Massillon, Jean Baptiste
Massillon, Jean Baptiste, prominent among the most eloquent divines of the French Roman Catholic Church, was born at Hieres, in Provence, June 24, 1663. His father was a notary in moderate circumstances, and at first intended his son for the same profession, but subsequently allowed him to receive the instructions of the Fathers of the Oratory, and when eighteen years of age the young man joined that order. Soon after, forsaking the world altogether, he entered an abbey under the rule of La Trappe. Here, however, his talents attracted the attention of the bishop, afterwards cardinal de Noailles, who induced him to re-enter the Oratory, in which he soon achieved great eminence. Yet his success was more the fruit of labor than of spontaneous genius, and his last efforts are much superior to his first. In 1696 he went to Paris as principal of the Seminary of St. Magloire, the renowned school of the Oratory. Here, in the midst of the prevailing laxity of morals, he commenced his career as a pulpit orator, the delivery of his "Ecclesiastical conferences" to ecclesiastical students affording him an opportunity of developing his talent. He admired the austere eloquence of Bourdaloue, but chose for himself a different style, characterized by profound pathos, and an insight into the most secret motives of the human heart. He was shortly noted as the preacher of repentance and penitence; and it was declared by able contemporaries of his sermons that "they reach the heart, and produce their due effects with much more certainty than all the logic of Bourdaloue." He delivered the customary Lent sermons at Montpellier in 1698, and the following year at Paris. The latter were warmly applauded, and induced the king to invite Massillon to preach the "Advent" at court. On this occasion king Louis XIV paid him the highest compliments. He said, "I have heard many talented preachers in my chapel before, and was much pleased with them; but every time I hear you, I feel much displeased with myself." He again preached the Lent sermons before the court during the years 1701 to 1704, but afterwards he received no calls to appear before them until the death of the king: so fearless and plain-spoken a preacher would have been ill suited to the gallant and profligate court of "the great king." At the death of Louis XIV, Massillon was requested to preach his funeral sermon; in other words, to pronounce a eulogy of this prince. This was an arduous task for the uncourtierlike preacher; yet he undertook it, and in his discourse lauded the fame and piety of the king, yet deplored the evils suffered by the nation in consequence of the wars and the looseness of morals. Invited now to preach the Lent sermons before the young king, Louis XV, then but eight years of age, he took advantage of the occasion to censure the manners of the court; and morality, rather than the passion of Christ, formed the subject of his sermons. These are tell in number, and being short, to accommodate them to the youth of his royal hearer, are known under the name of Le petite carenie. In 1717 Massillon became bishop of Clermont. and in 1719 member of the French Academy. Two years after he preached at St. Denis the funeral sermon of the duchess Elizabeth Charlotte of Orleans, daughter of the elector of Palatinate, and mother of the regent. This is considered one of the best of his six Oraisons Funebres. Thereafter he remained quietly in his diocese, diligently fulfilling his pastoral duties until his death. Less ambitious than Bossuet, he did not wish to remain connected with the court, or in any way to take part in temporal affairs. His life was a model of Christian virtue and gentleness; he never disputed against any but infidels, and the Roman Catholics will not forgive him for having, in his eulogy of Louis XIV, after praising this monarch for his efforts to destroy heresy, alluded to the massacre of St. Bartholomew's eve and pronounced it a bloody wrong, to be ever condemned in the name of religion as well as of humanity. Preaching from the fulless of his heart, he did not consider the rank of those lie addressed, but spoke to them with nobleness of purpose in all simplicity and fervor. He carefully instructed the clergy of his diocese by holding numerous conferences and by synodal discourses. He died Sept. 18,1742. D'Alembert pronounced his eulogy before the French Academy.
The fame of this celebrated man stands perhaps higher than that of any preacher who has preceded or followed him, by the number, variety, and excellence of his productions, and their eloquent and harmonious style. Grace, dignity, and force, and an inexhaustible fecundity of resources, particularly characterize his works. His A vent et Carerme, consisting of six volumes, may be justly considered as so many "chef-d'oeuvres." His mode of delivery contributed not a little to his success. "We seem to behold him still in imagination," said they who had been fortunate enough to attend his discourses, "with that simple air, that modest carriage, those eyes so humbly directed downwards, that unstudied gesture. that touching tone of voice, that look of a man fully impressed with the truths which he enforced, conveying the most brilliant instruction to the mind, and the most pathetic movements to the heart." The famous actor, Baron, after hearing him, told him to continue as he had begun. "You," said he, "have a manner of your own; leave the rules to others." At another time he said to an actor who was with him, "My friend, this is the true orator; we are mere players." Voltaire is said to have kept a volume of Massillon's sermons constantly on his desk, as a model of eloquence. He thought him "the preacher who best understood the world — whose eloquence savored of the courtier, the academician, the wit, and the philosopher." Massillon's works, consisting mainly of sermons, have been collected and published under the title (Euves completes (Paris, 1776, 15 vols. 12mo). In English we have, Sermons on the Duties of the Great, translated from the French; preached before Louis XV during his minority; by William Dodd, LL.D. (Lond. 1776, 2d ed. sm. 8vo): — Sermons, selected and translated by William Dickson (Lond. 1826, 8vo): — Charges, with two Essays, translated by T'heophilus St. John [the Rev. S. Clapham] (Lond. 1805, 8vo): — Sermons on Death, Ps 89:47, translated (T. Wimbolt, Sermons): — Ecclesiastical Conferences, Synodical Discourses, and Episcopal Mandates, etc., translated by C. H. Boylan, of Mavnooth College (1825, 2 vols. 8vo). See La Harpe, Cours de Litterat.; Maury, Eloquence de la Chaire; F. Theremin, Demosthenes und Meissillon (1845); D'Alembert, Eloge de Malssillon; Sainte-Beuve, Causeries de Lundi; Talbert, Eloge de Massillon (1773); Hoefer, Nouv. Liog. Generale, s.v.; Christian Remembrancer, 1854 (Jan.), p. 104; Presb. Rev. 1868 (April), p. 295. (J. H.W.)