The Papacy and French Absolutism

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Paik, Hye Rin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction : Absolutism
II. Alexander VII's Policies and Jansenism
III. Gallicanism
IV. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
V. The Jesuit Order
VI. Enlightenment
VII. Conclusion
VIII. Bibliography

I. Introduction : Absolutism
            Absolutism is a political doctrine and practice of unlimited, centralized authority and absolute sovereignty, existing especially in a monarchic form. The year 1660 marked the beginning of the Era of Absolutism. This was the year which the conflict between French kingdom governed by Louis XIV of France and Rome began. Until the end of the Era of Absolutism, marked by French Revolution in 1789, Absolutism was the number one prevailing political ideology in the European countries. The most famous phrase condensing the philosophy of Absolutism by Louis XIV of France states "L'etat, C'est Moi" (I am the state). The essence of Absolutism is the ruling power which is never checked or challenged by any other political agencies such as Legislative (council), executive, judicial, religious force, economic groups, etc.
            Thus, it was inevitable for the Popes to develop dislike regarding Absolutism. Before the Era of Absolutism, the Pope was the most influential figure of the Catholic Europe; in religious matters, kings or monarchs of states had to respect the Papacy. However, as absolutism spread over many European countries, monarchs wanted to be independent from regulations and interference of the Papacy. Constant conflict, especially conflict between French monarch and the Papacy worsened during this era. Their relationship was quite unique; they shared same religious beliefs but differed in organizational body; thus, they were rivaling against each other yet had unseen bond between each other. This peculiar relationship was established through several policies regarding religious issues, ideology or paradigm which arose during Absolutism era. This paper will organize thoughts each by the policy or ideology related to Catholicism in Absolutism era, discuss the reaction of the Papacy and consequences.

II. Alexander VII's Policies and Jansenism
            The Era of Absolutism starts during Pope Alexander VII's pontificate. His constant friction with Cardinal Mazarin, advisor to Louis XIV of France, worsened the relationship between the Papacy and France. During the Conclave to elect the next pope, Mazarin was hostile to Fabio Chigi (Alexander VII), but in the end he was forced to accept Chigi as the next pope. Cardinal Mazarin prevented Louis XIV from sending embassy of obedience to Rome. Instead, Mazarin sent Duc de Crequi in 1662, who is as hostile to pope as himself. The ambassador's offense in Rome and his abuse of right of asylum caused conflicts and disputes between French and the Papacy. This offense caused supporters of pope to kill the some of the emissary French has sent. Louis XIV reacted immediately to this bloody event; French troops marched to Rome, which led into the Papal State's temporary loss of Avignon and humiliating peace treaty of Pisa in 1664. This was initial event affecting the Papacy in Era of Absolutism; the relationship between France and pope became quite hostile.
            Alexander VII condemned Jansenism. Jansenism is a branch of Catholic thoughts which emphasized original sin, human depravity, predestination and divine grace. In Jansenism context, human beings cannot be good without help of divine power. Thus, they sought for extremely pious life, moral rectitude and careful preparation in prayers, communions and confessions. It contradicted Catholicism that Jansenism denies role of free will in acceptance and use of grace. However, Catholics believed that God's free initiative demands man's free response. Later, Jansenism influences the development of Gallicanism. However, it was condemned as heretical in papal bulls issued under Pope Innocent X, Alexander VII and Clement XI. Alexander VII sent his formulary to France, which was planned to be signed by all the clergy in France. Its purpose was detecting and expelling Jansenism, and this ignited public; they were angry at papacy.
            Later on, in 1705, Pope Clement XI publishes the Bull "Vineam Donimi" which is against Jansenism. Pope issues another bull, "Unigenitus" in 1713, condemning the 101 propositions of Pasquier Quendell, one of the leading Jansenist of that time. With this bull, French Jansenists refused to comply; conflict between Catholicism and Jansenism deepened. However, Jansenism lost support in French, for the next dominant religious paradigm in France was Gallicanism.

III. Gallicanism
            Gallicanism is a belief that authority over Catholic Church is represented by states' or monarch's, not by the papacy. It is the opposite belief of ultramontanism, which states that the papacy has highest authority over Catholic Church. This doctrine originates from France; the term Gallicanism originates from the word "Gallia", the old name of France. Gallican Church, which is the implementation of Gallicanism in France, refers to Roman Catholic Church in France from the Declaration of the Clergy of France in 1682 to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790 during the French revolution.
            Declaration of the Clergy of France in 1682 has great significance in the relationship between the papacy and France; through this declaration French Catholic Church announced independence from Rome. This declaration is based on 4 articles, which in short states that the power of the papacy is restricted to spiritual matters, and the administrational authority over Catholic Church comes from a monarch of the state. This famous article is also known as Gallican Liberty. The most influential figure in the synod (which led into this declaration) is Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. This declaration of four articles has core significance French Catholic church at that time. Before being consecrated, bishops in France had to sign this document regarding four articles.
            Louis XIV, along with the four articles, decided to extend the regale-right of receiving the revenue of vacant sees or consulting sees as he favored to all the churches of Kingdom. Moreover, as ardent supporter of Gallican Liberties, he assembled the clergy of France and, on 19 March 1682, and all the clergy who constituted that assembly adopted the four articles and transmitted them to all the other bishops and archbishops of France. A few days later the king commanded the new policy that in order to be admitted to degrees in theology, one has to maintain this doctrine in one of his theses. Also it was forbidden to write anything against them.
            The Papacy accepted actions of Louis XIV as challenge of French Catholic church against Catholic Church. Pope Innocent XI expressed his displeasure in Gallican Liberties with Rescipt of 11 April, 1682: he annulled the four articles, excommunicated those who were in charge, and refused his approbation of all future Episcopal candidates who had taken part in the synod. The whole pontificate of Pope Innocent XI could be said as constant struggle with absolutism its head being Louis XIV. There are many disavowals regarding Gallican Liberty, but despite these efforts, it spread widely. Later in 18th century, Gallicanism inspired clergies of other nations to follow the model of France. In the Austrian Netherlands, Zeger-Bernhard van Espen taught the concept of Gallicanism in University of Leuven. There had been an attempt to claim Gallican Liberties in the Holy Roman Empire, through the conference of Koblenz in 1769. However, it failed. Later in 18th century, suffragan bishop of Trier, Johann Nikolaus von Hontheim introduced Gallicanism into the Holy Roman Empire, and it took different name called Frebronianism and Josephism. The Synod of Pistoia in 1786 adopted Gallican Liberties for Catholic church of Tuscany, Italy. However, the French Revolution ended Gallicanism; no king, thus no monarch as the head of Catholic Church. Over the struggles between the papacy and Gallicanism, the authority of the papacy weakened severely. Their supreme authority of the papacy over Catholic Church was no longer respected as did before.

IV. Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
            As hostility between Louis XIV and papacy became worse, the monarch of France decided that infuriating papacy is not a wise decision. Thus, Louis XIV acted as ardent protector of Catholicism in order to please pope. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes, originally issued in 1598 by Henry IV of France, is designed to allow Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants of France) solid rights in France, even though France is considered Catholic generally. Louis XIV persecuted Huguenots severely, causing mass exodus of Huguenots. Even though his Pro-catholic policy, pope still was not pleased. He expressed displeasure at such drastic measures that are taken. He continued to withhold his approbations from Episcopal candidates. Pope irritated the King furthermore by abolishing the right of asylum.

V. Jesuit Order
            Jesuits are member of the Society of Jesus, a religious order of Roman Catholic church. Jesuits were powerful organization before their suppression in 1773; their influence over new colonies of Portugal and Spain was prominent. They had great power over politics and economics of the new colonies of Spain and Portugal. Not only in these countries, but in many parts of Europe such as in France, Poland, Jesuits were in leading position of persecuting Protestants, forcing them to convert into Catholics. Once perceived as pious, deeply religious organization now became a threat to European society. Furthermore, there has been an attempt to assassinate King Joseph of Portugal (1758), and the Jesuits were blamed. However, in spite of criticism of the Jesuits all over Europe, Pope Clement XIII (1758-1769) was a strong supporter for Jesuit order. Clement XIII acknowledged and praised the usefulness and accomplishments of the Jesuit Order in his papal bull "Apostolicum Pascendi", 1765. However, this bull was largely ignored by many nations of Europe. Publication of this bull was banned in many countries. Consecutively after the publication of this bull, Jesuit order was expelled from Spain, Kingdom of Two Sicilies, Parma and Malta. Poland and France already banned Jesuit order even before issuing the Bull by pope. French Bourbon monarch pressurized Clement XIII to suppress Jesuit order in Europe, and Clement XIII decided to consider so. However, he died on the eve of the meeting day. Clement XIII's death remains mystery; many claim that he has been poisoned, but there's no decisive evidence.
            The policy of Papacy towards Jesuit Order changes drastically as Clement XIV succeeds. Due to pressure of Bourbon dynasty to ban Jesuit order, he reluctantly gave in. Clement XIV's policies were focused on smoothing the relationship with European sovereigns, and establishing peaceful relationship with absolute monarchs of Europe. After negotiation with French Bourbon dynasties, the pope declared Jesuit order suppressed in 1773. This was inevitable consequence, for Jesuit Order was becoming a threat in European society by abusing too much authority and power over politics and economics. Thus, pope could not sustain banning Jesuit order. Banning of Jesuit Order weakened Catholic¡¯s power, and thus the power of papacy declined. Jesuit order remains banned for quite some time, until the pontificate of Pius VII who restores Jesuit order.

VI. Enlightenment
            The Enlightenment, often referred to as "Age of Reason", is an eighteen-century movement in Europe. Enlightenment can be classified as intellectual movement, as it values reason the most. Absolutism somehow worked as a foundation for Enlightenment, providing knowledge and stability. The countries which implemented absolutism adapted enlightenment easier than the nations which did not. As Enlightenment notions spread all over Europe and combined with absolutism, the power of Papacy experienced steady decline. Since the Enlightenment was the age of reasoning, Church could not have such a significant authority over matter of the states.

VII. Conclusion             During the era of Absolutism, many policies implemented by monarchs of the states were against the Papacy. Era of Absolutism was the time of rivalry among Papacy and State monarch. The papacy did not gain much authority as it did before; thus it declined in its power. The declaration of independence of Gallican church in France marked the separation of French Catholic church from Rome. Gallicanism was a challenge to the papacy; the power of papacy declines afterwards. Revoking the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, policies to Jesuit Order and Enlightenment also influenced the position of the Papacy. In general, over the Era of Absolutism, the Papacy steadily lost power. The golden age of the papacy passed away long ago; now there remains decline, and this decline will continue till the modern era.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2007.
1.      Isser, Woloch. Eighteenth-Century Europe, Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789. USA: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982
2.      Ganse, Alexander. KMLA Handbook Modern European History. 5th ed. KMLA, 2007.
3.      World History at KMLA, History of the Papal State,
4.      World History at KMLA, Gallicanism,
5.      Wikipedia, Papal State, 28 October 2007
6.      Wikipedia, Society of Jesus, 3 November 2007 order
7.      Catholic Encyclopedia, Article Pope Alexander VII
8.      Catholic Encyclopedia, Article Gallicanism
9.      J.P. Sommerville, "Louis XIV - religion and dissension"
10.      Angela Chan Ai Ling, Louis XIV - Nobles
11.      Wikipedia, Article Age of Enlightenment, 4 November 2007
12.      Paul Brian, The Enlightenment
13.      "Pope Clement XIV", from NNDB,
14.      The Jesuit Order, from The Nazarene Way,
15.      Catholic Encyclopedia, Article The Society of Jesus