See, judge, act… with the Laymen’s League of New York

As I have written elsewhere, the see-judge-act has a range of historical precedents reaching back (at least) to Aristotle’s analysis of the way in which Athens political leaders made decisions. I’ve started to compile some of them here at www.seejudgeact.org.

But this weekend I found a new one from (of all places) the Laymen’s League of the City of New York, a group founded in 1911 for the purpose of promoting a “militant lay apostolate” through the establishment of “Social Study Groups,” as reported by Our Sunday Visitor on 1 May 1921.

Here’s how they described their aims as outlined in a 1921 National Catholic Welfare Commission news report:

The ideal of the Laymen’s League is the establishment of militant lay apostolate through the practice of annual spiritual retreats and the training of a corps of competent writers and lecturers who will spread a sound knowledge of social facts, and of Christian principles in the light of which these facts may be interpreted and their problems find adequate solution.

 The League is clearly promoting a three-fold method based on:

a) Spreading sound knowledge of social facts

b) Spreading sound knowledge of Christian principles for interpreting those facts; and

c) Finding adequate solutions (to the problems identified).

Very close to what Cardijn and the JOC would later call the see-judge-act method! 

But note that the foundation dates from 1911 and that the news report is from 1921. This is well before Cardijn’s Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC) had yet adopted that name (1924) and the embryonic movement had certainly not spread beyond Belgium.

Nor did the expression “see, judge, act” come into existence until later (around 1926).

In other words, Cardijn and the JOC were clearly not the source of the Laymen’s League’s method. So where did it come from?

The clue, I think, is in the formulation used: facts-principles-solutions.

This is very close if not the same as the formulation adopted by Victoire Cappe, who worked closely with Cardijn at the early beginnings of the JOC in the parish of Notre Dame, Laeken from Easter 1912.

In a speech on “Le salaire féminin” (Women’s wages) delivered at the Semaine Sociale féminine (Women’s Social Week) in Brussels on 24 April 1911, Cappe divided her presentation into three parts:

a) Faits (Facts)

b) Principes (Principles), and

c) Remèdes (Remedies or Solutions).

In other words, Victoire Cappe and the Laymen’s League are both using the same formulation. What’s more the dates of Cappe’s speech and the foundation of the League also correspond, i.e. 1911.

Also significant here is the fact that the League was promoting “Social study groups” that also closely correspond to the “Cercles d’étude” (study circles) that were also proliferating in Europe at that time, particularly in the wake of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

This suggests that they were both drawing on common sources.

Now, it’s already well-documented that Victoire Cappe had been trained in the methods of Marc Sangnier’s democratic, Le Sillon movement.

The Sillon had also practised an early form of the see-judge-act (without using the expression) as its “method of democratic education,” the aim of which was to maximise the consciousness and responsibility of each citizen in its own “cercles d’étude.”

The Sillon had in fact closed down only a few months earlier following Pope Pius X’s letter to the French bishops of 25 August 1910. So it’s possible there is a link between the Laymen’s League and the Sillon.

More generally, though, the facts-principles-solutions formulation is also closely associated with the pioneering French sociologist, Frédéric Le Play’s “méthode d’observation sociale” (social observation method), on whose work the Sillon also drew.

By 1911, there were many groups in France and Belgium (at least) that followed one or another variant of these methods.

Exactly, how the Laymen’s League of New York City came to adopt it would certainly provide abundant interest if not material for another valuable historical investigation.

REFERENCES

Laymen’s League to extend its work (National Catholic Welfare Commission News Sheet, 28/03/2021) (Catholic News Archive)

Bureau of Information (Our Sunday Visitor, 1/5/1921) (Catholic News Archive)

See judge act

Stefan Gigacz, Facts, principles, solutions: Victoire Cappe 1911 (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Lamennais, Le Sillon and the JOC (The Leaven in the Council)

Victoire Cappe, Le salaire féminin (victoirecappe.com)

Le Sillon