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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/794

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BOURDALOUE


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BOURDALOUE


Such indeed was the universal verdict at the time. Cond^ himself according to Ch^rot, let it be knowii that he considered "the oration to be so noble, so eloquent, and so solid, that it would be difficult enough to siu-pass it, or perhaps even to imitate it". He had Jouvency translate it immediately into Latin, and he himself supervised the work. Boileau, though somewhat of a Jansenist, says that Bour- tlaloue was !c plufi grand oraleur dont le siede se i-ante. This appreciation, however, does not agree with that of some later critics, antl Villemain, while acknowl- ■edging "numerous beauties of a superior order", ■declared that Bourdaloue was not well fitted for funeral orations, " on account of the richness and fecundity of imagination which they require". On the other hand. Lord Brougham, himself an orator, says that "Bourdaloue displays a fertility of re- sources and an exuberance of topics whether for observation or argument, not equalled by any other orator, sacred or profane". He ranks him far be- yond Bossuet, but for other reasons inferior to Massillon, about whom another writer remarks that whereas "Bourdaloue preached to the men of a vigorous age, Massillon addressed those of a period remarkable for its effeminacy. Bourdaloue raised himself to the level of the great truths of religion; Massillon conformed himself to the weakness of the men with whom he lived." Nisard, in his "Histoire de la litt^rature fran^aise", says that "Bourdaloue's success was the most brilliant and sustained that human speech has ever obtained". Taine ranks him with Cicero, Li\-y, Bossuet, Burke, and Fox; F^nelon, however, is said to have depreciated him in the "Dialogues svu- I'^loquence", but according to the "Revue Bourdaloue", the authenticity of the "Dialogues" is doubtful, and besides Bourdaloue is not named; the description is assigned to him only by conjecture.

As his object was exclusively the salvation of souls, Bourdaloue adapted himself to the audience which, in spite of its worldliness, frivolity, and vice, prided itself, and with reason, on its power of ap- preciating what was intellectual and scholarly, and although scandalously irreverential in the very temple of God, had an insatiable craving for religious discourses. To influence them, the preacher had to resort to reason; and consequently his discourses were constructed after a clearly defined and frankly eniniciated plan, each part closely knit with, and evolved from, the preceding. The proposition is always distinctly stated; argument after argument is elaborated with irresistible logic; doctrines whose orthodoxy is ■without reproach are carefully and minutely explained, and moral principles are ex- pounded, but never exaggerated or strained in the practical application which he never fails to make; sophistries are dispelled, objections answered, and errors refuted, the orator not fearing to return to a point for a greater clearness; mysteries are discussed, though he pvuposely avoided what is too profound, even if by doing so he incurred the reproach of avoiding the sublime, for he is aiming at a moral ■deduction; the whole delivered in a style which F^nelon says, "had, perhaps, arrived at the per- fection of which oiu- language is capable in that kind of eloquence", and with a lucidity and clearness that amazed and captivated his hearers, and evoked applause which he was powerless to prevent. There is never a diversion made merely to dazzle or delight, there is rarely an appeal to the emotions; but the vividness and splendour of the doctrine he was pro- ■pomiding, the startling truthfulness of the psycho- •logical picture he was placing before their eyes — •even La Bruyere professed to be his disciple in this respect —entreated, or induced, or compelled his hearers to a reformation of life. He hurried on with an extraordinary rapidity of utterance, but with a


distinctness of enunciation and a marvellous sweet- ness and power of voice that filled every part of the edifice in which he was speaking, and kept his au- dience spellbound to the end of his discourse. Places were .secured at daybreak; princes and prelates crowded to hear him, and on one memorable oc- casion, several of the most distinguislied members of the hierarchy, among them Bossuet himself, with- drew in anger because the seats they claimed were not granted. Bossuet it is said, however, remained in a gallery apart to listen to the discourse.

Although covering such a vast field in every one of his sermons, Bourdaloue ne\'er exhausted his subject, and we find two and even three on the same theme, not only without any repetition, but each one improving on what preceded, so that Louis XIV said he would rather "hear Bourdaloue's repetitions than what was novel from any one else". He ap- peared at the court on ten different occasions for courses of sermons and each time his welcome was more enthusiastic than before. He was a court preacher but did not flatter, and one of his sermons is made use of by modern Socialists in support of their teaching. A few years ago considerable con- troversy was evoked by it, and Jules Lemaitre finds in it a condemnation of contemporary egoism. He was preaching on "Riches" and used the phrase of St. Jerome: "Every rich man is an unjust man or the heir of one." "If you go to the source of riches", he said, "even in houses and families who are proud of their origin, nay even those who are distinguished for their probity and religion, you will discover things which will make you tremble." In the twelve-volume edition there is one number contain- ing sermons for Advent, three others of Lenten dis- courses, three more for Sundays of the year, two on the Mysteries, while the last two books contain sixteen panegyrics, six sermons for religious investi- tures, and the two funeral orations. Considerable ingenuity has been exercised by his editors in fixing the time when the various discourses were pronounced; they are all undated. When they were given is largely a matter of conjecture. The sermons of least merit are those on the Mysteries, but it is explained that he purposely avoideil any sublime or profound considerations on those topics and restricted liim- self to what could be easily stated, so as to have the opportunity of deducing a moral lesson. "Every- thing was practical", saj's Joubert, "in the judicious Bourdaloue." Some one has said that "the Jesuits answered Pascal's attacks about their moral teaching by making Bourdaloue preach." As regards his liter- ary style, Sainte-Beuve says: "He ^cas a good orator, he is a good WTiter. " He is free from the turgid, pedantic, and ridiculous phraseology which was rampant at that time in forensic as well as sacred eloquence — though there are some examples of it. His compliments to the exalted personages in the audience are not so much an ex'idence of bad literary taste as a mark of the servitude to which the court preachers of that day had to submit. About his correctness of language, however, the "Revue Bour- daloue" (1 April, 1904) admits that authentic manu- scripts no longer exist, and that it is impossible to make out how much his editor, Bretonneau, has tampered with the text.

If not the originator, Bourdaloue is largely the model, of French pulpit oratory in the arrangement of sermons. The method he adopted is condemned by F^nelon as never having been used before, and as being poorly adapted to arouse the feelings of the audience. Its use by Bovirdaloue is explained by the fact that he was combating Protestant Ration- alism which was at that time making inroads upon Catholic thought, and also because the use of clever and convincing reasoning was the vogue of the day. A reaction had set in from the silly idealism of a