Jesuit mystical theologian and writer; b. Cherbourg, Dec. 15, 1836; d. Paris, July 19, 1919. Poulain entered the Society of Jesus in 1858 and after completing his studies, taught mathematics at Metz and Angers, directed the schools there, and was for five years director of the artists' guild in Paris. His publication of Des Grâces d'oraison (Paris 1901) surprised his associates, no one of whom seemed to have known that he was interested in, or capable of writing in, the field of mystical theology. The book won immediate success, going through nine editions during the author's lifetime, and was translated into several foreign languages. Poulain, though not a strong theologian and apparently without any direct experience of the purely mystical states that he described, succeeded in writing a clear didactic treatise on a delicate and difficult subject. By doing so he contributed to the revival of interest in mystical theology, which had been largely neglected since the 17th century. The clear distinction that Poulain maintained between the ascetical and mystical states aroused considerable controversy.
Bibliography: a. poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, tr. l. l. yorke smith, ed. j. v. bainvel (St. Louis 1950). a. rayez, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:650.
[m. j. barry]