In any case, the Refractory Church lost all semblance of official protection after the 'Second French Revolution' and the overthrow of the monarchy in the summer of 1792. The law of 26 August 1792 ordered all non-jurors under 60 years of age to leave the country immediately, while placing elderly and disabled refractories in detention. Thereafter, and for the next several years, the dissident church existed in France only through the action of a small number of clandestine priests, and through the independent organization of the laity. Ifsuch clergymen were captured by the revolutionaries, they were not treated gently. As many as 3,000 priests were killed during the Revolution through judicial procedures or summary execution, the overwhelming majority of them refractories.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Church set about organizing itself with considerable energy and determination. The first task was the election and consecration of a corps of bishops to head the newly redrawn dioceses, in only three of which the ancien regime prelates had agreed to serve. The line of canonical authority was maintained when Bishop Talleyrand - who had, in fact, already resigned his See of Autun - agreed to consecrate the first bishops elected by the laity. Most of the new diocesan leaders (55 of 80), were chosen from among the cures, many of them former participants in pre-revolutionary movements for church reform. With rare exceptions, they were qualified and dedicated men, and they quickly began organizing seminaries and episcopal councils and publishing formal missives for the guidance of the laity. Much of the constitutional parish clergy, both holdovers from the ancien regime and newly elected curés, were also committed to their pastoral functions, though they readily assumed the role of 'citizen priests' and closely cooperated with revolutionary administrators and national guardsmen. There can be no doubt, however, that many of the former regulars, who won election in the parishes as they sought out new careers, were poorly prepared for their pastoral duties. In dioceses where numerous replacements had to be found, the arrival of large numbers of such clerics from other dioceses, many with opportunist motives and uncertain vocations, undoubtedly tarnished the reputation of the Constitutional Church.

During the first years of the Revolution, a significant segment of both the clergy and the laity were persuaded that the Revolution was the handiwork of God Himself, and that the Civil Constitution had laid the groundwork for a profound spiritual renewal. Many were inspired by the primitive church, arguing that 'citizen Jesus', as some now preferred to call him, would certainly have embraced the Revolution. They were convinced - and elaborated their beliefs in numerous books and pamphlets - that Christ would have approved

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment