Fénelon, François (François de Salignac de la Mothe F

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FÉNELON, FRANÇOIS (François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon, 16511715)

FÉNELON, FRANÇOIS (François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon, 16511715), French archbishop, author, and educator. François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon descended from an ancient noble family from the area of Périgord, near Sarlat. He was the second child born from his father's second marriage. He attended university at Cahors and entered seminary in Paris at Saint-Sulpice.

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, which required all Protestants in France to convert to Catholicism at the penalty of exile or imprisonment, shaped Fénelon's early clerical career. After his ordination in 1676, his work in educating former Protestants began in 1678 when he became the director of a residential and educational institution for women who had recently converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, the Congregation of New Catholics (Congrégation des Nouvelles Catholiques), a post he retained until 1689. One of his first treatises, Traité de l'éducation des filles (A treatise on the education of women), published in 1687, resulted from this work. In 1686, he was sent to the newly acquired majority Protestant provinces of Aunis and Saintonge to continue his work in converting Protestants there.

In 1688, Fénelon became involved in a controversial movement called Quietism, a mystical religious group that promoted a passive approach to prayer life and spirituality. His connection with it began when he met Madame Jeanne Guyon, the French noblewoman who was its primary advocate. He embraced her teachings and began corresponding regularly with her. Although Mme Guyon believed her methods to be fully within orthodox Catholicism, her beliefs and practices came under scrutiny by the Catholic Church in France in 1694 when several French bishops met to review her writings and ideas to determine their orthodoxy. In a meeting at Issy, the bishops condemned her teachings, and she was imprisoned in Vincennes in 1695 as a result of the proceedings.

In 1689 Fénelon's work in education continued when he was named the tutor for King Louis XIV's grandson, the duke of Burgundy. As a result of his role as primary educator of the young prince, Fénelon wrote several didactic works including Fables (Fables) and Les dialogues des morts (Dialogs of the dead) around 1690. In 1693 Fénelon became a member of the Académie Française and with the support of the king in 1695, he became the archbishop of Cambrai, a diocese in northeast France. The prominent French theologian and bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet consecrated him.

Controversy and disgrace marred the final decades of Fénelon's life. His affiliation with Mme Guyon and Quietism led to a long and very public quarrel with Bossuet that began in 1697. Following the Quietism controversy, Bossuet wrote a treatise indirectly denouncing Mme Guyon's teachings ("Instructions on prayer") and sent his draft of the work to Fénelon for critique. While Fénelon accepted the bishops' decision in Issy regarding Mme Guyon's teachings, he continued to adhere to some ideas connected to the movement, including the concept of "pure love." After viewing Bossuet's work, Fénelon rushed to publication his own work, Explication des maximes des saints sur la view intérieure (Explication of the maxims of the saints on the interior life), which countered Bossuet's ideas, supported religious mysticism, and championed the idea of "pure love." The dispute over these theological issues quickly escalated to a very public and vicious dispute with Fénelon and Bossuet attacking each other's positions in flurried succession of treatises. In an effort to defend himself, Fénelon appealed to Pope Innocent XII, who agreed in 1697 to review his Maxims of the Saints to judge whether the ideas contained in it were as dangerous to the faith as Bossuet had charged. After a lengthy review process, in March 1699 the pope condemned the majority of the propositions in Fénelon's work in a carefully drafted statement that censured his teachings without branding him a heretic. The dispute resulted in Fénelon's removal from his position as preceptor in 1699 and his exile from Paris and the court to Cambrai, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The publication of Fénelon's most famous work, Les aventures de Télémaque, fils d'Ulysse (The adventures of Telemachus, the son of Ulysses), also damaged his reputation and standing at court. A fantastic adventure story of Telemachus's search for his father, the book was published in 1699 without Fénelon's approval. Its popularity was fueled by the idea that the book was a thinly veiled exposé and satire of Louis XIV's court, although Fénelon maintained it was merely a vehicle for his political ideas. As a result of its publication, the king barred Fénelon from all contact with the duke of Burgundy, but this ban was relaxed in later years, allowing Fénelon periodic visits with his former pupil.

During his last years at Cambrai, Fénelon continued to write, publishing treatises condemning Jansenism such as "Pastoral Instruction in the Form of Dialog on the System of Jansenius," published in 1714. He died 7 January 1715 at his home in Cambrai.

See also Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne ; Jansenism ; Louis XIV (France) ; Quietism .


Primary Sources

Barnard, H. C., ed. Fénelon on Education. A Translation of the 'Traité de l'Education des Filles' and Other Documents Illustrating Fénelon's Educational Theories. Cambridge, U.K., 1966.

Fénelon, François de Salignac de la Mothe. The Adventures of Telemachus, the son of Ulysses. Translated by Tobias Smollett. Introduction and notes by Leslie A. Chilton. Text edited by O. M. Brack, Jr. Athens, Ga., 1997. Translation of Les aventures de Télémaque fils d'Ulysse.

Secondary Sources

Chérel, Albert. Fénelon au XVIIIe Siècle en France (17151820) Son prestige, son influence. Paris, 1917. Reprint Geneva, 1970.

La Bedoyere, Michael de. The Archbishop and the Lady: The Story of Fénelon and Madame Guyon. London and New York, 1956.

Davis, James Herbert, Jr. Fénelon. Boston, 1979.

Sara E. Chapman