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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Orders were given to close all the Jesuit houses


On

the 6th of August, 1761, the Parliament of Paris delivered a decree ordering the Jesuits to appear at the end of a year for the definite judgment upon their constitutions; pending the judicial decision, all their colleges were closed. King Louis XV. still hesitated, from natural indolence and from remembrance of Cardinal Fleury's maxims. "The Jesuits," the old minister would often say, "are bad masters, but you can make them useful tools." An ecclesiastical commission was convoked; with the exception of the Bishop of Soissons, the prelates all showed themselves favorable to the Jesuits and careless of the old Gallican liberties. On their advice, the king sent a proposal to Rome for certain modifications in the constitutions of the order. Father Ricci, general of the Jesuits, answered haughtily, "Let them be as they are, or not be" (_Sint ut sunt, aut non sint_). Their enemies in France accepted the challenge. On the 6th of August, 1762, a decree of the Parliament of Paris, soon confirmed by the majority of the sovereign courts, declared that there was danger (_abus_) in the bulls, briefs, and constitutions of the Society, pronounced its dissolution, forbade its members to wear the dress and to continue living in common under the sway of the general and other superiors. Orders were given to close all the Jesuit houses. The principle of religious liberty, which had been so long ignored, and was at last beginning to dawn on men's minds, was gaining its first serious victory
by despoiling the Jesuits in their turn of that liberty for the long-continued wrongs whereof they were called to account. A strange and striking reaction in human affairs; the condemnation of the Jesuits was the precursory sign of the violence and injustice which were soon to be committed in the name of the most sacred rights and liberties, long violated with impunity by arbitrary power.

Vaguely and without taking the trouble to go to the bottom of his impression, Louis XV. felt that the Parliaments and the philosophers were dealing him a mortal blow whilst appearing to strike the Jesuits; he stood out a long while, leaving the quarrel to become embittered and public opinion to wax wroth at his indecision. "There is a hand to mouth administration," said an anonymous letter addressed to the king and Madame de Pompadour, "but there is no longer any hope of government. A time will come when the people's eyes will be opened, and peradventure that time is approaching."

The persistency of the Duke of Choiseul carried the day at last; an edict of December, 1764, declared that "the Society no longer existed in France, that it would merely be permitted to those who composed it to live privately in the king's dominions, under the spiritual authority of the local ordinaries, whilst conforming to the laws of the realm." Four thousand Jesuits found themselves affected by this decree; some left France, others remained still in their families, assuming the secular dress. "It will be great fun to see Father Perusseau turned abbe," said Louis XV. as he signed the fatal edict. "The Parliaments fancy they are serving religion by this measure," wrote D'Alembert to Voltaire, "but they are serving reason without any notion of it; they are the, executioners on behalf of philosophy, whose orders they are executing without knowing it." The destruction of the Jesuits served neither religion nor reason, for it was contrary to justice as well as to liberty; it was the wages and the bitter fruit of a long series of wrongs and iniquities committed but lately, in the name of religion, against justice and liberty.


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