The Devils of Loudun Page 30

Deleuze’s findings are confirmed by those of an experienced woman psychiatrist who for many years has made a study of automatic writing. In conversation this lady has informed me that, sooner or later, most automatists produce scripts in which certain metaphysical ideas are set forth. The theme of these scripts is always the same: namely, that the ground of the individual soul is identical with the divine Ground of all being. Returning to their normal state, the automatists read what they have written and often find it in complete disharmony with what they have always believed.

In this context it seems worth while to remark that (as F. W. H. Myers pointed out many years ago) the moral tone of mediumistic utterances about life in general is almost invariably above reproach. Because of their style, such utterances may be dismissed as mere twaddle. But however soggy the language, however commonplace the thoughts (and for the last thirty centuries at least, all the great truths have been commonplaces), the twaddle is always harmless and might even, if psychics could only write a little better, be uplifting. The inference to be drawn from all this is that in certain states of trance mediums go beyond the personal subconscious, beyond the verminous realm of Original Sin, into an area of subliminal mind in which, like a radiation from some distant source, the influence of Original Virtue makes itself faintly but still distinctly felt. Meanwhile, of course, if they neglect to make union with the Father their end and union with the Son, through works, a means to that end, they are in constant danger of finding themselves inspired, not by the Holy Ghost, but by all manner of inferior entities, some indigenous to their own personal subconscious, others existing ‘out there’ in the psychic medium, some harmless or positively helpful, but others in the highest degree undesirable.

With these inferential confirmations of the reality of mystical experience, with this evidence at one remove, Lallemant and his disciples did not have to concern themselves. They had their first-hand knowledge and, to validate it, an authoritative literature ranging from the Mystical Theology of Dionysius the Areopagite to the almost contemporary writings of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Of the reality and the divine nature of the end, to which purification of the heart and docility to the Holy Spirit were the principal means, there was never in their minds the slightest question. In the past great servants of God had written of their experiences, and the orthodoxy of these writings had been guaranteed by the Doctors of the Church. And now, in the present, they themselves had lived through the agonizing Dark Nights of the senses and the will, and had known the peace which passeth all understanding.


FOR those who had no vocation for it, life in a seventeenth-century convent was merely a succession of boredoms and frustrations, mitigated in some slight degree by an occasional Schwärmerei, by gossip with visitors in the parlour, and by absorption, during leisure hours, in some innocent but entirely footling hobby. Father Surin, in his Letters, speaks of the ornaments in plaited straw upon which many good sisters of his acquaintance spent the greater part of their spare time. Their masterpiece, in this line, was a miniature straw coach, drawn by six straw horses, and destined to adorn the dressing-table of an aristocratic patroness. Of the nuns of the Visitation Father de la Colombière writes that, though the rules of the order are admirably designed to lead souls to the highest perfection, and though he has met certain Visitandines of exalted holiness, it remains true, nevertheless, “that religious houses are filled with persons who keep their rules, get up, go to Mass, to prayer, to confession, to communion merely because it is the habit, because the bell tolls and because others do the same. Their heart has almost no part in what they do. They have their little notions, their little plans, which keep them busy; the things of God enter their minds only as things indifferent. Relatives and friends, whether within the convent or without, use up all their affections, so that there is left over for God only some kind of sluggish and forced emotion by no means acceptable to Him. . . . Communities which ought to be furnaces in which souls are for ever on fire with the love of God, remain instead in a condition of frightful mediocrity, and God grant that things may not go from bad to worse.”

To Jean Racine, Port-Royal seemed uniquely admirable because of “the solitude of the parlour, the little eagerness shown by the nuns to enter into conversation, their lack of curiosity about the things of the world and even about the affairs of their neighbours.” From this catalogue of Port-Royal’s merits we can infer the corresponding defects of other, less remarkable convents.

The house of Ursuline nuns, which was established at Loudun in 1626, was neither better nor worse than the average. Most of the seventeen nuns were young noblewomen, who had embraced monastic life, not out of any overmastering desire to follow the evangelical counsels and achieve Christian perfection, but because there was not enough money at home to provide them with dowries commensurate with their birth and acceptable to suitors of corresponding rank. There was nothing scandalous in their conduct and nothing particularly edifying. They observed their rule, but observed it with resignation rather than enthusiasm.

Life at Loudun was hard. The nuns of the new foundation had arrived without money in a town that was half Protestant and wholly stingy. The only house they could afford to rent was a gloomy old building which nobody else would live in because it was notoriously haunted. They had no furniture and for some time were compelled to sleep on the floor. The pupils, on whom they relied for their living, were slow in presenting themselves, and for a time these blue-blooded de Sazillys and d’Escoubleaus, these de Barbezières and de la Mottes, these de Belciels and de Dampierres, were compelled to work with their hands and to go without meat, not only on Fridays, but on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. After a few months, snobbery came to their rescue. When bourgeois Loudun discovered that, for a very modest fee, it could have its female offspring taught good French and courtly manners by a second cousin once removed of Cardinal de Richelieu, by an even closer relative of Cardinal de Sourdis, by the younger daughter of a marquis and a niece of the Bishop of Poitiers, boarders and day pupils came thick and fast.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies