Immorality at the heart of the religious struggle during the IIIe Republic

Immorality at the heart of the religious struggle during the III<sup>e</sup> Republic

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Home ›Studies› Immorality at the heart of the religious struggle during the IIIe Republic

  • The debauchery of a confessor, by Léo Taxil and Karl Milo.


  • The combiste dance.


The debauchery of a confessor, by Léo Taxil and Karl Milo.

© Contemporary Collections

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: February 2007

Historical context

A quarrel spanning more than 20 years

Twenty years separate the date of production of these two posters. In 1884, Léo Taxil’s work published by the Librairie anticléricale began with the beginnings of the religious conflict that would mark France in the IIIe Republic. The postcard titled Combist Dance however, evokes the height of the religious crisis since the debate on the Law of Separation is underway.

The radical party, violently anticlerical, is in power and the President of the Council Emile Combes wishes to achieve the official separation of Church and State.

Image Analysis

Opposing ideologies but similar critiques

Hodé's poster illustrates the work of Léo Taxi and Kar Milo in an explicit way: a man of the Church receives in a room, certainly his own, a young woman who has come to confession. To expiate her faults, the latter accepts a violent corporal punishment, the flogging. In this image, the two characters take a certain pleasure in it. The evocation of "debauchery" and sin of the flesh are much more than suggested. References to the practices described a century earlier by the Marquis de Sade reinforce this feeling of immorality. No element belonging to religious symbolism (a cross, an image of Christ, of a Saint, etc.) is present: the enemy is clearly designated, it is men of the Church and not of religion. This is a constant in the anticlerical policy which was intended to bring together as many people as possible and which therefore had to avoid frontal attacks against sacred figures.

This is the same angle of attack that the author of the postcard takes The Combist Dance. The main leaders of the Left Bloc: André (Minister of War), Brisson (leader of the radical party), Pelletan (Minister of the Navy), Vallé (member of the radical party), Combes (President of the Council) and Jaurès (socialist engaged in anticlerical combat) are depicted in suggestive positions, almost entirely naked. This image is a resumption of the sculpture The Dance of Carpeaux (named after its author) which has adorned the Opéra Garnier in Paris since 1869. This work had sparked a violent controversy since it represented a round of naked women and drunken bacchantes who whirled around the genius of dance. Zola had seen in this sculpture the signs of the moral decay of the Second Empire, a few months before its fall. Combes is represented in the place of the genius of the Dance, he is therefore the instigator of anticlerical policy, one of the characters most hated by Catholics.


The moral questioning of the adversary

In both posters, the opposing camp is designated as not responding to good morals. The violent confessor, taking pleasure in the physical suffering of his flock echoes in the postcard Emile Combes and his acolytes who mistreat the men of the Church.
Combes is also levitating above a monk in perdition, as if swallowed up by his adversaries, and he holds in his hands a good sister and a priest whose small size evokes their fragility and their powerlessness in the face of immorality. of the radical government. The final impression comes down to two abandoned beings, given up as sacrifice and as food to a group of characters with dubious and equivocal practices, close to homosexuality. The Combes ministry will fall besides at the end of a campaign of moral denigration since the ministry for the War André (present in this image) will be convinced to have carried out thanks to its Masonic relations an investigation on the religious opinions of the Republican officers: this postcard is also contemporary with this scandal.

Violence and perversion symbolized by the red stains are omnipresent on the poster of Taxil and Milo's book: the lacerated back of the young girl, the white blouse, the dress and the petticoat, the soles but also the term "debauchery" and the insert at the bottom of the page. Thanks to this image, we understand why anticlericalism was for a long time the bearer of a misogynist ideology, women being supposed to be close to the Church, easily influenced. We see one of the causes of universal male suffrage in effect at that time: for many anticlericals, women could only vote for "the priest's party". In addition, the satisfied smile of the young girl makes her an ambiguous creature, arousing all perversions: the image of the temptress woman, evocation of original sin, of Eve in the Bible, is therefore found in a curious way in this work. anticlerical. Paradox in the life of Léo Taxil who will not be the only one since, after an often violent and outrageous work, he will ask absolution from Pope Leo XIII in 1885 and will become a pamphleteer in the service of the cause of the Church.

  • anticlericalism
  • Catholicism
  • caricature
  • Clergy
  • deputies
  • Combes (Emile)
  • Jaurès (Jean)
  • Separation law of 1905
  • radicalism
  • Third Republic
  • Mac Mahon (Patrice de)
  • religious conflict
  • misogyny


Jacqueline LALOUETTEThe anticlerical republic, 19th-20th centuries Paris, Seuil, "L’Univers historique", 2002. Jean-Marie MAYEURPolitical life under the Third RepublicParis, Le Seuil, 1984. Gabriel MERLEEmile CombesParis, Fayard, 1995.Madeleine REBÉRIOUXThe Radical Republic (1898-1914)Le Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1975.René RÉMONDAnticlericalism in France from 1815 to the present dayParis, Fayard, 1976.

To cite this article

Vincent DOUMERC, "Immorality at the heart of the religious struggle during the IIIe Republic "

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