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  • Libéralisme et modernisme. Mgr Lacroix (1855–1922): Enquête sur un suspect
  • C. J. T. Talar
Libéralisme et modernisme. Mgr Lacroix (1855–1922): Enquête sur un suspect. By Christian Sorrel. [Histoire religieuse de la France, Vol. 21.] (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2003. Pp. 541. €59 paperback.)

While major figures involved in the Modernist movement have received the attention of—in some cases, multiple—biographers, many of those whom Alec Vidler termed "lesser lights and fellow travelers" had not received like attention. Recently, this has begun to change, as exemplified by B. Waché's study of Louis Duchesne, L.-P. Sardella's of Archbishop Mignot (forthcoming), and the present biography of Lucien Lacroix.

Judging by the reactions of many of the French bishops to theological innovators and ralliés to the Republic, the episcopacy would not appear at first sight to be a fertile field for recruitment to the ranks of supporters for the Modernist cause. The involvement of both Mignot and Lacroix, then, takes some explaining. Mignot has been the better known of the two, while Lacroix has remained a comparatively shadowy figure, remembered principally for his opposition to the line taken by the Vatican over the Separation Laws of 1905 in France, and for resigning his see in the wake of those events. Sorrel's study not only provides access to this pivotal phase of Lacroix's career, but enables his reader to appreciate his subject's broader contributions to this turbulent period of church history.

The subtitle of the book signals its author's intention to investigate "the dossier of a suspect, without seeking to condemn him or rehabilitate him" (p.19). Sorrel begins with Lacroix's early formation, his entering the Dominican Order and tensive relationships with his superiors there, eventual break, and incardination in the diocese of Reims. Chapter 2 picks up the thread of his life, highlighting his receiving the Doctorate in Letters in 1891, and his appointment as a lycée chaplain that same year. That position, under the Ministry of Public Instruction, "epicenter of policy of the laicization of the State" (p. 67), was sufficient to render him automatically suspect in the eyes of some Catholic contemporaries. The tension between loyalty to the State and loyalty to the Church will be a leitmotiv of Lacroix's life.

The following chapter covers his founding and editing of the Revue du clergé français from 1894 to 1898, intended as an instrument of individual and collective renewal of the clergy. While this deepened suspicion in some quarters, it also provided connections to ecclesiastical and laic milieux hospitable to modernity. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with his appointment in 1901 as bishop to the diocese of Tarentaise, and his attempts there to continue the efforts for renewal manifest in the Revue. His links to figures prominent in the government and his desire to tie the education of his clergy closer to the Université did not pass without opposition, either locally or in Rome. As Sorrel remarks, Lacroix "scarcely corresponded to the classical image of bishop" (p. 185).

Chapter 7 examines the bishop's relationships with various figures identified with Modernism, with longer sections devoted to Paul Sabatier and Albert [End Page 338] Houtin, as well as his support for Alfred Loisy in the midst of the exegete's escalating troubles with ecclesiastical authorities. Lacroix's tendency to distance himself from moderate positions is evident, and the close association with Sabatier and Houtin identifies him with the "Catholic left." A chapter is devoted to the Separation, Lacroix's disillusionment over Rome's handling of the matter, with resulting hostility toward the Vatican and clandestine activity to reveal facts designed to discredit the Holy See. The ninth chapter weighs the various factors that contributed to Lacroix's resignation from his diocese, followed by one devoted to his assuming a teaching post in the École pratique des hautes études—a move arousing displeasure to a papacy desirous of drawing a clear line between Church and State. Final chapters note the growing radicalization of the Modernist movement and effects upon Lacroix, his activities during the war, and final years.

Lacroix emerges as a figure...


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