François Fénelon

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François Fénelon
Archbishop of Cambrai
Francois de Salignac de la Mothe-Fenelon.PNG
Portrait by Joseph Vivien
Church Roman Catholic
Archdiocese Cambrai
See Old Cambrai Cathedral
Installed30 May 1695
Term ended7 January 1715
Predecessor Gaspard Nemius
SuccessorJean d'Estrées
Personal details
Born(1651-08-06)6 August 1651
Sainte-Mondane, France
Died7 January 1715(1715-01-07) (aged 63)
Cambrai, France
OccupationTheologian, writer, tutor
Alma mater Collège du Plessis

François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon ( /ˌfnəˈlɒ̃/ ; [1] French:  [də la mɔt fenəlɔ̃] ), more commonly known as François Fénelon (6 August 1651 – 7 January 1715), was a French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer. He today is remembered mostly as the author of The Adventures of Telemachus , first published in 1699.

Archbishop bishop of higher rank in many Christian denominations

In Christianity, an archbishop is a bishop of higher rank or office. In some cases, such as the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Church of England, the title is borne by the leader of the denomination. Like popes, patriarchs, metropolitans, cardinal bishops, diocesan bishops, and suffragan bishops, archbishops are in the highest of the three traditional orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. An archbishop may be granted the title or ordained as chief pastor of a metropolitan see or another episcopal see to which the title of archbishop is attached.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries.

Poet person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.


Childhood and education, 1651–75

Fénelon was born on 6 August 1651 at the Château de Fénelon, in Sainte-Mondane, Périgord, Aquitaine, in the Dordogne river valley, the second of the three children of Pons de Salignac, Comte de La Mothe-Fénelon by his wife Louise de La Cropte. Reduced to the status of "impecunious old nobility" [2] by François' time, the La Mothe-Fénelons had produced leaders in both Church and state. His uncle Francois currently served as bishop of nearby Sarlat, a see in which fifteen generations of the Fénelon family had filled the episcopal chair. "In fact, so many members of the family occupied the position that it had begun to be considered as practically a familial apanage to which the Salignac-Fénelon had a right as seigneurs of the locality" [3]

Sainte-Mondane Commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Sainte-Mondane is a commune in the Dordogne department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France.

Périgord Natural region in France

The Périgord is a natural region and former province of France, which corresponds roughly to the current Dordogne département, now forming the northern part of the Aquitaine région. It is divided into four areas called the Périgord Noir (Black), the Périgord Blanc (White), the Périgord Vert (Green) and the Périgord Pourpre (Purple). The geography and natural resources of Périgord make it a beautiful, unspoiled region rich in history and wildlife, and the newly created Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin aims to conserve it as such.

Aquitaine Region in France

Aquitaine, archaic Guyenne/Guienne, is a historical region of France and a former administrative region of the country. Since 1 January 2016 it has been part of the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It is situated in the south-western part of Metropolitan France, along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain. It is composed of the five departments of Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde. In the Middle Ages, Aquitaine was a kingdom and a duchy, whose boundaries fluctuated considerably.

Fénelon's early education was provided in the Château de Fénelon by private tutors, who gave him a thorough grounding in the language and literature of the Greek and Latin classics. In 1663, at age 12, he was sent to the University of Cahors, where he studied rhetoric and philosophy under the influence of the Jesuit ratio studiorum. When the young man expressed interest in a career in the church, his uncle, the Marquis Antoine de Fénelon (a friend of Jean-Jacques Olier and Vincent de Paul) arranged for him to study at the Collège du Plessis in Paris, whose theology students followed the same curriculum as the theology students at the Sorbonne. While there, he became friends with Antoine de Noailles, who later became a cardinal and the Archbishop of Paris. Fénelon demonstrated so much talent at the Collège du Plessis that at age 15, he was asked to give a public sermon.

Rhetoric art of discourse

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Along with grammar and logic, it is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the capacities of writers or speakers needed to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law or for passage of proposals in the assembly or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies, calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Jean-Jacques Olier 17th-century French Catholic priest and founder of the Sulpicians

Jean-Jacques Olier, S.S. was a French Catholic priest and the founder of the Sulpicians. He helped to establish the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, which organized the settlement of a new town called Ville-Marie in the colony of New France.

About 1672 (i.e. around the time he was 21 years old), Fénelon's uncle managed to get him enrolled in the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, the Sulpician seminary in Paris.

Seminary, school of theology, theological seminary, and divinity school are educational institutions for educating students in scripture, theology, generally to prepare them for ordination to server as clergy, in academics, or in Christian ministry. The English word is taken from the Latin seminarium, translated as seed-bed, an image taken from the Council of Trent document Cum adolescentium aetas which called for the first modern seminaries. In the West, the term now refers to Catholic educational institutes and has widened to include other Christian denominations and American Jewish institutions.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris is one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Early years as a priest, 1675–85

In about 1675, (when he would have been 24), Fénelon was ordained as a priest. He initially dreamed of becoming a missionary to the East, but instead, and at the instigation of friends, he preached in Sulpician parishes and performed routine pastoral work as his reputation for eloquence began to grow.

Priest person authorized to lead the sacred rituals of a religion (for a minister use Q1423891)

A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities. Their office or position is the priesthood, a term which also may apply to such persons collectively.

In early 1679, François Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Paris, selected Fénelon as director of Nouvelles-Catholiques, a community in Paris for young Huguenot girls, who had been removed from their families and were about to join the Church of Rome [4] In 1681 he published a pedagogical work Traité de l'éducation des filles (Treatise on the Education of Girls) which brought him much attention, not only in France, but abroad as well. [5]

From 1681 to 1695, Fénelon was prior of the fortified monastery at Carennac. [6]

Missionary to the Huguenots, 1686–87

During this period, Fénelon had become friends with his future rival Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet. When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the Church began a campaign to send the greatest orators in the country into the regions of France with the highest concentration of Huguenots to persuade them of the errors of Protestantism. Upon Bossuet's suggestion, Fénelon was included in this group, [5] alongside such oratorical greats as Louis Bourdaloue and Esprit Fléchier.

He consequently spent the next three years in the Saintonge region of France preaching to Protestants. He persuaded the king to remove troops from the region and tried to avoid outright displays of religious oppression, though, in the end, he was willing to resort to force to make Protestants listen to his message. He believed that "to be obliged to do good is always an advantage and that heretics and schismatics, when forced to apply their minds to the consideration of truth, eventually lay aside their erroneous beliefs, whereas they would never have examined these matters had not authority constrained them."

Important friends, 1687–89

During this period, Fénelon assisted Bossuet during his lectures on the Bible at Versailles. It was probably at Bossuet's urging that he now composed his Réfutation du système de Malebranche sur la nature et sur la grâce, a work in which he attacked Nicolas Malebranche's views on optimism, the creation, and the Incarnation. This work was not published until 1820, long after Fénelon's death

Fénelon also became friendly with the Duc de Beauvilliers and the Duc de Chevreuse, who were married to the daughters of Louis XIV's minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert. He wrote a Treatise on the Existence of God.

In 1688, Fénelon first met his cousin Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon, usually known simply as Madame Guyon. At that time, she was well received in the social circle of the Beauvilliers and Chevreuses. Fénelon was deeply impressed by her piety and actively discipled her. He would later become a devotee and defend her brand of Quietism. [7]

Royal tutor, 1689–97

Fenelon and the Duke of Burgundy by Neuville Fenelon and the Duke of Burgundy.jpg
Fenelon and the Duke of Burgundy by Neuville

In 1689, Louis XIV named Fénelon's friend the Duc de Beauvilliers as governor of the royal grandchildren. Upon Beauvilliers' recommendation, Fénelon was named the tutor of the Dauphin's eldest son, the 7-year-old Duke of Burgundy, who was second in line for the throne. This brought him a good deal of influence at court. [5]

As tutor, Fénelon was charged with guiding the character formation of a future King of France. He wrote several important works specifically to guide his young charge. These include his Fables and his Dialogues des Morts.

But by far the most lasting of his works that Fénelon composed for the duke was his Les Aventures de Télémaque [The Adventures of Telemachus, Son of Ulysses], written in 1693–94. On its surface, The Adventures of Telemachus was a novel about Ulysses' son Telemachus. On another level, it became a biting attack on the divine right absolute monarchy which was the dominant ideology of Louis XIV's France. In sharp contrast to Bossuet, who, when tutor to the Dauphin, had written Politique tirée de l'Écriture sainte which affirmed the divine foundations of absolute monarchy while also exhorting the future king to use restraint and wisdom in exercising his absolute power, Fénelon went so far as to write "Good kings are rare and the generality of monarchs bad" [8] .

French literary historian Jean-Claude Bonnet calls Télémaque "the true key to the museum of the eighteenth century imagination." [9] One of the most popular works of the century, it became an immediate best seller both in France and abroad, going through many editions and translated into every European language and even Latin verse (first in Berlin in 1743, then in Paris by Étienne Viel [1737-87]). It inspired numerous imitations, such as the Abbé Jean Terrasson's novel Life of Sethos (1731), which in turn inspired Mozart's Magic Flute . It also more directly supplied the plot for Mozart's opera, Idomeneo (1781). Scenes from Télémaque appeared in wallpaper. The American president Andrew Jackson wallpapered the entrance hall to his slave plantation, The Hermitage, in Tennessee, with scenes from Telemachus on the Island of Calypso. [10]

Most believed Fénelon's tutorship resulted in a dramatic improvement in the young duke's behaviour. Even the memoirist Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, who generally disliked Fénelon, admitted that when Fénelon became tutor, the duke was a spoiled, violent child; when Fénelon left him, the duke had learned the lessons of self-control as well as been thoroughly impressed with a sense of his future duties. Telemachus is therefore widely seen as the most thorough exposition of the brand of reformism in the Beauvilliers-Chevreuse circle, which hoped that following Louis XIV's death, his brand of autocracy could be replaced by a monarchy less centralized and less absolute, and with a greater role for aristocrats such as Beauvilliers and Chevreuse.

In 1693, Fénelon was elected to Seat 34 of the Académie française.

In 1694, the king named Fénelon Abbot of Saint-Valéry, a lucrative post worth 14,000 livres a year.

The early- to mid-1690s are significant since it was during this period that Mme de Maintenon (quasi-morganatic wife of Louis XIV since roughly 1684) began to regularly consult Fénelon on matters of conscience. Also, since Fénelon had a reputation as an expert on educating girls, she sought his advice on the house of Saint-Cyr which she was founding for girls.

In February 1696, the king nominated Fénelon to become the Archbishop of Cambrai while at the same time asking him to remain in his position as tutor to the duke of Burgundy. Fénelon accepted, and he was consecrated by his old friend Bossuet in August.

Quietist controversy, 1697–99

As already noted, Fénelon had met Mme Guyon in 1688 and became an admirer of her work.

In 1697, following a visit by Mme Guyon to Mme de Maintenon's school at Saint-Cyr, Paul Godet des Marais, Bishop of Chartres (Saint-Cyr was located within his diocese) expressed concerns about Mme Guyon's orthodoxy to Mme de Maintenon. The bishop noted that Mme Guyon's opinions bore striking similarities to Miguel de Molinos' Quietism, which Pope Innocent XI condemned in 1687. Mme de Maintenon responded by requesting an ecclesiastical commission to examine Mme Guyon's orthodoxy: the commission consisted of two of Fénelon's old friends, Bossuet and de Noailles, as well as the head of the Sulpician order of which Fénelon was a member. The commission sat at Issy and, after six months of deliberations, delivered its opinion in the Articles d'Issy, 34 articles which briefly condemned certain of Mme Guyon's opinions, as well as set forth a brief exposition of the Catholic view of prayer. Both Fénelon and the Bishop of Chartres signed the articles, as did all three commission members. Mme Guyon immediately submitted to the decision.

At Issy, the commission asked Bossuet to follow up the Articles with an exposition. Bossuet thus proceeded to write Instructions sur les états d'oraison, which he submitted to the commission members, as well as to the Bishop of Chartres and Fénelon, requesting their signatures before its publication. Fénelon refused to sign, arguing that Mme Guyon had already admitted her mistakes and there was no point in further condemning her. Furthermore, Fénelon disagreed with Bossuet's interpretation of the Articles d'Issy, as he wrote in Explication des Maximes des Saints (a work often regarded as his masterpiece - English: Maxims of the Saints). Fénelon interpreted the Articles d'Issy in a way much more sympathetic to the Quietist viewpoint than Bossuet proposed.

Louis XIV responded to the controversy by chastizing Bossuet for not warning him earlier of Fénelon's opinions and ordered Bossuet, de Noailles, and the Bishop of Chartres to respond to the Maximes des Saints. Shocked that his grandson's tutors held such views, the king removed Fénelon from his post as royal tutor and ordered Fénelon to remain within the boundaries of the archdiocese of Cambrai.

This unleashed two years of pamphlet warfare as the two sides traded opinions. On 12 March 1699, the Inquisition formally condemned the Maximes des Saints, with Pope Innocent XII listing 23 specific propositions as unorthodox.

Fénelon immediately declared that he submitted to the pope's authority and set aside his own opinion. With this, the Quietist matter was dropped.

However, that same year, The Adventures of Telemachus was published. This book also enraged Louis XIV, for it appeared to question his regime's very foundations. Thus, even after Fénelon abjured his Quietist views, the king refused to revoke his order forbidding Fénelon from leaving his archdiocese.

Later years

Bust of Francois Fenelon in Carennac, France Bust of Francois Fenelon.jpg
Bust of François Fénelon in Carennac, France

As Archbishop of Cambrai, Fénelon spent most of his time in the archiepiscopal palace, but also spent several months of each year visiting churches and other institutions within his archdiocese. He preached in his cathedral on festival days, and took an especial interest in seminary training and in examining candidates for the priesthood prior to their ordination.

During the War of the Spanish Succession, Spanish troops encamped in his archdiocese (an area France had only recently captured from Spain), but they never interfered with the exercise of his archiepiscopal duties. Warfare, however, produced refugees, and Fénelon opened his palace to refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict.

For Fénelon all wars were civil wars. Humanity was a single society and all wars within it the greatest evil, for he argued that one's obligation to mankind as a whole was always greater than what was owed to one's particular country. [11]

During these latter years, Fénelon wrote a series of anti-Jansenist works. The impetus was the publication of the Cas de Conscience, which revived the old Jansenist distinction between questions of law and questions of fact, and argued that though the church had the right to condemn certain opinions as heretical, it did not have the right to oblige one to believe that these opinions were actually contained in Cornelius Jansen's Augustinus . The treatises, sermons, and pastoral letters Fénelon wrote in response occupy seven volumes in his collected works. Fénelon particularly condemned Pasquier Quesnel's Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament. His writings contributed to the tide of scholarly opinion which led to Pope Clement XI's 1713 bull Unigenitus , condemning Quesnel's opinions.

Although confined to the Cambrai archdiocese in his later years, Fénelon continued to act as a spiritual director for Mme de Maintenon, as well as the ducs de de Chevreuse and de Beauvilliers, the duke of Burgundy, and other prominent individuals.

Fénelon's later years were blighted by the deaths of many of his close friends. Shortly before his death, he asked Louis XIV to replace him with a man opposed to Jansenism and loyal to the Sulpician order. He died on 7 January 1715.

Fénelon as reformer and defender of human rights

Paul Hazard remarks on the bitterness of the questions Fénelon has his fictional hero Telemachus put to Idomeneus, King of Salente: "those same questions, in the same sorrowing tone, Fénelon puts to to his pupil, the Duc de Bourgogne, against the day, when he will have to take over the royal power: Do you understand the constitution of kingship? Have you acquainted yourself with the moral obligations of Kings? Have you sought means of bringing comfort to the people? The evils that are engendered by absolute power, by incompetent administration, by war, how will you shield your subjects from them? And when in 1711, the same Duc de Bourgogne became Dauphin of France, it was a whole string of reforms that Fénelon submitted to him in preparation for his accession". [12] Finally, to complete the credit items of Fénelon's account, we must put his defense of Human Rights. Thus he speaks:

A people is no less a member of the human race, which is society as a whole, than a family is a member of a particular nation. Each individual owes incomparably more to the human race, which is the great fatherland, than to the particular country in which he was born. As a family is to the nation, so is the nation to the universal commonweal; wherefore it is infinitely more harmful for nation to wrong nation, than for family to wrong family. To abandon the sentiment of humanity is not merely to renounce civilization and to relapse into barbarism, it is to share in the blindness of the most brutish brigands and savages; it is to be a man no longer, but a cannibal." [13]


« Sur-tout ne vous laissez point ensorceler par les attraits diaboliques de la géométrie. »

"Above all, do not allow yourself to be bewitched by the evil charms of geometry."

Œuvres complètes De François de Salignac De La Mothe Fénélon. TOME V, Briand 1810, LETTRE CXLII (142), p. 106


See also

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  1. "Fénelon". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  2. Louis Cognet, "Fénelon," Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, 5:151. Ed. M. Viller et al. Paris: Beauchesne, 1964.
  3. Chad Helms, ed. and tr., Fénelon: Selected Writings. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2006, p. 6f.
  4. Cardinal de Bausset, Histoire de Fenelon, Archevêque de Cambrai, 3rd ed., I, pp. 45f. (Versailles: Lebel, 1817).
  5. 1 2 3 François Fénelon, CCEL
  6. Ltd, D.K. (2012). DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Dordogne, Bordeaux & the Southwest Coast: Dordogne, Bordeaux & the Southwest Coast. Dorling Kindersley Limited. p. 119. ISBN   9781409384373 . Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  7. Letters from Baron Van Hugel to a Niece, edited with an introduction by Gwendolen Greene—first published in 1928, p. 110
  8. Telemachus, Book XIV. "Ainsi les bons rois sont très rares, et la plupart sont si méchants …". See for example: Fenelon, Francois, Tr. Hawkesworth (1872). Adventures of Telemachus. Hurd and Houghton / Riverside Press. p. 462. Retrieved 2019-03-11.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. La Naissance du Pantheon: Essai sur le culte des grands homes (Paris Fayard, 1998).
  10. Winterer, Caroline. The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), page 39.
  11. Sylvana Tomaselli, "The spirit of nations," in Mark Goldie and Robert Wokler, eds., The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 9–39. Quote on p. 11.
  12. Paul Hazard, The European Mind, 1680-1715, translated by J. Lewis May (Cleveland Ohio: Meridian Books [1935] [1963], 1967) pp. 282.
  13. Fénelon, Dialogue des Morts, "Socrate et Alcibiade" (1718), quoted in Paul Hazard, The European Mind, 1680-1715 (1967), pp. 282–83.

Further reading