Jean Baptiste Massillon (June 24, 1663 - September 28, 1742) was a French churchman and preacher, Bishop of Clermont from 1717 until his death.
He was born at Hyères, where his father was a royal notary. At the age of eighteen he joined the Congregation of the Oratory and taught for a time in the colleges of his order at Pézenas, and Montbrison and at the Seminary of Vienne. On the death of Henri de Villars, Archbishop of Vienne, in 1693, he was commissioned to deliver a funeral oration, and this was the beginning of his fame. In obedience to Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, he left the Cistercian abbey of Sept-Fonds, to which he had retired, and settled in Paris, where he was placed at the head of the famous seminary of Saint Magloire.
He soon gained a wide reputation as a preacher and was selected to be the Advent preacher at the court of Versailles in 1699. He was made Bishop of Clermont in 1717, and two years later was elected a member of the Académie française. The last years of his life were spent in the faithful discharge of his episcopal duties; his death took place at Clermont on September 18 1742. Massillon enjoyed in the 18th century a reputation equal to that of Bossuet and of Bourdaloue, and has been much praised by Voltaire, D'Alembert and kindred spirits among the Encyclopaedists.
His popularity was probably due to the fact that in his sermons he lays little stress on dogmatic questions, but treats generally of moral subjects, in which the secrets of the human heart and the processes of man's reason are described with poetical feeling. He has usually been contrasted with his predecessor Bourdaloue, the latter having the credit of vigorous denunciation, Massillon that of gentle persuasiveness. Besides the Petit Carême, a sermon which he delivered before the young king Louis XV in 1718, his sermons on the Prodigal Son, on the small number of the elect, on death, for Christmas Day, and for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, may be perhaps cited as his masterpieces. His funeral oration on King Louis XIV is only noted now for the opening sentence: "Dieu seul est grand." But in truth Massillon is singularly free from inequality. His great literary power, his reputation for benevolence, and his known toleration and dislike of doctrinal disputes caused him to be much more favourably regarded than most churchmen by the philosophes of the 18th century.
The first edition of Massillon's complete works was published by his nephew, also an Oratorian (Paris, 1745-1748), and upon this, in the absence of manuscripts, succeeding reprints were based. The best modern edition is that of the Abbé Blampignon (Paris, 1865-1868, 4 vols.; new ed. 1886).
See Abbé Blampignon, Massillon, d'après des documents inédits (Paris, 1879); and L'Épiscopat de Massillon d'après des documents inédits, suivi de sa correspondance (Paris, 1884); F Brunetiere "L'Éloquence de Massillon" in Études critiques (Paris, 1882); Pére Ingold, L'Oratoire et le jansénisme au temps de Massillon (Paris, 1880); and Louis Petit de Julleville's Histoire de la langue et de la littérature française, v. 372-385 (Paris, 1898).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.