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FrRevol_201-250.indd 35 3/16/12 1:06 PM CHAPTER XIII Ofthe Decrees ofthe Constituent Assemhly in Regard to the Clergy. The most serious reproach made to the Constituent Assembly is that it had been indifferent to the maintenance of religion in France: hence the declarations against philosophy which succeeded those formerly directed against superstition. The intentions of the Assembly in this respect are to be justified by examining the motives ofits decrees. The privileged classes in France embraced a mode of defense common to the majority ofmankind , that ofattaching a general idea to their particular interests. Thus the nobility maintained that valor was the exclusive inheritance oftheir order; and the clergy, that religion could not subsist without the possession of property by the church. Both assertions are equally unfounded: battles have been admirably fought in England, and in France since the fall of the nobility as a body; while religion would find its way into the hearts of the French if attempts were not incessantly made to confound the articles of faith with political questions, and the wealth of the upper clergy with the simple and natural ascendency of the curates over the lower orders. The clergy in France formed a part ofthe four legislative powers;1 and from the time that it was judged necessary to change this singular constitution , it became impossible that a third2 of the landed property ofthe kingdom should remain in the hands of ecclesiastics: for it was to the clergy, as an order, that these great possessions belonged, and they were 1. The four powers were the king, the clergy, the Estates General, and the parlements. 2. According to Godechot, the real figure was approximately 10 percent, with important local variations. See Godechot's notes to the French edition of Stael's Considerations, 627. FrRevol_201-250.indd 36 3/16/12 1:06 PM PART II administered collectively. The property ofpriests and religious establishments could notbe subjected to those civil laws which ensure the inheritance of parents to children; from the moment, therefore, that the constitution ofthe country underwent a change, it would have been imprudent to leave the clergy in possession ofwealth which might enable them to regain the political influence of which it was intended to deprive them. Justice required that the possessors should be maintained in their incomes during life; but what was due to those who had not yet become priests, especially when the number ofecclesiastics greatly surpassed what the public service required? Will it be alleged that we never ought to change what once has been? In what moment then did the famous "once has been" become established forever? When did improvement become impossible? Since the destruction of the Albigenses by fire and sword, since the torturing of the Protestants under Francis I, the massacre of St. Bartholomew , the revocation ofthe Edict ofNantes, and the war ofthe Cevennes, the French clergy have always preached, and still preach, intolerance. The free exercise of worship then could not accord with the opinions of the priests, who protest against it, if they were allowed to retain a political existence; or ifthe magnitude oftheir property placed them in a condition to regain that political existence the loss ofwhich they will never cease to regret. The church does not become tolerant any more than the emigrants become enlightened; our institutions should be adapted to this. What! it will be said, does not the church of England own property? The English clergy, being of the reformed faith, were on the side ofpolitical reform at the time when the last ofthe Stuarts wished to re-establish the Catholic religion in England. The case is not the same with the French clergy, who are naturally inimical to the principles of the Revolution.3 Besides, the English clergy have no influence in state affairs; they are much less wealthy than the old clerical body of France, as England contains neither convents, abbeys, nor anything of the kind. The English clergy marry, and thus become a part of society. Finally, the French clergy hesitated long between the authority of the Pope and that of the King; and 3ยท It is important to recall that on June 14, 1789, six clergymen joined the Third Estate, thus contributing to the formation of the National Assembly. FrRevol_201-250.indd 37 3/16/12 1:06 PM cHAPTER X I I I . Decrees Regarding Clergy when Bossud supported what is called the liberties ofthe Gallicanchurch, he concluded, in his Sacred Politics...


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