Gallicanism, France’s “Anglicanism”

I have often expressed the idea of Anglicanism as an “English Gallicanism”. What was Gallicanism? The Wikipedia article is quite a good introduction from the historical point of view.

Gallicanism is a rejection of ultramontanism; it is akin to a form of Anglicanism but is nuanced, however, in that it plays down the authority of the Pope in Church without denying that there are some authoritative elements to the office associated with being primus inter pares (first among equals). Other terms for the same or similar doctrines include Erastianism, Febronianism and Josephinism.

The kind of Anglo-Catholicism that appeals to me is the kind that doesn’t roar anathemas against the Papacy (few Evangelicals do these days) but sees the Pope as an analogy with the Patriarchs and Metropolitans of the Orthodox Church, primus inter pares, Pope because he is a bishop. Unfortunately there were tendencies in European Catholicism in the eighteenth century that reduced religion to a civic force for good citizenship in accordance with the dictates of reason and decency. We have dealt with Erastianism in Anglicanism that had the characteristic of hollowing out the spiritual and mystical aspects of Christian worship and spirituality in favour of civil morality and social conformity.

What Gallicanism and Anglicanism have in common is to affirm the authority of the King of the land and limit that of the Pope in that place. Such a notion was relative under the Bourbons in France but absolute under Henry Tudor in 1534. The difference between Anglicanism and Gallicanism was a matter of degree. The four Gallican Articles of 1682 are striking:

  1. St. Peter and the popes, his successors, and the Church itself have dominion from God only over things spiritual and not over things temporal and civil. Therefore, kings and sovereigns are not beholden to the church in deciding temporal things. They cannot be deposed by the church and their subjects cannot be absolved by the church from their oaths of allegiance.
  2. The authority in things spiritual belongs to the Holy See and the successors of St. Peter, and does not affect the decrees of the Council of Constance contained in the fourth and fifth sessions of that council, which is observed by the Gallican Church. The Gallicans do not approve of casting slurs on those decrees.
  3. The exercise of this Apostolic authority (puissance) must be regulated in accordance with canons (rules) established by the Holy Spirit through the centuries of Church history.
  4. Although the pope has the chief part in questions of faith, and his decrees apply to all the Churches, and to each Church in particular, yet his judgment is not irreformable, at least pending the consent of the Church.

The Council of Constance is evoked as the principle of subjecting the primacy of the Pope to the college of Bishops. Ultramontanism in the nineteenth century was largely a direct reaction against what could be termed as ecclesiastical nationalism or any contesting of the two swords principle of the Papacy formulated since Bonface VIII’s Unum Sanctam of 1302. It should be remembered that the Council of Constance of 1414 to 1418 had the task of resolving a thoroughly rotten papacy and dealing with all the antipopes who had more influence that the present-day clown at Palmar de Troya! It formed the basis of the principle of “Northern Catholicism”. Gallicanism was far from perfect, but it formed something very solid and valuable in the effort to keep Catholicism credible faced with increasingly absurd claims from Rome! The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries represented the heyday of Gallicanism, and it persisted in a marginal form until shortly after Vatican I in 1870. It no longer had any place in communion with the Pope.

It formed the basis of Old Catholicism in the Netherlands and to some extent with Döllinger and the German / Swiss Old Catholics. There are a few small Churches in France claiming the Gallican identity. The longest established is the Eglise Gallicane – Tradition Apostolique de Gazinet based near Bordeaux. There is also the Eglise Catholique-Gallicane of Archbishop Dominique Philippe mostly present in Normandy. Another notable example is the Mission Gallicane d’Alsace and Bishop Raphael Steck. Their liturgy is frequently a little “approximate” and a contrast to what Anglicans are used to. There is a lot more popular religion than the “monastic spirit” involving a liberal use of faith healing and exorcisms. Such a concession to popular religiosity attracted ordinary people otherwise uninterested by profound theological reflection or monastic style liturgy. The Norman Gallicans still use the pre-Vatican II Roman missal in Latin. Occasionally, the label Gallican means an appeal to the French Church of pre-Roman influence, a little like some of the French western-rite Orthodox. It is a world that has never attracted me, but the baroque version of Gallicanism, now effectively dead, was something quite stimulating.

It is a slender basis for building an ecclesial idea for the early twenty-first century, as indeed is a vision of Anglicanism in the 1660’s Restoration era. The alternative is generic Liberal Protestantism which is increasingly an influence and a reference for the Franciscan Papacy. Even Bible-thumping Baptist fundamentalism in America is on the wane. Perhaps these are ideas to defining a form of episcopal and sacramental Catholicism that appeals to the Anglican sensitivity. I would certainly appreciate discussion about this topic.

Traditionalist Roman Catholics are sometimes labelled Jansenists because they are moral rigorists. Such appellation is abusive, because Jansenism had a much wider meaning. Pures comme des anges, orgueilleuses comme des démons, the nuns of Port Royal were described! There is always the same temptation in any high aspiration. Taken in its “pure” form, Jansenism could be as callous and dangerous as Calvinism, but it represented an aspiration to integrity. That is appealing. I have already written on Jansenism in this blog.

We Anglicans have been quite rigorist at times in history. The Prayer Book, partly under Calvinist influence, partly “proto-Jansenist”, was not very optimistic about human nature all in emphasising the forgiveness of sinners. I would find it hard to believe that there was no osmosis of Jansenism and Augustinian theology, however partial, between seventeenth-century France and England. Far from me to promote Jansenism, but I think there are aspects of it, its sobriety and moral integrity, that can form a part of our identity as Northern Catholics. This also provides a surviving link with Gallicanism and the Norman origins of the Sarum Use.

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One Response to Gallicanism, France’s “Anglicanism”

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Gustav Schnürer uses the term ‘Gallicanism’ in very interestingly discussing the Church in France and England in the Late Middle Ages in the third volume of his Kirche und Kultur im Mittelalter (of which, as far as I can discover, sadly only the first volume has been translated into English, as Church and Culture in the Middle Ages: 350–814: I don’t know about French – he has certainly fared well in Dutch, though he is out of print).

    The older brother of C.S. Lewis, W.H. (Warren Hamilton), has written vividly about the France of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, beginning with The Splendid Century (which has been used as a university textbook in the U.S. – an enthralling choice, I’d say) – but I need to reread what-all he says about the Church there and then.

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