Maury, John Siffrein

Maury, John Siffrein a French prelate, and noted also as a pulpit orator, was born June 26, 1746, at Vaureas, in the Venaissin, of poor but respectable parents. He displayed at a very early age great eagerness for learning, and being destined by his parents for the ecclesiastical profession, he was placed at the Seminary of St. Garde, at Avignon, to pursue his theological studies. About 1766 he proceeded to Paris, in the expectation of earning a subsistence by the cultivation of his talents. Though he was without friends in that city, his first publication attracted considerable notice. Encouraged by this early success he took orders, and devoted himself to the study of pulpit eloquence. In 1772 an Eloge on Fenelon, which he published, was favorably received by the French Academy, and caused him to be appointed vicar-general of the bishop of Lombez. He however soon returned to Paris, where he became very popular as a preacher. A panegyric of St. Louis, which he delivered before the French Academy, and one of St. Augustine before an assembly of the clergy, met with so much success that king Louis XVI appointed him preacher to the court, and presented him with the living of the abbey Frenade, in the diocese of Saintes. In 1785 he delivered his panegyric on St. Vincent de Paul, which is esteemed a masterpiece; shortly after he had the honor to be chosen a member of the Academy in the place of the lyric poet Lefranc de Pompignan, and the following year the valuable benefice of the priory of Lioris was conferred upon him. At the assembly of the States-General in 1789 he was named deputy of the clergy for the bailiwick of Peronne, and soon took a prominent part in the debates. From the first he enlisted himself on the aristocratic side, where his energetic eloquence and peculiar talent at reply rendered him a formidable antagonist to Mirabeau. His impressive and impassioned oratory, though it expressed opinions hostile to the great majority of the assembly, was often listened to with admiration and greeted with applause. His great moral courage and firm adherence to the principles which he had adopted, and which, in spite of the most violent opposition and in the face of the greatest danger, he earnestly advocated, secured for him the respect and esteem of the more enlightened portion of his enemies. November 27, 1790, a decree was passed in the National Assembly, by which every ecclesiastic in the kingdom was required to take an oath to maintain with all his power the new constitution; and, in case of any priest's refusal, it was declared that he should be held to have renounced his benefices. To this constitution the pope had refused his sanction, on account of its hostility to the interests of the Church, and the oath was indignantly refused by the great majority of the clergy. When the day arrived for the taking it by the bishops and clergy of the Assembly, an infuriated mob surrounded the hall, threatening death to all who should refuse. On this occasion also Maury displayed his usual intrepidity, and boldly advocated the independence of his order. "Strike, but hear me," was his exclamation, when the last efforts of his impassioned eloquence in that Assembly were interrupted by the incessant cries of his political antagonists. At the close of the stormy session of the National Assembly, Maury, who could lend no further aid to the prostrate cause of royalty and religion, quitted his native country, and, at the invitation of Pius VI, took up his residence at Rome. He was there received with the highest distinction, and the loss of his benefices in France was more than compensated by his speedy elevation to the highest positions in the gift of the Roman Church. In 1792 he was named archbishop of Nicaea "in partibus infidelium," and afterwards appointed apostolical nuncio to the diet held at Frankfort for the election of the emperor Francis II. This mission accomplished, in 1794 he was elevated to the dignity of a cardinal, and was instituted to the united sees of Monte-Fiascone and Corneto. On the invasion of Italy by the French in 1798, though every effort was made to seize cardinal Maury, he escaped under disguise to Venice, where he assisted at the conclave assembled for the election of Pius VII. In 1799 he returned to Rome upon the conquest of Italy by Suwarrow, and was accredited as ambassador to his exiled king, Louis XVIII, at that time a resident of Mittan. This office he resigned on the reconciliation of the Church of Rome with the government of France under Napoleon (in 1804); thereafter he embraced the cause of the first consul, and was permitted to return to France. This position, which was deemed not to be in unison with the tenor of his former conduct, subjected him in after times to the reproaches and persecutions of the party whom he had served with so much personal hazard. Napoleon gladly received the approaches of so distinguished a member of the Church whose establishment he was restoring in France; an interview took place between them at Genoa, and in May, 1806, Maury reappeared at Paris. The flattering reception he there met with was calculated to attach him to the interests of this chief, who admitted him to his intimacy, and availed himself of his counsels in ecclesiastical matters. He received the pension assigned to the dignity of a French cardinal, and was appointed first almoner of Jerome Bonaparte. In 1807 he was elected a member of the Institute in the place of Target, one of the advocates of the unfortunate Louis XVI. His acceptance in 1810 of the archbishopric of Paris subjected him to the displeasure of Pius VII, between whom and Napoleon there had arisen much disagreement. Cardinal Maury was a warm and sincere admirer of the emperor, and he not only espoused his cause in the disputes with the head of the Church, but took every occasion, which the frequent victories of this chief afforded him, of testifying his gratitude by expressions of admiration in his mandates to the clergy of his diocese. These mandates, written in a style of the most florid eloquence, do not remind us of the impressive and energetic orator of the National Assembly: they were severely criticized by the adherents of the ancient regime, and by the witty frequenters of the Parisian saloons, who styled them "archiepiscopal despatches," in allusion to their military tone, and their imitation of the style and manner of Napoleon's bulletins. After the capitulation of Paris on the 30th of March, 1814, Maury was deprived by the Bourbons of the administration of his diocese; and, in their resentment for his adherence to Napoleon's fortunes, they forgot his former daring and powerful support of their tottering throne. He then returned to Rome, where he was imprisoned during one year by the orders of the pope; he was afterwards allowed to live in retirement on a pension which was given to him in compensation for his resignation of the see of Monte Fiascone. In this retirement, deeply affected by the ingratitude of his former party, and that of the pontiff, to whose elevation he had been instrumental, he died on the 11th of May, 1817. "Notwithstanding his extraordinary eloquence," says the duchess of Abrantes, who knew him intimately, "the abbe Maury had been before the Revolution, what he was in proscription, what he continued under the empire, a man of talent rather than a man of sense, and a curate of the time of the League, rather than an abbe of the reign of Louis XIV." She adds that his figure was in the highest degree disagreeable, but the description she gives of it appears rather a caricature than a portrait. His principal work, Essais sur l'Eloquence de la Chaire (3 vols. 8vo), published after his death by his nephew, Louis Siffrein Maury, still maintains its well-merited popularity. His mind was formed to appreciate the eloquence of Massillon, Bossuet, and Bourdaloue, and his criticisms on the other French divines are in general as correct as they are temperate. In his review, however, of English pulpit oratory, he manifests a want of acquaintance with the writings of its most celebrated preachers, such as Jeremy Taylor, Sherlock, and Barrow. He selected Blair as the best model of English eloquence, and the comparison which he draws between him and Massillon is necessarily most unfavorable to Blair. His own panegyric of St. Augustine is esteemed one of the finest pieces of French pulpit eloquence. He is also supposed, conjointly with the abbe de Boismont, to be the author of a work entitled Lettres sur l'Etat actuel de la Religion et du Clerge en France. See Vie du Cardinal Maury (1827), by Poujoulat; Le Cardinal Maury, sa Vie et ses OEuvres (1855); Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, s.v.; Monthly Review, vol. 69 (1812), Appendix; English Cyclop s.v.

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