Short essay on the French Revolution

The following excerpt is from an essay in a book used in Ireland and Australia fom the 1930's to 1960's called An Outline History of the Catholic Church by Rev. Reginald F. Walker CSSP. (Gill & Son (Dublin) 1939). I am using this with the kind permission of Sean Hyland


How the Revolution happened may be briefly explained in the following points:

(i)The condition of the French peasantry before the eighteenth century varied. In some places they were much better off than the peasants of other lands, while in other provinces their lot was extremely hard. The people as a whole were attached to the Catholic monarchy, but there undoubtedly existed a number of social wrongs to be righted, particularly in the administration of the laws regulating the relations between the peasantry and the privileged nobility.

(ii) Between the peasantry and the nobility there existed a third social grade, the bourgeoisie or propertied middle class who exploited the grievances of the peasantry to their own advantage and were the real engineers of the Revolution. It was the old Catholic order of things which, they lyingly declared, was the parent of all the social injustice of the time and which had therefore to be ended. To achieve this purpose they worked up in Paris the mob-frenzy which carried out the Revolution.

(iii)The bourgeoisie were inspiried by the teachings of Voltaire and his fellow-scoffers including Jean-Jacques Rousseau.These teachings were spread principally through the activities of the Masonic Lodges. The ultimate controlling force behind the French Revolution, therefore, was Freemasonry.

In 1789 at the opening of the States-General, the Freemasons boast, the great French Masonic family was in full vigour...It numbered amongst its members Condorcet, Mirabeau, Danton*, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Its Grand-Master was the Duke of Orleans. The reforms carried out by the Revolutionaries were based on cahiers or notebooks of suggestions sent up to Paris from the provinces. Recent research has shown that the substance of these cahiers originated in the Masonic Lodges.

In the pages which follow it will be our task to see how the wave of hatred of the Catholic Church in the French Revolution swiftly took shape, hurled itself upon its victim in an angry flood of persecution and finally ebbed sullen and exhausted, leaving the Church wounded, it is true, but gathering her energies for the glorious Catholic revival which, we shall see, heralded the opening of the nineteenth century. The Revolution may be said to have begun with the establishment of the National or Constituent Assembly (17th June, 1789). This government was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly (October, 1791), which in turn gave place to the National Convention (1792-1795). After the National Convention came the Directory and Napoleon Bonaparte who brought the French Revolution to a close (1815).

However they may have varied in other respects, the four succesive phases of the Revolution were at one in a common enmity to the Mystical Body of Christ. Laws were passed which struck first at the Catholic priesthood and the religious life (the first victims of every satanic attack on the Church), private ownership and family life; the Christian calendar with its festivals, old and new, was abolished; churches and shrines were horribly profaned. Lastly, a veritable campaign of extermination was entered upon against both clergy and faithful, thousansd of whom perished together in the September Massacres of 1792 and the Reign of Terror (1793), or passed from life entombed in dungeons of death.

From all these sorrows God wrought mightily for His Church. The sympathy evoked by the sufferings of the Catholics of France, and the edification given by the exiled refugees of the Revolution to those who accorded them a welcome in other lands, led, as we shall see, to the softening of anti-Catholic feeling in England and elsewhere, and to the lifting of anti-Catholic laws. In the greater world of spiritual triumphs the Church was once more glorified in the blood of martyrs (one hundred and ninety-one victims of the September massacres were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1926) whose sacrifices doubtless won for her much of the grace that helped to sustain her in subsequent trials.


1.The National or Constituent Assembly (1789) soon made clear to the world the real purpose of the Revolution:
• Ecclesiastical goods were declared confiscated to the State (2nd November, 1789).
• Religious orders of men and women were suppressed (13th February, 1790).
• Clergy were required to accept, by oath, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (12th July, 1790), by which the entire control of ecclesiastical affairs in France was withdrawn from the Holy See.

Great numbers of the French clergy, supported by their flocks, opposed the Constitution and refused to take the oath. Some, however, were found to swear allegiance to the Civil Constitution. A number of the Constitutional clegry who took the oath were consecrated bishops led by the apostate bishop Talleyrand, who thus became leader of a schismatic Gallican church. The Civil Constitution of the clergy was, of course, condemned by Pope Pius VI (April 1791, March 17792).

2. The Legislative Assembly (1791) .- The second parliament of the Revolution- more extreme by far than the first- was not slow to shoe its hatred of the Church and her most sacred teachings:
• Divorce was legalised.
• Non-Constitutional clergy were declared suspect, decrees of banishment being promulgated against them in August, 1792.
• All confraternities and charitable associations were suppressed. The remaining religious congregations devoted to hospital work and teaching were suppressed, the poor being thus deprived of education for their children and of the Christian charity of the nursing orders for their sick and infirm.
Finally, at the instigation of the infamous Danton, a war of extermination was entered upon against the Catholics. About four hundred priests and a thousand of the flower of the Catholic nobility were savagely put to death in the September Massacres (1792) in Paris alone. Similar atrocities were enacted in the provinces. Thousands of ecclesiastics were banished in poverty from France, to be received with the sympathy of Christian charity by the other nations of Europe.
Meanwhile the Legislative Assembly worked to build the Revolution on a firm legal foundation by issuing edict after edict against private property, family life, the fair administration of justice and all that goes to maintain the Christian social order.

The National Convention (1792-1795).- The first act of the National Convention was the abolition of the monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic (September, 1792). The execution of King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, followed the year after (1793). Then came the Reign of Terror to finish the work of demolishing the old Catholic order and to establish the new Godless France.

The chief instruments of the Convention were the Committees of Public Safety and the guillotine. Armed with these dreaded weapons it proceeded to dechristianise the year by establishing a new calendar where feast days, the saints, the sabbath even, had no place. The magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame became the Temple of Reason, a woman of evil life being sacrilegiously enthroned upon the principal altar amid an orgy of blasphemy. Thousands of priests were thrown into overcrowded prisons, many of them to die; thousands of others poured over the frontiers into exile. Churches were desecrated, utterly ruined in many places; priceless statues and paintings were destroyed, reliquaries profaned.

A series of laws was passed, directed chiefly against the Catholic priesthood, the clergy who had taken the oath of Allegiance to the Constitution being encouraged to still greater infidelity by contracting so-called marriage.

The guillotine worked so continuously that the streets of Paris, Lyons, Toulon, Nantes, and other provincial cities ran with the blood of its victims**.

And yet the Catholic spirit of the real France- the eldest daughter of the Church- remained unbroken. In the western Province of La Vendee that Catholic spirit showed itself in no uncertain fashion in 1793 when the peasantry, armed with what poor weapons they could procure, but strong in the consciousness of the holiness of their cause, presented a united front against the forces of the Revolution. After a long and bloody war, during which La Vendee suffered greatly at the hands of the Revolutionaries, the heroic defenders of the faith, being guaranteed the free practice of their religion, capitulated to Bonaparte in 1799.

*Dr Warren H. Carroll, author of the Guillotine and the Cross, believes Danton to have been converted at the last, through his second wife Louise Gely, his childrens 15 year old caretaker, to whom he was married by a non-juring priest, his first wife having died in childbirth. I pray for this to be true.

** Father Walker has been careful to relate only a tip of the horrors of the Terror, most likely due to the age of the reader.

NOTE: Some of the links from this blog are in French.

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