The faculties of theology
in the 19th century

In 19th century France, Lutheran and Reformed pastors under the Concordat rule were trained in two State-recognized faculties of theology.

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

  • The Protestant Institute of Theology of Paris © Thibault Godin

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 Most of the Falloux Act was to be repealed by the reforms of the Third Republic.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.

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