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Dawson, Movement of Revolution

Page 41
Other factors besides philosophical ones contributed to the breaking
down of the cultural frontier between the Catholic and Protestant worlds at
the close of the seventeenth century. Above all the Revocation of the Edict of
Nantes and the expulsion or forcible conversion of the French Protestants
had the opposite effect to that which Louis XIV intended. For the Protestant
exiles who swarmed into Holland and England in their thousands acted at
once as the disseminators of French culture and as propagandists for the
cause of religious tolerance and political liberty. There has never been a
body of emigres so intellectually active and so socially influential as the
Huguenot exiles. In England they provided the translators, like Abel Boyer,
Des Maiseaux, Pierre Coste, Peter Motteux, and the rest, who acted as
intermediaries between England and Continental culture. In Holland, which
was the chief centre of the emigration, they became the founders of
international journalism, and the French reviews and encyclopedias which
poured from the Dutch printing presses had an enormous influence on
European opinion. The famous Dictionary which was published by the
greatest of these Huguenot publicists, Pierre Bayle, in 1695-1697, was more
widely read than any other work of the kind. It became the freethinker’s
vade mecum and prepared the way for the work of Voltaire and the
Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the Huguenot exiles still
possessed a large body of secret sympathizers inside France among the ex-
Protestants and crypto-Protestants who had become nominally Catholic
under the stress of persecution. It is, of course, difficult to determine the
exact influence of this factor in the secularization of French
culture, since in the nature of the case it was a subaltern and to some extent
an unconscious influence, but it was certainly of considerable importance
owing to the position that the Protestant middle class had held in economics
and professional life. In any case, it was largely owing to the work of the
French Protestant exiles that the new secular culture acquired a
cosmopolitan character. This culture was still French in spirit and ideals, but
it was no longer identified, as in the seventeenth century, with the power of
the French monarchy and the political expansion of French power.
It is difficult to overestimate the share of the mystics in the Catholic
revival and their influence on the new Catholic culture. The Protestant
criticisms of Catholicism as a religion of external practices lost all their force
when they were confronted with this new outpouring of divine grace and
with the ideal of spiritual perfection manifested in the lives of the saints. At
the same time mysticism provided the antidote against the rationalist and
materialist tendencies in Western society and enlarged the range of humanist
culture by a deeper and more sublime vision of spiritual reality, which
inspired poets and artists as well as theologians and philosophers.
This too is an important factor in the Catholic revival, for the centres
of the Catholic renaissance were also the centres of artistic production, so
that Catholic art became one of the great channels for the diffusion of
Catholic culture. Thus it is that the new Baroque art has given its name to the
new culture which became the last great corporate expression of Western
religious ideals. For the expansion of the Baroque culture was not merely an
ideological movement, like the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century or
the diffusion of nineteenth-century Liberalism. It appealed to the heart as
well as the head and satisfied the emotional as well as the intellectual needs
of human
nature. And thus it was never merely the culture of an educated minority,
since its religious ideals, embodied in painting and architecture and music,
were the common heritage of the people as a whole and not the exclusive
possession of a privileged class.
Owing to this character, the Baroque culture possessed exceptional
powers of diffusion even among peoples of alien traditions. On the whole,
the modern expansion of European culture has been external and material.
For Henry IV the re-establishment of national unity after forty years of
civil war was the first essential. If his subjects were good Frenchmen they
could be Catholic or Protestant, but they must be Frenchmen first. And this
point of view made a strong appeal to a generation which had been ruined by
the miseries of civil war, deafened by religious controversy and touched in
their national pride by foreign intervention. They welcomed the restoration
of the royal power as an impartial arbiter which would be strong enough to
impose peace on the rival Churches and parties which were tearing France in
pieces. It is true that the age of Henry IV and Richelieu witnessed a great
movement of Catholic revival which produced a galaxy of saints and mystics,
like the Spanish revival in the previous century. But unlike the latter it was
not a universal movement which embraced and inspired
the whole culture, but a minority movement, which like the Puritan
movement in England was a protest against the secularizing tendencies of
the national culture. This analogy with Puritanism is especially visible on the
left wing of the French Catholic revival which is represented by the Jansenist
movement and which contributed no less than Protestantism itself to the loss
of religious unity and to the growth of a sectarian spirit.
Meanwhile the work of Henry IV was being carried on by Cardinal
Richelieu, the classical representative of the raison d’etat, who did more than
Gustavus Adolphus or Cromwell to defeat the international political unity of
Catholic Europe. And this ruthless system of international power-politics
which established the greatness of France on the ruin of central Europe went
hand in hand with an equally ruthless system of internal centralization which
had prepared the way for the absolute national monarchy of Louis XIV.
The effect of this revolution were not only political; they were also
religious and cultural. The Gallican Church became more and more an
autonomous ecclesiastical organism and French culture became
progressively detached from the Baroque culture of Catholic Europe. This
new national culture still shared the ideals of the humanist culture, but
instead of applying them, as the Baroque society had done, to the service of
an international religion, it used culture, in the Augustan manner, as an
instrument of government and empire. This ideal found its most complete
expression in the palace of Versailles and the elaborate ritual of the court of
Louis XIV. All the resources of the nation were concentrated on the worship
of the Roi Soleil, whose splendor in turn was reflected by every facet of
French culture. As Racine himself said in one of his discourses to the
Academy, “All the words of the language, and even the syllables, seem
precious to us because we regard them as so many instruments with which
to serve the glory of our august protector.”
Accordingly literature and art were subjected to a strict social regime,
administered by the various royal academies: the Academie Francaise, the
Academie des Sciences, the Academie des Beaux Arts, and the rest. There
was no longer any room for the unbridled fantasy
and spiritual ecstasy of the Baroque genius. The watch-words of the new
culture were order and regularity, good taste and good sense, reason and
clear ideas. Its spirit was essentially classical but it was also rationalist, and
this rationalist element gradually permeated the whole culture until it
undermined and ultimately destroyed the authoritarian orthodoxy of the
Gallican Church and the authoritarian absolutism of the French monarchy.

Christopher Dawson
The Gods of Revolution

Page 4
In order to understand European history we must first understand
what Europe is—not a mere geographical expression, nor a heterogeneous
collection of independent nationalities, but a true society of peoples
possessing a common tradition of culture and of religion. In the past this
social organism was known as Christendom, and it is in fact in medieval
Christendom that its unity is most plainly visible.
It is true that in its origins western Christendom was conterminous
neither with Christendom as a whole nor with Europe. To an oriental
observer it must have appeared little more than an outlying barbaric
province of the Christian world, isolated between the pagan north and the
Moslem south and unworthy to be compared with the wealthy and civilized
society of Byzantine Christendom. Yet this semi-barbarous society of western
Christendom possessed a vitality and power of growth that its more civilized
neighbours lacked.
From its original centre in the Frankish dominions it
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gradually extended its range, until by the end of the Middle Ages it had
embraced the whole of western and northern Europe and had begun its
career of colonial expansion beyond the seas, while the fortunes of eastern
Chrisendom had steadily declined until Byzantium had become the capital of
Islam and the Christian peoples of the Balkans were the slaves of the Turk.
This triumphant expansion was, however, accompanied by a loss of
internal unity; western Christendom was a synthesis of Nordic and Latin
elements, ordered and directed by the Church and the Papacy. The state, as it
was under the tutelage of the Church and the clergy, who possessed a
monopoly of the higher education, took a leading part in its administration
and policy. But with the decline of feudalism and the growth of a centralized
monarchical power, the state asserted its independence and attempted to
deprive the territorial Church of its international character and to weaken
the bonds that attached it to the Holy See.

The Counter-Reformation and the formation of pre-revolutionary


The difference in Protestant and Catholic cultures

Page 8
We have only to compare Bernini with the brothers Adam, or Saint
Teresa with Hannah More, to feel the difference in the spirit and rhythm of
the two cultures. The bourgeois culture has the mechanical rhythm of a
clock, the Baroque the musical rhythm of a fugue or a sonata.
The conflict between these two ideals of life and forms of culture runs
through the whole history of Europe from the Reformation to the French
Revolution and finds its political reflection in the struggle between Spain and
the Protestant powers. It is hardly too much to say that if Philip II had been
victorious over the Dutch and the English and the Huguenots, modern
bourgeois civilization would never have developed, and capitalism, in so far
as it had existed, would have acquired an entirely different complexion.
The same spirit would have ruled at Amsterdam as at Antwerp, at
Berlin as in Munich, in North America as in South; and thus the moment
when Alexander Farnese
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turned back, a dying man, from his march on Paris may be regarded as one of
the decisive points in European history, for though the Baroque culture was
rigid and unprogressive, especially from the economic point of view, it was
also extraordinarily stable and almost immune from internal revolutionary
change. Where it had once set its foot, it remained; and it has left its imprint
on regions like Flanders and Bohemia, where were geographically far
removed from its original centre, and which had much closer natural and
spiritual affinities to the Protestant world.
Had it not been for the existence of a kind of intermediate zone—
Lutheran, Anglican, Gallican and Jansenist—between the two poles of
Counter Reformation Rome and Calvinist Geneva, it is quite conceivable that
Europe might have been divided between two entirely distinct and
independent cultures which would have been as alien from one another as
the Islamic world was from medieval Christendom.
In the seventeenth century, however, the new Protestant bourgeois
culture was only beginning to assert its social and political independence,
and in Europe as a whole the old social structure of medieval Christendom
survived with comparatively little change. In spite of the expansion of
overseas trade, and the growth of the trading cities, European society was
predominantly agrarian and was still organized according to the traditional
social hierarchy of nobles, clergy and peasants.

European social traditionalism prevented the effects of the Reformation from

being too widespread; the market was still controlled by a strong
authoritarian state. The Church of England preached the Divine Right of
Page 10
The same ideas obtained in seventeenth-century France, where the
Gallican Church maintained the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings as
strongly as the Anglican. Indeed Bossuet in his treatise on politics drawn
from Scripture invests the royal power with quasi-divine character…Such
conceptions have more in common with the ancient oriental and Byzantine
ideal of a sacred monarchy than with modern political ideas, and they show
how deeply anchored European society still was in traditions of the past.
This social traditionalism prevented the revolutionary implications of
both the Reformation and the Renaissance from being widely realized; it
hardly entered into men’s minds that the existing order could be radically
transformed. The European social order was an organic development—the
result of centuries upon centuries of unconscious growth. The family and the
state, kingship and authority, the different orders and classes with their
functions and privileges, were not artificial creations. They had always been
there and had gradually changed their form under the influence of new
circumstances and different environments. And thus they were regarded as
part of the natural order, ordained by God, and were accepted as men
accepted the changes of the seasons and the other laws of nature.

Alike in Catholic and Protestant countries the seventeenth century

was an intensely religious age. [the development of the French school of
The development of the strong state in the seventeenth century
By the second half of the seventeenth century Europe seemed to have
recovered from the disturbances that followed the Reformation and the age
of religious war, and to have returned once more to stability and order. The
close of the Thirty Years’ War left the exhausted lands of central Europe
craving for peace, and utterly submitting to the will of their princes. In
England, the Great Rebellion had ended in the restoration of the monarchy
and the triumph of the royalist sentiment, while in Scandinavia the royal
power had rendered itself absolute, both in Denmark and Sweden. But it was
in the France of Louis XIV that the triumph of authority and order was most
By 1650 the forces of disorder in France had been vanquished and all
the material and spiritual resources of the nation were united in the vast and
imposing structure of the absolute monarchical state. The absolutism of
Louis XIV was at once more completely centralized and more efficiently
organized than that of Philip II or the empire of
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Austria. The success of French arms and diplomacy, the splendor of the court
of Versailles, the national organization of economic life, the brilliant
development of French literature and art under the royal patronage, all
contributed to raise national prestige and to establish the political and
intellectual hegemony of France in Europe.
The leadership of Catholic Europe had passed from Spain to France
and from the Habsburgs to the Bourbons, and as the Baroque culture of the
empire had dominated Europe in the early part of the seventeenth century,
so French culture formed the standards of European taste and public opinion
during the Grand Siecle.
The French system was not as organic as the feudal system, more
contrived—and thus it was restrictive; and freedom was sought among
the houses and company of other elites; here libertinism began to
The two cultures were so closely akin that the French culture of the
age of Louis XIV may be rearded as a specialized form of the national form of
the Baroque. But it was also a rationalization of the Baroque culture which
subjected the unskilled vitality of the Baroque spirit to the rule and formulas
of classical order, in the same way that in the religious sphere it
subordinated the spiritual passion of the Counter Reformation to the moral
discipline of the patristic tradition.
But while the French classical structure possessed a logical cohesion
and order which the Baroque culture itself lacked, it was a more conscious
and artificial order which tended to produce a feeling of tension and
constraint. Even the splendor of court life became wearisome when a noble
could not absent himself from Versailles without incurring the royal

There were many who sought to withdraw from the ever-watchful eye of
authority and to seek a freer atmosphere in which they could find relaxation
and liberty to express their opinions.
This free atmosphere was not to be found in the schools and
universities, which were still fortresses of authority and tradition, or in the
new academies, which represented the official regimentation of intellectual
life, but in the houses of nobles like the Prince of Vendome and the salons of
great ladies like Mme de Sabliere and Mme de
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Lambret in Paris or the Duchess of Mazarin in London, where courtiers and
men of letters could meet on equal terms.
In such an atmosphere there was no room for the acrimonies of
religious controversy, and intolerance became regarded as a mark of ill-

Throughout the seventeenth century there existed an undercurrent of

epicurean and ‘libertine’ thought which links the age of Montaigne and
Giordano Bruno to that of Bayle and Voltaire; and the greatest religious
genius of that century, Pascal, was already acutely conscious that it was this
easy-going, light-hearted skepticism, and not Protestantism or metaphysical
error, which was the great danger that Catholicism had to face.
The mind of Pascal was incomparably more powerful and more
profound than that of the skeptic. He had on his side all the resources of
piety and scholarship and tradition. Yet he was the champion of a losing
cause, while the little band of amateur philosophers, who had few
convictions and were more concerned with the pleasures of life than with
preaching their opinions, were the forerunners of the great movement of
secular enlightenment that revolutionized European thought and changed
the whole spirit of western culture.

The corrosive Huguenot influences

Page 15
During the ten years of European peace which extended from
1678 to 1688 the power and prestige of the French monarchy reached
its climax and the Catholic cause was everywhere in the ascendant.
French Protestantism seemed to have received its death blow from
the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Protestant powers of
Germany and Scandinavia were the allies and pensioners of Louis XIV.
The empire had recovered from the exhaustion of the Thirty Years’
War and had begun the reconquest of south-eastern Europe from the
Turks and the repression of Protestantism in Hungary, which
Leopolod I had vowed to make ‘the Kingdom of Mary’. Even the
Netherlands, the great stronghold of bourgeois civilization and
Calvinism, had come out of the war with France weakened, disunited
and impoverished.
Nevertheless, the powers of authority and tradition were far
weaker than they seemed, and the moment of their apparent triumph
really marked the turn of the tide and the rallying of the forces of
opposition. The attempt of Louis XIV to exterminate French
Protestantism by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and that of
James II to secure toleration for Catholicism in England, rekindled the
flames of religious warfare and aroused a passionate spirit of
resistance to the supremacy of Louis XIV. The Huguenots, who largely
consisted of the ablest and most enterprising elements of the French
bourgeoisie, were the intellectual leaders of this movement.
Wherever they settled, in Holland and England and northern
Germany, they formed centres of militant anti-Catholic opinion and
carried on an organized campaign of public propaganda
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and secret agitation against the government of Louis XIV and the Catholic
In this way the Huguenot diaspora acted as an intellectual ferment in
western Europe and instilled a common purpose into the scattered forces of
Protestantism. Nowhere was their action stronger than in the Netherlands,
which were at once the centre of the new bourgeois economy and culture
and of the old Calvinist spirit of opposition to Rome and the Counter
Reformation monarchy. Here too they entered into relations with the exiled
leaders of the English opposition which had taken refuge in Holland from the
victory of the monarchical reaction in England. Here Jurieu and Claude, Bayle
and Le Clerc and Basnage met Shaftesbury and Burnet and Linborch, and it
was in this international atmosphere that both the plans for the English
revolution and the philosophy that was to justify it were formed.

Liberalism compromised with conservatism in England but not in France

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In eighteenth-century England Humanism came to terms with Puritan
ethics, and rationalism with Protestant theology, as represented by Samuel
Clarke, Hoadly and Warburton. For the chief threat to the established order
came from the Right rather than the Left, and the fear of a Jacobite counter-
revolution caused the supporters of the principles of the revolution to adopt
a conservative attitude in defence of the status quo.
Hence it was in France rather than in England that the revolutionary
consequences of the new ideas were most fully realized, and the attack on the
traditional Christian order was pressed farthest, though the French
enlightenment owed much of its success to the achievements of the English
revolution and to the influence of English ideas. The majestic unity of French
absolutism and Catholicism stood like a fortress which must be destroyed
before the city could be taken by the forces of liberalism and revolution. The
enforcement of religious unity after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes left
no room for freedom of opinion, and the energies which found and outlet in
England in the communal life of the Noncomfortist sects and their theological
controversies were in France driven below the surface and could only
express themselves in negative criticism or in utopian idealism. Thus it is no
accident that the age which saw the end of French Protestantism was
followed by the age of the philosophic enlightenment; indeed the latter may
be regarded as a second Reformation that carried the revolt against authority
from the sphere of theology to that of secular culture.

How much was Rousseau a product of Catholicism? Belloc saw him as

compatible w/Catholicism

Warren H. Carroll, The Revolt Against Christendom

 Cause of the revolution: suppression of the Jesuits (left only the
The French system was an artificial creation of Cardinal Richilieu

envy of Protestant capitalist countries, like England or Amsterdam

The French monarchy was often at odds with the Papacy


--the organic feudal system, which as Belloc explained was uniquely inherited by the
Gallic peoples, was being eradicated by technology

Page 5
Louis’ [XIV] orthodoxy, however, did not extend to loyalty to the Pope.
At the end of August 1662 the Pope and the King exchanged letters about a
riot of French soldiers in Rome, which the French ambassador in Rome,
Crequi, called a deliberate provocation by Pope Alexander. Louis would not
even listen to the Pope’s explanations and apologies for the incident, and
Crequi left his post at the end of 1662. The climax of this disrespect for the
Vicar of Christ by the ambassadors of the French king, for all his orthodoxy,
came in May 1675 when the newly appointed French Cardinal d’Estrees,
after accusing Pope Clement X of breaking his word about cardinal
appointments, actually jumped on the chair of the octogenarian Pope in
public audience, pinned him to it, and was excommunicated on the spot. It
was a very public warning that representatives of the most powerful king in
the world considered themselves above the law, to say nothing of Catholic
respect for the head of the Church. In 1672 Louis roundly declared to
Cardinal d’Estrees “that he would not be dictated to by the Pope. For he was
master of all his subjects, priests as well as layfolk, and no one had a right to
interfere.” In September 1688 Louis XIV reinforced that lesson by taking
over the papal territory of Avignon in France, which had once been the seat
of the Popes.

--Louis did not respect laws of chastity

Patrick Braybrooke, Some Thoughts on Hilaire Belloc

There are broadly speaking two ways by which human progress can
be obtained. The first is by Revolution, the second is by Evolution. The
former may achieve results with rapidity and precision, but the latter will
achieve more though it be by a slower process.
The French Revolution in a sense was a process of evolution that led
from the fall of the French Monarchy to the establishing of a Republic, not a
mere country governed by a president instead of a king, but a people that
gradually came to make government a vastly different thing to what it had

[Belloc says that Rousseau’s ideas led to the Revolution] It must be

clearly understood that when we agree with Belloc that these positions
started the ideals that led to the Revolution we are quite aware that the
actual starting of the Revolution was caused by much smaller things such as
the personality of Louis, the contemptuous attitude of Marie Antoinette for
the French and the tyranny of the aristocracy.

We must now consider the second point that had great influence on
the trend of the Revolution which was of course the failure of the King and
Queen to find escape by flight. How does Belloc consider this acted upon the
progress of the conflict?
With the end of the flight we find that Belloc with his usual powers of
precision has started us into the fourth phase of the Revolution. Of the effect
of the failure of the flight he says “The unwisdom of the flight would be
difficult to exaggerate: it is impossible to exaggerate the moral revolution
caused by its failure. It was regarded virtually as an abdication.” I must here
differ with Belloc. From his general attitude to the French Revolution, it is
evident that he thought Louis by this flight did not mean to do any more than
temporarily use discretion and get out of the way of danger, Belloc seems to
think that there was no idea then of a Republic. He is I am convinced quite
wrong. From a careful reading of many historians it stands out paramount
that when the king started his flight he knew that it was an abdication, he
could see in the early dawn the great word Republic.

We then proceed to the vital part of the Revolution that has to do with
the “Terror.” On this particular question I can find no agreement with Belloc
at all. With an easy assurance that is very nearly ludicrous, if it was not
pathetic, Belloc insists that the “Terror” was merely military discipline
carried to a logical conclusion. This is of course pure nonsense, the “Terror”
was an outrage to all decent ideas of justice, it was an appeal to brute force
carried out by a tyrant. Again, as with the character of Danton, Belloc lets
Robespierre down much too lightly. It is of course true that a certain
legendary Robespierre has grown up, a Robespierre that is painted as an
everlasting tyrant. This I think is to read the character of the great dictator
falsely, until he became spoilt by power Robespierre was really a kind of
priestly philosopher concerned with the immortality of the soul and the
eternity of God. While Belloc is right in pointing this out, he condones his
conduct as the champion of the “Terror” with ill advised leniency.

The importance of Rousseau and his teachings to Robespierre
cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps it can best be seen in
Robespierre's own writing about the philosopher, from his diary
during the Estates-General:
Divine man! It was you who taught me to know myself. When I
was young you brought me to appreciate the true dignity of my
nature and to reflect on the great principles which govern the social
order . . . . I saw you in your last days and for me the recollection
of the time will always be a source of proud joy. I contemplated
your august features and saw there the imprint of those dark griefs
which the injustice of man inflicted on you. <15>
From Rousseau, Robespierre adopted the Social Contract theory of
government, which was later to be accepted by the Jacobins. Man
is by nature good, but becomes corrupt through unjust institutions
and laws; he is born free, but becomes a slave to injustice. <16>
Government is literally a contract entered into by people; each
individual brings into the larger group a share of its power and
authority. Moreover, the contract can be changed at any time
the "general will" desires. <17> Sovereignty rests in the general
community and any executive power is merely subservient to the
sovereign -- the people. The nation's will is expressed in law. <18>
But the individual is not to be placed above the state. In such cases
where an opponent consistently resists or rejects the general will as
expressed in law, Rousseau recommends death: "When the entire
nation is in danger . . . a thing which is a crime at other times
becomes a praiseworthy action. Lenience toward conspirators is
treason against the people." <19> The state can, at times, exercise
tremendous power over the individual members: "The state, in
regard to its members, is master of all their goods. The sovereign --
that it to say the people -- may legitimately take away the goods of
everyone, as was done at Sparta in the time of Lycurgus." <20>
One of Rousseau's dictims that Robespierre took to heart in
particular is the following: "The spirit of the people may reside in
an enlightened minority, who consequently have the right to act for
the political advantage." <21> It is easy to see how this belief
enticed Robespierre, who already knew that he was not wrong,
whose care for la Patrie was his chief concern, who saw himself as
the inheritor of Rousseau and, by extension, the general will. It
became the basis for all his actions while in power; it is virtually
the same as asserting that he did what he did "because France
demanded it."
Welded firmly in Robespierre's mind with Rousseau's political and
ethical philosophy was Montesquieu's concept of republican virtue:
Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing; it is love of the
republic; it is a sensation, and not a consequence of acquired
knowledge, a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as
by the highest person in the state. When the common people adopt
good maxims, they adhere to them more steadily than those whom
we call gentlemen . . . The love of our country is favorable to a
purity of morals, and the latter is again conducive to the former.
Robespierre and his compatriots, especially Louis-Antoine Saint-
Just and George Couthon, envisioned a French Republic based on
virtue, wherein economic class distinctions would cease, wherein it
would be criminal to own an excess of wealth, wherein the highest
and noblest goal of any citizen would be service to the state. <23>
Reason would predominate, but not prevail; for Robespierre
believed, as did Rousseau, in a sort of deism, faith in a Supreme
Being who guided the course of the nation. Faith in the divine was
necessary for the health of the nation, both spiritually and
politically. Atheism they considered immoral and punishable by
death; it was a form of treason and as such in opposition and
potentially harmful to the general will. <24> Will Durant
demonstrates that this belief would lead ultimately to Robespierre's
clash with the Dechristianizing Herbertists in 1793, a conflict
which Durant identifies as between the philosophies of Rousseau
(Robespierre) and the philosophes, especially Voltaire (Herbert)."

“The splendor of the goal of the French Revolution is

simultaneously the source of our strength and of our weakness: our
strength, because it gives us an ascendancy of truth over falsehood,
and of public rights over private interests; our weakness, because it
rallies against us all vicious men, all those who in their hearts seek
to despoil the people . . . . . It is necessary to stifle the domestic
and foreign enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now in
these circumstances, the first maxim of our politics ought to be to
lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people
by terror.
If the basis of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the
basis of popular government in time of revolution is both virtue
and terror: virtue without which terror is murderous, terror without
which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing else than swift, severe,
indomitable justice; it flows, then, from virtue.”

Noah Shusterman: The French Revolution

Page 2
…the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Passed in the summer
of 1790, this law was not, to be sure, one of the Revolution’s
sexier events. There are no famous paintings depicting its
signing, no oft-quoted statements about it. The text of the
law reads like an administrative restructuring of a
bureaucracy. Its goals were to reshape the Catholic Church
in France and to limit the influence that the church had in
society. France was a Catholic country, and not only did
many French citizens look to the church for guidance, but
many of the most powerful men in the church were powerful
in the political world as well…In the court of public opinion,
though, France’s Catholic Church—also known as the
“Gallican Church”—had been taking quite a beating in the
decades leading up to the Revolution. Popular eighteenth-
century French writers had been openly hostile to the
Gallican Church, portraying it as hypocritical, greedy, and
lazy. Licentious priests were stock characters in the
pornographic novels of the day…
The revolutionary legislature included a large number
of Catholic clerics—mostly priests, but some bishops as
well—but it involved a far larger number of men who
considered themselves to be followers of the Enlightenment.
So it was clear to all involved that with the coming of the
Revolution, there would be some changes for the Gallican
Page 3
By early 1791, however, things had changed. Roughly half
of France’s priests had rejected the Civil Constitution of the
Clergy; the government was trying to replace the priests who
refused their allegiance, and those replacements had to face
down hostile crowds, often relying on military help just to
celebrate mass…
In much of France, women played prominent roles in the
opposition to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Priests
who opposed it boasted of the support they received from
pious women willing to put their lives at risk in defense of
their faith. Supporters of the Civil Constitution complained
of the crowds of women whom the priests had “misled,” or
even “seduced,” by playing on women’s fears and emotions.
Page 9
Legally, Protestantism was forbidden in France (with the
exception of Alsace, which had a noteworthy Lutheran
population). There had been a fair amount of government
repression of Protestantism during the first half of the
eighteenth century, but by the second half of the century such
policies had lost most of their public support. A 1787 edict
gave Huguenots more rights—including a legal right to
marry—although it did not grant Huguenots the right to
practice their religion publicly.
Page 11
In some places, these intra-church quarrels played a
major role in the daily life of French Catholics. In Paris, in
particular, the repeated battles between a heavily Jansenist
population and an archbishop hostile to Jansenism played out
for many decades; during the 1740s the archbishop went so
far as to refuse last rites to Catholics who could not prove
their hostility to Jansenism. These battles would do much to
politicize the population of Paris and strengthen its hostility
to the church hierarchy. In most of France, however, these
debates had little to no effect on religious life. Catholics
went to church, as they always had, and as they imagined
they always would. Catholic parents baptized their children
at the local church, young couples got married there, and that
was where people’s funerals took place, before the burial in
the adjacent graveyard. The church bells that rang out on
these occasions gave sound to the cycle of life, just as those
same bells, ringing out on holidays, gave sound to the cycle
of the seasons. Springtime holidays celebrating the
resurrection of Jesus occurred just as the earth was coming
back to life, while fall holidays like All Saints’ Day and the
Day of the Dead came when the earth’s fertility was coming
to its annual end. These mixtures of meanings—the “agro-
liturgical calendar,” as the historian Francois Lebrun calls
it—shows just how difficult it is to separate religious life
from other aspects of life in early modern France, be they
agricultural, economic, or social.
It is important, therefore, to make a distinction between
official Catholicism and the religion that people practiced.
Many of the folk traditions that had arisen around various
saints did not enjoy the approval of church leaders. Many of
the men in the French clergy, whether parish priests in small
villages or wealthy bishops, were as concerned about
excessive or inappropriate celebrations as they were about
those who did not attend mass at all. One priest who had just
arrived at his village in southeast France found that the
villagers welcomed Lent by having a newlywed bride light
fires in front of people’s doors at night, so that the following
day all of the horned animals in the village could walk
through the ashes. In this case as in countless others,
villagers saw nothing wrong with the practice—this was how
they had always practiced their religion, and how they
imagined they always would. Priests were often shocked and
scandalized, seeing in these traditions not expressions of
Christian faith but remnants of paganism and superstition.
There were limits, however, to the extent to which the men in
the church could do anything about these traditions. A priest
in a village was caught between two allegiances—to the
villagers he saw regularly, and to the church hierarchy whom
he represented to those villagers. Priests had to choose their
battles, and many came to accept the “superstitions” they saw
around them.
The Festival of the Federation was like a religious celebration,
a mass officiated at by Talleyrand where people got married
and stuff. It is the beginning of the attempt to replace the
agro-liturgical calendar.
Page 60
The major changes in the Revolution that would
eventually usher in the counter-revolution were ones that the
revolutionaries brought on themselves; but they were changes
that the revolutionaries stumbled into, with little sense of the
stakes involved. There were three main turning points in the
deterioration of relations between the National Assembly and
the Catholic Church. The first would come in July 1790, just
days before the Festival of the Federation, when the
Constituent Assembly approved the Civil Constitution on the
Clergy. The next came in November, when the Assembly—
impatient at the Civil Constitution’s lack of progress—voted
to require all of the nation’s clerics to swear an oath of
allegiance to the Civil Constitution. At the start of the
following year, on January 3-4, events came to a head once
again, as the two sides squared off in the Constituent
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the oath would
transform the Revolution—or, rather, it would transform the
counter-revolution, providing it with a popular base that it
lacked when the crowds gathered on the Champ de Mars to
celebrate the Festival of the Federation. If no other festival
was ever that successful, it was because the nation was never
again that unified. And if the nation was never again that
unified, it was because of the divisions that resulted from the
Constituent Assembly’s attempt to re-shape the Catholic