A little over two hundred years ago, during the French Revolution, the revolutionaries did everything they could to destroy the Catholic Church, and in this reflection of Bastille Day, which was yesterday, The Catholic Thing examines that period.
“Today, July 14, is Bastille Day, the commemoration of the revolution that brought down France’s Ancien Régime and led to the establishment of a new order that promised to totally refashion society.
“Unlike the American Revolution, which was fought to conserve rights and maintain political order, the French Revolution destroyed the fabric of French society. No aspect of human life was untouched. The Committee of Public Safety – influenced by Rousseau – claimed that to convert the oppressed French nation to democracy, “you must entirely refashion a people whom you wish to make free, destroy its’ prejudices, alter its habits, limit its necessities, root up its vices, purify its desires.”
“To achieve this end, the new rational state, whose primary ideological plank was that the sovereignty of “the people” is unlimited, attempted to eliminate French traditions, norms, and religious beliefs.
“The revolutionary governing bodies were particularly determined to destroy every vestige of the Roman Catholic Church because France was hailed by Rome as the Church’s “eldest daughter” and the monarch had dedicated “our person, our state, our crown and our subjects” to the Blessed Virgin.
“The Constituent Assembly began the campaign against the Church by stating in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, “no body or individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.” In other words the Church could no longer have any say in public matters. The secular state would now have the final word over every aspect of human and social life.
“Next, the government abrogated the 1516 Concordat that defined France’s relationship with the Vicar of Christ. Financial and diplomatic relations with the papacy ceased. In the name of freedom, all monastic vows were suspended and in February 1790, legislation was approved to suppress the monasteries and confiscate their properties.
“The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed on July 12, 1790, decreed that the priesthood was a civil body and all bishops and priests were to be selected by the people and paid by the state. The pope was to have no say in the matter. In addition, clerics had to swear an oath of loyalty to the French Constitution. Dissidents had to resign their ministries and many were prosecuted as criminals. Lay Catholics loyal to the pope were treated as rebels and traitors.”