Civil Constitution of the Clergy

Background and Context
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, implemented on the 12th of July 1790, completely reorganized the Church in an attempt by the National Assembly to update it with the revolution. The church reforms in 1789 were at first widely accepted and supported by the clergy. The clergy themselves, as well as the nobility and third estate, admitted in the Books of Grievances that the Church needed reform. The first of these reforms were financial changes and changes of the organizational structure of the Church. These were followed by Church privileges becoming abolished with no compensation, and the Church losing feudal dues from their land and the tithe payed to them by peasants. These reforms were accepted by the clergy as they received better pay as civil servants. The National Assembly then introduced the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, requiring all members of the clergy to take an oath, accepting the new measures the government was taking regarding the administrative reorganization of the church.
Nature of the Event
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy aimed to create a religion that was controlled by the state and that served the interests of the nation. On the 24 of August, 1790, the King was advised by the French bishops that he should accept and declare the constitution. The civil constitution of the clergy involved all clergy being required to live close to their appointment and it streamlined and reorganized thousands of parishes. This resulted in many priests and bishops losing their position. The constitution declared that the appointment of members of the clergy be democratised, so that all bishops and priests were elected by the citizens. It also aimed to sever ties between French citizens and the spiritual head of the church - the Pope - and deprived the Pope of the power to appoint bishops and archbishops. In November 1790 the National Assembly issued a decree that required all clergy to swear an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution.
Significance to Revolution
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was the revolutionary government’s first major obstacle in the process of creating the new, post revolutionary society. It divided the clergy and created enemies where there were none before. It also created doubts as to the Kings support over the revolution, leading to the kings need to leave the country.
Response of Revolutionary Government and Society
The effect of implementing the constitution was that it caused a strong division between the church and the state. The King, who was a devout Catholic, struggled with the concept of the civil constitution, resulting in him being further at odds with the revolution, leading to the king contemplating leaving the country. The king later, in 1791 withdrew his support of the civil constitution, acknowledging the popes spiritual authority.
There was resistance from half of the population of the clergy to sign the Civil Constitution. Members of the clergy were opposed to the Constitution on the basis that changes this significant should only be made under authority from the Pope or an assembly of the Church. This refusal and division of the Church caused chaos across France.
The government’s response to the opposition of the clergy to the Civil Constitution was to issue to the clergy an oath of loyalty to the government. This tactic forced the clergy to either choose to accept or refuse the reform, which had the result of creating a new group of opponents to the revolution.
In March 1791, the Pope condemned the reforms and encouraged all clergy to refuse or deny the oath.
Kate Peake