Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'


1. Jean-Francois Six, Itineraire spirituel de Charles de Foucauld, Paris, Seuil, 1958, p. 267. This is the first (and remains the principal) serious study of Foucauld's spiritual journey.

2. The Abbe Huvelin (1838-1910) was the spiritual director of Foucauld from the latter's conversion in 1886 until his own death in 1910. A remarkable man, he had a profound influence on many, including Maurice Blondel and Friedrich von Hugel. See Lucienne Portier, Un precurseur: I'abbe Huvelin, Paris, Cerf, 1979. See pp. 93-107 for his relationship with Foucauld.

3. From an article by Hughes Didier, 'Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld'Jacques Keryell (ed.), Louis Massignon et ses contem- porains, Paris, Karthala, 1998. Cf. revue Jesus Caritas, 1951, no. 84. pp. 17-20.

4. Louis Massignon, Foucauld's friend and 'testamentary successor', was responsible for causing his first biography to be written, and so making him known: Rene Bazin, Charles de Foucauld, Explorateur au Maroc, Ermite au Sahara, Paris, Plan, 1921. This was soon translated into English: R. Bazin, Charles de Foucauld Hermit and Explorer, London, Burn Gates & Washbourne, 1923.

5. Charles de Foucauld: Lettres a Henry de Castries: introduction by Jacques de Dampierre, Paris, Grasset, 1938, p. 94. This correspondence is a key source for Foucauld's connections with Islam.

6. Joseph Cuoq, Lavigme, les Peres Blancs et les musulmans maghrebins, Rome, Societe des missionaires d'Afriques, 1986.

7. Correspondence Ch. de F./ H. de Castries, op. cit., p. 86.

8. Ibid., p. 90.

9. Hugues Didier, Petite vie de Charles de Foucauld, Paris,  Desclee de Brouwer, 1993, pp. 56-57. This 'Life', though short, is excellent for situating Foucauld in his historical context.

10. J-F. Six, Itineraire, op. cit., p. 44 (see also pp. 45-47).

11. Correspondence Ch. de F./ H. de Castries, op. cit., p. 89.

12. Ibid., p. 33.

13. Ibid., p. 89.

14. J-F. Six, Vie de Charles de Foucauld, Paris, Seuil, 1962, pp. 31-34.

15. Didier, Petite vie, op. cit., p. 72.

16. Correspondence Ch. de F./H. de Castries, op. cit., p. 91.

17. The Armenian massacres, often forgotten, left a deep mark on the conscience of Charles de F. See Bazin (English) pp. 97-98; Six, Vie, pp. 61-62; Didier, Petite vie, pp. 86-89.

18. Antoine Chatelard, Le chemin vers Tamanrasset, Paris, Karthala, 2002, p. 268 (and the whole chapter, pp. 265-282).

19. Ibid., pp. 284, 274.

20. Correspondence Ch. de F./H. de Castries, op. cit., pp. 87, 123, 167 (cf. p.118). For Charles' experience of the zaouias in Morocco, see his Reconnaissance au Maroc, Paris, Challamel, 1888 passim (an experience recalled in Correspondence Ch. de F./H. de C., pp. 162-163). Cf. also Six, Vie, pp. 21-24, 84-86.

21. Charles, receiving a letter from the important 'marabout' Sidi ben Daoud twenty-one years later, replies, addressing him as 'my brother in God' and adding 'I pray God to accord you his favours in this world and heaven in the next' (letter written both in French and Arabic by Charles in March 1905, quoted in Correspondence with H. de Castries, pp. 170-71).

22. Ali Merad, Charles de Foucauld au regard de I'Islam, Paris, Chalet,1975, translated into English, with a Foreword and Afterword by Zoe Hersov, as Christian Hermit in an Islamic World, New York, Paulist Press, 1999, but lacking the valuable annexe L'Islamisme des Touaregs. This work, by an Algerian Muslim, a professor of Arabic literature and civilization in Lyons (France), is, in his own words, 'a [personal] testimony motivated by the desire to make a contribution ..., to the Muslim-Christian dialogue' (p. 14. French; same page in English). Well-written and well-argued, it is the 'key' work on Charles de Foucauld's relationship with Islam from the Muslim side. For Charles as 'the Christian Marabout', see pp. 39-51 in French (chapter II in English).

23. For Charles' role as 'universal brother' and his conception of 'Fraternity', see, Six, Itineraire, pp. 275-76, 331; Six, Vie, pp. 91-94, 98; Chatelard, Chemin, pp. 143-62.

24. For Charles' settling in Tamanrasset and for a description of the local Touareg society, see Elizabeth Hamilton, The Desert my Dwelling Place, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1968, pp.153—59; see also Chatelard, Chemin, op. cit., pp. 231-34.

25. Chatelard, Chemin, op. cit., pp. 147-62.

26. Ibid., pp. 247, 258-59.

27. Six, Vie, op. cit., p. 218; cf. Hamilton, op. cit., pp. 171, 173.

28. Maurice Serpette, Foucauld au Desert, Paris, Desclee de Brouwer, 1997, ch. VII: L'oeuvre linguistique de Ch. de F.; see also the 'Postface' de J-F. Six, pp. 247-50".

29. Six, Vie, op. cit, pp. 184-85 (On the invitation of Moussa, Charles assists at the death of his aunt, Tihit, exhorting her to 'Ouksed Massinin'- 'Fear God'; while known and accepted as the 'Christian marabout', he is ready to use the appropriate Islamic formula).

30. Correspondence inedite [unpublished] du Pere de Foucauld a M.Joseph Hours, letters of 25 Nov. 1911, 3 May 1912, 12 Oct. 1912.

31. Six, Vie, op. cit., pp. 29-31.

32. Oeuvres Spirituelles, Anthologie, Paris, Seuil, 1958, pp. 313-15. Charles frequently returns, in his meditations, to the 'model' of the Visitation: Jesus is seen as present and active in the interpersonal life of the Christian who is united with Him (and, as Jacques Maritain has added, the more effectively so, paradoxically, when the person acting is unconscious of this hidden presence: see Approches sans entraves, Paris, Seuil, 1975, p. 82—85.

33. Correspondence Ch. de F/J. Hours, letter of 12 October 1912.

34. Ibid., letter of 25 November 1912.

35. Chatelard, Chemin, op. cit., p. 150.

36. A. Chatelard, La Mart de Charles de Foucauld, Paris, Karthala, 2000, passim.

37. Hughes Didier, Louis Massignon et Charles de Foucauld, op. cit., pp. 93-98. To my mind, the 'spiritual intuition' of Massigon that Foucauld 'offered his life for Islam' is correct (against Didier), the difference being that Charles saw his self-offering in terms of 'solidarity', while Massignon spoke of 'substitution', pp. 96-97.

38. Hamilton, The Desert my Dwelling Place op. cit., p. 207.

39. Ali Merad, op. cit., p.75 (French). The English translation, p. 44, while materially correct, fails to bring out the implied sense of 'challenge': Charles witnessed for Jesus in the face of Islam, in the sense that his life  'remains  a challenge to the Muslim conscience' (p. 129), just as much, the author adds, 'as to the Christian conscience'! This challenge is not that of an 'outsider', but of one 'who chose to live and die in a Muslim land', choosing 'to rest there until the Resurrection', p. 128.

40. Ibid., p. 28; pp. 45-48 French (English pp. 21; 29-31).

41.Ibid., p.129 French (English p. 74: the French 'interpeller' is better translated as 'challenged', rather than as 'summoned').

42. Chatelard, Chemin, op. cit., p. 200.

43. Didier, Petite vie, op. cit.,p. 152; cf.  Didier's article, Louis Massignon ..., op. cit., pp. 104-108.

44. Maurice Serpette, Foucauld au Desert, op. cit., p. 243.

45. Ibid., Postface de J-F. Six, p. 255. This remarkable 'postface' brings out the significance of Foucauld's intellectual studies, as seen by Louis Massignan and Emile Gautier: they show at once 'the secular fury to understand', typical of the modem 'scientific' mindset, and the 'experimental discovery of the sacred' in the gratuitous search to know the other in their alterity.

46. Chatelard, Chemin, op. cit., pp. 165-66.

47.Merad, op. cit., p. 75 French (English p. 44).

48. Six, Vie, op. cit., p. 184.

49.Ibid., p. 186.

50. Merad, op. cit., p. 14 French (English p. 14) and pp. 7-9 ('Preface' of Michel Lelong; replaced in the English translation by a new preface by the translator, Zoe Hersov).

Printed with kind permission:

Originally published as chapter 4 of Catholics in Interreligious Dialogue: Studies in Monasticism, Theology and Spirituality.

Published by Gracewing (2006) UK ISBN 0 85244 640 3

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916): Silent witness for Jesus 'in the face of Islam'