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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Church, Gallican

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Denotes the ci-devant church of France under the government of its respective bishops and pastors. This church always enjoyed certain franchises and immunities, not as grants from popes, but as derived to her from her first original, and which she took care never to relinquish. These liberties depended upon two maxims; the first, that the pope had no right to order any thing in which the temporalities and civil rights of the kingdom were concerned; the second, that, notwithstanding the pope's supremacy was admitted in cases purely spiritual, yet in France his power was limited by the decrees of ancient councils received in that realm. In the established church the Jansenists were very numerous. The bishoprics and prebends were entirely in the gift of the king; and no other Catholic state, except Italy, had so numerous a clergy as France. There were in this kingdom eighteen archbishops, one hundred and eleven bishops, one hundred and sixty-six thousand clergymen, and three thousand four hundred convents, containing two thousand persons devoted to a monastic life. Since the repeal of the edict of Nantz, the protestants have suffered much from persecution. A solemn law, which did much honour to Louis XVI. late king of France, gave to his non-Roman Catholic subjects, as they were called, all the civil advantages and privileges of their Roman Catholic brethren.

The above statement was made previously to the French revolution: great alterations have taken place since that period. And it may be interesting to those who have not the means of fuller information, to give a sketch of the causes which gave rise to those important events. It has been asserted, that about the middle of the last century a conspiracy was formed to overthrow Christianity, without distinction of worship, whether Protestant or Catholic. Voltaire D'Alembert, Frederick II. king of Prussia, and Diderot, were at the head of this conspiracy. Numerous other adepts and secondary agents were induced to join them. These pretended philosophers used every artifice that impiety could invent, by union and secret correspondence, to attack, to debase, and annihilate Christianity. They not only acted in concert, sparing no political or impious art to effect the destruction of the Christian religion, but they were the instigators and conductors of those secondary agents, whom they had seduced, and pursued their plan with all the ardour and constancy which denotes the most finished conspirators.

The French clergy amounted to one hundred and thirty thousand, the higher orders of whom enjoyed immense revenues; but the cures, or great body of acting clergy, seldom possessed more than twenty- eight pounds sterling a year, and the vicars about half the sum. The clergy as a body, independent of their titles, possessed a revenue arising from their 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 proposed to grant a certain stipend to the different ministers of religion, to be payable by the nation. The possessions of the church were then considered as national property by a decree of the constituent assembly. 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, the Roman Catholics assert, was in direct opposition to their religion. But though opposed with energetic eloquence, the decree passed, and was soon after followed by another, obliging the clergy to swear to maintain their civil constitution. Every artifice which cunning, and every menace which cruelty could invent, were used to induce them to take the oath; great numbers, however, refused. One hundred and thirty-eight bishops and arch-bishops, sixty-eight curates or vicars, were on this account driven from their sees and parishes. Three hundred of the priests were massacred in one day in one city. All the other pastors who adhered to their religion were either sacrificed, or banished from their country, seeking through a thousand dangers a refuge among foreign nations. A perusal of the horrid massacres of the priests who refused to take the oaths, and the various forms of persecution employed by those who were attached to the Catholic religion, must deeply wound the feelings of humanity. Those readers who are desirous of farther information, are referred to Abbe Barrul's History of the Clergy. Some think that there was another cause of the revolution, and which may be traced as far back at least as the revocation of the edict of Nantz in the seventeenth century, when the great body of French Protestants who were men of principle, were either murdered or banished, and the rest in a manner silenced.

The effect of this sanguinary measure (say they) must needs be the general prevalence of infidelity. Let the religious part of any nation be banished, and a general spread of irreligion must necessarily follow: such were the effects in France. Through the whole of the eighteenth century infidelity has been the fashion, and that not only among the princes and noblesse, but even among the greater part of the bishops and clergy. And as they had united their influence in banishing true religion, and cherishing the monster which succeeded it, so have they been united in sustaining the calamitous effects which that monster has produced. However unprincipled and cruel the French revolutionists have been, and however much the sufferers, as fellow-creatures, are entitled to our pity; yet, considering the event as the just retribution of God, we are constrained to say, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, who art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus; for they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy." The Catholic religion is now again established, but with a toleration of the Protestants, under some restriction.

See the Concordat, or religious establishment on the French Republic, ratified September 10th, 1801.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Church, Gallican'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/cbd/c/church-gallican.html. 1802.

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