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Jean-Joseph Gaume

French theologian and author, b. at Fuans (Franche-Comte) in 1802; d. in 1879

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Gaume, JEAN-JOSEPH, French theologian and author, b. at Fuans (Franche-Comte) in 1802; d. in 1879. While attached to the Diocese of Nevers, he was successively professor of theology, director of the petit seminaire, canon, and vicar-general of the diocese, and had already published several works, when he left for Rome in 1841. Gregory XVI made him a knight of the Reformed Order of St. Sylvester. A doctor of theology of the University of Prague, a member of several societies of scholars, honorary vicar-general of several dioceses, he received from Pius IX in 1854 the title of prothonotary apostolic.

Abbe Gaume is the author of numerous books treating of theology, history, education. Those of the first category are still esteemed, those of the second have fallen into oblivion, and those of the third gave rise to the famous question of the classics. These last writings are all inspired by one and the same thought; vividly struck by the religious and moral deterioration of his age, the author seeks its remote cause, and believes he finds it in the Renaissance, which was for society a resurrection of the paganism of antiquity, prepared the way for the Revolution, and was, in fine, the primal source of all the evil. Such is the dominating idea of the works “La Revolution” (8 vols., 1856) and “Histoire de la society domestique” (2 vols., 1854). It is again met with in “Les Trois Rome” (1857) But to cure the ills of society it was necessary to devise a new method of moulding childhood and youth; this was to consist in catechetical instruction and the exclusion of pagan authors from classical studies. In support of this method he composed his “Catechisme de Perseverance, ou Expose de la Religion depuis l’origine du monde jusqu’a nos jours” (8 vols., 1854); “La Religion et l’Eternite” (1859); “Traite de l’Esprit Saint (1864). To this series of works belong his “Manuel du Confesseur” (1854) and “l’Horloge de la Passion” (1857), which he translated from St. Alphonsus Liguori. The reform, or rather the revolution—the word is his—which he deemed necessary in classic instruction he had indicated as early as 1835 in his book “Le Catholicisme dans l’education”, without arousing much comment. He returned to the subject in 1851 in a work entitled “Le Ver rongeur des societes modernes ou le Paganisme dans l’Education“. The renown of the author, still more the patronage of two influential prelates—Msgr. Gousset, Archbishop of Reims, and Msgr. Parisis, Bishop of Arras—and above all the articles of Louis Veuillot in “L’Univers”, which supported Abbe Gaume from the first, gained for his views a hearing which they had previously failed to secure, and provoked a lively controversy among Catholics. After having shown that the intellectual formation of youth during the first centuries of the Church and throughout the Middles Ages was accomplished through the study of Christian authors (ch. i-vi), Gaume proceeds to prove that the Renaissance of the sixteenth century perverted education throughout Europe by the substitution of pagan writers for Christian authors. In support of his thesis, he brings forward the testimony of men (viii-ix) and of facts (x-xxv), indicating the influence of classical paganism on literature, speech, the arts, philosophy, religion, the family, and society. Despite a proportion of truth, the exaggeration of his thesis was evident. It was the condemnation of the method held in honor in the Church for three centuries; Benedictines, Jesuits, Oratorians, the secular clergy themselves had, without opposition from the Holy See, made the pagan authors the basis of the curriculum in their colleges. Gaume did not go so far as to exclude the pagan texts; he allowed them some place in the three highest classes (the course comprised eight), but banished them from the first five years.

Consulted by the professors of his petit seminaire as to the course to pursue, the Bishop of Orleans, Msgr. Dupanloup, addressed them a letter on classical teaching, in which he boldly declared himself in favor of the existing regulations and methods, thus preserving for the ancient authors the rank they had hitherto held, but at the same time assigned an important place to Holy Scripture, the Fathers, and modern authors. Sharply attacked by Veuillot in “L’Univers”, the bishop retorted by issuing a pastoral on the classics and especially on the interference of lay journalism in episcopal administration, and concluded by enjoining on the professors of his petits seminaires to receive no longer “L’Univers”. Then the question became even more burning; newspaper articles, brochures, pamphlets, even books succeeded one another on this question which created a general commotion among educationists. Gaume published in support of his thesis the “Lettre sur le paganisme clans l’education”. For a time it seemed as though the diocese were on the point of division. At this juncture Msgr. Dupanloup drew up a declaration which was signed by forty-six prelates. It contained four articles, two of which dealt with journalism in its relations with episcopal authority, and two with the use of the classics. It was therein stated: (I) that the employment of the ancient classics in secondary schools, when properly chosen, carefully expurgated, and explained from a Christian point of view, was neither evil nor dangerous; (2) that, however, the use of these ancient classics should not be exclusive, but that it was useful to join to it in becoming measure, as is generally done in all houses directed by the clergy, the study and explanation of Christian authors. Abbe Gaume and his partisans lost no time in reducing their claims to the three following points: (I) the more comprehensive expurgation of pagan writers; (2) the more extensive introduction of Christian authors; (3) the Christian teaching of pagan authors. Nevertheless it required instructions from Rome to put an end to this controversy. The Abbe Gaume published further: “Bibliotheque des classiques chretiens, latins et grecs” (30 vols., 1852-55); “Poetes et Prosateurs profanes completement expurges” (1857).


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