Catholic World – Frederick Ozanam, by Father I T Hecker

Blessed Antoine-Frédéric OzanamOzanam’s name and writings were made known to the portion of the English-reading world interested in the Oxford movement by the brilliant pages of the British Critic more than thirty years ago, while he was still in the bloom of his youthful fame and success as a professor of the Sorbonne. The preface to his biography says that he is not widely known in England, and the same is probably true of America, speaking in reference to non-Catholics. Among Catholic scholars here, and we fancy in England also, his name and works are well known and in high repute. They deserve, nevertheless, to be better known and more highly honored. There is scarcely a purer or more brilliant career to be found recorded in the annals of Catholic literature in this century than his. He was the founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul – a sufficient title to honor and gratitude. He was a model of moral loveliness and Christian virtue, a type of the true Catholic gentleman, adorning a high sphere in society, and at the same time heartily devoted to the welfare of the humblest, the poorest, and even the most degraded and vicious classes. He was a thoroughly learned man in his own department, a captivating writer, a master of the minds and hearts of the studious youth of France, a knightly champion of the faith without fear and without reproach, an author of classical works of peculiar and enduring value. The charm of his private, personal character, as a child, a friend, a husband and father, a member of the social circle, equals the lustre of his public career. Spotless and fascinating from the beginning to the end of his life, the bright and winning grace of the figure which he presents in the history of his life receives dignity and pathos from the suffering which overshadowed and eclipsed his light before its meridian was attained. He was born in 1813; his professorship at the Sorbonne filled the space between his twenty-seventh and thirty-ninth years of life – that is, from 1839 to 1852 – and he died the next year at the age of forty, after seven years of repeated attacks of illness and a continued decline. We will pass in rapid review the incidents of this brief but fruitful career, and endeavor to place before our readers a reduced sketch of the character and work of Frederic Ozanam, as faithfully and artistically portrayed by his accomplished biographer.

The family records of the Ozanams trace their origin to Jeremiah Hozannam, a Jew, who was praetor in Julius Caesar’s thirty-eighth legion, and received the township of Boulignieux, near Lyons, as his share in the military partition of the conquered Gallic territory. His lineal descendant, Samuel Hozannam, was converted by Saint Didier in the seventh century. The name was altered to Ozanam by the grandfather of the subject of the present notice. Dr. Ozanam, Frederic’s father, was a distinguished man, and both of Frederic’s parents were persons of remarkable virtue and piety. He was born in Milan, but educated at Lyons, every possible care being taken of his intellectual, moral, and religious culture. In childhood and youth he was delicate, precocious, exemplary in morals and religion, extremely diligent and successful in his studies, and every way admirable and lovable in character. At one time during his boyhood he was tormented by temptations against faith, which were so rife, and to a multitude of the studious youth of France so dangerous, at that epoch. To him they were not dangerous, but salutary; for they had no other effect except to stimulate him to a study of the rational evidences of the Catholic religion, and to leave in his heart a vivid and tender sympathy for the victims of doubt and error. After a very thorough course of classical study under an eminent teacher – the Abbé Noirot – which he completed at seventeen years of age, Frederic Ozanam was placed in a lawyer’s office at Lyons, where he remained one year, employing all his leisure time in linguistic and literary studies. Before completing his nineteenth year he was sent to study at the great Law-School of Paris, where he remained six years, after which, at the age of twenty-five, he was admitted to the bar and to the degree of Doctor in Letters, taking the next year his degree of Doctor of Laws. Ozanam had studied well his jurisprudence, and was perfectly competent to practise his profession, or even to hold a chair as professor in a law-school. This was not, however, his vocation, and he had little taste or inclination for such a life. His legal career was, therefore, very brief and only an episode in his life. In respect to his true vocation he had many doubts and anxieties. He was extremely averse to the thought of marriage, and, being so fervently religious, he naturally felt certain predispositions toward the sacerdotal or monastic state. He visited the Grande Chartreuse, corresponded with his friend Lacordaire, and held many consultations with his director. The final result was that he chose the profession of literature, and married, with the full and hearty approbation of his friend and counsellor, the Abbé Noirot. His chief end in choosing his profession was the advancement of the cause of religion and the church; and the generous aspirations, directed by the most elevated and enlightened views, which developed into so glorious and successful, albeit in time so brief a fulfillment, already preoccupied his mind and heart from the time that he was seventeen years old.

In point of fact, he had really found his vocation at that time, and, notwithstanding his apparent divergence to the legal profession and his various waverings of purpose, he actually began to prosecute it steadily by his studies and by such active efforts as his age and condition permitted, from that early but prematurely ripe period of his life. The programme of his studies and literary labors is laid down in a letter to a friend, written when he was seventeen years old. Without neglecting his professional studies, he was able, thanks to his wonderful mental gifts, his retentive memory, and his habits of intense, continuous application, as well as to the definiteness and unity of the scope and plan which he followed, to acquire that solid and accurate erudition which furnished the material fused and moulded into such beautiful forms by the fire of his eloquence and the constructive art of his imagination.

The state of things among men of science and letters, and the youth studying at the great schools, when Frederic Ozanam went to Paris, was, in a religious aspect, most dreary. His father had feared to send him there on account of the infidelity and immorality with which the whole atmosphere was poisoned, but had at last resolved to trust to the firmness of his principles and the purity of his character. His trust was fully justified. During his student-life Ozanam began, in concert with a few other young men like-minded with himself, that counter-revolution or crusade for the restoration of the old religion of France, among the young students and also among the working-men of Paris, which we devoutly trust will end in the fulfillment of De Maistre’s prophecy that within this present century France will be once again completely Christianized.

There is nothing more melancholy in all history, after the apostasy of Juda from the standard of her Lion, than the lapse of France from her fidelity to the cross and to the vows of that national baptism in the deepest, purest waters of Catholicity, from which she derived her life, her strength, and her unparalleled glory in Christendom. It is like the fall of Solomon, so beautiful, so wise, so royal in magnanimity and splendor, so favored of God, so renowned as the builder of the Temple and the palaces of Sion, degrading those later years which ought to have been crowned with a venerable majesty by turning his heart to strange women and to the abominations of the heathen. It is a grief almost without consolation, and accompanied by surprise and indignation, that a people like that of France, and especially its intelligent and educated portion, living amid the monumental glories of their Catholic history, could be insensible to their own honor, mock at all which makes their nation venerable, destroy the noble work of their ancestors, and, like the Israelites defiling themselves with the base heathen of Chanaan, turn away to the worship of the fetish of the Revolution. How much more deeply must the bosoms of those Frenchmen who are not degenerate be stirred by such emotions! There were always among the sons of Israel of old elect souls, the true children of the promise, such as Joseph, Gideon, Samuel, David, Isaias, Daniel, Judas Machabeus, who burned with zeal and holy enthusiasm for the cause of the God of their fathers; and they never ceased to rise up when they were most needed until the final apostasy of the nation. The people of France have never apostatized from Christ as a body, although a great multitude of apostates have deserted the faith and loyalty of their ancestors, and the revolution which they stirred up under the traitorous banner of Voltaire, “the wickedest, the meanest, and the most unpatriotic Frenchman of the last century,” has swayed to a great extent the politics and education of France for a hundred years. Paris has gone far beyond France in this road of apostasy, but even there impiety has never gained a complete and lasting conquest. On the contrary, martyrdom, heroic charity, and intellectual valor in the sacred cause have made it their most illustrious palestra, and, we trust, have expiated the guilt of that peerless city, and averted the doom which would seem to await it if the divine justice should exact the due meed of retribution.

Among the élite of the youth of France, the class most immediately and universally exposed to the deadly influence of impious literature and education and withdrawn from the control of the clergy, gifted and pure souls have arisen, filled with the inspiration of genius and religion, like Daniel and his companions in the captivity, who have escaped the violence of fire and stopped the mouths of lions. First among these is Chateaubriand, who in his old age honored Frederic Ozanam with his special friendship and was loved reverently by him in return. Notwithstanding a short period of defection from the faith, and considerable faults in his character and writings, Chateaubriand deserves to be called the father of the new generation of Catholic youth in France. There is no similar autobiography of more exquisite charm than the history of that childhood and youth in which this great man shows us how he was trained and formed to that peculiar type of genius which so captivated, and to a great extent re-formed in a Catholic mold, the intellectual and imaginative youth of France. Lamartine deserves a considerable meed of recognition, also, for services of the same general nature, though he was far less true and constant to his first loyalty. Victor Hugo promised in the beginning to devote a genius of a much higher order than either of these two eminent men possessed to the true welfare of his country and mankind, but unhappily was seduced by the fell spirit of the Revolution. Even he shows a reaction from the unmitigated, fanatical hatred of the Catholic past of France and Christendom which animates the worst section of the anti-Catholic sect. The moderates or liberals, the men of compromise between the revolutionary section and some kind of vague natural religion or philosophy under a spiritual or semi-Christian semblance, who have had the predominance at Paris in government, education, and the general leadership of the public affairs of France, since the time of the First Empire, have also belonged to a half-way party, in which the effect of resurging Catholicity is visible. They have been allied with the outside row of Catholics, who were either only nominally such, or, if really, inconsistent and weak in their allegiance to the church. Their position presented, therefore, a much weaker and more easily assailable front to Catholic aggression than one more extreme and openly revolutionary would have done. Nevertheless, the young world of Paris students were as effectually, and more quietly and irresistibly, alienated from real faith in the religion of their baptism, and every principle or duty of practical Christian morals and piety, by their utterly secular and free-thinking education in the public schools, so long as no counter-influence was brought to bear upon them, as if the Catholic religion had been proscribed by penal laws. It was possible, however, to bring this influence to bear upon them. The liberty granted to indifferentism, infidelity, and atheism might be made use of to the advantage of Catholicity. In the schools where free thought and free expression were a law, the possessors might be invaded and overthrown by intellectual and moral weapons, if there were found aggressors able to wield them and bold enough to enter the arena. On such a battle-ground, where the field is in the domain of history and philosophy, where reason is umpire, and where facts and arguments, eloquence and logic, appeals to the intellect and the heart, the lessons of the past and the examples of those men to whom the verdict of time – the most impartial of judges – has decreed an apotheosis, are the arsenal of the combatants, the Catholic cause must win, if its champions are worthy of their cause.

When Frederic Ozanam came to Paris the other side had the field to themselves, like the challengers of Ashby-de-la-Zouche on the morning of the tournament, before the young Ivanhoe rode into the lists. The venerable Sorbonne, that ancient shrine of sacred learning, had become a theatre, where shallow, rationalistic philosophers like Jouffroy declaimed against revelation and the Catholic Church. Ozanam soon found a small number of resolute, high-spirited young men like himself, who had been well trained at home in their religion and were determined to adhere to it faithfully. Under his leadership they began to send in objections to the statements and arguments of their infidel professors, which necessarily commanded some attention and respect and had influence with their fellow-students. Jouffroy himself, at the hour of death abjured infidelity, received the Sacraments devoutly, and declared that one half-page of the catechism was worth more than all the philosophical systems. It was at this time that Ozanam founded the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The Abbé Lacordaire, the Abbé Gerbet, and other eminent priests of Paris, and even the archbishop, interested themselves in the band of young Catholic students, and under their guidance the career of their leader, Frederic Ozanam, became, during his whole student-life, a truly noble and successful apostleship. Thus the way was prepared for him to carry on the same work in a much more efficacious manner as a professor at the Sorbonne.

In the year 1839 Ozanam, being then twenty-six years of age, a professorship of philosophy at Orleans and one of commercial law at Lyons were offered him, and the latter appointment accepted. He resigned it, however, after one year, in order to accept the position of assistant-professor of foreign literature at the Sorbonne. At this time an additional professorship of foreign literature at Lyons was offered to him, which would have secured to him, together with the law-professorship, an income of $3,000 a year. He was just about to be married to a young lady of Lyons. Nevertheless, he chose the position of assistant to the professor of foreign literature at the Sorbonne, although it was a precarious one, and brought him an income of less than $500, in order that he might be better able to carry out the one noble purpose to which he had devoted his life. Together with his professorship at the Sorbonne he held also, for a few years, another at the Collége Stanislas, which he was obliged to relinquish when, in 1844, on the vacancy of the chair of foreign literature at the Sorbonne, he received the appointment to fill it from the government. For all these early and brilliant successes he was in great measure indebted to the warm friendship and patronage of M. Cousin and M. Villemain, a fact most honorable to these distinguished men, who, as is well known, were leaders of the rationalist school, yet nevertheless, like the eminent Protestant, M. Guizot, really carried out in respect to Catholics their professions of liberality. M. Ozanam continued to fulfill his duties at the Sorbonne during twelve years, with some considerable interruptions caused by illness. His published works are chiefly composed of the substance of the lectures which he delivered.

The great idea which was before the mind of Ozanam from the period of his early youth was, the justification of the Catholic religion by the philosophy of universal history. Eventually, he was led to concentrate his attention principally upon the period embraced between the fifth and fourteenth centuries, with especial reference to the German empire and to the mediaeval philosophy reflected in the poems of Dante, whose strong attachment to the German party in Italy is well known, though perhaps not so generally well understood. Frederic Schlegel has said: “It is pre-eminently from the study of history that all endeavors after a higher mental culture derive their fixed centre and support, viz., their common reference to man, his destinies and energies. History, if it does not stop at the mere enumeration of names, dates, and external facts; if it seizes on and sets forth the spirit of great times, of great men, and great events, is in itself a true philosophy, intelligible to all, and certain, and in its manifold applications the most instructive. Then history, if not in itself the most brilliant, is yet the most indispensable link in that beautiful chain which encompasses man’s higher intellectual culture; and history it is which binds the others more closely together. It is the great merit of our age to have renovated the study of history, and to have cultivated it with extraordinary zeal. Within the last two or three decades alone so much has been achieved and produced in this department, that historical knowledge has been perhaps as much extended in that short space of time as formerly in many centuries.” The scope and solution of universal history are found in the history of Christianity viewed in connection with the Judaic and patriarchal epochs of revealed religion which preceded the advent of the Messias. The most important portion of Christian history is that which relates to Western Christendom, the European family of nations which grew up under the immediate spiritual and temporal authority of the popes. This was the true civiltà cattolica, the millenial kingdom of Christ on earth, whose rise, progress, and gradual decadence occupied the space between the fifth and sixteenth centuries, whose remnants are all that has any moral grandeur or value in the modern age, whose restoration and triumph under a new form are the only future hope of humanity.

The foundations of heresy and infidelity are laid in the falsification and perversion of history, and in the general ignorance of historical facts which opens the way for sophists to spin their webs of lies around the deluded minds of the multitude. To find some other source of the greatness, virtue, happiness, evolution in the line of its destiny, already actually exhibited in its history by the human race, especially its elect portion, and still possible in futurity, besides the revealed religion and Catholic church of God, is the problem of the anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-theistic sophists. Germany is their principal territory, the Gath and Ascalon of the Philistines who defy the armies of the Living God with their weapons of erudition and reasoning that are like a weaver’s beam. From the days of the old secular and ecclesiastical princes of Germany who revolted against the supremacy of Rome, down to Luther, his associates and successors, even to our modern German sophists, apostates and persecutors; the pretense of an autochthonous culture has been set up for Germany with a degree of pride, arrogance, and insolence which has no parallel, and is frequently so offensive and boastful as to be ridiculous not only in the eyes of the rest of the world but in those of all sensible and catholic-minded Germans. Christianity is considered by men of this school as the cause of a decline from the autocthonous civilization. War with the Christianity of the Latin races, and a return to unalloyed Teutonism, are regarded as the conditions of a magnificent future development, political, scientific, and literary, which shall create a German empire in every respect supreme mistress of the modern world.

Ozanam’s chief object was to combat this claim by showing, not that Germany has nothing to be proud of and no greatness to aspire after, but that she is indebted for her past and present glory, and must be indebted for any fulfillment of a glorious destiny in time to come, to Christianity and Roman unity, without which the Germans would have remained always, and will again become, barbarians. We must refer the reader to Miss O’Meara’s interesting pages for a fuller account of the way in which Ozanam prepared himself for his task, and afterwards fulfilled it by his lectures on German history.

Schlegel had given him a brilliant example of the way in which history can be brought up to that high standard of scientific, ethical, and literary excellence which is set forth in the quotation we have made above from his lectures. The value and practical utility of the ideas there presented and illustrated so nobly by the literary career of Ozanam cannot be too much insisted upon. History is emphatically the modern field most necessary and advantageous for Catholic polemics. The history of particular epochs, of special classes and orders in society, of individual men of mark, of institutions, of branches of science, art, or learning – in a word, of every kind of topic which can be made distinct and interesting by being localized, limited in respect to time, or otherwise so brought within clear and defined boundaries that it becomes vivid and real to the intellect and imagination – is that which we have specially within our intention. Moreover, the charms of style are essentially requisite. Happily, we have begun to supply the dearth of such books in the English language, partly by such as are originally written in English, partly by translations. John Henry Newman has given us a certain quantity of historical writing worthy of comparison with “Livy’s pictured page,” and justly meriting for him the title, so felicitously invented by an Italian critic, of “the Claude Lorraine of English literature.” The accomplished authoress of Christian Schools and Scholars is another skillful miner in the gold-fields of Catholic history; and Mrs. Hope, also, has shown in her volumes on the conversion of the Teutons and Anglo-Saxons how specially adapted to labor successfully in this department are cultivated women. Montalembert’s Monks of the West is an unrivalled masterpiece, as all know; and if we were to catalogue all the various pieces of historical composition on similar topics to be found in recent European literature, enough of them would be found to make a small library. All books of this kind in the English language would, however, make but a small collection, merely enough for a nucleus of a library of Catholic historical literature. The educated and reading classes in England and the United States have been, within a very recent period, shockingly ignorant of the history of all except a few nations during a few epochs, in regard to which they have received a certain amount of information from popular works, mixed up with a great amount of error and misrepresentation. There has doubtless been an improvement slowly taking place for the last thirty years, and becoming continually more rapid as it advances. Yet, rating this improvement at the highest value it can possibly be imagined to have, the amount of knowledge, especially in regard to the real, genuine history of Christendom, which is current among the readers of only English books, or even accessible to them, is lamentably small. Even the most of those who are supposed to know something of foreign literature may, without injustice, be taxed with the same lack of information. We consider, therefore, that the example of Ozanam is one which has a special fitness in it to allure and stimulate those whose vocation it is to give instruction, by lectures or writings, to a zealous imitation. There are Australian and Californian mines waiting for those who will work them, in which those who have not the ability to dig out great masses of the golden ore may find nuggets and gold-dust in abundance to increase the common treasure in general circulation. Historical works of original and thorough research are wanted. Where translations from German, French, and Italian works suffice, let them suffice, and original authors take up new topics. Would that, even by the easy method of translation from foreign languages, our English historical literature might be enriched, and that the taste for solid reading were sufficiently diffused to enable enterprising publishers to employ the hundreds of persons able and willing to undertake this work! Besides these more extensive historical works, there is a great need for others of lesser magnitude, for which the materials already exist in abundance. All that is necessary to make these rich materials available is, that they be worked up by those who possess the art of conveying instruction and imparting delight to inquisitive minds by the skillful use of their vernacular idiom in a way suited to the capacity and taste of their listeners or readers. Teachers in colleges and schools who are able to lecture to their pupils will, in our opinion, stimulate their minds to thought and study much more easily and efficaciously by lectures on topics of this kind than by adhering exclusively to the mere class routine. And we venture to suggest also to those who give lectures to literary associations or general audiences, that they would do well to exchange their usually trite and abstract topics of vague and general declamation for specific and individual subjects taken from the historical domain. We may say the same to those who undertake to write books, or articles for the periodicals. And here it occurs to our memory to refer to certain historical and biographical articles which have appeared in some of our magazines as specimens and illustrations. The Civiltà Cattolica has published a long series of brief but remarkably accurate and graphic historical sketches of the lives and reigns of the Sovereign Pontiffs, under the title of I Destini di Roma. The Month has repeatedly given short articles of the same kind, either singly or serially, which are perfect models of the popular historical style. Our children and young people, and indeed all people whatever who can be induced to hear or read anything instructive, with the exception of a small class of severely-disciplined minds, must be charmed in order to be taught. Truth must be made visible; in concrete, distinct, and brilliant pictures, images, representations of actual realities, living examples; as a splendid form in symmetrical figures. This is the reason why works of imaginative genius are so keenly relished by the multitude, and especially those fictitious narratives called novels and romances, whose particular form is most easily apprehended by the common imagination. Fiction, in so far as it is constructed according to the rules of true art, is but a shadow of real life. The reality is far more interesting. Compendiums and textbooks must indeed be dry, and they are necessary, as grammars and dictionaries are both extremely dry and extremely necessary. But, besides these dry skeletons of history, we need other books in which the epic and lyric harmony and dramatic life of man’s variegated action on the earth are reproduced – works which bear the same relation to dry annals that the Aeneid or the Cid sustain to Latin and French grammar. They should be composed with such a charm of style that an intelligent boy or girl would eagerly take them under a tree of a fine summer-day, and beguile delightfully a long afternoon in their perusal, if they are for juvenile readers; and if they are of a more ambitious aim, that they allure their readers to burn the midnight oil over their pages. Nor would we exclude historical romances from the category of useful and instructive literature, if they are constructed in conformity to the truth of history and inculcate wholesome moral lessons.

It is an error to consider literature as merely a means of instruction for a secular purpose or of transitory pleasure, and to confine the effort at cultivating the spiritual faculties in view of the soul’s everlasting destiny, to the use of means directly religious. This is one form of the erroneous doctrine that the temporal order ought to be separated from the spiritual order, and therefore education be secularized. If there are any who think that the clergy have no interest in any but their own technical, professional studies, and that catechisms, didactic sermons, ascetic books, and biographies of saints written in that formal method which is so inexpressibly unnatural and tedious, with virtues tied up in separate bundles and commonplace dissertations overloading the narrative, are the only and sufficient means of salvation, we might say to them: Look at the Bible, and study the method which the divine Wisdom adopted. It is a book of history, poetry, eloquence; with little of professedly abstract, didactic instruction. It is an inspired literature, and the sermons of our Lord even are thrown into a popular and concrete form which addresses the imagination more directly than the understanding. The Bible, as well as nature, reason, and experience, teaches us the practical lesson that for the young and for the multitude object-teaching is the proper and only successful method. The divine philosophy, as well as the human, must be taught by example, and history is philosophy teaching by examples. In the history of Christendom, both public and private, the sacred history of the Old and New Testament is continued. The church is the spouse of Christ. The Evangelists paint the picture of the bridegroom, and Catholic historians of the bride. To win admiration and love for her, it is enough to represent her as she is.

Frederic Ozanam was inspired with this idea, which was infused into his soul by the Holy Spirit who consecrated him to his high vocation. He devoted himself to his literary and historical labors as a professor at the Sorbonne, not for the sake of science, fame, or any earthly advantage or emolument, but as an apostle of the Catholic religion; that he might win the studious youth of Paris to love Catholic truth and return to the church of their ancestors. For fifty years no Catholic lecturer, speaking as a Catholic, had been heard in that ancient, desecrated temple of the Christian philosophy of the glorious days gone by of France. The voice of Ozanam was heard, without the slightest flattening of its Catholic tone, with no timid reticence of his Catholic principles, and it captivated that crowd of turbulent, unbelieving youth by its magic eloquence. His biographer tells us:

“No man in his position was ever so much beloved in Paris; it was almost an adoration. After hanging upon his lips at the Sorbonne, bursting out every now and then, as if in spite of themselves, into sudden gusts of applause, and then hushing one another for fear they should lose one of the master’s words, his young audience would follow him out of the lecture-hall, shouting and cheering, putting questions, and elbowing their way up for a word of recognition, while a band of favored ones trooped on with him to his home across the gardens. They never suspected what an additional fatigue this affectionate demonstration was to the professor, already exhausted by the preceding hour and a half’s exertion, with its laborious proximate preparation. No matter how tired he was, they were never dismissed; he welcomed their noisy company, with its eager talk, its comments and questions, as if it were the most refreshing rest. There was, indeed, only one reward that Ozanam coveted more; this was when some young soul, who had come to the lecture in doubt or unbelief, suddenly moved by the orator’s exposition of the faith, as it was embodied or shadowed forth in his subject, opened his eyes to the truth, and, like the blind man in the Gospel, cried out, ‘giving thanks.’

“One day, on coming home from the Sorbonne, the following note was handed to him: ‘It is impossible that any one could speak with so much fervor and heart without believing what he affirms. If it be any satisfaction – I will even say happiness – to you to know it, enjoy it to the full, and learn that before hearing you I did not believe. What a great number of sermons failed to do for me you have done in an hour: you have made me a Christian! Accept this expression of my joy and gratitude.’ You have made me a Christian! Oh! let those who believe and love like Ozanam tell us what he felt, what joy inundated his soul when this cry went forth to him.”

Ozanam’s authority over the students was never more strikingly manifested than on the occasion of the excitement caused by the public announcement which the celebrated historian Lenormant made of his conversion to Christianity. He had been an infidel, then a waverer between scepticism and faith, for years before he declared himself on the Catholic side. The leaders of the infidel party stirred up the students who attended his course of historical lectures to violent demonstrations of hostility. Ozanam espoused his cause with the most chivalrous courage, and took his place by the side of M. Lenormant in the lecture-hall. When the storm of yells, hisses, hootings, and blasphemous outcries burst forth in a deafening tumult, he sprang to his feet beside the lecturer with an attitude and a glance of indignant defiance which evoked at once from the fickle mob of youths a counter-storm of violent applause. A scornful gesture hushed them into a sudden silence, broken only by the thunder of Ozanam’s invectives and the eloquence of his appeals to their honor and the principles of liberty which they professed to respect, but had so grossly violated. He mastered them completely, and M. Lenormant then proceeded to deliver his lecture without interruption. The next day, however, through the influence of those consistent advocates of toleration, Michelet and Quinet, the course was closed by an order of the government.

The active labors of Ozanam were by no means restricted to his department of duty as a professor. He was a zealous leader in Catholic associations, a frequent contributor to the journals, an untiring workman in the cause of practical charity and all undertakings for the improvement of the class of artisans and laborers. It is impossible to make any accurate estimate of the actual results of his efforts in the cause of religion and humanity. In the words of his biographer: “The work that he accomplished in his sphere will never be known in this world. God only knows the harvest that others have reaped from his prodigal self-devotion, his knowledge, and that eloquence which so fully illustrated the ideal standard of human speech described by Fénelon as ‘the strong and persuasive utterance of a soul nobly inspired.’ For Ozanam was not merely a teacher in the Sorbonne – he was a teacher of the world; and his influence shone out to the world through the minds and lives of numbers of his contemporaries who did not know that they were reflecting his light.”

What is awaiting France we know not. The world, but especially all Catholics throughout the whole extent of the church’s domain in the world, have watched with intensest interest the events which have occurred in France since the reign of Pius IX. began under such unwonted and marvelous auspices, and has continued so much beyond the period of human expectation. They have never ceased to pray for France, to sympathize with the heroic efforts of genuine French patriots, the true children of Charlemagne and Saint Louis, and to watch anxiously for the time when the prognostic of the learned and eloquent Dr. Marshall shall be fulfilled: “When France falls upon her knees, let the enemies of France begin to tremble.” The blood of three martyred archbishops of Paris, the blood of Olivaint and his noble fellow-victims, the blood of Pimodan and those generous youth who fell at Castelfidardo, the chivalry of Lamoricière and La Charrette, the vows of the pilgrims of Lourdes and Paray-le-Monial, the valiant struggles of the champions of the faith, the prayers and sacrifices of that crowd of the noblest daughters of France which fills her renovated cloisters, cannot surely remain for ever powerless to lift the dark cloud which overhangs the kingdom of the fleurs-de-lis. There has been enough of the blood of the just poured out in France within the last century to redeem not only France but Christendom. If Christendom is to be regenerated, France must first come forth renewed out of her second baptism in blood and fire. The cry of anguish, though not of despair, which she sends up to heaven by the mouth of her eloquent spokesman, the bishop of the city of Joan of Arc, “Où allons nous?” must be answered: “We go to victory over traitors within and enemies without, and our triumph shall be that of the Catholic Church.”

Frederic Ozanam had once said to the young men of a literary circle: “Let us be ready to prove that we too have our battle-fields, and that, if need be, we can die on them.” In point of fact, he did really sacrifice his own life in the fulfillment of his task. Such a delicate physical constitution could not naturally long survive the intense, continuous strain to which it was subjected by a spirit which exercised a relentless despotism over the body. In a letter to his brother Charles he tells him, by way of encouraging him to follow his example, that in 1837, when he was preparing his examination for the higher degrees, he had, during five months, worked regularly ten hours, and during the last month fifteen, daily, without counting the time spent in classes. With much more naïveté than good sense, he observes that “one has to be prudent, so as not to injure one’s health by the pressure; but little by little the constitution grows used to it. We become accustomed to a severe active life, and it benefits the temper as much as the intellect.” Notwithstanding the remonstrances of friends, he continued almost the same extent of application to study, until his health gave way entirely; and even during the journeys he was obliged to take for relaxation he rather varied the kind of labor in which his restless mind engaged than exchanged it for rest and recreation. His first severe illness attacked him only four years after he began lecturing at the Sorbonne. This was followed at intervals by other attacks, and a general failure of health which obliged him to intermit his courses and take several journeys in France, Italy, England, and Spain, during which he gathered the materials of some of the most delightful of his minor works. It is a curious and characteristic incident of his visit to England, worth recording, that he was turned out of Westminster Abbey by the pompous beadle, whom all tourists must well remember, for kneeling down to pray at the tomb of Edward the Confessor. His last lecture at the Sorbonne was given some time during the spring of 1852. It was a dying effort. He had persisted in dragging himself to the lecture-hall while a remnant of strength remained, in spite of the entreaties of friends and medical advisers. At length he had been forced to take to his bed, exhausted with weakness and consumed by fever. His cruel and unreasonable pupils clamored at the deprivation of the intellectual banquet to which they had been accustomed, and, with the inconsiderate spirit of youth, accused him of neglecting his duty through self-indulgence. Ozanam heard of this, and, in spite of all remonstrances, he rose from his bed, was dressed and taken in a carriage to the Sorbonne. Pale and haggard, unable to walk without support, but with an eye blazing with unwonted fire, and a voice clear and shrill as a silver clarion, he sang his death-song amid enthusiastic applause.

As the peroration of his last speech and of his life he exclaimed: “Gentlemen, our age is accused of being an age of egotism; we professors, it is said, are tainted with the general epidemic; and yet it is here that we use up our health; it is here that we wear ourselves out. I do not complain of it; our life belongs to you; we owe it to you to our last breath, and you shall have it. For my part, if I die it will be in your service.” With ardent but foreboding congratulations and applauses, which all felt to be farewells, the students of the Sorbonne heard and saw the last of Ozanam. The finale of his career had been reached; his coursers touched the goal, and the wreath and palm were decreed by acclamation to the hero who bore them away to die. The next morning it was feared that he might not survive ten days. He lived, however, about sixteen months longer, wandering in company with his wife and little daughter, from Eaux-Bonnes to Biarritz, from Biarritz to the Pyrenees, to Spain, and at last to Italy, then to Marseilles, where he closed his earthly life on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, 1853, surrounded by his relatives and friends, and by his brothers of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. His published works fill eleven volumes of considerable size, and for a just appreciation of their character and value we refer the reader to the twenty-fifth chapter of Miss O’Meara’s biography.

We have endeavored to excite rather than to allay the curiosity of our readers, by merely designating the salient points of a life which is crowded with a great variety of traits and incidents such as make up a subject worthy to be handled by a skillful artist in the painting of character. We have not by any means exhausted the material furnished by the intelligent and graceful narrator of Ozanam’s life, or even touched upon those personal and private details of his domestic history which lend so poetic a charm to the story of his public career. Those in whom we have awakened an interest for one who presents the living ideal of a perfect Catholic layman in an exalted sphere of action, will defraud themselves grievously if they fail to make themselves more fully acquainted with it by the perusal of his biography. The author, although she now appears for the first time under her own proper name, is already known by her Life of Bishop Grant, published under the nom de plume of Grace Ramsay, and is a daughter of Dr. O’Meara, the author of Napoleon in Exile; or, a Voice from Saint Helena. Her contributions to the pages of this magazine have been numerous and always considered as among the best of our literary articles. In the work we are reviewing she has done justice to the high estimate we had previously formed of her merit as a writer, and to her subject, the one most suited to call forth her power which she has thus far attempted. Besides a full knowledge of her subject; that ardent glow of admiration for the hero of her story which is so requisite, and is one of the special charms of portraits of noble men drawn by a feminine hand; and graphic power regulated by delicate and correct taste in delineation and description, the author has shown remarkable tact and good sense in respect to all those questions which have caused division and discussion between different Catholic parties in France. Without suppressing any part of the history of M. Ozanam and his period, or attempting to throw a veil over any of his opinions which involved him in the domestic controversies then existing, and not yet settled, respecting the relations of the Catholic cause and national politics, she has judiciously avoided taking the part of an advocate, and preserved the quiet, impartial attitude of a historian. We have occasionally noticed some evidences of haste, and neglect to put the last finishing touches upon the construction of sentences or the details of the narrative. We are also at a loss to understand the author’s motive for using certain French words, such as angoisse and découragement, rather than the corresponding Englishman terms. For the incorrect title on the back of the cover, Life and Works of F. Ozanam, we suppose the publisher is accountable; for the author has entitled her own work very properly on the title-page, Frederic Ozanam, Professor at the Sorbonne: His Life and Works – a phrase whose meaning is essentially changed by the inversion of its parts, and made to convey the impression that the complete works of Ozanam are contained in one small volume, together with his life. Apart from this blemish, which can be easily corrected, the mechanical execution of the work is neat and tasteful. The Life of Ozanam is another gem added to our small cabinet of treasures by the skill and industry of a gifted, cultivated woman. We trust the success of Miss O’Meara’s first appearance under her own name will encourage her to new efforts, and stimulate other women similarly gifted to follow her example by laboring in a department of literature for which they are specially competent. The example of Frederic Ozanam, mirrored in her clear, impartial pages, presents its own native, intrinsic beauty and splendor as a model for pure, disinterested, high-souled Catholic young men who aspire towards an ideal of true intellectual and moral greatness which is elevated and at the same time attainable in the laical state and a secular profession. It is to be hoped that the publication of this Life will make the Catholic students of England and the United States generally acquainted both with Ozanam’s beautiful character and with his thoroughly erudite, yet classically elegant and attractive, works on the history and literature of the middle ages.

– text taken from the article Frederic Ozanam by Father I T Hecker in the February 1877 edition of Catholic World magazine