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  • Truth and Relevance: Catholic Theology in French Quebec since the Quiet Revolution by Gregory Baum
  • Achiel Peelman
Gregory Baum. Truth and Relevance: Catholic Theology in French Quebec since the Quiet Revolution. McGill-Queen’s University Press. xi, 240. $29.95

Since the Quiet Revolution (1960–66) and the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), French-Canadian theologians have produced a very innovative and sometimes controversial theological literature in close connection with the political and socio-cultural evolution of that unique Canadian province. Unfortunately, this theological enterprise is not well known by the rest of Canada. The main purpose of this book is to reverse this situation. In this fascinating study, Gregory Baum, a professor emeritus of theology at McGill University in Montreal, offers a detailed analysis of this Québécois or francophone theology while taking into consideration the cultural and socio-economic evolution of Quebec and the rapid decline of the Catholic Church in that province. Baum knows this situation from within because of his regular contacts with French-Canadian theologians, especially during the annual meetings of the Société canadienne de théologie. The title of the book, Truth and Relevance, echoes the distinction proposed by the well-known Québécois sociologist Fernand Dumond: truth becomes relevant when it responds to people’s questions and reflects their deeper aspirations.

Baum starts his analysis with a comprehensive presentation of the evolution of Catholic theology in Quebec since the 1960s (chapter one) and an examination of the position of Vatican II on the relationship between faith and culture (chapter two). He seems impressed and puzzled by how rapidly (in less than thirty years) Quebec engaged in a process of radical secularization following the a long period called la grande noirceur (the Great Darkness), when the Catholic Church dominated all aspects of the personal and public life of her members. But, very much influenced by the Second Vatican Council, the Quebec bishops decided in 1968 to organize a public consultation, called the Dumont Commission, to develop new pastoral strategies and to create more room for the participation of lay people in the Catholic Church. The final report of this commission was very creative and innovative, but Catholics continued to leave their Church en masse. Baum notes that there exists no historical parallel on the European Continent for this rapid decline of the Church in Quebec. He then offers us an introduction to two important Quebec intellectuals: Fernand Dumont (chapter three) and Jacques Grand’Maison (chapter four). Dumont (1927–97) was a sociologist who became a philosopher and an influential public lecturer. Grand’Maison (born in 1931) is highly esteemed in the Quebec Church as a priest schooled in theology and political science, very attentive to the people’s problems and aspirations. Baum continues his reflections on the evolution of Catholic theology in Quebec by selecting a variety of themes (chapters five to ten) that were chosen by the Société canadienne de théologie for some of its annual [End Page 408] meetings: the universal significance of the Christ event, the relationship between faith and justice, the impact of feminism on Quebec theologians (with special mention of the excellent work accomplished by theologians like Elisabeth Lacelle), the Cultural Catholicism studied by philosophers or theologians like Dumont and Jacques Racine, the link between Catholic faith and the magisterium (with special reference to André Naud and Armand Veilleux), and the challenge of pluralism. In this final section, Baum regrets that Quebec theologians have paid little or no attention the multicultural reality of Canada and, more specifically, to First Nations communities, with the exception of myself, because of my frequent contacts with native spiritual leaders and publications on native spirituality. According to Baum, it is difficult to explain this collective blindness of the vast majority of the Québécois theologians. He concludes by recognizing the positive aspects of the evolution of Catholic theology in Quebec. The Québécois theologians are an excellent example of intellectuals who were able to leave the past behind and move into the future. Yet, as I have mentioned before, this theological evolution or revolution was not able to stop the tragic or dramatic decline of...


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