John Saward

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The following extract is taken from Abortion and Martyrdom edited by Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Published by Gracewing, Herefordshire, England.
E-mail: gracewingx@aol.com
Tel 44 (0)1568 616835
Fax 44 (0)1568 613289

First published in 2002
UK ISBN 0 85244 543 1

The Way of the Lamb

John Saward

(Charles Péguy)

Charles Péguy, like St Thérèse of Lisieux and G. K. Chesterton, was given a prophetic insight into the drama of the twentieth century, the '
century of wolves'. In particular, Péguy, like his two companions, was taught by God that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem had a special significance for the coming darkness.

Innocents for Christ
the children were massacred
infantes, very young children, a tiny child not yet speaking). [1]

God the Father sees all children in his Son, his Son in all children, but the Innocents of Bethlehem resemble the Only-Begotten in a unique way, for they are his contemporaries and compatriots, as well as his comrades in the infant state of his human nature:

I love them innocently, says God
(That's the way you should love these innocents)
As a father of a family loves the playmates of his son
Who go to school with him.

The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem are united with the Son, and confess his Incarnation, simply by the fact of their infancy and the time and place of their birth, and through this bond they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, dying a death that is true martyrdom, a Baptism in blood that confers the salvific effects of Baptism in water. This is the doctrine of Pope St Leo the Great, preaching on the Solemnity of the Epiphany:

They were able to die for him whom they could not yet confess. Thus Christ, so that no period of his life should be without miracle, silently exercised the power of the Word before the use of speech, as if already saying, 'Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven is for such' (Matt. 19:14). He crowned infants with a new glory, and consecrated the first days of these little ones by his own beginnings, in order to teach us that no member of the human race is incapable of the divine mystery, since even this age was capable of the glory of martyrdom. [3]

Quoting Prudentius's hymn sung by the Church on their feast day, Péguy shows how the Holy Innocents reveal the true character of Paradise. It is a playground. The Holy Innocents romp in the nurseries of Heaven, in the nursery of God's sons, which is what Heaven is:

Vox prima Christi victima,
Grex immolatorum tener,
Aram sub ipsam simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.

First victim of Christ,
Tender flock of the immolated
Simple at the altar's foot,
Simplices, simple souls, simple children,
Palma et coronis luditis. You play with the palm and the crowns,
With your palm and your crowns.

Such is my paradise, says God. My Paradise is all that is simplest.
Nothing is as unpretentious as my paradise
Aram sub ipsam, at the foot of the very altar
These simple children
play with their palm and their martyrs' crowns
That's what goes on in my Paradise.

For Prudentius and Péguy, as also for Dante, the merriment of 'unpretentious' Paradise, the blissful act of beholding the Trinity, is a kind of play. [5] Spiritual childhood is not only the way to Heaven, it is Heaven's very life.

The battle which Péguy fought for innocence and the Innocents still rages. It is the central struggle of our century, compared with which the clash of nations and ideologies are trifling skirmishes. Péguy's call to arms, issued in the spirit of Christian chivalry, defines both the end and the means of the fight. The end is the glory of the Triune God and the defence of the least of Christ's brethren, and the means are the virtues of the Little Way, a childlike exercise of faith, hope, and charity (accompanied, as we have seen, by a manly exercise of the moral virtues). To defend the Innocents we must strive, by God's grace, to be like them. By artless fidelity to the truth in a world of adult deceit, by a humble confidence that disarms the giants of despair, by a prodigal love of the smallest of our brethren, we follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Our simplicity will be our strength. [6] This is the true 'mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc', France's boldest warrior and youngest saint, and it is the final paradox of Péguy's Christian theology of childhood: only the Lamb-like learn the secret of the Lion.

These follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

Hi sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit,
Hi empti sunt. Again. They were purchased. Were carried off.

Hi empti sunt ex hominibus,

These were carried off from men,
(From among men, from the presence of men),

primitiae Deo, et Agno,

first-fruits to God, and to the Lamb:

et in ore eorum non est inventum mendacium,

and in their mouth,
and on their lips no lie was found;

(The lie of man, the adult lie, the earthly lie.
The soiled lie.
The dirty lie).
sine macula enim sunt ante thronum Dei,

They are without spot before the throne of God.

I believe that a good argument can be made, from the writings of Péguy and Thérêse and Chesterton, that, like the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, the myriad children slaughtered each year by abortion die as victims of an anti-Christian, anti-Christ culture of death, killed by the spiritual successors of Herod. Drawing on the teaching of Pope St Leo the Great quoted above, one might then conclude that, by analogy with the Innocents of the first Year of the Lord, the Innocents of the twentieth century
anno Domini have also died as martyrs in the strict sense. Through the very fact of their infancy, which Herod and the powers of Hell so hate, they have confessed the divine Word incarnate, and so, by a Baptism of blood, Christ's grace of justification has been communicated to them: the guilt of original sin has been remitted, their souls have been sanctified inwardly, and the gates of Heaven opened up to them.

This is only a speculation. However, there seems to be some support for at least some elements of the argument in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae. There the Holy Father says that the Child whom the Dragon seeks to devour in the vision of St John (cf. Rev. 12:4) is 'a figure of Christ' and at the same time 'a figure of every person, every child, especially every helpless baby whose life is threatened, because, as the Council reminds us, 'by his Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man'. It is precisely in the 'flesh' of every man that Christ continues to reveal himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ. This is the fascinating but also demanding truth which Christ reveals to us, and which his Church continues untiringly to proclaim: 'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me' (Matt 18:5); 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Matt. 25:40) [8]


1. 'Le mystère des saints innocents',
Oeuvres poétiques complètes (Paris 1954), p. 820.

2. Ibid. p. 819.

3. In Epiphaniae solemnitate sermo 2, n. 3; Sources Chrétiennes 22B, p. 224.

4. 'Le mystère des saints innocents', op. cit., p. 823.

5. '...l'ultimo è tutto d'Angelici ludi' (Dante, Paradiso, Canto 28, 126).

6. Preaching on the feast of St Stephen, St Bonaventure says: 'Grace is an
influence calling the soul back to its first simplicity. Now the simpler something is, the stronger (
virtuosius) it is, and the stronger it is, the braver it is. Therefore, since Stephen was full of grace, he was full of fortitude
' (De Sancto Stephano martyr sermo 1, 2; Sancti Bonaventurae opera omnia, vol. 9 [Quaracchi: Typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1901], p. 480).

7. 'Le mystère des saints innocents', op. cit., p. 806f.

8. Evangelium Vitae, n. 104. The passage in italics is partly italicized in the original text.

* The Editor and publishers are grateful for permission granted by T. & T. Clark to re-print this section of J. Saward, The Way of the Lamb. The Spirit of Childhood and the End of theAge (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999).

Compilation and editorial material Copyright © Aidan Nichols OP 2002
Copyright for individual chapters resides with the authors.

Version: 7th February 2003


John Saward

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