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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Jacques Bossuet

French bishop and orator (1627-1704)

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Bossuet, JACQUES—BENIGNE, a celebrated French bishop and pulpit orator, b. at Dijon, September 27, 1627; d. at Paris, April 12, 1704. For more than a century his ancestors, both paternal and maternal had occupied judicial functions. He was the fifth son of Benign Bossuet, a judge in the Parliament of Dijon, and Madeleine Mochet. He began his classical studies at the College des Godrans, conducted by the Jesuits, in Dijon, and, on his father’s appointment to a seat in the Parliament of Metz, he was left in his native town, under the care of his uncle, Claude Bossuet d’Aiseray, a renowned scholar. His extraordinary ador for study gave occasion to the schoolboy joke, deriving his name from Bos suetus aratro. In a very short time, he mastered the Greek and Latin classics. Homer and Virgil were his favorite authors, while the Bible soon became his livre de chevet. Speaking of the Scriptures, he used to say: “Certe, in his consenescere, in his immori, summa votorum est.” Early destined to the Church, he received the tonsure when he was only eight years old, and at the age of thirteen he obtained a canonicate in the cathedral of Metz. In 1642, he left Dijon and went to Paris to finish his classical studies and to take up philosophy and theology in the College de Navarre. A year later he was introduced by Arnauld at the Hotel de Rambouillet, where, one evening at eleven o’clock, he delivered an extempore sermon, which caused Voiture’s remark: “I never heard anybody preach so early nor so late.” A Master of Arts in 1644, he held his first thesis (tentativa) in theology, January 25, 1648, in the presence of the Prince de Conde. He was ordained sub-deacon the same year, and deacon the following year, and preached his first sermons at Metz. He held his second thesis (sorbonica) November 9, 1650. For two years, he lived in retirement, preparing himself for the priesthood under the direction of St. Vincent de Paul, and was ordained March 18, 1652. A few weeks later, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him. Appointed Archdeacon of Sarrebourg (January, 1652), he resided for seven years at Metz, devoting himself to the study of the Bible and the Fathers, preaching sermons, holding controversies with Protestants, and yet, finding time for the secular affairs for which he was responsible, as a member of the Assembly of the Three Orders. In 1657 he was induced by St. Vincent de Paul to come to Paris and give himself entirely to preaching.

Though living in Paris, Bossuet did not sever his connection with the cathedral of Metz; he continued to hold his benefice, and was even appointed dean in 1664, when his father, a widower, had just received the priesthood and become a canon of the same cathedral. There are extant one hundred and thirty-seven sermons which were delivered by Bossuet between 1659 and 1669, and it is estimated that more than one hundred have been lost. In 1669 he was appointed Bishop of Condom, without being obliged to reside in his diocese, was consecrated September 21, 1670, but, obeying scruples of conscience, resigned his bishopric a year later, in which year, also, he was elected to the French Academy. Appointed preceptor to the Dauphin, September 13, 1670, he threw himself with indefatigable energy into his tutorial functions, composing all the books deemed necessary for his pupil’s instruction, models of handwriting as well as manuals of philosophy, and himself giving all the lessons, three times a day. When his functions as preceptor ended (1681), he was appointed to the bishopric of Meaux. He took a prominent part in the Assembly of the French Clergy in 1682. Unlike the court bishops, Bossuet constantly resided in his diocese and busied himself with the details of its administration. In that period he completed his long-interrupted works of historical controversy, wrote innumerable spiritual letters, took care of his religious communities (for whom he composed “Meditations on the Gospel” and “Uplifting of the Soul on the Mysteries”), and entered on endless polemics with Ellies du Pin, Caffaro, Fenelon, the Probabilists, Richard Simon and the Jansenists. From 1700, his health began to fail, which, however, did not prevent him from wrestling in defense of the Faith. Confined to his bed by illness, he dictated letters and polemical essays to his secretary. As Saint-Simon says, “he died fighting”.

A list and criticism of Bossuet’s chief works will be found in the following appreciation, by the late Ferdinand Brunetiere. Out of one hundred and thirty works composed by Bossuet from 1653 to 1704, eighty were edited by himself, seven or eight by his nephew, the Abbe Bossuet, afterwards Bishop of Troyes; the remainder, about forty-two, not including the “Letters” and “Sermons”, appeared from 1741 to 1789. The principal complete editions are: the Versailles edition 1815-19, 47 vols. in-8; Lachat (Vives), Paris, 1862-64, 31 vols. in-8; Guillaume, Paris, 10 vols. in-4. No critical and chronological edition of Bossuet’s complete works has been made as yet, only the sermons having been edited (in a most scientific manner) by the Abbe Lebarcq: “Oeuvres oratoires; edition critique complete, avec introduction grammaticale, preface, notes, et choix de variantes”, Paris, 1890, 6 vols. in-8.


BOSSUET, LITERARY AND THEOLOGICAL APPRECIATION OF.—The life of this great man, perfectly simple as it was, and all of one piece with itself, may be divided into three epochs, to each of which as a matter of fact there are found to correspond, if not a new aspect of his genius, at least occupations or labors which are not altogether of the same nature, and which consequently show him to us in a somewhat different light. At first, one perceives in him only the orator, the greatest, perhaps, who has ever appeared in the Christian pulpit—greater than Chrysostom and greater than Augustine; the only man whose name can be compared in eloquence with those of Cicero and of Demosthenes (1617-70).

Appointed preceptor to the Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, he devoted himself for more than ten years entirely to this onerous task (1670-81), appeared in the pulpit only at rare intervals, returned to the studies which he had somewhat neglected, and composed for his pupil works of which the “Discourse on Universal History” is still the most celebrated. Finally, in the last period of his life (1681-1704), having become Bishop of Meaux, though he still preaches regularly to his own flock, and raises his eloquent voice on solemn occasions—to open the Assembly of the Clergy of France, in 1681, or to pronounce the funeral oration of the Prince de Conde, in 1687—yet it is above all the great controversialist that his contemporaries admire in him, the defender of tradition against all the novelties which sought to weaken it, the unwearying opponent of Jurieu, of Richard Simon, of Madame Guyon, and, incidentally, of Fenelon himself; he is the theologian of Providence, and—startling contrast—on the eve of the Regency, he is “the last of the Fathers of the Church“.

FIRST PERIOD (1627-70).—He made his first studies with the Jesuits of his native city, completed them in Paris at the College of Navarre, and, ordained priest, entered into possession of the archdeaconry of Sarrebourg, in the Diocese of Metz, in 1652. Anywhere else than at Metz, no matter in what part of the world, he would without doubt have been himself. In literary history, environment commonly shows its effects only in the formation of mediocrities. But, as there existed at Metz a large Jewish community (and in some respects, the only one in France that was recognized by the State), and as the Protestants were numerous, and still fervent, in the neighboring province of Alsace, one may believe that Bossuet’s natural tendency to take religion on its controversial side was encouraged or strengthened by these circumstances. Proof of this, if desired, may be found in the fact that the manuscript of one of his first sermons, “On the Law of God“, 1653, still bears this statement in his own handwriting: “Preached at Metz against the Jews”; and in this other fact, that the first work he had printed was a “Refutation”, in 1655, of the catechism of Paul Ferry, a renowned Protestant pastor of Metz. Be that as it may, as soon as the young archdeacon began to preach his reputation quickly spread, and very soon the pulpits of Paris wee a vying with one another to secure him. It may therefore be said that from 1656 to 1670 he gave himself entirely to the ministry of preaching, and as a matter of fact, three-fourths of the two hundred, or more, “Sermons” which have reached us, either complete or in fragments, date from this period. They may be distinguished as “Sermons”, properly so called; “Panegyrics of Saints”; and “Funeral Orations”. These last number ten in all. In some editions the “Sermons on Religious Professions” (Sermons de Veture), of which the most celebrated is that for the profession of Madame de la Valliere, preached in 1674, and the “Sermons for the Feasts of the Virgin”, are classed by themselves.

What are the essential characteristics of Bossuet’s eloquence? In the first place, the force, or, to put it, perhaps, better, the energy, of speech, or of the word, and by this I mean, inclusively, exactitude and precision, the fitness of phrase, the neatness of turn, the impressiveness of the gesture implied in his words, and, generally, all the qualities of that French writer who, entertaining, with Pascal, a great horror of the artifices of rhetoric, for that very reason best understood the resources of French prose. There is nothing, in French, which surpasses a fine page of Bossuet.

The second characteristic of his eloquence is what Alexandre Vinet, though a Protestant, has not feared to call, in an essay on Bourdaloue, the depth and reach of its philosophy. He meant that while the illustrious Jesuit in his “Sermons” is always strictly and evidently Catholic, Bossuet, surely no less so, excels, besides, in demonstrating, even apart from Catholicism, the peremptory reasons in the depths of our nature and in the sequence of history why one should feel and think like a Catholic even if one were not a Catholic. Those who care to verify this opinion of Vinet may read Bossuet’s sermons on “Death”, “Ambition“, “Providence”, “The Honor of the World”, “Our Dispositions in Regard to the Necessities of Life“, “The Eminent Dignity of the Poor”, “Submission to the Law of God“, and also the sermons for the Feasts of the Blessed Virgin. The “Sermon for the Profession of Madame de la Valliere” is another beautiful example of this philosophic character of Bossuet’s eloquence.

Lastly, its third characteristic is its movement and lyric power. Bossuet—the Bossuet of the “Sermons” and of the “Funeral Orations”—is a poet, a great poet; and he is lyrical in his blending of personal and interior emotions with the expression of the truths which he unfolds. “The Uplifting of the Soul by the Divine Mysteries” and “Meditations on the Gospel” are titles of two of his most beautiful works, in which in his old age he, as it were, condensed the substance of his “Sermons”. But it may be truly said that there is no sermon of his which is not either a “Meditation” or an “Uplifting of the Soul“. And is it not strange that at the beginning of the nineteenth century these titles, “Uplifting of the Soul” and “Meditations”, were applied by Lamartine and Vigny to their own first poetic works? Such are the essential characteristics of Bossuet’s eloquence, to which might easily be added a great many others, perhaps more showy, but which may be found in other preachers, while those we have mentioned belong to him alone.

Meanwhile, the reputation of the preacher was growing every day. Above all, his Lenten conferences before the Court in 1662 and in 1666 had brought him into prominence, particularly the second series, which included some of his finest “Sermons”. The Protestants, on the other hand, although they had no adversary more moderate than he, had none more formidable; and when some startling conversion, like that of Turenne, took place, the honor or the blame of it was laid upon the Abbe Bossuet. His little book, circulated in manuscript under the title of “Exposition of the Doctrine of the Catholic Church on Subjects of Controversy”, worried the Protestant divines more than had any folio in fifty years. The public voice marked him out for a bishopric. We know, too, that, though doubtless without his being aware of it, his name figured, after 1667, among the candidates for the office of preceptor to the Dauphin, those names having been selected, by the king’s command, under the direction of Colbert. It is true that Louis XIV did not favor Bossuet’s appointment; he preferred the President De Perigny. In 1669, however, Bossuet was appointed Bishop of Condom. It was as Bishop of Condom that in September of that same year he pronounced the “Funeral Oration on Henrietta of France“, and was summoned to preach the Advent of 1669 at Court. When, soon after this, the daughter followed her mother to the grave, he was again summoned, in 1670, to pronounce the “Funeral Oration of the Duchess of Orleans”. In the mean-while, the President De Perigny died unexpectedly, and this time the choice of Louis XIV went straight to Bossuet. He was named preceptor to the Dauphin, September 5, 1670, and a new period began in the history of his life.

SECOND PERIOD (1670-81).—In order to devote himself solely to his task, he gave up his Bishopric of Condom, which he never saw, and returned to the profane studies which he had been obliged to abandon. He himself laid down in his letter to Pope Innocent XI, the program he made his royal pupil follow, a program the intelligent liberality of which it is impossible not to admire. But, while giving the closest personal attention to the Dauphin’s education, his own genius completed, in a way, its process of ripening by contact with antiquity; his ideas collected themselves and gained in precision; he took conscious possession of what may be called his originality as a thinker, and made for himself his private domain, as it were, in the vast field of apologetics. And, as the other Fathers of the Church have been, in the history of Christian thought, one the theologian of the Incarnation, another, the theologian of Grace, so did Bossuet then become the theologian of Providence.

Here we may take an excellent example of what is today called the development, or evolution, of a dogmatic truth. The idea of Providence surely constitutes the basis of Christian belief in all that touches the relations of man with God, and in this respect it may be said that the “Discourse on Universal History” is completely anticipated in the “City of God” of St. Augustine, or in the “De Gubernatione Dei” Salvianus. We are perfectly willing to add that in this wide, and even slightly vague, sense it is found also in the Old Testament, and notably in the Book of Daniel. But that does not alter the fact that Bossuet in his turn appropriated this idea of Providence to himself, made it profoundly his own, and without any innovation—for every innovation in this field inspired him with horror—formed from it deductions which up to his time had never been perceived.

The idea of Providence, in Bossuet’s theology, appears to us as at once (a) the sanction of the moral law, (b) the very law of history, and (c) the foundation of apologetics.

It is the sanction of the moral law, in the first place, inasmuch as, being able to act only under the eyes of God, no act of ours is indifferent, since there is not one but is for us an occasion of, or, to put it better, a manner of acquiring, merit or demerit. It is under this aspect that the idea of Providence seems to have presented itself primarily to Bossuet, and that it is found in some sort scattered or diffused in his earliest “Sermons”. But, since, moreover, nothing happens to us which is not an effect of God‘s Will, therefore we ought always to see in whatever happiness or unhappiness—according to the world’s judgment—may befall us only a chastisement, a trial, or a temptation, which it is for us to make a means either of salvation or of damnation. Here is the mystery of pain and the solution of the problem of evil. If we did not place entire confidence in Providence, the existence of evil and the prosperity of the wicked would be for the human mind nothing but an occasion of scandal; and if we did not accept our sufferings as a design of God in our regard, we should fall into despair. A source of resignation, our trust in Providence is also a source of strength, and it governs, so to speak, the entire domain of moral action. If our actions are moral, it is by reason of their conformity with, or at least of their analogy to, the views of Providence, and thus the life of the Christian is only a perpetual realization of the Will of God. We merit according to our endeavors to know it in order to carry it into effect; and, on the contrary, to demerit consists exactly in not taking account of God‘s Will or warnings, whether the omission be through negligence, pride, or stubbornness.

This is why the idea of Providence is at the same time the law of history. If the crash of empires “falling one upon another” does not in truth express some purpose of God regarding humanity, then history, or what is called by that name, is indeed no longer anything but a chaotic chronology, the meaning of which we should strive in vain to disentangle. In that case, Fortune, or rather Chance, would be the mistress of human affairs; the existence of humanity would be only a bad dream, or phantasmagoria, whose changing face would be inadequate to mask a void of nothingness. We should be fretting ourselves in that void without reason and almost without cause, our very actions would be but phantoms, and the only result of so many efforts accumulated through so many thousands of years would be the conviction, every day more clear, of their uselessness, which would be another void of nothingness. And why, after all, were there Greeks and Romans? Of what use was Salamis?—Actium?—Poitiers?—Lepanto? Why was there a Caesar, and a Charlemagne? Let us frankly own, then, that unless something Divine circulates in history, there is no history. Nations, like individuals, live only by maintaining uninterrupted communication with God, and it is precisely this condition of their existence which is called by the name of Providence. The hypothesis of Providence is the condition of the possibility of history, as the hypothesis of the stability of the laws of nature is the condition of the possibility of science.

(c) Having made Providence the sanction of morality, we are now led to make it the basis of apologetics. For if there be indeed more than one way which leads to God, or, in other words, many means of establishing the truth of the Christian religion, there is, in Bossuet’s view, none more convincing than that which is at once the highest expression and the summing-up of the history of humanity, that is to say, “the very sequence of religion”, or “the relation of the two Testaments”, and, in a more objective manner, the visible manifestation of Providence 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 defending 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 necessary, 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 views of Bossuet—for we are only summarizing here the “Discourse on Universal History”—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 Christianity, 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 history as if 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 demonstration of its truth?

It was appropriate to insist here upon this idea of Providence, which is, in a manner, the masterpiece of Bossuet’s theology. Besides the “Discourse on Universal History”, he wrote other works for the education of the Dauphin; notably the “Treatise on the Knowledge of God and of Oneself” and the “Art of Governing, Drawn from the Words of Holy Scripture“, 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 “Treatise 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 understand the “Discourse on Universal History”? In this connection it has 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 question, that the end which Bossuet intended was no ordinary education, but the education of a future King of France, the first obligation incumbent upon whose preceptor was to treat him 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 ceased, therefore, in 1681. He had been appointed Bishop of Meaux; he was made Almoner to the Dauphin, quite in accordance with usage, and the King honored him with the title of General Councillor (Conseiller en tous les conseils). 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 depeches, 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 nevertheless 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 accomplished the education of the Dauphin, his activity would fail to find employment. 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 impassioned struggles in which he becomes engaged will now end only 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 ador? 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 every effort for the attainment of those conditions which he believed necessary to that end. Abundant and instructive details on this point are to be found in M. A. Rebelliau’s charming work, “Bossuet, historien du Protestantisme”. Being, moreover, too reasonable and too well-informed not to recognize the legitimate element which the Reformation movement 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 exaggerate those demands; and, therefore, (I) to make to Protestant opinion every concession which a rigorous 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 1682; 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 animosity against Fenelon; his writings against Richard Simon, such as his “Defense of Tradition and of the Holy Fathers”; such steps as those which he took against the mystic reveries of Maria d’Agreda; and lastly, the approbation which, in 1682 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 questions of Gallicanism and of Quietism. The celebrated Declaration of 1682 seems to have altogether exceeded 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 great a danger as he believed it to be; nor, above all, a danger of the kind to repel Protestants from Catholicism, since, after all, it is in a Protestant country that the works of Madame Guyon are still read in our day. But to properly explain these points we should have to write volumes; it suffices here to throw some light on Bossuet’s controversial work with this general remark: his essential purpose was to get rid of the reasons for resistance which Protestants drew from the substance or the form of Catholicism, in opposition to the reasons for reunion.

In this remark, also, is to be found the decisive answer to the question, often raised, and amply discussed for some years, of the Jansenism of Bossuet. Jansenism, indeed, involves two things: the “Five Propositions”—a doctrine, or a heresy, formally and solemnly condemned; and a general tendency, very much like that of Calvin, to rationalize Christian morality and even dogma. So far as Jansenism is a heresy, Bossuet was never a Jansenist; but so far as it is a mere tendency, an intellectual disposition and a tendency to effect a mutual drawing together of reason and faith, it is scarcely possible to deny that he leaned towards Jansenism. Quite apart from the satisfaction which his own genius, naturally attracted to order and to clarity, found in this conciliation of reason and faith, he judged this the most propitious ground of all for the reconciliation of Protestantism with Catholicism. But to this it should be added at once that Bossuet, while not adding to the difficulties of faith, made it a condition that care must be taken not to trench upon faith, and this trait it is which completes the picture of Bossuet’s character. Tradition has never had a more eloquent or a more vigorous defender. Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; this was for Bossuet, in a manner, the absolute criterion of Catholic truth. He had no difficulty in deducing from it “the immutability of morality or of dogma”; and in this precisely, as is well known, consists his great argument against the Protestants. The “History of the Variations of the Protestant churches” is nothing more than a history of the alterations, if one may say so, to which the Protestant Churches have subjected dogma, and the adjustments or adaptations of dogma which they have pretended to make to circumstances that had nothing but what was transitory and contingent. But “the truth which comes from God possesses from the first its complete perfection”, and from that it follows that as many “variations” as there are, so many “errors” are there in faith, since they are so many contradictions or omissions of tradition.

This point has been reserved for the last in the present article, because no other trait of Bossuet’s genius seems to have gone further towards establishing the common conception of it. It is easy to see that that conception is not altogether false; but neither is it altogether true, nor, above all, fair when, as is often done, it is extended from the genius of the controversialist or theologian to the character of the man himself. Tradition, we repeat, has had no more eloquent or more implacable champion; it has had none more sincere; but tradition such as he comprehended it is not all of the past, for so understood it would include even heresy and schism. Tradition, for Bossuet as for the Catholic Church, is only what has survived of the past. If Nestorian Christianities still exist today—and some do exist—they are as if they were not, and Nestorianism does not on that account constitute a part of tradition. It would, and does, constitute a part of the tradition of Free Thought. But for the Church, tradition is only what she has thought herself obliged to preserve out of those doctrines which have succeeded one another in the course of her development, among which she has made her choice in virtue of her magisterium, retaining some, rejecting others, without even being always obliged to condemn the latter. It can be proved, on the other hand, that, thus understood, tradition in the writings of Bossuet, and on his lips when he invokes it, does not exclude religious progress, even if, perhaps, the former does not postulate the latter as a condition. And already, doubtless, it is beginning to be half seen that the true Bossuet, even in theology, even in his long combats with the heretics, was not the unbending, irreconcilable man he is commonly painted.

This will be still better seen if we reflect that a great writer is not always the man of his style. In his sermons as in his writings, it would be impossible to deny that Bossuet has an imperious and authoritative style. He counsels nothing which he does not command, or which he does not impose; and to everything which he advances he communicates the character and force of a demonstration by his manner of expressing it. Not that many pages of a different tenor might not be cited from him, and some such will be found notably in his “Uplifting of the Soul“, his “Meditations”, or his “Sermons for Festivals of the Virgin”. But the habitual quality of his style, for all that, remains, as we have said, imperious and authoritative, because it is in harmony with the nature of his mind, which demands first and foremost clearness, certainty, and order. It may be said of him that, seeing all things in their relation to Providence, he expresses nothing except under the aspect of eternity. A great poet in later times has said: “Qu’est-ce que tout cela qui n’est pas eternel”, and, looked at in this light, there is a perfect agreement between the style and the thought of Bossuet. But as to his character the same thing cannot be said; here every testimony alike shows us in this writer, whose accent seems to brook no contradiction, the most gentle, the most affable, and sometimes the most hesitating of men.

Such was the true Bossuet. In his life we cannot always find the daring of his eloquence, nor in his conduct the audacity of his reasoning. This great dominator of the ideas—one might even say of the intelligences—of his time suffered himself to be dominated more than once by the thoroughly human dread of being disagreeable and, above all, of giving offense. “He has no joints”, he himself said of one of the gentlemen of Port Royal who was somewhat lacking in flexibility; to which the individual in question retorted: “And as for him, you may tell him that he has no bones!” The strong, concise mot sums up all the reproaches that can be made against this great memory. Had his strength of character and his apostolic vigour equalled the force of his genius, he would have been a St. Augustine. Falling short of St. Augustine, a Catholic and a Frenchman may be permitted to believe that it is still something rare, something exalted among men to have been merely Jacques Benign Bossuet.


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