Chapter 4: Frederic Ozanam and the Church
Historical evolution of the laity in the Church
Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Church had designated the theme of the laity as something that was pending. The laity, as a branch of the ecclesial trunk, began to be revitalized with the Second Vatican Council and have been valued and impelled forward by the multiple documents that the magisterium of the Church has produced during recent years.
Origins of the laity
Who are the laity? The laity are baptized members of the People of God, Christians. For many centuries the common belief was that the lay person was not a priest. Canon Law explains the origin and the use of the word: The word “laity” made its appearance in the life of the Church out of necessity to give a name to a specific category of faithful. In the beginning, the word could not properly be called a differential (like the word “cleric”), but it was certainly meant to designate, by way of contrast, the rest of the People of God, those faithful who because they were not clerics, were nameless. They are the faithful and no further specificity is given. Thus we can affirm that in the beginning the word is ambiguous. It had many connotations and depended on the context in which it was used. In a Roman context it would refer to an ordinary person who was not a member of the leading class. On the other hand, if the context was Jewish then the word was seen as referring to someone who was worldly and not part of the priestly class. Within the Christian context the word appears as something necessary to name a group of faithful but there was no theological content given to this word.
In the mentality of the Primitive Church all the members who composed the Church were viewed as having a common dignity even though they exercised different ministerial functions. Thus the distinction of multiple charisms as stated in Sacred Scripture: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord … to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit (1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 7).
From the beginning the idea of the People of God, the faithful who are consecrated and participate in the priesthood of Christ without forming a group that was distinct from the ministers, was very much a part of ecclesiology. In the ancient Church there was a clear understanding of the priestly character of the baptized, a clear understanding of being disciples of Christ and this constituted and gave meaning to the name Christian.
The Christian and lay state, without any special theological content, appears constantly in the Patristic writings. The Church is the People of God, the holy people of God whose members are all the baptized and the different forms of ministries are destined for the service of all. What evolved and developed is not the Christian state but the state of the minister. The ministers in the Primitive Church understood that they were not a distinct group, “those set apart” but rather had specific functions that were properly theirs.
From every point of view the foundation of the theology of the laity is based on baptism which bestows upon them their Christian identity.
During the Middle Ages the view of the lay person as someone of the world came into prominence. The priests were consecrated and the sense of a common priesthood disappeared. The importance of baptism was marginalized and a non-Christian theory was accepted … a theory that held that no “worldly person” could be anointed. Thus the reality that all are priests and participate in the priesthood of Christ was forgotten.
Participation of the laity in the life of the Church
Like the identity of the laity, the aspect of lay participation has evolved through the centuries. In the beginning all the faithful celebrated the Eucharist with the minister and all the formulas used in the celebration were in the plural form. This participation was expressed in concrete gestures: presentation of the gifts, entrance procession, distribution of communion, gestures of peace … there was a clear understanding of a common priesthood as well as community celebrations.
At the same time the specific involvement of the community in ecclesial problems was very important. Without leaving aside their ministerial functions, the laity participated in the election of ministers and the sending forth of ministers. They also intervened in decision, disagreements, and important problems. He who presides over all ought to be elected by all (Saint Leo the Great). The local Church had achieved a great degree of autonomy that was concentrated in the synods which were presided over by the bishop and in which the laity had broad representation.
Another task that in the beginning was carried out by the laity was the administration of temporal goods, revenues that were collected through alms and tithing. The administration of this money was done from a sense of co-responsibility and in common accord with the bishops. These monies were designated for the poor, the widows, the orphans and others in need. The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common (Acts 4:32).
During the Middle Ages these idea of the Primitive Church would evolve in a way that resulted in negative consequences and a deterioration of the identity of the laity.
In the celebration of the Eucharist the plural form was now substituted by the singular form in all the prayers and some parts of the Mass, such as the Eucharistic Prayer, were said in a low voice. In general, all liturgical functions began to be reserved exclusively for the clergy. From the time of the Council of Trent we begin to see a progressive loss of lay influence in all of theology and in the ecclesial conscience. The priests and religious lived “a state of perfection” and the laity occupied a distant place, an inferior position and this impacted on their canonical status as well as their living the Christian life in general.
The doctrine of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s established an unequal society. This was especially apparent with the publication of Pius X’s encyclical, Vehementer Nos in which he spoke about two categories of people: the pastors and the flock and two grades of people: the hierarchy and the multitude of faithful who have no other right than to allow themselves to be guided. This teaching consummated the separation of ministers and laity and resulted in a vertical structure in which obedience became the primary function of the laity.
Reevaluating the laity: the Second Vatican Council
The most significant conciliar inheritance has been the doctrine on the laity who, together with the bishops, are the members of the Church and once again properly valued. In the history of the Church never before were the functions of the laity and the position of the laity in the Church spoken about so positively, systematically, and extensively. All Christians, through the reality of their baptism and their membership in the Church, are called to embrace and love the gospel and to direct their lives toward others. In this way they communicate the light of Christ and the joy of the Kingdom because the apostolic calling is an essential dimension of their being. The vitality of the Church of Jesus Christ and his mission in the world depend on the specific richness that each Christian vocation is able to contribute1.
Vatican II opened new horizons. This theology, however, did not begin from zero but had been prepared for from the end of the nineteenth century (the doctrine of Cardinal Newman, Pius XI’s theology of the people of God and the apostolate of the laity) and the beginning of the twentieth century. We also highlight here the work of Y. Congar who in 1953 published a manuscript of great importance on the theology of the laity which was reflected in the Council documents. It is certain that Vatican II offered a new focus with regard to the community and spiritual dimensions of the laity.
The Council presents the ministries and the charisms as gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts intended for the building up of the Body of Christ and for the fulfillment of his saving mission in the world. In reality, the Church is directed and guided by the Spirit, who generously distributes various hierarchical and charismatic gifts among all the baptized, calling them to be (each one in his/her own way) active and co-responsible.
Besides the Conciliar documents, which led to the formulation of what could be considered a theology of the laity (Lumen Gentium, 31; Gaudium et Spes, 43), we also call to mind the teaching of Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, and the Roman Synod of 1987 which dealt with the vocation and the mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. The apostolic exhortation of John Paul II, Christifideles laici takes up the Council’s concern as the Pope spoke about the role of the laity in the Church. This document sums up and gives form to the statements and the conclusions of the Synod of Bishops of 1987 and at the same time amplifies and stresses many of the ideas of Vatican II concerning the incorporation of the laity into the life of the Church. It holds in esteem the participation of the laity especially in the evangelization of the world through their work, in their family, profession and politics. Together with the positive aspects it also points out some temptations that have accompanied the flourishing of the laity since the Council. Among others … The temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world (Christifideles Laici, 2).
The lay person, the priest of Christ
At this time the priestly consecration of the laity is emphasized. In the second chapter of Lumen Gentium we read: Christ the Lord, high priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom of priests to God, his Father.” The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men and women they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the perfection of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light (Lumen Gentium, 10).
Thus we see a relationship between the priesthood of Christ and the priesthood of the faithful. Laity and clerics participate in the same priesthood. As expressed in the texts of the New Testament, such as the first letter of Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation, and as affirmed by the Council, baptism imprints a sacramental character. The Council also clarified the meaning of consecrated persons (priests and religious) who above all else and before all other realities are people who have been baptized even though now their baptismal consecration brings with it another significance that is imposed on it by the sacrament of Orders or religious profession.
The doctrine of the Council eliminates the duality consecrated-worldly and wants to highlight the reality that the laity are also consecrated individuals but live immersed in the realities of the world as Christ was, but are not of the world and therefore no undertaking or activity of a baptized lay person can be called worldly.
Today we are moving beyond the negative connotations of past centuries. Vatican II put forth the doctrine of the Church as the People of God and in the document on the Church placed this idea before its statement on the hierarchy … thus we have a renewed vision of a Church in which everyone participates and is co-responsible. The Church is composed of all the faithful, as full members, and not just the hierarchy. This idea replaces the distinction clergy-laity and is also a constitutive element of the Church.
It is true that we do not find definitions in the Council documents but they do point out the specific secular character of the laity as individuals who live in the world. Because the laity are immersed in the realities of the world the Spanish word laico (laity) is used interchangeably with the word seglar (laity)2.
Paul VI said: The Church has an authentic secular dimension, inherent in her intimate nature and mission. This secular dimension is rooted in the mystery of the incarnate Word and is made real by all its members but in different ways3.
The Church, in fact, lives in the world, even if she is not of this world. She is sent to continue the redemptive work of Jesus Christ which by its very nature concerns the salvation of humanity and also involves the renewal of the whole temporal order (Christifideles Laici, 15).
Certainly all the members of the Church are participants in its secular dimension but they do so in different ways. According to the Council the participation of the lay faithful is a particular way of acting and functioning which is “proper and particular” to them. This manner of participation is expressed in the words secular character.
The participation of the laity in the priesthood of Christ was re-evaluated but was not viewed as a relationship with God based on cultic ritual and sacrifice but refers to a life-long commitment in which one’s whole life becomes “an offering that is pleasing to God,” thus commemorating and making present the life and death of Jesus. Thus the laity have the ability to prolong in their own life the very life of Christ. It is in life and through life that the lay person ought to be united to God.
The barometer of Christianity cannot be established by looking at pious practices but rather we must consider above all else the following of Jesus Christ who lived his life by doing good. Awareness of their baptismal consecration and their participation in the priesthood of Christ implies that the laity place their daily activity in a new perspective. Religious ceremonies are valid in so much as they lead to a relationship with God and a relationship with one’s sisters and brothers, and especially with those most in need. A superficial life, a life that involves no commitment is a clear sign of a lack of awareness of one’s baptismal consecration … at times one is often more religious than Christian.
Life according to the Spirit, whose fruit is holiness, stirs up every baptized person and requires each to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, in embracing the Beatitudes, in listening and meditating on the Word of God, in conscious and active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, in personal prayer, in family or in community, in the hunger and thirst for justice, in the practice of the commandment of love in all circumstances of life and service to the brethren, especially the least, the poor and the suffering (Christifideles Laici, 16).
We are not speaking about some literal repetition of Jesus’ life nor the life of Frederic Ozanam or the life of Saint Vincent de Paul. That is impossible because each one of these individuals had their own unique personality, spatial-temporal circumstances that were quite distinct, situations in which they developed their lives … and these cannot be imitated or repeated. No period of time can simply take from the past some form of spirituality and then apply it to the demands of the present age without first making some adaptations.
We are challenged, then, to view the life of Christ as a model, to follow his steps, his Spirit, his manner of acting and we must do this with our own unique personality. The image of models is very necessary in order to adapt the model, in a creative manner, to our own life that has its own unique circumstances and in all of this we are called to be active subjects in the mission of the Church.
The laity, who live their daily lives following Jesus, sanctify all their activities and integrate their activities into the plan of God’s Kingdom as they live life from the perspective of their baptismal consecration. In this way they transform reality from a faith perspective and they bring life to their worship of God through their work, family life, and participation in the political life of the community … thus the laity consecrate the world itself to God (Lumen Gentium, 34).
Thus the laity are not passive receivers but exercise the triple function of Christ as priest, king and prophet through lay ministries that are not merely supplementary but are an integral part of the Church’s mission: to evangelize the world by connecting their experiences with those of Jesus, by acting in his name and thus being able to say with the Apostle Paul: I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). In this way they prolong the life of Christ on earth and help to restore all things in Christ.
For a long period of time there was a lack of clarity with regard to the task of the laity and there was also a lack of precision at the time of determining their specific role in relation to the internal life of the ecclesial community. In rediscovering their Christian vocation, the leadership of the laity and their vocation and function within the church is affirmed.
At times the hierarchy can become fearful of this new role of the laity and begin to think that they laity are attempting to unseat the priests and religious and thus their own vocation will lose its meaning and significance. But in reality the Council attempted to revitalize the Christian vocation and wanted to restore to the laity the position they had lost. They were not attempting to create a situation in which one group climbs over the other but rather wanted to establish a true communion as a People of God, having encountered its theological richness and depth.
Greater lay leadership in public life is urgent. The Pastoral Plan of the Spanish bishops for the next four years states: greater lay leadership is necessary in public life, a leadership that is characterized by a committed and active presence. Therefore religion cannot be a private matter but a public concern.
The laity must be in the trenches. They cannot cease to speak about what they have seen and heard. Paul VI said that the Good News ought to be proclaimed by witness: Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21).
Luis G. Carvajal said: we are attempting to live and allow other to see us. The Christian ought to live a faith that does not accommodate itself to the morals that are in vogue but that fulfills the command of Jesus: being a leaven in the world (Matthew 13:33) and light and salt for the world (Matthew 5:13). A commitment that vacillates according to the movement of public opinion is insufficient because as Bishop Sánchez, the secretary of the Spanish commission stated: if we had committed Christians there would not be so much corruption. Faith, witness, and consistency will be contributions of the laity to the urgent needs of the present society.
The Church in which Frederic lived
The Church in which Ozanam lived was the product of the French Revolution of 1789 which was a violent break with the past and halted what seemed to be a peaceful development. The Revolution, with its a priori solutions which were not always well thought out for specific situations, turned aside from the normal path of history.
The social structure of the new liberal society was based on the principle of separation: the Church and the State operated on parallel paths which would never intersect. Society had as its end temporal prosperity that was limited to the present life while religion oriented people in the intimacy of their conscience toward eternal life.
Historians, contemporaries of the Revolution, individuals like Joseph de Maistre, made harsh negative judgments on those events and saw that all the moral principles and supports of civil conscience were in ruin … disorder, madness, and impiety had taken a hold on society. Above all they highlighted the persecution of the Church which resulted in severe consequences with regard to the Church’s goods as well as her ministers, including the Pope. The more intransigent historians did not limit themselves to pointing out abuses but in their analysis of the principles of the revolution condemned liberty, equality and fraternity. They viewed France as having made a drastic departure from the past. Tocqueville (1805-1859) was an exception to this understanding of history and he saw a political continuity between the events before and after 1789.
The plunder of ecclesiastical goods
The August 4, 1789 session of the National Assembly decreed the abolition of privileges that had been granted to the nobility and the clergy and made the well-being of the common family a priority. As a result, the immunities that ecclesiastics enjoyed ceased to exist and now the clergy were regarded as normal citizens with identical rights and obligations. Freedom of worship in many cases dissolved into an open struggle against the Church as society in its new organizational structure moved away from every form of religious inspiration. Various activities that the Church had been engaged in were now entrusted to the State and thus the State took charge of civil registries, hospitals and schools.
These new ideas were introduced with such vehemence that moral attitudes as well as the make- up of the country were dramatically changed. A new division of provinces reconfigured the lands of France and the lines that separated properties were eliminated as the result of popular invasions.
But long before the division of property and the introduction of the new regime, before the possessions of the nobles and the Church were allowed to be plundered and pillaged, the patrimony of the Church was invaded not by a seditious mob but by the Assembly. This occurred not in a moment of frenzy but after lengthy deliberations.
The high clergy, despite the great sums that they had given to the public treasury in the form of free gifts (some four hundred million), now had to deal with a new situation in which all their goods were taxed and they were prohibited from making contributions to the Pope, the bishops, and the chapters of the various cathedrals. Even though the Church offered to cover the deficit of the State, the National Assembly on October 4, 5, 10, and 12, 1789 decreed that the Nation would take possession of the Church’s goods … Riquetti, the Count of Mirabeau and Talleyrand-Perigord, the bishop of Autun, promoted this action. With philosophical and legal theories they convinced the members of the Assembly that it was not right for these goods to remain in “dead hands”. They presented the Church as an ambitious rival for political power. On November 2, 1789, despite the arguments to halt this action, the decree was approved with 568 affirmative votes, 346 negative votes, and 246 abstentions and thus the Church was stripped of all its goods which were then nationalized. All ecclesiastical goods are at the disposal of the nation. The State in turn will take charge of the costs of worship, the maintenance of its ministers and the care of the poor … and will do this under the vigilance of and according to the instructions of the provinces.
The day after this session of the National Assembly the poor could not gather in front of the gates of the monasteries and Churches to receive their daily bread. The heritage of Christian France now became the patrimony of public agitators. The State had hoped that this process of nationalization would bring them out of bankruptcy but the opposite occurred. The government now had to pay for the costs of worship and also had to maintain the clergy and yet the goods of the Church fell into the hands of people who were anxious to obtain these possessions, but people who could not and did not know how to utilize these goods.
The wealth and goods of the Church seemed to be in surplus but their origins were justified since these came from donations and were used for a twofold purpose: to sustain the clergy and to care for those in asylums, hospitals, seminaries as well as support other charitable works. Despite its illegality the Assembly sanctioned the decree and the King was left with no other option but to confirm the decree of the Assembly.
Not content with stripping the Church of its possessions, the Assembly promulgated the Civil Constitution of the Clergy on July 12, 1790. From this time forward the relationship between the State and the Church was one of hostility. All the priests were divided into two groups and labeled as either those who had taken the oath (i.e., those who accepted the Civil Constitution) or those who refused to take the oath (i.e., those who rejected the Civil Constitution). The priests who refused to take the oath were considered traitors and could be executed … and in fact during the Reign of Terror many of them were executed.
The second blow for the Church was the attack on the religious orders of women and men. A law of fifteen articles was enacted which placed the religious under the jurisdiction of the ordinary and prohibited them from admitting novices except those dedicated to teach and/or involved in some form of charitable action. This occurred in 1789 and in February 1790, Treilhard proposed the suppression of religious vows. Finally, in 1792 it was prohibited to wear the religious habit and it was hoped that in a short period of time all the religious Congregations would be dissolved.
The reaction of the Church
As these events unfolded the Church reacted through the bishops, such as the Bishops of Clermont and Nancy. We also highlight the role of Father Felix Cayla, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity.
In general the Church sought some form of an alliance which at times led to contradictions in which she found herself defending the “constituted order” rather than the social reality. At the same time the Church’s desire for an alliance led to theological confrontations. The Catholic population became enraged and radicalized in different positions. On the one hand, the hierarchy came together to defend themselves in the shadow of the Papacy. Thus a mystique of scared devotion to the Pope was created. The clergy, who came to be viewed as functionaries, were now more dependent on the bishops and were relegated to the sacristy, the liturgy and the garden. The separation between the clergy and the laity became more pronounced and as a result the clergy were seen as liturgical functionaries while the laity were seen as people who were involved in the world. This new situation also resulted in the Church’s rejection of the new philosophy, science and inventions. Thus Gregory XVI refused to install lighting in the Vatican4 and rejected the establishment of a railroad as well as some administrative reforms.
At that time in the Church there was no significant theological development and theology at the end of the eighteenth century seemed to lead to a certain neo-Thomism. It should be noted here that this era witnessed the growth of a pious pastoral and organizational approach that emphasized suffering, individual expiation, Marian and apocalyptic apparitions.
The position of conservative Catholics
In the practical order conservative Catholics defended an organized and hierarchical society, one that was united religiously. They considered religion as the only foundation of the State. They were so concerned about defending the religious/Christian dimension of society that they often found themselves defending issues that were, in reality, open to debate. They were incapable of envisioning the possibility of some other form of Christian society distinct from that of the Old Regime.
The individuals who represented this line of thought were people like Joseph de Maistre, Felicite Lamennais, Louis Veuillot, Montalembert and here we could also include Frederic Ozanam during his early years.
De Maistre did not understand the movement of history and bound himself to political forms that were in the process of becoming obsolete. He did not see the dangers in a close relationship between politics and religion, condemned any revolution and accepted tolerance as a provisional tactic. He energetically denied the equality of rights. He also defended a society that was rigidly and hierarchically organized, a society in which everyone from the time of their birth had their place and knew their obligations. He believed that the only way to maintain peace in society was to leave the masses uneducated. Leadership and the direction of the cities belonged to a privileged group and the role of the masses was to work and to trust in the intelligence of those in positions of government. The Church ought to be guided by the Pope whose primacy and infallibility were an absolute necessity: without the Pope there is no Christianity and without Christianity there is no religion and without religion society is mortally wounded.
Lamennais was a man of paradoxes: at first a defender of the Papacy and later a rebel. He was the creator of a generation of defenders of the faith and became a priest after overcoming many obstacles. We can say that he was the leader of a group of uncompromising individuals as well as a group of liberals. In the beginning he followed in the footsteps of Bonald, denying that truth could be achieved by reason alone. He accepted the “common thinking” of the people as the only criterion of faith. He viewed religion as a non-substitutable instrument and condition for order and peace and this dimension was seen as more important than its supernatural elements. He exalted the Papacy and felt that without the Pope there is no Church and that the life of the nation depended on the power of the Papacy. He also viewed the state as being in a subordinate position to that of the Church and this subordination resulted in a perfect union.
Lamennais, together with Montalembert and Lacordaire, founded the newspaper L’Avenir with the motto of God and freedom and they sought some form of an alliance and therefore proposed the separation of the Church and the State, freedom in appointing individuals to ecclesiastical position and the struggle against a state monopoly and then exhorted the church to renounce assistance from the State that was given to the clergy as compensation for the goods that were confiscated. They understood that they were moving beyond their previously held legitimist position.
The true leader of those unwilling to compromise was Louis Veuillot, editor of the newspaper, L’Univers. All his activity was directed toward making the Church known and loved and overthrowing the Church’s primary enemy, liberalism. His polemics were based on some fundamental ideas which inclined him to classify people as either good or evil. From his doctrine it is obvious that he had some theological formation. Authoritarian and intolerant, he engaged in polemics with every sector of society. In general he revealed himself as one who was very stern and saw everything as a serious problem for the Church. At the same time all of reality was viewed as violent and an abusive attack on charity.
The error in which this group of Catholics fell was to condemn liberalism without analyzing the historical situation and believing that in order to defend the Church they had to oppose freedom. They felt that in order to defend the Christian faith they had to oppose civil emancipation, the promotion of the proletariat, freedom of the press, the parliamentary regime and a greater separation between Church and State.
In 1822 Father Ventura, editor of the Ecclesiastical Encyclopedia, wrote to Boraldi, editor of Memorie di Religione: The enemies of religion are those who defend the throne and yet the throne cannot be combated from one perspective and then forgiven from another. In was in this spirit that the ceremony of the consecration of the King was renewed in Rheims and the death penalty imposed on those who committed a sacrilege.
The archbishop of Paris, Bishop de Quelen, was very intransigent and did not recognize the legitimacy of Louis Philippe of Orleans until 1839, a short time before the archbishop’s death.
This group of conservative Catholics mistrusted anything that was new. Anything new in politics was viewed as revolution, in philosophy, error, and in theology, heresy. Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary of State under Pius VII, criticized in his memoirs the blindness of those who did not understand that the revolution had accomplished in the political and the moral sphere what the Flood had accomplished in the physical arena: the transformation of the face of the earth.
In light of the imminent dangers of democracy, they were unable to grasp the long-term advantages that such a system might present to the Church. Because of their inability to understand history and their lack of political discernment, they became enclosed in a rigid confessional environment, and often defended a just cause with erroneous means. Their actions were for the most part fruitless and they were disillusioned by the lengthy presentations of Lacordaire: for a presbytery, a cabin; for an altar, a rock; for a church a small roof like that which protects the harvest.
Yet we must also see the positive side of their position and their contribution to the unfolding situation. They engaged in a radical, useful and constructive criticism of liberal principles and highlighted the intangible aspects of Christian doctrine. This was a struggle against secularization and a defense of Catholic thinking that at the very least made the Assembly mindful of their demands.
The position of liberal Catholics
Liberal Catholics included all those who accepted the ideology that liberty is a positive factor and a sign of progress. They stated that if the Church is persecuted it is because in the majority of the cases Catholics had not accepted the New Regime but remained faithful to absolutism which was a dying institution. Father Ventura wanted to demonstrate that if the Church did not walk in step with the people, the people would continue to walk, and would move forward without the Church, outside of the Church or against the Church.
On the other hand liberal Catholics wanted to show that in the Old Regime the situation of the Church was not one that was very favorable. The Church was watched by the police, the bishops were appointed by civil authorities and the Church’s goods were controlled by civil powers, etc.
The fundamental principles that the liberals defended were recognition and respect for the human person, suppression of all coercion used to defend the faith and the principle that the State should not intervene in questions of conscience but only in those matters that involve public order. The mission of the Church in the contemporary world can only be accomplished when her freedom is based upon the principle of freedom in general and when she renounces the Concordat. In such a situation the Church will no longer be obligated to the State nor subordinate to it.
This was a dark time for the Church. On the one hand, she had to confront the laicists and on the other hand, the radical reformists who placed the bishops, priests and laity on the same level. It was clear that on principle the Church did not accept the reforms because she believed her authority would be weakened.
The Popes who governed the Church between 1800-1846 alternated with various tendencies when they were not totally opposed to emerging reforms. The problems that the papacy had to confront at the beginning of the century were very serious. In different countries they had to restore the pastoral ministry which had been disrupted by the Revolution and had to accommodate her ministry to the demands of the time.
The first Pope was Pius VII (1800-1823) who was deported by the French and followed a moderate policy. In reality during the time of his Papacy it was his Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, who represented the Church’s position since the pope himself had become exhausted because of his age and the Napoleonic disturbances. Leo XII (1823-1829) was elected by a group of intransigent cardinals and he re-established various privileges and persecuted anyone who even hinted at liberalism.
Pius VIII (1829-1830) returned to a moderate policy and recognized Louis Philippe of Orleans. The Pope appeared to adapt to the new situation but his short time as Pope did not allow him to give a new form to the Papacy.
Gregory XVI (1830-1846) was elected by the intransigent cardinals whose attitude became the visible sign of his papacy. In internal administration as well as in doctrinal problems he showed himself to be even more intransigent that his predecessors. He naturally conflicted with the group of Catholics who proposed a harmony between church and freedom.
French liberal Catholics aspired to an alliance than was similar to that which was established by Belgian Catholics who had achieved a separation between Church and State that was supported by their constitution.
Among the liberal Catholics we can point out a group that continually sought a religious renewal and a presence of the Church that would be distinguished by its social concern. Here we could place Frederic Ozanam with his Conferences of Charity who was joined with Armand de Melun, Albert Le Mun, Patrice de Poin, Lamennais, Chateaubriand, Montalembert, and Lacordaire.
It became obvious that many of those Catholics who were in the beginning uncompromising began to change their thinking as a result of the 1830 Revolution and little by little became part of the liberal group of French Catholics. They seem to have undergone a process of purification and were convinced of their position. Such was the case of Montalembert and his group who from their publication L’Avenir, defended ecclesiastical rights when speaking of the State which seemed to have a monopoly in education as well as various other activities in society. Montalembert affirmed that the Church’s privileges and the union of the throne and the altar, were more harmful to the Church than useful … Christians had nothing to lament regarding the past and could expect everything in the future.
In social matters this group wanted to make some attempt to support those who were oppressed. As a result they initiated some actions to resolve different social question and reestablished works of different associations. At the same time they petitioned for universal suffrage, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press and freedom of association.
We see in Lamennais and his friends and collaborators a clear understanding of the social realities. In an article of Drapeau Blanc we see one of the first statements against the slavery of the workers: Modern politics views the poor as a work machine from which they must obtain the greatest profit in the shortest period of time. Their usefulness is measured by what they produce just as the usefulness of the rich is measured by what they consume … Modern politics wants to spread these ideas and wants to have these ideas combined with the most vile passions that might be found in the human heart. You will have slaves of industry, individuals who for a piece of bread are obliged to enslave themselves in workshops and factories, obliged to live and die there and perhaps not even once hear about God or know about their rights or know any bonds with family. I know that you will tell me: at least they are free. We need to examine these strange notions of freedom and we cannot continue to deceive ourselves: these individuals are not free and the proof of this is the terrible domination that you are able to exercise over them. You have a need to make them dependent on you and this need makes them your slaves.
The economist of the group, De Coux, raised his voice and stated: Catholicism is not in a contest as in former times with the landed aristocracy. Now Catholicism has to confront the wealthy aristocracy. Yet this hold on wealth will be broken by freeing the proletariat from the monopoly that the capitalists exercise over labor, a monopoly in which the capitalist buys labor in order to resell it.
Very soon fierce discussions began about the publication of these views which were opposed by the majority of the bishops who prohibited the distribution of these newspapers in their diocese. The hope of approval from the Pope encouraged these individuals to undertake a journey to the Eternal City in March, 1832. Either they did not know or they were not aware of the fact that Rome was opposed to the theories that they defended and their gesture was not only rejected but also publically condemned.
As a result Pope Gregory XVI published on August 15, 1832 an encyclical, Mirari Vox in which he expressly condemned modern errors. He spoke in a harsh tone and made no distinctions or concessions. He not only condemned indifferentism5 but also the absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone (Mirari Vox, 14). It can be affirmed that this encyclical was clearly meant as a statement against liberal ideas and all those who proposed the separation of the throne from the altar. Nor can we predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the State and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that the concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty (Mirari Vox, 20).
Even though the encyclical did not clearly state that this condemnation was directly addressed to the newspaper L’Avenir and those responsible for its publication, Cardinal Pacca made this understood. This event provoked negative reactions from Lamennais who little by little distanced himself from the Catholic Church. With the publication of his book, Les paroles d’un croyant, we see his movement toward a position of radical rationalism, a position that he held with conviction until his death on February 27, 1854. The others followed a path of waiting for more propitious times.
Frederic Ozanam, a writer for this newspaper, who was also convinced of this doctrine, remained faithful to the Church and engaged in a process of reconciling faith and the modern world until the arrival of Pope Pius IX.
A staunch defender of the Church, Ozanam wrote in April 1837 an article on The goods of the Church. He criticized the plunder of the Church’s goods which had been approved by the National Assembly and defended the Church’s rights over these goods. He was opposed to those who defended and advocated the legitimate right of this restriction on the Church’s goods, individuals such as Mirabeau, Petion, Barnave. The Archbishop D’Aix and Bishop Larochefoucauld (Diocese of Uzés) and Bishop Malonet (Diocese of Nimes) had also spoken out against these individuals, but these discussions, though energetic, were not complete. Ozanam stated in his article: They abandoned the philosophical and religious arena in order to seek refuge and get lost in history and jurisprudence. The question that is of general interest to the universal Church was accepted as a fact not only by the hierarchy but also by the clergy of France. The disputes in this matter seemed to incline to their own cause while 130 million Catholics, Rome and the Supreme Pontiff, heaven and earth, anxiously awaited the result of these debates.
Ozanam continued to say that the action of the Assembly had arrived at a point that until then no one had dared to approach directly. There is something of shame in this weakness even though we have to admit there is also honesty … an act without a name, an action that cannot be labeled has given the goods of the clergy to the State.
The declaration of the state’s ownership of these goods led to frenzy and madness as people committed great sacrileges and engaged in all types of orgies which involved people carrying off the sacred ornaments on the backs of pack animals. Religious celebrations were then offered clandestinely. Deportation, exile, imprisonment and massacres became the order of the day. In a short period of time the doors of the hospitals, centers of human suffering, were closed by avaricious hands. There was a lack of bread and under the banner of liberty, people were silenced.
In light of these events Ozanam published his denunciation: the State has not complied with the essential conditions contained in the decree and therefore they cannot claim victory. Furthermore, even if we give merit to the ends for which the decree was granted, it can be annulled as unconstitutional. The Assembly drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man which was done in accord with the majority of the French people. Article 2 states that the right to property is an inviolate and sacred right and no one can be denied this right except in the case of public necessity. In such cases a just indemnization is to be given to those whose property is seized.
When the Assembly approved the Decree without giving any consideration to the reality of indemnization it acted in a way that was opposed to the Rights of Man. At the same time the majority of citizens wanted to maintain the Catholic religion so that the Church could continue to provide public assistance and in order to do this the Church has a need to preserve her goods. Thus, the usurpers of these goods are trampling upon the rights of citizens.
In the same article Ozanam dealt with the issue of a tyrannical government because the Assembly had agreed to consult the people through a plebiscite but never followed through on this decision because they feared the injustice that had been committed would be recognized. Ozanam felt that it was important to remember that the goods of the Church were protected not only by previous laws but also by treaties between the clergy and the Empire. There was the Concordat of Francis I and Pope Leo X (1516). An agreement between two powers could not be cast aside unilaterally. To place these goods of the Church in the State’s coffers, diplomatic negotiation should have taken place and since this did not occur, the action of the Assembly can be viewed as an abuse of power. In fact, from the perspective of the law, the decree of the Assembly was contrary to both national and international law, and thus the decree should be declared null and void.
Ozanam’s condemnation of this decree was not based solely on an appeal to God or to religion or to Catholics. His analysis was more profound: the action of the Assembly had to be viewed and judged in light of and in the name of humanity. Ozanam saw that as the Church was plundered by the revolutionaries all of civilization was outraged by this barbarity. This outrage was all the greater because as an institution the Church had been able to accomplish what many political groups only dreamed about. In the Church one could see that self-sacrifice and love and service of others were everyday realities. The Church’s work was viewed as the work of God, the Lord of all things and so the Church served at the altar and also served those in need.
Ozanam continued and asked the question: what is barbarism but the absence of those elements that make social life possible … barbarism is rooted in selfishness and the worship of one’s self. If the concerns of the Assembly were to seize the Church’s goods and place them under the domination of the State, thus becoming the owners of these goods, then this action became the symbol of popular selfishness which replaced the selfishness of the royalty and the aristocracy. The selfishness of thirty million people, agitated by mutiny and fires, urged on by destructive instincts, planted in the France the horrors that Atilla had spared them.
The decree with regard to the plunder of the Church’s goods … should it not disappear from the annals and the memory of the nation that believes itself (not without reason) to be chosen from among all the nations of the world to fulfill a civilizing mission? As a good citizen, Ozanam was pained by the acts of vandalism which he saw as degrading and debasing.
In 1848 with the arrival of the revolution in France, Catholics seemed to embrace liberalism in it totality at the same time that the French Republic was being established. Thanks to the efforts of Montalembert, Catholics had a certain unity in their way of acting. It could be that (without being paradoxical) at that time all were liberals … and this word did not appear to have heretical or suspicious connotations.
Lacordaire and Montalembert, who had submitted themselves to the policy of the Papacy as expressed in the encyclical Mirari vos would now raise the banner on behalf of liberalism. They stated that the encyclical was a condemnation of radical liberalism which arose from an unbridled individualism. With the fall of Louis Philippe, Catholic orators and writers greeted the new regime with the cry of liberty. That very night Louis Veuillot published in L’Univers the following statement: Today, like yesterday, nothing is more possible than liberty. Religion is the balm that impedes the corruption of liberty. True liberty can save everyone.
The following day a bolder statement was published: We affirm that the Church asks for nothing more and will pay with eternal gratitude and immense services for the recognition of this pure and simple right, the right of liberty.
The same liberal tone is found in Episcopal documents. Bishop Sibour from the Diocese of Digue wrote to the clergy: We want liberty for ourselves and for everyone, but honestly and sincerely we want the freedom to meet and to associate as we please, the freedom to worship, freedom of conscience, freedom to teach … Everything that the Church and the State ask for is liberal. Every government that attempts to detain the progressive development of public freedoms will sooner or later be submerged by the wave of ideas and legitimate needs that increases unceasingly. Can the Catholic Church reject liberty when its august leader, Pius IX, has manifested clear liberal tendencies?
The archbishop, Cardinal Giraud, wrote in a similar tone. Montalembert, from his new forum, Le Correspondant, entered into polemics with Veuillot and his newspaper, L’Univers which he believed had taken a position that was too radical. At this time Montalembert also entered into the same polemical situation with his friend, Frederic Ozanam and his newspaper, L’Ere Nouvelle, accusing Frederic of abandoning his previous ideas. He felt that Ozanam was now expressing a very radical point of view.
The Church, with the election of the bishop of Imola as Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) embarked upon a new path. The new Pope was in accord with the desire to seek the better well-being of the people and freedom for the Church. The Pope felt that he was first and foremost a pastor and won universal acclaim. In his youth he had been a staunch defender of the moderates. In 1833, in a letter to his friend, Falconieri, the Pope wrote: In the very marrow of my bones I hate and detest the thoughts and the activities of the liberals but I also have no sympathy for the fanatics who call themselves papists. A just middle path, a Christian path, rather than the diabolical path that is in vogue today, that is the path that, with the help of God, I would like to follow.
Catholics at this time saw the Pope acting exactly in the way he had proposed. In 1847 when Ozanam was preparing a book on the Germans, he saw the Pope as a symbol of liberty. The fact that the Pope, from the Quirinal, blessed fifty thousand Romans, priests, bourgeois and workers who esteemed him for the political freedom that had been granted them … all of this filled Frederic with hope.
Ozanam reflected on these events which for him constituted the alliance between Christianity and liberty and later wrote: the greatest Pope that the Church has known in six hundred years … the healing of the wound that was opened seventy years ago in European society.
With the mind of an historian, Ozanam compared the blessing of Pius IX to the act of Gregory I who in the fifth century broke away from the Byzantine Empire and reached out to the Germanic people. Frederic proclaimed the famous phrase: Let us follow Pius IX and go over to the barbarians. This phrase caused much discussion among his contemporaries who accused him to embarking upon a socialist path.
The Pope greatly impressed Frederic who classified him as a saint, the like of whom we have not seen on the throne of Peter since the time of Pius V. In his correspondence he wrote about his impressions of his audience with the Pope in Rome: I have always considered it a privilege to have seen this admirable Pope. Naturally the popularity of a Pope is not what affirms or weakens the faith but the heart is moved when one sees the Pope in whom one believes surrounded by so much admiration and love.
The Pope, who was acclaimed by liberal Catholics who saw him as the guardian of liberty, would years later become hardened as the “roman question” became more agitated. The “roman question” is a phrase that referred to the defense of the Roman States from a radical position. Nevertheless it must be also remembered that the Pope had to confront the Roman Curia which had become paralyzed during the Gregorian era. As a result the Pope had to face two problems that were most urgent: administrative renewal and the statement of a clear political option that embraced the aspirations for unity and independence, a prevailing desire of the people in the Italian states.
The political conditions of the Church throughout the nineteenth century were not the best. On the level of international politics the authority of Rome was, for all practical purposes, non-existent. The Papal legates were not admitted into political circles and the laicists laws deprived the Church of considerable revenue which made ministry in the apostolate more difficulty. We can say that there was a developing gap between the Church and the modern world. On the one side society was allied with liberty and the Church, as a counterpart, was attached to the absolutists’ regimes because she hoped to preserve what she had been given by the monarchy.
Generally the intellectual bourgeois separated themselves from the Church. The proletariat became more and more allied with socialism where they found more social support than was offered them by Christianity which for the most part spoke of resignation.
As the Church saw herself freed in many aspects she manifested signs that were very positive. Lacking the usual human resources the Church came to a better understanding of the meaning of grace, the meaning of liberty which is based on faith, and the meaning of solidarity with the poor who are a reflection of Christ, poor and suffering.
Lights and shadows of the French Church during the nineteenth century
In the name of science and free-thinking, anticlericalism attacked the faith and this movement was sustained by the secret society known as the Masons. Anticlericalism was caused by the tendency of many Catholics to defend the monarchy. The proper autonomy of politics which had as its ultimate objective the temporal common good of people as opposed to some supernatural objective was transformed into liaicism which excluded any religious or divine influence on society and then completely ignored the ultimate destiny of humankind, which is a supernatural destiny.
The most immediate consequence for the Church was the loss of most of her wealth and her temporal power which she had maintained until the time of the Revolution. The promulgation of the decrees of 1789 was the beginning of a process that would be repeated throughout the nineteenth century. The Church was impoverished by the Revolution, stripped of political and economic power, but as a result of this the Church strengthened her spiritual activity. Religious foundations multiplied and during the Pontificate of Pius IX forty religious foundations were established. The blood of the martyrs and the struggle to survive created a new pride among Catholics: While the Church’s material interests were wounded and her freedom restricted yet the Church was purified through persecution. Through the blood of the martyrs and their witness the Church achieved a new authority and prestige.
Mazoni spoke in this regard and stated: I can be mistaken but I believe that as the Church of France was stripped of her external splendor and thus relying solely on the power of Jesus Christ, the Church then was able to speak clearer and was also listened to more attentively.
Ozanam, the apologist
Christianity influenced and informed the life of Frederic Ozanam. The God of Jesus Christ inspired both the private and public events of his life. His was a faith that was not tactless or annoying or sermonizing. He placed his intellect at the service of faith and his apologetics were based on historical truth which became the focus of his intellectual activity. God, Christ and the truth were the source and the object of everything that he wrote.
The Church was a constant concern for Frederic and from his youth he consecrated himself to its defense and greater glory. With his work, both his written and spoken word, he wanted to demonstrate the soundness of the ecclesial institution and in his action, which was constant and universal, he realized that he participated in an eternal mission to teach the truth. He wanted to be an apologist to those who were attempting to bury God and wanted to show them that God was immortal. Throughout his life Frederic desired to bring Christian truth into the light and presented the Church as the guardian of this truth.
Frederic was passionate in his search for the truth. In 1851, two years before his death, at the end of his apologetical work, Civilization in the Fifth Century, he made the following statement: In the midst of an age of skepticism, God gave me the grace to be born in the true faith. As a child I listened at the feet of a Christian father and a saintly mother. I had as my earliest teacher an intelligent sister, as pious as the angels whom she has gone to join. Later, the muffled din of an unbelieving world reached me. I experienced all the horror of doubt, which by day gnaws at the soul without ceasing and by night hovers over our pillows that grow wet with idle tears. Uncertainty with regard to my eternal destiny left me no rest. In despair I grasped at sacred dogma, only to find it crumbling in my hands. Then it was that the teaching of a priest who was also a philosopher, Father Noirot, came to my rescue. He dispelled the clouds and illuminated the darkness of my thoughts. From then I believed with a faith that was grounded on rock. Touched by such grace I promised God to consecrate my days to the service of truth. That restored peace to my soul6.
Paris was the great stage for his struggle and defense of the truth. The air that he breathed after the Revolution of 1830 seemed to be the air of laicism and this seemed to surround him on all sides. If people were concerned about God, it was only to persecute God. In the Sorbonne, professors like Lettronne affirmed that the Papacy was a passing institution, one born at the time of Charlemagne but that today was dying. Theodore Jouffroy wrote: Christianity will conclude the education of humanity by making it able to live without God, thus allowing philosophy to accelerate the arrival of the day when the last vestiges of religion will disappear.
Frederic had been at the University of Paris for four months when he, together with his friends, decided to defend the truths of the Catholic Church in public debate and they would continue this line of action until the truth was accepted by all. They put in writing their objections to the statements of their intransigent professors. Frederic wrote to his friends in Lyon and said: Every time a rationalist professor raises his voice against revelation, Catholic voices are raised in response. There are many of us who have come together for this end. I have already taken part in this noble work by twice addressing written objections to these gentlemen. But we have especially succeeded in M. Saint-Marc Girardin’s history course. Twice he attacked the Church, first by treating the institution of the Papacy as passing, born under Charlemagne, dying today; second by accusing the clergy of having consistently favored despotism. Our replies read publicly have produced the greatest result, both on the professor, who has all but retracted his statements, and on the audience, which applauded. Even more useful than this is that we are able to show other students that is possible to be Catholic and have common sense, to love religion and liberty. We are able to draw the students out of indifference to religion and get them used to grave and serious discussion7.
On March 25th of the same year Frederic wrote again: The chair of philosophy, Jouffroy’s course, has been the field of battle. Jouffroy, one of the most illustrious rationalists of our day, took the liberty of attacking revelation, even the very possibility of revelation. A Catholic, a young man, addressed some observations to him in writing, and the philosopher promised to reply. He waited for fifteen days, without doubt in order to prepare his arms, and at the end of that time, without reading the letter, analyzed it to suit himself and tried to refute it. The Catholic, seeing that he was poorly understood, presented the professor with a second letter, which he paid no attention to; he only made mention of it and continued his defamatory attacks, asserting that Catholicism repudiated science and liberty. Then we enunciated our true belief. It was hastily endorsed with fifteen signatures and addressed to M. Jouffroy. This time he could not dispense himself from reading it. The numerous students, composed of more than two hundred, listened with respect to our profession of faith8.
Frederic’s apologetic activity that was carried out in Paris was not some superficial agitation. When he refuted the position of the professors at the university and when he utilized the teachings of the priest, Gerbert, in conjunction with the liberalism that was inspired by Lamennais, his reflection and acumen resulted in a synthesis that surprised many. Before concluding his studies he began to choose his professors. He turned away from rationalism which he felt was based on psychology, and followed individuals such as Lamennis, Chateaubriand, Ballanche, Bonald, Schlegel, Eckstein. He spoke about these matters in a letter that he wrote to his cousin Falconnet.
Frederic spoke with Montalembert and Lamennais on the eve before his departure for Rome and, in an atmosphere of free flowing ideas that were more or less contradictory, engaged in a polemical discussion with these individuals.
This was an era of great and eloquent discoveries in which young people were most attentive to the words of their famous teachers. Ozanam became aware of this danger and as a leader wanted to channel this potential toward professors like Gerbert and Lacordaire who participated in the Conference of History at Notre Dame.
We can say that the book of Chateaubriand, known as the genius of Christianity, was one of the great influences on Frederic’s apologetical work. This book, and not the Voltarian doctrines and the doctrine of Montesquier which were prevalent at the beginning of the nineteenth century, seemed to fill Frederic with courage to move forward in his struggle for truth. Chateaubriand pointed out the efficacy and the benefits that religion, but especially Christianity (the quintessence of everything that is noble and true), offers to humankind.
All of these ideas were transmitted to Frederic through his compatriot Bellanche who shared with Chateaubriand the same thesis and did this in such a way that Ozanam had no hesitation in attributing these ideas to Bellanche when in 1848 he wrote: The religious ideas of his (Bellanche’s) early years are clearly seen in his essay in which he expressed his surprise at encountering for the first time the thought of Chateaubriand, the genius of Christianity, an event that occurred in 1801, several months before Chateaubriand’s immortal book became pivotal to the education of people in the nineteenth century.
It is true that Frederic Ozanam did not participate directly in the Societé Chretienne that was established by Andrés-Marie Ampere and which involved the participation of many notable individuals from Lyon. This group was dissolved in 1804 when Andrés was called to Paris. Nevertheless throughout Frederic’s life we see that he shared the common traits of these outstanding thinkers who seemed to have been imbued with a certain spirit that could be found in many of the inhabitants of Lyon: a profound spirituality, a religious sentiment that was both independent and pure, a belief in natural law, a scrupulous conscience that guided their behavior and work, a gentle lofty mysticism and above all, a tireless charity.
Frederic’s relationships with these fellow countrymen were established in Paris where he found lodging with Andrés-Marie Ampere, a distinguished physician and mathematical expert who became his protector and teacher. Andrés put Frederic in contact with Ballanche, an individual who placed the political events of his time above his own personal interest. Whatever question he tackled served to decipher the enigma, the novelty that each century presented to humanity and we will see that this concern was also a constant throughout Frederic’s life. As a mystical historian, he discovered in the events of the past and present the roots of truth and religion and, even though history had passed through some dark stages, Christianity had given birth to certain ideas that cannot be ignored because they are the guarantors of civilization and these ideas, despite their divine origin, exist independently.
Besides Ballanche and Chateaubriand, another true teacher of Frederic was Lamennais, but not as a philosopher but as an apologist of Christian religion and as an interpreter of the history of religions. Lamennais, the essayist, wrote on indifferentism and some other aspects of religion but viewed these themes in their relationship to the civil and political order.
With this foundation that was further enhanced by his own studies and further insights, Frederic came to a clear and precise understanding of the elements that would form his own personal doctrine. In the Sorbonne he was the representative of a school of thought that desired to discover through the history of religions the outlines of a primitive revelation.
Frederic was mindful of the fact that the proof of Christianity’s truth was the excellence of her civilized virtue and so he wanted to demonstrate the ways in which the Church gathered together and transmitted the best elements of her ancient heritage and thus was able to shape Christian thought in barbarian Europe.
The more horrors that Frederic saw in those former times the greater trust he had in the charitable actions of the Church. The greatest witness of this progress was the triumph of the Church over the medieval barbarians. With these beliefs and with the conviction that God is in the midst of the signs of the times, Frederic did not await political procedures, decrees, or the overthrow of political structures in order to work for the re-establishment of the kingdom of Christianity. To hope for these worldly events seemed to him to reveal a lack of faith and trust in Divine Providence that had guided the Church in many difficult situations throughout the centuries.
One after another Frederic’s apologetical works appeared, works that were the fruit of thorough and keen research into the civilizing history of the Church. The most important of these works was a study composed of two volumes: The Germans before Christianity (1847) and Christianity among the Franks (1849) which formed part of his work that was entitled, German Studies. In these writings Frederic wanted to make the Church known as the transmitter of culture and also wanted to show that the same ideas that civilized the barbarians eventually prevailed throughout Europe and saved the continent. This idea was repeated constantly and became the leit motiv of all his work.
The religious ideas of Frederic were expressed through the Catholic press, in newspapers that were often short-lived, but never lacking in quality. In June, 1830 he published in L’Abeille Française the first part of a six part work on The True Christian Religion.
The first Correspondant and L’Avenir received the works of Frederic’s youth and later other works were published in Revue Européenne and L’Université Catholique. Frederic collaborated with the priest, Gerbert, in writing some of the articles that appeared in L’Université and Gerbert’s religious thesis solidified Frederic in his own thinking.
Frederic also collaborated with the editors Annales of the Propagation of the Faith¸ a newspaper that was published in Lyon and whose development coincided with the years of his youth. In 1840, he became an editor of this newspaper.
Near the end of his life Frederic, together with Lacordaire and Maret, founded the newspaper, L’Ere Nouvell, and was harassed and misunderstood by those who had previously been his collaborators. L’Univers which was edited by Veuillot and whose methodology of defending the Church was distinct from that of Frederic, accused Ozanam of attacking the Catholic faith and spreading new errors and cowardly doctrine. These accusations had a powerful impact on Frederic and in a meeting of the professors of the Sorbonne he stated: I have greater esteem for Catholic orthodoxy than my own life.
Frederic took up his pen to respond to these accusations but after being advised by his friends, especially Cornudet, he tore up the pages he had written and remembered that previously he had asked for compassion and tolerance toward those who are doubtful about the faith and charity toward those who deny the faith.
In light of the fears and doubts that were cast on Frederic’s Christian faith and values by his own friends and compatriots from Lyon, he wrote what he considered to be a profession of faith. Again he had been counseled by his friend Cornudet and addressed the statement of faith to M. Dufieux, a statement in which he expressed humbly the intentions of his actions: I have come to know and understand myself and if God has desired to grant me a certain ardour in my work, I have never viewed this grace as a gift of genius. Without a doubt, in the inferior line in which I find myself, I have desired to dedicate my life to the service of the faith but I consider myself a useless servant, a worker who appeared at the last moment and whom the master of the vineyard received with great charity. It seems to me that my days will have been well spent, if, despite my own unworthiness, I am able to present to young people the principles of Christian doctrine and instill in them a respect for that which they view as having little value: the Church, the Pope, the monks … I would have preferred that these young people could have come to an understanding of these ideas from books rather than my classes, but nevertheless all my hopes will be realized if some doubtful individuals find in my teaching a reason to put aside their prejudices, to clarify their doubts and to return, with the help of God, to the true Catholic faith. This is what I have attempted to do during the last ten years and I have no other great ambitions than that which I have just stated nor have I sought for ways to abandon the struggle.
Frederic’s gesture of apologizing, his statement with regard to his motives for acting, and his tolerance … all of these once again reveal his Christian maturity. Lacordaire praised Ozanam when he spoke of him as one who continually imitated our Lord Jesus Christ who never broke a bruised reed.
The Church that Frederic Ozanam wanted to give us
In the ecclesial arena the heritage that Frederic Ozanam wanted to give us is very clear. He wanted to show us that fidelity to the Church is the guarantor of the divine message and that a zealous spirit will enable us to communicate the message of Jesus through an apostolate of charity. He revealed to people during his own lifetime, and he reveals to us today, that he was a truly a man of the Church. Lacordaire said of him: Neither in France nor in our era have we known an individual who loved the Church as Frederic Ozanam.
On another occasion Lacordaire wrote: God wanted to give him [Frederic] a priestly heart. At this time in France no one has seen and felt the needs of the Church more deeply nor cried so bitterly over the faults of the Church’s servants. No one as a layperson has developed a more authentic and profound apostolate.
Ozanam was not blind to the failures of the Church’s structures. Like Frederic, so also today, Christian laymen and laywomen ought to recognize the Church’s failures and ought to criticize these failures with love. At the same time we should believe that the Spirit will pour forth his strength on the Church because the Spirit dwells in the Church (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In a conversation with his wife a short time before he died, Frederic expressed in a clear way his love for the Church and the truth: If there is anything that consoles me as I see the hour of death approach and as I see that hour approach before I have been able to conclude my work, it is the reality that I have been able to serve the truth without ever having done anything to displease others. With great urgency I cling to orthodox and Catholic doctrine more than I cling to my own life. It is for this reason that I love and serve the Roman Catholic Church with all my heart.
On another occasion Frederic wrote: I am a Christian and for me it is glorious to belong to no other school but the school of truth, the Church.
The Church for which Ozanam struggled had its characteristic notes and original tones which influenced his own response to different situations, a response in which he recognized that as a layman he was a participant in a global movement.
Frederic did not dedicate himself to the study of theology but he was a lively theologian who throughout his short life expressed his spiritual convictions through multiple activities. He could be viewed as a mystic in action.
Frederic reevaluated the role of the laity
Frederic Ozanam has been defined as one of the great Catholic laymen of the nineteenth century. In reality he was an individual who foreshadowed the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council on this theme of the laity. He became aware of his right and his duty to participate in the struggles, the hopes and the activities of the Church and he put in motion a powerful movement that has continued to move forward, a movement that today is supported by many different activities within the Church.
A superficial reading of his life and work leads us to verify the fact that with the action and the apostolate that Frederic carried out in so many different situations, he marked out a path for the laity, a theological place in the Church, similar to that which fifty years later John Paul II expressed in Christifideles laici as the proper activity of lay Christians: Charity towards one’s neighbor, through contemporary forms of the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy, represent the most immediate, ordinary and habitual ways that lead to the Christian animation of the temporal order, the specific duty of the lay faithful (Christifideles laici, 41).
Writing to his father-in-law, Frederic stated: I am part of the Church and part of the university community and I am going to reconcile these two obligations despite any obstacles that I might find in my path. This conviction reveals his commitment to his faith and to his profession.
Frederic Ozanam desired a Church in which the laity would be involved in roles of leadership as they carried out their mission. They would act in the shadows of the hierarchy but also in close communion with them. This was Frederic’s vision and throughout his life he engaged in the mission of the Church with a great love for the Church and for the Church’s ministers. The Church’s doctrine was for him the guarantor of the truth which he defended and which he sought so assiduously.
Frederic wanted lay people to become involved in the activity of a renewed Church. He was never in accord with the common understanding that viewed the church as static, institutionalized and hierarchical … a church where the preponderance of the clergy and the internal organizational structure became an obstacle to the ministerial dimension of the people of God. Frederic envisioned lay people involved in every area of the Church’s life.
No one was more qualified than Frederic to inaugurate in the history of the nineteenth century the active role of the laity in harmony with and in common accord with the hierarchy. He created an opening, an effective path which enabled him to bring into the forefront the issue of the personal sanctification of the lay person. He created this opening through his own witness as a member of the Church. He broke traditional molds and forms by clothing his work in lay garments. This option allowed him to remain in the midst of the world while accepting his social and professional responsibilities and embracing an apostolate that was adapted according to various circumstances. He explained all of this in one of his letters when he wrote: we want this charitable society to be totally lay and Catholic and not some political party or a school or another religious order.
In reality Frederic was not the first person to put forth these new concepts with regard to the laity. The Vincentian charism, which was his inspiration, was animated with this same spirit. Nevertheless, he was a great teacher who knew how to formulate and live the social obligations of the Christian faith in a Vincentian manner and in very special circumstances.
Since the time of the Council of Trent priestly formation became a priority in the Church and this led to the laity being viewed as mere “receivers.” Ozanam recognized the need to mobilize this sector of the Church and involve them in social action with those most in need. In imitation of Saint Vincent de Paul he embraced the Vincentian charism and through the influence of Sister Rosalie Rendu began to imitate Christ … Frederic began to do what Jesus did when he was on earth. In this way he moved from being a “passive receiver” and undertook an active role in evangelizing the poor and serving those most in need.
Frederic had the gift of knowing how to interpret, in the light of the Holy Spirit, the events of life as messages or calls from God which enlightened his own ideas. He said: I fear that Catholic questions may have surfaced too soon, before our name, our influence, and our work have had the opportunity to acquire the means necessary to sustain the struggle. I fear that the laity have not understood the significance of the grace of their vocation and therefore have not truly accepted their responsibility and commitment to the Church of France that is in the midst of a crisis that no one could have foreseen.
In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Frederic also possessed an interior ability to perceive the message of the Word, to understand its profound meaning, to interiorize the word and apply it to his daily life. Frederic Ozanam can be held up as an example of a true Catholic laymen and a true apostle.
At a time when the members of the Congregation of the Mission were experiencing great difficulties they, like Frederic, were able to overcome these obstacles and would distinguish themselves by their determination to build up the Kingdom of God. Ozanam was not discouraged by events, even when these events were most adverse. He wrote: I believe in the progress of the Christian era and so I am not surprised by the falls and the ruptures that divide societies. The cold nights will be replaced with the warmth of the new day; summer will run its course and the fruit will ripen. Throughout history we see that weaker generations give way to stronger generations. After destructive times we experience times of building and when people see everything in ruin, these same ruins become the foundation for new beginnings.
Ozanam was very clear about the role of the laity in the Church and about the priestly character of the people of God. Even though lay ministry is a phenomenon of the twentieth century, especially after the Second Vatican Council, nevertheless this concept was embodied by Frederic in a context in which the Church’s ministerial style was quite different from the present time but yet many of today’s characteristics were present in the history of the middle nineteenth century.
A Church of service
In the first place Ozanam desired a Church of service, of dedication and commitment, a Church enlivened by Christ, the evangelizer of the poor; enlivened by Christ, the servant of the loving plan of the Father. According to the usual understanding of the Creed, the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, became incarnate, became man and became involved in history in order to accomplish, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the will of the Father. But Ozanam moved beyond this creedal formulation and viewed Christ as one who acts and intervenes in the world … Christ is continually watching over this world in which he became incarnated.
Frederic adopted the Vincentian Christ, the Christ of the synoptic gospels, the earthly Christ. His process of discernment was engaged with critical a sense and from the perspective of the gospels and Vincentian values. As he sought the truth he found answers and discovered what God was asking of him and how God was inviting him to serve others in specific situations. Frederic used Vincent de Paul as his model as he followed Jesus-man-Christ, Jesus who became incarnate, died and rose. He adopted a Christology “from below”, an “ascendant” Christology and in the sacred humanity of Christ found the place to encounter God and others, the place where God also encounters humanity.
His doctrine had its starting point in the mystery of Jesus’ humanity … not an abstract or spiritual Jesus. This mystery led him to the ministry of charity on behalf of the poor whom he considered as members of the same Jesus Christ. Vincentian values, which Frederic incorporated into his life, provided him with the necessary and sufficient light to confront the different situations of conflict that he would encounter throughout his life. Frederic did this not from some passive position but by engaging in action on behalf of others. Ozanam did not live on the level of theory but rather was a man of action. He was not a contemplative who withdrew from the world but rather through his contemplation he discovered God in the human person. Just as there exists a contemplative spirit in which the soul perceives and experiences the joyful presence of God and then becomes totally united to God, so too there is an active mysticism in which one discovers the loving presence of God in the human person and this discovery unites one totally to God.
Through this mystical action Frederic saw God through the eyes of the poor. With this vision he fell to his knees and exclaimed: If we do not know how to love God as the saints loved him then we will surely become the object of reproach. It appears that we have to see God in order to order to love him, yet we can only see God with the eyes of faith … but we see the poor with our human eyes. The poor are here, in front of us and we can touch them and put our hands on their wounds and the scars from their crown of thorns are visible on their forehead … They are our masters and we are their servants; they are the sacred image of God whom we do not see. Not knowing how to love God in any other way, we do so in the person of the poor. We ought to fall on our knees and say with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God!
The poor are the visible image of God whom we do not see but whom we love. Therefore the poor will be the image and the place of the encounter with the suffering Christ. Frederic’s Christology and spirituality consisted of seeing the humiliated and incarnated Christ in the person of those who were outcasts. We could apply to Frederic the phrase that Calvet used to summarize the Vincentian doctrine: his doctrine was centered on the reality that he loved God in the human person.
This love of God led Frederic to humble himself. In his ecclesial vision the virtue of humility was the basis for the imitation of Christ who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
Ozanam found this fragile Christ, stripped of honor and dignity, present in the poor and the outcasts, in those without a voice and in those exploited by society. This humiliated Christ who handed himself over to death, death on a cross, gifted Frederic with a deep humility which, together with charity, would be the most precious and gratuitous gift that would lead him to become a witness of God’s love for women and men. In imitation of Saint Vincent, Frederic could say: It is not enough to love God if I do not love my neighbor.
First, Vincent de Paul and then later, Frederic Ozanam, showed us the path of service and commitment that leads to the offering of one’s self and whose fundament question is: how shall I serve?
A Church free from restraints
In the second place Ozanam desired a Church in which there was no subordination or human restraints. Above all else he sought peace in an era in which the desire for power and prestige often resulted in mourning and death. The secret of his work was his fidelity to the Catholic Church which was always ready to begin anew and become present in every movement of history, always willing, in the vanguard position of revolution, to build anew on the old trunk of civilization and thus bring to life once again the fruits and flowers of Christian fraternity.
Frederic knew how to read the Scriptures and was able to perceive the urgent demands of the Word of God. He knew history too well and therefore could not ignore the different ecclesial tendencies, especially the two dominant tendencies that seemed to prevail after the events of 1848. One tendency involved people who were concerned about defending the integrity of the treasury of belief from a radical position. They desired a Catholic political party that was prepared to engage in the struggle. The other tendency involved individuals who were tolerant and wanted to bring God to others. We can situate Frederic in this group because it is clear that he desired to see Christians involved in every sphere of life … Christians who would multiply the spheres of influence so that they could plant the truth and come to know their sisters and brothers and thus become more united to them.
Frederic desired for himself and for others a peaceful atmosphere in which people could act with moderation and common sense, in which heated polemics, which cloud the mind and the heart, would cease. In a letter that he wrote to his friend Lallier he stated: We need warriors and peace makers, individuals involved in the crusade of polemics and individuals who are proselytizers for the cause of charity. I admire those who gloriously fight in the trenches but I prefer for my friends and for myself that other ministry which is no less dangerous and even less brilliant.
Frederic desired to perpetuate and constantly struggled to instill Christian beliefs and Catholic strength in others. In an essay he wrote: The Church ought to move forward in the liberation of humankind and ought to do this through the path of sacrifice and not through the path of revolution, through a long and often unseen work and not through some startling once-ine-a-lifetime event.
The Church as the people of God incarnated in the world
We see that the idea of the Church as the people of God guided the work of Frederic who anticipated the theology of the Second Vatican Council. He viewed the laity joining together with the priests in the work of universal redemption and in the Church’s mission “ad gentes”.
As a collaborator in the publication of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, Frederic reminded people in his writings about their commitment to build up the people of God in other countries, the commitment to elevate these people and give them a place in the Church that corresponds to them since they are classified as a new-born people: Christians of Europe, committed in pious foundations that confront the storms of our times, come and take possession of your place; you are the natural godparents of these new-born men and women who await baptism … the Church supports you with the book of the gospel in one hand and an illuminating torch in the other hand,. Hurry to this place where you can join together with the priests in the work of universal redemption. Send priests to these people but do not forget that the priests rely on your assistance.
Finally, Ozanam wanted a Church that was incarnated in history, involved in the lives of real women and men; a Church in which people recognize that they are called by God and therefore accept the commitment to carry on the mission of Christ who lives, suffers, and is truly present among them. He wrote to his friends and said: I believe that the laity serve the faith better because they confront all the different issues of life with knowledge and deal with these issues in a Christian way. They do not deal with these issues in generalities or in an apologetic manner like the theologians who do so little to change the present situation.
On another occasion Frederic described how the Church embraces all people and is like a mother who accompanies her children throughout life: The Church is a society formed for the purpose of leading people to their immortal destiny and is present in all places and in every age. The Church unites together all those who desire to walk under her auspices and accompanies them on their journey and yes, accompanies them beyond the tomb. The Church unites these people together in a mysterious covenant, unites together those people who are engaged in an earthly struggle, those people who have gone astray, those people who suffer and in doing so purify themselves for eternal life and finally those who repose in triumph. The Church embraces all.
Frederic was consistent as a Christian and throughout his life, in whatever activity or situation, knew how to give witness to his faith. During his adolescent years he wrote: In all things I want to be a worthy son of the Church. Later he would write: More than ever before I have become aware of how I ought to love the Church. His love of the Church and his worship become important elements in his own life. In a letter to Falconnet he stated: Christianity seems to me to be the necessary formula for humanity. Above all other things I believe in the Church but I also recognize the right to delineate limits for her intervention and her use of power. I also believe in worship as an expression of faith, as a symbol of hope, and as an earthly realization of God’s love.
In summing up Frederic’s life we find a paragraph from his last will and testament in which he himself summarizes and confesses his love for the Church and his desire to be faithful: I die in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. I have known the difficulties of belief of the present age, but my whole life has convinced me that there is neither rest for the mind nor peace for the heart save in the Church and in obedience to her authority. If I set any value on my research, it is that it gives me the right to entreat all whom I love to remain faithful to the religion in which I found light and peace9.
- Translator’s Note: I thought this quote would be found in Lumen Gentium or Apostolicam actuositatem but after using my word search program for the documents of Vatican was unable to find this statement. Unfortunately the author provides no footnotes in this text and that makes it extremely difficult at times to figure out the references to the writings of Frederic Ozanam and official Church documents.
- In Spanish both laico and seglar have the same meaning but in English we have no other word for laity.
- Translator’s Note: Here I was sure that I would find this quote in the encyclical, Ecclesiam suam, but was unable to find it, and again since there is no reference in the original Spanish I have no idea about this quote.
- Translator’s Note: I am not sure what the author is referring to here: candle light, lanterns, certainly not electric lighting.
- Indifferentism held that it is possible to obtain eternal salvation by the profession of any religion as long as morality is maintained.
- Baunard, op. cit. p. 9-10.
- Dirvin, op. cit., p.18.
- Ibid., p.20-21.
- Baunard, op.cit., p. 386.