Appeared in Summer/Autumn/Winter 2004, vol. XXIX, Nos. 2, 3, 4 Download PDF here


“The translator is a traitor,” runs the old proverb, and how very true that is in the case of the oratorical works of the great Bossuet. Today this oration is studied even in the secularist schools of the French Republic on account of its remarkable stylistic vigor, and so it has now by turns charmed and amazed three centuries of readers. If some apology be necessary for turning Bossuet’s classical French, whose beauty has often been deemed untranslatable, into prosaic American English, it is that few can now read French with anything like ease or pleasure, and that it is too great a shame that works like this be lost and forgotten by the Anglophone world. The essential excellence of Bossuet’s oration can perhaps only be appreciated by those accustomed to listening to sermons. How rare is the experience in our day of eloquence in pulpit oratory, or even the well-ordered exposition of a theme. In the France of Louis XIV, precision and power of expression were great ideals, both for poets such as Racine and for churchmen. Nobles in Paris would even send their servants a day ahead of time in order by their physical presence to reserve a seat at a sermon by a notable preacher. Of all the great preachers of the day – and there were several immortals among them – Bossuet stands alone as the one who best combined theological vision, rhetorical craft, sensitivity to the beauty of words, and, not least, soulful and penetrating meaning.

For Catholics, indeed, the name of Bossuet should be pronounced with affection and esteem. Likened in his own day to the Fathers of the Church of old, Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627-1703) stands as one of the half-dozen or so great theological teachers of the Tridentine period, worthy of being mentioned in company with St. Francis de Sales, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Francisco Suarez. Bossuet was a bishop, first of a small diocese in southern France whose charge he resigned in order to devote himself to the private instruction of Louis XIV’s son, and then of Meaux, just east of Paris amidst the dairies of the Brie; and although he had gained academic success at the Sorbonne while young, the thread tying his life into a unity was, as his biographer Jean Meyer has memorably said, that he was always “principally, and with humility, a pastor.” The pastor’s chief work, of course, is Christian instruction, and Bossuet’s genius was catechetical and hortatory. His best-known book, The History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches (1688), is a patient analysis of the descent of Lutheranism into the “thousand bizarre sects” of which he speaks in this oration. Its theme, that Luther’s espousal of private judgment must usher in endless theological change and confusion, is admirably sketched here using examples from seventeenth-century England. His other well-known book, The Discourse on Universal History (1681), shows, as does this oration, his firm faith in the Providential government of the world and, especially, of the Church.

Bossuet’s belief in the essential goodness of ecclesiastical authority and his contention that the protestant principle of private judgment must ultimately destroy Christian observance are positions surely familiar to most readers, and not least of all from the writings of John Henry Newman. What is more foreign to us is his visionof European history, especially that of France, and his immense confidence in the ideal of a Christian social order. This oration is a useful and accurate summary of his political thought, expressed at greater length in the posthumously published Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture. Bossuet was a firm believer in the goodness of monarchical power, but his “absolutism,” if that is indeed the best word for his politics, was always tempered by his prior conviction about the unity and divine authority of the Church. The reader of this oration cannot fail to see that its author is primarily a spiritual teacher, and a moving one at that.

For those with further interest in Bossuet or in Henriette-Marie, the following suggestions are offered: Quentin Bone, Henrietta Maria: Queen of the Cavaliers (Urbana, Illinois, 1972); E. E. Reynolds, Bossuet (New york, 1963); Louis de Bonald, “On Jacques-benigne bossuet, bishop of Meaux,” in C. O. Blum, ed., Critics of the Enlightenment (Wilmington, Deleware, 2004). There is also a very able double entry on Bossuet in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909 edition, that gives special attention to his sermons.



Et nunc, Reges, intelligite; erudimini, qui judicatis terram.
(Psalm II.10)
Now, O Kings, take heed. Instruct yourselves, you judges of the earth.


He who reigns in heaven and who establishes every empire, to whom alone belong glory, majesty, and independence, is also the only one who glorifies himself by giving the law to kings and, when it pleases him, by teaching them great and terrible lessons. Whether he raises up thrones or lowers them, whether he communicates his power to princes or draws it back to himself and leaves them to their own weakness, he teaches them their duties in a sovereign manner worthy of himself. For, in giving them his power, he commands that they wield it as he does for the good of the world. And in withdrawing that power, he makes them see that all their majesty is borrowed, and that, though they be seated on a throne, they are no less under his hand and his supreme authority. Thus he instructs princes, not only by words, but also by deeds and examples. Et nunc, Reges, intelligite; erudimini, qui judicatis terram.

Christians, whom the memory of a great queen, daughter, wife, mother of mighty kings, and sovereign of three kingdoms has called from all corners to this sad ceremony, this discourse will present one of those terrible cases that teaches the world how entirely vain it is. You will see in a single life all life’s vicissitudes: unbounded happiness as well as misery; a long and peaceful enjoyment of one of the most noble crowns of the universe. You will see all the glory with which high birth and grandeur can endow one head, and then the outrages of fortune to which it is exposed; a good cause at first attended by good results, and then, by sudden reversals; extraordinary changes; rebellion long held at bay suddenly master in the end; unbridled license; laws abolished; majesty violated by attacks hitherto unthinkable; usurpation and tyranny under the name of liberty; a fugitive queen who finds no place of retreat in her three kingdoms and to whom her own country is but a sad place of sorrowful exile; nine sea voyages undertaken by a princess in spite of storms; the ocean astonished to see itself traversed so many times in so many ways and for so many different reasons; a throne shamefully overthrown and miraculously restored. Thus does God instruct kings. Thus does he show the world the nothingness of its ceremony and rank. If words fail us, if our expressions do not correspond to so vast and lofty a subject, the deeds will speak well enough for themselves. The heart of a great queen – sometimes elated by prosperity, sometimes plunged in an abyss of bitterness – will speak out. And if a subject be not permitted to extract lessons for sovereigns from such strange happenings, a king will loan me his words so that I may say to them, Et nunc, Reges, intelligite; erudimini, qui judicatis terram. Take heed, O great ones of the earth; listen and learn, you rulers of men.

But the wise and religious princess who is the subject of this discourse has not been merely a spectacle put forward so that men may study the counsels of Divine providence and the fatal revolutions of monarchies. She instructed herself, while God was instructing sovereigns by her example. I have said already that this great God teaches Kings both by giving and by removing their power. The queen of whom we speak understood two opposite lessons equally well. She appropriated as a Christian the lessons of good fortune and of evil. In the one, she was beneficent, in the other, invincible. While happy and prosperous, she made her power felt in the world by her infinite good deeds. When good fortune had abandoned her, she put on virtue more than ever. Thus, she lost for her own good the royal power which she held for the good of others; and if her subjects, if her allies, if the Church universal has profited from her magnificence, she herself knew how to profit from her misery and disgrace more than she had done from all her glory. This is what we see in the eternally memorable life of the most high, most excellent, and most powerful princess Henriette-Marie of France, Queen of Great Britain.

Though no one is ignorant of the great qualities of a queen whose story has filled the world, I feel obliged to recall them to your memory, so that their idea can serve us for the rest of the discourse. To dwell upon the princess’s glorious birth would be superfluous: nothing under the sun equals its grandeur. In the early days of the Church, Pope St. Gregory praised the crown of France in incomparable terms, saying that she surpasses the other crowns of the world as the royal dignity surpasses that of the subject. If he spoke thus in the age of King Childebert, if he so highly elevated the Merovingian race, judge what he would have said of the blood of St. Louis and Charlemagne. Issue of this race, daughter of Henri le Grand and of so many kings, her great heart has surpassed her birth. Any place but a throne would have been unworthy of her. She did have something to satisfy her noble pride when she saw that she was to unite the house of France to the royal family of Stuart, who were come to the succession of the crown of England through a daughter of Henry VII, but who had held in their own line the sceptre of Scotland for several centuries and had descended from ancient kings whose origins are shrouded in the obscurity of the earliest days. but if she had the joy of reigning over a great nation, it was because she was able thus to fulfill the immense desire which ceaselessly besought her to do good. She had a royal generosity, and it was said that she lost what she did not give away. Her other virtues were no less admirable. Faithful repository of secrets and complaints, she said that princes should keep the same silence as confessors and have their discretion. In the greatest tumult of the civil wars, no one ever doubted her word or despaired of her clemency. Who has better practiced that obliging art which allows one to humble himself without degrading himself, and which so happily combines ease with respect? Sweet, familiar, agreeable as well as rm and vigorous, she knew how to persuade and to convince as well as to command, and to make reason valued no less than authority. you will see with what prudence she arranged her affairs; so skillful a hand would have saved the State if the State could have been saved. It is impossible sufficiently to praise the magnanimity of this princess. Fortune could not master her: neither the evils she had foreseen nor the ones that surprised her could dampen her courage. What shall I say of her unwavering adherence to the religion of her ancestors? She knew that this attachment had made the glory of her house as well as that of all of France, the only nation of the world which has rejoiced for the twelve centuries since her kings embraced Christianity to see none on her throne but a princely son of the Church. She always declared that nothing could separate her from the faith of St. Louis. Her husband the king paid her this lovely tribute just before his death: that religion was the only point on which their hearts were not united; and, while thus confirming the piety of the queen, this enlightened prince made known to all the earth the tenderness, the conjugal love, and the holy and inviolable fidelity of his incomparable spouse.

God, who fits all His plans to the preservation of His holy Church, and who, rich in means, employs all things for His hidden ends, in days gone by made use of the chaste charms of two holy heroines to deliver His faithful from their enemies’ hands. When He wanted to save the town of Bethulia, He used Judith’s beauty to set an unexpected and unavoidable trap for the blind brutality of Holofernes. The modest graces of the queen Esther had as salutary an effect, if a less violent one. She won the heart of her husband the king and made of an infidel prince an illustrious protector of the people of God. By a similar counsel, this great God had prepared an innocent charm for the king of England in the infinite graces of his wife the queen. From the age of fifteen she was capable of shouldering these cares; and sixteen years of prosperity, which owed without interruption with the admiration of the whole earth, were sixteen years of sweetness for that afflicted Church. The queen’s credit obtained for Catholics that singular and almost incredible benefit of the successive governance of three apostolic nuncios who brought them the consolations that the children of God receive from communication with the Holy See.

Pope St. Gregory, writing to the pious Emperor Maurice, represented to him the duties of Christian kings in these terms: “Know, O Great Emperor, that the sovereign power is granted to you from on high so that virtue might be aided, that the way to Heaven may be widened, and that the kingdoms of the earth may serve the kingdom of Heaven.” Truth herself dictated to him these beautiful words. For what is more proper to power than to assist virtue? What should force serve but reason? And why command men, if it is not to see that God be obeyed? But we must especially remark the glorious obligation this great Pope imposes on sovereigns: to widen the way to Heaven. Jesus Christ said in his Gospel: “How narrow is the way that leadeth to life!” What makes it so narrow? It is that the just man, severe to himself and an irreconcilable persecutor of his own passions, finds himself further persecuted by the unjust passions of others, and cannot hope to be left alone in that solitary and rude trail up which he climbs more than he walks. Make haste, you powers of the world, says St. Gregory. See in which path virtue advances, toiling, doubly in the narrow way, both by means of herself and by the efforts of those who persecute her. Succor her. Hold out a hand to her. As you see her already fatigued from the internal combat she wages against all the temptations which oppress human nature, at least shelter her from assaults from without. Thus you will widen a little the way to Heaven and repair the path whose steep incline and uneven footing will always render it difficult enough.

But if ever one can say that the way of the Christian is narrow, it is, gentlemen, during persecutions. For what greater evil can be imagined than to be unable to keep the faith without exposing oneself to torment, nor to be able to offer the sacrifice without worry, nor to be able to seek God without trembling? Such was the deplorable state of English Catholics. Error and innovation made themselves heard in all the pulpits, and the ancient doctrine, which, according to the Gospel oracle, must be preached “from the rooftops,” could hardly even be whispered in the ear. The children of God were astonished that they no longer saw their altars, their sanctuaries, nor those tribunals of mercy which justify those who accuse themselves. What sorrow! They found it necessary to hide repentance with as much care as others hide crime; and even Jesus Christ saw Himself constrained by the great evil of ungrateful men to seek other veils and other shadows than those veils and those mystical shadows with which he willingly cloaks himself in the the Eucharist. At the arrival of the queen, the rigor relented and the Catholics breathed again. That magnificent royal chapel which she had built in her palace of Somerset returned the Church to her former dignity. Henriette, worthy daughter of St. Louis, there encouraged all by her example and gloriously upheld the ancient reputation of the most Christian house of France by her retreats, her prayers, and her devotions. The priests of the Oratory, whom the great Pierre de Berulle had led in attending her, and after them the Capuchin fathers, gave those altars their true decoration and the divine service its proper majesty. The priests and religious, zealous and indefatigable pastors of the afflicted English flock wandering in disguise and impoverished, of whom “the world was unworthy” (Hebrews XI. 38), came to take up again with joy the glorious marks of their profession in the queen’s chapel; and the desolate Church, which before could not freely lament or mourn her past glory, made resound the canticles of Zion in a foreign land. Thus the pious queen consoled the faithful in captivity and restored their hope.

When God lets the vapors which obscure the sun escape from the abyss, according to the expression of the Apocalypse (IX-2), that is to say error and heresy, when, to punish scandals or to awaken the peoples and the pastors, he permits the spirit of seduction to trick the proud and to pour out everywhere a prideful acrimony, an ungovernable curiosity, and a spirit of revolt, He sets, in His profound wisdom, limits to the unhappy progress of error and to the sufferings of the Church. I do not undertake, Christians, to tell you the destiny of these last centuries’ heresies, nor to mark the inevitable term in which God has resolved to circumscribe their course. but, if my judgment does not deceive me, if, recalling the memory of past ages, I make a just comparison to the present state, I dare to believe – and I see the wise concurring in this opinion – that the days of blindness are past and that it is henceforward time that the light return. When Henry VIII, an accomplished sovereign in all other respects, lost himself in those passions that ruined Solomon and so many other kings, and began to tear down the authority of the Church, wise men admonished him that in disturbing this one thing he imperiled all, and that, contrary to his own design, he bequeathed unbridled license to succeeding ages. Wise men foresaw it. But are wise men believed in turbulent times? Are their prophecies not rather the object of laughter? What a judicious foresight could not put in the mind of men, a more imperious mistress – I mean experience – forced them to believe. All that religion holds most holy was victim. England changed so greatly that she no longer knew what to preserve; and, more agitated on land and in her ports than even the Ocean that surrounds her, she found herself inundated by a horrible flood of a thousand bizarre sects. Who knows whether, being brought back from her prodigious errors concerning royalty, she will not push her reflections further, and whether, disgusted by her changes, she will not regard with complaisance the preceding state of things? Meanwhile let us here admire the piety of the queen who knew so well how to preserve the precious remnant of so many persecutions. How many poor, how many unfortunates, how many families ruined for the cause of the faith subsisted during the course of her life through the immense profusion of her alms! They poured out over all parts – unto the furthest reaches of her three kingdoms – and, extending by their abundance even to the enemies of the faith, sweetened their bitterness and gathered them into the Church. Thus not only did she preserve, she augmented the people of God. Countless were the conversions; and those who had seen for themselves tell us that during the three-year sojourn in her son the king’s court, the royal chapel alone (not to mention others) saw more than three hundred converts piously abjure their errors in the hands of her almoners. Happy woman who so carefully tended the spark of divine fire that Jesus came to light in the world! If ever England returns to herself, if this precious leaven kneaded by her royal hands one day sanctifies the people, future generations will not have praises enough to celebrate the virtues of the religious Henriette, and will believe it owing to her piety that the most memorable work of the reestablishment of the Church was accomplished.

Yet if the history of the Church cherishes the memory of these deeds, our history will unfold the advantages she procured for her house and for France. Beloved and honored wife and mother, she reconciled her husband the king and her son the king with France. Who does not know how after the memorable action of the ile de Re and during the famous siege of La Rochelle, this princess, quick to make use of an important turn of events, saw the peace concluded that prevented the English from continuing their aid to the rebellious Calvinists? And in these last years, after our great king – who is more jealous of his word and of the salvation of his allies than of his own interest – had declared war on the English, was she not again a wise and happy mediator? Did she not reunite the two kingdoms? And since then did she not at every occasion apply herself to preserve this same accord? These cares now concern your royal highnesses, and the example of a great queen, as well as the blood of France and of England which you have united by your happy marriage, should inspire in you the desire to work unceasingly for the union of the two kings so close to you whose power and valor can mold the destiny of all Europe.

Monseigneur, it is no longer only by that valiant hand and by your great courage that you will gain glory. In the calm of a profound peace, you will have the means to distinguish yourself, and you will be able to serve the State without disturbing it, as you have done so many times in exposing a life as precious and indispensable as your own to the dangers of war. This service, Monseigneur, is not the only which awaits you; and one can hope for all from a prince whom wisdom counsels, whom valor animates, and whom justice attends in all his actions. but whither does my zeal lead, so far from my sad subject? I pause to consider the virtues of Philippe, and I forget that I owe you the history of the misfortunes of Henriette.

As I begin, I admit that I feel ever more deeply the difficulty of my undertaking. When I contemplate near at hand the unheard of misfortunes of so great a queen, I am dumbstruck, and my spirit, discouraged by so many insults to virtue and majesty, would never resolve to plumb so many horrors had not the admirable constancy with which this princess endured these calamities far surpassed the crimes that caused them. But at the same time, Christians, another care works upon me. It is not a work of man that I consider. I am not here as an historian who must unfold for you the secrets of ministers, the order of battles, or the interest of parties; instead, I must rise above men to make all creatures tremble beneath the judgments of God. With David, “I will enter into the powers of the Lord,” and I must make you see the marvels of His hand and of His counsels, counsels of just revenge on England, counsels of mercy for the salvation of the queen, but counsels marked by the finger of God, whose imprint is so vivid and so manifest in the events that I shall recount that one cannot resist its light.

However far one might return into the past seeking examples of great revolutions, one finds that down to the present they are caused by either the indolence or the violence of sovereigns. When, neglecting familiarity with their affairs and their armies, they live only to hunt or – as one historian has put it – glory only in luxury and care only for inventing new pleasures; or when, transported by their violent rages, they safeguard neither law nor custom, they strip away the regard and fear of men by making the evils from which they suffer appear more insupportable than the ones they can foretell: either excessive license, or patience pushed to its extremity threaten the ruling houses.

Charles I, King of England, was just, moderate, magnanimous, and learned in his affairs and in the ways of ruling. Never was a king more capable of making kingship not only venerable and holy, but also amiable and dear to his people. For what can he be reproached save his clemency? I should like to say of him what a celebrated author said of Caesar, that he was clement to the point of having to repent of it: Caesari proprium et peculiari sit clementiae insigne, qua usque ad poenitentiam omnes superavit (Pliny). Let this be, if you will, the illustrious fault of Charles as well as of Caesar. Yet let not those who wish to believe that the unfortunate and the vanquished are all weakness persuade us that his courage lacked force and his plans vigor. Pursued beyond all measure by the implacable animosity of fate and betrayed by all his own men, he did not give in.

Despite the poor showing of his unfortunate armies, one could not rule him, though he might be conquered. Just as when a conqueror, he never refused what was reasonable, so also when a captive he always refused what was weak or unjust. It pains me to contemplate his great heart in those last trials. But surely he showed that rebels are not permitted to strip the majesty from a king who knows his own worth. And those who saw his visage when he appeared in the chamber at Westminster or in the square at Whitehall can easily judge how intrepid he was at the head of his armies, how sublime and majestic in the midst of his palace and court. Great Queen, I satisfy your most tender desires when I celebrate this monarch; and this heart – dust though it be – which lived only for him, revives and becomes sensible, even under this mortuary veil, at the name of a spouse so dear, a man to whom even his enemies will accord the titles wise and just, and whom posterity will place in the ranks of great kings if his history finds readers whose judgment be not mastered by the course of events or by fortune.

Those who are worldly-wise, being obliged to admit that the king had given neither occasion nor grounds for the sacrilegious excesses whose memory we abhor, blame them upon the ungovernable pride of the nation; and I confess that hatred for patricide could inspire this thought. Yet when we consider more closely the history of this great kingdom, especially the most recent reigns, where we see not only kings, but princes and even queens so absolute and so fearsome; when we examine the incredible facility with which religion was now overthrown, now reestablished by Henry, by Edward, by Mary, by Elizabeth, we find neither a rebellious nation nor proud and factious parliaments: on the contrary, we are obliged to reproach these people for having been too submissive, for they put their faith itself and their consciences under the yoke. Let us not, therefore, blindly accuse the native dispositions of the inhabitants of the world’s greatest island, who, according to the most faithful histories, find their origin in the Gauls. Let us not believe that the Mercians, the Danes, and the Saxons ruined the good blood given them by our fathers so much that they were capable of losing themselves in this barbarism without other causes being involved. What, then, drove them? What force, what passion, what disorder caused these troubles and this violence? Let us not doubt it, Christians. There were hearts overcome by false religions, spiritual libertinism, the craze to discuss divine things without end, rule, or submission. Here are the enemies whom the queen had to combat and whom neither her wisdom, her mildness, nor her firmness were able to vanquish.

I have already said something about the license into which spirits are thrown when the foundations of religion are destroyed and when boundaries well set are removed. but, as the matter I treat furnishes me a striking example of these furious extremities unique in all the ages, it is, gentlemen, necessary to my subject to return to the principles, and to lead you step by step through all the excesses to which the hatred of the ancient religion and of the authority of the Church have been capable of leading men.

Therefore the source of all this evil is that those in the last century who were not afraid to attempt reformation through schism, finding no stronger rampart against all their innovations than the holy authority of the Church, were obliged to throw it off. Thus the decrees of the councils, the doctrines of the Fathers and their holy unanimity, the ancient tradition of the Holy See and of the Catholic Church were no longer sacred and inviolable laws as they had been in days gone by. Each made of himself a tribunal wherein he became the arbiter of his belief; and, while it seemed that the innovators had wanted to restrain spirits by holding them within the limits of Holy Scripture, as this was only on the condition that each of the faithful became an interpreter of it and believed that the Holy Spirit dictated to him the explication of it, there was no individual who did not see himself authorized by this doctrine to adore his own innovations, to consecrate his errors, and to ascribe to God all his own thoughts. Thence it was correctly foreseen that, license having no more governor, the sects would multiply to infinity, obstinacy would be invincible, and while some endlessly disputed and made their dreams out to be inspirations, others, worn out by so many mad visions and no longer able to recognize the majesty of a religion torn by so many sects, would in the end look for a fatal repose and complete independence in the indifference of religions or in atheism.

Such, and still more pernicious – as you shall see in what follows – are the natural effects of this new doctrine. Yet just as a swollen river does not lead to the same ravages everywhere because its rapidity does not everywhere nd the same slope and low banks, so also this spirit of indocility and independence, while equally poured out in all the heresies of the last centuries, did not produce the same effects everywhere. It received different limits as it was variously restrained by the fears, the interests, or the temper of individuals and nations, or, finally, by the divine power, which gives when it wishes a secret curb to the passions of even the men who are most swept away. If it showed itself in its entirety in England, and if its malignity there declared itself unreservedly, the kings suffered from this, but the kings were also its cause. They made the people only too aware that the ancient religion could change. Their subjects had ceased to revere its maxims when they saw them give way to the passions and interests of their princes. The very earth, too much disturbed and too little capable of solidity, was crumbling all around them and revealing frightening precipices. I speak of the bold and extravagant errors that were seen to appear every day. Do not believe that it was only a quarrel about the episcopacy or some squabble over the Anglican liturgy that agitated the Commons. These disputes were but feeble beginnings by which these turbulent spirits made, as it were, an essay of their liberty. Something more violent was stirring them in the bottom of their hearts: it was a secret distaste for all that had authority, and an itch to innovate endlessly after they had seen the first example of it.

Thus the Calvinists, bolder than the Lutherans, served to establish the Socinians, who were farther along than they, and whose party they enlarged every day. The infinite sects of Anabaptists came out of the same source; and their opinions, mixed with Calvinism, gave birth to the Independents, who were without boundaries, among whom one sees the Quakers, fanatical types who believe that all their reveries are inspired; and those named the Seekers, because seventeen hundred years after Jesus Christ they are still seeking religion and they are not close to stopping yet.

This, gentlemen, is the way that spirits once agitated, falling from ruin into ruin have divided themselves into so many sects. In vain the kings of England believed they could hold them on this dangerous slope by preserving the episcopacy. For what could be done by bishops who had themselves annihilated the authority of their sees and the reverence due their succession by overtly condemning their predecessors even to the very source of their orders, that is to say to Pope St. Gregory and the holy monk Augustine his disciple, the first apostle of the English nation? What is the episcopate when it separates itself from the Church which is its all, and from the Holy See which is its center, in order to attach itself, contrary to nature, to the royalty as its head? These two powers of such different orders do not unite themselves, but mutually embarrass one another when they are confounded. The majesty of the kings of England would have remained inviolable if, content with its sacred rights, they had not wished to gain the rights and authority of the Church. Thus nothing restrained the violence of spirits fertile in error, and God, to punish the irreligious instability of these peoples, abandoned them to the intemperance of their mad curiosity, such that the ardor of their insensate disputes and of their arbitrary religion has become the most dangerous of their maladies.

We must not be astonished if they lose respect for majesty and laws, nor if they become factious, rebellious, and obstinate. Religion is weakened when changed, and it is stripped of a certain weight that alone is capable of restraining the people. They have in the bottom of their hearts a kind of unrest which is set loose if one removes this necessary brake from them. They are left with nothing to treat with care when they are allowed to make themselves masters of their religion. Thus is born that so-called reign of Christ, hitherto unknown to Christianity, that must annihilate royalty and make all men equal, the seditious dream of the Independents, an impious and sacrilegious chimera. How true it is that everyone turns to revolt and sedition when the authority of religion is destroyed! but why look for proofs of a truth that the Holy Spirit pronounced openly in judgment? God himself threatens to retire from the presence of the people who alter the religion he established, thus leaving them to civil war. Hear how He speaks by the mouth of the prophet Zachariah (XI.9): “Their soul,” says the Lord, “has changed towards me,” as they had so often changed religion, “and I said to them: I will no longer be your pas- tor,” which is to say: “I will abandon you to yourselves and to your cruel destiny.” And see what follows: “he who must die will y to the death; that he who must be chastised will be chastised.” Do you understand these words? “And those who dwell in the land will devour another.” O prophecy: too real and too truly accomplished! The queen rightly judged that there was no way to remove the cause of the civil wars except by returning to Catholic unity, which through long centuries made the church and monarchy of England to flourish as much as the most holy churches and the most illustrious monarchies of the world. Thus, when this pious princess served the Church, she believed that she served the State; she believed herself to be gaining servants for the king by preserving for God His faithful. Experience justified her sentiments. It is true that her son the king found none more rm in his service than those Catholics, so hated and so persecuted, whom his mother the queen had saved. In effect, it is apparent that because separation from and revolt against the authority of the Church had been the source from which all these evils derived, their remedies will never be found except through the return to unity and through the ancient submission. It is the misprision of this unity that divided England. Now, if you ask me how so many opposing fractious and incompatible sects, who apparently must destroy one another, were able obstinately to conspire together against the royal throne, you are about to learn it.

One man stood forth with an incredible profundity of spirit, a refined hypocrite and an able politician, capable of undertaking all and of hiding all, equally active and indefatigable in peace as in war, who left nothing to fortune that he could take from it by planning and foresight; but moreover so vigilant and ready for all, that he never missed those chances presented to him; in sum, one of those restless and audacious spirits who seem to have been born to change the world. How dangerous are men with this kind of spirit, and how remarkable that they only appear in the history of those nations for whom their audacity has been deadly! Yet what will they fail to do when it pleases God to make use of them? It was given to this one to trick the peoples and to prevail against kings (Revelation XIII.7). For, he had perceived that what had captured the mind of this infinite melange of sects lacking set rules was the pleasure of dogmatizing without being rebuked or constrained by any authority ecclesiastical or secular. He therefore knew how to conciliate them and to make this monstrous assemblage into a formidable body. When once he had found the means to gather the multitudes by the appeal to liberty, they followed him blindly, provided only they heard the word. Then, occupied with the first object to move them, they kept going forever, without seeing that they were moving towards servitude. Their subtle conductor, who, in fighting, dogmatizing, in mixing a thousand different roles, in playing doctor and prophet as well as soldier and captain, saw that he had so enchanted the world that he was looked at by the whole army as a chief sent by God for the protection of independence, began to perceive that he could push them still further. I will not recount for you the too-fortunate series of his undertakings, nor his famous victories whose virtue was unworthy, nor that long tranquility that astonished the universe. This was the counsel of God to instruct kings not to leave his Church. He wanted to display a great example of all that heresy could do, how it is naturally indocile and independent, and how fatal it is to royalty and all legitimate authority. what is more, when this great God has chosen someone to be the instrument of his designs, nothing stops his progress. He either enchains, blinds, or subdues all that might be capable of resistance. “I am the Lord,” he says by the mouth of Jeremiah (XXvII). “It is I who have made the earth, with all its men and the animals, and I give it to whomever it pleases me. Now I willed to submit these lands to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant.” He calls him his servant, although an ifidel, because he has named him to execute his decrees. “ And I ordain,” he continues, “that all shall be submitted to him, even the animals”: so true it is that all bows and that all is supple when God commands it! But listen to the rest of the prophecy: “I want these peoples to obey him and for them to obey also his son, until the time that others come.” See, Christians, how the times are marked out, how the generations are counted. God determines how long the slumbers shall last and also when the world must awaken. Such was England’s lot. And yet, in this frightening confusion of all things, how beautiful it to consider what the great Henriette undertook for the salvation of the kingdom: her voyages, her negotiations, her treaties, all that her prudence and courage opposed to the fortune of the State, and finally, that constancy by which, not being able to vanquish the violence of destiny, she so nobly upheld the effort! Every day she brought around one of the rebels, and, from fear that they would despair, she wished them to take refuge in her word. It was between her hands’ that the governor of Scarborough returned that unconquerable port and castle. The two Hothams, father and son, who gave the first example of perfidy by refusing to open for the king the gates of the fortress and port of Hull, chose the queen as media- tor and would have given the place to the king, along with Beverley, but they were found out and beheaded, and God, who wished to punish their shameful disobedience by the hands of the very rebels, did not permit the king to profit from their repentance. She also won over a mayor of London, who was a man of great worth, and several other leaders of the faction. Almost all those she spoke to yielded to her, and if God had not been so inflexible, if the blindness of the peoples had not been so incurable, she would have healed their spirits, and the most just party would have been the strongest.

We know, gentlemen, that the queen frequently exposed her person in these secret conferences; but I have still greater hazards to show you. The rebels had seized the arsenals and magazines, and, in spite of the defection of so many subjects, and even in spite of the infamous desertion of the militia, it was still easier for the king to raise soldiers than to arm them. In order to gain arms and munitions, she abandoned not only the joys, but also the care of her life. She put herself to sea in the month of February, in spite of winter and storms, and, under the pretext of taking her eldest daughter the royal princess who had been married to William, the Prince of Orange, to Holland, she went to engage the States in the interests of the king, to win officers and munitions. Winter had not frightened her when she left England; winter did not stop her eleven months later when she needed to return to the king, but this journey did not resemble the first. I tremble merely to tell of the furious tempest that battered her ship for ten days. The sailors were alarmed to the point of losing hope, and several of them threw themselves into the waves. She, always intrepid even when the waves were high, reassured them all with her firmness. She excited those who accompanied her to hope in God, who had all her confidence, and, to take their minds away from the morbid talk of death that surrounded them, she said, with an air of serenity which seemed already to bring on a calm, that queens do not drown. Alas! Something still more extraordinary was reserved to her! Although saved from the storms, her sufferings would be no less deplorable. She watched her vessels sink and almost all her hope of helping the king. The vessel in which she traveled – conducted by the hand of One who rules the rages of the sea and stills the surges of the waves – was pushed back to the ports of Holland, and all the people were astonished by such a miraculous deliverance.

Those who escaped the storm swore an eternal goodbye to the sea and to ships; as an ancient author put it, they could not even stand to look at it. Nevertheless, eleven days later, O astonishing resolution!, the queen, barely removed from such appalling torture, moved by her desire to see the king again and to bring him aid, dared again to commit herself to ocean’s fury and winter’s rage. She gathered several vessels, filled them with officers and munitions, and crossed at last to England. But who would not be astonished at the cruel destiny of this princess? After having been saved from the sea, another tempest was almost fatal for her. One hundred canons thundered at her upon her arrival, and the house into which she had gone was pierced by their blows. How composed she remained during this frightening peril! And how clement was she to the author of such a dark attack! He was brought as a prisoner before her shortly thereafter; she pardoned his crime, leveling punishment against his conscience for the shame of having attempted to take the life of such a good and generous princess. She was so far above both vengeance and fear!

But will we never again see her close to the king, who wished too ardently for her return? She burned with the same desire, and soon appeared in a new guise. She marched like a general at the head of a royal army in order to traverse provinces held almost entirely by the rebels. She besieged and assaulted in passing a considerable place that opposed her march; she triumphed, she pardoned, and at last the king received her in a countryside where the previous year he had won a signal victory against General Essex. One hour later they were brought news of a great battle won. Everything seemed to prosper by her presence. The rebels were worried. If she had been believed, if, instead of dividing the royal armies and wasting time with the unfortunate sieges of Hull and Gloucester, they had marched straight on London, the affair would have been decided and this campaign would have ended the war. but the moment was lost. The fatal term approached, and Heaven, which in favor of the piety of the queen seemed to have suspended the vengeance it meditated, began to show itself. “You know how to vanquish,” said a brave African to the cleverest general that ever lived, “but you do not know how to make use of your victory: Rome, which you hold, will escape you, and your enemy will take away from you both the means and the will to take it.” (Livy) From this unfortunate moment everything went visibly into decline. The chase was up. The queen found herself with child, and in spite of all her quality could not force the two unsuccessful sieges to be given up, and all the State languished with her. She was constrained to separate herself from the king, who was almost besieged in Oxford, and they said to one another a very sad adieu, even though they did not know that it would be their last. She retired to Exeter, a fortified city, where she herself was soon besieged. There she gave birth to a princess and twelve days later saw herself forced to flee and to take refuge in France.

Princess, whose destiny is so great and so glorious, was it necessary that you be born in the power of enemies of your house?3 O Eternal one, watch over her! Holy angels, range around her your invisible squadrons and place yourselves as guards around the cradle of a princess, so great and so forsaken. She was destined for the wise and valorous Philippe, and owes France princes worthy of him, worthy of herself and of her ancestors. God had protected her, gentlemen. Her governess, two years later, snatched this precious infant from the hands of the rebels, even though she had not known she was a captive. Yet, the child was conscious of her own gran- deur and so refused all other names and insisted that she was the princess. And so she was at last taken to her mother the queen and was her consolation amidst sorrow, for she could expect that she would be the happiness of a great prince and the joy of all of France. But I interrupt the order of my history. I said that the queen was obliged to retire from her kingdom. In fact, she left the port of England in full view of the rebels, who pursued her so closely that she could almost hear their oaths and insolent threats. What a different voyage than the one she had undertaken on the same sea when she came to take possession of the sceptre of Great Britain, when she saw, so to speak, the waters bend beneath her and submit all their movements to her as ruler of the seas! Now, chased-pursued by implacable enemies who had the audacity to bring action against her-sometimes saved, sometimes almost taken, her fortune changing with each quarter hour, having only God and her inconquerable courage, she had neither the wind nor the clouds necessary to favor her precipitous flight. yet at last she arrived at Brest, where, after having suffered so many evils, she was finally granted a bit of rest.

When I reflect upon the extreme and continual perils on land and at sea which this princess risked over a period of ten years, while elsewhere I see that all undertakings against her person are futile at the same time as everything directed against the State succeeds astonishingly, how cannot I think otherwise than that providence, as much concerned to preserve her life as to reverse her power, had wished that she outlive her grandeur, in order that she could escape those deathly attachments to the earth and to the prideful sentiments which corrupt the worst those souls that are the greatest and most elevated? This was a counsel similar to that which in days past abased David under the hand of the rebel Absalom. “you see him, the great king,” said the holy and eloquent preacher of Marseille, “you see him alone, abandoned, so fallen in the eyes of his people that he became for some an object of contempt, and, what is still more unbearable for one of great courage, an object of pity for others.” Here, gentlemen, is an image, but im- perfect, of the queen of England when after such strange humiliations she was then constrained to appear to the world, and to be displayed, so to speak, to France herself, at the Louvre, where she had been born with so much glory, for all to see her misery. Thus she could well say with the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord of armies has done these things in order to annihilate the whole extent of human grandeur and to cast into ignominy what is most august in the universe.” It is not that France was lack- ing in respect to the daughter of Henri Le Grand. The magnanimous and pious Anne, whose name we never speak without regret, received her in a manner befitting the majesty of the two queens. But the affairs of the king did not allow this sage regent to effect a remedy in proportion to the evil, as you will judge from the state of the two princesses. The great-hearted Henriette was constrained to plead for help; the great-hearted Anne was unable to give enough. If it had been possible to advance into these beautiful years whose glorious course we are now admiring, Louis, who hears from great distances the laments of suffering Christians, who, sure that the glory due the wisdom of his counsels and the rectitude of his intentions will redound to him no matter the incertitude of events, alone upholds the common cause and takes up his formidable arms across immense spaces of sea and land, could he have refused his arm to his neighbors, to his allies, to his own blood, to the sacred rights of royalty which he knows so well how to maintain? How England would have then seen the great power of the invincible defender, soon to be avenger, of violated majesty!

But God left not resources to the king of England: he lacked everything and everything was against him. The Scots, to whom he gave himself up, surrendered him to the English parliamentarians, and so the faithful guardians of our kings betrayed their own. As the parliament of England thought to discharge the army, this army, composed entirely of Independents, reformed the parliament, until then somewhat moderate, in its own image and so made itself the master of all. Thus the king was led from captivity into captivity; and the queen pleaded in vain to France, to Holland, even to Poland and the most distant powers of the North. She revived the Scots and thirty thousand of them took arms: with the Duc de Lorraine she undertook to deliver her lord the king, and success seemed inevitable for their cause was just. She regained her dear children, the only hope of her house, and confessed at this point that amidst the most mortal sorrows she was still capable of joy. She consoled the king, who wrote her from his prison that she alone maintained his spirit and that it was not necessary to fear he might commit a base act, because he would remember that he belonged to her. O mother, O wife, O queen most admirable and worthy of a better fortune, if the fortunes of the earth were worth something! In the end you must accept your fate. You had held up the State long enough. It was under attack by an invincible and divine force; nothing of it now remained but you, holding firm amidst its ruins.

Like a column whose solid mass is seen to be the most rm footing of a ruined temple when the great edifice that it held up falls on it without toppling it, so the queen showed herself to be the firm support of the State when after having for a long time carried it in fact, she was not brought low by its fall.

Who, however, could express her just sorrows? Who could recount her complaints? No, gentlemen, Jeremiah himself, who alone seems capable of equaling the lamentations to her calamities, does not suffice for such sorrow. She cries out with the prophet: “See, Lord, my affliction. My enemy gains in the strength and my children are lost. The cruel have placed their sacrilegious hands on that which was most dear to me. Royalty has been profaned and the princes are trodden under foot. Leave me, I will shed bitter tears; do not undertake to console me. The sword was struck without, but I feel inside myself a similar death.” (Lamentations)

Yet, after we have listened to these complaints, holy Sisters,4 her dear friends (for she would have much wished thus to name you), you who have see her kneel so often before the altars of her only protector and into the bosom of which she has poured out the secret consolations she has received from them, put an end to this discourse by recounting for us her Christian sentiments of which you are the faithful witnesses. How many times did she in this place humbly thank God for two great graces: the one, for having made her a Christian; the other, gentlemen, what shall I say? Perhaps for having reestablished the affairs of her son the king? No. It is for having made the queen suffer. Ah! I begin to regret the narrow boundaries of this place in which I speak! It is necessary to burst, to pierce this enclosure, and make redound to great lengths a word that cannot be often enough heard. How her sorrows made her wise in the science of the Gospel, and how she well knew the religion and the power of the Cross, when she united Christianity with miseries! Times of great prosperity blind us, transport us, lead us astray, make us forget God, ourselves, and the sentiments of the faith. From thence are born monstrous crimes, refined pleasures, delicacies of pride, which give only too many foundations for those terrible maledictions that Jesus Christ pronounced in his Gospel: “Woe to you who laugh! Woe to you who are full and content with the world!” On the contrary, as Christianity finds its birth in the Cross, it is also strengthened by suffering. There one expiates one’s sins; there one purifies one’s intentions; there one lifts one’s desires from the earth to Heaven; there one loses all the taste for the world, and one ceases to rely upon oneself and one’s own judgment. We must not flatter ourselves – the most experienced in affairs make capital faults. But how easily we pardon our faults when fortune pardons them! And how we believe ourselves to be the most enlightened and the most skillful when we are the most successful and the most happy! Failure is the only master that can successfully call us back and wrench from us the avowal that we have sinned, which costs so much to our pride. So, when misery opens our eyes, we reconsider with bitterness all our false steps; we find ourselves equally guilty for what we have done and for what we have failed to do, and we no longer know how to excuse the presumptuous judgment that believes itself infallible. We see that God alone is wise; and in vainly deploring the faults that have ruined our affairs, a better rejection teaches us to deplore those that would cause us to lose our eternity, with this singular consolation, that we repair them when we deplore them.

For twelve years, God had held our unfortunate queen (boldly let us give her this title, by which she was made subject to the actions of grace) without respite, without any human con- solation, making her study under His hand His hard but durable lessons. Finally, worn down by her vows and by her humble patience, He reestablished the royal house. Charles II was recognized; the injustice to the kings was avenged. Those whom arms could not conquer nor negotiations convince came back all at once by themselves. Disappointed by their liberty, they had in the end detested its excesses and were ashamed to have had so much power. Their own successes horri ed them. We know that this magnanimous prince could have hastened his affairs by making use of the hand of those who offered to destroy the tyranny by a single blow. His great soul judged these means too base. He believed that whatever condition a king found himself, it was of his majesty to act only by laws or by arms. These laws, which he had protected, he reestablished almost by himself. He reigns peacefully and gloriously on the throne of his ancestors, and makes justice, wisdom, and mercy reign with him.

It is needless to tell you how the queen was consoled by this miraculous event. But she had learned through her miseries not to change amidst such a great change in her condition. Once banished, the world did not return to her heart. She saw with astonishment that God, who had made useless so many undertakings and so many efforts because he was waiting for the hour he had marked, when this hour arrived, took her son the king by the hand to the throne. She submitted herself more than ever to that sovereign hand that holds in the highest heaven the reigns of all empires; and, disdaining the thrones that can be usurped, she attached her affection to the kingdom where one fears not one’s equals and where one sees one’s fellows without jealousy. Touched by these sentiments, she loved that humble house more than her palace. She made no more use of her power except to protect the Catholic faith, to multiply her alms, and to succor more abundantly those families who were refugees from her three kingdoms and all those who had been ruined for the cause of religion or in the service of the king. Recall in your memory with what circumspection she attended to the feelings of her neighbor and how great was her aversion to the poisonous discourses of calumny. She knew the great weight not only of the least word, but also of the silence of princes, and how much empire calumny achieves when it is allowed even to be tolerated in their sublime presence. Those who saw her attentively weighing all her words judged well that she was ceaselessly under the view of God and that, faithful imitator of the Order of the visitation, she never lost the holy presence of the divine majesty. She recalled this precious memory also by prayer and by reading the book of the Imitation of Christ, where she learned to conform herself to the true model of Christians. She watched without resting over her conscience. After so many miseries and obstacles, she knew no other enemies but her sins. None of them seemed light to her; she made a rigorous examination of them, and careful to expiate them by penance and alms she was so well prepared that death could not surprise her even though it came under the appearance of sleep. This great queen is dead; and by her death she has left an eternal regret, not only to Monsieur and to Madame, who, faithful to all their duties, held for her a submissive, sincere, and enduring respect, but also to all those who had the honor to serve her or to know her. Let us no more complain of her disgrace, which now makes for her felicity. If she had been more fortunate, her history would have been more pompous, but her works would have been less full, and with these superb titles she might perhaps have appeared empty-handed before God. Now that she has preferred the Cross to the throne and has placed her miseries in the ranks of her greatest graces, she will receive the consolations that are promised to those who mourn. Let then this God of mercy accept her afflictions as an agreeable sacrifice! Let Him place her in the bosom of Abraham, and, satisfied with her sufferings, henceforward spare her family and the world such terrible lessons!



1 The text used for this translation is that of the Oeuvres Oratoires de Bossuet, edition critique de J. Lebarq, revue et augmentee par Ch. Urbain et E. Levesque, 7 volumes (paris: Desclee,1922), v: 515-546.
2 Bossuet is addressing Philippe of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV, who was in attendance with his wife, princess Henriette-Marie d’Angleterre, the daughter of Henriette-Marie of France.
3 Bossuet here addresses the Princesse d’Orleans, who is in the audience.
4 The Sisters of the Visitation, in whose chapel the oration was pronounced.