The Liberal Bishop Dupanloup Mounts an Official Campaign to Condemn L’Univers

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The Liberal Bishop Dupanloup Mounts an Official Campaign to Condemn L’Univers
The Liberal Bishop Dupanloup Mounts an Official Campaign to Condemn L’Univers

Msgr. John-Joseph Gaume’s 1851 book, Le Ver Rongeur des Sociétés modernes: ou La Paganisme Dans L’Education [The Gnawing Worm of Modern Societies: or Paganism in Education] sparked immediate reactions among Ultramontanes and Liberal Catholics alike. Its central point was that the study of classical (Greek and Roman) literature was harmful to the moral development of young Catholics. While liberals universally opposed Msgr. Gaume’s thesis, it split Ultramontanes into two camps.

Bishop Felix Dupanloup of Orléans eagerly entered the controversy. He composed a letter to the professors of his minor seminaries, defending classical education and violently attacking its opponents based on Msgr. Gaume’s book. This was a disciplinary action of the Diocese of Orléans. No one would have the right to discuss it if the letter was not published in other ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

But Bishop Dupanloup wanted to spread his letter as widely as possible. The Bishop’s well-known educational theories had incurred Msgr. Gaume’s criticism. On the other hand, Bishop Dupanloup’s reputation as an educator gave him an opportunity he did not want to miss. He saw a chance to strike a severe blow at the Ultramontane newspaper l’Univers and its editor, Louis Veuillot. To accomplish that goal, he sent copies of the letter to all of the Paris newspapers even before it reached the seminary professors.

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Liberal Catholic broadsheets gave the document great prominence, as did university presses. They celebrated Bishop Dupanloup’s initiative to defend classical and university culture, as well as the ardor and combativeness he brought to the battle.

In a calm and moderate article, Veuillot showed that the Bishop of Orleans’ arguments lacked substance. He also clearly defined Msgr. Gaume’s position opposing classical teaching, which Bishop Dopanloup had distorted. L’Univers fended off the Bishop’s accusations against Msgr. Gaume. This was a complete answer, which gave no room for further discussion.

In turn, Bishop Dupanloup penned a long-winded attempted rejoinder to Veuillot. The Bishop claimed that Veuillot’s article wounded his episcopal dignity. He banned l’Univers from schools in the Diocese of Orléans. He accused Veuillot of disloyalty and slander. He asserted that l’Univers’ existence represented a danger to the Catholic Church.

Surprised by the violence of the communique, Veuillot published a letter to the bishop of Orléans. He began by explaining his motivations: “Politics would advise me to keep silent about your May 30 communique. However, to me, it seemed more sincere and respectful to answer. I am convinced that Your Excellency, having painted me in the eyes of the world with ink that no explanation will completely erase, will not mind if I give my friends the joy of justifying myself.”

Veuillot held that his reply could not be considered a lack of discipline against an episcopal act since the Paris newspapers had published the Bishop’s letter, which caused the incident. Furthermore, even though the Bishop of Orléans stood with defenders of classical teaching, other prelates supported Msgr. Gaume’s thesis. Veuillot specifically mentioned Cardinal Gousset of Reims and Bishop Parisis of Arras. As for the accusation of disloyalty and slander, his conscience was clear. He was sure no impartial judge would find anything in his article to justify Bishop Dupanloup’s charges. Thus, he hoped that the Bishop would withdraw his accusation.

Veuillot concluded by saying that l’Univers had no intention of defending the Church “despite herself,” as Bishop Dupanloup claimed. Indeed, all its editors were ready to give up the fight when and if the Church decided the question.

“Thus, Your Excellency,” wrote Veuillot, “when our work seems seriously compromising, there will be no need to dishonor its workers to destroy it. Let the bishops speak, and we will obey at once without delay, hesitation, or complaint. It will be done immediately and forever. Once destroyed, one should not fear that this group, formed slowly and with so much difficulty, may recompose itself very quickly.”

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Perhaps Veuillot’s request that the French bishops speak up inflamed Bishop Dupanloup. He announced his desire to have the episcopate formally condemn l’Univers. He did not reply to Veuillot but immediately began a new, large-scale action. He dispatched his Vicars General to all the dioceses of France. Their task was to convince the bishops that the existence of l’Univers was a danger to the Church.

Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding classical teaching continued unabated. Veuillot remained on Msgr. Gaume’s side, always seeking to limit the debate exclusively to the doctrinal field. It was difficult to maintain this position because many people, even in Ultramontane circles, rejected the slightest restriction on teaching the pagan classics.

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