ancien regime who had never been replaced, the pope issued two briefs which condemned virtually all aspects of the revolutionary transformation of the church as 'heretical and schismatic' and comparable to the policies of Wycliffe and Luther. At the same time he attacked many of the founding principles of the Revolution itself, notably the concepts of liberty, equality, and the rights of man. Such principles, he argued, were 'sacrilegious' and sought only to overthrow the Catholic religion.5

Even some members of the French episcopacy were surprised by the intransigence of the pope's condemnation, and a few took pains to justify their previous acceptance of the achievements of 1789 in the secular domain. But the bishops were now left with no room for retreat or compromise, and within a few months nearly all of them went into exile.

In the end, Pius Vl's pronouncements had relatively little immediate effect on the situation in France. Nearly all parish clergymen had already made their decisions, for or against the Civil Constitution, and only a small proportion of jurors now retracted their oaths. The two briefs contributed above all in further polarizing the situation in the kingdom. Opponents of the Revolution found additional justification for condemning the Constitution as being not only antithetical to the rights and privileges of the ancien regime, but 'godless' as well. Patriots in Paris, on the contrary, enthusiastically mocked the briefs and burned the pope in effigy in the Palais Royal. In the face of the Roman father's position the revolutionary government felt it had no choice but to break off all diplomatic relations. The decade-long schism that resulted would engender intense religious bitterness, as both sides castigated their opponents and proclaimed the non-efficacy of their rivals' sacraments. It would also render the political task of ending the Revolution and stabilizing the country enormously more difficult.

Religious divisions in France, 1791-1793

With the crisis of the Civil Constitution and the ecclesiastical oath, a three-way confrontation emerged in France. The clergy and most of the laity soon took sides for either the 'Constitutional' Church or the 'Roman' or 'Refractory' Church. But over the next three years a smaller contingent of anticlerical deists and a handful of self-proclaimed atheists, impatient with Catholicism and Christianity altogether, grew increasingly influential.

For over a year after the schism began the orthodox Roman Catholic Church maintained a legal existence in France, at least in the eyes of the Parisian legislators. Following the logic of religious toleration - and despite

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment