the church's wealth, they could at least try to keep donors from giving the church additional property, for once it was in church hands, it would escape the full force of the state's levies. Their worry was that each new donation would erode the tax base, leaving Catholic rulers at a disadvantage relative to their Protestant counterparts - a fear that seemed particularly pronounced in the divided confessional map of Germany.

Concerns of this sort furnished one of the motives (though certainly not the only one) for the religious reforms that Maria Theresa initiated in the Habsburg lands in the eighteenth century and that her son, Joseph II, pushed even further. Maria Theresa and Joseph II wanted both to strengthen the state and to help reform the Catholic Church. In particular, they sought to redistribute the church's holdings in a more useful way. As Maria Theresa's 'Political Testament' explained, bequeathing more property to the church was not 'laudable' but 'culpable', for the clergy did 'not need it' and made bad use of what it already had. Maria Theresa and her son therefore suppressed a number of monasteries, confiscated their property, and limited further donations to the church. Many of the assets they seized from monasteries (and from the Jesuits when they were suppressed in 1773) were then redeployed to support parishes, schools, and charities.1

In France, the unequal distribution of the Catholic Church's wealth fed into the grievances voiced by parish priests, grievances directed at the upper clergy on the eve of the French Revolution. The parish priests believed that they were the most useful members of the clergy and felt that they should therefore be exercising greater authority within the Catholic Church. In instances where they were relatively poor - which, once again, was not always the case -their complaints against the regular clergy or the bishops could be quite vociferous, particularly over the issue of the minimum income (the so called portion congrue) that rich absentee tithe owners had to provide for parish priests. The parish priests were of course not the only ones to criticize the Catholic Church's wealth, for a number of the philosophers mounted their own attack. They might argue, as Turgot did for instance, that money left to the church would eventually be diverted from the pious goals that the donors intended and that even money earmarked for support of the poor would only encourage paupers to cease working and to take up begging.

It was hardly startling then that the revolutionary regime confiscated the Catholic Church's property in France and abolished the tithe. Nor was it surprising that the confiscations spread once the French armies had conquered other Catholic territories, where church's wealth had provoked similar criticisms. Beyond its appeal to critics of the Catholic Church, the nationalization

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment