The French Revolution not only put an end to the privileged status of the Church in the Ancien Régime. Its enlightenment concept of the citizen’s freedom under the law led paradoxically to the state’s suppression of religious life in many European countries at different periods between the late eighteenth and the late nineteenth century. Hundreds of Dominican priories were confiscated by the state. Thousands of friars found themselves homeless, or thrown back on the charity of their families. It was a French Dominican, Henri Lacordaire, who formulated a cogent post-Enlightenment defence of religious life, and who spearheaded the renewal of Dominican life in France. His Essay on the Re-establishment in France of the Order of Preachers was published in 1839.
French Dominicans were then at the forefront of renewing the wider Catholic Church in the twentieth century as it came to terms with a new political order and the theological challenges posed by Protestant biblical scholarship, Church history, post-Kantian philosophy, and the rise of the social sciences. Much that would be affirmed at the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) or in its aftermath had earlier been championed by men such as Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Yves Congar.
Image reproduced by kind permission of the École biblique, Jerusalem.