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BOSSUET -- THE FUNERAL SERMON ON THE DEATH OF THE GRANDE CONDE

THE FUNERAL SERMON ON THE DEATH OF THE GRANDE CONDE

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Jacque Benigne Bossuet was born at Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1627. In an illustrious group of French Catholic preachers he occupied a foremost place. In beginning his sermons he was reserved and dignified, but as he moved forward and his passionate utterance captured his hearers, |he watched their rising emotion, the rooted glances of a thousand eyes filled him with a sort of divine frenzy, his notes became a burden and a hindrance, and with impetuous ardor he abandoned himself to the inspiration of the moment.|

To ripe scholarship Bossuet added a voice that was deep and sonorous, an imposing personality, and an animated and graceful style of gesture. Lamartine says he had |a voice which, like that of the thunder in the clouds, or the organ in the cathedral, had never been anything but the medium of power and divine persuasion to the soul; a voice which only spoke to kneeling auditors; a voice which spoke in the name of God, an authority of language unequaled upon earth, and against which the lowest murmur was impious and the smallest opposition blasphemy.| He died in 1704.

BOSSUET 1627-1704

THE FUNERAL SERMON ON THE DEATH OF THE GRANDE CONDE

In beginning this address, in which I purpose to celebrate the immortal glory of Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conde, I feel myself overweighted both by the grandeur of the subject and, to be frank, by the fruitlessness of the effort. What part of the inhabited world has not heard of the victories of the Prince de Conde and the wonders of his life? They are recounted everywhere; the Frenchman who boasts of them in the presence of the foreigner tells him nothing which the latter does not know; and in no matter how exalted a strain I might sound his praises, I should still feel that in your hearts you were convinced that I deserved the reproach of falling far short of doing him justice. An orator, feeble as he is, can not do anything for the perpetuation of the glory of extraordinary souls. Le Sage was right when he said that |their deeds alone can praise them|; no other praise is of any effect where great names are concerned; and it needs but the simple story of his deeds faithfully recorded to sustain the glory of the Prince de Conde.

But, while awaiting the appearance of the history which is to tell the story of his life to coming ages, it is necessary to satisfy as best we may the public recognition of his merit and bow to the order of the greatest of all sovereigns. What does not the kingdom owe to a prince who has honored the house of France, the French name, his century, and, so to speak, all mankind? Louis the Great himself shares these sentiments; after having mourned this great man, and by his tears, shed in the presence of his entire court, rather than by words, uttered the most glorious eulogy he could receive, he assembled together in this celebrated temple all that is most august in his realm, in order that the last rites to the memory of this prince might there be celebrated; and he wishes that my feeble voice should animate all this funeral equipage. Let us try, then, to forget our grief. Here an object greater and worthier of this pulpit presents itself to my mind: it is God, who makes warriors and conquerors. |It is Thou,| said David unto Him, |who hast trained my hand to battle, and my fingers to hold the sword.| If He inspires courage, no less is He the bestower of other great qualities, both of heart and of mind. His mighty hand is the source of everything; it is He who sends from heaven generous sentiments, wise counsels and every worthy thought. But He wishes us to know how to distinguish between the gifts He abandons to His enemies and those He reserves for His servants. What distinguishes His friends from all others is piety. Until this gift of heaven has been received, all others not only are as naught, but even bring ruin on those who are endowed with them; without this inestimable gift of piety what would the Prince de Conde have been, even with his great heart and great genius? No, my brethren, if piety had not, as it were, consecrated his other virtues, these princes would have found no consolation for their grief, nor this pontiff any confidence in his prayers, nor would I myself utter with conviction the praises which I owe so great a man.

Let us, by this example, then set human glory at naught; let us destroy the idol of the ambitious, that it might fall to pieces before this altar. Let us to-day join together (for with a subject so noble we may do it) all the finest qualities of a superior nature; and, for the glory of truth, let us demonstrate, in a prince admired of the universe, that what makes heroes, that what carries to the highest pitch worldly glory, worth, magnanimity, natural goodness -- all attributes of the heart; vivacity, penetration, grandeur and sublimity of genius -- attributes of the mind; would be but an illusion were piety not a part of them -- in a word, that piety is the essence of the man. It is this, gentlemen, which you will see in the forever memorable life of the most high and mighty Prince Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conde, first prince of the blood.

God has revealed to us that He alone creates conquerors, and that He makes them serve His designs. What other created a Cyrus if it is not God, who named him two hundred years before his birth in the Prophecies of Isaiah? |Thou art as yet unborn,| He said unto him, |but I see thee, and I named thee by thy name; thou shalt be called Cyrus. I will walk before thee in battle, at thy approach I will put kings to flight; I will break down doors of brass. It is I that stretch out the heavens, that support the earth, that name that which is not as that which is,| that is to say, it is I that create everything and I that see, from eternity, all that I create. What other could fashion an Alexander, if it is not this same God who caused the unquenchable ardor of Daniel, His prophet, to see from so great a distance and by means of foreshadowings so vivid. |Do you see him,| he says, |this conqueror; with what rapidity he rises from the west by bounds, as it were, and touches not the earth?|

In the boldness of his leaps, and the lightness of his tread like unto some powerful and frisking beast, he advances by quick and impetuous bounds, and nor mountain nor precipice arrests his progress. Already has the King of Persia fallen into his hands. |At his sight he was exasperated; efferatus est in eum,| says the prophet; |he strikes him down, he tramples him under foot; none can save him from his blows nor cheat him of his prey.| But to hear these words of Daniel, whom would you suppose you perceived, gentlemen, under that figure of speech -- Alexander or the Prince de Conde? God gave him that dauntless valor that France might enjoy safety during the minority of a king but four years old. Let him grow up, this king, cherished of Heaven, and all will yield to his exploits; rising above his own followers, as well as his enemies, he will know how sometimes to make use of, and at others to dispense with, his most illustrious captains, and alone, under the hand of God, who will be his constant aid, he will be seen to be the stanch rampart of his dominions. But God chose the Duc d'Enghien to defend him in his infancy. So, toward the first days of his reign, at the age of twenty-two years, the duke conceived a plan in the armor of which the seasoned veterans could find no vulnerable point; but victory justified his course at Rocroi. The opposing force, it is true, is stronger; it is composed of those old Walloon, Italian and Spanish regiments that, up to that time, could not be broken; but at what valuation should be placed the courage inspired in our troops by the pressing necessities of the state, by past successes, and by a young prince of the blood in whose eyes could be read victory? Don Francisco de Mellos awaits the onset with a firm foot; and, without being able to retreat, the two generals and the two armies seemed to have wished to imprison themselves in the woods and the marshes in order to decide the issue of combat like two champions in the lists.

Then what a sight is presented to the eye! the young prince appears another man; touched by an object so worthy, his great soul displays all its sublimity; his courage waxes with the dangers it has to encounter, and his penetration becomes keener as his ardor increases. That night, which had to be spent in the presence of the enemy, like the vigilant commander that he was, he was the last to retire. But never were his slumbers more peaceful. On the eve of so momentous a day, when the first battle is to be fought, his mind is entirely tranquil, so thoroughly is he in his element; and it is well known that on the morrow, at the hour he had indicated, it was necessary to awaken this second Alexander from a deep slumber. Do you see him as he rushes on to victory or death? No sooner had he inspired the ranks with the ardor with which his soul was animated than he was seen almost at the same time to press the right wing of the enemy, support our own shaken by the shock of the charge, rally the disheartened and almost vanquished French forces, put to flight the victorious Spaniards, carrying dismay everywhere, and terrifying by his lightning glances those who escape his blows. There still remained that dreaded infantry of the Spanish army, whose great battalions in close line of battle like so many towers, but towers which knew how to repair their breaches, were unshaken by the onset, and, tho the rest of the army was put to rout, maintained a steady fire. Thrice the young conqueror attempted to break the ranks of these intrepid warriors, thrice was he repulsed by the valorous Comte de Fontaines, who was borne to the scene of combat in his invalid's chair, by reason of his bodily infirmities, thus demonstrating that the warrior's soul has the ascendant over the body it animates.

But at last was he forced to yield. In vain does Beck, with a body of fresh cavalry, hasten his march through the woods in order to attack our exhausted soldiers; the prince has forestalled him; the defeated battalions are asking quarter. But victory for the Duc d'Enghien was destined to be more terrible than the combat. While with an air of confidence he advances to receive the surrender of these brave fellows, they, on their part, still on their guard, are in dread of being surprized by a fresh attack. The frightful havoc wrought by the discharge of their musketry infuriates our troops. Carnage is now rampant; the bloodshed intoxicates the soldiers to a high degree. But the prince, who could not bear to see these lions slaughtered like so many lambs, calmed their overwrought feeling and enhanced the pleasure of victory by that of pardoning the vanquished. What, then, was the astonishment of these veteran troops and their brave officers when they perceived that their only salvation was to give themselves up to their conqueror! With what wonder did they regard the young prince, whose victory had rendered still more impressive his customary proud bearing, to which, however, his clemency had imparted a new grace. How willingly would he have saved the life of the brave Comte de Fontaines, but unhappily he lay stretched upon the field of battle among the thousands of dead bodies, those whose loss is still kept by Spain. Spain knew not that the prince who caused her the loss of so many of her old regiments on the day of Rocroi was to finish the rest on the plains of Lens.

Thus the first victory was the guarantee of many others. The prince bent his knee and on the field of battle rendered to the Lord of Hosts the glory He had sent him. There was celebrated the deliverance of Rocroi, and thanksgivings were uttered that the threats of a once dreaded enemy had resulted in his own shameful defeat; that the regency was strengthened, France calmed, and a reign which was to be so illustrious begun by an augury so auspicious. The army led in thanksgiving; all France followed; the first venture of the Duc d'Enghien was lauded to the skies. Praise sufficient to render others forever illustrious; but for him it was but the first stage in his career!

As a result of this first campaign, and after the capture of Thionville -- a prize worthy of the victory gained at Rocroi -- he was regarded as an adversary equally to be feared in sieges and in battles. But there is one trait in the character of the victorious young prince no less admirable than that which was brought out by victory. The court, which at his arrival was prepared to welcome him with the plaudits he deserved, was surprized at the manner in which he received them. The queen-regent assured him that the king was well pleased with his services. This from the lips of his sovereign was a fitting recompense for his labors. If others dared to praise him, however, he treated their eulogies as insults, and, impatient of flattery, he was in dread even of its semblance. Such was the delicacy, or rather the solidity of character, of this prince. Moreover his maxim was (listen, for it is a maxim which makes great men), that, in the performance of great deeds, one's sole thought should be to perform them well, and leave glory to follow in the train of virtue. It is this which he has endeavored to instil into others, and by this principle has he himself ever been guided. Thus false glory had no temptation for him. It was with truth and greatness alone that he was concerned.

Thus it came about that his glory was wrapt up in the service of his kind and in the happiness and well-being of the state; They were the objects nearest his heart; these were his first and most cherished desires. The court had but little charm for him, or occupation suited to his talents, tho he was there regarded as its greatest hero. It was deemed needful to exhibit everywhere in Germany, as in Flanders, the intrepid defender whom God had given us. Remark well what is about to transpire: There is being formed against the prince an enterprise of a more formidable nature than, that at Rocroi; and, in order to put his talents to the test, warfare is about to drain all its resources, and call to its aid every known invention. What is it that is presented to my vision? I see not merely men to meet in combat but inaccessible mountains: on one side are ravines and precipices; on the other impenetrable forests in the heart of which are marshes, and in proximity to streams are impregnable intrenchments; everywhere are lofty fortresses and forests of felled trees lying across roads which are frightful; and there arises Merci, with his worthy Bavarians inflated by the large measure of success which has fallen to their arms and by the capture of Fribourg; Merci, whom none has ever seen retreat from the combat; Merci, whom the Prince de Conde and the vigilant Turenne have never surprized in a movement that was not in accord with the rales of warfare, and to whom they have conceded this great mark of admiration -- that never has he lost a single favorable opportunity, nor failed to anticipate their designs as tho he had taken part in their councils.

Here, then, in the course of eight days, and by four separate attacks, is seen how much can be supported and undertaken in war. Our troops seem as much dispirited by the frightful condition of the field of battle as by the resistance of the enemy, and for a time the prince sees himself, so to speak, abandoned. But like a second Maccabee, |his right arm abandons him not, and his courage, inflamed by so many perils, came to his aid.| No sooner had he been seen on foot the first to scale those inaccessible heights, than his ardor drew the whole army after him. Merci sees himself lost beyond redemption; his best regiments are defeated; nightfall is the salvation of the remainder of his army. But a severe rainstorm serves to add to our difficulties and discouragements, so that we have at the same time to contend with not only the highest courage and the perfection of art, but the forces of nature as well. In spite of the advantage that an enemy, as able as he is bold, takes of these conditions, and the fact that he intrenches himself anew in his impregnable mountains, hard prest on every side, he is forced not only to allow his cannon and baggage to fall a prey to the Duc d'Enghien, but also the country bordering the Rhine. See how everything is shaken to its foundation: Philipsburg is in dire distress in ten days, in spite of the winter now close at hand; Philipsburg, which so long held the Rhine captive under our laws, and whose loss the greatest of kings so gloriously retrieved. Worms, Spire, Mayence, Landau, twenty other places I might name, open their portals: Merci is unable to defend them, and no longer faces his conqueror. It is not enough; he must fall at his feet, a worthy victim of his valor. Nordlingen will witness his overthrow; it will there be admitted that it is no more possible to withstand the French in Germany than in Flanders. And all these benefits we will owe to this self-same prince. God, the protector of France and of a king whom He has destined to perform His great works, thus ordains ...

It was not merely for a son nor for his family that he had such tender sentiments: I have seen him (and do not think that I here speak in terms of exaggeration), I have seen him deeply moved by the perils of his friends. Simple and natural as he was, I have seen his features betray his emotions at the story of their misfortunes, and he was ever ready to confer with them on the most insignificant details as well as on affairs of the utmost importance. In the adjustment of quarrels, he was ever ready to soothe turbulent spirits with a patience and good nature that one would little have expected from a disposition so excitable, nor from a character so lofty. What a contrast to heroes devoid of human sympathy! Well might the latter command respect and charm the admiration, as do all extraordinary things, but they will not win the heart. When God fashioned the heart of man and endowed him with human affection, He first of all inspired him with the quality of kindness, like unto the essence of the divine nature itself, as a token of the beneficent hand that fashioned us. Kindness, therefore, ought to be the mainspring and guide of our heart, and ought at the same time to be the chief attraction that should, as it were, be a part of our very being, with which to win the hearts of others. Greatness, which is but the result of good fortune, so far from diminishing the quality of kindness, is but given one that he might the more freely spread broadcast its beneficent effects like a public fountain, which is but erected that its waters might be scattered to the sunlight.

This is the value of a good heart; and the great who are devoid of the quality of kindness, justly punished for their disdainful insensibility to the misfortunes of their fellows, are forever deprived of the greatest blessing of human life -- that is to say, of the pleasures of society. Never did man enjoy these pleasures more keenly than the prince of whom I am speaking; never was man less inspired with the misgiving that familiarity breeds contempt. Is this the man who carried cities by storm and won great battles? Verily, he seems to have forgotten the high rank he so well knew how to sustain. Do you not recognize in him the hero, who, ever equable and consistent, never having to stand on tiptoe to seem taller than he is, nor to stoop to be courteous and obliging, found himself by nature all that a man ought to be toward his fellow, like a majestic and bountiful stream, which peacefully bears into the cities the abundance it has spread in the fields that it has watered, which gives to all and never rises above its normal height, nor becomes swollen except when violent opposition is offered to the gentle slope by which it continues on its tranquil course. Such, indeed, has also been the gentleness and such the might of the Prince de Conde. Have you a secret of importance? Confide it boldly to the safe-keeping of this noble heart; he will reward your confidence by making your affair his own. To this prince nothing is more inviolable than the sacred rights of friendship. When a favor is asked of him he acts as tho he himself were under obligation; and never has a joy keener and truer been witnessed than he felt at being able to give pleasure to another.

It was a grand spectacle to see during the same period, and in the same campaigns, these two men, who in the common opinion of all Europe could be favorably compared to the greatest captains of past ages, sometimes at the head of different bodies of troops; sometimes united more indeed by the concord of their thoughts than by the orders which the subaltern received from his superior; sometimes at the head of opposing forces, and each redoubling his customary activity and vigilance, as tho God, who, according to the Scriptures, often in His wisdom makes a sport of the universe, had desired to show mortals the wonders in all their forms that He could work with men. Behold the encampments, the splendid marches, the audacity, the precautions, the perils, the resources of these brave men! Has there ever been beheld in two men virtues such as these in characters so different, not to say diametrically opposite? The one appears to be guided by deep reflection, the other by sudden illumination; the latter as a consequence, tho more impetuous, yet never acting with undue precipitation; the former, colder of manner, tho never slow, is bolder of action than of speech, and even while having the outward appearance of embarrassment, inwardly determined and resolved. The one, from the moment he appears in the army, conveys an exalted idea of his worth and makes one expect of him something out of the ordinary; nevertheless, he advanced in regular order, and performed, as it were, by degrees, the prodigious deeds which marked the course of his career. The other, like a man inspired from the date of his first battle, showed himself the equal of the most consummate masters of the art of warfare. The one by his prompt and continued efforts commanded the admiration of the human race and silenced the voice of envy; the other shone so resplendently from the very beginning that none dared attack him. The one, in a word, by the depth of his genius and the incredible resources of his courage, rose superior to the greatest perils and even knew how to profit by every kind of fickleness of fortune; the other, by reason of the advantages derived from high birth, by his great conceptions derived from Heaven, and by a kind of admirable instinct, the secret of which is not given to ordinary men, seemed born to mold fortune to conform to his designs and bring destiny to his feet. And that the great tho diverse characters of these two men might be clearly discerned, it should be borne in mind that the one, his career cut short by an unexpected blow, died for his country like another Judas Maccabeus, mourned by the army as for a father, while the court and all the people, lamented his fate. His piety as well as his courage were universally lauded, and his memory will never fade from the minds of men. The other, raised to the very summit of glory by force of arms like another David, dies like him in his bed, sounding the praises of God and leaving his dying behests to his family, while all hearts were imprest as much by the splendor of his life as by the gentleness of his death.

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