The principle of laity was not a problem for the Protestants
The separation of Church and State was easy to accept for the Protestants. Being a minority used to being wary of the State, they too had suffered from catholic supremacy, that was still very strong during the Ordre Moral period between 1873 and 1876. Some Protestants were probably quite satisfied that the Catholic church be submitted to the common law, as other organisations were. Moreover, a restricted minority was already independent from the State : the evangelical churches outside the Concordat.
Unanimity certainly did not exist – Lutherans were rather hostile, reformed liberals too, whereas the reformed orthodox, closer to the « left-wingers », were rather favourable, or at least uncomplaining. As for the ecclesiastical bodies, they would not officially take sides, confronted as they were to the « hostile trend towards incredulity prevailing in France » (W. Monod). The Dreyfus case and the anti-Semitic campaign, the actions against congregations, the national congress of Free Thinkers, anti-clerical campaigns made the separation seem like a victory of anti-Christianity.
But on the whole, the Protestants felt closer to the republicans, even more so as a campaign against Protestantism was launched in the 1890s in clerical and nationalist anti-Dreyfus newspapers.
In the Spring of 1895, to stand fast and get ready for the separation, an assembly of orthodox reformed Protestants suggested holding a Protestant meeting, which was to be the first general assembly of the reformed that took place in Lyon in 1896 to be followed by one in 1989.
The leaders of the orthodox reformed movement, who were given reliable information by Eugène Réveillaud (1851-1935) -a radical MP- and his son Jean -a member of Emile Combes’ cabinet – and also by Louis Méjean (1874-1955) – a collaborator of Aristide Briant – were able to modify the text of the law and allowed unions of worship associations, not only on a local but on a national level. Indeed for the evangelical movement keeping a national structure, the synod, to prevent “unrest” was of paramount importance.
Alsace, then a German region, was not affected by this law and was to keep its special status after the reunification.
- MAYEUR Jean-Marie, Séparation des Églises et de l’État, L'Atelier, 2005
- MONOD Wilfred, Pour l’Unité protestante, Paris, 1932
Wilfred Monod (1867-1943)
Progress towards unity
At the beginning of the 20th century, the need for unity was felt by different churches, and eventually led to the foundation of the Fédération protestante de France in 1905.
The French Concordat
The Concordat with the Organic Articles, ruled the organisation of Protestant as well as Catholic churches. It did not comprise any restrictive measures, and pastors were to be paid by the State for the first time. But the Concordat only applied to « consistorial » churches comprising 6,000 members, and not to « local » churches, better suited to the scattered Protestant community. But foremost it ignored the national synod, the traditional central authority of the Protestant church, the only body which could settle problems.
Protestantism in Alsace in 19th century
In Alsace the numerous Lutheran community, as well as the predominant reformed one in Mulhouse, were to be submitted to the same requirements as the reformed churches “inland”. But the centralised framework and subdued types of doctrinal debates prevented dissensions. After the 1871 defeat, a number of Protestants went inland in France.
The organisation of the Protestant community
The Protestant community was no longer clandestine and needed to be reorganised. The Concordat imposed a new institutional framework which ensured the protection of the State, but also caused a lot of problems for the lack of a centralised authority. From the 1850s onward, the organisation of the reformed protestant community experienced passionate debates about the doctrine. But the need for unity in order to confront public authorities led to the creation of the Fédération protestante de France in 1905.
The Law of 1905
The law of 9th December 1905, concerning the separation of the churches and the state, instituted and defined the secularity of France. It guaranteed freedom of worship in the spirit of the 1789 revolution, creating for it a legal framework and marking the end of the struggle between the lay Republic and the Catholic Church.
Protestantism in the XXth century
The law of 9th December 1905 separating the Churches from the State guaranteed the freedom of public worship for the Reformed Church and a legal framework. Hardly surprisingly, most Protestants welcomed this law.
It did not concern Alsace and the Moselle, which had become part of the German empire in 1871.