FRANCE AT THE TIME OF
ST. VINCENT DE PAUL1
I. European Situation before the 17th century:
· Age of Humanism and Renaissance: the revival of classical learning, especially in literature and art, revolution and intellectual and cultural life of the people. Humanism emphasized the nobility of the “merely human” in contrast to the theological (everything under the aspect of God = divinizing) emphasis of the medieval mind.
· Age of Exploration and discoveries: Europe came into contact with the New World and the Far East. The Treaty of Tordesillas: on June 7, 1494, the Spanish and the Portuguese signed a treaty to divide the world in two. The dividing line ran through the Atlantic with Spain gaining lands to the west including all the Americas. The eastern half including Africa and India was given to Portugal.
· Age of Reformation: Fissure in the Western Christendom. Protestant Revolt and Catholic Reformation polarized Europe. Treaty of Augsburg’s “culus regio, eius religio” and the Wars of Religion.
· With the decline of papacy, socio-political conflicts were drawn along denominational lines: Hapsburg lines (Spain and Holy Roman Empire) against England, the Netherlands and Protestant Germany.
· Rise of the Bourgeoisie: the powerful middle class emerged: traders, merchants and bankers. Their influence in political and economic fronts.
II. France at the beginning of the 17th Century.
· France bore a strong resemblance to the other European states and petty kingdoms:
q A king who tried to consolidate his power.
q Religion of the people followed the faith of the monarch
q Colonial trade was a means to amass wealth and acquire political power over neighboring nations.
q War was a necessary feature in life.
· On the one hand, France was a relatively late-bloomer:
q While Spain and Portugal wrestled with each other over the riches of the New World and the Far East. And while England and Spain contested the leadership over the high seas, France was beset by interior strife among its many dukes and princes.
q While Spain and England reached the zenith of political, cultural, and economic progress, France was just awakening to it.
· On the other, France was beginning to assert its ascending role while:
q The Holy Roman Empire was being reduced in size, remaining an empire only in name.
q The English monarchy began to lose its foothold in government affairs; the role of the minister was becoming more important.
q Spain’s dominance over European affairs began wane
q Germany was splintered among quarrelling princes.
· France was now marked with:
q A dynastic state headed by an absolute monarch
q A nation tolerant of the pluralistic (Catholic and Huguenot) affiliations of its people.
q A people strongly conscious of their being “French”, different from other European nations and bearing a distinct identity in character and lineage.
q A government characterized by solid statesmanship and economic stability.
III. Significant development in Europe in the 17th century.
A. Principal World Events:
· Political and religious strife brought to a head in the 30 Years War (1618-1648). It involved most of the European powers, but largely waged in Germany Emperor Ferdinand II of the Holy Roman Empire wanted to unify Germany under Catholic rule. What begun as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Germany ended as an almost purely political struggle to reduce the power of the Hapsburg in favor of France and Sweden. The treaty of Westphalia (1648) ended the war with recognizing Germany’s independent states, the boundaries of other nations relatively intact and France annexing Alsace.
· Though England remained out of the 30 Years War, the same conflicts over religious and constitutional authority led to the execution of Charles in 1649 and the establishment of the British Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.
· Colonial trade expanded throughout the world bringing with it skirmishes and trade wars in India, the Americas and the Far East. European powers jostled for supremacy regarding control of trade as a form of political power.
· 1622 The Congregation of the Propaganda was created in Rome, for the conduct of missionary activity in Christian territories outside of Spanish and Portuguese control.
B. Philosophy and Sciences.
· Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) began modern science by suggesting that the workings natural phenomena could be described exactly in mathematical formulae. (Union of Physics and Mathematics). This transformed the basic assumption and methodology of the natural sciences and distinguishes it radically from religious and philosophical thought.
· Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in Novum Organum (1620) elaborated a sophisticated method of establishing scientific truths using observation and experiment to test hypotheses. In New Atlantic (1627) he argued for the usefulness of scientific knowledge in giving man mastery over nature.
· Rene Descartes (1596-1650), considered the Father of modern philosophy attempted to establish a philosophical system based on the first principles alone on mathematical logic. Employing systematic doubt (Cogito, ergo sum) he ended up with dualism between mind and matter.
q Clarity and distinctness of ideas establish their truth independently of experience (res cogitans)
q Physical world is governed by deterministic laws (res extensa)
· Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) a Spanish Jesuit argued in his On Laws (1612) that a contract between a ruler and subject was the basis of sovereignty. This is a direct attack on the theory that a king rules by divine right.
· Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan (1655) argued that in a state of nature men will fight because of their natural selfishness. They could only escape through a contract whereby they renounce freedom to a sovereign supreme leader.
· In 1609 Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova argued that planets moved around the sun in ellipses and at varying speed. The year before that the telescope was invented by the Dutchman, Hans Lippershey.
· In 1628 William Harvey demonstrated the circulation of the blood. By studying the valves he realized that blood must flow in one direction only. This mechanics view complemented Galileo’s mechanistic universe.
· In 1642 Blaise Pascal invented an adding machine, discovered the principles of hydraulics and investigated the theory of probability, i.e., that chance can be measured.
· In 1654 the Magdeburg experiment in which two teams of horses tried and failed to separate two-emptied hemisphere demonstrated the power of air pressure. This will later be harnessed in the first steam engine.
· At about the same time, Robert Boyle experimented on the physical properties of air and formulated his law on the relationship between pressure and volume of gas.
C. The World of Art.
· Plastic Art:
q Baroque art emerged in Italy and reached its peak in mid-17th century. From Italy it spread into Catholic Europe, with less influence in Northern Protestant countries. The apologetic intent of Baroque art. To reflect the grandeur of Mother Church Bernini designed the St. Peter’s Piazza.
q In France, the tradition of rationalism produced a restrained classicism in the works of Nicholas Poussin.
q Dutch art found its greatest painter in Rembrandt, whose psychological insight and technical virtuosity, esp. with chiaroscuro, produced the “Nightwatch” (1642).
q The Spanish Diego de Velasquez showed realism and superlative handling of color in “Las Meninas” (1656)
· Music and Dance:
q Many of the forms of music current today had their beginnings in the 17th century.
q The suite was developing to provide the basis of the later sonata.
q Opera and ballet evolved from court entertainment.
q The violin made its appearance in 1612 as part of the 24-piece court band, later increased to 35 players. The Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri families from 1650-1740 perfected violin in Italy.
q Fugue developed principally in Germany as a contrapuntal treatment of one main theme.
q Bel Canto – lyrical agile style of singing – developed in Italy. Castrati, men castrated before puberty, were renowned for their high sweet, powerful voices often used for the opera.
q The Elizabeth age in English literature culminated in the later works of William Shakespeare whose plays and sonnets epitomize the innovation and humanism of the Renaissance.
q Erudition, wit, reason and passion were best combined in the love and devotional poems of John Donne (1622-1631). Later English poetry reflected the political and religious conflict between Puritans and the Royalists, e.g. Milton.
q In Spain, Cervantes wrote his picaresque “Don Quixote”.
q In France, an effort to systematize the rules of language and literature was made by the Academic Francaise. An interest in classical models produced the tightly organized psychological dramas of Corneille (1608-1684) and the accomplished verse of Francois de Malberbe (1555-1684)
q In 1634 the Passion Play at Oberramergau was first mounted. It is performed every ten years since except for 3 wartime interruptions.
IV. Politico-Social Situation of France in the 17th Century.
A. The Political Situation.
Show the Map of Europe of the 16-17th Centuries, showing the political declinations.
· The political situation of France has several factors:
q Francis I declared the base concept of national unity: one king, one faith, and one law.
q War of dynasties: Hapsburgs of the Empire and Spain vs. the Valois of France.
q Religious conflict: the Catholic Party of the King vs. the Huguenots (the name of the Calvinists in France). Among the Huguenots were Anthony of Bourbon, who became Henry, King of Navarre and his brother Prince of Conde.
· In the War of the Three Henrys (Henry III, Henry Duke of Guise, and Henry of Navarre) the first two were killed and Henry of Navarre came out victorious. Henry IV of Navarre was a Huguenot and as such could not govern a Catholic country. Sixtus V offered Henry the throne in exchange of his religion. Henry accepted to become a Catholic.
· Edict of Nantes in 1598 settled the 35 years of war of religion and
q granted to Huguenots the freedom to practice their religion in the homes, towns and villages where they have been established before 1597
q opened employment to them
q created mixed tribunals in which judges were chosen equally from among Catholics and Calvinists;
q recognizing them for eight years as master of about one hundred towns which were known as “places of surety”
· Henry IV solidified France’s ascendancy in Europe. The 1598 Treaty of Vervins with Spain put an end to Spanish interventions and restored to France all Spanish conquest in France. Henry envisioned then in Europe “a league of princess who would work for the freedom their land and fight to keep the Hapsburg in Spain and Austria. Henry IV was assassinated in 1610.
· Marie de Medici became queen regent. At age 16 Louis XIII seized control of the government and exiled his mother. The Italian adviser to the court Concini was murdered and Richelieu was banished. Soon reconciliation followed and Richelieu returned to the court as First Minister.
· Richelieu program:
q The king supreme in France, and France supreme in Europe
q Policy to break the power of the nobility of the Huguenots. When, in defense of their privileges threatened by Richelieu, they formed alliance with England, Richelieu put Rochelle to siege and took it after 14 months and took away political privileges and the “places of surety” granted them by the Edict of Nantes.
q Established the administration of “intendants” in the provinces and transferred to the police, judicial and financial administration from the hands of nobles to these new representatives of the crown.
· At the death of Richelieu (1642) and Louis XIII (1643) France had a 5-year old king in Louis XIV, Queen Anne of Austria became a regent, while Richelieu’s, successor, Mazarin assumed the position of First Minister. By then, the absolute power of the king was assured. The monarchy assumed absolute leadership in all affairs.
B. Politico-Social Structures.
· 3 States of the French society, are represented by those who
q the clergy - pray
q the nobles - fight
q the people - work
The above represents a religious-military conception of society as well as indicative of primitive economy.
1. The Clergy
· By the Concordat of Bologna (1615) the king presents the candidates to archbishops, bishoprics, major benefices whom the pope invests canonically within six months. The king demanded oath of loyalty to him from the nominees. The State demanded financial duties from the Assembly of the Clergy, which the Assembly renews every ten years.
· The Clergy had among higher rank members of the nobility and the emergent middle class. As a class it exercised strong influences on the king and on the conduct of affairs due to its sizeable properties and financial resources in its disposition. To the rental of properties are to be added the benefices to the Church, which was ten percent.
· The property belonging to the clergy constituted about a third of the kingdom, though in number it constituted only 2% of the population. The high clergy is made up of bishops, abbots and holders of major benefices. The low clergy is made up of priest without title to benefice and fixed pastoral ministry.
· The figures about 1600 reveal.
q 136 archbishops and bishops,
q 40,000 parish priests,
q 40,000 priests without benefice or fixed pastoral ministry
q 5,000 abbots and secular priors,
q 16,000 canons.
· A sum of
q 101,000 diocesan ecclesiastics,
q 82,600 religious, of whom
v 35,600 belong to communities who live on rent and work
v 47,000 to mendicant orders “who live and poster through begging.
2. The Nobility
· The nobles constituted 4-5% of the population, categorized into various roles:
q of the court.
q of the province,
q Parliamentary and
· The nobles live principally on the produce and rent of the land. Some receive pensions, which the king granted them through benefices, titles and offices. This is true particular with the ecclesiastical positions of bishop, abbots and abbesses.
· The nobles exacted duties on all the lands, titles and offices. He is treated with respect accorded to his position and dignity. His exemption from real duties, especially the “taille,” distinguishes him from the members of the third state. He distinguished himself from the other two classes by the use of arms and the stile of lavish life.
· The old landed nobility resented the emergence of the new functional and administrative nobility of the middle class. Members of the bourgeoisie were just to eager to pay sizeable amounts to made “nobles” especially of the administrative types.
· The nobles hold on to their dignity and position by the favor of the king. In this relationship they are clients with whom favoritism, loyalty and dependence on the king is paramount.
· Economic dependence and political submission became part of the program of Richelieu in order to keep the absolute power of the king.
3. the people.
· In contrast to the clergy and the nobles, the third state embraces very diverse social, cultural and economic groups.
4. The bourgeoisie
· Several classifications: active and inactive.
q The inactive middle class possesses from 15 to 20% of the land. These live on the revenue of their houses and lands.
q The active middle class who by their functions remain very close to the crown.
v In the administrative system: officials and mid-level officials of courts, the Parliament and notary offices.
v In the financial economic system: administrators and collectors of rent in the form of products or money for the landowners and clerics of the nobility.
v In the financial system: those who possess large sum of money for lending, and lessees of the taxes and duties of the king.
v In the commercial system: the big merchants and manufacturers.
· High, middle and low middle classes:
q High middle class: the major tenants, general collectors of taxes, bankers, representative of big business and manufacturers. Their level approaches that of the aristocracy.
q Mid middle class: officials and functionaries of liberal professions.
q Low middle class: small manufacturers and independent craftsmen who distinguishes themselves from the laborers
· More than the classification of the middle class is their role of absorbing the greatest part of the rental fees of the kingdom and their consequence social weight.
· In a society where the supply of food is crucial, landed property is the surest way to secure the necessary products for subsistence. Possession of land meant almost automatically the dignity of noble or lordship.
· The middle class may have less property but they administer and exploit their use much more effectively than the landed nobles to get more income for themselves
· They manage to become caretakers of the properties of clergy and nobles and it is from their ranks that the king appointed the collectors of taxes, duties which they increasingly took over the nobles.
· The practice of advancing the fixed required taxes assured the crown revenues but the later collection reduced many day workers and farmers to misery and secured the fortunes of the collectors. From here the increasing financial fortune and social power of parliamentary and high bourgeoisie. The crown saw itself increasingly dependent upon their services.
5. The Artisans
· Officials Patrons and workers of different professions: blacksmith, weavers, dyers, carpenters, etc. The groups rule themselves with rights and obligations that look into the mastery by the apprentices of the trade and defense of their interests.
6. Salaried Workers
· Without land or houses of their own, they settle in the outskirts of the towns and cities.
· With their salary the more fortunate workers who receive as many as 260 to 290 days/year could sustain their families.
· For others, salary is uncertain as their work from day to day. Because they have to borrow money for sustenance they are reduced to misery and dependence on the lenders.
7. The farmers in the country side
· This is the biggest and most productive sector of the French society. With the cultivation of the land and they provide for the needs and goods of the whole society.
· Four categories of persons descend on the farmers, benefiting from their work:
q The rural community
q The church
q The lord
q The king
· The fiscal needs of the kingdom and of the lords’ nobles as well as ecclesiastics – absorb the great part of the farm produce. The stipulated duties could more easily be paid in kind, but in order to pay in money, the farmers were forced to borrow which starts for them the cycle of indebtedness and dependency, especially in cases of bad harvest.
· The farmers are the main casualty of the policies of Richelieu and Mazarin:
q The brutality of the collectors of taxes
q The atrocity of the soldiers
· Twenty times more numerous than the salaried workers of towns and cities, the majority of farm workers live in misery and indigence due to the political and economic system of the period.
C. The Categories of the Poor.
· The poor have wider significance than the economic condition. The poor is the person who suffers, who is afflicted, who is found in the condition of misfortune. The poor are one who is continually in the state of scarcity, need and penilessness.
· Furetiere: “the poor is one who does not possess the things necessary to sustain life”.
· J.P. Camus, Bishop of Belly: “the poor is one who does not have means to survive but his work. Poverty = cessation of work.
· In the 17th century France, the poor are those;
q Who are threatened everyday with the uncertainty of finding means to survive.
q Those who are constantly threatened in life by the incidence of
¨ Bad harvest
¨ Economic and social crisis
q The world of the poor is that of necessity, the lack of reserve resources, particularly in terms of food items. Thus, the obsession of the poor is how to acquire food everyday = “isang kahig, isang tuka.”
q The poor are forced to beg for the necessities of life, hence a roving population in search of maintenance.
C. The Categories of the Poor.
The Impoverished Farmers
· They are reduced to the condition of scarcity and dependence due to factors described above.
· One who does not even have means for his own living and thus has recourse to help of others in order to survive. One who has fallen, as it were, into the pit of poverty and cannot get himself out of it.
· J.P. Camus: “the beggar is not only deprived of the means to live but one who is so reduced to misery that he cannot earn a living even if he so desires, prevented as he is by infirmity or lack of work even if he is in full health.
· Due to lack of work, the world of the 17th century considers idleness a crime since it foments criminals acts. Idleness make the beggars group themselves into bands that are considered to be cheats lazy lot if not bandits.
· Vagrants are persons who have left their domicile in order to engage in robbery or banditry.
· Because they have no domicile, vagrants are persons whom nobody considers an associate or one’s own, whom nobody would vouchsafe for. They are consequently persons at the margins of society, “who submit to no rule of religion or reason.”
· Hence, their state is criminalized: they become threats to the social order, they violate the dignity of the collective order. They are dangers whom the police and the judiciary must keep in proper, i.e., outside of the respectable society. This applies in a particular place when the bands of beggars and vagrants begin to live on thievery and demand alms with threats or violence from unwilling patrons.
· Causes of vagrancy: the policy of war and financial mismanagement
q Collection of taxes: force the farmers to sell their land, leave their place and look for work somewhere else.
q War: soldiers burn towns and carry off harvest
D. Attitude toward the poor.
· Paradox between
q Lived poverty = real misery
q Spiritual value of poverty = as an attitude that introduces Christian life.
· In practice, it meant the discrepancy between:
q Declaring the eminent dignity of the poor
q Taking measures to enclose the poor out of the society
A contradiction between
q Service of the poor that is called for by the gospel
q Regulating the life of the poor at the margins of all religious and social norms.
Thus, the evangelical ideal of service to the poor turned into a respessive practice of locking them up in institutions. This was behind the royal decree of April 27, 1656 establishing the General Hospital.
· The tragedy of the 17th century France was the loss of distinction between the impoverished farmers and the professional beggars and vagabonds. All of them eventually were classed into one group that was considered asocial and threat to the public social order, hence counteracted with repressive and police powers.
· St. Vincent to Father Almeras: “the poor who don’t know where to go and what to do, who suffer and multiply in number day by day, have become my burden and my pain.”
V. The Religious Condition in France.
A. The Church of the Council of Trent
· Orthodox and apologetic. The dogmas of the Church, clearly defined by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) are found to be more solid and clear. On the downside, the polemic exposition of doctrine carried with it the condemnation of contrary errors.
· A more worthy and mystical religion. Abuses in the celebration of worship were abolished. A regenerate clergy made its appearance, and wave of mysticism satisfied the pursuit of souls for the Absolute.
· A highly centralized Church. The Pope exercised his office to control over what the Church believes and does in practice.
· A new spirit infused into the arts. In contrast to the bare Protestant churches, Baroque art emphasized beautiful forms to stands of the splendor and majesty of God and the triumph of the Catholic Church.
· A missionary Church. Evangelization went with colonization. Establishment of the Propaganda complemented the Royal Patronage of Spain and Portugal.
B. Structures of the Church in France.
1. The Absolute Monarch and the Church.
· The Church lived with an absolute monarch. The sovereign considered himself independent of all authority: Emperor, Pope, Nobles, and People. His authority comes directly from God, not mediately through the Pope or the people. He is not subject to the law since he is the lawgiver and he can proceed against anyone without having to give account to anybody.
· Since Catholicism is the religion of the State,
q The sovereign creates and maintains structures, which help the subjects observe their religious obligations.
q The sovereign defends the Church against all attacks.
q The violations against religions are crimes against the state.
q Marriage is regulated by Canon Law and religious vows are recognized in public.
· Because of compenetration of Church and State:
q The King nominates bishops and important benefices
q The Church exercises monopoly over religious instruction and charitable service.
2. The Bishops.
· At the start of the 17th century, there were 14 archdioceses and 105 dioceses in France. Unequal distribution in land size and property: e.g. the diocese of Grasse had 23 parishes while that of Rouen had 1,380; Grasses’s revenue was 17,000 livres while that of Strasbourg was 300,000.
· The king nominated Bishops and important abbots. For the candidates the king made use of the Council of Conscience. The great number of bishops came from the nobility. The king also granted the positions to families of royal magistrates and ministers as a way of rewarding services or assuring steady flow of income for the royal treasury.
· The main activity of the bishop was the pastoral visit, which ranged in frequency from 8 to 12 years. The points covered during the visit:
q The life and conduct of the clergy
q The conditions of the church
q The administration of the parish.
3. The Assembly of the Clergy
· Consist of 60 deputees, elected among the holders of benefices.
· Took place every ten years to discuss the “free gift” which the clergy gave to the king, a voluntary gift that became obligatory.
· It tended to be a national council of the clergy for which reason Rome eyed it with some suspicion. It discussed the divine right of kings, the authority of the Pope and bishops, questions of faith, relations between bishops and religious and relations with Protestants.
4. The Parish Priests
· The parish is the basic unit of both the Church and the State.
· Nomination to the parish was done, partly by bishops, in great part by lay or religious lords of benefices. Once nominated, the curate is immovable, hence the great independence of priests.
· The parish priest could have the service of numerous vicars who have no pastoral service and become dependent on the parish priest.
· The parish priest could renounce his curate or choose his successor in exchange for a pension.
· Though parish priest enjoys certain prestige and dignity, pastoral visits revealed presence of priest who were ignorant, hardly knowing any word Latin. Their formation usually consisted in some sort of apprenticement in the hands of another curate.
· In 1643 in Bourges, there was a report of priest who: “no one knew what they were doing while saying the Mass, who had very little respect for the sacred mysteries as they put in the tabernacle pieces of silver and paper money together with the sacred species, or those who after 20 years did not know the words of absolution, or which part of the human body he had to anoint for the Extreme Unction.”
5. The Religious
· In the memoirs of Louis XIV, there was mention of the royal wish “to reduce the number of religious who, for the most part, are useless for the Church and a burden to the State.
C. France as the Standard-Bearer of Religious Revival.
· France received the convergence of varied cultural-religious currents:
q The humanist revolt against medieval scholasticism
q The mystical yet practical Christocentrism of the North, exemplified by “Devotio Moderna” manifested in the regimentation of spiritual life and the “Following of Christ.”
q Contributions from Spain:
¨ The mysticism of Sta. Teresa de Avila and John of the Cross
¨ The Ignatian Spirituality and Education: Ignatius gift of discernment of spirits, fidelity to the Holy See and the spirit of adventurism.
q Apostolic attempts in Italy:
¨ Pastoral and clergy formation of Charles Borromeo
¨ St. Philip Neri and the Oratory: ideals of prayer and charity renewal of the priests and people.
¨ Zeal for the care of the sick and the afflicted by the Camillians
· Mainstreams of Spirituality in France:
q The Devout Humanism of St. Francis de Sales. The idea of humanity made beautiful because sanctified. Humanism that leads to the cultivation of the interior life and union with God by “ spinning the thread of little virtues.”
q The French School of Pierre Berulle: centered on the mystery of the Incarnation.
¨ Pierre Berulle introduced Carmelite spirituality to France, spiritual guide of the Circle around Madame Acarie, founder of the French Oratory.
¨ Charles de Condren, successor of Berulle. Of him St. Jean Frances de Chantal said, “he was born to teach angels.”
¨ Jean-Jacques Olier founded the Society of St. Sulpice dedicated to the training of the clergy.
¨ John Eudes, tireless missionary and founder of seminaries.
¨ Main theme of the School: What is man? “Mere nothing yet capable of God. before man stands God who “looked upon this miserable nothingness and set about forming our being.” To rise from nothingness, man must lift himself toward God, adoring him, pleading for his mercy, trusting in his love.
q The mysticism of Benedict Canfield: the human will fixed on the divine by the exercise of pure love.
· A synthesis in the teaching and life of Vincent de Paul.
1 Lecture delivered by Rev. Fr. Marcelo Manimtim, C.M. at OZ AVR last Sept 23, 2003 during a symposium hosted by IRED entitled “17th Century France: The Sitz-Im-Leben of Vincent de Paul”.