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Jacques Bridaine

Preacher (1701-1767)

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Bridaine, JACQUES.—preacher, b. at Chusclan, France, March 21, 1701; d. at Roquemaure, December 22, 1767. Raving completed his studies at the Jesuit college of Avignon he entered the Seminary of the Royal Missions of St. Charles of the Cross. His oratorical ability announced itself before his ordination to the priesthood by the remarkable talent he brought into play in awakening interest and exciting emotion even in the catechetical instructions which he was deputed to give. When only in minor orders, he was assigned as Lenten preacher in the Church of Aigues-Mortes. It was there he first made use of his peculiar methods. His extreme youth provoked the derision of the people and when Ash Wednesday arrived, the church was empty.

Undismayed, he put on his surplice and went out in the principal streets, ringing a bell, and inviting the people to hear him. He succeeded in bringing an immense multitude to the church who came out of curiosity, but when he began in a most unusual fashion by singing a canticle about death the congregation burst out in loud laugh-ter; whereupon he opened upon them with such fierceness of denunciation that silence and amazement took possession of all. He was characteristically sensational. He wrote little and gave way to the inspiration of the moment and as a consequence his utterances present at times an incoherent jumble of incongrous figures and ideas, which clash with each other and are often even grotesque. It was Cardinal Maury who called attention to his exordium in the sermon on Eternity which was said to be improvised. Father Cahour, S.J., inserts it in his “Chefs-d’Oeuvre d’eloquence”, and Maury who wrote it from memory declares that it was not unworthy of Bossuet or Demosthenes. It was pronounced at St.-Sulpice, before an audience in which there were many bishops, a vast crowd of ecclesiastics and men of distinction in civil and military life. Bridaine assures them that in spite of their worldly greatness he is not abashed by their presence, and in the most impassioned language denounces them as sinners, and bids them, haughty and disdainful as they are, to tremble before him. “Today I hold your condemnation in my hand.” Opinions are divided about its excellence as an example of oratory; some finding a self-consciousness in it which is unapostolic.

His voice was so sonorous and penetrating that he could easily be heard by an audience of ten thousand people. To his natural oratorical gifts he added, in order to produce the impression he was aiming at, all the effect that could be obtained by the most gorgeous and elaborate church ceremonial, as well as whatever excitement could be produced by singing, by splendid processions, by unusual prayers, and by novel situations which were all skillfully arranged so as to captivate the eye or ear, or to fix or startle the imagination. A supreme instance of these “methods” as he called them, and which he always insisted upon being carried out, is narrated by Madame Necker in the “Nouveaux Melanges” (I, 138). He had just delivered a stirring discourse when addressing himself to the great procession which had followed him he said: “I am now going to bring you home” and he led them to the grave-yard. Sensational as he was he wrought many astounding conversions. In the course of his life he preached two hundred and fifty-six missions, travelling to almost every town of France in the performance of his work. Pope Benedict XIV gave him permission to preach anywhere in Christendom. Medals were struck in his honor, and the most distinguished prelates showed him the greatest reverence and affection. He was of a sweet, modest, simple disposition, of lively faith and deep piety. His “Cantiques Spirituels” passed through forty-seven editions. He has also left five volumes of sermons. The Protestants of France are said to have been particularly friendly to him, because of the many good offices he performed in their regard. For fourteen years he followed the spiritual guidance of a missionary like himself named Mahistre. In 1742 Cardinal Fleury proposed to establish a missionary congregation for all France under the direction of Bridaine, but the death of the cardinal caused the project to fall through.

France was wild with excitement about him. His appeals were so powerful that in a mission which he preached at Chalon-sur-Saone in 1745 there were restitutions to the amount of 100,000 francs. His reputation as an orator was so great that even Massillon was unwilling to preach in his presence_ In the course of his missions he established what he called “peace tribunals”, courts composed of some of his associate missionaries, a number of irreproachable laymen, and the parish priest. To these courts all disputes were submitted and the decisions were accepted as final. His life was written by the Abbe Carron. The book was frequently translated into English, but the last edition was published as far back as 1831.


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