Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/879

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797

ASSEMBLIES


797


ASSEMBLIES


discussed in them. Indeed, the Colloquy of Poissy, the origiiiul genn of the Assemblies, wjus expressly convenoil for the discussion of Protestantism, and in opposition to schism and heresy. Practically every Assembly, from the first in l.'jtiO to the last in 1788, dealt with the problem of Protestantism; it may be atlded that their attitude was scarcely favourable to liberty of conscience. In its turn, Jan.senism received much attention from these Asseml)lies, which always supported with great loyalty the papal Bulls that condemned this here.sy. Indeed, some of the severest measures against Jan- senism came from this quarter. The eighteenth century, with its philosophers and encyclopanlists, brought the A.ssemblies of the Clergy aiixictii's of a new and alarming character. They did tlicir l)ost to withstand the progress of infidelity, stirred up and encouraged Christian apologists, and urgcil the king to protect the Church and defend the faith of the French |)eople. They were less successful in this task than in their previous undertakings. The pliil()so|)hical and political movement which the Clergy had found themselves powerless to block, wiis to involve even them in the catastrophe that demolished the old regime.

Among the doctrinal questions brought before the Assemblies of the Clergy particular note should be taken of the Four Articles voted on by the famous Assembly of 1G82. We know that this A.ssembly was conveneil to consider the Ri'-gnle, a term de- noting the right assumed by the I*"rench kings during the vacancy of a see to appropriate its revcmies and make appointments to benefices. For centuries, even back in the Middle Ages, such seizure of eccle- siastical rights on the part of the State had given rise to iniunnerable abuses and depredations. The kings of France had often affirmed that the right of Hi gale belonged to them in virtue of the suprem- acy of the Crown over all sees, even those previously exempt from the as.sertion of this right. Under Louis XIV, these claims were vigorously enforced. Two prelates. Pavilion, Bishop of Alet, and Caulet, Bishop of Pamiers, made a lively resistance to the royal pretensions. The pope sustained them with all his authority. Thereupon the king convoked the famous Assembly of 1682, presided over by Ilarlay de Champvallon, and Le Tellier, Archbishops, respectively, of Paris and of Reims. Bossuet, though firm in his allegiance to the Holy See, was convinced of the danger menacing the Church, and on the 9th of November, 1681 , preached in the church of the Grands Augustins at Paris his celebrated ser- mon "On the Unity of the Church". This immortal masterpiece of eloquence was so fortunate as to secure the approbation of both pope and king. Contrary to its custom, the Assembly ordered the discourse to be printed. Thereupon, the question of the /?<- gale was quickly decided according to the royal wish. A far graver question, however, was laid before the Assembly when Louis XIV asked them to pronounce upon the authority of the pope. Bos- suet, who felt the peril lurking in such discussions, tried to temporize and requested that, before pro- ceeding furtlior, Christian tradition on this point be carefully studied. This move proving unsuccessful, the Bishop of Meaux stood out against the (Cialliean) propositions presented in the name of the commission by Choiseul-Praslin, Bishop of Tournai. Thereupon the propositions were turned over to Bos.suet him.self; he succoo(l(\d in eliminating from them the irritating question of appeals to a future council, a proposition several time;) condemned by the Holy See. It was then that the Assembly voted (19 March, 1682) the famous "Four Articles" that may be briefly sum- marized as follows:

1. The pope has no right, direct or indirect, over the temporal power of kings.


2. The pope is inferior to the General Council, and the decrees of the Council of Constance in its fourth and fifth .sessions are still binding.

'.i. The exercise of pontifical authority should bo regulated by the ecclcsi:istical canons.

4. Dogmatic decisions of the pope are not irrev- ocable until they have been confirmed by the judg- ment of the whole Church.

Bossuet, who was drawn into the discussion in spite of hinwelf, and who in all questions inclined towards the least arbitrary solution, wrote his Dejinsio Dcclamtionin in justification of the de- cisions of the Assembly. It was not published, however, until after his death. The king ordered tlio "Four Articles" to be promulgated from all the pulpits of France. Iimocent XI (107()-89), not- witiistanding his dissatisfaction, hesitated to pass censure on the publication of the " Four Articles ". He contented him.self with expressing his disapproval of the decision mailo by the Assembly on the question of the Ri'gatc, and refused the papal Bulls to those members of the A.ssembly who liad been selected by the king for vacant sees. To lend unity to the action of the Assemblies, and to preserve their influence during the long intervals between these meetings, two ecclesiastics were elected who were thenceforth, as it were, the executive power of the Church of France. They were known as Agents-General (Agents-Gmi'raux) and were verj' important per- sonages under the old regime. Although chosen from among the Clergy of the second order, i. e. from among the priests, they were always men of good birth, distinguished bearing, and quite familiar with the ways of the world and the court. They had charge of the accoimts of all receivers, protected jealously all rights of the Church, drew attention to whatever was prejudicial to her prerogatives or discipline, and in the parliament represented the ecclesiastical authority and interest in all cases to which the Church was a party. They enjoyed the privilege of committimux , and were specially au- thorized to enter the king's council and speak before it on ecclesiastical matters. On the occasion of each Assembly these agents rendered an account of their administration in reports, se\eral folio vol- umes of which ha\c been pulilished since the begin- ning of the eighteenth century under the title of: Rapports d'agcncc. The usual reward for their services was the episcopate. Their duties prepared them admirably to understand public affairs. Monseigneur de Cic6, Monseigneur de La Luzerne, the Abb(5 de Montesquiou, and Talleyrand, all of wiiom

Clayed important roles in the Constituent A.ssem- ly, had been in their time Ageiits-(!eneral of the Clergy.

The reader may now judge of the importance at- taching to the Assemblies of the Clergj' under the old regime. The mere fact that they could meet the king, converse with him on questions of finance, religion, administration, even of politics, and, when necessary, lay complaints before him, was in those days a very great pri\ilege. At a time when the public were without a voice, the Nobility forbidden to a.sseml)le (enjoying, indeed, special favours, but without rights; forming no distinct corjxs, and with no ollicial organ of their interests!, the Clergj- were represented, had a voice in affairs, could defend themselves, attack their opponents, offer remonstran- ces. It was a uni(|ue position, and added still more to the prestige already enjoyed liy the first order of the nation. It was truly extraordinary that they shoukl have so jealously preserved the right of voting on their taxation, a right which for three centuries the people had allowed to lapse. It wsis an evidence of grciit power when the Clergy could force an alwo- lute monarchy to discuss with them grave questions of finance, could vote freely on their own contribu-