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Ulrich Matthias Esperanto The New Latin for the Church and for Ecumenism


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3.2 The first years of the new language
Zamenhof distributed his Unua Libro to well-known persons, newspaper editors and institutions throughout the world. Replies soon came back, with questions, criticism and advice, and also with with a great deal of agreement and praise. Some were even written in the new language. Zamenhof decided to reply to all the questions and encouragement in a booklet which he published in the beginning of 1888 with the title 'Dua libro de l' lingvo Internacia' (Second book of the International Language).
It was written entirely in Esperanto and in it he told how his faith in humanity had been vindicated 'because a great mass of people have come from all sides, young and old, men and women to join in the work, hurrying to bring their stones to build this splendid, significant and most useful structure'.22 Only a few months after publication of the Dua Libro, Zamenhof was able to publish the first literary work in Esperanto, the story 'The Snow Storm' by Pushkin in a translation not by Zamenhof himself, but by the Polish chemist, Antoni Grabowski (1857-1921).
In December 1888 the Nuremberg Volapük Club converted to Esperanto. In this way the first Esperanto association was founded. In September it began to publish a monthly review, 'La Esperantisto'. About the same time there appeared an Address Book with the signatures of 1000 people who had already learnt Esperanto. In January 1892 Zamenhof was able to state "After four years our literature numbers more than fifty works. There are 33 grammars and dictionaries of our language in various national languages."23 [Irish readers will be interested to know that the English translation was produced by an extraordinary Irish linguist, living in Alaska, Richard Geoghegan, who had seen the Unua Libro in very poor English translation made by a well-meaning German, and at once wrote in Latin to Zamenhof offering his services.]

However Esperanto had to struggle with many difficulties during the years that followed. Zamenhof was miserably poor because neither in Warsaw not Grodno (where he lived between 1893 and 1897) did his income as an ophthalmologist suffice to keep his family with dignity. His debts increased, and in this situation even his wife could not accept his passionate involvement in his language.


Vasilij Nikolaevich Devjatnin, one of the first Russian Esperantists, tells of a visit to Zamenhof in 1893:
He introduced me to his wife, about whom he said quite openly that she was not in favour of Esperanto because on account of it he lost many of his patients. "Very likely," he said with a laugh, "they are afraid to come to me, because they must think I'm a bit mad, to be working with such nonsense."24
Some speakers of Esperanto kept on trying to persuade Zamenhof to reform his language. These discussions took a lot of energy and were in the end quite useless. "The whole of this year has been wasted by these efforts at reform"25 he wrote in 1894. He distanced himself from them, confident that soon they would be overcome and all would be well. And so it was; in the summer of 1984 a clear majority of the readers of 'La Esperantisto' voted against any reforms.
No sooner was this problem dealt with than the youthful language received another blow. In February 1885 'La Esperantisto' published an Esperanto translation of an article by Leo Tolstoy, 'Prudence or belief' which prompted the Russian censorship to ban entry of the magazine to Russia.
'La Esperantisto' thus lost nearly three quarters of its subscribers and soon afterwards had to cease publication. But Esperanto survived this too; from December 1895 the Esperanto-Club of Uppsala published the magazine, Lingvo Internacia which inherited the role of 'La Esperantisto'.
From about 1900 onwards Esperanto began to make notable progress. Zamenhof's economic position improved. In France many intellectuals learnt the language and in 1903 the publisher Jean Borel in Berlin began to publish tens of thousands of brochures promoting Esperanto.
In August 1905 the first World Esperanto Congress was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer in the north of France. 688 speakers of Esperanto came together from twenty countries26 and were enthusiastic about the amazing efficiency of the new language. Here Zamenhof insisted in his opening speech, "It is not French with English nor Russians with Poles who are meeting here, but people with people". And Theodor Fuchs, a University Professor from Vienna, reported more euphorically, "Grace touched the people, the miracle of Pentecost was renewed. All felt themselves to be brothers united under the green flag of Hope... Tears filled the eyes of elderly, sensible men, a Catholic priest embraced a Protestant pastor, and the creator of the new language, Zamenhof, wandered as if in a dream, his whole body trembling, his composure preserved with difficulty".27
3.3 Zamenhof's View of the World
For Zamenhof the international language was part of a wider ideal. He imagined a world in which all barriers between people would disappear, whether barriers of language, religion, ethnicity or class. But not all Esperanto-speakers were satisfied when he explained his thoughts to them. About the year 1900, the French theologian de Beaufront objected to any link between the language and an idealistic vision. He emphasized instead the practical value of the language, he saw it as a means of understanding in international contacts, he drew attention to its use in commerce, science and tourism. De Beaufront did not take part in the first World Congress. The idealistic, almost religious traits in the early Esperanto movement repelled him; he regarded them as a great danger to the success of Esperanto.28
Zamenhof endeavoured to find a compromise between his personal pacifist convictions, which he shared principally with many Russian pioneers of Esperanto, and the more sober and realistic attitude of other Esperantists, mainly French. During the first World Congress he proposed a Declaration, which was unanimously accepted. In it he defined 'Esperantism' as 'the effort to extend throughout the world the use of a neutral, human, language which, neither intruding in any way into the domestic life of any people nor having any intention of doing away with the existing national languages', would give members of different nations the means to communicate with each other; which could serve as a peace-making language for public institutions in countries within which different language communities are in conflict with one another, and in which writing of equal interest to all peoples may be published. Any other idea or hope which an individual Esperantist may link with esperantism is entirely his own private affair, for which esperantism has no responsibility".29
If we look at Zamenhof's religious worldview the above declaration shows that Esperanto is neutral as regards religion or ideology; a liking for the language or membership of its organisation does not imply approval of any particular religion.
Zamenhof was a not a Christian but he sympathized with Christian belief and with all religions which are open to dialogue and collaboration. His mother was a pious Jewess; his father was an atheist. He himself gives an acccount of his religious development:
When I was a child I believed in God and in the immortality of the soul in the way in which I was taught by the religion into which I was born. I do not remember exactly in what year I lost my religious faith; I do remember that my lack of faith was deepest when I was between fifteen and sixteen years old. That was also the most stressful time of my life. In my eyes the whole of life lost all meaning and value.30

At the age of 17 he became aware of something new; 'I suddenly felt that death was not disappearance',31 he wrote, and he formed a belief in a 'powerful incorporeal mystery, which is also a fountain of love and truth,' as he wrote in 1905 in his poem Sub la verda standardo. He knew what a positive effect religious belief can have,


The child of a declared unbeliever can never feel in his heart that warmth, that happiness which the church, the traditional customs, the possession of 'God' in his heart give to other children. How cruelly the child of the nonreligious parents suffers when he sees other children, perhaps very poor, but with happy hearts going to their churches, while he has no guiding rules, no feast days, no accepted customs!32

He told some young Christians, 'I am simply of Hebrew birth, a believer in humanity; ... but what can be more beautiful in the world than to follow completely the teachings of Jesus?'33


Some sort of religious conviction compelled Zamenhof to long for a world in which love, truth and peace would reign. He probably expressed this most clearly in the above mentioned 'Prayer under the Green Banner'. His childhood experiences and the murderous pogroms by Russian soldiers in his native town, Bialystok, made him resolute in his determination to help people to live peacefully together. In his speech to the second World Esperanto Congress in Geneva in 1906 he said:
In the streets of my unhappy native town savage men with axes and iron bars threw themselves like cruel beasts upon the peaceful inhabitants whose only fault was that they spoke a different language and had their own religion, different from these savages. On this account they broke the skulls and put out the eyes of men and women, frail old people and helpless children. I do not want to tell you the terrible details of the monstrous Bialystok butchery; to you as Esperantists I want to say only, that the walls between the peoples, the walls against which we fight, are still fearfully high and thick.34
Because of these experiences he emphasizes that he emphasizes that "we want to have nothing to do with the kind of Esperanto that wishes to serve commerce and practical utility exclusively!"35 For him what matters is "brotherhood and justice between all peoples".
He was equally decided, but not so outspoken as he was about linguistic barriers, in his wish to bring religions closer together. The sixth and last verse of his poem says, "Christians, Hebrews and Muslims, we are all children of God." But during the first Congress, when he recited the poem after the opening speech and in the "Fundamenta Krestomatio" to which he transferred it, these lines are missing. Marjorie Boulton, author of a biography of Zamenhof in English, wrote:
For many years friends forced Zamenhof to castrate the poem ideologically, omitting the sixth verse, according to which Christians, Jews and Moslems are all children of God; his Christian friends in France, and even some non-Christians friends feared that, in the period of the Dreyfus case, that concept would compromise Esperanto in many eyes.36
Zamenhof conducted himself with similar caution in connection with his writings about "Hillelism" or "homaranismo." These were concerned with teaching human brotherhood. The term "Hillelism" comes from Hillel, a learned Jew who was active between the years 30 B.C. and 10 A.D. in Jerusalem. In case it should appear that he was concerned only with discrimination against Jews, Zamenhof later preferred the title Homaranismo. As early as 1901 Zamenhof wrote a tract entitled "Hillelismo" and sent it to some friends. In 1906 he offered it to a wider public, publishing it in the form of a brochure and in an article in the Ruslanda Esperantisto. Both were anonymous, and in footnotes he always called attention to the fact that one could be a very good Esperantist and object to both Hillelism and homaranismo.37
In the World Esperanto Congress in 1912 in Cracow Zamenhof requested that he be relieved of all offices in the Esperanto movement, so that he could work for his ideals as an ordinary person.38 Now he felt himself free to publish a brochure entitled 'Homaranismo' under his own name, with content almost identical to that of 1906. It appeared in Madrid in 1913. The following extracts give an idea of his thoughts:
I believe that all peoples are equal and I value every human being according to his personal merit and his actions, not his origin. I regard as barbarity every offence or persecution of a human being merely because he is of another race, with another language or religion different from my own.
I believe that every country belongs not to this or that race, but with fully equal rights to all the people living in it.39
These extracts demonstrate that Zamenhof was ahead of his time. His struggles for mutual respect, understanding, equal rights and peaceful co-existence of religions and peoples are as relevant today as ever.

4. The Church and Esperanto
4.1 The Early Years
The history of the Christian Esperanto movement is almost as old as the language itself. Just a few months after the first textbook appeared, a few Catholic priests became interested in the new language, among them Bishop Zerr in Saratov.40
The first really active Catholic Esperantists were the Lithuanian Aleksandras Dambrauskas (1860-1938) and the Frenchman Louis de Beaufront (1855-1935) who was mentioned in the previous chapter. Dambrauskas had heard that Esperanto had appeared as early as 1887, when he was a student in the seminary at St Petersburg. He ordered a copy of the "Unua Libro" from Zamenhof and began enthusiastically learning the new language. Only a week later, he wrote his first postcard to Zamenhof in flawless Esperanto.41 Dambrauskas wrote the first Esperanto textbook for Lithuanians. It appeared in 1890 in Tilsit (Germany), from where it was smuggled into Lithuania because, until 1904, the Czarist government forbade Lithuanians to publish in their mother tongue. Even Zamenhof, living in what was then the Russian city of Warsaw (and from 1893-1897 in Grodno) dared only put the book on sale secretly. "For reasons, which you probably know (our laws do not permit Lithuanian books in Latin script) the book must figure in the 'List of Titles' as 'unobtainable'", he wrote to Dambrauskas en 1896.42
By 1893 Dambrauskas had already begun to write original verse in Esperanto. He is known as "the poet of the Catholic Esperanto movement". His "Versajxareto" (Little Book of Verse - 1905) is probably the first collection of poems by an individual poet in Esperanto.43 He also wrote two small books on mathematics and one on philosophy, "Malgrandaj pensoj pri grandaj demandoj" (Little thoughts on big questions). For half a century, until his death in 1938, he remained faithful to Esperanto.
Louis de Beaufront was the first French Esperantist. He learned the language in 1888 and at once began to publicise it enthusiastically. In 1892 he published a French-language textbook on Esperanto, followed by various books of exercises, dictionaries, grammars and information brochures. De Beaufront, whose real name was Louis Chevreux44, had studied linguistics, philosophy and theology; he had a doctorate in theology and earned his living as, among other things, a private tutor. In 1893 he wrote a small book with the title "Pregxareto por katolikoj" (A Prayer Booklet for Catholics). Beginning in 1898, he published the French-language periodical "L' Espérantiste" which a year later appeared with a supplement in Esperanto. De Beaufront was always willing to make room in it for articles by Catholic Esperantists.45 In 1908 de Beaufront left the Esperanto movement and dedicated his energies to Ido, which he invented together with Couturat.
Both Dambrauskas and de Beaufront took a critical view of Zamenhof's views on religion. The two of them carried on a lively correspondence with Zamenhof46 about his "Homaranismo", notably in the magazine "Ruslanda Esperantisto". Dambrauskas was a Catholic priest who, because of his personal beliefs, preferred to keep a certain distance from other denominations and religions. From 1889 to 1895 he was exiled to northern Russia by the Czarist government because he had forbidden Catholic school pupils to obey an order to attend a Russian Orthodox school.47 Dambrauskas thought that Homaranismo was "anti-religious" because it put other principles above the teachings of Jesus Christ.48 Zamenhof replied that Homaranismo could not possibly turn anyone away from religion; on the contrary, it could lead freethinkers back to God. Zamenhof's open letter to Dambrauskas in "Ruslanda Esperantisto" May 1906 ended with these words:
To you, Mr D., whom I know to be sincerely and deeply religious in practice and a most generous priest of God - to you I ask: if you could turn to that great moral Force, whom you call God, and ask Him whether He prefers that people should have many religions and thus hate one another, and each one say that only their religion is the true one; or that people should erect a bridge between them by which all religions will gradually be able to be forged into one religion, and they should construct shared temples in which they will be able to work out their own shared ideals and mores in fraternity, - what would God reply? If you are certain that He would prefer the first, then fight against homaranismo; but if you think he would choose the second, then do not fight for us (since I understand that as a priest you cannot do this, at least not now), but at least do not fight against us, for in fighting against us, you will be fighting against the will of the One whom you have always honestly and sincerely served.49
By contrast, de Beaufront criticised Zamenhof for 'naively hoping that homaranismo would give total peace and happiness to mankind'.50 In reply Zamenhof told him:
We know very well that homaranismo will not make angels out of men, just as the Esperantists have always known that about Esperanto. We have no hope of changing the hearts of those who do not want peace - we want only: a) to make interracial justice and brotherhood possible for those many persons who desire it and for whom the lack of a neutral language, a religious and moral foundation has until now entirely ruled out all mutual fraternisation; b) to secure (and by shared communication to constantly perfect) precisely formulated principles by which those persons may be guided who in their hearts might feel the need for interracial equality and fraternity, but constantly sin against it simply because of insufficient reflection and the lack of a definite programme.51
By restrained persuasion Louis de Beaufront succeeded in interesting many people in France in Esperanto. One of them was Emile Peltier, parish priest of Sainte-Radegonde near Tours. En 1901 Peltier began learning Esperanto, and only a year later another French Esperantist, Henri Auroux, suggested to him that a Catholic Esperanto organisation should be founded. Peltier accepted the suggestion. He and Auroux drew up a constitution and began recruiting members. The archbishop of Tours, René François, gave them permission to found an association.
You required my judgement of an enterprise which aims to unite Catholics of all nations through the international auxiliary language called Esperanto. I most willingly approve this project which seems to me to favour the spread of the Gospel and the strengthening of unity between nations.52
Consequently December 1902 saw the founding of the "Espero Katolika" (Catholic Hope) Society. Although Peltier and Auroux succeeded in attracting about 80 members, no one apart from themselves was willing to take on a share of the work. As a result they failed in their attempt to register the association under French law. In 1903 Peltier and Auroux decided to disband the Society in the meantime in order to found a magazine which would serve as "an international link between Catholics". Its first issue appeared in October 1903 under the same name of "Espero Katolika". Auroux took on the editing of the magazine while Peltier became its director with responsibility for administration and finding new subscribers. But only four months later, in February 1904, Auroux stepped down as editor, possibly because his tendency towards "less than correct linguistic usage" provoked a great deal of criticism.
After that the whole workload fell on Peltier's shoulders - the editing of the magazine plus the administration of subscriptions and publicity. And all the while Peltier had to fulfil his duties as parish priest. On top of that there were financial problems because the income from the 300 subscriptions in 1904 was insufficient to cover the costs of composing and printing the pages and dispatch. Furthermore he suffered from health problems.
But Peltier remained optimistic and pressed on for his ideals. He received fresh encouragement from the first World Congress in 1905. He was seized by the idea of brotherhood not only between people of many nations but also of different religions and was encouraged to undertake ecumenical activity. In January 1906 he published his "Open letter to all Christian pastors":
[...] It seems to me that the first step that needs to be taken is the unification of the Christian religions. Many beliefs, prayers and hopes are common to all Christians. Only a few points were, in an already distant past, causes of disunity among them.
Do you not think that the time has now come when one might examine those old disputes in peace, unity and fraternity, with souls entirely free of past passions? Is it not amazing, regrettable, intolerable that disciples of he who commanded "Love one another" continue their mutual hatred because of conflicts which happened centuries ago?
Peltier suggested setting up a union of Esperanto-speaking Christian clergy for joint discussions leading to "international fraternity". He received a number of responses, some positive but most sceptical. In the opinion of Fr Requin, a French priest, it was not difficult to arrange a friendly discussion between clergy of different denominations; but there remained the problem of "overcoming disputes about dogma". The Anglican clergyman John Cyprian Rust agreed in principle with Peltier's ideas but also expressed the fear that cooperation between Catholic and Protestant Esperantists might damage the reputation of the language in the individual Churches. It may be that Peltier had in fact underestimated the differences between the denominations, but his ideas for overcoming them remain valid to the present day.
1906 was also the year of the first papal blessing for the Catholic Esperanto movement. In a private audience on the 2nd of June in that year Father Luigi Giambene, a priest and Esperantist in Rome, gave Pope Pius X copies of the first volumes of "Espero Katolika" and the "Pregxareto por Katolikoj" by Louis de Beaufront. Some time later he received the following letter in Italian from the Vatican dated 27th of June and signed by Monsignor Giovanni Bressan:
I have the honour to inform you that the Holy Father has generously and with particular pleasure been so good as to accept the published issues of Espero Katolika Magazine, which you humbly presented to Him in the name of Father Emile Peltier. Very Reverend Monsignor, please make the pontifical pleasure known to Father Peltier and communicate the Apostolic Blessing which His Holiness has given to you and to the editors of the Magazine.
The Second World Esperanto Congress took place in Geneva from the 28th of August to the 2nd of September 1906. There the Spanish priest Antonio Guinard celebrated Holy Mass in Esperanto while Peltier ascended the pulpit with obvious emotion to preach - with the permission of the general vicariate of Geneva - in Esperanto.
But that was the last World Congress in which Peltier was able to take part. His illness caused him increasing suffering and the magazine "Espero Katolika" frequently appeared only after long delays. But appear it did. "His moral and spiritual powers were simply enormous - but unfortunately his physical ones were not" wrote Nico Hoen in his "History of the International Catholic Esperanto Union"53, "and it was only those powers, drawn from the deepest faith in God, which sustained Peltier's immeasurably admirable determination and courage."
Only after the magazine ceased publication in August 1908 were people found who were prepared to take over Peltier's work. Twenty four-year-old Claudius Colas became the new editor-in-chief and the English abbot Austin Richardson took over the administration. Early in 1909, "Espero Katolika" reappeared with an article written by Peltier who in doing so disobeyed the orders of his doctor to rest completely. Shortly afterwards Peltier went on pilgrimage to Lourdes and asked Mary to "either heal him or grant him the grace of dying at the shrine". That was the grace granted to him. Peltier died in Lourdes on the 17th of February 1909 aged 38. "He put his beloved magazine into our hands as a dying mother entrusts her beloved child into the hands of friends" wrote Claudius Colas in the March 1909 issue of "Espero Katolika".
In April 1910, a little over a year after Peltier's death, the first Catholic Esperanto Congress was held in Paris. That congress saw the founding of the Internacia Katolika Unuigo Esperantista (International Catholic Esperanto Union - IKUE). In the years that followed, the new association flourished. Every year thereafter, IKUE congresses were held: in the Hague in 1911, in Budapest in 1912 and in Rome in 1913. The magazine "Espero Katolika" appeared regularly every month.
In August 1914 the 5th IKUE congress should have been held in Lourdes. The preparations went ahead as planned; in the July-August 1914 issue of "Espero Katolika" the Irish priest Patrick Parker "with great pleasure" announced a papal blessing for the congress. But the First World War suddenly broke out. The congress did not take place; the principal organiser, 29-year-old Claudius Colas, was called up for military service and died only a few weeks later on the 11th of September at the battle of the Marne.54
During the First World War "Espero Katolika" was no longer published and the Catholic Esperantists' other activities were also interrupted.
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