Pierre Fournié (1738-1828) was born at Bordeaux, in Guyenne. The only remarks relating to the formative years of his youth are that “they were passed in a quiet and obscure way according to the world.” However, we know from his autobiographical comments that his family were comfortable, not wealthy and that he had at least three sisters, one of whom predeceased him when he was about eight. His uncle was the Grand Prior of the Augustinian Priory on the Quai de la Seine in Paris. 


 Author selling Books on Rosicrucianism and Books on Secret TraditionsAt that time, Bordeaux was a prosperous city of one hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants. Formed on the wide River Garonne, the vast port was one of the largest in Europe. Lucrative cotton, sugar and coffee imports from the colonies were traded across the continent. Bordeaux was also one of the main ports of the commerce triangulaire trading slaves in the Americas. The city was defended by three forts, the most considerable of which was the vast Château-Trompette, with its equally enormous military garrison. It was renowned for its tolerance and shone as a centre of thought throughout much of the “century of lights”. Indeed, there was an established community of over one hundred Portuguese Jewish families residing in Bordeaux and foreign Protestants, mostly traders, and both minorities were permitted significant religious liberties. Before the Revolution, the Archbishopric of Bordeaux took in no less than three seminaries and twelve Abbeys, the most splendid of which was the Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Cross, which once played a significant role in the early economic development of the area. In 1790 a radical revolutionary group - the Girondins - were formed at Bordeaux and quickly forced the confiscation of Church property. In 1732 one of the earliest lodges of Freemasons in France was established at Bordeaux, and many of the Masonic lodges that sprang up drew heavily on recruits from within the officer class of the army.


In 1761 Fournié joined a masonic Lodge when he was twenty-three. Interestingly, the Papal ban of Freemasonry in 1738 (“in eminenti apostolates”) had censured those associated with it. The Abbé's actions may tell us more about the climate of religious tolerance and open-mindedness prevalent in Bordeaux than the extent to which the Church officially sought to prohibit it. Fournié met Martinez de Pasqually in 1768 and was invited by him to join the Élus Coën and, despite having an initial reservation, entered the Order soon afterwards. He eventually became the Grand Sovereign's secretary because of his mild disposition and enthusiasm for the master's spiritual work. In early 1770, Pasqually wrote to Jean-Baptiste Willermoz announcing that he had found “a trusted Secretary - the brave Abbé Pierre Fournié.” The letter reveals much about the high esteem in which Pasqually held Fournié, as well as an indication of his character and abilities: 


“I would inform you that I have taken a confidential secretary who produces copies from my registry of all time degrees as received, with ceremonies and Author selling Books on Rosicrucianism and Books on Secret Traditionsparticular instruction. In short, he is charged with the general and particular secretaryship. He is a brother whom I have had with me for more than a year, and is very intelligent. He has given up everything to follow La Chose under all circumstances. His own uncle is the Prior of the Grand Augustinians of Paris. This brother not being very rich when he gave up his writing, which was necessary on entering a temple, was presented with certain fees that he might not absolutely lose his time. He is very competent.”


Pasqually's secretary before this was also a Catholic priest, the Abbé Joseph Bullet, Chaplain of the Foix Infanterie Regiment, which had arrived in Bordeaux in July 1765 from Saint-Domingue. This was also around the same time as the disbandment of the French Jacobite regiments a couple of years previously upon the ending of the Seven Years' War, when Bullett was possibly transferred into the regiment. 


On his departure for Paris in 1771 to take vows as a tonsured priest, Fournié was replaced by Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin as Pasqually's secretary. His vow of tonsure required the shaving of the head's crown, which conferred on Fournié the privilege of being on the revenue of Bordeaux, a civil benefit he would retain until the Revolution. He remained a clerc tonsure for the remainder of his life. Of his introduction to Pasqually, Fournié would recall:


“ … it pleased God to inspire in me an ardent desire that the future life was a reality, and that all that I heard about God, Jesus Christ and his Apostles were realities. About eighteen months passed in all the turmoil these desires caused in me, and then God granted me the grace to meet a man who said familiarly to me: ‘you should come see us, we are good people: you will open a book, you will look at the first leaf, the middle and at the end, reading only a few words, and you will know all that it contains. You see walking [about you] all sorts of people in the street; well, these people do not know why they walk, but you, you will know it.' This man whose beginnings with me may seem extraordinary, was called Don Martines de Pasquallys. At first I was struck by the idea that the man who had spoken to me was a sorcerer or even the Devil himself. This first idea was quickly followed by another on which I stopped: if this man is the devil, I tell myself inwardly, then there is a real God, and it is to God alone that I want to go; and since I only desire to go to God, I will make as much of a journey towards God as the Devil thinks he will make me do towards himself. So that I went to M. de Pasquallys, and he admitted me to the number of those who followed him.


“His daily instructions were to carry us unceasingly towards God, to grow from virtue to virtue, and to work for the general good. They resembled exactly those which appear in the Gospel which Jesus Christ gave to those who walked in his footsteps, without ever forcing anyone to believe them under pain of damnation, without imposing any commandments other than those of God, without imputing other sins than those which are expressly contrary to the law of God and leaving us very often in suspense whether he was true or false, good or bad, Angel of light or demon.”


For his part, Pasqually was probably aware of the existence of Fournié before that fateful meeting in the street because he was acquainted with the Abbé's uncle, the Grand Prior Rozier of the Augustinian friars in Paris, where he had stayed in 1760 and again for several months in 1765. While in Paris the previous year, Pasqually was accompanied by Bacon de la Chevalerie and Pierre André de Grainville, with whom he established the Sovereign Tribunal of the Élus Coëns. Willermoz was initiated shortly afterwards at Versailles. Fournié was, therefore an early and influential member of the order and became very close to Pasqually. 


Fournié's surviving letters and his only published work, Ce que nous avons été, ce que nous sommes, ce que nous devriendrons, are invariably viewed as mere accessories in studying Martinez de Pasqually. Likewise, native French speakers regard Fournié's prose as rambling and repetitive. In doing so, they invariably highlight apparent shortcomings in his education. Yet the repetition employed in his writing is in fact a technique of didactic reinforcement once standard in monastic teaching methods. Further, the non-francophone approaches this corpus of material with less prejudice since we cannot confer such grammatical defect in translation, and neither can we regard the prose and the manner of its delivery as inferior. Thus liberated, it is true to say we can read the Abbé's ideas and theorems as a source of insight and inner light in their own right. Essentially, we are presented with both a traditional catholic and mystical system which generally represents early Martinism. While they are unquestionably idealistic, the Abbé's views assist us in appreciating just how Roman Catholic the core system of ‘Martineism' and what developed from it was. 


The Abbé's treatise Ce que nous avons été, ce que nous sommes, ce que nous devriendrons had a lengthy evolution. Fournié commenced this work in 1775 when he was thirty-two. Nine years later, he thanked Willermoz for editing and sending parts of the unpublished manuscript to Lyons for further redaction. He would write:   


 “The Treatise, imperfect as it is still in relation to the turn of the sentences, was when I wrote it, very different, but in style only, from what it is today. To make it intelligible, I had to find and I found, by the grace of God, a man who undertook to render exactly the meaning of my words and the ideas as they are stated in my first writing, changing only certain absolutely flawed expressions, and turns of phrase which too openly clashed with the rules of language most used among men.”  


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This article is an extract from the introduction to 'Pierre Fournie: What We were, What We Are And What We Will Become' published by Rose Circle Books (2022). Copyright (c) of M.R. Osborne, 2022.