Jacques Benigne Bossuet, a French prelate, born at Dijon, Sept. 27, 1627, died in Paris, April 12, 1704. He came of a family of lawyers, received his early education at the Jesuit college of Dijon, and thence was removed to the college of Navarre in Paris, where he soon attracted attention by his rapid progress in learning and his eloquence. It was said that he had formed a matrimonial engagement with Mile, des Vieux, but that it was broken off in order that he might enter the church, though they never ceased to be friends, and he eventually provided her with a country seat near Paris, where she spent the rest of her life, prolonged till nearly her 100th year. He was ordained in 1652, spent some time under the influence of St. Vincent de Paul at Saint Lazare, declined the directorship of the college of Navarre (which he assumed, however, at a later period), and accepted the modest office of canon at Metz, relieving his arduous life of study and controversy with the Protestants by preaching occasionally in Paris. The sermons which he delivered there in 1659 created a deep impression. He never repeated a sermon, and spoke with little preparation excepting a rough draft of the leading points of his discourse.
His style was picturesque, dramatic, and at times abrupt; the flow of his language was easy, and his presence was magnetic. For many years, and especially from 1660 to 1669, he was frequently summoned to Paris to preach the Lent and Advent series, and for occasional solemn!ties, addressing larger congregations and with greater effect than any other pulpit orator in that capital. Among his eulogies of saints, that of St. Paul is his masterpiece. He especially excelled in funeral orations, though he was too much inclined to idealize the subjects of his panegyrics. The most admired were those on Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I.; on the great Conde; on Anne, princess Palatine; and above all, on the duchess of Orleans, whose misfortunes and whose mysterious death lent additional interest to his discourse. The oration which he delivered on the duchess de la Valliere's taking the veil was another of his fine efforts. In 1669 he received the bishopric of Condom, but he never entered upon its duties, and relinquished the title and revenues in 1670, when Louis XIV. intrusted to him the education of the dauphin.
For the special instruction of his pupil he wrote his Discours sur l'histoire universelle, De la con-noissance de Dieu et de soi-meme, and .La politique tiree des propres paroles de l'Ecriture Sainte; the first showing the omnipresence of God in history, the second applying religious principles to philosophy according to the ideas of Descartes, and the third sustaining absolutism in politics. His Exposition de la foi ca-tholique, said to have been written (1671) especially for the conversion of Turenne, weaned the latter and other eminent persons from the Reformed church. This work, translated into many languages, was sanctioned by two papal briefs (1678-'9), and by the Gallican clergy in 1682, and finally gave rise to the memorable conference between Bossuet and the Protestant divine Claude. In 1671 he was admitted to the academy; and having finished the education of the dauphin, he was named almoner of the duchess of Burgundy, and in 1681 bishop of Meaux. In 1682, in his opening address at the extraordinary convocation of the Gallican clergy, he attempted to reconcile his devotion to the absolute power of the king with that to the holy see, proclaiming the "indefectibility " of the latter, while contesting the infallibility of the pope personally.
His influence resulted in the adoption of the four celebrated articles of the Gallican church. The fourth article, claiming that, "although the pope had the principal voice in matters of faith, his decisions were still not irrevocable, at least if they were not continued by the consent of the church," was regarded as an attack upon the supremacy of the pope, and exposed him to charges of heresy. His Histoire des variations des Eglises pro-testantes (2 vols.), first published in 1688, though circulated in MS. since 1685, is his most important controversial work. He strenuously denounced the quietism of his friend Madame Guyon, as well as of his former disciple Fenelon, in his Relation du Quietisme, and procured the latter's removal from court and the condemnation at Rome of his Maximes des saintes. Though he was in friendly and protracted correspondence with Leibnitz (1691- 1700) on the subject of a treaty for the union of the Reformed and Catholic churches, and though his biographer, Cardinal de Bausset, claims for him the gratitude of Protestants, it is uncertain whether he did or did not countenance the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and the subsequent persecutions of the Protestants. His activity was prodigious; he attended to the affairs of his diocese and to his duties at the court, while engaged in controversies, in writing and preaching, and in works of charity and piety.
The last two years of his life were spent in comparative retirement owing to a painful disease (the gravel) from which he died. He was called by La Bruyere one of the fathers of the church, and by Henri Martin the Corneille of the pulpit, but was more generally known as the eagle of Meaux. He left an immense correspondence, including that with Leibnitz. Among his works not yet mentioned are his Maximes sur la comedie, condemnatory of theatres, and Commentaire sur l'Apocalypse, which he interprets as predicting the fall of the Roman empire. There are many more or less complete editions of his writings, and several new and complete ones are in progress. The oldest is that of 1747-'53, in 20 vols. Those of 1825 (60 vols. 12mo) and of 1835-'7 (12 vols, large 8vo) are regarded as among the best. The edition prepared by the Benedictines in 48 vols. (1815 et seq.) includes the Histoire de Bossuet (4 vols., Paris, 1814), by Cardinal Louis Francois de Bausset, who was also the biographer of Fenelon. Among his other biographers in France was Burigny (Paris, 1761), and in England, Charles Butler (London, 1812). The best biography is the Histoire de J. B. Bossuet et de ses auvres, by Reaume (1 vol., Paris, 1869). New light is thrown upon his life and achievements by the Memoires et Journal sur la vie et les ouvrages de Bossuet (Paris, 1856-7), after autograph MSS., edited by the abbe Guettee, with an introduction and annotations of the abbe Le Dieu, who was Bossuet's secretary from 1699 to 1704. They represent Bossuet as genial in his manners, and always preserving his serenity of temper, excepting in his animosity against Fenelon.