Welcome to Marc Sangnier










I am deeply honoured that the FSBC (Brussels Federation of Christian Trade Unions) has granted me the task of welcoming Mr Marc Sangnier, parliamentary deputy from Paris, to our Christian Centre for Work (Centrale Chrétienne de Travail). 

Sir, this honour -- in fact it's a task that's almost impossible -- that the leaders of our workers' organisations have inflicted on me -- indeed it's more like a punishment, albeit a pleasant one, because 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 wished 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. 

This magnificent expression of praise by the Bishop of Nice (2) makes it easy for us to justify the prodigious ascendancy that you exercised on our young hearts. And if there is one word that we would like to make our own, it's that spoken on a memorable occasion (3) by your admirable and holy companion in arms Henry du Roure (4), 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." 

It was 18 years ago that I first read the life, the speeches, the writings of Marc Sangnier and the history of the Sillon which he founded. Oh! You would need to measure the loving capacity of a virginal heart aged 20 years to understand the explosion of enthusiasm that such reading could inspire in the soul of a young seminarian! 

Later at Lille and Roubaix, we had the pleasure of participating in meetings of the study circles of the Sillon (5), where we saw those young people, students, workers and employees, loving each closer than brothers, assisting each other to develop their consciousness and to exercise their responsibilities. And during the Social Week at Amiens at the dinner organised by the Sillon, when I was able to read on the faces of hundreds of Sillonnists the reflection of your thoughts, the echo of each of your feelings, the answer of each one to your appeals, we understood that people could fight you, and on occasion strike you but that each test no matter how painful it may have been would never be an occasion of death but a source of new inspiration (6). 

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 the many 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 God's makes it fruitful and multiplies it (7). 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 (8). 

The Christian Central of Work is the confederation of all the Christian worker organisations of our district. The trade unions, co-operatives, educational, social and political organisations are jealously autonomous and frankly Christian (9). The leaders have charged me with thanking you from the bottom of their hearts for the honour you have done to them by accepting their invitation, in spite of the loss which has struck you (10) and in spite of the burden of the crushing timetable you follow, to speak this evening. After 4 years of fratricidal war, after 2 years of diplomatic bargaining, it remains important to hear the judgment of a faithful friend of Democracy concerning its future. 

Sir, if I could ask one thing of you, it's that you speak to us as a Great Friend might speak to his friends. 

[it's that you speak to us of our Our Lady of Democracy, just as the Poverello of Assisi used to speak of Our Lady of Poverty] (11) 

Yes, speak to us without fear and without reproach! It is not our habit to pronounce the word Democracy in words, we pronounce it by our acts! 

Sir, we believe in you, because we have seen what you have done! 

Speak, Sir, your friends are listening (12). 

Joseph Cardijn 

Bibliographical Note 

For a biography of Marc Sangnier cf. Madeleine Barthélemy-Madaule, Marc Sangnier, 1873-1950, Seuil, Paris, 1973, 301p. Concerning the Sillon generally cf. Jeanne Caron, Le Sillon et la Démocratie Chrétienne, Plon, Paris, 1966, 798p. 

Concerning the influence of Marc Sangnier and the Sillon on Cardijn and the YCW and for more information concerning this text, cf. Stefan Gigacz, The Sillon and the YCW, Mini-Colloquy on YCW History, Brussels, 1997. 

Notes from the Text 

(1) The fact that Cardijn and the Christian Central for Work invite Marc Sangnier, founder of the Sillon 'condemned' on 25 August 1910 by Pope Pius X' encyclical, Notre Charge Apostolique, is of the greatest significance. As the text shows, Cardijn claims a direct inspiration from Sangnier and the Sillon. Moreover, at that time, Sangnier was completely isolated in France by his position in support of reconciliation with Germany. To invite Marc Sangnier to Belgium in 1921 was therefore not a decision taken lightly. Sangnier's conference with Cardijn's introduction was reported in certain newspapers of the period and it is clear that Cardijn was thereby publicly associated with the line of the Sillon and Marc Sangnier. 

Secondly, the following year in 1922, Cardijn invited another sillonnist, Edward Montier, as a speaker, followed in 1923 by another Frenchman Robert Garric, more conservative but still on the progressive side of the Catholic social action of that period. I believe that Cardijn and his supporters were attempting to combat the series of public conferences began in the 1920s by Fr Van Hout, a supporter of the right-wing Action Française, which had fought the Sillon and which was itself condemned in 1927. (Van Hout's conferences evolved into the Grandes Conférences Catholiques which continue to this day and Cardijn himself eventually became a speaker at one of these conferences.) 

Thirdly, Cardijn's text of welcome which exists only in handwritten form in the Cardijn archives in Brussels is one of the few Cardijn documents which remain from this period. It therefore seems likely that Cardijn deliberately saved this document which is the main written expression of the influence and impact of the Sillon on himself. 

(2) The bishop of Nice to whom Cardijn refers was Mgr Henri Chapon, a progressive bishop, friend and supporter of the Sillon. Here, Cardijn credits him as the author of the often cited phrase to the effect that the Sillon represented the greatest surge of faith and apostolate since the Revolution. 

(3) The memorable occasion to which Cardijn refers was the 'condemnation' of the Sillon by Pope Pius X in 1910. 

(4) Henry du Roure (1883-1914) was the secretary-general of the Sillon right up to the time of the 'condemnation' in 1910. He was killed in action with the French army defending against the German invasion in September 1914. 

(5) Here Cardijn refers to his visit to France in the summer of 1907 where he began in Lille and Roubaix and continued on to Amiens for the Social Week before visiting Leon Harmel. He had planned to go on to Switzerland where he had planned to make contact with others close to the Sillon. However, he was recalled and transferred as a Latin teacher to the Minor Seminary of Basse-Wavre immediately following this trip. 

At this time in 1907, the Sillon was in public conflict with the bishop of Cambrai, which then included the Lille-Roubaix region. Indeed, Marc Sangnier came to Amiens specifically to defend the local Sillon against the attacks of the bishop. 

So I think it is probable that Cardijn's visit to the Sillon during this week was an important factor in the decision of Cardinal Mercier (Note that although Marc Walckiers offers another explanation for this transfer in his doctoral thesis on Cardijn, it does not exclude that Cardijn's contact with the Sillon may also have been a factor in Mercier's decision.) 

(6) It is noteworthy here that Cardijn publicly states his support for the Sillon and impliedly criticises the decision of Pius X. 

(7) Here, Cardijn openly claims inspiration from the Sillon 'in another form perhaps but with the same spirit'. 

(8) Cardijn is referring the classical sillonnist definition of democracy as 'the social organisation which tends to raise to the maximum the civic consciousness and responsibility of each person'. Note also how Cardijn insists on 'moral' as well as 'political' or 'civic' responsibility. 

(9) The sillonnist insistence on the orgnaisational autonomy of their movement was a major reason for their 'condemnation' by Pius X whose main objective in fact was not to eliminate the Sillon but to place it under clerical control, something which the sillonnists refused, preferring a partnership model of collaboration with the hierarchy. 

(10) Marc Sangnier's mother-in-law had died few weeks earlier, an event which had also caused the postponement of his trip to Belgium. 

(11) Cardijn's prudence got the better of him here. He crossed out the reference to Our Lady Democracy (or Our Lady of Democracy). 

(12) Marc Sangnier himself was clearly impressed and moved by the confidence shown to him by Cardijn and his supporters. He mentions his talks with Cardijn in his bulletin, L'Ame Commune, published on his return to Paris (16 February 1921): 

'The words of welcome spoken by Fr Cardijn were inspired by the purest spirit of the "great times of the Sillon". He celebrated the work accomplished by our friends and unhesitatingly linked his movement to our own... Before my conference, I dined in intimacy with Fr Cardijn and with the Christian Democrat parliamentarian, Mr Hermann Vergels, [a close collaborator of Cardijn] . Truly, I felt that I was in the most intimate meeting of friends.' 

And the following year, Cardijn enrolled for the International Democratic Congress for Peace organised by Marc Sangnier, although it is not clear if he eventually participated (Cardijn's enrolment form for this congress is available in the Institute Marc Sangnier, Paris). 

[Translation and notes by Stefan Gigacz, Version 1.2, May 2010. Original text here.]


Joseph Cardijn, Welcome to Marc Sangnier, JosephCardijn.com