Superior of the Society of St-Sulpice during the French Revolution, b. Aug. 26, 1732, d. April 28, 1811
Emery, JACQUES-ANDRÉ, Superior of the Society of St-Sulpice during the French Revolution, b. August 26, 1732, at Gex; d. at Paris, April 28, 1811. After his preliminary studies with the Carmelites of his native town and the Jesuits of Macon, he passed to the Seminary of St. Irenaeus at Lyons and completed his studies at St-Sulpice, Paris, where he became a member of the society of that name and was ordained priest (1758). He taught with distinction in the seminaries of Orleans and Lyons; at Lyons, too, he sustained the rights of the Holy See with firmness and ability, yet with due courtesy, before the archbishop, Msgr. de Montazet, a prelate of Jansenistic tendencies. Partly on the recommendation of the archbishop, he was made superior of the seminary at Angers (1776), and later became vicar-general of the diocese, displaying in both capacities marked powers of governing. In 1782 he was elected Superior-General of the Seminary and Society of St-Sulpice. His rule began in the lax days preceding the French Revolution, and Father Emery showed himself indefatigable in his zeal for the reform of the seminaries and for the training of a clergy fit to cope with existing evils and prepared for the troublous times which, to some extent, he foresaw. After the Revolution broke forth, he watched its terrible progress without despair; he was, perhaps, during that period, the coolest head among the churchmen of France. His wide acquaintance among the priests and bishops, many of whom, in the course of his thirty years of teaching and ruling in the seminaries, had been under his authority, and his position as administrator of the Diocese of Paris during the absence of the exiled archbishop, and as superior of St-Sulpice, brought many to him for advice. He was, says the historian Sicard, “the head and the arm” of the party whose counsels were marked by moderation and good sense; “a man who was rarely endowed in breadth of learning, in knowledge of his time, in the clearness of his views, in the calmness and energy of his decisions; the oracle of the clergy, consulted on all sides less by reason of his high position than of his superior wisdom. M. Emery was called by Providence to be the guide throughout the long interregnum of the episcopate during the revolution” (L’Ancien Clergé, III, 549). And Cardinal de Bausset declares that he was the “real moderator of the clergy during twenty years of the most violent storms”.
The decisions of the Archiepiscopal Council at Paris concerning the several oaths demanded of the clergy, inspired by Emery, were accepted by large numbers of priests and violently assailed by others. To their acceptance was due whatever practice of cult remained in France during the Revolution; to their rejection was due, in large part, the cessation of worship and the opinion which came to regard the clergy as “the irreconcilable enemies of the republic”. Emery did not, like many others, mistake purely political projects for vital questions of religion. He felt free to take the “Oath of Liberty and Equality”, but only as concerning the civil and political order; he upheld the lawfulness of declaring submission to the laws of the Republic (May 30, 1795), and of promising fidelity to the Constitution (December 28, 1799). He lent his influence to Msgr. Spina in his efforts to obtain the resignation of the French bishops, according to the will of Pius VII (August 15, 1801). While ready, for the good of religion, to go as far as the rights of the Church permitted, he was stanch in his opposition to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790). Public religious services were suspended during the Revolution, and the seminaries closed; St-Sulpice was taken over by the revolutionists, and Father Emery was imprisoned and several times narrowly escaped execution. His faith, courage, and good humor sustained many of his fellow-prisoners and prepared them to meet death in a brave and Christian spirit; the gaolers, in fact, came to value his presence because it saved them annoyance from prisoners condemned to death. The closing of the seminaries in France led Father Emery, on the request of Bishop Carroll, to send some Sulpicians to the United States to found the first American seminary at Baltimore (St. Mary’s, July 18, 1791). The future religion of the country, he wrote to Father Nagot, the first superior, depended on the formation of a native clergy, which alone would be adequate and fit for the work before it. Despite the discouragements of the first years, he continued the supporter of the institution and welcomed the foundation of the college at Pigeon Hill, and later at Emmitsburg, for young aspirants to the priesthood. At one time, however, Bishop Carroll feared the withdrawal of the Sulpicians, but his arguments and above all the advice of Pius VII convinced Father Emery that the good of religion in America required their presence.
After Napoleon came into supreme control, Father Emery reestablished the Seminary of St-Sulpice. His defense of the pope against the emperor caused Napoleon to expel the Sulpicians from the seminary; this, however, did not daunt Father Emery, who defended the papal rights in the presence of Napoleon (March 17, 1811) and gained the emperor’s admiration, if not his good will. “He was”, remarks Sicard, “the only one among the clergy from whom Napoleon would take the truth.” The death of Father Emery occurred a month later. He left many writings which have been published by Migne in his collection of theological works. They deal chiefly with the politico-religious questions of the day. He is best remembered, perhaps, by his dissertation on the mitigation of the sufferings of the damned. He wrote also on Descartes, Leibniz, and Bacon, and published from their works extracts in defense of religion. While clearly perceiving the intellectual evils of his day and the necessary remedies, he did not himself possess the fertility and originality of intellect, or the peculiar genius needed to counteract the influence of the powerful minds which then ruled France and Europe.
JOHN F. FENLON