After visiting the Oblates in ND du Laus, whose communitarian failings had left Eugene in an unhappy state, he reached Switzerland. His first stop was Geneva – in the Protestant part of the country, and he was horrified to experience, at first hand, the effects of the Reformation, whose extent he had never understood before.

…We arrived very early in this capital of error. I can give you no idea of the painful impression that I felt. The sight of the Catholic Church where I hastened to go and adore Our Lord, only served to aggravate my anguish; the smallness of this church, in the center of a city so remarkably well built, its apparent poverty in the midst of so many riches; the thought that the fine building of St. Peter is in the power of the heretics, everybody I met in the streets marked with the sign of heresy, all contributed to chill the soul and throw me into a deep sadness.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 26 July 1830, EO VII n 349

Again, we need to suspend passing judgement according to today’s standards on attitudes of two centuries ago. Let us remember that it took another 150 years after Eugene’s writings for the word “ecumenism” to first enter into Christian vocabulary. So, from the Roman Catholic theological point of view, the only possibility that existed in Eugene’s time was conversion of the “heretics” and “schismatics” to the true faith enshrined in the Catholic Church.

We also need to remember that Eugene had had hardly any contact with Protestantism. His early years were in southern France and then in what is Italy today – both officially totally Catholic, with insignificantly tiny pockets of non-Catholics. We will see some change of attitude later, when he was Bishop of Marseilles and when he was sending missionaries into predominantly Protestant countries.

After having judged with great severity the heresy and the errors in which the Protestants lived, one is surprised to find here and there in the writings of Bishop de Mazenod judgments that are much more moderate and positive. Twice he calls the Protestants “our errant brothers,” and twice “our separated brethren.”    Yvon Beaudoin, “Mgr de Mazenod et les Protestants” in Vie Oblate Life 58 (1999), p 522-523

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    Early in 2003 I went to Morocco and was introduced to a people and their country where life was very different from mine. With 11 other Canadians I was on a tour organized out of England but as we entered Morocco we were accompanied by a Moroccan Tour Guide who was also an Imam, a teacher and a holy man. I did not know anything about Islam or Muslims save for what I had learned from the TV news and newspaper articles following 9/11. But I was able to learn about these people who lived somewhat differently than I, with different beliefs and found it to be quite wonderful. In truth the one thing that concerned me was the place of women in that society. In the big cities it was very different from the small towns and villages.

    My mind wonders what Eugene saw as being the ‘sign of heresy’ that the people carried. I look at my attitudes of those who belong to the same Church (and sometimes the same parish) as I, but who practice their faith differently than myself. Do I count them as being too strict, rigid and practicing their faith in manner that I describe as being pre-Vatican II? Or do I look at them and judge that they are too lax, too easy-going with their religion and the practices they seem to live out. Do I stave off the fear of something being different from me and my way of being by deciding it is wrong or ‘less than’. Do I measure and judge? My humanness seems to be able to sneak up on me in the small ways that can be just a deadly as the big ways.

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