The Clerical Oath was issued on 27 November 1790, which demanded that an oath of loyalty be sworn to the Nation and to the government by all members of the clergy.
Any clergyman who did not swear the Clerical Oath would be denied his salary, citizenship and his office according to Article 7 of the Oath, and anyone who publicly opposed this oath would be pursued and punished as per Article 9, for having “disrupted the public peace”.
This Oath, positioning the French nation as higher than God and infringing upon freedome of speech and religion, split priests into juring priests who swore the Oath and non-juring (or refractory) priests who had refused to do so. Nationwide, there was an approximate 50% rate of refusal to swear the Oath and within the National Constituent Assembly itself, only one-third of all clerical deputies were juring.
King Louis XVI initially approved of both the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the Clerical Oath, keeping a juring priest in service. However, following the Papal Bull Charitas, he could not in all conscience as a Christian King support this reorganisation of the Church and its position and instead appointed a non-juring priest, a deliberate move which signalled that he did not fundamentally agree or support the Revolution itself.
Historians are generally united in viewing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the Clerical Oath as being missteps by the National Constituent Assembly, which catalysed revolutionary dissent. Furet sees it as the “first sign of popular resistance to the revolution”, with Doyle affirming that “it was certainly the Constituent Assembly’s most serious mistake”. McPhee argues that “in the end, it proved impossible to reconcile a church based on divinely-ordained hierarchy…with a revolution based on popular sovereignty” and Rudé commenting specifically on the Church itself, commenting that “more serious perhaps was the division caused among the clergy”, with the split between juring and non-juring priests.
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