HOW, AND WITH WHAT RESULTS, DID THE CIVIL CONSTITUTION OF THE
CLERGY CONSTITUTE A TURNING POINT IN THE SUPPORT BASE OF THE
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was passed by the revolutionary government
in 1790 with the aim of reducing the power and influence of the church. It also
aimed at subordinating the church to the state. The revolutionary government
sought to achieve these aims by taking over the responsibility of paying the
clergy’s salaries. The bishops would now be elected by the same voters who
elected other government officials and they had to be approved by the
government rather than by the pope. Finally it was decided that the clergy take
an oath of ...view middle of the document...
This was because the peasants who
remained devout Catholics were ultimately influenced by the pope and clergy to
reject the civil constitution. Peasants were incited into revolting against the
government especially in places such as Vendee, Lyons, Marseille and
Bordeaux. When the government responded with military force the situation
degenerated into civil war in 1793.
The Civil Constitution alienated Louis XVI and increased conflict between the
executive and legislative arms of the revolutionary government. Even before the
passage of the civil constitution, the king and his colleagues in the revolutionary
government were already at loggerheads. The National Assembly accused the
king of bias in the use of his veto to protect the interests of the reactionary
nobles and clergy. The civil constitution worsened things and certainly put
Louis XVI in a difficult position as head of state on one hand and devout
Catholic on the other. He had a dilemma deciding whether to act as head of
state and approve the legislation or follow his religious convictions and reject
the new law. Either way it was a difficult situation and when Louis XVI chose to
follow the pope’s example in denouncing the civil constitution, he undermined
his standing in the revolutionary government. That gave his opponents yet
another excuse to seek his ouster and eventual execution in 1793. His downfall
marked the end of the moderate course in France’s revolution.
The Civil Constitution alienated sympathetic elements within the clergy and
sowed the seed of civil war that broke out three years later. In 1790, the pope
rejected the civil constitution and condemned it in very strong terms. He
denounced it as a heresy and called on all Catholics to resist it. The Pope’s
decision weighed with most of the bishops and priests in France who rejected
the civil constitution and came to be known as refractory or non- juring priests.
The Pope’s decision influenced Catholic countries such as Austria to oppose
France’s revolutionary but moderate government. The pope and clergy’s
decision influenced the peasants to turn against the revolutionary government.