My soul for a ribbon: There were also some pretentious preachers, who quoted the Scriptures at length, in Greek or Latin. “Do not make, out of pretentious knowledge, / From Greek and Latin a burlesque manège,” warns our author; but De Villiers didn’t follow fashion either, and condemned those who, in order to make the Bible clearer to the Ladies, make Jesus Christ speak in the latest fashion. Others didn’t practice what they preached, and gave the pulpit a bad name. Some, like one Bizot, blamed indiscriminately. “When you blame the powerful for their inconsiderate expense,” begs De Villiers, “And wish in their clothes less magnificence, / Don’t you go too far, damning your brother for a ribbon.”
Let the poets bury the dead: Preachers dreamt of rubbing shoulders with the powerful—and flattered them. “Some use the pulpit as a step stone, / For rich sinners use kinder words, and a lighter tone, / Praising their probity over a tombstone.” As a matter of fact, funeral orations were another genre not to be mixed up with sermons—they were considered as a vulgar exercise. Only the bravest could remain righteous over the coffin of a powerful. “Let’s imagine Massillon standing in the pulpit,” writes La Harpe in the Encyclopaedia, “about to pronounce the funeral oration of Louis XIV—said Louis the Great—, first looking around, observing the usual morbid fanfare that follows the powerful up to their graves (...). He looks down for a while then raises his eyes to the heavens and declares with a firm and grave voice: God alone is great, my brothers.” Otherwise, the exercise was considered quite vulgar; genuine religious praised the Creator, not the creatures. They should leave it to writing mercenaries such as Esprit Fléchier. De Villiers wondered: “Should I blame an established custom? / Go and join Fléchier, to this morbid exercise accustom’d. / I am joking—but Abbot, what could I say, / About this misleading habit that every day, / At the foot of the tabernacle, out of a wicked, / Portrays a saint despite his evil deed’? / Leave flattery to the paid poets.”
De Villiers knew about the mighty maze of Man’s heart; and thus warned the too eloquent learning preachers: “To condemn, you speak the words of malicious gossiping/ You carefully depict the art of seducing—even loving. / Ô! Uninitiated translator of the plots of the high society, / Make sure you promote not the hated vices involuntarily, / Attracting to your sermons a vicious listener! / Always remember your aim while portraying a sinner.” Reading this part, I felt a little bit like Louis XIV—yes, I did—after Massillon’s sermon, exposed. As a man of his time, De Villiers had a somewhat dark vision of Man—and a resigned hope in mankind. Talking about the change a good sermon ought to make in everyone’s life, he stated with lucidity: “But this change will never take place. / No matter how zealous or convincing we preachers might be, / To rebellious listeners we hurt ourselves daily. / Needless to look for examples overseas, / I am uselessly writing those few verses.” Don’t be too sad, Abbot, and remember: God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
L’Art de Prescher: (Anonymous), A Cologne, Chez Pierre du Marteau—1682.
Title, preface (4pp), 61 pages (numbered from 7 to 68).
PS : Father Bourdaloue has given his name to two objects. 1) A delicious pear-pie that was invented by a pastry cook who operated in Rue Bourdaloue (Bourdaloue Street), in Paris—the street was named after the preacher. 2) Some portable toilets used by people who attended his sermons. He could speak for hours, and it was sometimes necessary to discreetly relieve oneself. One copy can be seen at the Hautefort’s Museum of Medecine (www.musee-hautefort.com).