Ozanam in his correspondence (Monsignor Baunard) 21

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoFrédéric OzanamLeave a Comment

Author: Monsignor Baunard · Translator: A member of the Council of Ireland of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. · Year of first publication: 1911 (French) – 1925 (English).
Estimated Reading Time:

Chapter XX: The Revolution of 1848

Pontifical policy — Rome’s dangers and hopes — The February Revolution — Political candidature — “The party of confidence”

Ozanam reached Paris in the early days of August, 1847. He found himself importuned by so many hurried callers and so many business matters in arrears, that, before resuming his lectures, he asked for some days rest and peace in Arminvilliers in Brie, whither M. de Francheville, his friend and collaborator on the Correspondant, had invited him.

There he, his wife and child enjoyed the quiet hospitality of a feudal castle still guarded with moat and draw-bridge, and buried in woods which called up for him in some sort his beloved Middle Ages.

There the Correspondant brought to his notice an article from the pen of M. Foisset on Lamartine’s Histoirc des Girondins. That work of the poet was the event of the season. It was the almost unreserved glorification of the politicians of the Legislative Assembly and of the Convention, with all their errors, faults, depredations and crimes acquitted of malice, and set off with all the charm of poetry. M. Foisset’s article restored the balance and Ozanam hastened to con­gratulate him on his castigation of the work without touching the author: “Let me tell you,” he said, “that I have read many courageous and Christian appreciations of the Girondins. Irascintini et =lite pec­care. It recalls the beautiful fresco in the Vatican which depicts the angels whipping Heliodorus, who had desecrated the temple. They seem to me to have lent you their scourges. Yet one feels that they arm a friendly hand which, while shattering the idol, seeks to find and touch the Christian heart which was so lately beating in his breast! Will you not add something to that appreciation? It is, if I am not mistaken, one of the best things you have done. Will you not work it up into a volume, which we should all wish to possess, of which we shall all be proud and which is now greatly needed?”

Could one repudiate in more formal terms the historical value of the work or break with the historian, while reserving for the man that feeling of pity, which refused to despair of repentance and mercy?

He added that “all contemporary scandals and apostasies are extinguished at the moment by the brilliancy of the rising sun of Pius IX.”

It is in the full blaze of that “rising sun” that Ozanam appeared before his students in the Sorbonne at his opening lecture. The date was the 21st December, 1847. An overcrowded audience gave him an enthusiastic welcome. He replied with deep emotion in the following melancholy and tender words: “On my reappearance in this chair, to which you have given me such a warm welcome, I must first ask you to excuse the long absence caused by the state of my health: then the postponement of my lectures, which will alas! long continue to show the effects of my shattered strength. But in seeking the fair Italian sky I was less distant from you than you thought. I carried with me all my anxiety for the success of a course of instruction, which you had made very dear to me, all the questions which we had been accustomed to examine together. I did well in doing so, for what constitutes the value of a journey is the thoughts which one carries, the ideals which one holds, and which will have new light brought to bear on them by new scenes and new minds.. I believe I have learned that lesson in my eight months pilgrimage, and I bring you a token, as the pilgrims of the Middle Ages were wont to bring back with them a branch cut from the palm-trees of the East.”

The early months of 1848, immediately following Ozanam’s Italian trip, were for him and his, one of those rare periods of untroubled felicity, which must be rapidly enjoyed for they are fugitive. He expresses himself as follows to Ampère: “We enjoy with profound gratitude this short period of happiness, which God has deigned to give us. In the first place domestic happiness: My dear Amelie, who had had such indifferent health so long, is now fairly robust. Our darling Marie is wonderfully well, she is growing tall without growing thin; she is now at the happiest period of infancy, being old enough to talk, to understand, to caress; too young yet to study or to be corrected. In addition, we still enjoy the memory of last year’s beautiful journey, the pleasures of which have not yet disappeared. We have also friends who are, in a way, yours too. It is not necessary to tell you what consolation is to be found in them in our good and bad days. I am not speaking of my wife’s family, nor of my brothers whom you do not know, but whose affectionate friendship is very dear to us.”

Then he comes back on himself and his loving impulses towards the Giver of all good gifts: “I have acted very badly in not showing more gratitude. Youth is flying and I do not feel that I am improving. In three months more I shall be 35 years of age: nel mezzo del camnzin di nostra vita. Supposing that I complete the journey, I fear to find myself at the end with empty hands.”

But the moment was near at hand when politics were about to disturb the halcyon days of the publicist. The Comte de Monta­lembert had on the 11th January, 1848, enlisted the support of the Chamber of Peers. That Chamber had, in the name of the country, unanimously supported him in the following amendment to the address to the King:

” A new era of civilisation is opening for the Italian States. We pledge our moral and material support to the magnanimous Pontiff who is inaugurating that era with a prudence only equalled by his courage. We support likewise those sovereigns who follow in his footsteps on that path of pacific reform, on which governments and peoples can march amicably together.” Ozanam, still under the influence of his Roman trip, was amazed that the Catholic Press did not attune itself to that enthusiasm. “That, too,” he said, “after 15 months of a Pontificate which recalls Gregory II. and Alexander III., and which seems destined to cement the alliance between Chris­tianity and Liberty.”

He wrote to M. Foisset complaining that the Correspondant had not yet reviewed in a serious manner “the course of events which will perhaps distinguish our century from all others.” That was as much as to offer to do it. He made it the subject of a remarkable address to the Catholic Study Circle, and subsequently of an article which reproduced and completed the address under the title: Des Dangers de Rome et de ses Esperances which was published in the Correspondant of the loth February, 1848.

Much to my regret, I can only present here a brief summary of those twenty-three closely printed pages of the Review. They constitute one of Ozanam’s writings in which he displayed great genius, inex­haustible treasures of learning, ardent convictions, and persuasive eloquence. The article is a master-piece. But it is not to be found in the complete edition of his works. When he proceeds to state that the responsibility for the article is his alone, he leaves himself quite free to balance the dangers and the hopes of the reforming policy of Pius IX. The dangers are from without and within; from without, the supporters of the Austrian policy, the absolutists, the beaten party; from within, vested interests. There is a retrograde party which is against all reform, and an impatient party that wants to reach the ultimate goal at once; there are the Zelanti, and the extremists, who are still more advanced, who, acknowledging Pius IX. as King of all Italy, alarm, and throw into opposition, every cabinet in Europe. Are not these traitors?

While blessing Pius IX., Ozanam defends equally strongly the policy of Gregory XVI. He does full justice to the Society of Jesus, controverting the recent pamphlet of the Abbé Gioberti, II Gesuita moderno, “which furnished headlines for incendiary placards.”

When Ozanam passes from the consideration of the dangers to the hopes, he finds many causes for optimism. They centre around Pius IX., the good people of Pius IX., the friends of Pius IX, the far­seeing and illustrious Catholic patriots of all Italy. He mentions the names of Count Balbo, Marquis d’ Azeglio, Tomasseo, Orioli, Cantu, Capponi, Rosmini, Ventura. He is delighted with the love of the Romans for their prince; but he is not blind to the fact that in certain cases this love is excessive, and may prove compromising. Some of these are Italians, whom he excuses. But some are Catholics as well. He seeks to reassure himself as to their loyalty, emphasising “the faith of that people, whose enthusiasm for their Pontiff-King springs from religion. Now, is not religion the guarantee of order and loyalty, even as love finds its greatest expression in liberty?”

But the alpha and omega of Ozanam’s hopes is the personality of the Pope: “Such is my strongest hope, and, as it was in my heart that it began to exist, I should wish to see it enthroned in every heart.” But his mind also approves it. He loves Pius IX. through emotion because he is good and wills good; but also through reason, because he is wise and prudent. He regards him as crowned with all the virtues: purity, charity, strength. His humility surprises, his piety moves, his speech edifies. He finds each of his decisions tempered in the fire of prayer, steeped in tears shed in the presence of God. Is not that a pledge of their lofty inspiration and of their effectiveness? “In a word,” he adds, “this Pope is a saint such as God has not given to the Pontificate since St. Pius V.”

Does that mean that Pius IX. is to march on to the triumph of his policy on a road strewn with palms? “Certainly not,” replies Ozanam in all seriousness. “I believe, on the contrary, that the future has the most serious difficulties in store for Pius IX. That I believe for the glory of the Pope. God does not raise up such men for ordinary difficulties. Without that, his task would be too easy, his name could not occupy its due place in history. His barque may have passed over tranquil waters, let us look out for storms; only let its not be afraid like the disciples of little faith. Christ is in the barque and is not asleep. He never watched better than now.”

This startling article was to have a still more startling conclusion. Ozanam, the historian of the barbarians’ conversion, recalls the fact that from the 6th to the 9th century, Pope Gregory the Great, and after him Pope Gregory the Third, broke with Byzantium which had abandoned the defence of the Church, and turned to the barbarians, who as children of the Church, wore to be her hope and her strength. It seemed to him that that former evolution of Rome in the direction of the barbarians was not without its analogy, and that to-day she should turn to the masses of the people “dear to the Church because they arc the multitude, the multitude of souls who must be won and saved, because they represent poverty which God loves, and work which generates energy.” He concludes on that point with courage: “Conquer rerugnance and dislike and turn to democracy, to the mass of the people to whom we are unknown. Appeal to them not merely by sermons but by benefits. Help them, not with alms which humiliate, but with social and ameliorative measures, which will free and elevate them. Let us go over to the barbarians and follow Pius IX.”

Ozanam was misunderstood. The latter appeal caused alarm. The word democracy called forth the dread figure of the Terror; the name barbarians signified Communists. The historical allusion was also lost. Ozanam was more disappointed than surprised. “I expected protests and remonstrances,” he wrote two days after the publication of the article. “I have not been disappointed in that.” On the other hand warm support of zealous Catholics was not wanting. The venerable Abbé Desgenettes signified his approval. Pere Lacordaire shared his views and was only astonished that they could be regarded as advanced. M. Foisset had some remarks to make, but in such a friendly tone that he never appeared to Ozanam “so generous, so kind, and so insistent, as in those few lines, which are those that one keeps by one and reads and reads again,”—” I quite expected,” he continued, “that my sincerity would displease many. I do not raise contentious matters with pleasure, and only have done so from a sense of duty.—You, my dear friend, were of my opinion in October. May I not hope that we are still in accord? If that is not so, it is I who have failed to express myself correctly, and that must be so since you have misunderstood me.”

“To leave Byzantium and go over to the barbarians,” he explains, “is to leave the camp of statesmen and Kings, who are slaves to selfish and dynastic interests, who made the treaties of 1815, the Talleyrands, and the Metternichs, for the camp of the people and the nation. To go over to the people, is, following the example of Pius “IX., to interest ourselves in the people, who have needs and no rights, who justly claim a larger part in the management of public affairs, who demand work and food; who do not read the Histoire des Girondins, who do not give banquets to reformers, and who most certainly do not dine at them; who do follow false guides, but for want of better. To go over to the people is to cease to play the part of the Mazzinis, of the Ochsenbeins and of the Henri Heines, and to devote ourselves instead to the service of the mass of the people, in rural as well as in urban areas. It is in that sense that to go over to the barbarians signifies to go over to the mass of the people, but it is to with­draw them from their barbarity, to make them good citizens and good followers of Christ, to elevate them in morality and truth, to make them fit for, and worthy of the liberty of the children of God.”

Ozanam, in handling this burning topic and in his practical con­clusions, came down from the regions of dogmatic truth to that open plain swept with political upheavals and storms, of which it is written that “God has given them for the distraction of man.” It is not to -td be wondered at that his ideals met with contradiction and misrepre­sentation and that his heart was wounded in such a way that it never recovered.

Foisset had found this fault with Ozanam’s article that “it had exaggerated the wrongs and mistakes of the conservative class, while it extenuated those of the revolutionary party, that he had minimised the causes for fear and unduly emphasized those for hope.” It does seem indeed that Ozanam had not taken sufficient account of fears, which were to be too soon alas! justified by events. He did not see sufficiently clearly, concealed behind those who were impatient for reform, the action of secret revolutionary societies, the hand of Mazzini guiding the movement which was to bring down the Pope and the Papacy, sedulously laying the dangerous trap which has been called “the conspiracy of acclamation.” The fact is, that the hand which is now clearly visible, was not then seen by passing observers such as the French pilgrim. He, as well as the multitude, was deceived; liberal and honourable France, its Parliament, Montalembert, all who in union with Ozanam had acclaimed the wisdom, courage, and prudence of the great Reformer, were deceived. Pius IX. himself was deceived. His only mistake was to have believed in the possibility of good, his greatest cause for grief was the ingratitude of men. There was one thing and one thing only wanting to make his movement acclaimed as the wonder of the age and that one thing was, Success. It was snatched from his hands by the malice of man.

Ozanam’s reply to M. Foisset was dated the 22nd February. The Revolution burst on the 24th, overturning Louis-Phillipe’s throne and proclaiming the Republic.

It was at a period long prior to that, in the year 1834, that Ozanam, then aged twenty-one, formulated his political programme in the following terms: “I do not repudiate any form of government; I regard them as different instruments to make men better and happier. “I believe in authority as a means, in liberty as a means, in charity as an end.

” Two kinds of governments are based on two diametrically opposite principles. One is the exploitation of all for the advantage of one: that is the monarchy of Nero, which I detest. The other is the sacrifice of one for the benefit of all: that is the monarchy of St. Louis, which 1 revere and love. One is the exploitation of all for the benefit of a faction: that is the Republic of the Terror, which I utterly condemn. The other is the sacrifice of each for the advantage of all: that is the Christian republic of the primitive Church of Jerusalem. It is also perhaps that of the end of all time, the last and the highest state to which humanity can aspire.”

Young Ozanam continued: “Every form of government seems good in that it represents the divine principle of authority: it is in that sense that I understand the omnis potestas a Deo of St. Paul. But I do hold that with power there must also be room for the sacred principle of liberty. This must be upheld vigorously, and a courageous voice must be heard warning any power that would exploit, instead of serving it.”

” Opposition is useful and desirable, not insurrection. Obedience should be active, resistance passive; the Prisons of Silvo Pellico and not the Paroles d’un Croyant.”

Many of those political aphorisms are no doubt characteristic of a young man, but certainly not of a revolutionary.

Beside the question of the form of Government there was another -if which was more closely bound up with religion. Ozanam had written as follows: “The question which is agitating the world to-day is neither one of the form of governemnt nor of persons; it is a social question. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much; it is the violent clash of opulence and poverty, which is shaking the ground under our feet. Our duty as Christians is to throw ourselves between those two camps, in order to help to accomplish through Charity what Justice alone cannot do.” That is exactly what he desired to do more than ever in February, 1848.

On the day of the bloody insurrection much honour was reflected on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, by the brave action of one of its members. His name, though worthy to go down to history, remains hidden in the obscurity so dear to the spirit of the Society. L’Ami de la Religion reports as follows on the 29th February, 1848: “On Thursday last, 24th inst., at the moment when the people had just invaded the Tuileries and were engaged in flinging the furniture and tapestry through the windows, a young man, a member of a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, hastened to the Chapel, fearing lest it should be despoiled, and desirous of preventing such profanation. The Chapel, where Mass had been said that morning, had been already invaded; vestments were scattered about the sacristy, but the altar had not been touched. The religious youth begged some National guards to help him to carry away the sacred vessels and the crucifix. They replied that they were of one mind with him, but they thought it necessary that they should have with them a cadet from the Poly­technic. Two cadets came forward. They took the sacred vessels and the crucifix, and left by the Court of the Tuileries and the Car­rousel for the Church of St. Roch.”

” In the court-yard cries were raised against the men carrying off those precious treasures. Then he who was bearing the crucifix, raised it aloft saying: “Do you wish to be regenerated? Well! remember, that can only come through Christ.” “Yes, yes,” replied many voices, “He is the Master of us all.” Heads were uncovered to the shout of “Christ for ever.” The crucifix and a chalice without the paten were borne, so to speak, in procession to St. Roch’s, where they were received by the Cure.

” This group of people first asked the priest’s blessing. He said a few words to them which were received with emotion and respect. “We love God,” they cried, “we wish for religion and desire to see it honoured. Long live Liberty! Long live the religion of Pius IX.” Before withdrawing they knelt a second time to receive the Cure’s blessing1.

The February Revolution assumed disproportionate dimensions in Ozanam’s eyes. Did he not write as follows?:—” In the events which are now taking place in Rome, in Paris, and in Vienna, do we not hear a voice calling: Ecce facio ceolos novos el terram novae:. Since the fall of the Roman Empire the world has not seen a revolution like unto this. I still believe, as I did, in the invasion of the barbarians; but of barbarians such as the Franks of Clovis. I believe in the emancipation of down-trodden nationalists, and I admire more than ever the mission of Pius IX., which is so opportune for Italy and for the world. I do not hide from myself the dangers of the times nor the hardness of hearts; I expect to see much hardship, disorder and pillage. I believe even that we may be crushed, but it will be under the Juggernaut of Christianity.”

Ozanam had not been wanting in his duty in donning the uniform of the National Guard, and taking his place in the post of danger in common with all good citizens. But that was not really his place. M. Foisset, and many others, cherished the hope of seeing him become in Parliament one of the leaders of the new order of things. Ozanam replied in the following modest terms on the 22nd March, 1848: “You are quite wrong, my dear friend, in thinking that I am one of the men of the moment. I have never been so keenly conscious of my weakness and my ineffectiveness. I am less qualified than almost any other, to deal with those questions which are agitating men’s minds! I mean questions of labour, wages, commerce, administra­tion, which are more important than any political controversy… I am not a man of action, nor am I suited for Parliament or for the platform. If I can do anything however small, it is in my University chair or perhaps in the seclusion of my library, in extracting from Philosophy and from History thoughts which I can put before young men, before troubled and vacillating minds, in order to steady, to encourage, to rally them together, in the confusion of the present and the terrible uncertainty of the future.”

Ozanam’s name appeared on many lists of proposed candidates. He declined the honour. He was convinced that, at the moment, Catholics were not numerous enough to win out alone. He wrote as follows: “The best course for us to adopt is to support Republican r candidates, who share our faith and who will give satisfactory guarantees for our liberty.”

Ozanam was in the act of closing that letter when a most insistent appeal reached him from a Catholic committee in Lyons, to allow his name to go forward as Deputy for that city. A division of parties offered a good chance of getting a sufficient number of votes to return him. Taking up again his letter to Foisset he submits this case to his judgment: “In addition to the aforesaid objections I am not robust enough to face the storms of the National Assembly. My style of speaking does not suit the Chamber. My friends here are divided. Several advise me to attend the next Assembly. What is your opinion? If you reply by return your letter can reach me before I write to Lyons, as I shall not write until Saturday. I am seriously perplexed as to what to do.”

We have not M. Foisset’s reply. But Ozanam yielded and allowed his name to go forward. It was at the eleventh hour, barely four days before the closing of the nominations. He had not even time to ad­dress his constituents in Lyons. He wrote to his brother, the priest: “My first inclination was to refuse a trust, which is ill-suited to my habits and studies. However, having considered the matter in the presence of God, and taken counsel with those who have claims on my conscience and my affection, having weighed together the advice. of my family and of my friends, I have decided to make the sacrifice. I could not refuse it without failing in honour, in patriotism, and in Christian devotion. I am to stand for Lyons. I hope that I shall get only an average number of votes, and that Providence may spare me the dangerous distinction of being a representative of the people. But if that be my destiny, I hope that I shall get sufficient courage to fulfil the designs of Providence. I know the risk I am running; at the worst it is that of life. God has made life very hard for us during the last two months in order to teach us not to cling to it more than is good for our amendment and salvation. As to fortune, it would be very selfish to consider that at a time when it is a question of saving or losing France.”

” That is then, my dear brother, yet another reason for praying very specially for me. Please offer up your Easter Mass, if it is free, for that intention, as it will be on that day that my fate will issue from the ballot box.”

The lateness of the nomination and the absence of the candidate did not prevent i6,000 electors from voting for him. It was not a sufficient number for election. Ozanam wrote to the same brother, more than consoled in advance for his defeat: “It is fairly clear, from the number of votes cast for me, that, if I had been nominated sooner, and if I had been able to canvass personally, I should have succeeded. But God, no doubt, wished that I should be spared that dreadful responsibility. He preferred to send me back to research work for which I have a taste.”

Ozanam, now personally disinterested, worked and actively can­vassed the young men on behalf of the candidatures of M. de Melun, of M. Thayer, and especially of Pere Lacordaire: “The Reverend Father preserves his own admirable serenity,” he wrote. “I have never seen him more indifferent, more inclined to serve God’s interests, less disposed to trouble himself with human passions. The Archbishop of Paris has given striking testimony of his confidence by making him Vicar-General of the Arch-Diocese.”

As a representative of the people in the Chamber, Ozanam would have been able to bring forward a law regulating economic and charitable institutions. There remained open to him as a citizen the way of petition. Behold him drawing up an appeal for Sunday Rest. “It will be handed round and posted on the walls: it may be the means of inducing the work-people to petition for it.” He sum­moned “a meeting of Professors to consider the foundation of extension lectures and night schools for those poor people. The Carmelites will help, and the Archbishop will give a hall.” He wrote to his brother on the Isth March: “My dear brother, you know how happy I am to share our predilections for the working classes, who are poor and are strangers to the refinement and the good taste of those who are called the better classes. If more Catholics, and above all, more clergy had concerned themselves with the working classes for the last ten years, we should feel more certain of the future. All our hopes rest on the very little which has been done for them here in Paris.”

Ozanam recommended that same brother, who was then engaged in giving a Mission in Lille, to “interest himself now more than ever in servants as well as in masters, in the working classes as well as in the employers. Therein lies the only path of salvation for the future Church of France. Priests must give up their bourgeois parishes and their little chosen circle, lost in the midst of a population whom they do not know. They must concern themselves not merely with the poverty-stricken, but with the working classes who do not need alms. These will be won by special sermons, by charitable associations, and by sympathy, which will touch them more than is generally believed.” He writes to the same brother on the selections for the North as follows: “Instead of forming an alliance with the beaten middle classes, it would have been better to have sided with the people, who are the true ally of the Church. They are poor as she is, devoted as she is, and blessed as she is with the benediction of the Saviour. I have just heard of an excellent selection at Valenciennes, my friend Wallon, acting at present for Professor Guizot in the Faculty. He is a sincere Republican and a sound Catholic, a member of a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, and a very zealous worker for the poor.”

When Ozanam resumed his lectures in the Sorbonne immediately after February, he had only to appear before his students such as he had always been: “In appearing again before you after the great events which have taken place, I am happy to be able to say that, looking back over six years of lectures, I do not recollect one word which I shall have to unsay to-clay. You have always known me to be passionately in favour of liberty, in favour of the legitimate triumphs of the people, in favour of reforms which elevate, and in favour of those dogmas of equality and fraternity which are but the introduction of the Gospel into the temporal domain. I return to our University forthwith to give henceforward, as far as in me lies, an example of confidence in good order, which will be better upheld by the unity of citizens, than by the display of legal fictions.”

It was thus that he and others founded in France the Parti de la confiance, which claimed a majority at the moment. Ozanam wrote: “The first duty for Catholics is not to fear themselves; the second, not to frighten others. It is rather to reassure those who are uneasy at the political and financial crisis through which we are pass­ing, by pointing out that Providence is at hand. Let us not be too solicitous for the morrow, ‘What shall we eat and wherewith shall we be clothed?’ Be brave, seek first the justice of God, the good of the nation and all else will be added thereunto.”

Such was his point of view on the 12th April, when he informed M. Foisset that he and some friends wished to found a new journal for new times and new needs. “That is the part which I shall play in political life, from which no one can stand aloof. It will be narrowed down to the little which I shall do for the The New Era, which will appear without fail on the 15th April next.” On that date ‘Ozanam was about to enter, all unknowingly, a real battlefield.

  1. It was to that event that Pere Lacordaire alluded in his Conference on the 27th February when he said: “Thanks be to God, we believe in Him. If I doubted our faith, the very gates of this Cathedral would open of themselves and the people would only need one glance to confound me. For, in the very moment of their intoxication with victory, did they not with their own hands bear before them the image of the Son of God made Man, as if hoping to associate Him with their triumph?” (applause).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *