Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Paris Tragedy
Legionário, No. 479, November 16, 1941
A few days ago, Havas (HTM), the Vichy government’s unofficial news agency issued a cable reporting on the present situation in Paris. After the catastrophe, a heavy and somber silence has fallen upon the French capital. And many in Brazil are anguished and bitter thinking of what might be happening in that city of which Brazilians are so fond.
Accordingly, Legionário will now emphasize the main points of that telegram, all the more trustworthy as it comes from a news agency which has been painting France’s plight with the rosiest colors that reality permits.
This is neither the place nor the time to make a case against French culture. It is true that we have received from France many seeds of corruption and impiety. Allow us, however, to narrate a significant episode in this regard. Once, a most distinguished Brazilian bishop was present at a dinner of French prelates. During the meal, our virtuous and eminent patrician engaged a conversation with a neighboring bishop to whom he communicated his sorrow for the wave of immorality and skepticism coming to us from France.
With that courteous refinement that characterizes the spirit of his land and people, the French prelate answered: “It is certain that France exports many deplorable things, but who orders them? Is it not perhaps the foreign nations?” Indeed, nineteenth-century France, for example, not only produced a monster like Gambetta, an impious man like Renan, or frivolous actresses such as those that scandalized world travelers in Montmartre’s nightclubs. France also produced a Louis Veuillot, a Frederic Ozanam, a Montalembert, a Lacordaire, and a rose of purity and innocence such as St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Who is to blame if all mankind quenches its thirst in dens of corruption or works of apostates rather than in the fountains of talent and holiness which have never gone dry in French lands? France alone?
Who could dare say, for example, that only Germany is to blame as people in so many countries around the world begin to imitate Mr. Hitler? Who does not understand that Mr. Hitler is not Germany, that there is a Germany heroic even unto martyrdom, faithful to Christ even in the greatest sacrifices, a Germany of Cardinal Falhauber and Theresa Neumann, who the contemporary world does not imitate because it abhors good and loves evil?
* * *
All this said, there is no doubt that Paris has committed serious sins and suffers immense punishment. For a long time the capital of France, the eldest daughter of the Church has been the author of endless scandals. It surrounded herself with lights and was called the City of Lights. It was filled with profane joys and was named the world metropolis of joy. In its museums, intellectual circles and art galleries it revered not only the truth, beauty and good but put its talents at the service of error, evil and ignominy. For this reason, an apocalyptic catastrophe has fallen upon it. The lights of the City of Lights are off. The joyous songs of its always cheerful people have silenced. Its schools, museums, galleries are deserted. Some argue that criminal hands have begun to disperse its treasures accumulated over centuries... The Parisian flair has been muted. Point by point, the ruin in which Paris finds itself is reminiscent of the narration, in the Old Testament, of the great misfortunes that fell upon Jerusalem when it violated its duties.
How many ‘prophets’ have now flocked to the bedside of this great agony! Most of them put on the painful feelings of Jeremiah only to more easily to reproach France and justify the Nazi occupation. They are wolves assuming the airs of sheep...
This will not be our attitude. While recognizing (with the sadness with which the prophets recognized the guilt of Jerusalem) that Paris is far from being an innocent city, we comment on its fall with a heart heavy with bitterness. Indeed, Paris had an historical mission in Christendom. And we should mourn its downfall like the prophets mourned the destruction of Jerusalem, while showing through our tears the hopes and desires of its resurrection.
If the disgrace of Paris was deserved, let us worship and kiss the Divine Hand that allowed that punishment. Let us not, however, exculpate those to whom that great misfortune is due. Indeed, believing in the designs of Providence in no way justifies, excuses or mitigates the serious violation of the laws of international morality that the demise of Paris represents.
* * *
To what has been reduced that great and beloved city, a city all the greater the more it prostrates under the purifying blows of suffering?
“HTM” begins by stating that “the city is less sad and the atmosphere less heavy.” Further on it assures that “food supplies are improving a little. Meat cards entitle people to purchase this food, unseen for a long time.
“But in any case, the misery is so great that the authorities are considering giving garbage collector credentials to those who rummage through garbage cans every morning. Competition from amateurs has reached such a point that the old practitioners of this new craft have decided to organize as a corporation.” Later the Havas news agency says, “in the gardens of Paris, potatoes are being dug up and the last beans harvested. The mayor of Paris has just forbidden shop windows to display more than ten pairs of shoes per square meter” as “it was useless to tempt prospective buyers for whom the shoe problem appears increasingly distressing.”
Indeed, a few lines down the report clarifies that “it causes wonder” to see numerous Parisian ladies are still not wearing wooden-soled shoes. It also causes wonder that they “still walk around with silk stockings.” As for sadness, this passage is typical: “The French seem tired of going out at night and especially of being forced to return home on foot. Theaters are staging old repertory pieces or replaying successes of the last season.” Apparently, even ancient ornaments stored at the bottom of chests and trunks are becoming rarer. Indeed, “hats are naturally different than they were six months ago. One no longer sees veils; there are fewer multicolored birds, fewer scarves waving in the wind…” Sad and poor leftovers from past fashions…
Who does not see the enormity of this punishment? Paris, with its artistic gardens transformed into coarse orchards already devastated by hungry inhabitants; Paris with dark streets at night, no traffic and no means of locomotion; Paris, whose inhabitants grew up in the shadow of castles and palaces and assiduously frequented most sumptuous restaurants and now rummage through garbage cans in "amateur ranks"; Paris whose women begin to wear clogs (any wood-soled shoe is nothing but a disguised clog); Paris, the city of latest fashions which now exhumes from the bottom of its drawers the lace and feathers of old times to preserve a bit of elegance and a small smile even in misfortune: this is Paris, wounded by God’s hand.
But if God thus punishes this city, what punishment this means for Christendom as a whole! Today the former capital of the Most Christian Kings has been taken over by the troops of neo-paganism! From heaven, what will Saint Louis and Saint Joan of Arc have to say?
At this time of disgrace, let us not curse Paris, let us not applaud those who oppress it, let us not become accomplices of those who desolate it. Let us pray for Paris. And if a converted city is reborn from the ashes of this terrible penance, what else could we wish for France, which is and will always be the Eldest Daughter of the Church?