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The Original Godless Terrorists Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Two hundred and twenty-three years ago the French Revolution began when a Parisian mob stormed and looted the Bastille, which at the time housed only seven non-political prisoners.

Many of the revolutionary agitators – Robespierre, Danton, Saint-Just, Marat, and Couthon – were determined to eliminate the Catholic Church and to replace it with a secular sacred society based on truth, reason, and liberty.

Because God and his holy Catholic Church were, in their view, antithetical to reason and freedom, these radicals, in the name of the people, snatched absolute power and set no limits on the changes their new faith could impose to create the secularized morality that would lead to a perfect society.

A catechism of morality, “in which no use would be made of religious principles,” they proclaimed, “is the first requirement of the nation. . . .The wise await it, the religious fanatics fear it; the government made it necessary.”

Jacobin Clubs were the churches of the new civic religion, which demanded blind obedience, the worship of human power, and unlimited faith in progress. Rousseau was the spiritual father, Robespierre the high priest who preached the gospel of terror.

The Liberty Tree (L’arbre de la liberté) replaced the cross. Nicolas Bonneville, leader of the Friends of Truth, called for a naturalistic version of Holy Communion: “Friends, this is the body of the sun which ripens the harvest. This is the body OF THE BREAD which the rich owe the poor!”

To eliminate Catholic culture that had held France together for over a thousand years, Church property was confiscated, hundreds of priests were murdered, and 30,000 were deported. The state stripped away from the Church the responsibility for education, charity, marriage, and the recording of births and deaths.

Revolutionaries placed ladders against the Cathedral of Notre Dame and attached nooses around the necks of the statues of over two-dozen French kings and yanked them to the ground. The roaring crowds decapitated the statues and tossed them into the River Seine.

Inside, statues and religious symbols were removed and the cathedral was rededicated to the goddess of reason. The altar was turned into a stage on which an actress tended by a corps de ballet danced to the song: “Thou, holy liberty, come dwell in the Temple, be the goddess of the French.”

Apostles of truth and reason were sent to towns and villages to preach the good news of the Republic. There were secular hymns sung, readings from the sacred texts of Rousseau, civic baptisms, and government holy water fonts. Over two thousand Catholic Churches were turned into temples of reason.

One witness, a British subject, wrote this description of a Festival of Reason held in the French countryside:

A delegate arrives some days in advance, accompanied by a goddess, if the town itself cannot supply a suitable one. She is attired in a Roman tunic of white satin, usually taken from a theatrical wardrobe, and wears a red cap trimmed with oak leaves. Her left arm rests on a plough, in her right hand she holds a lance.. . . .Installed on an altar. . .she addresses the people who in return pay her homage. . . .Wherever possible a priest is procured to abjure his Faith in public and to declare that Christianity is nothing but a fraud. The festival ends with a bonfire in which prayer-books, saints’ images, confessionals, and other pieces of church furniture are burnt. Most of those present stand looking on in silence, struck dumb with horror and amazement; others, either drunk or paid. . .dance around. . .

To complete their hold over the nation, the Jacobins eliminated elections and established the first modern dictatorship; the first police state. “The Republic,” Danton said, “was established fifty years before opinion was ready for it. . .free elections would be incompatible with its maintenance.”

They commenced a reign of terror that they believed was the only way to eliminate with lightning speed the forces of selfishness and corruption, i.e., the Church (among others). The Jacobin’s guiding principle was expressed by Saint-Just: “Until the will of the sovereign people represses the monarchist minority and reigns by the right of conquest. . . .You have to punish not only the traitors but also the different; you have to punish whoever is passive in the Republic and does nothing for it. . . .Those who cannot be ruled by justice must be ruled by the sword.”

Tens of thousands were arrested on mere suspicion. The accused were found guilty in groups. Presenting defense arguments was not permitted and prisoners were forbidden to speak in their own behalf. At least 30,000, most of whom were innocent, lost their lives at the guillotine.

In an infamous episode in the Vendée, the executioners decided the guillotine was too slow (though they managed to kill tens of thousands) and over 2,000 victims – Catholic counter-revolutionaries – were summarily drowned. The ex-Oratorian student Joseph Fouché massacred thousands at Lyons. Historian R.R. Palmer observes, “Those men inflicted death with a holy glee!”

The result of their reconstruction of society based on ideological abstractions: two-hundred years of political and social instability and unrest. Ten years after the storming of the Bastille, France had been ruled by six different governments. Since 1799, a dictator, two emperors, two kings, a rump Vichy government, and five republics have governed the nation.

In the 1790s, totalitarian terrorists created, in the name of the sovereign people, a tyranny of virtue. The great myth of such people’s republics, historian Eli Sagan, has concluded “is the rotten fruit of Modernity. As in so many other perversions of Modernity, the French Terror was the first regime to perform this ideological acrobatic trick, wherein the sovereignty of the people ends up destroying le peuple.”

 
George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
 
 

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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by M.P., July 11, 2012
Brilliant and educating text.
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written by Jon S., July 11, 2012
How many students in our "Catholic" schools have been taught this the last 45 years? How many people who have received bachelor degrees in the last 45 years know this?
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written by Manfred, July 11, 2012
Thank you for the reminder from history, Mr. Marlin. In the U.S. we have the Second Amendment which encourages readers of history to possess arms for their protection. This helps explain why the Department of Justice under Holder/Obama is attempting to subvert it through "Fast and Furious". There is a method to the madness of abortion-potential mobs have been greatly reduced by the use of this evil. If this seems harsh, consider what planners are dealing with when some sectors of our society do not graduate even fifty percent from high school of the children who began first grade. Are you aware that the building of prisons is predicated on the numbers of children passing/failing fourth grade reading tests? College graduates can't find jobs!
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written by Sue, July 11, 2012
Thanks for the vivid depiction and ironies of the "festival of liberty". Besides kicking off the idea of totalitarianism, the Bastille also kicked off the sexual revolution. Marquis de Sade, a prisoner up to the week before, makeshifted a megaphone and bellowed riotously to passersby, "They are killing the prisoners in here!"

His perverted writings found fertile readership among the fevered revolutionaries and served to whip up the bloodlust so evident in revolutionary reactions against the Church and nobility. These writings and their ideas, so perverse none dare speak their names, were the seeds of our own sexual revolution, Aldous Huxley to totalitarians' George Orwell.
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written by patricia, July 11, 2012
The progression of results of the French Revolution were considered the norm of results of most revolutions, e.g. the Communist ones we know of, by our wonderful French Rev teacher Fr. Joseph Cahill, at our wonderful Vincentian university (Niagara). Our young today are rudderless because because they know so little history. (Fr. Cahill later was Pres. of St. John's U. in NYC.)

Thanks, Mr. Marlin! Can you give us a broadened analysis of the French Rev, including its role as paradigm/protype, firstly how they mostly go very badly, and then, "how come" (as we used to say) the American Revolution did not go in these terrible terrorist ways?

The Occupy Wallstreet movement scares me because of this. And the Church seems to have suffered a number of times such bad results, and is now in many places.

Humanity stinks, I concluded during the breakup of Yugoslavia. God, help us! Jesus, I trust in you!
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written by jsmitty, July 11, 2012
Mr. Marlin don't you just go the full distance and call for a return of the Bourbons.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, July 11, 2012
Talleyrand, who was bishop of Autun and lived through it, summed it up perfectly, when he said, "Governing has never been anything other than postponing, by a thousand subterfuges, the moment when the mob will hang you from the lamp-post, and every act of government is nothing but a way of not losing control of the people."

Not all those who supported the Revolution shared the anti-religious views of the Énragés. Robespierre’s Discours pour la liberté des cultes {Speech on Religious Freedom] delivered on 1er frimaire An II (21 November 1793) is instructive.
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written by the earlier Louise, July 11, 2012
There is an interesting example of the length and depth of unleashed fury in my family genealogy. Maria de Rabutin-Chantal marquise de Sevigne died in 1696. She was visiting her daughter in Provence when she died and was buried there. Because of her position in the court of Louis XIV, her letters to her daughter about the intrigues, flirtations, and gossip of the court later became the unofficial social history of the court.

Almost a century after her death, the revolutionaries opened her grave and desecrated it. They dragged out her remains and scattered her bones as far as they could throw them.

Back to the Revolution: the story of the Vendee is one of the saddest of all, as is the fate of of the Carmelite Sisters of Compiegne. That story may be read in "To Quell the Terror." The story was repeated 150 later in Novogrodek, Poland. Same story, in almost every detail.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 11, 2012
My child got the same old propoganda in history class about the French Revolution - you know, it was like, you know, about enlightenment and equality - you know...but that Robespierre guy...he messed it all up...everyone else was cool.

The ugly truth of the French Revolution is avoided...it hurts the progressive narrative.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., July 11, 2012
The Powers that exist today in academia, entertainment, and even in liberal post-Christian Protestantism are just as hateful of the Bride of Christ and just as worshipful of mankind's limited reasoning ability as were those who stormed the Bastille. Self-excommunicated Catholics are appointed to high positions so that they can be called the "Good Catholics" and those loyal to Holy Mother Chruch can be called traitors who are loyal to a foreign power that spreads "homophobia" and subjects women to forced childbirth. WE don't have to wait until October to start a Rosary campaign, but that would be a good time for a culmination of such a drive, centered on the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, July 11, 2012
Every time the Cathars or the Inquisition is brought up in referecne to the Catholic Church,"What about 'The Terror'" should be our response.
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written by Gian, July 12, 2012
Belloc was emphatic that the anti-Catholic animus of the Revolution was an accident, preventable from both the sides and the Political Theory of the Revolution is not opposed to the Church.

We should hope Belloc was right since the same political theory underlies the American Revolution.
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written by Mark, July 14, 2012
The French Revolution drew much of its philosophy from Rousseau, who was explicit in his advocacy of terrorism and the suppression of religion not controlled by the state. The Terror and its vicious anti-Catholicism weren't accidents. To use modern idiom, they weren't a bug; they were a feature.

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