ANTHONY ESOLEN How the Church Has Changed the World Volume III January 2018 – December 2019 MAGNIFICAT Paris • New York • Oxford • Madrid
Publisher: Romain Lizé Editor-in-Chief: Rev. Sebastian White, o.p. Managing Editor: David Wharton Iconography: Isabelle Mascaras Layout: Julia Pateu Cover: Gauthier Delauné Production: Florence Bellot Proofreading: Samuel Wigotow Front cover: St. Isidor, Rome (1911), Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. Photo CC0. Copyright © 2022 by Magnificat Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in 2022 by Printed in France by Sepec First edition: 2022 Job number: MGN22011 ISBN: 978-1-63967-006-2 No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Magnificat, PO Box 834, Yonkers, NY 10702. www.magnificat.com
contents A Universe in a Grain. .....................................5 The Least of These �����������������������������������������12 Soldier for Liberty �����������������������������������������19 Gold Out of Rome ����������������������������������������26 Into Uncharted Waters ����������������������������������34 Death to Me Is Gain �������������������������������������41 The Founder Nobody Knows ������������������������48 A Man of Rebirth ������������������������������������������55 Man, the Incurable ����������������������������������������62 Fields of Attraction ����������������������������������������69 If It Were a Novel… ��������������������������������������76 The Ordinary Man ����������������������������������������83 A Clean Heart Create in Me, O God �������������90 Blessed Are You ���������������������������������������������97 A Hero of Two Nations �������������������������������104 The Heart in Pilgrimage ������������������������������111 Seeds of Life ������������������������������������������������118 He Walked among Us ���������������������������������125 Woman and Teacher ������������������������������������132 A Warm and Loving Plenitude ��������������������139 The Good Censor ����������������������������������������145 Hidden in the Mother’s Womb �������������������152 The Elder Statesman ������������������������������������159 Out of Great Silence ������������������������������������166
5 A Universe in a Grain A man sits hunched over a long oak table, his eyes peering at a flat square of stretched and treated sheepskin before him. Scattered over the table are small pots of colors, the whites of eggs, and some glue rendered from the bones of fish. There are also quills of all sizes, and reeds, some sharpened to an almost invisible point. And herbs, berries, petals, stones crushed to powder, tiny flakes of gold and silver, and the oily soot from lamps—lampblack. “Master,” says a boy coming into the room, “the tide is out and the merchant is on his way. He says to tell you that the mountains have given up their jewels. What does he mean?” Only at low tide can a man cross on foot from the coast to the holy island. “Ah, that is good news, good news indeed!” cries the artist, looking up from his work and smiling. He is speckled with colors upon his fingers and wrists and even his face, and though most of it he can wash away at nightfall, he will take a little of it happily to the grave with him. “It means that the lapis has come from India. Now will my Virgin wear her finest blue.”
6 How the Church Has Changed the World “What is India?” says the boy, now leaning over the sheepskin. What he sees there is astonishing. Birds, branches, leaves, strange animals, interlacing shapes, in russet, saffron, rose, cornflower, wheaten, so involved, so woven in and among one another in such a bewildering tracery of graceful curves, it seemed that if you straightened them out from a single page you could string them out two miles from the island to the shore and back again. “India is a land on the other side of the world,” says the man. “The mountains bear a rock called lapis lazuli, as blue as the twilight before the dawn, with sometimes a kiss of clear green in it. I have been waiting a whole year for that color.” “Will it be heavy, this rock?” asks the boy. “Heavy?” says Bishop Eadfrith. “No, not heavy. You could hold it in your hand.” Do not despise the small “Master,” asks the boy, “it seems a far distance to travel for something I could hold. Wouldn’t some crushed violets have done as well?” Eadfrith was pricking out a flourish of red dots that even under a microscope, which of course he did not have, would appear like—a flourish of red dots. “No, not at all, my boy. The violets are dull. The lapis is filled with light.”
7 A Universe in a Grain “Does God care for things so small?” “Does he care for you and me? We are to him less than one of these red dots is to us.” “Then how,” said the boy, now leaning upon the table and laying his head close to the master’s, studying each tiny stroke of the pen, “can God dwell within us?” “He dwelt in the womb of the Virgin and was no bigger than the tip of this quill.” “I cannot understand that, Master.” Eadfrith continued to work, with a patience that seemed outside of time itself. The boy too absorbed the patience, so that whether the answer came in a moment or an hour, he could not tell. “You are too small to understand it, and so am I.” “Master,” said the boy, “are the words of God also small, the words that you write on the page?” “Every jot and tittle,” said the master. Christ our light The boy cocked his head and looked back from the page. “These are letters,” he said. “I see it! All these birds and blades of grass and twigs and funny animals make up letters. But I don’t understand. What is an X and a P?” The bishop laughed. “Oh, those are Greek letters. The Greeks, they lived far away also,
8 How the Church Has Changed the World sometimes on islands just like our Lindisfarne. The letter is called a chi,” he said, pronouncing it like key, “and the other is a rho. They are the first two letters of the name of honor borne by our Lord: Christos. That means He Who Has Been Anointed.” “Because he was a king?” “King and priest and Son of God.” “Have you also been anointed, Master?” “Yes, I have been anointed bishop.” He then turned to a reed with a flat tip, and dipped it into the fish glue, with the lightest touch, then applied it to a flake of gold not a thousandth the part of a snowflake. He smiled but did not take his eyes from the work. “And you have been anointed.” “I am a bishop?” “You are a Christian. You are a little Christ. All Christians are.” “But how can Christ who is the Son of God be in me?” “How indeed,” said the bishop. They bring good tidings The boy gazed upon the manuscript as the bishop worked. They stayed so for a long time, like a father and son in a workshop. “It is beautiful, Master,” said the boy. “I am happy that it pleases you.”
9 A Universe in a Grain “Why do we make the first page so beautiful?” “I do not understand your question, my son,” said Eadfrith. “I mean that the words are the words, whether they are decorated or not.” “Ah yes, the words are the words.” Eadfrith smiled and thought about an argument he had had with a sort of vagabond monk from the east, who wanted to rub out every image of Christ or Mary he could find. The man’s order had driven him out, and now he wandered around the world like Satan, looking for jobs to spoil. “Imagine you are bringing good news to a village, that the Danes have been wrecked on the sea, and the people’s houses and farms will not be burned down, and their womenfolk and children will be safe. Would you bring that news with a frown?” “No!” said the boy, laughing. “Would you dress in black,” said Eadfrith, turning from his work with a mock-grimace, “and mumble your news like this,” and he did a wonderful impersonation of a tragedian, groaning. “I would dress in red and gold, and I’d come in dancing!” said the boy. “So we dress the Good News in red and gold, and come in dancing,” said the bishop.
10 How the Church Has Changed the World The very stones do speak Suddenly there was a bustle at the door, and in came a big bearded man with a sack over his shoulder. “Greetings, my lord!” he said. “All they from Saba and who knows where shall come bearing gifts.” He put the sack on the floor and loosened the strings, while the boy leaped from his bench and peered inside. “Oswald my friend, God has brought you back to us safe and sound!” The bishop embraced him, ink and all. “I have the deep blue lapis, and a kind that I have never seen,” said Oswald, and brought out of the sack what looked like a mass of light green shafts of ice frozen together, their edges and corners glinting. “Will you be able to make use of this, my lord of the quill and the reed?” “Praise be to God,” said Eadfrith. “Two years have I worked on my Gospels, and now I see the completion drawing near.” Then he turned to the boy. “Son, these precious stones come from a pagan land, and we will crush the stones and use their light to bring light to the pagans themselves.” “Even the Danes?” “The Danes most of all. What Danish king on his throne, surrounded by thanes with their swords adorned in worm-forms and monster-forms, will not gaze in wonder at this
11 A Universe in a Grain book for the King of Kings? Even if he doesn’t understand the words, the very stones will speak to him—the glory of the world that God has made, and the beauty of the Word that shines in it.” Why hide the light under a basket? Bishop Eadfrith († 721) is considered to be the artist who gave to the world perhaps the most remarkable work of book-art ever executed, the Lindisfarne Gospels. The book itself, now in the British Museum, survived an attack by the Danes and being lost in the sea for several days; it is something of a miracle that we still have it. It is perhaps a greater miracle that it was made in the first place. We could learn much from the man whose love brought it to the light. Christians should take the lead in all of the arts, because we have the consummate artist to imitate and a subject for our art that cannot be surpassed: the God made Man, to raise small and sinful man to the house of God. And why should we be hesitant to call upon the arts in the work of bringing the Good News to an old and weary world? Glorious things of thee are spoken, O Sion, city of our God. 222
12 The Least of These Some years ago, when I was in the midst of an intellectual and spiritual abyss, I was visiting the family of one of my students, in the Georgetown area of the nation’s capital. There in the parlor was the one thing that could draw me out of the desert: a piano. Now, you have to stretch the verb “play” in my case, and the piano was out of tune, but I sat there and began to play “God of Grace and God of Glory,” when two of the daughters came down from upstairs. They had shining eyes. One had taken a small violin and was playing the high note in the melody. The other was singing at the top of her lungs. It was a glorious moment, and my host was beaming with delight. His daughters had Down Syndrome. “They love music,” he said, egging them on, while I started to play a new melody and the girls caught it and adjusted accordingly. We were happy and silly at once. That buoyed my spirits indeed—it is always a sweet thing to be near people whom God has blessed even in and by affliction. And my confusions of intellect began to fade away like bad dreams.
13 The Least of These Do no harm Down Syndrome is caused by an abnormality of the twenty-first chromosome of the human genetic makeup, also called trisomy 21. The man who discovered it once stood before President Kennedy to receive an award for medical accomplishments, for the good of mankind. The year is now 1969, and the same man, the French physician and scientist Jérôme Lejeune, is speaking in San Francisco to the American Society of Human Genetics. Dr. Lejeune had hoped that his research into genetic abnormalities, in the field of cytogenetics, which he did so much to establish, would lead doctors to pursue cures; instead he watched in dismay as they pursued methods of early detection for the sake of what was euphemistically described as “not allowing a pregnancy to continue.” It is always easier to kill than to cure. So he delivered his address, “On the Nature of Men,” wherein he adopted at first, with trenchant irony, the pose of one who believed that only technicians and governmental officials could determine what kinds of abnormalities would warrant preventive destruction, to alleviate the burden upon society. The “technical” approach, he said, would best be served by a “National Institute of Death,” which would:
14 How the Church Has Changed the World A. Decree on undesirable genes or chromosomes. B. Deliver unhappy parents from unwanted pregnancies. C. Discard embryos that did not fit standard requirements. D. Dispose of newborns not reaching minimal specifications of normalcy. E. And generally destroy, delete, or decry any human condition voted against by the above-mentioned board of advisers of the National Institute of Death. Rejecting that, and other partial approaches, Dr. Lejeune concluded his address with a plea for humility and compassion, “humility because we must recognize we have no ready-made answers, because geneticists have not broken the secret of the human condition, and because scientific arguments are of little help in ethical issues; compassion because even the most disinherited belongs to our kin, because these victims are poorer than the poorest, and because the sorrow of the parents cannot be consoled by science. But should we capitulate in the face of our own ignorance and propose to eliminate those we cannot help?” “For millennia, medicine has striven to fight for life and health and against disease and death,” he said. “Any reversal of the order of these terms of reference would entirely change medicine itself.”
15 The Least of These And that is what has happened, as “medicine” is employed today to kill the living and maim or thwart what is sound and whole. “Today I lost the Nobel Prize,” said Lejeune to his wife that evening. Sanctity in the seed Dr. Lejeune was a devout Catholic husband and father. I’ve often heard it said that people do not need religion in order to be moral. Of course I’m speaking of the general case, nor do I forget that many a religious man will behave no better than a pagan. Lejeune swam against the stream, and suffered for it. He lost his laboratory. He was denied funds for research. Somebody painted “Death to Lejeune” on a wall at the Sorbonne. Fellow scientists avoided him. But the Church embraced him. In 1974, Pope Paul VI created the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, with Lejeune as one of the original members; he could then freely do his work for the cure of genetic diseases and for the spiritual welfare of mankind. Lejeune was also close to Pope John Paul II, and to King Baudouin of Belgium. In 1989 the king invited Lejeune to testify against a pro-abortion measure being debated by the Belgian parliament. The king was deeply distressed, and he knew that he had little constitutional power to stop it, though he would do all
16 How the Church Has Changed the World he could. One thing he could do was to pray, and that was what he and Lejeune did together, at his request, on yet another of man’s days that will live in infamy. There are many stories about this genius of integrity and gentleness. Modern man is stupefied by big things; Dr. Lejeune was in love with the small. So we find him testifying in a trial in Tennessee, regarding the disposition of seven embryos that had been conceived in vitro from the sperm and the eggs of a man and woman who had then gotten divorced. The father wanted to make sure that the mother did not bring them to term without his agreement. What was at issue? First, biological fact. Dr. Lejeune testified with admirable care and precision, and in a sweetly Franco-English idiom, just how astonishing the transfer of information is when the sperm fecundates the egg. It is a unique occurrence. That is when you have all the information you need for the development of the mature being. It is as if you had transferred the sounds of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik into a code, he said, so that when you had the code work on the proper material, you would get not Mozart, not the musicians, and not the notes they played, but the form of the work, which would then impress itself upon the air near you, so that you would hear it. That musical form, so to speak, is present
17 The Least of These and self-organizing and active in the conceived human being. But of course the morality of freezing very young people was also at issue. Always more Lejeune said, in his testimony, that freezing an embryo was the slowing-down of time, not totally, but to a great degree; it was to limit as far as possible the interactions among its molecules. That sheds a stark light on what we are doing to these human beings. When one of the lawyers asked him about the ethics of such freezing, Lejeune replied in words that are hard to gainsay. “I think,” he said, “that love is the contrary of chilly. Love is warmth, and needs good temperature.” Love is the contrary of chilly. The warmth of the mother’s womb is not what Lejeune called “the fridge,” the stainless steel canister. Lejeune’s daughter Clara, in Life is a Blessing: A Biography of Jérôme Lejeune, dwells lovingly upon the man she called Papa, his humility, his care for his patients, and his good humor. She says that when she was a little girl she didn’t even know that her father was a famous scientist. But why should he make a fuss about that? Why he traveled all over the world, she couldn’t say, but she knew why he brought back presents from everywhere: a
18 How the Church Has Changed the World kimono from Japan, slippers from Turkey. It was his love. When she grew older she saw that other people loved her father, too, because they sensed in him a companion in their suffering. In the days of Louis Pasteur, she wrote, doctors would smother a rabies-afflicted child between two mattresses, to spare him the terrible suffering. But it was not they who made progress in science. It was the one “who could not accept the thought of giving up, when confronted with sickness, suffering, and death.” Pasteur was a God-fearing man, a hero; had his treatment of the boy with rabies failed, he might have gone to prison. His enemies would certainly have stripped him of his right to practice medicine. He would have died in disgrace. What explains such heroism? Perhaps the saying of Saint Vincent de Paul, which Lejeune often quoted. What shall we do for our neighbor? “More,” said Saint Vincent, “always more!” Jérôme Lejeune died in 1994, on Easter Sunday, thirty-three days after Pope John Paul II had named him head of the new Pontifical Academy for Life. He is called a Servant of God; and may the day soon come when we can publicly invoke his intercession along with all the other saints of the Church. For God is not a God of death, but of life.
19 Soldier for Liberty The two men shook hands, then chose their pistols from a case. “Are you certain, Mr. O’Connell,” said the first man, with a trace of a sneer, “that you wish to die today? Have you not a wife and a brood of Irish children? Would it not be better to live in disgrace?” “If I die, Mr. D’Esterre,” said Daniel O’Connell, “I die for my countrymen’s rights. If you die, you die for a pack of rogues and scoundrels. Much good may it do you.” D’Esterre had won many a duel in the past. He was used to this sort of thing. His puppeteers in the Dublin Corporation, an organization of English bigots whom O’Connell had offended by calling them what they were, looked upon this as their day of liberation from a dangerous pest. O’Connell had been a reluctant soldier for England during her conflicts with revolutionary France. He said once that if you wanted to build a nation, human blood was a poor mortar for the job. Yet he knew that he could not back down now. It would bring his whole movement into disrepute, and that would be more likely to pitch Ireland into civil insurrection.
20 How the Church Has Changed the World “Twenty paces, gentlemen, then shoot,” said the referee. The bullet struck D’Esterre in the stomach. The wound was mortal. It was the first and only time that Daniel O’Connell shed a man’s blood for the Irish people. He carried the guilt of it to his grave, bestowing a handsome yearly sum to D’Esterre’s widow; and O’Connell was never a wealthy man. Dueling, O’Connell would write, was “a violation, plain and palpable, of the divine law.” He would be challenged again and often, but showed his moral courage in refusing, and in taking upon his shoulders the contempt of his inferiors in grace and probity. A penny a month O’Connell was arguably the single greatest political organizer in the 19th century. His duel with D’Esterre made him more appalled than ever by violent action, so he determined to compel England by argument and by political strength to grant to the Irish the same rights she granted to Scotsmen and Englishmen. It was a long and arduous battle. In 1823, eight years after the duel, O’Connell founded the Catholic Association, which quickly grew to prodigious numbers. That was because O’Connell wanted every Catholic Irishman in it. The fee for
21 Soldier for Liberty membership was a mere penny a month—a shilling a year. That brought into the political light the poorest of men, the Irish tenant farmers, in the years before the potato blight. Within a year or two, O’Connell was holding what he called “monster” meetings of the association: as many as 100,000 people would gather in one place to hear the speeches of men who wanted to set them free. It is important to note that the English wanted to retain their unjust hold over the Irish, but also that they worshiped the same God as the Irish, though not in the same church. In other words, they had consciences after all. O’Connell was counting on the power of moral persuasion, while carrying in his pocket the ace of trumps, which would have been a threat not to wage war, but to cease to prevent the Irish people from it. The English authorities were held in a pincers. They tried to use legalistic means to shut down the association, but O’Connell merely founded another. If they took up arms against the Irish, they would have had a disaster on their hands, certainly a costly distraction from their more lucrative imperial enterprises elsewhere. If they did anything to O’Connell personally, the Irish would not have forgiven them. We get a sense of what a formidable opponent O’Connell was from this finale of an oration in the House of Commons, late in his life, in
22 How the Church Has Changed the World 1836. Said O’Connell, “You may raise the vulgar cry of ‘Irishman and Papist’ against me, you may send out men called ministers of God to slander and calumniate me; they may assume whatever garb they please, but the question comes into this narrow compass. I demand, I respectfully insist: on equal justice for Ireland, on the same principle by which it has been administered to Scotland and England. I will not take less. Refuse me that if you can.” “Orange peel” Much can be accomplished by men who enter into a dynamic enmity with someone they consider a worthy opponent. Daniel O’Connell had one such in Sir Robert Peel, the governor of Ireland and later the leader of the Tory party in the English parliament. O’Connell, jesting on the color boasted by the Protestants in Ireland, called him “Orange Peel,” but it was Peel, the enemy, who gave O’Connell critical concessions in the years between 1828 and 1830. O’Connell had been elected a member of Parliament in 1828, but could not take the oath of office, being a Roman Catholic. Everyone knew this. Peel also knew that O’Connell had the backing of six million Irishmen. Something had to be done. Hence Peel turned about and supported repeal of the long standing British laws that had
23 Soldier for Liberty kept Irishmen in subjection, and O’Connell took his seat in 1830, without having to submit to the oath. Daniel O’Connell, not Abraham Lincoln, was first known as the Great Emancipator. Peel would later on join with members of the Whigs to repeal tariffs on grain, to help bring food to Ireland during the famine. It was too little and too late, and it cost him the leadership of his party, but Orange Peel was in that battle more of a man than a partisan. I should not give the impression that Peel eventually saw things as O’Connell did. No sooner did O’Connell take his seat in Parliament, then he became the de facto ruler of Catholic Ireland, and pressed for “Repeal”—the repeal of the act that unified Ireland with England, Wales, and Scotland. The Irish wanted to govern themselves, while yet recognizing the monarch of England as the head of state, an arrangement such as would hold in Canada later on. Peel would not give in. Nor would O’Connell. Once again he led a mass movement of the Irish, but this time Peel outlawed their meetings, and in 1844 the now elderly O’Connell was thrown into prison. He appealed to the House of Lords and won his release, but his health was ruined. Accounts of his death are deeply moving. He felt he was dying, and desired to make a pilgrimage to Rome. It was not to be; the disease of the brain
24 How the Church Has Changed the World that he had been suffering was irreversible. For his last two days, he could not eat, and he would not take even enough water to wet his tongue, but the name of Jesus was ever on his lips, and he would talk of the faith and nothing else. The eighty-eight year old Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa himself came with his priests to give O’Connell Viaticum and the last rites. All of Genoa prayed for the great man. He died on the 15th of May, 1847. His heart was embalmed and placed in a silver chalice, to be entombed in Rome, in the Church of Saint Agatha, but his body is buried in the land of his fathers. Wrote his physician: “The heart of O’Connell at Rome, his body in Ireland, and his soul in heaven: is that not what the justice of man and the mercy of God demand? Adieu! Adieu!” A man for the ages O’Connell was a man of straightforward piety, a determined patriot, and a loyal son of the Church. In our time, cultural amnesia is the rule, but O’Connell’s reputation went round the world. His young son Morgan, at the age of fifteen, fought in the army of Simon Bolivar, for the deliverance of another man’s nation from rule from abroad. Stephen A. Douglas once sneered at Lincoln for allowing his wife to ride in a carriage with Frederick Douglass, but O’Connell met the former slave
25 Soldier for Liberty and became his good friend. Douglass looked up to O’Connell as a hero and an inspiration for his own efforts. We may get a sense of what Douglass, the novelists Thackeray and Balzac, and countless others admired so deeply by listening to O’Connell addressing his fellow Irishmen on the accession of a Whig government in London. “There is but one magic in politics, and that is to be always right. Repealers of Ireland, let us be always right; let us honestly and sincerely test the Union in the hands of a friendly administration, and, placing no impediments in their way, let us give them a clear stage and all possible favor, to work the Union machinery for the benefit of old Ireland.” He was as canny as any Machiavelli could wish, but his principle was the opposite of that put forth by the cynical Florentine. O’Connell triumphed in the right, while trimmers were caught in the tangles of their own cunning. Dear God, may we see his like again someday—even if we are not worthy of it. 222
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