The accession of the Carolingian dynasty is marked by a splendid act of homage paid in France to the papacy's power. Before assuming the title of king, Pepin made a point of securing the consent of Pope Zachary. Without exaggerating the significance of this act, the bearing of which the Gallicans have done everything to minimize, one may still see it as evidence that even before Gregory VII, public opinion in France was not hostile to the pope's intervention in political affairs. From then on, the advances of the Roman primacy find no severe opponents in France before Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims. With him, there appears the idea that the pope must limit his activity to ecclesiastical matters and not intrude in those about the State, which concern kings only; that his supremacy is bound to respect the prescriptions of the ancient canons and the privileges of the Churches; and that his decretals must not be placed upon the same footing as the canons of the councils. His attitude stands out as isolated. The Council of Troyes (867) proclaims that no bishop can be deposed without reference to the Holy See, and the Council of Douzy (871) condemns Hincmar of Laon only under the reserve of the pope's rights.
With the first Capets, the temporal relations between the pope and the Gallican Church were momentarily strained. At the Councils of Saint-Basle de Verzy (991) and of Chelles (c. 993), in the discourses of Arnoul, Bishop of Orléans, in the letters of Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II, sentiments of violent hostility to the Holy See are manifested, and an evident determination to elude the authority in matters of discipline which had until then been recognized as belonging to it. But the papacy at that period, given over to the tyranny of Crescentius and other local barons, was temporarily declined. When it regained its independence, its old authority in France came back to it; the work of the Councils of Saint-Basle and Chelles was undone; princes like Hugh Capet and bishops like Gerbert held no attitude but that of submission. It has been said that during the early Capetian period, the pope was more influential in France than ever. Under Gregory VII, the pope's legates traversed France from north to south, they convened and presided over numerous councils, and, despite sporadic and incoherent acts of resistance, they deposed bishops and excommunicated princes just as in Germany and Spain.
We can still see no clear evidence of Gallicanism in the following two centuries. The pontifical power attains its apogee in France as elsewhere, St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas outline the theory of that power, and their opinion is that of the school in accepting the attitude of Gregory VII and his successors regarding delinquent princes. St. Louis IX, whom some tried to represent as a patron of the Gallican system, is still ignorant of it — for the fact is now established that the Pragmatic Sanction of 1269, long attributed to him, was a wholesale fabrication put together (about 1445) in the vicinities of the Royal Chancellery of Charles VII to lend countenance to the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. (Löffler 1911)
At the opening of the fourteenth century, however, the conflict between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII brings out the first glimmerings of the Gallican ideas. That king does not confine himself to maintaining that, as sovereign, he is a sole and independent master of his temporalities; he haughtily proclaims that, in virtue of the concession made by the pope, with the consent of a general council to Charlemagne and his successors, he has the right to dispose of vacant ecclesiastical benefices. With the consent of the nobility, the Third Estate, and a significant part of the clergy, he appeals the matter from Boniface VIII to a future general council, the implication being that the council is superior to the pope. The same ideas and others still more hostile to the Holy See reappear in the struggle of Fratricelles and Louis of Bavaria against Pope John XXII; they are expressed by the pens of William of Occam, of John of Jandun, and of Marsilius of Padua, professors in the University of Paris. Among other things, they deny the divine origin of the papal primacy and subject the exercise of it to the good pleasure of the temporal ruler. Following the pope, the University of Paris condemned these views. Still, for all that, they did not entirely disappear from the school's memory or the disputations, for the principal work of Marsilius, Defensor Pacis, was translated into French in 1375, probably by a professor of the University of Paris. The Western Schism reawakened them suddenly.
The idea of a council naturally suggested itself as a means of healing that unfortunate division of Christendom. Upon that idea was soon grafted the conciliary theory, which sets the council above the pope, making it the sole representative of the Church, the sole organ of infallibility. Timidly sketched by two professors of the University of Paris, Conrad of Gelnhausen and Henry of Langenstein, this theory was completed and noisily interpreted to the public by Pierre d'Ailly and Gerson. At the same time, the clergy of France, disgusted with Benedict XIII, withdrew from his obedience. It was in the assembly which voted on this measure (1398) that, for the first time, there was any question of bringing back the Church of France to its ancient liberties and customs — of giving its prelates once more the right of conferring and disposing of benefices. The same idea comes into the foreground in the claims put forward in 1406 by another assembly of the French clergy; to win the assembly's votes, certain orators cited the example of what was happening in England. Johannes Haller concluded from this that these so-called Ancient Liberties were of English origin, that the Gallican Church borrowed them from its neighbour, only imagining them to be a revival of its past. This opinion does not seem well founded. The precedents cited by Haller go back to the parliament held at Carlisle in 1307. At this date, the tendencies of reaction against papal reservations had already manifested themselves in the assemblies convoked by Philip the Fair in 1302 and 1303. The most that we can admit is, that the same ideas received parallel development from both sides of the channel.
Together with the restoration of the "Ancient Liberties," the assembly of the clergy in 1406 intended to maintain the superiority of the council to the pope and the fallibility of the latter. However widely they may have been accepted at the time, these were only individual opinions or opinions of a school when the Council of Constance came to give them the sanction of its high authority. In its fourth and fifth sessions, it declared that the council represented the Church and that every person, no matter what dignity, even the pope, was bound to obey it in what concerned the destruction of the schism and the reform of the Church; that even the pope, if he resisted obstinately, might be constrained by the process of law to obey it in the above-mentioned points. This was the birth or, if we prefer to call it so, the legitimation of Gallicanism. So far, we had encountered in the history of the Gallican Church recriminations of malcontent bishops or a violent gesture of some prince discomforted in his mercenary designs, but these were only fits of resentment or ill-humour, accidents with no attendant consequences; this time, the provisions made against the exercise of the pontifical authority had a lasting effect. Gallicanism had implanted itself in the minds of men as a national doctrine, and it only remained to apply it in practice. This is to be the work of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. In that instrument, the clergy of France inserted the articles of Constance repeated at Basle and, upon that warrant, assumed authority to regulate the collation of benefices and the temporal administration of the Churches on the sole basis of the common law, under the king's patronage, and independently of the pope's action. From Eugene IV to Leo X, the popes did not cease to protest against the Pragmatic Sanction until it was replaced by the Concordat of Bologna in 1516. But, if its provisions disappeared from the laws of France, the principles it embodied for a time nonetheless continued to inspire the schools of theology and parliamentary jurisprudence. Those principles even appeared at the Council of Trent, where the ambassadors, theologians, and bishops of France repeatedly championed them, notably when the council discussed whether episcopal jurisdiction comes immediately from God or through the pope, whether or not the council ought to ask confirmation of its decrees from the sovereign pontiff, etc. Then again, it was in the name of the Liberties of the Gallican Church that a part of the clergy and the Parlementaires opposed the publication of the Council of Trent, and the crown decided to detach from it and publish what seemed good, in the form of ordinances emanating from the royal authority.