Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France - Vol. 1

Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France - Vol. 1

Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France - Vol. 1

Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France - Vol. 1

Synopsis

This is the first of two volumes in McManner's magesterial reconstruction of the complex hierarchical world of the Gallican Church destroyed by the French Revolution. It describes the diocesan and parochial structure of the Church, portraying the clergy and their lifestyle from the palaces of the aristocratic bishops to the humblest nunnery, and, in a multitude of portraits, analyzing their motivations and sense of vocation. In a detailed fresco he presents the religion of the people, whether centering in the parish church or in confaternities, and the observances of folk religion outside it.

Excerpt

When a Church becomes rich and powerful, it is infiltrated by the world. For the most part without hypocrisy, individuals realize their ambitions within it, and without undue cynicism, the State makes use of ecclesiastical wealth, personnel, and prestige. The Church gains from the recruitment of ability and the support of secular force in its labours, while it loses in so far as its mission of conversion becomes a routine, its mysteries social observances, and its moral teaching a utilitarianism with supernatural sanctions. Religious perfectionists regret this, but a religion white hot and purified can never be a creed of the majority. Reformations and renewals will revive the traditions of sanctity in the Church, but a powerful established religion infiltrated by the world may yield more quiet decency in human behaviour and, perhaps, a greater sum of human happiness. In the nature of things, in the alliance of Church and State the secular power will be the gainer, for it is bent on achieving immediate and realizable ends, while the spiritual power is aiming for a perfection never attainable in this life, and looks to a mysterious eternal destiny. But there is always a reciprocity, and the balance of advantage is ever changing. In the eighteenth century, behind all the archaic complexities and convolutions of the relationship, the balance was tilting inexorably in favour of the secular power, and as events unfolded, it began to look as if the swing was irreversible.

I Ecclesiastics in State Service

During the eighteenth century, three First Ministers of the Crown were ecclesiastics. It was a question of making use of available talent. Dubois was a libertine, Fleury a man of piety, and Loménie de Brienne a sceptic; but all were outstanding for ability and tireless efficiency, and all three, in the tradition of Richelieu and Mazarin, were rewarded with the red hat of a cardinal. There never was a . . .

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