Currently, I am in the process of reading the stirring epic, Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo—one of the greatest works of Romantic literature, and one which I wholeheartedly recommend. While I have yet to finish the book (I have quite a ways yet to go; it is a massive work), I have so far come across many memorable and profound gems of truth in it. Some of the most beautiful of these are passages dedicated to describing the good Bishop who was to have such a profound influence on the wretched and desperate Jean Valjean. Below are a but a few of my favorite sections.
He knew how to say the grandest things in the most vulgar of idioms. As he spoke all tongues, he entered into all hearts.
He condemned nothing in haste and without taking circmstances into account. He said, “Examine the road over which the fault has passed.”
“Man has upon him his flesh, which is at once his burden and his temptation. He drags it with him and yields to it. He must watch it, cheek it, repress it, and obey it only at the last extremity. There may be some fault even in this obedience; but the fault thus committed is venial; it is a fall, but a fall on the knees which may terminate in prayer.”
“The faults of women, of children, of the feeble, the indigent, and the ignorant, are the fault of the husbands, the fathers, the masters, the strong, the rich, and the wise.”
Words to a despondent yet repentant criminal before his execution: “God raises from the dead him whom man slays; he whom his brothers have rejected finds his Father once more. Pray, believe, enter into life: the Father is there.”
He sought not to efface sorrow by forgetfulness, but to magnify and beautify it by hope.
Sometimes he dug in his garden; again, he read or wrote. He had but one word for both these kinds of toil; he called them gardening. “The mind is a garden,” said he.
“The most beautiful of altars,” he said, “is the soul of an unhappy creature consoled and thanking God.”
“Ecclesiastes calls you the All-Powerful; the Maccabees call you the Creator; the Epistle to the Ephesians calls you Liberty; Baruch calls you Immensity; the Psalms call you Wisdom and Truth; John calls you Light; the Books of Kings call you Lord; Exodus calls you Providence; Leviticus, Sanctity; Esdras, Justice; the creation calls you God; man calls you Father; But Solomon calls you Compassion, and that is the most beautiful of all your names.”
“The infinite is. He is there. If the infinite had no person, person would be without limit; It would not be infinite; in other words, it would not exist. There is then, an I. That I of the infinite is God.”
Jean Valjean, Ex-Convict, Meets the Bishop
“Monsieur le Curé,” said [Valjean], “you are good; you do not despise me. You receive me into your house. You light your candles for me. Yet I have not concealed from you whence I come and that I am an unfortunate man.”
The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand. “You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has grief. You suffer, you are hungy and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except that man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew.”
[Valjean] opened his eyes in astonishment. “Really? You knew what I was called?”
“Yes,” replied the Bishop, “you are called my brother.”
Thus did this unhappy soul struggle in its anguish. Eighteen hundred years before this unfortunate man, the mysterious Being in whom are summed up all the sanctities and all the sufferings of humanity had also long thrust aside with this hand, while the olive-trees quivered in the wild wind of the infinite, the terrible cup which appeared to Him dripping with darkness and overflowing with shadows in the depths all studded with stars.