Concordat of 1801

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The two men responsible for the Concordat of 1801 were motivated by practical and religious considerations. Napoleon Bonaparte, first consul of France by the end of 1799, saw the need to mend the religious conflict with Catholicism unleashed by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790), which attempted to place the French church under government control. As Napoleon consolidated his power in France, the bishop of Imola, Barnaba Gregorio Chiaramonti, was elected pope as Pius VII in mid-March 1800. Having preached that revolutionary ideas need not be in conflict with Catholicism, he extended an olive branch to the French. Napoleon, sensing that the French had wearied of the religious conflict, sought a settlement with Rome. Motivated by the prospect of restoring millions of souls to the church, Pius VII concurred.

Serious negotiations commenced in November 1800, on Napoleon's three basic conditions: the reinstitution of the church with a new episcopacy, the state assumption of the clergy's salaries, and the clerical renunciation of former church properties. The parties aimed to end the schism in France by reconciling the Roman religion and the Revolution, with both sides willing to ignore the thorny question of temporal power,

which the French had truncated. There were stumbling blocks, including Rom's desire to have Catholicism established as the religion of state and the French reluctance to make this concession. Napoleon dispatched emissaries to Rome in March 1801, instructing them to treat the pontiff as if he had two hundred thousand bayonets at his disposal. On 15 July 1801, an agreement consisting of two declarations and seventeen articles was approved.

In the first of the declarations that formed a crucial preamble, the republic recognized Catholicism as the faith of the great majority of the French. The second promised that this religion could expect the greatest good from the restoration of public worship and from its profession by the consuls of the republic—although Article 17 provided for the eventuality of a first consul who might not be of the faith. The articles arranged for the reorganization of the church, with 60 dioceses in place of the 135 under the ancien régime. Provision was made for the resignation of all the present archbishops and bishops; their replacements were to be named by the first consul, but their canonical institution was reserved to the pope. The bishops were to appoint parish priests from a list approved by the government. In turn, the papacy specified it would not dispute the church property confiscated by the republic, nor trouble the conscience of those who had purchased it. In exchange, the state promised to return the religious edifices it retained, while providing salaries for the clergy. The Roman faith was to enjoy full freedom of public worship, and its adherents were permitted to provide foundations in land or money on its behalf.

On 15 August 1801 Pius VII ratified the Concordat, issuing two encyclicals to the bishops of France. In the first, he related the rationale for the agreement, outlining its principal clauses. In the second, he required the resignation of the entire French hierarchy, so that new appointments might be made in accordance with Article 5 of the Concordat. This extraordinary exercise of papal power represented a deathblow to Gallicanism (the traditional resistance to papal authority within French Catholicism). Skirting the issue of the temporal dominions, the accord secured for the pope the right not only to invest bishops, which he had previously possessed, but also under certain conditions to depose them, which in France represented an innovation.

Neither Paris nor Rome appeared totally satisfied with the agreement, although both drew substantial benefits. Pius appreciated the reestablishment of the Catholic hierarchy in France, the restoration of Catholic worship, and the abandonment of the religious innovations of the revolutionaries. The centralization it sanctioned in the French church clearly reinforced the position of the papacy. Napoleon, for his part, inherited the prerogatives of the monarchy vis-à-vis the church and the clergy. Furthermore, he achieved the laicization of sovereign power while depriving the royalist opposition to his regime of the most potent weapon in its arsenal.

In April 1802 the French legislature approved the Concordat, along with the Organic Articles for its implementation. Most of the measures in this lengthy appendix dealt with the relationship of the state to the Catholic Church, seeking to establish control of the former over the latter, while restricting the rights of the Holy See in France. Papal bulls, briefs, decrees, and even legates could not be received in France without governmental approval. Under its terms bishops were forbidden to leave their dioceses while obliging them to submit to state authorities the rules of their seminaries. These rules had to include adherence to the four Gallican Articles of 1682, which curtailed the powers of the French church while limiting the power of the pope therein. Additional articles stressed the primacy of civil matrimony and determined the holy days to be publicly celebrated. In his allocution of 24 May 1802, announcing the implementation of the Concordat, Pius praised the efforts of Napoleon in achieving the religious rapprochement, but deplored the Organic Articles and called for their modification.

Napoleon, likewise, had reservations about the accord and unsuccessfully sought to replace it with the coerced "Concordat of Fontainebleau" of January 1813. The 1801 Concordat survived Napoleon's downfall in 1815 and was recognized by the restored monarchy. It guided church-state relations in France throughout the nineteenth century and was repudiated only in 1905, when the Third Republic introduced a complete separation of church and state.

See alsoCatholicism; French Revolution; Napoleonic Empire; Separation of Church and State (France, 1905).


Primary Sources

Boulay de la Meurthe, Alfred, ed. Documents sur la négociation du Concordat et sur les autres rapports de la France avec le Saint-Siège en 1800 et 1801. 6 vols. Paris, 1891–1905.

"Convention between the French Government and His Holiness Pius VII." In Controversial Concordats: The Vatican's Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, edited by Frank J. Coppa, 191–193. Washington, D.C., 1999.

Secondary Sources

O'Dwyer, Margaret M. The Papacy in the Age of Napoleon and the Restoration: Pius VII, 1800–1823. Lanham, Md., 1985.

Roberts, William. "Napoleon, the Concordat of 1801, and Its Consequences." In Controversial Concordats: The Vatican's Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, edited by Frank J. Coppa, 34–80. Washington, D.C., 1999.

Walsh, Henry H. The Concordat of 1801: A Study of the Problem of Nationalism in the Relations of Church and State. New York, 1933. Reprint, New York, 1967.

Frank J. Coppa

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concordat (kənkôr´dăt), formal agreement, specifically between the pope, in his spiritual capacity, and the temporal authority of a state. Its juridical status is now generally accepted as being a contract between church and state and as such it is a treaty governed by international laws. The term concordat has also been applied to other agreements; thus, in the Swiss Confederation before 1848 federal decisions were called concordats. The fundamental antithesis between church and state found particularly violent expression in the quarrels over investiture during the Middle Ages and gave rise to the practice of concluding concordats. The earliest agreement to be called a concordat (see Worms, Concordat of, 1122) was a dual proclamation rather than a bilateral act. The Concordat of 1516 between Pope Leo X and King Francis I of France, which abolished the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (see pragmatic sanction), gave the king the right to nominate bishops, abbots, and priors but reserved to the pope the right of confirmation and special rights of appointment. That right was revoked at the States-General of Orléans in 1561, and the struggle between Gallicanism and ultramontanism was resumed, to last until the French Revolution. The Concordat of 1801, most famous of all concordats, regulated the status of the church in France for a century. In the 19th and 20th cent. numerous concordats were concluded. The appointment of bishops still remained an important issue, but the advance of secularism gave increasing importance to the status of religious education, monastic orders, and church property and to the seemingly conflicting loyalties of Roman Catholics to the state and to the church. In the Catholic countries of Latin America the conflicts and adjustments between church and state gave rise to a number of concordats. The concordat of 1855 with Austria gave vast rights to the church, but it was abrogated by Austria upon the proclamation of papal infallibility. The Kulturkampf between Otto von Bismarck and the papacy ended (1887) with a modus vivendi, which was a tentative agreement and not called a concordat. The status of the papacy in Italy was regulated in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty. The threat of National Socialism (Nazism) to the Roman Catholic Church prompted the concordat of 1933 with Adolf Hitler, who violated it from the start. In Spain, where Francisco Franco had abrogated the concordat of 1931, a provisional agreement with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops was reached in 1941. After World War II a number of concordats (notably that with Poland) were abrogated by Communist regimes. A new concordat with Spain was signed in 1953.

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Concordat of 1801, agreement between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII that reestablished the Roman Catholic Church in France. Napoleon took the initiative in negotiating this agreement; he recognized that reconciliation with the church was politic. It would help consolidate his position, end the royalist–clerical rebellion in W France, reunite the clergy, which had been divided since the French Revolution, and win the support of the large majority of peasant-farmers. By its terms Roman Catholicism was recognized as the religion of most French citizens. Archbishops and bishops were to be nominated by the government, but the pope was to confer the office. Parish priests were to be appointed by the bishops, subject to government approval. Confiscated church property, most of which had been sold to private persons, was not to be restored, but the government was to provide adequate support for the clergy. To implement the concordat Napoleon issued (1802) the so-called Organic Articles; these restated the traditional liberties of the Gallican church (see Gallicanism) while increasing Napoleon's control of church activities. The Organic Articles were not agreed to by the pope, and he did not consider them binding. A century later, anticlericalism, intensified by the Dreyfus Affair, led to the imposition of severe restrictions on the church, culminating (1905) in the formal repudiation of the concordat, thereby separating church and state.

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Concordat. An agreement between a religious group and the government of a country on matters of mutual concern. Thus the Vatican entered into concordats with both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. An important model is the Pactum Callixtinum, or Concordat of Worms (1122) whereby the contest between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors over the right to appoint bishops was resolved in favour of the Popes.

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concordat Agreement between Church and State, regulating relations on matters of common concern. The term is usually applied to treaties between individual states and the Vatican City.