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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Pierre Pithou

Pierre Pithou

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A writer, born at Troyes, 1 Nov. 1539; died at Nogent-sur-Seine, 1 Nov., 1596. His father, a distinguished lawyer, had secretly embraced Calvinism. Pierre studied the classics in Paris under Turnèbe, and afterwards with his brother, François Pithou, attended lectures in law at Bourges and Valence under Cujas, who often said: Pithœi fratres, clarissima lumina. In 1560 he was admitted to practise at the Paris bar; but on the outbreak of the second war of religion, he withdrew to Troyes. Not being admitted to the bar at Troyes on account of his Calvinist belief, he withdrew to Sedan which was a Protestant district, and, at the request of the Duc de Bouillon, he codified the legal customs into the form of laws. He then proceeded to Basle, where he published Otto de Freisingen's "Vie de Frédéric Barberousse" and Warnfrid's" Historia Miscellanea". After the Edict of Pacification of 1570 he returned to France, escaped during the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, and, in 1573, joined the Catholic Church. In the struggles between the future Henry IV and the League. he was an ardent adherent of Henry; he collaborated in the production of the "Satire Ménippée", and being skilled in canon law, made a study, in an anonymous letter published in 1593, of the right of the French bishops to absolve Henry IV without consulting the pope. In 1594 he published an epoch-making work "Les libertés de l'église gallicane". For the first time the maxims of Gallicanism were really codified, in eighty-three articles, The first edition was dedicated to Henry IV. The permission to publish the edition of 1651 under Louis XIV contains these words: "We wish to show our favour to a work of so great importance for the rights of our crown". Pithou's book was the basis of the Four Articles of 1682. D'Aguesseau declared that the book was "the palladium of France", President Hénault, that "the maxims of Pithou have in a sense the force of laws". An edict of 1719, and a decree of the Parliament of Dauphiné on 21 April, 1768, ordered the enforcement of certain articles in Pithou's book, as if these eighty-three articles were legal enactments. They were reprinted by Dupin in 1824.

Henry IV appointed Pithou procurator general of the Parliament of Paris; but he soon resigned the post, preferring to return to his juristic and literary studies. He edited Salvian, Quintilian, Petronius, Phædrus, the Capitularies of Charlemagne, and the "Corpus juris canonici". His brother François (1541-1621), who became a Catholic in 1578, wrote in 1587 a treatise on "The greatness of the rights, and of the preeminence of the kings and the kingdom of France", and was distinguished for his fanatical hostility to the Jesuits. Pierre Pithou, more equitable, saved the Jesuits from some of the dangers that threatened them for a short time after the attempted assassination of Henry IV by Châtel.


GROSLEY, Vie de Pierre Pithou (Paris, 1756); DUPIN, Libertés de l'Église gallicane (Paris, 1824), preface.

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1911). Pierre Pithou. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Pierre Pithou." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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