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Claude Fleury

Church historian and educator; b. at Paris, December 6, 1640; d. July 14, 1725

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Fleury, CLAUDE, Church historian and educator; b. at Paris, December 6, 1640; d. July 14, 1725. The son of a lawyer from Normandy, he received a thorough education at the renowned Jesuit College of Clermont, devoted himself subsequently to legal studies, and in 1658 was called to the bar at the very early age.—of eighteen. For nine years he applied himself earnestly to his calling and continued his studies in jurisprudence, but interested himself also in history, literature, and archaeology. Signally gifted, industrious, and of a gentle disposition, he soon won for himself the patronage of the great. He frequented the house of M. de Montmor and the salon of Guillaume de Lamoignon, first president of the Parlement of Paris, where he met the intellectual celebrities of France, Bossuet, Bourdaloue, Boileau, etc. Ms deeply religious spirit and his leaning towards a life of quiet retirement led him to form the resolution to abandon the law, to study theology, and to embrace the priestly calling. The date of his ordination is unknown, but it certainly took place before 1672, when, at Bossuet’s suggestion, he was appointed tutor (sous-precepteur) to the Princes de Conti, whom Louis XIV wished to be educated with the Dauphin. During the succeeding period, he published his first important works. Later appeared two books, containing the fruits of his legal studies: “Histoire du droit franeais” (Paris, 1674) and “Institution au droit ecclesiastique” (Paris, 1677). The latter of these works was at first issued anonymously, but subsequently (1687) appeared under the author’s name. In these writings Fleury shows himself to be an outspoken Gallican. That he was a pronounced follower of Bossuet in this regard appears also from his “Discours sur les libertes de l’Eglise gallicane”, written in 1690. His position as teacher led him to the study of pedagogics, and as early as 1675 he wrote at Bossuet’s suggestion his “Traite du choix et de la methode des etudes”, which was published at Paris in 1686. For the instruction of his pupil and as a practical application of the principles expounded in his treatise, he wrote a series of three works: “Les mceurs des israelites” (Paris, 1681), “Les mceurs des chretiens” (1682), and the “Grand catechisme historique” (1683). Meanwhile he maintained his close relations with Bossuet, who was ever a zealous patron of the able and industrious teacher, and translated into Latin (1678) his “Exposition de la foi catholique”.

Upon completing the education of the Princes de Conti, Fleury was (1680) appointed tutor to the Comte de Vermandois, the legitimized son of Louis XIV and Louise de La Valliere. On the death of the young count in 1684, Louis XIV, in token of his appreciation of Fleury’s tutorial services, appointed him Abbot of Loc-Dieu in the Diocese of Rhodez, and Fleury devoted himself zealously to the duties of his pastoral charge. He preached frequently in the Diocese of Meaux, and accompanied the Abbe Fenelon on his missionary journeys in Saintonge and Poitou, after the abrogation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), both laboring diligently and with great success for the conversion of the Huguenots. At the same time Fleury continued his literary pursuits, and in 1685 he published a “Life of Marguerite d’Arbouze, Abbess and reformer of the Abbey of Val-de-Grace, and in 1688 the treatise entitled “Devoirs des maitres et des domestiques”. Shortly afterwards he was recalled to the court, and in 1689, on Fenelon’s recommendation, was appointed tutor (sous-precepteur) to the grandsons of Louis XIV, the young Dukes of Burgundy, of Anjou, and of Berry. He continued at this post for sixteen years, and lived at the brilliant court the same modest, retired life, devoted to his duties as teacher and to his studies. During this period his leisure hours were given mainly to the composition of his “Histoire ecclesiastique”, the first volume of which appeared in 1691. In this great work, the principal literary fruit of the remaining years of his life, the author discloses once more his leanings toward Gallicanism.

In recognition of his literary services Fleury was chosen in 1696 to fill La Bruyere’s seat in the Academy, was offered the Bishopric of Montpellier, which however, he refused. When in 1697, on the appearance of the “Maximes des saints”, a Quietistic controversy broke out between Bossuet and Fenelon, Fleury, as the protege of Fenelon, was in danger of sharing his patron’s disfavor at court. Bossuet, however, proved a true protector, and Fleury was rescued from Fenelon’s fate, and allowed to retain his place as tutor to the princes. In 1706, as a reward for his services, the king appointed Fleury prior of Notre-Dame d’Argenteuil, near Paris. On receiving this appointment, Fleury resigned forthwith his Abbacy of Loc-Dieu, as he was opposed to the cumulation of ecclesiastical benefices, and devoted himself to the continuation of his “Histoire ecclesiastique”. On a subsequent occasion, he was again summoned to court to fill an important and responsible position. On the death of Louis XIV, the regent, wishing to secure atrustworthy and learned cleric who held neither Jansenistic nor Molinistic views, and who might be trusted to represent Gallican principles, appointed Fleury as confessor to the young King Louis XV. Fleury continued to fill this office until 1722, but then resigned on the plea of old age, and until his death lived a life of the closest retirement in Paris.

Fleury was a righteous, pious, universally respected pastor, a conscientious, devoted teacher, a talented and profound scholar and author. Most of his works have been recently reprinted; some have been translated into other languages and have secured a wide circle of readers. His comprehensive “Histoire ecclesiastique”, of which he himself issued twenty volumes (Paris, 1691-1720), is the most important of his works and extends from the Ascension of Christ to the year 1414. This work is at once instructive and edifying; its material is carefully and fully treated, but all critical examination is avoided. The facts are recorded in elegant and well-chosen language without rhetorical exaggerations, and although his judgments are tinged with Gallicanism (especially as regards the papacy), they are expressed moderately and with restraint. Consequently Fleury’s work offers a marked contrast to the histories of Noel Alexandre and Tillemont. His “Histoire” was received enthusiastically in educated circles, ran through several editions, and was translated into German (Leipzig, 1752) and Latin (Augsburg, 1758). The Gallican views expressed in the work have been attacked by several historians, of whom the most notable are Honoratus a S. Maria (Mechlin, 1729), Baldwin de Housta (Mechlin, 1733), N. Lanteaume (Avignon, 1736), Rossignol (Paris, 1802), Marchetti (Venice, 1794). The ex-Oratorian, John Claude Fabre, an extreme Gallican, issued a continuation of Fleury’s work in sixteen volumes (Paris, 1722-36), bringing the history to the year 1595. This continuation, however, is neither in its narration nor its workmanship comparable with Fleury’s achievement. Rondet added a further volume (XXXVII) which contains a table of contents (Paris, 1754); Alexander of St. John of the Cross, who, with the assistance of a brother Carmelite, had already translated Fleury’s work into Latin, continued the history to the year 1765, in thirty-five volumes, and after Alexander‘s death another volume (extending to 1768) was added by Benno, a member of the same order. Father Alexander also translated Calmet’s “Histoire de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament” into Latin, and published it in five volumes as an introduction to Fleury’s work, so that the complete edition in Latin (Augsburg, 1768-98) consists of ninety-one volumes, with two index-volumes.

Amongst Fleury’s papers was found a sketch in manuscript of the ecclesiastical history from 1414 to 1517, and this sketch was inserted in the edition issued in 1840 at Paris. Several collections of Fleury’s sermons and treatises have been issued since his death, e.g. his “Discours” (2 vols., Paris, 1752); “Traite du Droit public en France” (4 vols., Paris, 1769); “Opuscules de l’abbe Fleury”, published by Rondet (5 vols., Nimes, 1780); “Oeuvres de l’abbe Fleury”, published by A. Martin (Paris, 1837). In conclusion, it should be noted that the “Abrege de l’histoire ecclesiastique de Fleury”, published at Berne in 1766, with an introduction by Frederick II of Prussia, has no connection with Claude Fleury’s “Histoire ecclesiastique”; it is a work undertaken at the suggestion of the above-mentioned monarch and is dominated throughout by a spirit hostile to Christianity.


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