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Count Humbert-Guillaume de Precipiano

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Born at Besançon, 1626; died at Brussels, 7 June, 1711. Having studied the classics at Constance, philosophy in his native town, and theology in the Jesuit college, Louvain, he graduated as Licenciate in Law and Doctor of Theology at the University of Dôle. He was named successively canon, archdeacon, and dean of the metropolitan chapter of Besançon ; commendatory Abbot of Bellevaux in Burgundy ; and was then appointed ecclesiastical councillor at the Court of Dôle by Philip IV of Spain, La Franche-Comté being a Spanish dependency. In 1667 Philip sent him to the imperial Diet of Ratisbon as plenipotentiary for Burgundy. After 1672 he resided at Madrid as chief councillor for the affairs of the Netherlands and Burgundy. Ten years later he was raised to the See of Bruges, and consecrated on 21 March, 1683. For seven years he laboured zealously to maintain the purity of the Faith and the rights of the Church, and to check the spread of Jansenism. In 1690 he was offered the Archbishopric of Mechlin, which he accepted only upon the express order of the pope. At Mechlin his life was a constant struggle against the doctrines which were being actively disseminated by the French refugees, Arnauld, Quesnel, and others (see JANSENIUS AND JANSENISM ). In union with his suffragans, the archbishop began by insisting on the oath formulated by Alexander VII as a necessary condition for admission to Holy orders, benefices, and ecclesiastical positions. Three episcopal assemblies held under his presidency at Brussels in 1691, 1692, and 1697, confirmed this regulation. The second (1692) moreover, to prevent all subterfuges regarding the distinction of law and fact, had made certain additions to the formulary. Through Dr. Hennebel, the Jansenists lodged a protest at Rome, and succeeded in having their claim upheld by Innocent XII. The pope ordered the adoption of the precise words of the Alexandrine oath as being quite sufficient since it condemned the five propositions "in the obvious sense which the words of the propositions express, and which our predecessors condemned". Thereupon, men of bad faith declared that the Constitution of Alexander VII and the obligations it imposed had been changed, and that it was no longer necessary to reject the propositions "in sensu auctoris". The bishops communicated with Rome to obtain a more drastic and efficacious remedy; and the pope, now better informed, authorized them to proceed, not only in virtue of their own authority but also as delegates of the Holy See, against all who by word or writing opposed the well-known decisions of the sovereign authority. The archbishop at once censured and prohibited seventy-one defamatory pamphlets of Jansenistic origin; but, as the propaganda in favour of the "Augustinus" continued and moral suasion proved entirely ineffectual, he sought the intervention of the secular power. Quesnel, Gerberon, and Brigode, the distributor of their writings, were arrested at Brussels, by order of Philip V, and confined to the archiepiscopal palace (1703). Quesnel escaped to Holland, but his vast correspondence was seized and judicial proceedings against him begun. All the documents connected therewith were published under the title "Causa Quesneliana" (Brussels, 1705). They form one of the most valuable sources of the authentic history of Jansenism. In 1705, the Archbishop of Mechlin was one of the first to publish in his diocese the Bull "Vineam Domini Sabbaoth", in which Clement XI condemned the theory of respectful silence (see JANSENIUS AND JANSENISM ), and his action elicited the congratulations of the sovereign pontiff. At Mechlin as at Bruges, Precipiano had to fight in defence of the right of asylum attached to certain places or religious houses , and at Mechlin his efforts were at first completely thwarted by the civil power. As a last resort he was forced to excommunicate the procurator-general and the members of the Grand Conseil; the magistrates replied by imposing on him an enormous fine, and the heavy penalty of "aquæ et ignis interdictio". Through the personal intervention of Philip V, who esteemed the prelate highly, the quarrel was ended without encroachment on the rights of the Church, or dishonour to their doughty champion.

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