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Pierre de Berulle

Cardinal, founder of French Oratory (1575-1629)

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Berulle, PIERRE DE, cardinal, and founder of the French congregation of the Oratory, b. in the province of Champagne, France, at the chateau of Cerilly, February 4, 1575; d. October 2, 1629. De Berulle came from a distinguished family of magistrates. From his youth and even before his ordination he devoted himself to the conversion of Protestants and wrote a “Discourse on Interior Abnegation”. After entering the priesthood he was made chaplain to Henry IV and, in company with his friends the Cardinal du Perron and St. Francis de Sales, he continued his labors for the conversion of the Huguenots. With the co-operation of Madame Acarie (the Bl. Marie of the Incarnation) he introduced Carmelite nuns of the Reform of St. Teresa into France, a work attended with many difficulties. In 1611 de Berulle founded the congregation of the Oratory on the model of the one formed some years before by St. Philip Neri at Rome. Owing to the differences of time and place the French congregation varied in some important respects from the Italian Oratory. (Cf. French Congregation of the Oratory.) In speaking of the French Oratorians it should be remembered that from this congregation proceeded the seventeenth-century reform of the clergy of France. The celebrated Jesuit Cotton called the French Oratory “necessary to the Church“, and St. Francis de Sales said also that there was “nothing more saintly and more useful to the Church and God“. While filling the office of Superior-General of the Oratory Father de Berulle was also actively employed in the public affairs of the time; for example, in the arrangements for the marriage of Charles I of England with Henrietta of France, sister of Louis XIII. Pope Urban VIII in 1627 rewarded de Berulle’s services to Church and State by creating him a cardinal. Two years later de Berulle died while saying Mass. His disciple, St. Vincent de Paul, said of him: “He is one of the most saintly priests I have known”, and his friend St. Francis de Sales declared: “He is everything which I should desire to be myself”.

Cardinal de Berulle left several works, the remarkable qualities of which led Pope Urban VIII to call him the Apostolus Verbi incarnati. “This expression”, wrote Cardinal Perraud, also an Oratorian, in his work “L’Oratoire de France aux XVII et XVIII siecles”, “is more than a magnificent panegyric awarded to the piety of the founder of the Oratory; in a word, it contains the essential epitome of his written works, for it may be said of them, as of the entire life of the saintly cardinal, that the one aim was to make our Savior Jesus Christ better known and more loved.” The chief works of Cardinal de Berulle are: (I) “Traite des energumenes” (Troyes, 1599). (2) “Discours etc.” (Paris, 1609) on various subjects. (3) “Discours de L’etat et des grandeurs de Jesus” (Paris, 1623). The last mentioned work was reprinted several times; the substance and often the actual expressions are to be found in the diffuse “Meditations” of Father Bourgoing and also in Bossuet’s “Elevations sur les mysteres”. (4) “Vie de Jesus” (Paris, 1629); this was a sequel to the preceding work, which the pious author had just finished at the time of his death. (5) “Elevation a Jesus Christ sur Sainte Madeleine” (Paris, 1627). Father Bourgoing issued a complete edition of the works of Cardinal de Berulle (Paris, 1644), which included some writings not mentioned above, and he added to the edition a “table of the theology of this great author arranged according to the order of the `Summa’ of St. Thomas”. In 1856 the Abbe Migne reprinted the third edition of the complete works. Cardinal de Berulle’s writings exhibit a robust and vigorous doctrine full of unction and piety, which is set forth at times in a somewhat diffuse style. One of his biographers, Father Cloysenet, has said: “He wrote the books at his leisure and weighed each word”, and the biographer adds very justly that the reader is rewarded for his trouble, for “it is impossible to read them without oneself filled with love for our Savior Jesus Christ“.


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