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Testing the Spirit of the Prophets: Jean Chéron, Melancholy and the “Illusions” of Dévotes

Discerner l’Esprit des prophètes : Jean Chéron, la mélancolie et les « illusions » des dévotes
Jennifer Hillman

Résumés

Cet article voudrait montrer comment l’accusation de mélancolie souvent portée contre les mystiques a été exploitée durant le dernier XVIIe siècle par l’anti-mystique. De nombreux historiens ont noté l’essor du soupçon à l’égard des mystiques à cette période. Des scandales ont éclaté ici et là en Europe: l’affaire des Alumbrados de Séville (1623), largement connue en France, la poursuite des Illuminés de Picardie en 1635, la possession de Loudun et le Quiétisme dans les années 1690. Cet article se propose d’étudier la critique du carme Jean Chéron (1596-1673) qui dénonce la « fausse spiritualité » des femmes mystiques. Il s’agira, d’une part, de situer le traité de Chéron, l’Examen de la théologie mystique (1657), dans le contexte des courants de l’anti-mystique et, d’autre part, de le replacer dans la tradition plus ancienne qui consiste à utiliser la mélancolie pour discréditer les expériences spirituelles. Nous voudrions montrer que grâce à Chéron nous avons accès aux inquiétudes que suscite l’échec des directeurs spirituels à soumettre les expériences mystiques aux critères de « discernement » que la littérature du même nom a mis en place. Cette étude rejoint ainsi les travaux historiques récents qui conçoivent le mouvement anti-mystique du XVIIe siècle comme une attaque contre la spiritualité féminine.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Louis Cognet, La spiritualité moderne: I L’essor: 1500-1650, Paris, Aubier, 1966, p. 495. This is c (...)
  • 2 “Democratization” is a phrase borrowed from Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit: Possession, (...)
  • 3 Sophie Houdard, Les invasions mystiques: spiritualités, hétérodoxies, et censure au début de l’époq (...)
  • 4 Michel de Certeau’s writings are central to the themes of this article. See, in particular, La Fabl (...)
  • 5 Jean Chéron, Examen de la Theologie Mystique: qui fait voir la difference des lumières divines de c (...)

1In the seventeenth century, France witnessed what Henri Bremond called a “mystical invasion,” followed shortly afterwards by a “mystical conquest”. Bremond’s phrases captured the maturing of this spiritual current in the century of saints, expressed in the lives of figures such as Barbe Acarie, Pierre Bérulle and the savoyard François de Sales. In the middle decades of the century, however, a strong anti-mystical retreat gained momentum, which has led scholar Louis Cognet to describe French mysticism in this period as “a beautiful tree covered with flowers, whose roots were infected”.1 Scholars have offered various explanations for this. Some have suggested that the anti-mystics were responding to the “democratisation” of access to God via the new spirituality and were particularly uneasy about the freedom it appeared to give to lay women.2 Others have proposed that they were suspicious of a spiritual trend which had acquired its own vocabulary and which had become independent of scholastic theological method.3 Perhaps most well-known is Michel de Certeau’s interpretative model which privileges the epistemological shift of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.4 According to this interpretation, the application of reason reduced mystical experiences to “bodily phenomena” which could be explained in scientific or medical terms. This article seeks to engage with these interpretations via a discussion of a text produced amidst this anti-mystical backlash: the Examen de la theologie mystique composed by a Carmelite theologian named Jean Chéron (1596-1673) and published in 1657.5

  • 6 Houdard, op. cit.
  • 7 Jean Joseph Surin, Guide spirituel pour la perfection, texte établi et présenté par Michel de Certe (...)
  • 8 The discernment of spirits genre has been the subject of a vast number of works, including the foll (...)
  • 9 I am borrowing this term from Dyan Elliott who wrote of the “pathologization of female spirituality (...)
  • 10 This theme was also identified, but not discussed, in Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 134. Houdard herself (...)

2Chéron’s Examen is well-known to scholars of seventeenth-century French spirituality.6 Its composition provoked a vehement, and now well-studied, defence of mystical theology from the Jesuit discerner of spirits and Loudun exorcist, Jean-Joseph Surin (1600-1665).7 This article seeks to expand upon the scholarship on Chéron and foregrounds the significance of his text as a contribution to the wider literature on the discernment of spirits which had been evolving across the late medieval and early modern period.8 In response to recent historical work on the discernment genre, this article suggests that we can use Chéron’s text to reflect on the way that the testing of spirits increasingly subjected the physiology of mystical encounters to scrutiny – in this case, via an appeal to the discourse of melancholy as a tool for verifying spiritual experiences. In doing so, the article seeks to draw attention to a hitherto neglected theme in the Examen: the role of the spiritual director in differentiating between mystical experiences on the one hand, and the symptoms of melancholy on the other. The article locates Chéron’s text within a longer tradition of using melancholy to discredit (female) spiritual experiences and is attentive to its direct reliance on the fifteenth-century writings of the Sorbonnist Jean Gerson (d.1429). Yet it also shows that Chéron’s “pathologization” of bodily, spiritual experiences was a very specific product of the theological and intellectual context in which he was writing.9 In doing so, this paper contends that Chéron’s Examen can provide a window onto the anxieties about spiritual directors who were failing in their duties to subject mystical experiences to the criteria which discernment literature had set out for them.10

The Discernment of Spirits

  • 11 Paschal Boland, The Concept of Discretio Spirituum in John Gerson’s De Probatione Spirituum and De (...)
  • 12 The false mystic or what Gabriella Zarri called “santita simulate” (simulated/feigned sanctity) had (...)
  • 13 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 19.
  • 14 Gabriella Zarri, ‘Living Saints: A Typology of Female Sanctity in the Early Sixteenth Century’, in (...)

3The concept of the Discretio Spirituum has a scriptural basis in the Pauline writings on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, 12:10.11 It was the practice of discernment which would help to “test the spirit of the prophets” – in other words, establish if spiritual experiences were the result of a divine or demonic encounter, or whether they were variously fraudulent and feigned, or the product of mental and bodily illnesses.12 The fourteenth century, with the emergence of such visionary saints and would-be saints as Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden, and Joan of Arc, saw renewed interest in the testing of spirits. This generated a growing literature on discernment, both of divine and demonic possession as over one-hundred theological treatises were composed on the subject between 1500 and 1700.13 It also resulted in a climate of clerical suspicion surrounding those “living saints” who claimed to have contact with God, or with those who exhibited “miraculous” divinely-inspired powers.14

  • 15 Most histories of demonic possession acknowledge the fluid boundaries between divine and demonic po (...)
  • 16 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 8.
  • 17 Voaden, op. cit., p. 57.
  • 18 Ibid, p. 57.
  • 19 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 13.
  • 20 Keitt, op. cit., p. 60-61. There are also points of comparison with the way in which “enthusiasts” (...)

4Mystics and visionaries were often subject to the practice of testing – not least because demonic delusions and divine inspiration were dangerously similar.15 Not surprisingly, the Church wanted to subject individual, private experiences to official verification. Since it was impossible for spiritual directors to see into these interior states, these men often had to become “discerners of bodies” who looked closely at the morphological signs of mystical ecstasy.16 The work of Rosalynn Voaden has shown how central spiritual directors were to the discretio spirituum by the late Middle Ages.17 As she puts it, spiritual directors were “the first line of defence in the Church’s battle against demonic infiltration”.18 Even by the late thirteenth century, mystics were being poked and prodded by clerics who used “pinpricks and pinches” to establish whether they were genuinely entranced (and thus did not feel pain).19 In this discernment of bodies medical categories were increasingly used in the late medieval and early modern period to explain away seemingly divinely-inspired symptoms, with diagnoses of melancholy being particularly common.20 This is something we will return to shortly.

  • 21 Copeland and Jan Machielsen, ‘Introduction’, in Copeland and Machielsen (eds), op. cit., p. 14.
  • 22 Adelisa Malena, ‘Ego-Documents or “Plural Compositions”? Reflections on Obedient Women’s Scriptures (...)

5When the Carmelite Jean Chéron penned his Examen in 1657 then, he was looking to make a contribution to a swathe of corpuses of discernment literature which spanned several genres of theological and medical treatises. Whilst the discretio spirituum was a charism or gift bestowed to some, this did not preclude the notion that exorcists or confessors could follow practical advice to “test”.21 Discernment was, as Adelisa Malena has put it, an “arduous science” which was subject to constant revision.22 Chéron was writing in an era when discernment was given new import by the perceived threat posed by new spiritual trends. The next part of this article will contextualise Chéron’s text in order to illustrate his response to the spiritual currents associated with the “new mysticism” in seventeenth-century France.

Jean Chéron, Melancholy & Anti-Mysticism

  • 23 Copeland, ‘Participating in the Divine: Visions and Ecstasies in a Florentine Convent’, in Copeland (...)
  • 24 Caciola, op. cit., p. 2.

6Discernment criteria were fluid and seem to have resurfaced during periods when authenticity was called into question by the Church. Clare Copeland’s work on Maria Maddelena de’ Pazzi (1566-1607) has shown, for instance, how doubts over mystical raptures were given “potency” by broader challenges to the Catholic Church.23 Nancy Caciola has traced how the discernment of spirits was historically contingent, evolving with the religious sensibilities and spiritual currents of the late medieval period.24 Notably, debates over discernment seem to have intensified when new devotions presented perceived challenges to orthodoxy. As Keitt succinctly puts it:

  • 25 Keitt, op. cit., p. 56.

Paul offered no fixed guidelines for the discernment of spirits but at key moments in the history of Christianity, the perceived need for such criteria has been acute. These moments have often corresponded with times of turmoil within the Church, when issues of authority have loomed large.25

  • 26 Sluhovsky, op. cit., 99.
  • 27 On recogimiento, see Elena Carrera, Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography: Authority, Power and the Self (...)
  • 28 John J. Conley, The Suspicion of Virtue: Women Philosophers in Neoclassical France, Ithaca, Cornell (...)
  • 29 The Inquisition used the term “Alumbrados” to refer to a number of heterodox practices during this (...)

7When Jean Chéron penned his Examen in 1657, he confronted what historians often refer to as a wave of “new mysticism” which had already penetrated the Low Countries and Spain in the sixteenth century, but which arrived later in France.26 “New mysticism” seems to be something of a misnomer however, as much of the new spirituality was essentially a renewal and revival of mystical practices from the Franciscan and Dominican traditions. The Franciscan method of mental prayer known as recogimiento was itself a continuation of late medieval Spanish Franciscan practices, drawn from the traditions of Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Rhino-Flemish school.27 It necessitated a suspension of the senses in order to turn inwardly towards God. Early proponents of these techniques of interiority and mental prayer in France included François de Sales, whose Traité de l’amour de Dieu of 1616 later became a work of some debate during the Quietist controversies of the later seventeenth century.28 In Spain, these mystical techniques were entirely orthodox and differentiated from the more controversial technique of “abandonment” or “passivity” associated with the Illuminist heresy.29

  • 30 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 127.
  • 31 Ibid., p. 123-127.
  • 32 The distinction between mystical and scholastic theology signified the difference between the affec (...)
  • 33 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 127.

8These distinctions were not recognised by anti-mystical writers, however, who conflated the new mysticism with passivity. As well as Chéron, other clerics tackled the passive mysticism with a number of objections – some more complex than others. In the first instance, this new spirituality was seen by some as reminiscent of the heretical claims of the Illuminists. In the decades following the publication of François de Sales’ treatise in 1616, more fierce anti-mystical arguments began to ferment. The Capuchin Archange Ripaut (d.1635) led the first attack on this spiritualité à la mode accusing its practitioners of sensuality, vanity and pride.30 Other anti-mystical writers objected to the new spirituality on other grounds. Practitioners of this passive mysticism left themselves open to accusations of demonic possession because it was believed that it was easier for Satan to enter the space of the “abandoned soul”.31 It also ignited theological debates about whether contemplation arose from a conscious act of abandonment on the part of the human being, or whether it was willed by God. This form of mysticism was also usually contrasted with the scholastic theology of the Universities, which questioned the validity of mystical experiences and thus mystical theology.32 At a more elementary level, critics also worried that this state of passive abandonment would negate the importance of the sacraments and good works to the Christian life.33

  • 34 Houdard, op. cit., p. 134.
  • 35 Nicolas D. Paige, Being Interior: Autobiography and the Contradictions of Modernity in Seventeenth- (...)

9The pioneering work of Sophie Houdard has shown that Chéron’s key contribution to this attack on the new mysticism and indeed the main offensive of his Examen was his approach to undermining its vocabulary. Houdard succeeded in showing that the emergence of Chéron’s text constituted a “turning point” in the debate, due to the attention he gave to the question of the language of mystical experience.34 Her careful analysis reveals that Chéron listed words which were unacceptable for use to describe mystical experiences and outlines how he wanted the mystical to be communicated in intelligible forms. In particular he mocked the phrases that mystics were using to describe their experiences, such as “the silence of the heart,” “spiritual intoxication,” and the “annihilation of the soul”. This type of language characterised female mysticism and was articulated by them in certain types of spiritual writings.35

10Intimately connected to Chéron’s critique of the semantics of experiential piety was the practice of discernment and the illusions caused by melancholy. That this was a key concern in the text is clear from the preface, where Chéron set out the intentions of his work:

  • 36 Chéron, op. cit., p. 6.

Il ne sera pas hors de propos de marquer icy par avance quelque lumieres ou quelques advis qui peuvent server à ce dessein & que j’estendray advantage dans la suite de ce livre. Ce qui me semble de plus important; c’est qu’il ne faut pas croire facilement que les ames ordinaires des Chrêtiens soient eslevées à ces estats extraordinaires, ny canoniser des actions qui peuvent estre purement humaines beaucoup moins faut-il prendre pour des visions ou par des revelations, les imaginations de quelques personnes mélancholiques, qui n’ont point d’autre principe que la maladie de leur esprit, secondée de l’amour propre.36

  • 37 See, for example, Chéron, Examen, Chapitre 18, ‘Des delections et peines et angoisses dont parlent (...)
  • 38 Surin, op.cit.
  • 39 Chéron, op. cit., p. 91.

11Here Chéron outlined the importance of doubting mystical experiences which were more often than not, undiagnosed cases of melancholy. This is a recurring theme in the text.37 The importance of this theme in Chéron’s text is also suggested by the responses which the Jesuit spiritual director Jean-Joseph Surin made, directly addressing Chéron in his writings on “extraordinary graces” and “spiritual illusions” – something which has been closely analysed by Michel de Certeau.38 That Chéron was using melancholy as a means of discrediting the new mysticism is evident throughout the Examen. The clearest sign is his reaction against the vague, independent vocabulary that mystical theology had developed, as we have already noted. Chéron also contrasted the vain aspirations of mystics with “ordinary Christians” who received the sacraments, listened to sermons, and prayed “without experiencing states of great enlightenment, great insight, without being in dark contemplation […] without feeling suffering of love, ecstasies, raptures, suspensions, revelations, visions, without speaking in an improper and unintelligible affective language”.39

  • 40 Weber, ‘Spiritual Administration: Gender and Discernment in the Carmelite Reform’, Sixteenth-Centur (...)
  • 41 Chéron, op. cit., p. 318.
  • 42 Ibid., p. 318-319.
  • 43 Ibid., p. 319.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 490.
  • 45 Ibid., p. 490. See the analysis of Chéron’s approach to the treatment of melancholy in Linda Timmer (...)
  • 46 Stuart Clark, Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture, Oxford, Oxford Universi (...)

12Chéron was, of course, not the first to identify melancholy as a “psycho-physiological illness” that could “counterfeit” mystical experiences – as Alison Weber has put it.40 He drew upon a number of sources for his discussion of melancholy, including classical medical treatises by Galen and Aristotelian writings.41 For Chéron, there were two main states of melancholy. The first was a choleric kind and the second was suffered largely by the “ill-humoured” – those with a “pasty” complexion.42 It was this second sort which was more prevalent among those devoted to prayer. Chéron warned that although these melancholics believed that their experiences were signs of “grace”, “virtue” and even “sanctity”, it was usually only “nature” and “passion” at work.43 Chéron’s treatment of melancholy as a medical category was, it should be noted here, inconsistent and obtuse. Neither was it particularly novel. His description of the effects of the “maladie divine” was gleaned from other works: he locates his conception of melancholy within established medical literature and the traditions of the school of Salerno, in particular. For Chéron, melancholy was an illness which spiritual directors were to recognise but then to defer to the expertise of “un bon Medecin”.44 Female sufferers could be cured by “evacuations naturelles” – probably a reference to menstruation – or by other forms of purgation.45 These were observations also made by several of Chéron’s contemporaries. Italians Francesco Maria Guazzo, author of the Compendium Maleficarum, and the Capuchin Francesco Maria Filomarino both commented on the way health could create illusions in women, for example.46

  • 47 Weber, ‘Saint Teresa: Demonologist’, in Anne J. Cruz and Mary Elizabeth Perry (eds), Culture and Co (...)

13The expertise of Carmelites in identifying the problems of melancholy among the female religious is perhaps more well-known in the works of Teresa of Avila. Two chapters of her Book of Foundations are devoted to advice on dealing with melancholy nuns, which Chéron cites repeatedly in his text. Teresa expected Prioresses to become skilled at identifying signs of melancholic “imaginings” and enforce the discipline necessary for curing them. In 1577 when Teresa wrote the Interior Castle she was aware of the problem that confessors might be deceived by the effects of melancholy and also recognised that male spiritual directors might not be as sensitive to the subtle differences between spiritual suffering and melancholy.47

  • 48 Chéron, op. cit., p. 286; cited in Timmermans, op. cit. p. 639.
  • 49 Caciola, op. cit., p. 284.

14Chéron’s treatment of the subject was more directly informed by the fifteenth-century theologian Jean Gerson who complained that mystics often mistook visions caused by medical illness or demonic temptations for divine visions. Like Gerson, Chéron wrote of the “natural” melancholy of women.48 Gerson was himself influenced by the writings of theologians in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century Parisian circles of Pierre d’Ailly and Henri Langenstein.49 Gerson wrote several treatises on the matter including On Distinguishing True Revelations from False (1401), On the Testing of Spirits (1415) and On the Examination of Doctrine (1423). Gerson’s work was actually first commissioned by the Council of Constance specifically to assess the validity of Brigit of Sweden’s canonisation. In his treatise On the Testing of Spirits, Gerson raised the possibility for illness to deceive a soul, writing:

  • 50 Boland, op. cit., p. 30.

When an investigation of spirits is being conducted, first of all, it must be determined whether the visionary is a person of good, sound judgement and common sense. Since the judgement of the intellect is affected by an injured brain, if anyone who has been thus injured is subject to strange fancies, we do not have to inquire further to discover from what spirit those neurotic and illusory visions come, as is evident in cases of insanity and in various other illnesses.50

  • 51 Dyan Elliott, art. cit. p. 30.
  • 52 Elliott, art. cit., p. 38.
  • 53 Schutte, op. cit., p. 56.
  • 54 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 32.

15Whilst spiritual discernment was not only aimed at women, the “pathologization” of mysticism in Gerson, Chéron and other works was undoubtedly gendered.51 Dyan Elliott has observed how Gerson’s targeting of women followed a “structural logic” as the “learned male clerical judge” versus the “unlearned female lay defendant”.52 By the seventeenth century, Federico Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, believed that women – particularly those between the ages of thirty and forty – were more likely to “fabricate visions”.53 In France, by 1630 the term for a spiritual woman – a spirituelle – acquired a derogatory meaning of a foolish or silly woman – or a folle.54 In Italy this mistrust resulted in a 1643 ruling of the Roman Inquisition that “the Sacred Congregation does not incline to believe easily” in the claims of spiritual experiences by women, which were condemned as either feigned or derived from a female illness.

  • 55 Ibid.
  • 56 Elliott, op. cit., p. 205.

16This mistrust of female spiritual experiences was often based upon traditional views of the nature of women: her humoural balance, her disorderly uterus, her carnality, weakness and her untrustworthiness.55 These authors were drawing upon contemporary knowledge of the female body whose humoural complexion made it susceptible to conditions such as hysteria (or the suffocation of the womb) and melancholy, as well as more vulnerable to both divine and demonic possession. The female body was thought to be cold and wet, whereas male bodies were hot and dry. Consequently, women were more prone towards the phlegmatic (cold and wet) and melancholic (cold and dry). This also gave them heightened imaginations. For example, it was widely believed that whoever a woman imagined at the moment of conception, the child would resemble.56

  • 57 The key work here is Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Fo (...)
  • 58 “In the Quietist Affair, the female body, once more, became the site of strategies of control, but (...)

17The centrality of the female body as a vehicle for communication with the divine, as illuminated by the seminal work of Caroline Walker-Bynum, perhaps makes it unsurprising that anti-mystical arguments would be levelled at the female body.57 In her work on the Quietist controversy in France, Marie Florine Bruneau has argued that it was the female body which was once again the site of debate.58 Bossuet was, after all, rejecting the idea that God spoke regularly through human nature, which made him critical of bodily signs as indications of “extraordinary graces”.

  • 59 Femke Molekamp, “Early Modern Women and Affective Devotional Reading”, European Review of History, (...)
  • 60 Dictionaire de l’Académie Francaise, 1762, vol. 1, p. 729: “Diminutif. Terme qui ne se dit que par (...)
  • 61 “J’adjouste que l’experience nous apprend que ceux qu’on appelle melancholie hypochondriaques sont (...)
  • 62 Timmermans, op. cit., p. 641.

18Jean Chéron certainly made the new mysticism synonymous with women and their disorderly bodies.59 In the first chapter of the text, Chéron makes it quite clear who it is who purport to experience mystical raptures in his repeated use of the term “Femmelette” – defined in the Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française as a “diminuitive term said in contempt to mean a woman of a very simple mind”.60 It is also interesting that Chéron’s rejection of mystical language was targeted towards the affective and bodily – indicative of the fact that he was wary of the eroticized, emotive vocabulary associated with the “feminine”. He worried about “extrinsic acts” which might simply be the productions of an active soul in a “temperate body” in chapter 9, for example, and he was particularly concerned about those who were excessively emotive. He lamented those who were almost always in a state of laughter, as well as those who cried even at subjects of some sadness or joy, or at the thought of Christ’s Passion – two kinds of people which Chéron argues were usually melancholic. To take another example, in chapter 11 on “Suffering and Pleasures,” Chéron aligns the problem of differentiating between “genuine” and “melancholic” with the direction of women’s spiritual lives. He suggests that the accounts of naturally melancholic women should be subject to scrutiny, since their melancholy can make them subject to “visions” and other delusions – and there are many other examples of this throughout the Examen.61 Yet for him, even if women were more naturally melancholic, the effects of melancholy in men and women were the same.62

  • 63 Surin himself suffered from melancholy, although it is unclear whether or not this is an allusion t (...)

19Crucially, Chéron also recognised that melancholic temperaments could exist in spiritual directors.63 In chapter 31 of the Examen, Chéron exhorts directees to avoid the counsel of those subject to illusions and visions:

  • 64 Chéron, op. cit., p. 306.

Si ces ames reconnoissent que leur temperament est melancholique […] & consequemment sujet aux illusions & visions, elles doivent fuir comme un escueil de se metre soubz la direction des personnes qu’elles voyent estre du mesme temperament.64

  • 65 Pauline Chaduc, ‘Le rôle de la direction spirituelle dans l’avènement du catholicisme moderne’, in (...)

20For Chéron, it seems, there was a risk of contagion here. Or, at the very least, there was a danger that spiritual directors predisposed towards melancholia could help to sustain the illusions of mystics. Pauline Chaduc noted the way Chéron cautioned directees “contre les commerces particulier avec un directeur mystique”65. Here, melancholy was for Chéron not only a way of doubting the spiritual experiences of femmelettes, but also of undermining mystical theology. Melancholy was in this way, for Chéron, part of a discourse of scepticism which could be used to discredit not only female visions, but the illusions of her spiritual director.

  • 66 This is made explicit at p. 324 of the Examen.

21We have seen in the second part of this article that Chéron repeatedly tried to make explicit the links between melancholic mystics and the weaknesses of their spiritual directors.66 This highlights that in order to fully understand Chéron’s critique of the new mysticism and his concerns about the deceptions which could be caused by melancholy, we must resist the temptation to reduce Chéron’s treatise to an attack on female mysticism. The next part of this article will now turn to explore the subtleties of the workings of gender in Chéron’s text by probing his treatment of the spiritual director as discerner more deeply.

Spiritual Directors and the “Illusions” of Dévotes

  • 67 Anderson, op. cit., p. 6. See also Zarri, art. cit., p. 84-85.
  • 68 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 97.

22Wendy Love Anderson has recently responded to what she sees as a scholarly preoccupation with gender in the study of discernment. She reminds us that it was only in the fifteenth century that the genre became inflected with concerns about female spirituality when the practice of discernment has a much longer history.67 Similarly, Moshe Sluhovsky argued that we must query the causality of the anti-mystic shift of the seventeenth century as simply a misogynistic critique and has preferred to see the anti-mystics as responding more directly to the new mystical techniques of the seventeenth century.68 His approach to the anti-mystical backlash thus shifts the focus from gender to spirituality, whilst he acknowledges that the school under attack was “portrayed as feminine and its followers as femmelettes”.

  • 69 This received cursory attention in ibid., p. 134.
  • 70 Chéron, op. cit., p. 91.

23Importantly, Jean Chéron’s appeal to the discourse of melancholy was gendered, but in a more complex way. It was informed by his views on the role of the male cleric in regulating the female access to God. For him, the responsibility for “melancholia” being confounded with “extraordinary graces” lay with the spiritual director.69 In chapter 9 of the Examen, Chéron explicitly states that the problem was not simply these melancholic femmelettes, but their spiritual directors who failed to recognise the pathology of their experiences. He wrote that “Il ne seroit pas besoin d’examiner ce point si l’erreur trouvoit seulement place dans l’esprit foible des femmes qui apres avoir abandonné plûtost par une negligence ou melancholie”.70 The graver problem, he found, was with the spiritual directors – in whom these illusions also “reigned”. He charged the spiritual directors who conducted the spiritual lives of these melancholic women with convincing them that their experiences were the operations of God’s grace in their soul:

  • 71 Ibid., p. 92.

Mais parce que je vois que cette illusion qui met le desordre dans les maisons et souvent la foiblesse dans le cerveau de ces pauvres creatures regne encore souvent dans ces Directeurs qui les conduisent & qui se persuadent qu’ils sont les seuls capables d’eslever les ames à la sainctete et se portent par tels a la faveur de l’estime qu’en font ces femmes qui publient par tout qu’ils ont des visions et des revelations de grandes unions avec Dieu et qu’ils ne vient que de la vie de la grace.71

  • 72 Patricia Ranft, ‘A Key to Counter-Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director’, (...)
  • 73 Jodi Bilinkoff, Related Lives: Confessors and their Female Penitents, 1450-1750, New York, Cornell (...)
  • 74 Ibid.

24The functions of “confessor-spiritual directors” was changing across the late medieval and early modern period, as scholars such as Patricia Ranft have shown.72 Generally speaking, they served as devotional guides to men and women (lay and religious) and might also check their written and spoken words for indications of heterodoxy, fraud or diabolic magic.73 Some spiritual directors were believed to be “specialists” in the field of discernment and an ability to discern the spirits was understood not only as a skill but as evidence of divine grace.74

  • 75 Sarah Ferber, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, London, Routledge, 2004, p. 9 (...)
  • 76 Colin Thompson, ‘Dangerous Visions: The Experience of Teresa of Avila and the Teachings of John of (...)
  • 77 Voaden, op. cit., p. 57-58.

25Female mystics, Teresa of Avila included, had always been expected to submit to the authority of male clerics in this way – whose gender meant he could moderate what Sarah Ferber called “potentially deceptive female enthusiasms”.75 Chéron’s notion that the spiritual director should be able to identify real mystical states from symptoms of melancholia was thus not entirely new. As we have already noted, the literature of discernment and devotional manuals had traditionally presented this as part of the spiritual director’s role. John of the Cross was an experienced spiritual director, for example, who had written on the way confessors could hinder the spiritual progress of souls.76 Alfonso of Jaén and Gerson also wrote that spiritual directors should possess the charism of discretio spirituum, they were also to be trustworthy theologians and should themselves have had mystical experiences.77 Chéron was critical of the way uninformed spiritual directors who believed they could discern spirits might help to mislead their directees:

  • 78 Chéron, op. cit., p. 350.

Il est defendu, comme nous l’avons remarque ailleurs, de publier, et debiter ces predictions avant qu’elles ayant esté bien examinées & jugées recevables par les Prelats et Docteurs en quoy peuvent manquer certains Directeurs qui canonisent toutes les imaginations de certaines devotes qui vivent sous leur conduite ce qui les fait passer dans leur esprit pour de grands maistres de la vie spirituelle et des hommes fort esclairez de Dieu et qui possedent le don de la discretion des esprits et connoissent tres bien les effets de la grace.78

  • 79 The issue of people being used as “saints” before they were officially recognised as such is also d (...)

26Chéron’s condemnation of the tendency for spiritual directors to “canonise” the spiritual experiences of their dévotes was probably also an allusion to the new cautiousness required by the Church when making claims about sanctity in this period.79 He was seemingly more irritated by those who pandered to the vanities of mystics and neglected to “diagnose” their conditions.

  • 80 Chéron, op. cit., p. 22.

Doctrine très remarquable et qui renversé tout ce que ces Mystiques qui font les directeurs d'importance s'imaginent des sentiments des femmeletes qu'ils conduisent et ausquelles ils font souvent ou renverser la cervelle, ou s'affoiblir notablement le sens commun, ou concevoir une grand estime d'elles-memes. Quoy qu'il n'y ait rien en elles de divin et surnaturel mais une pure facilite a certains actes qui s'acquiert assez aysement par les personnes melancholiques et qui ont l'imagination forte tels que sont ceux qui abondent en cette melancholie qu'on appelle noire et qui par cela sont en danger de tomber en epilepsie ou en quelque imagination hypochrondriaque.80

27Chéron develops this stance towards the end of Chapter 34 when discussing mystical prophecy and visions. “On this,” he wrote:

  • 81 Ibid., p. 346.

On void des directeurs abusez qui prennent pour des effects reels toutes les illusions de leurs devotes et quoy qu’ils voyent par l’experience que toutes les predications que ces personnes sont trouvent fausses, ils ne se rebutent point.81

28Chéron wanted mystics and their spiritual directors to subject their spiritual experiences to doubt as part of their devotional exercises – as part of their humility as much as a tool for verification. For Chéron it was simple: if they could subject these claims to scrutiny, then mystical theology could avoid the abuses it had become riddled with:

  • 82 Ibid., p. 350-351.

Advis que je donne icy pour monstrer la necessite de cet examen a tous et non pour induire ces personnes à s’en servir ; car l’experience fait voir qu’elles sont si attachées à leurs imaginations et ont une si haute estime de leur vie mystique qu’elles n’ont garde d’entrer en doute de l’excellent degré de perfection ou elles se croyent eslevées.82

  • 83 Ibid., p. 127-140.

29This is something which Jean Gerson had also advocated in “On the Testing of Spirits” when he instructed the mystic to cast aside transcendental experiences with “modesty” and “fear that he may have some ailment like the insane, maniacs or melancholics”. Chéron’s views on spiritual direction were informed by his desire for spiritual directors to use “reason” to conduct the spiritual lives of their directees. This was part of his appeal to the scholastic theological method: a recurrent theme of the Examen.83 Elsewhere in the text, Chéron condemned the committal of the direction of souls to persons who advised by instinct:

  • 84 Ibid., p. 327.

personnes qui gouvernent, non par raison, mais par un instinct interieur et dangereux encore de leur demander conseil et le suivre, puis qu’ils ne jugent que confirmemant a un instinct qui prevanant la raison ne peut estre un movement raisonable: Que s ices personnes dissent quelles soient asseurées que ces mouvemens sont divins, elles se donnent donc la vanité de scavoir distinguer infailliblement les actes naturels des surnaturels, ce qui est faux.84

  • 85 This was part of a broader debate on Scholastic and Mystical theology; as Andrew Keitt puts it “the (...)

30Chéron was, then, harnessing the discourse of melancholy, partly as an appeal to scholastic theology to help spiritual directors discern the spirits more effectively.85 He was not denying the possibility of mystical experiences which produced these kinds of bodily manifestations, but believed that natural causes had to be first ruled out by judicious spiritual directors. This informed his reflections in the final part of Chapter 34:

  • 86 Chéron, op. cit., p. 351.

Voila où les illusions des melancholiques arrivent & qu’on supporte plus qu’on ne devroit, sous pretexte de ne pas choquer le devotion ; mais ce n’est pas s’opposer à la pieté que de découvrir les abus qui se glissent souvent dans l’exercice de devotion, au grand danger et prejudice des ames & c’est ce qui m’obligé à faire icy des reflexions a l’imitation du docte Gerson, grand docteur & en la Theologie Scholastique & en la mystique. 86

  • 87 Bilinkoff, op. cit., p. 19.
  • 88 Voaden, op. cit., p. 60.
  • 89 Ibid., p. 58.

31A closer reading of Chéron’s text therefore indicates that the place of the spiritual director as “discerner” was brought into question by the anti-mystical debates of the mid-seventeenth century. Like the criteria for discernment itself, the role of the spiritual director was, in this period, being continually redefined in response to both the changing religious climate in the aftermath of Catholic reform and new forms of spiritual expression. Perhaps Chéron was sceptical of spiritual directors who held up their directees in order to enhance their own reputations: the work of Jodi Bilinkoff has shown how these women brought spiritual directors “prestige and notoriety”.87 Rosalynn Voaden has also argued that the success of a cleric as a spiritual director was connected to the careers of his visionary.88 As those who would eventually oversee the writing, translation and circulation of female mystics spiritual experiences, spiritual directors were perhaps the obvious choice as regulators of these women.89

32This article has revisited Jean Chéron’s challenge to the new mysticism in mid-seventeenth-century France and sought to highlight a neglected theme in his text: the role of the spiritual director in differentiating between mystical experiences on the one hand, and the symptoms of melancholy on the other. In response to the recent work of historians such as Moshe Sluhovsky, this article has also tried to move beyond a simple conception of anti-mystical writings as a direct attack on female spirituality. Instead, it has sought to highlight the way the anti-mystical shift brought issues of veracity into question which, in turn, necessitated exposition on the practices of discernment and the place of the male spiritual director in this process.

  • 90 Andrew Keitt, ‘The Miraculous Body of Evidence: Visionary Experience, Medical Discourse and the Inq (...)
  • 91 Ibid., p. 87-88.
  • 92 Bergin, op. cit.

33By the middle decades of the seventeenth century, the grave consequences of unchecked female spiritualities had already become manifest among the possessed sisters at Aix-en-Provence (1609-1611), Louviers (1643-1647) and, most famously, Loudun. The latter episode was almost certainly a case-in-point for Chéron as an illustration of how things might unravel when male clerics lose control – in this instance, both Surin and Urban Grandier. Chéron was also writing in an era when concerns about the power of visionaries became particularly acute, as this article has discussed. Chéron’s Examen was just one text which signalled the move away from the new mysticism which would later be so dramatically enacted in the Quietist controversy of the later seventeenth century. In making this critique, Chéron also mobilized the arguments of earlier literature on the discernment of spirits and this article has found that his text correlates with the broader tendency in the genre to include medical or natural categories such as melancholy – and particularly to pathologize female experiential piety. In this regard, an exploration of Chéron’s text also helps to show how the discourse of melancholy was being harnessed by clerics and was not seen as antithetical to theology in the way that we might be tempted to assume.90 The assignment of this responsibility to the spiritual director was also part of a broader pattern which other historians have detected. The Spanish Jesuit theologian Martin Delrio believed, for example, that medical knowledge was increasingly important for spiritual directors which he believed was “the duty of confessor as physician” to “know the causes, types and cures of diseases”.91 There was no Inquisition in France to carry out the post-Tridentine aims of eliminating superstition and reinforcing the “evidentiary status” of miracles in order to protect Catholic orthodoxy from the threat of Protestantism, which perhaps made the role of the spiritual director even more critical there.92

  • 93 This is a point made by Sluhovsky: “But the ferocity and vehemence of the attacks on Guyon and othe (...)

34This article has tried to foreground the way in which melancholy was, for Chéron, a prism through which to view these concerns about spiritual direction and the discretio spirituum. That is not to say that he did not accept the potential for undiagnosed cases of the malady to deceive: this was clearly a primary theme in the text. Yet he also recognised the discursive power of melancholy. Melancholy was thus an important part of Chéron’s arsenal not because it allowed him to discredit direct, unmediated female access to God, but because it allowed him to reassert the importance of clerical supervision.93 Viewed in this way, Chéron’s Examen not only occupies a pivotal place in the history of the anti-mystical shift; it must also be seen in relation to the continued reconfiguring of the role of confessor in the era known as the “great age” of spiritual direction.

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Notes

1 Louis Cognet, La spiritualité moderne: I L’essor: 1500-1650, Paris, Aubier, 1966, p. 495. This is cited in Joseph Bergin, Church, Society and Religious Change in France 1580-1730, Yale, Yale University Press, 2009, p. 328. The research for this article was carried out during a British Academy postdoctoral fellowship at Queen Mary University of London (2013-2014). I am grateful to Xenia von Tippelskirch, Sophie Houdard and Adelisa Malena whose expertise helped to refine the arguments presented here. I am particularly indebted to Jan Machielsen who read a draft version of this article at short-notice and made invaluable suggestions for its development. Finally, I am thankful to the anonymous readers and reviewers for their helpful comments. All remaining errors are, of course, my own.

2 “Democratization” is a phrase borrowed from Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit: Possession, Mysticism and Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 103, 122, 134.

3 Sophie Houdard, Les invasions mystiques: spiritualités, hétérodoxies, et censure au début de l’époque moderne, Paris, Belles Lettres, 2008; Anne Jacobson Schutte, Aspiring Saints: Pretense of Holiness, Inquisition and Gender in the Republic of Venice 1618-1750, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2001.

4 Michel de Certeau’s writings are central to the themes of this article. See, in particular, La Fable Mystique XVIe-XVIIe siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 1982. On De Certeau’s model, see Marie Florine Bruneau, Women Mystics Confront the Modern World: Marie de L’Incarnation and Madame Guyon, New York, State University of New York Press, 1998, p. 26.

5 Jean Chéron, Examen de la Theologie Mystique: qui fait voir la difference des lumières divines de celles qui ne le sont pas, et du vray, assuré et catholique chemin de la Perfection, de celuy qui est parsemé de dangers, et infecté d’illusions. Et qui montre qu’il n’est pas convenable de donner aux affections, passions et delectations et gousts spirituels, la conduite de l’ame, l’ostant a la raison et a la doctrine, par le R. Pere Cheron, Docteur en Theologie, ex-provincial des RR PP Carmes, Paris, Chez Edme Couterot, 1657. For a recent study of one of Chéron’s other works, see S. Berger, ‘The Invention of Wisdom in Jean Chéron’s Illustrated Thesis Print’, Intellectual History Review, 24.3, 2014, p. 343-366. Incidentally, Chéron is believed to be the author of a forged document, which was purported to be written by the personal secretary of Simon Stock and was presented as proof of his “scapular vision”; see Henry Charles Lea, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church, London, Lea Brothers & Co, 1896, p. 265.

6 Houdard, op. cit.

7 Jean Joseph Surin, Guide spirituel pour la perfection, texte établi et présenté par Michel de Certeau, Bruges, Desclée de Brouwer, 1963. This debate has been studied in an interesting essay by Hélène Trépanier, ‘Le débat autour du langage mystique: L’enjeu d’une “manière de parler” ’, in David Wetsel and Frédéric Canovas (eds), La Spiritualité, l’épistolaire, le merveilleux au grand siècle: Actes du 33e congrès annuel de la North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature, Tübingen, Gunter Narr Verlag, 2003, p. 51-60.

8 The discernment of spirits genre has been the subject of a vast number of works, including the following recent works: Clare Copeland and Jan Machielsen (eds), Angels of Light: Sanctity and the Discernment of Spirits in the Early Modern Period, Leiden, Brill, 2013; Dyan Elliott: ‘Seeing Double: John Gerson, The Discernment of Spirits and Joan of Arc’, American Historical Review, 197.1, 2002, p. 26-54; Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2006; Rosalynn Voaden, God’s Word, Women’s Voices: The Discernment of Spirits in the Writings of Late Medieval Women Visionaries, York, York Medieval Press, 1999; Wendy Love Anderson, The Discernment of Spirits: Assessing Visions and Visionaries, Tübingen, Mohr Slebeck, 2011; Sluhovsky, ‘Discerning Spirits in Early Modern Europe’, in Gábor Klaniczay and Éva Pócs (eds.), Communicating with the Spirits, Budapest, Central European Press, 2005, p. 53-70; Nancy Caciola and Moshe Sluhovsky, ‘Spiritual Physiologies: The Discernment of Spirits in Medieval and Early Modern Europe’, Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, 1.1, 2012, p. 1-48.

9 I am borrowing this term from Dyan Elliott who wrote of the “pathologization of female spirituality” in medieval discernment of spirits literature; Elliott, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2004, p. 203.

10 This theme was also identified, but not discussed, in Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 134. Houdard herself also noted the importance of this theme in her book Les invasions mystiques : “Le rapatriement de la théologie mystique dans l’Église et dans une forme ordonnée a la prédication et à une direction spirituelle claire et utile est le but de cet Examen” ; Houdard, op. cit., p. 147.

11 Paschal Boland, The Concept of Discretio Spirituum in John Gerson’s De Probatione Spirituum and De Distinctione Verarum Visionum a Falsis, Washington, Catholic University of America, 1959, p. 12.

12 The false mystic or what Gabriella Zarri called “santita simulate” (simulated/feigned sanctity) had troubled mysticism since the medieval period; ‘From Prophecy to Discipline, 1450-1650’, in Lucetta Scaraffia and Gabriella Zarri (eds), Women and Faith: Catholic Religious Life in Italy from Late Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 109. On this see Sophie Houdard, ‘Des Fausses Saintes aux Spirituelles à la mode: les signes suspects de la mystique’, XVIIe Siècle, 200, Juillet-Septembre 1998, p. 417. Studies focusing more specifically on false sanctity include: Andrew W. Keitt, Inventing the Sacred: Imposture, Inquisition and the Boundaries of the Supernatural in Golden Age Spain, Leiden: Brill, 2005; Schutte, op. cit.; Stephen Haliczer, Between Exhaltation and Infamy: Female Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002. See also selected essays in Gabriella Zarri (ed.), Finzione e santità tra medievo ed eta moderna, Torino, Rosenberg & Seller, 1991.

13 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 19.

14 Gabriella Zarri, ‘Living Saints: A Typology of Female Sanctity in the Early Sixteenth Century’, in D. Bornstein and R. Rusconi (eds), Women and Religion in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 219-303 (here p. 6).

15 Most histories of demonic possession acknowledge the fluid boundaries between divine and demonic possession. Most recent is Brian P. Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2013, p. 180.

16 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 8.

17 Voaden, op. cit., p. 57.

18 Ibid, p. 57.

19 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 13.

20 Keitt, op. cit., p. 60-61. There are also points of comparison with the way in which “enthusiasts” who purported to have divine inspiration were labelled “melancholic” within the Protestant tradition – as Michael Heyd has illuminated, “Be Sober and Reasonable”: The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries, Leyden, Brill, 1995, p. 5.

21 Copeland and Jan Machielsen, ‘Introduction’, in Copeland and Machielsen (eds), op. cit., p. 14.

22 Adelisa Malena, ‘Ego-Documents or “Plural Compositions”? Reflections on Obedient Women’s Scriptures in the Early Modern Catholic World’, Journal of Early Modern Studies, 1.1, 2012, p. 99. On the spiritual director and discernment, see also Adelisa Malena, L’eresia dei perfetti: inquisizione Romana ed esperienze mistiche nel seicento Italiano, Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2003.

23 Copeland, ‘Participating in the Divine: Visions and Ecstasies in a Florentine Convent’, in Copeland and Machielsen (eds), op. cit., p. 76. I am grateful to Jan Machielsen for this reference.

24 Caciola, op. cit., p. 2.

25 Keitt, op. cit., p. 56.

26 Sluhovsky, op. cit., 99.

27 On recogimiento, see Elena Carrera, Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography: Authority, Power and the Self in Mid-Sixteenth-Century Spain, Leeds, Maney, 2005, p. 47.

28 John J. Conley, The Suspicion of Virtue: Women Philosophers in Neoclassical France, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2002, p. 204.

29 The Inquisition used the term “Alumbrados” to refer to a number of heterodox practices during this period. Initially the term was associated with a movement near Toledo between 1519 and 1529, who practiced a form of mental prayer conflated with orthodox Franciscan mysticism; see Rady Roldán-Figueroa, The Ascetic Spirituality of Juan de Ávila (1499-1569), Leiden, Brill, 2010, p. 4. See also Patricia Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain, Leiden, Brill, 2009, p. 35; Alistair Hamilton, Heresy and Mysticism in Sixteenth-Century Spain: The Alumbrados, Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1992. On silent prayer or “orazione di quiete” in the Italian context, see for example, Federico Barbierato, The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop: Inquisition, Forbidden Books, and Unbelief in Early Modern Venice, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2012, p. 191-192.

30 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 127.

31 Ibid., p. 123-127.

32 The distinction between mystical and scholastic theology signified the difference between the affective union with God (associated with female mysticism) and the attempt to understand God; see Kent Emery Jr, ‘Mysticism and the Coincidence of Opposites in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century France’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 45.1, March 1984, p. 3.

33 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 127.

34 Houdard, op. cit., p. 134.

35 Nicolas D. Paige, Being Interior: Autobiography and the Contradictions of Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001, p. 71. On the way this language characterised female mysticism see Alison Weber, ‘Gender’ in Amy Hollywood and Patricia Z. Beckman (eds), Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 317.

36 Chéron, op. cit., p. 6.

37 See, for example, Chéron, Examen, Chapitre 18, ‘Des delections et peines et angoisses dont parlent quelques mystiques et si elles sont de Dieu’, p. 175-186. He also accepted that there were different kinds and degrees of the disorder which he elaborates upon in Chapter 23, p. 221-228.

38 Surin, op.cit.

39 Chéron, op. cit., p. 91.

40 Weber, ‘Spiritual Administration: Gender and Discernment in the Carmelite Reform’, Sixteenth-Century Journal, 31.1, 2000, p. 124.

41 Chéron, op. cit., p. 318.

42 Ibid., p. 318-319.

43 Ibid., p. 319.

44 Ibid., p. 490.

45 Ibid., p. 490. See the analysis of Chéron’s approach to the treatment of melancholy in Linda Timmermans, L’accès des femmes à la culture sous l’Ancien Régime, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2005, p. 654.

46 Stuart Clark, Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 226.

47 Weber, ‘Saint Teresa: Demonologist’, in Anne J. Cruz and Mary Elizabeth Perry (eds), Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1992, p. 186; Jennifer Radden (ed.), The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 108. See also the contribution of Christine Orobitg in this volume.

48 Chéron, op. cit., p. 286; cited in Timmermans, op. cit. p. 639.

49 Caciola, op. cit., p. 284.

50 Boland, op. cit., p. 30.

51 Dyan Elliott, art. cit. p. 30.

52 Elliott, art. cit., p. 38.

53 Schutte, op. cit., p. 56.

54 Caciola and Sluhovsky, art. cit., p. 32.

55 Ibid.

56 Elliott, op. cit., p. 205.

57 The key work here is Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1987.

58 “In the Quietist Affair, the female body, once more, became the site of strategies of control, but this time the antagonists were no longer God and the Devil, nor orthodoxy versus heresy, but rather rationality against superstition, sanity against madness and masculinity against femininity”, Bruneau, op. cit., p. 168.

59 Femke Molekamp, “Early Modern Women and Affective Devotional Reading”, European Review of History, Revue europeenne d'histoire, 17, 2010, p. 54, 59.

60 Dictionaire de l’Académie Francaise, 1762, vol. 1, p. 729: “Diminutif. Terme qui ne se dit que par mépris & pour signifier une femme d’un esprit très-simple”.

61 “J’adjouste que l’experience nous apprend que ceux qu’on appelle melancholie hypochondriaques sont affligez diversement de plusieurs visions, ouyes, attouchemens, qui les tourmentent […]”; Chéron, op. cit., p. 115.

62 Timmermans, op. cit., p. 641.

63 Surin himself suffered from melancholy, although it is unclear whether or not this is an allusion to him; see Bernadette Höfer, Psychosomatic Disorders in Seventeenth-Century French Literature, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2009, p. 60.

64 Chéron, op. cit., p. 306.

65 Pauline Chaduc, ‘Le rôle de la direction spirituelle dans l’avènement du catholicisme moderne’, in William Brooks and Rainer Zaiser (eds), Religion, Ethics and History in the French Long Seventeenth Century, Bern, Peter Lang, 2007, p. 131-144, here at p. 143.

66 This is made explicit at p. 324 of the Examen.

67 Anderson, op. cit., p. 6. See also Zarri, art. cit., p. 84-85.

68 Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 97.

69 This received cursory attention in ibid., p. 134.

70 Chéron, op. cit., p. 91.

71 Ibid., p. 92.

72 Patricia Ranft, ‘A Key to Counter-Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 10.2, Fall 1994, p. 8; see also Ranft, A Woman’s Way: The Forgotten History of Women Spiritual Directors, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2000.

73 Jodi Bilinkoff, Related Lives: Confessors and their Female Penitents, 1450-1750, New York, Cornell University Press, 2005, p. 19.

74 Ibid.

75 Sarah Ferber, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, London, Routledge, 2004, p. 92.

76 Colin Thompson, ‘Dangerous Visions: The Experience of Teresa of Avila and the Teachings of John of the Cross’, in Copeland and Machielson (eds), op. cit. p. 70.

77 Voaden, op. cit., p. 57-58.

78 Chéron, op. cit., p. 350.

79 The issue of people being used as “saints” before they were officially recognised as such is also discussed in the work of Clare Copeland. See, for example, ‘Saints, Devotion and Canonisation in Early Modern Italy’, History Compass, 10.3, 2012, p. 263. I am grateful to Jan Machielsen for pointing this out.

80 Chéron, op. cit., p. 22.

81 Ibid., p. 346.

82 Ibid., p. 350-351.

83 Ibid., p. 127-140.

84 Ibid., p. 327.

85 This was part of a broader debate on Scholastic and Mystical theology; as Andrew Keitt puts it “the Catholic rationalization of revelation relied on a pre-existing tradition of scholastic reasoning”; Andrew Keitt, ‘Religious Enthusiasm, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Disenchantment of the World’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 65.2, April 2004, p. 231-250 (here p. 247).

86 Chéron, op. cit., p. 351.

87 Bilinkoff, op. cit., p. 19.

88 Voaden, op. cit., p. 60.

89 Ibid., p. 58.

90 Andrew Keitt, ‘The Miraculous Body of Evidence: Visionary Experience, Medical Discourse and the Inquisition in Seventeenth-Century Spain’, The Sixteenth-Century Journal, 36.1, Spring 2005, 77-96 (here p. 88). Keitt argues that medicine could function as a “normative discourse” by the Church.

91 Ibid., p. 87-88.

92 Bergin, op. cit.

93 This is a point made by Sluhovsky: “But the ferocity and vehemence of the attacks on Guyon and other female practitioners in the second half of the seventeenth century should not distract us from remembering that the struggle over Quietist practices was fought not only over restricting women’s access to spirituality, but over all human being’s experiential contacts with the divine”; Sluhovsky, op. cit., p. 136.

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Jennifer Hillman, « Testing the Spirit of the Prophets: Jean Chéron, Melancholy and the “Illusions” of Dévotes », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 28 | 2015, mis en ligne le 11 décembre 2015, consulté le 29 juin 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/827 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.827

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Jennifer Hillman

Jennifer Hillman is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Chester and British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2013-2016). Her research explores the history of lay, female piety in the Counter-Reformation era. She has recently published her first monograph: Female Piety and the Catholic Reformation in France (London, Pickering & Chatto, 2014). Her work to-date has also been published in two peer-reviewed articles: ‘“Always toward absent lovers, love’s tide stronger flows:” Spiritual Lovesickness in the Letters of Anne-Marie Martinozzi’, Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques (forthcoming, 2015); ‘Putting Faith to the Test: Anne de Gonzague and the Incombustible Relic’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 44. 1, Winter 2014, p. 163-186.

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