Times of Distress sample

Chapter sample


Chapter 1

War threatens

JOS VAN ENGELEN’S teacher saw more in him than the typical tall, sandy-haired 17-year-old walking the streets of most Dutch towns. His classmates found him dull, with his nose stuck in his books rather than sharing their adolescent fun. Meneer Dijksma, on the other hand, detected a sharp mind and a sympathetic spirit under that misunderstood reserve. He was so impressed that, though Protestant, he could not help favoring the local parish priest with his opinion when he came across him on market day.

‘That boy has an aptitude for learning, Father Schoonhoven. Have you seen that?’

‘Yes, indeed, Meneer Dijksma—the father’s influence, no doubt.’

‘It’s not my business to say these things, but I thought he might interest you.’

‘Your disinterested opinion is appreciated, Meneer.’

Besides Jos’s keen intellect, Fr. Schoonhoven admired his strength of character and catechetical knowledge. He asked Simon van Engelen if his son showed any signs of a vocation.

‘I don’t know what exactly those signs could be. That’s rather your province, Father.’

‘You have no objection, Meneer van Engelen, if I initiate a process of discernment?’

‘Of course not, but I think Jos is the one to ask.’

Young Jos had not thought much about it but was happy to submit. Fr. Schoonhoven, refusing to let the chance slip, began a period of spiritual reflection. At the end of six months, after final exams, Jos waved to his bemused family huddled on the station platform and departed the unspoiled medieval town of Middelburg with its famous Gothic town hall. He was on his way to the seminary of the Wounded Heart of Jesus near Breda in the Province of Noord-Brabant. His brother Frans, four years younger, also showing an aptitude for learning, felt obliged to follow his admired older brother. After two years of heroic struggle, Frans found it was not for him. With a consoling pat on his brother’s shoulder and a sympathetic grimace, he said farewell and returned to Middelburg, where his father enrolled him in a notarial course.

Jos persevered and was ordained in 1936 at twenty-four. His superiors wanted to send him to Rome, but Fr. Jos begged to go to the missions. He had become a priest to spread the Good News, not go stale, giving the same lectures year after year to baffled philosophy students. The superior general, Fr. Albers, relented, but with the warning, he might review his decision. He could not afford to waste the academic talents of one of his priests. And so, instead of enjoying the delights of papal Rome, Fr. Jos found himself in the sunny, sweaty town of Lae on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea.

With four daughters still at home, Frans’s parents’ decision to send him to Rotterdam for his studies meant strict economies. No one complained. Frans’s sisters were eager to help their clever, outspoken brother realize his talents. Frans, determined to acquit himself of the privilege, breezed through the course with distinction, fulfilled the required administrative steps and returned to Middelburg to set up a practice. He remained at home, avoiding commitments, so he could contribute to the household’s running and repay his parents and sisters for their generosity. But events disturbed his plans. In 1939, no one could ignore the signs of war. The Nazi invasion of Poland brought a declaration from Great Britain and France on 3 September. Mobilization had begun. A British expeditionary force crossed the Channel.

Through the war preparations, everywhere evident in the low countries, life continued undisturbed in Middelburg. Frans and his father, a government official at the Abbey, the seat of Zeeland’s provincial government, discussed contingency plans. Once overrun, the former island of Walcheren, on which the towns of Vlissingen and the provincial capital Middelburg were, was likely to become a pivotal defensive position against retaliation from across the Channel. Vlissingen stared across the North Sea at the Thames Estuary. Troops were stationed at Zanddijk on Walcheren and Bath in Zuid-Beveland. They had no expectations of Germanic goodwill once the Nazis had Walcheren in their hands. However, they were confident that given the Nazis could not ignore the Dutch people’s racial origins, not much of the town’s administration would change. That meant Simon van Engelen would be safe. But Frans?

‘You don’t think I’m going to sit on my hands, do you, once the barking Mof have infested the place?’

‘I don’t want you doing anything wasteful,’ said his father. ‘It’ll serve no purpose. We must plan how to deal with an occupation without groveling.’

‘There are ways without running into the street with guns.’

‘We will resist, but with judgment.’

Early March 1940, in the bitter cold of the evening, a snow-blown shadow lugging two suitcases appeared in the family’s front doorway. Relieved of his bags and after many handshakes and hugs, Fr Jos sat down with his bemused family and a cup of hot chocolate.

‘I received an unexpected summons eight months ago to return to the motherhouse—’

‘What for?’ came a chorus before he could continue.

‘And why didn’t you tell us?’ said his father.

‘The reasons were vague. The superior general, who appeared happy with my work, said new circumstances required my return. He would explain once I was here. I had instructions to wear civilian clothes, as you see, and not to speak with anyone about it. I don’t know why. In fact, I was to leave all trace of religion behind in New Guinea.’

‘Goodness,’ said his mother. ‘And in the middle of winter. Why?’

‘He didn’t explain. Not about anything. He told me to burn the letter. Very unlike the usually bland superior general.’

‘How on earth did you get here?’

‘Boat to England, and a private boat to Vlissingen. I spent some time in London before setting out four days ago. I can’t talk about the delay in London.’

‘Why not?’ said Frans.

‘Been told to keep my mouth shut.’

There were several moments of staring bemusement.

‘What happens now?’ said Frans, posing the question in each’s eyes.

‘My strict instructions were to contact the superior general, personally, I mean, by phone, as soon as I arrived here in Middelburg.’

‘I’ll arrange it,’ said his father.

‘London has changed arrangements, Pappa. I’d like you to ring for me if you don’t mind. I don’t want to leave the house unless I must. I’ll tell you what to say.’

‘Of course, my boy.’

‘Why all the secrecy, Jos?’ said Ada, the eldest of the four sisters.

Jos hesitated. ‘I can’t say, and I must ask you not to repeat this conversation.’

Mevrouw van Engelen made up a bed in the attic. When Frans deposited his brother’s bags on the bed, he said, ‘Okay, cut the nonsense, Jos. What’s going on, and what’s with these heavy bags?’

‘Calm down, younger brother. I need your confidence—and help.’

The summons to return to the motherhouse and his delay in London, followed by a private boat to Vlissingen, were two different things. He could tell Frans nothing more about the summons because he knew nothing, but he could talk about London—in confidence.

‘After clearing customs, I went to the order’s house in London to arrange the earliest passage to Oostende. The next morning, a man from the British government turned up, asking if I would oblige by accompanying him to a meeting, a polite request I obviously could not refuse. He would not say what it was about. But I wasn’t to worry. It turned out to be a meeting with people from British intelligence. One was Dutch, a military man. They had learned I was a priest on my way home to Middelburg, and I could speak English. In brief, they wanted me to help if the Germans occupied Holland, which they considered imminent. Well, it wasn’t so much a request as an order. Very polite, of course. Very British.’

‘What do they want you to do? Why you? And where do I fit in?’

‘As a priest, I had a good cover. Two transmitters are in my bags. They want one working out of Walcheren and one elsewhere in Holland, wherever seemed most effective.’

‘If you want me to work one, fine.’

‘I have to set one up here as soon as possible to ensure no problems. We’ll leave the other until we can decide where to use it—or where they want me to use it.’

‘Let’s do it, brother.’

‘But I don’t want Mamma and Pappa involved in any way. They are not to know anything. Not a thing. They are not even to suspect anything.’

‘I’ll be on tiptoes.’

‘I’ve been through an extensive briefing on this—operating a clandestine transmitter, intelligence gathering, spycraft, etc. I’ll run through it all with you.’

‘As I say, let’s do it.’

‘Remember, I will maintain my role as a priest, as a cover, and as a priest.’


The following morning, Jos visited the little-known Augustinus House in Middelburg to arrange to say Mass while he stayed. Afterward, he proceeded to Frans’s office. They were soon in contact with London. Now they had established a connection, the transmitter would sleep until needed. Jos spent the rest of the day tutoring Frans in intelligence gathering, coding, and operating the transmitter. Simon van Engelen returned from work with the news Fr. Albers would come to Middelburg the following day.

‘Was that all?’

‘Yes, nothing else besides polite questions about the family’s health. He didn’t even mention the war declaration, not that there’s much war going on. He seemed unaware of the oddity of your unexplained arrival and his coming alone to this out-of-the-way town.’

When the superior general arrived the following morning, his expression showed something was preoccupying him, even if it was not the circumstances’ oddity. After the required polite conversation and coffee, Fr. Albers asked to be excused. Mevrouw van Engelen offered the lounge room for private discussions, but Fr. Albers would not hear of it. Instead, they would seek a suitable place in town to talk. As it turned out, he drove to nearby Vlissingen and parked on the Boulevard overlooking the North Sea and the entrance to the River Schelde. Military preparations were everywhere.

‘Come, let’s walk,’ he said, wrapping his coat around him against the icy wind.

They walked awhile, dodging soldiers and military activity before he spoke.

‘You know, of course, about the writings of Pope Pius X against modernism and its influence in the Church.’ Jos nodded. ‘Among his targets was liberalism, the idea of freedom based on a naturalist or materialist view of the world. The Church was not against freedom as such, but the idea of freedom without any objective moral restraint. The fight continues, as it has always done long before the modern rationalistic theories.’ Jos nodded again. ‘You must also be aware of the recent encyclicals against communism.’

‘Yes, both of exceptional clarity.’

‘Precisely. To be blunt, I perceive signs, even though vague, not of the naturalistic theories, but the influence of dialectical materialism among the seminary’s teaching staff.’

‘I was never aware of it.’

‘That was four years ago. Things have changed. I’m saying there’s a hint. And I’m far from sure about it. Talk of oppressive capitalism and the oppressed working class is not necessarily an indicator. No, that’s not it. The sympathetic reference to German philosophy, notably Hegelian dialectics and a related form of social analysis, has disturbed me. As you know, I wanted to send you to Rome for further studies in philosophy but gave in to your wish to go to the mission territories.’

‘I have always been grateful, Father.’

‘I’m afraid, Fr Jos, you and your skills are needed. During your training, you were the only one to pay attention to German philosophy, particularly Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel. I trust you have not lost interest?’

‘No, no, I have an abiding interest.’

‘Good. If your parents are agreeable, you will stay here until I send for you. A week or so.’

‘Yes, of course, they will be happy to have me.’ He hesitated. ‘Why, may I ask, has there been such secrecy?’

‘I’m cautious precisely because I’m not sure of my suspicions,’ Fr. Albers said, looking around and fidgeting as if his mind was not entirely with his words. ‘Second, I don’t want to appear inordinately concerned about communism. You understand the fascists and Nazis have been critical of communism. I want to avoid any unpleasant associations.’ He paused. ‘Third, there is the tactic of entryism, as you may know, where a group infiltrates an organization to manipulate it in a particular direction. The followers of Leon Trotsky favor this tactic. You do know what I am talking about?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m aware. Trotsky was not shy about it.’

‘Good. The possibility of subversion is all the more reason to be careful. It could draw the accusation of a conspiratorial mentality, which may feed the resistance I’m facing.’


‘I don’t want to discuss that now. The possibility of a Marxist agenda is more important. There’s a lot more to this than I can say. My connections with people in Rome, you know. I will leave it at that—at least for the time being. Keep this conversation to yourself unless I say otherwise.’

‘I’m under your direction.’

‘Good. When you arrive in a week or so, people will know you have returned for a break, after which you will pursue your doctoral studies interrupted by your work in the missions. Many remember your academic ability. Along with your studies, you will be responsible for organizing a course as a counterpoint to Hegelian ideas, to his dialectic. It will be under my strict supervision. That will relieve you of having to play a double role.’ The superior general was about to turn to walk back to the car.

‘Father, there’s another matter which I must tell you about.’

‘Oh?’ Fr. Albers glanced around him again.

They walked on while Fr. Jos spoke of his meeting with British intelligence and undercover operations training.

‘Goede Hemel!’ said Fr. Albers, stopping. ‘They’re very presumptuous. Don’t they understand your duties as a priest?’

‘They didn’t seem to care.’

 ‘How do you feel about it?’

‘Well, in a way, they gave me no choice. The matter had the highest priority. It seemed Dutch intelligence had a crucial role in it. I had a national duty. So, it was difficult for me to refuse. I did not want to refuse, considering what was at stake.’

‘Why you? There must be dozens of Dutchmen in England, far more experienced in military and intelligence matters.’

‘I have an excellent disguise as a cleric. My proficiency in English. My hometown of Middelburg. They had obviously done their homework. They seemed to know everything about me.’

‘That would not have been difficult. And your vow of obedience?’

Jos hesitated, looking out over the peaking, windblown waters of the Schelde. By this time, they had reached the end of the Boulevard from where they could see Breskens on the Zeeuws-Vlaanderen shore opposite.

‘These are the scenes of my childhood. So often, Frans and I bicycled from Middelburg to spend the day on the beach here. The trip on the ferry to Breskens was a special treat. That all this, our way of life, would fall into the hands of the Nazis is an unbearable thought.’

‘How bearable is breaking the vow of obedience?’

‘Also difficult.’

‘You don’t want me to force a choice.’

‘Perhaps it is a weakness, but, no, I don’t.’

‘Have you thought you might be underestimating me?’

‘I ask forgiveness if I have.’

‘Let’s walk.’

They walked back to the car in silence, the icy, watery wind from the sea blowing against their faces. Fr. Albers clutched the wheel and said nothing on the drive to Middelburg as if Jos had disappeared. When they pulled up outside the Van Engelen house, he sat, staring ahead. Jos waited.

‘I will see you back at the motherhouse. Please give my respects to your parents. Tell them I can’t linger in Middelburg. And bring your transmitter with you, suitably hidden.’ He leaned over and took Jos’s hand. ‘Go now, lad. The moral cause has a higher priority than a legalistic understanding of the vow of obedience. There’s no dilemma for you. I know more about this than I have said, at least about the wider picture.’

Jos spent the rest of his stay speculating with Frans and his father about what might result from a German move against the British and French forces in France. The Dutch government’s declaration of neutrality would not halt the invasion of Holland. It was foolish to think it would. Hitler would regard such a declaration with contempt. They discussed a range of contingency plans if the Germans seized Walcheren, a strategic corner of the country at the mouth of the river Schelde, which flowed to the even more strategic Antwerp harbor.

Ten days later, after a message from Fr. Albers, Jos took the train to Breda, where someone from the motherhouse would pick him up. As the train drew away from the platform in Middelburg and Frans’s figure disappeared in the curve of the tracks, he wondered if he would see his brother again. It was an uncharacteristic thought. He was not generally fatalistic, but the combination of circumstances filled him with foreboding. His feelings did not deceive him. The Germans invaded Holland on 10 May and pushed through to the coast but met fierce resistance on the outskirts of the urban areas. Frustrated by the unexpected resistance and to induce surrender, Hitler ordered the carpet bombing of Rotterdam on the fourteenth. It was a warning to other Dutch cities. The Dutch forces capitulated on the fifteenth. The dogged resistance, however, gave Queen Wilhelmina and her ministers a chance to flee to London, where they set up a government in exile.


THE PROVINCE of Zeeland did not join the rest of Holland. Reinforced by French troops, they resisted the advance of the German army. The authorities evacuated women and children from Middelburg. Mevrouw van Engelen and her daughters went to family in Zuid-Beveland.

The Germans overran the Bath and Zanddijk positions and pushed through to the Sloedam causeway that connected Walcheren with Zuid-Beveland. From there, they began an artillery bombardment of the city center. On 17 May, reconnaissance planes circled Middelburg. Bombers later came in wave after wave to complete the destruction of the constant shelling. Almost the entire center of Middelburg, made up of splendid examples of medieval and Dutch Renaissance buildings, was prey to the bombing. Frans and his father watched from their house on the town’s outskirts as the smoke billowed into the air, carried away by a robust wind.

‘What the bombs and artillery don’t destroy,’ remarked Simon, his voice barely heard above the roar of war, ‘the fire will with the help of this perverse wind.’

‘The low water level in the canals because of the drought won’t help either.’

‘I think we should stay here and await our fate.’

They did not have to wait long. Middelburg had been made an example, and the remaining Dutch forces surrendered. The French troops who had regrouped in Vlissingen made it across the Schelde to Zeeuws-Vlaanderen after a courageous holding action led by Brigade General Marcel Deslaurens, who died in the fighting. Simon van Englen was right. The artillery and the aerial bombing had been the match to light the conflagration. When the smoke had cleared, the horrible destruction of most of the ancient part of Middelburg’s town center became visible. Around six hundred houses and public buildings lay in ruins. Perhaps worse, the town’s documents and records going back a thousand years disappeared in the flames. To ensure the maximum destruction, the German command forbade anyone from going near the smoldering ruins for forty days. One bright note was that the early evacuation order meant only twenty-two people perished.

The Germans’ first task was to secure the occupation. They commandeered whatever buildings they considered necessary. Those included schools, halls, and other public buildings. Apart from the military tasks, the German administrator, Commissioner Willi K.H. Munzer, ordered Zeeland’s population to go about business as usual. This generous allowance was Germany’s concession to their Dutch cousins. Whatever the graciousness of Commissioner Munzer, who took up residence with his family in the elegant country house Der Boede and requisitioned the desirable address 6-8 Dam for his office, the Germans were a trial. They disrupted daily living and the running of businesses in every way. Simon van Engelen was right about his middle-level clerical position in the municipal administration remaining unaffected. He reported to his work daily, obeying his superiors, who took their orders from Commissioner Munzer. Munzer surrounded himself with the despised collaborators of the Dutch National Socialist Movement (the NSB-ers), to whom he gave plum positions.

Frans continued his work as a notary, not that there was much work. The lack of work suited him. After Jos’s departure, he prepared for the occupation. He was in regular contact with his friends and business acquaintances, subtly sounding them out about a German invasion. He made up a list of those most critical of the occupation. With them, he became more open. Eventually, he focused on three who shared his readiness to resist the Nazis. To his surprise, they were not among his closest friends.

During this time, he reviewed all the information Jos had given and the instructions to work the transmitter. He swatted on the code until he was confident with its use. Two weeks after the capitulation and the Nazis had settled in, he secured a commitment from his friends and began operations.

He formed a cell, hiding the identity of each from the others. He drummed into them the absolute need for secrecy, encouraging the thought only he and each friend were in it together. The revelation of the transmitter and the function of each as a watcher deterred none.

He followed Jos’s strict instructions about evading the German detection units. The transmissions must be short. He must keep on the move and have the watcher in a strategic position. As he got more proficient, he transmitted more often. The lesson of not keeping to the rules became apparent. An underground press lost no time in setting up. Flyers and pamphlets appeared, damning the Germans and encouraging resistance. The price for incaution was summary execution. A few were incautious and shot on the spot. The few transmitters flouting the rules suffered the same fate. The Germans were not stupid.

By exercising utmost caution, Frans and his cell continued to escape detection. He fed much military information to London, including details passed on by his father. He took his success as a warning. Never let your guard down. Eighteen months later, an obstacle arose to hamper his activity. The Germans summoned able-bodied men between sixteen and forty-five to report for work in the German factories. Frans and his friends went into hiding. It made things more difficult. But a network of safe houses, his knowledge of the Walcheren countryside, and his unfailing caution kept him and his friends alive.

Simon van Engelen also took care while gathering information coming from Munzer’s office on Dam Square. He kept his head down, but his eyes and ears were receptive to anything interesting. Only once was he neglectful. On 24 March 1942, having arrived at work, he heard the German command had ordered Middelburg’s Jews to assemble in Stationstraat. Saying nothing to his work colleagues, he hastened the short distance to find Middelburg’s Jewish community gathered with bags, rucksacks, and whatever else they could carry. These people were part of his community: tailors, shopkeepers, business owners of all sorts, people with whom he had regular contact. Doctor Weyl, known to many in the town, stood on the far side of the group. He acknowledged Simon’s furtive wave but stayed where he was. Simon sidled over to Meneer Kramer, nearest to him, whose menswear shop he patronized for its elegant style and taste.

‘What’s happening, Meneer?’ he whispered, glancing at the nearby German soldier.

‘We’ve been ordered to Amsterdam.’

‘What for?’

‘I don’t know exactly, but it can’t be good whatever it is.’

The German soldier waved his rifle, and Simon stepped away.


The Jewish businessman nodded. Simon van Englen hastened back to his office, turning to glance once more. Later, he heard that a crowd had grown. When the time came, there was some momentary jostling as the crowd moved to accompany an integral part of Middelburg’s community to the station. The German soldiers, taken unaware, acted quickly with swinging rifles to drive the crowd back. Undeterred, the crowd silently followed to the station and waited until the train departed. Frans relayed the information to London.


Chapter 2

Renewed friendship

FR. JOS STARED through the misted window as the early morning train rattled through the dripping fields, along the waterways, the rows of poplars, over the bridges, and past small villages with their church steeples dominating the rural scene. The lowering gray clouds and the drizzle sent his mind back to the sun, heat, and humidity he had left behind in Lae. Would he ever see it again? He had hoped before leaving Lae that his return to Holland would be short, a sort of sabbatical, a holiday from the burden he willingly took on. But it wouldn’t be. For one thing, the coming war would keep him in Holland. Then, there were his new duties and the superior general’s suspicions about the staff. No, even if Fr. Albers’s fears were groundless, he was stuck in Holland for the moment.

He opened his breviary to read his daily office. But he could not concentrate. So much crowded his mind. Spy on his brother priests? It presented a dilemma. He had never played a deceptive role. Deception and false behavior were abhorrent to him. Fr. Albers had arranged his duties so he would not have to be false. Well, not openly. But his reports on his teaching and that of others with whom he collaborated would amount to intelligence reports, would they not? These thoughts occupied his mind until the train pulled into the station in Breda. He was surprised to see Fr. Albers on the platform, staring at the ground in front of him. He didn’t look up until the train stopped, and Jos stepped onto the wet platform holding his two bags.

‘Here, let me take one of those,’ said Fr. Albers, glancing around in the same distracted way Jos had observed in Vlissingen.

‘You didn’t have to pick me up, Father.’

‘Yes, I did, actually. Come on, let’s get out of the cold.’

French soldiers were in the streets, some acknowledging the priests as they walked by. Jos glanced at his superior as the car pulled out from the curb. He waited for him to speak, curious about the unusual decision to come instead of one of the lay brothers.

‘Have you had any thoughts about our conversation?’ said Fr. Albers, frowning and pursing his lips.

‘Not really. Perhaps only that I might be spying on my brother priests.’

‘Yes, I thought that would still bother you.’

They drove on in silence for a few minutes before Fr. Albers spoke.

‘I’ve explained, haven’t I? I’ve arranged your duties so they come under my direct supervision. I’ll be telling you what to do.’ He tapped the steering wheel. ‘That should relieve you of any thought of complicity.’

‘Yes, I understand, Father, but—’

‘When you consider what’s at stake here, spying should not conflict you,’ Fr. Albers continued with a sharp glance. ‘You don’t know what’s on in the background—and you mustn’t know for the moment. I have no choice. I’m forced. Think well on this: covert action is justified when the enemy follows a plan of subversion.’


‘Well, what would you say about a person, even persons, who enter the priesthood to corrupt his fellow priests? To destroy the priesthood. I don’t have to tell you that the priesthood is the great bulwark against the many attempts to destroy the Church.’

‘It’s a hellish thing to do. But do you really suspect such an evil plan in our fraternity? Priests with heretical motivations have always existed. The Church authorities dealt with them.’

‘I’m talking about something quite different.’

‘You mean Marxist subversion.’

‘Yes, but think, Fr. Jos. There is something more.’ The superior general paused as if struggling to find the words. ‘How would you corrupt the priesthood other than by spreading ideas harmful to the faith?’

‘I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I suppose you mean particular actions as opposed to ideas.’

‘Of the three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—which appears to be most difficult to live for a priest?’

‘Most people would say chastity. But the authorities look on such transgressions as moral failings, don’t they? And they deal with the clergy according to the seriousness of their actions.’

Fr. Albers rubbed his chin, glanced out the window, and tapped the steering wheel.

‘You’re assuming transgressions of the vow of chastity are about a priest’s behavior with one of his female parishioners, as regrettably happens.’

Jos frowned and glanced at his superior. ‘You’re alluding to other behavior?’

‘The Church is not keen to talk about it for obvious reasons, but in the long history of the Church, it has caused grave problems.’

‘Isn’t the approach the same? Disciplinary action.’

‘This is different. It’s no longer a simple question of transgression. On the contrary, normalizing all sexual relations is an integral part of the Marxist agenda in undermining the family, which the Communists see as the capitalist order’s basis.

‘Normalizing all sexual relations?’ said Jos, looking askance at his superior.

‘The communists’ logic about the family and sexual relations was clear to those who thought about it.’

By this time, they had entered the seminary grounds, passed the lush green lawns and neatly tended gardens, and were about to pull up at the main building’s entrance.

‘But what’s this got to do directly with the influence of Marxist ideas among the teaching staff?’ said Jos. ‘Surely, you don’t think …?

Fr. Albers did not budge. He grasped the steering wheel, twisting it to the left and right.

‘Well … we’ll talk about it later. But think. How easy would it be for such a priest to go about unnoticed among his confreres?’

‘But that does not mean he will give in to his inclinations, does it? It’s the same for every priest, isn’t it? We must discipline ourselves.’

‘What if an ideological intruder’s sole purpose is to seduce a young seminarian for ideological purposes?’

‘I hardly know what to say.’

‘It’s not as farfetched as you imagine. There have been reports in the American Church.’

Fr. Albers alighted and went to the trunk. Jos followed and took the bags handed to him. A lay brother arrived to wait on the superior general.

‘We’ll talk more when you have settled in,’ said Fr. Albers, and turning to the lay brother, ‘Please show Fr. Jos to his room.’

The talkative lay brother took one of the bags and led Jos to the priests’ quarters on the upper floor.

‘That’s heavy,’ said Br Lucas, placing the bag on the floor. ‘What did you bring from missions—carvings of some sort?’

‘Well, yes, and books and things,’ said Jos, annoyed with himself for giving the lay brother the bag with the transmitter. ‘Thank you for your help.’ He hoped he did not sound evasive, though he spoke the truth about the books.

‘The Angelus is at twelve and lunch at twelve-thirty,’ said Br Lucas, satisfied with the explanation. ‘You know where the refectory is?’

‘Yes, thank you, Brother.’

Fr. Jos looked around his new accommodation. It pleased him to be in a room overlooking the front gardens and the long tree-lined avenue leading from the public road. Although spartan, the room was comfortable with a wardrobe, desk, chair, and bookshelf. A crucifix hung above his desk. It was all he needed. He unpacked his clothes, the transmitter, and the few books he had brought from Lae. The transmitter went into the wardrobe, awaiting discussions with the superior general. He sat by the window and contemplated the scene. There was still an hour to wait before chapel. On present observation, nothing had changed since his departure four years earlier, not that anything should change. The routine and its purpose were set years ago.

Shortly before twelve, he left for the chapel on the ground floor. A gathering bustle of subdued voices and scuffing of feet on the polished floors accompanied him as the junior seminary classes broke up and headed to the chapel. The smaller classes of those in priestly formation, those in their years of philosophy and theology, were more subdued. Jos knelt in a back pew with the teaching staff and the lay brothers. There were looks of surprise and friendly glimpses. The rector of the junior seminary led in the Angelus, after which came the rosary. The recitation of the familiar prayers was comforting and reassuring. It was a communal comfort he missed in Lae. He noticed one change, though. The numbers were larger in all sectors—more junior seminarians, more in priestly training, more teaching staff, and more lay brothers. At the finish of prayers, Fr. Albers beckoned him.

‘I’ll announce your arrival at lunch. Stay with me.’

Jos was shown to a seat beside the superior general in the refectory. On the other side of Fr. Albers were the junior and the senior seminary’s rectors, Fathers Koeman and van Rossem. Fr. Koeman nodded with a welcoming smile. Dr. van Rossem acknowledged him with a slight bow and a scowl. Fr. Bart Timmermans, a former classmate and a dear friend, was on his other side. He was there next to him for a purpose, Jos thought. After grace, Fr. Albers asked for the attention of the refectory.

‘My dear brothers, on your behalf, I welcome Fr. Jos van Engelen, who has been in the missions in Papua New Guinea these last four years. You of the junior seminary will not know him, although he may be familiar to you from mission reports. Some of the teaching staff will remember him for his impressive academic record. Fr. Jos chose to go to the mission territories instead of pursuing further studies in Rome. He has been called home to take up the studies he had postponed. His duties will be in the philosophy department for the next year before he proceeds to Rome for doctoral studies. Under my supervision, he will put together a new course, a critical introduction to modern philosophy, as a counterpoint to our established Thomistic course. This task will be essential to his preparation for his doctoral studies. In honor of Fr. van Engelen, I suspend the rule of silence for this meal. Reader, please stand down. Deo Gratias.’

There were bemused expressions on some faces while the junior seminarians took advantage of the suspension and broke into a noisy chatter.

‘Now you know what you’ll be doing, Fr. Jos,’ said the superior general out the side of his mouth. ‘Sorry to break it in this way. I had my reasons.’ He turned to Dr. van Rossem, who showed no inclination to moderate his scowling. ‘You won’t have any trouble adjusting to Fr. Jos’s program, will you, Father?’

‘It will take a bit of reorganizing, Dr. Albers, but I suppose it won’t be too disruptive. The Germans will be more disruptive.’

‘Well, I can’t wait on the pleasure of the Germans. I had to act when the opportunity became available in Rome.’

The superior general and Dr van Rossem went on to speculate about the Nazi’s intentions.

‘I had no idea you were returning,’ said Fr. Bart, who had started his teaching duties just as Jos boarded the boat for Papua and New Guinea. ‘I’m surprised Dr. Albers summoned you home during the present upheaval without telling anyone. Such behavior is not like our superior general.’

‘I had no warning, either. But we’re here to obey.’

‘Some of us are—at least some of us are conscious of that vow.’

‘Oh?’ said Jos, not missing the pointed comment.

‘I think you’ll find changes in your absence,’ said Bart, lowering his voice. He glanced past the superior general at Dr. van Rossem. ‘We’ll be working together, I expect.’

‘What are you teaching?’

‘The basics of Thomistic realism—you know, the theory of being and theory of knowledge. It’s for the first-year students.’

‘Oh?’ Jos remembered Bart as a competent, honest student who showed a traditional understanding of classical realism.

‘What? What are you thinking?’

‘I am yet to discuss the course detail with Dr. Albers,’ said Jos, aware he sounded guarded, ‘but you’re right. It seems we’ll be working closely together.’

‘Have you decided on the content for this course about modern philosophy?’ Bart gave Jos a searching look, which Jos did not miss. Besides the proposed course, some worry seemed behind Bart’s cautious inquiry.

‘Well, not in detail, but a basic coverage would include Enlightenment philosophers like Descartes, the British empiricists, especially David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and some introductory Hegel. The critical part would be searching for those theories’ weaknesses and investigating whether classical realism has an adequate answer. That is quite a substantial course. Indeed, there may not be time for Hegel’s abstruse works. But, on the other hand,’ said Jos, talking more to himself than his friend, ‘one must understand Hegel to understand Marx’s metaphysics with which some academics seem infatuated.’

‘Well, indeed,’ said Bart, raising his eyebrows.

‘It’s what one would expect under the heading of an introduction to modern philosophy,’ said Jos, not understanding Bart’s reaction.

Bart glanced to the side. ‘I mean what you say about Marxist metaphysics.’

‘What about it? You’ll have to explain.’

‘About infatuation,’ said Bart, glancing at Fr. Albers, still discussing the Nazi’s next moves with Frs. van Rossem and Koeman.

‘What did the British say, Fr. Jos, about the Germans?’ said the superior general, breaking in on their conversation. He turned to Frs. Van Rossem and Koeman, ‘Fr. Jos was in London before coming across to Holland.’

Jos hesitated, not knowing what Fr. Albers had told them. He leaned forward and said, ‘They seemed to think the Germans were on the point of engaging the British and French in France.’

‘Well, that doesn’t add anything,’ said Van Rossem. ‘We can work that out too.’

The abruptness and scowling indicated a surprising change in Fr. van Rossem. He had been one of Jos’s philosophy lecturers. His rigor and precision in argument had been a significant influence.

‘But it helps to hear even the passing views of the British,’ continued Fr. Albers. ‘We know they’re planning for conflict.’

‘The comments were the views of a small number,’ said Jos, aiming to divert the conversation. He did not want to lie, nor did he want to risk saying something incautious. The lessons of British intelligence still sounded in his head. Whether by design or chance, Fr. Albers took the spotlight away from him by offering suggestions about the Germans’ next move. Van Rossem took no further notice of him.

‘We’ll talk about it later,’ whispered Bart when he saw Fr. Albers had engaged Frs. van Rossem and Koeman.

‘There’s something to talk about?’ Jos could not help asking.

‘There is always something to talk about,’ said Bart with studied irony. ‘Now, let me hear about your experiences in the missions. I can’t imagine the difference in the cultural environment. You must have experienced a huge cultural shock.’

‘I’m suffering as much cultural shock now,’ Jos said with a smile.


Chapter 3

Surveillance plans

AFTER LUNCH, Fr. Albers left Jos to continue his acclimatization. There will be adjustments to make, he said, despite his familiarity with the buildings and location. Nosey around and relax. Indeed, the chance to settle and relax was welcome. The lunchtime conversations were full of tension. Reasons for Fr. Albers’s apparent preoccupation were emerging. Something was going on. Bart’s reactions suggested it, too. But did Bart’s and the superior general’s have the same background? It seemed so. Anyhow, he would take advantage of the free time to sniff around. The trim lawns and the gardens in their winter slumber did relax him, and he saw no significant change anywhere. The three-story main building containing the splendid chapel, now nearly a century old, was as bold and solid as ever. On the sound of the bell for afternoon tea, he made his way to the staff common room.

Bart joined him as he poured his tea and took some biscuits, but any conversation had to wait. No sooner had they sat down than staff, those known and unknown to Jos, paraded before him, some welcoming, some just polite, and a few with a hint of irony about the course he would give. It reminded him how clergy could sometimes be rude without being open about it. Two priests, senior in appearance and manner, were among the first to approach. They remained standing with their teacups held in front of them, from which they sipped as they spoke.

‘Well,’ said Fr. Wouter Muller, head of the philosophy department, ‘this was a surprise, young Jos. We thought we had lost your superior academic ability to the missions.’

‘Did the glories of Rome change your mind?’ said Fr. Aart Goedkoop, tilting his head.

‘Dr. Albers warned he would likely call me home to continue my studies. I would have preferred to stay in New Guinea.’

‘And your ambitions to spread the Gospel have thus been thwarted,’ said Muller.

‘I was happy with my work in the missions.’

‘What about the nitty-gritty of your course? Does Fr. Timmermans see any conflict with his lessons?’ continued Muller, nodding at Bart. ‘At this stage, nobody has consulted me.’

‘Fr. Albers has not discussed the detail with me,’ said Jos, ‘but I imagine I would include Descartes and the British empiricists in an introductory course on modern philosophy, as well as Kant and perhaps Hegel with reference to Marx’s dialectic.’

‘As far as Marx?’ said Goedkoop, rounding his lips and glancing at his colleague.

‘Just as far as the materialist dialectic to show how Hegel’s dialectic was manipulated to arrive at a materialist version rather than idealist.’

‘That’s a substantial course, it seems to me,’ said Muller, holding his cup to his lips and taking an emphatic sip. ‘Are you up to it? I mean, you’ve been in the jungle these last four years.’

‘Lae is not quite the jungle. It’s one of the biggest settlements along the coast.’

‘Still, the point remains,’ said Goedkoop. ‘You would be more than a bit rusty.’

‘There is always time for relaxation. I was warned not to wear myself out. That would serve no one. Reading was my relaxation.’

‘Struggling through the Critique of Pure Reason as relaxation?’ said Muller, smirking at Goedkoop.


At that moment, Fr. Albers entered the common room, looking around. He came to them.

‘Ah, Fr. Muller, I was hoping to catch you before you spoke to Fr. Jos,’ he said as if he had been running. He still wore that harassed appearance.

‘No need now, Father,’ said Muller, looking down his nose. ‘Fr. Jos has just described his course.’

‘I didn’t mean the course,’ said the superior general. ‘That’s straightforward, isn’t it? Descartes, the British empiricists, Kant, and so on. No, I wanted to discuss aligning Fr. Jos’s course with Fr. Timmerman’s—make one complement the other. We can do it when you’re ready. No great hurry at this point. It’ll be a few weeks before he can start.’

‘That long?’ said Muller, his frown deepening. ‘The second semester has already begun.’

‘Fr. Jos needs time to settle in—prepare the course—and I need time to discuss his doctoral thesis and establish a research program. Perhaps we can shorten it. Are you available to discuss it tomorrow morning? I’m sorry I have left it until now.’

‘With such a brilliant academic record, I’m sure young Jos will need only a week. I will check my timetable and advise you later.’

‘Good. Fr. Jos, please see me in my office when you’re ready—say, in 20 minutes.’

With that, the superior general hurried off, his head bent a little forward.

‘He’s constantly in a hurry these days,’ said Goedkoop, watching the door shut.

‘You would think he was hatching some sort of dark plan,’ said Muller, smiling. But he did not give his colleague a chance to reply. ‘I’ll see you after discussing the timetable with Fr. Albers,’ he said to Jos. ‘We need to put some precision to your plan. You’ll have to postpone pursuing your Roman dream for a day or two.’

‘Yes, of course, Father.’

Muller turned and, saying nothing more, walked off with Goedkoop in his wake.

‘They’re not happy.’

‘No, it would seem so,’ said Jos to encourage Bart.

‘It does seem strange that the superior general has sprung it on them. If I heard nothing about your recall, it seems Frs. Muller and Goedkoop hadn’t either. That’s not like Fr. Albers, as I say.’

Jos hesitated. He had to be careful not to betray Fr. Albers’s confidence. Nor did he want to be dishonest.

‘The recall came with no detail other than the instruction to be careful. I heard about the course after I arrived.’

‘Careful? Why?’

‘Fr. Albers didn’t explain, but I suspected the growing troubles were the reason. Religious are always visible—and not always liked, as you know. At least, that’s what occurred to me as soon as I arrived in London. War preparations were everywhere there, just as here. I now suspect another reason.’ Bart seemed to ponder this information. Jos took the chance to divert the conversation. ‘What did you mean about disobedience?’

The question caused Bart to ponder further. He glanced around him. Several staff members approached with their best wishes, and he remained thoughtful during the brief exchange. Other staff arrived. When there was a lull in the greetings, he said, ‘Perhaps I was flippant. Perhaps heads of departments and senior lecturers cannot be disobedient. Perhaps they only have honest disagreements.’ There was a fleeting, ironic smile. ‘Fr. Goedkoop, with the support of Dr van Rossem and Fr. Muller, seems intent on highlighting the plight of the working class under capitalism. The emphasis is on capitalism as a system—as an evil system. He does this in class and general conversation, exploiting Pope Leo’s encyclical on the working class to its fullest. Dr van Rossem and Fr. Muller’s support is not open, but it’s clear they approve of his agitation.’


‘Yes, that’s what it looks like.’ He paused. ‘Have you noticed a change in Dr van Rossem?’

‘Yes, he is not as relaxed as he used to be. He appeared a little testy in his conversation with Dr. Albers.’

‘I’d call it irascible. He closely monitors my lecture program, criticizing me for perceived faults in explanation. He is good enough not to do it in front of students. Anyhow, Dr. Albers has warned that any discussion about the working class’s plight should be mindful of socialism’s utter inability to alleviate workers’ suffering. The proof was the communist states. He insisted on a correct explanation of Leo XIII’s encyclical, a close reading of the encyclicals on communism, and a firm understanding of the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. But that hasn’t deterred Goedkoop, who seems somewhat fixated on the subject. Here in the common room, I once ventured to say that advances in technology and production processes were raising living standards despite some people’s miserable circumstances. The role of the state should be to set limits on economic activity. Well, it was like I hurled a bomb among the cups and saucers. My ignorance couldn’t be measured, as far as Goedkoop was concerned. And how could I take the side of the fat cigar-smoking factory owners against the poor? What sort of talk was that from a Catholic priest? I soon shut up.’

‘Didn’t you get support?’

‘No, our colleagues didn’t want the nuisance, were too afraid to say anything, or agreed with the denunciation of rampant capitalism. As if I favor rampant capitalism.’

‘Was it the imagined excuse for the oppression of the working class that lit Goedkoop’s wick? Was it the actual reason? I don’t remember any fascination with socialism when he taught me. He was straight up and down in his teaching of Church history.’

‘I don’t know. There’s something else, though. While Goedkoop is open about his preoccupation with the working class and his antipathy for business owners making huge profits, a theme or a thread, if I can call it that, runs below the surface of the general discourse.’

He stopped and looked into the air as if ordering his thoughts.

‘Yes, what do you think it is?’ said Jos to encourage him,

‘Let me put it this way, for want of a clearer formulation. It’s like there’s a loss of confidence in the philosophical defense of key dogma, that our teaching is inadequate in explaining modern life.’


‘Yes, but not exactly of the liberal, materialistic sort. It’s something else.’ He paused. ‘We have a bright student in his second year of philosophy, Hans de Jonge, with a keen interest in the liturgy. He makes much of the weaknesses in classical realism—what he perceives as the weaknesses. He jumps from those criticisms—he does it in subtle ways—to the cultural problems of the present Latin liturgy, that is, its incompatibility with modern life and with the cultures of non-European lands. He influences his fellow students.’

‘A liturgical movement has, for some years, entertained these sorts of ideas. It’s not big, as far as I’m aware. Stuff for intellectuals.’

‘Yes, I know. But this is different. De Jonge gives the impression he sees a connection between our European-based liturgy and the capitalist order.’

‘Really?’ said Jos. ‘Bart, how much do you know about Marxism?’

‘Just the basics.’

‘Does economic base, production relations, and superstructure mean anything to you?’


Jos looked at his watch. It was past the twenty-minute mark.

‘I must be going,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘I’m late. We’ll continue this conversation later. Let’s keep it to ourselves.’

‘I have no choice if I know what’s good for me,’ said Bart, with his boyish smile.


FR. ALBERS sat at his desk, frowning at a document in his hand, when Jos arrived at the open door.

‘Come in,’ he called when Jos knocked. He rose, slipped the document into his desk drawer, and locked it. ‘Before you sit down, you had better fetch you-know-what. We should set that up. Make it as unobtrusive as possible. Put your coat over it or something.’

‘Actually, it looks like a case.’

‘All the better.’

Jos wondered on his way to fetch the transmitter if he should hide it. Would he stand out carrying an unfamiliar case? He could wrap it in his jumper or coat. No, that would attract attention. He would carry it, hoping nobody would be interested enough to stop him. To his frustration, he passed Fr. Muller and two of his staff in the corridor. They were deep in conversation and did not notice him until he was abreast of them. He saw out of the corner of his eye that Muller had stopped. He hurried on, hoping Muller would not call him back. At the corridor’s end, he turned and glanced around. Muller was lingering with his eyes on him.

‘I passed Fr. Muller in the corridor,’ he said after arriving at Fr. Albers’s office. ‘He stopped and turned, but I carried on.’

‘I wouldn’t worry. If he asks you about it, say you had brought something back from New Guinea for me. Nothing unusual about a case.’

‘As it happens,’ said Jos, ‘I did bring a few carvings for you.’

‘There you go. Thanks, lad. You can fetch them later.’ He closed the door, opened it again, glanced up and down the corridor, then shut it. ‘Now, let’s get that thing operating. It will be needed. The Germans are ready to pounce.’

Jos explained the workings of the transmitter and gave a quick demonstration by contacting London. London acknowledged without delay, and Jos shut it down. Fr. Albers made detailed notes. Jos then ran through a covert agent’s procedures, emphasizing the need to keep the contact via the transmitter as short as possible and keep on the move. The Germans would have mobile detection units. It would be fatal to make careless mistakes. He stressed the grave warnings he had received during his London training, not that he gave any detail of his London briefing, and Fr. Albers was wise enough to know he should not inquire.

‘Because I must keep on the move, I can’t work from the seminary. It would be disastrous if the Nazis locked onto this place.’

‘I understand. What do you suggest?’

‘We’re in a rural area, which I am used to. I propose reconnoitering the area to find suitable places. Is there a way I can do this without arousing the interest of the seminary population or the farm people?’

Fr. Albers walked to the window overlooking the front gardens and the fields beyond. He gazed into the distance over the flat landscape with its lines of poplars, where his mind seemed to become lost. Jos had the impression his thoughts had passed to another matter.

‘For a start,’ said Albers, turning abruptly, ‘you can go for walks in the neighborhood.’ He came back to his desk and contemplated the transmitter. ‘That’s normal recreation for us, as you know,’ he continued, looking up. ‘The distance you cover is limited, of course. But there are other options. Some farms supply us with produce. You could be one of our contacts with them. We also have relations with the outlying parishes for whom we sometimes supply a priest for Mass. That will take you even further afield. So, I suggest you start a walking routine. I will arrange contact with the farms and the parishes.’

Jos was happy with the arrangements. Without taking a breath, the superior general outlined Jos’s program for the next week. First, he was to spend time in the library thinking about his doctoral thesis and checking what research material was available.

‘Have you got any ideas?’

‘Unless you have a research area in mind. I thought I might investigate the epistemological development in David Hume’s, Immanuel Kant’s, and Georg Hegel’s theories and assess how they made up for the perceived deficiencies in the realism of Christian Aristotelianism.’

‘You have thought about it, I see.’

‘The issues of the Enlightenment’s theory of knowledge, or rather various theories of knowledge, have always fascinated me. It is a coincidence you have asked me to give a course on the subject.’

‘Perhaps not such a coincidence,’ said Albers, opening his hands and smiling. ‘You were under my supervision for eight years.’ He paused as if to emphasize its significance. ‘Now, good, that’s settled. I want you to draw up a preliminary reading program and submit it to me by the end of the week. I will inform Fr. Muller of my directions.’ That was the signal the meeting had ended. Fr. Albers’s mind appeared to have already shifted elsewhere. The distracted look returned.

‘I would like to put the transmitter in an accessible place on the ground floor so I don’t draw attention to it,’ said Jos, rising and closing the lid of the case.

Fr. Albers’s mind was brought back.

‘Yes, of course, let me think about it. Leave it here for the night. I will inform you tomorrow.’

The following morning, after breakfast, Jos repaired to the library to check the availability of the texts. Only one copy of the texts on which he would lecture was available. He would have to arrange equal access. He made a rough plan for a two-semester course, covering two of the four philosophers in each. At ten o’clock, he made his way to Fr. Muller’s office. Muller was busy with Van Rossem and had him stand in the corridor for around fifteen minutes. When Van Rossem emerged, he scowled at him.

‘I hope you have a clear idea of what you will teach in a course imposed without notice.’

‘Yes, Dr van Rossem,’ said Jos, ‘the course fits my abiding interest in epistemology—’

‘Yes, yes, of course, I remember. You don’t have to tell me.’ Van Rossem waved his hand. ‘Make sure an outline is with me by the end of the week.’ He walked off, still scowling.

Muller spent the next half-hour drilling Jos about the course he had sketched. He listened and perused Jos’s jottings, expressionless.

‘Very good, young man,’ he said, to Jos’s surprise. ‘I want you to know I support this course. It’s about time our students had some notion of Hegel’s dialectics. Your program is fine, but I want you to re-organize it, emphasizing Hegel’s thought. You can cover Descartes’, Hume’s, and Kant’s main arguments in the first semester and devote the second semester to Hegel, referring to the three when required. I trust you can do that?’

‘Yes, of course, Father,’ said Jos, pleased with the suggestion. He had intended to focus on Hegel and his dialectic in his thesis. ‘The clarity of Descartes’ and Hume’s arguments lends them to summary. Kant is more difficult, particularly the “Transcendental Deduction,” but I will do my best to convey the thrust of his ideas.’

‘I’m impressed, young Jos,’ said Muller, leaning back, ‘but you were always a committed student, especially in philosophy. I wonder that you had the time in the missions.’

‘I caught the philosophical bug when I read St Augustine’s Confessions. That great saint’s preoccupation with the nature of truth. It’s in my mind no matter what I’m doing.’

Muller’s lips broke into a small smile, and he nodded. After lunch, Jos sought his trusted friend.

‘Do you want to walk?’ he whispered, sidling up to Bart and dodging the pushing junior seminarians as they emerged from the refectory. ‘We have an hour before classes.’ So, they set off down the main drive, intending to take the path along a narrow waterway toward the nearest village. It had been one of their favorite walks in the neighborhood before ordination.

‘How did you go?’ said Bart before Jos could speak.

‘Van Rossem behaved as if I was still his student. Muller was a little better, surprisingly affable after his terse manner yesterday.’

‘Hmmm,’ was all Bart could say as he turned to Jos. The irony was written over his face.

‘I have an agreement on the course’s form,’ said Jos, leaving questions about Bart’s penchant for irony for later. ‘I have to align my course with your classes on realist metaphysics. I suggest we discuss it lesson by lesson.’

‘Great idea. We’ll need to sit somewhere quiet.’

‘On Saturday morning, in the library, after I have submitted my final program to Muller and have it passed by Van Rossem. We shouldn’t be disturbed. With Muller’s unexpected support for the semester on Hegel’s dialectics, we can be quite open about it.’

‘Why unexpected?’

It was the question Jos was hoping for.

‘Hegel’s thought, to be blunt, is totally incompatible with the realist theory of being and knowledge that supports Catholic doctrine. One would have thought the senior lecturer in philosophy would show more reserve. The idea that doctrine undergoes a dialectical development from age to age is seductive, wouldn’t you think?’

‘To those whose minds are hyperactive?’

‘Anyone in mind?’


‘You’re either quick or suspicious,’ said Jos. It did not matter that Bart was onto him. His question took him where he wanted.

‘Quick, I prefer. Hans de Jonge is the boy. It seems to me he would eat up a semester on Hegelian dialectics, as you describe it. And, yes, Muller has been encouraging him.’ Bart stopped and took Jos by the arm. They were about to cross a little wooden bridge over the waterway. The low-hanging branches of a massive oak tree sheltered them. ‘We were good friends during our training, weren’t we, Jos? We were completely honest about our vocation and hopes for the future.’

‘Yes, we were, Bart. I always valued your support.’

‘Let’s be honest. There is a hint of purpose in what you’re doing and whatever Dr. Albers has organized for you. Maybe others don’t notice. But I know you well. And the change in the superior general’s behavior seems to be connected. What’s it about? You can trust me.’

‘Come on. Let’s keep walking,’ said Jos. ‘I don’t want to attract attention.’

They crossed the bridge and continued along the path toward the village whose church spire rose above the gray slate roofs.

‘There is something, but I can’t tell you. At least, I can’t tell you more than you’ve latched onto. I have a task to carry out.’

Bart was silent until they reached the first line of the village houses.

‘Let me summarize what I have noticed,’ he said as they stopped to turn back toward the seminary. ‘You turn up unannounced to take up doctoral studies and give lessons in philosophy. The superior general has personally organized it all, apparently without consulting the seminary rector and head of the philosophy department, both of whom seem put out. You’ve constructed a course analyzing ideas incompatible with Church teaching but with the apparent purpose of counteracting those ideas.’

‘Is it all so obvious?’

‘No, I would say not to most. Nobody else seems to see anything out of the ordinary. Most know about your academic ability and interests. Nobody is surprised you are taking up doctoral studies. And most know of the antagonisms Van Rossem arouses. People are too busy to notice, anyhow. Finally, Dr. Albers’s behavior over the last year has sometimes been odd.’

‘He seems distracted as if his mind is not quite with you when talking, as if he has other things on his mind.’

‘You don’t know what it is?’ said Bart.

‘No, not with any clarity.’

‘But you can confirm the rest.’

‘Cleverly maneuvered,’ said Jos. ‘Yes, I can confirm your conclusion, but I don’t want to say more.’

They walked on in silence until they reached the front gates of the seminary.

‘Let me repeat,’ said Bart, ‘you can trust me—absolutely. I won’t pressure you and will act with discretion.’

‘I appreciate that. If I can or need to tell you more, I will.’

‘I have a feeling you will—I mean, need to tell me more. There’s evil abroad.’

In the following weeks, Jos put the plans into operation. He settled on a course program, submitted it to Van Rossem and Muller for approval, and conferred with Bart about a series of philosophical counterpoints. Bart could not have been more pleased with the intellectual challenge. Strangely, Fr. Albers, who had been so insistent about supervising the course, remained at arm’s length. He did not mention the course until two weeks later and then only asked about it in general terms and with his mind not entirely with his questions. He still had that distracted manner about him. Arranging Jos’s contact with the farms and the outlying parishes seemed a prior interest.

‘I want you to cycle to these farms and introduce yourself,’ he said, handing him a note in the staff common room. ‘This liaison is your particular job while you are with us. You need to keep up some pastoral activity. Any questions?’

With a furtive glance around him, Jos took the note, surprised that Fr. Albers was so open about it.

‘No, Father.’

‘Good. On Sunday, you will say Mass at Steenhoop, a little village about fifteen kilometers from here. You can take your bike. Make sure you leave early enough.’

Fr. Albers did not linger. Jos watched him go.

‘You’re having a busy time,’ said Bart, who had been speaking with Jos before the superior general intervened.

‘Fr. Albers does not want me to stay idle.’

‘Is that all?’

‘You weren’t going to pressure me.’ But before Bart could answer, ‘I’m going to organize bike rides for whoever among the juniors wants to join me. That’s a recreation option for them. It will be weekly. That’s also part of my pastoral duties. You can help supervise.’

‘Count me in. I need the exercise.’

Jos settled into a busy routine that no one interrupted or seemed interested in. Besides the bike rides and the trips to the farms and outlying parishes, he kept up a routine of walks after classes. Besides Bart, seminarians and staff from the junior seminary joined him, all of whom enjoyed the exercise and the fellowship. He took a map on which he made marks and notes. On the bike rides, he was more particular about his notations. Again, no one seemed to think this was worth commenting about—except for Bart.

‘Are you going to tell me why you’re doing this?’ he said one afternoon. The group had kept up a solid pace, cycling north of the seminary along out-of-the-way routes and through small villages, covering around thirty kilometers with the Moerdijk Bridge over the Maas now insight. They had stopped in a small village square. Except for Jos, who added to his notes, the others sat or stood around, grateful for a breather.

‘I want to know where we’re going and where the most pleasant and interesting outings are.’

‘Is that all?’

‘What more could there be?’ said Jos, recognizing he had asked a silly question.

‘I can only speculate.’

‘Well, don’t waste your energy. We’ve got a lot of distance to cover before we return to the seminary.’ He gave an unobtrusive wink, which Bart understood.

‘Tell me the fruits of your speculation,’ said Jos the next day, Sunday, when he and Bart were strolling alone in the grounds after lunch.

‘You must trust me, Jos, if we pursue this conversation. Can you do that? There’s no point otherwise.’

‘I realize that. Come on, what have you made of everything?’

‘The purpose of the new course is clear enough,’ said Bart. ‘It’s to counter the uncritical slide in the philosophical department to incompatible theories and their insidious influence.’

‘I could hardly put it better,’ said Jos, thinking if he had drawn that conclusion, others might have too.

‘Nobody is discussing it openly,’ said Bart, as if he had read Jos’s thoughts. ‘The only talk is about the course itself, not about a hidden or not-so-hidden purpose. It’s something new and interesting. I think you’ll have inquiries from the senior seminarians. I’m thinking of Hans de Jonge and his little group.’

‘All right. Anything else?’

‘Your bike rides. We’ve been all around the district, east toward Tilburg, north to the Moerdijk Bridge, and west to Roosendaal. But not south. Why and what are all the notes for? You’re surely not making tourist notes. To be blunt, it looks like intelligence gathering.’

‘You’re not giving in to fantasy, are you?’ said Jos with a sharp look.

‘Come on, Jos. You can do better than that.’ Bart gave him a friendly nudge.

‘Yes, I suppose I could. If I have your absolute confidence, I’ll give you the full story, but before I do, you must consider that what I say might ultimately put you in danger of your life.’

‘That bad? Well, slap me with the unedited version,’ said Bart.

‘You must promise absolute secrecy.’

‘You’ve got it.’

Jos gave almost the unedited version, interrupted only by noises of different intonations issuing from Bart, who listened with head down as they walked between the vegetable gardens at the rear of the property. He only held back what exactly a covert agent did. That would come when Bart decided he was fully in.

‘I thought it might be some sort of intelligence activity,’ said Bart in awe. ‘But I could not have guessed how deep you were in it. So, the British are convinced the Germans will invade Holland?’

‘Not just the British. Our government thinks so, too—at least, some in our government.’

They walked back in silence to the main building, Fr. Bart to go to his next class and Jos to the library.

‘Think about it, Bart,’ said Jos as they reached the point where they would go their separate ways. ‘Involvement is fraught with danger.’

Bart turned to go to his class but stopped after a few paces.

‘I’m in,’ he called to Jos, who was already on his way to the library. Jos turned to signal his pleasure. At that moment, Muller walked by, also to go to the library. Muller glanced back at Bart.

‘Your course seems to have roused a lot of interest,’ he said as they entered the library. ‘It’s something new. It breaks the drudgery of the scholastic philosophy we’ve had drummed into us for so long. Well done.’

Jos sat at a library table holding a copy of David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, pondering Muller’s words. Was he to take Muller’s words at face value, that his course was interesting, a little intellectual food to balance the bland diet of realist philosophy with which they were sated? Or was there something more, something sinister, as Dr. Albers suspected? It suddenly occurred to him that the superior general might be off target in suspecting a Marxist influence. Perhaps Hegel’s dialectic, the idea of a constantly evolving truth, was the stronger influence.

He sought an interview with Fr. Albers, who for once seemed not to understand Jos’s distinction. Or he was too distracted to concentrate. He was brief in his assessment. Fr. Bart’s and his work in integrating their two courses were to his satisfaction. Fr. Jos was not to worry—just continue what he was doing. He kept a close eye on things, even though he might not look particularly engaged. The news Bart had become involved concerned him more. Jos said he could not avoid an explanation when Fr. Bart began asking questions. Besides, he needed a backup for the actual covert activity and operating the transmitter.

‘Yes, I understand,’ said Fr. Albers. ‘You and Fr. Timmermans were good friends. You could not have a more trusted backup. I assume he understands the dangers. Carry on, then. But I don’t want him talking to me about it. He must have contact only with you.’

‘Thank you, Father. I will make sure he knows.’

End of sample

Issues of manliness