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Gilbert Choiseul Du Plessis-Praslin

French bishop (1613-1689)

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Choiseul du Plessis-Praslin, GILBERT, French bishop, b. 1613; d. at Paris, December 31, 1689. He was a descendant of the noble family of du Plessis. He devoted himself from his earliest youth to the ecclesiastical state, while his brother Cesar entered the military career. Both attained distinction. Gilbert received the title of Doctor at the Sorbonne in 1640, was consecrated Bishop of Comminges in 1644, and at once set about visiting his diocese, restoring discipline among the clergy, and establishing schools and colleges. In time of famine he pawned his own property to assist the poor; and during the plague until stricken by the disease he ministered in person to the sick. In 1671 he was transferred to the Diocese of Tournai, where he displayed the same pastoral zeal.

His influence on the ecclesiastical affairs of France at large was less successful. When, in 1651, the majority of the French bishops petitioned Innocent X to decide upon the five propositions of Jansenius, Choiseul was among the eleven who requested the Holy Father by special letter to issue no decision in the case. Unable to prevent a formal condemnation of the Jansenists, he exerted himself to bring about an agreement between the contending parties. These efforts had no other result than to reveal in the zealous bishop a regrettable leniency towards a heresy which proved so disastrous to France. His standing towards Gallicanism was clearer. For his bold and constant advocacy of the “Gallivan Liberties” he was chosen, in the Assembly of the Clergy of 1682, member of the committee on resolutions, and was personally entrusted with the duty of formulating in Latin the propositions on which the Assembly was to vote. Louis XIV had in 1673 extended to his entire kingdom the royal right of regale. Two bishops only protested against the usurpation and appealed to Rome. This was the beginning of a stubborn struggle between Innocent XI and Louis XIV. To obtain public approval and support from his clergy, and to have limits set to the pontifical power, the king, at the instance principally of his minister, Colbert, convoked the French clergy in a general assembly. Choiseul had no sooner presented his draft than Bossuet rose against it. An animated discussion, related in full by Fenelon in his “De Summi Pontificis Auctoritate”, ensued. When Choiseul saw that Bossuet’s conciliatory distinction between the Holy See‘s infallibility in teaching the Faith and its indefectibility in holding it found favor with both clergy and Court, he resigned his special commission. Bossuet took his place and drew up the four articles as they passed into history.

Choiseul’s leaning towards Jansenism betrayed him into another false step. He approved the French translation of a little book published in Cologne under the title “Monita salutaria Beatae Mari Virginis ad cultores suos discretos”. This book was justly reproved by so many that Choiseul thought it well to publish, in a pastoral letter on the Blessed Virgin, a justification of himself. Fortunately the attitude of this prelate towards Gallicanism and Jansenism did not affect his zeal for souls and the Church. He published (Paris, 1681-85) his “Memoires touchant la Religion“, against atheists, libertines, and Protestants. His “Psalms and Hymns of the Church“, done into French, ran through several editions. He also arranged and gave the literary finish to the interesting memoirs of his brother, the Marechal Choiseul du Plessis.


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