Bouvier, Jean Baptiste
BOUVIER, JEAN BAPTISTE
Bishop and theologian; b. Saint-Charles-la-Forêt, Mayenne, Jan. 16, 1783; d. Rome, Dec. 29, 1854. The son of a carpenter, he entered the seminary of Angers in 1805 and was ordained in 1808. After teaching philosophy at the College of Château Gonthier, he became professor of philosophy and moral theology at the seminary of Le Mans in 1811 and was made rector there in 1819. After 1820 he was vicar-general of the diocese until he was consecrated bishop of Le Mans in 1834. During his episcopate he was known for his learning, piety, and apostolic zeal. The Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods (Ind.) are particularly indebted to Bouvier for his support and assistance in the foundation of their community. Pius IX held him in such high esteem that he invited Bouvier to be present at the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
The principal work among his many writings was the Institutiones theologicae (Le Mans 1817), which went through 15 editions and was used in almost all the seminaries of France, the U.S., and Canada. First issued in separate theological treatises comprising 13 volumes, the work was reduced to six volumes in 1834. Although Bouvier tried to improve his work in the course of succeeding editions, he never succeeded in removing completely the traces of Gallicanism that had influenced his early formation. He readily submitted to the corrections of the theologians selected by Pius IX. Their revision resulted in the eighth edition (1853). After Bouvier's death, the professors at Le Mans seminary eliminated many imperfections not noted by the papal revisers.
As a manual, the Institutiones theologicae was well adapted to the period of transition (1830–70) in ecclesiastical studies, during which they were recovering ground lost in the Gallican and Jansenist disturbances in the French Church. A mélange of history, liturgy, canon and civil law, and casuistry, the work contained serious weaknesses. However, clerical studies had become so disorganized in the course of the 18th century that the reestablishment of a solid curriculum was a very difficult problem. Moreover, the scarcity of vocations, the urgent need for priests, and limited financial resources had reduced seminary training to three years. Despite its faults, Bouvier's work served to free clerical education from the errors and the lethargy of the preceding period, and thereby opened the way to reforms achieved during the latter part of the 19th century.
Bibliography: a. l. sÉbaux, Vie de mgr. J. B. Bouvier, évêque du Mans (2d ed. Paris 1889). f. deshayes, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 2.1:1117–19. l. calendini, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, 10:276–277. m. b. brown, History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods, v. 1 (New York 1949).
[f. c. lehner]