The Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790)


The Civil Constitution of the Clergy reorganised the Catholic church in France. The main articles are given below. The Civil Constitution sought to bring the Church under rules similar to those the National Assembly was drawing up for the state:


Title One

Article One. Each department shall form a single diocese, and each diocese shall have the same extent and the same limits as the department…

Article Four. No church or parish of France nor any French citizen may acknowledge upon any occasion, or upon any pretext whatsoever, the authority of an ordinary bishop or of an archbishop whose see shall be under the supremacy of a foreign power, nor that of his representatives residing in France or elsewhere; without prejudice, however, to the unity of the faith and the intercourse which shall be maintained with the visible head of the universal Church, as hereafter provided…

Article Twenty. All titles and offices other than those mentioned in the present constitution … are from the day of this decree extinguished and abolished and shall never be reestablished in any form.

Title Two

Article One. Beginning with the day of publication of the present decree, there shall be but one mode of choosing bishops and parish priests, namely that of election.

Article Two. All elections shall be by ballot and shall be decided by the absolute majority of the votes.

Article Three. The election of bishops shall take place according to the forms and by the electoral body designated in the decree of December 22nd 1789, for the election of members of the departmental assembly…

Article Six. The election of a bishop can only take place or be undertaken upon Sunday, in the principal church of the chief town of the department, at the close of the parish mass, at which all the electors are required to be present.

Article Seven. In order to be eligible to a bishopric, one must have fulfilled for fifteen years at least the duties of the church ministry in the diocese, as a parish priest, officiating minister, or curate, or as superior, or as directing vicar of the seminary.

Article Nineteen. The new bishop may not apply to the pope for any form of confirmation, but shall write to him, as to the visible head of the universal Church, as a testimony to the unity of faith and communion maintained with him…

Article Twenty One. Before the ceremony of consecration begins, the bishop elect shall take a solemn oath, in the presence of the municipal officers, of the people, and of the clergy, to guard with care the faithful of his diocese who are confided to him, to be loyal to the nation, the law, and the king, and to support with all his power the constitution decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the king…

Article Twenty Five. The election of the parish priests shall take place according to the forms and by the electors designated in the decree of December 22nd 1789… Bishoprics and cures shall be looked upon as vacant until those elected to fill them shall have taken the oath above mentioned.

Title Three

Article One. The ministers of religion, performing as they do the first and most important functions of society and forced to live continuously in the place where they discharge the offices to which they have been called by the confidence of the people, shall be supported by the nation.

Article Two. Every bishop, priest, and officiating clergyman in a chapel of ease shall be furnished with a suitable dwelling, on condition, however, that the occupant shall make all the necessary current repairs. This shall not affect at present, in any way, those parishes where the priest now receives a money equivalent instead of his dwelling. The departments shall, moreover, have cognisance of suits arising in this connection, brought by the parishes and by the priests. Salaries shall be assigned to each, as indicated below.

Article Three. The bishop of Paris shall receive fifty thousand livres; the bishops of the cities having a population of fifty thousand or more, twenty thousand livres ; other bishops, twelve thousand livres…

Article Five. The salaries of the parish priests shall be as follows: in Paris, 6,000 livres; in cities having a population of 50,000 or over, 4,000 livres; in those having a population of less than 50,000 and more than 10,000, 3,000 livres; in cities and towns of which the population is below 10,000 and more than 3,000, 2,400 livres. In all other cities, towns, and villages where the parish shall have a population between 3,000 and 2,500, 2,000 livres; in those between 2,500 and 2,000, 1,800 livres; in those having a population of less than 2,000 and more than 1,000, the salary shall be 1,500 livres; in those having 1,000 inhabitants and under, 1,200 livres…

Article Seven. The salaries in money of the ministers of religion shall be paid every three months, in advance, by the treasurer of the district…

Article Twelve. In view of the salary which is assured to them by the present constitution, the bishops, parish priests, and curates shall perform the episcopal and priestly functions gratis.

Title Four

Article One. The law requiring the residence of ecclesiastics in the districts under their charge shall be strictly observed. All vested with an ecclesiastical office or function shall be subject to this, without distinction or exception.

Article Two. No bishop shall absent himself from his diocese more than two weeks consecutively during the year, except in case of real necessity and with the consent of the directory of the department in which his see is situated.

Article Three. In the same manner, the parish priests and the curates may not absent themselves from the place of their duties beyond the term fixed above, except for weighty reasons, and even in such cases the priests must obtain the permission both of their bishop and of the directory of their district, and the curates that of the parish priest…

Article Six. Bishops, parish priests, and curates may, as active citizens, be present at the primary and electoral assemblies; they may be chosen electors, or as deputies to the legislative body, or as members of the general council of the communes or of the administrative councils of their districts or departments.”