The French Revolution
Historians agree that the French Revolution was a watershed event that led society into the modern age; it brought significant change to the face of Europe. The French Revolution transformed society. It was waged as a response to France's economic woes of the latter eighteenth century, which brought famine and disease and placed the nation on the brink of bankruptcy, as well as political and social factors, such as the Enlightenment's rejection of royal absolutism and the rejection of privileges held by the nobility and clergy. Monarchies throughout the continent fell and were replaced by more democratic and representative national governments.
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy created a schism between those priests who pledged loyalty to the revolutionary government (jurors) and those who remained loyal to Rome (nonjurors). Pope Pius VI never accepted the Civil Constitution, leading to his imprisonment and death and the massacre of many priests in France.
This situation transformed the church as well. The drive for national autonomy within church structures was enhanced greatly by the ideas of the revolution. The church was seen from a national perspective; the local secular ruler, not the pope, was perceived to be the defender of the faith. As a consequence, the church became an agency of the state. In France a massive shifting of power occurred. Under the ancien régime the church held power in many different ways, including functioning as the largest landowner in the country. However, shortly after the revolution began, legislation removed church authority to levy taxes; much church property was simply confiscated. Clerical privilege was removed, and by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, enacted on July 12, 1790, priests and religious were subject to the state, including the need for them to take a loyalty oath. Ultimately, the church was basically proscribed. Sacraments were performed as civil ceremonies; clergy were hunted down as criminals, and people practiced worship of the “Supreme Being,” a form of Deism created by Maximilian Robespierre, rather than God.