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Lacordaire

Pulpit orator (1802-1861)

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Lacordaire, JEAN-BAPTISTE-HENRI-DOMINIQUE, the greatest pulpit orator of the nineteenth century, b. near Dijon, May 13, 1802; d. at Soreze, November 21, 1861. When he was only four years old he lost his father, and was thenceforth under the care of his mother, "a brave Christian" but no devote. She came of a family of lawyers, and brought her son up for the bar. While still at school he lost his faith. From Dijon he went to Paris, to complete his legal studies under M. Guillemain. His first efforts at the bar attracted the attention of the great Berryer, who predicted for him a successful career as an advocate. Meantime, however, he regained his faith, and resolved to devote himself entirely to the service of God. He entered the seminary of Issy, May 12, 1824, and, in spite of the reluctance of the superiors, was ordained by Msgr. de Quelen, Archbishop of Paris, September 22, 1827. His first years in the ministry were spent as chaplain to a convent and at the College Henri IV. This work was little to his taste. Accordingly, when Msgr. Dubois, Bishop of New York, visited Paris in 1829 in search of priests for his diocese, he found a ready volunteer in the young Abbe Lacordaire. All arrangements were complete, but before a start could be made the Revolution broke out (July, 1830). The Abbe de Lamennais, at this time at the height of his reputation as a defender of the Church, immediately offered him the post of collaborator in "L'Avenir", a newspaper intended to fight for the cause of "God and Freedom". The story of this famous journal belongs to the article Felicite Robert de Lamennais. Here it will be enough to mention that Lacordaire gladly accepted the offer, and abandoned his proposed journey to America. He and Montalembert, whom he first met at the office of "L'Avenir", were the principal contributors. Their program was to renounce all State protection and assistance, and to demand religious freedom, not as a favor, but as a right. They advocated free speech and a free press, and exhorted the Catholics to avail themselves of these weapons in defense of their rights. Their religious teaching was strongly Ultramontane. In the first sixteen numbers the leading article on seven occasions was from Lacordaire's pen. He did not write on abstract subjects; his line was to take some event of the day—some insult to religion, some striking incident in the action of Catholics in other countries, notably Ireland—and make this a text for the demand of religious rights. He possessed in a remarkable degree the qualities of a great journalist—clearness, force, brilliancy, the power to discuss the graver topics of the day at short notice, in limited space, and in a manner adapted to the general intelligence. Royalists and Liberals alike were assailed with a power and fierceness never before exerted in the cause of religion. Even at this long interval of time it is impossible to read his articles without feeling keenly their strength and vividness. His contributions, and not those of Lamennais, were the most aggressive.

When the paper was condemned by the bishops of France, it was Lacordaire who suggested the appeal to Rome and drew up the memoir to be presented to Gregory XVI. But it was he, also, who was the first to recognize that their cause was lost, and that they must bow to the pontiff's decision. He left Rome at once, March 15, 1832, though Lamennais and Montalembert remained for some months longer. The three met again at Munich, and there, while at a banquet, they received the formal condemnation of the whole policy of "L'Ave-nir" (Encyclical "Mirari Vos", August 15, 1832). On their return to France Lacordaire went to stay at La Chenaie, in Brittany, where Lamennais had established a house of higher studies for ecclesiastics. He remained there for three months. It must be said, however, that the two men were at no time altogether cordial in their relations, and less than ever after their defeat. The system of philosophy adopted by Lamennais was never accepted by his colleague, who also refused to pay the homage which was expected from the inmates of La Chenaie. But the main cause of the contention which arose was that Lacordaire's submission was sincere, whereas Lamennais continued to speak strongly against Rome.

Lacordaire left La Chenaie, December 11, 1832, and returned to Paris, where he was admitted to the circle of Madame Swetchine, who exercised a restraining influence over him as long as she lived. As the press was no longer open to him, he began to give religious lectures (conferences) at the College Stanislas (January, 1834). These were attended by some of the leading men of the day, but were soon denounced on account of the Liberal views expressed. The archbishop intervened, and insisted that the lectures should be submitted beforehand to censors. The correspondence which ensued led to a complete change in the archbishop's attitude. He now offered Lacordaire the pulpit of Notre-Dame, and there, in the beginning of Lent, 1835, the first of the famous conferences was delivered. Their success was astonishing from the very outset. The second series in the following year met with even greater favor. At the conclusion of these last conferences Lacordaire announced his intention of retiring from the world for a time, in order to devote himself to study and prayer. During a retreat at the Jesuit house of St. Eusebius in Rome, he resolved to enter the religious state. Even in his seminary days he had thought of becoming a Jesuit, but had been prevented by Msgr. de Quelen. He now decided to enter the Dominican Order, whose name of "Friars Preachers" naturally appealed to him. Meantime he preached a course of conferences at Metz in the Lenten season of 1838, which were equally successful with those of Notre-Dame. His "Memoire pour le Retablissement des Freres Precheurs" was preliminary to his reception of the habit at the Minerva in Rome (April 9, 1839). Next year he made his vows (April 12, 1840) and returned to France. The first house of the restored order was established at Nancy in 1843; a second at Chalais in 1844; a novitiate at Flavigny in 1848; and finally a French province was erected with Lacordaire as first provincial.

Meantime, in the Advent of 1843, the conferences were resumed at Notre-Dame, and continued with one break until 1852. At first King Louis Philippe endeavored to prevent the resumption of the conferences, but the new archbishop, Msgr. Affre, was firm, and merely required that the preacher should wear a canon's rochet and mozetta over his Dominican habit. The interest in the conferences was greater than ever. It was noted that the orator had gained in depth and brilliancy by his years of retirement. And here it will be well to describe briefly the nature of the conferences and the causes of the extraordinary interest which they aroused. The old-fashioned sermon—text, exordium, three points, and peroration—dealt with dogmatic or moral subjects, and was addressed to believers. It reached its highest perfection at the hands of Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and Massillon. The clergy in the first part of the nineteenth century went on preaching as before, speaking of the same subjects, bringing forward the same arguments, using the same methods; forgetting all the while that they had to appeal not only to believers but also to infidels. It was Lacordaire's merit that he discerned the necessity of a complete reform; new subjects, new arguments, new methods must be adopted. The matter must be apologetic, and, as apologetics vary according to the nature of the enemy's assaults, it must be adapted to meet the attacks of the day. With the rare insight of genius, Lacordaire began where the ordinary apologist ends. He took the Church as his starting point, considering her as a great historical fact, and drawing from her existence, her long-continued duration, and her social and moral action the proof of her authority. Thus the first conferences in 1835 treated of the Church's constitution and her social activity. In the second course he went on to speak of the doctrines of the Church viewed in their general aspect. When he resumed the conferences in 1843 he spoke of the effects of Catholic doctrine upon the human mind, upon the soul (humility, chastity, and other virtues), and upon society. Again, before treating of God, he took Christ for the subject of the best known of all the series (1846). From the Son he passed to the Father (1848), proving the existence of God and dealing with His work of creation. From God he descended to man and the doctrine of man's Fall and Redemption (1849-50). The coup d'etat prevented the continuance of the conferences in Notre-Dame, but a further course was delivered at Toulouse in 1854, treating of life, natural and supernatural.

So much for the subjects. The form of the conferences was quite unlike that of the ordinary sermon. There was no opening text, or prayer; no firstly, secondly, thirdly; no pause between the divisions. After a short exordium, indicating the subject to be dealt with, he plunged at once in medias res, and let his subject grow upon his hearers. His voice, feeble at the beginning, gradually grew in volume until it rang through the vast vault of the cathedral, sometimes breaking out into a cry which thrilled the hard-est hearts. His gestures were graceful and yet full of vigor; his dark eyes flashed out the fire that was burning within him. His words were the choice of the moment, coming freely to his lips after careful preparation of the matter and the main lines of his discourse; indeed, his most brilliant passages were inspired by some movement among his audience, or some sudden emotion within himself. We can understand the state of prostration produced by such delivery, and how his strenuous efforts tended to shorten his life.

The government of Louis Philippe came to an ignominious end in February, 1848. In his opening conference of that year, delivered while the barricades were still standing, Lacordaire welcomed the Revolution in language which was greeted with prolonged applause. Now at last he hoped to carry out his old program of "God and Freedom"—without the youthful excesses that marred the policy of "L'Avenir". A new paper, "L'Ere Nouvelle", was started under his editorship, but he wrote little in its columns. He realized that his strength lay rather in speech than in writing. In the elections he accepted a nomination for Paris, but obtained only a small number of votes. He was, however, returned for the department of Bouches-du-Rhone. He took his seat on the Extreme Left, clad though he was in his Dominican habit. A few benches below him sat his former friend and master, now his bitter foe, Lamennais. The invasion of the Assembly by the rabble convinced him that his dream of a Catholic republic was not to be accomplished. He resigned his seat May 18, and some months later gave up the editorship of "L'Ere Nouvelle". He did his utmost to prevent the Church from becoming identified with the Empire established by Napoleon III. For this reason he refused to continue his conferences in 1852, though urged to do so by Msgr. Sibour. His last discourse in Paris was delivered in the church of Saint-Roth in 1853. It was a sermon on the text: "Esto vir" (III Kings, ii, 2), and was an outspoken attack on the new Government. After this it was impossible for him to remain in Paris. For the rest of his life he had charge of the military school of Soreze, in the department of Tarn, where he inculcated the duties of manliness and patriotism as well as religion. Though he was devoted to his youthful pupils, he naturally felt that he was exiled and silenced. In 1861 (January 24) he was called out of his obscurity to take his seat in the Academy—an honor which cast a gleam of brightness over his last days. It was at this time that he uttered the famous words: "J'espere mourir en religieux penitent et en liberal impenitent." Towards the end of the year (November 21) he passed away at Soreze, after a long and painful illness, in his sixtieth year.

Lacordaire was of middle height, sparely but strongly built. He always objected to sit for his portrait, but one day at Soreze objected submitted. He is represented seated, and absorbed in prayer, with his hands crossed one over the other, for the Elevation bell was ringing in the church when the portrait was taken.

Besides his "Eloges funebres" (Drouot, O'Connell, and Msgr. Forbin-Janson) he published: "Lettre sur le Saint-Siege"; "Considerations sur le systeme philosophique de M. de Lamennais"; "De la liberte d'Italie et de l'Eglise"; "Vie de S. Dominique"; "Sainte Marie Madeleine" (the two last-mentioned works contain many sublime passages, but are of little historical value). Mme Swetchine said of him: "On ne le connaltra que par ses lettres." Eight volumes of these have already been published, including his correspondence with Mme Swetchine and Mme de la Tour du Pin, and "Lettres A des Jeunes Gens", collected and edited by his friend H. Perreyve in 1862 (tr. Derby, 1864; revised and enlarged ed., London, 1902). Amongst Lacordaire's most celebrated works are his "Conferences" (tr. vol. I only, London, 1851); "Dieu et l'homme" in "Conferences de Notre-Dame de Paris" (tr. London, 1872); "Jesus-Christ" (tr. London, 1869); "Dieu" (tr. London, 1870).

—T. B. SCANNELL.

JEAN-THEODORE LACORDAIRE, a distinguished French entomologist, brother of the famous preacher of the same name, b. at Recey-sur-Ource, Cote-d'Or, February 1, 1801; d. at Liege, July 18, 1870. As a boy he was very fond of natural history and especially the study of insect life. Family circumstances, however, made it necessary for him to adopt a mercantile career; he was sent to Havre, and at the age of twenty-four sailed for South America. He soon after began to devote himself to the study of zoology. Visiting South America four times between the years 1825 and 1832, he traveled on foot through extensive districts in order to study the rich insect fauna, particularly the beetles. He also undertook a journey to Senegambia. Intervening years were spent at Paris, where he made the acquaintance of the foremost contemporary French zoologists and devoted himself entirely to scientific studies. In 1836 he was appointed professor of zoology and comparative anatomy in the University of Liege, a position which he held until his death, more than thirty years later.

He was a deeply religious man, particularly in his declining years, and one of his daughters became a nun. His scientific activity was conspicuous, unselfish, and uninterrupted, and he was honored with membership in many learned European societies. His principal works, which he began to publish in 1834, show independent and thorough research, and a full command of the extensive literature of entomology. While his first work, "Introduction a l'Entomologie" (2 vols., Paris, 1834-38), relates to the whole science of entomology, the subsequent volumes deal exclusively with beetles (Coleoptera). In 1842 was published "Monographie des Erotyliens"; in 1845-48 (Paris, 2 vols.) "Monoggraphie des Coleopteres subpentameres de la familledes Phytophages", published also in the "Memoires de la Societe Royale des Sciences de Liege". But Lacordaire's principal work is "Histoire naturelle des Insectes", with the sub-title, "Genera des Coleopteres" (Paris, 1854-1876, 12 tomes in 14 vols.); it contains a detailed description of all the then known genera of beetles, numbering about 6000. Although Lacordaire devoted the last eighteen years of his life to this work, he could not finish it. The last three volumes were written by his pupil, F. Chapuis. The text of this great work is accompanied by an atlas of 134 plates.

JOSEPH ROMPEL


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