May 6, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Imperiled Church: Sun King controlled the Church in France

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

My previous three columns were about the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in England during the 16th to the 18th centuries. But it was also happening in other parts of Europe.

The 16th century witnessed terrible religious strife in France—known as the Wars of Religion—between Catholic and Protestant factions. They ended in 1594 when King Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon kings of France, converted to Catholicism.

He began what became known in France as the grand siecle (great century), when France became the dominant country in Europe, both culturally and politically.

The 17th century began well for Catholicism in France. It was the state religion and Catholic prelates were powerful, especially Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585-1642), the chief minister to King Louis XIII, who reigned from 1610 to 1643. Cardinal Richelieu used his spiritual and political authority to ensure monarchial absolutism.

Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) continued Cardinal Richelieu’s policies during the childhood of King Louis XIV, especially through his close, and scandalous, relationship with Queen Mother Anne.

Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, came into his majority after Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1661, and he continued his reign until his death in 1715. As the leading monarch in Europe, he was determined to control the Catholic Church in France, just as King Henry VIII of England wanted to do earlier.

Gallicanism is the name given to efforts to restrict papal authority over the Church in France. It is derived from the Latin word “Gaul,” which was the name of the region that later became France which was ruled by the Roman Empire. Louis XIV encouraged the French clergy to reject the papacy.

Innocent XI was elected pope in 1676, and he almost immediately came into conflict with King Louis XIV, especially in the matter of control over episcopal appointments and disposition of the revenues of dioceses without bishops. The matter came to a head when an assembly of 36 bishops and 34 deputies approved a document, written by Bishop Jacques Bossuet, meant to severely curtail the authority of the papacy.

The four Gallican Articles declared:

1. The pope had no jurisdiction in temporal affairs. The king (or rulers in general) were not subject to the Church in matters relating to civil or temporal administration, and the pope had no power to demand that citizens abandon their loyalty to the state.

2. The conciliar decrees of the Council of Constance (1414-1418) were affirmed. When the Council of Constance settled the Great Western Schism, it also issued a decree that asserted the authority of a general council over the entire Church, including the papacy. In other words, this Gallican Article tried to revive conciliarism, which Pope Pius II condemned in 1460.

3. The privileges and rights of the Gallican Church were reiterated.

4. The judgments and declarations of the pope could be resisted until their acceptance by a general council.

The Gallican Articles were popular in France, but strenuously opposed by the papacy. Pope Alexander VIII, who succeeded Innocent XI, condemned them in 1690 in the apostolic constitution Inter multiplices. As opposition to the articles increased, King Louis revoked them.

The Catholic Church was to experience even more problems in France a century later. †

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