History 117 – Final Exam One
May 23, 2013
The Rise of European Secularism During the Nineteenth Century
Word Count: 2,152
In Europe, the long nineteenth century, (1789-1914) was a tumultuous era of political, economic, and social revolution which created an increasingly secular culture. Europeans of all races and classes looked outside the church to solve societal and familial issues. Gifted intellectuals proposed new philosophies on human thought and behavior, while innovative communication allowed ideas to travel quicker and easier than ever before. By the early 1800’s, Europeans began to question the role and necessity of the church and religion in their lives. Revolutionaries developed political and social
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The 1791 Constitution subordinated the church to the state, assuming the administrative role of paying the clergy, which effectively made them employees of the state, and not the Vatican. Clerical offices would now become elected positions which required swearing an oath of loyalty to the constitution.6 The sweeping constitutional reform of the Catholic Church was a devastating political blow to the power structure of the church. The Pope and the Vatican abhorred the proposed changes, and threatened priests with excommunication for swearing allegiance to the new constitution. In an even bigger financial blow to the church, the state called for the confiscation of church lands, and subsequently sold the property at reduced value in order to pay the state’s enormous debt. Of all the changes which took place during the revolutionary period, the degraded relationship between the state and the Catholic Church caused the greatest resentment among the French people.7 When the new French government assumed control of the clergy and the administration of confiscated church lands, significant power was taken away from the church and placed into the hands of the government.8 Stripping the power of the church was indeed a coup for liberals who sought to eliminate the vestiges of the old power structure and create a new secular state.
In Britain, the 1800’s witnessed a significant reduction of membership in the Anglican Church, and an