MERCIER, DESIRE (1851-1926), Belgian cardinal, was born Nov. 21, 1851, at Braine-l'Alleud in the Walloon part of Brabant, of a bourgeois family. He studied at Malines. On April 5, 1874, he was ordained priest, a disciple of Aquinas. Af ter two years at the university of Louvain, he was appointed pro fessor of philosophy at the lesser seminary of Malines (1877).
In 188o Leo XIII., who wished to promote the study of Thomism, invited Cardinal Dechamps, Archbishop of Malines, to found a chair of Thomist philosophy at Louvain. The choice of the Cardinal fell on the young Abbe Mercier, who was appointed in 1882. Before assuming his new duties, the new professor studied in Paris under Charcot. While teaching psychology, logic, cri teriology, metaphysics and ontology to his Louvain students, including a large number of laymen, he followed closely the re search work of his colleagues, according to the tradition of the scholasticists, who combined theological and scientific studies.
In 1886 the Pope conferred a Roman prelateship upon him, and in 1888-9 issued two briefs urging the necessity of founding an Institut Superieur de Philosophie at Louvain. This institute was finally opened in 1894 and included, besides the chair of philosophy held by Mgr. Mercier, chairs of cosmology, physics, sociology, etc., held first by his colleagues and later by the pupils he had formed. The institute published the Revue Neoscolastique and became the centre of Neo-Thomism which exerted consid erable influence on Catholic thought all over the world. In 1906 Mgr. Mercier was appointed Archbishop of Malines, and in 1907 he was created a cardinal. He used. his influence with his priests and his flock to break down the barriers existing be tween the members of the clergy and the laymen, to eliminate all class distinctions between the Catholic bourgeoisie and the la bourers, and to bring about a better understanding between Catholics and non-Catholics.
On Aug. 20, 1914, while the Belgian Army was retreating upon Antwerp and the Germans were entering Brussels, the Cardinal was abruptly summoned to Rome to take part in the election of a successor to Pius X. Shortly after his return to Malines, he issued a pastoral letter, "Patriotism and Endurance," protesting against the burning of Louvain and the other excesses committed by the German army, and defining the position of the Belgian people towards the occupying Power. The Belgians, he said, owed, in soul and conscience, neither respect nor allegiance to this authority, which was not lawful, but must accept German regulations so long as they did not violate their duty to their country, the army alone having the right to resist openly the invaders' power. In spite of pressure exerted upon him by the
German authorities, he maintained this attitude, protesting pub licly in his sermons and pastorals against the arbitrary decrees of the governor-general, especially concerning the deportation of workmen and the administrative separation of the country, and urging the people, at the same time, to remain confident in the final victory of their just cause. In Jan. 1916 the Cardinal took a second journey to Rome and brought back a most cordial mes sage from the Pope. He proclaimed, in his next pastoral letter, that "The moral triumph of Belgium, in the eyes of civilization and history, is already an accomplished fact." In Oct. 1918, on the eve of the retreat of the German troops, the Cardinal re ceived a message from the Governor greeting him as the "revered spiritual leader of the Belgian people" and announcing to him that prisoners and deportees would shortly recover their liberty.
After the War, Cardinal Mercier took part in the informal con versations which took place at Malines following the "appeal to all Christian people" issued by the Lambeth Conference of 1920. The first conference took place between Cardinal Mercier, Mgr. van Roey (his successor as archbishop of Malines), and Abbe Portal, on the one side, and the Dean of Wells, the Bishop of Truro (Rev. W. H. Frere) and Lord Halifax on the other. Bishop Gore, Dr. B. J. Kidd, Mgr. Batiffol and Abbe Hemmer took part in the third Conference, held in 1923. A full account of these conversations, which concentrated on doctrinal and historical rather than on administrative questions, was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the same year. In the spring of 1924 Cardinal Mercier celebrated the jubilee of his ordination. He died in Brussels on Jan. 23, 1926. (E. CA.) His works include Manual of Mod. Scholastic Philosophy, by M. and professors of Louvain, trans. T. L. and S. A. Parker (1916-17) ; Origins of Contemp. Psychology, trans. W. H. Mitchell (1918). See also Cardi nal Mercier's own Story (trans.) (1900) ; L. Noel, Le Card. Mercier (192o) ; G. Raemakkers, Le grand cardinal beige (1926) ; and Conver sations at Malines 1921-25 (1927).