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Au service de l'Eglise de France:
Les eudistes, 1680-1791
Early Modern European
Au service de l'Eglise de France: Les eudistes, 1680-1791. By Guillaume de Bertier de Sauvigny. [Kronos, Vol. 30.] (Paris: Editions S. P. M. 1999. Pp. 629. 43 Euros.)
Founded by St. John Eudes (1601-1680), the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (Eudists) played a significant role in the Catholic Reformation in France, especially in Normandy. A congregation of diocesan priests devoted principally to seminary teaching and to rural missions, the Eudists worked hard to improve the intellectual and moral level of both clergy and laity. The present volume examines how the Eudists fared from the death of their founder to their dissolution during the French Revolution.
The author, himself a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, gives ample attention to difficulties encountered by the early generation of Eudists, and how challenges were or were not overcome. The hybrid status of diocesan priests, who yet at the same time formed a congregation, with its own superiors, created a variety of permanent tensions and opportunities. The superior elected in 1680, Jean-Jacques Blouet de Camilly, succeeded in helping the Eudists to survive the potential crisis of the death of their founder, and even to prosper. Working mainly in Norman dioceses such as Bayeux, Rouen, and Lisieux, though also at Rennes and a few other places outside Normandy, Eudists were highly valued by some bishops, marginalized by others. Held in special contempt in Jansenist circles, which considered this inopportune congregation a rustic, relatively ignorant equivalent of the Jesuits, the Eudists paid a heavy price for their adamant support of Unigenitus and other anti-Jansenist measures advanced by church or state. Newcomers in already crowded clerical and religious milieux, Eudists competed, for attention and for recruitment to their own numbers, with a broad array of orders and congregations. Never large in numbers, Eudists were also as subject to disease and early death as everyone else. In 1719, a dysentery epidemic thinned the ranks of the seminary staff--the students having been sent away at the first sign of contagion--at Rennes. In 1775, at the seminary in Caen, the students were not so fortunate, as twenty-two of them died of food poisoning. At the Revolution's suppression of religious congregations, and subsequent dechristianization campaign, some Eudists were imprisoned or executed; others were able to continue clandestine work in [End Page 691] France; some fled abroad to England and elsewhere; and some supported the new regime.
Bertier de Sauvigny suggests that the running of seminaries, on the one hand, and the preaching of missions, on the other, far from being two unrelated activities, worked very well together. During those times of the year when there were no seminarians to instruct, professors went out to conduct missions. The field experience gained by the seminary staff served to keep formation of the next generation of clergy close to pastoral realities, not merely textbook certainties or ideals. Did that, too, offend the rigorist sensibilities of Jansenist sympathizers?
This book is a well-researched and very readable institutional history. The author organizes his abundant material almost exclusively along chronological and geographical lines; such an approach is both a strength and a weakness. Though offering the reader a clear picture of important names, dates, and places, the book could be improved by further attention to a broader range of issues concerning the place of the Eudists in Old Regime France. More emphasis on social and cultural history would be welcome. It would also be interesting to know more about what was actually taught in the seminaries, and what was actually preached in missions. Still, this volume remains a major accomplishment, one for which scholars of early modern France will be grateful.
Thomas Worcester, S.J.
College of the Holy Cross