Sillon: The Furrow Re-born? Print
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 04 April 2007 07:29
Francois Bayrou is heir of a historic "liberal" Catholic tradition in France. His father was associated with movements who were the heirs of one of the earliest lay movements, the famous Sillon ("Furrow") movement founded by Marc Sangnier in 1894.

(This is a picture of Marc Sangnier working in the Sillon office)

Encouraged by Rerum Novarum, the landmark encyclical by Leo XIII, Sillon
established Study Circles for young workers and students to apply the church's teaching and build democracy in France. Peter Maurin, who would later found the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day, was part of the Sillon movement in the early days.

Starting in 1906, Sillon became politically involved which led to conflict with the Church. Although Sillon was reorganized to try and meet the concerns of the French hierarchy, it wasn't enough.
Pope Pius X wrote a letter to the French bishops, Notre Charge Apostolique, which condemned the Sillonnist conception of democracy, and called for resignation of leaders and episcopal control. Faithful to the Church, Marc Sangnier and the sillonnists closed down the movement.

80 years later, Pope John Paul II described the Church's response to different understandings of democracy:

"The Catholic acceptance of democracy becomes more convinced and open-armed, and this also, of course, implies the more precise delimitation of the positive side of democracy, which is chosen over against the negative and relativist meaning of democracy. To be sure, the right of being guided politically, in a participatory way, does not originate at all from an uncertainty about truth, and therefore from a leveling of all opinions as if they shared equal value. It originates, rather, from a specific dignity of the human person, who, to perceive the common action as his own and to grow through it, needs to be guided by an authority which gives reasons for its actions and which solicits the assent of those subordinated to itself."

After Marc Sangnier's death on Pentecost Sunday 1950, his wife Rénée received this remarkable testimony from, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, then Nuncio of the Holy See in Paris:

"I first heard Marc Sangnier speak at a meeting of Catholic youth in 1903 or 1904. The wonderful charm of his words and soul exhilarated me. The most vibrant memory of my whole young priesthood is of his personality as well as his political and social action.

His noble and frank humility in accepting late in 1910 the admonishment of saintly Pope Pius X - as affectionate and benevolent as it was - was to my mind the true measure of his greatness.

Souls like his with such a capacity to remain faithful and respectful to both the Gospel and the Holy Church are destined for the highest ascents which ensure glory: the glory of Christ who knows how to exalt the humble, even the glory of the present life before his contemporaries and posterity for whom the example of Marc Sangnier will remain as an example and as an encouragement."

Of course, Roncalli would eventually be known as Blessed John XXIII.