Over the past couple of days, I have found some dialogues on Facebook concerning Gallicanism. French Anglicanism? Maybe in a way, but modern Anglicanism. The version of Gallicanism of Archbishop Dominique Philippe is a little more classical using the Roman liturgy of Pius V, but tending to be attracted to some toxic alliances (no further commentary).
There are several churches in France using the title Gallican. Most of these little churches are served by bishops with lines of succession from René Vilatte. A few of them:
- Eglise Gallicane – Tradition Apostolique de Gazinet
- Eglise Catholique Gallicane
- Mission Gallicane d’Alsace
There are others that seem to consist of little more than a bishop and a few lay faithful.
The idea seems quite attractive as a kind of middle way between Old Catholicism and Anglicanism, the identification of the local dimension of Catholicism, whether English or French.
I would say that, historically, Gallicanism is dead. It was absorbed by Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century with the triumph of Ultramontanism and the imposition of the strict Roman rite in all dioceses.
What is now known as Gallicanism in France is a variation of Old Catholicism that derives its sacramental life via René Vilatte, the famous adventurer, from Orthodoxy in India. Almost invariably, it is a combination of a very novus ordo – like liturgy with highly sentimental expressions of French popular Roman Catholic devotion. Most but not all of their altars are facing the people and chapels are furnished in poor taste with oversized statues and sentimental images. Quite often, without excessive accusations of dishonesty, priests and bishops offer a service of minor exorcisms and faith healings. If they spend their days doing that and not doing a job to earn their living, they have to charge for their services. Even with Archbishop Dominique Philippe who is more traditionalist for the liturgy, he is forming alliances with the old crook Gérard Roux, so it appears.
The salient characteristic of these churches is a reaction from the strictness of Roman Catholic doctrine and morals. They also try to justify their historical legitimacy, which to me seems to be a tall order. The idea is appealing, either that of reviving the old Gallican rites of the first millennium like the French western Orthodox, or medieval Catholicism as before the Revolution (which simply imitates nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism for the externals). Many bishops in nineteenth-century France sought to perpetuate the line of Louis XIV and the Council of Constance in limiting the power of the Pope in favour of the national Church. We find parallels with the national Catholicism of Henry VIII, the Monarch taking precedence over the canonical jurisdiction of the Pope.
Taking the Gallicans of Bordeaux as an example, they resumed their position is several points:
- Acceptance of the marriage of priests and bishops
- Female Diaconate
- Rejection of compulsory confession
- Banning of excommunications
- Freedom in fasting and abstinence
- Participation of the faithful in the government of the Church
- Election of bishops by clergy and faithful
- Consideration of the animal world in the reflection of the Church. This is illustrated by the famous animal blessings of the St Rita’s Gallican Church in Paris.
Continuing Anglicanism might agree with most of this except the ordination of women to the diaconate. However, these positions are not unreasonable, but are characterised by the ras-le-bol in regard to Roman Catholicism. Theological and practical training does not seem in most cases to be on the list of priorities of most Gallican churches.
Some Gallican prelates are trying to establish relations with Anglicanism, but the American Episcopal Church in France and elsewhere in Europe. They are considered by the Roman Catholics in France as dangerous competition and therefore cults to be discouraged.
Maybe my position is negative and sceptical. It is saddening because if a greater degree of integrity could be found in these Churches, our uniting Anglican Churches could be more forthcoming in reaching out to them. I keep an eye open, but I see little to hope for – unfortunately.