The dechristianization of France during the French Revolution is a conventional description of the results of a number of separate policies conducted by various governments of France between the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Concordat of 1801, forming the basis of the later and less radical laïcité policies. The goal of the campaign between 1793 and 1794 ranged from the public reclamation of the massive amounts of land, power, and money held by the Catholic Church in France to the termination of Catholic religious practice and of the religion itself. There has been much scholarly debate over whether the movement was popularly motivated.
The French Revolution initially began with attacks on church corruption and the wealth of the higher clergy, an action with which even many Christians could identify, since the Roman Catholic church held a dominant role in pre-revolutionary France. During a two-year period known as the Reign of Terror, the episodes of anti-clericalism grew more violent than any in modern European history. The new revolutionary authorities suppressed the church; abolished the Catholic monarchy; nationalized church property; exiled 30,000 priests and killed hundreds more. In October 1793 the Christian calendar was replaced with one reckoning from the date of the Revolution, and Festivals of Liberty, Reason and the Supreme Being were scheduled. New forms of moral religion emerged, including the deistic Cult of the Supreme Being and the atheistic Cult of Reason, with the revolutionary government briefly mandating observance of the former in April 1794.
In 18th-century France, the vast majority of the population adhered to the Catholic Church as Catholicism had been since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 the only religion officially allowed in the kingdom. Nonetheless, minorities of French Protestants (mostly Huguenots & German Lutherans in Alsace) and Jews still lived in France at the beginning of the Revolution. The Edict of Versailles, commonly known as the Edict of Tolerance, had been signed by Louis XVI on 7 November 1787 and had given non-Catholics in France the right to openly practice their religions as well as legal and civil status, which included the right to contract marriages without having to convert to the Catholic faith. At the same time, libertine thinkers popularized atheism and anti-clericalism.
The Ancien Régime institutionalised the authority of the clergy in its status as the First Estate of the realm. As the largest landowner in the country, the Catholic Church controlled properties which provided massive revenues from its tenants; the Church also had an enormous income from the collection of tithes. Since the Church kept the registry of births, deaths, and marriages and was the only institution that provided hospitals and education in some parts of the country, it influenced all citizens.
The event that launched the Revolution was the abolition of the privileges of the First and Second Estate on the night of 4 August 1789. In particular, it abolished the tithes gathered by the Catholic clergy.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 proclaimed freedom of religion across France in these terms :
Article IV - Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.
Article X - No one may be disturbed for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.
On July 12, 1790, the assembly passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that subordinated the Roman Catholic Church in France to the French government. It was never accepted by the Pope and other high-ranking clergy in Rome.
The dechristianization campaign can be seen as the logical extension of the materialist philosophies of some leaders of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire, while for others with more prosaic concerns it provided an opportunity to unleash resentments against the Catholic Church (in the spirit of conventional anti-clericalism) and its clergy.
In August 1789, the State cancelled the taxing power of the Church. The issue of church property became central to the policies of the new revolutionary government. Declaring that all church property in France belonged to the nation, confiscations were ordered and church properties were sold at public auction. In July 1790, the National Constituent Assembly published the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that stripped clerics of their special rights — the clergy were to be made employees of the state, elected by their parish or bishopric, and the number of bishoprics was to be reduced — and required all priests and bishops to swear an oath of fidelity to the new order or face dismissal, deportation or death.
French priests had to receive Papal approval to sign such an oath, and Pius VI spent almost eight months deliberating on the issue. On 13 April 1791, the Pope denounced the Constitution, resulting in a split in the French Catholic church. Over fifty percent became abjuring priests ("jurors"), also known as "constitutional clergy", and nonjuring priests as "refractory clergy".
In September 1792, the Legislative Assembly legalized divorce, contrary to Catholic doctrine. At the same time, the State took control of the birth, death, and marriage registers away from the Church. An ever-increasing view that the Church was a counter-revolutionary force exacerbated the social and economic grievances and violence erupted in towns and cities across France.
In Paris, over a forty-eight-hour period beginning on 2 September 1792, as the Legislative Assembly (successor to the National Constituent Assembly) dissolved into chaos, three Church bishops and more than two hundred priests were massacred by angry mobs; this constituted part of what would become known as the September Massacres. Priests were among those drowned in mass executions (noyades) for treason under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Carrier; priests and nuns were among the mass executions at Lyons, for separatism, on the orders of Joseph Fouché and Collot d'Herbois. Hundreds more priests were imprisoned and made to suffer in abominable conditions in the port of Rochefort.
Anti-church laws were passed by the Legislative Assembly and its successor, the National Convention, as well as by département councils throughout the country. Many of the acts of dechristianization in 1793 were motivated by the seizure of church gold and silver to finance the war effort. In November 1793, the département council of Indre-et-Loire abolished the word dimanche (English: Sunday). The Gregorian calendar, an instrument decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, was replaced by the French Republican Calendar which abolished the sabbath, saints' days and any references to the Church. The seven-day week became ten days instead. It soon became clear, however, that nine consecutive days of work were too much, and that international relations could not be carried out without reverting to the Gregorian system, which was still in use everywhere outside of France. Consequently, the Gregorian Calendar was reimplemented in 1795.
Anti-clerical parades were held, and the Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel, was forced to resign his duties and made to replace his mitre with the red "Cap of Liberty." Street and place names with any sort of religious connotation were changed, such as the town of St. Tropez, which became Héraclée. Religious holidays were banned and replaced with holidays to celebrate the harvest and other non-religious symbols. Many churches were converted into "temples of reason," in which Deistic services were held. Local people often resisted this dechristianisation and forced members of the clergy who had resigned to conduct Mass again. Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety denounced the dechristianizers as foreign enemies of the Revolution, and established their own new religion. This Cult of the Supreme Being, without the superstitions of Catholicism, supplanted both Catholicism and the rival Cult of Reason. Both new religions were short-lived. Just six weeks before his arrest, on 8 June 1794 the still-powerful Robespierre personally led a vast procession through Paris to the Tuileries garden in a ceremony to inaugurate the new faith. His execution occurred shortly afterward, on 28 July 1794.
By early 1795 a return to some form of religion-based faith was beginning to take shape and a law passed on 21 February 1795 legalized public worship, albeit with strict limitations. The ringing of church bells, religious processions and displays of the Christian cross were still forbidden.
As late as 1799, priests were still being imprisoned or deported to penal colonies. Persecution only worsened after the French army led by General Louis Alexandre Berthier captured Rome in early 1798, declared a new Roman Republic, and imprisoned Pope Pius VI, who would die in captivity in Valence, France in August 1799. Ultimately, with Napoleon now in ascendancy in France, year-long negotiations between government officials and the new Pope Pius VII led to the Concordat of 1801, formally ending the dechristianization period and establishing the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State.
Victims of the Reign of Terror totaled somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000. According to one estimate, among those condemned by the revolutionary tribunals about 8 percent were aristocrats, 6 percent clergy, 14 percent middle class, and 70 percent were workers or peasants accused of hoarding, evading the draft, desertion, rebellion, and other purported crimes. Of these social groupings, the clergy of the Catholic Church suffered proportionately the greatest loss.
Anti-church laws were passed by the Legislative Assembly and its successor, the National Convention, as well as by département councils throughout the country. The Concordat of 1801 endured for more than a century until it was abrogated by the government of the Third Republic, which established a policy of laïcité on 11 December 1905.
Under threat of death, imprisonment, military conscription, and loss of income, about twenty thousand constitutional priests were forced to abdicate and hand over their letters of ordination, and six thousand to nine thousand of them agreed or were coerced to marry. Many abandoned their pastoral duties altogether. Nonetheless, some of those who had abdicated continued covertly to minister to the people.
By the end of the decade, approximately thirty thousand priests had been forced to leave France, and several hundred who did not leave were executed. Most French parishes were left without the services of a priest and deprived of the sacraments. Any non-juring priest faced the guillotine or deportation to French Guiana. By Easter 1794, few of France's forty thousand churches remained open; many had been closed, sold, destroyed, or converted to other uses.
Victims of revolutionary violence, whether religious or not, were popularly treated as Christian martyrs, and the places where they were killed became pilgrimage destinations. Catechising in the home, folk religion, syncretic and heterodox practices all became more common. The long-term effects on religious practice in France were significant. Many who were dissuaded from their traditional religious practices never resumed them.
At first the new revolutionary government attacked church corruption and the wealth of the bishops and abbots who ruled the church -- causes with which many Christians could identify. Clerical privileges were abolished ...
The cult was a deliberate attempt to counter the unsuccessful efforts at dechristianization, and the atheistic Cult of Reason, which reached its high point in the winter of the previous year.
Ad Apostolorum principis (29 June 1958) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Communism and the Church in China. It describes systematic persecutions of bishops, priests, religious and faithful and the attempts of the government to establish a patriotic Catholic Church, independent of Rome.Ad Sinarum gentem
Ad Sinarum gentem issued October 7, 1954, is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII to the Chinese people on the super-nationality of the Church.Anni sacri
Anni sacri (March 12, 1950) issued on the twelfth anniversary of his coronation, is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII on a program combating atheism.
The encyclical states:
The war is over but peace has not yet arrived. The reason for this is, that unjust lies are substituted for truth. In some countries the press turns against religion and ridicules religious feelings. In many others, there is continued persecution of the Christian faithful. It is therefore necessary in this Holy Year 1950, to preach the truth and the true gospel of Christ. Pope Pius XII calls for Church-wide efforts, to begin a veritable crusade of prayer among the faithful to implore suitable remedies for the present evils. He requests worldwide public prayers on March 26, Passion Sunday. The Pope will on that day descend into the Basilica of St. Peter to pray not only with the whole Catholic world. Those who, because of illness or old age or other reasons, cannot come to church, are requested to pray at home.Beda Chang
Beda Chang, S.J. (Simplified Chinese: 张伯达; Traditional Chinese: 張伯達) (c. 1905 – November 11, 1951) was a Chinese Roman Catholic Jesuit priest and martyr. He was tortured to death during a wave of persecution by the communist government. Born as Chang Cheng-Min (or Tsan Cheng-Min, varying sources), Father Beda Chang was a priest and the dean of faculty of arts at Shanghai's Aurora University.Christianity in Saudi Arabia
Accurate religious demographics are difficult to obtain in Saudi Arabia but while all citizens are considered Muslims by the state, there are believed to be at least 1.5–2 million Christians living in the country.Dechristianize (album)
Dechristianize is the fifth album by American death metal band Vital Remains. It was released on August 22, 2003. The lyrics deal with the Dechristianization of France during the French Revolution. The intro - "Let the Killing Begin" - features a section of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" and voices from the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told. This album was the first to feature Deicide vocalist Glen Benton, and is generally considered to be the band's breakthrough album.Dilectissima Nobis
Dilectissima Nobis, "On Oppression of the Church of Spain", is an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on June 3, 1933, in which he decried persecution of the Church in Spain, citing the expropriation of all Church buildings, episcopal residences, parish houses, seminaries and monasteries. He protested "serious offenses committed against the Divine Majesty, with the numerous violations of His sacrosanct rights and with so many transgressions of His laws, We have sent to heaven fervent prayers asking God to pardon the offenses against Him".Erich Klausener
Erich Klausener (25 January 1885 – 30 June 1934) was a German Catholic politician who was killed in the "Night of the Long Knives", a purge that took place in Nazi Germany from 30 June to 2 July 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders.Iniquis afflictisque
Iniquis afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on November 18, 1926, to denounce the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico. It was one of three encyclicals concerning Mexico, including Acerba animi (1932) and Firmissimam Constantiamque (1937). The Mexican government at the time was engaging in violently anticlerical persecution of the Church and the Pope harshly criticised the government for its abuses. The Pope criticized the state's interference in matters of worship, outlawing of religious orders and the expropriation of Church property. He noted that, "Priests are ... deprived of all civil and political rights. They are thus placed in the same class with criminals and the insane."Invicti athletae
Invicti athletae (May 16, 1957) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII to the bishops of the world on the 300th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Andrew Bobola.
Some parts of the encyclical are addressed particularly to the Catholics of Poland.José María of Manila
Blessed José María de Manila (born Eugenio del Saz-Orozco Mortera, 5 September 1880 – 17 August 1936) is a Spanish-Filipino Roman Catholic blessed, and was priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He was martyred in the early phase of the Spanish Civil War, and is the third Filipino to have been declared blessed by the Roman Catholic Church.Meminisse iuvat
Meminisse iuvat (14 July 1958) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII, asking for prayers of the persecuted Church in the East and criticizing harmful cultural developments in the West. He asks for a novena of prayer preceding the feast of the Assumption.
The encyclical reminds its readers, that during the Second World War the Pope did not simply preach peace or work on better understanding between the war parties. Most importantly, he consecrated the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the mother of God. Twelve years later, war is over, but peace has not yet arrived. The new atomic weapons can annihilate not only the vanquished but also the victors.Noël Pinot
Noël Pinot (born in Angers, December 9, 1747 - died in Angers, 21 February 1794) was a refractory priest who was guillotined during the War in the Vendée. He was beatified by the Catholic Church and considered a martyr.Pietro Leoni
Pietro Leoni (1909–1995) was a Jesuit priest from Italy who later worked in the Soviet Union.Severian Baranyk
Blessed Severian Stefan Baranyk (Ukrainian: Северіян Бараник; 18 July 1889 - ? 1941) was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and martyr.
Baranyk was born in Austrian Galicia (today Western Ukraine). He entered the monastery of the Order of St Basil the Great in Krekhiv in 1904. On 16 May he took his first monastic vows and then on 21 September 1910 he took his perpetual vows. He was ordained to the priesthood on 14 February 1915. Baranyk was known for his preaching, and his life was noted for his special kindness to youth and orphans. In 1932 he was made the prior of the Basilian monastery in Drohobych.
On 26 June 1941 the NKVD arrested him. He was taken to Drohobych prison and never seen alive again. After the Soviets withdrew from the city his mutilated body was found in the prison with signs of torture, including cross shaped knife slashes across his chest.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 June 2001.St. Peter Claver Catholic parish, Belize
St. Peter Claver Catholic parish is located in Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize.The Catholic Irish Brigade (1794-1798)
The Catholic Irish Brigade was a unit in the British army in the French Revolutionary wars, largely drafted from the formerly-hostile French "Irish Brigade" by a series of rare changes in British and French policy.Theodore Romzha
Theodore George Romzha (Ukrainian: Теодор Юрій Ромжа, Hungarian: Tódor György Romzsa, 14 April 1911 – 31 October 1947) was bishop of the Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Mukacheve from 1944 to 1947. Assassinated by NKVD, he was beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on 27 June 2001.Zynoviy Kovalyk
Blessed Zynoviy Kovalyk (Ukrainian: Зиновій Ковалик - sometimes spelled Zenon or Zenobius; 18 August 1903 - ? 1941) was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and martyr.