French archbishop and writer. Louis XIV appointed him tutor to his grandson, the duke of Burgundy, in 1689. He then became archbishop of Cambrai and was involved in the quietism controversy.
He was born at the Chateau de Fenelon, Perigord. He entered the theological college of St Sulpice, Paris, took holy orders there in 1675, and in 1678 became director of the Nouvelles Catholiques, a Parisian institution for female converts from Protestantism. On the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, he accompanied a mission to the Protestants of Poitou and Saintonge. He was presented to the abbey of St Valery in 1694. During the quietism controversy he supported Madame Guyon, who, accused of sharing the more extreme views of Molinos, was twice imprisoned. Fenelon defended her so far as the attacks against her were personal, and this led to a long and acrimonious controversy with Bossuet, with whom he had previously been on the best of terms. Bossuet issued his Instruction sur les Etats d'Oraison, and Fenelon took up Madame Guyon's cause, and defended some of her teachings in his Explication des Maximes des Saints sur la Vie Interieure (1697). The latter was published first in violation of an understanding between the two prelates, apparently without the knowledge of the author, and this led to their final estrangement. After some more delay, during which the controversy grew more embittered, the Pope, pressed by Louis XIV, condemned the Maximes des Saints in 1699 and Fenelon honourably accepted the decision in accordance with his own declared views on papal authority. Pope Innocent summed up the matter in the words, ‘Fenelon erred by loving God too much, and Bossuet by loving his neighbour too little.’
Ordered by the King to retire to Cambrai, Fenelon spent his last years in doing good pastoral work within the confines of his diocese. The only controversy of his later years had reference to the Jansenists, whom he vigorously opposed. Among other notable examples of his works are Traite de l'existence de Dieu (1718), Plans de gouvernement (advocating a limited monarchy) and Direction pour le conscience d'un roi (1711), Lettre a l'Academie (1716), Dialogues sur l'eloquence (1690), Fables (1699), Dialogue des morts (1699), and Aventures de Telemaque (1699). This last work, a pedagogic romance composed like the Dialogue for his royal pupil, combines moral teaching with instruction in Greek mythology and antiquities. It also contains some political satire directed at Louis XIV, who was greatly incensed by its publication.