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Jacques Bénigne Bossuet , Bishop of Meaux, leading exponent of Gallicanism under King Louis XIV.

Gallicanism ( Middle Latin of Gaul, France) was the French form of episcopalism that emerged in the late Middle Ages . It was a canonical system with which the Catholic Church in France sought to establish a kind of independence from the Roman See. For this purpose certain privileges, the Gallican freedoms , were established. Essentially, it was about minimizing the pope's secular power in matters of national politics and subordinating his position to the national council of bishops.

Ideological anchoring in the Franconian Empire

The roots of the Gallican understanding of autonomy go back to the Merovingian times. Until the middle of the 8th century, the church in the Franconian Empire was largely autonomous. It made its decisions on imperial synods, which were convened by the king - similar to the Roman Empire, where the synods were convened by the emperor. Around 750 there was an alliance of convenience between the caretaker Pippin the Younger and the Pope. Pippin wanted the royal crown for himself and his descendants, the Pope urgently needed help against the Longobards and a new patron instead of the Byzantine emperor. After Pippin's victory over the Lombards in 756, Pippin gave the conquered territory to the Pope as the Patrimony of Petri and thus created the basis for the Papal State . As a result, the Franconian Church was tied to the Pope more strongly than other regional churches, who exercised jurisdiction there. However, the Frankish Church retained certain rights and freedoms, both with regard to the king (for example, filling positions, approval of edicts) and with regard to the bishops and their local churches vis-à-vis the Pope.

Gallican era

History and concept

The French royal court reflected on the above-described freedoms in the 14th century, when Philip the Fair came into conflict with Pope Boniface VIII about the supremacy and authority of the papacy to issue authority over secular rule and the delimitation of powers between the Church and the Pope Sovereigns got. As a result, this ecclesiastical dispute led in 1309 to the relocation of the official seat of the Popes to Avignon and to the long-term subjection of the papacy to French interests. Since Clement V (1305-1314), only French popes were elected, who in turn appointed almost exclusively French cardinals, which seemed to perpetuate this development. This resulted in a Europe-wide church crisis that ultimately led to the Western Great Schism (1378–1417) when two and at times even three popes ruled side by side.

The movement in France, which programmatically promoted and defended the political, organizational and theological independence of the French Church (ecclesia gallicana) from the suzerainty of the Pope, has only been known as Gallicanism since its more detailed research in the 19th century .


In response to the chaotic church affairs in the time of the schism occurred throughout Europe to revive the ancient church conciliarism , culminating at the Council of Constance was (1414-1418). French theologians, who as champions of national church endeavors, are attributed to Gallicanism, played an important role; Well-known representatives of conciliarism at the Paris University ( Sorbonne ) included Pierre d'Ailly and Jean Gerson .

Bourges' Pragmatic Sanction

Gallicanism was enshrined in law in 1438 by Bourges' Pragmatic Sanction . This is not to be confused with the founding document of the same name of the Habsburg Empire . Rather, it was an agreement between the King of France and the Catholic clergy , in which the rights of the king (jurisdiction, staffing) were laid down.

The Bologna Concordat 1516

In the Bologna Concordat , King Francis I reached an agreement with Pope Leo X in 1516 , which gave the French crown almost unlimited control over the Church in France and its property in return for the formal recognition of the superiority of the Pope over the councils. Since then, the French church has remained organizationally subordinate to the king and has been integrated into the administration of the French state in the following years.

The Gallican Articles of 1682

The Gaulish movement reached its climax with the so-called “Regalienstreit”, which the French King Louis XIV led with the Pope from 1673 onwards. Since the Bologna Concordat, the King of France has had the privilege of exercising the bishop's occupation rights (ecclesiastical regalia) during the vacancy of the northern French bishoprics and collecting the income of the episcopal see (temporal regalia) for the French crown. When Louis XIV also claimed these rights for the dioceses of southern France, Rome responded with the threat of papal sanctions. The king then convened the National Council of 1682 in Paris. On March 19, 1682, the “Gallican freedoms”, which remained in force until the French Revolution, were unanimously adopted in four articles, which were written under the auspices of Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet .

Briefly summarized, the four articles had the following content:

  1. God has given the Popes and the Church power only in spiritual, but not in worldly matters; the princes are in temporal matters independent of the church authority.
  2. The power of the Pope in spiritual matters is limited by the authority of the general councils (decrees of the Council of Constance 1414–1418).
  3. The exercise of papal power is limited by the canons established by the councils. In addition, the laws and customary rights of the French king and the French church, as previously exercised, remain in effect.
  4. Decisions of the Pope on questions of faith require the approval of the whole Church.

Inner differentiation

Two different tendencies can be observed within Gallicanism. One, more episcopalist and conciliarist direction, expressed itself in the theology, relatively independent of Rome, which was taught at the Sorbonne and found its way into theological textbooks. This theological trend later led to Jansenism . The other direction can be described as state-supporting-absolutist. One of their most important representatives was Bossuet , but Bossuet's friendship with Antoine Arnauld also led a line to Jansenism. The overemphasis on the power of the state in this current of Gallicanism was due to the times and disappeared completely with the end of absolutism .

Constitutional Church (1790–1801)

In the spirit of Gallicanism, the French Catholic Church was reorganized during the French Revolution with the Constitution civile du clergé of the National Assembly of July 12, 1790. All institutions that did not serve pastoral care were dissolved, the dioceses (83 instead of the previous 130) territorially re-defined on the basis of the new départements , bishops and pastors were elected by the faithful, obliged to take the oath of the constitution and paid by the state. The so-called constitutional bishops held French national councils in 1797 and 1801. With the Concordat of 1801 between Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII , both the constitutional bishops and the emigrated bishops of the Ancien Régime were urged to resign.


In the following years, the Roman Curia partially succeeded in a formal lifting of the “Pragmatic Sanction” (cf. Leo X. ), but in fact the privileges of the French kings remained. Only after the French Revolution and the abolition of absolutism did the Gallican Church cease to function.

The episcopalist and conciliarist ideas taught at the Sorbonne when the Roomsch Katholieke Kerk van de Oud-Bisschoppelijke Cleresie (now the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands ) opposed the Pope's claim to primacy in the first quarter of the 18th century had a decisive influence . From the remains of the Constitutional Church and the supporters of the bishops of the Ancien Régime, various small Catholic churches ( Petite Église ; Église Catholique Française etc.) formed in France in the 19th century . After the First Vatican Council in 1871, they joined forces with international Old Catholicism (including the Union of Utrecht ), while the French opponents of the new papal dogmas organized themselves as emphatically Gallican churches ( Église Catholique, Apostolique et Française des Joseph René Vilatte) ; Église Gallicane des Louis-François Giraud ).

After the first three Gallican articles had become obsolete with the abolition of absolutism in France, the First Vatican Council tried above all to counter those ideas that can be found in the fourth Gallican article. Through the historical development of the following period, the Catholic Church and the papacy recognized more clearly that the supranational character is essential for Catholicism. The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) on the one hand strengthened the identity of the church as a universal church, on the other hand it also gained a new openness to regional cultural conditions. The Council Pope Paul VI. With his implementation of the liturgical reform met resistance from ancient ritualist traditionalism, especially in France . Whether this could be traced back to the influence of Gallicanism, which had an impact from the 18th century, is still being debated. It is also discussed whether French laicism can also be understood as an aftereffect, in the sense of a counter-movement, of Gallicanism.


  • Wolfgang Krahl: Ecumenical Catholicism. Old Catholic landmarks and texts from two millennia. St. Cyprian, Bonn 1970.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Reinhold Zippelius: State and Church. A story from antiquity to the present. Mohr Siebeck, 2009, ISBN 978-3-16150016-9 , pp. 61-63
  2. See Reinhold Zippelius: State and Church. P. 103
  3. ^ A b Hubert Filser: Dogma, Dogmen, Dogmatik An investigation into the justification and the history of the development of a theological discipline from the Reformation to the Late Enlightenment. LIT Verlag, Münster 2001, ISBN 978-3-82585221-4 , p. 314
  4. Public relations work group in the Catholic Diocese of Old Catholics in Germany (ed.): Church for Christians today - information about the Old Catholic Church . Hoffmann, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-87344-001-6 , p. 66.
  5. Andreas Pesch: "Gallicanism" or equal treatment? The integration of Islam and the religious and political legacy in France. In: Felix Heidenreich, Jean-Christophe Merle, Wolfram Vogel (eds.): State and religion in France and Germany. Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-8258-1105-1 , pp. 140 ff.