The French Deists

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THE FRENCH DEISTS In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the French deists were the most influential group of deists.   In the French Revolution, they were in control of the government and its policies for awhile.  Theophilanthropy was a deist religious cultus started in the French Revolution.  It spread natural religion deism.  Information on people associated with Theophilanthropy came from Albert Mathiez, Le Theophilanthropie et le Culte Decadaire  (Paris, 1904).     Robert Challe  (1659-1721) was a well-educated soldier and writer.  He wrote one of the best expositions of natural religion deism.   A good introduction to his ideas is the epilogue in the last section of his Militaire philosophe ou Difficultes sur la religion proposes au R. P. Malebranche (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation,1983), 345-351.  A discussion of the book’s ideas is in C. J. Betts, Early Deism In France (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984), 137-156.   A. J. B. Chapuis  was a former priest who married during the French Revolution.  He was a government administrator during the French Revolution.  He often gave talks to the Theophilanthropists and founded their first school. A good introduction to his ideas is the short pamphlet De l’origine du culte des théophilantropes (Paris, year VI). Francois Chas (fl. 1780) wrote  two books defending Rousseau from attacks on him.  He was a natural religion deist who did not write much concerning his deist ideas. Jean Baptiste Chemin-Dupontes  (1760-1852) was the founder of  Theophilanthropy.  The best introduction to his ideas is pages 5-30 of his Manuel de Theophilantropes (Paris, 1798). Creuze-Latouche  helped to establish Theophilanthropy.   Francois-Antoine Daubermesnil was active in the French Revolution.  He was a natural religion deist who was not hostile to Christianity in his published writings.   His ideas for a new religion was a forerunner to Theophilanthropy.  The best introduction to his ideas is the the first twenty five pages of  Extraits d’un manuscript entitled le culte des adorateurs (Paris, 1796). Julien de la Drome fils was a friend of Robespierre, and helped spread Theophilanthropy in Italy.  He was a natural religion deist.  Part of a brochure with his ideas is quoted in Albert Mathiez, Le Theophilanthropie et le Culte Decadaire  (Paris, 1904),382-3. Dupont de Nemours was a well-known economist and intellectual.  He significantly contributed to establishing Theophilanthropy as a church.  He also thought the adherents should pray before meals.  Philippe-Jacques-Étienne-Vincent Guilbert (1763- ) was a vicar, but he quit in the French Revolution.  He was then a man of letters and a newspaper publisher.  He founded a Theophilanthropic society in Rouen. Valentin Hauy (1745- 1822) was the founder of the first school for the blind and was very actively involved in the French Revolution.  He was an enthusiastic supporter of Theophilanthropy, and he has often been called the second founder of the organization.  He helped rewrite their manuals and had his choir of blind children sing at their first mass. M. Jeanne (c. 1725-c.1800) was one of the five members of the committee to direct the first Theophilanthropy group. Lebeshcu de La Bastays  (fl. 1792) was a doctor in Paris and a philosophe.  He was a natural religion deist.  The best introduction to his deist ideas is his short pamphlet Culte philosophique (Paris, 1792). Sebastien Lacroix (1768-18??) was a governmental official in Marseille and editor of a journal for republicans there.  He was a natural religion deist who excoriated revealed religions in his short pamphlet La religion naturelle  (Marseille, 179?). Claude Leger (fl. 1795) was a priest and professor of history.  During the French Revolution he married.  He was instrumental in establishing Theophilanthropy in Chalons-sur-Marne. Malfuson (fl 1795) was a former Protestant minister.  He composed poems for the Theophilanthropists in Bourges and was active in establishing Theophilanthropy there. Jean Paul Marat (1743-1793) was a physician, scientist, and writer.  He was one of the leaders of the French Revolution.  He expresses some of his deism in A Philosophical Essay on Man, 2 vols, (London, 1773), volume 1, pages vi, 33, and 155 (bottom note).  Abbe Michel (d. c. 1799) had been a devout priest before the revolution and had written several books.  During the revolution he married.  He was one of the first lecturers among the Theophilanthropists and put some of their hymns into poetic form. M. Moreau (c. 1725-c.1800) was one of the five members of the committee to direct the first Theophilanthropy group. Jullien Paillet (fl. 1795) was a watchmaker involved in French Revolutionary activities in Dijon.  He established Theophilanthropy in Dijon. Francois-Nicolas Parent (1752- ) was a priest before the French Revolution but then quit, saying all priests were charlatans.  He was a natural religion deist who gave sermons during the services of the Theophilanthropists and wrote some hymns for them.  The best introduction to his ideas is this short talk:  Discours sur l’amour de nos semblables (n. p., 179?). Philippe-Aristide-Louis-Pierre Plancher de Valcour  (1751-1815) was a playwright and theater director in Paris.   He gave a sermon honoring God for blessing France with liberty over the British and their allies during the French Revolution.  He was a natural religion deist.  His deist ideas can be read in this short pamphlet Discours prononcé le 20 prairal, jour de la fête consacrée à l’Etre Suprême (Paris, 1794). Goupil de Prefelne wanted to replace Catholicism with a deistic natural religion and enthusiastically supported Theophilanthropy. Pierre-F. Robert (fl. 1795) was an ex-priest who was instrumental in establishing Theophilanthropy in Chaisneau. Charles-Cesar Robin was a writer best known nowadays for his description of his journey through Louisiana.  A good introduction to his deist ideas is pages 3-9 & 30-40 of his De la religion naturelle (Paris, 1798). Jean-Jacques Rousseau  (1712-1778) was one of the most influential thinkers of the eighteenth century.   His deist ideas were tremendously influential, as was his political philosophy, his educational ideas, and his thoughts on the proper role of women.  The best introduction to his ideas is the last half of his  Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar. Louis-Antoine-Leon de Saint-Just   (1767-1794) was one of the leaders of the French Revolution during the Terror.  A good introduction to his deist ideas is the middle part of his Discours pour la Defense de Robespierre (1) which is pages 346-355 of Oeuvres de Saint-Just, (Paris, 1834). Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) was an engineer in the army who wrote the extremely popular novel Paul and Virginia.  He was very involved with spreading Theophilanthropy, including writing hymns for the organization. Etienne-Marie Siauve was a priest, an excellent orator, and a writer who emphasized the importance of education.  During the French Revolution he got married and became the editor of the chief Theophilanthropist periodical, L’Echo.  He was a natural religion deist.  His ideas are  discussed in pages 290-302 of Albert Mathiez, Le Theophilanthropie et le Culte Decadaire  (Paris, 1904). J.  F. Sobry was an architect, poet, and writer.  He was an early supporter of Theophilanthropy. Simon Tyssot de Patot (1655-1738) was a teacher of French and mathematics.  He wrote the novel the Voyages of Jacques Masse and caused a scandal in 1726 with his irreligious views in his Lettres choisies.  A discussion of his deist ideas is in C. J. Betts, Early Deism In France (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984), 185-204. Lefebvre de Villebrune, was a professor of Hebrew and a translator of the works of Epictetus and Hippocrates.  He participated in establishing Theophilanthropy. C. F. Volney (1757-1820) was a historian, orientalist, and philosopher.  He was a natural religion deist.  The best introduction to his ideas is pages 110-119 and pages 303-314 of Ruins, 6th ed. (Paris, 1820). Voltaire (1694-1778) was one of the best-known writers and thinkers of the Enlightenment. The best introduction to his deist ideas is his short piece, The Sermon of the Fifty              

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