The so-called Augustinistes were yet another fringe millenarian group spawned by the convulsionist movement of the 1730s. They were almost invariably coupled by contemporaries with the Vaillantistes, but their conclusions were more extreme; unlike the gentle Pierre Vaillant, the notorious frère Augustin, their founder, was an unhinged and, even allowing for the bias of the sources, a thoroughly unpleasant character.
Jean-Robert Causse (or Cosse) - frère Augustin - first appeared on the scene in 1733, some months after the royal ordinance proscribing convulsionary activities. The son of a bookseller from Montpellier, he had fled with his sister to Paris as a young man, and been adopted into Jansenist circles. He studied first at the Jansenist college of Sainte-Barbe, then with the religious community at Saint-Hilaire; although he served as a sacristan in the convent of the Petites Cordelières in Saint-Germain for a short time, he had never taken holy orders. He subsequently became involved with the famous convulsionary and prophetess soeur Restan, acting as her secouriste. In late May or early June 1733, following a forty-day fast, he was for the first time able to induce convulsions in himself.
Acquaintances affirmed that Causse was an unstable personality, who had long been subject to bizarre eschatological fantasies. Fuelled by ill-digested figurist speculation, his imaginings now took unrestrained flight. Although he did not pretend to be the prophet Elijah, he was encouraged by soeur Restan to identify himself as Elijah's representative on earth, the “new John” and the "servant of the servant of God"; he even took to wearing a cloak which was supposedly inherited from Elijah.
Nor did he stop there. He began to style himself as an expiatory victim, comparing himself blasphemously to Christ himself and prophesying he would be forced to shed his blood for the salvation of his brethren. He is even recorded as lying upon the altar assuming the position of the "lamb of God”. He was an infallible oracle, a “man without sin”, even “the fourth person of the Trinity”. All this, his followers attested, was to be taken not figuratively, but “in reality”. Further, he insisted that when in a state of convulsion he was freed from the normal constraints of morality. This liberty was extended to his followers who, in a state of ecstasy, would “tell lies, speak ill of their brethren, steal, commit adultery and prostitute themselves” in order to prefigure “the crimes of the Gentiles” which preceded the coming of Elijah. Small wonder that pious observers, including more restrained convulsionnaires, were horrified!
Frère Augustin seems to have rapidly gained a following in Paris and among certain groups
which met near the ruins of Port-Royal in the Chevreuse Valley. Hostile sources portray him as a manipulative freebooter but, whatever the truth, he was clearly a disturbing individual, an intimidating presence and a powerful speaker. He would characteristically turn up unannounced at meetings and dominate the assembled brethren with his apocalyptic rantings. He is said to have demonstrated the reality of his charismatic gifts by striking a man blind and afflicting a sister with paralysis; on another occasion he "touched" a nine-year old girl so that she became by turn blind, mute, deaf, then paralysed. Such were his powers of suggestion that there were rumours he had even resuscitated the dead.
His adherents were few in number - possibly only forty or so - disproportionately few for the notoriety they attracted. According to Robert Kreiser, whilst they included a few priests and a handful of wealthy laymen, the majority were working people attracted by the radical chilism of his message (p.313). By 1734 tales of obscene rites and promiscuous orgies abounded. As well as the opprobrium of the authorities, they excited the distrust of orthodox convulsionaries who felt they were "half-mad visionaries" who had perverted the message of M.Pâris to set up a "synagogue of Satan". Followers were spotted in penitential procession before Notre-Dame with ropes round their necks , or blessing the ground of the place des Grèves, scene of their impending martyrdom. In January 1735 Pierre Boyer, the deacon’s biographer and a former sympathiser, initiated proceedings in the Parlement against “the fanaticism of those who under the pretext of supposed convulsions, teach a very pernicious doctrine”. Robert Causse, La Restan “his mistress” and a third adherent Louis Hochedé were indicted by name, but successfully went into hiding – rumour had it frère Augustin successfully absconded with a considerable proportion of his supporters' funds.
B.Robert Kreiser, Miracles, convulsions, and ecclesiastical politics in early eighteenth-century Paris (Princeton University Press, 1978), p.309-15.
Deposition from the Archives of the Bastille
Frère Augustin’s name is Augustin Causse; he is from Montpellier. He has been a abbé. He calls himself the precursor of Elijah. He claims that God has revealed to him and also to others that he is predestined. He compares himself to J.-C. because he is, and will be, treated like him.
He says that he will be put to death because he is regarded as a schismatic, heretic, seducer and blasphemer, and that he will be resurrected in victory and glory. He claims that he represents all the Convulsionaries in his person and that God speaks through his mouth. He takes the title of prophet. He says that soeur Restant is the one spoken about in Scripture who will crush the head of the dragon, as J.-C. crushed that of the serpents, that is she will confound all the Jansenist and Molinist doctors.
He claims that soeur Restant represents Elijah, that she will lead the new Israel, that is to say the new Church. She will give birth to a son, who will represent Joseph; he will rise from the dead together with his mother and will be the leader of the new Church. He says that soeur Restant … represents the Church and frère Louis J.-C. He claims that certain of the Convulsionaries will curse the work of God, that they will tell lies, speak ill of their brethren, steal, commit adultery, that the young women will prostitute themselves... that nonetheless they will not be punished by God, because it is other people who are the criminals, that they are just representing the crimes of the Gentiles. He says that the Convulsionaries are not criminals when they act in convulsions, since they are not free, but are under the hand of God, and it is not they who act but God who acts through them.... He maintains that, since God is powerful enough to make a sinner abandon his crimes, He is powerful enough to allow the Convulsionaries to act without will, and that since the crime is only in the will, the Convulsionaries are not criminals; that they should ask God to deliver them from these infamous figures, and behave as penitents, although they are not guilty of the abominations which the Lord has had represented.Arsenal mss. 11463, published in Maire, Les Convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard (1985), p.139.
Lettre de M*** à M***
This anonymous "letter" dated 24th June 1733, is the main printed source for the life of frère Augustin. It is reproduced in several Jansenist works of the 1730s.
[M. Cos, otherwise known as frère Augustin, was the son of a shopkeeper in Montpellier. When his sister was caught corresponding with Jansenists, the pair fled to Paris. He was found a place at the College of Saint-Hilaire]
"There he became an able figurist, and made great progress in this science in a short time; following the example of his masters, he believed that he was permitted to tear Holy Scripture apart and give it all the arbitrary and ill founded meanings that his imagination could furnish."
[He subsequently became sacristan at the convent of the Petites Cordelières in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but was dismissed by the nuns after spreading malicious lies about one of his colleagues. Until he could be found a new position, he was given lodgings at the house of the famous Mlle. Restan, "the pearl of the Convulsionaries". He became one of her secouristes. In March 1733 she announced his prophetic mission:
This woman ... declared that frère Augustin, as they had begun to call him, was destined by God to be the precursor of Elijah or a second John, that he would perform great wonders and would shortly have convulsions himself.
[Pierre Boyer became his spiritual director and was the first to learn of his great destiny. The day of Elijah's supposed coming arrived. Augustin was treated to a substantial meal, then Boyer, with tears of joy, accompanied him to the Porte de la conférence. Augustin lingered in the Bois de Bologne, then repaired in the evening to a cabaret where he sent back demands for money and linen. He then returned to Paris; he announced that Elijah's arrival had been deferred, but that he himself would give a prophetic discourse. He extracted further food from his followers and the gift of a fine silver crucifix. He then commenced to prophesy....]
Frère Augustin put himself forward in this discourse as a man without sin, a second John, the precursor of Elijah, not figuratively, but in reality. He named M. D.F. as bishop of Jerusalem, and appointed other brothers to important offices, without anyone challenging his mission, or showing the slightest doubt.
Every day his follies and his excesses grew greater, without anyone appearing scandalised by his conduct or his words; he made several trips into the countryside....On the eve of St John's Day he arrived back in Paris at eleven in the evening and went to the house of a priest that he knew, who had already gone to bed for the night. He threw himself at the door; when the priest answered, he found him with wild eyes, dressed only in a tattered cassock, without shirt or any other clothing... As soon as the door was opened frère Augustin said to him: John is hungry; give him something to eat and drink quickly. Obeying him, the priest ran to a neighbouring rotisseur for a portion of lamb, as well as bottles of wine, a goblet and bread....after which the priest gave up his bed....
It was towards this time that talk began about the horrible blasphemies that this miserable wretch pronounced in his convulsions. We have been assured that his claims were in fact older in origin than this. I do not think it is fitting to report them here; suffice it to say that he took himself for God, and claimed that instead of Three Persons, there were Four, the fourth being himself...
On day....he declared that he was going to strike a man blind; he immediately passed his hand over the man's eyes and the latter announced that he could no longer see; some say he was blind for a day, others for three days; this prodigy is dubious, for it has since come to light that the man was the valet of the comte d'A..., a known villain, whose word is not to be trusted. It was a little after this time that Father Boyer abandoned frère Augustin and began to speak out against him.
[It was now thought best that frère Augustin should leave Paris and he was found lodgings with the abbé Bescherand outside the city. To prevent his impieties, one of his companions tried to give him a packet containing grass and herbs from Port-Royal, but frère Augustin tore it to pieces and said that henceforth there would be no sacred relics, only himself. The next day Bescherand delivered a "great reprimand" and made him admit that he was possessed by the Devil. Bescherand then attempted an exorcism. He took the remains of the Port-Royal grasses and burnt them in the chimney, praying all the while. The demon left frère Augustin's body in a puff of black smoke, and Bescherand congratulated himself on his success.]
Next day, the brethren were lingering in the Church after Mass when Augustin suddenly appeared:
They were there alone when frère Augustin entered, and laid himself out on the Main Altar. Stretching out his hand to the Tabernacle, he said in a loud voice, "Henceforth you must only consider me, I am the sacrificial victim"; they immediately ran up to him and chased him from the Church.
[Returning to the house, Augustin next created a furore by importuning a female convulsionnary in the community. He followed the brethern out on a walk, in the course of which he staged a sudden disappearance; the company were convinced he has been carried off by the devil - though apparently only back to Paris. La Restan, judged that frère Augustin had been badly used and published a letter to that effect. The present author is anxious as he knows that she is held in high esteem by certain influential Jansenists.]
Anon., "Lettre de M*** à M***, dans laquelle il fait le détail de tout ce qui arrive aux Convulsionnaires dont il a eu connoissance", 24th June 1733
in Journal historiques des Convulsions du tems, part 1 (1733)
Montgeron does not seem to have had much information. He is mainly concerned to distinguish the Augustinistes (and the Vaillantistes) from genuine Convulsionists.
...God permitted [the Devil] to take hold of the spirit of a man named Cosse, called Frère Augustin. He led him to take himself for a second Saint John, and the forerunner of the Prophet Elijah.
...Frère Augustin, led by his arrogance, set about attracting disciples; for certain convulsionaries he confirmed everything which pride had already suggested. He approved and even magnified their presumption and spirit of independence, encouraging them to separate into a sort of visible Church; he authorised the greatest of immodesties under the frivolous pretext that they were figures; and by a lot of artifice, accompanied by a few empty conjuring tricks, he found a way to make himself chief of almost all those among the convulsionaries that Satan had already seduced.Montgeron, La vérité des miracles vol. 2 1741) p.71-2.
Louis Bernard de La Taste, Lettres théologiques (1740)
La Taste was a Jansenist hostile to the Convulsionists.
Must one reckon the Appellant figurists known as Augustinistes, to be saints? Every day the Parlement answers this question in its proceedings against these fanatics; everyone is told about the follies,thefts,fornication, sacrilege and blasphemies committed by their founder, the sieur Cosse, otherwise known as Frere Augustin; we know about their nocturnal processions with cords round their neck and tapers in their hands; their blessing of the earth in the Place de Greve where they count on being burned; we know about their extravagant and blasphemous pilgrimages to Port-royal des Champs; we know that they sacrificed a cock to figure the coming perdition of France (or the French who are called Galli). Lastly we know that an infinity of disorders are committed in their Assemblies; there is public outcry against them; other Appellants join in anathematising them, and treating them as mad and impious; everyone speak with the same voice. The case of the Augustinistes is judged; they are the friends of the Devil and not of God.La Taste,,Lettres théologiques aux écrivains défenseurs des convulsions et autres prétendus miracles du temps (1740)