Visions of episcopacy in seventeenth-century France

This book explores how conceptions of episcopacy (government of a church by bishops) shaped the identity of the bishops of France in the wake of the reforming Council of Trent (1545–63). It demonstrates how the episcopate, initially demoralised by the Wars of Religion, developed a powerful ideology of privilege, leadership and pastorate that enabled it to become a flourishing participant in the religious, political and social life of the ancien regime. The book analyses the attitudes of Tridentine bishops towards their office by considering the French episcopate as a recognisable caste, possessing a variety of theological and political principles that allowed it to dominate the French church.

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conclusion 22/3/04 12:55 pm Page 214 Conclusion If historians have tended to overlook the changes in the necessity and function of bishops within the early modern Catholic church, the same accusation cannot be levelled at those French bishops, theologians and reformers who belonged to it. The first seventy years of the seventeenth century witnessed the most creative phase of Catholic reform within the French church, with energetic efforts in clerical reform, the emergence of an influential school of spirituality and the foundation of new religious orders

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even had their own official Assembly in which their mainly episcopal deputies could voice the church’s concerns and seek support from the crown. With privileges came responsibilities, however, for just as the church made demands on the temporal realm so it sought to gain from its connections with the church. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the French church, the bishops were at the centre of this far from straightforward exchange. The topic of church–state relations is a vast one, only aspects of which relate directly to the episcopate and episcopal ideology. What

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episcopacy that occurred through the Tridentine period, for it hides the debates and the developments in episcopal theology and practice that preoccupied bishops and other reformers. That flux was nowhere more evident than in the French church, one of the major bastions of catholicism, with an overwhelmingly Catholic population and monarchs who prided themselves on the impeccable Catholic credentials of ‘most Christian king’ and ‘eldest son of the Church’. Amid the vigorous reform currents of this seventeenth-century realm, there arose an unprecedented debate on the nature

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the bishops have to define their relationship with the lower clergy; they also had to characterise and then defend their understanding of the links between episcopacy and the supreme headship of the earthly church. As two of the major offices of the church, the episcopate and the pope had to interact routinely if the church was to function smoothly. But this intercourse carried the risks of rivalry and disagreement, and more often than not that was precisely how it evolved over the course of the century. Whenever the pope strayed into the French church, he tended to

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sessions (1562–63). At the Council, the bishops had been led by the charismatic and widely renowned Cardinal Charles de Lorraine, archbishop of Reims and advisor to the French monarchy, who returned to France well satisfied with the outcome of his negotiations on behalf of the French church and crown.1 This impression of episcopal dynamism and confidence was also fed by the fact that throughout their sojourn at Trent, the French delegates had displayed such signs of enthusiasm for Catholic reform that it seemed very likely they would soon become models of Tridentine

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they enticed the faithful away from the parishes, leaving the curés short of both income and pastoral work. The French church had become a centre for the debate when the Franciscans had begun to argue that the mendicant orders possessed greater mandates to preach and administer the sacraments than the parish clergy. In 1409, the Franciscan pope, Alexander V, even issued a bull (Regnans in excelsis), affirming that the regulars held privileges to perform these services.3 As the religious orders underwent their rapid revival during the Catholic Reformation, this old

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French clerical reformers and episcopal status

their aims for clerical renewal within the French church. Yet historians have tended to neglect the fact that they made equally strong contributions to episcopal ideals and behaviour.1 When they do acknowledge it, they do not delve any deeper to identify precisely what type of bishop these influential ecclesiastics were so keen to see within episcopal ranks.2 Yet behind the assumption that the reformers intended to actualise their episcopal ideal lie key, as yet untackled, questions. What was that ideal? From where did these men draw the material on which their vision

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Mirrors of French ideals?

period, probably because the civil wars discouraged it in favour of straightforwardly robust polemics. To compensate, Latin and vernacular editions of nonFrench episcopal literature were published to serve the needs of the French episcopate, a practice continued in the following century, with French editions of Possevin’s discourse on Borromeo, Giussano’s history of Borromeo and an abridged life of the archbishop of Milan based on existing literature.2 Then, as the French church recovered in the first decades of the seventeenth century, French writers began to compose

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La colonie Française

religious matters. Such measures had, in turn, given great delight both to the Vatican, whose newspaper L’Osservatore Romano called the creation of Vichy ‘the dawn of a new radiant day’,185 and to members of the French episcopacy who fell over themselves to praise Pétain, the ‘man of the moment’. It is now known that the French Church was deeply divided in its attitude to Vichy, and that the rank-and-file clergy, youth movements and laity quickly lost their initial enthusiasm for the regime, especially when it began its merciless persecution of Jews and other minorities

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