Gallicanism

A body of doctrines which found particular favor in the French or Gallican Church, and tended to limit the power of the pope in favour of the bishops, and also to extend unduly the power of the State over eccletliastical affairs; hence the familiar distinction between ecclesiastical and political Gallicanism, the former affecting the very constitution of the Church, the latter affecting the relations between Church and State. The two, however, were usually mingled, as too often civil rulers found willing tools in bishops and clergy. Ecclesiastical Gallicanism was a consequence of the Great Western Schism, during which the idea of the pope‘s supremacy was badly obscured. Political Gallicanism is traceable to the Byzantine emperors who interfered constantly in ecclesiastical affairs, to the German emperors of the Middle Ages and their neo-Caesarism, and to Philip the Fair of France and his struggle with Boniface VIII.

The first exponents of Gallicanism were the Franciscan William of Occam, John of Jandun, and Marsilius of Padua who in the 14th century denied the divine origin of the papal primacy and subjected its exercise to the pleasure of the civil ruler. After the Great Western Schism, the conciliar theory (superiority of the council over the pope) found favor and was formulated by Gerson and Peter d’Ailly. The Council of Constance (1414 to 1418) gave official sanction to this doctrine and the promulgation of its 4th and 5th sessions may be regarded as the real birthday of Gallicanism. The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges in 1438 reduced the theory to practise and undertook to regulate the administration of the churches independently from the pope.

Gallicanism seemed to die away during the 16th century, but revived after the death of Henry IV in 1610. The Sorbonne endorsed it in 1663, and in 1682 the famous Assembly of the Clergy published the “Four Articles”, which became obligatory in all schools and faculties of theology. The French Revolution, by persecuting the Church, drove the bishops into the arms of the pope and dealt a mortal blow to Gallicanism. It survived, however, until the middle of the 19th century, and when Vatican Council I opened in 1869, it still had a few timid partisans in France. From France, Gallicanism spread during the 18th century into the Netherlands, thanks to the canonist Van Espen, and into Germany, through the efforts of Hontheim (Febronius); it became known as Febronianism, and Josephinism, after Joseph II of Austria, the “Sacristan Emperor.” The Council of Pistoia in 1786 tried to introduce it into Italy.

Stricken down by the Vatican Council, Gallicanism has only a very few adherents left in Switzerland and Germany, under the name of Old Catholics.