Skip to main content

Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm.

Joachim Smet, O. Carm.

Titus Brandsma (1881-1942) earned his doctorate in   philosophy at the Gregorian University of Rome in 1909.   On his return to his province in the Netherlands, he   taught his specialty to the Carmelite students at Oss.   When the Catholic University of Nijmegen was founded in   1923, Titus was invited to join the faculty. Besides   teaching his subject, he also lectured on mysticism,

  especially of the Low Countries. He initiated a   photographic collection of manuscripts of medieval   mystics which today constitutes a precious aid to   students in the Titus Brandsma Institute of the   University of Nijmegen. In 1932 Titus was elected   rector magnificus of the University. His inaugural   address, "Godsbegrip" (the concept of God), struck his   audience as an experienced insight rather than a mere   academic exercise and continues to appeal today.  

Brandsma wrote extensively in newspapers and popular   magazines as well as in learned journals, but produced   no comprehensive works of organized reasoning. A   lecture tour in the United States, in 1935, resulted in   this modest volume of no scholarly pretensions.   Nevertheless, it was the first attempt at an historical   synthesis of Carmelite spirituality. Titus' interests   were many and included Marian devotion, ecumenism,   Frisian culture, education, and journalism. The last   preoccupation was to prove the occasion of his death.    

Of the attitude of the Dutch Carmelites to Nazism and   its local variety, the Dutch Nazi party, there remains   no doubt. All equally rejected the political tenets of   the oppressors and some paid for their convictions with   imprisonment and death.    

The Dutch Carmelites in general reacted to the rigors   of the occupation and war with humor and courage. In   Titus Brandsma suffering blossomed into the perfection   of Christian love. Among his Carmelite brothers Titus   was universally admired for his tireless and varied   activities, but even more he was loved for his cheerful   spirit, willing helpfulness, and unassuming charity.   That these qualities were evidence of a profound   

Christian maturity was proven by the dramatic ending of   his life.    

After the invasion of the Netherlands by the Germans on   May 10, 1940, the Dutch hierarchy under Archbishop John   de Jong soon came into open conflict with National   Socialism. Catholics were forbidden under pain of   excommunication to participate in party activities   which violated Catholic principles. When the Catholic   press was ordered to publish news releases and   advertisements emanating from the Nazi public relations   bureau, de Jong moved to counteract the directive. He   asked Titus as spiritual director of the Catholic press   to visit editors with instructions to resist Nazi   propaganda. In making his request, the archbishop made   no secret of the danger of the mission, which Titus   equally understood. Shadowed by the Gestapo, he had   visited fourteen newspapers before he was taken into   custody on January 19, 1942. In prison at Scheveningen   he replied to questioning candidly and calmly, openly   admitting that he opposed National Socialism because it   was irreconcilable with his Catholic faith. At the   request of Captain Paul Hardegen, in charge of his   interrogation, Brandsma put into writing why the Dutch   people, and specifically Catholics, objected to Nazism.   As a result of his questioning Hardegen reported to his   superiors that Brandsma was dangerous to the cause and   should be confined for the duration of the war.    

At Scheveningen Brandsma's contemplative spirit turned   his solitary cell into a haven of peace and joy. Happy   to be alone with Christ, he spent the time praying and   writing. To the long tradition of prison literature he   contributed <Mim Gel en dagorde van een gengene> (My   Cell), and he even began a biography of St. Teresa of   Avila, writing between the lines of a book. His often   printed and translated "Prayer Before a Picture of   Christ" [which] speaks the simple and humble language   of a lover:    

<O Jesus, when I look on you My love for you starts up   anew, And tells me that your heart loves me And you my   special friend would be.    

More courage I will need for sure, But any pain I will   endure, Because it makes me like to you And leads unto   your kingdom too.    

In sorrow do I find my bliss, For sorrow now no more is   this: Rather the path that must be trod, That makes me   one with you, my God.    

Oh, leave me here alone and still, And all around the   cold and chill. To enter here I will have none; I weary   not when I'm alone.    For, Jesus you are at my side; Never so close did we   abide. Stay with me, Jesus, my delight, Your presence   near makes all things right>.    

On March 12, 1942, Titus was transferred out of   Scheveningen, ending on June 19 in the dreaded   concentration camp of Dachau. In that hell the frail   sixty-one year old Carmelite lasted little more than a   month, being dispatched with a lethal injection on July   26. This is not the place to describe his heroic   suffering; suffice to record his prayerful calm, his   cheerful optimism, his support of his fellow sufferers,   his genuine love of his hateful tormentors.    

Survivors of those brutal years would become witnesses   of Titus Brandsma's heroic virtue. On November 3, 1985,   in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the Church   honored Titus Brandsma with the titles of Blessed and   Martyr.                                                          Joachim Smet, O. Carm.    


As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."