Mes lectures

This is another of the Autobiographical Notes written by Cardijn in the 1950s and 1960s. This particular note was written in 1955. The original is available in the Fonds Cardijn at the Archives Generales du Royaume, Brussels. 

In the left hand column, we present Cardijn's own notes and in the right hand column we have added some chronological elements that illustrates the biographical context of his reading.

Note that the figures, eg 14-18, refer to Cardijn's reading at the period concerned.

Notes chronologiques par Stefan Gigacz, 1999.
Mes lectures Chronology

14 -18:

L'Ecole mennaisienne

1896-1900: Cardijn was in the Minor Seminary at Mechelen (Malines) for most of this period, having entered in September 1897. 

It was the following summer of 1898 that he experienced the decisive shock of rejection by his former schoolmates who had turned against the Church as a result of the climate of many workplaces. 

Cardijn has already begun to read the Mennaisian School named for the famous radical French priest, Félicité de Lamennais. Lamennais' had an enormous number of followers including the lay activist Charles de Montalembert, the Dominican Henri Lacordaire, the liturgical reformer, Dom Guéranger. Many of his followers separated from him when Lamennais was excommunicated in 1834 by Pope Gregory XVI for his insistence on religious liberty, freedom of conscience, etc. 

Frédéric Ozanam can also be included in the group influenced by Lamennais, although he was younger than the others and did not directly participate in the workshops and groups animated by Lamennais. 

It is interesting that Ozanam criticised Lamennais not for being incorrect in his ideas but impatient in his failure to await the judgment of Church authorities. 

Lamennais also exercised a large influence in Belgium.

18 -20 :

Ollé-Laprune, Gratry, Péguy, Spencer

1900-1902: Cardijn is still in the Minory Seminary at Mechelen. 

Now he is reading the French philosopher, Léon Ollé-Laprune, a major influence on the development of the Sillon movement, and who can be considered as the theoretician of the see, judge, act method. Ollé-Laprune was himself a disciple of the Englishman, John Henry Newman, as well as of Alphonse Gratry. 

Gratry was a French priest who exercised an enormous hidden influence in France during his adult lifetime from the period between 1830-1858. His influenced continued after his death with people like Ollé-Laprune and also especially among the Sillon. Gratry was also close to Ozanam and to Newman. As Newman had done in England, Gratry refounded the Oratorian priests. After Lamennais' death, he celebrated a mass in his memory. 

During Vatican I, Gratry fought against the definition of papal infallibility. After a period of agonising reflection, he accepted the decision of the Council - preferring to stay with the Church rather than isolate himself as Lamennais had done. 

Charles Péguy was a French Christian socialist and writer of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was killed fighting for France in World War I. 

The English philosopher, Herbert Spencer, is the first non-French writer cited by Cardijn. Spencer wrote extensively on the philosophy of education as well as on the theory of evolution and progress.


L'histoire du communisme, la sociologie, l'histoire de l'Eglise, Le Sillon et l'ACJF

1903 -1907: The major events of this period of Cardijn's life include the death of his father in May 1903, the moment of his interior vow to consecrate his life to the working class. 

The same year, 1903, Cardijn also discovered the Sillon movement founded by Marc Sangnier. 

This was also the year Cardijn entered the Major Seminary where he entered into contact with socially oriented seminarians and progressive professors of theology. 

It was the period of the so-called Modernist crisis, and of the repression by Pope Pius X of many writings and also sometimes the condemnation of the authors themselves (Loisy, Tyrrell, etc.) 

This period also includes Cardijn's year of studies of sociology at the University of Louvain where he studied under Professors Victor Brants, Maurice Defourny, and others. 

And he commenced his foreign voyages in this period with his trips to Germany and France in 1907. 

The ACJF was the French Catholic Youth Association, more conservative than the Sillon, but also influenced in a progressive direction by the Sillon. There were always tensions between the ACJF and the Sillon which foreshadowed the tensions between the ACJB and the YCW in Belgium in the 1920s.


Taine, syndicats, Cooperatives, Manning, Newman

1907-1912: This is the period of Cardijn's teaching at the Minor Seminary at Basse-Wavre. 

Hippolyte Taine was a French writer and can be considered as an early sociologist. 

It is interesting to note that Cardijn himself writes 'trade unions' in English, indicating his interest in the English worker movement, an interest shared by many progressive Catholics on the continent at that time. 

Here he also mentions the English Cardinal Manning, a supporter of the workers movement in England and also Newman, who as mentioned above, was also a major source and influence on Olé-Laprune, Gratry, the sillonnists and others.


Doctrine sociale catholique, marxisme, la Bible

1912-1918: The Laeken years and also the period of World War I when Cardijn was twice imprisoned by the Germans. 

It was in prison that he studied Marx and reread the Bible.

+ 36:

Action catholique, l'apostolat de laics, les Saintes Ecritures, la spiritualité

From 1918 onwards: This is the period of the creation of the Jeunesse Syndicaliste, the conflicts with the Christian trades unions in Belgium, conflicts with the ACJB, as well as the official foundation of the movement in 1925, the first visit to Pope Pius XI.

+ 46:

Les problèmes internationaux

From 1928 onwards: The YCW was already expanding internationally with groups in France, contacts in China and elsewhere. Planning was now underway for the first pilgrimage to Rome by the boys' movement in 1929, by the girls' in 1931. 

The first international conference of chaplains took place in 1931 followed by the first international congress in Brussels in 1935.