Date of Completion

January 1980


History, Modern




Beginning in the 1880's with the first ministry of Jules Ferry, French statesmen enthusiastically competed with their European neighbors in the scramble for colonial possessions, and during this period France acquired territory in Africa, the Far East, and the Pacific. The French Catholic missionary establishment was the largest and the most dynamic in the Catholic world, and French missionaries were active in all of those areas where imperialists were contending for influence. These missionaries often had the support of ardent colonialists, government officials, and military men who felt that they represented French civilization and culture at its best while adding a humanitarian element to the imperial adventure. However, official support for missionaries was not wholehearted, for the majority of those who governed the Third Republic were anticlericals, men dedicated to the principles of a secular state and committed to bringing about the separation of Church and State.^ This particular situation posed a special problem for anticlericals who were also imperialists and realized how important the services rendered by missionaries were to French influence in the world. How could they attack the Church in France yet protect and sustain imperialism? The resolution of their dilemma was curtly expressed by Leon Gambetta in his often quoted dictum, "Anticlericalism is not an article of exportation." In the early Third Republic, anticlerical imperialists simply made a tenuous distinction between the Church in France and the Church and missionaries in colonies and protectorates and lived with the paradox. Avowedly anticlerical at home, they consistently supported missionaries in the field. Only with the turmoil of the Dreyfus Affair and the final struggle to separate Church and State in France between 1901 and 1905 was the assumption that missionaries were crucial to French influence abroad seriously challenged, and a reappraisal of the role of missionaries in French imperialism undertaken. Although the missionary establishment was seriously weakened by the anticlerical legislation, the major missionary societies were preserved when almost all other religious associations were forced to disband, and a large part of the vast system of government support for missionary work survived the separation in 1905.^ Within the context of the history of the early Third Republic, this dissertation treats certain aspects of the role played by missionaries in French imperial expansion between 1880 and 1905. Although missionaries were residents in colonies and protectorates where they may or may not have supported official attempts to consolidate government power or influence the local population, the primary focus of this study is the metropole where missionary policy was formulated by the highly centralized Colonial Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, often independently of the bitter debates on colonial problems and church-state relations raging in the Chamber. It concentrates on the ways in which missionaries were supported and encouraged by the Third Republic, and how they in turn perceived of their role in French expansion. The structure and seize of the missionary establishment are examined, along with the ways in which the Colonial Ministry and the Foreign Ministry attempted to support the missionary movement. The study concludes with a discussion of the fate of the missionary congregations and societies in the struggle leading to the separation of Church and State.^ Most of the evidence used to support generalizations was acquired in the archives and libraries of the French missionary societies and the National Archives of France. A detailed listing of the resources examined is included in the bibliography. ^