- Aug 7, 2002
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I was reading of the fellow and came across this in the Wikipedia entry, which I don't think I had read before:
Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited only to the political realm. He also opposed the Catholic Church and the pope, particularly their policy of clerical celibacy. Having denounced the Cult of Reason and other perceived excesses of dechristianization undertaken by political opponents in France, he sought to instil a spiritual resurgence across the nation predicated on Deist beliefs. On 6 May 1794 Robespierre announced to the Convention that in the name of the French people, the Committee of Public Safety had decided to recognize the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. Accordingly, on 7 May, Robespierre delivered a long presentation to the Convention ‘on the relation of religious and moral ideas to republican principles, and on national festivals’. Robespierre supported a decree that the Convention passed to establish an official state religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being. The notion of the Supreme Being was based on the creed of the Savoy chaplain that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in Book IV of Emile.
In the afternoon of 8 June (also the Christian holiday of Pentecost) a "Festival of the Supreme Being" was held. Everything was arranged to the exact specifications that had been drawn up previously set before the ceremony. The ominous and symbolic guillotine had been moved to the original standing place of the Bastille. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers with their babies were specifically invited to walk in the procession which started at the Tuileries. (Joachim Vilate had invited Robespierre to have lunch in the Pavillon de Flore, but he ate little.)
The festival was also Robespierre's first appearance in the public eye as a leader for the people, and also as president of the convention, to which he had been elected only four days earlier. Witnesses state that throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre beamed with joy. He was able to speak of the things about which he was truly passionate, including virtue, nature, deist beliefs and his disagreements with atheism. He dressed elaborately, wearing feathers on his hat and holding fruit and flowers in his hands, and walked first in the festival procession. According to Michelet: "Robespierre, as usual, walked quickly, with an agitated air. The Convention did not move nearly so fast. The leaders, perhaps maliciously and out of perfidious deference, remained well behind him, thereby isolating him." The procession ended on the Champ de Mars. The Convention climbed to the summit, where a liberty tree had been planted. (The choirs were composed by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul and François-Joseph Gossec, with lyrics from the obscure poet Théodore Désorgues.) Robespierre delivered two speeches in which he emphasized his concept of a Supreme Being:
Robespierre came down the mountain in a way that resembled Moses as the leader of the people. To offset his small stature (5’3" = 160 cm), he wore elevated shoes with silver buckles. While for some it was exciting to see him at his finest, other deputies agreed that Robespierre had played too prominent a role. Someone was heard saying, "Look at the blackguard; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God". On 15 June, the president of the Committee of General Security Vadier on behalf of the two committees presented a report on a new conspiracy by Catherine Théot, Christophe Antoine Gerle and three others. He insinuated that Robespierre fitted her prophecies. His speech caused much laughter in the convention. Robespierre felt ridiculed and demanded on the 26th that the investigation of Théot be stopped and Fouquier-Tinville replaced. Robespierre with his ‘tyrannical habit of judging’ demanded the heads of nine people, who opposed his republic of virtue. According to Madame de Staël, it was from that time he was lost.Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.