The Church of Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville in the course of being demolished
One of the great concerns of the French art history web magazine La Tribune de l'Art is the threat to the destruction of the patrimony of France by the destruction of church buildings in France which recently seems to have stepped up a gear or three
Both local and central government in France seem determined that such vacant buildings should simply be demolished
Slowly (maybe not so slowly) but steadily the environment in France will be devoid of church buildings as well as the sound of bells
It is but a symptom of a much deeper malaise
Here are twenty three of its articles on "Églises en péril"
And 216 articles on French government policy
Old buildings are expensive to renovate and maintain
With dwindling congregations and less or no private revenue, the charge of the upkeep of French ecclesiastical buildings has to fall on the state
The Combes administration in 1905 passed the loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l'État for state secularism: a type of church-state relations, hostile to organised religion and totally unlike the American concept of the First Amendment
Emile Combes boasted of taking office for the sole purpose of destroying the religious orders. He closed thousands of what were not then called 'faith schools
Among other things the law provided that all religious buildings were property of the state and local governments and that the government put such buildings at the disposal of religious organisation at no expense to these, provided that they continue to use the buildings for purpose of religious worship
Saint Pope Pius X led the resistance in Vehementer Nos (11th February 1906)
This was followed by his Encyclical Gravissimo Officii Munere on 10th August 1906
Now the attack on religion is not direct but indirect and much more subtle
It comes from within and without
Secularisation is most evident in the modern arts and in modern institutions
Religious art is displayed in modern secular art galleries and museums in an environment which strips religious art of its meaning, significance and power
The appropriation of religious imagery, ritual and language for secular purposes is most evident in the arts, politics and public life in general
But religion has in its turn appropriated wholesale secular imagery and language for religious purposes
Now the church buildings - the husks of a religious life and culture - are being obliterated
Gradually the collective memory of Christianity is being removed from life in France and other parts of Western Europe
Popular paganism now holds sway
In 1906, liberals and the intelligentsia thought that the French Church should accomodate itself to the new French laws and join "cultural associations". Members of the French Academy thought so and publicly said so. They earned the title of the "cardinaux verts".
Pius X rejected this approach in Gravissimo Officii Munere and has earned opprobrium in certain circles ever since
"You know the aim of the impious sects which are placing your heads under their yoke, for they themselves have proclaimed with cynical boldness that they are determined to "de Catholicise" France.
They want to root out from your hearts the last vestige of the faith which covered your fathers with glory, which made your country great and prosperous among nations, which sustains you in your trials, which brings tranquillity and peace to your homes, and which opens to you the way to eternal happiness.
You feel that you must defend this faith with your whole souls. But be not deluded - all labour and effort will be useless if you endeavour to repulse the assaults made on you without being firmly united.
Remove, therefore, any causes of disunion that may exist among you.
And do what is necessary to ensure that your unity may be as strong as it should be among men who are fighting for the same cause, especially when this cause is of those for the triumph of which everybody should be willing to sacrifice something of his own opinions.
If you wish, within the limits of your strength and according to your imperious duty, to save the religion of your ancestors from the dangers to which it is exposed, it is of the first importance that you show a large degree of courage and generosity. ...
As for the defence of religion, if you wish to undertake it in a worthy manner, and to carry it on perseveringly and efficaciously, two things are first of all necessary: you must model yourselves so faithfully on the precepts of the Christian law that all your actions and your entire lives may do honour to the faith you profess, and then you must be closely united with those whose special office it is to watch over religion, with your priests, your bishops, and above all with this Apostolic See, which is the pivot of the Catholic faith and of all that can be done in its name.
Thus armed for the fray, go forth fearlessly for the defence of the Church; but take care that your trust is placed entirely in God, for whose cause you are working, and never cease to pray to Him for help."