- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Toussaint

It’s All Saints Day. Lucas and I went to Catholic mass at the nearby church of St-Etienne-du-Mont [1], because I wanted to be near to the relics of Ste Genevieve [2] on this day. Her shrine is in this parish, which is atop the Montagne-St-Genevieve. The holy fifth-century woman was interred here. I have been making visits to her shrine to pray before her relics and at her tomb throughout my visit here (remember, I ran into the Antiochian Orthodox Bishop Basil on my way to visit Ste Genevieve one morning; he and another American Orthodox priest were leaving, having prayed before her relics). During the French Revolution, a mob burst into the church, pried open her tomb, removed her body, burned it down by the river, and threw the ashes into the Seine. Only two relics remained, because they had been removed from her body earlier and sent to churches outside the city. They were recalled; one is in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris, and another — a piece of bone — is on display in a reliquary at St-Etienne-du-Mont, along with her now-empty tomb.

We stayed for mass, which was beautiful. I prayed for, and asked Ste Genevieve’s prayers for, the unity of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Ste Genevieve, a pre-schism saint, is a point of unity between us. [3]I don’t speak French well enough to have followed the old priest’s sermon in its entirety, but I understood him well when he urged us to experience the joy of the saints on this day.

The church wasn’t full, but there was nevertheless a decent-sized crowd there, and there were more than a few young people, too, which was hugely encouraging. As I prayed during the liturgy, I thought about the mob that invaded this church so long ago, and the violence they did to it, and to the great saint’s body. I thought about how the Revolutionary government forbade Catholic worship here for about a decade, and turned this church into a secular “Temple of Filial Piety.” I thought about all the anti-Christian persecutions during the Revolution, and the murders of priests and religious. I thought about the great falling-away from the faith that France has witnessed in the past century. And yet … there people were, lining up to receive Communion. There was Holy Communion, still being offered under these Gothic arches. There were Parisians, singing, in Latin, “Credo in unum Deum…”.

There was the Church. Still. Like this great city [4], she is tossed about on the waves, but she doesn’t sink. Rejoice in the saints, indeed!

After mass, I made a final visit to Ste Genevieve’s shrine, to place two icons of her I’d bought, and to pray and light a candle for suffering friends of mine, and again to ask her to pray for the unity of our churches. We walked out into a brisk, sunny late autumn day in Paris, full of hope and joy.

Bonne fete to you, reader!

Advertisement
18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Toussaint"

#1 Comment By Clint On November 1, 2012 @ 8:45 am

Soul Shine.

#2 Comment By Fool On November 1, 2012 @ 9:00 am

Thank you Rod. Oremus pro invicem.

#3 Comment By Nate On November 1, 2012 @ 10:02 am

St-Etienne-du-Mont. Yeah.
Cool. I remember going to St-Etienne-du-Mont the first time I was in Paris when I was 19. It was after being in a few other beautiful churches in Paris (Paris has a few of them, if I recall). I remember then thinking, “Yeah. So I gotta be Catholic now I think.”
I converted a few years later. I know that Paris had a lot to do with this.
I remember you had a thread a while back called something like, “Have you ever had an epiphany?” or some such title.

Yeah.

#4 Comment By Pickle On November 1, 2012 @ 10:02 am

I thought about all the anti-Christian persecutions during the Revolution, and the murders of priests and religious. I thought about the great falling-away from the faith that France has witnessed in the past century. And yet … there people were, lining up to receive Communion.

Barely. It’s a tough guess how long Christians will last in Europe, but the decline is real and too fast for any realistic recovery. Somebody else will take over, and it won’t be Europe in Christan form anymore. The land is too valuable, the climate too perfect…and the people who reside there too rootless and divided and fickle to hold it anymore. But the process is unfolding mighty quick from a historical point of view (sort of like California in the US, a one or two generation cultural wipeout).

Why is all too clear. Without faith – to provide hope, unity, and children – modern Europeans are merely a big geriatric ward of bickering, selfish pleasure-seekers. It’s too temping a vacuum for others…who knows who, but somebody who can maintain their demographic numbers via religious faith…will be glad to fill the space. Probably Mormons :-).

This is why I personally hold no nostalgia for Christan Europe. It’s the past, not the future. It’s been that way since the Reformation. Christians will remain active in the world, but Europe is unlikely to be a culture that succors said action. The reality is that all those churches will be slowly turned into museums at best, destroyed at worst.

#5 Comment By Serious question On November 1, 2012 @ 10:09 am

I do love All Saints Day, and it’s nice to hear of your experiences at this feast. But I don’t understand (honestly) why you are praying for the unity of Catholic and Orthodox churches. You left the Catholic Church because it is too corrupt for you. Why would you want to be united with it again? Wouldn’t that just re-introduce all the conflicts you felt when you were a Catholic?

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 1, 2012 @ 10:33 am

During the French Revolution, a mob burst into the church, pried open her tomb, removed her body, burned it down by the river, and threw the ashes into the Seine.

Hypothetically, this could have been a mob of faithful Jacobin appartchniks, but I think incidents like this show that a large part of the illiterate peasantry, and the displaced peasants in urban slums, were far from uniformly or homogenously devout. Many despised the church — for good reasons, which many including Rod have commented on — and for bad reasons that would be anti-social in any context.

But I was disappointed that the headline did not, after all, refer to Toussaint Louverture, the military genius and statesman, devout Roman Catholic to boot, who under cover of the revolution’s decision to abolish slavery had made himself commander-in-chief of the forces of the republic in St. Domingue, secured the support of the remaining blancs, who he needed to administer the colony, drove out both British and Spanish forces, and restored the plantation export economy subject to conditions that 25 percent of the revenue went to the no-longer-enslaved laborers, another 25 percent went to his government for roads, schools, and medical clinics, and the proprietors could pay their expenses from the remaining 50 percent, and live off the difference. Toussaint knew the colony could not instantly abandon its export economy without plunging into financial disaster for all.

The two men who did the most to end this happy state of affairs were Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson, each offended by, and ignorant of the facts about, Toussaint’s administration.

Napoleon eventually had Toussaint kidnapped and brought to France, where French troops who had served under him enthusiastically greeted him, before he was locked up in a castle high in the Alps, where he died. This left a man who lacked many of Toussaint’s better qualities to drive the French out, and declare the Republic of Haiti.

That’s what I thought you were leading up to with a headline about Toussaint.

#7 Comment By Jeffrey Salladin On November 1, 2012 @ 10:49 am

From an orthodox (small “o”) evangelical, I say, “Amen!” Let’s rejoice in the faithful remnant and pray that we would be agents of reconciliation in a broken, hurting world for the sake of the Gospel. This calling of ours is a privilege.

#8 Comment By Gregg Gerasimon On November 1, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Thanks for posting. When in Paris a couple of months ago, I saw the murals/frescoes at the Pantheon depicting Ste Geneviève’s life. Wonderful.

Wasn’t the Pantheon the original church for her relics, before it became a secular mausoleum?

#9 Comment By thomas tucker On November 1, 2012 @ 11:55 am

Well done, my friend!
Happy All Saints Day to you and your family.
I appreciate your prayers for unity, and they seem most appropriate on this feast day.
Ut unum sint.

#10 Comment By J.J. Gonzalez On November 1, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

“…the unity of the Catholic and Orthodox churches…”

Why can’t we just all get along?

Happy Saints Day.

#11 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 1, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

But I don’t understand (honestly) why you are praying for the unity of Catholic and Orthodox churches. You left the Catholic Church because it is too corrupt for you. Why would you want to be united with it again? Wouldn’t that just re-introduce all the conflicts you felt when you were a Catholic?

I didn’t leave the Catholic Church because I thought it was too corrupt for me. I left because I lost my ability to believe that what the Church taught was true. The Orthodox bishops, many of them are corrupt too. Frankly, I don’t see how Orthodoxy and Catholicism can be reunited, even with good will on all sides, because their theologies have diverged so much over the centuries. But with God, all things are possible, and besides, even if we never have formal unity, we can unite in the spirit, as much as both sides can while being faithful to what we believe to be true.

Maybe that sounds goo-goo, but it’s what I hope for.

#12 Comment By Jeffrey Salladin On November 1, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

I don’t think it’s goo-goo, Rod. Our calling is to beg God’s help in doing seemingly impossible things; otherwise, obedience to the Sermon on the Mount (and endless other Christian teachings), for example, is impossible.

Forgive my presumption, but it seems clear to me that God has put France on your heart, so I think you are obligated to pray and, if necessary, act according to that yearning. Since all Holy Spirit things are to be performed with joy, the obligation I mention here is a joyful thing. His burden is easy and his yoke is light, even for seemingly impossible things.

#13 Comment By cecelia On November 1, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

beautiful Rod – thank you. Happy All Saint’s Day

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 1, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

Cue Rod Dreher introducing

“We are one in the spirit” followed by the ever-popular “Kumbaya.”

Seriously, these are beautiful songs, if they aren’t overdone by too many liberals singing them.

#15 Comment By Rjak On November 2, 2012 @ 1:18 am

A very delightful post, Rod. I imagine in some ways your travels to beloved Catholic lands must feel similar to how I (as a Roman Catholic who worships in a Ukrainian Catholic church) feel when I am among Orthodox Christians and in their churches. There is a deep kinship and profound commonality, and the pain of separation as well. I hope to visit Russia and the Ukraine someday, and I expect that praying in St. Basil’s for me will not be altogether unlike praying in these Parisian churches for you. Impossible as it may seem, we must all continue to work and pray for unity!

Also, as a side-note, it is interesting to me that this beautiful and reflective post has 13 posts visible as I write this, and the post on Joe Biden, transgender issues, etc. has 66. I have noticed this a good deal, particular in recent months, that the most beautiful reflections on theology, philosophy, Homer, etc. tend to have in the 10s or 20s of comments, almost all well worth reading, and the culture war related posts have 50+ on a regular basis, mostly saying things we’ve all heard before. I wonder what accounts for this odd disparity.

#16 Comment By Mary Alice On November 2, 2012 @ 7:53 am

Rod, thank you for your prayer for unity. I am Roman Catholic and drawn to the East. Our separation is painful and has gone on for too long. “That they may be one.”

It sounds like God has given you a heart for France, and I believe that your prayers are important for her people. Your prayers will make a difference, so don’t quit!

(btw, I’ve loved reading about your family adventure in France)

#17 Comment By thomas tucker On November 2, 2012 @ 8:44 am

Pretty simple really- controversial topics attract controversy. And humans love controversy, perhaps as a consequence of Original Sin.

#18 Comment By Paul Emmons On November 5, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

Thank you from me, too. I went to mass on All Saints at S. Clement’s, Philadelphia, probably the next best thing in this part of the country, but rather wish I could have been with you there.

Some of the most beautiful church music ever composed in the twentieth century came from Maurice Duruflé, who was organist at S. Etienne-du-Mont for a long time. His requiem, for instance, takes after Fauré’s in spirit but many people find it even more gently stunning. I understand that it was not a very important post when he began– e.g. the organ was nothing to write home about– but he left it much better than he found it.

Europe, and to a lesser extent the U.S., is spiritually running on empty, blithely coasting along on the fumes of its Christian heritage. People think that they have outgrown the church and don’t need it anymore. I’m old enough to hope that I won’t be alive when our societies discover how mistaken this assumption is. By then little beauty will be left.