French school of spirituality

The French School of Spirituality was the principal devotional influence within the Catholic Church from the mid-17th century through the mid-20th century not only in France but throughout the church in most of the world. A development of the Catholic Reformation like the Spanish mystics and the Society of Jesus, it focused the devotional life of the Catholic faithful on a personal experience of the person of Jesus and the quest for personal holiness. It was perhaps more concrete than the Iberian example and thus easier to teach, but it shared with the Spanish saints their focus on the Divine Person. This movement in Catholic spirituality had many important figures over the centuries, the first being its founder, Cardinal Pierre de Berulle (1575–1629).


Cardinal de Berulle

The spiritual and apostolic current of the French school of Spirituality holds a significant place in nearly all the histories of spirituality. Bérulle's teaching was rooted in the thought of the Church Fathers. Among the characteristics of the movement were: a deep mystical experience, a detailed and well-adapted method for instructing others, and a special concern for the dignity of priests, their holiness and formation.[1]

The French clergy of the 17th century were not, for the most part adequately trained, and they received little support from the bishops, many of whom did not even live in their dioceses. Most ordinary Catholics were uneducated and not immune to the influence of superstition and witchcraft. It is difficult to exaggerate the paramount importance of the parish missions, given in rural areas as well as in the cities and even at the court itself. All the leaders of the French school not only took part in them but also clarified the underlying theology of the parish mission.[1]

The missionary renewal went hand in hand with an educational renewal and with a multitude of apostolic initiatives. The drawing room of Berulle's cousin, Madame Acarie’s became a veritable center of Catholic revival.[1]

St. Francois de Sales