Above: Francois Fenelon
Image in the Public Domain
FRANCOIS FENELON (AUGUST 6, 1651-JANUARY 7, 1715)
French Theologian and Archbishop of Cambrai
Francois Fenelon, born on August 6, 1651, came from a family that included bishops. He received a classical education, including Greek, rhetoric, and philosophy. Ordained a priest in 1675, Fenelon preached to Huguenots (French Calvinists) in 1686-1687 and convinced the King Louis XIV to remove the outward signs of religious persecution. This might not seem like much to occupants of religiously free nations today, but it was progress by the standards of the time.
In 1688 Fenelon advocated the education of girls and women in serious matters, including theology. This constituted further evidence of his progressiveness, which manifested itself in other ways which caused difficulties for him in later years.
From 1689 to 1697, Fenelon tutored the dauphin (in this case, the father of Louis XV). In 1696, toward the end of this assignment, Fenelon became Archbishop of Cambrai, a post he held until 1714.
One of Felelon’s acquaintances was one Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Goyon, of simply Madame Guyon. She advocated Quietism, which the Roman Catholic Church considered a heresy. (It continues to do so.) According to Quietism, the highest human perfection consists of a self-annihilation and absorption into the divine, especially in this life, making room for constant contemplation of God. This, in turn, leads to a state at which the soul ceases to need prayers, hymns, and rituals. This variety of mysticism threatened the hierarchical Catholic Church. Fenelon’s defense of Madame Guyon prompted Louis XIV to remove his as tutor and to restrict him to the Archdiocese of Cambrai, despite the fact that Fenelon had backed down from his defense of Madame Guyon and her brand of Quietism. (Guyon’s views led to her imprisonment from 1695 to 1703.)
In 1699 Fenelon took another risk. He published The Adventures of Telemachus, the story of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, and his tutor, Mentor, actually Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom. Mentor condemns war, luxury, and selfishness while praising fraternity and altruism. Also, Mentor lashes out at mercantilism and high taxes on peasants. The Adventures of Telemachus was an attack on the French monarchy.
As Archbishop, Fenelon tended faithfully to the people of his archdiocese, preaching on major feast days and focusing on the training of seminarians. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), when Spanish troops invaded the archdiocese, Fenelon opened his palace to refugees.
Archbishop Fenelon wrote condemnations of the heresy called Jansenism, a hybrid of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism.
Fenelon died on this day in 1715, shortly after resigning his archdiocese.
A Prayer by Archbishop Fenelon, from The Communion of Saints: Prayers of the Famous, edited by Horton Davies:
Lord, take my heart, for I cannot give it to you. And when you have it, keep it, for I would not take it from you. And save me in spite of myself, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, including your servant Francois Fenelon. May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35
1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60
Revised on November 13, 2016