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Brother Azarias

Educator, essayist, litterateur, and philosopher (1847-1893)

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Azarias, BROTHER (PATRICK FRANCIS MULLANY), educator, essayist, litterateur, and philosopher, b. near Killenaule, County Tipperary, Ireland, June 29, 1847. His education began at home, and after the removal of his family to Deerfield, N. Y., U.S.A., was continued in the union school of that place, and subsequently in the Christian Brothers’ Academy at Utica. Believing himself called to the life of a religious teacher, he entered the novitiate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, in New York City, on the 24th of February 1862. He taught in Albany, New York City, and Philadelphia until 1866, when he was called to the professorship of mathematics and literature in Rock Hill College, Ellicott City, Md. Gradually his interests were diverted from mathematics and were absorbed by literature and philosophy, which, with pedagogy, continued to hold them until the end of his career. From 1879 to 1886 he was President of Rock Hill College. Then followed two years of research in European libraries, chiefly those of Paris and London. On his return to the United States, he became professor of literature in De La Salle Institute, New York City, and remained such till his death at the Catholic Summer School, Plattsburgh, August 20, 1893. The funeral services held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, gave ample testimony to his widespread influence and to the esteem in which he was held.

The secret of his success is to be found in his deep reverence for the apostolate of teaching, a reverence which found expression beyond the walls of the class room. He was a frequent contributor to the “Catholic World”, the “American Catholic Quarterly Review”, and the “American Ecclesiastical Review”, and his name appears in the files of the “Educational Review” and of the International Journal of Ethics“. His lectures bore the stamp of culture and scholarship. The most notable are these:—”The Psychological Aspects of Education“, delivered before the Regents’ Convocation, University of the State of New York, 1877; “Literary and Scientific Habits of Thought”, before the International Congress of Education, 1884; “Aristotle and the Christian Church“, before the Concord School of Philosophy, 1885; “Church and State”, before the Farmington School of Philosophy, 1890; “Religion in Education“, before the New York State Teachers’ Association, 1891; “Educational Epochs”, before the Catholic Summer School, 1893. At the time of his death, he was engaged in preparing a “History of Education” for the International Education Series.

His first work as an independent author appeared in 1874, with the title, “An Essay Contributing to a Philosophy of Literature” (seventh edition, 1899). It is an excellent key both to his method of study and to the plan of presentation to which he consistently adhered in subsequent works and addresses. Henan and Emerson had attempted to make literature a substitute for religion in cultured circles; with characteristic insight and modesty, Brother Azarias proves in this essay that literature draws its life and excellence from religion. He divides the book into three parts: Facts and Principles, Theory, and Practice. In the first he discusses the nature, origin, and function of literature, examines its relation to language and architecture, and formulates the law of literary epochs. He then presents the salient features of the pre-Reformation ages, and argues that the Elizabethan era of letters was the fruit of the seeds of Catholicism that had been planted and nurtured in early Britain. After contrasting ancient and modern literature, he examines the principles of those philosophic systems that have most influenced modern thought. In the light of these results he studies the literary artist, the morality which is binding on him, and the canons that should guide him in his work. The book is of great value in giving the student correct principles of orientation.

“The Development of Old English Thought” (third edition, 1903) appeared in 1879 as the first part of a projected course in English literature, which, however, was never completed. The author begins with sketching the “continental homestead” of the English; he then contrasts the Celt and Teuton, examines the pagan traditions on which Christian literature was engrafted, and concludes with charming pen pictures of Hilda, Cdmon, Benedict Biscop, and the Venerable Bede. The period covered is the first thousand years of the Christian era.

Aristotle and the Christian Church” (London and New York, 1888) sets forth the attitude of the Catholic Church towards Aristotelean philosophy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, shows the difference in spirit between the Stagirite and the Schoolmen, and accounts in part for this by tracing the growing influence of Aristotle in the West and in the East until the two streams of thought converged to swell the tide of Scholasticism. This essay was commended by Cardinal Manning.

“Books and Reading” (seventh edition, New York, 1904) was originally a reprint of two lectures delivered before the Cathedral Library Reading Circle of New York City, 1889. The later editions of the work, while more developed and extended than the first, yet suffer from two disadvantages, the omission of an index and of suggestive courses of reading and study. The book attempts to make literature in general, and Catholic literature in particular, a living force for those even who have not received the benefits of higher education.

“Phases of Thought and Criticism” (1892) is an interesting study of the spiritual sense and its culture. In developing his thesis, Brother Azarias draws a striking contrast first between Newman and Emerson as typical thinkers, and then between the “habits of thought engendered by literary pursuits and those begotten of scientific studies.” The following chapters are concerned with the spiritual sense of three great masterpieces, “The Imitation of Christ“, the “Divina Commedia”, and the “In Memoriam”, each of which, to quote his own words, “expresses a distinct phase of thought, and is the outcome of a distinct social and intellectual force”. This volume is among the most admired of his writings for thought, style, and method.

Of his minor works the most charming is “Mary, Queen of May”, which was written for the “Ave Maria”. It exhales the faith and trust of a devout client, and reveals those finer qualities of head and heart which bound Brother Azarias so firmly to his order and won him so many friends. After his death many of his contributions to reviews were gathered and published in three volumes, viz. “Essays Educational”, “Essays Philosophical”, and “Essays Miscellaneous” (1896). The first of these includes the lectures delivered at the Catholic Summer School, just before his death; the second reprints as its most notable paper the lecture on “Aristotle and the Christian Church“, adding thereto the “Nature and Synthetic Principle of Philosophy“, the “Symbolism of the Cosmos”, “Psychological Aspects of Education“, and “Ethical Aspects of the Papal Encyclical on Capital and Labor”. The best papers in the third volume are “Religion in Education“, “Our Catholic School System”, and “Church and State”; of the remaining numbers two are literary in subject, and the third is also found in “Phases of Thought and Criticism”.


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