Bossuet, Jacques Beinigne

Bossuet, Jacques Beinigne, bishop of Meaux, was horn at Dijon, Sept. 27, 1627, of an eminent legal family. He studied first at Dijon, under the Jesuits, and thence proceeded to Paris, where he soon surpassed his teachers by his acquirements. He took the doctor's bonnet May 16, 1652, and in the same year was received into priest's orders. He passed some time in retreat at St. Lazare, and afterward removed to Metz, of which cathedral he was canon. During his frequent visits to Paris on affairs connected with the chapter of Metz, he preached often with marvellous effect. His sermons were almost entirely extempore; he took to the pulpit a few notes on paper, but a mind filled, by previous meditation, with his subject. From 1660 to 1669 Bossuet gradually rose to his high pitch of eminence among the divines of the Gallican Church. During that period he composed his celebrated Exposition de la doctrine Catholique, which had to wait nine years for the pope's "imprimatur." The points on which he chiefly lays stress are the antiquity and unity of the Catholic Church; the accumulated authorities of fathers, councils, and popes; and the necessity of a final umpire in matters of doctrine and discipline. On all these points, however, he was ably answered by the venerable John Claude and other ministers of the French Calvinists, as well as by Archbishop Wake, who, in his "Exposition of the Doctrine of the Church of England," exposes much management and artifice in the suppression and alteration of Bossuet's first edition. In 1669 he was nominated to the see of Condom; and it was about this time that his celebrated Funeral Discourses were delivered. These sermons are only six in number, but, according to Laharpe, "ce sont des chefs-d'ceuvre d'une eloquence qui ne pouvait pas avoir de modele dans l'antiquite, et que personne na egalee depuis." But, in truth, these "orations are rather masterpieces of rhetorical skill than specimens of Christian preaching." The king having, in 1670, appointed him preceptor of the dauphin, Bossuet resigned his bishopric, his duties at court being incompatible with his ideas of what the episcopal office demanded of him. His office with the dauphin being completed in 1681, he was presented to the see of Meaux, and in the following year produced his Traite de la Communion sous les deux Especes. In 1688 appeared the Histoire des Variations de l'iglise Protestante. The first five books narrate the rise and progress of the Reformation in Germany; the 6th treats of the supposed sanction given by Luther and Melancthon to the adulterous marriage of the Landgrave of Hesse; the 7th and 8th books contain the ecclesiastical history of England during the reigns of Henry VIII and of Edward VI, and a continuation of that of Germany. The French Calvinists are discussed in book 9, and the assistance afforded to them by Queen Elizabeth, on the avowed principle that subjects might levy war against their sovereign on account of religious differences (a doctrine which Bossuet asserts to have been inculcated by the reformers), forms the groundwork of book 10. Book 11 treats of the Albigenses and other sects from the 9th to the 12th centuries, who are usually esteemed precursors of the reformed. Books 12 and 13 continue the Huguenot history till the synod of Gap. Book 14 gives an account of the dissensions at Dort, Charenton, and Geneva; and book 15 and last endeavors to prove the divine authority, and therefore the infallibility of the true Church, and to exhibit the marks by which Rome asserts her claim to that title. Basnage, Jurieu, and Bishop Burnet replied to the Variations, but perhaps the sharpest reply is Archbishop Wake's (given in Gibson's Preservative against Popery), in which Bossuet is convicted not merely of inaccuracy, but also of false quotations. In 1689 Bossuet published the Explication de l'Apocalypse, and in the same year the first of the Avertissemens aux Protestans; the five others followed in the subsequent year. These Avertissemens are replies to the pastoral letters of Jurieu, attacking the Histoire des Variations. While the bishop was writing these replies the general answer to the Variations by Basnage appeared, to which he rejoined in his Defense des Variations in 1694. In all these works he wrote with great earnestness against Protestantism, although he was no advocate for the infallibility of the pope, or his power of deposing kings, both which pretensions he zealously opposed in his elaborate defence of the Four Articles promulgated in the celebrated assembly of the Gallican clergy in 1682, as containing the view held by the French Church on the papal authority. SEE GALLICAN CHURCH. It was written in 1683-84, but was not published until 1730, when it appeared at Luxembourg, in two vols. 4to, and has since been inserted in the Index Prohibitorius: it is entitled Defensio Declarationis celeberrimce quam de Potestate Ecclesiastica sanxit Clerus Gallicanus 19 Martii, 1682. Bossuet refused the cardinal's hat, which was offered him by Pope Innocent XI as an inducement for him to remain silent on those points. He died at Paris, April 12, 1704. His complete works have often been published; the best editions are those of Paris, 1825, 59 vols. 12mo, and 1836, 12 vols. royal 8vo. A complete list of his works is given in Biog. Univ. v, 237, and by Darling, Cyclop. Bibliog. i, 372 sq. Bossuet's intellect was undoubtedly one of the grandest which has ever adorned the Roman Church. His sermons, most of which were never fully written out by himself, abound in noble thoughts, expressed in vigorous and elevated language. But his assaults on Protestantism are often as unfair and unjust as they are violent. His treatment of Fenelon (q.v.), and his personal share in persecuting the Protestants of France, will always remain a blot upon his fame (see, especially, Methodist Quarterly Review, Jan. 1866, p. 127). The best life of him (which, nevertheless, is more a panegyric than a biography) is by Bausset, Hist. de Bossuet (Paris, 1828, 5th ed. 4 vols. 12mo), with Tabarand, Supplment aux histoires de Bossuet et de Fenelon (Paris, 1822, 8vo). There is also an English life by C. Butler, in his Works, vol. iii. The History of Variations, in English, appeared in Dublin, 1829 (2 vols. 8vo). See Quarterly Review, 10:409; Christian Remembrancer, 27:118; Hare, Vindication of Luther, p. 16, 272; English Cyclopedia, s.v.; Poujoulat, Lettres sur Bossuet (Paris, 1854); Landon, Ecclesiastical Dictionary, ii, 350.

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