1. Introduction
  2. The Founder and his era (1816-1861)
  3. Missionary daring, but without using the term (1861-1947)
  4. Daring, its missionary value expressed (from 1947 to our day)
  5. Daring, a missionary virtue


“Nil linquendum est inausum ut proferatur imperium Christi…”, states the text of the Preface of our Constitutions and Rules of 1826. As a literal translation, I suggest: “We must overlook nothing, leaving nothing undared to advance, to extend the reign of Christ”. This apothegm has sustained and presently sustains the missionary thrust of the Congregation; it is the key aphorism around which to build a reflection on daring, a daring more often lived than expressed in words.
Paradoxically, research in Oblate writings yields a meager disappointing harvest. The apothegm does not seem to have been used again by Eugene de Mazenod and the word “daring” is absent from the theme index of his writings. We had to wait until Father Léo Deschâtelets became Superior General in 1947 for this formulation to be singled out as a constituent element of the Oblate missionary existence. In addition to that, daring was not chosen as a subject for an article either in the Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique, or in the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité. As for New Testament references, in nineteen occurrences of the root word tolmaô, only two or three reflect a possible interest for us – and those in the writings of Saint Paul [1]. [2]This raises the question of how to delimit this theme.
But it is praxis, history, and therefore life, more than verbal formulations that reveal daring. Written tradition is mostly inadequate to express lived experience. Eugene de Mazenod and his Oblates did not spend their time theorizing; they were missionaries brimming with daring to extend the reign of Christ. These daring practices can only be alluded to; it would take volumes to adequately describe them. And yet, it is those very practices that lie at the heart of a study of daring. For the proclamation of the Gospel is “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” entrusted to creatures in “weakness and even fear and in great trembling..”. as Saint Paul experienced it. [3]



a. Nil linquendum inausum.

“Nil linquendum inausum” found its definitive formulation in the 1826 edition of the Constitutions. We know that the Preface is an original work of Eugene de Mazenod, the text in which he invested the greatest part of himself, of his charism, of what he wanted to share with others who like him became Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We now take a look at the successive forms it took, searching out the sources and the harmonic convergences of this verbal formulation.

b. In the Constitutions and Rules of the Missionaries of Provence

In the Constitutions and Rules of 1818, chapter one entitled, The end of the Institute, was divided into three sections: 1. Preaching the Word of God to the people; 2. Make up for the absence of religious bodies; 3. Reform of the clergy. Immediately after article 3 of this section, we find a Nota bene of one hundred and thirty lines of whose next to last paragraph states: “How vast the field that lies before them! How worthy an undertaking! The people are wallowing in crass ignorance of all that pertains to their salvation. The consequence of this ignorance has been a weakening, if not an extinction of the faith and the corruption of morals. It is therefore urgent to bring back the multitude of those sheep who have strayed from the fold, to teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is, to snatch them from the slavery of the demon and to show them the way to heaven, to extend the Savior’s empire, to destroy that of hell, to prevent millions of mortal sins, to promote virtues and to see to it that they are practiced in all their varied forms, to lead men to act as creatures of reason, then as Christians, and finally to help them become saints”. [4]

In the expression “it is urgent”, we find almost an echo of “the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Corinthians 5:14). This call bases itself upon the observation and judgment of the sad state the people were in, and the loss of faith that is put in opposition to the “salvation” promised in Jesus Christ, the Savior, as well as with the “millions of mortal sins” to “prevent”, with a final universal call to holiness.

c. The Constitutions and Rules of 18254

“How vast the field that lies before them! How worthy and holy the undertaking! The people are caught up in crass ignorance of all that pertains to their salvation. The consequence of their ignorance has been a weakening of the faith and a corruption of morals with all the license which that inevitably entails. Thus, it is supremely important, it is urgently imperative, that we lead the multitude of lost sheep back to the fold, that we teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is, that we rescue them from Satan’s power and show them the way to heaven. We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s empire, to destroy that of hell, to prevent thousands of crimes, to promote virtues and to see to it that they are practiced in all their varied forms, to lead men to act as creatures of reason, then as Christians, and finally to help them become saints”.

The Nota bene of 1818 became the Preface with a few modifications to this paragraph. It is no longer a case of the “extinction of the faith”, “weakening of the faith” is what has been retained. “Millions of mortal sins to prevent” has become “thousands of crimes”. “It is urgently imperative” enhances the value and weight given to the note of urgency expressed in “it is urgent”. Above all, we see appear for the first time the expression, “We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s empire”.

d. Latin translations of 1825 and 1826

It was the Latin translation of 1825, reused and modified in 1826 during the approbation, that transformed the “We must spare no effort” into a new formulation charged with daring: “nihil linquendum inausum” in 1825, then “nil linquendum est inausum” in 1826. This “nil linquendum est inausum” opened the way for a new development of the meaning. It was the first time that daring made its appearance. Reinforced here by a double negation it is based upon a nihil which became a nil in 1826. Nil is more incisive and gives the formula added force.

Who is at the origins of this change? Was it the Founder himself? Or was it rather Father Domenico Albini or Father Hippolyte Courtès, the translators? The fact that Eugene de Mazenod never uses this expression again raises some doubt, but the same thing could be said with regard to a number of other expressions in the Preface. Therefore there is no certitude, but a change of this kind could only have been ratified by the Founder himself.


a. Before his priestly ordination

In the many letters he wrote to his mother, letters in which he strove to justify the choice he made of his vocation because his mother was finding it very difficult to agree to it, there appear two ideas that are rather closely related. First of all, there is the idea of total dedication: “[…] I make myself available to carry out any orders he may wish to give me for his glory and the salvation of souls he has redeemed by his precious blood”. [5]Then, there is that of urgency: “One would have to be slothful indeed not to burn with the desire to come to the aid of this good Mother [the Church] in her well-nigh desperate plight” [6]. The idea of daring, however, is absent.

And yet we should take note of the August 16, 1805 letter to his father. The subject under discussion is Fortuné de Mazenod’s refusal to accept the possible offer of an episcopal see: “When one wears the livery of Jesus Christ, ought one to fear anything, and should one not place one’s hope in him who strengthens us? Let us thoroughly go over the duties that our character as Christian and priest impose on us. After that, let us consult our conscience to find out whether it reproaches us for our excessive modesty, which degenerates into spinelessness” [7]. In all of Eugene’s writings, this is the passage that echoes most strongly the theme of daring. It is the future of the Church that is at stake, the responsibility of the priest and simply that of being a Christian. Eugene was still a lay person, and even at that moment in his life, quite far removed from the prospect of a vocation to the priesthood. Nonetheless, the way he uses the expression “imposes upon us” leads us to see here a strange identification with his uncle, the Canon… Why should we be surprised to see this rejection of spinelessness resurface later on in the form of daring via a renewed awareness of the needs of the Church and because at that time he would feel more strongly than ever what it meant “to wear the livery of Christ”. This same word, “spinelessness”, reappears in another letter to his father, on September 6, 1817, where it is again a question of the same offer of a bishopric and the same probable refusal on the part of Fortuné.

b. Related to the foundation of the Missionaries of Provence

Eugene’s exchange of letters with Charles de Forbin-Janson keeps us rather well apprised of his state of mind at this time. These letters are all the more revealing since Eugene’s friend was involved in a similar work of founding a society of missionaries. Of the two friends, Charles de Forbin-Janson showed himself to be by far the bolder, to the point that Eugene had to urge him to practice more moderation.

In 1813, Charles de Forbin-Janson was a little over twenty-seven years old. He had been a priest for fourteen months and was vicar general of Chambéry. This is what Eugene de Mazenod wrote to him on February 19: “I experience … a special consolation for the success of the various outlets of your zeal. […] But, dear friend, will you please listen to me for once in your life? You have to put limits on that zeal of yours, if you want it to be both more productive and more enduring”. Bits of advice follow in the same vein; we draw your attention to only this one: “Oil is needed to lubricate these wheels that turn continually with a frightening rapidity”. And as a conclusion, he adds [8]: “There will perhaps come a time when I will indeed say to you: ‘Come, let us die now, we are no longer good for anything else. Let us go forward even to death!’ “

The same comments appear in a letter of April 9, 1813. The subject of discussion is “a zeal that does not seem to me to be ruled by wisdom” to which one must set limits. In a letter of July 19, 1814, Eugene rebukes his friend for “inconceivable instability in forming plans”. And finally, this significant passage from an October 28, 1814 letter while Charles de Forbin-Janson is involved in founding the Missionaries of France: “Not that I think I will probably come to join you. I still do not know what God wants of me but am so resolved to do his will that as soon as it is known to me I would leave tomorrow for the moon, if I had to”. [9]

Then comes the stroke of daring to set the wheels in motion to found his congregation. The first letter to Father Henry Tempier is dated October 9, 1815. The one to Charles de Forbin-Janson is from the 23 and 24 of the same month. “Now I ask you and I ask myself how I, hitherto unable to make up my mind in this matter, suddenly find myself setting wheels in motion, renouncing my comfort and risking my fortune by launching an enterprise of which I know the worth but for which I only have liking negated by other and diametrically opposed views! This is a riddle to me and it is the second time in my life that I see myself moved to resolve something of the utmost seriousness as if by a strong impulse from without. When I reflect on it, I am convinced that it so pleases God to put an end to my irresolution. And in such a way that I am engaged to the hilt! I assure you that in such circumstances I am quite another man. You would no longer say that I have lead in my pants if you were to see how I fly around. I am nearly up to your standard in acting with so much authority. […] It is nearly two months now that I fight on at my own expense, sometimes openly, sometimes discreetly. With trowel in one hand and sword in the other, I am like the good Israelites rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. […] If I had foreseen all the nuisance, worry and disarray this establishment would throw me into, I believe I never would have had sufficient zeal to undertake it. […]” [10]

The letter of December 19, runs along the same lines: “I […] wage war against my own wishes, supported in the midst of this bother only by the supernatural outlook which inspires me, but which does not prevent me feeling the whole weight of my situation and all the more woefully in that I am helped neither by my taste nor inclination which indeed are quite contrary to the kind of life which I am leading”. [11]

The words of Father Pedro Arrupe help us to interpret this experience: “Although the origins of each institute are different, their overall dynamic could be reduced, it seems, to three primary thrusts. The first is that of rendering a specific service to the Church and to mankind in a given period of history. The second thrust is the conflictual aspect that gave rise to certain institutes: conflicts not only with their contemporary lay civil state, but also with religious society, even in the person of its hierarchical authorities, who are not always open to the prophetic and charismatic spirit of the founders. The third thrust is characterized by the presence of a man or a group who, under the guidance of the Spirit and fully responsive to his action, bring their endeavor to completion according to the charism received”. [12]c. From 1816 to 1826

The writings preserved from this period are not numerous, but all the more valuable because of that. A few of them cast some light on our subject.

In 1817, Eugene spent a long time in Paris “in the hope of obtaining official recognition from the Government for his Society which was quite opposed at Aix. He also sought to obtain favors for his father and his uncles” [13]. In a letter to Father Tempier, on August 22, he stresses “this spirit of being wholly devoted to the glory of God, the service of the Church and the salvation of souls” which “is the spirit that is proper to our Congregation”, specifying that it is incumbent upon us to “have spent our whole life and given all our blood” to succeed in carrying out “the great work of redemption of mankind” that “our Lord Jesus Christ has left to us the task of continuing”. Then, he continues: “Each society in the Church has a spirit which is its own; which is inspired by God according to the circumstances and needs of the times wherein it pleases God to raise these supporting bodies or rather it would be better to say these choice troops which precede the main army on the march, which excel in bravery and which thus obtain the more brilliant victories”4 [14]. He uses the same image in an August 28 letter to his father and his uncles: “I am preparing choice troops for the Bishop of Marseilles”. [15]

The steps Eugene took cast some light on the nil linquendum inausum – it brings to mind Father Albini’s intervention – when in the autumn of 1825 he travels to Rome to obtain the approbation of the Congregation. The request he makes serves to broaden horizons considerably. Two of his letters attest to this. The first is addressed to Cardinal Pedicini, the ponent of the cause, and probably dated January 2, 1826: “[…] One of the main reasons prompting us to seek the approbation of the Holy See was precisely our ardent desire to spread abroad in all parts of the Catholic world, the benefits of the ministries to which the members of our Society are dedicated, and this, on the invitation of the common Father of all the faithful as well as at the request of the bishops of various dioceses. […] Several members of the Congregation would willingly go and preach the gospel to non-believers; when they will be more numerous it is possible that the superiors will send them to America, either to be of assistance to poor Catholics who are bereft of every spiritual benefit, or to win new members to the faith”. [16]

In his March 20, 1826 letter to Father Tempier, he wrote: “They first thought we were only asking for France and the Cardinal ponent said to me: ‘Take that now, the rest will come after’. I was not of his opinion and the matter was resolved as we desired. I ought to say that it sufficed for me to make the observation that our Congregation would not limit her charity to a small corner of the earth and that all abandoned souls, wherever they were, would always be the object of her zeal and would have the right to her services, for them to accede to my views” [17]. At this time, the Congregation had twenty-two professed members.


Eugene de Mazenod was an apostle, therefore, a man of action. If we want to discover his personality, his charism, his manner of responding to the Lord’s call, we must pay attention to his actions, his choices, his commitments – mainly in times of crisis, by definition decisive times, times of making decisions. It was in this context that his apostolic daring manifested itself in fidelity to the ever-present command,: “Go..”.. “I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upward to receive in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul’s way of saying it casts light on what Eugene de Mazenod wanted and practiced.

In the beginning, the daring choices made by the Founder affected primarily his own life; later on, they would more and more deeply involve his companions and “disciples”. The limitations of this article do not allow for the kind of analysis that these different decisions would deserve. Here we can only point out and refer to other more detailed studies. But the growing number of daring initiatives bears its own witness.

In 1808, Eugene de Mazenod chose to leave his family so as to dedicate himself to the service of the poor. At Saint Sulpice, to help the cardinals and to assert the liberty of the Church, he showed a great deal of courage in the face of the claims made by the Emperor’s police force. He then chose to return to Aix, not to integrate into the diocesan structures, to remain free in order to take care of the youth, the servants of the rich, the prisoners afflicted with typhus… He chose to preach in the Provençal language and to make his confreres share this choice. Then followed the stage of the foundation, the call to rally companions around him as his letter to Father Tempier testifies. Faced with the vulnerable situation of the tiny group of Missionaries of Provence, he made a trip to Paris in 1817; his acceptance of Notre-Dame du Laus and choice of religious life, (ignoring all convention by calling upon the three scholastics); his acceptance for himself and for Father Tempier of the position of Vicar General; his trip to Rome to ask for pontifical approbation of his rules. Significant was his phrase, “one must not hesitate” from his July 14, 1824 letter to Father Tempier concerning the plan of making a foundation at Nice – that is, in an area which at that time was outside of France.

This attitude is even more evident in the choices of foreign missions for his Congregation. After the abortive attempt of making a foundation in Algeria, it would be some twelve years before another attempt was made. Each one of the subsequent foundations would deserve to be analyzed from the point of view of apostolic daring – whether it was a question of Canada, or the Red River, or his choice of Alexandre Taché for bishop at the age of twenty-seven years, or the choice of Ceylon, Oregon, Natal or Texas. His letters to Fathers Jean-Baptiste Honorat, Eugène-Bruno Guigues, Étienne Semeria and Jean-François Allard urge them to always go forward, ever further.

This overview, hardly a sketch, seems to me to be revealing. A reflection on the charism of the Founder must be centered on his deeds, his apostolic choices. His letters usually are classical in his choice of words – even more so his formal texts. And even his retreat notes of October 1831 which give us the most extensive commentary Eugene de Mazenod made on the Rule. He highlights various phrases found in the Preface, but not the nil linquendum inausum that is not quoted here nor anywhere else. The writings of the Founder are an essential source, but one that is incomplete, and sometimes even uni-dimensional.

Can we set forth hypotheses to explain this? We must keep in view the limitations of the theological teachings of this first half of the XIX century, especially in ecclesiology or in pastoral theology. Neither the theology, nor preaching, any more than the catechetics were equal to the challenges that the culture and the society of that time and therefore the mission presented to the Church. No one gave thought to – or even refused – creating the necessary conceptual tools. As for formulations or even images of the Church, people were stuck in the repetitive mode. A phrase such as is found in the Constitutions of 1982, “they should have the daring to blaze new paths” was unthinkable in the Founder’s time.

The General Chapter of 1850 introduced into the Rule a paragraph on major seminaries. One of these articles is especially significant: “The Directors will shun such opinions as are not favoured by the larger and wiser part of the School; and, in order that they may proceed in all safety, let them beware of innovation, even in the received form of words” [18]. The phrasing of Pope Stephen I (254-257) “Let there be no innovations beyond what has been handed down” [19] referred to the practice of not rebaptizing heretics. This became a law for the teaching of theology, reinforced by the phrase “not even through one word” (ne quidem verbo) whose origin needs to be researched. The next article stresses: “Not only the Superior General, but the Provincial and the Superiors of Seminaries are all bound to watch very strictly over the observance of the two preceding articles, for they concern the highest interests of the whole Congregation”. [20]

Most astonishing of all is the fact that in the midst of the confined limits of this formulation, through the missionary work of the Founder and the Oblates, the Spirit was launching the mission to advance, to ever go further, despite these too-confining formulations.

Another analysis needs to be added here. With the exception of Bishop Allard and perhaps one or other, the missionaries had no need of the Founder’s urgings to go ever forward. For them this was a normal thing. The Founder was obliged rather to remind them of the importance of the basics such as regularity and obedience… so unilaterally stressed. Since this practice was in itself daring, these calls to return to the Rule were designed to refocus and build a more solid foundation. Consequently, our contemporary interpretation runs the risk of being incomplete and biased.

We have to point out in Eugene de Mazenod’s case a doctrinal daring with strong pastoral repercussions, unique no doubt, but one whose importance we could never over-emphasize. It is a question of the choice of the moral theology of Alphonsus de Liguori. His stay in Naples and Palermo had little impact on him in this regard. The reasons are especially pastoral: the option for mercy, for Jesus the Redeemer, Savior, who must be proclaimed and revealed in preaching and in the celebration of the sacrament of penance. This daring on his part occasioned for him, as well as for the Oblates, some major difficulties from parish priests and even from bishops. The taking of theological stands is what often stirs up the most opposition in the Church. [21]


Eugene de Mazenod’s charism is the reference point for the Congregation. This charism manifested itself in his personality and in his choices more than in his writings. The formula nil linquendum inausum is an isolated text, but his deeds brim with apostolic daring.

It is difficult to say that this daring stems from Eugene’s temperament. On several occasions he affirms the opposite, admitting that he feels more inclined to a life of tranquillity. We have only to think of his letter of October 23 and 24, 1815 to Charles de Forbin-Janson where he attributes to “a strong impulse from without” the decision which “put an end to my irresolution”.

Let us consider as well his retreat notes of May 1818: “God knows that if I give myself up to exterior works, there is more of duty than of liking in it, it is obeying what I believe the Master demands of me; that is so true that I always do it with an extreme repugnance from my lower nature. If I follow my taste, I would attest solely to myself and content myself with praying for others. I would spend my life in study and prayer. But who am I to have a will of my own in this respect? It belongs to the Father of the family to fix the kind of work it pleases him to have his workers do. They are always too honoured and too happy to be chosen to cultivate his vineyard”. [22]

Here is what Jean Leflon has to say about this: “In fact, in spite of his outward appearance of poise, his self-assured demeanor, the image of being a firebrand, Father de Mazenod admitted to being irresolute by nature, filled with aversion for business affairs, and so difficult to move to action that his friend Janson, ever eager to pursue anything that promised adventure, bluntly characterized him as having lead in his pants. But when he acted in the role of superior, as for example later on when he would act as bishop, his self-assurance became imperturbable; his irresistible energy and daring overcame and defied the worst obstacles. This seeming contradiction can be explained by the entirely supernatural sense of his apostolic mission; when his mission demanded it, nothing could stop him because he relied on Divine Providence to guide him, make up for his lack of means and attain the goal the will of God has set for his zeal. More than once, without having at his disposal the necessary men and resources, he knew how to opportunely take far-reaching decisions and take on extremely daring endeavors. One has to conclude that this method brought him success and that, in an improbable way, success rewarded him by favoring him because of the harsh constraints he imposed upon himself”. [23]

The source of Eugene de Mazenod’s daring was not found in his temperament, but rather in others’ need for salvation, a need to which his faith in Jesus Christ called him to respond, personally at first, then with his Congregation, “ready to leave for the moon, if I have to”. He expressed himself in strong terms in an October 1817 letter to Fathers Henry Tempier and Emmanuel Maunier. Speaking of the difficulties encountered with Bishop Ferdinand de Bausset-Roquefort – the archbishop appointed to the see of Aix, who supported the opponents of the Missionaries of Provence – he wrote: “I needed a very special grace not to quarrel openly with the Prelate for letting himself be influenced to the point of being drawn into the maelstrom of the passions of men who for a long time now have impeded and persecuted us. […] This is perhaps the greatest sacrifice of my self-love I have made. Twenty times in my discussion with the Prelate, I was tempted to jump up. […] But the Mission, the Congregation, and all those souls who have yet to be saved through our ministry held me back, nailed me to the hard cross which my nature could scarcely put up with. […] Put aside all that is human, consider only God, the Church and the souls to be saved”. [24]

A final observation. The comparison with Charles de Forbin-Janson is charged with interest. He is a man who, pushing lack of reflection to the limits, plunges headlong into things. We already alluded to this. The conflicts between the Missionaries of Provence and the Missionaries of France would show this. Of his twenty years in the episcopacy, Bishop de Forbin-Janson would end up actually spending only six years in his diocese of Nancy; the other years were spent in quasi-exile. Jean Leflon speaks of “the excesses, blunders, mistakes” of Bishop de Forbin-Janson and further on of “the whimsical, autocratic administration of this mixed-up spirit”. Daring without doubt, but daring uncontrolled by reason. The only work of his that endured was that of the Holy Childhood. We should note that Bishop de Mazenod refused to support this project started by his friend because he deemed it to be in competition with the Propagation of the Faith. Compared with Charles de Forbin-Janson, Eugene de Mazenod, a Provençal like himself, was a wise and self-controlled individual. He was not lacking in daring, but this daring is regulated by a reason enlightened by faith and subject to the will of the Master. And these works have stood the test of time.


If the works dealing with the Founder and his era are numerous, the same cannot be said for this second period in the history of the Congregation. Insufficient research lends an air of hypothesis to any attempt at interpretation. This must be kept in mind.

A second period of Oblate history can be delineated by the dates 1861 to 1947. 1861 marks the year of the Founder’s death and the election of Father Joseph Fabre as Superior General and 1947 was the year when Father Léo Deschâtelets was elected to the same post. An overview of the documents gives disappointing results. The theme of daring is practically absent from the circular letters of the administration and the acts of general chapters. Father Joseph Reslé’s commentary on the Constitutions and Rules was done in the same spirit. But strangely enough, for the Congregation this period is marked by a missionary daring in total contrast to the limits outlined in the written texts. The Oblates are daring, but they do not know how to express it, or else they do not risk giving it clear expression.


a. The theme of “daring” is almost totally non-existent in official documents.

The circular letters of the Superiors General take on a wide variety of literary forms. Only the exhortations fall within the scope of our present project. With the exception of Father Soullier, whom we will treat later, no one quotes or even alludes to nil linquendum inausum.

Father Fabre refers to the Constitutions and Rules constantly. “It is by means of the holy Rules that we find life”. On occasion, he quotes the Preface, but never the phrase on daring. Noteworthy, however, is his circular letter no. 14 of June 29, 1867. Among the indults requested and obtained from the Holy See, indults which deal with indulgences, privileged altars, Requiem Masses, we find no. IX, “permission to read books forbidden by the Index”, “a privilege which is very useful in the contemporary intellectual climate, either in France or in heretical countries”.

Bishop Augustin Dontenwill stressed that the 1920 Chapter allowed itself to create “a major breach” in a traditional principle by setting up the province of Saint John the Baptist at Lowell on the basis of language. He wrote”,[…] for us and among us, the concern for souls overrides all other considerations […]” [25]

In his report on his visit to South Africa, he wrote: “At present, our fathers have patiently formed fervent Christians; works, […] schools […] in short, a body of initiatives where daring and perseverance have been crowned with success […]”. [26] After Father Soullier, Bishop Dontenwill was, the second Superior General to use the term daring in an official document. We should stress here that it was used to acknowledge the work of Oblates carried out in a mission territory.

In the circular letter following his election, Father Théodore Labouré asserted again the tradition that Oblates are “specialists of difficult missions”. After having reminded his readers that “love of the poor is our one and only reason for existing”, he explained: “If we are ever presented with the opportunity of making a choice between a work that is a fine work, rich and dazzling in the heart of our urban centres and a poor work, cast aside, discouraging, difficult, either in our Red suburbs or in the foreign missions, let us not hesitate: Let us choose that which is humble, obscure, arduous” [27]. Daring is not absent, but it is rather the humbleness and obscurity of the work that are stressed.

b. Father Soullier, an exception

Father Louis Soullier, Superior General from 1892 to 1897, was a noteworthy exception. From his writings, we still have two major circular letters. The first one bears the title, The Oblate Missionary’s preaching according to His Holiness Léo XIII and the Rules of the Institute [28]. There we find quoted the text of the Preface concerning daring as an essential element. This was the first time in seventy years. We would then have to wait until 1947 to have it appear again. Even more worthy of note is the way this quotation was emphasized. After having reminded his readers that “the first law that must be followed is that preaching should above all be imbued with the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ”, he added: “Become imbued with this idea […] from our Rules and the apostolic spirit of our dear family. It is supremely important; it is urgent to lead back to the fold so many erring sheep, teach degenerate Christians who Christ is […]. Nothing must be left undared to bring to fulfillment the empire of Jesus Christ, to destroy the kingdom of the devil […]” [29]. The Latin text is cited in the footnote, emphasizing the phrase docere christianos quis sit Christus by writing it in italics. The French text used by Father Soullier – “nothing must be left undared” – is not that of the Constitutions and Rules of 1825, probably little known at the time, but a translation he did himself for this occasion. Can one assume that if one quotes a text from memory that one is familiar with that text? For less familiar texts, we go to the books themselves and recopy the text verbatim. Father Soullier’s manner of using the Preface is according to the entire spirit of the whole circular from which one of its strong statements remains: “In a word, let us be missionaries. That is our characteristic quality […]” [30], an affirmation that he bases directly on the example of the Founder.

In Father Soullier’s other great circular letter, On Studies for the Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate [31], one of the major areas of emphasis is on the necessity for the missionary to adapt his preaching to his audience. “It is not the hearers who adjust to the preacher, but the preacher who should adapt himself to his audience. What, then, will the missionary do? Will he give a series of trite sermons, unchanging in content and form, encased in a rigid frame?” [32] There is the obligation, therefore, to be concerned to get to know this audience, to make some “surveys” and also to have self-knowledge.

Further on, Father Soullier specified: “Let us now get down to something practical: Our holy Rules tell us: Studebunt novas ad proximas missiones comparare dicendorum materias. [They will engage in intellectual toil to gather new material for sermons for future missions.] It is worthy of note that our holy Rules ask us to always come up with something new. This directive is all-encompassing, making no distinction between the young and the old, novices and old campaigners. Our Rules take for granted the continuing development and progress of the mind in the field of theological knowledge [… that our Rules] do not lose sight of the great diversity in the range of audiences that hear our words and the concomitant adaptations that must take place in our sermons. That is why it requires of us to always come up with something new” [33]. The rule quoted, article 297, deals with life in the religious houses; it was already present verbatim in the 1818 Constitutions of the Missionaries of Provence and comes to us, therefore, from the hand of the Founder. The use Father Soullier made of it needs to be emphasized. That leads us to think that the same thing would apply even more to foreign missions.

c. Father Reslé’s commentary

Although published in 1958, Father Joseph Reslé’s commentary on the Constitutions and Rules must be seen as part and parcel of the preceding period. He devoted only six pages to the Preface and made no mention of the nihil linquendum inausum.


In 1859, Father Henry Grollier established the mission of Good Hope near the Arctic Circle. In 1872, following in the footsteps of Father Louis Babel, Father Charles Arnaud came into contact with the Inuit of Labrador. In 1917, Father Arsène Turquetil baptized the first Inuit of Hudson’s Bay.

In October 1865, Father Joseph Gérard performed his first baptisms at the Village of the Mother of God in Basutoland (Lesotho). In Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Bishop Bonjean dedicated himself to the development of Catholic schools. In 1876, he launched a newspaper published in English and Tamil. That same year, he ordained the first native priest trained in the seminary he had founded.

This was the era of the Cavalry of Christ in Texas along the Rio Grande. Father Yves Kéralum and several others lost their lives there. At the beginning of our century, in what is today Namibia, after three or four abortive attempts, the mission of Okavango was founded under the direction of Father Josef Gotthardt.

To this we must add the apostolic work done in Christian countries from the chaplaincies at Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre in Paris – in whose history the role played by Cardinal Hippolyte Guibert is well known – right up to the University of Ottawa. In 1868, the Oblates made a foundation in Lowell. From 1932 on, the first United States province addressed itself to pastoral care of the Blacks.

We need only bring to mind foundations in Pilcomayo in 1925, the Belgian Congo in 1931, Laos in 1935, the Philippines in 1939, Haiti in 1943, Brazil in 1945.

This marshalling of past events can only be brief. Each one of these decisions showed that the missionaries, fathers and brothers, and their superiors made the choice to move forward, even to the ends of the earth to leave nothing undared. Two expressions capture the life and missionary work of the Oblates of this period. The expression “specialists of difficult missions” has been attributed to Pope Pius XI. Apôtres inconnus authored by Father Pierre Duchaussois indicates the place held by the brothers in this missionary expansion [34]. The Oblates brim with daring; their life declares it, but they do not know how to express it, or they do not dare.

Daring, its missionary Value expressed (from 1947 to our day).


Father Léo Deschâtelets was elected Superior General on May 2, 1947. Already on June 13, he addressed the entire Congregation: “Dear fathers and brothers, at this time are you awaiting from me a motto? In accordance with the spirit of our last Chapter, I will tell you: rethink your holy Rules. Bring them into the twentieth century, right up to 1947, but do it according to the spirit of our Founder and our first fathers […] to be men of an authentic interior life […] true religious […] model priests […] true missionaries […] conquerors of unbelieving peoples […]”. Then he specifies: “To be true missionaries, men of the Pope and of the bishops, preachers to the souls who are still faithful, but who know how to dare everything – nihil linquendum inausum – to lead the masses back to God, people that modern errors have wrested from the bosom of the Holy Church” [35]. Here is where we find the first formal mention of daring as an essential value for the Oblate missionary.

In his circular letter Our Vocation and Our Life of Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate, we are invited to “take an honest look at the riches of our vocation in order to make a detailed and serious inventory of it. The purpose would be to develop a better appreciation of the full impact of the nihil linquendum inausum, such a source of inspiration in our holy Rules” [36]. This text is quoted again when the matter being dealt with is being a missionary.

In the report to the General Chapter of 1959, we read this: “The concern for perfection which should guide us from the spiritual point of view should also be a source of inspiration for us from the apostolic point of view. The nihil linquendum inausum retains its energizing power and it is painful for us not to make more use of it” [37].

The major emphasis in Father Deschâtelets’ opening address to the General Chapter, on January 25, 1966, right after the Second Vatican Council is on renewal. He specifies: “The Founder […] would brook no hesitation; he would not want us to cling to the past as such or to situations that would hinder renewal. In his own time, he never hesitated to daringly create a new Congregation, one that was distinct from the old Orders, so that it could effectively serve the Church of his country and of his time. […] He would blast out of his path anything he perceived as an obstacle. He would do it while keeping before him the points of reference of the Church, his own charism as Founder and the prophetic sense of this charism”. [38]

Further on he said: “Our Chapter must be a chapter of renewal according to the very title of the conciliar decree De renovatione vitae religiosae […]. The Congregation awaits with expectation this entire radical review of our life; it places its hope in us. Great would be its disappointment if we should fail to respond to that sacred yearning. We are well aware of this responsibility which does not crush us but which energizes and encourages us: Nihil linquendum inausum”. [39]


The Constitutions and Rules of 1966 state that “according to its living tradition, [the Congregation] stands ready to the full extent of its possibilities to respond to the urgent needs of the world and the Church […]” C 3). Even more significant is Constitution 12: “Driven by the same Spirit, [the Oblate] will daringly seek to blaze new paths to go to meet this world, humbly but confidently offering it the Word of Salvation. In the face of every obstacle and difficulty, he will remain unshaken […]”.

Three references are set down in the margin, two of which are taken from the decrees of Vatican II. The first reference, taken from Acts of the Apostles4:13, 29-31, recalls the total boldness the apostles had in proclaiming the Word. In the decree on the missionary activity of the Church, the issue of the qualities of a missionary are dealt with. [40] Finally, in the decree on the life and ministry of priests we read: “[…] Once again it is the Holy Spirit which impels the Church to blaze new trails to go to meet today’s world”. [41] In order to draw up constitution 12, the Chapter added “daringly” to this conciliar text, most certainly making reference to the Preface and to the, at least oblique, invitations of Father Léo Deschâtelets as well.

The Constitutions and Rules of 1982 have a very similar formulation: “To seek out new ways for the Word of God to reach their hearts often calls for daring; to present Gospel demands in all clarity should never intimidate us” C 8). We have to stress “to reach their [of the people with whom we work] hearts”: the outlook should be universal and efficacious. It was already present in the Founder’s letter to Father Tempier, March 20, 1826 and strengthens the requirement to show daring. [42]


The theme of daring thus becomes a part of the official vocabulary. Among many possible examples, we limit ourselves to three.

“We should “leave no daring, no audacity aside” (nihil linquendum inausum, Preface), working “fiercely” (acriter, Preface) for others, ready “if need be to sacrifice life itself, even to a violent death” (usque ad internecionem, Preface) to promote the values of God’s kingdom”(R. Hanley). [43]

“During the present visit we heard a triple call: a call for more daring, a call for greater sharing and, finally, a call to deeper hope. A call for more daring, for greater willingness to leave the beaten path in order to answer the new needs of the poor. Today the Christian conscience has become much more sensitive to our collective sins – sins such as exploitation, social injustice, contempt for the rights of man. It is a sign of the times, and for us Oblates it becomes a call from God to new forms of evangelization”(F. Jétte). [44]

“As we face this situation our vocation invites us not to close in upon ourselves, not to lose faith in ourselves. We must know how to launch out into the deep, that is, to allow ourselves to be soundly shaken up by the missionary needs of today’s world, to search for suitable ways of responding thereto, according to available forces and possible assets. Like in the Founder’s time we need to be daring, in Canada as elsewhere” (M. Zago). [45]

The vocabulary of daring is now frequent, used by Oblates in many publications, official and non-official. One example among many. The provinces of France published two works in 1985 and 1986. The first was on the Founder and bore the title: Oser grand comme le monde [A Daring as Large as the World]. [46]The second presented the Congregation, and its editors chose as its title: Audacieux pour l’Evangile [Being Daring for the Gospel]. [47] The reception enjoyed by these two titles gives witness to the fact that these formulations express well one of the characteristic values that define the Oblates.

It would be outside the limits of this article to say whether missionary daring continues to be a characteristic of the life and praxis of today’s Oblates. Let us merely make allusion to several of them who died violent deaths: Maurice Lefebvre in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1971; Jean Franche in Inuvik, Canada, in 1974; Michael Rodrigo in Buttala, Sri Lanka, in 1987; Bishop Yves Plumey in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon, in 1991; three Belgian missionaries in Zaire in 1964, seven French and Italian missionaries in Laos from 1960 to 1969. Everything points to them being murdered because of their missionary commitment and the risks they took. There need be no hesitation in qualifying them as “Oblate martyrs”.



Psychology recognizes specific human behaviors occurring when, in the course of life, the individual finds himself confronted with difficulties, threats and dangers. At those times, the simple wish – “I really would like” – proves inadequate. What is required is an effort that strains every fiber of one’s being, an effort which leads one to assume a whole different range of attitudes and actions in an interplay of anxieties and daring, fears and ill-temper, withdrawal and aggression. These are perhaps transitory movements, what Saint Thomas Aquinas called passions and we today would call emotions, spontaneous reactions. We could also be dealing with more enduring temperamental attributes: some people are fearful and timid, others relish risk, adventure and lofty endeavors.

These passions, these traits of temperament can operate on the level of spontaneous reactions of elementary psychology. They can also be integrated into the overall dynamism of the person, and that in a number of ways. One of these ways is virtue through which passions and temperamental attributes are not rejected, but rather assumed into the service of what is good, the plan of God – something which, in the last analysis, can take place only with the grace of God.

It is in this context that we can deal with daring. The outlook is that of a project to be carried out. But dangers and threats are perceived. Risks have to be run. How will the individual react?

Some people will imprison themselves in fear; others will flee, seeking a protected area or familiar ground where they believe they are safe; in the case of others, we can speak of resignation. In any case, there is no question of these latter sustaining the drive of a project, or of an ambition to be realized. Others, on the other hand, relish risk and adventure. There is a James Dean film which bears the title: A Rage to Live. Does this conjure up explorers, lone sailors or the mountain climber, the drivers of racing cars or motorcycles or the soldier? Or, one can also think of entrepreneurs, artists setting off on new roads, prophets decrying pernicious stagnation, political leaders. It is a case of exerting all one’s energy, of not allowing oneself to be discomfited by risk or threats, to have the courage to be creative and to confront.


Etymologically, apostles and missionaries, are people who are sent. It also stresses the source of this sending: God, the Holy Spirit, the Church, superiors. Perhaps not sufficient attention has been paid to the destination. It is always different from one’s home, from the familiar; it is always somewhere else, some place beyond a frontier. Peter is called upon to go to the home of an uncircumcised person. Paul is called to move over into Europe, whereas Mark feared to follow him into the mountains of Pisidia. It was the same for Francis Xavier, Alexandre Taché or Joseph Gérard.

To the Eleven, the resurrected Christ first said: “Go”. That is, set out on the road. And according to Saint John: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit” (John 15:16). In the renowned formula as found in Luke (10:2) and Matthew (9:38): “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest”, the Greek verb used for “to send” is neither the frequently used apostellein, nor even John’s pempein, but rather ekballein, used in the case of throwing out or casting out demons, an expression that has a connotation of violence. The “Go” demands that the missionary inflict upon himself a certain violence to leave his home and travel to another place.

The first meaning attributed to “another place” is geographic. Mission history outlines its stages from Caesarea and Antioch to Corinth and then Rome; then, with Augustine it was England; with Francis Xavier, Japan; then, the Americas and Africa. That is the most visible aspect. But another relocation happens especially on the cultural plane. From the Gentiles, the pagan nations of the New Testament, to the Inuit, the Basotho or the Hmong. This other cultural dislocation also exists where there is geographic proximity and the same language. The encyclical The Mission of Christ, the Redeemer uses the expression “areopagi of modern times” [49] for those other locations removed from ecclesial communities.

Can one really say that there is any mission without leaving one’s home, without going beyond frontiers, without crossing boundaries, and consequently without striving to live some place else, something that implies being in a different way?

In centuries past, the geographic voyage was fraught with difficulties. Saint Paul was well acquainted with dangers, “dangers from rivers, dangers from bandits […] dangers in the desert, dangers on the sea” (2 Corinthians 11:26). The difficult living conditions of the missionaries have often been stressed: arctic cold and snow, tropical heat, disease, uncertain housing. The greatest difficulty is cultural dislocation, beginning with learning the language. By definition, one never reaches the goal. The going beyond frontiers, the leaps that never quite attain their goal, are essential elements of the missionary task.

As a result, to be faithful to the Word of God, missionary existence demands courage and even daring:

– the courage to leave for another place and to try to live there physically and culturally;

– the courage, in the name of the Gospel, to confront the society to which one is sent and to challenge it – “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” – and to sustain the backlash, often the rejection, sometimes exile and death.

– the courage to try new things and be creative because the Spirit does not allow itself to be confined in preconceived models of missionary methods, of communities to be built, of ministries to be set up. Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “Charity embraces everything; and for new needs, it invents new means when they are called for”.

– We can add the courage to endure criticism, sometimes severe criticism leveled at the ecclesial communities that sent the missionaries. The Acts of the Apostles gives us several examples of this.


The Dictionnaire Robert defines daring as “an inclination or movement which leads to extraordinary actions in spite of obstacles and dangers”. Personal fidelity to the Gospel and the building up of the Church are never accomplished without struggle, without risk-taking, without daring. Saint Paul speaks of the “foolishness of God, more wise than the wisdom of men”. The wisdom of this world, i.e. to be reasonable, is not the wisdom of the Gospel. “To shame the wise, God chose what is weak by human reckoning” (I Corinthians 1:27).

To dare is “to undertake, to strive with assurance, daring to accomplish something deemed difficult, unusual or dangerous” (Dictionnaire Robert). “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation for whoever believes”. It would be impossible for the Gospel to reach people, all people, without having it proclaimed everywhere in all of those other locations, with assurance and daring. It is said and lived in every page which narrates the history of the missions.

It is true that abuses and excesses may occur. In those cases, daring has slipped into foolhardiness, rashness, unnecessary risk-taking. Such cases are not rare, but who can stand as judge over them since discernment is a sensitive matter and requires humility. On the other hand as far as the Gospel is concerned, lack of daring, cowardliness, spinelessness, turning in on oneself, entrenching oneself in old habits and personal security are faults of quite a different seriousness. Parrhesia: that is assurance, full freedom of speech in God’s name are missionary qualities. We need to reread the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 2 to 6. We need to hear once again the “woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel”.

Some parallels have been drawn between the missionary and the adventurer. Deviations are never precluded and history shows that some have let themselves be carried away. Adventurers were to be found in the ranks of missionaries. But more often than not, faith, fidelity to the Holy Spirit, apostolic zeal succeeded in guiding and integrating the inclination for adventure, the relish of risk, the courage to go beyond frontiers. What was a temperamental attribute became a virtue. In the face of difficulties, virtue manifested itself in continuity and constancy: there was no giving up. It channeled the spontaneous reaction toward good; it stood without fear; it did not give in to discouragement or allow itself to be overwhelmed. Finally, it showed forth joyful and serene assurance. We must also remember the basic role played by that practical wisdom Saint Thomas called prudence, a wisdom which knows how to weigh the risks and address them in reasonable fashion, that is, sometimes with the folly of God!

But the Christian virtue of fortitude is not dependent on temperament. It can also be found in people less inclined to it by nature. Through this virtue, the missionary overcomes his fears, his diffidence to carry out the work of the Gospel. He develops the capability to move forward, confront problems, find new ways of doing things, “leave nothing undared”. Saint Thomas reminds us that fortitude is not only a virtue, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He points out the correlation between this virtue and the beatitude: “Happy those who hunger and thirst for justice” (Matthew 5:6). Quite a program of action!

Virtues are first and foremost personal attributes. But communities in the Church as such are also capable of virtues. There are some communities that are diffident or closed in on themselves and some courageous and even daring communities. Daring is a constitutive virtue of missionary institutes.


“Read this letter at the foot of your crucifix” such was the first call Eugene de Mazenod issued to Father Tempier [50]. From there was born the Congregation of the Oblates. The crucifix is the reminder of “the folly of the cross”, the source of the Gospel, the power of salvation for all. The apostolic worker is gnawed by the hunger and thirst for justice. His model here is Paul, and ultimately Jesus. In their wake, the Oblates are called to be men who have the will and the courage to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles. To accomplish this they must “leave nothing undared”.