Chapter XII: Degree of Doctor of Literature
“Dante and Catholic philosophy” — His mother’s death.
The Italian trip in 1833, which ended pleasantly with a stay in Florence, had brought Ozanam into close touch with Dante. But the great poet was for him as yet merely one of those things seen, as it were, through a glass darkly, which he desired to examine closely. Two years after his return he expressed himself as follows:
” We do not seem to be able to wander anywhere without leaving something of ourselves behind, just as the lambs leave some of their wool hanging on the brambles. I experienced this fatality of our nature in the short Italian trip which I made two years ago. All the beautiful things, which I saw there, caused me less joy on finding them than sorrow on leaving them. I entered Rome tired, I left it in tears. Rome, Florence, Loretto, Milan, Genoa, have all retained something of myself. Whenever I think of them I feel that I must return to recover what was left there.”
One of the things but dimly seen, and which was not yet clear to him, was the great place which Dante occupied not only in his Italian fatherland, but in the Church itself; Dante, whose head, crowned with laurels he saw prominent among the Pontiffs and Doctors in Raphael’s celebrated picture of the Disputation on the Blessed Sacrament.
” When,” he wrote, “one has visited Rome and realised a long-cherished hope, when one has ascended, with a feeling of pious interest, the great staircase of the Vatican and beheld the wonders of all places and of all ages collected under the hospitable roof of that magnificent building, one reaches at length a spot which may be called the sanctuary of Christian Art: Raphael’s Galleries.”
” The painter has depicted, in a series of historical and symbolical frescoes, the greatness and the goodness of Catholicity. There is one of those frescoes on which the eye rests with special love, whether because of the magnificence of the subject or of the felicity of execution. The Blessed Sacrament is represented on an altar, elevated between Heaven and earth. The Heavens are opened and show the splendour of the Holy Trinity, many angels, and saints: the earth is represented by a large gathering of Pontiffs and Doctors. A very remarkable figure stands out in the middle of one of the groups, remarkable for the striking personality, with head crowned, not with tiara and mitre, but with a garland of laurels. With a little effort of memory, one recognises, in those strong and stern features, Dante Alighieri.
Then one is driven to ask why the poet’s figure was introduced into the centre of that gathering of venerable witnesses and defenders of faith in the divine mystery, into a picture painted under the eyes of the Popes and in the very citadel of orthodoxy?”
Once that problem presented itself to Ozanam’s mind it left him no rest until he had found the explicit solution in the life and work of the great Florentine. Dante and Ozanam made a compact on that day.
A literary, philosophical, and historical study which would transport the writer right into the Middle Ages with its beliefs, saints, institutions, manners, poetry, and art, was not displeasing to the young and enthusiastic disciple of the antiquarian school of 183o. In company with Montalembert, Rio, Overbeck, Victor Hugo, he was already engaged in restoring its forgotten, neglected, or even despised monuments. Ozanam wrote to Janmot in poetic terms of the Middle Ages: “That far off age which gives the effect of the enchanted isles, where one gathers lotus and quenches thirst in streams, that drown one’s country in oblivion, where one feels captivated by the charm of its feasts, legends, and traditions, and enthralled by the lavish wealth of its monuments.”
” I feel that my studies on Dante have produced a similar impression on me as my trip to Rome. The sweet captivation which one r’ loves to find in ruins, one likewise finds in memories. What indeed are memories but other ruins, which are sadder and more compelling than those covered by moss and ivy? Is it not as much a duty for us to delve into the legends and traditions of our forefathers, as to examine the debris of aquaducts and temples?”
There was nothing in that but intellectual interest. What was more important for Ozanam was the religious interest in a study, which would offer him splendid matter for the doctrinal and historical exposition of the action of the Catholic Church in the so-called dark ages, which he proposed to illumine with true light. That is what definitely decided him, as he wrote to Janmot as early as November, 1836: “I think that I have already told you that one of my theses is on Dante’s Philosophy. That leads me to a close study of the poet and his period. In endeavouring to solve some of the obscure questions which are to be met with I continually admire the action of the Popes in the Middle Ages.” So much for history.
But what had escaped notice up to that time in Dante’s poem was his philosophy. What was most neglected, most despised, and consequently most unknown, even by Catholics in the Middle Ages, was scholastic philosophy; it was considered abstruse, academic, dry, and barren, and characterised by a subtlety that bordered on puerility. Now, that philosophy was displayed in Dante’s work in all its breadth and loftiness; a vast system of ideas embracing all knowledge, divine and human; a philosophy culminating in theology; the wisdom of nature responding to the wisdom of grace and of eternal glory; a never-ending sublime chain linking Heaven and earth, and binding time to eternity. That is its greatness, that also is its splendour with Dante. With him the immense system is unfolded in a poem. The idea is manifested symbolically, incarnate in living characters. The thoughts are clothed in the richest colours of created nature, reflected from uncreated nature. We are here face to face with the rarest of things, a philosophy which is at once poetic, popular and sound; a philosophy winged and armed. In Dante it finds expression in the most melodious language in Europe, in a vocabulary that is understanded of women and children; its lessons are conveyed in lyrics. In Dante it frees itself from the formulas of the schools and loves to mingle in the most intimate mysteries of the heart, as well as in the noisy squabbles of the market place. Introduced to it through the medium of the poet, we learn to love its masters, and the names of Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure become beautiful names once more.
” It must be admitted,” Ozanam concludes, “that the science of thinking was well known at that time, when people knew what it is to believe and to pray. Let us pay homage to that beautiful spring-time of the human race towards which, in the time of its stormy manhood, we need to cast our looks.”
” Another sentiment,” he adds, “sustained us in collating the facts and thoughts that are to be found; the sentiment of filial piety. It furnished flowers to cast on the tombs of our fathers who were great and good; it furnished some grains of incense to offer on the altars of Him, who made them great and good for His own ends.”
” Passing beyond the limits of space and time to enter the tripartite kingdom of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise which was opened to him by Death, Dante places the scene of his poem in Infinity,” That is true and yet the action of the poem is human. None of us has ever visited, save in thought, the threefold place of remorse and damnation, of repentance and expiation, of mercy and eternal happiness. But underneath that fiction, under the veil of symbolism and the language of the Apocalypse, in which Dante’s thought is frequently clothed, palpitates a living reality, man expressed in his full moral existence. The mystery of the human soul, with its aspirations, its struggles, its failures, its reverses, its resurrections, with its divine help and eternal destiny,, that is the spectacle which is unfolded in the course of that tremendous epic of incidents, episodes, descriptions, and endless dissertations. They seem to be about to be lost to view, yet in the end they co-ordinate themselves with that psychology, as the centre of their unity.
The man in the scene is certainly not an abstraction nor an invention of romantic fiction. The poem is a life history, one that has been lived, and lived by him who wrote it. The poet gazed into the abysses of sin and grief, the depths of expiation and pardon, the heights of redemption and hope, to recall to his memory his return, after the time of wandering, to that peace which had been lost by sin; that peace which was sought in repentance and found at the feet of the Christ of Mercy, that peace to which the fair messenger from Heaven was to restore him for ever; that messenger whose beloved name itself suggests at once the idea of happiness.
The Life of Dante, which Ozanam sketches in one of the chapters, depicts him enamoured from his earliest youth with the purest ideal of beauty and innocence in the person of a child, who is for him the symbol of virtue, and who inspires virtue in him: “Those dreams,” wrote Ozanam, “were heavenly, in which Beatrice appeared radiant; the desire to find himself passing near her in the street was inexpressible and timid; all his happiness lay in a bow or a salute from her; his fears and hopes purified his feelings to an extreme degree of delicacy, and detached them by degrees from sublunary cares. In later years, a thought of, and a glance from Beatrice were sufficient to restore to the young Florentine the energy to do good and the power to avoid evil. Surrounded by her companions, she appeared to him an immortal who had come down among women to honour their weakness and protect their virtue. Kneeling at the foot of the altar, she appeared to him to be encircled with the aureola of glory, to be associated with the beneficent power of the blessed, an advocate for sinners; prayer then flowed more readily and more confidently from his lips. When the noble woman crossed the city, he writes elsewhere, those who saw her coming were seized with such emotions, that they did not venture to look np. She veiled herself with humility and modesty, not appearing to notice their attentions. When she had passed several exclaimed, “That is not a woman but a beautiful angel from Heaven.”
In later years—it is the second and the bad phase of the life—Dante in exile, when lie had no longer the patronage of Beatrice, sinks and wallows in vice. He confesses to this in his poem. He depicts himself on the summit of Purgatory prostrate, confounded, and contrite, when face to face with Beatrice, who makes herself known to him, and who thus speaks of him in the presence of the hosts of angels and saints: “This man fell so low, that all means of salvation were unavailing, save the sight of the damned. That is why I have come with prayers and tears to him, even to the gate of death.” While she is speaking the guilty one depicts himself as “humiliated, in tears, downcast, even as a little child, who is being chastised and who admits his fault.”
Nor was that all. In the great Jubilee, at the close of the century whose splendour he depicted, Dante betook himself to Rome. There, on his knees at the feet of the mighty power that opens or shuts the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, he received absolution with humility and piety. He describes willingly, one by one, the stages in that sacrament of penance as so many steps which he ascended in turn. The Lady of Heaven said to him, “Enter, the door is here!” It was the gate of mercy. Beatrice would not leave Dante until she had led him into Paradise.”
It is there that the triple pilgrimage beyond the tomb closes in the poem. Dante ended his stormy life in penance and in the grace of God. At the point of death he asked to be clothed in the habit of the Friars Minor of Ravenna. What is then the foundation, the raison d’etre, the design and the evolution of the poem? It is the poem of penance and of the Redemption.
That is precisely the reason why the apostle loved it, made it first the foundation of his thesis, and subsequently of his teaching. It is equally certain that no one has contributed more to rescue Dante from the oblivion into which the three preceding centuries in France had cast him. It must be admitted that there is in that poem such an extraordinary mixture of obscurity and sublimity that one is not astonished at the antipathy to it exhibited by French culture. It is the characteristic of the Art of the Middle Ages to be at once childish and sublime. The Divina Commedia resembles the entrances and doorways of those cathedrals, where the inspiring and golden-crowned figures of angels and saints are crowded and crushed with the monstrous grossness of capitals and gargoyles.
On the other hand, has not Ozanam exaggerated the part which symbolism plays in the great work of Dante? If it is true, and very true, that Dante could represent Christian philosophy in all its splendour, which was the philosophy of his own time, why seek, therefore, to make him a rival of Plato and of Aristotle, a forerunner of Bacon, Descartes, and Leibnitz? One, naturally asks, if Dante had in truth foreseen all that? Did not the young philosopher credit his hero with a grasp of knowledge and a breadth of mind with which he had himself been gifted by Providence?
Ozanam discovered in the proud Florentine patriot an advocate and a prophet of the coming of democracy. But did he not in that, rather express his own personal inclinations and convictions? However that may be, Dante’s Catholic Guelph democracy must not be confounded with the modern democracy crying out “Without God or Master.” Ozanam pressed that point with energy and eloquence: “Dante did not deify humanity, by seeking to make it self-sufficient, with no other source of inspiration but reason, with no other law than its own will. He did not confine it within the vicious circle of its earthly destiny. He neither elevated nor debased humanity to that degree. He saw that humanity is not complete here below, and he looked to the next world where the final appraisement of the Last Judgment awaited mankind. Standing on Truth, which they were bound to believe, and on Justice, which they were bound to do, he weighs their works with the measures of Eternity. He points out to them on the right side and on the left, the places which their virtues or their vices have earned for them; at His voice the multitude separates and flows thro’ the gates of Hell or the portals of Heaven. Thus morality, through the view-point of eternal destiny, enters into History; Humanity, humiliated by the law of Death, is raised by the law of Duty; if the honour of a proud apotheosis be denied, it is yet saved from the opprobrium of the destiny of the beasts of the field.”
A serious question presented itself which Ozanam could not leave unanswered. Was the Dante, who is represented as one of the pillars of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, in reality a precursor and promoter of the Reformation, in his invective against Rome and the Popes of his time? That was the trend of Protestant criticism. In a chapter on Dante’s Orthodoxy Ozanam justifies the poet against those who claim in vain, and with unseemly haste, to hail in him a precursor. He does not minimise the denunciations of the exile’s blind anger against those whom he believed to be the enemies of his country. But he calls in evidence of his orthodoxy the whole life of the man, the whole work of the poet, which he unceasingly quotes. Then he adds: “If it is true that Dante inveighed against the Court of Rome and the Roman Pontiffs, pouring insult on the head of those whose feet he should have kissed; if, in the spirit of party faction, he repeated the calumnies of the rebellious against the Popes, if he failed to appreciate fully the piety of St. Celestine, the impetuous zeal of Boniface VIII, the culture and wisdom of John XXII., that was the result of imprudence and passion, of error and mistake, but it was not heresy. When that same Boniface VIII, whom he has delivered over to his poetic vengeance, falls an august victim at the hands of the fanatical followers of Philip le Bel, Dante then sees in him the Vicar and the image of Christ crucified for the second time. If he flagellates cruelly sin in the person of the man, he bows down with respect before the power of the High Priest. The Pope is for him always Peter, holding in his hands the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; and the Holy Roman See is for him always the rock upon which God rests the destiny of the world. The Papacy is a Monarchy by divine right, to which every other monarchy owes filial honour. The true Rome, said the poet, is that which is identified with Christ: Quella Roma, onde Cristo a roman. The Church of Rome, spouse, interpreter, Secretary of Jesus Christ, is incapable of error or falsehood. Dante admits her sovereignty over conscience; he describes with gratification the sacrament of penance; he doubts neither the validity of excommunication, nor the legitimacy of indulgences, nor the satisfying merit of good works. He never wearies of recommending the souls of the dead to the prayers of the living; he places his hope in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints. The religious Orders are eulogised by him in the person of the incomparable St. Francis of Assisi: “Assisi, whereout a sun arose to illumine the world, just as the sun itself seems at times to rise out of the mouth of the Ganges.” Also St. Dominic, whom he describes as “the jealous lover of Christian Faith, gentle to his disciples, terrible to his enemies.”
Dante relates that on the threshold of Paradise, St. Peter made him undergo a regular examination in the fundamental principles of the Faith, before he would admit him. He states that the Prince of Apostles was so pleased with his answers that he embraced him thrice.
Lastly, he, whom Protestantism would wish to make a heretic, bequeathed to posterity a hymn to the Virgin Mary in which he offers up the groanings of his heart in satisfaction for the evil days he had lived: 0 Madre di virtute, to del ciel donna e del mondo superna, etc. It is one of the most beautiful poems of homage which the Mother of God has ever received from the faithful.
Ozanam’s thesis was bred and born in trouble. In Paris he had to carry it by main force through his Law studies, and to defend it, is addition, against constantly recurring invasions of meetings, speeches, visits and magazines. He had hopes that, on his return to Lyons, he would find peace at home in his free time. He had even persuaded himself that the provincial atmosphere would preserve his individuality in thought and style better than the promiscuous literary tone of the capital. He wrote from Lyons: “I think that, for one who is of robust mind and who already possesses the necessary knowledge, work in isolation should have its own advantage; it should preserve that characteristic originality which gets destroyed by the contagion, so to speak, of styles, to which one is inevitably exposed in Paris . . . The mind and style are more polished among you of Paris, but it is at the price of their very existence.”
On the other hand, if Lyons was a place without distractions, it was also a place without books or documents of reference: “The Municipal Library is very weak in foreign literature! For advice and guidance I must rely on my former Professor of Philosophy, the Abbé Noirot.” Add to that a sick mother, family business affairs, canvassing for the Chair in Law, and preparation for the hypothetical and distant lectures . . . . Then why bother about Dante, the thesis, the Doctorate of Literature, or literature at all? “I have often asked myself if anything, other than pride, chained me to unproductive literature, which perhaps I should have done better to abandon.” But no, it was a useful instrument in the service of God.
On the 17th of May it was finished. Dante was despatched to the Sorbonne, and Lallier was asked to introduce him to M. Le Clerc ” although the Sorbonne was no stranger to the old poet,” wrote the author to his friend. “It is an established fact that, in his lifetime, about the year 123o, Dante spent some time in Paris; that he was actually present at some lectures of one Sigier—the Cousin of his time—in the Rue du Fouarre. But it seems to me that the capital has changed somewhat since then, that the poet has grown very old indeed and would have great difficulty in finding his way thither. Add to that the fact, that the present Sorbonne but little resembles that of the St. Louis period, and that Dante would present himself rather awkwardly, if alone, at the door of M. Le Clerc, who is not a St. Thomas of Acquin.”
All that was indeed but too true. Yet the Dean at least loved Dante, for the reason, that Dante was the means of introducing a reference to his master, Sigier, Sigieri, in the 21st Volume of L’Histoire litteraire de France. He was, therefore, in favour of the thesis in which he was mentioned. He very kindly recommended certain alterations to Ozanam, which necessitated some delay. It was not to be the last. In the summer of 1838 Ozanam rented for his mother and himself “a beautiful little house in the Isle of Barbary.” It is there that we must picture him, supporting on his arm his tottering and almost blind mother, in short walks and prolonged chats by the banks of the Sake, while his thoughts were wandering with Dante, from Virgil to Beatrice, from the circles of the Inferno to the visions of the living rose of the elect of Paradise. He invited his friends there and begged Lallier especially to come. “On your return from Rouen allow yourself to drift down the beautiful Saone as far as the Isle of Barbary which I showed you. There will be room, in the pretty little house that we have rented, to receive you properly, and there is always a glad welcome ready for you from all my people. You know also that a little further on, where this river loses its colour and name, yet another old-standing invitation awaits you. Thus on the swaying movement of the waters, what with our home and our affection, what with the welcome of those who know you as well as that of our conferences who do not know you, you will be able to pass a few days in our midst. I shall be glad to take you back at the end of the stay, and to prolong our time together even as far as the capital, which fascinates and retains you against our wishes.”
It was not merely to enjoy the pleasures of friendship that Ozanam invited his friend, but still more in the interests of charity and of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, to which they both belonged. The two Lyons Conferences, which he wished to introduce to Lanier, are already known to us, and we shall have to speak of them again . . . The only complete and faithful portrait of Ozanam, if it were possible, would depict him living at the same time his life as a scientist and as a man of charity, as a Doctor of Laws and an Apostle, a son and a friend, traversing in sweat and in tears the very paths trod by the God of the Cross.
It was on the 7th January, 1839, after having spent several months in Paris putting the finishing touches to his theses, that Ozanam was called upon to sustain them. The title of the Latin theses was: “De frequenti apud veteres poetas heroism ad inferos descensu: of the fiction of the descent of heros into Hell frequently met with in classical Poets.” It was dedicated to his father1. The thesis in French was entitled: De La Divine Comedie et de la Philosophie de Dante. It was dedicated to M. de Lamartine, to M. Ampère, junior, and to the Abbé Noirot, his former Professor of Philosophy.
The hearing of these was surrounded with unusual ceremony. In the hall was a crowded audience containing many students. At the Examining Board were seated no less than nine Professors. The whole Faculty was present. The President, M. Le Clerc, presided, Messieurs Saint-Marc-Girardin, Jouffroy, Damiron, Guignaut, Patin, Lacretelle and Fauriel. Messrs Cousin and Villemain, who had ceased lecturing since 1830, came and took their place at the Examiners table. They were all renowned, some even illustrious. It was indeed an exceptional Examining Board.
The candidate was a young man of extreme modesty and diffidence. But he was neither nervous nor fearful, for he knew that Truth was on his side and that his duty was to defend it. The difficulties of examination and of cross-question, the anxiety caused by speaking in public sharpened, rather than confused, his faculties. We have heard him admit to a friend that the spoken rather than the written word, the sound of a voice, was able to elevate and inspire him. He was indeed an orator.
M. de Lacretelle, who, in spite of his age, continued to be called Lacretelle the Young, Professor of History in the Faculty since 1809, was one of the examiners. He was at this time 74 years of age, and, he only resigned the Chair when 87. He asked Ozanam the following question: “What were the great names in the French Language and Literature in the 16th century?” The candidate in his answer placed in the forefront St. Francis de Sales; then, in chronological order and with their respective characteristics, Rabelais, Michel Montaigne, Charron, Etienne Pasquier, etc. The old Professor, who had probably never read St. Francis de Sales, at once objected to the priority given to the Bishop. Ozanam gave his reasons. M. de Lacretelle raised further objections which were immediately answered by the brilliant and well equipped disputant. The discussion grew warm. It centred around the convictions and the virtues of the Savoyard Bishop, Churchman and Literateur. Frederic was now on his strongest ground; on philology and philosophy in turn, on doctrine and literature. Then he traced the origin of the French Language, its change in the 15th century, its sources in Greek, Latin, Germanic idioms, and their primitive derivation from the Oriental Languages. All that was elaborated by the candidate with such force of argument and such aptness of quotation, that victory lay with the Bishop of Geneva. The old Professor was completely silenced and stopped abruptly, having nothing to expect from the audience, but the respect due to his grey hairs. The audience was completely on the side of the young candidate.
The greatest success of the day was the argument on Dante and his philosophy. Ozanam was full of this subject after six years of study. At one part of the discussion, he spoke with such elevation of thought and beauty of language that M. Cousin broke in on the argument and exclaimed: “Ah! Monsieur Ozanam, that is the height of eloquence.” The audience answered with loud and prolonged applause. “It was not alone a success,” said Pere Lacordaire, “it was a revelation.” The sombre figure of Dante, whom he had called forth from the 13th century, with his triple crown of Poet, Doctor and Exile, had awakened his own genius. The Sorbonne had never seen such a brilliant examination.
Ozanam’s letters do not mention one word of all this. He disappeared silently the following day. The state of his mother’s health recalled him.
Let us say at once that Ozanam’s answer to that applause was to endeavour to do still better, by giving a permanent form to his thesis in a complete volume entitled: Dante or Catholic Philosophy in the 13th Century: “ My thesis on Dante has grown into a volume,” he wrote to a friend, “and if I do not stop I fear it may grow into another. You know by that who is talking.” When the work was published it was immediately translated into English and German, and appeared simultaneously in four different versions in Italian.
The brilliant success of his thesis had its immediate effect on public opinion in Lyons. The Municipal Council appointed Ozanam, by 36 votes to 24, to the Professorship of Commercial Law. This appointment required to be confirmed by the Minister for Education, who was M. Cousin. Still under the influence of the thesis and the eloquence which he had applauded, M. Cousin at once offered to the newly-appointed Doctor of Literature the Chair of Philosophy in the College of Orleans. Ozanam had then a choice of posts. Even here, in Lyons,” he wrote, “it is agreed that my future prospects are on the banks of the Loire. I too, was pleased with the chance of a purely intellectual career, with the possibility of a life which would be more detached and peaceful, and which would have, in addition, the advantage of being near Paris. But as against all that, I foresaw greater dependence, loneliness in a city where I am unknown: above all the necessity of leaving mother for ten months every year, at the risk of a similar shock to that which happened on the 12th May, 1837. I therefore answered M. Cousin, thanking him very much for the honour he had done me by his offer of the Chair of Philosophy in Orleans, but regretting that family reasons obliged me to declare in favour of the Chair in Lyons.”
Alas! his mother was spared to him for only a few brief days. Ozanam had to go to Paris in the month of August and spend some days there in connection with those same family affairs. On his return on the 14th, he found her in a critical state, which ended fatally. She died on the 14th October. “The length of her illness made me fear,” he wrote to Lanier, “lest in losing her mental faculties, she might fail in the supreme sacrifice before its consummation. That trial was spared her. Her energy rallied in her last moments. Christ descending for the last time into the heart of this well-beloved servant gave her the strength necessary for the supreme battle.”
” She remained almost three days calm and serene, murmuring prayers, and replying in words of inexpressible maternal kindness to our caresses. Then came the fatal night. It was I who was at her bedside. I suggested in tears to my poor mother the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, which she had taught me to babble in my youth. About one o’clock in the morning a change took place that terrified me. I called my eldest brother, who was sleeping in the next room. Charles heard us and got up, the servants also hastened to the room. We knelt around the bed. Alphonse recited the prayers for the dying, to which we gave the responses in tears. Every religious consolation was once more received. The remembrance of a stainless life, the good works which by their number and their difficulty had hastened her end, three sons preserved in the faith amid storm and stress, and all at her bedside by a providential dispensation; finally the hope of glorious immortality, all served to dispel the terror, to illumine the darkness of Death. Neither convulsions nor agony supervened, but a gentle sleep, which left her, as it were, smiling; a gentle breathing which faded slowly; the moment came when it too ceased, and we rose up orphans . . . . Happy is the man to whom God has given a holy mother!”
” That loving memory will never leave me. In my present loneliness the thought of that edifying scene sustains and elevates me. In the consideration of the extreme shortness of life, and of the separation of those whom death parts, the temptations of pride vanish and the evil passions of the flesh are subdued. All my desires are resolved into one, to die like my mother!”
Madame Ozanam died like her husband in the service of the poor. She had devoted her whole time to them since her children had no longer need of her care. Even as Frederic had been edified at finding from his father’s papers, that a third of his patients had been free, he was now edified to find among his mother’s papers, notes for the religious instruction of the poor. She had them for the use of the Ladies’ Association of Charity, whose President and model she was, in their visits to the sick poor.
Ozanam now saw “united in one and the same happiness in God him and her whom he had seen united on earth in the same works and the same trials! May I,” he said, “continue in thought, in faith, and in virtue, that communion with them which nothing was able to interrupt, and may their death not make any other change in our family than the addition to it of two saints.”
But he had no longer the charm of that bodily presence which was a sort of divinity for him. He grieves in these terms to a friend, M. Reverdy: “What a loss for the religious interests of my soul! Gentle exhortation, powerful example, a fervour which warmed my lukewarm spirit, a source of encouragement which re-inforced my strength. Moreover she, whose first instruction had given me the Faith, was the living representative of our Holy Church, who is also our mother. Sometimes I seem to feel, even as the disciples did, after the Ascension of our Lord, that something divine has been taken from my side . . . Oh! Beseech our Lord, that He would send to me, as he sent to His orphaned disciples, the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, the Paraclete. I have not a great mission to accomplish as they had, and I do not look for the miraculous gifts, which He lavished on them. I only ask for the strength to finish my pilgrimage of a few years, or perhaps of a few days, and to have such an end as my holy mother had.”
She had not in reality left him. The continual thought of his mother became, as it were, a kind of habitual intercourse between his soul and hers. Two years later, on the 31st January 1842, when consoling his friend Falconnet, who had a like cause for mourning, he confided to him this habit of spiritual companionship. This letter is altogether admirable.
” Face to face with death, in the excess of grief, every thought of consolation iseemed impossible, nay, insulting to her memory. Yet the time soon came when I began to feel that I was not alone. Some feeling of infinite calm passed into my soul. It was an assurance that I had not been abandoned. It was a beneficent, though invisible, presence. It was as if a beloved soul had brushed me with her wings in passing. Sometimes I seemed to recognise the footsteps, the voice, the breath of my mother. Thus, when an ardent inspiration enkindled my failing strength, I could not but believe that it was always she.
” Even to this day I have that feeling. There are moments of sudden joy, as if she were at my side. There are especially times of maternal and filial intercourse, when I am in direst need. On such occasions, I weep more than at the time of her death, but an inexpressible peace is mingled with my grief. When I am good, when I have done something for the poor whom she so loved, when I am at peace with God, Whom she had so well served, I see her smiling on me from afar. Sometimes, when I pray, I seem to hear her joining in my prayer, just as we used to pray together at night at the foot of the Crucifix.”
” Lastly—and this I should not confide in anyone but you—when I have the happiness to receive Holy Communion, when our Saviour comes to visit me, it seems to me that she follows Him into my poor heart, even as she so often followed Him in the Holy Viaticum, into the rooms of the poor. Then I firmly believe in the actual presence of my mother by my side.”
That admirable letter concludes with the assurance that he is still the object of her solicitude in Heaven. “Is there any other glory for mothers on this earth than their children, have they any other happiness than ours? What is Heaven itself for them if we are not there? I am, then, convinced that we still occupy their thoughts, that they continue to live for us, there as well as here, that they have not changed save in the direction of greater power and greater love.”
- Bailly, 1839. The following is the dedication: D.0.3,1.—Et memorim mternx—Patris amantissimi—Joannis Antonii Francisci Ozanam—Christiana fides, pauperum carriate publicm utilitatis studio commendatissimi—Filius nixrens—Hurnanarum disciplinarum quarum semina ab eo susceperat—fructus nimium seros—D.D.D.