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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bishop of Digne: Walking Hugo's talk

Victor Hugo in 1853 (Public Domain)
The man who wrote "Religion is nothing but the shadow cast by the universe upon human intelligence" is also the author who created the Bishop of Digne.

Victor Hugo's mother was a Catholic Royalist who dominated his youth.  As a result, Hugo himself originally showed allegiance to Church and King.  Wikipedia reports that his views slowly shifted over to those of Republicanism and Freethought.  Hugo then began sharply criticizing Catholicism
(Monasticism, as it existed in Spain and still exists in Tibet, is a wasting disease of civilization…  the thought of so much suffering and degradation must cause you to shudder at the sight of a veil or cassock, those two shrouds of human invention.) while openly heralding a Rationalist Deism similar to Voltaire's (Toleration is the best religion.)

Enter the Bishop of Digne ("born" Charles-Francois-Beinvenu Myriel), who seems to span the best of both these worldviews.  Melissa Howard writes that Myriel had been passionate, even sometimes violent, during his own youth.  His later compassion "was less an instinct of nature than the result of a strong conviction."  Shortly after moving to the Bishop's roomy palace at Digne, Myriel decided to offer it to the next-door hospital.  He then moved into the former hospital's relatively cramped quarters.  Myriel also reserved only one-fifteenth of his Bishop's allotment for personal expenses – the rest he gave "to the poor and invalid."  As he did with Jean Valjean, Myriel "always placed himself in sympathy with the most abject members of his parish and walked with them for as long as necessary."  Hugo states that "Love one another" was Myriel's "whole doctrine."

Wikipedia explains that "although Hugo believed Catholic dogma to be outdated and dying, he never directly attacked the actual doctrines of the Church."


Copyright January 3, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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