The Church in France Organization in The Engineering Corps | World Anvil

The Church in France

Table of Contents

During the revolution we've experimented a bit with everything. No god. New God. New priest and new festival. In the end, we've found out that people actually like their priests. They've been around since forever and getting rid of them in such unstable time is one change too many that they can tolerate. The kings, in their high wisdom, have concluded that so long as the clergy stayed silent in their corner and did what they were told, it was best to keep them around.
— Sergeant
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  The Christian Church is a millennia-old institution that has been shaping Europe's history since its inception. The exact extent of its influence has been the subject of numerous and bloody conflicts, just as the exact tenets of the faith and how to properly worship have been. The question of the place of the Church in society was one of the central motives behind the 1789 revolution, and so there have been numerous heated debates on the subject since then.

The Church and France

France has always held a very special place among Christian nations. It is considered the "first daughter of the Church" since the first French king Clovis converted to Christianity, with the king being "The Most Christian King". This special relationship consists in the church sanctifying the divine right of the king to rule France in exchange for its military and civil protection.   France is also unique among all countries in having one of its previous monarchs sanctified as a saint, Louis IX. Among Saint Louis' many great deeds, the most striking was by far his buying of the relics of Christ's Passion—including Christ's Crown of Thorns—from the Byzantine Emperor. Both the sainthood of a previous French monarch and the presence of those relics in France brought unprecedented prestige to the French royal House and the monarchic institution.  
Once again, France is simply the best.
— Sergeant
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Early history to the revolution

At its beginning, the Church was fully under the authority of the Roman emperor. Since the fall of the empire however, the Church and the pope have taken over ruling Rome and the surrounding area. They have had to fight a fierce battle against the Holy Roman Empire over who would have suzerainty over the other Italian states. A battle that the church won only to see the French kings rise as new opponents.   This came to a head under Philippe IV the Fair, under which the principles of Gallicanism were first established. This is a movement that recognises the spiritual power of the pope but believes that his temporal power should be limited. In practice, this means that it is the local French ecclesiastic council—on which sit bishops chosen by the French monarchy—that should have full control of the Church inside France instead of the pope.   After a series of conflict with the pope, Philippe the Fair and his heirs even managed to briefly completely submit the Church to their will by having the papacy moved to France in Avignon, as well as having their ancestor Louis IX canonised by the pope as a saint.  
Ah... Philippe the Fair has always been one of my favourite king... Someone who knew how to serve the interests of France before anything else.
— Sergeant
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  However, during the period of the wars of religion that devastated Europe and divided the Church into catholicism and protestant, the topic of religion and the power of nobles and bishops increased. France was firmly on the catholic side for a while, until the heir to the throne became the Huguenot Henri IV, leading to the toleration of all Christian faiths in France. Until his grandson King Louis XIV undid it because he wanted a well-ordered kingdom: "one faith, one law, one king".  
All of those imbeciles only made the game of England and Spain, who were both all too happy to have a vicarious fight outside of their own borders by funding our catholic and protestant factions, with bonus points for devastating our country and bringing our might so low!
— Sergeant
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  Louis XIV made the power of the king absolute in France and did not suffer any shadows cast on him by nobles or religious people. He had the French Church fully submitted to him and virtually independent from the pope. It is under him that Gallicanism was fully defined.
Philippe the Fair by Wikimedia Commons

King Louis XIV by Wikimedia Commons

The revolution

Events leading to the revolution

A few generations later, when France came to an impasse while attempting to solve financial problems, King Louis XVI convened the Estates General, an assembly where elected representatives of the three estates sit: the nobility, the Church, and the third estate. The decision was made that the vote would be counted by estate rather that by head, which meant that all votes would be gathered inside each estate to decide how this estate would vote. By siding with the nobility, the Church put a deadlock on any potential reform. This impasse is what lead to the revolution.   The Church was seen as corrupt and hypocritical, preaching morality while being filled by debauchery. They were set against progress and making the sacrifice of their privileges for helping people survive a famine. During their long history, they had accumulated riches and lands for their own benefits and refused to share their spoilt. They clearly had to go.

One of the best things the revolution has done! All those religious and nobles are not worth any more than you and I! If they want to live in our society, they better contribute usefully to it and stop living like parasites.
— Sergeant
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Changes made at the start of the revolution

Thus, during the first years of the revolutions, people were more than happy with abolishing the tithes and nationalising all those lands and goods and reselling them to private individuals. Marriages could even now be celebrated by the state instead of needing to be done by a priest to be recognised as real. But what to do with the Church organisation itself and its people?   In 1790, the government closed monasteries and religious orders and established the Civil Constitution of the clergy, inspired by the principles of Gallicanism which had stayed very popular in France among the clergy. This made the priests employees of the state and forced them all to swear fidelity to the French constitution. The government also decided that bishops were to be elected by the citizen electors of their diocese, rather than named by the king and later confirmed by the pope. Finally, the priests and the congregation had to share the churches with everyone else who wanted to use them at the same time by dividing the space.   However, the pope condemned those changes and, as a result, only 24% of the clergy agreed to this. This division led to a distrust of the clergy by the new revolutionary government and made them persecute the réfractaire, which in turn created a big opposition to the revolution among French people.  
Really, for people so concerned with charity and generosity and the immorality of richness, they were all so quick to take offence at their goods being gifted to the French people!
— Sergeant
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  This led to the biggest changes of the revolution, the rejection of two important tenets of the Church: the sanctity of the king's rule and of his person, as well as the immorality of human sacrifice. The acting government made a powerful declaration by having King Louis XVI executed in the first human sacrifice carried out by the state inside the country since Clovis' time. The potent symbol was enough to power the border barriers to a level never reached before and to ensure their transfer to a new heir designated by the revolutionary council against the direct will of the previous king.  
Nothing should be wasted, I say! If he could not serve us in life, at least he made himself useful in death!
— Sergeant
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Execution of Louis XVI by Antoine-Jean Duclos (1794), Bibliothèque nationale de France

Attempts to find an alternative to Christianity

King Robespierre, one of the first elected kings, wanted to convert all French people away from Christianism to definitely abolish the influence of the Church. He first supported the Cult of Reason (a form of atheism which worshipped no god but the abstract concept of reason itself) from October 1793 to March 1794.   However, without the threat of a God to make them behave, those people were seen as completely dissolute. Thus, soon Robespierre himself established the Cult of the Supreme Being (a cult believing in God and the immortality of the soul, and aiming for a civic-minded and public form of virtue) from May to July 1794.   Yet most French people were still deeply religious and attached to their local priests, and they resisted this sudden transformation of their society. The whole event contributed to making the king deeply unpopular and in getting him killed.  
The good thing with electing king is that it's easy to change if the one on the throne proves himself to be an idiot! Unfortunate accidents occur so often in those dangerous times...
— Sergeant
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  Robespierre's death, this was exchanged for yet another cult: the Decadary cult from August 1798 to November 1799, with Decadary being the 10th day of the week in the new calendar. It replaced the Sunday cult with quasi-religious festivals that were highly politicised and patriotic event including singing, banquets, and games, as well as the promotion of Republican norms and values. A submovement of the Decadary cult was Theophilanthropy, which combined it with deism.

Return to stability

Yet, the country was still deeply unstable. Once King Napoléon was elected to power, he had to find a way to impose order and to calm the people. This led him to reestablish Christianity and sign a Concordat with the pope in 1801. The pope now accepts the kings elected by the French parliament as legitimate and the nationalisation of the possession of the Church in France, and in exchange the French government has gone back to paying a salary to French priests.   However, this also recognises that the Church in France is subordinate to the French King, and that the French priests will continue to swear loyalty to the French state and the new kings and to sing the Domine, salvum fac regem at the end of the mass. Napoléon also established a new religious toleration of the 800 000 protestants, 45 000 jewish living inside of France, and the few thousands followers of the new religions, and he gave them all the same status of employees of the state and the same salary as the catholic priests.   His successors, the Restauration kings Louis XVIII and Charles X, attempted to establish a new Concordat with the pope to revert some of those changes, but they were not able to pass it through parliament. Nor were they able to put an end to the religious toleration. The only thing they were able to do was increase the part of the budget allocated to pay the salary of the catholic priests.   Since King Lucien succeeded them on the throne, he was able to reduce the part of the budget back to what it was in Napoléon's time. The biggest change he is responsible for, however, is the establishment of state schools available to every child in France, which effectively took education out of the hands of the clergy and so greatly diminished the influence of the Church among French society.  
Vulnerable children are best kept away from such suspicious individuals. Their moralities and patriotisms will be much more secured with the proper education ensured by the state!
— Sergeant
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At the top of the French Church are the bishops, paid a salary of 10,000 Francs a year, followed by the priests who are paid 1,000 Francs a year. The bishops handle a diocese, an ecclesiastic district with a size similar to that of a department. Their title is equivalent to a nobility title; it is highly respected and gives them a measure of political influence. Priests handle a parish, often the size of a village or the neighbourhood of a town.   The monasteries and religious orders have all been abolished since the revolution, and so there is no longer any monk or nun in France.   Bishops are named directly by the king, while bishops selected individual priests who then need to be approved by the king. The king also has ultimate authority on all members of the clergy and can judge them in his court rather than having to appeal to the pope.  
If you live in France, you should be submitted to the king's laws! All those nonsense about forbidding human sacrifices and the regeneration ritual of the border barriers should have never been tolerated for so long!
— Sergeant
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Main Saints of France

France is under the direct protections of several patron saints. Those saints have at heart the interests of France, and its people and they should be prayed to so that they can intercede with God and convince him to grant favours.  
  • Sainte Vierge Marie, main patron of France
  • Sainte Jeanne d'Arc, major patron. Was contacted by saints and angels and freed France from the English during the Hundred Years' War. Canonised in 1833 under the action of King Lucien.
  • Sainte Pétronille, secondary patron but the direct patron of the Kings of France when France became the First Daughter of the Church, just as Sainte Pétronille was the daughter of the first leader of the Church, Saint Pierre.
  • Saint Michel, secondary patron. Archangel leader of the celestial army.
  • Saint Martin, secondary patron. A previous Roman soldier known for his charity and who introduced monasteries in Gaule.
  • Saint Denis, secondary patron. The first bishop of Paris.
  • Saint Louis, secondary patron. King Louis IX.
  • Saint Rémi, secondary patron. Bishop of Reims, converted the Francs and celebrated the baptism of King Clovis.
  • Sainte Geneviève, secondary patron. Protector of Paris from the Huns and promoter of the conversion of King Clovis.
  • Sainte Radegonde, secondary patron. Queen of France, founded a monastery and became a nun against the will of her husband the king was still alive.
  • Sainte Bathilde, secondary patron. Queen and regent of the Francs, ended slavery in the Franc Kingdom, funded monasteries and ended her lilfe as a nun.
  • Sainte Clotilde, secondary patron. Queen of the Francs and wife of King Clovis who converted to Christianism for her.
Don't forget to invoke the right saints before a battle! God is always busy, but they'll be sure to catch His attention. I do hope you're not one of those protestants who think they are important enough to have His ear without any effort and can just bother Him about everything... And only invoke French saints! You never know with those foreigners on whose side they're going to be... And more than that, don't forget to prepare adequately for that battle! You can't be rude and ask God to do all the effort for you now, can you?
— Sergeant
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Cover image: Notre Dame De Paris Cathedral in Paris by sacratomato_hr on Wikimedia Commons


Author's Notes

Almost everything concerning the Church that is presented here is historical up to Napoléon's time, however, some complex historical events are rather simplified.

Please Login in order to comment!
15 Jul, 2021 13:37

This is just a fantastic summary and a fascinating tale! I have one question though: was Louis XVI's execution really seen as a human sacrifice? If so, wow.

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
15 Jul, 2021 14:14

Ah not in real history but it my setting yes. France was being attacked on all sides by the other European countries and the revolution (and the whole country) was in real danger. And Louis XVI did agree to the constitutional monarchy only to betray us with the Austrians. Those are the reasons he was executed in real history. I just decided that, since the situation was so desperate and his betrayal so strong, people would think human sacrifice was an appropriate answer.   It still shocked everyone else in France and Europe, but since it released so much magic and France was able to have some important and unexpected victories, people attributed that to the human sacrifice and this started a trend :p

To see what I am up to: SC list of articles and goals.
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