Auguste Comte survives Clotilde de Vaux by eleven years. He publishes Le Catechisme positiviste and La Synthese objective ou Systeme universel des conceptions propres a l’etat normal de l’Humanite, which are the bases of a new religion, of which Aldous Huxley will say:
“It’s catholicism, minus christianism.”
He prepares the organisation of the temples, the positivist sacraments, the discipline particular to the faithful, the particular devotions for the “holy figures” of women, those of Clotilde, her mother and her female servant. The New Religion of Humanity has for essential motto: “Love for principle, Order for base, Progress for goal.” In Paris, the “Very Holy Metropolis”, will be raised the first sanctuary of positivism, Rue Payenne, in the house where Clotilde died.
Auguste Comte dies in 1857, having fixed for the next ten years the atheist masses and the solemnities of Clotilde’s cult, the whole liturgic ensemble of a religion without God which must, according to his illuminated wish, conquer the West and make human consciousness enter into the age of progress.
He had prepared this posthumous triumph for the year 1867, the date at which must be published the “sacred correspondance”. But, in 1867, Paris is not celebrating the positivist New Religion of Humanity. Paris is celebrating the Universal Exhibition and the music of Offenbach.
In his Will, Auguste Comte expresses the wish to be united in the grave with his cherished Clotilde. The family of the young woman, who has never accepted the philosopher, opposes this. Seventy-five years after the death of August Comte, his disciples at last obtain the transfer of Clotilde’s remains into the grave of the pontiff of Humanity, at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. Alas, the Virgin Mother’s tomb not being waterproof, only a bit of mud, “a silt froth”, according to the police report, is found.
Their bodies never embraced. Their bones never mingled.
This last part of Auguste Comte’s life is not very well-known. The encyclopaedias and big dictionaries give a large place to the philosopher Auguste Comte, who prepares contemporary materialism. But they are discrete on the transfiguration of Clotilde into the Virgin Mother of Humanity through crazy love, and on Auguste Comte, the high priest of a new religion.
Emile Littre (the author of the famous dictionary of the French language, an atheist, Free Mason, and friend of Auguste Comte) puts a certain distance between himself and the philosopher when he goes into his amorous and mystical phase. He writes, about the meeting with Clotilde:
“From then on, this phase took on a determined character, and it stamped the seal of sentiment on the conception that he was elaborating.”
Which could be a respectful way of saying that Auguste Comte has gone mad.
When he goes for the first time to the home of Clotilde de Vaux’ parents, he is suffering from nervous troubles, insomnias, melancholy, oppressions, general weakness. He is exhausted by his enormous works. But it must also be said that, in 1826, (at the age of twenty-eight), shortly after his marriage with a former prostitute, he tries to commit suicide. He spends ten months interned in Doctor Esquirol’s clinic. He has delusions of persecution and of grandeur, followed by melancholic depression. His mother, who is very religious, takes advantage of this to have the religious marriage of her son celebrated by Abbot Lamennais, who has not yet become famous.
[In France, the State is completely separated from Religion. A person who wants to marry, must have a civil ceremony – usually at the Mairie (town hall) – for it to be legal. The religious ceremony, if performed, is not actually called a “marriage”. It is called a “blessing”. It is often performed on the same day as the civil ceremony, the family going directly from the town hall to the place of worship, but not always. A religious ceremony can be performed at any time after the legal civil ceremony, but it can’t be performed before it.]
Is this a return of his mental disorders? Perhaps. But he shows, in his mental construction, a firmness, a constancy, a systemic spirit which is quite extraordinary. He detaches himself from the idea of death, of mortality. While bizarre, this is also lucid. It can even be said that he exploits what could be called madness, precisely to escape madness. Andre Therive, who has studied Auguste Comte’s last years, says:
“For, in the end, these methodical exercises of prayer and meditation, his systematic construction of a completely human deity, of an entirely interior transcendance, are perhaps the absurd games of a wandering mind, but they are also a sure way to stay calm, to keep the rudder well in hand in the middle of storms, where many others would have sunk.”
Temples of the positivist religion exist Rue Payenne, where Clotilde lived, and Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, where Auguste Comte lived. A few disciples still celebrate the cult of Clotilde, the Virgin Mother of Humanity, there. There are around ten positivist temples in the world. According to Auguste Comte, the West should have two thousand, four hundred of them in France. For each one, seven priests and three assistants, chosen by an examination (like at the Polytechnique). The clergy should count twenty thousand Western philosophers.
Curiously, it is in Brazil that the religion of Humanity dreamed by Auguste Comte has known its triumph, with a strong number of faithful. In Rio, there is a great temple of positivism. And the Brazilian flag is the positivist emblem conceived by Auguste Comte. A green flag, with the globe of the world surrounded by a ribbon which carries the Comtist words: “Order and Progress” – “Ordem e progresso”.
Auguste Comte founded sociology as a positivist science, and rejected the theological and metaphysical ages of human History. But he thought that Man could not live without a religious sentiment. He wanted to build, by the strength of his subjectivity considered as such, a sort of imitation of catholicism without the christianism, without a revealed dogma. He invented a whole symbolism, out of his own life, so poor in love and so rich at heart. And he wanted this symbolism to serve as a religious guide to the men of the new ages. He made a bet that his own mental construction would be truer than reality, truer than the world. He wanted to make immortality without a reference to God, through the power of his mind and of his feelings alone, and give Clotilde eternal life in this way, not as a real goddess, but as an image of what is the purest in Humanity. It is perhaps delirious. But it is a noble delirium.
Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, says of Auguste Comte that he was a
“poor man and a great mind who became mad with love. A considerable laic thinker who became mad with holiness…”