Book reviews by Joscelyn Godwin (Colgate University), originally published in Theosophical History, A Quarterly Journal of Research, Volume VIII, No. 5, January 2001, pp. 159-161


Ecrits pour Regnabit: Revue Universelle du Sacré-Cœur. Recueil posthume. Edited, presented, and annotated by PierLuigi Zoccatelli. Pp. xii, 200. Milan: Archè/Turin: Nino Aragno, 1999. ISBN 88-7252-216-1. Edition of 300 copies.

Le Lièvre qui rumine. Autour de René Guénon, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay et la Fraternité du Paraclet. Avec des documents inédits. By PierLuigi Zoccatelli. Trans. Philippe Baillet. Pp. 147. Milan: Archè, 1999. Distribution: Edidit, 76 rue Quincampoix, 75003 Paris. ISBN 88-7252-215-3.


PierLuigi Zoccatelli is a collaborator with Massimo Introvigne’s CESNUR, and a specialist in Christian esotericism. He is the author of Hermétisme et emblématique du Christ dans la vie et dans l’œuvre de Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946) (Paris & Milan: Edidit-Archè, 1996), and is responsible for the Italian edition of the complete works of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, known in English only by an abridged translation of The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola Books, 1991). The two publications reviewed here document the relations between Charbonneau-Lassay and René Guénon (1886-1951), and the latter’s contributions to the Catholic monthly magazine Regnabit.

Guénon’s collaboration, which lasted from 1925-27 and produced nineteen articles, is one of many anomalies in his career. He had already written for an anti-Masonic journal while being himself a Freemason, and now here he was, author of two masterly books in which he seemed to be an adherent of the Vedanta–though secretly he was an initiate into Sufism–writing for a stridently Catholic publication that was aimed at arousing popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus! As Charbonneau-Lassay put it after the smoke had cleared, "This is Mr. Guénon’s real thesis: a super-religion reserved for an elite of Initiates who can pass without any difficulty from one religion to another, according to the regions in which they successively live."(Le Lièvre, 66)

A constant theme of Guénon’s earlier life was the search for something that would arrest and reverse the catastrophe of the modern world. Eventually he turned his back on it, leaving France in 1930 with the intention of going to India, but in fact staying for the rest of his life in Cairo, where he married into orthodox Muslim society. Until that point, however, he was willing to give a chance to the few movements that held to genuine spiritual goals, even if this was from a narrow religious basis. Thus he could support the inside efforts to restore initiatic values to Freemasonry, while joining the Catholic attack on its modern, secularized form. He had not quite given up hope for the renovation of Christianity, the proper religion of Europe, but this could only be the consequence of a renewed Christian esotericism.

In Guénon’s view, esotericism implied, beside doctrine, the existence of initiation, i.e., of some system by which qualified persons could make an experiential leap in their spiritual life. "Initiation" did not mean the same thing as "mysticism," which has never been in short supply. It was more an objective process, handed down by tradition from the religion’s foundation, if not from the Primordial Tradition itself. That an initiatic system existed through the Middle Ages seemed clear enough from the mythology of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and some of the craft initiations (including Masonry). But had any of them survived? It seemed very doubtful, but this is where Charbonneau-Lassay’s activity came in.

Charbonneau-Lassay was a devout scholar of Christian symbolism who had joined the Sacred Heart movement emanating from Paray-le-Monial–a story in itself. The monthly Regnabit was an organ of this movement, which enjoyed support in high places of the Catholic hierarchy. It combined antiquarianism and an interest in symbolism with the inner path of devotion to the potentially esoteric idea of the Sacred Heart, while reaching out to Catholic families and schoolchildren. Charbonneau-Lassay contributed many articles on symbolism, illustrated with his own drawings. Guénon’s contributions on topics like "The Word and the Symbol" or "The Holy Land and the Heart of the World" went a stage higher in their intellectuality and recondite knowledge of sacred traditions.

Guénon’s last article for the journal was on "The Center of the World in Far-Eastern Doctrines," and here he ecumenism went too far for his hosts. His analysis of Taoist and Confucian doctrines, and their linkage with a "primitive Revelation" was seen as relativizing Christianity. Had not an earlier number of the journal bewailed the fact that there were over 30 Protestant missions in China, and only two Catholic ones?! (p. 68 of Ecrits) Priestly eyebrows bristled, and Charbonneau-Lassay was asked by the editor what exactly was Guénon’s position on "the obligation that the Catholic Church imposes on its faithful to believe and confess that its doctrine is the most complete earthly expression of religious truth." (p. 62 of Le Lièvre). That was the end of Guénon’s collaboration and also, it seems, of his friendship with Charbonneau-Lassay, who would write in a letter (admittedly to an Abbé) in 1946 that "It isn’t that Guénon’s book is really dangerous, but its reader could get a taste for the author’s theories and want to read the rest of his works, which could lead to regrettable deviations of the mind [or spirit–esprit]." (66 of Le Lièvre)

Mr. Zoccatelli’s two books gather all the materials for studying and judging these events, including the original 19 articles in facsimile, which often diverge from Guénon’s later recyclings of their content. And there is more. In 1925, Charbonneau-Lassay was told by an aged priest whom he had known for many years of two initiatic orders, which the priest now headed. One of these was the "Fraternity of the Paraclete," which had been founded around 1500 and continued until 1668. (Zoccatelli confirms that this is historically true.) The other, limited to twelve members, was the "Inner Star," which inherited the Fraternity’s papers after its demise and quietly continued its initiations through the centuries. The priest offered to give Charbonneau-Lassay initiation into both orders, in case he should ever see the possibility of reviving them. The latter did nothing about it until 1938, when he heard that Guénon’s followers who wanted initiation were failing to find it in Christianity and were going over to Islam.

After Charbonneau-Lassay’s death the Fraternity of the Paraclete was headed by Georges-Auguste Thomas (a.k.a. G. Tamos). But the members soon became embroiled in a controversy with Guénonists and followers of the young Frithjof Schuon, who proclaimed in 1948 that the Christian sacraments were initiatic in themselves. Such was the degeneration that on the last day of 1951 the Fraternity was "put to sleep," and that is as much as we know about it.

Le Lièvre qui rumine (The Ruminating Hare–an allusion, I suppose, to something in Le Bestiaire du Christ) is a fascinating collection of letters, rituals, documents, and Zoccatelli’s own explanations of this complicated web. Here is Guénon writing in 1929 about his book Le Théosophisme, histoire d’une pseudo-religion : "I have already thought of an English translation of ‘Theosophism,’ but up to now it has not succeeded; in any case one would have to try to publish it in America, because it would be very difficult in England owing to the political support (especially from the police) which those people enjoy there." (p. 48) There are glimpses of a Guénon who is all too human: ". . . my wretched sister-in-law burst in here last Wednesday and whisked away her daughter under absolutely revolting conditions. I learned things surpassing all imagination: I have been surrounded, all unsuspecting, with a veritable network of spying and betrayal." (p. 53) Finally there is an essay on "The Paracletic Path" that is a most remarkable treatise on Christian esotericism. This alone is a warrant for the authenticity of the movement to which Charbonneau-Lassay gave his allegiance. Mr. Zoccatelli, his translator Philippe Baillet, and his publisher Laszlo Toth have all performed a labor of love in bringing this hitherto inaccessible material within reach of the few readers who delight in such things.


Joscelyn Godwin

Colgate University



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