- 26 November - 2006
114th Anniversary of the death of Cardinal Lavigerie
- Recollection - 25-11-2006
by Ivan Page (Archivist of the Society)
many of the obituaries published in the Petit Echo begin by declaring
that the deceased was born into a deeply Christian family? The same
cannot be said of our Founder, whose father was a freemason, and who
first learned the elements of religion, not from his mother, but from
two women, family servants.
There was only one secondary college in Bayonne and it was there
that young Charles was sent, there too that the chaplain, the Abbé
Franchistéguy, prepared the boy for his first Communion and,
probably, planted in his mind the seeds of his vocation to the priesthood.
At the age of 15 he asked to go to the junior seminary of the diocese,
a request that must have surprised his father, who reluctantly agreed,
but who did not like paying the boarding school fees.
In any case, the family was not from Bayonne, they would be moving
on as his father's civil service career progressed. A couple of the
local priests knew the situation; they also knew the Abbé Dupanloup,
superior of the junior seminary, St-Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris.
Paris was short of priests; Dupanloup was ever willing to recruit
bright lads from the provinces - and was likely to be able to secure
a scholarship for Charles. This did indeed happen, and so the freemason's
son met in Dupanloup a man who was to become one of the leaders of
the French church and who, as Bp of Orléans would be active
in arguing at the Vatican Council that the declaration of papal infallibility
was 'inopportune'. In other words, some of the earliest influences
on Lavigerie were opposed to fanaticism in matters of religion.
He was ordained priest in June 1849 by Abp Sibour of Paris. He earned
the degrees of Litt.D. in 1850 and D.Th. in 1853. Even before ordination
he had begun lecturing at the Ecole des Carmes (forerunner of the
Institut Catholique) and, from 1854, he was teaching Church History
at the Sorbonne. His thesis on the Christian school, which flourished
for almost four centuries at Edessa, and whose most famous graduate
was St Ephrem, deacon, poet, Doctor of the Church, appeared in 1850.
The complementary thesis was a study of the early Christian writer
Hegesippus. In 1860 Lavigerie published the course he had given at
the Sorbonne in 1856-57 under the title Exposé des erreurs
doctrinales du Jansénisme. His studies, then, had given him
a deep understanding of the beginnings of Christianity in Syria and
Persia - and of one of the principal heresies to trouble the Church
from the 17th century onwards.
Lavigerie was not content to remain a university professor. In 1856
he became director of the Oeuvre des Ecoles d'Orient and, the following
year, made his first journey to the Middle East to assess the needs
and distribute aid to the Christian communities, victims of communal
strife. Up to that time he had known the region only from books. Now
he saw for himself the disastrous effects of ignorance and prejudice.
He noticed too the lamentable state of the clergy of the ancient Oriental
Churches. And he met a political exile, the noble Emir Abd el Kader
who was already using his influence to protect the terrified Christians.
I hasten forward. Late in 1861 Lavigerie was named to the quasi-diplomatic
post of Auditor of the Rota. The ecclesiastical world in those days
was small; it was not difficult to arrange an audience with the Pope;
he got to know Pius IX quite well, and was appreciated by him. Within
18 months he was named Bp of Nancy, and received the fullness of the
priesthood at St-Louis des Français right here in Rome. Now
we come to a strange incident: one of the best-known of the early
bishops of Gaul was St Martin of Tours, born in distant Pannonia (Hungary),
sometime soldier, and missionary. Lavigerie had begun to study what
was known of the saintly bishop's life. At this time the Abp of Tours
launched an appeal for funds to restore the ancient basilica of that
city. Not only did Lavigerie contribute, but he also issued a pastoral
letter showing his admiration for the missionary bishop of Gaul. On
November 11th 1866, the saint's feast day, he and some other bishops
were at Tours for the blessing of the first part of the work.
He had a vivid dream, which he never forgot, in which he was transported
to an unknown land, inhabited by swarthy or black people who spoke
a barbarous language
it happened that, just four days later,
Mgr Pavy, Bp of Algiers, died. Marshall MacMahon, governor of the
colony did not hesitate to offer the see, which had just become an
archbishopric, to Lavigerie. This is part of his reply: Jamais
je n'aurais songé, de moi-même, à quitter un diocèse
que j'aime profondément et où j'ai commencé des
uvres nombreuses; et, si Votre Excellence me proposait un siège
plus considérable que celui de Nancy, ma réponse serait
certainement négative. Mais je n'ai accepté l'épiscopat
que comme une uvre de dévouement et de sacrifice. Vous
me proposez une mission pénible, laborieuse, un siège
épiscopal de tous points inférieur au mien, et qui entraîne
avec l'exil, l'abandon de tout ce qui m'est cher; vous pensez que
j'y puis faire plus de bien qu'un autre. Un évêque catholique,
Monsieur le Maréchal, ne peut répondre qu'une seule
chose à une semblable proposition: j'accepte le douloureux
sacrifice qui m'est offert.
Bishops are expected to express sentiments of humility when offered
a new appointment. I don't think Lavigerie was play-acting. He had
already refused Marseille; I've read somewhere that he'd have been
a candidate for Lyon. The historian of the early Church was offered
a see where Christianity had once flourished and then had disappeared.
The former director of the Oeuvre des Ecoles d'Orient was invited
into a region which - paradoxically - was classed as part of the Orient.
The man who had met and respected Abd el Kader had the opportunity
to serve in the Emir's homeland. The admirer of St Martin of Tours
could himself become a missionary bishop. He certainly did not think
of himself as chief chaplain to the colonists, though this may well
have been what the government had in mind.
Before taking possession of his diocese he wrote an eloquent pastoral
to its inhabitants: Je viens à vous à une heure solennelle
pour l'Afrique chrétienne, à l'heure où la hiérarchie
catholique ressuscite enfin dans sa plénitude sur ce sol abreuvé
du sang des martyrs. L'Eglise et la France se sont unies pour relever
les gloires du passé, et elles m'envoient vers vous, comme
le messager de la vérité, de la charité et de
Qu'elle était grande cette Eglise africaine,
avec ses sept cents évêques, ses temples innombrables,
ses monastères, ses docteurs! Son sol fumait du sang des martyrs;
ses conciles, où la sagesse et la mâle fermeté
de ses évêques étaient l'exemple du monde chrétien,
devenaient la règle de la sainte discipline; l'Eglise entière
se glorifiaient de recevoir l'exposition et l'intelligence de ses
dogmes de la bouche des Cyprien et des Augustin; ses vierges surpassaient
en courage, devant les bourreaux, les hommes les plus intrépides
And he concluded with some words to the swarthy people who spoke
an unfamiliar tongue: Je vous bénis enfin, vous anciens
habitants de l'Algérie, que tant de préjugés
séparent de nous et qui maudissez peut-être nos victoires
je réclame le privilège de vous aimer comme mes
fils, alors même que vous ne me reconnaîtriez pas pour
Père. They don't write like that any more!
It was during his first year in Algeria that he had to confront a
severe famine, which cost thousands of lives and left hundreds of
children orphans. In these circumstances he founded our Society in
1868, and the White Sisters the following year. It is in his instructions
to his missionaries that we find many clues to his own spiritual life.
He informed them: Les instructions que je vous adresse, d'ordinaire,
je les prépare devant Dieu, dans le calme de la réflexion
et de l'étude.
One theme to which he returned repeatedly was prayer. He was dealing
with young men, full of enthusiasm, ready to give themselves generously
to the salvation of souls, but likely to be caught up in a multitude
of activities - like ourselves. Already at Nancy he had decided not
to ordain any seminarian who did not undertake to spend at least 20
minutes a day in private prayer, quite apart from the recitation of
the breviary and Mass. Much later in his life he told the youngsters
at the junior seminary at Saint-Eugène: Il faut être
fou de Jésus-Christ, comme je le suis moi-même. Concerning
the need to persevere in prayer, he wrote: Je sais par expérience
combien l'homme est impuissant, lorsqu'il n'est pas soutenu par la
grâce de Dieu, et je sais aussi qu'il faut faire violence au
cur de Notre Seigneur, par la pénitence et la prière,
pour obtenir de Lui les grâces de l'apostolat.
To the missionaries in Uganda, he wrote in 1880: Vous voilà
sur le champ de bataille
c'est maintenant qu'il vous faut une
plus grande fidélité à vos exercices de piété
Je vous crie de nouveau de la colline de Notre-Dame d'Afrique:
Vous êtes en danger de vous perdre si vous ne faites passer,
en tête de toutes vos préoccupations, les moyens pratiques
d'entretenir et d'augmenter en vous la vie spirituelle.
Lavigerie believed in the communion of saints, and in the value of
praying for each other. Shortly after his arrival in Algiers he began
negotiations to found a Carmel, which he saw as a kind of spiritual
power-house for the whole diocese.
When he sent the first community of missionaries to St Anne's in
Jerusalem, he stressed that: L'uvre de la prière est
la plus grande de celles que nous devons y accomplir
l'action est indispensable au missionnaire, et il ne lui est pas loisible
de donner autant de temps à l'oraison, que le font les membres
des ordres pénitents ou contemplatifs. Mais du moins il faut,
tandis que les uns - et la plupart - combattent dans la plaine, que
d'autres lèvent sans cesse sur la montagne de mains suppliantes.
And he considered the Society blessed to have the charge of that
shrine in the Holy Land where the Blessed Virgin had been immaculately
conceived and had spent the first years of her life. His devotion
to Our Lady was strong. You remember that it was he who completed
the building of Notre-Dame d'Afrique. He went many times to Notre-Dame
de la Garde at Marseille; he made pilgrimages to Fourvières
and to Lourdes; and of course he placed the whole of his two missionary
congregations under her protection. He was faithful to the recitation
of the Rosary.
There were other saints whose aid he invoked regularly: St Joseph,
the saints of Africa, St Francis Xavier, St Vincent de Paul, St Francis
of Assisi, and his personal patron, that other great bishop, St Charles
But I've said nothing about his devotion to the Eucharist! When he
arrived in Nancy he found that Perpetual Adoration was already established
in the diocese: he gave it every encouragement. He introduced the
devotion into his diocese of Algiers; and did the same in Tunisia
when he received the see of Carthage. It was there that he published
in February 1886 his 86-page Lettre pastorale
du dogme et du culte de la Sainte Eucharistie dans l'ancienne Eglise
d'Afrique, et mandement pour l'établissement de l'Adoration
perpétuelle dans le diocèse de Carthage.
He surveys the Eucharistic teaching of Augustine, Optatus, Fulgentius
of Ruspe, and Cyprian. He relates the satisfaction of Christian slaves
in the Barbary States when they were able to receive the sacraments
and worship the Lord present on the altar of some chapel. At times
the chaplains were able to carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession
inside the slave barracks. Now that Perpetual Adoration was established
in the dioceses of Algiers, Oran and Constantine, he was anxious to
extend it also to Carthage. He had selected the chapel of the F.M.M.
for the devotion throughout the year, but - in addition - he ordered
that every church and chapel in the diocese should adore on Sundays,
according to a schedule fixed by the Archbishop. (Let me observe in
passing that, as recently as ten years ago, adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament and benediction featured regularly in the spiritual exercises
in this house.)
At the retreat of 1876, Lavigerie made some observations about apostolic
zeal: La vertu propre du missionnaire, c'est le zèle. Le zèle,
c'est la perfection de la charité. Aimons-nous Dieu ardemment,
aimons-nous sa gloire? Désirons-nous que tous l'aiment et le
servent? C'est le sentiment de Notre-Seigneur: 'Ego veni ut vitam
habeant et abundantius habeant. Ignem veni mittere in terram et quid
volo nisi ut accendatur?' C'est là le missionnaire. Un missionnaire
sans zèle est un monstre. A man in his position could not
say such things to his subordinates if he did not live them, for people
are ever-ready to criticise hypocrisy.
Nobody has ever suggested that the Cardinal was wanting in zeal!
In 1885 he wrote a letter to the missionaries making the annual retreat
in which he challenged them with these words: Voyez si, peu à
peu, vous n'avez pas perdu de vue le but que vous poursuiviez à
l'origine, alors que vous ne pensiez qu'à procurer la gloire
de Dieu, à arracher des ténèbres de l'infidélité
tant de millions de pauvres âmes? Cette seule pensée
vous transportait alors tellement que vous croyiez presque sa réalisation
facile. Et vos rêves n'allaient à rien moins qu'à
reproduire les miracles d'un saint François Xavier ou d'un
Pierre Claver. Vos conversations étaient pleines de ces désirs;
ils animaient vos prières. Mais ensuite vos regards se sont
insensiblement détournés de ce but divin et se sont
reportés sur la terre. Les nécessités matérielles
d'une part, peut-être, hélas! Les conversations de quelques
confrères, les mécomptes, les tristesses qui vous sont
venues de ces pauvres infidèles auxquels vous veniez si généreusement
vous consacrer, tout cela a agi peu à peu sur votre imagination
et finalement sur votre volonté elle-même.
Lavigerie was tremendously loyal to the Popes he knew and whom he
would not have hesitated to call the "Vicars of Christ"
on earth. He had of course participated in the 1st Vatican Council.
Shortly afterwards, he wrote: Notre petite Société
a pour première règle de se conformer en tout aux doctrines,
à la direction et aux moindres désirs du Saint-Siège.
Then in 1885, when he was on the point of sending some men to open
the first procurement office here in Rome, he wrote: Plus on se
rapproche du Saint-Siège Apostolique, plus on reçoit
ses inspirations, plus aussi on doit sentir augmenter en soi la vérité
et la vie. I suspect that few of us, living here in the Eternal
City, have quite that feeling
and yet if we were to analyse
our emotions last year when we witnessed - we participated in - the
end of one pontificate and the beginning of another, I think most
of us would recognize that we were glad to have been here and - more
than that - that we were filled with admiration and pride at the way
the Church managed those events. I suggest that our faith was indeed
strengthened thanks to our presence here at that time.
Lavigerie's loyalty was to be tested by Leo XIII's request that he
find a way to signal to the Catholics of France, to those loyal and
generous bien-pensants, that the Church was not viscerally opposed
to the French Republic. His opportunity came when he pronounced the
famous "Toast of Algiers" on Thursday November 12th 1890.
In the Archives we have two manuscripts of that speech, each in the
hand of a different secretary, and each - including the one from which
he spoke - with further corrections by the Cardinal. That is to say
that right up to the last minute he was making little changes to the
text. He knew that much depended on it and that it would arouse much
hostility, especially among those good Catholics who, up till then,
had been his most generous benefactors. Next day he declared: Je
suis tué; je sais bien que je m'en vais. Mais ce que j'ai fait,
je n'ai pas lieu de m'en repentir devant Dieu ni devant les hommes.
Je suis convaincu que plus tard tout le monde m'approuvera, mais cela
m'importe peu. J'ai fait la volonté d'en haut en accomplissant
celle de Léon XIII.
I am not attempting to relate the whole of the Cardinal's life. My
aim today is to point out some of his qualities on which we might
reflect and perhaps draw some inspiration. Perhaps we most often think
of him as severe and authoritarian, but to do so is to fail to appreciate
the man. When I was editing the recollections of Père Jamet
for our History Series, I was surprised and touched by his anecdote
about a Dutch seminarian named Hubert Kreijns who was suffering from
tuberculosis. Jamet had come from Boxtel for the consecration of the
cathedral at Carthage in 1890. Naturally he went to call on the young
Dutchman in the infirmary. Great was his surprise to find the Cardinal
there visiting the sick man. A few days later, before leaving, Jamet
went to take leave of the Cardinal, who told him to go and pick some
roses in his garden and take them to Brother Kreijns - "I take
him a bunch every day but I've got visitors today and won't have time,
so I'd like you to do it." Perraudin gives more details of his
kindness to the young man. [in Entretiens sur la vie intérieure
du Cardinal Lavigerie, pp 77-78] This bears out what the canonist
Pierre Michel wrote of him: S'il avait été père
auparavant, il était surtout mère dans ces derniers
temps de sa vie et il en avait toutes les tendresses.
Lavigerie could be most agreeable in society. In 1862 he wrote from
Rome to his good friend Bourret (later Bp of Rodez and Cardinal) -
"for your eyes only" - je suis accepté, très
bien vu, et même très aimé du Saint-Père.
Le pape est bon au delà de toute expression; mais il est maladif
et il a besoin d'être distrait. Toutes les fois que je vais
le voir, je fais double provision de bonne humeur, et nous sommes
les meilleurs amis du monde.
He had a pleasant wit. On one occasion in Algiers he invited his
diocesans: Priez un peu pour votre Pasteur; il en aurait bien besoin
le pauvre homme! En retour, Dieu vous accorderez la grâce de
le supporter avec patience durant le peu de temps qui lui reste à
Perraudin relates that he received an anticlerical visitor one day
who, faithful to his lay principles, began by calling him 'Archbishop'
then slipped into 'Monsignor' and finally 'Your Grace' whereupon Lavigerie
warned him: "Be careful: you'll finish up asking for my blessing!"
In another letter to the Bp of Rodez in January 1883 - again "for
your eyes only" - Lavigerie wrote: Le seul Conclave auquel
je pense assister est celui que je tiendrai dans quelque coin du Purgatoire
avec les Cardinaux défunts. He added: Notre cher et
vénérable ami de Bordeaux sera du nombre, et il aura
près de lui son coadjuteur, car ce sera certainement un des
supplices de son purgatoire. (This is a reference to Cardinal
Donnet of Bordeaux, who had died the previous month in extreme old
age. Ten years before, he had received a coadjutor, whom presumably
he did not want, in the person of François-Alexandre Roullet
de la Bouillerie. The archbishop died in his sixties, some months
before the cardinal.)
Finally, a familiar and memorable quotation, which occurs in Lavigerie's
dedication of his Oeuvres Choisies to his missionaries, composed in
March 1884: Les Patriarches ont aimé jusqu'aux pierres de
Sion, symbole pour eux de tant d'espérances. A leur exemple,
j'ai tout aimé dans notre Afrique: son passé, son avenir,
ses montagnes, son ciel pur, son soleil, les grandes lignes de ses
déserts, les flots d'azur qui la baignent.
Ivan Page, M.Afr. Archivist