Molière and Tartuffe: Recrimination and Reconciliation

by Henry Phillips
Molière and Tartuffe: Recrimination and Reconciliation
Henry Phillips
The French Review
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Moliere and Tarfujfe: Recrimination and Reconciliation

by Henry Phillips

THE YEAR 1922 marked the three-hundredth anniversary of MoliPrels birth. An occasion, one might think, to celebrate unequivocally the life and work of one of the three great dramatists of the seventeenth century in France and indeed one of the great figures of French literature. After all, the controversies over Tartuffe and Dom juan, and especially over L'Ecole des femmes had surely abated by then, leaving the way open for the consecra- tion of a supreme representative of the culture of France. Everybody could at least agree on that. Not quite.

The tercentenary revived, in a particularly acute fashion, arguments over MoliPre's Tartuffe, which had raged fitfully throughout the nineteenth century. The more general context was in any event the relations between the Church and the theater, especially in the former's attitudes to actors. It should be recalled that the so-called querelle du thiLtre in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France had pitted those who believed drama to have a morally improving function against those who, like Nicole, Bossuet, and Rousseau, saw in it a corrupting and socially disruptive influence.' Generally speaking, basic attitudes condemning the public theater, actors, and above all actresses could still be found in the early decades of the twentieth century.2 But the tercentenary celebrations, while certainly critical of MoliPre, at the same time offered an opportunity for reflexion, with the result that 1922 became something of a watershed in the relations between Church and theater. Old problems were raised, but, happily, moves towards their resolution were undertaken by both sides. In this article, I shall give some prominence to those who wrote in various Catholic journals during the year of the celebrations. The debate, however, was carried on well into the 1930s and beyond. I have therefore chosen a thematic rather than a purely chronological perspective.

MoliPre had in fact always constituted a problem for literary critics who, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had sometimes shown great hostility towards MoliPre's alleged anti-clericalism. Even the great Lanson himself expressed reservations over Tartuffe, and saw in MoliPre a Voltairian avant la lett~e.~

The comic playwright was, wrote Lanson, profoundly ignorant of Christianity: "il ne le comprend pas." (526)But this view did not seriously threaten MoliPre's unquestionable claim to greatness. Lanson concluded that: "MoliPre est, en effet, peut-Gtre le plus exactement, largement et complPtement franqais." His genius, in compari- son to La Fontaine's, possessed "les qualit& franqaises portkes A un degre supkrieur de puissance et de nettetk." (530) Even more ardent supporters of MoliPre were disturbed by the possibilities of flaws in the playwright's reputation. Doumic offers a glimpse of the potential embarrassment surrounding the whole question of MoliPre's sincerity at the time of the querelle de Tartuffe when he remarks: "Avouez qu'il serait au moins fdcheux que MoliPre n'eQt pris la parole que pour nous trornper." (Quoted in Reyval, L'Eglise ef le thtitre 15). Reyval reacts to those who make the charge that MoliPre was not only anticlerical but a liar and an imposter by an assertion that seems to start from the wrong end: "Je suis trop molieriste pour m'associer A eux." (L'Eglise et le thtLtre 16)

The Catholic Church, however, was the institution for whom MoliPre's place in French culture remained a highly sensitive issue. As I have indicated, their concern did not begin with the tercentenary year. Louis Veuillot, the influential, extremist Catholic journalist of the second half of the nineteenth century, had, in 1877, set out in often strident terms the grievance of the Church against MoliPre and Tartuffe. The tercentenary simply provided the opportunity to focus these grievances in terms of the degree to which MoliPre could be regarded as representative of "l'esprit franqais." Undoubtedly, the subtext to the arguments advanced also focuses on a certain conception of society, and how far religious attitudes should form a part of that conception. In a sense, Catholic writers were challenging judgments issuing from the predominantly lay dissemination of culture in the Third Republic.

Indeed the position of Lanson regarding MoliPre's place in French culture I have cited earlier was, it seems, typical of the period 1880-1914 when MoliPre achieved a sort of secular canonisation as a model of the national genius of France. Ralph Albanese, Jr. records how the playwright was seen

. .

as representative of "la vieille race gauloise". What is even more significant is that the author of Tartuffe is illustrative of a transformation in the role of Ancien Regime literature in secondary school programs as a result of the new republican cultural ideology. The notion of "l'esprit franqais" was taken in hand by the school system to the extent that there was created "toute une personnalite, une dme, bref, un fonds d'identitk nationale inspirant une tradition acadkmique parfaitement fixe" (Albanese 36). More fundamentally: "un des aspects essentiels de la vision republicaine de la modernit6 rkside dans l'invention d'une transcendance bourgeoise: la sacralisation des arts, la valorisation de la culture comme succkdank de la religion representent des consCquences immkdiates d'une ideologie lai'que face au clCricalisme toujours menaqant" (Albanese 41). The situation I shall describe relating to the Tercentenary and after, as I have suggested, was in some ways a ripost to the creation of this "Panthkon scolaire et lai'que" (Albanese 42).

The contributors to the debate in 1922 (and subsequently) had however no desire to evict from the Pantheon altogether. It was rather a question of qualifying his claim to fame. The most authoritative voice in the arguments surrounding the celebration of MoliPre's birth was Jean Calvet, a prominent Catholic scholar who was to become Doyen of the Facult6 libre des Lettres de Paris. Writing in the Cakiers Catkoliques of 10 January 1922, his stated intention is to "rkviser ses (=MoliPre) titres h la divinisation." Calvet knows that his intervention will be regarded as "outrecuidance ridicule" in the eyes of freethinkers "qui se laissent imposer par la critique consacrke des fetichismes litteraires ou sociaux." He thus situates himself in polemical opposition to certain social and literary currents. But, he adds, "nous voulons voir clair et, en admirant Molihre, marquer ses limites, parce qu'il en a" ("Le Centenaire" 977). Moreover, if one takes the view that is really the most perfect and worthy expression of "l'esprit franqais," then "il y aurait Ih un abus de confiance contre quoi nous protesterions" (978).

This cri de caur is, unsurprisingly, echoed in H. Gaillard de Champris's volume on LPS Ecrivains classiques, volume IV of the Histoire de la littirature fran~aise under the direction of Calvet himself., however great as an observer of humanity and as a writer, has his limits. Indeed MoliPre is condemned by the nature of his admirers who are seen as "d'excellents bourgeois h qui ont manque le sens de la grande poesie, l'inquiktude philosophique et h plus forte raison, le sentiment religieux." That they should regard him as representative of "l'esprit franqais" is "une prktention exorbitante et, dans une certaine mesure, injurieuse" (117-18).

Typically for this period of criticism, the issue turns in part on the playwright's "philosophy" which is, Calvet asserts, MoliPre's principal claim to represent "l'esprit franqais." What is this philosophy in practice? It is perceived as lying in the ridicule of family life and paternal authority in George Dandin ("Le Centenaire" 981-82), and in the contempt for a religious education exemplified in LZcole des femmes (979). It is true that the servants in his plays proclaim "les principes de sa sagesse" which often contain a certain aphoristic common sense. But the laughter provoked in the comedies "a presque toujours une odeur," so that it is not to MoliPre that we have recourse in order to learn "le secret des vertus de notre race" (982). Calvet's wording recalls Lanson's description of MoliPre's greatness when he denies that the playwright represents "parfaitement et totalement l'esprit franqais" (981).

The real obstacle to an unequivocal acceptance of an immaculate is obviously Tartuffe, which all Catholic commentators regard as embodying the very worst in his theater (along with certain aspects of Dom Iuan). That Tartuffe should find acceptance with freethinkers is, according to Calvet, understandable. What is more difficult to accommodate is, on the one hand, university critics who "d'un ton pknetre et solennel" declare that the true meaning of the Gospel is to be found at Port-Royal, and on the other, claim a few pages later that MoliPre was careful not to attack true piety, only hypocrisy, and that he even rendered a service to Christianity in providing a portrait of the ideal Christian ("Le Centenaire" 980).

Tartuffe is the main target too of two articles in the Rmue des objections (15 January 1922) attributed to PPre Coubet who also wished to restrict the nature of the celebrations. MoliPre is not, however, regarded as a mediocre playwright (in many respects that is precisely the problem). Coubet indeed identifies as praiseworthy "son genie, son esprit caustique, sa verve desopilante" and, generally speaking, his profound knowledge of the resources and expression of the French language, all of which have placed him in the first rank of classical writers ("Le Tricentenaire" 3).In this sense, even Tartuffe has its good points ("Le Tartuffe" lo).But a distinction must be made between "le talent et la moralite." At this level, there is no point in seeking in his drama "une idee genereuse, un noble caracthe, de la beaut6 morale." Quite simply, "l'homme de bien ou n'existe pas pour lui ou lui est indifferent" ("Le Tricentenaire" 5). The distinction between morality and talent is clearly adhered to by Gaillard de Champris. There are those who congratulate MoliPre for being a comic playwright simply intent on making people laugh: let us hope that they do not then raise him "h la dignit4 de grand moraliste, sinon de grand philosophe, et ne proposent pas ses enseignments h l'admiration, h la docilite des peuples reconnaissants" (116).

The content of MoliPre's philosophy inevitably leads to a discussion of the exact nature of his Christianity. The central focus here is on ClPante's description of the real "devot." Much has been written and speculated upon in this ~ontext.~

My aim is not, however, to arbitrate in that particular debate, but merely to give some account of the concerns of those who felt most directly implicated in what was interpreted as an attack on a certain conception of spirituality and worship offered by Tartuffe, but more insidiously by Orgon.

In his interesting Essai sur la siparation de la religion et de la vie: Moliire est-il chritien?, Calvet attempts to relate the question of MoliPre's Christianity to certain historical trends still in evidence in the seventeenth century. He argues that MoliPre's plays retain the vestiges of that sort of Humanism which sought to reconcile "les deux sagesses," that is to say, the Christian and the pagan (10). Furthermore, MoliPre completes a stage in French thought initiated by Montaigne, namely the separation of religion from life in general, "en formulant les lois de la vie de societ6." What is meant by this is that religious questions have their own place and do not impinge on a form of life in society: "l'homme qui veut vivre en societe ne doit apporter dans la societe que ce qu'il a de commun avec les autres hommes; il a le devoir de s'appliquer h leur donner du plaisir par sa tolerance et par ses sourires" (71). Montaigne and MoliPre thus managed to introduce into "notre ideal national" a sort of secular secession which, precisely, is rejected by modern religious thought (11). For Calvet, moreover, Moliere holds that real Christianity is a natural religion, "un dPi'sme de bon ton se conformanth la coutume des lieux" (72). Perhaps at the root of Calvet's position is a rejection of the domination of a lay culture where even religion becomes just another feature of social existence, in a predominantly lay educational and cultural system. Gaillard de Champris in some way echoes Calvet's opinion in that MoliPre is believed to express through Cleante the view that religion is, like all other practical problems, a relative one: "Or le christianisme est la religion de l'absolu" (115). For MoliPre not only is religion devoid of real content, but it has no privileged position in the world.

For Calvet and others, one of their principal objections to MoliPre and Tartuffe is that the latter is considered to offer a model of real Christianity, when a tradition existed in the seventeenth century which gave a much sounder model of spirituality in society and which remains relevant to twentieth-century France. Calvet in fact undertakes no less than a defense of the Catholic Reform which sought through such figures as Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and, above all, St Frangois de Sales, to evangelize seventeenth- century society in all its aspects.' Indeed, MoliPre's plays, especially Tartuffe, run directly-and consciously-counter to this tradition in that they constitute a reply on behalf of the young Louis XIV and his court to attempts to curb their revelling and sexual licence. MoliPre was thus engaged in a polemic where "il rPclame avec le Roi, avec la jeune Cour, non seulement le droit A la douceur de vivre, mais celui d'accommoder l'esprit de l'Evangile aux convenances mondaines et aux exigences de la nature" (Gaillard de Champris 59). This is a constant theme from Veuillot onwards, the latter believing the Princesse dfElide (not without reason) to be an apology for the king's amorous adventures (50-51). He also believes that Louis XIV approved of Tartuffe for making his censors look ridiculous (151).

Calvet, however, does not adhere to a simplistic view of Tartuffe and Dorn Juan. Although he agrees with the idea of MoliPre as the Court's advocate in the face of the new spirituality, which had its representatives even among those close to the king, he believes that MoliPre spoke for the "mondains" rather than for the "libertins" ("Le Centenaire" 978-79). Indeed, under the protection of the King, the playwright certainly attacked the "devots [. . .I qui limitent les libertPs de la vie," as in Tartuffe, but also the "libertins" "qui heurtent le bon sens", as in Dorn Juan (Essai 124).Dorn Juan is regarded as a critique of atheism (88).

According to some, Orante and Daphne, the prudes mentioned by Cleante, were used in an attack on the divots at court, for whom the direct models were reckoned to be the Duchesse de Navailles and Madame de Soissons, both of whom had criticized Louis's sexual conduct. But Calvet rejects this personalised interpretation of the play (Tartuffe too has his model), preferring to see in Tartuffe a symbol of what MoliPre wished to attack (Essai 73). More seriously Orgon's character provides the real opportunity for the frontal assault on the new spirituality: "le proces qui est fait ici du chretien reforme et par consequent de la reforme elle-meme, est sans quartier et sans nuance" (68). As for presenting real "dCvots" through Clbante, "ce sont des ombres, qui portent les noms d'ombres" (70). We must therefore renounce the old idea espoused by "la critique universitaire" of Tartuffe as a satire of religious hypocrisy. The play marks rather the culmination of the conflict between "l'esprit chrbtien de rbforme morale" and "l'esprit du monde jouisseur" ("Le Centenaire" 979-80). Calvet admits that the Counter-Reformation in France was not without its excesses (Essai 34). But this is clearly no reason to suppress in favor of MoliPre as representing the true "esprit francais" the reputation and standing of the Catholic Reformers: "les ouvriers de la Rkforme Catholique sont l'honneur de leur temps et leur ceuvre d'assainissement moral s'impose au respect de l'histoire" (62). The limits to MoliPre's own reputation lie precisely in his attempt to cast doubt on the existence of Counter-Reformation heroism. In this context, Corneille is a much worthier figure. MoliPre "est l'homme pour qui la saintetb n'a pas de sens" (72-73).

For many commentators a more fundamental question than the religious content of the plays was whether MoliPre himself was a Christian, or more accurately what sort of Christian he was, because, interestingly, the view of MoliPre as an atheist, among the authors and writers I have read, is exceptional. The closest a writer comes to an accusation of atheism is when Henri dlAlmbras describes MoliPre as possessing "une religion de facade," which was necessary because his dependent position and the times prevented him from declaring himself openly as a freethinker (85). But, as we all know, MoliPre performed his Easter communion the year before he died. Is that not something in his favor? Henri d'Almeras believes that this proves nothing in itself: "pratiquer n'est pas croire" (83).Other writers are a little more generous, but by no means entirely complimentary. Coubet believes at least MoliPre's act of Easter devotion to have probably been sincere. But it was not enough: an act of contrition ought to have inspired in him "une attitude plus franche et plus courageuse. Mais il faut bien avouer que la franchise et le courage n'ktaient pas son fort." Instead, offering himself as spokesman for a debauched court and then pillorying its adversaries as hypocrites was in itself an act of hypocrisy and cowardice. MoliPre was "'un pauvre homme' de piPtre moralitk" ("Le Tartuffe" 16).

As I have remarked, Calvet rejects the view of MoliPre as a "libertin." Nor is ClCante's role "une precaution hypocrite." MoliPre may have been mistaken about real Christianity, but he was a Christian, or wanted to be, "comme l'est un dgiste de bonne foi qui va parfois A la messe" (Essai 82-83). Mauriac believes that, too indifferent to metaphysics to probe deeply into religious questions, MoliPre was simply against "la demesure chretienne," and against "la malediction chretienne contre ce que Pascal appelle l'usage delicieux et criminel du monde" (270).

The implicit assumption behind these very qualified opinions of Moliere's status as a Christian is that he was incompetent to deal fully, and with the necessary understanding, with a matter of religion, in fact a conclusion already reached by writers in the seventeenth century. Inevitably, MoliPre's personal life is adduced as evidence against him. His own morality was, according to Coubet, "fort mediocre" given the deplorable nature of his home life. The consequences for his plays are therefore obvious ("Le Tricentenaire" 4). For Gaillard de Champris, religion is "un sujet reserve" which requires special knowledge, "une delicatesse de sentiments, une dignite, une purete de vie qui ne sont pas, en general, l'apanage des auteurs comiques, encore moins des comkdiens." Even allowing for MoliPre's sincerity, the way he poses the problem in Tartuffeproves his total incompetence to handle such things (114-15). Both Tartuffe and Dom Juan, despite the fact that MoliPre may have believed himself to be a Christian, demonstrate "l'insuffisance de sa formation chretienne" (114). Gaillard de Champris further regrets that MoliPre introduced matters of this sort into the theater, which is hardly the appropriate forum (116). Calvet had enlarged on this idea in his Essai where MoliPre's intention is identified as distinguishing "la verite de la grimace" and "la vertu de ses exagkrations ou de ses conrefa~ons." Such discrimination is not proper to the theater where the audience is "simpliste, distrait et paresseux" (40). Even Albert Reyval regards the subject of Tartuffe as somewhat delicate: its treatment by a moralist or a theologian, rather than a playwright, would have borne the stamp of greater authority (L'Eglise, la comidie 28).

What is evident frorn my discussion already is that Tartuffe is not just a play. MoliPre's choice of subject meant that it transcended the boundaries of comedy and art, however much one may attempt to justify it by providing a theory of the ridiculous, as in the Lettre sur la comidie de 17mposteur. Contemporaries such as Bourdaloue and Massillon perceived how serious the effects of the play could be on practising Christians, afraid, because of their visible acts of worship, of being put in the same category as Tartuffe. More than this, however, the consequences of MoliPre's choice of subject and his manner of dealing with it transcend his own epoch. The play was and is dangerous. To what extent, then, can MoliPre be held personally responsible for the damage it continues to cause in the eyes of the commentators who are the object of this study? Did he know what he was doing?

Mauriac bears a definite grudge against MoliPre for not having admitted or agreed that, by means of Orgon and Tartuffe, he struck at the heart of Christianity (270), when the instincts of all those around him told them that the whole of Christianity was indicted by a caricature so subtle and so devious that it just had to be deliberate (266). Mauriac is therefore certain that the playwright was well enough aware that he was providing a poisoned weapon for the enemies of the Christian faith for centuries to come (270). Another writer, while not believing that MoliPre directly incited feeling against the Church, nonetheless finds it difficult to believe that he could not have perceived the use the Church's enemies would make of Tartuffe ("L'Eglise et le theatre" 32). Veuillot too affirms that MoliPre knew exactly how people in the future would take advantage of his play for their own purposes and that the weapon he had forged would not be allowed to rust with age (164). Veuillot is indeed the source of a much repeated view that, when anticlerical feeling needed to be aroused, Tartuffe was performed (1).For Coubet freemasons have constant recourse to the play in their drive against religion ("LeTartuffe" 13). Clearly Tartuffe in its turn became a pawn in the incessant conflict which raged between religious and anti-religious factions in French society before 1939.~ Let us leave the last word on this particular aspect of the debate with the reviewer of Reyval's book of 1924: "Le Tartuffe, considbrb en lui-meme et abstraction faite des intentions de son auteur, est incontestablement une des piPces qui ont fait le plus de tort A I'Eglise" ("L'Eglise et le thC?itren 28).

Hostility to MoliPre does not entirely eliminate charity, for, however great MoliPre's responsibility, deliberate or otherwise, in undermining the Church, his death and the circumstances surrounding it are a cause of considerable embarrassment and unease to Catholicism's modern repre- sentatives. No commentator is prepared ultimately to justify the treatment Moliere received, although all plead the necessity to understand the reason for the Church's attitude at the time. Typical is Coubet, at least in the way he asks the initial question: "Cette sCvbritb du clergC n'a-t-elle pas CtC excessive? L'Eglise n'a-t-elle pas fait preuve d'intolbrance et d'obscuran- tisme, de mbchancetb et d'injustice envers ce grand gknie? Cette attitude appelle une explication, et le tricentenaire de MoliPre rentre par ce c6tb dans le domaine de I'apologCtique" ("Le Tricentenaire" 4). Later Coubet argues that it is not surprising that MoliPre appeared in the clergy's eyes as a dangerous and corrupting mind: "Et nous comprenons dPs lors, mcme si nous ne l'approuvons pas sur tous les points, l'attitude qu'eurent A son endroit plusieurs des pri.tres de Saint-Eustache, sa paroisse" (9). Reyval's reviewer is less grudging. Surely, the Church had a just grievance, but this was no reason for a priest to reject MoliPre at his final agony ("L'Eglise et le thC3tren 33). After all, another writer tells us, Moliere's dying moments included "de vifs sentiments de foi et de repentir." He therefore died a good Christian ("La Mort" 17). The conduct of the two priests who refused to attend cannot therefore be approved. But the judgment is not all black for the Church. Its rigour was regrettable but explicable: "MoliPre avait tout fait pour la mkriter." Today, however, things would have been different. Even then he can add: "l'intolCrance reprochCe h la religion se rCduit h peu de chose. Elle n'exprime pas un jugement solennel de llEglise, ni son attitude habituelle, mais seulement la rigueur de quelques ecclbsiastiques qui en portaient la responsabilitCU (20-21). The spirit of the Church is embodied rather in the cur6 of Passy who assisted MoliPre's widow in her intercession with the King (19). In a sense, this writer's viewpoint has an element of truth. The Catholic Church of the seventeenth century was by no means unanimous in its condemnation of theater and the treatment of actors with regard to the sacraments. Few clerics, however, had any time for actors (even less for actresses), and it is unquestionable that hostility to the theater was more widespread than he wishes to believe. But clearly the aim of the exercise is now less categorical than the attack on Tartuffe might imply and can be classified as one of damage limitation. MoliPre's defenders, of course, have no reservations. Reyval, no anticlerical, regards MoliPre's death as "l'un des plus douloureux et, disons-le, des plus regrettables episodes de la lutte de I'Eglise contre le theitre" (L'Eglise, la comidie 80).

The concern among Catholic commentators I have described, even qualified, nonetheless marks a turning point in relations between Church and theater in France. From 1922 on, one is able to identify what may be termed a revisionist attitude towards the rigorist position evinced by many religious moralists who participated in the querelle du thiitre of the seventeenth century. Their positions are now seen either to have been wrong or at the very least to be outdated. Incredibly, the principal victim of these developments is Bossuet whose Maximes et riflexions sur le thiLtre of 1694 mark the culmination of the seventeenth-century stage controversy. More significant in the context of this article is that the Maximes contain a withering attack on the person and plays of MoliPre.

The general position is put by Coubet. Even in 1922 he could assert that Bossuet's opinion was excessive in its severity: he was, we know, a rigorist in almost all things: "ici,il I'est, croyons-nous, un peu trop" ("Le Tricentenaire" 6). Other views on Bossuet's Maximes are more specific and heavily critical. PPre Deman, reflecting on Urbain and Levesque's edition of the Maximes, disagrees with the editors that "la finesse de l'analyse psychologique garde toute sa valeur." Nor is the work "une impression- nante leqon de morale". He replies instead that "l'idkal des Maximes n'est pas trop eleve, il est dkplack." Moreover, the French are too inclined to believe

(i.e. mistaken in that belief) that Bossuet's morality is "l'infaillible expression de la morale chrhtienne" (194-95). He points further to a number of deficiencies in Bossuet's arguments against Caffaro (a Theatine monk who was unwise enough to write a defense of theater which was published at the head of an edition of Boursault's works), including the lack of rigour in his interpretation of Plato and the prejudiced use of quotations from St Augustine (183). In addition, "Bossuet nous dkconcerte quand il se met en peine de demontrer que le divertissement est indigne des chrktiens."


During the seventeenth century, those who espoused the cause of drama often sought justification for their views in St Thomas Aquinas's Summa, where in Question 168 of the Secunda Secundae he offers what was perceived as a favorable view of the actor's contribution to the relaxation of the individual. Basically he denies that, as long as certain conditions are fulfilled, acting and play-going are sinfuL7 We know that Richelieu held to the views of St Thomas, and certainly D'Aubignac quotes them in hisDissertation sur la condamnation des thiLtres of 1666. Caffaro made Question 168 the basis of his defense of drama. Bossuet and many others, on the other hand, vigorously protested against what they regarded as a total misinterpretation of the Angelic Doctor. Several of the modern commenta- tors I have quoted here, however, resurrect the standard Thomist line. One writer argues that only scandalous performances are to be condemned ("L'Eglise" 35), and PPre Antoine de Parvillez denies that any proof exists to suggest that the theater is always, and "par une nkcessite de nature," immoral, thus implicitly arguing that drama is "indifferent" and dependent rather on the use to which it is put (219). The classic Thomist position is summarized by PPre Gillet in an edition of the Figaro:

En ce qui concerne les comhdiens, nous n'avons plus le droit de les rejeter en marge de l'humanitk sous prktexte qu'en divertissant les hommes, ils contribuent 21 les dkmoraliser, puisqu'au contraire il est nature1 aux hommes de se divertir et qu'il peut y avoir, mCme du point de vue moral, de beaux et de bons divertissements. (Quoted by Reyval, L'Eglise, la comidie 110)

But Bossuet's legacy, it must be said, is not considered to be completely negative. It is especially his conclusions which are now seen as obsolete. Pere Carrk, a major figure in the reconciliation of Church and theater, can speak of the Maximes as "admirables de ton et de langue, mais pleines d'outrance." Bossuet's work did, however, enormous damage to relations between the two institutions (L'Eglise 26-27). Carre can therefore at the same time regret Bossuet's rigorism but admire "avec quelle ampleur il a pose les termes du debat" (29). For Parvillez, Bossuet properly called our attention to our moral accountability in terms of the way we amuse ourselves (224), and the prelate's views would have been relevant to parts of the contemporary theater, especially "la pudeur eteinte" of actresses (225-26). Even Deman argues that Bossuet has a point about carnal love and covetousness (187-88). Carre finds the important contribution in Bossuet's work to be his emphasis on "la commotion de I'esprit" expe- rienced by actors who must give the whole of themselves to a role, which then leads to the alienation of the self ("De MoliPre" 173-74). Carrk, however, denies the mechanistic conclusions of the Eagle of Meaux, whereby the actor of necessity becomes an immoral being (L'Eglise 37).

The grave reservations modern Catholic commentators have both over the circumstances surrounding the death of MoliPre and over the extremist position of Bossuet imply a break in continuity with the stage controversy of the seventeenth century. It is time to call a halt. Deman states unequivocally: "il n'est point bon que l'on prolonge ces querelles." Such arguments present a quite erroneous impression of the real task of Christian morality (196). Quite simply, these "querelles" give modern Catholicism a bad name. Indeed the very nature of the French Church is deemed to have radically changed. Many writers, even Veuillot, utterly reject the gallican side to the seventeenth-century "querelle". During this period, Roman bishops, unlike many (but not all) of their counterparts in France, never formally condemned actors by excluding them from the sacraments unless they renounced their profession.8 Reyval, in 1924, obviously reacting to the 1922 debate, quotes a particularly telling remark of Claudel who saw in Bossuet's Maximes "une manifestation particuliPx-e de cet esprit dPfensif de retranchement et de retrait qui fut celui de notre gallicanisme" (95). It is interesting, Reyval adds, to contrast the rigorist attitude of the Gallican clergy of 1673 with "l'attitude bienveillante du clergP plus catholique de 1922" (82-83, my emphasis).

The reference to an "attitude bienveillante" obviously suggests that, in Reyval's opinion at least, relations between the Church and the theater were transformed in some practical way. Indeed, from the time of the tercentenary celebrations, one witnesses an increasingly formal rapproche- ment between the two institutions. In the first instance, the initiative came from representatives of the theater. Georges Le Roy, a sociktaire of the Comedie Franqaise, and his wife, the actress Jeanne Delvair, sought permission for a requiem mass for Moliere. Le Roy wrote to Cardinal Dubois, archbishop of Paris, with his suggestion on 18 January 1922. The mass would close the tercentenary celebrations. It was first requested that the mass be celebrated in Notre-Dame de Paris or at the Eglise Saint-Roch. On 21 January, Cardinal Dubois replied, giving his blessing to the proposed event, but stating that it was not his place to take the initiative. He also argued that a service at Notre-Dame would be difficult to organise and his preferred location was Saint-Eustache. The mass was eventually celebrated at Saint-Roch on 17 February, although not in the presence of the cardinal "qu'un engagement formel avait seul emp@che de presider lui-m@me la cPrCmonie" (Reyval, L'EgIise, la comidie 135).~ Was the Cardinal being cautious?

True to the abandonment of the Gallican position in favour of a more "Catholic" one, the formal reconciliation went beyond the national boundaries of France. In 1957 Pope Pius XI1 received a delegation of actors from the ComPdie Fran~aise in March after a performance of Monther- lant's Port-Royal, and the seventy-fourth general Congregation of Vatican I1 (23 November 1963) included the theater in its deliberations on appropriate means of social communication. These deliberations were solemnised by a decree of Paul VI promulgated on 4 December, 1963 (Gaquere 64). The most significant occasion in the whole process of reconciliation was the ter- centenary of Bossuet's ordination when artists held a mass for the repose of Bossuet's soul (Car&, L'Eglise 46).

The Church in France was, however, to play a greater role in the reconciliation of Church and theater. From the 1920s George Le Roy had ambitions to implant the Church within the theatrical domain itself in a sort of Salesian endeavor to make provision for a form of worship (in the broad sense of the term) appropriate to the theatrical profession. Seeking formal approval for his intention to form an association of Christian actors, he was received in 1925 by Pius XI who apparently told him: "Ne tenez pas compte des outrances de votre grand Bossuet, vous avez votre place dans I'Eglise" (CarrP, "De MoliPre" 172). The association was to be called the Fidiration pour la difense artistique et morale du thiitre de France. A committee of eminent people would provide the necessary guidance, and with the active collaboration of daily newspapers and periodicals, there would be a "comite de lecture qui devait proceder A la composition du repertoire" and "une corporation d'artistes executants, aussi recommandables par leur valeur morale que par leur qualit6 professionnelle" (Reyval, L'EgIise, la comidie 156-58). But the federation failed to attract the necessary attention of significant personalities.

But through perseverance the Union catholique du theitre was formed in 1927 with 800 members and included among its founder members Gaston Baty. It was reconstituted after the Second World War (in 1947) with PPre Carre as its spiritual adviser.'' Its aim, according to Article 111 of its statutes, was to gather together "en vue d'affirmer leur vie spirituelle, les professionnels du Spectacle (Thkitre, Concert, Cinema, etc.): auteurs, compositeurs, artistes, artisans etc." A mass was to be celebrated every Sunday in the Church of the Dominicans of the Faubourg Saint-Honor6 (St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. . .), and twice a month artists would come for some instruction in their faith.

PPre Carre obviously saw the Union as a part of the regeneration of lay Catholicism. As he writes:

Depuis vingt-cinq ans, ce qui s'est passe, c'est-dans le monde du th6dtre comme dans les autres milieux-l'Cveil A un ideal religieux conciliant la profession et la vie. . . Or, chez beaucoup, nous assistons A une prise de conscience grandissante des possibi1iti.s concretes, quotidiennes, d'incarnation de la vocation chretienne. DPs lors, pourquoi refuser I'accord entre les exigences de I'art et celles de la foi? Faut-il, lA, faire exception? (L'Eglise 51)

The need of "une sorte de paroisse spirituelle" is strengthened by actors constituting "un milieu determine, sans cloisons Ptanches par rapport aux autres, mais coherent" (52-53). Through a "centre spirituel," the world of the theater can thus be evangelised. It would provide moreover a means whereby actors and actresses could discover a religious solution to the particular problems of their profession. Carr6's book provides interesting views on the specific spiritual needs of performing artists and contains psychological insights of a certain subtlety, far removed at least in their conclusions, from those of Bossuet. (See in particular L'Eglise 61-65.)

The events and attitudes I have outlined in this article are of interest from a variety of points of view. In some ways they demonstrate the tenacity of certain judgments over a very wide expanse of time. Sometimes one could be forgiven for thinking that what one is reading has come straight out of the seventeenth century. But this tenacity (some might say obduracy) also has its historical significance. It is often redolent of the defensive and conservative nature of French Catholicism before 1945. The attitudes I have described are also part of the religious divide and the trench warfare which raged between the Church and anticlericals in the Third Republic. Even after 1922, it is still possible to perceive the shifts of position I have analyzed as an attempt on behalf of the Church to recuperate certain aspects of French culture rather than an attempt at peaceful co-existence. But there is no question that the tercentenary celebrations of MoliPre's birth triggered a greater openness towards performing artists and the theater in general (despite gravely expressed reservations concerning the modern repertory). This eventually resulted in a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of the profession. Calvet wrote in defense of the Catholic Reform. The change in attitudes post-1922 seems to represent what was best in the spirit of that movement.


'A full account of the seventeenth-century stage controversy in France is offered by Bourquin, Moffat, and Phillips. 1. Barish has recently published a work on the subject which covers the same subject outside as well as in France. See the list of Works Cited for titles.

he Protestant Svnod of Privas in 1912 sti~ulated that: "I1 ne sera loisible aux fideles d'assister aux combdies, tragbdies, farces, et autres jeux, joubs en public ou en particulier, vu que, de tout temps, cela a btb dbfendu entre les chrbtiens comme apportant la corruption des mceurs, mais surtout quand I'Ecriture sainte est profanbe" (Gaquere 21-22). For the Carsme of 1922 Pere Janvier preached a sermon condemning the sort of theater which offers "l'apologie de I'amour coupable, des passions sensuelles, sinon de la dbbauche, et de l'impibtb" (Quoted in Reyval, L'Eglise et le thbitre 107-08).


Pommeraye had already declared in 1877 that it would be an anachronism to interpret Moliere in this wav (12).

hmong the most recent contributions to the question of the religious implications of Tartuffe, see especially Raymond Picard's article where he in fact echoes many of the points raised by Calvet, although of course not in any polemical way.

"Calvet attempts to establish a link between Moliere's attack on preciosity and the Catholic Reform. St Franqois de Sales had introduced "la prbciositb dans la pietb, la distinction dans la manihre de se tenir devant Dieu." Many "prbcieuses" belonged to the "monde dbvot" (Essai 39).

or an interesting account of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French catholicism, see Zeldin, who provides other valuable bibliographical references.

'on the question of St Thomas's position in this context, see Phillips 158sq and 179-82.

'~nexcellent account of the French use of the model diocesan ritual published by Pope Paul V in 1614 is given by Jean Dubu. He points out that Bossuet never altered his ritual to include actors among those most susceptible to be refused the sacraments.

'~etails of the arrangements for the mass are to be found in both works of Reyval and Carrb's book. Paul Souday in fact claimed that the mass was an attack on MoliPre's memory since he was an atheist. The archivist of the Combdie Franqaise provided documentary proof of the opposite and Souday's position was repudiated (Reyval,L'Eglise et le thiLtre 8688).

10There were precedents for such societies in England, France and the USA. Reyval mentions the Actors' Church Union organised by the Rev Anstruther Cardew (who was particularly concerned about the plight of dancing girls), the Catholic Theater Guild, whose chairman was the Rev Sidney Smith S.J., and a society entitled Catholiques des beaux-arts founded by M. Regnault, a distinguished Parisian architect, with 1000 members, for the most part musicians (L'Eglise et le thiitre 144-47).

Works Cited

Albanese, Jr, Ralph. "Le Discours scolaire au XIXe siPcle: le cas MoliPre." Continuum 1(1989): 29-47.

AlmCras, Henri d'. LP Tartuffe de Molike. Paris: Sfelt, 1946.

Aubignac, Francois Hbdelin, abbi. d'. Dissertation sur la condamnation des thiitres. Paris: N. Phpingu.6, 1666. Barish, Jonas A. The Antitheatrical Prejudice. Berkeley: California UP, 1981. Bossuet, Jacques-Bbnigne, Maximes et riflexions sur la comidie, in L'Eglise et le thittre, ed. Ch.

Urbain and E. Levesque. Paris: Grasset, 1930.

Bourquin, Louis. "La Controverse sur la comCdie au XVIIe si6cle et la Lettre d'Alembert sur les spectacles." Rmue d'Histoire Littiraire de la France 26 (1919): 43-86 and 556-76; 27 (1920): 548-70; 28 (1921): 549-74.

Calvet, Jean. "Le Centenaire de MoliPre." Cahiers catholiques 59 (10 January 1922): 977-82. . Essai sur la siparation de la religion et la vie: Moliire est-il chritien?Paris: Lanore, 1950. CarrC, le R.P. Ambroise-Marie. "De MoliPre A Louis Jouvet: L'Eglise, le thChtre et les com6diens." Annales du Centre universitaire miditerranien, 9 (1955-56): 167-80. . L'Eglise s'est-elle riconciliie avec le thiitre: de Moli?re ci Louis Jouvet. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1956. Coubet, le P. "Le Tricentenaire de Moli6re et la moraliti. de son thbhtre." Rmue des Objections 1 (15 January 1922): 3-9. -. "Le Tartuffe: L'Eglise et la morale ont-elles des raisons de condamner cette piPce?" Rmue des Objections 1(15 January 1922): 9-16. Deman, le P. Thomas. "Le Thkitre et la vie chrCtienne." La Vie intelleduelle 9 (lo November 1930): 180-96.

Deslandres, le P. Paul. "L'Eglise et le thCitre." Rmue des ~tudes Historiques 91 (1925): 131-36.

Dubu, Jean. "L'Eglise catholique et la condamnation du thi.itre en France." Quaderni francesi 1 (1970): 319-49. "L'Eglise et le thbhtre: L'Eglise n'a-t-elle pas excommunii. les comCdiens? Son attitude h leur endroit n'est-elle pas injuste?" Rmue des Objections 1(15 January 1924): 19-36. Gaillard de Champris, Henry. LPS Ecrivains classiques,VOI.1V of Histoire de la littirature francaise, sous la direction de Jean Calvet. Paris: Gigors, 1934.

GaquPre, Francois. LP ThZtre dmant la conscience chritienne. Paris: Beauchesne, 1965.

"La Mort de MoliPre." Rmue des Objections 1(15 January 1922): 16-22. 

Lanson, Gustave. Histoire de la littirature fran~aise. Paris: Hachette, 1912. 
La Pommeraye, Henri Berdalle de. Moliire et Bossuet: riponse li M. Louis Veuillot. Paris: Palmi., 

1877. Mauriac, Francois. "Le Tartuffe." Confirencia. LPS Annales. Journal de 1'Universiti des Annales 7

(15 July 1949): 265-72. Moffat, Margaret. Rousseau et la querelle du thittre au XVIIIe sihle. Paris: Boccard, 1930. Parvillez, le P. Antoine de. "Vers la rCconciliation de 1'Cglise et du thi.htre." Etudes Religieuses,

Historiques et Littiraires (20 January 1931): 218-33. Phillips, Henry. The Theatre and its Critics in Smenteenth-Century France. Oxford: OUP, 1980. Picard, Raymond."Tartuffe, 'production impie'." De Racine au Parthinon. Paris: Gallimard,

1977. 159-73. Reyval, Albert. L'Eglise et le thiitre. Paris: Blond et Gay, 1924. . L'Eglise, la comidie et les comidiens. Paris: Spes, 1954. Thomas Aquinas, St. Summa theologica. Literally translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 22 vols. London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1921-1925.

"L'Union catholique du thi.8tre." La Vie intellectuelle (lo November 1930): 208. 
Veuillot, Louis. Moliire et Bourdaloue. Paris: Palmi., 1877. 
Zeldin, Theodore. France 1848-1945. Anxiety and Hypocrisy. Oxford: OUP, 1981

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