Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger
Benedictine and polygraph; b. April 4, 1805; d. January 30, 1875
Gueranger, PROSPER LOUIS PASCAL, Benedictine and polygraph; b. April 4, 1805, at Sable-sur-Sarthe; d. at Solesmes, January 30, 1875. Ordained a priest October 7, 1827, he was administrator of the parish of the Missions Etrangeres until near the close of 1830. He then left Paris and returned to Mans, where he began to publish various historical works, such as “De la priere pour le Roi” (October, 1830) and “De l’election et de la nomination des eveques” (1831), their subject being inspired by the political and religious situation of the day. In 1831 the priory of Solesmes, which was about an hour’s journey from Sable, was put up for sale and Pere Gueranger now saw a means of realizing his desire to reestablish, in this monastery, religious life under the Rule of St. Benedict. His decision was made in June, 1831, and, in December, 1832, thanks to private donations, the monastery had become his property. The Bishop of Mans now sanctioned the Constitutions by which the new society was to be organized and fitted subsequently to enter the Benedictine Order. On July 11, 1833, five priests came together in the restored priory at Solesmes, and on August 15, 1836, publicly declared their intention of consecrating their lives to the reestablishment of the Order of St. Benedict. In a brief issued September 1, 1837, Pope Gregory erected the former priory of Solesmes into an abbey and constituted it head of the “Congregation Francaise de l’Ordre de Saint Benoit”. Dom Gueranger was appointed Abbot of Solesmes (October 31) and Superior General of the Benedictines of the “Congregation de France“, and those of the little society who had received the habit August 15, 1836, made their solemn profession under the direction of the new abbot, who had pronounced his vows at Rome, July 26, 1837.
Thenceforth Dom Gueranger’s life was given up to developing the young monastic community, to procuring for it the necessary material and indispensable resources, and to inspiring it with an absolute devotion to the Church and the Pope. Amongst those who came to Solesmes, either to follow the monastic life or to seek self-improvement by means of retreats, Dom Gueranger found many collaborators and valuable steadfast friends. Dom Pitra, afterwards Cardinal, renewed the great literary traditions of the Benedictines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Bishops Pie of Poitiers and Berthaud of Tulle, Pere Lacordaire, the Count de Montalembert and Louis Veuillot, were all interested in the abbot’s projects and even shared his labors. Unfortunately the controversy occasioned by several of Dom Gueranger’s writings had the effect of drawing his attention to secondary questions and turning it away from the great enterprises of ecclesiastical science, in which he always manifested a lively concern. The result was a work in which polemics figured prominently, and which at present evokes but mediocre interest, and, although the time spent upon it was by no means lost to the cause of the Church, Dom Gueranger’s historical and liturgical pursuits suffered in consequence. He devoted himself too largely to personal impressions and neglected detailed and persevering investigation. His quickness of perception and his classical training permitted him to enjoy and to set forth, treat in an interesting way, historical and liturgical subjects which, by nature, were somewhat unattractive. Genuine enthusiasm, a lively imagination, and a style tinged with romanticism have sometimes led him, as he himself realized, to express himself and to judge too vigorously.
Being a devout and ardent servant of the Church, Dom Gueranger wished to reestablish more respectful and more filial relations between France and the See of Rome, and his entire life was spent in endeavoring to effect a closer union between the two. With this end in view he set himself to combat, wherever he thought he found its traces, the separatist spirit that had, of old, allied itself with Gallicanism and Jansenism. With a strategic skill which deserves special recognition, Dom Gueranger worked on the principle that to suppress what is wrong, the thing must be replaced, and he labored hard to supplant every-where whatever reflected the opinion he was fighting. He fought to have the Roman liturgy substituted for the diocesan liturgies, and he lived to see his efforts in this line crowned with complete success. On philosophical ground, he struggled with unwavering hope against Naturalism and Liberalism, which he considered a fatal impediment to the constitution of an unreservedly Christian society. He helped, in a measure, to prepare men’s minds for the definition of the papal Infallibility, that brilliant triumph which succeeded the struggle against papal authority so bitterly carried on a century previously by many Gallican and Josephite bishops. Along historical lines Dom Gueranger’s enterprises were less successful and their influence, although once very strong, is daily growing weaker.
In 1841 he began to publish a mystical work by which he hoped to arouse the faithful from their spiritual torpor and to supplant what he deemed the lifeless or erroneous literature that had been produced by the French spiritual writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “L’Annee liturgique”, of which the author was not to finish the long series of fifteen volumes, is probably the one of all Dom Gueranger’s works that best fulfilled the purpose he had in view. Accommodating himself to the development of the liturgical periods of the year, the author labored to familiarize the faithful with the official prayer of the Church by lavishly introducing fragments of the Eastern and Western liturgies, with interpretations and commentaries.
Amid his many labors Dom Gueranger had the satisfaction of witnessing the spreading of the restored Benedictine Order. Two unsuccessful attempts at foundations in Paris and Acey respectively did not deter him from new efforts in the same line, and, thanks to his zealous perseverance, monasteries were established at Liguge and Marseilles. Moreover, in his last years, the Abbot of Solesmes founded, at a short distance from his monastery, a community of women under the Rule of St. Benedict. This life, fraught with so many trials and filled with such great achievements, drew to a peaceful close at Solesmes.