[von Arx] Why the pope has inked a deal with the Chinese communist government

[von Arx] Why the pope has inked this deal with the Chinese communist government

Opinion
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[American Magazine] On July 12, 1790, in the first year of the French Revolution, the National Constituent Assembly passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The Civil Constitution established a national Catholic Church in France subject to the government and not the papacy. As part of the Civil Constitution, religious orders were abolished, church property was seized, the number of dioceses were reduced and realigned, and bishops and pastors were to be elected locally by all those in their dioceses or parishes (laity included) who had sworn an oath of fidelity to the new constitution (and bishops and clergy were also required to swear allegiance). The authority of the pope over the appointment of bishops was reduced to the right to be informed of election results.

VIDEO: [EWTN] Raymond Arroyo interviews Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn on how history will ultimately render judgement on the Vatican after this recent agreement with China.


This arrangement was not all that different from the practice under the Gallican Church of the ancien régime, when bishops were effectively appointed by the king and the pope was informed and offered his imprimatur. Only in this latter case, the arrangement was one of longstanding, in which the papacy had acquiesced.

But the pope was not consulted at all about the new arrangements. The great majority of the French bishops and about half the clergy rejected the Civil Constitution, and refused to take the oath. The pope, Pius VI, joined in the condemnation of the Civil Constitution and the oath, and eventually excommunicated clergy (and the few bishops) who had agreed to it. This set up a division in France between the “jurors” and the “nonjurors”—that is to say, between those priests and bishops who accepted the Civil Constitution (and the effective independence of the church in France from the papacy) and the “nonjurors’” who remained loyal to the papacy. Over the course of the Revolution, almost all of the nonjuring bishops (who were also, in the main, aristocrats) fled France, and the nonjuring clergy went underground. In the most radical, anti-Christian phase of the Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, many of these nonjuring clergy were hunted down and imprisoned (and some sent to the guillotine), as were even some of the constitutional clergy who were insufficiently loyal to the Revolution.

With the Thermidorean Reaction, the Civil Constitution was abolished, but by this time the French church was effectively in schism, with rival claimants for many sees from the constitutional bishops in possession and the ancien régime bishops in exile or in hiding.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power as First Consul, early in 1800, one his goals was to restore religious unity and peace to France. He sought this goal not out of any personal religious conviction—he had notoriously said that if he were ruling a Muslim nation he would be a Muslim—but in order to strengthen his regime. Napoleon realized that for France, religious unity meant Catholicism. And to restore peace and unity to the church, he would need to deal with the papacy. Napoleon entered into negotiations with the newly elected pope, Pius VII, and the result was the Concordat of 1801, which governed the relations between the state and the French church until it was abrogated by the government in 1905.

The Concordat of 1801 was an extraordinary document, both for what it conceded to the regime and for what it conceded to the papacy, both explicitly and implicitly. Most significantly, the Concordat recognized the ability of the pope to depose any bishop in France, whether of the Constitutional Church or of the ancien régime, and to appoint a new one, which Pius proceeded to do on a wholesale basis. Popes had deposed bishops before, but only for heresy or notorious immorality, and it was doubted by canonists that the pope could depose a legitimate bishop without cause: They were successors of the apostles. But Napoleon and the pope effectively reconstituted the entire French hierarchy. The government (i.e., the First Consul) nominated bishops, as had been the case in the ancien régime, but the pope got once again to approve them. These included some bishops of the schismatic Constitutional Church. Other provisions of the Concordat recognized and approved the new dioceses and the confiscation of church lands that had occurred in the course of the Revolution.

This article continues at [American Magazine] The root of the China-Vatican agreement: Napoleon

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