Georges de Nantes.
The Mystical Doctor of the Catholic Faith.
7. “ IN THE HEART OF THE CHURCH ”
AFTER two years of philosophy, the seminarians became seniors, moved into the large building and entered “ theology. ” There, it was no longer philosophic reasoning that commanded, but divine Revelation explained by the Church. “ It was no longer work but recreation, or I should say, a permanent contemplation ! [...] We were listening to the Church and, through her, to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Himself God. ” 1
THE DOGMA OF THE FAITH WITH FATHER GUILBEAU.
Beginning around All Saints Day, the new and young professor, Fr. Guilbeau, began the treatise on the Most Holy Trinity. Before dealing with the speculative part, it was necessary to agree on the definition of the words for which the dogmatic discussions of the past centuries had furnished the definitions : nature, substance, hypostasis, person…
“ At the end of the class – it is a Sulpician custom –, the students are allowed to ask the professor questions. When my turn came, I asked Fr. Guilbeau how this same word of person could evoke two ideas so different that they seemed not only opposed but even contradictory. The one that he had taught us that morning came from a centuries-old philosophic tradition. It characterises the human individual by his incommunicability. The other that he had previously drawn from ecclesiastical tradition, from the Greek Fathers and from St. Augustine, who define the divine Persons as pure relations, ‘ subsistent relations ’ Were not ‘ subsistence ’ and autonomy terms irreconcilable with this total gift, with these ‘ processions ’ that constitute the three Persons in God ?
“ He remained silent. I feared that I had offended him and I stammered apologies. ”
“ ‘ Not at all, ’ he replied to me, ‘ I was hesitating on the answer that I would like to give you. It is difficult. It is the obscure point, the mystery ! Perhaps one ought to say that this particular gift, this relationship that is the property of each of the divine Persons, is precisely incommunicable to the other Persons. The Father cannot give his paternity, the Son alone has filiation… Do you understand ? A ‘ pure relation ’ can have the perfection of being so personifying, if I may say so, that it suffices to place each person in the presence of the others in such a particular way that it excludes all admixture. ’ ”
“ He spoke slowly, with the prudence of someone who is not reciting, but who is advancing in the truth by making sure of his steps. I understood well, and yet I insisted :
“ ‘ Is it not regrettable to designate by the same word, in human society, the independent being, jealous of his rights and claiming to be sovereign, and in divine society these Persons Who are and Who want to be wholly relation, unreserved gifts to one another, pure paternity, filiation, love ? Should there not be coherence, analogy, from one sphere to the other ? Should not human persons define themselves in the image and likeness of the divine Persons rather than contrary to their admirable perfection ? ’
“ He listened to me, as though caught off his guard on this path where I was running along like an impulsive child.
“ ‘ I do not know what to reply to you. ’ he said to me finally, ‘ I am going to study this point. ’
“ I admired, dumbfounded, this humble man who let the limits of his knowledge show. For me it was already a striking and an enduring lesson.
“ ‘ I will speak to you again about it soon… in a few days… ’
“ He fell ill, however, then was rushed to the hospital of Clamart and underwent an emergency operation. We went in small groups to visit him during his convalescence, but his state worsened. When my turn came with others who spoke first, he looked kindly at me and said : ‘ I don’t forget you. I am thinking… It is a very interesting question, but difficult. Undoubtedly it is the key… ’
“ He smiled with a look from the Beyond on his face that suffering had engraved as on a Christ. I had the foreboding that I would never get from him the answer to this question, a question that had become his own in his dialogue of a dying man with the Holy Trinity. A few days later, he saw what he was seeking.
“ This is the tragedy that introduced me to true theology. Its weight of grace has not ceased to increase with time, as this question made an immense metaphysical novelty and a total theology well up in me. For forty years, they have not ceased to enlighten my mind ” 2
Its fruit would be a synthesis of extreme boldness, but fruitful, meaningful and beautiful : the person is defined not by his substantial autonomy but by his relations, and above all by the first of them, his ‘ relation of origin, ’ constitutive of his fundamental and beloved dependence. The sign of the truth of this ‘ immense metaphysical novelty ’ is the liberating solution that it brings to the opposition that traditional Latin theology created between the two great Christian Mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word :
“ I discovered in my universal and analogic definition of the person as a relation of origin, marvellous and converging harmonies between the two Mysteries, a perfect continuity ! It was precisely the specific reason that made the Word the Son in Trinitarian life that enabled Him to give Himself a human nature according to His pure and simple personality as the only begotten Son of God… Then from God to angel, from angel to man, the notion of person defined in this way turned out to reveal the singular, inexhaustible and sacred depths of every spiritual being, according to the dogmas and the morality of our Catholic Faith, by comparison with the most punctilious philosophical reasoning and in accord with the wishes of the most modern personalist existentialism. ” 3
Such is the magnificent law of existence that appeared to the eagle eye of the young philosopher and theologian, Georges de Nantes, founding, regenerating and uniting mysticism, morality and politics on these vital bonds, these fruitful ties of paternity and filiation, of conjugal love, of family, nation, trade and finally charity, through the Holy Spirit and the Church, in the very Heart of Christ, Who wants to be all in all in order to bring us all back to the Father, origin and end. These sublimities were the delight of his mystical contemplation, while at the same time reducing to nothing the falsities of modern subjectivism : rights of man, the master-slave dialectic, so-called Christian personalism.
MORAL THEOLOGY WITH FATHER HAMEL.
The seminarians found once again their dear Fr. Hamel in their class of Moral Theology : “ I am unable to remember him without laughing a silent, irrepressible laugh from the bottom of the throat and very close to emotion. Woe betide me if his placid Norman face appears before my eyes or one of his pieces of mischief comes to mind… during Mass ! ”
A few delightful episodes related with consummate art makes this laugh infectious. “ He liked to surprise and cleverly amuse the crowd. One day, Fr. Masclafier was going to Paris. In the street he caught up with Fr. Hamel who, with his breviary under his arm, was calmly heading towards the subway station Petits-Ménages, presently called Corentin-Celton. Fr. Masclafier obligingly offered him a ticket. Our conjurer, however, gave it back to him :
“ ‘ Thank you, whatever for ? Do you pay to use the subway ? That’s funny… I never do. ’
“ ‘ How do you get away doing that ? Do you have a pass ? ’
“ ‘ Oh no, there’s no need. ’
“ ‘ They let you through ? ’
“ ‘ Of course ! You don’t know the trick ? ’
“ And this dear confrere, falling into the trap asked him about it…
“ ‘ Oh, it’s simple ! You look at the ticket-puncher in the eyes and you say to him : How are you doing ? and he lets you through… ’ ”
“ Then he added with the expression of a simpleton who is hardly capable of anything else :
“ ‘ It isn’t so difficult… ’
“ Masclafier, distrustful, followed close behind him when they arrived at the gate. He saw him raise his breviary a little and exchange a look of complicity without saying anything, or else what password ? Then he passed without paying ! Fr. Masclafier did not dare do the same, handed over his ticket and caught up to his spiritual director :
“ ‘ You see, it is very simple. ’
“ The story went the rounds of the seminary. Another one of Fr. Hamel’s pranks ! This made everyone laugh but no one understood the key to what was obviously a hoax. The proof is that none of us dared to try the system ! We learned the secret later on and we again laughed heartily. You have not guessed it ? It is, however, very simple. Fr. Hamel was going to Paris when, already on the quay, he realised that he had forgotten his breviary. He retraced his steps after having humbly informed the ticket-puncher about it. He was returning to the subway when he was joined by a dupe. Before you could say Jack Robinson, our joker had planned his hoax and the entire seminary fell into the trap like this good Fr. Masclafier ! Fr. Hamel, however, did not pull off his traps and tricks so gaily on every occasion, and during the year I had a few clashes with him that remained legendary. ” These are must reading !
For, “ what I gained from the little adventures of my third year with Fr. Hamel is greater than what could be imagined. A priest is never thrown into priestly life as a foundling. He remains the spiritual son and the disciple of his seminary directors who trained him and to whom he is bound by thousands of memories, teachings and advice, affections as well, and sometimes reprimands. Furthermore, the Fathers who leave him the most durable and strongest inheritance are certainly those with whom he had had a few good rows, in which affection leads to esteem, and passing ingratitude to unending gratefulness. ” 4
The following chapters offer a marvellous illustration of this universal truth : “ I was still unable to understand anything through books alone ; I first needed the oral teaching of masters, of initiators. ”
HEBREW WITH FATHER CAZELLES.
“ What was really new for me in this third year was the study of Hebrew as an optional subject. All those who had this chance certainly remember their emotion upon opening their Hebrew Bible with the very beautiful and majestic characters embellished with myriads of dots, lines and mysterious signs. I had already experienced this shock of feeling linguistically uprooted as a child in my first classes of Greek. How charming those Greek characters are, all delicacy and affectation, how upright and clear Roman characters ! Hebrew characters, on the other hand, are full of power and grace ! This shock swelled even more into the sacred impression of entering straight into this great and formidable Mosaic religion, from which we draw our first sap, our roots. I mumbled these first words ecstatically : ‘ be-réshît bara èlohîm ét hashamayim we - ét ha’arèç ’…
“ What an unforgettable sacred initiation ! Fr. Cazelles, this scholar, did not consider it beneath him to preside over these beginnings of each new generation, in which he hoped to find some recruit for the science to which he had consecrated his entire life… At the same time, after the Historical Books, he taught us that year the Prophets. It was fascinating to read them, not one after another with no regard for their dating, but in their chronological order, taking into account their particular political and religious context, all manifesting God’s thought, His will over His Chosen People : this great plan leading it by blessings and curses, detours and returns, love and wrath, always with more abundant mercy, to the promised Messiah, to the expected Kingdom. Fr. Cazelles went slowly pursuing the literal meaning, sparing us no objection, no difficulty. Our rudimentary knowledge of the original text in its poor, uncertain Hebrew vocabulary, easily symbolic and always bound to the rich concreteness of day-to-day life was already a great help for clarifying and savouring the primary, original meaning of so many liturgical texts never well understood. I was continually bubbling with excitement during these courses, noting down everything and blackening my Crampon Bible with marginal notes... ”
Fr. Cazelles discerned in Georges de Nantes a student open to the new, scientific avenues, who had definitively repudiated “ both integrism and Modernism, dismissing them back to back : on the one side, reason setting itself up as mistress and enemy of the Faith ; on the other side, a badly taught faith, scorning scientific intelligence and fleeing the direct lesson of the revealed texts.
“ I found myself led ‘ in medio Ecclesiæ ’, right in the middle of this great age-old flow of the Church's holy and infallible Tradition, nourishing us with the Word of God, living and true. ” 5
WITH FATHER GAUTIER, HISTORY MADE SENSE.
Fr. Gautier’s history classes “ regaled my inexhaustible curiosity, but what he related and relived was so far from me that my admiration for it remained totally cold and formal, ” until the day when he evoked “ the sudden soar of the Cluniac Order at the height of the feudal anarchy in the last years of the Carolingians. ” What a shock !
“ 909, 911 will never ever slip my mind. ”
In 909, “ William of Aquitaine, Count of Mâcon, had the novel idea of offering the new monastery and its lands as a perpetual gift to the Holy See, shielding them in this way from the covetousness, the encroachments and the extortions of the neighbouring lords, the bishops, and perhaps one day the king himself ! It was a political stroke of genius that was inspired by a very strong awareness of the universal supremacy of the Roman Pontiff. It was thanks to this that Cluny would be able to take the lead in the Benedictine renaissance throughout Christendom and to become, for the year 1000, this forest of pillars and columns that supported the prestigious edifice of the feudal and royal order that was more than French, less than imperial : it was European. ”
In 911, the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte changed Rollon and his devastating Vikings into lambs by means of the gift of Normandy as a perpetual fief, “ an audacious initiative of Charles the Simple. After this, not without the miraculous assistance of Our Lady, Duke Robert defeated them in the Beauce while the Bishop of Chartres raised on high the precious relic of the ‘ Chemise of the Virgin ’ and as a storm completed the rout of the pagans ! As a result, Rollon, repeating Clovis’ gesture, asked for Baptism, together with his whole army, thus 'entering honorably into the Catholic nation of the Franks ! [...]
“ That is how the Catholic and French order was born, and a thousand years later we were still defending, safeguarding and dreaming of restoring and spreading it throughout the world ! I was like a man who had rediscovered in a lost valley the devastated hearths of his ancestors. ”
Cluny is, in fact, situated ‘ Between Chônas and Glux, ’ which is the title of a chapter glowing with enthusiasm from Memoirs and Anecdotes : “ From 909 on, History spoke to me, it concerned me and called out to me, it enlightened and assisted me. Cluny is on the road from Chônas to Glux, the road of our childhood seasonal moves between the manor house of my father and that of my grandmother. Its history is that of my universe ; in passing, I saw its steeples that had escaped ruin. By good fortune, the great idea of its legendary abbots, Odo, Mayeul, Odilo, belongs to the view of our Catholic and French order that had been instilled in me as its keystone. ” 6
Even his confreres seemed to have understood this since they nicknamed de Nantes “ Hildebrand, ” from the name of the Cluniac monk who, become Pope under the name of Gregory VII, was the mainspring of the Reform of the clergy in the 11th century, and the heroic defender of the rights of the Church and of her liberty against Henry IV, emperor of Germany.
“ Did I seem too enthusiastic about the prestigious Cluniac ? Had I not rather irritated a certain latent secularism in many of my confreres who had come from the state secondary schools or colleges, perhaps even from the minor seminaries where Canossa had been related to them to the glory of the secular emperor oppressed by the clericalism of a fanatic monk, by commending wholeheartedly this Gregorian thesis of pontifical sovereignty over all human order, episcopal as well as imperial ? The fact remains that for a time I was nicknamed Hildebrand, which was all too glorious for me. May St. Gregory VII forgive me, for I did not at all succeed in feeling either embarrassment or shame ! ” 7
He had the same “ vibrant enthusiasm for St. Bernard, ” which brought “ a new wave of jokes, not at all malicious but mocking [...]. This mysticism of the Canticle of Canticles, these Crusades, this pursuit of heresy, this hounding of Abelard, this spiteful anger against Peter the Venerable whom he considered too tepid, ” seemed outdated to my confreres, and left them cold, “ while with all my unquenchable thirsts I greedily drank straight from the bottle this life, this ardour, quivering with these holy enthusiasms, these frenzies, this mystical poetry, without letting a single drop fall, nourishing my young existence ! I understood a lesson for today in it but, in our new climate of 1946, I seemed to be the only one.
“ Since those far-off years, I have happily travelled the length and breadth of this cradle of our Christendom, so close at hand, from La Chaise-Dieu to Saint-Denis, from the Great Charterhouse to Saint-Remi of Reims, from Cluny to Fontenay and Clairvaux. In their solitudes, in the depths of forests jubilant with age-old beeches and oaks, I evoked their ancient rules and customs. Under the low vaults of Romanesque churches that they built in the villages that still exist just as they were in their time, I felt as though linked through the generations to the founders of our Church and of our most Christian monarchy, and adopted by them. I felt at home in their home, this cradle of our Christendom [...]. I was not living a thousand years behind the times as my confreres gibed at me. I live from these thousand years that built my universe – and their own, alas, about which they do not care, unless it is to find it alien and hostile. Those thousand years merited their survival from God and His Christ. I draw all my wisdom from it, from their one hundred and fifty truths and exceptional qualities, human and Christian beauties, or better still, monastic and monarchic. ” 8
ALREADY AGAINST THE REFORM !
“ After this, must I evoke the opposite shock, which was just as intense but painful, that I experienced one year later, ” when the same professor spoke about Luther ?
“ I did not miss a single word of these classes, not an inflexion of the voice, and I have truly forgotten nothing from them. I bore hatred for this monster of pride and sensuality, both of which went unchecked, the one vying with the other, and then both turning against the Faith, the law, and against Christ’s sacrament in order to carve out an empire for themselves. Is there anything more disgusting, more revolting, more catastrophic for the human race ? Were the most abject voluptuous pleasure, solitary voluptuousness, and the barbaric pride of the individual who preferred himself to the entire human and divine order that he contested and dreamt of crushing, going to establish their guilty union where chastity, humility and gentle fraternal friendship had prevailed for centuries ?
“ I had kept intact my memories of, and my admiration and love for St. Hugh of Cluny, St. Bernard, St. Norbert, St. Bruno, St. Francis, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, which I had enriched even more by constant readings… I was unable to encompass their luminous multitudes. Was this uncouth, debauched, loud-mouthed monk who spoke shamefully, who made himself out to be the master of the Gospel and the only judge of faith and discipline, going to sully everything, overthrow everything, without anything victoriously opposing him ?
“ Never, no never again would Christendom enjoy peace, unity, purity of morals and clarity of dogmas, without divisions, disputes, bloody wars and persecutions ! At the time I felt the bite of hatred against this disgusting man standing up to a whole world in order to ruin it in the name of an illusory salvation. I have repudiated nothing of it since. My inner indignation had to subside, my suffocating hatred for this heretic dead for four centuries had to become only vehement.
“ At that time, in our world which had become Anglo-Saxon, the forth centenary of his death on February 17, 1546 was being celebrated. What he had said about Germany, that had gone over to his Reformation, became the sad, the loathsome reality of our liberated world of 1946 : ‘ If one wanted to paint Germany, one would have to depict it as a sow ; but since we live there, we must bear the blame. ’
“ Ah ! No, I will never resign myself to living under the Occupation of such a barbarity proclaimed evangelical. Never will I prefer its absurd chaos, its cruel fanaticism and its hypocrisy of piety mixed with vices, to the pure truth, goodness and beauty of our Catholic and French order... ” 9
THE TRUE DISCIPLE.
During the summer of 1946, the holidays were an occasion to put this attachment to Catholic and French order into practice, first by a ‘ Summer Camp in Forez, ’ with the children of the glassblowers of Veauche, directed by a priest of the Prado. The adventures and delightful encounters are related with surprising precision after so many years. 10 The apostolate was easy and fruitful in the framework of this institution where the instructions of the holy founder were joyfully practiced : “ The poorer you are, the more you are useful to your neighbour. The deader you are, the more life you have, the more life-giving you are. You must become good bread. ”
As ‘ holiday homework, ’ it was customary to compose a sermon that would be delivered after the return to the seminary in the refectory “ during the midday meal, having the entire teaching staff facing you as an audience. They did not miss a single mouthful nor a sentence either. To the right and the left were the tables of our dear confreres who ate with a loud clatter of dishes. You had to shout yourself hoarse to make yourself heard, and achieve the height of eloquence for them to listen ! It was an amusing and instructive way to do our classes of sacred eloquence without wasting time. In the evening, at the beginning of the ‘ spiritual reading, ’ the superior passed sentence. It was very eagerly expected and sometimes very controversial [...].
“ A list of subjects was posted in June and everyone could chose. One of them captured my attention. It was the word of St. Peter to Our Lord when all were abandoning Him after the discourse on the Bread of Life : ‘ Lord, to whom shall we go ? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God. ’ The idea occurred to me that these magnificent words could be addressed to our Holy Mother Church. The superior seemed surprised by it ; it was in fact surprising, but he immediately consented. ” 11
After the Prado’ summer camp, having returned to Chônas, “ I set about this work that required no effort on my part.
“ Yet why transfer to the Church today the Apostle’s words of heroic fidelity to Christ, abandoned by all in that evening in Capernaum, at the turning point of His public life ? It comes back to mind now ; I had too much lost sight of it by paying attention to this continual bliss that I experienced at that time in studying, praying and living in this magnificent seminary. All, however, was not going for the best in these years 1945-1946. How will I be able to evoke this crack that became a break and almost turned into a dramatic rupture? That was precisely when the words of St. Peter cast a light on what I ought to think, say and do. ” 12
The crack occurred following a testing altercation with Fr. Lesourd, his director of conscience who had replaced Fr. Rabeau, and the break came with Bishop Ancel, after which Georges de Nantes ceased “ to be part of the Prado, and he ceased to know me. ” These cushioned blows and intimidations created “ a vague feeling of personal insecurity and general instability, very contrary to that which, at the same time, ” these Sulpician Fathers were striving to instil in their students “ with regard to the Holy Church, rock of the Faith, column of truth, monument of fidelity to her divine Founder. It was during these years of 1945-1946 that I witnessed almost all of my confreres slip into progressivism and reformism, without them being aware of the alteration in their character and the fading of their former convictions. The less they thought on their own and accepted everything, the more they imagined that they were progressing in holiness and entering further into the spirit of the Church. I did not feel completely alone but in a dangerously exposed position, in the face of upcoming storms. ” 13
O HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH !
“ So, there I was in front of my paper, in the immobility of Chônas’ long days of heat and solitude. The seminary was far away. I wrote... ”
We have the manuscript of this memorable and premonitory sermon at Maison Saint-Joseph : “ To show that we owe the Church this trusting and courageous faith that the Apostles gave to Jesus.
“ 1. Confidence that abandons human assurances. Just as Peter believed in spite of the general incredulity, we also should have confidence to resist sin and the temptation of mistrust.
“ 2. Courage for becoming each day more worthy children of the Church ; let us devote ourselves courageously to the salvation of the world. Conclusion : already Satan has been cast out by the sufferings and the humiliations of the Spouse of Jesus Christ. ”
“ It was like a letter to my Fathers and my confreres that I would soon declaim to them from the pulpit. I knew what I wanted to tell them : You are the Church, my dear brethren and my Fathers. We have had major and minor debates. I am unaware of the gravity that you attribute to them. I realise that my future is hanging in the balance at the moment. Yours, however, is also hanging. You are in the process of evolving towards something else, and I do not know if you are not losing us and are not in the process of losing the Church with us, at least our Church of France. That, however, changes nothing in the substance of the goods that we have as our divine lot. O Catholic Church, to whom shall I go, to whom shall we go ? It is you who have the words of eternal life. We know, and we all believe, that you are God’s thing, the work of the Lord, His beloved Spouse, His sanctuary.
“ I thus returned to the seminary, being aware that I would encounter yet again many setbacks and that undoubtedly I would still give you a lot of trouble, that I would cause you many worries, that I would often hurt you very much. Let me at least tell you today that here and here alone, where Providence has guided me, among you in this seminary, is for me the path of eternal Life. ” 14
Contrary to certain confreres with advanced ideas, who “ came back from their holidays reluctantly and gave the appearance of dragging their feet to return among us, ” Georges de Nantes did not have the feeling that the seminary was an unreal or artificial milieu. “ This idea has always seemed preposterous to me : if reality is no longer reality, where does reality lie ? The major seminary of Issy was in fact an ideal place for entering into intimate and regular relations with Heaven and its inhabitants – that is no small matter – almost as assiduously as in a monastery. It is also the ideal place to enter into a relationship with the past of Christendom and all its human multitudes by the studies that we pursued relentlessly, and perhaps better than in the prestigious French higher education institutes. Lastly, the seminary enabled us to form relations with the two to three hundred young men and their Sulpician directors. The careful observation of their character, their ideas, and their spiritual adventure constituted an abundant and particularly rich matter for instructive and delightful reflexion on human nature and the infinite marvels of grace. There was no reason for being bored and there was nothing artificial about it ! ” 15
The best of what remained of his fourth and last year at Issy-les-Moulineaux was devoted to the study of the treatise On the Holy Eucharist. Georges de Nantes, a fervent disciple of Fr. Chevrier, – “ O Word, O Christ, how beautiful You are, how great You are ! ” – and of Fr. de Foucauld, the tireless adorer of Jesus the Host, could but happily adhere to the presentation of this “ Mystery of Faith ” on which he had been living since early childhood.
Nevertheless, the rigorously Thomistic explanation of transubstantiation left him unsatisfied :
“ Fr. Baufine repeated St. Thomas verbatim. All the accidents, form or figure, colour, savour, the one in a liquid state, the other in a solid state, are unable to subsist in such a change of substances unless they find a certain support and a certain cohesion the one in the other, or rather all the accidents in the most significant among them. We might imagine, albeit with prudence, that it would become a substitute for the vanished substance, a quasi-substance, which plays the role of the substance without really being it. Baufine was perspiring in this effort and did not even think to conceal it. St. Thomas teaches that this major accident is the quantity or, if we were to dare to press further, the matter insofar as it is nothing more than a power of occupation of a certain space allowing for the stable localisation of a constant object within its environment. In scholastic language, the quantitas dimensiva… ”
“ When the expression had been let out, he stopped for a moment to allow us to assimilate this difficult notion. He hoped, however, that no one would raise his hand and that he would be able to pass through the bottleneck without a hitch. For obviously, this quantity no longer has any specific form or substance to sustain it – the bread and the wine having ceased to exist ! – and nevertheless continues to support the other qualities or species of the bread and the wine that have disappeared. Thus who prevents this quantity itself from falling into oblivion ? Who or what grants it still to exist and to sustain the rest ? That is when, Baufine went on, that St. Thomas made the divine Almightiness intervene. From the moment when the bread and the wine cease to exist, the set of accidents of both of them, kept together by their localising matter, only persist in existing by the hand of God, in other words : by a miracle… He mopped his brow : There you have it. ”
The dear professor admitted that he himself did not understand but he believed what the Church teaches. 16 After returning to his sunny cell, on this fine day of May, 1947, Georges de Nantes wrote down his contemplation – there is no other word to describe it – of this mystery “ so simple, so luminous, and so marvellous ! ”
“ It was like an intellectual vision. From the Divine Word, going off in all directions of the universe, but from all eternity, there were rays of pure light, which were as so many creating words causing to emerge from darkness, and even bringing out of nothingness, fields of wheat turning golden, leafy grapevines laden with fruit, endlessly. ‘ Be wine, be bread ! ’ the Son of God, the Word made flesh, was saying, and the ray of light seemed to move successively from the baskets to the wine press, from the grapevine to the vat and the casks; ‘ that ’ became wine, and altar wine in the beautiful golden chalice, while ‘ this ’ became by the hands of man and the stone of the mills, flour, bread and finally hosts upon thousands and thousands of patens…
“ I noted down immediately in my little exercise book, that this ray of light, the creative Word, was not a poetic or mystical imagining, but indeed the primary and principal metaphysical reality, the constituent act of being : ‘ He speaks, and things are… ’ If He happened to remain silent and this Light were to go out, these same substances, bread, wine, flesh, blood and all others would disappear, would return to the nothingness before the Beginning. The Beginning is He, God the Word ! Thus the creative relation that is itself the divine work, a Word going forth from the divine lips, is prior to the substance and accidents of things, and more real, stable, defined and localised than matter, the famous materia signata quantitate of that pagan Aristotle. This ‘ constituent relation ’ holds the total being of the creature according to the good pleasure of the divine Word, in this or that essence and accidents…
“ It is this ray of light, the bearer of being, which from the lips of the Word gives their matter and their form, their substance and their accidents to this bread as well as to this wine that the priest regards, over which he extends his hands in sign of sacrifice, and that he is going to consecrate by the force of the words that this divine Word, Jesus Christ, commanded him to say in His Name so that they should operate through His power and creative omnipotence…
“ ‘ Hoc est enim Corpus meum... Hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei... ’, the priest says with a voice made sovereign by the divine Order. At this sacramental word, a junction is made among various rays of the creative light emanating from the Incarnate Word, and the beings in which they terminate approach one another to the point of merging with one another : their being escapes from the hosts from which the substance disappears, having been seized and absorbed by the Body of Christ, and likewise the being of the wine, in its nudity as a creature, is surrendered to the substance of the Blood of the Son of God made man. The strength of this change is in the creative Will, its fulfilment in the original ray of light that is every Word that goes out from the mouth of God ; the orderly mutation is in the essences or natures, of the Body that takes the place of the bread, of the Blood that is substituted for the wine. It is indeed a total change according to Aristotle, but for the Christian this constituent relation of origin remains stable, and the pure existence that is its term, is destined through all change, even substantial, to obey its Creator alone. This divine Will of Jesus Christ sufficiently manifests His intention when, driving out the bread and the wine, it orders His Body and His Blood to conserve nevertheless the accidents or species in order to appear as He wishes to be for us on this occasion, as our bread by His Flesh, as our wine by His Blood, in an eating and an ineffable fusion of beings, full of love. ” 17
With such a doctrine, it is not in vain that ten years later he would write in our Rule : “ May the fragrance of the Eucharist impregnate them to such an extent that no action, however removed from their life as hermits it may be, will be able to deprive them of it. ” (Art. 16)
At the time, the twenty-three-year-old seminarian believed “ that such a metaphysical splendour would easily delight the entire Holy Church, increasing devotion to the Eucharistic Presence and the holy desire for receiving Jesus frequently in Communion. ” 18 He loved Fr. Beaufine because both his love for the “ divine Mary ” and his adoration of the Holy Eucharist 19 “ transfused into us drop by drop in these classes. ”
As for Fr. Osty, he was “ an enthusiast of Paul, the Apostle of Christ. ”
SAINT PAUL WITH CANON OSTY.
Our Father gave a picturesque description of the canon : “ What a rare man ! What was the origin of this attraction, this enthusiasm that he aroused, this joy that he lit even on the faces of the most sullen as soon as he appeared among us ? Was it his Erasmian humanism, placing him in harmony with Nature in all seasons ? Was it rather the fact that he came from Lozère ? I do not know. It is true that everyone who descends to us on our banks of the Rhône, from the rugged borders of the Margeride and the Vivarais, is full of keen intelligence, strength of character, poetry and goodness. He was the first of a series of great people from the Cévennes that I would have the happiness of approaching during my life [...].
“ What he taught, during this year of 1946 where we have arrived, was the Epistles of St. Paul, of which he had just published a new, very elegant translation, by the firm Siloé. The book cover, however, was ordinary. To those who were surprised by this he apologised charmingly : ‘ It is my baby, ’ he said, ‘ and I am delighted that you like him ; it is my publisher who wrapped him up, what can I do about it ? His taste is not ours ! ’ Thus it was that he accepted the small and big annoyances of life… So, he took his ‘ baby ’ and opened it to the page at which we had arrived and, without any notes, came and went like an actor on this wide stage that he filled with his presence. He read, verse by verse, the text of St. Paul while giving us a scholarly commentary on it in a spontaneous and rapid outpouring peppered with witty jests, his harsh and lilting voice holding us beneath the charm and even more under the brilliant intelligence that left us breathless. On top of it, he had remarkably amusing gestures, winks, and even certain quivers of the jowls and the lips of the wings of the nose, such as can be admired in young rabbits. They made us laugh until we cried even during serious expositions. In short, we would not have wanted to lose a single drop of this pleasure.
“ That would have been nothing more than vanity on the part of a prestigious professor if this flow of words and this priceless comical expression had not served one of the most extraordinary men of universal history, one of the greatest creators of ideas and adventures, and one of the most sure mystiques of all time. ‘ Fr. Osty, ’ as we used to call him although he had nothing of the religious about him, had neither the apparent asceticism nor the focusing of attention on his interior life. He was not one of those biographers who commit the error of assimilating and equating themselves with the person they are writing about. On the contrary, he distanced himself from him, remained opposite him, like a painter and his subject. It was a question of Saul of Tarsus, the furious persecutor of the Christians become the Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles, and not at all of his own states of soul, those of Canon Osty, about which we would never know anything. In the course of a year, he had us visit St. Paul on the double, since there were so many marvels to discover, as an archaeologist makes ancient Rome or Pompeii come back to life for a group of people of quality. Only, everything was in the way of going about it ! I cannot imagine any modern man, other than Erasmus or Thomas More, able to penetrate so deeply into portraiture, into the comprehension of the work and the intimate knowledge of genius.
“ He went straight to what was essential. He read his text and freely discussed his translation as though it were a rough draft ; thus he progressed from the words to the objects. Through his way of proceeding, the text spoke a new language ; he admitted his secret, as though it had been forgotten and suddenly rediscovered. It was not at all as when our Brother Bruno translates so precisely the Qur’an that nothing subsists in it of the Mohammedan legend with which it has been bedecked for thirteen centuries.
“ On the contrary ! As we proceeded, Fr. Osty indisputably made us know, in minute detail, the life of the Apostle year by year : his incredible toils, his journeys, his theological debates, his bursts of affection as well as of wrath, holy affections, divine wrath ! It was a direct and decisive contact for each of us with this outstanding, ardent-hearted being of flesh and blood, of vigour, of will, of speculation. The professor, too, had to be outstanding ! Under the constraint of science, there was no longer any way to doubt the certainty of the events, the most awe-inspiring as well as the insignificant ones, that he drew from his original Greek text, as the beaters flush out of thickets all sorts of game that come straight to us. The cloak and the scrolls of Scripture forgotten at Troas are as real as the resurrection wrought in this place by the Apostle of a young man sleeping on a window ledge who fell into the court. The ecstasies are as certain as the stonings and the incredible odyssey of the Apostle, Christ’s old prisoner, on the raging sea during the winter of 61 A. D., as the stunning apparition of Jesus on the road to Damascus to the young Saul of Tarsus thirty years earlier, yes, in 31 A.D. !
“ There was no hesitation, no scepticism, no rationalist reductionism in our Fr. Osty, whose only concern was truth. When the text is there with its nuances, its details that are not invented, its tangles of encounters, feelings, confrontation of ideas, clashes of characters, unexpected events to which we no longer even have the key, it cannot be a romance, it is real life ! Where Guitton weighed the value of the testimonies and wavered between the plausibility of the fact and its improbability, without clearly concluding, Fr. Osty had us touch St. Paul with our hands, see him with our own eyes at Ephesus, at Corinth and among his dear Philippians. No description of the countries travelled through, of the populations encountered, of the cities ; no folklore interested him. For him, obviously, what counted was the man and his apostolic career, the like of which history had never before known. ” 20
The young seminarian no longer swore by anyone other than St. Paul, “ your St. Paul ! ” as his grandmother, the Marquise of Verclos, used to say to him with a touch of affectionate irony. Following the example of the Apostle, burning with zeal for the Gospel of Christ's grace and not tolerating the slightest corruption of divine Truth, Georges de Nantes would soon find himself caught in a tragic and tremendous confrontation. Mystics are so strongly polemic that they cannot stand to see any alteration in the divine treasure that constitutes their happiness and that they know to be so necessary for the salvation of men and of the world.
(1) Memoirs and Anecdotes, Vol. II, pp. 157-159.
(2) Ibid., pp. 161-163.
(3) CRC no. 170, October 1981, p. 11.
(4) Memoirs and Anecdotes, Vol. II, pp. 165-176.
(5) Ibid., pp. 179-186.
(6) Ibid., pp. 189-191.
(7) Ibid., pp. 192-193.
(8) Ibid., pp. 194-196.
(9) Ibid., pp. 196-197. On the subject of Luther, Fr. de Nantes’ convictions will not change, cf. CRC n° 4, January 1968, CRC n° 94, July 1975 : “ Humanism, Reform, Counter-Reform. ”
(10) Memoirs and Anecdotes, Vol. II, pp. 199-213.
(11) Ibid., pp. 215-216.
(12) Ibid., p. 217.
(13) Ibid., p. 224.
(14) Ibid., pp. 224-225.
(15) Ibid., pp. 235-236.
(16) Memoirs and Anecdotes, Vol. II, p. 248.
(17) Ibid., pp. 247-251.
(18) Ibid., p. 352.
(19) Ibid., p. 344.
(20) Ibid., pp. 263-267.