Truth has no need of me, but I do need Truth. The Cause of Christian Science, the Cause of Faith, is deep in the roots of my heart. […] As Truth is threatened, as the letters are the battlefield in which the quarrel takes place, as the teaching occupies in it a large part, as Paris is the city of France — and maybe of the world — in which seem to decide the debates of thought, as Providence […] has put me in the gap, I will not withdraw from it. Here I can do a good that could not be done anywhere else. I will use that power of the public word, I will strive to secure and prolong its effectiveness by assembling and directing young Christians on the path of good studies. I will also write so as not to lose in perishable speeches that little I have been given to make it known to men.

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Frederic Ozanam, letter to his wife, October 13, 1843.

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Reflection:

  1. In order to know in depth the intellectual motivations of Frederic Ozanam, the long letter addressed to Amélie (his wife) in October 1843 is fundamental. Looking back fourteen years of memories, he sought what could give him light on his “future duties.” The young man’s first inspiration — in 1829 — was to “devote himself to the propagation of the Truth,” after “having had the joy of knowing it in the midst of the doubts with which my spirit and those of my young friends had suffered so viciously.” Some excellent teachers, and later “the hospitality of Mr. Ampère [in his first university years in Paris], the conferences of History, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul” helped him to preserve his youth, to excite his intelligence and to encourage him in his studies.
  2. In 1843, Frederic has been married to Amélie for two years, works as a professor of Literature at La Sorbonne and seems to have a settled life. In the 1840s a stream of Catholic ideas emerged, renewed and rejuvenated, to face the rationalism arising from the French Age of Enlightenment. Was it appropriate, in the face of this latest trend, to respond point by point, inevitably being dragged by the controversy? Or was it preferable another form of action: privileging long-term persuasion, that in the ordinary and day-to-day activity of teaching? This second way was the one chosen by the young professor. He did not exclude to discuss on popes, monks, and priests, on whom furious controversies arose, but he did so in the lessons devoted to civilization among the Germans in Italian literature, or, as in 1846, in dealing with the origins of English literature when he discusses in detail the role of the Irish monks, from Bede the Venerable.
  3. Education is, therefore, the field where Frederic defends the goodness of Christianity, without provoking confrontations or unnecessary hostilities. In a letter dated October 21, 1841, he comments to his friend Foisset: “I think it matters a lot for the good of youth […] that our lessons are not seen by our colleagues as provocations that would demand a response, and that, if many are strangers to the faith, let us not make them enemies of it.” Frederic is really concerned that young university students have a proper view of the work of the Church throughout the centuries and in different cultures and civilizations, without falling into banal fanaticisms.
  4. Frederic places himself at the service of the Truth, at the service of evangelization, in the places where his capacities have made him capable to work.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Are we giving a proper Christian education to our children and youth?
  2. Do I defend the values of my faith, what I believe, also in spaces and places that might seem strange to do so, such as my workplace?
  3. Are we Christians sometimes causing conflicts in society for wanting to defend our faith? Do we create hostility toward the Church?

Javier F. Chento
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