20 August 2019

Heretic of the Week: Maximilien Robespierre

I've just discovered that Chevalier Coulombe has written a series of 'Heretic of the Week' columns. I'll try to share them as I have opportunity.

From the Catholic Herald

By Charles Coulombe

Most people think of Robespierre (1758-1794) simply as a bloody-handed mass murderer. But there was another side to the master of the Terror.

Born in Arras to a family of the minor nobility, when he was 11 he received a scholarship from his bishop, Hilaire de Conzié, to study at the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, followed by four years at the university there.

Upon his graduation in 1781, Robespierre’s episcopal benefactor made him a judge. What the reverend gentleman did not know was that his protégé’s admiration of classicism during his schooldays had turned him into an admirer of the Roman Republic; nor did he know that the young jurist had become a disciple of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although the bishop appointed Robespierre a judge, the latter soon resigned to avoid giving death sentences, and became a defence attorney.

Robespierre’s subsequent rise and fall as leader of the Jacobins and then France is well known – along with his attacks on the Church. What is less well known, perhaps, is his attempt to create a cult to replace Catholicism. Already a Cult of Reason had been created, which sought to displace the Church with worship of the abstract principle. But Robespierre believed with Rousseau that a god of some sort was necessary to encourage the people on the path of virtue: the deity would be the mainstay of the state. So the Cult of the Supreme Being was inaugurated on June 8, 1794, with a huge ceremony in Paris. Robespierre presided over the proceedings, “with feathers on his hat, and fruit and flowers in his hands”.

Many witnesses at the time and historians since have speculated that this spectacle contributed to the subsequent overthrow and murder of the great man himself. In any case, his religion died with him, and Napoleon banned it; there have been no attempts to revive it.

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