Bérulle, Pierre de

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Cardinal de Bérulle

Pierre de Bérulle had probably met Vincent de Paul by 1608 or 1609, but he certainly knew him by 1610, when Vincent was listed as a Chaplain-Almoner to Queen Marguérite de Valois. De Bérulle became Vincent's Spiritual Director, and was responsible for him taking up an appointment to the parish of Clichy, as well as making the acquaintance of the Gondi Family. It was Madame de Gondi (Marguérite de Silly), who led Vincent to found the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent eventually moved from Pierre de Bérulle to André Duval for his spiritual direction.


Pierre de Bérulle was born in the province of Champagne, France, at the château of Cérilly near Troyes on February 4, 1575. He came from a distinguished family of magistrates. After classical studies with the Jesuits, and at the Sorbonne in Paris, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1599. From his youth and even before his ordination, he devoted himself to the conversion of the Huguenots . After being ordained he was made chaplain to Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) and, in company with his friend Cardinal du Perron and St. Francis de Sales, he continued his labours for the conversion of the Huguenots. He is generally regarded as being the initiator of the so-called French School of Spirituality, and he founded the Congregation of the Oratory in France. He was a writer, a statesman, a theologian and a mystic, deeply involved in Church renewal in France in the seventeenth century, and was made a Cardinal in 1627. He died in October 1629.

The French School of Spirituality

It has been customary to designate as the French School of Spirituality a powerful spiritual, missionary, and reform movement that animated the Church in France in the early seventeenth century. Pierre de Bérulle is considered as the leader of this movement, and he was joined by people like Charles de Condren, Jean-Jacques Olier, and Jean Eudes, . The movement had many followers e.g., Louis de Montfort, John Baptist de la Salle, Louis Lallemant, etc.

The main characteristics of the movement were:

  • A deep mystical experience. Each of the leaders was a true mystic, nourished on Scripture, especially the writings of St. Paul and St. John.
  • A stress on specific aspects of the Christian faith and Christian living: a sense of God’s grandeur and of adoration; a relationship with Jesus lived out mainly through communion with his "states," his mysteries, his filial and apostolic sentiments; great devotion to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Christ; the necessity for each Christian to surrender to the Spirit’s action; a highly theological contemplation of Mary’s mysteries.
  • A mystical sense of the Church as the Body of Christ continuing and accomplishing the life of Jesus, his prayer and mission.
  • A certain Augustinian view of man that underlines the pessimistic but also strongly stresses positive and optimistic elements: "man, pure capacity for God."
  • An extremely strong apostolic and missionary commitment.
  • A detailed and well-adapted method for instructing others: methods of prayer, vows of servitude, and various other commitments and Consecrations.
  • A special concern for the dignity of priests, their holiness and formation.
  • The main Christian attitudes of the members of the movement are adoration and "religion" (respect and love) towards the Father, adherence or "communion" to the filial and apostolic sentiments of Jesus, surrender to his Holy Spirit, and "true" devotion to Mary, in whom Jesus lives and reigns and who introduces us into his mysteries.

While Vincent de Paul was of course part of the Church Reform movement of the time, he is not generally regarded as part of the French School. As time went on, the spirituality and theology of de Bérulle and the French School sat less and less comfortably with Vincent.

The Oratory

St Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory in Rome in 1575. This new community was to be a congregation of secular priests living under obedience but bound by no vows. Another characteristic of the institute was the fact that each house was independent. The object of the institute was threefold: prayer, preaching, and the sacraments - for the purposes of ecclesiastical renewal.

By the time de Bérulle came to found the Congregation of the Oratory in France in 1611, it had been established in a number of places beyond Rome. To meet the special needs of the Church in France at the period, however, and because of the tendency toward centralisation in France at this time, he made a very important modification - whereas in the Italian Congregation the houses were independent of one another, de Bérulle placed the government of all the houses in the French Oratory in the hands of a superior-general. In 1613, Paul III issued a Bull approving the new institute. During the lifetime of its founder, more than fifty houses were either established or united to The Oratory, and subsequently there were more than twice that number divided into four provinces. As St. Philip Neri had wished, so also the French Oratory was solely for priests. The members were bound by no vows except those of the priesthood, and had for sole aim the perfect fulfillment of their priestly functions. However, though the Congregation of the Oratory was not a teaching order; Oratorians directed many colleges. Neither this, nor work in seminaries, was ever the sole object of the congregation. The definite aim and characteristic of the French Oratory were "the pursuit of sacerdotal perfection".

Further interesting information on the Oratories in France, Rome, Naples and England can be found in an article entitled Vincent and the Oratory by Fr Hugh Murray CM.

De Bérulle's Writings

Bérulle left several works, the remarkable qualities of which led Pope Urban VIII to call him the Apostolus Verbi incarnati. "This expression", wrote Cardinal Perraud, also an Oratorian, in his work L'Oratoire de France aux XVIIIe et XVIIIIe siècles, " is more than a magnificent panegyric awarded to the piety of the founder of the Oratory. In a word, it contains the essential epitome of his written works, for if may be said of them, as of the entire life of the saintly cardinal, that the one aim was to make our Saviour Jesus Christ better known and more loved." The chief works of Cardinal de Bérulle are:

  • Traité des énergumènes (Troyes, 1599).
  • Discours etc. (Paris, 1609) on various subjects.
  • Discours de l'état et des grandeurs de Jésus (Paris, 1623). This work was reprinted several times; the substance and often the actual expressions are to be found in the diffuse *Méditations of Father Bourgoing and also in Bossuet's Elévations sur les mystères.
  • Vie de Jésus (Paris, 1629). This was a sequel to the preceding work, which the pious author had just finished at the time of his death.
  • Elévation à Jésus-Christ sur Sainte Madeleine (Paris, 1627).

Father Bourgoing issued a complete edition of the works of Cardinal de Bérulle (Paris, 1644), which included some writings not mentioned above, and he added to the edition a "table of the theology of this great author arranged according to the order of the Summa of St. Thomas". In 1856 the Abbé Migne reprinted the third edition of the complete works. Cardinal de Bérulle's writings exhibit a robust and vigorous doctrine full of unction and piety, which is set forth at times in a somewhat diffuse style. One of his biographers, Father Cloysenet, has said: "He wrote the books at his leisure and weighed each word", and the biographer adds very justly that the reader is rewarded for his trouble, for "it is impossible to read them without feeling oneself filled with love for our Saviour Jesus Christ".

The Statesman

In his time, de Bérulle also played an important part as a statesman. He obtained the necessary dispensations from Rome for the marriage of Henrietta Maria (daughter of Henry of Navarre and Marie de Medici, sister of Louis XIII) to Charles I of England., and acted as her chaplain during the first year of her stay in England. In 1626. As French ambassador to Spain, he concluded the treaty of Monzon. After the reconciliation of Louis XIII with his mother, Marie de Medici, through Louis' efforts he was appointed a Councillor of State, but had to resign this office owing to his Austrian policy, which was opposed by Cardinal Richelieu.

Theology and Spirituality

De Bérulle's theology has been described as being based on the grandeur of God, thus placing mankind in its own rightful place in respect to God. It was also Christocentric, so that the Christian life was a participation in the life of the Word Incarnate. One should therefore seek to belong to Jesus, and be possessed by Jesus. Jesus Christ was God made visible, the Revelation of God, and also the perfect adorer of the Father. The Christian should combine adoration of God with love and obedience, and discover himself or herself loved by the Creator. As well, de Bérulle also kept a very special place for the Virgin Mary. He also embodied the characteristics of the French School as described above.

Mme Acarie, the Carmelites, and André Duval

Pierre de Bérulle was a cousin of Mme Barbe Acarie (Jeanne Avrillot, 1566-1618). Barbe was the daughter of wealthy, bourgeois parents, educated at the Convent of Longchamps, where she showed signs of exceptional piety. She married Pierre Acarie, Vicomte du Villemare, in 1584 in obedience to her parents, although she herself wanted to become a nun. Known as 'La Belle Acarie', Barbe was popular and respected both in Paris society and by the poor and sick for whom she cared. When her husband had his property confiscated and was exiled, she dedicated herself to the education of their six children. Barbe was greatly impressed by the work of Teresa of Avila and believed she had a vocation to introduce the reformed order of the Carmelites into France. This she succeeded in doing in 1603 with the assistance of Pierre de Bérulle and André Duval (a professor of Theology at the Sorbonne). She also assisted Madame de Sainte-Beuve in establishing the Ursulines. After the death of her husband in 1613 she was received into the Carmel at Amiens, taking the religious name of Marie de l'Incarnation. Later she was transferred to Pontoise and died there, having acquired a reputation for great holiness. Marie de l'Incarnation was beatified in 1794. Her influence on this period of French Catholicism was enormous because of her social position, her personality and spirituality and her connections with the elite of the French religious establishment. She came to be regarded as a mystic, and received the stigmata.

During her life, Mme Acarie's salon in Paris had become the meeting place for some well known persons of the time – Michel de Marillac (‘Keeper of the Seals’ and uncle of Louise de Marillac), Benoît de Canfeld (Benet of Canfield), François de Sales, André Duval (a professor of Theology at the Sorbonne), Père Joseph (the éminence grise for Cardinal Richelieu, who was the eminence rouge!) and of course Pierre de Bérulle. As indicated above, de Bérulle, along with Mme Acarie and André Duval, was instrumental in bringing the Reformed Carmelites to France. By the Bull of foundation in 1603, Jacques Gallemant had been named first superior, with Duval and de Bérulle as assistants. In 1606, the Holy See had made Gallemant Visitor of all French Carmels until 1614. But in 1611, de Bérulle began to negotiate with Rome to have the Visitorship made the exclusive prerogative of Bérulle himself and his successors in the Generalship of the Oratory. In 1614, Rome acceded to the request, thus antagonising Duval. De Bérulle then went even further, and tried to introduce into the Carmelites a vow of ‘servitude to Our Lord and His Mother’. This was too much for Duval who took his case to the Holy See and anywhere else he could think of!!

Madame Acarie, by then a member of the Carmelite community at Pontoise, and known as Mère Marie de l’Incarnation, sided with Duval, despite de Bérulle's attempts to persuade her to his own views. In the conflict with followed, and especially in an interview with Mme Acarie at Pontoise in 1618, de Bérulle revealed the acrimonious streak which had caused even François de Sales to be alarmed. Mme Acarie, ill at the time, died in that same year without making her peace with de Bérulle. After her death, Duval himself wrote the story of her life.

There was also other trouble between de Bérulle and Duval. Intellectually, de Bérulle (at The Oratory) was setting aside the scholastic approach of Duval (at the Sorbonne) in preference for a theology based on the writings of the Church Fathers, particularly St Augustine. Bérulle was also passing this patristic view on to his Oratorians who then communicated it in their various works. Moreover, de Bérulle seemed able to attract some of Duval’s outstanding doctoral candidates into joining the Oratory, thereby excluding themselves from assisting in Duval’s hope of building the Sorbonne into a Thomistic Centre. It became clear that de Bérulle regarded his Oratory as being more important in the Catholic Restoration than the Sorbonne!

De Bérulle and Vincent de Paul

Pierre de Bérulle and Vincent de Paul may have met any time after Vincent came to Paris. Certainly they would have known one another by the time that Vincent was listed as one of Queen Marguérite's Chaplain-Almoners in 1610, and living in the Rue de Seine. De Bérulle was a Chaplain to Henry IV, and given the size of Paris at the time, would have known any clergyman who was to be associated with the household of Queen Marguérite de Valois, Henry's his first wife. Vincent put himself under the direction of de Bérulle as his spiritual guide and lived with de Bérulle at The Oratory for a time. When Fr Bourgoing, the Parish Priest of Clichy (a rural parish to the northwest of Paris), decided to join The Oratory, it was de Bérulle who then asked Vincent to take charge of this Parish of Clichy. It was de Bérulle who instructed Vincent to return to Paris after a short period of time at Clichy in order to become a tutor for the children of the de Gondi family. And de Bérulle encouraged Vincent to return to the de Gondis after a short sojourn in Châtillon-les-Dombes. This return was all very providential as Mme de Gondi (Marguérite de Silly) eventually pushed Vincent into setting up a group of missioners to look after the neglected people of her landed estates. With Mme de Gondi's assistance, this group became the Congregation of the Mission.

Vincent remained under the influence of de Bérulle for around seven or eight years, probably till about 1618. Vincent said of de Bérulle "he was one of the holiest men I have ever known", and it was through de Bérulle that he was able to join the group of influential reformers in the French Church. But gradually, Vincent moved from de Bérulle to Andé Duval for spiritual direction, though for a period of time he was being guided by both men in different areas of his life.

There seems to be no evidence of overt friction between de Bérulle and Vincent de Paul, but there are several reasons why Vincent would have found de Bérulle's influence less appealing as he, Vincent, grew to be his own person. Though a 'holy' person, de Bérulle could be interfering and acrimonious as in the matters described above concerning the Carmelites. The theology of the French School, while initially appealing to Vincent, and influential on him in regard to its theocentrism, it's focus on Jesus Christ, the importance of the priesthood and apostolic commitment, would have not have sat comfortably with Vincent's idea of seeing God in the face of the poor and the ordinary. Neither de Bérulle nor the French School would have presented to Vincent the human face of Jesus Christ in the way that Francis de Sales did. Eventually the French School, influenced by the society of the time, effectively abandoned the poor as an icon of Jesus Christ as had previously been the case, and, along with French society, saw them as people to be marginalised. (A discussion on this attitude to the poor in the society of the period can be found in The Social Conscience of Vincent de Paul by Greg Cooney CM - see full reference below). In this latter area, André Duval's approach would have appealed to Vincent much more.

In 1994, Fr Hugh O'Donnell CM summed up Vincent's separation from de Bérulle as follows:

I began to reach the conclusion that Vincent's separation from Cardinal de Bérulle was not something he chose to do, rather it was something he had to do. He received a lot from de Bérulle........ though he could have joined The Oratory .... he was led in another direction..... For de Bérulle, God was elsewhere. He regarded life in terms of taking what was happening in front of him and bringing it to the Divine liturgy before the throne of God. Vincent's experience led him in the opposite direction. For Vincent, God is here and the Divine liturgy is in front of us. God is here! That's why we can say the Poor are our Masters. God is here! God is here in poor people, in our experiences, in events and in the persons who are in our presence and in whose presence we are. (O'Donnell CM, Hugh, "Apostolic Reflection", Vincentiana, 4-5 (1994): 285)



Cooney CM, G., "The Social Conscience of Vincent de Paul", Oceania Vincentian, 2 (2001); 1-33

Coste, CM, Pierre, The Life and Works of St. Vincent de Paul, Volume 1, (New York: New City Press,1987)

Dodin, André, François de Sales, Vincent de Paul: Les Deux Amis, (Paris: OEIL, 1984)

Duval, André, La vie admirable de Soeur Marie de l’Incarnation, (Paris: 1621)

Krumenacker, Yves, L'Ecole française de spiritualité, (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1998)

Murray CM, Hugh, "Vincent and the Oratory", Oceania Vincentian, 1 (2000): 8-12

O'Donnell CM, Hugh, "Apostolic Reflection", Vincentiana, 4-5 (1994): 282-291

Pujo, Bernard, Vincent de Paul, (Paris: Éditions Albin Michel S.A., 1998)

Román CM, José María, St Vincent de Paul - a Biography, (London: Melisende, 1999)

Williams CM, "Many Strokes of the Lash - André Duval", Oceania Vincentian, 3 (2003): 29-46


French Congregation of the Oratory, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

The French School of Spirituality, Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St Louis de Montfort, EWTN

Pierre de Bérulle, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia