Alain de Solminihac (1593-1659). Prélat réformateur de l'Abbaye de Chancelade à l'éveché de Cahors. By Patrick Petot. 2 vols. [Bibliotheca Victorina, Vol. XXI.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2009. Pp. 507; 509-1091 . euro140,00. ISBN 978-2-503-53277-6.)
Although scholars of seventeenth-century France are familiar with the name Alain de Solminihac, they have waited almost a century for a successor to the standard biography published by Eugène Sol, the diocesan archivist of Cahors (Aurillac, 1927). This was not due to a paucity of sources, for the archives of the Cahors Diocese are among the best preserved of the French Church, as this latest study of Solminihac demonstrates. Patrick Petot's twovolume study of the Venerable Solminihac (who was beatified in 1981) makes ample use of the 10,000 documents stored in the Fonds Solminihac to analyze his lengthy career and includes a useful annex of 143 of the more important and illuminating.
Petot's access to such documents has enabled him to track the dualism within his subject's career, and this forms the basic thematic structure of the biography. One of only a handful of religious who ascended to episcopal status during the heyday of Catholic reform in France, Solminihac found his vocation within the walls of the abbey of the Augustinian canons of Chancelade in Dordogne and carried its influence into his subsequent career as bishop. It is Petot's contention that it was the spirit of St. Augustine of Hippo that linked Solminihac's devotion to his religious and episcopal status, although it is obvious that the bishop was inspired by other model bishops such as Ss. Martin of Tours, Charles Borromeo, and Francis de Sales (he met the latter around 1619 when St. Francis visited Paris). His career cannot be broken into two neat segments of Augustinian canonry and Augustinian episcopacy, however, for Solminihac's progress from the abbey of Chancelade to the diocesan palace of Cahors in 1636-37 was the subject of private procrastination and anguish until he resolved to reconcile both in a form of religious prelacy and of public ecclesiastical dispute. In describing both aspects, Petot draws attention to the internal fissures within French Catholic Reform, which often placed varieties of reform at loggerheads.
Dedicated to his companion canons at Chancelade and to the rule of Augustine that they followed, Solminihac had little desire to abandon the monastery in favor of a public pastorate and a more secular rule of life. He finally determined to retain his abbatial office and to adopt as many of the customs of religious life as possible within his episcopal household, including the appointment of his fellow canons as diocesan officials. Coupled with symbolic gestures such as the combining of religious regalia with episcopal, this contributed to the turbulent nature of Solminihac's relations with the secular clergy of his diocese, often attributed simply to their reluctance to accept the reforming initiatives of a Tridentine bishop. …