Forerunners of the French Revolution. Part 2a

The Regalists

The term Regalist is applied in general to those princes of the eighteenth century who tried to gain control of the Church within their kingdoms and fetter her liberty. The attempt as made in France is known as Gallicanism, as made in Germany it is termed Febronianism and Josephism, in Italy Leopoldism.


Gallicanism might be described in a general way as a movement which tried to nationalise the Church in France and to make it independent of the Holy See. This movement sprang from two distinct sources, both of ancient growth:

From the time of the Council of Constance (1417) a certain number of the French clergy had shown signs of being more attached to their king and country than to the Holy See. For a still longer time back the State had soought to control ecclesiastical affairs. This peril to the Church is as old as the Church itself. But it developed with particular strenght in France, as we saw, under the influence of Roman Law during and following the reign of Philip the Fair at the end of the Central Middle Ages (c. 1312).

Towards the end of the seventeenth century the attempt of the French monarchy to dictate tothe Church, and the unfortunate willingness of some of the French clergy to submit, came to a head. King Louis XIV was unjustly seizing the revenues of episcopal sees. his action was challenged by Pope Innocent XI and a long controversy ensued, in which the King was supported by a strong following of court ecclesiastics. Finally, in 1682, Louis called a General Assembly of the Frencg clergy which passed a Declaration known as the Four Gallican Articles challenging the Popes supreme power and attempting to withdraw France from his authority. The articles stated:

That kings and princes in temporal things are subject to no ecclesiastical power.
That the decrees of the Council of Constance (sessions 4 and 5) are to be upheld- i.e. that the Pope is inferior to a General Council.
That the exercise of Papal authority should be controlled by the Canons (of Church law).
That the decisions of the Pope are not final without the consent of the Church.
These articles were immediately condemned by Pope Innocent XI who was strongly supported by many of the French clergy (notably Fenelon, the articles were defended by Bossuet). The Pope, moreover, firmly refused to confirm the appointment of any prelate in favour of them. King Louis XIV replied by acts of force. Whereupon the Sovereign Pontiff placed France under interdict. For a moment the kingdom of Louis seemed to tremble on the brink of schism. Her political position was, however, in danger (the Grand Alliance of European powers was formed against Louis XIV in 1689), and in 1692, after a second condemnation of the Articles by Pope Alexander VIII, the King made peace with the Holy See and the Articles were withdrawn. They were more than once revived by Louis successors, however, causing difficulties between France and the Holy See. A still graver consequence of the Gallican Articles was that their spirit lived on in a certain element of the French clergy, and that this spirit, coupled with that of Jansenism, contributed not a little (as we shall see) to the French Revolution.

GERMANY: Febronianism and Josephism

The spirit of revolt against the divinely-given authority of the Holy See subsided in France only to appear in another guise under another sky. In the year 1763 an author calling himself Febronius published a work which was a direct attack on the Primacy of the Sovereign Pontiff and on Catholic doctrine regarding Church and State. Although this author, when condemned by the Holy See, retracted his errors and died in peace with the Church in 1790, his views were adopted by the emperor Joseph II (1765-1790), who did his utmost to put them into practise. The Emperor (while still claiming to be a Catholic) strove to withdraw the obedience of the Austrian bishops from the Sovereign Pontiff and to secure complete control of ecclesiastical affairs within his realm. To protect the rights of the Church and safeguard the interests of souls Pope Pius VI journeyed in person to Vienna (1782) where he was accorded a brilliant but insincere welcome by the Emperor. The Pope returned to Rome without having achieved the purpose of his visit. Nevertheless the majority of the German bishops were faithful and the Emperor Josephs plans to rule the church in austria broke down.

In 1786, the establishment of a Papal Nunciature at Munich led the Prince-Archbishops of Cologne, Mayence, Treves and Salzburg (all tainted with Febronianism) to issue at the Congress of Ems a series of anti-papal decrees known as the Punctation. The greater number of the German bishops showed their loyalty to the Sovereign Pontiff by rejecting the decrees and the threatened schism came to nothing. The Emperor Joseph II died in 1790, a self-confessed failure.

ITALY (TUSCANY) : Leopoldism

In Italy an exactly similar movement was taking place, guide by Josephs brother Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1765-1790). The bishops of Italy, however, were loyal to the Pope, and Leopolds efforts had no lasting effect.

In 1786 at the Synod of Pistoia convened by Bishop Ricci of the See, under the influence of Leopold, a series of decrees were drawn up opposed to the rights of the Sovereign Pontiff and to Catholic practise. The acts of the synod of Pistoia were condemned by pope Pius VI (1794) in the Bull Auctorem fidei. The Italian Hierarchy, with but one dissentient, stood loyally by the Sovereign Pontiff and in 1805, in the pontificate of Pius VII, Ricci retracted his errors. (Note.- We shall see later that the synod of Pistoia holds an important position in the history of Jansenism.)

An Outline History of the Catholic Church by Rev. Reginald F. Walker CSSP. (Gill & Son (Dublin) 1939).

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