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Beatification of Madame Acarie

“While in France the power and the unity of the Church are outraged by so many and so odious enterprises and the truly paternal heart of the Sovereign Pontiff Pius VI is affected with the keenest pain, this same kingdom provides it with a a consoling object in the person of the Venerable Servant of God Marie of the Incarnation… presenting to her lost compatriots the example of her virtues, they will be able to come back from their errors. We are therefore allowed to hope from the goodness of God that, proposing to the faithful to render public worship to Mary of the Incarnation, the French, to honor her with dignity, will imitate her virtues and that the fruit they will reap from it. will consist in that the patriotic charity of this Servant of God will make the true religion bloom again in France.”Beatification decree (1791)

A new mission for Mary of the Incarnation : Her beatification in 1791

Père Gerard PELLETIER. Faculty of Notre Dame, Cathedral School of Paris


On March 10, 1791, in the Brief Quod aliquantum, Pope Pius V1 declared that the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, a new organisation of the Church in France approved by the Constituent National AssemblyPour l’histoire religieuse de la Révolution française en général : Cousin Bernard, Cubells Monique et Moulinas René, La pique et la croix. Histoire religieuse de la Révolution française, Paris, Le Centurion, 1989 ; Latreille André, L’église catholique et la Révolution française, Paris, Hachette, 1946-1950, 2 vol. ; Leflon Jean, La crise révolutionnaire (1789-1846), Histoire de l’Église depuis les origines jusqu’à nos jours XX, Paris, Bloud et Gay, 1949 ; Plongeron Bernard (dir.), Histoire du Christianisme vol. 10 : Les défis de la modernité (1750-1840), Paris, Desclée, 1997. Pour les textes de Quod aliquantum et de Charitas : Droits de l’Église et droits de l’homme, le bref Quod aliquantum et autres textes traduits et annotés par Jean Chaunu, Paris, Criterion, 1989. was heretical and schismatic. The aim of reforming the Church, which had now been put into practice by the State, was clearly rejected by the Holy See, whose intention it was that the spiritual domain should remain free of any control by the temporal power. On April 13, the Brief Charitas spelled out the consequences in Canon Law of the first consecrations of Constitutional Bishops. It declared that the latter were suspended from holding any office and under the threat of solemn excommunication.
On April 24 in the same year, on Easter Sunday, Pius V1 assembled the Curia in the Sistine Chapel to announce the forthcoming beatification of the French Carmelite, Mary of the Incarnation. A beatification under such circumstances inevitably made both the believer and the historian ask themselves what these events could mean, and what could be the connection between the various historical elements which are familiar to us; a woman who was at the centre of the Catholic Reformation at the beginning of the seventeenth century was being raised to the altars and proposed as a model at the close of the century of the Enlightenment, just at the beginning of a revolution which would prove to be a time of bloodshed for the church and particularly for the Carmelite order. Now, the task of re-examining events and analysing their spiritual significance turns out to be more rewarding than one would expect.

1. The eventful story of a cause.

Why should a beatification be carried out in 1791 ? One must answer this question first of all by simply going back to the historical facts of her cause and its chronology. The work of the historian in this regard is made easier because of a manuscript edited by the last Postulator, Abbé Denis Nicolas Imbert de Chatenois, L’historique de la cause de la Bienheureuse Marie de l’Incarnation, a manuscript preserved in the archives of the CarmelLe manuscrit porte sur la dernière page « achevé d’écrire le 2 octobre 1791 ». Il faudrait mener une critique textuelle du document pour déterminer si le postulateur peut à lui seul en être l’auteur, sachant qu’il est régulièrement question de lui à la troisième personne. Quelqu’un tenait-il une chronique au Carmel ? Nous tenons à préciser que notre étude repose sur ce document, nous n’avons pas à ce jour mener d’investigations dans les archives romaines et parisiennes.. Sister Mary of the Incarnation, Barbe Acarie, née Avrillot, entered Amiens Carmel in February 1614Pour la vie de Marie de l’Incarnation : la première vie est du père André Duval, La vie admirable de sœur Marie de l’Incarnation… Paris, 1621 ; Broglie Emmanuel de, « Acarie (Barbe) », in Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie Ecclésiastique, tome I, 1912, p. 254-259 ; Bremond Henri, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France ; tome II, L’invasion mystique, Paris, Bloud et Gay, 1916 ; Broglie Emmanuel de, La bienheureuse Marie de l’Incarnation ; Me. Acarie, Paris, V. Lecoffre, 1927 ; P. Bruno de Jésus-Marie, La belle Acarie, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1942 ; Dajens Jean, Bérulle et les origines de la restauration catholique (1575-1611), Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1952 ; Marduel M., Me Acarie et le Carmel français, Paris, X. Mappus, 1963 ; Sr Marie-Thérèse de Saint-Joseph, « Marie de l’Incarnation », in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, tome X, p. 486-487. Pour l’histoire du Carmel de Pontoise : Rigal Marcel, Le Carmel de Pontoise, Lisieux, L’Étoile d’or, 1960 ; Mellot Jean-Dominique, Histoire du Carmel de Pontoise, tome I, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1994 (désormais cité HCP)., after she became a widow. She joined the community in Pontoise on December 7, 1616. On April 18, 1618, Père André Duval gave her the Last Sacraments a few moments before she died. “She was in Heaven before she had time to think of it”, said Mother Agnes of JesusHCP, p. 89.. One thing is certain; they already called her “The Saint of Pontoise”. The chronicles of the Carmel state :

“Whilst everyone in the house was in tears, good Monsieur Souvoye, the parish priest of Saint Maclou had us sing… in our church, one Alleluia after another. It was… marvellous that almost in an instant our church was full of people, who had not been forewarned in any way; they were praising God and saying to each other, “The Saint is dead! The Saint is dead!” The crowd which came to see her exposed body was so great that if the grille had not been as strong as it was it would have been broken to pieces”HCP, p. 90..

The witnesses noticed in particular the deceased woman’s beauty, “like that of a twenty-five year old”, whereas she had undergone much suffering. The spontaneous cultus of the crowd was reinforced by a significant number of miracles, by a wonderful fragrance which rose from her tomb at the time when the miracles were performed, and by the fact that André Duval immediately wrote a life of Mary of the Incarnation, which was published in 1621. He calculated that up to then, there had been no less than twenty-three cures. An idea of the extent of her cultus is given by the following statistics, which speak for themselves; from April 18th to July 3 1625,(less than three months) 1566 Masses were offered and there were 167 group pilgrimages.

So her cause was opened in 1622, at the request of Pierre Acarie, one of the sons of the deceased, who had become a priest in the Diocese of Rouen, of which Pontoise was a dependency. The enquiry in genere auctoritate ordinaria, that is, the enquiry at the diocesan level, lasted from 1622 to 1629. Marie de Medici and Bérulle then began the process in Rome, in auctoritate apostolica. Pope Urban VIII BarberiniRenoux Christian, « Urbain VIII », in Dictionnaire Historique de la Papauté, sous la direction de Philippe Levillain, Paris, Fayard, 1994, p. 1683-1687, formerly Nuncio in Paris (1604-1607) had known Madame Acarie personally; it looked as if everything was going to proceed very quickly. The process concerning the heroicity of her virtues began in 1630 and the depositions of 193 witnesses were received. A list of thirty-six selected miracles was drawn up.

But Urban VIII had decided to tidy up the procedures for canonisation, and the first measure adopted under the decree of July 5 1634 was the necessity of waiting fifty years after a person’s death before opening a cause, and any public cultus was categorically forbidden. No exception was made for Mary of the Incarnation; the process was blocked until at least 1668, and the candles which burned unceasingly around her mausoleum had to be removed. Now began a saga worthy of a detective series. The trunk containing the five volumes of the diocesan enquiry went missing in Lyon, and was not rediscovered until 1656. It was not deposited with the Congregation of Rites until 1664, then it was filed in error with the “positios” (collections of documents) of the Diocese of Paris. One cannot fail to be aware that the cause had been entrusted to some of the Oratorians who were at that time in the parish of St. Louis of the French in Rome. The Jansenist Quarrel, in which the Oratory was implicated, cannot have helped the cause along. The aforementioned facts show that the file on her cause was dormant for a very long time.

How could it be revived? It needed a French Princess to do it, a Princess who became a Carmelite. She was Madame Louise, the daughter of Louis XV, who became Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, elected Prioress of the Carmel of Saint-DenisHCP, p. 209 sv. Sur Thérèse de Saint-Augustin, voir Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Paris, 1991, p. 664-666 (Jean-Paul Besse) ; Hours B, Madame Louise, princesse au Carmel, Paris, 1987.. In view of the decline in religious fervour and the Jansenist Quarrel, she deemed it necessary to bring Madame Acarie’s example to public attention once more. In 1778, she had a new biography published, written by the Abbé de Montis. She entrusted the file on her cause to the Lazarist Fathers and made use of her contacts at Court to gain the interest of the Royal Ambassador to the Pope, Cardinal de BernisNé le 22 mai 1715, mort à Rome le 3 novembre 1794, créé cardinal par Clément XIII le 2 octobre 1758. Ministre de Louis XV, puis archevêque d’Albi en 1764, il se rend à Rome pour le conclave élisant Clément XIV en 1769. Il y reste en qualité d’ambassadeur du roi de France auprès du pape. Masson Frédéric, Le cardinal de Bernis depuis son ministère, 1758-1794, Paris, 1884 ; Vicchi Leone, Les Français à Rome sous la Convention, Fusignano, 1892 ; Vaillot René, Le cardinal de Bernis, la vie extraordinaire d’un honnête homme, Paris, 1985.. He was responsible for the appointment of one of the most prestigious members of Pius VI’s Curia as Relator of the Cause; this was Cardinal York, Henry, Duke of YorkNé le 6 mars 1725, mort le 13 juillet 1807. Fils de Jacques III, il est créé cardinal le 31 Juillet 1747, évêque de Frascatti en 1761. De Camillis M., in Enciclopedia Cattolica, tome XI, 1953, p. 1434 ; Bindeli P., Enrico Stuart, Cardinale Duco di York, Frascatti, 1982., the last of the Stuarts. It was in 1781, then, that the file on the cause was finally rediscovered in the Archives of the Congregation, just when Pontoise had sent back a copy of the five volumes [of the diocesan enquiry]. Sixteen letters requesting her beatification were sent to the Pope who in a remarkable gesture, replied to them personally. Louise XVI was involved in the whole affair. The decree reopening the cause was dated January 7, 1784. From May to September there was a local enquiry to establish the absence of a cultus. Mary of the Incarnation took advantage of this opportunity by working one of her most outstanding miracles. Mademoiselle Francoise Genevieve Philippe, born in 1761, was an invalid, subject to chronic bouts of vomiting. She had been brought to Pontoise in order to die there. She was invited to join in a novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with prayers to the candidate for beatification. During the Mass on July 16, she jumped up to go to Communion, when everyone thought she was about to breathe her last. We shall meet this person again later on.

For the time being, let us return to Rome. The Congregation of Rites, by the unanimous vote of the Cardinals on October 15 1788 agreed on the heroicity of her virtues. On January 4, 1791, three miracles (those of 1622, 1624 and 1625) were officially selected. Pius VI ratified them on April 10, 1791. The decree of the Prefect of the Congregation authorising the beatification was dated April 24, 1791, Easter Sunday; the Pontifical Decree was dated May 24 and the beatification ceremony was celebrated on Sunday, June 5. On the left of the Choir in St. Peter’s Basilica a platform was reserved for the official visitors, Marie-Adelaide and Marie-Thérèse VictoireNées en 1732 et 1733. Elles arrivent à Rome le 16 avril 1791 et sont logées à l’ambassade de France par le cardinal de Bernis, qui leur abandonne un étage entier. Honneur exceptionnel, quelques jours après la réception au Vatican, le pape se déplace pour leur rendre visite à leur domicile, et les combler de cadeaux., the two aunts of King Louise XVI, in other words, the eldest sister of Madame Louise who had passed away in the interim, on December 23, 1787. They had come to Rome, not to celebrate this spiritual event, but because a revolution had obliged them to flee in fear from their own country. Pius VI and Cardinal de Bernis had welcomed them with a pomp which matched their opposition to the Revolution in France and their desire to see the old order re-established.

The coincidence of the conclusion of a French cause in Rome and the events in Paris are reasons for a close reading of the decree of April 24 and the Papal brief of May 24. The life of the new Beata was re-examined and given a new meaning which it is important to elucidate.

2. The Papal briefs of beatification and the situation of the Church in France

At this point in my lecture, it would be helpful to give a short sketch of a man and his views of the Church over which he presided. Gianangelo BraschiCaffiero Marina, « Pie VI », in Dictionnaire Historique de la Papauté, sous la direction de Philippe Levillain, Paris, Fayard, 1994, p. 1330-1334. Les deux dernières biographies de ce pape sont : Gendry Jules, Pie VI, sa vie, son pontificat, 1717-1799, Paris, 1907 ; Pastor Ludwig von, Storia dei Papi, vol. XVI/3, Rome, 1934. who was born on December 25, 1717, became Pope in February 1775, following a conclave which lasted over four months, and which was marked by divisions within the Sacred College following the suppression of the Society of JesusLe bref Dominus ac Redemptor supprime purement et simplement la Compagnie de Jésus le 21 juillet 1773, Clément XIV cédant aux pressions des souverains catholiques d’Europe. by Pope Clement XIVBoutry Philippe, « Clément XIV », in Dictionnaire Historique de la Papauté, sous la direction de Philippe Levillain, Paris, Fayard, 1994, p. 394-397.. Braschi became Pope thanks to Cardinal de Bernis, who drew the attention of the Cardinals to this man, former Treasurer of the Apostolic Camera, who had weathered the aforementioned crisis without anyone knowing his honest opinion if it; he was consequently able to satisfy both parties, the Crown Cardinals who were under the sway of the Bourbons and hostile to the Jesuits, and the “Zelanti”, defenders of the independence of the Church. Braschi chose the name Pius in honour of St. Pius V, and from his first encyclical at Christmas 1775 (Jubilee Year) onwards, he lambasted the philosophy of the Enlightenment which he saw to his horror, being propagated in the Church. The theological direction of his pontificate would clearly be towards the reinforcement of the primacy of Papal jurisdiction in the Church, and rescuing this primacy from the discredit into which it had fallen. But he would constantly come up against the claims of enlightened despots. The Emperor Joseph II was reforming the Church in his territories, closing down monasteries of contemplatives and training the clergy in seminaries that had Jansenist tendencies. Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany supported the Bishop of Pistoia, Scipio de Ricci, during a reformist diocesan synod in 1786Sur ce synode de Pistoie, voir Carreyre Jean, « Pistoie (synode de) », in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. XII/2, Paris, 1935, p. 2134-2230 ; Lamioni Claudio, Il sinodo di Pistoia del 1786, Rome, 1991, Stella Pietro, Il giansenismo in Italia, vol. II/1, Rome, 1995 ; pour la réédition des actes : Stella Pietro, Atti e decreti del concilio diocesano di Pistoia dell’anno 1786, Florence, 1986, 2 vol..
The Archbishop Electors of the Rhineland region were in opposition to the creation of a nunciature in Munich. In addition, Tsarina Catherine the Great reorganised the Catholic Church in Russia and protected the Jesuits, imposing her will on the Pope. As far as the Holy See was concerned, Louis XVI was the most peaceable of the European sovereigns, having nothing more to do than to settle the matter of the “Cardinal’s Necklace”.

So he was a Pope suffering from much humiliation and opposition in connection with the French Revolution. As early as March 1790Discours Communicamus vobiscum en consistoire du 29 mars 1790, en Guillon Nicolas Sylvestre, Collection des Brefs et instructions de N.S.P. le pape Pie VI, Paris, Leclere, 1798, vol. I, p. 2-13., Pius VI had warned Louis XVI of the danger of the reforms being proposed in the Gallican Church. Religious vows had already been abolished in civil law, and the Church’s possessions put at the disposal of the State. The text of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy had been sent to Rome by the King so that the Church could validate in Canon Law certain aspects of the reform, such as the new boundaries of dioceses and metropolitan Sees, the appointment of Bishops and parish priests by election, the suppression of chapters and their replacement by an Episcopal council and the extension of bishops’ faculties to the detriment of the Roman court. Pius VI would have liked to have spoken out sooner, but de Bernis dissuaded him and now especially, with the way events were turning out and with the unbridled pace of the reform, before speaking openly the Pope wanted to know the positions being taken by the Gallican bishops, who usually kept their distance from Rome. Hence the period of delay from summer 1790 to March 1791 ; Pius VI knew that only four Bishops had sworn allegiance to the new constitution when he declared his condemnation of it in the brief Quod aliquantum.

The two texts to be studied were drawn up, then, in a particular context, the condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The life of Madame Acarie was subject to a fresh examination in the light of these events. The decree of Cardinal Archinto begins in this way :

“Whereas in France the power and the unity of the Church suffer the outrages of such diverse and such odious enterprises, and whereas the truly paternal Heart of the Sovereign Pontiff Pius VI is on this account afflicted by the most profound grief, the aforesaid Kingdom provides him with an object of consolation in the person of the Venerable Servant of God, Mary of the Incarnation.”

Several themes are clearly apparent.
First of all, there is the resistance to the Protestant heresy. It was in no way a question of Monsieur Acarie’s membership of the League and his exile by Henri IV. But at the time when the Church in France was once again divided by a schism and a heresy in which the involvement of Protestants and Jansenists was implied, the virtues of Mary of the Incarnation were held up for imitation. “The Servant of God made every effort to eradicate heresy completely”.
One of the consequences of this activity was the fact that she strove to make priests better prepared to combat heresy; in this connection one cannot avoid thinking of the French clergy, divided between jurors and non-jurors.

“She spared neither her efforts not her money to secure Priests and worthy Ministers of Jesus Christ who would labour for the return to the Bosom of the Church of those who had unhappily separated themselves from it and to affirm thereafter by sound teaching those who returned to their senses”.

A return to their senses; that was what was expected of the clergy who had taken the Oath. The Papal Briefs did not omit a summons to return to the hierarchical unity of the Church. And when in an emergency the Papal States had to give shelter to more than three thousand priests driven from their homeland, Rome took care that they received “sound teaching”, making a breach in Gallican traditionsPicheloup René, Les ecclésiastiques français émigrés ou déportés dans l’État pontifical, 1792-1800, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-Le mirail, série A, tome 15, 1972..

These priests were stripped of their possessions and deprived of their liberty. They had no possibility of providing the faithful with church services in all their splendour. Chapters were suppressed, depriving cathedrals and collegiate churches of the Divine Office. Now, Blessed Mary was concerned for the beauty of the liturgy : “If our altars were in need of furnishings, or more costly furnishings had to be provided for the Holy Sacrifice, she busied her own hands with it, or the hands of Christian ladies who busied themselves with it on her recommendation”.
Religious vows were no longer recognised in law, which suppressed the religious orders, especially the contemplative ones. Madame Acarie did everything she could to establish St. Teresa’s reform in France, conscious of the necessity of this restoration of the contemplative life in the wake of the unfortunate events of the Protestant schism.

“Mary of the Incarnation always had a great esteem for the authority which God has given to His Church. She had a heartfelt desire to obey it in every way, even as regards the establishments and customs which seemed to her the least important. She respected the Bishops as if they were angels from Heaven. Above all, her faith caused her to regard the Sovereign Pontiff as the One in whom power and the degree of elevation were most eminent, hence she never pronounced his name without demonstrating particular respect, and in this way everything which proceeded from the visible head of the Church was received on her part with joy and contentment.”

Finally, and most importantly – Mary of the Incarnation showed profound respect for the Bishops and the Pope.
There was a method of issuing a summons to the priests, about half of whom had taken the civil oath, to renew their obedience to their bishops, and a summons to the bishops to remain united with the Holy Father. (This was not a foregone conclusion) This was the brief Quod aliquantum issued in Paris a month after it was published, when the committee of Bishops assembled in the capital was still discussing liberties for the Gallican Church. Remember the fact that on May 3, Pius VI’s effigy would be burned by the revolutionaries in the gardens of the Palais Royal, an act leading to the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Paris and Rome. The conclusion of the decree is forceful :

“And therefore, it is indubitable that the Servant of God, perceiving from the heights of Heaven that in France, her native land, Church discipline has been subverted on every level, that Church government is in thrall to the civil power as if in a form of slavery, that the sacred rights of the episcopacy are bound in chains, that the pastors are driven from their sees, that the Supreme authority of the Holy See and its jurisdiction are at the present time alien to this Kingdom, where they are no longer recognised ; we declare that there is no doubt that the Venerable can only look with indignation on this disorder, and the overthrow of the entire religious and ecclesiastical economy; and that by presenting to her compatriots who have gone astray the example of her virtues they will be able to return to the right path. We can therefore, permit ourselves to hope that through the goodness of God, as we propose to the faithful that they should offer a public cultus to Mary of the Incarnation, the people of France, in order to give her worthy honour, will imitate her virtues, and that the fruit that they will harvest will consist in this, that the patriotic charity of this Servant of God will cause the true Religion to flourish in France once more”.

As often happens in these circumstances, the Papal Brief of May 24 is less explicit about the various examples of Blessed Mary’s virtues, but the tone of it remains the same in this respect. She combated the Calvinist heresy and served the cause of the Catholic Religion. The Brief mentions in passing the humility of Mary of the Incarnation, who did not want to be anything other than a simple lay sister in the monastery which she had founded, and which was for a time, under the government of her own daughterAu carmel d’Amiens, Marie de l’Incarnation eut pour sous-prieure sa fille Marie (sœur Marie de Jésus) durant moins d’un an. La prieure était également une ancienne fille spirituelle, sœur Anne du Saint-Sacrement, qui d’ailleurs lui mena la vie dure, provoquant sans doute le transfert vers Pontoise. HCP, p. 78.. The remark is all the more important, because there are very few reflections on spiritual attitudes in the Papal letters of Pius VI, if one does not count “submission to the decrees of Divine Providence”, (which is completely beyond our understanding) It seems that the Holy Father is calling everyone to be obedient to the Church, insubordination and a libertarian spirit being evils propagated by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. From the time of his 1775 encyclical, Pius VI recommended that Bishops should pay attention to the formation of the clergy, to the beauty of the liturgy and to the repudiation of the philosophy of unbelievers.

“And having enveloped themselves in this darkness, and having torn out all religious feeling from their hearts, these perverse philosophers then undertook to break all the bonds which unite men with each other and with their sovereigns, and which keep them within the bounds of duty. They weary the ears of the people with their cry that man is born free, and they maintain that one must not recognise anyone’s authority, that civil society is in consequence nothing but a collection of imbeciles, prostrating themselves in their stupidity before Priests who deceive them, and Kings who oppress them, so that the union of priesthood and empire is one dreadful conspiracy against liberty, (the natural endowment of all men), who does not see that all these ravings, and all similar things wrapped in a thousand artifices, become ever more prejudicial to public repose and tranquillity, in the measure that the punishment due to these acts of impiety is postponed, and that the souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ are subject to ever more serious prejudice in the measure that the pernicious discourses of these men cause havoc on a wider and wider scale, and they gain entry to the public Academies, to the homes of the Great, to the courts of Kings, and, something one can only mention with horror, even to the Sanctuary itselfLettre encyclique Inscrutabile divinae sapientiae, du 25 décembre 1775, § 7. Traduction du cardinal de Bernis. Archives du ministère des Affaires Étrangères, correspondance politique, Rome, reg. 874, P. 381-396..”

To the preliminary examination of the texts on this level should be added a second examination concerning the spiritual history of the Carmelite Order in France and its place in the French Revolution through the martyrdom of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne.

3. Re-Reading History

A fresh examination of the spiritual history of the Carmelite Order cannot fail to deepen the significance of the connection between Pius VI’s religious policy and the beatification of Mary of the Incarnation.
First of all, Pius VI was firm in his efforts to oppose Jansenism. The pamphlets against “the sect” were numerous during the Revolutionary years, and the major theological work of the Curia at that time was, through the work of three special congregations in succession, to prepare the condemnation of the Synod of Pistoia by means of an Apostolic Constitution. This was published on August 28, 1794, with the title Auctorem Fidei. Now it is remarkable to see the extent to which the Carmel of St. Joseph spearheaded the moves to protect the Order from this religious trend during the eighteenth century. In 1728 the Confessor of the Carmel had been changed because of fears of Jansenist influence. Monsignor Louis Bernard de la Taste, the Father Visitor of the Carmels in France had great desire to rid several of the Carmels of Jansenist elements; these included the Carmels of Saint-Denis, the Incarnation in Paris and Troyes. He did this by bringing in Carmelites from PontoiseHCP, p. 188 sv.. It was in a Carmel purged of undesirable elements that Madame Louise would make her profession.

The second element was the work of the Commission on the Regular Orders in France. Faced with the crisis of confidence in religious life and the poor spiritual state of many convents, the Commission, under the leadership of Monsignor Loménie de BrienneNé en 1727, créé cardinal le 15 décembre 1788, mort le 6 février 1794. Lors de la Révolution, il est archevêque de Sens et prête le serment civique, ce qui lui vaut d’être « décardinalisé » par Pie VI. Sur la commission des réguliers, voir Chevallier Pierre, Loménie de Brienne et l’ordre monastique (1766-1789), Paris, 1960, 2 vol. (one of the bishops who would take the oath) closed almost four hundred and thirty religious houses between 1766 and 1784 and dissolved several religious orders. Now through the quality of its vocations, its lack of any connection with Jansenism, and through the work of Madame Louise, the Carmelite order weathered the crisis undaunted. On the eve of the Revolution it was certainly the Order which was in the best state spiritually. There was even a foundation made in Alencon in 1780. Vocations did not diminish at Pontoise, whereas the houses of the Jesuits and the Benedictine monks and sisters had been closed. There were thirty-five sisters in the community in 1790. Recruitment was easier from among the middle classes of {tooltipthe urban bourgeoisie}{end-text} HCP, p. 198.{end-tooltip}.
We ought to add to this that at the time of the closure of the Carmels in the Austrian Netherlands, because of the political stance of Joseph II, those Carmelites took refuge in French communities. From March 1783 to May 1790 and August 1791, nine sisters from Courtrai and Bruges were members of the Carmel of St. Joseph. The idea of being persecuted and the consequences of the reformist movement inspired by the Enlightenment and Jansenism were not then, on the eve of the Revolution, just vague notions, but already concrete realities of community life.

This could explain the clear-sightedness and the prophetic insight of the Carmelite Order in France. Madame Louise showed this clear-sightedness when she wrote to Pius VI in 1782 :

“The tempest which has ravaged part of the Carmelite Order (in the Emperor’s States) has caused widespread desolation. In the midst of our sorrow the certitude that we have, that the paternal heart of Your Holiness shares our affliction consoles and sustains us; but this consolation… would become infinitely more apparent to us if at this present moment it would please you to grant us a grace which we have been soliciting for more than a century, and which the whole of France has solicited and continues to do so in union with ourselves, that is, the canonisation of our venerable sister, Mary of the Incarnation… What a triumph (it would be) for us… if, whilst the world rejects us, the Pope were to propose for their veneration a second foundress (of the Order) and would show her to them wearing a crown in Heaven; in our withdrawal from the world, what strength and courage that crown, shining because of your efforts, would inspire! Should they allow the habit which they wear to be torn away from them, what a source of strength it would be for our poor sisters, to be able to pray to the one through whom, in a certain sense they possessed that habit !”Historique de la Cause, p. 158-159. Cité par HCP, p. 214-215.

“The habit to be torn away from them” ; that would soon be the fate of the Carmelites in France, for example, the ones expelled from Compiègne on September 14, 1792, and from Pontoise on September 30 in the same year. There was a prophetic element in the Carmel of Compiègne, in the story of Sister Elizabeth Baptist’s dream in 1693. She saw the community in Heaven, dressed in white and being invited to follow the Lamb “with the exception of two or three sisters”. This tradition from the Carmel of Compiègne was recalled by the sisters during recreation at Easter 1792 and it was written down in the monastic “Book of the Foundations”Père Bruno de Jésus-Marie, Le sang du Carmel, Paris, Cerf, 1992, p. 17 (désormais noté SC) ; Marie de l’Incarnation, La relation du martyre des seize carmélites de Compiègne, les documents originaux inédits publiés par William BUSH, Paris, Cerf, 1993, p. 9 et 33 sv (désormais noté RM)..

Speaking of the Carmel of Compiègne, we cannot improve on the schemes of Providence. The person called the “historian of the Carmelites of Compiègne”, Sister Josephine Mary of the Incarnation was none other than Mademoiselle Philippe, the subject of the miracle on July 16, 1784. Two years after her cure, drawn interiorly to thank the Lord by her consecration in the religious life, she entered the Carmel of Compiègne where she made her final vows on July 22, 1788Pour sa biographie, voir SC, p. 217-243 et RM, p. 9-63.. She could have been arrested with the other sisters of she had not been detained in Paris regulating the matter of a pension. The community at Compiègne was formed from the generation who were the spiritual daughters of Madame Louise, under the direction of Mother Teresa of St. Augustine Ledoine, who had taken Madame Louise’s name in religion. It is not stretching a point to connect the Carmels of Pontoise and Compiègne in this way, but it takes us back to the primary vocation of Carmel, in the sense of a vocation to be a martyr and to offer oneself to God for the reestablishment of religion, a vocation sought by St. Teresa of Avila and consciously undertaken by the Carmels in France following the Teresian reform. At that time it was a question of combating the Protestant Reformation which had devastated the religious houses. Now it was a question of a response to the Enlightenment and to Jansenism. Madame Philippe tells how, after her cure, she was subjected to overtures from the zealous supporters of the Bishop of YpresSC, p. 228.. Given this spiritual background one can understand one the one hand the cult of the Sacred Heart which was propagated in CarmelSC, p. 36sv., and particularly in Compiègne, by Queen Marie Leszczynska who had introduced it from Poland, (the religious of Compiègne would be accused by Fouquier-Tinville of having links with the Vendeens on account of the pictures of the Sacred Heart found in their monasteries) and on the other hand, the act of consecration made by the Sisters at Compiègne from 1792 until the time of death. At every Mass they offered themselves as a holocaust for the end of the suffering in FranceSC, p. 27sv..

It is when one reaches this level of a more spiritual understanding of events that the real significance, (that is God’s hand at work) of the links between the Revolution and the beatification of Mary of the Incarnation becomes apparent. A chance combination of historical circumstance, resulted in the Carmelites of Compiègne, not the Carmelites of Pontoise, being arrested and guillotined. But Madame Acarie’s reform bore fruits of this kind by way of the reform undertaken by Madame Louise. The primary intuition of St. Teresa of Avila regarding the martyrdom of oblation (which would be perfectly understood and put into practice by St. Thérèse of Lisieux) results here in a concrete realisation within the horrors of our national history. One cannot fail to remark that ten days after the martyrdoms of the Sisters of Compiègne, Robespierre fell from power and the Reign of Terror ended. In Rome, Pius VI heard about the martyrs in France; he even ordered the Vicar General of the Diocese of Digne in Exile, Abbè Pierre d’Hesmivy d’Auribeau , to draft a preliminary inventory of the testimoniesMémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la persécution française, Rome, Salvioni, 1794-1795, 2 vol. .
Historians note the Pope’s acquiescence in 1693 ; after the martyredoms in September and the death of Louis XVI, he became increasingly silent, continuing to affirm his prerogatives, but not responding to the numerous questions posed by the French clergy concerning the succession of oaths demanded by the Republic. 1794 was the year of the publication of Auctorem Fidei, the final doctrinal condemnation of Jansenism.
It seems that, after that, the Sovereign Pontiff let history take its course, limiting the circle of his confidants (de Bernis had died in the interim). He was an out-of-touch spectator of General Bonaparte’s campaign in Italy, and the occupation of Rome by General Berthier in 1798.
He accepted with bitterness, yet with confidence in God the trials of his exile in Siena, then in Florence, then the experience of a last journey to Valence in France, where he died on August 29, 1795. The expression “The Martyr of Valence” sometimes applied to Pius VI by royalist historians in the following centuryPar exemple, Granel Armand, Le martyr de Valence, Toulouse, Privat, 1919. does not refer to a judgement by the Church but rather to the spiritual journey of the man who was truly a temporal sovereign in his own time, and also a Sovereign Pontiff who tried to make the Church shake off a spiritual inertia which was too great a danger.

In this history of coincidences, let us emphasise once more that the constitution Auctorem Fidei would not be translated into French and published in France until 1850. It was the work of Monsignor Clément Villecourt, the Bishop of La Rochelle who, when he was Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Sens and Superior of the Carmel in that town, had collected together the depositions of Sister Josephine Mary of the Incarnation (Madame Philippe) so preparing the dossier for the opening of the cause of beatification of the Martyrs of CompiègneSur Monseigneur Villecourt : Boutry Philippe, « Autour d’un bicentenaire, la bulle Auctorem fidei (18 août 1794) et sa traduction française (1850) par le futur cardinal Clément Villecourt », in Mélanges de l’Ecole française de Rome, Italie et Méditerranée 106 (1994), p. 205-216.. Opposition to Jansenism, resistance to the spirit of the Revolution, and contemplative life are linked once more in the person of this nineteenth-century prelate. There is yet another coincidence. In order to finance the completion of the cause in the Roman Court, Mary of the Incarnation’s Postulator could not expect to receive subsidies from France in 1791. Pius VI therefore allowed him to draw on the funds devoted to the cause of Benedict, Joseph Labré, the saintly man of the road, the vagabond pilgrim who died in Rome on April 16, 1783, in the odour of sanctity, immediately becoming the focus of a popular cultus. In her Carmel at Saint-Denis, Madame Louise had a picture of Labré. The Roman Zelanti had soon taken control of this new popular devotion by opening the cause with all haste, emphasising the aspect of resistance to the century of Enlightenment as exemplified in the life of this poor beggar-man. He was, in this way a great saint of the Counter-RevolutionHilaire Yves-Marie (dir.), Benoît Labre, errance et sainteté, histoire d’un culte 1783-1983, Paris, 1984 ; Caffiero Marina, « Una santità controrivoluzionaria ? Il caso di Benedetto Giuseppe Labre » in La Rivoluzione nello Stato della Chiesa, 1789-1799, a cura di L. Fiorani, p. 329-351 ; Caffiero Marina, « Le modèle de l’ermite pèlerin : le cas Benoît Labre » in Rendre ses vœux, les identités pèlerines dans l’Europe moderne (16ème -18ème siècles), Paris, 2000, p. 315-335..


The eventful story of Mary of the Incarnation’s cause did not end completely with her beatification. We must follow up what happened to her body. At the start, the repercussions of the ceremony in Rome on the local community were inevitably limited. In spite of the sympathies of the population, the Carmel of St. Joseph was subject to the inconvenience of inventories being taken and the threat that the Sisters would be dispersed. On January 5, 1791, the Mayor of Pontoise, accompanied by eight officers and a clerk of the court, came to the Carmel to question each of the Sisters about her intentions; every one of them declared her desire to continue life in communityHCP, p. 239 sv.. The Confessor of the Carmel, Jacques Robert Amiot, showed his resistance. The Sisters did not host the constitutional priest’s Corpus Christi procession in 1791 and they were harassed as a consequence. So there was no question of a solemn public celebration of the beatification. According to “L’Historique de la cause” “Fanaticism and irreligion”HCP, p. 330. made them abandon the idea of posting up the decrees sent from Rome. The Carmelites tried to circulate a little brochureBéatification de madame Acarie dite en religion sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, converse et fondatrice de l’Ordre des carmélites de France, par N.S.P. le pape Pie VI…, Paris, Crapart, 1791, 50p., which was seized and banned by the Town Council. It is only necessary to look at the comments in the Papal Briefs in order to understand the counter-revolutionary implications of the brochure. 1792 was the year when fresh inventories were taken and the Sisters were expelled on September 30; but before that, Mother Mary Catherine had taken precautions to protect the former Royalist Mayor, Jacques de Monthiers Seigneur de NucourtVoir le récit du transfert en HCP, p. 257-259.. With the agreement of the community, on the night of September 21-22, Mary of the Incarnation’s body was taken to a neighbour’s house. On the morning of September 23, after another discreet transfer between neighbouring houses, a trunk was loaded onto a coach. Alas! The horses bolted and overturned the coach at the town gate causing a crowd of three hundred people to gather. A certain Mademoiselle Desneux, who had just been to pray at Blessed Mary’s tomb, was moved interiorly to declare that she knew the owner of the trunk, and she had it taken to her house. (Seigneur de Nucourt was very careful not to intervene publicly) . Jacques de Monthiers was able to collect the precious trunk later on and place it in the chapel of his chateau, where it would remain until 1822. It was then, and only then, that Pontoise would hold a spectacular celebration in honour of its Saint, coinciding with the return of the Carmelites to the centre of the town.

Having come to the end of such an account, it is fitting to give thanks for the fidelity of the Carmelite Order and its central involvement in the history of France. It is a fidelity to the silent prayer, grounded in humility, which, according to St. Teresa of Avila, gives God total freedom to act; a fidelity which can lead to one literally giving one’s life. One is inclined to marvel at the individual destinies of these men and women who perished during the Revolution. They were born as subjects of a Most Christian King, in a Catholic country which was the Eldest Daughter of the Church. They died in Paris and elsewhere, a religious revival having come at precisely the right moment to prepare them for the supreme act of witness.

A question subsequently occurs regarding the subtle interaction (perhaps still too much of a mystery) between the spirituality of Carmel, the spirituality of the “French School” and that of Jansenism and its opponents. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century we see the appearance and disappearance of schools of spirituality and spiritual movements, centred on mystics devoted to the Incarnation, to the Sacred Humanity of Christ and later to the Sacred Heart. At the close of the century of the Enlightenment, Mary of the Incarnation was able to remind her Sisters that a commitment to prayer is a deep and realistic involvement in the life of the world, even in the midst of dramatic historical events. This is a vocation which is permanently relevant throughout the ages.