Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI: Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XI: Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics.
It is very often said that France has become irreligious since the Revolution. No doubt at the period of all crimes, the men who committed them must have thrown off the most sacred of restraints. But the general disposition of men at present is not connected with fatal causes, which happily are very remote from us. Religion in France, as it was preached by priests, has always mixed itself with politics; and from the time when the popes absolved subjects from their oath of fidelity to their kings, until the last catechism sanctioned by the great majority of the French clergy, a catechism in which, as we have seen, those who did not love and serve the Emperor Napoléon were threatened with eternal damnation; there is not a period in which the ministers of religion have not employed it to establish political dogmas, all differing according to circumstances. In the midst of these changes, the only invariable thing has been intolerance toward whatever was not conformable to the prevailing doctrine. Never has religion been presented merely as the most inward worship of the heart, without any connection with the interests of this world.
We are subject to the reproach of irreligion when we do not accord in opinion with the ecclesiastical authorities in the affairs of government; but a man may be irritated against those who seek to impose upon him their manner of thinking in politics and, nevertheless, be a very good Christian. It does not follow that because France desires liberty and equality in the eye of the law, that the country is not Christian; quite the contrary. Christianity accords eminently with this opinion. Thus, when man shall cease to join what God has separated, religion and politics, the clergy will have less power and less influence, but the nation will be sincerely religious. All the art of the privileged persons of both classes consists in establishing that he who wishes for a constitution is partisan and biased; and he who dreads the influence of the priests in the affairs of this world, an unbeliever. These tactics are well known, for, like all the rest, they have only been renewed.
Sermons in France, as in England, in times of party have often treated of political questions, and, I believe, they have but little edified persons of a contrary opinion by whom they were heard. We do not much attend to a sermon which we hear in the morning from a preacher with whom we have been disputing the day before; and religion suffers from the hatred which political questions inspire against the priests who interfere in those discussions.
It would be unjust to pretend that France is irreligious because the nation does not apply, according to the wish of some members of the clergy, the famous text that all power comes from God; a text, the honest interpretation of which is easy, but which has been wonderfully useful in treaties made by the clergy with all governments supporting themselves on the divine right of force. I will cite on this occasion some passages of the Pastoral Instruction of the Bishop of Troyes,1 who, when he was almoner to Bonaparte, delivered a discourse at the christening of the King of Rome at least as edifying as that with which we are going to be engaged. It is unnecessary to add that this Instruction is of 1816. The date of a publication in France can always be recognized by the opinion which it contains.
The Bishop of Troyes says, “France wishes for her King, but her legitimate King, because legitimacy is the first treasure of a nation, and a benefit so much the more invaluable as it compensates for all others and can by no other be supplied.” Let us pause one moment to pity the man who thinks thus for having served Napoléon so long and so well. What an effort! What constraint! But, after all, the Bishop of Troyes does no more in this respect than many others who still hold places; and we must render him at least the justice that he does not call for the proscription of his fellow-flatterers of Napoléon: this is no small matter.
I will pass over the flattering language of the pastoral letter; a language which a man ought to permit himself the less to use toward power, the more he respects power. Let us proceed to less benign things:
France wishes for her King; but, in wishing for him, she does not pretend that she can choose another; and, happily, she does not have this fatal right. Far from us be the thought that kings hold their authority from the people, and that the option which the people may have had of choosing them includes the right of recalling them. . . . No, it is not true that the people is sovereign, nor that kings are its trustees. . . . This is the cry of sedition, the dream of independence; it is the foul chimera of turbulent democracy; it is the most cruel falsehood that our vile tyrants ever invented to deceive the multitude. We do not mean to refute seriously this disastrous sovereignty. . . . But it is our duty, in the name of religion, to protest against this anarchical and antisocial doctrine, vomited amongst us with the revolutionary lava; and to guard the faithful committed to our care against this double heresy, political and religious, equally rejected by the greatest doctors and the greatest legislators, not less contrary to natural than to divine right, nor less destructive of the authority of kings than of the authority of God.
The Bishop of Troyes, in fact, does not seriously treat that question, which had, however, appeared worthy of the attention of some thinkers; but it is easier to convert a principle into heresy than to investigate it by discussion. There are, however, some Christians in England, in America, and in Holland; and since social order has been founded, honest persons have been known to believe that all power emanated from the nation, without whom no power could exist. It is in this manner that by employing religion to direct politics the French are liable to continual reproaches of impiety; which simply means that there are in France a great many friends of liberty who are of the opinion that a compact should exist between nations and sovereigns. It seems to me that we can believe in God and yet think in this manner.
By a singular contradiction this same Bishop, so orthodox in politics, cites the famous passage which served him, no doubt, as a justification in his own eyes when he was the almoner of the Usurper: “All power comes from God; and he who resists power, resists God himself.” “Behold, beloved brethren, the public right of religion, without which no one has the right to command, nor the obligation to obey. Behold that first sovereignty from which all others are derived, and without which all others would have neither basis nor sanction; it is the only constitution adapted to all places as well as to all times; the only one which can enable us to do without others, and without which no other can maintain itself. This is the only one which can never be subject to revision; the only one which cannot be shaken by any faction, and against which no rebellion can prevail; against which, in short, nations and kings, masters and subjects can do nothing: all power comes from God; and he who resists power resists God himself.” Is it possible in a few words to collect a greater number of fatal errors and servile calculations? Thus Nero and Robespierre, Louis XI and Charles IX, the most sanguinary of men, ought to be obeyed, if he who resists power resists God himself! Nations or their representatives are the only power which should have been excepted in this implicit respect for authority. When two parties in the state are contending together, how shall we seize the moment when one of them becomes sacred, that is to say, the stronger? Those French then were wrong who did not quit the King during twenty-five years of exile! For certainly during that time it was Bonaparte to whom we could not refuse the right which the Bishop of Troyes proclaims, that of power. Into what absurdities writers fall, who wish to reduce into theories, into dogmas, into maxims the interests of the moment! The sword, in truth, is less degrading than speech when it is thus used. It has been a hundred times repeated that the phrase in the Gospel “All power comes from God,” and the other, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” had solely for their object to remove all political discussion. Jesus Christ desired that the religion he preached should be considered by the Romans as entirely unconnected with public affairs; “My reign is not of this world,” said he. All that is required of the ministers of religion is to fulfill in this respect, as in all others, the intentions of Christ.
“Appoint, O Lord!” says the Prophet, “a legislator over them, that the nations may know that they are men.” It would not be amiss that kings should also learn that they are men, and certainly they must be ignorant of it unless they contract engagements toward the nation whom they govern. When the Prophet prays to God to establish a king, it is, as all religious men pray to God, to preside over every event of this life; but how is a dynasty specially established by Providence? Is it prescription that is the sign of a divine mission? The popes have excommunicated and deposed princes from the remotest times. They excluded Henri IV on account of his religion; and powerful motives recently impelled a pope to concur in the coronation of Bonaparte. It will then belong to the clergy to declare, when necessary, that such a dynasty, and not such another, is chosen by the will of God. But let us follow the pastoral instruction, “Appoint a legislator,” that is to say, “a king who is the legislator above all, and without whom there can be no law; a supreme legislator who will speak and make laws in your name; one legislator, and not several; for the more there are, the worse will the laws be made; a legislator with unrivaled authority, that he may do good without hindrance; a legislator who, obedient himself to his own laws, cannot bind anyone to submit to his passions and caprices; finally, a legislator who, making only just laws, would thus lead his people to real liberty.” A man who will make laws for himself alone will have neither passions nor caprices; a man surrounded by all the snares of royalty will be the only legislator of a people and will make none but just laws! There is, obviously, no example of the contrary; we have never seen kings abuse their power; no priests such as the Cardinals of Lorraine, Richelieu, Mazarin, Dubois who excited them to it! And how is that doctrine compatible with the constitutional charter which the King himself has sworn? This King whom France desires; for the Bishop of Troyes allows himself to say this, although, according to him, France has no right to form a wish on the subject; this King, who is established by the Lord, has promised on oath that there should be various legislators, and not one only, although the Bishop of Troyes pretends that the more there are, the more imperfect will be the laws. Thus the information acquired by administration; thus the wishes collected in the provinces by those who live there; thus the sympathy arising from the same wants and the same sufferings, all this is not equivalent to the information of a single king who represents himself, to make use of a somewhat singular expression of the Bishop of Troyes. One would think that one had already attained what, in this kind of composition, cannot be surpassed, if the following passage did not claim a preference.
“Thus, beloved brethren, have we seen this senate of kings under the name of Congress2 consecrate the legitimacy of all dynasties as a principle, as the aegis of their throne and the surest pledge of the happiness of nations and of the tranquillity of states. We are kings, they said, because we are kings: for so require the order and stability of the social world: so requires our own security; and they have said it without much concerning themselves whether they were not thus in opposition to the ideas called liberal, and still less whether the partition which they made of the countries which they found to suit them were not the most solemn denial given to sovereign peoples.” Would not one think that we had quoted the most ironical satire against the Congress of Vienna, did we not know that such could not have been the intention of the author? But when a writer goes to such a degree of absurdity, he is not aware of the ridicule incurred, for methodical folly is very serious. We are kings because we are kings, the sovereigns of Europe are made to say; “I am, that I am,” are the words of Jehovah in the Bible; and the ecclesiastical writer takes on himself to attribute to monarchs what can be suitable only to the Deity. The kings, he said, did not much concern themselves whether the partitioning of the countries which they found to suit them was in harmony with the ideas called liberal. So much the worse, in truth, if they have managed this partitioning like a banker’s account, paying balances in a certain number of souls, or of fractions of souls, to make up a round sum of subjects! So much the worse if they have consulted nothing but their convenience, without thinking of the interests and wishes of the people! But the kings, be assured, reject the unworthy eulogy that is thus addressed to them; they, doubtless, reject also the blame which the Bishop of Troyes ventures to cast on them, although that blame contains an odious flattery under the form of a reproach.
“It is true that several of them have been seen to favor, at the hazard of being in contradiction with themselves, those popular forms and other new theories which their ancestors did not know, and to which, until our days, their own countries had been strangers, without being the worse for their ignorance; but, we do not fear to say it, it is the malady of Europe, and the most alarming symptom of its decline; it is in that way that Providence seems to attack it to accelerate its dissolution. Let us add to this mania of re-casting governments and supporting them by books that tendency of innovating minds to make a blending of all modes of worship as they wish to make of all parties, and to believe that the authority of princes acquires for itself all the strength and authority of which they strip religion; and we shall have the two greatest political dissolvents which can undermine empires, and with which Europe, sooner or later, must fall into shreds and rottenness.” Such then is the object of all these homilies in favor of absolute power; it is religious toleration that must make Europe fall, sooner or later, into shreds and rottenness. Public opinion is favorable to this toleration; it is then necessary to prescribe whatever can serve as an organ to public opinion: then the clergy of the only admitted religion will be rich and powerful; for, on the one hand, they will call themselves the interpreters of that divine right by which kings reign, and, on the other, the peoples being allowed to profess nothing but the prevailing religion, the ecclesiastics solely must be charged, as they demand, with public education and with the direction of conscience, which supports itself on the Inquisition, as arbitrary power on the police.
The fraternity of all Christian communities, such as the Holy Alliance3 proposed by the Emperor Alexander has made humanity expect, is already condemned by the censure passed on the blending of the forms of worship. What social order is proposed to us by these partisans of despotism and of intolerance, these enemies of knowledge, these adversaries of humanity, when it bears the name of people and nation! Whither could one fly were they to have command? A few words more on this pastoral instruction of which the title is so mild and the words so bitter.
“Alas!” says the Archbishop of Troyes, addressing himself to the King, “seditious men, the better to enslave us, already begin to speak to us of our rights, that they may make us forget yours. Sire, we have doubtless rights, and they are as ancient as the monarchy: the right of belonging to you as the head of the great family, and of calling ourselves your subjects, because that word signifies your children.” One cannot avoid thinking that the writer, a man of intelligence, himself smiled when he proposed, as the only right of the French people, that of calling themselves the subjects of a monarch who should dispose, according to his good pleasure, of their property and their lives. The slaves of Algiers can boast of rights of the same kind.
Lastly, see on what rests all the scaffolding of sophistry prescribed as an article of faith because reasoning could not support it. What a use of the name of God! And how can one expect that a nation to whom one says this is religion should not become unbelievers, for the misfortune of itself and for that of the world!
“Beloved brethren, we shall not cease to repeat to you what Moses said to his people: Ask your forefathers and the God of your fathers, and go back to the source. Consider that the less we deviate from beaten paths the greater is our security. Consider, in short, that to despise the authority of ages is to despise the authority of God, since it is God himself who makes antiquity; and that to desire to renounce it is, in any event, the greatest of crimes, even were it not the greatest of misfortunes.” It is God that makes antiquity. Doubtless; but God is likewise the author of the present, on which the future is about to depend. How silly would this assertion be did it not contain a dextrous artifice! It is as follows: all upright people are affected when reminded of their ancestors; the idea of their fathers seems always to join itself to the idea of the past. But does this noble and pure feeling lead to the re-establishment of the torture, of the wheel, of the Inquisition, because in remote ages abominations of that kind were the work of barbarous manners? Can we support what is absurd and criminal because absurdity and criminality once existed? Were not our fathers culpable toward their fathers when they adopted Christianity and abolished slavery? Reflect that the less we deviate from the beaten paths the greater is our security, says the Bishop of Troyes; but to enable this path to have become beaten, it must have been necessary to pass from antiquity to later times; and we now wish to profit by the information of our days, that posterity may also have an antiquity proceeding from us, but which she may change, in her turn, if Providence continue to protect, as it has done, the progress of the human mind in all directions.
I should not have dwelt so long on the composition of the Bishop of Troyes did it not contain the quintessence of all that is daily published in France. Will good sense escape from it unimpaired? And what is still worse, will the sentiment of religion, without which men have no refuge in themselves, be able to resist this mixture of policy and religion, which bears the obvious character of hypocrisy and egoism?
[1. ] Anne-Antoine (1747–1825), Count of Boulogne and Bishop of Troyes (from 1809) and Peer of France (from 1822 to his death).
[2. ] The Congress of Vienna (September 1814–June 1815).
[3. ] The Holy Alliance was a powerful coalition among Russia, Austria, and Prussia created in 1815 at the initiative of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. It was signed by the three powers in Vienna on September 26, 1815.