writers, such deputies clearly held to a double standard on religion: whatever their personal views towards the Christian faith, they were convinced it was 'useful' for social cohesion and stability among the masses. Moreover, the cahiers de doléances or 'statements of grievances' which they brought with them to Versailles and which had been largely drafted by urban elites like themselves, generally demanded only moderate reforms of ecclesiastical abuses, and gave no indication of a desire for massive transformations and suppressions within the clergy. While the deputies' views on religion were invariably influenced by Jansenism, Gallicanism, and the Enlightenment, the actual policies they developed arose primarily out of the unanticipated contingencies of the revolutionary process itself, evolving in stages over a period of months and years.
In the earliest stages of the Revolution, the 2oo-odd deputies from the parish clergy played a key role in events. The decision by the majority of cures in mid-June to break with their bishops and to sit and vote jointly with the commoner deputies was of fundamental importance in the transformation of the Estates into a National Assembly. But the critical turning point for the future of the clergy, as for most of the institutions of the ancien regime, was the extraordinary series of decrees passed on the night of 4 August 1789. Through a curious mixture of fear, altruism, and group psychology, the plan of a small minority to move the suppression of some seigniorial rights produced a wave of wholesale denunciations of much of the political and social complex of pre-revolutionary France. More than any other single event, the achievements of 4 August led to the assumption that almost anything was possible, initiating a process by which virtually all previously accepted institutions and values were put into question.
The night of 4 August was particularly important for the clergy in that it brought the total suppression both of the tithes and of the seigniorial rights controlled by the church. Two days later a deputy proposed that the state also take control of the church's landholdings, the third major source of ecclesiastical revenues. But the majority was initially opposed to such a measure, and it was only in early November, as the Revolution found itself facing the same impending bankruptcy that had destroyed the ancien régime, that a majority of moderates could be convinced to put church property 'at the disposal of the nation'. And it was yet another five months before the Assembly agreed that virtually all clerical landholdings would be confiscated and sold for the benefit of the nation. Without a doubt it was the impending fiscal disaster and not hostility towards religion that convinced a majority of the Assembly to nationalize church lands.
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