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Monday, June 17, 2024

The Militant Message of the Museum of Cholet: A Guide to a Truly Catholic “Discernment”

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The Militant Message of the Museum of Cholet: A Guide to a Truly Catholic “Discernment”

Editor's Note: After this year's Pilgrimage to Chartres, it was my pleasure to lead our Remnant Tours' group down into the Vendee in Western France. This was the setting for a series of lectures by the late, great Michael Davies on the Catholic uprising of the original Traditional Catholics against the French Revolution -- a series that eventually became the 1997 book, "For Altar and Throne" (Remnant Press). I was very pleased to have Dr. John Rao present another couple of lectures on the Vendee during The Remnant's tour this year. It was also quite gratifying to see how our French allies have expanded and improved the Vendee experience since Michael Davies and I visited the region almost twenty years ago. They are literally bringing the Vendee back to life for millions of tourists from all around the world who visit the sites and shrines of this important Catholic resistance movement. I was particularly delighted to revisit the Puy du Fou -- a sort of Catholic Disneyland which features dramatic outdoor spectacles that tell the history of Christianity in France, including and especially the uprising in the Vendee. Our visit to the museum of Cholet was another highlight of The Remnant pilgrimage, and I'm grateful to John Rao for the following reflection on that experience, yet another magnificently successful effort to recall to life the great Catholic spirit of the Vendee -- a spirit that animates the Traditional Catholic movement all throughout the world today. MJM 

Unfortunately, not all of the portraits of the generals of the Grand Royal and Catholic Army are to be found in the museum of Cholet, a town of crucial importance to the history of the Vendée Militaire—the name given to the counterrevolutionary uprising in the west of France that lasted from 1793 to 1799. Nevertheless, those of Generals Cathelineau, d’Elbée, la Rochejaquelein, Bonchamps, Charette, Lescure, and the Prince of Talmont are indeed gloriously on display in a prominent, centrally located, circular room. I spent all of my time in that space when the Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage chapter stopped in the Museum of Cholet as part of The Remnant’s post-Chartres tour, which this year paid homage to the Vendée’s revolt against the newly founded anti-Catholic French Republic. The reason for the lengthy stay was to soak up the generals’ spirit in making a decision about what project I should undertake next.

Remnant Tours Cholet GRemnant Tours views the exhibit at Cholet which tells the stories of the heroic generals of the Vendee uprising. 

That decision was significant to me because at 73 years of age any long term task I tackle could very well be the last one, and I needed to make sure that it would not be the pointless waste of energy and time that the word “academic” often all too justly signifies. “Always go ask the best,” my extremely wise and humble father used to say whenever I wondered how I was supposed to deal with a problem regarding which he himself had no serious experience. Given the fact that the forces of evil that we are battling against today are of the same character as the ones these generals confronted, there was no doubt in my mind that they were among “the best”: and not just for me to consult, but for all of us, and with an even greater sense of urgency than their contemporaries in the 1790s.

For the monstrous assault on the supernatural Catholic Faith incarnated by the revolutionary Enlightenment naturalism that these generals so heroically opposed has now reached the point of also squeezing the last pathetic drops of natural absurdity out of its fundamental dogmas: a consequence that its earliest critics saw was both totally predictable and absolutely inevitable from the beginning of its diabolically disorienting march straight to hell. Its dogmas have finally succeeded in our day in destroying all of that ancient rational discourse regarding Truth, Goodness, and Beauty that always desperately needed the aid of Revelation and Grace for men to take really seriously and put into practice as well. Their criminal word merchant propagandists have now rendered language useless for supporting all logical thought whatsoever. Revolutionary Enlightenment naturalism has now perfected its reign of criminal ideology, criminal behavior, and unrelenting criminal ugliness, driving all of its self-destructive supporters stark raving mad in the process. 

The Vendée Militaire, while the most dramatic early opposition to the modern march to hell, was not the only one. People throughout wide areas of revolutionary Europe instinctively rose up against the promoters of a supposedly democratic-minded “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, and for the same reasons as the martyred population of the west of France.

Worse still, it has made these criminal madmen determined to work harder than ever before either to demoralize and plunge sane Catholics into their nihilist abyss along with them or, if incapable of seducing believers, to eliminate them as deplorable non-human rubbish. In other words, their genocidal fury is now aimed not just at the faithful in a restricted region like the Vendée, whose population they deliberately sought to obliterate in 1794, but at the faithful in the globe at large.

What that clearly means is that all of us, universally, whether we like it or not, have an unavoidable responsibility—each according to his own talents and in line with the duties of his own particular state in life,—to dedicate ourselves to the militant battle against the same criminal and homicidal fury with which the Vendée generals and their followers first came to grips, but now in its last and most destructive stage of worldwide infernal action. We all have an unavoidable responsibility not to waste our time as they did not waste theirs; an unavoidable responsibility, as Charette said, to vaincre ou mourir; to win, or to die. 

Charette CholetA statue of General Charette near the area depicts the moment he stood before the firing squad at his execution and famously cried: "Aim here! Here is where you must shoot to kill a brave man!"

My silent dialogue with the generals in the Museum of Cholet reminded me of something else of great importance to the militant decision making demanded of all of us today: the fact that the Vendée Militaire, while the most dramatic early opposition to the modern march to hell, was not the only one. People throughout wide areas of revolutionary Europe instinctively rose up against the promoters of a supposedly democratic-minded “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, and for the same reasons as the martyred population of the west of France. They all clearly “discerned” that these sweet-sounding slogans covered up a monstrous fraud; that they benefited only that oligarchy moved by mixed and even contradictory criminal motives that dominates us more thoroughly, arrogantly, and thickheadedly than ever in our troubled age.

One of these Catholic-inspired revolts already started to brew in the Hapsburg controlled southern Lowlands just before the French Revolution. It emerged in response to a massive Enlightenment-inspired assault on the Church, Tradition, and the principle of subsidiarity undertaken by the Emperor Joseph II (1765-1790) beginning at the time of his co-rule with his mother, Maria Teresa (1740-1780). Let it suffice for the moment to say that one “minor” example of the “progressive” mentality inspiring the faithful’s rage was Joseph’s confiscation of “pointless” Catholic books, which were then reduced to pulp to serve as foundation materials for truly “useful” government buildings. Spilling over into violence by 1789, the so-called Brabant Revolution continued throughout the 1790s.

A second shared feature of such uprisings was the strength given them by a spiritually awakened population. All of the regions in which they erupted had been influenced by the labors of domestic missionaries who had engaged in serious catechetical work with them, leaving their imprint long beyond the last of their regular visits.

Italy—which also suffered under naturalist Enlightenment reforms imposed from the mid 1700s onwards in those states under Hapsburg and Bourbon control—experienced a tidal wave of violent anti-revolutionary revolts after the French invasions of the peninsula began in 1796. These uprisings (insorgenze) included, most importantly, those of the Massa Cristiana in Piedmont, the Pasque Veronesi in the Veneto, the Viva Maria in Tuscany and the Papal States, and the Sanfedisti in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. They were repeated throughout the Napoleonic period with each further wave of anti-Catholic and anti-Traditional measures. Professor Massimo Viglione has written two excellent books covering them in detail that I would love to have the time to translate: La "Vandea italiana" (The Italian Vendée, Effedieffe, 1995) and Le insorgenze. Rivoluzione e controrivoluzione in Italia (The Insurgencies. Revolution and Counterrevolution in Italy, Ares, 1999). 

Revolts in Spain against the Napoleonic spread of basic revolutionary changes, beginning with the Dos de Mayos uprising in Madrid in 1808, certainly did include distinctly Catholic-minded forces, but the Spanish story is a rather complex one. Much more clearly in line with the spirit of the Cholet generals was the reaction of the population in the Austrian Tyrol. The provincial authorities in this region, stirred by men like the Capuchin priest, Fr. Albert Comployer, steadfastly opposed the threatened French invasion in the later 1790s as destined to promote an Enlightenment assault on the Faith even more thorough than that launched by Joseph II. In 1809, when Napoleon’s Bavarian allies who had taken control of the Tyrol initiated many new anti-religious measures, Andreas Hofer (1767-1810), an innkeeper and drover, roused 18,000 Tyroleans in the defense of their Catholic faith and traditional local autonomy.

If the generals of the west of France had known of these various foreign “Vendées”, they would have immediately seen that they all shared with their own rebellion three specific elements, the first of which was a deep spirit of fraternal solidarity. Everywhere these uprisings took place, clergy, nobles, merchants, and peasants recognized and nurtured their sense of a common brotherhood overflowing into commitment to their militant cause. Different levels of education and highly diverse vocations in life meant nothing compared to what united them as Catholics and as compatriots, a reality reflected both in the easy camaraderie of officers and men in camp and on the battlefield, as well as in their ready willingness to listen and learn from one another.

Sacred Heart and Marian devotions were central to the general counterrevolutionary spirit.

A second shared feature of such uprisings was the strength given them by a spiritually awakened population. All of the regions in which they erupted had been influenced by the labors of domestic missionaries who had engaged in serious catechetical work with them, leaving their imprint long beyond the last of their regular visits. Jesuits (before their dissolution in the years between 1759 and 1773) and Capuchins, along with the Company of Mary of St. Louis Grignon de Montfort (1673-1716)) and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) of St. Alphonso Liguori (1696-1787), also instilled in them a profound, popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is absolutely no way to overestimate the role that this devotion played in supporting each and every one of these first counterrevolutionary outbursts; a role which it has continued to play throughout the nineteenth century and down to our own time.

Vendee Badge pinningThe Vendeans had only one item as their uniform: a badge of the Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart and Marian devotions were central to the general counterrevolutionary spirit also because of the third unifying element in the Catholic resistance: the possession of spokesmen who could explain the connection of the doctrines of the Faith with their consequences for the social order, and therefore also the totally fraudulent character of revolutionary, Enlightenment, naturalist claims to build a better world. Cardinal Johann Heinrich, Graf von Frankenberg (1726-1804), the gentle Primate of the Lowlands, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo (1744-1827), the vigorously militant Calabrian recruiter of the Sanfedisti, and the prolific Tyrolean pamphleteer, Fr. Albert Comployer, already mentioned above, all in different ways clearly aroused the Catholic population to an understanding of what was really at stake for Church and State in the revolutionary-counterrevolutionary encounter. The Abbé Étienne-Alexandre Bernier (1762-1806), a young Professor of Theology at the University of Angers, who became the right hand man of one of the other main Vendée generals, Jean-Nicolas Stofflet (whose portrait is missing from the Cholet Museum) admirably expressed the fervor and underlying sense of outrage of all of them in his famous Address to the French, justifying the cause of his own compatriots:

    Heaven has declared for the holiest and most just of causes. {Ours is} 
    the sacred sign of the cross of Jesus Christ. We know the true wish of 
    France, it is our own, namely to recover and preserve for ever our holy 
    apostolic and Roman Catholic religion. It is to have a King who will serve 
    as father within and protector without. 
    Patriots {the term most revolutionaries appropriated}, our enemies, you 
    accuse us of overturning our patrie by rebellion, but it is you who, 
    subverting all the principles of the religious and political order were the 
    first to proclaim that insurrection is the most sacred of duties. You have 
    introduced atheism in the place of religion, anarchy in the place of laws, 
    men who are tyrants in place of the King who was our father. You 
    reproach us with religious fanaticism, you whose pretensions to liberty 
    have led to the most extreme penalties. (Simon Schama, Citizens (Vintage, 1990, p. 705).

Returning to the question of the personal decision making that my extended visit to the “generals’ room” was meant to resolve, let me begin my conclusion by noting that another word for such vocational resolution is “discernment”. This is a good word in and of itself, but one that has been coopted by revolutionary Enlightenment naturalism for its own fraudulent oligarchic purposes. 

What I discerned in the Museum of Cholet was what it is that a truly Catholic discernment entails. It entails what the people of the Vendée did: recognizing their fraternal unity in the Mystical Body of Christ and what this means and requires of them in their particular circumstances in their particular time; recognizing that they can only fully understand what that mystical unity practically demands through a deeper awakening to their Faith, its devotional expressions, and the consequences to be drawn from these for defending the Social Kingship of Christ.

A full description of such a cooption is too big a task for this brief article to undertake. Suffice it to say for now that it has been used by everyone from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pope Francis to pervert a claim to build the world around them on a love for “The People” and the need to listen to their deep feeling so as to reach an accurate understanding of God, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. For they strip that “love” and “listening” of all meaning by subjecting the conclusions to be drawn from them to a “discernment” that turns out to be nothing other than obedience to the arbitrary, politically correct will of a pompous prophetic eighteenth century philosopher or twenty-first-century pontiff.

John Rao Cholet cropDr. John Rao, the moment this series occured to him.

What I discerned in the Museum of Cholet was what it is that a truly Catholic discernment entails. It entails what the people of the Vendée did: recognizing their fraternal unity in the Mystical Body of Christ and what this means and requires of them in their particular circumstances in their particular time; recognizing that they can only fully understand what that mystical unity practically demands through a deeper awakening to their Faith, its devotional expressions, and the consequences to be drawn from these for defending the Social Kingship of Christ; recognizing that this deeper awakening involves really listening to one another—magisterial guides, spiritual directors, soldiers, workers, and “academic” thinkers—and humbly accepting the fact that all of us have something to contribute and cannot be “discerned” out of each of our specific roles. To paraphrase a famous slogan from the American Revolution: “surely we must all contribute to perfecting one another in Christ by never disparaging our different vocations in the Mystical Body and heeding what they all have to tell us—our we will all be discerned out by existence and tossed onto the rubbish heap of history by the revolutionary monsters around us in our hermetically-sealed individual castles”.

So where does that leave me personally? For the long run, I am not quite certain. I still need to discern that. For now, I know that it would be a betrayal to my counterrevolutionary ancestors to abandon the academic knowledge that I have under my belt, but that I have an immediate, primary responsibility to set what this reflects to battle mode. For me, that means moving forward to provide The Remnant with more detailed accounts of the other Vendées beyond the borders of France that I have briefly mentioned above—those of the Brabant, of Italy, and of the Tyrol—to rouse us all to militant action of our own. I think my learning can be of some help in doing that, and I hope my contemporary comrades-in-arms will have their souls stirred by it for the discernment of how to use their own vocations in the front battles awaiting us for the common good of  all of us, together. Let the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary lead us fraternally onwards as we listen to and aid one another in submission both to the Faith as well as to the Natural Law. 

Viva Cristo Rey!

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Last modified on Monday, June 17, 2024
John Rao | Remnant Columnist, New York

John C. Rao, Ph.D. is an associate professor of history at St. John's University, director of the Roman Forum/Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute, and former president of Una Voce America.  In 1977 he received his D.Phil. in Modern European History from Oxford University. Notable works include Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States, Removing the Blindfold, and Periphery. His latest book, Black Legends: The War of the Words Against the Word, a guide to the history of the Catholic Church, was published by The Remnant Press in 2012. A student of Dietrich von Hildebrand and a close friend and collaborator of Michael Davies, John Rao has been a frequent contributor to The Remnant since the early 1980s.  He is known for writing his Remnant columns from Rocco's Cafe, an Italian pastry shop in Greenwich Village Manhattan.