From .............. THE TROUBLE WITH FRANCE

By Alain Peyrefitte

Chapter 16-B ........ Explanations That Explain Nothing

pages 126 - 131

Christ's appeal was above all personal. For the first time, religion was no longer a means of appeasing external demons through ritual and sacrifice. Misfortune was interiorized. By placing the battle between good and evil in every heart, this new faith created an unprecedented upheaval.

It unbalanced man and, in so doing, it got him going, launching him toward adventure, but with God's help. It was a religion of confidence, capable of founding a society of confidence, of exalting the instinct to excel. But these dynamic principles in Christianity were largely annulled by the principles of rigidity on which Church organization rested from the fourthcentury onward.

The message of emancipation was taken over by a hierarchical, dogmatic system inherited from the Roman Caesars.

Relieved of persecution, the Church fell into the trap opened by the conversion of the emperor Constantine: it slipped into the mold of a declining Roman Empire.

When the empire disintegrated in the panic surrounding the barbarian invasions, the [Roman Catholic] Church was the sole structure to resist, probably because it was not merely a structure. But it was also a structure and it carved powers for itself out of the institutional desert.

Vitality and Fertility

By the twelfth century, the spirit of enterprise and innovation was nevertheless at work. This was the period of the rise of the cities. Christendom, led by the Latin countries, swelled with a prodigious intellectual, artistic and economic exuberance to which market halls, belltowers and cathedrals still bear witness.

In Venice, Bruges, Rouen, Nuremberg, people manufactured things, they traded, they traveled. Not only did a modern economy appear in these cities, but the cities also succeeded in escaping the enveloping net of military and ecclesiastical feudalism. The spirit of innovation and freedom flourished in new trades, in exchanges and franchises. The towns won the right to govern themselves. In this gestating new world, political and economic freedom awoke together, were interdependent. And from them rose a new figure, the middle-class entrepreneur.

Benedetto Zaccaria was such a figure. Born in Genoa in 1248, he left for the Orient at the age of eleven. He exploited the alum mines in Phocea, and built a personal fleet that brought to Genoa wheat from the Ukraine and Bulgaria, hides and fish from Russia. It carried goods to the Levant: cloth from Champagne, Italian weapons, salt from Corsica. Zaccaria traded as far away as Armenia. He lent his fleet to sovereigns. At the age of fifty-eight he returned to Genoa to die in his palace on the sea.

Such men were animated by the spirit of responsibility present in the Christian mentality. Their freedom developed at the margin of the Roman style hierarchic order - at the margin, but not in opposition to it. Renaissance humanism tried to widen that margin, and at first it succeeded.

Until the beginning of the sixteenth century people who asked questions, even in areas we would consider minor, risked excommunication for heresy. Only unitary thought was allowed. But, led by Erasmus, humanists in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries reacted strongly against such dogmatism.

Erasmus insisted that real unity must come from diversity, not uniformity; that tolerance is the condition of peace. Only differing viewpoints can produce truth, as the spokes of a wheel converge on its hub.

Erasmus had disciples throughout Europe. He could proudly write that they included

In 1522, his friend and fellow countryman Hadrian Vl became pope; progressive emancipation was within Christians' reach. Yet it was aborted. Or rather, it exploded in the Reformation and smothered in the Counter-Reformation.

The movement that should have carried all Christendom forward split and, in the process, divided Christianity for centuries to come.

The Reformation: A Cultural Revolution

Almost all the Reformation's lasting contributions are already to be found in the works of Erasmus, even though Luther, who called him an "eel," thought otherwise: respect for individual freedom, the affirmation of personal responsibility ["true theology is in every man''], the need to translate the Bible into vernacular languages to bring religion closer to the people.

While these ideas were slowly taking root, Luther's activism intervened to create conflict. Erasmus' method lay in debating ideas, in stubborn, widespread infiltration. Luther's technique was assault.

Luther refused to submit to Rome. He pushed Erasmus' theory of a universal priesthood to its extreme, insisting that everyone is his own priest. This was too much; it forced a break.

Erasmus had been a reformer. The Reformation was a revolution and, like all revolutions, it spawned a counter-revolution, the Counter-Reformation. On both sides, the battle became a war to the death. A holy war is not the best climate for the growth of intellectual and economic freedom.

At first, then, Lutheranism and Calvinism replaced one theocracy with another. Yet - and this was to be of essential importance for the future - they built it on unstable foundations.

When Calvin, as a disciple of Erasmus, exhorted his co-religionaries to be responsible for themselves, he set in motion a process he could not foresee and which would not be easily channeled. It was finally to break down the hierarchical structures of the Middle Ages and replace them with democratic structures.

Faith and Works

For Calvin even more than for Luther, man was intrinsically perverse, forever corrupted by original sin. Only the free miracle of divine grace could save him. How is it that among the Calvinists, who rejected salvation through good works and believed in salvation through faith alone, we see faith so often wither while works were exalted; whereas the Catholics, who glorified the notion of salvation through works, so often lived lives rich in faith and ignored good works?

The problem here is dialectical.

To the Catholics, good works, being in the divine interest, were subject to the hierarchy's glowering supervision and so sterilized by the spirit of orthodoxy.

Protestants, on the other hand, shed their illusions of reaching God; since they were too corrupt, they thought, to reach heaven, their business was on earth. God was indifferent to good works.

The Church remained aloof from them, freeing men to deal with them as they could.

Catholics satisfied their instinct to excel mainly by sinking themselves in prayer; Protestants excelled by throwing themselves heart and soul into the most mundane occupations.

What peace of mind there is in working out a doctrine for man's spiritual needs that allows him to prosper materially as well!

Does this liberation from dogmatic taboos in itself explain the difference in growth between the Catholic and Protestant countries? Not entirely.

The Protestant countries' development beginning in the seventeenth century merely followed the road all Europe had been taking since the thirteenth. What made the break visible was the underdevelopment of the countries that remained Catholic. It is this downward Catholic curve that challenges us. To understand it, we must measure the extent of the rupture in Christian history inflicted by the Counter-Reformation.

A Cultural Counter-Revolution

In the eighteen years - from 1545 to 1563 - of the Council of Trent, the [Roman Catholic] Church cleansed itself of a host of impurities; it once again aroused fervor.

But, under Protestant attack, it formed a defensive square, protecting itself with all the weapons of its authority, reinforced and militarized.

The Reformation multiplied, divided and subdivided into a throng of sects. Often these were fanatic, of course, but the power to choose one's fanaticism is the beginning of freedom.

The Counter-Reformation took the opposite tack, pushing the spirit of Roman systematization and unitarism to its extreme. Its shadow fell over that part of Europe that remained faithful to Rome. The inhibiting climate it created stifled the technical, mercantile and industrial progress that had been taking such promising shape in those very areas.

And, at the same time, it stimulated rigid centralization of governments. It was a reactionary and totalitarian movement in the exact sense of those terms. We should not succumb to the temptation to put the Counter-Reformation on trial. Its task was to preserve Christian order. When the house is on fire and swarming with looters, can quarter be given? The Church was, after all, Roman, and it had always tried to solve its crises by juridical rigidity, by over-regulation. The "Roman sickness" was constantly intensified.

Religion was the first area to be affected: a single catechism; a single translation of the Bible, the Vulgate; a single truth, that of Trent.

Human intelligence was summoned sleep. The Church fired on anything that moved. There was no limit to the Roman panic.

Erasmus, who had been offered a cardinal's hat, was soon considered a heretic. A monk in Cologne devised the saying that

Even during his lifetime, Erasmus' books were condemned in Paris; his translator perished at the stake.

In 1559, all his works appeared on the Church's [Roman Catholic cult's ... JP ] Index of Forbidden Books. Free thought was persecuted just as science was beginning to develop.

Of what use was science, since Revelation rendered it useless and therefore unwholesome? Through the Jesuits and the friars of the Christian schools, the Church itself supervised the modeling of men's intelligence. For centuries, it put Christian [Roman Catholic ...JP] minds on a merry-go-round of rhetorical exercises and an unreal cult of ancient Rome.

The Brain Drain

In Flanders, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, trade had brought power and respect in the Middle Ages. Rich merchants gave gifts to the [Roman Catholic] Church, assigned members of their families to it, but they invested the bulk of their wealth in business or craft. In the seventeenth century, however, society withdrew its recognition from them. Its values had changed to suit those at the top of the new hierarchical pyramids. Where once, to protect his fortune, a merchant tried to increase it, now he needed outside guarantees. Instead of investing in the "great adventure" of maritime trade, he bought posts for his children in the bureaucracies of [Roman Catholic] Church and state.

For the [Roman Catholic] Church imposed its pattern on politics as well as on economics. The governments of countries affected by the Counter-Reformation in turn became hierarchies, complex bureaucracies tightly controlled by a central authority.

The Counter-Reformation created or protected hierarchies, discouraged novelty and instituted a society of mistrust. Many of those persecuted in the Catholic countries as heretic - deviants - went abroad to seek their fortunes or simply to find refuge. They were welcomed in the Protestant countries as brothers in persecution, but also as brave and enterprising men who brought with them the knowledge and capital of southern Europe, then so rich and so advanced.

It is difficult for us to imagine the collective effect of these individual migrations. The British historian H. R. Trevor Roper studied the great "capitalist" entrepreneurs of the seventeenth century. He found that all of them were emigrants or sons of emigrants - Jews from Lisbon or Seville, Erasmians from Portugal and Spain, Flemings persecuted by the duke of Alba, Walloons to whom Alexander Farnese gave the choice of submission to Rome or exile, Italians fleeing persecution for their religious convictions [generally less Calvinist than Erasmian]. The first artisans of Swiss prosperity were Italians who emigrated to Switzerland in the first half of the seventeenth century, followed by French Huguenots in the second half.

Development Commandos

We have seen in our own century the fertilizing effect talented emigrants can have. The many German and Austrian Jews who abandoned the old Continent after 1933 to settle in the United States revived America's development, especially in the laboratories and universities that were wise enough to welcome them.

The advance guard of the seventeenth century's mercantile economy was small and fragile. The departure or arrival of a few hundred, sometimes only a few dozen, of its members meant stagnation and decline in the place they left behind them, stimulation and prosperity where they went. The process was cumulative: when a few members of a persecuted community fled, the anxious feeling of besiegement settled more heavily on those who stayed be hind; as soon as the emigrants made places for themselves in their new countries, they sent for their families and friends.

Why did Amsterdam expand so rapidly in the early seventeenth century while Antwerp withered? Because a handful of enterprising Antwerp citizens traveled the few leagues separating them from freedom. Development was a commando operation.

The First Society of Confidence

In the process of crystallization, the form a crystal finally takes is determined by the initial molecule around which the rest of the solution condenses.

The hitherto backward countries that went Protestant crystallized in large measure around these immigrant colonies. The newcomers imposed their values on their new neighbors: a willingness to take risks, a sense of responsibility, of personal achievement.

An emigrant escaping from the social cocoon had to break the taboos surrounding him. This was especially true in the United States for the educated and wealthy Protestants who went there from strife-torn Europe in the seventeenth century; the Irish and Italian Catholics who joined them in the nineteenth century would settle into a society that had already made its rules and meant to keep to them. Men became pioneers just to survive.

Marked by those first immigrants, a whole part of the West became adventurous, individualistic, eager to excel. There, Society ceased to be a fact imposed on everyone and became, at least in the beginning, a collective undertaking in which each person took part with equal fervor and equal rights.

In America, this responsible and contractual society developed rapidly.

In Europe, it gradually disengaged itself from the old society, but only in those countries where the genius of innovation could take hold.

The nations dominated by intolerance were emptied of their adventurers - and, worse still, of their spirit of adventure.




By - Alain Peyrefitte

Translator- William R.Byron

USA Publisher - Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., NYC 1981

Canadian Publisher - Random House 1981

French Publisher - Librairie Plon 1976