Rorate Caeli

Bossuet: "Two ways of aspiring to the reformation of the Church"

There were thus [prior to the 16th century] two different sorts of persons who called for reformation: one, the truly peaceful and true children of the Church, without bitterness supporting her grievances, and who, with respect, proposed a reformation of them, and in humility bore them despite its delay.

Far from desiring to effect this object by schism, they, on the contrary, looked on schism as the greatest of all evils. In the midst of these abuses, they admired the Providence of God, who, according to his promises, knew how to preserve the faith of the Church.

And, though they could not accomplish a reformation of attitudes, free from all bitterness, and free from all passion, they deemed themselves glad that nothing prevented them from accomplishing it within themselves. These were the strong ones of the Church, whose faith no temptation could shake, nor induce to deviate from unity.

Besides these, there were proud spirits, who, shocked by the disorders they saw prevailing in the Church, particularly in her ministers, did not understand how the promises of her eternal duration could subsist in the midst of such abuses; whereas the Son of God had taught to respect for  the chair of Moses, notwitstanding the evil works of the Scribes and Pharisees who sat upon it; these became proud, and thereby weak, yielding to the temptation which inclines to hate the Chair itself, due to the hatred towards those who preside upon it; and, as if the wickedness of man could make void the work of God, the aversion they had conceived against the Doctors made them hate both the doctrines they taught and the authority they had received from God to teach.

Such were the Waldensians and Albigensians; such were John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. The ordinary bait by which they induced weak souls into their webs was the hatred with which they inspired them against the Pastors of the Church; influenced by this spirit of bitterness, they desired nothing but rupture.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Histoire des variations des églises protestantes


  1. Also misguided is thinking that the Church is a chair and the Pope whomever happens to be sitting on that chair. Take Antipopes John XXIII and Anacletus II, for example.

    Also wrong is doing nothing when men by their words (doctrine) and deeds (example) teach and give evil. Innumerable Saints, Doctors and Popes could be produced to prove this.

    The Pharisees and Scribes did, indeed, sit on the Chair of Moses; nonetheless, Christ did not fear to expose and denounce them as hypocrites.

    Considering the context of the major news story of our day, I think not a few SSPX'ers and Traditionalists in general will be justly offended at the (not a little subtle) implication that they are something akin or approaching to heretics like the Albigensians; and if, indeed, that is the suggestion Rorate Caeli means to make, then it is not they but you who should do some serious soul searching, considering what penance might be due for driving thorns into the heads of Christ's faithful and vexing pointlessly their blameless consciences.

  2. Johannes de Silentio12:56 AM

    As Malcolm Muggeridge said, "New news is old news happening to new people."

  3. There is no implication, we have been posting texts by Bossuet for six years...

    But, just a point, the Church is not a chair, the Chair in this text is the authority of Saint Peter, in particular, and of the bishops.

  4. @ New Catholic,

    No, of course there isn't. It's just a matter of chance that this text was produced at this critical junction in history.

  5. The history of our Church is a history of crises - and, therefore, of critical moments. Not only that but Bossuet insists on the great teaching that true restoration begins with our own selves. This text is thus apt for almost any instant in the life of the Church.

  6. Anonymous1:49 AM

    By the time of this writing (1688) the Vaudois had been subject, even before the revocation of Nantes, not only to civil persecution but the to the most unbelievably cruel and disgusting violence: in the 16th century (e.g. 1545) and again notoriously in 1655, that is, in the recent memory of the writer and his readers. And yet they were not really any threat either to religion or civil stability. Thus, regarding them at least, the last quoted paragraph seems a little disingenous.


  7. Which is why he treats them as a matter of the past, as the Albingensians, Hus, and Wycliffe.

    He is introducing the matter of the arrival of Protestantism and using a general concept to speak of schism.

    As for "unbelievably cruel and disgusting", anachronistic moral high ground in historical analyses is always suspicious.

  8. Anonymous2:16 AM

    You are right, anachronistic moral high ground is always suspicious. But in this case the moral high ground was occupied immediately, although not by the French or the Savoyards. But clearly that the treatment of the Vaudois was over the top even by contemporary standards.

    Of course the Albigensians and the Hussites and what not were well in the past: but the Vaudois weren't, they existed at the time, and the particular massacre I have in mind was scarcely further in Bossuet's readers' memory than, say, Srebrenica is to us.

    (I'll say no more, though. I rarely comment here, but I always read, and greatly appreciate this resource.)


  9. @ New Catholic,

    So you admonish us onto virtue, then? Why, is there evidence we have forgotten? I was taught that the reformation of ourselves is the daily life of a Christian in the pursuit of virtue and all perfection- is there concern too few know this simple truth and teaching, or have forgotten it?

    Still, I don't think there is presently a crisis of morals among the laity - certainly not, at least, as among such that read articles from this most respected site. Moreover, I am also confident that pastors - especially traditionalist ones - admonish their flocks frequently to the practise of virtue.

    But if that is not the case, which God forbid, then does it not follow that perhaps we should be rather posting articles quoting Bossuet about a reformation of the morals of pastors, and admonishing the clergy to a more dilligent practise of their duty and virtues, and the importance of admonishing their flocks to practise them?

    Or if neither the clergy nor the general laity can be accused of a need for such a reformation, then of what point and purpose is this article at all? Perhaps a more timely quote for our times would be, for example, this one from Pope St. Felix III,

    "Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them."

    I think, perhaps, there would be found a wider agreement about the need for a reminder about such a truth than for a reminder about the reformation of our morals.

  10. Constantine-
    This post (whatever RCs "intent") seems to be most apt. To assume the SSPX falls under the heretical camp of Church reformers, is to lack charity - at best. RC would never make such an insinuation. Rather, the SSPX falls under the first of Bossuet's types. Sadly, there're some individuals within the Society who think and act as the false reformers - namely, those who are sedevacantist, or who harbor ill will to regularization.

  11. I think the post is not other thing that a way to affirm a universal principle in this affair: Every reform in the Church begin and end by an inner reform in the individuals by the grace of God. Retrat from this principle and you will finish in a some sort of Hegelian way of thinking the Church.

    Indeed the way of say that an institution has or not has charity is a hegelian way of think the society. Actiones sunt suppositorum. Don't fall in that trap.

  12. Irony7:03 AM

    "Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them."

    Please - give me a break. To apply this to Bishop Fellay is idiotic. Really, that is the only way to describe it. You obviously have no reading comprehension skills and no means of discernment, if you are applying this to Bishop Fellay.

    Those writing so vehemently against the good Bishop on the internet (mostly two small internet forums) are acting on emotion and hysterics. It is nothing short of fear mongering and paranoia.

    I'd say they are also quite delusional since it is the same people who post on both forums mentioned and they perhaps equal approx. 75 people on the forums, yet believe they equal the majority in the real world. Sort of reminds me of the small Occupy Movement.

    It is a shame too, because countless sins are being committed against the Bishop and those who support him - the calumny, the insults, the rash judgement, setting a poor example, leading others to sin, or encouraging them to sin, etc.- and these sins are going unconfessed because these people believe they are justified in their sinful behavior. And if they are confessing it, then it is that much the worse since they know they are wrong and continue to do it.

  13. Ora et Labora9:13 AM

    A very timely post, but my question is when are going to learn???

    Throughout the history of the Church we had groups of individuals who follow others, who claimed to have been granted some especial revelation or understanding by God on how things should be done, seperating themselves from Holy Mother Church.

    Well, Heretics and Schismatic is what they end up being.
    Deceiving many and even dying for, and in error.

    I think we should be careful and take notice of what history has taught us, particularly being careful to protest against Church authority (yes,even though times are chaotic).

    Heresies, are born out of a prideful heart and intellectual arrogance.

    Wise is the one who prays for humility, and submission of heart and mind to the Almighty, before he dares to pray for knowledge and understanding.

    Mary Help of Christians pray for us!!!

  14. Those getting angry at this post should remember these words of St. Jerome.

    "When anything is written against some particular vice, but without the mention of any name, if a man grows angry he accuses himself. It would have been the part of a wise man, even if he felt hurt, to dissemble his consciousness of wrong, and by the serenity of his countenance to dissipate the cloud that lay upon his heart."
    (Apology Against Rufinus, Bk. I, par. 11)

  15. Irony, it comes from pride, immaturity and apprehension over their world being challenged. These are people who have too much pride in the hovels they have built to be interested in the cathedral their betters are constructing.

  16. Kathleen12:04 PM

    Thank you NC for this item!

    It is precisely for items like this that I am most fond of this site.

    Being a poor wretch, it takes a lot to keep me sorta on track. Items like this are a tremendous help!

  17. Hmmm, some sensitive souls out there.

    I think this reminder very apt, indeed; we have in fact seen examples of such schismatic attitudes. Examples known to me would be Sanborn, Jenkins, Cekada, and the rest of that scurrilous bunch who broke faith with Abp. Lefebvre and are now spinning off on all sorts of bizarre trajectories, having become wholly untethered from the Chair.

    We all hope and pray (and I am personally confident) that the heirs of Lefebvre will not succumb to the temptation to travel that road.

  18. rodrigo12:47 PM

    Having trawled the outer reaches of the trad. Catholic discussion forums, it seems pretty obvious that separation from Rome has already hardened into what looks like a permanent reality for some. They echo the Eastern Orthodox in regarding the Holy See as having a theoretical authority which is currently suspended on account of lapsation into heresy. In so doing, they maintain a heretical proposition themselves - that the local Church of Rome can fall to error, while the "true Church" persists elsewhere.

  19. Sheldon1:20 PM

    Great post -- although, what the sedevacantist would answer, of course, is that the issue is doctrinal rather than moral. Clarity on that front is needed of the type that C. Farrara offers when he distinguishes between 'heresies' and 'viruses' -- the former being propositional errors, the latter practical dispositions, which can attach themselves to errors (e.g., thru a hermeneutic of rupture) but are not themselves errors.

  20. Mi-Ka-2:24 PM

    Let us not be blind that although Holy Mother Church is disfigured it is still the Rock that Our Lord Jesus Christ set in this World. It is through his power that the Roman Catholic Church exist. The distortion is through the human decisions swayed by the devil. God created this world with Human decisions in the matrix. We cannot take that away but what we can do is to be humble while being firm. Let us discern carefully and be docile to what the Holy Ghost is asking us to do. Let us not harden our hearts. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, We stand firm because we know that is true. If a superior orders us something that is against the faith we do not follow but we must follow if it is for the faith.

  21. The protestants saw moral abuses, and invented new doctrine. This has never been what traditionalists have done, sedevacantist or otherwise.

    Instead, we have the Thermonuclear Bomb of Vatican II that DID change doctrine, at least practically.

  22. New Catholic said:

    "The history of our Church is a history of crises - and, therefore, of critical moments. Not only that but Bossuet insists on the great teaching that true restoration begins with our own selves. This text is thus apt for almost any instant in the life of the Church."

    I came across something quite interesting the other day. I discovered that the son of Louis XV (Louis, Dauphin of France) had a devotion to the Sacred Heart (see link below).,_Dauphin_of_France_(1729-1765)#Personality

    Tragically, he died age 36 before his father (Louis XV). We all know the outcome.

    I wonder if he would have carried out the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart as requested in 1689 and thus prevented the revolution.

    Perhaps we do indeed get the leaders we deserve.

  23. @Irony et al.

    You spoke of a lack of charity; however, why on earth do you think that what I wrote, I meant to apply to a specific person, i.e. +Fellay? In that case, wouldn't rather the Three have made more sense, given the context? Regardless, it is not the case; it was, in fact, an admonishment to everyone generally, as the quote itself makes clear: it is a universal maxim and admonishment to oppose error and heresies.

    Further, the overall context of my last post was admonishments to the laity or the clergy: i.e., broad groups. How you withdrew a single person from that context, I do not know.

    As to the provided Saint Jerome quote: I actually have no issue with Bossuet's quote, but it is the context it is given in that lends itself to a name - or rather a group of people. Most readers will apply this to the SSPX controversy, seeing especially as the SSPX has been on everyone's minds lately.

    To be frank, I am not aware of any fringe groups in the Catholic world presently that are anything remotely like the Albigensians or even the Protestants for that matter, perhaps because every Catholic is keenly aware of such things and has no desire to resemble them in the least.

    I do, however, love how a vertiable chorus of accusations of "lack of charity", "pride", "immaturity", etc., came flowing out of those who were ostensibly just admonished - according to the author of the article himself - to "reform themselves".

    Perhaps New Catholic is right. Perhaps there is a general need to consider reforming ourselves first.

  24. Thank you for the post, NC. Bossuet is another great treasure of the Faith that has been too often forgotten and ignored in the obscuring effects of the modernist madness.

    Gnosticism just won't die. It plays to our desire to elevate ourselves above others, to possess special knowledge that we, and perhaps a few select others, alone are graced to have. The Authority of the Church has always been the remedy for this. Yes, that Authority today is terribly dimmed today, but we must maintain faith and hope that it will shine brightly again.

    I continue to pray for FSSPX. Please pray for me!

  25. We can detect such a minimalist-reductionist protestant ethos in the minds of liberal modernists. Pope St Pius X described their mean-spiritedness in his well-known encyclicals. They agitate rebellion and persuade horizontalism. They resent tradition and force revolutionary changes. It is the language of "rupture". It is deceitfully camouflaged in terms such as "diversity", "plurality of view", relatively speaking", "religious liberty", "ecumenical dialogue" and similar language. We witnessed clerics dressed as laypeople and prelates decrying custom; liturgy being unrecognisably reoriented and orthodox values being ridiculed in once hallowed places.

  26. No offense intented toward anyone....

    But why do we keep repeating the obvious? We know the Church is plagued at the moment with grevious wounds. Many are in official, canonical "good standing" who shouldn't be; while some of those who should be, aren't. Modernism, the "synthesis of all heresies," has been running through the Church, almost unchecked.

    We know all this. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Stay on the outside and wait for a miraculous intervention (that most likely isn't going to come)? Or take the opportunity to get back "inside" and start pushing the intruders out? They don't belong there. We do.

  27. Unfortunately Uncle Claiborne,

    Most people are not aware of this. I also hope someone who comes to this site unaware will read necessary reminders of where the problems lie. What a shame so few recognised the evil for what it is in the 1960s. We were warned by many in the church well beforehand but who listened? Worse still, who acted?
    Even now very few are paying that much attention.
    Therefore, it behoves to keep repeating the message loud and clear.
    The antidote is a profound love for and determination to spread the Latin Mass of All Times, pure and simple. This is the solution - St Pio of Pietrelcina tells us so and he is right.

  28. Dear Uncle Claibourne,

    You would appear to conceive of the Church as being synonymous with an earthly, territorial nation.

    However, please consider the following:

    "[35] Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?

    [36] (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) [37] But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    This agrees perfectly with the Church's doctrine that no external will of man or angel can sever us from the Mystical Body of Christ.

    Again, you would appear to conceive of the Church as a territorial nation founded (or in) and dependent upon earthly lands and structures; however, the Church is foremost a heavenly and mystical society; only by our own wills can we sever ourselves from the Church: i.e., as the First Vatican Council declares, 'God does not abandon us unless we first abandon Him.'

    The "territory," as it were, of the Church is to be found in the hearts and minds of men; indeed, in their very souls. That is the "battleground." From that terrain must evil be expelled, exposed or - dare I say - exorcised.

  29. We must return the red lamp to the sanctuary; the Tabernacle to its proper place and restore The Latin Mass to all places where it has been removed. We should accompany The Blessed Virgin and St John at the foot of The Holy Cross at The Holy Mass. This is the most important mission of our times. A true restoration of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.
    Everywhere most political and many of our religious leaders are doing the opposite.

  30. MConstantine17,

    It is a visibile Society as well. Analogies of battle, both spiritual and for "territory," are not exactly foreign to Catholic ways of thinking and speaking.

    The Church is our "house." It has been invaded, in its physical, visible structure, by the enemy. The only way to get back what is rightly ours is to start, with God's help, to take it back.

    Some seem to be waiting for Rome to "convert" first, and wish to remain aloof until that happens. I don't think that's a very Catholic perspective to take.

  31. "And yet they were not really any threat either to religion or civil stability."

    Well, except for the fact that they were heretics and schismatics.

    Not that physical force was necessarily the appropriate response to the Waldensian heresy, but let's not kid ourselves: heresy and schism are always a threat to religion and civil stability, especially when they become entrenched and begin to spread throughout a region.

  32. @ Uncle Claibourne,

    Yes; and what I earlier wrote neither denies nor contradicts the fact that the Church is - by Her very nature - visible. However, She is animated by the Invisible; e.g., by the Holy Ghost and by Grace.

    Hence the Church is firstly and chiefly manifest in Her members; and especially by Her immortal and illustrious Saints, and Her likewise ever-glorious Martyrs.

  33. Hugh said...

    "We must return the red lamp to the sanctuary; the Tabernacle to its proper place and restore The Latin Mass to all places where it has been removed."


    Vestments of red
    Altar cloth too
    Martyrs who bled
    Did this for you.

    Gold Tabernacles
    Veiled in red’s hue
    Martyrs in shackles
    Hung for this view.

    Red mums full bloomed
    In water and brass
    Martyrs consumed
    Burned for this Mass.

    Red rays of sun
    Rose-streak the nave
    Their suffering done –
    Now red we must crave!

  34. MConstantine17,

    I didn't say you demeaned it. Nor did I rule out the existence and importance of Spirit. I'm not sure why you're posting such lengthy replies to my brief comments.

    The devil has invaded the visible structure of the Church. He couldn't have succeeded in this if he hadn't already invaded the hearts of those who helped him do it. Agreed. Again, we seem to be repeating the obvious.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!