Assemblies of the French Clergy

Representative meetings of the clergy of France to apportion their liabilities under the impost laid by the French kings upon the Church. Originally held every five years, they later became ten-yearly meetings and, after the suspension of the meetings of the States-General, became practically the only representative body during 200 years. The organization provided for the election of four deputies from each ecclesiastical province; parish priests and even subdeacons were competent to act as delegates, but those selected were nearly always from the higher ranks, and a bishop invariably acted as president. A receiver-general was appointed for each ten years, over whom two ecclesiastics known as Agents Generaux had jurisdiction. These Agents Generaux were also privileged to speak before the king's council; among them were Montesquieu and Talleyrand. The clergy had practically a separate administration apart from the state, a tribute to their reputation for reliability and fair dealing, the records showing the confidence with which private individuals made rental contracts with the Church. Several features were worthy of note for their progressiveness, notably the plan of converting annuities for the reduction of interest. During the Crusades contributions were frequently exacted from ecclesiastical property and immense sums for the defense of the kingdom were subscribed by the association at various times, notably during the wars of religion of the Reformation period, the siege of La Rochelle, and later wars, even for the expenses occasioned by the American Revolution. French kings on several occasions thanked the Assembly for their services to the monarchy and the fatherland, and their relations with the throne continued till the Revolution, the last meeting being in 1788. Doctrinal and spiritual matters were also considered and the Conference of Poissy was assembled to discuss Protestantism and the reform doctrines and to devise measures to meet heresies and schisms. Against the philosophers of the 18th century, the Assembly strove to encourage and arouse Christian writers. The Assembly of 1682 was summoned to consider the claim known as the Régale, by which the French kings assumed the right to appropriate the revenues of vacant sees and to appoint successors to benefices. The controversy was decided in favor of Louis XIV, who asked the Assembly to define the authority of the pope. Awed by the power of the king, the Assembly drew up the "Four Articles," which will be found n under the title Gallicanism.

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