James Andrew Corcoran.

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the demoralization of the nation by the destruction of all religious
belief and of all respect for the authority of the Crown.

In combination with this diffusion of irreligious and scurrilous
pamphlets the continually increasing influence exercised by the Free-
masons must be taken into account. Owing to their skillful policy
of enlisting in their ranks members of the aristocracy, to whom the
more subversive doctrines of the sect were not confided, and whose
social position might disarm the suspicions of the government, they
had multiplied their lodges throughout France and her colonies until

Entered accordllng to Act of Consress, in the year 1906, by P. J. Ryan, In
the Offlce of the Librarian of Con^rress, at Washington, D. C.

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in 1789 they amounted to 689, of which over 150 were in Paris, and
the number of persons enrolled was calculated at 500,000.^ At their
head since the end of 1773 was the lodge known as the Grand Orient
of Paris, the grand master of which was the Duke of Orleans. It
was formed by representatives of all the other lodges; it was sup-
ported by their contributions ; acted as arbiter in the disputes which
arose between them and issued every six months a fresh password
to its affiliated lodges. Not less important than the Grand Orient
were the Club de la Propagande, an association directed by Condorcet
and Sieyes, the object of which was to spread the principles of the
Revolution, and the Comite Regulateur* formed by a society known
as "Les Amis des Noirs" which, under the pretext of taking steps
for the abolition of Negro slavery, served as a rallying point for all
those who aimed at overthrowing the monarchy, and which reckoned
among its members many of the men who played a conspicuous part
in the stormy times which followed

The state of disorder into which the finances of the kingdom had
fallen gave the conspirators the opportunity which they sought The
annual deficit had been rising for many years, and when, in 1786, it
amounted at last to 120,000,000 of francs [24,000,000 of dollars],
and the Parliament of Paris refused to register any more edicts of
taxation or to assist the government to contract a loan, de Caloune,
the Minister of Finance, advised Louis XVI. to summon an Assembly
of Notables, an ancient French institution composed of the most
distinguished persons of the kingdom and intended to enlighten the
sovereign with its advice in times of danger or distress and diminish
his responsibility by sharing it The persons chosen for that purpose,

iBarruel, "Mdmoires pour servir k Thistoire du JacoblniBme," Londres,
1797-1798; Vol. IL, p. 427: "De ces Liopes reproduites partout, multlpll6es
dans les villas, r^pandues dans les bourg«, Jusque dans les vUla^res, le mfone
r6ffizne et les ordres du ComitA Central, pouvaient au mdme jour, au mftme
Instant, falre sortlr tous ces essalms d'adeptes . . . portant subltement
partout, tous k la fols, la terreue et le dlsastre; sachant d'avance les vie-
times k saorifler, les chAteauz IL bruler, les tdtes k couper pour le triomphe
d« I'dgalitd et de la Ubertd . . . paralysant tout k la fois, et la Justice
et la force publique; ddsorganisant tout, bouleversant tout; et pour
s'orsraniser eux-m6mes dans le nouvel empire, ne falsant que changer les
LfOges souterraines en Clubs de Jaooblns, les adeptes en Munidpes;
montrant enfin la Revolution irresistible, consommee, lrr§i>arable, dte
rinstant o<i elle parai trait, et avant m6me qu'on or edt pense & I'arreter."

SBarruel, "Mdmoires pour servir k Thistoire du Jacobinisme," Ijondres,
1797-1798, Vol. n., p. 460: "Le Club Rdfirulateur comptait au molns dds-lors
(en 1789) sur cinq cents mille Frftres, tous pleins d'ardeur pour la Revolu-
tion, rdpandus dans toutes les parties de la France, tous pr6ts k s'dlever au
premier signal d'lnsurrection, et par la violence d'une premiere impulsion,
capablto d'entrainer avec euz la plus grande partie du peuple. Lies
fiophistes dds-lors disalent asses hautement, qu'on ne triomphe pea aise-
ment de trois millions de bras."

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Pius VI. and the French Revolution. 603

to the number of 157, met at Versailles on February 22, 1787, but
the only result of their deliberations was to establish free trade in
com ; to abolish "la corvee/' or forced labor on the lands of the nobles
and to replace' de Caloune by Cardinal de Lomenie de Brienne. As
the resistance of the Parliament still continued, the King yielded to
the demands proceeding from all parts of France for the convoca-
tion of Les £tats GSneraux, or the States General, which had not
met since 1614, and meetings were at once held for the election of
1,200 representatives of the clerg)% the nobility and the "tiers-Stat,"
or the citizens, in which more than two millions of persons took part.
It is a remarkable fact that the Cahiers, or books of instruction drawn
up for the guidance of the Deputies, though demanding many re-
forms in the existing institutions, manifested in general the attach-
ment of the nation to the Catholic Church and to the family of

The £tats Geniraux were opened at Versailles on May 5, 1789,
by a speech from the King, in which he alluded to the sacrifices of
their ancient privileges which the clergy and the nobility were willing
to make for the welfare of their fellow-countrymen ; but when, on the
following day, the deliberations of the Deputies began, the Tiers-
£tat, which was equal in numbers to both the others, and in many
of the members of which there was already a spirit of hostility to the
Church and to the aristocracy, demanded that the three orders should
meet and vote together instead of separately, as had always been the
custom. Five Weeks were wasted in tedious negotiations on this
question, until the Tiers~£tat, acting under the guidance of Mirabeau
and of Sieyes, proclaimed itself the sole representative of the nation
under the title of UAssemblee Nationale Constituante, and after some
slight resistance on the part of the feeble and irresolute Louis XVI.,
the clergy and the nobility were allowed to join them, although such
were not the instructions which the Deputies had received from their

A dangerous state of discontent had long existed among the people
of Paris, caused chiefly by the high price of bread, but which the
Duke of Orleans and the faction which aspired to raise him to the
throne were accused of fomenting. The gardens of his palace, which
he had thrown open to the public, were every day the scene of tumult-
uous popular assemblies, where agitators, assured of impunity owing
to his protection, excited the people against the court and sought to
drive it to commit acts of violence. It broke out at last into open
rebellion. On July 13 the Monastery of St Lazare, founded by St.
Vincent de Paul, was attacked by the mob and plundered and its
library of 50,000 volumes destroyed. On the same day 20 pieces of
cannon and some thousands of muskets were carried off from the

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Hotel des Invalides. A National Guard was formed, each of the
sixty electoral divisions into which Paris was divided furnishing a
battalion, and on the following day the Bastille was taken and its
Governor and most of its defenders murdered

An extraordinary panic then seized the entire nation, which can
only be ascribed to the secret machinations of the network of revolu-
tionary lodges which covered all France. There appeared suddenly
on all the main roads of France messengers bearing the news that
bands of brigands were coming to destroy the crops and to plunder
the towns.* The people immediately flew to arms ; national guards
were formed and committees, which took the place of the local author-
ities, and the villagers in their mad terror attacked and burned many
of the castles of the nobles, the owners of which were in many cases
put to death with the utmost cruelty.

Instead of adopting efficacious means for the repression of these
disturbances, the Assembly spent its time in metaphysical discussions
about the rights of man and in sweeping away one after the other
the ancient institutions of France. In the celebrated sitting of the
night of the 4th of August, 1789, when most of these reforms
were enthusiastically adopted by acclamation and without dis-
cussion, the clergy and the nobles not only offered no opposi-
tion to the abolition of their privileges, but helped it by
their spontaneous sacrifices. It had then been proposed to
redeem the tithes, but on August 1 1 the Archbishop of Paris, speak-
ing in the name of all the clergy, voluntarily consented to their
abolition ; and in September the same prelate made the sacrifice, for
the good of the nation, of all the church plate except what was
necessary for the Divine service ; but this generosity met with little
gratitude from men whose sole aim was to ruin and, if possible, to
destroy the Church, for on October 10 Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun,
a prelate who had adopted the ideas of the philosophers, proposed
that the nation should take possession of all the property of the
Church and pay the members of the clergy pensions by way of com-
pensation. This suggestion was supported by Mirabeau, and after
a long and violent discussion the Assembly, which was surrounded
by bands of armed men for the purpose of intimidating those who
defended the cause of the Church, ratified it by a decree on Novem-
ber 2, and this was followed by another on December 19, which

s Francois Pagres, "Histolre Secrfete de la R6volution Francalse, depuis la
convocation des notables Jusqu'A ce Jour (Her Nov., 1796)/' A Paris, An V.
(1797), t. I., p. 171: "On bruit ir^n^ral se r6pand dans tout le rosraume ft la
fols, et avec la rapidity de Tficlalr, que les princes fusitifs se proposent
d'attaquer la France; on ajoute que des milUers de brigands vont arrlver
. . . qu'il n'y a pas un moment ft perdre pour se mettre en defense . . .
Suivant quelques-uns, ces bruits furent r^pandus par le conseil de Mira-
beau . . . D'autres attribuent cette Id6e ... ft la faction d'Orlfians.**

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Pius VL and the French Revolution, 605

ordered the immediate sale of church property to the amount of
400,000,000 of livres [80,000,000 of dollars].

But it was not enough to deprive the secular clergy of independence
and reduce them to the position of paid functionaries of a State
Church, as a preliminary to that total abolition of all religion which
the disciples of Voltaire aimed at, but could only hope to attain by
degrees; the existence of the monastic orders and their close con-
nection with Rome would have rendered such an institution impos-
sible, and their suppression was accordingly decided on February 13,
1790, when it was enacted that all orders and congregations of men
were thenceforth to cease to exist, and that the religious who wished
to return to the world should be freed from their vows. Certain
houses, however, were to be reserved for those who preferred to
remain in their order. The congregations employed in teaching or
in caring for the sick were to be provisionally spared, and the nuns
were still to be allowed to reside in their convents. It was in vain
that many of the Bishops, that the monastic orders and the Catholics
of almost every province protested against these decrees. No heed
was given to their remonstrances by an Assembly in which the hatred
of the Church predominated over every other sentiment, and which
took hardly any notice of the disturbances in the south of France,
where the exasperation caused by the seizure and the plunder of the
churches brought on a state of civil war, with the result that at
Nimes in June, 1790, over 300 Catholics were massacred by bands
of Protestants from the mountains of the Cevennes.

The Assembly then proceeded to introduce a measure which had
been drawn up by its ecclesiastical committee, most of the members *
of which were Jansenists and were very probably glad to have at
last the opportunity of abolishing the authority of the Pope in France
and establishing a schismatical church. In the early part of the
century the Jansenists had assisted the Voltairians to destroy the
Jesuits, and this was the last service they were destined to render
them before being swept away themselves by the Revolution.

This law was known as la Constitution Civile du Clerge, and it was
the cause of the most ruthless and sanguinary persecution which has
afflicted the Church since the days of the Roman Emperors. It began
by suppressing the 135 sees then existing in France, and enacted that
each of the newly created 83 departments should form a diocese,
and these were to be grouped in ten metropolitan arrondissements or
circuits. The boundaries of all the parishes were also to be recon-
structed, some being suppressed and other enlarged; and wherever
a portion of the diocese of a foreign Bishop extended across the
frontier into France, it was to be incorported with a French dioecese
and the authority of the foreign prelate rejected. All chapters of

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6o6 American Catholic Quarterly Review.

canons, chaplaincies, prebends were to be abolished ; tlie Bishop was
to be the parish priest of his cathedral ; the other priests of the same
church his curates, and they, along with the superiors and the
directors of the diocesan seminary, were to form a council, without
whose advice the Bishop could not exercise any jurisdiction. Both
the Bishops and the parish priests were to be elected by die people,
the former by the electors who were qualified to vote for the nomina-
tion of the administrators of the department, the latter by those who
voted for the choice of the administrators of the districts, and all of
whom might be Protestants, Jews or atheists.

The election was to take place on a Sunday ; in the principal church
of the capital of the department, if it was for a Bishop ; or of the
chief town of the district if it was for a parish priest, and after the
Parochial Mass, at which the electors were bound to assist. The
result of the elections was to be announced in the same church, also
on a Sunday, in presence of the people and of the clergy, by the
president of the electoral assembly, and to be followed by the celebra-
tion of Mass. The Bishop thus elected was to be consecrated by the
metropolitan of that arrondissement, or if he refused to do so, by the
senior Bishop ; and he was not to apply to the Sovereign Pontiff for
the confirmation of his election, but merely to write to him as to the
head of the Universal Church to inform him of the fact and as a
testimony of his desire to remain in communion with him. The
parish priests were to receive their canonical institution from their
Bishop, and if he refused it, they could apply to the civil court of their
district, which would decide the question. Before, however, either
the Bishop or the priests could exercise their functions they had to
swear to be faithful to the nation, the law and the King and to
uphold the constitution decreed by the Assembly and accepted by the
King. The law fixed also the salaries of the clergy, assigning 50,000
livres (10,000 dollars) to the Bishop of Paris and from 20,000 to
12,000 to the others, while the parish priests received from 6,000 to
1,200 in Paris and from 2400 to 700 in the country.

Pius VI. had until then kept silence lest any remonstrances on his
part should irritate the revolutionists and provoke them to commit
still greater crimes; but while this law was being discussed Louis
XVI., foreseeing the dangers with which it menaced the Church,
asked him whether, in view of the difficult situation in which he was
placed, he might not make some concessions to the will of the Assem-
bly and accept the law, at least provisionally. The answer of the
Holy Father left no excuse for indecision on the matter. He warned
.the King that by his approbation of the law he would run the risk
of leading his kingdom into a schism or a religious war, and that
though he was free to renounce his royal prerogatives, he had not the

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Pius VL and the French Revolution. 607

right to abandon what was due to God and to the Church. He
advised him, therefore, to consult the prelates who were in his council,
Mgj. Lefranc de Pompignan, Archbishop of Vienne, and Mgr. de
Cice, Archbishop of Bordeaux, as well as the other Bishops of
France, and be guided by their decision.* In spite, however, of this
warning the irresolute and pusillanimous monarch, without waiting
for the opinion of a congregation of Cardinals which had been
specially summoned by Pius VI. to examine the question, and with
the concurrence of at least Mgr. de Cice, the keeper of the seals,
yielded to the threats of the Assembly and signed the Constitution
Civile on August 24, 1790.

It remained inoperative for some time, as no vacancy among the
higher clergy or the parish priests, which would have necessitated its
application, occurred just then, and the Bishops continued to exer-
cise their functions without heeding its regulations; but in their
pastoral letters they enlightened their flocks as to its errors. Those
who sat in the Assembly published a protest in which they pointed
out the incompetency of the civil power to legislate on questions of
ecclesiastical discipline, and with the exception of Lomenie de
Brienne, Archbishop of Sens ; of Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun ; of
de Savine, Bishop of Viviers ; of de Jarente, Bishop of Orleans, and
of Gobcl, Bishop of Lydda (in partibus inMelium), a suffragan of
the Diocese of Bale, all the prelates of France and seven foreign
Bishops whose sees extended into France announced their adhesion
to this declaration.

As, therefore, in the ordinary course of events many years might

«Rey. Auffustin Thelner. "Documents relatifs aux affaires rellgieuses de
la France, 1790 k 1800; eztralts des Archives secretes da Vatican/' Paris,
1867-1858. Vol. L, p. 1. S. D. N. Pit Divlna Provldentia Papse VL Allocutio
habita in Consistorlo secreto die 29 Martii 1790. "Actum illic primo fuit de
publica GBConomia ordinanda, cumque ea dirigrenda esset ad populorum
levanda onera, ad nostras apostolici ministerii curas nequaquam pertinere
vldel>atur. Sed . . . erradus repente factus est ad reli^onem ipsam»
tanquam politicis negrocils subjici ac inservlre deberet . . . Per decreta,
quse a generalibus nationis comitlis prodierunt, ipsa Impetitur, pertur-
baturque religio; hujus apostolicsB sedls usurpantur Jura; solemnia pacta
et conventa violantur . . . Videmua profecto, quam grrave Nobis im-
positum sit loquendi, monendi, hortandlque munus; sed novimus etiam non
solum inanem futuram vocem nostram, quod uteremur, ad efleratam
populi in omnem licentiam eflusi multitudinem» qua proruit ad incendla, ad
rapinas, ad suppUcia, interfectionesque civium, neque ullum reliquit
humanitati locum; verum etiam verendum esse, ne masris maglsque ad alia
faclnora irritetur et accendatur. . . . Interea banc nostram allocutionem,
ut testem, adhibendam duximus, quod afirnoscamus scilicet, quanta inferatur
injuria relisrloni, quantum ab huJus apostolica sedis Jurlbus detrapatur,
unaque declaramus tacitumitatem nostram non ad incuriam, multo minus
ad approbationem esse referendam, at recessarium esse pro hoc tempore
sllentiiun, donee per alias rerum vicissitudines, quas Deo protegente
proximas propitiasque speramus, utiliter loqui possimus/'

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6o8 American Catholic Quarterly Review.

elapse before the Church of France could be brought under the rule
of the Constitution Civile, it became necessary to amend the law so
as to render it immediately efficacious, and although among the
"Rights of Man," which had been so recently discussed and pro-
claimed, was that of "religious liberty," according to which every
citizen was to be free to profess whatever form of worship he pleased,
the Assembly now sought to impose on France a religion which it
had just constructed, in which the majority of its members, who were
Voltairians, did not believe, and which had been rejected almost unan-
imously by the Bishops of France. Another law was therefore pre-
sented to the Assembly on November 26, which enacted that the
Bishops and parish priests whose sees and parishes had not been
suppressed by the recent reorganization, their curates as well as the
superiors of the seminaries, who were all considered as functionaries
of the State and to whom a little later were added the chaplains of
public establishments, should take the oath to the Constitution Civile
under pain of being prosecuted as rebels against the law, deprived of
their salaries and of their rights as citizens and replaced in their dig-
nities by others who would be more submissive. Moreover, all
ecclesiastics or laymen who should combine to refuse to obey the
decrees voted by the Assembly and accepted by the King should be
severely punished as disturbers of the public tranquillity. The intol-
erance of the majority in the Assembly hardly allowed this law to
be discussed; it was voted on November 27, and on December 26,
1790, the unfortunate Louis XVI., terrorized by a popular demon-
stration under his windows and made to believe that his refusal
might be the cause of a massacre of the clergy, yielded after a long
resistance and signed it.

Thenceforth every Bishop or priest who refused to take the oath
to this schismatic organization, and every layman who assisted at
their Mass or received the sacraments from them, was liable to be
considered as an enemy of the State and to be prosecuted for rebellion
against its authority ; but to the honor of the French Church it can
be said that all the prelates, with the exception of the four already
named, and by far the great majority of the secular and regular
clergy preferred to undergo exile and death rather than consent to
take the oath.

As for those who consented, it must be observed that great uncer-
tainty prevailed for some time with regard to the views of the Holy
Father, and false reports were spread that he did not intend to inter-
fere in the affairs of France; for the two Archbishops who sat in
the King's Council had not published the letter which he had received
from Pius VI., as they still hoped to make some compromise with the
Assembly. Many also took the oath conditionally and with the re-

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Pius VL and the French Revolution, 609

striction that it should not apply to anything contrary to ecclesiastical
discipline. The Assembly then sought to form a hierarchy for this
official Church. After some hesitation Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun,
consented to give his services, and on February 24, 1791, assisted by
Gobel and Mirondet, the Bishops in partibus of Lydda and Babylon,
he consecrated at the Church of the Oratory in Paris two priests,
Expilly and Marolles, as Bishops of Guimper and Soissons. Other
consecrations speedily followed, the movement being largely aided
by the Jacobin clubs of each locality,* who selected as candidates those
members of the clergy who had most distinguished themselves by
their advocacy of the principles of the Revolution, and in a few
months all the newly created sees were occupied. One hundred and
twenty of these schismatic prelates were elected and consecrated
between 1791 and 1801, when the Constitution Civile was officially

A Papal brief appeared at last on March 10, 1791, addressed to
the Archbishops and Bishops who sat in the Assembly. Though it
did not as yet pass any definite sentence on.the law, it blamed severely
the pretension of the Assembly to legislate in matters belonging to
the discipline of the Church and requested the hierarchy to express
their opinions on the subject. This was followed on April 13 by a
brief to all the clergy and the faithful of France in which the Consti-
tution Civile was formally condemned as heretical in many parts, in
others schismatic and contrary to the laws of the Church and having
no other object than the destruction of the Catholic religion. The
elections which had taken place to episcopal sees or to parish churches
were declared to be unlawful and null, the consecrations of Bishops
sacrilegious ; all those who had any share in them were suspended
from every ecclesiastical function, and those who had taken the oath
were ordered to retract it within forty days under pain of suspension
in case of noncompliance.

s The Jacobins derived their origin from "Le Club Breton," or "Soci^td

Online LibraryJames Andrew CorcoranThe American Catholic quarterly review → online text (page 71 of 93)