For many years I have been wondering about and looking for the source(s) of the Sillon definition of democracy as the system of social organisation that tends to maximise the conscience/consciousness and the responsibility of each person. Just as Cardijn’s see judge act has many roots, as I have indicated in other posts on this blog, the Sillon definition surely did not emerge from thin air. From where, then?
Finally, I think I have located a source, if not the source. As the saying goes, the fruit does not fall far from the tree.. so let’s look for the tree. In the case of the Sillon, it’s well established that the inductive philosophy of Alphonse Gratry was a very significant influence, as it was for Cardijn and the whole founder generation of the JOC and the movements of specialised Catholic Action.
It makes sense then to look at Gratry’s own intellectual master, the French philosopher and theologian, Louis Bautain, who in 1849 became vicar-general of the archdiocese of Paris under Archbishop Sibour. Four years later in 1853, he became professor of moral theology at the Sorbonne, where Gratry also taught philosophy and theology.
Prior to coming to Paris, the previous archbishop Mgr Denis-Auguste Affre had invited him to give a series of lectures at Notre Dame Cathedral at the beginning of 1848, just before and after the outbreak of the Worker Revolution of that year. These lectures took up the theme of religion and freedom (La religion et la liberté).
In these lectures, Bautain already addresses the need to form citizens in the exercise of their (new found) freedom (p. 186) :
En formant des chrétiens, l’Église prépare de la meilleure manière de bons citoyens. En apprenant à ses enfants à bien exercer leur liberté morale, à devenir libres moralement et selon la loi de Dieu, elle les forme le plus efficacement à la liberté civile, et les rend capables d’être libres politiquement au milieu des sociétés humaines.
Il nous reste à considérer les conséquences nécessaires de l’acte moral. Nous en avons expliqué la formation, et les éléments qui le constituent. Nous avons dit ensuite ce qui caractérise l’acte comme moral ou immoral, et ce qui fait qu’une action est bonne ou mauvaise. Nous allons voir maintenant sommairement ce qui sort de l’acte moral accompli, à savoir: 1° la responsabilité; 2° le mérite ou le démérite; 3° la vertu ou le vice ; 4° le bonheur ou le malheur.
Être responsable, c’est rendre compte de l’acte commis, et en subir les conséquences.
To be responsible is to be accountable for the act committed and to submit to the consequences.
Evidently, there’s much more to be said about this (and Bautain writes 444 pages on it!) but it’s not difficult to see how the Sillon with its democratic virtue ethic would have drawn on Bautain.
Certainly, Cardijn often referred to conscience/consciousness and responsibility in his writings, going back to his welcome to Marc Sangnier in 1921 right up to his Vatican II speech on religious freedom, where he presented the see judge act method as a means of forming conscious and responsible young people.