The French Revolution did not just spread anti-monarchical beliefs across the continent of Europe; it also cast religion aside, favoring philosophical writings like Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique over dogmatic ones like the Bible. In the mid-1800s, a backlash to the cold, calculating reasoning advanced during the French Revolution and the following Napoleonic period occurred. The Romantic period was a rebirth of the celebration of imagination and emotion. It brought with it a European revival of the Catholic Church and a renewed sense of religious piety.
Catholicism Under Fire
The material loss suffered by the Catholic Church during the French Revolution far surpassed that which it endured during the Protestant Reformation. In France, the church was stripped of its governmental privileges, including the use of the state-owned land that many important abbeys, convents and monasteries stood atop. The revolutionary government also interfered with the practice of the Catholic religion by citizens. In 1789, the government banned women from taking the sacred vows necessary to become nuns. By 1791, the wearing of religious garb had been forbidden. The loss of revenue and influence in France greatly weakened the Catholic Church across the entire continent of Europe.
The Making of Martyrs
During an especially violent period of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror, many Catholic clerics were executed for standing by their religious beliefs. The Catholic Church's clear and undeniable persecution during the revolution would lead to a renewed surge of piety among the common citizens of Europe. The Catholic Church seemed frivolous and outdated to many Europeans prior to the revolution, but its strength under fire brought a new conviction to the religion in a time when many had been moving toward Protestant religions.
Romanticism's Mystic Revival
Romanticism brought a sense of imagination and vibrancy back into the Catholic religion. As the Romantics sought to understand the world from a spiritual perspective, a clear connection between Romanticism and an investment in religious mysticism emerged. Things like saints and anointed water had been out of place during the Enlightenment's hyper-logical period, but to the Romantics, they felt just right. Romanticism was defined by a heightened respect for nature and with that came a desire to attribute its creation to something more meaningful than science.
Catholic Piety and Romanticism
Whereas philosophy flourished during the Enlightenment, in the Romantic period religion played a more powerful role in European society. When discussing the Romantic period, scholars often mention the "spirit of the age." This spirit was as much rooted in religion as it was art and poetry. The Catholic Church rebuilt both materially and in terms of status across Europe. By the early 19th century, even France was producing religious romantic leaders like Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin Buchez, a prominent statesman who believed that the advancement of man could be achieved through science only if it was guided by Catholic beliefs.
- EWTN Global Catholic Network: Religion and the Romantic Movement
- Central Oregon Community College: European Romanticism: Late 18th - Early 19th Centuries
- History Today: The French Revolution and the Catholic Church
- The Catholic Thing: The French Revolution and the Church
- The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period
- Ohio University: Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin Buchez
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