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Chapter Three: Our First Trip to Rome

This chapter relates to the trip which is mentioned in Raissa's Journal (pp. 68-71), and which she and I made to Rome in 1918, during the first World War, apropos of a manuscript of mine on La Salette, which remained unpublished. I have no intention at all of reopening here an ancient debate or of entering into any controversy whatever. I would only like to deposit in the dossier about an issue -- that of the first great Marian Apparitions{1} of modern times -- which for more than a century has greatly disturbed minds, a certain number of facts which relate to our own personal life and to my adventures as philosopher, and which have perhaps some interest for the historian, however slight it may be. A further remark in passing: not only has the manuscript which occasioned our trip, for the reasons that one will see, remained unpublished, but even if it happened, against all probability, that one day external circumstances permitted its publication, I do not want it published after my death -- no more than any writing blemished with the awkwardness and the high-flown style proper to works of youth. Also, in this particular case, it is a question of the first state of an engraving which could not be taken up again and reworked so as to give complete satisfaction to its author.

The story which I am going to tell begins in 1915. The war is at its height. We have known and loved La Salette for several years. We have read Celle qui pleure and Vie de Mélanie par elle-même. It was during a novena to La Salette, at Heidelberg, that Raissa, gravely ill, was cured, and experienced a marvellous joy in receiving the Anointing of the Sick. It was at La Salette that it was granted to us to pray with confidence for the conversion of Ernest Psichari. It was in descending from La Salette that we received the sacrament of Confirmation. The freshness of the impressions experienced up there, and, in order to employ a saying of Ruysbroeck, "the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit" which one has however fleetingly sensed there, are something ineffaceable. But before all and above all, the mystery which struck the heart and which one will never finish scrutinizing, is that of the tears shed by Her whom all generations must call blessed, the mystery of the suffering manifested by the incomparably glorious Theotokos, weeping before two shepherds over the hard-heartedness of men and announcing great misfortunes. "I have been suffering for you for so long! If I wish that my Son not abandon you, I am charged to pray to Him unceasingly. And as for you, you do not appreciate it. You can pray and try as you will, you will never be able to repay the suffering that I have accepted for you."

The war -- and this war was the first total war -- is a time of extraordinary misfortune. Heaven seems to have closed, the norms of human existence to have capsized. The works of life are as it were petrified, while death gallops through the world and goes through it at a furious pace. How could the soul not think then of God, whom men do not cease to offend, and whose arm is "so heavy" that Mary can no longer restrain it?

It seemed to me that for myself these kinds of reflections ought not to remain theoretical. I was not mobilized,{2} the examining boards for recruits before which I had passed had kept me in a state of discharge (because of an old pleurisy, which had brought me near death). I tried to make myself useful in civil life by doing double duty as a professor. But when I heard people blaspheme God because of the war, and remembered the words which end the public Message: "Well! my children, you will make this known to all my people," the idea came to me that the drama lived by the world at that moment contained a summons to make La Salette better known.

The situation in this respect was not cheering in France. The majority of the faithful were very ignorant of the issue. Among those who had studied it, certain ones (such as Léon Bloy, Pierre Termier, and some of our closest friends) mingled no hidden motives in their devotion. But in other respects there was on the one hand, in many, a marked hostility with regard to Mélanie, the sheperdess who, with the little Maximin, had been a witness of the Apparition; the reason for this was the secret message which she maintained that the Blessed Virgin had allowed her to make public from a certain date (1858) and which she persisted in wishing to make known, and which began with words offensive to the clergy. On the other hand, there was a small number of fanatics who made the Secret of La Salette a partisan affair, and whose aberrant interpretations, and their manner of using prophecies like a railway timetable, could only compromise the cause which they claimed to defend.

My idea was that in order to truly serve the Blessed Virgin it was important to take up again the question of La Salette in its entirety, in as objective a manner as possible, and without any other passion than that of truth; and, since everything depended on the value of the testimony of Mélanie, to gather all the information possible on her life, the first thing to be done in this regard being to gather without delay, before they left this earth, the observations and the memories of those who had known her well.

I add that I had still other reasons -- very personal ones -- to undertake this work on La Salette. If I nourished some resentment against my grandfather Jules Favre (above all, I felt very vexed to have inherited certain traits from him, particularly, I had to admit, a certain detestable taste for Donquixotism and for lost causes), I was however touched to think that in spite of his aversion for Catholicism (he was rationalist and Rousseauist in matters of religion, before becoming a Protestant at the end of his life, under the influence of his second wife), this generous man had not hesitated to disconcert his friends and to place himself, whatever the consequences, on the side of the Beautiful Lady of La Salette, in burdening himself with the cause of Mlle de Lamerlière and in delivering for her a famous pleading before the Imperial Court of Grenoble, the 27th of April 1857 -- it was the time at which the controversies concerning the Apparition were raging, and when certain enemies of the bishop of Grenoble, particularly the Abbés Déléon and Cartellier, stupidly accused this old stout spinster of having played the role of the Blessed Virgin and deceiving the two shepherds. It seemed to me that I was making a certain gesture of filial piety and perhaps doing something useful towards the supreme accomplishment of my grandfather's destiny in succeeding him in an affair in which, no doubt without his knowledge or desire (but does one ever know?) he had acted so as to draw a compassionate glance from the Omnipotentia supplex.

In consulting my notes I see that after having written to my superior, Abbé Millot, vicar-general of Versailles, and after having received his approval and encouragement, it was the 1st of August 1915 that I began my memoir on La Salette (the Apparition, the Two witnesses, the public Message, the Secret of Mélanie). I had also written to the Father Abbott of Solesmes, Dom Delatte -- not that I considered myself bound in his regard by any obligation, but out of concern to seek counsel, and because at that time I put him on a very high pedestal. In his response, dated the 29th of August, he condemned my project (which ruined, he said, all the services which I could have rendered to the Truth and to the Church, and which would discredit me), but the condemnation was couched in such violent terms that it had much more force to annoy me than to influence my judgment. (This was only the first disagreement, and the pedestal remained intact. It was much later, at the time of Primauté du Spirituel and of the condemnation of Action Française, that the rupture between the Father Abbot and myself took place.) Dom Jean de Puniet, the Father Abbot of Saint-Paul d'Oosterhout, consulted on my project, showed very different dispositions, and replied to me the 15th of September: "I am most happy to fully agree with it, sure of your prudence and of the wisdom with which you will accomplish your task. . ."

The two priests whose testimony seemed to me the most useful to gather for my work were Abbé H. Rigaux, curé of Argoeuvres, with whom Mélanie stayed twice for a few days,{3} and especially Abbé Combe, curé of Diou (Allier), with whom she lived for several months and who was her confessor during this time. Both had been her friends and held her in great veneration. I had already visited Abbé Rigaux the 2nd of March 1914; Pierre van der Meer and I spent, in October 1915, two days with Abbé Combe. Both were men of an incontestable uprightness. Unfortunately Abbé Rigaux had, in addition to his great sacerdotal virtues, the hobby of Nostradamus; as to Abbé Combe (who for his part, alas, tried, according to the remark of Massignon, to "chronologize the Apocalypse") his devotion to Mélanie was accompanied by a great rudeness of character and by an obstinacy from which she surely suffered. To tell the truth, if was not in France, it was in Italy that she had her best friends, and those more interested in the depths of the soul than in the extraordinarily supernatural; it was the Italian bishops, Mgr. Petagna, bishop of Castellamare, Mgr. Zola, bishop of Lecce, and, in the last hours of her life, Mgr. Cecchini, bishop of Altamura, who gave her the most efficacious support; it was on the invitation of Canon Annibale di Francia that she stayed a little more than a year at Messina, at the Institute founded by the latter, and where she was considered to be a "mistress of sublime virtue;" it was Canon di Francia who delivered her funeral eulogy,{4} and it was in the chapel of the Daughters of Divine Zeal, at Altamura, that her tomb was erected, with an inscription in which the title of "co-foundress" is given to her as a token of gratitude and of veneration.

The fact remains that the information which I received from the curé of Argoeuvres and from the curé of Diou was very precious to me, and gave me a high idea of the character and of the virtues of the Sheperdess of La Salette. My regret is not to have been able, for want of time, to visit them again, nor to consult the Italian sources, nor to devote myself to the whole work of historical crosschecking which I would have liked to do. It was necessary to go quickly, and I was occupied by my work and my teaching. My memoir finally gathered together materials as well verified as I was able, but it was not brought to the point of elaboration at which a work of this kind can be considered as truly finished.

Be that as it may, it was already very advanced (Vera typed it --making four or five copies -- as it proceeded), when the cause of Mélanie and of her Secret found itself more than ever compromised by the foolish commentaries of the small number of fanatics of whom I spoke above, and their insults against the bishops of France. On the 12th of January 1916 La Croix published a decree of the Holy Office, under date of the 21st of December 1915, forbidding anyone to treat and to discuss the question of the Secret of La Salette "under any pretext and under any form whatever, such as books, brochures or signed or anonymous articles, or in any other manner." I found myself suddenly well taken care of, with my memoir in hand, and my conviction, confirmed by all these months of examination and of meditation, that I had not been wrong to undertake it.

In the face of such a formal disciplinary decree, the only outlet, if one wished to try a last effort, was to go to Rome when my memoir was finished (or almost finished), and to seek information on the spot -- perhaps someone would advise us to ask whether an exception could be made in favor of my work.

This idea took shape only little by little, and passed to execution only two years later. The reasons which one could raise against it were very serious ones: it was doubtful that the physical forces of Raissa could endure the fatigue of such a trip -- at that time such a long one. The world was at war, there was talk at the beginning of 1918 of the possibility of an Austrian offensive, and the turn of events could suddenly make our return difficult. Finally, the step itself entailed evident risks. We were of an extreme naiveté (and I hope, indeed, that this has continued all our life); naiveté however is not stupidity or blindness, and we knew very well to what we were exposing ourselves. Behold a convert, a godchild of the Mendiant Ingrat, who has sided with St. Thomas and in whom the Church seems to have confidence; and the first movement of this imbecile, after Rome has given him the Doctor's cap, is to go to torment the Roman authorities with an enormous memoir concerning a Seer very little loved by the French clergy, and a controversy (there is nothing worse) concerning a prophetic message which she claims to have received. What is he troubling himself about? He is going to discredit himself irremediably, disappoint all his friends in the ecclesiastical world, make himself pass for a visionary, throw himself into a wasps' nest.

All these considerations were valid. They were not decisive for someone who, if he had obeyed reasons of the same kind, would doubtless never have asked for baptism (he remembered that at that time he still imagined that in order to be a Christian it was necessary to renounce the intelligence and philosophy). When one has once left everything in order to find truth, there are arguments to which one becomes little susceptible. Raissa was similarly disposed; and after having thought at first that there was no hurry, she felt one day that it was time to make this trip to Rome. It was for truth, and with the intention of serving the wishes of the Blessed Virgin, that I had undertaken my work. It was not a question here of a whim. To obey was beyond question for me, and I was ready to renounce publication, but on condition of having done everything in my power to know whether the interdiction of the Holy Office could not allow an exception. Although knowing all of the human that can mingle in the exercise of ecclesiastical authority, I had moreover total confidence in the Church, and I knew that complete candor was the best attitude towards those who had received power in her from above. The instinct of faith informs us of it, but I must say that quite a long stay in Rome, like the one which I was to make much later, at the time of my mission to the Vatican, gives very vivid lights on this point. Those who in their relations with the vast machinery of the Roman administration count on human maneuvers, intrigues and contrivances, which are so manifest, and are apparently so formidable, are sure to lose the game in the end. Those who bet on candor and on grace will always win in the end -- be it sometimes when they will have passed to the other side of the veil. . . .

Raissa and I left for Rome Holy Tuesday, the 26th of March (1918), without intending anything definite, except to submit my manuscript to Père Garrigou-Lagrange and to ask him for advice.

The trip, in that time of war, was excessively long, and we very much feared being further delayed at the Italian frontier if Customs had fancied to examine my voluminous manuscript. The latter was at the bottom of a suitcase, the custom-officers did not see it. At the railway-station our friend Jacques Froissart (the future Père Bruno de Jesus-Marie) awaited us. (He had already entered the Carmelites, but on the advice of Mère Marie-Thérèse had resumed the lay habit in order to study at the Angelicum.) He was our guide during the whole of our stay, and thanks to him this first visit to Rome was for us an unforgettable pilgrimage to the Basilicas in which so many martyrs lie, to the Catacombs, to the room in which St. Benedict Labre died. . . .

Father Garrigou-Lagrange was happy with my memoir. After having read it, he said to me: "The Blessed Virgin loves you very much. You will suffer much."{5} The advice given was to go to see the Pope. Our audience with Benedict XV took place the 2nd of April, in the morning. He received us with much kindness and goodness; remembering the title which the Roman Universities had recently conferred on me, and calling me with a somewhat ironical pleasing smile "Monsieur le Docteur"; asking us many questions -- concerning the health of Mgr. Gibier, bishop of Versailles, and above all concerning the Big Bertha which was shelling Paris from a distance; then concerning the manual I was working on, concerning my courses. . . . After which I took the plunge, and asked him for permission to "open my heart" to him like a child to its father. He then turns towards me with great benevolence and simplicity, bending his head as if in order to hear a confidence, and I tell him my story. -- "La Salette!" he says, with a lively and interested glance. And he explains at length his own feelings on the question. "The Apparition is beyond doubt; but the words of the Blessed Virgin to Mélanie, in particular when in the secret message they express such a severity with regard to the clergy, are they entirely certain? This is what is debatable! That speaking in general she complained about the clergy -- this is very possible, but the terms could be exaggerated by the "fancy" (the imagination) of Mélanie, whatever her sincerity and good dispositions might be. In short, if it is a question of the secret Message, quoad substantiam concedo, quoad singula verba nego [as to the basic meaning I agree, as to the particular words I do not agree]. The Holy Office wishes to avoid scandal, to pacify minds, to prevent the Christian people from turning away from their priests, whom so many enemies are already ready to crush. No doubt at certain moments scandal is preferable, "necesse est ut vaniant scandala" [scandals must come]. But it does not seem that this is the case here. . . ."

Then, with a great kindness: "But you, do you believe that the Blessed Virgin has thus spoken, literally?"

(What to do? Contradict the Pope? All that I see is that I am going to displease someone in any case, the Pope or the Blessed Virgin. Then no hesitation: better to displease the Pope. And I reply like a great simpleton -- but it is one of the rare moments in my life in which I had the impression of positing an act with which I could be truly satisfied):

-- Yes, Most Holy Father, I believe that Mélanie was a saint and that what she reported is literally true. I had many details concerning her life. She was a stigmatist. She suffered much by fidelity to her mission. . . .

-- Yes, I know, says the Pope, who does not seem offended by my reply. One cannot say of her all the things with which one reproaches the other Seer.

-- But Maximin has also been greatly calumniated. He did not have the extraordinary graces with which Mélanie was favored. But he was a good Christian.

Raissa: -- A simple heart.

-- You believe in it also, Madame? You also have devotion to Notre Dame de la Salette?

-- Yes, Most Holy Father (she says this in a voice full of conviction, in spite of the fear of having gone too far by intervening).

-- Yes, I know, there are many persons in France who have a great devotion to Notre Dame de la Salette. Greater in some than to Notre Dame de Lourdes, is that not so?

I say: -- It is because the Blessed Virgin wept at La Salette, it is because of her tears.

-- The tears, adds Raissa, correspond well to the present state of the world.

The Pope remains silent; he appears touched, his face is serious. Then, after a moment, he says to me:

-- Well, here is what you must do. Go to see Our Brother (a slight smile passes on his lips -- I knew that they scarcely loved one another) Cardinal Billot. He is in charge of studies, it is quite a natural introduction for you. When you have talked philosophy with him, do as you have just done with Us, open your heart to him. He will listen to you. Tell him that you do not wish to ask him anything concerning the secret of the Holy Office, but that you have written a work, and that you submit it humbly to the Church, ready to obey its judgment if you are mistaken. There is not, is there, any self-love on your part. If the good God wishes to use you in this matter, He will inspire in Cardinal Billot the reply which will be fitting.

Go to see the Cardinal. You have not seen him yet?

-- No, Most Holy Father. And I intended to speak of this only to Your Holiness, for I am ready to suffer all that is necessary for La Salette, but I would not like to compromise my philosophical work unnecessarily.

-- In proceeding as we have just told you, you will not compromise anything.

The audience is finished. We thank the Pope; he blesses us "and all those whom we have in our hearts," all the more paternally as he was not unhappy, I believe, at the little trick played at the same time on the Cardinal and on my presumption by a solution incontestably wise in itself.


I had therefore replied to Benedict XV, in this audience of April 1918, that I believed that the words reported by Mélanie were literally true. Forty years later, while I write these pages, I question myself. Would I, being equally sincere with myself, make the same reply now? It seems to me that my reply would be formulated a little differently -- let us note well that I am no longer speaking here only of the Secret of La Salette in particular (moreover, I have prohibited myself from speaking of it in this chapter), I am speaking in general of any message whatsoever passing judgments on persons or announcing events, and transmitted as coming from someone of the other world.

Supposing (as is moreover the case if one still questioned me concerning Mélanie) that I believe in the entire veracity of the witness -- thus excluding the hypothesis of an even involuntary exaggeration on his part -- I would prefer to say: "I believe in the full authenticity of the reported words": without implying, for all that, that everything said must be taken "literally," according to the usual sense of this expression, that is to say, as to the essentially human measure or to the essentially human modality which our words entail in common earthly usage. During forty-six years one has time to reflect a little on the infinite transcendence of the perspectives of Heaven in comparison with those of earth. Not only is it in eternity that the saints of Heaven see the events of earth, so that if they speak of future things to someone here below it is not at all in the succession of time (to which our own interest naturally tends) that they are interested -- the periods mentioned can in reality be very distant from each other and find themselves more or less telescoped in what is said, and the chronological order can not be observed in it; but in a still more general manner, it is clear that in order to be a little understood by men, it is necessary indeed that the people of Heaven employ human language, which cannot precisely signify purely and simply "literally" what they themselves mean to say; the literal sense of what they tell us surpasses our words and remains therefore essentially charged with mystery, whereas a kind of immoderation -- in "too much" (overstatement) or in "not enough" (understatement) -- introduces itself into our words such as they employ them. The voices of Joan of Arc in her prison told her that she was going to be delivered: -- that is to say, "literally," that she was going to escape from her enemies? Surely not! This meant to climb the funeral-pile, and to be delivered in this manner from the English and from their prelates, and also delivered from this perishable flesh, and delivered from evil, and free to see her God. . . .

Furthermore, the term language does not relate only to the words which we use, it covers also all that which serves us to make ourselves understood, and therefore the whole imagery which we use and which is that of the men to whom we speak, at such and such a moment of time and in such and such a place on earth. (Supposing that through some telephone through duration we could tell a contemporary of Julius Caesar something which concerns our epoch, could we speak to him of airplanes and of electronic machines, of the British Parliament, or of the Praesidium of the Communist Party? The other person would not understand anything; it would indeed be necessary to use the imagery furnished by his own type of culture, as well as his own words and his own syntax.)

One can still go further. We know that in Heaven the blessed do not use words and speech to converse among themselves. On the other hand, we also know that God uses instrumentally what is in the mind of the prophet. Let us suppose now that one of the blessed, speaking to someone of the earth, does not himself produce, as we do, sounds physically transmitted through the air; so that the words heard by the witness of the here-below, instead of being carried by sound waves, result within him from a divine activation exercised on the faculties of his soul. In other words, let us suppose that a person of heaven who appears and speaks, does not utter audible words, but rather reads -- while moving his lips, as we sometimes do -- in the soul of the messenger, and at the very instant of their production, the words which he himself produces there by divine action, which uses, instrumentally, the human faculties of the messenger.{6} Then one can think that utterances coming from Heaven, and really heard, and authentically transmitted, have passed through the instrumentality of typical or "archetypal"{7} mental perspectives present in the unconscious of the spirit of the messenger, without, for all this, the meaning or the letter of the message being changed, such as it was intended from on high to reach us.

When someone from Heaven speaks to some poor child of the here-below, we need only accept, such as they are, the words which he causes him to hear, but it is necessary to understand them (to understand their "literal sense") according to the spirit of him who causes these words to be heard, and whose intention is not to tell our fortunes nor to inform us as a secret agent would, but, as is the case for all revelation under the New Law, to draw our attention, by great signs capable of stirring hearts everywhere, to things which are of importance to our action, and which, of ourselves, we see more or less badly -- shortcomings too real, hopes or threats with which the times are burdened, purposes of God which when realized will doubtless appear very different from the image which we could form of them -- all of this designated in terms essentially mysterious which, even reported exactly as they were heard, are true "literally" as to the general practical sense which is intended to be communicated to us, but not as to the particular mental perspectives, nor to the particular imagery, nor to the words taken according to the human measure through whose instrumentality a transcendent thought is signified to us.


As the Pope had told me to do, I went, on the 4th of April, to the Collegio Pio Americano to see Cardinal Billot -- not without some apprehension, for I knew him to be little agreeable in general, and poorly disposed towards Mélanie in particular. A few days previously he had received Father Garrigou-Lagrange, and, discussing theology with him, had declared that Cajetan was "a bastard" and John of Saint Thomas a "double bastard." Upon which Father Garrigou, not being able to tolerate this offense to the great Commentators, had taken his hat -- and the door.

Very embarrassed by my frightfully large manuscript, I leave it in the anteroom. The Cardinal receives me very graciously, speaks to me of Psichari, of Péguy, blasts the adversaries of St. Thomas, says much evil about the Jesuits, attacks Suarez and Cajetan, and displays much bitterness. I broach the object of my visit, speak to him of my work on La Salette. He declares that the sect of the Salettists horrifies him, that Mélanie was tormented by them, etc. I reply that I came to see him only because the Pope sent me, and asked me to submit my manuscript to him.

-- I shall read it.

-- It is here.

I go and fetch it. In seeing the thickness of the package, he laughs, and asks what chapter it is necessary to read, then he starts again to speak scornfully of Mélanie and of her Secret.

-- Do with this work what you wish, I tell him. The Pope sends me to your Eminence in order that It may judge whether an exception to the decree prohibiting any publication in which the Secret of La Salette is discussed can or can not be made in its favor. Permit me to leave it with you.

The Cardinal replies that he will keep it two months and will give me his answer through Jacques Froissart. "You have not wasted your time," he tells me when I take leave of him, "you have proceeded properly," and he gives me his blessing. The audience lasted an hour.

Raissa and I left Rome of the 8th of April, in order to arrive at Versailles two days later. After having accompanied Raissa to Vernie, where her mother and Vera were already settled in the large presbytery of Abbé Gouin, with the van der Meers, I returned to Versailles and resumed, on April 15th, my courses at the Institut Catholique de Paris.


It was just before returning to Vernie for the summer vacation that I received the reply of Cardinal Billot, transmitted by Jacques Froissart in a letter under the date of the 7th of June 1918, and another under the date of the 16th.

This reply was negative. Nothing was said on the core of the question, and nothing objectionable was pointed out in my manuscript, but publication was judged decidedly inopportune and authorization was refused. It was certainly possible to attribute the thing to the bias which the Cardinal had not hidden from me, nevertheless, I was persuaded that, perfectly conscious himself of this bias, he had applied himself with all the more care to judge in an impartial manner and for motives which imposed themselves objectively on his mind; for this rough and violent man had an evident intellectual honesty. I myself, moreover, was inclined to think that it was now a little too late, or much too soon, for a publication of this kind. In his conversations with Jacques Froissart, the Cardinal had insisted on the intellectual confusion in France, the affair of Loublande, and on the state of a cast of mind which after four years of war was ready to grow feverish and to set out on false tracks.

With regard to myself, in any case, since the judgment which I had solicited was passed, and the authorization to publish refused, the only thing to do was to obey, as I was prepared to do from the beginning. I had done all that I could for La Salette; to undertake this piece of work had been for me an obligation of conscience. To now renounce all publication, and to let my manuscript remain in my files, was another such obligation. Raissa was as convinced of this as I was.{8} We have never felt any bitterness nor nourished any mental reservation concerning the matter.

In what are called the Roman circles our trip had been, as one had to expect, followed by some eddies. Cardinal Billot (who had read my manuscript from one end to the other) had, Jacques Froissart told me, consulted "two other" important persons about it (I knew the name of one of them). People had begun to gossip, they circulated writings against Léon Bloy and against me. All of this had scarcely any importance and was to abate of itself, not without Benedict XV, anxious for a moment, it appears, having himself contributed to calm minds by an equanimity which I greatly admired.

I maintained relations with Cardinal Billot, either directly or through the intermediary of Jacques Froissart. I am very grateful to him for the confidence and for the kindness which, in spite of our differences, he continued to show me. It was thanks to him, particularly, that I received communication of a report which two chaplains of La Salette{9} had sent to Rome by Mgr. Giray, bishop of Cahors, and in which, apropos of the Vie de Mélanie by herself (or, more precisely, apropos of the story of her childhood){10} the text of which had been given by Abbé Combe to Léon Bloy and published by the latter, they endeavored to completely discredit the Seer. Their report denounced a multitude of erroneous assertions in Mélanie's narrative, and utilized to that effect the testimony of Mélanie's brother, Eugène Calvat, who had contradicted many things about which he had been questioned.

At first sight, and for someone who had not especially studied the question, this report, extremely well constructed, seemed overwhelming for the Seer. None of it held up, however, as soon as one looked at it closely, which I did not fail to do. I spent a great deal of time on this; checking each detail and drawing up a very long reply with all the pains of a minute historical critique (thanks to Pierre Termier I was even able to be enlightened on certain topographical details which were mentioned). I was constantly surprised myself to see so many so-called arguments of fact vanish into smoke. Let it suffice for me to indicate here that Eugène Calvat{11} was the junior of Mélanie by five years (he was the fifth child of the family), and that at the time of many of the events supposedly contradicted by him he was only four or five years old; at the time of certain others, he was not yet born.{12} His testimony did not exist as such.

It was a great satisfaction for me to be able to re-establish the truth, in the opinion of Cardinal Billot, and to send him an extremely precise report which, accompanied by quite a long letter, was delivered to him by Jacques Froissart on the 8th of November 1918.

I confess that regardless of the fragile forget-me-nots of my modesty, it seemed to me that I had never seen a so perfectly peremptory reply to such cleverly raised accusations.


Many years later I again had an occasion to stand up for Mélanie apropos of an article signed Pierre Herbin, which had appeared in the August-September 1946 issue of Vie Spirituelle, and which attacked at one and the same time Léon Bloy, Mélanie (who was accused of fraud) -- and the Secret (in violation of the Decree of the Holy Office prohibiting all discussion concerning the latter). The rectifying letter, rather harsh, but certainly merited, which I sent to the review, was published in the October issue. I had wished to add to it a postscript concerning a book by Père Jaouen, a missionary of La Salette, which I had read in the interval -- I had to give this up at the request of the editorial staff of Vie Spirituelle (the book in question had been published by the same publisher as the magazine itself). It was my friend Louis Massignon who published this postscript (together with the letter -- reprinted -- which it completed), as an appendix to an important article of his own written for the centenary of the Apparition, and which appeared in Cahier 7 (1946) of the review Dieu Vivant. {13}

Père Jaouen's book merited a certain attention by the very fact of its evident partiality, and the author worked unintentionally, but with remarkable energy, to saw off the branch on which he himself and his brothers in religion were seated. For it is clear that if one held, not as a result of presumption and bias, but as a well-established conclusion, the idea that the principal witness of the Apparition was only an hysteric and a fabulator who was a victim of the worst illusions, the Apparition itself, in spite of all the miraculous cures of the body and of the soul which had taken place on the Holy Mountain, would be found suddenly exposed to the gravest doubts.{14}

This did not go unnoticed at Rome, where I was then the Ambassador of France to the Holy See. Pius XII, who was aware of my interest in La Salette, was so good as to warn me, at the beginning of 1947, that the recent controversies had raised doubts concerning the Apparition -- it was the whole question of La Salette which now passed through a serious crisis. I understood that they were again going to submit everything to study, and that they would not hesitate before radical decisions if they seemed reasonably required.

For my part, I communicated Massignon's article, which had appeared in Dieu Vivant, to the Vatican. And it seemed to me that it would not be inopportune to make known to the Pope that I had formerly written a voluminous work on the question, which had remained unpublished for the reasons set forth in this chapter.

In March the competent commission asked to see this work, as well as my grandfather's Address to the Court in defence of Mlle de Lamerlière, in which it seemed to be particularly interested, the first document was delivered by me on the 24th of March, the second{15} towards the middle of April. The note in which I pointed out the existence of these two documents had been written at the end of January.

I have no illusions on the very minimal importance of the contribution which they were able to bring. It is clear that many other sources of information were available in Rome, which certainly played a greater role in the study which was then undertaken. Moreover, I spoke of the facts mentioned above only because they concern my personal recollections.

In the months which followed, and during which I naturally refrained from asking anything concerning matters which were not within my province, they no longer said anything to me about the question of La Salette, from which I concluded that the storm had passed. With regard to my memoir, with all the defects which render the works of youth so irritating, and which a hasty re-reading had just recalled mercilessly to my attention, but also with the good faith which it was not difficult to discern in it, and with the particulars of fact and the diverse restatements which it contained, I thanked Providence for having caused it to reach, by paths which I would never have been able to foresee, persons in whose hands it was doubtless most important that it be placed.

{1} I mean Apparitions in which the Blessed Virgin (who is not bound by the taceat mulier in Ecclesia) [a woman should not speak in church] caused a message to be transmitted to the entire Christian people. -- On the Apparition of La Salette (19th of September 1846), cf. Les Grandes Amitiés (1941-1944; 4th ed., Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1949), pp. 195-204; 471-475; 494-499 (Eng. transl.: Vol I, We Have Been Friends Together, tr. by Julie Kernan, New York, Longmans, Green and Co., 1942, pp. 183-192; Vol II, Adventures in Grace, tr. by Julie Kernan, New York: Longmans, Green and Co., Inc., 1945, pp. 220-223; 241-245).

{2} It was only in 1917 that I was declared "fit for duty," and mobilized -- and soon discharged again. (Cf. Raissa's Journal, pp. 44 and 58).

{3} From the 27th of September to the 2nd of October 1902, and from the 2nd to the 8th of October 1903. (Precisions given by Abbé Gouin, to whom I here express my thanks.

{4} He delivered the eulogy on Mélanie two times. (Cf. Documents I, Pour servir à l'histoire réele de la Salette, Nouvelles Editions Latines, Paris, 1963.)

{5} I found the notes, in pencil, which I had taken during our stay. I am using them here to aid my memory.

{6} Thus he seems to speak like us -- and he really speaks, but not like us.

{7} I do not believe, as Jung seems to do, in a psychological heredity, thanks to which archetypal representations would be transmitted to our unconscious. Nor do I believe in a collective Unconscious as a supra-individual entity in which each would participate.

I think rather that each of us, throughout the course of his life, but more particularly during his childhood, undergoes the influence or the "contagion," in what I call the unconscious of the spirit, of what stimulates, consciously or unconsciously, the mentality of his contemporaries, and which is expressed by signs whose impact can moreover be entirely fleeting and imperceptible -- it is then that this impact is the most efficacious and the most penetrating, because it is unconsciously registered. More generally, I think that in each of us the unconscious of the spirit, throughout the course of life, but more particularly during childhood, receives the impact (all the more penetrating as it is itself unconsciously registered) of an infinitely multiple universe of forms, signs and symbols emanating from the cultural environment in which he is steeped. But such a universe of forms, signs and symbols is an historically constituted universe, it bears within it the still active vestiges of preceding cultural epochs and of an immense past.

It seems, therefore, that in the sense which I have just indicated, one should replace the notion of the collective unconscious with that of an influence unconsciously received by each one (to diverse degrees) of the cultural community, and one should replace the notion of psychological heredity with that of cultural heredity. One would then see how the mental perspectives or mental attitudes on which the modus significandi the way of signifying consciously employed by us depends can result from the impact, on the unconscious of our spirit, of the forms, signs and symbols emanating from the cultural community, and one would see at the same stroke how such and such of these signs, forms or symbols can be "archetypes" going back to the most distant past. (Without forgetting that the word "archetype" can refer, not only to historically transmitted primitive forms, but also to structures or to modalities of action fundamentally natural to the human mind, which can manifest themselves in all by mere spontaneous convergence, implying no historical influence and no historical transmission.)

{8} Speaking of myself, she wrote to Jacques Froissart, the 13th of June 1918: "He exercised a legitimate freedom in devoting more than two years to the work which you know. He obeyed a strict command of his conscience in bringing it to Rome. Henceforth his responsibility is discharged, and absolute silence is easy for him as long as the Church does not authorize him to speak."

{9} The chaplains have ceased to exist; after the war they were replaced by the Missionaires de la Salette, who returned to the mountain and resumed the care of the sanctuary.

{10} It was on the order of Abbé Combe, then her confessor, that Mélanie wrote this story in 1900. She discontinued it moreover (after having brought it as far as the age of fourteen), as a result of praise which a priest, to whom Abbé Combe had shown it, lavished on her.

I note that in 1852, six years after the Apparition, Mélanie had already written for Père Sibilat a much shorter story, with which the more detailed story of 1900 agrees. M. Amédée Nicolas was acquainted with this first story. "It is impossible," he wrote in 1881, "to understand the Sheperdess if one does not know the story of her infancy and of her earliest youth, which cannot be given to the public until after the death of her mother and her own death. We have possessed this story for twenty-five years. We have had on these points the avowal of her parents, although these facts were not very admirable as concerns themselves." Amédée Nicolas, Le Secret de la Bèrgere de la Salette, Complément de notre réponse du 19 octobre 1880, Nimes, Clavel-Ballivet, 1881, note on p. 18.

{11} Jacques Froissart himself was able to see Eugène Calvat on the 26th and the 28th of July 1918, and to question him at length, as well as his wife, concerning this affair. Both of them venerated Mélanie and declared her incapable of falsifying the truth. Neither of them knew that Mélanie had written her autobiography, and that the latter had been published by Léon Bloy. His interlocutors had told him nothing about it, and he had no idea that the story which was mentioned to him had been written by his sister. When he was questioned in 1912 (he was then seventy-six) he had moreover become "quite furious" when it was stated that the Secret was a lie and that Maximin was only a drunkard; and it was in this angry state that he had replied to what he believed were inventions of people from Paris seeking to blacken his family. He willingly agreed before Jacques Froissart that he could not remember facts which would have taken place when he was only four or five, or even younger. What was very important for him was the good reputation of his family, and he refused to believe in the harshness of his mother towards the little Mélanie, but he was then too young to remember the facts in question, or to have been present when they took place. The only clear thing is that the memory of this old man, who told Jacques Froissart something altogether different from what he had told the two chaplains, offered no guarantee of veracity.

{12} As I wrote to Cardinal Billot, when I sent him my counter-report, "it is no longer there the testes dormientes of whom St. Augustine speaks apropos of the tomb of Our Lord. It is the testis infans, nay, it is the testis inexistens, the testis nondum extra nihil positus, the testis antegenitus; history will be indebted to the chaplains of La Salette for this useful discovery, which marvellously enlarges its methods and permits it all hopes." (The letter from which this amiable passage is taken was written on the 23rd of August, and given, together with my counterreport, to Cardinal Billot by Jacques Froissart, after vacation, on the 8th of November 1918.)

{13} Reproduced in the Opera Minora of Louis Massignon, Texts gathered by J. Moubarac under the patronage of the Cercle d'Études Dar El-Salam (Dar Maaref, Liban, 1943), t. III, pp. 752-766. [P. 752, under the title, read 1946 and not 1948.]

{14} He who has fabulized today could fabulize yesterday; moreover, the hysterical temperament is a congenital disposition.

{15} Affaire de la Salette, Mademoiselle de Lamerlière contre MM. Déléon et Cartellier, published by J. Sabatier, Paris, Librairie C. Barrain, 1857.

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