Gallican Church

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The Gallican Church was the Roman Catholic Church in France from the time of the Declaration of the Clergy of France (1682) to that of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) during the French Revolution.

Gallicanism was the theory that the power of monarchs is independent of the power of popes, and that the church of each country should be under the joint control of the pope and the monarch. The opposite doctrine is known as Ultramontanism.


The idea made its appearance as early as the reign of Philip the Fair, in some of the protests of that monarch against the policy of Boniface VIII. Others hold that the popes had ceded a certain degree of ecclesiastical authority to the Carolingians in an effort to control Frankish nobles, and this same authority was passed down to their successors. In support of this view, they cite Louis IX's so-called Pragmatic Sanction of 1269, although historian Paul Scheffer-Boichorst and others regard this a forgery dating from sometime between 1438 and 1452.[1]

The droit de régale implied that the king was not only the legitimate guardian of the temporalities of vacant sees, but also that he had the right to the patronage belonging to them. Accordingly he would confer cathedral dignities and benefices. This derived from a view that ecclesiastical sees were feudal fiefs. The Concordat of Bologna of 1516 confirmed the King of France's right to nominate appointments to benefices—archbishops, bishops, abbots and priors— enabling the Crown, by controlling its personnel, to decide who was to lead the Gallican Church. Canonical installation of those church officers was reserved to the Pope; in this way the agreement confirmed the papal veto of any leader the King of France chose who might be deemed truly unqualified.[2]

According to Gallicanism, papal primacy was limited, first, by the temporal power of princes; secondly by the authority of the general council and that of the bishops; and lastly, by the canons and customs of particular Churches, which the pope was bound to take into account when he exercised his authority.[1]

The Declarations of the French clergy (Declarationes Cleri Gallicani) was drawn up in 1682 by Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet at the direction of Louis XIV.[3]

It stated that the Church had dominion [puissance] only over things spiritual and such as concern salvation and not over things temporal and civil. Hence kings and sovereigns are not by God's command subject to any ecclesiastical dominion in things temporal; they cannot be deposed, whether directly or indirectly, by the authority of the rulers of the Church, their subjects cannot be dispensed from that submission and obedience which they owe, or absolved from the oath of allegiance.[1]

The propositions were proclaimed by a royal ordinance, and promulgated to the theological schools of France, but publicly burned by the common executioner in Rome.[3]

After the Revolution, Napoleon negotiated a concordat with Pope Pius VII in 1801 and then subsequently unilaterally amended it with the Organic Articles of April 8, 1802 which stated that the proclamation of papal decrees depended upon the discretion of the government; and that there shall always be an opportunity for an appeal to the council of state against the abuses of ecclesiastical power.[3]

The theory had both religious and political applications. French bishops used it to justify increased power in the government of their dioceses and lessen the doctrinal authority of the pope in favour of that of the bishops. Magistrates used it to extend their jurisdiction so as to cover ecclesiastical affairs and tended to augment the rights of the State more and more, to the prejudice of those of the Church.[1]

The following privileges were claimed, but never accepted by the Holy See:

  • Kings of France had the right to assemble church councils in their dominions.
  • Kings of France had the right to make laws and regulations touching ecclesiastical matters.
  • The pope required the king's consent to send papal legates into France.
  • Those legates required the king's consent to exercise their power within France.
  • Bishops, even when commanded by the pope, could not go out of the kingdom without the king's consent.
  • Royal officers could not be excommunicated for any act performed in the discharge of their official duties.
  • The pope could not authorize the alienation of landed church estates in France, or the diminishing of any foundations.
  • Papal bulls and letters required the pareatis of the king or his officers before they took effect within France.
  • The pope could not issue dispensations "to the prejudice of the laudable customs and statutes" of the French cathedral churches.
  • It was lawful to appeal from the Pope to a future council or to have recourse to the "appeal as from an abuse" (appel comme d'abus) against acts of the ecclesiastical power.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.