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 th
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.