A non-juring priest’s declaration (1791)

In January 1791 a non-juring priest submitted the following statement to his parishioners, explaining his decision not to swear the National Constituent Assembly’s oath:

“To the municipality of the Parish of Quesques…

Declaration of the parish priest regarding the oath required by the Assembly:

I declare that my religion does not allow me to take an oath such as the National Assembly requires. I am happy and I even promise to watch over, as well as one possibly can, the faithful of this parish who are entrusted to me; to be true to the nation and the king; and to observe the Constitution decreed by the National Assembly and sanctioned by the king, in all that is within the competence of his power, in all that belongs to him in the order of purely civil and political matters..

But where the government and the laws of the Church are concerned, I recognise no superior and other legislators than the Pope and the bishops. You Christians would certainly not wish to be led by apostates and schismatics, and I would be such a one if I had the cowardice to take an oath such as the National Assembly requires, for according to our faith, the sovereign pontiff is not only at the centre of Catholic unity and has primacy of honour in all the Church, but also primacy of jurisdiction…

By taking this oath I would have sworn no longer to recognise our Holy Father the Pope and head of the Church, or the bishops as its governors since the National Assembly wishes to attribute this right to itself alone. My confidence in refusing the oath that the National Assembly requires will teach you, Christians, that neither the fear of being pursued, nor this interest that we are often reproached for having at the wrong moment, can make me betray my conscience. This will be an example for any of you who may lose your possessions, your fortune, even your life if necessary, rather than abandon your faith, your religion and offend your God.

These are the sentiments of he who has the honour of being your most humble servant.

With much fraternal feeling
Parish priest of Quesques et Lottinghem.”