« PreviousContinue »
JACQUES BENIGNE BOSSUET (1627-1704)
FRANCE'S GREATEST PULPIT ORATOR
HREE great contemporary orators graced the reign of Louis XIV.,
Bossuet, Fénelon and Bourdaloue, followed by a fourth, Mas
sillon, in the later years of the reign of the “Grand Monarque.” Of these, Bossuet has by some been ranked with Mirabeau as the greatest of French orators, though to-day he does not find as many readers as his rival, Fénelon. Bossuet became the recognized champion in France of the Romish Church, converting many Protestants by his sermons at Metz, and numbering the Marshal de Turenne among his converts at Paris. He was distinguished not alone for eloquence, but made himself famous also by his writings. His “Discourse on Universal History,” says Hallam, " is perhaps the greatest effort of his wonderful genius.” ... Among his most admired productions are six funeral orations, those on Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, and on the Prince de Condé being especially famous as models of eloquence.
THE DEATH OF THE PRINCE OF CONDÉ [We cannot give a better example of Bossuet's powers than by selecting from his noble address in memory of his friend, the great Condé. It is highly eulogistic throughout, and in this style of oratorical composition remains unsurpassed. We append the closing section of this admirable address, in which the story of a great life is supplemented by that of a noble death.]
The Prince of Condé grew weaker, but death concealed his approach. When he seemed to be somewhat restored, and the Duke d’Enghien, ever occupied between his duties as a son and his duties as a subject, had returned by his order to the king, in an instant all was changed, and his approaching death was announced to the prince. Christians, give attention, and here learn to die, or rather learn not to wait for the last hour to begin to live well. What! expect to commence a new life when, seized
JACQUES BENIGNE BOSSUET
by the freezing grasp of death, ye know not whether ye are among the living or the dead? Ah ! prevent, by penitence, that hour of trouble and darkness! Thus, without being surprised at that final sentence communicated to him, the Prince remained for a moment in silence, and then all at once exclaimed : “Thou dost will it, O my God, thy will be done! Give me grace to die well !” What more could you desire ? In that brief prayer you see submission to the will of God, reliance on His Providence, trust in His grace, and all devotion.
From that time, such as he had been in all combats-serene, selfpossessed, and occupied without anxiety, only with what was necessary to sustain them—such also he was in that last conflict. Death appeared to him no more frightful, pale, and languishing, than amid the fires of battle and in the prospect of victory. While sobbings were heard all around him, he continued, as if another than himself were their object, to give his orders; and if he forbade them weeping, it was not because it was a distress to him, but simply a hindrance. At that time he extended his cares to the least of his domestics. With a liberality worthy of his birth and of their services, he loaded them with gifts, and honored them still more with mementos of his regard. . .
Tranquil in the arms of his God, he waited for His salvation, and implored His support until he finally ceased to breathe. And here our lamentations ought to break forth at the loss of so great a man. But for the love of the truth, and the shame of those who despise it, listen once more to that noble testimony which he bore to it in dying. Informed by his confessor that if our heart is not entirely right with God, we must, in our addresses, ask God himself to make it such as he pleases, and address Him in the affecting language of David, “O God, create in me a clean heart." Arrested by these words, the prince pauses, as if occupied by some great thought; then calling the ecclesiastic who had suggested the
I have never doubted the mysteries of religion, as some have reported.” Christians, ye ought to believe him ; for in the state he then was, he owed to the world nothing but truth. "But," added he, “I doubt them less than ever. May these truths," he continued, “ reveal and develop themselves more and more clearly in my mind. Yes !” says he, “ we shall see God as He is, face to face!” With a wonderful relish he repeated in Latin those lofty words—"As He is-face to face !” Nor could those around him grow weary of seeing him in so sweet a transport.
What was then taking place in that soul! What new light dawned upon him? What sudden ray pierced the cloud, and instantly dissipated, not only all the darkness of sense, but the very shadows, and, if I dare to say it, the sacred obscurities of faith? What then became of those
JACQUES BENIGNE BOSSUET
splendid titles by which our pride is flattered? On the very verge of glory, and in the dawning of a light so beautiful, how rapidly vanish the phantoms of the world! How dim appears the splendor of the most glorious victory! How profoundly we despise the glory of the world, and how deeply regret that our eyes were ever dazzled by its radiance. Come, ye people, come now-or rather ye princes and lords, ye judges of the earth, and ye who open to man the portals of heaven; and more than all others, ye princes and princesses, nobles descended from a long line of kings, lights of France, but to-day in gloom, and covered with your grief, as with a cloud,-come and see how little remains of a birth so august, a grandeur so high, a glory so dazzling ! Look around on all sides, and see all that magnificence and devotion can do to honor so great a hero ; titles and inscriptions, vain signs of that which is no more-shadows which weep around a tomb, fragile images of a grief which time sweeps away with everything else; colunins which appear as if they would bear to heaven the magnificent evidence of our emptiness; nothing, indeed, is wanting in all these honors but he to whom they are rendered! Weep then over these feeble remains of human life; weep over that mournful immortality we give to heroes.
But draw near, especially ye who run; with such ardor, the career of glory, intrepid and warrior spirits! Who was more worthy to command you, and in whom did ye find command more honorable ? Mourn then that great Captain, and weeping, say : “ Here is a man that led us through all hazards, under whom were formed so many renowned captains, raised by his example, to the highest honors of war; his shadow might yet gain battles ; and lo ! in his silence his very name animates us, and at the same time warns us, that to find, at death, some rest from our toils, and not arrive unprepared at our eternal dwelling, we must, with an earthly king, yet serve the King of Heaven.” Serve, then, that immortal and ever merciful King, who will value a sigh, or a cup of cold water, given in His name, more than all others will value the shedding of your blood. And begin to reckon the time of your useful services from the day on which you gave yourselves to so beneficent a Master. Will not ye too come, ye whom he honored by making you his friends ? To whatever extent you enjoyed this confidence, come all of you, and surround this tomb. Mingle your prayers with your tears; and while admiring, in so great a prince, a friendship so excellent, an intercourse so sweet, preserve the remembrance of a hero whose goodness equaled his courage. Thus may be ever prove your cherished instructor ; thus may you profit by his virtues ; and may his death, which you deplore, serve you at once for consolation and example.
LOUIS BOURDALOUE (1632-1704)
THE COURT PREACHER OF LOUIS XIV.
HE reign of Louis XIV. of France was distinguished by a
trio of eminent pulpit orators, among whom Bourdaloue was
one of the most esteemed. Louis was so charmed by his sermons that he said, he “ loved better to hear the repetitions of Bourdaloue than the novelties of any other preacher.” And Madame de Sévigné, in her inimitable letters, speaks of “his beautiful, his noble, his astonishing sermons.” Appointed court-preacher at Paris in 1669, for more than twenty years he preached during Lent and Advent.
THE PASSION OF CHRIST [One of the most famous of the sermons preached by Bourdaloue before King Louis, was that on the Passion of Christ. From this we select a passage sufficient to show how aptly and effectively he applied this topic to the prevailing sins of the court and the world.]
The Passion of Jesus Christ, however sorrowful and ignominious it may appear to us, must nevertheless have been to Jesus Christ himself an object of delight, since this God-man, by a wonderful secret of His wisdom and love, has willed that the mystery of it shall be continued and solemnly renewed in His Church until the final consummation of the world. For what is the Eucharist but a perpetual repetition of the Saviour's Passion, and what has the Saviour proposed in instituting it, but that whatever passed at Calvary is not only represented but consummated on our altars? That is to say, that He is still performing the functions of the victim anew, and is every moment virtually sacrificed, as though it were not sufficient that He should have suffered once. At least that His love, as powerful as it is free, has given to His adorable sufferings that character of perpetuity which they have in the Sacrament, and which renders them so salutary to Behold, Christians, what the love of a God has devised ; but behold,
also, what has happened through the malice of men ! At the same time that Jesus Christ, in the sacrament of His body, repeats His holy Passion in a manner altogether mysterious, men, the false imitators, or rather base corruptors, of the works of God, bave found means to renew this same Passion, not only in a profane, but in a criminal, sacrilegious, and horrible manner.
Do not imagine that I speak figuratively. Would to God, Christians, that what I am going to say to you were only a figure, and that you were justified in vindicating yourselves to-day against the horrible expressions which I am obliged to employ! I speak in the literal sense ; and you ought to be more affected with this discourse, if what I advance appears to you to be overcharged ; for it is by your excesses that it is so, and not by my words. Yes, my dear hearers, the sinners of the age, by the disorder of their lives, renew the bloody and tragic Passion of the Son of God in the world ; I will venture to say that the sinners of the age cause the Son of God, even in the state of glory, as many new passions as they have committed outrages against Him by their actions ! Apply yourselves to form an idea of them ; and in this picture, which will surprise you, recognize what you are, that you may weep bitterly over yourselves ! What do we see in the Passion of Jesus Christ ? A Divine Saviour betrayed and abandoned by cowardly disciples, persecuted by pontiffs and hypocritical priests, ridiculed and mocked in the palace of Herod by impious courtiers, placed upon a level with Barabbas, and to whom Barabbas is preferred by a blind and inconstant people, exposed to the insults of libertinism, and treated as a mocking by a troop of soldiers equally barbarous and insolent; in fine, crucified by merciless executioners. Behold, in a few words, what is most humiliating and most cruel in the death of the Saviour of the world! Then tell me if this is not precisely what we now see, of what we are every day called to be witnesses. Let us resume; and follow me.
Betrayed and abandoned by cowardly disciples : such, O Divine Saviour, has been Thy destiny. But it was not enough that the Apostles, the first men whom Thou didst choose for Thine own, in violation of the most holy engagement, should have forsaken Thee in the last scene of Thy life; that one of them should have sold Thee, another renounced Thee, and all disgraced themselves by a flight which was, perhaps, the most sensible of all the wounds that Thou didst feel in dying. This wound must be again opened by a thousand acts of infidelity yet more scandalous. Even in the Christian ages we must see men bearing the character of Thy disciples, and not having the resolution to sustain it; Christians, prevaricators, and deserters from their faith ; Christians