Lacordaire, Jean Baptiste Henri
Lacordaire, Jean Baptiste Henri, a noted Roman Catholic theologian of this century, the reviver of the Dominican order, and a most distinguished pulpit orator of modern France, was born at Recey-sur-Ource, in the department Cote-d'Or; March 12, 1802. He was educated for the legal profession, first at Dijon, where he obtained the highest honors, and afterwards (1822) at Paris, and in 1824 he began practice as an advocate, and rose rapidly to distinction. Lacordaire was at this time, like most of the youth of France, a Deist of the Voltaire school, but Lamennais' Essai sur l'incdiference, which fell into his hands, decided the youthful lawyer to devote himself thereafter to the cause of the Christian religion, which he felt satisfied must form the basis of all social life. He immediately abandoned his profession, and entered the College of St. Sulpice, and in 1827 received holy orders. Montalembert, Lacordaire's biographer, however, would have us believe that this sudden change from atheism to orthodox Christianity "was due to no man and to no book, but solely to a sudden impulse of grace, which opened his eyes to the sin and folly of irreligion." Shortly after his ordination he was offered the position of auditor of the rota at the court of Rome, an office which at once confers the title of monsignore, and is always a step to the episcopate, and often to a cardinal's hat; but he declined it peremptorily. His first appointment was that of almoner in the College of Hilly, also known as the College of Henry IV. Hers he became personally acquainted with the abbe Lamennais, and speedily the youthful priest and the learned theologian formed a close and intimate alliance, which was interrupted only by the departure of Lamennais from the Church in 1833. One of the first, and perhaps most important, results of the friendly alliance of these three men was the establishment, after the July revolution of 1830, of the Journal L'Avenir,
"an organ at once of the highest Church principles and of the most extreme radicalism." SEE LAMENNAIS. Count Montalembert has furnished us a life-like portrait of Lacordaire at this time; and, although much allowance must be made for the passionate exclamations of a friend, it deserves at least our notice. "It was in November, 1830, that I saw him for the first time in the cabinet of the abbe Lamennais, four months after a revolution which had appeared for a moment to confound in a common ruin the throne and the altar, and one month after the establishment of the Journal L'Avenir. That journal had for its motto ' God and Liberty !' It was the intention of the founders that it should regenerate Catholic opinion in France, and seal its union with liberal progress. ..... He was twenty-eight years of age; he was dressed as a layman, the state of Paris not then permitting priests to wear their clerical costume. His slender figure, his delicate and regular features, his chiselled forehead, the sovereign carriage of his head, his black and sparkling eye, an indescribable union of high spirit, elegance, and modesty in his whole appearance, were only the outward tokens of a soul which seemed ready to overflow, not merely in the free conflicts of public speaking, but in the effusions of intimate friendship. The brightness of his glance revealed at once treasures of indignation and of tenderness; it sought not merely enemies to combat and overthrow, but also hearts to win over and subdue. His voice, so vigorous and vibrating, took often accents of infinite sweetness. Born to combat and to love, he already bore the stamp of the double royalty of soul and of talent. He appeared to me charming and terrible, as the type of enthusiasm for good, of virtue armed in defence of the truth. I saw in him one of the elect, predestinated to all that youth most desires and adores — genius and glory." The articles published in the Avenir speedily provoked the displeasure of the episcopate, and an early opportunity was sought to bring the transgressors to grief. This was found in an intemperate attack written by Lacordaire against Louis Philippe. Both Lacordaire and Lamennais were cited before a jury for trial in January, 1831; the former, however, pleaded the cause of the journal with so much eloquence and ability that both the accused were acquitted. Thus encouraged, they adopted more vigorous measures to secure liberty of education, in the face of an energetic opposition from the university. They announced that they would open a free school in the French capital, and actually began teaching in May, 1831. The police, however, soon put an end to this bold movement, and, as one of their number was a count (Montalembert), they were accused before a court of peers, and fined 100 francs. A short time after the papal see openly declared its opposition to them by an encyclical censure which Gregory XVI issued Sept. 18, 1832. Rejecting all their dogmas, it declared " the whole idea of the regeneration of the Church absurd, liberty of conscience a delirium, freedom of the press fatal, and inviolable submission to the prince a maxim of faith." Even before this papal censure had been publicly proclaimed the three chief editors of L'Avenir had gone to Rome, to prevent, if possible, any severe measures on the part of the pope. It was at this time that Lamennais first decided to turn from the corruptions of Rome — from the corpse which he saw clearly it was in vain to attempt to resuscitate. Not so, however, was Lacordaire affected. His imagination had been vividly impressed by the imposing ceremonies and glorious traditions of the Romish Church, and he was prepared at once to submit to it " sicut cadaver." " The miseries, the infirmities," says Montalembert, in his biography of Lacordaire, "inseparable from the mingling of everything human with that which is divine, did not escape his notice, but they seemed to him as if lost in the mysterious splendor of tradition and authority. He the journalist, the citizen of 1830, he the democratic liberal, had comprehended at the first glance not only the inviolable majesty of the supreme pontificate, but its difficulties, its long and patient designs, its indispensable regard for men and things here below. The faith and the duty of the Catholic priest had at once elevated that noble heart above all the mists of pride, above all the seductions, all the temptations of talent, above all the intoxication of strife. With the penetration which faith and humility confer, he passed beforehand upon our pretensions the judgment which has been ratified by time, that great auxiliary of the Church and of truth. It was then, I venture to believe, that God marked him forever with the seal of his grace, and that he gave him the assurance of the reward due to the invincible fidelity of a truly priestly soul." Hereafter the man Lacordaire is lost in the churchman, the active and inquiring intellect confined, if not extinguished, by the official religion. His bondafide retractation of course drew upon him not only estrangement from his master, whose intellectual philosophy he had never really adopted, and whose retractation was never more than formal, but the reproach of worldliness. It was due in reality, however, to a precisely opposite cause. His heart was identified with the cause of the Church, and only his intellect with the Free-Church theory. "Do not let us chain our hearts to our ideas," he said quite earnestly: and he evidently felt the delight in submission which always accompanies a sacrifice of self for something one thinks higher and better than self. He thought he had detected a pride of systematic philosophy in the views of his master, Lamennais, and this had, he said, often galled and fretted him. He believed that the Church, in condemning Lamennais and his school, had delivered him (Lacordaire) " from the most terrible of all oppressions, that of the human intellect;" and henceforth, though tender and respectful to his master in the adversity of papal disfavor, he really loved the Church the better for having humbled himself before her decision, just as he would have loved God better for having bowed his own self-will to the divine volition. The Church, he held, was higher than his intellect. His spirit, he fancied, had gained in vital power by humbling his own intellect before the mind of the Church. And so he embraced the first opportunity that presented itself to convince the papal see of his sincerity. Lamennais had just appeared before the public in his Paroles d'un croyant, and the book was selling extensively, and finding a very large circle of readers. Here was an opportunity to break a lance in defence of Rome; and, though the attack in this instance had to be directed even against his own former master, he hesitated not to enter the lists. He replied to Lamennais' book by his Considerations sur le systeme philosophique de M. Lamennais, a work which proved a total failure, and which Montalembert, the associate of Lacordaire-his bosom apostate from Lamennais-is obliged to admit as having been anything but successful. New honors, notwithstanding, soon sought out the devoted adherent to the cause of the Ultramontanes, first (in 1833 and 1835) in the offer of the editorship of the journal L' Univers, then lately established to further the Ultramontane principles, and later in the proffer of a professor's chair at the University of Louvain. He desired none of these-the pulpit and the convent cell he had decided should be his future place of resort, " to speak and to write, to live a solitary and studious life " he says in a letter of 1833, " such is the wish of my whole soul." In the spring of 1833 he preached for the first time in public. It was in the great church of St.Roch, in Paris. "I was there," says M. Montalembert, "with MM. de Courcelles, Ampere, and some others, who must remember it as I do. He failed completely, and, coming out, every one said, ' This is a man of talent, but he never will be a preacher.' Lacordaire himself thought the same." His failure was very much like that of Sheridan, D'Israeli, Robert Hall, and many other orators-an incentive to become great. In the beginning of 1834 he delivered his famous Conferences in the College Stanislas, the humblest of the colleges of Paris, where he had been appointed as lecturer to the students, and where his failure at St. Roch was now recompensed by a great success, his audience oftentimes amounting to from 500 to 600 persons. In the year following (1835) we find him installed preacher at Notre Dame, and for once it was acknowledged that "France had a living preacher who knew how to fascinate the intellect, kindle the imagination, and touch the heart of the most cultivated and of the most illiterate. Whenever Lacordaire was announced to preach in Notre Dame the cathedral was surrounded, long before the doors were open, by an immense and heterogeneous crowd. Before he appeared in the pulpit, the vast nave, the aisles, and the side chapels were thronged with statesmen and journalists, members of the Academy and tradesmen, working-men and high-born women, sceptics, socialists, devout Catholics, and resolute Protestants, who were all compelled to surrender themselves for the time to the irresistible torrent of his eloquence" (R. W. Dale, in Contemporary Review, May, 1868, p. 2).
Only two years after his appointment to Notre Dame, Lacordaire suddenly fixed the wonder of the multitude again upon him by relinquishing the career of distinction which had so lately opened to him, and by journeying to Rome, "with the principal design," as he himself tells us in one of his letters, "of entering the Dominican order, with the accessory design of re- establishing it in France." This opens a new phase in the life of Lacordaire. " It was always the mark of Lacordaire's character," says a writer in the Spectator (Lond. Dec. 7, 1867), " that all his deepest feelings, like moral caustic, burnt inward, so that he complained from the beginning of life to the end that even the deepest friendship he knew led him not into society, but into solitude," and it is in solitude that his days are mainly spent after his sudden retreat from Notre Dame in 1837. Henceforth his " inner life" is a story of the inward progress of self-humiliations-self-crucifixions, as he called them, measuring them by the standard of Christ's sufferings. In the complete self-sacrifice of the monk, in the absolute life in God to which he now resigned himself, lhe believed he could alone find the true source of a new life for human society. If Christ's self-sacrifice was the source of human redemption, the orders which set forth that self-sacrifice most perfectly to the world contained the true life-blood of the world; and henceforth his life and that of his followers became one long passion of self-immolation, in which the spirit was trained by the sharpest voluntary penances to regulate every inward movement by the ideal of Christian humility or humiliation. What Lacordaire's biographer reverently calls "holv follies" were of daily occurrence. "Will you," he said one day on the Campagna to his disciple, pere Besson, " suffer something for the sake of him who has suffered so much for us?" and, showing him a thorn-bush, they both at once precipitated themselves into it, and came out covered with blood. How this was " suffering for Christ's sake" Lacordaire does not explain; but he seems to have thought that all suffering, needless or needful, voluntary or involuntary, was a lesson in love for Christ. "All his mysticism," says his biographer, "reduced itself to this one principle, to suffer; to suffer in order to expiate justice, and in order to prove love." And henceforth his life as a monk was a burning fire of religious passion and penance, all intended to teach him, as he thought, to enter more deeply into crucified love: "His thanksgiving after mass was generally short; in making it he most often experienced very ardent emotions of love to God, which he went to appease in the cell of one of his religious. He would enter with his countenance still radiant with the holy joy kindled at the altar; then, humbly kneeling before the religious, and kissing his feet, he would beg him to do him the charity of chastising him for the love of God. Then he would uncover his shoulders, and, whether willing or unwilling, the brother was obliged to give him a severe discipline. He would rise all bruised from his knees, and, remaining for a long time with his lips pressed to the feet of him who had scourged him, would give utterance to his gratitude in the most lively terms, and then withdraw with joy on his brow and in his heart. At other times, after receiving the discipline, he would beg the religious to sit down again at his table, and prostrating himself on the ground under his feet, he would remain there for a quarter of an hour, finishing his prayer in silence, and delighting himself in God, as he felt his head under the foot that humbled him. These penances were very often renewed, and those who were chosen to execute them did not resign themselves to the office without difficulty. It was a real penance to them, especially at first; they would willingly have changed places with him. But gradually they became used to it, and the father took occasion of this to require more, a.nd to make them treat him according to his wishes. Then they were obliged to strike him, to spit in his face, to speak to him as a slave. 'Go and clean my shoes; bring me such a thing; away with you, wretch i' and they had to drive him from them like a dog. The religious whom he selected to render him these services were those who were most at their ease with him; and he returned by preference to such as spared him least. His thirst for penances of this description appears the more extraordinary from the fact that his exceedingly delicate and sensitive temperament rendered them insupportably painful to him." To Protestants this sounds like the rehearsal of an unreal moral tragedy, a rehearsal which must have done far more to bewilder the minds of those who were guilty of these artificial, cruel, and unmeaning insults to one they loved and revered than to deepen his own love for his Lord. Yet in scenes like these were fostered the roots of his life as a Dominican friar-the spirit less of a modern Catholic thinker than of a mediaeval monk. But if his change to a monastic seclusion from the turmoils of Paris life must appear strange to a Protestant reader, greater still will ever be the task to explain how this advocate of liberty of conscience and the impropriety of the interference of the civil power for the punishment of heretics could find it in his heart to resuscitate an order which has more crimes and cruelties to answer for than even the infamous sect of the Assassins-an order whose founder was the very incarnation of persecution. Just here also it may not be out of place to allude to the uncritical manner in which Lacordaire composed a life of St. Dominic -the founder of the Inquisition-entirely ignoring all those historians who have detailed and proved the atrocious cruelties perpetrated by that saint and his followers (Vie de Saint Doniniquce, Paris, 1840-4, 8vo).
In 1840, after a three-years' novitiate in the convent of Quercia, Lacordaire took the vows of the order of St. Dominic, and in 1841, with shaved head and clad in the white robe of his order, which had not been seen in France for half a century, he once more ascended the pulpit of Notre Dame. From this time his voice was frequently heard within the walls of that great cathedral of the capital of the French, as well as in many other parts of France. Thus, in 1847, he preached in the cathedral church of Nancy the funeral sermon of general Drouot, by many (e.g. Ste.-Beuve) pronounced a masterpiece of pulpit oratory. In the first election which succeeded the Revolution of 1848 he was chosen one of the representatives of Marseilles, and took part in some of the debates in the Assembly; but he resigned in the following May, and withdrew entirely from political life. In 1849, and again in 1850 and 1851, he resumed his courses at Notre Dame. To immense audiences, such as no orator in France had ever been able to call together before, he delivered in these eventful years a series of discourses on the communion of man with God, on the fall and the restoration of man, and on the providential economy of the restoration, which, together with earlier discourses, have been collected in three volumes, under the title of Conf/renzces ude Notre Dame de Paris (1835-50; a selection! was published in English dress by Henry Langdon, N. York, 1871, 8vo). His last public discourse at Paris he delivered at St. Roch in February, 1853.
To some of his remarks the imperial government took exception; and Lacordaire, finding himself restricted in that freedom of speech of which he had been throughout life a steady and powerful defender, never again preached in Paris; but at Toulouse-the birthplace of St. Dominic and the burial place of St. Aquinas — he delivered in 1854 six discourses on life- the life of the passions, the moral life, the supernatural life, and the influence of the supernatural life on the public and private life of man- which his biographer (Montalembert) pronounces "the most eloquent, the most irreproachable of all." Offered the direction of the school and convent of Soreze, he withdrew to that noted retreat of the Dominicans, and there died, Nov. 21, 1861. Besides the works alluded to-the Conferences and Considerations philosophiques - Lacordaire wrote a Memoire pour le retablissement en France de l'ordre desfreres precheurs (1840). His correspondence with Madame Swetchine (by Falloux, 1864), with Montalembert (1863), and with a young friend (by l'abbe Perreire, 1863), as well as all his other writings, were published as Guvres completes in 1851,1858, and 1861, in 6 vols. 8vo and 12mo. He was elected a member of the Academy in 1860 as successor to M. de Tocqueville, upon whom he pronounced a eulogy-the customary inaugural address-which was his last public address.
Of the ability Lacordaire displayed in his works a writer in the Brit. and For. Evang. Rev. (Oct. 1863), p. 726 sq., thus comments: "As a writer, Lacordaire has not the slightest pretensions to compete with Lamennais, one of the greatest writers of French prose. His loose, declamatory, theatrical style is in every respect far inferior to the simple, grand, nervous eloquence of Lamennais. We also venture to affirm that, in too many of his discourses, instead of explaining the Word of God simply and familiarly to the people, he goes out of his way to attack what he terms the prevailing doubt and scepticism of the age, and attempts to guide his hearers to a positive divine faith by the utter annihilation of the natural reason. In many of his discourses, too, he falsifies history for the purpose of making it coincide with his Romanist prejudices. He absolutely refuses to recognise any good whatever in former systems of religion and philosophy. Without the pale of the Romish Church all is evil, within it everything is good. As to human reason, he cannot endure it. ' That which at present ruins everything,' he says, ' that which causes the world to ride insecurely at anchor, is the reason.' 'Our intelligence appears to me like a ship without sails or masts on an unknown sea.' 'Societies are tottering when the thinkers take them in hand, and the precise moment of their downfall is that wherein they announced to them that the intellect is emancipated.' And while human reason is thus summarily condemned, the infallibility of the Church is asserted and defended in the most absolute manner. ' The Catholic doctrine,' he says, ' resolves all questions, and takes from them even the quality of questions. We have no longer to reason, which is a great blessing, for we are not here to reason, but to act, and to build up in time a work for eternity."'
See Montalembert, Le Pere Lacordaire (Paris, 1862, 8vo); Lomenie, Le Pere Lacordaire (1844); Lorrain, Biographie historique de Lacordaire (1847); Chocarne, Innere Life of Pere Lacordaire (transl. by Father Aylward; Lond. and New York, 1867, 8vo); Villard, Corrnespondence inedite et bioracphie (Par. 1870, 8vo) ; Kirwan, Modern France (1863); and the Revze des dexu Mondes, May 1,1861: Sain te-Beuve, Causeries du Luudi, i, 208 sq.; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. Oct. 1863, art. iii; Contemporary Rev. May, 1868, art. i. NI. Edmond Scherer, in the Literature Contenzporaine, also treated of pere Lacordaire, but with special regard to his ability as a writer. His estimate of the noted Dominican is rather unfavorable, perhaps even unjust. Of the discourses of Lacordaire, he maintains that they are " unreadable" (p. 166). See also Blackwood's Magazine, Feb. 1863; Lond. Quart. Review, July, 1864. (J. H. W.)