Bourdaloue, Louis

views updated


French Jesuit preacher who brought the classic sermon to its most perfect oratorical technique; b. Bourges, France, Aug. 20, 1632; d. Paris, May 13, 1704. Bourdaloue, of a distinguished, although not wealthy, family, entered

the Society of Jesus in 1648 at the age of 17. After completing his studies, he became a professor of philosophy and later, of moral theology. When he showed special talent for oratory, he was asked to dedicate himself to preaching. He began preaching in Amiens in 1665 and later went to Orléans and Rouen. In 1669 he was sent to Paris where he preached for 34 consecutive years, each year with greater success, until the end of his life.

In eloquence, Bourdaloue ranked with the great masters of style in the most splendid part of Louis XIV's reign. He was hailed as the "king of orators and the orator of kings." Bourdaloue used two exordiums: the first, more general, beginning adroitly with the text of the subject matter of the sermon and ending with a Hail Mary; the second, more detailed and specific, presenting the doctrine in three different manners. The body of the discourse was divided into three points: exposition of the doctrine found in Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, the moral to be drawn from the doctrine, and the portrayal of worldly Christians whose lives were at variance with the moral doctrine with which he was concerned. Each of these three points was further subdivided into three parts. Fénelon and La Bruyère vigorously criticized Bourdaloue's method as rigidly and arbitrarily mechanical, but admitted that it was useful as a memory aid for the speaker and the listeners.

Bourdaloue was most effective in the moral sermons in which he manifested a remarkable delicacy of balance. For him, Christian morality was just as free from excessive rigors as it was from any culpable indulgence. Sainte-Beuve considered his sermons the best refutations of Pascal's Lettres Provinciales.

He was masterly in his analysis of the human heart and was able to draw strikingly true word portraits. No doubt the 17th century taste for moral analysis accounted for much of his success. His reasoning was rigorous, and he habitually sought to convince his auditors. In this, he was adapting himself to an audience that, though irresponsive to other appeals because of its worldliness and frivolity, showed great esteem for reason. His personal saintliness and gentleness contributed to his influence. While always duly respectful to the great, he was also simple and devoted to the poor. He was always ready to hear confessions and exerted a wonderful power at deathbeds, especially those of hardened sinners.

Bourdaloue won a place for himself in French literature. Fénelon said that his style "had perhaps arrived at the perfection of which our language is capable in that kind of eloquence." Sainte-Beuve wrote, "He was a good orator and is a good writer." Voltaire claimed that he was superior to Bossuet.

Bibliography: l. bourdaloue, Sermons, ed. f. bretonneau, 16 v. (Paris 170721); Pensées, ed. f. bretonneau, 2 v. (Paris 1734), together the authoritative source of Bourdaloue's complete works. They were published together in 4 v. (Bar-le-Duc 1864). c. a. sainte-beuve, Causeries du lundi, 15 v. (Paris 185162). h. chÉrot, Bourdaloue inconnu (Paris 1898); Bourdaloue: Sa correspondance et ses correspondants (Paris 1899); Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. 2.1:109599. a. a. l. pauihe, Bourdaloue, d'après des documents nouveaux: Les maitres de la chaire en France au XVII 'siècle (Paris 1900). c. h. brooke, ed. and tr., Great French Preachers. 2 v. (London 1904), sermons of Bourdaloue. e. byrne, Bourdaloue moraliste (Paris 1929). r. daeschler, Bourdaloue: Doctrine spirituelle (Paris 1932). t. j. campbell, The Catholic Encyclopedia 2:717719.

[r. b. meagher]