Constitutional bishopric

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During the French Revolution, a constitutional bishop was a Catholic bishop elected from among the clergy who had sworn to uphold the Civil Constitution of the Clergy between 1791 and 1801.


Constitutional bishops were often priests with less or more moderate Gallican and partisan ideas, of a less or moderate nature. They were elected locally by the same body of electors that elected the députés of the future Legislative Assembly. They organised national councils in 1797 and 1801 to mark their independence from the pope, who usually called major ecclesiastical councils (unlike minor synods).

On the signature of the 1801 concordat, pope Pius VII and Napoleon I of France both demanded that the constitutional bishops and the remaining Ancien Régime bishops who had not sworn to uphold the Civil Constitution all resign their episcopal seats so that new holders could be appointed to the sees. 15 constitutional bishops refused to resign, feeling that their election to their episcopal seats were still valid (one such bishop, Henri Grégoire, signed himself as bishop of Loir-et-Cher right up until his death).

Selected constitutional bishops[edit]

It is notable that a constitutional bishop's diocese was not named after his cathedra or episcopal seat (as was previous practise) but after the department (themselves mostly named after natural features like rivers or mountain ranges) corresponding to his diocese, following the re-drawing of the diocesan boundaries according to the department boundaries created in 1790.



  • (in French) Rodney J. Dean, L'Église constitutionnelle, Napoléon et le Concordat de 1801, Paris, Picard, 2004, 737 p. (French edition)
  • (in French) Edmond Préclin, Les Jansénistes du XVIIIe siècle et la Constitution civile du clergé. Le développement du richérisme. Sa propagation dans le bas clergé. 1713-1791, Paris, librairie universitaire J. Gamber, 1929, 578 p.