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MARIE DE L’INCARNATION.
There was another nun who stood apart, silent and motionless, — a stately figure, with features strongly marked and perhaps somewhat masculine;? but, if so, they belied her, for Marie de l'Incarnation was a woman to the core. For her there was no need of entreaties; for she knew that the Jesuits had made her their choice, as Superior of the new convent. She was born, forty years before, at Tours, of a good bourgeois family. As she grew up towards maturity, her qualities soon declared themselves. She had uncommon talents and strong religious susceptibilities, joined to a vivid imagination, — an alliance not always desirable under a form of faith where both are excited by stimulants so many and so powerful. Like Madame de la Peltrie, she married, at the desire of her parents, in her eighteenth year. The marriage was not happy. Her biographers say that there was no fault on either side. Apparently, it was a severe case of “incompatibility.” She sought her consolation in the churches; and kneeling in dim chapels, held communings with Christ and the angels. At the end of two years her husband died, leaving her with an infant son. She gave him to the charge of her sister, abandoned herself to solitude and meditation, and became a mystic of the intense and passional school. Yet a strong maternal instinct battled painfully in her breast with a sense of religious vocation. Dreams, visions, interior voices, ecstasies, revulsions, periods of rapture and periods of deep dejection, made up the agitated tissue of her life. She fasted, wore hair-cloth, scourged herself, washed dishes among the servants, and did their most menial work. She heard, in a trance, a miraculous voice. It was that of Christ, promising to become her spouse. Months and years passed, full of troubled hopes and fears, when again the voice sounded in her ear, with assurance that the promise was fulfilled, and that she was indeed his bride. Now ensued phenomena which are not infrequent among Roman Catholic female devotees when unmarried, or married unhappily, and which have their source in the necessities of a woman's nature. To her excited thought her divine spouse became a liv, ing presence; and her language to him, as recorded by herself, is that of the most intense passion. She went to prayer, agitated and tremulous, as if to a meeting with an earthly lover. “O my Love!” she exclaimed, “when shall I embrace you? Have you no pity on me in the torments that I suffer? Alas! alas! my Love, my Beauty, my Life! instead of healing my pain, you take pleasure in it. Come, let me embrace you, and die in your sacred arms!” And again she writes: “Then, as I was spent with fatigue, I was forced to say, “My divine Love, since you wish me to live, I pray you let me rest a little, that I may the better serve you;' and I promised him that after
1 There is an engraved portrait of her, taken some years later, of which a photograph is before me. When she was "in the world," her stately proportions are said to have attracted general attention. Her family name was Marie Guyard. She was born on the eighteenth of October, 1599.
ward I would suffer myself to consume in his chaste and divine embraces.”1
Clearly, here is a case for the physiologist as well as the theologian; and the “holy widow,” as her biographers call her, becomes an example, and a lamentable one, of the tendency of the erotic principle to ally itself with high religious excitement.
But the wings of imagination will tire and droop, the brightest dream-land of contemplative fancy grow
1 “Allant à l'oraison, je tressaillois en moi-même, et disois : Allons dans la solitude, mon cher amour, afin que je vous embrasse à mon aise, et que, respirant mon âme en vous, elle ne soit plus que vous-même par union d'amour. ... Puis, mon corps étant brisé de fatigues, j'étois contrainte de dire: Mon divin amour, je vous prie de me laisser prendre un peu de repos, afin que je puisse mieux vous 'servir, puisque vous voulez que je vive. . . . Je le priois de me laisser agir; lui promettant de me laisser après cela consumer dans ses chastes et divins embrassemens. . ..0) amour! quand vous embrasserai-je ? N'avez-vous point pitié de moi dans le tourment que je souffre? helas ! helas! mon amour, ma beauté, ma vie ! au lieu de me guérir, vous vous plaisez à mes maux. Venez donc que je vous embrasse, et que je meure entre vos bras sacréz!”
The above passages, from various pages of her journal, will suffice, though they give but an inadequate idea of these strange extravagances. What is most astonishing is, that a man of sense like Charlevoix, in his Life of Marie de l'Incarnation, should extract them in full, as matter of edification and evidence of saintship. Her recent biographer, the Abbé Casgrain, refrains from quoting them, though he mentions them approvingly as evincing fervor. The Abbé Racine, in his Discours à l'Occasion du 192eme Anniversaire de l'heureuse Mort de la Vén. Mère de l'Incarnation, delivered at Quebec in 1864, speaks of them as transcendent proofs of the supreme favor of Heaven. Some of the pupils of Marie de l’Incarnation also had mystical marriages with Christ; and the impassioned rhapsodies of one of them being overheard, she nearly lost her character, as it was thought that she was apostrophizing an earthly lover.
dim, and an abnormal tension of the faculties find its inevitable reaction at last. From a condition of highest exaltation, a mystical heaven of light and glory, the unhappy dreamer fell back to a dreary earth, or rather to an abyss of darkness and misery. Her biographers tell us that she became a prey to dejection, and to thoughts of infidelity, despair, estrangement from God, aversion to mankind, pride, vanity, impurity, and a supreme disgust at the rites of religion. Exhaustion produced common-sense, and the dreams which had been her life now seemed a tissue of illusions. Her confessor became a weariness to her, and his words fell dead on her ear. Indeed, she conceived a repugnance to the holy man. Her old and favorite confessor, her oracle, guide, and comforter, had lately been taken from her by promotion in the Church, — which may serve to explain her dejection; and the new one, jealous of his predecessor, told her that all his counsels had been visionary and dangerous to her soul. Having overwhelmed her with this announcement, he left her, apparently out of patience with her refractory and gloomy mood; and she remained for several months deprived of spiritual guidance.1 Two years elapsed before her mind recovered its tone, when she soared once more in the seventh heaven of imaginative devotion.
Marie de l'Incarnation, we have seen, was unrelenting in every practice of humiliation, — dressed in mean attire, did the servants' work, nursed sick
i Casgrain, 195–197.
1620–38.] IMMURED WITH THE URSULINES.
beggars, and, in her meditations, taxed her brain with metaphysical processes of self-annihilation. And yet when one reads her “Spiritual Letters,” the conviction of an enormous spiritual pride in the writer can hardly be repressed. She aspired to that inner circle of the faithful, that aristocracy of devotion, which, while the common herd of Christians are busied with the duties of life, eschews the visible and the present, and claims to live only for God. In her strong maternal affection she saw a lure to divert her from the path of perfect saintship. Love for her child long withheld her from becoming a nun; but at last, fortified by her confessor, she left him to his fate, took the vows, and immured herself with the Ursulines of Tours. The boy, frenzied by his desertion, and urged on by indignant relatives, watched his opportunity, and made his way into the refectory of the convent, screaming to the horrified nuns to give him back his mother. As he grew older, her anxiety increased; and at length she heard in her seclusion that he had fallen into bad company, had left the relative who had sheltered him, and run off, no one knew whither. The wretched mother, torn with anguish, hastened for consolation to her confessor, who met her with stern upbraidings. Yet even in this her intensest ordeal her enthusiasm and her native fortitude enabled her to maintain a semblance of calmness, till she learned that the boy had been found and brought back.
Strange as it may seem, this woman, whose habit