Gallicanism is a collection of church doctrines, canonical legislation and attitudes which, in the France of the old regime, sought to set limits to the jurisdiction of the Holy See in favour of the bishops and the king and traces of which we find again in the 19th century. The essence of gallican doctrine was set out in the Four Articles written up by Bossuet in 1682: Separation of the two powers with the Pope having no authority over the temporal affairs of the king; the authority of councils supersedes the power of the Pope; the rules, customs and constitutions of the kingdom and of the gallican Church must remain in force; rejection of papal infallibility.

About ten times in his writings, Eugene de Mazenod mentioned gallicanism. In July of 1814, he took his stand as a resolute opponent of gallicanism. On July 1, he wrote to Forbin-Janson who was on a trip to Rome. “How is it that in your meeting with the Sovereign Pontiff […] you did not stress the need for him to speak out about all the attacks that people have taken the liberty to make against the discipline of the Church and the rights of the Holy See, basing themselves on the alleged liberties that everyone allows himself to interpret according to whatever his fears, his ambition or his avarice inspire him to do. When you are in Rome, stress this point with all the cardinals […] Tell them straight out that the time is ripe to make genuine principles triumph. We no longer need episcopal aristocracies in the Church any more than we need presbyterian democracy. Let everything be subject to the head as our Lord Jesus Christ established it. In this case, cautious approaches sap discipline. People are choosing to be silent when it is their duty to speak out. If they are unable to destroy them with a one blow, let them sap the foundations of these execrable so-called liberties, dangerous lairs where constitutional schism, insubordination and the revolt of our Bonapartists have always taken refuge. In this darksome cave, one ends up being Catholic only in name…” On July 19, he added: “At the risk of being repetitious, if there is still time, exert pressure in the appropriate place and ensure the Holy See does not weaken. It owes it to Christendom to make an example of all those rebels who helped humiliate her, all those ignorant Gallicans who, seeing the Roman Church enslaved, not only did nothing to free her, to console her, but made common cause with the cruel oppressor, entered in a sense into the league with him to despoil her of the prerogatives she held from her divine Founder.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 15, no. 127, p. 73)

During his stay in Rome in 1825-1826, Father de Mazenod read the Memoires of Cardinal Pacca, telling of his exile in France under Napoleon. In his diary entry of March 26, 1826, he copied a few extracts relative to the treaty of Fontainebleau which, under pressure from certain cardinals, Pius VII signed on January 25, 1813. In addition, they wanted to compel the Pope to introduce a clause specifying that the Pope and his subsequent successors, before accepting the office of pope would have to promise not to do or order to be done anything contrary to the four articles of Gallicanism. On April 5, the Founder copied yet another extract from the Mémoires: “In conversation with some French churchmen, I became aware that even among those who were educated and well versed in the sacred sciences, some of them did not know of or had never read various excellent works written in Italian against the four articles of the gallican clergy.”

On April 15, 1850, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Cardinal Orioli, prefect for the Congregation of Bishops and Religious to put him on his guard against the metropolitans of France, who, on the occasion of provincial councils, had conspired together and drawn up a plan “to use the councils to reestablish in their persons an authority which the general discipline of the Church no longer attributed to them.” Bishop de Mazenod saw in that the smoke of Gallicanism. “The habit they have at home,” he wrote, “of consulting exclusively the French canon lawyers or those of gallican tendency, often the only ones one finds on the shelves of many libraries, feeds our national biases on several points. This is the way the majority of gallican writers exaggerate the rights of metropolitans, either to send away the representatives of the Holy See whom they accuse of having expanded their authority at the expense of the archbishops, or because they do not accept the discipline of the Council of Trent which they regard as not having been published in France…” Bishop de Mazenod treated this subject in a great deal of detail, details he could not have known unless he had read a number of acts of provincial councils.

In 1852, at the time of La Correspondance de Rome affair, after the Pope had demanded that this publication cease, Cardinal Gousset, the archbishop of Rheims, came to the defense of this periodical against which Bishop de Mazenod and other bishops had lodged complaints with the Holy Father because of some scurrilous and slanderous articles against the bishops “under the insulting plea of bringing them back to the observance of ecclesiastical law.” (See the article: Correspondance de Rome) The cardinal accused those who published their opposition to the periodical, in particular, the Bishop of Marseilles, of having “followed a spirit hostile to the Holy See,” of having “knee-jerk opposition to the fact that some people are working to tighten more and more the bonds that unite the churches of France and the church of Rome.” For all intents and purposes, it amounted to accusing him of Gallicanism. Touched to the quick in his personal convictions, Bishop de Mazenod wrote the cardinal an eight page letter dated July 21, 1852. “This is the first time in my long career,” he stated, “that I have had a complaint lodged against me in this way calling my credibility in question before my colleagues. It seems to me,” he added, “that the honour due my white hair has been besmirched. This sensibility, My Lord, is well justified. When some tabloid attacks me, I feel only irritation and disdain with a mixture of compassion which inclines immediately to pardon, but that the hand of a bishop, one designated to write the thoughts of God and of his Church, should seize the pen to offer support to this tabloid by interpreting in arbitrary fashion my secret intentions, such is the high esteem I hold for the episcopacy that my grief cannot be restrained and it gushes forth because I have been stricken to the heart.” Bishop de Mazenod then stated that he had always been united to the Holy See while at the same time he upheld the honour and the merits of the church of France and the respect due certain of its traditions.

In a February 26, 1853 letter to Bishop Guibert, Bishop de Mazenod stated that the Correspondance de Rome affair and the violent ultramontanism of Louis Veuillot in L’Univers ran the risk of provoking a gallican backlash. “If we let this go on the way it is, not only will L’Univers resurrect that which is now dead, while stirring up a reaction which would whip up again the ashes of long dead national controversies, but would, in addition, put to the test the faith of many people.” The same reflections are contained in a March 10, 1853 letter to Cardinal Antonelli. (See article: L’Univers) 

After Pius IX’s encyclical Inter multiplices of March 21, 1853 had calmed over agitated spirits and the editors of L’Univers had promised to show more restraint, prudence and charity, the issue of Gallicanism no longer appeared in the writings of Bishop de Mazenod.

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.