Claude de la Colombière


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Jesuit priest (1641–82).

Born near Lyons, he worked in Avignon, Paray-le-Monial, and lastly London, where he narrowly escaped execution. Born into a wealthy and devout family at Saint–Symphorien, he was educated at a Jesuit college and then joined the Society of Jesus. After profession he taught grammar and the humanities in the college, and then, even before ordination, became known as a preacher to the Visitation nuns at Avignon, where Francis of Sales (their founder) had spent some of his last months and where his canonization in 1665 was solemnly celebrated. He finished his theology at Paris and was appointed tutor to the sons of Colbert, Louis XIV's minister of finance. A satirical article by him brought this appointment to an end.

Recalled to Avignon, Claude preached a series of sermons, inspired in part by the works of Bernard of Clairvaux on the love of God and on predestination. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was fostered to refute the rigorist doctrine of the Jansenists, and insistence on God's infinite love for mankind even before we existed was crucial.

Appointed superior of the Jesuit house at Paray-le-Monial, Claude encouraged Margaret Mary Alacoque who had experienced visions and revelations about the love of Christ's heart for human beings and the need for establishing a feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Soon afterwards he was recommended by Louis XIV's confessor as preacher to the then duchess of York, Mary of Modena, whose husband later became James II of England. He gave sermons in St James' Palace which continued the themes of his preaching at Paray and Avignon. He equated ingratitude with heresy and saw Protestantism as constituting irreverence and sacrilege. But he was also alive to ecumenism: ‘Dear God…how can we at length appease you and oblige you to unite us all in one and the same fold, as we had been throughout the space of thirteen or fourteen centuries?’ He also visited secret Catholics in St Martin's Lane and preached against the Test Act.

In the ‘Popish Plot’ allegations he was arrested in St James' Palace and imprisoned. He was tried in the House of Commons but Louis XIV saved him from execution, so he returned to France in 1679. The imprisonment permanently damaged his health and he died at Paray-le-Monial. He was beatified by Pius XI in 1929 and canonized by John Paul II in 1992. Feast: 15 February.

Selected works in The Spiritual Direction of Saint Claude de la Colombière (1998);M. Monier–Vinard in Dict. Sp. 2, 939–43;biography by G. Guitton (1943), Eng. tr by W. Young, Perfect Friend (1956). See also D. Baldwin, Regular and Secular Orders and Confraternities attached to the Queen's Chapel (1997). F. Edwards, The Jesuits in England; from 1850 to the present day (1985), pp. 81–7.

Subjects: Christianity.

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