Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/775

This page needs to be proofread.




religion, there is, in Bossuet's \-iew, none more con- vincing than that which is at once the highest ex- pression and the summing-up of the history of huiiianity, that is to say, "the very sequence of n-h'gion", or "the relation of the two Testaments", and. in a more objective manner, the \'isible mani- festation of Pro\'idence in the establishment of Christianity. It was Providence that made of the Jewish people a people apart, a unique people, the chosen people, charged with maintaining and de- fending the worship of the true God throughout the pagan centuries, against the prestige of an idolatry which essentially consisted in the deification of the energies of nature. It was Providence that, by means of Roman unity and of its extension through- out the known universe, rendered not only possible, but easy and almost neces.sary, the conversion of the world to Christianity. It was Providence, again, that developed the features of the modern world out of the disorder of barbarous invasions and reconciled the two antiquities under the law of Christ. The full importance of these Wews of Bossuet — for we are only summarizing here the " on Universal Historj'" — will be understood if we observe that, in our day, when the Strausses and Renans have sought to give us their own version of the origins of Chris- tianity, they have found nothing more than this and nothing else; and all their ingenuity has issued in the conclusion that things have happened in the reality of historj' as ij some mysterious will had from all eternity proportioned effects and causes. But the real truth is that Christianity, in propagating itself, has proved itself. If the action of Providence is manifest anywhere, it is in the sequence of the history of Christianity. And what is more natural under the circumstances than to make of its history the dem- onstration of its truth?

It was appropriate to insist here upon this idea of Providence, which is, in a manner, the ma.sterpiece of Bossuet's theologj'. Besides the "Discourse on I'ni- versal History", he wrote other works for the educa- tion of the Dauphin; notably the " on the Knowledge of God and of Oneself" and the "Art of Governing, Drawn from the Words of Holy Scrip- ture", which appeared only after his death; the "Art of Governing", in 1709, and the "Treatise on the Knowledge of God", in 1722. To the "Treatise on Free Will" and the " on Concupiscence", also posthumous, a like origin has been assigned; but this is certainly a mistake; these two works, which contain some of Bossuet's most beautiful pages, were not written for his royal pupil, who certainly would not have understood them at all. Did he even un- derstand the "Discourse on Universal History"? In this connexion it luus been questioned whether Bossuet, in his quality of preceptor, did not fail in his first obligation, which was, as his critics assert, to adapt himself to his pupil's intelligence. Here we can only reply, without going to the bottom of the (juestion, that the end which Bcssuet intended was no ordinarj- education^ but the education of a future King of France, the first obligation incumbent upon whose preceptor was to treat liim as a King. Thus, for that matter, professors in our universities never .seem to subordinate their teaching to the capacity of their pupils, but only to the exigencies of the .science taught. And we will add, moreover, that as the Dauphin never reigned, no one can really say how much he did, or did not, profit by a preceptor such as Bossuet was.

The education of a prince ordinarily, and naturally, ended with his marriage. The functions of Bossuet as preceptor cca-sed, therefore, in KiSl. He had been appointed Bishop of Mcaux; he wa.s made Almoner to the Dauphin, quite in accordance with usage, and the King honoured him with the title of General Coun- cillor (Cnnxciller en toxis ks conseik). We may be

permitted to call attention to the fact that this was only an honorary title, and one need not therefore conclude, as seems to have been done sometimes, that Bossuet took his seat, or voted, in, for instance, the Conseil des depcches, which was the Council of Foreign Affairs, or in the Conseil du Roi, which busied itself with the internal affairs of the kingdom. But during his preceptorship, and independently of any participation in the councils, his authority had never- theless become of considerable importance at Court, with Louis XIV personally. No member of the French clergy was thenceforth more in evidence than he; no preacher, no bishop. He had no reason, then, to fear that, having accomphshed the education of the Dauphin, his activity would fail to find employ- ment. In truth, the last epoch of his life was to be its fullest.

Third Period (1681-1704).— This period was the most laborious, indeed the most painful; and the im- passioned struggles in which he becomes engaged will now end oidy with his life. But why so many struggles at the time of life when most men seek for rest? What circumstances occasioned them? And if we recall that up to this time his existence had not been disturbed by any agitation that could be called deep, whence this sudden combative ardour? It cannot be explained without a preliminary remark. The reconciliation of Protestantism and Catholicism had been an early dream of Bossuet; and, on the other hand, France in the seventeenth century had, in general, ill chosen her side in a division which she regarded as not only regrettable from the standpoint of religion, but destructive, and even dangerous to her political unity. This is why Bossuet was to work all his life and with all his strength for the reunion of the Churches, and to force himself to exert e\-er}- effort for the attainment of those conditions which he believed necessary to that end. Abundant and in- structive details on this point are to be found in M. A. Rdbelliau's charming work, "Bossuet, historien du Protestantisme". Being, moreover, too reason- able and too well-informed not to recognize the legitimate element which the Reformation move- ment had had in its time, Bossuet was convinced that it was of the greatest moment not indeed to — in the phrase of our own day — "minimize" the demands of the Catholic verity, but at all events not to exag- gerate those demands; and, therefore, (1) to make to Protestant opinion everj' concession which a rigor- ous orthodoxy would permit; and (2) not to add anything, on the other hand, to a creed more than one difficulty of which was already repelling the Protestants.

Thus may we explain his part in the Assembly of the French Clergy in 16S2; the plan of his "History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches", as well as the character of his polemics against the Protestants; his fundamental motive in the matter of Quietism and the true reason for his fierce ani- mosity against F6nelon; his wTitings against Richard Simon, such as his "Defence of Tradition and of the Holy Fathers"; such steps as which he took against the mystic reveries of Maria d'Agreda; and liistly, the approbation which, in 1082 and 1702, he so loudly expressed for the renewed censures of the Assemblies of the Clergy upon the relaxed morals of the day. However, it is little to our purpose to ascertain whether Bossuet, in the course of all these controversies, more than once allowed himself to be drawn on beyond the point which he intended, especially, as he has been reproached, in the (|uc.s- tions of Gallicanism and of Qiiietism. The celebrated Declaration of 1GS2 .seems to have altogether ex- ceeded the measure of what it was useful or necessary to say in order to defend the temporal power of the prince or the independence of nations against the Roman Curia. Quietism, too, was perhaps not so