Rorate Caeli

De Mattei's double article: "Russia will be Catholic"

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
May 31 & June 7, 2017

“Russia will be Catholic” is the inscription on the tomb of Father Gregorio Agostino Maria Šuvalov, buried in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. The Russian Barnabite sacrificed his life for this cause (Antonio Maria Gentili. I Barnabiti, Padre Barnabiti Rome 2012, pp.. 395-403).

Count Grigorij Petrovič Šuvalov was born in St. Petersburg on October 25th 1804 of an old and noble family. One of his uncles, a general in the army, was in charge of accompanying the defeated Napoleon to the Isle of Elba and another of his ancestors had founded Moscow University. He studied in St Petersburg’s Jesuit College from 1808 to 1817, until the Jesuits were expelled from Russia and he continued his studies first in Switzerland, then in Pisa, where he mastered the Italian language. He was however, influenced by the prevailing materialism and nihilism in the liberal circles which he frequented at that time. Nominated by Czar Alexander I officer of the Hussar Guards at the age of 20, in 1824, he married Sofia Soltikov, a profoundly religious woman, Orthodox, but “Catholic in heart and soul”, who would die in Venice in 1841. With her he would have 2 children: Peter and Elena.

Sofia’s death moved Šuvalov to study religion. One day he came across the Confessions of St. Augustine: they were for him a revelation: “I would read them continuously, I would copy entire pages of them and draft long extracts. His philosophy filled me with good desires and love. What transports of contentment I found in that great man; sentiments and thoughts until then that had been sleeping in my soul and were reawakened by that reading.”

Moving to Paris, Count Šuvalov frequented a group of Russian aristocrats who had converted to the Catholic Church, thanks chiefly to Count Joseph Maistre (1753-1821), who, from 1802 to 1617 had been Ambassador for the King of Sardinia in St. Petersburg. Among these aristocrats were Sophie Swetchine (1782-1857), Prince Ivan Gagarin (1814-1882) and Prince Theodore Galitizin (1805-1848). The latter, realizing his friend’s deep spiritual crisis, helped him to find the truth again, by suggesting the reading and meditation of Du Pape by Joseph de Maistre. In reading the Count’s work, Šuvalov understood how the primary mark of the Church was unity, and that this demands a supreme authority, who can be no other than the Roman Pontiff. “Lord, You say: My Church, not my Churches. On the other hand, the Church must conserve the truth: but the truth is one only; therefore the Church can only be One. (…). When I knew that there could only be a one true Church, I understood that this Church must be universal, that is Catholic.”

Šuvalov went to Notre Dame every evening to listen to the sermons of Francis Saverio de Ravignan (1795-1858), a learned Jesuit who would become his spiritual guide. On January 6th 1843, the Feast of the Epiphany, Šuvalov abjured Orthodoxy and made his profession to the Catholic Faith in the Chapelle des Oiseaux. He sought however, a deeper commitment to the Catholic cause. Through a young Italian liberal, Emilio Dandolo, encountered by chance on a train, he was introduced to Father Alessandro Piantoni, Rector of the Longone College of the Barnabites in Milan, which in 1856, welcomed him into the novitiate of the Barnabites in Monza, with the name Agostino Maria.

In the order founded by St. Anthonio Maria Zaccaria (1502-1539), he found an atmosphere of deep spirituality. He wrote to Father Ravignan: “It’s like being in heaven. My fathers are all saints, the novices all angels”. Among his young confreres there was Cesare Tondrini de’ Quarenghi (1839 – 1907), who, more than anyone would inherit his spiritual legacy. On September 19th 1857, Agostino Šuvalov was ordained to the priesthood in Milan by Monsignor Angelo Ramazzotti, the future Patriarch of Venice.

On the day of his ordination, at the elevation of the Chalice, he raised this supplication to God: “My God, make me worthy of giving my life and blood in union with Yours for the glorification of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin, in the conversion of Russia.” This was his life’s dream, which he entrusted to the Immaculate, and which Pius IX proclaimed as dogma on December 8th 1858. Received in audience by the Pope, Father Šuvalov told him his desire to dedicate his life to the return of schismatics to the Church of Rome. At this memorable encounter: “Pius IX spoke to me of Russia with the faith, the hope and conviction which had the words of Jesus as suppot, and a burning charity which moved him, when thinking of his children lead astray: the poor, willing orphans. These words of his inflamed my heart.”

Father Šuvalov declared himself ready to sacrifice his life for the conversion of Russia. “Well then, - the Holy Father then said - repeat this protestation three times a day in front of the crucifix; you can be certain your desire will be realized ”.

Paris was the sphere of his apostolate and immolation: there he did his utmost, tirelessly winning over countless souls and giving life to: The Association of Prayers for the Triumph of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin in the conversion of the Eastern Schismatics, especially the Russians, to the Catholic Faith (commonly called The Work of Father Šuvalov). Pius IX, approved it with a brief in 1862 and Father Cesare Tondini was its untiring propagator.

Father Šuvalov, however, had died on April 2nd 1859. He had just finished writing his autobiography, Ma conversion et ma vocation (Paris 1859). The book went through translations and reprinting in the 19th century and was presented in a new Italian edition by Fathers Enrico M. Sironi and Franco M. Ghilardotti (My Conversion and My Vocation, Grafiche Dehoniane, Bologna 2004 ) and it is from this book we have taken our citations. Father Ghilardotti, additionally, did his best to bring back Father Šuvalov’s remains to Italy, which now rest in the church of “San Paolo Maggiore” in Bologna, built in 1611 by the Barnabite Fathers. At the foot of an altar surmounted by a copy of the Most Blessed Trinity by Andrei Rublev, the greatest of the Russian icon painters, Father Agostino Gregorio Maria Šuvalov awaits the Day of Resurrection.

In his autobiography, the Russian Barnabite writes: “When heresy threatens, when faith languishes, when customs corrupt and nations fall asleep on the edge of the abyss, God, who weighs everything, by number and measure, opens the treasures of His grace to reawaken them; He is now stirring in some obscure village, a hidden saint, whose efficacious prayer is holding back His arm ready to punish; He is now making a splendid light appear on the face of the universe, a Moses, a Gregory VII, a Bernard; He is now inspiring, for the concurrence of some miraculous fact, passing or permanent, the thought of a pilgrimage or some other new devotion, new perhaps in form, but in essence always ancient, a veneration both touching and wholesome. Such was the origins of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion born in the midst of a thousand contradictions in a small cloister in the village of Paray-le-Monial.”

Such, we could add, is the origins of the Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which Our Lady asked to be spread one hundred years ago in a small village in Portugal. At Fatima, Our Lady announced the realization of Father Šuvalov’s great ideal: the conversion of Russia to the Catholic faith. An extraordinary event that belongs to our future, and which will allow the mysterious words of Scripture which Father Šuvalov applied to his own conversion, to reverberate throughout the world: Surge qui dormis, surge a mortuis et iluminabit te Christus ((Eph 5, 14).


“Russia will be Catholic”. The dream of many converted Russians of the 19th century, like Father Šuvalov, is also the title of a book which caused a sensation in its time: La Russie sera-t-elle catholique? (Parigi 1856) by Father Ivan Gagarin, member of the Company of Jesus.

Ivan Sergeevič Gagarin was born in Moscow on July 20th 1814, of an illustrious princely lineage, descendants of the Princes of Kiev, He was an officer with the Russian Legation in Munich and then with the Embassy in Paris, where he became part of the French intelligentsia, frequenting the “salons” of Sophie Swetchine. Under her influence and that of authors like Pëtr Jakovlevič Čaadaev (1794-1856), his conversion to Catholicism matured. On April 7th 1842 he abjured the Orthodox religion and embraced the Catholic faith, under the care of Father Francesco Saverio de Ravignan (1795-1858), who had already received Count Šuvalov’s conversion. Ivan Gagarin, at the age of 28, renounced not only a brilliant political and diplomatic career, but also any hope of returning to his own country.

In Czarist Russia, in fact, conversion to Catholicism was a crime comparable to desertion or parricide. The renunciation of Orthodoxy for another religion, even if Christian, was punished by the loss of material goods, civil rights, noble titles and foresaw reclusion in a monastery or exile in Siberia.

A year later, Ivan, now Jean Xavier Gagarin, requested admission to the Company of Jesus and was accepted into the novitiate of St. Acheul. [Thus] he began a long period of study which concluded with his ordination to the priesthood and profession of religious vows in the Order of St. Ignatius of Loyola. For Father Gagarin, in whom burning zeal, a keen intelligence and an aristocratic upbringing were united, a new life began.

During the Crimean War, he collaborated with the famous mathematician Augustin Cauchy (1789-1857) in the foundation of the work École d’Orient. Towards the end of 1856 he founded the quarterly review Études de théologie, de philosophie et d’histoire which eventually became the celebrated Études. However, in 1862, when the publication was taken over by the French Jesuits, it underwent a radical transformation. While the First Vatican Council was opening, Études, unlike its Roman sister La Civiltà Cattolica, took on a pro-liberal position, which it would maintain throughout the following century.

The Russian government, which intended to extirpate Catholicism from the western provinces of the Empire, deemed Prince Gagarin an enemy to be rid of. He was accused of writing anonymous letters to the poet Aleksandr Sergeevič Puškin (1799-1837), whom he had exasperated, forcing him into a duel in which he died. Recently a young Polish historian Wiktoria Sliwowska showed that it was all a smear campaign organized by The Third Section of His Majesty’s Own Chancellery (L’Affaire Gagarine, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, Roma 2014, pp. 31-72).

La Russie sera-t-elle catholique? appeared in 1856. In this work, Father Gagarin referred to the solemn Bull Allatae sunt issued by Benedict XIV on July 26th 1755, with which the Holy Father manifested “the good will which the Apostolic See feels for Oriental Catholics in commanding them to observe fully their ancient rites which are not at variance with the Catholic religion or with propriety. The Church does not require schismatics to abandon their rites when they return to Catholic unity, but only that they forswear and detest heresy. Its great desire is for the preservation, not the destruction, of different peoples-in short, that all may be Catholic rather than all become Latin.”

In order to lead the Slavic people back to unity – Father Gagarin comments - we need to respect the oriental rites, to ask for their foreswearing of errors contrary to the Catholic Faith, but above all, to combat the political-religious conception of the Orthodox. For the Russian Jesuit, the Orthodox schism is above all the result of the “Byzantine" a concept with which he means the difference of the relationships between Church and State that exist in the Byzantine and Western world. For Byzantium there is no distinction between the two powers. The Church is made de facto subordinate to the Emperor, who is thought to be the head of it, inasmuch as he is God’s delegate in both the ecclesiastical and the secular spheres. The Russian autocrats, like the Byzantine emperors, see in the Church and religion a means to use in order to guarantee and increase political power.

This wretched system is established upon three pillars: the Orthodox religion, autocracy and the principal of nationality, under which the ideas of Hegel and the German philosophers penetrated Russia. That which is hidden behind the pompous words of Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality “ Is nothing other than the oriental form of the 19th century revolutionary idea.”(p.74).
Gagarin sensed the ferocity with which the revolutionary ideas would be applied to his country. In his eyes, the pages of Proudhon and Mazzini appeared to be benevolent and courteous in comparison to the violence of the Russian agitators. “It is a contrast that can serve to measure the difference between how the revolutionary principle is understood in Europe and how it would be put into practice Russia.” (pp. 70-71).
In a prophetic page, Father Gagarin writes: “the deeper you go into things, the more you are brought to the conclusion that the only real fight is that which exists between Catholicism and the Revolution. In 1848, when the revolutionary volcano was terrorizing the world with its howling and made society tremble, extirpating its foundations, the party which was dedicated to defend the social order and to combat the Revolution did not hesitate in writing on its flag: Religion, Property, Family, and did not hesitate in sending an army to bring back to his throne the Vicar of Christ, who had been forced into exile by the Revolution. He was perfectly right; there are only two principles against each other: the revolutionary principle, which is essentially anti-Catholic and the Catholic principle, which is essentially anti-revolutionary.
Despite contrary appearances, there are but two parties and two flags only. On the one side the Catholic Church raises the Banner of the Cross, which leads to true progress, true civilization, true freedom; on the other, the Revolutionary banner is raised, around which the coalition of all the Church’s enemies is gathered. Now what is Russia doing? On the one side, She is combating the Revolution, on the other She is combating the Catholic Church. Both externally and internally, you will find the same contradiction. I do not hesitate to say that what gives Her honor and strength, is being the unwavering adversary of the revolutionary principle. What makes for her weakness, is being, at the same time, the adversary of Catholicism. And if She wants to be coherent , if she truly wants to combat the revolution, She has only one choice: make a decision, to stand behind the Catholic Banner and reconcile with the Holy See.” (La Russie sera-t-elle catholique?, Charles Douniol, Paris 1856, pp. 63-65).
Russia rejected the appeal and the Bolshevik Revolution, after exterminating the Romanovs, spread its errors throughout the world. The abortionist and homosexual mentality, which today is leading the West towards death and which has its roots in the Marxist-Hegelian philosophy, was established in Russia in 1917. The defeat of the revolutionary errors cannot be brought to an end, in Russia and in the world, except under the Banner of the Catholic Church.

Padre Gagarin’s ideas impressed the German Baron August von Haxthausen (1792-1866), who, with the support of the Bishops of Münster and Paderborn established a League of Prayer, called Petrusverein: the Union of St. Peter for the conversion of Russia. A similar association under the impetus of the Barnabite Fathers Šuvalov and Tondini came into being in Italy and France. To the members of these associations, prayer for the conversion of Russia was recommended on all the first Saturdays of the month. On April 30th 1872, Pius IX with his Brief, granted a plenary indulgence to all those who, confessed and received Communion, by attending Mass on the First Saturday of the month, offered for the return of the Greek-Russian Church to Catholic unity.

Our Lady most certainly is pleased with this devotion, as at Fatima, in 1917, She recommended the reparatory practice of the First Five Saturdays of the month as an instrument of establishing Her Reign in Russia and the entire world.

Translation: Francesca Romana