The Movements are Subject to the Spirits

Transcribed (as best I could) from the audiobook  “Resolute Determination: Napoleon and the French Empire”, by Prof. Donald M.G. Sutherland and from Recorded Books.

The (ed: French) Church was reconstructed as a largely royalist church. The church had split in the early years of the (ed: French) Revolution, and in the schism there is a pro-revolutionary and an anti-revolutionary faction. Because of vicissitudes of revolutionary politics, the pro-revolutionary church was purged and largely destroyed in what’s called the Dechristianization Campaign.

When the church was reordered in 1802 the personnel they had to draw on were clergy who had gone underground, or who had been expelled; indeed as far away as Baltimore or Quebec. They came back, but they came back often bitter, highly politicized, and royalist. Napoleon was well-aware of how potentially dangerous this could be and thus the necessity of subjecting the church to political tutelage.

The Church was a church in crisis almost from the beginning. There had been no creation of clerics for an entire decade; perhaps close to a generation. It was very hard to get seminaries up and running again. The clergy was aging, and the clergy of the restoration church–the Concordat Church–was much smaller than the old regime church had been.

The result was Catholicism itself changed. That kind of Catholicism was a traditionalist Catholicism with a spectacular (what historians of the Church call) “Feminization of Catholicism”[1] in the 19th Century that survived Napoleon’s fall in 1815. There’s a spectacular growth of female religious orders; hospitals, teaching orders, even some contemplative orders. There were probably more female nuns in the 19th Century than there had been in the golden age of the church in the 13th Century. There was also the revival of poor-relief and a Christianization of poor-relief institutions, medical care, and education for small children.

Priests themselves began to change their recruitment patterns. In the old regime priests had been highly educated, middle class, endowed by their fathers to study in the seminary, largely urban. In the course of the 19th Century, and under Napoleon, a ruralization of the Catholic clergy began. Thus, the clergy acquired a lot of peasant attitudes; dislike of towns, superstition, emotionalism. There’s a huge cult of saints and a very emotional kind of Catholicism emerges in the course of the 19th Century; what historians call a “Feminized Piety”.

Popular piety was very difficult to control because the church was so small and the clergy was aging. Popular piety was always a suspicious matter to the clergy, but in the early part of the empire and beyond there’s nothing they could do about ordinary people reviving suppressed feast days, for taking initiatives in the liturgy, for the laity insisting that the clergy authenticate relics which the clergy resisted, or miracle cures that curates were expected to authenticate and things of that sort; where the clergy simply felt overwhelmed by the revival of piety among the laity.

The civil code which we referred to earlier, also had some interesting developments; especially with regard to the status of women. As we have seen, it authorized divorce, and introduced a double-standard in divorce which made it easier for a man to divorce his wife than vice-versa. On the other hand, divorce was extremely rare under this period and becoming more rare as time went on. The overwhelming number of plaintiffs in divorce cases were not men, in fact, but women who were suing for divorce in order to complain about their husbands who deserted them and the purpose was to reclaim the property that they had brought to the marriage in the marriage contract.

That last paragraph is somewhat confusing out of context. What Sutherland said is that even though women did not have the right to divorce, they were still suing for divorce (asking a judge to make the divorce); and women did this more often than men who actually had the right to divorce.

He goes on to say that the response of society under the “liberty” provided by the Revolution and Napoleon was for marriage to be delayed, and also that France was one of the first countries in Europe to adopt the use of birth control despite the fact that birth control was banned by the Catholic Church; including the Concordat Church.

What Enlightenment and revolution promised was relief from harsh rulers and injustice. What it delivered was a dictator and disorder in families and churches. If Sutherland’s account is correct: The fascinating part is that Traditionalists were not even a speedbump to Liberalism. In fact women from the now disordered families and churches remade Traditionalism in their own image. It is still with us.

[1] Emphasis not in original.


9 thoughts on “The Movements are Subject to the Spirits

  1. Leon Podles has done a lot of work around the process of feminization in the Western church. He wrote a book about it called “The Church Impotent”, which is now available in PDF format at his site here:

    Podles traces it back a bit further, to the medieval period and the bridal mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux. However, it’s also clear that there was a definite increase in momentum in this direction after the enlightenment and the rise of political liberalism.

  2. @Novaseeker

    What is coincidence is this feminization that was pushed forward by Bernard also coincided with the rise in courtly love in the 12th century also.

    So it appears to be a metatrend at the time.

  3. IIRC from my research into Arthuriana and its development in the middle ages, the cult of Courtly Love* (C/L) was also closely tied to the rise of Marian heresy to prominence in the medaeval RCC, a heresy that the church in question has not yet gotten out of its system. There were allegedly almost as many myths about “Our Lady of _________.” as there were about Arthur’s own court or the Holy Grail. I don’t know for certain if the cult of Mary or of C/L preceded the other, but which one is the chicken and which the egg, they seem the same species of bird!

  4. @J. J. Griffing

    Interesting. The gynocentrism website also notes this connection. That the cult of Mary at the time in the RCC did contribute significantly in the development of courtly love.

  5. Podles points to the bridal mysticism of Bernard, which is simply cultism about Mary. All are in agreement about the influence of the cult of Mary.

  6. You can’t thoroughly address the pedestalisation of women without addressing the pedestalisation of that one woman.

  7. I agree with all of you. Once I researched and understood the RCC teaching surrounding Ex Cathedra it struck me that of all the pronouncements that could be made, the only ones that have are about Mary, and which (aside from the signal of the pronouncements themselves) are basically irrelevant to salvation, Christian works, everything.

    I confess that I have avoided the topic on this blog.

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