The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 559-561
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Paris: Capitale religieuse sous le Second Empire. By Jacques-Olivier Boudon. [Histoire religieuse de la France, Vol. 18] (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2001. Pp. 560. € 30.)
In the famous phrase of Walter Benjamin, Paris was "the capital of the nineteenth century." For Benjamin, and for countless other historians, Paris took on this role because more than any other city it was the representative site for the triumphant bourgeoisie, who celebrated there a secular culture of consumption in a framework of grand boulevards and civic monuments. The central figure in the history of Paris was Baron Haussmann, the prefect of Paris for most of the Second Empire, whose reconstruction of the city in the 1850's and 1860's continues to fascinate scholars and to shape the experience of visitors to the city of light. For Jacques-Olivier Boudon, however, this standard version of the history of Paris neglects its position as a center of religious life, a development that he sees as culminating in the "religious haussmannisation" of the Second Empire.
Boudon divides his study into three major sections. In Part One he demonstrates the magnetic appeal that Paris held for both secular and regular clergy, whose numbers grew dramatically in the Second Empire. From the perspective of the archbishops of Paris, which Boudon shares, the increase in secular clergy, although concentrated in the inner neighborhoods rather than the newer working-class [End Page 559] districts, was sufficient to serve the growing population. Regular clergy were especially significant, however, outnumbering their secular colleagues by 1864 as a result of what Boudon aptly terms an "invasion" (p. 101). Boudon describes the increasing concern of Archbishop Darboy about this development in the 1860's, when he feared both the competition congregations posed to the parishes, and the support they provided for an ultramontane posture opposed to his Neo-Gallicanism. In addition to its role as a clerical center, Boudon presents Paris as a key in the development of social Catholicism. On this point, he notes the creation of some of the most important initiatives in earlier periods, such as Ozanam's Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in 1833. No work of similar importance was created during the Second Empire, but it was nonetheless during this period that Ozanam oversaw the Society's expansion throughout France and the rest of the world, thus adding another dimension to the central position of Paris in the Catholic world.
In Part Two Boudon explores the efforts of diocesan officials to redraw parish boundaries and construct churches in order to meet the demographic expansion and social changes that were sweeping through the capital. Using the investigation of Archbishop Sibour of 1854, Boudon estimates that only fifteen percent of Parisians made their Easter duty, a figure that confirms the low levels of religious practice proposed by Fernand Boulard. But Boudon disagrees with Boulard, who saw dechristianization as resulting from inadequate resources. Although the Paris clergy from some of the wealthier parishes, such as the Madeleine, were able to thwart Sibour's ambitious redesign of parish structures in 1854, the diocese nonetheless worked effectively to build and staff new churches. According to Boudon, low levels of attendance in the working-class eastern districts were likely due more to ineffective pastoral techniques than to inadequate resources, a suggestive argument which demands further scrutiny and evidence.
In his final section Boudon reviews the relationship of the diocese of Paris with the Empire, the other dioceses of France, and the Holy See. Here Boudon continues his revisionist agenda, arguing against previous views of church-state relations and ecclesiastical politics. Despite the criticism of Victor Hugo, Sibour was not a craven supporter of Napoleon III, and came close to voting against re-establishment of the Empire. Boudon sees all of the archbishops of Paris during this period (Sibour, Morlot, Darboy) as leaders of a Neo-Gallican faction in the French episcopacy, which was reserved in its support of the Papacy during the wars of Italian unification, and opposed to...