The Eymard legacy: Essay

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Photo of bust of Saint Peter Julian Eymard by Rodin

Saint Peter Julian Eymard
Auguste Rodin
Bronze bust, 1863

 Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868): The legacy and its transmission, Anthony McSweeney, SSS

A person who consults this work to know something about the life, thought and teaching of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and even more the scholar who desires to study his life or spirituality, will wish to know whether the texts published under his name are authentic.

Even a modest acquaintance with the history of the writings of saints or other church figures over the centuries suffices to alert us to the possibility that the texts transmitted to us are not always free of editing that may well have altered their original tenor, at times in very important ways. Several egregious examples will illustrate this claim.
Some historical examples of editorial licence

Cardinal Felice Peretti di Montalto

Our first example comes from sixteenth century Rome.

Before his election as Pope Sixtus V, CardinalFelice Peretti di Montalto took in hand the preparation of an edition of the works of St Ambrose. Church historian Owen Chadwick observes that “the standard of editing [in Rome] .. was not the standard of seventeenth-century France,” and goes on to illustrate his statement by detailing for us the kind of editorial licence exercised by the good Cardinal. Disregarding what Ambrose had actually written, he was apparently unhampered by scruples as he

corrected all the Scriptural quotations to the text of Vulgate, altered the text, transposed words, changed the order of the paragraphs, inserted ceremonial detail which the saint unaccountably omitted, clarified obscurities and suppressed eccentricities.[1]

Once he had become Pope, Sixtus’ editorial confidence knew no bounds; believing himself to be divinely guided, he personally took over the final revision of the Vulgate Bible and freely made changes, recuperating passages that the Papal Commission charged with the task had deleted as manifest interpolations and, even more gravely, omitting passages that were certainly part of the sacred text.

To the despair of prominent Cardinals like Robert Bellarmine, who had urged him with all their might to desist, he had his revised text of the Scriptures printed, together with a Bull of promulgation. All was ready for distribution when, providentially, he was called from this life before the printed texts could be made public and the whole was immediately withdrawn. The church was thereby spared a disaster of incalculable consequences.[2]

Mother Agnes and the writings of Saint Therese of Lisieux

Nearer to our own time is the well-known example of the writings of St Therese of Lisieux. First published by her older sister Pauline (known in the convent as Mother Agnes) under the title of The Story of a Soul, these writings enjoyed a prodigious success. Many years were to pass before it was discovered that Mother Agnes had extensively re-worked her sister’s autograph, making in the process thousands of “cuts, stylistic corrections and insertions.”[3] Experts today speak of it rather as the work of Mother Agnes, a book quite distinct from the one that Therese herself wrote and conveying a spirituality different from hers. Even the widespread characterization of her way as one of “spiritual childhood” has been found to have no basis in the original texts; the expression was never used by Therese herself![4] Mother Agnes, then, did not give us a faithful account of her sister’s thought; rather, she “edited Therese’s manuscript so that it better fit the preconceptions of popular spirituality of that era.”[5]

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The publication of Saint Peter Julian Eymard’s “writings”

It will hardly surprise us to learn, then, that Peter Julian Eymard’s teaching and texts suffered a similar fate at the hands of his first editor, Albert Tesnière, SSS (1847-1909), a young and talented member of Eymard’s Congregation and an ardent, if immature, disciple of the Founder. Only twenty-one years of age at the time of Eymard’s death, Brother (later Father) Tesnière began publishing what he called “extracts of his writings” only two years later. We shall have occasion shortly to discuss the kind and degree of editorial licence he permitted himself in relation to the texts of the Founder.

It was only with the publication of a series of critical editions of Eymard’s autographs, almost a century later, beginning in fact from the year 1961, that truly authentic writings of Eymard were available to the general public. This process culminated in 2008 with the appearance of his Complete Works in the original French, in sixteen volumes,[6] appearing also in an online edition.[7]

The official edition is provided with a full and careful introduction, the texts are accompanied by all the necessary annotations, and their conformity with the autographs has been scrupulously checked. The publication, therefore, is entirely reliable, although of course it cannot restore to us a certain number of original texts that were destroyed by Tesnière. Eymard’s texts have been arranged according to the following categories:

  • Extant correspondence. Vols. II-IV
  • Personal Notes and Jottings. Vols. V-VI
  • Legal texts, principally his various versions of the Constitutions of his Congregations (including annotations, alternative texts, and corrections) and various Statutes (for the Third Order of Mary, for the Servants, and a Directory for the lay associates). Vols. VII-VIII
  • Preaching, Sermons, Conferences, Instructions, Retreats. Vols. IX-XVII

Before we turn to the question of the reliability of the texts attributed to Fr Eymard and published in English, it will be useful to provide a rapid survey the history of the publication of writings under his name. Readers interested only in the question of the authenticity of the published texts attributed to Eymard, may wish to skip this section.

History of publication of “Eymardian” Writings

Since many who consult this work may not be familiar with French, I have translated the following into English.

During Eymard’s lifetime –1850 to 1868

Eymard himself published very little.

  1. In 1850, while still a Marist, he published a pamphlet, Croix indulgenciées pour le chemin de Croix par le père Eymard, Chalon-sur-Saône, 1850 (Stations of the Cross with a special indulgence on the occasion of a mission given by Father Eymard at Chalon-sur-Seine).
  2. The years 1858-1860 saw several articles on his newly-founded La Société du T. S. Sacrement (Society of the Blessed Sacrament), as the Congregation was at first known, in the Annales du Saint-Sacrement of Lyon: 1st year (1858-1859), 2nd Year (1859-1860).
  3. 1861 saw an article on his work of First Communion of Workers in the form of a letter addressed to the same review, Annales du Saint-Sacrement, and published in the section ‘Report of the Year 1860-1861.’
  4. Regula Presbyterorum Societatis Sanctissimi Sacramenti, Paris, 1863 (the first printed edition of his Constitutions of the Congregation that saw the light in 1863 and was presented in Rome in the Spring of that year.
  5. Regula Presbyterorum Societatis Sanctissimi Sacramenti, Paris, 1864 (a revised edition of the Constitutions of the Congregation printed earlier in the year; this project was drawn up in October 1863 while Eymard was staying at the house of his friend, the philosopher, Blanc de Saint-Bonnet).
  6. He contributed eight articles, between 1864 and 1866, for his newly-founded review, Le Très Saint-Sacrement, to which he gave the sub-title: “Bulletin of all that concerns the Eucharist under the Direction of Rev. Fr. Eymard.” These articles appeared regularly over the thirteen months of the review’s short life, dealing with the following subjects:
    • Le siècle de l’Eucharistie (The Century of the Eucharist).
    • L’Eucharistie, c’est la vie (The Eucharist is Life).
    • Œuvre de la Première communion des ouvriers (Work of the First Communion of Workers).
    • Pourquoi l’Eucharistie (Why the Eucharist).
    • Première communion des ouvriers (First Communion of Workers).
    • Les catacombes et l’Eucharistie (The Catacombs and the Eucharist).
    • Noel et l’Eucharistie (Christmas and the Eucharist).
    • La Fête-Dieu (Corpus Christi).
  7. Méthode d’adoration par les quatre fins du sacrifice, Nantes, Missionnaires de l’Immaculée Conception de Nantes, 1867 (Method of adoration by the four ends of sacrifice).

Tesnière’s “Series” 1870-1876

Shortly after Eymard’s death, Albert Tesnière began the publication of a series of texts drawn from various sources (notably from Eymard’s own notes and jottings together with notes taken by other persons of Eymard’s talks, sermons and conferences, some few of which the Founder had corrected personally).

  1. La divine Eucharistie, sujets pour l’adoration du Très-Saint-Sacrement extraits des écrits du T.-R.-P. Eymard, Fondateur de la Société du Très-Saint-Sacrement. Première Série, La Présence réelle, Paris, 1870 (The Divine Eucharist, subjects for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, extracted from the writings of the V. Rev. Fr. Eymard, Founder of the Society of the Blessed Sacrament. First Series: The Real Presence).
  2. La divine Eucharistie, deuxième série, La Sainte Communion et la vie de communion à Jésus-Hostie, Paris, 1871 (The Divine Eucharist, second Series, Holy Communion and the Life of Communion with Jesus-Host).
  3. La divine Eucharistie, troisième série, Retraites aux pieds de Jésus-Eucharistie, Paris, 1873 (The Divine Eucharist, third Series, Retreats at the Feet of Jesus-Eucharist).
  4. La divine Eucharistie, quatrième série, L’Eucharistie et la perfection chrétienne, Paris, 1876 (The Divine Eucharist, fourth Series, The Eucharist and Christian Perfection).

Later publications: 1889-1961

  1. Directoire des Agrégés du Très-Saint-Sacrement (The Handbook of Lay-Associates), published by Frs Eugene Seers and Eugene Couet in the review Le Très Saint-Sacrement, between November 1889 and June 1890).
  2. Five volumes of letters (totalling 1595) published by Fr. Edmund Tenaillon, postulator of the Cause of Father Eymard, with the general title: Recueil des écrits du VA. Père Pierre-Julien Eymard, fondateur de la Congrégation du Très Saint-Sacrement (Collection of the Writings of the Venerable Peter-Julian Eymard, Founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament).
    • Tome I. Lettres à ses premiers compagnons, Rome, 1899 (Letters to his first companions).
    • Tome II. Lettres à la Rvde Mère Marguerite, Rome, 1900 (Letters to Rev. Mother Margaret).
    • Tome III. Lettres à ses sœurs et à plusieurs membres de ses deux congrégations, Paris, 1902 (Letters to his Sisters and various members of his two Congregations).
    • Tome IV. Lettres de direction à des personnes du monde, Paris, 1901 (Letters of Direction to persons of the world).
    • Tome V. Lettres de direction à des personnes du monde, Paris, 1902 (Letters of Direction to persons of the world).
  3. La divine Eucharistie, cinquième série, L’Eucharistie et la vie chrétienne, Paris, 1933 (The Divine Eucharist, fifth Series, The Eucharist and the Christian Life). Prepared by Fr H. Evers under the supervision of Fr Eugene Couet, it was intended to complete the work begun sixty years earlier by Fr Tesnière; it also included the Directoire des Agrégés du Très-Saint-Sacrement (theHandbook, mentioned above), and extracts from the letters, published from 1899 to 1902.
  4. Following a decision of the 1949 General Chapter of the Congregation, a special Commission was appointed to publish a new series of texts considered suitable “for the use of the faithful.” Published from 1950 to 1954, the following seven volumes appeared:
    • La Sainte Eucharistie, La Présence Réelle, I. 1950 (The Holy Eucharist: The Real Presence).
    • La Sainte Eucharistie, La Présence Réelle, II.1951 (The Holy Eucharist: The Real Presence).
    • La Sainte Eucharistie, Fêtes et Mystères, I.1950 (The Holy Eucharist: Feasts and Mysteries).
    • La Sainte Eucharistie, Fêtes et Mystères, II.1951 (The Holy Eucharist: Feasts and Mysteries).
    • La Sainte Eucharistie, La Sainte Messe et la Sainte Communion, 1953 (The Holy Eucharist: Holy Mass and Holy Communion).
    • Ecrits Spirituels, I, Le Prêtre, 1950 (Spiritual Writings, I. The Priest).
    • Ecrits Spirituels, II, La vie chrétienne et l’Eucharistie, 1954 (Spiritual Writings, I. Christian Life and the Eucharist).

    Fr Lauréat Saint-Pierre writes of this edition: “Numerous comparisons with the originals have allowed us to observe that the editors have taken account more of usefulness for the faithful than they have of the rigorous norms required for a critical edition and for authenticity.”[8]

  5. In 1957 a new edition of a text already published by Fr Tesnière, Retraite prêchée aux religieux du T. S. Sacrement du 7 au 15 août 1867 (Retreat Preached to the Religious of the Blessed Sacrament from 7th to the 15th August 1867), appeared. As a result of the careful restoration of the text by Fr Eugene Núñez, the reader was now able to see for the first time – Saint-Pierre observes – the kind and extent of the additions and re-arrangements introduced by Tesnière into the original text.
  6. 1961 saw the appearance of Textes choisis et présentés par Henri Evers s.s.s., doctrine, ascétique, pastorale, Namur, 1961 (Blessed Peter Julian Eymard, Texts selected and presented by Fr Henri Evers, SSS, doctrine, asceticism, pastoral), as part of the collection Les Ecrits des Saints (Writings of the Saints), published by Éditions Soleil Levant. The merit of this edition was to include more material from the latter part of the Founder’s life (1865-1868), providing a better idea of his mature thought.

The Critical Editions – 1961-2008

  1. As noted above, the publication of a series of critical editions was undertaken from 1961 on; the task was entrusted to the care of Fr Eugene Núñez, who was determined, as he states, to respect “the principles of scientific textual criticism.” The volumes published were:
    • Retraite aux religieux de Marseille, janvier 1862, Rome, 1961 (Retreat to the Religious of Marseilles, January 1862).
    • Retraites Eucharistiques paroissiales, Tarare, Herblay, janvier, mars 1862, Rome, 1962 (Parish Eucharistic Retreats, Tarare, Herblay, January, March 1862).
    • Retraites aux religieux de Paris; Prédication Eucharistique (juin-septembre 1862), Rome, 1962 (Retreat to the Religious of Paris; Eucharistic Preaching (June-September 1862)).
    • La grande Retraite de Rome, 25 janvier – 30 mars 1865, Rome, 1962 (The Great Retreat of Rome, 25th January – 30th March 1865); Première Retraite de Rome, 17-25 mai 1863), Rome, 1963 (First Retreat of Rome, 25th January 1863).
    • Retraites 1864, Dreux…, Rennes…, Angers…, Rome, 1964 (Retreats 1864, Dreux,… Rennes,… Angers…).
    • Vol. I. Quaestiones introductoriae, Rome 1965.
    • Vol. II. Textus primae ae secundae periodi 1854/5-1859, Rome, 1966.
    • Vol. III. Textus tertiae periodi 1859-1863, Rome, 1967.
    • Vol. IV. Textus quartae periodi 1863-1868, Rome, 1968.
  2. The publication of a critical edition of all of Eymard’s legislative writings in view of his Constitutions was got under way by Núñez, with the assistance of Father Réal Gauthier, in 1965; it brought together, in four volumes, the Founder’s completed texts, together with all the variations, annotations, corrections and revisions he brought to them from 1854 till his death in 1868. These are nearly all in Latin and were published at the rate of one volume every year from 1965 to 1968.
  3. The final official publication in this series prior to the more recent edition of the Complete Works was Eymard’s Retraite de Saint-Maurice (27 Avril – 2 Mai 1868), Rome, 1968 (Retreat of Saint-Maurice 27th April – 2nd May 1868), which came out in 1968, once again a fruit of the patient and competent editorial labours of Fr Eugene Núñez.

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The authenticity of the “Eymardian” texts published in English

It is now time to specify which of the English language texts attributed to Fr Eymard are based on critical editions and which are not; and furthermore, to indicate in what way the texts that have not been translated from critical editions are to be considered generally unsatisfactory and, at times, more or less seriously misleading.

Fortunately, we can demonstrate this state of affairs in considerable detail thanks to the thorough, carefully documented and voluminous study undertaken several years before his death by Donald Cave, foremost expert on Eymard, in his The “Writings” of St. Peter Julian Eymard 1811-1868: Studies concerning his written and spoken word especially as these concern the Vow of the Personality. (Études sur les origines de la Congrégation du Saint-Sacrement, Vol. VI). Melbourne: Blessed Sacrament Fathers, 1999.

Most of the re-worked texts belong to the collection compiled by Tesnière and for long known as the “Series,” both in its original edition and in the revised and re-printed edition published from 1950 to 1954. It has been re-published in English in more recent times as The Eymard Library, 9 Volumes,Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament/Emmanuel Publications (1992 and still in print).

Since none of the English texts translated from the French prior to the appearance of the critical editions is an entirely safe guide to Eymard’s thought, we can list the English-language publications currently available which faithfully reproduce Eymard’s original texts or the texts of those who took notes while he was speaking. They are basically only two:

  1. The Life and Letters of Saint Peter Julian Eymard Founder. Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, Fathers and Brothers, Congregation of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament and a Eucharistic Association for the Laity. Translated and arranged chronologically by Sister Catherine Marie Caron, SSS. In six volumes (without indication of date or place of publication). The title is somewhat misleading in so far as this publication is not a biography of Father Eymard but a faithful translation of his extant letters accompanied by some background information.
  2. Eymard, Peter Julian. Retreat Notes. From the French Critical Edition, Translation by William LaVerdiere, S.S.S. New York: Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, 1969. The volume consists of personal notes for retreats on three different occasions: the first was a week-long retreat in Rome in 1863; the second and largest section constitutes a major spiritual document, known as his “Great Retreat,” held in Rome from January 25th to March 30th 1865; the third set of notes is from his final six-day retreat at Saint-Maurice, near Paris, in 1867. The translator appears to have been faithful, despite some lapses.

While this volume does faithfully give us Eymard’s words, the introductions from the pen of Fr Eugene Núñez need to be read with caution where it is question of the interpretation of the Founder’s experience. While the author is generally sober and cautious in his personal opinions, he hews close to what was the “orthodox” view of Eymard’s mission and spirituality in the institute at the time; in particular, he relies excessively and rather uncritically on what qualified recent authors regard as Tesnière’s erroneous and quite untenable views.

To these two publications we can add a number of the biographies and studies of Eymard that quote his words on the basis of critically verified texts; they include:

  1. André Guitton, Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) Apostle of the Eucharist. Ponteranica: Centro Eucaristico, 1996. Guitton makes much use of Eymard’s letters.
  2. Norman Pelletier, Tomorrow Will Be Too Late. A Life of Saint Peter Julian Eymard 1811-1868. Cleveland: Blessed Sacrament Fathers, 1992.
  3. Lauréat Saint-Pierre, The Hour of the Cenacle in the Life and Works of Peter-Julian Eymard. A translation of chapters V, VI, VII of L’Heure du Cénacle (1968) by Hervé Thibault, S.S.S. Rome: Editions of the General House of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, 1991. Thibault’s translation is generally (and sometimes excessively) free, even racy. In his effort to make Eymard sound contemporary, he has recourse at times to expressions Eymard could never have employed. To give just one example: where Eymard speaks of “the faithful” at Mass, Thibault translates “assembly.” That may be perfectly familiar for us, but it is quite anachronistic as a translation. In Eymard’s time it would have sounded very unusual and altogether too “protestant!”
  4. Donald Cave, An Eymardian Spirituality [Études sur les origines de la Congrégation du Saint-Sacrement Vol. V] English Edition. Rome: Blessed Sacrament Congregation, 1995.
  5. The Vow of the Personality. Four Essays by Members of the Commission for the Study of the Founder and His Work [Études sur les origines de la Congrégation du Saint-Sacrement Vol. VII] Rome, 2001. The work contains a series of studies dedicated to Eymard’s major spiritual testament, the 1865 “Great Retreat,” under the editorship of Donald Cave, who provides the brief introduction together with a comparative study of conceptions of the “Eucharistic life” found in the late Eymard and in Albert Tesnière (de Cuers), for long the Founder’s standard interpreter. André Guitton studies Eymard’s “Vow of the Personality,” an act of dedication that climaxed the retreat; Manuel Barbiero, author of a study of Eymard and the religious life, furnishes some interpretative keys for reading the retreat notes; Sister Valentine Bouchard offers an essay on Eucharistic adoration as Eymard understood it at that time.

In regard to the texts constituting the Eymard Library (including all earlier publications of texts belonging to the Series) the following points should be noted:[9]

  • The published material attributed to Eymard by Fr Albert Tesnière has been drawn from a heterogeneous collection of primary sources, ranging from hand-written manuscripts, jottings in Eymard’s personal journal and notes taken by others during his talks and sermons to articles he wrote for a popular magazine; they may also contain, on occasion, extracts from his letters, sketches for a handbook for lay associates, sermon notes sometimes scribbled while travelling in a train, and so on.
  • The sources are generally not acknowledged in the published texts.
  • A good number of these published texts were never composed or spoken by Saint Peter Julian in the form in which they appear in the printed edition. They are not infrequently free compositions of the editor, who made use of passages from the above sources, which he then assembled into chapters or series of conferences. If very often they do reproduce Eymard’s actual words, at other times what we have before us is a text either elaborated from the author’s sketchy notes or reconstructed from notes taken down by those present when Eymard spoke. We are never informed which is the case.
  • Considerable liberty has been exercised in this whole process, entailing sometimes substantial changes regarding not only style but also content; such changes were made without informing the readers who were to take up the texts in the belief that they were reading the authentic writings of the Saint.
  • By the expression “free compositions” I am referring to a procedure of the editor who, on occasion, has changed the order of conferences in a retreat, for example, or assembled disparate pieces from vastly different times of Eymard’s life to create a new unity – a piece from such and such a setting for an opening, another from somewhere else to develop or complete the thought, and so on. In his private correspondence, Tesnière calls this his “mosaic method.” However, he never informs us, his unsuspecting readers, of what he has done. So we read the finished product mistakenly believing that what we have before us is a talk or a conference or a series of conferences composed as such by Eymard.
  • As well as carrying out unimpeachable editorial interventions, such as corrections of grammar, Tesnière also made far more substantial changes to the texts he had before him. Not only did he make changes in language and have recourse, on occasion, to paraphrases – especially of biblical texts – but he also frequently expanded and modified, or even on occasion omitted, certain of Eymard’s statements.
  • In a number of cases, we no longer have any possibility of checking the accuracy of the texts, since the originals were destroyed on Tesnière’s orders after being copied. The texts that concern us here are above all those that have survived from Eymard’s conferences and instructions to the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. There is indisputable evidence, moreover, that these copies were themselves subjected to modification and re-working prior to publication.
    By a stroke of good fortune and due to the scruples of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament who were deputed to burn the originals, some of these fair copies were secretly saved from the flames. As a result, we are able to compare what, on the one hand, the editor had before his eyes and, on the other, the text he eventually made public or preserved in fair copy. The scope and nature of his editorial activity is therefore plainly visible in these presumably representative samples for anyone who wishes to examine his published text and ascertain its relation to the fair copy.
    It is not unreasonable to suppose, therefore, that the texts we can no longer check against the originals (because the originals were destroyed) were subjected to similar changes, in kind and extent, to those that he made to the texts for which the reliable fair copies have survived. We must affirm, in consequence, and with a reasonable degree of certitude, that of the texts published by Tesnière as Eymard’s “writings” few, if any, can safely be considered in the strict sense authentic.
  • On the other hand, students of Eymard seem to be agreed in trusting Tesnière’s notes recording Eymard’s casual remarks and more extended conversations. Since he had an excellent memory, and there is no reason to believe that these notes have been through a process of editing, they are generally considered to be as reliable as such sources can be.
  • A further drawback entailed in the editor’s procedures is that no distinction is generally made in the printed editions between texts Eymard wrote for publication and the others of such diverse genre and provenance as indicated above. The reader therefore has no way of telling whether a specific text represents Eymard’s considered thought or whether it was no more than a hasty ad hoc jotting, something he summarised from a book in view of a talk or article, a reconstruction by someone else, an elaboration and re-interpretation of what he said, and so on. What Eymard himself might have thought about giving equal weight as an expression of his thinking to such diverse material we can only surmise.

After all this, the reader will surely be curious to know what exactly were the kinds of things Tesnière changed or omitted, why he acted as he did, and what difference it makes. I shall begin with the first two questions and then look at Eymard’s thinking, with a particular interest in its development. This will help us to grasp what has been deformed or obscured by Tesnière’s editorial methods.

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What kind of texts Tesnière changed and why

Tesnière was moved by the same considerations that led Mother Agnes to introduce so many changes into Therese’s autobiographical manuscripts. Both of them were anxious to ensure that the texts they were making available to the general public be well-received or, in Mary Frohlich’s words quoted above, that they might “better fit the preconception of popular spirituality of that era.”[10]

Two further motives also played their part in Tesnière’s manner of proceeding as he got together material for the publication of Eymard’s “writings.”

To protect Eymard from criticism

He was determined, first of all, to forestall criticism. The kind of language Eymard was prone to use on occasion was considered by some in his day to be dangerous and even unorthodox. Terms such as “disinterested” or “pure” love, for example, were highly suspect in the wake of the seventeenth century controversies about grace and mysticism; they left him open to the accusation of quietism, for example.[11] In the anti-mystical and voluntaristic climate of his time Eymard’s preference for such expressions could thus have quickly brought on accusations of unorthodoxy, even of heresy. It was, moreover, one thing to use such terms in preaching, quite another to publish them in writing.

We do not have very far to go to assess whether Tesnière’s fears were well-founded or not; it suffices to listen to one of Eymard’s earliest companions, Fr Armand Champion, third Superior General. Tesnière reports him as having stated the opinion “not in secret, and not only once, but openly to all and loudly, that not a line of the Father’s [thought] is printable and that if one submitted it to Rome, everything he has written would be condemned.”[12] Nor was he alone; Fr Michel Chanuet, chosen by Eymard (for want, it must be said, of other) for the important post of novice master and a stronger personality than Champion, was perhaps more adamantly convinced than he that Eymard’s texts would not pass an examination for orthodoxy.

A second motive had to do with the uncertainties and bitter controversies about the nature and end of the Congregation that raged amongst the religious after the Founder’s death. Tesnière believed that the only way to calm the waters and assure the future of the Congregation was to get Roman approval for Eymard’s work. Once again, his concern was not imaginary since, at one point, the Holy See had seriously considered suppressing the congregation altogether.

Two steps were fundamental to this end: more immediately, papal approval should be sought for the Constitutions, and then (in time) the process in view of canonization of the Founder be got under way. Nothing, therefore, must be allowed to be published under his name that might in any way jeopardize the attainment of these twin goals.

To this end, Tesnière checked and corrected Eymard’s texts, continually referring to the works of a number of respected authors (especially Mons. Charles-Louis Gay (1815-1892), an exponent of the Oratorian school and a disciple of Cardinal Bérulle[13]), ensuring thereby that nothing be allowed to get into print that was not able to be justified by reference to these theological authorities. To this end, Tesnière felt justified in liberally editing Eymard’s texts; he frankly admits as much in a private letter in which he recounts how, in relation to one of Eymard’s texts, “several passages have been rewritten five or six times.”[14]

An excess of self-assurance

Even granted these not unworthy motives, the reader may well be amazed at the “over-weaning” (one is tempted to call it) self-confidence of such a young man as Albert Tesnière was at that time. Still only in his early twenties he was barely ordained priest after what were, at best, very summary studies. Clearly, he had talent; in particular, he was endowed with a virtually photographic memory and an unusually quick, though not profound, intelligence.[15]

Tesnière’s superiors believed too that his excessively emotional attachment to Eymard was a sign of immaturity in need of correction; on the occasion of the death of the Founder, for example, they decided to discipline him for having, as they told him, “wept too much.”

It is true that he enjoyed a certain privilege as a confidant of the Founder at a time when Eymard was becoming acutely aware that none of the older religious accepted or understood him. He turned, understandably, to the younger members, especially Tesnière, the brightest of them, as his only hope of ensuring that his vision might survive.

Taking Eymard’s confidences as a sign of election, Tesnière was quick to don the mantle of the “beloved disciple,” assuming with alacrity the role of authorized interpreter of the Founder’s thought.[16] This he did especially in opposition to the older men who, far less impressed by Eymard than he, believed that they knew as much about what the Congregation should be as the Founder did.[17] Indeed, some of them wished to have Eymard’s first companion, Fr Raymond de Cuers, officially declared “co-founder,” despite the fact that Eymard and he had grown ever further apart, to the point where de Cuers no longer recognized himself in the Congregation as it was being developed by Eymard. In consequence, in 1867 he obtained from Eymard a dispensation in order to pursue his original ideas, now as an independent venture, in a wilderness of Roquefavour in Provence in the South of France.

Even allowing for his sense of investiture as chosen interpreter, the extraordinary editorial liberty Tesnière allowed himself in preparing and publishing what he asserted were the Founder’s “writings” cannot but surprise and disconcert us. The reaction is especially pertinent when we see how he can expand a few lines of notes taken during Eymard’s preaching into a whole page of text.[18] Indeed, knowing his man, one of Tesnière’s companions and future Promoter of the Founder’s Cause, Fr Tenaillon, warned him on one occasion: “Be careful, dear Father, not to use the Founder’s name as a nom de plume under which, knowingly or unknowingly, you glide in thoughts of your own.”[19]

Protests by Eymard’s closest confidants

Some time after Eymard’s death in August 1868, an obituary notice of some thirty lines appeared in a Grenoble paper, La Semaine Religieuse, in which the aim of Eymard’s congregations was described as adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ in the mystery of the Eucharist and reparation for the offences against it. Saint-Pierre believed that the journalist’s source was Fathers Chanuet and Leroyer, both present at the funeral and both loyal disciples of Father de Cuers.

The inaccuracy of this way of presenting Eymard’s work, with its emphasis on reparation, was quickly noticed by two of Eymard’s confidants, Mme Nathalie Jordan and the parish priest of Saint-Romans, Abbé Alexandre Seymat (1814-1898). When nothing further appeared about Eymard for some time, they resolved to provide the public with more accurate information about him.

Eymard had known Mme Jordan since his Marist years in Lyon, from 1845 in fact, when she asked him to be her spiritual director. No one probably knew Eymard’s spirituality better than she did. For he was in the habit of sharing his insights and spiritual experiences with her, telling her on one occasion that they were “sister souls” passing through the same stages of the spiritual journey at the same time. He had stopped a few days with the family, for example, on his return from Rome in 1865, on the conclusion of his long and decisive retreat and shared its fruits with her and her family.

Fr Eymard stopped here on his return from Rome …. He told us he had observed his soul in midday light. He saw the meaning of these words: to make Christ grow in us up to the stage of the perfect man, so that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. … He mentioned that I had stolen all his secrets, that he had not been able to speak so fully to others. You must admit that I have been spoilt.[20]

It is not known whether Eymard shared these insights with members of his community.

To help Abbé Seymat prepare his article she gave him copies of a number of Eymard’s letters of spiritual direction. The article was published in the Mémorial Catholique of Lyon under the pseudonym of A.-M. Saint Croix (a not uncommon practice at the time). A brief extract will give not only the tenor of the article but also an idea of the kind of insight they had found entirely absent from the obituary:

It was not enough for God or for Father Eymard to establish in the world an organisation that would set up on earth, at all points of the globe, Cenacles and static thrones for the King of the human race, by establishing the visible spectacle of perpetual Adoration. It is needful, above all else, to set up such a throne in souls.… The true temple, the authentic tabernacle, the throne of the King is the human soul, where the interior service must be organized … It is then that each soul will become a capital, a divine city, where the will of the Father is done as in heaven… Gens sancta, regale sacerdotium [a holy people, a royal priesthood]… Fr Eymard .. clearly affirms that we can already enter into the kingdom of God and that it is in our midst: intra vos est.[21]

When Tesnière’s short “Life” of Eymard came out in 1870,[22] the Jordan family was, to say the least, little impressed. Mme Jordan’s niece summed up their reaction in writing that she “found in this booklet, which is far from complete … only some of the details and thoughts” contained in Seymat’s article.[23]

When Tesnière informed Mme Jordan of his plans to publish materials from Eymard’s surviving papers, it did not take her long to perceive the excessive freedom with which the young, inexperienced and spiritually immature disciple was handling Eymard’s texts. She reproached him for the excessive liberty he was exercising in his editorial role, mentioning specifically (as we can gather from Tesnière’s own letters) his habit of “changing, supplementing and transforming” Eymard’s texts.[24]

In the light of such a reaction to the wide measure of liberty of interpretation – and, it would not be too much to add, of creativity – Tesnière was granting himself, the question of the level of his understanding of Eymard’s thought becomes all the more urgent. To what degree did he really understand Eymard? To what extent was he in a position to give a faithful account of the Founder’s thinking? For that, it will be necessary to provide, however briefly, an account of the development of the Founder’s thought; but first, a word about Tesnière as a biographer.

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Tesnière as biographer

“Historical consciousness” was not a part of the mindset of nineteenth century hagiographers. If they were able to work, to some extent, with a concept of linear progress, the dynamics of true historical development escaped them. In this respect, John Henry Newman’s 1845 study, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, was a landmark achievement. It is in this area too that the whole Eymardian tradition, beginning with Tesnière and his short Life, is seriously wanting.

In Tesnière’s version of it, Eymard’s vocation as Founder was divinely guaranteed. He had been granted heavenly assurance of God’s will for him no less than five years prior to the actual foundation, thanks to a vision of Mary, the Mother of God, communicating to him her Son’s order to found the Congregation. Its end was to remain unchanged from that moment to his death, namely to give social glorification to Jesus Christ, the divine King, present in the Eucharist by the cult of perpetual adoration and a Eucharistic apostolate oriented to that end.

In fact, Tesnière was in error on both counts. Subsequent historical research has shown, first of all, that there are no serious documentary grounds for positing a vision of Mary or a divine command to found the Congregation. It was all a wishful illation born of Tesnière’s desire to have divine confirmation of Eymard’s grace of foundation.

Nor is it true that Eymard’s conception of the Congregation underwent no significant process of evolution over the twelve years that were to pass between the time of the foundation and his death. To suppose that his conception of the Congregation and of the sacrament on which it was constructed were static or monolithic is to falsify the image of the man and his thinking, as has been abundantly documented by both Saint-Pierre and Cave.

Lavishly and excessively praised[25] as it has been in the congregation, Tesnière’s life of Eymard is a flawed achievement, even if we may admire it as a talented young man’s first literary exploit. Right from the start, the parameters set for it by his Superior General Fr de Cuers, were altogether too narrow: the biographer was instructed by him to “make abstraction from all that was not part of the purely Eucharistic life… Write the Eucharistic man, the Founder. The origins and the time passed before the foundation of our society matter little.”[26]

In reality, the attempt to write a biography of Eymard, while expressly setting aside both his many years of pastoral experience, whether as a diocesan or a religious priest, and the seventeen years of his Marist life in which he had held down important posts of responsibility as a close collaborator of Fr Colin, founder of the Society of Mary (Eymard, it must be remembered, was forty-five years old at the time of his Eucharistic foundation) was, from the outset, condemned to be partial. It could not help truncating the image of the man which would emerge from the author’s pages.

To this initial restriction, Tesnière brought to his task his own limitations as an interpreter, attributing to the Founder views that Eymard himself, as we shall see, had gone beyond and even explicitly repudiated. What, then, was this process of development that Tesnière, it is being claimed, failed to understand?

Eymard’s development

The breakthrough in Eymard studies took place in the late 1960s, with the appearance of two books. Both were successfully presented for academic degrees, the first by a Canadian, Fr Lauréat Saint-Pierre in the Catholic Faculty of Lyon, France, the second by Australian, Fr Donald Cave at the Gregorian University in Rome (earning for its author the gold medal awarded annually for the best thesis in the faculty of church history). Saint-Pierre’s work was published in 1968,[27] Cave’s in the following year, 1969.[28]

Lauréat Saint-Pierre

For Saint-Pierre, the trajectory of Eymard’s spiritual development falls neatly into two halves, the first reflecting the negative, dolorist piety of early nineteenth century France, very present in the saint’s early milieu deeply impregnated with the Jansenist spirit; it was summed up in a kind of motto that punctuated the saint’s prayer: Pro te moriar, “For you I will die.” In the year 1853 a change took place, as Eymard himself recounts. He replaced that motto by another: Pro te vivam, “For you I will live.” The occasion for this change, for our author, was a powerful spiritual experience Eymard had while at prayer at La Seyne in Toulon, in the course of which he experienced a great urge to give himself entirely to the Lord.

The line of his development, then, was from a negative world-denying spirituality to one that was increasingly positive and affirmative of nature and of creation, representing for our author a more mystical vision and the beginnings of a christian humanism.

Saint-Pierre sees a parallel development taking place in Eymard’s understanding of the Eucharist. The starting point was a static model of the sacrament, relying on a crudely localized concept of the divine presence in the sacrament and calling for a response of perpetual adoration centred on the throne of exposition. The author likens this idea to Jewish worship centred on the temple of Jerusalem. He believes that a different model came to determine Eymard’s mature thinking, one based now on the idea of the cenacle where the community gathered to celebrate the memorial of the Lord’s Passover. This evolution reflects the christian reinterpretation of the temple symbolism, applied both to the community of faith but also to the interiority of the believer.[29] For this latter dimension Eymard coined the phrase “the interior Cenacle.”

Despite a tendency to force this contrast in an excessively schematic way, leading him to pass over texts that would suggest that the shift in the Founder’s thinking was neither as consistent nor as comprehensive as he would wish, later students of the Founder are nonetheless agreed that, while needing to be more nuanced, Saint-Pierre’s insight is substantially correct. The abundance of texts the author is able to quote in support of his view is certainly impressive. He also helped to document the decisive role that was played by Eymard’s two-month stay in Rome in 1865, just three years before his early death, when he spent much of his time in retreat in the Redemptorist monastery on the Esquiline Hill.

Donald Cave

While the subject of Cave’s thesis is much narrower in scope than Saint-Pierre’s, it is proportionately more detailed in its analysis, extremely well-documented and more minutely and soberly argued. It deals with a five-year period stretching from Eymard’s alleged vision of Our Lady in Fourvière in 1851 to the moment of foundation in May 1856 in Paris. Cave was able to demonstrate that, far from having a heaven-sent certitude, Eymard was much exercised in these years with discerning God’s will for him.

In a fascinating piece of historical sleuthing he dismantles the fragile structure of Tesnière’s claim that Eymard was granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin conveying a divine command to found an institute dedicated to the Eucharist. He shows as well not only how Eymard’s years of uncertainty and doubt would be altogether unintelligible on the hypothesis of a heavenly visitation, but also how Eymard himself, when asked the precise question by his superiors, formally and explicitly denied any such visionary experience.

With Cave’s study, Eymard became for the first time for many of his latter-day disciples a more human person – a much more truly believable and fascinating human being, struggling like the rest of us to discern in the complexity and contradictions of his human experience, what exactly God wanted of him and, in consequence, responding with an integrity and fidelity as rare as it is admirable.

In his later studies, Cave both deepened his exploration into the period in which Eymard was led to the foundation and opened up a new field of research into the way Tesnière, in particular, transmitted the Eymardian heritage. In this more recent work, Cave examined Eymard’s spiritual development, notably some of his most important later concepts, particularly the “gift of the personality,” which he carefully distinguishes from the earlier “gift of self.” In the course of these studies he shows the influence of Eymard’s reading of the Eastern fathers on his understanding of holy communion, while expressing his fundamental agreement with the main thrust of Saint-Pierre’s conclusions.

It is now time to give attention to the development upon which these two studies have thrown new light. I will trace two distinct but converging lines. In regard to both, the long retreat Eymard made in Rome in early 1865 was a watershed moment. This unusually long pause in a very busy life was an exceptional opportunity that Eymard made full use of. He was fifty four and unknown to him he had before him only three more years of life and very great set-backs and sufferings to deal with.

The two lines of development I have in mind consist of the process of personal transformation and the remarkable deepening and re-centering of his grasp of the Eucharist. The way these two converge constitutes part of Eymard’s greatness. His grasp of the mystery, in other words, went hand in hand with a great deepening of interiority in his spiritual life.

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A process of spiritual transformation

In relation to his spiritual transformation what is interesting is to see how Eymard was struggling to get free of two sets of conditioning factors. On the one hand there was the spiritual heritage of his time and milieu – negative, doloristic and dualistic, more than tinged with the Jansenism that had so deeply penetrated the French spiritual world. On the other, was the influence of his own personality type.

Perhaps precisely because of his introspective bent, he became interested early in his life in the notion of personality typology. To speak of personality type for a nineteenth century figure may seem at first sight surprising and even anachronistic, but it is a noteworthy feature of Eymard’s story that the question of identifying his own personality type did in fact both interest him and influence his thinking.

Clear evidence of this can be seen in the many pages of notes on the matter he left behind him, dating already from 1839. They document his study of the ancient system of the humours then in vogue; he was to come back on the matter several times in the years to follow.

Seeking a clue in Eymard’s personality type

According to this ancient system, derived from Greek humoural medicine, human health and emotion are controlled by a mix of body fluids known as “humours” (the term means, literally, juice or sap). The dominance of one or other of these fluids was believed to give rise to each of the four classical temperaments: melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric.[30] This in turn was connected with what were believed to be the four basic elements of the universe – earth, air, fire and water.

The theory was one of the first attempts to account for a commonly observed fact, namely that the attitudes and behaviour of people often display certain common traits, leading attentive observers to want to group them into types on the basis of resemblances or characteristics that they seem to have in common. Many have believed that it is possible, in consequence, to develop a series of categories that would constitute a more or less comprehensive classification system, whereby people could be assigned to one or other of a determinate number of identifiable types.

Leaving aside the question of the scientific value of the system available to Eymard in his time, we can say that the humour-based typology did enable him to become more aware of certain aspects of his own personality.

Identifying himself as the “bilious” or melancholic type, he saw the characteristics of his type as “ambitious, seeking human glory, always wanting to be first and to dominate.” This brief description he filled out on another occasion by adding, amongst other things, that such types are also “stubborn, tenacious, self-opinionated.”[31] He saw a kinship especially between his own type and the element of fire – a recurrent image in his preaching and manuscripts – ardent, mobile, and changeable; but also easily quenched by discouragement. Interestingly, he noted in his journal that the dreams of persons of his type are of “fire, conflagrations, wars, and murders!”

The perfectionist personality

Learning what we can from Eymard’s recourse to the humoural typology which he found helpful in his own quest for self-knowledge, I would suggest that we stand to gain a surer insight into Eymard’s personality structure if we turn to a well-known category used in contemporary psychotherapy, that of the perfectionist. Reading his personal notes in the light of the perfectionist type throws precious light, I believe, on tendencies that have long perplexed his readers.

First, then, let us describe briefly what is meant by this term today,[32] keeping in mind that we are examining a tendency that has become problematic. Obviously, the extent to which a perfectionist component, like other characteristics, has a determining influence in the functioning of the personality can vary considerably; if in some people it can play a largely constructive role, in others it may distort personal functioning to a more or less serious degree. This can result in much frustration and unhappiness, leading to the diminishment of their creativity and to under-achievement, and even in certain cases to a state of virtual personal paralysis.

Very briefly, the perfectionist personality is constructed around the implicit and unquestioned belief that “anything short of perfect is unacceptable.”[33] Perfectionists worry about their short-comings, they tend to be anxious about future performance and guilty about past errors, going back over mistakes again and again. Believing that they have some obscure badness within them and acutely aware of their failings, they suffer from low self-esteem. Their characteristic emotional undertone is anger – first of all against themselves, and then towards all that falls short of perfection around them. They tend, therefore, to be judgmental and very critical. All of this leads them to be ever vigilant and unwilling to let go of control, since they cannot be sure that others will do things well enough. They are usually prone to overwork.

The long Rome Retreat

During his two-month long retreat in Rome, in 1856, Eymard had a growing sense of the nature and magnitude of the change in attitude and stance towards which he was being drawn. It was, as we have seen, a watershed moment and constitutes the obvious starting point for discussing the personal development he underwent in his final years. The notes from that retreat accurately document his searching, his hesitations and the new insights that were emerging.

Appropriately, his retreat began on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul and that remarkable event, set the agenda for the sustained effort that was to follow. Eymard began by focusing attention especially on the risen Jesus’ words to the Apostle, “Why are you persecuting me?” Despite its numerous meanderings, his attempt to answer this question and set out on a new path constituted the guiding thread of the whole retreat linking the beginning with the final act of consecration to God, arrived at two months later after a sustained effort to overcome the resistance he felt within him to the work of God’s grace.

He has two major concerns as he begins his retreat.

In the first place, he is thinking of his responsibilities as the initiator of a new way of life – his role as Founder – with its task of forming his companions in the spirit of the Institute.

The second aspect concerns his need to detect and overcome the obstacles to his own sanctification, and here he focuses above all on two questions. First, there is exteriority, namely a bent for activity, both in his approach to worship and in his apostolate in general, but also in his inner life, too much at the mercy of impulse – of the frenetic activity of his own faculties of mind and imagination, affections and will.[34] The second is the resistance he feels to relinquishing the sovereignty of self-interest that he sees as corrupting everything he does, even his most religious activities; how – he asks – can I hand over my life to God?

On the personal level the retreat signals the move to a deeper level of interiority. A more interior and contemplative dimension comes increasingly to the fore, balancing if not entirely displacing the perfectionistic striving and asceticism of his earlier life. At first aggressive and even violent, his striving for holiness was now taking on more of the character of responsiveness to God’s leading than that of ascetical effort.

For Eymard these two guiding ideas of his retreat – his role of Founder and his personal sanctification – were intimately connected; to deal with the second was to solve the problem of the first. We can sum up the major thrust of the retreat, then, as the search for a greater interiority, the effort to reach and abide in the “centre” where the Lord dwells in him in the Spirit, and to become attentive to the Lord’s leading rather than to his own desires and impulses. His ideal, drawn from meditation on the fourth gospel, was to be towards Jesus as Jesus was towards the Father.

But what must I do primarily? Work on my soul, on my inner life, on myself first of all. “Christ[35] who dwells in me does his works” (Jn 14, 10). But how shall I succeed in making him dwell in me? By dwelling in him; our Lord will dwell in me in proportion to my dwelling in him. This dwelling results from the repeated gift of self, from a homage activated by acts of virtue, fortified and sustained in love but an effective love, not a self-gratifying love. Fire is not its own end, neither is life, since it spends and devotes itself.[36]

His central struggle was, as I have suggested above, to liberate himself from the harsh and crippling voluntarism that was reinforced by the perfectionism proper to his personality type. His daily journal entries fall roughly into two parts, the earlier stage characterized above all by searching, a restless self-interrogation punctuated by frequent self-accusations and acts of repentance, the second notably more serene and marked by a steadily growing emphasis on union with God.[37]

Eymard believed that behind the numerous faults he saw in himself he could detect a consistent underlying pattern; the various defects, he believed, tended to cohere, to form a unified whole. He looked for a term to give body to this intuition, speaking most often of the “self” (in French, the moi) or even, towards the end of his life, simply of his “personality.” Not a trained thinker Eymard is often imprecise, especially when he attempts to elaborate his insights, but in my long experience of reading his writings I have learned that we gain most by being attentive to his more intuitive moments –when he captures an insight on the wing, so to speak.

The interplay between two “voices

I have found it helpful to think of this struggle in terms of the interplay between two “voices,” one analytic and harshly condemning, determined to put to death or “mortify” the self; the other gentle and peaceful, seeking to encourage openness to God’s action within him. Following the ways in which these two voices interact is, in a rather uncanny way, not unlike the experience of listening to the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s concerto for piano and orchestra No 4 in G major, op. 58, in which a strident threatening theme given to the orchestra is eventually overcome by the gentle melody of the piano.[38]

Several passages from Eymard’s personal jottings allow us to detect the co-presence of the two “voices.” In the first of such passages Eymard expresses his life-long aspiration to be free of self; the statement this time is factual, not particularly weighted with the kind of negative emotional charge it so often has in Eymard, and is couched in the traditional language of asceticism: “I must die to self, or rather I must give myself totally to our Lord.”[39] It is followed at once by another that has a markedly gentler tone.

Eleven days later a similar juxtaposition of “voices” occurs, but this time their order is inverted; the first concerns God’s work in him, while the second announces the long-familiar scenario of spiritual warfare:

The first is to live the life of Jesus in me … That is precisely the mission of the Holy Spirit. … The second is to follow Jesus Christ in his war against the flesh and the spirit of the flesh.”[40]

Two and a half weeks later, on February 24th, the simultaneous presence of the two contrasting voices has by now become crystal clear. Meditating on how to become a true servant of Jesus Christ, entirely at his orders, Eymard goes on:

But that calls for a change of command, of leadership, of principle; a revolution is in order, one of sheer power that resorts to fire and chains, and brings on the death of the ‘old self.’ How should I proceed? The Holy Spirit will come upon you and clothe you with power from on high.[41]

The first “voice” draws on the long-familiar and aggressive language that bespeaks his chimerical dream of exercising absolute control, by force of will or “sheer power” as he puts it here, over every aspect of his behaviour.

But the second “voice” at once intervenes to tell him something quite different, namely, that it is not his ego – driving his ascetical fervour – that must be the agent of such a revolution. The needed power must be received from Another; not his to command, it must be given to him from “on high!”

The practical resolution that follows reveals an important shift in balance. Following the initial declaration of war, expressive of his ascetical bent, this resolution is apt to catch us by surprise; it may even puzzle us, since it manifestly has nothing at all to do with violent self-domination. Instead, it is about attention.

I took the resolution to read the Word of God with a very deep respect and to pronounce with affection the liturgical prayers of holy church.[42]

We might add in passing that here Eymard is connecting, though quite without knowing it, with one of the central notions of Jewish prayer, kawannah, “the attention of the heart.”[43]

My contention is that attention to these two “voices” helps us to identify opposed tendencies in Eymard’s spiritual struggle.

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An exercise in discrimination

What I have called the first “voice” has an ascetical, aggressive, sometimes violent character, reflecting a deep drive in his personality that had fuelled the years of struggle for self-mastery and holiness. This perfectionistic impetus accompanied his ardent desire for goodness and holiness but should not be identified with it, since it embodies certain negative features of the perfectionist personality.

One tell-tale sign betraying the complex constitution of his pursuit of holiness is the presence of resentment, of anger at his own faults and failings. In fact, Eymard was himself drawn to query this anger on a number of occasions; he sensed astutely that it did not derive from the action of the divine Spirit in him. A further sign is his at times obsessive penchant for prolonged self-analysis.

The entry of the second “voice” inevitably catches the reader by surprise by its sharp contrast with the first one. For it breathes a quite different spirit, one of peace, acceptance, receptivity to the divine, a positive openness to the action of the Spirit within him, a humble readiness to receive a gift.

It seems to me Eymard’s problem was to learn to free himself from the element of violence in his compulsive perfectionism and to become more attentive to God’s work within him, especially by an acceptance without resentment or bitter self-accusation of his own flawed humanity.

Compulsive self-analysis

Many readers of his personal notes have been disconcerted by the obsessive character of Eymard’s self-analysis. On page after page he practises on himself a kind of psychological vivisection, unflaggingly wielding the scalpel of his probing intelligence to expose his every weakness and defect. Anguished at the presence of what he calls a mysterious “badness”[44] within him, he seems to be driven relentlessly to seek to uncover its hidden roots.

In the process he does, it is true, register some penetrating insights, but many readers have felt that these moments are not infrequently marred by a habit of resorting to sweeping and at times wildly exaggerated statements of self-condemnation.[45] It seems like a misguided effort to force himself to be humble by dint of a tireless rehearsal of the evidence of his worthlessness. The reader will surely feel at this point that such attempts are less the fruit of insight than they are a product of the psychological need of the perfectionist to heap blame upon himself.

It is hardly surprising, then, that at times he seems to lose himself in the labyrinth of self, bewildered in the face of his own behaviour, distressed before the enigma of his own contradictions. As he frankly admits on more than one occasion, he is a puzzle to himself

My life is a mystery to me; I seem to want no one but God alone, and yet at every moment I find myself loving no one but myself, working only at what appeals to me, devoting myself only to what I desire, love or hope for.[46]

While commentators have generally preferred to account for Eymard’s relentless denunciations of his failings by an appeal to his humility, it is probably nearer to the mark to see it as a compulsive trait. Obsessive self-analysis is, after all, the hallmark and the trap of the perfectionist. He is driven by the implicit belief that if only he can see clearly what is there then will he be able to change it.

What he himself does see at times, however fleetingly, is that his restless self-laceration is fuelled in large part by anger, not love; he senses that the relentless drive to investigate his faults is, at times at least, more a product of the ego, desirous of domination, than a sign of the action of the Holy Spirit in him. Significantly, the more he tries to get to the bottom of things, as just noted, the more lost he gets; he just sees more and more “wretchedness.”[47]

The only way out of such a dead-end, the endless exploration of his ills, is humble acceptance and trusting abandonment to God by learning to listen to what I have designated as the second voice within him. He needed to realize that the great saints too are burdened with many of their defects till the day they die and that God does not require that humans be perfect in order to achieve his work in them.

An elusive answer

The thing that constantly tended to elude him, it seems, was a clear and consistent perception that the drive for perfection was itself in need of purification, being infected by a certain pride – the perfectionist’s angry rejection of his imperfections. Certainly, Eymard accuses himself again and again of “vanity,”[48] but he does not fully realize – despite the momentary flash of insight when he ruminated, “one would say that self-love was put out at [my] being so vile”[49] – that the very anger that accompanies these accusations was itself a product of that self-same vanity.

In other words, all his best efforts to perfect himself, inevitably and unconsciously brought his perfectionism into play. The point is that the self cannot cast out the self! At times he gets so near to seeing this, writing at a certain moment, for example, that “the natural cannot bring about the supernatural.”[50]

A disconcerting thing about Eymard is that, while the pages of his notebooks are studded with often penetrating insights, he does not always grasp their importance. Often enough he seems, quite simply, to forget them. For example, some four years prior to his great Retreat he did note perceptively that people of his personality type “do not want to put their salvation in the will of God.” Rather, “they want to win their salvation by butting (coups de tête), they are always driven, they do violence to themselves,” an attitude he contrasts with the stance of Jesus, “who was in the gentleness of love, and not in violence.”[51]

That was the insight he certainly needed to follow up. In this respect, I suspect that Eymard was mistaken about his lack of need of a spiritual director. His claim that God had not given him a spiritual director because he would have become too attached to him has always seemed to me disingenuous, a convenient and rather specious rationalization; more soberly, at one point he offers a quite different account of the matter, saying that the failure to seek a director was due rather to his “character” and his “laziness.”[52]

Once again, though, he did not seem to see any need to follow this insight further. An astute director might well have been able to remind him of certain insights that he was prone so easily to forget. Whether he would have found such a director in his milieu is, of course, another question.

Learning from the second “voice”

It is here that we see the importance of the second “voice” I have detected in his interior dialogues, the voice that spoke to him of surrender and abandonment, of attention and trust. His real progress, it seems to me, lay in giving increasing attention to this voice as the days went by.

Ever more frequently he meditated during the retreat on union with God, seeing it in terms of openness and response, in which the chief actor is no longer the angry, analytical self. He realizes that he is being called to make space for the loving action of God within him who seeks to draw him to union, above all by nourishing his heart. It is interesting to reflect, in this perspective, on the language and imagery Eymard uses.

He describes himself, in the Rome retreat, for example, as going through a misty valley, not as yet able to get a clear view from a higher vantage point. He speaks elsewhere of a “revolution” he wants to promote in christian spirituality and in preaching, centred in God’s love made present in the Eucharist, and laments, “If only I had known these things fifteen years ago!”[53]

He refers frequently to the “old ideas” he had once shared with his first companion and that had now become the cause of separation from him. While Eymard had moved steadily beyond the limited perspective of the ideas that had inspired them in the early years, de Cuers, for his part, appears to have been simply incapable of real intellectual development; a certain rigidity of mind led him to cling to his initial ideas and to do so with rock-like immovability.[54]

The burden of negative elements in his tradition

If Eymard probably never managed to free himself completely from the harsh demands of his perfectionism,[55] he was not well served by the reigning dualistic and conflictual model of spirituality of the so-called “French school” founded by the great seventeenth century figures of Cardinal Pierre de Berulle (1575-1629) and Jean Jacques Olier (1608-1657).

Even when it had not been radicalized by Jansenism this current of spirituality could be a pretty grim affair and it was grist to the mill of anyone of a perfectionist tendency. As John Saward writes,

Some of the writings of a Bérulle or a Condren betray a certain grim pessimism about human nature, an undue severity, an almost inhuman sternness. The constant emphasis on abnegation, ‘an­nihilation’, adherence, dependence in the spiritual life makes it hard for us to see sometimes what place there is for free and full human co­operation with grace.[56]

Certain fundamental ideas which Eymard took for granted and which served as the basis of his spiritual struggle are perfectly summed up in the following text from Olier:

It is necessary for the soul to be in fear and distrust of self; it must testify to this distrust by avoiding occasions and encounters in which it may satisfy the heart by love and delight in some creature. It should make its pleasure and joy depend on sacrificing to Jesus all joy and pleasure which it may have apart from himself. And when in taking part in those things in which by Providence it is obliged to be occupied, such as eating, drinking, and conversation with creatures, it must be sparing in all, must discard what is superfluous and must renounce, in the use of them, the joy and pleasure to be found therein, uniting and giving itself to Jesus as often as it feels itself tempted to enjoy something apart from him and not himself.[57]

For people of marked sensitivity like Eymard such a spirituality, with its tendency to emphasize the negative, and its insistence on the need to bridle, or worse suppress, natural impulse of any kind, was hardly likely to foster the expansion of the personality.

Imbued with a deep Augustinian pessimism and an anthropology owing more to Greek culture than to the bible, the struggle between what the new testament calls “flesh” and “spirit” was conceptualized in terms of a war between the lower, more instinctual aspects of human beings linked to the body, and their “higher,” more spiritual dimensions, related to the soul. The second must dominate the first by force.

Despite the feeling that he could not fathom himself, there can be no doubt that a change was coming about in him. For one thing, he focuses attention a number of times in the retreat on his anger, an essential component of the perfectionistic personality, seeking to track it back to its source and be free of it. In fact, I would suggest that the angry reaction he felt on the 9th of March, on receiving a communication concerning some kind of negative behaviour on the part of his first companion, de Cuers, was a major stimulus to progress in this respect; it focused his attention in a fruitful way for the remaining weeks of his retreat.

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Coming to terms with his anger

This unforeseen event created a dramatic moment for him on March 9th when he received the communication concerning Fr de Cuers containing, one may surmise, not only an account of unsatisfactory behaviour but also referring certain criticisms of Eymard himself.[58]

It stirred up a violent “storm” within him. “O God!,” he writes, “What a storm assailed me for an hour! What thoughts crossed my imagination! My mind was troubled and harsh; my will had almost reached boiling point.”[59]

Despite the emotional turmoil, Eymard is still able to maintain an attitude of charitableness towards his first companion. “My heart, however, remained without rancour,” he goes on,

without thoughts of revenge or rather of strong measures against what I thought contrary to the spirit of submission [here he writes three crosses] and against an erroneous principle in this dear confrere who cannot see beyond his old-fashioned ideas.[60]

He admits that the violence of his reaction caught him by surprise.

How hurt I have been, and grieved and stung by his manner, his principles, by his contrariness! But all that does not justify as state of irritation, a disposition to humiliate him; that would be too personal. Besides, he acts in good faith and thinks he is doing the right thing. He is a man who clings to what he thinks is best and who is afraid to surrender at discretion. God does not make him see the light; he is not responsible.[61]

His attempt to deal with his reactions will, in one way or another, determine the rest of the retreat. Not only will he come back again and again to it; there is also a greater concentration of thought. It is as though the energy aroused in his angry reaction to the letter served a positive purpose, helping him to focus his attention.

An irritant that will not go away

In the first meditation he records after receiving the communication, he makes an effort to understand and process his reactions. He then tries several times to resume his retreat meditations as planned, but his state of irritation and upset keeps surfacing. It will not leave him in peace; he is being forced to deal with it.

He realizes that he must face the matter directly and so, on the 13th he begins to reflect on the “meekness” of Jesus as a remedy for the “violence” he finds within himself, a violence that he believes is due to the dominance in him of the “natural man.”

In fact, this is not the first time the subject has come up. On February 5th, for example, he had written of

holy indignation, that is, a lecturing of others in my mind, a show of force in imaginary encounters, a strength of character in censuring the great … That is not the spirit of our Lord but the spirit of lording it over others and of self-sufficiency.[62]

Again on February 17th he noted that in Jesus there was “no hatred, no repressed anger, no thought of vengeance, no arguing within him about his rights, nothing of all that.”[63] He went on:

How often I have failed on that point! Interiorly: these arguments, these vindications of self, these energetic answers, these extreme measures, these thoughts of a knock-about comedian! How unlike the Lamb is all that! It is self-love that sees only self, the duties of others, the virtues they ought to have, the heroism of obedience, the power of authority, the duty to humiliate, to break, to make an example.[64]

Eymard is not only pained by these manifestations; he is also deeply mystified. Several times he expresses his puzzlement, his bewilderment as to the origin of such feelings, asking:

And also why make such display of energy against opposition, why so much anger, which is far from being righteous, against what is wrong, faithless, etc …?[65]

His sustained reflections on the meekness of Jesus lead him “finally” (as he writes) on the 14th, to the subject of love, only to be returned to self once more on the very next day, the 15th.

The following day, the 16th, he veers for a while into negativity, re-directing his violent reactions against himself with more of his all too frequent self-accusations – one might be tempted to call them little orgies of self-denigration.  After a brief interruption, concerned with the excessive place of study in his life, he returns to the subject of love on the 17th.

Yet the storm has still not blown itself out and is alluded to once again on the 20th. It will not go away and that is a pointer to how important the issue is; it is bringing to the surface a vein of concern that has threaded its way right through the whole retreat but has hitherto not been given the importance it deserved. Now he is forced to confront the issue. It is clearly something very central to his personality as such. Eymard, however, is baffled by it; he cannot understand it and must deal with it as best he can.

How to deal with his perfectionism?

For me, the issue is his perfectionism and it is a particularly complex matter since the very way he goes about trying to combat it only brings it unwittingly into play. In other words, he is drawn in a perfectionistic way to free himself from perfectionism! The clue is found in his anger, as revealed in the violence of his self-reproaches. His anger with others and his anger towards himself derive from the same source.

It is plain to him that God wants him to overcome his anger towards others; he is much less clear, however, when it is question of anger at himself. At certain moments we do find him reminding himself of the dangers of “excessive self-reproaches” (February 14th) or of a “militant” approach (February 18th). Yet so imbued is he with the spirituality of his time, which endorsed and encouraged an attitude of “contempt of self,” thereby playing into his perfectionism, that he is little prone to heed such warnings. What he fails to see is that this very attitude may be serving as a mask for self-hatred.

The only way out of such a dilemma is the humble recognition of one’s imperfections and failings – self-acceptance freed from anger. Eymard might well have profited from the teaching of the great eighteenth-century Jesuit, Pierre de Caussade – especially the celebrated work until recently attributed to him, SelfAbandonment to Divine Providence;[66] regarded by some with suspicion, this work was published only in 1861 – too recently, no doubt, for Eymard to have known of it. A generation later St Thérèse of Lisieux too saw the same issue clearly.

God would not inspire unrealizable desires, so I can, despite my littleness, aspire to holiness; for me to become bigger is impossible, so I must bear with myself just as I am with all my imperfections.[67]

It was just this that Eymard found so difficult. His ardent desire for perfection, aided and abetted by the kind of spiritual theology he had been nourished with, conspired with his perfectionism without him being able to see it.

No exit strategy of his would enable him to escape from the perfectionist trap; that would be accomplished, not by any self-imposed mortifications, but by what are classically known as the “passive purifications” – namely, the sufferings coming from others and from the events of life. He even intuited this[68] and the final years of his life would load heavy crosses upon his shoulders, one after the other.

Just how cruel the experience of those years was we learn from remarks in his final retreat, from April 27th to May 2nd 1868, at Saint-Maurice – three years further on and only two months or so before his death. He notes, for example, on the fourth day of that retreat:

My mind used to thrive on truth, on work for Jesus, on sacrifice for his glory; it was free and strong and happy; troubles did not affect it interiorly. But now it is deluged with interior troubles; it suffers from the brethren to the very depths of its being – almost like a continual temptation; the self-love of the mind is hurt, humiliated, vexed – which would not be if Jesus were its life.[69]

He never seems to have broken entirely free of his perfectionism, as is fairly clear, I believe, from the notes of his last retreat – he is still dreaming, for example, of “putting order in his life;”[70] he is forced by the evidence of what seemed to him his failure ruefully to conclude that all that is now left to him is “the patience of humility.”[71]

What was to him failure, however, was ultimately God’s victory. Reduced as he was, in the face of his manifest inability to change himself by force of will, to that just-mentioned patience of humility, there was now little for self-will to work with; the much detested “vanity” he so often bemoaned could no longer find in him any foothold.

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From the search for the “self” to the “Vow of personality”

It is not the place here to retrace the path of Eymard’s labyrinthine quest for the nature, origin and cause of his ills, but it will be important to say a word about the principal spiritual discoveries of his mature years.

In pursuit of the unity of the ego

Recourse to the metaphor of “centre” helps him to focus his perceptions. His professed centre is Jesus Christ and his ostensible aim is to procure God’s glory. But there is another story going on. His ego (moi or self) is constantly intruding, finding space even in his most religious activities, to turn everything to its purposes.

If I examine my ordinary and extraordinary sins, I find that they all spring from vanity or that vanity has crept into them; my ego has crept into everything, has dominated my speech, my innermost thoughts even in the care of souls, in the works I do for God.[72]

He recognizes that while his desire to promote a spirituality of love, for example, is in fact the fruit of a genuine insight, yet it becomes infected by his own deep-seated need to be at centre-stage. He is on the lookout for something that makes him stand out, that is uniquely, especially his. “I also saw the illusion of my apostolate of love,” he notes, referring to “that mysticism that seeks to show off.”[73] “Why seek overmuch,” he asks, “a manner of preaching or of spiritual direction that is distinctively mine?”[74]

The same need drives him to give value to whatever ensures success in his ministry. The ostensible motive is to make Christ known, but cunningly concealed in it is something else, namely, a self-seeking desire to draw the crowds, to make an impression on the public. Because success satisfies his craving for recognition, it exercises an irresistible attraction over him, disinclining him to give thought to subjecting what he is doing to critical evaluation.

His impulse to correct others, to point out to them what is the right thing to do, arises from a will to impose his own views, bringing into play thereby an image of himself as the admired and skilled guide who is capable of setting others on the right path.

The core element that unifies all these manifestations, he believes, has to do, above all with the insatiable demands of self – the need to shine, for example, to feel that he is original, to be applauded. It is this need that has infiltrated all his religious goals; “my self-love,” he notes, “has found a means of masquerading as the love of God.”[75] The same insight recurs nearly three weeks later: “Self-love found the means of sneaking into the love of God, and the natural into the supernatural.”[76]

The question then becomes how to make God, and Christ in the Eucharist, rather than self, the real and effective centre of his mind and imagination, of his choices, feelings and projects.

Two insights guide him underneath the different themes he chooses for meditation: first of all, the notion of a “centre” attracts his attention, as we have already remarked, while in the second place he sees, ever more clearly, the goal of becoming more closely the way Jesus is towards his Father.

What impressed me deeply in this meditation is the thought that this centre, for its being hidden, invisible and wholly interior, is nevertheless most real, very much alive and most enriching. Jesus draws the soul spiritually to himself in the altogether spiritualized state of his divine sacrament.

Another thought which impressed me still more is the realization that the sustenance of this centre is, for me, the ‘Go from your country’ of Abraham (Gen 12, 1), the stripping of self, the forsaking of exterior things, the fusion of self in Jesus; that this life of self-denial is more agreeable to his heart, gives greater honour to his Father, is the homage for which his love craves the most.[77]

The endless depths of humility

The journey into freedom, of course, is no easy one, and it is pursued only at the cost of constant vigilance, ruthless honesty and protracted prayer.[78] For the self or ego is ever ready for opportunities to reassert its rule. One must learn again and again, therefore, that human effort alone cannot arrive at the goal, only constant reliance on God, endlessly repeated acts of trust and abandonment, and the reiterated choosing of surrender or “letting go.”

A grace of enlightenment made me understand that the best and only means is to nurture and fortify within me the interior man that is Jesus Christ, to conceive Him, to bring Him forth and make Him grow by all my actions, readings, prayers and adorations, and in all the relationships of my life.[79]

When he speaks of “nurture” he is referring to the Lord’s work in him, especially through the mediation of the word of the scriptures and the sacrament of holy communion. We have here one of Eymard’s most original insights.

In holy communion, we enjoy the Lord in and through himself. Our Lord called himself the bread come down from heaven, a bread of faith and of life. I maintain that, only in communion, do we find an intimate knowledge of our Lord. He said: he who loves me, keeps my word and I will disclose myself to him. That is to say, I will reveal myself to him through love. That intimate manifestation is obtained only in holy com­munion. That joy of the spirit, that contact with our Lord in communion gives us a taste of God. Taste and see, Scripture says. That taste for God is the family feeling; it brings us close to his heart. It is a knowledge by feeling and not by reasoning. In holy communion, we experience love, we know the heart of Jesus, we penetrate his secret.

The sustained work of meditation and prayer bore its fruit, leading him in the final days of his retreat to pronounce a solemn act of consecration.[80]

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The solemn vow of his personality

It was a regular part of Eymard’s piety to make acts of consecration of various kinds and from time to time to renew them. The act of consecration he made very near the end of his retreat, on the 21st of March, stands out, however, both for its solemnity and for the fact that it had been long prepared; it represented in some way the culmination and the synthesis of his whole experience over those many weeks. He called it the “vow of his personality” to God rather than, as had been his wont hitherto, the “gift of self.” He writes in his journal:

Towards the end of my thanksgiving, I made the perpetual vow of my personality to our Lord Jesus Christ in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Joseph, under the patronage of St. Benedict (his feast); nothing for me as a person and, asking for the grace needed, nothing by me. Model: the Incarnation of the Word.[81]

This vow has been the object of much discussion in Eymard’s institutes ever since. Opinions concerning its nature and consequences diverge widely.[82] Some see it as a moment of total surrender, even of mystical marriage, others as the culmination of a sustained ascetical effort. It is not the place here to debate the merits of the various points of view. Whatever one is inclined to hold, a balanced interpretation must take the following facts into account.

In the first place, we have no evidence at all of any special mystical experience associated with the making of the vow. Second, Eymard employed, almost verbatim, an already existing formula taken from the writings of a prominent exponent of the French school of spirituality already mentioned, Jean-Jacques Olier. Third, we have Eymard’s own very sober words written just two days later: “An act of union with our Lord is easy, but a life of habitual union is more difficult for a soul as weak and flighty as mine… My God, how can I live that union?”[83]

For my part, the vow is an admirable declaration of intention, fruit of his deepening interiority and signpost of what he hoped would be the future direction of his life. Centred more deeply in Christ he hopes to move his attention away from his own plans, his apostolic dreams, his preaching, his way of promotion of the Eucharistic cult, and his busy life, and focus it more radically upon the person of Jesus Christ living within him. He is the one who should be at the centre of everything as in Paul’s celebrated words: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2, 20)

The work of the retreat had aided him in detecting more accurately in each area just mentioned a co-presence of two distinct elements: a genuine desire to do good, to make Christ known, to promote his gospel, on the one hand, and a subtle project of self-promotion on the other.

It is to this latter project that he wishes to “die.” It is his hope that he may be henceforth “without any desires or interests of my own, and have none but those of Jesus Christ who abides in me to live therein for his Father and gives himself in communion to do just that in me: ‘Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.’”(Jn 6, 57)[84]

What is worthy of note in this statement is the way he unerringly integrates the Trinitarian and sacramental dimensions.

We do not have space here to enter into great detail, but what has been said should be enough to indicate the kind of development that was taking place in him. He has come to some extremely important insights that will henceforth become an integral part of his teaching. Let me attempt to sum up what I think they were.

He realizes more clearly than ever before that his self-project is an obstacle to God’s work; that acts of cult, no less than apostolic activities, can serve as a cover for this self-project; that the core of real worship is purity of heart rather than the works of religion; that he cannot, of himself, rid himself of this self-project; that the work has to be done by Christ in him; that Christ does this principally through holy communion, whereby he forms the communicant in his image, or – as Eymard sometimes puts it – forms himself in the communicant, and in this way prolongs his incarnation through time and space; and that acts of adoration must not remain on the surface, but be carried out “by communion,” that is, must concur with Christ’s work in communion.

His discovery of what he calls the “interior cenacle” provides a way of synthesizing the issues; we shall have more to say about it in the following section.  Eymard had come to Rome with the ardent hope of being able to acquire the building in Jerusalem traditionally identified as the place of the last supper, the “large upper room” or “cenacle” mentioned in the gospel (cf. Lk 22,12). He had failed and it was a bitter disappointment to him. But he did not leave the city empty-handed.

Stopping at Mme Jordan’s house on his way back from Rome, he was eager to share with her family the “new bread” (as he called it in a letter to another correspondent) that he now carried within him.

I admire the good Master’s way of forcing me into solitude, and now, I’m very happy about it. Not that I want anything more, no! but I see more clearly. All that remains now is to knead this new bread of my poor soul. I won’t give you any today; that would be taken from the old [bread] which you have been familiar with for such a long time and which did not always suit you, because it was too old! We will give you something fresh when we arrive.[85]

True spiritual growth tends not to be confined to a compartment of the personality; its transformative effects make their influence felt in all other areas of the self. Given the central place of the Eucharist in Eymard’s life it is hardly surprising that what has been sketched above was paralleled by a deeper and richer, and especially a more interior, understanding of the sacrament. Here too Eymard’s horizon was widening and deepening.

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The Cenacle and the meaning of Holy Communion

The language and theological categories available to him in his time made it difficult for Eymard to express the riches he sensed opening up before his intuitive gaze. Heir to the post-tridentine theology of the Eucharist, he looked at the sacrament through the lens of the three aspects discussed in piecemeal fashion at Trent: the sacramental presence of the body of the Lord, the sacrificial character of the Mass, and holy communion.[86]

It was not the Councils’ intention to provide a complete, still less a systematic, doctrine of the Eucharist, but rather to delineate the boundaries of orthodoxy in regard to the particular questions that had been objects of protestant denials. Trent had made no attempt, therefore, to provide a synthesis and in its wake the three aspects of the sacrament were not easily put together in a unified and harmonious fashion. As a result presence, sacrifice and sacrament tended to be viewed as separate realities.

At a time when real participation by the people in the Mass was practically excluded and communion was rare and believed to be only for those who had attained a high level of spiritual development, it was the fact (more than the purpose) of Christ’s presence in the sacramental species that most struck the imagination of people of faith.

A re-centering that prepared an horizon shift

To grasp the nature of the process of change Eymard’s thinking underwent it may be helpful to look at the modern philosophical concepts of paradigm shift or of the shift of horizons.[87]

What is involved is something more than an increment of knowledge. It is, rather, the move to a new viewpoint, to a higher vantage point from which the whole landscape will look different. Not only does one see more; what one sees looks different now. It is set within a broader frame. Because the angle of vision is different our sense of their relative proportions changes. We see the relation of one thing to another differently and new relationships become visible. From the new standpoint we realize how limited and even distorting, in some respects, was the former vision.

For such a shift to occur there has to be a cumulative process in which new insights, and perhaps a progressively richer grasp of the data, build up to the moment when the old framework is felt to be no longer adequate. A new organizing principle or set of principles is called for. We need a new framework to make possible a quite new synthesis capable of resolving the contradictions which the former one was unable to resolve.

We will come back to this question shortly, but first let us return for a moment to the Eucharist. The synthesis that gave rise to vision of Vatican II was possible only because of such a paradigm shift. In Eymard’s time, this was simply not yet possible.

For this reason we cannot look for a shift of horizon as such in Eymard’s writings, but what we do find is a significant enlargement of the data and an important displacement of the centre of gravity. Eymard was feeling his way towards a new standpoint from which the mystery might be approached. His vision was undergoing a shift from the static recognition of Christ’s sacramental presence to a dynamic sense of transformative activity, associated for him above all in sacramental communion.

Let us now see in what way Eymard stretched the limits of the theology that he had begun with, the theology that he had shared at that time with his first companion. It was precisely in this enrichment of his understanding, that gave rise to consequent re-centering of his approach to the sacrament, that the gulf between them widened to a point where de Cuers concluded that it was unbridgeable.

From throne of adoration to interior cenacle

When the younger Eymard spoke of the Eucharist he seems to have been thinking, first of all and spontaneously, not of the people gathered in Christ to celebrate the mystery of his passover, but of the sacramental bread in the tabernacle. This was for him simply the hidden presence of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, living in our midst. Such was the theology of his time, in the wake of the Council of Trent, and it constituted the intellectual starting point for his own grasp of the sacrament, and therefore for his project of founding several congregations dedicated to the Eucharist.

For the great body of Catholics of his time in the post-revolutionary era, religious ignorance was widespread; the Mass was hardly accessible and little attention was paid to this sacramental presence of Christ in the sacrament. Eymard was one of a growing number of holy people of his time who felt that such neglect meant that people were being deprived of a great source of spiritual vitality.[88]

He thought of the institutes he felt called to bring into existence as providing a sort of royal court around the hidden King, enthroned by setting the sacramental bread before people in the monstrance. Two paragraphs from the posthumously approved Constitutions of the men’s congregation express this viewpoint clearly:

The supreme purpose of the Institute consists entirely in this that, under the guidance and patronage of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, it give true and perpetual adorers to our Lord and God Jesus Christ, abiding day and night in the Holy Eucharist for love of men, and that it provide generous promoters of His glory and zealous propagators of His love, so that He may be always adored in the Blessed Sacrament and glorified socially throughout the world. Constitutions N° 2.

Let all our religious fully understand that they have been chosen and have made profession primarily to serve the divine Person of Jesus Christ, our God and King, truly, really and substantially present in the Sacrament of His love. They should, therefore, as good and faithful servants of so great a King, make it a point to consecrate unre­servedly all their talents and virtues, studies and labours to His greater glory in perfect abnegation of self, fulfilling the words of the Apostle: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.” Constitutions N° 6.

As the years went by a shift in his understanding of the sacrament began to make itself felt. Being an indefatigable reader as well as a man of deep spirituality, Eymard’s views were continually expanding and deepening. His grasp of the traditional data on which theology builds was being enlarged and enriched and this in turn led him to operate a re-centering in his approach to the mystery. The pre-eminence he had once accorded to the external cult of Eucharistic adoration began to give way to an understanding that was both more interior and focused on the experience of sacramental communion.

Sacramental communion becomes the focal point

The focal point of his Eucharistic thinking was approaching closer to the essential purpose for which the sacrament had been instituted.

“I maintain,” he declared, “that, only in communion, do we find an intimate knowledge of our Lord.”[89] Where adoration had once constituted the end or goal of his projects, he now begins to assign it the role of “means.”[90] He will even say that adoration can only be made well if it is made “by communion.”[91]

Inspired by his reading of some of the Eastern church fathers he saw the meaning of communion in terms of the process of divinization and of extending the incarnation through history. He described it as Christ, desirous of becoming present in the world in new ways, uniting the communicant to himself and forming him or her in his own likeness.[92] By now it is the biblical image of the upper room, the Cenacle, rather than the worldly model of the royal court, so redolent of the nostalgic restorationist mentality in France,[93] that captivates his imagination:

The Holy Spirit forms the Lord Jesus in our body by placing in us an earnest of the resurrection which will make us like the risen Christ. In our soul, the Spirit forms Jesus through union of interests. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform you into our Lord who seeks only to give himself and, for that, likes a large and well-aired Cenacle.[94]

His preaching from that time reveals a remarkable advance in richness and depth, profoundly influenced by his assiduous reading of John’s gospel and the letters of St Paul.

And the Word was made … bread. We receive Jesus Christ. In that way, the Eucharist is the extension of the Incarnation: and he dwelt among us … We need not envy our Blessed Mother. Our Lord gave himself to us to satisfy his love. And if you love our Lord in return, as Mary did, you become like a mother, begetting Jesus in you and able to engender him in others.[95] (26 March, 1868).

What we see is now the emergence of a more dynamic understanding of the sacrament and a more interior view of our response to this gift of the Lord. These two aspects are profoundly correlated. Let us look first at the dynamic character of his new insights into the sacrament.

The vision becomes more dynamic and interior

The Eucharistic event taking place in the cenacle where the community of faith gathers was becoming more and more central to his thinking, displacing the static concept of the presence in the reserved sacrament. A stronger awareness is emerging of the Eucharistic action accomplished within the celebration and brought to completion in holy communion:

Our Lord does not form us so much as he forms himself in us. He comes in us in communion to grow in us and foster his union with us. I have a guest in me whom I must feast by serving him with the virtues which he likes. He will live in you and you will prolong his earthly life in you: “my children, I am in travail with you until Jesus Christ is formed in you” (Gal., 4:19), that is, until our Lord is conceived, born, and grows in you.[96]

It is probable too that his work in bringing poor young people to their first communion played its part in this evolution, as it drew his attention more insistently to the gospel banquet parables. It seems that Eymard realized that few of his rag-pickers were ever going to become “adorers.” His goal was rather to bring them to the Eucharistic table.

On a profoundly personal level this process of change went hand in hand with a number of what we might call negative insights. He saw with increasing clarity, for example, how the self (the moi or ego) could creep into acts of worship.

Earlier, he had thought the pinnacle of religious life was described best in terms of the virtue of religion, given pre-eminent expression in adoration of the blessed sacrament. During his Rome retreat he changes his mind on this: “Which,” he asks himself, “ought to be the principal virtue of an adorer? I had thought of the virtue of religion,” he goes on, “I now see that it is not; for the function and perfection of that virtue is outside us…”[97]

What is interesting here is the motivation: the goal that the virtue of religion aims at, he saw, is outside of us whereas true christian perfection must have its goal within, in the interior of the person:

In holy communion, we receive Jesus Christ… He comes in us to form his virtues in us, to fashion us to his own likeness, to change us into his image. He accomplishes this educa­tion to his resemblance in us, so that he grows in us as well as we grow in his likeness “until we reach the state of the perfect man” as St. Paul says.[98]

He perceived likewise, and with painful clarity, how his own ministry had not been free of a self-interest that tended to erode the purity of action, intruding the interests of the self or ego into his preaching, his spiritual direction and his other activities.

His reading and his personal insights were converging with his developing relationship with Christ, situated now more deeply in his own interiority. This development headed him towards a major crisis, however, one that he found himself unable to resolve. He had believed from the outset that the ground-plan for his congregations must be drawn up on the doctrine of the Eucharist.

Almost all the new orders have imitated the Rule of the Jesuits, the Marists, the Oblates, and a good many others like them, they have ministry, instruction, missions. For us it is not going to be that: we do not copy anyone; a new rule is called for. Where will we find it? In the Eucharist, it is all there…[99]

But his own understanding of the mystery was itself undergoing a process of evolution, involving him in a painful struggle to articulate the implications and consequences of his burgeoning insights. We see this working itself out in his attempts to arrive at a definitive formulation of his Constitutions.

Work on his Constitutions at an impasse

He kept working on the text of his Constitutions up to the time of his death – although, due to the constraints of his multiple commitments, in increasingly desultory fashion. To meet this difficulty he kept copies of the text he had revised at Saint-Bonnet in the various houses of the congregation, so that he could give them attention in free moments during his visits to the communities, annotating, experimenting with better formulations, adding and crossing out.

Despite his assiduous efforts he seems to have been unable to give his thought its final form; something always eluded his grasp. Still more unsettling for students of his work was the fact that he had actually crossed out the crucial early numbers that defined the precise nature and goal of the institute. The problem he was struggling with was obviously not a peripheral one; it concerned the very definition of his institute.

His successor and first companion, Fr Raymond de Cuers, called back from his self-imposed “exile” to take in hand the leadership of the institute after the Founder’s death, stated clearly at that time that the institute would now have to formulate for itself a definitive statement of its raison d’être. Eymard, he declared, had died before he had been

able to finish and establish invariably our end and the means to obtain it by the definition and the setting out of fundamental principles, the centre, the base and source from whence all practical applications and solutions are deduced and verified.[100]

This assessment of the state of affairs at the death of the Founder was not quite as innocent as it may appear, as we shall see shortly.

We do not know the reason for Eymard’s failure to complete the Constitutions prior to his death. We may surmise that his perfectionism had its part, since we know from the three different versions (none of them complete) he left of the Handbook for lay persons, for example, how difficult it was for him to complete such documents. But I suspect that there was another and more important reason.

As he approached death, he seems to have felt that his work had hardly begun. “I would certainly be distressed if I were to die now!”, he confided on April 23rd 1868 (just a few months before his death). “Nothing is yet done,” he went on. “To speak the truth, the poor little Society exists only in the love of God.”[101]

What exactly Eymard meant by this we have no way of knowing, but what we do know is that, five years earlier (in 1863), he had undertaken a thorough revision of the text he had published earlier that same year and sent to the authorities in Rome for approbation. To give himself the space needed for this work of correction and incorporation of the changes demanded by Rome, he arranged in October 1863 to stay at the house of a friend, the philosopher Blanc de Saint-Bonnet, in the Upper Loire district where he found a climate of peace and quiet conducive to reflection.

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Freed from de Cuersian influences

The work of revision was obligatory for him since the authorities in Rome had sent him numerous remarks concerning the text he had submitted, requiring him to correct many details. But there was something more. In preparing the text in question he had felt constrained to incorporate some (though not all) of the ideas and expressions of his first companion, Fr de Cuers.

De Cuers had very definite ideas. For him, first of all, only priests were to be members of the institute, because only their higher dignity could give adequate worship to the God of the Eucharist; second, all the members were to make a special vow to dedicate themselves to the work of perpetual adoration (the “Eucharistic vow”), the ideal of the institute being to bring the whole society, in due rank and order, to the feet of the Lord in the sacrament; the fundamental virtue to be cultivated was the virtue of religion, in the spirit of the first commandment. De Cuers had a very weak sense of the trinity; for him the Eucharist was God, tout court, and adoration of the Eucharist was the supreme fulfilment on earth of the commandment to adore the Lord (Dominus), present here on earth, and to have no other gods before him  (cf. Ex 20,2-4; Dt 5,6-8).[102]

It seems that, away from the influence of de Cuers and in the quiet seclusion of his retreat, Eymard now felt the desire, indeed the need, to reassert his own vision. Accordingly, he proceeded to eliminate from the text the ideas of his first companion that he had, with evident reluctance, included in the version he had submitted to the Roman authorities.

In the course of his work, he also experimented with an altogether new formulation of the number that opened the chapter on the Mass which was, for the rest, largely concerned with practical matters. The text reads as follows:

Since amongst all the acts of piety the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and communion in the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ are without any doubt the ultimate goal and the life of all religion, it is therefore towards the worthy celebration and the reception of these divine mysteries that the piety, virtue and love of each one is to be directed as means to an end.

As he must have seen, the implications of this text were quite unsettling, indeed nothing short of subversive of the entire approach to the mystery he had taken hitherto. We see this clearly if we compare the text we have just cited with the following programmatic text he had placed in the opening section of the Constitutions:

Let all our religious fully understand that they have been chosen and have made profession primarily to serve the divine Person of Jesus Christ, our God and King, truly, really and substantially present in the Sacrament of His love. They should, therefore, as good and faithful servants of so great a King, make it a point to consecrate unreservedly all their talents and virtues, studies and labours to His greater glory in perfect abnegation of self, fulfilling the words of the Apostle:  “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.

In this last-quoted text, the governing principle is the sacramental presence of Christ in the consecrated bread; there is no mention of the Mass at all. In the new text, on the other hand, it is the action of the Mass, the liturgical celebration, that now constitutes the starting point and governing principle of the way of life.

Mutually incompatible formulations

Whether he found this new formulation somewhere or composed it himself we do not know. What is clearly evident is that it articulates a different vision of the sacrament, one that is incompatible with what had gone before. This new text introduces, in fact, a startling shift of standpoint. Now everything is to be derived from the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the reception of holy communion (thought of at that time as quite separate events).

It is hardly possible that Eymard could have failed to perceive the conflict between the two texts. His first reaction seems to have been simply to cross out the new text. While we have no way of knowing what process of thought he went through, that is, in any case, what he actually did. Eliminating this new text meant not only that the earlier formulation could remain intact; it also left the entire framework in which the Constitutions had been thought out intact as well.

He then had the finished product printed the following year, namely in 1864; this new edition, his revision of the text printed in early 1863, was now to supersede the former one, incorporating all the revisions required by the Holy See, but also eliminating certain of his first companion’s most cherished ideas and expressions.

At the time of his death, this 1864 text represented the point he had reached in seeking to give public expression to his vision of the Congregation. Yet once the Founder had departed from the scene and his place was taken by his first companion, de Cuers lost no time in ensuring that his own vision of the raison d’être of the institute be firmly established as the official formulation of the institute’s identity and mission.

The victory of the past

De Cuers turned immediately, not to Eymard’s revised version of the Constitutions, printed in 1864 and distributed to all the religious, but to the earlier unrevised text of 1863. Now this was the version in which his own ideas had been to some extent incorporated! He simply set aside Eymard’s revised text, then, in favour of this earlier one, which was obviously more congenial to him.

Even if the Congregation would return, in 1872, to Eymard’s final version of 1864 (to be modified, however, again and again until final approval as late as 1895), it remains true that a number of de Cuers’ ideas and emphases (concerning reparation, for example) would eventually displace those of the Founder in the Congregation’s approach to its mission. By a curious historical irony, then, de Cuers succeeded in certain ways in having the last word – and that word was to determine the shape of Eymard’s institute for virtually a century!

Now to return to Eymard’s surprising new formulation: whether and to what extent, he himself realized at that moment its radical nature we have no way of knowing directly. Objectively speaking, however, the implications were indeed – and quite literally – revolutionary. To have taken it seriously would have meant putting in question, as I have said, everything he had written hitherto.

To have taken the new text as the starting point for building a way of life and mission would have obliged him to construct a very different edifice from the one he had hitherto legislated for. To have placed the Mass (and communion) at the centre of his project, in place of adoration, would have meant rethinking the whole, especially in view of his new understanding of communion.

It is significant that both Seymat and Mme Jordan saw Eymard’s work not as aimed ultimately at setting up thrones of exposition everywhere, but as drawing people into the process of transformation that it was the goal of the Eucharist (especially through holy communion) to bring about. Eymard’s purpose, in Seymat’s words envisaged the construction of “the true temple: the true tabernacle: the King’s throne in the human soul where the interior service should be organised.”[103]

If this assessment of the situation is accurate, we can well understand the Founder’s dilemma and his inability to resolve it. For one thing, he had little time to work on it, since he was beset by problems on every side in these final years besides being oppressed by an ever-worsening state of health and an almost unbearable weight of troubles that put an intolerable strain on his already fragile physical constitution.

Yet the question still troubled him; this we do know from the fact that his dropping of the new text on the Mass did not spell the end of the matter. Eymard must clearly have re-thought matters since the manuscripts reveal that, at some later date, he cancelled his earlier crossing out and wrote in the margin of the text the words: “Good to copy!”

What is more, as observed above, he also put a cross through the crucial programmatic numbers of his printed version in all the copies we have; and in one copy all of the first four numbers, the whole of the first chapter, are cancelled.[104] The conclusion is inescapable: he was dissatisfied with the way he had formulated the very foundational numbers on which his institute was to be erected!

Need for a new framework

These facts seem to indicate that Eymard found himself before a dilemma he could see no way of resolving. That what was at stake was finding how to give shape to the new vision of the Eucharist that was being formed in his mind seems to me beyond reasonable doubt.

It is hardly surprising that Eymard had come to an impasse; for no one in the church at that time could help him solve the problem. It would need a century of work before the Second Vatican Council was able to formulate a unified and properly contextualized vision of the Eucharist.

To understand this we need here to invoke some principles governing the development of human thought, already alluded to a few pages back. However perceptively individuals may see new aspects of the truth, a whole cultural development is necessary for such insights to be formulated in systematic form. As historian of science, Herbert Butterfield, has pointed out in a classic work,[105] scientific discoveries had been going on since the fourteenth century, but it was not until the late seventeenth century that it was possible for modern science to become a reality.

Until that time, new insights were accumulating but they were proving difficult, if not impossible, to fit into the old pattern of thought, based on Aristotle. There was as yet no new horizon, no new framework which would be capable of integrating them in a unified and harmonious way. It was here that Isaac Newton made his epochal contribution. With him a new era was born: the way was open for the immense advances of the natural sciences.

Theology in this respect is no different from the natural sciences. It was only with the recovery, in the course of the twentieth century, of concepts like the paschal mystery and the memorial, together with the re-thinking of the category of sacramentality, that a unified theology of the Eucharist would become possible. The nineteenth century saw a re-awakening, in people like Eymard, to the centrality of the Eucharist for the life of the church, as also to the importance of the liturgy, notably in Dom Prosper Guéranger, responsible for re-founding the Benedictine way of life in France at the monastery of Solesmes and considered a precursor of the twentieth century liturgical movement.

For people of that time, the Eucharist was still approached, however, from the perspective of the “real presence,” independently of the total ritual context of the liturgical action. Even Dom Gueranger’s thinking remained captive to that way of looking at things. The remarkable thing about Eymard was that he was obviously struggling to get beyond it.

For de Cuers (and indeed for all of Eymard’s companions) the Eucharist was treated as an end in itself, as though it were instituted primarily to be adored. Eymard’s new insights suggested a different perspective in which the sacrament is a means provided by God to bring about a profound transformation of persons, a unique means whereby, above all through holy communion, Christ might continue his incarnation until the end of time.

Just how slow and laborious was the process whereby the Church arrived at a fuller and more unified vision of the sacrament than the one Eymard inherited we can see if we consider several examples that were to characterize the century following Eymard’s death.

Frequent communion and the International Eucharistic Congresses

With the movement for more frequent communion, which was officially legislated for the whole church by Pope Pius X in 1905,[106] an epochal shift in church thinking and practice took place.

If access to the sacrament was greatly facilitated thereby, this did not mean immediately that the act of communion was integrated into the celebratory action; on the contrary. For quite a long time into the twentieth century communion was distributed either prior to or after the Mass. It was conceived largely as a devotion rather than an act of liturgical participation. It was only when the liturgical movement had come to maturity that the final integrating impetus gained sufficient momentum to impose itself and a new synthesis was officially accepted for the whole church at Vatican II.

The history of the International Eucharistic Congresses provides another interesting illustration of the same process of evolution. For the best part of a century the Congresses were thought of as public means of recognizing the presence of Christ in the reserved sacrament. Typically, in his letter to the Seventeenth National Eucharistic Congress of 1959 in Lyon, France, Pope John XXIII characterized the event in terms of a “long and fervent ‘visit to the blessed sacrament.’”[107]

Just one year later, at Munich in Germany, however, a decisive change took place, with the concept of the statio orbis – station of the world – universalizing an ancient Roman Lenten practice in which the Pope would celebrate the Eucharist in different Roman churches throughout the year.

Each of these celebrations was thought of as a stop or station, in some part of the city – in Latin, statio urbis (station of the city) – a pause, as it were, in the course of the year-long journey from church to church.

Eventually, the formulation of the goal of the International Eucharistic Congresses was corrected in the official Statutes to reflect this fundamental shift. Today, the aim of the Congresses is no longer defined in terms of an aspect of the sacrament (the “real presence”) but of the Eucharist as such – the liturgical celebration by the people of God, gathered in the power of the Spirit, of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, for the honour and glory of the Father.[108]

Before we draw this essay to a conclusion it will be as well to evoke, however rapidly, the remaining three and a half years that were left to Father Eymard – years in which his own spiritual journey would take him through a very dark valley indeed while his Eucharistic teaching would become, by contrast, ever more resplendent.

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“Life follows death; it is the way of the Society and my own”

In the short lapse of time remaining to him, and weighed down by his inexorably deteriorating health, Eymard continued to work on all fronts: accompanying the growth of his communities, guiding and administrating; buying new properties and founding several new communities – establishing the novitiate at Saint-Maurice outside Paris, setting up, in quick succession, two new communities in Brussels (the first in 1866 and the second the following year); pursuing his activities of preaching and spiritual direction; revising the text of his Constitutions; meeting all kinds of people; continuing his little-known work of helping priests in difficulty; maintaining a constant stream of correspondence; and catechizing his beloved street urchins in view of their making their first communion, an activity that occupied his evenings and that he sustained till the very end.

In the space of these few short years, a series of disasters overtook him, one on the heels of the other.

A series of disasters

First, there was the painful collapse of the second community of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in Nemours, a drama which unfolded from early 1866 to mid 1867. Based on a rather unwise arrangement with the owner of a large property, a certain Mlle Sterlingue, who was well-known in church circles, the foundation was soon at risk. A painful misunderstanding grew up between himself and Marguerite Guillot, his collaborator in founding the congregation of the Servants. Mlle Sterlingue began to interfere increasingly in the affairs of the community. She was being manipulated by a scheming sister of the community who had allied herself, against the superior, with another of the sisters who was a visionary, whose supposed mystical experiences Eymard – after widespread consultation – had believed to be genuine.

The flashpoint of the conflict concerned money, with the lady withdrawing her gift and demanding compensation under threat of legal proceedings. Eymard found himself in a situation of liability, unable to defend himself legally against the owner-donor’s allegations of financial impropriety, since he had destroyed the letters in which the contract with the now embittered Mlle Sterlingue had been stipulated. Over and above the catastrophic financial loss he had to sustain, Eymard’s still more serious loss was to his reputation and standing amongst a number of the more prominent bishops and other leading church personalities.

The same year, 1867, saw another cruel blow fall upon him, with the departure of his first companion, Fr Raymond de Cuers.  After years of disillusionment and growing hostility, de Cuers must have realized that he would never be able to give wholehearted assent to Eymard’s ever-evolving sense of the mission of the congregation. For him, the time had come to go their separate ways; it must have constituted a painful shock to the Founder, especially as the decision had been taken unilaterally without any discussion and had been in preparation for a whole year.

Though he managed to accommodate his companion’s desires within the framework of the congregation, the latter’s departure, with one of the lay-brothers, for a wilderness location outside of Marseilles was in reality a separate foundation with its own rationale – a brutal repudiation of the Founder and his role.

If that were not enough, his troubles were further compounded by another grave financial debacle and, above all, by the growing loss of confidence in him on the part of the older members of his institute, who were wont to speak openly of his naïveté and poor judgment, considering him incompetent as a leader and administrator and suspect doctrinally.

A “dark night of the soul”

Struggling under the burden of these events and suffering increasingly from respiratory complaints, shingles and migraine, he underwent a severe trial of spiritual aridity as well. It was truly a “dark night of the soul,” as we can garner from the notebook of his final retreat at Saint-Maurice from 27th April to 2nd May 1868, with its sad tale of hurt and disappointment, of unassuaged pain, abandonment and desolation. After reading the series of symbolic “deaths” he had had to endure we come upon the following words: “and yet life follows death. It is the way of the Society and my own.”[109]

It would have been just as accurate for him to have written, not of life “after” death, but of life “out of” death; for that was what was really going on. For this story of apparently unalloyed bleakness has another and altogether different side. Amazingly, his preaching in this period, as also his letters of spiritual direction, abound not only in the richness of their teaching on the spiritual life, especially in relation to the mystery of the Eucharist, but above all in their exhortations to joyfulness. Saint Paul’s words to the community of Corinth, “death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4, 12), were being verified in Eymard’s life, as they had been so long ago in Paul’s. It was the Lord’s paschal mystery being played out in one truly united to him for the good of the community of the church.

Returning to Paris in late June 1868, just a month before his death, Eymard’s health had continued to deteriorate and even more visibly. He suffered a stroke which almost completely paralyzed his left arm. But he had promised the religious of the Congregation of Notre Dame to share in the feast of their Founder, his friend Blessed Peter Fourier, and he would not break his promise. So on July 7, with the help of Brother Tesnière, he went to l’Abbaye-aux-Bois and gave the panegyric of the saint of Mattaincourt. For an hour, his words of fire held his audience spellbound, as he clung all the time to the pulpit for support. He began this, his final sermon, with the following words:

A saint is like a constellation which shines in the heavens for everyone, and communicates to all its wonderful influence. A saint belongs more to his brothers, to the Church, than to himself. He is an extraordinary grace from heaven and the glory of his own family.[110]

That, it seems to me, is a fitting scene with which to conclude these pages of information and analysis dedicated to Eymard’s spiritual development and the evolution of his Eucharistic thinking. For it sums up, in a single icon, as it were, so much of what the life of Saint Peter Julian Eymard’s life was about.

It remains for us now to return to the question that has us occupied us all along, concerning the authenticity of the texts published as “writings” of Eymard. Our commentary can then draw to a close with some considerations about ways in which the rediscovery of his spiritual journey and his Eucharistic evolution might continue to be fruitful in our own time.

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The faithful reconstitution of the experience of a saint, by careful study of the history of the transmission of his life and teaching, is of more than antiquarian interest, and not only for the members of the institutes he has founded and for those persons who continue to draw spiritual inspiration from his journey of faith as witness and teacher.

In a widely remarked book, Edith Wyschorod maintained that, in an era in which there is major disagreement about moral norms and in which people seriously concerned about the moral health of society pose the question of the gap between theoretical moral norms and actual moral practice, the “saints” (that is, the inspirational figures of the great religions) may well have a new relevance for our postmodern culture. Referring to the attraction exercised by the lived embodiment of human and religious values, she writes: “To lead a moral life one does not need a theory about how one should live,” she writes, “but a flesh and blood existent.”[111]

The saints belong as Eymard himself put it, to their brothers and sisters, to the Church – and Wyschorod would add – to humankind as such. That is another reason why the question of the “authenticity” of the Eymardian corpus has its importance.

Liberating prophecy from its winding-cloths

Like so many saints, especially those of the nineteenth-century, Eymard has come down to us (as we have seen) in a heavily edited form, designed to make him acceptable to his time and to conform him to an image of holiness constructed for the purposes of edification. The attempt to liberate their image from the deforming factors operative in the process of transmission is, then, a worthwhile goal. It enables those who live in a later age to experience afresh the fascination of their achievement and be stimulated by the prophetic audacity of their lives.

The well-known case of the autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux has been mentioned earlier. Even more dramatic has been the scholarly recovery, in recent decades, of the true story of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially as a peace-maker. As Paul Moses has shown, in a fascinating book,

church politics reshaped the account of Francis’ entire life, leading to a defining work in which Bonaventure portrayed Francis as an ethereal ‘angel of peace’ but eliminated the flesh-and-blood details of nearly every instance in which he actually tried to make peace.[112]

Not content to air-brush out the details, the work of re-interpretation went so far as to eliminate entirely significant phases of Francis’ life or radically alter their meaning. The most dramatic instance of this process concerns Francis’ daring visit and sojourn with Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, at the height of the Fifth Crusade, for the purpose of dialoguing with him regarding religion and peace. This prophetic attempt to pursue an alternative approach to the violence of the Crusades, by way of a the mutual search for peace through respectful dialogue and humble presence in the midst of the adversary, rather than resorting to armed confrontation, was “downplayed and then forgotten.”[113]

To portray the saint whom he had just canonized as a peace-maker sat uneasily with the policies of Pope Gregory IX, who resolutely took control of the transmission of the life and teaching of the saint of Assisi, recasting it so that it would not stand in the way of his warlike policies, such as formalizing the Inquisition, vigorously pursuing yet another Crusade and warring with Emperor Frederick II over landholdings.[114] It was not long before Gregory also enrolled the friars in the work of promoting his Crusade.

In telling his fascinating story, Paul Moses is fully aware of the striking relevance of Francis’ prophetic stance in today’s context of Christian-Muslim relations. The patient labours of historians have liberated the Saint’s immensely courageous, original and counter-cultural pursuit of peace from the winding cloths in which it had been wrapped, releasing its power once again to inspire and challenge the inhabitants of a very different world at grips with not dissimilar problems.

Eymard, of course, does not have the stature of a Francis, nor could he ever become so universally loved and admired a figure. He has his place, nonetheless, in the great company of the church’s saints and he did have his share of the prophetic gift.

Re-discovering Eymard’s spiritual teaching

To return, then, to him, the saint’s early interpreters forced his spirituality into the procrustean bed of a harsh voluntarism, a will-centred spirituality alien to the rich experience and positive teaching of his final years. This process began with Albert Tesnière (first biographer and editor of the first edition of his “writings,” mouthpiece in many ways of Raymond de Cuers) and Michel Chanuet (appointed by Eymard as the first novice master, despite the Founder’s judgment that he was excessively harsh and had little understanding of the Eucharistic life), and was carried forward by men such as George Bouffé (1861-1938) (general consultor and author of the first commentary on the constitutions) and Charles De Keyser (1886-1951) (influential general consultor, procurator and postulator of the pre-Vatican II era).

Many other aspects of Eymard’s charismatic contribution to the life of the church would, had we the space, deserve our attention – his pastoral strategies and methods, for example, or his approach to spiritual direction, his style of preaching,[115] and his engagement in ecclesial life and particularly the astonishingly wide range of his personal contacts and friendships, to name some of them. The narrowing of interest in favour of the unilateral promotion of Eucharistic adoration meant that Eymard’s evangelizing activity with the rag-pickers and street urchins of the Parisian slums virtually disappeared from the awareness of members of the congregations he founded, surviving at best as something purely anecdotal and picturesque.

Within the limits imposed by the present study, I have chosen to explore just two lines of historical evolution, that of his spirituality and that of his understanding of the Eucharist because these are crucial areas in which significant historical research has now obliged us to revise in a comprehensive way the image we had formed of him and of his contribution.

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Psychological type, the self, and gift

In line with this effort to recover a more authentic representation of the man and his work, I would like to suggest, by way of conclusion, certain themes of Eymardian research that may be particularly interesting for the contemporary student. Where his spiritual development is concerned, three questions may be singled out: in the first place, the influence of elements pertaining to his psychological constitution upon his spiritual struggle; second, is his concern with the self as a systematic whole and his attempt to surrender to God’s working in him; and, in the third place, the importance he accorded to the notion of gift.

In exploring Eymard’s spiritual evolution, I have chosen to highlight this one strand in particular, namely, his struggle, in the course of his spiritual journey towards holiness of life, to get free of compulsive tendencies rooted in his personality type. It is an area of Eymard studies that has not as yet been investigated in depth and one that has particular interest for us in our psychologically sophisticated culture.[116]

Similarly, Eymard’s intuitive sense of the importance of the “self” as a total system that, creating a specific form of consciousness, orients the person to his own self-interested goals rather than opening him to the ultimate or the divine resonates with contemporary concerns, particularly evident in the dialogue of Western philosophers, theologians, spiritual writers and psychologists with ancient Eastern traditions.[117] Already, Thomas Merton, for one, had shown marked interest in the problematic of the true self and the false self.[118] Despite the intense interest, there is little consensus so far about the precise nature of the “self.” “We must not expect an easy time of it,” observes Walter Conn, “for over the centuries few philo­sophical or psychological concepts have proven as resistant to clarification.”[119] It may prove of interest to study Eymard’s persistent efforts to probe into this question in an experiential way.

In drawing attention to the importance in Eymard’s spiritual evolution of the notion of “gift” Fr André Guitton has raised an issue that has been object of ongoing discussion amongst contemporary social scientists, philosophers and theologians, especially in the context of postmodernism.[120] One thinks of, after Marcel Mauss, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, for example, but also of theologians like Ghislain Lafont and Kevin Seasoltz, especially in the latter’s God’s Gift Giving.[121] Once again, even though Eymard’s approach is intuitive and experiential, belonging to the area of lived spirituality rather than that of scientific reflection, he does provide an interesting case-study in so far as he allows himself to be led by a sapiential reading of the scriptural and patristic sources in the direction of a spirituality shaped by the core-value of the Eucharist.

Passing now to the theme of Eymard’s remarkable growth in his grasp of and approach to the Eucharist, the second key area in which a major revision of Eymard’s received image is called for, I wish to draw attention to several of his more important insights.

Fruitful insights into the mystery of the Eucharist

For the first century of the congregation’s life, no one (so it appears) had so much as entertained the possibility that Eymard’s thinking about the Eucharist might have undergone major development. No study of the development of his thought, at any rate, was to appear prior to 1968 – the year of publication of Lauréat Saint-Pierre’s book, L’Heure du Cenacle.

Imbued with the unquestioned presuppositions of the post-tridentine tradition as it was understood in his time, Tesnière, as we have seen, simply lumped together texts from vastly different epochs in the Founder’s journey.

Nor did the only, and largely unsatisfactory, attempt to present Eymard’s thought in a systematic way demonstrate any greater sophistication.[122] After a brief introduction dealing with the Trinity, the author dedicates three chapters to Eymard’s understanding of the Eucharist, treating respectively the themes of “presence,” “sacrifice,” and “communion.” He then proceeds to assign to each in turn, from his collection of Eymardian texts, those that seemed to fit the label of the respective chapter: the contents of the first (“presence”) yields 69 pages of text, that of the second (“sacrifice”) a mere 13, while the third (“communion”), doing a little better, produces 16 pages.

However much it may be in need of nuance and correction, Lauréat Saint-Pierre’s pioneering study changed this rigidly schematic and static picture altogether. It showed us how by assiduous and prayerful frequentation of the scriptures and perusal of the great patristic sources Eymard had gained a rich sapiential knowledge of the sacrament that stretched the limits of the categories he had inherited. Saint-Pierre’s choice of the image of the Cenacle, founded firmly in Eymard’s own texts, has served to counterbalance or, better, generally supersede the hitherto dominant image of the royal throne that had virtually defined Eymard’s congregations for a century.

The question of the development of Eymard’s Eucharistic thinking still awaits, nonetheless, a more careful, nuanced and thorough investigation. In the brief essay offered here I have made use of the concepts of enrichment and re-centering in an attempt to define more accurately the precise nature of the development of Eymard’s approach to the sacrament, in part in order to nuance the false impression with which Saint-Pierre may leave the reader, namely that Eymard had left behind him certain unsatisfactory and outdated ways of speaking of the sacrament.

It is more true to say, I believe, that Eymard remained a man of his time, and as such his mind was wedded, and to the end of his life, to certain theological concepts that are no longer generally accepted by theologians of the Eucharist, notably the theory of the “diminished state” (status declivior) of Christ “under” the Eucharistic species.[123] These were, in any case, in no way ideas proper to Eymard, and they were still being propagated long after his death by respected theologians such as Austrian Jesuit, Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin (1816-1886).

An enduring achievement

Eymard’s real achievement was not in the field of theology, but in that of religious experience, of spirituality; it consisted in focusing attention on the Eucharist as the centre of the church’s life and opening up, often in quite original ways, the immense spiritual riches of sacramental communion.

Many of his insights remain valid, and some of the concepts he employed with powerful effect have seen fruitful development in our own day. One of these is the notion that the Eucharist must occupy a “central” place in the life of the church and in that of the individual believer, a notable feature of the teaching of Vatican II[124] concerning the sacrament. Similarly, Eymard’s insight into the “shaping,” “modelling,” or “formative” nature of Christ’s activity upon the communicant also anticipated certain fruitful developments of Eucharistic teaching explored richly by such eminent figures as Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini[125] and Benedict XVI.[126]

From the days of his foundations to our own time, the very name of Peter Julian Eymard can hardly be pronounced without evoking the mystery of the Eucharist. That, at least, is how Pope John XXIII thought of him, as he tells us in the allocution he pronounced on the occasion of the canonization, just fifty years ago at the time of writing:

The name of Peter Julian suffices to unveil to our eyes the splendid Eucharistic triumphs to which, in spite of trials and difficulties of all kinds, he wanted to consecrate his life which prolongs itself in the family founded by him (…).

He is a saint with whom we have been familiar for many years, as we said above, when as Apostolic Nuncio to France, Providence granted Us the happy opportunity to visit his native land, La Mure d’Isère, near Grenoble.

We saw with our own eyes the poor bed, the humble dwelling where this faithful imitator of Christ gave up his beautiful soul to God. You can surmise, beloved Sons, with what emotion we recall that memory on this day when it is given us to confer upon him the honours of canonisation.[127]

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[1] Owen Chadwick, The Reformation [The Pelican history of the Church Vol. 3] Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1972, p. 300.

[2] See José Ignacio Gonzalez Faus, La autoridad de la verdad. Momentos oscuros del magisterio eclesiástico. Barcelona: Herder, 1996, pp. 89-94. For his documentation the author draws freely upon the well-known work by Ludwig Pastor, The history of the popes from the close of the Middle Ages drawn from the secret archives ofthe Vatican and other original sources (1899).

[3] Ida Friederike Görres, The Hidden Face: A Study of St Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), p. 25.

[5] Mary Frohlich, ‘Christian Mysticism in Postmodernity: Thérèse of Lisieux, A Case Study’ in David B. Perrin (Ed.), Women Christian Mystics Speak to our Times (New York: Sheed and Ward, 2001), p. 162.

[6] Pierre Julien Eymard, Oeuvres Complètes, Volumes I-XVI. Ponterancia, Italy/Domaine d’Arny, France: Centro Eucaristico – Nouvelle Cité, 2008.

[8] Lauréat Saint-Pierre, S.S.S. L’heure du cénacle dans la vie et le œuvres de Pierre-Julien Éymard. Étude d’une progression dans l’expérience du mystère Eucharistique. Lyon: Lescuyer, 1968, p. 430.

[9] The assertions made here are all fully documented in Cave’s study referred to above.

[10] See Note 5 above.

[11] This tendency, condemned by the church, has been described as “a system of religious mysticism teaching that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by annihilation of the will and passive absorption in contemplation of God and divine things” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

[12] Cave, ‘Writings’...., pp. 154-155.

[13] Tesnière wrote to a correspondent that “This book has been my guide in making corrections, and what I used to resolve my personal doubt. All of Fr Eymard’s words and thoughts are found in Mgr. Gay, and I believe I could explain and defend Fr Eymard using this book alone.” Tesnière is referring to Gay’s work, De la vie et des vertus chrétiennes, Paris, 1874 (cf. Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 318).

[14] Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 167. While he censures Champion for his negative attitude to Eymard’s thought, Tesnière is himself willing to admit privately that “[Eymard’s] Nemours retreat … contains a whole list of affirmations which are condemnable if taken at face value.”

[15] One of his former students and future archivist and historian, Fr Henri Evers, while admiring Tesnière’s gifts of clarity and “impeccable” reasoning admits that he was, on the other hand, wont to resort to arguments akin to sophistry, a procedure that he says he and his fellow students were too young at the time to see through (Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 32 Note 15).

[16] We see a similar tenacious attachment to her self-appointed role in Mother Agnes. “The entire text of Thérèse’s authentic autobiographical manuscripts was not to become publicly available until several years after the death of Mother Agnes in 1951; indeed, Mother Agnes had responded to a letter from the Very Reverend Marie-Eugène, Definitor General of the Discalced Order, in which he officially requested the release of the complete original texts of Thérèse in order ‘to avoid and to refute partial or mistaken interpretations of her doctrine and in order that her doctrine and her soul should be still more deeply understood,’ by obtaining from Rome a postponement of the directive until after her death. In 1957, François de Sainte Marie published Thérèse’s complete autobiographical manuscripts in all of their authenticity. His work contained ‘no additions, no deletions, practically no paragraphs, no division into chapters, no prologue, no epilogue;’ at last “the real Thérèse appeared ‘stripped,’ not sweetened.” (Michelle Jones, From Mother to Sister: The Development in the Understanding of Mission in the Life and Writings of St Thérèse of Lisieux and its Contemporary Relevance University of Notre Dame Australia, It is interesting to note that the first truly critical edition of Eymard’s writings appeared at precisely this same time, 1957 (see above).

[17] His attitude was resented by others. Fr De Cuers, for one, referring to his “excess of pride,” complained: “From where does he get this conviction that he alone understands Eymard’s thought?” (Cave, ‘Writings’...., pp. 150 and 168 Note 22).

[18] For an example, see Cave, ‘Writings’...., pp. 409-423, 443-450.

[19] Idem, p. 156.

[20] For all of this, see Saint-Pierre, pp. 310-311; English text quoted in Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 167, Note 16.

[21] Quoted from an article in the Mémorial catholique of Lyon, France, Jan.-Feb., 1869, under the rubric “The Mystics.” Abbé Alexandre Seymat was parish priest of Saint-Romans for seventeen years (1848-1865), and he knew both Eymard and Mme Jordan very well. Extracts from the original French text are found in Saint-Pierre, Lauréat, S.S.S. L’heure du cénacle dans la vie et le œuvres de Pierre-Julien Éymard. Étude d’une progression dans l’expérience du mystère Eucharistique. Lyon: Lescuyer, 1968, pp. 417-418.

[22] Le Révérend Père P.-J. Eymard, fondateur de la Société du très-Saint Sacrement, Marseilles, 1870 (138 pages).

[23] Saint-Pierre, p. 436.

[24] Cave, ‘Writings’...., pp. 155 and 167. Note 19.

[25] Even as late as 1958, congregation historian and archivist, Henri Evers, could write that “This short life represents even today the very best way of offering a quick overall view of the Founder’s spirit and work” (Pour l’historie de la Congrégation du T.S. Sacrement, Rome, 1958, I, p. 63).

[26] Cave, Eymard, p. 33.

[27] Lauréat Saint-Pierre, S.S.S. L’heure du cénacle dans la vie et le œuvres de Pierre-Julien Éymard. Étude d’une progression dans l’expérience du mystère Eucharistique. Lyon: Lescuyer, 1968.

[28] Donald Cave, Eymard the Years 1845-1851: A Critical Study of the Origins of the Eucharistic Vocation of St. Pierre-Julien Eymard, Rome, 1969.

[29] For a fine recent study of this theme, see Mary L. Coloe, God Dwells with Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001.

[30] The ancient four humours theory derives from the Greek doctor Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who believed certain human moods, emotions and behaviours were caused by body fluids (called “humours”): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. After Hippocrates, Galen (131-200 AD) developed the first typology of temperament in his dissertation De temperamentis, and searched for physiological reasons for different behaviours in humans. In The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna (980-1037) then extended the theory of temperaments to encompass “emotional aspects, mental capacity, moral attitudes, self-awareness, movements and dreams.”

[31] The first text is from a retreat conference of March 2nd 1860, the second from a year later, on August 23rd 1861.

[32] Amongst the many resources I have drawn upon, I might make mention of the following: Albert Ellis, Ph.D., and William J. Knaus, Ed. D., Overcoming Procrastination or How to Think and Act Rationally in Spite of Life’s Inevitable Hassles. New York: Signet Books [Penguin], 1979, pp. 75-77. Bryan E. Robinson, Chained to the Desk. A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Parents and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them. New York and London; New York University Press, 2001, pp. 29-30, 48-49, 106-108. Stephen Wolinsky, The Tao of Chaos. Essence and the Enneagram, Quantum Consciousness Volume II. Norfolk, Connecticut: Bramble Books, 1994. pp. 159-171. Elizabeth Scott, M.S., “How To Develop a Healthier Outlook Learn to Be Perfectly Imperfect!” (Updated: November 8, 2007); “Perfectionist Traits: Do These Sound Familiar? Are Too-High Expectations Wrecking Your Inner Peace?” (Updated August 30, 2011). UTS Student Services Unit with permission of Victoria University of Wellington (Note: content now at

[33] Webster/Merriam definition.

[34] To cite just one text: “I have been an agent of our Lord, his doorman, his military orderly rather than his personal servant. I spoke much about him but little to him personally. I was busy about many things like Martha, whereas this good Master wanted me at his feet; and when I was in adoration. I spent my time having him adored by others rather than adoring him myself, talking to him about others, and studying for the benefit of others, and all the time it was me this good Master wanted.” (21st February, 1st meditation, p. 145).

[35] Eymard adapts the text which in the original refers to what the Father does.

[36] 23rd February, 1st meditation, p. 152.

[37] The Vow of the Personality. Four Essays by Members of the Commission for the Study of the Founder and His Work [Études sur les origines de la Congrégation du Saint-Sacrement Vol. VII] Rome, 2001.

[38] Adolf Bernhard Marx in his 1859 biography of Beethoven was probably the first to see the parallel between this second movement and the ancient mythical account of Orpheus taming the Furies at the gates to Hades (represented, respectively, by the piano and unison strings). In Eymard’s case his anger with himself for his faults and his tendency to try to suppress them with violence is being tamed by the more gentle urgings of God’s Spirit within him.

[39] 26th January, 3rd meditation, in Eymard, Peter Julian. Retreat Notes. From the French Critical Edition, Translation by William LaVerdiere, S.S.S.. New York: Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, 1969 p. 66.

[40] 6th February, 1st meditation, p. 95.

[41] Ibid.

[42] 24th February, idem, p. 157.

[43] See, for example, Louis Bouyer,  Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, p. 54.

[44] 11th March, 1st meditation p. 206.

[45] For example: “Our Lord expiated all my sins; and I made him suffer more than anybody else because he loved me more, gave me more graces…”, 3rd day, 3rd meditation p. 69; see also 5th day, second meditation, p. 78: “I thanked the good God for not having treated me like a thief, an unfaithful servant, a fraudulent bankrupt…;” sixth day, 3rd meditation, p. 80, where he speaks of “taking the place that is naturally my due, a place of contempt and oblivion;” on 7th February, 1st meditation, p. 98, in which he declares: “And I, I do not desire heaven… I have not desired, or negligibly so, the coming of our Lord in me… I have not desired holy communion…” etc. p. 98.

[46] 15th February, 3rd meditation, p. 121.

[47] 11th March, 1st meditation, p. 206.

[48] Here are some of the texts: 4th day, 2nd meditation, p. 72, where he speaks of  “a swelling vanity;” or 1st February, 1st meditation, p. 81 where he states: “Our Lord took advantage of my weakness: the service of his glory, the love of his worship and of his triumph. Thus my vanity developed into an exterior virtue.” On 23rd February, 1st meditation, p. 152, where he speaks of his interior being like an uninhabitable house because of “the fumes of vanity that are escaping,” or, on 6th March, 2nd  meditation, p. 192, where he says that his mind “is always in a dither, in a smog of self-love and vanity” etc.

[49] 18th February, 2nd meditation, p. 134.

[50] 28th March, 1st meditation, p. 275; cf. 10th March, 2nd meditation, p. 204.

[51] Same text of 1861, quoted in the previous note.

[52] See 17th February, 1st meditation, p. 126; 19th March, 2nd meditation, p. 244.

[53] “Mortification inspired by justice does not prove that one loves God more than self; one can he very obedient as regards all that is commanded and yet very harsh interiorly. [On the other hand] mortification of the spirit goes directly to God, it seeks only God and that for himself, and asks nothing for the self. Ah! what a way to come close to God! If I had known this fifteen years ago! I have understood it too late. It is a treasure I put into your hands, learn how to profit by it.”(Notes du P. Tesnière, August 13, 1867. A.P.SS., S 1, p. 296, (fair copy); see Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 34 Note 33). For the references to the Rome Retreat, see pp. 235 (English version).

[54] A man of unexceptional intelligence, De Cuers was possessed of a rigid and intransigent personality characterized by a will of adamantine consistency. The motto chosen by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, head at the time of the Second Vatican Council of what was then known as the Holy Office, would have fitted him perfectly: Semper idem – “always the same.”

[55] In the final retreat he made before his death we find him still writing in his journal, “I must have order in my life” (St. Peter Julian Eymard, Retreat Notes, New York: Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament: 1969, p. 309).

[56] John Saward in The Study of Spirituality, Editors: Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, SJ. NY/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. 394.

[57] Quoted in D. A. Helminiak, “Catholicism’s Spiritual Limbo: A Shift in ‘Incarnational Spirituality’” Spirituality Today, Winter 38/34, 1986, pp. 331-347; here p. 336.

[58] A careful reading of the manuscript of the Retreat suggests that the letter (or letters) was probably about De Cuers rather than (as some have thought) from him, since Eymard refers shortly after to his hasty judgment on the basis of “the reports of a few.”

[59] 9th March, 3rd meditation, p. 200.

[60] Idem.

[61] 10th March, 2nd meditation, p. 203.

[62] 5th February, 3rd meditation, p. 94.

[63] 17th February, 3rd meditation, p. 129.

[64] Idem, pp. 129-130.

[65] 17th February, 3rd meditation, p. 130.

[66] This classic work has had many editions, for example: Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Self-Abandonment to Divine Prov-idence. Glasgow: Collins Fontana, 1971. According to a very recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, of December 3rd 2012, the work was not written by de Caussade at all. French historian, Jacques Gagey, has shown that Sister Marie Cécile of the Visitation discovered, towards the middle of the nineteenth century, fragments of letters she believed were the spiritual correspondence of the superior of her monastery, Mother de Rottembourg. She put them together and gave them to the Jesuit Henri Ramière, passing them off as works of de Caussade (a not uncommon practice of the time, especially when women were the authors). Recognizing the value of the texts, Ramière gave them the form of a treatise in chapters and also entitled them L’abandon à la Providence divine, publishing it in 1861 as a posthumous work of de Caussade. Gagey believes that the real author was a woman of Lorraine, whose spiritual director was indeed de Caussade. Her name is not yet known, but she was certainly of high social standing and familiar with the Order of the Visitation of Nancy.

[67] June 1897 in Manuscrit autobiographiques de saint Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Lisieux: Office centrale de Lisieux, 1957, p. 240.

[68] For example, in his third meditation on March 20th where he dreads what is likely to happen on his return, cf. p. 250.

[69] 4th day, 3rd meditation, pp. 304-305.

[70] “I must have order in my life.” Retreat of Saint-Maurice, 2nd May, 1868, p. 309.

[71] “Our Lord gave me to understand .. that I should fight this war with the patience of humility.” Retreat of Saint-Maurice, 1868, p. 800.

[72] 26th January, 3rd meditation, p. 65.

[73] 5th February, 3rd meditation, p. 94.

[74] 26th January, 3rd meditation, p. 66.

[75] 6th February, 1st meditation, p. 95.

[76] 25th February, 1st meditation, p. 161.

[77] 5th March, 3rd meditation, pp. 187-8.

[78] Psychologist Abraham Maslow concluded, on the basis of his studies of highly actualised persons, that deep change of the kind we are discussing here is in fact very rare. Referring to the indispensable conditions for such change, he has written: “Self-knowledge and self-improvement is very difficult for most people. It usually needs great courage and long struggle”. See Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand, 1968, (2nd ed.), p. 166.

[79] 23rd March, 2nd meditation, p. 262.

[80] See 25th March, 1st meditation, pp. 251-252.

[81] Idem.

[82] For a recent collection of studies of the Rome retreat and, in particular, of the vow, see Commission for the Study of the Founder and His Work, The Vow of the Personality. Four Studies. / Commission d’Étude sur le Fondateur et son œuvre, Le Voeu de la personnalité. Quatre Études. [Études sur le Origines de la Congrégation du Saint-Sacrement Volume VII]. Rome: S.S.S., 2001.

[83] 23rd March, 2nd meditation, p. 262.

[84] 21st March, 1st meditation, p. 252.

[85] Letter to Mother Guyot, superior of the religious of St. Thomas Villanova, 11th March 1865, quoted in Saint-Pierre/Thibault, p. 35; see The Life and Letters…, Vol. 5, p. 32.

[86] For Trent, see David Power, The Eucharistic Mystery. Revitalizing the Tradition. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1992, pp. 259-260. Power points out that the node of the problem in the sixteenth century was the separation of sacrifice and sacrament. On the Catholic side, that the Mass was so often offered without its use as sacrament obscured the original intent and nature of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist.

[87] This term, already important in Husserl, is most frequently associated today with the philosophers Hans Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.

[88] See for this, Histoire religieuse de la France 1800-1880. Entre raison et révélation, un siècle religieux ? Sous la direction de Gérard Cholvy et de Yves-Marie Hilaire. Toulouse : Éditions Privat, 2000, pp. 198ff.

[89] Text from 28 March, 1867. See Lauréat Saint-Pierre, The Hour of the Cenacle in the Life and Works of Peter-Julian Eymard. A translation of chapters V, VI, VII of L’Heure du Cénacle (1968) by Hervé Thibault, S.S.S. Rome: Editions of the General House of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, 1991, p. 76.

[90] See Cave, “Writings”…, pp. 101-102. That this was a clear and growing conviction, and not simply a passing thought jotted down in his notebook, we can corroborate from the article by Abbé Seymat, in which adoration is situated in just this perspective. Seymat was expressing the firm conviction he shared with Mme Jordan on the basis of their personal conversations with Eymard.

[91] Saint-Pierre/Thibault, p. 76.

[92] Texts re communion as education: Saint-Pierre/Thibault, pp. 75f; 76ff.

[93] The setting of exposition was loaded with décor – the royal mantle, the fleur-de-lys and so on – evocative of the glories of the French monarchy, above all of the epoch of Louis XIV, the “Sun-King.”

[94] Text from 14 June 1867.

[95] Saint-Pierre/Thibault, pp. 79-80.

[96] 6th December, 1867.

[97] Second meditation of February 1st, Retreat Notes, p. 83. Despite this clear and reasoned repudiation by Eymard of the application of the category of the virtue of religion as an adequate characterization of the goal of his institute (and of the appropriate response to the sacrament), Tesnière actually adds this concept to a later text (of 1867) of Eymard’s that he is filling out for publication. The expression cannot be found in the notes he took at the time and is now working from (cf. Cave, Writings…, pp. 11-12). It is clear from this instance, as in many others, that Tesnière’s own thinking on this point is identical with that of de Cuers. He has manifestly failed to grasp both the fact of the significant shift in Eymard’s thinking and the reason for it. For Eymard, from this time on, to locate the adequate response to the Eucharist in the area of the external “service of adoration” (an exercise in the virtue of religion, that is, of giving public recognition to the divinity of Christ) is to fail to go deep enough; the purpose of the sacrament, he now sees, is to be located in the personal transformation of the participants, which is to be brought about by the faith-filled and loving reception of holy communion, whereby Christ operates mysteriously in the interior of the communicant.

[98] 5th July, 1967.

[99] E. C. Núñez, S.S.S., La Spiritualité du P. Pierre-Julien Eymard, Fondateur des Prêtres et des Servantes du T. S. Sacrement. [Introduction PP. E. C. Núñez, et J.-F. Bérubé, S.S.S. Ière et IIe Partie P. E.C. Núñez, S.S.S.]. Rome: Maison Généralice des Prêtres du T. S. Sacrement, 1956, p. 59; S 7,4.

[100] Quoted in Cave, ‘Writings’...., p. 43. Note 83.

[101] Cave, “Writings,” p. 110. Note 65.

[102] We can get an idea of how crassly materialized was his (and not only his) conception of the sacramental presence from the requirement that the religious were to stand while praying the whole of the Divine Office in the presence of the exposed sacrament, since “Christ King of glory is standing in the Blessed Sacrament.” Although this text was part of the version of the Constitutions sent to Rome by Fr Champion for approbation after the death of the Founder, we know that de Cuers had long fought for such a requirement. When Eymard had introduced chairs into the sanctuary so that part, at least, of the Office might be chanted seated, de Cuers had created a scene, angrily tossing the chairs out of the sanctuary. Not surprisingly Rome ordered the expression to be expunged from the text. (S. Petrus Iulianus Eymard Textus Constitutionum Congregationis Sanctissimi Sacramenti Vol. IV, Textus Quartae Periodi 1863 – 1868 [ac 1962]. Romae: Apud Curiam Generalem Congregationis Sanctissimi Sacramenti, 1968, pp. 731-732).

[103] Abbé Alexandre Seymat, quoted in Lauréat Saint-Pierre, S.S.S. L’heure du cénacle dans la vie et le œuvres de Pierre-Julien Éymard. Étude d’une progression dans l’expérience du mystère Eucharistique. Lyon: Lescuyer, 1968, pp. 417-419.

[104] The facsimiles can be seen in Cave, ‘Writings’...., facing p. 527.

[105] Herbert Butterfield writes that “Almost a hundred and fifty years were needed [from the time of Copernicus] before there was achieved a satisfactory combination of ideas — a satisfactory system of the universe — which permitted an explanation of the movement of the earth and the other planets, and provided a framework for further scientific development.” See Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science 1300-1800. Revised Edition. New York: The Free Press, 1966 (1957), p. 67.

[106] Sacra Tridentina Sinodus, On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion, Issued and approved by Pope Pius X on December 20, 1905.

[107] Radio message for the closing of the XVII French National Eucharistic Congress, Osservatore Romano, 6-7 July, 1959, p. 1.

[108] See for this development Ferdinand Pratzner, The International Eucharistic Congresses 1881-1989, Vatican City: 1991, especially p. 22. The new Statutes of the Congresses state: “Every Congress should be considered a statio orbis that highlights, whether in the catechetical preparation or in its celebration, the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church and of its mission pro mundi vita” (idem, pp. 122-128).

[109] 2nd day, 3rd meditation, p. 298.

[110] André Guitton, Peter Julian Eymard 1811-1868. Apostle of the Eucharist. Ponteranica: Centro Eucaristico, 1996, p. 331.

[111] Edith Wyschorod, Saints and Postmodernism. Revisioning Moral philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 3.

[112] See Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace. New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009, p. 197.

[113] Ibid.

[114] The process of reinterpretation was very thorough indeed, as Moses shows. “Francis … identified a series of foundational New Testament passages and made them his guide. In terms of his emphasis on being a peacemaker, two passages stand out in his brief writings. He quoted Matthew 5:44 — “love your enemies” — four times, twice in his Admonitions, and in each of the two known versions of the Rule. And he quoted the passage “blessed are the peacemakers” from Matthew 5:9 twice in Admonitions.

“Like Francis, the early biographers also relied heavily on Scripture to make their points, which was customary in the Middle Ages. … All told, the known thirteenth- and fourteenth-century documents about Francis add up to more than two thousand pages in today’s anthologies, containing thousands of allusions to Scripture. But not once did any of the early biographers of Francis allude to these two lines of Scripture that meant so much to him.” Op. cit., p. 212.

[115] In publishing the records of Eymard’s preaching Tesnière excised from the texts all concrete and topical references, to the point where the saint’s words acquire a transtemporal character, floating above the concrete historical events of his time in a rather abstract spiritual world of their own.

[116] See, for example, the valuable study of Don S. Browning and Terry D. Cooper, Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004 (2nd Edition). The authors seek to make explicit the religious and ethical assumptions operating in the most important contemporary psychologies.

[117] Just to mention a couple of works, more or less at random: John W. Newman, Disciplines of Attention. Buddhist Insight Meditation, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and Classical Psychoanalysis. New York: Peter Lang, 1996; and Louis Roy, OP, Mystical Consciousness. Western Perspectives and Dialogue with Japanese Thinkers. New York: State University of New York Press, 2003.

[118] The issue is discussed, for example, by James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1978 (reprinted in 2003), pp. 128-132 (and elsewhere).

[119] Walter E. Conn, The Desiring Self. Rooting Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction in Self-Transcendence. New York/Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1998, p. 53.

[120] See André Guitton’s contribution, “Study of the Vow of the Personality of Fr Eymard,” in op. cit. The Vow of the Personality, pp. 31-50, especially pp. 37-40 and the Appendix, pp. 47-50 indicating the frequency of this vocabulary.

[121] R. Kevin Seasoltz, God’s Gift Giving. In Christ and Through the Spirit. New York: Continuum, 2007.

[122] E. C. Núñez, La spiritualité, op. cit., see Note 99 (above).

[123] This notion is usually associated with a well-known sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit and Cardinal, Juan de Lugo, who wrote of the “Eucharistic state” of Jesus (De Euchar, disp. XIX, sect. V; Cursus complet., t. XXIII, p. 730). He used the concept to try to justify the sacrificial language used by Trent in regard to the Eucharist, holding that Christ was reduced, in the sacrament, to a state of “deprivation” or “diminishment” (in Latin, status declivior). In this imagined state, the risen Christ is thought to be deprived of his attributes and qualities, voluntarily reduced to the condition of things, that is, of food and drink, in virtue of which the Saviour, after the fashion of lifeless food, is inert in the sacrament and so at the mercy of whosoever shall use or misuse it. The theory was propagated by a younger contemporary of Eymard’s, the Tyrolean Cardinal J. B. Franzelin.

[124] For example, Presbyterorum Ordinis, No 6.

[125] Martini made very effective use of this concept of the “shaping” or “modelling power” (forza plasmatrice) of the sacrament, in his writings on the Eucharist, especially his pastoral letters, notably Attirerò tutti a me (1982-83). He writes, for example, in No 95. “The shaping and unifying action of the Eucharist has to do with the tasks, actions, initiatives of the community, but has influence above all on the spiritual life, in the strong sense of the term, that is on the procedures through which the Holy Spirit impresses the style of Jesus upon the life of the individual persons and on their interpersonal relations.”

[126] See Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis Nos 82 and 92, in which he develops a similar conception to that of Martini, exploring with the help of the notion of “form” (in German Gestalt) or “model” at some length what he calls “the Eucharistic form of the life of the Church.”

[127] The Canonization of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Rome, December 9, 1962 (New York: Eymard League, 1962), F1644, Blessed Sacrament Congregation & St Francis’ Church Heritage Centre, Melbourne.

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