One priest, however, befriends Julien: Father Chas-Bernard, master of ceremonies of the cathedral. Julien is selected to aid the latter in an important ceremony in the cathedral in Besançon. There he distinguishes himself for his physical prowess and agility in decorating pillars. Here, Julien is also glimpsed by Mme. de Rênal, who promptly faints at the sight of him. He, similarly, is violently moved by this encounter.
Pirard sends Julien as his messenger to the bishop with Pirard's letter of resignation. Julien also learns from Pirard that he is being named tutor in the Old and New Testaments, a signal honor proving Pirard's esteem for him. Contrary to Julien's expectations, the other seminarians accept his advancement as evidence of his merit — that is, they recognize him as one whom they must fear.
Stendhal fills in the political intrigue that has prompted Pirard's resignation: Pirard has allied himself with
M. de La Mole in a lawsuit the latter has against Frilair, the powerful Jesuit vicar and organizer of the Besançon Congregation. Pirard has accepted the generosity of his friend Mole's influence: responsibility of a very wealthy church in the vicinity of Paris since he knows that Frilair will succeed in divesting him of his position at the seminary. Julien receives an anonymous gift of money from Mole, who has chosen to honor Pirard's prize student, since the rector himself will not accept recompense for his services in Mole's lawsuit.
Julien receives a wild boar from Fouqué, and this gift further wins the esteem of his fellows since they believe that Julien's parents have sent the boar and, therefore, must be rich. Julien performs brilliantly in his examinations, but he is tricked by Frilair into displaying his knowledge of Latin poets, poets whose works are banned at the seminary. Julien delivers the letter to the bishop and is invited to dinner. In Frilair's presence, he provides a stimulating discussion of the arts for the bishop of Besançon. As a reward, the bishop makes him a gift of the complete works of Tacitus. News of this gift soon circulates in the seminary and adds to the high esteem in which the others now hold Julien.
These chapters narrate Julien's success at the seminary. The beginning of Chapter 28 illustrates Stendhal's improvisational technique. The "event" — the protection offered by Father Chas, thus the beginning of his success — - needs an introduction to "precipitate" it. The method of having the event happen is Julien's question: Surely among all these learned professors, one at least has noticed my willingness and has been taken in by my hypocrisy?
Julien has over-evaluated Father Chas, however. Stendhal, it will be remarked, does not state this fact; the reader must draw the conclusion. Julien is so accustomed to hypocrisy and ruse that he sees it where it isn't. He imagines in this simple priest (the projection in the future of what the materialistically oriented fellows of Julien will become) a very shrewd man with some ulterior motives beneath conversation entirely devoted to reveling in the rich furnishings of the cathedral. In reality, Father Chas-Bernard is only what he appears to be. The priest's disinterestedness gives a certain gratuitousness to Julien's success.
We learn that Pirard is taking Julien more and more into his confidence from his passing warning to the hero concerning his mission into Besançon to aid in the adornment of the cathedral. This isolated note of confidence is a preparation for Julien's future in Paris.
Note again that Julien's physical ascension betokens his aspirations and destiny. He alone is daring enough to risk his neck forty feet off the ground to pose the feathers. The ecstatic reverie that the solemnity of the surroundings inspires in Julien is reminiscent of the scene in Chapter 18 when he watches in ecstasy the ceremony of the ardent chapel. Both scenes betray his highly sensitive, superior nature and contrast his emotional, authentic religious response to the baseness of the Church, no longer a divine instrument but perverted to political ends during the Restoration.
The unexpected appearance of Mme. de Rênal should not completely surprise us. We know that she has become extremely pious and that, refusing to make Father Maslon her confessor, she frequents the confessional at Besançon. It is also obvious why she comes to Besançon — her passion for Julien is the only justification for her piety. We will find another important encounter between Julien and Mme. de Rênal in a church later in the novel. Her fainting in this scene foreshadows her fate in that later scene, for which Julien will be more directly responsible.
The cathedral episode is the first step in Julien's success at the seminary.
Julien's mentors are kindred souls: noble, of great principle, who have refused to compromise. The austere Jansenist Pirard, just as Chélan, recognizes Julien's nobility of soul and protects him. The touching "communion of souls" that takes place in this scene between Pirard and Julien, two rebels who finally let down their guard and console each other, is reminiscent of Julien's escape sought in high places and solitude in earlier chapters. Note the philosophy of Pirard, similar to Julien's, that has helped to strengthen the latter's character: Pirard has tested Julien by creating insurmountable obstacles in his path. It is Pirard's belief that only the noblest of men could prove themselves by overcoming these obstacles. Pirard tests Julien in this episode just as Stendhal "tests" his hero throughout the novel.
Julien still interprets incorrectly the attitudes of his fellows. On various occasions during his rapid advancement, he expects hate and receives respect from the seminarians. Stendhal benefits from a certain ambiguity of presentation to maintain the reader's sympathy for Julien. It is uncertain as to how aware of the political maneuvering Julien is; Stendhal chooses not to elaborate this point. It is to be presumed that Julien is as informed as are the others about the rivalry between the Jansenist Pirard and the Jesuit Frilair. The reader is completely informed, however, and our superiority over Julien encourages an indulgent attitude toward his mistakes.
The bishop has no future, and his awareness of this accounts in part for his fair treatment of Julien. He is a power, and independent, but his old age relieves him of the need to intrigue. He is another "father-figure" for Julien, albeit his role is short-lived.
Again, it is by feats of memory, by "bon mots" which we do not hear, and by brilliant discussion, likewise unrecorded, that Julien charms the bishop.
Note the brief allusion to the "Red" in this chapter: Julien is quickly consoled at not being able to enlist as he overhears two old troopers lament the present state of command and the absence of the great Napoleon.