Bérulle, Pierre De (1575–1629)

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BÉRULLE, PIERRE DE (15751629), French ecclesiastic. Founder of the French Oratory, Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle was a leading spiritual writer and a main figure of the Catholic Reformation in his country. It was less by his writings than by his personal relationships, his political actions, and the diffusion of his thought through his disciples that he had such an impact on his contemporaries.

Born in 1575 of a noble family, and educated by the Jesuits and at the Sorbonne, Pierre de Bérulle was ordained in 1599 and became one of Louis XIII's chaplains. For a time, he considered entering the Society of Jesus, to whom he owed most of his education, but he decided against the idea because the Jesuits were still exiled from France at the time. This original link to the Jesuits is essential to understanding his activities as a Catholic reformer because he emulated the many-sided religious activism of the society, involving himself in controversies, education, and missions.

He helped Cardinal Jacques du Perron (15561618), a famous preacher and political essayist, in his controversies with the Protestants, but his aim was less to counteract Protestantism than to promote the Catholic Reformation. In particular, Bérulle wanted to remedy the mediocrity of the clergy. For him, the ideal priest should unite spiritual authority, knowledge, and holiness, all qualities too often found lacking among common priests. The Council of Trent promoted the establishment of seminaries to solve that problem, but its decrees, not yet "received" in France, could not be officially put into practice. This is why Bérulle founded the Oratory of Jesus and Mary in 1611modeled on St. Carlo Borromeo's (15381584) Oblates of St. Ambrosius and St. Philip Neri's (15151595) Oratoriowhose main activity was the training of priests and the education of young people. The Oratorian communities expanded quickly throughout France (in 1630, seventy-three residences, including seventeen colleges and four seminaries; between 1631 and 1700, eleven colleges and seventeen seminaries were added). Like the Jesuits, their great rivals, the Oratorians ran colleges and organized many missions in the French countryside to instruct and convert the common people and improve the quality of their priests.

Bérulle also worked closely with the laity, particularly with the dévots ('devout') who met in his cousin Madame Acarie's (Barbe Avrillot, 15661618) salon. There, clerics and the dévots explored the works of spiritual masters from the Devotio moderna (Modern devotion) to more modern authors and visitors to the salon, such as the Capuchins Benedict of Canfield (author of La règle de perfection [The rule of perfection]) and Archange of Pembroke, the Jesuit Peter Coton, and Bishop François de Sales. The aims, means, and practical achievements of the French Catholic Reformation were also intensively discussed by the group. For example, Madame Acarie's group encouraged the restoration of French nunneries and the establishment in Paris of two convents, that of the Spanish Carmel in 1604 and that of the Italian Ursulines in 1610.

Bérulle was also chosen for many diplomatic missions because of his considerable talents as a negotiator. For example, in 16191620, he was sent to Marie de Médicis (15731642), the fugitive queen mother, in order to make peace with young King Louis XIII (ruled 16101643), with whom she was at war (16171621). In 1624, Bérulle was chosen to negotiate with Pope Urban VIII the religious terms of the marriage between Henrietta of France, Louis XIII's young sister, and the future king of England, Charles I (ruled 16251649). Soon, however, Bérulle and the powerful Cardinal Richelieu clashed over the question of France's political alliances: Bérulle favored the alliance with Catholic Spain, while Richelieu preferred allying with Protestant England against the Habsburgs. As a result, Bérulle was dismissed from favor, but the pope, who held him in great esteem, made him cardinal in 1627, two years before his death.

Busy as he was, Bérulle did not write much: primarily short treatises, lectures, and letters on theology, piety, and mysticism, of which the best known, which deal with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, are Discours de l'état et des grandeurs de Jésus ... (Discourse on the state and grandeurs of Jesus Christ [1623]) and L'élévation à Jésus-Christ sur ses principaux états et mystères (The elevation to Jesus Christ concerning his principal states and mysteries [1625]). In fact, Bérulle's influence exceeded the fame of his writings. Combining high spiritual experience, contemplation, and action, he gave a variety of people his support: he was in charge of the Carmel, he befriended the royal family, he encouraged René Descartes in his philosophical enterprise, and he taught people as opposed in views as Vincent de Paul and the abbot of Saint-Cyran. Through the Oratory, his thought was spread, and his key ideas were taken over by the founders of the French seminaries and missionary congregations, such as Vincent de Paul (Lazarists or Vincentians), Jean Eudes (Eudists), and Jean-Jacques Olier (Sulpicians).

See also Borromeo, Carlo ; Charles I (England) ; François de Sales ; Jesuits ; Louis XIII (France) ; Marie de Médicis ; Reformation, Catholic ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Salons ; Trent, Council of ; Urban VIII (pope) ; Vincent de Paul.


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Dominique Deslandres

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Bérulle, Pierre De (1575–1629)

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