The popular revival movements emerging across Europe during the 1790s shared certain common characteristics. They opposed the scepticism and materialism prevalent in the later Enlightenment, and the rationalism and moderatism pervading the established churches. They viewed the French Revolution as a divine visitation, and they looked to a revival of Christianity as a means of averting or alleviating the judgement of God. But the revival movements were not simply reactions against the Revolution. They also shared some of the ideals of the Revolution, including an emphasis on elevating the condition of the common people. The evangelical work was directed largely to the middle and lower social orders, and emphasized the belief that every individual was of equal value before God. In a time of turbulence, it spread the message that God was on the side of the common people. It included efforts to expand popular education. The revival movements were also largely driven by lay activists from the middle and lower social orders. These leaders were characterized more by passion and commitment, than by social status, education, ordination, and clerical career patterns. The movements were largely outside the established churches and indeed were frequently opposed by the authorities in church and state. They were, to an extent, about the empowerment of the common people. For those touched by these movements, God redeemed individuals, regardless of their social status, and God's spirit entered into the redeemed, enabling them to do His will in the world.
In the 1790s, as the armies of the French Republic moved beyond the borders of France into the Rhineland, the Low Countries, and Italy, they brought with them the anti-Christian attitudes and policies of the revolutionary regime. In Belgium, French republicans purged the Catholic Church in the later 1790s, suppressing monasteries, selling off monastic lands, listing nearly 8,000 priests for deportation and actually deporting nearly 2,000 priests.10 In the Rhineland, French forces and their local republican supporters abolished tithes, banned the ringing of church bells, religious ceremonies, processions and symbols outside church buildings, made civil marriage compulsory and imposed a system of election of parish priests. French soldiers could be coarse in their blasphemy, mutilating statues, building fires on altars, defecating into tabernacles, and parodying Christian worship.11 In Italy, the invading French armies looted churches and broke up monasteries, friaries, and convents. In February 1798, French troops occupied Rome and established a Roman Republic. The frail Pope Pius VI was removed from Rome, and died in Valence in the
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