Monday, January 23, 2012

Freedom From Religion and Freedom of Religion II

The Coronation of Napoleon, December 2, 1804
The new American Republic in its 1789 first amendment to the Constitution (ratified in 1791) forbad Congress either to establish (a) religion in law or to prohibit its free exercise.  It was a moderate step away from the time-honored practice of European States that recognized either Catholicism or one or another of the Protestant Churches as the official religion of that particular state.  A more radical approach to altering the relationship of Church and State emerged under the various governments of the French Revolution.  In 1790 the French Government, technically still the monarchy but controlled by revolutionary forces in the National Constituent Assembly, required the clergy to swear an oath of allegiance to the new Constitution.  It also required that pastors and bishops be elected by their respective constituencies.  This did not meet with papal approval, needless to say, and clergy who refused the oath (as many did) were subject to fines, imprisonment, and death.  In 1792 the National Assembly, contrary to Catholic belief, legalized divorce and that civil legalization that contradicted the canon law actually was the initial step in separating civil law from Religious doctrine.  The Government also took the responsibility of registering births, marriages, and deaths from the Church thus making baptism and church-marriage unnecessary for those who chose not to practice Catholicism.   This was just the first step in changing the status of the Church and just weeks later a virulent persecution of the clergy and religious began.  This was followed in the first months of 1793 with a spate of “dechristianization” laws which attempted to remove not only Catholicism but all Christian influence on French culture.  The Gregorian Calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 (the calendar we use today in America and most of the world) was abolished in favor of a Republican Calendar with ten day weeks—eliminating any Sunday of Christian worship.  Towns with religious names such as Saint-Antoine or Saint Tropez received new names.  The Deistic “Cult of the Supreme Being” was designed to replace Christianity.  It was forbidden to ring church bells or display the cross and of course there were no religious festivals.  Cathedrals and churches were, for the most part, turned over to secular use or left abandoned. Abbeys and convents were most often destroyed and left in ruins.  Despite the high and mighty language of the Revolution about “the rights of man,” there was no religious liberty, neither for the Churches nor for the individual believer.  Slowly, however, after 1795 while public worship was proscribed the private practice of Christian faith—Protestant or Catholic—was, in fact, tolerated although clergy were still often imprisoned or sent to French penal colonies in the Caribbean. Religion was banished from public life but permitted in private.   With the accession of Napoleon in 1799 the religious situation improved as Napoleon, no believer himself, realized he could use an alliance with the Church to consolidate his political and imperial ambitions.  Pius VII was coerced into crowning Napoleon as Emperor of the French at a Pontifical Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral Paris on December 2nd 1804.  Actually, Napoleon crowned himself—having taken the crown from the Pope’s hands and placed it on his own head before turning and crowning his wife (at the time), Josephine. 
     In the course of their revolution, the French had conquered what is today Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as most of modern Germany.  They also had seized Italy and Spain where they established satellite states under Bonaparte siblings or allies.  Although Sweden was never part of this empire, one of Napoleon’s top generals, Jean- Baptiste Bernadotte was elected King by the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament).  Bernadotte briefly was allied to Napoleonic France but he was no fool and disentangled himself from that alliance when it was clear that Napoleon would not prevail.  Wherever Napoleon held power, however, he established religious liberty giving Catholics, Protestants, and Jews freedom of worship. 
       When Napoleon fell in 1815 the restored European monarchs, including Pope Pius VII, were determined to undo as much as they could of the French Revolutionary influence on European societies.  Religious freedom was among the first things to go.  Outright persecution of religious minorities was difficult to reestablish but limits were put on Catholics and Catholicism in Protestant lands and on Protestants and Protestantism in Catholic countries.  The Catholic Church insisted, for the most part without success, on religious liberty for its adherents in Protestant lands but vehemently opposed Protestant rights in Catholic countries.  The Papal States certainly did not practice religious liberty.  Certain limited freedoms were extended to Jews though they were required to live in the Ghetto until 1882—twelve years after the Kingdom of Italy had taken political control of Rome from the popes.  What liberties Roman Jews had came at the price of various taxes and duties. As difficult as the Jews had it, Protestants had a much more difficult time.  Protestant worship was forbidden in Papal Rome and no Protestant churches could be constructed within the walls of the city.  The Papacy did not approve of religious toleration when it came to “heretics.”  It was only with the fall of Papal Rome and its incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 that Protestants acquired the right to worship in Rome and the surrounding area.  As the papacy did not recognize the authority of the Italian monarchy over formerly Papal territory, neither did they accept freedom of religion in the once Papal dominions.   American ex-President Theodore Roosevelt declined an invitation to meet Pius X during a trip to Rome in 1910 because one of the papal conditions on the visit was that the President, an Episcopalian, could not attend a Protestant Church during his visit.  (There were other conditions as well that Roosevelt chose not to meet.) 
     As a result of its intransience on the matter of religious freedom, Rome did not know what to do with the American constitutional policy of Separation of Church and State.  American Catholics, for the most part, accepted the American position without reservation.  Indeed most probably supported it with the enthusiasm with which they embraced life in the American Republic.  Rome chose to ignore the American Constitutional requirement of separation of Church and State as they chose to ignore the reality of republican government.  European prelates found freedom of conscience and republicanism to be too reminiscent of the debacle of the French Revolution.  Yet the Holy See did not want to imperil the health and safety of the Catholic Church which was thriving in the American Republic under the constitutional principle of Separation of Church and State.  It was agreed by Roman officials that American Catholics could live with the Separation of Church and State until such time that Catholics gained the political majority.  At that time they would be bound by Church authority to establish Catholicism as the State Religion in the United States and limit, if not absolutely proscribe, Protestant worship. 

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