After her election as Carmelite prioress in 1786, thirty-four-year-old Mother Teresa of St. Augustine learned of a inexplicable paper in the monastery’s archive, dated from the previous century. It recorded the strange occult dream of a partially paralyzed young woman who had lived at the Compiegne monastery for years as a compensate guest. In 1694, this woman entered the monastery as a nun. In the dream, “shes seen” herself and the Compiegne society receive the embrace of Christ and a special call to “follow the Lamb” who offered himself up in relinquish for the good of others.
When Mother Teresa of St. Augustine discovered this record, she did not know it would eventually lead her community to offer their lives as a relinquish to God to end the worst stage of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror. Yet, as she read it, her heart and her being exhilarated with the hunch of a great calling, a high vocation to “follow the Lamb” by defy the spirit of the senility. The above-mentioned documents aroused in her the realization that Christ might be calling her community to a particularly dangerous kind of witness.
A few years after Mother Teresa of St. Augustine read this document, the National Assembly of Revolutionary France prescribed all convents to close. This forced the nuns out in wall street. More than 140 Carmelite convents collapsed; many of the monks and nuns fled the country. The daylights of sustain had come, as prophesied.
This article is from Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason. Click to learn more.
The previous synthesi of French culture and Christianity had ended, and the expulsion of these Carmelite ladies signaled a radical conflict of cultures. A new way of life had emerged in eighteenth-century France, motivated by what could be called the “Conflictual Enlightenment.” This was a powerful strand of the Enlightenment movement in conflict with basic Christian truth claims.
Though it did not constitute the whole story of the Enlightenment, this Conflictual Enlightenment criticized Christianity in direct and subtly seductive actions — not least by infiltration. Numerous well-intentioned pastors and bishops cheated themselves about the seemingly benign tone of the senility. Some purposed up marrying and abandoning their priesthood. Others made an word agreeing that the French nation possessed expert over all religious substances, putting them in schism with Rome.
After confiscating Church property, doing the Church dependent on government largesse, the authorities sought to remove the centuries of Christian influence woven into the culture. They eliminated the Christian calendar, supplanting the seven-day week with a ten-day week called a “decade.” They located the year number on the birth of the Republic rather than on the birth of Christ. In Year II of the French Republic, the authorities concerned closed religions or turned them into “temples of Reason.”
The Committee of Public Salvation, with skillful art and propaganda, organized big festivals in honor of the Republic and of the Supreme Being — most notably on June 8, 1794, the old-fashioned Christian feast of Pentecost and the birthday of the Christian church. A new, secular doctrine and its “church” of the state was rising, and it strive mightily to efface Christ. Presided over by the revolutionary leader Robespierre, the new doctrine asked daily blood relinquish. For the reason of group advancement, it executed individuals deemed “public enemies” on the altar of the guillotine. Robespierre likewise popularise its brand-new motto: Liberty, equality, sorority.
The Catholic and Royal Army rose up to resist this new paganism in 1793. Within a year, they had fallen in defeat, and the government’s units suppressed them.
During these attacks, the Carmelites of Compiegne refused to leave their vocations or their mission. “We are victims of our century, ” confined one of them, “and we must sacrifice ourselves that it be reconciled to God.” As the moon and the planets follow obediently the paths laid out for them by God’s laws of nature, so these Carmelites would restrain to their way of living out God’s divine law revealed in their consciences. They would swim against the current.
Their story reveals the conflict between the holy logic of the Christian way of life and the worldly logic of the Enlightenment way of life.
Expulsion from the Monastery
After their expulsion from their monastery in 1792, the Carmelites lived privately in four separate groups. They filled together for Mass and for their daily act of consecration, offering themselves to Christ for peacefulnes in the Church and in France and for a minimizing of the numbers going to the guillotine. They strove to maintain as best they are unable to their rule of life, which derived from St. Teresa of Avila.
Mother Teresa of St. Augustine carefully guarded her community. The other nuns dominated the duty of obedience to her approval, but on her settle the responsibility to rehearsal her arbiter for the true spiritual and temporal good of her sisters. The ligament of observance would cure the roots of faith in communal, participatory learning. Mother Teresa was also concerned that none of her sisters went to martyrdom against their will or the will of God.
She would not impose her private explain of the mystical dream on the others, as if it were inevitable. Rather, she would energetically represent her community after their arrest against the incorrect blames put forward by the Public Prosecutor.
Through the Silent Street of Paris
It was on June 22, 1794, that local authorities arrested the Carmelites of Compiegne and transmit them to Paris for trial with an explanatory note. The Revolutionary Surveillance Committee had found evidence in their accommodations that the nuns were still trying to live their Carmelite lives, which was illegal. “Always in pursuit of informers, we constantly be focusing on those perfidious persons who dare plot against the Republic, ” the note read, “or who express pleases for freedom’s destruction.”
In Paris, Public Prosecutor Fouquier de Tinville dated the formal accusation against the nuns July 16, 1794 — which happened to be the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the Carmelite order. In the “Courtroom of Liberty” the next day, he charged them with extremism. One of the sisters challenged Fouquier de Tinville, questioning him what he wanted by labeling them “fanatics.” He replied that their affection to their Christian religion qualified them as such. That prepare them enemies of the person or persons. There is certainly true now they would suffer because of Christ.
Ironically, the three judges who presided sat beneath postings proclaiming human rights. Charged with conspiring against the Republic, officials loaded the nuns into the tumbrels( wagons) that would take them to the guillotine.
As they razz to the place of execution, faces radiant, they were starting to sing all together the Miserere — “Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness.” Usually the crowds taunted and squealed at the deplored, but all the persons who watched what happened that day testified to the silence of everyone. Historian William Bush conjectured that perhaps for some of the spectators, the singing invoked up for them “holy memories” of their Christian past , now effaced for years by the new regime.
Through the speechles streets of Paris, with mobs containing their gulp, the Carmelites sang Vespers, Compline, the Office of the Dead, and the Salve Regina, sacred words welling up from their hearts as much as from the degrees of Christian culture. Those messages announced the greatnes of God against the arrogance of the age.
As the scaffold came into sight at the Place du Trone, on the road to Vincennes contributing out of Paris, the nuns chanted the Te Deum — “It is Thee we praise, O God! ” They probably were not aware that as they moved along, they extorted nearer the place where a penetrating agitation had once followed beneath the surface of time, subtle but strong, inside a human feeling that modified the hue of the age.
Years before, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had fallen by the side of that unusually road — the road to Vincennes — in a kind of ecstatic seeing. His moment of discovery had invigorated the impassioned the time of writing of his numerous diaries. Rousseau’s messages helped oil the engine of revolution that now bore down on the nuns.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Dr. Stuart’s latest diary, Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason. It is available from your favorite bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
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