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AD 177-1790 - Gallican Church

One of the old forms of opposition to the papacy was " Gallicanism," which restricted the authority of the Holy See in France and infringed upon the rights of the Church. The so-called " Gallican Liberties " authorized the king to convene French synods and confirm their decrees; and affirmed the superiority of the council to the pope.

To further his own arbitrary rule, Louis XIV (1643-1715), in his controversy with the pope, made use of these anti-ecclesiastical tendencies, and would have precipitated a schism, had not Bossuet opportunely intervened. Unfortunately, Bossuet was more eloquent of speech than loyal of character. He drew up the celebrated declaration of the French clergy in the Four Gallican Articles (1682), which in after years, Napoleon I endeavored to enforce by law, and which were finally condemned by the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1870). The efforts of Louis XIV placed the clergy in an unfortunate relation to the court. Bishops were usually appointed by the king; and the episcopate became almost the exclusive prerogative of certain noble families. Commendatory abbots, secular clergy, who lived in idleness on the revenues of the monasteries, increased in number. The clergy deteriorated more and more.

Gallican Church is the designation applied to the Catholic Church in France, in respect of the more or less independent attitude which it formerly occupied toward the Roman See. Flourishing Christian communities already existed at Lyons and Vienne at the time of the persecution under Marcus Aurelius, when the aged bishop Pothinus was martyred (177). The origin of these churches is traced principally to Asia Minor, where Irenteus was born, and they were in intimate connection with Smyrna and other churches of the East. The hierarchical organisation of the church in Gaul was from an early period among the most complete and regular in western Christendom ; and in the council held at Aries in 314 we may recognise the titles of many bishops of sees which are still represented in the episcopate of France.

The history of the Gallican Church, so far as regards the development of those peculiar principles which acquired the distinctive name of 'Gallicanism,' begins at a much later period. From circumstances which are differently viewed by the opposite schools of theology, the papacy began, from the very date of the establishment of the Western Empire, to exercise a large influence over the civil as well as ecclesiastical affairs of the several European kingdoms. On the other hand, owing to the intimate connection between the church and state in most of these kingdoms, and especially to the feudal relations between the crown and the chnrch dignitaries, the crown also asserted a correlative claim to certain privileges in respect of ecclesiastical affairs.

The satisfactory adjustment of these conflicting claims was the great problem of medieval polity ; and the alternations of the struggle between them form the staple of medieval history. In the church of France the party maintaining the prerogatives of the French crown and the privileges of the national church of France against the adverse claims of the Roman see gave to the principles which they professed the name of Gallicanism.

Gallicanism came to designate, in general, that system in Roman Catholic theology which, while it recognises the primacy of the Roman pontiff, by divine right, over the universal church, yet asserts the independence of national churches in many details of self-government and of local discipline, and limits the papal prerogatives by canons and decrees of general councils and by the laws of the universal church. It most be added that, while the Gallican theory to this extent claims exemption from the authority of the pope, it acquiesces, to an almost proportionate degree, in the assumption of ecclesiastical authority on the part of the state.

The working of these principles can be recognised in the opposition which the so-called Isidorian decretals encountered in France. They were embodied, during the reign of St Louis, in the Pragmatic Sanction of 1269, which provided that the administration of the church should be in conformity with 'the common law, the canons of Councils, and the statutes of the ancient Fathers.' They were carried to their extreme extent by Philippe le Bel in his contest with Boniface VIII. The conflicting claims of the rival popes in the Western schism tended still more to weaken the papal authority ; and the expedient of convening a general council to pronounce upon these claims gave prominence to one of the leading dogmas of Gallicanism - the superiority in point of authority of a general council to the pope. The disciplinary enactments of the councils of Constance and Basel were mainly directed towards the limitation of the papal authority in the exercise of church patronage ; and these enactments were in the main embodied in the French law by the celebrated Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges in 1437.

The Pragmatic Sanction was superseded in 1516 by the Concordat of Bologna between Leo X. and Francis I. This treaty gave the nomination of bishops to the crown, and the right of instituting them to the pope, but it was with the greatest reluctance, and only ' at the express command of the king,' that the Parlement of Paris registered (1518) the papal bull that condemned the Pragmatic Sanction. The purely Gallican principles of the councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basel still remained the standard expression of French convictions as to the rightful position of the church. The great jurists Pithou and Dupin, in asserting the liberties of the church, equally enforced the privileges of the crown.

It was a contest between Louis XIV and Innocent XI regarding the socalled right of Regalia - the right claimed by kings of receiving the revenues of a bishopric during a vacancy, and of presenting to benefices pending a new appointment - that led to the famous Declaration of the French Clergy in 1682, which has since been regarded as the charter of Gallicanism. This formulary emanated from an extraordinary assembly of 35 bishops and 35 other clergy convened by royal authority at Paris, 19 March 1682. It was drawn up by Bossuet, and consists of four articles.

The first declares that 'the jurisdiction of St Peter and his successors in the Roman see as vicars of Christ on earth, although divinely bestowed, is confined to things spiritual and appertaining to salvation, and does not extend to civil or temporal affairs.' The article therefore declares 'that princes are not subject in temporal things to any ecclesiastical authority ;' that they cannot be deposed ' either directly or indirectly by the power of the keys, and that their subjects cannot be dispensed from their subjection or released from their allegiance.' The second article renews the declaration of the Council of Constance with regard to the superiority of a general council over the pope, and declares that that article is not to lie restricted in its application to a period of schism such as existed at the time of the council. The third asserts that the authority of the pope is ' to be restricted by the canons of the universal church,' and that ' the rules, customs, and institutions of the Gallican kingdom and church remain in full force.' This is the article which asserts the celebrated 'Gallican Liberties.'

The fourth article, while it concedes to the pope 'the chief part in questions of faith,' and professes that ' his decrees extend to each and every church,' nevertheless maintains ' that his judgment is not irreformable, unless it shall have been confirmed by the consent of the entire church.' The chief rules, customs, and institutions of the Gallican Church referred to in the third article are, that the Gallican Church does not receive all the decrees of councils and of popes in matters of discipline, and that those only are in force which are so received ; that the Gailican Church holds itself free to receive or reject the rules of the Roman chancery ; that the Roman pontiff cannot levy any impost from the French clergy without their own consent; that he cannot bestow of his own motion on a foreigner anv benefice within the French Church ; that neither fie nor his legates can hear French causes in ' the first instance,' and that in cases of appeal he is liound to assign native judges to hear the appeal, even if the appellant should be a metropolitan or primate ; that the French bishops shall not be required to attend any general council except with the permission of the crown. The last of these 'customs,' as also those which make the receiving or not receiving the general canons of discipline optional in France, and which practically throw the decision into the hands of the civil power, have been with much show of reason denominated the ' Slaveries' rather than the ' Liberties' of the Gallican Church.

This Declaration was strenuously enforced for the next ten years by Louis XIV. It was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII. in 1690, by Clement XI. in 1706, and again by Pius VI. in 1794; but both the acceptance of the articles and their condemnation were understood to be with certain reservations.

The Gallican Church underwent very extensive modifications at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The enactment in 1790 of the 'civil constitution of the clergy' introduced a large infusion of the democratic element. The church was first secularised, and then swept away, till Bonaparte, as First Consul, restored it in a fresh concordat with the pope (1801).

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Page last modified: 04-12-2011 19:38:06 ZULU