Since the Middle Ages the adjective clerical has designated that which relates to clerics and the clergy. In the 19th century the French and Italians created a noun out of the term and imparted to it a new meaning whereby clerical signified a Catholic, cleric or lay, who with more or less success defended the rights of the Church, particularly those of the pope as temporal sovereign. Enemies of the Church and defenders of Italian unity attributed to these clericals a system, which c. 1865 they labelled clericalism. The aim of this system, it was claimed, was to make civil governments on the national and local levels submit to the desires of popes, bishops, and priests. English journalists adopted the neologism c. 1883; but anti-Roman polemics had previously enriched its vocabulary with terms almost synonymous, such as priestdom, priestcraft, priestridden, monkish, and popery. Subsequent decades enlarged the connotations of clericalism, so that it served to designate every excessive intervention of a religion in public affairs, or every attempt at domination over a state by a religion. Attention will be confined here to the clericalism attributed wrongly or rightly to the Church by anticlericals and by Catholics themselves.
For anticlericals, clericalism has proved a useful word for polemical purposes. Under the pretext of remedying an abuse, anticlericals have often attacked the Church. One phrase has become famous: "Le cléricalisme, voilà l'ennemi!" ("Clericalism! That is the enemy."). Léon Gambetta, who coined it (May 4, 1877), claimed to be citing his friend Peyrat. Peyrat did not, however, use precisely these words, but: "Le catholicisme, c'est là l'ennemi!" [L. Capéran, Histoire contemporaine de la laïcité française 3 v. (Paris 1957) 1:60, 63]. In the Chamber of Deputies in 1901 René Viviani denied that there could be a difference between the most sincere Catholic and the clerical. Politicians pretended that they wanted to single out not good pastors or their flocks but jesuits, the congregation, the Vatican (understood as a foreign power), and international religious congregations accumulating properties in mortmain.
Catholics, on the other hand, were not astonished that the Church was the object of persecution. The success of a persecution utilizing such an equivocal notion did, however, move Catholics to a self-examination. In their reaction against an invasion of laicism they questioned whether or not the successors of Gregory VII had gone too far; whether the revocation of the Edict of nantes (1685), so widely acclaimed by the French hierarchy, had not been an injustice; whether in defense of its immunities a well-protected clergy had not cloaked its egotism; whether many clerics were not dreaming about a new Constantine who would facilitate their ministerial work; whether the French clergy had not been too complaisant toward napoleon iii, who was so adroit in making use of them; whether it was important religiously to prefer a monarchical to a republican regime; and whether pastors did not display too pronounced a tendency to act like "parish captains." In brief, clericalism has existed in the past and continues to exist. Even if it disappears, the tendency expressed by it will very likely endure.
See Also: anticlericalism; laicism.
Bibliography: j. lecler, The Two Sovereignties (New York 1952), tr. from Fr.; Catholicisme 2:1235–39. f. mÉjan, La Laïcité de l'État (Paris 1956). c. a. whittuck, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 3:689–693.
[c. berthelot du chesnay]