hill, Catholic Historical Review

"Bernardi succeeds both as a historical theologian and as a storyteller. Ideas and labels invert themselves; sympathies and oppositions change sides; and dry old doctrinal bones receive new life. His work surprises, unnerves, and even disturbs." -- Stephen Schloesser, Journal of Church and State

"Bernardi expertly leads the reader through a set of disputes rich in implications for contemporary Catholic thought and commitments. . . . It adds an invaluable scholarly resource for understanding the many sides of French Catholic thought and life from the fin-de-siecle to the early 1920s and provides French-less readers faithful and insightful summaries and assessments of some of Blondel's yet-untranslated "middle period" works. . . . Bernardi's book could be a model for scholarship in the history of ideas." -- Gregory B. Sadler, International Philosophical Quarterly

"Through a close reading of a series of challenging texts, Bernardi captures the passion of these men as they attacked each other in the harshest terms and illuminates the ways in which their conflicting views on human nature and its relationship to God were linked to sharply opposed political agendas." -- Thomas Kselman, H-France Review

"Bernardi, an associate professor of religious studies at Loyola University, New Orleans, succeeds admirably in his aim of showing the pertinence of the exchanges, especially between 1909 and 1913, between Descoqs and Blondel as to the appropriate ways for Catholics to express their faith in the social and political domain. His wonderful retrieval and deployment of little known primary sources provides a great service for scholars today who are interested in exploring the implications of a proper understanding of the nature-grace relationship for the public role of the church. Arguments from a century ago, here meticulously analysed, are shown to be still relevant for controversies from our own time. . . . The author is always a model of clarity, even in the midst of unpacking the most subtle and complex arguments. . . . The scholarship on which the work is based is impeccable and reliable." -- John Sullivan, Heythrop Journal

"Bernardi succeeds in putting an intellectual dispute between the Catholic philosopher Maurice Blondel and his critic, the French Jesuit Pedro Descoqs, at the heart of the history of the Modernist crisis and contemporary debates about the role of the Church in secular society." -- Gearoid Barry, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"Maurice Blondel, Social Catholicism, and Action Francaise represents a significant contribution to the history of French Catholic philosophy and theology in the twentieth century. It will, for instance, be of keen interest to scholars looking at the development of Henri de Lubac's thought. . . . More generally, Peter Bernardi has illuminated a debate whose core issues have not lost their relevance for theological reflection after the passage of a hundred years."--Michael Sutton, New Blackfriars

"Bernardi's analysis has much to offer all theologians who strive to engage, with integrity, sociopolitical issues in their own times. . . . The book situates the Blondel-Descoqs debate in the context of French Social Catholicism, and foregrounds the epistemological, ontological, and theological convictions that shaped each side. . . . Bernardi himself models the fact that only by sorting through the critical convergence of historical and cultural influences, professional aspirations, and personal religious convictions can today's Catholics debate their differences and avoid "the pitfalls of theological ideology."--Phyllis Kaminski, Theological Studies

"This is a very scholarly book on a very significant twentieth-century Catholic controversy."--Richard F. Costigan, S.J., Church History

Product Details

Pages:xii, 297 pages

Dimensions:6x9 inches


CIP Information: 2008024379/ BX1396.B47 2009/ 282'.4409041-dc22


1. Modernism (Christian theology) -- Catholic Church

2. Church and the world

3. Blondel, Maurice, 1861-1949

4. Descoqs, Pedro, 1877-1946