To Rt. Rev. José Domingo Costa y Borrás: Bishop of Barcelona
Barcelona, October 18, 1853
I, Fr. Francisco Palau, respectfully expound to Your Excellency the following: Each epoch has its own needs in which the institutions direct its remedy, and such is the case of the School of Virtue. Before formalizing in religious association the activities that will be done in the parish church of St. Augustine’s, we have to ascertain if special motives demand it. We have thought so, but since it is up to the bishop to evaluate and judge these matters, I believe my duty is to present the necessary information to Your Excellency in order that you will come up with an enlightened decision.
In the last centuries some self-styled rationalist philosophers appeared without daring to show their true colours and have made a mockery of the logic and inverted the terms. They called good as evil and evil as good; described vice as virtue and virtue as vice. Having created this ideological confusion, they made the heedless devour the poison and had succeeded to seduce the multitude; and while they are permitted to attack God, religion, the Church, the prelates, the dogma, the moral and virtues in the name of this same sacred objects, such schools could not be less dismal and fatal for the faithful and unwary people. In the face of these anti-social and anti-Catholic schools, alternative schools must be opened whose mission is to direct, to define and distinguish good and evil, virtue and vice by its precise and right terms; schools that may disarm the enemies by giving the true definition of virtue and description of vice by its destructive characteristics.
Virtues are the adornment and riches of the soul of man just as the material goods are for the sensual. One of the important missions of the religious orders is to faithfully serve, teach and direct the public in the way of perfection, whether from the pulpit or from the confessional; the bishop impoverished of these auxiliaries, enabled by other concerns to provide either by himself or by the parish priests this lofty and sublime mission, their absence had produced a fatal effect and ignorance on the true virtue, and inevitably produced sensual and carnal man. The people will be Catholics because credence is preached. All that the ecclesiastical hierarchy can do by themselves is to allege against these attacks and this in exchange of many sufferings and sacrifices. The people will be Catholics but sensual and carnal as the Apostle says, and this sensuality will endanger even their beliefs. If there is human remedy that could prevent these evil, let there be Schools of Virtue where the people will be formed morally and spiritually not in any way but formally and with all solemnity.
The scarcity of spiritual masters and schools that could teach and train them, is bound to produce other more serious evil in our future, and that is the faithful to God, carried by good zeal, will fall into thousand illusions and superstitions in their religious practices. The wrong understanding about true virtue or ignorance of them will generate a fanaticism so harmful to religion as godlessness itself. How much suffering this fanaticism gives the bishops! Is this not the arm that the unbelievers used to usurp the prestige of Religion? Let schools of apologetics be opened if possible in the cities where true virtue will be taught, and this will save the chosen faithful people from a precipice in which so many cast headlong.
In peaceful times when people readily believed and followed what was proposed to them, there was no need to establish school of apologetics, but now they have already heard the arguments of the opponents and had been forced to discuss on the good and evil and, in this situation there is precisely a necessity of schools of apologetics whose method would not only to propose or explain, but to prove by principles and to refute errors. That is School.
The high class of the society learned and studied Religion from books and other printed materials, in these, considering the freedom of the press, the truth is tampered with thousand errors. In these schools of apologetics the doctrine is adapted to their capacity, without defrauding or deceiving the ignorant of the religious instructions due to them, and in this they have an opportunity to hear from the mouth of their pastors the truth of Religion.
All that and other motives, together with the necessity to teach always the faithful adults the Christian doctrine, impelled us to propose to your Excellency the establishment of the School of Virtue in November of 1851. The ideal could be beautiful, when the program is carried over to praxis; often times, time will ascertain the unsuitability or the impossibility of our projects to be realized and some times the experience will show the usefulness or need of the undertaking.
When the program of the School was published we could not yet conceive a certain judgement about it; but after completing two courses or two years of conferences the experience could very well advice us to decide if it is convenient or not to give it a stable, permanent and legal form. What we can attest is that, although it functions on all feast days and the sessions are stripped of those apparatus that usually attract the audience, such as music, songs, lights, etc. and the activities of teaching consisted in two hours, the audience has been the same, always constant, always extraordinarily attended. That and the repeated petitions of the pupils had inspired us to draw up the enclosed statutes that I submit for the critical examination and revision of Your Excellency.
I pray that Your Excellency will declare to us if in your wise prevision you deemed convenient to erect the School of Virtue as a society or religious congregation. If you agree, the statute which has been redacted, you think it convenient to be modified, it is for your pastoral approval.
This I expect from your Excellency’s true apostolic zeal.
Francisco Palau, Priest
WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
The correspondence we know hardly throws any light on the most relevant apostolic work in Fr. Palau’s life time: the School of Virtue. This letter shows it already ripe after two years’ experience. On a previous occasion, a commission had submitted to the bishop of Barcelona a seven point exposition of its rules, pious practices and apostolate. The Bishop gave his approval. The Civil Governor, Manual Lassala, was asked to state if there was anything in them against the laws of the State and, if not, to grant the necessary authorization. Lassala replied that a set of statutes had to be written and submitted to “this government”. Then it was that Palau planned to institutionalize the School of Virtue as an association or religious congregation and to form schools of apologetics in the provincial capitals. He gives the reasons for this project and encloses a copy of the statutes for the Bishop to judge and decide. This he did after making some changes.
THEME OF LETTER
In this letter, Palau presents the reality, the actual situation of the society of his time, as a challenge for religion. This reality is causing in him the urgency to answer the need he sees. There are some movements that are confusing the people: what before was called “bad” or “vice”, they call it “good” and “virtue”. They are putting the world upside down and teaching this way to others. Church needs to answer this need. There is a need of sane doctrine, of a dialogue with those movements that will clarify the truth and teach it to the confused people.
“Each epoch has its own needs in which the institutions direct its remedy”, as Palau says in first sentence of his letter. When I was reading this letter, I had an impression that Palau was writing for this actual time. There are many new movements that tend to put our world upside down, calling bad good, vice virtue etc. For example, before to have one husband or one wife, of opposite sex, was normal; now this model of a family is called intolerant and discriminating. At least in my country. It can seem that we all talk the same language, using the same words like freedom, tolerance, love, happiness. But the meaning of these words is no longer the same. And one can get confused about how it is possible that we cannot understand each other. And one can start feeling bad because suddenly what we believed before as good and righteous, is not good nor righteous anymore. The thing is that we need masters, like in time of Palau, who will help us to re-discover the true meaning of these words, who will teach us the value of virtues and dangers of vices. Sometimes in the name of tolerance and political correctness we escape, as Christians, from this responsibility we have with our generation and the future one. If today we lose this debate, tomorrow there will be nothing to rescue. Not all is the same.