Massillon, Jean Baptiste
MASSILLON, JEAN BAPTISTE
Celebrated French preacher and bishop; b. Hyères (Provence), June 24, 1663; d. Beauregard, Sept. 10, 1742. The son of François Massillon, a notary, he pursued his secondary studies in Hyères and Marseilles in the colleges of the Oratorians, whose congregation he entered at Aix in 1681, despite parental opposition. Upon completion of his theological studies, he taught in the Oratorian colleges at Pézenas, Marseilles, and Montbrison (1684–88) and at Vienne (1689–95), where he was ordained in 1691.
His superiors recognized his talent for preaching and in 1693 commissioned him to deliver the funeral orations for Villeroy, archbishop of Lyons, and M. de Villars, archbishop of Vienne. After a brief stay at the Oratory of Lyons, he was named director of the Seminary of Saint-Magloire in Paris (1696). Massillon's reputation as a preacher grew steadily as a result of his conférences to the young clerics and his highly successful Lenten sermons in Montpellier (1698) and at the Oratory in Paris (1699). He was summoned the same year to preach the Advent at Versailles, and his fame as a preacher became solidly established by this signal honor. His Lenten sermons before Louis XIV in 1701 and 1704 were acclaimed by his predecessors, Bossuet and Bourdaloue, and by the king himself, who declared that though formerly well pleased with the preachers, he was now quite displeased with himself. Included in the Lent of 1704 was Massillon's masterpiece "On the Fewness of the Elect." At the apogee of his success, Massillon fell victim to jealousy and suspicion; accused of Jansenism and of compromising relations with certain prominent families, he was never again summoned to Versailles during the lifetime of Louis XIV. Nevertheless, he continued to preach panegyrics, funeral orations, Lent and Advent discourses in important Paris churches, as well as the Advent of 1715 at the court of Stanislas, king of Lorraine. In 1709 he delivered the funeral oration of the Prince de Conti, in 1711 that of the Dauphin, and in 1715 that of Louis XIV, styled "The Great." On that momentous occasion Massillon
began thus: "God alone is great, my brethren." Once more in court favor, Massillon was nominated by the regent in 1717 to the bishopric of Clermont (Auvergne) and was consecrated in the Tuileries chapel on Dec. 21, 1718. In the interim he preached before young Louis XV a Lenten course of 10 sermons, which, published under the title Le Petit Carême, became his most popular work. Upon his reception into the French Academy in February of 1719, Massillon was eulogized by Fleury, the king's preceptor. At the regent's request, Massillon was instrumental in securing Cardinal de noailles's compliance with the bull Unigenitus (1720) and was consequently the object of frequent attacks in the Jansenist publication Les Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques. Before devoting himself entirely to his see, he assisted at the coronation of Louis XV and preached the funeral oration of the regent's mother, the duchess of Orléans (1723).
A conscientious worker, Massillon ably administered his vast diocese with its 29 abbeys, 284 priories, and 758 parishes. In his efforts to promote ecclesiastical discipline and public morals, he made frequent pastoral visits in his diocese, devoted attention to the temporal as well as spiritual needs of all, and held annual synods and retreats of priests. No less pastor than preacher, he eloquently exhorted his clergy to mutual charity and devotion to the poor. His correspondence with the king's intendants and ministers attests to his efforts to defend his flock against ministerial injustice and to improve their material condition.
More a moralist than theologian, Massillon was greatly admired as a preacher by such philosophes as Voltaire and D'Alembert. Less sublime than Bossuet, less logical than Bourdaloue, he excelled in a certain harmonious elegance and subtle persuasiveness not entirely devoid of rhetorical affectation. Even those faults so readily discernible upon literary analysis seem to have been quite transformed by his oratorical art. Described as "the Racine of the pulpit," he was equally gifted in understanding the human heart and analyzing its passions, and he put all his energies into combating the increasing impiety and incredulity of the time. This zeal, in conjunction with his rigorous Oratorian training, explains the severity of some of his sermons. His detractors did not hesitate to point out certain passages in his sermons on "Confession" and on "Communion" and "On the Fewness of the Elect" in which there is doctrinal exaggeration. However, the ensemble of Massillon's life and thought proves him to have been militantly anti-Jansenist, though at times theologically inexact, rather through excess of zeal than through heretical belief.
Although known principally as an orator, Massillon the man and bishop demonstrated in his life and work the teachings he so eloquently and fearlessly propounded to prince and priest alike. During his lifetime only the funeral oration on the Prince de Conti was published (1709). He disavowed unauthorized collections published at Trévoux in 1705, 1706, and 1714. In 1745 his nephew, Joseph Massillon, himself an Oratorian, published a collection of 15 volumes in Paris. The most recent and best edition is that of Blampignon (4 v. Bar-le-Duc 1865–68, Paris 1886), comprising 10 Advent sermons, 41 Lenten sermons, eight on the mysteries, and four on the virtues; 10 panegyrics; six funeral orations; 16 ecclesiastical conferences; 20 synodal discourses; 26 charges; paraphrases of 30 psalms; some pensées choisies; and 50 miscellaneous letters or notes.
Bibliography: j. le rond d'alembert, Éloge de Massillon in his Histoire des Membres de l'Académie Française (Paris 1810) v. 1, 5. l. f. f. theremin, Demosthenes und Massillon (Berlin 1845). a. bayle, Massillon (Paris 1867). e. a. blampignon, Massillon d'après des documents inédits (Paris 1879); L'Épiscopat de Massillon (Paris 1884); Supplément à la vie et à la correspondance de Massillon (Paris 1892). b. attaix, Étude sur Massillon (Toulouse 1882). m. de valois cohendy, Correspondance Mandements de Massillon (Clermont 1883). l. pauthe, Massillon (Paris 1908). a. molien, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903–50) 10.1:258–265. a. chÉrel, Massillon (Paris 1943). j. champomier, Massillon (Paris 1942).
[s. j. washington]