Gallicanism | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Gallicanism is a doctrine which originated in France in the Middle Ages and sought to regulate the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. It underlined the independence of the French Church in terms of papal authority, but also its subordination to the royal power. It thus confirmed the supremacy of the state in public life, unlike Ultramontanism, which supported the submission of the Churches and kingdoms to the papacy.


Gallicanism is a political and religious doctrine which originated in France and sought to regulate the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. In New France, this relationship was governed by the French Church’s practices and traditions. This doctrine’s characteristics included a certain mistrust of the Pope, the defence of Gallican freedoms (in other words, the rejection of absolute papal authority over the king of France and the nation’s Church), and the desire to ensure the Crown’s supremacy even in spiritual issues such as appointing bishops and establishing religious communities.


Gallicanism flourished in New France in the latter part of the 17th century, when intendant Jean Talon and governor general Louis de Buade Frontenac sought to reduce overwhelming religious influence and make the Church obey the state. A modus vivendi was quickly reached, guaranteeing a certain autonomy to the Church while permitting some state intervention, even in purely religious questions such as the life of religious communities.

Conflict with Ultramontanism

A change came about after the Conquest. Having assured its survival and won a degree of freedom under British reign, the Church rethought the boundaries between religious and civil power. Among supporters of Gallicanism, there were those who did not believe in papal infallibility and those who accepted a degree of state intervention in traditionally church-controlled domains such as education, marriage and registry-keeping for baptisms, weddings and deaths. Two religious tendencies emerged within the Church after 1840. On the one hand, Ultramontanism supported the supremacy of the Church and its prior right in education, marriage legislation, and all joint domains between Church and state. On the other, Gallicanism modified these claims or defended the rights of the state in varying degrees. Gallicans included groups such as the Sulpicians, lawyers such as George-Étienne Cartier, Rodolphe Laflamme and Joseph Doutre, and Université Laval professors such as Jacques Crémazie and Charles-François Langelier. Soon, however, Ultramontane extremists labelled “gallicans” (at the time a pejorative term) anyone who did not think the way they did. Gallicanism eventually merged with Catholic liberalism, which was similarly denounced until the end of the 19th century.