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Jacques de Billy

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(Billi)

A French patristic scholar, theologian, jurist, linguist, and a Benedictine abbot, b. 1535 at Guise in Picardy; d. 25 December, 1581 at Paris. He began his studies at Paris, completed a course of philosophy and theology before he was eighteen years of age, and then, at the request of his parents went to Orléans and later to Poitiers to study jurisprudence. But having no inclination for law, he devoted most of his time to literature. The early death of his parents (Louis de Billy, of an old French family originally from Ile-de-France, and Marie de Brichanteau) gave him the opportunity he desired of pursuing unhampered his favourite study of letters. Quietly withdrawing to Lyons and later to Avignon, de Billy devoted himself, for a period, entirely to the study of Greek and Hebrew. He already held in commendam the Abbey of St.-Léonard of Ferrières in Anjou, and the Priory of Taussigny in Tourraine, when his older brother Jean, who had hitherto led a very worldly life, suddenly announced his intention of becoming a Carthusian, and resigned in favour of Jacques his two abbeys, Notre-Dame des Châtelliers and St.-Michel-en-l'Herme. After some hesitation de Billy accepted them, then entered the Order of St. Benedict, and later was made a regular abbot. Thenceforth he led a very ascetic life and governed his monasteries with great prudence. He was especially solicitous for the proper observance of monastic discipline and with that object in view renewed, in 1566, the statutes of his predecessor, Abbot Bertrand de Moussy. During the civil wars that devastated France at this period the monastery of St.-Michel-en-l'Herme was wholly destroyed. The abbot himself was frequently obliged to seek refuge from the ravages of war, and resided, for short periods, at Laon, Nantes, Paris, and in the Priory of Taussigny. The hardships he had to undergo in his journeyings, his incessant toil and study, and his ascetic observances gradually shattered his health, and while staying in Paris with his friend Gilbert Génébrard, he died at the comparatively early age of forty-six. He was buried in the choir of the church of Saint-Séverin.


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From that day on which he entered the novitiate, de Billy set aside all profane studies and devoted himself exclusively to the study of the Fathers. His critical abilities and exceptional linguistic attainments (he wrote Greek and Latin with singular purity and precision) enabled him to do much for the emendation of the text and the correct interpretation of many obscure passages in the Church Fathers. His favourite among the Fathers was St. Gregory Nazianzen . His principal works are: (1) "S. Gregorii Nazianzeni opera omnia latine" (Paris, 1569); a second and better edition appeared in 1583. (2) "Consolations et instructions" (Paris, 1570). (3) "Récréations spirituelles" (Paris, 1573). (4) "S. Gregorii Nazianzeni opuscula" (Paris, 1575). (5) "Interpretatio Latina xviii priorum capitum S. Irenaei" (Paris, 1575). (6) "Antholigia sacra" (Paris, 1576). (7) "Joannis Damasceni opera" (Paris, 1577). (8) "Locutiones Graecae" (Paris, 1578). (9) "Opuscula aliqua S. Joannis Chrysostomi" (Paris, 1581). (10) "S. Isidori Pelusiotae epis. Libri tres" (Paris, 1585). (11) "S. Epiphanii opera" (Paris, 1612).

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