Jean-Armand le Bouthillier de Rancé
Abbot and reformer of Notre Dame de la Trappe, second son of Denis Bouthillier, Lord of Rancé, Councillor of State, etc., b. at Paris, 9 Jan., 1626; d. at La Trappe, 27 Oct., 1700. Originally intended for the Knights of Malta, the illness of his older brother caused his father to dedicate him to ecclesiastical service, in order to preserve in the family the former's numerous benefices. On the death of his brother, 1637, he became Canon of Notre Dame de Paris, Abbot of La Trappe, and of several other places, which gave him a revenue of about 15,000 livres . He early gave evidence of great precociousness in study, publishing, at the age of twelve years, an edition of Anacreon, with Greek notes, dedicated to his godfather, Cardinal Richelieu. In 1651, he was ordained priest by his uncle, the Archbishop of Tours. This dignity did not effect a change in his manner of life, which was worldly in the extreme. In 1652 his father died, leaving him a further increase in estate. At the age of twenty-six he was thus left absolutely his own master, handsome of person, polished and with practically unlimited wealth. Feasting and the pleasures of the chase, to which he was passionately attached, divided his time with preaching and other sacerdotal ministrations. His uncle, who desired him as coadjutor, made him archdeacon, caused him to be elected deputy of the second order to the General Assembly of the French Clergy in 1655, and had him appointed first chaplain to Gaston, Duke of Orléans, in 1656.
For several years his conscience reproached him for his scandalous conduct, but he paid little heed to its voice. The death of the Duchess of Montbazon, in 1657, gave him the first serious thought leading to his conversion. He retired to his Château de Verets, where he gave himself to reflection on the vanities of life; put himself under capable direction, and began to live more in conformity with his obligations. In 1660 he assisted at the death of the Duke of Orléans, which made so great an impression on him that he said: "Either the Gospel deceives us, or this is the house of a reprobate" After having taken counsel, he disposed of all his possessions, except the Abbey of La Trappe, which he visited for the first time in 1662. He decided to become a religious, and obtained permission from the king, in 1663, to become its regular abbot and reformer. After having passed through his novitiate and made profession, he took formal possession of his monastery as its regular abbot, and began the work of its reform, which, after he had overcome immense difficulties, was solidly established in his own abbey, from whence it was adopted into numerous other monasteries. His time and energy were so taken up with this work that, during the first year of his retirement he obliged himself to an entire separation from the world. He devoted his spare time to manual labour, and to the compilation of spiritual books. These latter were by no means inconsiderable. Amongst the most important are: "Vies de plusieurs solitaires de La Trappe "; "Le traité de la sainteté et des devoirs de la vie monastique"; "La règle de s. Benoît, traduite et explique selon son véritable esprit"; etc. His penitential mode of life made him many enemies, and caused him to be accused of Jansenism, but he refrained from defending himself, until finally, at the request of his most intimate friends, he wrote to the Ambrose Maréchal de Bellefonds, stating that he had signed the "Formula" (against Jansenism ) without restriction or reservation of any kind; adding that he had always submitted himself absolutely to those whom God had placed over him, i.e. the pope and his bishop. If this is considered insufficient to vindicate his orthodoxy, the letters and pamphlets with which he attacked the Jansenists, as published by Bossuet, are certainly enough to justify him from this charge. In 1695, feeling his health to be declining, he obtained permission from the king to resign his position, and for several years continued to give an example of humility and resignation. His remains are interred at the Monastery of La Grande Trappe.
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