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Emmanuel d'Alzon
Apostle for our Time

By Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A.

February 1994




Foreword.. 4

References. 5

I. Why Emmanuel d’Alzon Became an Apostle. 7

1. D’Alzon’s Faith in and Love for Christ the Truth. 7

2. The Truths That d’Alzon Believed in and Lived by. 10

3. D’Alzon’s Love of Neighbor. 24

4. D’Alzon’s Selfless Love, His Mortification and His Chastity. 35

II. The Resources Emmanuel d’Alzon Relied On.. 40

1. The Virtue of Hope. 40

2. Spiritual Poverty. 44

3. Humility. 45

4. Prudence. 49

5. The Virtue of Fortitude. 54

III. Conclusion: Contemplation and Action.. 59

Notes. 63


Emmanuel d’Alzon was a French nobleman and priest, the founder of two religious orders, the Augustinians of the Assumption and the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption. He was primarily an ardent and zealous apostle of the God who he realized was too little known by his children and who was increasingly attacked in society and government in the wake of the French Revolution.

The principal source used for this study is the biography of d’Alzon that was filed with the Congregation for Causes of Saints in June, 1986. The biography, entitled Dossier sur la vie et les vertus d’Emmanuel d’Alzon was the basis for the decree of heroicity of virtue that the Holy See published in December, 1991. D’Alzon was primarily an apostle. His ardent zeal for the Cause of God is revealed in his practice of all virtues. The context of d’Alzon’s time is similar enough to ours to make his ardor and zeal an inspiring example for today’s apostolate.

Professor Donald Letendre accepted to review the text of this study for its language and style. Father Roger Corriveau, A.A. spent long hours to prepare the computerized text for publication. I feel enormously indebted to Donald and Roger and assure them of my sincere gratitude.

Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A.

Worcester, January 22, 1994


DA Dossier sur la vie et les vertus d’Emmanuel d’Alzon. Two volumes. Rome: 1988.

SOM Sommaire du procès diocésain. Rome: 1943-1955.

ES Athanase Sage, A.A., ed. Écrits spirituels. Rome: 1956. These are a 1500 page selection of Emmanuel d’Alzon’s writings. The most important of these have been translated into English and are referred to below as FD, Dir, and Circular Letters (cf. note 16, p. [14]).

TD Textes deposes. These represent the collection of Emmanuel d’Alzon’s writings in 52 volumes, deposited at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and approved by the latter on November 20, 1940. The bibliography prepared by Pierre Touveneraud, A.A. in Rome in 1979 describes their content on pp. 8ff.

VLet Siméon Vailhé, A.A., ed. Lettres du P. Emmanuel d’Alzon. Three volumes. Paris: 1923, 1925, and 1926. This collection includes d’Alzon letters up to and including 1850.

TLet Pierre Touveneraud, A.A., ed. Lettres du P. Emmanuel d’Alzon. Two volumes. Rome: 1978. This second collection includes the letters written from 1851 to 1859. Subsequent volumes are being edited by Désiré Deraedt, A.A.

FD Richard Richards, A.A., ed. and transl. Foundational Documents. Milton, MA: 1985. This is a translation of some of the chief pronouncements of Father d’Alzon addressed to his religious, the Augustinians of the Assumption.

Dir Patrick Croghan, A.A., transl. Directory. New York: 1969. This is a translation of the Directoire that Father d’Alzon bequeathed to his religious between 1859 and 1864. The original French is to be found in ES 17-126 described above.

MS Athanase Sage, A.A. Un Maître spirituel du dix-neuvième siècle. Rome: 1958.

* * *

N.B. An extensive bibliography relative to Father d’Alzon and his writings is found in: Wilfrid J. Dufault, AA., The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon (Milton, MA: 1988), pp. 195-209.



I. Why Emmanuel d’Alzon Became an Apostle

A sound Christian education made young d’Alzon keenly aware of God’s sovereignty and of God’s love for his creatures. During his adolescence, as he pursued his education in Paris, he learned that many of his contemporaries, far from loving God, refused to obey him, and attacked him rather, when they did not deny his existence. His reaction was to love God all the more. He resolved to defend God. He heard the call to be a herald of God and of his Church. He became an apostle, because he loved God and was eager to proclaim God’s truth and to help God’s children to adore and love their Maker and Savior.

1. D’Alzon’s Faith in and Love for Christ the Truth

Both in mind and heart his faith combined with a profound love of God. Throughout his life he grew in the love of God who is Truth. For this reason his apostolate was primarily doctrinal and consisted largely of teaching, preaching, and publishing. He sensed the need of lifelong study.

D’Alzon not only accepted revealed truth, he embraced it, loving it increasingly as he realized that its source is God, the eternal Word. This love of divine Truth gave particular orientation and character to his apostolic zeal. In the Rule of Life which he drew for himself in December of 1845, he resolved that, being an apostle, he would love Truth “the source of which is Jesus Christ, eternal Word of God, God himself.” (ES 781)

D’Alzon realized that an apostle must become fully acquainted with the truth of our faith, and therefore has the serious duty of studying as fully as possible scripture, theology and associated disciplines, in order to fulfill his apostolic mission, by preaching, teaching, writing, and publishing.

For d’Alzon,

the apostle is the minister of the truth that is eternal light and word: his duty is to preach it and to love souls. The apostle is the minister of the truth that is divine energy and source of grace: his duty is to preserve its purity and to avoid corrupting it. The apostle is the minister of Truth (Christ) who became man and purified all things in His blood; the apostle’s duty is the sacrifice of himself. (DA2 749)

In the personal Rule of Life drafted in December 1845, d’Alzon resolved to be ever mindful of the respect he owed the Word of God, to preach Jesus Christ, presenting him as a child or adult, as poor man or king, as pontiff or doctor, in whichever guise he would be most appealing to the people being addressed; hence the need of studying Jesus Christ, of meditating on His life and actions. “I will do my best to be an obedient apostle,” d’Alzon wrote, “for obedience makes one accessible to God’s prompting.” (ES 781)

In his preaching he strove to help young people become imbued with faith. With adults he would examine the major questions of the times (democracy, freedom) by the light of faith. He sought to help people to bask in a climate of faith. Faith guided his attitude toward Protestants and rationalists. He would remind priests that they were ministers of the truth. He would urge Third Order members and college teachers to enlighten their faith. “Only those who have faith can provide genuine Christian teaching,” d’Alzon once said to his teachers. (ES 1352)

He felt that the Order that he envisioned founding should be “an association of men dedicated to education in the broadest sense,... men who would restore the Christian spirit by preaching the faith in all possible ways”. (DA2 397) How well this goal was achieved is evident in the reputation that the institution at Nîmes acquired as a haven of truly Christian education, acknowledged by Bishop Plantier in a talk given in 1868. (DA2 737) At the diocesan tribunal for the Cause of Emmanuel d’Alzon in Nîmes, in 1931, twenty-five witnesses testified to d’Alzon’s faith. Nine of them were quite explicit, stating that he gave lifelong proof that the spirit of faith guided him in all his works, that, in particular, he founded the “alumnates” at a time when he had exhausted his resources. D’Alzon had given a remarkable example of faith and trust in God when he maintained his college in Nîmes despite repeated financial crises. Father Joseph Maubon, an Assumptionist who lived many years in the company of Father d’Alzon, stated: “I cannot see how Father d’Alzon could have been guided by any motive other than the spirit of faith in all his undertakings since, humanly speaking, he was reputed to have lost everything.” (DAI 79)

Seeing in Mary a model of hope and trust in God, d’Alzon wrote: “Mary’s perfection and privileges are explained to us by Elizabeth: ‘Because you believed, what was said to you will be accomplished.’ The spirit of faith will enable us to work wonders, will form Jesus Christ in us and will make apostles of us. When we are ready, our faith will allow God to fulfill all his promises in us. ‘Because what has been promised to you by the Lord will be fulfilled’ (Lk 1:45).” (FD 116)

Maubon bore witness that d’Alzon’s “faith was perfect, with no change either in the affirmation or in the practice of truth. He stood out as a fervent lover of truth. Father d’Alzon’s love for truth, his dedication to study it and to preach it are all attributable to this virtue of faith. (DAI 74)

D’Alzon perceived that truths of faith alone would not have been enough to inspire his apostolic vocation if he had perceived those truths with a merely theoretical interest. What helped arouse his zeal was love. Knowing Jesus Christ and the truths of our faith serves its full purpose when it incites one to love God and all that pertains to God.

With Father André Sève, A.A., we must recognize that catechism, theology, and the concern to communicate the faith do not always result in knowledge that leads to love. For d’Alzon, faith was “the means and the space of a life of love”1 and love, in turn, made him want to know more. Father Sève, seeing how close and constant was the interaction of the two virtues in d’Alzon, ventured to designate them as one: faith-love.

If d’Alzon was so intent on proclaiming Christ, it was because he loved him and felt the need to tell people how lovable Christ is and to bring people to love him. Seeing that the one he loved was so little known, d’Alzon wanted to make him known. Seeing how God, Jesus Christ, was attacked, he wanted to defend him.

Moreover, if the apostle must love first the one who sends him, he must also love the one to whom he is sent, for his mission is one of love and mercy. In the Constitutions of 1855, Father d’Alzon stated, “Our love of neighbor will appear... above all in our zeal for all we do for the salvation of mankind.” In the chapter of the Directory on zeal, he wrote: “My enthusiasm should be as intense as my Master’s and I must be ready to do all in my power for the salvation of men.” Elsewhere he quoted Luke 12, 49: “I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! I have a baptism to receive. What anguish I feel till it is over!”

2. The Truths That d’Alzon Believed in and Lived by

What are the major truths that d’Alzon believed and loved enough to live by, to proclaim them unceasingly in catechetics, in preaching and teaching, in setting a rule of life for lay associates as well as for his religious sons and daughters? To understand and appreciate adequately d’Alzon’s virtues, let us review these major truths as he saw them and expressed them.

a. God’s Sovereignty and His Love for Mankind

Young d’Alzon was singularly conscious of the fact that God, having made us and loving us, has every right to be recognized, adored, obeyed, and loved in return. For that reason, when he found God to be so widely and viciously attacked by some people of his day, he resolved to “defend God’s rights”. (DA2 58) The enemies of God viewed man as being tyrannized by God and the Church. Therefore, it was largely against God that they sought to vindicate man’s rights. Whereas d’Alzon saw man’s rights as stemming from his Creator. He could not accept that man vindicate them by denying the rights of God. (TD 47, 23)

As to the right of God to be loved, d’Alzon often expressed amazement that the creature should reject God’s love. Speaking to the Oblate Sisters in 1872, he exclaimed:

What a crime and folly it is for a lowly creature to refuse to receive the Holy Trinity who wishes to inhabit her forever! Did Jesus Christ not say: ‘We will come and set up our abode in her?’ Yet it is the creature who refuses to receive the divine host! (TD 41, 190)

In the eyes of the Founder, the primary duty of the Assumptionists is to proclaim the rights of God and his sovereignty. (FD 108) “Our major concern must be to proclaim the rights of God, of Jesus Christ, of His Church.” (ES 231-2) “Our charity must be, above all, a zeal for the rights of God over all the earth and for the salvation of souls.” (ES 139-40)

b. The Love of Jesus Christ for Mankind

A second truth and a primary object of d’Alzon’s faith and love is the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ for mankind. In his early twenties, during the period of preparation for the priesthood, d’Alzon, realizing how much Our Lord loved him, gave much thought to the duty of responding to that love. (DA2 76) By the time he was thirty-five, and about to found the Augustinians of the Assumption (December 1845), he drafted a personal rule of life detailing how he proposed to respond to Christ’s love. (ES 777-87) The following excerpts indicate d’Alzon’s resolve to love the Lord:

As a Christian I must acquire his love and imbibe his spirit... The Spirit of Jesus Christ must be for me a spirit of total dedication, of unalterable equanimity, of love for my brothers as he himself loved them... Christ must be the soul of my actions. For if the thought of him must lead me to do whatever he would do were he in my place, the love of him will urge me to perform all my actions as perfectly as I can. It will goad me constantly toward the holiness of the state to which I am called. I must not delude myself: the spirit of Jesus Christ is most demanding. As I continue to listen to him, I am likely to enter on a path that is frightening. The love of Jesus Christ will allay the harshness of trials. That is why I intend to strive to develop his love in me through devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. For I have observed the Lord’s influence upon me through the Eucharist, whether I am in the chapel or elsewhere.

The spirit of Jesus Christ will help me sanctify my work and raise it to the dignity of a duty. I will work, not as a slave, nor as a mercenary, but as the son of a great family (the Church) in which Jesus Christ, my model, has willed to supply his share of labor. (ES 778)

As an apostle, I shall love truth, its source being Jesus Christ, the eternal word of God, God Himself. My studies, however varied they must be, will nevertheless be for me a matter of primary attention, and if I have little time to study, I will remember that I must labor as much and as perfectly as possible. As an apostle, I will remember to be always most respectful of the Word of God and I will do penance whenever I will happen to lack that respect.

One is an apostle by virtue of the One who sends him. He is all the more apostle as he better accomplishes what is asked of him. For that reason I will make every effort to be an obedient apostle. Obedience, when most genuine, makes one directly subject to God’s action. I will be a genuine apostle only insofar as God’s action permeates my whole being.

The apostle loves the One who sends him; he must also love the one to whom he is sent, for his mission is one of love and of mercy. I must be imbued with these feelings, especially toward the children who will be entrusted to us and toward the persons I will be reaching. (ES 781)

D’Alzon’s correspondence often reveals his growth in the love of Our Lord. For example, in 1854 he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie: “It seems that, despite my countless infidelities, Our Lord takes hold of me a little more each day. I feel the need of loving Jesus Christ intensely, and all that He loves, and only because he himself has loved.” (ES 813)

The way to know about Christ’s love, he observed, is to meditate on the Gospel, to consider all Christ did for us.2 Every detail of our Savior’s life, giving proof of His love for us, provides most compelling reasons to love Him in return. (ES 876)

Among the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, d’Alzon dwelt the most on the Passion. When the burden of trials became too heavy, he committed himself to Christ. For example, in 1854 he wrote: “I enter into the season of the Passion with the will to surrender to Him my feet, my hands, my head and my heart, that he do with them as he wishes.” (ES 814)

He preached repeatedly on the Passion, particularly in the course of retreats. (ES 919-46) Of the fifty-three lectures he gave to the Religious of the Assumption on what he called the “Spirit of the Assumption” (i.e. the religious family of the Assumption), ten are dedicated to the Passion of Our Lord. His disciples, he thought, should strive to acquire in depth the mind of Jesus Christ, to meditate on Christ’s words in order to be strengthened in their faith and to imitate him, as he means to be our model.3

In the chapter of the Directory on zeal, Father d’Alzon indicated what the religious apostle must do to prepare for apostolic activity.

Strikingly, two of the three points he makes are concerned with knowing Christ:

First, to share the mind of Jesus Christ who said: “I wish to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already.” (Lk 12:49) The only desire of my life is to enkindle souls with this divine fire.

Second, I must always bear in mind the memory of the sufferings of Jesus during his life on earth. His labors, his weariness as he strove to bring the Good News, the rebuffs, contradictions, persecutions and ingratitude he met with, his prayers and agony in the Garden of Olives, the anguish of his passion, the tortures, the thirst, the abandonment of his death. All these convey some slight idea of the love Our Savior had for men and the price he paid to redeem them. (Dir 62)

Such thoughts of Father d’Alzon are objects of faith and love that can motivate apostolic activity. In the first letter to the Master of Novices, he wrote:

As the soul is purified by the destruction of blemishes that it discovers in itself, Jesus Christ, the true light who shines on every man coming into this world, reveals to the soul, in a most admirable manner, both the perfections of God and the soul’s debt in this regard. At the same time, he gives the soul greater energy to accomplish its duties, which it now perceives more clearly. (FD 100)

In the address he gave at the close of the 1868 General Chapter, Father d’Alzon proclaimed with utmost fervor the love of Jesus Christ and the desire to affirm him against all who attack him or deny him. At the General Chapter of 1868, he said:

Attacked upon all sides, this Divine Master is the great folly for the experts in modem science... “This is the stone,” said the Prince of the Apostles to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “this is the stone, rejected by you the builders but which has become the cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)... Well, it is this stone on which, in the example of God, we want to build, because it is the foundation of our faith: “Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.” (Heb 12:2) For us everything is renewed in Jesus Christ. (FD 79-80)

In a study describing the Spirit of the Assumption, Father d’Alzon quoting Peter, “You are Christ, Son of the living God,” (Mt 16:16) commented:

There lies the great power against hell, Jesus Christ. It is to him that we must be forever dedicated. Him we must look for, proclaim and preach. His doctrine we must teach, his morals we must observe, his whole life we must imitate, forever repeating “You are Christ, Son of the living God.” (ES 720)

c. The Wonders of the Blessed Trinity

While contemplating Jesus Christ Emmanuel d’Alzon became vividly conscious of “the fullness of being” that is God, of the infinite character of his perfection and his splendor. As he puts it in the Directory,

Jesus Christ is my God, and he became man only to reconcile the world with its offended Creator and to teach me to worship his Father in spirit and in truth... The eternal life of the angels and saints is in knowing the one true God, and Jesus Christ who was sent to make God known to men... The love between the Father and the Son is God himself, and it is through this love who is the Holy Spirit that I am enabled to love God, “because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rm 5:5) (Dir 5-7)

Thus, seeing the Godhead in Christ first and above all led d’Alzon to a strongly trinitarian spirituality. Therefore, “to love the ‘whole Jesus Christ’ meant first of all to live through Christ the mystery of the Three that is the hallmark of Christianity among all the world’s religions.”4

Father Sage points out that, for Father d’Alzon as for Saint Augustine, … the contemplation of the power, wisdom and love of God must lead us to adore the rights of the Holy Trinity; it must lead us to wholly submit our memory by realizing God’s almighty presence, our intelligence by respecting the truth, our will by offering in homage our capacity to love. (MS 98-9)

One day d’Alzon mentioned to Mother Marie-Eugénie his concern about the lack of devotion to the Holy Spirit: “What makes us unworthy before God is the fact that we have too little love. Not enough love inspires our actions. We do not know how to be in touch with the love that is the Holy Spirit, of which we are the temple.” (ES 810) Father d’Alzon was struck by the depth and extent of the Holy Spirit’s action reported in the Acts of the Apostles. And he was impressed as he noted the graces that revealed the Spirit’s action in the humblest of people.5

Addressing the students of the college in Nîmes, Father d’Alzon asked: “Why did God create the world? Because he loved us. Why did he redeem us? Because he loves us. Thus appears the action of the Father in creation, of the Son in redemption, of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of souls.”6 Awareness of the Spirit should pervade the entire life of the Christian. It is not just one devotion among others. It precedes and follows the Christian throughout his or her life, particularly in the reception of the Sacraments. The Spouse of Christ confers the Spirit of Christ. By receiving the gift of God the faithful become the temple of the Holy Spirit.7

D’Alzon saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit as direct interventions that rapidly accomplish in us what could have been achieved by ourselves only by prolonged effort.8 He summarized the two principal effects of the gifts thus:

The fullness of the Holy Spirit was granted to the Apostles... not only in view of the transformation they would bring about in the world, but for their personal sanctification. Similarly the person who is to be dedicated to some type of apostolate in the world receives, together with the Holy Spirit, a special communication that creates within him or her the holiness he or she wishes to spread to others.9

d. Christ “Totally” Present in the Eucharist

In considering the Eucharist, Father d’Alzon did not delve into subtle theological aspects of faith, such as for the manner of transubstantiation. He humbly accepted the Eucharistic mystery. In no way did he doubt that the Creator of the universe can do things that surpass human understanding. Such things are for him an occasion for admiring, adoring and loving a God who wishes, by means of these marvels of his might, to make of himself an ineffable gift to his creature.

In the Eucharist d’Alzon saw

...the memorial of all the wonders that come from God: of the creation by the transubstantiation, of the Incarnation by the manner in which Jesus Christ appears under the consecrated species, of the Redemption by the double consecration of the Body and Blood, of the Resurrection by the pledge that is given there. (ES 448) The soul, loving Jesus Christ,... but being unable yet to ascend to the eternal, goes to the Eucharist, which is a guarantee of the eternal. (ES 324)

In the Eucharist Father d’Alzon found the “total” Jesus Christ as he is in the Blessed Trinity, in the Gospel and in the Church.10 Clearly, the Eucharist played a most important role in the spiritual life and the apostolate of Emmanuel d’Alzon. He preached about the Eucharist repeatedly and wrote about it extensively.11 D’Alzon’s Directory does not contain a chapter on the Eucharist, as was originally intended; however the Eucharist is discussed in the chapters relative to the Church, to the virtues of hope and charity, to the spirit of sacrifice, to chastity, to mortification, to apostolic zeal, and to silence.12

e. The Reign of God

Vatican Council II says:

The goal of the people of God is the kingdom of God, which has been begun by God himself on earth, and which is to be further extended until it is brought to perfection by Him at the end of time. Then Christ our life13 will appear, and “creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” (Rom 8:21)14

This doctrine was central in the thinking of Father d’Alzon. “Thy kingdom come” became, first for himself, then for his religious, the motto and goal of their spiritual life and of their work.

Father d’Alzon was particularly sensitive to the fact that God has the absolute right to reign over his creatures. In the First Letter to the Master of Novices he writes:

The Kingdom of God within us is the most absolute dependence of our being and all our faculties on the intimate action of God. God is the master, we are the subjects: “I am your servant, the son of your handmaid”. (Ps 116:16) If God is our king and has the right to command us to the extent of his power, his intelligence, and his love for us, we are here to obey him to the full extent of our gratitude for his blessings, our understanding of his rights and his gifts, and all the power for action he has given us. What do we have that does not belong to him? What do we possess that we ought not to consecrate freely and voluntarily to him? Since freedom is probably the most precious of all his gifts, and since he has a right to what is most excellent in us, it is above all by our freedom that we give him the greatest honor. Admirable mystery, in which God gives us ever greater freedom to the extent that we allow him to reign more perfectly over us and in which the perfection of our obedience is the source of the very perfection of our freedom.

Let us therefore seek this Kingdom of God, my very dear Brothers. Let us proclaim it with all the fullness of our freedom and love. God does not want to reign over slaves but over free souls. He wants to reign over sons whom he is able to love with paternal tenderness and whom he can place on his throne to reign with him in his Kingdom.

As creatures of God, we are drawn from nothingness by his omnipotence and his infinite mercy. Everything in us, down to the smallest atom of our body, our most inaccessible thoughts, the most delicate sentiments of our heart, all belongs to him in an absolute and sovereign manner. As Christians redeemed by the blood of his Son, we owe him all the gratitude of which we are capable and the most devoted observance of the law he has revealed to us. As religious called to evangelical perfection, we must not only carry out his orders but anticipate his very desires. Finally, as sons called to the glory of an incomprehensible union with God, we must allow all our life to be transformed here below by dependence, adoration and love, so as to merit for all eternity a share in his Kingdom and his glory. (FD 101-2)

Emmanuel d’Alzon is just as sensitive to the fact that mankind, far from recognizing the divine right to reign over the creature, goes to the extreme of denying the very existence of God. In his eyes this is the greatest evil of our time, an evil which is the root of all social evils. (ES 659-61) All the more reason why he and his disciples should proclaim the rights of God, pray for the coming of the Kingdom as Jesus asks them to do, and devote all their energies to that cause.

Father d’Alzon realized that the Reign of God is that of the three divine Persons and he listed the duties that this entailed for his sons in their apostolate.15 At the same time he was mindful that the Reign was entrusted to Jesus Christ: “Did not Jesus Christ acquire the human race by his blood?... Did God, sovereign master of all things, not say to his Son: ‘Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance’ (Ps 2:8-9).”16

At the time of his ordination d’Alzon had declared: “What is left to do for the priest is to work as much as he can toward establishing the reign of Christ.” (DA2 241-2) Later he emphasized for all disciples of Christ “the obligation of establishing His reign within themselves and around themselves”. (DA2 285-6)

As a founder Father d’Alzon deemed it so important that the Order pursue the extension of the Reign that he wanted the religious to be bound to it by a fourth vow. (DA2 419)17

In d’Alzon’s mind, the way to foster the coming of the Reign in oneself and in others is to practice the theological virtues. (DA2 417-8) In truth Christ reigns in those who believe him and in him, who trust him and hope in him, who love him and who labor so that there be extended in everyone the Reign “of truth, of love and of peace”, as it is proclaimed in the preface for the feast of Christ the King.

f. The Mystical Incarnation or the Formation of Christ in the Soul

As Emmanuel d’Alzon grew in the knowledge of Christ, he gave more thought to the indwelling of God in the soul, as Saint John describes it. According to Father Sage, “the incarnation, the formation of Christ in souls, is one of the major themes of the spirituality of Father d’Alzon”.18 Father d’Alzon speaks frequently about the birth and formation of Jesus Christ in souls, helping us to realize its importance as the ultimate purpose of Christian life.

Meditating on the Nativity of Our Lord, d’Alzon writes:

The birth of Jesus Christ comes about in two ways, in the manger and in the soul. In fact the Word became flesh in Mary, he manifested himself in Bethlehem, he manifests himself every day in us. “Where,” asks Saint Ambrose, “is Christ born with greater reason than in your heart?”... Jesus Christ is incarnated in us, first to make of us a new person, secondly to make of us a child of God. (ES 887-8)

If Mary becomes the true Mother of God, it is possible that the mystery of Incarnation be accomplished even in us, however remote the distance between us and Mary. Consider the wish that Saint Paul expressed to early Christians: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Eph 3:17) (ES 907)

Let us reflect upon the incarnation of Jesus in Mary, in order to learn what the incarnation of Jesus should be in us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn 1:14) (ES 907)

“Of his fullness we have all had a share”, declares Saint John, “love following upon love.” (Jn 1:16) In the case of Mary, God granted her a share of grace, i.e., of divine life at the moment of her own Immaculate Conception. Then, that divine life issued in the conception of Jesus. The Word had dwelt in Mary’s soul before he became flesh in her womb. He continued to be formed in her spiritually until her Assumption.

Commenting on the words “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me as you say” (Lk 1:38), Father D’Alzon reminds us that, whereas God created us by himself alone, when it comes time for the Incarnation he seeks the agreement of his creature. (ES 907, 910) As he showers his gifts upon Mary, he enlists her cooperation throughout her earthly life, as he does for all of us.

With respect to the divine aspect of the Incarnation, the conception of Jesus was the work of the Blessed Trinity. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.” (Lk 1:35) In his course of mystical theology Father d’Alzon states:

It is to man that God sent his word to enlighten and teach him... And it is God the Son who sends the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and of the Son, as a blaze to set our hearts afire. But God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit being one, it is really the Blessed Trinity that deigns to come into the heart of man, that visits him with the grace that is attributed particularly to the Son, and with the love that is given us by the Holy Spirit. (TD 41, 190)

With respect to the human aspect of the Incarnation, Mary responded to God’s gifts and acknowledged that God is everything and that of herself she was nothing. She agreed in faith and obedience to God’s designs. She praised God in humility. She continued to contemplate God’s wonderful deeds, to love, to serve, and to pray. What is Mary’s reply to God’s promises? “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say” (Lk 138). Father d’Alzon notes that Mary’s obedience...

...begins at Nazareth, it is consummated in the Passion; however it terminates only when Jesus Christ severs the mortal bonds that retained Mary on earth. All this time was needed and that much perfection was required before she could say in all truth: “My beloved belongs to me and I to him; he browses among the lilies” (Sg 2:16). (ES 910-11)

Acceptance and obedient cooperation must be so on the part of any creature in respect to God Together with her inclination to docility. Mary’s heart was brimming with admiration and praise. Father d’Alzon asks:

What are Mary’s sentiments while Jesus is formed in her?... She thinks only of praising God and making known his glory. “Magnificat” is her goal; her life has no other... The Word was made flesh, and any creature that unites with the Word, the divine utterance, can achieve a most pure praise of God... so that all mankind may say: “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” (Lk 1:40)

Such is the exultation of any Christian soul as it recognizes the hand of God in leading to holiness: “My spirit finds joy in God my Savior. For he has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, all ages to come will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:46-48) (ES 910-11)

The way Christ is born in us is, of course, through Baptism which makes us children of God and through the faith that follows. As Saint Paul says, “Each one of you is a child of God because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him.” (Gal 3:26-27)

The birth of Jesus in us is followed by the lifelong process of his spiritual growth in us, of his being formed in us, to use Saint Paul’s words. In the words of d’Alzon, “As the Son became incarnate in Mary by the operation of the Holy Spirit, in the shadow of the Father’s power, so must we in faith form Jesus Christ in us with the help of Almighty God.” (ES 912-3) As it happened for Mary, God solicits our response and cooperation to the flow of his gifts and of his life in us. So, adds d’Alzon, “I will let the Holy Trinity form Jesus Christ in me as the Holy Trinity formed Jesus Christ in Mary.” (ES 909-10)

Our response consists of persevering efforts to know more about God, about Jesus, his life, his teachings, his ultimate sacrifice for our sake, and of loving him, in humble obedience and in dedicated service. “The more I shall be docile,” Father d’Alzon comments, “the more perfect will be the image of Jesus Christ in me.” The more one grows in the knowledge and love and imitation of Christ within his own thoughts and loves and loving action, the more he wants Christ himself to take over his thinking and loving, until he can say like Saint Paul “for me life is Christ.”

Observe that Mary, even before she conceived the Messiah in her womb, had been conceiving him spiritually in her mind and heart: prius mente quam corpore. Mary cooperated in the Incarnation with her whole being, with deepest faith and incomparable love of God. The divine life that we share consists in knowing and loving God, and in conceiving him in mind and heart. As Saint Ambrose said, “A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works.”19

Of the Christian who wishes to become an image of Christ, Saint Irenaeus says:

If man, without being puffed up or boastful, has a correct belief regarding created things and their divine Creator who, having given them being, holds them all in his power, and if man perseveres in God’s love, in obedience and gratitude to him, he will receive greater glory from him. It will be a glory which will grow ever brighter until he takes on the likeness of the one who died for him.20

The infusion of divine life means a grafting of each believer onto the Vine that is Christ. The birth of Christ in each believer makes him or her a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, in other words a member of his Church, one who has a role to play in fostering the spiritual welfare of all and in pursuing the glory of God. Father d’Alzon concludes:

We have only to let Jesus Christ operate in our souls and let him form himself there as he sees fit. Let us take Mary’s virtues as a model for our own, in obedience, in humility, in contemplation, in love... to insure the triumph of Jesus Christ... (Thus) we will be devoted to the triumph of the Church, to which Jesus Christ gave birth on Calvary and which he purchased.21

For Father d’Alzon the forming of Jesus Christ in us is the very goal of Christian life:

“My children,” said Saint Paul, “you put me back in labor pains until Christ is formed in you.” (Gal 4:19) To conceive Jesus Christ in oneself, that is interior life; to help Jesus Christ be born and grow in others by means of one’s own life, to make him manifest by one’s own words, actions and virtues, that is interior life as we must practice it, so that of us it can be said what the angel said to Mary: “The Lord is with you.” (Lk 1:28)22

This is the reason why Father d’Alzon considered that the goal of “all Christian and religious education should aim at forming Christ in souls.23 For d’Alzon, the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the soul is the final result of the Reign of Christ in mankind.24

3. D’Alzon’s Love of Neighbor

As loving Jesus Christ leads to loving the Blessed Trinity, so does it entail loving what Jesus Christ loved the most after God, namely, his Mother Mary and his Spouse the Church. Emmanuel d’Alzon’s apostolic zeal was motivated by his love of God and also, obviously, by his love of God’s creatures. If some apostles are inspired more by the second love than by the first, such was not the case for Emmanuel d’Alzon. His love of mankind stemmed from his love of God. While a seminarian, he wrote to his sister Augustine:

…in most walks of life there is nothing but misery and fatigue without consolation; that is because all you find there is human nature... I confess that usually I can love only for the sake of God. However I did feel I was called to live among people... and therefore I had to ask myself how I could serve God in their midst. (DA2 94)

During the same period, he wrote to his friend d’Esgrigny:

Ever since I vowed to God to have no longer any heritage but his (Ps 16), how much I moan when I witness that heritage being... ravaged by its enemies, neglected by those who should be looking after it. How sad it is not to hear a single voice that one can recognize as that of God. No one assumes the responsibility of bringing the Lord’s word to mankind... How noble it would be to assume before society the role of divine herald. (DA2 97)

D’Alzon’s love of his fellowman was the more real for being rooted in his love of God. He said he felt destined remind people that they are one great family with God its father (DA2 99)... What pressed me on toward the priesthood was the desire to pour a bit of balm on the wounds of this poor human race. (DA2 140)

To the religious vows that he took at Christmas of 1850 he added the pledge to labor all he could to extend the Reign of God in mankind. (DA2 146)

a. Loving Mary and the Church: the “Triple Love”

From the days of his youth Emmanuel d’Alzon practiced and preached the love of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin and of the Church. When he learned how Mother Marie-Eugénie had joined these three loves into a single expression, he welcomed the idea and adopted it. In the early draft of the Order’s constitutions, about the year 1850, he observed:

Our more particular spirit stems from a most ardent love of our Lord Jesus Christ and of his holy Mother, who is our special patroness, together with an ardent zeal of the Church, and an inviolable fidelity to the Holy See. (ES 648)

This thought was the object of his meditation through the 1850’s, particularly during the several years of his illness. He sought the intimate link that unites the three loves. He hinted at it when he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie in 1854 that he felt “the need of loving very much Jesus Christ and all that Jesus Christ loves, only because he himself has loved”. (ES 813) The originality here consists in having discerned and underlined the reason for loving the neighbor, namely because the neighbor is loved by Jesus himself. Mary, the Church, our brothers and sisters, all are first loved by Jesus. They are the friends of our divine Friend. Speaking a few years later to the members of the Third Order, d’Alzon said:

If we truly love Our Lord, we will love what he loves, and ever more in the way that he loves. We will have much love for his Mother,... much love for the Church his Spouse, that was born on the cross from his open side, much love for his children our brothers and sisters, who are members of the Mystical Body, Jesus Christ. (DA2 456-7)

Elsewhere d’Alzon wrote:

What a superior at Assumption must aim at above all is to induce people to love Our Lord and all that Our Lord has loved and in the order in which he loved. It is all there: to love Jesus Christ and all that he loves. (MS 73)

At the same time Father d’Alzon was searching for the best phrasing to express the triple love. (MS 72-5) By 1858 he had found it. To young François Picard whom he was sending to head the community of Rethel he wrote: “Remember that the spirit of Assumption is the love of Our Lord, of the Holy Virgin his Mother, and of the Church his spouse.” (MS 73)

He used the same phrasing when he drafted the Directory (1859) and defined the “spirit” of Assumption for the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. (DA2 465) He kept using it when addressing hit religious. His desire was that the educators would instill it in their students. (DA2 843,846) By 1868, when delivering the closing instruction to the General Chapter, he proclaimed that the triple love, along with the “principal love” (i.e., love of God) constituted the spirit of the Assumption. (FD 78)

Whereas the modem tendency is to have love of neighbor lead to love of Christ, Father d’Alzon loved Christ first, then the neighbor. Father Sève says it thus:

If you love Him, it is impossible not to assimilate some of His fraternal love, it is impossible not to be impelled by Him towards those whom He loves, for whom He came, for whom He suffered, and who are now incorporated into Him in the body of the Church.25

Since d’Alzon’s love of neighbor was rooted in his love of Our Lord, and since in his eyes the neighbor is first the Blessed Mother, then the Church, it can be asked if the triple love has a bearing on d’Alzon’s apostolate, and why. It is a question which he himself addressed in his first Circular Letter (1-5). The essential answer, given on the first page of the letter, is as follows:

These three characteristics (of the triple love) call for a triple action and, as it were, for a triple apostolate. The love of Our Lord Jesus Christ should instill in us the desire to make him known through teaching and preaching. The filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin should prompt us to help direct and sanctify souls that are called to a certain degree of perfection, a work which seems to be far too neglected in our time.

b. Loving Mary Mother of Jesus and our Mother

In keeping with the notion of triple love, Father d’Alzon, in the address to the General Chapter of 1868, stated that “the love of the Son leads us to the love of the Mother. Our tenderness for the most Holy Virgin knows no limits, no more than does her tenderness for us.” (FD 81) Loving Mary because Jesus loved her means loving in her what made her lovable in the eyes of her Son. Father d’Alzon honors in Mary the Mother of the eternal Word. He writes:

God the Son requests of Mary the means of acquiring a body, in order to come into the world through her. To accomplish such a wonder required infinite love and divine omnipotence working together.

Then he boldly states:

The same wonder is there for me. Jesus Christ wants to be formed in my soul. In that consists all the perfection of the religious’ life. Jesus Christ wants to come into the world through me. That is, he wants to be manifested, preached and proclaimed in all my actions and in all my words. In that lies the perfection of the apostle. (FD 114)

Besides deserving our love as Mother of God, Mary is lovable as our Mother. For Jesus on the cross committed us to her care when he said, “Woman, there is your son.” (Jn 19:26) She loves us as her children from the moment when, “by the most incomparable act of love, she gives her son for the life of the human race.” (ES 998)

With that in mind Father d’Alzon asked anyone who sought to join the Congregation to check whether he agreed to place his entire life under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and to consider her as his Mother. D’Alzon sees Mary not only as our Mother but also as a model for us to imitate: “She is my model,” he writes in the Directory. “I must strive to imitate her as much as a religious in pursuit of holiness is capable of imitating the Queen of heaven and earth.” (Dir 8)

D’Alzon dwelt repeatedly on the fact that Mary became our Mother by virtue of the very suffering she endured along with her Son. Thus she revealed how compassion or suffering with Christ is a condition of apostolic efficacy. Speaking to the students at Nîmes, he developed this thought:

Mary adopts mankind by suffering... Not that the blood of Jesus Christ was insufficient [to achieve our salvation], but because this divine blood, designed to raise up mankind, intended to reveal its effects in the most admirable way, that is by communicating them with their potential for saving souls, first to Mary, then to others chosen to help him as he wished... It is up to you to see to what extent you wish to be helpers of Jesus Christ.26

Concluding a retreat given to his religious, d’Alzon asked:

Could I not imitate Mary at the Cross, when her Son’s apostolic life is ending? If all my life, the cross is the goal of my labors, if I work, act, preach, evangelize, suffer all in view of becoming a worthy disciple of the Cross, may I not have the right to go sometimes and stand between Mary and Jesus, at the feet of the divine Crucified one, so as to learn how to sacrifice myself and to die. (ES 1028)

A final remark: Mary loved divine Truth as no other creature could love it. This is why she is hailed for pursuing the father of lies, and for exterminating all heresies. Father d’Alzon gave a remarkable lecture to the students at Nîmes on the age-old battle between Satan and Mary Immaculate. (ES 989-1001) That is the reason why the apostles of truth have a signal love for her whom the Church calls the Queen of Apostles. (ES 998)

c. Love of the Church

Emmanuel d’Alzon first revealed his love for the Church when, as a young student in Paris noting how the Church was attacked, he resolved to take up its defense; later, when in order to serve the Church better he decided to answer the call to the priesthood (DA2 119-120) and was preparing for the ministry. (153, 159, etc.)

This love became purer and stronger when he was a disciple of Félicité de Lamennais. It urged him on to seek from his Roman advisors the answer to anguishing questions concerning the role of the Church in the world of his time. As the day of his ordination approached, it grieved him that the Roman authorities doubted his loyalty to the point of requesting from him a declaration of submission to the papal encyclical condemning La men n a is. (DA2 134) Although he was deeply upset by that condemnation, he did not hesitate a moment before submitting to the Pope’s sentence.

Throughout his life d’Alzon denounced the multiple attacks upon the Church that came from the government and from secret societies. He lamented the frequent jeopardizing of the Church’s interests by the very people who should have defended them.

This dedicated love for the Church did not blind him to the Church’s defects. In spite of them, d’Alzon simply believed that Christ himself established the Church and promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against it. (Mt 16:18) Letters from the Roman student show that his loyalty to the Church and to the Holy See was a matter of faith. Writing from Rome to a seminary professor at Montpellier, the abbé Fabre, young d’Alzon stated a rule of conduct that his religious and biographers would render famous:

For my part, from my daily study I become increasingly convinced of certain maxims, and my travel helps me realize their importance. The first is that one must always work for the benefit of Rome, sometimes without Rome, but never against Rome. (DA2 219)

When, on the eve of founding the Order, Father d’Alzon drafted a new rule of life for himself, he saw the Church as God’s cause:

It is what is dearest to God, for God can love nothing more than he loves his Church. The more I will see the Church being persecuted, the dearer she will be to me. Her humiliations will bring me sorrow, to be sure, but at the same time they will be the strongest motive to surround her, on earth and as my weakness allows, with all possible glory. (ES 779)

D’Alzon asks in the Directory:

Why should I love the Church? What is the reign of Jesus Christ if not His continued action in the Church? I can see the extent of His love for the Church when I consider all He has done for her. For the Church, His Mystical Body, He came down from heaven and became man, was born in a stable, and spent thirty years working obscurely and laboriously as a poor man; He was slandered, persecuted and insulted, and after suffering most atrociously, died on the Cross. If I love Jesus, how much should I love what He loved most?...

Furthermore, what to me is the Church?... She is my mother. In her and through her, I was born into a new life through the water of holy Baptism. Jesus Christ fosters His divine life in me through the sacraments of His Church. My mind is enlightened with divine truth which the Church teaches with infallible authority. Through her I receive unending assistance and encouragement to lead a good life. She has blessed the little Congregation which I chose to join in order to love and serve Our Lord more perfectly. Without her I would not know as fully and I could not serve as devotedly the God to whom I have consecrated myself. (Dir 12-3)

With what insistence Father d’Alzon inspired love for the Church in all Tertiaries, Religious men and women! Of his religious he required that they be “ready to have no love on earth except for the cause of the Church, God’s Kingdom.”27 Indeed, as d’Alzon observed in the Directory:

In His infinite kindness, Our Lord does not wish to work alone at the task of drawing men toward Him so that they may become saints. To this task He calls all Christians; that is why He instituted the priesthood and allows everyone to cooperate, according to their position, their strength, and the graces they have received. (Dir 13)

This love of the Church and of all God’s people that Emmanuel d’Alzon professed and preached explains the intense apostolic zeal with which he performed the various duties of his priestly ministry, including those inherent to his responsibilities as Vicar General, and later to those of a religious founder. He preached with great frequency, he spent hours hearing confessions, he provided spiritual direction to numberless people, both in sacramental ministry and through a heavy correspondence. In addition he found time to initiate or pursue various charitable endeavors, ministering particularly to the youth and to the poor.

D’Alzon always sought to help the poor. As a student in Paris, he joined a benevolent society. He visited those who were hospitalized, offering them comfort, talking to them about God and bringing them books. (DA2 38) From the early days of his priestly ministry, he spent much time providing material assistance to the poor. He himself lived frugally, he answered every request for alms, he gave away the best of his clothing, he opened his door to all those in need of comfort and welcomed the hungry to his table.

To all who benefited from his ministry, he was concerned with providing an education that was human as well as Christian. It was this concern that led him to establish a home for wayward girls (DA2 255), to open centers for youth recreation and instruction, and even to found popular schools and orphanages. (DA2 384-5, 560-5)

From the time of his ordination he dreamed of forming groups of persons who would be interested, above all, in the Christian faith and disposed to spread it in modern society by all possible means. When in 1843 he became the proprietor of a small and failing secondary school in Nîmes, he recalled that aspiration and resolved to begin with the Christian education of youth. (DA2 241-2)

For Father d’Alzon what mattered even more than pedagogical excellence was the Christian character of the school. He labored tirelessly to instill the Christian spirit upon both teachers and students so that everything concurred to the formation of solid Christians ready to assume their responsibilities throughout their adult life.

Love of God and of the Church led Father d’Alzon not only to serve his diocese, but also to be a founder of religious orders, first the Augustinians of the Assumption (1845) and then the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption (1865). While in Rome preparing for the priesthood, he had thought of religious life but without any great attraction. In 1841 Mother Marie-Eugénie Milleret de Brou, the young foundress of the Religious of the Assumption (who was beatified in 1975), asked the abbé d’Alzon to provide spiritual direction for herself and counseling for the organization and animation of her Order. With the friendship that developed between the two, Father d’Alzon’s devoted service to the foundress was matched by the wise counsel and generous support that she offered him as he himself became a religious and a founder. Thus they provided invaluable assistance to each another until Father d’Alzon’s death in 1880. (DA1 26-27)

Another area in which Father d’Alzon revealed his love for the Church was that of the laity. In 1845 he began acting on his conviction that lay people, being part of the Church, not only should have a lively faith but should also be active apostles. When in September 1845 he opened the school year with a retreat for the college personnel, he laid the groundwork for an association including men who would remain lay “tertiaries” and others who would become religious in the Order that he proposed to found. (DA2 343-4, 451) In 1846 he initiated a Third Order for women (DA2 457). In 1855 he established another laywomen’s society, the “Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament.” Father d’Alzon was most assiduous over the years in providing these groups with instructions and retreats. The common purpose of those associations was to further the coming of the Reign of God. Every member was asked to contribute works of zeal and charity, always in a spirit of selflessness and with a “catholic” openness that avoids any exclusiveness. (DA2 449-50,455)

D’Alzon’s love of the Church helped him to realize the importance of her unity. During the early years of his ministry, he gave a series of lectures about and to the Protestants of Southern France.28 Throughout his life he cherished the cause of Church unity. In 1862 when Pius IX asked him to send his sons among the orthodox Bulgarians who desired to unite with Rome, d’Alzon’s response was to begin a mission that his sons, together with the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption that he founded, developed in Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Rumania and Yugoslavia. (DA2 847,694ff) His mandate was that they labor for Church unity. His fondest apostolic dream was that they would reach into the Russian empire: “Our goal is the conversion of the Slavs.” (DA2 851ff)

Father d’Alzon was absolutely convinced that the Church could not retain her unity and fulfill her mission unless she was taught and guided by the successors of the Apostles, including the Vicar of Christ. In spite, or rather because of the multiple elements of discord in the Church of his day, d’Alzon professed an absolute loyalty and dedication to the Holy See. He was an ardent partisan of the definition of papal infallibility, for he judged that Christians, if they were to have complete trust in the visible head of the Church, needed to know to what extent Christ guaranteed the authority of his Vicar.

Because he loved the Church, Emmanuel d’Alzon was forever involved in seeking vocations for the religious life as well as for the priesthood. In doing so, he was always concerned with the needs of the Church generally rather than with the needs of his congregation. Through his preaching and spiritual direction he attracted a large number of young women to the religious life.29 The lack of vocations to the priesthood led him to found a new kind of minor seminary that would be accessible to boys from poor families, and that would provide a solid classical and deeply Christian education in view of the priesthood, either diocesan or religious. To these seminaries d’Alzon gave the name “alumnates”.30

He constantly urged the seeking of vocations. In 1870, speaking to the Religious of the Assumption, he said:

Do not say that there are no vocations. When you look for them, you will find them. Let us admit that they are difficult to find. Where were the vocations when Our Lord came into the world? Yet, within three years, he found about one hundred, including the twelve apostles, the seventy-two disciples, and others. If you undertake to supply a hundred vocations to the Church every three years, it will be quite an achievement, I assure you. It is a miracle, you say. Yes, a miracle of grace, but Our Lord did say: “...the man who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.” (Jn 14:12) Be his disciples and you will perform miracles of vocation. (ES 676)

As he neared death, he remarked:

Of all that I have been led to do, it seems to me that the best work, the one that makes me most confident as I am about to appear before God, is the great number of souls I was enabled to consecrate to him, the vocations and the virgins I was able to obtain for Jesus Christ. (DA2 842)

4. D’Alzon’s Selfless Love, His Mortification and His Chastity

Is it possible to judge a person’s charity from the services he or she renders to others or to God? Not altogether. Such a judgment is reliable only if there is evidence that the person is acting without selfish motive, in other words, if there is evidence of disinterestedness. Throughout his life and on a great number of occasions, Father d’Alzon manifested an exceptional disinterestedness. This disposition was constant in his behavior. Does it not give proof of the genuineness of his love?

In order to devote himself totally to establishing the Kingdom, he gave up the promise of an easy life and of a brilliant career. He was well aware that, as he accepted this mission for the glory of God and the salvation of people, he would encounter disappointments and sorrows. Soon after his ordination he wrote to his friend d’Esgrigny:

I became a priest for the sake of others as much as for my own sake. Such at least is my impression. What led me to the altar was the desire to glorify God, by leading to him as many as possible of his children that have gone astray; also to pour a bit of balm on the wounds of the poor people, for whom I expect to find healing remedy at the altar. At the same time, if I went up to the altar, it was only so I could come down from it and mix with society so as to have upon it whatever influence I could. (VLet1 777-81)

The abbé d’Alzon began giving proof of his selflessness whenever any of the many endeavors he pursued in Nîmes seemed to compete with other similar enterprises. He was particularly grieved when he saw churchmen make their own personal advantage the primary object of their ambitions. Given his noble origin and his reputation as an apostle, he could well expect to be offered a bishop’s see. Aware of this possibility, in 1844 he made the vow to refuse any proposal of a bishopric. On three subsequent occasions he refused such a proposal.

In 1861 when he was planning to open a Maronite seminary in Jerusalem, Pope Pius IX suggested that instead he found a mission in Bulgaria. Immediately d’Alzon adopted that project rather than his own. (DA2 695) With the same disinterestedness, he offered the Resurrectionists, another new Order, the chance to precede his own religious into that mission. (DA2 704-5) Later, while he was very active preparing for his religious to follow into Bulgaria, he remained quite ready to establish them elsewhere if the Holy See so preferred. At the same time he was ready to allocate to the Mission a major part of the fortune he had just inherited from his mother. (DA2 715)

In 1871, after the Vatican Council, he founded in Nîmes a “League for the defense of the Church”. But the moment he realized how that purpose would be better served by the “Comités catholiques” being founded in Paris, he offered them financial assistance, and let his own project take second place. (DA2 873-6)

It is with that same lack of concern for his own interests that Emmanuel d’Alzon answered the call to be a founder. When his bishop objected that such an undertaking seemed quite contrary to d’Alzon’s tastes, the abbé replied: The fact is, Monseigneur, that neither my temperament nor my character have anything to do with it.” (DA2 262)

In a similar vein, d’Alzon intended that the congregation he was founding be characterized by a disinterestedness that would welcome the good wherever it existed. He wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

These are the moral principles on which I would like to base a new congregation: (1) the acceptance of everything that is catholic; (2) frankness; (3) freedom... I believe that nothing can destroy self-will and love like the acceptance of all that is good outside of oneself. (VLet2 183-7)

After he became a Founder, Father d’Alzon always insisted that the most absolute selflessness was to characterize the apostolic dedication of his sons and daughters. Speaking of zeal for the salvation of mankind, he said:

Absence of self-interest and vanity will mark all our activities. We shall rejoice with others when they achieve the good we were not considered worthy to attempt. When others bring home God’s harvest from fields to which we would seem to have a right, let us say with Moses: “If only the whole people of Yahweh were prophets.”31

The same concern appears in the solemn address he gave to the Chapter of 1868:

It is sad to see how much man hurries to make his own the little bit of good he is capable of doing, how much he aspires to be the only one doing it and to prevent others from doing it when he cannot do it himself. My Brothers, may this never be our temptation! Let us love the Church enough to rejoice about all the good her children do for her triumph. Let us exclude no form of holiness or of charity. We cannot make them all our own. Let us love, admire, encourage in others what we ourselves are incapable of. May the general good be our sole preoccupation. The victories of the Church would be more numerous and our love for her more consoling, if we left aside mean and personal considerations and made the triumph of the Church the exclusive desire of our hearts. I cannot recommend enough to you this unselfish love. (FD 85-6)

To Mother Emmanuel-Marie, the co-foundress of the Oblates of the Assumption, he wrote: “Nothing is more needed for missionary religious than a heart, a spirit and a piety that are catholic, that is to say disinterested, generous, universal, concerned more with God’s interests than with one’s own.” (DA2 863)

He made the same recommendation to the Tertiaries. (DA2 450-5) To the students at Nîmes, he said: “We can act through fear of hell and a desire for heaven; but we can also have a superior motive: love of God for God’s own sake. There lies the real disinterestedness…”32

To the daughters of Blessed Marie-Eugénie, he said:

Open wide your heart, to use Saint Paul’s words. (2 Co 6:13) Open it to allow noble aspirations, forget yourselves absolutely. Permit me to say so, I think it would be awful to entertain narrow and niggardly personal concerns while working for the extension of the Reign. Open wide your heart! Let your heart be as great as the Church, that immense ocean in which God has poured all his treasures. The Church is what God loves the most. To it he gave the elect. The Church is the Spouse of Jesus Christ. (ES 665)

Mortification and chastity were virtues that Father d’Alzon related to charity. In his mind mortification was a manifestation of the spirit of penance and a way to acquire self-control, but it was even more a way to resemble Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ crucified. In his personal Rule of Life of 1845 he wrote:

Mortification will be for me a purification, an atonement and an education: a purification in that it will rid me of my vices; an atonement in that it will appease God’s wrath toward me and toward others; an education, for it would not serve its purpose if it did not make of me a better person. (ES 780)

Mortification was equally a condition for success in the apostolate, as he pointed out in that same Rule of Life:

My mortifications... will bear principally on whatever will facilitate accomplishing my duties. Thus, since doing with less sleep gains me time, I will prefer it to performing penances that might irritate my nerves and make me lose my temper... [However] I will offer some “austerities” in order to obtain from God the graces that may be needed by my Brothers. (ES 783)

Father d’Alzon wished his followers to have that spirit of penance. In the Constitutions of 1855, he asks of anyone wanting to join the Order if he is unshakably disposed to offer his life to God and is prepared to spend it as it will be required of him in work, persecutions, suffering, contempt, or the lowliest occupations. (FD 25)

For Father d’Alzon the spirit of penance of his religious should appear in the generous acceptance of the fatigues and trials of religious life and of apostolic labors. In his letters, especially those of spiritual direction, there are frequent exhortations to sacrifice and to penance.33 What marvels could be accomplished, he once exclaimed, with “a spirit of sacrifice willing to go as far as martyrdom.” (DA2 864)

Chastity, too, helped Father d’Alzon’s effectiveness in his apostolate. It seems to account for much of his success in arousing vocations to religious life. Blessed Marie-Eugénie wrote that chastity “is one of the traits that impressed me most in Father d’Alzon. It also struck all those of our community who approached him. What love of purity there was in that soul! His deportment reflected it through and through! He was so adept at inspiring that virtue. God had granted him a truly angelic gift enabling him to speak of chastity, be it in public discourse or in private conversation.34

Certainly d’Alzon’s chastity helped him raise up a multitude of vocations. We will never know what he said about purity in private interviews, but his writings reveal how much he loved that virtue and how eager he was to help others love it. In his youth, he would pray and recommend praying to Mary “the mother of all purity.” As spiritual director, preacher of retreats and religious founder, he ever declared purity to be an indispensable condition for receiving the communications “of the One who is the eternal and most pure splendor of the Father.” He insisted that the virtue of purity was to be protected by devotion to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin, that purity was the surest guarantee of success in the apostolate and that it was an indispensable means of fostering religious and priestly vocations.35

II. The Resources Emmanuel d’Alzon Relied On

1. The Virtue of Hope

The theological virtue of hope led Emmanuel d’Alzon to expect from God light and strength to allow him to do God’s work on earth. He hoped for nothing other than eternal happiness and the earthly goods that lead to it. In the Directory he phrased it with these words:

God is the supreme Good toward whom we are urged by our innate desire for happiness, even when we do not know Him, and He Himself wants to give Himself to us as our superabundant reward. By faith we learn what God is and what we owe Him; by hope we reach out to Him as the source of riches and perfection, the infinite beauty, the splendor of eternal glory, the author of all love and joy, the goal of all our efforts. (Dir 39)

In a meditation on hope, he emphasized the link between faith and hope:

The Christian mind, enlightened by faith knows God with a new cogency, knows of the divine mysteries what can be fathomed, realizes the means that are placed within one’s reach to possess the sovereign good that is God the infinite good, the source of true happiness. (ES 405)

When belief and trust are that close, people often identify as faith what is just as much hope. Father d’Alzon himself calls “spirit of faith” that adherence to the supernatural which is the common object of the theological virtues.

There are two facets to the hope of a Christian like Emmanuel d’Alzon: one is ardent longing for the enjoyment of seeing God, the other is counting solely on God to reach him. There are hope-desire and hope-trust. First, d’Alzon was a man of great desire, the desire for holiness, the desire to labor at extending the Reign, the desire to serve the Church, the desire to renew its fervor and its unity. He was later to declare of himself as a young student in Paris: “I felt rising in me the desire to defend religion when it was the object of the very frequent attacks.” (DA2 92) Already at the age of twenty he wished to be an apostle and a priest.

The multiple apostolic activities of Father d’Alzon, the founding of two congregations that are apostolic as well as religious, the launching of the Near East Mission, his countless undertakings and endeavors, all bear ample witness to his aspirations and to his trust in God. All through his life he detailed his apostolic desires in his correspondence and especially in his addresses to his sons and daughters. Many documents illustrate this theme, especially the outstanding instruction given at the close of the 1868 Chapter (FD 75-93). In his apostolic dreams he never stopped desiring holiness. At the same time he ardently wished holiness for everybody, and particularly for the clergy, for the Adorers and the Tertiaries, for his religious, and above all for Mother Marie-Eugénie de Jesus. These are the wishes becoming a genuine apostle.

Along with hope-desire, one has need of hope-trust. Emmanuel d’Alzon relied on God with a confidence that was absolute. On the eve of his ordination he had resolved: “All my life I shall take care to have a boundless confidence in Jesus, even in the most terrible moments.” (DA2 132) In January 1846, when he was adding to an already heavy burden the cares of the new congregation, he stated that he felt impelled to “lose myself in God, abandoning absolutely my whole being in his almighty and all-merciful hands.” And the following September he wrote: “It seemed to me that God was asking me to strive above all to achieve a limitless confidence in his will, a deep spirit of faith in determining my actions, particularly in my judgments and decisions.” (VLet1 67,117) To his sons he said:

We shall therefore place our whole confidence in God alone, never in any created thing. Evangelical poverty will be the external evidence of our hope, from which we shall also draw the true spirit of humility, with its distrust and contempt of self. (Dir 37) Hope will be the source of our complete trust in Jesus amid all our difficulties. Before His Passion, He said to the Apostles, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe likewise in me.” (Jn 14:1) (Dir 38)

His was a confidence that trials helped to grow stronger and deeper: “I am impressed as I realize what absolute abandonment to his will the Lord asks of me regarding what I have to do, to a point where my plans are his or, if you prefer, in order that they become his and not mine.” (ES 814) Throughout his correspondence, in his preaching, and in the closing addresses of the Chapters of 1868 and 1873 (FD 75 ff and 121ff), Father d’Alzon gave proof of the greatest trust in God in regard to all his apostolic dreams and projects, This, in spite of the attacks and victories of God’s enemies, of the miseries suffered by nations, of the absence of religious sentiment on the part of the majority of the people, and finally of the Church’s own shortcomings. He never showed discouragement and still less despair. Rather he recommended hope.

In the midst of trials, d’Alzon never forgot the need of prayer. Always he submitted in a spirit of humble dependence on the God who alone can complete in us what he has begun. It was this awareness of the need of prayer that led him to open a Carmelite convent in Nîmes (DA2 264), later to found a center of prayer together with the Religious of the Assumption, (DA2 625-6) and finally to establish a group of lay Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. (DA2 448-9) Father Joseph Maubon attests that d’Alzon’s hope was unshakable: “His favorite recourse was prayer, from it he infallibly expected success. He would repeat: “where there is no prayer, there is no bearing fruit.” (SOM 80) To the students of his college he said:

Prayer is the only real power of Christians. Our enemies are more numerous, more powerful, even more knowledgeable if you wish;... yet, despite their number, their strength, their knowledge, they will be overcome if Christians know how to use the formidable weapon that is prayer.36

If Father d’Alzon placed all of his trust in God, it followed that he avoided counting on human resources alone. Hence his spirit of poverty. He also avoided relying on his own lights, aptitudes and energy alone. Hence his humility. From God he expected and received the light and strength that allowed him to accomplish the divine will. Hence the prudence and courage that he displayed.

2. Spiritual Poverty

Born into a wealthy family, Emmanuel d’Alzon was very much aware of being privileged in material comfort. In the “plan of life” he drew up at the age of twenty, he thanked God who spared him worries about the next day’s subsistence; he resolved to work at becoming poor in spirit, making use of material goods to acquire more easily the knowledge necessary for his priestly mission.

From the very beginning of his priestly ministry, he made up his mind to live as a poor man; he refused the horses and carriage and the armorial bearings that his family offered him. (DA2 257) When he pronounced private vows at the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Paris in 1845, he committed himself to using his material possessions solely for the glory of God and to living as a poor man in terms of food, clothing and daily expenses. (DA2 342) At first he slept in the college’s infirmary. Then he occupied a small windowless room, making of it his monk’s cell. (DA2 349)

D’Alzon’s love for the Church embraced the love of the poor and led him to offer them extensive assistance. He was all the more generous since he was so little attached to personal possessions. However, his detachment was not due to contempt for temporal goods: these he appreciated enough to want to provide them for the poor. Indeed, he thanked God for having blessed him personally with such goods, even though there were many occasions, particularly at the college at Nîmes, when he suffered from a severe lack of resources.

Emmanuel d’Alzon’s detachment or spiritual poverty consisted of his not placing in material possessions the reliance that can be placed only in God. Let us briefly examine his practice of spiritual poverty, particularly where it affected his apostolic activity. In 1848, when he became sole proprietor of the college at Nîmes, he began to encounter financial difficulties that plagued him repeatedly, to the point of a threatened closing of the school. Those who wish to belong to God”, he wrote, “have to endure the martyrdom of money. It is the way of being properly poor.” (DA2 402) In 1856, when the college fell into its worse financial straits, the experts who examined its administration recognized that Father d’Alzon and his collaborators had neither wasted nor overspent (DA2 479). Thus, it can be concluded that nothing in that administration was contrary to religious poverty.

To his religious d’Alzon pointed out that poverty implies assiduous labor. “If I am poor, I must work for my keep.” (Dir 46) The spirit of poverty led D’Alzon to “make use of the resources God has given me to acquire the knowledge I shall need.” (ES 743)

Father d’Alzon wrote to young Father Picard in 1857: “[Poverty is] indispensable at the present time and is a protestation against the present-day morals.” (DA2 438) In 1863, reflecting on the apostolate that his congregation was asked to undertake in favor of Church unity and on the dispositions that such a mission required, he was moved to practice an even more rigorous poverty and to dispose of his estate as soon as possible. (DA2 718) In a circular of 1874 he noted that poverty is a condition for a fruitful apostolate, particularly for an apostolate among the poor. Toward the end of his life he observed that abandoning the practice of poverty had been the root cause of the decadence of many religious institutions.37

3. Humility

In his youth, Emmanuel d’Alzon tended to be domineering. His parents and his teachers worked at correcting this fault. By his own efforts and through self-discipline he succeeded in bringing this tendency under control. In the exercise of authority he never abused his position as Vicar General, as spiritual director, or as religious founder. Rather, he constantly showed respect for the persons and the opinions of the people he approached. Deeply convinced of his own unworthiness, d’Alzon never relied solely on his natural gifts, his intelligence, his energy, or his oratorical skills. Indeed he fully realized that he could not function without God, precisely because he was so conscious of the fact that all he had and was came from God.

Having decided at age twenty to belong to God and to take his place among the defenders of the truth, he was determined to imitate Jesus Christ. By keeping his eyes fixed on this divine model, he hoped to repair in himself the havoc wrought by original sin and its disorderly attraction to pride, to the pleasures of the flesh, and to worldly possessions. (DA2 756-7) Frequently he referred to his feeling of unworthiness. Thus in 1846 he wrote: Today I am thirty-six years old, and I am terrified by the uselessness of my life, the time lost, the graces that remained sterile. I want renewal to take place within me right now.” (DA2 399) He deplored his failure to meditate properly and to mortify himself. (DA2 400-01, 403) He regretted not having been a saint and not having sufficiently urged others to be holy. In other words he was ashamed of his past life. (DA2 435)

Throughout his life, he expressed similar thoughts. In 1862 he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie: “I beg you not to be offended by my defects. You know that I am filled with them.” (DA2 741) To Marie Correnson in 1864: “What frightens me is the time I have lost and caused others to lose, others who would have worked much more with me if I had been a better example for them.” (DA2 742) And later, when she had become co-foundress: “I would like to be a man of faith, of prayer, of true humility, a religious imbued with the spirit of sacrifice,... a superior preoccupied with developing his spiritual family,... Well, my daughter, I am none of all that.” (DA2 724)

In 1870, questioning the purity of his intentions, he wrote:

I am quite embarrassed as events lead me to get involved in matters that are very important. Sometimes I wonder whether I lean toward them by virtue of my natural restlessness. It grieves me, for I would not want to do anything that is not for the glory of God. Ask Our Lord that I may act for his glory and only for his glory. (DA2 743)

At the moment of founding the men’s congregation, he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie: “Pray God, dear daughter, that your poor father may not one day be punished for having undertaken too much, given his limitations.” (DA2 330) After having explained to his bishop his thought of founding an Order, he added:

There remains the personal question: am I qualified for this undertaking? Generally, my Lord, when a work is intended by God, there are pioneers who clear the ground. It is not the architect but the simple laborer who digs the foundation on which the building will rest If God is the architect, the masons will come later. Allow me to do my job as a laborer. (DA2 397)

In 1847, facing great difficulty in the conduct of the college, he remarked to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

If I am not the man for this job,... I remain at it nonetheless to prepare the place for whoever will be that man... As for myself, my child, every day I become more deeply convinced that I am powerless and radically incapable. And I try to offer it all up to Our Lord. Being more merciful than people, he can... replace their inability with his grace and draw something good from nothingness. (DA2 408)

A few months earlier, he had said to her: “It is good to feel one’s weakness now and then, so as the better to feel the need to rely on God.” (DA2 487) Thus convinced of his weakness, he humbly accepted the reproaches addressed to him, for example, of “not being enough of a founder” (DA2 618-9) or of being prone to feel contempt for others, (DA2 973) as Mother Marie-Eugénie had pointed out to him.

Feeling unworthy Emmanuel d’Alzon proved on various occasions to be quite detached from his own way of seeing things. In 1862, when Pius IX directed the apostolate of his congregation to the Near East, d’Alzon, after having explained his views to the Church officials, left “everything to the wisdom” of the prelates concerned. (DA2 706) He assured Bishop Hassoun that he did not “in the least” cling to the ideas he had presented. (DA2 707) In 1863, after an exploratory visit to the Near East, the report that he presented to the Roman Congregation of Propaganda was received with much hesitation. D’Alzon wrote to Cardinal Barnabo to explain his understanding of the situation and then added: “That being said, I beg Your Eminence to be fully convinced that I in no way insist on my ideas, provided I am told by what ideas I am to be guided.” (DA2 715) As he himself asked, is not humility essential “for anyone who wants to fight against the spirit of pride that tore the robe of Christ?” (DA2 718) If he happened to be annoyed at a decision with which he disagreed, very promptly he rose to the supernatural level and regained his peace. In 1855, when Bishop Plantier, who was known to have Galilean tendencies, was appointed to the See of Nîmes, Father d’Alzon said to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

I place at the foot of the Cross the nasty tricks suggested by my overactive imagination in regard to the Bishop. One must love the Church of God for the sake of Our Lord and not because one might find some petty satisfaction through the victory of one’s own ideas.38

The Founder and Superior did not impose his views on his religious. In the Rule he set for himself in 1845, on the eve of founding the Order, he wrote: “I must be absolutely ready to occupy the place of a simple religious the moment my Brothers express that desire, or whenever I realize that someone else will do better than I.” (ES 782) From the outset he initiated with his companions the practice of mutual consultation, inviting them to share in the founding (DA2 409-10) and he continued the same practice on the occasion of the General Chapters.

Notwithstanding his noble birth and his personal prestige, Father d’Alzon entertained no personal ambitions. Aware that he was likely to be considered for the episcopacy, he vowed never to accept the office of a bishop. “Struck by the deplorable state to which the Church was reduced by the ambition of certain people”, during a visit in Torino while praying at the shrine of the Consolata, he was inspired to make that vow. (DA2 334-5) In 1849, the Paris Nuncio offered him the bishopric of Mende, which d’Alzon refused.39 In 1854, he was again considered as a possible successor to Bishop Cart of Nîmes, but he managed to elude the proposal. (DA2 601-2) Two years later, a petition addressed to the Emperor Napoleon III proposed Emmanuel d’Alzon for the See of Aire-sur-Adour. When he learned this, he expressed regret. (DA2 600-01) Finally in 1871, he again brushed aside the idea that he should be a bishop, “for, he added, thirty years ago I resolved to be nothing, not even vicar general, if my deep affection for my bishop plus orders received from higher up had not brought to bear upon me a coercion that, after all, brings pleasure to my heart.” (DA2 978-9)

Father d’Alzon was anxious to avoid pride at all costs and he warned his religious to beware of it. In 1874, when Father Galabert complained about the deficiencies of certain missionaries, Father d’Alzon suggested that he do himself what others failed to do, making sure to avoid succumbing to pride: “For that purpose”, he wrote,” one needs a very great holiness, for nothing is more subtle than the temptation that urges us to say: ‘I do better than the others’.” (DA2 862) In the eyes of Father d’Alzon, the apostle must be and must remain humble, so that he may be ever conscious of his poverty and of his need for God. Humility will allow him to realize the value and dignity of the people he approaches. God is in them, precious in his eyes, and has in store for them eternal happiness.

Father d’Alzon asks us to “consider ourselves as humble dependents of those for whom we work”, since “Our Lord became man, not to be served but to serve”. He goes so far as to say that those souls have rights over us. (Dir 60) Finally, he observes that the apostle who is sincerely humble, far from rebuffing people, draws them to himself and gets to be accepted together with his message and the services he wishes to render.

4. Prudence

In his closing speech at the General Chapter of 1873, Father d’Alzon pointed to the contrast between a false prudence that is often nothing but an alibi for a shameful laziness and the prudence which is inspired by the boldness of faith. (DA2 831) Bold prudence was what characterized him. Emmanuel d’Alzon was constantly concerned with discerning God’s will. He was attentive to the signs given by Providence; he sought their meaning through reflection and prayer and through consultation with those most likely to enlighten him.

Consider the way he opted for the priesthood. To his friend d’Esgrigny he protested that his was in no way an impulsive decision. It resulted from a long period of deliberation, of prayer and consultation, wherein the will of God gradually became apparent. (DA2 64-70) No objection would prevail against a decision motivated by love of God and of souls, for the service of the Lord and of the Church.

Emmanuel d’Alzon showed the same desire to conform to God’s will when he reached the decision to be a religious and to found a new Order. He was attentive to the signs of Providence; he reflected, he prayed, he consulted. Even before his ordination he had thought of a religious apostolic life in an Order that would undertake the regeneration of society. (DA2 62) Since he had not encountered such an Order, he had made himself available to the diocese of Nîmes. But by 1843-1844 he found himself owning a secondary school and presiding over a team of priests and lay people. Was not this a sign that God was inviting him to himself to found the Order he had dreamed of? Once he had vowed, in June 1844, to refuse any episcopal honor, the idea of founding such an Order became more and more compelling. He prayed, reflected, and sought the advice of many, especially of Mother Marie-Eugénie. In Paris, from April to September 1845, he spent much time in her company discussing such a possibility. (DA2 301, 307)

After taking private religious vows at the Paris church of Notre-Dame des Victoires, he returned to Nîmes. There he revealed his project to both the lay and clerical staff of the college, proposing that they constitute “The Association of the Assumption.” A group of five began to live as religious at Christmas in 1845. There followed a period of probation during which the founder suffered many trials, lost his first companions, acquired new ones, continued to seek the will of God together with his companions and with Marie-Eugénie and the Bishop. As Christmas neared in 1850, the Bishop authorized the first profession of religious vows. (DA2 376-81)

In the government of his congregation, Father d’Alzon took no important decision without ample advice. Only after consultation with the Archbishop of Paris and with the religious themselves was the first community outside of Nîmes established in Paris in 1851. (DA2 421-2) Even before making his first canonical vows, Father d’Alzon had prudently rejected very attractive proposals for a settlement in Paris. (DA2 483-4) His prudence is evident in the care with which he prepared the general chapters of his congregation. Before the chapter of 1876, he drafted a series of circular letters in which he sought the views of the chapter members. To these he gave due consideration. (DA2 831-4)

Although ultimate responsibility regarding the Near East Mission was his, d’Alzon acknowledged that Father Galabert, being its superior on the spot, was better informed. So he gave him much freedom of action, contenting himself with defining priorities and insisting only on matters that he deemed of capital importance. (DA2 854-7)

On many occasions he solicited the advice of Roman authorities: in 1850-1852 on the problems he encountered as a member of the National Council for Public Education (DA2 548); in 1861 on the formation to be provided for the young people of Oriental rite whom he had welcomed to his college (DA2 703); in 1862 on the best way to answer the Pope’s request to open a seminary in Bulgaria (DA2 695-6); and, from 1870, on his plan for proceeding into Russia. (DA2 851-4)

Those are but a few instances of d’Alzon’s practice of submitting his ideas and projects to people whose judgment he valued. His desire to serve the Church as perfectly as possible led him to seek the will of God in prayer and meditation. At the same time, when he reached a conclusion to his inquiry, he insisted that he “in no way clung to his own ideas”. (DA2 707)

Yet even though he sought counsel on every occasion, it must be said that he was accused of being imprudent. To be sure, his almost too generous disposition and especially his zeal for God’s kingdom induced him ever to broaden the circle of his activities and works. His bishop, Monseigneur Cart, felt that d’Alzon risked being unable to cope with all of these. (DA2 556) His physician, Dr. Gouraud, also warned him of the risk of jeopardizing his health. (DA2 586) Mother Marie-Eugénie pointed out that having too many occupations compelled him to neglect the care of his congregation. (DA2 618-9)

Father d’Alzon was well aware of the problem. In 1846, having accepted the extra burden of preaching the Lenten series at Notre-Dame des Victoires in Paris, he wrote to Mother Marie-Eugénie:

I confess that more and more I feel it my duty to act with extreme prudence. I am accused so frequently of having taken on more than I can carry. As a matter of fact, I do feel that I have so much to do in order to complete what I have undertaken! Pray ardently that I may see clearly what I must do. (DA2 579)

In 1852 when his bishop remarked on d’Alzon’s multiple activities, Emmanuel admitted that such was his nature: “I am inclined ever to widen the circle of our activities but I am precisely on guard against that tendency.40 When, in 1854, Mother Marie-Eugénie chided him for giving so much time to preaching that he could not be the founder he should be, Father d’Alzon accepted the reproach with humility and newly resolved to be more of a founder. (DA2 618-61)

On the other hand as Vicar General of the diocese, could he refuse to be involved in charitable services that were indispensable for the proper functioning of the diocese? Did he not have to be faithful to the apostolic vow he had taken to extend the reign of Jesus Christ in souls? (DA2 565) In 1856, when d’Alzon was absent in Paris, Bishop Plantier saw fit to pay public tribute to his Vicar General in a speech given at the college. He then wrote to d’Alzon that it is more proper to recognize the zeal that inspired the building and development of his college (and likewise all his endeavors) than to focus on the “pious temerities” he may have committed in his attempts to heed God’s calls. (DA2 607)

D’Alzon defined prudence as being “inspired by the bold daring of faith.” His sons would remember it as an outstanding characteristic of the founder. One of them, Father Joseph Maubon, testified to this effect at the diocesan hearings: “His prudence was not the timidity that restrains and prevents holy enterprises; on the contrary, his whole life was a constant boldness, saintly and heroic. Of this we were all witnesses. He never hesitated to undertake for the glory of God works that were great and difficult”. (SOM 99-100)

Being always careful to consult before acting, Father d’Alzon proved to be a counsellor filled with supernatural wisdom in the domain of spiritual direction as in that of apostolic action. Even as a seminarian at Montpellier he had a notable spiritual influence on his companions. They thanked him for “his advice and exhortations.” (DA2 103-4)

From the beginning of his ministry, he was always ready to hear the confession of all comers. To penitents returning to God he offered with his friendship the support of his prayer and his dedication; and to generous souls he offered his help in their pursuit of perfection. The ministry of spiritual direction held a most important place in his life. (DA2 256) His virtues attracted people who wanted to progress in spiritual life. Thus in the third year of his priesthood Mother Marie de Jésus, foundress of the Sisters of Marie-Thérèse, began seeking his counsel and continued to do so until she died in 1842. From a letter he wrote to her one can see the spiritual discernment he already possessed. (DA2 267-8)

But the most persuasive evidence of his supernatural wisdom appeared in his relations with Mother Marie-Eugénie. For forty years he was both her spiritual director and her advisor regarding the religious congregation she had founded. The reserve he showed in the acceptance of this double responsibility is already a proof of his humility and prudence. (DA2 281-3)

There were many who entrusted the care of their soul to Father d’Alzon. Among them were the college students, who remained grateful to him and, as alumni, continued to have recourse to him. (DA2 493-4, 505-6) Others were the Religious of the Assumption (DA2 612), Tertiaries, Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, and lay men and women. (DA2 448) A large number of men and women owed the discovery of their vocations, as religious or priests to him. (DA2 256, 842-3)

What can be said of the prudence of d’Alzon in meeting his responsibilities as Vicar General? He was honorary Vicar General from the time of his arrival in Nîmes till 1839, when he was appointed titular Vicar General. He remained in that post until Bishop Besson finally accepted his resignation in 1878. That three succeeding bishops maintained him in that position, for close to forty years, is a sign of the trust that they had in him. They rendered homage to him on several occasions. (DA2 603, 736-8)

If d’Alzon did not show himself a clever administrator of his own personal fortune, it was only because he was inspired with a profound sense of evangelical poverty and charity to contribute his financial resources to various endeavors rather than to let them increase for his own benefit. Hence, on numerous occasions he suffered what he called the martyre des écus, the anguish of financial problems. He claimed that such is the lot of “those who want to belong entirely to God.” (DA2 402) Living from the hand of God, he strove humbly to accept those trials as means of sanctification. (DA2 510, 511) Siméon Vailhé, his biographer, made a careful study of d’Alzon’s financial administration and concluded: “One can find there no decision that was not inspired by heroic dispositions of the virtues of supernatural justice and prudence.” (DA2 521)

5. The Virtue of Fortitude

The life of Emmanuel d’Alzon shows ample evidence of fortitude under its various aspects: magnanimity; the readiness to imagine, to will, and to achieve great things in spite of difficulties; patience to sustain difficulties courageously; perseverance or constancy in the pursuit of the goal. D’Alzon’s magnanimity was revealed in his desire for personal perfection. Wishing to take the vow of perfection, Le., of always seeking to be more perfect in his actions, he prepared for professing this vow by making a kind of novitiate (DA2 346-7) and by drafting a personal rule of life (DA2 350-2). He then made that vow (DA2 740).

From his early priesthood to the end of his days, fortitude accounted for the ardor and perseverance with which he gave himself to the salvation of souls through the ministry of confession and spiritual direction and through the ministries of preaching and charitable assistance. (DA2 251-7, 556-65, 730-36)

Once he felt definitely called by Providence to found a religious institute, nothing stopped him in his efforts to set its foundations— neither the objections of his friends, nor sickness, nor financial difficulties, nor the doubting hesitations of his bishop. After making him wait for five long years and probably won over by “the heroic manner in which d’Alzon sustained trials however varied and painful”, the Bishop finally authorized a canonical novitiate and, by December 1850, the making of first vows. (DA2 301-7, 376-81)

During the thirty years that remained to his life, d’Alzon devoted the better part of his energies to his congregation, defining its spirit, establishing its rules, looking after the formation of his disciples, preparing and conducting the general chapters. When difficulties and problems multiplied, he overcame them with a truly supernatural patience and perseverance. Repeatedly, but particularly between 1854 and 1857, he faced serious health problems. His letters to Mother Marie-Eugénie revealed his courage and his abandonment to Divine Providence. (DA2 507-8)

When in 1856-1857 the college’s financial situation became critical, d’Alzon bore it with the same patience. (DA2 510-11) His personal notes of that period reveal that in all those trials he saw the hand of God and an invitation to seek a greater holiness, in union with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. (DA2 434-5) It was more out of love for God than through simple resignation that he endured these crosses. (DA2 402)

Even if progress was at times very slow, if there were occasional defections, if there were obstacles in the way of certain foundations, Father d’Alzon was so sure he was doing the will of God that he never gave up. He continued governing the congregation, watching over the development of its works and over its spiritual animation. It was perhaps in regard to the Near East mission that his patience was most remarkable. He accepted that mission in response to a wish of Pius IX, hoping to contribute to the suppression of schism. Despite the invariable lack of vocations, the uncertain canonical status of the mission, and the misunderstandings which hindered its progress, Father d’Alzon took utmost care of it until the end of his life. (DA2 693-8, 848-51)

Having noted that the mission would need the cooperation of women religious, he appealed to the Religious of the Assumption, but without success. He then hoped that the same Religious, since they were planning to have a separate group of Sisters to be directed to the missions, would grant him some of these, but there again his hopes proved futile. Disappointed but not discouraged, d’Alzon then considered founding a congregation himself. Divine Providence directed him to seek vocations first among the humble but sturdy peasant girls of the Cevennes mountains. Many obstacles had to be overcome before one of his disciples, Marie Conrenson finally agreed to be the co-foundress of the new institute. (DA2 699-702) Such was the origin of the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption. Within very few years they began to found and staff schools and hospitals in the Near East.

It was without a doubt in the defense and the service of the Church that Emmanuel d’Alzon had the most need of fortitude. He foresaw this need when he wrote in his Rule of Life of December 1845:

The cause of the Church will be the object of all my zeal. I shall devote my whole life to obtaining her triumph. I will deem it a great honor to be admitted to fight for the cause of God and for what he holds most dear, for God loves and can love nothing more than his Church. (ES 779)

The desire to defend religion was the primary motive that determined Emmanuel d’Alzon to become a priest. Throughout his life he remained its intrepid defender. He did not tolerate the claims of his contemporary society to limit the Church’s religious and social action. D’Alzon worked indefatigably to promote Christian education and to defend its freedom. (DA2 475-7) Many were the fields where the Church was threatened and needed to be defended by all possible means. D’Alzon, following the first Vatican Council, set up a league for the defense of the Church; he participated energetically in the action of the Comités catholiques and in the Association de Not re-Dame de Salut founded by his own religious; he encouraged and actively supported their initiatives in the apostolate of the press. (DA2 873-83, 889-98)

At the same time Emmanuel d’Alzon remained quite aware of the need for reform in the Church, and made every effort to correct abuses. He always considered the Pope to be the symbol and guarantor of Church unity. Unshakably loyal to the Holy See, he was always ready to defend its cause. Whenever the need arose, d’Alzon was on the front line, undeterred by contradictions and threats of persecution.

The greatest demand on d’Alzon’s fortitude occurred when, from the 1850’s on, Italian forces began constituting the kingdom of a united Italy at the expense of the Papal States and with the support of Napoleon III. The French government, annoyed by the protests of the French Catholics echoing those of Pius IX, accused them of conniving with the opposition monarchists to undermine government authority. This allegation became a pretext for the government to suppress Catholic organizations like the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, accusing them of being “clerically-minded and ultramontane” as well as allied to the monarchists.

Besides supporting his bishop when he issued a pastoral letter of protest and later denounced the suppression of Catholic organizations, d’Alzon did not hesitate to align himself with the Pope in openly criticizing the French government’s attitude toward the Pope. He could hardly be expected, any more than Catholics generally of that time, to foresee the benefit that would accrue to the Holy See if the Papal States were lost. He continued to be very outspoken, despite the constant surveillance of the police. At the same time, through those difficult years, he made every effort to provide human and material resources to help the Papal States in their defense. (DA2 674-92)

D’Alzon was deeply convinced that Catholics should defend the Church and their rights with greater courage and energy. Commenting on the Acts of the Apostles in a talk to the college students, he declared:

One of the great mistakes of Catholics is to remain in the beatitude of silence. They do not know enough to demand to be treated justly. When one has, like Saint Paul, the courage to face up to whips and canes, one equally has the courage to assert oneself as a true Catholic and to affirm one’s rights as a citizen. (TD 50, 341-51)

During this period of struggle in the defense of the Church, Pius IX published the encyclical Quanta cura and the Syllabus, in which he denounced what he deemed to be the root cause of the day’s evils, namely, the cult of “modern freedoms.” It was not that d’Alzon meant to counter the trend toward democracy. He believed that an apostolic congregation aiming to serve the Church’s mission could not remain indifferent to the social and political trends of the times. To his religious he wrote:

Each religious order in the Church had a goal, and when this goal was reached, its mission seemed to end. Our goal is: 1) To help the Church, as much as we can, in her struggle against the satanic principle of the Revolution; 2) to let the old condemned regimes fall; then, while respecting the reservations of the Syllabus on the great and unchanging principles of authority, to accept freedom straightforwardly and loyally... and finally to point out to democracy all that Christianity has given the world from the point of view of fraternal and universal equality. (FD 110)

During the last months of his life, d’Alzon gave further examples of fortitude when he continued to care for the congregation despite a failing health. When he became completely exhausted, he transferred his authority to Father Picard, submitted to God’s will and began to prepare for his death. At this time his courage was challenged by various painful trials that befell him: the defection of a person whom he had assisted in her widowhood—as well as her family—and who was to enter the Oblate Sisters’ congregation; then the death of Eugene Germer-Durand, a cherished companion of the early days at the college who was then its director; the reluctance of the government educational authority to approve the new director, the threat to close the college; and, above all, the prospect of the expulsion of the religious by new government decrees. It was to prevent Father d’Alzon from witnessing this final heartbreak that Bishop Besson proposed that he be transferred to the bishop’s residence, but d’Alzon preferred to remain with his sons. With courage and patience he accepted the sufferings of his last days. Mother Marie-Eugénie reported that Father “never complains; if he is asked about his suffering, he doesn’t answer, or he says ‘not as much as I deserve’.” (DA2 1004, 1014)

III. Conclusion: Contemplation and Action

It is interesting to note how Emmanuel d’Alzon wished his followers to combine prayer and work in the pursuit of the Kingdom:

We may give ourselves to silent prayer, like Mary our Mother, or we may engage in works that contribute to the well-being of the Church, but our contemplation and our action are always united in pursuing the same goal: the extension of the reign of Jesus Christ. (Dir 61-2)

Commenting on this text, Athanase Sage observed:

We are told that, for us, contemplation and action work together for the same purpose: to contribute to extend the reign of Jesus Christ. A rather bold statement! The apostolic aspect of all perfection [holiness] may never have been so clearly stated...41

How did Emmanuel d’Alzon combine prayer and action in his own life? What does he recommend to his disciples in that regard? Father Sage reflects on these topics at some length in the retreat he gave on the spirit of the Assumptionist Order in Rome in 1955:

When Father d’Alzon resolved to devote his life to God, he meant above all to defend the Church. He did enter into a period of studious retreat, but only to return to the world scene armed with virtue and knowledge, in order to take part in the Church’s battles. Hence one might be tempted to believe that Father d’Alzon is attracted more to action than to contemplation. In this beginning of the 19th century, the Church is driven to the ghetto, as it was in its early days. Paganism had not been able to stifle it, but the “Revolution” that resulted from Protestantism was attempting to do so by all possible means. If we were not to return to the ancient darkness, it was urgent to restore Christian morality to the world.

Yet, while answering the call of Christ with youthful generosity, Emmanuel d’Alzon in no way ignored the primary necessity of prayer- When the young priest arrived in Nîmes, his plan of apostolate included the founding of a Carmel. All through his life he strove to arouse contemplative souls. Despite the multiplicity of his activities, he was the first to give the example of prayer and of recollection in the presence of God. He knew how to reserve hours and days of retreat and study. If he were not at leisure to pray constantly, he was at least concerned with remaining as much as possible in the presence of God. Always there echoed in his ears the word of Yahweh to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be perfect...”

It was this ideal of Christian perfection that Father d’Alzon kept constantly before his eyes, and more and more as he progressed in sanctity. He insisted that apostolic zeal be the most perfect manifestation of the love we can offer to Our Lord. At the same time he insisted on prayer and meditation to keep our love on the alert at the very source of our zeal, the love that will never be taken away from us, but rather will meet its full deployment when God calls us to enter into his rest. It is thus that one must understand d’Alzon’s life, even if to the inexperienced it may have seemed incoherent and was constantly caught in the ebb and flow of preoccupations that seemed contradictory.

In truth, the life of Father d’Alzon unfurled in perfect harmony of action and contemplation according to the teaching of the Gospel. He too could say: My life is Christ and to die is for me a gain. However, if while being involved in the works of apostolate, I can produce fruitful results, work to further extend the Kingdom of God, and bear witness before all to the eminence of the love of Our Lord, I do not know what to choose; I am pressed from two sides, both by the appeals of the Lord’s friendship and by the urgencies of the apostolate. It is thus that Father d’Alzon gave himself with equal ardor of love sometimes to contemplation, sometimes to the countless works of apostolate demanded by his ardent zeal. At the time set for contemplation he strained toward the labors of asceticism and the apostolate. At the time of action, he remembered the intimate joys and the peace of contemplation, achieving thereby the truly harmonious life with which God favors those living in his service.42

At the conclusion of this study on the apostolic virtues of Emmanuel d’Alzon, one can say that he was an apostle, heart and soul, and that all his virtues contributed to his zeal and apostolic ardor. Father Sage’s commentary on the Directory, in the chapter about apostolic zeal, contains this further thought:

The more Father d’Alzon advanced in age, the more he exalted apostolate: “Above the virgins, above the anchorites, there are the apostles.” (ES 1216, MS 142) “To reward us, God will make use of the same measure that we will have used in our love of him, and this leads one to believe that, since the apostolate is the most perfect action on earth, those who are called to be apostles, if they respond to their sublime vocation, may be raised to the highest rank in the heavenly hierarchy.”

In truth it is his angels, those who without cease stand before him, and to whom he reveals the secrets of his mercy, that God sends for the salvation and care of his children, to exercise and pursue visibly on earth the mission of the most faithful of his messengers, His Beloved Son, the Angel of the Great Counsel.43

On the occasion of the centenary of the death of Father d’Alzon, on 21 November 1980, Cardinal Casaroli, then Secretary of State, conveyed the thought of John-Paul II with these words:

If it is true that the most remarkable disciples of the Lord have many traits in common, there are some who give the impression of having assembled, in a living and fascinating synthesis, the characteristics of a number of brothers as regards Christian life and holiness. Your Founder reminds one immediately of the Apostle Paul, who was radically gripped by the Mystery of Christ and the Church, but equally of Saint Augustine, the anxious and loving seeker of God’s truth; likewise of Saint Francis, the adorer of the Passion of Christ; of Saint Dominic dissipating the darkness of error and religious ignorance; of Saint Ignatius, who left the military career to become a soldier of God. Like them, Emmanuel d’Alzon let himself be invaded and inhabited by Christ. As it was for them, this identification was achieved at the cost of a total stripping of self. Your Founder took extreme measures in order to obtain that intimate union with Christ. He plunged into the depths of adoration, after the manner of the great mystics who felt as if submerged by the Absoluteness of God. He spent hours at it, day and night. This living relation with the Father, the Son and the Spirit evolved into ardent supplications asking to labor for the Reign of God with energies purified and multiplied by grace. That tight link between contemplation and action is typically d’Alzonian.




1 André Sève, AA., Christ Is My Life: The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon (New York: 1988), pp. 27-28.

2See Dir 22ff and FD 112ff.

3 See Dir, I. ch. 7.

4 Sève, Christ is My Life, p. 101.

5 Instructions du samedi (Paris, 1932). These are a series of talks that Father d’Alzon gave to the students at Nîmes.

6 Instructions du samedi, p. 115.

7 Instructions du samedi, p. 56-8.

8 Instructions du samedi, p. 173-4.

9 Instructions du samedi, p. 178.

10Sève, Christ Is My Life, pp.124-7.

11 e.g. in ES 448; 455; 948-88; see also in the series Cahiers d’Alzon the volume titled Eucharistie, Lumière et Vie.

12 See Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A., The Spiritual Legacy of Emmanuel d’Alzon (Milton, MA: 1988), pp. 110-14.

13 Cf. Col 3:4.

14Lumen Gentium, 9.

15 “Third Letter to the Master of Novices”, (FD 107-8).

16 “Robert J. Fortin, AA, transl., Circular Letters. (Worcester, MA: 1981), p. 39. These letters were written by Father d’Alzon for his religious in 1874-75. The original French text is to be found in ES 191ff.

17 The Holy See did not authorize this vow.

18 ES 906. Pages 908-18 offer two instructions of d’Alzon on the Mystical Incarnation. See also MS 41-2; 107; 119; 138; 191.

19 Office of Readings for December 21.

20 Office of Readings for December 19. This contrasts sharply with the destiny of the man who pretends to be like God without God.

21ES 912; see also FD 115.

22 ES 908; see also ES 885.

23 See Circular Letters, p. 47.

24 Dufault, Spiritual Legacy, pp. 114-20.

25 Sève, Christ Is My Life, p. 98.

26 Instructions du samedi, pp. 51 and 53.

27 First Constitutions, FD 25.

28 DA 2 557; 583; 585.

29 DA2, ch. VIII.

30 DA2, ch.XXVII.

31 Nb 11:29, quoted in Dir 60.

32 Instructions du samedi, 127-8.

33 DA2 616; 798; 811; 868. “SOM, Supplement, 252.

34 SOM, Supplement, 252.

35 Dir 54-5; DA2 514 22; 910-11; 953-4; 1003-9.

36 Instructions de samedi, 161-2; MS 112.

37 See ES 264; 499-506; 586.

38 DA2 603, note.

39 DA2 971, note.

40 DA2 556; TLet1 201.

41 Athanase Sage, A.A., Commentaire du Guide Spirituel de vie intérieure (Bar-le-Duc: 1959), p. 111.

42 Athanase Sage, AA, Retraite awe supérieurs majeun sur l’esprit de l’Assomption (Rome: 1955).

43 Sage, Commentaire du guide spirituet de vie intérieure, pp. 116-7.

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