St. Francis de Sales met Madame Acarie in Paris, at the beginning of 1602. They met frequently over a period of seven months. It is remarkable that the spiritual friendship which developed between them extended to her six children.
St. Francis de Sales’ friendship with Madame Acarie (first part)
Lecture by Bernard Yon, Vice – President of the Friends of Madame Acarie.
Four hundred years ago, at the beginning of 1602, when Francis de Sales was in Paris, he would meet Madame Acarie for the first time. During the seven months when he must have stayed in the city, dealing with matters relating to his diocese of Geneva/Annecy, they met on numerous occasions, and these meetings made a deep impression on St. Francis. They resulted in a spiritual friendship which would last throughout their lives and, what is remarkable and perhaps less well known, would extend to include Madame Acarie’s six children, Nicolas, Marie, Pierre, Jean, Marguerite and Genevieve.
1. The Historical and Religious background.
From the accounts which have come down to us, we are presented with the following scenario: the accession of King Henri IV to the French throne, hostilities between France and Spain, the end of the Wars of Religion, the renewal of the Catholic faith at the beginning of the seventeenth century and the introduction of new religious orders, including the Reformed Carmelites into France. Taking these events as a whole, and in the wake of the dramatic conflict of the Wars of Religion, one is forced to admire on the one hand, the new King’s policy of appeasement, manifested in the Treaty of Vervins, which was concluded with Philip II of Spain on May 2, 1598 and the signing of the Edict of Nantes in the same year, and on the other hand, the unflagging determination of the Church – a church prepared however to bide its time and to respect the King’s wishes – in its quest to secure the restitution of the goods and benefices which had been sequestered at the Reformation; this was to be done so as to recreate the material conditions necessary for the reestablishment of priests-in-charge in those parishes from which they had been expelled by the Protestants. King Henri wished to “restore the rights of the Catholic Church” and even to overcome “the obstinacy and hardness of heart” of its opponents, but it was necessary to “overcome them by arguments which were in conformity with the said Edict, and to make them abandon their opinions of their own accord, so as not to violate that law on which public order and tranquillity are founded”Lajeunie, E.J., Saint François de Sales, l’homme, la pensée, l’action, Ed. Guy Victor, Paris 1966, T. II, p. 19O..
But how did it come about that it was the King who had the power to “restore the rights of the Catholic Church ?” The question merits a reply which takes the prevailing circumstances into account; these alone justified Francis de Sales’ journey to Paris in 1602, and the important consequences of this, which will be touched on during the course of this lecture. You must remember the truly extraordinary conditions under which King Henri IV’s accession to the French throne took place; he was, on the one hand, the leader of the Protestant side, and on the other he was the legitimate heir to the throne, with the result that he embodied a confusing blend of two opposing doctrines. Having been briefed by Vendôme, Lennoncourt and Renaud de Beaune, the prelates who were his close advisers at the beginning of his reign. Henri IV was aware of all the advantages he could gain from the Concordat of Francois 1, thereby laying the foundations of a lasting alliance between French Catholicism and the Crown. The book which to all intents and purposes had the force of law until the Revolution and which provided the basis for the rules governing the "Gallican Church"Pithou P, Le recueil des maximes et des libertés de l’Église gallicane, ouvrage dont la première publication est de 1594 et est dédiée à Henri IV., suggested that the way things were ordered in the Church should stem from the application of the Concordat; this should be interpreted from now on in a sense favourable to the Crown. The King had at his disposal, as of right, all the principal benefices; it was he, in consequence, who was in control of the property of the clergy, which he merely delegated to their use. It was he, then, who chose the benefice-holders, subject to Papal approval in matters relating to purity of doctrine. The restoration of peace in religious matters, which was achieved in France well before it happened in the other provinces and countries of Northern Europe, was in broad terms the result of the establishment, on the Catholic side, of a semi-independent Gallican Church, and, on the Protestant side, of the implementation of the "Edict of Nantes".“The unique principle of this twofold solution was that two rival factions should surrender to the King those parts of their claims on which neither side wished to give way”Hanoteaux G, Histoire du Cardinal de Richelieu, Société de l’histoire nationale, Paris 1893, T I, p. 519.. So it was clearly the King’s responsibility to ensure the restitution of Church property, but, as will become apparent, he would only consent to this within the strict limits of his policy of religious appeasement.
These actions ensured that the French fortunately found themselves a long way from the solution imposed by King Henri VIII in England and the rampant persecution which followed (Note that this was persecution of the Catholic "Papists" as much as of the Calvinist Protestant "Puritans"). This took place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who had no issue. She was a daughter worthy of Henry VIII (and Anne Boleyn), who ascended the throne after her rival, her Catholic cousin Mary Stuart, had been condemned and beheaded in 1587.
The fact remains that the religious state of France at the time was, as Professor Bonnichon has already mentioned in this series of lectures, deplorable. The wise decrees of the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) had not yet been approved by the King and had consequently not been implemented in FranceLe concile reçut les ambassadeurs de France dans les sessions XII du 1er septembre 1521, où ces derniers demandèrent à être associés aux décisions qui seraient prises, en vertu du gallicanisme. Ces décisions, comme il se doit, ne furent inspirées que par les intérêts de l’Église et non pas ceux des princes et en particulier ceux de Henri II., and this was precisely because of the Gallican movement. So the practice of commendatory benefices was still in force. The practice separated the title from the function, since the King could bestow the benefices attached to bishoprics and abbeys on whomsoever he pleased.
“Benefices were granted to laymen, to children, to women, even to Calvinists. Many of these bishops had not been ordained priests …"Lajeunie, op. cit. T II, p. 191.. Many of the priests were in a scarcely imaginable state of ignorance, priestly ordination having been conferred on them without any previous formation. Lastly, life in many monasteries was lax and in need of reform.
But at the same time, Monsignor Granier, the Bishop of Geneva and his Coadjutor, Francis de Sales, the Provost of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Saint Pierre in Geneva, (both of whom were obliged to live in Annecy), were men of eminent sanctity. This was doubtless true of many other bishops; Monsignor André Fremyot, Bishop of Dijon and brother of Jane Frances Fremyot, Baroness de Chantal, was certainly one of these. The decrees of the Council of Trent, including the one which required bishops to establish seminaries for the religious formation of candidates for the priesthood (Session 23, Chapter 7) would finally be adopted and implemented in France. In 1666, following the example of Charles Borromeo, the Bishop of Milan, Richelieu himself began reforming the clergy in his diocese of Luçon, before turning his attention to the laity and the conversion of Protestants. His synodal statutes of 1613 ordained that “priests should devote themselves assiduously to piety and virtue and apply themselves to the acquisition of the knowledge required for their ordained state”. He thus “paved the way which would later be taken by Vincent de Paul and many others,”Miquel Pierre, Saint Vincent de Paul, A. Fayard, Paris 1996, p. 209. among them Berulle, whom Madame Acarie already considered to be a “future reformer of the secular clergy.”Dagens Jean, Bérulle et les origines de la restauration catholique, DDB, Paris 1952, p. 189. The reform of monasteries and religious orders would also be an important factor in renewal; there was a direct reform, undertaken notably by Madame Acarie (for example, the reform of the Filles de Saint Louis in the Hôtel Dieu at Pontoise) and also by Francis de Sales in his diocese of Geneva; there was the introduction into France from other countries of new or reformed religious orders – Carmelites, Oratorians, Ursulines; and lastly, there were the new foundations, the Visitation Sisters, Lazarists, etc. The origins of the spiritual aspects of the reform were already evident in the previous century, especially in the foundation of the Jesuit Order (1534) by St. Ignatius Loyola and the introduction of the Capuchins in 1573, under the patronage of King Henri III.
Lastly, it was a time when people were preoccupied with the state of their souls; for many, this was a genuine concern. This preoccupation grew out of an ardent desire to discover and to believe only what is true. For example, the Abbot of Saint Cyran, Duvergier de Hauranne, a fellow-countryman and close friend of St. Vincent de PaulMiquel Pierre, Saint Vincent de Paul, A. Fayard, Paris 1996, p. 209. was a man of considerable intellectual energy and together with Jansen, he engaged in “the study of the Fathers of the Church, especially the study of Saint Augustine, which they had begun with such enthusiasm.” They both immersed themselves in their books, to the extent that Madame de Hauranne felt motherly concern for them: “You will be the death of that good man from Flanders, by making him study”, she said to her son, pointing out the precarious state of Jansen’s healthGazier Cécile, Ces messieurs de Port Royal, Librairie académique Perrin, Paris 1932, p. 6.. There was a thirst even amongst lay people, for discovering the truth through spiritual reading; Madame Acarie was an example of this– Pierre Miquel, op. cit. p. 141, écrit : « Barbe Acarie… s’est fait traduire les ouvrages de sainte Thérèse d’Avila ». On verra dans la note 37 que cela n’est pas tout à fait exact., as were Jane Frances de Chantal and Louise de Marillac.
It was against this background that the first series of meetings between St. Francis de Sales and Madame Acarie took place in Paris.
2. St. Francis. de Sales and the "Acarie circle". The meeting of 1602.
The reason for his journey to Paris.
It is the year 1600. Francis de Sales, Provost of the Cathedral Chapter and, although not yet ordained a bishop, Coadjutor of Monsignor Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, both men being resident in Annecy, through force of circumstances, is making the considerable effort of which only a great saint is capable, to bring back to the Catholic faith those parts of Savoie which had fallen victim to Calvinism. He was already known as “The Apostle of the Chablais”, such was the extent to which his labours in Thonon and the surrounding area had been crowned with success. It was now a matter of securing the restitution of property – churches, presbyteries and their associated benefices – and the resettlement of parish priests in the parishes which had been recovered, all this being done, we should note, in a spirit of evangelical gentleness, through public preaching and through those upright persons who listened to it.
In implementing the Treaty of Vervins, which had been concluded with King Philip II, who was purely and simply renewing the terms of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis– Malet & Isaac, L’histoire, l’âge classique, Hachette, Paris, 1959, p. 372., the Duc de Savoie, Charles-Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, broke the promises he had made to the King of France. Henri IV made the most of his opportunities, as was his wont. He accordingly despatched the Marechal de Biron to occupy the Bresse region; Crillon entered Chambery, Lesdiguieres entered Tarentaise and Maurienne. Henri IV himself went to the Beaufort region. During his campaign to capture the Duchy of Saluces, Charles-Emmanuel was unable to make his way back over the Great St. Bernard Pass in time, and was in consequence powerless to save any of his provinces. Neither Berne not Geneva entered the conflict. Annecy laid low. On Thursday October 5, 1600, towards five 0’clock in the evening, Henri, Duc de Genevois-Nemours, brought Henri IV, who was an easy victor, to his château in Annecy. There was no apparent resistance, but the reaction of the population was generally muted.
On the same day, October 5, 1600, the same King Henri IV contracted a marriage by proxy, in Florence, to Princess Marie de Medici, the daughter of the Grand Duke of TuscanyTrochu Mgr Francis, Saint François de Sales, Ed. Vitte, Lyon, 1955, T I, p. 19, note 2 : « La Savoie, gouvernée par le Duc Emmanuel Philibert, comprenait plusieurs subdivisions dont le Duché de Genevois avec Annecy pour capitale – avant le 31 décembre 1564, ce n’avait été qu’un simple comté renfermant les arrondissements actuels d’Annecy et de Saint Julien, plus une partie du canton de Genève. Ce comté, le duc de Savoie Charles III, surnommé le Bon, l’avait inféodé en 1514 à son frère Philippe. Ce Philippe avait été nommé à cinq ans ! évêque de Genève, sans recevoir de consécration évidemment. A vingt ans, il abandonnait son évêché pour embrasser la vie laïque et recevoir en apanage le comté de Genevois. Comme il sympathisait avec Charles-Quint et l’Espagne, François 1er, pour le gagner à la cause française, lui faisait épouser en 1528, Charlotte d’Orléans, fille de Louis, duc de Longueville, avec le duché de Nemours dans la corbeille de noces. Voilà comment son fils et successeur, Jacques de Savoie porte ici le titre assez singulier au premier abord, de duc de Genevois et de Nemours ».. ” The monarch had arrived (in Annecy) having with him the Duc de Vendôme, who was Governor of Brittany; he was a young prince of six years old, whose mother was called Gabrielle d’Estrées. In His Majesty’s escort were the Duc d’Eperon, the Duc de Nevers, the Marechal de Biron and, loaded with honours, Madame d’Entragues, the Marquise de Verneuil. The King had promised twelve months earlier, that she would be Queen of France!Trochu, op. cit., T I, p. 619.“.
The political situation facing Monsignor de Granier and his Coadjutor Francis de Sales was both delicate and confusing; to which of the three – Charles Emmanuel, Duc de Savoie, Henri, Duc de Genevois-Nemours, or Henri IV, King of France – was it necessary to refer from now on regarding the affairs of their diocese, a diocese which had already been split up by the Protestants and deprived of its Episcopal residence in Geneva? After some legitimate hesitation, Francis de Sales and then Monsignor de Granier had a meeting with Henri IV who declared : “There will be no innovations in the Province of Chablais which will go against what has already been achieved for the Faith, and I promise you this on peril of my life.”Mercier J, Souvenirs historiques d’Annecy, p. 620. In spite of this declaration, matters did not turn out in the way that the King had promised. The Chablais was placed under the authority of M. de Montglat, a Protestant, who had the wheat belonging to the parish priests of the Chablais confiscated. Francis de Sales had to go and find Monsieur de Montglat in his house at Allingis in order to obtain “the release of everything which he had confiscated.”Premier procès de canonisation 1627-1632, Editions d’Annecy, T. II, p. 1022-1023.
In spite of all this, a peace agreement was signed in Lyons on January 17, 1601 and subsequently ratified by Charles-Emmanuel, who retained the Marquisate of Saluces, to which he was very attached, and surrendered some much more important territory to France: Bresse, Bugey, Valromey and the Pays de Gex.
This brief summary will give us some idea of the complex issues relating to the exercise of power and the immense difficulties attendant on the reestablishment of Catholic life in the regions which had been purely and simply taken over by the Calvinists. In the Pays de Gex, which had come under French rule, but which was still part of the Diocese of Geneva-Annecy, there was a serious problem. Before the Protestant invasion “it had included ten priories, forty-two parishes, ten chapels of ease, and between fifty and sixty priests, secular and regular.” At the time of the reunion with France, the Reformed Christians had twenty-three places of worship there, and not a single Catholic Church remained. Would the Huguenots “hold onto that Church property in the Pays de Gex of which they were the usurpers and not the rightful owners ?”Alloing Louis, Le diocèse de Belley, Chaduc, Belley, 1938, p. 214.
Because it involved the restoration of the Catholic Church’s higher interests, Monsignor de Granier was going to approach the King. Come what may, the King was the only person who retained authority to restore the ecclesiastical benefices which had been sequestered. On October 17, 1601, the King issued a reply from Fontainebleau : “My very dear and beloved friend, having permitted the reestablishment of the Catholic religion amongst our subjects, in the bailiwick of Gex … “Lettre publiée dans l’édition d’Annecy, T XII, p. 81, note 2. then follow the arrangements to be made with Baron de Lux, the French Governor in Burgundy, Bresse, Valromey and Gex.
The Bishop and Francis de Sales had learnt a hard lesson from the procrastination and disappointment they experienced during their work in the Chablais. This aforementioned matter of the Chablais had doubtless made them very uncertain that the wishes of the King would be implemented in situ. They judged that so much finesse was needed in these matters that they would not be well handled by subordinates. It was necessary to go all the way to Paris and approach the King in order to negotiate the restoration of parishes in the Pays de Gex. What is more, the people of Geneva had already sent a delegation to Paris, consisting of Messieurs Ajorrant and Chapeauroux in order to maintain an unequivocal presence in the capital, with the remit of implementing the Edict of Nantes in the bailiwick which they had captured, after a hard-fought struggle, sixty-two years previously. They involved Elizabeth, the powerful Queen of England, as their ally. The King’s “head was crammed full of their grievances.”
With the encouragement of the Papal Nuncio in Paris, Monsignor de Granier was eager to undertake the journey, but his poor state of health made it quite impossible for him to do so. He decided, therefore, to send the Provost of his Cathedral Chapter (the person who was second in rank in a bishopric). This man had in addition just been nominated his Coadjutor, with the title Bishop of Nicopolis. “If Monsignor de Nicopolis had had four bodies,” his biographer de Longueterre observed, “they would have been put to use in the four corners of the earth. All matters of importance and business affairs were set aside for him to deal with; nothing was done without consulting him; everything was decided after he alone had reflected on it.De Longueterre, Vie de Saint François de Sales, Cœursilly, Lyon 1624, p. 190.“. His opinions would also carry weight in Paris, as we shall see.
For the time being, he was preparing for his departure, and drafting a memorandum to the Nuncio in France on behalf of Monsignor de Granier, and “a request to the King and to the Gentlemen of his Council.”Mémoire pour le nonce, œuvres, édition d’Annecy, T XXII, p. 241 ; et requête au Roi, T XXII, p. 258. As was customary at the time, one did not set off on such a journey alone. The party included his servant, George Rolland, who had been his inseparable companion since his mission in the Chablais, Canon Philibert Roget and his former tutor, Canon Déage, who had become a Canon in the Cathedral Chapter. Also in the group was his close friend Antoine Favre, at that time President of the Council of Geneva; he was accompanied by his two sons, René and Claude. On Thursday January 2, 1602, the party took to the highway. They crossed the Rhône at Seyssel, and on January 3, they reached one of Antoine Favre’s properties in Meximieux. They arrived in Dijon on January 10 and Baron de Lux insisted that they should stay in his own house. It was there, it seems, that Francis de Sales met, amongst others, the second President of the Parlement of Burgundy, M. Benigne Frémyot, the father of Jane Frances, Baroness de Chantal (who would be the actual grandmother of Mme. De Sévigné), January 22, 1602, was the day when they finally arrived in Paris; it had been a twenty days’ journey, accomplished sometimes on horseback, sometimes by coach.
Their first visit was to the Apostolic Nunciature. The Nuncio told Francis de Sales that M. Villeroi, the minister responsible for foreign affairs, who was on very familiar terms with the King, was the first person who should be won over to the cause of the Bailiwick of Gex. But the King was away from Paris for a fortnight and would not return from Fontainebleau until the beginning of February. I must say at this point that Francis de Sales realised that the accomplishment of his mission would need time as well as careful handling. In fact, it was only after three months and through a combination of circumstances, which some people have described as providential, that he secured an audience with the King. It came about that Francis de Sales was invited to preach at Fontainebleau on Low Sunday 1602 (We shall see further on through what combination of circumstances he was called upon to preach). His sermon was given in front of a section of the Court gathered around the King and Monsignor de Perron (who had not yet been made a Cardinal but was merely Bishop of Evreux)
It was he who would make the comment : “I am well able to convince the heretics, but to secure their conversion they must be brought to ’Monsignor de Genève’ (this is what Francis de Sales was called in Paris) because he has received a special grace from God to touch men’s hearts.Année Sainte, manuscrite, p. 124, citée par Mgr Francis Trochu, T II, p. 656.“. Perhaps this was the sort of compliment which would confirm Henri IV’s favourable opinion of Francis de Sales, especially with regard to the peaceful methods which he employed; the King wanted the Protestants to be converted, it seems, but never at the cost of violence. So the King would have no fear in granting the requests of a person such as Francis de Sales. He was a King who was an experienced judge of human nature, and he expressed his opinion of Francis de Sales as follows : “He is a bird of rare plumage ; he is devout, learned and a gentleman into the bargain”; and again “Monsignor de Sales is truly a man of God. He has no idea how to flatter people and whilst he at all times manifests great sincerity of heart, he is extremely modest. He gives honour where honour is due without ever making an error of judgementDe Sales Charles Auguste, Histoire du bienheureux François de Sales, François La Botière et Jean Juillard, Lyon, 1634, p. 202-203 et p. 206-207.“. The conspiracy of Baron de Lux and Marechal de Biron against Henri IV and in favour of the King of Spain, who was the enemy of the French, and of the Spanish King’s most faithful ally, the Duc de Savoie, would hinder negotiation. Marechal de Biron, who had been one of Henri IV’s followers who entered Annecy two years before, did not escape with his life and would be beheaded in the courtyard of the Louvre on July 31, 1602. So after an initial delay in gaining an audience with the King, Francis de Sales experienced an even longer delay, with little satisfaction at the end of it. Their stay in Paris would last for seven months, the end result being the permission to re-establish only three parishes in the bailiwick of Gex.
This period of time – “several months passed with almost no results”Lettre de Thorens au duc Charles-Emmanuel du 14 octobre 1602, Œuvres, édition d’Annecy, T XII, p. 123. would, however, be turned to good use through his preaching and encounters with a variety of people in Paris. His preaching and encounters in Paris.
Prédications et rencontres à Paris.
Francis de Sales had been a student in Paris for two and a half years; his former teachers were no longer there – But old friends and relations were still living in the city, especially in the Hôtel de Mercoeur, a place for which he had “an affection passed down through the generations, for his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather had had the honour of being kept as pages in that house.”Oraison funèbre du duc de Mercoeur, épitre dédicatoire, Œuvres, édition d’Annecy, T VII, p. 398-399. One of the regular visitors to the mansion was the Princesse de Longueville who, on one memorable occasion, was involved in a very embarrassing situation. The preacher who had been invited to preach the Lenten sermons in the Queen’s chapel had let them down, and Marie de Medici had asked the Princess to find a substitute. Was not Francis de Sales the ideal person to fill that role? It was this occasion, it seems, which contributed to his becoming more widely known. The Superior General of the Feuillants describes him as follows : “He had a strong voice and a clear and deliberate way of speaking. His style was very elegant, his choice of words was good; apt and simple and suited to his thoughts which were clear and in no way confused or obscure. His ideas were out of the ordinary, elevated and divinely inspired, but expressed in everyday language, so easy to understand that everyone was capable of doing so, even the simplest people, who found it easy to remember his sermons … Several ignorant persons, who did not know how hard it is to achieve this fluency, thought that they could have equalled his efforts … All this was accompanied by grave and majestic gestures, which had nothing about them that was either showy or severe…De Longueterre, op. cit. p. 149-150."
This eloquence, welling up from the heart of a deeply holy man, was capable of bringing about some extraordinary re-conversions. The case of Rachel Brochart, the wife of M. de Raconis, Seigneur de Perdreauville, is of particular interest. This woman was a convinced Calvinist and Monsignor du Perron himself had tried in vain to make her change her opinions. In the meantime, a fervent Catholic, Madame Acarie, had persuaded Rachel de Raconis to come to the Louvre to hear Francois de Sales’ sermon. The historians think that on February 25, 1602, he preached on the Last Judgement.
“It was not a controversial sermon: But in the congregation there was a woman named Mademoiselle Perdreauville, who had come along out of curiosity; she was captivated, and resolved, on account of the sermon, to take instruction; and, three months later, she brought her whole family to me so that I could hear their confessions and I stood as sponsor to all of them at their confirmation ;
That sermon, you see, was not attacking heresy in any way, yet its tone was anti-heretical, because that was the spirit which God gave me at the time in order to profit those individuals. I have always said since then that if anyone preaches with love, his sermon is the only opposition to heresy which is needed, even though he does not utter a single word against them.Œuvres, édition d’Annecy, T VII, p. 473.“
Notable amongst his godchildren were Mathieu de Raconis and three of his sisters, one of whom would become a Carmelite. Their mother would become a convert a little later. There were some difficulties regarding the admission of the Carmelite sister to the Order precisely because of her former allegiance to the Protestant faith, but Madame Acarie with her profound knowledge of souls and particularly sound judgement, was of the opinion that she should be allowed to enter and this was what happened in the endLouise Abra de Raconis, née en 1567, entrée en 1605 au Carmel à l’âge de 38 ans, fit profession le 21 janvier 1606 à Pontoise où elle reçut le nom de Claire du Saint-Sacrement. Elle mourut à Pontoise le 17 juin 1666 : elle aura donc vécu jusqu’à lâge de 99 ans, dont 61 de vie religieuse ! S’agit-il d’une fille de Madame de Raconis ?.
Another account of the episode of St. Francis’ sermon has survived, very similar to the first, but it is worth quoting because it originates from a witness of dubious reputation, Mère Angélique Arnauld :
“Blessed Francis told me that once when he was preaching in Paris, he felt that he was completely taken out of himself and obliged to change what he was about to say; he thought that it was because God had designs for the conversion of a certain person; and two or three days later a woman named Madame de Raconis, a heretic, had sought him out in order to be instructed in the faith, having been moved to do so by this sermon, to which Mademoiselle Acarie had brought her under duress.Déposition de la mère Angélique Arnault sur les vertus de François de Sales, procès de béatification dit « de Paris », 1628, publié dans la Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuse, Libraire Alphonse Picard et fils, Paris 1906, T XI.“
The Princesse de Longueville, the Duchess de Mercoeur – the panegyric for Philippe Emmanuel de Lorraine, the Duc de Mercoeur, would be preached by Francis de Sales in the church of Notre Dame in Paris on April 27, 1602 – and Rachel de Raconis were all more or less close relatives or friends of Madame Acarie. Many hypotheses have been put forward by historians regarding the precise identity of the person who introduced Francis de Sales to the group. Was it BerulleTrochu, op. cit., p. 666, affirme que Bérulle fut cet introducteur. or someone else? All these conjectures are unnecessary when one takes into account Francis de Sales’ increasing reputation and involvement in the religious life of Paris at the time. It was in the natural order of things, and through many different points of contact, that Francis de Sales would renew his association with the Hôtel Acarie.
The Acarie circle.
Those who are listening to me today are very familiar with the group of people who used to meet in the Hôtel Acarie; it was a house which we think was situated between the Rue des Juifs and the Rue des EcouffesLéon Minot, dans sa monographie de l’hôtel Acarie, citée par Mgr Francis Trochu (T I, p. 664) indique que la rue des Juifs est devenue la rue Ferdinand Duval (IVème) et l’hôtel Acarie correspondait au n° 11 de la rue actuelle. Cette indication est reprise par Christian Renoux.. In addition to M. de Berulle (who was still discerning the spiritual path he should follow), one would have met Philippe Cospeau, University professor, controversialist and already a distinguished preacher, (he would become Bishop of Aire, then of Nantes and Lisieux); André de Sauzea, a teacher in the College of Autun, as well as Duval, the zealous priest, learned Doctor of the Sorbonne and great preacher of the Gospel to the poor; Jacques Gallemant, the parish priest of Aumale, friend of Jean de Brétigny and fervent admirer of the Teresian CarmelsLajeunie, op. cit., p. 195., Père Coton (who in 1608 would become Henri IV’s confessor); Père Pacifique; Jean de Brétigny, whose father was Spanish and who, in the opinion of some historiansTrochu, op. cit., p. 667., actually knew St. John of the Cross in Spain and who was the first translator of the spiritual writings of Teresa of AvilaSerouet Pierre, De la vie dévote à la vie mystique, de Sainte Thérèse d’Avila à Saint François de Sales, Editions carmélitaines 1958, chap. VIII, p. 99., Michel de Marillac, whose eminent role is well-known, first as a Member of the Parlement, in his involvement with Henri IV’s accession to the throne and the appointment of Richelieu to King Louis XIII’s Council, following the death of Luynes, then through his nomination as Keeper of the Seals, and finally through the terrible disgrace he suffered at the hands of Richelieu, on account of his loyalty to the Queen Mother after the “Journée des Dupes” (November 10, 1630). One would also have met the noble ladies who were mentioned previously: the Princesses d’Orleans, Catherine de Longueville and her sister Marguerite d’Estouteville, Madame de Breauté (who would end her days as a Carmelite), and the Marquise de Meignelay.
It is probably unnecessary to describe the group in any more detail to those who are listening to me today.Nevertheless, the group had four characteristics which are worth noting.
To use an adjective which is perhaps too modern, the group was informal. It did not originate from a higher decree, from the Church or the King, and it was not given any constitutions. The essential bond which united them – and it was because of this that they formed a group – was the search for God through the deepening of their spiritual lives according to the prevailing custom, as was described earlier.
The group had frequent meetings. According to some historians, these reunions took place every three days, or once a week at the minimum. So it was something on going, not some indeterminate “academy” or salon given to occasional activity. We consequently get the sense that membership of the group was an element in the increase of “devotion”, (a word which must be understood in the sense given to it by St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the devout life.) The members of the group were either Ministers of the Church, or already held high office in civil society, or were ladies of noble birth, mainly from the higher ranks of the nobility. It is a fact that they all had a genuine involvement in the service of the poor (existing in such large numbers at the time) but they themselves came mainly from a cultured background; some had close links with the great and powerful in the kingdom, and with the King himself.
When we examine each individual’s outlook in more detail, one notices, on the one hand, that several of them already knew and admired the Carmelite order as reformed by St. Teresa, and on the other, that almost all the members of the nobility came from the former Catholic League (except the de LonguevillesRenoux Christian, Madame Acarie « lit » Thérèse d’Avila au lendemain de l’Édit de Nantes, p. 145, indique que Catherine d’Orléans, restée avec son frère et sa belle-sœur, fidèles à leur cousin Henri IV, fut à cause de cela, retenue prisonnière par des ligueurs à Amiens, ainsi que plusieurs membres de sa famille, lors de leur arrivée dans la ville le 27 décembre 1588. Cette détention fut très rude et dura plus de trois années jusqu’au 21 janvier 1592., who were however connected to the Soissons and Guise families and, of course, to the Acaries). We know the extent to which the League was favourable towards Spain during the ten or so years (1586 – 1596) when it exercised real governmental power in the provinces. King Philip II, at the time that he was hoping to place his daughter Isabella on the throne of France, gave his edicts the heading “From my fine city of Paris”Hanoteaux, op. cit., T I, p. 515.. Henri Duc de Guise was both his dupe and his accomplice. The Spanish army was everywhere in evidence and, in France, the Spaniards were detested. Henri IV opposed this Castilian determination to dominate his country, as well as the theory behind it, that of “universal monarchy”.
The Acarie group had, of course, no clear-cut prejudice against Philip II’s policies, but because of their close involvement with the King who had recently come to the throne, they had to develop a different attitude with regard to Spain. Amongst the group there were certain members who had already attempted to introduce the reformed Carmelite Order into France. It is possible that the Marechale de Joyeuse (the mother of Cardinal de Joyeuse who consecrated the chapel of Pontoise Carmel in 1610 – see the inscription at the base of the stained glass window in the nave) sent de Brétigny (who was not yet a priest, his priestly ordination taking place on March 7, 1598) to Spain in 1592-93 and obtained the permission of the King himself to establish six Carmelite sisters in Rouen, “insisting that they came from Spain"Serouet, op. cit., p. 93.. This first project was followed by another, slightly different one, devised in 1596 by Gallemant himself, to bring the Carmelite sisters to his parish of Aumale, but this project also came to nothing.
What did Francis de Sales know about Spanish spirituality when he came into contact with the “Acarie circle”? In particular, had he read the works of Teresa of Avila, which had been translated by de Brétigny in 1601? We can only hazard a guess at the present time. Although Francis de Sales’ spiritual culture was immense, and he had read the works of contemporary authors during his stay in Paris in 1602, it is probable that he had not at that time come across the writings of St. TeresaSerouet, op. cit., p. 68.. Only a few individuals in France had had the opportunity of reading de Brétigny’s original translation; it is probable that “in 1601, Madame Acarie was aware both of the existence of Teresa of Avila and of her work of reform within the Carmelite Order“Renoux Christian, op. cit., p. 124. Ce qui est dit ici diffère quelque peu du contenu de la note 10 ci-dssus.
Francis de Sales, who was out of necessity and not by inclination well versed in matters relating to French politics, did not see the danger emanating from Spain, as French people did, because the Duc de Savoie, as was mentioned earlier, was the constant and loyal ally of Philip II. So, having no preconceived ideas and being attracted only by the intensity of spiritual life in the group, he joined in its activities wholeheartedly: “No task was capable of deflecting the zeal of that Servant of God although he had to make a journey of almost a league from the Rue St. Jacques to the street behind St. Anthony’s chapel; he made this journey on foot, without concerning himself about the weather, about the sun or the rain, going through the mud, of which there was plenty in ParisDe Longueterre, cité par Mgr Francis Trochu, T I, p. 668.".
3. The decision to introduce the Reformed Carmelite Order into France is taken.
We know very little about the relationship between these two privileged souls. Was it by an unfortunate twist of fate that nine-tenths of the thousands of letters which Francis de Sales wrote have been lost or destroyedSerouet, op. cit., p. 137., and that of the ones which he must have written to Madame Acarie only two have survived, one written in 1606 and the other in 1612? There are those who have claimed that their meeting in 1602 led to a correspondence which went on for sixteen years, but of this correspondence only these two letters have survived. Nevertheless, throughout Francis de Sales’ writings, Madame Acarie is frequently referred to or mentioned by name (It is reckoned that between 1603 and 1621 she was mentioned fifteen times, and there may be still more references). And we know from a letter dated January 21, 1612, that one of Madame Acarie’s sons stayed in Annecy in 1603 – 1604.
This information is important on two counts; the first relates to spiritual direction, the second to the introduction of the reformed Carmelite Order into France. Let us consider these two points more closely.
The question of spiritual direction.
When, at the end of May or sometime in June 1602, Dom Beaucousin, the Carthusian who was Madame Acarie’s confessor, was sent, as he had wished, to be Prior of the Charterhouse in Cahors, she asked Monsignor de Sales if he would be so kind as to hear her confession. “That holy woman readily made her confession to him (Francis de Sales) and revealed her faults and imperfections to him outside the confessional with great openness.”Dom Jean de Saint François, Vie du bienheureux Messire François de Sales, Jean de Heuqueville, Paris, 1624, p. 163. Naturally, she asked him if he would become her new confessor from then on. (Her first confession was on June 5, 1602).
After Mary of the Incarnation’s death on April 18, 1618, Francis de Sales would feel authorised to make use of incidents from Madame Acarie’s life in order to edify certain individuals who were under his spiritual direction. Francis de Sales wrote the following letter from Paris on June 15 or 20, 1619. It was addressed to Mère Angélique Arnauld, the Abbess of Port Royal, in Maubuisson. (We shall see later why Maubuisson is mentioned at this point).
“The good Father (that is, Père Sans, the Father General of the Feuillants) has the idea, which is founded on his virtue and humility, that it is impossible for a day to go by without committing a venial sin, of which one ought to accuse oneself in confession. But my experience in this matter has shown the contrary, for I have seen several individuals, who have made a thorough examination of conscience and who have mentioned nothing which I could take to be sinful; and amongst these was the blessed Servant of God, Mademoiselle Acarie. I do not say that it was impossible for any venial sins to have occurred, but I say that she was unable to discover them during her examination of conscience, and I was unable to recognise them from her confession and, in consequence, I felt justified in obliging her to repeat the confession of some fault committed in the pastŒuvres, éditions d’Annecy, T XVIII, p. 390.“.
The same example can also be found in one of his spiritual conferences to the Visitation Sisters in the Galerie. (This conference was actually given two days before Francis de Sales died).
“I must tell you something which happened to me in Paris, when I was hearing the confession of Blessed Mary of the Incarnation; she was still in the world at the time. After having listened to her confessions on two or three occasions with close attention, there finally came a time when I said to Blessed Mary that I was unable to give her absolution, because the things of which she was accusing herself were minute imperfections, not sins, and I obliged her to confess a sin which she had committed on another occasion … She was utterly astonished when I told her that I could discover nothing which amounted to a venial sin and she thanked me heartily for having enlightened her, assuring me that she had never thought of making this distinctionŒuvres, éditions d’Annecy, T VI, p. 204.“.
In another letter, written towards the end of 1618, Francis de Sales makes his correspondent, Mère de Chastel, understand how Satan can deceive souls. He draws on what he himself had learnt from Madame Acarie :
“There was in Blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s time a young woman of the lower class who was deluded with the most extraordinary delusions that one can imagine. The Enemy, appearing to her disguised as Our Lord, spent a long time reciting her Hours with her, singing so melodiously that she was continuously enraptured. He gave her communion many times under the appearance of a resplendent silvery cloud, within which he caused a counterfeit host to enter her mouth. He caused her to live without eating anything whatsoever …
The young woman received so many revelations that she became an object of suspicion to spiritual persons. One of the revelations she had was extremely dangerous and for this reason it was thought advisable to put the wretched girl’s sanctity on trial; in order to do this, she was sent to Madame Acarie’s home (She was still married at the time). While she was living there as a maidservant, and being rather roughly treated by the late M. Acarie, it was discovered that the young woman was not in any way holy, and that there was nothing at all within her except a mass of spurious visions. As for herself, it was fully realised that not only did she not deceive anyone maliciously, but she had been the first one to be deceived, having on her part no other kind of fault than the satisfaction she took in imagining that she was holy and the slight simulation and duplicity she practised in order to maintain her reputation for sham holiness. All this was related to me by Blessed Mary of the IncarnationŒuvres, Lettre à la mère de Chastel, édition d’Annecy, T XVIII, p. 325.“
Notice that it is natural for Francis de Sales to describe Madame Acarie as “Blessed.” Confident of offering us a model whom it is safe to imitate, he shows us an individual with sometimes excessively acute judgement, able to own up to her sins conscientiously and to unmask the deceit of the Evil One. In other words, these two examples give us even greater grounds for recognising the authenticity of the exceptional mystical gifts which were bestowed on Madame Acarie from that point onwards. Without doubt there were other mystical happenings which they would discuss with each other, but Francis de Sales would maintain a reserve in these matters, which he would in some ways regret at the end of his life.
“Several months before his death I (Jean de Saint Francois) asked him if he had more particular knowledge of the extraordinary graces which God bestowed on this holy woman, and which those who have spoken of her have committed to writing. He replied emphatically that he did not. Because, he told me, when he first met that holy woman, she impressed on his soul such great respect for her virtue that he never had the temerity to question her about what went on in her interior life, and he had had no desire to know anything more of her inner life than what she had wished to tell him of her own accord;
for, he said, she spoke more readily of her faults than of her graces, and I looked upon her, not as one of my penitents, but as a vessel whom the Holy Spirit had consecrated for His own use … Oh! What a great mistake I made in not turning her most holy conversation to my advantage, because she would have willingly revealed her entire soul to meDom Jean de Saint François, op. cit., p. 163 et 166..“.
This demonstrates once more, the extent of Francis de Sales’ amazement at the beauty of Madame Acarie’s soul, and it is natural that he should maintain an attitude of delicate reserve in her regard. His one regret was that he had not profited enough from “her most holy conversation”; this tends to suggest that Francis de Sales did not feel equal at that time to undertaking Madame Acarie’s spiritual direction.
The introduction of the reformed Carmelite Order into France.
The audience here today are familiar with the details of the part played by Madame Acarie in the introduction of the Carmelite Order in France. Let me summarise the essential facts :
Madame Acarie received her first commission from Teresa of Avila (who had not yet been beatified – she would not be beatified until 1614) probably towards the “beginning of summer 1601, in June or July”Renoux, op. cit., p. 136.. Three biographers have given an account of the content and circumstances of this commission: André Duval, Père Coton and Père Manrique. Her first biographer, André Duval, wrote that after Teresa of Avila’s works had been read to her, “a few days later, Blessed Teresa appeared visibly to Mary who was at her prayers, and informed her of the will of God in these words: Just as I enriched Spain with this most celebrated Order, so do you, who are bringing piety back to France, endeavour to let that country experience the same benefitPicard Michel, Portrait de madame Acarie, chap. 14, livre en préparation..”. And from Père Coton’s account : “As she was on her way from her house to hear Holy Mass at St. Anthony’s Chapel, she seemed to see all at once the glory which corresponded with the perfections of Blessed Mother Teresa … “ Some people have deduced from this “that this vision took place in the street and not in an oratory or church, as A. Duval’s account gives us to understand”Renoux, op. cit., p. 134, note 4..
It matters little, in the end, where the commission was received. Madame Acarie submitted the vision to the judgement of her confessor, as is customary. Père Beaucousin was convinced that it was indeed a matter which involved the will of God. Having this strong certitude – and how strong that certitude has to be, when it involves discerning the will of God in visions received by His humble creatures! – Père Beaucousin evidently decided that the process of bringing the project to its completion should be submitted to an examination by theologians.
As we have already seen, there was nothing essentially new about the project, but the fact that it was Barbe Acarie who had been given the responsibility of carrying it out was sufficient to justify this examination. The group of “examiners” certainly comprised Messieurs Berulle, Duval and Gallemant, with perhaps Jean de Brétigny in addition, which seems to be perfectly within the possible and normal order of events. Duval wrote as follows :
“And now we were assembled in Reverend Père Beaucousin’s cell; the above-mentioned Monsieur Gallemant, Monsieur de Brétigny, Monsieur de Bérulle, who was later a worthy Cardinal of the Roman Church, and myself. The affair was proposed for our examination; the reasons for and against it were weighed up; we examined the methods of carrying it out, but in view of the immense difficulties and immense obstacles, we all rejected the enterprise with one voice, as being absolutely impossible. We were unanimous in our advice to Blessed Mary that she should abandon the project or at least leave it in abeyance, waiting until it would be easier to put into effect, in different circumstances, when the power of God had removed the obstaclesPicard, op. cit. chap. 14, p. 3..” The main obstacle was the permanent state of tension between France and Spain and the suspicions that would be aroused if Spanish interests were represented in France, even in a roundabout way, through the religious superiors sent from Spain to direct some good Sisters
But this was clearly not the only objection. The theologians “decided in the end to wait until God made His will known more clearly, praying that He would open up the way to achieve what He commanded, a way which at that time seemed to be firmly closed, leading to a dead end; if He did not do so, they would have reason to believe that the vision was more in the nature of an illusion, and they should not waste their time on it.Renoux, op. cit., p. 137.“
We should pay particular attention to the objections at this stage of the affair; the will of God manifested in the visions; hostility between Spain and France; lack of a founder (that is a person who would give financial backing) authorised for the foundation by letters patent from the King, everything being done in conformity with the policies of the Gallican church.
A second vision took place before March 1602; it confirmed Madame Acarie in her vocation and resulted in the affair being reconsidered. “Seven or eight months later”, André Duval tells us, “the Holy Mother appeared to her a second time, more insistently and powerfully than the first, ordering her to bring the subject up for discussion without delay and assuring her that, in spite of all the difficulties that would be foreseen, she would be successfulRenoux, op. cit., p. 139.“.
As was mentioned previously, Dom Beaucousin would leave Paris for Cahors towards the end of May 1602 (or more likely, at the beginning of June, as we shall see). As for Francis de Sales, he was in Paris from January 22, 1602. This period is therefore crucial because the second vision (in March 1602) was without doubt submitted by Madame Acarie to the judgement of her confessor Dom Beaucousin, as the first had been. Dom Beaucousin was already convinced that Divine intervention had a part in the first vision, and he could not do otherwise than confirm the genuineness of the second vision; and he wanted to submit the terms of the order which it contained to the judgement of the same group of theologians; he included, we can say as a matter of course, Francis de Sales, who had been kept informed of the visions by Madame Acarie herself; it is highly likely that the second vision was particularly emphasised.
Not all the historians are in complete agreement about the way events unfolded during the meeting to examine the second vision. The most convincing version has it that the meeting took place in the chapel of the Charterhouse, which was open to the public; this permitted Madame Acarie to be present in person during the debate. “It was discovered in Francis de Sales’ notebooks that on the fifth day of June, 1602, Madame Acarie, who was subsequently known as Blessed Mary of the Incarnation, having gone to confession to him, opened her heart telling him of her final resolve to bring the Carmelites to FranceTrochu, op. cit., T I, p. 673.“. Francis de Sales gave precedence to Madame Acarie, “Blessed Mary was already at the helm of the ship”; he, meanwhile, was giving the project his discreet approval.
In addition to giving his approval and taking into account his contacts in Rome, he would write a very fine letter (to which he never seems to have had any reply). The letter is worth quoting because, as Pierre Serouet says, “It is an honour for the Carmelite Order in France that a man like St. Francis de Sales should condescend to approach the Holy Father in order to promote its establishment.”Serouet, op. cit., p. 114.
The letter is in Latin, a language in which Francis de Sales expressed himself with ease and elegance. It was addressed to Pope Clement VIII and is dated November 15, 1602 :
Most Holy Father,
When I was in Paris for the business about which I wrote to Your Holiness quite recently, I could not avoid preaching in the presence of the King, the Princes and the common people. On this occasion, Madame Catherine d’Orleans (the most illustrious Princess de Longueville, illustrious not only because of the blood of the great Princes of her line, but also because of her love of Jesus Christ) who was planning to found a monastery of Carmelite nuns, summoned me with some other theologians to hold a discussion about this foundation. We discovered that the matter had been well thought out, that the proposal was of Divine origin, and that it would be to the advantage of a good number of people and the greater glory of God. We were faced with one difficulty which was to bring Fathers of the same Order to govern the nuns. This was a very difficult matter; but this was resolved by the case of a monastery which follows the same Rule but is under the supervision of a Father from the Congregation of the Oratory. So three men of good character and experience in affairs of this kind have been chosen to govern them, and in this way the difficulties which might arise in the future through times and situations have been obviated. It only remains for the Holy See to authorise the undertaking; and the King has already given his consent, contrary to many people’s expectations. For this reason the bearer of this letter comes to fall at Your Holiness’s feet, begging you to grant the Apostolic Bull whereby everything will come to pass and be brought to a happy conclusion; and I, most Holy Father, who was present at all the deliberations, although not worthy that my testimony should be heard, am confident that it will be to the advantage of the Christian faith if Your Holiness would give your blessing and authorisation to this project inspired by the Lord, so that it may be put into effect in Paris and without delay. Such is the most humble request of this virtuous Princess and of several other persons and myself along with them. May God grant Your Holiness long life and health on our behalf and on behalf of all men of good will.
Most Holy Father,
I am your most humble, obedient and unworthy servant,
Francis, Bishop of GenevaFrançois de Sales, Epîtres spirituelles, Edition de sainte Jeanne de Chantal, 1626, livre premier, p. 17..
Francis de Sales vouched for the authenticity of the visions and the messages they contained; he got round the difficulty posed by the Spanish superiors through giving his support to the novel solution of having French superiors; one of them being an Oratorian, and lastly he presented the Princess de Longueville as the foundress (in the sense of a founding benefactor) which facilitated the procedure for obtaining the agreement of Rome and of Henry IV. Many questions have been asked about the part played by Francis de Sales in the introduction of the Carmelite Order into France; was it intrinsic or of secondary importance? In view of what has just been said, there is no doubt that his discreet but very firm support finally resulted in a decision which, to say the least, was a difficult one. We do not hesitate to say that everyone was fearful, and there was no-one with sufficient influence to bring matters to their desired conclusion; Francis de Sales was instrumental in bringing them great encouragement.
Francis de Sales’ two letters to Madame Acarie.
As we saw earlier, there are only two letters which have survived, but it is quite legitimate to suppose that there were others in existence. We know, in any case, through other letters, that Francis de Sales’ links with the reformed Carmelite Order in France were close and enduring. Both of the letters were dated before Madame Acarie entered Carmel on April 7, 1614.
The first, from Chambery and dated March 6, 1606, is addressed to “Mademoiselle Acarie” which was the usual way of addressing married women at the time.
“I have had a letter from Dijon to say that Monsieur de Bérulle and Monsieur Gallemant are there and that it is possible that Monsieur de Bérulle is travelling from there to this part of the country and that he will do me the honour of coming up to see me. I assure you that this one piece of news has already filled me with joy and happiness and if things turn out in his way I shall consider it to be a singular favour from God …”
The footnote to this letter states “This was actually about the time when the Carmelites in Dijon felt that they were too cramped in their current premises and their superiors were thinking of finding them somewhere else to live. Bérulle and Gallemant were probably staying in Dijon in order to carry out the necessary transactionsŒuvres, librairie E. Vitte, Lyon 1904, T XIII, vol. III, p. 153, lettre CCCXXXIII.“.
The second letter is dated January 21, 1612. Duc Henri de Genevois-Nemours who was elderly and now living permanently in the château at Annecy, also owned a mansion in Paris. His mother, Anne d’Este’s first marriage had been to the Duc de Guise; having been widowed at thirty-two, she then married Charles-Emmanuel de Genevois-Nemours. She had died in 1607 and his brother, Charles-Emmanuel, was a recluse living in the château of Pierre-Cise. Since Henri had no issue, Bérulle had probably asked Madame Acarie, as a relative, to approach Francis de Sales with a view to arranging the purchase of his mansion in Paris to house the newly-established Congregation of the Oratory. This is the reply, very typical of the rather florid style of the times :
I beg you to believe that I always feel a very particular consolation when you do me the favour of sending me your news and assuring me of your holy benevolence. Since you desire my presence there, then I for my part am in complete agreement, being of the opinion that it would be extremely useful to undertake the journey, not only for others but for myself, for through the conversations I would have with so many persons of good will, I would renew the resolutions and the spirit which are necessary in my vocation. I have desired more than it is possible to put into words to be of use in serving the Holy Congregation which is now blossoming under the direction of M. de Bérulle; and which in my opinion ought to be one of the most productive there has ever been in Paris; but there is no way I can do this, since Our Lord does not consider me worthy of it, and the matter on account of which the aforementioned M. de Bérulle wrote to me is impossible, although I would willingly have contributed to it with all my strength, had there been any likelihood that it would succeed. God, who in His mercy is the originator of that blessed assembly, will find it shelter, will protect it and extend it for the salvation and perfection of many. This is what I beg Him to do, and I beg that He will make you abound evermore in His holy love, to which I ask you to recommend me continually, as a person who is ever,
Mademoiselle…François de Sales, Lettres d’amitié spirituelle, éditées par A. Ravier, Bibliothèque européenne, DDB 1980, p. 415-416. ".
These are not only expressions of the exquisite politeness which Francis de Sales demonstrated throughout his life. He is obviously expressing his personal opinion that a meeting with the “Acarie circle” would in the first instance prove useful to him in the exercise of his vocation. He also says how productive the Congregation of the Oratory will be, in his judgement. But contrary to what Bérulle and his relative might think, he does not believe that if he himself were to approach Duc Henri he would have the slightest chance of success. So he refrains from doing so, in spite of the good relations he had with Annecy.
4.St. Francis de Sales’ last journey to Paris, 1618 – 1619.
After procrastinating for at least nine months, at the end of September 1618, the astute Charles-Emmanuel decided to make the journey to Paris to obtain the hand in marriage of Christine of France for his son Victor Amadeus, Prince of Piedmont, a man of thirty-one. Christine was the eldest daughter of Henri IV and Marie de Medici and therefore sister to Louis XIII. She was a twelve-year-old adolescent. (Louis XIII’s second sister, Henrietta Maria, would marry the unfortunate King Charles I of England). For such an enterprise, it was Charles’ wish that the retinue arriving at the gates of Paris should make a good impression. It was absolutely imperative that Francis de Sales, “Monsieur de Genève” should be included, and the latter was evidently unable to refuse the prince’s invitation.
The retinue arrived in Paris on November 7, 1618, and the following day, Wednesday November 8, a reception was held in the Louvre at which Francis de Sales met King Louis XIII. The negotiations would proceed apace, since Richelieu saw the union as a means to an alliance with Savoie, which was too close an ally of Spain. So on February 10, 1619, Cardinal Francois de la Rochefoucauld, as Principal Chaplain in France, assisted by the Bishop of Geneva, would bless the marriage of the Prince of Piedmont and Princess Christine.
But let us go back to November 1618. Madame Acarie, Mary of the Incarnation as she was known in Carmel, had been dead since April 18, 1618. During his second period in the capital, Francis de Sales was assiduous in delivering conferences to persons in high society, as he had done in 1602, but this time his audience gathered in the Carmelite or Ursuline houses, or sometimes at the Visitation Sisters’ convent, their first in Paris. What a long way they had come in the space of sixteen years! Francis de Sales also met Bérulle who, as he had expected, had now founded the French Oratory and, in addition he met André Duval. Both men were at the time Superiors General of some twenty monasteries. “L’Annee sainte” said of him “On the eighteenth day of the year 1619, there, two great servants of God heard each other’s confessions and gave each other spiritual advice about their conduct.Trochu, op. cit., T II, p. 628.“
It was in rather underhand circumstances that M. Arnauld secured the Abbess’s crozier of Port Royal des Champs for his daughter Jacqueline, who was called by her Confirmation name, Angélique. Converted to strict observance at the age of eighteen, she had re-established regular life at the Abbey. But in 1618 the other Cistercian Abbey of Maubuisson, in Saint Ouen l’Aumône, was under the eccentric rule of Angélique d’Estrees, sister of the famous Gabrielle. In February 1618, Louis XIII, having no doubt decided to put an end to twenty five years of unregulated existence, ordered Mère Angélique Arnauld to reform Maubuisson.
During the first few months, Mère Angélique Arnauld would encounter unexpected difficulties, as she herself revealed. M. De Bonneuil, the father of one of the young girls at Maubuisson, acted as intermediary in bringing Francis de Sales to the monastery on several occasions. There are records of his visit of July 17 and another towards the end of August 1619. This was how Mère Angélique came to make a deposition at Francis de Sales’ canonisation process; it is a deposition of the greatest interest. She says :
“I saw him go on five occasions to the Carmelite Convent in Pontoise in order to pay homage to Blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation whom he had known intimately and whose holy life he held in esteem. Once when he was speaking about her with deep feeling, as he was leaving to celebrate Holy Mass in her monastery, someone asked him if he would say the Mass in honour of that holy Sister. “Oh no! God forbid!” he replied. “It is necessary to have the permission of The Holy See first, but as a private individual I shall certainly pray to herProcès de béatification dit de Paris, op. cit.“.
Is there any need to emphasise that, thanks to Mary of the Incarnation, Francis de Sales celebrated Mass on this very spot? (But it was not “in honour of” Mary, because she had not yet been “raised to the altars” as the time-honoured expression puts it). Another witness at the canonisation process says :
“I will tell you something which proves the esteem in which Blessed Mary was held, something which we heard from the lips of blessed Francis de Sales, Bishop and Prince of Geneva. He came one day to this town and this monastery with the purpose of carrying out his devotions, because of the holy remains which are to be found here. He told us so himself. He celebrated Holy Mass and he preached a sermon…Procès de béatification, témoignage 107 de mère Marie de saint Joseph (Fournier).“
This sermon has unfortunately not survived. But one can imagine Francis de Sales, already with an aura of greatness about him, a greatness that was recognised by his contemporaries in Annecy and Paris, giving a sermon in this very place !
5. Some concluding remarks
Francis de Sales corresponded with several of Madame Acarie’s children and with Carmelites from various monasteries founded during the first twenty years of the seventeenth century. In a letter dated September or October 1620 to Madame Acarie’s eldest daughter, who was at that time Prioress of Orleans Carmel, having received the name “Marie of Jesus” in religion, Francis de Sales writes, “But would you also be so kind as to send me a copy taken from the portrait which you have; I would no doubt have had it copied whilst I was in Paris, had I known that there was such a one in existence”Œuvres, édition d’Annecy, Lettre MDCCV de septembre ou octobre 1620, à la mère Marie de Jésus, prieure du Carmel d’Orléans. Dans la note de la lettre du 20 ou 21 septembre 1619 adressée par François de Sales à la même (Œuvres, édition d’Annecy, lettre MDLIV Tome XIX, p. 23) on lit : « La fille aînée de sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, tandis que je fus à Paris il y a 20 ans, était non seulement ma fille spirituelle mais ma partiale (ma préférée), écrit François de Sales en 1620 ». La note poursuit : « Peut-être le naturel « bon, franc et naïf » de madame Acarie était-il la cause de cette inclination particulière, peut-être le saint compatissait-il aux luttes intérieures de la jeune fille, qui, malgré son attrait pour la vanité, ne pouvait se résoudre à se fixer dans le monde et n’avait cependant pas le courage d’entrer en religion. Un pèlerinage à Notre Dame de Liesse en 1607 mit fin à ses hésitations ; six mois après elle devenait sœur Marie de Jésus au Carmel de Paris et le 25 mars 1609 elle prononça ses vœux en même temps que sa sœur Geneviève. Quand sa bienheureuse mère fit profession au monastère d’Amiens (1615), sœur Marie de Jésus s’y trouvait et l’année suivante elle fut élue sous-prieure. En 1620, elle prit la conduite de la maison d’Orléans où elle mourut le 2 juillet 1641. Les avis de saint François de Sales « qui lui faisait assez fréquemment l’honneur de lui écrire » (disent les chroniques de l’ordre – Troyes 1856, T III, p. 185) l’aidèrent beaucoup dans son gouvernement).. In the letter of April 24, 1621, addressed to Michel de Marillac, at that time Louis XIII’s Keeper of the Seals, thanking him for sending the portrait, Francis also expresses his joy at the publication, in March 1621, of the first biography by André Duval; he would receive a copy of this biography in June or August 1621. There is no doubt that he read the text with close attention, all the more so because he had a great admiration for the biographer :
I give you a thousand thanks for the portrait of blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation. I know of nothing that I could receive which would be more useful or agreeable to me, because on the one hand I have a love for this holy woman which is so full of reverence for her and on the other, I have such a great need to enkindle frequently within my spirit the pious feelings tht her most holy conversation aroused in me, when for the space of six months I was more or less her usual confessor, and she spoke to me and held conversations with me almost daily concerning the many and varied opportunities of serving God. I was told that someone had written her life and had had it printed; it was the Mother Prioress in Lyons whom I saw when I was there the other day. Oh, how much she will benefit even lay people, if the part of her story relating to the time when she was in the world has been accurately described, as I think it will have been, since M. Duval is the author. To sum up, since I love and admire this holy woman, and have great affection for all those whom she loved when she was alive – yourself in particular, Monsieur -, it is she who will obtain from you the goodwill which I beg you to maintain in my regard. Thanking you at once for that holy portrait; I shall live, with God’s help, and die as Your very humble and affectionate servant,
Francis, Bishop of Geneva.Œuvres complètes de Saint François de Sales, Albanel et Martin, Paris 1839, T III, p. 682-683.“
It would be worth giving more details of the history of the portrait, but this would be outside the scope of this lecture. All that matters is to be aware that Francis de Sales did not think it was a very good likeness (as regards the spiritual aspect, it must be understood). We shall learn from Soeur Anne Thérèse’s talk what a profoundly vivid memory of Madame Acarie, Francis de Sales had retained throughout a period of about twenty years, (because, as was said earlier, he did not see her again after he left Paris in 1602) Here we have two great persons, then, closely united and very often akin in the form of their spirituality. Which one of them had an influence on the other? Is this a straightforward question? There are those who have gone as far as to say that Madame Acarie was one of the models for Francis de Sales’ Philothea. She remains, in any case, a living example of the type of woman whom he describes in his Introduction to the devout life.