Louis Marie Olivier Duchesne - Encyclopedia




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LOUIS MARIE OLIVIER DUCHESNE (1843-), French scholar and ecclesiastic, was born at Saint Servan in Brittany on the 13th of September 1843. Two scientific missions - to Mount Athos in 1874 and to Asia Minor in 1876 - appeared at first to incline him towards the study of the ancient history of the Christian churches of the East. Afterwards, however, it was the Western church which absorbed almost his whole attention. In 1877 he received the degree of docteur es lettres with two remarkable theses, a dissertation De Macario magnete, and an Etude sur le Liber pontificalis, in which he explained with unerring critical acumen the origin of that celebrated chronicle, determined the different editions and their interrelation, and stated precisely the value of his evidence. Immediately afterwards he was appointed professor at the Catholic Institute in Paris, and for eight years presented the example and model, then rare in France, of a priest teaching church history according to the rules of scientific criticism. His course, bold even to the point of rashness in the eyes of the traditionalist exegetists, was at length suspended. In November 1885 he was appointed lecturer at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. In 1886 he published volume i. of his learned edition of the Liber pontificalis (completed in 1892 by volume ii.), in which he resumed and completed the results he had attained in his French thesis. In 1888 he was elected member of the Academie des Inscriptions et BellesLettres, and was afterwards appointed director of the French school of archaeology at Rome. Much light is thrown upon the Christian origins, especially those of France, by his Origines du cult° chretien, etude sur la liturgie latine avant Charlemagne (1889; Eng. trans. by M. L. McClure, ChristianWorship: its Origin and Evolution, London, 1902, 2nd ed. 1904); Memoire sur l'origine des dioceses episcopaux dans l'ancienne Gaule (1890), the preliminary sketch of a more detailed work, Fastes episcopaux dans l'ancienne Gaule (vol. i. Les provinces du sud-est, 1894, and vol. ii. L' Aquitaine et les Lyonnaises, 1899); and Catalogues episcopaux de la province de Tours (1898). When a proposal was set on foot to bring about a reconciliation between the Roman Church and the Christian Churches of the East, the Abbe Duchesne endeavoured to show that the union of those churches was possible under the Roman supremacy, because unity did not necessarily entail uniformity. His Autonomies ecclesiastiques; eglises separees (1897), in which he speaks of the origin of the Anglican Church, but treats especially of the origin of the Greek Churches of the East, was received with scant favour in certain narrow circles of the pontifical court. In 1906 he began to publish, under the title of Histoire ancienne de l'eglise, a course of lectures which he had already delivered upon the early ages of the Church, and of which a few manuscript copies were circulated. The second volume appeared in 1908. In these lectures Duchesne touches cleverly upon the most delicate problems, and, without any elaborate display of erudition, presents conclusions of which account must be taken. His incisive style, his fearless and often ruthless criticism, and his wide and penetrating erudition, make him a redoubtable adversary in the field of polemic. The Bulletin critique, founded by him, for which he wrote numerous articles, has contributed powerfully to spread the principles of the historical method among the French clergy.

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