Rorate Caeli

Notre Charge Apostolique
I - What was the Sillon?

In another step of our celebration of the centennial of the epic orthodox struggle of Pope Saint Pius X, we now begin a month of commemoration of the 100th anniversary of one of his most incisive documents, the Encyclical Letter Notre Charge Apostolique, signed on August 25, 1910.

Pope Sarto sent this letter, filled with lessons to all Catholics of our age, to the Bishops of France, dealing with a particularly insidious movement, the Sillon. The Pope was here dealing not with the abstract notion of Modernism and of "the Modernist", as he had done in Pascendi, but with a very practical problem: a Modernist movement, growing within the Church in France, disguised in the most attractive manner, and with the most dangerous intentions.

What was the Sillon? The Catholic Encyclopedia explains its idealist origins and its first years, as part of the movement of Catholic Congresses:

About the close of the nineteenth century Marc Sangnier and some of his friends founded the society called the "Sillon" (the Furrow). Convinced that in future democracy, which they took as their ideal, would rule the State and society, and desiring to prevent its degeneration under bad and godless leaders, while hoping to keep it from turning against the Church, these young men resolved to build up a democratic constituency of high-minded Christians devoted to the Church and well-informed on political and social questions. The idealism characteristic of the "Sillon" has gained for it the respect of the working-classes. In the beginning the tendencies of the society were not clear, as was shown in the first four general meetings: Paris, 1902; Tours, 1903; Lyons, 1904; Paris, 1905. More definiteness of plan was evident at the later gatherings, Paris, 1906; Orléans, 1907; and especially at Paris, 1908, giving promise that the "Sillon" would develop into a socio-political party taking an active part in national politics. This explains why it asserted its independence of the bishops and intention always to support any political measure that may aid in improving the condition of the working-classes, and especially all efforts aiming at thorough social regeneration and a genuinely democratic form of society and government. Only in this way, it is held, will the workman be able to obtain an equal share of the material, intellectual, and moral possessions belonging to the whole nation. Collectivism is absolutely rejected by the association. The growth of the "Sillon" into an independent socio-political party, its refusal to be "avant tout catholique" [Catholic in the first place] aroused the distrust of some of the bishops. Consequently the clergy held back from it. Nevertheless, the membership did not fall off. The first congress represented 45 members; the second, 300; the third, 800; the fourth, 1100; the fifth, 1500; the sixth, 1896. The "Fédération gymnastique et sportive des patronages catholiquesde France" intended to aid all Catholic societies in honour of a local saint by arranging sports for the members of the patronage has held annual meetings since 1898 when the federation began in a union of 13 patronages; the number is now 450, representing 50,000 young people in all parts of France.
It was, therefore, a full part of the general ralliement, encouraged by Pope Leo XIII, which was met, not with Republican openness, but with an all-out attack on the Church which would ultimately lead to the Law of 1905. Pope Saint Pius X recalled:

This[the foundation of the movement] was shortly after Our Predecessor Leo XIII of happy memory had issued his remarkable Encyclical on the condition of the working class [Rerum Novarum]. Speaking through her supreme leader, the Church had just poured out of the tenderness of her motherly love over the humble and the lowly, and it looked as though she was calling out for an ever growing number of people to labor for the restoration of order and justice in our uneasy society.

Was it not opportune, then, for the leaders of the Sillon to come forward and place at the service of the Church their troops of young believers who could fulfill her wishes and her hopes? And, in fact, the Sillon did raise among the workers the standard of Jesus Christ, the symbol of salvation for peoples and nations. Nourishing its social action at the fountain of divine grace, it did impose a respect for religion upon the least willing groups, accustoming the ignorant and the impious to hearing the Word of God. And, not seldom, during public debates, stung by a question, or sarcasm, you saw them jumping to their feet and proudly proclaiming their faith in the face of a hostile audience. This was the heyday of the Sillon; its brighter side accounts for the encouragement, and tokens of approval, which the bishops and the Holy See gave liberally when this religious fervor was still obscuring the true nature of the Sillonist movement.
[To be continued.]


  1. It is a great shame that the ideals of the Sillon triumphed at Vatican II. We must "restore all things in Christ"!

  2. Here are two good articles that make mention of the Sillon from the now-defunct Seattle Catholic.

    Lamennais, Rousseau, and the New Catholic Order by Dr. John C. Rao

    And here is valuable information about the Sillon movement from Carrie Tomko who died in April 2009.

    Carrie's blogging mission was to investigate masonic movements and associated currents and to consider whether they had any impact on catholic thinking. As far as I know hers was the lone voice crying in the wilderness about the scandal of von Balthasar endorsing a book called 'Meditations on the Tarot'.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!