Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Diplomacy Against the Civil Constitution

Second, the Pope realized that the Church in France was in an extremely perilous situation. He sees that the Bishops of France are frightened by the situation. Because of this, they lack the capacity to follow his words and speak with authority. He sees that the priests of France are already discouraged. They no longer have the right to meet together in assemblies to discuss their circumstances.

Third, he realizes that the King is in a weak position, that he is under a restraint to confirm the decrees of the Assembly, regardless of his personal attitude towards the decrees (7-9).
Given that the position the Pope was in, the conditions of the Church in France as he understood them, and the circumstances that Louis XVI found himself, the Pope understood the peril involved in an environment of revolutionary “free speech.” He saw that his voice could easily be “lost in the middle of a multitude.” The revolutionaries might choose to regard the voice of the Church as one of a multitude of voices in a society. He also saw that the revolutionaries could easily misinterpret and overreact to any of his public statements. The revolutionaries lacked “the capacity to contain [their] anger, that carries with it all of the excess that goes along with license, that does not spare fires, nor thievery, nor torture, nor massacre, and does not allow around it access to humanity. And at the same time, they will always be subject to imagine that they are being hated and that they are being irritated to their disadvantage and that any effort to approach them will be perceived as new attacks upon them.”

In short, any effort we make to speak with them they will take in the wrong way, they are irritated. They will easily misperceive it as an attack on their power and as something to their disadvantage. They are tyrants, slaves to sin, like alcoholics or others who are stuck in a cycle of sin and misrepresenting the facts so as to rationalize further injustices.

In a revolutionary situation, a leader like the Pope often has to resort to silence. Pius Vi speaks about the meaning of silence. He is not going to be silent to approve what the revolutionaries are doing. He is going to be silent in the hopes of letting irritated consciences quiet down, in the hopes that reason will once again take the place of the passions. He wanted to wait for the right moment to speak publicly, knowing, at the same time, that such a moment might not arise. He also knows that for “he who has received the duty of speaking, silence has its limits, but it is permitted to keep silence until the moment where one can break it without compromising the others and one’s self” (11-13). As he understands the circumstances in France, “the wounds that have been done to religion are already deep, the Church is already suffering under lively attacks, and our silence is not the silence of indifference or approval” (13-15). It is silence that waits for the right circumstances under which his words will be able to have some healthy effect. At the same time, he is aware that such circumstances might not arise, that there might arise an occasion where he will have to speak despite the adverse circumstances.

It ought to be noted that the silence of Pius VI was in no way an indication that he was wavering with respect to what are essential points in the structure and organization of the Church. The charge is commonly levied against Pius VI that he waited too long before saying anything about the Constitution, and that this public delay was a sort of implicit approval of the Constitution. It was first levied against the Pope by the revolutionaries themselves in the hopes of discrediting his words among Catholics. It fails to understand what Pius VI thought he was doing and the ways that he hoped his thinking on the matter would be made known.

He realized that the monarchy was in ruins, that the Bishops in France were paralyzed by fear, and that the revolutionaries were not in a position to listen to reason. Due to these circumstances, he supposed that any public action on his part would be misinterpreted by the revolutionaries as a threat to their regime. So, he had to either wait until reason returned, or he had to seek a way of opposing the implementation of the Constitution that, in fact, was not threatening, and, at the same time, would not appear to be threatening to the revolutionaries. His opportunity arrived in July 1790, when Louis XVI sent him the first of a series of letters, asking the advice from the Pope on the provisions of the Constitution (The quotes in the following section will be taken from the Pope’s letter to Louis XVI, 10 July 1790, 19-25).


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