Secret Societies
and the French Revolution
together with some kindred studies
by Una Birch, (Una Pope-Hennessy), 1876-1949

London :  John Lane, The Bodley Head
New York :  John Lane Company :  MCMXI
The Ballantyne Press Tavistock Street Covent Garden London
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION



IT is impossible to dive into the whirlpool of the French Revolution without at times being overwhelmed by strong currents of emotion and dramatic sentiment.  And because its violent action was so often irrelevant to the principles and ideals which it was supposed to promote, it is easy to lose consciousness, in a maze of horror or a mist of pity, of the true objective of that tremendous movement.  The clear issue of the realisation of liberty was clouded in Russia some years ago by atrocious massacres of Jews, as the clear issue of the realisation of religious liberty was blurred in France a century ago by monstrous and unnecessary cruelties.  The story of the laggard progression of the French nation towards tolerance and freedom of worship, ending as it did in an audacious, meteoric advance, is of absorbing interest.  During the century which preceded the Revolution no advent could have seemed more hopelessly delayed than that of religious liberty.  Erect above the dull tomb of national life towered a splendid superstructure of State and Church, united and secure.  Royalty with its armies, laws, nobility, prisons, authority, subserved the ends of ecclesiasticism with its princes, discipline, confraternities, monk militia, and missionaries, its prestige, persecutions, wealth and venerability.  Organisations so elaborate and dominations so crushing must have appeared inviolable to all reformers ;  yet within the darkness of the tomb of national life lay germinating the seed which, like the thorn of Glastonbury, would one day split the ponderous weight in twain.

Without estimating in some degree the power of the Church in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and considering the way in which that power was used, it is difficult to get any sane notion of the meaning and aims of the seemingly frenzied innovators of the revolutionary period.  When the proclamation of the liberties of the Gallican Church in 1682 made it the pride and interest of French Kings to defend an institution, confessedly national, and to some degree independent of Roman jurisdiction, the will of the Church became the law of the State.  But even prior to the assertion of her liberties her power had been great and though the clement Edict of Nantes (1598) had appeared to indicate some feebleness in the ecclesiastical hold on the machinery of State, its gradual annulment and final revocation after eighty-seven years’ existence showed that the Church was not slow to recover her grip of affairs.  The financial dependence of State on Church was one of the chief causes of ecclesiastical supremacy.  During the seventeenth century it had been the custom of the clergy to meet every five years to make voluntary contribution toward the charges of Government.  All that was implied by the “ don gratuit ” may be gathered from examples picked out at hazard from records of the quinquennial assemblages.  In 1665 the Church requested that heresy should be suppressed ;  that Catholics should not be permitted to become Protestants ;  that all reformed colleges and schools should be closed, and that only Catholics should be presented with judgeships.  When these requests were made law, 4,000,000 livres were paid in to the State.  In spite of Colbert’s endeavours to protect the heretics, persecution gradually became more open, and in 1680 the Dragonnades of Marillac made life intolerable for Huguenots.  Dragoons quartered in the houses of heretics flogged the men and dragged the women of the family by the hair to church.  Five years later the Revocation was complete.  Protestants were interdicted from the practice of their cult ;  their children were to be baptized and their sick to receive sacraments by compulsion ;  they were forbidden to employ Catholic servants, debarred from being lawyers, printers or librarians, and prevented from keeping lodgings or inns.  Their temples were demolished, and their dead accorded no Christian sepulture.  By the intellectual ecclesiastics, no pity was shown for the oppressed sect.  Bossuet assisted in organising the persecution, Massillon approved of it, and Fenelon, whom some people have wished to enrol among the tolerants, wrote from La Rochelle in 1685 :  “ Je ne trouve presque plus de religionnaires à La Rochelle depuis que je paye ceux qui me les decouvrent. . . . Je fais emprisonner les hommes et mettre les femmes et les filles dans les couvents de l’aveu et par l’autorité de l’évêque.”

Though the death of Louis XIV. introduced an interlude in persecution, when Dubois came to be Cardinal de Gesvres, prime minister, and head of the General Assembly of 1723, the cruellest laws against the Protestants were made once again effective.

The manner in which the Church endeavoured to crush Rationalism in France is as memorable as her effort to extirpate Protestantism.  With familiar assurance she entered into conflict with the intellectual forces of the day.  She greeted the appearance of the Great Encyclopædia with a condemnatory storm of books and pamphlets, and at her instigation the aims of the philosophers were travestied upon the stage.  In 1758 the clergy feted the suppression of the Encyclopædia, as they had fêted the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes long years before.  Another type of ecclesiastical power is instanced by the trial of de La Barre.  Twenty-three years before the fall of the Bastille, a crucifix hanging on the bridge at Abbeville was found one morning mutilated.  The Bishop of Amiens and his clergy came down to inquire into the matter, and since no one knew who was responsible for the outrage, two young men, reported to hold advanced opinions and to sing ribald songs—the Chevalier de La Barre and M. d’Étalonde—were chosen to expiate the crime.  The judges declared that they were “ véhémentement soupçonnés d’avoir mutilé le crucifix,” and as punishment condemned them to lose their right wrists, to have their tongues torn out, their heads cut off, and their bodies burnt.  Into the pile were to be thrown the “ Dictionnaire philosophique ” and other new works.  D’Étalonde fled, and on Voltaire’s letter of introduction took service with the King of Prussia.  De la Barre, inflexibly brave and only eighteen, suffered the penalties enumerated.

Both Voltaire and the Encyclopædists have had recognition of men for the share which they took in destroying the prestige of the Church.  Undoubtedly their work and influence were both serious and important ;  but beneath the philosophers and their works of light other nameless powers were striving toward enfranchisement.  An attempt has been made in a previous essay to describe the extensive and intensive influence of the secret societies in France during the eighteenth century.  The appeal of the Encyclopædists was to the educated, but the secret societies made their appeal to the uneducated and the poor, who were not for their ignorance or poverty debarred from comprehending the great belief, which inspired nearly all the mystical societies of the Middle Ages and modern days, the belief in the divinity of man and in the true brotherhood and unity of humanity symbolised in the triple watchword of the Martinists, “ Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.”  Men have banded themselves together in all ages in order to attack tyranny by destroying the idolatrous esteem in which it was held ;  for the effort to emancipate the human race and enable it to grow to the full stature of its manhood is an ancient endeavour, a divine fever laying hold of mystics, peasants, quakers, poets, theosophists, and all who cannot accustom themselves to the ugly inequalities of social life.  Although nowadays men can further such ends openly, in other centuries they had to work stealthily in clandestine ways, and the generations of victims and martyrs who lie in the catacombs of feudalism could attest the danger of their enterprise.  How many men have died in chains, how many crypts have concealed nameless cruelties from the sunlight, how many redeemers have sacrificed the dear gift of life that tyrannies might cease, no man can tell ;  but without that secret soul of progress, formed deep below the consciousness of political thought and action, history would have been but a monotonous record of military and monachal despotism.

It has been thought strange that a powerful organisation like the Church fell so easily before the innovators.  The secret societies, however, with their enthusiasm for humanity, were greatly responsible for the Church’s temporary discomfiture, though they could not hold the advantage gained, since they had no definite new religion to substitute for the old creed.  The reformers, realising that the only efficient destruction is reconstruction, made sundry attempts at civic and secular religion, which all proved too cold and unattractive to compete successfully with the warm humanity and familiar pageants of the Church’s feasts.

Long before the outbreak of the Revolution, the banners of secret societies working for the good of humanity bore the words :  “ Down with the double despotism of Priests and Kings,” and in every important town in France, as well as in many country districts, were to be found bands of men professing the new faith of brotherhood.  Ecclesiastical edicts of the eighteenth century witness to the existence and spread of workmen’s unions.  Fraternal societies, admitting members of both sexes, met in country districts, and discussed the problems of the people.  A network of freemasonry had been successfully established over the greater part of France a few years before the outbreak of the Revolution.  That strong views were held on brotherhood by masons and members of other secret societies may be gathered from the terms of their members’ obligation :  “ I, with all the possessions, rank, honours and titles which I hold in political society, am only a man.  I enjoy these things only through my fellow men, and through them also I may lose them. . . . I will oppose with all my might the enemies of the human race and of liberty.”

Rousseau was a mason, and so was Mirabeau, the conqueror of the Church.  The latter inducted the Bishop of Autun into the society, as well as the Duke of Orléans, who was said in his alchemistical experiments in the garrets of the Palais Royal to have destroyed Pascal’s skeleton in his crucibles.  Sieyès, the first clerical member of the Third Estate, belonged to a secret society, and so did Dom Gerle, the wellknown Carthusian who sat in the Assembly.  An enthusiasm for Humanity—“ the Supreme Being,” was the flame that burnt in the breast of every member of the great secret service.  All the fervour and feeling of which men are capable were needed in France in 1789 to combat the gross indifference to human suffering, the infliction of unbearable existences upon the innocent and weak, the maladministration of public institutions and public charities.  It was enough to break the courage of most men, and to crack the heart-strings of the rest, to see such spurning of human life, such despising and rejecting of the diviner qualities of men.  The task of making man respect man seemed insurmountable, but through shedding of blood it was accomplished.

Extracts from official reports [1] of the time serve to show that there was good excuse for reforming the domestic administration of both Church and State.  In 1772 a fire at the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris revealed the nature of institutional charity.  One of the wards, the Salle S. Charles, contained four rows of beds, a hundred and one big ones and nine small ones.  On January 6, 1786, this room held three hundred and forty sick people, and at a pinch six hundred and fifteen were packed into it.  The Royal Commission appointed to investigate into hospital management in that year reported that the dead were mingled with the living, that every kind of illness was crowded together, and that beds 4 ft. 4 in. wide contained four to six invalids, heads and feet alternating, all unable to move or sleep.  Other unquotable details are mentioned in the report.  At Bicêtre, women were chained in dark subterranean dungeons, whither rats came in hordes and gnawed their feet.  In the quiet of the night inhabitants of the district were awaked from peaceful slumbers by a sound of wailing, which was audible for more than a mile.  For years those who heard it paid no more attention to it than men do nowadays to the noise of a passing train.  They alluded to it as the “ plainte de l’hôpital,” though it was a device by which hundreds of human beings howling in unison hoped to draw attention to the piteousness of their condition.  In the debtors’ prisons disgusting usages prevailed ;  men and women were imprisoned promiscuously in the same cells, and the straw that was the only furniture of their prison remained for weeks unchanged.

Thus under the old régime were charity and justice travestied and made into a mockery.  Turgot, Beccaria and Condorcet, not the clergy, had lifted up their voices in protest against these infamies ;  D’Holbach, Diderot and Naigeon had been so maddened by them as to declare that “ Catholicism was a religion for barbarians.”  Behind the silent walls of asylums, hospitals, and prisons the hideous work of spreading disease, corruption and death went on in the name of Christ and in the name of the King.

It is one of the marvels of that marvellous epoch that in the midst of such abuses the outraged people of France were moderate enough in the first days of the great social upheaval to attack ecclesiastical abuses only, but never the Christian religion.  It is also worth remembering that the French Revolution was initiated by the “ Veni Creator,” as it was concluded by the “ Te Deum.”  In the late spring of 1789 the procession of the Estates, after singing the “ Veni Creator,” passed out of the cathedral at Versailles to the church of S. Louis to assist at a Mass of the Holy Ghost, and to listen to a sermon on religion as contributing to the happiness of nations.  Thirteen years later, after rivers of blood had flowed and all the sanctuaries had been defiled, another procession passed through the streets of Paris to sing a “ Te Deum ” at Notre-Dame, and to assist at a Mass in celebration of the remarriage of a Church and State that had been eight years divorced.

To describe a movement unguided by any commanding personality, and unmapped by definite plans of progress, is perhaps less interesting than to describe the influence of a Cromwell or a Luther.  The religious conflicts of the Revolution more resemble a sea of contrary waves, beating as it were unmeaningly against each other, than a strong and swelling tide of reform overwhelming France.  The voices that sound clear above the tumult are very few.  It is vain to listen for a dominant note in the speeches of the orthodox churchmen of the day, for they were powerless to sway opinion or control the march of progress.  Abbé Maury, who opposed Mirabeau on the question of Church privileges in the Constituent Assembly, and M. Émery, principal of Saint-Sulpice Seminary, who, though he took no part in politics, was renowned for piety and wisdom, were the two most notable servants of the Church.  In the ranks of the revolutionaries there were several distinguished ecclesiastics.  Abbé Fauchet, in bullet-torn cassock, preached a funeral sermon over the dead stormers of the Bastille, and passionately cried :  “ Liberty is no longer Cæsar’s, it belongs to human nature ! ”  He blessed the colours of the citizen soldiers, and was called by Madame Roland “ that best of revolutionaries.”  Though he served as president of police and commune, he eventually went to the scaffold for his faith.  Sieyès, the Sulpician, wrote the famous pamphlet, “ Qu’estce que le Tiers-État,” which had a prodigious circulation in the beginning of the year 1789 and which directed the career of the Third Estate at Versailles.  Not only did its author assist to frame the “ Civil Constitution of the Clergy ” in 1790, but he helped to draw up the Concordat of 1802.  Both Sieyès and Talleyrand lived to hold high secular posts of State, and the latter, as is well known, took an important part in the debates of the Constituent Assembly, and was responsible for broaching the scheme of Church disendowment.  But perhaps the noblest, if not the ablest, of the clerics was Curé Grégoire, who firmly believed in Christianity and in the mission of the Constitutional Church, and who, throughout the Terror, when to be a priest meant death, wore the violet robe and cross both in the Assembly and in the street.

All the reformers, lay and clerical, were fired by principles and ideals ;  few had any plans for translating them into fact ;  so the study of their empirical efforts after justice provokes something like despair.  A clause dealing with freedom of conscience and worship was easily and swiftly embodied in the Declaration of Rights, but the men were scarce who realised how hard and slow a task would prove the establishment of such liberty.

The opinion of the country on the Church was represented in the “ cahiers des doléances,” prepared for the States-General in 1789 Strictly speaking, there was no religious question in them, for they dealt, not with dogma or rite, but with discipline.  The “ cahiers ” of the First Estate demanded that regulars should be forced to fulfil their earlier and more strenuous obligation, while the “ cahiers ” of the Third Estate denounced the archbishops, bishops, and regulars as “ idle, vicious, and wealthy,” but were unanimous in their praise of the parish priest.  A letter illustrative of the state of affairs in country districts is that of Abbé Mesmiont to Cardinal Ludovisi :

“ I do all that I can [speaking of the peasants] to contribute to their well-being, a few of the neighbouring gentry second my efforts, but these efforts are expended in vain ;  three abbeys, a commandery, and several priories seize all the resources of the poor . . . the useless clergy are but a dead tree that should be cut down—a parasitic, greedy growth, fit only to be lopped.”

During the memorable August night when feudal privileges were abdicated in a blaze of emotion by the aristocrats, the clergy, carried away by the inspiration of the hour, volunteered to sacrifice plurality of benefices, annates, and other privileges to the nation.  Not till some days afterwards did they realise the gravity of the step they had taken in making the hitherto unquestioned privileges of the Church a matter debatable by the people in the National Assembly.  Without reflection they had opened the door to disendowment, and had tacitly admitted that their position was dependent on the nation’s will.  Though neither Mirabeau nor Sieyès was present on the great night, they both took a conspicuous part in the subsequent debate on tithes, and Mirabeau was quick to see the advantage given by the clergy and to use it in a speech wherein he proved that tithes were not property, but a contribution from the nation to that branch of the public service which was concerned with the ministers of her altars, a mere “ subsidy by means of which the nation salaried its officers of morality.”  The peasants, imploring to be delivered from the great burden of tithes, had forced this early consideration of the problem on the Assembly.  In spite of Arthur Young’s observations to the contrary, great abuses were connected with tithe-gathering in the provinces, the demands of the gatherers were not always limited to the legal tenth ;  sometimes a sixth, and even a fourth, was wrested from the unfortunate and defenceless cultivator.  In one of the “ cahiers “ the tithes are alluded to as “ ces sangsues accablantes.”

The majority of prelates were not in favour of throwing away 70,000,000 livres.  “What !” exclaimed a priest in the Assembly, “ when you invited us to come and join you, in the name of the God of Peace, was it to cut our throats ? “  Sieyès spoke against confiscation, but was in favour of replacing tithes by some other means of payment.  In spite of all protests, de Juigne, Archbishop of Paris, rose and closed the debate by renouncing in the name of the French clergy all claim to tithes.  From this abrogation the logical step to complete disendowment and the conversion of the Church into a salaried department of the State was small.  Affairs moved rapidly ;  a few days later a committee was appointed to inquire into methods of ecclesiastical reform.  A month afterwards, when some one in the Assembly rose during a debate on taxation and suggested that the Church should be asked to sacrifice her plate, Mirabeau declared “ that treasures accumulated by the piety of ancestors would not change their religious destination by issuing forth from obscurity into the service of the country.”  To every one’s surprise de Juigne declared that the clergy were ready to abandon all treasure that was not necessary to the ceremonies of the Church.  The clerical policy of disarming the Assembly by unexpected generosity, in order to evade a discussion on the Church’s property and the titles under which she held about one-fifth of the land of France, did not prove a success.  Mirabeau, who did not wish to place the State under obligation to the hierarchy, asserted that the property of the Church was by nature the property of the nation, and therefore that it was not possible for the clergy to make any sacrifice.  He fully realised the probable feebleness in debate of those whose authority had hitherto been undisputed ;  their uncertainty as to the titles under which the Church collected, held, and administered her funds, as well as their inability to prove the legality of their ancient monopolies.  Dupont de Nemours, a deputy, drew up a table of the clergy’s debt to the State since 1706, and argued that since the Church enjoyed her property under certain conditions, those, if not fulfilled, caused her to forfeit all claim over it.  He proved, for example, that a milliard masses could not be said by sixty thousand priests, and gave other instances of the Church’s want of good faith.  On October 11 the Bishop of Autun formally proposed that the property of the Church should be henceforth the property of the nation.  A violent discussion followed, which lasted till November 2.  The press bristled with arguments, and sheaves of pamphlets were sent to every deputy.  Mirabeau, by far the most able member of the Assembly, carried the people with him, partly by his magnificent oratory and partly by his clear and easily followed arguments.  He appealed to common sense, and argued that the living should not be fettered by the dead :  “ Si tous les hommes qui aient vécu avaient eu un tombeau, il aurait bien fallu, pour trouver des terres à cultiver, renverser ces monuments stériles, et remuer les cendres des morts pour nourrir les vivants.”

His main opponent was Abbé Maury, and the two men were supposed by the public of the day to resemble each other :

Deux insignes chefs de parti
D’intrigue id tiennent bureau ;
Chacun à l’autre est assorti :
Même audace et front de taureau.

L’on pourrait faire le pari
Qu’ils sont nes de la même peau,
Car, retournez abé Mauri,
Vous y retrouverez Mirabeau.

Mirabeau carried the vote of the Assembly in his closing speech, when he argued that the clergy accumulated wealth, not for themselves as a corporation, but for the benefit of the nation, and proved that the property of the Church was in all points identical with that of the Crown.  The terms of the motion ran as follows :

“ 1°.  Tous les biens ecclésiastiques sont à la disposition de la nation, à la charge de pourvoir d’une manière convenable aux frais du culte, à l’entretien de ses ministres et au soulagement des pauvres, sous la surveillance et d’après les instructions des provinces.

“ 2°.  Dans les dispositions à faire pour l’entretien des ministres de la religion, il ne pourra être assuré à la dotation d’aucun curé moins de douze cent livres par année, non compris le logement et les jardins en dépendant.”[2]

The minimum annual provision of twelve hundred livres for curés was generous, since under the old régime many country clergy had enjoyed but half or three-quarters of that sum.  There can be no question but that the Assembly meant to deal honestly with the revenues which it had taken upon itself to administer.  The fact that this administration proved a complete failure does not incriminate the original intention.  In all ages the road to anarchy has been paved with good intentions.

The problem of how to deal with monastic foundations arose out of the transference of ecclesiastical properties to State ownership, and in December Deputy Treilhaud made his report to the Assembly on the Religious Orders.  The eighteenth century cannot be called the age of faith, and investigation into the habits of religious societies was sure to be productive of unedifying disclosures.  Moreover, since the legal age for pronouncing vows had been raised from sixteen to twenty-one, the monasteries of France had been gradually emptying.  A few instances will show the numerical decrease of the inhabitants of religious houses in the country.  The community of the Benedictine Abbey of Bennaye was reduced from fifty inmates to four ;  that of Bec-Helluin, built for eighty inmates, was reduced to nineteen ;  while the Couvent des Deux Amants contained but the prior and one monk.  Discipline was everywhere greatly relaxed, and many houses had acquired a most discreditable reputation.  The ecclesiastical prisons of Paris were said to be worse than the Bastille, and it was rumoured that dozens of victims languished in their “ in pace ” cells.  The decision of the Assembly not to recognise monastic vows as binding on man or woman, “ because they were another term for civic suicide,” was the means of revealing that almost every convent contained unwilling, restless inmates.  A decree was promulgated throughout France allowing all monks and nuns other than those engaged in nursing the sick or instructing the young, to make a declaration before the appointed civil authority, and on quitting their special habit to receive a pension.  In one monastery of two hundred and seventy-four monks all but seventy-nine became citizens ;  in another, twenty-seven out of eighty-four reentered the world ;  in a large convent at Besangon nineteen women out of three hundred and fifty-eight desired to abjure their vows.[3]

No exact record of the number of religious in 1789 can be obtained.  It has been roughly estimated at 60,000, and is supposed numerically to have balanced the number of secular priests.  Equally uncertain is the value of the property of the Church at that date.  The ecclesiastical accounts, prepared at the beginning of the Revolution for the public records, do not probably give a true version of capital and income.  The annual value of the sequestered wealth of the Church has been approximately assessed at 180,000,000 livres, inclusive of tithes, but exclusive of alms and casual charity.

The Assembly encountered strenuous opposition in its endeavour to set in motion the secular administration of ecclesiastical funds.  The committee which had been appointed in August 1789 to inquire into methods of Church reform presented its report in April 1790.  The report dealt entirely with questions of discipline and with remedies for old and obvious abuses.  It was proposed, for instance, that there should be a redistribution of parishes and dioceses, corresponding to the new departmental divisions of France ;  that a table of priests and chapels necessary to serve the people should be drawn up with some reference to the population of the districts ;  that priests should be elected, not nominated ;  that their salaries and residences should be fixed ;  and that they should be under the supervision of municipal authorities.  The committee proved itself pathetically anxious to fall into no heresy, and Camus, the hero of the debate on the report, endeavoured to prove by synodal decrees of the fourth century the exact agreement of the new proposals for Church discipline with the letter of the New Testament.  Monsignor Méric, the biographer of M. Émery, speaks of the work of the diligent and timid committee as “ les délibérations haineuses . . . les arguties misérables de la plus mauvaise théologie . . . une violente attaque contre l’Église.”

At the end of May the report was adopted and, with a few corrections, became the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.  The King delayed appending his signature to the new measure as long as he dared, and on July 28, when he saw the limit of his resistance approaching, he wrote to warn the Pope of his approaching capitulation :  “ Votre Sainteté sent mieux que personne combien il importe de conserver les nœuds qui unissent la France au Saint-Siège.  Elle ne mettra pas en doute que l’intérêt le plus puissant de la religion, dans la situation présente des affaires, ne soit de prévenir une division funeste.”  On August 24 the King yielded to the pressure of the Constituent Assembly, and by his signature made the measure law.  Meanwhile the Pope, though retarding for many months his official declaration of opinion, privately recommended resistance to all the bishops of France, and instructed them to suffer all things rather than yield to the demands of the Civil Constitution.

Some reformers thought that Mirabeau and Talleyrand had moved too fast in making implacable enemies of all churchmen, and many men in France agreed with Abbé Maury and his friend, M. Émery, that the confiscation of Church property was criminal spoliation.  Many members of the Assembly had been earnestly opposed to the decrees confiscating the property of the Church and of religious orders, and it was obvious that the innovators would have to contend with wide-spread hostility.

In order to test the adherents of reform, the Assembly, after much argument, made it compulsory for all clergy to swear to support the new Constitution.  Very reluctantly the King was forced into signing this second edict.  Caricatures of the King with two faces were sold in the gutters of Paris :  one face said to a bishop, “ I will destroy the Constitution ”;  and the other said to a member of the Assembly, “ I will uphold the Constitution.”

Two days after Christmas the business of swearing fidelity to the new Act was begun in the Assembly.  Curé Grégoire, who later became a constitutional bishop, was the first to take the oath ;  and, speaking for himself and for the fifty-nine priests who accompanied him, and who included in their ranks Dom Gerle, he said :  “ Aprés le plus mur, le plus sérieux examen, nous déclarons ne rien apercevoir dans la Constitution Civile du Clergé qui puisse blesser les vérités saintes que nous devons croire et enseigner.”  It is interesting to note that Grégoire, unlike others, did not retract this opinion in dying, for, when pressed by a priest to renounce his earlier heresy, he said :  “ Jeune homme, ce n’est pas sans examen que j’ai prétê serment, ce n’est pas sans de sérieuses méditations au pied de la croix que j’ai accepté l’épiscopat.”  Talleyrand and Gobel, names sinister in Catholic annals, took the oath on December 28 and January 2 respectively.  On January 3 twenty-three curés, members of the Assembly, sealed their adherence to the new decree, and on the 4th, Barnave having moved that all ecclesiastical members of the Assembly be asked to conform, and that in the event of refusal they should be replaced by jurors, an appeal by name to the clerical deputies was made in alphabetical order.  M. de Bonnac, Bishop of Agen, was the first called.  He replied :  “ Messieurs, les sacrifices de la fortune me content pen ;  mais il en est un que je ne saurais faire, celui de votre estime et de ma foi ;  je serais trop sur de fondre l’une et l’autre, si je pretais le serment qu’on exige de moi.”[4]  “ After two bishops and three priests had refused the oath, and four had taken it, the President caused the nominal appeal to cease, and asked the ecclesiastics collectively whether there were any among them who would consent to be sworn.  All except the four mentioned refused, and Catholics speak with intense pride of the courage of their deputies on this occasion.  M. Émery called it “ the triumph day of the Church in France,” and wished to perpetuate its memory by an anniversary.  Mirabeau, who considered the motion the great tactical mistake it proved itself to be, moved, however, that the second part be adopted.  This was carried by a large majority.  Thus was persecution inaugurated against the Church, and the sacred principle of liberty denied by its apostles.

The second and third Sundays of the new year were the days appointed for the Government agents to exact the oath of fidelity from the parish priests of Paris.  It had been decided, in order not to dislocate the services of the Church, that non-jurors should continue to practise until replaced by jurors.  The agents visited many deserted churches from which the curés had disappeared ;  but at Saint-Sulpice they found twenty-six assenting priests, and at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois three.  The result of this test could not have been encouraging to the authorities, since but forty priests in all conformed.[5]  In the country the visits of the Government emissaries to administer the oath were met with varying results.  In the department of Doubs only four out of four hundred and ninety took the oath ;  in the diocese of Besançon nine hundred and seven gave in their allegiance to the Constitution ;  in the district of Valençiennes, four conformed and one hundred and twenty-six refused.[6]  Corsica became riotous at the new enactment, as did La Vendée.  The Assembly, which had not anticipated serious opposition to its scheme of Church administration, received the provincial reports with deep disappointment.  But it having been decided to pension all non-juring priests, the Government proceeded immediately to set in motion the elections that were to fill the vacancies created by their eviction.  Recruits were hastily collected from the ranks of lay brothers, beadles, and choristers, and were often ordained after a few weeks’ training.  Since but five bishops out of one hundred and twenty-one had accepted the Constitution, it was necessary to consecrate others.  Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, assisted by Gobel, Bishop of Lydda, and Miroudot, Bishop of Babylon, proceeded with the consecration of the priests elected to fill up the vacant bishoprics.  One of the seminarists of Saint-Sulpice, who attended the ceremony in L’Église de l’Oratoire, notes that Talleyrand followed the Roman Pontifical, omitting only the reading of the Bulls and the oath of fidelity to the Pope.  Gobel, who was elected as Metropolitan of Paris, was inducted into his see on Wednesday, March 30 ;  and the new curés, who were nicknamed “ juraciers,” were installed on Passion Sunday, April 3.  In the later spring of 1791 arrived the long-delayed decision of the Pope on the Civil Constitution, embodied in two encyclicals.  The Papal Internuncio, Salamon, who kept interesting memoirs of his experiences, delivered both encyclicals secretly to the Metropolitans of France.  The earlier brief criticised the consecration of the new bishops by Talleyrand as having excluded the oath of loyalty to the Pope, the examination of the elected, and the professions of faith.  It therefore declared all such elections and consecrations null.  The later brief was publicly burnt in the Place Royale, and soon afterwards an effigy of Pius VI., “ l’ogre du Tibre,” as it was nicknamed, dressed in full canonicals and holding the two briefs in its hand, its head encircled by a band bearing the word “ Feudalism,” and its body by another bearing the words “ Civil War,” was the centre of a big bonfire.  Before burning the effigy, the promoters of the spectacle removed the cross and the ring from the figure as being “ symbols worthy of all honour.”

Easter, 1791, was a day of trial for the faithful ;  though the King had endorsed and officially approved the State Church, he was prevented by his conscience from really participating in its services.  Since his confessor had taken the oath he went privately to a Jesuit for his confession, and received communion from Cardinal Montmorency in the chapel of the Tuileries.  Paris was in an uproar when it heard of this breach of the Constitution, and a notice was posted by the clubs to the following effect :

“ La societe, sur la denonciation a elle faite que le premier fonctionnaire public de la nation permet que des prttres refractaires se retirent dans sa maison et y exercent publiquement, au scandale des Français et de la loi, des fonctions publiques qui sont interdites par elle ; qu’il a meme re~u aujourd’hui la communion pascale et entendu la messe d’un des pretres refractaires, elle denonce aux representants de la nation ce premier sujet de la loi, comme refractaire aux lois constitution nelles.”

Many juring priests, on learning their condemnation by the Pope, retracted their oath and made their peace with the orthodox clergy.  The clubs urged that strong measures should be enforced against refractories, but in spite of their protests the Constituent Assembly throughout its session endeavoured to realise the ideal of tolerance, and solemnly persevered in its attempt to reconcile opposites by establishing a dominant Church while adhering to the spirit of the clause on religious liberty in the Declaration of Rights.  It decreed that the freedom of non-jurors should be respected, and that they should have such churches for their use as were not already appropriated by the State.  At the same time it encouraged the Constitutional Church to give examples of its efficiency.  A band of children who had received their first communion at the hand of Gobel, the new Metropolitan, were paraded through Paris and received by the Assembly as the first-fruits of the State Church.  Further to promote and popularise the ideal of tolerance, the Assembly organised a public funeral at the Pantheon in honour of the Apostle of Tolerance—Voltaire.  He had been buried at a country abbey thirteen years earlier, after a service had been held over his body in the Masonic Lodge of the Nine Sisters at Paris, and it was thought fitting that he should be re-interred in the Temple of the Nation.  Triumphal arches, levelled roads, and interested crowds awaited the cortege.  Women touched the hearse with kerchiefs and kept them long afterwards as relics.  Arrived on the site of the old Bastille, where Voltaire himself had suffered several periods of detention, the coffin rested for the night in a grove of roses, myrtles and laurels, in the midst of which the old stones of the prison walls were disposed as rocks.  The next morning representatives of the sections, clubs, and municipality of Paris came in bands to escort the ashes to their final resting-place.

The efforts, however, of the Constituent Assembly towards actualising religious toleration were doomed to failure ;  fanatical passions had been aroused which no Government could control.  The outcome of the Assembly’s ecclesiastical policy had been to consolidate the clergy and the faithful into a determined opposition to reform.  The private chapels of hospitals and convents became the meeting-places of conspirators, and the whole orthodox Church was leagued against all plans of reorganisation.  Much bitter feeling was engendered in the breasts of the departmental officials, and France lapsed automatically into the state of sporadic civil war which culminated in the rising in La Vendée.  Exasperated by this resistance, the Government cancelled the decree adjudicating pensions to non-conformists, and during the last months of the Constituent Assembly’s session persecutions, unsanctioned by its decrees, became the common practice.  Non-conformists were driven to celebrate their rites in barns and private houses and were not allowed openly to administer any of the sacraments.  Fights over the bodies of the dead took place, and often, in spite of the protests of relations, corpses were torn out of coffins to be buried by conformist clergy.  According to the sympathies of the district, one party or the other was violently championed ;  a juror was shot in the pulpit of one church and a non-juror hanged to the chancel lamp of another.  To avoid death, priests emigrated in thousands.  Grégoire says that by 1792, 18,000 had fled, and after that date quite as many more followed them.  About 4000 took refuge in England, 700 of whom were lodged by Government at Winchester.  Many delightful stories of the generosity of the English to the penniless priests are told by Grégoire in his “ Mémoirs.”

When the summer was over, the Constituent Assembly, while prohibiting its members from seeking election to the new body, transmitted its powers to the Legislative Assembly, together with a number of ecclesiastical Gordian knots, which the new Government, with Alexandrian promptness, proceeded to sever.  The Legislative Assembly as a whole was hostile to the Church.  The brilliant deputies from the Gironde, as well as the men of the Mountain, were non-Christian, and many of the younger members had been gathered from administrative posts in the departments, where they had learnt to regard the Church as the chief enemy of the Revolution.  They knew that feeling against the Civil Constitution was being particularly fomented in country districts by two religious orders, which had not come under the ban of the Constituent Assembly, the missionaries of Saint Laurent, who were peculiarly active in counselling opposition to the new Church, and the Sœurs de la Sagesse, who, though useful as nurses, were said to inculcate seditious teaching against the Government.  Many priests, according to an official report from Meaux,[7] told women that it was better to strangle their babies at birth than to let them be baptized by a “ juracier.”  The Bishop of Langres exhorted the priests in his diocese to hold meetings secretly in which they should explain to the faithful the horror in which conformists should be held.  Some “ intrus ” country clergy begged to be allowed to live in towns and make expeditions to their parishes, since the agriculturists were so hostile to them.

Besides legalising priestly marriage in the constitutional Church, a question much debated in the Constituent Assembly, the new Government passed a very important measure, enforcing the civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a reform which had been made law in England under the Commonwealth.  By this decree, it was demonstrated to all that the approval of the Church was not necessary to the foundation of families, as it had been in centuries past, when Huguenots had no existence in the eyes of the law.  By this measure the phantoms of old indignities and injustices were laid for ever.

In spite of the fact that the Civil Constitution had proved a failure, the Legislative Assembly did not renounce the hope of making it a success.  Many people thought this hope futile.  André Chenier, who was eager to separate Church and State completely, expressed his views in the “ Moniteur.”  Ramond, in the Assembly, proposed that all cults should be subsidised by the State, the plan afterwards adopted by Napoleon, but the Assembly, determined to make one more effort to conciliate the clergy and strengthen the State Church, listened to none of these suggestions.  By altering the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution into a promise to support “ les rapports civils et les règles extérieures du culte catholique en France,” and by ordaining that bishops and priests were no longer to be called public functionaries, a bid was made for fresh adherents.  All the clergy who refused the revised oath were to be charged with revolt, and made liable to punishment.  According to “ Les Arinales Catholiques,” many non juring clergy thought it only right that they should plight themselves to nation, law, and king, and saw in it a great difference from the old oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, though, as a matter of fact, the verbal alteration made no difference to the intention of the pledge, which was designed to attract the support of Catholics to a schismatic Constitution.  Many celebrated congregations, however, accepted it without demur, amongst them those of Saint-Lazare, l’Oratoire, Saint-Sulpice, and La Doctrine Chrétienne, as well as nearly all the unemigrated clergy of the capital.  After long meditation, M. Émery advised those who consulted him to take it ;  he thought it lawful and purely civil, and moreover he was anxious to save further priests from banishment.

In making non-conformists legally punishable the Legislative Assembly were countenancing a promiscuous persecution which they were unable to regulate.  A list of non-jurors was made out in Paris, and through the agency of the Jacobin party they were subjected to every kind of indignity.  Convents were entered by force ;  that of the Dominican nuns was raided, and when the superior of the school of S. Charles refused to admit a juring priest to its chapel roughs were employed to force the door and occupy the convent till the discomfited nuns had fled.  Men in cassocks were insulted in the streets, and nuns flogged by the women of the Halles.  The comic papers were filled with representations of these indecent adventurings.

It was agreed during the winter that all religious bodies engaged in teaching and nursing should be suppressed ;  and Sisters of Charity were discussed as if they were vermin to be exterminated.  Roland, who became Minister of the Interior in 1792, had to execute the decision of the Assembly.  He was known as a “ pretrophobe,” and as such his accession to power was celebrated by his Jacobin supporters at Lyons by a scandalous invasion of oratories and convents.  The suppression of educational communities included among many others the Sorbonne, which it is not uninteresting to note was dissolved just thirty years after it had condemned “ Emile.”  It was found impossible to suppress the nursing orders altogether, but their “ dangerous ” activities were curtailed by submitting them to civil direction.  Of the opposition and violent reprisals provoked by the execution of these decrees Roland rendered an account in the Legislative Assembly, endeavouring to justify local and illegal persecutions by saying of monks and nuns :  “ Tant qu’on laissera une libre carriere a leurs trames perfides, jamais la tranquillite publique ne se retablira : l’experience, que est plus forte que tous les raisonnements, le prouve avec evidence. . . .”  He acknowledged that forty-two departments had taken action in ways neither prescribed nor authorised by the Constitution.  He approved of a decree passed by the Assembly for the immediate deportation of priests as a “ measure of public safety.”[8]  By this law non-conformists were penalised in one clause on being denounced by twenty citizens of the same “ canton,” while in another they were made liable to banishment if one or more active citizen of the department could prove that they had excited trouble by some exterior act.  The King, in spite of Roland’s insistence, exercised his privilege of vetoing a measure which it was popularly supposed would rid the country of 50,000 priests, but he could not stem the flowing tide of feeling against the reactionaries.

On June 7 the Fête Dieu processions took place.  During and non-juring priests paraded in the rain and mud ;  the juring processions were escorted by State functionaries, though when a downpour came on they could not get shelter, even for the Host, at a convent which they attempted to enter.  The previous year the Constituent Assembly had assisted in the procession, and this year the Legislative Assembly suspended its sitting, but did not attend officially.  On June 20 the people, furious at the way M. Veto, as they called the King, had used his remainder of authority, invaded the Tuileries and crowned him with the red cap of liberty.  Not two months later the people, impatient of the last shred of privilege, stormed the Tuileries in a fiercer mood and encountered the brave Swiss guards, while M. Veto himself took refuge in the stenographer’s box in the Assembly.  The mob soon pushed matters to extremities, and when the Commune of Paris seized the executive power all the vetoed measures were suddenly declared law.  Church bells were melted for cannon, and empty convents were turned into factories and workshops.  Many priests were imprisoned, and several hundred at once banished.  By the end of August, Tallien, member of the Commune, was able to announce to the Legislative Assembly that organised massacres were about to take place in the prisons.  On the evening of the first day of the September massacres, Fouché asserted from the tribune that two hundred priests lay dead at Les Carmes.

The behaviour of the discredited and hunted priests was characterised by dignity and courage.  Some met death praying in the garden of their prison ;  others took refuge in its chapel, and their blood spattered the walls of that consecrated place.  When all was over the crowd was admitted to the slaughter-house.

The Papal Internuncio, Salamon, who was arrested at the time, wrote an account of those September days.  Imprisoned in an old granary with eighty others, he lamented the dirt and stench of the place of his detention more than the fact of his incarceration, and prided himself on the fact that his neat lay clothes and powdered hair contrasted favourably with the unwashed and unshaven appearance of the priests among whom he was suddenly thrown.  With sixty-two out of the eighty prisoners he was transported from the granary to the Abbaye ;  the eighteen left behind were under orders to rejoin Salamon and his contingent on the next day, but the delay in their case proved fatal, since all but one of them were assassinated in their carriages on the road to the Abbaye.  The dreary convent hall, in which their forerunners were enclosed, contained neither seat nor bed ;  their misery was mocked by a jeering gaoler who announced to them the massacre of the priests at Les Carmes.  His auditors, realising their immediate peril, began to recite the litanies for the dying and the prayers for those in the last agony.  As the howling mob approached, Salamon, as if winged by terror, escaped up the wall through the window into a courtyard.  There he met a man with hands dyed in blood, to whom he protested his innocence of any crime against the country.  Conducted by this chance acquaintance to the court, with shaking knees he watched his recent companions all being hacked to death.  More determined than ever by this spectacle to save his own life, he waited during the all-night tribunal and, by swearing himself a lawyer and clerk of the Parliament and praising the patriots, he escaped immediate death, and in the early morning was thrown into a small prison.  Eventually released, he escaped to the Bois de Boulogne, where he lived for months in hiding.  Imprisoned again under the Directoire, he again escaped and lived to enjoy many peaceful years.  “ Mon Martyre,” as he names the record of his experiences, presents a vivid picture of the Terror.

The National Convention succeeded the Legislative Assembly in October 1792, and together with the newly elected Commune, inaugurated a definitely anti-Christian campaign.  The Convention was too much interested in serious reforms to sympathise with the fate of priests or King.  Absorbed in the problems of secular education ;  laying the basis of the new civil code ;  reforming weights and measures ;  founding museums ;  reorganising the army ;  and reforming the management of hospitals, it remained indifferent as to the disposal of the remnants of feudality.  The death of the King took place without creating any disturbance ;  the people seemed as indifferent to his fate as the Government.

According to Monsignor Méric, a good many of the young priests of Saint-Sulpice remained in Paris, to be of what service they could to the faithful.  M. Émery, their superior, was incarcerated in that “ vestibule of death,” the Conciergerie, but he was able to remain in communication with his spiritual sons who worked as turners, gardeners or labourers, and managed to inform them from his prison which tumbrils contained penitents and how they were to be recognised.  Then, at a place agreed, sometimes in front of a house, sometimes at the scaffold, the condemned person recollected himself, made an act of contrition, and received from the priest hidden in the crowd a last absolution.  In the intervals of his ghostly labours M. Émery sat quietly in the public gaol, his ears stopped with wax, reading Thomas of Aquin’s “ Summa.”  He was quite composed, though he believed his to be the common fate of waiting for the hasty summons before the tribunal, the hurried interrogation, the slow drive over the cobbled streets, the vision of a crowd of many faces, and the quick, merciful blade.  But Robespierre knew this priest’s value too well to let him die ;  he said that since M. Émery had so much power in reconciling his flock to death, it were better to keep him in gaol, that lamentation and hysteria might cease.

The Duchess de Noailles-Mouchy wrote to her daughters saying Emery was their good angel ;  and Marie Antoinette was comforted during the last days of her long imprisonment by thinking that he was silently praying for her in a cell adjacent to her own.  On the morning fixed for her execution she was visited by a constitutional priest, whose ministrations she declined, but who was ordered to accompany her to the scaffold.  Coincidentally with her death, the dust of elder generations of French kings was scattered to the winds, for the tombs of St. Denys were rifled by the people, who thus proclaimed that the divinity which hedges Kings was dead in France.

The year 1793, which both the Queen and M. Émery spent in gaol, was marked by growing hostility to priests.  Revolutionary tribunals with powers of life and death were nominated in Paris and the provinces.  On March 18, 1793, the Convention decreed death in twenty-four hours to all priests already condemned to deportation, and for all non-jurors returning to or remaining in France.  As a consequence, priests were driven on to boats at seaport towns and there left, except for the ministrations of the charitable, to die of starvation.  Scores perished in the Noyades of Nantes.  The nuns of Compiègne went, like the Girondins, singing to the scaffold.  Many priests were chained to the galleys, and were not allowed to kneel or pray ;  some were scourged until they became imbeciles ;  others were neglected until gangrene and scurvy devoured them.

A famous scene took place in the Assembly when Gobel, his vicars, and several curés declared that they wished to shake off the character that had been conferred on them by superstition.  Mad applause greeted Gobel’s surrender of cross and ring, and adoption of the red cap of liberty.  After the retractations came a display of patriotic offerings.  Both into the Convention and the Commune a stream of sacred vessels, sacerdotal ornaments and embroidered vestments flowed.  The vestments of “ unutterable Dubois ” caparisoned an ass, and his mitre was bound upon its ears.  The “ spoils of superstition ” were handed over to a specially appointed committee to deal with, and all the actors in this scene drank from a chalice the wine of brotherly love.

As time went on a kind of ruthlessness laid hold of good Republicans.  From talking of Lycurgus, and dreaming of the stern days of old, they became in character and action inflexible and without pity.  Women went proudly and unshriven to the scaffold.  Men emulated Scævola and Cato.  Adam Lux called Charlotte Corday greater than Brutus, and Madame Roland sustained herself in “ that pasture of great souls,” the “ Lives ” of Plutarch.  Abbé Barthélemy’s “ Voyage d’Anacharsis ” lay on every table, and many men changed their Christian appellations for the classic nomenclature of Greece and Rome.  Austerity in dress and furniture became the outer sign of the new ideals.  Hair was left unpowdered, satin coats were replaced by fustian wear.  Elaborate baroque furniture disappeared from houses to permit the classic couch and hanging lamp to appear.  The intellectuals were naturally out of sympathy with Catholicism, since their gaze was fixed on Rome, not Calvary.  Mysticism was ruled out of life, which henceforth was to run on clear, definite, virtuous lines.  The Convention became more and more audaciously philosophic, and, dominated by the Hébertists, it abolished the Christian era and opened the door to classic experiments.  Anacharsis Clootz developed his theories on the divinity of the human race at the bar of the tribune, and the hierophant, Quintus Aucler, proved to his own satisfaction that the worship of Jesus was a degenerate form of paganism.  Romme’s proposal of naming the months of the new calendar after ideas, such as justice and Equality, was seriously considered, but later seasonal names, suggested by Fabré d’Églantine, were adopted.  On August 10, at a national feast in Paris, the statue of Nature was honoured by libations.  All over the provinces secular cults were honoured, and the communes consecrated temples to Reason in every considerable town.  On the motion of David, Marat’s remains were transported to the Pantheon, and men invoked “ the sacred heart of Marat.”  At Nevers, Fouché said that he had been charged by the Convention “ to substitute for superstitious and hypocritical cults, to which people still unhappily cling, that of the Republic and national morality.”  He began to laicise the cemeteries by substituting a statue of Sleep for the cross, and by writing up over the gates “ Death is an eternal sleep ”—the phrase used in the lodges by the illuminists to describe that state to which we all must pass.  Fouché also arranged that a commissary in a red cap should accompany the funerals of good Republicans, bearing an urn with this inscription :  “ L’homme juste ne meurt jamais.  Il vit dans la mémoire de ses concitoyens.”

The Commune, to use the language of the day, had reached “ le sommet de son capitole ”;  but, in spite of its activity, priests still continued to administer the sacraments furtively and secretly to reserve the Host.

After the fall of the Girondins, Hébertists, and Dantonists, Couthon, who played Baptist to Robespierre’s Messiah, announced yet another civil religion—that of the Supreme Being.  Its scheme purported to embody the Deism of the “ Contrat Social,” and though for a time it superseded the cult of Reason, it speedily proved the destruction of its inventor, and the man whom Heine called the bloody hand of Rousseau went to the scaffold in the same blue Werther costume in which he had played pontiff at the inaugural festival of his new religion six weeks before.  At his death came the epoch of real separation between Church and State.

Cambon, who had previously[9] proposed that each sect should defray its own expenses, moved,[10] as president of the Finance Committee, “ that the Republic should pay neither salaries nor the outgoings of any sect.”  Thus, owing to financial exigencies, and, as it were, to accident, the separation of Church and State was accomplished after five years’ agitation.  Though the Budget of Public Worship was abolished, liberty of creeds was not proclaimed, and consequently persecution lingered on, like an evil habit, which could not be at once broken with.

The world had already seen the fall of monarchies and the impeachment of kings, but it had never heard the decree :  “ La nation ne salarie aucun culte ”—a decree which De Maistre quoted as evidence of the Satanic character of the Revolution, and which, embodied in the Constitution of the year III., seemed sufficient to deliver the Directorate from all religious difficulties.  An epoch of comparative tranquillity was heralded by the clause of separation, and though old laws against refractories and emigrants were not annulled, they for the time being remained in abeyance.  Interests less domestic claimed the attention of the legislators, and it is said that up till the Fructidorian “ coup d’état ”[11] only twenty priests suffered death under the Directorate.[12]  At Easter, 1796, the churches were crowded ;  priests had returned in considerable numbers, piety declared itself with boldness, and the Pope recommended the faithful to submit to the civil power if there were no longer any question of the Civil Constitution.  By midsummer it was calculated that 38,000 parishes had resumed their old religion.

Fresh complications arose with the new elections to the Directorate and Legislative Body in the spring of 1797.  Two hundred and sixteen members retired, most of whom offered themselves for re-election ;  but only eleven of their number were returned, which upset the balance of power, and gave the Constitutionalists a majority in the Assembly of the Ancients and of the Five Hundred.  The Directors, who were Conventionalists, found themselves face to face with a hostile and, as they feared, a royalist legislative ;  so they planned a “ coup d’état ” to bring themselves back into power.  Assured from Italy of the sympathetic support of Bonaparte, they, with the assistance of troops under General Augereau, intimidated both Houses into annulling the recent elections and empowering the Directors to nominate men to the vacancies so created.  The assumption of dictatorship by such men as Larévellière-Lepeaux, Rewbell, and Barras, was the prelude to unlimited persecution.  In order to destroy what they considered the hideous dangers to the State of royalism and clericalism, they resorted to the summary methods of the Terror ;  and the treatment of the displaced deputies foreshadowed the kind of justice that was to be meted out to priests—that of the “ guillotine sèche.”  Fifty-three deputies were condemned to transportation for being associated in royalist conspiracies.  The majority escaped, but six members of the Ancients, five of the Five Hundred, and six other men were taken from the Temple and driven for thirteen days across France in four iron cages to Rochefort, exposed like wild beasts to the curiosity of the people.  Thence they were shipped on a seven weeks’ voyage to Cayenne, and there deposited to encamp by the banks of the Conamana, where the observance of Quintidi and Décadi was enforced on them.

Before Sir Edward Pellew and other English sea captains had made it unsafe to transport priests to over-sea prisons, several horrible journeys had been made, of which records are left.  On one journey seven priests died of suffocation, and when after a fifty-four days’ voyage port was sighted, the ships were left anchored off the shore for days in the tropic sun while the crew went holiday-making on shore.  On land they were tortured by insects, badly fed, and a prey to fever, and their lives by the banks of an unhealthy river were more terrible than those of their predecessors in the Conciergerie.  Inspired by the Directors, the “ Moniteur ” made out their place of detention as an earthly paradise.[13]  “ C’est dans les lieux les plus sains et les plus fertiles, que les deportés ont été placés.  Ils habitent près la rivière Conamana.”

The Directorate was most thorough in its attempt to suppress Catholic practices ;  it made the observance of Décadi and Quintidi compulsory, and in two years authorised over 8000 arrests for deportation, but a relatively small number of these sentences were put into execution.  It forced men to work on Sundays, and tried to prohibit the sale of fish on Fridays.  Convinced that only that is thoroughly destroyed which is replaced, they encouraged Theophilanthropy.  The Minister of the Interior distributed a “ Manuel des Theophilanthropes ” in the departments, and made State grants to the society.  The Theophilantbropists were an enlightened body, excluding no religion, and only meeting to promote morality.  Readings and homilies on tolerance, truth, filial piety, and probity in commerce were held by them, and in the centre of their temple stood an altar on which fruit and flowers were laid according to season, while maxims of virtue decorated their walls.  Their cult had been founded by an English Deist, David Williams, in 1766, and in their ranks in France were numbered Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, M.J. Chenier, the painter David, and other notable people.  Up till the eighteenth Fructidor they had existed, as it were, in theory ;  but after that date they existed in active practice.  Noble in idea and sentiment, their worship and ceremonial soon degenerated with use into a ribald travesty of itself.  The report of an official shows to what baseness secular religion could descend.

“ Au temple de la Paix (2) Xme arrondissement, pendant la celebration des mariages, il y regnait un bruit confus qui rendait inutile toute lecture ou discours adresses au peuple.  L’orchestre surtout contribuait au desordre par un choix d’aires propres a faire rire.  Un noir se maria avec une blanche.  On executa Pair d’Azemia.

L’ivoire avec l’ebhe Fait de jolis bijoux.

Aussitôt le temple retentit des cris de I Bis’ et de Bravo’ comme une salle de comedie.  Une vieille femme epousa un homme plus jeune qu’elle ; la musique joua cet air du ’ Prisonnier.’

Vieille femme, jeune mari, Feront toujours mauvais menage.

Les bruyantes acclamations redoublerent, que la confusion des nouveaux epoux.”[14]

“ Fêtes Décadaires ” were instituted, and the Commune of Paris arranged that churches already restored to Catholicism should be at the disposal of the State for the whole morning on the Décadi, and that on these occasions all emblems of the Christian faith were to be veiled.  It was decided that fifteen churches should be rebaptized as “ temples décadaires.”  Saint-Roch, for example, became the Temple du Génie, because it held the tomb of Corneille ;  Saint-Eustache, because it was near Les Halles, was the Temple de l’Agriculture ;  Saint-Sulpice, which became the Temple de la Victoire, was, owing to its dedication, the scene of the famous banquet on the evening of Brumaire.

With Brumaire came a great uplifting of hearts, for Bonaparte, the child of the Revolution, was believed to be the champion of true liberty.  All laws of deportation were repealed, and it was permitted to open churches on other feasts than the Décadi.  Though the Republican Kalendar was still the legal kalendar, the Gregorian came once more into use, and the observance of Décadi became gradually restricted to the official world.  Numbers of shops dared to close on Sundays.  Some closed both on Décadi and Sunday to please all customers.

Six churches in Paris, including Notre-Dame and Saint Sulpice, were served by Constitutionals, and the rest by non-conformists.  The scene of the massacres, l’Église des Carmes, was much frequented, and so was Saint-Roch, where Madame Récamier collected the alms.  Clergy slowly resumed their distinguishing habit, and superiors like M. Émery began to re-assemble their seminarists.  It was calculated that there were about 15,000,000 professing Catholics in France, 17,000,000 Free-thinkers, and 3,000,000 Protestants, Jews and Theophilanthropists, all of whom were at last free to believe what they pleased.  Everything seemed to be tending towards a full realisation of liberty of worship and liberty of conscience, and what Robespierre had called “ the alliance between sceptre and censer ” seemed for ever done away.  For two years men thought that the day of freedom had in truth dawned.  Catholicism, since it was separated from the State, would grow and rule by spiritual, not political power.  Protestantism was allowed to flourish and spread its spirit of self-reliance and inquiry.  Jews were recognised as citizens, and black men as voters.  Men seemed to be entering at length the promised land of liberty and love.

The Concordat dispelled such illusions.  The Catholic Church, in spite of its despoilment, had still a great advantage over other religions, for when all other forms of society were in process of solution it remained rigid and unchanged in composition, and though its elements were scattered over the face of the earth they were ready to fly back like steel filings to the magnet at the commanding word.  Napoleon determined to make her advantage his own ;  but though he wished her to retain her venerable character in the eyes of the world, he intended himself to be the master mind which directed her policy.  The world knows how in this matter he, in overestimating the power which the Organic Articles would confer upon the State, made what he afterwards was heard to call the mistake of his administration.  Anxious to take no false step in the great negotiation, he proceeded as a preliminary measure to acquaint himself with the history of the relationship of the Gallican Church to Rome.  He caused the works of Bossuet, that great upholder of French liberties, to be translated from the Latin, and had himself carefully instructed in their purport and tendency.  Then, after much deliberation, the new Pact was drawn up.  Many difficulties had to be overcome, since the old Civil Constitution of 1790, with the democratic element eliminated, was to be the basis of the new Concordat.  The Pope was to be coerced into acknowledging the validity of the Constitutional orders ;  he was to promise sanction to future nominations to bishoprics, and to a redistribution of dioceses and parishes ;  he was to confirm the Catholic Church in France, not as the only State religion, but as one of the several subsidised creeds ;  and he was to sanction the Church disendowment of 1791.  It required all Napoleon’s ingenuity and firmness to push the matter through.  Again and again it appeared as if negotiations would be broken off, but after endless discussion and wrangling Consalvi and Joseph Bonaparte signed the Concordat on July 15, 1801.  In conformity with his centralised system of government, Napoleon arranged that all bishops were to be nominated by the First Consul and not elected as had been the scheme in the Civil Constitution ;  and that all were personally to swear allegiance to the State in the person of the First Consul.  It had been arranged that on the redistribution of dioceses all bishops should resign their sees, and Napoleon insisted on nominating at least ten members of the new episcopate from among Constitutional priests.  In spite of the signature of the Concordat, one difficulty remained to be overcome—that of persuading the Pope and his advisers to acknowledge Constitutional orders.  It was not till near Easter, 1802, when Napoleon’s patience was almost exhausted, that a “ via media ” was discovered which saved the honour of both parties.  The Constitutionals refused to retract in public, and the Pope could not make terms with them unless they did retract.  It was arranged, therefore, that if they would abjure their errors privately before two witnesses they would be regarded as within the true fold once again.  Bernier undertook to see to this matter, and though he only had one day in which to accomplish the work he certified that all the Constitutionals had retracted.  D’Haussonville denies the alleged retractation, and avers that the certificate was drawn up so that the peace might be concluded, and that it was a mere form in which no party, not even the Roman Legate, was deceived.  All Catholics did not admire Papal tactics, and a rhyme was bandied about in Italy and France that revealed popular opinion :

Pio [VI.], per conservar la fede, Perde la sede. Pio [VIL], per conservar la sede, Perde la fede.

The Concordat left the civil power master of the functionary clergy, for they were salaried and bound to conform to any edicts that might at any time be deemed necessary for the greater tranquillity of the State.  The famous “ Organic Articles ” determined that the Holy Father should not send an address to the faithful without its being countersigned by Government ;  that no council or diocesan synod could be held without Government sanction ;  that bishops should not be allowed to leave their dioceses without the consent of the First Consul ;  that seminarists should be taught the declaration of 1682 ;  and that the secular clergy should be kept in good order.

The attitude of the Church to Bonaparte can only be called abject.  He was honoured in the most fulsome way by the clergy, and received such homage in entering a church that he felt as if he were in his own palace.  His famous Catechism was approved at Rome and ordered to be used in all dioceses.  The Papal Legate, in his circular to the clergy, instituted a “ fête de Napoleon ” for August 15, for had the great ruler not imitated Cyrus and Darius in restoring the house of God ?  The priests at one church porch received him, sing ing “ Ecce mitto angelum meum, qui præ parabit viam meam.”  A review of the second edition of Chateaubriand’s “ Genie du Christianisme,” which was dedicated to the restorer of the Church, appeared by consular command on Easter morning.

As the “ Te Deum ” that closed the Revolution reverberated through the aisles of Notre-Dame, thoughts of the many valiant men who, since the singing of the “ Veni Creator ” at Versailles, had died to destroy what Napoleon seemed about to rebuild, surged through the minds of the onlookers.

Grégoire summed up the situation in a few contemptuous words :

“ Tous les motifs de soumission, toutes les preuves que vous alleguez en faveur du Concordat sont precisement celles dont nous nous servimes pour etablir qu’il fallait accepter la Constitution civile. . . . Vous avez mis l’Europe en feu, attise la guerre exterieure et interieure, cause des massacres, des persecutions, pour faire dix ans plus tard ce que nous fimes dix ans plus tot.”[15]

Thirteen years had passed, and it seemed to contemporaries as though religious legislation had revolved in a vicious circle, only to end where it began.  Men marvelled that all the persecution, pillage, and debate of those unutterable years had effected so small a change in ideas and so unnoticeable an effect in national habits.  Now, through the telescope of a century, it is possible to see that the experimental enactments of those days did embody the earnest of progress and reformation.  Though the early revolutionaries suffered blame from the philosophers for their timidity, and from the clerics for their boldness, no one praises them for the moderation with which they approached questions of religious reform.  The abolition of tithes was a measure forced on them by the people ;  out of the debate on this measure grew the scheme for disendowment ;  and since the property of the Church was to be administered by the State, out of disendowment grew the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the subsidiary question of the suppression of the religious orders.  Disendowment, in the first instance, was not intended to be the “ criminal spoliation ” which clerical writers have called it ;  rather was it the only avenue of administrative reform open to the Assembly.  Though it was a step precipitated and, unfortunately, palliated by financial exigencies, it was not caused by them, and if the Civil Constitution had proved a working success and all the charities and proposed pensions had been administered by the Government, the profits of the State would have been small, which seems to prove that the promoters of the scheme were not entirely actuated, as has been too often suggested, by motives of impiety and greed.  When the clergy and the faithful had been consolidated by the application of the Civil Constitution into an obdurate opposition, persecution, spoliation, and crime of all kinds embittered the estrangement of Catholics and revolutionaries, and brought about, after five years of internecine strife, the abolition of the Budget of Public Worship.  From the moment that the nation decided to subsidise no creed, Catholicism was theoretically free to disseminate itself once more throughout the land, and, except for the terrible Fructidorian persecution of 1797, was able slowly and quietly to resume its sway over the towns and villages of France.  Churches were cleared of rubble ;  altars were reconsecrated ;  the hanging lamp was rekindled in ten thousand chancels, and the Holy Sacrifice was offered openly and without fear.  Though aspiration had lured France toward the future, custom had enchained her to the past, and the time of her complete emancipation was distantly postponed by Napoleon’s pact with the Pope.  The Liberals who attended the Feast of the Concordat feared that they were assisting at the rehabilitation of the evils of intolerance and tyranny.  To their descendants, who have lived to see that the empire of the Church over France was by the Revolution mortally enfeebled, it must remain an open question whether the great gains of religious liberty and tolerance have ever yet been won.




1. “ Le Mouvement Religieux à Paris,” Robinet.

2. “ Histoire de M. Émery,” p. 115.

3. Sciout, “ Constitution Civile du Clergé,” vol. i. p. 292.

4. “ Histoire de M. Émery,” p. 153.

5. “ Le Mouvement Religieux à Paris pendant la Révolution,” vol. i, p. 387.

6. Sciout, “ Constitution Civile du Clergé,” vol. ii, p. 93.

7. “ Le Mouvement Religieux à Paris pendant la Révolution,” vol. ii. p. 131.

8. May 27, 1792.

9. November 13, 1792.

10. September 18, 1794.

11. September 5, 1797.

12. July 15, 1796.

13. December 14, 1798.

14. “ Haumont au Ministre de l’intérieur,” II Ther. an VIII.  F.I.C., Series 25.

15. Champion, “ La Séparation de l’Église et de l’État en 1792,” p. 166.