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Gallicanism in the Roman Catholic Church is the political principle that the national government has a major role in choosing bishops. The term comes from the Latin for "French", and indicates that France (and Quebec) were leading centers. The Vatican generally resisted Gallicanism and promoted the alternative viewpoint, ultramontanism, by which the Pope had a much more important role than the government. The concept emerged in Renaissance France in the period after 1440.

The Gallican argument was that the pope was supreme in spiritual matters, but that temporal affairs were the province of the government. The main issue was the selection of bishops, who had powerful temporal roles in terms of ownership of lands and churches. "Royal Gallicanism" emphasized the powers of the king. "Ecclesiatical Gallicanism" emphasized the powers of the bishops vis-a-vis the pope.

Gallicanism was promoted by the French kings, especially Louis XIV and Louis XV, as well as by Napoleon. In supporting king Louis XIV against Pope Innocent XI the French bishops prepared the "Four Gallican Articles." They declared that kings are not subject to the pope, that general councils supersede the pope's authority, that the pope must respect the customs of the local church, and that papal decrees do not bind unless accepted by the entire church. The Catholic clergy generally supported Gallicanism and during the French Revolution and most agreed to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which gave the state almost total control of the church. Napoleon restored a balance in his Concordat with the pope in 1802.

Gallicanism was damaged by the rise of ultramontanism in the 1850s and the devotional revolution that shifted piety to devotions sponsored by Rome. Gallicanism was officially suppressed by the First Vatican Council in 1870, which established the paramount authority of the pope as a matter of dogma. However informal manifestations of Gallicanism continue in some countries, especially China.

See also


  • Michael K. Becker. "Episcopal Unrest: Gallicanism in the 1625 Assembly of the Clergy," Church History, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), pp. 65–77 in JSTOR
  • Thomas I. Crimando. "Two French Views of the Council of Trent," The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 169–186 in JSTOR
  • Terence J. Fay. A History of Canadian Catholics: Gallicanism, Romanism, and Canadianism. (2002)
  • Austin Gough. Paris and Rome: The Gallican Church and the Ultramontane Campaign, 1848-1853 (1986)