PREFACE.

 

THE LIFE OF S. ROSE is translated from the French of Father Jean Baptist Feuillet, a Dominican friar, and Missionary Apostolic in the Antilles; the copy which has been followed in the third edition, published at Paris in 1671, the year of her canonization by Clement X.

 

Catholic readers, who may not have been in the habit of reading the Lives of the Saints, and especially the authentic Process of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, may be a little startled with the LIFE OF S. ROSE. The visible intermingling of the natural and supernatural worlds, which seems to increase as the saints approach through the grace of God to their first innocence, may even offend where persons have been in the habit of paring and bating down the “unearthly” in order to evade objections and lighten the load of the controversialist, rather than of meditating with awe and thankfulness and deep self-abasement on the wonders of God in His saints, or of really sounding the depths of Christian philosophy, and mastering the principles and general laws which are discernable even in the supernatural regions of hagiology.  The habit of always thinking first how any tenet, or practice, or fact, is most conveniently presentable to an adversary, may soon, and almost imperceptibly, lead to profaneness, by introducing the spirit of rationalism into matters of faith; and to judge from the works of our greatest Catholic divines, it would appear that the deeper theologian a man is the less does he give way to this studious desire of making difficulties easy at any cost short of denying what is positively de fide.  They seem to handle truth religiously just in the way that God is pleased to give it to us, rather than to see what they can make of it themselves by shaping it for controversy, and so by dint of skilful manipulation squeeze it through a difficulty.  The question is, not “What will men say of this? How will this sound in controversy? Will not this be objected to by heretics?” but, “Is this true? Is this kind of thing approved by the Church? Then what good can I get out of it for my own soul? Ought not my views to be deeper than they are?” the judiciousness of publishing in England what are actually classical works of piety in Catholic countries is a further question, which the result alone will decide, and that possibly at no very distant date.  All that need be said here is, that it has not been done in haste, in blindness, or in heedlessness, but after grave counsel and with high sanction.

 

If then, any one unaccustomed to the literature of Catholic countries, and with their ears unconsciously untuned by the daily dissonance of the errors and unbelief around them, should be startled by this volume, let him pause before he pronounces judgment.  Persons, who have unfortunately more call to defend their religion than time to study it, fancy they gain a sort of mock strength, or at least pleasantly and triumphantly surprise an adversary, when they throw overboard to his mercy, as sailors throw meat to a shark, anything wonderful, as though it were necessarily superstitious.  But in this way a man may make wild work of solemn things without knowing it, and whets rather than stays the appetite of his opponent, who presently follows him up again with a new, and, indeed, in his case, an unanswerable charge of inconsistency.  A Catholic, do what he will, cannot weed his religion of the supernatural; and to discriminate between the supernatural and the superstitious is a long work and a hard one, a work of study and of reverent meditation.  O how hard it is, if men do not kneel to meditate, to hear a thing denied all around them every day, and yet maintain a joyous and unshaken faith therein!

 

In this volume we have the life of a holy woman of South America in the seventeenth century, taken from the authentic processes; and when the series gets on, and the reader finds men and women of different centuries and vastly different characters, of the hills of Apulia and Calabria, from the plains of Lombardy and the stony forests of Umbria; from Spanish convents and French seminaries; from the dark stress of a Flemish town, he margins of a Dutch canal, or the ilex woods of Portugal; from the cities of Germany and Hungary, or the mines and riversides of South America; popes and simple nuns, bishops and common beggars, the learned cardinal and the Capuchin lay-brother, the aged missionary, the boy in the Jesuit novitiate, the Roman princess, the poor bed-ridden Estatica, before the Reformation and after it – all presenting us with the same picture, the same supernatural actors, the same familiarity with good and evil spirits, the same daily colloquial intercourse with the unseen world, the same apparently grotesques anecdotes of miraculous control over nature – the Lives narrating all this translated from four of five different languages, and composed by grave theologians and doctors – the erudite Augustinian, the judicious Dominican, the good Franciscan full of simplicity and unction, the fluent Oratorian so eminent in devotional biography, the sound, calm, discriminating Jesuit, who, above all others, has learned how to exercise the constant caution of criticism without injuring his spiritual mindedness – when all this is before him, crowned with the solemn and infallible decrees of canonization and beatification, it may seem to him then a serious question whether he himself is not out of harmony with the mind of the Church, whether his faith is not too feeble, and his distrust of God’s wonders too overweening and too bold; whether, in short, for the good of his own soul he may not  have the principle of rationalism to unlearn, and the temper of faith, sound, reasonable, masculine, yet childlike faith, to broaden, to heighten, and to deepen in himself by the very contemplation of what may now be in some degree a scandal to him – namely, Quam mirabilis est Deus in sanctis suis (How marvelous is God in his saints).

 

In order to furnish to the reader the theological view of this important question, the more important now from the envenomed determination with which the enemy of souls has recently directed his assaults against Catholic hagiology, that portion of Benedict XIVth’s grand work on the Canonization of Saints, which treats of heroic virtue and what constitutes its heroicity, raptures, visions, miracles, and the test the Church employs in the investigation of them, as well as the principles by which her decisions are guided in the discernment of spirits and all that is mystical and preternatural, has been translated from the Latin, and is published in the Series uniform with it.[1]  The theological reputation of this great modern pope renders it unnecessary to say anything of the value of a work which is as indispensable to confessors and spiritual directors, as it is important for those who wish to obtain anything like a clear insight into Christian philosophy and its connection with theology.

 

There is something very consoling in observing how the great spirit of unbelief has of late years concentrated his energies against the Catholic saints and their wonderful biographies.  It is as though amid the darkness of his clouded intelligence that fallen Ruler has shrewdly divined the road which the Holy Spirit had gone in the guidance of the Church.  The revived seriousness and activity which he saw all around him, the growing glory and luster of Holy Church, the wonderful and almost unusual outpouring of miraculous powers, the solemn exhibitions of the mysterious and the preternatural in the valley of the Tyrol and of Tuscany, as well as elsewhere, together with the honest abandonment of the old fortresses of historical falsehood, which fall to the ground, temple and tower, almost daily; and the reparation which the erudition of heretic scholars is continually making to the honor and purity of the Church, even in what are called her dark ages, might seem to have bred in him a grave suspicion that controversy was outworn, and its day over; and that charges, which one writer took on tradition from another, and reiterated till he came to believe them himself, had ceased, which was after all the great point, to command the belief of others.  He saw that the earnestness which men began to feel about their souls would make it necessary for him to change his point of attack and his method of operations: he directed his fury therefore against the virtues and marvels of the Catholic saints.  When a blind instinct, feeling for the truth in the dark, outside the communion of the Old Fold, sought a refuge in the biographies of the Saxon and Norman worthies, who were once the glory of our poor country, that moment, although uncongenial doctrine and imitation of catholic usage had managed to obtain just an adequate amount of querulous toleration, a very torrent of profane fury and infidel reviling was poured out upon hagiology; it was like an eruption; Protestantism, stung and lacerated by the burning load attempted to be put upon it, writhed with fierce and vehement contortions, and flung forth its fire and lava, like Euceladus hopelessly disquieted beneath his incumbent Etna.  Since then, still unrelieved from his prophetic fear, the Enemy of souls has directed the brilliant but shallow and ungodly eloquence of irreligious reviews against the canonized servants of god, although neither sparkling sarcasm, nor wordy antithesis, nor patronizing impertinence avail to hide the foolishness, the want of depth, and the absence of all grasp of philosophical principles or sound historical learning which these poor effusions show; neither is it at all improbably that volumes of the present Series may evoke from the same baffled spirit a more bitter invective still.  But what then? Is it not a consolation for us in our work, to see how the Evil One reads it by his furious warfare, and points out and magnifies its importance by his very rage against it?  Now, as before, the foolishness of the cross, the simplicity of the faith, the calm trustful dignity of the Church, and the untremulous voice of her infallible decree will prevail: the noisy profaneness will spread knowledge without impairing faith; and the lowly obscure disciples of our Blessed Lord will not be robbed of their consolation through an idle and a craven fear of provoking a pointless taunt.

 

We must not, therefore, necessarily conclude that scandal is being given if a clamor is raised, or if the real latent infidelity of the clamor be clothed in the pomp of sober words or frightened piety.  Piety is never frightened but where faith is weak; and although it would be wicked indeed to run so much as a risk of offending out of a mere spirit of wanton enterprise, it would be worse still to impair our heritage of truth, to withhold now what the Evil One himself is showing us is indeed now, and to keep profaneness quiet at the expense of his honor who worketh wonders, and the honor of those to whom we look, not only as the instruments whereby He works His wonders, but also as our advocates with His bounty and His pity, living and acting around His Throne to-day.  O in how many may not weak faith be strengthened, and by how many may not dangerous and unsound principles be abandoned, and from how many minds may not stray sympathies, with heresy, be weeded out! And how many hears may there not be moved to higher things, to loftier aims, to more heavenly vocations, by this exhibition of the saints of God! How many are there who by these very Lives have been already won from their tearful wanderings to their Shepherd’s fold! And how many more may not God have predestined yet to come the same sweet road under the same gentle compulsion! And while the spirits of unbelief are being strangled by the power and the simplicity of these holy ones of God in hearts and consciences here and there, surely if we have faith in our exorcisms, we shall not be alarmed if they glare and cry and menace fearfully, remembering that when the King of saints bade the dark spirit go forth from the harmless boy, he went forth “crying out and greatly tearing him, and he became as one dead;” and it is written that at the very sight of Jesus, “when he had seen Him, immediately the spirit troubled him, and being thrown upon the ground, he rolled about foaming.” There is not a word of this which is not instructive allegory to those who see it spiritually verified around them now: the presence of Jesus a trouble, then a pain, but a loving and merciful exorcism at the last.

 

F.W. FABER.

 

St. Wilfrid’s,

Feast of our Lady of Redemption, 1847.

 

 

 

[1] 3 Vols 12 mo; London; Richardson & Son.


 


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Text from the Fr. Faber translation, Peter F. Cunningham, fourth edition, 1855

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