Page images
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Catholics. Their clergy are tolerated. There is not any numerous, and their chiefs religious test in this countake the titular dignities from try. -*-*FRANCE.

The established religion in this kingdom was the Roman Catholic, in which their kings have been so constant, that they have obtained the title of most christian ; and the pope, in his bull, gives the king of France the title of eldest son of the church. The Gallican clergy were, however, more exempt from the temporal dominion of the pope, than some others who professed the Roman CathoHic religion. The pope never

* Zimmermann, p. 235.

could excommunicate the king of France, nor absolve any of his subjects from their allegiance. The liberties of the Gallican church depend upon two maxims, which have always been looked upon in France as indisputable.—(1.) That the pope has not authority to command any thing in general or particular in which the civil rights of the kingdom are concerned.—(2.) That though the pope's supremacy is owned in spiritual matters,

# Ibid. $ Guthrie, p. 423.


yet his power is limited and regulated by the decrees and canons of ancient councils received in the realm.” In the established church Jansenists were very numerous. The bishoprics and prebends were entirely in the gift of the king ; and no other catholic state, except Italy, had so numerous a clergy as France. There were in this kingdom eighteen archbishops, one hundred and eleven bishops, one hundred and sixtysix thousand clergymen, and three thousand four hundred convents, containing two thousand persons devoted to a monastic life. Since the repeal of the edict of Nantz, the protestants have suffered much from persecution. A solemn law, which did much honour to Lewis the sixteenth, late king of France, gave to his non-Roman Catholic subject, as they were called, all the civil advantages and privileges of their Roman Catholic brethren. The above statement was made previously to the French revolution: great alterations have taken place since that period. And it may be interesting to those who have not the means of fuller information, to give a sketch of the

causes which gave rise to those important events. It has been asserted, that about the middle of the last century a conspiracy was formed to overthrow christianity, without distinction of worship, whether protestant or catholic. Voltaire, de

Alembert, Frederic thesecond,

king of Prussia, and Diderot, were at the head of this conspiracy. Numerous other adepts' and secondary agents were induced to join them. These pretended philosophers used every artifice that impiety could invent, by union and secret correspondence, to attack, to debase, and annihilate christianity. They not only acted in concert, sparing no political or impious art to effect the destruction of the christian religion, but they were the instigators and conductors of those secondary agents whom they had seduced, and pursued their plan with all the ardour and constancy which denotes the most finished conspirators.t The French clergy amounted to one hundred and thirty thousand, the higher orders of whom enjoyed immense revenues ; but the cures, or great body of acting clergy, seldom possessed more than about : twenty-eight pounds sterling a year, and their vicars about hals the sum. The clergy as a body, independent of their tithes, possessed a revenue, arising from their property in land, amounting to five millions sterling annually: at the same time they were exempt from taxation. Before the levelling system had taken place, the clergy signified to the commons the instructions of their constituents, to contribute to the exigencies of the state in equal proportion with the other citizens. Not contented with this offer, the tithes and revenues of the Clergy were taken away; in lieu of which it was proposed to grant a certain stipend to the different, ministers of religion, to be payable by the nation. The possessions of the church were then considered as national property by a decree of the constituent assembly." The religious orders; viz. the communities of monks and nuns, possessed immense landed estates; and after having abolished the orders, the assembly seized the estates for the use of the nation : the gates of the cloisters were now thrown open.4 The next step of the assembly was to

* Broughton's Historical Library, vol. i. p. 247, ? Barruel's History of Jacobinism, vol. i.

civil constitution of the clergy. This, the Roman Catholics assert, was in direct opposition to their religion. But, though opposed with energetic eloquence, the decree passed, and was soon after followed by another, obliging the clergy to swear to maintain their civil constitution. Every artifice which cunning, and every menace which cruelty could invent, were used to induce them to take the oath : great numbers, however, refused. One hundred and thirty-eight bishops and archbishops,sixtyeight curates, or vicars, were on this account driven from their sees and parishes. Three hundred of the priests were massacred in one day in one city. All the other pastors who adhered to their religion were either sacrificed or banished from their country, seeking, through a thousand dangers, a refuge among foreign nations I A perusal of the horrid massacres of the priests who refused to take the oaths, and the various forms of persecution employed by those who were attached to the catholic religion, must deeply wound the feelings of humanity. Those readers who are desirous of farther in

establish what is called the formation, are referred to

[ocr errors]

{ }}arruel's History of the Clergy.

: Ibid.

Abbe Barruel's History of the clergy.” Notwithstanding the sanguinary measures which have been used to exterminate religion in France, it appears that at present the people have liberty to worship the Deity in what manner they please.t Yet, notwithstanding they enjoy this privilege, an English gentleman, who had taken great pains to investigate the present state of religion in France, whose enquiries began soon after the dissolution of the reign of Robespierre, and have been attentively continued to the year 1799, gives the following account: “The late revolution in France af

[blocks in formation]

ciples of infidelity among the lower ranks of people. This was effected with zeal and rapidity, in deluges of pamphlets, books, and papers, from a farthing to six pence; and ‘the poor (as it was at that time observed) got rid of their religion at a very easy expense.” Thus the lower people of France became philosophized as well as their betters, and christianity became confined to La Vendee, and amongst the peasantry of the distant provinces: even in those quarters it is losing

[* The causes of the French revolution, as stated by the able Barruel, are such as might be expected by a writer of his views and interests. Allowing what he has written in the main to be just, yet he does not appear to have taken a view of the subject sufficiently comprehensive. It has been thought that the causes of the revolution in the eighteenth century may be traced as far back, at least, as the revocation of the edict of Nantz, in the seventeenth, when the great body of French protestants, who were men of principle, were either murdered or banished, and the rest in a manner silenced. The effect of this sanguinary measure must needs be, the general prevalence of infidelity. . Let the religious part of any nation be banished, and a general spread of irreligion must necessarily follow : such were the effects in France. Through the whole of the eighteenth century infidelity has been the fashion, and that not only among the princes and noblesse, . even among the greater !. of the o and clergy. . And as they ha united their influence in banishing true religion, and cherishing the monster which succeeded it, so have they been united in sustaining the calamitous effects which that monster has produced. However unprincipled and cruel the French revolutionists have been, and however much j. sufferers, as fellow-creatures, are entitled to our pity; yet, considering the event as the just retribution of Cod, we are constrained to say, “Thou art righteous, oh Lord, who art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus : for they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given then blood to drink;. for they are worthy' o

f On the 28th of May, 1795, a decree was obtained for the freedom of religious worship; and on the following June the churches in Paris were opened, and service was performed with great ceremony,

[ocr errors]

ground every day. There cannot be a more convincing proof of the general fury against religion, even in the early stages of the revolution, and the general intent of its final extirpation, than the horrid dilapidation and destruction by the mobs, of nearly all sacred edifices throughout France, when so many castles, the objects also of their vengeance, were left untouched. The prevailing epinion of many of the superior people and literati, is, as heretofore, atheism, or, as it issometimes styled, naturalism. The works of Volney have contributed much to the dissemination of such principles among the people ; probably it would not be too much to assert, that they are prevalent with the very lowest class. In proof of this, a variety of instances, at different periods of the revolution, might be adduced. Since the revolution in France, protestantism is said to have decreased much ; and the religion which remains is chiefly the Roman Catholic, with an affected display of all the ancient ceremonies, which

they imagine to be politic in these times of total laxity in religious discipline.” No considerable attempts have been made to promote free inquiry with respect to religion, and to propagate the knowledge of pure christianity. The French public in general are said to be totally indifferent to

the subject in all its branches;

even books of infidelity have now no attraction, the public mind being absolutely satiated, or rather surfeited therewith. The chief attempts either in favour of religion, or in counteraction of the popular atheism of the country, were made by the remaining members of the old clergy, who were enabled to step forward on the unlimited toleration which was decreed; and by Thomas Paine, as the apostle, or head of the theophilanthropists,t Great expectations were entertained at the first opening of the churches which had been shut so long. The churches, both in Paris, and in various parts of the country, were remarkably well filled at first; and such accounts were transmitted to England, as to afford

* This acoount is confirmed by the testimony of a modern author, who observes that the reformed religion does not make any progress in France. but a fondness for the rites and ceremonies of the ancient system displays - See Moody's Sketch of Modern France, for 1796 and 1797.

* This sect had formed various little societies in Paris,
before their opinions were publicly known.

« PreviousContinue »