Le Sillon ("The Furrow", or "The Path") was a French political and religious movement founded by Marc Sangnier (1873 - 1950) which existed from 1894 to 1910. It aimed to bring Catholicism into a greater conformity with French Republican and socialist ideals, in order to provide an alternative to Marxism and other anticlerical labour movements.
In 1891, Pope Leo XIII called for the Church to adopt a more open involvement in social issues in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. The opportunity created by this policy led liberals within the church in France to hope for an improved relationship between the Church and the Republic. As a result Le Sillon was founded in 1894, and began publication of their journal of the same name, edited by Sangnier.
Le Sillon called for a large scale project to reconcile the labour movement with Christianity. Sangnier wrote "Le Sillon is designed to make France a democratic republic. This is not a Catholic movement, in that its purpose is not to make work available to the bishops and priests to help them in their own ministry. Le Sillon is a secular movement, which does not affect the fact that it is also a deeply religious movement."
In 1905 Sangnier set up a confederation of groups intended as "circles of Catholic education", where young priests could discuss religion and society. The intention was to create a less hierarchical atmosphere in the church, in which ideas emerged from ordinary priests and laity. The organisation met with considerable popular enthusiasm with up to 500 000 members in France. At this time Le Sillon enjoyed the support of Pope Pius X and the French episcopate.
However, Church support was short lived. The group was perceived as too modernist and Republican. After the 1905 law of separation of church and state, the movement was increasingly criticized, particularly because it emphasised the authority of ordinary Christians within the Church rather than the Pope and the hierarchy. Le Sillon was finally condemned by the papal letter of 25 August 1910 Notre Charge Apostolique (Our Apostolic Mandate). As a result the organisation dissolved itself.
In 1912 Sangnier founded a replacement group, the Young Republic League (Ligue de la jeune République) to promote his vision of social Catholicism.
- «Le Sillon a pour but de réaliser en France la république démocratique. Ce n’est donc pas un mouvement catholique, en ce sens que ce n’est pas une œuvre dont le but particulier est de se mettre à la disposition des évêques et des curés pour les aider dans leur ministère propre. Le Sillon est donc un mouvement laïque, ce qui n’empêche pas qu’il soit aussi un mouvement profondément religieux.» La Croix, 1905
- Our Apostolic Mandate