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Transcript of Johnson, Eric - The Sacred, Secular Regime: Catholic Ritual andRevolutionary Politics in Avignon,...

  • The Sacred, Secular Regime: Catholic Ritual andRevolutionary Politics in Avignon, 17891791

    Eric F. Johnson

    One hallmark of the Enlightenment is the transition from a traditionalcosmology in which the physical world had an intimate, reciprocal rela-tionship with supernatural forces that one could persuade and nego-tiate with to a Newtonian model that operated according to the xedand knowable laws of nature, without the need for divine interven-tion. The consequences of this mental shift had cultural, political, andsocial implications. As people increasingly perceived God as (in Vol-taires metaphor) a celestial watchmaker, who after setting the uni-verse in motion assumed a place distant from the realm of everydayhuman aairs, political and social institutions became demystied ordisenchanted, seen as founded on changeable human conventionrather than the eternal will of God.1 This perspective was an importantprecondition for the French Revolution, because it provided an alterna-tive to the traditional model for the political order, which linked tem-

    Eric F. Johnson is assistant professor of history at Kutztown University. He is working on a bookabout religious culture in Avignon at the end of the eighteenth century. His essay LaVille Sonnant:The Politics of Sacred Space in Avignon on the Eve of the French Revolution appeared in Deningthe Holy: Sacred Space in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Andrew Spicer and Sarah Hamilton(Burlington, VT, 2005).

    The author wishes to thank Lynn Hunt, Gail Kligman, Kathryn Norberg, Teolo Ruiz, andApril Shelford for their generous assistance with early drafts of this essay, as well as the CamargoFoundation for providing material support during the nal stages of writing. Finally, the authorgives special thanks to the anonymous reviewers and the editors of French Historical Studies, whosesuggestions were enlightening and invaluable.

    1 The notion of disenchantment or Entzauberung comes from Max Webers lecture Scienceas a Vocation, presented on Nov. 7, 1917. See Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. Hans H. Gerthand C.Wright Mills (New York, 1946), 12956. For a more recent discussion see Marcel Gauchet,The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, trans. Oscar Burge (Princeton, NJ,1998). On secularization as it pertains to French politics see David A. Bell, The Cult of the Nationin France: Inventing Nationalism, 16801800 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), esp. 2249; Colin Jones, TheGreat Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon, 17151799 (NewYork, 2002), 171225; and JereyW.Merrick, The Desacralization of the French Monarchy in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge, LA, 1990).

    French Historical Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Winter 2007) 10.1215/00161071-2006-019Copyright 2007 by Society for French Historical Studies


    poral authority to a divinely ordained cosmological hierarchy. Enlight-ened thinkers came to view politics and society not as divine but ashuman institutions that one could alter and improve through rationalintervention.

    In light of this shift and of the eventual fate of the church dur-ing the Revolution, it is easy to underestimate the importance of reli-gious belief in France at the twilight of the ancien rgime. The classicinterpretation holds that France in general and Provence in particu-lar grew more secular or de-Christianized during the second half ofthe eighteenth century and that religious belief had lost much of itsrelevance in everyday life, especially in urban society.2 However, morerecent scholarship oers an alternative explanation for the apparentdecline in French piety from its zenith in the late seventeenth and earlyeighteenth centuries: a system of religious belief continued to thrivebeneath the secular, enlightened worldview that came to characterizemodern thought.3 It is becoming clear that one cannot measure beliefin an interactive relationship between the physical world and the divinesimply in terms of participation in the institutional church. In exam-ining the changing relationship among religion, politics, and societyin the eighteenth century, historians must look beyond the usual sta-tistical evidence, such as wills, masses for the dead, and enrollment inreligious orders.

    Medievalists have indicated promising directions for handling theproblems inherent in reifying and categorizing systems of religiousbelief, and some of their conclusions can guide us toward a betterunderstanding of the secularizing trends of the late eighteenth century.Speaking of Merovingian France, Patrick J. Geary suggests that theidentication of pagan versus Christian elements is futile. Instead ofattaching labels, scholars must attempt to understand how various ele-mentsactions, objects, practices, articulationsform a unity or, con-

    2 The classic work on this subject is Michel Vovelle, Pit baroque et dchristianisation en Pro-vence au XVIIIe sicle (Paris, 1973). See also Bernard Cousin, Monique Cubells, and Ren Moulinas,La pique et la croix: Histoire religieuse de la Rvolution franaise (Paris, 1989).

    3 Nigel Aston states that what might be called the Gay/Aries/Vovelle model of enlighten-ment predicated on overt hostility to institutional Christianity has fallen out of favor (Christianityand Revolutionary Europe, c. 17501830 [Cambridge, 2002], 34). The case of France is best repre-sented by John McManners, Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1998).Bernard Cousins work on ex voto paintings also provides convincing evidence for the continuedvitality of a supernatural worldview at the end of the eighteenth century and beyond: Le miracle et lequotidien: Les ex-voto provenaux, images dune socit (Aix-en-Provence, 1983).Two recent review essayspose new questions about the interrelationship of modernity, secularization, the Enlightenment,and religion: Jonathan Sheehan, Enlightenment, Religion, and the Enigma of Secularization,American Historical Review 108 (2003): 10611080; Dale K. Van Kley, Christianity as Casualty andChrysalis of Modernity: The Problem of Dechristianization in the French Revolution, AmericanHistorical Review 108 (2003): 10811104.


    versely, co-exist in a state of dissonance.4 The idea of co-exist[ence]in a state of dissonance can also describe the Enlightenment and theRevolution, during which overlapping systems of religious and secularbeliefs likewise formed a unity.

    Dening belief as an active process rather than a static body of doc-trine, Jean-Claude Schmitt argues that mentalities consist not onlyof the ancient layers that survive from earlier thoughts and behaviorsbut also of the beliefs and the images, the words and the gestures, thatfully nd their meaning in the contemporary social relations and ideol-ogy of a given age.5 In considering religious belief during the Enlight-enment and the Revolution, it is helpful to emphasize the dynamicway in which older thoughts and gestures yield new meanings in thecontext of eighteenth-century ideologies. Public rituals provide excel-lent evidence for this approach, because by nature they are constantlyrescripted to accommodate ever-changing social and political contexts.

    This essay examines the relationship between religious belief andpolitical authority in Avignon during the rst three years of the Revo-lution. This relationship was atypical because Avignon, together withmost of the modern department of Vaucluse, was a papal enclave untilwell after the start of the Revolution (g. 1), and this fact had manyimplications for the citys ritual framework.6 First, Avignons liturgicalcycle was a mixture of Gallican, Roman, and local traditions. As an out-post of papal authority, Avignon was a point of entry into France forreligious orders and devotional practices that had originated in Rome,especially during the Catholic Reformation.7 Yet because it had suchclose ties with France, it also adopted many festivals associated withthe Gallican Church, such as the feasts of Saint Louis and the Assump-tion.8 However, Avignon also had strong local traditions that were an

    4 Patrick J. Geary, The Uses of Archaeological Sources for Religious and Cultural History,in Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1994), 33.

    5 Jean-Claude Schmitt, Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society,trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago, 1998), 3.

    6 There were two papal states in France: the Comtat Venaissin, which came under papal ruleas a result of the Albigensian Crusades, and Avignon, which the papacy purchased from the Ange-vins in the fourteenth century. Technically, they were governed separately by dierent ocials;however, by the eighteenth century a vice legate who resided in the old papal palace in Avignongoverned both. On the history of Avignon before the Revolution see R. L. Moulirac-Lamoureux,Le Comtat venaissin pontical, 12291791 (Vedne, 1977); Herv Aliquot, Avignon pas pas: Ses rues,ses monuments, ses hommes clbres (Le Coteau, 1985); and Christiane Spill and Jean-Michel Spill,Avignon (Paris, 1977).

    7 On Avignons importance during the Catholic Reformation see R. Po-Chia Hsia, TheWorldof Catholic Renewal, 15491770 (Cambridge, 1998), 6971. Avignons status as a papal outpost wasalso important during the Jesuit controversy of the 1760s. Many Jesuits who ed France and Bour-bon Spain took refuge in Avignon, and as a result Louis XV sent troops to occupy the city from1768 to 1774.

    8 Louis XIII had decreed that every diocese in France hold a procession on the feast of


    Figure 1 Avignon at the start of the French Revolution

    important part of its urban identity. Because the city was beyond thedirect control of the Gallican Church and was governed by papal rep-resentatives who were content to interfere only minimally