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The Organic Articles

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A name given to a law regulating public worship, comprising 77 articles relative to Catholicism, and 44 relative to Protestantism, presented by order of Napoleon to the Tribunate and the legislative body at the same time that he made these two bodies vote on the Concordat itself. Together with the Concordat, the Organic Articles were published as a law, under the same title and the same preamble, 8 April, 1802, and the various governments in France which have since followed one another, down to 1905, have always professed to regard the Organic Articles as inseparable from the Concordat. Pope Pius VII however, as early as 24 May, 1802, declared formally, in a consistorial allocution, that these articles had been promulgated without his knowledge, and that he could not accept them without modification.

The Organic Articles which refer to Catholicism fall under four titles.

  • Title I deals with "the government of the Catholic Church in its general relations to the rights and constitution of the State." In virtue of these articles, the authorization of the Government is necessary for the publication and execution of a papal document in France ; for the exercise of ecclesiastical functions by any representative of the pope, for the holding of a National Council or a Diocesan Synod. Moreover, the Council of State, thanks to the formality of the appel comme d'abus , may declare that there is abus in any given acts of the ecclesiastical authority, and thus thrust itself into the affairs of the Church.
  • Title II deals with the ministers of public worship whose powers it defines: the rules and regulations of seminaries must be submitted to the State, the "Declaration of 1682" must be taught in the seminaries, the number of those to be ordained must be fixed yearly by the Government; the curés of important parishes cannot be appointed by the bishop without the consent of the State.
  • Under Title III, devoted to public worship, the legislature forbids public processions in towns where there are adherents of different creeds. It fixes the dress of the priests, who must be dressed "in the French fashion and in black", it prescribes that there shall be only one catechism for all the churches of France.
  • Article IV has reference to the boundaries of dioceses and parishes, and to the salary of ministers of religion.

It was not long, however, before many of these articles became a dead letter. M. Emile Ollivier, in his speech from the tribune. 11 July, 1868, said: "It would be difficult to cite even one or two that are still kept, even these are not enforced every day but are only dragged from their nothingness and obscurity on great occasions, when there is need of seeming to do something while doing nothing." Even the Third Republic never claimed the right to prevent the bringing of papal documents into France, to fix the dress of the priests, to insist on the teaching of the Declaration of 1682; and the judgments Tanquam ab abusu pronounced by the Council of State against the bishops, have always been mildly platonic.

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The Organic Articles as such were the outcome, philosophically speaking, of a certain Gallican and Josephist spirit, whereby the State sought to rule the Church. Historically speaking, the French Legislature in drawing up these articles, which limited the scope of the Concordat, had set an unfortunate example, followed twenty years later by the various German governments, which having in their turn treated with the Holy See, hastened to counteract their own agreements by means of certain territorial enactments.

The law of 1905, which separated Church and State in France, abrogated the Organic Articles at the same time that it abrogated the Concordat.

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