St. Thomas More: No deathbed regrets

No one on his deathbed ever regretted having been a Catholic.

Attr. St. Thomas More

I’m not familiar enough with St. Thomas More’s works to apply an ear test to this.

  • Google search: A bunch of unsourced “quotations.” Just to be on the safe side, I looked at all 60 hits for deathbed regret catholic thomas more (Google search is smart enough to find inflected forms of “regret”) to no avail. That is to say, I found the saying (confirming that Google did search for inflected forms), but no citations.
  • Wikiquote: Not on his page, and he has no discussion page.
  • Google Books search: I went with deathbed regretted thomas more as keywords. The oldest match is from 2005, in Thomas Woods’ How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.
  • The Center For Thomas More Studies has a pleasant-appearing website with a search function. Searching failed to turn up the alleged saying.
  • I searched the Internet Archive’s copy of Life and Writing of St. Thomas More. Since it was OCRed and not proofread, I checked independently for regret and for Catholic, without finding the saying in question.
  • It’s not in William Roper’s Life of St. Thomas More.

Given that spelling was far from standardized in More’s time, and given that someone else could have preserved this as a saying rather than something that More himself wrote, it’s not impossible that he said it. But it’s also not evident to me that he did.

St. Thérèse: Jesus, simplify my life

Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be and becoming that person.

Attr. St. Thérèse of Lisieux

This sounds a lot more like someone’s meditation on St. Thérèse’s Little Way than it does anything that she herself might have written. A friend points out that St. Thérèse very rarely wrote out her internal prayers.

Googling in general didn’t turn up much. I did find one site claiming that it’s from Story of a Soul, but searching an online edition for simplify, learning, becoming, and person turned up nothing. Google Books doesn’t have it before 2009.

One site said they found it in a Christopher’s pamphlet, and I was able to find a Christopher’s News Note link via Google, but the link doesn’t work (404 error). I tried looking at some likely-looking titles on the News Notes page, but none of them contains the alleged quotation (and what citations I did see were secondary sources that are notoriously unreliable).

It’s not on Wikiquote at all.

I am fairly confident that St. Thérèse didn’t write this. Among other things, I’ve observed that real quotations usually turn up in the first page or two of search results, and I went double-digit pages looking for this one.

Chesterton: Love, forgiveness, faith, hope

Love means loving the unlovable, forgiveness means forgiving the unpardonable, faith means believing the unbelievable, hope means hoping when things are hopeless.

Attr. G. K. Chesterton

Variant form: “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

Neither one sounds right to me, but the ear test has misled me before, so I went looking.

  • General Google search = General lots of hits, no sources given.
  • Search on the Chesterton Society website (very badly designed website, I might add): Bingo! Sort of.

Charity means pardoning the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.

Heretics, “Paganism and Mr. Lowes-Dickinson.” (A friend provides a citation to the actual page: Heretics, chap. XII, “Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson”, 1st ed. p. 158.)

GKC recycled himself a lot, though, so it’s possible he said the meme-ized versions, or something close to them, elsewhere, but if so, I can’t find it. Even the original, correct quotation gets mangled over time; by the 1960s, “incredible” had become “unbelievable.”

Verdict: Heavily paraphrased (and thereby made worse, which is what usually happens).

St. Augustine and forgiving injustice

If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him–lest there be two bad men.

St. Augustine?

It’s good advice, but is it from St. Augustine?

  • A generic Google search turns up generic unsourced answers.
  • Wikiquote doesn’t have it at all.
  • Google Books has it as far back as the first decade of the twentieth century in two places that are, as far as I can tell, independent of each other. One is St. Andrew’s Cross, Vol. XXIII (July 1909), and the other is The Church Times (Diocese of Milwaukee) Vol. XIX, No. 3 (Nov. 1908). St. Andrew’s Cross was published in Boston, so it’s not likely (though not impossible) that its editors found the quotation in Milwaukee’s diocesan paper. It would not surprise if they’re drawing on a common source that I have been unable to find.

So I went looking in St. Augustine’s works. The search engine there is very nicely designed to handle Latin because it finds conjugated/declined/etc. forms of the search terms. The big problem here is that most of the words in the alleged quotation are very common. I chose injustice as the least common. In Latin, that’s iniustitia, which shows up 59 times. None of the 59 is this saying.

I’m reluctant to close the (metaphorical) book on this, but it’s not looking good.

Update: A commenter below found the source, and it doesn’t contain “iniustitia”. It’s from St. Augustine’s Exposition on Psalm 30:

“Inimici homines, qualescumque fuerint, non sunt odio habendi; ne cum odit malus quem patitur malum, sint duo mali.”

Which is, in English (working from the two translations in the comment below to achieve one fluent and accurate one):

Men who are our enemies, whatever kind they may be, must not be held in hatred, lest when a bad man hates a bad man from whom he is suffering, there be two bad men.

It would make more sense to me if it read “when a good man hates a bad man,” and the modern English translation below treats it that way, but that’s not how St. Augustine wrote it.

In any case, the meme is certainly based on this saying, but heavily paraphrased, and I will so mark it.

D-Day Mass on Omaha Beach

This is said, in many places on the Internet, to be a picture of a priest celebrating Mass on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Several of my friends posted this picture on Facebook, and I was immediately suspicious. You may claim that I am always suspicious, and there’s something to that, but in this case I had a good reason for my suspicions:

Omaha Beach wasn’t cleared until the evening of the 6th, yet no one in the picture looks fearful. Sad, yes (for good reason, as we’ll see), but not as if they’re under fire or in real danger of it. A friend more versed in military matters than I says that the kneeling soldier in the front row displays a lack of muzzle awareness that would be unacceptable in an active combat zone.

It was also against Church law in those days to start Mass after noon (IIRC), and though Church law isn’t always rigorously applied in dangerous situations (nor should it be), that’s another reason to doubt the timing.

I tried a reverse image search and didn’t find much worthwhile evidence. A lot of places (e.g., Pinterest) have the picture with the D-Day claim, but never with any support. I also found a few that merely said that the picture was taken in Normandy in June of 1944, which (spoiler) turns out to be correct.

At this point, I crowd-sourced the question on FB, and two of my friends came through for me, having much madder picture-searching skilz than I do. One friend discovered that the picture was taken by Robert Capa, as you can see on the page here. (Note that the caption on this page doesn’t make the D-Day claim.) Capa rather famously had only 11 pictures of D-Day survive, and this isn’t one of them.

Another friend found a similar picture in the Spokane Daily Chronicle for June 12, 1944. (Page 47, lower right corner.) The priest is identified as J. McGovern, of Boston, and the occasion is the dedication of the first military cemetery in France, on Omaha Beach. The picture is credited to the Army Signal Corps, for which I believe Capa was working at the time.

With that info, I was able to find other sources which told me that “J” stands for “John.” And with that, I was able to track down this video at this link. Even in low-res with a watermark, it’s clearly the same Mass in the same place, and the place is Omaha Beach, but the date is June 10, not June 6.

By no means does any of this detract from the honor and courage of Fr. McGovern and his fellow chaplains, nor that of the soldiers in attendance.