Condren, Charles de
CONDREN, CHARLES DE
Oratorian preacher and spiritual director; b. near Soissons, France, Dec. 15, 1588; d. Paris, Jan. 7, 1641. Condren's father, a convert, was governor of Monceaux, canton of Meaux. Too frail as a child to attend school, Charles entered college only for philosophy, after which he wished to study for the priesthood. His father refused permission, urging him to enter the service of the king, whereupon Condren fell gravely ill. After his recovery he was permitted to continue his studies, and in 1614 he was ordained. He earned his doctor's degree in a year at the Sorbonne, and in 1617 he entered the Oratory, which had been founded in France by Cardinal Pierre de bÉrulle in 1611. Assigned to preaching, teaching, and spiritual direction, Condren was soon in great demand and became confessor to many leaders of the court and Church. On the death of Bérulle in 1629, Condren was elected second superior general of the Oratory.
Condren established the Oratory on a firm basis, put the constitutions in order, and defined clearly the aims of the congregation. Convinced that its chief work was the conducting of seminaries and the building up of a spiritually strong clergy devoted to the Church, he sought whenever possible to prevent its engagement in other types of work. In 1631 Condren wished to resign as superior general, but the Oratory not only confirmed him in office but also made the position a life appointment. Condren tried twice to escape from the burden of his position, even attempting to hide, but Richelieu's threat to make him a cardinal and the command of his confessor forced him to continue in office until his death. Condren was the most effective interpreter of the teaching of his master Bérulle, yet his basic principle and emphasis were slightly different. At the heart of Condren's spirituality was a strong consciousness of the fact of creation and the nothingness of man the creature, who is wholly dependent on God. This led to a great devotion to the Word Incarnate, the supreme priest and perfect victim, who in a state of interior annihilation and total immolation offered to God the only sacrifice worthy of the Creator. Man's duty is to imitate this sacrifice by reflecting continually on his own nothingness and by giving himself wholly as a victim to the service of God. Priests above all must endeavor by continual prayer and self-surrender to unite themselves to the perfect victim, and they can best do this by complete obedience to their bishops. In this teaching lies the essential aim and spirit of the Oratory.
Condren was not a Jansenist, nor did he despise human nature, though his teaching is, in part at least, a reaction against the exaggerated humanism of his time. He was moderate in action and speech, and by his sweetness of manner and simplicity of life, in which nothing extraordinary was apparent, he concealed the austerity of his doctrine. St. Vincent de Paul esteemed him highly, and St. Jane Francis de Chantal said that God had given him to the Church to teach not men but angels.
Condren published nothing, but after his death his followers saw to the publication of 169 of his letters and some of his conferences: Discours et lettres (Paris 1643); L'Idée du sacerdoce et du sacrifice de Jésus-Christ par P. Condren (Paris 1677, ed. Quesnel); Considérations sur les mystères de Jésus-Christ (Paris 1899, ed. P. Bonnardet). The works of his most prominent disciples, including Jean Jacques Olier and St. John Eudes, were inspired by Condren and reflect his teachings.
Bibliography: a. molieu, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 2:1373–88, with extensive bibliog. p. pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. w. h. mitchell, v.3 (New York 1927; repr. 1953) 350–352, 371–377. h. bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1911–36) 3:284–418. d. amelote, La vie du Père Charles de Condren (Paris 1643).
[m. j. barry]