Bossuet, James

, bishop of Meaux, an eminent French writer and preacher, was born at Dijon, 27th of September 1627. He received the first rudiments of his education there, and in 1642 was sent to Paris to finish his studies at the college of Navarre. In 1652 he took his degrees in divinity, and soon after went to Metz, where he was made a canon. Whilst he resided here, he applied himself chiefly to the study of the scriptures, and the reading of the fathers, especially St. Augustine. In a little time he became a celebrated preacher, and was invited to Paris, where he had for his hearers many of the most learned men of his time, and several persons of the first rank at court. In 1669 he was created bishop of Condom, and the same month was appointed preceptor to the dauphin; upon which occasion, and the applause he gained in the discharge of so delicate an office, pope Innocent XI. congratulated him in a very polite letter. When he had almost finished the education of this prince, he addressed to him his “Discours surl’Histoire Universelle,” which was published in 1681, and is by far the best of his performances. About a year after he was made preceptor he gave up his bishopric, because he could not reside in his diocese, on account of his engagement at court. In 1680 the king appointed him first almoner to the dauphiness, and the year after gave him the bishopric of Meaux. In 1697 he was made counsellor of state, and the year following first almoner to the duchess of Burgundy. Nor did the learned world honour him less than the court; for he had been admitted a member of the French academy; and in 1695, at the desire of the royal college of Navarre, of which he was a member, the king constituted him their superior.

The writings of Bossuet gained him no less fame than his sermons. From the year 1655 he had entered the lists | against the protestants; and the most famous piece he wrote against them was his “Refutation du catechisme de Paul Ferri.” In 1671 he wrote another, intituled “L‘exposition de la doctrine de l’église catholique sur les matieres de controverse.” This had the approbation of the bishops of France, as well as of the prelates and cardinals of Rome. Innocent XI. wrote him two letters on the subject, and the work was translated into most of the European languages: M. l’abbé Montague, a relation of the Sandwich family, was the author of the English translation. He is said to have brought back several to the Romish church who had embraced the protestant religion; and it was for the benefit of such that in 1682 he published his “Traite de la communion sous les deux espèces,” and his “Lettre pastorale aux nonveaux catholiques.” In 1686 he published his “Histoire des églises protestantes,” for which, as well as several other of his writings, he was successfully attacked by Mess. Jurieu, Burnet, Basnage, and several other protestant ministers. He always distinguished himself as a zealous advocate for the catholic religion; and so great was his desire to bring about a re-union of the protestants with the church of Rome, that for this purpose he voluntarily offered to travel into foreign countries. He formed several schemes for this purpose, which were approved of by the church of Rome, but the succeeding wars prevented his putting them in execution. His writings in controversy with the protestants, and against quietism, the religion of Madame Guion, Fenelon, and many of the pious French, make several volumes.

There are still extant several of his very celebrated funeral orations, particularly those on the queen-mother of France in 1667, on the queen of England 1669, on the dauphiness 1670, on the queen of France 1633, on the princess Palatine 1685, on chancellor le Tellier 1686, on the prince de Conde, Louis de Bourbon 16S7. These are printed in the “Recueil de Diverses Oraisons Funebres,” 5 vols. 1712, a neglected book, but containing the best specimens of French oratory. Nor, amidst all the great affairs in which he was employed, did he neglect the duty of his diocese. The “Statuts Synodaux,” which he published in 1691, and several other of his pieces, shew how attentive he was to maintain regularity of discipline. After having spent a life in the service of the church, he died at Paris, April 12, 1704, and was buried at Meaux; where his | funeral was honoured with the presence of many prelates his friends, and an oration pronounced in his praise by father de la Rue the Jesuit. The same honour was likewise paid to his memory at Paris, in the college of Navarre, where cardinal Noailles performed the pontifical ceremonies, and the funeral oration was spoken by a doctor of the house. Nor was Rome silent in his praise; for an eulogium was spoken to his memory; and, what was unusual, was delivered in the Italian tongue, at the college De propaganda, by the chevalier Matfei, in presence of several cardinals, prelates, and other persons of the first rank. It was afterwards printed, and dedicated to his illustrious pupil the dauphin.

In estimating the character of this celebrated prelate, we must not be guided by d’Alembert’s desultory and artful Eloge, who, however, struggles in vain to conceal the truth, that Bossuet was, with all his taste and talents, a furious bigot in favour of the Catholic religion, and while he affected to dislike persecution, either submitted to the exercise of it, or promoted it by the asperity of his writings. We shall come nearer the truth by adopting Bossuet’s character as contrasted with that of Fenelon by the writer of the “Letters concerning Mythology,” who represents him as a prelate of vast parts, learned, eloquent, artful, and aspiring. By these qualities he rose to the first dignities in the Gallican church: while another of finer fancy and better heart (Fenelon), humble, holy, and sincere, was censured at Rome, and disgraced at the French court. Both were intrusted with the education of princes, and acquitted themselves of those duties in a very different manner. The one endeavoured to make his royal pupil noble, virtuous, and just, a father to his people, ana a friend to mankind, by the maxims of his inimitable Telemaque. The other in his discourses upon universal history, is perpetually turning his prince’s eyes from mankind to the church, as the sacred object of his care, from whose everlasting stem whoever separates is lost: and for whose interests, in the extirpation of heresy, and aggrandizement of her ministers, he is, like his father Lewis XIV. to exert all the power he has received from God.

His celebrated “Exposition of the Roman Catholic Faith,” mentioned above, was designed to show the protestants, that their reasons against returning to the Romish church might be easily removed, if they would view the | doctrines of that church in their true light, and not as they had been erroneously represented by protestant writers. Nine years, however, passed before this book could obtain the pope’s approbation. Clement X. refused it positively; and several catholic priests were rigorously treated and severely persecuted, for preaching the doctrine contained in the exposition of Bossuet, which was likewise formally condemned by the university of Louvain in the year 1685, and declared to be scandalous and pernicious. All this we should have thought a proof of the merit of the work, if it had not been at length licensed and held up as unanswerable by the protestants. The artifice, however, employed in the composition of it, and the tricks that were used in the suppression and alteration of the first edition, have been detected with great sagacity by archbishop Wake in the introduction to his “Exposition of the Doctrine of the Church of England,” and in his two “Defences” of that Exposition, in which the perfidious sophistry of Bossuet is unmasked and refuted in the most satisfactory manner. There was also an excellent answer to Bossuet' s book by M. de la Bastide, one of the most eminent protestant ministers in France. Of this answer the French prelate took no notice during eight years: at the end of which he published an advertisement, in a new edition of his “Exposition,” which was designed to remove the objections of La Bastide. The latter replied in such a demonstrative manner, that the learned bishop, notwithstanding all his eloquence and art, was obliged to quit the field of controversy. There is a very interesting account of this insidious work of Bossuet, and the controversies it occasioned, in the “Bibliotheque des Sciences,” published at the Hague, vol. XV Ih. This account, which is curious, ample, accurate, and learned, was given partly on occasion of a new edition of the “Exposition” printed at Paris in 1761, and accompanied with a Latin translation by Fleury, and partly on occasion of Burigny’s “Lite of Bossuet,” published the same year at Paris.

Had the French press, however, remained open, the controversy between the catholics and protestants might have soon been brought to a conclusion: but other measures were to be adopted, more characteristic of the genius of popery. Bossuet has been praised by most French writers for his laudable attempts to promote an union between the catholic and reformed churches of France. The | basis of this union was not very promising. The reformed were to give up every thing, the catholics nothing, and the subsequent practice was worse than this principle. In the “Memoirs pour servira I’histoire des Refugies Francois dans les etats du Roi,” or Memoirs of the French refugees in the dominions of the king of Prussia, by Messrs. Erman and Reclam, published at Berlin in 1782, we have a curious developement of the plan of union, as detected by the celebrated Claude. The reformed church of Paris, which was a considerable edifice, was to be surrounded with troops; the archbishop of Paris and the bishop of Meaux (Bosquet) accompanied with a train of priests and the lieutenant of the police, were to march thither in procession, during divine service: one of these prelates was to mount the pulpit and summon the congregation to submit to the mother church and re-unite; a number of Roman Catholics, posted for the purpose in different parts of the church, as if they belonged to it, were to answer the prelate’s summons, by crying out “re-union!” after which the other prelate was to give the congregation a public absolution from the charge of heresy, and to receive the new pretended converts into the bosom of the church; and this scandalous farce was to be imposed upon the world for an actual re-union. This plan affords a tolerable specimen of Bossuet as a prelate, and a man of candour; and it is worthy of notice, that his associate in this expedition, was the libertine Harlai, archbishop of Paris, whose life and death were so scandalous, that not a single curate could be found, among the most unprincipled part of the Romish clergy, who would undertake to preach his funeral sermon.

Bossuet’s works were published in 1743, in 20 vols, 4to, and some of them have been often reprinted in various forms. His controversial works are no longer read, but his Essay on universal history, and his Sermons, particularly the funeral orations above-mentioned, still preserve their reputation. In 1800 Mr. Jerningham translated and published some “Select Sermons,” and very recently the expectations of the French public were raised by the publication of some inedited pieces by Bossuet, which, however, are thought to be spurious.1


Dict. Hist.Moreri.—D’Alembert’s Eulogy.—Month. Rev. vol. XXVIII. and LXVIII.—Moshelm’s Eccl. Hist.—Life by Burigny.—Saxii Onomast.