Volume 8, Issue 5: Pictura
Five Steps Ahead
As the Jesuit lawyer, d'Essaules, completed his plea to the long row of judges, the mass of observers in the upper galleries cursed him to silence once again. He stared down at his podium and waited, thoughtlessly pressing back the graying red hair that barely trimmed his ears. The President of the Grand Chamber demanded silence. The Jesuit lawyer had claimed that this case was excessively complicated by the number of plaintiffs, and so an open trial would take too long for the good court and would be unfair to the Jesuit Order. He argued that the case should instead be decided by a subcommittee of the French parliament, where, he didn't add, their few friends could be of some help. This move was quite unacceptable to the Jansenists, a rival conservative group within the Roman church which was decidedly opposed to papal power, especially the Jesuits, the pope's personal agents.
A messenger passed a note to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Le Gouve. Before he could unfold the thick paper note, Le Gouve had to clear his forehead and fleshy neck of perspiration. That April of 1761 in Paris was absurdly humid, and the crowds in the galleries only added to the temperature and the stench. After reading the note almost against his spectacles, Le Gouve's mind prompted him to jump to his feet, but his bones and muscles were in a different era. He rose slowly, pushing up with both hands on the desk. Gaining permission to speak, Le Gouve explained that all the plaintiffs he represented except for one had decided to drop their accusations against the Jesuit Order. This removed the complications. He turned his head and smiled lightly at the Jesuit lawyer. After three days, d'Essaules had finally run out of delays. The Grand Chamber of judges voted sixteen to fifteen to have the case argued in open court. The masses in the galleries exploded with cheers.
The Grand Chamber cleared quickly. Le Gouve and his legal assistant, his twenty-year-old nephew, also pressed their way down the long halls. Kisses and back-pats followed them. A trio of men stood ahead together like a protruding rock in a river of people. They carefully flashed their eyes at Le Gouve, directing him into a side chamber. He pulled his nephew's arm and drew him into the dark quiet with the other three men.
"Why is he here?" asked the lead voice of the trio.
"He is my flesh and blood. What I hear, he hears," said Le Gouve. A pause held for a moment.
"We preserved you today," said the lead.
"Nonsense," whispered Le Gouve. "Don't interfere with my arguments again." He waived his arms weakly. "You have to think five steps ahead of these Jesuits, or they will bury you." His nephew tried to adjust his eyes to the dark to see the faces of the trio. "We still don't know," said Le Gouve, "why these Jesuits didn't just repay this theft and avoid open scandal altogether. Something is amiss. Don't ever underestimate these men." The nephew could tell that the three men weren't many years older than himself.
The voice responded to Le Gouve: "We will replace you if you start to fail, old man. I don't know who thought you could do this. This is not your battle alone." The trio vanished out of the room. Uncle and nephew stood in silence. Le Gouve sighed and patted his nephew's back. His nephew steadied him.
That evening in Le Gouve's library, the maid wrapped Le Gouve's heavy arms and head in cloths and medications. He heaved his body back in his silk cushioned chair. His nephew sat forward on the edge of a footstool. Le Gouve knew what he wanted.
"Yes," he said finally, "This case isn't truly concerned with the greediness of one fat Jesuit monk on the isle of Martinique. It is part of a hundred-year struggle to rid France of Jesuits. The battle has been passed on by Jansenist to Jansenist. We are now the closest ever to getting them exiled from France, if we can show that their whole rancid order is responsible for the millions of livre stolen from French investors."
His nephew questioned him on every angle. Le Gouve explained that now that the Jesuits were forced to argue in open court, the first step was to prove that according to Jesuit teaching, their general, the pope himself, owned all property in Jesuit hands. Le Gouve paused and stared blankly for a moment. Nephew looked confused and tried to draw his uncle's attention. "What was I talking about?" asked Le Gouve.
"The general," said nephew quickly.
"Ah, yes. If we can show that their order has sworn loyalty directly to him, and he is the supreme owner, then he is responsible for the restitution of these millions to our plaintiffs." He stared up again. "This will completely ruin them in France." Uncle soon grew too tired. "If I fail, my sister would have wanted you to fight."
"Yes, my uncle, I too am a sworn Jansenist, but I need to drink in all your strategies and wisdom to fight these Jesuit murderers. Please help me." They finished their conversation, and nephew kissed his uncle, steadied him gently into bed, and made his way downstairs.
The streets of Paris were hot and damp and dark. Nephew's home wasn't far. Once outside, he ran through the avenues and at one point ran past the alley he sought. He regrouped, ran back down the alley, and knocked oddly on a deeply shadowed door. A maid opened the door and led him into a parlor. He sat and soon heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and there in the doorway appeared counselor d'Essaules of the Jesuit Order. He smiled at the youth. "Ah, my good friend. You are later than usual. What do you have for me today?"
"First," said the nephew, "let's drink to my future in Jesuit law."
At the Grand Chamber the next afternoon, Le Gouve made a sustained case for the internal tyranny of the Jesuit Order. He explained that "all Jesuits without distinction are subjected and bound to the absolute and arbitrary will of the general alone. The Jesuits are to regard their general as Jesus Christ himself and obey him as a cadaver."
D'Essaules was a little too quick to respond and prove that Jesuits like all other monastic orders took a vow of perpetual poverty and so owned no property whatsoever. Though the Jesuit constitution was secret, as everyone knew, it did not differ from other monastic orders in this regard. Jesuits had a long history of not owning property. As an order, they could not be held responsible for the deviousness of this one monk in Martinique. In the end, the Jesuits had won that day. The crowds in the galleries were silent.
On the following day, Le Gouve argued that if the Jesuit general did not personally own all the property under Jesuit charge, then still the Jesuit order as a whole was the owner. Once again, the Jesuits responded quickly that French law protected all monastic orders in France and acknowledged that no order held any property. They merely administered it.
Le Gouve responded that even if the Jesuits owned no property, their unified administration should be held responsible. The Jesuits rejoined by explaining that they didn't even hold a unity of administration over their property, but like all other monastic orders, each overseer was given temporal authority over each monastery and college. Once again, the person responsible is the lone monk in Martinique, not the entire Jesuit Order.
Moreover, claimed the Jesuits, if they were being tried for violations of their own constitution, then how can the plaintiffs seek to apply the penalties of French law against them? They cannot have it both ways. In response, Le Gouve now began his main thrust of argument. Actually, he explained, the Jesuits are the party seeking to have it both ways. Not only do they violate their own constitutions by taking part in commercial transactions around the world, but they then appeal to their own constitutions to avoid the penalties of French law. "Which standard do you wish to be judged by?" inquired Le Gouve. "Please inform the Grand Chamber so we may proceed. Do you wish to fall under the laws of France or your constitution alone? I request that the most honored magistrates of the Grand Chamber require the Jesuits to answer this question." Le Gouve smiled within and sat. His nephew pressed his hand under the table. The Grand Chamber agreed to demand an answer to the question. D'Essaules started to rise, but his assistant pulled him back down, and they traded sharp whispers. D'Essaules finally broke free and requested that he have a day to answer the court.
Upon leaving the Grand Chamber, the same dark trio of young Jansenists cornered Le Gouve and his nephew again. They said they could no longer depend on his tricky arguments going nowhere. Le Gouve would ruin their last best chance. The trio informed Le Gouve that earlier today Chauvelin in Parliament had argued that Jesuit involvement in the assassinations of Henry III, Henry IV, and nearly Louis XV required that Parliament examine the constitutions of the Jesuit Order. Parliament had demanded that the Jesuits turn over their constitutions within a day or face the full penalty of French law.
Le Gouve started to laugh at the news, and he couldn't stop. His nephew helped him to sit down; his whole body convulsed with quiet laughter. The trio left in disgust.
His nephew's eyes were wide and his brow creased deeply. He held his uncle close to his chest. Finally Le Gouve started coughing deeply, and when he had finished he pulled his nephew's neck close. "The Jesuits will never turn over their constitutions. And if they did, they need only have their devotees at Versailles snatch them from the Parliament and claim to want to do their own investigation. The King and the dauphin and all their counselors will not sit still to see the Jesuits forced into anything by Parliament."
Nephew went home early that evening, stopping for only a short while at the shadowed door. The next morning Parliament was trying to suppress its glee. The Jesuits had showed up far prior to the imposed deadline and set their Prague 1756 constitution in the very lap of Parliament. Everyone in Franceeveryone in Europewanted to read it, but no one touched the prize. Parliamentarians walked around it as if it were surrounded by a moat. Several committees were beginning to organize at full gallop, when the short, iron-moustached representative of the French crown delivered a letter de cache from the King himself. The letter from the most sacred person of the King informed his "beloved and faithful counselors" in Parliament that he wished himself to take cognizance of the Jesuits' constitution and ordered it sent at once to Versailles, "for such is our pleasure."
Le Gouve hobbled to court the next day for another tussle with the Jesuit lawyers. His nephew was absent this morning though. Just as he entered the main chamber and caught a glimpse of the thirty-one judges and Jesuit law team waiting for him, footsteps clattered behind him and a hand detained him from behind but would not let him turn. That familiar voice of the trio gripped his ear: "I should kill you where you stand." He pressed a sharp object against Le Gouve's spine. The President of the Grand Chamber ordered Le Gouve to take his seat. The voice behind him whispered, "We know that you are a Jesuit spy. You knew that they would take the constitution back. You even suggested it to them. Go now and complete your play acting. But do not plan to see the sun set." The hand pushed him forward into the noise of the Grand Chamber. He leaned on each chair as he made his way down the aisle. He rubbed his forehead and thought to himself, What bitter madness. Why would I talk to Jesuits? They don't need me to remind them of their friends at Versailles. His papers dropped and scattered into his chair. The Jesuit lawyer raised his eyebrows to his assistants.
The President of the Grand Chamber asked d'Essaules for the answer to the question posed yesterday. "Will it be French law or the Constitution of the Society of Jesus?" The Jesuits were finally in a corner. French law might take everything they had, but they would not hand over their constitution directly to the Grand Chamber.
The Jesuit d'Essaules rose to answer. He pressed back his graying red trim of hair. "We choose French law." The masses in the galleries made an uncertain rumble of joy.
Le Gouve was already on his feet shouting to be heard by all: "But French law can only apply to those monastic Orders legally recognized by the government of France. Would the Grand Chamber please ask the Society of Jesus to produce evidence of such recognition? Unless they have proof of such, then they are illegal foreigners." The court agreed and demanded an answer of the Jesuits.
D'Essaules sat wide-eyed, staring at Le Gouve. This was unexpected. He had granted Le Gouve French law only to be
hung by it. The trap had shut. But the only thing running through Le Gouve's head as he saw his old nemesis fail was the line from the Iliad where a messenger says of the skilled bowman who shot Menelaos: "Glory to him, but to us a sorrow." Le Gouve saw himself as the bowman and the sorrowful man who watched such a grand opponent fall.
D'Essaules stared at his feet. He rose once more and raised his chin high. "I warned my Jesuit brothers that you must think five steps ahead of these Jansenists." He forced a smile of surrender to Le Gouve. He sighed and spoke loudly and clearly: "The Jesuits have yet to be recognized by the government of France." He tipped his head. Le Gouve tipped his head in response.
The masses didn't know what to make of this, so they sat in silence. But both the Jansenists and the Jesuits knew that the Society of Jesus had finally opened the door toward the immediate exile of itself from France. The trio's suspected spy had turned into a hero. The dark trio cheered too. The crown could not stand in the way with such an open admission, and within three months the French Parliament would close the door on the Jesuits in France. The Grand Chamber demanded that the Jesuits pay 1.5 million livre in restitution to the plaintiffs in this case. The Jesuits later claimed to be unable to pay. So the French Parliament confiscated all Jesuit property but only found a small fraction of that amount. That is why the Jesuits had taken their chances in the Grand Chamber. Contrary to all the conspiracy theories about their hidden riches, the French Jesuits were in fact quite livreless. And by August 6, they were exiled from France.
When the decision of the case was finally translated to the masses, the street riots commenced. Numerous groups were hunting for d'Essaules and any Jesuits to inflict some kind of arbitrary vengeance upon them. At Le Gouve's home, his maid entered his darkened library where he sat and announced the arrival of nephew.
His nephew bounded up the stairs and embraced his uncle. "Excellent work, Uncle. Just excellent."
Le Gouve separated himself after a moment and stepped over to pour two glasses of wine. "So tell me, nephew, where were you this morning?"
"Yes, uncle, I was terribly ill at first light. A little Chardonnay was a quick cure." He smiled a sharp fresh smile at Uncle and received a glass of wine as offered.
"What shall we drink to nephew?"
"Well," nephew thought for a moment, "why don't we drink to a great future in Jansenist law?"
But out of farthest corner of the library came a third voice. "No I couldn't drink to the Jansenists. They are vile heretics."
The sharp smile slid from nephew's lips. He stared into the darkness. From it emerged a man with a graying red trim of hair. "Now I thought you had pledged your future to us Jesuits?" said d'Essaules.
The nephew's head cocked quickly right and left and back again. He shouted at his uncle.
"You are the one hiding d'Essaules?"
His uncle grinned slowly. "What better place? They wouldn't dare concern themselves with the home of the hero of Paris."
The nephew stepped backward a few steps, mouth open. He looked at d'Essaules. "Does uncle know?"
D'Essaule snorted. "He always knew, and I knew that he knew," said d'Essaules. "We're old. We're not idiots. Oh, he is so young." D'Essaules pinched nephew's cheek and turned to question Le Gouve. "I'll wager that you even used that old trick of pretending to forget your way mid-sentence." Le Gouve smiled a confession. "Oh he is young then," said d'Essaules.
D'Essaules lowered his head a bit and stared nephew right in the eye. "You never had a chance of a future in Jesuit law. We would never embrace those who betray faith and blood. That's a trait of today's youth."
Le Gouve put his arm around his nephew. "D'Essaules and I practice honest treachery. But you youth have no loyalties. No integrity in your deceptions."
Nephew broke away. "You may be more cunning, but I am still quicker. I can have the Grand Chamber guards here for d'Essaules in a moment," and he backed out of the library and flew down the stairs.
"Oh, do tell the boy," said d'Essaules.
"Must I?" He stared out the library doorway. "I suppose you're right. You Jesuits do take the fun out of pain don't you?"
Le Gouve went to the door of the study and said in a low voice, "Oh nephew."
"Louder," said d'Essaules. Le Gouve frowned.
"Nephew!" he shouted, just as the door downstairs opened. "You should know that late this afternoon d'Essaules here was kind enough to have himself and five other Jesuits sign a note swearing that you were their spy." Nephew's eyes closed tightly. "So the Grand Chamber guards and our trio of Jansenist friends are very interested in finding you. And good luck in your future in law." The door downstairs slammed shut.
Le Gouve and d'Essaules smiled at each other and held up their wine glasses. D'Essaules toasted first: "May France be saved from her youth." And then Le Gouve toasted: "To honorable enemies and the treachery of old age!"