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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
a celebrated Benedictine preacher, and one of the most distinguished men of the 17th century. was born at St. Pierremont, in the diocese of Rheims, November 23, 1632, studied at the college of Rheims, and joined the congregation of St. Maur in 1651. He began his literary career by assisting D'Achery in his labors upon his vast historic recueil entitled Spicilegium. and by an edition of the works of St. Bernard, "which attracted the notice of ecclesiastical scholars, and furnished a sure pledge of the value of his future labors" (Dowling). In 1668 he came forward with a part of his original production, Acta Sancctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti (completed in 1702), one of the greatest historical works extant. He now became the general favorite of ecclesiastical students, and soon was brought to the notice also of his sovereign, Louis XIV, who sent him on literary missions, as the result of which we have from him Museum Italiclum (1689), a kind of antiquarian itinerary of Italy. Besides descriptions of the towns and their attractions, it contains valuable dissertations on ecclesiastical history and paleography; also a very explicit commentary on the ritual of the various services, or liturgy, and rites of the Roman Church. (He had previously published De Liturgti Gallicana libri tres , in which he compares the Gallican with the Mozarabic liturgy). Another work of great importance from the pen of Mabillon is the Lettres et Ecrits sur les Etudes Monastiques, containing a curious controversy between the abbé De Rancé, the founder of the order of the Trappists (q.v.) and the Benedictines. De Rance, in his ascetic enthusiasm, had forbidden his monks all scientific studies, and, indeed, all reading except the Breviary and a few monastic tracts. The rest of the clergy, both secular and regular, took the alarm, and Mabillon was requested to defend monastic studies and learning as perfectly compatible with piety and religious discipline, as the Benedictine order had fully proved. Mabillon promptly complied with the request, and published his Traite in 1691.
It was received with great applause, and was at once translated into Latin and other languages. See RANCÉ for the reply. His fame spread rapidly, and he was recognized as one of the leading scholars of his day. In 1701 he was chosen member of the Academy of Inscriptions. In 1703 he came before the public with the first volume of his chef-d'oeuvre, Annales Ordinis S. Benedicti. Henceforth, until the day of his death (December 27, 1707), Mabillon faithfully applied himself to the completion of this work, which all critics are agreed is "among the most important works which have been written on the history of the Church" (Dowling). It should certainly be found on the shelves of every real student of Church History. It commences with the year 480 — that of the birth of St. Benedict — and goes down to 1157 (covering in all 6 volumes folio. Mabillon himself completed volumes 1-4, extending to 1066; Massuet completed volume 5 [published in 1713], and Martene volume 6 [published in 1739]; for the different editions, see Ceillier, Hist. des Auteurs sacres, 14:498). It contains an account of St. Benedict, discusses his rules, and everything in any y wa pertaining to the order. The work, besides including a somewhat complete history of the secular affairs of the times, contains a minute account of the doctrines, the ceremonies, the controversies of the Church age by age, with a statement of the writings of each individual whose life is depicted.
Of the manner in which the work is done we will let Dowling (Introd. to the Crit. Study of Eccles. History, page 144 sq.) speak. "His (Mabillon's) unbounded learning, and his penetrating and comprehensive mind, enabled him to discover new truths, and detect and expose inveterate errors. His amiable moderation and unaffected candor introduced into the discussion of ecclesiastical subjects a better tone and spirit. But this was not the full extent of the services which he rendered to Church History. The monastic habit could not restrain his mental independence, nor his religious peculiarities make him feel as a vulgar controversialist. He was the most prominent of a new race of scholars, who communicated to the whole subject a different character; who separated it from polemical theology, and assumed as a first principle that its subject-matter was not controversy, but facts. It was a new thing to see a congregation of monks taking a lead in a literary movement; but such was the case. The genius of Mabillon did much to purify and ennoble Church History. Excited by his example and precepts, the French Benedictines devoted themselves in an admirable spirit to the cultivation of ecclesiastical learning, and distinguished themselves in the republic of letters by the publication of a number of critical, philological, and antiquarian works connected with such studies, not more remarkable for their erudition than for their moderation and candor."
Mabillon, by the intended publication of a treatise, De Cultu Sanctorum ignotornum, came near being involved in a hot controversy with the authorities of his Church. The book, which aimed to point out some abuses concerning the worship of relics, was on the eve of anonymous publication when it was secured by the Congregation of the Index, and placed among the forbidden ones. He quietly submitted to the exceptions of the authorities, and prepared a new edition purged from the objectionable passages. In his new preface he says: "Haec nova editio non temere nec proprio arbitrio a me facta est, sed ad Ejus nutum et imperium, penes quem residet summa praecipiendi auctoritas!" In return for his ready submission he was to be rewarded by the cardinal's hat, but the intended honor came too late to be of any service in Mabillon's terrestrial course. Mabillon wrote also De Re Diplomatica libri sex, accedunt Commentarius de antiquis Regum Francorum Palatiis: Veterum Scripturarum varia Specimina, etc., a work much esteemed. These and other later works were collected under the title Ouvrages Posthumes de J. Mabillon et de Thierry Ruinart, Benedictines de la Congregation de St. Maur (Paris, 1724, 3 volumes, 4to). A complete list of all his works is given in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:635. See, besides the authorities already mentioned, Vieuville, Bibl. historique d. Auteurs de la Congregation de S. Maur; D. Tassin, Hist. Litter. de la, Cony. de S. Maur; C. de Malan, Hist. de Mabillon; Valery, Corresp. de Mabillon et de Montfaucon; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 32:437. (J.H.W.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Mabillon, Jean'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/mabillon-jean.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.