France

[map of France]
Republic in central Europe.

According to tradition, Christianity was introduced in Apostolic times into the Roman province of Gaul which is supposed to have been visited by Saint Lazarus, Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Martha, Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, and Saint Crescens. Greek culture and Christianity were both implanted by Greek, Asiatic, and Syrian merchants and missionaries, who probably crossed the Mediterranean to Marseilles, ascended the Rhone, founded colonies in the large towns, and established the Church at Lyons with suffragan in Vienne in the 2nd century. The Church in Gaul is first mentioned in history in connection with the persecution at Lyons under Marcus Aurelius (177) which included martyrs from every station in life. Saint Pothinus, first Bishop of Lyons, and his successor, Saint Irenaeus, were both disciples of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. The country was also evangelized by missionaries sent from Rome, including Saint Denis, first Bishop of Paris, and several sees were organized by the middle of the 3rd century. At the Synod of Arles (314) the sees of Vienne, Marseilles, Arles, Orange, Vaison, Apt, Nice, Lyons, Autun; Rheims, Rouen, Bordeaux, Gabali, Eauze, Toulouse, Narbonne, Clermont, Bourges, and Paris were in existence. The towns were won first, and missionary work in rural districts increased during the 4th and 5th centuries under Saint Martin of Tours, and numerous popular preachers. Religious community life was introduced by Saint Martin and Cassian, but no codified rule was adopted until the time of Caesarius of Arles in the 6th century. Of the heresies which beset the province, Arianism was combated by the exiled Athanasius and Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Priscillianism was condemned at the Synod of Saragossa (380), and Pelagianism was defeated under Saint Caesarius of Arles (529). In the 5th century the Arian kingdom of the Visigoths was established, but their policy of hostility to Catholicity was soon changed for one of moderation, and in the following century the kingdom was seized by the Franks. Clovis, King of the Franks, who had been baptized in 496 by Saint Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, was accepted as the Christian ruler of Gaul, and the Kingdom of France established. The French royal house remained in closest union with the papacy throughout the Middle Ages, and devotion to the Church earned for the rulers of France, of whom the most illustrious was Saint Louis, the title of Most Christian Majesty, retained until the Revolution in the 18th century.

Lutheranism and Calvinism, established in France in the 16th century, were checked by Henry IV’s acceptance of Catholicity and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. With Louis XIV Gallicanism came to the throne, resulting on the one hand in persecution of Protestants and Jansenists, and on the other in subjection of papal pronouncements to the king‘s approval. The 17th century marked a Catholic awakening under Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, and Jean Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, and the development of the grands seminaires began, with increase of missionary activity in America and the East. In the 18th century, the least Christian in the history of France, the Constituent Assembly confiscated the possessions of the Church, and established the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, giving voters the right to nominate priests and bishops without the approval of Rome, condemned by Pope Pius VI. The Assembly obliged all members of the clergy to swear allegiance to the Constitution, but the majority refused and were persecuted. Persecution increased under the Republic which attempted to dechristianize France, but Catholicity, never entirely suppressed, was restored by the Concordat of Napoleon, 1799. Under the Restoration, the Little Sisters of the Poor were founded (1840), and the conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul instituted (1833). Universal suffrage, established under the Second Republic (1848), was confined by the Second Empire under Louis Napoleon, and the Third Republic was proclaimed, 1870. Through all these changes of government the foreign policy of France consistently supported the Catholic Church. There is no state religion. In 1905 all Churches were separated from the State and authorized to form self-supporting associations for public worship (associations cultuelles), and all buildings used for public worship were made over to the associations; in the absence of associations, buildings remain at the disposal of the clergy and worshipers, but an administrative act must be secured from the pretet or the mawe. In 1920 diplomatic relations with the Holy See, broken in 1904, were resumed. France is represented in the Vatican City by an ambassador, and a papal nuncio resides in Paris.

Additional Information

MLA Citation

  • “France“. Gazetteer of the Faith. Saints.SQPN.com. 17 August 2013. Web. 22 December 2014. <>