Modern thought in the face of Catholicism

Modern thought in the face of Catholicism

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Title: The Magdalene at the Pharisee.

Author : BERAUD Jean (1849 - 1935)

Creation date : 1891

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 104 - Width 131

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

Picture reference: 85EE2262 / RF 1982-55

The Magdalene at the Pharisee.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

"Jesus, an incomparable man"
The 1890s - "after Jules Ferry" - saw dissonance multiply within the Republic. The world of thought is no less troubled, at the center of which sits Ernest Renan, famous since the publication in 1863 of The Life of Jesus - bestseller of the century -, a book which expresses the deep humanity of Christ, "incomparable man". Thinker, philosopher, historian, but also a man of power, Renan published in 1891 The Future of Science, a sort of testament to the coming century. In the same year 1891, Pope Leo XIII published the encyclical Rerum novarum, which denounces the excesses of capitalism on the one hand, and socialism on the other.

Image Analysis

Jean Béraud illustrates here an extract from The Gospel of Saint Luke (chapter VIII, verse 49): Jesus 'visit to the Pharisee Simon during which a "sinful woman" anoints Jesus' feet with a perfume of greatness. price after wetting them with her tears and wiping them with her hair. But the scene takes place in 1891, in a bourgeois interior: Renan (in the center of the table, a napkin around his neck) presides over a social dinner where a number of Parisian personalities appear, including the chemist Eugène Chevreul (who died the previous year in 103 years old) with glasses and graying sideburns, and Alexandre Dumas fils, leaning against the back of a chair. Christ was present at this dinner, whose features were immediately identified with those of the journalist and socialist activist Albert Duc-Quercy (1856-1934), at whose feet, at coffee time, a repentant Magdalene bows down. is other than the demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy, who, truly repentant, will end her days at the convent.


This canvas is not easy to read, which caused a scandal and was bought by the Daily Telegraph's Paris correspondent, Sir Campbell Clark. Everything is ambiguous. In fact, a religious ideal is mixed with social or moral satire. We can certainly see a Christ close to the humble, but in the guise of a tireless propagandist and leader of strikes! Renan, the old adversary of the Church, holds the main place there, but he has become the official reference for governments concerned with order and stability… and here he is incarnating Simon the Pharisee, he who had opened up to his “ afraid of appearing a Pharisee ”! "Christophage for Salon and clubs, reserving to accommodate the son of God up to date," said Octave Mirbeau of Jean Béraud. Is this just a joke or is this an assertion that in the new positivist society, Christ's teaching, his faith in humanity, remains in full force?

  • Catholicism
  • dechristianization
  • writers
  • Renan (Ernest)
  • Jesus Christ
  • meal
  • biblical character
  • Dumas fils (Alexandre)
  • Mirbeau (Octave)


Patrick OFFENSTADTJean Béraud (1849-1935), The Belle Epoque, a dream era, catalog raisonné Köln, Taschen, 1999 H.W.WARDMANN Renan, Historian, Philosopher Paris, Cedes-Cdu, 1979.Gérard CHOLVY Christianity and society in France 1790-1914 Paris, Seuil coll. “Points Histoire”, 2001.

To cite this article

Chantal GEORGEL, "Modern thought in the face of Catholicism"

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