Fr. Albert Lagrange is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the biblical renewal which has had a profound effect on our approach to Scripture. He founded the “école biblique of Jerusalem” and “Revue Biblique” (Biblical Review).
Jean Guitton, a student and friend of Fr. Lagrange, willingly gave this personal interview to Fr. Manuel Rivero o. p. in April of 1988.
Fr. Manuel Rivero: Jean Guitton, you have heard of the process of canonization which has begun for Fr. Lagrange. What are your thoughts on this development?
Jean Guitton: I would like to make this testimony regarding Fr. Lagrange. I knew him through his writings, through a personal correspondence with him over five years, and also because of the three months that I spent at the école biblique in Jerusalem in 1935. Fr. Lagrange visited me in Montpellier. I was also present at his funeral at Saint-Maximin.
I have known the interior presence of Fr. Lagrange in my spirit, mind and heart.
Today humanity is in a profound crisis. Human beings are being tempted by atheism, an intellectual atheism based on technology.
The 21st century will undergo a dramatic confrontation between atheism and Christianity. Before Christ, humanity was not atheist, but theist, polytheist even. Humanity of the 19th century was not atheist but antitheist that is to say, against faith. Now we are seeing a conflict between faith and science. Given these conditions how are we to react ? There is a way which strikes the intellectual. It is about recognizing, exalting and placing upon the altar the one who reconciled faith and science.
The exaltation of Fr. Lagrange prepares theology for the future. In the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, theology was the queen of the sciences. Theology stood in the way of exegesis. The conflict with Galileo is an historical example of this. Now, approaching the 21st century, the problem is the reverse. Exegesis stands in the way of theology. Under these conditions it is essential to have exegetes who are competent scholars. That is why I have decided to do everything I can do to aid in the process of Fr. Lagrange’s beatification.
Fr. M. R.: What signs of holiness did you see in Fr. Lagrange ?
Jean Guitton: I like the Islamic thought which compares the ink of the writer with the blood of the martyrs. If Stendhal had thought of that it would have given a different meaning to his book, “The Red and the Black” (Le Rouge et le Noir).
Fr. Lagrange’s sixty-year sacrifice is precious in the eyes of God. He was devoted to his work. His assiduousness in study was edifying. When I was in Jerusalem I knocked on his door one morning. I was snubbed. Fr. Lagrange worked without ceasing.
I can also speak of his premonitory genius. He understood early on the importance of archaeology in the understanding of Scripture. His studies on the historical method turned out to be truly prophetic. At that time we thought that Moses wrote the Pentateuch by dictating it to his secretary.
The Pentateuch was not a Mosaic document but rather a mosaic of documents. For Fr. Lagrange historical criticism helped as a foundation for the faith; much critical study strengthened the faith.
Fr. Lagrange’s life has a prophetic character. Saints change things. St. Francis announced a spirituality which had really never existed before: love of nature and the cosmos. Fr. Lagrange also fit into this category of those who bring about change.
Fr. Lagrange was a humble man. It is difficult to define humility. There are many who are falsely humble and only a few truly humble people. Humility consists in accepting humiliations with a light and joyful heart. Fr. Lagrange, under the pontificate of Pius X, was very unjustly accused. He was forbidden to teach. He had to leave Jerusalem. In Rome there were bad reports about him. He was considered a destroyer of the faith and not an apostle. Fr. Lagrange never said anything. He made no diatribes against the authorities. When the heavens reopened he went back to Jerusalem.
Fr. Lagrange spoke charitably about Loisy. He condemned his ideas but not the man himself. Like Loisy, Fr. Lagrange knew about using his conscience in the interpretation of the Bible.
In his family the story is told of how his mother, a devotee of St. Jean-Marie Vianney, who already had a reputation as a prophet, took him, as a puny infant, to present him in Ars. The Curé of Ars said, “This child will give glory to the Church.” It was Fr. Lagrange himself who asked that I might verify these sayings with his sister on my return to France from Jerusalem.