A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Gallican Church

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GALLICAN CHURCH. Notwithstanding the established religion of France is Roman Catholic, and the king of France is called eldest son of the church, the Gallican clergy have ever been more exempt from the temporal dominion of the pope than those of any other country, and that in two respects: (1.) The pope has not authority to command anything in which the civil laws of the kingdom are concerned.—(2.) Though the pope's supremacy is owned in spiritual matters, yet his power is limited and regulated by the decrees and canons of ancient councils received in the realm.

In the established church, Jansenists were very numerous. The bishoprics and prebendaries were all in the gift of the king; and no other catholic state, except Italy, had so numerous a clergy as France, among whom were eighteen archbishops, and a hundred and eleven bishops.

Since the repeal of the edict of Nantz, in the seventeenth century, the protestants have suffered much from persecution; but a law, which did great honour to Lewis XVI. late king of France, gave to his non-Roman Catholic subjects, as they were called, all the civil advantages of their catholic brethren. The French clergy amounted to one hundred and thirty thousand, the higher orders of which enjoyed immense revenues; but the cures, or great body of acting clergy, seldom possessed more than about 30l. a year. The clergy, as a body, independent of their tithes, possessed a revenue, arising from property in land, amounting to five millions sterling annually: at the same time they were exempt from taxation. Before the levelling system had taken place, the clergy signified to the commons the instructions of their constituents, to contribute to the exigencies of the state in equal proportion with the other citizens. Not contented with this offer, the tithes and revenues of the clergy were taken away; in lieu of which, it was agreed to grant a certain stipend to the different ministers of religion; but the possessions of the church were considered as national property by a decree of the constituent assembly.[1] The religious orders; viz. the communities of monks and nuns, possessed immense landed estates; and after having abolished the orders, the assembly seized the estates for the use of the nation: the gates of the cloisters were now thrown open. The next step of the assembly was to establish what is called the civil constitution of the clergy. This decree, though opposed with energetic eloquence, was passed, and was soon after followed by another, obliging the clergy to swear to maintain their civil constitution. Every artifice and every menace was used to induce them to take the oath: great numbers, however, refused,(among whom were a hundred and thirty eight bishops,) and were driven from their sees and parishes; three hundred of the priests being massacred in one day in one city. All the other pastors who adhered to their religion were either sacrificed or compelled to seek a refuge among foreign nations.[2]

Notwithstanding this, May 28, 1795, a decree was obtained for the freedom of religious worship, and in the following June, the churches in Paris were opened with great ceremony. The theophilanthropists, headed by Paine, attempted to convert the people from atheism to a popular kind of deism, though with small and temporary success; and they soon vanished from the country. See Theophilanthropists.

Buonaparte was an avowed friend to religious toleration, and showed in many cases a partiality to the protestants, and a great antipathy to the catbolic priests, whom be justly suspected inimical to his authority. The protestant religion, however, did not spread, the people being so deeply tinctured with infidelity as to show a total indifference to religion, while at the same time they were satiated with infidelity, so that they seem to have banished the subject from their thoughts.[3]

Upon the late restoration of the Bourbons, the Roman Catholic religion has been re-established with all its pomp and splendour. At the same time, we learn, that the protestant religion is far from having been annihilated. Hundreds of protestant ministers, and thousands of believers in protestantism being found in that community in the south of France; though it is said by some, that they are much declined in zeal and purity, both of doctrine and manners.[4]


Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Encyclopaedia, vol. xvi. p. 130.
  2. Barruel's Hist. of the Clergy.
  3. Monthly Mag. vol. vii. p. 129.
  4. Evangelical Magazine, 1814, p. 399.