Paul de Barry’s Eensaemheydt van Philagia (1646): A Jesuit Manual for Contemplation for Women

By Patricia Stoop

In 1638 the French Jesuit Paul de Barry (1587–1661) published his third book, entitled La Solitude de Philagie ou l’adresse pour s’occuper avec profit aux Exercices spirituels une fois tous les ans durant huict ou dix jour.[1] It was printed in Lyon in the printing house of Claude I Rigaud (1583–1628), which at that time was operated by his widow and his son-in-law Philippe Borde (d. 1669). De Barry, who was rector of the Jesuit colleges of Aix and Nîmes and later provincial of Lyon, was an esteemed preacher, but first and foremost a prolific author. Carlos Sommervogel, who composed the Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, attributes no fewer than twenty-five works to him. La Solitude de Philagie, which was first printed in 1638, must have been quite popular as it was reprinted no fewer than fourteen times until 1692 and new editions appeared half-way through the nineteenth century (in 1854 and 1859).[2]

Eight years after its publication, the text was translated into Dutch by Guilliam van Aelst, who, as is mentioned on the title page, was “gheboortigh van Antwerpen” (“born in Antwerp”). Van Aelst, who passed away before 1646, was an active translator with a strong connection to the Jesuits.[3] Before he translated De Barry’s La Solitude de Philagie into De eensaemheydt van Philagia, Dienende tot Gheestelijcke Oeffeninghe in eensaemheydt. Van acht ofte thien gheduerighe daghen ’s Iaers, Van Aelst published De Thien eerste Boecken Der Nederlandtsche Oorloge in 1645, which was a translation of De bello Belgico decades duae, 1555–1590 (Antwerp, 1635) by the Roman Jesuit Faminio Strada (1572–1649). In 1651 he translated the Traité de l’Amour de Dieu (De Liefde Godts), which was colloquially known as Theotimus (Lyon, 1616), by St Francis de Sales (1567–1622), who was educated by the Jesuits, later bishop of Geneva and a renowned mystic and reformer, as well as an inspiration for many members of the Society of Jesus, including De Barry.

Figure 1: Title page of the first edition of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia (Antwerpen: Jacob van Ghelen, 1646). Copy owned by Marijken de Raedt, an Alexian sister in Aalst. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13. Reproduced with permission.

Like its French counterpart, De eensaemheydt van Philagia was quite successful. After the first edition was published in 1646 by Jacob van Ghelen, whose printing house was located at the Eiermarkt in Antwerp, three more editions (in four versions) were printed.[4] The second edition (“Den II Druck”) was printed again by Van Ghelen in 1649. In 1655 his colleague Arnout I van Brakel (1606–75) reissued this print, in identical form—even Van Ghelen’s 1649 colophon is present—but with a modified title page. That is to say, the printer’s name was altered and the date of publication was changed to 1655. In 1664, Van Brakel, whose shop was located at the other end of the Antwerp cathedral at the Wijngaardbrug, produced the third edition in a new lay-out. In 1711, the text was reprinted once more by Joannes Paulus Robyns, again in Antwerp.

Solitude as the Road to Holiness and Spiritual Perfection

With his Solitude de Philagie De Barry wanted to provide a tool for people who strive to make progress towards spiritual perfection and serve God, both within monasteries and in the world. In order to help these lovers of holiness—hence the word Philagia, a combination of φίλη (philè) and ἅγία (hagia) in, in the title—go through the three stages of the contemplative process (the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways), the Jesuit wrote spiritual exercises that should be done in eight or ten days. During this period the readers should act as if they were living in a large desert and personify solitude to talk to only with God and their own soul. In this way, they can overcome their evil inclinations and arrive at great purity of conscience and peace of mind.

After a short introduction containing the intentions of the author, a long list of general notes to be read in preparation for the eight- or ten-day exercises follows. Before starting, one must, for example, complete or suspend all one’s work, provide oneself with appropriate literature (apart from Thomas a Kempis’s Imitatio Christi, De Barry recommends works by fellow Jesuits), and contemplate on past sins in preparation for confession. Once these eight pages of instructions are mastered, the devotee can start the eight or ten days of meditations, the maintaining (‘onderhoudinghe’) of inner attitudes and devotional acts (e.g. the intimacy of the heart, the preparation for the yearly confession and the examination of conscience in preparation), and investigations (of the virtues for example).

On the first day, one should contemplate the reason why one is created. The second day is dedicated to repentance for the sins of the previous life. On the third day, faint-heartedness and sluggishness in the service of God take center stage. Next, one must consider what happens to one at the end of life. On day five to seven one should imitate Christ in the three stages of his life: in his youth, during his apostolate, and during his passion and death. The last three days of the process revolve around love owed to God, the unity with God, and the love for the Holy Sacrament. Once that whole process has been completed and readers have worked their way through nearly seven hundred pages of text, they are prepared for the New Year.

The Dedication by Catharina van Aelst

De Barry dedicated his original French La Solitude de Philagie “au glorieux S. Joseph, le plus aimable et le plus ayme de tous les Saincts, apres Jesus, & Marie’ (“to the glorious St Joseph, the most lovable and most loving of all the Saints, after Jesus and Mary”). The German translation by Martinus Sibenius also dedicated the text to Joseph, “der Mutter GOTtes allerwürdigstem Bräutigam, und allerweisesten Regierer des Worts, das Fleisch worden ist” (“the Mother of GOD’s most worthy Bridegroom, and most wise Ruler of the Word that became flesh”). With a general dedication like this, the book was aimed at all readers, men and women alike. In the Dutch version, however, the original dedication was replaced by a text by Catharina van Aelst, the daughter of the translator. Her father had passed away at the time that she wrote the dedication, “op den Voor-avont van’t Jaer 1646” (“on the Eve of the Year 1646”; fol. a6v):

Desen soo kostelijcken Lust-hof, van mijnen goeden Vader saeligher tot alghemeyn gherief van ons Nederlandt uyt de Fransche sprake overgeset, ende met meer andere sijne Boecken aen my als erfenisse ter handt ghekomen zijnde, alsoo hy aen een eighelijck van ons even nutbaer ende dienelijck is. (fol. A5v)[5]

(This so precious Garden of Delight has been translated from French by my good late Father for the general benefit of our Netherlands, and has come to me as an inheritance, together with more of his other Books, so that it is as useful as it is serviceable to all of us).

In her signature to the dedication, Catharina added the letters G.D. to her name. They can also be found after her initials on the title page of the 1646 edition: “[De eensaemheydt van Philagia] Wordt aen alle Gheestelijcke Dochters voor een Gheluck-saeligh Nieuw Jaer ghegunt Door C.V.A.G.D.” (“[The eensaemheydt of Philagia] is presented in kindness to all Spiritual Daughters for a Happy New Year by C.V.A.G.D.”). The abbreviation means that Catharina identified herself as a “Geestelijke Dochter” (“Spiritual Daughter”) or filia devota. She was one of the many single, Catholic women in the early modern Low Countries—often called “kloppen” or “kwezels”—who chose a chaste life dedicated to God outside monasteries and in secular contexts, often under the spiritual guidance of and in obedience to secular priests or, as in this case, Jesuits.

Catharina dedicated her father’s translation of De Eensaemheydt of Philagia to “alle gheesteliicke dochters. Beminde mede-Susters” (“all spiritual daughters, Beloved fellow Sisters”; fol. a2r). She encourages them to follow the example of Solomon in the Song of Songs 4. 16, who took his bride to the garden of delight. This can be done, she states referring to the eensaemheydt of De Barry’s title, by seeking the pleasure garden of solitude. It is there “dat onsen aldersoetsten Bruydegom Jesus noch alle daghen onse Zielen trouwt” (“that our most sweet Groom Jesus marries our Souls every day”; fol. A2v), in order to pull them “uyt de slavernije des duyvels, te weten, uyt het wereldts leven” (“out of the slavery of the devil, namely, of worldly life”). Subsequently, she explains that the “aldermeest gheachten Lust-hof van onsen Hemelschen Bruydegom, inden welcken hy sijnen aldermeesten lust heeft” (“most esteemed Pleasure-ground of our Heavenly Bridegroom in which he takes the most pleasure”; fol. a3v) is the bonus hortus virginitatis (delightful garden of virginity). In order to see to what exalted holiness and spiritual perfection of the soul solitude could lead, Catharina encourages people to look especially at

de heylighe en Lofweerdighe Societeyt Jesu, de welcke inden selven Lust-hof uyt Godt ontfanghen ende voort-gebraght, met het selve sogh onderhouden ende op-ghevoedt zijnde, tot alsulcke overvloedighe Heyligheydt ende volmaecktheydt ghekomen is, dat sy de heele wijde wereldt, ende onder andere oock ons haere Gheestelijcke Kinderen soo rijckelijck, als wy tot ons groot voordeel ende gheluck daghelijcks bevinden, vande selve is mededeelende. (fol. A5r–v)

(the holy and Praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which, received and brought forth from God in the same Garden of Delight, being nurtured and educated with the same milk, has come to such abundant Holiness and perfection, that it lets the whole wide world and also, among others, us its Spiritual Children, share the same so richly, as we experience to our great benefit and happiness every day).

Catharina’s dedication, which encourages the mystical wedding and the virginal matrimony of the soul with Christ, is written as a New Year’s wish. The fact that it is composed by a spiritual daughter of the Jesuit order and addressed to other spiritual daughters shifts the intended audience of De Barry’s devotional treatise. Rather than at a general audience, the text is now aimed at female addressees, and more specifically, female religious addressees. But which readers did the text actually reach?

For the Love of Holiness: The Readers of De eensaemheydt van Philagia

Not all the extant copies I have seen contain ownership inscriptions.[6] A good number of the ones that do, however, indeed belonged to women. In many cases the ownership inscriptions point out that the books were owned by individuals, albeit all members of religious communities. One copy of the 1646 edition, for example, was owned by Marijken de Raedt, who was a zwartzuster (Alexian sister) in the community in Aalst in East Flanders, which had been founded there in 1475 in order to take care of the sick (especially the plague victims) and continued to exist until 2020, when the remaining sisters moved to a neighbouring residential care center (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13; see Figure 1). A second copy (Kontich: Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde, no shelfmark) made its way to Maria Theresia Peeters, who was a “beggijntien op het vermaert beggijn hof tot Lier” (“beguine in the renowned beguinage of Lier”), located some twenty kilometers southeast of Antwerp. When Marijken and Maria Theresia lived is not clear.

When Sister Josephine Vanherberghen, who was a hospital sister in the Sint-Janshospitaal in the Brabantine city of Tienen (near Louvain), lived is not clear either. She owned a copy of the 1649 edition and left the mark of her ownership on the flyleaf of her book (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14 bis): “Gasthuis Thienen Suster Josephine Vanherberghen.” Another copy of the same, second edition, however, was owned in the nineteenth century by a grey sister (grauwzuster), likely of the Third Order of St Francis. On the flyleaf at the front she wrote that she owned the book during the time of Sister Ida: “Van zuster MariAnna Spillebijkx grouw zuster geproffest den 7 october 1834 als zuster Ida overste was ende die is gestorven den 13 Mert 1839” (“Of Sister MariAnna Spillebijkx grey sister professed on 7 Oct 1834 as sister Ida was superior, who died on 13 March 1839”; Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3446). Unfortunately, the book does not mention in which community the women lived. Interestingly, at another (later?) point in time the book was owned by a man. In the lower margin of the title page, a certain Frederic Verachter wrote his name.

A copy of the 1655 edition (i.e. the second edition as it was published by Arnout I van Brakel) also switched hands, but this time from woman to woman (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15). Judging from the location of the ownership inscription on the flyleaf as well as the handwriting, which is considerably older than the other signature, the book was initially owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and later transferred to Maria Bal who owned it in 1796. Both women indicate that they kept the book with the permission of their superior (“met orlof van haer oversten”). This indicates of course that these women were also members of a religious community. Possibly they lived in the female Dominican convent of Antwerp. The State Archives in that city own a donation deed that states that after the death of Peter Melijn (a building contractor who supervised fortification works in and around Antwerp between 1660 and 1680) six hundred gulden should be transferred to the Dominican convent where his daughter Maria Barbara Melijn was professed in 1670.[7]

Figure 2: Title page of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia, in the second edition issued by Arnout I van Brakel (Antwerpen, 1655). Copy owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and Maria Bal. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15. Reproduced with permission.

A second copy of the same 1655 edition also contains two ownership inscriptions (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, F 88500, flyleaf at the front). Initially, the book was owned by someone who noted down two little verses: “Het is een vremdt gemoedt / Dat noch mint, noch minnen doet” (“It is a strange disposition / That neither loves nor enables to love”) and “En houdt voor geenen vriendt / Die verandert als den windt” (“And regard as no friend / Who alters like the wind”). In between likely the same person added an emblem with the initials A.M.V. and the date 1730. Subsequently Sister Coleta Bouckaert added her name under the verse lines. Again, she is difficult to identify. A beguine with this name passed away in the Groot Begijnhof in Ghent on 27 or 28 February 1832 at the age of sixty-two.[8] However, around the same date a Sister Coleta Bouckaert was prioress of the convent of St Trudo in Odegem near Bruges (canonesses regular of the order of St Augustine).[9] This makes it impossible at this stage to establish whether the book was located in Ghent or in Bruges in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The last edition that was published by Van Brakel in 1664 also found its way into women’s hands. The copy that is currently kept in the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp (shelfmark F 126879) belonged, according to a note on the front flyleaf, to Sister Francoise Schrijnmaeckers in 1704. Whether she owned it earlier or later than Sister Tresa Boon, who left her ownership inscription at the back of the title page, is impossible to say. In any case Tresa was very concerned about her soul’s post-mortem well-being. She explicitly asked the readers of her inscription to pray for her after her death: “Tot behoef van suster Tresa Boon. Bidt voor mijn siel naer mijn doot op dat ick sondaers mach bevrijdt woorden van de eeuieghe doot” (“For the sake of Sister Tresa Boon. Pray for my soul after my death that I, sinner, may be freed from the eternal death”).

All the aforementioned copies of the Eensaemheydt of Philagia were owned by individual women who were members of religious communities. Two other books also circulated in women’s convents but were destined for common use. The 1655 edition that is nowadays at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp (A 2221) explicitly mentions on the front flyleaf that the book is meant “Voor het gemeyn van Blyenberch” (“for common use of Bleyenberg”), a community of Victorines in Mechelen. The Norbertine sisters in Antwerp kept their copy (of the first edition of 1646) according to a note on the title page in their church: “Ecclesia Norbertinarum Antw[erpiensis]” (Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3443). The third book (1649 edition) did not belong to a female community, but rather to the professed house of the Jesuits in Antwerp: “Dom[us] Prof[essa] Soc[ietatis] Jesu Antverpiae” (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14, 1e ex).

The last three books with ownership inscriptions I have found thus far probably belonged to lay people. On the flyleaf at the front of a copy held by the Museum Plantin-Moretus (A 3437), we read that “Dezen boek hoert toe aan Jozephina Lammens” (“This book belongs to Jozephina Lammens”). As Jozephina did not add “Sr” to indicate a religious profession to her name, we may assume that she was a lay woman or perhaps a spiritual daughter like Catharina van Aelst. The book with shelfmark BIB.ACC.012562 in the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Ghent (a copy of the 1649 edition) seems to have belonged to a couple: a note on the cover page expresses the hope that “Jehan en Marie wordt den besten trost” (“to Jehan and Marie the best consolation will come”), presumably in the hereafter. The 1664 version that is now in the Universiteitsbibliotheek at Ghent (BIB.158T008) has an ownership inscription on the front flyleaf that shows it belonged to a man: “Hic liber pertenet ad me Carolum Tileman anno 1762” (“This book belongs to me, Carolus Tileman, anno 1762”). He can be tentatively identified as the student who was mentioned in the Album studiosorum of the University of Leiden in 1756 and was born in The Hague in 1736.[10] If this identification is correct, this specimen is an outlier in many respects. It is not only the sole book thus far that has only been owned by a man and a student, but it is also the only copy that made its way to the Protestant north of the Low Countries.

Although De Barry does not seem to have had a distinct readership in mind, the dedication that Catherine added to her father’s Dutch translation clearly steered the reception of De eensaemheydt of Philagia. The majority of the books that have been studied thus far found their way to women who lived their lives as the Brides of Christ Catharina envisaged. Interestingly, however, most of the women who owned a copy lived such a life within (enclosed) convents of various orders, and not as the filiae devotae Catharina and the publisher seem to have had in mind when they addressed the book to “alle Gheestelijcke Dochters” (“All Spiritual Daughters”). Whether or not it was intended to, the book evidently reached a wide female audience and thereby played an important role in spreading Jesuit spirituality and mysticism to women’s religious communities in the Southern Low Countries.

Further reading

Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. I (1890), cols 945–57.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. by Marcel Viller and others, 16 vols. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses fils, 1937–94. I (1937), cols 1252–55.

De Vlieger-De Wilde, Koen, ed. Adresboek van zeventiende-eeuwse drukkers, uitgevers en boekverkopers in Vlaanderen / Directory of Seventeenth-Century Printers, Publishers and Booksellers in Flanders. Antwerp: Vereniging van Antwerpse Bibliofielen, 2004.

De Vroede, Maurits. “Kwezels” en “Zusters”: De geestelijke dochters in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 1994.

Monteiro, Marit Edin. Geestelijke maagden: Leven tussen klooster en wereld in Noord-Nederland gedurende de zeventiende eeuw. Hilversum: Verloren, 1996.

Olthoff, Frans. De boekdrukkers, boekverkoopers en uitgevers in Antwerpen sedert de uitvinding der boekdrukkunst tot op onze dagen. Antwerp: J.-B. Buschmann, 1891.

“Sibenius, Martin.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. VII (1896), cols 1181–84.

Stracke, D.A. “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.” De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49

Van Honacker, K. Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht. Antwerp: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002. Identification number BE–A0511/Y1/010)

Verheggen, Evelyne M.F. Beelden voor passie en hartstocht: Bid- en devotieprenten in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Zutphen: Walburg, 2006.

[1] This blog was inspired by the module ‘Vrouwen en literatuur in de vroegmoderne tijd’ of the undergraduate course Neerlandistiek in de praktijk (University of Antwerp, academic year 2021–22). My gratitude goes to my students Robin Van Gestel and Mie Verschooten for their enthusiastic exploration of the copy of De Barry’s De eensaemheydt van Philagia in the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich.

[2] I have counted the editions mentioned in the Universal Short Title Catalogue and Sommervogel’s list here.

[3] It is not very clear who Guilliam van Aelst was, nor how many translations can be attributed to him. For an extensive discussion on both questions, see D.A. Stracke, “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.,” in De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49.

[4] In the same year Paul De Barry’s text was also translated into German by Martinus Sibenius SJ (1604–68): Einöde Philagiae, Das ist Weiß unnd Manier, die Geistliche Exercitia einmal im Jahr, acht oder zehen Tag lang nützlich zu verrichten (Köln: Michael Dehmen [the Elder], 1646). This German translation was also reprinted eight times before 1738.

[5] The dedication of Van Aelst’s translation of De Sales’ De Liefde Godts (1651) is also written by Catharina van Aelst. This time the book is dedicated to Joanna van Lathem, abbess of the Cistercian abbey of Roosendael near Mechelen between 1639 and 1662, with whom she had a family connection. In the dedication, Catharina mentions “andere boecken” (“other books”) written by her “Vader saliger” (“late father”), as well as a female sibling and cousins, who seem to be nuns in the abbey of Roosendael.

[6] For this blog I consulted the Heritage Collections in Antwerp (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, Museum Plantin-Moretus, and Ruusbroecgenootschap), the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels, and the digital copies that are available on Google Books.

[7] “Schenkingsakte ten belope van 600 fl., na het overlijden van Peter Melijn te overhandigen aan het klooster van de dominicanessen, waar zijn dochter Maria Barbara Melijn was geprofest. 1670.” See K. Van Honacker, Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht (Antwerpen: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002; identification number: BE–A0511/Y1/010).

[8] Announcement of the deceased by the civil registry in Ghent in Den vaderlander, 26, Thursday 1 March 1832, p. 4.

[9] U. Berlière and others, eds, Monasticon Belge, 8 vols(Maredsous: Abbaye de Maredsous, 1890–1993), vii (1977–89): Province de Flandre Orientale, 1028 and 1061–62.

[10] Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875), col. 1055.


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