In a note dated 1955, Cardijn made a list of the key reading he had done at various stages of his life.
Among the authors he read between 1902 and 1904 when he was aged 18-20 studying philosophy and theology at the Malines major seminary, he cites the French philosopher, Léon Ollé-Laprune (1839-1898), a promoter of the lay apostolate and disciple of Society of St Vincent de Paul founder, Frédéric Ozanam.
And today marks the 125th anniversary of Ollé-Laprune’s premature death at the age of 58 on 13 February 1898.
But why was Cardijn interested in his writings and what did he learn?
One answer, perhaps, lies in Ollé-Laprune’s deep influence on the development of Marc Sangnier’s democratic lay movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which also had such a great influence on Cardijn.
“He understood our plans almost as soon as we did, and approved them from the beginning,” wrote the Sillon leader and seminarian, Albert Lamy in an obituary for Ollé-Laprune. “One of his books provided us with our motto, his friendship stayed with us constantly.”
That motto, borrowed by Ollé-Laprune from Plato, was “il faut aller au vrai avec toute son âme” – “we have to seek the truth with our whole soul.”
Lamy explained this with a quote from Ollé-Laprune’s most famous book, Le Prix de la vie, which translates into English as either “The price or the prize of life,” a double meaning that expresses both the cost and value of a fully-lived life:
I will philosophise with my whole self, in an atmosphere completely impregnated with Christianity. I philosophise as a thinking man, a living man, a complete man, and a Christian.
In other words, no division between faith and life, a fully lived Christianity that closely resembles Cardijn’s understanding and even foreshadows Pope Francis’ key concept of “integral human development.” (Laudato Si’)
But how to achieve this integral human and Christian development?
Ollé-Laprune also provided an answer to this in a talk entitled La virilité intellectuelle that he presented to students in Lyon in 1896:
Gentlemen, it remains for us to consider what our era demands of us in particular, and what a young man who thinks like a man needs to do at the present time.
In order to think in a virile manner, I believe we need to possess three qualities: we must be able to see clearly, we must be able to judge, and we must be able to decide.
As Ollé-Laprune also recognised, this was a challenge:
To see clearly is not easy; to judge, that is to say, as Bossuet said, “to pronounce within oneself with respect to what is true and what is false,” is perhaps even more difficult; to decide, it seems, is the most difficult thing in the world for some people: even when the premises are there, which call, which claim, which impose a conclusion, they cannot decide or conclude.
But, Gentlemen, one must know how to dare what so many men do not have the courage to do: to see clearly, to judge and to conclude.
And by conclude or decide he meant taking action. To quote Albert Lamy again:
His latest books never end without immediately practical considerations and advice as well as encouragement to continual, daily action.
As we can see then, Ollé-Laprune was foreshadowing the see-judge-act that Cardijn himself would soon make famous and that Pope Francis would also adopt as a way of achieving integral human and Christian development.
It’s also why I believe that Léon Ollé-Laprune can also be justly called “the philosopher of the see-judge-act.”
Léon Ollé-Laprune (www.olle-laprune.net /Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Stefan Gigacz, Léon Ollé-Laprune, Philosopher and Lay Apostle
Joseph Cardijn, My reading (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Le Sillon (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)