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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > R > Cardinal Jean-François-Paul-Gondi de Retz

Cardinal Jean-François-Paul-Gondi de Retz

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Born at the Château of Montmirail, Oct., 1614; died in Paris, 24 Aug., 1679. His father, becoming a widower, entered the Oratory, and was for a time (1643) the director of Anne of Austria. Retz destined for the Church, although, as he himself declares, he "had neither the taste nor the disposition for it"; his preceptor was St. Vincent de Paul. His youth was stormy, not exempt from gallantries. However, he acquired a solid education, learned seven languages, studied sacred and profane literature and from reading Plutarch and Sallust developed a wild taste for republican maxims, and for the rôle of conspirator. This taste reveals itself when at the age of eighteen years he wrote a book on the conspiracy of Fieschi. He imitated an Italian author named Mascardi, but while Mascardi blamed the conspiracy, the young Retz approved of it. From 1638 to 1641 he took a certain part in the plots of the Count de Soissons against Richelieu; later, after the Count had been killed at the battle of La Marfée (6 July, 1641), Retz devoted himself definitively to an ecclesiastical career. Louis XIII on his deathbed named him coadjutor to his uncle, Gondi, Archbishop of Paris; on 31 Jan., 1644, Retz was consecrated at Notre Dame, receiving the title of Archbishop of Corinth. He soon became popular in Paris by his sermons, and by his manner of reforming the priests of the diocese. This popularity brought upon him the hostility of Mazarin, especially as in 1649 he threw himself into the movement of the so-called Fronde against this minister. He knew how to stir up the peasantry against the cardinal, the Parlement, and the Duke of Orléans. But he hated Condé, the head of the Fronde princes, as much as he hated Mazarin, and when the Prince de Condé openly revolted against the king, Retz attached himself to the Court party.

On 21 Sept., 1651, Louis XIV informed him that Innocent X had made him cardinal. From that time Retz promised fidelity to the royal family, and kept his promise, still continuing however in his opposition to Mazarin. Mazarin, wishing to exile him from Court, nominated him as "Director of French Affairs at Rome". This Retz refused, and, according to an expression of Bossuet, "continued to threaten with severe and intrepid mien the victorious favourite". At the instigation of Mazarin, Louis XIV (16 Dec., 1652) signed an order of arrest against Retz. The latter surrendered himself, and was imprisoned at Vincennes. His uncle having died on 21 March, 1654, Retz, though a prisoner, took possession of the Archiepiscopal See of Paris by power of attorney. He soon resigned it in exchange for some abbeys, and was transferred to the Château of Nantes, pending the acceptance by Innocent X of his abdication. He escaped, sailed for Spain, then went to Rome, where Innocent X wished him to retain the Archbishopric of Paris. A fugitive in a strange land, he then remained as archbishop at Rome, whence he directed the clergy of Paris, in spite of Mazarin, by a number of letters which Mazarin caused to be burned successively by the public executioner. He played a decisive rôle in the conclave which elected Alexander VII in 1655. His influence at Rome opposed that of Lionne, the ambassador of France. Seized by the spirit of political intrigues, we find him from 1658 to 1661 travelling in Germany, and Holland, and interesting himself in the restoration of the Stuarts. The contest between Retz and Mazarin ended only with the death of the cardinal; and as Louis XIV, even after Mazarin's death, did not wish Retz to return to Paris as archbishop, Retz finally resigned his see in 1662, receiving as compensation the Abbey of St. Denis, whose revenue of 120,000 livres was double that of the archbishopric. He established himself at the Château of Commercy.

More than once he played an active part in the quarrels between Louis XIV and Rome. It was he who, during the conflict between Louis XIV and Alexander VII regarding the reservation of the Host, advised Louis XIV to seize Avignon. In 1665 and 1666 he was connected with the difficulties resulting from the Bulls of Alexander VII against two decisions of the Sorbonne which were directed against two infallibilist publications. He tried in vain to induce the pope to declare that anti-infallibilist teachings were not heretical, but he succeeded in preventing Alexander VII from launching an excommunication against the Parlement which had joined forces with the Sorbonne; then he obtained a condemnation by the Index of one of the two publications condemned by the Sorbonne, and he interpreted this Act as a sort of indirect disavowal of the Bulls which had been directed against the Sorbonne. In his memoir on the Sacred College written in Sept., 1666, he contended that the Universal Church, in its conclaves, should be represented by cardinals chosen from all the countries of Christendom. This memoir and the dispatches written to Louis XIV and the minister Lionne are masterpieces of diplomatic language. He took a prominent part in the conclaves which elected Clement IX and Clement X, and even obtained eight votes in the conclave of 1676 which elected Innocent XI. He died three years later during a sojourn in Paris. His memoirs, which he began to write in 1671, were published for the first time in 1717; several English translations were made in 1723, 1764, and 1774. His language is admirable for its charm and suppleness; for the profoundness of his political views, and the conciseness of his moral ideas he has been compared to Tacitus. The craving for intrigue and adventure formed the basis of his character. A man of remarkable parts, he was above all a church politician rather than a churchman.


Œuvres de Cardinal de Retz, ed. FEILLET, GOURDAULT AND CHANTELAUZE (10 vols., Paris, 1870-96) CHANTELAUZE, Le Cardinal de Retz et l'Affaire du Chapeau (2 vols., Paris, 1877); IDEM, Le Cardinal de Retz et ses Missions diplomatiques à Rome (Paris, 1879); IDEM, Saint-Vincent de Paul et les Gondi (Paris, 1882); GAZIER, Les dernières années du Cardinal de Retz (Paris, 1876).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1911). Cardinal Jean-François-Paul-Gondi de Retz. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Cardinal Jean-François-Paul-Gondi de Retz." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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