But even this is nothing. The French Revolution came in 1789. It came to put an end to a double philosophy,—the spiritual philosophy of Rousseau’s school, founded in reason and religion, the material philosophy of the school of Helvetius, Diderot, and their disciples, atheistic and cynical. The thought of the first of these philosophies was religious at bottom. It consisted merely in freeing the luminous idea of God from the shadows by which ignorance, intolerance, the inquisition of temporal dynasties and times of barbarism had falsified it,—in freeing this idea, debased as it was,—obscured, and enchained to thrones,—so as to restore reason to its liberty, to inquiry, to the free conscience of every worship and of every soul; to revive it in the eyes of the People, by leading them to the broad light of day, the evidence of nature, the dignity and efficacy of free worship.
But, for this, it was necessary to dispossess the Middle Ages of their temporal power, of their mort-main possessions, of their civil jurisdictions, of their exclusive privileges, of their legal intolerance against all other divine thoughts, and all other individual or national faith, all other forms of adoration and worship than what were imposed by the exclusive and established religion. To rally the people to this work, a work legitimate in itself, a work which the abuses of a crafty priesthood had made necessary, seven times, and whose accomplishment they had seven times partially and gradually undertaken, since the time of Charlemagne,—the philosophers of the second school, the irreligious school, the atheistic school, of Diderot and Helvetius, drove the masses from stupidity even to impiety, and the demagogues of ’93 forced them from impiety to Atheism, and from Atheism to blood. Demagogues, those poisoners of liberty, corrupt every revolution in which they mingle; they defile everything that they touch; they dishonour every truth which they profess, by polluting or perverting it. The age and philosophy, Heaven and earth, desire what we too desire,—freedom of conscience, voluntary worship,—liberty of the human mind in matters of faith,—the fraternity of altars, invoking, each in its own language, that God whom the whole earth is spelling out, and who reveals, from age to age, still another letter of His divine name.
Instead of this, Atheists and demagogues united to persecute religion, to revenge themselves for the old persecutions of the priesthood. They profaned the temples, violated conscience, blasphemed the God of the faithful, parodied the ceremonies, cast to the winds the pious symbols of worship, and persecuted the ministers of religion.
In the name of the Revolution, and under the menace of terror, they dragged the People to these Saturnalia. They corrupted the eyes, the hands, the minds, the souls of the populace. These violence’s to the altar were cast back on the religious idea itself. The People, seeing the temple fall, believed that Heaven itself crumbled; and that, following the profaned image of a vanishing worship, God himself would vanish from the world, with conscience, the supernatural law, the unwritten moral law, the soul and the immortality of the human race!
When the ignorant People no longer saw God between them and annihilation, they plunged into the boundless and bottomless abyss of Atheism, they lost their divine sense, they became brutal as the animal, who sees in the earth only a pasture ground, instead of the footstool of Jehovah.
But these irreligious abominations, and these Saturnalia of Atheism, however much injury they inflicted on the religious spirit of the People, did not effect so much, perhaps, as the reign which followed this anarchy, the reign of Bonaparte, the so-called restorer of worship. And how?
The Republic had passed its paroxysm of fever, of demagoguical madness, of persecution. The Directory had finally concentrated and regulated the republican power. This government was composed of men, naturally moderate and tolerant, or made so by the experience and the lassitude of anarchy; the moderate principles of the Revolution of 1789, and of the constituted Assembly, regained their level, thanks to a natural reaction, limited by good sense, as happens after every revolution that overshoots its mark. The priests officiated, without obstacle, in the temples restored by the municipalities to the faithful, religion was entirely free, even favored by public respect, and by that care for good morals which all serious governments feel. Faith, taking refuge in men’s consciences, was, moreover, more sincere and more active, because it was neither constrained, nor favored, nor altered, nor profaned by the hand of government.
This was, perhaps, the moment when there was the most religion in France,—for this was the moment when, after having had its martyrs, the religious sentiment had a life in itself, and owed nothing to the partial and interested protection of the powers of the State. For, the less the State imposes upon you a God of its own fashion, or its own choice, the more does your conscience rise, and the more does it attach itself to the God of your own reason, or your own faith!
Bonaparte, whose genius was entirely military, but who, in affairs of moral, civil, and religious government, made it a matter of policy to contradict and extinguish all the truths of the Revolution, hastened to change all this. He wished to parody Charlemagne.
Charlemagne had been the philosopher and revolutionary organizer of his time; Charlemagne had bound together the spiritual and temporal, crowning the Pontiff that he might be crowned by him in turn. Bonaparte desired a State religion, an agreement in which religion and the empire should mutually engage and mutually check each other; a Pope to subdue, to caress, to drive away, to recall, to persecute, by turns; a coronation by the hand of an enslaved Church; then a Church to chastise, when it did not obey;—in one word, all that shameful and scandalous simony of ancient times, when the temporal power played, in the sight of the nations, with the idea and name of God, in a manner as contemptuous as it was odious.
The People, who saw clearly through this intrigue of an indifferent sovereign,—an Atheist at Toulon, a crafty politician at Marengo, a Mussulman in Egypt, a persecutor at Rome, an oppressor at Savona, a schismatic at Fontainbleau, a saint at Notre Dame de Paris,—protector of religion and profaner of consciences by turns,—felt their belief shaken anew. They asked themselves, “What then is God for us, poor souls, since God is such an instrument of power for great men, and such a police machine for governments?” Scorn threw them back into Atheism. This was natural.
This system was continued, with more sincerity on the part of government, under the dynasty of the Restoration. But the interested favors of the Court, for the higher clergy of a particular worship, irritated the minds of the populace against the priesthood.
The more it lavished power and human dignities upon priestly superiors, the more the mind of the People turned from the religious sentiment. Each favor of royal authority to the privileged Church cast thousands of souls into Atheism.
The Revolution of July suppressed the religion of the State: it was a progress towards the religion of conscience. But it favored the religion of the majority; it still leaned towards the supremacy of numbers in matters of faith. However, from the moment the State religion was suppressed, the religion of conscience gained ground in men’s hearts. From 1830 to this day, every intelligent observer gladly acknowledges an immense progress in the religious sentiment in France.—Why? Because the suppression of the official religion of the State was a progress in the liberty of conscience, and all progress in liberty of conscience is a progress of human thought toward the idea of God. Go farther still, and complete liberty will destroy Atheism in the People!
But the evil done was immense. The cynicism of Diderot, materialism, scepticism, revolutionary impiety, the false and hypocritical piety of the empire, the concordat, the restoration of an imperial religion, and of an official and dynastic God by Napoleon, the tendency of the two Bourbon reigns to reconstruct a political church, everlastingly endowed with a monopoly of goods and of souls,—and, finally, the industrialism of the reign of Louis Philippe, turning every thought to trade, to manual labor, to worldly wealth, and making gold the true and only God of the century;—all this has borne its fruits.
Look at these fruits at the present day, and say, if practical Atheism does not devour the souls of this People. But let us proceed.
For eighteen years, new sects, or, rather, posthumous sects, have disputed for the soul of the People, under the names of Fourierism, of Pantheism, of Communism, of Industrialism, of Economism, and, finally, of Terrorism. Look at them, listen to them, read them, analyze them, sift them, handle them; and say, if, with the exception of a vague deifying of every thing,—that is to say, of nothing, by the Fourierites,—there is a single one of these philosophical, social, or political sects, which is not founded on the most evident practical Atheism; which has not matter for a God; material enjoyments for morality; exclusive satisfaction of the senses for an end; purely sensual gratifications for a paradise; this world for the sole scene of existence; the body for the only condition of being; the prolonging of life a few more years for its only hope; a sharpening of the senses to material appetites for a perspective; death for the end of all things; after death, an assimilation with the dust of the earth for a future; annihilation for justice, for reward, and for immortality!
No, there has not been since 1830, there has not been since the Revolution, there is not at this moment, one of these schools of pretended apostles, prophets of the future, and saviors of the present, which is not Materialism in action. It is the deadly seed of the century of Helvetius, producing its poisons in the dregs of another century. It is man, deprived of his spiritual and immortal sense, reduced to a solid measure of organized matter, and seeking, not virtue, that key to his future destiny, in his soul; but, in his senses, mere enjoyment, that end of the brute, who only believes in what he can eat and drink.
Analyze with me, if you are not overwhelmed with humiliation, the five or six Revelations of the latter days; and ask yourselves, as I have often asked myself, while listening to them, if these revealers of pretended human felicity do indeed address themselves to men, or to herds of fatted cattle! And are they astonished that the intellectual world resists them? Do they complain that the ignorant are their only disciples? Are they indignant that the ideas they attempt to spread, creep, like fetid mists, along the abysses of society, and excite, instead of enthusiasm, only the fanaticism of hunger and thirst? I can well believe it! What People is there who would become fanatics, only for their own destruction; renounce their moral nature, their divine souls, their immortal destinies, only for a morsel of more savory bread upon their table, for a larger portion of earth under their feet? No! no! enthusiasm soars aloft, it does not fall to earth. Bear me up to Heaven, if you wish to dazzle my eyes; promise me immortality, if you would offer to my soul a motive worthy of its nature, an aim worthy of its efforts, a price worthy of its virtue! But what do your systems of atheistic society show us in perspective? What do they promise us in compensation for our griefs? What do they give us in exchange for our souls? You know,—we will not speak of it.
But, indeed, if these sects survive the month which sees and which produces them; and, if these questions which they debate, and these systems which they bring before the astonished People, are destined to serve as enigmas to posterity; what will the future say of us? It will only explain the Materialism, Atheism, and brutality of the doctrines and sects by which we have been disturbed for ten or twelve years, as the nightmare of a starving People, whose dreams have, for an object, only a frantic satisfaction of the senses. All these philosophies, or all these deliriums, are the deliriums or philosophies of the stomach! “All this epoch,” future historians will say, “the French must have been a nation distressed by a terrible famine, to have forgotten, in so total an eclipse of the intellectual nature, the great and immortal ideas which have alone inspired even these, the human race, and rendered the revolutions of the People worthy of the regard of posterity, and of the blood of man. The Eighteenth Century must have been a time when avaricious Nature shut up her bosom, and the earth brought forth neither fruit nor harvests, that this great intellectual People, formerly called the French People, should have forgotten their souls for a morsel of bread, their immortality for an income, and their God for a dollar! Let us turn away our eyes and weep over that age.”
See where we were when the Republic arose: happy was it that the People had at bottom more of the true sentiment of God than these masters and heads of sects. For, what would have become of us, if, in that total eclipse of government, of armed force, and of law, which followed the 24th of February, the People, masters of all, of the fortunes and lives of the citizens, of Heaven and earth, had been a People of Materialists, of Terrorists, and of Atheists? The Revolution would have been a pillage, the Republic a scaffold, the dynasty of the People a deluge of blood. But there was no such thing. God was there. He revealed Himself in the multitude; Materialism disappeared in enthusiasm, which always exhibits the divinity of the human heart.
We heard but one cry,—“Honour to God! Respect for the altars! Liberty to their ministers! Self-denial, harmony, protection to the weak, inviolability of property, assistance to the miserable!” Yes,—on the first day, and during the whole time that the People was alone and burning with excitement, it was religious! It was not until after the cooling of this enthusiasm that the materialistic sects, who waited their opportunity afar off, and who now torment the People, dared to offer their sensual symbols, and to set up Capital and Interest, the organization of labour, the increase of wages, and equality of conditions in this human manger, as the sole Divinities,—dared to infuse envy against the happy, the breath of hatred as the only consolation to the hearts of the miserable, lightning vengeance against the wrongs of Providence, imprecations against society, blasphemies against the existence of God, the enjoyments and bestialities of the corporeal nature, purchased by complete forgetfulness of the moral nature, and enjoyed in a debauch of ideas, and in a deification of matter.
This cannot last; the People will not allow themselves to be changed into hogs by the Circes of Atheism. Their souls will flash indignation against their transformers. A day will come when they will see that they are impoverished under the pretext of being enriched; that, when they are robbed of their souls and of God, both their titles to liberty are stolen from them. Atheism and Republicanism are two words which exclude each other. Absolutism may thrive without a God, for it needs only slaves. Republicanism cannot exist without a God, for it must have citizens. And what is it that makes citizens? Two things,—the sentiment of their rights, and the sentiment of their duties as a republican People. Where are your rights, if you have not a common Father in Heaven? Where are your duties, if you have not a Judge between your brothers and you? Republicanism draws you in both these ways to God.
Thus, look at every free People, from the mountains of Helvetia to the forests of America; see even the free British nation, where the Aristocracy is only the head of liberty, where the Aristocracy and Democracy mutually respect each other, and balance each other by an exchange of kindnesses and services which sanctify society while fortifying it. Atheism has fled before liberty: in proportion as despotism has receded, the divine idea has advanced in the souls of men. Liberty lives by morality. What is morality without a God? What is a law without a lawgiver?
I know well, and I shall give you the reason hereafter; I know well, and I mourn to think of it, that, even up to the present time, the French People have been the least religious People in Europe.
Is this because the intelligence of France has not that force, and that severity, which are needed to carry long enough and far enough the idea of God,—the greatest idea of the human soul;—that idea, as it comes from all the evidences of nature, and all the depths of reflection, being the most powerful and the most grave of human intelligence,—and the intelligence of France being the most superficial, the most light, and the least reflecting of the European races?
Is it because our governments have always been charged with thinking, believing, and praying, for us?
Is it that they have always given us gods of the Court, worship according to Etiquette, and religions of State, instead of letting us form, make, and practise our faith for ourselves, by reason, by free-will, by voluntary piety, by association, by tradition, by the sympathies of the community, of worship, and of the family?
Is it because we are, and always have been, a military People, a nation of soldiers and adventurers, led by kings, heroes, ambitious men, from battle-field to battle-field, making conquests and not keeping them, ravaging, dazzling, charming, and corrupting Europe, and bearing the manners, vices, bravado, lightness, and impiety of the camp into the homes of the People?
I do not know; but it is certain that the nation has an immense progress to make in serious thought, if it wishes to maintain its liberty. If we look at the comparative character, in matters of religious sentiment, of the great nations of Europe, America, and even Asia, the advantage is not on our side. While the great men of other nations live and die upon the scene of history, looking towards heaven, our great men seem to live and die in entire forgetfulness of the only idea for which life or death is worth any thing; they live and die looking at the spectators, or, at most, towards posterity.
Thus, even at the present time, while we have had the greatest men, other nations have had the greatest citizens. It is great citizens that a Republic needs!
Open the history of America, the history of England, and the history of France; read the great lives, the great deaths, the great sufferings, the sublime words, when the ruling passion of life reveals itself in the last moments of the dying,—and compare them!
Washington and Franklin fought, spoke, suffered; rose and fell, in their political life, from popularity to ingratitude, from glory to bitter scorn of their citizens,—always in the name of God, for whom they acted; and the liberator of America died, committing to the Divine protection, first, the liberty of his People,—and, afterwards, his own soul to His indulgent judgment.
Strafford, dying for the constitution of his country, wrote to Charles I., to entreat his consent to his punishment, that he might spare trouble to the State: “Put not your trust,” wrote he, after this consent was obtained, “put not your trust in princes, or in the son of man, because salvation is not in them, but from on high.” While walking to the scaffold, he stopped under the windows of his friend, the Bishop of London; he raised his head towards him, and asked, in a loud voice, the assistance of his prayers in the terrible moment to which he had come. The primate, bowed with age, and bathed in tears, gave, in a stifled voice, his tender benedictions to his unhappy friend, and fell, without consciousness, into the arms of his attendants. Strafford continued his way, sustained by the Divine force, descending from this invocation upon him: he spoke with resignation to the People assembled to see him die. “I fear only one thing,” said he, “and that is, that this effusion of innocent blood is a bad presage for the liberty of my country!” (Alas! why did not the Convention recall these words among us, in ’93?) Stafford continued:—“Now,” said he, “I draw near my end. One blow will make my wife a widow, my children orphans, deprive my poor servants of an affectionate master, and separate me from my dear brother, and my friends. May God be all of these!” He disrobed himself, and placed his head on the block. “I give thanks,” said he, “to my heavenly Master for helping me to await this blow without fear; for not permitting me to be cast down for a single instant by terror. I repose my head as willingly on this block as I ever laid it down to sleep.” This is faith in Patriotism! See Charles I., in his turn,—that model of a kingly death. At the moment that he was to receive the blow of the axe, the edge of which he had coolly examined and touched, he raised his head, and addressed the [Pg 65] clergyman who was present:—“Remember!” said he; as if he had said, “Remember to advise my sons never to revenge their father!”
Sidney, the young martyr of a patriotism, guilty, because too hasty, died to expiate the dream of the freedom of his country. He said to the jailer, “May my blood purify my soul! I rejoice that I die innocent toward the king, but a victim resigned to the King of Heaven, to whom we owe all life.”
The republicans of Cromwell sought only the way of God, even in the blood of battles. Their politics is nothing but faith; their government, a prayer; their death, a holy hymn;—they sang, like the Templars, on their funeral-pile. We see, we feel, we hear God, above all, in these revolutions, in these great popular movements, and in the souls of the great citizens of these nations.
But recross the Atlantic, traverse the Channel, approach our own time, open our annals; and listen to the great political actors in the drama of our liberty. It would seem as if God was hidden from the souls of men; as if his name had never been written in the language. History will have the air of being atheistic, while recounting to posterity these annihilations, rather than deaths, of the celebrated men of the greatest years of France. The victims alone have a God; the tribunes and lictors have none.
See Mirabeau on his death-bed. “Crown me with flowers,” said he, “intoxicate me with perfumes, let me die with the sound of delicious music.” Not one word of God, or of his soul! A sensual philosopher, he asks of death only a supreme sensualism; he desires to give a last pleasure even to agony.
Look at Madam Roland, that strong woman of the Revolution,—upon the car that carries her to death. She looks with scorn upon the stupid People, who kill their prophets and their sibyls. Not one glance to Heaven; only an exclamation for the earth she leaves:—“O, Liberty!”
Approach the prison door of the Girondines: their last night is a banquet, and their last hymn is the Marseillaise!
Follow Camille Desmoulins to punishment:—a cold and indecent pleasantry at the tribunal; one long imprecation on the road to the guillotine;—those are the last thoughts of this dying man, about to appear on high!
Listen to Danton, upon the platform of the scaffold, one step from God and immortality:—“I have enjoyed much; let me go to sleep,” he says;—then, to the executioner, “You will show my head to the People; it is worth while!” Annihilation for a confession of faith; vanity for his last sigh: such is the Frenchman of these latter days!
What do you think of the religious sentiment of a free People, whose great characters seem to walk thus in procession to annihilation; and die, without even death, that terrible minister, recalling to their minds the fear or the promises of God?
Thus the Republic,—which had no future,—reared by these men, and mere parties, was quickly overthrown in blood. Liberty, achieved by so much heroism and genius, did not find in France a conscience to shelter it, a God to avenge it, a People to defend it, against that other Atheism called Glory! All was finished by a soldier, and by the apostacy of republicans travestied into courtiers! And what could you expect? Republican Atheism has no reason to be heroic. If it is terrified, it yields. Would one buy it, it sells itself; it would be most foolish to sacrifice itself. Who would mourn for it?—the People are ungrateful, and God does not exist.
Thus end atheistic revolutions!
If you wish that this revolution should not have the same end, beware of abject Materialism, degrading Sensualism, gross Socialism, of besotted Communism; of all these doctrines of flesh and blood, of meat and drink, of hunger and thirst, of wages and traffic, which these corruptors of the soul of the People preach to you, exclusively, as the sole thought, the sole hope, as the only duty, and only end of man! They will soon make you slaves of ease, serfs of your desires.
Are you willing to have inscribed on the tomb of our French race, as on that of the Sybarites, this epitaph: “This People ate and drank well, while they browsed upon the earth?” No! You desire that History should write thus: “This People worshipped well, served God and humanity well,—in thought, in philosophy, in religion, in literature, in arts, in arms, in labour, in liberty, in their Aristocracies, in their Democracies, in their Monarchies, and their Republics! This nation was the spiritual labourer, the conqueror of truth; the disciple of the highest God, in all the ways of civilization,—and, to approach nearer to him, it invented the Republic, that government of duties and of rights, that rule of spiritualism, which finds in ideas its only sovereignty.”
Seek God, then. This is your nature and your grandeur. And do not seek Him in these Materialisms! For God is not below,—he is on high!
Representative of the People.