Louis-Antoine de Noailles
Cardinal and bishop, b. at the Chateau of Teyssiere in Auvergne, France, May 27, 1651; d. at Paris, May 4, 1729
Noailles, LOUIS-ANTOINE DE, cardinal and bishop, b. at the Chateau of Teyssiere in Auvergne, France, May 27, 1651; d. at Paris, May 4, 1729. His father, first Duc de Noailles, was captain-general of Roussillon; his mother, Louise Boyer, had been lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne of Austria. Louis de Noailles studied theology at Paris in the College du Plessis, where Fenelon was his fellow-student and friend, and obtained his doctorate at the Sorbonne, March 14, 1676. Already provided with the Abbey of Aubrac (Diocese of Rodez), he was, in March, 1679, appointed to the Bishopric of Cahors, and in 1680 transferred to Chalons-stir-Marne, to which see a peerage was attached. He accepted this rapid removal only at the formal command of Innocent XI. In this office he showed himself a true bishop, occupying himself in all kinds of good works. He confided his theological seminary to the Lazarists, and founded a petit seminaire.
The regularity of his conduct, his family standing, and the support of Mme de Maintenon induced Louis XIV to make him Archbishop of Paris, August 19, 1695. At Paris he was what he had been at Chalons. Lacking in brilliant qualities, he was possessed of piety, zeal, and activity. He was simple in manners and accessible to poor and rich alike. In 1709 he sold his silver plate to provide food for the famine-stricken. His generosity towards churches was also remarkable, and he spent large sums from his private fortune in deco-rating and improving Notre-Dame. The decorum of public worship and the good conduct of the clergy were the particular objects of his care. Inspired more by customs prevalent in France than by the prescriptions of the Council of Trent, he caused the Breviary, Missal, and other liturgical books of Paris already published by his predecessor de Harlay, to be reprinted. To these he added the Rituale, the Caeremoniale, and a collection of canons for the use of his Church. By decrees issued on his accession (June, 1696) he imposed for the first time on aspirants to the ecclesiastical state the obligation of residing in seminaries for several months before ordination. He organized ecclesiastical conferences throughout his diocese and conferences in moral theology once a week at Paris; priests were obliged to make an annual retreat, wise rules were drawn up for the good conduct and regularity of all ecclesiastics, the Divine service, the assistance of the sick, and the primary schools. Seminaries for poor clerics were encouraged and supported, and one was founded which served as a shelter for poor, old, or infirm priests.
While still Bishop of Chalons he took part in the conferences held at Issy to examine the works of Mme. Guyon (q.v.). His part was only secondary, but he succeeded in having the accused’s entire defense heard. Shortly afterwards he became involved in a controversy with Fenelon (q.v.) concerning the Tatter’s “Maximes des Saints,” which was condemned by the Bishops of Meaux, Chartres, and de Noailles himself. In 1700 he was made a cardinal by Innocent XII. Several months later de Noailles presided at the General Assembly of the French clergy. This assembly exerted great influence on the teaching of moral theology in France, and of ter Bossuet no one had so great a share as de Noailles in its decisions. He became prior of Navarre in 1704, head of the Sorbonne in 1710, and honorary dean of the faculty of law. Except for his attitude towards Jansenism the cardinal’s career would be deserving only of praise. He always denied being a Jansenist, and condemned the five propositions constituting the essence of Jansenism, but he always inclined, both in dogma and morals, to opinions savoring of Jansenism; he favored its partisans and was ever hostile to the Jesuits and the adversaries of the Jansenists. Shortly before his elevation to the See of Paris he had approved (June, 1695) the “Reflexions morales” of Pere Quesnel, an Oratorian already known for his ardent attachment to Jansenism and destined soon to be its leader. He earnestly recommended it to his priests. This approbation was the source of all the cardinal’s troubles.
Believing themselves thenceforth certain of his sympathy the Jansenists, on de Noailles’ elevation to the See of Paris, published a posthumous work of de Barcos (q.v.), entitled “Exposition de la foy”, really the explanation and defense of the Jansenistic doctrine of grace already condemned by Rome. De Noailles condemned the book (August 20, 1696), at least in the first part of his instruction, but in the second he set forth a theory on grace and predestination closely resembling that of de Barcos. No one was satisfied; the ordinance displeased both the Jansenists and the Jesuits. The former did not fail to call attention to the contradictory attitudes of the Bishop of Chalons, who approved Quesnel, and the Archbishop of Paris, who condemned de Barcos. An anonymous pamphlet published under the title “Probleme ecclesiastique”, placed side by side twenty-nine identical propositions which had been approved in the Quesnel’s work and condemned in de Barcos’. Parliament condemned the lampoon to be burned; six months later it was put on the Index (June 2, 1699) and proscribed by the Holy Office.
The controversies occasioned by the publication of the “Cas de Conscience” and Quesnel’s “Reflexions morales” (for which see . in Vol. VIII, 291-2) involved de Noailles deeply in the Jansenist quarrel. In spite of repeated papal decisions of the Holy See, the cardinal, for many years, would not accept the Bull “Unigenitus“. Finally he yielded in May, 1728, and on October 11 following published his unconditioned acceptance of the Bull. He afterwards retracted various writings, which seemed to cast doubt on the sincerity of his submission; he restored to the Jesuits the faculties of which he had deprived them thirteen years before. He died two months later, aged 78 regarded by all with respect and esteem. His weak and uncertain character caused him to offend everybody—Jesuits and Jansenists, pope and king, partisans and adversaries of the Bull “Unigenitus“. He lacked discernment in the choice of his confidants; he bore a great name, and played an important part in his time, but lacked many qualities of a great bishop. His works—diocesan ordinances and parochial instructions—are mostly collected in the “Synodicon ecclesin Parisiensis” (Paris, 1777).