Antoinism is a new religious movement founded in 1910 by the Walloon Louis-Joseph Antoine (1846-1912) in Jemeppe-sur-Meuse (Seraing). Mainly focused on healing, the group has many temples in Belgium and France.
1846-1912: Louis Antoine, the founder
Louis-Joseph Antoine was born on 7 June 1846 in Mons-Crotteux, in a Roman Catholic family. He was the youngest of eight children - five brothers and two sisters, two of them apparently died in infancy. Her mother was named Catherine Castille, born in 1797. He was raised in the Priesse street and attended primary school in Mons. His father worked as a coal miner, and himself made the same work from the age of 12 years, then was a steelworker in a boiler.
He is enrolled in the militia in 1866, and filled his military obligations in Bruges. During the Franco-Prussian War, he accidentally killed a comrade, which led him to question the meaning of life. After marrying Jeanne Catherine Collon on 15 April 1873, he became the father of a son named Louis Martin Joseph, born in Prussia on 23 September 1873. The family moved to Poland for professional reasons, then went in Belgium in August 1876,and Antoine became a vegetable vendor. In 1878, he began to suffer from recurring stomach aches. In February of the next year, he came back to Poland and his wife ran a school canteen. The family definitely moved to Jemeppe-sur-Meuse (Belgium) in 1888 and did build there twenty workers houses.
Despite his strong faith, he was unsatisfied of his religion. He began to be influenced by the writings of Allan Kardec and started a spiritist movement called "the Vine growers of the Lord" ("Les Vignerons du Seigneur"). After the death of his son on 23 April 1893, he and the group broke definitely with Christianity. Antoine published in 1896 a book entitled Petit catéchisme spirite to expose his doctrine. He discovered the gifts of healing; by 1900, he received many sufferers to heal them and was then known as the "healer of Jemeppe". He distributed Spiritualists remedies and advocated vegetarianism, and avoidance of alcohol and fatty foods.
In 1900, the prosecutor of Liege asked two doctors to investigate on the healing activities of Antoine. They noticed his "absolute sincerity", but also asserted that his activities could be "a danger to public health". He was eventually sentenced to 60 francs suspended. Then he made an advertisement in the spiritualist journal Le Messager to propose doctors to associate with him, but without success. At the same time, he was deeply influenced by Léon Denis' book In the Invisible.
In 1906, Antoine gave up his remedies as well as spiritualism and decided to heal by faith alone and to perform only collective healing. Then he was interested in the spirituality he called a "new spiritualism". From 1907 to 1909, he published three books which explained his new doctrine and which contained "The Ten Principles of the Father".
On 15 June 1907, Antoine was again sued by a court but was acquitted. From May 1909 to Easter 1910, he did not appear publicly, and lived isolated to practice fasting and prayer, and to write a new book, Le Couronnement de l’Œuvre révélée. During this period, one of his followers assumed the worship. On 15 August 1910, he consecrated the temple of Jemeppe-sur-Marne, located in the Alfred Smeets street and which cost about 100,000 francs. On 2 December 1910, 160,000 signatures were gathered to demand official recognition of the antoinist religion.
Antoine presented his wife as his successor and appointed a council composed of followers to manage financial issues of the religion. He died on 25 June 1912 and 100,000 faithful came to pray over his body.
1912-1940: Wife Catherine as successor
Catherine (born 26 May 1850, Jemeppe sur Meuse – died 3 November 1940, Jemeppe sur Meuse), the illiterate wife of Louis Antoine, was designated by him as his successor, but she received no advice from him on how to manage the religion. She had to make rules to ensure the continuity of the religion: for example, she decided to put the photograph of her husband, called 'The Father', then her own portrait, in the temples. She ordered that nothing should be changed in her husband's writings. In 1932, she closed reading rooms in which followers gave personal teachings. She died in 1940 and was called 'The Mother' by the members.
1940-present: Continuity of the worship
After the death of Catherine Antoine, there were two forms of antoinism worships, which remains slightly different today: one in Belgium, which has withdrawn the religious changes made by Catherine (removal of photographs in the temples, deletion of baptism, marriage and communion, opposition to the translation of Antoine's works...), and the other in France, which has wanted to be faithful to all requirements provided by the founding couple. However, the two branches show each other support and tolerance.
The group believes in a moral progression through reincarnation. They believe in a dualistic Universe in which matter is an illusion. They consider Louis-Joseph Antoine to be the "Father." This makes him, in France, the arbiter between humanity and God or even the reincarnation of Jesus. They tolerate other religions as they see them as detaching people from the material world.
As of 2010, Antoinism counts 64 temples: 32 in Belgium, 31 in France and 1 in the Principality of Monaco. It has also opened reading rooms in Belgium, Metopolitan France, Reunion, Guadaloupe, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Congo and Luxembourg.
The antoinism worship takes place in temples. It is very little ceremonial, and lasts up to 30 minutes only. According to sociologist Regis Dericquebourg, "the antoinist worship is a ritual of intercession. (...) It is a time of big emotional intensity with an intimate aspect".
Attendance at worship is not required and many people come sporadically. The cult begins and ends with three strokes of a bell. There are few differences in schedules between the cult in Belgium and that of France (see below).
There are two forms of cult: the 'General Operation' and the 'Reading of L'Enseignement of the Father' (a book by Louis Antoine).