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Sects In France And Elsewhere

During the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the
twentieth century, scarcely a single country has been free from
religious manifestations of the most varied kind, all concerned with
new ways and means of attaining salvation; and if one were to include
all the different phases of occultism as well, one would be astounded
at the mystical ardour of which modern humanity is possessed.

From the spiritualists and the theosophists to the crystal-gazers and
the palmists, all these occult practices are, in reality, merely the
result of a more or less intensified desire to communicate with the
spiritual worlds.

France, although considered a country pre-eminently sceptical, has not
escaped the general tendency, for even in what appeared to be the most
rationalistic epoch--that of the Revolution--the "Cult of Reason" was
founded, to be succeeded by the "Religion of the Supreme Being"
introduced by Robespierre. And what numbers of new sects and religions
can be recorded since then!

There was, first of all, the _Theophilanthropy_ of Jean-Baptiste Chemin
and Valentine Haüy, representing the faith of those who love man in
God, and God in so far as He loves man. The Empire, in persecuting
this doctrine, only added to its vitality, for it has hot even yet
completely died out.

The religion of Father Enfantin, which had a great vogue in the last
century, conformed in many respects to the name of its founder. Man
and woman, united by religion, were to form priests "in duplicate" for
the guidance of their flock, young and old, lovers and married couples
alike. The Saint-Simonites--so admirable in some ways--allied
themselves to this doctrine, and succeeded in attracting a number of

The life of French sects has always been of short duration, though
there have existed among them many that in other countries would
certainly have won for their founders the laurel-wreath of fame. Such
was, for instance, the _Church of France_, inaugurated by the Abbé
Chatel, whose idea was to entrust sacerdotal functions to the most
worthy among his followers, by means of a public vote. The sect
prospered for a time, but soon disappeared amid general indifference,
and the Abbé ended his days as a grocer.

The doctrine of Fabre Palaprat had more success, being drawn from the
esoteric teachings of the Gospel of St. John. He either suppressed or
modified many of the Catholic dogmas, abandoned the use of Latin and
inaugurated prayers in French.

The _Fusionists_ were founded by Jean-Baptiste de Tourreil. After a
divine revelation which came to him in the forest of Meudon, near
Paris, he broke with Catholicism and preached the intimate union of man
and nature. He anticipated to some extent the naturalist beliefs which
spread through both France and England at the beginning of the present
century, and his posthumous work entitled _The Fusionist Religion or
the Doctrine of Universalism_ gives an idea of his tendencies. There
was an element of consolation in his doctrine, for the harmony between
man and the universe, as taught by him, renders death only a
prolongation of life itself, and makes it both attractive and desirable.

The _Neo-Gnostic Church_ of Fabre des Essarts was condemned by Leo XIII
with some severity as a revival of the old Albigensian heresy, with the
addition of new false and impious doctrines, but it still has many
followers. The Neo-Gnostics believe that this world is a work of
wickedness, and was created not by God but by some inferior power,
which shall ultimately disappear--and its creation also. While the
Manichaeans teach that the world is ruled by the powers of both good
and evil, God and Satan, the Neo-Gnostics declare that it is Satan who
reigns exclusively upon earth, and that it is man's duty to help to
free God from His powerful rival. They also preach the brotherhood of
man and of nations, and it is probably this altruistic doctrine which
has rendered them irresistible to many who are wearied and disheartened
by the enmities and hatreds that separate human beings.

In 1900, after a letter from Jean Bricaut, the patriarch of universal
Gnosticism in Lyons, the Neo-Gnostics united with the Valentinians, and
their union was consecrated by the Council of Toulouse in 1903. But
some years afterwards, Dr. Fugairon of Lyons (who took the name of
Sophronius) amalgamated all the branches, with the exception of the
Valentinians, under the name of the _Gnostic Church of Lyons_. These
latter, although excluded, continued to follow their own way of
salvation, and addressed a legal declaration to the Republican
Government in 1906 in defence of their religious rights of association.

In the Gnostic teaching, the Eons, corresponding to the archetypal
ideas of Plato, are never single; each god has his feminine
counterpart; and the Gnostic assemblies are composed of "perfected
ones," male and female. The Valentinians give the mystic bride the
name of Helen.

The Gnostic rites and sacraments are complicated. There is the
_Consolamentum_, or laying on of hands; the breaking of bread, or means
of communication with the _Astral Body of Jesus_; and the
_Appareillamentum_, or means of receiving divine grace.

In peculiarities of faith and of its expression some of our French
sects certainly have little to learn from those of America and Russia.

The _Religion of Satanism_--or, as it was sometimes called, the
_Religion of Mercy_--founded by Vintras and Boullan, deserves special
mention. Vintras was arrested--unjustly, it seems certain--for
swindling, and in the visions which he experienced as a result of his
undeserved sufferings he believed himself to be in communication with
the Archangel Michael and with Christ Himself. Having spent about
twelve years in London, he returned to Lyons to preach his doctrine,
and succeeded in making a number of proselytes. He died in 1875. Some
years afterwards a doctor of divinity named Boullan installed himself
at Lyons as his successor. He taught that women should be common
property, and preached the union with inferior beings (in order to
raise them), the "union of charity," and the "union of wisdom." He
healed the sick, exorcised demons, and treated domestic animals with
great success, so that the peasants soon looked upon him as superior to
the curé who was incapable of curing their sick horses and cattle.

Vintras had proclaimed himself to be Elijah come to life; Boullan
adopted the title of John the Baptist resurrected. He died at the
beginning of the twentieth century, complaining of having been cruelly
slandered, especially by Stanislas de Guaita, who in his _Temple of
Satan_ had accused Boullan of being a priest of Lucifer, of making use
of spells and charms, and--worst of all--of celebrating the Black Mass.

The founder of the _Religion of Humanity_ had a tragic and troublous
career. Genius and madness have rarely been so harmoniously combined
for the creation of something that should be durable and of real value.
For one cannot doubt the madness of Auguste Comte. It was manifested
in public on the 12th of April, 1826, and interrupted the success of
his lectures, which had attracted all the leading minds of the time,
including Humboldt himself. After a violent attack of mania, the
founder of the philosophy of Positivism took refuge at Montmorency.
From there he was with difficulty brought back to Paris and placed
under the care of the celebrated alienist, Esquirol. He was released
when only partially cured, and at the instigation of his mother
consented to go through a religious marriage ceremony with Madame
Comte, after which he signed the official register _Brutus Bonaparte
Comte_! The following year he threw himself into the Seine, but was
miraculously saved, and, gradually recovering his strength, he
recommenced his courses of lectures, which aroused the greatest
interest both in France and abroad.

The Positivist leader had always shown signs of morbid megalomania.
His early works are sufficient to prove that he was the prey to an
excessive form of pride, for he writes like a Messiah consciously
treading the path that leads to a martyr's crown. His private troubles
aggravated the malady, and the escapades of his wife, who frequently
left his house to rejoin her old associates, were the cause of violent
attacks of frenzy.

Later the philosopher himself was seized by an overwhelming passion for
Clotilde de Vaux, a writer of pretensions who was, in reality,
distinguished neither by talent nor beauty. The feeling that she
inspired in him has no parallel in the annals of modern love-affairs.
After some years, however, she died of consumption, and the germ of
madness in Comte, which had been lying latent, again showed itself,
this time in the form of a passionate religious mysticism. His dead
mistress became transformed, for him, into a divinity, and he looked
upon everything that she had used or touched as sacred, shutting
himself up in the midst of the furniture and utensils that had
surrounded her during her life-time. Three times a day he prostrated
himself, and offered up fervent prayers to the spirit of Clotilde, and
he often visited her grave, or sat, wrapped in meditation, in the
church that she had frequented. He sought to evoke her image, and held
long conversations with it, and it was under her influence that he
founded a new religion based chiefly on his _Positivist Catechism_. In
this cult, Clotilde symbolised woman and the superior humanity which
shall proceed from her.

Although a profound and original thinker, Comte was like the rest in
considering himself the High Priest of his own religion. He sought to
make converts, and wrote to many of the reigning sovereigns, including
the Tsar; and he even suggested an alliance, for the good of the
nations, with the Jesuits!

But to do him justice we must admit that he led an ascetic and
saint-like life, renouncing all worldly pleasures. An Englishman who
saw much of him about 1851 declared that his goodness of soul surpassed
even his brilliancy of intellect.

Though he had so little sympathy for the past and present religions
upon whose grave he erected his own system, he himself reverted, as a
matter of fact, to a sort of fetishism; and his "Humanity," with which
he replaced the former "gods," manifested nearly all their defects and

In his _Sacerdoce_ and _Nouvelle Foi Occidentale_ the principal ideas
are borrowed from inferior beliefs of the Asiatic races. He
incorporated the arts of hygiene and medicine in his creed, and
declared that medicine would reinstate the dominion of the priesthood
when the Positivist clergy succeeded in fulfilling the necessary

The remarkable success of this religion is well known. Numerous sects
based on Comte's doctrines were founded in all parts of the world, and
his philosophy made a deep impression on the minds of thinking men, who
assisted in spreading it through all branches of society. Even to-day
believers in Positivism are found not only in France, but above all in
North and South America. In Brazil, Comte's influence was both
widespread and beneficial, and the very laws of this great Republic are
based on the theories of the Positivist leader.

The value of certain of his fundamental doctrines may be questioned,
equally with the ruling ideas of his religion, his Messianic rôle, and
his priesthood. But there is nevertheless something sublime in the
teaching that individual and social happiness depends upon the degree
of affection and goodwill manifested in the human heart. This is no
doubt one reason why the adherents of the Positivist Church are so
often distinguished by their high morality and their spirit of

In addition to purely local sects and religions, France has always
harboured a number of _Swedenborgians_, whose beliefs have undergone
certain modifications on French soil. For instance, thaumaturgy was
introduced by Captain Bernard, and healing by means of prayer by Madame
de Saint-Amour. But Leboys des Guais, the acknowledged leader of the
sect about 1850, reverted to the unalloyed doctrines of the founder,
and thanks to Mlle. Holms and M. Humann, and their church in the Rue de
Thouin, the Swedenborgian religion still flourishes in France to-day.

The _Irvingites_, founded in Scotland towards the end of the eighteenth
century, also made many French converts. Irving preached the second
coming of Christ, and believed that the Holy Ghost was present in
himself. He waited some time for God the Father to endow him with the
miraculous gifts needed for establishing the new Church, and then,
finding that many of his followers were able to heal the sick with
surprising success, he concluded that heaven had deigned to accept him
as the "second Saviour." He organised a Catholic Apostolic Church in
London, and proclaimed himself its head; while in Paris the principal
church of the sect, formerly in the Avenue de Ségur, has now been moved
to the Rue François-Bonvin. Woman is excluded from the cult, and
consequently the name of the Virgin is omitted from all Irvingite
ceremonies, while the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the
Virgin are denied.

But many other sects exist in addition to those already mentioned.
Often their life is short as a summer night, and they appear and
disappear, leaving no trace behind them save a passing exaltation in
the hearts of their followers. Those who join them seem for a time to
be satisfied with dreams and illusions, but usually end by returning to
the bosom of the established Church--or by being confined in an asylum.

These innumerable sects with their illusory pretensions serve to
demonstrate the truth of our thesis--that the most ardent desire of
present-day humanity is for the renewal or transformation of the faith
to which it has grown accustomed.

A well-known critic has claimed that it is possible for all the
dramatic or comic incidents that have been played in all theatres of
all ages to be reduced down to thirty-six situations from the use of
which not even a genius can escape. To how many main variations could
we reduce the desire for reform displayed by our religious
revolutionaries? The search for salvation takes on so many vague and
incalculable shapes that we can only compare them to clouds that float
across the sky on a windy day; but there are, all the same, signs of
kinship to be discovered even between the sects that appear to be
furthest apart.

The _Chlysty_, from whom the religion of Rasputin was partly derived,
show some resemblance to the "Shakers," and to the Christian
Scientists, both of whom have evolved along lines diametrically
opposed. The "Shakers," direct descendants of the Huguenots, teach
that the end of the world is at hand, and that all men should repent in
preparation for the coming of the heavenly kingdom. Their meetings
have always been characterised by visions and revelations, and they
sing and dance for joy, leaping into the air and trembling with nervous
excitement--to which fact they owe their name.

In tracing out their history we find many striking analogies with the
sects of our own day. It was in 1770 that the "Shakers" believed
Christ to have reincarnated in the body of Anne Lee, the daughter of a
Manchester blacksmith. Although married, she preached--like Mrs. Eddy
a hundred years later--the benefits of celibacy, the only state
approved by God. Her convictions were so sincere, and her expression
of them so eloquent, that when charged with heresy she succeeded in
converting her accusers. The cult of virginity was adopted by her
followers, who considered her their "Mother in Christ," inspired from
on high; and when she counselled them to leave England and emigrate to
the New World, they followed her unquestioningly, even to embarking in
an old and long-disused vessel for the Promised Land. Arrived there,
however, their lot was not a happy one, for they met with much
persecution, and Anne Lee herself was imprisoned. But after her
release she preached with greater force and conviction than ever the
end of sexual unions and the near approach of the Kingdom of God. Her
eloquence attracted many, and even today her religion still has
followers. Among their settlements we may mention that of Alfred,
Maine, where a number of "spiritual families" live harmoniously
together, convinced that the Kingdom of God has already descended upon
earth, and that they are existing in a state of celestial purity like
that of the angels in heaven. They refuse to eat pork or to make use
of fermented drinks, and dancing still plays a part in their religious
services. Sometimes, in the midst of the general excitement, a sister
or a brother will announce a message that has been delivered by some
unseen spirit, whereupon all the hearers leap and dance with redoubled

To-day, even as a hundred years ago, the "Shakers" affirm, not without
reason, that Heaven and Hell are within ourselves, and that that is why
we must live honestly and well in order to share in the heavenly
kingdom from which sinners are excluded. Just so do Christian
Scientists declare that we may be led by faith towards heaven,
happiness and health.

Even murder, that most extreme perversion of all moral feeling, has
been adopted as a means of salvation by several Russian sects as well
as by the Hindus, evolving in widely contrasted environments. The
general desire to gain, somehow or other, the favour of the "Eternal
Principle of Things," thus expresses itself in the most varied and the
most unlikely forms, one of the most striking being that of the
"religion of murder," which throws a lurid light upon the hidden
regions of man's subconscious mind.

Next: The Religion Of Murder

Previous: Schlatter The Miracle-man

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