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Maurice-Jean de Broglie

French (1766-1821)

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Broglie, MAURICE-JEAN DE, b. in Paris, September 5, 1766; d. there, June 20, 1821. He was the son of the Field-Marshal, Victor-Francois, Duc de Broglie, created, by Emperor Francis I, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, a title which was to be hereditary in the family. Called to the ecclesiastical state, Mau-rice pursued his studies at St.-Sulpice. During the Reign of Terror, when persecution drove both his father and him out of France, they went to Berlin. King Frederick William received the duke with marked distinction and granted to the young prince a provostship in the cathedral chapter of Posen. Maurice returned to France in 1803, and the steps he took to recover some family property not yet sold, brought him to the attention of Napoleon, who invited him to his court and named him his almoner. Recognizing in the emperor the restorer and support of order and religion, de Broglie became a devoted follower of the monarch and eulogized him in a pastoral letter issued on the occasion of the victory of Austerlitz. In 1805 Napoleon nominated him to the See of Acqui, Italy, and in 1807 to Ghent, Belgium. When it became evident, however, to de Broglie that the pope and clergy were to be mere tools of the despot, and religion the instrument of his ambitious designs, he showed determined opposition to Napoleon. In 1809 the minister of worship wrote in a letter that the sovereign was highly displeased with the bishop because of his lack of devotion to the royal person; in 1810 the bishop refused the Cross of the Legion of Honor, sent to him by the emperor, judging that he could not accept such a distinction at the time when the Papal States had been seized, and he explained his refusal in a memoir, a model of moderation, sent to the minister.

By order of Napoleon, a council was assembled in Paris, June 17, 1811, under the presidency of Cardinal Fesch, uncle of the emperor and Archbishop of Lyons. The object of Napoleon was to oblige the pope to grant the Bulls of institution to the priests nominated by him to bishoprics; this Pius VII had firmly refused. Napoleon wished, furthermore, to make an arrangement that would force the pope in the future to issue the Bulls within six months, and should His Holiness fail to do so in that time, the metropolitan or the oldest bishop of the ecclesiastical province would then confirm the nominee, the sovereign pontiff’s silence being considered as assent. The fathers of the council solemnly assembled in the metropolitan church, there being present six cardinals, nine archbishops, and eighty bishops; this was the first and the last general session. After six preliminary particular sessions, a decree in compliance with the will of Napoleon was proposed to the bishops. At first only two, d’Aviau, Archbishop of Bordeaux, and de Broglie, Bishop of Ghent, rejected it; but subsequently, only four members were for the pure and simple acceptance of the decree. The pope had privately declared that such encroachments on his spiritual power were contrary to the laws of the Church and ecclesiastical discipline, destructive of the authority of the Holy See and of the principles on which depended the lawful mission of bishops.

The anger of Napoleon, provoked by such firm and general opposition, led him to prorogue the council and visit with severe punishments the bishops who had been most prominent in their opposition. Arrested on July 12, 1811, de Broglie was cast into the dungeon at Vincennes and kept in close confinement for more than four months, without outside communication, and without books or writing materials. He was next sent as an exile to Beaune. On the mere suspicion that he had intercourse with his clergy, he was deported to the island of Ste.—Marguerite on the coast of Provence. De Broglie, while in prison signed, under compulsion, his resignation as Bishop of Ghent. Although it was not accepted by the pope and was consequently null, Napoleon named a successor to the see. As the great majority, however, of the clergy and people refused to acknowledge him, they were subjected to vexations and persecution. The fall of Napoleon restored peace, and de Broglie, returning to his diocese, was received amid the rejoicings of his clergy and flock.

The bishop was not to enjoy a long rest. The allied sovereigns of Europe after the overthrow of Napoleon had formed Holland and Belgium, or the Low Countries, into a kingdom and appointed William of Nassau to rule over them. The plenipotentiaries of the powers, assembled in London, 1814, made the Dutch Constitution the fundamental law of Belgium, with a proviso that it should be modified according to circumstances. The generality of Belgians are Catholics. On July 18, 1815, William proposed the Dutch Constitution to the Belgians, and the representatives summoned to vote upon it rejected it by 796 to 527. (See Belgium.) The king, disregarding the vote, imposed upon the Belgians a constitution that deprived the Catholics of all their rights. Joseph II by his petty persecutions had lost the Netherlands for Austria; Napoleon, following in the footsteps of the “emperor sexton”, lost them for France; William, his imitator, brought about the secession of Belgium from Holland and its independence in 1830. De Broglie with the Bishops of Namur and Tournai, and the Vicars-General of Mechlin and Liege took up the defense of the Catholic cause, and issued a pastoral instruction and, later on, a doctrinal judgment on the required oath to the Constitution.

De Broglie also appealed to Pius VII, and the pontiff, on May 16, 1816, sent an official note to the minister of the Low Countries residing in Rome, stating that the Belgian Constitution contained statements contrary to the Catholic Faith, that the opposition of the bishops could not in justice be reproved, and that no oath opposed to conscience should be imposed. New difficulties then arose, first when the bishop refused to offer public prayers for the king, and again when at the erection of new universities, de Broglie addressed a representation to the king in which he painted out the introduction of dangerous books into public institutions, and strongly expressed his fears for the fate of the episcopal seminaries. Cited before the tribunal, he took refuge in France, and the court of Brussels by a judgment, November 8, 1817, condemned him to deportation. The sentence was posted by the public executioner between the sentences of two public malefactors. The bishop’s health broke down under the weight of so many severe trials; succumbing to a short illness, he died in Paris, venerated by all for his sterling qualities and austerity of life. In 1819, de Broglie printed a protest concerning the state of religious affairs in Belgium, which was addressed to the Emperors of Austria and Russia and to the King of Prussia.


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