MORNING CHRONICLE, Nov. 29, 1793.
A Few days after the Bishop of Paris and his Vicars had set the example of renouncing their clerical character, a Cure from a village on the Banks of the Rhone, followed by some of his parishioners, with an offering of gold and silver saints, chalices, rich vestments, &c. presented himself at the Bar of the National Convention. The sight of the gold put the Convention in a very good humour, and the Cur•, a thin venerable looking man, with grey hairs, was ordered to speak. I come, said he, from the village of —, where the only good building stand∣ing (for the Chateau has been pulled down), is a very fine church; my parishioners beg you will take it to make an hospital for the sick and wounded of both parties, they being both equally our country∣men; the gold and silver, part of which we have brought you, they entreat you will devote to the ser∣vice of the state, and that you will cast the bells into cannon, to drive away its foreign invaders; for my∣self, I am come with great pleasure to resign my let∣ters of ordination, of induction, and every deed and title, by which I have been constituted a member of your ecclesiastical polity. Here are the papers, you may burn them, if you please, in the same fire with the genealogical trees and patents of the nobility. I desire likewise, that you will discontinue my salary. I am still able to support myself with the labour of my hands, and I beg you to believe, that I never felt sincerer joy than I now do in making this renunci∣ation. I have longed to see this day, I see it, and am glad.
When the old man had done speaking, the ap∣plause; were immoderate. You are an honest man, said they, all at once; a brave fellow; and the Pre∣sident advanced to give him the fraternal embrace. Page 215The Curé did not seem greatly elated with these tokens of approbation, and thus resumed his dis∣course:—"Before you applaud my sentiments, it is fit you should understand them; perhaps, they may not entirely coincide with your own. I rejoice in this day, not because I wish to see religion degraded, but because I wish to see it exalted and purisied. By dissolving its alliance with the state, you have given it dignity and independence. You have done it a piece of service, which ••s well-wishers would perhaps ne∣ver have had courage to render it, but which is the only thing wanted to make it appear in its genuine beauty and lustre. Nobody will now say of me when I am performing the offices of my religion, it is his trade, he is paid for telling the people such and such things, he is hired to keep up an useful piece of mum∣mery. They cannot now say this, and therefore I feel myself raised in my own esteem, and shall speak to them with a confidence and frankness, which be∣fore this I never durst venture to assume. We re∣sign without reluctance our gold and silver images, and embroidered vestments, because we have never found that looking upon gold and silver made the heart more pure, or the affections more heavenly: we can also spare our churches, for the heart that wishes to lift itself up to GOD will never be at a loss for room to do it in; but we cannot spare oar reli∣gion, because, to tell you the truth, we never had so much occasion for it. I understand that you accuse us priests of having told the people a great many falshoods. I suspect this may have been the case, but till this day we have never been allowed to enquire whether the things which we taught them were true or not. You required us formerly to receive them all without proof, and you now would have us reject them all without discrimination; neither of these modes of conduct become philosophers, such as you would be thought to be. I am going to employ myself diligently along with my parishioners, to sift Page 216the wheat from the bran, the true from the false; if we are not successful, we shall be at least sincere. 〈◊〉 fear, indeed, that while I wore these vestments which we have brought you, and spoke in that large gloomy building which we have given up to you, I told my poor flock a great many idle stories. I cannot but hope, however, that the errors we have fallen into have not been very material, since the village has in general been sober and good, the peasants are honest, decile, and laborious, the husbands love their wives, and the wives their husbands; they are fortunately not too rich to be compassionate, and they have con∣stantly relieved the sick and fugitives of all parties whenever it has lain in their way. I think therefore what I have taught cannot be so very much amiss. You want to extirpate pri•sts: but will you hinder the ignorant from applying for instruction, the un∣happy for comfort and hope, the unlearned from looking up to the learned? If you do not, you will have priests, by whatever name you may order them to be called; but it is certa•••ly not necessary they should wear a particular dress, or be appointed by stare letters of ordination. My letters of ordination are my zeal, my charity, my ardent love for my dear children of the village, if I were more learned I would add my knowledge, but alas! we all know very little; to man every error is pardonable but want of humility. We have a public walk, with a spreading elm-tree at one end of it, and a circle of green round it, with a convenient bench. Here I shall get together the children as they are playing around me. I shall point to the vines laden with fruit, to the orchards, to the herds or cattle lowing around us, to those distant hills stretching one behind another, and they will ask me, how came all these things? I shall tell them all I know or have heard from wise men who have lived before me; they will be penetrated with love and veneration; they will kneel, I shall kneel with them; they will be at my Page 217feet, but all of us at the feet of that Good Being, whom we shall worship together, and thus they will receive within their tender minds a religion. The old men will come sometimes from having deposited under the green sod one of their companions, and place them∣selves by my side; they will look wishfully at the turf, and anxiously enquire—is he gone for ever? shall we soon be like him? will no morning break over the tomb?—When the wicked cease from troubling, will the good cease from doing good? We will talk of those things: I will comfort them. I will tell them of the goodness of God; I will speak to them of a life to come; I will bid them hope for a state of re∣tribution. In a clear night, when the stars slide over our heads, they will ask what those bright bodies are, and by what rules they rise and set?—and we will converse about different forms of being, and distant worlds in the immensity of space governed by the same laws, till we feel our minds raised from what is groveling, and refined from what is sordid. You talk of Nature, this is Nature; and if you could at this moment extinguish religion in the minds of all the world, thus would it be rekindled again, and thus again excite the curiosity and interest the feelings of mankind. You have changed our holidays; you have an undoubted right, as our civil governors, so to do; it is very immaterial whether they are kept once in seven days, or once in ten; some however, you will leave us, and when they occur, I shall tell those who chuse to hear me, of the beauty and utility of virtue, of the dignity of right conduct. We shall talk of good men who have lived in the world, and of the doctrines they taught; and if any of them have been persecuted and put to death for their virtue, we shall reverence their memories the more.—I hope in all this there is no harm. There is a book out of which I have sometimes taught my people; it says we are to love those who do us hurt, and to poor oil and wine into the wounds of the stranger. It has Page 218enabled my children to bear patiently the spoiling of their goods, and to give up their own interest for the general walfare: I think it cannot be a very bad book. I wish more of it had been read in your town, perhaps you would not have had quite so many assassinations and massacres. In this book we hear of a person called JESUS; some worship him as a God; others, as I am told, say to it is wrong to do so;—some teach that he existed before the beginning of ages; others, that he was born of JOSEPH and MARY. I cannot tell whether these controversies will ever be decided; but, in the mean time, I think we cannot do otherwise than well to imitate him, for I learn that he loved the poor, and went about doing good.
Fellow-Citizens; as I travelled hither from my own Village, I saw peasants sitting amongst the smok∣ing ruins of their cottages; rich men and women reduced to deplorable poverty; Fathers lamenting their children in the bloom and pride of youth; and I said to myself, these people cannot afford to part with their religion. But indeed you cannot take it away; if, contrary to your first declaration, you chuse to try the experiment of persecuting it, you will only make us prize it more, and love it better. Religion, true of false, is so necessary to the mind of man, that even you have already begun to make yourselves a new one. You are sowing the seeds of superstition at the moment you fancy you are destroy∣ing superstition. Let every one chufe the religion that pleases him; I and my parishioners are content with ours, it teaches us to bear without despondency whatever evils may befal us.