Guest ColumnistFinding God in Franco’s Prison: A new edition of Luis Lucia’s Psalter of my Hours

The civil war in Spain, 1936-9, confronted the Catholic world with a dilemma. To support Franco, pro-Catholic and anti-Communist, was, in alliance with Hitler and Mussolini, to support fascism and oppose the democratic rule of law. To support the elected government of the constitutional Republic was, in alliance with Stalin, to support Communism and the persecution of Catholicism. Under the circumstances, those who opposed the killing of priests and nuns could not fight side by side with those who opposed the killing of Jews.

Luis Lucia Lucia (1888-1943) was a journalist and politician from Valencia who suffered the dilemma in his person: he was both Catholic conservative and pro-Republic social progressive. He was imprisoned by the Republic for complicity with Franco and then imprisoned by Franco for complicity with the Republic. But the absurdity of his suffering brought him understanding: ideological conformity and the love of God are two different things. Lucia’s spiritual legacy, a short book of mystical reflections written in prison 1937-40. Psalter of my hours, has now been made available for the first time widely and in a complete and uncensored edition. (Luis Lucia Lucia, Salterio de mis horas, edited with introduction and notes by Vicent Comes Iglesia, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, Madrid 2014)

Lucia had helped to found in Valencia Spain’s first Christian Democrat party and under the Second Spanish Republic (the democratic government of Spain, which was formed in 1931 when King Alfonso XIII abdicated and was overthrown in 1939 by General Francisco Franco, who assumed military dictatorship thereafter) he served in Parliament and in 1935 as Cabinet minister. Eighteen months later he was in jail. Lucia supported the Republic and the rule of law under a democratic constitution among conservative Catholics in love with what he called “the mystique of violence” as social policy. Though a man who liked to make distinctions, he saw no distinction between martyrdom for the rule of law, even when it betrayed him, and martyrdom for his Catholic faith. If Christian love of neighbor requires social engagement, as he thought, his political persecution was persecution in the name of Christ.

This new volume in the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos is edited by Vicent Comes Iglesia, an historian of modern Spain at Florida Universitaria in Valencia interested in 20th century progressive Catholic conservatives. His lengthy introduction draws from his political biography of Lucia, En el filo de navaja (On the Razor’s Edge, 2002). After 1936, Lucia fell into obscurity, silenced by Franco, who died in 1975, and ignored in the post-Franco transition, according to Comes, ever inconvenient to both sides. The volume intends to restore to light not only Lucia’s career and political thought, but also, in the words of BAC editor Carlos Granados, “a poetical-religious work of great value” and “to vindicate the Christian testimony of a great man of the faith, a great believer.”

At Jesuit school young Lucia had learned “virtue and literature” as well as social service in a Jesuit project for workers education in Valencia. After school he took a law degree, practiced for a few years, but decided instead to write journalism, which from 1918 he continued to do through the outbreak of the civil war.

Comes presents excerpts of Lucia’s vehement journalism that evoke the times vividly. For one example, Lucia wrote in 1922 about his goals for Catholic journalism: “Dream up the best Christian institution that human zeal can devise; put in pious order the most beautiful social initiative; found new religious orders to astonish the world with their holy wisdom and success in spiritual reconquest; raise temples whose architecture will amaze generations to come; found social organizations with the purest ideology and most admirable structure… if before all this, the pinnacle of Catholic aspiration, you do not raise a rampart of journalism to inundate the world with Christian teaching, you will have done nothing more than prepare green pasture for the beasts of Bolshevism to enjoy, to expose to frontal assault their antireligious and antisocial fury.” (Translations in this article from the original Spanish are mine.)

After 1919, according to Comes, Lucia creatively saw in Carlism – the grouping of monarchist, traditionalist, Catholic conservatives – an opportunity to bring 20th century ideas to Catholic politics, reforming the anti-liberalism of Pius IX and the Syllabus. His pulpit was the editorship of Diario de Valencia, a city whose politics were dominated by anti-clerical Republicanism. What would become characteristic political concerns emerged in his writing in the 1920s: support for labor unions, workers’ rights, and a living wage; opposition to religious tests for union membership; overall insistence on balancing the right to private property with the common good and prioritizing social justice over charity by patronage. The more progressive social teaching of Leo XIII obliged Catholics; unconcern for social injustice on the part of more conservative Catholic political rivals Lucia found heterodox.

The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), to whose government’s censorship the Diario was subject, troubled Lucia. In 1931 he welcomed in the Diario the foundation of the Spanish Republic and encouraged Catholics to participate in democracy, a liberal stance in 1930s Spain. His approach to political involvement was that of the Spanish bishops, if not that of all Catholic conservatives: Catholics should be indifferent to the form of government under which they lived, whether monarchy or democracy, hoping for possible goods even in a regime hostile to the Church. 

In 1930 in his book, In These Hours of Transition, Lucia pilloried conservatives too pure to engage in politics: “Our generation has a defect that the left lacks… There walks this whole numerous legion of 20 to 50 year olds, worthy young men, dignified gentlemen, model Catholics and citizens among whom to revolutionize Spain in a Christian way it is enough and more than enough that civic Spain be a faithful reflection of the principles of the public Christian right. But, alas, they refuse to be contaminated with politics, dirty politics!, trivial, disgusting politics! They don’t want to ‘draw attention.’ They believe themselves something like a Quixote-like aristocracy of spirit that entrusts those low chores of determining if their country should be governed in conformity with the laws of God or the laws of hell to a group of menials, sealed forever with the tattoo ‘partisan’… It is in corporate boardrooms and parliaments where the great battles of faith today are fought and in struggles in the street.”

But the anti-Catholic legislation of the Republican government (which from 1931-33 closed churches and convents, banished Jesuits, and banned religious orders from schools) tested Lucia’s optimism. In response he wrote: “We want to make Republicans, that is, citizens who are loyal to the new government with sincerity. The Government tries with a suicidal obliviousness or an incredible sectarianism to make monarchists as a natural reaction against its anti-religious legislation. Who is the better supporter of the Republic?”

In 1933, also in response, Lucia became a co-founder and vice president of Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA), a rightist pro-Republic political coalition that won a plurality in the elections of November 1933. Lucia took a seat in Parliament and served as government Minister briefly twice under two governments in 1935, for Public Works and Communication. In his short time as minister he worked on programs of infrastructure in rural areas: irrigation, communication, telephones, and roads.

Lucia had seen CEDA as a coalition for pro-Republic conservatives: acknowledging the rule of law even under an anti-clerical regime, abjuring violence, defending papal social doctrine. But for all Lucia’s hopes to bridge Catholic orthodoxy and progressivism, CEDA was led by the fascist José María Gil-Robles. The two had always had differences, downplayed in the press, according to Comes, who is careful about distinguishing the two. Comes told me by email that Lucia had intended to withdraw from CEDA at a convention planned for September 1936, before events intervened. Lucia won back his seat in the elections of February 1936, but the overall victory of the leftist Popular Front destroyed finally any unity in CEDA among Christian democrats and conservatives.

The military uprising against the Popular Front government, July 17, 1936 confronted Lucia with the crisis of a lifetime. In witness to his belief in the rule of law he had written in 1933: “We do not pretend that men of the right have a monopoly on integrity; there are men naturally good in all parties, and in this world the number of those mistaken is, to give human dignity its due, infinitely greater than the number of the wicked. Politics is a struggle of ideas, not of persons, Politics is a battle of wits, not of arms. Therefore politics must not be injury, but friendship. It must not be insult, but education. Harsh, fierce, constant, implacable combat against ideas, but with total and absolute respect for persons, standing up and showing ourselves gentlemen at the gates of their honor, which, because they are men, is as respectable as ours and, because they are the men that we are not, is even, if possible, more respectable than ours…” 

In accordance with those beliefs, the next day, July 18, he sent a momentous telegram to the democratic government affirming his loyalty: “As a former minister of the Republic, as head of the [local CEDA party], as a member of Parliament, and as a Spaniard, I raise my heart in this grave hour above all political differences to place myself on the side of the authority which is, in the face of violence and rebellion, the embodiment of the Republic and the country. Luis Lucia Lucia.”

As the telegram represented support from a CEDA politician, the Government broadcast it on the radio that day, but it did not save him from his having been aligned with the right. He was arrested late in 1936, imprisoned in Valencia and then in Barcelona’s Cárcel Modelo, and eventually convicted without evidence of complicity with the military uprising and sentenced to 30 years.

When Barcelona fell to Franco in January 1939, the rightwing political prisoners were released, but this did not lead to freedom for Lucia. Evidence for the defense under one regime was evidence for the prosecution in the next. Lucia’s telegram had enraged Franco. The words of Lucia’s sentence, February 27, 1939, make clear that his crime was anti-fascism and adherence to the rule of law: “…the actions of the accused evidence an ideological evolution that deviates from the holy rebellion against iniquity… to a servile and meek conformism with a regime that would have taken Spain to the abyss along the paths of dishonor and crime… This ideology, held by Mr. Lucia before and during the National Uprising, is an enemy of all process of violence, a defender of the democracy and legality, and absolutely respects legally constituted authority.”

Franco’s military government condemned Lucia to death for “aid to the rebellion.” The sentence was commuted after intervention by various authorities to a 30 year prison term, and then, in July 1941, to exile on Majorca. Allowed to return to Valencia for treatment of what turned out to be pancreatic cancer, Lucia died there January 5, 1943 and was buried discretely after a private funeral Mass.

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The Salterio de mis horas, the legacy of Lucia’s ruined life, occupied him through the slow hours of four years in prison, 1937-40, writing spontaneously, “without an eraser and as the pen ran.” He is lonely, cold, lost, hungry. Yet the Lord is with him: “You speak to me always, at all hours,” as warmth, the way, the bread of life. Lucia intended it privately for his wife, five children, and a few close friends with whom he had “an absolute spiritual identification,” including his sister, a Carmelite. Politically, it was “too delicate” for anyone else; the “greatest discretion” was required. He transcribed a fair copy and dedicated it on Christmas eve, 1940, “the fifth Christmas of my imprisonment for my God and for my Spain, Barcelona, Cárcel Modelo, Cell 17.”

Lucia had considered and abandoned the notion of anonymous publication of the Salterio, Comes tells us, and shortly after his death in 1943 the family had secured ecclesiastical approbation for the manuscript. But publication apparently was discouraged by the regime. A private first edition, limited to some 500 copies, was arranged in 1956 in Valencia by friends and family and encouraged by Archbishop Marcelino Olaechea Loizaga (1946-66). The text was based on the typescript Lucia’s daughter Josefina had made to his dictation on Majorca in 1941, which Olaechea had read in her home.

The 1956 edition was mostly complete and added references for the numerous Biblical citations, which Lucia had made from memory. But government censors required suppression of references to the Salterio’s authorship by a political prisoner, its Christmas eve dedication from jail, and the final note that requested political discretion.

This elegant new edition of the Salterio, based on the one autograph manuscript, held still by the family, is, then, the work’s first full, uncensored publication. An introduction by current Valencia Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra remembers Olaechea’s support of the work. There are 15 color plates illustrating the stages of the text and showing Lucia in ministerial splendor in 1935 and in the reduced circumstances of 1940 in a watercolor portrait, painted by a fellow prisoner.

The Salterio, 28 psalms in all, is a “baring of his soul” (expansión del alma) for us to overhear. He understands his imprisonment as a Calvary and his psalter as a Gethsemane that prays over his chalice of offering. Lucia wonders, as the Biblical psalmist before him, about God’s providence in a miserable and contradictory world: why was everything taken away from me? how can I forgive my enemies? “My God, why have you abandoned me?” Yet, “My complaints are not complaints, but ventings of love… Because to ask is not to demand…”

Lucia’s psalms are poems in prose. They rely for their music on rhetorical rhythms like anadiplosis (as in Romans 5, “suffering produces endurance, endurance character, character hope…” or, as in a passage of Lucia’s journalism that Comes quotes, “Education is respect, and respect is peace, and peace is order, and order is the first and indispensable foundation for the life of societies and the mutual understanding of the citizens that comprise it…”). For one example:

Perfection is cooperation.
Cooperation of grace and of will…
Will that is freedom.
Freedom, which is the possibility of merit.
The possibility of merit, which is the key placed in my hands by your love to enter at will into the kingdom of your glory.

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And parallelism (as in the Biblical Psalms):

When poverty surrounds me, it is because you wanted me poor and because you know the benefit of austerity that I can gain from my poverty.
And when my brother slanders me it is because you wanted me slandered and because you know the benefit of humility that I can gain from slander…

A prisoner of both Republic and Franco has been made sensitive to paradox, and this is his most pervasive rhetorical technique. He seeks to reconcile the most difficult balances and contradictions of Christian life, wanting to be a “balanced scale” (balanza en equilibrio), tipped wherever God wishes. To seek answers of God is compatible with submission to God’s will. To obey God is not a self-annihilating conformity, but a union and identification. He seeks to love without fear, yet love provokes the fear of ever losing the one he loves.

Prison stimulates meditation on freedom: “I want to be free and to know I am free.” But the purpose of freedom, paradoxically achievable in prison, is submission to God’s will. “I renounce my freedom as my sovereign act.”  In Ecclesiastes, the whole duty of a human person is to fear God and do what he wills. “Well, then, Lord, I want to be entirely a man. And because I want to be that, I give myself completely to you.”
 Yet Lucia distinguishes kinds of obedience: he wants to do God’s will not in conformity (conformidad) or abnegation, but in identification (identificación) and union:
…because conformity smacks of resignation and resignation of sacrifice. 
And in me there is no sacrifice.
And because conformity means the sorrow of renunciation.
My renunciation is not sorrowful, but joyful.
I do not ask to be conformed with you, but to be unified with you…
Uniting our will to God’s is the summit of perfection.
And I want to reach that height!

Of course, Christians must love their neighbor. For Lucia, intellectual culture presupposes empathy and becomes an act of service and solidarity not power:

If I were the only man created on earth I would have asked only for a blind faith, Lord.
But I have brothers.
And because my brothers have hunger and thirst for your faith, I sought of you a reasoned faith as well…
When I probe your wounds seeking reasons for my faith… do not mourn me O Lord!
To seek is not to doubt.
Whoever seeks desires and believes that he will find.
I do not seek for myself but for my brothers.
Give me for myself, Lord, the blind faith of a coal miner.
But give me also to instill in my brothers all the knowledge of the faith of all your great Doctors.

As Jesus died not only for those who loved him, but also for those who crucified him, Lucia must forgive the political enemies who condemned him to death, his former friends and colleagues:

My neighbor is not just the one next to me... but every man.
Someone from my race the same as those from the races which raise their hand against me.
Someone who sheds his blood for me the same as the one who drains my own.
My friend the same as my enemy.

But because now Lucia seeks a perfect love of Christ, he distinguishes forgiveness of his enemies, which sometimes means only forgetting, from actually loving them:

To the gates of death they brought me because I did not know how to hate.
And from the gates of death I return and still I have not learned to hate…

I killed the assassin to give to love of self the pleasure of its revenge.
And I robbed the thief to give love of self the pleasure of its riches.
And I rolled the lecher around in the mud to give to self-love the pleasure of its lust.

Lucia aspires to indifference, to be blank paper for God’s pen, water for whatever vase, potter’s clay, that pain and pleasure should be the same to him (“I cannot go to you haggling like an egotist over the pain of my sweat.”), but his detachment is not ascetic or decadent:

This detachment, Lord, cannot excuse me from my obligations to myself or those to my neighbor.
Because detachment from goods is not abandonment of material things but a spiritual indifference.

Holy detachment from things of the world is not a flight from the world. Nor does love of God imply contempt for the world:

Because I am your image, I can rejoice in all the privileges of human dignity…
All things are yours.
I did not love you truly if I did not love all your things...
I love the intoxicating aroma of your flowers because you gave me sense to perceive it.
I love the fruits of your fields because you gave me taste to enjoy them.
And I love the hand that caresses me the same as the thorn that hurts me because you gave me the same sensitivity to sweetness as to pain.

Lucia has experienced a conversion in prison. Jesus’ threats have terrified him: the judgment against the man of many talents, the curse of the fig tree, the words “depart from me you worker of iniquity!” Lucia is the prodigal son who now wishes to return to the house of his Father. Though, Lord knows, he “proclaimed him in the great assembly,” his merit is small among his great sins. Sometimes he used his talents to “dazzle” rather than “illuminate” his people. Sometimes he was too busy for God. “I sought to get rid of your sweet yoke, which I believed heavy, and started to fall as a slave into the harsh service of implacable men.”

What sin was Lucia ashamed of? After a political life committed to defending the thought and interests of Catholicism, what does he mean when he says, “I denied you many times with my conduct.”? Nothing disgraceful in particular, Comes believes, as he told me, but as Lucia in his 50s looks back on his life, trying to understand why he is in prison and why he has been condemned as traitor by a regime established by all his old friends, he sees his career as a public figure as poor and spiritually empty.

Lucia now seeks perfection, a deep union with God. “Tired and disillusioned” with politics in general, he repents of political ideology: “I am exhausted of serving lords who allow me to die and of putting my heart in causes that are not you yourself and only you yourself, never did I have more hunger for you, more thirst for you, more crazy longing for you.”

Now converted beyond ideology, he identifies himself simply with the will of God, the cross. How can it be suffering when suffering brings God?

First I suffered you [the cross] with patience.
Then I carried you con gusto, willingly.
Now today I embrace you with love.

Exercising as layman his share in Christ’s priesthood, Lucia concludes the Salterio by filling a chalice of offering with his sufferings in union with the communion of saints and praying for the whole church, for laborers for the harvest, for the unity of all Christians, for the peaceful intentions of Pius XII, for his loved ones and family, and finally for Spain, “my Spain… which now seeks to return to you and which, for having so many times ignored your call, must now be oblivious to so many lives and so much blood and grief and tears…” “There come to me the sweet and at the same time chilling echoes of your Great Promise, of your Great Offering, and of your Great Prayer.”

Placing the Salterio in a wider literary or theological context is beyond the scope of Comes’ introduction, but he tells us that the most immediate influence was Élisabeth Arrighi Leseur (1866-1914, now Servant of God), whose spiritual journal Lucia read in prison in summer 1939. She herself had converted from a conventional bourgeois Catholicism to a deeper mysticism in the late 1890s and patiently won the conversion of her anti-clerical husband after her death. Lucia was impressed, as he wrote to his family, by “a saint in the middle of Parisian society, the only aspect of whose sanctity that anyone noticed was a cheerfulness that even seemed worldly” and struck by her words, “suffering is the most elevated form of action. …useful for the great and small causes that one longs to serve.”

Lucia draws widely as well from traditional Catholic spirituality; the Salterio finds a place among prison writings like Philippians, in which the imprisoned Paul forgives the Christian enemies who mock his disgrace as long as Christ is being preached, or the letters of Ignatius of Antioch on his way to execution, or the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross, imprisoned by fellow Carmelites, or the last writings of Thomas More. Another dispossessed politician once optimistic about the possibilities for a Catholic state, More wrote from the Tower in 1534 a prayer not unlike Lucia’s:

Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss 
at right nought for the winning of Christ; 
To think my most enemies my best friends, 
For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good 
with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred. 

Like Francis of Assisi, he loves all creation: “I am the brother of all things.” But like Augustine, he also recognizes the frustration built into creation that points to God: “And it is also to love you to love the pain of things which you created for us to punish us.” He quotes Francis de Sales -- “To unite our will with that of God is the summit of perfection.” -- and echoes the songs of Thérèse:

To die in love!
To die with love!
To die for love!
To die of love!!!

The Salterio also looks ahead. Having faced in his own way violence and contradiction characteristic of the 20th century, Lucia shares what would soon be mid-century, Conciliar concerns. His emphasis on freedom and distinction between conformity and union with God anticipates the John Pauline acting person. Karol Wojtyla in “I Reach the Heart of the Drama” (1974) is kindred poet:

You pay for freedom with all your being, therefore call this your freedom, that paying for it continually you possess yourself anew.
Through this payment we enter history and touch her epochs…

When Lucia treats the likeness of the human person to God as the basis of human solidarity and prelude to self-donation, he anticipates Gaudium et Spes.

Lucia’s life and prayer dramatizes a theme that Josef Ratzinger/Benedict developed from Introduction to Christianity (1968): “man, leaving behind the seclusion and tranquility of his ‘I’, departs from himself in order by this frustration of his ‘I’ to follow the crucified Christ and exist for others” through Caritas in veritate (2009): “Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that ‘becomes concern and care for the other.’”

Yet Lucia prays and writes not from Roman or Tudor prison, but, for part of his term, that of a regime supported by the Vatican and the wider Catholic world. The Salterio’s author learned to distinguish conservatism from orthodoxy and orthodoxy from union with the tortured crucified God. The cross is more than a coercive emblem, as for Constantine or Franco, but a disorienting Calvary that prompts Lucia to love, “to kiss the blessed hands that signed my death sentence,” rather than desire to kill his political enemies in the struggle for a Catholic regime. Lucia illuminates how fascist (as well as anti-clerical) politics imply an anti-personalist theology and spirituality and how Christians in a spirit of humble service might acknowledge the humanity of an enemy, even in politics. Lucia’s Salterio would make clear to us that, whatever the attractions of fascism for imposing Catholic orthodoxy or a beautiful social order, in the introductory words of BAC editor Carlos Granados, “Christian beauty is never a worldly aestheticism, but rather a quality proper to truth crucified.”

(This new edition of Lucia’s Salterio is newsworthy also for the work’s connection to the story of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who appropriated it as his own. That topic will be dealt with in a second article.)

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