Tuesday, February 5, 2013

God, Victor Hugo and French Church

Victor Hugo 1872
image wikimedia
Victor Marie Hugo (1802 – 1885) is in the news thanks to the Academy Award Nominations for the blockbuster musical Les Misérables (2012) based on his novel of the same name.

Victor Hugo embodies the highly critical attitudes towards religion that are present also in today's determinedly secular France. For example, French diplomats were in the forefront in the battle to prevent any mentioning of God in the European Union Charter.

In his poetry, Victor Hugo touches the soul of his people in a way that only native French speakers can truly appreciate. His poems were immensely popular during the 19th century and belong today to the national heritage of French culture. 

In his novels, Victor Hugo discusses French society as it is living through the turmoil between Royalists and Republicans, revolutions and wars. An important subject in his analysis is the Church.

Christ and France - beginning of the relationship
French have been and are an enormously important people among the nations of the earth. If you do not believe me just look at the Ellis Island in front of New York. Statue of Liberty is not just another piece of art - it symbolises much of what is dear to modern Western civilization dominating the world.

Because of this importance Jesus Christ and His enemy have been fighting and continue to fight for the soul of France, Sacre coeur, so to say.

Jesus Christ reached the French people early in European history. First he met them through the wonderful services of Saint Martin de Tours (316-397) or Martin le Miséricordieux. Officially, the Kingdom of God reached Franks when King Clovis I (466-511) was baptised in Christmas Day 496 in Reims. Jesus was there in the crucial battle and became his Lord. The Christian dynasty of Merovingians is crucial in the history of Europe and the British Isles and thus to the entire world.

Jesus Christ was there when Franks led by Charles Martel (688-741) were the last bastion of European Christianity against the deadly onslaught of Muslims in the Battle of Tours 721. Martel is the grandfather of Charlemagne (742-814), pater Europae.

Things started to go badly between Christ and France
Jesus Christ called Jean d'Arc (1412-1431) La Pucelle d'Orléans to crown the King of France in Reims where Clovis I had been baptised thousand years earlier. She did so but was
put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon for charges of "insubordination and heterodoxy" and was burned at the stake for heresy when she was 19 years old wikipedia
Before this crime against humanity on 30 May 1431at the Vieux-Marché in Rouen there had been other things that did not go unnoticed later neither by Voltaire nor by Victor Hugo.
It is true that it was an Italian pope Innocent III who instigated the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. The merciless genocides during the twenty years of war were carried out both by northern and southern French barons.

The Languedoc now was firmly under the control of the King of France. The Inquisition was established in Toulouse in November 1229, and the surviving elements of Catharism were eliminated from the region, largely due to the infamous inquisitor Bernard Gui and his order of Dominicans.
The two things, Albigensian Crusade and Inquisition belong to the darkest pages in the history of the Church and are well remembered in France. (Victor Hugo wrote the play Torquemada in 1869 on inquisition and religious fanaticism.)
The list of things going bad is dark, long and sad. French religious believers against French religious believers as in the case of Cathars but now against the Huguenots. St. Bartholomew's Days massacre on July 23, 1572 in Paris

The massacre also marked a turning point in French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Though by no means unique, it "was the worst of the century's religious massacres." Throughout Europe, it "printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion".
The persecution of Huguenots stains the period of le Roi Soleil Louis XIV as French clergyman Cardinal Richelieau (1585-1642) crushes in 1628 their stronghold of La Rochelle. He may have won that battle but the way a man of God treated fellow Frenchmen rivals with the worst atrocities conducted later by both sides in the 30 years war.

These Church Royalty things were vividly remembered also in the novels of Alexandre Dumas who was a close friend of Victor Hugo.

Not to mention witch trials so prominent in Victor Hugo's master piece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831).

Les Misérables
The dark side of French church history was well known and was among the principal causes for the French Revolution that changed the entire world in 1787-99 and after that still affecting us all today.

Young Victor Hugo was nevertheless a good Catholic following the guidance of his mother Sophie Trébuchet (1772–1821). On the other hand, his father Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo (1774–1828) was a child of Enlightenment and a freethinker in matters of religion. Mother Catholic Royalist remembering the glory of the House of Bourbon and father agnostic Republican whose hero was Napoléon Bonaparte.

The dark pages in the history of the Church in France was not the principal reason why Victor Hugo later became increasingly critical of Christian religion.

The real reason was his passionate feeling for justice and his horror on the indifference of Christian clergy to the suffering of les Misérables.

Faith in God
Although Victor Hugo fiercely criticized the Church and was apparently not a close friend of Jesus Christ he nevertheless did not deny God.
Hugo left five sentences as his last will to be officially published :
« Je donne cinquante mille francs aux pauvres.
Je veux être enterré dans leur corbillard.
Je refuse l'oraison de toutes les Eglises.
Je demande une prière à toutes les âmes.
Je crois en Dieu. »

("I leave 50 000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse.I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls.I believe in God.")
French Church
Instead of repenting from the accusations of neglecting the orphans, the poor, the miserables, French Church actively condemned Victor Hugo and his today world famous writings.

Hugo never lost his antipathy towards the Catholic Church, due largely to what he saw as the Church's indifference to the plight of the working class under the oppression of the monarchy; and perhaps also due to the frequency with which Hugo's work appeared on the Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Hugo counted 740 attacks on Les Misérables in the Catholic press).

Les Misérables contains solemn words from a secular prophet in the tradition of Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ Himself.

French Catholic cardinals, bishops, priests and others did not see the truth they contain.

Royalists, the House of Bourbon, and the blindness and deeds of the Catholic Church in France explain Victor Hugo.

And Victor Hugo stands for the common man and woman in France who have a decent sense of justice and what is right and what is wrong.

French Christians have much to blame in themselves about the cold winds of secularism that blow today from Paris.

1 comment:

  1. Later on Hugo Victor has having communication with the Spiritism Doctrine codified by the philosopher "Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivali (Allan Kardec) - Paris 1800's. See Google Wikipidia.