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Toby Terrar, “Some Eighteenth-Century Background to Liberation Theology: Church Democracy and Religious Freedom in the Roman Catholic Church During the Period of Democratic Revolution.” This article originally appeared in NST: Nature, Society and Thought (Minneapolis), vol. 4, (no. 1/2, Jan./Apr. 1991), pp. 127-150.


            The Princeton historian, Robert Palmer, has called the period of the late eighteenth century, the age of democratic revolution (Palmer 1956-1965). This was because during this period popular forces in Europe and America, including tenants, artisans, laboring people, merchants, people of color and women, made political, economic, cultural and religious advances against landlords, slaveowners, monopolists and imperialists.

            Palmer might have been more accurate to have called it the age of Catholic democratic revolution. Revolutions took place in much of Europe and America during the period. Most of the nations were Catholic and most of the revolutionaries were Catholic. They included clergy and nuns, some of whom played leading roles. Bishops and even a pope sided with the revolutionary movement.

            Catholics led democratic revolutions in France, Ireland, Poland, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, in Belgium at Liege, in Italy which included the Cisalpine, Liguarian, Parthenopean, and Roman Republics, in the Caribbean, at St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Hispaniola, which included Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and New Granada, which included uprisings in Columbia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

            Some historians, especially prior to the Second Vatican Council, maintained that the democratic revolutionaries were revolutionary in spite of their Catholicism.[1] This view was prominent because a small but dominant sector of the church was opposed to the revolutionary ideals of democracy and human rights. This sector, mainly European landlords and monopolists, had the Roman establishment, which was itself a landlord, and many historians under its influence. They incorrectly taught that democracy, human rights and the Catholic revolutionaries who lived by these ideals, were not part of the Catholic tradition. The landlord and monopolist version of Catholicism has often been repudiated in recent years as in the 1965 Vatican Council declaration on religious liberty (Dignitatis humanae) and in the 1986 United States Bishops' pastoral letter on the economy (Quelquejeu 1989, 118).

            Some still maintain, however, that there is no relation between current democratic church activity, as in the liberation theology movement or base Christian communities, and the eighteenth-century revolutions. That is, while the democratic ideals of the earlier revolutionaries may have been compatible with Catholic tradition, the eighteenth-century ideals were not based in the gospel (Charentenay 1989, 133). This article will submit evidence that many of the eighteenth-century revolutionaries were revolutionaries because of their Catholicism and that their activity was based in the gospel. In other words there is a good bit of continuity between the eighteenth-century revolutionary tradition and present-day revolutionary movements. Catholic revolutionaries of today in looking to the eighteenth century have a tradition worthy of emulation.

            There is a Catholicism of landlords, monopolists, and monarchism that teaches obedience to the established order and that is hostile to human rights. But there is also a popular, humanist Catholicism that teaches democracy, social justice, and the overthrow of the unjust established order.

            This article will focus on one aspect of the eighteenth-century democratic revolutions, the advances made in democratizing the governmental structure of the church. The analysis has two parts. First, there will be a discussion of some of the constitutional, common law, natural law, martial law and direct action measures which brought church government under popular control. Second, some achievements associated with church democracy will be mentioned.

Church Democracy

            Most late eighteenth-century revolutions took an interest in and some established representative government in the church as well as state. The enactments directed toward democratizing church government included praemunire type legislation that prevented Roman interference in the local churches and preserved the fraternal, not paternal, relation between Rome and the national churches. Fraternity, along with liberty and equality, were part of the democratic ideal. Anti-mortmain legislation was also enacted. This prevented the monopolization of national church property by bishops. Examples of this were the systems embodied in the French Constitution of the Clergy of 1790, that in the Cisalpine Constitution of 1797, and that in the Haitian Constitution of 1805.

            Typical was the French Constitution of the Clergy. It was inspired in part by the social justice ideals of the Jansenist movement and of theologians like Edmund Richer (1559-1633).[2] The Constitution of the Clergy reduced the 134 dioceses of France to 83, abolished many ecclesiastical offices, required bishops and priests to keep residence in the place of their ministry, mandated that they perform their ministerial duties, abolished the jurisdiction of foreign canon law, and required the bishops to take an oath to support the popular government.[3] The French Constitution also restored to the people a regular vote in the election of bishops and priests. This had been their right for the first thousand years of church history.

            In France among the 90 clergy who were elected representatives to the National Assembly and whose beliefs were incorporated by the Constitution of the Clergy was Emmanuel Sieyès (1748-1836) (Forsyth 1987, 201).[4] He was a member of the constitutional drafting committee.[5] In promoting democratic government in church and state, one of Sieyès' goals was to overturn the institutionalized landlord hatred against labor and laboring people. He commented:

What a society in which work is said to derogate; where it is honorable to consume, but humiliating to produce, where the laborious occupations are called vile, as if anything were vile except vice, or as if the classes that work were the most vicious. . . During the long night of barbarism and feudalism, true relationship among people was able to be destroyed, all nations upset, all justice corrupted. But with the darkness past, medieval absurdities must disappear. Social remnants of this ancient savagery must be destroyed. Social order, in all its beauty, must take the place of the old disorder. (Sieyès [1789] 1975, 71-73; see also, Plongeron 1979)

            In France royalist clergy who sought to undermine church democracy by calling on Roman intervention were ordered by a decree of the legislative assembly on November 20, 1791 to leave the country. At least 30,000 fled or were driven from France. Those that remained or returned were liable to deportation, to ten years' imprisonment, or to the death penalty. After the outbreak of war between France and the governments of Europe, some 1,400 royalists were executed in Paris, including 400 clergy (Ruskowski 1940, 1-2).[6]

            The thinking of French Catholics who supported the Constitution of the Clergy is studied by Timothy Tackett (1986, 165). He describes one supporter:

As soon as Felicite Aillard, a parishoner of Yvelot, appeared before the priest for her Easter duty, he asked her opinion of the "affaires des temps." When she responded that she had come to confess and not to talk about all that, he immediately criticized her for displaying too much pride and for "reasoning like a woman." It was essential that she tell him if she would recognize the elected replacements for her bishop and priest and would abandon her "legitimate pastors." She would not, she answered, abandon them: it was they who were abandoning her. She would always be the sheep of the pastor who came to care for her. And, in any case, how was she to know which priest to believe when those of the two sides were constantly contradicting each other? The priest exhorted her to follow "the greatest number of priests and the most enlightened" and to remember that hardly any of the bishops had taken the oath. She answered that she would be mad to listen to the bishops, who, as everyone knew, were only interested in holding onto their immense wealth. And with this the priest dismissed her, refusing to hear her Easter confession.

            The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 was one of the enactments that helped promoted church democracy in Poland. It had a praemunire measure that prohibited  anti-popular interests from making appeals to the Roman Curia and provided for the investigation of all church disputes by Polish tribunals. Bulls and other papal epistles could be read in Poland only by the consent of the national authorities (Piekarski 1978, 42). One of those who provided the inspiration for the Polish constitution was a Piarist priest, Stanislaus Konarski (1700-1773) in his book, On the Effective Conduct of Debates ([1760-1763] 1923; see also, Rose 1929, 122).

            Church democracy in the Americas was advanced by the Haitian revolution of August 1791. As part of its democratic constitution, Haiti's church officers became subject to popular election.[7] The clergy that had identified with the overthrown slaveowners were deposed. Church relations with Rome were suspended in order to stop slaveowners from using that establishment against the people. It was only in 1860 that relations were restored, after Rome agreed to recognize the same right for the proposal and appointment of bishops that the former French king had possessed.[8]

            Constitutional enactments in behalf of church democracy were supplemented by the common law and direct action measures. Illustrative was the 1794 common law action taken in Poland against those landlords who sought clerical aid to overthrow the 1791 democratic constitution. These landlords also fought to prevent taxation of the landlord class and the emancipation of the serfs. Among Poland's biggest landlords and serfowners were three bishops, who owned 160,000 of Polands 215,000 villages (Bain [1909], 1971 11). These bishops called upon the Russian and Prussian landlord monarchies to invade Poland in order to aid Polish landlords against the democratic forces. The three bishops used their offices to instruct the Polish people not to carry out orders of the democratic authorities. They told the clergy to refuse the sacraments to peasants fighting on the democratic side (Piekarski 1978, 47).

            In response the popular Catholics in Warsaw and Vilnus, on May 9, and June 28, 1794 sent two of the bishops, Josef Kossakowski of Warsaw and Ignacy Messalski of Vilnus to the gallows. The primate Michael Poniatowski was accused of spying. He ended up committing suicide. The third bishop, Wojciech Skarszewski, was sentenced to death, but spared when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Ferdinando Maria Saluzzo (1784-1794), mentioned to the popular leadership that the execution of yet another bishop would be "treated by Rome as persecution of religion (Piekarski 1978)."[9]

            The defense of the Polish popular church was headed by the American revolutionary hero, Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817), whom one historian called "a Catholic Jacobin" (Bain [1909] 1971, 254). He returned to Poland in 1784 and was soon involved in the democratic movement there. Some of the Catholic clergy who served as chaplains under Kosciuszko were Joseph Meier, Franciszek Ksawery Dmochowski, and a Rev. Jelski. A Carmelite friar, Jakabowski, was said to be an admirer of Robespierre (Piekarski 1978, 47).[10] The Rev. Hugo Kollataj (1750-1812) helped prepare the serf emancipation proclamation contained in Kosciuszko's Polaniec Proclamation of May 7, 1794 (Palmer 1956-1965, 2:148, 182).

            In the Irish democratic struggle against the British and Irish landlords, it was revolutionary organizations like the White Boys, the Agrarian Defenders, the Volunteers and the United Irish that appealed to natural rights in enforcing democracy in church and state. For example, John T. Troy was the bishop of Dublin and a puppet of British and Irish landlords. He sought in the 1770s to excommunicate those in armed struggle against the established order. But the Gaelic and most of the Anglo-Irish parish priests refused to read Troy's circular of excommunication from the altar, or read it in an inaudible voice (Edwards 1976, 152; Dublin Gazette [September 7/9, 1775]). The main excommunicating was that decreed by the revolutionaries against those clergy who abused the people with excessive fees for officiating at marriages, baptisms, and funerals. The White Boys used tarring, feathering and other direct action to remove several clerics (McCracken 1986, 97-98; Murphy 1965, 104-113).

            The various advances in church democracy at the national level often grew out of advances at the parish level. In France the churches became the meeting places for the neighborhood assemblies and democratic clubs. In Paris virtually all the people attended such assemblies and had a direct voice in governing the city and the church.

            Women voted in these assemblies and spoke on economic, political, educational, military, and religious issues. They helped direct the revolution by their "sanction en masse" vote by acclamation (Soboul 1988, 158). Some nuns defended the social justice ideals of the Jansenist movement and aided its program of democratizing church government (Sieyès [1791] 1987, 201-202).

            Women like the peasant Théroigne (1762-1817) collaborated with abbé Sieyès and took part in the assault on the Bastille on July 14, 1789 (Sokolnikova 1932, 200. Catholics were part of the march of women on Versailles in October 1789, part of the soap riots of the laundry women against profiteering in soap in June 1793 and April 1794 at ports throughout France, and part of the strikes against monopolistic pricing of bread and housing (Soboul 1988, 159, 164). These women quoted the church council at Macon, which recognized the existence of the mind and soul in women, in defense of the right of free public education for women (Sokolnikova 1932, 28; Soboul 1988, 165). They questioned why the Declaration of Rights did not apply to them (Soboul 1988, 161).

            Revolutionary Catholic women helped form women's clubs that provided forums for developing propositions on the vital religious issues of the day. Women who had been killed by Royalists while serving as couriers for the democratic army were held up as heroes. Their funeral masses were revolutionary liturgical celebrations. They were depicted as rising to heaven on the tri-color flag. Their graves became sites of pilgrimage (Soboul 1988, 134; Ozouf 1988; Agulhon 1981; Hunt 1984).

Achievements Associated with Church Democracy

            The first part of this article has mentioned some of the measures, both constitutional, common law, and direct action, which helped advance democracy in church government. The second part of this article will describe the achievements associated with church democracy. These achievements center on how the church was mobilized in the service of revolution and of ecumenism.

            The essence of church democracy and religious freedom is the mobilization of the church in the service of democracy. This was the point made by the 1981 United Nations Declaration on Religious Freedom (United Nations General Assembly, 1981). The declaration states that religious freedom has a positive duty to become a fighter for world peace, social justice and the elimination of colonialism and racial discrimination. It is a violation of religious freedom not to work actively for these goals. The eighteenth-century revolutionaries demonstrate the church actively engaged in constructing religious freedom by working for these goals.[11]

            One illustration of the relationship between church democracy and the mobilization of the pulpit as a force for democracy was the case of Pope Pius VII (Luigi Chiaramanti, 1742-1823). In 1797 as a bishop he collaborated with the establishment of the Cisalpine Republic, which was made up of Bologna, Ferrara, Imola, Milan, Lombardy, and Tuscany. He put "Liberty and Equality" on his letterheads and in between where the civil authorities put "In the Name of the Cisalpine Republic," he put "The Peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ." He gave up the Gregorian calendar in his episcopal documents and adopted the Republican calendar, which one of his nineteenth-century successors tried to label as a blasphemy against the Incarnation. In the pulpit his sermons abounded with quotations from Jesus, St. Paul, and St. Augustine to support his belief that, "The spirit of the Gospel is founded on the maxims of liberty, equality, and fraternity and in no way in opposition to democracy." Napoleon Bonaparte remarked with approval that the citizen cardinal "preached like a Jacobin (Leflon 1958, 434)."

            In France the theology of the popular party, was taught in "civic sermons" by priests such as Alexander Dubreuil, a Babouvist, Metier of Saint-Liesse of Melun, Petit-Jean of Épineuil, Dolivier of Mauchamps in the Étampes district, Louis-Pierre Croissy of Étalon in the Montdidier district, and Abbot Carion (Dolivier [1793] 1967; Soboul 1988, 145-153). The popular theology was that Jesus had been a sans-culotte," "the most fervent democrat," that there could be no political equality without economic equality, and that freedom did not consist in starving your fellow creatures (Soboul 1988, 145-153; Palmer 1956-1965 2:358; Lesnodorski 1965, 246). The democratic bishop of Calvados, Claude Fauchet (1744-1793), gave sermons which proclaimed the right of agrarian tenants to overthrow their landlords and take full ownership of the land they cultivated (Comby 1989, 22; see also, Fauchet 1790; Fauchet 1791).

            Jacques Roux (1752-1794), was a member of the lower clergy, who Camilo Torres, the Columbian priest that died as a guerrilla fighter, took as his patron saint (Torres 1971). Roux preached that "liberty is only a vain phantom when one class of people can starve another with impunity. Equality is only a vain phantom when the rich people, through monopoly, exercise the right of life and death over their fellow humans (Christophe 1986, 162)." Part of his saying mass included passing around petitions to be signed and leading the congregation out into the streets to demand lower prices for bread or to tear down the hedges of landlords (Soboul 1988, 151).

            The placing of the pulpit in the service of the revolution was a similar achievement associated with church democracy in Italy. Some 15 of the popular clergy of the Parthenopean Republic in Naples continued to preach the revolutionary gospel even after being captured and condemned to death in 1799 by a landlord army led by English Protestant, Russian Orthodox, and Turkish Muslim generals.[12] These Italian Catholic revolutionaries included Bishop Michele Natale of Vico; Francesco Conforti, who besides being a priest, was a professor of canon law; and Carlo Laubert (also spelled Lauberg), who was a monk, teacher, and chemist. Laubert became chemist-in-chief of the French army and later was elected President of the republic.

            One of the priests of the Parthenopean Republic was Nicola Pacifico. He was a mathematician, botanist, poet, and antiquarian. He had been jailed for many years until the revolution freed him. He then served as a chaplain and soldier in the popular militia. After his recapture, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo (1744-1827) offered to save him if he would say, "Viva il Re" in token that he renounced democracy (Giglioli 1903, 124, 352). He stood on his principles and died. One hostile contemporary account of the church in Naples mentioned:

The revolutionary fanaticism in Naples has been more ardent, atrocious, and universal among the clergy than in France itself. Ninety-year old priests, on being hanged, have preached democracy and invoked the French at the steps of the gallows. (Maury 1891, 1:206, 233)

            In Ireland the mobilization of the pulpit in the service of revolution was led by the clergy within the United Irish. The United Irish was the revolutionary party during the 1790s. Some of the priests who made contributions were Henry O'Kane, Francis O'Hearne, James Burke, and John Murphy.

            O'Kane at the time of the French Revolution in 1789 had been teaching at Nantes, France. He took the constitutional oath of the clergy and joined the revolutionary army as a chaplain. He was with Jean J. Humbert's (d. 1823) military expedition to Mayo, Ireland in 1798. Their flag had a harp, without a crown, and the inscription "L'independance d'Irelande." O'Kane worked in Mayo as an agitator and propagandist for the United Irish, addressing enthusiastic crowds in his native Gaelic. He took up arms in the battle of Castlebar and Ballinamuck (Simms 1986, 652-653; Hayes 1932, 49-65).

            At the time of the Irish Revolution in 1798, John Murphy was a priest at Wexford who agitated from the pulpit against the enforced economic poverty of his people. He also gave military leadership, as described in the following:

The insurrection began in Ulster in April 1798. It soon spread to the other parts of the island with all sorts of people, such as the Agrarian Defenders taking part. . . The most serious fighting was in the southeast, in Wexford. Fr. John Murphy emerged as a military leader of some talent, guiding a host of poorly armed peasants into battle. (Palmer 1956-1965, 1:501; Dickson 1956; Stewart 1843-1853, 1:219)

            In the Haitian revolution beginning in August 1791, 50 African, French, Spanish and Corisican clergy identified with and put the pulpit in the service of the revolution. These included the Spanish Capuchin, Corneille Brelle (d. 1817), an ex-slave named Felix, a mulatto priest, Salgado, and a white Cuban, Juan Gonzalez.[13] Brelle was a chaplain in General Pierre Touissant L'Ouverture's (1743-1803) command and later a bishop (Cole 1967, 145).

            In defending theologically the right of the people to govern themselves, these abolitionist clergy had a hand in the defeat of the decade-long aggression by English, Spanish, and French landlords who were bent on restoring the old order. More than 50,000 European mercenaries lost their lives and 25 million pounds sterling was spent in these unsuccessful attempts against Haiti.[14] Henri Grégoire described the nature of the slavocracy aggression:

These people wish to rule over servile men, over cadavers and rubbish. They are rulers who prefer burned villages to villages in rebellion, who would sacrifice thousands of soldiers rather than abandon an assault. These bloodthirsty beasts lead armies into butchery with impunity. (Grégoire 1975, 45)

            Catholic abolitionists in Europe made the pulpit a support to the anti-slavery and anti-imperial cause in Haiti. These clergy helped in gaining the abolition of slavery by the French Republic on February 14, 1794. Among the clergy who were active in international abolitionist organizations were Guillaume Raynal (1713-1796), Antoine de Cournand (1747-1814) (see Cournand 1789), and Henri Grégoire.

            Raynal's A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1783) went through 55 editions in six languages by 1800 (Raynal [1760], 1783; see also, Raynal 1776). It recited the evils brought upon the world by European colonialism and its religion of obedience. Among the passages from this work which General Toussaint admired was the following:

If there is no power under heaven that can change my organization, and convert me into a brute, there is none that can dispose of my liberty. God is my Father not my master. I am his child, not his slave. How then, could I accord to political power that which I refuse to Divine omnipotence?

These are immovable and eternal truths--the foundation of all morality, the basis of all government. Will they be contested? Yes! And it will be a barbarous and sordid avarice which will commit the audacious homicide. Cast your eye on that shipowner in Europe, who, bent over his desk, regulates, with pen in hand, the number of crimes which he may commit on the coast of Guinea; who, at his leisure, examines what number of muskets will be needed to obtain a negro, what number of chains to hold him bound on board his vessel, what number of whips to make him work: who coolly calculates how much will cost him each drop of the blood with which his slave will water his plantation; who discusses whether the negress will give more or less to his estate by the labors of her feeble hands than by the dangers of child-birth.

You shudder? ah! if there existed a religion which tolerated, which authorized, if only by its silence, horrors like these; if, occupied with idle or contentious questions, it did not ceaselessly thunder against the authors or the instruments of this tyranny; if it made it a crime for the slave to break his chains; if it suffered in its bosom the unjust judge who condemned the fugitive to death; if this religion existed, would it not be necessary that its altars should be broken down. (Beard 1853, 31)

            Another of the French abolitionists was Henri Grégoire (d. 1831) who was a member of the National Assembly. The Vietnamese revolutionary, Ho-Chi-Minh, at the bicentennial of Gregoire's birth in 1950, called him "the apostle of liberty of all people (Plongeron 1989, 38)." Gregoire proposed legislation that would require the clergy to use the pulpit to teach against racism and slavery. He wrote:

Religion teaches people to look upon one another as equals. I propose the following decree to the National Assembly: the clergy are to use all the influence which their ministry gives them in order to efface racial prejudice. Let us obliterate all the degrading distinctions which nature rejects and religion prohibits. . . Equality should be the sole measure of rights. To live is nothing but to live free is everything. (Grégoire 1975, 36, 49-50)[15]

            Catholic Afro-Americans made revolution and insurrection a pulpit in which to teach the doctrine of anti-racism. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, they revolted in 1795, in Bahia, Brazil they led the Tailors' Rebellion of 1798 (Maxwell 1973, 218-224, 237), and the Eugenho Santana uprising of 1798 (Schwartz 1977, 70; Schwartz 1986, 473). They were involved in Cuba in the 1795 Nicolas Morales conspiracy (Rout 1976, 120), the Puerto Principe rebellion of July 1795, the rebellion in central Cuba in 1798, and the Maracaibo conspiracy of 1799.

            In Dominica Catholic Afro-Americans led the 1791 and 1795 insurrections (Craton 1980, 2-5; Schuler 1970; Synnott). The revolt of 1795 in Grenada was led by the Catholic Julien Fédon (Cox 1984) and the 1795 revolt in Guadeloupe was led by Victor Hugues. Black Catholics fomented the Pointe Coupée plot of 1795 in Spanish Louisiana (Holmes 1970, 353; Liljegren 1939, 47-97), the Martinique slave revolt of 1789, and the larger one on that island led by Jean Kina in 1802 (Geggus 1980). The 1795 Aguadilla conspiracy in Puerto Rico (Dominquez 1980, 170-176), the St. Vincent insurrection of 1795, the Boca Nigua rebellion on Santo Domingo in 1796, and the revolt on Tortola in 1790 were the work of free and slave Black Catholics. Finally, the 1795 Coro rebellion in Venezuela was led by the Catholics José Chirinois and José Caridad Gonzalez (Dominquez 1980, 56, 159, 161).

            In Canada some of the popular clergy who mobilized the pulpit in the service of revolution were Claude Carpenter, Joseph-Hypolite Filiau-Dubois (1734-1788), Pierre Rene Floquet (1716-1782), Peter Gibault (1737-1804), Joseph Huguet (a former Jesuit), Louis Eustache Lotbiniere (1715-1786), and Pierre Huet de la Valiniere (b. 1732) (Griffin 1907-1911, 44, 75, 78, 104, 112). Gibault helped the American forces take Kaskaskia, Illinois from the British in 1778. For this he was given a formal thanks by the Virginia legislature, which stated, "To have taken so bold a stand in favor of American independence undoubtedly cost the valiant priest his post."

            Valiniere was deported by the British from Quebec to London, where he escaped, made his way back to America and served as a chaplain to several Canadian regiments in New York (Guilday 1954, 85). These regiments were led by Moses Hazen and James Livingston, and won revolutionary victories at White Plains (October 29, 1776), Staten Island (August 22, 1777), Brandywine (September 11, 1777), and Germantown (October 4, 1777) (Griffin 1907-1911, 57, 67, 79, 119, 122, 160).

            Along with the mobilization of the pulpit, the mobilization of the church press for revolution was among the achievements associated with church democracy. Each republic had its own Catholic newspapers to teach social justice. Milan's newspaper was called the Gospel Republican (Respublicano Evangelico). It was edited by the priest, Giuseppe Poggi. Poggi described the ministry of the democratic clergy in one of his editorials:

In a well ordered republic, the priest, being reduced to a citizen equal to others, restricted to a public administration of the sacraments and preaching the Gospel. . . is no longer harmful to the state, but does his part in making a republican government, such as ours, loved and cultivated as a matter of conscience. (Palmer 1956-1965, 2:314)

            One of the leading papers in Paris, La Feuille Villageoise, was edited by a former Jesuit, Joseph A. Cerutti. Similarly, Warsaw's revolutionary newspaper was edited by former Jesuit, Peter (Piotr) Switkowski. Switkowski's newspaper translated and published the first Polish language editions of the American and French Declaration of Rights, and the international revolutionary hymns, the Marseillaise and Ca ira. In Peru and New Grenada, former Jesuit, Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzman, was a propagandist for revolution against Spain.[16]


            Along with the pulpit and press being a force for revolution, church democracy was associated with ecumenism. The revolutionary program mandated that Jews and Protestants be given religious and political equality with Catholics. At Venice and Warsaw, for example, revolutionary Jews and Catholics joined together to tear down the ghetto gates, hack the hinges to pieces, and plant liberty trees (Palmer 1956-1965. 2:308). Poland's revolutionary constitution of May 3, 1791 was typical in guaranteeing religious freedom to all sects (Bain [1909] 1971, 290).

            In Ireland church democracy was associated with ecumenism between the Protestants and Catholics. Religious toleration was the rule in the United Irish party. Its program was to unite Ireland's three million Catholics and one million Presbyterians against some 450,000 landlords. It was so successful that it took England 140,000 troops to put it down. Only 26,000 English troops were involved at Waterloo (Fortescue 1910-1930, 4:666, 8:630, 10:430).

            Presbyterian ministers and Catholic priests were part of the United Irish membership (Palmer 1956-1965, 2:502). The ecumenical theology of a Catholic priest named Ryan, is described in the following passage. Ryan was a member of the Catholic Committee in Dublin:

The Catholic Committee, a kind of self-help organization formed many years before, fell into new hands in 1792, when the Catholic bishops and gentry were outvoted by a more militant group of Catholic laity. "What prevents you," asked a certain Rev. Ryan in the Committee, "from coalescing with your Protestant brethren? Nothing! Not religion. It is the spirit of the present times to let religion make its own way by its own merits. . . Let us lay down the little character of a sect, and take up the character of a people. (Palmer 1956-1965, 2:494; see also, Tone 1831, 1:266)

            One of the leaders of French ecumenism was Henri Grégoire, whose abolitionist work has already been mentioned. He was elected by popular vote to be the democratic bishop of Blois (Carol 1975, 1, 5-6). He was a member of the Jacobin Society and as a delegate to the National Assembly, he wrote a pamphlet, Motion in Behalf of the Jews ([1789] 1975, 18-33).[17] It stated the program around which democratic Catholics helped contribute to the Jewish emancipation struggle. It detailed how Jews were denied rights, such as entry into many professions and occupations, burdened with special taxes, forced to pay protection money to towns and nobles, and required to live in ghettos (Grégoire [1789] 1975, 32). In attacking the French law which prohibited marriage between Jews and Catholics, Grégoire pointed out that in England marriage between Catholics and Jews was legal and that in the early years of the church, these unions were common. The impediment to mixed marriages founded on a difference in belief was not introduced by a general decree of a church council, but by custom. Therefore Grégoire observed, it could be abrogated without violating any dogma (Grégoire [1789] 1975, 23).

            At another point Grégoire wrote that it was wrong for the landlords "to cover their avarice with the mantle of the Catholic religion in order to harass the Jews" (Grégoire [1789] 1975, 22). He based his ecumenism on the Gospels:

The savior was far from giving his religion a character of violence which would make it hateful. He condemned some of his disciples whose overzealousness led them to ask that the fire from heaven should be visited on a city which would not receive him. It has been said many times that submission to the truth is an act of free will. . . You cannot force anyone to follow a cult which his heart will not accept. To love your religion, it is not necessary to hate or persecute those who do not share it. That which we have the good fortune to possess embraces all men in all countries at all times through the ties of charity. "Charity" is proclaimed by the gospels. When I see Catholics as persecutors, I am tempted to believe that they have not read the gospels. (Grégoire [1789] 1975, 22)[18]


            In the late eighteenth century popular revolutions took place in many Catholic nations. These revolutions had a democratizing effect on the religious, as well as the political and economic life of these nations. This article has discussed one aspect of the democratic revolutions, the expansion of democracy within church government and some of the achievements associated with this democracy.


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[1]The French historian Francois Furet is an example of a recent scholar who maintains that the democratic revolutions were revolutionary in spite of their Catholicism. In the New York Times Book Review (July 10, 1989) he is quoted as saying that "The French Revolution broke at the same time with the Catholic Church and with the monarchy, that is, with religion and with history."

[2]Sieyès ([1791] 1987, 201) commented that the Ecclesiastical Committee which drafted the Constitution of the Clergy was composed in part of "those who seem to have seen in the Revolution simply a superb occasion to advance the theological importance of Port-Royal and to bring about at last the apotheosis of Jansen on the tomb of his enemies." Important Jansenist Catholic laity who served on the Ecclesiastical Committee included Armand G. Camus (1740-1804) and Comte Jean Baptiste Treilhard (1742-1810). Camus authored Réumé de l'opinion de M. Camus, dans la séance du 13 Octobre 1789, au sújet de la motion sur les biens eccléesiastiques: suive de quelques observations sur cequi a été dit à l'appui de la motion, dans les séances du 23 et du 24. (Paris: n.p., 1789). He became president of the Council of Five Hundred in 1796-1797. Treilhard later became a member of the Directory and helped draft various legal codes.

[3]The French Constitution of the Clergy was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on July 12, 1790. It embodied the recommendations of the Ecclesiastical Committee which had been appointed on August 20, 1789 by the Constituante.

The Civil Constitution was a lengthy document with four sections: (1) ecclesiastical offices, (2) appointments of benefices, (3) payment of ministers of religion, and (4) obligations of ecclesiastics as public functionaries. See "The Civil Constitution of the Clergy," in Steward 1951, document 31, 169-181. It made ecclesiastical boundaries coincide with the new administrative divisions, with one diocese per départment and one parish for 6,000 people. The sole ecclesiastical functionaries recognized were bishops, pastors (curés), and curates (vicaires). The law suppressed chapters and ignored religious congregations.

Bishops and pastors had to be elected by the populace, with voting power restricted to "active" citizens, Catholics and non-Catholics, who paid the required taxes. A newly elected bishop could solicit his canonical investiture not from the pope but from the first or oldest bishop of the metropolitan district. Bishops were to administer dioceses with a council of vicaires. The clergy was paid by the state, since their own landholdings were expropriated. In return, they had to provide religious services gratuitously. Finally, the constitution allowed for religious toleration.

About half the French clergy took the oath of allegiance to the constitution, including seven of the bishops. Among the bishops who took the oath were Etienne Loménie de Brienne (1727-1794), who convoked the meeting of the States-General on May 1, 1789 and Charles M. Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), the bishop of Autun in the department of Saône-et-Loire. Talleyrand was chosen by the clergy of his department to represent them. He was a member of the Constitutional Assembly in 1789 and proposed the confiscation of church property for raising funds to meet the expenses of government. See Greenbaum 1970; Cooper 1958); Chevallier 1959-1960; Sciout  1872-1881; Barruel 1794; Ruskowski 1940, 1-2; Latreille 1946-1950); Aulard 1927; Jervis 1882); Sloane 1901.

[4]Sieyès 1790, 35, warned that mortmain relationships, that is, religious corporations were a political danger:

How can one prevent a religion common to a great number of people from being politically dangerous? Forbid it any kind of public organization and all connections with any other religious assembly. Do not permit the existence of a . . .religious corporation, but the most complete freedom for local, independent associations.

Sieyès suggested the abolition of all religious corporations over a ten year period, while the system of bishops, curates and vicars would be retained.

[5]The influence of Sieyès was initially significant because of his pamphlet, What is the Third Estate? (January 1789). It was to the French Revolution what Tom Paine's Common Sense was to the American Revolution. It laid out the revolutionary program in clear terms. It described what the people were fighting for and how to get it. It sold thousands of copies. See Carol 1975, 1, 9-10, 17; Sieyès [1789] 1975; Sieyès [1789] 1795; Sieyès 1789; Sieyès 1791.

Among those with whom Sieyès corresponded and collaborated were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He was in the same masonic lodge with the marquis de la Lafayette (Marie Gilbert du Motier, 1757-1834). He served with Tom Paine on the constitutional committee of the National Convention beginning in April 1792 (Carol 1975, 12-13, 15). Sieyès co-authored the decree abolishing royalty on September 21, 1792 and in 1795 was chosen one of the five members of the Directory. In 1799 he was one of the three members of the consul, along with Napoleon Bonaparte. See Clapham 1912; Campbell 1963; van Deusen 1932.

[6]Soboul 1988, 243, 271-272, writes in justification of the armed force in 1792 that the people, especially the 22 million peasants in France's total population of 26 million, had a right to defend their right to self-determination. Without force there would have been a restoration of the land to the episcopacy and nobility, and a resumption of tithes. The permanent fruit of the revolution was that the episcopacy lost its land, which in some areas was 20 percent of the total, and the nobility lost up to one-half of its land. Peasant holdings on the other hand grew from 30 to 42 percent.

In recent years the justification for popular armed force has been made by liberation theologians like the Salvadorian priest, Ignatius Ellacuria, S.J., (1976, 225, 228-230). He points out that the existing order, where the economic, political, and religious resources are monopolized by the wealthy, is violence. This violence is a social sin. From the biblical perspective, this violence is different from the use of force to redeem the established violent order. Ellacuria writes:

The prevailing violence calls for extreme remedies. Any moral evaluation of the remedies cannot start from the assumption that the situation is normal, that it is not violent. In any cases of established violence, we may be not only permitted but even required to use the force that is necessary to redeem the established violence. The good being sought does not justify the evil entailed in the means to achieve. But if evil is an achieved and concrete fact already, it must be reduced and eventually eliminated.

The bible message offers us many concepts that will help us to evade the danger of disembodied solutions. . . The eradication of violence in all its forms is an urgent task that cannot be postponed. Stress must be placed on that form of violence which is protected by legal forms, which entails the permanent establishment of an unjust disorder, which precluded the conditions required for the human growth of the person. Our rejection of violence calls for attitudes and lines of action that cannot help but be extreme.

[7]Guilday [1927], 1969, 2:273 (native clergy were given church offices), p. 286 (appeals to Rome were outlawed, as was foreign canon law); Geggus 1989, 119-121; Geggus 1983.

[8]Guilday [1927] 1969, 2:313 (Rome agreed to the Haitian right to elect its own clergy); see also, p. 294.

[9]See also, Kukiel 1941, 2:166; Wolff 1988. At the dissolution of the Jesuits in 1773, their wealth was expropriated and supposedly set aside to subsidize public education. Bishop Ignacy Massalski, however, had diverted the property to his family. See Bain [1909] 1971, 101-105, 147-148.

[10]The victory at Zilelence on June 17, 1792, against the Russian Army was one of democratic Poland's great achievements. See Dmochowski and Wybicki 1794; Dmochowski and Potocki 1793.

[11]Current Liberation theology, like the eighteenth-century movement, is also characterized by making the pulpit a force for social justice. The Salvadorian revolutionary, Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. 1975, 122, 152-155, 159, 242, writes about the church as a sign of justice:

At the insistence of Deschamps, Vatican I affirmed that the church is a sign by its very nature; that it is supposed to prove its credibility. . . The church, itself a sign, must work for the full liberty of human beings. First of all, this liberation must be from every form of injustice and from everything that can be regarded as unjust oppression that demeans human dignity and fulfillment. It must also be liberation from the pangs of basic human needs. It must be liberation from the objective shackles of hunger, sickness, ignorance, and helplessness. . .

The liturgical texts are perfectly suited to fight our situation of institutionalized violence. . . Classes do not exist because there is conflict, but conflict exists because there are classes. . . From a biblical perspective it may well be that the root sin is grounded on the twin notions of profit and private property. The quest for profit and for more and more private property represents a serious form of idolatry. . .

The conditions of life are inhumane; most people suffer from hunger, insecurity, poverty, and lack of education. . . We must recover the social dimension of sin. . . There can be no salvation without the eradication of sin; and if it is to be pardoned, sin must be wiped out. Like Christ, the church is here to take away the sin of the world, not just certain individual sins. . . We must promote Christian confrontation with everything that is sin.

[12]These generals had come to the aid of the Catholic landlords in Naples. The British executed along with the Italian republican clergy, some 119 laity. In this they conducted themselves as they did in Ireland, Haiti, and North America. See Giglioli 1903, 63.

[13]Leyburn 1948, 119 (Felix), p. 122 (Brelle); Alexis 1949, 112, 121 (discusses the liturgies offered in behalf of the revolution); Guilday [1927] 1969, 2:276, 281 (Salgado); Cole 1967, 145 (holds Brelle was Breton missionary), p. 253 (Juan Gonzalez); Hardy 1919; James [1938], 1973.

In the 1830s a South Carolina anti-abolitionist, Bishop William Clancy, visited Haiti and reported on the democratic clergy, which he associated with schism, heresy and vices. As quoted in Guilday [1927] 1969, 2:303, he reported:

With few exceptions their moral and literary characters are as low as is possible to imagine. In fact I have some evidence that a portion of them are men who have been suspended and excommunicated for schism, heresy and vices.

[14]Leyburn 1948, 30; Fick 1980, (the revolution started with the demand for a 3 day work week at Port Salut in Southern Saint Domingue in Jan. 1791); Geggus 1985; Curtin 1950.

[15]Kennedy 1982, 204-209, details Grégoire's influence among the Jacobin clubs, of which he was a member, in having them adopt the abolitionist program.

[16]Viscardo y Guzman [1790], 1947, 645-666, wrote:

The valor with which the English colonies of America have fought for their liberty, which they gloriously enjoy, covers our indolence with shame; we have yielded to them the palm with which they have been the first to crown the New World by their sovereign independence.

See also, Rodriquez 1976, 114; Russell-Wood 1975, 3-40.

[17]Another pamphlet in behalf of Jewish rights authored by Grégoire was Essays on the Physical, Political, and Moral Enfranchisement of the Jews (1788). In behalf of Protestant rights, he wrote Histoire des sectes religieuses qui se sont nees, se sont modifiées, se sont éteintes dans les différentes contrées du globe depuis le commencement du siècle dernier jusquà l'époque actuelle (1828-1845).

[18]In the revolution of the thirteen North American colonies, church democracy and ecumenism were embodied in the work of the Maryland-born Catholic priest and former Jesuit, Charles Wharton (1748-1833) (Terrar 1987, Terrar 1988).

At the start of the Revolutionary War, Wharton was minister in Worcester in England's industrial midlands. He wrote a tract defending the revolution and raised funds to defend American prisoners of war in the British prisons. James Talbot was the London priest who had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over British North America. When the war started, he unilaterally refused to carry out his canonical responsibilities toward Americans, including Wharton. In effect he excommunicated them (Guilday 1932, 47).

Wharton returned to America in 1784 but not being given the necessary credentials by Talbot, he could not follow his calling. Carroll ([1784] 1976, 1:146-147), wrote on April 10, 1784, "Wharton brought no faculties from the London Bishop, to which we were then subject, and therefore exercises none."

Wharton took a temporary position in an Anglican church which turned into a 50 year ecumenical ministry. Not the least of his contributions was in helping to institute church democracy in the Episcopal Church. He was elected by popular vote in the 1780s to their constitutional conventions and to the committee which drafted the constitution. Article II of the church constitution required equal representation of lay and clergy in state and national ruling bodies. Article VIII required that bishops and clergy serve at the will of the state representative body, their election and removal by majority vote (Mills 1978, 187, 300).



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