(The following posting is not meant to cast aspersions upon the reputation of the great and saintly Charles de Foucauld, who is one of my mentors and the model for my own contemplative, heremitic lifestyle. It is pure speculation and is offered only by way of interest in a blog devoted (among other things) to the history of gay experience in the church and the difficulty of rescuing the history of gay persons from deliberate obfuscation. Personally I don't credit the rumors described. The case of Louis Massignon, however, is an entirely different matter.)
What is the elusive truth behind the rumors surrounding the death of Blessed Charles de Foucauld? This is a complement to the previous posting which suggested a possible gay connection with the circumstances of his death. It is part of the public record that many Arab soldiers under French command frequently visited the saintly hermit and were given hospitality overnight. In fact, hospitality was one of the cornerstone virtues of his eremetical life. It is also a matter of public record that the Senoussi Brotherhood, "a fundamentalist-political-religious organization created to oppose European penetration," were deeply resentful of this hospitality and generally convinced that the former French soldier, Foucauld, was a spy for the French in the Sahara and thereby a threat to their own interests who must be eliminated. The brigands who invaded his hermitage on December 1, 1916, had been sent by the Senoussi and charged with the task of apprehending the famous Christian marabout. Has the fact of his hospitality to Arab soldiers been distorted by prejudice and resentment to suggest an unsavory sexual component, a slur on the saintly hermit's reputation, a slanderous suggestion of hidden motives behind his simple charity. It would seem so, though I do trust the integrity and intelligence of my source, who is not given to spreading salacious rumors about saintly figures. What is the elusive truth behind the mystery of his death? If there is anything to the rumors? It is unlikely we will ever know.
But these reflections led me to return to the most comprehensive biography of Charles de Foucauld available in English, by French author Jean-Jacques Antier. While I found nothing particularly illuminating about his standard account of the hermit's death - a robbery gone terribly wrong - I did come across this account of the conversion of the deeply spiritual Louis Massignon, which completely excises any mention of his love for the gay Spanish nobleman Luis de Quadra. This is not such a terrible omission, given the pious nature of the biography and it's principal focus on Charles de Foucauld. But it does highlight how difficult it is to discover evidence of gay experience on the part of notable figures throughout Christian history. It is more discrete to pass over such evidence in silence:
Who can measure the efficacy of prayer? In 1907 Massignon was in Cairo working on a dissertation on the tenth-century Sufi mystic Al Hallaj, crucified in Baghdad for his nonconformist approach to loving God. Like Jesus, he had dared to say: "The Father and I, we are one." The following year, doing archaeological work in the Baghdad area, Massignon had been kidnapped by Turkish fanatics, who thinking he was a spy, had threatened to kill him. Still an unbeliever, he was thinking of suicide to escape torture, when suddenly he was overwhelmed by "an ecstasy of fire and light, the certainly of the existence of God and Love". According to his own account: "Try at suicide out of incredible self-loathing; eyes closed and a sudden feeling of reverence before an inner fire judging me and consuming my heart, the certainty of a pure ineffable, creative Presence suspending my sentence at the prayers of beings, invisible visitors to my prison, whose names suddenly burst upon me: Al Hallaj, Huysmans, Foucauld."
What Jean-Jacques Antier omits from this account, however, is any mention of the fourth name, Massignon's former lover, Luis de Quadra, and this heartfelt insight given by Massignon, which I quoted in the previous posting. It's simply not included in Antier's account:
Taken up for the second time into the supernatural, I felt myself warned I was going to die: a burgeoning spiritual dawn, a serene clarity inciting me to renounce everything. I clung to a beloved name, repeating it to myself, declaring to myself: “If he has betrayed me, I want to be sincere for two and carry his name with me always.” The serene clarity increased in my soul: what is a name in the memory? Does not God possess this creature infinitely more than I? I abandon him to God.
The Beloved's name was Quadra.
That is quite an omission, because it is the heart of the whole experience. In this way, we see just how difficult it is to transmit an authentic, reliable history of gay experience on the part of Catholic figures throughout history, particularly noteworthy, saintly figures of the caliber of Louis Massignon. This 'unpalatable' dimension is simply ignored.
Antier quotes an exchange between Charles and Massignon over the latter's remorse for his sins of the flesh:
He advised Massignon: "Do not cast blame on yourself. The miseries of our souls are as mire in which we must humiliate ourselves often, but it is not necessary to have our gaze fixed on these miseries at all times."
Easy to say, thought Massignon, still devoured by desires of the flesh and other fantasies. Under the circumstances, how could he consider priestly celibacy, a monastic life in the wilderness? He cried out in despair: "There's nothing left but to bury myself in marriage."
Again, no mention whatsoever of what any scholar of Massignon's life could not fail to see - the gay connection. It's simply passed over, leaving the reader with the impression that Massignon's temptations of the flesh were of the conventional heterosexual kind. Later, when Charles receives the news from Massignon of his upcoming marriage to his cousin, Antier comments:
It was over. They would not see each other again...the family had won.
What a pregnant phrase. One can't help but wonder if family pressure to marry had been brought to bear upon the sensitive Massignon precisely in order to 'overcome' his "effeminate tendencies," those tendencies which had caused him to be laughed at by Arabs during his first excursion in Northern Africa.
One thing seems fairly certain from this story. If there is any substance to the rumors of a 'gay dimension' to the circumstances surrounding the death of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, they have long been buried under the sands of the Sahara.
Blessed Charles' famous prayer of abandonment:
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
Charles de Foucald