What influence did the French Revolution and Napoleon have on Christianity in Europe? Quite a large impact! It’s always interesting to me to see how some 200 years later many of the same philosophies are influencing the world I live in.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 28, “A Shifting Landscape: Western Europe” Loc. 5454-5679.
The end of the 18th century was full of cultural changes in Europe. Gonzalez considers the most important to be associated with the French Revolution (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5459). The French Revolution was provoked, at least in part, by inequality in governmental representation. During the conflict there were economic difficulties resulting in poverty and hunger. This led to riots (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5476). In 1789 a new governing assembly asserted power and reorganized the government, including governance of religion (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5483). The assembly was divided between those who wished to reform the church and those who thought Christianity was outmoded and should be ended (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5490). The more radical group gained more power as the revolution continued. Clergy were finally required to swear allegiance to the Civil Constitution (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5505). Only those who agreed would be supported by the government. Others were forced to seek support from their followers. They also found themselves under suspicion of participation in the counterrevolution (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5512).
Between 1790 and 1815 the French conflict became more radical. As the end of the Napoleonic Wars came in 1815 the monarchy was ended and broader conflict broke out (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5520). The new revolutionary leaders wished science to replace religion. Official observances of Reason began, with restructuring of the calendar and appointment of new saints, including “Jesus, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, and Rousseau (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5535). There was widespread execution of priests, both Catholic and Protestant.
As a result of the Napoleonic Wars the national governments and even the boundaries in Europe were revised (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5565). Various groups sought to form coalitions which would create national unity (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5573). Economic approaches which avoided governmental involvement grew increasingly popular and resulted in economic growth (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5580). Gonzalez illustrates widespread changes throughout Europe for much of the 19th century.
Gonzalez observes that the greatest changes in Europe in the 19th century had to do with the increasing distance between church and state (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5617). Churches were increasingly selected by choice and supported by offerings (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5624).
Gonzalez closes the chapter by observing the same phenomena in Britain as in the rest of Europe. Reform movements served to diversify the Church and move it away from governmental control (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 5639).
All the work of Wittenberg Door Campus Ministry, including this blog, is supported by the generosity of people like you. Please consider joining our team of prayer and financial supporters. Read more here!