Touraine Reform

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The Carmelite province of Touraine was established in 1384, during the western schism. It was situated in west-central France, and embraced Orléanais, Maine, Anjou, Brittany, and Aunis. Especially as a result of the so-called religious wars, which in the second half of the 16th century brought France to the brink of ruin, the province in about 1600 presented a picture of a weak and far from spotless monastic life. General impoverishment and housing problems occasioned by the ravages of war had an unfavorable effect on community life and observance of the rule. With the establishment of peace under King Henry IV (15941610), a material and spiritual restoration got underway. The baroque movement and the counter reformation made their entrance into France. Theology and spirituality flourished, and there was a marked development of activity in the social field and in charity. New religious orders arose, and in practically all the older orders reform movements were in evidence. The Carmelites of the province of Touraine, who at this time were engaged in the restoration of their 16 monasteries, participated in this reform activity.

The Reform. The pioneer in this reform was Pierre Behourt (15641633), an energetic man who was hard on himself and on others. He struggled tirelessly and sternly to realize his ideals: the restoration of the old observance of the rule and of community life. At the age of 24, in 1588, he was made prior at Orléans and with the energy of youth, he there began his reform program. His effort at Orléans failed, and his following efforts at reform elsewhere were likewise destined to fail again and again. After ten years of futile struggle, he saw that he must put his hope in young religious. He sent a number of them to Paris, and two others he took with him to Ploërmel, where he was made prior in 1599. In the following year they renounced all personal possessions and thereby laid the foundations for the reform.

Behourt still had his mind set on the old Observant ideal of the 15th century. The situation was entirely different in the case of the young religious whom he had sent to Paris. In that center of religious renewal, they became acquainted with new, contemporary ideals and with new forms of religious life, and were deeply impressed and filled with a desire to embrace what they found. Philip Thibault (15721638) was the most distinguished member of the group. He was prudent and moderate, even somewhat timid by nature, but he possessed a strong sense of reality. Thanks to his diplomatic qualities, his gifts of leadership, and his financial ability, he was to succeed in introducing the new ideals and the current forms of spirituality into the reform. For the time being, however, the two groups went their own ways. Through the intervention of Henricus Sylvius, general of the order, Behourt's group, at the provincial capital of Nantes in 1604, received control over a monastery of their own, namely, that of Rennes.

Nevertheless, Behourt was never able to formulate concretely and carry out his own plan of reform. All his experiments with the rules of the Discalced Carmelites and of others failed. The Paris group, who were still in a state of uncertainty, went to Rome in the jubilee year (1600) in order to seek a solution for their difficulties. They did not get their solution, but received some encouragement. Back in France they tried, but without success, to get control over a monastery of their own. Behourt heard of this, and at his invitation a large part of the Paris group joined the group at Rennes in 1606. At the beginning of 1608, Thibault came also. His influence produced a split between the reformers, since his modern ideas seemed to be in conflict with Observant ideals of the older man. In November 1608 Thibault's program triumphed. Under his leadership the reform now really began to take on its characteristic features. Accordingly, the Tourainers defined their attitude in respect to the order. They did not wish to break away from membership in the order or from the province, nor did they wish to abandon the existing rule and constitutions, with their historically grounded adjustments or adaptations. However, they objected to the presence of reformed and nonreformed members in the one monastery, and they desired to give to every reformed monastery the right to direct its own organization.

The main point of the new program was really in the field of spirituality. Basing their plan on the existing legislation, the reformers adapted the old Carmelite ideal to the demands of their age, but without violating it in any essential way. They deliberately selected certain elements from the new ideas and modern forms of piety. In the years from 1608 to 1615, the revision was given form that found expression in the "Rules and Statutes" of 1612, and ultimately in the Exercitia Conventualia of 1615; these were officially approved at Rome. Down to the last detail, this codification mirrored the concepts and the customs of the reformers. Consequently it was very closely connected with their own age. Meanwhile, the membership increased rapidly. The movement spread out to the monasteries of Angers and Loudun, and at Chalain a new foundation was begun. The year 1615 marks the completion of the first and most important phase in the development of the reform. It spread very quickly. By 1636 all the 16 original monasteries of the province were reformed, and seven new foundations had been made. From 1618 the reform passed into the other five Carmelite provinces of France and Belgium, and around 1650, into Germany and Poland.

Influence and Characteristics. The reform exercised a great influence on the whole order, for at the general chapter of 1645 the constitutions of Touraine (developed out of the Exercitia Conventualia from 1615 to 1635) were prescribed for all reformed monasteries of the order. In Belgium the reform bore rich fruit (Michael a S. Augustino, Daniel a Virgine Maria, Maria Petyt). The province of Touraine itself sent out many missionaries to Central America. However, in the 18th century, the Touraine Reform declined rapidly, and after the French Revolution it had a rather feeble continuance in the monastery of Boxmeer (Netherlands). Nevertheless, the Touraine constitutions and customs exercised a great influence, which is reflected even in the present constitutions of the order.

The character of the Touraine Reform reflects the 17th century to a marked degree. Its most typical features may be summarized as follows: (1) An ideal of individual piety. Great emphasis was placed on interior prayer and on the human aspects of conscious communication with God, on improvement of one's spiritual life, and on pious practices. (2) Method in the spiritual life. This included methodical meditation and examination of conscience as a community exercise and means of sanctification, practice of the omnipresence of God, and aspirational prayer.(3) Preference for the unusual or striking: penitential practices, the cult of humility, great concern for outward impression. (4) New spiritual and monastic practices and devotions: meditations, examination of conscience, tenday retreats, renewal of vows, Forty Hours Devotion, monthly patron, monthly virtue, devotion to the Child Jesus, etc. (5) Excessive regulation of life within and outside the monastery. (6) Strong devotion to Mary: Marial life (Directoires des Novices ), Marial mysticism (Jean de Saint-Samson, Michael a S. Augustino, Maria Petyt), and the spread of the scapular devotion.

Outstanding writers of the movement were Jean de Saint-Samson, Dominique de Saint-Albert, Léon de Saint-Jean, Marc de la Nativité, Pierre de la Résurrection, Mathieu de Saint-Jean, Maur de l'Enfant Jésus, Michael a S. Augustino, Daniel a Virgine Maria, and Maria Petyt.

Bibliography: s. m. bouchereaux, La Réforme des Carmes en France et Jean de St-Samson (Paris 1950). p. w. janssen, Les Origines de la réforme des Carmes en France au XVII e siècle (The Hague 1963). j. macÉ, Delineatio Observantiae Carmelitarum Rhedonensis (Paris 1645). g. mesters, Die rheinisehe Karmeliterprovinz während der Gegenreformation, 16001660 (Speyer 1958).

[p. w. janssen]