“I Promise You an Army:” Establishing l’Univers and the Catholic Party

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“I Promise You an Army:” Establishing l’Univers and the Catholic Party
Louis Veuillot completely transformed the newspaper l’Univers.

During the early nineteenth century, the idea of Catholics uniting to defend the Church was a novelty. The notion met with opposition from even the best quarters of French society. The bishops and the vast majority of the clergy did not support establishing a Catholic Party. The laity viewed Count Montalembert’s efforts to rally the movement with indifference and fear. Naturally, discouragement began to overwhelm the leader. His melancholy worsened when illness forced him to take the Countess of Montalembert away from Paris and seek a more favorable climate for her on the island of Madeira.

When saying goodbye to Louis Veuillot, Montalembert could not hide his dismay. He foresaw as a near certainty that the Party would fall apart during his season away from France. Veuillot did his best to cheer him by showing how much the newspaper l’Univers could do to change the course of things. He promised to work hard if Montalembert held fast to the cause and sent vigorous articles from Madeira for publication. He assured the Count that he would find a sizable Catholic party to lead on his return. Veuillot concluded, “I promise you an army.”

Veuillot delivered on his promise. Having started his contribution to l’Univers with a single section—“Propos divers”—Veuillot soon became the paper’s main editor. His fiery articles, full of love for the Church and the purest orthodoxy, were enthusiastically received. France admired the emergence of an exclusively Catholic journalist and a newspaper dedicated solely to the cause of the Church.

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With his brother, Eugène, who had converted to the Catholic cause, Louis Veuillot completely transformed l’Univers. Melchior du Lac, whose family difficulties forced him to renounce the priesthood, worked closely with the brothers. They turned the small tabloid into a combative, lively, and respected newspaper. They vigorously punished even the slightest attack on the Church. L’Univers became the mouthpiece of the Catholic Party. As the newspaper progressed, the Party grew. Support from the clergy became widespread, and victories followed in succession.

As expected, the opposition of the Church’s enemies was also extremely violent. Many “sensible” Catholics did not welcome a newspaper that constantly reminded them of their duties.

Defending himself against unfair attacks was a tiring task. Veuillot feared that his co-workers would become discouraged. To prevent such corrosion, Veuillot wrote a manifesto for the paper. He insisted that the editors of l’Univers belong exclusively to the Church and their homeland. He emphasized that all should faithfully obey the Church. Then, he added:

“Church and homeland mean loving submission to the truths of the Faith; submission to the adorable dispositions of Divine Providence even when hard and seemingly unbearable; constancy in seemingly useless work; generosity to sacrifice anonymously; loyalty in the fiercest combat against a most disloyal enemy; forgiveness and forgetfulness; in defeat and victory, devotion to a victorious or defeated adversary because he is less an enemy than a brother, whom we fight him for his benefit.

“Yes, we must obey the Church against our desires and the instincts of our hearts; for the same reason, to love our ungrateful brothers, bear prejudices, grudges and hatred against us, suppress even most legitimate resentment, bear the wicked’s insults and slanders and the suspicions and complaints of those who profess our faith.”

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Showing that l’Univers belonged to the Church and, therefore, its editors must not stray from the path presented to them, he continued:

“In substance and form, we do not depend on conditions that help, hinder, sustain or ruin the press. We live on a tireless dedication and do not want to flaunt independence, but it is better to suffer a hundred calumnies than write an unfair word. If necessary, we will criticize our most generous friends even if they abandon us.

“It matters little if a column of shadow and light guiding us sometimes turns toward impassable mountains and at other times appears over the immense expanses of the seas. Our Leader is the One who orders the waters to open and the mountains to crumble.”

Established in 1843, l’Univers rigorously kept this editorial line throughout its life. Notwithstanding, Veuillot was often misunderstood. In the early days, Montalembert and even Lacordaire often had to intervene in his defense. They would have benefited from rereading those arguments later when they became liberals and distanced themselves from the great journalist.

In a letter to Montalembert dated July 21, 1843, Lacordaire said:

“I am delighted with your approach to l’Univers. The staff is good and made up of courageous people; their journalistic excesses are very difficult to avoid in everyday polemics. Don’t we all know that well? Truly, would the slightest word be uttered in France in defense of our rights without this paper?”

Montalembert, in a letter to the writer Joseph Théophile Foisset, brilliantly defended Veuillot:

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“Without a doubt, Univers is quite difficult to direct, and I deplore its excesses. I disapprove of its comparing Michelet’s blasphemies to sausages hanging in a sausage shop. But show me, in the present circumstances, a Catholic newspaper with the same value. It has done great good, forcing our hypocritical oppressors to unmask.

“As for the Catholics you quote me, here’s what I think of them. They are our worst enemies, thousand times more dangerous and hateful than philosophers and liberals. They only want to oppress and muzzle us; they dishonor us. They would sell our freedoms one by one in exchange for a handshake with Mr. Saint Marc Girardin. We have long allowed ourselves to be deceived by their cowardice and betrayed by their servility. Long ago, through a shameful silence, we handed over what mattered the most to defend and glorify our past to our enemies’ teeth. We need to put an end to this and repossess what belongs to us.

“Think about this: If we gained anything after the revolution, to whom do we owe it? To the prudent, timid, compromising, the school of which Bishop Frayssinous is the highest and noblest personification? Certainly not. We owe it to the brave, gallantly courageous madmen, as they called Count de Maistre and Father de Lamennais. Behold the men who made us what we are.”

The Catholic Party was formed, and the union between its leaders was as perfect as possible. It threw itself into the fight against the teaching monopoly and achieved the nineteenth century’s most extraordinary manifestation of Catholicism’s strength and faith.

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