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Witness 20 - Anatole Flamérion S. J.

WITNESS XX (DESIGNATED WITNESS IV)

ANATOLE ARMAND MARIE FLAMÉRION, S.J.

The learned Jesuit is already known to us: we met him as witness 23 in the 1911 Ordinary Process. He never met Thérèse of the Child Jesus. This is why he speaks of her only in terms of her renown for holiness, the power she seems to have with heaven, and the sublime influence of Story of a Soul.

Born in Paris on 7th October 1851, Anatole Flamérion joined the Society of Jesus very young. An excellent teacher, he spent a good part of his life working in various Colleges of the Society in France; he also preached retreats and led religious exercises. His popularity was such, especially among priests, that his superiors nominated him Director of the spiritual centre “Villa Manrèse” in Clamart in the Parisian suburbs. He was very successful in this position, and it is difficult to measure the extent of the good work he accomplished. In 1909, whilst continuing his ministry at Villa Manrèse, he succeeded Father de Haza as official exorcist of the diocese of Paris and at the head of an institute of which de Haza had been the first director; the institute of “La Mère toute miséricordieuse et des Victimes du Coeur de Jésus” (“The All Merciful Mother and Victims of the Sacred Heart”). He died in Paris in 1925.

The Ordinary Process makes early mention of the priest’s two-fold ministry (cfr. I, pp. 508-512). It is, however, worth noting his apostolic zeal for the Institute of Victims, given it was one cause of an event to which he refers in pp. 1107-1108, and which had given concern to the ecclesiastical authorities, even the Vatican, in the preceding years. When he issued a written retraction of his 1911 testimony (which is of little importance in relation to the life and virtues of Thérèse), the Sacred Congregation of Rites requested clarifications. Although it was merely a question of the Bishop of Lisieux strongly opposing the admission to the Carmelite convent of one of the “victims”, a vast dossier was prepared and stored in a large official file at the Archives of the Bishopric of Bayeux, under the title “Cause for the Beatification and Canonisation of the Servant of God Thérèse of the Child Jesus - Documentation of the Bishop of Lisieux on the R. P. Flamérion affair (1914).”

As has been said, in his testimony Flamérion speaks mainly about Thérèse’s renown for holiness, miracles and the influence of her writings. On the subject of her writings, the Jesuit’s opinion is particularly interesting, because it is the result of a progression: at first his opinion had been unfavourable. “When studied carefully, this work (Story of a Soul) presents a very profound doctrine on God’s love as a driving force of a life of sacrifice. I find it perfectly conform, both overall and in the doctrine’s detail, with the writings of the saint, whose spiritual doctrine is indeed authorised in the Church, along with that of St Catherine of Sienna, St John of the Cross, St Teresa, St Francis de Sales, Blessed Henri Suzo, and so on” (pp. 1099-1100). The witness insists on this point in response to the Sub-Promoter’s question as to whether he found Thérèse’s writings tinged with Quietism, or at least inopportunely tending towards encouraging mystical union, regardless of the need for purification and ascetic effort. “Sister Thérèse’s doctrine is not in the least Quietist. In the manner of St Francis de Sales, she uses a velvet glove approach, yet has an iron grip. If she initially awakens souls to God’s love, it is to have them discover in that love the strength to practise mortifying virtues effectively and in the most positive of way” (p. 1100).

What is also very important is Flamérion’s statement on the influence of Thérèse and her doctrine on priests.

The witness testified on 25th August 1916, in the 58th sitting, and his testimony is found on pp. 1097-1109 of the public transcription.

[Sitting 58: 25th August 1916, at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.]

[1097] [The witness answers the first question satisfactorily.] 

 [Answer to the second question]:

My name is Anatole Flamérion. I was born in Paris, in the Parish of Saint Francis Xavier of the Foreign Missions, on 7th October 1851, to Nicolas Alexandre Flamérion, a municipal employee of Paris, and to Louise Adélaïde Charlotte Sicard. I am a priest, a professed friar of the Society of Jesus and the Director of the Priests Retreat House in Clamart, in the Diocese of Paris. I am also, by delegation of His Eminence Cardinal Amette, ex officio [1098] exorcist for the Diocese of Paris.

 [The witness responds satisfactorily to questions three to five inclusively].

 [Answer to the sixth question:]

It is out of duty that I have come to testify before the Court. I am not influenced in my testimony by any outward pressure, or by any personal sentiment capable of falsifying its nature.

WITNESS 20: (DESIGNATED WITNESS IV): Anatole Flamérion S. J.

 [Answer to the seventh question:]

I did not know Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus personally, and I have no direct knowledge of her life or virtues.

I have read her writings and can report, from a theological point of view, what I think about her doctrine and spirituality.

As Director of the Priests Retreat House, I will testify as to the influence that Sister Thérèse’s lessons, examples and protection has on the spiritual life of a good number of priests.

Lastly, as ex officio exorcist for the Diocese of Paris, I can relate events in which the Servant of God’s spiritual influence seems certain.

 [Answer to the eighth question]:

I have a deep devotion and great faith in Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. [1099] These sentiments are above all prompted by the experience of her redeeming influence, both in me and in others.

I hope she will be beatified for the glory of God, the good of souls and her own exaltation.

 [Answer to questions nine to fifty inclusively]:

I indicated earlier that I have no direct knowledge of the Servant of God’s life.

 [Answer to the fifty-first question]:

I have read the Servant of God’s autobiography, as well as her poems, letters, counsels and the other appendices of the book.

A first reading left me with a rather unfavourable impression; I found it all a little insipid. I thought it had been rather unwise of her superiors to have encouraged the writing of this autobiography (year 1901).

Five or six years later, I was obliged to acknowledge that reading her autobiography was very beneficial for souls in my care. I therefore read the book again, and then meditated upon it a great deal and I found that, when studied carefully, this work presents a very profound doctrine on God’s love as a driving force of a life of sacrifice. I find it perfectly conform, both overall and in the doctrine’s detail, with the writings of the saint, whose spiritual doctrine is indeed authorised in the Church, along with that of Saint Catherine [1100] of Sienna, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa, Saint Francis de Sales, Blessed Henri Suzo, and so on.

[Question from the Sub-Promoter: Do you think the Servant of God’s writings are pervaded with Quietism? Do you think they mean to directly lead souls to mystical union without taking account of lower exercises of a purgative character? - Answer]:

Sister Thérèse’s doctrine is not in the least bit Quietist. Like Saint Francis de Sales, she uses a velvet glove approach, yet has an iron grip. If she initially awakens souls to God’s love, it is to have them discover in that love the strength to practise mortifying virtues effectively and in the most beneficial way.

 [Answer to questions fifty-two to fifty-five inclusively]:

I personally know nothing as regards these points.

 [Answer to the fifty-sixth question]:

I have prayed at the Servant of God’s burial place many times to ask for spiritual blessings, which I have since obtained. On my first visit in 1909, I was alone. In 1910, I saw a few people there. In 1912, I noticed a very considerable number of people. It is well known that, since that time, the number of visitors has only grown. It is not only common and simple folk who make the pilgrimage, but also highly qualified people (bishops, superiors of religious orders, priests, monastics, and so on).

[1101] [Answer to the fifty-seventh question]:

Wherever I go, I always hear people attesting to the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness and miracles. This widespread opinion is based on the efficacy of her intercession. I personally know a very large number of people who pray daily to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus for spiritual favours and so on, and many tell me that they do in fact receive them. Living in Paris, I hear such accounts from people all over France. Her popularity stems from the spiritual efficacy of her intercession more specifically than from the heroic nature of her virtues, but those more spiritually enlightened often express admiration for the heroic nature of the Servant of God’s virtues. The primary reason for the Servant of God’s reputation is, in my opinion, her true holiness and particularly the experience that has been had of her intercession. Undoubtedly, the means, and very legitimate means they are, that have been taken to make the Servant of God known (particularly publishing her Life) have contributed to spreading this renown but are not the primary reason for it. Besides, if her reputation was the result of human initiative, it would have been forgotten long ago.

 [Answer to the fifty-eighth question]:

In the years immediately following the appearance of Sister Thérèse’s Life (1898), I’ve heard it [1102] said that several people, including Carmelites, deemed the book mistimed and sullied by a sort of sentimentality. Yet these were superficial opinions and absent of any positive or well-studied criticism. Moreover, this opinion is submerged today by the flood of positive testimonies.

 [Answer to the fifty-ninth question]:

I personally know several priests who owe their rise in sacerdotal perfection to their devotion to Sister Thérèse and to practising her “little way”. They have devoted themselves to making her known, honoured and invoked.

WITNESS 20: (DESIGNATED WITNESS IV): Anatole Flamérion

I must point out that some of these priests are particularly pious and zealous; others, although good and sincere, had little in their past, education or background, or in their mindset or the genre of their spirituality, that gave them any real aptitude to understand Thérèse and embrace the “little way”. I know some priests, whose names and positions I could mention, and who were of an academic and modernising predisposition (I’m using rather simplistic terms, yet the Court will capture the nuances), or else had a tendency for irony and disdain, which is in fact common in mysticism. Now, several of these priests have told me that they have received numerous blessings of a spiritual nature, and more than once a temporal blessing. Very recently, one such priest who was on retreat in Clamart and heard I was going to Bayeux, said I could quote [1103] his account and give his name: he is Canon Audollent, Vicar General and Director of private education in the diocese. He attests to Sister Thérèse’s goodness towards him, both in terms of spiritual blessings (I myself have noticed the results of them) and in terms of the institute he manages, by means of an unexplained and regular replenishment of material resources.

Another eminently pious priest, also tasked with honourable duties in the diocese, and a fervent devotee of Sister Thérèse, states to have unexpectedly recovered a very large sum of money through Sister Thérèse’s intercession.

Another priest under my direction, who is a prominent figure in one of the largest secondary schools in Paris, had nothing that predisposed him to appreciate Sister Thérèse; quite the contrary. At least, this is what I thought, and what he thought as well, to the point that although I was a devotee of Sister Thérèse, I would not have dared tell him of my devotion for fear of attracting a sneer. Now, one day a colleague said to him, “You should read the life of Carmelite Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus; you’re a psychologist, you’ll find it curious.” He took him at his word, sent for a complete edition of the book, and spent the whole of Christmas Day reading it from cover to cover. He was won over. What is better, he helped a charitable lady to nurse a poor woman whom the doctors had forsaken, and whose death would leave two orphans behind, [1104] utterly alone, without friends or parents, and in extreme poverty: a daughter aged 16 and a son of 13. The poor woman had been in a state of despair for many weeks, cursing Providence and unable to resign herself to the awful prospect. Seeing her soul in danger, the priest turned to Sister Thérèse: he began a novena, and the charitable lady did the same, each without the other’s knowledge. The result was a complete transformation. With admirable resignation, the poor woman died gazing at a picture of Mary, in the presence of her two orphans reciting the rosary even as their mother drew her dying breath. Shortly afterwards, I sent a detailed account of the event, written by the priest, to Lisieux.

Sister Thérèse’s intervention enfolded the orphans’ life, the wondrous protection and extraordinary fate of whom I owe to the glory of the Immaculate Virgin and to Sister Thérèse, as I shall proclaim to whomsoever it may concern in due course.

I will give but one example, one among many similar ones. One priest in my confraternity who is neither sentimental nor mystical by any means, calmly and cheerfully asked me, “Have you read the life of a certain little Carmelite nun?” “Yes! Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus!” “Ah, I’ve just read her life story. What is particularly delightful is her simplicity, and her virtue, which is both sound and friendly.” I said, “I’m pleased to hear someone such as yourself say so.”

I could cite many other examples, but they all come back to this idea: “Immense simplicity, amiable [1105] virtue and immense strength and generosity also!”

Lastly, do I dare cite the testimony of the witness himself, who is a convert to Sister Thérèse, and who could declare that his life has been changed, turned upside down, by Sister Thérèse? Her protection and action has enfolded him in terms of his ministry to priests, and as head of the institute of The All Merciful Mother and Victims of the Sacred Heart”. It is not the time or place to explain the context or to show evidence. God will judge these things in His good time.

 [Answer to the fifty-ninth question continued]:

There is an institute called “Les Victimes de la Mère miséricordieuse pour le Coeur de Jésus” (“Victims of the Merciful Mother for the Sacred Heart”).

My Superiors appointed me Director of the institute in 1909 following the death of Father de Haza, who had been its first director. [1106] This institute is primarily composed of a certain number of souls who have been chosen by the Blessed Virgin to perform acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart, for the good of sinners and for the renewal and sanctification of priests. These souls have a specific task and have been called to an extraordinary destiny. They fight demons directly and tangibly, breaking or weakening their power for the benefit of sinners or tempted souls. The heroic virtues they practise, and the expiation they fulfil by assuming such excruciating pain, proportionally diminish the temptations of others and can even deliver them completely. In his evilness, Satan is able to make these victims suffer morally and physically. Yet they are armed with powerful and often extraordinary blessings against him.

A full report was submitted to the Congregation of the Holy Office in 1901.

During the exorcisms I have had to carry out on these victims, who are not ordinarily possessed because the demon in them is bound and enslaved, I have been told time and time again that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus has a permanent influence on demons for the good of souls and particularly priests. In their fury, demons have called her “the little priest-eater,” etc., complaining that she snatches souls from them, and saying she favours my ministry of priestly retreats, which includes providing spiritual direction to priests.

What convinces me that Sister Thérèse’s influence is real [1107] is that: 1stly, since I have been Director of this institute of Victims, with which Sister Thérèse is associated, my ministry has considerably improved in efficiency; and 2ndly, certain events predicted by demons during these same forced confessions have come to pass.

WITNESS 20: (DESIGNATED WITNESS IV): Anatole Flamérion S.J.

For instance, one demon told me sarcastically: “She’ll send you souls for the Carmel!” Now, I do not have a confession box, and I do not direct any associations for young ladies, and yet I soon found myself the spiritual director of seven people, one of whom has joined the Carmelite convent and the others are candidates for admittance.

It is true that since my testimony in the Ordinary Process in 1911, something has happened that could cast a doubt in the judges’ mind as to the truth or efficacy of Sister Thérèse’s intervention, at least in the case of one of the victims, or as to the reliability of the above-mentioned sources of information.

It is the case of J. P., and this is what it involves. I was told during an exorcism of J. P., who is a “victim”, that the Sacred Heart and Sister Thérèse willed for the same J. P. to be admitted to the Carmel of Lisieux. Now, the steps I have taken to seek her admission have so far met with the refusal of His Lordship the Bishop of Bayeux, Superior of the Carmel, who declared he would admit J. P. only upon the injunction of the Congregation for Religious [1108] Institutes. In view of this, although I was still of the firm conviction that Sister Thérèse’s intervention in this affair was real, I thought it my duty to withdraw the testimony I gave in the Ordinary Process. I thought respect for authority obliged me to take this action. Today, newly summoned for the Apostolic Process, I present the facts as they are, for the appraisal of the S. Congregation of Rites.

 [Answer to questions sixty to sixty-five inclusively]:

I have nothing to say.

 [Answer to the sixty-sixth question]:

I have nothing to add.

 [1109] [As regards the Articles, the witness claims to know nothing other than what they have already declared in response to the preceding questions. - Here ends the questioning of this witness. The statements are read out. The witness makes no alteration to them and signs as follows]:

S. J. A. FLAMÉRION, praes. S. J.