Images de page

by deep searchings into himself. Though but one man, he seemed to be the whole world in himself. He preserved his reputation unchecked until death, and preached at the Court and in Paris for thirty-four years, during which time he was heard with equal delight by rich and by poor. His eloquence being natural and true, it pleased all tastes and all times. Touched with his preaching, many came to him to unburden their souls in confession, and to seek from him spiritual direction. He did not reject these; but, on the contrary, he thought nothing better than to cultivate what he had planted, and to bring to perfection in the confessional what he had excited in the pulpit. In the direction of consciences, his advice was solid, neither too rigorous nor too indulgent. He knew how to instruct every condition of life in its own duties, and was firm without regard to quality or rank. For four and six hours a day would he be employed in this most fatiguing work of the confessional, peculiarly restraining to one of his natural vivacity. He gave himself up to benefit all states and conditions of life,—the sick, the poor, and entered into their smallest wants with interest and sympathy. The more his great fame deterred some from venturing to consult him, the more he courted them, and went to seek them that he might soften their misfortunes. To the dying his vigilance was doubled. He did not waste their precious moments in vague and useless discourse, but truly and earnestly brought all his vast knowledge of the human heart to aid in preparing each soul to meet its Judge.' Nor in thinking of others did he forget himself. Success did not dazzle him, but the more his fame increased the more was he on his guard. Wrapped up in his sacred calling, he acquired a genuine contempt for the world, without failing in any duty he owed to it. He was a punctual observer of the rules of his order, in prayers especially. At the foot of the altar, and in reciting the Divine Office, he called to mind those great ideas of religion which afterwards were heard from the pulpit. He was noted in all concerns of life for frankness, good faith, truthfulness, shrewdness, and penetration. His manner was reserved, but engaging, and he enjoyed a sweetness and modesty of temper which prompted him always to speak well of others and not of himself.

Towards the end of his life he resolved to quit Paris and live in holy retirement. For this purpose he addressed himself to the head of the Society, but was desired to reconsider his wish for another year, for old as he was, renowned and full of labour as his whole life had been, this man, to whom all Paris had looked with an extraordinary admiration for the period of a generation of men, was yet, as a member of the Society of Jesus, entirely at the disposal of his superiors; he had no

liberty of action, and was but part of a great system controlled by others. Eminence as a preacher could never raise him to ecelesiastical dignities forbidden to his order, nor did it even give him rule over that order itself. He had then again to supplicate for a peaceful end to all his labour. His letter is so touching that we translate the extract from it which Father Bretonneau lays before us:

'MY VERY REVEREND FATHER,-God inspires me and even urges me to have recourse to you as our father, and to supplicate you humbly but earnestly to grant me what I have been unable, in spite of all my efforts, to obtain from the reverend father of the province. It is fifty-two years since I joined his company, more for others than myself. A thousand things distract me and prevent me from labouring as I should wish for my own perfection, which yet is the only thing necessary. I wish to retire and lead from henceforth a more tranquil life. I say a more tranquil in order that it shall be more regular and more holy. I feel that my body becomes weak and drawing towards its end. I have finished my course, and God grant I may be able to add I have been faithful. I am at an age when I am no longer in a condition to preach; may it be permitted me to employ, only for God and myself, what remains of life, and to dispose myself by that means to die religiously. La Flêche, (or some other house that shall please the superiors; I do not ask for one in particular, provided I am removed from l'aris,) shall be the place of my repose. There, forgetting the things of the world, I will review before God all the years of my life in the bitterness of my soul. This is the subject of all my prayers, &c.'

[ocr errors]

This letter had its desired effect. He was free to do what he judged right, and as soon as he received the answer from Rome he made preparations to depart. But the same superiors that had stopped him the first time delayed him again, whilst they remonstrated with the general Father. The issue of it was that Bourdaloue was to remain at Paris. God willed that he should 'thus have all the merit of a religious sacrifice without putting 'it into execution, and that he should finish his own sanctifica'tion while labouring for others.' This was not known till after his death, for it was no honour for himself, but it was God that he was seeking. He did not insist, but went back to his labours with renewed activity and ardour. This however, was not for long. On the 11th of May, 1704, being the feast of Pentecost, after saying mass with difficulty, he was seized with a malignant fever which he felt would be his death. It is enough,' said he, 'I must now do what I have often advised others to do.' The next day he confessed all his life and received the last Sacraments. He regarded himself as a criminal condemned to death by the judgment of heaven. I have abused life,' he said, 'and

I deserve that you shall take it from me, and with all my 'heart I submit to so just a chastisement.' After performing various acts of religion, commending himself to God, and offering his death, in union with that of Christ as a victim to appease the anger of God, he then put in order his papers as if in perfect

health, and even gave some hope of amendment. He was not, however, flattered by this last spark of life; he felt that only a miracle could save, and he thought himself unworthy of this. In the evening he relapsed and became delirious. The next morning he expired in the seventy-second year of his age, dying in the exercise of his ministry with an interval of but two days.

No portrait of him was taken during his life; the shopwindows of Paris did not display the fashionable preacher in silken robe and self-complacent attitude.. But after death it was thought that the features of so remarkable a man ought to be handed down to posterity, and therefore it is that his likeness is represented with closed eyes. The writer of the Preacher and the King' can hardly have been aware of this circumstance, for he speaks of Bourdaloue's eyes being closed as a habit in preaching, to assist a treacherous memory. This is an obvious assumption derived simply from his portrait. It is moreover absurd to represent so great a master of oratory as was Bourdaloue, labouring under the utter confusion of mind in the delivery of a sermon which this author of a slight thread of fiction' ascribes to him.

[ocr errors]

Massillon may conclude our biographical notice of the three great preachers of France, taking as our text the preface to that selection of his works placed at the head of our article. In thus passing from one character to the other, there is a pleasant variety, a refreshing change of sentiment, unalloyed by any depreciating comparisons. The difference between them was that of nature and of circumstances, over which neither had any control; it was not a difference which arouses in our minds the least moral preference. As Bourdaloue is grand and overawing from the solid foundation of true talent, of immense and consistent study, of extreme diligence and method in the composition of sermons; and lastly, of true and earnest piety which inspired their delivery with a crushing eloquence; so is Massillon equally powerful in his character and reputation, from a beauty of style, from a touching art of really gaining hold of the soul, and from a simple and devout phraseology; a beauty which the consideration of his whole career affords convincing proof was the true reflex of his inmost self, and not any external power of expression unconnected with the fountain of his real feelings. Massillon was born in Provence, in 1663, and was the son of a poor citizen. He was thus the origin of his own fortune, and confers honour upon his patrons who sought out merit and were not guided by influence in the exercise of their patronage. He entered the Oratory at seventeen, resolved to consecrate his labours to the

Church, and preferring the greater freedom of that order to the indissoluble ties of the great Jesuit. His superiors soon destined him for the pulpit, and he alone saw not the eminence before him. He shunned the first inroads of praise, and grieved over the sensation his own eloquence produced. It fell to him to preach the funeral orations of M. de Velleroy, Archbishop of Lyons, and of M. de Villars, Archbishop of Vienne. These were, indeed, but youthful essays; but he was so overwhelmed with applause, that, fearing the demon of pride, he went to the abbey of Septfonds, where the rules of La Trappe were followed. During his noviciate there a mandate was received from Cardinal de Noailles, which needed an answer. The Abbé himself, more pious than eloquent, deputed this task to the young Massillon. The Cardinal not fearing to offend the Abbé's pride by assuming that it was not his own writing, inquired who was the author, and having gained the information, recalled Massillon to the Oratory. Massillon excelled in eloquent appeals to the soul; he agitated and frightened his hearers, but did not overwhelm or depress them. His delivery was sweet, simple, touching, with a rich easy flow of language. That he was conscious of this power is evident from his answer to one who expressed his admiration of his language; 'The devil has already told me more eloquently than you.' His manner was quiet, his eyes cast down, and he used but little action. He did not excite his audience, but had a singular power of producing a profound silence. The Court early desired to hear him, and he preached before Louis XIV. who received him with the greatest favour. His first text before the gay French Court was, Happy they who mourn.' It is of him that it has been said under different versions of the same story, that he sent away from his preaching, not admirers of himself, but converted sinners. It is singular indeed that this practical commendation should have been peculiarly his, for he of all other preachers was the man, from the natural grace of his language, to suggest personal admiration. It was probably for this very reason that the refutation of any such weakness is especially mentioned to his honour. He suggested the idea, and therefore claimed its contradiction. Massillon, as is not unfrequently the case with men of such peculiar sweetness of temper, excited very great envy, and many prejudices against him were industriously circulated. The consequence of this was that for the last eleven years of Louis XIV.'s life he never preached at Versailles. Louis XIV. died in 1715, and Massillon commenced preaching in 1699; therefore only five years are left, during which his preaching was contemporaneous with Bourdaloue, for the raising his name to distinction and his

[ocr errors]

sermons at Court during that reign. It is said that, after Bour-
daloue's death, he suffered from an extraordinary unwillingness
on the part of the Parisian public to admit any other preacher
into the place of one whom for so many years they had adored.
The jealousy, however, between the Jesuits and Oratorians
probably accounted for it. Two years after Louis XIV. died,
he was appointed Bishop of Clermont, partly, it is said, that the
business of a remote diocese might prevent him from preaching
in Paris to the discomfiture of many inferior aspirants then
rising up. It was in this interval that he again returned to
Court, and that he preached his celebrated Petit Carême before
the young king, then nine years of age.
years of age. These sermons are on
the relationships which should exist between a king and his
subjects, and generally on the bearing of different orders of
society, the one to the other. The Abbé de Fleury well illus-
trated the exquisite fitness of these sermons for the young king,
and the close application of their counsel to the circumstances
for which they were preached, by comparing Massillon, in their
delivery, to the prophet Elisha, lying upon the child of the
Shunammite woman, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his
eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands.

Massillon, from the commencement of his episcopate, set a brilliant example in his zeal to perform the duties of a bishop. He carried out most strictly the law of residence. He no longer preached at Paris, but devoted all his powers to the well-being of his diocese, where his chief energies were exerted in works of love and self-sacrifice. He was profusely liberal in almsgiving, and was only restrained, by feelings of justice to his successor, from giving up every secular right and privilege of his office. He was content with the smallest allowance for personal expenses, and never betrayed one lingering thought of regret for a Parisian life. His delight was to assemble in his palace those who differed in opinion, that he might see, under the influence of his loving spirit, all asperities softened. Oratorians and Jesuits, most jealous of each other, he set down together at the chess-board, telling them, with a fatherly smile, never to be more serious in their opposition and contests. It is in Massillon's sweetness of life, in his diffusion of charity and good-will all around him, as if Christian love was the very atmosphere he breathed, that we have the surest proof of the sincerity of his eloquence. The sweetness and beauty of his words came from a heart that was in harmony with them. Like the other great preachers we have noticed, Massillon was a reformer of corruptions and abuses, or a declaimer against them. Bossuet strove hard in controversy for a reconciliation of Western Churches, and would have granted many con

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »