New Guest Blogger: Victor Hugo

You may have noticed that I work in a lot of celebrity “guest bloggers.” So far, my biggest contributors have been St. Teresa of Avila, G. K. Chesterton and St. Louis de Montfort. I also have been running a monthly quotation from Ray Bradbury. My newest celebrity guest will be Victor Hugo.

If there was no other reason Vatican II was necessary it is that _Les Miserables_ was on the index.

One of the longest novels in history, Les Miserables is divided into several “books,” and each of those have several parts. Part I of Book I (Fantine) is titled “A Just Man.” It concerns the fictional “Monseigneur Myriel,” Bishop of Digne, France (or just D. in some editions).

The real Most Rev. François-Melchior-Charles-Bienvenu de Miollis was bishop of Digne from 1805-1838. He preferred to be known as “Monseigneur Bienvenu”, after his middle name meaning “Welcome.”

One of the inspirations for the novel was a story Hugo read in the 1830s about Msgr. Bienvenu harboring a fugitive and providing him with an alibi. He was so amazed by this act of charity that he investigated the bishop. Many of the stories Hugo tells about his own fictional Msgr. Bienvenu are based upon the real one, mixed in with elements of their contemporary St. John Vianney. Also interesting is that the early episcopal career of one Karol Woytyla has striking similarities to that of this fictional bishop.

Hugo switches the names around a bit. He becomes Melchior-Charles-Francoise-Bienvenu Myriel. The dates are slightly altered.

But, as Hugo himself says, “True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.”

In any case, Hugo paints a very detailed portrait of a saint, and these first hundred pages or so should be basic requirements of any catechetical study.

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