The Conversion of Saint Paul by Caravaggio
The Conversion of the Lemann Brothers
The Lemann brothers were Jews, twin brothers orphaned at an early age, and raised by their uncles and aunts in a wealthy, aristocratic Jewish family in Lyons, France. They, on their own initiative and without the knowledge of their family, were baptized into the Catholic faith at the age of eighteen; when the family found out it tried to get the boys to recant; and when that failed, several of their uncles violently attacked them. At the point of death, one of the boys was able to struggle free sufficiently to cry for help, and they were rescued by the police. The incident, occurring as it did in one of the foremost families of the city, caused quite a scandal, and the family attempted to justify its behavior by accusing the boys of having been hoodwinked by the priest who baptized them, claiming he was only after their inheritance. To defend the priest the boys, then eighteen, sent the following letter to the local newspaper:
Dear Editor, Sunday, September 17, 1854
We see ourselves in the necessity of breaking a silence which we had determined to keep. The newspapers have spoken enough about the unfortunate incident which has brought us to the public’s attention. If we alone were being accused, the condemnation that was placed on our conversion would be of little concern to us; our conscience belongs to us alone, and we recognize no one else’s right to it. But, as certain people are circulating malicious insinuations with respect to the clergy, it has become our duty to reveal the truth and enlighten the opinions of reasonable men.
In our conversion, all has been the work of God. From our childhood, the sight of Catholic services greatly impressed us, to the point that we felt regret that we were not Christian. When we began school, this regret became more acute; we saw, on one hand, a few Jews; on the other hand, a great number of Christian children. This difference struck us. When they went to Mass and we heard the songs accompanied by the organ, we blushed to be reduced to gathering in an ordinary classroom and go through the motions of a pointless ritual.
But what shook us even more were the love and the devotion of the priests and religious who vowed themselves to the service of the ill, a devotion which we compared with the coldness and indifference of the others who surrounded us. On top of that, one of us fell gravely ill. We were drawn more and more to Catholicism. However, we dared not broach the question; we wanted to study further. The further we advanced in our study, the more sharply we saw the false position we were in. We opened up history, and we could not avoid becoming aware of the present state of the Jewish people as compared to its past.
More and more difficulties, which our Rabbi never could resolve, piled up in our heads. The study of the classics of Bossuet, of Fenelon, of Massillon, was able to prepare our hearts to receive the grace of a God of mercy. Then we searched the Holy Scriptures. From the start, we understood that we could not walk alone; we must find a holy Priest. Every day from then on, he gave us instruction, dissipated our doubts, explained to us the prophecies, and enabled us to grasp the link between the old and the new law.
Then, we said to ourselves ‘If the Messiah has already come, it’s Jesus Christ, and we must become Christians. If he has not yet come, we must nevertheless no longer remain Jews, because the time of the promise has passed and our books have lied.’
He made us wait over a year. After we graduated from high school, we insisted on being baptized; we had been out of school over a month.
He could not refuse our request, we became Christians and we became happy.
No one can make us renounce our faith, we are resolved to die first.
It seems to us that the age of eighteen is old enough to discern the true from the false. Furthermore, the Jews have demanded freedom of religion for themselves and for Protestants; they can hardly refuse it to us.
P.S. Sir, we rely on your fairness to print this letter in your next issue.
The twin brothers went on to become priests, theologians, and canons of the Church; they became good friends of Pope Pius IX and played an active role at the First Vatican Council. At that council, they circulated a ‘Postulatum’ which was signed by almost all of the Fathers of the council, and which was heartily endorsed by Pope Pius IX. Only the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, which prematurely terminated the council, prevented the official proclamation of the Postulatum. It consisted of a warm invitation to the Jews to join the Catholic Church; the text follows:
The undersigned Fathers of the Council humbly yet urgently beseechingly pray that the Holy Ecumenical Council of the Vatican deign to come to the aid of the unfortunate nation of Israel with an entirely paternal invitation; that is, that it express the wish that, finally exhausted by a wait no less futile than long, the Israelites hasten to recognize the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ, truly promised to Abraham and announced by Moses; thus completing and crowning, not changing, the Mosaic religion.
On one hand, the undersigned Fathers have the very firm confidence that the holy Council will have compassion on the Israelites, because they are always very dear to God on account of their fathers, and because it is from them that the Christ was born according to the flesh.
On the other hand, the same Fathers share the sweet and intimate hope that this ardent desire of tenderness and honor will be, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, well received by many of the sons of Abraham, because the obstacles which have held them back until now appear to be disappearing more and more, the ancient wall of separation now having fallen.
Would that they then speedily acclaim the Christ, saying ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
HAT TIP: Ed & Carroll Hummel
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