Here is an English translation of portions of Philippe Boutry's lecture this morning at Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, part of the second in a series of Lenten lectures, which can be viewed online at KTO French Catholic television. This translation is of those portions included in a transcription published in La-Croix. For an overview and schedule of the series, see this earlier post. Read to the end for a discussion of forgiveness and the love of God who reconciles man to Himself:
The second section of the Lenten Conferences at Notre Dame de Paris. Philippe Boutry and Father Gerard Pelletier compare their viewpoints on the topic "To make memory: Truth and History"
Extracts from Philippe Boutry, Historian:
"History and memory seem at first glance to be two concepts very close to each other, connected so to speak; it is, however, important to clearly distinguish them. . . . Memory makes history possible and provides it with its material; history, in turn, nourishes memory, guarantees its exactitude, confers on it an intelligibility, gives it a form, and, as far as possible, a meaning.
Memory and history thus maintain particularly close connections; and yet, they do not coincide. . . . Memory is fuller than history: there are human societies whose history is little known, even unknown; but there are no human societies without memory. Furthermore, memory more broadly solicits the capacities of the human being; it does not belong only to the register of intelligence, but also to that of affectivity and feeling; it integrates the whole of an actual experience. History, on its part, is more intimately linked to its own forms of construction and expression: in its sources, in narration and writing; it has acquired in the flow of centuries, critical methods and a scientific aim. Memory and history can thus diverge, can sometimes even enter into conflict. . . .
History is rooted in memory; and that is what confers on it, since the Highest Antiquity, its raison d'être and its legitimacy within the erudition of humanity. . . . In that sense, history almost seems to merge with memory which gave birth to it and nourished it: The memory of men and women, transmitted from generation to generation, within the family, of a group or of society; the memory of origins and times bygone, doings and heroes, collective events and great men; the memory of places and spaces through which great works of the past are inscribed in experiential time.
A Concern for Preservation of Its Cultural Capital.
. . . If the 19th century had been the century of history, and particularly national history, but cared very imperfectly about conservation, the 20th century tended to make sacred the concept of ‘heritage’ out of a concern for preservation of its cultural capital not free from ideological or tourist aims . . . Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, where we are joined together today, owes no doubt more, in several of its parts, to the architect Viollet-le-Duc, who restored it following the Revolution, than to its medieval architects; and "to restore a building", wrote the latter, "is not to maintain it, repair it or to remake it; it is to restore it to a whole state which never could have existed at any given time". . . On the other hand, the heritage thus preserved only confirms one weak part of the memory and history of men. . . . Memory, from then on, to perpetuate itself, imposes recourse on history.
History and memory could not thus merge. There are initially cases in which memory proves to be stronger than history because it proceeds from a transmission which is not only written but oral, from a tradition which is not only erudite but collective. . . . It is the collective tradition of the first Christian communities which allowed the drafting of the four Gospels, not, to be strictly accurate, as historical documents, but as testimony of the faith shared by the first disciples of Christ in the heart of the history . . . .
Closer to us, there are episodes of History, re-transcribed in an official account, sometimes sweetened or impaired, emptied of their substance and of their lived reality, that the tenacious and living memory of the people gradually contributed to re-seize, revise, check and revivify. . . .
History, in That Sense, Purifies Memory.
More numerous today, nonetheless, are . . . cases in which it is memory which tries to press hard on history, to control the work of historians, and which would like to prohibit them from inquiring freely, exploring files, checking the facts and confronting realities, representations and memories. A memory without history threatens us, worthy of the world of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which "day by day, and almost minute after minute, the past was updated," regularly modified to better correspond to the issues of the present; and this memory without history causes a strong concern among all those for whom history has in it a demand for truth.
The "memorial laws" that, despite all warnings, multiply politics today to satisfy the sensibility, convictions or interests of the most diverse special interest groups, all tend, whatever one says about them, to substitute an official truth, together with penal sanctions, for the complexity of historical situations, and to set up in official law what should only follow research and debate, as if it were not in truth and by truth that an authentic memory could bear witness and make sense for the present.
History indeed is inhabited by a demand for truth; and it is perhaps through that demand that the historian can reach, at the same time, an ultimate meaning, to the extent and within the limits of its own discipline. . . . The demand for truth, which is – or should be - that of the historian, thus implies a work on oneself which depends, in its way, on an asceticism. History, in that sense, purifies memory, identifies the sources and measures their reliability, restores places, dates, texts and facts in their exactitude and their integrity and endeavors to confer upon them an intelligibility which is neither that of the actors, nor dictated by the dominant ideology, nor moved by its own passions. . . .
Forgiveness asked, and forgiveness given, purify the memory and transcend history; they introduce one into an order of reality that depends, according to the convictions of each, upon trust in man’s capacity to overcome his past or faith in a God who is love and who reconciles man with Himself. It is to this ultimate truth that memory and history yield.