Two State-recognized faculties of theology
The faculties of theology were part of the University of France (whose administration supervised higher and secondary public education). This meant that they accepted students with a baccalaureate who aimed to pass a Bachelor’s degree in theology or a doctorate.
Between 1808 (the creation of the University of France) and 1870, these faculties were in Montauban (for the Reformed Church) and in Strasburg (for Lutherans until 1820, and after that for both Lutherans and Reformed Protestants).
As from June 1, 1877, soon after the Sedan defeat, the Faculty of Strasburg was transferred to Paris. At long last could Protestant theology be taught in the country’s Capital. Until then, this had never been accepted, not even by the Edict of Nantes.
The pros and cons of State-controlled education
By being answerable to the State, the Faculties of Protestant Theology gained recognition and respectability. It also allowed them to benefit from public funding for professors’ salaries and for building maintenance, while it also gave them access to scholarships. The faculties could likewise negotiate the validation in France of degrees passed abroad, mainly in Geneva.
However, not all Protestants appreciated the Concordat rule and its constraints. For example, many of them considered that making the baccalaureate a compulsory condition for access to higher public education could turn a lot of “potential” pastors away from their career.
Hence the opening throughout France of some free schools of theology, with private funding, for the training of pastors – many of whom were attached to the Revival Movement.
Somewhat later, a middle of the way solution was found that allowed some schools of theology to prepare their students for the baccalaureate (high school leaving certificate in general education).
Protestant education took little advantage of the Falloux Act established in 1851 and extended to the field of higher education in 1878. It suppressed State control over the awarding of degrees and recognized the validity of degrees awarded by religious schools. Most of the Falloux Act was to be repealed by the reforms of the Third Republic.
After the separation of Church and State in 1905, all faculties of theology that had been under Concordat rule until then were considered free faculties. This meant that degrees in higher education awarded by such Free Schools – despite an academic level equal to that of degrees awarded by the State – were no longer validated by the latter.
The Montauban Faculty of Theology in the 19th century
The faculty was founded in 1808-1810 and trained the majority of the Reformed Church pastors. After a somewhat tentative beginning, studies were reorganized by a decree initiated by Baron Cuvier and dated May 24, 1828.
The Faculty of Protestant theology in Paris
Protestant theology had never been taught in Paris, not even at the time of the Edict of Nantes. The transfer of the Strasburg universities to Paris, in the years that followed the defeat in Sedan in 1870, was highly symbolical of a fully gained, blooming Protestant identity.
The Independent Evangelical Theological Faculty of Vaux-sur-Seine
The Vaux-sur-Seine Faculty has trained pastors since the late XIXth century. It became an independent institution of further education in 1965. It is a training centre of future pastors in the French-speaking evangelical Churches of different tendencies : (Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal).
A Protestant Theology School in Paris
For the first time, a Protestant theology school was established in Paris. It was the convergence of two movements: the desire to establish theology instruction in Paris and the arrival of two professors from Strasbourg, who did not want to be under German administration.
The Protestant Theology Faculties today
The protestant theology faculties in France are independent institutions of higher education awarding their own diplomas. Strasbourg is a case apart and is still bound by the Concordat agreement between Church and state. Their main role is to prepare students for the different ministries within the Church : pastors and deacons are prepared for their calling, instruction is given in catechism and musicology. Many also have well-equipped research centres, continuous education and seminars dealing with the main political, social and spiritual issues of today.