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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Chapters from ‘Words of a Believer’
By Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782–1854)
 
Introductory, to the People

Translation of Grace Elizabeth King

THIS book was made principally for you; it is to you that I offer it. May it, amid so many ills that are your portion, so many sorrows that bear you down almost without any rest, reanimate and console you a little.  1
  You who carry the burden of the day, I would that it might be to your poor tired souls what, at midday in the corner of a field, the shade of a tree—no matter how stunted it may be—is to one who has worked all the morning under the hot rays of the sun.  2
  You are living in evil times, but these times will pass away. After the rigors of winter, Providence sends a season less rude; and the little bird blesses in his morning songs the beneficent hand which has returned to him warmth and abundance, his companion and soft nest.  3
  Hope and love. Hope softens all things; and love renders all things easy. There are at this moment men who are suffering much because they have loved you much. I their brother, I have written the account of what they have done for you, and what has been done against them on account of it; and when violence shall have worn itself out I shall publish it, and you will read then with tears less bitter, and you also will love these men who have so loved you. At present, if I should speak to you of their love and of their sufferings, I should be thrown into the dungeon with them. I would descend into it with great joy if your misery could thereby be lightened a little; but you would not recover any ease from it, and that is why it is better to wait and pray God that he shorten the trial. Now it is men who judge and strike; soon it will be He who will judge. Happy those who see his justice!  4
  I am old: listen to the words of an old man. The earth is sad and dried up, but it will turn green again. The breath of the wicked will not eternally pass over it, like a wind that blasts.  5
  What is being done, Providence wishes should be done for your instruction, so that you may learn to be good and just when your hour comes. When those who make an abuse of power shall have passed before you, like the mud of the running gutters in a day of storms, then you will understand that good alone is durable, and you will fear to soil the air which the breath of heaven has purified.  6
  Prepare your souls against that time, for it is not far off,—it nears.  7
  Christ, laid upon the cross, has promised to deliver you. Believe in his promise: and to hasten its fulfillment, reform that which needs reformation within you; exercise yourselves in all virtues, and love one another, as the Savior of the human race loved you till his death.  8
 
  IN the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.  9
  Glory to God in the highest of heaven, and peace on earth to men of good-will.  10
  The Father begot the Son, his Word, his Verb: and the Verb became flesh, and dwelt amongst us; and it came into the world, and the world knew it not.  11
  The Son promised to send the consoling Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and himself, and which is their mutual love: it will come and renew the face of the earth, and it will be like a second creation.  12
  Eighteen centuries ago the Verb scattered the divine seed, and the Holy Spirit fertilized it. Men saw it flourish; they tasted the fruit, the fruit of the Tree of Life, replanted in their poor habitations. I tell you there was a great joy among them when they saw the light appear, and felt themselves all penetrated by a celestial fire.  13
  At present the earth has again become cloudy and cold.  14
  Our fathers saw the sun decline. As it descended below the horizon, the whole human race thrilled. Then there was in that night I do not know what; it has no name. Children of the night, the west is black but the orient begins to lighten.  15
 
II
  LEND your ear and tell me whence comes that noise, confused, vague, strange, that one hears on all sides.
  16
  Place your hand upon the earth, and tell me why it thrills.  17
  Something that we know not moves inside the world; a labor of God is there.  18
  Is not each one waiting in expectation? Is there a heart that is not beating?  19
  Son of man, mount to the heights and proclaim what thou seest.  20
  I see on the horizon a livid cloud; and around, a red light like the reflection from a conflagration.  21
  Son of man, what seest thou besides?  22
  I see the seas raising their floods, and the mountains shaking their tops.  23
  I see the rivers changing their courses, the hills tottering and falling and filling up the valleys.  24
  Everything is giving way, everything is moving, everything is taking on a new appearance.  25
  Son of man, what seest thou again?  26
  I see storms of dust in the distance; and they are rolling hither and thither, dashing, breaking, mingling together. They pass over the cities; and when they have passed, naught is seen but the plain.  27
  I see the people rising in tumult, and the kings turning pale under their diadems. War is between them; a war to the death.  28
  I see a throne, two thrones, broken into pieces, and the people scattering the fragments over the earth.  29
  I see a people fighting as the archangel Michael fought against Satan. His blows are terrible, but he is naked, and his enemy is covered with thick armor. O God! He is fallen; he is struck to the death. No! he is but wounded; Mary, the virgin mother, throws her cloak over him, smiles upon him, and carries him for a while out of the fight.  30
  I see another people struggling without a pause, and gaining minute by minute new force in the struggle. This people bear the sign of Christ over the heart.  31
  I see a third one, upon which six kings have put the foot; and every time he moves, six poniards are plunged into his breast.  32
  I see upon a vast edifice, at a great height up in the air, a cross which I can barely distinguish, because it is covered with a black veil.  33
  Son of man, what seest thou yet again?  34
  I see the Orient, troubled within itself. It sees its antique palaces falling, its old temples crumbling into dust, and it lifts its eyes as if to seek other grandeurs and another God.  35
  I look towards the Occident: A woman with a proud eye and serene face; she traces with a firm hand a light furrow; and wherever the plowshare has passed I see arising new generations, who invoke her in their prayers and bless her in their hymns.  36
  I see in the North, men whose only remaining heat is concentrated in their heads, and it intoxicates them; but Christ is touching them with his cross, and their hearts are beginning to beat again.  37
  I see in the South, races bowed down under I know not what malediction; a heavy yoke is bearing upon them: but Christ is touching them with his cross, and they are straightening up again.  38
  Son of man, what seest thou still?  39
  He does not answer: let us call again:—  40
  Son of man, what seest thou?  41
  I see Satan flying, and Christ surrounded by angels coming to reign.  42
 
V
  WHEN you see a man conducted to prison, or to execution, do not hasten to say, “That is a wicked man, who has committed a crime against men.” For perhaps he is a good man, who wished to serve men, and is being punished for it by their oppressors.
  43
  When you see a people laden with chains and delivered to the executioner, do not hasten to say, “That is a violent people, who wished to trouble the peace of the earth.” For perhaps it is a martyr people, dying for the salvation of human kind.  44
  Eighteen centuries ago, in a city of the East, the pontiffs and king of the day nailed upon a cross, after having scourged him with rods, a rebel, a blasphemer, as they called him.  45
  The day of his death there was a great terror in hell, and a great joy in heaven.  46
  For the blood of the Just had saved the world.  47
 
VIII
  IN the beginning, labor was not necessary for man to live; the earth of itself supplied all his needs.
  48
  But man did evil; and as he revolted against God, the earth revolted against him. It came to pass to him then as it comes to pass to the child that revolts against his father: the father recalled his love from him, abandoning him to himself; and the servants of the house refusing to serve him, he has had to go out to seek here and there his poor life, eating bread earned by the sweat of his brow.  49
  Since then, God has condemned all men to labor, and all have their work to do, either of the body or of the mind; and those who say “I shall not work,” are the most miserable.  50
  For as worms devour the corpse, so do vices devour them; and if it is not vices it is ennui.  51
  And when God wanted man to go to work, he hid a treasure for him in the work; for he is a father, and the love of a father never dies.  52
  And to him who makes good use of this treasure, and does not foolishly waste, there comes to him a true rest; and then he is as men were at the beginning.  53
  And God gave them also this precept: “Aid one another; for there are among you some stronger, some weaker, some sickly, some healthy; and nevertheless they all must live. And if you act thus to one another, all will live; because I will recognize the pity that you had for your brother, and I shall make the sweat of your brow fertile.”  54
  And that which God promised has always been verified, and never has he who aids his brothers been seen to lack bread.  55
  Now there was once a wicked man, and cursed of Heaven. And this man was strong and hated work; so that he said, “How shall I do? If I do not work I shall die, and work is unendurable to me!”…  56
  Then a thought came from hell into his heart. He went by night, and seizing some of his brothers while they slept, he put them in chains. “For,” said he, “I will force them with rods and with the whip to work for me, and I will eat the fruit of their work.”  57
  And he did as he thought; and others seeing this, did likewise: and there were no longer any brothers, there were masters and slaves.  58
  It was a day of mourning upon all the earth.  59
  A long time afterwards there was another man, more wicked than the first and more cursed of Heaven.  60
  Seeing that men had multiplied everywhere, and that their multitude was innumerable, he said to himself: “I might well perhaps enchain some of them, and force them to work for me; but I should have to nourish them, and that would diminish my gain. Let me do better: let them work for nothing; they will die, in truth, but as their number is great, I shall amass riches before it greatly diminishes, and there will always be enough of them left over.”  61
  And now all this multitude lived upon what it received in exchange for its labor.  62
  Having spoken thus to himself, the man addressed himself more particularly to a few, and he said to them: “You work six hours, and you are given a piece of money for your work: work for twelve hours and you will gain two pieces of money, and you will live much better,—you, your wife, and your children.”  63
  And they believed him.  64
  And he told them again: “You work only half the days of the year: work all the days of the year, and your gain will be double.”  65
  And they believed him again.  66
  And it came to pass from this, that the quantity of work having become greater by half, without the need of the work becoming greater, half of those who formerly lived from their labor found no longer any one to employ them.  67
  Then the wicked man whom they believed said to them: “I will give work to you all, on the condition that you work the same length of time, and that I pay you but half of what I formerly paid you; for I am very willing to do you a service, but I do not wish to ruin myself.”  68
  And as they were hungry,—they, their wives, and their children,—they accepted the proposition of the wicked man, and they blessed him; “for,” said they, “he is giving us life.”  69
  And always continuing to deceive them in the same way, the wicked man ever increased their work and ever diminished their salary.  70
  And they died for the want of the necessities of life, and others hastened forward to replace them; for indigence had become so great in the country that whole families sold themselves for a piece of bread.  71
  And the wicked man who had lied to his brothers amassed more riches than the wicked man who had enchained them.  72
  The name of the one is Tyrant; the other has no name except in hell.  73
 
XII
  WHEN one of you suffers an injustice, when on his road across the world the oppressor throws some one down and puts a foot upon him, no one hears him if he complains.
  74
  The cry of the poor ascends to God, but it does not reach the ear of man.  75
  And I asked myself: “Whence comes this evil? Is it that He who has created the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as the strong, has wished to take from the one all fear in their iniquities from the others all hope in their misery?”  76
  And I saw that this was a horrible thought, a blasphemy against God.  77
  It is because each one of you loves himself alone, because each is separated from his brother, because each is alone and wishes to be alone, his complaint is not heard….  78
  In the spring, when everything revives, there comes out of the grass a sound which arises like a long murmur.  79
  This sound, formed of so many sounds that they cannot be counted, is the voice of an innumerable number of poor little imperceptible creatures. Alone, not one of them could be heard; all together, they make themselves heard. You also are hidden in the grass: why does no voice arise from it?  80
  But if any one has committed an injustice against you, commence by banishing all sentiment of hatred from your heart, and then, lifting your hands and your eyes above, say to your Father who is in Heaven: “O Father, thou art the protector of the innocent and the oppressed; for it is thy love that has created the world, and it is thy justice that governs it.  81
  “Thou wishedst that it should reign upon the earth, and the wicked man opposes his evil will. That is why we had determined to fight the wicked.  82
  “O Father! give counsel and help to our minds, and strength to our arms!”  83
  When you have thus prayed from the depths of your soul, fight and fear nothing.  84
 
XV
  YOU have but one day to pass upon the earth: order it so that you may pass it in peace.
  85
  Peace is the fruit of love; for love lies at the bottom of pure hearts as the drop of dew in the calyx of a flower.  86
  Oh, if you knew what it was to love!  87
  You say that you love, and many of your brothers lack bread to sustain life; clothing to cover their naked limbs; a roof to shelter them; a handful of straw to sleep upon; while you have abundance of everything.  88
  You say that you love, while there are sick ones in great numbers, languishing on their wretched couches without help; unhappy ones weeping, and no one to weep with them; little children going about all stiff with cold, from door to door, asking the rich for a crumb of bread from their tables, and not getting it.  89
  You say that you love your brothers; and what would you do if you hated them?  90
 
XXIII
  Lord, we cry unto thee, from the depths of our misery, like animals who lack pasture for their little ones.
  91
          We cry unto thee, Lord!  92
  Like the sheep robbed of its lamb,  93
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  94
  Like the dove seized by the vulture,  95
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  96
  As the gazelle in the claw of the tiger,  97
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  98
  As the bull exhausted and bleeding under the shaft,  99
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  100
  As the wounded bird that the dog pursues,  101
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  102
  As the swallow faltering from weariness, as it crosses the seas and struggles in the waves,  103
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  104
  As travelers lost in a burning desert, without water,  105
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  106
  As the shipwrecked on a sterile coast,  107
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  108
  As he who in the night, near a cemetery, meets some hideous spectre,  109
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  110
  As the father ravished of the bread he is taking his starving children,  111
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  112
  As the prisoner whom unjust power has thrown into a dungeon dark and dank,  113
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  114
  As the slave torn by the whip of his master,  115
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  116
  As the innocent led to execution,  117
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  118
  As the people of Israel in the land of bondage,  119
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  120
  As the descendants of Jacob, whose eldest sons the King of Egypt caused to be drowned in the Nile,  121
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  122
  As the Twelve Tribes, of whom the oppressor increased the tasks every day, cutting off every day from their food,  123
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  124
  As the Christ upon the Cross, when he said, “My Father! My Father! Why hast thou forsaken me?”  125
          We cry unto thee, Lord.  126
  O Father! Thou didst not forsake thy Son, thy Christ, save only in appearance, and for a moment;  127
  Neither wilt thou ever forsake the brothers of Christ.  128
  His divine blood, which redeemed them from the slavery of the prince of this world, will redeem them also from the slavery of the ministers of the prince of this world. See their pierced feet and hands, their opened side, their head covered with bleeding wounds. In the earth which thou gavest them for a heritage a vast sepulchre has been hollowed out for them; and they have been thrown into it, one upon the other, and the stone of it is sealed with a seal, upon which in mockery thy name is engraved. And thus, Lord, they are buried there; but it will not be for eternity. Three days more, and the sacrilegious seal will be broken, and the rock split asunder; and those who sleep will awaken; and the reign of Christ, which is justice and charity, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, will begin. Amen.  129
 
 
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