The French Revolution

French Revolution

“The more deeply and earnestly the French Revolution is considered the more manifest is its pre‑eminence above all the strange and terrible things which have come to pass on this earth . . . . Never has the world witnessed so exact and sublime a piece of retribution . . . If it inflicted enormous evil, it pre‑supposed and overthrew enormous evil… In a country where every ancient institution and every time‑honored custom disappeared in a moment, where the whole social and political system went down before the first stroke, where monarchy, nobility, and Church, were swept away almost without resistance, the whole framework of the State must have been rotten; royalty, aristocracy, and priesthood must have grievously sinnedWhere the good things of this world, birth, rank, wealth, fine‑ clothes, and elegant manners, become worldly perils and worldly disadvantages for a time, rank, birth, and riches must have been frightfully abused.  The nation which abolished and proscribed Christianity, which dethroned religion in favor of reason, and enthroned the new goddess at Notre Dame in the person of a harlot, must needs have been afflicted by a very unreasonable and very corrupt form of Christianity. The people that waged a war of such utter extermination with everything established, as to abolish the common forms of address and salutation, and the common mode of reckoning time, that abhorred ‘you‘ as a sin, and shrank from ‘Monsieur‘ as an abomination, that turned the weeks into decades and would know the old months no more, must surely have had good reason to hate those old ways from which it pushed its departure into such minute and absurd extravagance.  The demolished halls of the aristocracy, the rifled sepulchres of royalty, the decapitated King and Queen, the little Dauphin so sadly done to death, the beggared princes, the slaughtered priests and nobles, the sovereign guillotine, the republican marriages and the Meudon tannery, the couples tied together and thrown into the Loire, and the gloves made of men’s and women’s skins; these things are most horrible; but they are withal eloquent of retribution, they bespeak the solemn presence of Nemesis, the awful hand of an avenging power; they bring to mind the horrible sins of that old France, the wretched peasants ground for ages beneath a weight of imposts, from which the rich and noble were free; visited ever and anon with cruel famines by reason of crushing taxes, unjust wars, and monstrous misgovernment, and then hung up, or shot down, by twenties and fifties, for just complaining of starvation, and all this for centuries!  They call to remembrance the Protestants murdered by myriad’s in the streets of Paris, tormented for years by military dragoons in Poitou and Bearn, and hunted like wild beasts in the Cevennes; slaughtered and done to death by thousands and tens of thousands in many painful ways and through many painful years . . .

In no work of the French Revolution is this, its retributive character, more strikingly and solemnly apparent than in its dealings with the Roman Church and Papal power. It especially became France, which, after so fierce a struggle, had rejected the Reformation, and perpetrated such enormous crimes in the process of rejection, to turn its fury against that very Roman Church on whose behalf it had been so wrathful, . . . to abolish Roman Catholic worship as she had abolished the Protestant worship: to massacre multitudes of priests in the streets of her great towns: to hunt them down through her length and breadth, and to cast them by thousands upon a foreign shore, just as she had slaughtered, hunted down, and driven into exile, hundreds of thousands of Protestants;  . . .  to carry the war into the Papal territories, and heap all sorts of woes and shames upon the defenseless Popedom. . . . The excesses of revolutionary France were not more the punishment than the direct result of the excesses of feudal, regal, and papal France . . . In one of its aspects the Revolution may be described as a reaction against the excesses, spiritual and religious, of the Roman Catholic reaction from Protestantism.   No sooner had the torrent burst forth than it dashed right against the Roman Church and Popedom . . . The property of the Church was made over to the State; the French clergy sank from a proprietary to a salaried body; monks and nuns were restored to the world, the property of their orders being likewise gone; Protestants were raised to full religious freedom, and political equality; the Roman Catholic religion was soon afterwards formally abolished . . . Bonaparte unsheathed the sword of France against the helpless Pius VI . . . the Pontiff sank into a dependent . . . Berthier marched upon Rome, set up a Roman republic, and laid hands upon the Pope.  The sovereign Pontiff was borne away to the camp of the infidels . . . from prison to prison, and finally carried captive into France.  Here . . . he breathed his last, at Valence, in the land where his priests had been slain, where his power was broken, and his name and office were a mockery and byword, and in the keeping of the rude soldiers of the unbelieving Commonwealth which had for ten years held to his lips a cup of such manifold and exceeding bitterness . . . It was a sublime and perfect piece of retribution, which so amazed the world at the end of the 18th century; this proscription of the Roman Church by that very French nation that had slaughtered myriad’s of Protestants at her bidding; this  mournful end of the Sovereign Pontiff, in that very Dauphine, so conse­crated by the struggles and sufferings of the Protestants, and near those Alpine valleys where the Waldenses had been so ruthlessly hunted down by French soldiers; this transformation of the ‘States of the Church’into the ‘Roman Republic’, and this overthrow of the territorial Popedom by that very French nation,  which just one thousand years ago, had, under Pepin and Charlemagne, conferred these territories. Multitudes imagined that the Papacy was at the point of death, and asked, Would Pius the Sixth be the last Pontiff?  and if the close of the 18th century would be signalized by the fall of the Papal dynasty. But the French Revolution was the beginning,  and not the end of the judgement; France had but begun to execute the doom, a doom sure and inevitable, but long and lingering, to be diversified by many strange incidents, and now and then by a semblance of escape, a doom to be protracted through much pain and much ignominy.”

The Papal Drama Book X  by Thomas II Gill

Taken from Approaching the End of the Age by Guinness pg 359-361

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