Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

Nation: France

Theologian

Birth Date: September 27, 1627
France Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet Theologian Cover
I. Childhood
II. Rise to Clerical Prominence
III. Tutor to the Dauphin
IV. Dispute Between King and Pope
V. Work Against Protestantism
VI. Condemnation of Guyon
VII. Death and Legacy
I. Childhood
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, whose father and ancestors were distinguished in the profession of the law, was born at Dijon, France, on September 27, 1627. He was placed in his childhood at the college of the Jesuits in his native town. At the age of fifteen, he was removed to the College of Navarre in Paris. At both of these places his progress as a student was so rapid that he passed for a prodigy. Soon after his removal to Paris, he was invited to exhibit his powers as a preacher at the Hotel de Rambouillet during his sixteenth year. His performance was received with great approbation.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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II. Rise to Clerical Prominence
In 1652, Bossuet was ordained priest and, his talents having already made him known, he soon after received preferment in the cathedral church of Metz, of which he became successively canon, archdeacon, and dean. It was here that he published his Refutation of the Catechism of Paul Ferri, a protestant divine of high reputation. This was the first of that series of controversial writings which contributed, more than all his other works, to procure for him the high authority which he enjoyed in the church. He came forward in the field of controversy at a time when public attention was fixed on the subject, and when the favorite object both with Church and State was the peaceable conversion of the Protestants.

Richelieu in the preceding reign had crushed, by the vigor of his administration, the political power of the Protestant party. He, in common with many other statesmen. Catholic and Protestant, had conceived a notion that uniformity of religious profession was necessary to the tranquillity of the state. But, though unchecked in the prosecution of his objects by any scruples of conscience or feelings of humanity, he would have considered the employment of force, where persuasion could be effectual, to be not a crime but a blunder. When therefore the army had done its work, he put in action a scheme for reclaiming the Protestants by every species of politic contrivance. The system commenced by him was continued by others and of all those who labored in the cause, Bossuet was indubitably the most able and the most distinguished.

His first effort, the Refutation of the Catechism, recommended him to the notice of the Queen-Mother. The favor which he now enjoyed at court was further increased by the fame of his eloquence in the pulpit, which he had frequent opportunities of displaying at Paris, whither he was called from time to time by ecclesiastical business. He was summoned to preach at the chapel of the Louvre before Louis XIV, who was pleased to express, in a letter to Bossuet's father, the great delight which he received from the sermons of his son. But Bossuet had still stronger claims on the gratitude of Louis by converting to the Roman Catholic faith the celebrated Turenne. This victory is said to have been achieved by his well-known Exposition, written in the year 1668, and published in 1671.

So great was his influence at this time, that he was requested by the Archbishop of Paris to interfere in one of those many disputes which the Papal decrees against the tenets of Jansenius occasioned. The nuns of Port-Royal, who were attached to the doctrine and discipline of the Jansenists, were required to subscribe the celebrated Formulary, which selected for condemnation five propositions said to be contained in a certain huge work of Jansenius. Those excellent women modestly submitted, that they were ready to accept any doctrine propounded by the Church, and even to affix their names to the condemnation of the obnoxious propositions; but that they could not assert that these propositions were to be found in a book which they had never seen. In this difficulty the assistance of Bossuet was requested, who, after several conferences, wrote a long letter to the refractory nuns, highly commended for its acute logic and sound divinity. Much of the logic and divinity Avas probably thrown away upon the persons for whose use they were intended; but there was one part of the letter sufficiently intelligible. He congratulated them on their total exemption from all obligation to examine, and from the task of self-guidance; and assured them that it was their bound duty, as well as their happy privilege, to subscribe and assent to everything which was placed before them by authority. The nuns were not convinced. They escaped however for the present, but in the end they paid dearly for their passive resistance to the decision of Pope Alexander VII.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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III. Tutor to the Dauphin
In 1669, Bossuet was promoted to the Bishopric of Condom, which he resigned the following year on being appointed to the important office of Preceptor to the Dauphin. His pupil's disposition was unfavorable to the studies. To him, however, the world is indebted for the most celebrated of Bossuet's performances. The Introduction to Universal History was written expressly for his use.

Though devoted closely and conscientiously to the duties of his new office, he was not altogether withdrawn from what might be called his vocation, the prosecution of controversy. It was during the period of his connection with the Court, that his celebrated conference occurred with the Protestant Claude. Mlle. de Duras, a niece of Turenne, had conceived scruples respecting the soundness of her Protestant principles, from the perusal of Bossuet's Exposition. She consulted M. Claude, who promised to resolve her doubts in the presence of Bossuet himself. The challenge was accepted, and the memorable conference was the result. Both parties published an account of it; and their statements, as might be expected without suspicion of dishonesty on either side, did not entirely agree. The lady was content to follow the example of her uncle.

Bossuet's tutorial engagement with the Dauphin was concluded in the year 1681, when he was rewarded with the Bishopric of Meaux. To the comparatively obscure but important duties of his diocese, he brought the same zeal and energy which he displayed on a more conspicuous theatre. He proved that he could readily exchange the pen of the polemic for that of the devout and affectionate pastor.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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IV. Dispute Between King and Pope
Louis XIV was not disposed to leave Bossuet undisturbed in his new position as Bishop of Meaux. The Kings of France had long exercised certain powers in ecclesiastical matters, which had rather been tolerated than sanctioned by the Popes. Louis was determined not only to preserve, but considerably to extend, what his predecessors had enjoyed. Hence a sharp altercation was carried on for many years between him and the See of Rome. But, in 1682, in consequence of a threatening brief issued by that haughty pontiff, Innocent XII, he summoned, by the advice of his clergy, for the purpose of settling the matters in debate, a general assembly of the Church.

Of this famous assembly, Bossuet was deservedly regarded as the most influential member. He opened the proceedings with a sermon, having reference to the subjects which were to come under consideration. After having illustrated, with all the force of his eloquence, the inviolable dignity of the Church, and fully established the supremacy of St. Peter, he carried up, as it were in a parallel line, the loftiest panegyric on the monarchy and monarchs of France.

The discourse was celebrated for its ability, and without doubt the conflicting topics were managed with great skill. His difficulties did not cease with the dismissal of the Assembly. The question of the Regale, or the right of the King to the revenues of every vacant see, and to collate to the simple benefices within its jurisdiction, was settled not at all to the satisfaction of the Pope. The declaration of the Assembly, drawn up by Bossuet himself, was fiercely attacked by the Transalpine divines. It was, of course, as vigorously defended by its author, who was in consequence accused by all his enemies, and some of his friends, of having forgotten his duty to the Pope in his subserviency to the King.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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V. Work Against Protestantism
Not wearied by his exertions in the royal cause, he had scarcely left the Assembly, when he resumed his labors in defense of the Church against Protestantism. Several smaller works, put forth from time to time, seemed to be only a preparation for his great effort in the year 1688, when he published his History of the Variations in the Protestant Churches. In this book he has made the most of what may be called the staple argument of the Catholics against the Protestants.

In regard to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, neither Bossuet's disposition nor his judgment would lead him to approve the atrocities perpetrated by the government. However, in a letter to the Intendant of Languedoc, he labors to justify the use of pains and penalties in enforcing religious conformity. That is, he justifies the act of Louis XIV. Still, his conduct towards the Protestants was such as to obtain for him the praise even of his opponents.

Up until this time, Bossuet had been laboring incessantly to reconcile the Huguenots of France to the established religion. But he now took part in a more grand and comprehensive measure, sanctioned by the Emperor, and some other sovereign princes of Germany, for the reunion of the great body of the Lutherans throughout Europe with the Roman Catholic Church. They engaged the Bishop of Neustadt to open a communication with Molanus, a Protestant doctor of high reputation in Hannover. With these negotiators were afterwards joined Leibnitz on the part of the Protestants, and Bossuet on that of the Roman Catholics. Between these two great men the correspondence was carried on for ten years, in a spirit worthy of themselves and the cause in which they were engaged. It terminated, as probably they both expected that it would terminate, in leaving the two Churches in the same state of separation in which it found them.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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VI. Condemnation of Guyon
The history of Jeanne Guyon, and the revival of mysticism under the name of Quietism, principally by her means, may be found at length in a biography of Bishop François Fénelon. The part which Bossuet took in the proceedings respecting her must behere veiy briefly noticed. As universal referee in matters of religion, he was called upon to examine her doctrines, which began to excite the attention of the Church. His conduct towards her, in the first instance, was mild and forbearing, but either zeal or anger betrayed him at length into a cruel persecution of the heretic. Fénelon, who had partly adopted her views of Christian perfection, and thoroughly admired her Christian character, was required by Bossuet to surrender to him at once his opinions and his feelings. Fénelon was willing to do much, but would not consent to sacrifice his integrity to the offended pride of the irritated prelate. He defended his opinions in print, and the points in debate were, by his desire, referred to the Pope. To him they should in common decency have been left, there are details of miserable intrigues, carried on in the council appointed by the Pope to examine the matter, and of vehement remonstrances with which his holiness himself was assailed, with the avowed object of extorting a reluctant condemnation. The warmest friends of Bossuet do not attempt to defend him on the plea that these things were done without his concurrence. They insist only on his disinterested zeal for religion. Yet let it be remembered, that this interference with Papal deliberation proceeded from one who believed the Vicar of Christ to be solemnly deciding, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, a point of faith for the benefit of the whole Catholic Church. Bossuet triumphed, and from that moment sunk perceptibly in the esteem of some of his countrymen.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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VII. Death and Legacy
During the last years of his life, Bossuet maintained his usual activity. In his last illness we find with pleasure that the Bible was his companion, and that he could employ his intervals of repose from severe suffering in composing a commentary on the 23rd Psalm. He died on April 12, 1704, in his 76th year.

The authority which Bossuet acquired was such, that he may be said not only to have guided the Gallican Church during his life, but in some measure to have left upon it the permanent impression of his own character. His countrymen claim for Bossuet an exalted place among historians, orators, and theologians. The honors bestowed by Introduction to Universal History have been continued by more impartial judges, and it stands forth on its own merits as a noble effort of a comprehensive and penetrating mind. His Funeral Orations come to us recommended by the judgment of Voltaire, who ascribes to Bossuet alone, of all his contemporaries, the praise of real eloquence.

Malkin, A. T., & Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (London). (1833). Bossuet. In The gallery of portraits with memoirs (Vol. 1, pp. 113-119). London: Charles Knight.
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