1807 and 1808 Pastoral Letters from Archbishop de Mercy as he Sought to Revitalize the Bourge Diocese

1807 and 1808 Pastoral Letters from Archbishop de Mercy as he Sought to Revitalize the Bourge Diocese

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On offer are two Pastoral Letters from 1807 and 1808 that were written by the Archbishop of Bourge, arie-Charles-Isidore de Mercy, immediately following the French Revolution, which were dangerous times for many clergy. De Mercy was the first Archbishop appointed to Bourges following the French Revolution. The diocese was poor and understaffed when he took over. 

Among the many issues de Mercy had to contend with in his new appointment was the condition of the diocese’s major seminary or teaching facility for educating priests. This was the subject of two of his Pastoral Letters. Pastoral letters are open letters written to clergy and often to all members of the church (as this one was) in a particular jurisdiction. Such letters were frequently sent out at particular times of the year, coinciding with ecclesiastical seasons, such as Lent or Christmas. However, they were not limited to any particular event or celebration.

The first letter was written in August 1807 and titled Au Sujet d’Establissement de Son Seminaire Diocesain (Concerning the Establishment of the Diocesan Seminary). An excerpt follows:

Auriez-vous donc a nous reprocher Nos Tres Chers Freres, d'avoir laisse en souffrance un des etablissements qui devoit le plus interesser notre solicitude pastorale, celui d'un Seminaire diocesain ou pouvoit se perpetuer l'esperance du sacerdoce?

[Translation: So would you have to reproach us, Our Very Dear Brothers, for having left one of the establishments suffering that should most interest our pastoral solicitude, that of a Diocesan Seminary where the hope of the sacred could be perpetuated?]

The Seminary had been closed following the French Revolution. Not only was the diocese understaffed but the quality of individual education of the priests was considered low. Finances were in terrible shape and the social milieu was not conducive to wide-spread community or official support. The balance of the letter is an appeal for support to continue or re-establish the Seminary. He cajoles and lectures, as in this excerpt:

Un indifference coupable on de plus longs delais qui pourroient retarder ce que je dois appeller l'edifice sprituel de la maisondu Seigneur , vous rendront responsables de tous les malheurs qui doivent suivre soit de la disette des Pretres soit du nombre insufficent pour fournir les besoins futurs de l'Eglise de France.

[Translation: A guilty indifference or longer delays which could delay what I must call the spiritual building of the house of the Lord, will make you responsible for all the misfortunes which must follow either from the famine of the Priests or from the number insufficient to supply the needs future of the Church of France.]

He ends the letter with the establishment of a new charity whose aim is to perpetuate the diocese of Bourges.

The second Pastoral Letter by de Mercy  was published in November 1808 and continues the theme of his earlier one. In it, he re-emphasizes the arguments he made the previous year and makes some specific references to them:

Sur la continunitie des secours a donner pour l'etablissement du grand et petite seminaire, et sur les conditions attachees a la dispense de faire gras certains jours de la semaine pendant le Careme de l'annee 1809.

[Translation: On the continuity of the relief to be given for the establishment of the major and minor seminary, and on the conditions attached to the exemption from making fat on certain days of the week during Lent of the year 1809]

For a historian or an educator, this document offers an excellent window into the life of the Diocese of Bourges and is a microcosm of the challenges faced by the Roman Catholic Church across France in the aftermath of the French Revolution and during the height of Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign

These two printed documents measure 7.5 inches by 4.75 inches each contain 16 pages. The pages show staining and wear that one would expect from paper over two centuries old but otherwise they are in good condition. The pages are folded in half and the resultant ‘spine’ is secured with a straight pin.

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