The Devils of Loudon is a 1952 non-fiction book by Aldous Huxley. It's the story of a man accused of demonic possession in France in 1634. A priest is accused of seducing an entire convent of Ursuline nuns to serve the cause of the devil. Fun times in the French countryside. The priest who inspired this book (pictured above) was convicted and executed. Even under torture he never confessed. The Huxley book explores the possible causes of this phenomenon.
It's possible the entire affair was a politically motivated plot.
The book begins:
It was in 1605 that Joseph Hall, the satirist and future bishop, made his first visit to Flanders. “Along our way how many churches saw we demolished, nothing left but rude heaps to tell the passenger, there hath been both devotion and hostility. Oh, the miserable footsteps of war! ... But (which I wondered at) churches fall, and Jesuits’ colleges rise everywhere. There is no city where these are not rearing or built. Whence cometh this? Is it for that devotion is not so necessary as policy? These men (as we say of the fox) fare best when they are most cursed. None so much spited of their own; none so hated of all; none so opposed of by ours; and yet these ill weeds grow.”Depending on the copyright laws where you live -I swear copyright law is so byzantine I can't figure it out and trust I'm not violating it when I find things online- you can read the book online at this link.
They grew for a very simple and sufficient reason: the public wanted them. For the Jesuits themselves, “policy,” as Hall and his whole generation knew very well, was the first consideration. The schools had been called into existence for the purpose of strengthening the Roman Church against its enemies, the “libertines” and the Protestants. The good fathers hoped, by their teaching, to create a class of educated laymen totally devoted to the interests of the Church. In the words of Cerutti —words which drove the indignant Michelet almost to frenzy— “as we swathe the limbs of an infant in the cradle to give them a right proportion, so it is necessary from his earliest youth to swathe, so to speak, his will, that it may preserve through his life a happy and salutary suppleness.”
The spirit of domination was willing enough, but the flesh of propagandist method was weak. In spite of the swaddling of their wills, some of the Jesuits’ best pupils left school to become free thinkers or even, like Jean Labadie, Protestants. So far as “policy” was concerned, the system was never as efficient as its creators had hoped. But the public was not interested in policy; the public was interested in good schools, where their boys could learn all that a gentleman ought to know. Better than most other purveyors of education, the Jesuits supplied the demand.
“What did I observe during the seven years I passed under the Jesuits’ roof? A life full of moderation, diligence and order. They devoted every hour of the day to our education, or to the strict fulfillment of their vows. As evidence of this, I appeal to the testimony of the thousands who, like myself, were educated by them.” So wrote Voltaire. His words bear witness to the excellence of the Jesuits’ teaching methods. At the same time, and yet more emphatically, his entire career bears witness to the failure of that “policy,” which the teaching methods were intended to serve.