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Unnatural Frenchmen

Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage, 1720-1815

E. Claire Cage
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Unnatural Frenchmen
    Book Description:

    In Enlightenment and revolutionary France, new and pressing arguments emerged in the long debate over clerical celibacy. Appeals for the abolition of celibacy were couched primarily in the language of nature, social utility, and thepatrie.The attack only intensified after the legalization of priestly marriage during the Revolution, as marriage and procreation were considered patriotic duties. Some radical revolutionaries who saw celibacy as a crime against nature and the nation aggressively promoted clerical marriage by threatening unmarried priests with deportation, imprisonment, and even death. After the Revolution, political and religious authorities responded to the vexing problem of reconciling the existence of several thousand married French priests with the formal reestablishment of Roman Catholicism and clerical celibacy.

    Unnatural Frenchmenexamines how this extremely divisive issue shaped religious politics, the lived experience of French clerics, and gendered citizenship. Drawing on a wide base of printed and archival material, including thousands of letters that married priests wrote to the pope, historian Claire Cage highlights individual as well as ideological struggles. Unnatural Frenchmen provides important insights into how conflicts over priestly celibacy and marriage have shaped the relationship between sexuality, religion, and politics from the age of Enlightenment to today, while simultaneously revealing the story of priestly marriage to be an inherently personal and deeply human one.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3713-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1805 Jacques-Maurice Gaudin, a seventy-year-old librarian and judge in La Rochelle, published a treatise designed to educate and advise his son. Fearing that he would not live long enough to see the seven-year-old into adulthood, Gaudin laid out an educational program designed to ensure that the boy would be well equipped to fulfill his duties both to God and to thepatrie,or fatherland. While Gaudin’s publication followed the conventional norms of fatherly advice, his background was anything but conventional. He had married and become a father late in life after renouncing his vows of priestly celibacy and marrying...

  5. ONE Clerical Celibacy from Early Christianity to the Ancien Régime
    (pp. 11-28)

    In the past few decades, clerical celibacy has been hotly debated. Should priests be allowed to marry? Would marriage compromise priests’ ability to perform their pastoral duties? Is celibacy even natural? Does that matter? Although recently resurgent, the debate over clerical celibacy has a rich and long history. In the age of Enlightenment, new and pressing concerns about celibacy emerged, and ensuing contests over clerical celibacy played out in a spectacular fashion.

    Both sides of the clerical celibacy controversy in eighteenth-century France were deeply influenced by perennial questions about the practice’s origins and merits. Many of the most prominent and...

  6. TWO An Unnatural State: The Clerical Celibacy Controversy in Enlightenment France
    (pp. 29-60)

    In 1770 the abbé Desforges constructed a pair of wings and attached them to a peasant. Covering the peasant from head to toe in feathers, Desforges led him to the top of a belfry. The feathered peasant, however, refused to follow Desforges’s orders to leap off the belfry, flap his wings, and take flight. Two years later, Desforges made another widely publicized attempt at flight, this time in an elaborate flying gondola with moveable wings and a parasol. In front of a large crowd, Desforges launched his aerial chariot over the edge of the top of the Tour Guinette at...

  7. THREE Priests into Citizens: Clerical Marriage during the French Revolution, 1789–1793
    (pp. 61-91)

    In 1790 François-Etienne Bernet de Boislorette, a Catholic priest and chaplain of the Parisian National Guard, publicly proclaimed his love for a Protestant English widow. He did so in a subsequently published letter to Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne, president of the National Assembly, demanding the legalization of the marriage of priests. Presuming that as a Protestant pastor Rabaut would be sympathetic to this cause, the abbé Bernet de Boislorette expressed indignation over the National Assembly’s failure to abolish clerical celibacy, “which contradicts nature, good sense, society, morals [and] religion.” He denounced vows of celibacy as “insane,” “anti-social,” “unconstitutional,” “sacrilegious,” “scandalous,” and...

  8. FOUR A Social Crime: Clerical Celibacy from the Terror to Napoleon
    (pp. 92-129)

    In the fall of 1793, the Committee of Public Safety sent Marc-Antoine Jullien to several Atlantic ports to “enlighten the people” and root out enemies of the nation.¹ Identifying celibate priests as enemies and “dangerous and suspect men,” Jullien called for the criminalization of celibacy and the arrest of a bishop who had spoken out against the marriage of priests. Furthermore, Jullien planned an elaborate revolutionary festival in Rochefort to foster patriotism, social cohesion, and republican virtue by promoting marriage, since he viewed marriage and the family as central to the politics of regeneration. He instructed the popular society of...

  9. FIVE Married Priests in the Napoleonic Era
    (pp. 130-166)

    For Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, Napoleon’s chief diplomat, the issues of clerical celibacy and marriage were personal. Despite his extreme disinclination toward celibacy, Talleyrand had entered the priesthood in 1779. The following year, at the age of twenty-six, he had become agent-general of the French clergy, the clergy’s representative to the crown. Eight years later, he was consecrated bishop of Autun. In 1791 Pope Pius VI excommunicated Talleyrand on account of his support of the nationalization of church properties and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. A decade later, Talleyrand engaged in lengthy negotiations with Rome over the terms of the...

    (pp. 167-174)

    “The annals of crime can scarcely produce an equal instance of priestly debauchery, hypocrisy, and cruelty,” a London periodical observed in 1824 of the heinous crimes committed two years earlier by the French priest Antoine Mingrat.¹ After his seminary training in Grenoble, Mingrat had become the parish priest of Saint-Aupre in Isère, where reports soon surfaced of his sexual liaisons with young women. After Mingrat’s superiors learned of his affair with the daughter of one of his parishioners, they ordered Mingrat to leave his presbytery and transferred him to the parish of Saint-Quentin. The journalist Paul-Louis Courier later harshly criticized...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 175-194)
    (pp. 195-226)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 227-238)