Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

daries of those which were destined to remain. With the suppressed bishoprics fell abbeys, priories, prebendaries, and canonries; and the recognition of dignitaries established under foreign authority was forbidden. At the same time, for the sovereign authority of the bishop over bis diocese, was substi. tuted that of a clerical council. The appointinent to bishoprics and cures was to be made by popular election, in which Jews and Protestants could take an equal part with Roman Catholics; and the appointment thus made could only be superseded on certain specified grounds of manifest impropriety in the choice. The Bill also limited the salaries of the clergy, and enjoined their residence at the scene of their cures, placing them at the same time under the surveillance and jurisdiction of the municipal authorities.

Although we cannot go so far as to say, with M. de Pressensé, that it was an abuse of power without excuse, he is no doubt technically right when he stigmatizes the passing of this important measure as an abuse of power on the part of the National Assembly. That body was, we agree with him, purely a political assembly. It had, indeed, been summoned to consult respecting all matters relating to “the wants of the State, the reform of abuses, the establishment of a fixed and durable order in all parts of the administration, the general prosperity of the kingdom, and the good of the people collectively and individually ;'* but these general terms could hardly, according to the ideas then subsisting, be held to warrant an interference with matters purely ecclesiastical. The Assembly could certainly make no authoritative claim to represent the Church of France. This being the case, the strictly proper course would have been to adopt the proposal of the Archbishop of Aix, and to have referred the reconstruction of the Church to a National Church Council. But apart from merely technical grounds, we see no reason for viewing this act of the National Assembly in a different light from its other contemporaneous proceedings, or judging it according to a different standard. Where a Church is co-extensive with the State, a body which adequately represents the views of the nation in political affairs may reasonably be supposed to do so also in ecclesiastical matters; and in the case of the National Assembly, in the composition of which the clergy as a body obtained their full share, those who would deny that it substantially represented the clergy and laity of the Gallican Church, can do so only to the same extent as they deny its right to be considered as a fair exponent of the political opinions of the French nation. We of the Church of England recognise a unity of

See the Letter of Louis XVI., of the 24th of January 1789, convoking the Statos General.

supremacy in matters civil and ecclesiastical, and the right of the same Parliament to legislate for both alike. The two Houses of that Parliament are summoned to treat and give advice on urgent affairs concerning the Sovereign, the State, and defence of the kingdom and the Church; and we acquiesce in its enactments in matters affecting the Church, although in process of time it has come, not only to represent, but even to be composed of, persons who own no connection with the national establishment, and are, some of them, bitterly hostile to it. There was, then, we conceive, nothing in the manner in which the reconstruction of the Church was effected, which could justify that irreconcileable opposition to it on the part of a large portion of the French bishops and clergy, which brought upon France the curse of schism, and struck a deadly blow at the interests of religion in the country. Nor were the terms of the reconstruction, in our opinion, such as a body of highminded Christian clergy could not have accepted without a sacrifice of conscience and honour. There were, no doubt, points in the scheme which lay open to grave objections, but this was also the case with many of the political measures which were carried in the National Assembly. The defects, however, in these would not have furnished a ground for any Frenchman, at that period of the Revolution, to have abjured his country and fidelity to her government; and every French Christian who recognised allegiance to his God as the first duty, and as the next, whenever compatible with the former, allegiance to his country, might, we think, while far from approving it, have acquiesced in the civil constitution of the clergy without compromising his duty to the Almighty. Such was the view in fact taken by a small minority of the French clergy, conspicuous among whom was the Abbé Grégoire, afterwards Bishop of Blois.

But the ecclesiastics of France were not merely Christians, they were Catholics; and according to their ideas of the duties which a profession of Catholicity involved, owed obedience not merely to their God and their country, but likewise to a foreign potentate whom they regarded as their spiritual head. It might well be that the claims made upon them, by virtue of this extraneous supremacy, would conflict with the promptings of patriotism in many cases where the latter were not inconsistent with the performance of the Divine commands. Such was, as it seems to us, the question of adhesion to the civil constitution of the clergy. The Pope, it is true, did not give his final and formal decision respecting that measure, until after the majority of the Gallican titulary clergy had taken the irretrievable step of refusing the oath to it. But he had in the meanwhile made it clearly understood what that decision would

be. He had exerted all his powers of persuasion and threat in his endeavours to keep the French ecclesiastics stanch in their opposition to the proceedings of the Assembly, and in their allegiance to the Papacy. With the views which the vast majority of the clergy of France, as good Roman Catholics, held respecting the deference due to the See of Rome, this opposition on the part of the Pope rendered it impossible for them, even had they been otherwise minded to do it, to give in their adhesion to the new Church constitution. We do not say that this alone hindered them from accepting it. Had the Church of France been at the time independent of the Papacy, there would probably have been found among the clergy a certain number of conscientious nonjurors. But that number would doubtless have been far less than in the event it proved to be. It would, we may venture to affirm, have been an uninfluential minority, instead of an overwhelming majority, The contest between the, adherents of the old ecclesiastical régime, and the new political institutions, would not have taken the uncompromising and embittered form which it speedily assumed. The King would have been left to follow his own inclinations and sense of propriety, and give a ready sanction to the change in Church government, instead of being forced, by the injunctions of a foreign authority, to offer it all possible resistance. The popular party would not have learnt, and that with some show of reason, to regard religion as involving the doctrine of the right of a foreign potentate to interfere in their national affairs, and the practice of an unpatriotic opposition to the legislature of the country.

We cannot quite agree with M. de Pressensé, in regarding the treatment of religion, during the course of the French Revolution, as the one cause of the excesses and the failure of the movement. According to him (we are quoting from the English translation) :

“An attentive study of the history of the French Revolution proves that that which sunk in the mud (embourbé) the chariot so well started at first-that which, later, began to hurl it into the bloody mire of terrorism-is precisely the religious question, or rather the religious question ill understood and hastily resolved. ... Immortal truths had been proclaimed, sacred rights had been acknowledged by the French Revolution. But it sufficed that it should touch the conscience in order to raise the most invincible resistance; it is this resistance which, by exasperating it, caused it to depart from the path of fruitful and durable innovations ; it is this which by [irritating] its proud and formidable genius, caused it to forget its benefits for its furies." This language must be pronounced rather too strong, when we remember that the storming of the Bastille preceded all mention of not to say, legislation upon-ecclesiastical matters in the Assembly; and that the religious question, though it formed a natural area for its exhibition, cannot be regarded as the cause of that mixture of impulsiveness and irresolution in the character of the King, which, as in the case of our own political troubles in the preceding century, was equally disastrous to the monarch himself, and to the cause of those who opposed him. At the same time, there can be no doubt that the religious question did give rise to much ill-feeling and exasperation, and occasioned many acts of irregularity and violence in the career of the Revolution ; but we think that its having done so is due quite as much to the distinctive features of the dominant religion, especially its foreign connection, as to the attitude adopted towards it by the National Assembly. The thorough-going champions of Roman Catholicism were, by the principles of their creed, precluded from acquiescing in the most reasonable and pressing reforms in ecclesiastical matters. To the most trifling curtailment of the overgrown wealth of the monasteries and clergy, the smallest advance in the direction of toleration, they were bound to offer an uncompromising opposition; and we accordingly find that the measures upon those subjects which we have before alluded to as passed towards the close of 1789, led to open outbreaks in various parts of France-particularly in the South, where not a few Protestants paid by their lives for their newly acquired political privileges.

Whether it was the powerful and continually increasing ecclesiastical opposition to its measures that drove the National Assembly to impose on the titulary ecclesiastics an oath of adhesion to the civil constitution of the Church, or whether that oath would in any case have been demanded of them, we cannot now determine ; certain however it is, that the proposal to enforce it was grounded on a formal report which enumerated the details of the resistance of the bishops and clergy to the new legislation, and of the riotous demonstrations wbich had taken place in favour of that resistance. The issue is well known. The decree of the 27th of November 1790, by which the obnoxious oath was imposed, created a schism in the Church of France, which lasted for upwards of ten years, and paralysed religion in France at a time when the country, politically speaking, stood most in need of it, to exercise a soothing and restraining influence over the passions of the people. Unhappily for the State, the section which continued faithful to it was the weaker, in point of both numbers and influence. Out of 131 bishops, four only consented to take the imposed oath, and the majority of the inferior clergy sided with the bulk of the episcopacy. The ability and high character of Grégoire, the new constitutional Bishop of Blois, might bear comparison with those of any single individual

to Legislativtember, theility agained, by lawfust the

among the nonjuring ecclesiastics, but could not be weighed in the scales against their collective merits. From that time forward the connection between the administration of the Revolution and Religion, although apparently strengthened by the organisation of the Church on a civil basis, was, by the refusal of the bulk of the nation to enter the Church so organised, virtually severed. From the time of the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly, in October 1791, to its close in the following September, the people became more and more educated into a feeling of hostility against religion in the abstract, by the incessant war which was waged, by lawful and unlawful means, by decrees and massacres alike, against the nonjuring priests. That period, after opening with the massacre at Avignon, where the populace, recently freed from the temporal sway of the Pope, vented their hatred of their late master on the advocates of his spiritual supremacy, closed with the massacres of the 2nd of September, in which the refractory ecclesiastics were the foremost victims. During the interval, a decree had been passed, which imposed the civic oath on all ecclesiastics not engaged in any active function, under pain of losing the pensions which had been voted to them, without any such condition, by the National Assembly, and becoming subject to an oppressive surveillance and liability to arrest. By the same decree refractory priests were made answerable for all acts of violence committed in a religious riot in which they had been in any way mixed up, and peculiar penalties were fulminated against such of them as should be convicted of promoting disaffection. A subsequent decree condemned to transportation every nonjuring ecclesiastic denounced to the departmental authorities by twenty citizens, subject only to an inquiry, if thought expedient, in the district. And these decrees of the central government, oppressive as they were, were in some cases even exceeded by the measures of the municipal and communal authorities.

The Legislative Assembly was succeeded, towards the end of September 1792, by the Convention. During the first two out of the three years to which the existence of that body was limited, the Constitutional Church continued to receive peeuniary aid from the State, and to maintain a nominal connection with it. More than nominal it certainly could not pretend to be in a period which witnessed the abolition of the Christian era as a chronological date, the substitution of the decade for the hebdomadal division of time, and of rationalistic and materialistic feasts for the ecclesiastical festivals—a period in which France resigned herself to the religious teaching of a Hébert and a Robespierre, and the cult of the goddess Reason competed for popular favour with that of the Supreme Being. That the State pay was continued to the Constitutional Clergy

« PoprzedniaDalej »