Bourignon, Antoinette

, a famous female enthusiast, was born Jan. 13, 1616, at Lisle in Flanders. She came into the world so very deformed, that a consultation was held in the family some days about stifling her as a monstrous birth. But if she sunk almost beneath humanity in her exterior, her interior seems to have been raised as much above it. For, at four years of age, she not only took notice that the people of Lisle did not live up to the principles of Christianity which they professed, but earnestly desired to be removed into some more Christian country; and her progress was suitable to this beginning. Her parents lived unhappily together, Mr. Bourignon using his spouse with too much severity, especially in his passion: upon which occasions, Antoinette endeavoured to soften him by her infant embraces, which had some little effect; but ‘the mother’s unhappiness gave the daughter an utter aversion to matrimony. This falling upon a temper strongly tinctured with enthusiasm, she grew a perfect devotee to virginity, and became so immaculately chaste, that, if her own word may be taken, she never had, in all her life, not even by temptation or surprise, the least thought unworthy of the purity of the virgin state: nay, she possessed the gift of chastity in so abundant a manner, that her presence and her conversation shed an ardour of continence over all who knew her.

Her father, however, to whom all this appeared unnatural, considered her as a mere woman and, having found an agreeable match, promised her in marriage to a | Frenchman. Easter-day, 1636, was fixed for the nuptials; but, to avoid the execution, the young lady fled, under the disguise of a hermit, hut was stopped at Blacon, a village of Hainault, on suspicion of her sex. It was an officer of horse quartered in the village who seized her; he had observed something extraordinary in her, and mentioning her to the archbishop of Cambray, that prelate came to examine her, and sent her home. But being pressed again with proposals of matrimony, she ran away once more: and, going to the archbishop, obtained his licence to set up a small society in the country, with some other maidens of her taste and temper. That licence, however, was soon retracted, and Antoinette obliged to withdraw into the country of Liege, whence she returned to Lisle, and passed many years there privately in devotion and great simplicity. When her patrimonial estate fell to her, she resolved at first to renounce it; but, changing her mind, she took possession of it; and as she was satisfied with a few conveniences, she lived at little expence: and bestowing no charities, her fortune increased apace. For thus taking possession of her estate, she gave three reasons: first, that it might not come into the hands of those who had no right to it; or secondly, of those who would have made an ill use of it; thirdly, God shewed her that she should have occasion for it to his glory. And as to charity, she says, the deserving poor are not to be met with in this world. This patrimony must have been something considerable, since she speaks of several maid servants in her house. What she reserved, however, for this purpose, became a temptation to one John de Saulieu, the son of a peasant, who resolved to make his court to her; and, getting admittance under the character of a prophet, insinuated himself into the lady’s favour by devout acts and discourses of the most refined spirituality. At length he declared his passion, modestly enough at first, and was easily checked; but finding her intractable, he grew so insolent as to threaten to murder her if she would not comply. Upon this she had recourse to the provost, who sent two men to guard her house; and in revenge Saulieu gave out, that she had promised him marriage, and even bedded with him. But, in conclusion, they were reconciled; he retracted his slanders, and addressed himself to a young devotee at Ghent, whom he found more tractable. This, however, did not free her from other applications of a similar nature. The parson’s nephew of St. Andrew’s parish near Lisle fell in love with her; and as her house | stood in the neighbourhood, he frequency environed it, in order to force an entrance. Our recluse threatened to quit her post, if she was not delivered f*om this troublesome suitor, and the uncle drove himrom his house upon which he grew desperate, and someimes discharged & musquet through the nun’s chamber, giung out that she was his espoused wife. This made a nose in the city; the devotees were offended, and threatined to affront Bourignon, if they met her in the streets. At length she was relieved by the preachers, who publisied from their pulpits, that the report of the marriage wis a scandalous falsehood.

Some time afterwards she quitted her huse, and put herself as governess at the head of an hospitl, where she locked herself up in the cloister in 1658, havng taken the order and habit of St. Austin. But here agai, by a very singular fate, she fell into fresh trouble. Hetnospital was found to be infected with sorcery so much, hat even all the little girls in it had an engagement wit the devil. This gave room to suspect the governess; mo was accordingly taken up by the magistrates of LisU and examined but nothing could be proved against er. However, to avoid further prosecutions, she retire to Ghent in 1662 where she no sooner was, than she prdessed that great secrets were revealed to her. About thistime she acquired a friend at Amsterdam, who proved iithful to her as long as he lived, and left her a good esUe at his death his name was De Cordt he was one of te fathers of the oratory, and their superior at Mechlin, an was director also of an hospital for poor children. Th proselyte was her first spiritual birth, and is said to ha> given her the same kind of bodily pangs and throes as natural labour, which was the case also with her other siritual children and she perceived more or less of thespains, according as the truths which she had declared ojrated more or less strongly on their minds. Whence ancter of her disciples, a certain archdeacon, talking with D<Cordt before their mother on the good and new resolutionvhich they had taken, the latter observed, that her pain were much greater for him than for the former the archdicon, looking upon De Cordt, who was fat and corplent, whereas he was a little man himself, said, smiling, It is no wonder that our mother has had a harder labour fcyou than for me, since you are a great, huge child, wheas I | am but a little one;" which discomposed the gravity of all the faces presei t: This has been recorded as a proof that our Antoinette’s disciples sometimes descended from the sublimity of ther devotion to the innocent raillery of people of the world

Our prophetess staid longer than she intended at Amsterdam, where sta published her book of “The light of the world,” and sme others; and finding all sorts crowd to visit her, sheentertained hopes of seeing her doctrine generally embrced but in that she was sadly deceived. For, notwithsanding her conversationswith heaven were, as it is said, requent, 90 that she understood a great number of thingsby revelation, yet she composed more books there than he had followers. The truth is, her visions and revelati*ns too plainly betrayed the visionary and enthusiastic toiper of her mind, and many of them were too grossly incbcent to proceed from a mind that was not tainted wit insanity. She had likewise some qualities not Yery well alculated to attract proselytes; her temper was morose an peevish; and she was extremely avaricious and greedy ofamassing riches. This quality rendered her utterly unchritable as to the branch of almsgiving, and so implacably nforgiving to such poor peasants as had robbed her of an trifle, that she used to prosecute them with the utmost rigour.

Her stay at Amsterdam was chiefly owing to the happiness she had in her dear De Cordt: that proselyte had advanced almost all his estate to some relations, in order to drain the island of Noordstrandt in Holstein, by which means he had acquired some part of the island, together with the tithes and government of the whole. He sold also an estate to madame Bourignon, who prepared to retire thither in 1668; but she rejected the proposal of Labadie and his disciples to settle themselves there with her. It seems they had offered De Cordt a large sum of money to purchase the whole island, and thereby obtained his consent to their settlement in it: this was cutting the grass under her feet, an injury which she took effectual care to prevent. Accordingly De Cordt dying on the 12th of Novemer 1669, made her his heir:*


This fanatic designed Noordstrandt for the persecuted saints of God; and taking the Jansenists to be such, he drew them from all parts into the isle, He had sold them a part, giving up all the rest, with his rights and pretensions to the oratory of Mechlin, under certain conditions, which not being ob-


served, be recovered his estate, but not without great law-suits; whereby he was imprisoned at Amsterdam, in March 1669, at the suit of the famous Jansenist Mr. St. Amour. Before he went to prison, he was severely censured by a bishop, who treated him as a heretic, and as a man who coveted the goods of this world, to the detriment of those whom he had deceived, by selling them lands in Noordstrandt; as a man given to drinking; suspected of having lost both faith and charity; and who had even suffered himself to be seduced by a woman of Lisle, with whom he lived, to the great scandal of every one. He continued six months in prison, and came out only by accident: he went into his own island, and died of poison, in 1669. Vie continuée de M. de Bourignon, p. 230, 231.

which inheritance, | however, brought her into new troubles. Many law-suits were raised to hinder her from enjoying it: nor were her doctrine and religious principles spared on the occasion. However, she left Holland in 1671, to go into Noordstrandt.

But stopping in her way at several places of Holstein, where she dismissed some disciples (who followed her, she found, for the sake of interest) she plied her pen, which was so prolific that she found it convenient to provide herself with a press, where she printed her books in French, Dutch, and German. Among others she answered all her adversaries, in a piece entitled, “The testimony of truth,” in which she handled the ecclesiastics in a severe manner. In these controversial pieces she" demonstrated her want of the first fundamental of all religion both natural and revealed, humility. Two Lutheran ministers raised the alarm against her by some books, in which they declared, that people had been beheaded and burnt for opinions more supportable than hers. The Labbadists also wrote against her, and her press was prohibited. In this distress she retired to Hensberg in 1673, but was discovered, and treated so ill by the people under the character of a sorceress, that she was very happy in getting secretly away. Afterwards, being driven from city to city, she was at length forced to abandon Holstein, and went to Hamburgh in 1676, as a place of more security; but her arrival was no sooner known, than they endeavoured to seize her. On this she lay hid for some days, and then went to East Friesland, where she got protection from the baron of Latzbourg, and was made governess of an hospital.

It is observable, that all other passions have their holidays, but avarice never suffers its votaries to rest. When our devotee accepted the care of this charity, she declared that she consented to contribute her industry both to the building and to the distribution of the goods, and the inspection of the poor, but without engaging any part of her | estate; for which she alleged two reasons, one, that her goods had already been dedicated to God for the use of those who sincerely sought to become true Christians; the other, that men and all human things are very inconstant. On this principle, she resolved never to part with any thing, but refer all donations to her last will and testament; and accordingly, when she had distributed among these poor people certain revenues of the place annexed to this hospital by the founder, being asked if she would not contribute something of her own, she returned an answer in writing, that because these poor lived like beasts, who had no souls to save, she had rather throw her goods, which were consecrated to God, into the sea, than leave the least mite there. It was on this account that she found persecutors in East Friesland, notwithstanding the baron de Latzbourg’s protection; so that she took her way to Holland in 1680, but died at Franeker, on the 30th of October the same year.

We have already mentioned the crookedness of her outward form, which probably was the reason why she would never suffer her picture to be taken: however, her constitution was so tough, that, ’in spite of all the fatigues and troubles of her life, she seemed to be but forty years of age, when she was above sixty: and, though she was almost continually wearing her eyesight, both by reading and writing, yet she never made use of spectacles. She was lucky enough to have the three most remarkable periods of her life, as her birth, her arriving to the rank of an author, and her death, characterised by comets; a circumstance greatly favourable to a prophet and a teacher of a new religion. Her writings were voluminous, but it would be impossible to draw from them an accurate and consistent scheme of religion; for the pretended “Divine light,” that guides people of this class, does not proceed in a methodical way of reasoning and argument; it discovers itself by flashes, which shed nothing but thick darkness in the minds of those who investigate truth with the understanding, and do not trust to the reports of fancy, that is so often governed by sense and passion. Madame Bourignon’s intellect was probably in a disordered state. One of her principal followers was Peter Poiret, a man of bold and penetrating genius, who was a great master of the Cartesian philosophy, and who proves in his own example, that knowledge and ignorance, reason and superstition, are | often divided by thin partitions, and that they sometimes not only dwell together in the same person, but also, by an unnatural and unaccountable union, afford mutual assistance, and thus engender monstrous productions.

Antoinette Bourignon had more disciples in Scotland than in any other country perhaps of the world. Not only laymen, but some of their ecclesiastics, embraced Bourignonism: and one of Antoinette’s principal books was published, entitled “The light of the world,” in English, in 1696; to which the translator added a long preface, to prove that this maid ought at least to pass for an extraordinary prophetess. Her tenets at one time gained so much ground in Scotland, as to become an object of great jealousy with the church, and measures were adopted by the General Assembly for checking the growth of this blasphemous heresy. Dr. George Garden, a minister of Aberdeen, was deposed in 1701, for teaching its “damnable errors,” and all candidates for orders are to this day required to abjure and renounce the Bourignian doctrine. Mr. Charles Lesley, in the preface to the second edition of his “Snake in the grass,” observed the errors of this sect and they were refuted at large by Dr. Cockburn, iti a piece entitled, Bourignonism detected, against messieurs Poiret, De Cordt, and the English translator of the “Lux Mundi,” who endeavoured to shew that she was inspired, and had received a commission from God to refoi’m Christianity. This was answered by the Bourignonists in an apology for their leader who has still a remnant left in. some parts of North Britain. 1

1 Gen. Dict.- —Mosheim, &c,