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severely tax the intelligence of the most common audience. The style of these discourses is perhaps a shade more polished than would be necessary in the humbler churches, but the thought could not well be more simple or superficial. Except that they begin with the word “ Sire," and end with a paragraph or two of the flattery required by etiquette, they might just as well have been preached to a company of shopkeepers or workmen. There is a wide interval in this respect between Berlin and Paris. Reinhard and Schleiermacher were preachers to a cultivated class, and not to the common people; but the court preacher at the Tuileries would only be too dull, not too profound, for an audience of the common people.
A peculiarity most noticeable in French sermons is their elaborate and ingenious introduction. The advices of the books here are carefully followed, and whatever may be said of the conclusion, the commencement of almost every French sermon is artistic. It ought, according to rule, to consist of five parts, the text, the general introduction, the statement of the subject and its divisions, the invitation, and the invocation. But the rule here is frequently so modified by Protestant preachers as to leave out the invocation, and to make the introduction simply a means of binding the text to the body of the discourse. The usual proportion of the introduction to the whole discourse is that of one fifth. It is never omitted, and the rule which an eminent statesman gave to a young clerical friend, of writing an introduction and then striking it out of the manuscript and beginning the argument at once without any preliminary remark, would be considered in the French pulpit as a fatal mistake. We never have read or heard a French sermon in which the exordium was neglected or hurried. The French preacher, on the other hand, careful as he is of the exordium, does not fall into the error of condensing in that all the force of his sermon, or anticipating there all that he is going to say, and does not expend his thought in preliminaries. No French sermon can be found of the kind which is not uncommon in our neighborhood, where the main doctrine of the discourse is reached only when it is time to close, and the hearer is cajoled with regrets that the subject cannot be thoroughly discussed. French sermons are neither, like the
churches of Florence, without façade, so that you step from the street directly into the sanctuary, nor like the edifices of Thebes, where you toil through a long avenue of half-buried sphinxes only to find at last the fragment of a temple.
The regular close of the introduction in a French Catholic sermon is what is called the “ Invocation.” This may be to the saints or to the Saviour, but is usually to the Blessed Virgin, the “ Mother of God.” A pious preacher, whether he plead in favor of virtue, or against error, or against sin, would fortify his argument by securing the aid of the paragon of all virtues, whose seed has crushed the serpent's head. The Ave Maria completes and sanctifies the opening statement, and allows to the hearers a pause of devotion before the solid work of the sermon is begun. In the Holy Week, when the Passion of Jesus is the theme, the invocation to the Cross is substituted. Protestant preachers, in discarding this idolatrous appeal to the Virgin, content themselves with what is called the “Invitation,” which is an appeal to the hearers to listen candidly and weigh well the truths about to be presented. While the Catholic gives himself to the protection and guidance of a superior power, the Protestant throws himself upon the indulgence of his audience, and takes for granted the guidance of God and the saints, if his purposes are honest and his mind is clear. The same difference may be noted between the Church and the Dissenters in England. In the one, everything will be done,“ D. V.”; while in the other, “D. V.” is taken for granted.
A good French sermon in the main body of the argument ought to have not less than two nor more than seven distinct divisions. The average number, however, is three; four fifths of all the printed discourses have this exact number. The “ tenthly” and “ thirteenthly” of English Puritan discourses never vex an audience in Nôtre Dame or the Pentemont Chapel. These few principal divisions are not usually subdivided. Artificial as is the arrangement of French discourses, they never attempt the mechanism of wheels within wheels. Nor is there any effort to bind the division together by the band of similar clauses, or to fuse their transitions. The second head of the discourse comes clear and separate from the first, and is not pushed forward by it as the front driving-wheels of a locomotive are pushed forward by the rear. Every proposition is completed before another is made, and the last word of one does not, as in many English sermons, suggest the first word of another. A French preacher prefers that his blocks, like the blocks of Solomon's temple, should be joined by their evenness and accuracy of finish, and not by any rhetorical cement, — that the line of division should be visible, though it may not break the argument by a hair's breadth. He would walk à grands pas, or would run if necessary, but he would never slide in his public address. It is this preciseness of division which rescues French preaching from that apparent mist and cloud which seem to envelop most German and some English discourses. What a French preacher above all things dreads is vagueness and confusion of thought; he would rather seem superficial than seem vague.
And even when there is a natural evolution of thought in French sermons, as there must often be, — where one thought comes out of the other, going on to a fine, spiritual climax, — the lines of division are yet clearly marked as on the joints of a French fishing-rod. This is the characteristic of the sermons of the elder Coquerel. In these sermons there is a steady progress of thought, and the last heads of the discourse are the issue of the previous discussion; yet there is the same clearness of division as in the sermons of Father Felix, in which each head might, and often does, make a discourse by itself. We may instance, especially, those admirable sermons in Coquerel's third volume, on the “Salt of the Earth," the “ Laws of Combat,” and the “Perpetuity of Christianity.” The unity of these discourses is perfect, and each makes a finished whole. Yet, as in the old Norman towers, the massive roundness, where end and beginning seem to come together with no break, does not hinder you, when you enter, from seeing that the chambers are separate, and that each has its own doorway. Usually, in printed French sermons, the divisions are marked by Roman numerals; or where these are omitted, as in the volume of Colani, a space of a line is left blank. There is no intention that either reader or hearer shall be bewildered, or be beguiled by the subtle transitions
into forgetting the course and points of the argument. The gardens of Versailles, and not of an English park, are the model, and one is always able to know how far and in what direction he has gone, though he may have had all along the way the charm of flowers and foliage, and the music of plashing fountains.
French sermons resemble the gardens of Versailles in another respect, their harmony of proportion. Each head of the discourse has the same general treatment, and at about the same length. One is not made to feel an incongruity either in the style of the reasoning or that of the illustration. The fine passages are equally distributed, and the beauty is uniform. If a sermon is quiet in the first portion, it will be quiet throughout. The French preacher does not lash himself into fury as he advances, but if he is going to be vehement at the end, he will be so at the beginning. There is no dying away from a bright exordium, nor does a tame opening lead to a brilliant close. French oratory in the tribune is full of surprises, bursts, and paradoxes. It flames up and falls back perpetually. But it is not so with the pulpit oratory. This preserves its even flow and cadence, and its music keeps always the original key, and is either loud throughout or subdued throughout. Not only does it harmonize with the general theme, but its parts maintain their harmony and balance. One cannot always, indeed, tell from the manner of a French preacher at the opening of his discourse, whether his sermon will be interesting or dull ; — a quiet manner may introduce a very striking and beautiful discourse, as we have noticed in the case of Adolph Monod; — but a few minutes of waiting will show whether the preacher has anything to say, and whether he intends to say anything at that time. The French pulpit is willing to conform itself to the exigencies and character of the theme, and, if this be simple and commonplace, to be simple and.commonplace accordingly.
In one sense of the word, it is perfectly just to say that French discourses are “finished.” They do not say all that may be said, rarely indeed exhaust the subject of which they treat; but in structure and form at least they are finished. They have an end as well as a beginning, and an end which
corresponds to the beginning. English sermons, in many, if not most, instances, have no proper conclusion. The last head of the discussion is simply hung around with a thin fringe of exhortation, and the column is left without any capital. French sermons are almost never ended in that way. The “ peroration” which, as M. Vétu says, is “the part of the discourse which demands the most tact in the orator, and in which he ought to display all the resources of his eloquence, is as scientifically arranged as the exordium. It has its threefold division of “recapitulation,” “ practical inference,” and exhortation. The recapitulation, nevertheless, is not a summary of all the points which have been discussed and all the arguments that have been used. That kind of summary is alien to the tastes and habits of an impatient nation like the French. It is simply a restatement of the truth which has been fairly proved, a statement which shall contain in one paragraph or in one sentence the net result of the argument, not an analysis, but a conclusion; not a statement.of the number of acres reaped, and of the number and size of the sickles used, but of the quality of the wheat, and the bushels gathered. It is not the end of the middle of the discourse, but the beginning of the end, having more connection with that which follows than with that which has gone before.
Italian preachers have a way of closing their sermons by what they call an “act of contrition.” Repentance and remorse are in the parting tones. The French, on the contrary, usually prefer a hopeful and joyous ending, beatific visions, the sense of the communion of saints, and rapture at the thought of salvation. “Every good sermon ought to have for its end the salvation and uplifting of the hearers," is a maxim of one of their writers. Pathos, indeed, is taught as a very appropriate emotion for the pulpit, while mirth of every kind is forbidden as sternly as in the decorous sanctuaries of England; yet the pathos is hard and unsympathetic; it is in the preacher's tone, rather than in his soul. The forced wailing of the canons of Nôtre Dame does not move the congregation like the sighs and tears of the Capuchin who gathers the crowd in the arena of the Colosseum. Pathetic appcals, in the French tongue, have a dryness and sharpness which neu