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The struggle to revive religion: France during the later years of Revolution, 1795-1799

The fall of Robespierre in July 1794 brought widespread hopes among believers for a return to public religious practice. As chapter 27 explored, the early years of the Revolution had been deeply disruptive. Over the early 1790s, the Revolution's initial attempts to create a national church had given way to escalating anticlericalism and attacks on religious worship and institutions. In 1790-91 the National Assembly began the sale of church lands, abolished religious orders, and demanded that priests take an oath of allegiance to the newnation andto a reorganized version ofthe church (the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). By dividing oath-taking 'constitutional' clergy from 'refractory' or 'non-juror' priests who refused to take the oath, the Civil Constitution created a deep schism among the clergy and their parishioners. In addition, the de-Christianization campaign of 1793-94 closed down the public practice of Catholicism.

In 1794-95, then, Catholics faced a confusing and uncertain situation. Local revolutionaries in many areas continued to celebrate republican festivals. Clergy were scarce; refractory and constitutional priests remained deeply divided. Their legal status was often shifting or unclear and they confronted renewed government demands for oaths over the later 1790s. Furthermore, in the years between Thermidor and Napoleon's 1801 Concordat with the pope, national leaders did not manage to create coherent and consistent religious policies. Most republican leaders continued to regard Catholicism with suspicion: at worst, as an ally of royalism or counter-revolution; at best, as degrading fanaticism. National politics were marked by political changeability, as the Thermidoreans and the Directory tried to balance the demands of the Left and the Right. According to these twists and turns of national politics, the government vacillated between tolerating limited forms ofpublic practice and then pursuing greater police surveillance or outright repression of worship. But broadly speaking, religious policy had two distinct phases: first, a gradual return to partial freedom of worship from February 1795 to autumn 1797; second, a two-year return to the de-Christianization campaign between the left-wing coup d'etat of September 1797 and Napoleon's coup in December 1799.

In February 1795, the Thermidorean Convention initiated a striking new policy. Hoping to pacify religious resistance in the counter-revolutionary Vendee and elsewhere, the legislature literally separated church and state: the state would no longer recognize nor fund any religion but it would allow religious

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