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Published in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 82, No. 326 (Summer, 1993), pp. 140-147


At the present time in France, organized religion has largely lost its popular appeal. A centuries-old tradition of secularism has replaced God in the hearts of many. It is not therefore surprising that the 'Catholic novel' in its best-known form that of the thirties, when Bernanos and Mauriac wrote their greatest novels is no longer being written by contemporary novelists. That sort of novel simply does not reflect the current spiritual crisis in French society. But there are some writers, and Jean Sulivan (1913-1980 is a600g them, who do portray the human need of and quest for a divine presence in life. Sulivan, however, seeks this for the most part outside the beaten paths of the institutional Church. Indeed, in his thought the Church is but one medium a600g many which people use in their quest for the Absolute. The move away from institutional religion in France does not necessarily imply a lowering in spiritual fervour. It means that the emphasis and approach have altered. Jean Sulivan is a French 'writer-priest' but he does not seek to propose an apologia for the Catholic religion. Since Vatican II the Catholic Church has undergone an upheaval. The change of the liturgy from Latin to the vernacular, the stated commitment to social justice and ecumenism, the loosening of the restrictions pertaining to clerical dress and behaviour, the emphasis on the informed 'individual conscience', have all served to change the nature of Catholicism. For a writer like Sulivan, the real changes were of an inner order, brought about when the 600olithic magisterium of the Catholic theological tradition finally began opening itself to the many changes of the modern world, allowing him and many like him to opt for a personal and somewhat unusual vocation.