Massillon, John Baptist

, an eminent French preacher, was born in 1663, the son of a notary at Hieres in Provence In 1681, he entered into the congregation, of the Oratory, and wherever he was sent gained all hearts by the liveliness of his character, the agreeableness of his wit, and a natural fund of sensible and captivating politeness. These advantages, united with his great talents, excited the envy of his brethren, no less than the admiration of others, and, on some ill-founded suspicions of intrigue, he was sent by his superiors to one of their houses in the diocese of Meaux. The first efforts of his eloquence were made at Vienne, while he was a public teacher of theology j and his funeral oration ou Henri de Villars, | archbishop of that city, was universally admired. The fame of this discourse induced father de la Tour, then general of the congregation of the Oratory, to send for him to Paris. After some time, being asked his opinion of the principal preachers in that capital, “they display,” said he, “great genius and abilities; but if I preach, I shall not preach as they do.” He kept his word, and took up a style of his own, not attempting to imitate any one, except it was Bourdaloue, whom, at the same time, the natural difference of his disposition did not suffer him to follow very closely. A touching and natural simplicity is the characteristic of his style, and has been thought by able judges to reach the heart, and produce its due effect, with much more certainty than all the logic of the Jesuit Bourdaloue. His powers were immediately distinguished when he made his appearance at court; and when he preached his first advent at Versailles, he received this compliment from Louis XIV. “My father,” said that monarch, “when I hear other preachers, I go away much pleased with them; but whenever I hear you, I go away much displeased with myself.” On one occasion, the effect of a discourse preached by him “on the small number of the elect,” was so extraordinary, that it produced a general, though involuntary murmur of applause in the congregation. The preacher himself was confused by it; but the effect was only increased, and the pathetic was carried to the greatest height that can be supposed possible. His mode of delivery contributed not a little to his success. “We seem to behold him still in imagination,” said they who had been fortunate enough to attend his discourses, “with that simple air, that modest carriage, those eyes so humbly directed downwards, that unstudied gesture, that touching tone of voice, that look of a man fully impressed with the truths which he enforced, conveying the most brilliant instruction to the mind, and the most pathetic movements to the heart.” The famous actor, Baron, after hearing him, told him to continue as he had began. “You,” said he, “have a manner of your own, leave the rules to others.” At another time he said to an actor who was with him “My friend, this is the true orator; we are mere players.” Massillon was not the least inflated by the praises he received. His modesty continued unaltered; and the charms of his society attracted those who were likely to be alarmed at the strictness of his lessons. | In 1717, the regent being convinced of his merits by his own attendance on his sermons, appointed him bishop of Clermont. The French academy received him as a member in 1719. The funeral oration of the duchess of Orleans in 1723, was the last discourse he pronounced at Pans. From that time he resided altogether in his diocese, where the mildness, benevolence, and piety of his character, gained all hearts. His love of peace led him to make many endeavours to conciliate his brethren of the Oratory and the Jesuits, but he found at length that he had less influence over divines than over the hearts of any other species of sinners. He died resident on his diocese, Sept. 28, 1742, at the age of 79. His name has since been almost proverbial in France, where he is considered as a most consummate master of eloquence. Every imaginable perfection is attributed by his countrymen to his style. “What pathos” says one of them, “what knowledge of the human heart What sincere effusions of conviction What a tone of truth, of philosophy, and humanity! What an imagination, at once lively and well regulated Thoughts just and delicate conceptions brilliant and magnificent; expressions elegant, select, sublime, harmonious; images striking and natural; representations just and forcible; style clear, neat, full, numerous, equally calculated to be comprehended by the multitude, and to satisfy the most cultivated hearer.” What can be imagined beyond these commendations? Yet they are given by the general consent of those who are most capable of deciding on the subject. His works were published complete, by his nephew at Paris, in 1745 and 1746, forming fourteen volumes of a larger, and twelve of a smaller kind of 12mo. They contain, 1. A complete set of Sermons for Advent and Lent. 2. Several Funeral Orations, Panegyrics, &c. 3, Ten discourses, known by the name of “Le petit Care’me.” 4. “Ecclesiastical Conferences.” 5. Some excellent paraphrases of particular psalms Massillon once stopped short in the middle of a sermon, from defect of memory; and the same happened from apprehension in different parts of the same day, to two other preachers whom he went to hear. The English method of readitfg their discourses would certainly have been very welcome to all these persons, but the French conceive that all the fire of eloquence would be lost by that method: this, however, seems by no means to be necessary. The most striking | passages and beauties of Massiilon’s sermons were collected by the abbe de la Porte, in a volume which is now annexed as a last volume to the two editions of his works; and a few years ago, three volumes of his “Sermons” were translated into English by Mr. William Dickson. 1

1

D’Alembert’s Eloge. —Dict. Hist.