An Enlightened Political Laboratory: the Ecclesiastical Reforms of Joseph II in the Opinion of French Publicists
Abstract: This essay analyzes three different levels of French discourse concerning Josephine ecclesiastical reforms; the secret Jansenist periodical Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques, diplomatic correspondence between French foreign minister Earl Vergennes and the French envoys to the royal court in Vienna, Ambassador Earl Breteuil and chargé d’affaires François Barthélémy; and an enlightened political discourse by Honoré-Gabriel Riquetti, le Comte de Mirabeau. These sources allow the French view of the Josephine reforms to be pursued from various different angles. Each of these forms of discourse paid attention to the monarch’s religious activity for differing reasons, posed different questions, used different sources for information, accentuated different issues and reached different conclusions.
While Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques regarded the Josephine ecclesiastical reforms as the realization of a Jansenist model of the establishment of the church and the state and the French diplomats accused it of being overly hasty and dangerous for the country, Mirabeau, on the contrary, considered them too restrained and unfinished; in his opinion, the Emperor could have gone even further. Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques used information on Josephine ecclesiastical reforms to support Jansenist concepts of arranging the church; diplomats were concerned with the question of whether the opinions of Enlightenment philosophers could be applied in practice and whether the state would become stronger or weaker, while Mirabeau pursued the methods and techniques of the reforms. The French reality and its comparison with events in the Habsburg monarchy penetrated all three discourses. While Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques recommended following the Josephine example in France, the French diplomats warned against this progress and Mirabeau went so far as to recommend that Joseph II follow a French example in some issues.
These discourses have given us an opportunity to observe how the participants in ecclesiastical reforms and the initiator of the reforms, Emperor Joseph II, gradually changed in accordance with different situations and the persons involved.
Key words: French Enlightenment, Jansenism, Josephine reforms, public opinion