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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Opening of the Funeral Oration on Henrietta of France
By Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704)
 
My Lord: 1
HE who reigns in heaven and who is the Lord of all the empires, to whom alone majesty, glory, and independence belong, is also the only one who glories in dictating laws to kings, and in giving them, when it so pleases him, great and terrible lessons. Whether he raises or lowers thrones; whether he communicates his own power to princes, or reclaims it all and leaves them nothing but their own weakness, he teaches them their duties in a manner both sovereign and worthy of him; for when giving them his power, he commands them to use it, as he does, for the good of the world; and he shows them in withdrawing it that all their majesty is borrowed, and that, though seated on the throne, they are nevertheless under his hand and supreme authority. Thus does he teach princes, not only by words but by deeds and examples. “Et nunc, reges, intelligite; erudimini, qui judicatis terram.”
  1
  Christians, ye who have been called from all sides to this ceremony by the memory of a great Queen,—daughter, wife, mother of powerful kings and of sovereigns of three kingdoms,—this speech will bring before you one of those conspicuous examples which spread before the eyes of the world its absolute vanity. You will see in a single life all the extremes of human affairs: boundless felicity and boundless misery; a long and peaceful possession of one of the world’s noblest crowns; all that can be given of the glories of birth and rank gathered upon a head which is afterwards exposed to all the insults of fortune; the good cause at first rewarded by success, then met by sudden turns and unheard-of changes; rebellion long restrained, at last overriding everything; unbridled licentiousness; the destruction of all laws; royal majesty insulted by crimes before unknown; usurpation and tyranny under the name of liberty; a queen pursued by her enemies, and finding no refuge in either of her kingdoms; her own native land become a melancholy place of exile; many voyages across the sea undertaken by a princess, in spite of the tempest; the ocean surprised at being crossed so often, in such different ways, and for so different causes; a throne shamefully destroyed and miraculously restored. Those are the lessons which are given by God to the kings; thus does He show to the world the emptiness of its pomps and splendors. If I lack words, if expression is unable to do justice to a subject of such magnitude and loftiness, things alone will speak sufficiently; the heart 2 of a great queen, formerly raised by long years of prosperity and suddenly plunged into an abyss of bitterness, will speak loudly enough; and if private characters are not allowed to give lessons to princes upon such strange occurrences, a king lends me his voice to tell them. “Et nunc, reges, intelligite; erudimini, qui judicatis terram:” Understand now, ye kings of the earth; learn, ye who judge the world.  2
  But the wise and religious Princess who is the subject of this discourse was not simply a spectacle presented to them that they may study therein the counsels of Divine Providence and the fatal revolutions of monasteries: she was her own instructor, while God instructed all princes through her example. I have said already that the Divine Lord teaches them both by giving and by taking away their power. The Queen of whom I speak understood one of these lessons as well as the other, contrary as they are, which means that in good as well as in evil fortune she behaved as a Christian. In the one she was charitable, in the other invincible. While prosperous she made her power felt by the world through infinite blessings; when fortune forsook her, she enlarged her own treasure of virtues, so that she lost for her own good this royal power which she had had for the good of others. And if her subjects, if her allies, if the Church Universal were the gainers by her greatness, she gained by her misfortunes and humiliations more than she had done by all her glory.  3
 
THE GREAT REBELLION

  I CONFESS, on entering upon my undertaking, that I realize its difficulty more than ever. When I fasten my eyes upon the unheard-of misfortunes of such a great queen, I fail to find words; and my mind, revolted by so many undeserved hardships inflicted upon majesty and virtue, would never consent to rush into such a maze of horrors, if the admirable constancy with which this princess bore her reverses had not risen far above the crimes by which they were caused. But at the same time, Christians, I labor under another solicitude: what I meditate upon is no human work; I am not here a historian, about to unravel to you the mysteries of cabinets, or the order of battles, or the interests of parties; I must rise above man in order that every creature should tremble under the judgments of God. “I shall enter with David into the powers of the Lord,” and I have to show you the wonders of his hand and of his resolutions: resolutions of deserved punishment for England, resolutions of compassion for the Queen’s salvation; but resolutions stamped by the finger of God, whose imprint is so striking and manifest in the events of which I have to treat, that no one can fail to be dazzled by his light.
  4
  When we go back in time, no matter how far, and investigate in the histories the instances of great revolutions, we find that hitherto they have been caused by the licentiousness or violence of princes. For when princes, ceasing to study their civil and military affairs, make hunting their only labor, or as was said by one historian, find all their glory in their splendor, and put all their mind to the invention of new pleasures; or when, carried away by their violent natures, they cease to respect the laws and to know any bounds, and thus lose both the respect and the fear of their subjects, because the ills those subjects are bearing seem more unendurable than those they only fear,—then, either excessive licentiousness or patience driven to extremity is full of menace to reigning houses.  5
  Charles I., King of England, was just, moderate, magnanimous, very well informed in regard to his affairs and to the arts of government; never was there a prince more able to make royalty not only venerable and holy, but also loved and cherished by his people. What fault can be found with him, save clemency? I am willing to say of him what a celebrated writer said of Cæsar, that he was so clement as to be compelled to repent it. (“Cæsari proprium et peculiare sit clementiæ insigne qua usque ad pœnitentiam omnes superavit.”) Let this be, then, if you will, the illustrious fault of Charles as well as of Cæsar; but if any one wishes to believe that misfortune and defeat are always associated with weakness, do not let him think, for all that, he can persuade us that either strength was wanting in Charles’s courage or energy in his resolutions. When pursued to the very last extremities by Fortune’s implacable malignity, and betrayed by all his people, he never deserted his own cause; in spite of the ill success of his unfortunate arms, though conquered he was not subdued; and just as he never when victorious refused that which was reasonable, when captive he always rejected that which was weak and unjust. I can hardly behold his great heart in his last trials: but certainly he showed that no rebels can deprive of his majesty a king who really knows himself; and those who saw with what visage he appeared in Westminster Hall and in Whitehall Square can easily judge how intrepid he was at the head of his armies, how august and imposing in the middle of his palace and court. Great Queen, I satisfy your tenderest desires when I celebrate this monarch; and this heart, which never lived but for him, wakes up from its dust and resumes sentiment, even under this funeral drapery, at the name of such a beloved husband, whom his enemies themselves will call wise and just, and whom posterity will name among great princes, provided his history finds readers whose judgment does not allow itself to be swayed by events and by fortune.  6
  Those who are informed in regard to the facts, being compelled to admit that the king’s conduct had given no reason and not even a pretext for the sacrilegious excesses the memory of which is abhorred by us, ascribe them to the unconquerable haughtiness of the nation; and I own that the hatred of parricides is apt to throw our minds into such an opinion: but when we more closely consider the history of this great kingdom, especially during the last reigns, in which not simply adult kings, but even children under guardianship and queens themselves have wielded a power so absolute, and inspired so much terror; when we see the incredible facility with which the true Religion was by turns upset and restored by Henry, Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, we do not find either the nation so prone to rebel nor its Parliaments so proud and factious. Rather we are compelled to reproach these people with too much docility, since they placed under the yoke even their faith and conscience. Do not let us then make blind accusations against the inhabitants of the most celebrated island in the world, who according to the most reliable histories trace their origin back to Gaul; and do not let us believe that the Mercians, the Danes, and the Saxons have so far corrupted in them the good blood which they had received from our ancestors as to lead them to such barbarous proceedings, if some other causes had not intervened. What is it, then, that drove them on? What force, what transport, what disturbance of the elements stirred these agitations, these violences? There is no doubt, Christians, that false religions, infidelity, the thirst of disputing on things divine without end, without rule, without submission, carried away their hearts. Those are the enemies against which the Queen had to fight, and which neither her prudence, her leniency, nor her firmness could conquer.  7
  A man appeared, of a mind incredibly deep, a consummate dissembler and at the same time a powerful statesman, capable of undertaking everything and of concealing everything, no less active and indefatigable in peace than in war; who left nothing to fortune of that which he could take from it by wisdom or foresight, but withal so vigilant, so well prepared for everything, that he never failed to improve any opportunity: in short, one of those restless and audacious minds which seem to have been born in order to transform the world. How dangerous the fate of such minds, and how many appear in history who were ruined by their very boldness! But at the same time, what do they not achieve when it pleases God to make use of them! To this one it was given to deceive the people and to prevail against the kings. For as he had discovered that in this infinite medley of sects, which no longer had any fixed rules, the pleasure of dogmatic arguing without any fear of being reprimanded or restrained by any authority, either ecclesiastical or secular, was the spell that charmed their minds, he so well managed to conciliate them thereby that out of this monstrous medley he created a formidable unit. When a man has once found a way of seducing the multitude with the bait of freedom, they afterwards blindly follow, provided they still hear the beloved word. These, occupied with the object that had first transported them, were still going on without noticing that they were going to servitude; and their subtle leader—who while fighting and arguing, while uniting in himself a thousand different characters, while acting as theologian and prophet as well as soldier and captain, saw that he had so bewitched the world that he was looked upon by the whole army as a chief sent by God for the protection of independence—began to perceive that he could drive them still further. I shall not relate to you the story of his too prosperous undertakings nor his famous victories which made virtue indignant, nor his long tranquillity which astonished the world. It was God’s purpose to instruct the kings not to desert his Church. He wished to reveal by one great example all that heresy can do, how indocile and independent it naturally is, how fatal to royalty and to any legitimate authority. Moreover, when this great God has chosen any one for the instrument of his designs nothing can stop his course: he either chains or blinds or subdues all that is capable of resistance. “I am the Lord,” he says through the lips of Jeremiah; “I am he who made the earth, with the men and animals; and I place it in the hands of whomsoever pleases me; and now I wished to submit these lands to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, my servant.” He calls him his servant, although an infidel, because he selected him for enforcing his decrees. “And I order,” he goes on, “that everything be obedient unto him, even the animals;” thus it is that everything bends and becomes flexible when God so commands! But listen to the rest of the prophecy:—“I order that these people shall obey him, and shall obey his son also, until the time of the one and the other do come.” See, ye Christians, how clearly marked the times are, how numbered the generations: God determines how long the sleep of the world shall be, and also when the awakening is to come.
*        *        *        *        *
  8
  God held twelve years, without relaxing, without any consolation from men, our unfortunate Queen (let us loudly call her by this title, which she made a cause for thanksgiving), making her learn under his hand such hard but useful lessons. At last, softened by her prayers and her humble patience, he restored the royal house; Charles II. is recognized and the injury of the kings is avenged. Those whom arms could not conquer, nor reasoning convince, came back suddenly of their own accord: disappointed in their freedom, they at last came to detest its excesses, ashamed that they had had so much power, and horrified at their own success. We know that this magnanimous prince might have hastened things by making use of the hands of those who offered to destroy tyranny at one blow: but his great soul disdained these low agencies; he believed that whatever were the conditions of kings, it behoved their majesty to act only by the laws or by arms. These laws, which he defended, restored him almost by themselves; he reigns, peaceful and glorious, on his ancestors’ throne, and with and through him also reign justice, wisdom, and mercy.  9
 
Note 1. This oration was delivered in the presence of the Duke of Orleans, son-in-law of Henrietta of France; it is he whom Bossuet addresses in beginning his speech. [back]
Note 2. The Queen’s heart was kept in the church where Bossuet was speaking. [back]
 
 
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