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sostoms of London would be dull at St. Roch or Notre Dame. We shall restrict our notices to living preachers, omitting to speak even of the recent dead, whose eulogies have not ceased in the churches.
Of the Catholic preachers, the most famous, if not the most gifted, is the Dominican Lacordaire. We hardly know whether it is proper to class him among living preachers, since a loss of voice has practically excluded him from this function, and there seems to be but small prospect of his resuming his place in the pulpits of Paris. Excessive labors and hardships have worn upon a constitution never very firm, and at the age of fifty-seven he is an old man, and has outlived his power as a preacher. His life has been one of strange changes and inconsistencies. As a child, he was noted equally for his love of books and for his indifference to religion; and his profane jokes greatly disturbed the soul of his pious mother. At the college in Dijon, while he surpassed all his fellows and won all the prizes, he made no secret of his infidelity, and openly declared that Christianity was an absurdity and God a chimera. Admitted at nineteen years of age a partner with Guillemin, one of the leading lawyers of Paris, he startled this friend, at their first interview, by declaring that “ he did not believe in God.” The ability and industry of the young advocate were compensation, however, for his scepticism. He made a most successful entrance upon his career at the bar, and great hopes were formed of his future eminence; nevertheless, some eighteen months after he began his practice as a lawyer, he startled his friend again by announcing that he had made up his mind to leave the law and become a priest, — that the former infidel was now a Christian and a Catholic. How the change had come he did not tell. But his resolution was taken ; he entered, as a pensioner, the Seminary of St. Sulpice; and, after three years of diligent study, varied by frequent disputes with his teachers and his fellow-students, who marvelled at and feared his free style of discussion, he took priest's orders in 1827, and became the chaplain, first of a convent, and then of a college in Paris. At one time, like most ardent and wayward French youths, he thought of emigrating to America and finding occupation as a missionary to the Indians; but he was
persuaded by Lamennais, whose intimate friend he had become, to relinquish this Quixotic project, and join in the noble task of regenerating the Catholic Church at home. After the Revolution of July he became one of the leading contributors to Lamennais’s new journal, “ The Future,” the motto of which was " God and Liberty ;” and shortly after amazed the Royal Court of Paris by petitioning to be allowed to return to the bar, that he might plead there more effectually the cause of the Church. He did not propose to relinquish his priestly functions, but only to join the functions of his former and his present office. This novel request was vehemently discussed, but in the end very properly refused. The next eccentr ity of Lacordaire, in which he had the help of Montalembert and De Coux, ardent and enthusiastic young men like himself, was the establishment of a “free school,” without leave or license, in which he proposed to give free education to children of both sexes and all classes, and save them from the immoral and infidel influences of the “government schools.” The institution was opened, and pupils flocked to it from all quarters; when one day, in the midst of his class, Lacordaire was surprised by a visit from the commissary of police, with a notice to the pupils to disperse. A sharp conflict of words ensued; force was employed ; the school was broken up; a prosecution was ordered; and, in spite of his brave and brilliant plea, the enthusiast had to pay a light fine as the penalty of his experiment.
In company with Lamennais, Lacordaire went to Rome in the year 1832, to vindicate their journal against the terrible sentence of the Pope. But instead of coming back, like his friend, a rebel and a foe to the Holy See, he came back a devoted servant, hastened to break friendship with the apostate, and to recant all his heretical opinions. He turned himself now to preaching, and with such success that in the year 1835 he was invited by the Archbishop to the pulpit of Notre Dame, the highest honor in this kind in France. The annual “ Conferences” of this cathedral are attended, not only by a large, but by a highly cultivated audience, composed of the social and literary aristocracy of Paris. To preach in such a presence was a severe ordeal for one so new in the work. But
Lacordaire was equal to it, and his first series of sermons caused a sensation such as no similar discourses had caused within the century. The boldness of statement, the luxuriance of imagery, the introduction of all sorts of topics, political, educational, financial,- railroads, banks, and battles, - the
utter defiance of all recognized rules of pulpit oratory, while they attracted crowds to the services, alarmed the guardians of the Church, and they sought how they might “chain this lion." It was impossible to calculate the extravagances of such an erratic genius. Another freak of Lacordaire soon relieved the Church of this difficulty. He determined to go to Rome, to renounce the regular priesthood, and to become a Dominican friar, vowing himself so the more firmly to the work of preaching, while he released himself from episcopal authority. After a reasonable noviciate in the Convent of the Minerva, in which Lacordaire was able to write a splendid biography of the Saint whose name he assumed, “Father Dominic" came back to his place at Notre Dame, and revived by new “conferences" the fame of his former eloquence. He had changed in form and countenance, so that they hardly recognized him; and his meagre body scarcely needed the additions of the tonsure and the white robe to take the guise of sanctity. But his weak voice grew stronger as he went on, his' fiery eye kindled, and the wondering audience could see that change of vocation had not changed the man. Repeating his discourses in several of the provincial cities, everywhere he made the same impression ; and it is said that at Nancy the people for sixty miles around came to hear him.
In spite of his rupture with Lamennais, Lacordaire retains many of the obnoxious ideas of the school of thinkers with which he was formerly associated. His most recent sermons, not less than his speech as a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1818, show that he is a republican at heart, and a romanticist in style. The ecclesiastical rulers dread his influence, while they are proud of his eloquence. The characteristics of his oratory are brilliancy of coloring, copious illustration, an intense force of expression, an extraordinary command of vast resources, and a love of sudden turns and startling paradoxes. He has in excess what the French call esprit. One of his critics says of him, that he has this “ des pieds à la tête, sur les lèvres, et jusqu'au bout des ongles s'il osait, il en mettrait à toutes les lignes de ses discours.” His manner is extemporaneous. He begins slowly, in a low tone, and with no animation or gesture; but warms as he proceeds, until his voice becomes strong and sonorous, and his whole frame quivers with passion. He loves controversy, and is never more at home than when conscious of pleading a difficult cause, or arguing against some popular fallacy. The five volumes of sermons which he has printed have no value as expositions of a system, or as specimens of close and consistent reasoning; but they are models of earnest, effective, and.magnetic preaching. They remind us in more than one respect of the discourses of a preacher of our own body, whose views concerning the Theatre, the Suspense of Faith, and the Broad Church, have given rise of late to so much inquiry and debate.
Next to Lacordaire, perhaps the most remarkable living French preacher is the Jesuit Combalot. Few would imagine that the quiet occupant of a second-story chamber in the Rue Madame at Paris, living a half-romantic cenobite life with an only sister, and now rarely appearing in the pulpit except in the annual carême, was for ten years the rival of the great Dominican, justifying by his vehemence and his power the phrase of " a lion roaring against hell.” He is the son of that Louis Combalot who saved his father's life before the Revolutionary tribunal, in 1793, by offering to die in his father's stead. The Abbé Theodore, born in August, 1798, and now sixty-one years old, was a preacher even in his childhood. At eight years of age he used to delight his schoolmates by off-hand sermons from the top of the staircase. His studies all tended to this vocation. At seventeen he received the tonsure; at twenty-two, by a special dispensation, he was ordained priest; and at twenty-four he was at the head of the Seminary at Grenoble, and widely known for his prodigious learning and his precocious genius. All at once he gave up his chance of preferment in the Church, and amazed his friends by joining the Order of Jesuits. He did this that he might have more time and freedom for missionary labor; and for five years he travelled as an itinerant preacher all over France, announcing the regeneration of faith, and confuting atheism. The influence of Lamennais, whom he adored, was visible in his ideas and his manner alike. The bishops were charmed to win such a coadjutor; the fame of his multiplied conversions came before long to the ears of the king, and he was sent for to preach the Lenten sermons in the chapel of the Tuileries. This series of discourses added to his renown; and when the Revolution of July broke out, many looked to him as a master spirit of the new order of things. But the excommunication which the Pope had fulmined against Lamennais was repeated by the Bishop of Grenoble against the friend of the heretic; and the Jesuit, who had furnished to L'Avenir some of its sharpest articles, was frightened, arrested in his course, and driven to more than concessions,to base and servile treachery. More contemptible vituperation and insult cannot be found in literature than the letters which Combalot addressed to his former friend. They show, indeed, in the words of his biographer, an “ ulcerated” heart, and are in strange contrast with the pretended “charity” of this apostle. As the reward of his servility, Combalot has preached before the Pope, and has the honorable title of
Apostolic Vicar.” He has published very little, — only a volume or two of dogmatic philosophy, and one volume of “ Conferences upon the Attributes of the Virgin ;” and his fame as a pulpit orator would suffer, if judged by this volume. His sermons -- so says his biography - would not stand the test of printing. His power is in his delivery, - his voice, rich, deep, and varying in its tones, his imposing presence, his magnificent head, and his air of profound conviction. He seems in the pulpit a “ Christian athlete.” Sometimes he shocks his delicate hearers by vulgarities which are allowed by no models, and sometimes he alarms them by the fierceness of his oratory. This violence of expression has more than once brought him into trouble; and it gave him, on one occasion, a month's imprisonment. He keeps more closely to the Scriptures than Lacordaire, and has far less of fantastic imagery. His last public course of sermons which we have seen noticed was at St. Sulpice, in the Lent of 1855.
A preacher of a quite different order is Peter Louis Cæur,