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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Controversy Surrounding the Use of the French Language at the Eucharistic Congress of Montreal [1910]

Catholicism and the French Language
Henri Bourassa

The Catholic Church, precisely because it is Catholic, is not and will never be the Church of an epoch, of a country or a nation.

Across the ages, the Church has worked ceaselessly to defend its independence against the tyranny of kings and its catholic faith against the prejudices of peoples.

In our days it has resisted Gallicanism and Anglicanism. But if the Church can not be the property of a race or a nation, it recognizes them all, respects and protects them equally-the victorious and the vanquished, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor.

In all times and in all countries the Church gives lead to the traditions, the language, the national aspirations of the peoples who obey its laws. To their needs it adjusts its hierarchy, its parish organization, its rites and its discipline.

In America as in Asia, and in Europe under Pius X as under St. Peter, in the times of Mgr. Sbarretti as in the days of St. Paul, the apostolic and Roman Catholic Church can be neither French nor English.

Neither can it enslave one race to another.

To tie the cause of the Church to that of the French race and language in Canada would be an error.

To make the Church an instrument of Anglo-Saxon assimilation would be equally absurd and odious. . . .

Without doubt, I repeat, the fate of Catholic beliefs in Canada is not tied more than elsewhere to the preservation of a language or a race.

It is not less true that among many French Canadians the preservation of the faith depends, to the extent that these natural means aid the action of Divine Grace, on the maintenance of the national language and traditions.

Of this the Irish of America are a striking example.

The number of the descendants of Irish Catholics who have lost the faith of their fathers is estimated to be close to 15 million.

Is it not true that the use of the English language, because it facilitates the entry of the Irish into Anglo-Protestant environments, is the prime and principle cause of this frightful breach in the ranks of the Church?

Is it not equally true that cases of apostasy are extremely rare among the French Canadians, who have preserved their language and their national tradition?

Not long ago the Church renewed its regulations against mixed marriages; She has multiplied the obstacles to what She regards as the principle cause of the loss of faith in America.

The bishops of Canada have added solemn warnings to these regulations.

Now in which circles do these marriages occur if not those in which the English language brings together Protestants and Catholics in the intimacy of the home and in worldly relations?

There are fewer mixed marriages among French Canadians than fifty years ago.

And would it be so, despite the wise regulations of the Church, if the French Canadians would lose the use of their language and in a body enter into the assimilationist movement of the Church Extension favored in a discrete but clear fashion, by Mgr. Sbarretti? . . .

But, it is said, Canada is English territory. North America is Anglo-Saxon, by language and institutions. Everywhere the Latin races are declining. France persecutes the Church. Spain is preparing to do the same. Italy has despoiled the Holy See. In contrast England is giving asylum to monks driven from Catholic countries. Who knows if a converted England, mistress of the seas, and rich and powerful United States, will not become the pillars and the torches of the Catholic Church?

Without doubt the future of peoples is in the hands of God.

But in the meantime, I note that impious and weakened France still produces more missionaries and conquerors of souls than the whole of the British Empire and the rich American republic put together.

But in the meantime, I note that in America the little province of Quebec furnishes more priests, more missionaries, more nuns, more colleges, more hospitals, more convents, in a word, supplies more centres of faith and self-denial than the rest of Catholic Canada.

And before snuffing this flame, it would perhaps be prudent to allow the other fires to burn with a much more intense brilliance.

Nevertheless in those who wish to put Catholicism at the service of the strongest, richest and most numerous . . . , I no longer recognize the doctrine and conduct of He who said "my Kingdom is not of the World".

If I believe what was taught me about the public law of the Church, the most perfect society is one where the political and social organization is most harmoniously united with the constitution and the laws of the Church.

America is in essence the domain of absolute separation of the Church and State.

The province of Quebec, alone by its origin, by its traditions, by the strength of treaties, by its political constitution, by its organization of parish and diocese has preserved some elements of the old social state-without the abuse of Caesarism of Louis XIV and the Gallican and Jansenist parliaments.

Unless the Syllabus and the teachings of the Popes are nothing more than ancient legends-and the most ardent of Anglicisers hesitate to uphold this thesis -it seems to me desirable to preserve in Canada and America this home of social Catholicism, which casts its rays from the banks of the gulf of St. Lawrence to the summits of the Rockies, which shines its light on all Catholic groups of New England, New York, Michigan up to the borders of Oregon.

If it pleases God to extinguish it, His Providence will provide for it. But men called to the Catholic apostolate, enlightened and warmed by this torch which has already burnt for three centuries, have other and better things to do than to dull its brilliance, even to please the powerful of the world and to disarm the hatred of those who hate the Church all the more for being stronger and more full of life.

Source: Henri BOURASSA, Le Devoir, July 20, 1910. From Joseph LEVITT, Henri Bourassa on Imperialism and Bi-culturalism, 1900-1918, Toronto, Copp Clark, 1970, 183p., pp. 125-127