During my senior year of college, I took a class on the French Revolution — my first real academic exposure to that seminal period since a brief survey in high school. Going into the class, I was confident in my understanding of the Revolution, a narrative more or less predicated on the traditional historiography: the French Revolution was a struggle against an oppressive monarchy in defense of the same basic principles as our own revolution in the United States, though perhaps with a bit more bloodshed. Guillotines or not, how could one take umbrage at such lofty ideals as liberty, equality, and fraternity?
Such was the extent of my understanding of the Revolution at the time I began the college class, a misguided view (as I would learn) that my Catholic high school education criminally failed to correct.
In what turned out to be the biggest seismic shock of my academic career, my professor quickly disabused me of my preconceived notions and tipped over the first domino that would soon cause the total reorientation of the foundations of my political and philosophical worldview. The class showed me, for the first time, the ugly and unvarnished truth of modern France’s founding myth: the guillotine, yes, but also the Vendée. The mass shootings and drownings of nuns and priests. The desecration of the churches — Notre Dame itself was converted to a hideous “Temple of Reason” under the careful eye of Robespierre and his republican thugs. The virtual abolition of the Catholic Church in France and the forced conversion of priests into mere civil servants. The expulsion or arrest of those priests and bishops who would not conform — then, as in the England of St. John Fisher, a depressing minority. The senseless savagery, the unbridled, visceral rage — is this what modern Europe proudly holds up as the fruit of Enlightenment?
For the first time in my life, I began to doubt the received wisdom that, whatever its faults, the French Revolution ultimately liberated the French people and was a bold step forward in the quest for La Raison. This first domino toppled my views on the (previously not to be challenged!) Euro-American dogma that democracy is the highest, indeed only form of government, and later on the very legitimacy of republican forms of government themselves.
The tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris brought me back to that lecture hall of my college class. I can only say what so many others are saying: is there no more fitting metaphor for the absolute state of the Church in France — indeed, in Western Europe — today? What distinguishes today’s Frenchman from his forefather of 1789? The French Revolution was not an event; it was a regime, and one that still reigns in the secular Wahhabism that is the French policy of laïcité.
Watching such a great treasure of the Catholic patrimony go up in flames brought me grief, yes, but it also awakened in me a sense of righteous anger born of God’s infinite justice: as the Apostle reminds us, God will not be mocked. In a nation where Mass attendance has fallen to single digits, is it any wonder that God has taken back what is His? In a city where the average church hosts more iPad-clutching, shorts-clad tourists in a single day than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass attracts in months, did we honestly expect anything different from what transpired Monday? In this part of the European continent, where one can sooner find a rainbow banner than an altar rail in the sanctuary, did we really think God would be mocked indefinitely?
Regicide has become deicide. Where once men beheaded their earthly kings, they still strive to decapitate their heavenly King. The Temple of Reason has once more become the funeral pyre of the Faith.
Much has been made of Islam’s alleged threat to “Christian Europe.” If the people of France have taught us anything, and if the events of this week are any proof of divine justice, then it is clear that the people of France and indeed of Western Europe need no help from the Muslims in destroying their culture, their heritage, their faith.
Louis XVI, king of France, martyr of France, pray for us. Holy martyrs of the Vendée, pray for us. O Lord, Who promised to destroy the temple made by human hands and in three days raise it up once more, have mercy on us.
Editor’s note: This essay was submitted to 1P5 by an anonymous Catholic.