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1790-1870 - Rise of Ultramontanism

No country was ever converted to Catholicism in so short a time as France. Historians assign as the reason for that quick change some likeness between Druidism and the new religion. Whatever may be the cause of it, we must recognize that at the time of Clovis almost all Gauls were followers of Christ. Invaders sought the support of the Clergy, and the Franks with Clovis were called to the West by priests. To them also is due the conversion of this chief and his elevation to kinship with the Gauls. Charlemagne increased the Church power and endowed the Pope with the Roman States. His successors acted in the same spirit and the Crusades also served to give prominence to the Clergy.

With such a start, it is not surprising that the Church at the time of the French Revolution was so rich and so powerful. Church properties escaped taxation and this was one of the principal causes of the downfall of royalty and the rise of democracy. The clerical orders did not want to be taxed, they wished to satisfy the nation by voluntary gifts. At least this was the idea of the aristocratic part of the order. When the States General split, many clergymen went with the Tiers Etat and formed at the end of the Revolution what has been called the "Constitutional Clergy."

When Napoleon, then First Consul, reorganized the Catholic Church, he was put to great trouble to get appointments for these sworn priests. The Concordat between the Pope and France was a patched-up treaty and was followed by the "Articles Organiques". The First Consul believed in religion; his early education had been Catholic and, although not a great churchgoer himself, as a ruler he favored some form of orthodox worship. His associates and friends did all they could to dissuade him from reestablishing the old Church and suggested that he should form a new religion. Bonaparte disregarded their advice and demonstrated to them the foolishness of their plan; he remembered what a failure had been the cult of Reason under the Revolution.

At this time there were two Churches in France: one composed of sworn priests, the other of the so-called orthodox. The former were in possession of churches and other properties, the latter only were trusted by the faithful and attended to their spiritual wants. These divisions were alarming and caused distrust everywhere.

Bonaparte was acquainted personally with Pope Pius VII. By request, M. Spina was sent to Paris by the Holy See. For a long time, nothing could be done. Tired of lengthy discussions, Talleyrand and de Hauterive were ordered by the First Consul to draw a treaty which was offered for the signature of M. Spina. This draft contained substantially the terms of the Concordat, which was signed by both parties on the 15th of July, 1801. The Pope accepted it because he could do no better; Bonaparte did not ask for greater concessions because he wanted to come to a prompt agreement. It is likely that both of them hoped later on to perfect the pact. This was apparent in that the Concordat was followed by the "Articles Organiques."

The conflict with Rome still continued, and in 1810 a decree of the emperor made the declarations of 1682 once more the law of France. Pius VII. was forced by circumstances to enter into the concordat of Fontainebleau (1813), in which his right to the institution of bishops was not recognised, but on the advice of his cardinals his acceptance of this treaty was speedily recalled.

After the Restoration the king agreed to a new concordat with the pope (1817), superseding the agreement of 1801, and returning to that of 1516; but this 'ghost of the past' found little favour with the French people, and in 1826 was met bv a solemn declaration of all the bishops that they still adhered to the propositions of 1682. In 1830 the relations of church and state were again revised, and the freedom of all confessions was declared. The constitution of 4th November 1848 guaranteed payment by the state to the clergy of all religions recognised by the state then or at a later time. Under the Second Empire the influence of Rome steadily increased, in spite of the ambiguous attitude of the emperor.

The "Articles Organiques" constituted the modus vivendi of the French clergy in France. Since there has been a Minister of Churchs, this minister has to rule over the church's tenants according to certain laws. It has been said that priests became government officers and were therefore liable to government control. Paid by the French government and living within its jurisdiction, they might be ruled spiritually by Popes; but they were not thereby absolved from obedience to the State. For many years no substantial objections were made to these Articles. However, the Popes never recognized them formally. They were communicated to M. Caprara, who sent a copy of the rules to Pius VII. The latter's reply shows that Rome accepted them but hoped that they would never be applied as a whole. Indeed, under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Philippe, the second Empire, France and Rome did not develop any disagreement. The kings and emperor needed the support of the Church and the middle class was not anti-catholic.

Within the 19th century the opinions of the French clergy underwent a decided change. The Gallican doctrines were much less commonly held, and in a less extreme form, and fell into great discredit with the church party. The climax of this reaction was seen in the conduct of the French bishops at the Vatican Council (1869-70), in which a great body of them were foremost in renouncing the Gallican articles and accepting the doctrine of Papal infallibility; and even those who contended for the opposite view, in the end acquiesced in the decision of the majority. In France the old theological divergences seemed to have passed out of view in presence of the conflict between the modern state and Ultramontanism.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:30 ZULU