The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 791-793
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Loisy et ses amis. By Émile Goichot. [Petits Cerf-Histoire.] (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2002. Pp. 197. €21.)
A biographer of Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) faces a daunting task. There is the sheer quantity of publications. In his bibliography of Loisy's works Émile Poulat lists sixty books and 263 articles—to which could be added numerous reviews. Moreover, their author's style could be subtle and highly nuanced (not always adequately captured in English translations, by the way), which poses a challenge to any attempted summary of their contents. This is particularly true of the writings of the Modernist period, whose historiography raises its own difficulties. Moreover, within Loisy's oeuvre there is a sizable quantity of autobiographical publication, which must be approached with the caution due all such attempts at self-fashioning. Despite the amount of available data, Loisy has proven to be an enigmatic figure—reflected in the variety of Loisys portrayed by biographers and commentators, and adding a further interpretive layer to bereckoned with in any attempted assessment of the man. In the case of [End Page 791] ÉmileGoichot's Loisy et ses amis there is a further hurdle to be surmounted, set by the parameters of the series in which this biography appears: to engage its subject in a relatively short compass for a nonspecialist audience in an accessible style.
Loisy's was a singularly focused life, centered on the religious problem. In making this the focus of the biography, Goichot leaves aside the more technical side of his subject's work on exegesis and the history of religion—surpassed in significant measure by subsequent scho1arship—and concentrates on writings produced for a less specialized readership, especially the "little red books" that gained notoriety for their author. Loisy's practice of incorporating large extracts from his journals and correspondence in his autobiographical writings provides access to his thought contemporary to the events of a given period, as distinguished from retrospective interpretation. Comparison with their originals has satisfied Goichot that Loisy has represented such materials fairly and intelligently. The author's extensive research into Henri Bremond enables him to deal with the Modernist period evenhandedly, and gives him a firm grasp of issues that engaged both Loisy and Bremond following the former's excommunication in 1908.
Chapter 1 passes rapidly over Loisy's early life, his vocation, seminary experience, and situation at the Paris Institut catholique, ending with his initial publications in the 1890's. The second chapter begins with the event that led to Loisy's dismissal from the Institut, the expansion of his concerns from exegesis to apologetics, and the first official censure of his writings by Cardinal Richard in 1900. It also continues to develop the et ses amis of the biography's title, with sketches of E.-I. Mignot, F. von Hügel, M.-J. Lagrange, and P. Batiffol (L. Duchesne already introduced in the previous chapter; H. Bremond and G. Tyrrell appear in the next). The introduction of these figures serves to situate Loisy's perspectives amidst those working on the same or similar issues. The third chapter covers the time of crisis, from the genesis of the first little red books, L 'Évangile et l'église (1902) and Autour d'un petit livre (1903), their contents, to the controversies that surrounded them. Chapter 4 begins with the pontificate of Pius X, continues the survey of ongoing controversy, summarizes Loisy's negotiations with the Vatican over the terms of his submission to the condemnation of five of his works by the Holy Office, and concludes with the antimodernist syllabus and encyclical, both issued in 1907. It also engages how the crisis affected many of the figures introduced earlier, adding A. Houtin to their number. The next chapter examines several reactions to the encyclical, providing context for Loisy's, his resulting excommunication, and his transition to the chair of history of religion at the Collège de France, set against the larger backdrop of how the antimodernist measures affected several of his contemporaries...