Venerable Emmanuel D’Alzon – Letter to M. Luglien de Jouenne d’Escrigny – 1 October 1834

Venerable Emmanuel-Maurice d'AlzonMy dear friend, your letter arrived here a while ago, but I received it only yesterday when I returned from an excursion to Bologna, with stops in Loreto, Ancona, Rimini, Ravenna and Faenza, and a visit in Florence. I’d love to return to those last two cities with you. So let’s plan a trip to Italy. For many reasons I was ecstatic with everything I saw, but I also suffered a great deal. The Marche region is infected; one smells revolution all over. The burden of the Austrian yoke has intensified the exasperation of the people, which leads them to complaints that, I have to admit, seem absurd even if in many ways well founded. The tri-color ribbon on the caps of French soldiers in Ancona is a sorry sight. I can’t help worry about the future of this country when I see the way the government is so easily unsettled, how unable it is to guide people effectively – which otherwise would be so useful for eliminating serious problems-how willing it seems to remain perfectly inactive, and then how everyone seems to hate it whenever anyone in authority attempts to do something.

Thank you a thousand times for sympathizing with my sadness and for everything you say to encourage me. It’s true that I’m sad, but I’m not discouraged. I see evil around me, a great deal of it, so much in fact that I expect it will inevitably lead to catastrophic consequences. But through all all of that corruption, I’ve noticed seeds of healthy, vigorous life, which I hope will overcome every obstacle and will develop later. How can you be joyful, for example, when you see the sad state of the clergy? It’s a lie and a scandal. You, my friend, have less reason to be troubled than I; you’re not part of this clergy, that could do so much good. You will not be a priest some day. I’m not disenchanted, or if I am in some ways, that’s been to my advantage. Yes, I have suffered quite a bit, but I’ve found God in the face of human weakness.

What you then say in your letter is on target and well put. If I had been by your side when you wrote it, I would have embraced you. At times you grasp things with an enviable accuracy. You know that it’s extremely difficult to separate neatly reality from imagination? I try to do it each day, though I don’t claim to have succeeded. Yes, dear friend, we often give to people the qualities for which we praise them. I couldn’t help but laugh in seeing your observation confirmed in a fine story from the Contes de Maman Gateau.

The trip I just went on was good for me physically, even if it didn’t give me a constitution of steel. My head is clear, and I will be happy if I can preserve the capacity for work that I have right now. Though I have not written much, I thought a great deal during those long days on the road, when there’s little else that’s better to do. I reread parts of Tacitus. Do you know him well?

I’m not sure why, but I keep re-reading your letter. “Roman soldiers haven’t always been in Rome,” you say. Now that’s an astonishingly true thought, as M. de Maistre might have said. It explains many things. No. The legions are fighting in Gaul. But what has become of Caesar? “The papacy is not strong because of Roman faith,” you add, “but because of the faith of other peoples.” Can you tell me, friend, what peoples you are talking about? I travelled from Florence to here with two French republicans. Do you think they were wrong when they said: “The only weapon being used today to attack religion is indifference”? “And also ignorance,” I added. Indifference and ignorance imply a total lack of faith, and you know how deeply humanity is wounded by both.

De la Mennais writes to me about the state France is in: “There couldn’t be less thought about Rome if it didn’t exist. Neither resentment, nor anger, nor even scorn–scorn would at least be something, but instead the most absolute and the coldest indifference.” You can eliminate from this sentence what de la Mennais’ personal feeling might have added, and it remains terribly true. Do not think I am so discouraged that I have no more hope. But I can say with the prophet: “Is there no balm in Gilead, no physician there? Why has no new skin grown over their wound? (Jeremiah 8:22) One feeling growing in me is love for my fellow man. I can’t see an unbeliever or even a corrupt man without being attracted to him like a doctor to his sick friend. I know, I’m not yet a doctor, and yet I have given it a few tries. I’ve been successful a few times. And don’t think, dear friend, that I’m unaware of the power of hope. But the stronger mine is, the more it is obliged to stretch the limits of its desire.

Humanity sins in our day in two ways: we love too little, and our knowledge is so deficient. Humanity needs to be taught, but first we need to give humanity a heart of flesh, as Scripture says, to replace the one becoming like stone in its chest. On that score, my thoughts are confused, my projects and plans grind to a halt. The heart is the hearth, the center of warmth and of life. Only God can supply these when they are lacking. For that reason I am convinced we will need to suffer great evils before our minds are compelled to return and find their rest in truth. For the moment, political movements engross everyone’s thinking. God has to hit very hard for us to seek refuge in a place of rest. Good God! Look at me, telling Providence how to handle the situation. I don’t really know what I’m saying by all of this.

Tell me what you think about young people today, what you expect of them, what thoughts they have, if you think they are sincere. These are important questions for me. What do you think of the clergy in Paris? My future depends on my Bishop. I’d like to be a priest in the Church of the Holy Trinity. I’d return to France, study a few more years, then work as my superiors ask. For a long time I’ve been thinking about a Catholic university, which I know would be successful given the approach I’d take.

Let me conclude with the beginning of your letter. You were answering one of my letters that seems to have troubled you because of something I said. I must have been too sharp in my words, but don’t hold that against me. On the contrary, you should love me even more. It’s no crime if my friendship for you leads me to speak energetically about everything that concerns you. Thank you for answering my letter so promptly; I hope you will persevere.

Bye for now, dear friend. When will I see you again? Why not come to see me? When will you come to tell me not to be sad? Come here to see the ruins before they disappear completely. They are still beautiful in their collapsed state. Please come. We’ll talk about so many things that I’m sure we’ll be able to do each other a lot of good. Really, now, what are you doing? Don’t you love God enough to give Him a little of your time? No matter what I do, I’m sad, but I’m not complaining. I try to purify my thoughts as much as possible and put myself in God’s hands. You too can pray for me, and do love me. The thought that I have a friend like you is a great consolation and strengthens me more than you could believe.

Adieu, adieu! Be happy and good.