Charterhouse Chronicle by Peter Hebblethwaite MONSIEUR Bourbais — the French are economical with Christian names — is mayor of Fresnes. Neither "s" is pronounced. Fresnes, a small town in the valley of the Marne. has a population of 23,500. two thousand of whom are "guests of the Republic".
Fresnes is chiefly famous for its prison. Its grim gates have figured in many films. It was the scene of bold escapes by helicopter. Outside is the carrefour de deportes where those Frenchmen condemned to work in Germany in 1941-2 were assembled. There were priests among them who became, out of necessity rather than choice, the first priest-workers. When they came home in 1945 they felt unhappy locked up in vast presbyteries, and sought ways of escape. The rest is history.
But it was a different history that brought me to Fresnes. The French magazine, Notre Histoire. a rough equivalent of our History Today except that it has a Christian slant. held a conference there on the Enlightenment. Monsieur Bourbais used to work for Notre Histoire and put his splendid facilities — a huge farmhouse elegantly converted into a music conservatoire — at its service.
The 18th century was, according to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. where European thought went wrong. losing its grip on absolute, objective truth. Since then we have been floundering in a sea of subjectivism, beaten over the head by the waves of relativism. It can, of course, be seen differently, as the point at which Europeans agreed to differ about absolute truth and accepted tolerance as the basis of democratic society. Then the EC becomes the fruit as much of 18th century Enlightenment as of the dream of medieval Christendom. But I don't want to pursue that debate here and now.
Bernard Cottret, a Sorbonne professor, asked why the English Enlightenment was so much less anti-clerical and anti-Christian than its French equivalent. His short answer was that Protestantism was more capable of "digesting" the Enlightenment than Catholicism, which could only combat it. But Protestantism paid a high price for this integration, reducing Christ to a moralising philosopher (John Locke), somewhere between Socrates and Confucius. I would suggest another difference between France and England (and Scotland).
The French philosophers from Voltaire to Denis Diderot were Deists who dominated the literary scene from mid-century onwards. In England the dominant literary figure was Dr Samuel Johnson, a man of rugged common sense and great if discreet piety. You would not get Johnson dismissing Christianity as the work of priestly impostors. Professor Cottret did not mention Johnson, concentrating on minor figures like Lord Bolingbroke. Even more alarming was his contention that the Passion is absent from Handel's Messiah. Handel gives us a Messiah without the cross, he maintained, and so an Enlightenment Messiah.
But Handel's Messiah is clearly identified with the "suffering servant" of Isaiah. "Behold and see if there be any sonow like unto his sorrow" is his evocation of the Passion.
HANS Kung should be sent to work on this question. He has recently written a book proving that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, despite dabblings in Freemasonry, was Catholic through and through.
I recently had lunch with Kung in Tubingen. His modem house is names were linked for ever after. "I spacious and book-lined with do not think my fate could have wooden walls and floors. Its broad been very different," mused Kung. windows overlook the valley in For a period both theologians were which the medieval university colleagues in the University of town of Tubingen is set, and across Munster. Ratzinger's sister, who to the wooded hills opposite. acted as his secretary, was very Kung was delayed because he was protective of her brother, covering having a minor cataract operation. his desk with a sheet so that visitors That did not quite prepare me could not see what he was working for the shock of his arrival, a on. No one ever knew what he had cotton-wool blindfold held in to hide.
position by eye-patches. For three Towards the end of Council days he would be unable to read Kung had an audience of 45 and write. For a man of his minutes with Paul VI, with Pericle restless energy, this was a blow. Felici, Secretary of the Council But his cheerfulness was and his sworn foe, pacing undimmed, and he accepted being impatiently up and down outside.
spoon-fed like a child. Paul said he should put his
It would certainly be premature theology at the service of the to speak of Kung "mellowing". Church. This was his constant His angry retort to The Catholic theme. Kung's difficulties really Catechism dispelled any such began in the post-conciliar period, thoughts. Yet he is more reflective especially when Hans Urs von and seems to think a stage in his Balthasar entered the world stage life-work is over. He is looking in 1969 as member of the newly forward to his rehabilitation. He founded International. Theological played me the Bavarian Radio Commission.
presentation of his Munich lecture Kung's "charismatic" view of to the Catholic Academy in the Church was attacked in the
October. Great applause greeted ITC's official reports. Heinrich Fries' questions: "Is the Infallibility? In 1971 was even Catholic Church so narrow that it more fiercely attacked, and said to can't find room for Hans Kung? be part of the "anti-Roman Or so rich that it doesn't need prejudice" which marked cis
him'?" Alpine scholarship. Yet throughout
Kung, knowing I had just this period, Paul VI avoided finished my biography of Paul VI, condemnations. "Treat this man reminisced about his dealings with with charity," he minuted Kung's him. He first met the future pontiff file 399/57i in the CDF archives. when he was still Cardinal Later he told its president, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini and a Franjo Seper, "he must be allowed member of an ecumenical group to give a sign of good will."
convened by the Dutch theologian "I may have had my Jan Willebrands. It was hush-hush differences with Paul VI," said
work. The Curia did not like it. Kung, "but he treated me well and Kung found that Montini refrained from condemnations." already knew his first book, a study Then, in 1978, came another of his fellow-Swiss theologian, pontificate and other style. Karl Barth, called simply
Justification. Barth used to say that WAS very touched to read a
if Kung's interpretation was poster pinned to a lamp-post in correct, the Reformation reposed the rue Mazarine in Paris, close
upon a mistake. Montini, an to the Cafe Zoppi from which the omnivorous reader, knew about it revolutionaries emerged drunk to because he sometimes stayed with do their foul deeds. Mme Leclerc the monks at the abbey of of 22 rue de Nevers had lost her Engelbert. The Bursar, Br Anselm, cat. Griboulle was 16-17 years hailed from Kung's home-town of old, dark grey in colour, with a Sursee and was proud of his white moustache and a caractere fellow-citizen. dour.
During the first session of the Griboulle had got locked out Council, Montini, ever the talentamong the roofs of Paris. Mme spotter. remarked that there were Leclerc offered a modest reward. I two young German theologians fear for Griboulle. The notice was from whom we expect a lot: Joseph dated 8 August. No cat could Ratzinger and Hans Kung. • Their survive for that long.