Henri Gregoire

Henri Gregoire

French Catholic priest, later bishop
Date of Birth: 04.12.1750
Country: France

Biography of Henri Grégoire

Henri Grégoire was a French Catholic priest and later bishop, as well as a prominent figure during the French Revolution. He was born in Vého near Lunéville into a peasant family and was educated by Jesuits in Nancy. As a priest, he focused on promoting morality and education in his rural parish of Emberménil, teaching peasants about hygiene and better farming techniques. In his work "Essai sur la régénération des juifs" (1789), he advocated for religious tolerance and the emancipation of Jews.

Grégoire was elected as a deputy for the clergy of the Nancy district in the Estates General and was the first among the clergy to advocate for joining forces with the Third Estate. He highlighted the divide between the poor, oppressed rural clergy and the higher clergy aligned with the nobility. In the National Constituent Assembly, he supported the abolition of nobility privileges, the emancipation of Jews, and granting civil rights to free-born blacks and mulattoes in the colonies as a transition towards complete abolition of slavery.

Grégoire played a significant role in the reorganization of the French Church. When the civil constitution of the clergy was established in 1790, he was the first to take the oath and encouraged other clergy members to do the same. He was subsequently elected as the bishop of Blois but mostly resided in Paris.

During the flight of Louis XVI, Grégoire proposed the idea of putting the king on trial. In the National Convention, he intended to propose the proclamation of a republic in the first session on September 21, 1792. However, he was persuaded by friends to speak out against it. He delivered a powerful speech, describing the history of kings as the martyrdom of nations. On November 15, 1792, he defended the people's right to judge the king as their first servant but simultaneously proposed the abolition of the death penalty, which he saw as a remnant of barbarism. As a result of this speech, he was elected as the president of the Convention for a regular term.

During the Reign of Terror, Grégoire distanced himself from the events and concentrated his efforts in the Committee of Public Instruction. He developed an extensive plan to establish libraries, agricultural schools, and more throughout France. He initiated the creation of the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts and the National Institute.

Grégoire faced opposition due to his firm defense of his religious beliefs and his Christian priestly dignity, which affected his popularity. Alongside Augustin Clément, he actively advocated for the protection of religion. At his insistence, the Convention issued a decree on freedom of worship, although it existed only on paper. Grégoire became a member of the Council of Five Hundred, later a member and president of the Legislative Corps, and finally a senator. However, he no longer played a prominent political role. Under the Concordat of 1801, Grégoire and other so-called "constitutional bishops" were required to renounce their titles. However, he never ceased to consider himself a legitimate bishop and rarely used the count title bestowed upon him in 1808.

In an effort to refute the belief in the inferiority of black people, Grégoire published the books "De la littérature des nègres" (Paris, 1808), which collected all writings by black or mulatto authors, and "De la traite et de l'esclavage des noirs et des blancs" (Paris, 1809 and 1815) about the slave trade and slavery. After the Restoration, in his work "De la constitution française de l'an 1814" (Paris, 1814, 4th edition 1819), Grégoire pointed out the shortcomings of the Charter. The Bourbon government viewed him with strong hostility. When Grenoble elected Grégoire as a deputy in 1819, it caused significant controversy among royalists. Despite having protested against the king's execution, Grégoire was labeled as a regicide. King Louis XVIII, forgetting that he himself had made Fouché a minister not long before, saw Grégoire's election as a threat to the Bourbon dynasty, and the election was invalidated.

The clergy persecuted Grégoire with particular animosity. Prior to his death on May 28, 1831, they demanded that he renounce the oath he had taken in 1790, and when he refused, they denied him the sacraments and a Christian burial.

Among Grégoire's numerous writings, notable works include "Histoire des sectes religieuses" (Paris, 1814-45), "Essai historique sur les libertés de l'Église gallicane" (Paris, 1818, 2nd edition 1826), and "Histoire des confessions des empereurs, des rois etc." (Paris, 1824). His memoirs were published by Carnot (Paris, 1831) with a biography of Grégoire as an appendix. Boris Vrassky translated Grégoire's work "On the Influence of the Christian Religion on the Condition of Women" (St. Petersburg, 1823) into Russian.

In 1814, Grégoire was elected as an honorary member of Kazan University among 28 individuals recognized for their scholarship. He was nominated by orientalist Frén and confirmed by Minister of Public Education Count Razumovsky. However, in 1821, upon the initiative of Magnitsky, the Council of Kazan University found it "not only contrary to justice but also inappropriate to have a person who participated in a terrible crime" (the execution of the king) in the university's ranks. This decision was approved by the main administration of educational institutions, and Grégoire was stripped of his title as an honorary member of Kazan University.