Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/878

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796

ASSEMBLIES


796


ASSEMBLIES


deputies forming the body was arranged according to ecclesiastical provinces. It was decided in 1619 that each province should send four deputies (two bishops and two priests) to the assemblies de con- trol held every ten years, and two to the assem- blies des comptes which met once during the interval of ten years. Under this arrangement an assembly was convened every five years. There were two steps in the election of deputies. First, at the diocesan assembly were convened all holders of benefices, a plurality of whose votes elected two delegates. These then proceeded to the metro- politan see, and \inder the presidency of the metro- politan elected the provincial deputies. Theoreti- cally, parish priests (cutis) might be chosen, but as a matter of fact, by reason of their social station, inferior to that; of abb^s and canons, they seldom had seats in the assemblies. The rank of subdeacon suflficed for election; the Abb6 Legendre relates in his memoirs as a contemporary incident that one of these young legislators, after an escapade, was soundly flogged by his preceptor who had accom- panied him to Paris. The assemblies at all times reserved to themselves the right of deciding upon the validity of procurators and the authority of deputies. They wished also to reserve the right of electing their own president, whom they always chose from among the bishoDs. However, to conciliate rival- ries, several were usually nominated for the presi- dency, only one of whom exercised that function. Tender a strong government, withal, and despite the resolution to maintain their right of election, the Assemblies were unlikely to choose a person not in favour at court. We know that during the reign of Louis XIV Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Paris, was several times president. Finally, Saint-Simon tells us the royal displeasure deprived him of his influence with the Clergy, and even short- ened his life. The offices of secretary and "promo- tor", being looked on by the bishops as somewhat inferior, were assigned to deputies of the second rank, i. e. to priests. Like all other parliaments, the Assemblies of the French Clergy divided their work among commissions. The "Commission of Temporal Affairs" was very important and had an unusually large amount of business to transact. Financial questions, which had given rise to these assemblies, continued to claim their attention until the time of the Revolution. Beginning with the seventeenth century, the payment of the rentes of the Hotel de Ville was an item of slight importance as compared with the sums which the Clergy were compelled to vote the king under the name of do7is gratuits, or free gifts. It had been established during the Middle Ages that the Church should contribute not only to the expenses of the Crusades, but also towards tlie defence of the kingdom, a tra- dition continued to modern times. The religious wars of the sixteenth century, later the siege of La Rochelle (1628) under Richelieu, and to a still greater extent the political wars waged by Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI occasioned the levj-ing of enormous subsidies on the Clergy. The following example may serve as an illustration-, the Clergy, who had voted sixteen million livres ($3,200,000) in 1779, gave thirty mil- lions more (86,000,000) in 1780 for the expenses of the French Government in tlie war of the American Revolution, to which they added in 1782 sixteen millions and in 1785 eighteen millions. The Church was then to the State what, under similar circum- stances, the Bank of France is to-day. The French kings more than once expressed their gratitude to this body for the services it had rendered both mon- archy and fatherland in the prompt and generous payment of large subsidies at critical moments when, as now, money was the sinews of war. It has boon


calculated from official documents that during three- quarters of a century (1715-89) the Clergy paid in, either for the rentes of the Hotel de Ville or as "free gifts, "over 380 million livres ($76,000,000). We may well ask ourselves if, with all their preroga- tives, they did not contribute towards the public expenses as much as the rest of the nation. In 1789, when accepting, with all the cahiers or proposi- tions emanating from the Clergy, the law imposing on the Church of France an equal share of the public expense, the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur de Juign6, was able to say that the Church already con- tributed as much as the other orders (nobility, bour- geoisie, and people); its burdens wovild not be in- creased by the new law that imposed upon all an equal share in contributing to the expenses of the State.

The Assemblies of the Clergy conducted their temporal administration in a dignified and imposing manner, and with much perfection of detail. They appointed for ten years a receiver-general {Rece- veur-Giniral) , in reality a minister of finance. The office carried with it a generous salary, and for elec- tion to it a two-thirds majority was required. He was bound to furnish security at his residence in Paris and render a detailed account of his manage- ment to the assembled Clergy. In each diocese there was a board of elected delegates presided over by the bishop, whose duty it was to apportion the assessments among the beneficed ecclesiastics. This Bureau diocesain de dicimes (Diocesan Board of Tithes) was authorized to settle ordinary disputes. Over it were superior boards located at Paris, Lyons, Rouen, Tours, Toulouse, Bordeau.x, Aix, and Bourges, courts of appeal, whose decisions were final in all disputes concerning the contributions of the dioceses within their jurisdiction.

In this way the Clergy had an administration of their own, independent of the State, a very impor- tant privilege under the old regime. It may be added that they knew how to merit such a favour. In the whole nation their credit stood highest; the arcliives have preserved for us many thousands of rental contracts made in the utmost confidence by private individuals with the Church. Certain details of the ecclesiastical financial system are even yet worthy of study. It has been said that M. de Villdle introduced into France the conversion of annuities and the consequent reduction of interest; as a matter of fact this was practised by the Clergy from the end of the seventeenth century when they were forced to negotiate loans in order to furnish the sums demanded by Louis XIV. Necker, a competent judge, com- mended the Clergy for the care they took in liquidat- ing these debts. He also praised the clerical system of the distribution of taxes, according to which the beneficed ecclesiastics throughout the kingdom were divided into eight dt parte ments, or classes, in order to facilitate the apportionment of taxes in ascending ratio, according to the resources of each. This shows that even under the old regime the Clergy had placed on a practical working basis, in their own system of revenues, the impdt progressif or system of graduated as.sessment of income. It may he said that the system of administering the ecclesiastical temporalities as developed by the Assemblies of the Clergy of France was remarkably successful. Pos- sibly, they succeeded only too well in maintaining the financial immunities granted the Church. These tlicy g.'ive up on the verge of the Revolution, when tlicy accepted the principle tliat the public burden sho\ild be equally divided among all classes of the nation, a step they had delayed too long. Public opinion had already condemned in an irresistible manner all privileges whatsoever. The Assemblies of I lie ClcTgy did not confine their attention to tcinporid nuitters. Doctrinal questions and spiritual matters held an important place among the subjects