Religious life has to be examined at a number of levels: in relation to the structure and teachings of established churches; at the level of the parish in which clergy and people interrelate; and most difficult of all, in terms of the beliefs of the population.
According to the official census of 1872, of a population of 36 million, 35,387,703 were Roman Catholics, under 600,000 Protestants, 50,000 Jews and 80,000 freethinkers. Although, as will become evident, these statistics have many shortcomings, they justify the emphasis placed in this chapter upon analysis of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution and upon the relationships of its clergy with the wider society.
The revolution had been a disaster for the church. Between 1790 and 1802 recruitment of priests had been virtually suspended. Subsequently, it averaged only 350-500 per annum during the empire, so that in 1814 there were only 35,952 priests in France, half of the number in 1789, and of these almost 11,000 were over 60. Of some 23,000 churches, 3345 had no priest. During the restoration, encouraged by increased stipends and obvious government favour, and by the development of the network of church schools and seminaries the number of ordinations constantly increased, from 918 in 1815 to 2357 in 1830; reducing the percentage of sexagenarians from 42 per cent to 32 per cent. By 1830 there were 4655 more clergy than in 1814, in spite ofhigh mortality among the many aged priests. Subsequently, the number ofordinands declined, falling to 1095 by 1845. This in part reflected a deterioration of state-church relationships. However, between 1845 and 1851 there was some recovery, with the average annual number of ordinations rising to 1295 and then stabilizing at around 1310 between 1852 and 1860. Indeed, throughout the Second Empire, encouraged by government assistance and active recruitment the overall num