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BOSSUET


699


BOSSUET


■RTOte innumerable spiritual letters, took care of his religious communities (for whom he composed •'Meditations on the Gospel" and "Uplifting of the Soul on the Mysteries"), and entered on endless polemics with EUies du Pin, CaiTaro, F^nelon, the Probabilists. Richard Simon and the Jansenists. From 1700, his health began to fail, which, however, did not prevent him from wrestling in defence of the Faith. Confined to his bed by illness, he dictated letters and polemical essays to his secretary. As .Saint-Simon says, "he died fighting".

A list and criticism of Bossuet's chief works will be found in the following appreciation, by the late Fer- dinand Brunetiere. Out of one hundred and thirty works composed by Bossuet from 1653 to 1704, eighty were edited by himself, seven or eight by his nephew, the Abb6 Bossuet, afterwards Bishop of Troves; the remainder, about forty-two, not including the "Letters" and "Sermons", appeared from 1741 to 1789. The principal complete editions are: the Versailles edition 1815-19, 47 vols, in-8; Lachat (Tives), Paris, 1862-64, 31 vols, in-8; Guillaume, Paris, 10 vols. in-4. No critical and chronological edition of Bossuet's complete works has been made as yet, only the sermons having been edited (in a most scientific manner) by the Abb^ Lebarcq: "(Eu\Tes oratoires; edition critique complete, avec introduction grammaticale, preface, notes, et choix de variantes", Paris, 1890, 6 vols. in-8.

Louis N. Delamarre.

Bossuet. Literary asj> Theologic.\l Appreci.^- TiON OF. — ^The life of this great man, perfectly simple as it was, and all of one piece with itself, may be di\-ided into three epochs, to each of which as a matter of fact there are found to correspond, if not a new aspect of his genius, at least occupations or labours which arc not altogether of the same nature, and which consequently show him to us in a some- what different light. ,\t first, one perceives in him only the orator, the greatest, perhaps, who has ever appeared in the Christian pulpit — greater than Chrj'sostom and greater than Augustine; the only man whose name can be compared in eloquence vrith those of Cicero and of Demosthenes (1617-70).

Appointed preceptor to the Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, he devoted himself for more than ten years entirely to this onerous task (1670-81), appeared in the pulpit only at rare intervals, re- turned to the studies which he had somewhat neg- lected, and composed for his pupil works of which the "Discourse on Llniversal History" is still the most celebrated. Finally, in the last period of his ilife (1681-1704), having become Bishop of Meaux, though he still preaches regularly to his own flock, and raises his eloquent voice on solemn occasions — to open the Assembly of the Clergy of France, in 1681, or to pronounce the funeral oration of the Prince de Condd, in 1687 — yet it is alxjve all the igreat controversialist tliat his contemporaries admire in him, the defender of tradition against all the novelties which sought to weaken it, the unwearjnng opponent of Jurieu, of Richard Simon, of Madame <!uyon, and, incidentally, of Fdnelon himself; he is the theologian of Providence, and — startling con- trast — on the eve of the Regency, he is "the last of the Fathers of the Church ".

FiR-sT Period (1627-70).— He made his first studies with the Jesuits of his native city, completed th(>m in Paris at the College of Navarre, and, or- dained priest, entered into possession of the arch- deaconry of Sarrctourg, in the Diocese of Metz, in 1652. Any^vhere else than at Metz, no matter in what part of the world, he would without doubt have been himself. In literary history, environment com- monly shows its effects only in the formation of mediocrities. But, as there existed at Metz a large


Jewish community (and in some respects, the only one in France that was recognized by the State), and as the Protestants were numerous, and still fervent, in the neighbouring province of Alsace, one may believe that Bossuet's natural tendency to take re- ligion on its controversial side was encouraged or strengthened by these circumstances. Proof of this, if desired, may be found in the fact that the manu- script of one of his first sermons, "On the Law of God", 1653, still bears this statement in his own handuTiting: "Preached at Metz against the Jews"; and in this other fact, that the first work he had printed was a "Refutation", in 16.55, of the cate- chism of Paul Ferrj', a renowned Protestant pastor of Metz. Be that as it may, as soon as the young archdeacon began to preach his reputation quickly spread, and very soon the pulpits of Paris weie ^'^^ng with one another to secure him. It may therefore be said that from 1656 to 1670 he gave himself en- tirely to the ministry of preaching, and as a matter of fact, three-fourths of the two hundred, or more, "Sermons which have reached us, either complete or in fragments, date from this period. They may be distinguished as "Sermons", properly so called; "Panegyrics of Saints"; and "Funeral Orations". These last number ten in all. In some editions the "Sermons on Religious Professions" (Sermons de Viture), of which the most celebrated is that for the profession of Madame de la Valliere, preached in 1674, and the "Sermons for the Feasts of the Virgin", are classed by themselves.

What are the essential characteristics of Bossuet's eloquence? In the first place, the force, or, to put it, perhaps, better, the energy, of speech, or of the word, and by this I mean, inclusively, exactitude and precision, the fitness of phrase, the neatness of turn, the impressiveness of the gesture implied in his words, and, generally, all the qualities of that French WTiter who, entertaining, with Pascal, a great horror of the artifices of rhetoric, for that very reason best understood the resources of French prose. There is nothing, in French, which surpasses a fine page of Bossuet.

The second characteristic of his eloquence is what Alexandre Vinet, though a Protestant, has not feared to call, in an essay on Bourdaloue, the depth and reach of its philosophy. He meant that while the illustrious Jesuit in his "Sermons" is always strictly and e\'idently Catholic, Bossuet, surely no less so, excels, besides, in demonstrating, even apart from Cathohcism, the peremptory reasons in the depths of our nature and in the sequence of historj- why one should feel and think like a Catholic even if one were not a Catholic. Those who care to verify this opinion of Vinet may read Bossuet's sermons on "Death", "Ambition", "Pro\idence", "The Honour of the World", "Our Dispositions in Regard to the Necessities of Life", "The Eminent Dignity of the Poor", "Submission to the Law of God", and also the sermons for the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin. The "Sermon for the Profession of Madame de la Valliere" is another beautiful example of this philo- sophic character of Bossuet's eloquence.

Lastly, its third characteristic is its movement and lyric power. Bossuet — the Bossuet of the "Ser- mons" and of the "Funeral Orations" — is a poet, a great poet; and he is lyrical in his blending of per- sonal and interior emotions with the expression of (he truths which he unfolds. "The Iplifting of the Soul by the Divine Mysteries" and "Meditations on the Gospel" are titles of two of his most beautiful works, in which in his old age he, as it were, condensed the substance of his "Sermons". But it may be truly said that there is no sermon of his which is not either a "Meditation "or an " I'plifting of the Soul". And is it not strange that at the beginning of the nineteenth century these titles, " Uplifting of the Soul ' ' and " Medi-