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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(Gr. lovers of God and man), the name assumed by a party of French deists during the Reign of Terror to indicate their adherence to a natural or theistic religion and worship which were intended to supersede Christianity. In February, 1795, freedom of religious opinion, and with it of religious worship, was allowed; and it was clear that neither Christianity nor Catholicism in its usual forms had been driven out of the hearts of the people. The civil authorities were much concerned lest the old political sympathies for royalty should revive with Catholicism. Still, a felt consciousness of the necessity of some religion led may to adopt a form of worship adapted to a natural religion. The foundation of this new religion was laid in 1796 by five heads of families, who, having declared themselves Theophilanthropists, met together every week for united prayer, to listen to moral remarks, and to sing hymns in honor of God. In the same year a kind of catechism or directory for public or social worship was published at Paris under the title of Manuel des Theantrophiles. This breviary was based on the simple fundamental articles of a belief in the existence of God and'in the immortality of the soul.

In 1797 Lareveillere-Lepaux stood at the head of the society; the Directory assigned ten parish churches to the rapidly growing association, and the new worship soon spread over the provinces. As to their mode of worship, there was a simple altar-whereon flowers and fruit, according to their season, were placed as thank- offerings-and a rostrum for the speaker. The walls were adorned with moral mottoes, such as, "Children, honor your parents and respect your elders;" "Husbands and wives, be kind to one another." Instead of the traditional festivals, there now occurred those of nature, arranged according to the seasons of the year; in the place of sacraments, there were arbitrary and highly sentimental ceremonies, which took place at the birth of a child, at the reception of new members, at celebrations of marriage, at distribution of prizes to children, and at funerals. They had four special festivals, in honor of Socrates, St. Vincent de Paul, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Washington. As religious feeling began to revive, the Theophilanthropists began to decline. They and their sentimental trumpery were turned out of the churches; the Revolutionary government forbade them, Oct. 4, 1801, to use even the three churches which were left in their hands; and when their petition for holding their services elsewhere was refused, the Theophilanthropist religion soon died of inanition, despised by the infidel party as well as by those who still remained Christians. An attempt to revive it after the revolution of 1830 utterly failed. See Blunt, Dict. of Sects, s.v.; Gardner, Faiths of the World, s.v.; Gregoire, Histoire des Sectes Religieuses; Hagenbach, Hist. of the Church in the 18th and 19th Centuries, 2, 435.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Theophilanthropists'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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