In 1601, Madame Acarie had the works of St. Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) read to her. These had been published in three volumes: The life of Mother Teresa of Jesus, Foundress, Treatise on the Castle or the Dwelling-places of the soul,and The Way of perfection
This last-mentioned work, written, like the others, between 1562 and 1577, deplores, in no uncertain terms, the effect on France of the Wars of Religion and the acts of violence committed by Protestants. Madame Acarie was all the more sensitive to these issues because the Edict of Nantes, granting toleration to heretics, had come into force in France in 1598. As a consequence, she came to the conclusion that the only safe way forward lay in prayer.
After experiencing two visions of Mother Teresa, who requested that she should bring her Order to France, Madame Acarie, with the consent of her spiritual directors and with the help of all her friends (especially the future St. Francis de Sales, the Duchess of Longueville, M. de Berulle and all the regular visitors to her salon), devoted her best efforts to making the establishment of a reformed Carmelite monastery in Paris a reality; this came to pass on October 18, 1604.
Madame Acarie "reads" Teresa of Avila
Four hundred years agoThe story of the Introduction of the Reformed Carmelite Order into France
Lecture by Christian RENOUX, Senior Lecturer, University of Orleans.
The introduction into France of the Carmelite nuns, who had undergone reform in Spain in 1562 and had been established in Italy in 1584, was for a long time a vain endeavour; but in July 1602, King Henri IV granted Letters Patent for the foundation of the first monastery in Paris.
A pious Parisian laywoman, Barbe Acarie (1566-1618), was at the origin of this successful enterprise. Several months previously, she had had read to her, in her mansion in the Rue des Jiofs, the French translation of the works of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). This encounter between the writings of the Spanish mystic and the expectations of this Parisian woman who experienced ecstasies, would result in one of the finest episodes in the history of the Carmelite Order and one of the most significant in the history of Catholicism in modern times. The episode is interesting because of its wide-ranging effects, the number and calibre of the individuals who had a part in it and because of its theological, political and international implications. The story of the venture is worth retelling. The details of it are still not widely known, and according to all the evidence, it was a collective enterprise.
In 1621, Père André Duval, who died in 1638 and who was Madame Acarie’s friend and first biographer, described the chain of events of which he was a witness, being one of the protagonists. His account begins in this way:
“Since in His eternal foreknowledge God had reserved the honour of establishing the Carmelite Order in France to Blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation […] it happened in this way. The books of the holy Mother Teresa […] which had been translated from Spanish into French by the reverend Père Dom du Chèvre, at that time Prior of the Charterhouse of Bourgfontaine, were on sale in Paris and were read by devout persons. Now, as these persons were frequent visitors to Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s house, and recommended them to her, she desired that some chapters of the books should be read to her“.
Père Duval does not say when this event took place, but the publication dates of the French edition of Teresa of Avila’s works allow us to date it more precisely. The three main works of the Spanish nun were printed in Paris by Guillaune de La Noue, at the sign of the Name of Jesus. This bookseller had secured sole rights of publication for the three works in December 22, 1600. The first to appear was La Vie de la Mère Therese de Iesus, Fondatrue des Religieuses et religieux Carmes deschausses et de la premiere regle, Nouvellement traduict d’espagnol en Francoys, par I. D.B.P. et L.P.C.D.B. (“The life of Mother Teresa of Jesus, Foundress of the discalced Nuns and Friars of the primitive rule. Newly translated from Spanish into French, by I.D.B.P. and L.P.C.D.B”). The date of printing was January 31, 1601. There followed the Traite du Chasteau ou les Demeures de l’âme (“Treatise of the Castle or the Dwellings of the soul”) and Le Chemin de Perfection (“The Way of perfection”) the printing dates of which were February 26, 1601, and March 28, 1601, respectively. The printer therefore issued a volume a month. The three works received a Joint imprimatur issued by Thomas Blanzy and L Dumont. They were printed with the same frontispiece, engraved by Karel van Mallery. It included, amongst other subjects, a depiction of the woman who was as yet known only as Mother Teresa of Jesus. The translator of the whole was Jean de Brétigny, the priest of Spanish origin who had also financed the printing, as he had already financed the first Spanish edition of the foundress’s works. He spent several months on the translation, assisted in part by Père du Chèvre.
There are several reasons leading one to believe that it was not long before Teresa of Avila’s works reached the Acarie household. First of all, in La vie du cardinal de Bérulle (“The life of Cardinal de Berulle”), published in 1646, Germain Habert de Cérisy states that “in the year sixteen hundred, a certain Saint Teresa, wishing us to share in her blessings, appeared to Mademoiselle Acarie, and gave her the task of working for the establishment of her Order in this Kingdom”. L’histoire generale du Carmel de Pontoise (“The general history of the Carmel of Pontoise”) also mentions this date in connection with that Carmel, “God […] granted that, in 1601, Madame Acarie should acquaint herself with the works of our Holy Mother Teresa, which had been newly translated and imported into France”. In 1800, J B Boucher selected the same date, ” In the year 1601 […] Divine Providence […] raised up Madame Acarie in an extraordinary manner, to be the foundress of the Carmelite Order in France”.
Secondly, the Acaries’ mansion had for several years been an important centre of spirituality in Paris, and new devotional works must have been brought there post-haste.
Lastly, Madame Acarie was personally acquainted with all the individuals involved in this publishing venture. Jean de Brétigny had in fact worked on the translation of the Spanish saint’s three treatises in Aumale, in the home of Abbé Jacques Gallemant, who in summer 1598 had invited him to his presbytery for that very purpose. Now their meeting at S. Gervais about 1597, Jacques Gallemant had been one of Madame Acarie’s spiritual directors; she had visited him with her husband, Pierre Acarie, in Aumale, in 1599; she had assuredly made the acquaintance of Jean de Brétigny on this occasion. In 1601, at Pierre Acarie’s invitation, Jacques Gallemant stayed for six weeks at their home in Paris in the Rue des Juifs, on the occasion of the Jubilee which was being celebrated that year. In addition, Père du Chèvre, who had collaborated in the translation by reading over the text produced by Jean de Brétigny, lived in the Charterhouse of Bourgfontaine in Picardy, where Pierre Acarie had been put under house arrest following the defeat of the League in Paris. Madame Acarie had gone there to meet her husband, and it was there that she undoubtedly made the acquaintance of Père du Chèvre. It is also highly probable that it was she who advised Jean de Brétigny, with Abbé Jacques Gallemant acting as intermediary, to approach the Carthusian, who she knew spoke Spanish, with a view to revising his translation. Lastly, Father Thomas Blanzy, one of the two doctors of theology who sanctioned the French edition of Teresa of Avila’s three works, had taught Madame Acarie’s eldest son at the College de Calvy in the Sorbonne. He was also for a time the confessor of Madame Acarie’s daughters, one of whom, Marguerite made her First Communion in 1601, just at the time of the Jubilee.
Madame Acarie was also aware both of the existence of Teresa of Avila and of her work of reform within the Carmelite Order. She knew that, as early as 1585, Jean de Brétigny had wanted to bring the Teresian reform to France and that he had elaborated numerous projects for this purpose, all of which had ended in failure. During his most recent initiative, in co-operation with M. Gallemant, he had submitted his latest idea to a group of theologians in Paris; this was to transform a group of Dominican tertiaries from Aumale into Carmelites. According to one of the biographers, this “assembly [of theologians] consisted of M. André Duval, Doctor at the Sorbonne, M de Bérulle, Chaplain to the King and later Cardinal, M. Gallemant, who came in person to state his case, Dom Beaucousin, Superior of the Carthusians in Paris and Père Archange, Guardian of the Capuchins in Rouen”. Now, these theologians were all members of what was known as the “Acarie circle”, beginning with Berulle, who was a relative of Madame Acarie. Madame Acarie would in consequence have inevitably been aware of this meeting. It is difficult to date it precisely, but it took place before the events, which concern us here, possibly at the very beginning of 1601.
The project drawn up by Père Gallemant and Père Brétigny had hardly been to the liking of the said theologians. They noted in particular that “those who wished to establish this reform ought to possess its true spirit, and that the education of young girls was in no way a suitable activity for this institute, which was entirely devoted to contemplation”, and they added “in order to undertake something of this importance, a special revelation is necessary”. Duval informed Jean de Brétigny of their opinion, saying that “The Will of God must be made manifest in a particular way when it is a question of new institutions, and that this characteristic was not sufficiently prominent in the institution which he desired to establish”. Jean de Brétigny was not “of the same mind, because he did not think it necessary to wait for revelations”. He defended his position in a letter addressed to M. Duval. From his point of view, in order to take the decision to make a foundation “it was unnecessary to have recourse to supernatural means, which could be subject to illusion; but that the sure rule of conduct was to consider if the project was good in itself, in conformity with the practice of the Church, approved by learned and pious men and lastly, something which would serve for the glory of God”. He concluded, “I go on persevering in the desires that God has inspired in me, but without wishing Him to make use of miracles, in order to compel men to comply with my wishes”. The opposition between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” ways of discerning the will of God is expressed here with remarkable clarity.
We ought also to note that in 1601 Madame Acarie had an active role, alongside Père Gallemant and Père Brétigny, in the reform of the Norman abbey of Montivilliers, and in 1601-1602, in co-operation with Père Gallemant, Père Beaucousin (her confessor) and M. Gaultier, chief lawyer of the Supreme Council, in reforming the Order of Fontevrault.
It was especially through the reading of Teresa of Avila’s works in French, in spring 1601, that Madame Acarie was able to discover the thought and spirituality of the Spanish reformer for herself, and no long through hearsay. According to Pere Duval, who is insistent on the fact, the devout Parisian woman reacted to the reading in two ways. She remained unmoved, to begin with: “She listened attentively to the readings. She was not particularly attracted to them at first, and was astonished that the Holy Mother had been able to found such a great Order in the Church”. This “coolness and distaste” astonished the onlookers, says Duval, “seeing that she always fell into rapture at the least word of God or of Holy Scripture, no matter what it might be”. It was for this reason, it must be added, that she did not read the books herself but had them read to her.
Madame Acarie regretted this initial reaction until her dying day and blamed herself for having experienced such distaste with regard to works which would soon become her source of reference. The beatification of Teresa of Avila in 1614 seems to have redoubled the regrets of the woman who had in the meantime become Sister Mary of the Incarnation. Several Carmelites testified at the canonisation process that she took what seemed excessive care in decorating the chapel of Amiens Carmel during the celebrations in honour of the beatification of the Carmelite foundress.
As a good theologian, Père Duval also had a clear realisation of this difficulty when he came to write Barbe Acarie’s life, and he tried, more or less convincingly, to give a spiritual explanation for this initial distaste. “It was doubtless the Evil One, who, foreseeing what would subsequently take place, caused her this distaste and lack of enthusiasm.” It is a judicious hypothesis, but it presupposes that on this occasion Madame Acarie had been utterly misled by the Devil; this is uncomplimentary, especially when one is trying to secure someone’s canonisation. This is certainly the reason for the same Père Duval’s omission of this episode from his deposition (which was written in Latin) during the canonisation process in 1630. “We were recently given the admirable life and works of Blessed Teresa. The reading of them wonderfully attracted Mary; she admired above all the strength and virtues of the virgin who had been able to raise up such a remarkable Order from its beginnings to its completion”. In this second revised and corrected account Madame Acarie’s initial reaction is the complete opposite of that in the 1621 account. Distaste has given way to attraction and amazed disbelief to admiration.
In a letter included after his death in the documents of the same canonisation process, Père Coton (d. 1626) who was a Jesuit and Madame Acarie’s confessor, gives another explanation for the peculiarity of her first reaction. “She experienced some difficulty on account of the visions and revelations described in Teresa of Avila’s life; she had a great aversion to them […] because she observed that the majority of the people of the time who were taken up with spirituality were involved in Satanic deception and illusion”. Père Coton is almost certainly alluding here to Nicole Tavernier, the mystic of Rheims, whose bogus spirituality had been unmasked by Madame Acarie several years previously, and perhaps also to Marthe Brossier, whose possession by the devil had engaged the attention of the “Acarie circle” in 1599.
This distaste for visions would also have been inculcated into Madame Acarie by the many persons in religion with whom she had dealings who were defenders of “abstract mysticism”. This abstract school, under the inspiration of the Masters of Rhineland and Flemish mysticism, laid down that the soul should not dwell on concepts or images (including here concepts and images of the humanity of Christ) in its journey towards union with God. The numerous accounts of visions of Christ which are to be found in Teresa of Avila’s autobiography were calculated to repel the followers of this school of spirituality. The reading of the “Traicte du Chasteau on Demeures de l’ame” which was published in the following month, would have a broadly similar effect on Madame Acarie’s feelings, because Teresa of Avila had conceived the work as a treatise on contemplative prayer and the most advanced mystical states.
The “Way of Perfection”, on the other hand, the last of the books to appear, at the end of March 1601, had a different tone from the two preceding works and contained elements to which Madame Acarie could not remain indifferent, for this work begins by restating the direct causes of the reform of Carmel, in the first chapter: “The reason I founded this monastery with such strict observance”. In the translation of 1601 we read: “When I began to take the first steps toward founding this monastery … news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused and how much this miserable sect was growing. The news distressed me greatly". Teresa of Avila goes on to explain how she, “a woman, and wretched”, was unable to see what she could do to extinguish the fire of heresy, unless it was to help, through prayer, the learned men and preachers who were defending the Catholic Church. It seemed to her that, in order to do this, it was necessary to gather together true friends of Jesus, who would follow the evangelical counsels to perfection. (Chapter 1)
These pages, written between 1565-1573 were capable of arousing Madame Acarie’s interest. Having been born in 1566, she had grown up during the Wars of Religion. Not without emotion did she discover that the Spanish nun had, from the commencement of hostilities shared the anxiety, indignation and struggles of the French Catholics in their opposition to the Protestants, whom she oddly calls “Lutherans” and whom she strikingly describes in the first chapter as being infected with a “contagious, scabby sore”. They have “won punishment with their own hands” and “they … have easily earned eternal fire with their pleasures”. And Madame Acarie clearly recognised her own feelings in Teresa of Avila’s final words, “That’s their worry!” Teresa’s emotion vividly remembered in the Carmels of France, is apparent in the opening sentences of the Chronique de l’Ordre des Carmelites (“Chronicle of the Carmelite Order”) the record of the Order in France which was drawn up by the nuns at the end of the eighteenth century :
“One cannot read the admirable writings of St. Teresa without being struck by the ardent zeal for the salvation of France which inflamed her soul. The deplorable state to which that Kingdom had been reduced during the lifetime of this great Saint, by the excesses of the heretics, caused her to weep tears in torrents; consequently she had no other purpose, in establishing the first monastery of her reform in Avila, than to make reparation in some way for the sacrilegious attacks upon the Divine Majesty carried out by the supporters of Luther and Calvin. The Seraphic Mother explains herself […] in the first chapter of her book on the Way of perfection”.
This one description of the dangers of Protestantism in the 1560’s was not itself sufficient to spur Madame Acarie to action, because in 1601 civil war and massacres were no longer taking place. She had had to accept the military and political defeat of the Parisian branch of the League in 1594. Moreover, the Acarie family had paid dearly for this defeat, through the exile of Pierre Acarie – the “Lackey of the League” – to Bourgfontaine, then to Luzarches and Ivry. In addition in 1598, she had to accept, against her will, life under the terms of the Edict of Nantes, which gave legitimacy to a statute which she considered was far too favourable to the Protestant cause; Jean Baptiste Truchot remembered this at the time of the canonisation process: “I can testify to the pain that she felt when she considered that heresy was tolerated in France, and that pensions were given to those who preached and taught this pernicious doctrine. The mere thought of this was intolerable to her. On several occasions she displayed the aversion she had for these kinds of people”. Under these conditions, the ability of the Teresian reform to assist the struggle against heresy in France would appear to be somewhat inadequate, and Madame Acarie could say to herself in no uncertain terms that all the ecstasies and visions that were recorded in the life of Sister Teresa had been completely useless as a means of helping Catholics in France and extinguishing the fires of heresy.
Nevertheless, we can reasonably suppose that Madame Acarie, contrary to what her biographers relate, must have had enough patience to listen to the reading from “The Way of perfection” as far as the third chapter. At this point the text, which was almost forty years old, seemed astonishingly relevant to the former supporter of the League. Here is how Teresa of Avila addresses her daughters : “To return to the main reason the Lord brought us together in this house … I want to speak of helping to remedy the great evils I have seen. Human forces are not sufficient to stop the spread of this fire caused by these heretics … evil that is making such progress”. Madame Acarie and her associates had recently had the bitter experience of the powerlessness of human forces to eradicate Protestantism from France. There was no need of a long debate to convince them of this. But Teresa of Avila’s words corresponded even more closely with the situation of the former members of the league : “It has seemed to me that what is necessary is a different approach, the approach of a lord when in time of war his land is overrun with enemies and he finds himself restricted on all sides”. Catholic France, the native land of the former members of the League, the country which they regarded as the domain of Jesus, their Lord, had been completely ravaged; their enemies continued to be extremely dangerous and far too powerful for their liking. Faced with this situation, the “Way of Perfection” proposed a solution, “The Lord … withdraws into a city that he has well fortified”. Using the classical metaphor of spiritual combat, Teresa of Avila was therefore proposing that the vanquished Catholics should build fortresses capable of resisting the attacks of their Protestant enemies. The captains of the fortresses would be the “preachers and theologians” who should be “very advanced in the way of the Lord”.
Above everything else, Teresa promised final victory or something close to it. “Those who are in the city, being chosen people, are such that they can do more by themselves … And often victory is won in this way. At least, even though victory is not won, these chosen people are not conquered. For since they have no traitor, they cannot be conquered – unless through starvation”.
Here was something to reassure the troubled Catholics of France. The role of the Carmelite nuns would be to sustain those under siege, and their Captain, with their prayer. “Let us strive to be the kind of persons whose prayers can be useful in helping those servants of God … You may perhaps ask why I am stressing this so much … Why have I said this? So that you understand, my Sisters, that what we must ask God is that in this little castle where there are already good Christians, not one of us will go over to the enemy”. She does not specify that the religious are at prayer in the very centre of the fortress, but this seems to be taken for granted.
The Carmelites’ search for perfection had therefore no other purpose than to wage spiritual warfare in a more perfect way; it was the only efficacious means of combat, since human means (especially military ones) had been useless. All the consequences of this change of perspective had to be spelt out so that Catholics would comply with them. “It is the ecclesiastical, not the secular arm” she says “that will save us”.
This discourse, addressed by a woman to other women, could not fail to touch Madame Acarie. Such a clear statement of the end and the means, such a correspondence between what she herself was experiencing and what the Spanish Carmelite, who had died twenty years previously, was talking about, could not fail to move her and to spur her to action. So “The way of perfection” revealed a new side of Teresa of Avila to Madame Acarie, one different from that of the nun who was simply a visionary and ecstatic.
It is possible to maintain, however, that this feeling did not obliterate that first negative impression, which remained strongly impressed in Madame Acarie’s mind, since she was a person in whom the various aspects of the mystical life were so well integrated. There was inevitably an interior conflict in this devout Parisian woman, between her reticence in the face of the mystical experiences which have such a key role in Teresa’s writings, and her attraction for the Teresian reform as a political and religious response to her expectations as the wife of a member of the League. She would be obliged to make a choice. One of Madame Acarie’s biographers, Père Marin, was aware of this conflict : “The prodigious number of ecstasies and raptures made her lose her taste [for Teresa of Avila] but this did not prevent her from retaining the impression and images of them in her memory, nor her spirit from being in wonder at them, and that wonder making her esteem them somewhat. This esteem, like a tiny spark, remained hidden in her heart”.
As in several other devotional biographies, the conflict was resolved by a mystical experience. In this instance, the outcome was the result of an apparition of Teresa of Avila, who proclaimed to Madame Acarie that it was the will of God that the Carmelite Order should be introduced into France. “While she was at prayer”, Père Duval records, “Holy Mother Teresa appeared to her in visible form, and told her that God willed that steps should be taken to found monasteries of her Order in France “. In 1631, Père Manrique added further details : “One day, when she was at prayer, she saw a venerable and aged Religious wearing a dark habit, but surrounded with rays of glory. She recognised her from her portraits and from the fact that she said to her, that as many monasteries as possible should be founded”. Père Coton gives an explanation of the nature of the “rays of glory” to which Père Manrique alludes, and shows how the vision was for Madame Acarie first and foremost a revelation of the true identity of the Spanish nun : “As she was going from her house to hear Mass in St. Anthony’s Chapel, all at once she seemed to see the glory which mirrored the perfections of Blessed Mother Teresa, and from that moment she paid great honour to that saint”. The “glory” of Teresa of Avila was the glory of the elect in Paradise, and it had been bestowed on her on account of her “perfections”. So this vision allowed Madame Acarie to discern the spirit and works of St. Teresa with accuracy. These were not deceptions of the Evil One but in truth the fruits of Divine action, and they received their recompense as such. Paradoxically, then, it was a vision of St. Teresa which reconciled Madame Acarie to Teresa of Avila’s visions! Her biographers are careful not to put too much emphasis on this. Père Duval notes only that the vision was revealed by Madame Acarie herself to her spiritual director, Père Beaucousin.
Having had a change of heart, it remained for Madame Acarie to convince the theologians in her circle; they alone could make a foundation possible. The rule was that mystical experiences, especially those of women, should be submitted to the judgement of their confessors. Madame Acarie complied and opened her heart concerning her vision to Père Beaucousin. “She could not refrain, no matter what repugnance she felt, from asking the good Father to consider the whole matter before God”. André Duval goes on to relate how Père Beaucousin, convinced that the matter in hand was indeed the will of God, decided to find the means to bring the project to fruition. So we have the “Acarie circle” taking action a second time, as they had done when Gallemant’s project was being assessed shortly before; but this time the theologians were meeting to assess a project of Barbe Acarie’s. In addition to Père Beaucousin, the meeting involved Bérulle, Duval and Gallemant. André Duval, all of Madame Acarie’s biographers and the first historians of the Carmelite Order in France say that Jean de Brétigny was also present.
Establishing the date of this meeting is not without its difficulties. We know only that it took place the day after Madame Acarie’s first vision and before a second vision, which we shall mention later; this occurred before March 1602; “Seven to eight months” must have elapsed between the first meeting and the second vision. This brings us at the very least to the beginning of summer 1601 (June or July). This date would fit in with the reading of St. Teresa’s works at the Acaries’, in the spring; “The Way of perfection” had been published at the end of March. We have no other means of dating these events at our disposal.
The response of the learned theologians assembled by Dom Beaucousin was negative. André Duval writes simply “When the affair was put before them, they discovered such great difficulties in its regard that they judged it impossible, and they told Blessed Mary to rid herself of the idea, at least until God had removed the great obstacles which were in existence following the Wars of Religion”. It appeared that calm had not yet been sufficiently restored in France; but the chief difficulty was that because of an affront to his ambassador in Madrid, King Henry IV had recently “forbidden his subjects to have any communication with Spanish nationals”. This prohibition, which was not lifted until August 3, 1601 and which concerned only commercial relations with Spain; was part of a wider scenario “a very tense international situation with a climate of cold war in existence between the Catholic powers”. In spite of the Peace of Vervins (1598), the Treaty of Lyons (January 1601) and the repeated efforts of Pope Clement VIII, France under Henri IV and Spain under Philip III remained on the defensive. Under these circumstances, any attempt to obtain Henri IV’s permission for Spanish nuns to come to France seemed doomed to failure, especially since the request came from the wife of a former member of the League.
But these political considerations were not the only arguments advanced by the theologians to justify their negative response to Madame Acarie’s request. In 1831, Père Ange Manrique stated that their theologians “concluded their deliberations in order to wait for God to manifest His will more clearly, praying that He would open the way to what he commanded, a way which at that time seemed firmly closed; if He did not do this, they would have reason to believe that the vision was not a vision but an illusion and a waste of their time”. This reservation and the fixed intention of judging a revelation by its outcome are constants in the discernment of spirits; this is just what the Bible teaches concerning prophecies, and what theologians have taught down the centuries. In 1642, Maurice Marin, who speaks elsewhere of “insurmountable difficulties” takes the same line in spiritual matters, but notes that the theologians were in agreement about the visions :
“They all remained in agreement that, although there was as yet nothing to fear with regard either to Blessed Mary or to the revelations, yet it must be constantly maintained that in matters of this nature, it is very dangerous to be too lenient, and there is no danger in reserving judgement […] for Divine Light, like that of the sun, does not appear all at once, but gradually, a ray at a time, and so as not to risk anything, it was necessary to wait for more light and for the One who had revealed His plan to reveal the ways and means to execute it”.
After this refusal, Barbe Acarie obeyed without recrimination, showing a certain detachment with regard to her vision : “She was not surprised at this refusal […] and she placed greater importance on the opinion of her directors than on her revelations; she remained at peace, and resolved to think no more about them”. This obedience is by far the most important criterion for the discernment of spirits. Submission of oneself to the judgement of confessors and theologians is evidence of submission to the will of God, which is ordinarily expressed through the mouthpiece of His ministers. Insubordination in this matter could have been evidence of presumption.
But this act of obedience gave rise to an interior conflict for Madame Acarie. She was torn between her desire to make a foundation thus obeying the message, which she believed she had received in her first vision, and the refusal of her spiritual advisers to allow her to put her desire into practice. As in the first instance, the conflict was resolved through a mystical experience. “Seven or eight months” later, André Duval tells us, “the Holy Mother appeared to her a second time, in a stronger and more powerful way than the first, and ordered her to put the project forward without delay, assuring her that in spite of all the difficulties which would be raised, she would be successful”. Opening her heart to her confessor once again, Madame Acarie secured a second meeting of the theologians. At first the group comprised André Duval, Dom Beaucousin and Pierre de Bérulle. It seemed that Dom Beaucousin asked Madame Acarie to come in person to state her case; at lease, this is what Pere Robert Duval wrote in his unpublished life of his uncle, André Duval. “Then Dom Beaucousin, the Superior of the Carthusians, was impelled by God to say “Let us leave human reasoning aside, and let us listen to the words of the Holy Spirit from the mouth of his humble and faithful servant, Mademoiselle Acarie!”. André Duval leads us to understand that unanimous agreement was not reached immediately. “After opinions from both sides had been expressed in that assembly, the matter was broadly settled.” This time the response was positive, because the theologians – all friends of Madame Acarie – “considered that she was led by the Spirit of God and concluded that the idea which she had put before them came from God, and that they should strive without delay or deferment to render it effective and useful, with the help of God; and that to this end their one thought should be to find ways of carrying it out”. Madame Acarie’s second vision was a fitting response to the theologians’ desire that God should show Himself more clearly; to have waited any longer would have been a sign of blameworthy curiosity and would have been putting God to the test in a dangerous manner. The political and religious situation seemed more favourable moreover than in summer 1601. Relations with Spain had in fact improved from January 1602 with the liberation of French prisoners in Madrid and the resumption of trade between the two countries. Once the decision had been taken, it only remained to find the means. Madame Acarie showed her consummate genius in this regard.
The date of the second meeting is not given, but we know from one of Madame Acarie’s letters, which was sent on March 19, 1602 to Jacques Gallemant and Jean de Brétigny, inviting them to join the group, that the decision to make a foundation had already been made at that date and made without the two priests from Normandy giving their opinions. One is aware, in the letter, of Madame Acarie’s desire to humour them, by inviting them to “come over to her house where it would be more convenient to tell them about the business of the Carmelites; then they would be able to hold talks with the other members of the group in a more acceptable way; she would be able to discover their opinions more easily and reveal her own to them with greater sincerity, as to persons whom she knew were called by God to bring the matter to its conclusion”.
We should also take note that the original group had been expanded to include a new member; he, too, had not been present at those first decisive meetings – He was Francis de Sales. He himself says in a letter to Pope Clement VII, “I was present at almost all the meetings regarding this subject”. It is not easy to discover when and how the auxiliary Bishop of Geneva had been brought into the group. He was in Paris from January 1602 onwards, settling the matter of the parishes in the Gex region which had become part of French territory as a result of the Treaty of Lyons (signed on January 17, 1601). Basking in the success of his recent mission in the Chablais, the young priest established numerous contacts with the Catholic communities in Paris. He rapidly gained a name for himself through his preaching and André Duval states that it was Dom Beaucousin who issued the invitation to “Monsieur de Sales, the Bishop of Geneva who was a highly-regarded preacher in Paris at the time”.
Francis de Sales gives another version of events, in a letter to Pope Clement VIII in November 1602: “Catherine d’Orleans, the Princess de Longueville, who was at that time proposing to found a monastery of nuns of the order of reformed Carmelites in Paris, caused me to join several theologians who were outstanding in piety and learning, so that I could give her my opinion and judgement on this matter”. The presentation of the facts in this way was no doubt a highly diplomatic gesture which gave the Pope to understand that the foundation was the wish of the Duchess of Longueville, “a princess distinguished by reason of the illustrious blood which courses through her veins and even more by reason of her love for Jesus Christ, whom she has chosen as her Spouse”, and not the wish of a simple Parisian laywoman. It is highly probable, however, that Francis de Sales did indeed represent the interests of the Duchess de Longueville at these meetings. As a bishop, he was the most important person in the group and the other members “chose him as their Director and spiritual Father; they revealed the most hidden recesses of their consciences to him and gained marvellous sweetness and light from his counsels and his direction”. It is certain that the most assiduous recipient of this direction was Madame Acarie. Francis de Sales wrote that he heard her confession “several times and almost as a matter of course during a period of six months”. Since we know that Frances de Sales left Paris at the beginning of September 1602, (because he was in Lyons on September 19), we can suppose that he joined the group in March 1602.
Now, in her letter of March 19, 1602, to Jacques Gallemant and Jean de Brétigny, Madame Acarie “brought to their attention the fact that Mademoiselle de Longueville would be the Foundress”. It seems that, as soon as he had been approached, Catherine d’Orleans had hoped to hear Francis de Sales’ opinion as to the importance and feasibility of the project, before making any kind of approach to the King or to Rome. The appearance on the scene of the Duchess de Longueville and Francis de Sales is a determining factor in the introduction of the Carmelite Order into France. Madame Acarie’s biographers relate how she managed to interest the Duchess de Longueville in her projected foundation. André Duval situates their meeting after the second apparition of Teresa of Avila and presents it as a miraculous occurrence. “It still remained that the Monastery should be founded by a person of quality, and God was pleased to provide such a person in a special and Miraculous fashion”. He relates how Madame Acarie was waiting for the Duchess de Longueville as she left church, in order to obtain money for her charitable undertakings; in December 1630, Marie de Tudert, the widow of Jean Séguier, who subsequently became a Carmelite in Paris, stated more precisely that the meeting took place at the door of the Church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, which was the church associated with the Palace of the Louvre. Madame Acarie, she tells us, was favoured with an interior voice enlightening her with regard to the role of the Duchess de Longueville: “At this juncture, a voice from Heaven said in her heart ’Refrain from speaking to the Princess about the needs of the poor people on whose behalf you have come, but speak to her about the foundation of the Monastery: it is she whom I have chosen to be the Foundress’. Madame Acarie obeyed the inspiration and the duchess accepted immediately; this good and virtuous Princess offered herself most willingly, and promised to use her influence with the King to make him agree” to the establishment of the Carmelite Order.
Seeking the help of the Princess de Longueville was a very astute move, for Catherine d’Orleans was an important person at Court. Through her mother, Marie de Bourbon-Saint-Pol (1539-1601) she was a cousin of Henri IV. A fervent Catholic, she was one of the intimates of Marie de Medici, who in mid-February 1602, “ordered her at short notice to find a preacher to preach the Lenten sermons, because the person who had been engaged to do this had suddenly been prevented from doing so”. Catherine d’Orleans fixed her choice on Monsignor Francis de Sales, with whom she had recently become acquainted.
The Lenten sermons given in the presence of the Queen at the Court in the Louvre led to sensational conversions of Protestants to the Catholic faith and to the preacher becoming a notability. He was even invited to come and preach before the King.
It was quite natural for the Princess de Longueville to think of him when she was seeking enlightenment from trustworthy people concerning the request made by Madame Acarie on the subject of Carmel, a request made at the end of February or the beginning of March.
The collaboration between the Duchess de Longueville and the “Acarie circle” is rather surprising; in effect, it brought together, only a few years after the end of the Wars of Religion, former members of the League and one of its most celebrated victims, for, as the sister of Henri I (1568-1595) de Longueville and Governor of Picardy, who had remained loyal to his cousin the King, Catherine d’Orleans had been held prisoner in Amiens with her mother, her sister-in-law and other members of her family. Her imprisonment had been very harsh, if the words of the Duc de Nevers are to be believed. It lasted more than three years, until their exchange on January 21, 1592, with Henri de Lorraine-Vaudemont (1570-1601), Comte de Chaligny and Mother of Queen Louise of Lorraine; he had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Aumale. Catherine d’Orleans, like her sister Marguerite, had given up the idea of marriage in order to devote herself to religion and works of charity. It was within the latter sphere of activity that, at the beginning of 1601, Madame Acarie had dealings with the Duchess on, it seems a fairly regular basis.
So Francis de Sales joined the group after the decision to make a foundation had been made. The meetings of the group considering the options would become more frequent in the coming months, as they sought for the means to put their plan into effect; this was by no means a forgone conclusion. This is confirmed by Francis de Sales in a letter to Pope Clement VIII : “We had meetings for this purpose over several days”. One of his biographers, C.A. de Sales gives further details of the timing and place of these meetings: “There were for this purpose holy assemblies in the home of Monsieur Acarie, in the presence of Marie Avrillot, his wife […]. These were held daily, for two or three days at a time”. The meetings lasted at least until the signing of the Letters Patent in July 1602, and undoubtedly continued after this.
In comparison with the meetings of summer 1601, the meetings of spring and summer 1602 were favoured, as we have seen by the easing of international tension. Relations with Spain, which had improved in January 1602, were still tense, for all that. The Embassy affair was not really resolved until the arrival in Paris of the French prisoners who had been released by the King of Spain and returned to the King of France, with the Pope acting as intermediary. They arrived in the capital on July 18, 1602, the very day that the Letters Patent were signed by the King. But the affair had been overshadowed in the meantime by the much more serious one of Marshal Biron’s plot. The latter was arrested on June 14, for treason and conspiracy with Spain and Savoy, and was beheaded on July 31. Certain individuals then attempted, without success, to implicate one of the Duke of Savoy’s subjects who had a high profile in Paris, namely, Francis de Sales.
It seems that the latter, and also the Duchess of Longueville, very quickly became convinced that the project was divinely inspired and was capable of being put into effect. There was nevertheless no shortage of material for discussion, especially with regard to the internal organisation of the proposed foundation and its relationship with the Spanish Carmelite friars and nuns. The failure of the latest attempt by Jacques Gallemant and Jean de Brétigny allows us to understand the elements which were crucial in enabling Madame Acarie and her friends to attain their objective. According to “L’histoire generale du Carmel de Pontoise" (“The general history of the Carmel of Pontoise”) one of the reasons for the failure of the priests from Normandy was the impossibility of gaining an interview with the King, on whom the foundation ultimately depended : “because of the wars, no-one dared to mention it to the King”. La Fondation des Carmelites reformées" (“The founding of the Reformed Carmelite Order”) states that it was even impossible for de Brétigny and his friends to gain access to the Council of State so as to obtain the Letters Patent. On both these counts, Madame Acarie had at her disposal the means to bring matters to a successful conclusion.
It was the responsibility of Catherine de Longueville to obtain the signature on the Letters Patent, which authorised the founding of the first Carmel in France. She had no difficulty in approaching her cousin King Henri IV. He could trust her in matters of religion because it was reasonable to suppose that her approach was without any ulterior motives of a political nature. But he did show some resistance, on that day of July 18, 1602. According to Père Duval, the King
“had no liking at first for the arrival of the nuns from Spain; was there such a shortage of nuns in France, he asked, that this work should be undertaken. But when she pointed out to His Majesty that these were poor sisters who would remain within a very strict enclosure and that since there were no members of this reformed order in France, there was a proposal to have some brought in from Spain, he gave his permission and ordered that the necessary expeditions should be made”.
It can be seen that the difficulties envisaged by the “Acarie circle” were no illusion, and on this occasion it was very useful to have the backing of the Duchess de Longueville. Her name and reputation were once again useful to the “Acarie circle” in order to obtain the Bull of Foundation from Rome. Denis de Santeuil, who went to Rome to organise the matter, was sent to the Pope bearing a petition drafted by the Duchess de Longueville and a letter from the King, dated October 23, 1602, which begins thus: “Our cousin Mademoiselle de Longueville, being desirous of establishing in our city of Paris, a community of young women and widows of the Order of Our Lady of the Reformed Carmelites, who will pray to God for the welfare and advancement of the affairs of this Christian country and the maintenance of peace between the Princes of the same …” Santeuil broke his journey at the home of Francis de Sales, who had returned to his diocese. Francis entrusted him with a personal letter for the Sovereign Pontiff, which reminded him of the way in which the Duchess de Longueville had personally involved him in the venture. It was also the Duchess de Longueville who, in October 1602, acquired the building for the first Carmel, making approaches on two occasions to Cardinal de Joyeuse, at that time the Abbot of Marmoutier, of which the Priory of Notre Dame des Champs was a dependency, with a view to his surrendering its deeds. Although the first stone of the new monastery was laid on April 29, 1603, by the Duchess de Nemours, on behalf of Marie de Medici, the principal foundress, the second was laid by Catherine and Marguerite de Longueville, and it was these women, in their role as foundresses, who provided the necessary funds at each stage of its construction. When, on November 13, 1603, Pope Clement VIII issued the Bull establishing the Carmelite Order in France, the text was drafted in the guise of a response to the Duchess de Longueville’s petition. The Duchess of Longueville’s name and reputation were once again pressed into service in Spain, where Bérulle began negotiations with the Spanish friars in February 1604. Finally, the first Spanish Carmelite Sisters, accompanied by Jean de Brétigny, arrived in the French capital on October 15, 1604, and were welcomed jointly by the Duchess de Longueville, accompanied by her sister, and Madame Acarie, surrounded by her daughters.
It was in keeping with seventeenth century custom to ensure that a princess was given prominence in negotiations with royal and papal authorities. Madame Acarie could not have achieved this objective on her own. According to Père Manrique, Anne of Jesus (Lobera), one of the first Carmelites to come from Spain, asked Madame Acarie one day, speaking naively, or perhaps with a knowing smile, “how one solitary woman could have had such standing in Rome, Spain and France, and where did she get the money to spend on travelling, on building and on negotiations ?”
It appears, then, that the founding of the Carmelite Order in France was a co-operative venture, founded on numerous associations of very different groups and individuals. The nucleus, consisting of Madame Acarie, Pierre de Bérulle, Dom Beaucousin and André Duval was enlarged – thanks, it seems, to Madame Acarie’s tactful approach – to include first of all the priests from Normandy, Jean de Brétigny and Jacques Gallemant, who could be considered the first to put the project into effect, then the Duchess de Longueville and Francis de Sales. These last two held the keys which would open doors in the Louvre and the Vatican. To enable the project to come to fruition, Madame Acarie had chosen to remain in the background, and nowhere does her name appear in the official documents relating to the foundation. Even the title of “foundress” was not hers by right; but Pope Pius VI recognised her as such, on May 24, 1791, in the Papal Brief authorising the beatification of the Servant of God, Mary of the Incarnation, lay-sister and FOUNDRESS IN France of the Order of Religious of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, called Discalced.
This talk is an extract from a long lecture (37pp) published under the title Madame Acarie lit Therese d’Avila au lendemain de l’Edit de Nantes (“Madame Acarie reads Teresa of Avila in the wake of the Edict of Nantes”) in “CARMES ET CARMELITES EN FRANCE DU XVIIe SIECLE A NOS JOURS” (“Carmelite Friars and nuns in France from the seventeenth century to the present time”).
Proceedings of the symposium held in Lyons, Sept. 25-26, 1997
Compiled by Bernard Hours.
Editions du Cerf. Paris, 2001.
English translations from “The way of perfection” are from “The collected works of St. Teresa of Avila” Vol. 2, tr Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS, Washington, 1980)