Decay of Gravitas in the Church Clergy - II
From Bossuet to the Post-Conciliar Clergy
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Bossuet - This is Jacques Benigne Bossuet, perhaps the greatest preacher of the Grand Siècle [the 17th century, called the ‘Great Century’]. In this portrait we perceive the great orator who had perfect command of the word, of the sonorous, impeccable phrase. He is represented here dominant over a symbolic scene that imponderably represents the multitudes that applauded him. These were the multitudes of the court made up of princes, dukes, prelates and marshals.
You can note the great stability in his personality: stability, strength and that gravity of times past.
Is it possible to imagine someone approaching this man to tell a joke or to make an impertinent remark? No. He is surrounded by an atmosphere of respect that makes banalities impossible. Is it possible for this man to apostatize? No. His face reveals a spirit that is completely co-natural with the Catholic Faith.
It is true that historically he could have been a much better person than he was; but in his own sphere of action he was a great man.
There were others like Bossuet in this period. You may observe the elaboration in his dress, like that of Richelieu. Both Bossuet and Richelieu had strong personalities - the latter more than the former - but they also paid tribute to the fashion of the time. At that time, those who did not have strong personalities used to wear an exaggerated quantity of adornments - lace, sweeping mantles, curled wigs, etc. - to dissimulate their weak personalities.
A man like this was the Cardinal of Rohan, at right, the central figure in the “necklace affair,” a fabricated scheme to incriminate the Queen. The lie was broadly spread by the Secret Forces to slander Marie Antoinette and prepare public opinion for the French Revolution. The Cardinal was an extremely delicate man with a doll face; he wore lace cuffs, took snuff with ineffable grace and knew how to converse with the ladies with the greatest affability...
This is the portrait of Fenelon, also a great preacher of the 17th century and tutor of the grandson of Louis XIV.
He is unquestionably an intelligent man. He is a man who finds it delicious to be inside his own skin; he savors the thousands of different flavors he finds in this self-contemplation.
He gazes at one with a spiritual and quite discreet smile. If someone were to approach him, he would be received with a charming greeting.
This picture shows him wearing a rich and dignified episcopal attire - he was Archbishop of Cambrai - but not particularly ornamental. He was a contemporary of Bossuet and both competed to be the first ecclesiastical orator of France. The same spirit of gravity is present in both, but in Bossuet more than in Fenelon.
Cardinal André Fleury was first tutor to the infant Louis; then, when the latter became King Louis XV of France, he was his most influential minister.
In this picture Cardinal Fleury looks like an old lady comfortably arranging herself amid her fineries. He is seated in his chair with the self-satisfied air of someone who has triumphed.
He is undeniably distinguished, but his character no longer reflects gravity. It was replaced by distinction, a more pallid ray from the same sun.
By his time personages were no longer grave, but distinguished. They did not mind dealing with a thousand silly matters, so long as those things were presented in an agreeable and elegant way; this is what the French call badinage: a light, agile and courteous way to banter about trifles.
There is still something serious in his soul. For example, he would regard with scathing disdain a present day adorer of motorcycles, should the latter present himself before him. But he is at a much lower level than Bossuet, just as Bossuet fell to a much lower level than St. Bernardino of Siena. This man would panic in the presence of St. Bernardino.
Note the optimism of these priests. For these poor men nothing is elevated any more. Should someone try to speak to them about the sublimity of God, he would be looked at askew. For them life is a cloudless horizon. Their main concern is to joke, which is the lowest level of amiability: to make others laugh. They do not want to see that the Church is going through the most apocalyptic time of her existence.
Do these poor men have an idea of what it means for us laymen to persevere in the Catholic faith and morals? Do they have any notion of the fights, persecutions and adversities we have to face in order to remain faithful? Do they think that they will guide people to practice virtue with this attitude? They imagine that this is what they are doing and that everyone is following them; they believe they are conquering the world. But they are not. They are helping the Church to lose her credibility.
Imagine a man like this in a public square telling his jokes to the people. Do you believe people would follow him as they followed St. Bernardino of Siena as he preached, changing places in the square so as not to lose a single one of his words? No. People do not take this kind of priest seriously.
According to a legend, an Angel once appeared to St. Jerome and scourged him for his attachment to the classic authors of Pagan Antiquity. One would say that these men need to be scourged by an Angel for them to change their spirit of endemic optimism.
As this selection of pictures on the decay of the clergy’s mentality and attire through the centuries comes to an end, I offer this conclusion: From the times of St. Dominic in the 13th century until today, the mentality of the clergy, generally speaking, changed from being serious and grave, turned principally toward the glory of God in heaven and on earth, to a mentality turned toward pleasing men. We saw how the clergy had faith, but subordinated that faith to the service of their Kings. Then, as in this last picture, the vice of imitating secular manners and pleasing men reached an apex that transformed innumerable members of the clergy into optimistic jokers, who no longer represent Christ to the faithful. Their attires followed an analogous path.
One could say that a great part of the present day moral crisis is due to the lack of gravitas of the clergy. With this kind of person and spirit, it is impossible to build the Reign of Mary. The chastisement predicted in Fatima has to change this.
Posted October 25, 2010
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