Page images
PDF
EPUB

LOUIS BOURDALOUE (1632–1704)

THE COURT PREACHER OF LOUIS XIV.

HE reign of Louis XIV. of France was distinguished by a T 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 2 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 us. Behold, Christians, what the love of a God has devised ; but behold,

LOUIS BOURDALOUE 447

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, have found means to renew this same Passion, not only in a profane, but in a criminal, sacrilegious, and horrible 111a11116 r. 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 2 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

448 LOUIS BOURDALOUE

ashamed of declaring themselves for Thee, not daring to appear what they are, renouncing at least in the exterior what they have professed, flying when they ought to fight; in a word, Christians in form, ready to follow Thee, even to the Supper, when in prosperity and while it required no sacrifice, but resolved to abandon Thee in the amount of temptation. It is on your account, and my own, my dear hearers, that I speak, and behold what ought to be the subject of our sorrow. Remember, but with fear and horror, that the greatest persecutors of Jesus Christ are not lay libertines, but wicked priests; and that among the wicked priests those whose corruption and iniquity are covered with the veil of hypocricy are His most dangerous and cruel enemies. A hatred disguised under the name of zeal, and covered with the specious pretext of observance of the law, was the first movement of the persecution which the Pharisees and the priests raised against the Son of God. Let us fear lest the same passion should blind us! “Wretched passion,” exclaims Saint Bernard, “which spreads the venom of its malignity even over the most lovely of the children of men, and which could not see a God upon earth without hating Him ''' A hatred not only of prosperity and happiness, but what is yet more strange, of the merit and perfection of others | A cowardly and shameful passion, which, not content with having caused the death of Jesus Christ, continues to persecute Him by rending His mystical body, which is the Church ; dividing His members, which are believers; and stifling in their hearts that charity which is the spirit of Christianity Behold, my brethren, the subtle temptation against which we have to defend ourselves, and under which it is but too common for us to fall ! A Redeemer reviled and mocked in the palace of Herod by the impious creatures of his court | This was, without doubt, one of the most sensible insults which Jesus Christ received. But do not suppose, Christians, that this act of impiety ended there. It has passed from the court of Herod, from that prince destitute of religion, into those even of Christian princes. And is not the Saviour still a subject of ridicule to the libertine spirits which compose them 2 They worship Him externally, but internally how do they regard His maxims ? What idea have they of His humility, of His poverty, and of His sufferings 2 Is not virtue either unknown or despised ? It is not a rash zeal which induces me to speak in this manner; it is what you too often witness, Christians; it is what you perhaps feel in yourselves; and a little reflection upon the manners of the court will convince you that there is nothing that I say which is not confirmed by a thousand examples, and that you yourselves are sometimes unhappy accomplices in these crimes.

FRANCOIS FENELON (1651-1715)
THE MASTER OF FRENCH ELOQUENCE

graceful oratory than François de Salignac de la Motte Fénelon, Archbishop de Cambray, to give him his full title. He shared with Bossuet and Bourdaloue the honor of being one of the three great orators of the classic age of Louis XIV. Though an ecclesiastic and a pulpit orator of the finest powers, as an author he occupied largely the secular field, producing a number of works, of which much the most famous is the admirable “Les Aventures de Télémaque,” still one of the most popular works in the French language. Appointed by Louis XIV. preceptor to his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy and heir to the throne, Fénelon wrote several works for the benefit of his pupil, one of them being “Télémaque.” This brought him into disgrace with Louis, who regarded it as a satire on his despotic rule. But Fénelon, though banished from court, made himself felt from his archbishopric of Cambray, and was honored for virtue and wisdom throughout Europe. La Bruyère says: “We feel the power and ascendency of his rare genius, whether he preaches without preparation, or pronounces a studied discourse, or explains his thoughts in conversation.” Mathews says of his eloquence: “What cultivated man needs to be told of the sweet persuasions that dwelt upon the tongue of the Swan of Cambray?”

F RANCE has produced no more consummate master of the art of

GOD REVEALED IN NATURE

[From one of Fénelon's discourses we copy the following treatment of the ofthandled subject that the system of Nature yields indubitable evidence of the hand of a Creator. There is nothing original in his argument, but the subject is effectively handled.] 29 - 449

450 FRANCOIS FENELON

I cannot open my eyes without discovering the skill that everything in nature displays. A single glance enables me to perceive the hand that has made all things. Men accustomed to meditate upon abstract truths, and recur to first principles, recognize the Divinity by the idea of Him they find in their minds. But the more direct this road is, the more it is untrodden and neglected by common men, who follow their own imagination. It is so simple a demonstration, that from this very cause it escapes those minds incapable of a purely intellectual operation. And the more perfect this way of discovering the Supreme Being is, the fewer are the minds that can follow it. But there is another method less perfect, but more nearly adapted to the capacity of all. Those who exercise their reason the least, those who are the most affected by their senses, may, at a single glance, discover Him who is represented in all His works. The wisdom and power that God has manifested in everything He has made reflect the name as in a mirror of Him whom they have not been able to discover in their own minds. This is a popular philosophy addressed to the senses, which every one, without prejudice or passion, is capable of acquiring.

A man whose heart is entirely engaged in some grand concern might pass many days in a room, attending to his affairs, without seeing either the proportions of the room, the ornaments on the chimney, or the pictures that surrounded him. All these objects would be before his eyes, but he would not see them, and they would make no impression upon him. Thus it is that men live. Everything presents God to them, but they do not see Him. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him; and, nevertheless, the world has not known Him. They pass their lives without seeing this representation of the Deity, so completely do the fascinations of life obscure their vision. Saint Augustine says that the wonders of the universe are lowered in our estimation by their repetition. Cicero says the same thing : “Forced to view the same things every day, the mind as well as the eye is accustomed to them. It does not admire nor take any pains to discover the cause of events that it always observes to take place in just the same way; as if it were the novelty rather than the grandeur of a thing that should lead us to this investigation.” But all nature shows the infinite skill of its author. I maintain that accident, that is, a blind and fortuitous succession of events, could never have produced all we see. It is well to adduce here one of the celebrated comparisons of the ancients.

Who would believe that the “Iliad' of Homer was not composed by the efforts of a great poet, but that the characters of the alphabet, being thrown confusedly together, an accidental stroke had placed the letters precisely in such relative positions as to produce verses so full of harmony

« PreviousContinue »