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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? 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? 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
RANCE has produced no more consummate master of the art of
graceful oratory than François de Salignac de la Motte Féne
lon, 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?”
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.]
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
and variety, painting each object with all that was most noble, most graceful, and most touching in its features ; in fine, making each person speak in character and with such spirit and nature? Let any one reason with as much subtlety as he may, he would persuade no man in his senses that the “Iliad” had no author but accident. Why, then, should a man possessing his reason believe with regard to the universe, a work unquestionably more wonderful than the “Iliad,” what his good sense will not allow him to regard of this poem ?
[The speaker draws some other illustrations from nature and the works of man, and then considers the soul of man and the mystery of its action and effect upon the body. He concludes as follows :]
The power of the soul over the body, which is so absolute, is at the same time a blind oue. The most ignorant man moves his body as well as the best instructed anatomist. The player on the flute who perfectly understands all the chords of his instrument, who sees it with his eyes and touches it with his fingers, often makes mistakes. But the soul that governs the mechanism of the human body can move every spring without seeing it, without understanding its figure, or situation, or strength; and never mistakes. How wonderful is this ! My soul commands what it does not know, what it cannot see, and what it is incapable of knowing, and is infallibly obeyed ! How great its ignorance and how great its power! The blindness is ours, but the power—where is it? To whom shall we attribute it, if not to Him who sees what man cannot see, and gives him the power to perform what passes his own comprehension.
Let the universe be overthrown and annihilated, let there be no minds to reason upon these truths, they will still remain equally true; as the rays of the sun would be no less real if men should be blind and not see them. “In feeling assured,” says Saint Augustine, “ that two and two make four, we are not only certain that we say what is true, but we have no doubt that this proposition has been always, and will continually and eternally be true.”
Let man then admire what he understands, and let him be silent when he cannot comprehend. There is nothing in the universe that does. not equally bear these two opposite characters, the stamp of the Creator and the mark of the nothingness from which it is drawn, and into which it may at any moment be resolved.
JEAN BAPTISTE MASSILLON (1663-1742)
THE FAMOUS BISHOP OF CLERMONT
MONG the pulpit orators of France, Massillon holds a place of
high celebrity. A native of Provence, his life was chiefly
spent in Paris, where, after the death of Bossuet and Bourdaloue, he was esteemed the ablest of preachers. He preached before Louis XIV., delivered the funeral sermon of the great monarch, and in 1715, after being made Bishop of Clermont, preached before the new king what is considered his masterpiece, the Lent sermon, called “ Petit-Carême.” Massillon's diction was simple and unaffected, while he was a master of pathos and knew how to penetrate to the depths of the human heart. Voltaire kept a volume of his sermons constantly on his desk, as a model of eloquence, and thought him " the preacher who best understood the world.” Louis XIV. gave strong testimony to the power and independence of spirit of Massillon in his remark : "Other preachers make me pleased with them, but Massillon makes me displeased with myself.”
THE INIQUITY OF EVIL SPEAKING [As an example of Massillon's style we offer the following brief extract from one of his sermons, in which the harm of which the human tongue is capable, when turned to evil speech, is vividly portrayed.]
The tongue, says the Apostle James, is a devouring fire, a world of iniquity, an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. And behold what I would have applied to the tongue of the evil speaker, had I undertaken to give you a just and natural idea of all the enormity of this vice; I would have said that the tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain, equally as on the chaff; on the profane, as on the sacred ; which, wherever it i