Le Clerge Du Grand Siecle En Ses Assemblees (1615-1717)

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Le clerge du Grand Siecle en ses assembles (1615-1717). By Pierre Blet, SJ. [Histoire religieuse de la France, 7.] (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf. 1995. Pp. 529.240 E)

The assembly of the French Clergy was a collegial institution that originated (1561) with the objective of negotiating with the Crown the First Estate's `free contribution' to the finances of the kingdom. Deputies were elected for that purpose every ten years from each ecclesiastical province, two bishops and two members of the second order; a minor assembly, half the size, also convened in the middle of the period for accounting purposes. General extraordinary meetings could also be summoned by the king, as in the case of the famous assembly of 1682. Through its Agency that prepared the meetings and saw to the implementation of their decisions, the French clergy had a permanent organization that prefigured in many ways our modern conferences of bishops. Since his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Victor L. Tapie, Father Blet has devoted the greater part of his research to a chronological study of these assemblies, published respectively in 1959,1972, and 1989. In this new book he presents what he sees as the substance of the previous investigations. The work is divided in four parts. The first, "The Order of the Clergy," considers financial matters, principally this `free gift' that was the center of harsh negotiations with the Crown, as it allowed the clerics to put some pressure on issues of importance. As the matter of Protestantism was certainly a major concern in these bargaining sessions, the author is correct to include them in this part. The second part, "At the time of Cardinal Ministers," tells of the significant actions taken by the body under the strict control of Richelieu and Mazarin. The third part is devoted to the preambles and results of the most famous of these assemblies, that of 1682, which proclaimed the four Gallican Articles. The fourth is centered on the Jansenist conflict that culminated with the bull Unigenitus (1713); it also includes an important chapter on the censure of Fenelon in 1699.

Being rather familiar with the meticulous research contained in the previous four books published by Blet, I must confess anticipatory reservations to such an abridged edition, which lacks the scholarly apparatus that made the original volumes so precious and useful. …