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Augustin Barruel

Controversialist and publicist, (1741-1820)

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Barruel, AUGUSTIN, controversialist and publicist, b. at Villeneuve de Berg (Ardeche), October 2, 1741; d. at Paris, October 5, 1820. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1756 and taught grammar at Toulouse in 1762. The storm against the Jesuits in France drove him from his country and he was occupied in college work in Moravia and Bohemia until the suppression of the order in 1773. He then returned to France and his first literary work appeared in 1774: “Ode sur le glorieux avenement de Louis Auguste au trone”. That same year he became a collaborator of the “Annee litteraire”, edited by Freron. His first important work was “Les Helviennes, ou Lettres Provinciales philosophiques” (Amsterdam, 1781). The seventh edition of the work (Paris, 1839) contains a sketch of the author. Of these letters, the seventy-sixth is considered the most brilliant. His book provoked a controversy with M. Giraud-Soulavie, and the replies and counter-replies were mary.

In the meantime, national affairs in France were growing more and more turbulent, but Barruel continued his literary activity, which from now on occupied itself specially with public questions. In 1789 appeared “Lettres sur le Divorce“, a refutation of a book by Rennet. From 1788 to 1792 he edited the famous “Journal Ecclesiastique” founded by Dinouart in 1760. In this periodical was published Barruel’s “La Conduite du S. Siege envers la France“, a vigorous defense of Pope Pius VI. He likewise wrote a number of pamphlets against the civil oath demanded from ecclesiastics and against the new civil constitution during 1790 and 1791. He afterwards gathered into one “Collection Ecclesiastique” all the works relative to the clergy and civil constitution. The ninth volume of this collection was published in 1793.

The storm of the French Revolution had in the meantime (1792) forced Barruel to seek refuge in England, where he became almoner to the refugee Prince de Conti. Here he wrote in 1793 his well-known “Histoire du Clerge pendant la Revolution Francaise”. He dedicated the work to the English nation in recognition of the hospitality it had shown towards the unfortunate French ecclesiastics. It has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and English. The English version went through several editions and did much to strengthen the British nation in its opposition to French revolutionary principles. An American edition of the work appeared at Burlington in 1824. While in London, Barruel published an English work: “A Dissertation on Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Catholic Church” (1794). But none of his works attracted so much attention as his “Memoires pour servir a l’histoire du Jacobinisme” (London, 1797-98). It appeared in an English dress: “Memoirs of the History of Jacobinism and Freemasonry of Barruel, translated into English by the Hon. Robert Clifford” (London, 1798) in four volumes. This important work is an endeavor to account for the French Revolution by a study of the anti-Christian and anti-social principles of the secret societies and encyclopedic philosophers. Owing to its translation into every modern language it was everywhere read and commented upon. A sharp criticism in the “Monthly Review”, brought forth a reply from Barruel, who greatly increased the circulation of his book by issuing an abridgment of it in 1798. The Freemasons of France, Germany, and England angrily contested his assertions and a voluminous literature was the consequence. While some are of the opinion that Barruel’s work attributes to the secret societies many evil deeds for which they are not responsible, all admit that his exposition of their principles and the logical consequences flowing from them is the work of a powerful mind. Barruel, indeed, seems to have been the first to portray clearly the necessary consequences to civil governments, to the Church, and to social order that must result from the atheistic oathbound associations which had acquired such tremendous power on the continent of Europe.

On the fall of the Directory in 1802, Barruel was enabled to return to France. He fully accepted and persuaded many other clergymen to accept the new political order of things in his native country and he wrote several books to defend his opinions. When the Concordat was made in 1801 between Pius VII and Napoleon, Barruel wrote: “Du Pape et de ses Droits Religieux”. His last important controversy was a defense of the Holy See in its deposition of the French bishops, which had been necessitated by the new order of things in France, established by the Concordat. His book appeared also in English: “The Papal Power, or an historical essay on the temporal power of the Pope” (London, 1803). Many attacked the work, but as usual the author did not suffer an antagonist to go unanswered. His new book involved him in a very extended controversy, for his work was translated into all the principal European languages. His friends and foes alike became involved in a wordy war. Blanchard published in London no less than three refutations. Two works are erroneously attributed to Barruel: “L’Histoire civile, politique et religieuse de Pie VI” and “Decouverte importante sur le systeme de la Constitution du Clerge, decrete par l’Assemblee nationale”. The many articles Barruel contributed to journals and his many published letters are not touched on here. He had promised to compose two works which never appeared, viz: “Histoire des Societes Secretes au Moyen-Age” and “Dissertation sur la Croisade contre les Albigeois”. In regard to the latter work, Barruel stated that his object would be to defend the Church against the reproach of having deposed kings and having freed their subjects from the oath of allegiance. He contended that objections on this score arose only from an ignorance of history. During the whole course of a life of multiplied activity, Barruel was ever the wakeful apologist and unwearied defender of Christian truth and of the rights of the Church. At the time of his death, he was engaged on a refutation of the philosophical system of Kant, but never completed his work.


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