"To Love another Person is to see the Face of God"- Les Miserables

To those unfamiliar to the phrase, it’s the last line of the musical “Les Miserables.”

However, I’ve been looking far more into the life of Victor Hugo these days and found that he was terribly anti-Catholic. I’m fairly sure he held no respect for the Catholic Church at all. I then came across an interview that involved Hugh Jackman (who plays Jean Valjean in the new film adaptation) and found that Jackman actually found this line an attack on the church.

Interviewer: I was struck in this iteration of Les Miz by how religious a story it is.

Jackman: I like to think of it in modern-day sense — of course Hugo talks about Valjean undergoing not just a transformation but a transfiguration. He transforms in such a complete way that it’s religious in nature, not just emotional or physical. I think in some ways Hugo was attacking the church at that point, for being so exclusive. For Hugo, the line was “To love another person is to see the face of God” — that religion needed to be less about rules and sermons and more about practical love and the example of Jesus Christ. That’s the last line in the musical. I think it really annoyed the church! It was quite an attack.

Jackman himself is no fan of Christianity. I recall an interview with him a while back where he said he was more a believer in stuff like karma and how God is everything around us, not a being that is worthy of worshiping and emulating. Therefore, this line from him could simply be some of his own disliking of the Church. So, how should someone look at the film and the book? Hugo was no fan of religion as his life started to come to an end. Is this actually a series that Catholics and Christians should not be following?

This line, and the whole “afterlife” sequence surrounding the death of JVJ, was added to the stage and current film adaptations. They were not in the book.

Hugo was to a significant extent a critic of the Church, so much so that his works landed on the Forbidden Index at one time during its existence.

However-- irony of ironies!— it was his novel **Notre Dame de Paris ** that reportedly inspired saving Notre Dame from demolition during the 1800s!

I don’t think the film or the stage show should be avoided. Hugo is now in the next life; his personal beliefs are of no consequence to what has become a very good show!


In its literary basis, its star, its message, its authorship, the whole thing seems very anti-Church. Back in the day, I would hope that the movie would have been given a “Condemned” rating.

You should read the book instead of trying to cast judgement on the author from one line from a musical he didn’t write and his Wikipedia article. Les misérables, aside from a handful of problematic passages praising Voltaire and condemning monasticism, is a very pro-Catholic novel. It was put on the index because the romantic elements, which would be extremely tame and chaste by modern standards, were considered scandalous at the time.

I rightfully apologize if you thought I was casting any kind of judgment upon Hugo. I’m very aware of his countless other works that were indeed pro-Catholic. However, I suppose I was just looking on clarity for whether Les Mierables was written during his period of faith, falling from the Church, or dislike of the Church completely.

Whether Hugo was a Catholic by CAF standards or not, whether he wrote the line in question or not-I believe there is a lot of truth in it. When you REALLY love someone, you get a glimpse of how God loves other people. When you REALLY love another person, you also get a glimpse of how God loves you.

Valjean’s change comes from having the Bishop show him love and forgiveness, which then leads him to love others. 19 years of condemnation led him only to hate, ONE act of love led him to God.

Well, yeah, there was also obscure French politics, which always landed people on the Index. :smiley:

And it is in this way that I think the movie is superior to the stage adaptation (I went to see the movie yesterday and saw the stage adaptation many years ago). In addition to Fantine appearing, Bishop Myriel also appears in the sequence of Jean Valjean’s death and not Eponine.

I agree. The death scene in the movie is much more meaningful.

The words are in the Les Miserables Epilogue Song “And remember the truth that once was spoken, ‘To love another person is to see the face of God’!” However, it doesn’t say who spoke it. I haven’t read Hugo’s book, so don’t know if it is said there or is a paraphrase of anything in his novel. The quote is perhaps referring to Jesus’ sermon known as “the separation of the sheep and goats”, Matthew 25: 31-46. This was his last sermon in this Gospel. It is also the similar to the message of 1John 4: 7-8.

I think it is a beautiful sentiment, as long as someone doesn’t take it to be the only thing you need to know about God.

Another bible verse this quote reminds me of is the reconciliation of Esau & Jacob, specifically Gen. 33:10.

Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor.


This site is about his life.

I saw the movie and it was good, about redemption. I think some people took it too seriously. One couple on the Internet couldn’t stop crying after seeing it. They said they hadn’t cired so much when a relative had died. The characters were not real, living people so they needed to take the moral lessons and not think real people had died. I guess some people get too far into movies but some movies have made me cry as well.

It was amazing to me to see such a positive view of Catholicism and objective morality in a modern movie. Not only the Bishop, but the effect of religion on the life of Valjean, and the brief view into the lives of the sisters contrasted with the outside world.

What struck me is the differing views of Valjean and Javert. Javert could not accept grace-his view of law and justice was so absolute, in contrast to Valjean-whose experience of grace changes his entire life. The Bishop’s act of grace and mercy sends Valjean from a life of hatred of others to a life of service to others. Valjean’s act of mercy to Javert sends Javert to suicide and despair.

I loved that about the movie. Javert had a very rigid sense of justice that contrasted with Valjean’s overriding theme of mercy. Mercy is, after all, justice fulfilled. I felt the comparison was highlighted by the fact that both were devout Catholics but Valjean was redeemed to joy while Javert fell into despair.

I had a hard time trying to reason why Javert killed himself. Why didn’t he repent and start helping people? Maybe the book makes it clearer.

The same thing makes me wonder why some people see or experience someone suffer and die that was dear to them and go on to hate God and not believe anymore and another person draws closer to God in the same circumstance. Maybe how they were raised? :confused:

I too have never really understood Javert’s motives - first why is he so obsessed with catching a minor criminal? And the suicide indicates a despair beyond what would be expected. But the story is really a morality play about mercy vs. justice. Since he put his faith entirely in justice, and he received mercy, it destroyed his faith entirely, and unfortunately his heart could not undergo a conversion that would accept mercy as part of the equation. Hugo may have used Judas as a model for Javert. Judas final sin was despair since he couldn’t ask God for forgiveness as Peter did.

That is what I have thought based on the film version. Does anyone know if the stage version or book suggests differently?

I’ve seen the stage version & it is not that different from the movie. The book goes into much more detail according to my daughter. For example, the bishop’s character is much more developed and his motivation much more well understood. I don’t believe the basic plot of the book deviates substantially from the movie or the stage, but of course there is much more character development.

The Wikipedia article about Javert (as presented in the novel) has a nice summary of his situation at the end of the story. It explains the reason for his suicide pretty well:

"…]Javert finds himself, for practically the first time in his life, at a complete loss. On the one hand, he cannot allow Valjean to go free. …] Yet, Javert cannot bring himself to turn Valjean in, since Valjean had saved his life by setting him free on the barricades instead of shooting him, and then rescued another man for no personal gain. …] when Valjean looks out of the window, Javert is gone.

Javert wanders the streets in emotional turmoil: his mind simply cannot reconcile the image he had carried through the years of Valjean as a brutal ex-convict with his acts of kindness on the barricades. Now, Javert can be justified neither in letting Valjean go nor in arresting him. For the first time in his life, Javert is faced with the situation where he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. Unable to find a solution to this dilemma, and horrified at the sudden realization that Valjean was simultaneously a criminal and a good person - a conundrum which made mockery of Javert’s entire system of moral values - Javert decides to resolve the dissonance by removing himself from the equation and drowns in the river Seine; his body is later found."