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The Life and Spiritual Legacy of Bruno Lanteri
By Timothy M. Gallagher
The Crossroad Publishing Company Copyright © 2013 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.
All rights reserved.
When it is necessary to think, speak, and labor for God, even to give my life, let everything be lost, let whatever may happen, happen: this I must do. — Bruno Lanteri
On January 11, 1811, a certain Claude Berthaut du Coin was arrested by the French police. He was brought from Lyon to Paris, imprisoned, and, four days later, underwent the first of six interrogations.
He knew that his life was at stake. He had known and accepted this risk when he first agreed to contact Pope Pius VII, held prisoner by order of the Emperor Napoleon. His first journey of clandestine communication with Pius VII two years earlier had been successful, and the police had suspected nothing. This time, disaster struck.
Tensions between pope and emperor had been rising for years as Napoleon increasingly subjugated the Papal States and attempted to dictate Church policy. Open conflict had erupted when, in May 1809, Napoleon decreed the incorporation of the Papal States into his empire. Pius VII immediately responded with a bull of excommunication. Napoleon retaliated with the arrest and abduction from Rome of the pope. Since July 1809, Pius VII had been Napoleon's prisoner, detained in Savona, along the Italian coast, fifty kilometers from Genoa.
Napoleon lodged the pope in the bishop's residence in Savona. Officially he was considered a "guest" of the emperor's local representative, and treated with deference. Yet guards watched as he celebrated Mass, as he walked in the garden, and as he received visitors. His letters were opened and read. Pius was alone only in his private room.
In protest, the pope employed the one avenue remaining to him. The existing agreement between pope and emperor allowed the emperor to name new bishops as dioceses became vacant. For the exercise of their authority, however, canonical institution by the pope was required. Pius now simply refused to grant that institution. As the number of vacant dioceses increased — above all, Paris itself, without a bishop since 1808 — discontent among the people and paralysis in the life of the Church grew as well.
Napoleon increased pressure on the pope to yield and grant canonical institution to the new bishops. The pope was forbidden communication with the Church, his living conditions made harsh, and envoys from Napoleon verbally battered him, pressing him to yield. Pius wavered ... but ultimately refused to submit.
Napoleon's appointee as archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Sifrein Maury, suggested a way beyond the impasse. When a diocese had no bishop, canon law permitted the naming of a vicar capitular as temporary administrator of the diocese until a bishop could be appointed. Then, Maury proposed, let each diocese appoint as temporary administrator Napoleon's nominee for bishop of that diocese. In this way, the pope's authorization would no longer be required, and administration of the vacant dioceses could resume under the leadership of whomever Napoleon desired.
Pius VII, informed secretly of Maury's ploy, wrote to Maury on November 5, 1810, accusing him of betrayal, enjoining him to renounce the archbishopric of Paris, and declaring null any administrative acts he performed. Maury ignored the letter, and refused to make it public.
Others in Paris, however, troubled by the confusion regarding legitimate authority in the archdiocese, desired Pius VII's guidance. Direct communication with the imprisoned pope grew urgent. Berthaut du Coin, a member of a group in Lyon dedicated to the Holy Father, was again chosen for the task. For a second time, he undertook the dangerous journey to the captive pope in Savona. Berthaut du Coin received clarifying documents from the pope, and brought them to supporters of the pope in France. These, in turn, transmitted the texts to loyal Catholics in Paris.
But this time they did not escape the police. One document was discovered, and, on December 31, Napoleon was informed. Events now moved quickly, as the police uncovered an extensive network of clandestine defenders of the pope. Twenty persons were arrested; among them, on January 11, 1811, was thirty-one-year-old Berthaut du Coin.
Interrogated repeatedly by the police, Berthaut du Coin refused to betray his companions. Yet even his silence could not protect them. A search of his papers revealed a list of six names — priests and laymen of the Piedmont region of northern Italy, formerly the kingdom of Piedmont, but now incorporated by Napoleon into France. Among these six was "Monsieur l'abbé Brunon Lanteri."
Pio Bruno Lanteri, was fifty-two years old, a priest of twenty-nine years. He was 5'8" tall, of average body size, with graying hair and brown eyebrows, oval in visage, his eyes blue-gray, his forehead wide, his nose large and somewhat flat, his mouth medium-sized, and his chin furrowed.
He was every inch a Piedmontese: reserved, little inclined to speak of his accomplishments, quietly focused on his tasks, accustomed to hard work, and forthright to the point of bluntness. Speaking in self-defense, as one unlikely to plot against the emperor, he would describe himself to the police as "solitary, reserved, and a man of few words." When he spoke, his voice tended to be soft.
He was a man of shattered health, often utterly unable to work, exhausted by an oppression of the chest, at times scarcely able to breathe, and constantly aware that physical effort might cause a recurrence of these attacks. His eyes were ruined, and frequently he was unable to read.
The French police already knew the name Bruno Lanteri. Some time earlier, a secret agent had identified him to the police as one unfavorably disposed to the French government, in particular since the rise of tensions between the emperor and the pope. Signor d'Auzers, director of police for Piedmont, had ordered that Bruno be kept under surveillance. D'Auzers informed his superior in Paris, however, that "because he [Bruno] is most careful in his speech and actions, I have obtained no proof against him." But now the stakes were higher, and new efforts would be made.
On January 19, 1811, Savary, Duke of Rovigo and minister of police in Paris, wrote to d'Auzers ordering him to interrogate and search the papers of the six persons named in Berthaut du Coin's text. Ten days later, on January 29, Bruno was interrogated "with the greatest care" and his papers searched.
D'Auzers informed Savary that same day that the interrogation had revealed nothing significant. Bruno — carefully choosing his words — insisted that he had only seen Berthaut du Coin once or twice when he had come seeking confession, and that he, Bruno, could not recall whether he granted the request because he was ill at that time; that he had no knowledge of the reasons for Berthaut du Coin's trip; that Berthaut du Coin had indeed told him of his forthcoming journey to Savona, but that he, Bruno, had not given Berthaut du Coin any commission for that trip or for any other.
D'Auzers, however, was not convinced, and voiced his reservations to his superior. He told Savary that Bruno "is generally regarded here as a very pious and very honest man." Yet d'Auzers had learned of the existence in Turin of what he called "a certain association of priests and clerics of the Jesuits, after their suppression," bound by secrecy, with branches in Vienna and Paris, and that Bruno was their leader.
Immediately following the interrogation, the police searched Bruno's papers. They found nothing except a copy of Pius VII's bull of excommunication against those — ultimately Napoleon himself — who had stripped him of the Papal States. D'Auzers sent the document to Savary, noting key passages so that Savary might perceive "what should be thought of the political opinions of a man who would keep such a manuscript among his papers."
D'Auzers continued: "I must inform you, Monsieur, that Monsieur l'abbé Lanteri has great influence here through his hearing of confessions. He is one of the most sought after in the city. Though his health has been very poor for some months now, many, among them the most influential persons, have taken him as their spiritual director."
D'Auzers then presented his recommendations to his superior: the archbishop of Turin should be ordered to revoke Bruno's permission to hear confessions. Bruno himself should be removed from Turin. Because his poor health would not endure more severe exile, he should be sent either to Cuneo, his birthplace, or to his home in the countryside outside of Turin. He should be forbidden to return to Turin "since his presence may lead to harm because of the erroneous counsel he might give to those who seek guidance for their consciences."
On February 27, 1811, Savary presented these recommendations to Napoleon, suggesting as the place of exile Bruno's home, the "Grangia," in Bardassano, twenty kilometers from Turin, advising further that Bruno be kept under surveillance. Napoleon endorsed his subordinate's proposals.
On March 9, Count Bigot de Préameneu, Napoleon's minister for religion, ordered the archbishop of Turin, Giacinto della Torre, to remove Bruno's faculties for confessions, and to require him to abandon Turin for his home in Bardassano, "thus forestalling the measures that the police might take in his regard" — a lightly veiled threat of police action should the archbishop fail to comply. Giacinto della Torre, not one to resist the French authorities — few dared to do so in those days of Napoleon's power — obediently executed the orders from Paris. As he did so, however, the archbishop declared to Bigot de Préameneu that "there is no malice in the priest Lanteri, nor is he one ever to take part in correspondence against the government," and expressed his wish that "all my priests would be as reserved, as wise, as docile and obedient to the laws" as Lanteri. His words changed nothing.
On March 25, evading the surveillance of the police one final time, Bruno met with the group that d'Auzers had confusedly described as "a certain association of priests and clerics of the Jesuits." Later that day, he left Turin for his home in Bardassano, where Don Giuseppe Loggero, his faithful assistant, would join him. Bruno's exile had begun.
Almost immediately he experienced severe problems of health. In early May, he informed the archbishop that "a few days ago I was once again assailed by a strong and protracted attack of oppression of the chest, such that I feared for the outcome." A further problem arose in his arm. Bruno requested and, after laborious bureaucratic proceedings, was granted fifteen days in Turin to attend to urgent medical needs. Compelled to depart in haste when his exile began, such measures had been impossible earlier. D'Auzers's superior ordered him to keep Bruno under surveillance during those two weeks in Turin, and to report his return to Bardassano. Archbishop della Torre assured d'Auzers that Bruno would not abuse the permission received.
May passed, then June ... and the days of exile became weeks, the weeks, months, the months, years. ... As the tumultuous events of those decisive years unfolded, Bruno's isolation and the enforced interruption of his ministry perdured.
On December 12, 1812, a year and seven months after his exile began, Bruno wrote "from my country dwelling" to his collaborator and spiritual directee Leopoldo Ricasoli, thanking him for his recent letter, encouraging him to fidelity in prayer, and asking for word regarding his spiritual practices and their fruits. "If you share this with me," he wrote, "you will give me the consolation of contributing as much as I am able to your spiritual progress." With a certain pathos, Bruno continued: "Do me this favor, my dearly beloved Signor Priore, so that in this my cherished solitude, where I have become as though useless to my neighbor, I may be at least of some spiritual assistance to you."
My cherished solitude: in these years of compulsory inactivity, something was changing in Bruno, something that no one, neither French police nor archbishop, not even Bruno himself — this man who once had sought monastic life — could have foreseen. Useless to my neighbor: a burden weighed on this "man of a hundred tongues and a hundred arms," who, notwithstanding his devastated health, had for thirty years spent himself for others in the capital of his nation, ever in the thick of culture and events.
Bruno felt this burden all the more "since my days will not be long because of my illnesses which, rather than diminish, persist all the more, hastening my departure from this unhappy world, and the union for which I long with my gentle Jesus." Exiled from the persons and places he loved, forbidden the priestly ministry so long the center of his life, experiencing in pain the accelerating decline of his body ... Bruno turned his thoughts to release from "this unhappy world" and to eternal union with Christ.
But the end was not yet come.CHAPTER 2
I understand this all the more from the special desires He has granted me to feel for some time, to consecrate myself entirely to Him, and for the salvation of souls. — Bruno Lanteri
In 1743, at the age of eleven, Nikolaus Albert von Diessbach left his home in Bern, Switzerland, and began his military career. His two brothers, Rudolf Anton and Ludwig, would later follow him into the army. The young Nikolaus Albert entered a Swiss regiment in the pay of the king of Piedmont, and for the next sixteen years pursued the military life. This fledgling soldier, through unlikely paths, was destined to be the decisive influence in Bruno's life.
Raised a Calvinist, in the military Diessbach gradually lost his Christian faith. Later he would describe how "I found myself in the full vigor of youth, and the permissiveness that too often accompanies military life, the stubborn vanity of a proud spirit, the impetuous stirrings of strong passions, and an excessive thirst for every kind of reading, led me by rapid steps toward the pyrrhonian [skeptical] system of unbelief."
Reviewing those years, he would recognize that in large part his unbelief derived from his indiscriminate reading: "I read the writings of the famous atheists of our days and I was, I confess, greatly impressed by them. What men! I said. These are men of courage, men who use their minds. These will be my masters! With courage they destroy empty prejudices, and ennoble a humanity that superstition weakens and degrades. What! Does the world persecute these wise men? That very persecution renders them all the more admirable in my eyes. I unite myself with all they endure for their cause." Bruno would later note that in Diessbach's youth, "he read a great deal, and abandoned his Calvinism to embrace unbelief."
As books contributed to Diessbach's loss of faith, so they would be the instrument of its rebirth.
In 1754, Diessbach's regiment was stationed in Nice, then belonging to the kingdom of Piedmont. His personal goodness and refined bearing made the twenty-two-year-old Diessbach welcome in society, and gained him entrance into the home of the Spanish consul, Monsieur Saint-Pierre. There his Catholic hosts both esteemed his goodness and lamented his unbelief. The family, noting his interest in reading, placed a book about the faith in a visible spot in their home. As they hoped, the young soldier noticed the book and asked to read it. When he did, a new spiritual journey began.
Diessbach now began to grapple with the religious questions that arose from his reading. Because he was, as Bruno would write, "a reflective man, who made no decision without pondering it well beforehand," Diessbach brought his questions to the Jesuits in Turin. There he found a priest who answered them all. His doubts about the faith resolved, at the age of twenty-three Diessbach entered the Catholic Church. The following year, 1755, he married Monsieur Saint-Pierre's daughter; his conversion had removed the one obstacle to a marriage desired by both Diessbach and the Saint-Pierre family.
Three years later, tragedy struck as Diessbach's wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a young daughter, who also would die at an early age. Years later, Diessbach would review his life and write, "I have seen ... my plans undone and brought to nothing. ... With my own eyes I have seen inexorable death strike persons dear to me beyond all others with the most unexpected blows, in the springtime of their years."
His family life shattered and his next step uncertain, Diessbach considered entering the Jesuits, so instrumental in his conversion to Catholicism. Bruno would relate that, "After the death of his wife he consecrated himself to God in the Company of Jesus, affirming that, because, after God himself, he owed his conversion both to the Saint-Pierre family and to the Jesuits, he thought in this way to satisfy his debt of gratitude toward all." Having arranged for the education of his daughter, Diessbach requested and was granted admission among the Jesuits. On October 19, 1759, at the age of twenty-seven, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Genoa.
Excerpted from Begin Again by Timothy M. Gallagher. Copyright © 2013 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
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