- Mémoires by Louis Bouyer
Edited by Jean Duchesne
Paris: Cerf, 2014
327pages. Paperback. €29.00.
At last, ten years after their author’s death, Cerf has published these Mémoires.1 The purple passages on Annibale Bugnini and the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia etc. have long circulated informally, but as long as these were transcriptions from the typescript, they could garner only as much credibility (and they do have to be read to be believed) as so many samizdat. We are now in a position to read them in the original. This is an important document for the history of the Roman liturgy from the 1940s to the promulgation of the post-conciliar liturgical books. There is, however, much more to enjoy and learn from them in terms of a captivating author’s life and thought, in terms of the life of the Church and literature in the twentieth century, and as a literary work in their own right. [End Page 231]
Louis Bouyer was born in Paris on 17 February 1913, “on the eve of that war…that marked the end of a civilization” (7).2 The early chapters (I: “Narrator’s Childhoods;” II: “Gardens, Open and Enclosed;” III: “From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained”) offer a delightful portrait of Paris during World War I; Bouyer remembers the ramparts around the city, not being able to take the train to go on holiday, the taxis bringing wounded soldiers back from the front…. His descriptions of his eccentric, musical (this did not rub off on young Louis), and engaging French Protestant family, of the streets with their horse-drawn carriages and early electric tramways, are worth the read even for those coming to this book for theological reasons. One forgets how a generation that has lived into our century could have, in its own childhood, been witness to the remains of the nineteenth: as a six-year old boy Bouyer met stage actress (and, in the 1860s, courtesan) Sarah Bernhardt in her eighties, who called him “Mon amour!” and kissed him on the lips (18); from a more respectful distance, he glimpsed Napoleon III’s widow Empress Eugénie gravely strolling in the Tuileries (19). The landscape descriptions of the Sancerre region and Bouyer’s solipsistic ruminations while walking there recall Newman’s “life might be a dream, or I an Angel, and all this world a deception.” One puts down these chapters with the impression of a dreamy and bookish lad with an interest in drama (he would create his own world in a toy theater his father had given him) and in chemistry. It was the Alsatian grandmother of his friends in Sancerre who told him out of the blue: “You shouldn’t be a professor, you should become a pastor!” to which he promptly answered: “Why didn’t I think of that!”
The chapters dealing with Bouyer the young Lutheran seminarian (IV: “Initiation;” V: “Retreat on the Rhine”) and then pastor in Paris (VI: “Pendent Opera Omnia”) shed light on French Protestantism in the 1930s. He outlines sketches of his professors Oscar Cullman, Maurice Goguel, Adolphe Lods, and Philippe de Félice—whose lectures he sometimes skipped to hear Étienne Gilson speak down the street at the Hautes Études. Bouyer’s attraction to the liturgy caused him to frequent the Russian Orthodox émigré churches (he befriended Fr. Serge Boulgakoff and Evgraff Kovalevsky among others) and the ecclesiastical zoo of episcopi vagantes to be found among and around them, not to mention [End Page 232] an enigmatic “Monk of the Oriental Church” (64). He admired the ecumenical enterprises of such Scandinavian Lutherans as Na-then Söderblom (56), the Faith and Order movement to regroup all Protestant churches in some way, and the Malines conferences of Cardinal Mercier. His youthful reflection on all this led him to focus on the strong point of Protestantism: the direct relationship of the Christian with God in Christ, which relationship is nourished with meditation on the word of God—a religion whose essence is in a total acceptance in faith of the one grace that God gives us in...