FRANCIS R BLOUIN, Fordham University


During the first half of the 19th Century, Felicite de Lamennais (1782-1854) captivated the imagination of French clergymen and intellectuals, by his perceptive works accurately assessing the political and religious forces at work in France during the Restoration. Several factors led this Ultramontane clergyman to abandon a Traditionalist stance on freedom to adopt a very liberal position, even if it meant abandoning a Church he loved dearly and defended forcefully. At its peak, Lamennais' agenda included a controversial program of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of press and association and, eventually, the unprecedented concept of separation of Church and State. Though he can be accused of inconsistency for revising some of his positions and forsaking some of his original ideals, a careful reader will discern a guiding motivation in all his endeavors: the regeneration of Church and society. Fortunately, Lamennais himself clearly explains this evolution in the twelve volumes of his major works and in the 3000 letters written between 1815 and 1835. In his early years, Lamennais envisaged national regeneration through dependency upon the authority of legitimate secular rulers. When this dream foundered upon the hard reality of French politics, he transferred his allegiance to the Pope. Disappointed again in his high expectations, he permanently placed his confidence in the people, and firmly believed that the renewal of Church and Society would be accomplished only through a radical program of political and religious liberalization. Philosophical and theological inadequacies and a characteristic intransigence jeopardized the immediate success of Lamennais' program. Though he left the scene before the institutional Church adopted his central thesis, the striking similarity between his radical program of the early 1830's with the stance of Vatican II, validates many of his insights. His concept of political and religious freedom and his advocacy of separation of Church and State were rejected because his thinking outpaced the society and the Church of his time. Lamennais' effectiveness waned after 1835, yet his early perceptions played a prophetic role by challenging the Church to march boldly into the 20th Century.

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Recommended Citation

BLOUIN, FRANCIS R, "EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT OF FREEDOM IN FELICITE DE LAMENNAIS: 1815-1835 (FRANCE)" (1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8506318.