Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage

Article excerpt

Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage, 1720-1815. By E. Claire Cage. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2015. Pp x, 238. $39.50. ISBN 978-0-813-93712-0.)

During the radical phase of the French Revolution, all ties to Christianity became suspect. "Citizen-Priests" who had previously established their support of the Revolution were forced to prove that support through a variety of means, including abdicating their vows-or, if they preferred, getting married. These clerical marriages are the focus of Unnatural Frenchman, a brief but well-researched and often moving book about the thousands of Gallican priests who married during the Revolutionary era.

E. Claire Cage takes a long-term view of this phenomenon. Starting with a (mostly superfluous) discussion of the history of Catholic clerical celibacy, Cage then turns to the debate over clerical celibacy in the French Enlightenment, before devoting the three remaining chapters to a discussion of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. Clerical celibacy had been a target of a number of Enlightenment authors, a discussion often tied in with the accounts of priests' sexual misadventures. The arrival of the Revolution increased the volume of this discussion. Although the relationship between the Revolution and the Catholic Church was a problem from the start of the Revolution in 1789, it was during the Radical Revolution of 1793-94 that clerical marriage became a major political issue.

The book's strength lies in the rich detail provided by Cage, particularly from the Terror and from the Napoleonic era. Cage helps make sense of the choices faced by clerics and the decisions they made-from the clerics who stood up for priestly celibacy during the Terror and those who married to protect themselves but tried to stay as true as possible to their vows to those who embraced their new status as husbands and fathers. When faced with the possibility of reconciliation with the Church under Napoleon, their choices were just as diverse (and far better documented). …

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