Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Fête de la Raison at Notre-Dame

La fête de la Raison dans Notre-Dame de Paris le 10 novembre 1793, par Charles-Louis Müller (1878)

On the evening of Gobel's abdication,  the Commune and the Department of Paris announced that the patriotic fête for the following décadi, 20 Brumaire (10 November 1793)  would take place in Notre-Dame:"the musicians of the National Guard and others will come to sing patriotic hymns before the statue of liberty, erected in the stead of the former Virgin Mary".  The printed procès-verbal for the Department also specified that the musicians of the Opéra would  be invited to perform their libretto  l'Offrande à la Liberté.  In his Circular the mayor, Pache, described the event as a fête de la liberté et de la raison.

On the appointed day, the members of the Commune and Department, followed by a considerable crowd of supporters, braved the rain to arrive at Notre-Dame at 10 o'clock in the morning. There was no military presence: arms,  Hanriot  pronounced sententiously  in his order for the day, are  appropriate only for combat; they are not for brothers meeting together "to wash away Gothic prejudices" and "to enjoy the sweetness of equality". (cited in Prudhomme's Révolutions de Paris)

At the east end of the nave, beneath the Gothic vaulting, a stage set had been erected consisting of an immense mountain confectioned from linen and  papier-mâché.  Artful draperies were attached to the pillars on either side so as to conceal the choir and  the rear of the church.   On the summit of the mountain a small round Grecian temple bore the inscription "A la philosophie". On either side of the door were the busts of four "philosophers":  according to Aulard, Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and possibly Montesquieu.  Half-way down the mountain, was  a rock which served as the base for a circular altar, decorated with oak branches.  Here a lighted torch  represented the "Flame of Reason" or "Flame of Truth". Aulard comments that, with the West doors open, the interior of the cathedral must have appeared relatively light and airy, as can be seen in the engraving which accompanied the account in Prudhomme's Révolutions de Paris.

Plate from Prudhomme, Révolutions de Paris, vol. 17, no. 215
(23 Brumaire II [13 November 1793]):
The ceremony began with a performance by the musicians of the National Guard. While the music played, two rows of  girls, dressed in white, with tricolour belts and crowns of flowers/oak leaves, came down each side of the mountain and moved across it, flaming torches in hand.

 Liberty, personified by a beautiful woman dressed in white, complete with  Phrygian bonnet and pike, how appeared from the Temple. She bowed to the flame of Reason and seated herself on a bank of foliage to receive the homage of her admirers.  According to the procès-verbal of the Convention, she was "a faithful image of Beauty"; "her imposing and gracious attitude commanded Respect and Love"  The assembled republicans  stretched out their arms and gave an impassioned rendition of the newly composed  L'Hymne à la Liberté, words by M.-J. Chénier, music by Gossec.    Liberty then retreated to her temple, pausing on the threshold to cast "one last benevolent glance on her friends".  According to the Révolutions de Paris,  general enthusiasm now erupted into cries of joy and spontaneous vows of fidelity.  Speeches followed,  though (possibly mercifully) the texts no longer exist.

Jean-François Garneray, Portrait of Mademoiselle Maillard (Marie-Thérèse Davoux, 1766-1818), c.1790.
Musée Carnavalet

It was to the disgust of many observers, that this well-choreographed performance so conspicuously featured the cast of the Parisian Opéra;  Hébert (Père Duchêne) commented with satisfaction that the jolies damnées sang better than Angels. The identity of the actress who represented Liberty excited speculation, even from the disapproving and usually sober abbé Grégoire.  She was variously pronounced to be Mlle Maillard or Mlle Aubry, or perhaps Mlle  Candeille, all three singers of the Opéra. She was also occasionally identified as the wife of the Cordelier printer Momoro - who performed at a similar event in the former church of  Saint-André-des Arts. Henri Lyonnet in his Dictionary of Les Comédiennes favoured Mlle Maillard, Marie-Thérèse Davoux  - the Opéra's lead singer of the day.

The Convention did not attend the ceremony.  Probably advisedly, the deputies were informed of it only when the Assembly was already in session.  A deputation from Notre-Dame raced to announce the fait accompli.  Chaumette declared triumphantly that the people , having made "a sacrifice to Reason in the former metropolitan church",  had now come to repeat it in "the sanctuary of the Law"  The cortege was admitted: a crowd of noisy musicians and performers, with Liberty herself borne aloft on a litter carried by four citizens.  The group stopped opposite the president;  the young girls formed a circle around Liberty, and there followed  an enthusiastic reprise of the patriotic hymns that had just been sung in Notre-Dame.

Chaumette harangued the Assembly, congratulating  himself on the fall of fanaticism. The people would have no more priests,  and "no other gods than those whom Nature offers to us". He asked for Notre-Dame to be consecrated to Reason and Liberty.  On Chabot's proposal,  the Convention formally decreed that the cathedral should henceforth be designated as a temple of Reason.  Romme demanded that the goddess be seated beside the president Pierre-Antoine Laloy, who extended to her a fraternal embrace.  On the motion of Thuriot, the deputies then repaired to Notre-Dame where the pageant was repeated for their benefit.

By no means the majority in the Assembly were favourably disposed (See Aulard, p.58-9).  Durand-Maillane and abbé Grégoire both confirm that only half the Conventionnels went on to Notre-Dame; many had already absented themselves in order  to avoid participation in anti-religious scenes.

Fête de la Raison, German print of 1793 
"Idolatrous fete celebrated in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, where the Jacobins had an Actress seated on the Altar, whom they worshipped as the Goddess of Reason".


Historians have debated for a century over the meaning of the fête de la Raison.  Who were responsible and what were their motivations?  Was it a cult still impregnated with religiosity, albeit republican?  A step towards the laïcisation of society, or a diversion become grass roots, to hide the crucial issue of subsistence?  This singular fête of 20 brumaire, which anticipated a world without God, without Christ, without churches, happened two hundred and twenty years ago, one décadi, in the Temple of Reason....[Serge Bianchi]

It is the general modern consensus that the festival did not in fact represent the start of a unified "Cult of Reason":  see particularly Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, p.97-8.
  • The event was a civic festival not a religious ceremony - it is described by Momoro in the Révolutions de Paris as "une fête patriotique".  
  • The mise en scène was not novel.  An  existing civic celebration, to be held in the gardens of the Palais-Royal on the next décadi, 20 brumaire, was simply transferred to Notre-Dame. There was only three days' notice of the change, leaving little chance for modification.  The occasion, as originally conceived, was basically an open-air concert;  the musicians of the National Guard were to play in the  Lycée des Arts adjacent to the gardens;  Chénier and Gossec had already composed their new Hymne à la Liberté for the event.   It was also no great surprise that the musicians and singers of the Opéra were hurriedly called into service; they had performed in many such patriotic entertainments, starting with the festivities which had accompanied the "call to arms" in 1792.  The libretto Offrande à la Liberté which supplied the dramatic elements had been playing at the Opéra for more than a year .
  • The festival was not dedicated to "Reason" at all, but to Liberty.  Although the procès-verbal of the Convention  refers to the actress as the "goddess of Reason", it was clearly Liberty that she was intended to personify:  Chénier's anthem opened with the invocation, "Descend, O Liberty, Daughter of Nature".   Mona Ozouf  emphasises the fluidity of the iconography:  the anthems sung could refer to Liberty but could equally well be adapted "to celebrating the triumph that Reason has gained in this season over the prejudices of eighteen centuries" .  This ambiguity is clear in the various Sectional and provincial celebrations which followed the ceremony in Notre-Dame.  Many of these were highly improvised and a good deal less decorous.  In the provinces, there was often no clear differentiation between festivals of the so-called "Cult of Reason" and later ones dedicated to the Supreme Being.  
We do not, then, get any sense of a highly individualised festival.  According to the official accounts, it actually went by different names: at one place it might be the Festival of Morals, at another the Festival of Virtue.  It is also clear why it is difficult to distinguish it from the Festival of the Supreme Being, to which, logically, it is opposed.  I don't need to repeat here what was demonstrated so well by both Aulard and Mathiez: the two cults were not clearly differentiated in the minds of the organisers, using as they did the same decorations, the same speeches, the same invocations, and the same actors.  In the Festival of Reason there were sometimes invocations to the Supreme Being, and the Supreme Being might be worshipped in the Festival of Reason without anyone thinking it necessary to erase the was the France of 1905, not that of 1794, that saw the cult of Reason as the triumph of freethinking. [Ozouf p.97]
  • The aim of "dechristianisation" was to deliver ordinary people from the trammels of religion and the ideological dominance of the Church. The word  "homage" was sometimes used to describe the celebration of "Reason", but it was not equated with actual worship.  According to Laloy, on 7th November, "The Supreme Being wants no other worship than that of reason". The organisers were mindful of the need to avoid the substitution of one set of irrational superstitions for another.  They emphasised that Liberty was represented by "a living woman and not a statue", so that there could be no temptation towards idolatry.
  • A "world without God"?  Not all  of the sponsors by any means were doctrinaire atheists. Chaumette, for instance adhered to an emotional deism and proposed the erection of a statue to Rousseau:  
Atheism, moreover, except as an erroneous synonym for non-Theism or infidelity was not avowed by the sponsors of the cult of Reason, but at most agnosticism; and most of them were Deists.  According to Aulard, the only professed atheist prominent in Paris in that period was Salaville; and far from being pleased with the cult and fete of Reason, he protested against the whole affair [Lyttle, p.23; see Aulard, p.79]
  • The festival has been seen through the prism of hostile commentaries, starting with that of Robespierre himself, who juxtapositioned the "aristocracy" of atheism with the purified Cult the Supreme Being.  The abbé Grégoire's Histoire des cultes, which first appeared in 1814, is another very influential, but ultimately misleading source. Grégoire divides the "religions" of the Revolution in four: atheism or the Cult of Reason; the national fêtes of the new Republican calendar; the Cult of the Supreme Being and finally "Thephilanthropism" in the Directory period.


François-Alphonse Aulard, Le culte de la raison et le culte de l'Être Suprême (1793-1794) : essai historique (1892)

James Guillaume, "La déesse de la Liberté  à Notre-Dame (fete du 20 Brumaire an II)", Etudes révolutionnaires (1909).

 Charles Lyttle, “Deistic Piety in the Cults of the French Revolution.” Church History, vol. 2, no. 1, 1933, pp. 22–40.

Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution (Harvard U.P. 1991), p.97

Serge Bianchi,"l793:  La Fête de la Liberté à Notre-Dame-de-la-Raison", L'Humanité, 15.11.2013.


Momoro in Prudhomme, Révolutions de Paris
In the former metropolitan church of Paris, an immense crowd gathered.  A temple had been erected there, of simple architecture, majestic, on the facade of which could be read the words "To philosophy"; the entrance to the temple had been decorated with the busts of the philosophers who had contributed most, through their ideas,  to  the present revolution.   The sacred temple was elevated on the top of a mountain.  Towards the middle, on a rock, burned the flame of truth.  All the constituted authorities assembled in this sanctuary. Only the armed forces were not present; the commander-general in his order of the day, informed those who noticed this, that arms belonged only in combat, not in a place where  brothers joined together to finally wash away gothic prejudices and to taste, in joyous satisfaction, the sweetness of equality.

This ceremony did not resemble those mummeries in Greek and Latin; it spoke directly to the soul.  The musical instruments did not roar out like the horns of the churches.  Republican musicians, placed at the foot of the mountain, played in our native language; the people understood the hymn all the better since it expressed natural truths and not mystical and chimerical praises. During this majestic music, two rows of young girls, dressed in  white and crowned with oak, came down and traversed the mountain, torches in hand, before returning in the same direction.  Liberty, represented by a beautiful woman, then came out from the temple of philosophy.  From a seat of greenery, she received homage from republican men and women, who  sang a hymn in her honour and held out their arms to her.   Liberty then got up and returned to her temple, stopping to throw a benevolent glance at her friends.  As soon as she had re-entered, enthusiasm broke out with joyous singing and  and oaths to be faithful to her forever.

Since the members of the National Convention could not attend this ceremony in the morning, it was repeated in the evening in their presence.

No-one noticed how little time had passed between the session of the Convention where fanaticism was thrown down and the day when this great and eternal victory was celebrated.  Everything was suitably arranged; it should be noted, above all,  that attention was taken to employ a living woman and not a statue to represent Liberty.  The aim, from the first, was to free people's minds of any sort of idolatry; care was taken not to replace the Holy-Sacrament with an inanimate representation of Liberty.  In this way simple minds could not mistakenly substitute a god of stone for one of bread;  there must be no more superstition among men;  if we have overturned deceitful cults, it is not to erect others in their stead, to set up objects which might mislead the imagination and the heart;  this living woman, despite all the charms which beautified her, could not be deified by the uneducated, as might have been the case with a stone statue.
Prudhomme, Révolutions de Paris, vol. xvii, p.214,

From the procès-verbal  of the Convention
The constituted authorities of Paris presented themselves at the bar of the Convention;  the procureur of the Commune of Paris spoke:

"The people have just made a sacrifice to Reason in the former metropolitan church;  it now comes to offer another in the sanctuary of the Law.  I ask the Convention to admit them."

On the proposition of a member, the Convention decreed their admittance.

The procession began with a group of young musicians; they were followed by young republicans, defenders of the Fatherland;  they sang a patriotic hymn, repeated in chorus, in the midst of the most lively applause.  A group of many republicans, wearing bonnets of liberty came forward repeating cries of long live the Republic!  Long live the Mountain!  The people and members of the Convention added their voices to those of these republicans.

A prodigious number of musicians raised the roof with the cherished songs of the Revolution;  a troop of republican girls, dressed in white, girded with tricolour ribbons and with garlands of flowers on their heads, preceded and surrounded Reason.  This was a woman, a faithful image of beauty;  she had on her head a bonnet of liberty;  on her shoulders was a blue cloak, and she held in her right hand a pike.  Seated on a simple litter, decorated with oak garlands, she was carried aloft by four citizens; her imposing and gracious appearance commanded respect and love.

These sentiments were demonstrated with the greatest enthusiasm; the cries of Long live the Republic  redoubled;  bonnets and caps were throw in the air;  the people gave themselves over to cries of the most pure joy.

The goddess of Reason was placed in front of the bar, opposite the president.  The procureur of the Commune of Paris expressed himself thus:

You have seen, Citizen legislators, that fanaticism has been overcome together with cowardice;  it has abandoned its place to reason, to justice and truth;  its furtive eyes could not stand the bright light;  it has fled.  We have taken possession of the temples that it has abandoned to us;  we have regenerated them.  Today the people of Paris came together under the Gothic vaults which have so long been assaulted by the voice of error, but  which today resounded to the cry of liberty.  We have made our sacrifice to liberty, to equality, to nature; we cried there Long live the Mountain!  The Mountain heard us; for it joined us in the temple of Reason.  We did not offer our sacrifices to empty images, to inanimate idols; no it is a masterpiece of nature that we have chosen and that image has inflamed all our hearts.  A single vow, a single cry was heard everywhere.  The people said: "No more priest, no other gods than those which nature offers us.

We their magistrates have taken up their vow, we bring it to you from the temple of Reason;  we come into that of the Law, to celebrate again Liberty.  We ask that the former metropolitan church of Paris be dedicated to Reason and Liberty.  Fanaticism has abandoned it;  reasonable beings have taken possession of it;   consecrate their ownership."

This speech was greeted with applause.

The president replied:   The Assembly sees with the greatest satisfaction the triumph that reason has gained today over superstition and fanaticism;  it will go as a body in the midst of  the people to the temple that you have just consecrated to this goddess,  to consecrate with it this august and memorable celebration;  it is the work of the people and its cry of victory which has decreed it.

A member converted into a motion the request of the citizens of Paris that the metropolitan church should henceforth be a temple of Reason.

A member demanded that the goddess of Reason be seated next to the president.

The procureur of the Commune led her to the desk.  The president and secretaries offered her a fraternal embrace in the midst of applause.

She sat next to the president.

A member demanded that the National Convention walk as a body among the people to the Temple of Reason, to sing the hymn of liberty.  This proposition was decreed.

The Convention walked with the people to the temple of Reason, in the middle of transports and acclamations of universal joy.

When they arrived at the temple of Reason, they sang the hymn which follows, words by Chenier, representative of the people and music by Gressec.

Descend, O Liberty, daughter of Nature; 
The people, recovering thy immortal power, 
Upon the stately ruins of old imposture,
Raise once again thy altar!

Come, conqueror of kings, Europe's example; 
Come, over false Gods complete thy success!
Thou, Saint Liberty, inhabit this temple,
Be of our nation the Goddess!
quoted in Delarc, L'église de Paris pendant la révolution française, 1789-1801, Vol. 2 (1895)  p.431-3.

The abbé Grégoire.
There came into the chamber of the Assembly, to the noise of fanfares, a crowd of people surrounding a woman from the Opera named Maillard, carried shoulder-height and representing, so the procès-verbaux say, the divinity of the French, Liberty.

The procureur of the Commune  Chaumette spoke: "Fanaticism has ceded its place to truth.  Its squinting eyes could not stand the light. The people of Paris took possession of its neglected temple and regenerated it. The Gothic vaults, which up until now only resounded with lies, have today heard the voice of truth....You will note that we did not have for our fetes inanimate idols, but a chef-d'oeuvre of nature, which we dressed in the garments of liberty, and its sacred image moved all our hearts.  The people have only one cry: no more priests; no more God than that of nature; we come with them to ask that you decree that the former church of Notre Dame be converted into a temple dedicated to Reason and Truth."

This request was instantly decreed in the midst of acclamations.  The goddess of Liberty took her place next to the president who gave her a fraternal embrace; the musicians played the hymn to liberty of Gossec, and half the Convention left with this horde of atheist-fanatics to go and celebrate Reason in its new temple.  Thus the basilica which for centuries had resounded with  the truths of the gospels, was delivered over to a crowd of prostitutes, hysterics and atrocious persecutors.
abbé Grégoire, Histoire des sectes, vol. 1 (1828 ed.)

The change of the calendar was the prelude to the abolition of Christianity.  The Commune proposed this act of impiety to the Convention, which made itself complicit, and replaced by decree the catholic cult with the cult of reason.  This deplorable scandal, the speeches in honour of atheism, the indecent abjurations - for the most part forced - figured in the procès-verbal that was sent to the authorities and to the armies.  The poet Chénier composed a hymn, where,  true disciple of Voltaire that he was, he made open war against the religion of Jesus-Christ:
Descend, O Liberty, daughter of Nature; 
The people, recovering thy immortal power, 
Upon the stately ruins of old imposture,
Raise once again thy altar!

Come, conqueror of kings, Europe's example; 
Come, over false Gods complete thy success!
Thou, Saint Liberty, inhabit this temple,
Be of our nation the Goddess!

I did not go to the scandalous event in the church of Notre-Dame, where an actress from the Opera was showered in incense like a divinity;  and I must say that half at least of the members of the Convention refused to attend.  A great number of them refused even to go to the sessions of the Assembly after the day when the bishop of Paris was dragged to the bar to declare himself an impostor...
Durand de Maillane,  Histoire de la Convention (1825), p.181-2.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Gobel, Constitutional Bishop of Paris

Portrait in the Bibliothèque cantonale Porrentruy

The abject abdication by the Constitutional Bishop of Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel in November 1793, is arguably one of the most discreditable  and depressing episodes of the entire French Revolution.  Posterity has understandably judged Gobel harshly. The only full length biography remains that of Gustave Gautherot, written in 1911- on the basis of this account,  Lenotre described Gobel as " a poor person, without convictions, without conscience, with no guiding principle, other than an ambitious desire to pay off his debts...."

Is a more sympathetic verdict possible? Perhaps -  lately local historians in Alsace have attempted a more nuanced portrait.  But as one of them observes Gobel very much "still burns in the hell of history" (Yves Petignat in Le Temps, 2012).

I'm not sure either - but here are a few discussion notes.

Gobel's early career

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel was born on 30th August 1727 in Thann in Alsace, in the French part of the diocese of Basel.  He was the eldest of five children.  His father was procurateur fiscal of the comté and an avocat in the Conseil souverain  of Alsace in Colmar.  Although not of noble birth, Gobel was by no means bereft of  patronage, since two great uncles on his mother's side had been évêques suffragants to the Prince-Bishops of Basel - in effect they administered the diocese in the Prince-Bishop's name.  His uncle Johann Baptist Hauss (1672-1745)  groomed his nephew and godson to succeed him.  Gobel studied at the Jesuit college in Porrentruy, then at the Royal College in Colmar. At fourteen he took minor orders.  He then spent four years  at the German College in Rome (1743-7). Thanks to his "solid piety and his application to study", he enjoyed remarkable success; the pope himself defrayed the cost of his education.  He gained his doctorate of theology in 1747 and in 1750 was ordained priest.

Gobel now rose steadily through the ecclesiastical ranks.  He became an official of the diocese of Basel,  a canon of the cathedral in Arlesheim,  and in 1763 vicaire-général to the Prince-Bishop Simon Nicolas de Montjoie. Finally in 1772, aged forty-four, he was elevated to the position of  suffragant in Alsace, with the nominal title of  Bishop of Lydda in partibus infidelium.  Under the Prince-Bishop  Frédéric Louis François de Wangen, he enjoyed a position of great trust and was charged with delicate diplomatic missions: an exchange of parishes with the Archbishopric of Besançon which brought Ajoie back into the diocese of Basel, and in 1780 the renewal of the treaty with France, signed jointly in Versailles by Gobel and Vergennes.

  • The records from this period in Gobel's life show him to have been an intelligent and capable administrator, well-versed in canon law, and a loyal servant to his prince, whom he regarded as "not only a benefactor but a friend".  Local historians convey  a sense of his personal sheen:  called "le beau Lydda" or "l'Ange de Lydda", he dazzled Porrentruy and Colmar with his oratorical talent: "he spoke Latin as well as he did German and French, that is with considerable eloquence and grace". According to  Louis Vautrey, the historian of the Collège de Porrentruy, he "enjoyed throughout the country the reputation of a grand and sainted prelate. People would go to see the angel of Lydda hold his services. He enjoyed the veneration and complete confidence of the people." (quoted by Pierre Klein).
  • Recaptured too is the sophistication and ease of this privileged ecclesiastical society. Gobel enjoyed a  reputation for "enlightened" taste.  Although the château in Porrentruy afforded him considerable luxury, he preferred his personal villa at Mortzwiller which he transformed into a veritable château de plaisance, with an English garden and a "remarkable labyrinth".  Here he led the life of a grand enlightened prelate, lover of music and the arts, commentator on Voltaire, collector of fine paintings.
  • Gustave Gautherot comments: "If he had died at that time, his honest merits would have allowed his weaknesses as a "bishop of the court" to be forgotten.  We would have thought, contemplating his tomb in the Cathedral of Arlesheim, that Gobel - edifying priest, brilliant doctor, faithful and devoted suffragant - was not unworthy of the honours that destiny had showered upon him" (Gautherot, p.495).

This happy situation was not to last.  With the elevation as Prince-Bishop of Franz Joseph Sigismund von Roggenbach in 1782, Gobel, who had previously opposed his appointment, dramatically lost his prerogatives.   He was discharged and ejected from the château de Porrentruy.  Heavily in debt, he intrigued futilely with Versailles for the creation of an autonomous diocese in Haute-Alsace.
  • According to Gautherot, Gobel's manoeuvres against Roggensbach,documented in his archival correspondence with Vergennes, reveal clearly for the first time his capacity for intrigue and deceit.
  • Gobel had already been driven to compromise morally due to his financial situation. He had accepted a pension from Archbishop of Paris, in return for a secret agreement  to allow French troops to pass through the Prince-Bishop's territories, should the need arise.  In 1782 it was only by by securing a four-year anticipation on this pension, that he escaped having his property seized.  In 1789 he was still in some danger of being pursued for his debts.
  • .Gobel's involvement in the politics of Basel / Alsace was to continue into the Revolutionary period, chiefly through his desire to further family interests.  His grand-nephew was Joseph-Antoine Rengguer de la Lime (1734-1818),  future leader of the Revolutionary opposition to the rule of the Prince-Bishop. 

Portrait, thought to represent Gobel  c.1770-75.  Collection Gustave Amweg,  Musée de Porrentruy, 
J.-R. Suratteau, "Deux portraits de l'évêque Gobel" Annales historiques de la Révolution française, no.262 1985 No. 262 (Oct -Dec 1985), pp. 543-546 .
[The second portrait reproduced in the article, given to the author by the  prefet of Porrentruy in 1960, is  a version of the famous sketch by Vivant Denon]

The Revolution and the Civil Constitution

For a time the events of the Revolution seemed to serve Gobel's interests. As suffragant of the French part of the Bishopric, he presided over the deliberations of the clergy of Belfort and Huningue, participated actively in drawing up the cahiers de doléances and, on 4th April 1789, was elected as their deputy to the Estates General.  

There was little about his conduct in the initial phases of the Revolution to presage his future prominence. He played a conciliatory role between the clergy and the Third Estate.  In the National Assembly, he spoke a few times, mostly in support of moderate positions:

On 23rd August 1789 he intervened to add to Article 10 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, on liberty of religious opinions, the famous moderating formula, "provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law."  

On 1st June 1790 he criticised the Civil Constitution of Clergy for failing to recognise the rights of the Holy See and affirmed that the deputies had no jurisdiction over purely spiritual matters.  On 6th November 1790, he was elected as Secretary to the Assembly, but excused himself on grounds of poor health and inexperience.  

Despite his earlier reservations, on 3rd January 1791 he was the first of the bishops among the deputies to take the civic oath, "amid repeated applause".  In 1791 he was simultaneously elected to the bishoprics of Colmar, Langres and Agen but chose to  stand for the more influential and more lucrative metropolitan see of Paris.  Profiting from the refusal of Talleyrand and the hesitations of Siéyès, he was
 elected on 13th March by a crushing majority.  His canonical investiture was performed by Talleyrand on 27th March -  an occasion when Revolutionary pageantry already ominously overwhelmed religious sentiment.
  • Gobel played an important part in legitimising the new ecclesiastical order.  He was particularly useful as he was one of the few existing bishops to enter the Constitutional Church:   Gobel knew perfectly the métier of bishop and soon proved it to Talleyrand. ....  As a canon lawyer he doubted that the civil authority had the right by take over the jurisdiction of the bishops.  Only the Church could give a new bishop spiritual jurisdiction which was necessary since he exercised power in God's name. He obtained his canonical investiture from Talleyrand on 24th March 1791 and went on to invest 45 out of 79 bishops  .Bernard Plongeron and Luce Pietri, Le Diocèse de Paris, vol. 1 (1987), p.383
  • The journalist and former Jesuit Augustin Barruel,  writing in April 1791, recalled that Gobel, whom he had known personally and esteemed, had formerly been attached to ultramontane doctrines. He was horrified that a man with "true zeal for religion" had accepted the see of Paris and refused to believe Gobel could be the true author of the Mandements now issued in his name.
  • According to Gustave Gautherot,  the reservations Gobel expressed about papal authority and spiritual jurisdiction in all probability represented his personal beliefs. However, in the end, he was carried away by ambition. In his speech on January 2nd, he declared that he took the oath on the understanding that the Assembly had no designs on spiritual authority. This proviso soon proved to have little or no meaning.
  • How far was Gobel's motivation in accepting the see of Paris financial?  The article by Pierre Klein refers us to the researches of local historian Louis Kammerer on Gobel's debts - he owed considerable amounts, both to individuals and to various religious institutions. The number of vacant sees offered opportunity of prestige and wealth, whereas the alternative was unconscionable: "To refuse the oath, was to enter into a clandestine existence, put up with indigence, live in physical and psychological fear", (Klein, p.3)
  • The first crisis was not slow in coming. On 13 April 1791  Pius VI issued a brief which anathamatised the Constitutional bishops and declared  their consecration sacrilegious and void. Gobel characteristically temporised, with a dubious appeal to Gallican liberties - on 7th June 1791, he sent a circular letter to the clergy of his diocese in which he complained that the papal bulls of condemnation had not been submitted to the King and his council. 

Gobel as Constitutional Bishop of Paris

It would seem that Gobel was genuinely concerned to administer his diocese effectively.  He appointed his vicaires, oversaw his parishes and, at one point, even entertained the idea of setting up a new seminary.  However, his dependency on the goodwill of the Revolutionary authorities was inevitably the dominant theme of his episcopacy.  On the very day of his election he presented himself to the Jacobins. 
On 25th April, he was admitted with great pomp to the bar of the National Assembly.  

  • Gustave Gautherot (p.509-10) emphasises Gobel's  powerless, citing as evidence his  docile participation in the round of civil festivals, and also his orations and public pronouncements.   His episcopal mandements  are "a veritable Jacobin and Constitution catechism; platitudinous in style, bizarre in thought and fantastical in doctrine to the point of caricature" (p.509-10)  
  •  In his first Pastoral Letter of 19 April 1791, he enjoined the clergy of Paris, his "venerable co-operateurs",  to preach to the faithful that "after divine law, nothing is more sacred than the law of the State." His Mandement of  21 April 1791 contradicted his previous position by admitting that the temporal power had authority to create and define dioceses.  
  • On 24th August 1791, he wrote to the president  of the Jacobins a letter which the club had printed and sent to its affiliated societies.  In it Gobel thanks the Society for its affection and confirms his preparedness to sacrifice his "personal ideas". He continued to pay homage to its members in his Mandements and to extend invitations to  the various "religious and patriotic" ceremonies in Notre-Dame. 
  • In October 1791 he signed with seventeen other bishop/deputies an "Accord on ... the Civil Constitution of the clergy of France", which commanded blind submission to the law.
  • By 1792 the language of Revolution has come to dominate his pronouncements. Gautherot cites as an example, his instruction of 3rd May 1792 in which he orders a mass for the prosperity of the arms of the nation.  The War against Austria is characterised as "une guerre sainte" "because it inspires in us a love of liberty, and the children of liberty are the children of religion".  It contributes to the spread of the Gospel, which is nothing other than "the development of the eternal laws of nature and equality".

An attempt at reconciliation with Rome

A series of letters from the abbé Barruel, to Cardinal Zélada, papal secretary of state gives an insight into Gobel's true state of mind. 

On 14th March 1792, Barruel describes a secret rendez-vous the Bishop had arranged with him. He explains that Gobel was adept at lying, perhaps even to himself, about the true nature of his position.
We spent two hours together, without any other witness but God and our guardian angels;  I saw a man who had been convinced from the first that the supposed regeneration of the Church of France was nothing more than a horrible conspiracy against religion by the most impious philosophism.  He had, he said, seen from the first some part of their projects; he had believed he should submit to the new constitution; that all would be lost if there were no longer bishops who might tame spirits and prevent the worst excesses.
Don't let this manner of seeing things astonish Your Eminence.  M. Gobel is one of those men who has his heart in the right place, or at least fears to go against their conscience.  But with  subtle and even tortuous reasoning, he comes up with singular, even laughable arguments, to persuade himself that his conscience is not violated.  M. Gobel does not want to be a schismatic, so he manages to believe that he is not...his weakness makes him ingenious in seeking conciliation even with impious men.
It seems that Gobel was ready to flee France and throw himself on Papal mercy.  In May illness prevented him appearing in Paris, and he was widely rumoured to have left. He revealed that he pressing debts that needed paying off. Soon even Barruel had lost patience.
On 16 June 1792, Barruel wrote:
I can only try in vain to show Your Eminence how many false pretexts I have been forced to combat in this false and clever man, whose empty promises you have better judged than I.  He still claims that he has not changed his mind, but that he delays for the good of religion...He adds above all, that he doesn't want to retire a bankrupt.
 According to Bertrand de Moleville he approached the Marquis de Spinola, the Genoese minister, with his plan to retract.  He observed that, without his stipend, he would be "ruined and left a bankrupt" and asked for the sizeable sum of a hundred thousand crowns.
[See Delarc   L'église de Paris pendant la révolution française, 1789-1801 (1895) vol. 1 p.56-62.  Delarc concludes, not unreasonably, that Gobel was more concerned with his debts than the schism in the Church.]

And the politics of Alsace

Other interests pulled in different directions.  Gobel remained involved with local politics in Alsace, where the Revolutionary opposition to Prince-Bishop Prince Joseph von Roggenbach was spearheaded by his nephew Joseph-Antoine Rengguer.  

In March 1791 Roggenbach was compelled to request Austrian military intervention to keep the peace. Rengguer fled  Paris to alert the National  Assembly that the Prince was in violation of the 1780 treaty by allowing foreign troops into his territory. On  22nd July 1791 Gobel himself demanded French reprisals.  Although no action was taken on this occasion, in April 1792,  following the declaration of war with Austria,  the passes in the Prince-Bishopric were occupied. On  29th October 1792 Gobel was charged with a mission,  to meet and advise General Biron, the commander of the Army of the Rhine.  At the end of November  the formation a  "free and independent" Republic of Rauracie was announced.  However,  the Convention's initial enthusiasm soon turned to suspicion.  Gobel, it seems, had abused his position as  as commissaire civil and was swiftly recalled to Paris in January 1793. The local patriotic societies  accused him of tyranny and cupidity. A deputation from Porrentruy, Delémont and Sainte-Ursanne denounced  Rengguer and twenty-four of his followers for attempting to take control of the new Republic. The Bishop,  abetted by General Demars who commanded  the French troops in Porrentruy, had "favoured the cabal".  He was accused of misappropriating public money, and even of stealing furniture and supplies from the château. Commissioners dispatched to the region by the Convention found it divided into two warring factions. As a consequence, on 7th March, the Republic of Rauracie was suppressed and its territories annexed to France as the department of Mont-Terrible.

Gobel's abjuration

As dechristianisation gained momentum towards the end of 1793, Gobel's relations with the Commune led him into increasingly compromises with his faith.  In April 1793, for instance, he found himself obliged to consecrate a married priest, Aubert, as curé of Saint-Augustin.  The existence of the Constitutional Church was now threatened by the mass resignation of its priests. It is estimated that some 400 clergy in Paris alone abdicated during the Terror.  

On 7 Brumaire (7th November 1793) Gobel himself was finally pressurised into a public renunciation of his episcopal functions.  He appeared at the bar of the Convention,  accompanied by eleven of his vicaires, and flanked by Chamette and Anacharsis Cloots. He deposited his insignias and letters of priesthood and donned a bonnet rouge.  His abject humiliation was made complete by the triumphalism of the dechristianisers;  the president of the Convention, Lalloy, declared that the those present had laid down "the gothic trinkets that the credulity of our ancestors had consecrated to superstition" and abjured "abuses propagated for too long in the midst of the best of peoples." 
  •  It is generally agreed that Gobel acted out of fear and intimidation rather than any sort of conviction.
  • He himself carefully distinguished the resignation of his ecclesiastical functions from the renunciation of  religious beliefs as such.  Did he perhaps manage to persuade himself, or should we follow Lenotre in imagining him smitten with remorse from the moment of his inauguration?
  •  Most commentators have condemned his abjuration as a simple act of apostasy.  Delarc noted that the speech by Momoro, and Gobel's own declaration that there should be no other public and national cult than that of "liberty and sainted equality" scarcely warranted any other conclusion.  Auguste Gazier was justified in condemning Gobel as a "New Judas" (Delarc, vol. 2, p.417)

Here is an extract from Gobel's declaration: 
Born a plebeian, I formed early in my soul the principles of liberty and equality.  Called to the Constituent Assembly by the vote of my fellow citizens, I did not have to wait for the Declaration of the Rights of Man to recognise the sovereignty of the people.  I have on more than one occasion made public profession of my political faith in that respect...The Will of the Sovereign People has become my supreme law; submission to its orders is my first duty;  that Will elevated me to the office of bishop of Paris....I have never employed the ascendancy that my title and position gave me except to augment the people's attachment to the eternal principles of liberty, equality and morality, the necessary bases of all truly republican constitutions.

Today, the revolution moves at great pace towards a happy conclusion, because it leads all opinion to a single political centre;  today there is no need for any other public and national cult than that of liberty and sainted equality, because the Sovereign People wishes it so;  according to my principles, I submit to its Will, and I have come to declare publicly that I renounce the exercise of my functions as a minister of the Catholic cult. (quoted Delarc, vol. 2, p.416)

The circumstances surrounding Gobel's abdication have never been entirely clarified. The accounts agree broadly, but there are some discrepancies of chronology.  However, considerable pressure was certainly brought to bear by various dechristianisers, including a intimidating nocturnal visit by Anacharsis Cloots and Pereyra on the night of 6th-7th November.  

Here is Gobel's own account, given to the Revolutionary Tribunal: 
It was eleven o'clock in the evening; I  had gone to bed, even fallen asleep.  I was informed that some public functionaries had come with important matters to communicate to  me.  I got up; I received them.  They told me that it was the moment to sacrifice myself for the public good, that they had come to demand my resignation from the post of bishop...I replied that I knew of no error in my religion, that I would not abjure but would  remain attached to it.  They replied: the issue is not whether your religious principles are founded; it is only a matter of giving up your functions.  In that case, I agree willingly to your request: the people demanded me, the people dismiss me, such is the fate of a servant under orders from his master.  However, I ask leave to consult with the episcopal council and I undertake to abide by its majority decision.  In accordance with the decision of the council - 14 votes for resignation and 3 against - I presented myself to the Departmental authorities.  I found there the commissioners Momoro and Chaumette and delegates from the Nièvre;  Momoro, who presided over the deputation, gave a speak to which I responded with an explanation of my opinions and motives; I then gave my resignation and handed over my documents of priesthood ( quoted Delarc, vol. 2, p.417)

His vicaire, Amable Lambert, remembered the Revolutionaries bursting in on the deliberations of the episcopal council:.
Chaumette, Hébert, Momoro, Anacharsis Cloots and Bourdon de l'Oise sent to the Archbishop's palace and summon Gobel to come to the Convention the next day to abjure the Catholic religion.  Gobel at first refused.  Then Hébert said to him: "Too bad for you, Gobel, but tomorrow morning if you haven't abjured, you and your calotins will be massacred".  Gobel bowed his head before such a threat and asked to consult with his vicaires.  He assembled them and explained the situation.  Should they consent to Hébert's demand?  They put it to the vote, and the majority were in favour.  They desired, however, to abdicate only their public functions,  reserving for themselves the personal free exercise of their religion.  Gobel and his vicaires together drafted the declaration that he read the next day at the Convention.
Lambert, Ami de la Religion, vol.136, p.240.

Here is the account in Duval, Souvenirs de la Terreur: 
On the evening of 31st October ...[a deputation from the Commune and the Department] arrived between eleven and midnight at the Archbishop's Palace and demanded to speak to Bishop Gobel.  The latter, who had just gone bed, sent the reply that he would receive them in the morning, as early as they cared to present themselves. "Tell your master", said Hébert to the valet de chambre, "that the magistrates of the people will not be kept waiting by a miserable calotin, and that he must get up immediately".  The unfortunate prelate, forced to obey, rose in haste and presented himself to the magistrates of the people.  Chaumette explained the situation to him in few words.  " Let the Will of God be done!" replied Gobel bowing his head.  And ours as well, replied Chaumette.  It is our will that all religious mummeries cease, all churches close and that you,  your grands-vicaires and your curés, burn their letters of priesthood, as the majority of your fellows had done in the departments.  You should report with the shortest possible delay to the Convention, to give amende honorable for all the absurdities which have stupefied the people for too long".

Although he was almost eighty, feeble in character and excessively timid, Gobel rebelled at such a proposition.  He tried to convince the deputation that he could not sully his sacred office by such a scandal and offence to heaven.
"Bah! bah! replied Chaumette, the time for capuchinades is past;  the People want no more of them, and since the People is the master, they must be obeyed.  But we will give you two or three days to reflect, that is to make your choice between abjuration and the guillotine.  Au revoir, monseigneur".  With that the deputation left, and poor Gobel went back to bed.  But I imagine he had a bad night.

Four or five days later, Chaumette returned to the Archbishop's palace, accompanied only by Anacharsis Clootz; he again demanded that  Gobel abjure, adding that the Council of the Commune had decided that the abjuration would take place the next day.   Gobel again demurred, but his resistance weakened when they threatened him with the guillotine if her refused.  He was promised the sum of three hundred thousand francs in assignats if he accepted.  After much hesitation, Gobel agreed;  I believe that his motive was the desire to live rather than the three hundred thousand francs in assignats;  in the end he expired on the place de la Revolution several months later without having touched so much as a centime......

The rumour spread that evening that next day, 7th November (17 brumaire), at one o'clock, the Constitutional clergy of Paris, their bishop at their head, would leave the Archbishop's palace to make their public abjuration at the Convention.  By midday the route of the cortege was flanked with crowds of eager spectators.  At half-past one I myself saw this lamentable procession on the pont Neuf.  I remembered how, two years earlier, I had seen Gobel in the same place on his way to installation as bishop of Paris.  What a change in appearance on the part of the Constitutional prelate!  He had been radiant at his installation, but now he was a picture of despair and humiliation....

In order to give the bishop a worthy escort, Chaumette had spent four of five days rounding up, by a mixture of threats and promises, a number of priestly recruits.  I counted more than two hundred, all looking as worried as their chief....

[The cortege, headed up by Chaumette in his sash and bonnet rouge, arrived at the Convention amid the shouts and whistles of the crowd. Inside Cloots was at the tribune.]

 A confused noise was heard outside the the corridors and all eyes turned instantly to the bar.  Murmurs could be heard around the room and among the tribunes: "Here they are! here they are!  The doors to the bar shock, opened, and Gobel and his clergy appeared surrounded by the leaders of the Department and the Commune.  Mororo, as president of the deputation, immediately announced its purpose: "Citizen representatives, the bishop of Paris and his clergy come among you to cast aside the identity imposed upon them by superstition.  This great example will no doubt be imitated by their colleagues; the cult of truth, equality, liberty and nature, will soon  be the universal cult."  
Chaumette spoke in his turn but only uttered a few insignificant words.... After this, Gobel made ready to pronounce the sacramental words of his abjuration; but, to the great surprise of his listeners, he remained at first mute.  I thought that this was through shame, but it was not so.  Chaumette had demanded to vet his discourse and forgotten to give the manuscript back; the poor bishop, whom age had deprived of memory, could not find it in his pocket and did not know what to say.  Chaumette, who saw his embarrassment, quietly slipped the paper to him. The bishop then pronounced his discourse, as reviewed and corrected by Chaumette.  One must admit that this speech was as dignified as it could be in the circumstances.  There were no insults to  religion, merely a moderate exposition of the principles which had guided his conduct since he had been called by his fellow citizens to occupy the episcopal see of Paris.  He suggested cleverly that it was not altogether through his own wish that he abjured the title of priest, but only in obedience to the will of the  sovereign people....

Although Gobel's speech seemed timid and not as saturated with revolutionary jargon as one might have expected, he was greeted with much applause....
5. Duval, Souvenirs de la Terreur, vol. 4. p.116-.

Here are the comments of the abbé Grégoire:
They say that Anacharsis Clootz, Léonard Bourdon and Chaumette had put him up to his apostasy with promises and threats.  What is certain, is that Léonard Bourdon, on 16th brumaire,  on the eve of the event, ... announced something similar to the sacrifices of the next day.  Nonetheless, eight days earlier, in  conversation with me,  Gobel  had spoken to  about religious matters with respect.  An overwhelming surprise increased my pain, when I learned about what he had done....

Let me return for an instant to the unhappy Gobel, whose conduct was an act of cowardice and not of incredulity... He knew that I was horrified by his behaviour;  one of his vicaires came to assure me that he had confined himself to resigning, but that his meaning and words had been distorted.  I believed him, because villainy, which is naturally allied to impiety, has travestied the words of many others. But how could he not have known that the conspirators would regard his abdication as an apostasy and that they had ulterior motives?  Nonetheless, dragged as he was to the scaffold with Chaumette, Gobel gave signs of the most sincere repentance, and I appeal to the God of mercy on his behalf.
Abbé Grégoire, Mémoires, vol. 2, p.32-34;38-39.

Robespierre,  in his speech to Jacobins of 22 Frimaire (12 December),  attacked Cloots and the dechristianisers whom Gobel had unwillingly abetted:
Gobel, whose political conduct you all know, was one of those priests who complained about the reduction of clerical salaries.  Ambition might have led  him to want  to to resuscitate the hydra of the ci-devant clergy ... And yet we have seen this bishop suddenly change his tone, his language and his dress, and present himself at the bar of the National Convention to offer us his certificate of priesthood.  Ah! Cloots, we know about your nocturnal visits and plotting.  We know that, under cover of the shadows of night, you prepared with Bishop Gobel this philosophical masquerade. You must have foreseen the evil consequences of such a move... (quoted Delarc, p.460-61)

What made Gobel's abdication particularly distressing, was that he still had faith.  His excessive ambition had pushed him towards the path of capitulation;  his pusillanimity had held him there, despite vague awakenings of conversion;  his feebleness of character, his financial embarrassments which resulted from his disordered life, the detestable influence of the entourage that he had chosen, barred all return to duty.  But the spirit of priesthood was not entirely stifled in him.  His solid theological education did not permit him to ignore the gravity of his wrongdoing, and he could not have been deaf to remorse.  When faced with death, he  finished by listening to the voice of conscience and manifested a sincere and profound repentance.
Paul Pisani, L'église de Paris et la Révolution, vol. 2: 1792-1796,  (1909) p.62-3


The "mascarade" of Gobel's abdication made it almost inevitable that he would be caught up in the elimination of the dechristianisers in early 1794.  Hébert, Cloots, Ronsin, Momoro, Vincent and Pereyra all went to their deaths on 4 germinal (24th March 1794).  Gobel himself was arrested and followed, with Chaumette and Lucile Desmoulins, on 5 floréal (26th April 1794).  At his trial he was accused of highhanded behaviour during his mission in Porrentruy in 1792-93, but the most substantial charge concerned his atheism and apostasy.  It is the common consensus that he was enobled at the end by his sincere repentance and courage in the face of death.  He contrived to be reconciled to the Church by his former vicaire from Alsace, Lothringer, now a refractory priest and went to the scaffold crying "Vive Jésus-Christ!"

Here are some accounts of his final hours:

Letter from the abbé Lothringer: 
Gobel wanted to expiate as far as possible his criminal conduct before he died and I would be guilty if I did not make known his last act of religion.  Since Gobel could not be approached at the Conciergerie by any minister of religion, he sent me by an unknown courrier, his handwritten confession:

My dear abbé, I am on the eve of my death;  I send you my confession in writing.  In a few days I will expiate by the mercy of God, all my crimes and scandals against the holy religion.  I have always applauded your principles in my heart; forgive me, my dear abbé, if I have led you into error.  I ask you not to refuse me the final help of your ministration; come to the gate of the Conciergerie, without compromising yourself, and as I leave, give me absolution for my sins,  without forgetting the preamble ab omni vinculo excommunicationis.  Goodbye, my dear abbé, pray to God for my soul, that it might find mercy before Him.  J.-B.-J. Bishop of Lydda.
Letter published in 1797, quoted by Delarc, vol. 3, p.168-9.

Remorse came to him with misfortune, and he did not cease to implore the God whom he had denied.  He confessed to Citizen Lothringer, his former vicaire who had energetically refused to abjure.  In the avant-greffe, the former bishop knelt and demanded pardon out loud for the scandal he had caused;  he wanted to catechise Chaumette; the latter interrupted him after a few words and said, without emotion:  "Die with your beliefs;  I will die with mine.  If there is a God, he will pardon me for faults committed in good faith;  he will not pardon me for a lie born of fear".
Sept générations d'exécuteurs, 1688-1847 : Mémoires des Sanson. vol. 5 (1862), p.95

The abbé Sambucy claimed, perhaps less plausibly, that the abbé Jacques André Emery (1732-1811), superior of Saint-Sulpice,  who was also imprisoned in the Conciergerie, had reconciled Gobel with the Church.  Sambucy and also the abbé Migneaux, saw him on his way to the scaffold and testified to his demeanour: "I meet him on his route, and I can in truth say, that his bearing announced  the deepest repentance and resignation."
Gosselin, Vie de M. Emery, vol. 1, p.365, quoted Delarc, vol 3, p.169.

That day twenty-two accused went to their execution;  Gobel and Chaumette, who were among them, were placed in the first cart, side by side.  The bishop of Paris had his eyes downcast, his air contrite and humble.  His lips were seen to be moving at great speed; without doubt he was reciting the prayers for the dying. The procureur of the Commune had fury and rage painted all over his face.  His eyes flamed;  he shouted without cease to the people...Chaumette arrived at the place de la Révolution declaiming against his enemies.  Gobel  received death with the resignation of a penitent.
Nicolas-Toussaint Des Essarts, Procès fameux (1796)p.212-

A witness to his execution reported to me at the time in Paris, that when the people cried as usual "Vive la republique, Gobel", the bishop of Paris, cried out in his turn in a loud voice "Vive Jésus-Christ".
Durand de Maillane,  Histoire de la Convention (1825)

Vivant Denon,  Gobel and Chaumette on their way to execution,
Sketch in the Metropolitan Museum


Gustave Gautherot, Gobel, évêque métropolitain constitutionel de Paris, 1911
Summary in Revue des questions historiques 1909, vol. 41, p.492-517.

"Gobel" article by G. Lenotre in Le Temps, 1909; afterwards reprinted in La Révolution par ceux qui l'ont vue (1934)

Yves Petignat, Jean-Baptiste Gobel, la damnation de l'ange: un Un ecclésiastique emporté par la Révolution, Article in Le Temps , 23.07.2012.

Abbé Pierre Salvadé, "Qu’est devenu GOBEL, évêque consécrateur de Saint-Marcel, à Delémont?"Histoire religieuse du Jura (Suisse) [blog],  post of 29.09.2014.

Pierre KLEIN - Jean-Baptiste Gobel, ou les dérives d'une ambition (1727-1794)

Here is a translation of Lenotre's essay:
 "GOBEL" His story  is a moving drama.  He was born in 1727 in Thann, in Alsace, a small town which, although French, was then part of the diocese of Bâle; when still a child, he was a pupil of the Jesuits of Porrentruy;  he was pious, intelligent, hard-working.  When he was fourteen, his uncle, Hans, Bishop of Domitiopolis, called him to Colmar, taught him humanities and philosophy, conferred on him the tonsure and minor orders, then sent him to the German College in Rome.

At less than thirty years of age, on his return home, the young Gobel became an official of the diocese of Bâle, canon of the Cathedral, despite his lack of nobility, and vicaire-general.  Fourteen years later, in 1771, he was consecrated bishop of Lydda and remained the confidant, the first minister of the prince-bishops.  Installed luxuriously in the palais of Porrentruy, he administered the diocese and, in effect, governed the principality, thus realising the dreams of his growing ambition.

The clergy paid homage to his theological knowledge;  the Court was won over by his air of grand seigneur;  the people, struck by the pious majesty with which he officiated, had nicknamed him "The Angel of Lydda".  But already the angel had lost his wings and his angelic robes were no longer fit to wear.  In his Alsatian villa of Mortzwiller, Gobel, following the example of many other worldly prelates at this, the end of the eighteenth century, had made a collection of prizewinning paintings.  His country villa was transformed into a gallant sanctuary  for the Muses, frequented by "nymphs and naiads" who had nothing to do with theology; to satisfy his taste for profane luxury, the brilliant prelate - elevated by fate to a rank usually prohibited by obscure birth - had to employ all the means at his disposal.  His first grave fault was committed in Versailles in 1780.  Charged by the prince de Wangen with negotiating a treaty of alliance with France, he consented to sign a clause giving us passage through the bishopric in case of war.  As a reward for this quasi-treason he received a pension of 8,000 livres from the Archbishopric of Paris.  This money allowed him to pay off some of his debts, and he was henceforth a salaried client - worse than that, the secret spy - of the French Court.

Chased from Porrentruy for this villainy, he declared war on the bishop of Bâle, a war of denunciations, false reports, self-interested lies;  since he had not reined in his luxury, he fell into debt; on the point of being seized, he begged the minister Vergennes to save him from ruin;  he claimed and obtained a immediate advance of four years of his pension from the Archbishopric of Paris.  In 1789, when he had just been named as a deputy to the Estates-General, he owed two hundred thousand livres, to the bishop's state coffers, to the churches of the Delémont Valley, to the seminary of Porrentruy and to many different individuals. His brother, Canon Gobel, a saintly man, endowed that day with prophetic spirit, wrote that,  if this state of affairs did not change soon, the unfortunate prelate risked "the loss of body and soul".  In the National Assembly, the bishop of Lydia counted bitter enemies; his election was going to be invalidated.  However, by dint of manoeuvring, he was admitted and took his seat among the deputies - without great éclat, it is true. He was among those who were mediocre, timid, silent;  the weight of debt that he dragged with him manifestly weighed him down and, from that time, if he found a party who would buy him, he sold himself without scruple.  M. Gustave Gautherot, in a sober and remarkable study...traces a striking portrait of this poor person, without convictions, without conscience, with no guiding principle, other than an ambitious desire to pay off his debts, and not to fall from the high office which an indulgent destiny had allowed  him.  Gobel, has until now remained unknown, only his name is famous; M. Gautherot enriches the gallery of Revolutionary history with his portrait.

Gobel took the Constitutional oath amid the enthusiastic acclamation of the tribunes, and found himself swept up towards candidature for an episcopal see.  That of Paris was vacant after the departure of the pious Antoine de Juigné - that charitable prelate who had sold his silverware to feed the poor.  The succession had been offered to Talleyrand and to Sieyès, who refused it. Timid in spirit, but seeing a way to satisfy his creditors, Gobel allowed himself to be carried along.  On Sunday 13th March 1791, in the great nave of Notre-Dame, the electors met together, around six hundred of them - among whom naturally were several who did not belong to the Catholic religion.  They scrutinised for the whole day.  Gobel was elected by five hundred votes.  That same evening he presented himself at the Jacobin Club to be congratulated and applauded; and fifteen days later, he solemnly took possession of "his" basilica, to the sound of fanfares.  The people, who had hurried to see him, were held back by a triple line of soldiers;  they cried to the great busbies,  À bas! À bas!" so that the new prelate thought that the invective was directed at him.  The ceremony was so tumultuous that a foreigner asked:  Poor bishop, What has he done and what punishment is he going to suffer? - Don't worry, replied his neighbour, he is taking possession of a see worth 50,000 livres in revenues.  Voices more accustomed to Revolutionary songs than pious hymns shouted a fantastic Te Deum;  drums rolled under those vaults charged with history.  Gobel was  dressed in his bishop's regalia, mitre on his head, and a cross in hand.  Since he had not lost his faith, he feared what his heart, still that of a believer, considered  a sacrilege; and felt "the terrible sensation of the unfortunate who feels himself slip remorseless into an unfathomable abyss".

His moral torture started on that day.  Gobel was "tormented by remorse"; anathematised by the Pope, pursued by libelles  from the thunderous Barruel, a Jesuit Father who had formerly known and liked him.   The metropolitan bishop at first understood nothing and continued along  his thorny path.  He experienced  only bitter disillusionment with the political factions he had enslaved himself to; he wished to shake off the yoke. But how?  Renounce his salary, his lifestyle;  see himself prey to creditors, reduced to poverty, deprived forever of the comforts and satisfactions of existence?  What a struggle, for a soul so little disposed to martyrdom!  He still hoped to have everything and, one day in 1792, went to find the marquis de Spinola,  Minster of Genes.  "I am aware of the gravity of the crime I have committed;  I wish to make a solemn retraction.  But I will be immediately deprived of income and menaced, on account of my debts, with ruin and bankruptcy. Since that would discourage those who might wish to imitate me, obtain for me from the pope a hundred thousand écus; a modest sum when one considers the safety of religion could depend on it.."  Cardinal Zalada, consulted on this strange case, broke off all negotiations, declaring that a man so devoid of moral sense as to make such a cynical request, deserved only the scorn and execration of honest men.  Gobel wanted to sell himself, one more time;  but he was worth so little that this time he could find no-one to buy.

Scorned by all, even his colleagues in the Constitutional clergy,the miserable man delivered himself body and soul to the demagogues.  He officiated as bishop, on Ascension Day 1793, before the priest Aubert and his concubine, placed in a stall of honour in the choir of the cathedral.  He lived "en concierge" in his vast episcopal palace, most of which was occupied by various public functionaries.  He saw his precious  salary reduced from fifty thousand to six thousand livres;  he dined with Chaumette and with Clootz.  It was probably this Prussian, seeing the miserable bishop at the end of his tether, who conceived the infernal machination which scandalised the whole Convention.  Clootz, assisted by Momoro, Hébert and others, invited Gobel to appear before the Assembly, to tear up his letters of priesthood, and do penance "for all the absurdities with which priests have for too long stupified the world".   Since the unfortunate man baulked at this supreme infamy, he was given two or three days to make his choice "between abjuration and the guillotine". On the 6th November, they came to warn him that the ceremony was fixed for the next day and, according to one witnesss, they proposed to pay 300,000 livre for the sacrilege - the 300,00 livres that the pope had refused for the contrary action.  Gobel obeyed.

He obeyed, head bowed and terror in his heart.  When he entered, accompanied by the horrible cortege, into the hall of the Convention, to the sound of the Ça ira! and the Carmagnole, his face "revealed the despair and humiliation of a victim"; and when he had to read, at the bar of the Assembly, opposite the ruins of Notre-Dame, the act of adhesion to the cult of Reason, his features,  distorted by terror, witnessed tragically against his words...

He never touched a sou of the three hundred thousand livres promised; indeed, his new friends did not preserve him from the scaffold.  On 13 April 1794, Paris  saw its bishop pass by on the cart of the condemned.  Gobel, transfigured, had once more become the Angel of Lydda. Besides the fuming Chaumette, he recited piously the prayers of the dying.  A non-juring priest assisted at his last hours; and when they laid him on the bascule, as the people cried "Vive la Republique!", he replied, "Vive Jesus-Christ".
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