of hours, devotional works, and simple spiritual guides produced in publishing centres like Nancy, Rouen, Caen, and Toulouse. At least to 1750, the number of families sending sons and daughters into the clergy also remained high, with overall recruitment at that time probably unequalled since the sixteenth century. In certain regions of the kingdom - notably in the western provinces of Brittany and Poitou - Catholic revival missions seem to have been met with particular enthusiasm. And in Alsace and Lorraine, Marian and other devotional confraternities are known to have been vital and active to the very eve of the Revolution.
Yet whatever the continuities of faith and practice among the rural masses, the religious culture of many elements of the urban elites seems to have experienced a clear transformation after mid-century. Beginning in the 1750s or 1760s, a sharp decline in clerical recruitment of both seculars and regulars seems primarily to have affected families of town notables. A remarkably similar chronology was registered in the 'secularization' of wills in certain regions of France, as men, in particular, reduced or eliminated the religious invocations to such wills and donated far less money for requiem Masses and church charities. At almost the same period the library holdings of many elite families revealed a significant shift in reading interests from religious and theological books to works on a wide range of secular subjects, some of them authored by the better-known anticlerical writers of the age. Finally, we should not overlookthe veritable explosion of new freemason lodges in the second half of the century. Although most masons were probably not overtly anticlerical or deist, and though the majority claimed an attachment to Christianity and even engaged chaplains for their lodges, the masonic experience nevertheless helped reinforce a more secular culture and style of ethical thinking.
The meaning and origins of this apparent shift in religious sensibilities have been much debated by historians. Some writers argue, for example, that transformations in the language of wills reflect changes in the quality but not the intensity of faith, a trend towards an internalization or privatization of religious belief.2 Yet the concurrence of so many independent indicators strongly suggests a more fundamental cultural evolution, particularly among the urban professional classes. Though the term 'de-Christianization' is perhaps too strong to describe such trends, it seems likely that anticlericalism and laxity in religious practice were on the increase among the elites and may even have effected certain elements of the Parisian working class.
Indeed, in the period after mid-century there were at least four major sources of intensifying attacks against the Catholic clergy, two originating primarily outside the church and two primarily from within. The most visible of such
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