Louis Duchesne

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Louis Marie Olivier Duchesne

Louis Marie Olivier Duchesne (French: [dyʃɛn]; 13 September 1843 – 21 April 1922) was a French priest, philologist, teacher and a critical historian of Christianity and Roman Catholic liturgy and institutions.

Descended from a family of Breton sailors, he was born in 1843 in Saint-Servan, Roulais place, now part of Saint-Malo on the Breton coast, and was orphaned at a young age, in 1849, after the death of his father Jacques Duchesne. Marc Tanguy, a relative, was one of the survivors of 74-gun ship Redoutable at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Louis' brother, Jean-Baptiste Duchesne, settled in Oregon, and arrived at Oregon City in 1849.

Louis Duchesne was ordained to the priesthood in 1867. He taught for many years in Saint-Brieuc, then went to study in Paris, where he influenced the reformist Alfred Firmin Loisy, a founder of the movement of Modernism, which was formally condemned under Pope Pius X.[1] In 1876, he became a member of the École française in Rome; he eventually became its director. He was an amateur archaeologist and organized expeditions from Rome to Mount Athos, to Syria, and Asia Minor, from which he gained an interest in the early history of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1887, he published the results of his thesis, followed by the first complete critical edition of the Liber Pontificalis. At a difficult time for critical historians applying modern methods to Church history, drawing together archaeology and topography to supplement literature and setting ecclesiastical events with contexts of social history, Abbé Duchesne was in constant correspondence with like-minded historians among the Bollandists, with their long history of critical editions of hagiographies.

He also wrote Les Sources du martyrologe hyéronimien, Origines du culte chrétien (translated as Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution and often reprinted), Fastes épiscopaux de l'ancienne Gaule, and Les Premiers temps de l'État pontifical. These works were universally praised, and he was appointed a commander of the Legion of Honor. However, his Histoire ancienne de l'Église, 1906‑11 (translated as Early History of the Christian Church) was considered too modernist by the Church during the "Modernist crisis" and was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1912.

In 1888, he became a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, and in 1910, he was elected to the Académie française. He died in 1922, in Rome, and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Servan.

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  • Joassart, B., editor Monseigneur Duchesne et les Bollandistes: Correspondance 2002. 122 letters between Duchesne and the Bollandists

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