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Iconization of Titus Brandsma

Kees Waaijman, O.Carm.,

Titus Brandsma was born in 1881 in Oegeklooster (Friesland, The Netherlands). In 1898 he entered the Carmelite Order at Boxmeer (Brabant). After his training for the priesthood and his study of philosophy and sociology in Rome, he taught philosophy at the Carmelite school in Oss (Brabant).

From the establishment of the Catholic University at Nijmegen in 1923, he served as its professor of philosophy and the history of mysticism. From 1935 on he was the spiritual advisor of the Roman Catholic Society of Journalists. In 1941 he made a round trip to visit the directors and chief editors of Catholic newspapers in The Netherlands to persuade them to refuse the advertisements of the Dutch Nazi Party (NSB) which the German occupation authorities forced them to place. This trip was viewed as an act of resistance. In 1942 Titus Brandsma was arrested and imprisoned (in Arnhem, Scheveningen, Amersfoort, and Kleve) and finally transported to the concentration camp in Dachau. On July 26, 1942, he died there as a result of a lethal injection. Although the historical facts concerning Titus Brandsma are in large part well-established and witnesses are still alive today who knew him personally, the iconization around him is already highly diverse.

Hero of the resistance and martyr

In the last years of the war (1942-1945) and the early post-war years, Titus Brandsma was primarily viewed as a hero of the resistance.[1] This image was established by his writings from prison: My cell, the Daily Schedule of a Prisoner, and Final Piece. His biographer, H.W.F. Aukes, in the first edition of his biography (1947), also highlights the last year of Titus’s life.


Titus Brandsma’s resistance culminated in his round trip to the offices of the Catholic daily press in 1941. This made him a fighter for the freedom of the press and freedom of speech, an aspect that was strongly profiled by José Alzin in his biography: That Dangerous Little Monk.[2] The same occurs in the brochures of Houle and Shortis.[3] Most outspoken is the biography of Vallaine, A Journalist-Martyr: Father Titus Brandsma.[4] On the occasion of his beatification this image of the martyred journalist was the focus of much attention. During the beatification a painted design for a stained-glass window by Martini hung in the ‘gallery of Bernini’, on which Brandsma is depicted with a goose feather in his right hand. In the homily of John Paul II, too, the journalist was highlighted:

Pater Titus’s heart could not remain indifferent to the many brothers working outside of academic institutions, who might also feel the need for a word of clarification. To them he became a journalist.[5] 

The Union of Catholic Journalists (UCSI) held a press conference: “In Titus Brandsma we find a symbol and model of a reliable and meaningful approach to our profession”.[6]


Church and Culture

Within the framework of the Catholic emancipation movement, Titus Brandsma was intensely interested in the affairs of Church and culture. He took initiatives on behalf of the Organization of Catholic Education, was one of the founders of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, devoted himself to the cause of the Catholic press, exerted himself for the preservation of Frisian culture, was involved in ecumenical action vis-à-vis the Christian East, sympathized with the peace movement and the protection of animals. This activity was not purely institutional. Culture, for Brandsma, was

a dialogue concerning the problems of people, listening to and differentiating between the phenomena which touch the masses, attention to art and the environment, the restoration of folk traditions and popular piety that is despised by intellectuals, the defence of minorities and oppressed cultures (those of Friesland, Armenia, and the Jews), positive appreciation for the mass media as a new vehicle for Christian values, the elementary importance of Christian education and of missionary activities.[7] 


The Frisian

His ardent advocacy of the Frisian cause was linked, in Brandsma’s case, with his origins. It is not surprising, therefore, that Frisians view Titus Brandsma as an “intrepid example of Frisian fidelity and rectitude.”[8] The pope supported their view:

The moral strength which the blessed Titus Brandsma exhibited in his many and varied activities, and in the end in his way of the cross and death, was definitely inherent in his nature, his Frisian character, marked as it was by this firm adherence to principle, loyalty, soundness, and honesty.[9]


The mystical dimension

In his rewritten biography of 1961, Aukes shifts the emphasis to Titus Brandsma’s experience of God. Beginning in the decade of the sixties we see this shift to the spiritual dimension of his life in several publications.[10] On the basis of various testimonies people have prominently featured[11] the image of Titus Brandsma as “a mystic positioned squarely in the fullness of life”.[12] His writings, too, prove to be inwardly conditioned by this mystical dimension.[13] The symposium which the Titus Brandsma Institute conducted on the occasion of Titus’s beatification in 1985, bore the title: Titus Brandsma and mysticism.[14] Otger Steggink sees more than a professor in Titus Brandsma:

His studies and teaching in spirituality and mysticism, like those in the branches of philosophy, all bore the marks of his personal spiritual experience. (…) Therefore we who are gathered here today wish to view his professoriate in the light of his spiritual and mystical personality, since in the person of Titus Brandsma, the academic cannot be separated from the mystic.[15]


The saint

One who reads through the loose-leaf folder with prayer intentions[16] in the Titus Brandsma Memorial Chapel in Nijmegen is struck by the immense confidence people have in Titus Brandsma. His help is invoked in connection with illness and serious operations, family problems, and a long journey, crises in relationships and before examinations, for work and for peace. The confidence to which this devotion attests discloses in Titus Brandsma a saint who lived a life that was spontaneously good: Titus at ‘the community centre for Social Assistance’; Titus in search of a scholarship for a needy student; seeking employment for a graduate; arguing for the appointment of a female classics teacher at a training school for priests; concerning himself with the fate of the widow of a musician; Titus in search of a home for an Armenian refugee without parents. The image of a saint is further substantiated by the testimonies of colleagues: ‘he was cordially and universally loved by the families of colleagues’ (Rogier); someone who ‘gave much because he loved much’ (Van Ginneken); a person ‘who displayed an almost interminable range of activity for the common good’ (Sassen). His fellow brothers too testify to a goodness that sprang from a disinterested compassion for the other,[17] a disinterestedness which simply continued in prison.[18]

Kees Waaijman, O.Carm., is the author of Spirituality, Forms-Foundations-Methods. This article can be found on p. 614-617. Produced here with permission of the author.


[1]     L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog 5. ‘s Gravenhage 1961, 109-116.

[2]     J. Alzin, Ce petit moine dangereux. Paris 1954.

[3]     A. House, Titus Brandsma. Martyr. Aylesford 1958; J. Shortis, Father Brandsma. Carmelite, Educator, Journalist, Nazivictim. Melbourne 1956.

[4]     F. Vallaine, Un giornalista martire. Padre Tito Brandsma. Milano 1985.

[5]     Cited in J. Hemels, ‘Perswetenschappelijke visies van Titus Brandsma’ in: Titus Brandsma herdacht, (ed. C. Struyker Boudier). Nijmegen 1985, 132.

[6]     The Beatification of Father Titus Brandsma, Carmelite, (ed. R. Valabek). Rome 1986, 19.

[7]     B. Secondin, Culture for Man. ibid., 111.

[8]     K. Kasteel, Titus Brandsma. An Intrepid Example of Frisian Fidelity and Rectitude. ibid., 26-29.

[9]     K. Kasteel, November 3: Beatification of Fr. Titus Brandsma. ibid., 68.

[10]    See esp. J. Melsen, ‘Mystiek als levensdoel: Titus Brandsma’, in: Carmel 17 (1965), 157-173.

[11]    Thus Regout in the Album amicorum Titi Brandsma (1939), in the Titus Brandsma archive of the Nederlands Carmelitaans Instituut (NCI) at Boxmeer.

[12]    See O. Steggink, ‘Titus Brandsma herdacht en herzien’, in: Titus Brandsma herzien—herdacht—herschreven, (ed. C. Struyker Boudie). Baarn 1993, 36-38.

[13]    Titus Brandsma, mystiek leven. Een bloemlezing, (ed. B. Borchert). Nijmegen 1985.

[14]    Titus Brandsma en de mystiek (symposium report at the Titus Brandsma Institute). Nijmegen 1985.

[15]    O. Steggink, ‘Titus Brandsma: meer dan hoogleraar’, in: Titus Brandsma herdacht, (ed. C. Struyker Boudier). Nijmegen 1985, 107-108, 126.

[16]    Many folders are filled with them. They are stored in the NCI at Boxmeer.

[17]    See A. Staring, ‘Love of Neighbour’, in: Essays on Titus Brandsma. 156-160.

[18]    Ibid., 161-165.


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

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