without cure of souls living mostly in the towns, or in the numbers of rural priests whose lifestyle was largely indistinguishable from that of the laity. However, notwithstanding such difficulties and compromises, the image and the reality of the 'good priest' had endured, reinforced by the newly developing theology of the priesthood, and by a Jansenist religious and moral vision. Such movements and traditions not only provided exemplary models of doctrine and personal piety for French ecclesiastics, but also fortified the bond between the priest and his parish community. At the same time, the lower clergy helped guarantee religious and civil commitment to both church and state via the regular readings from the pulpit of episcopal instructions and royal decrees.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, under the firm control of the bishops, the French secular clergy had been substantially reformed. But the century would also bring a series of ecclesiastical crises: first from the effects of the renewed condemnation of Jansenism in the bull Unigenitus (1713), and second from the decline in the number of sacerdotal ordinations in many areas of the country after 1760 - a decline due in part to the increasing secularization of society and the diffusion of Enlightenment ideas. At the same time, tensions were growing throughout the century between the lower clergy on the one hand (particularly the parish priests), and the bishops, canons, and religious orders, on the other. The existence of such tensions would help explain the position taken by the lower clergy in 1789.

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