Federico Ozanam, Letter 0006: To Auguste Materne

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Author: Frédéric Ozanam · Translator: Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M. · Year of first publication: 1986 · Source: "Frédéric Ozanam, a life in letters". Published by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of the United States..
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Cuires, September 12, 1829

Reply to Materne’s criticism of an article on Christianity’s freeing of slaves1.

Dear friend2,

Mama brought from Lyon the letter you happily decided to write me. Nothing startles me more than a letter from Materne. I begin to fear an accident or misfor­tune … I open the letter. I read and am agreeably surprised to find only the good advice of a good friend. The only thing that bothers me is that you digress too much for me to know what your thoughts are. Get to the matter, lawyer.

I come to the case, which is very well pleaded. But I am sorry not to be able to discuss it with you face to face. I would agree with you that my intentions can be misunderstood. Nevertheless I think I expressed them very clearly since one of the first sentences says, “Let us weep for the misfortune of our oppressed brothers; let us weep for the cruelty of our brothers the oppressors.”

Further, I have clearly pointed out, as you yourself admit, the intellectual and moral slavery joined to bodily slavery; it is one of the dominant thoughts of my letter. I even added that Christianity, freeing people from intellectual and moral slavery and giving them the liberty of the children of God, ought also to free them from bodily slavery.

I made every effort, therefore, to show how I felt—making no case for the bar­barians sympathetic to the Negro trade—that I was as horrified as you.

As for the object of the prophecy, I think it could be given the meaning I have attributed to it. For, as a famous author said (I think it was Newton), one should judge prophecies by the outcome. Prophecy foretelling a slavery in general terms and slavery being general and a real fact, nothing stands in the way, it seems to me, of the application I have made. My assertion is fortified by this observation, which I ask you to verify, that frequently the predictions in Scripture apply equally to two orders of phenomena, physical and intellectual. Such a one is the destruction of Jerusalem and punishment of the Jews. At the same time they were expelled and despised, they were struck with blindness and obstinacy. The same with this other scriptural prediction: “You shall eat your bread in the sweat of your brow;’ which applies as much to the nourishment of the soul as of the body.

So much for useless words. You have, perhaps, the last issue of l’Abeille. My article is in it or has not yet appeared.’ If it is, you can judge without so much of my prattle; if it is not, all my arguments are vain and I willingly submit to the distin­guished people who edit the journal. For, if as you tell me, this article might be con­trary to justice and good morals, or if it could be wrongly interpreted, I a hundred times prefer that it not be printed. Had there been time, I would have withdrawn it to read it over with you. But, jacta est alea.3

Let me now say that you have made me laugh by praising my zeal for reading the Holy Bible, by talking about my reputation, my numerous articles, by compar­ing my letter to the most orthodox philosophical systems, etc…. We are no long­er in rhetoric class, so why so many oratorical pains in speaking to a friend? Do you know that even when you tell me foolish things, I take them as proofs of your friendship for me and your zeal for truth? Much more when you make observations both wise and friendly. Disputare philosophorum est.4 Did not Cicero5 debate with Atticus?6 Si parva licet componere magnis.7

You recognize that we agree on one point: the danger of a false interpretation. A short conversation would put us in quick agreement on the others. Thank you for your good advice: next time I will be more careful. I wrote the article off the top of my head and in half an hour, and took it to M. Louet the same day. In the future I will reread dispassionately articles written in a moment of ardor and let a night pass between composition and correction. In the meantime be ever sure that I will ac­cept your advice with the greatest affection and try to profit from it, and am always

Your faithful friend,

A.-F Ozanam

Address: To Monsieur, Monsieur Auguste Materne, at Collonges
Original: Archives Laporte

  1. The article appeared in August 1829 under the title Lettre sur la Traite des Négres. Galopin, n. 26. Abbé Galopin published the first bibliography of Ozanam’s complete works: Essai de bibliographie chronologique sur Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam, 1933.
  2. Auguste Louis Materne, born at Lyon June 2, 1812, entered the Ecole Normale in 1832 and, after a university career without distinction, retired in December 1869 as censor of the Lycee de Ver­sailles. He published classic translations of Latin, Greek, and German authors. His father was a Lyon businessman.
  3. The die is cast.
  4. Philosophers dispute.
  5. Marcus Tullius Cicero, most eloquent of Roman orators, born 106 C.
  6. Pomponius Titus Atticus (109-32 C.), Roman nobleman, friend of Cicero, who wrote him many letters.
  7. If the little can be compared to the great.

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