The Leaven in the Council – online

My PhD thesis, “The Leaven in the Council: Joseph Cardijn and the Jocist Network at Vatican II” is now online in the University of Divinity website.

Feel free to read it here:

On the other hand, here’s a short but necessarily potted summary:

Stefan Gigacz

The Leaven in the Council: Joseph Cardijn and the Jocist Network at Vatican II

Ph.D. thesis in Church History, University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia, 2019

Key points


The thesis takes a longue durée approach to identifying and explaining the role and impact of Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC), on the Second Vatican Council.

Part I attempts to locate Cardijn (diachronically) within a historical tradition that he himself traced to Lamennais and his successors and Marc Sangnier’s movement, Le Sillon, which was largely the prototype for the JOC and its sister “Specialised Catholic Action” (SCA) movements. Together with the JOC, these initiatives formed three “generations” of development towards Vatican II, i.e. Lamennais, Le Sillon and La JOC.

Part II seeks to identify (synchronically) Cardijn’s impact on the Council itself, in which he had three formal roles as a member of the Prep Com on Lay Apostolate, as a peritus in the corresponding conciliar commission and finally as a Council Father at the Fourth Session.

The thesis also endeavours to explain Cardijn’s influence as the centre point of an international “Jocist network” of bishops and periti (to a lesser extent), who had previously been JOC or more generally SCA chaplains (in many instances the local founders of the movements), particularly from France, Belgium, Canada and Latin America, as well as several lay auditors.

Cardijn was also the author of Laïcs en premières lignes, a compilation of his writings first published in French in 1963, then translated into another five languages. This book appears to have acted as a kind of conciliar manual for many of the Jocist network. Its publication also crystallised a longstanding conflict between Cardijn and his own archbishop, Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens, who opposed Cardijn on many key issues, including his concept of lay apostolate and his bottom up see-judge-act methodology.

Church, World and Lay Apostolate: Cardijn’s conciliar dialectic

Clearly and unsurprisingly, Cardijn’s “see-judge-act” (SJA) method had a huge influence on the shape of Council, helping it move away from a deductive, doctrinal method towards a life-based, inductive approach. But the SJA also formed part of a broader Cardijn framework known as the “Three Truths” of Faith, Reality and Method, which was Cardijn’s Proudhonian dialectic (responding to the Marxist dialectic).

In fact, when Cardijn found himself frustrated during the Preparatory Commission, he proposed a new dialectical framework based on his Three Truths dialectic as the basis for the work of the Council, which he expressed as “Church-World-Lay Apostolate.” Predating Cardinal Suenens call for a twin focus on Church and world at the First Session of the Council, Cardijn insisted on the “lay apostolate” as the means of reconciling the dialectical tension between “Church” and “world” (or “world” and “Church” as he preferred).

Ultimately, Gaudium et Spes, the final version of which was compiled by the Proudhonian scholar, Pierre Haubtmann, a French Jocist and Action Catholique Ouvrière chaplain as well as future rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, was also framed as a Cardijn dialectic: Introduction (Reality), Part I (Faith) and Part II (Method, comprising five successive see-judge-acts on Marriage and Family, Culture, Economic and Social Life, Political Community and finally Peace and International Relations.

Like Proudhon and Cardijn, Haubtmann wanted a bottom up dialectic beginning with reality but was opposed by others, including Gerard Philips, who was close to Suenens. As a compromise, the section dealing with the situation of people in the world, originally drafted by the Jocist priest, François Houtart, became the introduction to the document.

In his original draft, Haubtmann notably also included almost verbatim reference to the Sillon’s definition of democracy as the social system that “maximised the conscience/consciousness and responsibility of each person.” Although this became smudged in later versions, the final document nevertheless abounds with references to the need to promote awareness (conscience) and responsibility (responsabilité). At one level, this was clearly an attempt to rehabilitate the Sillon, which had been “condemned” by Pius X. It was also a coded manner of introducing the concept of “democracy” into the conciliar documents, a word which otherwise does not appear.

In this context, it is important to note that the “see-judge-act” triptych and the “conscience/responsabilité” binomial comprised the two sides of a single equation. In fact, the method that later became known as the SJA was originally developed by the Sillon as their own “method of democratic education” for forming conscious and responsible citizens prior to its adoption and development by Cardijn for the JOC.

Although Cardijn himself was largely marginalised, including by Suenens, as the Council got under way, his suggestions were carried into the Council by various Jocist bishops, particularly those linked to the Church of the Poor group, the Latin Americans, etc. In this sense, it is highly ironic that Suenens has gained almost exclusive historical credit for Vatican II’s eventual twin focus on Church and world.

During the Council itself, Cardijn continued to defend and promote his conception of the specifically lay apostolate” to transform one’s life, milieu and the world, acting from within like “leaven in the dough.” This was taken up in Lumen Gentium and expressed in terms much closer to those of Cardijn himself in Apostolicam Actuositatem as the “proper and indispensable mission” of the laity and in Ad Gentes as the lay apostolate that will “permeate the whole of society with the spirit of the Gospel.”

Conclusion: Towards a “Cardijn hermeneutic”

Taken together, these concepts provide the basis of a “Cardijn hermeneutic” for understanding the historical development of the Council as well for its implementation.

Stefan Gigacz