massillon vols preacher louis pulpit preached
BOURDALOUE, Louis, a celebrated preacher, and one of the greatest orators that France has ever produced, was born at Bourges, August 20, 1632. At the age of sixteen he entered the Society of Jesus, of which he was destined to become one of the greatest ornaments, and there completed his studies. His able masters, who early discerned his talents, successively confided to him the chairs of humanity, of rhetoric, of philosophy, and of moral theology ; and it was only after passing through these different probationary employments that he arrived at the eminent post which was designed for hint, and was deemed qualified for mounting the pulpit.
In order to form an idea of the difficulties which he had to surmount, and of the talents which lie displayed, it is only necessary, on the one hand, to call to mind the ridiculous manner and inflated style of the preachers of that period ; and on the other, to figure the young Jesuit at issue with the bad taste as well as the bad habits of the time, - combating at once the passions, the vices, the weaknesses, and the errors of humanity, and overcoming his enemies, sometimes with the arms of faith, and sometimes with those of reason.
At first he preached for some time in the provinces, but his superiors afterwards called him to Paris. This took place in 1669, at the most brilliant epoch of the age of Louis XIV., when nothing was talked of but the victories of Turenne, the festivities of Versailles, the masterpieces of Corneille and Racine, the encouragement afforded to the arts, and the general impulse given to the human mind. Bourdaloue suddenly appeared in the midst of these fascinations, and, far from diminishing their effects, the severity of his ministry and the gravity of his eloquence served rather to enchance their splendour. His first sermons met with prodigious success, and all voices were raised in loud applause of the preacher. Madame de Sevigu6, sharing the universal enthusiasm, wrote to her daughter that" she had never beard anything more beautiful, more noble, more astonishing, than the sermons of Father Bourdaloue." Louis XIX, also wished to hear him, and the new preacher was in consequence sent to court, where he preached during Advent in l 670, and during Lent in 1672 ; and lie was afterwards called for the Lents of 1674, 1675, 1680, and 1682, and for the Advents of 1684, 16S9, and 1693. This was a thing unheard of before, the same preacher being rarely called three times to court. Bourdaloue, however, appeared there ten times, and was always received with the same ardour. Louis XIV. said that "he loved better to hear the repetitions of Bourdaloue than the novelties of any one else." After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes he was sent to Languedoc to preach to the Protestants, and confirm the newly-converted in the Catholic faith ; and in this delicate mission he managed to reconcile the interests of his ministry with the sacred rights of humanity. He preached at Montpellier in 1686 with the greatest success, Catholics and Protestants being all equally eager to recognize in this eloquent missionary the apostle of truth and of virtue.
In the last years of his life Bourdalouc abandoned the pulpit, and devoted himself to charitable assemblies, hospitals, and prisons, where his pathetic discourses and conciliatory manners were very effective. II& had the art of adapting his style and his reasonings to the condition and 'he understanding of those to whom lie addressed either counsel or consolation. Simple with the simple, erudite with the learned, and a dialectician with sophists and disputants, he came off with honour in all the contests in which zeal for religion, the duties of Ids station, and love of mankind led him to engage. Equally relished by the great and by the commonalty, by men of piety, and by people of the world, he exercised till his death in 1704 a sort of empire over all minds; and this ascendency he owed as much to the gentleness of his manners as to the force of his reasoning. " His conduct," says one of his contemporaries, " is the best answer that can be made to the Lettres Provineiales." No consideration was ever capable of altering his frankness or corrupting his probity.
Bourdaloue may with justice be regarded as the reformer of the pulpit and the founder of Christian eloquence among the French. That which distinguishes him from other preachers is the force of Ids reasoning, and the solidity of Ids proofs. Never did Christian orator infuse into Ids discourses more majesty, dignity, energy, and grandeur. Like Corneille, lie has been charged with ove•labouring Ids diction, and accumulating idea upon idea with a needless superfluity of illustration - of speaking more to the understandings than to the hearts of his auditors, and sometimes enervating his eloquence with the too frequent use of divisions and subdivisions. But even in subscribing to these criticisms, which are to a certain extent well founded, it is impossible not to admire the inexhaustible fecundity of his plans - the happy talent velut imperatoria virius which he possessed, of disposing his reasonings in the order best calculated to command victory - the logical skill with which' he excludes sophisms, contradictions, and paradoxes - the art with which he lays the foundations of our duty in our inte•est - and, finally, the inestimable secret of converting the details of manners and habits into so many proofs of his subject. Parallels have often been drawn between Boualaloue and Massillon ; but the talents of these great pulpit orators lay in different directions, and they may, therefore, be more fitly contrasted than compared. " Be.' tween Massillon and Bossuet," says Lord Brougham, whose judgment of Bossuet errs, however, on the side of severity, (Works, vol. vii.), " and at a great distance certainly above the latter, stands Bourdalouc, whom some have deemed Massillon's superior, but of whom an illustrious critic (D'Alembert, ]'loge de Massillon) has more justly said that it was his greatest glory to have left the supremacy cf Massillon still in dispute. It is certain that he displays a fertility of resources, an exuberance of topics, whether for observation or argument, not equalled by almost any other orator, sacred or profane." If Massillon is now read with a more lively interest, he owes that advantage to the charms of his style rather than to the force of his reasoning. Among the critics of the present day, the preference is unhesitatingly given to the rival of Bacine, to the painter of the heart, to the author of the discourse on the small number of the elect ; but if we consult the contemporaries of Massillon himself, we shall End that they assign him only the second rank. According to them Bourdaloue preached to the men of a vigorous and masculine age - Massillon to those of a period remarkable for its effeminacy. Bourdaloue raised himself to the level of the great truths of religion - Massillon conformed himself to the weakness of the men with whom he lived. The bishop of Clermont will always be read ; but if the simple Jesuit could raise his commanding voice from the tomb, and again roll forth a majestiestream of divine truth, the courtly accents of his rival would no longer be heard, and the charms of his diction would be forgotten. The first part of his celebrated Passion, in which he proves that the death of the Son of God is the triumph of His power, has generally been considered as the great masterpiece of Christian eloquence. Bossuet has said nothing stronger or more elevated. The second part, however, is inferior to the first, though considered by itself alike beautiful and convincing.
The discourses of Bourdaloue have been described by a celebrated French critic as embodying in them a complete course of theology. This is perhaps going a little too far ; but still their general merit is very great, and for nothing are they more distinguished than their comprehensiveness. The diction of this great preacher is always natural, clear, and correct, sometimes deficient iu animation, but without vacuity or languor, and generally relieved by outbreakings of much force and originality, Two editions of Bourdaloue's works were published at Paris by Pere Bretonneau, a Jesuit, - one in 16 vols. 8vo, 1707-34, and the other, from which the editions of Rouen, Toulouse, and Amsterdam were afterwards printed, in 18 vols. 12mo, 1709-31. The Versailles edition appeared in 1812-13, in 16 vols. Svo. It is much inferior to the former. Of recent editions, the best are those of 1822-26, 17 vols. Svc); of 1833-34 ; of 1840, 3 tom. Svo ; of 1817, 18 vols. ; and of 1864, 4 vols. The Sermons inedites de Ponrdalove, published by the Abbe Sicard in 1810, are apocryphal. (See Vie de P. lionrdaloite, par Madame de Prigny, 1705 ; ]'sprit de Bourdaloue, par l'Abbe de la Porte ; St Arnaud, .Notice sin' P. Bouclalone, 1862.)