The liberal Catholicism of Lamennais

The liberal Catholicism of Lamennais

Portrait of Hugues-Félicité-Robert de Lamennais.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

From La Mennais to Lamennais

Félicité Robert de La Mennais was one of the most outstanding intellectual figures of the Restoration and of the July Monarchy. The first volume of sound Essay on indifference in matters of religion, a work published in 1817 that was said to "wake up a dead"., is a huge bestseller. Its defense of the prerogatives of the Roman Church does not, however, prevent it from being in favor of press freedom despite the errors that it may promote (see on this subject: Of religion considered in its relation to the political and civil order, 1826 and

Progress of the revolution and the war against the Church, 1829). He then founded with Montalembert and Lacordaire The future, a daily newspaper in which he advocates a liberal Catholicism based on the separation of Church and State. This very marked commitment earned the newspaper a condemnation by Pope Gregory XVI (encyclical Mirari your, 1832). Lamennais, who voluntarily suppressed his nobiliary particle, then broke with Rome and turned towards genuine socialism.

Image Analysis

One man, one personality

La Mennais is represented here very simply, from the front, half-length, seated in a red armchair, writing at her table. All the interest of the painting is thus focused on its physiognomy, which struck all its contemporaries. George Sand left a very vivid portrait of him, which seems to apply perfectly to the work of Paulin-Guérin: “Mr. Lamennais, short, thin and suffering, had only a faint breath of life in his chest. But what a ray in his head! His nose was too prominent for his small size and for his narrow face. Without that disproportionate nose, her face would have been beautiful. The clear eye flashed flames; the forehead straight and crisscrossed with large vertical folds, signs of ardor in the will, the smiling mouth and the mobile mask under an appearance of austere contraction, it was a head strongly characterized for a life of renunciation, contemplation and preaching . His whole person, his simple manners, his sudden movements, his awkward attitudes, his frank gaiety, his fiery obstinacy, his sudden bonhomies, everything about him, even his big clean but poor clothes and his blue stockings, felt the cloarek Breton [clerk] ”(Story of my life).


The dissemination of the work

The painting in Versailles is a replica of the original exhibited at the Salon of 1827, now kept at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes. It was lithographed by Z. Belliard in 1828, and the print was very successful. It was on sale at the offices of Catholic Memorial, a publication managed by La Mennais under the Restoration and from which was born The future. Engraving then held an essential place in a population that was still largely illiterate. Just as much as his writings, the portrait of Paulin-Guérin thus contributed to forging the image of an austere La Mennais, living above all with an inextinguishable inner flame, entirely devoted to the propagation of his ideas and, ultimately, to the common and universal good.

  • Catholicism
  • Lamennais (Hugues-Félicité Robert de)
  • portrait
  • socialism
  • Sand (George)


Dominique BARJOT, Jean-Pierre CHALINE, André ENCREVE, France in the 19th century, 1814-1914 Paris, PUF, 1998. Claire CONSTANS, National Museum of the Palace of Versailles. The paintings , 2 vol. Paris, RMN, 1995. Jean LEBRUN, Lamennais or the worry of freedom, Paris, Fayard, 1981.Jacques LE GOFF, René REMOND (ed.), History of religious France, t.3 "From the very Christian king to republican secularism, 18th-19th century" Paris, Seuil, 1991.Michel WINOCK, The Voices of Freedom: writers involved in the 19th century, Paris, Seuil, 2001.

To cite this article

Pascal TORRÈS, "The liberal Catholicism of Lamennais"

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