The Servants of Mary by Abbe Rabille—History of Women in their Confinements, for the Instruction of Pious Young Girls—A book that ought to be burnt—Two words on Ecclesiastical Celibacy.
Since we have just been speaking of the employment during the vacations, it is a proper time to say a word on the books to be read, and the books that are given as prizes in the religious schools.
One has been pointed out to me as being widely circulated. It is called The Servants of Mary.f
I find in the life of St. Bonaventura, which begins the volume, that at the birth of this saint all the bells began to ring of their own accord; that at the age of four years the child fell dangerously ill, the mother recommended him to the Pope, who instantly cured him; and seeing this, the Pontiff exclaimed, “Bonne aventure!” which name was borne by the child ever after. This is added quite seriously by the author (p. 12). He had afterwards another illness, which furnished the saint with an occasion for a very different prodigy. But we will let the author, the Abbe Rabille, speak for himself.
“The seraphic doctor was in bed, and being subject to fre quent retching, he could not receive the Holy Eucharist; which afflicted him very much. After having sighed for a long time,
* See the part of a letter quoted in the second letter to M. Dupanloup, p. 7. f The Servants of Mary, by the Abbe Rabille, 1 vol. in 8vo. Published by F. F. Ardant, Brothers; Paris and Limoges.
he caused the Holy Pyx to be brought into his room. His ardent wish could not be satisfied by seeing it; he took the Holy Vase, and applied it to his side. But oh! prodigy of grace and love! an orifice was opened by the side of the heart of Saint Bonaventure, and the host came forth of itself from the blessed Pyx, and entered the wound in the chest of the sick man, who was transported with joy.”—p. 24.
All these Servants of Mary have been announced beforehand by prodigies of the same special nature, in the dreams or visions of their mothers.
“Alice de Montbar, just before the birth of St. Bernard,” so says the Abbe Rabille, “dreamt she saw in her bosom a little white dog, with a little red on the back, and barking violently. She went to consult a man of God, who was suddenly possessed of the prophetic spirit which had in former times animated David. He answered, ‘ Do not fear, you will be the mother of a child who, like a faithful dog, will guard the house of the Lord, and bark with power against those enemies of the faith who would enter therein.’ “—p. 38.
The mother of St. Dominick also had a dream just before her child was born.
“She dreamt that she had given birth to a little dog carrying a torch, with which he set the whole world on fire. Such a vision would have alarmed any other woman; but this Christian mother saw in it nothing incomprehensible. She understood that she should give birth … to a mystic dog who by his barking would put all wolves to flight . . . that is to say, that he would hunt out all heretics by his preaching.”—p. 87.
Let us add to all this an anecdote, showing the severity with which St. Bernard “watched over his own heart,” as we are told by the Abbe Rabille.
“One day he had stopped, and with unreflecting curiosity fixed his eyes upon a woman: he was instantly alarmed at the effects which this imprudence might produce on the purity of his thoughts. He ran away, and as a punishment for this great fault, he threw himself into a pond which was deep and almost frozen over. He remained there for a long time, even till his blood had ceased to circulate in his benumbed members. But he had extinguished within himself all pernicious feelings.”—p. 42.
Oh, M. Rabille, this is indeed overstrained. What! for one look at a woman, occasioned by unreflecting curiosity, to throw yourself into a frozen pond?
Does it not give people occasion to say of you as Dorine said to Tartuffe—”You are very sensitive to temptation “?
The preceding quotations are only silly and ridiculous, though there is a little too much of a subject not suitable for the meditation of young girls.
But what follows approximates to the odious, for in order to establish the truth of the belief of the Immaculate Conception, the Abbe Rabille enters into physiological dissertations of a most extraordinary character.
For example: “Saint Bonaventure says that Mary was conceived in original sin. But we ought, with Saint Anselm and Saint Bernard, to consider the original sin as referring to her having had the same kind of parentage as other people, and not to the quickening of the body of the infant.”—p. 33.*
What a very useful distinction! I do not doubt that it catches the attention of young people.
I should say the same of the following passage on the Annunciation in which the subject is treated with equal delicacy.
“Mary, says Saint Bernard, possessed every virtue. ‘How shall this be/ said she to the angel, ‘seeing I know not a man ?’….
“What unshaken determination to keep her vows of virginity! Even the promise of the son which the angel announced to her, could not make her hesitate in her resolution; ‘Sow shall this be?’ It cannot be as with other women, because I know not a man, and because I have neither the hope nor the wish to bring a son into the world, etc.”—p. 65.
JN’ow let us pass at once to Saint Bridget, a princess.
This saint was also a little prodigy from her earliest days; she loved to dream like any other young girl, and easily and willingly gave way to the habit. But to dream too much is sometimes dangerous; and careful mothers watch this inclination which girls fall into
* This translation is as near the original as delicacy will permit. The exact Words put into the hands of }roung girls by the priests and nuns of France are too gross to be rendered literally into English.—Ed.
imperceptibly, and so the aunt of Saint Bridget did. Well! You will soon see she was wrong:—
“Her aunt fearing that she devoted too much time to contemplation, gave her every day something to[do. One day, looking to see what the young princess was about, she saw her, needle in hand, her work lying upon her knee, her eyes turned up to heaven, immoveable, and weeping. At the same moment she saw standing close to her a young girl of extraordinary beauty, who was working at the princess’s work, while she was adoring God”
This history does not appear to me likely to induce young persons either to work or to be obedient, and therefore I do not see why they are to study it.
But here again we fall back on the subject of the birth of children—
“When Saint Bridget’s first child was about to be born, she
suffered frightfully, her life being in danger And then was
seen a lady of divine beauty dressed in a white robe. She approached Saint Bridget, and her assistance was so marvellous, that
she gave birth to her firstborn without difficulty or pain”
The author soon after adds—” When Bridget saw a sufficient number of children around her to support the name of her family, she persuaded her husband from henceforth to live with her as brother with sister for the rest of their days.”—p. 134.
The saint’s influence was so great at length, that she induced her husband to withdraw by degrees from the court of Sweden, where he held a very high position. “She communicated to him her religious and devotional spirit,” says the Abbe Rabille, “and regulated all his exercises of piety, among which she made him observe inviolably the reciting the little office to the holy virgin. She also induced him to allow her to place poor persons in an hospital which she had herself founded,” etc.
You see we are no longer acting on the prescribed rule of a wife’s absolute obedience. But Bridget’s motives were so good! In short, she sent her husband on a pilgrimage to Saint James in Galicia, and on his return he found himself so disgusted with the world, that he entered a convent—the Abb6 most carefully informs us that he did so, “with the consent of his wife.”
Having become entirely free and disengaged from all the ties which had hitherto restrained her, Bridget gave herself up to devotion, and began to perform miracles. One Christmas night she felt as if she was herself about to become the mother of the Man-God. She made the indications of this palpable to her confessor and then to her friends. Afterwards Jesus took her as his wife!
Let us throw a veil over these unhealthy inventions.
The history of St. Bridget is followed by that of Madame de Chantal, the foundress of the “Visitation.”
“Madame de Chantal, wishing to seal with her blood the promise she had made to consecrate herself to God, branded on her heart the name of Jesus with a hot iron,—a sublime and admirable trait of devotion which, without doubt, it is not necessary to imitate, (the Abbe Rabille judiciously observes) but which is a proof of the ardour of her mind.”
“”When she wished to retire into a convent, her departure was very sorrowful; her father almost died of grief.”
“The young Chantal, her son, threw himself on her neck, and refused to leave her, hoping that she might be touched by his tears, and thus be detained. But not succeeding in this, he then threw himself down across the doorway, saying, ‘Mother, I am too weak to prevent you, but at least it shall be said that you passed over the body of your only son in order to desert him.'”
“Madame de Chantal was touched, and wept bitterly in passing over the body of her darling son; but the next moment fearing that her sorrow should be mistaken for a change in her determination, she turned to the company with a calm and serene countenance, and said ‘You must forgive my weakness; I am leaving my father and my son for ever; but God will be with me everywhere.'”—p. 170.
Decidedly, I advise all parents who see that book, “The Servants of Mary,” in the hands of their daughters, to take i+ from them, and throw it into the fire instantly.
I may also quote the account, contained in it, of the “Life of th Pious Shepherdess Benoite Rencurel.” This shepherdess ha the following conversation with the Virgin Mary :—” Fair Lady, what are you doing up there? Are you coming to buy plaster? I have a little bread; it is very hard, but it is good: we will steep it in the fountain.” She smiled, but made no answer.
“Beautiful lady,” contined Benoite, “will you please to give me that child, which would make us all so happy?”
The lady smiled again, and still she did not answer.
This conversation lasted till night-fall, and was repeated every day. The shepherdess related it in the village. Many persons treated her as a visionary, but some said, “Perhaps it is the Holy Virgin that she has seen.”
“This opinion became general, in consequence of two facts. A peasant of St. Etienne going to burn lime in a kiln which he had close to the rock, where the apparition appeared, said, in his patois:—’ I am going to bake Benoite’s Lady.’ This joke cost him dear; for he burnt ten times more wood than was necessary, without being able to burn his lime. The more he heaped up the wood, the harder grew the lime. Seeing this,” says the author who has bequeathed to us the history of this curious fact, “he prayed for pity to God and his Holy Mother; and was forced to abandon his lime-kiln in that state.”—p. 224.
And this also is related in the ” exemplary life” of the blessed Benoite Rencurel:—
“She used the discipline every day from her fifteenth year until she was forty-five. She wore haircloth fifteen years, and iron bracelets armed with sharp points during twelve years, and iron garters four years, and a corset of tin pierced inside like a rasp for five years. No one excepting her confessor knew the secret of all these penances,”—p. 238.
“We think the whole morality of the Church is comprised in the following particulars:—Fear of hell, self-scourging, torturing the body in order to shake the reasoning faculties, walking blindly under the direction of a confessor who ought to be an angel in virtue, and at least a genius in intelligence a,nd prudence.
Aye, but they are not such beings. To puzzle and stupefy the mind in order to enslave the soul, and raise a dominating influence of their own over the ruins of intellect, is always their aim —these despots have no other system. But, to corrupt according to their wishes; to excite fleshly inclinations in young imaginations, too young to feel them naturally; under the pretence of chastity
and purity, to write dissertations for the use of young girls about obscene subjects, in which they are very frequently treated with less reserve than in medical works—this is a CRIME, a crime unheard of and unpardonable. It can only be accounted for by the unnatural condition of the author of this book, by that enforced celibacy which causes so many enormities.
Now, Reverend Bishop, I call upon you (since you are so zealously anxious for the healthy education and salvation of our daughters) to induce this author to withdraw his book from the hands of his publisher, and to burn all the copies: and then make this priest marry, that he may become virtuous and leave off such writing.