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Alfred Firmin Loisy

1857-1940. Founder of Roman Catholic modernism in France. Born in Ambrières, he studied at Chãlons-sur-Marne seminary (1874-79) and the Institut Catholique, Paris, under Louis Duchesne, remaining there as professor of Hebrew and exegesis (1884-93) until dismissed for his views on biblical inerrancy. Much shaken in his faith by 1886, he rejected all traditional dogmas and turned to pantheism. Excommunication came in 1908 when he publicly renounced his faith, as he had done his priestly functions in 1906. He was professor of the history of religions in the College de France (1909- 30) and in the école des Hautes Êtudes (1924-27). He never recanted his position, and died without reconciliation to the church.

His Choses Passées (1913) and Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire religieuse de notre temps, 1860-1931 (1930-31) provide much autobiographical comment: the tortures of his thought, difficulties of conscience, and relationships with colleagues. The lack of intellectual honesty in the church disturbed him profoundly. In 1902 he published L'évangile et l'église in answer to Harnack's Wesen des Christentums (1900), holding that Christianity had developed in a way Christ had not prepared for. This was immediately condemned, as was Les Êvangiles synoptiques (1908) and Le Quatrième Êvangile (1903) which respectively defied authorized interpretation and John as author. Simples Réflexions was based on the decree Lamentabili and encyclical Pascendi (1907) as an attack on the authorities in Rome, while Naissance du christianisme (1933) sums up his final NT views. A student of biblical criticism with some extraordinary insights, he shifted too often in his views to have any permanently solid conclusions.

See A.R. Vidler, The Modernist Movement in the Roman Catholic Church (1934), and M.D. Petre, Alfred Loisy: His Religious Significance (1944).