The Catholics of this country have fallen into habit with their religion, to the point that they no longer worry about knowing if it’s true or false, or if they really believe it or not; and this kind of mechanical faith accompanies them unto death.
—Julien Green (“Theophile Delaporte”)
So sighed the Franco-American writer Julien Green in 1924, lamenting the spiritual complacency of the adoptive country he had fought for in World War I. An exiled American from the South, prone to romanticizing the Confederacy and troubled by his homosexuality, Green had converted to Catholicism at sixteen; he longed keenly for an ancient social unity, and France had supplied him with a fading antiquity and a cherished national defeat much like the South’s. Yet “unto death” French Catholics—solipsistic, complacent, bored—failed to supply his spiritual needs. Secularization in his view had spread from a political arrangement to a disease of the Christian soul. Did French Catholics even believe in Green’s longed-for church and savior?
The limitations of a “mechanical faith” also troubled a young, nobly-born French Catholic priest-scholar and wounded war veteran just a few years older than Julien Green...