2018: The Fauxtations year in review

52,000 views, 41,500 visitors, both figures up around 30%, with the publication of Trent Horn’s book What the Saints Never Said probably driving at least some of the traffic.

Top 5 articles:
St. Augustine: He who sings prays twice 5,109 views
Heisenberg at the bottom of the glass 4,889 views
Good, better, best: St. Jerome? 4,564 views
St. Augustine: The truth is like a lion 3,379 views
St. Teresa of Avila: If this is how You treat Your friends 2,334 views

Here’s to another year of things people didn’t say!

Saint Anselm and the value of Masses

A single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death.

Attr. to St. Anselm

The language of the quotation doesn’t sound like I think St. Anselm should sound, even in translation (he died in 1109 and wrote in Latin). A Google search, for a change, was helpful, turning up this article at EWTN. If you read the followup, you’ll discover that an unnamed reader (not me–this is from before I started pursuing fauxtations) checked it out and couldn’t find it anywhere in St. Anselm’s work. It’s also attributed to Pope Benedict XV, but the unnamed reader couldn’t find it there either.

I was curious how far back this alleged saying might go. The awkward “offered for oneself” phrase was my first search term at Google Books, but that didn’t take me any farther back than 1991, when Joan Carroll Cruz gives the alleged quotation (without citation) in her book Eucharistic Miracles.

I wasn’t satisfied and switched the search terms to “thousand celebrated” Anselm. That took me back to The Hidden Treasure, by Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice († 1751) , in an 1861 English translation (the name of the translator doesn’t seem to be given). The quote is given there in this form: “To hear even one Mass devoutly during one’s life, or to give an alms for having it celebrated, is a far better thing than to bequeath alms for the celebration of a thousand after your decease.”

That form sounds a lot more plausible. It’s also different enough from the form given at the beginning of this post that a searcher could plausibly miss it in the works of St. Anselm.

A friend found an Italian edition of The Hidden Treasure containing the original Latin quotation, which is as follows: Audire devote unicam missam in vita, vel dare eleemosynam pro ea, prodest magis quam relinquere ad celebrandum mille post obitum. Wonder of wonders, it even provides a citation of sorts: (apud Castell. diur. sac. Proep.) [or maybe Praep.; it’s not the clearest page scan].

After some random thrashing around trying to find this on the Internet, I went to the Patrologia Latina, a compendium of theological works in Latin, also known as “Migne” after its chief editor. Vol. 158 (it’s a long compendium!) contains the works of St. Anselm. Google Books and the Internet Archive both attempt to OCR books, but the pages images aren’t great and I don’t think the OCR they use is tuned for Latin. Rather than search for the whole phrase, I selected certain words: audire, devote, unicam, missam, eleemosynam [highly unlikely to be OCRed correctly, but it would be great if it were!], prodest, relinquere, celebrandum, mille [knowing that OCR will probably mistake a lot of “ll” for “H” and vice versa, not to mention confusing it with mitte], and obitum. I search for each word in a copy from Google Books and in a copy from the Internet Archive.

Audire had 23 hits in Google and 54 at the Archive (in part because the search at the archive turned up audire in compounds such as exaudire, which the Google search apparently doesn’t; Google also counts multiple hits on one page as one hit). None of them are the quotation in question.

Devote: 7 Google, 6 Archive, 0 matches.
Unicam: 1 and 1, 0 matches.
Missam: 6 and 21, 0 matches.
Eleemosynam: 0 and 4 (so the two sites are using different OCR engines), 0 matches.
Prodest: 10 and 16, 0 matches.
Relinquere: 3 and 6, 0 matches.
Celebrandum: 2 and 3, 0 matches.
Mille: 3 (one of which was actually unus; the OCR missed badly on this one) and 123. Gulp. So I put spaces around the word and search for the word only at the Archive, getting 1 hit. 0 matches
Obitum: 5 and 10, 0 matches.

When I say “0 matches,” by the way, it means there was nothing close to the alleged quotation; I looked at the words near each hit and none of them were even talking about its subject. So I’m confident that it’s not in Migne, and given that the source of the alleged quotation predates Migne (Blessed Leonard died about a century before Migne began publishing the P/L), it couldn’t have come from a newly-discovered manuscript not in Migne.

There are at least seven other Saint Anselms, but they are much more obscure and usually identified as “Saint Anselm of [wherever]” to distinguish them from the famous one.

If it’s a fauxation, it’s a 260+ year old fauxtation, but I have to say that I can’t find anything that convinces me that it’s authentic.

St. John Vianney: Who’s your public?

Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints–they are your public.

Attr. St. John Vianney

Edit: A commenter found the quote in French in an 1861 book entitled Le Croisé, where the text is: Ne cherchez pas à plaire à tout le monde. Ne cherchez pas à plaire à quelques-uns. Cherchez à plaire à Dieu, aux Anges, aux Saints. Voilà votre public. Here’s a link to the page. I don’t know French, so I can’t evaluate the context, but as it is, this is a usage in French of public in the sense I questioned below, so I’m changing my evaluation to “probably authentic.”

The original post follows, unedited except for the conclusion.

I was perfectly willing to believe this quotation is authentic, right up until I hit the phrase after the dash. I have a hard time thinking that St. John Vianney would think in terms of having a “public.”

The earliest English citation for “public” in this sense in the OED is 1823. Since the Curé died in 1859, his life does overlap the time when this sense was in use, but (a) he spoke French and (b) I don’t think he would have picked up a colloquial English phrase like this. So either it’s a translation of an equivalent French phrase (I have no idea what that would be) or it’s very likely a fauxtation.

Since “public” is the word whose authenticity I find suspect, it’s a handy search term when searching through the works of the saint and works about him. None of the hits in Abbé Trochu’s biography match. Nor does the one hit in the Little Catechism. Nor does it show up in any of the other works searchable on Google Books. Nor is it in the Thoughts of the Curé of Ars (1859 edition). I also tried works by and about him at the Internet Archive, also without success.

My general Google search turned up tons of hits, none with citations. Searching Google Books especially, the oldest hit for the full quotation is from Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, by Joseph M. Esper. I’ve encountered this work before in investigating quotations, and he doesn’t cite his sources.

I then started to wonder if I could find the first part of the alleged quotation in the saint’s works. The short answer is no.

My verdict is that the first portion of the “quotation” is plausible but uncertain, and the part after the dash is almost certainly not from the saint. Given that there is an 1861 French source for this, I am willing to say it’s probably authentic.