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Jean de Dieu-Raymond de Cucé de Boisgelin
French prelate and cardinal, b. of an ancient family at Rennes in Brittany, 27 February, 1732; d. 22 August, 1804. Destined from his early youth to the ecclesiastical state, he achieved remarkable success in his studies. The death of his elder brother made him the head of his family, but, giving up his birthright, he consecrated his life to the Church. First made Vicar-General of Pontoise, he was in 1765 raised to the Bishopric of Lavaur, and in 1770 to the archiepiscopal See of Aix in Provence. In this last position he won for himself the name of skillful administrator and princely benefactor. Provence owes to him the digging of a canal bearing his name, several works of public utility, such as a bridge at Lavaur and educational institutions for poor children. When in a time of scarcity and of political ferment, at the outset of the French Revolution, Aix was threatened with violence and famine, the archbishop by his firmness, great ascendancy, wisdom, and generosity, proved its savior. The mob had pillaged the public granaries, and had answered by insults the summons of authority; Boisgelin assembled the magistrates, chief citizens, and merchants, dispelled their fears, and prevailed upon these men to procure for Aix an abundant supply of grain, towards the payment of which he contributed one hundred thousand livres. He issued a pastoral letter to his clergy, asking them to urge the people to restore to the granaries the grain they had carried. away. Where law had failed, religion and piety triumphed. The people obeyed and, flocking to the cathedral, expressed in touching terms their gratitude to the archbishop who was so absolutely devoted to their welfare.
Boisgelin was elected to represent the higher clergy of his province at the States-General, 1789. In that famous assembly his practical political wisdom and moderation appeared on many occasions; he voted, in the name of the clergy, for the union of the three orders, the abolition of feudal rights, and offered 400,000 livres to the public treasury; but he opposed the abolition of tithes and the confiscation of church property. His political sagacity and eloquence made him the recognized leader and spokesman of thirty bishops, his colleagues in the assembly. He spoke the language of liberty and that of religion with equal eloquence; he would have every citizen share in the establishment and maintenance of the government, with his political rights as indestructible as his natural and civic rights. The majority of the assembly voted for the civil constitution, a constitution subversive of the government of the Church, and of its discipline, a constitution that denied the supreme jurisdiction of the pope, subjected ecclesiastics to the civil power, and decreed that all the members of the clergy, beginning with those in the assembly, should take the oath of allegiance to the constitution, under penalty of exile and the forfeiture of their salaries. This legislation placed the clergy between two evils, schism and dishonor on one side, dire poverty, exile, if not death, on the other. Boldly and firmly Boisgelin rose to champion the cause of the Church: "Let the law", he exclaimed in the assembly, "leave us our honor and liberty; take back your salaries." It was he who wrote the famous "Exposition of Principles", signed by all except four of the bishops of France, condemning the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; it was he who in the name of his colleagues corresponded during two years with Rome, he who in a letter, dated 3 May, 1791, proposed to the bishops to lay their resignations at the feet of Pius VI; in 1801 he effectively made to Pius VII the sacrifice not accepted by Pius VI. When persecutions drove him out of France he went to England. In his answer to a letter from Edmund Burke in which the orator expressed his admiration for the spirit of disinterestedness and dignity of character of the French episcopacy, he complains that he is expelled from France in the name of that liberty he had in perfect faith contributed to establish, and under whose protection he hoped to end his days.
Boisgelin returned to France when Napoleon restored peace to the Church and to France by his Concordat, 15 July, 1801. In 1802, he was raised to the archiepiscopal See of Tours and soon after created cardinal. Boisgelin who had displayed administrative qualities of a high order at Aix, was no less remarkable for his literary and oratorical talents. Simplicity, grace, and pathos characterize his eloquence. In 1776 he was chosen member of the French Academy. His works include: "Collection de diverses pièces en vers" (1783); "L'art de juger d'après l'analogie des idées" (1789); "Considérations sur la paix publique adressées de la Révolution" (1791); "Exposition des principes sur la constitution du clergé" (1791); "Le Psalmiste, traduction des Psaumes en vers" (1799); "Traduction des Héroïdes d'Ovide" (1784). His complete works appeared in Paris, 1818.
DE BAUSSET, Notice historique sur Boisgelin in Biographie universelle (Paris, 1812); ROHRBACHER, Histoire universelle de l'église catholique (Paris, 1874); SICARD, L'ancien clergé de France, avant et pendant la Révolution (Paris, 1902); DE FELLER, Biographie universelle (Paris, 1847); GUÉRIN, Dictionnaire des dictionnaires (Paris, 1892).
F. M. L. Dumont.