In this article, Ong addresses the controversial issue of Peter Ramus' conversion to Protestantism near the end of his life and the question of whether Ramus was the author of a theological work titled Commentariorum de religione Christiana libriquator.

In the first section of this eight-section article, Ong describes the setting for this controversy by explaining that while Ramus' proclamation that he was a Protestant is generally not disputed, scholars remain unsure about how Ramus made the decision to become a Protestant and when this decision actually occurred.  The controversy is complicated by the fact that Ramus wrote only one theological work, Commentariorum . . ., which was published four years after his death in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day.

Understanding the controversy over Ramus' religious status and the authorship of Commentariorum . . ., Ong asserts, can be made easier by looking at a dispute between Père Gabriel Cossart and François du Monstier.  In 1650, Cossart argued (first in a public lecture and then in Extemporalis defensio adversus satirum a Franc[isco] Dumonstier eodem dierecitatam Parisiis III. Kal. Mai. M.DC.LI.) that Ramus had become a Protestant toward the end of his life, primarily because he had an "unhealthy itch for novelties," a habit Cossart thought was equivalent to heresy.  Du Monstier responded to Cossart, first in a public lecture and then in a series of three orations, which remained unpublished and unknown to modern scholars until Ong found, with the help of Père Paul Doncoeur, the manuscript of the three orations by du Monstier in the Archives Nationales in Paris.  In this article, Ong argues that the manuscript in the Archives Nationales upholds the generally accepted idea that Ramus did become a Protestant and was the author of Commentariorum . . . .

In the second section of this article, Ong describes the manuscript, pointing out that it is prefaced with a note by its one time owner, collector Frère Leonard, who incorrectly attributes the manuscript to Godefroi Hermant.  In the third section of the article, Ong explains that Leonard based his decision on the anti-Jesuit tone of the manuscript, which could have just as easily occurred in du Monstier's writing as it could have in Hermant's.  Ong bases his decision on the fact that du Monstier is the author of the manuscript partly because Oration I directly addresses Cossart but primarily because the manuscript is written in du Monstier's handwriting.

While du Monstier is relatively unknown to scholars (except that he was a professor of Greek and Latin philosophy and had limited publications), they know more about Cossart, who was born to a noble family, became a Jesuit at age 18, taught rhetoric, and has substantial publications (including partial editorship of the multi-volume Councils of the Church).  Cossart's approach to the Ramus controversy (his stance that Ramus had committed heresy by becoming a Protestant), can be understood by examining Cossart's "zeal for religious orthodoxy," which is what Ong does in the fourth section of the article.  Ong's conclusion about Cossart's religious zeal is that while he was careful to use facts to make his argument about Ramus' religious status, he was not afraid to use rhetoric to drive his points home.

After explaining Cossart's approach, Ong discusses the contents of du Monstier's manuscript, which answers two basic questions (Was Ramus a Protestant or a Catholic?  And did he write Commentariorum . . .?) and is divided into three orations.  Oration I attacks Cossart's sources, including Gilbert Génébrard, Henride Sponde (or Spondanus), and Banosius.  Oration II attacks Cossart's actual arguments and offers proof of many other people who have not accused Ramus of heresy, and Oration III chides Cossart for accusing Ramus of heresy in the first place.

Still, nothing that du Monstier writes offers enough proof to discard the idea that Ramus became a Protestant and wrote Commentariorum . . . , and in the sixth section of this article, Ong asserts that there is ample evidence that Ramus became a Protestant (the testimony of Ramus' biographer, Nicolas de Nancel, is especially trustworthy).  Ong explains that Ramus' conversion was probably slow and somewhat reluctant, given that his closest associate, Omer Talon, was Catholic and that Ramus had objections to religion in general (that it was not methodized enough).  Nevertheless, once Ramus made the decision to become a Protestant, Ong believes he embraced his new religion wholeheartedly.  In the seventh section of the article, Ong addresses once again the issue of the authorship of Commentariorum . . . .  Noting that although establishing authorship of a posthumous publication is especially difficult in Ramus' case, since his library was ransacked at the time of his death, Ong believes that Commentariorum . . . was indeed written by Ramus.

Finally, Ong concludes in the last section of the article that while du Monstier's manuscript does not change the accepted ideas of scholars on the two issues discussed, it does shed light on the nature of religious disputes in the seventeenth century.  While Cossart takes his religious zeal too far by accusing Ramus of heresy, an accusation encouraged by the absolutism of seventeenth-century science and teaching methods, du Monstier makes the mistake of letting his emotions put him on the defensive, an approach that did not work well given the seventeenth-century mindset, which valued using logic to prove a point.
 

Return to Listings