French theologian and writer
François Fénelon (specifically François de Salignac de la Motte-Fénelon) was born on August 6, 1651, at Fénelon Castle in Périgord. Fénelon studied at the seminary Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he was ordained as a priest. Fénelon published his pedagogical work Traité de l'éducation des filles (Treatise on the Education of Girls) in 1681, which brought him much attention, not only in France, but abroad as well. At this time, he met Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, who soon became his patron and through whose influence Fénelon was contracted by Louis XIV to carry out the re-conversion of the Hugenots in the provinces of Saintonge and Poitou in 1686 and was appointed in 1689 as educator of his grandson and potential successor, the Duc de Bourgogne. Because of this position, he gained much influence at the court.
He was inducted into the Académie Française in 1693 and named Archbishop of Cambrai in 1695. During his time as the educator and teacher of the Duke, Fénelon wrote several entertaining and educational works, including the extensive novel Les Aventures de Télémaque, fils d'Ulysse (The Adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulysses), which depicted the ideal of a wise king. When this novel began circulating anonymously among the court, having been fragmentarily published in 1699 without his knowledge, Louis XIV, who saw many criticisms of his absolutistic style of rule in Télémaque, stopped the printing and banned Fénelon from court. Fénelon then retreated to his bishopric in Cambrai, where he remained active writing theological and political treatises until his death on January 17, 1715.
In Church history, Fénelon is known especially for his part in the Quietism debate with his earlier patron Bossuet. In his work Explication des maximes des Saints sur la vie intérieure (Explanation of the Adages of the Saints on the Inner Life) in 1697, he defended Madame du Guyon, the main representative of Quietistic mysticism. He provided proof that her "heretical" teachings could also be seen in recognized saints. In 1697, Fénelon called on the pope for a decision in the Quietism debate. After long advisement, the Pope banned the Explication in 1699. Fénelon complied with the pope's decision immediately and allowed the remaining copies of his book to be destroyed.
Works by François Fénelon
In 1688, Archbishop Fenelon met Madame Guyon, and came to deeply admire her for her Christian piety. The two of them swiftly became very close friends. However, the church urged Fenelon to condemn Guyon, for her attitude towards mysticism sparked concerns of heresy. Ultimately, Fenelon refused to abandon his friend, and in response to the church’s condemnation, he argued in forty-five points that saints from all eras had held views similar to Guyon’s. These points are the Maxims of the Saints, and Fenelon’s defense serves as one of the earliest arguments in favor of the movement that later became known as Quietism.
Spiritual Progress is a collection of five powerful works intended for daily devotions and personal reflection. These five inspiring works are composed by three closely linked mystical thinkers of the 17th century--Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, and Pere La Combe. Fenelon, an archbishop, wrote the first two works, Christian Counsel and Spiritual Letters, which illustrate his keen sense of spiritual counsel. Madame Guyon, a close friend of Fenelon, wrote the next works, Method of Prayer and On the Way to God, which indicate the importance of constant prayer. Pere La Combe, the spiritual director of Madame Guyon, wrote the final work, Spiritual Maxims, which emphasizes the importance of desire and love for God. Each stirring work is divided into short chapters, making Spiritual Progress ideal for morning or evening devotions. It is thus a wonderful book full of guidance for one's spiritual progress.
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