attacks, at least in the eyes of later generations, emerged from the writings of the French philosophes. It would seem more than a coincidence that many of the most important and influential publications of the French Enlightenment appeared precisely during the same critical period of the 1750s and 1760s when clerical recruitment and religious references in wills were undergoing sharp declines. Such writings were complex and often contradictory in their positions on a whole range of questions, yet attacks on the clergy and on revealed religion - far more intense in France than in any other region of Europe -were arguably among the single most important common denominators. But historians have given much less attention to the broad attacks against the rights and privileges of the clergy pursued by the magistrates of the various French parlements or sovereign courts during much the same period. Strongly imbued with an ideology of'parliamentary Gallicanism' that claimed sweeping powers for the courts over church affairs, the royal magistrates readily intervened in issues as diverse as ecclesiastical benefices, church lands, tithing rights, clerical salaries, and even the dispensing of sacraments. Thus, the courts strongly encouraged a veritable 'revolt against the tithes' on the part of rural inhabitants in many parts of the kingdom and played a central role in the expulsion of the Jesuits from France. The magistrates' anticlerical positions in many of their decisions were all the more influential in that they were given wide publicity through published judicial briefs known as memoires judiciaires.
Two other sources of late eighteenth-century attacks against elements of the clergy arose essentially from within the church itself. First, the period was marked by a particularly intense stage in the long-standing Jansenist-Jesuit struggle, a struggle that generated at least as much anti-papal and anticlerical rhetoric from the pens of writers as did the Enlightenment. The defeat and ultimate suppression of the Society of Jesus in the mid-1760s - part of an international assault on the order - was led in France by groups of Jansenists, strongly supported by the Gallican parlements. The destruction of the Jesuits set the precedent for a major investigation and reordering of all religious clergy in France - by a royal Commission on Regulars beginning in 1768. It led also to a significant restructuring of French secondary education, previously dominated by the Jesuits, and perhaps to a decline in the importance of religious instruction in the curriculum. Second, there was a growing antagonism between many French curés and the upper and regular clergy over the unjust division of the church's wealth. Some curé activists drew on a French version of the 'Christian Enlightenment', emphasizing the 'utility' of the curés in promoting the 'happiness' and economic improvement of their parishioners - as well as their salvation - and castigating the 'useless' non-resident tithe-owning
Was this article helpful?