“Fireworks exploded over Paris, lighting up the Eiffel Tower. French citizens were celebrating the two-hundred and twenty-ninth anniversary of Bastille Day,” wrote Eric Metaxas, a popular conservative author, speaker and radio host, “a holiday recalling the storming of the Bastille fortress at the beginning of the French Revolution.” Bastille Day, July 16, is the French national holiday.
“While people tend to view the French Revolution in a positive light,” Metaxas continued, “many of its darker elements have been forgotten, or suppressed. As my friend John Zmirak wrote in Crisis magazine, Bastille Day ‘marks the beginning of the greatest organized persecution of Christians since the fourth century…’
“French radicals inspired by secular, Enlightenment philosophy, wanted to expunge all religious influence and replace it with ‘reason.’ This idea was exemplified at Notre Dame, where revolutionaries removed Christian symbols and replaced them with ‘Goddesses of Reason’ – women dressed provocatively in Roman attire who danced about the cathedral—now a Temple of Reason. All clergy were ordered to declare allegiance to the state rather than the church.
“Catholic peasants in the Vendee region revolted; Some 300,000 of these rebels were killed, most in terrible ways. It was, writes historian Francois Furet, ‘massacre and destruction on an unprecedented scale’ and revealed ‘a zeal so violent that it has bestowed as its legacy much of the region’s identity.’
“Ironically, Smirak notes, the French monarchy helped to sow the seed of its own destruction back in 1767, when the King began the suppression of the Jesuits because they were loyal first to Rome and not to the crown.”
Metaxas’ defense of the Jesuits is a subtle rewrite of history. It was the Jesuits that were largely responsible for the French Revolution.
Speaking of the history of France just before the Revolution, the historian von Holst said, “The Jesuits alone flourished in the decaying nation, and ruled with dreadful tyranny over churches and schools, the prisons and the galleys.” (See The Great Controversy, page 279)
It was the Jesuits that were polarizing the population. And the profligate King knew they were deliberately undermining the French nation, bringing it to its knees, and more tightly under the control of the pope. No wonder he accused them of being more loyal to the pope than to the nation.
“The result,” Metaxas continued, “children who would have been educated at Jesuit schools instead had their heads filled with Enlightenment teachings. They reached maturity right round 1789—the year the French Revolution began. Having been taught vicious lies about the behavior of nuns and priests, they heartily approved of their slaughter…”
In actuality, Jesuits inflicted so much pain on society that revolutionaries over-reacted and threw out Christianity along with the Catholic Church. Keep in mind that it was the Jesuits and priests that had inspired the massacre of St. Bartholomew two centuries before in which Protestant Christians, who were the economic engine of France, were slaughtered by the tens of thousands, stripping the country of its wealth along with its morality.
“For seven days the massacre was continued in Paris, the first three with inconceivable fury. And it was not confined to the city itself, but by special order of the king was extended to all the provinces and towns where Protestants were found. Neither age nor sex was respected. Neither the innocent babe nor the man of gray hairs was spared. Noble and peasant, old and young, mother and child, were cut down together. Throughout France the butchery continued for two months. Seventy thousand of the very flower of the nation perished.” The Great Controversy, page 272.
“Today,” Metaxas says, “secular academics celebrate Enlightenment thinking, crediting its embrace of ‘reason’ above all else for great advances in science. But lost is the full story of what happens when ‘reason’ is enshrined above all else: a bloodbath so terrible that, even today, citizens of Vendee wear black armbands on Bastille Day.”
“And this is what we ought to remember when we see efforts to drive religion –and religious believers—from the public square. In America, hostility toward the faithful is at an all-time high. And—as with the French Revolution—we’re seeing determined efforts to force Christians to, in effect, pledge allegiance to the state over the church.”
While this is certainly true, by the suppression of the Bible and the annihilation of those who lived by it more than 200 years before, the Catholic Church was responsible for the bloodbath of the French Revolution and the rejection and persecution of Catholicism and Christianity in general. Removing God from the public square will bring those terrible results. But the solution is not the restoration of Jesuit education and of Catholicism, for Rome’s core principles are unchanged.
“The war against the Bible, carried forward for so many centuries in France, culminated in the scenes of the Revolution. That terrible outbreaking was but the legitimate result of Rome’s suppression of the Scriptures.” The Great Controversy, page 265.
“On Bastille Day, we ought to remember the victims of the French Revolution,” Metaxas concludes, and remind our neighbors what really happened during the years the French fought for Liberté, égalité, and fraternité: Revolution attacked religion, and God was replaced with the guillotine.”
That is largely true. But Metaxas places it on the wrong foundation. He suggests that the Catholic Church was innocently persecuted under Enlightenment revolutionaries. But in reality those very revolutionaries arose because of the abuses of the Roman Church. He has it backwards. While the French Revolution was atrocious, it is also a powerful example of what happens when the Bible is removed from its position of influence on society. It was Protestant Christianity that brought the Bible and God’s light to France during the French Reformation. But the Catholic Church suppressed the scriptures and except for the Huguenots, France descended into darkness and superstition. Now Protestants (evangelicals) are ecumenically rejoining the Catholic Church to fight the moral evils of society. This can only lead to the resurrection of Rome’s principles, including Sunday laws.
Metaxas is arguing that Christians should not be driven from the marketplace and of course they should not. But he is also reflecting the now popular opinion that Rome has advocated for centuries, that the church and its leaders must control the state. American founding fathers wisely separated church and state while securing freedom of religion for all. They made laws that reflected the principles of social order found in the Decalogue’s last six commandments governing relations between man and his fellow man. They insightfully left the first four, including the Sabbath commandment, which instruct us on God’s will for the relationship between man and God to individual understanding of the meaning of those principles.
Modern secularists have been pursuing a legal “freedom from religion” and in the process, have trampled on the religious liberty of others. This has created a reaction. Evangelicals now want to control government and bring church and state back together. Eric Metaxas does not recognize that instead of bringing America back to its founding principles, they are taking America beyond—back to the medieval principle of mixing church and state. His defense of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church is evidence that he is being guided by principles foreign to the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
A nation is blessed by God when its people, individually and in general, recognize His law as binding on them personally. Evangelicals and Catholics have for many years downplayed the role of the Decalogue in personal life. Now, they are backtracking, and advocating the unity of church and state in order to stem the tide of wickedness from the left. But the problem is that Christians themselves have not upheld the Bible and the Law of God in their own lives. Many so-called Christians buy pornography and alcohol. Many so-called Christians commit adultery and divorce their spouses. Many so-called Christians, lie, cheat on their taxes, and live much like their secular neighbors. The Ten Commandments aren’t understood by about the same measure as history is not understood. Consequently, Eric Metaxas and other religious leaders have free reign to rewrite history, turning it on its head, and returning to the governance of the church over the state. May God help us.