1. Origins
  2. Sources
  3. The Overall Significance of the Preface
  4. Organization and titles of the Preface
  5. A Commentary on each Paragraph
  6. The Superiors General
  7. Conclusion

Some dozen Oblates have commented on our Constitutions and Rules [1]. Among them some referred only briefly to the Preface, offering comments which were historical or spiritual in nature. It is not my intent to fill this gap; my intention is simply to take a reading on the state of the question: what has been written on the historical question, the sources, the import of the Preface of our Constitutions and Rules?


In its present form, the Preface was drawn up in 1825, not long before the Rule was presented in Rome for approval [2]. In the original manu of the 1818 Rule, it was found in quite another form. Indeed, it is the outcome of the fusion of the Nota bene which came immediately after chapter one of the first part with the foreword of the 1818 text [3].

With a few modifications, this foreword gave us the content of paragraphs 8, 9, and 10 of the present Preface, whereas we find a good portion of the Nota bene in the seven first paragraphs.

1818 Rule Preface of 1826

Foreword Paragraphs 8-10

Nota bene Paragraphs 1-7

The foreword states that certain rules of life were required to ensure the unity of spirit and action among priests whom the Lord inspired to “to come together in community to work more effectively for the salvation of souls and for their own sanctification”.

The Nota bene followed the chapter which laid out the ends of the Institute. It explained the third end of the Institute by giving an analysis of the critical situation of the Church and of its causes namely, the “main”, “root” cause of the others being “the laziness, indifference and corruption of the priests”. Consequently, in order to respond to the most urgent needs there was a requirement to find genuinely apostolic men who, among other things, would work to reform the clergy.

In the process of transforming the Nota bene into the Preface [4], the Founder dropped the first paragraph, even though it was very important. He removed “certain expressions, too stern or rhetorical in character” [5] and everything that was too negative and directed against bad priests in order to give the Preface a broader, more positive perspective.

During his stay in Rome, some sentences of the text were also changed by the Founder and Bishop Marchetti as a result of the observations made by Cardinal Pedicini [6]. Thus, the first paragraph sentence, “the Church […] bears him almost nothing other than monsters” was changed into, “This beloved Spouse, weeping over the shameful defection of the children she brought forth”, since the Church does not bring forth monsters. In the same paragraph, the Latin expression absent from the French text: criminum suorum mensuram implevere was transformed into irritavere justitiam divinam sceleribus suis since one cannot put any limits on God’s justice. The beginning of paragraph two was badly translated by the phrase: Divinis rebus ita flebiliter compositis; they made a literal translation of it from the French: in hoc miserrimo rerum statu.

In all successive editions of the Rules, this text subsequently remained identical with a few minor corrections. Originally written in French, the Preface was published in Latin in all editions from 1827 to 1966. From 1966 on, it was published in the various languages of the different editions of the Constitutions and Rules.

Contrary to contemporary Roman jurisprudence, in 1826 the Preface was accepted as forming an integral part of the Rule; it is still such today [7].


Commentators on the Rules agree that the Preface was drawn up by Father de Mazenod and is the fruit of his thought and of his life. They do, however, acknowledge a variety of influences.

In 1955, Father George Cosentino wrote: “Although it can be presented as an original work of our Founder, the Preface of our Rules [contains] a number of Sulpician traces. For example, we find some ideas which are also found in the writings of Tronson and Olier; the ideas in question deal with the priesthood and the ecclesiastical spirit instilled into the seminarians at Saint-Sulpice. As for the rest, in confirmation of this, in the conference for ordination day, delivered by the Founder on December 23, 1809 at the seminary, we find a number of ideas of the Preface. These were ideas taught to him while he was at the seminary” [8].

In 1956, Father Leo Deschâtelets compared the text of several of Eugene’s lectures and letters from the period 1808 to 1818 with the Preface. He wrote: “One would think that it would be easy to find in the Preface traces of previous writings. What is certain is that they reveal to us the most intimate thoughts of the Founder, the thoughts that were most fully integrated as part of his life.” [9]

Father Deschâtelets’ observation confirms what Father Cosentino said. As a seminarian, Eugene read and became permeated with the writings of Tronson, Olier, etc., on the priesthood. From 1808 on, his writings reflect this thinking in as much as he assimilated them. He makes them his own and they surface in the paragraphs of the Preface when he deals with bad priests and the need to unite the strengths of good priests who are striving for perfection and wish to sacrifice their life for the salvation of the world (paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8).

In 1967, Father John Drouart made a brief study of the Rules, especially of the expression “apostolic men” as found in paragraph 4 of the Preface. In this expression, he perceived the influence of Saint Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians which, it seems, Father de Mazenod knew well. Later on, we will examine Father Drouart’s commentary on that subject, which is one of the best we have [10].

Finally, in his commentary on the Constitutions and Rules, Father Jetté stated this: “There can be no doubt that it [the Preface ] is original to Eugene de Mazenod. He it is who wrote it, while striving to live it; and he wrote it in the light of his own experience. A number of Christian persons at that time were pained at the evils that afflicted the Church and were searching for possible ways of helping her.” [11]

At this point, Father Jetté copied several pages of Félicité de Lamennais’ work entitled, Réflexions sur l’état de l’Eglise en France pendant le dix-huitième siècle et sa situation actuelle. Printed in 1809, the book was confiscated by order of Napoleon and was only published in 1814. However, Félicité de Lamennais had sent it to M. Emery already in 1809. No doubt, Eugene knew about it from that time on. During the summer vacations of 1809, M. Emery met with J.-M. de Lamennais and others, one of whom was Eugene. The object of the meeting was to enable a sharing of views on the situation of the Church and on this book [12].

Father de Mazenod clearly seems to have drawn inspiration from this book, especially for the first paragraphs of the Preface on the state of society and the situation of the Church and the clergy. (See the appendix with the comparative chart.)

Félicité de Lamennais’ thinking was broader in scope and more developed with regard to certain issues. It made more distinctions with regard to the state of the clergy. But in the Preface, we find the same tone, several of the same ideas and sometimes the same expressions: the shameful falling away from the faith of Christians, the reprehensible conduct of the clergy the need for truly apostolic men, the power of faith, Gospel simplicity, the importance of the cross, etc.

Félicité de Lamennais stressed the religious ignorance of the country people and the importance of parish missions. The Founder gave this form of apostolate a privileged place in his priorities and those were the people he chose to evangelize, but he speaks of this especially in the articles on the main end of the Institute and on the missions. Here in the Preface, he does not mention the countryside and he mentions the missions only once, that is in paragraph 10, even if this reality is the foundation upon which he develops everything else. The content of the Preface points to its origin in that it was originally a reflection which followed the articles on the reform of the clergy – a secondary end of the Congregation.

THE Overall significance of the Preface

Father Jetté finishes off the section where he speaks of the influence of Lamennais by saying the following: “The Preface of our Constitutions in its own way and according to our Founder’s experience takes up these same elements which the Founder had lived and pondered. He had been in contact with the Church’s misery, he had seen the Church abandoned and betrayed by her own people, had known the weaknesses and scandals among the clergy, had witnessed the ignorance of the faith and the degradation of Christians in the countryside. All these things he had experienced and he deeply felt the necessity of forming a good clergy […] In the depths of his heart he had heard the Church’s call and he wanted to answer it by giving her his life. This is what the Preface to our Constitutions tells us; and at the same time, it rejoices that ‘the sight of these evils has so touched the hearts of certain priests, zealous for the glory of God, men with an ardent love for the Church that they are willing to give their lives, if need be, for the salvation of souls’. This Preface is a text that is meant to be read again and again, one we ought to make thoroughly our own, for it gives us the true meaning of our Constitutions.[13]

All the commentators of the Rules have stressed the importance of the Preface for the Oblates and its overall significance. In 1883, Father Toussaint Rambert had this comment to make about the Rules as a whole: “The Rules of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate are Father de Mazenod’s main work. Better than all his other works, they enable us to get to know him. There we find his spirit, his will, his heart, his deep interior life, his whole soul. It was there, as is the case for every founder, that he poured forth all the treasures of his experience, his wisdom, his virtue as well as all the tenderness and sensitivities of his fatherly love […]” [14]

In 1903, in his commentary on the Rules, Father Alfred Yenveux wrote: “The Preface is an answer to this question: What were the interventions of Providence and the motivating factors for the founding of the Congregation? Among all the writings of the Founder, none are more worthy of admiration than these pages where Bishop de Mazenod laid out the lofty goal he had in mind when he founded the Congregation, the very fine project he had conceived and the high standard of perfection he set for his spiritual sons. One cannot achieve perfect understanding of such teachings unless one studies them on one’s knees before the holy Tabernacle […].” [15]

Fathers Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve and Joseph Reslé have this to add in 1929 and 1958 respectively: “In this Preface one can find the spirit of our venerated Founder and in some way we can also find the basic characteristics of his spirituality as they are subsequently laid out in the various articles […].” [16]

“Quamvis nullam contineat praeionem disciplinarem, est tamen pro nobis maximi momenti: revelat spiritum et cor Patris Fundatoris, formam sive ideale viri vere apostolici seu Oblati, prout illud ipse concepit. [Although it contains no disciplinary directives, for us, it is of the greatest importance: it unveils for us the spirit and heart of our Founding Father, the model or the ideal of the genuinely apostolic man or the Oblate as he perceived him.]” [17]

Organization and titles of the Preface

In only three of the various works that deal with the Preface is an analysis of the organizational structure set forth: Father Reslé proposes a logical scheme; Father Jetté [18] outlines a practical scheme; Father Gérard Blanchard [19] draws up a very philosophical scheme. The three schemes are drawn up below in a comparative chart.


The apostolic life of the Founder and his Oblatesisset forth in thePreface.

a) In its origins (proximate cause, motivating factor)

§1. State of the Church

§2. Aggravating factor (clergy)

§3. Understanding of the situation, generous willingness on the part of a few priests.

b) In its goal (the work to be achieved)

§4. A work that can be accomplished, optimism

c) In its divine model

§ 5. Jesus Christ

d) In its main means

§6. Personal sanctification

§7. Priestly and apostolic action

§8. In community

§9. and 10. Living under a rule with a common discipline.


a. Vision of the Church’s condition

b. Appeal from the Church

c. What did our Lord Jesus Christ do?

d. What will we do?

e. The fruits of salvation.

f. Need for certain rules


In an article published in Etudes oblates in 1947, Father Blanchard made a study of the structure of the Preface of the Rules from a philosophic point of view. He divided it into three parts.

a) An sit? (§1-3)

b) Quid sit?

– definition of the Oblate: an apostolic man (§4)

– explanation of the definition:

through the exemplary cause: Jesus Christ (§5)

through the intrinsic causes

genus: virtuous men, etc., (§6)

specific difference: zealous men, etc., (§7)

c) Quale sit?

Qualities which give the definition concreteness. (§8-10)

Father Blanchard’s article is a philosophic and spiritual reflection. It is very substantial and, along with the contributions made by Fathers Jean Drouart and Fernand Jetté, it is one of the best.


Even though the authors of commentaries on the Rules all emphasize how important the Preface is to help us understand the thinking of the Founder and the spirit which permeates a great many of the articles of the 1818 and 1825-1826 Rule, they did not produce a commentary on each paragraph.

It would seem that Father Jetté was the first to speak explicitly of the meaning of the Preface and to offer us some considerations on its four main ideas: to love the Church, to form the apostolic man, to place oneself in the school of Christ, to give oneself a rule of life and of the apostolate.

Prior to him, Father Drouart wrote a number of pages on the topic of the “apostolic man” of paragraph four, which were profound in their insight. This is a notion which he explains by using the text of the first paragraph of the Nota bene of 1818: “They are called to be the Saviour’s co-workers, the co-redeemers of mankind”. Oddly enough, this expression was dropped in the course of the modifications made in 1825 and has not resurfaced anywhere else in the Rules.

It can be said that there is only one commentary on the entire body of the Preface and of each of its parts. We find it under the form of twenty meditations in a long article authored by Father Paul-Emil Charland who comments on the paragraphs using the references to the New Testament and the articles of the 1827 Rule as found in the 1928 Rule. [20]

We now offer a brief commentary on each of the paragraphs.


The Church’s condition

Father Jetté wrote: “The Church, the mystery of the Church, is at the heart of the Preface. Eugene de Mazenod established the Congregation for the Church” [21]. Even if Félicité de Lamennais did exercise some influence on Father de Mazenod, we can rest assured that on this specific point of interest, his concern and his love existed long before he read Lamennais’ book. It harks back to Venice and to the meetings held by French and Italian churchmen at the Zinelli residence. The subject of discussion was precisely the Church [22].

On the other hand, Eugene’s father and his uncles had a profound influence on him and it was their view that the condition of French society and the Church in France was a disaster and without hope [23].

We can see that, from 1805 on, Eugene shudders when he sees the religious ignorance and barbarism which reigns “even more wicked than that which prevailed in the sixth century” (see the comparative chart).

The condition of the Church was one of the main motivating factors which prompted his decision to enter the seminary and to become a priest. In the period from 1808 to 1812, he often speaks to his mother about it, telling her that priests are few in number because the Church is poor, that few vocations are to be found among the nobility [24], that apostasy reigns and that everyone has abandoned the Church [25], there is danger of schism, persecution is imminent [26], etc.

The first paragraph adopts words and expressions often used by Eugene. What he wrote here is what he felt and had lived for a long time: he suffered with the Church in her suffering after the Revolution.

As can be seen in the comparative chart, the final text of the first paragraph is longer than that of 1818, but less negative and provocative.


The Church’s condition is aggravated by the actions of bad priests – Appeal from the Church

When we compare this paragraph with the preceding one, we find here two new ideas: the appeal made by the Church and the sad state of the clergy. Even if we see here the possibility that Father de Mazenod was influenced by Félicité de Lamennais, the predominant influence is that of Saint-Sulpice. But here, just as he did in the first paragraph, he summarizes ideas which he had previously made his own and realities which he had profoundly experienced.

Already on December 23, 1809 he was speaking of the appeal of the Church [27]. In the period from1812 to 1818 he had a lot to say about the scarcity of clergy and about bad priests. Few priests judged as harshly the condition of the clergy as Father de Mazenod did in his three articles on the reformation of the clergy in the 1818 Rule and in the Nota bene which follows. What sad experience had he undergone to produce such a radical reaction? It is possible that in Sicily and Aix he had met priests lacking in zeal, but nothing in his writings would allow us to say that he had encountered priests who were depraved and sources of scandal. He did, however, clearly know that during the Revolution many priests had married and had taken the oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. In Paris, the Sulpicians strongly stressed the need for the formation of holy priests and no doubt must have made reference to the weaknesses of a certain section of the clergy of the previous century as well as mentioning some of the harsh judgments Saint Vincent de Paul had made of the clergy of his day [28]. As a result, Eugene’s reaction must have been a vigorous one leading M. Duclaux to tell him one day that he had the temperament of a reformer. On November 22, 1812, he wrote to Eugene advising him to avoid playing the role of reformer when he arrived in Aix [29].

What is certain is the fact that in the fall of 1815, while he was making preparations to found the Congregation, he already had in mind the preaching of parish missions as well as the reform of the clergy. He discussed it with M. Duclaux. We still possess M. Duclaux’s response, dated October 2, 1815: “As far as I am concerned, I can only thank my good Master for all the pious sentiments he is inspiring in you. Continue working with all your strength for the restoration of religion. Preach, teach, enlighten your fellow Frenchmen as to the cause of the evils that afflict them. Let your voice be heard everywhere in Provence. God is only waiting for our conversion to shower his graces upon us. But especially, foster the spirit of the Church among the priests. Your efforts will produce very little good as long as you do not have good priests at the head of the parishes. Encourage all the clergy to become saints. Let them read the lives of Saint Charles and Saint Vincent de Paul; that will show them whether or not a pastor of souls can live a lukewarm life lacking in zeal. I assure you that I constantly think of you and I continually thank God for the courage he is bestowing upon you. I have hopes that you will accomplish a great deal because you have a sincere love of God and the Church […].” [30]

But the ever-sensitive Eugene, especially between 1816 and 1818 when he was working too hard and suffering from a variety of indispositions [31], must have felt deeply the criticism and the pitfalls prepared by the parish priests of Aix, in particular with regard to his apostolate among the youth [32]. His trenchant judgments directed against bad priests are no doubt largely a generalization and an exaggeration of what he felt with regard to the conduct of the parish priests of Aix. The proof of this is found in some letters addressed to Father Henry Tempier in 1817. For example, on the 12th of August, he wrote: “Dissolute or bad priests are the great plague of the Church. Let us wholly exert ourselves to mitigate this cancerous growth by keeping ourselves aloof both in conversation and conduct […].” On November 24, he wrote: “Is it possible that our patience has failed to soften the anger of these worthy parish priests? The only thing that afflicts me in all this is that these people, with dispositions so contrary to charity, do not refrain from ascending to the altar […]. I pity them with all my heart […].” [33] In these letters, we recognize some expressions that will resurface in the articles of the Rules and in the paragraphs of the Preface dealing with reform of the clergy.


Generous willingness of some priests

In one sentence, paragraph 3 sets forth for us that which is most characteristic of the Founder: his state of mind, his heart, he who lived “only following his heart” [34] and from which the Congregation “in some manner totally emerged” [35]. In three lines, we find three words which express this aspect of his personality: “has touched the heart”, “to whom the glory of God is precious”, “who love the Church”. But already in 1809 and 1816, the condition of the Church in her abandonment had “touched” and “moved” his compassion. Félicité de Lamennais himself was “deeply touched by the evils afflicting this tender mother”. This is when romanticism held sway and it was always given to excess in expressing its sentiments.

The trilogy: the glory of God, love of the Church and the salvation of souls found, with a few variations, three times in the Preface has been present in the writings of Bishop de Mazenod from 1808 onwards. It remains present in his writings to the day he died. This trilogy is also found in the writings of the Sulpicians [36].


The work that can be accomplished

In paragraph four, Father Reslé stresses optimism in a special way: “They have become convinced…”, “we could nourish the hope of soon leading back to their duties these people who have strayed”. [37]

What is the reason behind this optimism? It is found because of the power of the attraction and of the good example of virtuous and apostolic men as opposed to the vices of the bad priests; and because of the power of the Word of God (see I Thessalonians 4:16).

The details concerning the virtues and zeal of apostolic men appear in paragraph 6. Nonetheless, the commentators dwell here on a few more significant expressions. Father Leonard Leyendecker [38] comments especially on the fact that detachment (in Latin: non turpis lucri cupidi) is a virtue often mentioned by Saint Paul [39]. Father Reslé [40] comments on the words “solidly grounded in virtue” by using a quotation from Blessed Antony Chevrier (1826-1879), founder of the Prado in Lyon: “Install a holy priest in a wooden church with the wind whistling through every crack and he will draw to himself and convert more people than a priest in a church made of gold. […] And yet, today we work much harder to build beautiful churches and rectories than we do to create saints. The reason is that it is easier to build a beautiful church than it is to create one saint. […] Let us not concentrate on the accidental while ignoring the essential, that is, favoring stones over virtue, beautiful vestments over holiness […]”. [41]

But the expression that Father Drouart considers basic here is that of “apostolic men”, an expression that is not found in the corresponding paragraph of the 1818 Rule. Jean-Jacques Olier, Félicité de Lamennais and the Founder himself previous to 1825 used this expression. (See the comparative chart).

Father Drouart explains this expression using the very fine text at the beginning of the 1818 Nota bene, omitted from the 1825-1826 text, and which is rescued in this manner. I quote a few excerpts of his text: “One sentence contained in the first edition of the 1818 Rule seems to me to synthesize the entire spiritual thinking of the Founder at the moment of founding the Congregation: ‘What more sublime purpose than that of their Institute? Their founder is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God; their first fathers are the Apostles. They are called to be the Saviour’s co-workers, the co-redeemers of mankind; and even though, because of their present small number and the more urgent needs of the people around them, they have to limit the scope of their zeal, for the time being to the poor of our countryside and others, their ambition should, in its holy aspirations, embrace the vast expanse of the whole earth’.”

“There we find the definition of the apostolic man in the context of the mystery of salvation: his personal relationship with Christ is like that of the Apostles and above and beyond the area where he carries out his mission, his relationship to the world and to the Church.”

“The Founder saw the Apostles as ‘our first Fathers’ (CC and RR of 1928, art. 287), our ‘models’ (art. 288). He defines them in the Preface as men chosen by Christ, formed by him, filled by him with his Spirit and sent by him to proclaim salvation to the whole world.”

“At the centre of everything, the Founder sees the mystery of salvation which is continued in the Church […] It can be said that his apostolic spirituality springs from the first chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians where St. Paul – as he also does in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians – puts the apostolic vocation in the context of the continuation of the mystery of the cross […].”

“Co-operation with the Savior, that is where we find the source of all the demands of the apostolic vocation. To preach like the Apostle Christum, et hunc crucifixum, non in sublimitate sermonis, sed in ostensione spiritus (I Corinthians 2:1,2,4) cannot be limited to simply talking about it, but demands to be profoundly penetrated by it and to live it (art. 98). The Oblate’s ministry is truly fruitful only in the measure that he bears in his body the sufferings of the death of Jesus (II Corinthians 4:10). That is why he glories in his weakness, in flagrant insults, persecutions, anxiety borne for Christ’s sake (II Corinthians 12:10). The entire content of article 263 is there; that is to say that this cooperation does not remain only on the level of activity, but engages the individual in the depths of his entire being […].” [42]

For his part, Father Jetté wrote: “In the Founder’s mind, the apostolic man or missionary is a priest animated with the spirit of Jesus Christ more specifically with the spirit of the Apostles, who walks in their footsteps. After he has heard the call of Jesus he leaves everything behind in order to follow him to be his companion to share and live his life, and to be sent out by him into the world – he is not meant to be a sedentary person – to proclaim the Good News of salvation. In the apostolic man we always find two elements that are inseparable from each other: spiritual fervor and missionary zeal. The second one alone is not enough, the first is also necessary. In the Preface in the case of the Oblates as individual persons and as a Society, both are present […].” [43]


Jesus Christ

Father Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve wrote in 1929: “We can see that, in keeping with doctrine, Christ is above all the object [of the Founder’s thought]; Christ, our Savior and the Church which is the noble heritage acquired at the price of his blood” [44].

With regard to Christ, Father Jetté offered the following reflection: “A society of apostolic men cannot live without rules […]. For us, the first rule is Jesus Christ […].” [45]

But here again it is especially Father Drouart who plumbs the depths of paragraphs 5 and 6, commenting on them in the light of various articles of the Rules. He points out: “At this point, we reach the heart of the Founder’s apostolic spirituality. The living person of Christ the Savior himself whose genuine cooperators we will only be in the measure that we imitate him in all things (CC and RR of 1928, art. 287), as much as human weakness will allow, walking in his footsteps. The end of the Congregation is to preach the Gospel to the poor by imitating assiduously the virtues and examples of Christ the Savior (art. 1) […]. From this we can conclude that in this context it was not for the Founder a case of merely imitating Jesus in his visible activity; it was not a matter of ‘mimicking’, but rather a profound interior transformation of the self. Priestly formation consists in ‘forming Christ’ in us (art. 62); in short, the sequela Christi stressed by the decree Perfectae Caritatis.”

“And for the Founder – to me this seems of capital importance – this interior transformation does not consist in a contemplation divorced from action, but everything takes place at the same time both in contemplation and in action. Certainly, the goal of contemplation of the Savior is to lead us ‘to reproduce his virtues in us in living form’ (art. 254). But it is not a question of a contemplation divorced from action and even less opposed to action. This is manifest in the entire body of the Rule, but was stated explicitly in article 290 which made a synthesis of the parts of one and the same life, parts which are not in opposition to each other. ‘But within their houses […] as well as when preaching missions, […] their main concern will be to become other Jesus Christs.’ [46] In other words, apostolic ministry, if it is an authentic ‘collaboration with the Savior’ unites us to him and identifies us to him […].” [47]


What must we do? Become saints

At this point, the Founder describes the apostolic man. We should point out in passing that religious life is not even mentioned once explicitly in the Preface.

The paragraph begins by a listing of personal dispositions and virtues according to three degrees: 1. working seriously at becoming saints; 2. total self-renunciation; 3. ongoing renewal of self.

M. Olier speaks about almost the same conditions: self abasement or detachment and renewal (see the comparative chart).

To this, the Founder adds a long list of virtues, going from the least important to the most important: humility and gentleness much as we find in M. Tronson’s writings (see comparative chart), virtues of the state of religion and finally love of God and neighbor.

The paragraph continues and concludes with zeal, which entails a total gift of self, and with confidence in God. Father Yenveux wrote: “It is only after having dressed his missionaries from head to foot in this solid armor of virtue that Bishop de Mazenod allows himself to say to them: then, full of confidence […].” [48] Therefore, confidence in the power of God, but after having cooperated nobly, fought to the death, sacrificed goods, talents, ease and ones very person for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the salvation of ones neighbor.

In his writings, M. Tronson has a text similar to this one (see the comparative chart). The Founder prizes highly this total gift of self. Through its adverbs and the adjectives that follow, paragraph 6 expresses in a manner unsurpassed this requirement of an absolute gift of self: “to work seriously […] to walk courageously […] to totally renounce […] to have in view only the glory of God […] to renew oneself constantly […] by working without respite […] ready to sacrifice everything […] to fight to the death”. Already in paragraph 3, we read: “who would sacrifice themselves, if need be for the salvation of souls”.

Father Villeneuve concludes this part with the words: “Here is our mystique: to contemplate Christ; here is our asceticism: to reproduce his virtues; and in this way to fulfill our priestly and apostolic role: the salvation of souls. [49]


Priestly and apostolic action

Father Yenveux wrote: “This paragraph describes in gripping terms the immense field open before the zeal of the missionaries” [50]. Father Blanchard, philosopher though he might be, here turned poet as well. He expressed himself as follows: “What an immense field lies open before them! What a grand and holy undertaking! These words echo the sentiment exclaimed by the mountain climber as his eyes search the depths of the panorama spread before him as he looks down from the peak he has just conquered. Is it not generally from the peak of perfection that he has just attained that the Oblate turns his gaze upon the plain he left and which he looks upon as the field for his future apostolate? As he gazes from the elevation he has attained, the task which previously frightened him now takes on its true proportions, whose dimensions while they are for all that immense, are no longer exaggerated. The first image which leaps to his gaze is that of the most shameful ignorance […].” [51]

The Oblate must combat ignorance in the matter of religion by teaching who Christ is; he must combat the corruption of morals by honoring and promoting the practice of all kinds of virtues. Finally, he must “leave no stone unturned” to replace the empire of the devil with the empire of Christ. This work must be carried out in stages: first make of people reasoning human beings, then Christians and finally, saints.

In this sense, this paragraph partially takes up once again what was said about the condition of the Church and the importance of proclaiming the Word of God. These ideas are found in the writings of Jean-Jacques Olier, Félicité de Lamennais and Eugene de Mazenod previous to 1818. (See the comparative chart).


As a society (in community)

The Oblates carry out this priestly apostolic action viribus unitis, that is, as a community. Much could be said about this. In the report of his canonical visit to Zaire, Father Drouart devoted a few pages to this [52]. The acts of the congress of the Association of Oblate Studies and Research held in Ottawa in August of 1989 dealing with Mission in Apostolic Community were published in Vie Oblate Life in 1990. Father Domenico Arena, a missionary in Senegal, wrote an important thesis in missiology entitled Unity and Mission. For all intents and purposes, it is a wide ranging commentary on viribus unitis. We also find several articles on Oblate community in Vie Oblate Life, especially those by Fathers Marcello Zago and Fabio Ciardi [53].


The Rules

In conclusion, paragraphs 9 and 10 show that the apostolic action of the Oblates is carried out under a common rule and a common discipline. Hundreds of times in his correspondence the Founder exhorted his Oblates to live a regular life; it reached such a point that, especially from Father Joseph Fabre on, there existed within the Congregation a kind of divorce between “regular” religious life and the apostolic life. Father Reslé and especially Father Drouart devoted some pages of their commentaries to explaining how this dichotomy did not exist in the thinking of the Founder and in the text of the Rule [54].

The Superiors General

All of the Superiors General made reference to the Preface of the Rules in their circular letters [55]. Generally, it was the case of using a brief quotation from the Preface as a springboard to remind their confreres of the meaning and binding force of some articles of the Rule. Some examples of this are: with reference to the Church, personal sanctification and the virtues, religious life, Jesus Christ, zeal, urgent needs, community, etc.

It was however Father Leo Deschâtelets, Superior General from 1947 to 1972, who most often spoke of the Rule, and the Preface in particular [56]. He characterized it as “a synthesis of the Rule with brilliant features like the facets of a diamond” [57]; or yet again: “the act of giving birth to our Institute: it situates it in the Church. In words of fire, it paints the picture of the Oblate, above all an apostolic man, destined according to his modest means to relieve the distress of the Church, the well-beloved spouse of Christ, the Savior of the world. [58]” In the first few pages of his August 15, 1951 circular letter, Our Vocation and our Life in Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate [59], he comments on the majority of the paragraphs of the Preface, in particular those on the Oblate priest, religious, missionary, on fire with the love of Jesus, etc.

In the commentary we have given here on each of the paragraphs of the Preface, we have not quoted from this letter of Father Deschâtelets because the entire letter deserves to be studied and read, not just a few quotes from it. He possessed the same fiery temperament as the Founder; he knew the Founder’s writings very well and was able to communicate his thinking and his charism with the same fiery enthusiasm.


I bring these few reflections to a conclusion by quoting from the last lines of Father Jetté’s commentary on the Rule: the Preface is a good introduction to the Constitutions and Rules, “but it is above all an invitation to the absolute, radical character of the gift of oneself to Jesus Christ and to the Church. The Oblate can become a man of prayer, a man for others, a poor man according to the Gospel, a witness of the faith…; but to be such, he must commit himself totally. No one will ever be such without first being a man of Jesus Christ and the Church. Our vocation contains everything. That is the main lesson taught by the Preface.” [60]