1.2 Diderot becomes a priest

Sunday, 2. August 2009

At the age of thirteen Diderot was the main character in a solemn ceremony that made him a priest. The Bishop of Langres conferred the tonsure on Denis Diderot, a rite consisting of cutting off some locks of the candidate’s hair in the form of a cross. He was expected to wear a short mantle and an ecclesiastical collar with its white tabs. Thirteen, that’s very young, though…


For people who know only the Diderot of later life – a spirited and emphatic freethinker – it may even come as a surprise. The fact is that Diderot’s relatives hoped that he would be allowed to succeed to the lucrative prebend that his uncle, Canon Didier Vigneron, occupied at the local Cathedral.

Unfortunately after Diderot’s ceremony the uncle found that his chapter objected to his being succeeded by his young nephew. Thus the Canon sent one of his men off to Rome to ask the Pope’s permission. Alas, five hours after he had sent his representative, the uncle died. The planned succession was not binding unless the Pope had accepted it while the Canon was still alive. So the chapter immediately elected someone else and the young Diderot’s religious career was over…


Today we don’t know if this ambition was completely Diderot’s own, or at least in part. What do any of us know at the age of thirteen? We have an idea of the difference between good and evil, but perhaps insufficient to guide our choices and society makes allowance for this.


On the other hand it does sometimes seem as though young people stay childish for longer nowadays: irresponsible; dependent. Is this an improvement, I wonder…


Tomorrow: Diderot goes to Paris…

4 Responses to “1.2 Diderot becomes a priest”

  1. stevenhealey Says:

    Interesting , how fate plays a hand in our plans and the plans others may have for us.

    At the age of 13 today , adolescent thoughts are turned towards school and friends , secure in the knowledge that our worldly needs are provided for by parents.

    Children do seem to be leaving the nest later these days , and given the lap of luxury they are often afforded , do we blame them ?

  2. Cora Says:

    A short glance at the newspapers provides news like:

    Alfie Patten, a father at thirteen


    and the thirteen-year old prostitute


    and a thirteen-year old murderer


    versus the Time poll “Being Thirteen”


    In this poll of children (?) of this age group two-thirds said being a teenager is harder for them than it was for their parents. They find that reality, terrorism, bomb-attacks are forcing them to become a grown-up too soon.

    Well, perhaps this could be a useful development, useful to like’s jungle…

  3. stevenhealey Says:

    Our response to how easy is it to be 13 is going to depend on how we were at that age and how our children were.

    As for me , I was lucky .. my parents wanted a good education for all three of us and gave up a lot so that we could go to Grammar School.

    Then , in turn , we gave our sons every opportunity to enjoy a trouble free existence when possible , and then go onto University.

    As to how it was when we grew up , we had communism , the threat of nuclear war and ‘the troubles’

    No age is free of externally created fears , the difference now is that we are surrounded by media every hour of every day .

  4. Cora Says:

    Good point, Steven, we are indeed surrounded by media 24 hours a day.

    And this present-day phenomenon troubles me a bit.
    Because there’s one skill essential and that is to read.
    With all this information, this overload, we need to be able to read,
    and fast. Now, I wonder…what does this mean for all these people who don’t like to read and for those who have difficulties with reading.
    Are they missing the boat…or will our language change, and thus the ways of how to communicate…

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