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Author Topic: The French Revolution and the Catholic Church  (Read 5453 times)


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The French Revolution and the Catholic Church
« on: April 01, 2006, 07:07:pm »

Welfare or Persecution?
                 The French Revolution and the Catholic Church



How many times one hears that the French Revolution                  aimed to eliminate what oppressed the people and to establish                  what was best for them? What an erroneous idea this is! The French                  Revolution aimed to eliminate what was best for the people, the                  Holy Catholic Church, and to establish an order of things which                  was hostile to the salvation and well-being of the faithful. However,                  this war against the Church especially in France did not erupt                  suddenly and without warning. It gradually increased momentum                  through a chain of events; the preceding events paving the way                  for those that followed. In order to understand this persecution                  better, it is necessary to see what influenced it.
                 Eighteenth century France was affected by the upheavals of the                  Protestant pseudo-Reformation which spread its deadly poison of                  revolt against ecclesiastical authority, and of the free interpretation                  of the Scriptures. The heresy of Jansenism did much to instill                  spiritual decay in France. This sort of "Calvinized"                  Catholicism believed that God did not wish to save all of mankind                  and that He only gives graces to those whom He wishes to save.                  Man's will is powerless against the lures of concupiscence, they                  claimed, and grace is irresistible. They regarded Holy Communion                  as a reward only for the virtuous and it was more meritorious                  to refuse the reward than to accept it. Furthermore, they declared                  that the sacrament of Penance was only effective with perfect                  contrition. Devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints was                  disregarded.1 This heresy did much to slacken the piety and spread                  skepticism among the faithful in France, preparing the way for                  worse evils to come.2


Another main element in the war against the Church in the French                  Revolution was the false philosophy of the period known as the                  "Enlightenment." This philosophy centered everything                  upon pure nature and the power of human reason, untouched by anything                  that may influence or guide it. It denied everything supernatural                  and, therefore, Divine Revelation as well. It held that if God                  did exist, He would not interfere in nature because it follows                  set laws and does not leave room for miracles.3 This erroneous                  philosophy was extremely hostile and sought to undermine and destroy                  the Church in France.


"Ecrasez l'infame" (Crush the infamous thing).                  Referring to the Catholic Church, this was the motto of Francçois                  Marie Arouet, known by the pseudonym of Voltaire. Out of all the                  false philosophers of his time, he did the most harm against the                  Church and had a considerable following among the “enlightened”                  ones. A highly intelligent and capable man of letters, he used                  all his intellectual qualities to wage war against the Church.4                  He did not attack the Church openly, but did so through a kind                  of literary guerrilla warfare by writing sarcastic and ironic                  poetry, plays, and other works of literature that mocked and ridiculed                  the Church and her institutions.5


Other false philosophers were united with Voltaire in this war                  against the Bride of Christ. Diderot supervised the writing of                  the Encyclopedie (from which our present-day encyclopedias                  are derived), a dictionary on the sciences which carried atheistic                  teachings and openly attacked Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and                  the history of the Church.6 This atheist Diderot boasted                  that it would be easy for twelve philosophers to destroy what                  twelve fishermen had built up. Another time, he hatefully declared                  that the false philosophers would not rest until the last king                  had been strangled with the entrails of the last priest. D'Alembert,                  Holbach, Damilaville, known as "the hater of God," Condillac,                  Helvetius, de la Mettrie and many others were untiring in the                  dissemination of impious and immoral pamphlets, dialogues, parodies,                  letters, novels, scientific works, and plays that attacked the                  Church.7 They were determined to raze the Catholic                  Church to the ground.


The Society of Jesus was instrumental in the recovery of many                  lost sheep that were lost because of the Protestant pseudo-Reformation.                  The Jesuits were also flaming torches that rekindled the fervor                  of the faithful especially in France. Seeing this obstacle to                  the destruction of the Church, Voltaire wrote Helvetius, "Once                  we have destroyed the Jesuits, we shall have it all our own way                  with the infamous thing." The false philosophers joined ranks                  with the Gallicans, the Jansenists, the liberal ministers of the                  Bourbon courts of France and Spain, and prime minister Pombal                  of Portugal in the effort to crush the Jesuits. They launched                  every sort of calumny and intrigue to stigmatize the order. The                  Jansenists founded the so-called "Merchants' Bank" to                  spread slanderous books and pamphlets, including a book called                  Extracts which contained 758 text falsifications, charging                  the Jesuits of holding immoral and treasonable teachings. In their                  works, the French false philosophers lauded the persecution that                  Pombal was carrying out in Portugal.8 Finally, these                  detractors discovered a pretext to banish the order.


An ex-member of the Society, Fr. La Valette, who was the superior                  of the order on the Island of Martinique, was discovered to have                  been involved in some commercial transactions in which he failed.                  Besides breaking the rule, he made the transactions against express                  orders and had been expelled from the Society. The enemies of                  the Church saw this as a perfect opportunity to publicly prosecute                  the Jesuits. For the transgression of an ex-member, the Parliament                  of Paris made an uproar and accused the whole Society, forcing                  it to pay for Fr. La Valette's debts and closing their schools,                  colleges, and sodalities. At first, the Parliament of Paris had                  prohibited any Frenchman to enter the Society, but, not content                  with this, it suppressed the whole Society in 1762. Almost all                  the episcopate of France protested and Pope Clement XIII declared                  the suppression null and void. The Parliament of Paris, however,                  further decreed that every Jesuit in France should either break                  their vows or be exiled.9 Faithful to their mission,                  four thousand Jesuits went into exile, while only five broke their                  vows. Pope Clement XIII issued a bull on the innocence of the                  Society and confirmed it. Nevertheless, the detractors were not                  satisfied with the suppression of the French Society of Jesus.                  They were determined to have a universal disbanding of the order.                  Finally, in 1773, Pope Clement XIV, timid and under the pressure                  of the Bourbon courts, suppressed the entire order. Twenty-two                  thousand Jesuits on all four corners of the earth humbly submitted                  without a single cry of protest.10 With this great                  obstacle out of their way, the enemies of the Church prepared                  the grounds for an all out persecution of the Church during the                  French Revolution.


After the French Revolution exploded in 1789, the revolutionaries,                  imbued with the spirit of the false philosophers, did all they                  could in order to first control the Church and then destroy it.                  On November 2, 1789, the National Constituent Assembly issued                  a decree ordering the confiscation of all Church property, claiming                  that it was for the financial good of the Republic. However, the                  revolutionaries were not so concerned about solving the financial                  problems. They wanted to deprive the Church of its main instrument                  of influence and prestige.11 On February 13, 1790,                  the Assembly decreed the suppression of all religious orders and                  the taking of solemn vows. Convents were cleared out and the vows                  of religious were disregarded.12 Desiring complete                  control of the Church, her enemies, especially Jansenists and                  liberal lawyers, drew up the Civil Constitution of the Clergy                  and the deputies of the Assembly approved it on July 12,1790.                  This decree reorganized—or rather, disorganized—the                  whole episcopal structure in France. It deposed forty-eight bishops,                  reduced the archbishops to ten, and limited only one parish priest                  for every town of ten thousand inhabitants. The nomination of                  bishops was to be done by election, and even Jews, Protestants,                  or heretics were allowed to vote. All priests were compelled to                  take an oath agreeing with the Civil Constitution under pain of                  imprisonment or exile.13 The enemies of the Church                  were not and will never be satisfied, however, and they wanted                  to enact a more profound destruction of Catholicism.


The French revolutionaries started a movement to dechristianize                  the measurement of time in France. Its aim was to alienate the                  people from the Catholic Church and anything that is related to                  Our Lord Jesus Christ. The anno Domini (year of Our Lord,                  or A.D.) 1789 was replaced with Year 1 of the Republic, replacing                  the birth of Our Lord with the birth of the Republic. The seven-day                  week which revolved around Sunday was replaced with a ten-day                  week to exchange the Day of the Lord with new-pagan feasts, worshipping                  the goddess of Reason. Instead of a day of twenty-four hours,                  a ten-hour day was instituted, abolishing the Angelus                  at six and twelve o'clock. As an intended result of this, the                  Gregorian Calendar was abolished together with all the traditional                  feasts of the Church, such as Easter and Christmas.14


All that was left was to exchange Catholicism for a religion                  of the French Revolution. This was done by the installing of the                  cult to Reason. Catholic churches were closed down and made into                  Temples of Reason with festivals, idolizing the goddess of Reason.                  In the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame, an actress was sacrilegiously                  placed on the high altar to personify the goddess, as strange                  neo-pagan rituals took place. Sacrilegious processions took place                  in the streets with men mockingly wearing the sacred vestments.                  It was an attempt to substitute God for the Patrie.15


There was, nevertheless, one region in France that was deeply                  devoted to the Catholic religion, to their priests and nobles.                  This region was known as the Vendée and had been influenced                  by the preaching of the great Marian apostle, St. Louis Marie                  Grignon de Montfort. Under the leadership of Stofflet, Cathelineau,                  Charette, Bonchamps, d'Elbee, and La Rochejacquelin, the peasants                  of this countryside region rallied to fight for altar and throne.16                  At first, they were successful, capturing important cities and                  routing the infamous enemy. Sadly, however, the peasants were                  not disciplined and they were soon overwhelmed by the large revolutionary                  forces.17 In hatred for Catholicism, especially for                  a militant Catholicism, the revolutionaries massacred thousands                  of faithful Catholics. At Angers 1,896 were shot and 292 were                  marched until they fell dead. In Rennes, ninety were guillotined                  on Christmas Day. In Nantes, the bloodthirsty Carrier ordered                  that one hundred aged or infirm priests be bound in pairs and                  placed in a barge on the Loire River. The barge had holes in it                  and all drowned except one. At least eleven other of these noyades                  were carried out, taking a total of 4,800 faithful Catholics and                  this does not include the many other loyal Catholic priests and                  laity that were killed or exiled in other parts of France.18                


Thus it is shown that the French Revolution was truly a persecution                  and an attempt to annihilate the Catholic Church in France. The                  influence of Protestantism and Jansenism made way for the false                  philosophy of the "Enlightenment." Through their impious                  literature and their connivance with the Jansenists in the suppression                  of the Society of Jesus, the "enlightened" philosphers                  began the persecution. The war against the Church was augmented                  in the French Revolution, through the confiscation of Church lands,                  the prohibition of solemn vows, and the Civil Constitution of                  the Clergy. The dechristianizing of the measurement of time aimed                  to separate the faithful more from the Church. To exchange the                  Catholic Religion for a religion of the French Revolution, the                  cult to the goddess of Reason was established. In the Vendée,                  the loyal Catholics were massacred for the Faith. Truly, this                  was a persecution of the Church that reminds one of the Roman                  persecutions, except that this was worse.


Michael Gorre
                 School year 1996-'97






1 Philip Hughes, A Popular History                  of the Catholic Church, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,                  1932): pp. 191 - 192.
                 2Plinio Correa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution,                  (York: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family                  and Property, 1993): pp. 16 - 17.
                 3 Edwin G. Kaiser, C.PP.S., S.TD., History of the                  Church, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1947):                  p. 442.
                 4 A. Guggenberger, S.J., General History of the                  Christian Era, (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company): p. 111.                  
                 5 George Stebbing, C.SS.R., The Story of the Church,                  (St. Louis: Sands & Company, 1915): p.586.
                 6 Ibid.
                 7 Guggenberger, pp. 110 - 111.
                 8 Ibid., p. 115.
                 9 Ibid.
                 10 Ibid., p. 117.
                 11 Pierre Gaxotte, The French Revolution,                  (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932): pp. 139 - 140.
                 12 Ibid., p. 148.
                 13 Ibid.
                 14 Kaiser, pp. 458 - 459.
                 15 John Hall Stewart, Ph.D., A Documentary Survey                  of the French Revolution, (New York: The Macmillan Company,                  1963): p. 506.
                 16 Gaxotte, p. 254.
                 17 Ibid., p. 271.
                 18 Ibid., p. 273 - 275.






Correa de Oliveira, Plinio . Revolution and                  Counter-Revolution. York, The American Society for the Defense                  of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), 1993.


Gaxotte, Pierre. The French Revolution.                  New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932.


Guggenberger, S.J., A. A General History                  of the Christian Era. St. Louis, MO., B. Herder Book Company,                  1918.


Hughes, Philip. A Popular History of the                  Catholic Church. New York, The Macmillan
                 Company, 1961.


Kaiser, C.PP.S., S.T.D., Edwin G. History                  of the Church. Milwaukee, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1947.


Stebbing, C.SS.R., George. The Story of the                  Church. St. Louis, Sands & Company, 1915.


Stewart, Ph.D., John Hall. A Documentary                  Survey of the French Revolution. New York, The Macmillan                  Company, 1963.




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