New Church Worthies

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley


And the New Church in France

FOR forty years or thereabouts I have had the opportunity of knowing and seeing the worthy people who have been the active members of the New Church in the magnificent country at the other side of the Channel, crowded with amiable, intellectual, talented, logical minds. Swedenborg calls them the "noble French nation" (A.R. 725). Every one who really becomes acquainted with the inhabitants of France will learn what grand qualities there are in the characters of the great mass of the nation.

What generous self-devotion there is, anyone will learn who enquires respecting the mode of life of the parish priests in the villages, with the very moderate incomes they receive; the missionaries to other countries, their great abilities, and their self-denying lives; or the faithful supporters of the schools of St. Vincent de Paul. On the other hand, the Protestant portion of the nation, in their heroic sufferings, and patient endurance and faithfulness to conscience for two hundred years of oppression, are the wonder and admiration of all who have read their history.

Their ingenuity and skill have made it doubtful whether the first moves towards the great discoveries of the power of steam, the steam-engine, and the screw-propeller, which they claim, did not originate with the French; while the silk trade of Spitalfields, and elsewhere, the crape trade of Norwich, and many industries of the Channel Islands were undoubtedly brought by the fugitives who, to preserve their most sacred convictions, were compelled to give up home and country. Their grace and taste lend a charm to their more solid gifts, and their courtesy has led the way to politeness of manner which when genuine gives a welcome urbanity to the intercourse of civilised society.

Yes, the French are a noble people, and we trust the time will never come again when the two great nations of the Western World will ever meet except in amity, progress, and peace.

The progress of the New Church in France illustrates still further the best qualities of the "noble nation." A faithful few, almost as early as it was done in England, grasped the great principles of the New Jerusalem, and remained faithful to them, notwithstanding the difficulty of diffusing them among a people who know little of the Bible, and who understand religion only as presented in the teachings and ceremonies of the Church.

The first names we meet with are the Marquis de Thomé, in 1785, and the Baron and Baroness Thiebault, the latter of whom I knew well as distinguished as much by their admirable qualities as by their rank, and whose descendants I know and highly esteem at the present day. Some priests of the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant pastors, from the earliest periods and down to the time at which I write, have dared to avow their convictions of the truth of the principles of the New Jerusalem, and the reality of the seership of Swedenborg.

Pernety, who first translated the work on Heaven and Hell from the Latin, was a Benedictine priest; Aegger, the premier vicaire of the Cathedral of Paris, was of course a priest; Ledru, of Chartres, who translated and used the New Church English Liturgy, an excellent man, was a priest; Bayot, whom many of us knew in London for many years, was a priest who became an exile for fear at the beginning of the Empire, after the coup-d-état, and who attended Argyle Square Church, and many more, not excepting some among the Bishops. The Archbishop of Rheims wrote a work in two volumes, full of New Church doctrine.

Of Protestant pastors, even so early as 1812, Boniface Laroque, President of the Consistory of the Reformed or Protestant Church of Castres, published two volumes, in which he explained the doctrines of the New Jerusalem with great ability, but without specially acknowledging from whence they were derived. Much later the Protestant pastor at Bayonne, M. Jacquier, who had become a New Churchman when a pastor in Paris, preached there for some years until the coup-d-état; when he had to fly to Switzerland, and of whom a few years ago the present worthy pastor said to me, "M. Jacquier was a tres brave home (a most excellent man), though he had some peculiar views."

Besides these excellent men, each of whom (and they are only specimens of a large number of individuals) must, as one would suppose, influence circles in different portions of the country, there has from the early days been a succession of literary men of unusual ability, and of great and steady zeal, men who have laboured with no popular smile to cheer them, but with persevering love, in obscurity for years, only strengthened by the hope that what they were doing would bless generations unborn. May their memories be for ever blessed. The first of these was Moet, Royal librarian at Versailles. He undertook in 1786 to translate the whole of the works of Swedenborg, and laboured on to his death in 1807. These remained until John Aug. Tulk, whose memorial tablet is now at the New Church, Kensington, one of the first five who assembled at the London Coffee House on the 5th of November, 1783, went to Paris, when he was 86 years of age, on the overthrow of Napoleon the First, and advanced between one and two thousand pounds to have these French translations published. There were forty volumes obtained from the widow of Moet. This was done, and M. Chevrier writes "It is to these translations that up to 1850 all the disciples of Swedenborg in France owe their knowledge of his doctrines. They are far from being as faithful as those of M. Leboys-des-Guays; however, they are more to the taste of many, because Moet has avoided translations of too literal a kind in certain passages difficult to understand because of the technical terms used."

Judging by the sale, which was considerable, the number of readers must have greatly increased, yet those who presented themselves at the meetings were still very few.

In 1820 there was a company of EIGHT persons, who met every Sunday at the house of an excellent man, a lawyer named Gobert, who was attached with heart and soul to the cause.

In 1821 there was a Society of about 16 persons at Constance, in Normandy, and small companies at Nantes, Angers, Sisteron, à Cap, and Besançon.

The most active apostles in France about this time were some military men, headed by Captain Bernard, born at Vannes in Brittany. Having received, as was common then, an anti-religious education, he pursued science with especial ardour at Bordeaux, but with that unsatisfied condition of the highest affections of the soul that must ever exist when there is no light nor warmth from heaven. He, however, thirsted for the living God, and a volume of Swedenborg's was placed in his hands—it was just what he needed. He received the sublime principles with avidity, and soon, interested in the same great cause, several officers in his regiment, the 23rd of the line, who received them also.

The Commander De Malherbe, Major Purvis, and the Captains Fraiche, Paillard, and De Foisac, made with Bernard the campaign of 1823, in Spain, and wherever they went the intelligence, the charity, and piety of these remarkable officers made a great impression.

Captain Bernard spread the Writings in Spain. The Bishop of Barcelona, General Palafox, and others, are said to have much delighted in them. A correspondent of the Evangelical Magazine of that date, who met with these young officers, wrote thus: "There are among the military of this garrison (Bayonne) some young officers who occupy themselves with serious things. I know two in particular who are separated from the world, and who manifest a conduct worthy in many respects of the children of God; BUT, ALAS! THEY ARE DISCIPLES OF SWEDENBORG. I do not know how to describe to you their zeal for propagating what they think to be truth; the courage with which they brave the reproaches with which they are covered; the benevolence which they show towards the wretched, and the love they witness for the Word! These two young officers have a great affection for me."

On his return home Capt. Bernard converted his father to his views, who was an aged magistrate, and a gentleman of great consideration; and many other notable persons at Orthes and Arles; but above all, Edward Richer, of Nantes, in Brittany, a writer of extraordinary merit, who became afterwards the author of several New Church works, equal to anything produced in proof and illustration of the New Age, either in France or out of it.

Richer was born in 1792, and died in 1834. During his short life he had by his literary labours produced such an impression that one of his friends, M. Piet, has written his biography in a goodly octavo volume.

When Bernard introduced the works of Swedenborg to Richer he was so charmed with their sublime, spiritual and wide-reaching character, that he felt his life would be well consecrated if it was given to advance these glorious principles among men as soon as he was at liberty, by the publication of the manuscripts on literary and scientific subjects which he had accumulated during twelve years. While pondering over this determination some thieves broke into his house, and with strange perversity and malice, perhaps because disappointed at not finding sufficient of their own kind of booty, actually burnt his cherished manuscripts. From that time he determined to devote the remainder of his life, however many years he had to live, to works which would popularise and spread the doctrines of the New Revelation. He wrote the Religion of Good Sense, as an introduction to his great work. It was translated into English by Mr. Sims, of Belfast, and had a large success both in French and in English. Equally so was the "Key to the Mystery," a general explanation of the book of Revelation. His great work is "The New Jerusalem," in eight vols. octavo. This grand work unfolds at large and systematically the entire system of Divine things as explained by Swedenborg, and is truly remarkable for its clearness, comprehensiveness, and force. And, lastly, Richer composed a work of piety, consisting of prayers and meditations, called Religious Invocations, which M. Chevrier, an excellent judge, says may without exaggeration rank among the best books of piety which this century has produced.

The style of Richer has all the literary excellencies which are valued in France. He is clear, neat, and eloquent. His erudition is substantial and extensive. He excels in citations which show the agreement which the doctrines of the New Church have with whatever is best in the religious teaching of all ages. Richer is always calm; his style is not controversial, but convincing. The reading of his writings gives repose to the spirit, and leaves the same impression which one has from a conversation with a highly cultivated and most sensible man.

Richer, who was attached to the College at Nantes, had already induced some excellent people in the same city to enjoy the blessings of the New Church teaching and worship—some ten or twelve. The most fervent of these was M. Tollenare, a wealthy gentleman who had retired from business, in which he had realised a fortune by fitting out privateers with arms. M. Tollenare had devoted himself to works of benevolence, and was treasurer to the hospital of Nantes up to 1848. It was he who supplied the means for printing the works of Richer to the extent of £400.

He was a truly Christian character, but, like Nicodemus, he feared to show himself openly, and timidly sought to appear entirely to conform to the Roman doctrine and worship of which his conscience no longer approved.

The result was that his influence, even in his family, to lead them in the way of truth, was almost nothing, although the clergy were very deferential to him, until he was on his death-bed, when they harassed and worried him to renounce the doctrines of the New Church, and prepared letters to be sent to the New Church friends at St. Amand, London, Tubingen (Dr. E. Tafel), and America, announcing, to their surprise and sorrow, that he had done so.

On a visit that M. Chevrier made to M. Leboys, the latter showed him the letter he had thus received, and Mr. C. took it out with him while he made a short walk, and, reading it again in the warm sunshine of a day in July, some lines written with invisible ink came to view, in which the poor dying gentleman stated he had been compelled to write these letters of abjuration, but hoped that his friends would perceive the other lines, and know that he died in the faith of the New Jerusalem.

Another distinguished French New Churchman of great literary ability was Baron Portal, of a noble family in Languedoc, whose history for centuries had been one of noble deeds, and suffering for righteousness sake, in ages of persecution. There is a history of the family in many volumes; and after Baron Frederic had become a New Churchman he wrote two excellent works full of solid learning, and most interesting as illustrations of the doctrines of the New Church. The first was on The Symbols of the Egyptians Compared with those of the Hebrews. The second was On the Symbolic Character of Colours (Paris, 1840).

The De Portals have been a marvellously clever as well as a wise, virtuous, and noble race.

In the dreadful wars waged by the Inquisition, in the twelfth century, against the Albigenses, they resisted unto death, and headed the persecuted people as long as possible, at Toulouse, and its neighbourhood.

Toulouse was for many generations the home of the Portals, where they were often elected to the highest local authority, a sort of mayoralty, under the name of CAPITOULS. Their manor house still exists in Languedoc.

To escape from persecution, they fled into Provence, and returned to Toulouse, where they were again made CAPITOULS. For them, the Reformation of Luther and Calvin was simply a revival of the former resistance to the slavery of blind obedience to the Pope, and they became Calvinists. John de Portal was beheaded for his religion at Toulouse in 1562. Louis de Portal and his wife were massacred at St. Hippolite in 1683. The governess of Henri IV., when young, was a De Portal. When the reign of terror in the South of France, called the dragonnades, was instituted by the vainglorious and terrified profligate, Louis XIV., in his later years, thinking to atone for his sins by compelling his Protestant subjects to become Catholics by force and cruelty, Louis de Portal was residing at his Château de Portalerie, seventeen miles from Bordeaux. To escape the insults of the brutal soldiers, he fled with his wife and five children to take refuge on his estate in the Cevennes.

The dragoons pursued the family to their retreat, overtook them, and cut down the father, mother, and one of the children, and burnt their house. The remaining four children concealed themselves in an oven outside the building, and were thus saved.

The four orphans, three boys and a girl, determined to make for the coast, and escape from France by sea. After a long and perilous journey on foot, they at length reached Montauban, where little Pierre, the youngest, fell down fainting with hunger at the door of a baker's shop.

The humane baker took up the child, carried him into the house, fed and cherished him. The other three, Henry, William, and Mary de Portal, though grieving to leave their little brother behind them, again set out on foot, and pressed on to Bordeaux. They were so fortunate as to obtain a passage by a merchant vessel, on board of which they were shipped in barrels. The youthful refugees reached Holland, where there were relatives and friends who received them, educated them, and enabled them to take the dignified position of their family.

They came over here with the Prince of Orange, and established the family of De Portal in this country. Henry, the elder brother, having learnt the art of paper-making, started a mill of his own near Whitchurch, in Hampshire, on the river Itchin, and achieved high reputation as a paper manufacturer. He carried on his business with great spirit, gathering round him the best French and Dutch workmen. He shortly brought his work to so high a degree of perfection, that the Bank of England gave him the privilege, which a branch of the family still enjoys, of supplying them with the paper for banknotes.

The youngest brother, who had been taken care of by the humane baker, became a great cloth manufacturer in France, was faithful to his religion, prospered, and his sons and his sons' sons became Counsellors of State, and at the restoration of the Bourbons the father of our De Portal was made a peer of France. Pierre Paul Frederic De Portal (our De Portal) wrote Memoires de la Famille de Portal, to which we are mainly indebted for the facts we have recited.

From this Frederic M. Harlé, a kinsman, and associated with the highest Protestant families of France, had his attention directed to the New Church writings, and he became a leader in Paris and a most learned and efficient helper to M. Leboys-des-Guays, of St. Amand, to whom we must now ask the attention of our readers.

A new era for the New Church commenced in France when the New Revelation of Divine Truth was opened to M. Leboys. He was of an ancient family of magistrates, who had held office for ages. He had been a soldier in his youth, in the great wars of Napoleon, and was at Leipsic and Waterloo.

He became later a lawyer; and was made judge in the civil tribunal at St. Amand (Cher), in 1827, and the same year married Mademoiselle Rollet. In November, 1834, he was struck with some marvellous experiences of a somnambulist character with a shepherd boy, and he took the boy to Paris, to ascertain if any learned scientific men in that city could explain the case. A gentleman, named Caudron, informed him that the only work which could give him any light on such subjects was Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell.

He got the book, and read it with eagerness, wonder, and delight. He bought all the works of Swedenborg he could find, and took them with him to St. Amand. He studied them with profound attention, and as he understood, he loved more and more, and determined he would devote his life to propagate the truths thus made clear to his mind.

For three years the convictions he received became deeper and broader, until he felt he must not only live according to them, but he must worship according to them, and he invited those who by his encouragement thought as he did, to assemble together, and invoke the Lord Jesus as the only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and not bewilder himself or sanction in others a worship virtually addressed to three Gods. He respected the conscientious convictions of others, but he claimed that others should respect his; and he commenced public worship at St. Amand on the 18th of November, 1837.

In March, 1838, with the assistance of several friends, he began the periodical, The New Jerusalem, a review religious and scientific; which was most interesting, and continued many years. The necessity of having a translation of the entire works of Swedenborg in more modern French grew more clearly evident to him; and in 1843, having calculated that at ten pages a day of the Latin 8vo text, he could translate the whole in seven years, he set to work. In 1850 he had finished his sacred labour. A great part was written with the same pen, a gold one, a present from three young Englishmen, who had been residing at St. Amand for some months, and frequently enjoyed his society; two of whose names will be recognised by many, friends, and all of whom are very well known to me. They were Messrs. Hughes, E. J. Broadfield, and Green.

The cost of the printing (about £5,000) was borne by subscribing friends, of whom the chief probably were the Count Emmanuel de Lascases, a senator, son of the author of the Memorial from St. Helena, who contributed largely; and the worthy M. Chazal, of the Island of Mauritius; who between them contributed one half.

This work completed, M. Leboys commenced preparing indexes, which are very valuable, and by his life, his worship, and his labours, was continually increasing in the esteem of all who knew him.

On Sunday, the 18th of December, 1864, he felt rather unwell, and could not perform the service. He retired at five o'clock, and at seven he ceased to breathe, at 70 years of age.

On the evening before his death M. Leboys had corrected the last proof of his last index. His work was done. His labours, however, had not been confined to translation. His Letters to a Man of the World who Wishes to Believe have gone through several editions, and have been highly valued both in their French and in their English form.

The various articles, on different subjects, which appeared from his pen in The New Jerusalem, between 1840 and 1849, have been printed, and make two volumes 8vo, under the title of Melanges.

When we survey the French nation as it is in its three great groups, the Roman Catholics, the Reformed, and the Unbelievers, there are features in each encouraging to hopefulness that they will ultimately become a strong nation for the New Jerusalem.

The Gallican Church has always claimed privileges of its own, and a sort of independent character, that has held the Popes in check. The bulls of the latter were not allowed to circulate in France for centuries, unless sanctioned by the French bishops in synod, or by the Government.

Though their kings were allowed by the Popes to be called eldest sons of the Church, however wicked they might be, and some of them were monsters in vice, yet these eldest sons were often very insolent to their fathers, and the bishops often were very zealous in maintaining these privileges of their Church as against the Popes. Bossuet, though violent against Protestants, was a great champion of the Gallican Church. Napolean had a concordat limiting the infallible papal jurisdiction in many ways. Hence, Roman Catholics, and especially Roman Catholics in France, are treated of by Swedenborg as more open to receive the truths of the New Church than some Protestants. This is particularly shown in his explanation of Rev. 17 (A.R. 740), and also in the Apocalypse Explained, 1070.

In the former he says: "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom, as yet, signifies, the Word as to its power derived from Divine Truths among those who are in the kingdom of France, and are not so much under the yoke of the papal dominion, with whom, nevertheless, there is not a church, entirely separated from the Roman Catholic religion." In the latter work he observes: "Within Babylon are those in the kingdom of France, and some in Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland, who have not taken away from the Lord the power of saving men, nor Divine sanctity from the Word, and attributed both the former and the latter to some Vicar; as may appear from the contest which has so long continued, and which still continues, between the Gallican Church and the Roman."

To the same effect, Swedenborg speaks in the True Christian Religion (n. 821): "All those of the Catholic Religion who when alive in the world had thought more about God than about the Pope, and had done works of charity in simplicity of heart, when they find themselves alive after death, and are instructed that the Lord Himself, the Savour of the world, holds the government there, are easily led to renounce the superstitions of that religion. The transition from Popery to Christianity is as easy for such persons as it is to enter into a temple when the doors are thrown open; or into a palace, by passing through the sentinels who keep guard in the outer courts when the king enjoins admission; or as it is to lift up the countenance, and look towards heaven, when angelic voices are heard therein."

In the Brief Exposition (n. 108), there is an interesting passage in which Swedenborg gives three reasons why good Roman Catholics can more readily enter the New Church than others, and he adds: "These are three reasons why the Roman Catholics, if they approach God the Saviour Himself, and not mediately but immediately, and, likewise, administer the holy eucharist in both kinds, may more easily than the Reformed receive a living faith instead of a dead faith, and be conducted by angels from the Lord to the gates of the New Jerusalem or New Church, and be introduced therein with joy and shouting."

If Pere Hyacinthe, with whom I have some slight acquaintance, and such earnest and eloquent priests as sympathise with him, would take these hints, and have their services in the language of the people, set forth the supremacy and general diffusion of the Word, the marriage of the priests, and a good heavenly life for every one, as the indispensable preparation, I cannot but think there would be large accessions to the New Church from the Catholics in France.

There are next the Protestants of France, and these have the great advantage of the diffusion of the Bible amongst them. They have also a history of sublime heroism and endurance under persecution to which the world has few parallels. They are also generally superior and educated people. They have come through much tribulation, and their sufferings have taught them toleration.

The particular doctrines they hold as essential are now very few; the acknowledgment of the Lord, the Word as a guide, and a good life, are now the chief things with them; and the spiritual sense of the Word, the knowledge of the spiritual world, and the life after death, would, I cannot but think, be welcomed if affectionately introduced amongst them.

The greatest desideratum amongst the Protestants, it seems to me, and I have often been at worship with them, is a heartfelt liturgical service in which the people could responsively join; more music, and more warmth. Too often the Protestant service is like an essay delivered in an Athenæum, introduced by speech to the Lord with the eyes shut; instead of an earnest instruction and appeal upon subjects of eternal importance. There is, however, great preparedness among the Protestants of France, and the Calvinism of Fate is almost entirely gone.

Then, there are the unbelievers, and these are a wide class. They embrace, it is to be feared, a great majority of the men. But this is to a large extent only a revolt against superstition and the ignorance of the clergy.

Let views of religion be shown to these which are at once spiritual and rational, illustrated by an upright and charitable life, and a bright hope and heavenly trust in a reasonable hereafter, and I doubt not thousands will hail the boon. The way is already prepared by the faithful preliminary work of our dear brethren in France.

I have known the active people for the past forty years. The first time I ventured to officiate amongst them was in the room of M. Hartel, in the Rue du Mail. There were about twenty persons present, representing, if I recollect rightly, fourteen nationalities. Monsieur and Madame Hartel were full of zeal and devotion. He would go to any distance to spread the truth.

The next time it was at M. Minot's, in the Rue de Monnaie, and Minot was also a most zealous and self-sacrificing man. Then there were the meetings at Dr. Poirson's for a long period. I had an interview with M. Broussais, son of the great physician of that name, a most eloquent man, who preached until necessity compelled him to accept a position at Pondicherry. I have worshipped also with M. Leboys at St. Amand.

And thus a small army of faithful men have led the way in the day of small things. I trust more labourers will be sent in His own time and way by our Heavenly Master and theirs. The fields seem white. Many have gone forth weeping, but bearing precious seed. May they return rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them.

Such lives as we have sketched are an honour to the Church, and to human nature. They are seeds of a great harvest some day in the "noble French nation." Nor have we exhausted the story. M. E. Chevrier, of Bourges, the author of many excellent works on various subjects, especially on the history of Protestantism in France, is constantly engaged on whatever will tend to advance the New Church in his country. His pen is ever active, his researches are incessant. To his other valuable labours the worthy and learned gentleman has now undertaken to publish the prophetical books in Latin, with the explanations from Swedenborg as far as possible opposite to each verse.

Isaiah and Jeremiah are already issued. The whole will be a great advantage to the Church, and once done can of course readily be translated.

His loving efforts for his Heavenly Master know no stint nor stoppage. To him we are greatly indebted in preparing this article. He and Mademoselle Holmes (now Madame Humann) contributed between them SEVEN HUNDRED POUNDS to free the large stock of New Church books of M. Leboys' translations from the claims of relatives.

Mons. Chevrier is the author of many works of great literary merit, as well as some of local interest in his portion of France, including The Life of General Joubert, Protestantism dans Le Maçonnais et La Bresse, A Life of Swedenborg, and a Histoire Sommaire de la Nouvelle Eglise. He is from the country of Coligny, the great Protestant victim of the dreadful massacre of the day of St. Bartholomew, in 1672; and, like Coligny, he desires to spread in his native land pure truth from heaven. May his exertions be blessed with a thousand-fold success.

And then there are M. and Madame Humann, who, besides sustaining the worship of the New Church, have erected a pretty church in the Rue Thouin, near the Pantheon, where everything invites to edification and devotion. These and the generous aids to the church in Great Britain and elsewhere from a distinguished friend in Paris, through myself, show how Charity and Wisdom glow in the breasts of our dear brethren in France, and indicate that the day will come, and we pray it may come soon, when godly hearts and eloquent tongues will lead the flocks now so small to become a goodly kingdom, a great nation under Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

A little flock! 'Tis well, 'tis well;
Such be her lot and name.
Through ages past it has been so,
And now 'tis still the same.

Her promised glory comes at length,
Her feeble days are o'er;
No more a handful in the earth—
A little flock no more.

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