Organic Articles

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The Organic Articles (French: "Les Articles Organiques") was the name of a law administering public worship in France.

Europe with the French Empire at its greatest extent in 1811
  French Empire


The Articles were originally presented by Napoléon Bonaparte, and consisted of 77 Articles relating to Catholicism and 44 Articles relating to Protestantism. It was published as a unilateral addition to the Concordat of 1801, which is also sometimes referred to as the "French Concordat," on April 8, 1802.

It met with opposition from the Catholic Church with Pope Pius VII claiming that the articles had been promulgated without his knowledge.[1]


Presenting the Organic Articles was Napoleon’s method of granting the Tribunate and the legislative body partial control of the concordat in order to help the state monitor any politically harmful Catholic or Protestant movements or activities. In 1797, two years before Napoleon seized power, there had been a revolt in the Vendée of lay Catholics which had been brutally suppressed. This incident is believed to have inspired the Organic Articles. It was also an attempt to prevent any more religious strife in the cities of France[citation needed]. For example, Article 45 states, “In cities where there are temples dedicated to different religions, no religious ceremony is to take place outside of the buildings consecrated for Catholic worship.”[2] In towns with adherents of different dogmas, public processions were prohibited.


The Articles to Catholics[edit]

The Organic Articles of the Catholic Church consisted of 4 Titles with laws regarding specific religious activities. Titles 2 and 4 contained different Sections regarding social positions. The number of Articles per Title and Section varied:

Title I - “Of the governance of the Catholic Church in its general relations with the rights and the police of the state” (Articles 1-8)
Title II - “Of the Ministers”

  • Section I - “General Provisions” (Articles 9-12)
  • Section II - “Of the Archbishops or Metropolitans” (Articles 13-15)
  • Section III - “Of the bishops, the vicars general and the seminaries” (Articles 16-26)
  • Section IV - “Of curates” (Articles 27-34)
  • Section V - “Of the cathedral chapters and the government of the diocese during the vacancy of the see” (Articles 35-38)

Title III - “Of the forms of worship” (Articles 39-57)
Title IV - “Of the circumscription of the archbishoprics, bishoprics and parishes, of the buildings intended for worship and of the salaries for the ministers”

  • Section I - “Of the circumscription of the archbishoprics and bishoprics” (Articles 58-59)
  • Section II - “Of the circumscription of the parishes” (Articles 60-63)
  • Section III - “Of the salaries for the ministers” (Articles 64-74)
  • Section IV - “Of the buildings intended for worship” (Articles 75-77)[2]

Summary of the Articles[edit]

Title I referred to the French government and its ability to issue a papal document in France. Basically, this gave way for the State to interfere with the Church's affairs. Title II declared the power of ministers and regulated public worship, stating that rules and regulations of seminaries must be presented to the State, and the Declaration of 1682 must be taught. Title III explained not only restriction of public processions, but the proper clerical dress code with Article 43 instructing, "All ecclesiastics will be dressed in the French manner in black."[2] Title IV served as a boundary for the jurisdictions of bishops and the amounts of their salaries. In the following passage, Nicholas Atkin summarizes the basic idea of the Organic Articles:

"Ostensibly these dealt with the policing arrangements referred to in Article 1, but in practice they went much further. Government approbation was required before papal pronunciations could be published, councils convoked, new parishes established and chapels set up. A uniform catechism was introduced, church weddings could not precede the civil ceremony, cathedral chapters were reduced to merely ceremonial function and the powers of papal delegates were severely circumscribed. Any breach of the articles was treated as a criminal offence and was referred to the Council of State, the keystone of Napoleonic government. Additionally, clerical salaries were specified, a mere 15,000 francs per annum for an archbishop of whom there were to be ten; 10,000 francs for each bishop who numbered sixty in total; and 1,000 to 1,500 francs for the 3,000 or so parish priests. Although it was not specifically referred to in the Organic Articles, the creation of a Ministry of Cults in 1801 reinforced a drive towards government oversight of ecclesiastical matters."[3]

The Articles to Protestants[edit]

Although similar to the Catholic regulations, the Protestants favored parts of the Articles preventing Catholic domination in France. The Calvinist community, a variety of Protestant Christianity, was divided into congregations of adherents governed by those appointed by large taxpayers, such as a pastor and elders. Parallel to the Articles relative to Catholicism, the pastors were salaried by the State, and following this, a Calvinist revival was held by the Protestants.

Reactions and controversies[edit]

The Organic Articles read as a list of solutions to past problems in France, such as clerical abuses and sectarian altercations, and was also concerned by the Catholic Church to be a subtle attempt by the State to gain further control of the Church. Napoleon sought to allow the right amount of Catholicism, but not a large amount, in order to prevent further rebellion from the Protestants, therefore issuing of the Organic Articles was considered to be a fault in French Catholicism. Although it restricted specific religious practices in France, it partially allowed other religious freedoms yet still remained in favor of the State. A limited or regulated amount of worship was given, or simply enough to pray for the Republic. When referring to the Concordat and the Organic Articles collaboration, Napoleon claims that it “put a stop to disorders and obliged the faithful to pray for the Republic…”[4] Minor issues were addressed in the Articles, but peace between theological controversies was not achieved.

The Concordat was presented to Pope Pius VII for a signature of approval, along with Napoleon’s attachment of the Organic Articles, which somewhat abates parts of the Concordat. The Pope protested against the Organic Articles, saying he had no knowledge of Napoleon's attachment at the time of the agreement, but the protest was in vain. Finally, Pius was humiliated and defeated by the publishing of the Articles. This raised more difficulties for the Pope rather than solved them.[5]

Though Pius' disapproval was disregarded by Napoleon, many of the Articles eventually became a dead letter. The obscurities of many of them were later shown to be irrelevant, and the need to enforce the laws was unnecessary. In 1905, the French law was issued declaring the separation of Church and State in then France. This abolished the Organic Articles along with the Concordat of 1801.[6] However, in the departments of Alsace and Moselle, in 1905 not part of France, the organic articles remain in power (Cf. Local law in Alsace-Moselle).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "The Organic Articles". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ a b c Duvergier, Lois, XIII
  3. ^ Atkin, Priests, Prelates and People: A History of European Catholicism Since 1750
  4. ^ Concordat Watch
  5. ^ Bergeron, France Under Napoleon
  6. ^ Walsh, The Concordat of 1801: A Study of the Problem of Nationalism in the Relations of Church and State


  • Bergeron, L., France Under Napoleon (Princeton University Press, 1981)
  • Wright, G., France In Modern Times (Fourth Printing, 1966)
  • Atkin, N., Priests, Prelates and People: A History of European Catholicism Since 1750 (Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Walsh, H., The Concordat of 1801: A Study of the Problem of Nationalism in the Relations of Church and State (Columbia University Press, 1933)