La Campagnie du Saint-Sacrement was a seventeenth-century benevolent secret society which, through the influence of its illustrious and well-known clerical and lay members, orchestrated campaigns to enforce moral purity and religious conformity. It was also the primary force behind the successful efforts to censor Moliere's Tartuffe, having been disturbed some years before by the playwright's L'ecole des femmes.
The society was founded in March 1630 at the Convent of the Capuchin friars by Henri de Levis, Henri de Pichery, Jacques Adhemar, Monteil de Grignan, and Phillippe d'Angoumois. Grignan was a future bishop, and Pichery was an officer in King Louis's household. The organization was structured with a board of nine members that changed every three years. This board included a layman superior and a spiritual director, who was always a priest. Meetings were held weekly. The society intended to not only defend the Church, but also to express brotherhood and commit charitable acts. The Baron de Renty ruled over the society from 1639 until his death in 1649.
The society was publicly secret, though King Louis knew of and slightly encouraged it. Rome never officially acknowledged it, although Guido Bagni, the papal nuncio from 1645-1656, occasionally attended meetings. As the society was secret, new members were elected by the board. The new members could not be a member of a lay congregation that was directed by ecclesiastics. Significant and/or controversial issues were not discussed by the group at large, but only at the board meetings. Nothing was printed, minutes were not taken, and over fifty branches existed outside of Paris.
La Compagnie worked to encourage morality in the laity, promote proper behavior in the clergy and monasteries, promote world missions, and become involved with reform efforts such as improving hospitals, prisons, and legal access for the poor. The company donated money to the poor during times of unrest, and heard the confessions of people who had been wounded in war. It was later successful in working to bring about medical care for the poor.
The company also worked to suppress Protestantism, and was oftentimes rather militant in its attempts to promote and protect Catholicism. They were staunchly opposed to entertainment that seemed to mock religion. Tartuffe was a singular focus of their ire. Of course, their understanding of religion is not unlike Tartuffe's, and it seems somewhat sad and ironic that they aimed to censor a character whose poor behavior implicitly instructed audiences on the proper role of religion.
The company was on its last legs by 1660. It was accused of libel by Charles du Four, Abbot of Aulnay, and denounced by the Archbishop of Rouen. The last meeting took place on December 13th, 1660. There, it was decided that Thursday sessions would cease, and that the company would function in a merely provisional manner. However, even this diluted form proved problematic, since a decree was issued on the same day prohibiting illicit assemblies and confraternities. Lamoignon, one of the members, exploited a loophole to continue the company's prosecution of Moliere in 1664, and as a result, the full version of Tartuffe was not publicly produced until 1669.
By 1666, the company was extinct.