Rorate Caeli

Discovering Cardinal Dechamps, Tradition made fresh and clear

The wealth of free material one finds on the web is truly astounding. I managed in my little free time in the past few days to find and read a work I can only characterize as magnificent.

While some may criticize one or other point in the work of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, it cannot be denied that his writing style captivated many faithful Catholic readers. It is a free style, unencumbered by rhetorical exaggerations that often darken more than clarify. A style also familiar to readers of Romano Guardini and - let us be honest - one that may have been responsible for the popularization of the Nouvelle Théologie. How to present the truths of the faith in a fresh new way? The problem of some (many?...) Nouveaux Théologiens was, of course, that they presented many half-truths, or worse (those who dealt with liturgical matters frequently did so with the past, for instance); but how can one deny that they succeeded in implementing their agenda, both immediately before, during, and after the Council in great measure due to a writing style that is attractive, still today, in its freshness and (apparent) clarity?

Anyway, long before any of this, in 1857, a Redemptorist priest published a remarkable tome, Le libre examen de la vérité de la foi: Entretiens sur la démonstration catholique de la révélation chrétienne  (The Free Examination of the Truth of Faith) (Google Books, in French). The setting is as classical as it gets, a fictitious dialogue, on the footsteps of the greatest in Greco-Roman Antiquity. But what is new is the writing style, that presents the truth of the Catholic Faith in a fresh manner very unusual for its age. Fr. Victor-Auguste Dechamps would soon be named Bishop of Namur and then Archbishop of Mechlin and Primate of Belgium by Blessed Pius IX, and would remain throughout his life a stern defender of both the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception and, during and after the First Vatican Council, a strong advocate and defender of the dogma of the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff.

We hope to translate some excerpts of this great work in the near future - we have not been able to find a translation of it in English. But, if one is really not available, we earnestly recommend Catholic publishers make it available to English-speaking readers of our age.

While we were searching for a translation of the work to recommend it to our readers, we were in for another surprise: a book by the same author, Cardinal Dechamps, C.Ss.R., on another matter dear to all Catholics, our Most Blessed Lady the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. This one is indeed available in English, and we could not recommend it more highly: The Second Eve, or the Mother of Life (Internet Archive, in English), particularly recommended for the month of Our Lady, but quite useful throughout the year.

How could a Redemptorist, whose order was founded by none other than the author of The Glories of Mary, even attempt to write a new book on the Immaculate Virgin? He explains it:

It may, perhaps, be matter of surprise that one of his disciples and children should have thought of writing another book in honour of Mary, when S. Alphonsus himself has written a work on the glories of his Mother, so full of life and unction, that truly pious souls cannot read a single page of it without being deeply moved and enlightened thereby. We can enter into this feeling; but we believe, nevertheless, that S. Alphonsus loves to see us follow his steps, and that he desires to hear us speak of Mary after our poor fashion to the Christians of our own day, in their own language; so as to draw to their Mother souls which, in order to love her better, need chiefly to know her better, and who require to be led to the Glories of Mary.

But the motive which induced us to write will be better understood by the relation of a fact which suggested it.

One day, when we were visiting a learned and pious friend, we found the Glories of Mary among the books which covered his table. He saw that we had observed it, and took it up, saying: "This is my spiritual thermometer; when I am in some degree faithful to grace, a few words from this book enlighten and encourage me; when I am careless and lukewarm, it no longer suits me; it becomes, as it were, too strong for me. When I feel this, I look into myself, and I soon find that it is not the light which has grown dim, but the interior eye which is no longer able to bear its brightness. I then labour to restore this eye of the soul to its strength and purity; and the thermometer soon rises, or rather the soul rises, and soon finds itself in union with this precious book."

We have been careful not to draw from this isolated fact a general conclusion which would be incorrect, for experience proves daily that the Glories of Mary touches sinners and brings them back to God, as it consoles the just and encourages them to perseverance; but it is no less true that there is a certain spiritual state unhappily too often experienced, a state of languor and darkness, in which we find the necessity of varying our reading, and of being brought back gently to books which seem at those times to be beyond us.

We therefore offer this book to the world in the hope that it will be of service to those who have yet to learn to enjoy the Glories of Mary.

Thank God Almighty for the writings of Cardinal Dechamps. There is so much evil that is done online - but so much good can also come from online sources, and the discovery of this great author by new generations and in other languages could certainly be one of them. If you do not know his works, we hope you enjoy them!


PJ said...

Thank you Rorate for enlightening us with the work of this Cardinal. It is interesting that the second book you suggest was originally published by Burns and Oates publisher in London. On further reading it almost went bankrupt when the owner converted to Catholicism but was saved through the help of John Henry Newman, more information about it here:

Let us be thankful for these publishers who translated these works originally but also those who upload these books online for us to read in 2013

Jared said...

Please do offer a translation of this literature. I do have one question: is there a particular reason why the dear Cardinal refers to himself as "we" instead of "I?"