The collaboration/resistance divide in France could be porous, as the many examples of collabo-resistance illustrate. Double-jeu, duplicity, was the coin of the realm. One revealing indicator is that Vichy France, while de facto a subaltern ally of Hitler, de jure remained in a state of war with Nazi Germany.
The two women and one Jesuit discussed in this session, demonstrate how religious commitments may further complicate this problematic. French Catholicism had long been engaged in resistance — but against a very different opponent. On the eve of the Second World War, fiercely opposed to the state’s aggressive laïcité, some Catholics preferred the Third Reich in Germany to the Third Republic in France. Thus, the natural instinct of such faithful was support for Marshall Philippe Pétain’s policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany.
Yet a spiritual resistance to Nazism, nurtured among French Jesuits by Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), did emerge. This abandoned the obsession with restoring the confessional ancien regime. Instead, it proposed transcending old battles against the Republic through an alternative, a collective spiritual mobilization beyond secular politico-centricity. It drew upon the resources of the Church’s intellectual arsenal — e.g. aspects of theology, ecclesiastical structure, and biblical scholarship — reformulated to meet new challenges. However, since the church of both de Lubac and Pétain was ultimately the same, the new vision could not break sharply with the past. Consequently, both demonstrated significant political similarities, as SARAH SHORTALL’s paper discussing the Jesuit journal of resistance, Témoignage chrétien, (Christian Witness) reveals.
Through the scholar of Cistercian monasticism, Marie Magdeleine Davy (1903-98), BRENNA MOORE addresses a more forceful resource for resistance, mysticism and comparative religion. During the war, Davy sheltered and organized the escape of Allied aviators downed in France even as her scholarship attacked the fantasy of the so-called West, a pure white Christian Europe, propagated by the highly influential Henri Massis. Davy herself acknowledged how her immersion in the texts of medieval Christian mysticism had sustained her rejection of Vichy.
Simone Weil (1909-43), another philosopher-mystic, clandestinely distributed Témoignage chrétien and knew Davy, but her trajectory diverged from both, according to BENJAMIN BRAUDE. She came under the influence of antimodernist acolytes of Massis and the monarchist antisemite Charles Maurras, who illegally fashioned elements of her posthumous oeuvre into a Trojan horse insinuating neo-Pétainism into France at mid-century. Weil’s tortured political-religious behavior during the war and her post-war legacy accentuate the porousness of the divide between opposing and supporting Vichy.
Annual meetings of the American Historical Association and the American Catholic Historical Association (Jan. 2022)
Panel: Religion, Collaboration, and Resistance during the Second World War
Chair: Charles Gallagher, S.J., Boston College
“The Weapons of the Spirit: Catholic Theology and the Resistance to Nazism in France”
— Sarah Shortall, University of Notre Dame
“Mysticism and Resistance: The Case of Marie-Magdeleine Davy”
— Brenna Moore, Fordham University
“The Collabo-Resistance of Simone Weil”
— Benjamin Braude, Boston College
Bernard M. J. Wasserstein, University of Chicago