from Letter to a Friend: ‘Vichy’

One of the ironic twists in the story of revived manualism is a similar interest in Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.

Apparently even Garrigou-Lagrange’s devotional works are being reprinted and recommended since he is so “untainted” by liberalism and progressivism. Maybe students are being taught to adore Garrigou-Lagrange— to the detriment of Tanquerey, Marmion, Vonier, Sertillanges, von Speyer, Boylan, Leen, van Zeller, Sheen and Goodier— who were themselves presumed to be Thomists!

What the young people are not being told is the fracture in the relationship of two Thomists, Father Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain, due to p0litics. Both of them were French at a time when the Church still “did its thinking in France.” Even so, their break was not over theology or philosophy, but over French politics.

Maritain represented the non-manualist or “back to the sources” movement in theology. He rejected Bolshevism, but after 1940 he also repudiated the Vichy government of occupied France. Garrigou-Lagrange, on the other hand, unswervingly supported Vichy, a breach which separated them for the rest of their lives. Maritain supported DeGaulle and the Free French.

Maritain’s wife and mother-in-law were Jews; he managed to take them out of Europe to the United States. During the War he taught at Princeton. Later Maritain became acquainted with intellectual Catholics such as Thomas Merton. Maritain was also an apostle of sorts. He engaged in serious  conversation such secular Jewish leftists as Saul Alinsky. See their letters edited by Bernard E. Doering.

Vichy and its politicians were complicit in the deportation and murder of thousands of Jews. Some of these French Jews made it to the safety of the Spanish border. There they were received and sheltered by the government of Francisco Franco. Franco already had a reputation in North Africa for protecting Jews well before the Spanish Civil War. While Garrigou-Lagrange was a strong supporter of Franco, there is no published evidence he knew of Franco’s particular concern for the Jews.

Manual Theology aside, any involvement with the atrocity of Vichy is unconscionable. Sir Martin Gilbert writes that Cardinal Gerlier of Lyon resisted the anti-Semitic policy of the Vichy regime, and that Jesuits were arrested in France for hiding Jews on their properties. (See Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy [London, Collins, 1986]  451.) For his efforts to save Jews during World War II Cardinal Gerlier was posthumously awarded the title Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1981. And:

Charles Maurras (1868-1952) was arrested and sentenced to prison after the War in connection with his support for Vichy and Pétain. It is said that Charles De Gaulle urged Pius XII to depose bishops in France who had been collaborationist during the Occupation and that the pope consequently demanded the resignation–-by telephone–-of a quarter of the French hierarchy. Pius XII also ordered the “quarantine” of the Austrian titular Bishop Alois Hudal in Rome (a consultant to the Holy Office along with Garrigou-Lagrange), and the layman Paul Touvier never found a lasting refuge in a Catholic institution. In the United States, Charles Coughlin “the radio priest” from Detroit was finally and permanently silenced. He and Henry Ford were the best known American anti-Semites.

Is the Dominican Garrigou-Lagrange is now a candidate for “Holocaust Studies?” Jacques Maritain wrote retrospectively  in 1946 that Garrigou told him that it was a mortal sin to have supported General De Gaulle and the Free French. (Peddicord, 99-100.)  However, since Garrigou was known for supporting legitimate ecclesiastical authority, it was likely that Garrigou would have agreed with Cardinal Gerlier against the anti-Jewish policy of Vichy. We have no clear information in terms of primary sources, but this is a strong likelihood and one not to be minimized.

Maritain himself as a Thomist has been criticized–but perhaps it was just youthful folly in his case.  John Hellman wrote:

‘Simon insisted that the role of Thomism in the inadequate Catholic response to fascism and militant racism had to be critically examined because “If Saint Thomas were alive today he would be for Pétain, Tizo, and the rest,” as the positions taken by leading Thomist of the day, Father Garrigou-Lagrange, demonstrated.’ See The Jews in the “New Middle Ages”:  Jacques Maritain’s Anti-Semitism in Its Times by John Hellman.’

Some scholars might see Garrigou-Lagrange as actually complicit in the Holocaust due to his general support for the Vichy regime, but they lack proof. We must consider Garrigou innocent, therefore, until proven guilty.

Garrigou-Lagrange died in 1964 and Maritain died in 1973. Maritain’s “Peasant of the Garonne” was a rejection of post-conciliar folly. The book was the target of intense ridicule by the liberal press and especially the National Catholic Reporter of Kansas City, Missouri.

The “new enthusiasm” for Garrigou-Lagrange is curious when so many great Thomists were writing in those years. Those names are not associated with the “repression” of  the mythical nouvelle théologie. If you meet revived enthusiasm for Garrigou in a Catholic Studies Program or anywhere else, you may well quip “I wonder what Maritain would think?!”

For more on the Vichy regime, see:


P.S. –
7.7.2009 |

Lawrence Cunningham says:

In my days in Rome as a young man I went over to the Angelicum more than once to hear the Old Lion before he retired. The distaste for him was not predicated on his strict defense of Thomism since Chenu and others were doing more interesting work. His name was in bad odor even in Rome because memories lingered over his support, first, for Action Française and, then, for Vichy. If Father deLubac lamented his influence it was because so many suffered via his influence in the Vatican dicasteries. He almost had Maritain’s works proscribed while others did see the direct influence of his intransigence (both Congar and Chenu to name only his own brethren). Few read him today and not without reason. There are many Neo-Thomisms so we must not collapse his work as being the only Neo-Thomism abroad in those days.


Further Reading:

The best works to be printed on this subject are Michael Marrus and Robert Paxton; “Vichy France and the Jews” (1981) and Robert Paxton “Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order 1940-44”. Susan Zuccotti: “The Holocaust , the French and the Jews” (1993). Richard Cohen: “The Burden of Conscience : French Jewish Leadership during the Holocaust”. (1987). Jaques Adler : “The Jews of Paris and the Final Solution”. (1987). For Belgium there are only papers: Dan Michman: “Belgium and the Holocaust” (1998).


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