Saturday, 7 May 2011

Blessed Titus Brandsma

I did read quite a section of my book about Blessed Titus Brandsma. I got as far as his arrest, which means I have covered the part of his life that might reveal a charism appropriate to bloggers. The book involved - by Constant Dolle Encountering God in the Abyss: Titus Brandsma's Spiritual Journey - presents a problem in that it includes a fair amount of interpretation by the author. The reader is therefore a little wary of it, but it is nevertheless a useful read. Another problem that I have encountered is the lack of availability in English of much of Blessed Titus' writings.

But here goes, in an attempt to summarise the elements of Blessed Titus' active apostolate.

He was a man of tremendous energy, being very active in all sorts of different apostolates, taking on many different things at one and the same time. He also always had time for people who came to him, finding time in a busy schedule to spend time with them - a warm and welcoming person whatever the circumstances.

Blessed Titus came from a region of northern Holland called Friesland, and took a great interest in the culture of that region. So a number of his activities were related to the promotion and study of Friesian culture, and the development of a Catholic contribution to that culture. It would perhaps now be quite interesting for us in the United Kingdom to see a priest or religious so engaged with English culture - folk music, say, or Morris Dancing. Blessed Titus' activities in this context came towards the end of a period of Catholic revival in the Netherlands, with the Church gaining in cultural and social influence.

Blessed Titus Brandsma was an academic, teaching at the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen. There his subject areas were philosophy (about 75% of his lectures) and the history of mysticism, particularly in the Low Countries. He had a particular interest in John Ruusbroec and the tradition of the Devotio Moderna - which gives a certain priority to unity (over truth) in its understanding of the spiritual life. I think this interest can be seen as part of Blessed Titus' charism, and it is worthy of note that the Titus Brandsma Institute at the "Catholic based" Radboud university in Nijmegen today is dedicated to the study of the phenomenon of spirituality.

There are perhaps two key texts from Titus Brandsma's academic career. The first is his lecture on  "The Idea of God". This was given as his inaugural lecture as the Rector of the University in 1932. The text is not, so far as I can find, available in English translation. Its starting point is Blessed Titus' concern that, despite progress in the society of his time, more and more people seemed to be turning away from a lived belief in God. For Blessed Titus', this was not just a question of intellectual belief, but one of a lived experience of belief in God. For Blessed Titus, this denial of God was "the greatest of human afflictions". The lecture goes on to describe the experience of God and its interpretation through history (I am reliant on Constant Dolle here). According to Dolle's account:
(Titus Brandsma) concludes that in our view of God we are bound to the currents of our day, especially the philosophical currents. The idea of God is not immutable like a rock but manifests itself in our lives in ever-shifting images which do not mean an essential change but place our idea of God in a different light. Titus calls for greater openess to this variability of the idea of God. We must seek the Eternal One in time, which moves forward with much inconstancy...
The second key text is a series of considerations of the spiritual history of the Carmelite Order. These can be found in the form of a .txt file in EWTN's document library, and comprise lectures given in America in 1935.

Blessed Titus Brandsma also gave lectures that highlighted the dangers of the emerging Nazi ideology in Germany, and argued strongly against it.

Amongst other tasks that Blessed Titus Brandsma took on were two that would land him in trouble with the Nazi authorities who occupied the Netherlands. He was the chair of the association of Catholic high schools and gymnasia in the Netherlands from its foundation in 1923 until his death, having already taken an interest in promoting Catholic education. Throughout his time at the University of Nijmegen, he was also an examiner for secondary schools. Blessed Titus' opposed attempts by the occupying authorities to prevent Jewish children from attending Catholic schools. He did this in correspondence with the authorities and by encouraging schools to exploit to the maximum (and beyond) concessions that he gained. In the end, Catholic schools continued to teach Jewish children even when forbidden by the authorities to do so. It is interesting in the light of Pope Benedict XVI's repeated assertion of the place for God in human life to read about a speech of Blessed Titus that makes much the same point with regard to the central place that should be given to God in the educational enterprise. This speech, given in April 1939 and not, so far as I can tell, available in English translation is perhaps a third key text for understanding Blessed Titus' charism.

Blessed Titus Brandsma also had a vocation as a writer for Catholic newspapers and magazines, which were flourishing in the Netherlands as a result of the Catholic revival taking place there. Though I have not been able to find any of these writings available in English, they would appear to have spread across the whole range of his academic and pastoral interests. I am under the impression that it would be more accurate to see Blessed Titus as having been a writer rather than a journalist. In 1935 Blessed Titus was appointed as ecclesiastical assistant (ie chaplain) to the Roman Catholic Association of Journalists. In this role, he implemented a decision by the Archbishop of Utrecht to refuse the placing of pro-Nazi advertising in Catholic newspapers. Blessed Titus wrote to the boards and editors of these newspapers, and then set out in January 1942 to visit each of them to gain a written agreement that they would not accept these advertisements. It was as a result of this activity that he was arrested by the Germans.

At the end of my previous post, I suggested that I felt it would be disappointing for a charism associated with Blessed Titus Brandsma's name to be limited to blogging. In the light of the above, I would feel that his charism is so wide ranging that to associate his name with just one aspect of it is to do him a disservice.

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