[Footnote 1: Lucta mea, Genesis xxx. 8.]
[Footnote 2: His name was Francois Liart. He was a very upright and high minded young man. He died at Treguier at the end of March, 1845. His family sent me after his death all my letters to him, and I have them still.]
I thus reached the vacation of 1845, which I spent, as I had the preceding ones, in Brittany. There I had much more time for reflection. The grains of sand of my doubts accumulated into a solid mass. My director, who, with the best intentions in the world, gave me bad advice, was no longer within my reach. I ceased to take part in the sacraments of the Church, though I still retained my former fondness for its prayers. Christianity appeared to me greater than ever before, but I could only cling to the supernatural by an effort of habit—by a sort of fiction with myself. The task of logic was done; that of honesty was about to begin. For nearly two months I was Protestant; I could not make up my mind to abandon altogether the great religious tradition which had hitherto been part of my life; I mused upon future reforms, when the philosophy of Christianity, disencumbered of all superstitious dross and yet preserving its moral efficacity (that was my great dream), would be left the great school of humanity and its guide to the future. My readings in German gave nurture to these ideas. Herder was the German writer with whom I was most familiar. His vast views delighted me, and I said to myself, with keen regret, if I could but think all that like a Herder and remain a priest, a Christian preacher. But with my notions at once precise and respectful of Catholicism, I could not succeed in conceiving any honourable way of remaining a Catholic priest while retaining my opinions. I was Christian after the fashion of a professor of theology at Halle or Tuebingen. An inward voice told me: “Thou art no longer Catholic; thy robe is a lie; cast it off.”
I was a Christian, however; for all the papers of that date which I have preserved give clear expression to the feeling which I have since endeavoured to portray in the Vie de Jesus, I mean a keen regard for the evangelic ideal and for the character of the Founder of Christianity. The idea that in abandoning the Church I should remain faithful to Jesus got hold upon me, and if I could have brought myself to believe in apparitions I should certainly have seen Jesus saying to me: “Abandon Me to become My disciple.” This thought sustained and emboldened me. I may say that from that moment my Vie de Jesus was mentally written. Belief in the eminent personality of Jesus—which is the spirit of that book—had been my mainstay in my struggle against theology. Jesus has in reality ever been my master. In following out the truth at the cost of any sacrifice I was convinced that I was following Him and obeying the most imperative of His precepts.