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William Bush The Martyrdom of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne: A Christian Crowning of the Philosophers' Century ? As A DISCIPLE OF Georges BERNANOS , I cannot begin without briefly evoking a phrase from his spiritual testament, Dialogues of the Carmelites.This phrase has long served me as a guide when I tried to understand that revolutionary world in which the Compiègne martyrs were to make their oblation. Through the dying prioress, Madame de Croissy, Bernanos, who was also himself dying at the time, speaks to his young heroine, Blanche de la Force, regarding her fearsome nature to say: "revolt is always a thing ofthe Devil? It seems to me that a Christian will instinctively recognize the profound truth hidden in this affirmation. Since nothing happens without the will of God, man must seek his sanctification through This paper is an English translation of "Le Martyre des seize carmélites de Compiègne: Couronnement très chrétien du siècle des Philosophes" delivered at the Université Laval in Québec in 1993, dien repeated, in translation, at the University of St. Thomas in 1994, for the bicentenary of the martyrdom. Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 The Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne circumstances given by God. Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, did not revolt against the injustice ofHis own death. Nor has Christianity throughout its twenty centuries of history ever been a story of rebellion, but rather one of transfiguration, of a metamorphosis ofhuman nature through a love stronger than death. So it was with the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne on July 17, 1794, at the Place of the Throne in Paris. They did not rebel at all against the revolutionary regime. Finding themselves involved in it by the will of God, they knew how to draw glory from it. Thanks to their prioress, Madame Lidoine, they also knew how to make oftheir martyrdom an act of fervent, burning love for Jesus Christ in the great tradition of Carmel. For, with St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa ofAvila, Madame Lidoine also sang that she was dying from not dying from that love she felt for God incarnate in Jesus Christ. Oh! fix my hope, oh fix it all on dying! Truly I die from not dying for thee. And hasten, Lord, die end of all my sighing, Freed from these chains to thee alone I'll flee! Let thy blade cut, completing all my offerings, For nodiing but thy will for me is sweet. My one desire is diat thy hand be hovering O'er me thy bride, die sacrifice complete! Accompanied by her fifteen daughters, it was given to Madame Lidoine to live out these high aspirations, so faithfully echoing the spirituality of Carmel. II Ifever a time needed such a manifestation oflove for Jesus Christ, it was surely the end of that "century of the philosophers."This is a fact one often forgets, however. A myth concerning the French 201 202 Logos Revolution has never ceased singing its praises. One sometimes even says that the Revolution is the indispensable source from which have sprung all the blessings of the modern world. If the source is a bit impure, so what?Vainly might the opponent invoke the horrendous andbarbarous images ofthe massacres ofSeptember 1792. He would immediately be called to order in being reminded of the old French saying: "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggsl" Is the French Revolution therefore something sacred? Generally one speaks of it as such. Sometimes one dares not speak otherwise. That of course explains why there was worldwide consternation in 1989, during the festivities taking place in Paris to celebrate the bicentenary ofthe storming ofthe Bastille, when MargaretThatcher, the English Prime Minister, remarked to President Mitterand with more truth than diplomacy, that the true heritage left by the French Revolution was a stack ofheadless cadavers, followed by a tyrant. Whatever the value of Mrs. Thatcher's observation, there are some very disquieting facts for any Christian who attempts to approach the history of the French Revolution. These facts have never stopped goading me in my own work on the sixteen martyrs of Compiègne and have...


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