Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Gerald J. Prince
CALVARY OR CATASTROPHE? FRENCH CATHOLICISM’S FIRST WORLD WAR
Arabella L. Hobbs
Professor Gerald Prince
The battlefield crucifixes that lined the Western Front powerfully connected industrialized warfare with the Christian past. This elision of the bloody corporeality of the crucifixion with the bodily suffering wrought by industrial warfare forged a connection between religious belief and modern reality that lies at the heart of my dissertation. Through the poignancy of Christ’s suffering, French Catholics found an explanatory tool for the devastation of the Great War, affirming that the blood of the French dead would soon blossom in rich harvest. This dissertation argues that the story of French Catholicism and the Great War uncovers a complex and often dissonant understanding of the conflict that has become obscured in the uniform narrative of disillusionment and vain sacrifice to emerge in the last century. Considering the thought to emerge from the French renouveau catholique from 1910 up to 1920, I argue that far from symbolizing the modernist era of nihilism, the war in fact created meaning in a world that had lost touch with its God. At the same time, my reasoning is sensitive to the manner in which the application of Catholic dogma to modern war constituted a form of resistance to the encroaching secularization of French society following the separation of the French state and the Catholic Church in 1905. Through a survey of the major authors associated with the French Catholic revival – Ernest Psichari, Francois Mauriac, L�on Bloy, Paul Claudel and Henri Massis to name but a few – this dissertation aims to recover a different account of the war in the French tradition than the now canonical visions of the conflict inspired by the novels of Barbusse, Cendrars and C�line. In particular, this study aims to question why the major players of the French Catholic revival have fallen so dramatically from the canon given the radical nature of their postulations at the beginning of the twentieth century. More broadly, it seeks to probe the persistence of the vision of the Great War held in the collective imaginary, asking why this myth repeatedly rejects alternative narratives of the conflict. In foregrounding the resurgence of faith, I suggest that French Catholicism allows us to climb out of the trenches to see an altogether different war.
Hobbs, Arabella Leonie, "Calvary Or Catastrophe? French Catholicism's First World War" (2016). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2341.