In 1789, a revolution swept across the land of Joan of Arc, which began the dechristianization of France. Throughout the revolution, the new revolutionary authorities suppressed the Catholic Church, abolished the Catholic monarchy, nationalized church property, exiled 30,000 priests, and killed hundreds more. When the revolution began, France had gone to war with Britain and lost miserably, plunging the country into financial ruin. The country’s financial and continuous financial plummet greatly influenced the revolution.
The program of dechristianization in the revolution didn’t start until the enactment of the law of 17 September 1793, which was also known as the law of suspects. This was when religious practice was outlawed and replaced with the cult of the Supreme Being, a deist state of religion. As a result of the french revolution, to further combat the religion of Christianity, they created an opposing religion known as “patriotism.” Significant changes were made to separate religion from the state. For reference, the Gregorian calendar was eliminated and replaced with names corresponding to nature.
To eliminate Sunday worship, months had been rearranged to contain three weeks of ten days, which would designate every tenth day for rest. Catholic holidays were abolished in exchange for national holidays and civic days of worship. Because of the lack of power, the lower class had, many began to resent the middle and higher classes, which consisted of clergymen, industrialists, politicians, lawyers, bankers, and priests. Many individuals began to resent and step away from religion decades before the revolution and felt the church had too much power and influence on politics and the country. While religions’ philosophical components were highly valued and praised for its promotion of moral and social order, it was still highly condemned for its high power and influence.
The church was also heavily penalized for its close connection to the ongoing hated monarchy. The church’s land ownership was also highly coveted throughout France. The church owned about six percent of land throughout France, a staggering reminder of its dominance in French society. The church was also given numerous monetary gains through tax exemptions and permits to collect the tithe, which caused considerable discontent amongst the lower classes, which made up about 80% of the population of France at that time.
Many lower classes had called for the abolition of the tithe and the limitation of Church property ownership. When the revolution began, many of the crowds gathered outside convents to gather weapons and supplies for the revolution. The Catholic church may have comprised a large percentage of the French population, but its immense wealth and power would also lead to a lack of trust and love for the Catholic Church. When the new French government came into power, a group known as the Constituent Assembly passed a decree that placed all the church’s property at the nation’s disposition. To rebuild the country’s financial ruin, an announcement was made that the sale of the monasteries would be used to rebuild the country’s finances.
The new French state had not only taken over the Church’s revenue and property but also, through such extreme methods, seemed to be redrawing the boundaries between the Church and the state. Catholicism was brought back into French society when Napoleon came into power in 1799. He believed that if relations were mended with the Church, it could be utilized to promote and affirm his rule of France. Napoleon ignored the objections from the opposers of the Church and began formalizing the Church’s place in French society again in a way designed to ensure that loyal membership to the Church and the state were no longer mutually exclusive.
On July 16th1801, France signed a document with Rome that allowed for Catholicism to be known as the religion of most French citizens. The church was challenged viciously through the revolution. Through the closures of their churches, the banning of their public practice, the banishment of every preacher, priest, and clergyman, the removal and deconstruction of many Catholic symbols, and the slaughter of many of these people of the Church. Many clergy members were told to swear their loyalty to the constitution, while the ones who refused fled overseas. Many members of the Catholic church were even forced to choose between their faith or their lives, and quite a few maintained their faith in God till the end.
Despite the efforts of the missionaries of terror, the Church couldn’t be stamped due to the heroism of many martyred bishops, priests, and the religiously inspired caused a spiritual renaissance in France. Many priests were given the temptation or, in some cases, forced to marry, and those who continued to practice faced imprisonment and or deportation. Once Catholicism was welcomed back into French society, it had to be under the state’s authority.
This meant that all clergy had to swear the state paid for an oath of loyalty to the government, and their salaries. The Church still managed to prevail through such challenging times in the revolution. Although many committed Christians had to go into hiding or give up their right to practice and preach publicly, they could practice freely once again. Although the church was also greatly challenged to give up their freedom to practice their religion for alternatives, many still faithfully maintained their faith in God and the Catholic Church.