Today marks the 231st anniversary of the official beginning of the French Revolution, back in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille prison. Much ado is made of this ‘storming’, even though there were only seven inmates still vast, stone edifice. The Marquis de Sade (from whom we derive the term ‘sadism’) had been imprisoned therein for his licentious books advocating all sorts of the worst sexual deviance – now on the curriculum at many of our universities, and which provide the basis for such Hollywood drivel as Fifty Shades of Grey (or is that Gray?). The Marquis’ life, since he was one of the despised and soo-to-be-slaughtered-wholesale ‘noblemen’, was likely spared in that he had been transferred out of the dreaded dungeon ten days earlier.
The bloodshed of the Revolution was in many ways a reaction against the tyranny of the ancien regime, which had oppressed the common people, signifying what Saint Thomas states about the over-reach of public law. Some of the causes of the revolutionaries were just, but in the end, their means were most unjust, to put it mildly. Untold thousands, priests, nuns, laymen, put to death in the most horrific of ways. As happens in most such things, the ’cause’ ended up devouring its very protagonists, with Robespierre in the end facing (or is that ‘heading’?) the same guillotine to which he had sent so many.
A sermon I once heard on this day a few years ago mentioned the Revolution, reflecting upon this historical ‘event’, which destructive forces razed the old world, and formed not only modern France, but the modern world. What is old, is new again, as we face similar anarchic winds blowing – but the neo-pagans of our era seem the lack even the residual virtues of those of 1789 who, for all their at times demonic rage, still held some Catholic echo, if you will of liberté égalité et fraternité. Not so much now, where everything is being cancelled, annuled and obliterated, with almost no awareness – in face, a deep hatred – of whatever and whomever came before.
As the priest of that homily reminded us, however, the best revolution, really the only one that can fulfill justice, is the one motivated by charity, a revolution within the soul, a metanoia, a conversion of heart and mind, to love, to will the true good, of the other.
In other words, a revolution of the saints, when they come marchin’ on through history.
On that note, I will have more on today’s very a propos saint, Camillus de Lellis, in a short while…