The Archbishop of Paris’s Unsuccessful Attempt to Ban L’Univers

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The Archbishop of Paris’s Unsuccessful Attempt to Ban L’Univers
The Archbishop of Paris’s Unsuccessful Attempt to Ban L’Univers

In addition to editing l’Univers, Louis Veuillot sought to enlighten Catholics on the various questions then agitating nineteenth-century France. He conceived a project to publish a series of books by specialists on specific subjects. Each would expound the true doctrine of the Church with clarity and objectivity. That collection would carry the general title, Bibliotèque nouvelle (New Library). Veuillot planned eighteen volumes to cover topics in religion, history, science, and literature. It would be published by a society of writers under the direction of Veuillotchief, editor of lUnivers, and printed by Lechevalier Publishers.

Veuillot, in good faith and full of illusions, thought the project would have the support of all Catholics. It was not only purely doctrinal but also counted on prestigious writers such as Dom Prosper Guéranger (often credited with reviving the Benedictine Order in France), Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pitra (archeologist and author appointed Librarian of the Vatican library in 1869), the Spanish nobleman and counterrevolutionary Juan Donoso Cortés, Joseph Theophile Foisset, and others. But in the eyes of liberal Catholics, the collection appeared to have a fundamental flaw: Veuillot’s direction. Their reaction was extremely violent and irrational. It reached its peak with the publication of Donoso Cortés’ book Essai sur le catholicisme, le socialisme et le libéralisme (Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism, Considered in their Fundamental Principles).

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Veuillot summarized the outrageous reaction in a sarcastic vein as follows:

“Mr. Donoso Cortés’ book is part of a collection published under the direction of Mr. Veuillot. Therefore, Mr. Veuillot is as much a tritheist, Bahianist, fatalist, etc., as Mr. Cortés. And since Mr. Veuillot is editor-in-chief of l’Univers, it follows that l’Univers is as Lutheran, Calvinist, Lamennaisian as Mr. Veuillot…”1

It turned out that Bishop Felix Dupanloup of Orléans could not forget his defeat in the affair of the declaration. Nor could he forgive l’Univers’ severe criticism of Count Charles Forbes René de Montalembert’s 1852 book, Les intérêts catholiques au XIXe. siècle (Catholic Interests in the Nineteenth Century). In it, the former leader of French Catholicism adhered completely to Bishop Dupanloup’s liberalism. The Bishop encouraged one of his vicars general, Abbé Gaduel, a learned man and former theology professor, to write against Donoso Cortés’s work.

Abbé Gaduel went beyond making an objective criticism of linguistic improprieties that Donoso Cortés, who was not a philosopher, might commit. He sharply attacked the ideas of the famous Spanish writer and politician. In this, the Abbé clearly reflected the biased mind of the Bishop of Orléans. Veuillot replied by disproving Abbé Gaduel’s unfounded accusations. That rebuttal caused an uproar. It seemed that the incident had been designed to create a new controversy.

In a long-winded complaint, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Orléans asked the Archbishop of Paris, Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour, to punish Veuillot. Abbé Gaduel’s grounds for the rebuke was Veuillot’s “satire, violence, insults, wrath, anger, backbiting, calumnies, and other attacks, seemingly carried so far as to excite general indignation.”

Note one particular absence in Abbé Gaduel’s list of charges. There is no mention of Veuillot having committed any doctrinal error. This is one of the characteristics of all campaigns waged against him. Even his worst opponents could not accuse him of any deviation from sound Catholic doctrine.

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Accordingly, the Archbishop of Paris banned the reading of l’Univers in religious communities. He also forbade all his priests to read, write, or contribute to its development. He further threatened to excommunicate the paper’s editors if they discussed this censure.

L’Univers had no choice but to appeal to Rome. Archbishop Sibour’s decision was unexpected and purposeless. On learning about the order, Bishop Pierre-Louis Parisis of Arras said: “Gentlemen, the Archbishop of Paris has just caused a scandal.”

While l’Univers turned to Rome, Father Gaduel denounced Donoso Cortés to the Holy Office. Through Cardinal Fioramonti, Pius IX sent word to Archbishop Sibour that he should lift the prohibition. In Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuits responded to Abbé Gaduel’s criticism of Donoso Cortés’s book, showing it contained no doctrinal error. Archbishop Sibour withdrew his condemnation, and the Civiltà articles ended Abbé Gaduel’s criticism.

This time, the secular press could not fail to recognize that l’Univers had clearly won the argument. La Presse expounded the situation in an article that Veuillot’s brother Eugène summarized.

Univers has been told to remain ultramontane—precisely what the archbishop reproached it for.

“The Univers is approved, and at the same time, other religious papers are condemned.

“The letter is not from the pope but his secretary, who must think as he does.

“In short: The Univers has won the case, at least in the first jurisdiction.”

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Replying to a letter Louis Veuillot had written about the incident, Cardinal Fioramonti, Pius IX’s secretary for Latin letters, wrote:

“Your letter, dated March fifth, has caused me no little concern and sorrow. Knowing how long you have been working for the cause of the Church with all strength and ardor, I would like, in this circumstance, to sustain and applaud your courage with a word from the Sovereign Pontiff. However, dragged along by your reputation, talent, and sincere devotion to the Apostolic See, I decided to answer your letter and give you my judgment on your paper.

“For starters, everybody confesses and recognizes that your resolution to write a religious newspaper to uphold and defend courageously Catholic truth and the Apostolic See is inspired by piety. Even more praiseworthy is that, in this newspaper, you never placed anything above Catholic doctrine but sought to give preeminence to the institutions and statutes of the Roman Church and to defend and uphold them with great courage and resolution. Accordingly, your paper excites a lot of interest here, in France and in other countries, and is seen as very suitable for treating the issues that must be dealt with in the present times.

“However, people who adhere strongly to certain principles, usages, and customs do not share the same judgment about your newspaper. As they cannot openly reject your doctrines, they have long been looking for something to reproach; they have found nothing to condemn but the vivacity of your language and manner of expression.

“Editors of other papers, albeit religious, are equally ready and eager to attack your newspaper violently. As a result, they gradually introduce mistrust into souls-who have become thirsty for pure doctrine, especially in these times-and deplorably slow down the movement, dragging them ever more strongly to obey and love the Holy See.”

Cardinal Fioramonti then gave Veuillot some advice and closed: “Such, I know, are the opinions of many eminent men who esteem the religious part of your newspaper. As for its political part, I do not speak of it on purpose.”

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This last sentence requires an explanation. In 1853, Napoleon III ruled France. The Emperor’s disputes with the Holy See made relations between Pius IX and France rather delicate. Therefore, Cardinal Fioramonti had good reason to exercise a great deal of prudence.


  1. The epithets that M. Veuillot used in this paragraph were borrowed from the critics of Donoso Cortés’s book. Some will be unfamiliar to modern readers. Tritheism was a heresy popular in the third to seventh centuries A.D. It argued that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were three separate beings rather than being united in the Trinity. “Bahianist” is probably a reference to Baháʼí, a sect that teaches that all religions are equal. “Laemennaisian” refers to the French Catholic liberal Félicité Robert de La Mennais. Obviously, neither Sr. Donoso Cortés nor M. Veuillot could accurately be described by any of these terms.

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