Book Review - "Les catholiques", Henri Tincq (Grasset)

Source: FSSPX News


This work by Henri Tinq, head of religious affairs for the French daily Le Monde since 1985, is an ambitious book. His objective was to present Catholics from an historical viewpoint, on an institutional level, in the doctrinal and moral domain, but also from a sociological and geographical aspect. In short, an encyclopaedic vision in 460 pages.

This quasi-academic aspiration has not constrained Henri Tincq to adopt the clinical language of the scientists. He works for Le Monde, he is a modernist and he maintains an engaging tone. In chapter VII, the sociological presentation of the « tribes » which constitute contemporary Catholicism, allows him to play the « game of the seven families ». He enumerates them thus: the « Traditionalists », the « Foot Soldiers » (Opus Dei, the Legionnaires of Christ…), the « Mystics » (the Charismatics), the « Silent » (contemplative monks), the « Committed » (secular priests or religious exercising an apostolate), the « Zapper observers » (the more or less regular practising, with more or less selective beliefs), the « Rebels » (the protestors such as the revue Golias…)

 The Traditionalist family is caricatured in these terms: « For the Traditionalists, it is as if time has stood still. The Rome they venerate is that of the 19th century, a mountain of arrogance and intransigence set against revolutionary ideas, a bastion of the most conservative dogma opposed to the rationalism of the times, a citadel of the only legitimate faith, the Catholic faith, contesting the experiences of the modern world » (p. 304).

Thus we can figure out that the Church, according to Henri Tincq, is openly hostile to revolutionary ideas, the rationalism of the times and to modern experience. One wonders if the Church is still Catholic.

 In order to make a better job of discrediting the priests and faithful attached to Tradition, Tincq does not hesitate to write: « The Traditionalists are those who, in the name of a creationist concept of the Catholic ‘tradition’, do not accept the idea that things changed at Vatican II during the 60’s, and the only religion of any value, is ‘their’ mass, ‘their’ priests, and the faith ‘of all time’ » (p.302). He does not burden himself with a « hermeneutic of continuity », and admits without beating about the bush: the religion was changed at Vatican II. But he deceives himself and his readers allowing them to believe that Tradition is the property of the Traditionalists. In all of his declarations Bishop Fellay asks that Rome return to her bimillenary Tradition.

Just for good measure, Henri Troncq goes out of his way to hold the traditional liturgy up to ridicule: « The old fashioned traditional liturgy is central to the lives of these traditional Catholics. Up until the ‘renegade’ council (Vatican II), this was what the priest used to celebrate in the folds of his chasuble, with banners and oriflammes, when brass instruments were played in churches and cathedrals, organs roared and the choirs exhausted their Gregorian repertoire. In the choir of the church, around the unique celebrant- the ancient rite abhors ‘concelebration’, a conciliar innovation-, an army of deacons, sub-deacons, standard-bearers in white surplice and soutane, archetypes of an authoritarian and hierarchical Church, executed a ballet which excluded all but the initiated. » (p.305)


And finally, he presents Archbishop Lefebvre as physically and intellectually in a bunker: « at Econe in the Swiss Valais where he withdrew from the world, where he was, until his death in 1991, the bastion of its resistance… » (p.309).

 But why this aggression? In order to conjure up fear! Tincq speaks of the « paradox of ‘Tradis’ », but this is a euphemism, he is thinking more of the threat of traditionalists. The paradox is , in his view: « The family of Traditionalists whose numerical importance, negligable on the scale of the five continents, is inversly proportional to the fuss it makes and the passions it arouses. » (p.302). But a little further on in the book, we discover what the threat really is: « The Traditionalists occupy the churches, but also the minds, more than they deserve. The question of the rite of the Mass, which is not a small matter, but not the essential of the Catholic faith, like keeping the cassock and the use of Latin, are only pretexts for disagreements of a far more serious nature on the orientation of the Catholic Church ». (p.312)

What Tincq dreads is the challenge to these changes, reforms and revolutions carried out in the Church these last forty years. He reassures himself saying that this opposition is that of the minority , but he fears that these minorities will find an echo within the majority which is not solid enough, or sufficiently monolithic for his taste, when it comes to facing up to the traditionalist threat: « The Tradis are thus at the heart of strategies carried out more or less openly by the Vatican. They are the target of a game, apparently without end, of attraction and repulsion in Catholic circles which have not assimilated all of the changes of the last council and for whom the ‘Tradis’ embody a sort of bad conscience. »(pp. 312-313)

 Tincq, who has a strong stomach, has digested everything without any bad conscience. This is why he does not understand the state of the souls of some people, and he alerts his readers to the traditionalist danger: « They will try to reclaim those people, ever more numerous, who in other Catholic families, regret that the clergy and the episcopate seem to have lost their authority, struggle to attract young priests, are too involved in politics, no longer defend theological and moral certainties and dialogue too much with the Jews, the Muslims and even the Protestants. Instead of seeking as they used to, to convert them ! » (p. 315)

 It could be said that all of this is fantasy – the traditionalist plot ! – or the rhetoric of a post 68 agit-prop. These are words, no more than words ! But there is the reality which Tincq recalls… only as an end of page note. He spoke modestly of the vocations crisis: « the bishops are struggling to attract young priests », but here are the facts, which speak for themselves: « in France, 96 diocesan priests were ordained at the end of June 2007. At the beginning of the 1950’s, there were more than a thousand…The number of priests remains steady, but for each new priest per year, 7 or 8 die. Between 1996 and 2005, 161 left their ministry. Out of 20,000 priests, only 13,000 are still active. The forecast for 2014 is that the number of priests under the age of 65 will be 4,500.

(Sources: Ifop-La Croix of August 14 2006, Le Monde de religions of January-February 2007) » (p. 353, note 2). – These words may vanish, but the facts remain. These are the figures and they are not « traditionalist » !

It is greatly to his credit that this work by Henri Tincq shows how the conciliar tradition during the past forty years judges bimillenary Catholic Tradition. It judges it a threat. It judges rightly.

Fr. Alain Lorans