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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 304-305
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Culte des saints et anticléricalisme. Entre statistique et culture populaire. By Louis Pérouas. [Mémoires et documents sur le Bas-Limousin, Vol. XXIV.] (Ussel: Musée du Pays d'Ussel; Paris: Diffusion de Boccard. 2002. Pp. xxxiv, 504. Paperback.)
It is not often that a collection of an historian's articles not only shows the breadth of the author's interests and the evolution of his or her historical methods and conclusions but also presents a fascinating picture of the development of the author's ideas about and attitudes toward church, state, and society. That is exactly what this collection of thirty-one articles and one postscript does.
Daniel Roche's preface is somewhat pretentious, but provides some important reflections on the historical career of Louis Pérouas and its relationship both to the evolution of historical studies in France and to his life as a priest. Roche ends with the recommendation that historians should contemplate the combination of objectivity and sympathy found in the articles in this volume.
Louis Pérouas is best known outside France for his book Le Diocèse de La Rochelle de 1648 à 1724: sociologie et pastorale, which I reviewed in this journal almost forty years ago. The thirty-one articles in the book under review were selected by Father Pérouas from the 118 he wrote between 1955 and 2002. None of them are extracted from the twenty-nine books (some co-authored) he has written. Most of the selections concern aspects of life related to religion in the area of central France known as the Limousin, especially the city of Limoges (Haute-Vienne) and the départements of Creuse and Corrèze. A few are related to the author's earliest work in La Rochelle and Poitou, and a number are devoted to the work of Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), the missionary to western France who founded the Company of Mary (Montfortains), the congregation of which Father Pérouas is a member. Though the author is a specialist in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious history, the articles in this book cover a much longer period—from the Middle Ages to the present.
The themes that run through the chronologically arranged articles are the changing relationships between "official" and "popular" religion, the effects of the French Revolution, dechristianization, the worker-priest movement, the origins and development of anticlericalism and free masonry, and the state of Catholicism today in central France. The author's approach is an original mixture of quantitative and qualitative history, sociology, psychology, and theology. He is an [End Page 304] "Annaliste" who has come closer to achieving the goals set by the founders of that school of history than most of its practitioners.
There are several major conclusions to be found in the selections in this volume. One of the most important is that geography, tradition, and language have profound effects on religious beliefs and practices. Another is that the efforts of early modern clergy to eradicate what they saw as peasant superstition, combined with their failure to appreciate or to respond effectively to the ideas of the bourgeoisie, created anticlericalism rather than indifference to religion in nineteenth-century Limousin and, probably, all of France. A third is that Rome's banning of the worker-priest movement contributed significantly to the continuing decline of the practice of Catholicism in France in the twentieth century.
In a two-page postscript entitled "On the Threshold of Old Age," Father Pérouas tells how he evolved from a ten-year-old who wanted to be a missionary to a sociologist and historian of early modern Catholicism in western France and then to a student of all forms of religion and non-religion in the Limousin, past and present. How in his words "mission became dialogue," despite the opposition of "some who understood my mission differently than I did." One paragraph hints at the resistance he faced within his congregation when he presented a reinterpretation of the founder's ideas...