Concordat of 1801

The Concordat of 1801 was an agreement between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, signed on 15 July 1801 in Paris.[1] It remained in effect until 1905. It sought national reconciliation between revolutionaries and Catholics and solidified the Roman Catholic Church as the majority church of France, with most of its civil status restored. The hostility of devout Catholics against the state had then largely been resolved. It did not restore the vast church lands and endowments that had been seized upon during the revolution and sold off. Catholic clergy returned from exile, or from hiding, and resumed their traditional positions in their traditional churches. Very few parishes continued to employ the priests who had accepted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of the Revolutionary regime. While the Concordat restored much power to the papacy, the balance of church-state relations tilted firmly in Napoleon's favour. He selected the bishops and supervised church finances.[2][3]

Napoleon and the pope both found the Concordat useful. Similar arrangements were made with the Church in territories controlled by Napoleon, especially Italy and Germany.[4]

Allégorie du Concordat de 1801
Allegory of the Concordat of 1801, by Pierre Joseph Célestin François
Leaders of the Catholic Church taking the civil oath required by the Concordat.


During the French Revolution, the National Assembly had taken Church properties and issued the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which made the Church a department of the State, effectively removing it from papal authority. At the time, the nationalized Gallican Church was the official church of France, but it was essentially Catholicism. The Civil Constitution caused hostility among the Vendeans towards the change in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the French government. Subsequent laws abolished the traditional Gregorian calendar and Christian holidays.[5]

The Concordat was drawn up by a commission with three representatives from each party. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was First Consul of the French Republic at the time, appointed Joseph Bonaparte, his brother, Emmanuel Crétet, a counselor of state, and Étienne-Alexandre Bernier, a doctor in theology. Pope Pius VII appointed Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, Cardinal Giuseppe Spina,[6] archbishop of Corinth, and his theological adviser, Father Carlo Francesco Maria Caselli.[7] The French bishops, whether still abroad or returned to their own country, had no part in the negotiations. The concordat as finally arranged practically ignored them.[8]

While the Concordat restored some ties to the papacy, it was largely in favor of the state; it wielded greater power vis-à-vis the Pope than previous French regimes had, and church lands lost during the Revolution would not be returned. Napoleon understood the utility of religion as an important factor of social cohesion. His was a utilitarian approach.[9] He could now win favor with French Catholics while also controlling Rome in a political sense. Napoleon once told his brother Lucien in April 1801, "Skillful conquerors have not got entangled with priests. They can both contain them and use them."[10] As a part of the Concordat, he presented another set of laws called the Organic Articles.


Napoleon looked for the recognition by the Church of the disposition of its property and geographical reorganization of bishoprics, while Rome sought the protection of Catholics and the recognition of a special status of the Catholic Church in the French State.[9] The main terms of the Concordat of 1801 between France and Pope Pius VII included:

  • A declaration that "Catholicism was the religion of the great majority of the French" but not the official state religion, thus maintaining religious freedom, in particular with respect to Protestants.
  • The Church was to be free to exercise its worship in public in accordance with police regulations that the Government deems necessary for the public peace. The authority to determine if a public religious observance would violate the public peace, resided with each mayor who had the power to prohibit a public ceremony if he considered it a threat to peace his commune.[9]
  • The Papacy had the right to depose bishops; the French government still, since the Concordat of Bologna in 1516, nominated them.
  • The state would pay clerical salaries and the clergy swore an oath of allegiance to the state.
  • The Catholic Church gave up all its claims to Church lands that were confiscated after 1790.
  • Sunday was reestablished as a "festival", effective Easter Sunday, 18 April 1802. The rest of the French Republican Calendar, which had been abolished, was not replaced by the traditional Gregorian Calendar until 1 January 1806.

According to Georges Goyau, the law known as "The Organic Articles", promulgated in April 1802, infringed in various ways on the spirit of the concordat.[8] The document claimed Catholicism was "the religion of the majority of Frenchman," and still gave state recognition to Protestants and Jews as well.

The Concordat was abrogated by the law of 1905 on the separation of Church and state. However, some provisions of the Concordat are still in effect in the Alsace-Lorraine region under the local law of Alsace-Moselle, as the region was controlled by the German Empire at the time of the 1905 law's passage.

See also


  1. ^ Knight, Charles. "Pius VII," Biography: Or, Third Division of "The English Encyclopedia", Vol. 4, Bradbury, Evans & Company, 1867
  2. ^ Aston, Nigel. Religion and revolution in France, 1780-1804 (Catholic University of America Press, 2000) pp 279-335
  3. ^ Roberts, William. "Napoleon, the Concordat of 1801, and Its Consequences", Controversial Concordats: The Vatican's Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, (Frank J. Coppa ed.), (1999) pp: 34-80.
  4. ^ Aston, Nigel. Christianity and revolutionary Europe, 1750-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp 261-62.
  5. ^ "France". Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Archived from the original on 6 February 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011. See drop-down essay on "Religion and Politics until the French Revolution"
  6. ^ Spina had been Papal Majordomo for Pius VI, and had followed him in his arrest and deportation to France in 1799. Salvador Miranda, Librarian Emeritus, Florida International University, The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Spina, Giuseppe. Retrieved: 2016-07-30.
  7. ^ Edwards, Bela Bates; Peters, Absalom; Agnew, John Holmes; Treat, Selah Burr (1840). The American Biblical Repository. s.n. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
  8. ^ a b Goyau, Georges. "The French Concordat of 1801." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 8 November 2015
  9. ^ a b c Vilmer, Jean-Baptiste Jeangéne. "Comment on the Concordat of 1801 between France and the Holy See", Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique, 102: 1, 2007, p. 124-154
  10. ^ Aston, Nigel (2002). Christianity and Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46027-1.

Further reading

External links

Apt Cathedral

Apt Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Anne d'Apt) is a former Roman Catholic church located in the town of Apt in Provence, France. The cathedral is a national monument.

Now the church of Saint Anne, the former cathedral was the seat of the bishop of Apt until the French Revolution. Under the Concordat of 1801 the diocese was divided between the Dioceses of Avignon and Digne.

Auch Cathedral

Auch Cathedral Basilica (French: Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d'Auch) is a Roman Catholic church located in the town of Auch in the Midi-Pyrénées, France. It is a national monument, and is the seat of the Archbishopric of Auch. Under the Concordat of 1801, the ecclesiastical office was dissolved and annexed to the Diocese of Agen, but reestablished in 1822. The cathedral contains a suite of 18 Renaissance stained glass windows by Arnaud de Moles.


Avranches Cathedral

Avranches Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-André d'Avranches) was once a Roman Catholic cathedral in Avranches in Normandy.

The seat of the Bishop of Avranches, it was a Gothic construction, notable as the place of the penance of Henry II of England in 1172 for the murder of Thomas Becket. It was destroyed completely during the French Revolution and the site remains unbuilt on.

The Diocese of Avranches was not reinstated after the revolution but under the Concordat of 1801 was instead amalgamated with that of Coutances to form the Diocese of Coutances and Avranches.

Béziers Cathedral

Béziers Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Béziers) is a Roman Catholic church located in Béziers, France.

The edifice dates from the thirteenth century, having been erected on the site of an earlier building that was destroyed during the Massacre at Béziers in the Albigensian Crusade. The cathedral was formerly the seat of the Bishopric of Béziers, which was dissolved by the Concordat of 1801 and annexed into the Diocese of Montpellier.

Concordat in Alsace-Moselle

The Concordat in Alsace-Moselle is the part of the Local law in Alsace-Moselle relating to the official status accorded to certain religions in these territories.

This Concordat is a remnant of the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801. The 1801 Concordat was abrogated in the rest of France by the law of 1905 on the separation of church and state. However, at the time, Alsace-Moselle had been annexed by Germany, so the Concordat remained in force in these areas. The Concordat recognises four religious traditions in Alsace-Moselle: three branches of Christianity (Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed) plus the Jewish religion. Therefore, the French concept of laïcité, a rigid separation of church and state, does not apply in this region.Several French governments have considered repealing the Concordat, but none have done so. On 21 February 2013, the Constitutional Council of France upheld the Concordat, reaffirming its validity, in response to an appeal from a secularist group which claimed that the Concordat in Alsace-Moselle contradicted the secular nature of the French Republic.

Dechristianization of France during the French Revolution

The dechristianization of France during the French Revolution is a conventional description of the results of a number of separate policies conducted by various governments of France between the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Concordat of 1801, forming the basis of the later and less radical laïcité policies. The goal of the campaign between 1793 and 1794 ranged from the public reclamation of the massive amounts of land, power, and money held by the Catholic Church in France to the termination of Catholic religious practice and of the religion itself. There has been much scholarly debate over whether the movement was popularly motivated.The French Revolution initially began with attacks on church corruption and the wealth of the higher clergy, an action with which even many Christians could identify, since the Roman Catholic church held a dominant role in pre-revolutionary France. During a two-year period known as the Reign of Terror, the episodes of anti-clericalism grew more violent than any in modern European history. The new revolutionary authorities suppressed the church; abolished the Catholic monarchy; nationalized church property; exiled 30,000 priests and killed hundreds more. In October 1793 the Christian calendar was replaced with one reckoning from the date of the Revolution, and Festivals of Liberty, Reason and the Supreme Being were scheduled. New forms of moral religion emerged, including the deistic Cult of the Supreme Being and the atheistic Cult of Reason, with the revolutionary government briefly mandating observance of the former in April 1794.

Diocese of Aude

The Diocese of Aude or, more fully, the Diocese of the Department of Aude is a former diocese of the Constitutional Church in France.

Created by the civil constitution of the clergy of 1790, it was suppressed following the Concordat of 1801. Its territory was the Department of Aude, with the episcopal seat at Narbonne.

Grasse Cathedral

Grasse Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Puy de Grasse) is a 12th-century Roman Catholic church located in Grasse, France. The former cathedral is in the Romanesque architectural style, and is a national monument. It is now the church of Notre-Dame-du-Puy.

It was the seat of the Bishop of Grasse. The diocese of Grasse was absorbed by the diocese of Nice under the Concordat of 1801.

Napoleon and the Catholic Church

The relationship between Napoleon and the Catholic Church was an important aspect of his rule.

Narbonne Cathedral

Narbonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur de Narbonne) is a Roman Catholic church located in the town of Narbonne, France. The cathedral is a national monument and dedicated to Saints Justus and Pastor.

It was the seat of the Archbishop of Narbonne until the Archbishopric was merged into the Diocese of Carcassonne under the Concordat of 1801. (The title, however, passed to the Archbishop of Toulouse.) The church was declared a basilica minor in 1886. It is now a co-cathedral of the Diocese of Carcassonne and Narbonne, as it has been called since 2006.The building, begun in 1272, is noted for being unfinished.

Oloron Cathedral

Oloron Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d'Oloron-Sainte-Marie), now St. Mary's Church (French: Eglise Sainte-Marie), is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral located in the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département of France It is in the Romanesque and Gothic architectural traditions.

Construction was started in the 12th century by Gaston IV, Viscount of Béarn. It was the seat of the Bishopric of Oloron, suppressed by the Concordat of 1801.

It has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1939.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Senez

The former French Catholic diocese of Senez existed from around the fifth or sixth century, until the French Revolution. Its see was at Senez, in southern France, in the modern department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. After the Concordat of 1801 the territory of the diocese was added to that of the diocese of Digne.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Toulon

The former French Roman Catholic Diocese of Toulon existed until the Concordat of 1801. Its seat was in Toulon.

Saint-Omer Cathedral

Saint-Omer Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saint-Omer) is a Roman Catholic former cathedral, a minor basilica, and a national monument of France, located in Saint-Omer. It was formerly the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Omer, but the see was not restored after the French Revolution, being instead absorbed into the Diocese of Arras under the Concordat of 1801. The church is still commonly referred to as the "cathedral" however.

Vabres Cathedral

Vabres Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur-et-Saint-Pierre de Vabres) is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral in Vabres-l'Abbaye, France.

It was formerly the seat of the Bishopric of Vabres, established in 1317 and abolished under the Concordat of 1801.

Vaison Cathedral

Vaison Cathedral, or Our Lady of Nazareth Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth de Vaison), is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral in Vaison-la-Romaine, France.

It was formerly the seat of the Bishopric of Vaison, abolished under the Concordat of 1801.

The structure of Our Lady of Nazareth Cathedral in general dates from the 11th century, but the apse and the apsidal chapels are from the Merovingian period.

Saint-Quenin church is another former cathedral of Vaison ; its construction was completed by bishop William Chisholm III, nephew of his predecessor, bishop William Chisholm II, former Catholic bishop of Dunblane.

Vehementer Nos

Vehementer Nos was a papal encyclical promulgated by Pope Pius X on 11 February 1906. He denounced the French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State enacted two months earlier. He condemned its unilateral abrogation of the Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII that had granted the Catholic Church a distinctive status and established a working relationship between the French government and the Holy See. The title of the document is taken from its opening words in Latin, which mean "we strongly".

Vence Cathedral

Vence Cathedral (French: Cathédrale de la Nativité-de-Marie de Vence) is a Roman Catholic church located in the town of Vence, France. The former cathedral is a national monument.

The cathedral was previously the seat of the Bishopric of Vence, abolished by the Concordat of 1801, when its territory was passed to the Diocese of Nice.

Versailles Cathedral

Versailles Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Versailles) is a Roman Catholic church located in Versailles, France. It is a national monument.

It is the seat of the Bishop of Versailles, created as a constitutional bishopric in 1790 and confirmed by the Concordat of 1801.

It was built as the parish church of Saint Louis before becoming the cathedral of the new diocese. The building is of the mid-18th century: the first stone was laid, by Louis XV, on 12 June 1743 and the church was consecrated on 24 August 1754. The architect was Jacques Hardouin-Mansart de Sagonne (1711-1778), a grandson of the famous architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. In 1764 Louis-François Trouard added the Chapelle de la Providence (now the Chapelle des Catéchismes) to the northern transept.

During the French Revolution it was used as a Temple of Abundance, and badly defaced.

It was chosen and used as the cathedral by the post-Revolutionary bishop, who preferred it to the church of Notre-Dame in Versailles, which had been the choice of the preceding constitutional bishop. Its consecration as a cathedral was however severely delayed, and was not performed until 1843, by the diocese's third bishop, Louis-Marie-Edmond Blanquart de Bailleul.

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