Biography of Frederic Ozanam
by: Sister M. Teresa Candelas, D.C., Province of Saint Louise de Marillac
Presentation by José Ramon Diaz-Torremocha, VIII President of the Vincent de Paul Society, Spain
Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20:21).
During the Church’s lengthy and fruitful history of service to people and their salvation (salvation being understood as whole and complete and not merely spiritual), she has extended this command of Jesus (mentioned at the beginning), but not always in the same way.
Viewing the last three centuries of the Church’s history which are of interest to us in presenting this important text of Sister María Teresa Candelas, D.C., it becomes obvious that the turmoil in the ecclesial interpretation of its mission is formidable. From a mission that was understood to be exclusively bound to those who had dedicated their life to following the evangelical counsels through the intensity of their consecration, the Second Vatican Council returned to the very roots of the gospel and reminds us that all the baptized who have received a participation in the priesthood of Christ have also received a participation in its mission. It is affirmed: All the laity, then, have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all men, of every epoch and all over the earth. Therefore may the way be clear for them to share diligently in the salvific work of the Church according to their ability and the needs of the time (Lumen Gentium, #33).
Several centuries before, Saint Vincent de Paul burst forth on the scene of the Church and caused a profound commotion. The vision of Christ poor and abandoned, served by laywomen who took vows annually, was an authentic revolution in the world that understood the action of the Church as being accomplished through the ministry of the priests (diocesan or religious). Religious life for women was lived out behind the protected walls of the cloister. The foundation of the Daughters of Charity flowed from a conviction that Saint Vincent summed up with the following words: The Daughters of Charity are not religious but persons who come and go like lay women. This supposed a tremendous step forward in the understanding of the laity’s responsibility in the life of the Church. This same vision would be embraced later by Frederic Ozanam during the nineteenth century and its validity and necessity for the universal Church would be confirmed at the Second Vatican Council.
A Daughter of Charity writes about this important servant of the Church, Frederic Ozanam and the pages that follow are the result of years of work and a love of Frederic and all that he represented for Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., without whom it would be difficult to understand the history of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul that Frederic and his companions established in Paris in 1833 and which today is probably the most important organized Catholic movement in the world.
With regard to Frederic Ozanam, professor, politician, parent, committed layman, profoundly convinced about the mission of the laity in the Church, Father Jaime Corera, C.M. has written: with a certain ease the original Vincentian spirit could be adapted to the radical changes of history and this is proven by Frederic Ozanam. His was the only attempt that was seriously undertaken to adapt the original Vincentian spirit to a social and historical era different from that of Vincent de Paul. These pages deal with this adaptation. As the reader moves through these pages, it is suggested to proceed slowly and savor the text. Attempt to situate yourself in the historical era that provided a framework for the life of these young men who founded the Conferences. If Frederic was the primary mover of this group of founders, Sister María Theresa has left open for us a very wide area in which to place the action of the Spirit in an ecclesial group which in that era was quite unusual. As we pointed out previously, many years would pass before the Church, in her thinking and writing, would admit the possibility that the laity could be responsible for the mission of the Church, before the Church would direct such demanding words to both the hierarchy and the laity such as those of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church cited above … the duty of the laity as evangelizers and not mere passive subjects of evangelization.
This group of committed Christians with the prophetic vision of their ecclesial responsibility and with the single mindedness of Frederic Ozanam would have an impact on every area of human activity. Frederic showed the depth of his commitment in his denunciation as a Christian, a denunciation which the author writes in the pages that follow: this article could be catalogued as a sermon of a cleric. Here the reference is to Frederic’s writing entitled To Good People which without a doubt had to be an incredible shock for the society of that time.
This group of Christian intellectuals, whose efforts resulted in the establishment of the Catholic Institute in Paris, was able to take on responsibility and commit themselves to direct cooperation in the plan of salvation history.
Today, as the world continues to move forward and collaborate in the plan of salvation history, it becomes necessary to present non-consecrated individuals, gifted men and women who are able to commit themselves and contribute to this wonderful mission, experiencing the mission as their own, making this mission their mission and carrying out this mission in a communion of prayer and action with their pastors. Such individuals are inspired by the treasures of the Church and empowered to tell people that they are loved by God.
Sister María Teresa Candilas, D.C., does this perfectly as she writes about Frederic Ozanam. Here all persons of good will, all those who follow and believe in the ability of the human person to become better each day, all those who have Christ as the model for their life, … all of you will enjoy reading these pages … a reading that will also be a prayer in the literal sense of raising the mind and heart to God because when speaking of Frederic Ozanam, God is always present.
In a special way, committed lay people will discover that this text opens new paths for them and these pages will be frequently consulted.
Prologue by: Fernando Quintano, C.M., Director General of the Company of the Daughters of Charity
The 1987 Synod of Bishops dealt with the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world twenty years after Vatican II. In 1988 John Paul II published his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici which constituted a new impulse for the laity in the Church and once again made known the Council’s concern for this branch of the ecclesial tree, the laity. This study about the life and work of Frederic Ozanam, written by Sister María Teresa Candelas, D.C. can be inserted into this current of revitalization that examines the contributions of the laity.
The exhortation of John Paul II points out some positive aspects and some temptations that have accompanied the flourishing of the laity after Vatican II. 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).
In reading this biographical study of Ozanam one discovers that this faithful laymen knew how to overcome the temptation of separating faith from life, faith from culture, faith from social commitment. I am a member of the Church and a member of the University … Charity fills out what justice cannot accomplish by itself. These two convictions of Ozanam reveal a vibrant spirit and are essential elements of his faith and profession, elements that led him to understand that the social and moral questions of his day demanded structural reform. Pope John Paul II points out a similar path to the laity today.
This is not an attempt, as in many biographies of historical persons, to present Frederic as a precursor of the actual currents of thought and action. Rather this is an attempt to state and highlight the fact that in the history of Christianity there have been believers who lived their faith in the midst of the world and that Christian lay people today cannot live out their faith unless they place themselves in the midst of contemporary realities, realities different from other eras, but realities that should lead them to think and act in a different way. This is the evangelical dynamism of faith. This is what John Paul II asks of lay Christians today: A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle (Christifideles Laici, #3).
The author presents us with a man of faith, Frederic Ozanam, fully immersed in the political, social and economic situation of France during the turbulent nineteenth century. Frederic lived his enlightened and militant faith. At times combative, as we see in his lectures as a university professor and the articles that he wrote for different publications as well as the organizations that he established.
In this academic work, Sister María Teresa presents herself as she is: a Daughter of Charity, a professor of history and a catechist of young people. Her intention: that young people today will also overcome the temptation to live their faith on the margins of history. She is aware of the fact that this temptation continues to be strong for many lay Christians, especially for lay Vincentians. Ozanam is a witness who can enlighten the path to overcome this temptation.
As a Daughter of Charity the author is aware of her responsibility to encourage lay Vincentians. This work is her practical contribution to this task. The multi-faceted person of Frederic Ozanam is presented as being bound up with the spirit of Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian spirit resounds in his way of understanding Christ and the poor, wealth and poverty, justice and charity, and the need to be near and with the poor. It was no mere coincidence that Saint Vincent was declared the patron and protector of the Society that Frederic established. It was also no coincidence that Frederic and his companions should meet and collaborate with Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity.
I want this publication of Sister María Teresa to be seen as a way of collaborating with the efforts of aggiornomento which the Society that Frederic established, the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, must continually engage in. A permanent reflection on the life and action of its founder and the simultaneous reading of the signs of the time are the paths pointed out by the Council for all authentic renewal. The incorporation of new generations of young people, with a keen sensitivity of justice and charity and social commitment toward those living on the margins of society, the incorporation of Christian volunteers inspired by Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam who sincerely love the Church community and the People of God incarnated in the world … this incorporation will urge on the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul to live their vocation as lay Christians in and for the world of today.
Frederic Ozanam has been examined and has obtained the classification cum laude. We are speaking about a total examination with regard to love, God incarnated in the poor, the hungry, the ill, the imprisoned, foreigners, etc. (Matthew 25). As an excellent disciple of Jesus, Frederic always acted consistently, conforming his life to the demands of the Kingdom. In the gratuitous and universal love toward the poor Frederic saw an intimate bond with the suffering Christ.
For this reason John Paul II desired to honor him by raising him up on the altar. As his heroic virtue became known, the Pope invited us to discover, in this servant of God, his personality and his work and so Frederic is placed before us as model of Christian life.
Yes, he is a person who must be discovered. As one becomes more knowledgeable about his writings, his life and his works, one notices an outstanding and noble person who is both attractive and captivating. A sensitive person with regard to truth, beauty, good … he is loved from the first encounter. At times it is necessary to dust off and exhibit such Christian models
• who through their example, help us discover the importance of human action;
• who allow us to move beyond meanness and differences of opinion;
• who allow us to discover them as God’s instruments who move the strings of transcendence and time and history;
• who allow us to recognize that we are human beings and not machines … persons with an eternal destiny, called to collaborate with God in creating a more just and more human world and to do this in the midst of the mediocrity and stagnation of the material world that surrounds us;
• who allow us to recognize that we are human persons and that following their example we can be freed from trauma, bitterness, fear and discouragement when confronted with the contradictions and evils of this world … that following in their footsteps we can become witnesses of God’s love for people, thus sharing with others our joy, love and hope.
In his day Frederic Ozanam was a captivating and prophetic voice to a multitude of people who were disoriented. He was the precursor of the role of the laity in a Church that was stagnated by the Revolution, in a Church that he loved and whose flaming torch he desired to see raised once again on high. He was a deeply spiritual man, filled with a love of God … nothing superficial or inconsistent. He was consistent during his youth and level-headed in his maturity, responsible in his studies and responsible as a university professor, kind toward his friends, and firm in his convictions even when faced with hostility. He appeared as a “graft” on the revolutionary tree that Vincent de Paul had planted in the seventeenth century, thus producing a “new branch” and contributing to the growth of the Vincentian Family. This was done at a time when the Vincentian Community of priests and brothers and the Daughters of Charity were concerned about re-establishing themselves and defining anew their mission and their place in a new society that was beginning to form. By a decree the French Revolution had suppressed the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, another decree reconstituted the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, but the Ladies of Charity would have to wait another fifty years before they could engage in ministry as an organized group.
It was during this time that Frederic appeared in history. He was greatly concerned about the future, especially with regards to the social question. He was concerned about the problems that arose at the beginning of the industrial revolution, problems that had severe consequences on those living on the margins of society: the proletariat. With a vision of the future and long before the words of “class struggle” would cry out from socialist voices, Frederic planted the need for a new understanding of the concepts of work, salaries, workers organizations, etc. In light of Marx and other socialists, Ozanam appears as a buffer between the two antagonistic groups who would soon become engaged in a “class struggle” … a struggle that was drawing near. The two groups are the following: the producers or businessmen and the other, the workers. It is necessary to reconcile their respective interests because modern society is found on these interests. This is not a political question, but rather a social question.
Frederic Ozanam presents some insights that should be kept in mind at the present time: 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 with political and financial crisis through which we are passing, by pointing out that Providence is at hand. Let us not be too solicitous for tomorrow. “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.
We could fall into the danger of viewing Frederic as a “programmer of ideas” and nothing else. Yet Frederic was continually concerned about seeking concrete human and Christian solutions for the oppressed, for workers, and for the poor. He was insistent on this point and in this he was in accord with his country that was seeking similar solutions. Today, following his example, we can take him as a model, keeping in mind as he did, the present historical situation in which we live … thus, with this broad platform, we can expend and consume ourselves with furthering the establishment of the kingdom.
Sister M. Teresa Candelas, D.C. Province of Saint Louise de Marillac April 23, 1997
Chapter 1: SOME BIOGRAPHICAL TRAITS OF FREDERIC OZANAM
A Great Personality of the Nineteenth Century
Frederic Ozanam has become an emblematic figure for various reasons: the influence that he had over the Catholic students of Paris during the years 1831-1836 who wanted to make him the leader of Catholic youth; the strong personality he developed in his maturity as professor, parent, faithful friend; and lastly, the strong impression and great emotion that was caused by his premature death in 1853 when he was only forty years old.
Despite his short life, his work is monumental and was formulated in light of a plan: to make known the truth of Christianity and the role of the Church as a permanent leaven in the saving work of God’s plan for the human person. Yet as he himself said: The Christian era has not always been one of golden years, rather there have been many years of iron.
Beauty, goodness, and truth did not always stand out in this era. In the midst of his surroundings, Frederic labored to have a new society emerge from the ruins.
During the upheavals of the nineteenth century distinct currents followed the French Revolution. “New ideas” with regard to government, religion, society and the economy were circulating and institutions were changing to form a class conscious society. It could be called the century of revolution, or perhaps better, the century of transformations.
True the turbulent years continued. Amid the ebb, flow and great swells of the tides, it was difficult to know where one could find an anchor. The incipient liberal and democratic ideas , together with the rooted ideas of deists, gallicans and Voltaireans, caused a tremendous moral collapse. A wave of atheism rose up and advanced with force and violence. At that time it was believed that atheism would strangle every manifestation of religion in France.
This was the stage on which the life of Frederic Ozanam unfolded. In the midst of this situation, the task of great Catholics, like Chateaubriand, Lacordaire, Montalembert (personal friends of Ozanam) had to be difficult. Ozanam joined their ranks in order to make a contribution to their activity on behalf of the Christian cause.
He constantly placed his clear and sharp intelligence at the service, the defense and the search for the truth. His heart, filled with a love for God and humanity, was capable of moving people and arousing admiration in thousands of disciples who came to listen to him. This occurred first in Lyon where he created an unprecedented chair of commercial law. In the position as chairperson, he moved beyond legal questions and, his students, the future businessmen, received norms that would help them in the exercise of their profession as they applied these principles to major social issues. In order to do this in the classroom he had to digress historically and philosophically. He spoke about to his friends in letters he sent them. For example, in a letter dated January 15, 1840 that was sent to Perssoneaux and a letter dated February 15th of the same year sent to Lallier, he said: I encroach even upon social economy, your old domain. I endeavor to inspire my listeners with a love and respect for their profession, and consequently the observance of the duties which it imposes. I tell them hard truths, and their benevolence willingly gives me the right to do so . Later on, in the classrooms of the Sorbonne, he will be avidly listened to.
He was the son of Jean Antoine Ozanam and Marie Nantes, natives of Lyon. He was born on April 23, 1813 in the city of Milan (a city under French influence) and was the fifth child of the family. Thirteen other children were born to this marriage but only three survived: Alphonse, who was ordained a priest at the age of eighteen, Frederic and Charles, the youngest whose studies led him to follow his father’s profession: medicine.
The Ozanam home was deeply Christian, a place where fervor and charity rivaled one another, and this lesson was communicated with great effectiveness to the children. This reality marked the life of the Ozanam children. Frederic passed the years of his infancy in Lyon where his family had reestablished themselves after their return from voluntary exile (the result of political and economic matters). His first studies were undertaken at the Royal College of Lyon where he received outstanding grades and where his literary talent made a profound impression on both his peers and teachers.
At fifteen he gave his parents a gift of his poetry, revealing not only his literary skill but also his deep love for his parents. At eighteen, a magazine, L’Abeille Francaise, gathered together his first essays that explain his need to consult the great masters of knowledge. To know a dozen languages, to consult sources and documents, to know geology and astronomy tolerably well, to be able to discuss the systems of time and space of peoples and of the learned; to study, in a word, universal history in all its extent, and the history of religious beliefs in all its depths --- that is what I have to do to fully express my ideas .
From then on his desire for knowledge was insatiable. During that same year (1831) he wrote a pamphlet refuting the ideas of the Saint-Simonianism.
He was encouraged to struggle against the trends opposed to Christianity and to close the path to whatever danger might threaten it. His father was happy to see the direction that his son’s life was taking but he also wanted him to build a future for himself, a future that his father felt could only be secured through the path of Law. Therefore, in the autumn of 1831, he was sent to Paris.
Student in Paris
The time he spent in the French capital (1831-1836) was a very fertile period. Here the principal outlines of his life were sketched. He divided his time between the study of law and the study of literature. He took advantage of the great libraries that the Parisian capital offered. His love of science, together with the practice of an active faith, show us a tenacious and tireless young man, a precursor of the charitable social action which would let him draw near to misery, to touch it with his hands and to clarify its causes.
He arrived in the capital fifteen months after the July revolution with its aftermath still smoldering. Priests were threatened with anti-catholic disturbances. The “City of Lights” was plunged into anti-religious shadows. The people were stirred up and had burned the churches. Intellectuals openly sought to destroy Catholic thought by teaching atheist, deist and voltairean doctrines in their classes. The Sorbonne, which formerly had flown the flag of Catholic orthodoxy, now became the locus for an anti-clerical campaign.
Without a doubt, the young man, Frederic, felt quite disoriented. He wrote about this in a letter that he sent to his cousin Falconnet: Separated from those whom I love, I feel within me --- I know not what childish need to live beside the domestic hearth, under the shadow of a father and a mother --- something of an unexplainable tenderness which dries up in the air of the capital. And Paris displeases me … for me this city without restrain, where I find myself lost, is Cedar --- is Babylon --- is the place of exile and pilgrimage; Sion is my native city, with those whom I have left, with its provincial kindliness, with the charity of its inhabitants, with its altars standing, and its beliefs respected .
Young, with little money in his pocket but with an incalculable and profound wealth, he felt taken aback and lost in the great city. He lived an ardent religious faith, which at the same time was both belief and action. So in less than three years he was able to accomplish works of outstanding importance. He was fortunate to meet great friends with outstanding personalities. This enabled him to temper the intense nostalgia that he felt. His fellow countryman, Andre Marie Ampére, deeply Christian, discovered during the first moments of their encounter the rich spirit of this young man from Lyon. He offered him lodging in his house and cared for him as though he were his own son. He offered him his friendship and his fine library. He also introduced him into the discussion groups of Count Montalembert where during his lengthy meetings he had the opportunity to meet such great figures as Ballanche, Alfred de Vigny, Eckstein and even Victor Hugo. Other important Frenchmen offered him their friendship, for example, Lacordaire, Lamennais, and Chateaubriand, whose work The Genius of Christianity, published in 1802 began a religious revival in France..
We cannot forget Father Marduel who would be so helpful to Frederic that he would exclaim: I would have been ruined and consumed by sadness if I had not met him.
In these meetings he had his first contact with social justice and the misery that the people of Paris endured and which echoed frequently in the subjects of conversation during these prolonged encounters. Ozanam tells us about his impressions: We talk about literature, history, the interests of the poor class and the progress of civilization. We breathe the fragrance of Catholics and fraternity which enables us to feel the burning of his spirit and brings with it a sweet satisfaction, a pure joy, a soul filled with the spirit, filled with resolutions and courage for the future.
The disorientation that Frederick Ozanam experienced was also shared by many compatriots who came to Paris. In the name of freedom a terrible war had started which treated Christianity with savage cruelty: the teaching, traditions, and popular statements appeared to be swept away by unrestrained currents. The schools, under the guise of conformity, allowed themselves to be swept up in a wave of rude and arrogant irreligion.
It is in the midst of these young people, “outside the circle of influence”, that Frederic Ozanam lived. He suffered greatly in his own flesh the alienation and loneliness which frightened so many young people who had come from the provinces to live in the great city.
The dangers of this atmosphere of lessened morality only served to energize him. Impelled by his temperament and burning zeal he decided to act. He soon noticed that at the Sorbonne there were many young people eager for spiritual things, Catholic youth with good morals but dispersed and frightened. They are the pearls in the midst of swine, powerless before the great hostile mass and unable to protest against their professors who proclaimed the death of Christianity.
Here we see a great work which, even though he was only nineteen years old, he did not hesitate to undertake. He drew these young people together in order to make them strong and victorious and he opened new paths for them. He dreamed of bringing young people together and forming an association. From Paris he informed his friends about this idea; for example, he wrote to his cousin: You cannot imagine how I long to surround myself with young people who feel and think as I. I know these people exist but now they are scattered and so it is difficult to bring these people together around a common cause.
Unity gives strength. As the members of the group began to increase little by little, he became bold and staged protests against the irreligious professors who took advantage of their position and hurled insults at religion. Frederic Ozanam believed that these young people, passive participants of the educational system, had to undertake a simultaneous campaign of resistance and defense. He wrote to his friends in Lyon: In our ranks which day by day become more numerous, we have generous young people who have consecrated themselves to a lofty mission which is also our mission. Each time that a professor raises his voice against Revelation, Catholic voices rise up to respond. Some of us are united for this purpose. Twice I have participated in this noble endeavor, addressing my written objections to these professors. Our responses, read publicly in class, had an effect on the professors who have retracted their statements and have also influenced those who have listened and applauded us. What is most encouraging about this work is that it not only shows the young students that they can be Catholic but also demonstrates that they can join together in a common cause. They can love religion and freedom and thus move beyond religious indifference as they become involved in serious discussions about important problems.
There is no doubt that Frederic had been chosen to lead these young students who were so attracted to and convinced by him that they placed themselves at his disposal. His cousin, Falconnet, continued to be his confidant: Because God and education have endowed me with some extent of ideas, some largeness of tolerance, they would make of me a sort of chief of the Catholic youth of these parts. A number of exceptional young people give me an esteem of which I feel unworthy; and older men approach me. I must be at the head of every movement, and when there is anything difficult to do, I must bear the burden of it .
In the year 1836, he was granted the title Doctor of Law, a title which he acquired on the strength of his own dedication. The reality of having to work in the area of Law made him tremble and it was only his love of his parents that enabled him to achieve this title. His aspirations moved in a different direction and had a hold on him because of his contact with the intellectual world of Paris.
Frederic Ozanam struggled to keep at the study of law because it put a temporary halt on his study of literature. He believed it was not right to perfect himself in four languages to study comparative literature. As he had promised his parents, he attempted to provide for himself. In this struggle, he spent a very painful year, filled with uncertainty and remorse, continually questioning himself whether his love of Letters was truly a vocation and part of God’s plan. Thus we see him divided, but not frustrated, as he struggles with the desires of his parents and his own preferred work.
We know of his struggle from a wonderful letter that he wrote to his friend Dufieux: For about a month I have worked little, either at an examination in law, or at my thesis in literature that I am preparing; and yet because I desired to divide myself in this way, I have done very little … From another side, I consider that if I had consecrated myself to the exclusive study of law the faculties which God has given me, and the fire years’ stay at Paris which my parents have given to me, I should have been able to acquire a rank at the bar that now I cannot hope to reach. All these reflections agitate and torment me … I am afraid of causing much pain to my dear parents … and yet it seems to be that it would very hard for me to remain confined in the narrow sphere of the court. Is this pride? Is it a vocation? It is an inspiration from above or a temptation from below? All that I have done for five years --- is it reason, is it folly? Oh my dear friend, pray that the good God would answer all these questions which I ask myself every day! It seems to me that I am resigned to do His will, whatever humble part, whatever difficult mission He prepares for me. Only let this will be known to me, and let me be no longer, as I have been, for five years, divided against myself; that is to say, feeble, powerless, useless .
In the autumn of 1836, after having spent five years in Paris, Frederic returned to the place of his birth and with little enthusiasm he took the oath in order to exercise his profession as a lawyer. He litigated cases and drew up documents but never felt comfortable in the environment of complicated juridical work. His father died on May 12, 1837 and he continued to work in the legal profession in order to assist his mother whose financial resources were not sufficient to maintain the house.
His true vocation was teaching and the world of Letters. In 1831 he was presented with an opportunity when Victor Cousin, Minister of Public Education, offered him a position in the Coll?ge de Orleans. Cousin knew Ozanam very well because of his doctoral thesis in Letters.
In 1839 Frederic added a doctorate in Letters to his doctorate in Law when he submitted a brilliant thesis on Dante which showed him to be a specialist in this material. That same year, after a long illness, his mother died and he terminated his commitment to a profession that he was not happy with.
In 1839 he began to teach a course in Commercial Law which was established and funded by the Municipality of Lyon. Throughout the year, day after day, he attempted to instill in his students business doctrine together with the principles of social doctrine. Since he did not have specific material or a concrete program to follow, he did not have to limit himself to the articles of the Law Code and was able to broaden the material that he presented in the forty-seven lectures. In these lessons he not only touched on the general principles of law but also the situation and conflicts that occasioned the birth of the industrial proletariat as well as the obligation that Christians have to attempt to mitigate and soften the clash that was drawing near.
Professor at the Sorbonne
In January of 1842 he substituted for the famous professor, Fauriel, at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was approved as the first choice and obtained the position as an adjunct in the faculty of Letters. Later he would become a professor of foreign languages. The joy of being able to carry out his profession in such a distinguished environment filled him with enthusiasm, yet at the same time he was fearful of not being able to live up to the standards that the circumstances required. Therefore he was very conscientious in the preparation of his classes, so much so that he became exhausted. Nevertheless this would prove to be a great opportunity for him to exercise his apostolate.
As always he confided his impressions to his friends. This time to his friend and companion François Lallier: Here I find myself in a most serious and solemn opportunity: the entrance into a new and uncertain career; the beginning of life once again; the achievement of my vocation. There are painful and difficult separations from business and other interests. All kinds of dangers awaited me on the morning after my installation. In a word, I find myself lacking in so many ways that it would scare the spirit of someone with mediocre energy. I know I will be blessed if this feeling of weakness makes me lift up my eyes to heaven, to the one who gives strength. Up until today I have asked for the light to know his will. Now that it seems to have been revealed to me with signs reasonably easy to recognize, but I am now reminded that I lack the courage to fulfill the will of God.
At the age of twenty-seven he began this new phase as a professor at the Sorbonne with more professors than friends since no one of his age moved directly into the different faculties of the University. His appointment in Paris contributed to his sense of happiness and wholeness. These first years were marked by concern and uncertainty about his position being renewed since he had been given this assignment for one year. Thus he made every effort to obtain the necessary reputation by meticulous (perhaps even excessive) preparation of his classes.
After much thought and consultation he clearly saw that his vocation was not the priesthood or the religious life. His place was among his own. He felt indissolubly connected to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, convinced that it was irreplaceable. His mission was that of the “lay apostolate” and this apostolate would be fulfilled in the context of marriage. On June 23, 1841 he married Amelia Soulacroix, the daughter of Jean-Baptiste Soulacroix, rector of the University of Lyon.
He met this young woman, twenty-one years old, at a New Year’s party and after a one year relationship decided on the vocation of marriage. This woman filled the emptiness of his heart, an emptiness that was produced by the death of his mother. A guardian angel to console my loneliness and whose smile is the first ray of happiness that I have in my life after the death of my poor mother.
This marriage of Frederic Ozanam made him broaden his relationships in the university environment. He had just settled in Paris when, with the recommendation of his father-in-law, he was received by distinguished families, among them: the family of the Inspector General Péclet, the family of Rouselle, the rector of the Academy of Paris; the family of Leclerc, the Dean of the Faculty of Letters; Sauzet, the president; Lamartine, the politician; Mignet, the Secretary of the Academy of Morals and Political Sciences. These different people, among others, led him to alternate among the different groups for conversation and dialogue.
These supports and their letters of recommendation were necessary in order for him to obtain the renewal of his position at the University and to obtain his own chair as professor. He was finally appointed Professor of Foreign Literature.
The last period of his life was divided between his work at the University, historical research, his family and the advancement of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul. He struggled constantly with these duties as well as with his collaboration with the Catholic press to instruct others about political-social matters. He divided his time in such a way that he was able to be faithful to the tasks that he set out to accomplish.
He spoke about his plan when he wrote to his father-in-law: I am united with the Church and the University. I have willingly consecrated my life to these institutions and will be faithful as long as I honor God and serve the State. I will reconcile these two duties despite the difficulties that might be presented to me.
Frederic Ozanam made a great effort to reconcile these two objectives: to serve the Church and at the same time, serve the University. There at the University he was at the head of the list among Catholics.
Through his correspondence we discover a great personality, a man who in his daily life had ups and downs, suffered and rejoiced, planned for a future, a man of great faith. He valued friendships and defended his friends no matter what the cost. He drew people to himself and invited others to join him. He was a true and faithful friend. He was attentive to details, perhaps to the extreme. He described his trips and his surroundings with great detail but above all he showed a great tenderness when dealing with his family. He used finely crafted words delicately when referring to his wife and his little daughter, Marie. He had a great reverence for his parents, and reveals his ability to sacrifice his career and his profession in order to please them.
He worked to the point of exhaustion. He needed countless hours to prepare his classes, to visit, and to write long letters encouraging the members of the different Conferences. His health was fragile and he was aware of this but it did not prevent him from spending himself and wearing himself out for the sake of others.
When he returned to Lyon after having obtained his Law degree, he established a Conference in the city of his birth and from there he continually wrote to the members of the Association, informing them about the progress of the new foundation, giving them instructions and encouragement.
He was an important person in the nineteenth century but the totality of his greatness and depth was not discovered by the majority of his contemporaries. His person remained semi-hidden in a century where great personalities made themselves seen and heard by the publicity of their actions. The Romantic Age, pompous and reflective, would be strongly contrasted by the work of Frederic Ozanam, a work that was carried out in silence and with humility that he not only practiced but that he counseled his collaborators and friends to also practice.
His friend François Lallier commented about this standard of humility that pervaded the actions of Frederic: Only one thing can derail the progress of our society: to fall into a form of Pharisaism by which we would be proclaimed publically in our good works … Above all else our fall would be even more certain if we forget the humble simplicity that from the beginning prevailed in our meetings, that made us love humility and provided us with the grace for our growth. But be forewarned: be careful not to allow humility to become a convenient pretext for carelessness. Our motto should be: do not become noticed or allow yourselves to be seen.
The clarity of Frederic’s intelligence was broad and analytical. Even though Lyon was his native city we do not find in him some of the traits that are generally attributed to people from that area. He did not possess a distant reserve or a liking for business. Nevertheless we find other characteristics or qualities described by a compatriot and an author from Lyon, Bauman: The seriousness of his beliefs, a great curiosity for that which is universal, an impassiveness that at times was nothing more than an appearance of the victory of the will over his excessive impulses. He united cold reflection which leads to discourse and action with a warm enthusiasm that gave the strength of conviction to his words. His example attracted many people. His mystical contemplation was harmonized with a practical sense and a genius for organization. The soul of Frederic Ozanam, a native of Lyon, knew how to synthesize all these tendencies which at first sight appear to be contradictory. In conclusion, his was the union of an active spirit with a great burning faith --- the two poles of the genius of Lyon.
Frederic Ozanam was a clear sighted genius with regard to the future. He knew how to interpret events and cast solid foundations in the confusion of the times in which he lived. There are individuals who become lost in lamenting the fact that “the days of yesterday were better”. He saw and acted. He inserted himself in the world and there, in the midst of the world, analyzed and sought solutions that today continue to be points of departure. He struggled between liberal and social tendencies but knew how to accommodate and impel action to the rhythm of his life.
At the young age of seventeen he writes to his friends, counseling them about their way of acting: We cannot renounce the century in which we are now living. Today the mission of a young person in society is serious and important. The spectacular to which we are called is great and it is wonderful to be part of such a solemn era. I am happy to have been born in this era when perhaps much good can be done.
We cannot confine Frederick to a specific area of knowledge. He was not a born historian and he did not leave a specific philosophy. He was not a jurist or an economist by profession. Nevertheless it is clear that he can be admired for his broad culture and vast knowledge of Letters, of languages, and above all, of Medieval History. He researched the Church’s action in a civilization which at that time was somewhat obscured and followed the Church’s activities through the centuries, especially the thirteenth.
He spent time researching diverse aspects of knowledge. All of this he placed at the service of faith and the truth in order to demonstrate that the Church was the most faithful guardian of truth and throughout the centuries, against all odds, remained as firm as a rock.
In the official list of courses beside the name of Frederic Ozanam the title “Foreign Language Course” was changed to “Theology Course”. When he became aware of this he laughed and after he concluded the class he said: Gentlemen, I do not have the honor of being a theologian but I have the good fortune of believing and being a Christian and I desire to place my whole soul, my whole heart, and all my strength at the service of the truth.
He never turned aside from this way of acting in serving the truth. From the time of his youth, with the help of Father Noirot, he resolved a religious crisis and made a vow to God to consecrate his life to the service of the truth which had brought him peace. He never betrayed his belief, not even when the Minister of Public Instruction, Villeman, a professor at the Sorbonne, wanted him to refute in a newspaper in Lyon accusations concerning the University and its rectors, reproaches that in some way were justified. Frederic Ozanam formulated in writing his idea of justice which resulted in his loss of his position in the Normal High School. But he would not go against his principles even though some authority tried to lead him in that direction.
Death surprised him with an unfinished work yet it can be affirmed that he had done everything without any ambition for a better destiny but also without abandoning the combat and it is here that we see the secret of his greatness. Within and without he was a Christian, positioning himself in a supernatural arena through things most natural. In public and in private he always knew how to walk in the path of God.
Frederic’s Spiritual Life
The spiritual life of Ozanam is revealed to us in many writings and testimonies. They are fascinating. His friends and the persons closest to him were convinced that he was extraordinary, a saint. Paul Lamanche, thirty years after the death of Ozanam, wrote: I have not known anyone who had a soul like his except our Lord, Jesus Christ. Paul Claudel, in a poem entitled Feuilles des Saints, compares Frederic’s writings to the beautiful and supernatural light that shines forth from the sun and then flows into the cathedral of Saint-Jean in Lyon (like the light from the setting sun that shines through the rose window): so the marvel is the radiance that moves through the words that Ozanam wrote on Good Friday 1851: the light is shed on every stone in the cathedral of his life. He lived in a radical way the mission of Jesus’ disciples: to be light and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). He made the light shine on people so that seeing his good works, they might glorify their Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
The spirituality of Fredric Ozanam penetrated his whole life. We can say, without any fear of being mistaken, that his life was illuminated by faith, a simple faith, a calm faith but nonetheless a strong faith. His faith was not reduced to the acceptance of a compendium of truths, but consisted of emptying himself. This, in turn, strengthened him in the task of constructing his own personal history according to gospel criteria: works of transformation through love. In his way of life we see a deep love and faith which constituted the plan of his life, a passionate and profound life, though short. For those of us who did not have the fortune of knowing him personally, it is difficult to come to an understanding of his appearance since no image reflects how he really was. The image made by M. Janmot in 1833, a famous artist, did not capture Frederic’s intimacy or the enthusiasm that transformed and illuminated his face. He only captured a meditative aspect that reveals both a serious and intense man.
The heritage he received
On April 23, 1853, the day Frederic celebrated his fortieth birthday, he offered a prayer of thanksgiving inspired by the Canticle of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38, 10ff), The Prayer of Pisa. This hymn to God brings to mind the spiritual heritage he received from his parents: God has given me the grace to be born in faith. He was in Pisa recuperating from an illness which had continued throughout the winter months but now he found himself feeling a little better and this gave him some hope.
His father, Jean Antoine François Ozanam was a member of a family that in the seventeenth century had settled in Dombes where he received a conscientious secular and Christian education. He married Marie Nantes, the daughter of a businessman in Lyon, and established a home in Milan where he practiced medicine with a true evangelical spirit. This rivaled his wife’s family who were also distinguished Christians in Lyon, tested during the reign of Terror in 1793. It is in Milan that the fifth child of this couple will see the light of day: Frederic. Italy and Lyon marked his life and work and this may explain the dual tendency that characterized his spirit, on the one hand delicate and sensitive to all that is beautiful and on the other hand, positive, pragmatic, and deeply rooted in faith. As a result of his family’s spirituality, Ozanam is born religious. The search for that which is infinite, the desire for that which is above, and the need to refer everything to God were the natural sentiments that guided him in his natural piety. He was always nostalgic when calling to mind his small native place, preferring studies about it to the study of Law in which, as a loving son, he received first honors. Religion and the Fine Arts, Christianity and Literature define Frederick Ozanam. His main concern was to reveal religion glorified though history.
When Ozanam entered the world, even though he found himself in an environment of faith, a revolution had changed the course of history and with that had also changed the situation of the Church. After the Concordat of 1801, a period of ecclesial restoration was initiated which resulted in a surprising religious resurgence that continued for three quarters of a century. This period was characterized not only by an intense spirituality but also by the development of action and the search for the Christ who is incarnated in every person.
In fact, during the period of 1815-1914 an extraordinary dynamism of French Catholicism was developed. The Church of Lyon was a clear exponent and privileged witness during this time. Because of its elevated position it became a point of attraction for the French Church. After the persecution, the Church was revitalized and the torch of faith shone with all its purity. This situation was the fruit of a collective work that was carried on by distinguished personalities, including people on the altar and others not so obvious to human eyes. Frederic Ozanam was joined with and formed part of this communion of Saints, members of the mystical Body of Christ united by the Spirit. The attitudes of a profound spirituality joined to a tireless charity were never lost in Lyon.
At the beginning of the 1980’s a book written by Poupard XIX siècle, siècle de graces (The Nineteenth Century, a Century of Graces) appeared in Lyon. In this book reference is made to holy people, the saints of Lyon who were contemporaries of Ozanam. Surprisingly they all knew one another, were joined together by bonds of friendship, family and collaboration; they walked on the same ground, were members of the same parish, Saint Nizier, and on more than one occasion went up together to La Colma to pray to Our Lady of Fourviére. One constellation of priests, martyrs, mystics, founders of congregations embarked on a common project: Marian devotion and a determination to put an end to the evils and misery of this world by confronting social problems in a new way. We mention a few of these people: Claude Colin, Pierre Chanel, Pauline Jaricot, Saint Thérese Coudere, Marcellin Champagnat, Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney. Today Church historians tend to highlight the lives of anonymous faithful as the true authors of this “rebirth” of the People of God.
Great was the quality of life of these persons who gave being to Frederic Ozanam. An elevated spirituality, a religious sentiment that was both independent and bold, an uprightness in behavior and work, a simplicity and an innate goodness: such was his heritage. In the beautiful prayer of April 23, 1853, Frederick gives thanks to God for this heritage: Before I was born you gave me the greatest gift when you formed the heart of my mother. You made this holy woman so that she would bear me in her womb. On her knees I have learned reverence and in her glance I have seen your love. Through the dangerous times you have communicated with the Christian soul of my father … who in spite of everything persevered in his faith and maintained a noble character, a great sense of justice, and a tireless charity toward the poor. When I had the misfortune to examine his bills I discovered that a third of his visits were made with no hope for payment. I have to say that he loved his work and took pleasure in that which is beautiful and magnificent. He had read the Bible of Calmet and knew Latin in a way that many professors cannot even begin to understand. Thus the first one of your gifts: to have given me such parents and even more, you gave them the secret of providing a good education to their children.
We could conclude: “like father, like son” and we would be certain in saying this. But it is also true that he had to confront a society filled with atheist, deist and voltairean ideas that were moving forward with violence and force. In his day it could be believed that every form of religion in France was drowning. His religious process was not only dependent on the place but also on the reaction to this environment where he was being prepared to become a mature and free person. With daily effort the torch that he had received shone more brightly.
The infancy of Frederick Ozanam was a decisive stage in his journey to discover his spiritual vocation. It was the time to confront the reality and initiate the beginning of a discernment process. A vocation is not achieved unless one previously enters into the process of personalization. In a broad sense it seems that he quickly discovered what he wanted to be and, even though in the beginning he was somewhat confused but firm, he set out on the conquest always attentive to the Lord’s designs for him, totally open to the will of God.
Following his experience step by step, we know his indecisiveness, anxieties and doubts. His first steps were developed in a very familiar atmosphere.
It is said that as a child he always had a pleasing demeanor. Very soon he stood out because of his precocious intelligence. From the years of his infancy he was always very precise, calmly facing every trial, a basic characteristic of his life: the defense of truth. At the same time he possessed an acute sensitivity and a deep compassion for the poor and the needy. At the age of seven because of a weak constitution, he became gravely ill and came close to dying. His long convalescence revealed his docility and spirit of sacrifice. He himself analyzed and critiqued the dominant characteristics of his personality. In a wonderful letter to his friend Auguste Materne he examines his life and describes its psychological details. He judges himself harshly and calls himself an angry, disobedient and precocious child: At a young age I became furious, stubborn, and disobedient. When I was punished I rebelled against the punishment. I was precocious and a glutton and ideas moved around in my heart and my attempts to reject these thoughts were in vain.
In October of 1822 at the age of nine, he entered the Royal College of Lyon where he received his primary and secondary studies. School life marked the first stage of his development. He immediately began to distinguish himself with his great spirit, the clarity and the precision of his style of writing and was outstanding in the area of Letters. Here he refined his temperament and through his contact with his professors and peers he learned to overcome his laziness: My laziness cries out and my pride roars.
One of the highlights that marked his life was the celebration of his first Communion on May 11, 1826 when he was thirteen. The resolutions that he made on this day helped him to change. He became most industrious and more obedient, even though he said: I became more scrupulous.
At the age of fifteen he entered a stage of crisis in the areas of identity and religion, his first existential crisis. It was the stage in which he abandoned his childhood beliefs in order to embrace the faith of an adult. This produced a turn-around that sent his human existence whirling. But with some suffering he confronted this situation with confidence. I feel attached to religion which I admire and find reasonable but I am also aware of my lack of fervor and charity which causes me pain but my confessor tells me that this form of temptation occurs frequently in a person of my age.
As he matured, his Christian world vision changed as a result of the experiences of his life. He began to speak about ultimate questions and his relationship with God. He began to know revelation through the experiences of his own life which now were different from those that occurred during his childhood when faith was an ideology. This faith did not free him from his impulses but rather this spiritual change helped him to integrate these impulses into his personality in such a way that he was no longer a slave to them but able to orient them toward a foundational reality.
The study of speech and philosophy led him to search the questions and reasoning and theses about the why of his faith. He doubted and suffered and described all of this in the following way: I have known the full horror of the doubts that eat away at my heart day and night … the uncertainty of my eternal destiny does not allow me to rest. This crisis stressed the always fragile system of his youthful security. It began to crack, and the time for a decision arrived, the time to assume an active role in society. In the midst of seeming stagnation he made a vow to God to consecrate his life to the defense of the truth as though the truth were given to him as a possession.
The desire of his spirit was to do good through means of the truth. A spirit of truth and a tenacity to live a profound existence led him to accept the consequences of his own actions. He was a young man of faith who possessed a great ideal. Salvation and stability came to him through Father Noirot, his spiritual director and professor of philosophy who gave order and clarity to his ideas, until he achieved a state of serenity. As a true Christian educator, Father Noirot knew how to read the lived experience of young people and offered possibilities. He knew Frederick and had a great affection for him. He described him in the following way: Among the 130 young men he was the youngest in the class. He was a chosen soul. Nature had endowed him, in a wonderful degree, with graces of mind and heart. Affectionate, sympathetic, ardent, devoted, modest, at once lively and serious, hating no one, despising falsehood … never was there a more popular student among his fellows. In the words of one of them, they formed in his regard a circle of love and respect .
His correspondence, which he exchanged with his friend, Auguste Materne, almost daily during the year 1830, is of great interest because it introduces us into his life, his spiritual life as well as his intellectual life. With regard to his faith, his friends shared the same doubts and this group relationship provided him with a balance during this time when he was at the crossroads of his life: I doubted but nevertheless I desired to believe.
The abbot Noirot was there and little by little the spirit of Ozanam returned to a state of calm. The excursions that they took together in the area around Lyon affirmed the young man in his spirit of belief and stirred up in him the vocation of an apostle. Later Ozanam wrote: he put order and light into my thoughts .
Ideals of the past were replanted and attitudes toward life were restructured. During this process he experienced everything, light and shadows, moments of confusion and experiences of true freedom. At the end of everything, what he was dealing with was the search for his plan of life in history, a discernment of God’s concrete plan for him (later this priest would be God’s mediator in his request to marry the daughter of the rector of the University of Lyon, Monsieur Soulacroix). After this crisis through which his spirit passed, he became clear about his task in the world and in a letter to his friends Furtoul and Huchard he communicated his objective to defend religion. On January 15, 1831 he wrote: Shaken some time by doubt, I felt an invincible need to attach myself with all my strength to the column of the temple … I will stretch out my arm. I will show it as a Pharos of deliverance to those who are floating on the sea of life, happy if some friends will group themselves around me … Catholicism, full of youth and strength, should rise all at once upon the world; it should put itself at the head of the new-born century to conduct it to civilization, to happiness! .
Christianity informed all his thinking. He was a profound Christian with his friends and companions, as well as in his studies, his writings, and his social and political commitments. The God of Jesus Christ shows in his most insignificant actions and in every event whether public or private. He undertook a tremendous work to demonstrate the truth of the Catholic religion through the ages of religious and moral beliefs. This was to become an ambitious plan of Christian apologetics that he developed through the comparative history of religions. Without a doubt he was inspired by the work of Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity, which was published in 1802.
Practices of piety and prayer life
The key that enables us to discover the secret of his interior life which was totally integrated is found in Frederic’s daily reading and meditating on the Bible. His wife gives us this testimony: Despite his grave illness he never put aside his time of prayer. I have never seen him go to bed at night or rise in the morning without making the sign of the cross. In the morning he reads the Bible in Greek and meditates for half an hour. During the last days of his life he attended Mass on a daily basis and found support and consolation in doing this.
Before beginning his classes he knelt down and asked God for the grace to do nothing to obtain applause but to do everything for the glory of God and the service of the truth. He prayed to obtain success because he saw the seal of God on the path on which he had committed himself.
The prayer of Frederic Ozanam outlines the course of his interior life. In the early years he had a tendency to be discursive in prayer, but little by little he moved toward a simpler more contemplative style of prayer, a prayer which was more profound and which involved self-surrender, a prayer open to the action of God. Weary and afflicted, his serious illness became a true way of the cross. On April 23 in a prayer inspired by the canticle of Isaiah he recounted the blessings he had received from heaven. He was strengthened to offer sacrifice because he came to the conclusion that God did not want his material possessions or his intellectual achievements or his loved ones but only wanted him; he concluded his prayer by saying: Here am I am Lord. The last years of his life were years of moral and physical sufferings. In his beautiful prayers written in Pisa and Antignano he experienced great joy as he recalled God’s blessings and the graces he received and so he raises up a prayer to God’s goodness … This was the moment of total abandonment, the sacrifice of his great work, the moment of separation from everything and everyone whom he loved.
In his correspondence he frequently spoke about his prayer life. He asked for prayers and offered his prayers to others. He often had recourse to prayers of petition, intercession and thanksgiving. These prayers allow us to penetrate his religious world, a world of angels and heaven, a certain imagination that flowed from his rich Italian heritage but also an affirmation of an act of faith in the reality of an invisible world and eternal life.
When he stood before the mysteries of life, such as birth and death, he wrote wonderful meditations that flowed from the depths of his heart. We see an example of this in the letter that he wrote to his friend Lallier on July 17, 1843 on the occasion of the death of his sister. In accord with the will of God he said: it is God who has visited us.
Before the birth of his daughter on July 24, 1845 he lived hours of fullness and in an explosion of joy he turned toward God and rendered homage to God for such wonderful moments: I am a father, a guardian, a trustee of an immortal creature … who has a soul made for God and for eternity.
In the autumn of 1843 he passed through a phase that is without a doubt essential for his spiritual life. This is the time of conversion and purification. God enlightened the selfish reasons of his concerns. He wanted to help his wife grow in perfection and he wrote her a beautiful letter, a letter that is essential to deepening our knowledge of the spiritual life of Ozanam.
He reflected on the development of his life and their two years of marriage. He recognized that his selfishness had diminished their love of God and in a letter that he wrote to his wife on October 13, 1843 he said: I have not used well your favors or your graces, instead of loving in my life the One who gave you to me I have sought only myself in you.
These personal transformations were inscribed within the broader universal perspective of a sacramental life and an ecclesial piety. Ozanam frequently visited his confessor, now Father Marduel, and found refuge in the Eucharist to which he had a great devotion. He received Communion almost daily even though this was not customary during this era. He enjoyed the times he was able to participate in liturgical acts, the Lenten preaching of Father Revignan and the solemn Masses at Notre-Dame in Paris. The paths of prayer opened to him the transcendence and the power of God. As he listened to the Word and contemplated the mysteries of faith, his faith and his hope of being a witness to the light were enriched.
The spiritual and intellectual life of Frederick Ozanam is noteworthy because of its unity. In the twenty years of work that transpired from the time he overcame his doubts of faith and vowed to God to dedicate his life to his service, nothing and no one could make him turn from this forward movement. He preserved his personality, his desires, his weaknesses and the enthusiasm of the years of his youth.
In a text dated April 15, 1851, Good Friday, he reveals to us the secret of the unity of his human and Christian life. One cannot help but be moved by the words that are found in the Prologue of Volume I of his complete works: Civilization in the Fifth Century.
In the midst of a century of skepticism God has given me the grace to be born into the faith …. Later surrounded by the noise of an unbelieving world … I knew the horror of these doubts that gnawed at my heart … I was given the light and from then on I believed with a calmer faith because I received a rare and infrequent blessing and I promised to consecrate my life to the service of the truth that gave me peace. Twenty years have gone by since then. As I grow in years, that faith has been better realized and has become proportionately dearer to me. I have found its worth in great sorrows and in times of public danger… It is full time to write and keep my eighteen year old promise to God .
The offer of an alternative: the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul
Frederic Ozanam, animated by a burning zeal, proposed to the young people of his time a novel refuge where they could satisfy their thirst for giving: a Catholic organization of the lay apostolate with a universal and permanent out-reach. He discovered a formula that in some way would channel their youthful energy and alleviate the situation of the most marginated class, the poor.
A society founded by and for young people
Frederic called primarily young people and thus awoke in them a generous commitment which he was convinced was in the depths of their heart despite their confusion. This generosity he saw as a trait that particular to young people and so this outreach to young people would be a permanent and original characteristic of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. Young people were the founders of this organization, not only people who were young in age but people who were young and filled with enthusiasm, dreams, ideas and above all young people who wanted to engage in the practice of charity, which served as a basis to preserve their youthfulness.
In the preamble of the Rule which remained in place until the time of the Council we read: The youthful spirit is characterized by dynamism, enthusiasm, projection into the future, the generous acceptance of risks and a creative imagination. Above all young people are adaptable and this appears to be their basic characteristic which is more important than the adaptation that can be transformed into a sclerosis when it has lost its desire to continue to change. Give to these young people the means so that they might enter the Society, understand them, dialogue with them and with reciprocal patience give them things to do. All of this is necessary so that these young people might take up their proper place in the Society and so that we might remain faithful to the origins of the Vincentian tradition of Ozanam.
The Rule of May, 1975 established: It is recommended that that each Council create a Youth Commission that is charged with encouraging young people to participate in the Society, with creating new Conferences and in promoting new activities. The Youth Commission will always be represented on the Councils on which they depend.
Further on it is stated: Each one of the Youth Commissions will be a consultative group in their respective Councils. All of these Youth Commissions with be directly or indirectly represented on the National Commission … In reality, young people are freer and do not have the same responsibilities toward family and home which often bind our members and oblige them to dedicate themselves to other interests … Young people, open and unprejudiced, tend to hold on to that which they first encounter and so it is important to offer them a firm foundation so that they can continue to build in a way that the winds and the floods cannot move them since they have built on solid ground.
Despite the fact that its founders where young university students, they did not hesitate to place themselves at the service of a mature man, forty years old, married and a professor, in order to share the wisdom of his experience. Bailly, director of the newspaper La Tribune Catholique, became president of the Society during its first eleven years of existence, that is, until it was more organized and consolidated. Other young people began to join them and even though they were not many and they supported and committed themselves to this society.
Bailly indicated this in his circular letters: Our Confrerences, in the beginning composed of young people, have grown everywhere with a great number of men advanced in the practice of every form of good work (Circular Letter, August 14, 1841). The spirit of perseverance and permanence characterizes Christian charitable societies: A common expression of ours seems very appropriate: do not cut down old trees to plant new ones because this would sacrifice that which is certain for that which is doubtful. Therefore leave the new ones to grow without uprooting the old ones. It is true that the new, filled with vigor, are a guarantee of the future. The older trees protect the new trees and generally provide them more shade than fruit (Circular Letter December 1, 1842).
How the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul were established
The development of Ozanam would not have been complete if his faith had not led him to commitment. To reject a commitment is to reject the human condition (E. Mounier). As a believer and without any hesitation, Ozanam said: “this is not the world that God and we desire”. He followed the example of Jesus who not only dedicated his life to the salvation of humankind but also invited others to collaborate in the task. He assumed the commitment of a believer as one who was grasped by God himself, used his intelligence and organizing ability and began his “work” by inviting others to commit their lives in an organized way. Thus the conferences were born. The letters that he wrote during the five years he resided in Paris as a law student (1831-1836) reveal the state of his soul. Written in the fervor of his youth, he speaks about his evolution which was not very promising in the beginning. He felt alone and the corruption that surrounded him caused a feeling of terror. Therefore he needed to be part of a group in order to counteract the situation in which he found himself. His zealous generosity inflamed him and he wrote: the land is cold and we, as Catholics, are called to provide a bit of warmth that does not now exist. We are the ones who must return to begin like the martyrs.
These young Christian students had one passion, Christianity, the Church, the defense of this beloved and venerated institution against the violent attacks of the spirit of the time. With a gift of firmness and charity he applied and put into practice the Pauline counsels: be on you guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). During his stay in Paris as a student, beside his university classes, Frederic attended the meetings of the group Les Bonnes Etudes (Conference on the Good), a group that was led by Bailly which in 1832 was transformed into the Conference of History. In this environment Frederic saw his deepest aspirations fulfilled. Zealous to help young people who, like him, felt uprooted from their families, he thought of gathering them together in an association. These concerns he communicated to his cousin: I want to form a group of friends who will work together in the field of science but do this guided by Catholic thinking.
A young Saint-Simonian, Jean Brouet, offered him the opportunity to do this when he presented him with a challenge during one of the meetings of the Conference of History. He contrasted Christian action in antiquity with the lack of action at the current time, stating that this would lead to the extinction of Christianity. This was the spark that gave momentum to the charity of this fiery young man who was filled with the love of God and a love for the most needy sisters and brothers. The distant voice and the example of charitable persons from his native city (Lyon), the turbulent agitations of the Saint-Simonians and the example of his charitable parents set him in motion and Fredric reached out to the poor, seeking to unite himself to them and others in liberating action.
At the beginning of this association, Frederic, as well as his friends, had no intention of resolving the social action question. Rather their objective was to advance in the Christian life. They wanted to become secure in their faith and demonstrate through good works that Christianity had not died. In the shadow of Bailly, a man mature in years and experience, the first six young students began their journey. Ozanam’s desire to expand the group was communicated to his cousin and confidant in a letter: I want all young people of like mind and heart to join together so that they might undertake charitable action. I want to see one large charitable association formed in this country to alleviate the condition of the lower classes. I will explain to you what we have done in this regard in Paris during these years as well as in the past.
Frederic spoke about the origins of the conferences in the inaugural address that he delivered seven months before his death at the first meeting of the conference of Florence. You see before you one of those eight students who twenty years ago, in May of 1833, gathered together for the first time in the capital of France and under the protection of Saint Vincent de Paul … We felt the desire and the need to preserve our faith in the midst of various attacks from the different schools of false prophets. It was then that we said, “Let’s work! Let’s do something in conformity with our faith! To be true Catholics means we consecrate ourselves to that which is most pleasing to God. Let us aid our neighbor as Jesus Christ did, and let us place our faith under the protective wings of charity.” United in this way of thinking, eight of us joined together … Yes, for God to bless our apostolate one thing was lacking: works of charity. The blessing of the poor is the blessing of God. God had determined to form a great family of brothers in order to carry on this good work. Therefore we cannot be called the true founders of this association since it was God who desired it and established it.
This language is common to all founders. They feel overcome by God in their initial plans and ideas with regard to establishing some association or congregation. We might call to mind here the words that Saint Vincent de Paul spoke to the Daughters of Charity in the conference of June 14, 1643 when he explained their origins: I did not think of it, neither did your Sister Servant nor M. Portail. God thought of it for you. We can say, Sisters, that he is the Author of your Company .
Frederic Ozanam discovered that the surest way to preserve and maintain a lively faith was to serve those most in need.
In the beginning a Daughter of Charity
On the same afternoon that Frederick was taunted by the enemies of religion, he and his friend, Le Taillandier, brought some firewood that they had reserved for the winter to a needy family. This was an heroic act, but it was an individual action that lacked organization. Bailey put them in contact with a Daughter of Charity, Sister Rosalie Rendu, who was distinguished for her service and commitment in the neighborhood next to the Latin Quarter, the place where these young men lived. This was the area known as Mouffetard. From this admirable and simple woman these men learned the meaning of generosity and openness to all forms of human misery and suffering. From her house all forms of guidance and missions of service came forth and these young men would move through the streets of the neighborhood as true messengers of charity. Sister Rosalie guided them and provided them with the addresses of needy families which enabled them to begin the process of distributing alms. Together with the good things, these young men shared their sincerity and youthful creativity through personal, friendly and fraternal visits.
The character and strong Vincentian bond of these conferences of charity is without a doubt due in part to the first encounters with this Daughter of Charity, Sister Rosalie, who in her person and work faithfully reflected the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul.
This Daughter of Charity lived in Paris in the first half of the nineteenth century and people were amazed at the lively witness of her love toward all. She had contact with the rich and the poor, with young people and elderly people, with the emperor and the humblest person living on the margins of society. She led Ferederic Ozanam and his companions by the hand and taught them how to approach the poor. No one came to her without receiving assistance, guidance and consolation. Close to every form of misery and need, her heart understood the meaning of suffering and thus won over everyone. She was the incarnation and reflection of the Vincentian spirit: To see and contemplate Jesus Christ in the suffering members of his body, the poor.
The members of the conferences collaborated with Sister Rosalie during the time of the cholera epidemic. When fear had gripped the population she organized the conferences in all the neighborhoods of Paris to assist those afflicted with this illness and through her zeal became an example, especially in the 12th arrondissement of Paris.
Sister Rosalie and many other Daughters of Charity have said: these conferences are the mature fruit of revolutionary reflection on Vincent de Paul. In the misery and the abandonment of the poor, Frederic Ozanam and his companions came to discover, like Sister Rosalie, that the poor are the sacrament of Christ. As the theologian J. Moltman affirmed: The poor, besides being the beneficiaries of our services, are the latent presence of the crucified Lord in the world. Christ and the poor are one and the same.
The influence of Sister Rosalie held some weight in the beginning of the conferences in Frederic’s intimate circle. After two years, LePrévost proposed splitting the conference for the purpose of extending their charitable works and establishing the conference in the parish of Saint Suplice. Before the discussion began it was enough to say that this idea came from Sister Rosalie … that in itself proved to be decisive. Thanks to her the expansion of the conferences grew until the words that Ozanam spoke prophetically were fulfilled: The world will soon be enclosed in a net of charity.
Beginning with six young men they soon numbered fifteen and very soon after a hundred. In one of the conferences in Paris, in the parish of Saint Etienne du Mont, it was necessary to consider dividing the conference because of the large number of members. Reflecting on this, Frederick wrote Bailly: I believe that the time has come to expand the sphere of goodness. It appears to be good to divide the numerous conferences into sections.
Despite the cost of this first separation, they were divided into four conferences and took their name from the parishes where they would begin to serve: Saint Philippe du Roule, Saint Sulpice, and Notre-Dame Nouvelle (these conferences were in addition to the already established conference in the parish of Saint Etienne du Mont). From Paris they went to Nimes and Lyon … little by little they became established throughout France. The establishment of the Kingdom, the work of God, multiplied: it was like the yeast that a woman took and mixed with flour until the whole batch was leavened or the mustard seed that grew into the largest of plants.
From the beginning Saint Vincent de Paul was the inspirational figure of the conferences of charity and he was chosen as the named patron of this work. The first eight members placed themselves under the protection of Saint Vincent in the church at Clichy, the first parish in Paris where Vincent ministered.
They participated in the procession and carried on their shoulders the relics of their illustrious patron. Frederic explained the reason for placing themselves under Saint Vincent’s protection: A patron saint is a model. It is necessary to make every effort to act and accomplish works like this; to take Jesus Christ as a model as he did. It is a life that is to be perpetuated. From his heart we seek encouragement and in his intelligence we seek light. He is a support and a protector in heaven to whom we owe a twofold veneration of imitation and invocation. Saint Vincent de Paul is to our advantage because of the proximity of the time in which he lived, because of the infinite variety of good works he inspired and because of his universal mission.
In choosing Saint Vincent as patron, Ozanam placed his work in a relationship to Jesus Christ, a faithful servant of the Father’s plan who was consecrated and sent forth to bring “Good News” to the poor. Centuries before Saint Vincent had proposed Christ as the patron of his charities. Thus we read in the Rule for the Confraternities of Charity in Chatillon: Since, in all confraternities, the holy custom of the Church is to propose a patron, and since the works gain their value and dignity from the purpose for which they are performed, the Servants of the Poor will take for their patron Our Lord Jesus and for its aim the accomplishment of His very ardent desire that Christians should practice among themselves the works of charity and mercy. This desire He makes clear to us in His own words; “Be merciful as my Father is merciful,” and in these words: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat … I was sick and you visited me … for what you have done to the least of those, you did for me” .
From the beginning the conferences of charity were very clear about the ends that were to be pursued and the conferences attempted to fulfill these ends as faithfully as possible.
As he gathered his friends together in order to serve the poor, he set before them three objectives: to support one another, to strengthen their spirit and life of faith in an environment of atheism and militant anti-clericalism, and to give example to the life-giving good works of Christianity.
Little by little other implications would appear as the conferences of charity became more organized. He frequently wrote that the conferences should not be dependent on the ecclesial hierarchy: we are to be profoundly Christian and at the same time we are absolutely a lay association.
It was also evident that the society was to have no political affiliations since it was seen that these could become an obstacle to the expansion of its work. In a discourse which he delivered in Livorno, he explained his thoughts: The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has never meddled in politics and partisan politics is absolutely excluded. Thanks to God we have always kept our distance from civil discords. We have only one objective: to sanctify our members in the exercise of charity by coming to the aid of the poor and providing for their corporal and spiritual needs. We have had four civil governments during the past four years and our Society has not lost its special character as a charitable society, respecting all people with no animosity toward anyone.
Frederic took advantage of every situation to explain the ends and objectives of the Society. When his friend Cournier founded a new conference in Nimes he wrote him: The principal aim of the Society is to form a group or association of mutual encouragement for young Catholic men, a group in which they will find friendship, support, example, an extension of the Christian family in which they grew up and matured …. Later the strongest bond is the beginning of true friendship and charity, and charity cannot exist without reaching out.
But he wanted this charity to be lived internally in the heart of the Conference before projecting this charity outward in external works. He continued to speak about this in the same letter to Leon Cournier: Our Association has been established primarily for our intentions and so if we find ourselves beneath the roof of the poor this is more important for us than for them, because we are there to become their friends.
With the passing of years the objectives were modified; that which in the beginning was pure assistance among the members, would change and three years later more importance was given to the social function to which the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul could contribute. Above all he wanted the Association to serve as a brake for the conflict between two powers, the conflict between the poor and the rich which because of selfishness on both sides had the potential to inflict a terrible wound on all involved. Thus he wanted the conferences to work in such a way as to disarm the hatred that he saw arising in both groups in an attempt to better the people. This idea entered into the very being and soul of Ozanam and his friends. His correspondence from that era, especially during 1836-1837 repeatedly revealed this notion: Help us then to grow, to multiply, to become better, gentler, stronger, for as the days increase in number, evil is added to evil and distress to distress. The political question is giving way to the social question, a struggle between poverty and wealth, between the selfishness which seeks to take and that which seek to keep. Terrible, indeed, will be the clash of all this selfishness, if charity does not intervene, if she does not mediate with all-powerful love between the poor who have the strength of numbers, and the rich who have the strength of money. With such merciful ends in view it is not surprising that Providence inspired you to found our Society, nor that it has developed under your auspices .
These conferences were well received at one time despite the fact that they were developed in an anti-clerical and hostile environment where harsh criticism of the Christian religion was an everyday occurrence.
Many Christians saw in these conferences a means to intercept and mitigate the consequences and outcomes that the beginning of the Industrial Revolution brought with it. Many felt their conscience was eased by helping those young fearless students who knew how to move forward with boldness and create that which many others found impossible to accomplish.
Twenty years later, Frederic, in the assembly at Livorno which occurred in May 1853, expressed these ideas so that they might serve as an example for his Italian companions. He also wanted to see what was done in Paris broadened and extended to distant places. He wanted to see charity spread abroad with the same strength and convictions as was present at the first official gathering of the association in May 1833 at the house of Bailly at Petit Bourbon Saint Sulpice, no. 8. The exact date was not known and in 1880 when the establishment of the foundation was officially put into writing, the day of the first meeting could not be recalled.
The principle ideas of the assembly are communicated to us by Frederic in the inaugural discourse of the Conference: The first members of the Conference, when they went up the stairs of the house of the poor, when distributing bread to a family in tears or when they went to the school for abandoned children, when it was known that they were true friends of the poor they found not only tolerance from those outside their circle but also respect and favor. In this century if good in many places is corrupted then those who consecrate themselves to bettering the lot of people and lessening the burden of the needs of those suffering children of Adam whose heads are bowed low … these individuals must be respected and are deserving of praise, honor and respect. In France during the tragic days of 1793 altars and churches were plundered but there was no hesitation in proposing Saint Vincent de Paul as a benefactor of the human race. Allow me to say this even thought I do so with a fear of sounding irreverent: in light of the good that is done for people the impious will forgive people for loving God.
Like every work of God this Association did not have some well elaborated plan from the beginning but over the course of time the plan was slowly formed and perfected and the association grew. None of those who participated in the origins of this group could foresee the results that would come or its growth throughout France and beyond. This Association continues to provide refuge to those who in any way want to make their love of God effective and concrete for their neighbor.
The creativity of Frederic Ozanam
The creativity of Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the charitable Society of San Vincent de Paul, is very significant since he began a secular movement of evangelization and charitable assistance. He was the precursor who announced the importance of the works of the laity which later would be discussed and addressed in Councils and encyclicals. The Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, supported this form of lay movement.
Frederic acted with prophetic vision and knew how to take advantage of the opportunity that was presented to him because of the era in which he lived. As Pope Paul VI said, he knew how to read the signs of the time and interpret them in light of the Gospel. One hundred years after the death of Frederic, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the urgent need for this apostolate that was initiated by him and the Vincentians. In the Constitution on the Church it is stated: the laity are called there (in the world) by God so that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs, it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs (Lumen Gentium, 31).
It should be recognized here and made clear that first of all, this association was a pioneer in the modern lay apostolate of evangelization and working in the midst of the world; second, the work of visiting the sick poor and people in need in their homes was not something new in the history of Christianity. From the time of its foundation the Church lived out this charity and viewed this as one of its essential elements. Charity came before human rights. The first Christians dedicated themselves to the alleviation of the needs and miseries of those who were poor and this was a ministry that was proper to deacons. This ministry, however, produced little results because of a lack of organization and multiple obstacles.
In the fifteenth century, the spirit of the great charity of Saint Bernardine of Feltre brought together seventy-two nobles from Vicenza who weekly visited the poor and fought against usury through the establishment of the monti di pi?ta (a type of charitable lending-establishment).
It should be pointed out that these charitable activities were deeply rooted in the city of Lyon from ancient times. Lyon was a commercial center and the locus for all types of industrial activities that brought together a constellation of farm workers who gained access to city life but had no support and often lived in very inhuman conditions. This state of affairs was criticized by the Saint-Simonians who used this situation to mock Christianity. Eventually it was the Christians who took charge of this situation. On the other hand, under the Old Regime, Lyon had been the city of alms: the task of distributing alms was created in 1531 and organized by a deaconess in honor of the first deaconesses of the early church. Their visits were halted during the Revolution of 1789 but their primary purpose was to come to the aid of the great number of starving people, thin and pallid and feeling faint, who disembarked the ships and headed for the city. This work was continued under the title of the Hospice of Charity.
It is also known that during the seventeenth century there was a failed attempt on the part of Saint Francis de Sales to establish a congregation for this purpose. Very soon after the initiation of this new group they had to confine themselves behind the walls of a monastery: the Visitation Missionaries. Vincent de Paul had more success with the establishment of the Confraternities of Charity and later the foundation of the Daughters of Charity. Despite the lay character that he wanted to impose on them and the privileges that he was able to receive, nevertheless this Company is connected to the Church though vows, constitutions and a life in common.
The Society of Charity that Frederick established did not demand the profession of religious vows, or specific devotions, or some determined lifestyle. It was not led by the clergy but by laymen who had a very clear objective, namely, they wanted to evangelize those who were ignorant of the faith and wanted to do this through alms that were brought to the homes of these people.
During the time when Frederic was President of the Conferences in Lyon a problem with a certain spiritual dimension was placed before the members: the manner and way of developing the Society. Here Ozanam saw a danger that this association could place itself under some form of ecclesiastical leadership and slowly become absorbed by some of the religious congregations that were well-known during that era. Such an action might be praiseworthy but contrary to the objectives of the Conferences. Thus, an agreement was reached and it was determined that: Beginning with the next General Assembly the President of the Society will be the presiding officer and not the priest. The priest will honor the meeting with his presence.
In the second point of the same session it was stated that: The end of the Society is above all else to encourage and spread the Christian spirit among young men. The unity of intention and prayer are indispensable and the visiting of the poor is a means and not the end of our Association.
Charity was the means employed by this lay apostolate intending to Christianize an unbelieving world. The French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century shuffled all the strata of society, especially the poor where the image of religion was absolutely discredited. The preaching of the doctrine of the God of reason and the rights of the human person led to discord and a confusion of ideas that became widespread, invading above all the humble classes. The image of the priest and the religious was also discredited, many religious congregations were dissolved, and in many places they were rudely and violently rejected.
Ozanam knew how to take advantage of this situation and was able to substitute the layperson for the religious. This was something new. We could say that charity became secularized so that lay messengers were able to bring a ray of hope into those situations, in those places where the ravages of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution were evident and the proletariat was greatly exploited because of poverty and ignorance.
In reading and re-reading the Conciliar teachings with regard to the lay apostolate, we see how a century earlier Frederic Ozanam incarnated in his life and works this doctrine, namely, charitable action is the distinctive element of the Christian apostolate: in every era [the Church] is recognized by this sign of love, and while it rejoices in the undertakings of others, it claims works of charity as its own inalienable duty and right. For this reason, compassion for the needy and the sick and works of charity and mutual aid intended to relieve human needs of every kind are held in highest honor by the Church (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8). The laity can exercise the apostolate of like toward like. It is here that they complement the testimony of life with the testimony of the word. It is here where they work or practice their profession or study or reside or spend their leisure time or have their companionship that they are more capable of helping their brethren (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 13).
Ozanam gave an example by not limiting himself to coming to the assistance of those in need. He also engaged in the Christian apostolate through the spoken and the written word, through his teaching profession and through his rigorous writings in the areas of Medieval History, the Franciscan poets, Dante, and the philosophy of Saint Thomas Becket. Reflecting on all the different forms of service, he moved beyond mere material assistance and instilled in people faith, hope and love, believing that in this way the establishment of the Kingdom of God would be most effective.
This association reflects the Conciliar doctrine as it responds to the movement of the Holy Spirit and extends its apostolic mission: An indication of this manifold and pressing need is the unmistakable work being done today by the Holy Spirit in making the laity ever more conscious of their own responsibility and encouraging them to serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 1).
His last days
If Milan, Lyon and Paris were cities of great important in the life of Frederick Ozanam, Marseilles was the city that would receive his last breath. On September 8, 1853 this was the place where an exemplary Christian life in every aspect slowly came to an end. This event was marked with a Marian sign, a happy and providential coincidence that on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Frederic gave over his soul into the Father’s hand.
Giving up teaching
Around Easter, 1852, Ozanam’s health began to deteriorate. A grave illness began to consume him and a change of atmosphere became necessary in order to reestablish his health. At the end of that same year, the Minister of Public Instruction, Fortoul, a former colleague from the College of Lyon, entrusted him with a literary mission in Italy, “a commission of services” --- a great pretext to soften the “bitter pill” that separated him from the world of teaching. He proposed to Ozanam that he continue his work on the Italy of Dante and Francis of Assisi in a place that he considered his second home and that he accept this as a gift which at the same time was a way to conceal the gravity of his situation. Frederic at that time was thirty-nine years old, and had achieved the heights of French academia as a result of his chair of Foreign Literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. But he was touched by death. Tuberculosis undermined his body and during the summer of 1852 it was recommended that he rest at midday.
Separated from all his teaching responsibilities, he now dedicated his time to writing. His brother, Charles, ten years younger and a famous doctor, pointed out to Frederic that it would be good for his health to be near the warm spring waters of Eaux-Bonnes located in the Pyrenees in eastern France near Lourdes. Frederic remained there until the middle of August and began to feel much better. With great joy he visited the small town of Saint Vincent’s birth and savored all the places of his holy patron’s childhood. He sent a branch of the tree in whose shade Vincent found refuge and where he prayed before a statue of the Virgin when he was a young shepherd boy … he sent this as a relic to the Council of Paris.
In the company of his brother, his wife and daughter, he visited Saint Sebastian during the month of October and despite his health he toured and studied. On November 19 he took advantage of this opportunity to meet with the members of the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul that was recently founded at Buglose (it was established in the autumn of 1851),
On December 4, 1852, Agapito Sancho, president of this conference, wrote to D. Santiago Masarnau (founder of the Conferences in Spain). Among other things he said: We had the pleasure of being visited by Mr. Ozanam, Professor of Literature in Paris and a member of the Conference of Saint Germain. He was overjoyed to be surrounded by brothers and very pleased to be informed about the present situation and the progress of our Conference. This visit occurred because he was traveling for health reasons but as the weather here became worse he returned to Bayonne and was unable to participate in any of our meetings.
Frederick in his famous letter written from Burgos to his brother Charles on November 19th explained his stay in Burgos in the following way: It was raining very hard, like a violent hurricane, when we left the cathedral. The streets were impassable and we decided not to visit the rest of the city today. We did, however, walk through the Plaza Mayor and visited its curious shops. I saw the house of El Cid, the arch of Fermán González, the Count of Castile, and we had an interesting visit at the house of a woman where I met one of the founders of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Burgos. Amelie found old song-romances and bought mantillas.
In the same letter he spoke about his devotion to Our Lady. As he did on other pilgrimages he prayed in the cathedral and expressed his love to the Virgin in a tender and humble manner: Good Virgin, through whose intercession such miracles have been wrought, obtain something also for me and for mine. Strengthen the life of our tottering bodies. Build up to heaven the spiritual edifices of our souls .
Later, in a letter dated February 5, 1853, the General Council of the Confraternities of Paris confirmed the good news that Ozanam had shared with them from Burgos, the warm reception he received and the progress of the Conference. He also wrote to them about the wonderful bonds of fraternity that he saw being established among the members.
A fruit of Ozanam’s trip to Spain was his brilliant treatise, A Pilgrimage to the country of El Cid, which constitutes his literary testament. He died a few weeks after writing the last chapter.
Last days in Italy
After having spent the night in San Sabestian, Ozanam arrived in Bayonne on November 24th and continued his journey to Marseilles where his mother-in-law was waiting for him. She joined Frederic and his family as they traveled to Italy. Frederic, with both legs swollen, traveled for another twenty-five to thirty hours. He delighted in the Mediterranean landscape which appeared to him to be in full splendor. They traveled by boat from Genoa to Livorno and after fourteen hours they arrived in Pisa on January 10, 1853.
He enjoyed the time spent in this city. He worked, visited the libraries and art galleries and when the weather was good took long walks. He wrote and encouraged the members of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul that were established there and helped the members organize a conference in Tuscany. The swelling in his legs forced him to rest and he was not able to accomplish all that he had planned.
On April 23, 1853, the day of Frederic’s fortieth birthday, he wrote his last will and testament. In it we are able to discover a summary of his life. In one of the paragraphs he summarized and professed his love for the Church and his desires for those whom he loved to also persevere in the faith: I die in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. I have known the difficulties of belief in 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 … My supreme prayer for my family, my wife, my child, and grandchildren, is that they will persevere in the faith, despite any humiliation, scandals, or desertions which may come to their knowledge .
The same day Frederic lifted up to God a prayer based on the Canticle of Hezekiah. He placed himself in the presence of God and reflected on his life, his successes and miseries. He made a critical judgment of his works and omissions. I said in the midst of my days: I shall go to the gates of death. I sought for the residue of my years: I said, I shall see the Lord in the land of the living. My life is swept from me and is rolled away as a shepherd’s tent. My life is cut off as by a weaver … I do not know if God will permit me to understand his will. I know that I complete on this day my fortieth year, more than half a life. I know that I have a young and beloved wife, an enchanting daughter, excellent brothers, a second mother, many friends, an honorable career; my research has in fact reached the point that it could serve as the basis of a book of which I have dreamed for a long time. I know also that I am attacked by a deeply-seated and serious malady, which is all the more dangerous in that it probably means a complete collapse .
After he affirmed all the things that he had received from God, he continued and asked: Must I leave all these good things which you have given me? Lord will you not be content with only a part of the sacrifice? Which of my disordered affections must I sacrifice to you? Would you not accept the holocaust of my literary pride, of my academic ambitions, or even of my research plans in which perhaps was contained more pride than zeal for the truth? If I sell one half of my books and give the proceeds to the poor, if I confine my activities to the duties of my official position and devote the rest of my life to visiting the poor, teaching apprentices and soldiers, Lord, will you be satisfied and would you leave me the happiness of growing old by the side of my wife, and finishing the education of my child? Perhaps, my God, this is not your will at all. You do not accept these self-interested offerings, you reject my holocausts and sacrifices! It is written at the beginning of the book that I am to do your will and I have said: Here I am, Lord! I come. If you call, Lord, I have no right to complain. You have given me forty years of life … If I recount to you all my years of bitterness, it is because of the sins with which I have stained them. But when I consider the graces with which you have enriched me, Lord, I recount to you all my years with gratitude in my heart. If you were to chain me to a bed of suffering for the rest of my days, it would not suffice to thank you for the days which I lived. Should these lines be the last that I shall write, let them be a canticle to your goodness .
He gives the impression of one who feels his life is coming to an end, but at the same time we find him in a state of offering that proceeded not from a sense of fatalistic resignation but rather with an attitude that is proper to one who is open to the will of the Creator. In his prayer, called the prayer of Pisa, we discover the degree of maturity that Frederic had attained and his relationship with the transcendent One. This is the moment of total abandonment, the moment of the sacrifice of his life.
As the month of May began, his doctors recommend a place with more sun, a place in San Jocopo near Livorno. His brothers in the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul in Livorno found him a house about an hour outside the city, in the village of Antignano, close to the sea. His illness was progressing in an alarming way, so much so that he was unable to walk. A profound melancholy took hold of him and was reflected in his face and speech. The brothers in the Conference were alarmed and together with his wife they decided to leave Italy in light of the danger of an approaching separation.
As the time approached to abandon his house, Frederic again lifted up his voice in profound and heart-felt prayer: My God, I give you thanks for the afflictions and sufferings which you have sent me in this house; accept them in expiatihtt of my sins. Then turning to his wife: I want you also to praise and bless God for our sufferings. Then taking her in his arms he said: I bless Him for all the consolation which you have given me .
His death in Marseilles
The journey to Marseilles was undertaken in a ship called Industry and after a painful trip they arrived in port on September 2, 1853 and were very happy to be able to contemplate the French coast.
The following days were marked with uncertainty since they were warned that a new stage of deterioration was beginning. On the morning of September 8th his breathing became labored and irregular. About 7:30am he opened his eyes and spoke in a loud voice: My God, have mercy on me. These were his last words. His wife and his brothers from the Confraternities fell on their knees and his brother-priest, Alphonse, began the prayers for the commendation of his soul. The time was 7:50am, Thursday, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, the one whom Frederic loved and to whom he prayed so often during his life. The encounter with the Eternal Truth was for him the end of the journey of a life consecrated to the defense of the truth.
The death notice read: Antoine Frederic Ozanam, Doctor of Law, Doctor of Literature in Paris, living in Paris, traveling through this village. Husband of Marie Josephina Amelie Soulacroix. Son of the deceased Jean-Antonine François Ozanam and Marie Nantas.
On September 9th the testament written in Pisa, Italy, was handed over to M. Joseph Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Meredol, President of the Chamber of the Court of the First Instance of Marseille who in turn gave it to Judge Charles Berger who at that time was the President of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul in Marseille.
At 9:00am on September 13 (some say the 14th) funeral services were offered for his soul. According to his last wishes an autoposy was performed which concluded that the cause of death had been an infection of the kidneys. His body was embalmed and placed in a lead coffin and then his mortal remains were transferred to Paris. On September 15th, solemn services were celebrated at the church of Saint Sulpice. Eminent dignitaries, priests, professors, and many members of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul as well as a great number of people from the general public gathered together for this celebration.
At the request of his wife his body rests in the crypt of the famous church of the Carmelites, Saint Joseph, the Catholic Institute of Paris. Above his tomb are written the gospel words: Why do you seek the living one among the dead (Luke 24:5).
On the front wall is painted the parable of the good Samaritan and on a marble catafalque the following Latin epitaph is inscribed: OZANAM PIENTISSIMUS ADSERTOR TOTIUS CARITATIS VIXIT A XL. M. IX. D. XVI. DECCESIT DIE VIII SEPT MDCCCLIII AMALIA CONJUGI CUM QUO VIXIT ANN XIII ET MARIA PATRI POSUERUNT … VIVAS IN DEO!
Frederic was profoundly mourned as husband, father, brother, friend, companion. Numerous testimonies proclaimed his greatness and holiness. The French and foreign press echoed these sentiments as they reported his premature death. During September and October this was front page news. With emotional and endearing words the press published the life and works of this great Christian and illustrious professor, highlighting the qualities of his heart and his great spirit. His friends, Lacodaire, Ampere, Montalembert … testified to his greatness. His friend, A. Dofieux eulogized him and said that despite the shortness of his life and despite the fact that he was only forty years old, he was mature for heaven.
God was hurried to reward not only his virtues but also the works he accomplished in his search for the truth and a search that became more intense with the passing of time. Never was there a life equal to his … I knew him when he was nineteen and from that time on I have never ceased to love him as a brother. I have seen him practice so many virtues. How patient, how good, how pleasing to all! He was totally involved in giving glory to God and remaining faithful to his friends. Besides being the best of sons, the best brother, and the best friend, he was also a most compassionate and solicitous husband and father. We can sum up his life with three words: prayer, work, and commitment. And so, with a heart that overflowed with love, and with an intelligence that took in everything, he achieved the heights of academia where he found the crown of glory and genius. This is the highest goal of human ambition, but Frederic sought only God and so having arrived at this high point, having reached the peak, he found God.
His friends, the people who lived with him, held him in great esteem and he left them a path worthy to remember, admire and have as a model.
The Second Vatican Council, in the dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, recommended that bishops promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church and give them freedom and space to act while encouraging them to undertake works on their own initiative. Yet more than a century before the publication of this document, Frederic Ozanam, with the support of Bishop De Quelen and later, Bishop Affre, had incarnated a prophetic mission on his own initiative.
On September 8, 1853 his life was extinguished, yet his work continued to expand throughout the world. His lay apostolic activity continues to be a living example that attracts Catholic lay people everywhere.
Chapter 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND HIS SOCIAL COMMITMENT
Through his life and work Frederic Ozanam revealed that the social question cannot be limited to the economic order. Rather it is intimately connected with the moral attitude of people and is bound up with religion. Therefore Christians have to take a position and assume serious obligations and responsibilities. Life ought to be based on the moral virtues, especially those that directly govern human relations: justice and charity. Today everyone, including non-Catholics, recognize that social reform is impossible unless it is accompanied by a moral renewal.
Frederic lived at a time when the concept of the social question began to come into focus. The thoughts expressed in his letters, articles, and other writings appear to be in greater harmony with the thinking of our time than with the thinking of the nineteenth century. In many ways he was a precursor. Though he was only twenty-three we see in him what could be called a prophetic spirit. Frederic defended and made it very clear that social Catholicism was quite different from traditional charity. People were becoming aware of the new situation that was caused by the evolution of society and affected the working class in every aspect of their lives. In light of the effects of the social disorder he resolved to discover its causes in order to seek effective remedies.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution, with its manufacturing organization, had given rise to a new social class, the working class. The members of this group were characterized by complete dependence on a salary that was obtained by selling their physical strength in exchange for work in a factory. In order to obtain work these people could offer nothing more than their strength and found themselves at the mercy of the employer. The old established order, the Ancient Regime that gained prominence during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was greatly altered as a result of the political, social, economic and territorial changes that occurred throughout the nineteenth century --- changes that would affect not only Europe but the rest of the world.
During the sixteenth century manufacturing had become a traditional European way of doing business. Specialized and non-qualified artisans worked together in the same workshop and were supervised by well financed patrons. The organization of their work was adapted to traditional artisan methods. At the end of the eighteenth century mechanization became centralized and so did labor. As a result the workers could no longer see the result of the collaborative effort of their action. Their work was dehumanized and the personal relationship with the employer disappeared. The massive utilization of machinery often made the physical ability and the strength of the operator irrelevant.
Together with a visibly growing population, a massive army of impoverished persons was forming and they provided flexible and abundant labor for the businesses of the industrial revolution. The rural workers were attracted to the cities because of agricultural transformations and the dream of higher wages paid by the manufacturers during the early period of the industrial revolution.
The living conditions were worse in the city than in the rural areas … a peasant could always survive during a crisis through other activities or through the support of the community.
The urban proletariat were obliged to live in cities in very unhealthy conditions: inadequate sewage systems, continual shortage of food supplies, inadequate housing that led to crowding people in basements and attics and resulted in a fifty percent mortality rate among children younger than five years of age.
In the midst of these tragic and sad realities, Frederick wanted to find a solution and wrote to his cousin with whom he shared his plans: We ought to work with enthusiasm and with noble ideals to provide a better future to workers who are crowded together in the large cities, burdened and overwhelmed by unbridled selfishness, poor outcasts of our society that proclaims freedom and equality.
Life in the factories was equally difficult. The usual work day consisted of between twelve and sixteen hours of labor that was extended to both day and night shifts. Children, women and men worked the same hours and the only distinction was the wages they earned.
Even though social conflicts were probably as old as history, nineteenth century society, begotten through the industrial revolution, seemed to bring to the surface a dimension of these conflicts that had not been previously experienced. This new and very visible conflict was expressed in terms of the new social element: liberalism  which joined material progress and the law of maximum profit and then forgot its ethical obligations toward the class that was entombed in misery because they had to sell their physical strength for a wage which became less and less while at the same time the workers became more and more dependent on “free contracts.”
It must be made clear that as Frederic Ozanam became involved in the social struggle he did not take on the role of an agitator but rather at every opportunity he attempted to be a reconciler who united the power of love with the power of wealth and poverty, abundance and misery. He sought Christian reconciliation between both sides, between the poor and the capitalists whom Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, stated were engaged in a class struggle.
Years before the call of Marxism, Frederic, as a professor of Commercial Law in Lyon in 1839, addressed this theme of class struggle and thus revealed his prophetic spirit. The two camps that were spoken about were the employers (owners) and the employees (the workers). He refuted and rejected the idea of state control, a theory that was proposed to confront the believers of the laissez faire policies. Thus this clear thinker attempted to reconcile the respective interests of both sides that form modern society. The political question is opposed to the social question, the struggle between poverty and wealth and selfishness … this struggle will be disastrous if charity does not intervene and become a mediator and if Christians do not respond to this situation with the power of love.
In the historical context in which he lived, Frederic subordinated all his activity to the social question. This was the center of his actions: the struggle for charity and justice. He gave primary attention to these concerns and did so in the midst of a world where the majority of people were absorbed in financial matters generated by the industrial revolution. We cannot say that he was as such a sociologist but he was especially sensitive to the social problems of his era.
It has always been necessary to determine “the how” and “by what means” people can share in the wealth that proceeds from their activity. At the same time justice and oppression were not new concepts. Nevertheless people in the nineteenth century had to confront these problems with a new understanding of history. Industry, during the first half of the nineteenth century, grew in unimaginable proportions. The use of machinery in factories and the affluence of capitalists increased the number of people involved in production. This gave rise to the development of solutions for some economic aspects but completely ignored the ethical-social aspects, as well as the lived reality of the great majority of workers.
In an essay which he wrote at this time Frederic touched on this theme with a clear and concise denunciation: The old school of economists did not know the great social danger of insufficient production. There was no other solution but to strengthen and multiply production through limited competition. There was no other law of work than that of personal interest, that is, the insatiable desire of the owners for wealth. On the other hand the school of modern socialists considers that all evil arises from the unequal distribution of wealth and they believe that they have saved society by suppressing competition, thus making the organization of work the food of laborers and forcing people to exchange their freedom for the new promise of happiness and pleasure. These two systems, one of which reduces human destiny to production and the other which promises a new happiness, lead people along different paths, both of which eventually end in materialism.
As seen by these notes, these aspects did not leave Frederic indifferent. His principles separated him from both liberalism and socialism. He did not, however, exclude any political party or economic system but insisted that these different systems preserve justice and charity.
As a professor he taught Commercial Law at Lyon and in his lectures he took advantage of the opportunity to deal with the delicate question of relations between workers and owners. He spoke with the clarity of an upright spirit and with the conviction of a social Christian … a conviction based on justice and charity. Most of all he spoke from a lived experience of direct contact with people who were poor.
Social Christianity, which was in its initial phase of development, wanted to distinguish itself from traditional charity and not only endeavored to assist the poor but also wanted to prevent social misery in the future through the reform of the social structures of society. Ozanam struggled to defend the principles that were taught by Catholic doctrine. Those principles were: the person of the workers should be respected; workers’ duties to their family and the obligation that this implies should be safe-guarded; workers should be able to fulfill the precepts of religion, especially the observance of Sunday; the physical and moral safety of laborers should be assured in the factory and above all else it is necessary to recognize that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God.
These principles led Frederic to the conclusion that the social question was a moral reality and as such, was also a religious reality. Frederic did not limit the social problem to a conflict between rich and poor nor did he claim that individual charity was anything more than a necessary immediate response to an urgent need.
Duroselle reflected on this in his writings: It is necessary to know how to situate Ozanam’s action within the social framework of the last century. It was a time when workers were unprotected, unorganized, lacking their own leaders, abandoned by government, exploited by the leaders of industry, living in brutal and miserable conditions. They appeared to be resigned to their detestable situation. The objective of Ozanam’s work was to substitute social justice for alms. He proposed to strengthen the faith of people who were members of the forgotten classes through disinterested and fraternal assistance. He engaged in a hidden but effective work of bringing people together from both classes. He realized that this could only happen if rich people, who ignored the poor, came to know in a very real and concrete way the misery of the workers.
It is true that these pioneers began with charity but soon they realized that individual action was not enough to confront the new social-economic situation. During this era only a few people with prominent positions within the Church raised their voices to denounce these travesties. Cardinal Croi, the archbishop of Ruan, in his pastoral letter of 1838 which dealt with the observance of Sunday as a day of rest spoke out against child labor. This was a public denunciation, an attempt to make people aware of their obligations, an attempt to form the conscience of the faithful in this matter that seriously affected the lives of children: In every era school and orphanages have been established for children, works worthy of praise. But what really is the fate of children? Open your eyes and look! These tender plants are required to produce fruit at a time when they can only give forth flowers. As a result of prolonged and excessive hours of labor their budding strength is exhausted and now, unable to exert either their mind or body, they perish like withered lifeless plants. Poor children! May legislators be pressured to extend the protection of the law to these children so that future generations will see that we, so proud of our progress and discoveries, so filled with self-satisfaction, established strict laws to prohibit the killing of children by forcing them to work.
During a time when new philosophical and unorthodox doctrines were being proclaimed, Frederic experienced the need to clarify Catholic doctrine. We see him at an early age engaged in dialogue with utopian socialists, for example, in the Conference of History and later in the Circle of Students. We do not know if he critically analyzed and reflected on the social question or if he engaged in a full study of the means of production and wages, nevertheless we know that his study of law introduced him to these concepts.
In September 1848 Frederic wrote an essary about the origins of socialism and through historical criticism pointed out the dangers posed by these different schools of thought that in many ways were in accord with traditional Christian thought. Their main error was giving new names to old virtues, changing the evangelical counsels into rules and making the ideal of heaven a reality on earth. These “new ideas” often led to confusion especially among those less educated.
Frederic attacked and denounced utopian socialism which proclaimed: The collective ordering of human affairs though a process of cooperation for the purpose of the well-being and happiness of all. Thus production and the distribution of wealth were emphasized over politics.
In France the proletariat were less numerous than in England but their greater sensitivity to political ideas and to social and historical changes provided the social movements with men of profound thought who reflected on the conditions of industrialization and formulated ideal solutions which included experiences in new social archetypes. They not only spoke out against injustice but also put forth plans for future cities.
These groups shared some common elements. In general they preferred evolution over revolution, peaceful means over violent means. They spoke of harmony among the classes rather than a class struggle. In many of their writings we find echoes of Rousseau’s ideas about the innate goodness of the human person. Social change is not focused on the revolutionary ability of the proletariat but on the bourgeois’ progressive conviction and acceptance of the need for change. These groups, however, gave greater attention to their plans than to the means to accomplish these plans.
In 1802 the Geneva Letters of Saint Simon were published. These writing were founded on the principle of each one according to their ability and each ability according to their works.
Sinat-Simon accepted as fact the reality of industrialization. He developed a theory about the ethics of work and was the first one, after Babeuf, to view society as divided into classes: the idle rich (aristocrats and financiers living on private income) and the producers (bankers, workers, business men). He believed that the private property of the producers should be respected but the private property of the idle rich was the cause of the poverty and the inequality that was inflicted upon the workers. For the first time the idea of the exploitation of man by man was expressed. Living in an industrial society meant that politics should be subordinated to the economy and this implied that with the passing of time the State would become extinct.
Saint Simon had a great influence in France and beyond and the bourgeois were most affected. He had many disciples who adhered to his doctrine, e.g., the historian Therry and the philosopher, Auguste Compte.
Charles Fourier was an important follower of Saint-Simon because his theories found great acceptance among the artisans. At the same time he was viewed with suspicion by the proponents of industrialization. He developed a social system that was in harmony with the world of the manual laborers. For him the basis of social transformation was to be found in the creation and proliferation of groups called phalansteries: communities composed of 1,600-1,800 persons who were involved in agricultural and industrial activities. In this ideal society women were fully incorporated into the labor activity of the community and children were involved in a radical socialization process through education. The phalansteries would be the political and economic base of society, substituting for the State and would be established through the philanthropic cooperation of wealthy people.
Among the utopian socialists we mention here Louis Blanc, an ardent opponent of private property who founded National Workshops and Cabet who developed his theory using ideas expressed by Plato and Thomas More. Later all of these ideas would be rejected as utopian theories and in fact would be criticized by Marxist socialists who accused them of substituting their own world of fantasy for reality.
Social dimension of justice and charity
What is new about Frederic’s contribution to justice and charity? He emphasized the fact that the social dimension of these duties is bound up with the transcendent dimension. He believed that charity did not dispense one from justice and justice did not make charity unnecessary. Several times he repeated the words: Let charity fill out that which justice is unable to do alone.
The social Catholicism of Ozanam was radically opposed to liberal Catholicism. Frederic looked for social reform and even though Christianity had a social character that was revealed in so many institutions that were established through the ages, yet it was obvious that the institutions of the nineteenth century were even more necessary because of the changing situation.
Frederic expressed his agreement with regard to the legality of private property and the responsibilities that this implies, but added that this always should be governed by justice and charity. He united justice and charity in such a way that he was led to oppose the socialization of private property that was initially defended by the utopians and liberal Catholics. Basing himself on Thomas Aquinas and tradition, Frederic defended private property because he felt that it made people more dedicated to and more interested in production. This did not mean, however, that private property could be possessed in some absolute manner.
Ozanam defended private property but affirmed there were social implications. People had to be prepared to share what they possessed with those who had less and that nothing was possessed in an absolute manner. Even though in justice people ought to guard their patrimony, nevertheless charity ought to make them willing to dispose of their property in such a way that others might also receive benefits. He endeavored to put aside traditional charity in order to live more fully social Catholicism.
In 1836 the horrific conflict of the new proletariat continued and as a result Christians had an obligation and a responsibility to do everything possible to alleviate this enduring tension. At times Frederic gave the impression of being obsessed with this conflict and with almost identical words he wrote to different people and expressed what could be called the foundation of his social thinking: The question that agitates the world around us is not a question of individuals or a question of political forms, but rather a social question. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash between opulence and poverty that makes the earth tremble beneath our feet. Our duty as Christians is to place ourselves between these two irreconcilable enemies and convince one side to divest themselves of their wealth and fulfill the law of charity and justice and then convince the other side to be willing to accept these benefices. Again, as Christians, we must convince some people to put aside their demands and other people to move beyond their negativity so that equality becomes an operative reality in human relations.
In his letter dated November 13, 1836 this same idea is repeated to the famous artist in Lyon, Janmot, and again in March 1837 to Leon Courniet. Frederick stated that “interests” and not “opinions” are the cause of this division and in the name of justice and charity prays that Christians will place themselves in the middle of this situation so that rich and poor might become accustomed to seeing themselves as sisters and brothers. In this way the barriers that separate them will be destroyed and they will become one flock with one Shepherd. Continuing this line of thought he stated that the love of neighbor demands above all else that one act with justice and move beyond the principle of giving to another what is due. Yes, charity goes beyond justice and moves individuals to voluntarily divest themselves of their goods in favor of the poor. Charity also creates collaborative efforts for social progress and ultimately gives rise to peace between the different social classes. Charity does not measure the cost of sacrifice when the misery of the other is so obvious. Frederic wanted to provoke the wealthy to act with justice and charity in alleviating the needs of the poor.
Ozanam did not discover the social question. Before him there were precursors in this area of social justice, especially in his native city. We can say that they were people who wrote and denounced and placed themselves on the side of the oppressed even though the majority of them were theorists.
Through their pastoral letters, the bishops were the ones who most manifested their concern for the abuses of the industrial revolution. During the Lenten seasons of 1837-1841 Bishop Belmas, bishop of Cambray, denounced the insatiable thirst for wealth that consumes people and makes them sacrifice their time, strength, and health. They become involved in all kinds of activities to increase their wealth and share only the most minimal proportion of their gains with others.
In 1845, Bishop de Rendu, the bishop of Annecy, wrote a report to the king of Sardinia in which he pointed out the ever more difficult situation of the proletariat. He stated: In addition to their ambition for power and glory our society today has acquired an incredible desire for wealth which has led industry to the high point of its influence. At the same time, industry has created a working class that has been gathered together in our cities or in some specifically established place. They depend on management which uses them according to their own needs and the workers must willingly consent to these agreements. This is indeed a most arrogant attitude on the part of industry. If the working class is not the largest group in all places, then it is the most despised in society and it is clear that society is not concerned about them. In pagan societies the workers were slaves and in the Middle Ages they were servants. Slavery was the result of cruel, harsh and inhuman legislation (the pagans were unaware of the law of charity). Feudal law preserved slavery but in a new form and Christian customs supplied for the law’s imperfection. Modern legislation has done nothing for the proletariat. Yes, it is true that it has protected their life in as much as they are men but it is also true that they have forgotten these individuals as workers and have done nothing for their future. The law provides for man but leaves the worker aside.
Bishop Giraud, the archbishop of Cambray, also denounced the law of work. He wanted to clarify the errors of the socialist system that did not include religion or ethical principles in their plans for a better society. In his documents and writings he presented a series of solutions, for example, respect Sunday as a day of rest, put an end to the oppression of man by man and the oppression of the weak because of their sex or age. Confronting the socialist doctrine of the time he compared this doctrine to the gospel and concluded that every theory begins with the gospel, especially in so much as they refer to the material well-being of people.
In presenting these documents we do not want to give the impression that all the members of the French hierarchy shared the same social insights or that they came to the same conclusion when seeking a just solution to this situation. In general, the bishops of this era did not understand the physical and moral harm that the social system inflicted on the workers and did not see structural reform as a remedy for the present evils.
At the same time it cannot be said that the Church closed her eyes to the plight of the proletariat. A pamphlet was published “Is it true the Church is not interested in the social problem?” We cannot respond affirmatively but we can say that a group of lay people went beyond the many theories that were being proposed as a solution and engaged in effective action to change the social situation.
Frederic Ozanam gave bread to the hungry and did not present some plan for the future that was built on dreams. On one occasion he wrote: the social sciences and the reforms that they proposed are not learned by studying books or participating in political lectures. Rather it is necessary to climb the stairs of the homes of the poor, to sit with them and listen, to feel the cold they experience and thus enter into their desolate heart. Only when the poor have been studied in this way, in their homes, in the hospital, in the workshop, in the cities and rural areas, in all the conditions in which God has placed them, only then can we begin to understand them and only then are we able to consider some solution because then we have experienced all the elements of their formidable situation.
Ozanam found support for his social action plan but his ideas were not understood by many Catholics of that era. At the end of the century, with the publication of Rerum Novarum, his ideas and his plan of action were recognized for their importance.
Frederic’s love for the poor
Every Christian is invited to go to Galilee to encounter Jesus. For Ozanam the poor were the place for this encounter, the poor were the gospel, the good news that led him to the Kingdom. In the poor he met an incarnated Christ who transformed men and women, freed them and opened them to saving grace and the gratuitous donation.
The love of Christ encountered in the poor urged Frederic on in his service: Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). Frederic thought and, like the apostle John, considered service a sacred duty: whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
We can say that Frederic imbibed the love of the poor from infancy. His home, his family, was the first school where the poor were treated as the incarnation of Christ according to Matthew 25:40. His father, a doctor, exercised his profession as a true ministry of charity. He healed not only the bodies of his patients but also their spirits. This man used every means to serve to poor. He climbed stairs, stairs that at times led him to the attics of the poor. He became tired and fatigued. He listened to promises of payment for his services, promises that in many cases were unable to be fulfilled. But in these cries of the poor he saw God at work. He clearly understood that in their ragged, seemingly despicable appearance, these poor people were in reality a visible sign of God where one encounters the unique and true criteria for salvation.
His mother acted in a similar way. When we understand the example that Ozanam witnessed we can easily see how and why he became an apostle of charity.
One day during his time as a professor at the Sorbonne, he remembered his parents and said to his listeners: Gentlemen, however vast this world may appear to be, it is yet too narrow for us, for our desires and for our hopes, especially since after a brief while it will have six feet of clay to offer us. It is too confined for our memories of the past, especially for those who had parents who loved the poor and loved us, who spent themselves so that we might be men of good-will .
From his infancy Frederic came in contact with the harsh realities of life and not because his family was in need … in fact his family was able to provide for their basic needs such as food and clothing. Frederic experienced poverty through the patients that his father cared for at little or no cost.
Through these experiences God prepared Frederic to be able to confront and meet the needs of others. In one of his letters he communicated his thoughts about the uselessness of accumulating wealth, including accumulating an inheritance for one’s children. Children who are raised in situations of great wealth are tempted to move though life with their arms folded and they often become lazy: I am filled with thanks to God for having brought me into the world in one of those situations on the border of hardship and ease, which is used to privations without permitting enjoyment to be completely unknown, where one can go to bed with all his wants assuaged, but where one is no longer distraught by the continual clamors of necessity. God knows, with the natural weakness of my character, what dangers the softness of the wealthy or the abjection of the indigent classes would pose for me. I also feel that this humble position in which I find myself has enabled me to serve others in a better way .
Ozanam moves into action
When Frederic was twenty years old he found himself in a different geographical location, but his love for the poor was expressed in the company of other companions from Lyon, in organized assistance, in personal and charitable service toward those in need. This action was framed with a Christocentric gospel foundation and was done in imitation of Christ. In this love for the poor he was an effective instrument in fulfilling the divine command of love and service: you will love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39); whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). His heart was filled with love and he considered love of neighbor a sacred duty in order to achieve his final destiny with God. What can we do in order to be true Christians but consecrate ourselves to that which is most pleasing to God? Let us assist the poor in the same way as Jesus and let us place our faith under the protective wings of charity.
Through his example Frederic demonstrated that the followers of Jesus must opt for him through their relation with the disinherited, not because of their qualities but simply because they are filled will love and cannot do anything else but love. The Christian does not love because the other is loveable but rather because the other is a human person. In a letter written in 1836 he explains to his friends the way of discovering God in the poor: If we do not know how to love God as the saints loved him, that should be without a doubt a reproach to us … for it seems necessary to see in order to love and we see God only with the eyes of faith … we see the poor with our human eyes; they are there before us and we can put our fingers and hands on their wounds and the scars of the crown of thorns are visible on their foreheads … they are our masters and we are their servants. They are the sacred images of God whom we do not see and not knowing how to love God we love him in the person of the poor.
The activity of Frederic Ozanam, his charity toward the poor, was indeed an expression of the theological virtue of charity. His supernatural love of the neighbor was an expression of his love of God. Love and service reached out and fatigue and his own health were ignored especially during the cholera epidemic. On that occasion he organized a group of young people to help those who could not travel to the hospitals. He described this situation in his letters: Entire streets depopulated in a few nights but pardon and grace harvesting all the time with full hands; all the poor people wishing to die in the priest’s arms: then the unheard of homage, the shouts of joy, the flowers scattered beneath the feet of the new Archbishop, His Grace Dr. Sibour, as he made his pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Genevieve. Then again, the gratitude of families, the emotion of the crowd, who were astonished and amazed that young men should, for the glory of Jesus Christ, leave their homes to enter the stricken faubourg, to nurse the sick and bury the dead .
Ozanam wanted to give of himself and this total donation encountered the image of Christ in the poor. He became present to the poor through personal, direct and practical contact, uniting spiritual and material charity. When he spoke about dealing with the poor he continually insisted on personal contact, visits to their homes, dialogue and conversation, becoming aware of their problems and participating in their sorrows and needs.
His Vincentian spirit
The charity that Ozanam practiced was one of accompaniment, a charity that involved a personal commitment, a charity that was respectful and accommodating, in accord with the characteristics of the patron of the Confraternities, characteristics that Saint Vincent often spoke about to the Daughters when he said: Your chief concern will be to serve the sick poor, treating them with compassion, gentleness, cordiality, respect and devotion .
Even though his financial situation was never prosperous, Frederic knew how to save and deprived himself of comforts and things that he might have liked to have in order to assist his brothers and sisters in need. The money that he received from the articles that he wrote as a student, together with the money that his mother sent him, became the source for his charitable assistance. He mother was aware of this activity: The conference to which I belong has voted a little preliminary fund of 15 francs for the poor to pay their debts. I wait anxiously for you to send the 18 francs for my subscription and with Folconnet’s 12 francs, I can make my offering of 4 or 5 francs .
He felt the need to give, to give of himself. He not only gave from his surplus but on various occasions offered to others what he himself needed. His love and service on behalf of the poor was always motivated by self-sacrifice and unselfishness and he recommended and, like the apostle Saint Paul, spoke about this service to others in season and out of season. On August 2, 1848, during the General Assembly of the Conference at Saint-Sulpice, when Frederic substituted for the president Adolfo Baudon who was ill, he stated: Sons of Saint Vincent de Paul, let us learn of Him to forget ourselves, to devote ourselves to the service of God and the good of others. Let us learn of Him that holy preference which shows great love to those who suffer most .
He also congratulated Léonce Cournier and the progress that was being made by the Conference in Nimes: We are still only in our apprenticeship in the art of charity. Let us hope that one day we will become able and assiduous workers. Then, in the different circumstances where Providence will have placed us, we will strive to be like those born more blessed and more virtuous around us, then, when you will share your successes with us, we will reply with ours, and from every place in France there will arise a harmonious concept of faith and love and praise of God .
The charity of Ozanam was based on the evangelical precept, when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). He made clear the difference between charity and philanthropy. From Paris he wrote: Charity must never look behind itself, but always ahead, because the number of its past benefits is always very small, and the present and future misery it comforts is infinite .
Frederic held up the Church as a model of charity … the church has nineteen centuries of doing good and is not concerned about calculating past costs but rather moves out toward the future. Thus the Church is different from other philanthropic associations that come together in assemblies, render an account of their funds, establish relationships and remember past events. Frederic stated that for these organization charity is some type of adornment through which they are able to recreate themselves, but charity is like a tender mother who keeps her eyes fixed on the infant she carries at her breast, who no longer thinks of herself, and who forgets her beauty for her love .
Frederic lived a charity that was contemplative and active, with profound roots in the mystery of the suffering Christ and with a power that enabled him to act in accord with his convictions.
In order to give his affirmations of Catholic faith their full value Frederic became a visitor and a servant of the poor and through his works of charity he became a missionary of the faith among his companions. This was his way of being a witness to Christ in imitation of his patron. He warned people about certain parallels between the proletariat and the slaves of the Middle Ages. Thus for a like evil, a like remedy! He looked at the gospels and centered his reflection on the image of the good Samaritan: The humanity of our day seems comparable to the traveler of whom the Gospel speaks: it also, although it took its way in the roads marked out for it by Christ, has been attacked by the cutthroats and robbers of thought, by wicked men who have robbed it of what it possessed: the treasure of faith and love, and they have left it naked and wounded and lying by the side of the road. Priests and levites have passed by, and this time, since they were true priests and levites, they have approached suffering themselves and wished to heal it. But in their delirium, they did not recognize them and were repulsed by them. We, weak Samaritans, worldly and people of little faith that we are, let us dare nonetheless to approach the sick one … Let us try to probe his wound and pour in oil, soothing his ear with words of consolation and peace; then, when his eyes are opened, we will place him in the hands of those whom God has constituted as the guardians and doctors of souls, who are also, in a way, our innkeepers during our pilgrimage here below, so as to give our errant and famished spirits the holy words for nourishment and the hope of a better world for a shield. This is what is proposed to us, the sublime vocation God has given us .
All of this seemed to be little in light of Frederic’s attempts to encourage, in one way or another, those who were under his influence, but charity began to set their hearts on fire and this love was given its rightful place for it was seen as more important than all the other virtues.
The struggle for structural change
The love that filled Ozanam and that he projected toward the poor as well as his awareness of unjust structures which created poverty, spiritual poverty as well as material poverty, led him to consider a form of assistance and promotion that went beyond anything that was being done by either the State or the Church at that time.
He made concrete attempts to change present structures. With regard to assistances he wrote: We believe in two types of assistance: one form humiliates those who are being helped and the other, respects them. During these difficult times, the government as well as all people who, because of their religious or humanitarian convictions, serve the poor … everyone must choose between these two ways of serving others. Assistance becomes humiliating when it only provides for the earthly needs of people, when it is simply concerned about the sufferings of the flesh, the cries of hunger and cold, cries that create feelings of pity even in those who help animals … like in India where the English have hospital for dogs and laws that prohibit the mistreatment of horses. Assistance becomes humiliating when there is no reciprocity, when one hands over a piece of bread, some clothing, some materials for the house … when providing assistance to others is done to soften the cries that disturb and upset our life in the city. But assistance is respectful when it takes into account the lofty dimensions of the other, the dimensions of their soul and heart, their religious, moral and political education, all that would free them from their passions and in some respects free them from their need … assistance is respectful when it seeks the freedom of the other and all that can make the other great … assistance is respectful when it unites that bread that nourishes to the visit that brings comfort, to the advise that enlightens, to the handshake that lifts up the discouraged spirit. Assistance is respectful when the poor are treated with respect and not simply as equals, when they are treated as our masters, as people sent by God to prove the veracity of our justice and charity. In these situations assistance is respectful because it is mutual assistance … anyone who today shares some words of comfort may tomorrow have need for the same words of comfort.
In the article that Frederic wrote we see that his vision of assisting and promoting others, like all his doctrine, is extraordinary. He pointed toward that which today is called pastoral care for the unemployed and in his newspaper published these bold words that were directed toward the government: You are going to open in Paris a certain number of public places where the poor can warm themselves. This is very helpful, but have you considered how to occupy the time of these individuals during these long afternoons? Will you give these many workers simply propaganda concerning their vices, or will you take advantage of this opportunity to occupy their time in an honorable way, to instruct them so that they return to their homes as better people?
With these words Frederic pointed out the psychological deterioration of people who are unemployed and who feel useless. From a perspective of solidarity Ozanam viewed everyone as his equal or superior to him. He rejected any view that saw people as cogs in a wheel, whose capacity for work or physical strength could be exploited at any cost.
Frederic heard the cries of the poor and long before any official doctrine of the Church became effective in this regard, he used every means available to him to free them from their numerous slaveries. What today appears to be a powerful and irresistible aspiration of people, namely, the struggle for liberation, this lay Christian fervently placed himself at the service of this cause even though, like every precursor, his ideas were not accepted by many people and he became the victim of their harsh criticisms. He knew how to step back in silence and give way to others.
His drawing near to the poor was constantly inspired by faith and this strengthened him as he confronted the different tasks of liberation. His involvement with and closeness to the actual situation of the poor meant that his actions were not some mere abstractions, devoid of content.
Roots of misery and the means to combat it
Frederic wrote an article, The Causes of Misery, for the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle in which he analyzed the social situation and the principle causes of said situation.
With his understanding of the gospel and the Church’s tradition, he desired to free the poor by showing that poverty is a scandal produced by the evil of people, thus when there is a lack of goods people should share based on justice and not charity. God, just and rich in mercy, is necessarily with the most poor … Jesus preached the good news to them and proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is theirs.
Ozanam wrote: God did not create the poor but rather human will has created these situations. He went on to explain that God did not place human beings in the midst of a changing world without giving them two gifts: intelligence and free will.
In reality the poor are the most suffering victims of the structures of sin that in the course of history continue to create situations that favor the wealthy and the powerful. The poor are often helpless before the violation of their most fundamental rights and experience their human dignity trampled upon in a thousand different ways. In the poor we see an expression and a realization of all that is opposed to the plan of the Kingdom of God. Their situation in life, beginning with their dependence, is in open contradiction to the eternal plan of God.
Therefore charity ought to engage us in instructing and making people self-sufficient so that they no longer need material assistance. Creating a state of dependency makes people insecure because even though today the hunger of poor is alleviated they are obliged to hope that tomorrow they will have something to eat.
Ozanam also gave much importance to the intellectual role of charity. For this reason he can be considered the initiator of what we call education of the people. In Lyon he opened a club with a library where twice a week he instructed the soldiers in reading, writing and mathematics … as he taught these men, they in turn opened their hearts and received counsel.
It is necessary to awaken the intelligence and strengthen the will. The role of true charity is not to make itself indispensible but to prepare people to provide for themselves so that they do not have to rely on the assistance that is given to them. Charity ought to prevent misery and help when some unforeseen event deprives people of their livelihood.
Ozanam had a lofty vision with regard to the destiny of the human person and it was this vision that motivated him to consider the possibility of providing for that which is unforeseen in society … mitigate these events by well-functioning institutions that pursue programs and not propaganda. Therefore he looked for the roots of that which gives rise to human happiness and saw that its primary enemies were the endurance of extreme poverty and living in misery. Many times he wrote: I am tired by the controversies that on a daily basis shake Paris; I feel shattered by the sight of the misery that devours the city.
The panorama of the misery in Paris was devastating: 267.000 workers in the French capital were unemployed and the majority of them lived in the thirteenth arrondissement thus creating in this district an incredible misery to which Ozanam referred. He described the horror and the suffering of the people in this area and then pointed out the causes of this situation.
Different causes of poverty
Among the different causes of poverty Ozanam pointed out the moral order. To preserve the moral order from evil and to resolve this evil he proposed education and the reform of everyday customs rather than legislation. But here he referred to Christian education, entrusted to religious institutes, in which the children of the workers would learn more than writing the day’s orders on walls: We should not believe that we have done everything that we ought to do simply because we have taught people to read and write and count. At least half our schools are inadequate. In the thirteenth arrondissement four thousand children are unable to go to school and when private charities see this situation and attempt to open schools, it take weeks to file all the paper work and overcome a series of obstacles.
He included in this plan of reform the creation of a school of Arts and Crafts for adults, a public library and mutual assistance. In the same article he stated: These timid spirits are far from being able to compete with us … even though after three years of Christian education the children of the workers leave school with honors, their education is not complete. I want to see this education continued with teachers who provide night classes and Sunday classes. I want to see centers of Arts and Crafts established in the neighborhoods of Paris, as well as popular Sorbonnes where necessary so that these children might have the same opportunities as the children of doctors and lawyers, the treasure of a higher education.
Ozanam did not hesitate to denounce the destitution that the people of France suffered … a situation created because of a lack of insight and morality that squanders material as well as spiritual goods.
Why hide from the people what they know? Human freedom creates poverty. Ozanam continues to state that human freedom consumes the two primitive sources of all wealth: intelligence and wealth … leaving intelligence to wallow in ignorance and the will to become weakened by vice.
Denunciation of society’s errors
Ozanam said that it would be unjust to blame the poor who might not make the best use of their goods. The blame for the social evils resides in the institutions, in the government that authorizes and allows these institutions to continue. Frederic did not focus on personal sin but rather viewed this evil state of affairs as a collective responsibility. He cites the famous French physician, M. Villerme: Today we denounce the personal errors of the poor and yet we have no control over this but we forget to denounce the ineffectiveness of institutions and these should be denounced in our newspapers because these errors of the country confirm the wealthy in their position of superiority, encourage corruption in general and the impoverishment of the working class. Nothing is done to instruct the poor and help them raise their standard of living.
Ozanam complained about the high taxes imposed on basic foods such as meat, bread and salt and yet there was no tax on alcohol which causes more illness than all the hardships of the seasons and all the injustices of humankind. Besides the consumption of wine he also pointed out the corruption caused by popular customs: games, sex and the dissoluteness of young people who gather together in “dens of iniquity”. In his writings he pointed out: During the past winter the police signed 4,000 permisions for dances at night. Annually the police authorize the opening of new theatres where the children of the working class receive nonsense of what is supposed to be literature whose cynicism would scandalize anyone. And when during six months young people pass the evenings in these places filled with smoke that harms their health, the same authorities are surprised to see people withered and feeble and thus filling our prisons and hospitals.
He also accused the industrialists and pointed out their indifference and selfishness when he stated that the majority of them were not concerned about the moral needs of their workers, denying them the Sabbath rest, the right to free themselves from their miserable conditions …. separating from their workshops anything that might foster temperance and the economy because they believe it is easier to manage vices which consequently allow them to disrespect the workers.
Frederic was aware of the fact that the industrial crisis often left factory workers unemployed and when this reality was united with the domestic crises that often arose because of the death of a husband or the illness of a child, the family was left in destitution, void of any resources. He complained that the politicians did not seek the causes of this misery but were only concerned about their personal interests.
Frederic’s attitude should not surprise us, especially when attempts were made to suppress Sunday as a day of rest. He accused politicians and industrialists of not allowing the workers to reanimate themselves during this precious time of rest. No recreational activities are provided for these people, no competitions or games, no libraries or clubs or societies … no means of mutual support. He states: You criticize the lack of ability in the workers, the defects and monotony of their methods, the systematic disorders of their behaviors, and yet you have never encouraged them when you have at your disposal the means that would allow them to draw closer to you as equals … means that would provide them with fraternal vigilance and that would surround them with good example and counsel thus encouraging them to seek more education which is necessary for every weak, fragile and tempted human person.
In outlining this program of social reform that placed demands on Christian democracy Frederic did not want to give the impression of preparing an inquisition against society. Rather, he wanted to be a stern friend whose efforts were directed toward defending and honoring and helping people to understand their obligations toward their neighbor. He wanted to maintain among Christians a charitable movement against the abuses that after fifty years of freedom were both a disgrace and an embarrassment to a supposed free people. He wanted to strengthen the zeal of so many honorable people so that they would not excuse themselves from paying a subsidy to the unemployed, a subsidy of thirteen cents a day that was demanded by law. He stated: God does not want us to calumniate those whom the gospel blesses. Let us not accuse the people who are suffering of being responsible for their ill-fortune and let us not encourage the insensitivity of evil hearts who believe they are exempt from helping the poor because they believe the poor are culpable for what has happened to them.
Frederic Ozanam proposed as a task of human faith the need for the social classes to draw closer together and not destroy one another as Marx later proposed. This coming together must be done from the perspective of a clear option for the poor.
Concept of work, wages and alms
Professor of Commercial Law
On December 16, 1839, an historical precedent was set in Lyon when the chair of Commercial Law was created. This position was established exclusively for Frederic Ozanam by order of the Minister, M. Martin du Nord. It was strange that in a city like Lyon, whose activity was primarily business, no institution offered courses in commercial law.
As a professor Frederic had to begin from naught because he was not able to ask anyone from the student body about their previous knowledge concerning civil law or political economics. This situation, however, was very acceptable to the young professor who, through temperament, was not satisfied with merely explaining the articles of the law code. He accommodated himself to the students that were in front of him (merchants, business men of every type) and with them he reflected on practical and Christian principles for daily living in the market place.
The course was composed of forty-seven lessons which were based on the general principles of law and also took into account current social problems which were examined from the perspective of the law. Although he explained all the material of commercial law, his teaching went beyond a mere explanation of the law and the failures and crises and the changes occurring in society … he analyzed the moral order which his fellow countrymen often neglected to examine.
Frederic spoke about these historical and philosophical digressions when he wrote his friend, Henri Pessonneaux: An immense crowd attended the opening lecture. Doors and windows were broken. Even then the hall continued to overflow, and it holds 250 people. I allowed myself any historical and philosophical digressions that the subject permitted and I did not fail at the same time to raise a laugh whenever possible .
A month later and with almost the same words he wrote a letter to Lallier in whom he had often confided: I am endeavoring to put life into the teaching of the letter of the Codes, speaking about their spirit as well as historic and economic considerations. I encroach even upon social economy, your old domain. I endeavor to inspire my listeners with a love and respect for their profession and consequently the observance of the duties which it imposes. I tell them the plain truth and their goodness willingly gives me the right to do so. Many take notes; I have letters addressed to me; they are zealous and studious .
At first glance it would seem that the material of this course was not at all suited for the Christian humanist who desired to re-Christianize his country and communicate eternal truths. Nevertheless, he saw this course as an opportunity to enter into dialogue about one of his primary concerns: the social problem.
Because of its geographical location and its historical importance from many years before, Lyon was a main business center. This city was situated at the place where the Saône and the Rhone Rivers flowed into one another and from ancient times it was the point of departure of the four roads that joined the Rhine and the Atlantic, the Alps and the Pyrenees. During the Middle Ages it was the Episcopal city located in the far western part of the French kingdom. This city received from Italy, Florence and Milan two resources that would form the foundation of its economy: banking and silk weaving.
The desire for profit, which was the fruit of individual liberalism, was a constant among the industrialists of Lyon. During the nineteenth century two thirds of the population was salaried but their situation was precarious. They worked long hours and received low wages and these conditions led to two bloody rebellions in 1831 and 1834.
In November 1831 the workers had obtained the benefits of a municipal law which fixed a minimum wage for the silk weaving industry but the Minister of the Interior, Casimir Perier, encouraged by the owners of the factories, removed the Prefect of Lyon, Bouvier Dumolard, and abolished the decree.
As a result of this action thirty thousand workers took over the city for a period of ten days. The government in Paris did not want to recognize the unhealthy and overcrowded situation in which the workers were forced to toil, did not want to recognize the long hours and low wages that were endured by the workers. Through the use of arms the workers were told that they should be resigned to their situation. Though the situation appeared to return to a state of calmness, the social unrest exploded again in April, 1834 which resulted in strengthening the laws against the proletariat and giving more power to the industrialists to use against the weaker workers.
Five years later it was dangerous to denounce the selfish industrialist spirit of the ministers of the monarchy in Orleans and yet Ozanam confronted this situation directly. Basing his arguments on the law, a branch of philosophy, he often abandoned his explanation of commercial law in order to highlight elements of freedom and morality which ought to be a part of every human relationship even when a relationship is pursued to increase one’s wealth. He applied laws and norms to the organization of economic interests which he stated should secure the well-being of the human person and eliminate abuses that result from seeking personal profit at the expense of the common good.
Sources of inspiration
Frederic Ozanam had few resources available to him to develop a Christian morality with regard to economic norms. Social Catholicism had not developed a social doctrine.
Frederic was inspired by Charles de Coux who in 1831 had given a course on Political Economics, a course which he had taken. The Catholic students had requested this course which consisted of a program for social reform. The course examined liberal economics and its concept of work which did not take into consideration the human person. The workers have a need for a certain standard of life which would enable them to be happy and yet at the present time global production appears to be more important than individual fulfillment. Economic policy ought to be both social and moral.
This doctrine impressed the young professor who repeated and developed these ideas in his dissertations. Solutions should not be simply technical but human and religious including the way in which revelation clarifies natural law. In a letter to his cousin, Falconnet, he communicated his impressions about the course of Charles de Coux: M. de Coux has begun his course in political economy, full of depth and interest … They mob his lectures, because there is much of truth and life in them, a great perception of the affliction which devours our society and of the remedy which can alone heal it .
Another economist who influenced Ozanam was Villeneuve Bargemont, Prefect of the Departments of Montauban, Charente, Nancy and Lille who directly confronted the social problem. In his book, The Book of the Afflicted, which was published in 1828 he denounced the inadequate salaries, the lack of safety in the workplace and stated: why do workers receive an insufficient salary… wages that do not allow them to obtain the most basic necessities of life and why are the workers debilitated and debased in this way when they are persons made in the image of God?
In 1834 the same author published Christian Economic Policy, which also influenced Ozanam’s ideas. In this book Bargemont proposed a series of reforms: inspection of the workplaces that employed children under the age of fourteen and women, safety, savings accounts … He advocated a complete change in the social doctrine which would be echoed and put into practice at the end of the century. These two authors developed their thoughts with regard to a concept that Ozanam called “social justice”, an expression that he used in many of his classes and which he substituted for what Thomas Aquinas called “general or legal justice”. Interestingly this expression “social justice” was not taken up by Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, but was incorporated into the social doctrine of the Church by Pius IX in his encyclicals Divini Redemptoris and Quadrogesimo Anno: To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice (#58). Hence it is contrary to social justice when, for the sake of personal gain and without regard for the common good, wages and salaries are excessively lowered or raised (#74).
The first and only ordered expression of the social thinking of Frederic about the duties of justice, the concept of work and wages is found in lesson twenty-four of his course on Commercial Law, a lecture which was given around the middle of 1840 in Lyon. It was this lesson that encouraged his contemporaries and these ideas would be taken up later by Bishop Ketteler.
With great skill, prudence, and tact he confronted the thorny question about the relationship between management and the workers. In the beginning, with no condemnation, he analyzed the conditions of production, warning of its dangers and reproving its abuses. He proposed organizing work through legislation which would impose sanctions and when legally enforced would prevent slavery and the misery of the proletariat. These laws were not to be imposed by violence or demagogy … one form of oppression cannot be eliminated or overcome by another form of oppression. In the inaugural lecture of this course we read: in dealing with some of the economic questions of our time which are of great concern to us, we make every effort to reconcile the conservative’s respect for the present institutions with the progressive’s vision that moves toward a better future.
Concept and definition of work
Ozanam defined work as the sustained action of man’s will in which he applies his faculties to satisfy his needs. This is the primitive and universal law of the world. He went on to say that paganism did not want to accept this law and among the most notable people of old, work was seen as the exclusive activity of slaves. Christianity rehabilitated work by bestowing upon human activity civilized virtues and a sense of personal dignity. Christianity made slaves co-heirs of Christ, integrating them into the life of the community.
The power of work is not explained by reducing it to physical strength, muscles or the sweat of one’s brow. Work also encompasses the labor of thought and the efforts of the will. When considering the idea of labor one must consider not only the physical needs of the workers but also their intellectual and moral needs and those who exercise these faculties (intellectual and moral) are not unproductive … they participate in the process of production. Work is necessarily productive, its part in production is complimented by the confluence of two other elements: capital and raw materials.
Ozanam differed from the socialists (Karl Marx) who saw work as physical strength that was sold by its owner (the proletariat) in order to obtain the human needs of food, lodging, and clothing. The socialists considered work as the expenditure of the physical strength that everyone possesses for a determined process of production. Human needs were broadened to include the needs of workers’ children and in this way the necessary strength that was needed for production was perpetuated. No kind of moral or spiritual interest, however, is taken into consideration by the socialists. Ozanam not only considered physical strength but for him will and education were integral components of the workers.
Salary as the price of work
Ozaname confronted the question of salary as a co-relative duty. His central idea is that work requires a just price. Salary should be based on the value of the things that are produced, that is, on the costs of production.
These costs involve: rent of land, interest on capital, the price of work (whether work is the intellectual output of the businessman or the physical output of laborers or the moral output represented by taxes).
When the workers are viewed as more than mere instruments, as human collaborators, then, according to Ozanam, the salary ought to take into consideration the usual value of work and this value is dependent on absolute and relative conditions. With regard to absolute conditions, the normal salary ought to reflect three elements that workers place at the service of industry: their will, their education and their strength.
1. The ardent will of workers gives them a right to recompense so that they might be able to live and cover the minimum expenses to sustain their life.
2. Knowledge and education comprises true human capital and therefore the workers should receive a salary that enables them to provide for their own education and the education of their children.
3. Workers should be compensated for their physical strength which one day will become diminished. Capital should cover the cost of disability and old age because workers have the right to retire.
With regard to the relative conditions, Ozanam taught his students that salaries should be increased in proportion to the difficulties that laborers might encounter on the job:
1. If the work is more dangerous or unpleasant or tedious, then the salary should be increased.
2. If the work requires more skill or knowledge or is technical work, then again, the salary should take these factors into consideration.
3. If the type of work can result in sickness or accidents then not only the salary but benefits for illness and disability and retirement should reflect these conditions.
If work demands greater strength, greater skill or greater risk than the salary of workers should reflect these realities. The usual value of the salary is not always the same as the real value. In other words, after having paid the rent for lands and property, the interest on capital, and the benefits of the owner, there may be insufficient funds to pay the workers everything that they deserve.
Ozanam explained why this might occur. The sale of the product might not cover all the costs of producing said product. This will happen because the price depends on supply and demand, thus it can happen that one has employed more services than necessary.
Second, the profits might be unevenly distributed among the workers because of high rents on land, or high interest rates on capital or higher taxes than expected or the owner may have received more benefits than was due to him.
Because of the complexity of these causes the actual situation of the workers can become, and in fact has become, one of hostility between the workers and management … a dangerous situation which can give rise to violent conflicts. It can happen that the worker is viewed as a mere instrument from whom every possible advantage can be derived at the least cost. This leads to exploitation of the human person by another human person. On one side is the power of wealth and on the other side is the power of numbers. Knowing that this danger exists a solution must be sought without delay. In order to create a balance Ozanam proposed the following means:
- On the one hand, public charity as balm and justice to prevent exploitation
- On the other hand greater education and more profound knowledge about business and industry as they relate to production, consumption, and the distribution of products.
To implant this social justice that prevents exploitation, there are at the present time two solutions: 1. The dictatorial intervention of the state which establishes the prices of goods … this method is a return to mercantilism of the Ancient Regime whose results are known because of past experience to be opposed to the development of industry and prejudicial to business;
2. Absolute freedom of laissez-faire capitalism which places the worker at the mercy of management.
Ozanam proposed a solution that was an intermediate path, a conciliatory solution between the two principles of authority and freedom. The State should intervene as an arbiter only in extraordinary situations.
Ozanam proposed and promoted the establishment of associations for workers that would defend their interests, unite them, enable them to see that work was something proper to them and thus develop in them a spirit of ownership.
With these organizations the workers could acquire an understanding of work as something that is their own. This spirit will prompt the workers to save and at the same time lead to the development of personal morality and an inclination toward public calmness.
The first workers’ organizations in France had to be clandestine because of the Chapelier Laws which from the time of the Revolution prohibited the existence of these types of associations. Beginning in 1820 the general repression increased as a result of the assassination of the Duke of Berry, an event that led to the increase of secret societies. With the reign of Louis Philip of Orleans in 1830, industry developed but at the same time the problems that the workers encountered became more numerous and this led to the insurrections of 1832 and 1835 which were violently repressed. After the 1835 repression new laws were enacted which limited freedom of the press and the right to free association. Yet this did not deter the establishment of Societies and Leagues which in fact became more numerous: the Society of the Friends of the People, the Saisons Society, the Society of Families … all of these societies maintained relationships with those who were exiled in Germany and who formed the League of the Just.
The most important of the insurrections before the 1848 revolution was the up-rising of 1839 which was led by Louis Blanqui. The seat of the local government was occupied but ended in a violent repression. This up-rising was followed by a general strike that took place a year later and resulted in legislation that was enacted in 1841 that favored the workers.
The laws of 1841 prohibited the employment of children under eight years of age and children between eight and twelve could work no more than eight hours a day … the work of women was also regulated by these laws.
In light of the situation of the French people, to speak about organizations of workers in a public forum, and even more in a forum funded by the municipal government was risky. Nevertheless, Ozanam attempted to bring workers and management together so that both sides could move forward and build a better future. He was aware of the difficulties but in his lectures he continued to say: Without a doubt organization is difficult and demands certain risks, but it is necessary to rely on self-sacrifice and the words spoken in this forum. These words do not pretend to clarify all the difficulties, but it is hoped that they will become a spark that appears at a given moment and is later extinguished but is sufficient to call attention to a reality that has remained in the shadows and that now in the light of day this reality points out the path to those who are able to put their hands on this treasure of the sacred trust and provides solutions that humanity awaits.
This key lesson that continued for several sessions concluded with a lecture that was no less interesting and no less explosive than all that had proceeded: Frederic dealt with the relations and aberrations between workers and management. Frederic spoke harshly about the reality of exploitation that viewed the workers as a machine, reduced the workers to the level of objects which allowed management to use them as instruments, thus obtaining maximum benefits at minimum cost. There is no excuse for children and married women to be working in factories. The concept worker-machine is in actuality part of the capital investment just as among ancient people slaves were part of the capital investment but again we see that service becomes bondage.
Bondage results in reducing to a minimum individual needs, both moral as well as intellectual, the suppression of religious freedom which forces people to work on Sunday and family life becomes almost impossible … all of this gave rise to the Malthusians who defended reducing the birth rate.
Ozanam lashed out against Malthus and Betham in an article that was published in 1838 in the newspaper L’Univers: these ignominious ideas reduce the whole economy of human life to the calculations of interest while the families of the poor become overwhelmed because they do not have sufficient resources to feed their children.
When Ozanam spoke about the workers’ right to an adequate salary that would allow them to maintain their family, he was expressing orthodox ideas that were supported by many theologians. To prevent future problems he presented a series of proposals that would later become part of the social doctrine of the Church. Very few people had given attention to the problems of retirement, illness, disability, old-age, work stoppage, or strike. Even fewer people considered the idea of the participation of the workers in the development of industry through their work. Ozanam engaged in a profound analysis of the legal, Christian and human doctrine and even though he did not see any fruits because of his short life, nevertheless, the seed was planted and others would reap the harvest.
Fifty years later, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII took up these proposals that stirred the hearts of the French people during the first half of the nineteenth century. The encyclical clearly points out the Christian relations that should be adopted in the area of labor: Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner (Rerum Novarum, #45).
Moderation as a virtue stands out in Ozanam’s life. He knew how to avoid violence in his words and was moderate in his boldness … he did not condemn a priori, but only made necessary clarifications. He softened reality by saying that these extreme situations did not only exist in Lyon but also in England and northern France. He also pointed out that people practiced good customs and preserved the traditions of their ancestors. He was also optimistic and rejected the powerlessness of Christians to act with regard to the evil social situation in which they found themselves. He had a great faith and discovered that neither poverty nor injustice were fatal realities but became present realities as a result of self-interest, the abuse of power, and placing the interests of a few over the interests of the majority.
The doctrine that was taught by Frederic Ozanam in Lyon and in his articles that were published in L’Ere Nouvelle was not an invitation to hatred or resentment or violence or an invitation to engage in a class struggle. He never spoke of a dictatorship of the proletariat as did many socialists of his era, especially Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto (1848) and Louis Auguste Blanqui in his doctrine of violence. Frederic’s doctrine was based on the gospel, on the principles of fraternal love, justice and collaboration. He advocated on behalf of freedom, the intervention of the State through means of subsidies, the defense of the right to private property, and especially the protection of the dignity of human beings created in the image and likeness of God.
All of this was applied to the circumstances which his country was experiencing and the possibilities that existed in fulfilling all the premises of his doctrine. He understood that one could not be radical nor absolute in applying the means and that the use of peaceful means would always have better results than violent and revolutionary means.
As a prolongation of the concept of salary, Ozanam wrote about almsgiving. On December 24th, an article on this subject, De L’Aumone, appeared in the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle.
Frederic interpreted faithfully and knowledgeably the Christian tradition as a praiseworthy practice that is found in Scripture and preached in the tradition of the Church. He confronted the socialists who viewed alms as an abuse of Christian society. According to them alms insulted the poor, humiliating those who receive these offerings and does nothing to lift them out of their situation of poverty. Ozanam refuted these ideas and said: After the revolution of 1848 some people reject alms because they view this action as debasing poor people. The greater error consists of teaching people to detest alms. Do not believe those who speak of alms as a deplorable abuse, as a means of maintaining a patriarchal system that gives and a class of slaves who receive. It is true that alms impose a debt of gratitude on the poor. But it is also true that there are people who uphold the idea of a society in which no one feels obligated, in which everyone can feel cut off from everyone else. All of this is called the dawning of justice which is seen as a substitute for charity … as if the whole economy of Divine Providence did not consists of a reciprocity of gratitude that can never be satisfied; as if children were not eternally indebted to their parents and parents indebted to their children and citizens to their country; as if there were someone here on earth so isolated that this individual could say: “Today I do not feel obligated to anyone!”
Alms as compensation for services which are not salaried
To detach oneself from everything that would make one grateful and thus lead one to exclaim: I owe nothing to anyone, implies a delusional hope. In this situation one has enclosed oneself in a subtle pride that is more or less dangerous than being subject to one’s benefactors which brings with it the obligation of gratitude which according to the socialists leaves those who are helped in an inferior state.
Ozanam understood almsgiving not only in a material way, that is, sharing bread or money, but also as a way of compensating individuals for services that have no wages attached to them and yet demand a certain reciprocity of benefits. He explained this concept by using the example of the soldier who serves his country and gives his blood or the priest who serves by proclaiming the word. The nation causes no injury to the soldier by giving alms to these individuals nor is the priest humiliated by receiving some compensation for offering the Eucharist because he does not receive this compensation as a salary but as a form of alms. Therefore we cannot say that the poor person is humiliated when treated like the priest or the soldier. Oznam said: The indigent persons whom we assist will never be useless because people who suffer serve God and consequently, also serve society … they pray and they fulfill a ministry of expiation, a sacrifice whose merits revert to us.
He exalts the dignity of the poor and of the indigent and views almsgiving as a way of doing justice to those who are treated unjustly: paying for a service for which no wage is attached.
Saint Vincent de Paul spoke about this idea two centuries before when on March 8, 1658 he wrote to the superior in Marsielles, Father Fermin Get: God will grant you the grace, Monsieur, of softening our hearts toward the wretched creatures and of realizing that in helping them we are doing an act of justice and not of mercy .
Spiritual value of alms
Another idea that Ozanam highlighted in his article was the fact that the one who gives and the one who receives are equally obligated: One must realize that almsgiving also places an obligation on the one who gives …, and forbids any reproach for the benefit received.
The one who gives, who knows the way to the house of the poor, should never call at his door in a disrespectful manner. How does one repay the tears of joy in the eyes of a poor mother or the handshake of a poor man honored by such a visit as he returns from his work. Ozanam did not view alms as something indifferent and he expressed this idea in another article that was published in L’Ere Nouvelle on October 21, 1848: The rich person who gives his gold does so coldly if he does not unite his lips and his heart with his alms.
Lastly, through almsgiving Frederic saw the poor as the sacrament of Christ. He constantly returned to this theme: In pagan Rome, alms were not anyone’s duty but a right for everyone. Christianity has totally changed this. Now alms are not a right for anyone but a duty for everyone and a sacred duty. It is a command, not simply a counsel.
If Christianity imposes almsgiving as a duty it is because there exists an anonymous and universal poor person: Jesus Christ who is poor in the person of the poor. Only he is deserving of everything because only he has a tribunal where he awaits the evil rich person.
The poor intercede for the rich and therefore they give back more than they receive. If people know how to give in the name of God and if the poor know how to ask for help from others, then in this situation there is reciprocity of services. Ozanam said: This indigent family that we have helped will have paid their debt in excess when that elderly person or pious mother or those little ones pronounce our name before the throne of the most high God.
For Ozanam the poor person is a priest; his misery, his sweat and blood are in reality the expiatory sacrifice that contributes to the redemption of humankind and therefore the alms which we offer, and for which the poor are grateful, are nothing more than honorariums, the same as those presented to the priest and whose hands are kissed as a sign of gratitude.
Three months after the conflicts of 1848, Frederic Ozanam used his newspaper to address good people. This article could be catalogued as the sermon of a cleric. He gave pointed advice to the priests of France, to the rich, to the representatives of the people and lastly, to citizens of whatever condition. In a letter that he wrote to Foisset, he stated: I have written an article for good people. I have revealed my heart in this letter. I am not insensitive to the suffering of our time and if I turn wearily from the controversies that are agitating Paris I am torn to pieces by the sight of the misery that is devouring it.
He wanted to be the voice of conscience to those who struggled to maintain order and save France (in February and June) with the establishment of the Second Republic … he did not want people to begin to believe that everything had been accomplished. In the same letter he went on to say: It is not enough to save France once or several times; a great country wants to be saved every day. You come and go from one end of the city to the other and you travel in peace and security, but while the danger has disappeared from the streets and it is now hidden away in the garrets of the houses on either side. You have crushed the insurrection but now you have to deal with an enemy with which you are not acquainted, which you do not want to hear about and about which we are determined to speak to you today: misery! .
Description of the misery of the Thirteenth Arrondissement
Frederic began with a detailed and harrowing description of the 13th arrondissement in Paris. His style resembles that of Charles Dickens in his novels or Maxim Gorky in The Mother, or Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, or M. Joseph Sué in The Ministers of Paris.
The first problem that he described was that of unemployment. Even though the factories had begun to operate with some degree of normalcy, there were still 267,000 workers unemployed. In a district of 90,000 inhabitants, 8,000 families were enrolled at the Welfare Office and 70,000 people were dependent on some form of alms. These same conditions could be found in all the areas that surrounded Paris. Frederic wrote: On either side of a filthy sewer rise houses five stories high, many of which shelter fifty families. These low, damp, and noxious rooms are rented out at the rate of one franc and a half a week when they have a fireplace, and one franc and a quarter without a fireplace. No paper, often not a single piece of furniture, hides the nakedness of the wretched walls. In a house on the Rue Lyonnais we ourselves saw ten married couples without even a bed. One family lived in the depths of a cellar, with nothing but a handful of straw on the earthen floor and a rope fastened from wall to wall from which the people hung their bread that was wrapped in a rag to keep it out of the reach of the rats. In the next room a woman had lost three children from tuberculosis, and she pointed in despair to three other children who awaited the same fate. The upper stories presented no greater consolation. Right under the roof a garret without windows, pierced with two holes, each closed by a pane of glass, afforded shelter to a tailor, his wife and eight children. Every night they crawled on their hands and feet to the straw that was spread by way of a bed at one extremity of the garret, close under the slanting roof. We need not dwell on those among us who are better off; those who, for six persons, can supply two beds, into which are huddled together the sick and the healthy, boys of eighteen and girls of sixteen. With regard to this same house: the personal situation of these people had deteriorated to such a degree that more than twenty children could not go to school because they had no clothes to wear. The more fortunate individuals are able to find something to eat so that they do not become undernourished and therefore we say that people do not die of starvation in the most civilized city in the world … Many live on the leftovers that are distributed through the gates of the palace at Luxemburg and others live on pieces of bread that are gathered from the garbage .
Ozanam did not write about these situations from memory, as though this was something he had heard about or something he presumed was happening. He experienced these situations. In his free time he climbed the stairs of those houses, going to the attic, and sharing with these people. There he had some profound experiences and became aware of the vices as well as the virtues and example that these people offered him. In these foul cellars and garrets, sometimes next door to sloth and vice, we have often come upon the finest domestic virtues, a refinement and intelligence that one does not always meet with under gilded ceilings. A poor coppersmith, more than seventy years old, tiring his infirm arms to get bread for the child of a son who had died at a young age; a deaf and dumb boy of twelve whose education had been carried on by the self-devotion of his poor relatives with such success that he begins to read, and knows God and prays. We will never forget one poor room, of irreproachable cleanliness, where a mother, clothed in the threadbare clothes of her native place, Auvergne, was working away with her four daughters, modest young girls, who only raised their eyes from their work to answer the stranger’s questions. The father worked as a mason … but the faith which these honest people had brought with them from their native mountains illuminated their lives, just as the sunbeam that stole in through their tiny window lighted up the pious pictures pasted on the walls .
As Ozanam witnessed so much pain and suffering and descended the broken stairs of the homes of the poor, he was awed at what he experienced. He thought not only about the present moment but began to envision the winter when the construction work would stop and the workers would be unable to find jobs, thus creating greater unemployment. Despite his weakened physical condition, Frederic found the strength to denounce these situations to his fellow citizens.
Frederic highlighted the importance of the apostolate with the workers, referring to the attitude and the courage demonstrated by the ambulance workers during the June revolution. He also spoke about the reforms that were initiated in the areas of education, agriculture and prison centers. He spoke to the clergy: Do not trust yourselves or the habits and customs of a more peaceful period and put even less trust in the power of your ministry and its popularity. It is true and we recognize that you love the poor of your parishes, that you welcome with charity the beggar who knocks at your door, and that you never keep him waiting when he calls you to his bedside. But the time has come for you to occupy yourselves with those other poor who do not beg, who live by their labor, and to whom the right of work and the right of assistance will never be secured in a way that will guarantee him freedom from the needs that they now experience, that is, the need of help, of advice and, of consolation. The time has come when you must go and seek those who do not send for you, but who are hidden away in the most disreputable neighborhoods and who have perhaps never known the Church or the priest, or even the name of Jesus. Do not ask how they will receive you but speak to those who have visited them, who have dared to speak to them of God and who have found them open to our words and actions. If you are afraid of your lack of experience, your shyness, the insufficiency of your resources, then unite together in associations. Use the benefit of the new laws to form yourselves into charitable confraternities of priests. Use all the influence that you have with Christian families, and urge them to give … Do not be frightened when others treat you as communists. They treated Saint Bernard as a fanatic and a fool. Remember that your fathers, the French priests of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, saved Europe by the Crusades; save her once more by the crusade of charity, and since this involves no bloodshed, allow yourselves to become its first soldiers .
Call to Solidarity
Frederic addressed words to the rich who were able to help jump-start the economy through investments, almsgiving, and creating jobs to decrease the rate of unemployment. He invited these people to be courageous and to put aside the thought that they would hurt themselves by being charitable.
He spoke in categorical terms to the representatives of the people: Do not think that you have done enough by voting for subsidies that will eventually run out or because you have regulated the hours of work when jobs are still a dream for so many people or because you have prohibited work on Sunday while so many people are unable to find work during the week.
He encouraged them to visit and experience the misery of the people with their own eyes so that they would be moved and then defend the poor from their position in the National Assembly: Why not spend your mornings away from the crowd of petitioners who besiege you and go and visit these districts and climb those dark staircases, and enter into those barren rooms, and see with your own eyes what your brothers and sisters are suffering. You would in this way become acquainted with the utter destitution that reigns among them; you would leave behind you the memory of a visit that had honored and at the same time consoled the misery of the people you visited and you would go away with an emotion that would allow for no delay in action to assist these individuals .
Frederic, however, was not satisfied with this and proposed a better method for using public funds and if public funds were not available then an appeal for generosity should be made to the people which would allow them to contribute funds for those unemployed or those who suffer any form of poverty. Frederic was certain that no one would fail to collaborate in this effort, not even the most poor who would sell a handful of wheat to contribute to such a fund.
Lastly, Frederic called upon all citizens to enter into a position of solidarity with one another, especially those who lacked basic necessities. Because of their experience they could become collaborators with those who contribute their money to the public treasury. He opened their hearts and gave them hope that they could overcome the many obstacles that prevented them from fully enjoying their freedom: Guard yourselves from discouragement, he told them, and root out those seeds that prevent you from engaging in action. It is said that we are participating in the decadence of France and of civilization, but these same people who proclaim the proximate ruin of the nation, end by precipitating it.
An open campaign on behalf of charity through L’Ere Nouvelle
October 1848 was most fruitful for Frederic because during this time he was wholly involved in a charitable campaign, warning Christians about “certain abuses” which, after fifty years, caused disgrace to fall upon a free people, a disgrace which now became an embarrassment.
Frederic wrote fifteen articles for his newspaper on the theme of charity, five of them during the month of October and four of which appeared in the Sunday edition of the paper. On October 8, 1848 Frederic announced in L’Ere Nouvelle a new innovation: Beginning today, each Sunday edition of this paper will have various columns reserved to questions of charity, of charitable economics, and social problems.
Frederic also announced that beginning on October 15th, the Sunday edition would be sold on the streets of Paris for five cents. This was truly a new initiative. There were other magazines and newspapers that dealt with charitable economics, such as Anales de la Caridad, a magazine read by people of the higher classes. L’Ere Nouvelle wanted to be a publication that was concerned about the common people and that was therefore affordable for those who were most forgotten in society.
This program immediately attracted the attention of several people which led to the initiation of an outpouring of assistance on behalf of the vast majority of the populations who lived in agonizing conditions.
In Paris numerous and various acts of charity were initiated. In the Seminary of the Holy Spirit and the Carmelites courses of religious instruction were begun for the workers. The Abbot Chatóne began a course on Social Law which was given on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. On various occasions Frederic invited his brother, Abbot Alphonse Ozanam, to work on behalf of those salaried people in order to alleviate their disastrous situation. He urged him to not only be concerned about alleviating their hunger and misery but also to look for ways to raise them up, capacitating them through education so that they themselves could learn how to rise above their present situation. He said: I hope that soon you will become concerned about and find time for the working class who must be very numerous in Lille and toward whom you have always had a just predilection. I have always supported your inclinations toward these laborious people, poor and strangers to the finer things that are so often displayed by wealthier people. If a greater number of Christians and, especially ecclesiastics, had been concerned about the workers ten years ago, we would be more sure about their future. I am wholly with you with regard to Sunday rest. I am going to redact an article on this question and I will distribute it and post it on the walls. On a different matter, I will soon have a meeting with professors in my house and we are going to deal with the subject of funding public courses, a type of night school for these good people .
Ozanam struggled to obtain the right to Sunday rest and was able to achieve some improvements in the conditions that workers had to endure. He attempted to draw in his friends as collaborators and wanted them to join in this just cause. He sought moral and material support and received support from the Church and other individuals.
Frederic’s action was not limited to Paris. Through his brother, who was in Lille, he intervened so that the clergy of that area would meet together. In a letter that he wrote in this regard we read: Concern yourself as much with servants as with masters, with workmen as with employers. This is the only means of salvation for the Church of France. The priests must set aside their pious parishes, little flocks of good sheep in the midst of an enormous population to whom the parish priest is a stranger. The priests must concern themselves not only with the indigent, but with the immense class of poor who do not ask for alms … Now more than ever, we ought to meditate on the beautiful passage in the second chapter of the Epistle of James, which seems as if it had been written expressly for this present time.
Beside his brother, Frederic had recourse to other people whom he asked to help him. Near the end of December, 1848, he asked the Abbot Chantóne to look for committed laymen, volunteers who might be willing to work on behalf of the promotion of the workers.
During the same month he wrote to his friend, A. Cochin and invited him to a meeting which would take place in the house of Abbot Chantone, located on the Rue Saint Hyacinthe, Saint Michel, no. 8 at 7:00pm. On the same day and with the same words he wrote to another important person: Claude Louis Michel.
The misery of the 13th arrondissement in Paris was taken under consideration by the National Assembly and there it was decided to remedy this situation through a governmental decree. The mayor, Dr. Trelat entrusted the distribution of official resources to the many needy families to the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul. These resources were distributed by sectors to 2,500 families, 70 for each Commissary. This work was carried out during a period of four months. At the same time a school was established in this district so that the children there could receive an education.
Since the official resources were not sufficient, a private initiative was begun and donations were received from the National Guard to assist children in their education and adults in their professional formation.
All of these different ways of assisting those in need were carried out by Frederic and his collaborators, but were not viewed favorably by many sectors. His friends, one of them being Montalembert, began a wave of protest against Frederic’s doctrine and the charitable work that he had begun. They accused L’Ere Nouvelle of promoting socialist ideas because public assistance and the right to distribute resources should be reserved only to the State.
Both Frederic Ozanam and the Abbot Maret, director of the newspaper since August 1848, made it very clear that the right to distribute resources was reserved to the State. They organized and supported organized public assistance but stated that this did not eliminate the need for private charity and thus beneficent Institutions and other charitable endeavors should have the freedom to engage in these activities and no obstacles should be placed in their way. The State should only act in those situations where individual action cannot be carried out.
The Church, as a religious institution, assumed the role of the State for many centuries and at the time of the French Revolution, the State once again assumed this responsibility. Ozanam however affirmed, charity should not be totally assumed by the State since charity is greater than the State.
Chapter 3: FREDERIC OZANAM AND HIS POLITICAL COMMITMENT
From legitimacy  to democracy
Throughout his life Frederic Ozanam was involved in the politics of his era and expressed his position with regard to specific problems (often framed within the historical transformation); his involvement was more as literary-reporter rather than direct involvement in some political party. His political career was in fact short-lived.
During his life he was associated with various politicians who held influential positions: Montalembert, Cousin, Villemain (the last two became Ministers), Guizot and Saucet (both of whom were Ministers), Lamartine, Carné, Dubois (all of whom were Legislators). The relationships that Frederic was able to establish with these individuals were not something extraordinary but quite characteristic of that time. Anyone who wanted to become involved in public affairs could not act differently and often this implied seeking elected office to represent the people of a certain district. Letters, visits and presence at official meetings were necessary in order to be in contact with influential individuals. In his letters Frederic very often complained about these activities that he felt were necessary in order to accomplish his objectives. Yet he felt all of these social activities took him away from the study of law and literary research. At one point he made one hundred-fifty official visits in the course of a single year.
Frederic’s shy and retiring character did not seem to fit in with the demands of the accepted code of behavior. He was not attracted to this way of acting, but accepted these customs because his work as a lawyer and later, his work as a professor and writer, depended on these relationships with people who were seen as influential.
In order to obtain the position of professor of Commercial Law in Lyon and later to become professor at the Sorbonne, he felt obliged to seek support and recommendations. He sought the help of his father-in-law, the rector, Soulacroix, in obtaining a position in Paris and on different occasions asked for the assistance of his friends, such as Lallier who became a judge in Senz and Genin who was a lawyer.
One of the reasons for his involvement in diplomatic and parliamentary affairs was the matter of the Propagation of the Faith, and their publication, Anales, to which he was a frequent contributor. Lyon was a center for the movement of the plans and complaints that were concerns of the Catholic Patriarchs and Missionary Bishops of the Near East. In order to resolve some of these disputes quickly and favorably, the intervention of Minister Guizot was often requested. Ozanam was also concerned about these matters and on several occasions acted as a mediator between the Central Council of Lyon and the Department of Foreign Affairs. On those occasions Frederic was motivated by his desire to assure the honor of this Association and protect the Minister, especially since the situation of Catholics in the Near East was at the mercy of the French Minister and the Austrian Minister, Metternich.
At first sight and with only a superficial examination, Frederic could be seen as a conformist, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that Frederic was very careful not to act in any way that was contrary to the orders of the King and at the same time did not critique the way in which the plans of the Prime Minister, Guizot, were carried out. Nevertheless, when considering the evolution of his ideas it could be said that he inherited the principle of the monarchy’s legitimacy.
His birth was marked by the reality of exile. Pativilca stated that Frederic was the son of Jean Ozanam, a Frenchman wedded to the old customs and deeply rooted in his faith. This man lived through the French Revolution and fought valiantly as a soldier under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte during the campaign in Italy. Later, the Emperor Napoleon recalled Jean’s merits and wanted to reward him by offering him a position as captain in the National Guard. Jean was grateful for this offer but refused it because he did not share the ideals of Napoleon. So as not to betray his convictions, Jean voluntarily entered into exile in Italy. He went to Milan where he sustained his life through the practice of medicine. In 1813 Napoleon rewarded him by decorating him as a doctor (he could no longer reward him as a soldier) for his work during the typhus epidemic that occurred at the military hospital in Milan.
Jean had a decisive influence on his son Frederic. It is not surprising that the ideas of his father began to blossom in Frederic during his youth. On June 1, 1837, on the occasion of his father’s death, Frederic wrote to his friend, Cournier, and spoke about the influence of his father: As a young child, accustomed to live in the shadow of another, if he is left alone for an hour in a house, penetrated with the feeling of his own weakness, he becomes frightened and begins to weep. So, too, when one has lived so peacefully in the shadow of a paternal authority, of a visible providence in which he trusted for all things, in seeing it all at once disappear, in finding oneself alone, charged with an unaccustomed responsibility in the midst of this evil world, he experiences one of the most grievous troubles which have been prepared since the commencement of the world to chastise fallen man .
In 1830 when the system of restoration in France began to collapse we see the first involvement of Frederick in politics. Charles X had succeeded Louis XVIII in 1824 and after that time the problems of the monarchy with the liberals had become more intense. In July, 1830 the King was angered because the House of Deputies allowed a vote of censure. The King decided to use his prerogatives and dissolved the legislative body and suspended the Charter which his predecessor had decreed in 1814 and which had guided the political life of France for the last sixteen years.
The suppression of the Charter was accompanied by other decrees that allowed for censorship of the press and established new election laws which restricted the right to vote in such a way that it became the privilege of the old aristocracy. At the same time, general elections were convoked according to the new system which excluded bankers, businessmen and industrialists. These laws provoked turmoil which exploded on the streets of Paris. Charles X was very aware of the fate of Louis XIV, but now he himself was pressured to abdicate the throne and he sought refuge in England. Lafayette took advantage of this situation that created much rejoicing among the people. He presented to the multitudes a member of the Bourbon Family, the Duke of Orleans, Louis Philippe, who was immediately acclaimed king. Louis was the son of the Prince of Orleans, Philippe Egalité, a name that he received as a result of his involvement in the French Revolution which he actively supported as a member of the Gironde Party. When the Jacobeans triumphed, Philippe was sent to the guillotine along with other members of his political party. At the time, Louis Philippe, was in the United States where he was greatly influenced by democratic ideas. Since many Frenchmen felt that he embodied these ideals they saw no reason to declare a French Republic. They felt the new monarch would be the best guarantee for democratic freedom.
With Philippe, France experienced a change in the ruling dynasty, but little else. The Charter was reenacted and the decrees of July were suppressed; the right to vote was carefully extended and membership in the Chamber of Paris remained a right that was obtained through inheritance and this opened the way for the new aristocracy to obtain these positions. The old blood-line aristocracy that had served the Bourbons lost power with the abdication of Charles X. The new aristocrats had their monarch, Louis Philippe, and those who fought at the barricades continued to have nothing.
The revolutionary events of July 1830 had an extraordinary effect on Frederic. He knew that his brother, Alphonse, a priest, had to put aside his ecclesiastical habit and that his future was uncertain. This was kept secret from his mother so as not to upset her, but Frederic opened his heart to his friend, Auguste Materne: I feel overhwlemed! Oh my God! In front of your house I have heard the announcement that Charles X cannot continue to reign. Since when is the person of the king no longer sacred and inviolable? I tremble with indignation. What allows the people to dispose and appoint? I will always be the faithful subject of Charles X.
Here we see a young man who was deeply moved by historical events. But as the years passed his political thinking would gradually change, and his youthful fervor would dramatically change.
Four years later as a student in Paris he continued to feel that there was a need for a monarch to guide the destiny of France. He wrote: I do not believe that French society has yet come of age … I believe its character to be such that it needs a monarchical regime … The king is then for me the symbol of national destinies, the old French idea presiding over the development of society, the representation of the people par excellence. On his forehead shine the glories of France, ancient and modern. All our memories are brought together in his head. That is why I venerate and cherish him, whether on the throne or in exile .
At this time Europe was struggling with two antagonistic powers: on one side, liberalism that was initiated at the time of the French Revolution and on the other side, the system of restoration through which the absolute monarchs made their final effort to save the Old Regime.
The triumph of the monarchists, the Galicans and the legitimists crushed the first attempts to enact a Christian democratic doctrine. Ozanam, so loving and faithful to the Church, saw with great sorrow that many ecclesiastical sectors, which before had separated themselves from the politics of the time, reacted and sought some form of an alliance, thus falling into a contradictory position in which they now obstinately defended the established order. Many of the clergy did not want to hear the word liberty. The bishops imbued with old galican and absolutist ideas allowed the Church to become a servant of the State which in turn used the Church for its own political interests.
Frederic moves beyond legitimacy through Lamennais
Frederic discovered, with the help of Lamennais, that the Church did not need the absolute monarchy. It was said at that time that he overcame his family’s tendency toward legitimacy as he began to see clearly the need for the separation of the Church and State. Setting out a new path and breaking with the political powers, Frederic became associated with the social movement that prepared the world for a new destiny.
It is true that in the beginning he was skeptical about Lamennais’ doctrine and did not wholly embrace it. Ozanam was a liberal Catholic and an eyewitness of the break between Lamennais and Rome when on August 15, 1832 Pope Gregory XVI published the encyclical Mirari vos. In this letter the Pope discredited the thesis of Lamennais and in doing so he destroyed the first forum of social Catholicism.
In the beginning Lamennais accepted and respected the document, as did Lacodaire and Montalembert. He returned to France to close the newspaper, L’Avenir, which he founded. A few months later he would be unwilling to accept the blow and on April 7, 1833 he celebrated his last Mass in La Chesnaie, disillusioned by the Catholic religion. According to him, the Holy See had entered into some kind of agreement with the absolute monarchs who had inflicted such great harm on the Church, and so he could expect nothing from a religion that had separated itself from the people and had joined the ranks of despotism. He was discouraged by the fact that Catholicism did not move forward as quickly as he had hoped.
Frederic was twenty-one years old but with a clear vision he advised his friend not to act so precipitously and that the best thing for the future was not to force some type of movement. Frederic’s knowledge of the development of history led to him to believe that all of this was premature and that one could not engage in a process by fits and starts but had to work so that the time would draw near. This was the key, the certainty that Ozanam had. Even though he shared some of Lamennais’ ideas he did not accept them in a way that led him to separate himself from the Church. It is not good to neglect stages of a process and Lamennais did not have the patience of a worker who cares for the crops in order to reap the harvest at the proper time.
As a student in Paris, Frederic became a member of the Conference of History that was founded by Bailly in 1832. Those meetings provided Frederic with a forum to express his political ideas, ideas that were not always interpreted well. He was attacked in a magazine called Ami de la religion and in defense of himself he wrote: For me the monarchy is so personified in venerable and beloved persons such as Henry IV , Louis XIV, and Louis XV and thus such expressions would never leave my lips without causing me great remorse … though I am accused of calumniating the monarchy I have no interest in calumniating anyone and should such a temptation arise, I would hope to have sufficient honor and dignity to refrain from acting in such a way.
Frederic was a defender and a great admirer of the monarchy. Nevertheless, this does not mean that his participation in politics involved being a militant and active member of some party. In the letter that was mentioned before, he wrote: Despite the ideas and the struggles that divide France, my sympathies have never inclined me to any political party. Political beliefs cannot be attributed to me, but if at some time this should occur I would be opposed to these parties and more inclined toward that line of thought that looks favorably upon the dignity of the monarchy and the things that they fought for.
He would not lose the reputation of being a monarchist until later, after the revolution of 1848. When his name was advanced for the position of philosophy in 1838, the rector, Soulacroix (who later would become his father-in-law), gave the following report to the Minister of Public Education: A magistrate of the Public Minister spoke to me about M. Ozanam, praising him in every aspect, satisfied with the principles expressed by this young lawyer … Nevertheless the information that comes forth from the Prefecture creates certain doubts and connects him to the previous regime. A conversation with the candidate about this delicate matter will provide an opportunity to clarify matters and find out if he is truly bound up in the present order of things.
Like everyone else of his era, Frederick requested recommendations in order to obtain different positions in which he hoped to exercise his profession as a professor but he never hid his political ideas or religious convictions. At all times he defended the truth regardless of the personal cost.
During the eighteen year reign of Louis Philippe, especially the first decade, Ozanam’s involvement in politics appears to be marked by indifference. One has the feeling that he rejected everything that would lead to political involvement. He wrote to his mother: We are surrounded by political parties that want to enroll us in their ranks because we are young adults. Even in the practice of religion we hear about so many controversies and we witness disputes in which there is a great lack of charity and an abundance of scandal.
The interests that attracted Ozanam during these years were not exactly politics. He was pleased by the fact that the present regime allowed a certain margin of freedom and thus he was able to take advantage of this opportunity and taught fundamental morals to members of the financial sector which was beginning to play a more important role in society. The fact that the monarchy that came into power in July did not prohibit him from working in this manner was one of the primary reasons that led Frederic to adapt an accommodating attitude with regard to the government of Louis Philippe of Orleans. While it could be said that Louis was a despot, his government was not some form of tyranny. Nevertheless, Louis did not understand the needs of his country. His motto was: nothing for the glory [of the nation]. To satisfy his subjects he told them: enrich yourselves! But while the bourgeois enriched themselves and Louis became the richest monarch in Europe, the workers suffered great poverty, great insecurity in the workplace and lacked legal protections in dealing with management. This situation led to the uprisings that took place in Lyon in 1833 and 1834.
The different expectations of the protagonists of these short-lived revolutions moved between hope and joy, but all of these were quickly crushed. The workers hoped to better their situation in life and in work and the republicans believed that the time had come to establish the Second Democratic Republic. For the greater majority of the bourgeois, however, the joy of victory was mixed with fear that the situation could result in another reign of terror and so they were content with the re-enactment of the Charter of 1814 and with upholding the old aristocracy.
During this era Frederic’s political ideas were focused on the rejection of the disciples of Saint-Simon. During 1834 several of his letters testify to this fact. He wrote to his father and deplored the evil liberalism which was practiced in the city of Lyon. Since 1931 the liberal newspaper, Précurseur, had embraced the doctrine of Saint-Simon and with eloquent words had presented this doctrine to a group of representatives from Paris. Soon these same liberals lamented the esteem in which this doctrine was held and provided space in their newspaper to those who wished to refute this doctrine. Frederic took advantage of this opportunity and in May, 1831 published his reflection on the doctrine of Saint-Simon.
Frederic denounced the great affinity between liberalism and Saint-Simonism. From this critique he then began to contrast different concepts of freedom. In December, 1839 when he began teaching a course on Commercial Law in the city of Lyon he made the following declaration of principles: political freedom, like moral freedom, does not consist in the absence of law but in the intelligence of the law. If man is free it is because instead of allowing himself to be led along, without acknowledging it, by fatal impulses from an outside source, he spontaneously decides, through the enlightenment of law, that he carries within himself that which is called conscience, and therefore he can decide.
As Frederic explained his concept of freedom, he defined his own concept of liberalism and implicitly criticized other concepts from the perspective of the transcendence which was rejected in the doctrine of Saint-Simon.
The different aspects of Ozanam’s work were thought out, contemplated, and examined in the light of history. This was one of the principles which guided his teaching and the formulation of his lessons. He learned from history and wanted to point out the lessons of history to others and teach them this method of analysis and thinking. Though he came from a home that was legitimist in their political leanings, his ideological thinking evolved through his study of history, through his involvement in the world of the workers, and above all, through his faith commitment.
On July 21, 1834 Frederick explained clearly his political ideas in a letter that he wrote to his cousin, Ernest Falconnet, and proposed individual sacrifice for the good of all and in stating this principle he appealed to history. He compared this proposed program to the primitive Church in Jerusalem and called this a Christian republic that would achieve its fullness at the end of time when the most perfect state that humankind can achieve is finally established.
Throughout his life, though his was not a long life, Ozanam realized that the evolution of circumstances and situations was bringing about a change in his thoughts. Nevertheless his heart would remain resolute in regard to his commitment to others, even though at the beginning he thought that this commitment to others would bring about the disappearance of the political spirit and be replaced with a spirit of social charity. In a letter to François Lallier he wrote: the question that disturbs the world around us today is not the question of political modalities, but it is the social question.
As time passed, Frederic became involved in politics and in 1848 accepted the offer to present his candidacy as a Deputy in the National Assembly, representing the district of Rhóne. His interest in social affairs was always more important than his political interests and therefore he did not give much importance to the fact that he was not elected to this position.
Disillusionment with the established regime
When Frederic shared with his friends his plan to seek elected office, he had begun to mistrust the efficacy of the ancient royal regime. Thus it was that in 1834 Frederic began to understand that from the time of the bourgeois revolution in 1830 the Ancient Regime had created a crisis, an irreversible crisis, and therefore did not deserve to be supported. He began to view the monarchy not as a means but as an institution that was coming to an end and so he began to offer some come concrete formulas: With regard to my political ideas: like you, I would like to see the social spirit take precedent over the political spirit. Like you I salute the flag of Lamartine, Saucent, Pagés du Ariegé, Hennezuin and Janvier. I give the same respect to the Ancient Regime that I would give to a soldier who has become an invalid, but I do not seek support there because with a wooden leg he is not able to keep pace with the new generation. I do not deny or reject any governmental alternative but I see these as instruments to make people happier and better. If you want formulas there you have them: I believe in authority as a means and charity as an end.
Frederic began to warn others about the changes that he saw coming as he contrasted liberal principles with the principle that saw authority as of divine origin: Every form of government seems good in that it represents the divine principle of authority: it is in that sense that I understand the omnis potestas a Deo  of Saint Paul. But I also believe that with power there must also be room for the sacred principle of liberty.
Ozanam also spoke about the rejection of the monarchy because of the ways that it had exploited so many countless people. Frederic appealed to history: There are two kinds of governments that are based on diametrically opposite principles. One is the exploitation of all for the advantage of one: that is the monarchy of Nero, a monarch whom I detest. The other is the sacrifice of one for the benefit of all: that is the monarchy of Saint Louis. He then goes on to say: this is the one I revere and love.
In 1835 Ozanam warned that the political struggles to maintain “the established order” against liberal principles that could no longer be ignored were becoming more widespread and receiving greater support. Liberalism was bursting forth and creating ambiguous and confrontational situations. The bourgeois of Europe found themselves in a favorable situation as the result of the revolution. Progressive liberalism trusted in reform so that society as a whole might move forward on a better path. Socialism proposed a profound change. In light of this situation Ozanam spoke out and using his influence began to give guidelines that would help people in their analysis of the situation: the future is very bleak and the ground on which we find ourselves is very muddy … the time has come to extend our hand and support one another … let us make every effort to ensure that the land on which we walk does not swallow us up … let us remain pure and walk on more elevated and more beautiful paths and let us lead those who come after us on these same paths.
In this same letter he concluded with a complaint: I find that among Catholics there is a lack of energy and a lack of unity and if we remain in this situation we will not be able to do anything to better this century or better our nation. We need a great intellectual and moral crusade and also need to put aside our political quarrels. We need only three words on our flag: God, the Church, humanity!
Ozanam’s militancy is very clear in the words cited above. At every moment his weapons would be an intellectual and moral crusade, a desire to educate workers and soldiers, an on-going struggle to make education available to the people. The constants of his short life were raising moral principles to a higher level and deepening his understanding of history … this is where he watched for salvation during his lifetime.
Ozanam continually warned about the disappearance of political systems and began to hope for a new system that would reconcile power with freedom so that the development of the nation’s politics could function under the guardianship of religious faith, seeking first the kingdom God and God’s justice and then everything else would be provided.
In 1839 Frederic wrote Lacordaire on the occasion of his entrance into the Dominican Order. He told him that in Lyon there was the beginnings of a Catholic Movement among the intellectuals and this came about as a result of the impulse that these individuals received from the conference that he (Lacordaire) gave in the cathedral of Notre Dame. The fruits of that conference were being harvested. People of different political tendencies had been converted and became fervent believers. Catholics were asked to collaborate in the publication of different magazines and newspapers; the number of those individuals willing to do good had increased in the Chamber of Peers and its members saw that it was good that the articles of the Penal Code favored the monasteries and religious orders. Frederic pointed out with joy that there was a change in spirit especially among the clergy. Some, he said, are beginning to see that the faith is suffering as a result of these alliances for political interests and more than a dozen of them, the most absolutists , have abandoned Le National.
Ozanam was encouraged by the fact that others seconded his ideas and little by little he saw the horizons opening to a wider form of democracy that involved not only a demand for universal suffrage and the elimination of the poll tax, not only a government responsible to Parliament, freedom of the press and freedom of association, but also saw the horizons opening to other forms of freedom. Yes, his struggle was based on democracy but Christian democracy with great social reforms that would alleviate the misery of the workers through the establishment of cooperatives and that would provide all that was needed in order to better the culture and the life of the oppressed.
Ozanam, the republican
Ozanam was one of the first people to hint at a Christian democracy as an economic and social structure for the working class and as a political structure for society. He was the first to intuit its historical development and its social basis and thus could be called the first leader of Christian democracy.
As the years passed, the environment, the society that surrounded Frederic Ozanam began to change. Different events modified the circumstances and took a new turn: the triple appointment to the first three Sess of France: Bishop Affre in Paris, Bishop Goussent in Reims and Bishop Bonald in Lyon. This led to the dissemination of ideas that were formerly held suspect in clerical circles. The Catholic resistance in Ireland, Germany and Spain, the Catholic press and discourses of the Holy See would make the time of transition noteworthy. Frederic stated: We find ourselves in the process of a noteworthy transition … no one can foresee its vicissitudes but we cannot ignore the event.
Before this crucial time arrived Ozanam was prepared and saw that the situation was favorable to put into motion that which Lamennais had tried to force upon people: the separation of religious ideas from political ideas and in this way reconciled the past with the future.
In a letter addressed to Charles Montalembert, Frederic commented on these feelings; how great would be his joy and how much he would bless God for having given him the honor of seeing these two realities reconciled, separating religious questions from the state … a work in which Montalembert has dedicated much effort: The reconciliation of the past with the future, the separation of religious ideas from political ideas in the midst of which we find that the work to which you dedicated so much effort is beginning to be fulfilled even in our city where it first met with more resistance than in any other part of our country.
Frederic patiently waited for the cause that he was serving to be victorious and several times he dreamed aloud and commented to his friends: Perhaps one day we will be allowed to build on the ruins of schools and political parties that still fill the lands of France …. Perhaps we will be allowed to build a school and a party whose only objective is the glory of God and peace to all people of good will.
Frederic did not fear that his political convictions would become known. Not only was he not afraid but he desired to proclaim his views so that everyone would know his position. When there was an opening in the Department of Foreign Literature at Lyon he wrote the Minister Cousin and asked him for this appointment but he also warned him: they have worked against me and they have criticized my political opinions and reproached my religious convictions.
There is no doubt about Ozanam’s political commitment to the struggles of his time, a commitment that marks what could be referred to as the democratic period of his life (1845-1849). For him the only possible attitude was the defense of religious interests. It was important, in his eyes, to separate the Church’s cause from every political party: Allow me now to congratulate our common friends for having separated the cause of the Church from the cause of political parties, regardless of how respectable such a party might be … if freedom were always defended in this way, its triumph would be easy… it is necessary that religion have its independence, just like industry and the press and all the other sectors of modern society …
Frederic constantly called people to become united despite their own individual commitment. At the same time he did not want to eliminate the expression of legitimate differences among Catholics nor limit access to the different means of action that could lead to the victory of the common cause. Ozanam consistently spoke about the legitimacy of pluralism and this would become his primary concern. He communicated with Lallier: I believe we are stronger when we are greater in number and when we combat as various regiments and combat at the same time from various positions.
Some months later he returned to the same theme and felt that the Catholic press was the most honorable organism to defend Catholic interests. He continually invited people to come together in a common endeavor: At this time of upheaval in which we find ourselves it is good to see that in the midst of all these political and philosophical systems, a group of determined individuals is coming together to use all their rights as citizens, all their influence as educated people and all their professional studies to honor Catholicism in a time of peace and to defend Catholicism in case of a struggle.
Frederic’s attitude in light of the events of February 1848
The revolution of 1848 would put in question the attitude that Frederic had adapted politically and would also test the results of his reflection concerning this matter. The turmoil began on February 22nd and a provisional government was installed on February 24th. Louis Philippe abdicated and left France and the Republic was proclaimed on February 25th.
The people of France had felt defrauded: with the revolution of 1830 the country had moved from one dynasty to another but had not obtained the social progress that was hope for. Universal suffrage was not obtained, nor the freedom of association nor the right to education. Politics continued as usual, or perhaps a worse situation was being endured than that which existed during the time of Bourbons. The opposition began to look to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and saw him as the individual who would once again make France a first-rate power. The authorities and the laws were not prepared for this because they had not advanced with the same rhythm as industry; society was not on a parallel with the economic transformations and thus inequality and misery made a change necessary.
In order to rein in the tumult of the February revolution, Ozanam as well as the other members of the Conferences carried out their duties in a noble manner. They put on the uniform and enlisted in the National Guard and at the same time calmed tempers and aided the wounded. When the people invaded Tuilieres and began to throw objects through the windows, the people from the town ran to the Church to prevent the profaning of the Eucharist and the crucifix. They were able to open a path through the multitude that led to the Church of Saint Roch and at the shouts of Long live Christ! the procession was able to enter the Church and with profound veneration gave the pastor the sacred vessels.
The upheaval returned again in June of the same year. Ozanam once again put on the uniform to engage in the struggle, but as a sensitive man it was difficult to leave his loved ones to defend the country: My conscience is in order … I have to confess that this is a terrible time because I realize that as I embrace my wife and daughter, this might be the last time I share this gesture with them. Fredric was one of those who requested Bishop Affre to cross the barricade in order to obtain the surrender of the rebels. Frederic accompanied the bishop through the streets to the Place de l’Arsenal where the Archbishop moved forward to serve as a mediator in the cause. After he obtained the promise of a general pardon from Cavaignac, he hoisted on high the sign of an agreement and crossed the barricade that obstructed the environs. A stray bullet made the archbishop a sacrifice, the last victim of the revolution. Despite the fact that this event produced peace, the loss of the archbishop caused Frederic great pain and suffering.
Acceptance of the new regime
What type of acceptance was given to the new new regime? How could Christians become associated with this regime? As time advanced and events unfolded, Ozanam began to cast aside his former image of politics. He saw the action of Providence in the moderation of the people who showed generosity, mercy and respect … something that was quite distinct from the events that occurred during the Reign of Terror. A series of letters that were written during this time show how Frederic viewed these events. Almost every day from the beginning of March Frederic wrote to his companions and friends not only about the events that were occurring but also about the position that he was to take in this regard. There is no reason to fear the return of the terror of 1793; this will not take place again in our history because the political institutions have not passionately enflamed people now as in the past. So then, is there no danger? There is an even greater danger because the past provides us with no example for our present situation. Behind the political revolution there is a social revolution and behind the Republic which interests only educated people are questions that interest the people who have struggled for its establishment.
At this time the circumstances were very different from those of the 1830 revolution. Ozanam stated that the monarchy collapsed for the third time in a span of fifty years (Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Philippe) and therefore a new form of government had to be sought. In the letter just cited Ozanam wrote: The Republic that was proclaimed with no fanaticism is accepted without opposition. The whole world has despaired of the monarchy, three times tested during fifty years and three time it has shown itself indifferent. The world has decided to try a new form of government and without bitterness rejects the former government and there is no fanaticism to attempt to re-establish it.
The nation also expressed its desire in this regard; there was no reason to fear the re-establishment of a powerful opposition as was the case in 1840, especially from the legitimists of Louis Philippe. Religiously and naturally the situation was wholly different, the attitude of the people could not be compared with the irreligiosity of the bourgeois or the anti-clerical attitude of that earlier time. The moral superiority of the people had been revealed in their unexpected generosity and calm. Despite the fact that this was a spontaneous revolution, with no leader who could restrain excesses, there was no pillage or violence against the Church or the clergy.
This characteristic surprised many Catholics and it was this reality that led the majority of Catholics to support the Republic … this included the ecclesiastical hierarchy and ordinary citizens.
When Frederic’s emotions had calmed down he wrote his brother: After the first heat of combat these people have shown their generosity, mercy and great calm. Friday and Saturday after the victory there was a plan to sack Paris, nevertheless, these people without food, without warmth or shelter, took up arms to defend the palaces, the hotels, and the factories against freed prisoners and other criminal elements. In the midst of the ruins of human laws, the divine law had been respected. I am happy that these people, the barbarians to whom I alluded in my article, are passionate but are not compelled by vices which often impede the reasoning processes of the higher classes of society.
From the beginning Ozanam declared his loyalty to the republic. His correspondence during these months and his articles that were published in the press provide us with his reasoning. He felt that the Republic was established on an authentic National Sovereignty and a democratic freedom understood from a Christian perspective, and that the objective of the Republic was to create justice and unity among the classes. He began his campaign on behalf of democracy in February, 1848 with a brilliant discourse in the Cercle Catholique and his words were later published in the newspaper Le Correspondant under the title, The Dangers of Rome and its Hopes. There he put forth and justified with great passion his ideas with regard to democracy.
In this article he also set forth and defended the politics that Pius IX had followed. This was a prophetic interpretation in which he saw a reconciliation, a new alliance between freedom and religion, Christianity and democracy. He saw the Pope as one sent by God to bring to a conclusion the great event of the century: the alliance between religion and freedom.
In reality this article constituted a call to French Catholics to abandon the outdated ideas of an absolute monarchy and to join together to initiate a social movement that would be democratic in its functioning. In this same article he reviewed Ancient History and reflected on the Church’s work through the centuries, especially during the fifth to the eight century, pointing out how the Popes had remained faithful despite the obstacles in their path. He attempted to establish a parallel between the past and the present. Here are some of his words: The present situation is similar to the past. The Papacy on the one hand has seen the absolute monarchy as a respected institution but lost … lost because it no longer has authority as a result of its errors, the scandal of its customs, the usurpation of the rights of God and their disrespectful attitude toward the conscience of the people … The Papacy viewed the monarchy as a great body whose spirit had abandoned it and yet this body continued to exist, but it was dying and was respected until its final days despite the condemnations of those who had become impatient because of the obstinacy of those who occupied the throne. Now that this institution has passed away and been solemnly buried, the Papacy has accepted democracy, has returned to embrace the barbarians of our time, to embrace those who are aware of their violent instincts and hardness of heart.
Frederic rejoiced and applauded Pius IX who supported the present government and the new barbarians who needed to be civilized and saved.
In the same article he wrote: Let the modern Papacy bring together French Catholics and lead them along the path that has been opened. Conquer repugnance and dislike and turn to democracy, to the mass of people whom we do not know. Appeal to them not merely by sermons but by beneficent action. Help them not with alms which humiliate but with social and ameliorative measures which will free and elevate them. Passous Aux Barbares! Suivons Pie IX! Let us go over to the Barbarians! Let us follow Pius IX in freeing these people from their present state, to convert them into true citizens and make them worthy and capable of possessing the freedom of the children of God.
France and other European nations were threatened by this change in sovereignty; it was obviously dangerous to the monarchs and the aristocrats and so Frederic searched history to find the necessary light in order to see more clearly and respond more calmly. As a result of his study he compared France of the fifth century that was threatened by the barbarians to France of the nineteenth century that was not threatened by some other race of people but threatened by a class struggle.
As Frederic deepened his reflection, Pope Pius IX blessed the priests, the bourgeois, and the workers who praised him for the political freedom that he had given them and it was there that Frederic saw the symbol of the alliance between Christianity and freedom which he wanted to spread throughout France, explaining this alliance with his famous phrase: Let's go over to the Barbarians … a phrase which startled many and scandalized those who were part of his intimate circle of friends. His words were translated as a revolutionary phrase and had an effect on many conservative Catholics, including Montalembert who raised up a storm of protest.
More moderate individuals, those who were better disposed, like his friend Foisset, could not understand what Frederic was saying. When Frederic said: Let’s go over to the Barbarians, fear of terror was brought to mind and his words were interpreted as referring to some form of socialism. People did not understand that this phrase was spoken and written from an historical perspective. Frederic could not imagine how his words were seen as a reference to socialism since from the time of his youth he had combated such ideas. Even though Frederic did not like to provoke discord, he challenged public opinion and therefore knowing what to expect he acted convinced of the duty that he had to fulfill. In a long letter he explained what he meant by those explosive words: When I say, “let us pass over to the Barbarians”, I do not mean to say that we should enter into an alliance with radicals, with those who cause us to be fearful. To go over to the Barbarians is to leave the camp of statesmen and Kings who are slaves to selfish and dynastic interests, who made the treaties of 1815 … and to go to the camp of the people and the nation … to interest ourselves in the people who have many needs but few rights … who justly claim a larger part in the management of public affairs, who demand security in the workplace and guarantees against misery. If it is not right to expect something from these barbarians, then we are witnessing the end of the world.
As Frederic explained to Foisset who the Barbarians were that he referred to and what was the democracy that he had in mind, he said: I am not referring to the detested party of Mazzini or Ochenbein or of Henri Heines but rather to the people who have so many needs that are not tended to, so few rights that are recognized … Let us conquer our repugnance and prejudice and turn to democracy, to the masses of people who do not know us.
Frederic asked for a republic without conspiracies, without radical forms and repression, a republic different from that of Mazzini, Heines and Ochsenbein.
How Ozanam viewed and accepted the Republic
Ozanam pleaded for democracy and he called himself a democrat. In 1848, with loyalty and enthusiasm he called himself a republican. He understood this word, which had not been defined in any strict sense, in its broadest sense: as the ascension of the people morally as well as socially, culturally and politically. Frederic Ozanam, a Roman and apostolic Christian, rejoiced greatly when Pope Pius IX returned to democracy and as a result the revolution that ousted Louis Philippe was received calmly because it could rely on the Papacy to support the moral order. Despite everything, Frederic separated political ideas from the democratic aspirations of the religious, never investing Catholicism with rights over the political regime which Catholicism also did not desire.
Ozanam was a social democrat, not a liberal Catholic or republican. His republicanism is derived from his democratic doctrine which at the same time included his Christian beliefs and thus found it easy to proclaim the equality of all people. He viewed and accepted the Republic as a sign of progress that must be defended and not as some disgrace that had fallen upon his era and that therefore implied one had to be resigned to this reality.
Frederic wrote in L’Ere Nouvelle: If democracy is as old as the world and if after fifty years it is hidden beneath the legal fictions of the Empire and the constitutional monarchs, then it must be recognized that it finds its most exact expression in the republican constitution. This is because we have accepted the Republic not as some evil that has been inflicted on our history and that we must be resigned to as a reality but rather we have accepted the Republic as a sign of progress that must be defended.
He did not, like his companions, accept this reality as a regime of transition; he accepted it out of conviction. It was not an expedient measure but a solution. He did not desire this but accepted it as a gift of Divine Providence and the reasons for which were supported through the history of the past. In the article that was mentioned above he wrote: Providence does not destroy except to build and renew the earth and we believe that this same Providence has laid the foundation for a new order.
From Paris he wrote to his friend Louis Gros, and responded to the invitation to present himself as a candidate in the elections for the National Assembly. In the letter he spoke about his acceptance of the present regime: I accept the sovereignty of the nation and the republican form of government. I accept this form of government not as some disgrace that has fallen upon our times and that we must now adapt ourselves to but rather I see this as a sign of progress that must be defended and I believe it is now impossible for a return to the monarchy. I want to see the republic peaceful, a protector of all the civil, political and religious liberties, without the intervention of the State in questions outside of its competency. I want to see a respect for property, for industry, and free commerce. I want to see better institutions and the condition of workers renewed. I want to see the organization of workers rather than the organization of work … organizations among the workers themselves or organization of workers and management.
While some, the socialists, hoped that this regime would be a bridge for a social revolution, others, those on the right, wanted to see the return of the monarchy, yet to both sides Ozanam counseled calmness, trust and courage. Through two articles that were published in the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle he attempted to encourage people and to invite them to engage in the struggle in order to achieve the proposed goals. He wrote: The first thing that I want to say to all our readers is this: trust and courage. The whole world is in agreement that never before has the hand of God been revealed in a human event as it was revealed in the revolution that has just been concluded.
As an historian Frederic saw these crossroads as a time in which one should neither incline toward the right or the left. He recommended that all Catholics should not attach themselves to any system or any determined form of government. He also did not want people to absent themselves from political participation in the nation: … what I have learned from history gives me the right to believe that democracy is the natural end of political progress and that God leads the world in this direction.
Ozanam proposed a concrete plan of action that consisted of uniting Catholics together in order to recognize the legitimacy of the Republic and to bring into the Constitutional National Assembly the greatest possible number of representatives who were willing to defend social justice as well as political and religious freedom.
Together the people elected three bishops, eleven priests, and a great number of lay Catholics to participate in the republican regime. Among the group was Lacordaire, Montalembert, Tocqueville, Berryer, Falloux, and Melun … all of these individuals were willing to work with valor and sincerity in order to achieve social well-being during the regime of the Second French Republic.
Ozanam saw that he had a duty to encourage Catholics to participate in the republican regime. He did not feel any natural pleasure or any particular attraction toward politics. He did not participate in politics for any extended period of time but with his clear vision he invited others to participate. He was not one to engage in a hand to hand struggle but helped as part of the rearguard. He gave witness to all of this in a letter that he wrote to a friend: I am not a man of action nor am I suited for Parliament or for the platform. If I can do anything however small, it is in my University position or perhaps in the seclusion of my library, in extracting from philosophy and history thoughts which I can put before young men, before trouble and vacillating minds, in order to steady, to encourage, to rally them together, in the confusion of the present and the terrible uncertainty of the future.
On more than one occasion he insisted that at the present time one had to act and could not remain passive: The best that they can do is to give their votes to republican candidates who are well-known for their commitment to the democratic cause. In this way we will have representatives who will vote in accord with our own convictions. There are many friends who will uphold our religious freedom and this should calm our consciences.
A candidate for the National Assembly: his program
People in Paris requested Frederic to become a delegate to the Constitutional Assembly but he rejected their offer. Nevertheless, his companions in Lyon pushed him in the same direction. For a long time he resisted such a move but then at the last minute he decided to become a candidate.
His statement announcing his candidacy which was written in Paris on April 15, 1848, began: To the electorate in Rhóne. This statement allows us to understand in a clear and precise manner his ideas concerning republican democracy.
We see in Frederic’s program a balance, a clarity and a great generosity. In the first place he reveals to us an acceptance of the ideas that surfaced from the events of February, 1848. Frederic judged these events to be in accord with gospel principles: For me the February revolution is not some public disgrace to which we must resign ourselves, but it is a sign of progress. I see in these events the incarnation of the gospel expressed in these three words: freedom, equality, fraternity.
He accepted unequivocally the regime of 1848 which he felt was established on three Christian convictions: freedom, equality, and fraternity. Freedom implied the sovereignty of the people and the rejection of all the vestiges of the Old Regime. Sovereign people are ruled by laws that are the natural rights of men and women, and families, laws that are not dependent on any individual action, nor the action of governments which frequently waiver in this regard nor the majority vote of Parliament. His desire to struggle for these natural rights is very clear: I want sovereignty for the people. Since the people are composed of free persons, I desire above all else the approval of the natural rights of the human person, the natural rights of the family. In the constitution we must overcome the uncertainty of the parliamentarians and highlight the freedom of the human person, freedom of speech, education, free association, freedom of worship. We must avoid the situation of allowing the political parties to suspend at any time individual freedom or to interfere with matters of conscience or to quiet the press.
Frederic also wanted to build up democracy and decentralize the economy and governmental administration: I want a republican Constitution without a spirit that would attempt to return us to impossible realities. I want equality for everyone and consequently, universal suffrage for the National Assembly elections. Territorial unity is the work of Providence and our ancestors. I reject any thought of a federal republic and at the same time, an excessive centralization that would give Paris more power at the cost of the coastal and rural areas … This would only bring about inequality among those whom the law had declared equals.
Frederic saw that the defense of private property must be balanced with a progressive financial policy. He said: I will defend the sacred principle of private property without touching the fundamental basis for civil order. A system of progressive tax can be introduced that will in turn lower the taxes on consumer goods. The taxes imposed by the deputy’s office can be replaced and thus make life more affordable.
In Frederic’s program we see that he highlights the right to work, equality in wages, freedom of association, justice and other social reforms. I support the right to work … the rights of workers and artisans and merchants who own their own business and set their own salary. I support workers organizations, either among themselves or with management … I will make every effort so that the means of justice and social security become united in alleviating the suffering of the people. Bringing about these realities does not seem to me to be much to ask in order to resolve the formidable question of work, the most acute question at the present time and a question that is worthy of consideration by good-hearted people … I will utilize a social vocabulary in order to address myself to citizens. We cannot leave aside the points of view with regard to fraternity which are closely united to these social ideas. There is no doubt that in the events of 1848 both of these ideas are intimately related. I want fraternity with all its consequences. He concluded his statement with the words: Fraternity knows no frontiers!
This excellent program of Frederic was not known by all the people who would vote. Frederic presented this program four days before the established deadline and he was unable to go in person to Lyon to engage in an electoral campaign. He received 17,000 votes, but not a sufficient amount to obtain the position. He was content with this failure because he did not believe he had the gift to be a parliamentary orator. He presented himself as a candidate because of the influence of his friends. After the elections his work consisted of infusing hope and guarantees among Catholics and encouraging others to commit themselves to political responsibilities. At the time, Ozanam believed that his desire to unite the social classes under the sign of Christian democracy would be carried our effectively. Many representatives were like minded and we can see that they enacted many important reforms. The President of the National Assembly, Philippe Buchez, exerted considerable effort but unfortunately because of extreme elements and special interests he weakened. A confrontation ensued which led to his being hated by the social classes.
Frederic Ozanam: founder of a newspaper
With some friends who shared his republican ideas, Frederic founded the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle in which they proposed the establishment of a Christian political party that trusted the Republic: the Confidence Party
Its principle objective
The question of the republic was a concern only for illustrious people and therefore Frederick did not place much importance on the fact that he was not elected as a representative of Lyon. He felt that he could render a better political service to people through the publication of this newspaper whose principal editors were, together with him, Lacordaire, as director, and a priest, Maret. They received the support from public opinion as well as from ecclesiastical authorities because they had totally separated themselves from partisan politics and sought to save religion and the country.
Encouraged by individuals like himself who were free from political commitments with the fallen regime, Frederic directed his activities from the tribune of the press and hoped to unite Catholics who rejected the conservative positions and the invective of L’Univers, as well as the timorous policy of Le Correspondant.
On March 1, 1848, a flyer was distributed on the streets that announced the beginnings of the new daily newspaper: All of France sees two powerful forces involved in the present situation: Jesus Christ and the people. If these two forces are divided, we are lost. If they are understood, we are saved. How then shall we begin to understand these two realities? They will be understood if the Church respects the general will of the nation and the nation respects the traditional laws of the Church. They will be understood if the Church labors for the good of the nation. Is it not true that Christian institutions flourish better under the free skies of the United States than under the absolutist rod of the Tsar of Russia? … But these human reasons have no divine character or religious sanction. There is no Christian duty that obliges us to oppose the voice of France if she prefers at this time the Republic rather the monarchy. This is a matter of opinion and not faith. It is a matter of opinion and therefore, this is no reason for the Church to take a hostile stance against the majority vote of the people.
The flyer continued: The nation ought to respect the divine constitution of the Church. We, as Catholics, did not formulate this Constitution. We received it from God and we are willing to sign every one of its articles of faith with our blood. To attack one of these articles is to order us to choose between physical death and eternal death. If the Republic should place us in this position, our decision is already made. The nation, however, owes us not only respect for our divine constitution but also, like everyone else, respect for our way of worship. Wherever those obstacles exist in our country, obstacles that impede the development of our conscience and our right to speak and expand … those obstacles should be abolished. We ask for freedom for ourselves and for everyone, a freedom that has been denied us to the present time. We ask for the freedom of education, the freedom to teach and the freedom of association without which the other liberties are unable to form men and women, unable to form good citizens.
With the newspaper Frederic and his collaborators wanted to continue the movement of freedom and the defense of the Rights of Man and so they continued along the path of L’Avenir of Lamennais, which at this time produced more fruit than previously. The eloquence and enthusiasm of Frederic and his collaborators attracted many as they attempted to unite Catholics in a common cause even though Catholics might have different positions. This idea of pluralism in opinions, both legitimate and necessary, was very present from the start. Frederic wrote to Lallier: El Univers cannot continue to be the only voice of Catholics who are now more than ever before the victims of prejudice. On the other hand, since there are various opinions among Catholics it is preferable that they be represented by several newspapers.
In the space of a little more than a year, the focus of Frederic’s activity was to put forth many of his ideas that revolved around the social question. While he affirmed his democratic convictions, he did not hide his fears about the inadequacy of the social politics that was being carried out at this time. He confided in his friend Dufieux: We know that our present situation is threatened and that the revolution can crush us, but we believe that Providence has its designs which will gloriously rise above our ruins. The Republic can, for a time, triumph, but because of the shortcomings of its defenders and the ability of enemies, it can also collapse at any given time. But democracy is in control of the situation and beneath all the different political forms it will continue to move forward, and will end by once again returning to a republican form, which is the most natural and most sincere form. We are not socialists in the sense that we want to disrupt society … what we want is a progressive, Christian and free reform. We believe that we are not mistaken in viewing the movement of 1848 from the perspective of the social question. Because this question is quite formidable God does not want us to leave this aside.
Ozanam’s attitude with regard to the events that were unfolding in France was different from that of the majority of Catholics who became fearful of the revolution. The revolution filled Frederic with hope while for many others this brought back memories of the past and caused a feeling of panic and thus a feeling of pain and hurt.
As the months passed Frederic noticed a growing isolation between the reduced group of L’Ere Nouvelle and Catholic opinion. From the beginning of June 1848 until the election of the President, the division among Catholics became more pronounced.
L’Univers, Ami de la Religion, Veuillot, Montalembert, Dupanloop and many members of the episcopacy led people to call into question the orthodoxy and the good faith of Ozanam’s newspaper.
The articles that Ozanam wrote for this newspaper became distinguished for the care that was given to distinguish his democratic aspirations from the philosophies on which the leftist parties based their political reforms. When Cremieux proposed a law favoring divorce, Frederic criticized this position in an article that he wrote: In no way does the divorce law have anything to do with democracy but it proceeds from the old liberalism system which always had a greater hatred of religion than a love of freedom, a system which only knows how to destroy and seeks to overthrow social institutions. Like the philosophy of the eighteenth century it attempts to trample upon religious beliefs.
Frederic Ozanam was no visionary in love with democracy or a dreamer who blindly trusted the power of democracy’s virtues. His deep religious spirit was always inspired by the Catholic faith and he trusted only his faith. He placed his hope in God … and this led him to write: Even if I were to see all of modern society disappear, I know that it would be easier for God to create a new society than to limit it to the little that we have experienced during these centuries of the redemptive work of the blood of his Son.
Frederic was deeply hurt by the division among Catholics and even more, he was embarrassed by these divisions. He was personally affected by the various ideologies that separated and divided his beloved friends in Lyon.
At the beginning of 1849, L’Ere Nouvelle was constantly pursued by Montalembert who accused its editors of being demagogues and opportunistic. As a result the newspaper began to lose ground and reduced its activity. Lacodaire had resigned as director in 1848 and Frederic was very absorbed in the redaction of his book, Christian Civilization, which he began to write in October 1848. On many occasions people spoke with a certain complacency about the democratic evolution that seemed to grip Europe. People acted like political observers of events and thus the revolution seemed to take on no greater importance than the revolution that put an end to the Roman Empire.
Since many subscribers had stopped reading the newspaper, it was sold to a leader of the legitimists who supported a return to the monarchy, La Rochjacquelaine, who soon after dismantled it and thus it ceased being a means of expression for the small nucleus of Christian democrats. On April 9, 1849, the cessation of its publication was announced and this marked the end of hope.
Frederic wrote to a friend in Lyon and explained the reasons for closing this means of expression and he beseeched him: May controversy and disagreements in matters open to various opinions not lead us to hatred which would only imprison us. For several reasons, but especially as a result of the events in Rome from which the Pope had to flee, the burning conviction, the arduous and disinterested work of a group of Catholics was not enough to influence a greater number of people to support the Republic and democracy, to support a regime that Ozanam and his group desired to build, namely, a more just and fraternal regime. Could we then speak of failure in this regard? Perhaps, but it should be remembered that the work of these individuals of good-will remained as burning embers which during the remainder of the nineteenth century would be successfully taken up once again and bring about a triumph.
After April 1949, Ozanam never returned to the political arena which had caused him great trauma and grief and now his great desire was to establish peace between himself and his friends. He accepted with humility this apparent failure and he realized that to continue the struggle would lead to harsh polemics among people of the Church, including members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Prudence counseled him to retreat. Nevertheless he never lost confidence in Divine Providence that leads people along seemingly crooked paths. He wrote: The day will come when Divine Providence will return us to that unity that makes us strong. We had no interest in profit or ambition; we were not selfish … our only desire was to serve God and the Church by enabling Christian principles to penetrate democracy. The contradictions that we discovered on our path did not surprise us or discourage us, in fact, we would be in the trenches if not for circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that for the moment have distanced us from the combat.
The end of Frederic’s political career
When the newspaper L’Ere Nouvelle disappeared, the group of Christians that was ahead of their time dispersed. Ozznam, inflicted with illness, abandoned active politics without denying any of his convictions. He wrote: I have believed and still believe in the possibility of Christian democracy and I do not believe in any other Christian doctrine.
With great clarity he perceived the threats that a divided and weakened Republic presented and he denounced the danger that the Church ran (the hopes that many Catholics dreamed about) when a government of the moral order guaranteed the detestable religion of the state which would return the state to previous fatal errors: I would like to believe that the Republic will endure, especially for the good of religion and the salvation of the French Church … we do not, however, have sufficient faith and we want to re-establish religion through political means. We dream of a Constantine who with a single stroke led people to the sheepfold … conversions are not brought about through laws but through consciences which must be conquered one by one.
The religious policy of the Second Empire was summed up with these words and Frederic realized that he was able to preach in the desert. So he discretely retreated, with no hatred or bitterness, with a calm and tolerance which continues to be for us a model for our own activity. He viewed his work as one of service and not one of personal aggrandizement and spoke about his retirement in the following way: What a stormy but instructive era! Perhaps we will perish but we do not complain about being in that position. We learn from all of this; we learn how to defend our convictions without hating our adversaries; we learn how to love those who think differently than we do and we learn to recognize that there are Christians in every walk of life and that God can be served today and always. We are saddened at ourselves and not at the times in which we live. If we do not take on a defeatist attitude, we will be better people.
The lesson of detachment was a way for Frederic to grow in the spiritual life. The time of apparent failure led him to this spirit of detachment and stripping of self in order to surrender totally to God. Until the end of his human existence, with its successes and failures, Frederic continued to grow spiritually. At one time he wrote: We are all like to Gobelins  who continue the work of an unknown arist and who sew beautiful threads but cannot see the result of their work until they have completed it. Then with calmness they can admire the flowers, the figures, the beautiful scenes and the splendid palaces of the kings. The same occurs to us. We work, we suffer and we do not see the harvest of the fruit. But God sees all of this and reveals this to us when the great invisible artist who has been present at every moment shows us the results of our fatigue which seemed so sterile to us, when he places with great pleasure these works of our hands in his great palace.
From this time forward Frederic refused to participate in the political life of France and he did not write any more political manuscripts for the public. He did, however, continue to maintain in contact with his friends in Lyon. We have lengthy letters of Frederic that were written during 1849 and addressed to different individuals in Lyon. Politics became a subject that was rarely addressed, though Ozanam observed the political situation with great anxiety. The attitude of Catholics, which was inclined toward the restoration of the monarchy, supported an authoritarian and despotic regime, backed by President Louis Napoleon … and this appeared to Frederic to be a very dangerous stance.
He wrote to his friend, A. Dufieux: My dear friend, taking exception to the archbishop and a small group that surrounds him, individuals who only see people who dream of an alliance between the throne and the altar, I see this as paralyzing the movement of return and conversion that I had made the joy of my youth and the happiness of my mature years.
Certainly the political movement had suffered a great blow and the absolutist tide began to rise in France and in Rome where Pius IX saw himself obliged to return to the regime of Gregory XVI. These were the final years of the Ancient Regime and it was not strange that when the foundations which Ozanam had supported began to totter, there was no one to support them and so they now had to confront the attacks of conservative Catholics.
Disillusioned but not defeated, Frederic continued to struggle. His firm and reflective faith, his constant aspiration for Christian perfection maintained him. He believed that he had a duty to mark democracy with the living and efficacious light of the Christian gospel. He said frequently: Democracy needs the sacrifice of Christian inspiration in order to be able to live.
Frederic placed himself unconditionally at the service of the truth, the focus of his life even though this was not always easy. He habitually struggled against current ways of thinking and on several occasions we see him struggling with feelings of personal impotency with regard to his service of the truth.
As Frederic withdrew from politics he left us the remembrance of a valiant and tentative effort, the echo of noble truth that was able to rise above partisan politics … characteristics that would continue to mark his tenure at the Sorbonne where his students absorbed his teachings with joy and diligence.
Thus concluded the stuttering of a new world: the alliance of democracy with Christianity.
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 contribute .
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).
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 ways .
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 Vatican  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 indifferentism  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 soul .
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 discussion .
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 faith .
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 peace .
Chapter 5: FREDERIC OZANAM LIVES TODAY
People do not simply die without leaving behind some trace of their existence. The work of Frederic Ozanam continues to live and in fact, his followers, the members of the Conferences of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, attempt to demonstrate this reality through their charitable work and gospel witness in a pluralistic society where unbelief is so widespread. Through their service on behalf of those who live on the margins of society, the members of the Society show that Frederic’s spirit is alive. Their activity becomes a channel of God’s love and provides a path to encounter Jesus Christ. Their objectives are inspired by the spirit of their founder and they attempt to give new life to these objectives in their daily lives. Frederic was a prophet, acculturated into the life of his own era and today his followers are invited to give new life to his “secret” and prolong it in the world. They are challenged to acquire greater knowledge about their founder, to love him, to thank him for the heritage they have received and to acculturate his legacy to the situation of the present world.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society is an open organization, one that is attentive to all new forms of assistance that can be applied to the world of those who live on the margins of society and that will draw its members closer to those who have nothing. Through their personal encounter with the poor, the members encounter Christ who lives in these persons in need: Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 24:40). This is a determinant factor in the life of every member of the Society and is an essential and constitutive element of their own identity.
The members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society do not approach the poor as mere social agents nor as demagogues but rather they reach out to the poor in order to serve them with the spirit and the love of Jesus Christ who encourages them to move beyond an approach that distributes alms.
The members are invited to participate in the process of promoting these women and men who are poor so that they become the subjects of their own development. They approach these individuals in the places where they live out their daily existence and thus come to appreciate the values of this sub-culture of people who unjustly live on the margins of society. In this way they are enriched by these values and discover that the poor are evangelizing them. In this movement of “give and take” they come to realize the importance of what they receive and not what they give.
According to the inspiration of their founder, the members of the Society have great independence from the ecclesiastical hierarchy and as a result a vast field lies before them and awaits their action. They act and move, however, in communion with the Church but without any bond that could hint at dependence.
Characteristics of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society
How is the society structured?
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society is a Catholic, international, beneficent association founded in Paris in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam and established in Spain in 1849 by Santiago Masarnau. On April 23, 1972 it was granted juridical status.
The official name of this organization is “The Saint Vincent de Paul Society” and is also known as “The Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul.” The name is derived from the first gathering of a group of Catholic university students in Paris which resulted in Frederic being chosen as the leader of these six individuals. Their meetings involved conferences on history, philosophy, law, and moral theology. As a consequence of these gatherings the members responded to the social situation of the time and created the Conferences of Charity.
The Conference, then, is a cell, a basic unit of the Society’s organization. Each Conference consists of five to fifteen individuals who come together once a week, seeking their own sanctification, practicing love of the neighbor and acting in solidarity in a work that is wholly voluntary. They live out their commitment in the context of an orthodox message and a Christian spirit that is based on Jesus’ commandment of love, especially love of those most in need. They strive to console their sisters and brothers through their personal and voluntary commitment to act with a spirit of justice and charity. They also collaborate in this work through their financial contributions to the Conference.
Another objective, which is as important as those already mentioned, is that the members live the Christian message by providing mutual support through prayer, reflection and religious practices. These responsibilities fall upon a) a president who directs the group, b) a vice-president who substitutes for the president when so authorized, c) a secretary who takes notes of the decisions of the group, d) a treasurer who takes responsibility for financial matters.
They are encouraged by the International Council. There is also a National Council and all the Conferences belong to Provincial Council which is represented on the National Council … each Council enjoys great autonomy.
The reflection themes for the meetings of the Conferences can arise from questions concerning faith, Marian spirituality, Church documents (especially those pertaining to the Church’s social doctrine) or matters related to poverty and marginalization.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society: a vocational, open and democratic society
The Society is continually concerned about renewing itself and adapting itself to the changing conditions of the time. Because of its Catholic character it is open to all those who desire to live their faith in loving service to their sisters and brothers. In some countries, circumstances dictate that membership be opened to Christians of other denominations or individuals of other faiths who are willing to follow the principles of the Society.
No charitable work is foreign to the Society. Its activity involves every type of assistance that can be done through direct contact and attempts to alleviate suffering and promote the integrity and the dignity of the human person. The Society not only seeks to alleviate misery but also to discover and resolve the situations that cause misery. Help is provided to everyone regardless of their religion, opinions, ethnic background or color. The members of the Society are united among themselves by a spirit of poverty and participation and form one family with those whom they assist. Through prayer, meditation on the Scriptures and their fidelity to the Church’s teaching, the members of the Society attempt to witness Christ’s love in their relationships with the outcasts of society and in every aspect of their daily life.
The poor you will always have with you (Matthew 26:11). The members of the Society serve, they do not judge and are always available. From the time of its foundation the Society has been noted for its democratic spirit. Each Conference has full autonomy and forms part of the Provincial Council from which they receive support and in which they participate, that is, participate in the decision making process when the Provincial Council meets in plenary session. The highest authority of the Society is the General Assembly … the National Assembly provides guidance to all the Provincial Councils.
The National President is elected by all the active members of the Conferences for a term of six years and can be re-elected for a second term of six years. The voting process is direct and secret.
The liturgy plays a very important role in the life of the Society because it is through the liturgy that the members insert themselves into the prayer of the Church. At the same time the members encourage other members of their parish to embrace an active prayer life and to lead prayer in schools and other institutions. Their relationship with God is strengthened by prayer and becomes the source for all their activity.
Today the Saint Vincent de Paul Society is a true multi-national charitable institution which combats misery not with noisy fanfare or slogans but with simplicity. The incredible struggle of their founder, Frederic Ozanam, a committed believer, was not carried on in vain. Today, like yesterday, this is proven by the countless members who continue to be present in the midst of situations of abandonment, marginalization, misery, loneliness, exploitation, and thousands of forms of poverty generated today in our society by progress, technology, and the unequal distribution of wealth. There are approximately one million organized members in one hundred thirty-two countries on five continents.
I believe it no exaggeration to apply the words of Gaudium et Spes to the Society: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ (Gaudium et spes, 1). Without a doubt these followers of Christ are the members of the Conferences who struggle and renew themselves and place themselves in a position to continue the work that was begun at the time of their foundation at the beginning of the nineteenth century (1833). Convinced that only Christianity can relieve society of the evils that it faces, the members of the Society allow their affective love to become effective love in service of the poor. They engage in their service with joy, courage, and consistency, satisfying the material needs as well as the spiritual needs of the poor. They experience these problems as their own and they desire to participate in the Church which desires to be the Church of the poor.
So that their labor, which is both charitable and social, may be truly effective, the members of the Society do not intervene in situations in a transitory manner, but attempt to mitigate the problems until they are completely resolved, making the sufferings of the poor their own … this is the reason they are members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. They also collaborate with public authorities and with local corporations to lessen the impact of human misery and create situations of social justice. They are attentive to the victims of violence and oppression and become the voice of the voiceless, defending human dignity and human rights.
The members of the society practice charity through personal contact. They not only serve the poor but attempt to share everything with them. They are involved in multiple activities and adapt their action according to the more urgent needs of the people: literacy programs, hospital visits, assisting the mentally ill, orphans, drug addicts, people living with AIDS, summer camps, financial assistance to families in need, soup kitchens, visiting prisons, assistance in rural and urban parishes and schools … in summary, no need is ever ignored. All of this is done with very clear objectives of providing friendship, spiritual support, and moral and material assistance to persons who are facing difficulties and to those who are most weak. It can be said here there is no need too great that the members of the Society cannot and should not share.
The members’ commitment to action is based on a profound spiritual life and in fact the on-going development of a spiritual life is necessary in order to engage in this wonderful work. Their identity is reflected in the union of action and prayer and both elements are equally important. Each Conference is at one and the same time an oratory and a laboratory of charity. They invent their own means which enable them to exercise charity toward those who are poor. Their service is not a service to the poor but a service with the poor. The distinguishing characteristic of their service is that it is spirituality in action.
There are on-going questions that call the Society to continual reflection: what is faith without works? What is Vincentian faith without services to accompany it? In these questions the Society finds a great plan that is most urgent and necessary for today’s world, a plan that can be lived out in the midst of the world.
What gives legitimacy to the Society today? From my point of view the key is a specific way of evangelizing and seeing and serving the poor in their spiritual and material need. Viewing the poor as the sacrament of Christ enables the members to respond to their Christian vocation. This is a logical and necessary consequence of having opted to follow Christ faithfully as baptized laymen and laywomen. Because of baptism they become servants and evangelizers of the poor and seek for ways to share the goods of this earth with their brothers and sisters because they are members of the same family which detests injustice, oppression and the lack of solidarity. In the document On the Church and the Poor, we read: The followers of Jesus, called to the perfection of holiness, ought to allow themselves to be moved, inspired, and guided by the Holy Spirit if they want to live and grow and mature as Christians. In this way they can experience themselves as missionaries, participating in the mission of Jesus who was and who continues to be the proclaimer of good news to the poor, the proclaimer of freedom to captives and the healer of those who are ill.
Renewing the conferences
During these critical times for many Church institutions there is a great need to present the Society in a way that reveals its conviction of having a vocation that can be prolonged in history. Frederic Ozanam’s own confidence in the future strengthens us today in our present struggle.
In recent years the Conferences of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society have engaged in a process of self-evaluation that has highlighted the need to revitalize and renew the Society. A sign of this is the different strategies that the society has undertaken. The theme of restructuring has been examined on numerous occasions. In October 1986 in Canary Islands it was stated: revitalization has to involve the spiritual renewal of each member of the Conference and also the renewal of the way in which we approach and draw closer to those in need.
Year after year the need to restructure the Society has been highlighted by the themes proposed by different Conferences: in Barcelona the theme was: The Conferences on the Move and in Granada the theme was: Identity and Growth.
How can we come to an understanding of this renewal? The possibility of renewing the Saint Vincent de Paul Society is a great challenge. The word renew implies a commitment. It does not mean that one starts from zero or that one brings to life the events of years gone by. Rather this word has a very dynamic meaning which mobilizes groups and gives them a sense of purpose. Renewal means a transformation of schemas, mentalities and theological and religious motivations and implies prophecy in action.
The process in which an institution recreates itself should be mindful of the past. In valuing the past it seeks a change that will enable it to respond to a new situation and thus prepare itself to confront new challenges. Here we are speaking about a change that will allow the institution to position itself as a significant and proactive group in the midst of society.
To renew an institution involves a commitment to grow, flourish, and bear fruit (even in an unfavorable environment) in the midst of a pluralistic world, recognizing that as an institution it began its journey at a given historical moment and in response to events quite different from those of the present time. To renew also means that the institution is aware that in the midst of great insecurity it is called to be prophetic to all sectors of society. Change will only be possible by relying on the interior strength of the Spirit and by trusting in the Lord Jesus who loves us profoundly, who walks with us, and who communicates his life, strength, peace and joy to us. We must believe in the presence of the living Lord who walks with us and desires to share his life-giving Spirit with us. One day this same Spirit gifted Frederic Ozanam with the fire of love and today the Spirit exhorts us, impels us and brings us together in order to give new life to our activity. To recreate in perfect communion with the spirit of the founder implies that we respond to the creative power of the founder’s inspiration, that we attempt to listen to the new calls of the poor and that we open ourselves to the new realities in which “our clients”, to quote a phrase used by Saint Vincent de Paul and adopted by Frederic Ozanam, our lords and masters, live. In this way the charism is enriched and we are able to prolong the charism in history.
As we consider the reality of recreation I believe that the surest path is that which leads us to reflect on a profound change, that which leads us to put aside ourselves and … forgetting what lies behind, we strain forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). If we want to bring about a change in our lifestyle then all this is a task that must be embraced even though this may result in a certain insecurity, confusion, and anxiety with regard to that which is unknown and that which is to come.
At this time renewal is especially urgent because poverty, misery and spiritual emptiness have become so acute. Today, as yesterday, the poor are news. Thousands of people die before our eyes. We see Christ suffering in the poor in the people of Rwanda, Algeria, Zaire, Serbia, China … In almost every country there is a daily challenge to commitment and service, a challenge to recognize the new forms of poverty and the many groups of poor people who unfortunately abound in our world. This is proven by the widening gap between the people of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres where countless women and men live in absolute misery.
We should be mindful of the fact that each year 40 million people die of hunger, 100,000 people every day of whom 35,000 are children under the age of five. At the present time there are 1,300 million poor people and 1,200 million have no access to health services or running water … these numbers represent a large percentage of the world’s population.
In Spain there are more than 8 million poor people and half of them live in a situation that could be classified as critical. A minority, 14% of humanity, live in the midst of a “culture of satisfaction” produced by the consumer society while the greater majority of the earth’s inhabitants are subject to the dictatorship of poverty.
In light of this situation the members of the Conferences have become aware of the need to live in solidarity with the planet and to do so within their own country, in the situation that surrounds them, as well as with international organizations with whom they work. They have directly committed themselves to the countries of the Third World as the Conferences have opened their doors and placed themselves in these lands through concrete projects of evangelization and financial assistance. They have engaged in the struggle against extravagance and waste and have become aware of and denounced the collective sin of the century that John Paul II called the sinful structures of society that enrich the few and cause greater poverty for many. It must be clear, however, that this solidarity that is practiced by the members of the Society should not be paternalistic or something that soothes the conscience but rather should arise from the conviction that every human person should feel responsible for everyone. This is an ancient concept and in the second century Terrence wrote: I am a man and nothing that is human is foreign to me.
Solidarity ought to guide the members of the Conferences as they engage in activities that attack the root causes of injustice. Thus the members work in a threefold manner: assistance, human promotion and the transformation of structures which is the culmination of the first two actions. It is not enough to give food. Saint Vincent always preferred creating work over giving alms. So much more needs to be done in the political area in order to eliminate unjust structures. Blindness and a lack of awareness of the injustices that surround many human beings create a disproportionate situation between the studies and analysis of the situation of poverty and the formulation of specific proposals to eradicate it.
Solidarity is accepting as one’s own the debt and the problems of another, accepting as one’s own the hopes and disillusionments of another. Solidarity means that we do not walk and pass by those who are injured but make every effort to understand and assist them.
Someone said: we must cultivate crops where there are only vacant lots. We cannot continue with the same approach as yesterday. The scene has changed and the new reality demands that we do things differently. Pressure, denunciation of structures and the use of the media are elements of our prophetic responsibility to announce and denounce in such a way that justice through charity might shine forth. Frederic said: charity fills out what cannot be completely achieved through justice.
A society of charity will never achieve its objective through works of assistance, no matter how numerous these might be. Work on behalf of human promotion will be useless unless it is accompanied by a struggle to reform unjust structures.
In this attempt to recreate the Conferences and to seek a new identity we must be mindful of some obstacles and we must be willing to remain firm when objections are raised about moving away from established traditions, e.g., what will happen if we do not make home visits as they were always made? Yes, we must value tradition but this cannot be done in a way that prevents us from looking at the future with providential eyes.
There is always the danger of focusing primarily on providing for those in need and thus we never engage in the work of human promotion. Because serving as a volunteer is fashionable our activity can be done as a “hobby” and nothing more … but then there is no depth to this activity and likewise no attempt to engage in systematic change.
Revitalizing the experience of the Christian option
In order to achieve a true renewal of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society there is a need to revitalize the experience of the Christian option not only on an individual level but also on a community level. In other words there is a need to live the faith in community and to allow ourselves to be animated by Christ so that in our daily activity Christ’s life becomes our life.
When the words, I baptize you, were spoken at the time of our baptism, we were incorporated into the life of Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary, who through his death and resurrection brought salvation to the world.
When we speak about incorporation into the life of Christ through baptism, we are referring to a personal encounter with Christ, a call by Jesus and a response to that call. We have encountered the Messiah, the Savior of the world and we have experienced Him as the Master, the Teacher, the model of our lives. Thus the very core of our personal lives has been changed as a result of baptism: I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:10).
Saint John’s doctrine, as expressed in his gospel, is very clear with regard to Jesus’ intention and desire for men and women: he wants them to live in full communion with him …remain in my love. Jesus compares himself to the vine and the disciples are the branches. In order to bear fruit and to be able to act, the very life of Christ ought to be circulating in the life of the disciples: without me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Without communion with Jesus there can be no faith life, no gospel witness, no true creative action.
The Christian life is not a belief in some doctrine or the fulfillment of norms or membership in some organization or the development of a practice of worship. The center of the Christian life is a personal union with Jesus Christ as the revelation of God and as a result of this union our convictions of faith and our daily activities proclaim the same reality. In all that Christians think and decide and in all that is said and done they should have Jesus as the light who enlightens them, Jesus as the guide who leads them. To live in a Christian manner means that we are guided by the criteria of Christ and that we view Christ as the Teacher of Life. In other words, as Christians we are always in union with Christ, accompanied by Christ, and a companion of Christ. In this way we become committed to a life-long pilgrimage of faith, hope and charity.
We either establish the Christian life on the personal experience of faith or we cease to be Christian. An inherited, passive faith ends in indifference among intellectuals and in superstition among simple people (Cardinal Newman). The Christian of tomorrow will either be a mystic or will not be a Christian (K. Rahner).
To become incorporated into the life of Christ through baptism means that we become sons and daughters in Jesus, the Son. We participate in the trinitarian life of God and the action of the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us. At the same time we are consecrated in a threefold way: as prophet, priest and king.
Once Christ died and rose he was constituted as the High Priest because of the offering of his life to the Father and became the mediator between God and men and women. Christians, who participate in the common priesthood, give worship to the Father and Christ becomes present in all: present through prayer in the apostolate, in suffering, in life together as a family, in life as a society and above all, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, a privileged moment and a time of celebration. The Eucharist is perfect communion with Christ in his life. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me (John 6:57)
As prophets we are called to proclaim Christ and his saving action in history. We are called to do this though our words but especially through the testimony of our lives. Those who are united to Christ are conformed to him and become his messengers to others: you will be my witnesses, messengers of my life, sacraments of my person.
To live with Christ is not something transitory or something for one moment in time. Rather it is a permanent orientation, a constant and existential reality. To have Jesus as the way, the truth and the life means that each decision, each action and each interpersonal decision ought to be determined by this fundamental and permanent option that involves a commitment of one’s whole existence. If we have been chosen and have responded, then as Christians we ought to be living witnesses to Christ in the world, living witnesses to Christ to others, living witnesses to Christ who question the world.
Our action as kings requires us to become involved in a mission of charity. We ought to become engaged in a struggle to permeate individuals and the world with justice and solidarity and love. To struggle for the development of people and the eradication of poverty is the responsibility of every citizen, especially Christians who have been consecrated as kings. The gospel commits men and women to become involved in the problems of the world and involved with those who live in misery and experience great need. The gospel also commits us to shoulder these problems as our own and together with others to seek solutions. Thus, thinking perhaps in terms of a utopia, Christians ought to live with the poor and share their lives with the poor so that there might be greater mutual understanding.
Lastly, it should be remembered that the Christian life has an intrinsic community dimension. The encounter with Jesus and the experience of Jesus takes place in the environment of the ecclesial community. So also the development and the maturing of this experience takes place within the ecclesial community which is the place of commitment and the place of new experiences, the place of growing in the faith and the place of human solidarity.
The Conferences, then, are the place where its members ought to live the Christian experience of their option for Christ that leads them to an encounter with the suffering Christ in the poor. The members of the Society gather together in the Spirit and form authentic Christian communities in which they form bonds of communion among themselves and are motivated by the same profession of faith, guided by the charism of charity, to dialogue and collaborate with one another and respect the diversity that exists among the individual members.
Challenges of the present society
The members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society are called today to inject a lively Vincentian spirituality into a Society that has been revolutionized by science and technology, both of which have caused a process of dehumanization which has affected many people. From the time of Frederic Ozanam to the present era the world has experienced a Copernican shift. At the beginning of the twentieth century it appeared that progress and technology would be the panacea and as a result misery, poverty and the other evils that afflict humanity would be minimized. The reality has shown that the opposite has occurred. In some ways science turned against humanity and became a lethal weapon that forced nations to set aside enormous sums of money to restore the social well-being of its citizens.
At the root of this reality is the fact that people no longer spoke about progress but rather adapted a pessimistic philosophy, such as that of Jean Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher who stated: men and women are born with no purpose and they prolong themselves through weakness and die of boredom. Our world, and we as part of this world, is in the midst of a materialized system in which only that which is useful has meaning, a system in which pleasure, comfort and competition are significant values. Heroism, expending oneself and wearing one’s self out for others has become like a fossil in a museum. In fact we have come to a state in which it now seems strange to give a seat to another person, to let another enter before us or even to say thank you.
We live in a society of accelerated change in all areas of life and very often we do not have the time to assimilate all these changes. A new philosophy comes to the forefront and immediately another one follows. There is no time to rest in order to internalize experiences. We change our place of residence, work, spouses, relationships … so many ruptures occur because of the superficiality of our relationships and since these bonds are transitory and nothing seems to be definitive. Our values change and that creates an emptiness because there are no roots, no foundation. All of this produces confusion, insecurity, disorientation and can lead to neurosis.
In light of all of this the time has come to set things in motion. This is no small challenge to undertake in the world in which we live where there are so many things that must be done. We should not ignore the great effort that must be continually exerted in order to resist the strong pressure and the countless messages that want to intrude on our life. New winds advance on history and therefore we must be attentive to the present moment since the future is contemplated as something that is uncertain. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a society of risk, of great diversity and enormous differences. Therefore one of the most immediate challenges is to change the way we approach people who are poor. This challenge demands discernment: to seek and to confront new situations. We should not block this process of discernment by considering only previous approaches because these approaches can lead us to become self-satisfied with routine. Thus we visit the homes of the poor with over-confidence, believing we know and have experienced the only right approach. Today, however, the poor are not only found in their homes but in multiple places where they engage in different activities. The poor live on the street, on benches in our parks, in the passage ways of the metro system, in boarding houses, in city shelters, etc. The activity of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society ought to involve a struggle against poverty, a struggle against unjust structures and ought to be a voice of the voiceless. Certainly personal assistance should not be disregarded nor should direct contact with those in need … both of these are essential elements for the Society. Here, however, I am speaking about the method and the place to engage in these personal contacts and we must always remember the advice that Frederic repeated over and over again: the visit ought to be a means and not an end.
We must allow the Spirit to move where he desires and how he desires and we should be attentive to new ways of serving others. The members of the Society should be involved in an on-going dynamic process which uses creativity to discover the new forms of poverty and new possibilities for action. The voice of God is revealed in the signs of the time and therefore we must be able to interpret the signs of the time in order to commit ourselves in an authentic manner. We have the responsibility to collaborate with God in re-creating history and we do this through our commitment.
In each historical moment we have to accept our place within the situation in which we find ourselves and we have to avoid the temptation of responding to these situations in the same way we did yesterday. At this time, when everything appears to be transient and nothing appears to be permanent, we run the risk of passing into oblivion.
Another challenge that should be given a priority status and that should involve all our effort is that of recapturing in a definitive way the place of the laity within the ecclesial community. Without lessening the vocation to the consecrated life or the ministerial priesthood, it is urgent that the laity determine their mission. A good discernment process should involve the members of the society in defining their mission. The Spirit of God is poured forth on every member of the community. The most insignificant layperson can be the voice of God for others. I am convinced that we are living in the era of the laity and hopefully this becomes a permanent reality. The laity are gaining strength within the Church and all of us should be grateful for this reality because all of us are involved, in one way or another, in the same mission. Therefore we commit ourselves to the world but do so without being of the world but rather we are the sacrament of that which is beyond the world, namely, the eschatological kingdom.
In this area then the members of the Society have the challenge of recovering the lay charism for which they were established. Their on-going formation, their strong spiritual, personal, and community life, the depth of the commitment with which they engage in different forms of service as they look toward the future … all of these dimensions of their life are dependent on their willingness to embrace this challenge. The Church places in their hands new possibilities for service that previously were stripped from them and made the exclusive function of the ministerial priesthood and the function of members of consecrated institutes. There is a need to achieve a new integration into the ecclesial community without jealousy among those who serve the same Lord in the person of the poor.
From the perspective of holiness, lay people, religious women and men, and priests are all called to follow Christ: to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. Each individual will chose a different path but these paths should never be parallel but rather convergent. The recovery of the layperson’s functions should be done not only because this is pointed out to them by the Church but rather this desire should arise from personal conviction. Because it is often difficult to break with old patterns that have been established over a long period of time, this should arise from a profound conviction that change is possible.
Lastly I want to point out one other challenge: it is important to form networks with other institutions. In the first place a network should be established with other branches of the Vincentian Family whose common objective is corporal and spiritual service of the poor. All are involved in a common project while at the same time each group preserves its own distinct identity. We must question ourselves: do we take advantage of the qualitative and quantitative potential of this network?
At the present time we cannot act alone. It is ever more imperative that we join together in our efforts to bring about change in the mist of this world in which we live. We begin with a basic supposition: the activities of the world involve processes of multiple interactions. To speak about networks of action implies a vision of organizational structures that seeks those that are most effective for the present situation. We have to overcome the individualism of the past in order to commit ourselves to the reality that surrounds us. Now is the time to put aside every form of individualism and form relationships with different organizations (human, social, political and religious) that can help us in our activities. In 1996 the final statement of the National Congress of Spain on Poverty proposed to collaborate with other social organizations, religious groups, public institutions, with all women and men of good will in the struggle against misery and in the work on behalf of the development of people.
I am aware of the fact that these ideas perhaps border on idealism and are not easy to accomplish in a society that lack visionary plans, plans on both a personal and universal level where there is a tendency to take refuge in the realm of subjectivity. But Christianity is the same yesterday and today and would not be so except that it has been entrusted with these utopian ideals that urge women and men to seek more lofty goals. We must also be ever mindful of the power of the Spirit who continues to act in our midst in order that the kingdom of God might continue to be built up.
 Translator’s Note: Here it should be noted that during the 19th Century liberalism became a powerful force that rejected several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as hereditary status, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.
 Ainslie Coates, Letters of Frederic Ozanam (1886), [Benziger Brothers: New York, 1886), p265.
 Coates, op.cit.,p. 211.
 Coates, op.cit., p. 46-47.
 Coates, op.cit., p.85.
 Coates, op.cit., p. 161-162.
 Louis Baunard, Ozanam in his Correspondence, [Catholic Truth Society of Ireland: Dublin, 1925(?)], p. 11.
 Coates, op.cit., p. 15.
 Ibid, p. 20-21.
 Louis Baunard, op.cit. p.331.
 CCD, IX:93.
 CCD, XIIIb:9.
 Louis Baunard, op.cit., p.9.
 Louis Baunard, op.cit., p. 368.
 Ibid., p. 386.
 Ibid., p. 384.
 Ibid., p. 384-385
 Ibid., p. 402.
 See footnote on p. 7.
 Baunard, op.cit., p. 8.
 Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M., Frederic Ozanam: A life in Letters, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, St. Louis, Missouri, 1986, p. 91.
 Baunard, op.cit., p. 275.
 CCD., X;267.
 Dirvin, op.cit., p. 24.
 Baunard, opcit., p. 273.
 Dirvin, op.cit., p. 72.
 Dirvin, op.cit., p. 63.
 Dirvin, op. cit., p.64-65.
 Baunard, op. cit., p. 167.
 Coates, op., cit., p. 265.
 Dirvin, op. cit., p. 22.
 CCD., VII:115.
 Kathleen O’Meara, Frederic Ozanam, New York Christian Press Association Publishing Company, 1911, 0. 245.
 Ibid., p. 245.
 Ibid., p 246.
 Ibid.,p. 237.
 Ibid., p. 238.
 Ibid., p. 278.
 Legitimist: a supporter of the elder line of the Bourbon family in France.
 Coates, op.cit., p. 191.
 Dirvin, op. cit., p. 18.
 All authority comes from God.
 Absolutists: those who adhered to the political theory that held that all power should be vested in one ruler and who believed in a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler or other authority.
 Refers to the workers in the Gobelins tapestry factory.
 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.
 Translators 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.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
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