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French Revolution

Article on the relations between the French Revolution and the Church

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Revolution, FRENCH.—The last thirty years have given us a new version of the history of the French Revolution, the most diverse and hostile schools having contributed to it. The philosopher, Taine, drew attention to the affinity between the revolutionary and what he calls the classic spirit, that is, the spirit of abstraction which gave rise to Cartesianism and produced certain masterpieces of French literature. Moreover he admirably demonstrated the mechanism of the local revolutionary committees and showed how a daring Jacobin minority was able to enforce its will as that of “the people”. Following up this line of research M. Augustin Cochin has quite recently studied the mechanism of the societi;s de pensee in which the revolutionary doctrine was developed and in which were formed men quite prepared to put this doctrine into execution. The influence of freemasonry in the French Revolution proclaimed by Louis Blanc and by freemasonry itself is proved by the researches of M. Cochin. Sorel has brought out the connection between the diplomacy of the Revolution and that of the old regime. His works prove that the Revolution did not mark a break in the continuity of the foreign policy of France. The radically inclined historical school, founded and led by M. Aulard, has published numerous useful documents as well as the review, “La Revolution Française”. Two years since, a schism occurred in this school, M. Mathiez undertaking in opposition to M. Aulard the defense of Robespierre, in consequence of which he founded a new review, “Les Annales Revolutionnaires”. The “Societe d’histoire contemporaine”, founded under Catholic auspices, has published a series of texts bearing on revolutionary history. Lastly the works of Abbe Sicard have revealed in the clergy who remained faithful to Rome various tendencies, some legitimist, others more favorable to the new political forms, a new side of the history of the French clergy being thus developed. Such are the most recent additions to the history of the French Revolution. This article, however, will emphasize more especially the relations between the Revolution and the Church (see France).

MEETING OF THE ESTATES.—The starting point of the French Revolution was the convocation of the States General by Louis XVI. They comprised three orders, nobility, clergy, and the third estate, the last named being permitted to have as many members as the two other orders together. The electoral regulation of January 24, 1789, assured the parochial clergy a large majority in the meetings of the bailliages which were to elect clerical representatives to the States General. While chapters were to send to these meetings only a single delegate for ten canons, and each convent only one of its members, all the cures were permitted to vote. The number of the “order” of clergy at the States General exceeded 300, among whom were 44 prelates, 208 cures, 50 canons and commendatory abbots, and some monks. The clergy advocated almost as forcibly as did the Third Estate the establishment of a constitutional government based on the separation of the powers, the periodical convocation of the States General, their supremacy in financial matters, the responsibility of ministers, and the regular guarantee of individual liberty. Thus the true and great reforms tending to the establishment of liberty were advocated by the clergy on the eve of the Revolution. When the Estates assembled May 5, 1789, the Third Estate demanded that the verification of powers should be made in common by the three orders, the object being that the Estates should form but one assembly in which the distinction between the “orders” should disappear and where every member was to have a vote. Scarcely a fourth of the clergy had formally advocated this reform, but from the opening of the Estates it was evident that the parochial clergy desired individual voting which would give the members of the Third Estate, the advocates of reform, an effectual preponderance.

As early as May 23, 1789, the cures at the house of the Archbishop of Bordeaux were of the opinion that the power of the deputies should be verified in the general assembly of the Estates, and when on June 17 the members of the Third Estate proclaimed themselves the “National Assembly”, the majority of the clergy decided (June 19) to join them. As the higher clergy and the nobility still held out, the king caused the hall where the meetings of the Third Estate were held to be closed (June 20), whereupon the deputies, with their president, Bailly, repaired to the Jeu de Paume and an oath was taken not to disband till they had provided France with a constitution. After Mirabeau’s thundering speech (June 23) addressed to the Marquis de Dreux-Breze, master-of-ceremonies to Louis XVI, the king himself (June 27) invited the nobility to join the Third Estate. Louis XVI’s dismissal of the reforming minister, Necker, and the concentration of the royal army about Paris, brought about the insurrection of July 14, and the capture of the Bastille. M. Funck-Brentano has destroyed the legends which rapidly arose in connection with the celebrated fortress. There was no rising en masse of the people of Paris, and the number of the besiegers was but a thousand at most; only seven prisoners were found at the Bastille, four of whom were forgers, one a young man guilty of monstrous crimes and who for the sake of his family was kept at the Bastille that he might escape the death-penalty, and two insane prisoners. But in the public opinion the Bastille symbolized royal absolutism and the capture of this fortress was regarded as the overthrow of the whole regime, and foreign nations attached great importance to the event. Louis XVI yielded before this agitation; Necker was recalled; Bailly became Mayor of Paris; Lafayette, commander of the national militia; the tri-color was adopted, and Louis XVI consented to recognize the title of “National Constituent Assembly”. Te Deums and processions celebrated the taking of the Bastille; in the pulpits the Abbe Fauchet preached the harmony of religion and liberty. As a result of the establishment of the “vote by order” the political privileges of the clergy may be considered to have ceased to exist.

During the night of August 4, 1789, at the instance of the Vicomte de Noailles, the Assembly voted with extraordinary enthusiasm the abolition of all privileges and feudal rights and the equality of all French-men. A blow was thereby struck at the wealth of the clergy, but the churchmen were the first to give an example of sacrifice. Plurality of benefices and annates was abolished and the redemption of tithes was agreed upon, but two days later, the higher clergy becoming uneasy, demanded another discussion of the vote which had carried the redemption. The result was the abolition, pure and simple, of tithes without redemption. In the course of the discussion Buzot declared that the property of the clergy belonged to the nation. Louis XVI’s conscience began to be alarmed. He temporized for five weeks, then merely published the decrees as general principles, reserving the right to approve or reject later the measures which the Assembly would take to enforce them.

DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN. CATHOLICISM CEASES TO BE THE RELIGION OF THE STATE.—Before giving France a constitution the Assembly judged it necessary to draw up a “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”, which should form a preamble to the Constitution. Camus’s suggestion that to the declaration of the rights of man should be added a declaration of his duties, was rejected. The Declaration of Rights mentions in its preamble that it is made in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, but out of three of the articles proposed by the clergy, guaranteeing the respect due to religion and public worship, two were rejected after speeches by the Protestant, Rabaut Saint-Etienne, and Mirabeau, and the only article relating to religion was worded as follows: “No one shall be disturbed for his opinions, even religious, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” In fact it was the wish of the Assembly that Catholicism should cease to be the religion of the State and that liberty of worship should be established. It subsequently declared Protestants eligible to all offices (December 24, 1789), restored to their possessions and status as Frenchmen the heirs of Protestant refugees (July 10 and December 9, 1790), and took measures in favor of the Jews (January 28, July 20, August 16, 1790). But it soon became evident in the discussions relating to the Civil Constitution of the clergy that the Assembly desired that the Catholic Church, to which the majority of the French people belonged, should be subject to the State and really organized by the State.

The rumors that Louis XVI sought to fly to Metz and place himself under the protection of the army of Bouille in order to organize a counter-revolutionary movement and his refusal to promulgate the Declaration of the Rights of Man, brought about an uprising in Paris. The mob set out to Versailles, and amid insults brought back the king and queen to Paris (October 6, 1789). Thenceforth the Assembly sat at Paris, first at the archiepiscopal residence, then at the Tuileries. At this moment the idea of taking possession of the goods of the clergy in order to meet financial exigencies began to appear in a number of journals and pamphlets. The plan of confiscating this property, which had been suggested as early as August 8 by the Marquis de Lacoste, was resumed (September 24) by the economist, Dupont de Nemours, and on October 10 was supported in the name of the Committee of Finances in a report which caused scandal by Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, who under the old regime had been one of the two “general agents” charged with defending the financial interests of the French clergy. On October 12 Mirabeau requested the Assembly to decree (I) that the ownership of the church property belonged to the nation that it might provide for the support of the priests; (2) that the salary of each cure should not be less than 1200 livres. The plan was discussed from October 13 to November 2. It was opposed by Boisgelin, la Luzerne, Bonal, Dillon, the Abbe de Montesquieu, and the Abbe Maury, who contended that the clergy being a moral person could be an owner, disputed the estimates placed upon the wealth of the clergy, and suggested that their possessions should simply serve as a guarantee for a loan of 400,000,000 livres to the nation. The advocates of confiscation maintained that the clergy no longer existed as an order, that the property was like an escheated succession, and that the State had the right to claim it, that moreover the Royal Government had never expressly recognized the clergy as a proprietor, that in 1749 Louis XV had forbidden the clergy to receive anything without the authority of the State, and that he had confiscated the property of the Society of Jesus. Malouet took an intermediate stand and demanded that the State should confiscate only superfluous ecclesiastical possessions, but that the parochial clergy should be endowed with land. Finally, on November 2, 1789, the Assembly decided that the possessions of the clergy be “placed at the disposal” of the nation. The results of this vote were not long in following. The first was Treilhard’s motion (December 17), demanding in the name of the ecclesiastical committee of the Assembly, the closing of useless convents, and decreeing that the State should permit the religious to release themselves from their monastic vows.

The discussion of this project began in February, 1790, after the Assembly by the creation of assemblies of departments, districts, and commons, had proceeded to the administrative reorganization of France. The discussion was again very violent. On February 13, 1790, the Assembly, swayed by the more radical suggestions of Barnave and Thouret, decreed as a “constitutional article” that not only should the law no longer recognize monastic vows, but that religious orders and congregations were and should remain suppressed in France, and that no others should be established in the future. After having planned a partial suppression of monastic orders the Assembly voted for their total suppression. The proposal of Cazales (February 17) calling for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, and the rightful efforts made by the higher clergy to prevent Catholics from purchasing the confiscated goods of the Church provoked reprisals. On March 17, 1790, the Assembly decided that the 400,000,000 livres’ worth of alienated ecclesiastical properties should be sold to municipalities which in turn should sell them to private buyers. On April 14 it decided that the maintenance of Catholic worship should be provided for without recourse to the revenues of former ecclesiastical property and that a sufficient sum, fixed at more than 133,000,000 livres for the first year, should be entered in the budget for the allowances to be made to the clergy; on April 17 the decree was passed dealing with the assignats, papers issued by the Government paying interest at 5 per cent, and which were to be accepted as money in payment for the ecclesiastical property, thenceforth called national property; finally, on 9 July, it was decreed that all this property should be put up for sale.

CIVIL CONSTITUTION OF THE CLERGY.—On February 6, 1790, the Assembly charged its ecclesiastical committee, appointed August 20, 1789, and composed of fifteen members to prepare the reorganization of the clergy. Fifteen new members were added to the committee on February 7. The “constituents” were disciples of the eighteenth-century philosophes who subordinated religion to the State; moreover, to understand their standpoint it is well to bear in mind that many of them were jurists imbued with Gallican and Josephist ideas. Finally Taine has proved that in many respects their religious policy merely followed in the footsteps of the old regime, but while the old regime protected the Catholic Church and made it the church exclusively recognized, the constituents planned to enslave it after having stripped it of its privileges. Furthermore they did not take into account that there are mixed matters that can only be regulated after an agreement with ecclesiastical authority. They were especially incensed against the clergy after the consistorial address in which Pius VI (March 22, 1790) reproved some of the measures already taken by the Constituent Assembly, and by the news received from the West and South where the just dissatisfaction of Catholic consciences had provoked disturbances; in particular the election of the Protestant Rabaut Saint-Etienne to the presidency of the National Assembly brought about commotions at Toulouse and Nimes. Under the influence of these disturbances the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was developed. On May 29, 1790, it was laid before the Assembly. Bonal, Bishop of Clermont, and some members of the Right requested that the project should be submitted to a national council or to the pope. But the Assembly proceeded; it discussed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy from June 1 to July 12, 1790, on which date it was passed.

This Constitution comprised four titles. Title I, Ecclesiastical Offices: Diocesan boundaries were to agree with those of departments, 57 episcopal sees being thus suppressed. The title of archbishop was abolished; out of 83 remaining bishoprics 10 were called metropolitan bishoprics and given jurisdiction over the neighboring dioceses. No section of French territory should recognize the authority of a bishop living abroad, or of his delegates, and this, adds the Constitution, “without prejudice to the unity of faith and the communion which shall be maintained with the head of the Universal Church“. Canonries, prebends, and priories were abolished. There should no longer be any sacerdotal posts especially devoted to fulfilling the conditions of Mass foundations. All appeals to Rome were forbidden. Title II, Appointment to Benefices: Bishops should be appointed by the Electoral Assembly of the department; they should be invested and consecrated by the metropolitan and take an oath of fidelity to the nation, the King, the Law, and the Constitution; they should not seek any confirmation from the pope. Parish priests should be elected by the electoral assemblies of the districts. Thus all citizens, even Protestants, Jews, and nominal Catholics, might name titulars to ecclesiastical offices, and the first obligation of priests and bishops was to take an oath of fidelity to the Constitution which denied to the Holy See any effective power over the Church. Title III, Salary of ministers of Religion: The Constitution fixed the salary of the Bishop of Paris at 51,000 livres (about $10,200), that of bishops of towns whose population exceeded 50,000 souls at 20,000 livres (about $4000), that of other bishops at 12,000 livres (about $2400), that of cures at a sum ranging from 6000 (about $1200) to 1200 livres (about $240). For the lower clergy this was a betterment of their material condition, especially as the real value of these sums was two and one-half times the present amount. Title IV, dealing with residence, made very severe conditions regarding the absences of bishops and priests.

At the festival of the Federation (July 14, 1790) Talleyrand and three hundred priests officiating at the altar of the nation erected on the Champs-de-Mars wore the tri-colored girdle above their priestly vestments and besought the blessing of God on the Revolution. Deputations were present from the towns of France, and there was inaugurated a sort of cult of the Fatherland, the remote origin of all the “Revolutionary cults”. 1 On July 10, 1790, in a confidential Brief to Louis XVI, Pius VI expressed the alarm with which the project under discussion filled him. He commissioned two ecclesiastics who were ministers of Louis XVI, Champion de Cice and Lefranc de Pompignan, to urge the king not to sign the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. On July 28, in a letter to the pope, Louis XVI replied that he would be compelled, “with death in his soul”, to promulgate the Constitution, that he would reserve the right to broach as soon as possible the matter of some concession, but that if he refused, his life and the lives of his family would be endangered.

The pope replied (August 17) that he still held the same opinion of the Constitution, but that he would make no public declaration on the subject until he consulted with the Sacred College. On August 24 the king promulgated the Constitution, for which he was blamed by the pope in a confidential Brief on September 22. M. Mathiez claims to have proved that the hesitancy of Pius VI was due to temporal rather than to spiritual considerations, to his serious fears about the affairs of Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin, where certain popular parties were clamoring for French troops, but the truth is that Pius VI, who had made known his opinion of the Constitution to two French prelates, was awaiting some manifestation on the part of the French episcopate. Indeed the bishops spoke before the pope had spoken publicly. At the end of October, 1790, they published an “Exposition des principes sur la constitution civile du clerge”, compiled by Boisgelin, Archbishop of Aix, in which they rejected the Constitution and called upon the faithful to do the same. This publication marks the beginning of a violent conflict between the episcopate and the Constitution. On November 27, 1790, after a speech by Mirabeau, a decree stipulated that all bishops and priests should within a week, under penalty of losing their offices, take the oath to the Constitution, that all who refused and who nevertheless continued to discharge their priestly functions should be prosecuted as disturbers of the public peace. The king, who was much disturbed by this decree eventually sanctioned it (December 26, 1790) in order to avoid a rising.

Hitherto a large section of the lesser clergy had shown a certain amount of sympathy for the Revolution, but when it was seen that the episcopal members of the Assembly refused to take the oath, thus sacrificing their sees, a number of the priests followed this disinterested example. It may be said that from the end of 1790 the higher clergy and the truly orthodox elements of the lower clergy were united against the revolutionary measures. Thenceforth there were two classes, the nonjuring or refractory priests, who were faithful to Rome and refused the oath, and the jurors, sworn, or Constitutional priests, who had consented to take the oath. M. de la Gorce has recently sought to estimate the exact proportion of the priests who took the oath. Out of 125 bishops there were only four, Talleyrand of Autun, Brienne of Sens, Jarente of Orleans, and Lafond de Savine, of Viviers; three coadjutors or bishops in partibus, Gobel, Coadjutor Bishop of Bale; Martial de Brienne, Coadjutor of Sens; and Dubourg-Miraudet, Bishop of Babylon. In the important towns most of the priests refused to take the oath. Statistics for the small boroughs and the country are more difficult to obtain. The national archives preserve the complete dockets of 42 departments which were sent to the Constituent Assembly by the civil authorities. This shows that in these 42 departments, of 23,093 priests called upon to swear, 13,118 took the oath. There would be therefore out of 100 priests, 56 to 57 jurors against 43 to 44 non-jurors. M. de la Gorce gives serious reasons for contesting these statistics, which were compiled by zealous bureaucrats anxious to please the central administrators. He asserts on the other hand that the schism had little hold in fifteen departments and concludes that in 1791 the number of priests faithful to Rome was 52 to 55 out of 100; this is a small enough majority, but one which M. de la Gorce considers authentic.

On February 5, 1791, the Constituent Assembly forbade every nonjuring priest to preach in public. In March the elections to provide for the vacant episcopal sees and parishes took place. Disorder grew in the Church of France; young and ambitious priests, better known for their political than for their religious zeal, were candidates, and in many places owing to the opposition of good Catholics those elected had much difficulty in taking possession of their churches. At this juncture, seeing the Constitutional Church thus set up in France against the legitimate Church, Pius VI wrote two letters, one to the bishops and one to Louis XVI, to inquire if there remained any means to prevent schism; and finally, on April 13, 1791, he issued a solemn condemnation of the Civil Constitution in a solemn Brief to the clergy and the people. On May 2, 1791, the annexation of the Comtat Venaissin and the city of Avignon by the French troops marked the rupture of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See. From May, 1791, there was no longer an ambassador from France at Rome or a nuncio at Paris. The Brief of Pius VI encouraged the resistance of the Catholics. The Masses celebrated by nonjuring priests attracted crowds of the faithful. Then mobs gathered and beat and outraged nuns and other pious women. On May 7, 1791, the Assembly decided that the nonjuring priests as prelres habitues might continue to say Mass in parochial churches or conduct their services in other churches on condition that they would respect the laws and not stir up revolt against the Civil Constitution. The Constitutional priests became more and more unpopular with good Catholics; Sciout’s works go to show that the “departmental directories” had to spend their time in organizing regular police expeditions to protect the Constitutional priests in their parishes against the opposition of good Catholics, or to prosecute the nonjuring priests who heroically persisted in remaining at their posts. Finally on June 9, 1791, the Assembly forbade the publication of all Bulls or Decrees of the Court of Rome, at least until they had been submitted to the legislative body and their publication authorized. Thus Revolutionary France not only broke with Rome, but wished to place a barrier between Rome and the Catholics of France.

The king’s tormenting conscience was the chief reason for his attempted flight (20—June 21, 1791). Before fleeing he had addressed to the Assembly a declaration of his dissatisfaction with the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and once more protested against the moral violence which had compelled him to accept such a document. Halted at Varennes, Louis XVI was brought back on June 25, and was suspended from his functions till the completion of the Constitution, to which he took the oath September 13, 1791. On September 30, 1791, the Constituent Assembly dissolved, to make way for the Legislative Assembly, in which none of the members of the Constituent Assembly could sit. The Constituent Assembly had passed 2500 laws and reorganized the whole French administration. Its chief error from a social stand-point, which Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu calls a capital one, was to pass the Chapelier Decree (June 15, 1791), which forbade working people to band together and form associations “for their so-called common interest”. Led astray by their spirit of individualism and their hatred for certain abuses of the old corporations, the Constituents did not understand that the world of labor should be organized. They were responsible for the economic anarchy which reigned during the nineteenth century, and the present syndicate movement as well as the efforts of the social Catholics in conformity with the Encyclical “Rerum novarum” marks a deep and decisive reaction against the work of the Constituent Assembly.

THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY.—When the Constituent Assembly disbanded (September 30, 1791), France was aflame concerning the religious question. More than half the French people did not want the new Church, the factitious creation of the law; the old Church was ruined, demolished, hunted down, and the general amnesty decreed by the Constituent Assembly before disbanding could do nothing towards restoring peace in the country, where that Assembly’s bungling work had unsettled the consciences of individuals. The parties in the Legislative Assembly were soon irreconcilable. The Feuillants, on the Right, saw no salvation save in the Constitution; the Girondins on the Left, and the Montagnards on the Extreme Left, made ready for the Republic. There were men who, like the poet Andre Chenier, dreamed of a complete separation of Church and State. “The priests”, he wrote in a letter to the “Moniteur” (October 22, 1791), “will not trouble the Estates when no one is concerned about them, and they will always trouble them while anyone is concerned about them as at present.” But the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly had sat in the departmental or district assemblies; they had fought against the nonjuring priests and brought violent passions and a hostile spirit to the Legislative Assembly. A report from Gensonne and Gallois to the Legislative Assembly (October 9, 1791) on the condition of the provinces of the West denounced the nonjuring priests as exciting the populace to rebellion and called for measures against them. It accused them of complicity with the emigres bishops. At Avignon the Revolutionary Lecuyer, having been slain in a church, some citizens reputed to be partizans of the pope were thrown into the ancient papal castle and strangled (16—October 17, 1791). Calvados was also the scene of serious disturbances.

The Legislative Assembly, instead of repairing the tremendous errors of the Constituent Assembly, took up the question of the nonjuring priests. On November 29, on the proposal of Francois de Neufchateau, it decided that if within eight days they did not take the civil oath they should be deprived of all salary, that they should be placed under the surveillance of the authorities, that if troubles arose where they resided they should be sent away, that they should be imprisoned for a year if they persisted in remaining and for two years if they were convicted of having provoked disobedience to the king. Finally it forbade nonjuring priests the legal exercise of worship. It also requested from the departmental directories lists of the jurors and non-jurors, that it might, as it said, “stamp out the rebellion which disguises itself under a pretended dissidence in the exercise of the Catholic religion”. Thus its decree ended in a threat. But this decree was the object of a sharp conflict between Louis XVI and the Assembly. On December 9, 1791, the king made his veto known officially. Parties began to form. On one side were the king and the Catholics faithful to Rome, on the other the Assembly and the priests who had taken the oath. The legislative power was on one side, the executive on the other. In March, 1792, the Assembly accused the ministers of Louis XVI; the king replaced them by a Girondin ministry headed by Dumouriez, with Roland, Servan, and Claviere among its members. They had a double policy: abroad, war with Austria, and at home, measures against the nonjuring priests. Louis XVI, surrounded by dangers, was also accused of duplicity; his secret negotiations with foreign courts made it possible for his enemies to say that he had already conspired against France.

A papal Brief of March 19, 1792, renewed the condemnation of the Civil Constitution and visited with major excommunication all juring priests who after sixty days should not have retracted, and all Catholics who remained faithful to these priests. The Assembly replied by the Decree of May 27, 1792, declaring that all nonjuring priests might be deported by the directory of their department at the request of twenty citizens, and if they should return after expulsion they would be liable to ten years’ imprisonment. Louis vetoed this decree. Thus arose a struggle not only between Louis XVI and the Assembly, but between the king and his ministry. On June 3, 1792, the Assembly decreed the formation of a camp near Paris of 20,000 volunteers to guard the king. At the ministerial council Roland read an insulting letter to Louis, in which he called upon him to sanction the decrees of November and May against the nonjuring priests. He was dismissed, whereupon the populace of Paris arose and invaded the Tuileries (June 20, 1792), and for several hours the king and his family were the objects of all manner of outrages. After the public manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick in the name of the powers in coalition against France (July 25, 1792) and the Assembly’s declaration of the “Fatherland in danger” there came petitions for the deposition of the king, who was accused of being in communication with foreign rulers. On August 10, Santerre, Westermann, and Fournier l’Americain at the head of the national guard attacked the Tuileries defended by 800 Swiss. Louis refused to defend himself, and with his family sought refuge in the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly passed a decree which suspended the king’s powers, drew up a plan of education for the dauphin, and convoked a national convention. Louis XVI was imprisoned in the Temple by order of the insurrectionary Commune of Paris.

Madness spread through France caused by the threatened danger from without; arrests of nonjuring priests multiplied. In an effort to make them give way. The Assembly decided (August 15) that the oath should consist only in the promise “to up-hold with all one’s might liberty, equality, and the execution of the law, or to die at one’s post”. But the nonjuring priests remained firm and refused even this second oath. On August 26 the Assembly decreed that within fifteen days they should be expelled from the kingdom, that those who remained or returned to France should be deported to Guiana, or should be liable to ten years’ imprisonment. It then extended this threat to the priests, who, having no publicly recognized priestly duties, had hitherto been dispensed from the oath, declaring that they also might be expelled if they were convicted of having provoked disturbances. This was the signal for a real civil war. The peasants armed in La Vendee, Deux Sevres, Loire Inferieure, Maine and Loire, Ile and Vilaine. This news and that of the invasion of Champagne by the Prussian army caused hidden influences to arouse the Parisian populace; hence the September massacres. In the prisons of La Force, the Conciergerie, and the Abbaye Saint Germain, at least 1500 women, priests and soldiers fell under the axe or the club. The celebrated tribune, Danton, cannot be entirely acquitted of complicity in these massacres. The Legislative Assembly terminated its career by two new measures against the Church: it deprived priests of the right to register births, etc., and authorized divorce. Laicizing the civil state was not in the minds of the Constituents, but was the result of the blocking of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The Legislative Assembly was induced to enact it because the Catholics faithful to Rome would not have recourse to Constitutional priests for the registering of births, baptisms, and deaths.

THE CONVENTION; THE REPUBLIC; THE REIGN OF TERROR.—The opening of the National Convention (September 21, 1792) took place the day following Dumouriez’s victory at Valmy over the Prussian troops. The constitutional bishop, Gregoire, proclaimed the republic at the first session; he was surrounded in the assembly by fifteen constitutional bishops and twenty-eight constitutional priests. But the time was at hand when the constitutional clergy in turn was to be under suspicion, the majority of the Convention being hostile to Christianity itself. As early as November 16, 1792, Cambon demanded that the salaries of the priests be suppressed and that henceforth no religion should be subsidized by the State, but the motion was rejected for the time being. Henceforth the Convention enacted all manner of arbitrary political measures: it undertook the trial of Louis XVI, and on January 2, 1793, “hurled a king’s head at Europe“. But from a religious standpoint it was more timid; it feared to disturb the people of Savoy and Belgium, which its armies were annexing to France. From 10 to March 15, 1793, formidable insurrections broke out in La Vendee, Anjou, and a part of Brittany. At the same time Dumouriez, having been defeated at Neerwinden sought to turn his army against the Convention, and he himself went over to the Austrians. The Convention took fright; it instituted a Revolutionary Tribunal on March 9, and on April 6 the Committee of Public Safety, with formidable powers, was established.

Increasingly severe measures were taken chiefly against the nonjuring clergy. On February 18, 1793, the Convention voted a prize of one hundred livres to whomsoever should denounce a priest liable to deportation and who remained in France despite the law. On March 1 the emigres were sentenced to perpetual banishment and their property confiscated. On March 18 it was decreed that any emigre or deported priest arrested on French soil should be executed within twenty-four hours. On April 23 it was enacted that all ecclesiastics, priests or monks, who had not taken the oath prescribed by the Decree of August 15, 1792, should be transported to Guiana; even the priests who had taken the oath should be treated likewise if six citizens should denounce them for lack of citizenship. But despite all these measures the nonjuring priests remained faithful to Rome. The pope had maintained in France an official internuncio, the Abbe de Salamon, who kept himself in hiding and performed his duties at the risk of his life, gave information concerning current events, and transmitted orders. The proconsuls of the Convention, Freron and Barras at Marseilles and Toulon, Tallien at Bordeaux, Carrier at Nantes, perpetrated abominable massacres. In Paris the Revolutionary Tribunal, carrying out the proposals of the public accuser, Fouquier-Tinville, inaugurated the Reign of Terror. The proscription of the Girondins by the Montagnards (June 2, 1793), marked a progress in demagogy. The assassination of the bloodthirsty demagogue, Marat, by Charlotte Corday (July 13, 1793) gave rise to extravagant manifestations in honor of Marat. But the provinces did not follow this policy. News came of insurrections in Caen, Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulon; at the same time the Spaniards were in Roussillon, the Piedmontese in Savoy, the Austrians in Valenciennes, and the Vendeans defeated Kleber at Torfou (September, 1793). The crazed Convention decreed a rising en masse; the heroic resistance of Valenciennes and Mainz gave Carnot time to organize new armies. At the same time the Convention passed the Law of Suspects (September 17, 1793), which authorized the imprisonment of almost anyone and as a consequence of which 30,000 were imprisoned. Informing became a trade in France. Queen Marie Antoinette was beheaded October 16, 1793. Fourteen Carmelites who were executed July 17, 1794, were declared Venerable by Leo XIII in 1902.

From a religious point of view a new feature arose at this period—the constitutional clergy, accused of sympathy with the Girondins, came to be suspected almost as much as the nonjuring priests. Numerous conflicts arose between the constitutional priests and the civil authorities with regard to the decree of the Convention which did not permit priests to ask those intending to marry if they were baptized, had been to confession, or were divorced. The constitutional bishops would not submit to the Convention when it required them to give apostate priests the nuptial blessing. Despite the example of the constitutional bishop, Thomas Lindet, a member of the Convention, who won the applause of the Assembly by announcing his marriage, despite the scandal given by Gobel, Bishop of Paris, in appointing a married priest to a post in Paris, the majority of constitutional bishops remained hostile to the marriage of priests. The conflict between them and the Convention became notorious when, on July 19, 1793, a decree of the Convention decided that the bishops who directly or indirectly offered any obstacle to the marriage of priests should be deported and replaced. In October the Convention declared that the constitutional priests themselves should be deported if they were found wanting in citizenship. The measures taken by the Convention to substitute the Revolutionary calendar for the old Christian calendar, and the decrees ordering the municipalities to seize and melt down the bells and treasures of the churches, proved that certain currents prevailed tending to the dechristianization of France. On the one hand the rest of decadi, every tenth day, replaced the Sunday rest; on the other the Convention commissioned Leonard Bourdon (September 19, 1793) to compile a collection of the heroic actions of Republicans to replace the lives of the saints in the schools. The “missionary representatives”, sent’ to the provinces, closed churches, hunted down citizens suspected of religious practices, endeavored to constrain priests to marry, and threatened with deportation for lack of citizenship priests who refused to abandon their posts. Persecution of all religious ideas began. At the request of the Paris Commune, Gobel, Bishop of Paris, and thirteen of his vicars resigned at the bar of the Convention (November 7) and their example was followed by several constitutional bishops.

The Montagnards who considered worship necessary replaced the Catholic Sunday Mass by the civil mass of decadi. Having failed to reform and nationalize Catholicism they endeavored to form a sort of civil cult, a development of the worship of the fatherland which had been inaugurated at the feast of the Federation. The Church of Notre-Dame-de-Paris became a temple of Reason, and the feast of Reason was celebrated on November 10. The Goddesses of Reason and Liberty were not always the daughters of low people; they frequently came of the middle classes. Recent research has thrown new light on the history of these cults. M. Aulard was the first to recognize that the idea of honoring the fatherland, which had its origin in the festival of the Federation in 1790, gave rise to successive cults. Going deeper M. Mathiez developed the theory, that confronted by the blocking of the Civil Constitution, the Conventionals, who had witnessed in the successive feasts of the Federation the power of formulas on the minds of the masses, wanted to create a real culte de la patrie, a sanction of faith in the fatherland. On November 23, 1793, Chaumette passed a law alienating all churches in the capital. This example was followed in the provinces, where all city churches and a number of those in the country were closed to Catholic worship. The Convention offered a prize for the abjuration of priests by passing a decree which assured a pension to priests who abjured, and the most painful day of that sad period was November 20, 1793, when men, women, and children dressed in priestly garments taken from the Church of St. Germain des Pres marched through the hall of the Convention. Laloi, who presided, congratulated them, saying they had “wiped out eighteen centuries of error”. Despite the part played by Chaumette and the Commune of Paris in the work of violent dechristianization, M. Mathiez has proved that it is not correct to lay on the Commune and the Exageres as they were called, the entire responsibility, and that a Moderate, an Indulgent, namely Thuriot, the friend of Danton, was one of the most violent instigators. It is thus clear why Robespierre who desired a reaction against these excesses, should attack both Exageres and Indulgents.

Indeed a reactionary movement was soon evident. As early as November 21, 1793, Robespierre complained of the “madmen who could only revive fanaticism”. On December 5, he caused the Convention to adopt the text of a manifesto to the nations of Europe in which the members declared that they sought to protect the liberty of all creeds; on December 7, he supported the motion of the Committee of Public Safety which reported the bad effect in the provinces of the intolerant violence of the missionary representatives, and which forbade in future all threats or violence contrary to liberty of worship. These decrees were the cause of warfare between Robespierre and enthusiasts such as Hebert and Clootz. At first Robespierre sent his enemies to the scaffold; Hebert and Clootz were beheaded in March, 1794, Chaumette and Bishop Gobel in April. But in this same month of April Robespierre sent to the scaffold the Moderates, Desmoulins and Danton, who wanted to stop the Terror, and became the master of France with his lieutenants Couthon and Saint-Just. M. Aulard regards Robespierre as having been hostile to the dechristianization for religious and political motives; he explains that Robespierre shared the admiration for Christ felt by Rousseau’s Vicar Savoyard, and that he feared the evil effect on the powers of Europe of the Convention’s anti-religious policy. M. Mathiez on the other hand considers that Robespierre did not condemn the dechristianization in principle; that he knew the common hostility to the Committee of Public Safety of Moderates such as Thuriot and enthusiasts like Hebert; and that on the information of Basire and Chabot he suspected both parties of having furthered the fanatical measures of dechristianization only to discredit the Convention abroad and thus more easily to plot with the powers hostile to France. Robespierre’s true intentions are still an historical problem. On April 6, 1794, he commissioned Couthon to propose in the name of the Committee of Public Safety that a feast be instituted in honor of the Supreme Being, and on May 7 Robespierre himself outlined in a long speech the plan of the new religion. He explained that from the religious and Republican standpoint, the idea of a Supreme Being was advantageous to the State, that religion should dispense with a priesthood, and that priests were to religion what charlatans were to medicine, and that the true priest of the Supreme Being was Nature. The Convention desired to have this speech translated into all languages and adopted a decree of which the first article was: “The French people recognize the existence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul”. The same decree states that freedom of worship is maintained but adds that in the case of disturbances caused by the exercise of a religion those who “excite them by fanatical preaching or by counter-Revolutionary innovations”, shall be punished according to the rigour of the law. Thus the condition of the Catholic Church remained equally precarious and the first festival of the Supreme Being was celebrated throughout France on June 8, 1794, with aggressive splendor. Whereas the Exageres wished simply to destroy Catholicism, and in the temples of Reason political rather than moral doctrines were taught, Robespierre desired that the civic religion should have a moral code which he based on the two dogmas of God and the immortality of the soul. He was of the opinion that the idea of God had a social value, that public morality depended on it, and that Catholics would more readily support the republic under the auspices of a Supreme Being.

The victories of the Republican armies, especially that of Fleurus (July, 1794), reassured the patriots of the Convention; those of Cholet, Mans, and Savenay marked the checking of the Vendean insurrection. Lyons and Toulon were recaptured, Alsace was delivered, and the victory of Fleurus (June 26, 1794) gave Belgium to France. While danger from abroad was decreasing, Robespierre made the mistake of putting to vote in June the terrible law of 22 Prairial, which still further shortened the summary procedure of the Revolutionary tribunal and allowed sentence to be passed almost without trial even on the members of the Convention. The Convention took fright and the next day struck out this last clause. Montagnards like Tallien, Billaud-Varenne, and Collot d’Herbois, threatened by Robespierre, joined with such Moderates as Boissy d’Anglas and Durand Maillane to bring about the coup d’etat of 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794). Robespierre and his partisans were executed, and the Thermidorian reaction began. The Commune of Paris was suppressed, the Jacobin Club closed, the Revolutionary tribunal disappeared after having sent to the scaffold the public accuser Fouquier-Tinville and the Terrorist, Carrier, the author of the noyades (drownings) of Nantes. The death of Robespierre was the signal for a change of policy which proved of advantage to the Church; many imprisoned priests were released and many emigre priests returned. Not a single law hostile to Catholicism was repealed, but the application of them was greatly relaxed. The religious policy of the Convention became indecisive and changeable. On December 21, 1794, a speech of the constitutional bishop, Gregoire, claiming effective liberty of worship, aroused violent murmurings in the Convention, but was applauded by the people; and when in February, 1795, the generals and commissaries of the Convention in their negotiations with the Vendeans promised them the restoration of their religious liberties, the Convention returned to the idea supported by Gregoire, and at the suggestion of the Protestant, Boissy d’Anglas, it passed the Law of 3 Ventose (February 21, 1795), which marked the enfranchisement of the Catholic Church. This law enacted that the republic should pay salaries to the ministers of no religion, and that: no churches should be reopened, but it declared that the exercise of religion should not be disturbed, and prescribed penalties for disturbers. Immediately the constitutional bishops issued an Encyclical for the reestablishment of Catholic worship, but their credit was shaken. The confidence of the faithful was given instead to the nonjuring priests who were returning by degrees. These priests were soon so numerous that in April, 1795, the Convention ordered them to depart within a month under pain of death. This was a fresh outbreak of anti-Catholicism. With the fluctuation which thenceforth characterized it the Convention soon made a counter-movement. On May 20, 1795, the assembly hall was invaded by the mob and the deputy Feraud assassinated. These violences of the Extremists gave some influence to the Moderates, and on May 30, at the suggestion of the Catholic, Lanjuinais, the Convention decreed that (Law of 11 Prairial) the churches not confiscated should be placed at the disposal of citizens for the exercise of their religion, but that every priest who wished to officiate in these churches should previously take an oath of submission to the laws; those who refused might legally hold services in private houses. This oath of submission to the laws was much less serious than the oaths formerly prescribed by the Revolutionary authorities, and the Abbe Sicard has shown how Emery, Superior General of St. Sulpice, Bausset, Bishop of Alais and other ecclesiastics were inclined to a policy of pacification and to think that such an oath might be taken.

While it seemed to be favoring a more tolerant policy the Convention met with diplomatic successes, the reward of the military victories: the treaties of Paris with Tuscany, of the Hague with the Batavian Republic, of Basle with Spain, gave to France as boundaries the Alps, the Rhine, and the Meuse. But the policy of religious pacification was not lasting. Certain periods of the history of the Convention justify M. Champion’s theory that certain religious measures taken by the Revolutionists were forced upon them by circumstances. The descent of the emigres on the Breton coasts, to be checked by Hoche at Quiberon, aroused fresh attacks on the priests. On September 6, 1795 (Law of 20 Fructidor), the Convention exacted the oath of submission to the laws even of priests who officiated in private houses. The Royalist insurrection of 13 Vendemiaire, put down by Bonaparte, provoked a very severe decree against deported priests who should be found on French territory; they were to be sentenced to perpetual banishment. Thus at the time when the Convention was disbanding, churches were separated from the State. In theory worship was free; the Law of September 29, 1795 (7 Vendemiaire), on the religious policy, though still far from satisfactory to the clergy, was nevertheless an improvement on the laws of the Terror, but anarchy and the spirit of persecution still disturbed the whole country. Nevertheless France owes to the Convention a number of lasting creations: the Ledger of the Public Debt, the Ecole Polytechnique, the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, the Bureau of Longitudes, the Institute of France, and the adoption of the decimal system of weights and measures. The vast projects drawn up with regard to primary, secondary, and higher education had almost no results.

THE DIRECTORY.—In virtue of the so-called “Constitution of the year III”, promulgated by the Convention September 23, 1795, a Directory of five members (October 27, 1795) became the executive, and the Councils of Five Hundred and of the Ancients, the legislative power. At this time the public treasuries were empty, which was one reason why the people came by degrees to feel the necessity of a strong restorative power. The Directors Carrot, Barras, Letourneur, Rewbell, La Reveilliere-Lepeaux were averse to Christianity, and in the separation of Church and State saw only a means of annihilating the Church. They wished that even the Constitutional episcopate, though they could not deny its attachment to the new regime, should become extinct by degrees, and when the constitutional bishops died they sought to prevent the election of successors, and multiplied measures against the nonjuring priests. The Decree of April 16, 1796, which made death the penalty for provoking any attempt to overthrow the Republican government was a threat held perpetually over the heads of the nonjuring priests. That the Directors really wished to throw difficulties in the way of all kinds of religion, despite theoretical declarations affirming liberty of worship is proved by the Law of April 11, 1796, which forbade the use of bells and all sorts of public convocation for the exercise of religion, under penalty of a year in prison, and, in case of a second offense, of deportation. The Directory having ascertained that despite police interference some nonjuring bishops were officiating publicly in Paris, and that before the end of 1796 more than thirty churches or oratories had been opened to nonjuring priests in Paris, laid before the Five Hundred a plan which, after twenty days, allowed the expulsion from French soil, without admission to the oath prescribed by the Law of Vendemiaire, all priests who had not taken the Constitutional Oath prescribed in 1790, or the Oath of Liberty and Equality prescribed in 1792; those who after such time should be found in France would be put to death. But amid the discussions to which this project gave rise, the revolutionary Socialist conspiracy of Babeuf was discovered, which showed that danger lay on the Left; and on August 25, 1796, the dreadful project which had only been passed with much difficulty by the Five Hundred was rejected by the Ancients.

The Directory began to feel that its policy of religious persecution was no longer followed by the Councils. It learned also that Bonaparte, who in Italy led the armies of the Directory from victory to victory, displayed consideration for the pope. Furthermore, in France the electors themselves showed that they desired a change of policy. The elections of May 20, 1797, caused the majority of Councils to pass from the Left to the Right. Pichegru became President of the Five Hundred, a Royalist, Barthelemy, became one of the Five Directors. Violent discussions which took place from June 26 to July 18, in which Royer-Collard distinguished himself, brought to the vote the proposal of the deputy Dubruel for the abolition of all laws against non-juring priests passed since 1791. The Directors, alarmed by what they considered a reactionary movement, commissioned General Augereau to effect the coup d’etat of 18 Fructidor (4 September, 1797); the elections of 49 departments were quashed, two Directors, Carnot and Barthelemy, proscribed, 53 deputies deported, and laws against the emigres and nonjuring priests restored to their vigour. Organized hunting for these priests took place throughout France; the Directory cast hundreds of them on the unhealthy shore of Sinnamary, Guiana, where they died. At the same time the Directory commissioned Berthier to make the attack on the Papal States and the pope, from which Bonaparte had refrained. The Roman Republic was proclaimed in 1798 and Pius VI was taken prisoner to Valence (see Pius VI). An especially odious persecution was renewed in France against the ancient Christian customs; it was known as the decadaire persecution. Officials and municipalities were called upon to overwhelm with vexations the partisans of Sunday and to restore the observance of decadi. The rest of that day became compulsory not only for administrations and schools, but also for business and industry. Marriages could only be celebrated on decadi at the chief town of each canton.

Another religious venture of this period was that of the Theophilanthropists, who wished to create a spiritualist church without dogmas, miracles, priesthood or sacraments, a sort of vague religiosity, similar to the “ethical societies of the United States”. Contrary to what has been asserted for one hundred years, M. Mathiez has proved that Theophilanthropism was not founded by the director, La Reveilliere-Lepeaux. It was the private initiative of a former Girondin, the librarian Chemin Dupontes, which gave rise to this cult; Valentine Hauy, instructor of the blind and former Terrorist, and the physiocrat, Dupont de Nemours, collaborated with him. During its early existence, the new Church was persecuted by the agents of Cochon, Minister of Police, who was the tool of Carnot, and it was only for a short time, after the coup d’etat of 18 Fructidor, that the Theo-philanthropists benefited by the protection of La Reveilliere. In proportion to the efforts of the Directory for the culte decadaire, the Theophilanthropists suffered and were persecuted; in Paris, they were sometimes treated even worse than the Catholics, Catholic priests being at times permitted to occupy the buildings connected with certain churches while the Theophilanthropists were driven out. On a curious memoir written after 18 Fructidor entitled “Des circonstances actuelles qui peuvent terminer la Revolution et des principes qui doivent fonder la Republique en France“, the famous Madame de Stael, who was a Protestant, declared herself against Theophilanthropy; like many Protestants, she hoped that Protestantism would become the State religion of the Republic. Through its clumsy and odious religious policy the Directory exposed itself to serious difficulties. Disturbed by the anti-religious innovations, the Belgian provinces revolted; 6000 Belgian priests were proscribed. Brittany, Anjou, and Maine again revolted, winning over Normandy. Abroad the prestige of the French armies was upheld by Bonaparte in Egypt, but they were hated on the Continent, and in 1799 were compelled to evacuate most of Italy. Bonaparte’s return and the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire (November 10, 1799) were necessary to strengthen the glory of the French armies and to restore peace to the country and to consciences (see Napoleon I).


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