Monday, November 13, 2006

Opposing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy I

As early as March 1790 Pius VI knew of the designs of the revolutionaries with respect to the Catholic Church. In his address to his Cardinals on March 9th, 1790 he assesses the situation in France and the character of the revolutionaries. First, he has gathered around him a group of prudent advisors to help him understand and treat the wound that pains France and the Church. He is a realist about the situation in France, with respect to his own political power as well as the power of the King in France. He understands that the wound in France might be a wound that is untreatable, a kind of sickness that will lead to death (Discourse, March 9th, 1790, p.3). The Pope, then, envisions himself as a doctor or a potential doctor dealing with a patient who may or may not want his help.

He gives his analysis of the patient. He first understands that the monarchy in France is perhaps unable to sustain itself. With respect to the revolution and the Ancient Regime, he sees that the Monarch “is fallen all at once into an abyss of evil, and it is at its ruin.” The revolution has already extended beyond the goal of taking over and changing political institutions.

He distinguishes between the fall of the monarch and the attempts of the revolutionaries to use religion to their advantage. In doing so, he is simply attributing motives to the revolutionaries that are similar to the motives that inspired earlier kings. The kings of Europe also had attempted to use the Church or to control her within their kingdoms.

In as much as the revolutionaries sought similar goals as the Catholic Kings of Europe, there is not much difference in their behavior to that of Joseph or Leopold. However, their actions have an intensity and a virulence that even Leopold’s lacked. The revolutionaries are frequently turning violent, bloody and seditious. He thinks that the revolutionaries are pursuing a further goal: making religion “subservient to and at the service of political interests.” He suspects this goal because the Revoltuionaries by March of 1790 had already violated several principles of the Concordat established between Rome and France. They have decreed a false toleration, one that allows for the freedom of conscience in religion while it attacks the Catholic Church. They are taken up with “the vain phantom of liberty” (9) that will lead to different philosophical schools fighting and harassing each other to death.

The Assembly decreed that it would no longer recognize religious vows, and it was encouraging religious priests and nuns to leave their communities (5-7). The Assembly by this point had also claimed that the nation now possessed all the goods of the Church.

In the light of the actions of the Assembly, the Pope proceeds to articulate principles, that he will, in turn, apply to the circumstances. The Pope sees that Christian doctrine is the health of a society. He also sees that the philosophy upon which the revolution is based is a philosophy, or a series of philosophies, that are unstable for the overall moral health of a society. Unrestrained freedom could lead to serious problems of its own accord. Unrestrained freedom over time leads to the unhealthy mix of demagogic and tyrannical souls. The Pope makes clear that this insight comes from reason and experience, that it arises independent of the personal sorrow he is experiencing at seeing the French repudiate Catholic principles, tradition, and history,

As the Pope assessed the Revolution, he did not misrepresent his relation, and the Church’s condition, with respect to the revolutionaries, the faithful in France, and the King himself. First, the Pope realized dealings with the revolutionaries would be difficult. He sense that because they were revolutionaries that they had already committed a number of injustices. This would make them overly sensitive to perceived corrections. It would also lead them to be eager to look for some word or deed of the Pope as a pretext for committing more outrages against the Catholic faithful in France. At the same time, the Pope understood that he would have to speak publicly in order to give guidance to the Bishops, the priests, and the Catholic faithful of France. So, as he understood the circumstances, he had to measure every word in public. For the time being, he would remain silent. But, he could not be silent indefinitely, even if it meant losing his life. There would come a moment when he had to speak. He understood that his public words, however hard they might seem, needed to be the fruit of study and reflection. They would hopefully have the effect of changing the hearts of at least some among the revolutionaries.

Second, the Pope realized that the Church in France was in an extremely perilous situation.


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