Montesquieu

The clergy took in so much that, in the three dynas­ties, it must have been given all the pro­per­ties in the king­dom seve­ral times over. But if the kings, the nobi­lity, and the peo­ple found the means of giving them all their pro­perty, they no less found the means of taking it away. Churches were foun­ded out of piety in the first dynasty, but the mili­tary spi­rit cau­sed them to be given to men of war who divi­ded them among their chil­dren : how much land must have left the clergy’s books ! The kings of the second dynasty ope­ned their hands, and again made enor­mous libe­ra­li­ties ; the Normans come, pillage, and ravage, per­se­cute above all the priests and monks, search the abbeys, look where they will find some reli­gious spot ; in that state how many pro­per­ties did the clergy lose ! There were scar­cely any eccle­sias­tics to ask for them back. There still remai­ned, the­re­fore, for the piety of the third dynasty, enough foun­da­tions to create and lands to give ; the opi­nions that were spread and belie­ved in those times would have depri­ved lay­men of all their pro­perty if they had been honest men enough. But if the eccle­sias­tics had ambi­tion, the lay­men did too ; if the dying man gave, the suc­ces­sor wan­ted to take back. We see nothing but quar­rels bet­ween lords and bishops, gent­le­men and abbots ; and the eccle­sias­tics must have been sorely pres­sed, since they were obli­ged to put them­sel­ves under the pro­tec­tion of cer­tain lords who would defend them for a moment, and oppress them after­wards.

Already a bet­ter order that took hold in the course of the third dynasty allo­wed the eccle­sias­tics to increase their hol­dings. The Calvinists appea­red, and had coins struck from eve­ry­thing gold or sil­ver that was in the chur­ches. How could the clergy have been assu­red of its for­tune ? Even its exis­tence was not assu­red : it dealt with the mat­ters of contro­versy, and its archi­ves were being bur­ned. What good was it to ask back from a still rui­ned nobi­lity what it no lon­ger had, or what it had mort­ga­ged in a thou­sand ways ? The clergy has always acqui­red, it has always given back, and it acqui­res again.