Paul Dabin – Conscious and responsible

And before I go any further, here’s my first note.

Paul Dabin was a Belgian Jesuit who died too young on 14 June 1949 at the age of only 58.

His final work published in 1950 after his death was “Le sacerdoce royal des fidèles dans la tradition ancienne et moderne”, a 600 page tome on the role of lay people in the writings of the Church Fathers and other theologians.

Earlier in 1941, he published Le sacerdoce royal des fidèles dans les livres saints in which he studied the same issue in the Bible, a mere 483 pages. Reviewing this book Yves Congar would comment that sometimes Dabin linked items together in a manner that was “un peu hétéroclite” – a little heteroclite, i.e. mixing together things that really did not belong together.

Overall, however, Congar was full of praise for the book and he cited it extensively in his own book Jalons pour une théologie du laïcat.

Even before these major works, Dabin had in 1931 published an earlier simpler work L’apostolat laïque – only 229 pages! – but which was an attempt to offer a theological base for the new lay movements that had just been born. The YCW (JOC) had emerged in the early 1920s followed by other “specialised Catholic Action movements” for students – YCS of JEC, JAC for young farmers and people in rural areas, JUC for university students, etc.

Significantly, the editors of Le Sacerdoce des Fidèles dans la tradition ancienne et moderne note Paul Dabin’s role in alerting the Church – right up to the Vatican – of the growing influence of Charles Maurras, the right wing founder of the Action Française – among Belgian Catholic intellectual elite.

This followed up a 1926 enquiry among Belgian university students which had also shown Maurras’ influence among university students. (I suspect Cardijn may have played a role in organising this enquiry but I am not sure.)

The result of these enquiries was that the Vatican  in fact “condemned” the Action Française in late 1926 and 1927.

In any case, all the above is by way of introduction to a small passage by Dabin in L’apostolat laïque.

“Trop longtemps les fidèles se sont presque entièrement reposé sur leurs pasteurs, du soin de conserver et de conquérir les âmes. La conscience de leurs responsabilités apostolique s’émousse, quand elle n’a point totalement disparu. A la sainte passion de l’extension du Règne de Dieu s’est substitué un idéal profane et terrestre, à la diffusion duquel les laïques se dévouent corps et âme, comme si l’amour incompressible de l’Eglise ne devait point dominer tous les autres dans le cour des baptisés.

“Les catholiques ont la religion de leur patriotisme. Ils n’ont pas toujours, hélas! le patriotisme de leur Religion.”

‘For too long the faithful have nearly totally relied on their pastors for the task of saving and conquering souls. The consciousness of their apostolic responsibilities has been blunted, if it has not totally disappeared. A profane and terrestrial ideal has been substituted for the holy passion for the extension of the Kingdom of God, and lay people have devoted themselves body and soul to this new ideal as if the incompressible love of the Church has no need to dominate all other ideals in the hear of the baptised.

Catholics have made a religion of their patriotism. Alas, they don’t always feel patriotism towards their Religion.”

Now, this is clearly a criticism of the influence of the Action Française, and not a surprise given Dabin’s role in organising the enquiry of 1926.

What’s also interesting is how he contrasts this “religion of patriotism” with the observation that the faithful’s “consciousness of their apostolic responsibilities has been blunted”.

Equally clearly this is a reference to the Sillon’s definition of democracy as the system that maximises the “consciousness and the responsibility of everyone”.

And that’s the point of this note. Here we find Dabin making use of the expression “consciousness of their apostolic responsibilities” in clear reference to the Sillon – in very similar fashion to the way Cardijn uses the expression “conscious of their responsibilities” throughout his career.

A short note, but already long!

Stefan Gigacz