Good afternoon, everyone welcome on a a beautiful, warm kind of spring-like afternoon, it’s great to see rheem library as full as it is even on a nice day like today. My name is tom lenny, i’m the director of the mcfarland center for religion, ethics and culture. Here at the college, the mcfarland center sponsors and supports lectures, conferences, workshops, classroom visits like one today in professor poche’s class and other special programs that foster conversation or dialogue on questions of meaning, morality and mutual obligation. You can find our upcoming schedule and our programs and recordings of events like today’s online on our website at holycross.edu mcfarland center.
Today’S lecture is one of the dichmann family lectures on religion and modernity, and i’m grateful to john deichmann of the class of 1970 and his family for their generous support. That makes it possible it’s a really poignant time. I’D say to be discussing resistance to fascism as we face threats from russia’s war in ukraine and the rise of autocracy and extreme nationalism around the world. Our guest speaker, professor brenna moore, has written a fascinating account of an international network of catholic historians, theologians poets and activists who formed spiritual friendships and practiced resistance to european xenophobia and nationalism. Anti-Racist activism in the united states in solidarity with algerian muslims during the early 20th century.
Her book, published in 2021, is called kindred spirits, friendship and resistance at the edges of modern catholicism, i’ve known brenna. For a long time, we’ve had the privilege of being friends she’s. Professor of theology, at fordham university in new york, a specialist in the area of modern christianity, with a focus on catholic, intellectual and cultural history in europe. She’S particularly interested in questions related to women, gender and religion, mysticism and spirituality, a movement in theology known as jesus and various catholic responses to modernity. Professor moore is currently serving as president of the american catholic historical association she’s, published on figures like the novelist leon bloy.
The mystic in poetry and her husband, the philosopher jacques merita, and the jesuit historians of spirituality, amrita, lubach and michel de santo she’s, author of sacred dread, marisa marita, raisa maritan and the allure of suffering, and the french catholic revival 1905-1944 and she’s co-edited with mary dunn Of the volume religious intimacies intersubjectivity in the modern christian west, she’s also published maybe of a special interest. Maybe some people here more than just as the others are to me on the religious imagination of artists, like sinead, o’connor and beyonce, and on exhibits at the met. So please join me in welcoming brennamore [ Applause ] good afternoon. Everyone. Thank you so much tom for the lovely introduction.
It’S truly a pleasure to be here at holy cross this afternoon and to present the dutchman family lecture on religion and modernity. So i really think of holy cross as one of kind of the epicenters for thinking about the internal diversity and richness of catholic thought, spirituality and practice. I have in mind the scholarship of friends and colleagues like matthew, schmalz in the religious studies department, justin poche in history and, of course, tom landy, here at the center for religion, ethics and culture, and many more and on a personal note. I was here many years ago when i was uh, maybe 15 20 years ago, for a wedding of some very close friends who were holy cross alum and i spent the weekend with all of their friends who also did their undergrad here and that very much. They knew how to have a good time, to put it mildly, so holy cross really seems like a place where a lot of fun and also serious thinking about religion come together.
So i’m a fan and honored to be back on this special campus. So my lecture is entitled uh, fragments of friendship, spiritual undercurrents of the global catholic resistance to fascism. The story of this project began, though, really to be honest when i finally kind of overcame my hesitancy or really embarrassment about taking seriously friendship as an academic category of analysis. So i came into this school into this field as a scholar of 20th century french catholicism which i know sounds very random. But i was drawn into the study of the creative thinkers who helped lay the foundations for the massive shifts that took place in theology and spirituality.
That culminated in what was called vatican ii that took place in the 60s. Some of you may know about that. Some of you maybe will learn about it later when you have to do more religious studies classes, but this was when pope john xxiii ended the church’s you know alleged war with modernity. I was especially interested in the catholics from the 30s 40s and 50s, who lived through the holocaust and reckoned more honestly with it and those who helped set the stage for new, more humane ways for catholics to think about religious and cultural difference. But because catholic thought tends to be so so male and so clerical.
I was interested in uncovering the understudied contributions of women and so students in this audience who are with who are with us and who might be thinking in the future while you’re at holy cross. That you might do your own independent research someday for your senior thesis or independent study, um, that you maybe already know that when you want to kind of go beyond established canons of knowledge, you have to unearth new stories in the field. You got to look for overlooked voices and this means doing archival work or doing ethnographic work, and this, i think, is the super super fun stuff of academic work, creating new knowledge that means kind of traveling talking with the communities, you’re studying or meeting archivists librarians digging Through dusty boxes, folders looking at pictures and really kind of reclaiming the importance to human experiences that have been just dismissed, we see this kind of discarded dusty stuff as critical in our shared search for a more inclusive understanding of human thought and expression. So it was in doing that kind of work. A long time ago, when i first discovered a woman named rice emeriton, who is a mystical writer, poet and the wife, the wife of a famous catholic philosopher, jacques mariton.
They were both from france and they were both involved in the resistance to anti-semitism and fascism and when they fled europe to the united states as exiles in 1939, they helped jewish colleagues safely get out of europe to new york, and it was in going through the Archival material of raisa stuff, you know her boxes and stuff that it became immediately clear to me that friendship was by far the most important thing and thing in their lives. So these are just some things i found in the archives um. This is a picture in france of her recreated study and it just struck me right away that these photos i mean i i know you can’t see these in detail, but it’s pictures of her friends, kind of intermingled with photos and portraits of saints of priests, of Spiritual directors and sort of sort of an end of an inter-kind of mingled collage of her actual real friends and other holy figures in her life. Her memoir was called legrandes mta and those who are taking french in high school are here know. That means the great friendships where she said.
My life explains my friendships. My friendships explain my life and also when i looked through all of her correspondence and jocks too, i would open up folders and letters and sometimes little religious medallions and pictures little like religious material objects would kind of fall out. So all the kind of letters exchanged through with their friends had a kind of tactile, spirituality to them um without a doubt. Okay, i also met in the course of my research elderly people, for whom the maritimes were not just history, but they were still living memory. So i would meet people who knew them, you know, and they would often show me or even if i was really lucky give me things that belong to the maritimes, a portrait with jacques signature.
This is a check that rice wrote her funeral card, but they would hand them to me kind of as if they were handing me, you know really sacred objects. That really did seem for these people to contain something of the grace of the maritimes, who are no longer with us no longer with them um. Yet, despite the prominent presence of friendship, this was like the key to their whole world. I shied away from it as an academic topic from my first book, because i mean here i was a woman writing on a woman. Is you know, friendship, kind of stereotypically, feminine um today, friendship, as my friend religion, scholar constitutes fury, writes, contains the whiff of something apolitical i mean, there’s nothing wrong with friendship.
Nobody would say there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s kind of like quaint, indeed, the binaries that structure, modernity, masculine feminine public, private, a religion, secular, rational emotional, would, i think, steer our interpretation of friendship as belonging properly to the private realm. The warm sphere of emotion, uh, religion and women, and i really didn’t – want to be pigeonholed that way, and i didn’t want her to be pigeonholed that way most of all um, so um um. So for my first project on rice and maritime, i focused on you know her life, but in the context to other things that were more recognizably like political fascism, anti-semitism, judaism, um and also. This was important to me because i knew that the per political context like the holocaust, the rise of fascism anti-semitism, culminated with the state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million jewish men, women and children by the nazi regime and collaborators. And i really feel that an analysis of friendship in such a violent context would really play into something troubling in our popular imagination in the u.
. So i think movies, like the secret life of bees and even the green mile, offer a seemingly irresistible narrative that interpersonal friendships within systems of oppression and violence are the sole purest ways to mitigate violence in our world, which is a deeply deeply pernicious idea and indeed To consider the larger social political meanings of spiritual friendship among women, particularly in a violent context, is to really invite so many problems um so yeah. I set it aside, but then you know when you kind of go through academic life, you kind of like get a little more confident. I got tenure and i thought you know what like screw it. I don’t care, you know i’m just gon na.
I want to just write about this friendship thing and just figure it out and then move on to other things, but i can’t really like let this go because i know this was the most important thing um, and so i dug a little deeper went kind of Further into the into the archives of this period into their archives – and i learned really immediately that the maritimes were simply a little portal into a vast international network in this period from the 30s to the 60s, where what i call spiritual friendship was absolutely central. So i began to learn about other catholic men and women who had connections to jacques and ray samaritan, but they had roots and lives all over the world places like harlem new york, cairo, egypt, uruguay, even jamaica, and they weren’t exactly an isolated group of friends. All over the world, but some some of them were actually but instead spiritual friendship was a shared world view and a practice central to a global in an international community that aimed to combat anti-semitism, white bigotry and even in some cases, colonialism and attending to it. I saw really gets that what i call the inner life of an incredibly creative period in catholicism, pointing us to the emotions that underlie a really unique moment in political modernity. Friendship was at one time a corridor to the sacred.
It was a way of communing like really really with god, um religiously, meaningful took friendships took place not only just face to face, but also with the remembered dead, those held in non-ordinary realms of consciousness, like memory imagination, friends often reach for metaphors of fire to talk About their friends, friends, kindle the flame of one another’s spirit and so forth and friendship i came to see – was also sensed to counter the different kind of modes of human belonging that were gaining ascendancy in the far right in this period, including nationalism. On the one hand, and the prioritization of the nuclear family on on the other, so uh the language of friendship – and you can see some of the french and there’s some spanish and the english translation. The language of friendship was the central metaphor for catholic activist organizations. In this period, in the years before, vatican ii, so the first two organizations, the friends of foreign workers, friends of people were found in france, they were one was a newspaper. One was an organization meant to come back, xenophobia and welcome welcome refugees.
The other were two jewish christian friendship organizations founded in leon and paris meant to they were part of the underground resistance to nazism and the protection of the jewish community. There was a worker rights organization in mexico, an academic organization dedicated to the study of one of these french scholars in uruguay, and then this is an image from this kind of, inter interracial, experimental community in harlem, called the friendship house. And when i dig into these a little bit further in the course of my talk, you’ll hear kind of the people associated this we’re all over the world. But often these friends met in paris, okay, but paris was a city um that welcomed intellectuals. From all points of the globe in the 1920s and 30s, many of whom were fleeing persecution in their own countries, so by the mid-1920s france received more immigrants than any other country in the industrialized world.
In 1930s, in 1933 million foreigners resided in france, langston hughes put it that interwar paris was packed with what he called the seeking wandering ones from all over the world. It was, of course, also the beating heart of france’s colonial empire and even the resistance movements to french colonialism itself um. But let me just say at the outset that you’ll see that i find in this kind of emotional underworld, um resources. I think that point is to a catholic tradition: that’s a little bit of a different kind of catholic politics than we tend to see in kind of the contemporary us. Even what i call kind of a counter history that comes from a different archive that shows catholic love, looking a little bit differently than we tend to think about, and it was meant to oppose at least kind of quietly narrower, more homogeneous bonds based on you know, Family and nationalism, but i also want to say just right at the outset before you think i’m kind of romanticizing this movement, that it didn’t always go the way that they aimed to these people didn’t always live up to these ideals they set for themselves.
There were failures blind spots um, but despite its short this, this shortcoming, i think i think these resources may be of interest for anyone here in the room for whom this is the way i kind of think about it for home catholicism in some way, still kind Of stubbornly means something whether it’s like practicing catholic labs, catholic, marginal catholic or you come from your secular or come from other faiths, but you’re getting your education at the catholic school and you just want like a richer sense of that tradition. Um. But first let me just show you a little bit of this world so to talk about the fascism part. So the great historian of the french resistance, francois benderita wrote of the french catholics in 1940. He said almost all the faithful lived in complete disability towards a very structured and hierarchical church authority reigned supreme.
The first virtue of the christian was obedience okay, so this is like a catholicism of obedience and the hierarchy in 20th century europe for the most part, historically kind of trusted regimes in europe as long as they were either catholic or promised not to explicitly target catholics And this meant like in the 30s and the 40s, a kind of coziness, or at least compliance with authoritarian leaders, first franco and spain, and then with regimes who collaborated with the nazis, like the vichy regime in france and the faithful kind of trusted, a church that Never officially called for resistance that generated among catholics a really a widespread compliance with authoritarian leaders all over the world that was kind of smoothed over by the spirituality of obedience, so those catholics that did resist fascism did so without any instructions from on high from the Bishops or anything it came from civil society, it came from below, it included priests and nuns, but mostly i’m going to be talking about lay people and lay people who sensed the dangers and were really not afraid of transgression. But this was really a minority phenomenon. From start to finish, who kind of had to feel their way around the the resistance and the first people i’m going to talk about? Is this chilean poet gabriella mistral – and this is her friendship with jacques mariton, the guy in one of the first slides? She was friends of thrice and jacques mariton gabriela mistral was from chile who was living in paris for a brief period.
She was anointed the spiritual queen of latin america when she won the nobel prize for literature in 1947.
She was a teacher of pablo neruda, a name that might be familiar to some of you. She was also a franciscan oblate and a lay member of the order of saint francis, a lay member of the order of saint francis. So her friendship with the maritimes was key to the globalization of the emerging catholic anti-fascist anti-fascist movements of the 30s, particularly getting kind of this idea that catholics could be opposed to fascism and could sanction democracy and human dignity. She was central to getting that idea, spread to this from the from the french to the spanish-speaking world, to spain, also latin america, chile, argentina.
They helped together break apart. The old kind of alliance between the colonial church and the politics of the far right mistral had moved from south america to spain as a writer and someone who worked on international cooperation, but she fled for paris in 1933. In the midst of the far-right nationalism under franco and by the 1920s, there were 15 000 people from latin america living in paris and mistral and maritime kind of were the epicenter of the spanish and french seeking activist intellectual organizations that were writing on the dangers of Fascism very early on and were kind of among the first catholic intellectuals to do so. Mestral helped his get his stuff translated into spanish physically brought a lot of his writings to spain and got a lot of the spanish speakers and french speakers together. She also introduced jacques mariton to the would-be president of chile, eduardo frye, who went to go.
He went on to found the chilean democratic party and in chile i would say jacques maritan’s ideas remain really really influential, and but the issue was for the people in latin america, warding off fascism from europe from coming to the global south. Okay. But underneath all of this anti-fascist work, the intimacies of friendship were fueling. The entire thing mistral wrote to a friend in chile about the maritimes. These souls are capable as serving as extraordinary guides.
It is in their home, the house of the maritimes, where my soul is most full and just like the little bits of holy cloth tooth and bone that christians have always gathered from saints from people deemed holy. It was photographs of special friends that were the sacred objects in this shared world, so eduardo frye, begged, right, begged, gabriela mistral for a signed photo of herself, which she sent to him begged jacques for photos and he put them up in his office. You know right next to a cross kind of like what we saw in her in her study and another friend wrote to mistral herself from france. That said, it’s i want your picture because it’s by the sight of your face, i am guided to god and mistral said. Whenever i write my friends alive or dead present absent come to me.
They don’t surround me, but they press in on me. They contain me, spiritual friendship, included the eternalization internalization of the absent the missing the far away during the war and then but then it became really increasingly very dangerous for outspoken critics of fascism in in other countries too. So after france succumbed to the nazi collaborationist regime of vichy in 1940, the maritimes um fled an exile to north america, gabriela mistral left for brazil um, and there was a small community of catholics. Not just who stayed. You know many catholics stayed in france, but who participated in the resistance, and spiritual friendship remained crucial here too, during um during the war itself, rather than just the rise of fascism.
So this is a picture of a woman who i really came to love in the course of my study. Her name is marie magdalene devi she’s, a scholar of medieval mysticism, but she was very, very active um in the underground network helping jews safely get out of europe. She was active in catholic um at catholic student groups and in the activist network, amiciya christian. So christian friendship and she talked a lot about kind of hiding the underground kind of clandestine paperwork in one in a catholic chapel, because people didn’t really suspect the catholic chapel as kind of an epicenter for resistance – and i never found like this is the file of All of her resistance material and from her archive – and i never found the paperwork you know of that she referred to – that they talked about that they did, but just to give you an example of the kind of paperwork the underground resistance would have done. This is an identity card um that is currently located at the one of the holocaust, museums at seton, hall, university and up above you’ll see.
This is um a jewish identity card of a young french boy, who is, i think, 11 years old and all jews in france had to have this yellow identity card. With the person facing side, the name, um and clearly marking you know, jews from non-jewish citizens or refugees in france, but one of the kind of the paperwork. You know that the underground resistance did like the people in amitay critian people like devi, would make these fake identity cards. So this is the same boy um, with a french name with the red um. You know non-christian french citizenship card um with a new address and he so the underground resistance movement made this for him and um.
You know there was talk of you know getting literally laminators figuring out how to make this. You know no one instructing from high people like winging it and that this successfully worked and he hid in the farm of a protestant family and survived the holocaust, and i had the fortune of meeting this man who’s now in his 90s. I met him at seton hall, which is an extraordinary experience, so this is just like the kind of thing that the resistance was doing, um that devi, probably perhaps perhaps was doing, but certainly the amity critian group was doing um and let me just um and when Davey was doing this work. Friendship was absolutely crucial for her, but in kind of a different way, so that notice that first picture she was all by herself laying there usually she’s smoking a cigarette. This is another picture when she’s old, surrounded just by books, she’s really kind of a loner, a solitary figure, the scholar of mysticism, but when she talks about friendship, she talked about it differently.
She talked about the inner bond that she felt with the medieval mystics, um and monks that she wrote about so scholarships she kept up with in the war. So maybe i know most of you are first-year students. So maybe you haven’t had this experience here, but maybe in high school. You did like if you’re writing a paper on someone for so long. It really feels like you.
They are real to you. You know they. They they kind of live with you in an inner sense, and so she said with passion. I have my mystical theologians, who are my friends, my family. They are so close to me part of my daily life.
They lived with me um, and she talked about these mystical monks and theologians and writers as really helping her during the clandestine acts of resistance by helping keep her focus in a time that was otherwise very, very terrifying. She once had to do things. She hid in the basement of a bakery for three days. She was pursued by soldiers, and so she kind of talked about these monks as kind of her inner guides, her her friends and then after the war. She created this kind of an international utopian commune dedicated to post-war peace for students.
That was in memory of one of her friends that died in the war. Simone vay called maeson simone and many of these catholics, i would say, did see. Connections between you know the violence, the rise of xenophobia, oppression that was happening in europe and then actually, i’m going to stretch a little and what was happening in the u.s at this time. In 1930s, 40s around race, as one volunteer said it um the root of it all: anti-semitism, fascism, anti-negro, okay.
This was the language of 1940 is hate. It takes a powerful kind of love to hold this back and there were pathways of exchange between like places like new york and paris, where people were talking about these connections about different kinds of violence and oppression, different kinds of solidarity, um and one of and some Of you may have heard you know if there’s many black writers who spent time in paris before and after the war, james baldwin names that probably are familiar to many of you from high school and james baldwin said the years i lived in paris did one thing For me, they released me from that particular terror, which was a real danger visible in every american cop boss, everybody, okay, so paris was like a relatively more open atmosphere before world war, one and after for black writers and artists um, but one that i want to Talk about briefly, is this a poet of the harlem renaissance, claude mckay, who spent time in paris before the war and converted to catholicism in 1940 and in paris. He met with another woman, a french-speaking catholic from martinique, paulette nerdal, who was the first black student at the sorbonne um and i think, when we tend to think of sort of the black diaspora, black internationalism. We really don’t think of france and of paris. But i really think that the reason that that was such a sight of catholic creativity is because it was so diverse.
I think i think that that’s why it’s very understudied but paulette nardal created this journal called the review du monde noir and it was dedicated to what she called forging international ties and bonds between among the international black community, black people, from the african diaspora on the United states who were in paris at this time and claude mckay, wrote um, wrote poems in this book and she had a kind of a salon, a study hall that she called a circle of friends. So again, even you know in this network, too kind of the friendship piece was was really central, um and um. When claude mckay uh, let’s see oh yeah there we go when claude mckay went back to the united states. He connected all he connected up with a very numerically small, like i don’t want to make. This seem like this was all what all catholics were of numerically small network of catholics who were interested in questions of race and racial justice.
He became kind of drawn into the american catholic scene, and this is a letter that he exchanged with dorothy day. I know some of you in justin’s class have read dorothy day and dorothy day’s letters to claude mckay have these little holy cards, and this is what i see like the coin of this international network: the letters to friends tucked with this little holy stuff. That was like the currency, um and and ultimately he converted to kind of this sort of catholicism in 1940.
Um, but one of the things that he oh wait. No, sorry i’m missing something.
Oh no! I had it another. I already showed it um, one of the the things that we see very much debated, um that claude mckay. Let me just go there. We go that claude mckay debated um.
That was very much uh. The subject of debate in the friendship house newsletter was the role of friendship for political change and solidarity. So mckay talked a lot about how enthusiastic white liberals were about friendship like if he was even walking down the street with a white person. He would say: oh, you must be best friends like yeah, you’re kind of the symbol of the kind of racially integrated future um, and he really thought that could never really do anything to combat racial oppression in the united states. That friendship had to be the starting point for structural change, that you begin as friends, but then you work together on doing things like documenting housing, discrimination, employment, discrimination and so forth, but there were white people in friendship house.
That really thought friendship was the point. You know that you could get people together and they would, you know, display picnics into racial picnics and friendship that that was the end goal um and the more um the more i came to you know the more i came to read into this world. I really saw this as a major major tension and kind of problem that was unresolved, and ultimately this was one of the reasons that the friendship house was an experiment that kind of eventually flopped, even though there were interesting political changes that took place um from thanks To the help of people who were involved, it was a short-lived experimental project um and now, i’m just gon na say: let’s see, yeah oh yeah, i’m gon na i’m just gon na say a few more kind of interpretive things about this network things that i kind Of came to realize about it things i think about it, some of the implications um, and so i’m done showing you the pictures, so just back to my original slide. Okay, so the one thing yeah this issue about what is the role of friendship, is that the goal, or is that just the starting place – and you know so that was that – was something it’s kind of like an interpersonal way of solving change. Black catholics were very skeptical about that.
The other thing the more i came to know this network right and the friendships that sustained it. Many other complexities surfaced. So i have to admit that when i first got into this world, i saw in this network’s non-familial non-conformist forms of love as very emancipatory exciting. I was very compelled by the commitment in their lives to a kind of love, much wider than the kind of catholic heteronormative, the narrow or a kind of love that was just focused on nuclear family alone. It was very refreshing and fun.
I would say to immerse myself in the pleasures of all of their friendships. Their expansive loves that reached across the walls that separate women from women, men from men, men from men from women native born from newcomer descendants of white settlers from the descendants of black and brown enslaved people, christian from non-christian and so forth. But this idealized love grew increasingly strange, even disturbing, not that i still do feel that way about it, but there was other things that made this more complicated. I realized, for example, that, while the kind of anti-family thrust of their lives, i mean they dedicated their life to friends, not family um. It sounds kind of radical, especially for maybe a feminist perspective.
It. The rejection of family was not just a slogan. There were actual children, parents siblings in this network, whose lives i really learned about with some horror. So, let’s just say it would have been really amazing to be a friend in this friendship group, but it would have been kind of horrifying to be a child of any of these people. Gabriella mistral raised a child that she had adopted from a family member who couldn’t take care of him, but with her moves all around the world, she was kind of sustained by this friendship network, but her child was isolated, depressed and lonely and died by suicide.
As a teenager, claude mckay had a daughter but never met her in person. He had nothing to do with his wife after she, after she became pregnant in the united states and returned to jamaica. Without him, so dorothy day’s granddaughter kate, hennessy wrote an unforgettable memoir called the world will be saved by beauty, which provides, quite frankly, an often heartbreaking glimpse at what it would have been like to be a child in a family where the most ardent love is directed Towards friends um, while there was much to admire in this community who had a really expansive understanding of spiritual friendship, there’s no way, i don’t think to disentangle one purely emancipatory thread out of the complex tangle of their lives. It was correct, it was courageous, it was counter-cultural, it was pluralistic, compassionate, but sometimes it held within it too much fantasy about the possible and it caused pain for families. It also um was very erotically charged.
It was sensual world, you know, passionate love expressed, but it was still for the most part, pretty silent on actual sex like sex was actually, for the most part, a taboo um that it was clear that, looking at this catholic archive of friendship, the bonds were sensual, But they they weren’t exactly sexual, so that was just kind of a black box um and one friend, but like for example, it was so passionate. So erotic, like one friend of the marathon, said in a letter that he wanted to grab jacques by his lion, pause and devour him with his love. Another friend wrote to ray samaritan and said that she’s so sad that jacques died that she would never see him again, blowing her kisses and holding hands with him. Another friendship from cairo that i studied louis massinon, mary cahill. They were never as a man and woman.
They weren’t a real couple. He was married to another woman, but every year they traveled alone to cairo and renewed their vow to one another um and so um and another friend of massenon said to him. I love him him to the point. Where sometimes feel my soul can no longer contain my affection, my heart hurts my breathing stops. My throat is tied, my my eyes, and my whole body starts burning, so the emotional, even the physical sensuality, in these friendships, male and male female and female male and female.
It recalls a line from the writer roland bartz friendship. He said the word is too stuffy. It’S too prudish. Indeed, we kind of have to ask what was like really going on. You know, underneath all of this excessive ardent desire among friends, um.
Isn’T it just a little kind of prudish to say this is all just friendship when you know their attachments come across as so sensual so passionate, so i this is the way i kind of have come down on this, but this is the part of my research. I’M maybe uncertain unsure if i’m right, but on the one hand, they’re general, i have to admit that their silence on actual sex and their promotion of friendships is part of a long catholic history of silence about actual sex. The silence about sex here cannot be disentangled from the catholic silence, which is inextricably connected with the darker issues of you know. Cover-Up, shame lies, deceit, repression around actual physical sex, but on the other hand, does the relative privacy and silence about actual sex um mean always just repression or lies or self-loathing or shame as if to say, while you say you were spiritual friends, no one ever really Just wants friendship right and it’s tempting to turn these people into familiar types like the repressed, gay catholic or the transgressive rebel ahead of her time, but it just doesn’t feel quite right. On the one hand, these people were mostly laypeople.
They were freer than most priests. Their sex lives could and did remain private um. Their silence doesn’t mean that they felt shameful repressed or self-loathing necessarily um, and the men and women in these networks didn’t come across to me as closeted as weird about sex, repressed or self-loathing in any way sublimating their pent-up sexual desire into these weird and exhausting friendships. Because i think to insist that sex is the only real truth underneath ardent desire among adult friends, i think, is to radically narrow this tradition. I think there is an over abundance to spiritual friendship that can’t really just be reduced.
I don’t think to sex to sex, but i know that’s a risk that i’m saying i don’t want to act as if, like sexuality is some secret garden elsewhere, but nor is sex how we think of it, gay or straight repressed or fulfilled you’re having it or Not you know the only the best way to think about it. Many were just private and when it came to um their writings and talks of sex, actually the women and the people of color, like black writers, like claude mckay, were very very reluctant to disclose their intimate practices publicly and mckay wrote how he was always annoyed. How white people were always trying to hunt for biographical clues about his sex life? He’S called black sexuality, a weird obsession for white for whites? Maybe he needs, maybe they need to see a psychologist about it.
He wrote in 1937 and furthermore, many of the women in my project are appearing as thinkers for the first time in intellectual history, they’re from chile, egypt, martinique and to probe the sex lives of these non-western women feel somewhat invasive and predictable um. Also, it’s clear in this network of spiritual friends that erotic desire flowed in homosexual directions, heterosexual directions in trios pairs community that included individuals, living dead of all genders and reducing this world to familiar contemporary tropes of catholic repression disregards the variety of the loving bonds and Erotic expressions that were not only readily and they were admitted as kind of the hot center of their religious lives, and it just can’t contain the complexities of this world. So was there sexual repression here? Shame maybe around sex. Yes, probably, no doubt there was right.
This was catholicism um, but there was a lot more to it. Besides, just that and though the queer energy of this community was greater than i ever would have anticipated, there was a mystery to their sexual lives and i, ultimately, you know kind of adhere with the inside of the theologian marcella altus reed, who says, there’s more to Sexuality than sex, i never really knew what she meant by that until i spent so much time with these sensual, but not exactly sexual friendships, um, okay, couple other final points and then i’m oh yeah, i’m good on time. Then i’m almost done: okay, um, so catholics. I would say two other final: intense catholics have always been known to be more communal, as opposed to protestant individualism, a communal kind of faith, which is because catholics are seen to have commitments to social teaching or the common good or especially, to have affiliations with, like A big massive institutional church, but i saw catholic corporatism in this community as something more intimate and interpersonal. Today, i think people think that there’s two options for catholics: it’s either you know the institutional church or you kind of get get away from it all, and you have a kind of personal spirituality, that’s private and individualist that these people kind of carved out a space For faith that was different, it was neither you know the same world as the world of the priests and the bishops, but it wasn’t just an individualist.
Do your own thing: either it was a communal, catholicism, different. What we normally imagine – and it was in this communal context of friendship within catholicism itself – that people had the strength to resist all the hatreds associated with modern empires and the pull of secularism. This was an undercurrent that generated catholicism, most creative and radical turn. Um and um and finally a couple two ago, one other point here and then and then my conclusion that although i’ve emphasized the political nature and the political results of these friendships, when these people wrote about their friends, they always wanted to emphasize the fact that each Friendship could not be reduced exactly to the social, the moral, the political they always seem to emphasize, that each friend inhabited a world that was somehow strange, different taboo as if the friend came from elsewhere, in the same way that when we hear you know stories about The saints there’s kind of a strangeness and otherness, even something kind of disturbing or impolite about their friends. They always wrote about their friends in that way.
As if to say, these friends are holy because they ha come from and elsewhere. There is something of god um that becomes present in the context of these friendships, so they cannot be entirely reduced to political categories. Although that’s what i’ve emphasized and as i conclude, i just want to mention something. Finally, that i said at the outset that initially when i was a younger scholar, i was too embarrassed to study friendship. It didn’t seem critical enough or suspicious enough or academic enough, and had i never just forced myself to get over that embarrassment, i would have missed what i think of as the heartbeat of the most creative period of 20th century global catholicism.
It was the fuel for resistance and the reso and enabled the resources to imagine another possible world. It offered transcendence. So my advice to you, students, especially it’s so wonderful, you know so many of you are just starting out your time at holy cross. My advice to you, um is, as you embark on your own research projects. Your final papers think about senior theses, independent studies, summer research, um – that will hopefully be just the beginning of an adult life of curiosity and learning trust.
Your gut. You know listen to your instincts when your attention is grabbed by something you’re reading or discovering. This is important. The odds are that there is something there something worthy of your care and your exploration and in the humanity. Sometimes, i think we’re better at critique than affirmation.
Better at deconstruction than building up – and i learned from this network of friends of how you could dedicate your lives to something that you find worthy of your devotion in care, and i really hope something for each of you. Students here at holy cross, there’s so much to learn so much to uncover that can give us material to think about as we try to envision a better future for ourselves. There’S so many relationships waiting for you too, when you’re in college. While you do this work relationships with your friends with your professors, um your mentors and the techs and authors waiting to be explored and for their lives and their loves to be unearthed. Thank you so much for your time and your attention.
[ Applause ]. Absolutely this was very much a neo-medieval movement. You know all of these people, almost everybody i talked about – had a connection with um. You know uh mendican or medieval religious order. They were lay benedictines, franciscan, franciscans um and they all very much were interested in reading medieval theology spirituality as a resource to kind of counter where they saw.
You know, modernity headed like a sinking ship, you know as the wars. You know they were not optimistic about modernity like we like sometimes in the united states um, and there was there’s a lot that of medieval writers themselves, write about friendship. You know friendship, um, friendship as having partners on the pathway, for god, friendships in sort of the homo social context of monasteries and convents. So david wrote a lot about the theologies of friendship in the cistercians, for example, um and so yeah. They were interested too in kind of the study of the theology of friendship that comes from monastic contexts, so it was like they kind of took the monastic spirituality of friendship, but wanted to kind of bring it out into the world without the structure of the monastery.
Where it is like, you can have friendships, but not special friends. You know it’s just like a lot of surveillance around to donate too close to friends in the monastic context, so it was um yeah of them really feeling their own way. I would say you know without the structure of the monastery, but it was a theology of monastic friendship, so it was different. You know that that was one of the things that i learned. I mean when i started with the marathons they had friendships and and saw their friends and cultivated and smoothed and sustained friendships in a way that might be familiar to us.
You know they had this big salon, so people talked about almost like a religious pilgrimage going to their house and they hosted discussion groups and even their house felt religious. They had permission to have a chapel in their home, so every sunday people would come to their home and and then afterwards they would like intensify that you know sending letters and thank you knows there was just a whole apparatus. I’D say to friendship, but it was a lot of having people at their homes, but things like two: they would travel a lot as speakers or as activists, and you know they would go through so much effort to meet with friends. It was like jack, you know if he was had a conference in chicago, he would try to get his new york friends to come to chicago just for a lunch. You know so i kind of think about that.
Like you know, all of us, you know we’re so busy. I sometimes think if i really want to keep up these a close friendship, it takes a lot of work and they put a lot of work into it. I would say um, but then someone like, like devi, was such a loner, that it was kind of all these. You know in memories and writing about friends and eulogies and thinking about the past. So she wrote a ton of books about her friends and, and it was more like mentally – if you think about you, just wrote a book about someone you used to know like that was how it kind of happened.
Um, but yeah lots of correspondence travel, face-to-face meetings. Introducing people to one another like okay, devi, you know, or i mean mistral, went to brazil maritime said. I really want you to meet one of my spiritual friends in brazil you might like, so it was really the organizing structure of their relationality, their intellectual life, their activism and they put a ton of effort into it. But that’s a great question: how important was it? You know?
That’S uh! That’S a really good question too, and it really is the subject of a lot of contemporary historiographical debate so, for example, in france right now, there’s a lot of investment of saying, hey this french resistance among catholics was the way france really felt. This was what most people did. This was a big deal, but scholars really say this was such a small number of people who engaged in the resistance um it. It was a minority movement.
You know from start to finish now i would say france could be proud, because about one-fourth of the jewish population in france was deported or died that one a quarter of the jewish population was lost. Now it would have been less had more people engaged in resistance, but it certainly would have been more had the resistance not happened. I mean i met that guy. You know so for that small number very important, whereas something in like the netherlands about three-fourths of their jewish population was killed. So that is a difference.
So it’s like it. Those numbers really do matter, but and and for catholics too. It’S like. Sometimes i get nervous. You know it’s almost like.
As a catholic, you want to say, look at what catholics did during the war. You make almost a bigger deal out of it, whereas i always want to be clear. This was a small number. Most catholics complied most catholics obeyed. That was the mainstream.
These were talking about us numerically small number of incredibly courageous people yeah, but i think that’s a good question because there’s a lot at stake at that like yeah. Well, thank you! So much everybody for taking time. I appreciate it. [ Applause, ]