Chapter 3: Frederic Ozanam and his political commitment
From legitimacy1 to democracy
Throughout his life Frederic Ozanam was involved in the politics of his era and expressed his position with regard to specific problems (often framed within the historical transformation); his involvement was more as literary-reporter rather than direct involvement in some political party. His political career was in fact short-lived.
During his life he was associated with various politicians who held influential positions: Montalembert, Cousin, Villemain (the last two became Ministers), Guizot and Saucet (both of whom were Ministers), Lamartine, Carné, Dubois (all of whom were Legislators). The relationships that Frederic was able to establish with these individuals were not something extraordinary but quite characteristic of that time. Anyone who wanted to become involved in public affairs could not act differently and often this implied seeking elected office to represent the people of a certain district. Letters, visits and presence at official meetings were necessary in order to be in contact with influential individuals. In his letters Frederic very often complained about these activities that he felt were necessary in order to accomplish his objectives. Yet he felt all of these social activities took him away from the study of law and literary research. At one point he made one hundred-fifty official visits in the course of a single year.
Frederic’s shy and retiring character did not seem to fit in with the demands of the accepted code of behavior. He was not attracted to this way of acting, but accepted these customs because his work as a lawyer and later, his work as a professor and writer, depended on these relationships with people who were seen as influential.
In order to obtain the position of professor of Commercial Law in Lyon and later to become professor at the Sorbonne, he felt obliged to seek support and recommendations. He sought the help of his father-in-law, the rector, Soulacroix, in obtaining a position in Paris and on different occasions asked for the assistance of his friends, such as Lallier who became a judge in Senz and Genin who was a lawyer.
One of the reasons for his involvement in diplomatic and parliamentary affairs was the matter of the Propagation of the Faith, and their publication, Anales, to which he was a frequent contributor. Lyon was a center for the movement of the plans and complaints that were concerns of the Catholic Patriarchs and Missionary Bishops of the Near East. In order to resolve some of these disputes quickly and favorably, the intervention of Minister Guizot was often requested. Ozanam was also concerned about these matters and on several occasions acted as a mediator between the Central Council of Lyon and the Department of Foreign Affairs. On those occasions Frederic was motivated by his desire to assure the honor of this Association and protect the Minister, especially since the situation of Catholics in the Near East was at the mercy of the French Minister and the Austrian Minister, Metternich.
At first sight and with only a superficial examination, Frederic could be seen as a conformist, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that Frederic was very careful not to act in any way that was contrary to the orders of the King and at the same time did not critique the way in which the plans of the Prime Minister, Guizot, were carried out. Nevertheless, when considering the evolution of his ideas it could be said that he inherited the principle of the monarchy’s legitimacy.
His birth was marked by the reality of exile. Pativilca stated that Frederic was the son of Jean Ozanam, a Frenchman wedded to the old customs and deeply rooted in his faith. This man lived through the French Revolution and fought valiantly as a soldier under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte during the campaign in Italy. Later, the Emperor Napoleon recalled Jean’s merits and wanted to reward him by offering him a position as captain in the National Guard. Jean was grateful for this offer but refused it because he did not share the ideals of Napoleon. So as not to betray his convictions, Jean voluntarily entered into exile in Italy. He went to Milan where he sustained his life through the practice of medicine. In 1813 Napoleon rewarded him by decorating him as a doctor (he could no longer reward him as a soldier) for his work during the typhus epidemic that occurred at the military hospital in Milan.
Jean had a decisive influence on his son Frederic. It is not surprising that the ideas of his father began to blossom in Frederic during his youth. On June 1, 1837, on the occasion of his father’s death, Frederic wrote to his friend, Cournier, and spoke about the influence of his father: As a young child, accustomed to live in the shadow of another, if he is left alone for an hour in a house, penetrated with the feeling of his own weakness, he becomes frightened and begins to weep. So, too, when one has lived so peacefully in the shadow of a paternal authority, of a visible providence in which he trusted for all things, in seeing it all at once disappear, in finding oneself alone, charged with an unaccustomed responsibility in the midst of this evil world, he experiences one of the most grievous troubles which have been prepared since the commencement of the world to chastise fallen man2.
In 1830 when the system of restoration in France began to collapse we see the first involvement of Frederick in politics. Charles X had succeeded Louis XVIII in 1824 and after that time the problems of the monarchy with the liberals had become more intense. In July, 1830 the King was angered because the House of Deputies allowed a vote of censure. The King decided to use his prerogatives and dissolved the legislative body and suspended the Charter which his predecessor had decreed in 1814 and which had guided the political life of France for the last sixteen years.
The suppression of the Charter was accompanied by other decrees that allowed for censorship of the press and established new election laws which restricted the right to vote in such a way that it became the privilege of the old aristocracy. At the same time, general elections were convoked according to the new system which excluded bankers, businessmen and industrialists. These laws provoked turmoil which exploded on the streets of Paris. Charles X was very aware of the fate of Louis XIV, but now he himself was pressured to abdicate the throne and he sought refuge in England. Lafayette took advantage of this situation that created much rejoicing among the people. He presented to the multitudes a member of the Bourbon Family, the Duke of Orleans, Louis Philippe, who was immediately acclaimed king. Louis was the son of the Prince of Orleans, Philippe Egalité, a name that he received as a result of his involvement in the French Revolution which he actively supported as a member of the Gironde Party. When the Jacobeans triumphed, Philippe was sent to the guillotine along with other members of his political party. At the time, Louis Philippe, was in the United States where he was greatly influenced by democratic ideas. Since many Frenchmen felt that he embodied these ideals they saw no reason to declare a French Republic. They felt the new monarch would be the best guarantee for democratic freedom.
With Philippe, France experienced a change in the ruling dynasty, but little else. The Charter was reenacted and the decrees of July were suppressed; the right to vote was carefully extended and membership in the Chamber of Paris remained a right that was obtained through inheritance and this opened the way for the new aristocracy to obtain these positions. The old blood-line aristocracy that had served the Bourbons lost power with the abdication of Charles X. The new aristocrats had their monarch, Louis Philippe, and those who fought at the barricades continued to have nothing.
The revolutionary events of July 1830 had an extraordinary effect on Frederic. He knew that his brother, Alphonse, a priest, had to put aside his ecclesiastical habit and that his future was uncertain. This was kept secret from his mother so as not to upset her, but Frederic opened his heart to his friend, Auguste Materne: I feel overhwlemed! Oh my God! In front of your house I have heard the announcement that Charles X cannot continue to reign. Since when is the person of the king no longer sacred and inviolable? I tremble with indignation. What allows the people to dispose and appoint? I will always be the faithful subject of Charles X.
Here we see a young man who was deeply moved by historical events. But as the years passed his political thinking would gradually change, and his youthful fervor would dramatically change.
Four years later as a student in Paris he continued to feel that there was a need for a monarch to guide the destiny of France. He wrote: I do not believe that French society has yet come of age … I believe its character to be such that it needs a monarchical regime … The king is then for me the symbol of national destinies, the old French idea presiding over the development of society, the representation of the people par excellence. On his forehead shine the glories of France, ancient and modern. All our memories are brought together in his head. That is why I venerate and cherish him, whether on the throne or in exile3.
At this time Europe was struggling with two antagonistic powers: on one side, liberalism that was initiated at the time of the French Revolution and on the other side, the system of restoration through which the absolute monarchs made their final effort to save the Old Regime.
The triumph of the monarchists, the Galicans and the legitimists crushed the first attempts to enact a Christian democratic doctrine. Ozanam, so loving and faithful to the Church, saw with great sorrow that many ecclesiastical sectors, which before had separated themselves from the politics of the time, reacted and sought some form of an alliance, thus falling into a contradictory position in which they now obstinately defended the established order. Many of the clergy did not want to hear the word liberty. The bishops imbued with old galican and absolutist ideas allowed the Church to become a servant of the State which in turn used the Church for its own political interests.
Frederic moves beyond legitimacy through Lamennais
Frederic discovered, with the help of Lamennais, that the Church did not need the absolute monarchy. It was said at that time that he overcame his family’s tendency toward legitimacy as he began to see clearly the need for the separation of the Church and State. Setting out a new path and breaking with the political powers, Frederic became associated with the social movement that prepared the world for a new destiny.
It is true that in the beginning he was skeptical about Lamennais’ doctrine and did not wholly embrace it. Ozanam was a liberal Catholic and an eyewitness of the break between Lamennais and Rome when on August 15, 1832 Pope Gregory XVI published the encyclical Mirari vos. In this letter the Pope discredited the thesis of Lamennais and in doing so he destroyed the first forum of social Catholicism.
In the beginning Lamennais accepted and respected the document, as did Lacodaire and Montalembert. He returned to France to close the newspaper, L’Avenir, which he founded. A few months later he would be unwilling to accept the blow and on April 7, 1833 he celebrated his last Mass in La Chesnaie, disillusioned by the Catholic religion. According to him, the Holy See had entered into some kind of agreement with the absolute monarchs who had inflicted such great harm on the Church, and so he could expect nothing from a religion that had separated itself from the people and had joined the ranks of despotism. He was discouraged by the fact that Catholicism did not move forward as quickly as he had hoped.
Frederic was twenty-one years old but with a clear vision he advised his friend not to act so precipitously and that the best thing for the future was not to force some type of movement. Frederic’s knowledge of the development of history led to him to believe that all of this was premature and that one could not engage in a process by fits and starts but had to work so that the time would draw near. This was the key, the certainty that Ozanam had. Even though he shared some of Lamennais’ ideas he did not accept them in a way that led him to separate himself from the Church. It is not good to neglect stages of a process and Lamennais did not have the patience of a worker who cares for the crops in order to reap the harvest at the proper time.
As a student in Paris, Frederic became a member of the Conference of History that was founded by Bailly in 1832. Those meetings provided Frederic with a forum to express his political ideas, ideas that were not always interpreted well. He was attacked in a magazine called Ami de la religion and in defense of himself he wrote: For me the monarchy is so personified in venerable and beloved persons such as Henry IV , Louis XIV, and Louis XV and thus such expressions would never leave my lips without causing me great remorse … though I am accused of calumniating the monarchy I have no interest in calumniating anyone and should such a temptation arise, I would hope to have sufficient honor and dignity to refrain from acting in such a way.
Frederic was a defender and a great admirer of the monarchy. Nevertheless, this does not mean that his participation in politics involved being a militant and active member of some party. In the letter that was mentioned before, he wrote: Despite the ideas and the struggles that divide France, my sympathies have never inclined me to any political party. Political beliefs cannot be attributed to me, but if at some time this should occur I would be opposed to these parties and more inclined toward that line of thought that looks favorably upon the dignity of the monarchy and the things that they fought for.
He would not lose the reputation of being a monarchist until later, after the revolution of 1848. When his name was advanced for the position of philosophy in 1838, the rector, Soulacroix (who later would become his father-in-law), gave the following report to the Minister of Public Education: A magistrate of the Public Minister spoke to me about M. Ozanam, praising him in every aspect, satisfied with the principles expressed by this young lawyer … Nevertheless the information that comes forth from the Prefecture creates certain doubts and connects him to the previous regime. A conversation with the candidate about this delicate matter will provide an opportunity to clarify matters and find out if he is truly bound up in the present order of things.
Like everyone else of his era, Frederick requested recommendations in order to obtain different positions in which he hoped to exercise his profession as a professor but he never hid his political ideas or religious convictions. At all times he defended the truth regardless of the personal cost.
During the eighteen year reign of Louis Philippe, especially the first decade, Ozanam’s involvement in politics appears to be marked by indifference. One has the feeling that he rejected everything that would lead to political involvement. He wrote to his mother: We are surrounded by political parties that want to enroll us in their ranks because we are young adults. Even in the practice of religion we hear about so many controversies and we witness disputes in which there is a great lack of charity and an abundance of scandal.
The interests that attracted Ozanam during these years were not exactly politics. He was pleased by the fact that the present regime allowed a certain margin of freedom and thus he was able to take advantage of this opportunity and taught fundamental morals to members of the financial sector which was beginning to play a more important role in society. The fact that the monarchy that came into power in July did not prohibit him from working in this manner was one of the primary reasons that led Frederic to adapt an accommodating attitude with regard to the government of Louis Philippe of Orleans. While it could be said that Louis was a despot, his government was not some form of tyranny. Nevertheless, Louis did not understand the needs of his country. His motto was: nothing for the glory [of the nation]. To satisfy his subjects he told them: enrich yourselves! But while the bourgeois enriched themselves and Louis became the richest monarch in Europe, the workers suffered great poverty, great insecurity in the workplace and lacked legal protections in dealing with management. This situation led to the uprisings that took place in Lyon in 1833 and 1834.
The different expectations of the protagonists of these short-lived revolutions moved between hope and joy, but all of these were quickly crushed. The workers hoped to better their situation in life and in work and the republicans believed that the time had come to establish the Second Democratic Republic. For the greater majority of the bourgeois, however, the joy of victory was mixed with fear that the situation could result in another reign of terror and so they were content with the re-enactment of the Charter of 1814 and with upholding the old aristocracy.
During this era Frederic’s political ideas were focused on the rejection of the disciples of Saint-Simon. During 1834 several of his letters testify to this fact. He wrote to his father and deplored the evil liberalism which was practiced in the city of Lyon. Since 1931 the liberal newspaper, Précurseur, had embraced the doctrine of Saint-Simon and with eloquent words had presented this doctrine to a group of representatives from Paris. Soon these same liberals lamented the esteem in which this doctrine was held and provided space in their newspaper to those who wished to refute this doctrine. Frederic took advantage of this opportunity and in May, 1831 published his reflection on the doctrine of Saint-Simon.
Frederic denounced the great affinity between liberalism and Saint-Simonism. From this critique he then began to contrast different concepts of freedom. In December, 1839 when he began teaching a course on Commercial Law in the city of Lyon he made the following declaration of principles: political freedom, like moral freedom, does not consist in the absence of law but in the intelligence of the law. If man is free it is because instead of allowing himself to be led along, without acknowledging it, by fatal impulses from an outside source, he spontaneously decides, through the enlightenment of law, that he carries within himself that which is called conscience, and therefore he can decide.
As Frederic explained his concept of freedom, he defined his own concept of liberalism and implicitly criticized other concepts from the perspective of the transcendence which was rejected in the doctrine of Saint-Simon.
The different aspects of Ozanam’s work were thought out, contemplated, and examined in the light of history. This was one of the principles which guided his teaching and the formulation of his lessons. He learned from history and wanted to point out the lessons of history to others and teach them this method of analysis and thinking. Though he came from a home that was legitimist in their political leanings, his ideological thinking evolved through his study of history, through his involvement in the world of the workers, and above all, through his faith commitment.
On July 21, 1834 Frederick explained clearly his political ideas in a letter that he wrote to his cousin, Ernest Falconnet, and proposed individual sacrifice for the good of all and in stating this principle he appealed to history. He compared this proposed program to the primitive Church in Jerusalem and called this a Christian republic that would achieve its fullness at the end of time when the most perfect state that humankind can achieve is finally established.
Throughout his life, though his was not a long life, Ozanam realized that the evolution of circumstances and situations was bringing about a change in his thoughts. Nevertheless his heart would remain resolute in regard to his commitment to others, even though at the beginning he thought that this commitment to others would bring about the disappearance of the political spirit and be replaced with a spirit of social charity. In a letter to François Lallier he wrote: the question that disturbs the world around us today is not the question of political modalities, but it is the social question.
As time passed, Frederic became involved in politics and in 1848 accepted the offer to present his candidacy as a Deputy in the National Assembly, representing the district of Rhóne. His interest in social affairs was always more important than his political interests and therefore he did not give much importance to the fact that he was not elected to this position.
Disillusionment with the established regime
When Frederic shared with his friends his plan to seek elected office, he had begun to mistrust the efficacy of the ancient royal regime. Thus it was that in 1834 Frederic began to understand that from the time of the bourgeois revolution in 1830 the Ancient Regime had created a crisis, an irreversible crisis, and therefore did not deserve to be supported. He began to view the monarchy not as a means but as an institution that was coming to an end and so he began to offer some come concrete formulas: With regard to my political ideas: like you, I would like to see the social spirit take precedent over the political spirit. Like you I salute the flag of Lamartine, Saucent, Pagés du Ariegé, Hennezuin and Janvier. I give the same respect to the Ancient Regime that I would give to a soldier who has become an invalid, but I do not seek support there because with a wooden leg he is not able to keep pace with the new generation. I do not deny or reject any governmental alternative but I see these as instruments to make people happier and better. If you want formulas there you have them: I believe in authority as a means and charity as an end.
Frederic began to warn others about the changes that he saw coming as he contrasted liberal principles with the principle that saw authority as of divine origin: Every form of government seems good in that it represents the divine principle of authority: it is in that sense that I understand the omnis potestas a Deo4 of Saint Paul. But I also believe that with power there must also be room for the sacred principle of liberty.
Ozanam also spoke about the rejection of the monarchy because of the ways that it had exploited so many countless people. Frederic appealed to history: There are two kinds of governments that are based on diametrically opposite principles. One is the exploitation of all for the advantage of one: that is the monarchy of Nero, a monarch whom I detest. The other is the sacrifice of one for the benefit of all: that is the monarchy of Saint Louis. He then goes on to say: this is the one I revere and love.
In 1835 Ozanam warned that the political struggles to maintain “the established order” against liberal principles that could no longer be ignored were becoming more widespread and receiving greater support. Liberalism was bursting forth and creating ambiguous and confrontational situations. The bourgeois of Europe found themselves in a favorable situation as the result of the revolution. Progressive liberalism trusted in reform so that society as a whole might move forward on a better path. Socialism proposed a profound change. In light of this situation Ozanam spoke out and using his influence began to give guidelines that would help people in their analysis of the situation: the future is very bleak and the ground on which we find ourselves is very muddy … the time has come to extend our hand and support one another … let us make every effort to ensure that the land on which we walk does not swallow us up … let us remain pure and walk on more elevated and more beautiful paths and let us lead those who come after us on these same paths.
In this same letter he concluded with a complaint: I find that among Catholics there is a lack of energy and a lack of unity and if we remain in this situation we will not be able to do anything to better this century or better our nation. We need a great intellectual and moral crusade and also need to put aside our political quarrels. We need only three words on our flag: God, the Church, humanity!
Ozanam’s militancy is very clear in the words cited above. At every moment his weapons would be an intellectual and moral crusade, a desire to educate workers and soldiers, an on-going struggle to make education available to the people. The constants of his short life were raising moral principles to a higher level and deepening his understanding of history … this is where he watched for salvation during his lifetime.
Ozanam continually warned about the disappearance of political systems and began to hope for a new system that would reconcile power with freedom so that the development of the nation’s politics could function under the guardianship of religious faith, seeking first the kingdom God and God’s justice and then everything else would be provided.
In 1839 Frederic wrote Lacordaire on the occasion of his entrance into the Dominican Order. He told him that in Lyon there was the beginnings of a Catholic Movement among the intellectuals and this came about as a result of the impulse that these individuals received from the conference that he (Lacordaire) gave in the cathedral of Notre Dame. The fruits of that conference were being harvested. People of different political tendencies had been converted and became fervent believers. Catholics were asked to collaborate in the publication of different magazines and newspapers; the number of those individuals willing to do good had increased in the Chamber of Peers and its members saw that it was good that the articles of the Penal Code favored the monasteries and religious orders. Frederic pointed out with joy that there was a change in spirit especially among the clergy. Some, he said, are beginning to see that the faith is suffering as a result of these alliances for political interests and more than a dozen of them, the most absolutists5, have abandoned Le National.
Ozanam was encouraged by the fact that others seconded his ideas and little by little he saw the horizons opening to a wider form of democracy that involved not only a demand for universal suffrage and the elimination of the poll tax, not only a government responsible to Parliament, freedom of the press and freedom of association, but also saw the horizons opening to other forms of freedom. Yes, his struggle was based on democracy but Christian democracy with great social reforms that would alleviate the misery of the workers through the establishment of cooperatives and that would provide all that was needed in order to better the culture and the life of the oppressed.
Ozanam, the republican
Ozanam was one of the first people to hint at a Christian democracy as an economic and social structure for the working class and as a political structure for society. He was the first to intuit its historical development and its social basis and thus could be called the first leader of Christian democracy.
As the years passed, the environment, the society that surrounded Frederic Ozanam began to change. Different events modified the circumstances and took a new turn: the triple appointment to the first three Sess of France: Bishop Affre in Paris, Bishop Goussent in Reims and Bishop Bonald in Lyon. This led to the dissemination of ideas that were formerly held suspect in clerical circles. The Catholic resistance in Ireland, Germany and Spain, the Catholic press and discourses of the Holy See would make the time of transition noteworthy. Frederic stated: We find ourselves in the process of a noteworthy transition … no one can foresee its vicissitudes but we cannot ignore the event.
Before this crucial time arrived Ozanam was prepared and saw that the situation was favorable to put into motion that which Lamennais had tried to force upon people: the separation of religious ideas from political ideas and in this way reconciled the past with the future.
In a letter addressed to Charles Montalembert, Frederic commented on these feelings; how great would be his joy and how much he would bless God for having given him the honor of seeing these two realities reconciled, separating religious questions from the state … a work in which Montalembert has dedicated much effort: The reconciliation of the past with the future, the separation of religious ideas from political ideas in the midst of which we find that the work to which you dedicated so much effort is beginning to be fulfilled even in our city where it first met with more resistance than in any other part of our country.
Frederic patiently waited for the cause that he was serving to be victorious and several times he dreamed aloud and commented to his friends: Perhaps one day we will be allowed to build on the ruins of schools and political parties that still fill the lands of France …. Perhaps we will be allowed to build a school and a party whose only objective is the glory of God and peace to all people of good will.
Frederic did not fear that his political convictions would become known. Not only was he not afraid but he desired to proclaim his views so that everyone would know his position. When there was an opening in the Department of Foreign Literature at Lyon he wrote the Minister Cousin and asked him for this appointment but he also warned him: they have worked against me and they have criticized my political opinions and reproached my religious convictions.
There is no doubt about Ozanam’s political commitment to the struggles of his time, a commitment that marks what could be referred to as the democratic period of his life (1845-1849). For him the only possible attitude was the defense of religious interests. It was important, in his eyes, to separate the Church’s cause from every political party: Allow me now to congratulate our common friends for having separated the cause of the Church from the cause of political parties, regardless of how respectable such a party might be … if freedom were always defended in this way, its triumph would be easy… it is necessary that religion have its independence, just like industry and the press and all the other sectors of modern society …
Frederic constantly called people to become united despite their own individual commitment. At the same time he did not want to eliminate the expression of legitimate differences among Catholics nor limit access to the different means of action that could lead to the victory of the common cause. Ozanam consistently spoke about the legitimacy of pluralism and this would become his primary concern. He communicated with Lallier: I believe we are stronger when we are greater in number and when we combat as various regiments and combat at the same time from various positions.
Some months later he returned to the same theme and felt that the Catholic press was the most honorable organism to defend Catholic interests. He continually invited people to come together in a common endeavor: At this time of upheaval in which we find ourselves it is good to see that in the midst of all these political and philosophical systems, a group of determined individuals is coming together to use all their rights as citizens, all their influence as educated people and all their professional studies to honor Catholicism in a time of peace and to defend Catholicism in case of a struggle.
Frederic’s attitude in light of the events of February 1848
The revolution of 1848 would put in question the attitude that Frederic had adapted politically and would also test the results of his reflection concerning this matter. The turmoil began on February 22nd and a provisional government was installed on February 24th. Louis Philippe abdicated and left France and the Republic was proclaimed on February 25th.
The people of France had felt defrauded: with the revolution of 1830 the country had moved from one dynasty to another but had not obtained the social progress that was hope for. Universal suffrage was not obtained, nor the freedom of association nor the right to education. Politics continued as usual, or perhaps a worse situation was being endured than that which existed during the time of Bourbons. The opposition began to look to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and saw him as the individual who would once again make France a first-rate power. The authorities and the laws were not prepared for this because they had not advanced with the same rhythm as industry; society was not on a parallel with the economic transformations and thus inequality and misery made a change necessary.
In order to rein in the tumult of the February revolution, Ozanam as well as the other members of the Conferences carried out their duties in a noble manner. They put on the uniform and enlisted in the National Guard and at the same time calmed tempers and aided the wounded. When the people invaded Tuilieres and began to throw objects through the windows, the people from the town ran to the Church to prevent the profaning of the Eucharist and the crucifix. They were able to open a path through the multitude that led to the Church of Saint Roch and at the shouts of Long live Christ! the procession was able to enter the Church and with profound veneration gave the pastor the sacred vessels.
The upheaval returned again in June of the same year. Ozanam once again put on the uniform to engage in the struggle, but as a sensitive man it was difficult to leave his loved ones to defend the country: My conscience is in order … I have to confess that this is a terrible time because I realize that as I embrace my wife and daughter, this might be the last time I share this gesture with them. Fredric was one of those who requested Bishop Affre to cross the barricade in order to obtain the surrender of the rebels. Frederic accompanied the bishop through the streets to the Place de l’Arsenal where the Archbishop moved forward to serve as a mediator in the cause. After he obtained the promise of a general pardon from Cavaignac, he hoisted on high the sign of an agreement and crossed the barricade that obstructed the environs. A stray bullet made the archbishop a sacrifice, the last victim of the revolution. Despite the fact that this event produced peace, the loss of the archbishop caused Frederic great pain and suffering.
Acceptance of the new regime
What type of acceptance was given to the new new regime? How could Christians become associated with this regime? As time advanced and events unfolded, Ozanam began to cast aside his former image of politics. He saw the action of Providence in the moderation of the people who showed generosity, mercy and respect … something that was quite distinct from the events that occurred during the Reign of Terror. A series of letters that were written during this time show how Frederic viewed these events. Almost every day from the beginning of March Frederic wrote to his companions and friends not only about the events that were occurring but also about the position that he was to take in this regard. There is no reason to fear the return of the terror of 1793; this will not take place again in our history because the political institutions have not passionately enflamed people now as in the past. So then, is there no danger? There is an even greater danger because the past provides us with no example for our present situation. Behind the political revolution there is a social revolution and behind the Republic which interests only educated people are questions that interest the people who have struggled for its establishment.
At this time the circumstances were very different from those of the 1830 revolution. Ozanam stated that the monarchy collapsed for the third time in a span of fifty years (Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Philippe) and therefore a new form of government had to be sought. In the letter just cited Ozanam wrote: The Republic that was proclaimed with no fanaticism is accepted without opposition. The whole world has despaired of the monarchy, three times tested during fifty years and three time it has shown itself indifferent. The world has decided to try a new form of government and without bitterness rejects the former government and there is no fanaticism to attempt to re-establish it.
The nation also expressed its desire in this regard; there was no reason to fear the re-establishment of a powerful opposition as was the case in 1840, especially from the legitimists of Louis Philippe. Religiously and naturally the situation was wholly different, the attitude of the people could not be compared with the irreligiosity of the bourgeois or the anti-clerical attitude of that earlier time. The moral superiority of the people had been revealed in their unexpected generosity and calm. Despite the fact that this was a spontaneous revolution, with no leader who could restrain excesses, there was no pillage or violence against the Church or the clergy.
This characteristic surprised many Catholics and it was this reality that led the majority of Catholics to support the Republic … this included the ecclesiastical hierarchy and ordinary citizens.
When Frederic’s emotions had calmed down he wrote his brother: After the first heat of combat these people have shown their generosity, mercy and great calm. Friday and Saturday after the victory there was a plan to sack Paris, nevertheless, these people without food, without warmth or shelter, took up arms to defend the palaces, the hotels, and the factories against freed prisoners and other criminal elements. In the midst of the ruins of human laws, the divine law had been respected. I am happy that these people, the barbarians to whom I alluded in my article, are passionate but are not compelled by vices which often impede the reasoning processes of the higher classes of society.
From the beginning Ozanam declared his loyalty to the republic. His correspondence during these months and his articles that were published in the press provide us with his reasoning. He felt that the Republic was established on an authentic National Sovereignty and a democratic freedom understood from a Christian perspective, and that the objective of the Republic was to create justice and unity among the classes. He began his campaign on behalf of democracy in February, 1848 with a brilliant discourse in the Cercle Catholique and his words were later published in the newspaper Le Correspondant under the title, The Dangers of Rome and its Hopes. There he put forth and justified with great passion his ideas with regard to democracy.
In this article he also set forth and defended the politics that Pius IX had followed. This was a prophetic interpretation in which he saw a reconciliation, a new alliance between freedom and religion, Christianity and democracy. He saw the Pope as one sent by God to bring to a conclusion the great event of the century: the alliance between religion and freedom.
In reality this article constituted a call to French Catholics to abandon the outdated ideas of an absolute monarchy and to join together to initiate a social movement that would be democratic in its functioning. In this same article he reviewed Ancient History and reflected on the Church’s work through the centuries, especially during the fifth to the eight century, pointing out how the Popes had remained faithful despite the obstacles in their path. He attempted to establish a parallel between the past and the present. Here are some of his words: The present situation is similar to the past. The Papacy on the one hand has seen the absolute monarchy as a respected institution but lost … lost because it no longer has authority as a result of its errors, the scandal of its customs, the usurpation of the rights of God and their disrespectful attitude toward the conscience of the people … The Papacy viewed the monarchy as a great body whose spirit had abandoned it and yet this body continued to exist, but it was dying and was respected until its final days despite the condemnations of those who had become impatient because of the obstinacy of those who occupied the throne. Now that this institution has passed away and been solemnly buried, the Papacy has accepted democracy, has returned to embrace the barbarians of our time, to embrace those who are aware of their violent instincts and hardness of heart.
Frederic rejoiced and applauded Pius IX who supported the present government and the new barbarians who needed to be civilized and saved.
In the same article he wrote: Let the modern Papacy bring together French Catholics and lead them along the path that has been opened. Conquer repugnance and dislike and turn to democracy, to the mass of people whom we do not know. Appeal to them not merely by sermons but by beneficent action. Help them not with alms which humiliate but with social and ameliorative measures which will free and elevate them. Passous Aux Barbares! Suivons Pie IX! Let us go over to the Barbarians! Let us follow Pius IX in freeing these people from their present state, to convert them into true citizens and make them worthy and capable of possessing the freedom of the children of God.
France and other European nations were threatened by this change in sovereignty; it was obviously dangerous to the monarchs and the aristocrats and so Frederic searched history to find the necessary light in order to see more clearly and respond more calmly. As a result of his study he compared France of the fifth century that was threatened by the barbarians to France of the nineteenth century that was not threatened by some other race of people but threatened by a class struggle.
As Frederic deepened his reflection, Pope Pius IX blessed the priests, the bourgeois, and the workers who praised him for the political freedom that he had given them and it was there that Frederic saw the symbol of the alliance between Christianity and freedom which he wanted to spread throughout France, explaining this alliance with his famous phrase: Let’s go over to the Barbarians … a phrase which startled many and scandalized those who were part of his intimate circle of friends. His words were translated as a revolutionary phrase and had an effect on many conservative Catholics, including Montalembert who raised up a storm of protest.
More moderate individuals, those who were better disposed, like his friend Foisset, could not understand what Frederic was saying. When Frederic said: Let’s go over to the Barbarians, fear of terror was brought to mind and his words were interpreted as referring to some form of socialism. People did not understand that this phrase was spoken and written from an historical perspective. Frederic could not imagine how his words were seen as a reference to socialism since from the time of his youth he had combated such ideas. Even though Frederic did not like to provoke discord, he challenged public opinion and therefore knowing what to expect he acted convinced of the duty that he had to fulfill. In a long letter he explained what he meant by those explosive words: When I say, “let us pass over to the Barbarians”, I do not mean to say that we should enter into an alliance with radicals, with those who cause us to be fearful. To go over to the Barbarians is to leave the camp of statesmen and Kings who are slaves to selfish and dynastic interests, who made the treaties of 1815 … and to go to the camp of the people and the nation … to interest ourselves in the people who have many needs but few rights … who justly claim a larger part in the management of public affairs, who demand security in the workplace and guarantees against misery. If it is not right to expect something from these barbarians, then we are witnessing the end of the world.
As Frederic explained to Foisset who the Barbarians were that he referred to and what was the democracy that he had in mind, he said: I am not referring to the detested party of Mazzini or Ochenbein or of Henri Heines but rather to the people who have so many needs that are not tended to, so few rights that are recognized … Let us conquer our repugnance and prejudice and turn to democracy, to the masses of people who do not know us.
Frederic asked for a republic without conspiracies, without radical forms and repression, a republic different from that of Mazzini, Heines and Ochsenbein.
How Ozanam viewed and accepted the Republic
Ozanam pleaded for democracy and he called himself a democrat. In 1848, with loyalty and enthusiasm he called himself a republican. He understood this word, which had not been defined in any strict sense, in its broadest sense: as the ascension of the people morally as well as socially, culturally and politically. Frederic Ozanam, a Roman and apostolic Christian, rejoiced greatly when Pope Pius IX returned to democracy and as a result the revolution that ousted Louis Philippe was received calmly because it could rely on the Papacy to support the moral order. Despite everything, Frederic separated political ideas from the democratic aspirations of the religious, never investing Catholicism with rights over the political regime which Catholicism also did not desire.
Ozanam was a social democrat, not a liberal Catholic or republican. His republicanism is derived from his democratic doctrine which at the same time included his Christian beliefs and thus found it easy to proclaim the equality of all people. He viewed and accepted the Republic as a sign of progress that must be defended and not as some disgrace that had fallen upon his era and that therefore implied one had to be resigned to this reality.
Frederic wrote in L’Ere Nouvelle: If democracy is as old as the world and if after fifty years it is hidden beneath the legal fictions of the Empire and the constitutional monarchs, then it must be recognized that it finds its most exact expression in the republican constitution. This is because we have accepted the Republic not as some evil that has been inflicted on our history and that we must be resigned to as a reality but rather we have accepted the Republic as a sign of progress that must be defended.
He did not, like his companions, accept this reality as a regime of transition; he accepted it out of conviction. It was not an expedient measure but a solution. He did not desire this but accepted it as a gift of Divine Providence and the reasons for which were supported through the history of the past. In the article that was mentioned above he wrote: Providence does not destroy except to build and renew the earth and we believe that this same Providence has laid the foundation for a new order.
From Paris he wrote to his friend Louis Gros, and responded to the invitation to present himself as a candidate in the elections for the National Assembly. In the letter he spoke about his acceptance of the present regime: I accept the sovereignty of the nation and the republican form of government. I accept this form of government not as some disgrace that has fallen upon our times and that we must now adapt ourselves to but rather I see this as a sign of progress that must be defended and I believe it is now impossible for a return to the monarchy. I want to see the republic peaceful, a protector of all the civil, political and religious liberties, without the intervention of the State in questions outside of its competency. I want to see a respect for property, for industry, and free commerce. I want to see better institutions and the condition of workers renewed. I want to see the organization of workers rather than the organization of work … organizations among the workers themselves or organization of workers and management.
While some, the socialists, hoped that this regime would be a bridge for a social revolution, others, those on the right, wanted to see the return of the monarchy, yet to both sides Ozanam counseled calmness, trust and courage. Through two articles that were published in the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle he attempted to encourage people and to invite them to engage in the struggle in order to achieve the proposed goals. He wrote: The first thing that I want to say to all our readers is this: trust and courage. The whole world is in agreement that never before has the hand of God been revealed in a human event as it was revealed in the revolution that has just been concluded.
As an historian Frederic saw these crossroads as a time in which one should neither incline toward the right or the left. He recommended that all Catholics should not attach themselves to any system or any determined form of government. He also did not want people to absent themselves from political participation in the nation: … what I have learned from history gives me the right to believe that democracy is the natural end of political progress and that God leads the world in this direction.
Ozanam proposed a concrete plan of action that consisted of uniting Catholics together in order to recognize the legitimacy of the Republic and to bring into the Constitutional National Assembly the greatest possible number of representatives who were willing to defend social justice as well as political and religious freedom.
Together the people elected three bishops, eleven priests, and a great number of lay Catholics to participate in the republican regime. Among the group was Lacordaire, Montalembert, Tocqueville, Berryer, Falloux, and Melun … all of these individuals were willing to work with valor and sincerity in order to achieve social well-being during the regime of the Second French Republic.
Ozanam saw that he had a duty to encourage Catholics to participate in the republican regime. He did not feel any natural pleasure or any particular attraction toward politics. He did not participate in politics for any extended period of time but with his clear vision he invited others to participate. He was not one to engage in a hand to hand struggle but helped as part of the rearguard. He gave witness to all of this in a letter that he wrote to a friend: I am not a man of action nor am I suited for Parliament or for the platform. If I can do anything however small, it is in my University position or perhaps in the seclusion of my library, in extracting from philosophy and history thoughts which I can put before young men, before trouble and vacillating minds, in order to steady, to encourage, to rally them together, in the confusion of the present and the terrible uncertainty of the future.
On more than one occasion he insisted that at the present time one had to act and could not remain passive: The best that they can do is to give their votes to republican candidates who are well-known for their commitment to the democratic cause. In this way we will have representatives who will vote in accord with our own convictions. There are many friends who will uphold our religious freedom and this should calm our consciences.
A candidate for the National Assembly: his program
People in Paris requested Frederic to become a delegate to the Constitutional Assembly but he rejected their offer. Nevertheless, his companions in Lyon pushed him in the same direction. For a long time he resisted such a move but then at the last minute he decided to become a candidate.
His statement announcing his candidacy which was written in Paris on April 15, 1848, began: To the electorate in Rhóne. This statement allows us to understand in a clear and precise manner his ideas concerning republican democracy.
We see in Frederic’s program a balance, a clarity and a great generosity. In the first place he reveals to us an acceptance of the ideas that surfaced from the events of February, 1848. Frederic judged these events to be in accord with gospel principles: For me the February revolution is not some public disgrace to which we must resign ourselves, but it is a sign of progress. I see in these events the incarnation of the gospel expressed in these three words: freedom, equality, fraternity.
He accepted unequivocally the regime of 1848 which he felt was established on three Christian convictions: freedom, equality, and fraternity. Freedom implied the sovereignty of the people and the rejection of all the vestiges of the Old Regime. Sovereign people are ruled by laws that are the natural rights of men and women, and families, laws that are not dependent on any individual action, nor the action of governments which frequently waiver in this regard nor the majority vote of Parliament. His desire to struggle for these natural rights is very clear: I want sovereignty for the people. Since the people are composed of free persons, I desire above all else the approval of the natural rights of the human person, the natural rights of the family. In the constitution we must overcome the uncertainty of the parliamentarians and highlight the freedom of the human person, freedom of speech, education, free association, freedom of worship. We must avoid the situation of allowing the political parties to suspend at any time individual freedom or to interfere with matters of conscience or to quiet the press.
Frederic also wanted to build up democracy and decentralize the economy and governmental administration: I want a republican Constitution without a spirit that would attempt to return us to impossible realities. I want equality for everyone and consequently, universal suffrage for the National Assembly elections. Territorial unity is the work of Providence and our ancestors. I reject any thought of a federal republic and at the same time, an excessive centralization that would give Paris more power at the cost of the coastal and rural areas … This would only bring about inequality among those whom the law had declared equals.
Frederic saw that the defense of private property must be balanced with a progressive financial policy. He said: I will defend the sacred principle of private property without touching the fundamental basis for civil order. A system of progressive tax can be introduced that will in turn lower the taxes on consumer goods. The taxes imposed by the deputy’s office can be replaced and thus make life more affordable.
In Frederic’s program we see that he highlights the right to work, equality in wages, freedom of association, justice and other social reforms. I support the right to work … the rights of workers and artisans and merchants who own their own business and set their own salary. I support workers organizations, either among themselves or with management … I will make every effort so that the means of justice and social security become united in alleviating the suffering of the people. Bringing about these realities does not seem to me to be much to ask in order to resolve the formidable question of work, the most acute question at the present time and a question that is worthy of consideration by good-hearted people … I will utilize a social vocabulary in order to address myself to citizens. We cannot leave aside the points of view with regard to fraternity which are closely united to these social ideas. There is no doubt that in the events of 1848 both of these ideas are intimately related. I want fraternity with all its consequences. He concluded his statement with the words: Fraternity knows no frontiers!
This excellent program of Frederic was not known by all the people who would vote. Frederic presented this program four days before the established deadline and he was unable to go in person to Lyon to engage in an electoral campaign. He received 17,000 votes, but not a sufficient amount to obtain the position. He was content with this failure because he did not believe he had the gift to be a parliamentary orator. He presented himself as a candidate because of the influence of his friends. After the elections his work consisted of infusing hope and guarantees among Catholics and encouraging others to commit themselves to political responsibilities. At the time, Ozanam believed that his desire to unite the social classes under the sign of Christian democracy would be carried our effectively. Many representatives were like minded and we can see that they enacted many important reforms. The President of the National Assembly, Philippe Buchez, exerted considerable effort but unfortunately because of extreme elements and special interests he weakened. A confrontation ensued which led to his being hated by the social classes.
Frederic Ozanam: founder of a newspaper
With some friends who shared his republican ideas, Frederic founded the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle in which they proposed the establishment of a Christian political party that trusted the Republic: the Confidence Party
Its principle objective
The question of the republic was a concern only for illustrious people and therefore Frederick did not place much importance on the fact that he was not elected as a representative of Lyon. He felt that he could render a better political service to people through the publication of this newspaper whose principal editors were, together with him, Lacordaire, as director, and a priest, Maret. They received the support from public opinion as well as from ecclesiastical authorities because they had totally separated themselves from partisan politics and sought to save religion and the country.
Encouraged by individuals like himself who were free from political commitments with the fallen regime, Frederic directed his activities from the tribune of the press and hoped to unite Catholics who rejected the conservative positions and the invective of L’Univers, as well as the timorous policy of Le Correspondant.
On March 1, 1848, a flyer was distributed on the streets that announced the beginnings of the new daily newspaper: All of France sees two powerful forces involved in the present situation: Jesus Christ and the people. If these two forces are divided, we are lost. If they are understood, we are saved. How then shall we begin to understand these two realities? They will be understood if the Church respects the general will of the nation and the nation respects the traditional laws of the Church. They will be understood if the Church labors for the good of the nation. Is it not true that Christian institutions flourish better under the free skies of the United States than under the absolutist rod of the Tsar of Russia? … But these human reasons have no divine character or religious sanction. There is no Christian duty that obliges us to oppose the voice of France if she prefers at this time the Republic rather the monarchy. This is a matter of opinion and not faith. It is a matter of opinion and therefore, this is no reason for the Church to take a hostile stance against the majority vote of the people.
The flyer continued: The nation ought to respect the divine constitution of the Church. We, as Catholics, did not formulate this Constitution. We received it from God and we are willing to sign every one of its articles of faith with our blood. To attack one of these articles is to order us to choose between physical death and eternal death. If the Republic should place us in this position, our decision is already made. The nation, however, owes us not only respect for our divine constitution but also, like everyone else, respect for our way of worship. Wherever those obstacles exist in our country, obstacles that impede the development of our conscience and our right to speak and expand … those obstacles should be abolished. We ask for freedom for ourselves and for everyone, a freedom that has been denied us to the present time. We ask for the freedom of education, the freedom to teach and the freedom of association without which the other liberties are unable to form men and women, unable to form good citizens.
With the newspaper Frederic and his collaborators wanted to continue the movement of freedom and the defense of the Rights of Man and so they continued along the path of L’Avenir of Lamennais, which at this time produced more fruit than previously. The eloquence and enthusiasm of Frederic and his collaborators attracted many as they attempted to unite Catholics in a common cause even though Catholics might have different positions. This idea of pluralism in opinions, both legitimate and necessary, was very present from the start. Frederic wrote to Lallier: El Univers cannot continue to be the only voice of Catholics who are now more than ever before the victims of prejudice. On the other hand, since there are various opinions among Catholics it is preferable that they be represented by several newspapers.
In the space of a little more than a year, the focus of Frederic’s activity was to put forth many of his ideas that revolved around the social question. While he affirmed his democratic convictions, he did not hide his fears about the inadequacy of the social politics that was being carried out at this time. He confided in his friend Dufieux: We know that our present situation is threatened and that the revolution can crush us, but we believe that Providence has its designs which will gloriously rise above our ruins. The Republic can, for a time, triumph, but because of the shortcomings of its defenders and the ability of enemies, it can also collapse at any given time. But democracy is in control of the situation and beneath all the different political forms it will continue to move forward, and will end by once again returning to a republican form, which is the most natural and most sincere form. We are not socialists in the sense that we want to disrupt society … what we want is a progressive, Christian and free reform. We believe that we are not mistaken in viewing the movement of 1848 from the perspective of the social question. Because this question is quite formidable God does not want us to leave this aside.
Ozanam’s attitude with regard to the events that were unfolding in France was different from that of the majority of Catholics who became fearful of the revolution. The revolution filled Frederic with hope while for many others this brought back memories of the past and caused a feeling of panic and thus a feeling of pain and hurt.
As the months passed Frederic noticed a growing isolation between the reduced group of L’Ere Nouvelle and Catholic opinion. From the beginning of June 1848 until the election of the President, the division among Catholics became more pronounced.
L’Univers, Ami de la Religion, Veuillot, Montalembert, Dupanloop and many members of the episcopacy led people to call into question the orthodoxy and the good faith of Ozanam’s newspaper.
The articles that Ozanam wrote for this newspaper became distinguished for the care that was given to distinguish his democratic aspirations from the philosophies on which the leftist parties based their political reforms. When Cremieux proposed a law favoring divorce, Frederic criticized this position in an article that he wrote: In no way does the divorce law have anything to do with democracy but it proceeds from the old liberalism system which always had a greater hatred of religion than a love of freedom, a system which only knows how to destroy and seeks to overthrow social institutions. Like the philosophy of the eighteenth century it attempts to trample upon religious beliefs.
Frederic Ozanam was no visionary in love with democracy or a dreamer who blindly trusted the power of democracy’s virtues. His deep religious spirit was always inspired by the Catholic faith and he trusted only his faith. He placed his hope in God … and this led him to write: Even if I were to see all of modern society disappear, I know that it would be easier for God to create a new society than to limit it to the little that we have experienced during these centuries of the redemptive work of the blood of his Son.
Frederic was deeply hurt by the division among Catholics and even more, he was embarrassed by these divisions. He was personally affected by the various ideologies that separated and divided his beloved friends in Lyon.
At the beginning of 1849, L’Ere Nouvelle was constantly pursued by Montalembert who accused its editors of being demagogues and opportunistic. As a result the newspaper began to lose ground and reduced its activity. Lacodaire had resigned as director in 1848 and Frederic was very absorbed in the redaction of his book, Christian Civilization, which he began to write in October 1848. On many occasions people spoke with a certain complacency about the democratic evolution that seemed to grip Europe. People acted like political observers of events and thus the revolution seemed to take on no greater importance than the revolution that put an end to the Roman Empire.
Since many subscribers had stopped reading the newspaper, it was sold to a leader of the legitimists who supported a return to the monarchy, La Rochjacquelaine, who soon after dismantled it and thus it ceased being a means of expression for the small nucleus of Christian democrats. On April 9, 1849, the cessation of its publication was announced and this marked the end of hope.
Frederic wrote to a friend in Lyon and explained the reasons for closing this means of expression and he beseeched him: May controversy and disagreements in matters open to various opinions not lead us to hatred which would only imprison us. For several reasons, but especially as a result of the events in Rome from which the Pope had to flee, the burning conviction, the arduous and disinterested work of a group of Catholics was not enough to influence a greater number of people to support the Republic and democracy, to support a regime that Ozanam and his group desired to build, namely, a more just and fraternal regime. Could we then speak of failure in this regard? Perhaps, but it should be remembered that the work of these individuals of good-will remained as burning embers which during the remainder of the nineteenth century would be successfully taken up once again and bring about a triumph.
After April 1949, Ozanam never returned to the political arena which had caused him great trauma and grief and now his great desire was to establish peace between himself and his friends. He accepted with humility this apparent failure and he realized that to continue the struggle would lead to harsh polemics among people of the Church, including members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Prudence counseled him to retreat. Nevertheless he never lost confidence in Divine Providence that leads people along seemingly crooked paths. He wrote: The day will come when Divine Providence will return us to that unity that makes us strong. We had no interest in profit or ambition; we were not selfish … our only desire was to serve God and the Church by enabling Christian principles to penetrate democracy. The contradictions that we discovered on our path did not surprise us or discourage us, in fact, we would be in the trenches if not for circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that for the moment have distanced us from the combat.
The end of Frederic’s political career
When the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle disappeared, the group of Christians that was ahead of their time dispersed. Ozznam, inflicted with illness, abandoned active politics without denying any of his convictions. He wrote: I have believed and still believe in the possibility of Christian democracy and I do not believe in any other Christian doctrine.
With great clarity he perceived the threats that a divided and weakened Republic presented and he denounced the danger that the Church ran (the hopes that many Catholics dreamed about) when a government of the moral order guaranteed the detestable religion of the state which would return the state to previous fatal errors: I would like to believe that the Republic will endure, especially for the good of religion and the salvation of the French Church … we do not, however, have sufficient faith and we want to re-establish religion through political means. We dream of a Constantine who with a single stroke led people to the sheepfold … conversions are not brought about through laws but through consciences which must be conquered one by one.
The religious policy of the Second Empire was summed up with these words and Frederic realized that he was able to preach in the desert. So he discretely retreated, with no hatred or bitterness, with a calm and tolerance which continues to be for us a model for our own activity. He viewed his work as one of service and not one of personal aggrandizement and spoke about his retirement in the following way: What a stormy but instructive era! Perhaps we will perish but we do not complain about being in that position. We learn from all of this; we learn how to defend our convictions without hating our adversaries; we learn how to love those who think differently than we do and we learn to recognize that there are Christians in every walk of life and that God can be served today and always. We are saddened at ourselves and not at the times in which we live. If we do not take on a defeatist attitude, we will be better people.
The lesson of detachment was a way for Frederic to grow in the spiritual life. The time of apparent failure led him to this spirit of detachment and stripping of self in order to surrender totally to God. Until the end of his human existence, with its successes and failures, Frederic continued to grow spiritually. At one time he wrote: We are all like to Gobelins6 who continue the work of an unknown arist and who sew beautiful threads but cannot see the result of their work until they have completed it. Then with calmness they can admire the flowers, the figures, the beautiful scenes and the splendid palaces of the kings. The same occurs to us. We work, we suffer and we do not see the harvest of the fruit. But God sees all of this and reveals this to us when the great invisible artist who has been present at every moment shows us the results of our fatigue which seemed so sterile to us, when he places with great pleasure these works of our hands in his great palace.
From this time forward Frederic refused to participate in the political life of France and he did not write any more political manuscripts for the public. He did, however, continue to maintain in contact with his friends in Lyon. We have lengthy letters of Frederic that were written during 1849 and addressed to different individuals in Lyon. Politics became a subject that was rarely addressed, though Ozanam observed the political situation with great anxiety. The attitude of Catholics, which was inclined toward the restoration of the monarchy, supported an authoritarian and despotic regime, backed by President Louis Napoleon … and this appeared to Frederic to be a very dangerous stance.
He wrote to his friend, A. Dufieux: My dear friend, taking exception to the archbishop and a small group that surrounds him, individuals who only see people who dream of an alliance between the throne and the altar, I see this as paralyzing the movement of return and conversion that I had made the joy of my youth and the happiness of my mature years.
Certainly the political movement had suffered a great blow and the absolutist tide began to rise in France and in Rome where Pius IX saw himself obliged to return to the regime of Gregory XVI. These were the final years of the Ancient Regime and it was not strange that when the foundations which Ozanam had supported began to totter, there was no one to support them and so they now had to confront the attacks of conservative Catholics.
Disillusioned but not defeated, Frederic continued to struggle. His firm and reflective faith, his constant aspiration for Christian perfection maintained him. He believed that he had a duty to mark democracy with the living and efficacious light of the Christian gospel. He said frequently: Democracy needs the sacrifice of Christian inspiration in order to be able to live.
Frederic placed himself unconditionally at the service of the truth, the focus of his life even though this was not always easy. He habitually struggled against current ways of thinking and on several occasions we see him struggling with feelings of personal impotency with regard to his service of the truth.
As Frederic withdrew from politics he left us the remembrance of a valiant and tentative effort, the echo of noble truth that was able to rise above partisan politics … characteristics that would continue to mark his tenure at the Sorbonne where his students absorbed his teachings with joy and diligence.
Thus concluded the stuttering of a new world: the alliance of democracy with Christianity.
- Legitimist: a supporter of the elder line of the Bourbon family in France.
- Coates, op.cit., p. 191.
- Dirvin, op. cit., p. 18.
- All authority comes from God.
- Absolutists: those who adhered to the political theory that held that all power should be vested in one ruler and who believed in a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler or other authority.
- Refers to the workers in the Gobelins tapestry factory.