This is the Catholic Church Condemnation of
the Works of Andre Gide, decreed in April of 1952
This text appeared in
Gide, A Collection of Critical Essays
(Prentice Hall, 1970)
Supreme Sacred Congregation
of the Holy Office
Decree: Proscription of Books
In the course of the general assembly of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord Cardinals charged with the safeguarding of the faith and morals, after the vote of their reverend lordships the consultors, have condemned and ordered to be entered in the Index of Forbidden Books the entire works of Andre Gide.
And the following Thursday, April 3, 1952, His Holiness Pius XII, by divine Providence Pope, in the regular audience granted to the Most Reverend Monsignor the Assessor of the Holy Office, approved, confirmed, and ordered to be published the resolution of the Most Eminent Fathers which had been handed over to him.
Given at Rome, at the Palace of the Holy Office, this 24th day of May 1952.
Marinus Marini, notary for the
Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office
Remarks of L'Osservatore Romano:
The severity of this post mortem condemnation may seem, today, unexpected and terrible, but this is due to its irreparable character.
The author dead, his work now rests immutable, fixed in its final aspect; in a certain manner, it is fixed forever, as the features of the author grew rigid in death.
By his Protestant origin and character, no less than by the warm and constant friendship of Catholics, among whom his wife was the first, Andre Gide lived in the bosom of Christianity almost uninterruptedly, from his birth to his death; but it was always as a non-Christian, nay more, as a committed anti-Christian that he dwelt there. A tendency towards profanation, sometimes in a tone of childish titanism, sometimes in a tone of perverted pietism, was pushed by him to the point of blasphemy. The last pages written by him before his death not only breathe the air of vice and abound in horrifying remarks aimed at Catholics; they are also filled with sarcastic denials concerning Christ. He would have done better to have kept silent -- no more to have chosen vice for his subject than to have chosen Christ Himself; but always to be wallowing in the mud, constantly to soil the purest thing in human history, which is the figure of Christ and the love men have for Him, this he calls sincerely. And it is clear that he suffers from a kind of furious and glorious compulsion to be "sincere" in this peculiar way. No one has ever spoken so frequently of "responsibility", nor with an irresponsibility so pronounced that it seems diseased and irreducible. It is with stupefaction that one sees how, in his last pages, even to his very last page, he persists in his customary obscenity, which leads him to write such incredible things: "I have never said so much on this subject; but it seems that the more is said on this matter, the more there is to say." It was literally "hard for him to stop." Death arrived unexpectedly, finding him where his friends always used to find him, at the same point, saying the same words over and over, like a broken record, like a man demented, like a man obsessed, like a man unpunished and incorrigible. "On our arrival in Algiers," he himself relates confidentially in certain horrible posthumous pages, "the two of us alone in the omnibus that was taking us to the hotel, she [his wife] finally said to me in a tone in which I felt even more sorrow than censure: 'You looked like either a criminal or a madman.'" Exactly: and this is precisely the judgement the Church declares on him today. It is true that the wife of Gide, as early as 1926, had become so much a Christian that he husband dared to write these very words in his journal, amidst pages of the most pathetic disgust: "The slow progress of Catholicism on her soul: it seems to me that I was watching the spreading of a gangrene." He watched the growth of Christianity in his wife, and compared it to that of a gangrene.
This, then, is Andre Gide. We must, finally, characterize and denounce his particular poison: the pleasure he took in feeling himself reproved (see his constant reflections on it); in corrupting, soiling, affirming what decent men deny, and denying what decent men ---even at the cost of their lives--- affirm. To walk with a limp, and insist that that is the best way to go: to know oneself to be hunchbacked and to boast of it, and to laugh at those who are straight. All this without the least energy or courage, other than the energy it takes, if one may speak so, to be weak at all costs, other than the courage to proclaim one's fear in the face of all the world. He made of his sin a coefficient (and not the least) part of his fame. Above all else he delighted to find himself at the center of his dear friends' entreaties, just so that he could scorn their prayers and cause them pain. He placed himself and kept himself in a scandalous situation, one that could assure him the only gladiatorial role a man like him could permit himself: that of a hero of depravity.
A gifted writer, of fine expressive skills, one of the most renowned, his very art reeks of his lasciviousness, impressed as it was into the service of the latter vice, like a chambermaid who dresses and adorns her mistress. Gide's work is marked by the imprudence that became his special trait (and that of his imitators), an imprudence which spreads itself immodestly over every page; it is, moreover, from beginning to end, orchestrated in a tone of equivocal seduction, a tone so obsessed that one ends up disgusted and nauseated. He appears like a kind of impotent Racine, cold, sometimes bored. His music seems on first appearance to be something superior; but it is bent and adapted, most often, to such a degraded inspiration, to his ever-renewed perfidy, to his impure sterility.
When we consider what the Christian literature of France has been, and precisely during Gide's own lifetime; when we think how many great writers France has given us, animated both by a Christian faith and by high poetic feeling, we cannot but lament the destiny of a man like Andre Gide, who was no less gifted then they, nor less renowned. He liked to play the Prodigal Son. He delighted in hearing himself called, just so that he could refuse to answer the call. All this he thought quite charming of him, and never once realized that there is no joking with God. He even took every precaution to make his death itself into a demonstration against God ("to do without God . . . those who wish to never succeed"); a fresh insult against Christ ("Christ, in believing, and in making us believe that he was co-responsible in all things with God, was deceiving himself and us"); a new negation of the faith that moves mountains -- "Yes," said he, "mountains of absurdities": a new sneer at his Catholic friends, affectionate, broken-hearted friends, friends like Jammes, Claudel, Gheon, DuBos, Mauriac, to name but a few. He succeeded; and he died as he lived, in a spirit of negation.
He could not succeed, however, in getting away from the foot of the cross. He may not be standing with the two Marys, but one could always find him there--even if it be with the executioners. The Lord may well have granted the prayers of so many of his loving friends, and forgiven him; but the Church can do nothing else but place him among those who have themselves elected as their only companions the executioners of Christ--no longer now on Calgary, but in the hearts of men.
To crucify Christ and to persecute the Church: and to do this in these years when it has been so necessary to unite men rather than to divide them, to gather them together and not to disperse them. The celebrity of Gide, so slow in growing, ended by filling the whole of the last forty years, and not only in France. Generations of young people have submitted to this impure seduction. Thanks to Gide, things which until now would have been whispered in the ear among adults have become something to boast of--to boast of indecently--among adolescents. He himself invented a way of refuting Christ by borrowing choice phrases from the Gospels, even quoting them in Latin in the manner of musical motifs, of attacking the Church from within the sacristy or presbytery itself. It was with pleasure that he found himself outdoing the profane in his profanity, that he played the gnawing worm--one that gnawed on the Cross, on the Crucified Christ. Thus it was that he was responsible, precisely by means of a reaction against such disgust, by means of an irresistible and imperious nausea, for provoking and accelerating the conversions of a great number who had never been Christians, and for stirring up new flames of faith in those born in the fold. But the higher the flames of faith burned around him, the more he froze. The last image of Gide, a pale old man without a fire to warm himself by, is enough to chill one to the bone: he looks like one of the lost.
Poet of the most suspect joys, of the vainest of glories, he never quite managed to extinguish totally in his heart the Christian vocation; to it he returned over and over, to wound or mutilate or mislead it. In spite of the foul odor that arises from his elegant and diseased pages, he was not entirely corrupted, for he was still able to write, in memory of his wife, the two passages that follow:
What is our love made of, then, I used to wonder, if it persists in spite of the crumbling of all the elements that compose it? What is hidden behind the deceptive exterior that I recapture and recognize as the same through the dilapidations? Something immaterial, harmonious, radiant, which must be called soul, but what does the word matter? She believed in immortality; and I am the one who ought to believe in it, for it is she who left me . . .
Yet however different from me she may have been, it was having known her that made me so often feel like a stranger on this earth, playing the game of life without too much believing in it, for having known through her a less tangible but genuine reality. My intelligence might well negate that secret reality; with her, I felt it. And in the absence of the pure sound that soul gave forth, it seemed to me thenceforth that I had ceased to hear any but profane sounds, opaque, faint and desperate.
From that moment on, in fact, Gide became more and more violent. He did not simply move towards death, he hurled himself toward it. And despite the pious ceremonies today, disgusting revelations, accusations of deceitfulness and worse pile one after the other atop his recently-dug grave. The Church cannot keep silent long; the work of this writer deserves to be condemned both for what it affirms and for what it denies. Let it, therefore, be condemned, in no uncertain terms. The gift he had received, a gift of profound intelligence, as well as poetic riches, renders this condemnation all the more pitiable, but also all the more necessary. In the manner of his own dearest friends, the Church waited till the last minute for the return of the Prodigal Son. He never came back. Let his place be marked, at least, in the Christian militia, as among the enemies and corrupters; let his place be fixed among the partisane of the Adversary. At a time when the easy and shifting spirit of doubt, in the press, in the schools, even in politics, is dissolving, destroying faith in men's hearts, and under the pretext of laying everything open to vigorous argument is only undermining and devastating all; Andre Gide, with a power and a sweetness of voice that at moments recalls the loftiest voice of France, dared to reduce to a state of open question the one thing we have that is most certain, most secure, most worthy of respect--and not; be assured, to return and reaffirm it with greater force and originality, but in order to deny it, shamelessly, and to doom himself shamelessly in so doing: worse, to make of this act his fame, his profit, and his reward.