PART III. THE BUILDING OF A MOVEMENT 1919 – 1925
1. A NEW PARTNERSHIP AFTER THE WAR
Having both survived the war, Cardijn and Tonnet could finally commence their partnership after Tonnet’s demobilisation in August 1919. Building on the Syndicat des apprentis (Apprentices Union) which had been founded at Laeken during the war, they commenced to launch other groups in and around Brussels under the name La Jeunesse Syndicaliste (Young Trade Unionists) (Walckiers 1970: xix). Cardijn was ill at the end of 1919 and was sent to recuperate at Cannes in December 1919 to January 1920. In Cardijn’s letters to Tonnet, we get a good glimpse at what he is thinking. The work must be ‘surtout éducative’ (‘educational above all’), it must form ‘true apostles’:
‘Et surtout de l’esprit d’apostolat, de conquête, d’audace : jeune et ardent! Mon Dieu, si je pouvais m’y consacrer!! Si jamais le bon Dieu demande ce sacrifice, ce sera rude!! Et pourtant, il ne faudra pas le refuser!’ (22 December 1919 in Walckiers 1970: 4).
(‘And above all spirit of apostolate, of conquest, of daring: young and ardent! My God, if I could only consecrate myself!! If ever the good God asked me this sacrifice, it would be terrible!! And yet, it would be necessary to not refuse!’)
‘Tous les moyens doivent être employés pour la créer : conversations isolées, récits, lectures, causeries, promenades, peut-être parfois un apôtre étranger…’
‘Et il faut vouloir les embellir, à tout point de vue, au point de vue social, matériel, intellectuel, moral, esthétique autant qu’au point de vue social! Je n’ai jamais compris comment on pouvait séparer ces choses : ne sommes-nous essentiellement un, et les sources d’émotions les plus nobles ne sont-elles pas imbibées de beauté!’ (3 January 1920 in Walckiers 1970: 9)
(‘We must make use of every possible means to create (apostles): individual conversations, stories, readings, chats, walks, perhaps sometimes even a foreign apostle…
(And we must want to make them beautiful, from every point of view, social, material, intellectual, moral, aesthetic as much as from the social point of view! I have never understood how one could separate those things: we are essentially one, and the sources of the most noble emotions aren’t they also imbued with beauty!’)
‘Avoir quelques jeunes ouvriers, une cinquantaine qui soient épris de l’idéal, et qui ne réculent devant rien, et qui aillent à la conquête de toute leur âme, et qui fassent don de tout, de tout ce qu’ils ont, de tout ce qu’ils sont, de leur coeur pour aimer, de leur intelligence pour comprendre, de leurs bras pour lutter, de leur argent s’ils en ont pour tout mettre en commun. Prions beaucoup pour cela! Quand un mouvement mérite d’avoir de bonheur-là, il est victorieux! Regardez le Sillon! Et puis le nôtre est plus vrai, il est plus ouvrier, il est plus pauvre! … Oui, un sacerdoce laïque. (12 January 1920 in Walckiers 1970: 13)
(‘To have a few young workers, fifty or so who would be smitten with the ideal and who would never retreat, and who would go for conquest with their whole souls, who would give everything, everything they have, everything that they are, their whole heart to love, their whole intelligence to understand, their arms to struggle, and, if they have any, to place all their money in common. Let us pray for that! When a movement merits to have such a blessing, it will be victorious! Look at the Sillon! And yet ours is truer, it’s more worker, it’s poorer!… Yes, a lay priesthood.’)
What Cardijn outlines here is a vision of a total apostolate, ardent – ‘de toute leur âme’ (”with their whole soul’) – using every kind of method to conquer. And the archetype of this apostolate? Le Sillon who, borrowing from Plato and the philosopher French Léon Ollé-Laprune, took as their motto the phrase: ‘il faut aller au vrai avec tout son âme’ — ‘you must seek the truth with your whole soul’).
But even the Sillon did not go far enough for Cardijn, and so the new movement will be ‘ plus vrai’, ‘plus ouvrier’ and ‘plus pauvre’ — truer, more worker, poorer. Even the possibility of the ultimate sacrifice is evoked: closing down, submission in the manner of the Sillon. In other words, the key to the new movement is to be even more sillonnist than the sillonnists!
2. LA JEUNESSE SYNDICALISTE
This then is the vision that will inspire the new movement of La Jeunesse Syndicaliste. As well as its spirit, it will borrow and build its methods of formation and coordination from those inherited from the Sillon. As we saw earlier, these will be based on the enquiry, the study circle, and will be coordinated by a central ‘study circle’ just as the Sillon had done twenty years earlier (Cf. Caron 1967: 139).
And if any more evidence were needed, the journal of the new movement, also called La Jeunesse Syndicaliste will provide it. Edward Montier is cited, as are Henry du Roure, Fr Jean Desgranges (former sillonnist priest from Limoges) and Fr Beaupin. The authority of Marc Sangnier is invoked for having built the Sillon on ‘la première pierre’ (foundation stone) of the study circle.
All the sillonnist techniques of complementary formation are present: establishment of libraries, ‘promenades artistiques et scientifiques’ (‘artistic and scientific walks’), founding of services for young workers.
3. THE 1921 VISIT OF MARC SANGNIER
By 1921, Cardijn was ready to invite the first ‘apôtre étranger’ to Brussels, who as mentioned previously would be none other than Marc Sangnier. We have a number of historical documents concerning this meeting, including those of Cardijn, Sangnier and Paul Tschoffen, a Belgian member of the Sillon at Liège and later a government minister.
The first of these is Cardijn’s speech of welcome on 5 February 1921, from which we have already quoted a number of times (now available on the internet). It is a moving testimony, and significantly seems to be one of the few speeches of that period of which Cardijn kept a copy of the text. Cardijn does not spare the praise in this speech:
‘Depuis des années je ne cesse dans des cercles d’études, dans des conférences, dans des conversations intimes de citer en exemple la vie, l’ardeur, l’apostolat, l’idéal démocratique du Sillon et de son fondateur. Ils auront voulu m’imposer cet aveu public de notre admiration enthousiaste pour l’éloquent promoteur du plus bel élan de foi et d’apostolat que la France ait connu depuis la révolution.’ (Cardijn 1921: AC 130)
(‘For many years in study circles, conferences, personal conversations, I have never ceased to cite the example of the life, the ardour, the apostolate and the democratic ideal given by the Sillon and its founder. Our leaders wanted to impose on me this public admission of our enthusiastic admiration for the eloquent promoter of the greatest surge of faith and apostolate that France has known since the Revolution.’)
After recalling certain events, he continues:
‘Si j’ai rappelé ces détails, c’est qu’elles sont l’histoire de tant d’amis inconnus et obscurs que vous comptez dans tous les pays du monde, car c’est le privilège et la récompense du semeur d’idéal de vie de ne pas pouvoir limiter le champ qu’il ensemence, ni contraindre la portée de son geste de fécondité. Le vent du large et les oiseaux du ciel emportent la semence et la déposent parfois bien loin, dans un champ où la rosée de Dieu la féconde et la multiplie. Et voilà, comment il se fait, Monsieur, que dans cette Centrale Chrétienne de Travail, vous ne comptez que des amis, et comment sous une autre forme, peut-être, mais avec le même esprit s’élabore et grandit cet effort collectif pour porter aux maximum la conscience et la responsabilité morale (Note 29), comme politique de la classe ouvrière, et pour enlever dans notre société les obstacles, d’ordre économique, d’ordre politique, moral, intellectuel et religieux qui empêchent l’éclosion et le parachèvement de cette conscience et de la responsabilité du plus humble des citoyens populaires.’ (Note 30)
(‘If I have recalled these details, it is because they are the story of so many unknown and obscure friends that you can count on in all the countries of the world. It is because it is the privilege and the reward of the sower of the ideal of life to be unable to limit the field that he seeds or to constrain the range of his fertile gesture.
(‘The winds of the air and the birds of the sky carry off this seed and deposit it sometimes far away, in a field where the dew of God makes it fruitful and multiplies it. And so it is, Sir, that in this Christian Centre for Work, you count only friends. That is how, with the same spirit albeit perhaps in another form that great collective effort to raise the consciousness and the moral as well as the political responsibility of the working class, and to eradicate from our society the obstacles of the economic, political, moral, intellectual and religious orders which prevent the flowering and perfecting of this consciousness and this responsibility of the most humble of popular citizens.’)
Of this meeting with Cardijn, Sangnier would write:
‘Les paroles que prononça pour me saluer M. l’abbé Cardyn étaient tout animées du plus pur esprit des “beaux temps du Sillon”. Il célébra l’oeuvre accomplie par nos amis et rattacha sans hésitation et avec reconnaissance son mouvement à nôtre… Avant ma conférence, j’ai diné dans l’intimité avec M. l’abbé Cardyn et M. Herman Vergels, député démocrate chrétien. Vraiment, je me serais cru dans la plus intime réunion de camarades.
Et je pensais qu’à Varsovie, et jusqu’en Lithuanie j’avais rencontré des sympathies semblables, aussi anciennes, aussi informées de notre effort et se rattachant aussi directement à la magnifique explosion de vie morale et sociale de notre vieux Sillon.’ (L’Ame Commune, 16 February 1921)
(‘The words of welcome pronounced by Fr Cardijn in his welcome were completely filled with the purest spirit of the “great times of the Sillon”. He praised the work accomplished by our friends and unhesitatingly and gratefully linked his movement to our own… Before my conference, I dined in intimacy with Fr Cardijn, Mr Herman Vergels, the Christian Democratic Deputy. Truly, I could have believed that I was in the most intimate gathering of comrades.
(‘ And I thought of Warsaw, and even Lithuania, where I had encountered similar sympathies, equally longstanding, and equally well informed about our efforts and linking themselves just as directly to the magnificent explosion of moral and social life of our old Sillon.’)
Once again, the text speaks for itself. It is interesting to note that on the same trip to Belgium, Sangnier would visit a number of cities. Not surprisingly, he goes to the old sillonnist centre at Liège. He also visited Louvain, where he spoke to students groups, probably organised by the Jeunesse Sociale Catholique about the danger of the Action Française (Note 31), with which Cardijn was closely associated, and in which the law student, Jacques Basyn played a prominent role. He also visited Mons, where it seems he also had contacts, perhaps with the Boerenbond, who were also close to Cardijn.
Cardijn and his collaborators would maintain this contact with Sangnier and his movement. From 1921, Sangnier would organise a series of Congrès International Démocratique de la Paix (International Democratic Peace Congresses). We find among the inscriptions for the second congress in 1922, Cardijn, Henry Heyman, Senator Albert Carnoy, professor of philology at Louvain and political candidate of the Boerenbond and Melle de Coster, a woman devoted to the social apostolate (IMS, unclassified). The session devoted to Le rôle de la jeunesse et l’éducation would have obviously been of interest to Cardijn. Heyman and Carnoy would attend a number of these congresses as would Jacques Basyn (Cf. Reports of these Congresses, IMS).
It is significant to note that the newly elected Pius XI sent his greetings to this second congress, indicating a clear return to favour of Marc Sangnier during his pontificate (MBM 1973: 251).
4. EDWARD MONTIER AND ROBERT GARRIC
As previously mentioned, the following year, Cardijn and his collaborators would invite Edward Montier to Brussels for a similar tour, to be followed in 1923 by Robert Garric, also close to the sillonnist line. Neither of these visits, however, would have the impact of Marc Sangnier’s visit.
5. HENRY DU ROURE : MODEL FULLTIMER
It is convenient here also to note the important role in the development of the YCW of the example of the late Secretary-General of the Sillon, Henry du Roure. Since he had died as a hero in the war, it is natural that his example meant a lot to a former soldier like Fernand Tonnet.
Already before the war, Henry du Roure had published a collection of his own articles from the various Sillon journals. After the war, his Journal Intime, i.e. his diary was published in 1921. Meanwhile, Leonard Constant, the former sillonnist philosopher, had published a biography of du Roure in 1917.
It is clear that du Roure’s example was important for both Cardijn and Tonnet. As Cardijn said:
‘Et s’il est un mot que nous osons faire nôtre, c’est celui que prononça en une occasion mémorable votre admirable et saint compagnon d’armes, Henry du Roure, qu’en un ami sûr, nous chérissons et nous pleurons : Il faudrait, avait-il dit un jour, nous mettre à genoux pour dire les choses que nous avons aimées.’ (Cardijn 1921: AC 130)
(‘And if there is one word that we would like to make our own, it’s that spoken on a memorable occasion by your admirable and holy companion in arms Henry du Roure, who as a faithful friend, we cherish and mourn. “We need to bend down on our knees”, he said, “to speak of the things that we have loved.”‘)
Here he quoted a text of Henry du Roure in a letter of 25 December 1910, three months after the condamnation: ‘Nos rêves ont été si beaux, nos ambitions si nobles, nos naïvétés si généreuses! Tu t’en souviens ? Il faudrait se mettre à genoux pour dire tout ce que nous avons aimé…’ (Constant 1917: 103) (‘Our dreams were so beautiful, our ambitions so noble, our naivety so generous! Do you remember? We need to bend down on our knees to speak of the things that we have loved.’)
The same passage would also be cited several years later by Fernand Tonnet in his brochure to mark the death of the YCW fulltimer, Un jociste, Raymond Delplancq (Tonnet, 6 ed, 1942: 66).
Henry du Roure (1883-1914) at his desk
in the office of the Sillon.
Another text of Henry du Roure which would be important for Cardijn was his article Sur la beauté morale du Sillon dating from December 1908, and republished in du Roure’s Essais et Nouvelles. In this article, du Roure had written that:
‘Il faut nous demander les uns aux autres et nous imposer à nous-mêmes de ne pas trop organiser le Sillon, de ne pas assagir le Sillon, de ne pas embourgeoiser le Sillon. Qu’il reste une chose un peu folle, héroïque si l’on veut. Par lui il vaut mieux être broyé que gavé. Que les corps soient rudoyés pour que les âmes restent pures.’ (du Roure, no date 1917?: 181)
(‘We need to demand it of each other and to impose it on ourselves to not organise the Sillon too much, not to tame the Sillon, not to bourgeoisify the Sillon. Let it remain a little wild and crazy, heroic if you will. Better to be crushed by the Sillon than pampered. Let our bodies be harshly treated in order that our souls stay pure.’)
We find Cardijn quoting this text as late as 1958, precisely at the time that the IYCW is achieving its mature form as an international movement, in which he warns against the ’embourgeoisement’ (‘bourgeoisification’) of the YCW (Cardijn 1958: AC 12A). The example of Henry du Roure, devoted and heroic fulltimer of the Sillon would be a permanent example for the YCW.
6. THE JEUNESSE SYNDICALISTE ON TRIAL
6.1 The Conflict with the ACJB
The influence of the Sillon on the new movement promoted by Cardijn and Tonnet can also be seen in the developing conflict between the Jeunesse Syndicaliste and the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Belge, founded by l’abbé Abel Brohée, and of which the president was Giovanni Hoyois. The primary issue would be autonomy, a theme dear to the sillonnists, who had always sought to defend their autonomy vis-à-vis the hierarchy, and an issue on which Cardijn himself had always stood his ground.
Another problem for the Jeunesse Syndicaliste would be its allegedly political character. With its links to the trade unions, and with Cardijn’s involvement in the Christene Volkspartij, it is easy to see how this criticism could arise.
It would seem that the early conflict between the Jeunesse Syndicaliste and the ACJB also has overtones of the conflict between the Sillon and the ACJF in France. The attacks by Brohée rejoin the positions of the Revue catholique des idées et de faits, an often reactionary journal published by l’abbé René-Gabriel van den Hout, who was very close to Charles Maurras and the Action Française (Van den Hout, 1969). Moreover, as the enquiry of 1920-21 had shown, Catholic students had a great deal of sympathy for Maurras. Indeed, the existence of this tendency within the ACJB would be proven some years later with the emergence of Léon Degrelle, who would become leader of the extreme right-wing Rexist movement.
For all these reasons, it is clear that in the minds of Brohée and those who joined in his criticisms of the Jeunesse Syndicaliste, the new movement was very close to the Sillon. This explains why they expected and worked for it to be condemned. When finally the issue was brought to Cardinal Mercier for judgement at the end of 1924, it must have been obvious to all concerned that it was a re-run of the process against the Sillon prior to 1910. In a hearing — ‘comme à un tribunal’ (‘like a tribunal’) — before Mercier, Cardijn was supported by Father Rutten and Canon Douterlungne from Tournai, a diocese from where Cardijn always gained support. ‘Et le Cardinal conclut par une sentence qui semble une condamnation de la JOC.’ (Cardijn 1958: AC 12A) (‘And the Cardinal concluded with a sentence which seemed to be a condemnation of the YCW’). In the context of the time, however, it is hardly surprising that Cardinal Mercier, given his own political tendencies, should come to the same judgment that had led to the condemnation of the Sillon less than 15 years previously.
6.2 The Appeal to Pius XI
When Cardijn made his famous visit to Rome in March 1925, looking for approval from Pope Pius XI, we find him seeking assistance from the same priest who had previously assisted the Sillon in their hour of need in 1910, namely Mgr Gaston Vanneufville (Caron 1967: 646 and 693; Fiévez and Meert 1978: 73). Originally from the Lille region, Mgr Vanneufville had also been a founder of the journal La Démocratie Chrétienne with Fr Paul Six. No doubt Fr Arthur Vermeesch, who was then teaching at the Gregorian University also played a role (Fievez and Meert 1978: 73).
The big difference between 1910 and 1925 was evidently Pius XI himself. As mentioned, he had sent a message of support to Sangnier’s Peace Congress in 1922. Moreover, the Holy See was already moving towards the condemnation of the Action Française that would come in the next two years — under the pressure, incidentally, of many former sillonnists.
It would also seem then that by 1925 there was a certain desire inside the Holy See to see the work of the Sillon relaunched in some form (MBM 1973: 284). In effect, they seem to have been looking for a new Marc Sangnier. Cardijn’s appearance on the scene would have responded exactly to this desire. Still better was the fact that he was a priest! And if it were known that Cardijn had the support or approval of Sangnier in his work, then this too would have worked in his favour.
All these factors help explain the success of Cardijn in his March 1925 visit to Pius XI that saved the future of the YCW which was then being born. So it would seem highly appropriate then that in 1929 Pius XI would also declare St Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom Marc Sangnier had turned for consolation in 1910, as the patroness of the YCW movement.
7. THE YCW AND PIUS XI
7.1 Cardijn’s Annual Visits
Cardijn’s decision to visit Rome each year can also be explained in terms of the history of the Sillon, and of the influence of Léon Harmel, whose biography had just appeared (Guitton 1927) and who had insisted on just such an approach. We also see here another example of the manner in which Cardijn sought to implicate the highest authority in the Church in every stage of the movement’s growth and development.
7.2 The YCW Pilgrimages to Rome
It is poignant also to notice the resemblance between the first pilgrimage of the YCW to Rome in 1929 and that led by the Sillon in 1903-04. Here it is relevant to recall that Gaston Lestrat’s Les beaux temps du Sillon had been published in 1926, and seems to have provided a blueprint for the YCW trip (Lestrat 1926).
Lestrat would write:
‘Cependant — oserai-je le dire — un seul de ces monuments nous remua jusqu’au fond de nous-mêmes : c’est le Colisée. Marc Sangnier avait eu d’abord l’intention de nous y réunir, un soir, et d’y prononcer un discours, mais la municipalité lui en avait refusé l’autorisation.’ (Lestrat 1926: 171)
‘However — dare I say it — only one of those monuments moved us to the depths of ourselves: the Colosseum. At first, Marc Sangnier had intended to gather us there one evening and to give a speech, however, the municipality (of Rome) had refused to grant him an authorisation.’
The big difference would be that whereas a layperson, Marc Sangnier, had led the sillonnist pilgrimage, now Cardijn, a priest, had taken over that role. Where Marc Sangnier had wanted to deliver a speech inside the Colosseum, but was prevented from doing so, we now find Cardijn in a famous photo, speaking to the YCW pilgrims, fulfilling the wish of Marc Sangnier.
Cardijn and the YCW at the Colosseum in Rome
fulfill the dream of Marc Sangnier and the Sillon
The price to be paid for the achievement of the Sillon’s promise, however, was the installation of a priest as the hierarchical representative of a lay movement — a ‘clericalisation’ that was particularly and painfully obvious to Fernand Tonnet, who found himself excluded from the private audience with Pius XI, in which Cardijn went alone. This clericalisation, real or perceived, also seems to have been one issue in the conflict that would develop between Tonnet and Cardijn in 1934-36 (Cf. Archives Tonnet, Folder B22, Letter from Tonnet to Cardijn, 27 May 1936; Cf. also Walckiers 1970: 178).
8. THE SILLON, THE YCW AND CATHOLIC ACTION
It is also interesting to compare the relations of the Sillon, the YCW and Catholic Action. Before the election of Pius XI in 1922, the publications of the Jeunesse Syndicaliste hardly used the term Catholic Action, which at that time in Belgium was associated with conservative elements of the Catholic Party, and with the ACJB. This corresponds exactly to the situation in France at the time of the Sillon, who had a similar mistrust far any organisation using the term Catholic Action.
When Pius XI introduced the term, however, he redefined it, in effect broadening it to mean ‘collaboration’ or ‘participation of the laity in the apostolate of the Church’, thereby adopting a concept which had been pioneered by the sillonnists twenty years earlier (Cousin 1906: 54) (Note 32).
However, although the YCW had managed to ‘recuperate’ the hierarchy through the support of Pius XI, it would face a big danger of being itself coopted by the hierarchy.
(29) The sillonnists defined democracy as ‘l’organisation sociale qui tend à porter à maximum la conscience et la responsabilité civiques de chacun’ (Marc Sangnier, L’Esprit démocratique, Perrin et Cie, Paris, 1906, p. 167) (‘the form of social organisation which tends to maximise the social consciousness and responsibility of each one’).
(30) In Cardijn’s original text there is even a line crossed out in which he proposes to Sangnier that he should ‘nous parliez de Notre Dame de la Démocratie, comme le Poverello d’Assise parlait de Notre Dame de la Pauvreté’ (‘we should speak of Our Lady Democracy just as the Poverello of Assisi spoke of Our Lady Democracy’). But he obviously seems to have thought discretion is the better part of valour concerning this particular phrase!
(31) It seems clear that it was as a result of this visit that an enquiry was launched in Belgium concerning the attitudes of Belgian students, along the model of a similar enquiry which had been promoted in France by the former sillonnists. The objective of these enquiries was obviously to expose the pernicious influence of the Action Française. This campaign would eventually be successful with the Letter of Cardinal Andrieu criticising the Action Française, dated 25 August 1926, a letter which would be confirmed the following year by Pius XI, resulting in the definitive ‘condemnation’ of the movement of Charles Maurras.
(32) ‘L’action de ces laïcs est certainement une collaboration à l’action du prêtre, mais une collaboration qui s’exerce sur le terrain laïque, au nom des intérêts dont les laïcs ont la garde.’ (Cousin 1906: 54) (‘The action of these lay people is certainly a collaboration with the action of the priest, but a collaboration which is exercised on lay terrain, in the name of the interests of the lay people to whom it is entrusted.’)