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GALLICANISM. The term "Gallicanism," coined in the early nineteenth century, defines a conception of church-state relations that developed in early modern France and subsequently influenced other European countries. This conception, medieval in origin, was based on two principles: separation of powers, which protected the state from any intervention from the papacy, and constitutionalism, which submitted the pope to the authority of church canons. The word also applies to an interpretation of Catholicism that places the pope under the authority of the church represented by the general council and rejects his personal infallibility.


Negotiated in 1516, the Concordat of Bologna between Francis I and Pope Leo X formed the legal base of church-state relations in early modern France: the papacy gave the monarchy control of most benefices, bishoprics, and abbeys, whose titulars were appointed by the king and approved by Rome. The Parlement of Paris resisted the agreement on the ground of fidelity to ancient laws, or "Gallican liberties." After its forced registration (1518), legists defended these liberties in their writings, constituting a body of references that established political Gallicanism.

Reviving a medieval tradition of resistance to the papacy and state control of the church, these authors collected traditions and precedents that asserted the independence of the French church and of the kings. Les libertés de l'église Gallicane (1594; The liberties of the Gallican church), by Pierre Pithou, a lawyer in the Paris Parlement, was reprinted and commented on by Pierre and Jacques Dupuy in Traité des droits et libertés de l'Église gallicane (Treatise on the rights and liberties of the Gallican church) and Preuves des droits et libertés de l'église Gallicane (Proofs of the rights and liberties of the Gallican church), published in 1639; its arguments were extended by Pierre Toussaint Durand de Maillane in 1771. Though an attempt to impose as a fundamental article (law of the kingdom) the absolute independence of the king in secular matters was defeated by the clergy at a meeting of the Estates-General in 1615, this principle was accepted by all French canonists and theologians, though with a lesser extension than applied by legists and civil servants.


Most French clerics shared the legists' respect for the ancient church, and they also sought state backing for the religious unification of the kingdom. However, they resented any form of lay control and needed papal authority to support the Catholic renewal that followed the Council of Trent. To counter this perceived shift from Gallican principles, Edmond Richer, the syndic (moderator) of the Sorbonne, the theological faculty of Paris, reissued works written during the conciliarist period by Pierre d'Ailly (1350c. 1420), Jean Charlier (Jean de Gerson, 13631429), and Jacques Almain (c. 14801515). Richer's extreme views, as expressed in the 1612 pamphlet Libellus de ecclesiastica et politica potestate (Booklet on ecclesiastical and political power), were rejected at that time, but theological Gallicanism subsisted in the faculty, expressed in a succession of pronouncements, the most important of which are the six Articles of 1663, an exposition of official doctrine on papal authority, and the censure of the book of Jacques Vernant, also known as the Carmelite Bonavendute d'Hérédie (16121667), that defended papal infallibility.

By that time, another form of Gallicanism had developed, which was also the revival of an ancient model: episcopal Gallicanism. This concept derived from the question of Jansenism. The French bishops who had asked Rome to arbitrate on the issue of the Dutch theologian Cornelus Otto Jansen (Cornelius Jansenius, 15851638) and the "Five Propositions" attempted to balance their recourse to papal authority by the assertion of their own. Following the precedent of the early African church, they claimed to "receive," that is, to approve, the papal condemnation. As papal infallibility was also claimed to support these pronouncements, more Gallican resistance followed, rejecting this personal privilege.

These separate developments converged in the Déclaration du Clergé de France sur la puissance ecclésiastique (Declaration of the French clergy on ecclesiastical power; March 1682), formulated at Louis XIV's request, by a special assembly of the French clergy. The intention was to pressure Pope Innocent XI on the dispute concerning the king's right (regalia) to administer a diocese during the vacancy of the see. Despite Louis's later recantation, the four articles of this declaration were to represent the official doctrine of the French church during the Old Regime.

The first article of the declaration concerned the separation of spiritual and secular powers, as noted above. The second admitted papal spiritual power but subjected it to the authority of general councils. The third article insisted that the exercise of papal power was regulated by the ancient canons and Gallican customs. The fourth acknowledged papal authority in matters of faith but rejected infallibility and demanded that in order to be irreformable his pronouncements receive the consent of the universal church.


In order to eradicate Jansenism, which had been revived by the works of Pasquier Quesnel (16341719), Louis XIV allied himself with pope Clement XI and secured the acceptation of the bull Unigenitus (1713). As some of the condemned propositions excerpted from the book dealt with Gallican principles, the issue of Unigenitus divided the Gallicans. On one side were the supporters of a condemnation requested by the king and accepted by the majority of bishops, on the other, those who rejected the censures and appealed to a future general council. From this perspective, a mutation happened that was to have serious consequence: Gallicanism divided into two branches. One, authoritarian Gallicanism, followed the hierarchical model and only transferred to the king or bishops the authority over the church claimed by the pope, being therefore a form of regalism or episcopalism. The other, participatory Gallicanism, reinterpreted the medieval concept, itself founded on Aristotle's Politics, which developed a democratic model structured on the notions of representation and reception. Representation is a process of formulation of truth that, starting from the community, moves through hierarchical authority in order to be expressed at the highest level; reception is the process of confirming and authenticating the decision. This reconstruction of classical university and parlement Gallicanism, applied first to the ecclesiastical structure, was soon transposed to the political level.

Though both reflected the 1682 articles, the two perspectives conflicted during the eighteenth century, ostensibly on the issue of Jansenism but in fact on that of absolutism, preparing the way for the French Revolution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed by the National Assembly in 1790, was an application of participatory Gallicanism developed by Bishop Henri Grégoire and other "constitutional" bishops. The concordat negotiated by Napoléon Bonaparte and the Holy See in 1801 marked a return to political Gallicanism, without the balancing weight of episcopal Gallicanism.

See also Church and State Relations ; Jansenism .


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Jacques M. Gres-Gayer

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Gallicanism (găl´ĬkənĬz´əm), in French Roman Catholicism, tradition of resistance to papal authority. It was in opposition to ultramontanism, the view that accorded the papacy complete authority over the universal church. Two aspects of Gallicanism are sometimes distinguished: royal Gallicanism, which defended the special rights of the French monarch in the French church; and ecclesiastical Gallicanism, which tried to preserve for the French clergy a certain administrative independence from Rome. Gallicanism in both senses received its theoretical formulation during the crisis of the Great Schism through the conciliar theory, which asserted the supremacy of general councils over the pope. The Council of Basel (see Basel, Council of) further extended the conciliar ideas and in 1438 the French king, Charles VII, legalized these antipapal measures in the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (see under pragmatic sanction). For additional chapters in the long struggle between monarch and pope for control of the French church see investiture; church and state; Philip IV; Boniface VIII; concordat. The quarrel between Louis XIV and Innocent XI occasioned the famous "Four Gallican Articles," drawn up for Louis by the French bishops (see also Innocent XII). These declare that kings are not subject to the pope, that general councils supersede the pope's authority, that the pope must respect the customs of the local church, and that papal decrees do not bind unless accepted by the entire church. Gallicanism was much encouraged by Jansenism and remained fashionable at court. It was furthered by the followers of the Swiss theologian Thomas Erastus. No French king, however, sought to separate the French church from Rome, as did Henry VIII with the church in England; nor did any French king, despite the development of Gallican theory, ever manage to gain a hold over the church comparable to that exercised by the Spanish kings. The French clergy generally supported Gallicanism and during the French Revolution had little difficulty assenting to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The First Vatican Council in 1870 established the authority of the pope as a matter of dogma, and Gallicanism continued to live on only in the heretical Old Catholics.

See W. H. Jervis, The Gallican Church and the Revolution (1882).

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Gallicanism. The assertion of more or less complete freedom in the Roman Catholic Church from the authority of the papacy. This was affirmed particularly for the Church in France (the old Gaul, hence the name). The opposite is Ultramontanism. The definition of papal infallibity at the first Vatican Council made any further expression of Gallicanism impossible.

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"Gallicanism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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