Notes on an unpublished correspondence between
René Guénon and Louis Charbonneau-Lassay

Paper read at the 13th CESNUR International Conference ("Religious & Spiritual Minorities in the 20th Century: Globalization and Localization"), Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania (U.S.A.), June 2-5 1999
(see the correspondence here)

PierLuigi Zoccatelli


A key figure of 20th century esotericism, René Guénon (1886-1951) intensely contributed to the Catholic review Regnabit, namely from 1925 to 1927 when he had already published, or was going to publish, some of his most important books and before his leaving for Egypt, journey that occurred in 1930 and that was never to take him back to his homeland.

This contribution, not yet fully explored, represents a unicum unlikely to be disregarded. Founded in 1921 by Father Félix Anizan (1878-1944), the review Regnabit carried also the studies of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946), the renowned Christian symbolist, whose huge work firstly appeared on the pages of this publication and then was to see the light in his book Le Bestiaire du Christ, and who granted the prosecution of Regnabit becoming the editor of Le Rayonnement Intellectuel, from 1929 to 1939.

René Guénon’s contribution to Regnabit was expressly requested by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, who became acquainted with him through Olivier de Frémond (1850-1940), one of his close friends and colleagues at the time of the Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest; Frémond had gravitated towards the periodical La France anti-maçonnique, where he met Guénon who, at that time, was writing for it.

The unpublished correspondence consisting of René Guénon’s twenty-six letters to Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, sent between 1924 and 1929, when Guénon himself was writing for Regnabit, would help to understand a relation that, still nowadays, is of considerable interest. The study of this correspondence seems to be of great value and involves various subjects: topics concerning symbolism close examination; Guénon’s interest in some hermetic-mystical brotherhoods, with which Charbonneau-Lassay had come into contact; the controversies following Guénon’s dismissing from Regnabit; events in his young years that are still a biographical "enigma" waiting to be fully solved.

As is known, René Guénon’s complex doctrinal work and, generally speaking, the meaning the word "esotericism" has carried since it has been studied, have long been the subjects of extensive discussions and close examinations, developed on the historical as well as on the phenomenological and hermeneutic grounds [1]. However, nowadays, the reader, who faces René Guénon’s wide bibliography, immediately realizes that, besides the books written while the author was alive - often a revision of previous articles concerning one main theme - this is constituted, by some posthumous collections, which prove Guénon’s wide production deriving from his various contributions. Some of these were occasionally written for reviews of general interest as for La revue hebdomadaire, La revue bleue, Le Monde Nouveau, to which, almost without exception, Guénon gave excerpts from the chapters of Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues and of Orient et Occident; sometimes, they were mere reviews as for Vient de paraître; other times, they were sporadic writings as for Cahiers du Sud, The Speculative Mason, Au Christ-Roi. On the contrary, there were more systematic contributions as those written in 1909-1912 for La Gnose ("Review devoted to the study of Esoteric Sciences", official organ of the universal Gnostic Church) with the pseudonym "Palingenius", and in 1913-1914 (albeit it seems to have "unofficially" started in 1909) for La France anti-maçonnique, with the pseudonym "Le Sphinx". Some articles of the two last mentioned reviews came together in the posthumous collection Études sur la Franc-Maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage (1977). But - as is known - from 1925, the most substantial part of Guénon’s writings was to come to light through his contribution to Le Voile d’Isis, which in 1934 was to become Études Traditionnelles: all the themes of Guénon’s thought were to grow on the pages of these reviews and most of the texts which, revised, constituted the books written while he was alive and the posthumous collection, were to come from them.

However, Guénon’s contribution to the review Regnabit, not yet fully explored, represents a unicum unlikely to be disregarded. This contribution (19 articles written between August-September 1925 and May 1927 [2]) took place when the author had already published or was going to publish some of his most important books: Introduction générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues (1921), Le Théosophisme, histoire d’une pseudo-religion (1921), L’Erreur spirite (1923), Orient et Occident (1924), L’Homme et son devenir selon le Vêdânta (1925), L’Ésotérisme de Dante (1925), Le Roi du Monde (1927) and La Crise du monde moderne (1927).

If we had to summarize in one sentence the peculiarity of this contribution, we would use an expression by Guénon himself, who giving reasons for his writing for Regnabit described it "particularly from the "perspective" of the Christian tradition, with the intention of showing its close correspondence with other forms of the universal tradition" [3]. Maybe, this can explain "the fact, all in all remarkable, that he [Guénon] never referred [on Regnabit] to his own works devoted to Hindu doctrines, while, in principle, his teaching appealed above all to these doctrines" [4]. Besides the aspects mentioned here, everyone will notice the importance of Guénon’s matured intellectual background as author of these articles, and the conceptual, chronological and "tribune" continuity in which they appeared.

As we said at the beginning, Guénon’s contribution to Regnabit was expressly requested by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay. Since this author is not still much known in the Anglo-American world, and nevertheless is a leading figure in the comprehension of Guénon’s opus, we think it advisable to sketch out his biography [5].

Descendant of one of the most ancient and distinguished families of the region of Poitiers - whose origins are traceable starting from 1087 - Louis Charbonneau-Lassay was born in Loudun on 18th January 1871. Moved by a deep Christian faith ever since he was young, he decided to enter as a novice the congregation of the Brothers of Saint Gabriel at the mother house in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. Here he was admitted with the religious name of frère René. Keen scholar of patristic studies, frère René was to do his religious work as a teacher in Poitiers and Moncoutant.

Follower of the historian Joseph Moreau de la Ronde from Loudun, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay started to study with profit archeology, numismatics, heraldry, sphragistics and folklore. Since 1892, his scientific activity had brought him to the publication of about a hundred of articles on the Revue du Bas-Poitou - becoming its secretary, in 1913 - on the Bulletin de la Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest - having been its member since 1900 and replacing its quaestor, the Jesuit scholar Camille de la Croix (1831-1911), in 1912 - and on other specialized reviews. Between 1903 and 1905, thanks to his investigations, he contributed to the Revue de l’Ecole Nationale d’Anthropologie de Paris and was affiliated to the Société archéologique de Nantes.

In 1903 - after a French law of 1901 subdued the religious congregations to parliamentary authorization - the Brothers of Saint Gabriel broke up and Louis Charbonneau-Lassay resumed his layman condition. During the same year, thanks to the peculiarity of his studies, he was co-opted as a member of the Ordine Romano degli Avvocati di San Pietro (Roman Order of Saint Peter’s Advocates) and received the medal of honor of the Société Française d’Archéologie. Keeper of three archeological museums, correspondent of the Fine Arts and collaborator of the prestigious dictionary of Christian archeology and liturgy of the Benedictine monks of Farnborough, in 1915 Charbonneau-Lassay published the work that definitively earned him the academic honor - ratified in 1931 with the title of Officier d’Academie. This work was a five-hundred-pages book about the castles of Loudun [6].

Louis Charbonneau-Lassay’s intellectual maturity coincided with his personal ability - which was also artistic, as he used to add to his works several wood-engraved images, a feature that was to make him particularly famous - to cope with the immense heritage of Christian symbolism. In fact, at the beginning of the 1920s, Christian symbolism revival was essentially related to the currents rediscovering the spirituality of the Sacred Heart, subject-matter - especially after the publication of the encyclical Haurietis Aquas by Pius XII, on 15th May 1956, - of sharp interpretations about the relationship between theology and symbolism [7].

One of the "key" places of this story is the Sanctuary of Paray-le-Monial, which recalls the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, in the 17th century. In 1873, the Jesuit Victor Drevon (1820-1880) - who was to became vice-postulator of the beatification cause of the Jesuit Claude de La Colombière - established a research center called Hiéron du Val d’Or at Paray-le-Monial, together with the baron Alexis de Sarachaga (1840-1918). Sarachaga was a Spanish nobleman linked to the Russian Imperial Court on his mother’s side and related to Saint Therese of Avila on his father’s side, and interested in Christian esotericism as well as in the ideas of Christ’s social regality and of the reparative Communion (he was encouraged in the spreading of these ideas by Pius IX himself). In 1877, the Hiéron, an eucharistic museum organized according to an accurate symbolic plane, became a society with four explicit purposes (the demonstration of the origins of Christianity from the mythical Atlantis; the reconstitution of a universal sacred tradition; the preparation for the year 2000 of a politic and social reign of Christ the King and the teaching of the sacred name of Aor-Agni - Light-Fire - as the key to the whole knowledge) and a secret one (the fight against anti Christian Freemasonry through the creation of a "Christian Freemasonry of the Great West"). As we can see from this few accounts, the Hiéron’s doctrine dealt with very singular subjects and believes. When Sarachaga died, Mr. Georges Gabriel and Mrs. Marthe de Noaillat stayed at Paray. They reorganized the Hiéron under a more clearly orthodox perspective, fighting for the institution of the feast of Christ the King (that they obtained from pope Pius XI with the encyclical Quas Primas, in 1925). For a long time, Mr. and Mrs. Noaillat’s collaborator, Jeanne Lépine, had been in correspondence with Paul Le Cour (1861-1954), who, in 1927, founded the association Atlantis and tried to pick up some of the topics which interested most Sarachaga (Le Cour inherited Sarachaga’s gold ring and his followers considered this fact as a sort of succession). After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Noaillat and of their collaborator Jeanne Lépine &-; died with Marthe de Noaillat on 5th February 1926 -, the reality of the Hiéron du Val d’Or came to an end, still remaining an inspiration for further activities [9].

Among those who regularly went to the research center at Paray-le-Monial, there was Father Félix Anizan, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, who since 1909 had already centered his apostolate on the devotion and the doctrine of the Sacred Heart. He decided to found a scientific review which would have dealt with this subject from different points of view: dogmatic, moral, ascetic, mystic, liturgical, artistic and historical. In this way, on June 1921, the first number of Regnabit. Revue universelle du Sacré-Cœur ("universal review of the Sacred Heart") was issued. It was supported by a committee whose chairman was the cardinal Louis-Ernest Dubois (1865-1929), archbishop of Paris, and by other fifteen prelates from all continents, and on 10th March 1924 obtained a special apostolic benediction sent from the Pope by the State Secretary cardinal Pietro Gasparri (1852-1934). Among its first contributors there were the Jesuit Augustin Hamon, the Benedictine Demaret from the abbey of Solesmes, the Oblate of the Virgin Mary Emile Hoffet (1873-1946), Léon Cristiani (1879-1971) and the secretary of the research center of Paray-le-Monial, Gabriel de Noaillat.

On cardinal Dubois’s request, on January 1922, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay’s contribution to Regnabit started. He was to present his huge work on Christian symbolism revival just on the pages of this review - his first writing was about the templar enigmatic graffiti discovered in the embattled tower of the castle of Chinon - and was to grant the prosecution of Regnabit, after its end, becoming the editor of Le Rayonnement Intellectuel, from 1929 to 1939 [9]. In 1940, the result of his close examinations led to the publication of the monumental work concerning the study of mysterious Christian emblems, Le Bestiaire du Christ [10], which appeared in a more complex form - it contained almost 1157 wood-engravings by the author himself - and so far continues to meet with a unanimous and renewed approval by specialists and enthusiasts of this subject.

The collaboration and friendship between René Guénon and Louis Charbonneau-Lassay trace back to their mutual frequentation of Olivier de Frémond, Charbonneau-Lassay’s close friend and colleague at the time of the Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest. Frémond had gravitated towards the review La France chrétienne anti-maçonnique - edited by Abel Clarin de la Rive (1855-1914), who in 1895 succeeded to its founder Léo Taxil (1854-1907) - and here he had met Guénon at the time of his enigmatic contribution. As is known, the story of Guénon’s contribution to Regnabit came out badly and not without an animated and harsh polemical sequel from both parties (as proved by the correspondence we are discussing here and in particular by René Guénon’s long letter - 12 pages - dated 8th June 1928, in reply to Charbonneau-Lassay’s letter dated April 1928). With regard to this fact, without claiming to exhaust the subject, it is worth recalling that Guénon himself pointed out the responsibility speaking of the "hostility of some "neo-scholastic" milieus that compelled us to end our contribution" [11]. If from the one hand this statement has its indisputable foundation, from the other we must add that the study of some dossiers, to which we have referred [12] shows, at the origin of this decision, also an intricate sequence of quarrels that Anizan had faced inside his congregation since 1923, and that were mostly linked to a controversy about the theological foundations of the Sacred Heart’s devotion. Things made worse and in 1929, led to the end of the review Regnabit itself, as we said before.

However, at this point we need to ask ourselves a question: how was it possible that an author, briefly considered non Catholic post-mortem, could have contributed to a review as Regnabit which leaned towards an integral profession of the Catholic faith, even with a missionary fervor, proper to those circles which contrasted the politically and religiously progressive currents of the Christian milieu of that time? Such a question could also refer to his contribution to La France anti-maçonnique and even Marcel Clavelle (1905-1988; Guénon’s famous collaborator, better known with the pseudonym of Jean Reyor) could not understand the whole matter: "In reality, Guénon’s contribution to "F. A.-M." is [...] enigmatic. [...] In few words: when Guénon is in friendly relations with de la Rive, who places the review at his disposal, Guénon is a Gnostic bishop and leader of an Order of the Temple; when he starts to write regularly for it, he is a regular Freemason and a Muslim. [...] Thus, if we think that "F. A.-M." was an ultra-Catholic review -journal - with the purpose to fight every kind of occultism and secret society, read in every presbytery and sacristy, we cannot help being puzzled" [13]. But let’s keep to the point and to Regnabit; so, how can we explain Guénon’s presence and contribution?

To try to answer this question would mean to make a long discussion about the great debate inside the Catholic world which took place in the period straddling the 19th and the 20th centuries. In this debate converged different schools of thought - rationalism, devotion, symbolism investigation - that seemed to move according to centrifugal forces and without the awareness of the need to restore a balance between all tensions. In this context, we can state that the successful school was the rationalist one; while the sentimental-devotional school was left to its own devices and the symbolist one was consolidated by the rise of the esoterist current, historically an offshoot - and nevertheless strenuous enemy - of the spiritist-occultist school of post-revolutionary and Romantic France. Surely, there were some religious, cultural and political attempts at resistance, especially on the ground of Christian symbolism. In this context some famous figures are the cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pitra (1812-1889) [14], the bishop Jean Sébastien Adolphe Devoucoux (1804-1870) [15], the canon Charles-Auguste Auber (1804-1892) [16]. The experience of Regnabit, along with the significant precedent of the Hiéron du Val d’Or and the corollary of Le Rayonnement Intellectuel, seemed to be a conscious counterattack attempt, where gathered important figures interested in issues that surpassed them. This is the case of father Félix Anizan, of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay and of René Guénon: the first one, starting from a devotional culture based on the creed of the Sacred Heart, seemed to realize that the use of the symbols showed a whole world beyond the sentimental one; the second one, guided by his own erudition matured with the study of the "philology of the symbols", knew that all these signs constituted a language and "directed" a whole discourse based on that language; finally, the third one, agreeing with the "relative" views of Anizan and Charbonneau-Lassay alike, proposed a reading key to symbolism, from the perspective, as we recalled before, "of showing its perfect harmony with other doctrines of the universal tradition".

Therefore, one might ask: was it a sort of naiveté the one the editing office of Regnabit showed accepting Guénon’s contribution? Or rather, was it a sort of "strategy" against a mutual enemy - Rationalism -, as it had been for Clarin de la Rive and La France anti-maçonnique? Was the editor of Regnabit conscious of Guénon’s real doctrinal views? Or rather, was Guénon so skillful to settle in that, for a short while, surpassed some basic concepts of his thought? In short, was it a real alliance or a coincidence deriving from human fancy? We should not be surprised at the fact that, at present, it is still difficult to find a final answer; but, the question must be posed - being it so important and not futile and secondary as one might suppose - and we think that a possible solution is to be found in the "facts" themselves, that in their way are answers, too.

However, besides all other circumstances that surely influenced Guénon’s removal from the pages of the review edited by Félix Anizan [17], it seems that the main reason of this disagreement lies - then as today - particularly in the complex and delicate relation between Christianity and "Christian esotericism", and in what meaning the notion of "primordial Tradition" carries, with all the doctrinal and applicative consequences deriving from this kind of thought - absolutely pivotal of Guénon’s teaching. As this is not the place for an extensive discussion of such delicate matters as those we have just mentioned, we think, however, it is useful to point out that what comes out from the querelle Guénon - Regnabit maybe can be explained by father Anizan’s incipit written at the beginning of Guénon’s contribution to the Catholic review, in which Anizan set the traditions previous to Christianity in the category of "pre-manifestations", following a common doctrine within the Catholic thought [18].

Today, an unpublished correspondence between René Guénon and Louis Charbonneau-Lassay sheds a further light on their relation and, therefore, on the underlying themes. This is a collection of 26 letters, 119 pages in all [19], handwritten between 24th November 1924 and 11th April 1929. As a whole, it is a material that effectively completes the articles published on Regnabit and that, at the same time, helps to clarify a decisive period in Guénon’s life, that is shortly before he left for Cairo, on 5th March 1930. Furthermore, the letters themselves contribute - and for the first time such a reliable source is used - to examine closely the relation that linked Charbonneau-Lassay to Guénon. This relation has often been, and still today is, the object of great attention and frequently of some, more of less, casual misunderstandings, noticed by the author of these pages in several occasions - also thanks to the stimulating exchange of ideas, opinions and investigations with my fellow researchers and close friends: Stefano Salzani, Jean-Pierre Brach and Jean-Pierre Laurant.

The correspondence under discussion proves to be useful when it describes a relation of mutual respect and friendship. There are hints at different subjects, but particularly at themes concerning symbolism, on which Charbonneau-Lassay willingly acknowledged Guénon’s "indisputable authority" [20]. This does not mean that at times and for more important questions their opinions were completely different [21], a feature that can be explained by the words of a close friend of them both, Marcel Clavelle: "To say the truth, I am not sure that Ch. -L. [Charbonneau-Lassay] has read all Guénon’s works. What interested him in Guénon’s thought was the notion of the universality of symbolism in pre-Christian and Christian traditions" [22].

The letters in hand, that, however, do not complete the whole correspondence between Guénon and Charbonneau-Lassay, pose - as we have already pointed out - different problems. One of them, which we think is important to mention for its historical meaning, is posed by the letter dated 19th February 1927 in which Guénon, disapproving Paul Le Cour’s position with his usual intellectual accuracy, stated: "It’s he who has made an "evolution", however luckily for him, if we consider that prior to it he had been involved in table-lifting, a thing that has never occurred to me". In fact, according to Guénon’s well-known assertion, "if in a given time we had to enter this or that circle, the reasons for this concern just ourselves" [23]. Actually, it seems difficult to argue a definite and permanent importance of Guénon’s youthful experiences in that time occultist milieus. He did not spare his historical and doctrinal dispute with these circles, of which he had been a member too [24], as appears also in his books Le Théosophisme, histoire d’une pseudo-religion, in L’Erreur spirite and in several other writings. Nevertheless, the sentence we have just quoted from the letter to Charbonneau-Lassay seems to skirt a circumstance - in its factual importance - concerning Guénon’s experience and participation to the affaire of the Ordre du Temple Rénové (1908-1911) [25]. We are referring to that series of psychic communications through the "automatic writing" which Louis Faugeron, Alexandre Thomas, Jean Desjobert and René Guénon [26], at that time members of the Martinist Order, received from the "shadows" of: Jacques de Molay (the last Grand Master of the Templars, burned in 1314), Cagliostro, Frederick II and the founder of the Illuminati of Bavaria Weishaupt. All these shadows ordered the (re)foundation of an Order of the Temple that started to work with a program of 45 lessons already characterized by some typical themes of later "Guénonism", together with more curious ideas about the origin of the yellow race from men "coming from the air (planet Venus)".

In connection with this circumstance, we completely agree with Massimo Introvigne, when he says that "it would be wrong to consider as decisive the experience of the Renewed Temple in Guénon’s complex training; but, nevertheless, this is not entirely meaningless - as many contemporary "Guénonians" would like it to be. In fact, the holder - if this term can be used - of at least one among Guénon’s ortodoxies, the Rumanian diplomat transferred to France, Michel Vâlsan (1907-1974), wrote [...] on the "Études Traditionnelles" (whose editor he had been from 1960 to 1974) that the Order of the Renewed Temple [...] was, after all, the result of authentic "activities of the western tradition concealed center"" [27]. We do not know what Charbonneau-Lassay thought about these kinds of experience, and in some way we can suppose that, simply, these events "of the past" were not part of their relation. On the contrary, we should say something different about Charbonneau-Lassay’s concern - betrayed in the letters under discussion - over Guénon’s religious position. The examination of some exchange of opinions on this subject between Olivier de Frémond and Charbonneau-Lassay shows that Frémond was intent to get information about Guénon’s religious life in Cairo, through professor Gabriel Debien that resided there, until he acknowledged the situation and confirmed to his friend Charbonneau-Lassay the truthfulness of "your statement: "he [Guénon] is not a scheikh and cannot be one of them; but, at the same time, he has got this status as he has married a woman who belongs to the Prophet’s descent". Therefore, considering this fact, the practice of some Islamic rites, the research of traditions shared by all religions not only in order to trace them back to our own religion, but to constitute - as you say &- a sort of "super-religion", aren’t we already outside the boundaries of the Catholic Church?" [28].

Another point that emerges from these letters, the last one we are going to mention among so many others that could be taken into consideration, is Guénon’s interest - at first, more precisely, caution - in relation to Charbonneau-Lassay’s reference to some hermetic-mystic brotherhoods with which he had come into contact: the Estoile Internelle (Inner Star) and the Fraternité du Paraclet (Paraclete’s Brotherhood). Guénon learned about these brotherhoods only when Charbonneau-Lassay referred to them in his article for Regnabit [29], even if Charbonneau-Lassay himself had known them since January 1926, when the canon of the Cathedral of Poitiers, Théophile Barbot (1841-1927), at that time Major of the Estoile Internelle and Master-knight of the Fraternité du Paraclet, handed over to him the second one and authorized him to study the archives of the first one. For almost seventy years there has been a lot of talk about these hermetic-mystic brotherhoods - which Charbonneau-Lassay considered, contrary to some others he had known, "in perfect harmony with the strictest orthodoxy" [30]. In the study entitled Hermétisme et Emblématique du Christ dans la vie et l’œuvre de Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946) Salzani and I have largely discussed this subject, developing a series of topics and giving some hints for further historical-doctrinal reflections about the origins and relevance of these kinds of reality. In the meanwhile, I have been able to collect the copies of about a thousand of unpublished pages written by Charbonneau-Lassay and by other figures that gravitated and gravitate towards these brotherhoods: letters, diaries, observations, notebooks. All this material needs to be closely examined before it can be properly discussed. At this moment, the only possible thing is to update the information referring to the Fraternité du Paraclet. This was completely restored on 10th September 1938 by Charbonneau-Lassay together with Marcel Clavelle [31] and Georges Tamos (alias Georges-Auguste Thomas, 1884-1966; already assistant-editor of Le Voile d’Isis, and, at a certain point of his life, member of the inner circle of the Theosophical Society in France), stating from a reliable source that it had been founded as or transformed into a chivalry between 1500 and 1510 by Pierre Amelot, priest of Paris, with the help of: Pierre de Rohan (1451-1513), Marshal of France, the Sieur des Combes, Sister Anne de Gaundon-Genouillac, Jacques Nyverd († 1548), typographer in Paris, and Guillaume Briçonnet (1470-1534), Bishop of Meaux [32].

Sending the reader, who wants more interpretative details, to the above mentioned book, however, the problem of the "destiny" of these brotherhoods remains unsolved. According to many people, these brotherhoods - it is pointless to deny the facts - have represented on the Christian ground - or rather on the Catholic - the confirmation of the existence of a Christian esotericism not only "in fact" but also "by rights". At the risk of repeat ourselves, we wish to stress that this is not the place for the last - nor the last but one - solution to the old problem. What seems to be clear is that, as a matter of fact, after Charbonneau-Lassay’s death these brotherhoods, or at least the Fraternité du Paraclet, must have undergone a sort of evolution, however typical in the esotericism world, that maybe was not in perfect harmony with their own origins. From the one hand we can affirm that, until the Chevalerie du Divin Paraclet was run by Charbonneau-Lassay, a man whose traditional full Catholicity is unlikely to be doubted, certainly it was a mysterious reality, but, nevertheless, representative of a method of mystic-symbolic investigation of the mysteries of the faith which belonged to the medieval habit of mind [33] (and its peculiarity would be the fact that it has last until the 20th century). From the other hand, as far as we know about the events - and hoping for further investigation - we must say that, after Charbonneau-Lassay’s death, this brotherhood seemed to have suffered the consequences of the controversies arisen in the French "Guénonian" esotericist milieu. This can be traced back at least to the "Christic mysteries" querelle started in 1948 by some articles by Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), in which he stated the initiation nature of the Christian sacraments [34].

In this context, we could mention some setbacks which were to lead some of the members of Fraternité du Paraclet to leave the brotherhood. Among these there were Father Jean Châtillon (1912-1988) - the famous scholar of the mystic of the school of San Vittore as well as parish priest of the Fraternité du Paraclet itself - and Father André Gircourt. The situation started to worsen and already in 1950 the new Master of the Chevalerie du Divin Paraclet (Georges-Auguste Thomas, assisted by Bailly, Louis Barmont [35]) had to send an "encyclical letter" to all members reminding them that they were not authorized to ""take sides", openly or not, with the dispute which from a certain time has put Mr. Guénon and Mr. Schuon in disagreement on a few points" [36]. In this way, on 31 December 1951, the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Divine Paraclete was "put into sleep" [37]. But, at this point, a new chapter of the whole story would start, so we prefer to leave the matter hanging and content ourselves with a more unpretentious documentary exposition.


[1] As this is not the place for a bibliographical description of the "state of art", however, it seems that some titles summarize better than others the different views that the debate and the tendency mentioned above have assumed: see Jean-Pierre Laurant, Le sens caché dans l’œuvre de René Guénon, Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1975; Idem, L’ésotérisme chrétien en France au XIXe siècle, Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1992; Marie-France James, Ésotérisme et christianisme autour de René Guénon, Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1981; Eadem, Esotérisme, occultisme, franc-maçonnerie et christianisme au XIXe et XXe siècles. Explorations bio-bibliographiques, Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1981; Jean Tourniac, Propos sur René Guénon, Paris: Dervy-Livres, 1973; Paul Chacornac, La vie simple de René Guénon, Paris: Éditions Traditionnelles, 1958; Jean Reyor, Pour un aboutissement de l’œuvre de René Guénon, Milano: Archè, 3 vols., 1988-1991; Idem, A la suite de René Guénon, Paris: Éditions Traditionnelles, 2 vols., 1989-1991; Jean Borella, Ésotérisme guénonien et mystère chrétien, Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1997.

[2] It is worth recalling two other articles, which René Guénon wrote for Regnabit but were published only many years later on the Études Traditionnelles: "Le grain de sénevé" and "L’Éther dans le cœur". Today they are collected in his posthumous book Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée, Paris: Gallimard, 1962.

[3] R. Guénon, "Le grain de sénevé", Études Traditionnelles (January-February 1949): 26; today in Idem, Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée, op. cit.: 433.

[4] Michel Vâlsan, Introduction at R. Guénon, Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée, op. cit.: 14.

[5] For an exhaustive biography of this figure, see Stefano Salzani - PierLuigi Zoccatelli Hermétisme et Emblématique du Christ dans la vie et l’œuvre de Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946), Paris-Milano: Archè, 1996; for a shorter account, see my entry "Louis Charbonneau-Lassay", in Jean Servier (ed.), Dictionnaire critique de l’ésotérisme, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998: 287-288.

[6] See Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, Les Châteaux de Loudun, d’après les fouilles archéologiques de M. Moreau de la Ronde, Loudun: L. Blanchard, 1915.

[7] See Karl Rahner, Zur Theologie der Symbols (Schriften zur Theologie, IV), Einsiedeln: Benzinger, 1960: 275-311.

[8] For a view of the Hiéron du Val d’Or, see the monograph on Atlantis, 42/252 (May-June 1969): 287-381; J.-P. Laurant, Le destin sacré des peuples, race et occultisme au XIXe siècle: l’exemple du Hiéron de Paray-le-Monial, "Politica Hermetica", 2 (1988): 43-51; M.-F. James, Ésotérisme et christianisme autour de René Guénon, op. cit.: 237-243; and Massimo Introvigne, Il cappello del mago. I nuovi movimenti magici, dallo spiritismo al satanismo, Milano: SugarCo, 1990: 324-326.

[9] See P.L. Zoccatelli, "De Regnabit au Bestiaire du Christ. L’itinéraire intellectuel d’un symboliste chrétien: Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946)", Société Historique du Pays de Loudunois, 1 (31st December 1998): 34-45.

[10] See L. Charbonneau-Lassay, Le Bestiaire du Christ, Bruges: Desclée de Brouwer, 1940 (reprint, Milano: Archè, 1974). In Italy, the recent revival of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay has lead to the start of the publication of the French symbolist’s opera omnia, edited by P.L. Zoccatelli: see L. Charbonneau-Lassay, Il Bestiario del Cristo, Roma: Arkeios, 2 vols., 1994; P.L. Zoccatelli, Il Giardino del Cristo ferito, Roma: Arkeios, 1995; and P.L. Zoccatelli, Le Pietre Misteriose del Cristo, Roma: Arkeios, 1997 (a fourth and last book is forthcoming). In the United States a version of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay’s major work has been published, but it has been mysteriously mutilated of most chapters: see The Bestiary of Christ, Translated & Abridged by D. M. Dooling, New York: Parabola Book, 1991 (and also New York: Arkana - Penguin Books, 1992).

[11] R. Guénon, "Le grain de sénevé", Symboles fondamentaux de la Science sacrée, op. cit.: 433.

[12] See "Controversie", records in the Archivio Generale Oblati Maria Immacolata, Rome, unpublished (a copy is in my archive).

[13] Quelques souvenirs sur René Guénon et les "Études Traditionnelles" ("unpublished confidential document"), typescript of 79 pages edited by Marcel Clavelle in 1963 (p. 20, unpublished).

[14] See J.-P. Laurant, Symbolisme et Écriture, le cardinal Pitra et la "Clef" de Méliton de Sardes, Paris: Cerf, 1988.

[15] See Jean-Sébastien Devoucoux, Description de l’Eglise cathédrale d’Autun dédiée a Saint-Lazare, Autun, 1845; and Edme Thomas, Histoire de l’antique cité d’Autun & Etudes d’archéologie traditionelle par Mgr Devoucoux, Milano: Archè, 1992 (reprint).

[16] See Charles-Auguste Auber, Histoire et théorie du symbolisme religieux avant et depuis le Christianisme, Milano: Archè, 4 vols., 1977 (reprint).

[17] However, as far as the review was concerned, Guénon was to judge it clearly enough: "As a matter of fact, on Regnabit there is nothing interesting, with the exception of my articles and those by Charbonneau" (letter to Guido de Giorgio dated 4th March 1929).

[18] See, for instance, Saint Augustine, Retractationes, I, XIII, 3.

[19] See, where there is the correspondence discussed in these pages.

[20] L. Charbonneau-Lassay, "L’Iconographie ancienne du Cœur de Jésus. A propos de deux livres récents", Regnabit, 5/6 (November 1925): 390; today in L. Charbonneau-Lassay, Études de symbolique Chrétienne, Paris: Gutenberg Reprints, 2 vols., 1981 (I: 328).

[21] See L. Charbonneau-Lassay, "L’Iconographie ancienne du Cœur de Jésus. L’Emblème du Pélican dans l’Iconographie chrétienne", Regnabit, 4/11 (April 1925): 375-383, where Charbonneau-Lassay clearly defines the Freemasonry as "the counter-Church", "the Sect", and its use of Christian symbolism as "blaspheme" (381-383), in opposition with Guénon’s opinion on this subject, which is sufficiently known.

[22] Letter dated 4th December 1976, unpublished.

[23] R. Guénon, Études sur la Franc-Maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage, Paris: Éditions Traditionnelles, 2 vols., 1977 (I: 197).

[24] In this reconstruction, a new acquisition is constituted by a few passages from some Guénon’s letters which prove his juvenile affiliation to the H. B. of L. (Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor): see Rivista di Studi Tradizionali, 71 (July-December 1990): 83-84.

[25] See Robert Amadou, "L’Erreur spirite de René Guénon ou l’affaire du Temple Rénové", Le Sphinx, 3-4 (Fall 1978): 57-77, and 5 (Spring 1979): 45-60; and J.-P. Laurant, "René Guénon et l’Ordre du Temple à travers la correspondance inédite de Patrice Genty à Paul Chacornac", Travaux de la Loge nationale de recherches Villard de Honnecourt, 13 (1986): 35-47.

[26] Besides the above mentioned members, some twenty Martinists were co-opted afterwards, among which there were Victor Blanchard, Patrice Genty, Marc Haven and Charles Blanchard. They were all expelled by Gérard Encausse - alias Papus - who, looking with disfavor upon them and being afraid of a possible revolt, had infiltrated the loyal Charles Détré, known as Téder.

[27] M. Introvigne, Il cappello del mago. I nuovi movimenti magici, dallo spiritismo al satanismo, op. cit.: 238 (the reference is to the article by M. Vâlsan, "La fonction de René Guénon et le sort de l’Occident", Études Traditionnelles, 293-294-295 [1951]: 213-255).

[28] Letter dated 25th October 1938. The expression "super-religion", used to define Guénon’s views, can be found in Louis Charbonneau-Lassay’s words at least in another occasion. I am referring to a letter by Charbonneau-Lassay dated 17th January 1946 (unpublished, a copy is in my archive) addressed to Father André Gircourt (1907-1985) - better known among "Guénonian" readers as "Abbé Stéphane". In this letter Charbonneau-Lassay wrote: "The question in hand is R. Guénon’s theory: a super religion for an elite of Initiates who can move, without any problem, from one creed to another". The letter under discussion, written in the last months of the Christian symbolist’s life, would seem to point out some great reservations that Charbonneau-Lassay had about Guénon and that he had never expressed so clearly before, as when he wrote: "Surely not, R. Guénon’s reading is not suitable for a young man. He often says indisputable right things [...], but, after all, he leads to some conclusions that are deplorable at times [...]. His reader can start to enjoy the author’s theories and to wish to read all his other works, this can lead to some unpleasant spiritual straying". The most striking thing is that the letter, whose quotations are provided above, was addressed not to one of Charbonneau-Lassay’s many acquaintances, but to a priest who just a few days before (on 27th December 1945) had been invested by Charbonneau-Lassay himself in the Fraternité du Paraclet, which we are going to discuss in a short while.

[29] See L. Charbonneau-Lassay, "L’Iconographie emblématique de Jésus-Christ. La Colombe", Regnabit, 8/8 (January 1929): 71-80.

[30] Ibid.: 75.

[31] A historical reconstruction of the Fraternité du Paraclet, described in a long letter (unpublished, a copy is in my archive) by Marcel Clavelle, is in my website devoted to the study of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay ( In the same website there are passages from Charbonneau-Lassay’s personal diary (unpublished, a copy is in my archive), which refer to the days of the restoration (September 1938) of the Fraternité du Paraclet.

[32] For an extensive discussion and reconstruction of the sources, see Jean-Pierre Brach - P.L. Zoccatelli, "Courants renaissants de réforme spirituelle et leurs incidences", Politica Hermetica, 11 (1997): 31-46 (I am taking this opportunity to complete the list of the founders’ names).

[33] In many respects, this habit of mind is much different from the real "obsession for the secret" which today seems to prevail in those who refer to these kinds of reality: a little evidence comes from the fact that on 19th March 1933, Charbonneau-Lassay had no difficulty to read the statutes of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Divin Paraclet (unpublished, a copy is in my archive), during the monthly meeting of the Société du Rayonnement Intellectuel du Sacré-Cœur.

[34] René Guénon was regularly informed about these disputes as well as about the methodology of spiritual realizations which some followers of Schuon learned from him (invocation to Jesus-Mary and meditation on six subjects: death, war, peace, love, understanding, unity). "Furthermore, as far as the Paraclete’s member are concerned, Clavelle told me that Tamos was very disappointed and that he wanted to call them to order or even to make them take their choice; this concerns above all Father Châtillon, who is parish priest and in his capacity has received C[...]" (R. Guénon’s letter dated 3rd August 1950, unpublished, a copy is in my archive); "[Schuon] spoke about his action towards Christianity; he said he did not consider those Christians who turned to him as "disciples" [...], but he added: "But there are two exceptions " (I do not know exactly what he means). It seems he was referring to Father Gircourt and C.[...] about whom you spoke to me, and who was received in the Paraclete by Father Châtillon; but then I wonder why there is not a third exception concerning Father Châtillon himself" (R. Guénon’s undated letter, unpublished, a copy is in my archive). "I have received some news from Nancy by G.[...], who recently has been there and has met J.[...] and some of his friends [...]. There, he has learned about Father Châtillon who has been appointed Medieval History teacher at the Institut Catholique of Paris, and furthermore, about another Father, whose name he does not know - nevertheless this one can obviously be but Father Gircourt - and who has great plans for a revival of Christian esotericism in general and Christic initiation in particular; it is not difficult to guess where he took this idea" (R. Guénon’s letter, 21st November 1950, unpublished, a copy is in my archive).

[35] Alias René Mutel and M. de Corberon (Louis Gros, 1908-1994).

[36] Letter dated 23rd May 1959 (unpublished, a copy is in my archive). Sending a copy of this "encyclical-letter" to Father André Gircourt, Father Jean Châtillon wrote: "The Master[...] who knows everything and reads everything in the stars maybe has meant to speak of a journey to Lausanne! [the Swiss city where Schuon lived at that time]" (letter dated 27th May 1950, unpublished, a copy is in my archive).

[37] See the form of oath of the Knights of the Paraclete where the "putting into sleep" of the Fraternité du Paraclet was notified and had to be compiled by 31st January 1952 (unpublished, a copy is in my archive).


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