« Charles-Maurice Le Tellier Le Tellier, Michel Letourneux, Nicolas »

Le Tellier, Michel

Michel Le Tellier

Born 16 October, 1643, of a peasant family, not at Vire as has so often been said, but at Vast near Cherbourg; died at La Flèche, 2 September, 1719. He was educated at the Jesuit College in Caen, and at 18 entered the order, and became professor, then rector of the College of Louis le Grand. He was one of the founders of the "Journal de Trévoux", and opposed Jansenism in three works: "Observations sur la nouvelle édition de la version françoise du Nouveau Testament" (1672); "Histoire des cinq Propositions de Jansenius" (1699); "Le père Quesnel séditieux et hérétique" (1705). In 1687 he took part in the discussion then going on about Chinese ceremonies, publishing a book entitled: "Défense des nouveaux chrétiens et des missionaires de la Chine, du Japon, et des Indes". The tone of this work was displeasing to Rome, but the General of the Jesuits defended it before the Congregation of the Holy Office. Greatly esteemed by the Jesuits, no matter what Saint-Simon may say about him, Le Tellier, after the death of Father Pétau, was entrusted with the task of finishing his work, "De theologicis dogmatibus". From August 1709 he belonged to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres. Le Tellier was provincial of his order in Paris when Father La Chaise, the confessor of Louis XIV, died, 20 January, 1709. Godet des Marais, Bishop of Chartres, and La Chétardie, rector of Saint-Sulpice, had a determining part in Louis's choice of Le Tellier as his new confessor. Saint-Simon, giving credence to a story told by a surgeon, Maréchal, attributed this choice to the king's fear of displeasing the Jesuits. For two centuries the greater number of historians have followed Saint-Simon's estimate of Le Tellier and denounced that "dark, false, and dread-inspiring countenance, which would have struck terror if met in a lonely forest", that "coarse, insolent, impudent confessor, knowing neither the world nor moderation, neither rank nor considerations, making no allowance for anything, covering up his purposes by a thousand windings". Scientific history is revising this judgment. Saint-Simon makes Le Tellier responsible for the destruction of Port-Royal. Father Bliard points out that since 1695 Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Paris, and Louis XIV had contemplated its destruction; that the seizure in 1703 of Quesnel's papers had drawn the king's attention to the political dangers of Jansenism; that as early as 25 March, 1708, Clement XI at the request of King Louis had united Port-Royal des Champs with Port-Royal de Paris and suppressed the title of the "Abbaye des Champs"; and that Cardinal de Noailles, who for a year past had interdicted the members of Port-Royal des Champs from receiving the sacraments, was preparing to use the power given him by the pope to send the nuns to other convents.

Saint-Simon claims that Le Tellier in advising episcopal nominations, relentlessly pursued all ecclesiastics suspected of Jansenism, recommending only "barefooted friars and men ready for anything". Such slurs indicate the attitude of the great nobleman against priests who lacked birth; but a letter from Fénelon to which Father Bliard draws attention proves that in reality it was Fénelon who, at the beginning of Le Tellier's influence, found him too lenient towards certain priests with Jansenist tendencies, and pointed out to him the danger he would incur by allowing the Jansenist faction to predominate in the episcopacy. Saint-Simon, following Maréchal's stories, accuses Le Tellier of having brought to Louis XIV an opinion of the doctors of the Sorbonne in order to prove that he could levy tithes upon his subjects with a clear conscience. Even admitting the accuracy of Maréchal's assertions, it must be borne in mind that the necessity of defending the kingdom was so urgent that Fénelon wrote on 4 August, 1710, "Money must be taken wherever it can be found", and Duclos in his "Mémoires secrets", declares that "the imposition of the tithes was perhaps the salvation of the State."

Le Tellier is accused by Saint-Simon of having in 1713 laboured jointly with Madame de Maintenon and Bissy, Bishop of Meaux, against Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, and used his influence with Clement XI, through the Jesuit Daubenton and Cardinal Fabroni, to obtain the condemnation of Quesnel. And again after the publication of the Bull "Unigenitus" he wished to have Cardinal de Noailles imprisoned, and he increased the number of "lettres de cachet", in order to fill the prisons with Jansenists. Father Bliard shows the capricious and exaggerated nature of these stories, and establishes from Jansenist sources that during the six years of Le Tellier's influence, only twenty-eight Jansenists were punished more or less severely. By the testimony of the Jansenist Roslet and Daubenton's report to Fénelon, he shows that the Bull "Unigenitus" was the outcome of three long years of doctrinal study, and that the alleged letters from Le Tellier to Chauvelin proving a plot for abducting Cardinal de Noailles were admitted to be apocryphal by Duclos, though he was hostile to the Jesuits. Finally, certain investigations made by Father Brucker lead to the conclusion, that a certain letter recommending the destruction of the Oratory is certainly not the work of Le Tellier, who has been frequently blamed for it, and that such an accusation may have originated in an intrigue of Abbé de Margon against the Jesuits. Louis XIV in a codicil to his will had selected Le Tellier as the confessor of the little Louis XV, then seven years of age; but a few days after the king's death the regent, under the influence of Saint-Simon and the Jansenists, informed the provincial of the Jesuits that Le Tellier must leave Paris. He was sent by his superiors to Amiens, and then to La Flèche, where he died. The menology of the Society of Jesus under the date of 2 September, repeats the following remarks addressed by Louis XIV to the Duc d'Harcourt about Le Tellier: "Do you see that man? His greatest happiness would be to shed his blood for the Church, and I do not believe there is a single soul in my entire kingdom who is more fearless and more saintly."

SAINT-SIMON, Mémoires; DUCLOS, Mémoires secrets sur le règne de Louis XIV (Paris, 1791); D'ORSANNE, Journal (Rome, 1753, 6 vols.); BLIARD, Les mémoires de Saint-Simon et le père Le Tellier (Paris, 1891); BRUCKER, Un "Document assassin" faussement attribué au père Le Tellier in Etudes, LXXXVIII (Paris, 1901); BROU, Les Jésuites de la légende (Paris, 1907).


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