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This term is used to designate a certain group of religious opinions for some time peculiar to the Church of France, or Gallican Church, and the theological schools of that country. These opinions, in opposition to the ideas which were called in France "Ultramontane", tended chiefly to a restraint of the pope's authority in the Church in favour of that of the bishops and the temporal ruler. It is important, however, to remark at the outset that the warmest and most accredited partisans of Gallican ideas by no means contested the pope's primacy in the Church, and never claimed for their ideas the force of articles of faith. They aimed only at making it clear that their way of regarding the authority of the pope seemed to them more in conformity with Holy Scripture and tradition. At the same time, their theory did not, as they regarded it, transgress the limits of free opinions, which it is allowable for any theological school to choose for itself provided that the Catholic Creed be duly accepted.

General notions

Nothing can better serve the purpose of presenting an exposition at once exact and complete of the Gallican ideas than a summary of the famous Declaration of the Clergy of France of 1682. Here, for the first time, those ideas are organized into a system, and receive their official and definitive formula. Stripped of the arguments which accompany it, the doctrine of the Declaration reduces to the following four articles:

  1. St. Peter and the popes, his successors, and the Church itself have received dominion [puissance] from God 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.
  2. The plenitude of authority in things spiritual, which belongs to the Holy See and the successors of St. Peter, in no wise affects the permanence and immovable strength of the decrees of the Council of Constance contained in the fourth and fifth sessions of that council, approved by the Holy See, confirmed by the practice of the whole Church and the Roman pontiff, and observed in all ages by the Gallican Church. That Church does not countenance the opinion of those who cast a slur on those decrees, or who lessen their force by saying that their authority is not well established, that they are not approved or that they apply only to the period of the schism.
  3. The exercise of this Apostolic authority [puissance] must also be regulated in accordance with the canons made by the Spirit of God and consecrated by the respect of the whole world. The rules, customs and constitutions received within the kingdom and the Gallican Church must have their force and their effect, and the usages of our fathers remain inviolable since the dignity of the Apostolic See itself demands that the laws and customs established by consent of that august see and of the Churches be constantly maintained.
  4. Although the pope have the chief part in questions of faith, and his decrees apply to all the Churches, and to each Church in particular, yet his judgment is not irreformable, at least pending the consent of the Church.

According to the Gallican theory, then, the papal primacy was limited, first, by the temporal power of princes, which, by the Divine will, was inviolable; secondly by the authority of the general council and that of the bishops, who alone could, by their assent, give to his decrees that infallible authority which, of themselves, they lacked; lastly, by the canons and customs of particular Churches, which the pope was bound to take into account when he exercised his authority.

But Gallicanism was more than pure speculation. It reacted from the domain of theory into that of facts. The bishops and magistrates of France used it, the former as warrant for increased power in the government of dioceses, the latter to extend their jurisdiction so as to cover ecclesiastical affairs. Moreover, there was an episcopal and political Gallicanism, and a parliamentary or judicial Gallicanism. The former lessened the doctrinal authority of the pope in favour of that of the bishops, to the degree marked by the Declaration of 1682; the latter, affecting the relations of the temporal and spiritual powers, tended to augment the rights of the State more and more, to the prejudice of those of the Church, on the grounds of what they called "the Liberties of the Gallican Church" (Libertes de l'Église Gallicane).

These Liberties, which are enumerated in a collection, or corpus, drawn up by the jurisconsults Guy Coquille and Pierre Pithou, were, according to the latter, eighty-three in number. Besides the four articles cited above, which were incorporated, the following may be noted as among the more important: The Kings of France had the right to assemble councils in their dominions, and to make laws and regulations touching ecclesiastical matters. The pope's legates could not be sent into France, or exercise their power within that kingdom, except at the king's request or with his consent. Bishops, even when commanded by the pope, could not go out of the kingdom without the king's consent. The 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 any landed estate of the Churches, or the diminishing of any foundations. His Bulls and Letters might not be executed without the Pareatis of the king or his officers. He could not issue dispensations to the prejudice of the laudable customs and statutes of the cathedral Churches. It was lawful to appeal from him 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.

Parliamentary Gallicanism, therefore, was of much wider scope than episcopal; indeed, it was often disavowed by the bishops of France, and about twenty of them condemned Pierre Pithou's book when a new edition of it was published, in 1638, by the brothers Dupuy.

Origin and history

The Declaration of 1682 and the work of Pithou codified the principles of Gallicanism, but did not create them. We have to inquire, then, how there came to be formed in the bosom of the Church of France a body of doctrines and practices which tended to isolate it, and to impress upon it a physiognomy somewhat exceptional in the Catholic body. Gallicans have held that the reason of this phenomenon is to be found in the very origin and history of Gallicanism.

For the more moderate among them, Gallican ideas and liberties were simply privileges — concessions made by the popes, who had been quite willing to divest themselves of a part of their authority in favour of the bishops or kings or France. It was thus that the latter could lawfully stretch their powers in ecclesiastical matters beyond the normal limits. This 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. In the view of some partisans of the theory, the popes had always thought fit to show especial consideration for the ancient customs of the Gallican Church, which in every age had distinguished itself by its exactitude in the preservation of the Faith and the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline. Others, again, assigned a more precise date to the granting of these concessions, referring their origin to the period of the earliest Carlovingians and explaining them somewhat differently. They said that the popes had found it impossible to recall to their allegiance and to due respect for ecclesiastical discipline the Frankish lords who had possessed themselves of episcopal sees; that these lords, insensible to censures and anathemas, rude and untaught, recognized no authority but that of force; and that the popes had, therefore, granted to Carloman, Pepin, and Charles the Great a spiritual authority which they were to exercise only under papal control. It was this authority that the Kings of France, successors of these princes, had inherited. This theory comes into collision with difficulties so serious as to have caused its rejection as well by the majority of Gallicans as by their Ultramontane adversaries. The former by no means admitted that the Liberties were privileges since a privilege can be revoked by him who has granted it; and, as they regarded the matter, these Liberties could not be touched by any pope. Moreover, they added, the Kings of France have at times received from the popes certain clearly defined privileges; these privileges have never been confounded with the Gallican Liberties. As a matter of fact, historians could have told them, the privileges accorded by popes to the King of France in the course of centuries are known from the texts, of which an authentic collection could be compiled, and there is nothing in them resembling the Liberties in question. Again, why should not these Gallican Liberties have been transmitted to the German Emperors as well since they, too, were the heirs of Pepin and Charlemagne? Besides, the Ultramontanes pointed out there are some privileges which the pope himself could not grant. Is it conceivable that a pope should allow any group of bishops the privilege of calling his infallibility in question, putting his doctrinal decisions upon trial, to be accepted or rejected? — or grant any kings the privilege of placing his primacy under tutelage by suppressing or curtailing his liberty of communication with the faithful in a certain territory?

Most of its partisans regarded Gallicanism rather as a revival of the most ancient traditions of Christianity, a persistence of the common law, which law, according to some (Pithou, Quesnel), was made up of the conciliar decrees of the earliest centuries or, according to others (Marca, Bossuet), of canons of the general and local councils, and the decretals, ancient and modern, which were received in France or conformable to their usage. "Of all Christian countries", says Fleury, "France has been the most careful to conserve the liberty of her Church and oppose the novelties introduced by Ultramontane canonists". The Liberties were so called, because the innovations constituted conditions of servitude with which the popes had burdened the Church, and their legality resulted from the fact that the extension given by the popes to their own primacy was founded not upon Divine institution, but upon the false Decretals. If we are to credit these authors, what the Gallicans maintained in 1682 was not a collection of novelties, but a body of beliefs as old as the Church, the discipline of the first centuries. The Church of France had upheld and practised them at all times; the Church Universal had believed and practised them of old, until about the tenth century; St. Louis had supported, but not created, them by the Pragmatic Sanction; the Council of Constance had taught them with the pope's approbation. Gallican ideas, then, must have had no other origin than that of Christian dogma and ecclesiastical discipline. It is for history to tell us what these assertions of the Gallican theorists were worth.

To the similarity of the historical vicissitudes through which they passed, their common political allegiance, and the early appearance of a national sentiment, the Churches of France owed it that they very soon formed an individual, compact, and homogeneous body. From the end of the fourth century the popes themselves recognized this solidarity. It was to the "Gallican" bishops that Pope Damasus — as M. Babut seems to have demonstrated recently — addressed the most ancient decretal which has been preserved to our times. Two centuries later St. Gregory the Great pointed out the Gallican Church to his envoy Augustine, the Apostle of England, as one of those whose customs he might accept as of equal stability with those of the Roman Church or of any other whatsoever. But already — if we are to believe the young historian just mentioned — a Council of Turin, at which bishops of the Gauls assisted, had given the first manifestation of Gallican sentiment. Unfortunately for M. Babut's thesis, all the significance which he attaches to this council depends upon the date, 417, ascribed to it by him, on the mere strength of a personal conjecture, in opposition to the most competent historians. Besides, It is not at all plain how a council of the Province of Milan is to be taken as representing the ideas of the Gallican Church.

In truth, that Church, during the Merovingian period, testifies the same deference to the Holy See as do all the others. Ordinary questions of discipline are in the ordinary course settled in councils, often held with the assent of the kings, but on great occasions — at the Councils of Epaone (517), of Vaison (529), of Valence (529), of Orléans (538), of Tours (567) — the bishops do not fail to declare that they are acting under the impulse of the Holy See, or defer to its admonitions; they take pride in the approbation of the pope; they cause his name to be read aloud in the churches, just as is done in Italy and in Africa they cite his decretals as a source of ecclesiastical law; they show indignation at the mere idea that anyone should fail in consideration for them. Bishops condemned in councils — like Salonius of Embrun Sagitarius of Gap, Contumeliosus of Riez — have no difficulty in appealing to the pope, who, after examination, either confirms or rectifies the sentence pronounced against them.

The accession of the Carlovingian dynasty is marked by a splendid act of homage paid in France to the power of the papacy: before assuming the title of king, Pepin makes a point of securing the assent of Pope Zachary. Without wishing to exaggerate the significance of this act, the bearing of which the Gallicans have done every thing to minimize, one may be permitted to see in it the evidence that, even before Gregory VII, public opinion in France was not hostile to the intervention of the pope in political affairs. From that time on, the advances of the Roman primacy find no serious opponents in France before Hincmar, the famous Archbishop of Reims, in whom some have been willing to see the very founder of Gallicanism. It is true that with him there already appears the idea that the pope must limit his activity to ecclesiastical matters, and not intrude in those pertaining to the State, which concern kings only; that his supremacy is bound to respect the prescriptions of the ancient canons and the privileges of the Churches; that his decretals must not be placed upon the same footing as the canons of the councils. But it appears that we should see here the expression of passing feelings, inspired by the particular circumstances, much rather than a deliberate opinion maturely conceived and conscious of its own meaning. The proof of this is in the fact that Hincmar himself, when his claims to the metropolitan dignity are not in question, condemns very sharply, though at the risk of self-contradiction, the opinion of those who think that the king is subject only to God, and he makes it his boast to "follow the Roman Church whose teachings", he says quoting the famous words of Innocent I, "are imposed upon all men". His attitude, at any rate, stands out as an isolated accident; the Council of Troyes (867) proclaims that no bishop can be deposed without reference to the Holy See, and the Council of Douzy (871), although held under the influence of Hincmar condemns the Bishop of Laon only under reserve of the rights of the pope.

With the first Capets the secular relations between the pope and the Gallican Church appeared to be momentarily strained. At the Councils of Saint-Basle de Verzy (991) and of Chelles (c. 993), in the discourses of Arnoul, Bishop of Orléans, in the letters of Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II, sentiments of violent hostility to the Holy See are manifested, and an evident determination to elude the authority in matters of discipline which had until then been recognized as belonging to it. But the papacy at that period, given over to the tyranny of Crescentius and other local barons, was undergoing a melancholy obscuration. When it regained its independence, its old authority in France came back to it, the work of the Councils of Saint-Basle and of Chelles was undone; princes like Hugh Capet, bishops like Gerbert, held no attitude but that of submission. It has been said that during the early Capetian period the pope was more powerful in France than he had ever been. Under Gregory VII the pope's legates traversed France from north to south, they convoked and presided over numerous councils, and, in spite of sporadic and incoherent acts of resistance, they deposed bishops and excommunicated princes just as in Germany and Spain

In the following two centuries Gallicanism is even yet unborn; the pontifical power attains its apogee in France as elsewhere, St. Bernard, then the standard bearer of the University of Paris, and St. Thomas outline the theory of that power, and their opinion is that of the school in accepting the attitude of Gregory VII and his successors in regard to delinquent princes, St. Louis, of whom it has been sought to make a patron of the Gallican system, is still ignorant of it — for the fact is now established that the Pragmatic Sanction, long attributed to him was a wholesale fabrication put together (about 1445) in the purlieus of the Royal Chancellery of Charles VII to lend countenance to the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges.

At the opening of the fourteenth century, however, the conflict between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII brings out the first glimmerings of the Gallican ideas. That king does not confine himself to maintaining that, as sovereign he is sole and independent master of his temporalities; he haughtily proclaims that, in virtue of the concession made by the pope, with the assent of a general council to Charlemagne and his successors, he has the right to dispose of vacant ecclesiastical benefices. With the consent of the nobility, the Third Estate, and a great part of the clergy, he appeals in the matter from Boniface VIII to a future general council — the implication being that the council is superior to the pope. The same ideas and others still more hostile to the Holy See reappear in the struggle of Fratricelles and Louis of Bavaria against John XXII; they are expressed by the pens of William Occam, of John of Jandun, and of Marsilius of Padua, professors in the University of Paris. Among other things, they deny the Divine origin of the papal primacy, and subject the exercise of it to the good pleasure of the temporal ruler. Following the pope, the University of Paris condemned these views; but for all that they did not entirely disappear from the memory, or from the disputations, of the schools, for the principal work of Marsilius, "Defensor Pacis", wax translated into French in 1375, probably by a professor of the University of Paris The Great Schism reawakened them suddenly. The idea of a council naturally suggested itself as a means of terminating that melancholy rending asunder of Christendom. Upon that idea was soon grafted the "conciliary theory", which sets the council above the pope, making it the sole representative of the Church, the sole organ of infallibility. Timidly sketched by two professors of the University of Paris, Conrad of Gelnhausen and Henry of Langenstein, this theory was completed and noisily interpreted to the public by Pierre d'Ailly and Gerson. At the same time the clergy of France, disgusted with Benedict XIII, took upon itself to withdraw from his obedience. It was in the assembly which voted on this measure (1398) that for the first time there was any question of bringing back the Church of France to its ancient liberties and customs — of giving its prelates once more the right of conferring and disposing of benefices. The same idea comes into the foreground in the claims put, forward in 1406 by another assembly of the French clergy; to win the votes of the assembly, certain orators cited the example of what was happening in England. M. Haller has concluded from this that these so-called Ancient Liberties were of English origin, that the Gallican Church really borrowed them from its neighbour, only imagining them to be a revival of its own past. This opinion does not seem well founded. The precedents cited by M. Haller go back to the parliament held at Carlisle in 1307, at which date the tendencies of reaction against papa reservations had already manifested themselves in the assemblies convoked by Philip the Fair in 1302 and 1303. The most that we can admit is, that the same ideas received parallel development from both sides of the channel.

Together with the restoration of the "Ancient Liberties" the assembly of the clergy in 1406 intended to maintain the superiority of the council to the pope, and the fallibility of the latter. However widely they may have been accepted at the time, these were only individual opinions or opinions of a school, when the Council of Constance came to give them the sanction of its high authority. In its fourth and fifth sessions it declared that the council represented the Church that every person, no matter of what dignity, even the pope, was bound to obey it in what concerned the extirpation of the schism and the reform of the Church; that even the pope, if he resisted obstinately, might be constrained by process of law to obey It in the above-mentioned points. This was the birth or, if we prefer to call it so, the legitimation of Gallicanism. So far we had encountered in the history of the Gallican Church recriminations of malcontent bishops, or a violent gesture of some prince discomforted in his avaricious designs; but these were only fits of resentment or ill humor, accidents with no attendant consequences; this time the provisions made against exercise of the pontifical authority took to themselves a body and found a fulcrum. Gallicanism has implanted itself in the minds of men as a national doctrine e and it only remains to apply it in practice. This is to be the work of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. In that instrument the clergy of France inserted the articles of Constance repeated at Basle, and upon that warrant assumed authority to regulate the collation of benefices and the temporal administration of the Churches on the sole basis of the common law, under the king's patronage, and independently of the pope's action. From Eugene IV to Leo X the popes did not cease to protest against the Pragmatic Sanction, until it was replaced by the Concordat of 1516. But, if its provisions disappeared from the laws of France, the principles it embodied for a time none the less continued to inspire the schools of theology and parliamentary jurisprudence. Those principles even appeared at the Council of Trent, where the ambassadors, theologians, and bishops of France repeatedly championed them, notably when the questions for decision were as to whether episcopal jurisdiction comes immediately from God or through the pope, whether or not the council ought to ask confirmation of its decrees from the sovereign pontiff, etc. Then again, it was in the name of the Liberties of the Gallican Church that a part of the clergy and the Parlementaires opposed the publication of that same council; and the crown decided to detach from it and publish what seemed good, in the form of ordinances emanating from the royal authority.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the sixteenth century, the reaction against the Protestant denial of all authority to the pope and, above all, the triumph of the League had enfeebled Gallican convictions in the minds of the clergy, if not of the parliament. But the assassination of Henry IV, which was exploited to move public opinion against Ultramontanism and the activity of Edmond Richer, syndic of the Sorbonne, brought about, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a strong revival of Gallicanism, which was thenceforward to continue gaining in strength from day to day. In 1663 the Sorbonne solemnly declared that it admitted no authority of the pope over the king's temporal dominion, nor his superiority to a general council, nor infallibility apart from the Church's consent. In 1682 matters were much worse. Louis XIV having decided to extend to all the Churches of his kingdom the regale, or right of receiving the revenue of vacant sees, and of conferring the sees themselves at his pleasure, Pope Innocent XI strongly opposed the king's designs. Irritated by this resistance, the king assembled the clergy of France and, on 19 March, 1682, the thirty-six prelates and thirty-four deputies of the second order who constituted that assembly adopted the four articles recited above and transmitted them to all the other bishops and archbishops of France. Three days later the king commanded the registration of the articles in all the schools and faculties of theology; no one could even be admitted to degrees in theology without having maintained this doctrine in one of his theses and it was forbidden to write anything against them. The Sorbonne, however, yielded to the ordinance of registration only after a spirited resistance. Pope Innocent XI testified his displeasure by the Rescript of 11 April, 1682, in which he voided and annulled all that the assembly had done in regard to the regale, as well as all the consequences of that action; he also refused Bulls to all members of the assembly who were proposed for vacant bishoprics. In like manner his successor Alexander VIII by a Constitution dated 4 August, 1690, quashed as detrimental to the Holy See the proceedings both in the matter of the regale and in that of the declaration on the ecclesiastical power and jurisdiction, which had been prejudicial to the clerical estate and order. The bishops designate to whom Bulls had been refused received them at length, in 1693, only after addressing to Pope Innocent XII a letter in which they disavowed everything that had been decreed in that assembly in regard to the ecclesiastical power and the pontifical authority. The king himself wrote to the pope (14 September, 1693) to announce that a royal order had been issued against the execution of the edict of 23 March, 1682. In spite of these disavowals, the Declaration of 1682 remained thenceforward the living symbol of Gallicanism, professed by the great majority of the French clergy, obligatorily defended in the faculties of theology, schools, and seminaries, guarded from the lukewarmness of French theologians and the attacks of foreigners by the inquisitorial vigilance of the French parliaments, which never failed to condemn to suppression every work that seemed hostile to the principles of the Declaration.

From France Gallicanism spread, about the middle of the eighteenth century, into the Low Countries, thanks to the works of the jurisconsult Van-Espen. Under the pseudonym of Febronius, Hontheim introduced it into Germany where it took the forms of Febronianism and Josephism. The Council of Pistoia (1786) even tried to acclimatize it in Italy. But its diffusion was sharply arrested by the Revolution, which took away its chief support by overturning the thrones of kings. Against the Revolution that drove them out and wrecked their sees, nothing was left to the bishops of France but to link themselves closely with the Holy See. After the Concordat of 1801 — itself the most dazzling manifestation of the pope's supreme power — French Governments made some pretence of reviving, in the Organic Articles, the "Ancient Gallican Liberties" and the obligation of teaching the articles of 1682, but ecclesiastical Gallicanism was never again resuscitated except in the form of a vague mistrust of Rome. On the fall of Napoleon and the Bourbons, the work of Lamennais, of "L'Avenir" and other publications devoted to Roman ideas, the influence of Dom Guéranger, and the effects of religious teaching ever increasingly deprived it of its partisans. When the Vatican Council opened, in 1869, it had in France only timid defenders. When that council declared that the pope has in the Church the plenitude of jurisdiction in matters of faith, morals discipline, and administration that his decisions ex cathedra. are of themselves, and without the assent of the Church, infallible and irreformable, it dealt Gallicanism a mortal blow. Three of the four articles were directly condemned. As to the remaining one, the first, the council made no specific declaration; but an important indication of the Catholic doctrine was given in the condemnation fulminated by Pius IX against the 24th proposition of the Syllabus, in which it was asserted that the Church cannot have recourse to force and is without any temporal authority, direct or indirect. Leo XIII shed more direct light upon the question in his Encyclical "Immortale Dei" (12 November, 1885), where we read: "God has apportioned the government of the human race between two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the former set over things divine, the latter over things human. Each is restricted within limits which are perfectly determined and defined in conformity with its own nature and special aim. There is therefore, as it were a circumscribed sphere in which each exercises its functions jure proprio". And in the Encyclical "Sapientiae Christianae" (10 January, 1890), the same pontiff adds: "The Church and the State have each its own power, and neither of the two powers is subject to the other."

Stricken to death, as a free opinion, by the Council of the Vatican, Gallicanism could survive only as a heresy; the Old Catholics have endeavoured to keep it alive under this form. Judging by the paucity of the adherents whom they have recruited — daily becoming fewer — in Germany and Switzerland, it seems very evident that the historical evolution of these ideas has reached its completion.

Critical examination

The principal force of Gallicanism always was that which it drew from the external circumstances in which it arose and grew up: the difficulties of the Church, torn by schism; the encroachments of the civil authorities; political turmoil; the interested support of the kings of France. None the less does it seek to establish its own right to exist, and to legitimize its attitude towards the theories of the schools. There is no denying that it has had in its service a long succession of theologians and jurists who did much to assure its success. At the beginning, its first advocates were Pierre d'Ailly and Gerson, whose somewhat daring theories, reflecting the then prevalent disorder of ideas, were to triumph in the Council of Constance. In the sixteenth century Almain and Major make but a poor figure in contrast with Torquemada and Cajetan, the leading theorists of pontifical primacy. But in the seventeenth century the Gallican doctrine takes its revenge with Richer and Launoy, who throw as much passion as science into their efforts to shake the work of Bellarmine, the most solid edifice ever raised in defence of the Church's constitution and the papal supremacy. Pithou, Dupuy, and Marca edited texts or disinterred from archives the judicial monuments best calculated to support parliamentary Gallicanism. After 1682 the attack and defence of Gallicanism were concentrated almost entirely upon the four Articles. While Charlas in his anonymous treatise on the Liberties of the Catholic Church, d'Aguirre, in his "Auctoritas infallibilis et summa sancti Petri", Rocaberti, in his treatise "De Romani pontificis auctoritate", Sfondrato, in his "Gallia vindicata", dealt severe blows at the doctrine of the Declaration, Alexander Natalis and Ellies Dupin searched ecclesiastical history for titles on which to support it. Bossuet carried on the defence at once on the ground of theology and of history. In his "Defensio declarationis", which was not to see the light of day until 1730, he discharged his task with equal scientific power and moderation. Again Gallicanism was ably combatted in the works of Muzzarelli, Bianchi, and Ballerini, and upheld in those of Durand de Maillane, La Luzerne, Maret and Döllinger. But the strife is prolonged beyond its interest; except for the bearing of some few arguments on either side, nothing that is altogether new, after all, is adduced for or against, and it may be said that with Bossuet's work Gallicanism had reached its full development, sustained its sharpest assaults, and exhibited its most efficient means of defence.

Those means are well known. For the absolute independence of the civil power, affirmed in the first Article, Gallicans drew their argument from the proposition that the theory of indirect power, accepted by Bellarmine, is easily reducible to that of direct power, which he did not accept. That theory was a novelty introduced into the Church by Gregory VII; until his time the Christian peoples and the popes had suffered injustice from princes without asserting for themselves the right to revolt or to excommunicate. As for the superiority of councils over popes, as based upon the decrees of the Council of Constance, the Gallicans essayed to defend it chiefly by appealing to the testimony of history which, according to them, shows that general councils have never been dependent on the popes, but had been considered the highest authority for the settlement of doctrinal disputes or the establishment of disciplinary regulations. The third Article was supported by the same arguments or upon the declarations of the popes. It is true that that Article made respect for the canons a matter rather of high propriety than of obligation for the Holy See. Besides, the canons alleged were among those that had been established with the consent of the pope and of the Churches, the plenitude of the pontifical jurisdiction was therefore safeguarded and Bossuet pointed out that this article had called forth hardly any protests from the adversaries of Gallicanism. It was not so with the fourth Article, which implied a negation of papal infallibility. Resting chiefly on history, the whole Gallican argument reduced to the position that the Doctors of the ChurchSt. Cyprian, St. Augustine, St. Basil, St. Thomas, and the rest — had not known pontifical infallibility; that pronouncements emanating from the Holy See had been submitted to examination by councils; that popesLiberius, Honorius, Zosimus, and others — had promulgated erroneous dogmatic decisions. Only the line of popes, the Apostolic See, was infallible; but each pope, taken individually, was liable to error.

This is not the place to discuss the force of this line of argument, or set forth the replies which it elicited; such an enquiry will more appropriately form part of the article devoted to the primacy of the Roman See. Without involving ourselves in technical developments, however, we may call attention to the weakness, of the Scriptural scaffolding upon which Gallicanism supported its fabric. Not only was it opposed by the luminous clearness of Christ's words — "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church"; "I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not . . . confirm thy brethren" — but it finds nothing in Scripture which could warrant the doctrine of the supremacy of council or the distinction between the line of popes and the individuals — the Sedes and the Sedens. Supposing there were any doubt of Christ's having promised infallibility to Peter, it is perfectly certain that He did not promise it to the council, or to the See of Rome, neither of which is named in the Gospel.

The pretension implied in Gallicanism — that only the schools and the churches of France possessed the truth as to the pope's authority, that they had been better able than any others to defend themselves against the encroachments of Rome — was insulting to the sovereign pontiff and invidious to the other churches. It does not belong to one part of the Church to decide what council is oecumenical, and what is not. By what right was this honour refused in France to the Councils of Florence (1439) and the Lateran (1513), and accorded to that of Constance? Why, above all, should we attribute to the decision of this council, which was only a temporary expedient to escape from a deadlock, the force of a general principle, a dogmatic decree? And moreover, at the time when these decisions were taken, the council presented neither the character, nor the conditions, nor the authority of a general synod; it is not clear that among the majority of the members there was present any intention of formulating a dogmatic definition, nor is it proved that the approbation given by Martin V to some of the decrees extended to these. Another characteristic which is apt to diminish one's respect for Gallican ideas is their appearance of having been too much influenced, originally and evolutionally, by interested motives. Suggested by theologians who were under bonds to the emperors, accepted as an expedient to restore the unity of the Church, they had never been more loudly proclaimed than in the course of the conflicts which arose between popes and kings, and then always for the advantage of the latter. In truth they savoured too much of a courtly bias. "The Gallican Liberties", Joseph de Maistre has said, "are but a fatal compact signed by the Church of France, in virtue of which she submitted to the outrages of the Parliament on condition of being allowed to pass them on to the sovereign pontiff". The history of the assembly of 1682 is not such as to give the lie to this severe judgment. It was a Gallican — no other than Baillet — who wrote: "The bishops who served Philip the Fair were upright in heart and seemed to be actuated by a genuine, if somewhat too vehement, zeal for the rights of the Crown; whereas among those whose advice Louis XIV followed there were some who, under pretext of the public welfare, only sought to avenge themselves, by oblique and devious methods, on those whom they regarded as the censors of their conduct and their sentiments."

Even apart from every other consideration, the practical consequences to which Gallicanism led, and the way in which the State turned it to account should suffice to wean Catholics from it forever. It was Gallicanism which allowed the Jansenists condemned by popes to elude their sentences on the plea that these had not received the assent of the whole episcopate. It was in the name of Gallicanism that the kings of France impeded the publication of the pope's instructions, and forbade the bishops to hold provincial councils or to write against Jansenism — or at any rate, to publish charges without endorsement of the chancellor. Bossuet himself, prevented from publishing a charge against Richard Simon, was forced to complain that they wished "to put all the bishops under the yoke in the essential matter of their ministry, which is the Faith". Alleging the Liberties of the Gallican Church, the French Parliaments admitted appels comme d'abus against bishops who were guilty of condemning Jansenism, or of admitting into their Breviaries the Office of St. Gregory, sanctioned by Rome; and on the same general principle they caused pastoral letters to be burned by the common executioner, or condemned to imprisonment or exile priests whose only crime was that of refusing the sacraments and Christian burial to Jansenists in revolt against the most solemn pronouncements of the Holy See. Thanks to these "Liberties", the jurisdiction and the discipline of the Church were almost entirely in the hands of the civil power, and Fénelon gave a fair idea of them when he wrote in one of his letters: "In practice the king is more our head than the pope, in France — Liberties against the pope, servitude in relation to the king -The king's authority over the Church devolves upon the lay judges — The laity dominate the bishops". And Fénelon had not seen the Constituent Assembly of 1790 assume, from Gallican principles, authority to demolish completely the Constitution of the Church of France. For there is not one article of that melancholy Constitution that did not find its inspiration in the writings of Gallican jurists and theologians. We may be excused the task of here entering into any lengthy proof of this; indeed the responsibility which Gallicanism has to bear in the sight of history and of Catholic doctrine is already only too heavy.

About this page

APA citation. Dégert, A. (1909). Gallicanism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Dégert, Antoine. "Gallicanism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerard Haffner.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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