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Nicolas Letourneux

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A well-known French preacher and ascetical writer of Jansenistic tendencies, born at Rouen, 30 April, 1640; died at Paris, 28 November, 1686. His parents were poor, but the conspicuous talents and the gift of eloquence he displayed even at an early age attracted the attention of some wealthy benefactors, whose assistance enabled him to study the humanities at the Jesuit College in Paris, and later philosophy at the Collège des Grassins. To Dr. Hersant, his teacher at the latter institution, may be traced the Jansenistic views which mar his writings. Ordained priest at Rouen in 1662, he served for some years as curate there. About 1670 he removed to Paris, became closely associated with the Port-Royalists, and began to cultivate Jansenistic asceticism. He exchanged his soutane for a coarse grey robe and abstained from celebrating Mass, to expiate in this manner what he esteemed his guilt in having accepted ordination at so early an age (22). His intercourse with Lemaître restored him to more normal views; returning to pastoral duties, he acted as chaplain at the Collège des Grassins. His sermons at various Paris churches quickly placed him in the front rank of the preachers of his day, and in 1675 his work on the text "Martha, Martha, thou art careful" ( Luke 10:41 ) won the Balzac prize for eloquence awarded by the French Academy . In such esteem was he held by his spiritual superiors that Archbishop de Harlay appointed him, in 1679, temporary confessor of the nuns of Port-Royal, and also a member of the archiepiscopal commission for the emendation of the Breviary. His relations with the leading Jansenists, however, soon awakened distrust, and he found it necessary to retire, in 1682, to the Priory of Villiers-sur-Fère, a benefice granted him by his patron, Cardinal Colbert of Rouen.

In this retirement he devoted the remainder of his life to his ascetical compositions. His principal writings are: "Histoire de la vie de Jesus-Christ" (about 1673); "Le catéchisme de la pénitence" (1676); "L'Année chrétienne, ou les Messes des Dimanches, Féries et Fêtes de toute l'année, en latin et en français, avec l'explication des Epîtres et des Evangiles et un abrégé de la Vie des Saints, dont on fait l'Office". Of this last work Letourneux wrote nine volumes, and two were added by the Belgian Jansenist, Ruth d'Ans. Six volumes were published before 1686, when they were condemned for their Jansenistic views. The work was placed on the Index on 7 Sept., 1695. Among the other works of Letourneux may be mentioned: "Principes et règles de la vie chrétienne" (Paris, 1688); "Explication littéraire et morale de l'épître de S. Paul aux Romains" (Paris, 1695); "Bréviaire Romain en latin et français" (4 vols., Paris, 1687), condemned by the archiepiscopal authorities because it was an innovation contrary to the spirit and practice of the Church, and because it contained much that was heretical and much that was conducive to heresy and error. Although the episcopal ban was subsequently removed, and the work was never placed on the Roman Index, the Jansenistic leanings of Letourneux stand conspicuous today in this as in the remainder of his writings.

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