70 years ago, tonight, a French Jesuit theologian, Yves de Montcheuil, was executed by the Nazi’s in Grenoble with several of his co-detainees. He was executed because of his involvement with French Resistance fighters, who were fighting a guerrilla campaign against Nazi occupation during World War II. During the summer of 1943 and at Easter 1944 when he had been involved in running of youth camps, he was called upon by Resistance members from Vercors. This was a rural French resistance ("maquis") group who used the prominent scenic plateau known as the massif du Vercors as a refuge.
De Mountcheuil, in responding to their call, encountered young Christians without the sacraments who also faced with difficult questions of conscience that they felt unable to resolve alone. In July 1944, de Montcheuil joined them for a short stay. The Germans attacked a few days later and instead of fleeing, he remained behind with the wounded. He was captured in a cave with doctors, nurses and their patients.
He had taught at the Catholic Institute of Paris, and was influential in developing a pioneering theology of action. His experience of serving as a chaplain to the Young Catholic Workers movement was influential in this. His writings and theology were heavily influenced by the the work of Maurice Blondel. In his most important work, L'Action, Blondel developed a "philosophy of action" that integrated classical Neoplatonic thought with modern Pragmatism in the context of a Christian philosophy of religion. De Montcheuil was also a close friend of Henri de Lubac, who would play a significant role at Vatican II. De Montcheuil was also the spiritual director of a young Pierre Haubtmann, later to become the editor of Gaudium et Spes at Vatican II. Henri de Lubac, writing in 1987, nevertheless described him as “almost forgotten.”
A turning point in his life was when Paris fell to Hitler’s army in June 1940. Within a month, a new government was in place, and France was divided into an occupied zone in the north, including Paris, and a self-governing southern zone centered on the spa town of Vichy. The latter included the major Jesuit center of Lyons. Living in Paris, De Montcheuil was confronted every day with new practical and intellectual questions about the type of witness that he should be giving against Nazism. Resistance groups increasingly employed tactics and methods as brutal as the Gestapo, and close involvement in their activities would have compromised the specifically Christian and spiritual character of Montcheuil’s own resistance. He recognized that his calling as a priest lay in building up the faith of the people of God by nurturing the roots of their faith and presenting to them its practical implications. The fight against Nazism became for him a battle for faith and for Christian consciences. The most noteworthy project to which Montcheuil contributed was the distribution of the an underground journal (The Cahiers) founded in November 1941 largely through the efforts of Pierre Chaillet and Henri de Lubac. Montcheuil was unable to take part in the journal’s foundation because he was living in France’s occupied zone, but he fostered secret distribution networks for the Cahiers in Paris and the occupied north.The Cahiers disseminated reliable information about the occupa- tion of France and the Nazi genocide elsewhere, encouraged and exhorted French Christians to conscientious witness, and provided accurate versions of papal pronouncements, which in newspapers were subject to heavy censorship if they appeared at all. The editors of the Cahiers also acknowl- edged the important role of Vatican Radio—in de Lubac’s phrase, the “true older brother of the Cahiers”.