Cult of the Supreme Being

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Cult of the Supreme Being
Culte de l'Être suprême
Le peuple francais reconnait l'etre supreme.jpg
"The French people recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul" (printed in 1794)
Classification Deism
Orientation Voltairean
Polity None; absent
Governance None; absent
Region France
Language French
Headquarters Paris
Founder Maximilien Robespierre
Origin7 May 1794 (1794-05-07)
Merged into Theophilanthropy
Defunct28 July 1794 (1794-07-28)
MembersUnknown
Church buildings None; absent

The Cult of the Supreme Being (French : Culte de l'Être suprême) [note 1] was a form of deism established in France by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. It was intended to become the state religion of the new French Republic and a replacement for Roman Catholicism and its rival, the Cult of Reason.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Deism is the philosophical position that rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to establish the existence of a Supreme Being or creator of the universe.

Maximilien Robespierre French revolutionary lawyer and politician

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician who was one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, and the abolition both of celibacy for the clergy and of slavery. Robespierre was an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to carry arms in self-defence. He played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy in August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention.

Contents

It went unsupported after the fall of Robespierre and was officially proscribed when Napoleon restored Catholicism in France.

Napoleon Emperor of the French

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Origins

The French Revolution had occasioned many radical changes in France, but one of the most fundamental for the hitherto Catholic nation was the official rejection of religion. The first new major organized school of thought emerged under the umbrella name of the Cult of Reason. Advocated by radicals like Jacques Hébert and Antoine-François Momoro, the Cult of Reason distilled a mixture of largely atheistic views into an anthropocentric philosophy. No gods at all were worshiped in the Cult of Reasonthe guiding principle was devotion to the abstract conception of Reason itself. [1]

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration is the Holy See.

The dechristianization of France during the French Revolution is a conventional description of the results of a number of separate policies conducted by various governments of France between the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Concordat of 1801, forming the basis of the later and less radical laïcité policies. The goal of the campaign between 1793 and 1794 ranged from the public reclamation of the massive amounts of land, power, and money held by the Catholic Church in France to the termination of Catholic religious practice and of the religion itself. There has been much scholarly debate over whether the movement was popularly motivated.

Cult of Reason religion

The Cult of Reason was France's first established state-sponsored atheistic religion, intended as a replacement for Catholicism during the French Revolution. After holding sway for barely a year, in 1794 it was officially replaced by the rival Cult of the Supreme Being, promoted by Robespierre. Both cults were officially banned in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) Hw-robespierre.jpg
Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794)

This rejection of all godhead appalled Maximilien Robespierre. Though he was no admirer of Catholicism, he had a special dislike for atheism. [2] He thought that belief in a supreme being was important for social order, and he liked to quote Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him". [3] To him, the Cult of Reason's philosophical offenses were compounded by the "scandalous scenes" and "wild masquerades" attributed to its practice. [4] In late 1793, Robespierre delivered a fiery denunciation of the Cult of Reason and of its proponents [5] and proceeded to give his own vision of proper Revolutionary religion. Devised almost entirely by Robespierre, the Cult of the Supreme Being was authorized by the National Convention on 7 May 1794 as the civic religion of France. [6] [7] [8]

Divinity divine mythological character

In religion, divinity or Godhead is the state of things that are believed to come from a supernatural power or deity, such as God, the supreme being, creator deity, or spirits, and are therefore regarded as sacred and holy. Such things are regarded as divine due to their transcendental origins or because their attributes or qualities are superior or supreme relative to things of the Earth. Divine things are regarded as eternal and based in truth, while material things are regarded as ephemeral and based in illusion. Such things that may qualify as divine are apparitions, visions, prophecies, miracles, and in some views also the soul, or more general things like resurrection, immortality, grace, and salvation. Otherwise what is or is not divine may be loosely defined, as it is used by different belief systems.

Voltaire French writer, historian and philosopher

François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plumeVoltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

National Convention Single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

Religious tenets

Robespierre believed that reason is only a means to an end, and the singular end is virtue. He sought to move beyond simple deism (often described as Voltairean by its adherents) to a new and, in his view, more rational devotion to the godhead. The primary principles of the Cult of the Supreme Being were a belief in the existence of a god and the immortality of the human soul. [9] Though not inconsistent with Christian doctrine, these beliefs were put to the service of Robespierre's fuller meaning, which was of a type of civic-minded, public virtue he attributed to the Greeks and Romans. [10] This type of virtue could only be attained through active fidelity to liberty and democracy. [11] Belief in a living god and a higher moral code, he said, were "constant reminders of justice" and thus essential to a republican society. [12]

Virtue Positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good

Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. God is usually conceived as being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present) and as having an eternal and necessary existence. These attributes are used either in way of analogy or are taken literally. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence".

Soul The incorporeal essence of a living being.

The soul, in many religious, philosophical, and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal essence of a living being. Soul or psyche comprises the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking, etc. Depending on the philosophical system, a soul can either be mortal or immortal.

Revolutionary impact

Robespierre used the religious issue to publicly denounce the motives of many radicals not in his camp, and it led, directly or indirectly, to the executions of Revolutionary de-Christianisers like Hébert, Momoro, and Anacharsis Cloots. [4] The establishment of the Cult of the Supreme Being represented the beginning of the reversal of the wholesale de-Christianization process that had been looked upon previously with official favour. [13] Simultaneously it marked the apogee of Robespierre's power. Though in theory he was just an equal member of the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre at this point possessed an unrivalled national prominence. [14]

Anacharsis Cloots Prussian noble

Jean-Baptiste du Val-de-Grâce, baron de Cloots, better known as Anacharsis Cloots, was a Prussian nobleman who was a significant figure in the French Revolution. Perhaps the first to theorize world government, he was also an anarchist. He was nicknamed "orator of mankind", "citoyen de l'humanité" and "a personal enemy of God".

Committee of Public Safety De facto executive government in France (1793–1794)

The Committee of Public Safety, created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto, interim, and executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee—composed at first of nine and later of twelve members—was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial and legislative efforts. It was formed as an administrative body to supervise and expedite the work of the executive bodies of the Convention and of the government ministers appointed by the Convention. As the Committee tried to meet the dangers of a coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within the country, it became more and more powerful.

Festival of the Supreme Being

The Festival of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794) Fete de l'Etre supreme 2.jpg
The Festival of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794)

To inaugurate the new state religion, Robespierre declared that 20 Prairial Year II (8 June 1794) would be the first day of national celebration of the Supreme Being, and future republican holidays were to be held every tenth daythe days of rest (décadi) in the new French Republican Calendar. [6] Every locality was mandated to hold a commemorative event, but the event in Paris was designed on a massive scale. The festival was organized by the artist Jacques-Louis David and took place around a man-made mountain on the Champ de Mars. [15] Robespierre assumed full leadership of the event, forcefullyand, to many, ostentatiously [16] declaring the truth and "social utility" of his new religion. [17] While earlier Revolutionary festivals were more spontaneous, the Festival of the Supreme Being was meticulously planned. Historian Mona Ozouf has noted how the "creaking stiffness" of the event has been seen by some to foreshadow "the sclerosis of the Revolution." [18]

Legacy

The Cult of the Supreme Being and its festival may have contributed to the Thermidorian Reaction and the downfall of Robespierre. [17] With his death at the guillotine on 28 July 1794, the cult lost all official sanction and disappeared from public view. [19] It was officially banned by Napoleon Bonaparte on 8 April 1802 with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X. [20]

See also

Notes

  1. The word "cult" in French (culte) means "a form of worship", without any of its negative or exclusivist implications in English: Robespierre intended it to appeal to a universal congregation.

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References

  1. Kennedy, p. 343: "Momoro explained, 'Liberty, reason, truth are only abstract beings. They are not gods....'"
  2. Scurr, p. 293.
  3. Scurr, p. 294.
  4. 1 2 Kennedy, p. 344.
  5. Kennedy, p. 344: "Robespierre lashed out against de-Christianization in the Convention...."
  6. 1 2 Doyle, p. 276.
  7. Neely, p. 212: "(T)he Convention authorized the creation of a civic religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being. On May 7, Robespierre introduced the legislation...."
  8. Jordan, pp. 199ff.
  9. Kennedy, p. 345.: "Robespierre followed a consistent line of argument...(that) God exists and that the soul is immortal."
  10. Žižek, p. 111: "I [Robespierre] am talking about the public virtue that worked such prodigies in Greece and Rome, and that should produce far more astonishing ones in republican France...."
  11. Lyman, pp. 71–72.
  12. Doyle, p. 276.: "[Robespierre] proclaim[ed] that the French people recognized the existence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. These principles, declared Robespierre to applause, were a continual reminder of justice, and were therefore social and republican." See also p.262: "[Robespierre] believed that religious faith was indispensable to orderly, civilized society".
  13. Kennedy, p. 344.: "Robespierre's influence was such that the de-Chistianization movement rapidly slackened...."
  14. Doyle, p. 277.: "He seemed to be speaking for the Committee of Public Safety more and more, and was certainly better known in the country at large than any of his colleagues. At Orléans, as well as in Paris, the Festival of the Supreme Being took place to cries of "Vive Robespierre"."
  15. Hanson, p.95:"...[T]he Champ de Mars where David had created an enormous symbolic mountain."
  16. Doyle, p. 277: "'Look at the bugger,' muttered Thuriot, an old associate of Danton. 'It's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God.'"
  17. 1 2 Kennedy, p. 345.
  18. Ozouf, Mona. (1988). Festivals and the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 24. ISBN   0674298837. OCLC   16005069.
  19. Neely, p. 230: "The fall of Robespierre brought an end to the Cult of the Supreme Being with which he had been closely identified. The new civic religion... had not had a chance to win many converts."
  20. Doyle, p. 389.

Bibliography

Further reading