Commission of Regulars

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A French royal commission created in 1766 to regulate religious orders with solemn vows. Five archbishops and five lay councilors of state were members of the Commission, which lasted until 1780, when it was replaced by the Commission of Unions. This in turn was replaced in 1784 by the Bureau of Regulars, attached to the chancery until its abolition in 1790. To discover the condition of the orders, the Commission gathered an enormous amount of information from religious and their superiors, and from the hierarchy. Replies to its detailed questionnaires convinced the Commission of the decadent state of religious orders. Religious complained that superiors abused their authority and misappropriated community goods; superiors decried the disobedience of their subjects; and the bishops objected to the exemptions and wealth of the religious houses. In 1768 a regal act fixed the minimum age for religious profession at 21 years for men and 18 for women. Also it decreed that a religious house outside of a congregation must have at least 15 in its community, and in a house under a general chapter, at least nine. No order was permitted to have more than one house in a town. Exemption was practically ended in 1773. The Commission insisted that general chapters meet and revise constitutions in a more democratic sense. Mendicant orders, however, whose headquarters were in Rome, attempted to thwart this design. The Commission obliged orders to reestablish conventual life by suppressing some houses and uniting members in other houses. Several orders were suppressed because they were considered incapable or reconstituting conventual life.

Parlement, especially the Parlement of Paris, exercised control over the Commission's activity. After the fall of the Duke of Choiseul in 1770, the Parlements became hostile. Rome felt obliged to tolerate the Commission and recognized the legality of its changing of constitutions and suppressions of orders. The papal nuncio to Paris was unable to obtain any substantial concessions from the Commission, however, despite his constant efforts.

Archbishop Étienne lomÉnie de brienne, rapporteur of the Commission and an instrument of Choiseul, was the prime mover in its activities. The 111 volumes extant in the Collection de Brienne in the National Archives are adequate proof of his industry. Accusations that he aimed at the total ruin of the orders are unjust. In good faith Loménie believed that constitutional reform and renewed social utility would suffice to revivify monastic life. As an organ of the ancien régime the Commission of Regulars was animated by a spirit of enlightened despotism and accomplished unwittingly a task whose tendency was revolutionary. The French Revolution, in a different spirit, completed the suppression of religious life.

Bibliography: s. lemaire, La Commission des réguliers, 176680 (Paris 1926). p. chevallier, Loménie de Brienne et l'ordre monastique, 176689 (Paris 1959 ).

[p. chevallier]

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Commission of Regulars

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Commission of Regulars