Saint John Eudes (19th August) Shows the High Respect Due to Ecclesiastical Authority

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Saint of the Day, Wednesday, August 19, 1970

“A Roman and Apostolic Catholic, the author of this text submits himself with filial devotion to the traditional teaching of Holy Church. However, if by an oversight anything is found in it at variance with that teaching, he immediately and categorically rejects it.”

 The words “Revolution” and “Counter-Revolution” are employed here in the sense given to them by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, the first edition of which was published in the monthly Catolicismo, Nº 100, April 1959.


(Bishop Antonio Castro Mayer reads the Saint’s biography.)

Saint John Eudes was born in Ri, a small town in Normandy, on November 14, 1601.

He was the eldest child of Isaac Eudes and Maria Ruber. After him, his parents had four daughters and two sons. They all grew up in a profoundly religious family’s serious environment imbued with supernatural life. They received an excellent education guided by the teachings of the Church.

Saint John Eudes’ two brothers were well-known militant Catholics and distinguished themselves in their professions. The youngest, Charles, studied medicine and was an accomplished surgeon. The other, Francis Eudes of Medzaré, was a historian and member of the French Academy of Letters.

By the time he died, John, the father, apostle and doctor of devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, had managed to introduce this feast in numerous dioceses in France and abroad. He also composed its first office. A great preacher, his missions drew large crowds. He was often obliged to speak in large public squares utterly full of people. A new Saint Vicent Ferrer, he won over listeners with his ardent Faith, the energy with which he lashed out against vices, and his charity toward repentant sinners and penitents.

A valuable historical testimony proves his success. It is a letter from Saint Vincent de Paul commenting on the missions he had attended. He says: “Some priests from Normandy, led by Father Eudes, preached a mission in Paris with extraordinary blessing. The huge courtyard of the ‘Fifteen Winds’ became small given the large number of people who wanted to attend.”

Heretics did not forgive him for the energetic fight he waged against their errors. Since heresy is the greatest of evils, he avoided the slightest appearance of having any relation to heretics and went so far as not to greet them.

An episode shows, on the one hand, the care with which he guarded the purity of his Faith, and on the other, the frivolity and arrogance of churchmen of that time.

One day, the Bishop of Bayeux invited him to climb into his carriage, in which another priest was riding. As it moved, the bishop asked him if he knew with whom he was traveling.

“I have the honor of finding myself in the company of Your Excellency,” he replied.

“That’s not what I’m asking you,” said the bishop. “Do you know that this ecclesiastic riding with us is one of the staunchest Jansenists?”

Saint John Eudes immediately opened the door and asked the coachman to stop because he had to get off. But the bishop stopped him in the name of obedience and amused himself for the rest of the trip with the unease he created.

Oh! How fraternal!

It was not just heretics who attacked him. Some religious congregations helped them by calling him exaggerated and criticizing his violent language. They called exaggeration and violence the holy freedom he showed by calling sinners to order, even those of high status. Once, preaching at Versailles, he so energetically rebuked court scandals that his friends feared he would be sent to the Bastille.

Upon learning about such comments, Anne of Austria sent him word he had done well and became his protector. Once, while celebrating Mass at the king’s court, he noticed that Louis XIV was kneeling, but the nobles were not behaving properly. After the Gospel, he turned to the king and congratulated him for his piety in attending Mass. He added, “I am astonished, however, that, while Your Majesty prostrates before the Creator of Heaven and Earth, your courtiers are far from imitating such a fine example.” Louis looked back, and everyone immediately knelt.

By the time he died, on August 18, 1680, he had wreaked such incalculable harm to Church enemies that they started fierce persecution to efface his memory. Almost a hundred years later, when Pius IX advised the Eudists to open his canonization process, they found to their surprise, that they did not know their founder. It took a gigantic historical investigation for the canonization process to proceed. However, his contemporary and friend Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Saint Sulpice seminar, said he was an extraordinary man and a marvel of the 17th century. He was canonized on Pentecost day in 1925.

Bishop Mayer: I will not make the commentary because Plinio will not mortify himself by obeying me.

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (PCO): What do you gentleman think if His Excellency, who was fortunate enough to attend St. John Eudes’ canonization, gives us a double Saint of the Day? He could first give us his memories of how the canonization unfolded and his impressions as a young seminarian seeing all that pomp.

He could then give us an absolutely unprecedented report about St. John Eudes based on these excerpts. Let those of you who support this option raise your hand.

Your Excellency, the issue has been decided by the sovereign and free universal suffrage, which a bishop cannot escape in an age of contestation.

Bishop Mayer: Since virtue is in the middle, I will tell you what happened at the canonization, and Dr. Plinio will comment on his biography.

St. John Eudes’ canonization took place in 1925. I arrived in Rome in 1924 and stayed for a year. As a seminarian, I could not attend the entire canonization ceremony because we had to remain amid the people. As a bishop, I attended the canonization of Saint Joan of France from a much better vantage point. I was, therefore, much closer to the altar. Unfortunately, however, Pius XI had already simplified the canonization process somewhat.

In Saint John Eudes’ canonization process, St. Peter’s Basilica, which can take in thousands of people, was divided into wood compartments. There are better compartments and inferior ones. The central nave remains entirely free, while the other two are divided into compartments.

As a result, people who go to the basilica to piously attend the canonization stay in the back compartment and miss out because they cannot see anything. They only watch the Pope pass through in the gestatorial chair because that raises him slightly over people’s heads.

The Pope blesses the people as he passes by. At that time, the silver trumpets were still sounding, and it seemed the whole building trembled as the people shouted “long live” the Pope.

That is how I watched Pius XI enter Saint Peter’s Basilica for the canonization of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, then that of Saint John Eudes and the Cure of Ars, both canonized on the same day. But I was in a very poor cabin and practically could not see anything.

The canonization ceremony turns out to be a Mass celebrated by the Pope. As in all papal Masses, the Epistle is sung in Greek and Latin. The ceremonial unfolds like any other pontifical mass, except the Pope’s throne is next to the altar.

St. Peter’s Basilica has the papal altar under Bernini’s baldachin in its transept. The altar of the chair is at the back of the basilica with a vast space around it. That altar is so big that you almost need transportation to go from one place to another. On the altar of the chair is an oversized chair supported by statues of four Doctors of the Church. They say that this chair encloses a chair that served Saint Peter for a while.

Two of the doctors are from the Greek Church—Saint Athanasius and Saint John Chrysostom, and two are from the Latin Church—Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine.

To watch the solemnities more closely, the bishops stay in stalls placed in the main chapel. The most privileged attendants are not the bishops but the assistants to the papal throne and the apostolic monsignors who accompany the Pope wherever he goes. They are with the Pope at Bernini’s altar and next to the throne.

The difference between the Pontifical Mass and the Papal Mass is that in the past (I don’t know how Paul VI is doing it), the Pope took Communion standing by the throne rather than at the altar. After finishing the Canon, he returns to the throne and the deacon brings him the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Host, and His Most Holy Blood. The Pope takes communion standing by the throne, and then the deacon performs the ablutions or purifications.

Above the chair of Saint Peter is what they call Bernini’s glory, an oval with many bronze spokes and a white stained glass window. When a saint is canonized, a picture of his is placed on the so-called “glory” and remains there throughout the ceremony. The Pope then makes a sermon about the saint and his most outstanding virtues.

All is done in Latin, without loudspeakers, which means I do not know what Pius XI said. He certainly gave praised the saint and maybe said something against Jansenism, I don’t know. But he must have commended St. John Eudes’s apostolic zeal and later as founder of two religious congregations. The Pope finally leaves in the gestatorial chair, and everyone disperses.

Here is, in short, the description of a canonization. Everyone can attend but must have an entry ticket distributed free of charge. This ticket comes in different colors that set the specific cabin where the person can stay in the basilica. The only way to get a better place is to become the secretary to some bishop to accompany him there. Sometimes, however, secretaries seat behind one of the transept’s columns and cannot see anything. That happened to me and another priest, as both served as secretaries to Dom Duarte. The only advantage was that we took part in the papal procession; except for that, we could not watch anything.

My part is done. Now let’s see Dr. Plinio’s comments.

Saint John Eudes’s attitude shows the high regard in which we must hold ecclesiastical authority

(PCO): Was it not worth insisting with Dom Mayer?

I will be brief. I would like to remind you of three aspects from this episode in the life of Saint John Eudes. First, the heretic’s presence in the bishop’s carriage; second, the bishop’s attitude; and third, the saint’s malaise.

As you can see, by setting that trap for the saint, the bishop was no enemy of the Jansenists. He felt no discomfort having a Jansenist traveling with him. He must have felt good being with a Jansenist in the carriage; otherwise, he would not do it.

The bishop treated Saint John Eudes with the attitude with which impiety treats those who are genuinely pious: having fun with St. John Eudes’ discomfort at that man’s presence during the trip.

He pretended to be in a very good mood—the text does not say he enjoyed the heretic’s discomfort but only Saint John Eudes’ unease as he manifested repulsion, horror, and aversion, as if trying to avoid contagion. The bishop was having fun by mocking him.

The bishop’s attitude is the classical stance of the wicked toward the pious, who are modest, cautious, and defend themselves against such things. They are seen as impressionable, fanciful, fearful, feckless, irresolute, etc. Yet a highly energetic Saint John Eudes avoided taking the strong attitude he took with Louis XIV because he was dealing with a bishop.

Here you see Saint John Eudes’s great respect for a bishop’s authority. Anyone able to say what he said to the greatest king on Earth would also be able to say it to that bishop. He did not lack personality or anything else.

But one thing is ecclesiastical authority, and another is civil authority. The rule of thumb is always to take a submissive attitude toward ecclesiastical authority. Saint John Eudes’ position toward the bishop’s bad attitude and the Jansenist heretic shows well the love of obedience a Catholic must have whenever his conscience allows him to obey. It also shows the high regard in which one should hold ecclesiastical authority.

In Saint John Eudes’ time, even the worst sinners had remnants of morality

Do not think his attitude praising Louis XIV, as narrated here, went without reproach to Louis XIV because those things were obviously tolerated at the court. The king knew what was going on and the royal court’s customs. So St. John Eudes’ was a polite way of criticizing the king by praising him first.

Indeed, removing that evil depended so much on the king that he only had to look at the attending lords for all of them to knee. That proves it was in the king’s hands to force the nobles to take an external attitude of respect they did not take because the king could not see them.

This is not the only episode in Louis XIV’s life in which he heard lots of truth from the pulpit. And he humbly listened as a child of the Church. He was a public sinner who rendered the Church some services along with outstanding disservices. But in the souls of that time, the depth and shape of of sin, even grave sin, did not have the depth or nature of sin in today’s souls.

Even in hardened sinners who led a bad life you would find remnants of morality, piety, faith, and humility utterly absent in today’s sinners. That shows well that at that time, when today’s monstrosities were being prepared, there still was a lot of sap left, with many possibilities of resistance not entirely realized due to a set of historical circumstances which is not the case for us to narrate here. At any rate, that epoch was much more Catholic than ours.

Also characteristic is the case of Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV. She was religious and had an oratory in her palace but was not a sovereign distinguished by exemplary piety; nor did she give her children a very pious education.

Her support of Mazarin throughout her rule ultimately benefited the forces against the Catholic Church.

There are also reports – I don’t know how true, as it is not a proven historical fact – of an adventure of hers with the Duke of Buckingham and other such things.

All that notwithstanding, when she learns that Saint John Eudes spoke powerfully at the royal court against immorality, she supports him and sends word that she liked it, that he is right, etc. She also supported Saint Vincent of Paul.

The attitude of those people is entirely different from today’s systematic shunning away from every ultramontane or anyone who reacts and tries to be seriously and sincerely Catholic. Back then, there was not the complete boycott of true Catholics there is today. That indicates precisely that vice, error, and evil were still in a state of weakness and not strong enough to display the insolence and despotism they show today.

That makes us see with all clarity the scope of our decadence. But it also kindles in us the hope for punishment and for Our Lady’s help to get us out of this sad historical era.