Jean Baptiste Joseph Gobel - Encyclopedia

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JEAN BAPTISTE JOSEPH GOBEL (1727-1794), French ecclesiastic and politician, was born at Thann, in Alsace, on the 1st of September 1727. He studied theology in the German College at Rome, and then became successively a member of the chapter of Porrentruy, bishop in partibus of Lydda, and finally suffragan of Basel for that part of the diocese situated in French territory. His political life began when he was elected deputy to the states-general of 1789 by the clergy of the bailliage of Huningue. The turning-point of his life was his action in taking the oath of the civil constitution of the clergy (Jan. 3rd, 1791); in favour of which he had declared himself since the 5th of May 1790. The civil constitution of the clergy gave the appointment of priests to the electoral assemblies, and since taking the oath Gobel had become so popular that he was elected bishop in several dioceses. He chose Paris, and in spite of the difficulties which he had to encounter before he could enter into possession, was consecrated on the 27th of March 1791 by eight bishops, including Talleyrand. On the 8th of November 1792, Gobel was appointed administrator of Paris. He was careful to flatter the politicians by professing anti-clerical opinions, declaring himself, among other things, opposed to the celibacy of the clergy; and on the 17th Brumaire in the year II. (7th November 1793), he came before the bar of the Convention, and, in a famous scene, resigned his episcopal functions, proclaiming that he did so for love of the people, and through respect for their wishes. The followers of Hebert, who were then pursuing their anti-Christian policy, claimed Gobel as one of themselves; while, on the other hand, Robespierre looked upon him as an atheist, though apostasy cannot strictly speaking be laid to the charge of the ex-bishop, nor did he ever make any actual profession of atheism. Robespierre, however, found him an obstacle to his religious schemes, and involved him in the fate of the Hebertists. Gobel was condemned to death, with Chaumette, Hebert and Anacharsis Cloots, and was guillotined on the 12th of April 1794.

See E. Charavay, Assemblee electorate de Paris (Paris, 1890); H. Monin, La Chanson et l'Eglise sous la Revolution (Paris, 1892); A. Aulard, "La Culte de la raison" in the review, La Revolution Francaise (1891). For a bibliography of documents relating to his episcopate see "Episcopat de Gobel" in vol. iii. (1900) of M. Tourneux's Bibliographie de l'histoire de Paris pendant la Rev. Fr.

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