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The disputes between Roman-Catholics and the anticlerical movement in France during the XVIII-XIX centuries.

In the second part of the XVIII-th century, about which we can say that it was a century characterized by a strong affirmation of the liberalism and of the capitalism, the world of the venerable monarchical dynasties was replaced with that of the nation-states that have declared their establishment on the political dogma of the sovereignty of the people (1). The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment was a large movement that led to revolutions in Europe, North America and South America. This century full of excesses obliged of the Roman Church to take into account the recent facts, to reflect and respond to these challenges.

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy from France (1790)

Under the influence of J. J. Rousseau's thought, the new liberal French state will legitimate and prove its authority through the concept of the popular sovereignty that does not allow another authority superior to the nation. In this sense, Church has not had any of the supremacy that enjoyed throughout the Middle Ages. Using to the limit the principle of the popular sovereignty, the new French state sought to regulate the internal administration of the Church by various legal texts. On the basis of anti-Christian ideology, the leaders of the French Revolution voted between 1789-1790 a series of laws / decrees, which had as declared aim the restriction of the area of influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the territory of the French state; this is actually the most important institution closely linked to the French people, although there existed the Reformed Church, too (2). One of the laws with a strong impact was the civil Constitution of the clergy that involved the transformation of the clerical staff into officials of the French state, as well as the elimination of the monastic orders out (3). This decree has contributed at the same time at the anticlerical movement that has rapidly spread in the Western Europe of this revolutionary age. The anticlericals (4) fought to eliminate the religious institutions from all the forms and aspects of the political life of the state, but also from the public administration. They have also militated for and supported the decrease of the influence of the religion not only within the state institutions but also from the daily life of the citizens (5). Although it emanated mainly from an European environment that was mainly Christian, the Western anticlericalism (6) was not limited to the elimination of the Christian institutions from that which will be very soon called "the public sphere", but it has appeared over the centuries also in the Islamic countries due to the political and economic dissatisfaction.

The first Republic (September 1792-May 1804)

After gaining the power, the Thermidorians have reduced substantially the powers of the revolutionary bodies, dissolving the very dreaded Revolutionary Court (31 May 1795), but also the national security Committee (October 1795). Although there were enough arrests and executions, however, one can say that this period was more peaceful than others, especially after the elimination of Robespierre and his close collaborators. This period was known as Thermidorian, because the power--obtained by the moderate Montagnards deputies led by Bertrand Barrere of Vieuzac, on the one hand and on the other, by the partisans of the constitutional government led by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes,--was taken in mid-July 1794, which was called "thermidor" in the Republican calendar. Protected by the Law of the suspects, voted on September 17, 1793 and claiming any offense against freedom (7), thousands of aristocrats, priests and bourgeois were arrested. On September 18, 1794 the Thermidorian Convention (July 1794-October 1795) excluded from the French state budget any amount destinated to the Church; in terms of the new Civil Code, that meant no salary for any representative of any cult nor any other indirect expense.

Two theological schools of thought

Due to the fact that Church was forced to defend itself, two French great theological schools of thought has appeared in this period of Enlightenment: the liberal Catholicism and the Ultramontanism. The first current was mainly illustrated by Felicite de Lamennais, Charles Forbes Rene Count of Montalembert and by Felix Dupanloup. They believed that what happened during this period (the XIXth century) in France is not entirely wrong and that they must seek what is good and positive for the Church (8). The following were considered among the good things for the Church: the freedom to worship God, the freedom to talk about God, the freedom of the press.

Montalembert was a great journalist, but also a great historian. Besides Lamennais, he is considered one of the leading theorists of the liberal Catholicism. He wrote in order to defend the freedom of association, the freedom of teaching and learning (1850--the Falloux Law) and to respect the rights of the oppressed nationalities. Besides his struggle for the civil liberties listed above, he wanted that especially the Roman Church to be free from the state control and he protested towards the monopoly of the national education (9) that was assumed by the French state; he, in his turn, was accused by the authorities because he gave lectures in a free school in Paris without having a license for teaching.

Montalembert with the abbot Lamennais and with the abbot Lacordaire founded the newspaper LAvenir in 1830 and all of them publish papers in it. The basic theses of the liberal Catholicism were published in this journal, reason for which Montalembert lost afterwards many lawsuits filed by the Roman Curia. After being forced to close the school from Rue de Beaux-Arts, whose director was Montalembert, they hopefully went to Rome to be judged by Pope Gregory XVI himself. Although they defended Catholicism in a country where the Revolution still gave heavy blows to the Church, however, in 1832 the Pope condemned their liberal ideas in the encyclical Mirari vos. He strongly supported the restoration of the monastic orders (Benedictines, Dominicans and Jesuits) which were abolished by the Revolution.

The Abbot Hugues Felicite Robert de Lamennais was considered a precursor of the liberal Catholicism, of the social Catholicism and of the Christian democracy. Lamennais said in a work (10) published anonymously in Paris (1808) that the era that France crosses requires an awakening of the ultramontanist spirit and a religious revival. The book did not last long due to the fact that the police of the Emperor Napoleon considered it to be dangerous for the regime and destroyed it.

Later, Montalembert founded at Saint-Malo, along with his brother, the Congregation of Saint Peter which was intended to form a scholar clergy to be able to answer to the questions that the philosophers of the time could have asked and to fight for the restoration of the papal authority in France. In another book (11), he condemned the galicanism and by this he meant the control, but also the influence of the political French authority in the internal affairs of the Church, especially in the election of bishops. His biggest work is published in four volumes and is entitled Essai sur l'indifference en matiere de religion (1817), where he condemns the indifference of the state in religious matters and spiritual death. For this work he received the formal approval of the Roman Curia and was called by Pope Leo XII in Rome where he was congratulated.

In 1828 he writes Les Progres de la revolution et de la guerre contre l'eglise in which he completely gives up to the royalist principles and he will promote to the end the theocratic democracy based on a mystical concept of the mandatory presence of the Church in society.

The newspaper L'Avenir appeared in an anticlerical political context and the editors have tried to reconcile Roman Catholicism with the democratic aspirations of the people on the background of a reactionary galicanism. Lamennais was the editor-in-chief of the publication that appeared for only one year and that was considered later as a first major failure of the effort to adapt Catholicism to the new socio-political context that was extending across almost all Europe.

Through the above cited and published articles, the authors preached the separation of the Church from the State and asserted, at the same time, the sovereignty of the Pope in religious matters, but also the sovereignty of the nation in civil matters. Prominent characters of France wrote in this newspaper under the mark of a greater freedom of the press that could be noticed in 1830.

For the opinions expressed in this newspaper, the encyclical Mirari vos led to its closure. In the encyclical, the propaganda of the newspaper for the religious pluralism that the signatories to the papers sustained was condemned. Lamennais--because he was an abbot (12)--was asked to say whether or not he complies to the papal decision and he refused; one year later, in 1833, he resigned from all the ecclesiastical functions. After publishing Parole d'une croyant (1834), which is a collection of aphorisms where, among other thigs, he expressed his personal separation from the Church, he was again condemned by the Roman Curia through the encyclical Singulari nos signed by Pope Gregory XVI. The second current which we want to mention is the Ultramontanism (13). This was a Catholic school of thought that did not want to make any compromise towards the new situation through which the Roman Church but also the old Europe was passing through especially from the perspective of the non-Christian new statute of the state. The Ultramontanists asserted from the very beginning the Pope's absolute sovereignty in religious matters and also won another very important theological position through Vatican Council I where they were able to impose the dogma of the papal infallibility. This thesis, the Ultramontanism, is strictly related to the Roman Catholic centralism and opposed since the fifteenth century to the conciliar movement, i.e. to those who wanted to diminish the powers of the papal primacy through the sinodal Councils of the Church. In France, the opponents of the extension of the papal power have created the Gallican movement that wanted to restrict the papal authority in France. The freedom to organize and participate in a public divine cult was restored only in 1795 and the decree was put the condition that these ceremonies to take place only in private spaces, without displaying outward signs. The freedom of cult (14) was confined to chapels and churches of lesser importance or in geographically isolated areas. In that year many priests began to return from exile in France. Through the decree of 1790 (15), the priests were obliged to swear an oath by which to accept the sovereignty of the people and, this way, there is a division among them, on one side are those who accept such an oath, considering that this way they respect the authority of the state, and the other side, there are those priests who did not want to abdicate from the old Roman practice which took them off the state jurisdiction and put them under the jurisdiction of the Roman Church.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII

In 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte initiated the first discussions with the representatives of the Pope in order to establish a Concordat (16). The negotiations up to the moment of signing this concordat lasted more than a year. If we look from top to bottom this concordat, we can see that it gave to the Roman Catholic confession the title of the religion of most of the French people, but also the public exercise of the cult which was forbidden at the beginning of the Revolution.

Another gain of the concordat for which the minister Talleyrand fought was that all churches and chapels that had been closed by the state, went again to the French clergy service. As a sign of the power (17) of Napoleon, through the concordat, a new assignation of the bishoprics in France was made and all the bishops across of France were appointed by Napoleon again. Both bishops (18) and priests have been conditioned to the appointment by the swearing of an allegiance to the French state.

The concordat allowed the faithful to make donations to the Church, after a period when this civil right, after the Revolution, had been canceled. With a great legal ability, the same day Concordat was signed, Napoleon added to its text, without the pope approval, some "organic articles (19)", through which the number of archbishops and bishops and priests and of the staff has been fixed. Napoleon managed to dislodge the whole French clergy by the Concordat, going so far as in order to publish a papal bull or other doctrinal decisions of ecclesiastical authority, the prior authorization of the Government was needed. Under liturgical report, it was agreed that on the entire French territory only a form of Mass to be officiated and only one catechism to be used. Through this Concordat, the authority of the state over the Church increased and the priests and bishops are subjects for the French civil law and therefore they can be judged by the state. The Vatican never accepted the so-called Organic Articles added by Napoleon, but failed in removing them. A great part of the Concordat was taken over by the French law of separation of the Churches from 1905. This Concordat is applied today in the districts of Alsace and Lorraine from France since 1905, when they were part of Germany.


--Bokenkotter, Thomas, Church and Revolution: Catholics and the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice, New York, ed. Doubleday, 1998

--Cassirer, Ernst, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, 1992

--Encyclopaedia Britannica, Anticlericalism, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Cambridge University Press, 2007

--Ehler, Sidney Z., Church and State through the Centuries, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1988

--C. T. McIntire, Changing Religious Establishment sand Religious Liberty in France. Part I: 1787-1879, in vol. Freedom and Religion in the Nineteenth Century, Stanford University Press, California, 1997

--Heinrich Geffcken, Edward F. Taylor, Church and state: their relations historically developed, Vol. III, ed. Longmans, 1877, Londra, (2010)

--Jean Lavoue, La prophetie de Feli, auxsources de levangile social de Lamennais, ed. Golias, Lyon, 2011

--Magalie Flores-Lonjou, Les liexde culte en France, ed. du Cerf, Paris, 2001.

Gelu CALINA University of Craiova, Faculty of Theology, History and Education Sciences


(1) Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 17

(2) Encyclopaedia Britannica, Anticlericalism, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Cambridge University Press, 2007

(3) Helmstadter, Richard J., (ed.), Freedom and Religion in the Nineteenth Century, Stanford University Press, California, 1997, pp. 251-253. Vezi si urmatoarele studii: Hans Maier (ed.), Totalitarianism and Political Religions, Routledge, 2004 ; Emilio Gentile, Politics as Religion, Princeton University Press, 2006 ; Emilio Gentile, The Struggle for Modernity, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003

(4) Sidney Z. Ehler, Church and State through the Centuries, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1988, p. 234

(5) C. T. McIntire, Changing Religious Establishment sand Religious Liberty in France. Part 1:1787-1879, in vol. Freedom and Religion in the Nineteenth Century, Stanford University Press, California, 1997, p. 241

(6) Heinrich Geffcken, Edward Fairfax Taylor, Church and state: their relations historically developed, Vol. I-II, ed. Longmans, 1877, Londra, (2010)

(7) Art 1. Immediately after the publication of the present decree, all suspected persons within the territory of the Republic and still at liberty shall be placed in custody. Art. 2. The following are deemed suspected persons: 1st, those who, by their conduct, associations, talk, or writings have shown themselves partisans of tyranny or federalism and enemies of liberty; 2nd, those who are unable to justify, in the manner prescribed by the decree of 21 March last, their means of existence and the performance of their civic duties; 3rd, those to whom certificates of patriotism have been refused; 4th, public functionaries suspended or dismissed from their positions by the National Convention or by its commissioners, and not reinstated, especially those who have been or are to be dismissed by virtue of decree of 14 August last; 5th, those former nobles, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, and agents of the emigres, who have not steadily manifested their devotion to the Revolution; 6th, those who have emigrated during the interval between 1 July, 1789, and the publication of the decree of 30 March-8 April, 1792, even though they may have returned to France within the period established by said decree or prior thereto.

(8) Thomas Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution: Catholics and the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice, New York, ed. Doubleday, 1998, p. 53

(9) The Obligation of Catholics in the Matter of Freedom of Teaching, (1843) ; Catholic Interests in the Nineteenth Century (1852)

(10) Reflexions sur l 'e'tat de l 'eglise en France pendant le 18ieme siecle et sur sa situation actuelle

(11) De la tradition de l"eglise sur l'institution des eveques, 1814

(12) the abbot was a catholic priest, superior in a monastery (abbey)

(13) Ultramontanuscomes from the Middle Ages which means beyond the mountains in the sense that Roman Catholics in Northern Europe is always reported to the Bishop of Rome, but also to the Roman Curia and the Alps was the best symbol to denote this relationship. The same term was used in the Middle Ages when the Pope was elected as a non-Italian (Pope ultramontano) but also for the students that were studying at the Italian universities.

(14) Magalie Flores-Lonjou, Les liexde culte en France, ed. du Cerf, Paris, 2001, p. 23

(15) The Civil Constitution of the clergy

(16) The Concordat is a legal agreement between the Roman seat and a country where the confession is Roman-Catholic. The Concordat from the Napoleonic times was signed on July 15, 1801 and promulgated on April 8, 1802.

(17) Here's how through the new Concordat, the appointment of the bishops in France was done: The first French consul appointed the bishops and the Pope gave them the canonical book, which meant that he recognized them, but he could also refuse them. The priests were appointed by bishops only from a list of priests approved by the Government.

(18) The bishops received again the right to open a theological seminary in their diocese.

(19) These articles were the methodology through which the Concordat was put in practice.
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Title Annotation:ORIGINAL PAPER
Author:Calina, Gelu
Publication:Revista de Stiinte Politice
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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