Remonstrance on the Refusal of Sacraments (1751)
In June 1749, the priest of the St.–Etienne–du–Mont parish in Paris, acting on instructions from the Archbishop of Paris, refused the Eucharist and last rites to one of his parishioners who could not produce a "certificate of confession" proving his adherence to the bull Unigenitus. The man, Charles Coffin, could not produce such a certificate, so the priest left him to die without benediction—setting off a mass of protests in the capital. The magistrates of the Parlement of Paris, who knew Coffin personally since he had served as rector at the church–run University of Paris and later was a clerk to the Parlement itself, joined in the protests, issuing this strongly worded "remonstrance" to the King.
The arbitrary refusal of the sacraments given to the dying, notably confession or the right to name their own confessor, multiplies daily. These nascent scandals and difficulties are capable of destroying respect for religion, tainting the submission due to Your Highness and delivering a cruel blow to public peace.
Your parlement, Sire, believes it is giving you one of the greatest proofs of its loyalty by representing to Your Majesty that now is the time to put into action the reform of equally pernicious abuses.
We protest, Sire, in truth, that your parlement does not intend, and has never intended, to impinge on the Legitimate rights of [the Roman Catholic Church's] spiritual power.
Full of the respect and veneration that all Christians must bear towards our religion, the parlement knows that is is only the Church which has the right to teach the faithful, to guide them on the path to salvation, to make decisions upon everything that concerns the dispensation and administration of the sacraments, and to determine the cases in which the faithful can participate and when they must be excluded.
But the same respect with which a Christian magistrate recognizes the Church's legislative power, in that which concerns the passage of souls and the dispensation of our holy mysteries, forces him to perceive the necessity that these laws, once established, must be exactly observed. And what greater and more indispensable work could there be for a Christian king, than to carry out these duties?
To the King alone belongs supreme power along with the ability to put into effect that which he commands; but this power derives from God; his principle duty therefore is to use this power to serve Him who bestows it.
The voice of the Church is the voice of God. Its decrees, in that which is within the province of its power, are absolute laws to which all the faithful and, in particular, the ministers of religion must obey . . . if they stray, should the Christian monarch allow these laws to be trampled with impunity?
The Church, whose power is entirely spiritual, does not have the exterior force to exact obedience. It is therefore necessary for the prince to come to its aid, to employ against offenders those weapons which God has placed in his hands; and while a prince might fear blame for undertaking this under the authority of the Church, it is, on the contrary, a tribute which he pays to the Church, in accordance with his views, by lending it the force which it does not have, to execute those laws which it has established. . . .
When [the Church] abuses its power by unjustly refusing benefits to those who have a right to claim them, there must be a reclamation of the spirit that employs force to remind them [the clergy] of their work.
The prince, by making use of his authority in this way, fulfills the dual protection which he owes, one to the Church to execute its orders, the other to his subjects so that they might enjoy the spiritual and material advantages that have belonged to them from the moment they had the good fortune to be born in his realm. . . .
How many times, Sire, did princes, your predecessors, use their authority to curb the persecutions which some ministers of the Church wanted to exercise against their subjects by prohibitions, censures, or unjust excommunications? . . .
The principles which govern your authority and your absolute sovereignty, are generally known, and no one dares to question them; we can hope that we shall never see anything arise to contradict this [situation]; but these fundamental truths, which constitute the essence of the sacred rights of your crown, demand that we, your magistrates, must always be alert against anything which could be a means to disturb them. . . .
If, therefore, a high minister of the Church should one day undertake to resuscitate false doctrine and to reestablish opinions which are contrary to your authority. . . subordinate ministers . . . feared to openly contravene them. They would have to refuse to give the note of confession to those who were known not to agree with this instruction [from the Archbishop of Paris], and sick people, who would not be able to speak out, might find themselves, in that situation, deprived of those longed-for alleviations and sources of help at the point of death.
What thing is more capable of making an impression on one of the faithful?
Jules Flammermont, Remonstrances du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, vol. 1 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1888–98), 414–43.