Spiritual Variations On The Lawrence Of Arabia Theme
Memories of Charles de Foucauld. By Georges Gorr& Translated by Donald Aitwater. (Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 7s. 6d.) Reviewed by MARGARET YEO This new book on Charles de Foucauld supplemeats Bazin's fascinating life of him. A large proportion consists of intimate letters to his cousin, the Vicomtesse Olivier do Bondy, which give a detailed picture of his life as a solitary in the Sahara and of his spiritual growth.
le was a life of startling contrasts. The young French cavalry officer, remarkable only for his laziness, sensuality and insubordinatian, became the intrepid explorer whose adventures in the remotest parts of Morocco are enshrined in his Reconnaissance au Maroc. Disguised as a Jewish Rabbi he penetrated where no European or Christian had ventured before.
" In the desert and the solitary places shall a man find God." says the Arab proverb. It was so with de Foucauld. Not only did he return 'to ehe practice of religion, he renounced title, rank and possessions to become a Trappist monk. Even this did not content 'him. "It iv not possible in a Trappist monastery," he wrote, "to lead the life of poverty, abjection, effective detachment. humility and even rectillection of Our Lord at Nazareth."
With the consent of his superiors and of his director, the well-known Abbe Huvelin, he was ordained priest with the aim of devoting his life to work on the fringe of French colonisation in Algeria. 'He lived in the most absolute poverty and solitude, isuatag ever farther and farther into the desert, a Berber among Berbers, a Tuareg among the Tuareg, miles from the nearest French outposts 'till, in 1916, he was shot by rebel tribesmen outside his hermitage in the Sahara.
Judging from outward results his sacrifice and martyrdom appear in all but complete failure. Conversations were negligible. The congregation of " missionary monks," which it was his dream to found as " The Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart 'of Jesus," are not even mentioned in the Annuaire Pontifical, though Pere Gorree is one of the four who (according to the Protestant Review of the Missions) took their vows in 1935 and now live in a small oasis on the edge of the Sahara in Southern Algeria.
The hypercritical may think that de Foucauld's ideals were somewhat tarnished by chauvinism-a fault much more marked in Bazin's life of him. Others may wonder whether such lives of voluntary poverty and solitude as his, terrifying as those of the early Desert Fathers of the Thebaid, may not be the first glimmerings of a dawn which will succeed the fast-falling twilight of European civilisation.
One is not conscious while reading the book that it us a translation. No better praise could be given to Donald Attwater's work.