Info

a time of profound challenge to the churches of Europe, perhaps the greatest challenge to Christianity since the Reformation. The attacks upon Christian beliefs and practices, the pillaging of churches across continental Europe, the seizures of church lands, and the assault upon the traditional social order had raised questions about the survival of organized Christianity. But those twenty-five years ofwar and upheaval had also witnessed Christian revival movements across Europe. Amid the storm and stress, many came to reject the rationalism of the later Enlightenment and the revolutionary promises of a new order, and returned to Christian interpretations of human nature and human destiny. Men and women turned to Christianity to seek meaning behind the forces that were violently transforming European civilization, to gain consolation over the losses experienced through warfare, and to find emotional stability amid the dislocations of the times. They looked to Christianity for the regeneration of individuals and nations. In 1815, many believed, their faithfulness was rewarded.

Revolution and awakening

At its beginning in 1789, the French Revolution had not been widely perceived outside France as a challenge to Christianity. While some conservatives, most famously the Irish politician and philosopher, Edmund Burke, did predict that the Revolution would desecrate all things holy, many European Christians had looked favourably upon the early phase of the French Revolution. The Revolution, they had believed, would free the church in France from its enthralment with royal absolutism and aristocratic patronage. That church would no longer be a wealthy and privileged corporation, drawing excessive tithes, rents, and dues from society, and placing heavy burdens on the poor. Its clergy would learn to live more modestly as true pastors to the people. In the Rhineland of Germany, probably the majority of the Catholic laity looked with favour upon the reforms imposed in 1789-91 by the French National Assembly on the Catholic Church in France - especially the reduction of the church's tithes, properties and feudal privileges. In Britain, Protestant Dissenters pointed to the new rights of citizenship granted by the French National Assembly to French Protestants and they argued that the Revolution would in time promote religious freedom and Christian morality. In his 'Discourse on the love of our country', delivered in November 1789, the Unitarian preacher, Richard Price, portrayed the Revolution as destined to unite all the nations in 'ardour for liberty'. 'The dominion of priests', he proclaimed, 'was giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience'.3 This new dispensation was destined to spread beyond France, undermining the old alliance ofchurch and state across

0 0

Post a comment