Alfred Firmin Loisy

Alfred Firmin Loisy

Loisy, Alfred Firmin, 1857-1940, French theologian, biblical critic, and leading exponent of biblical modernism. He was ordained (1879) a Roman Catholic priest and was (1881-93) professor at the Catholic Institute in Paris. His belief in greater freedom in interpreting the history and development of religious doctrine brought him into conflict with Popes Leo XIII and Pius X. In 1893, he was dismissed from the institute. He taught (1900-1904) at the École des Hautes Études and (1909-30) at the Collège de France. At the beginning of the 20th cent. he became the principal leader of the Modernism movement, which accepted the theories of higher criticism and developed a kind of liberal humanitarianism. His books were condemned severally and collectively by the Holy See, and in 1908 he was excommunicated. Thereafter he became increasingly opposed to the teachings of the church. Among his works are L'Évangile et l'église [the gospel and the church] (1902), Le IVe Évangile [the fourth gospel] (1903), and Les Évangiles synoptiques [the synoptic gospels] (1908). His autobiography appeared in 1924.

See J. Ratté, Three Modernists (1968).

Alfred Firmin Loisy (28 February 1857 - 1 June 1940) was a French Roman Catholic priest, professor and theologian who became the intellectual standard bearer for Biblical Modernism in the Roman Catholic Church. He was a critic of traditional views of the biblical creation myth, and argued that biblical criticism could be applied to interpreting scripture. His theological positions brought him into conflict with the leading Catholics of his era, including Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X. In 1893, he was dismissed as a professor from the Institut Catholique de Paris. His books were condemned by the Vatican, and in 1908 he was excommunicated.

Loisy's most famous observation was that ‘Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church’ (‘Jésus annonçait le Royaume et c'est l'Église qui est venue’: Loisy 1902), and he is often taken to have said that with a note of regret (Loisy 1976: 166). But for all his clashes with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Loisy actually thought that Jesus did intend to form some sort of society or community. It was the aping of civil government (‘comme celle d'un gouvernement établi’; Loisy 1902: 152) which he doubted Jesus intended.

Life and work

Born on February 28, 1857 at Ambriéres, Loisy was educated within the Catholic system, from 1874-1879 at the Grand Séminaire von Châlons, and entered Institut Catholique at Paris in 1878/1879. He was ordained on June 29th 1879. After an illness he returned to the Institut in 1881 as a professor of Hebrew. He published his "Five Thesis" which was firmly rejected. This Thesis stated that the Pentateuch was not the work of Moses, that the first five chapters of Genesis are not literal history, that the New Testament and the Old Testament do not possess equal historical value, that there has been a development in the religious doctrine in scripture, and that the sacred writings have the same limitations as all other authors of the ancient world. In 1899 he resigned and was appointed lecturer at École Practique des Hautes Études, which was not an ecclesial institution.

In 1902, he started to pay attention to van Harnack's "Das Wesen des Christentum." Harnack believed that the essence of Christianity was the relationship between individual and God, making an organized church a largely unnecessary creation. Loisy disagreed with the idea that the organized church was unnecessary, but the nature of his disagreement brought him controversy. From 1901 to 1903 he wrote several works that would be condemned by the Church. These include "La Religion d'Israel", "Etudes évangéliques", "L'Evangile et L'Eglise", "Autour d'un petit livre", and "Le quatrième Evangile." His 1908 "Les Evangiles Synoptiques" would cause his excommunication. In his works he argued against Harnack by trying to show that it was necessary and inevitable for the Catholic Church to form as it did. He also argued that God intended this and compared his own ideas on this to John Henry Cardinal Newman. His assertions on Jesus went further than Newman and caused more controversy. He argued that Harnack had been partly correct that an organized church was created in a way unrelated to any plans by Jesus. Loisy argued that Jesus lacked a conscious understanding that he was cosubstantial with God the Father and therefore Jesus did not know how the Catholic Church would "transform." Loisy also indicated that many of the ideas on cosubstantiality came from the Council of Nicaea and would have been unknown to Jesus or his first followers who saw him largely in Jewish messianic terms. He was excommunicated for this on March 7, 1908.

After his excommunication he ceased efforts to reconcile with the Church and dropped clerical garb. That stated he maintained his loyalty to Catholicism as he understood it. He was appointed chair of history of religions in the Collège de France after his excommunication. He served there until 1931 and died in 1940.


Loisy, Alfred. L'Évangile et l'Église (Paris: Picard, 1902) ET The Gospel and the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976)


  • Ilaria Biagioli, François Laplanche, Claude Langlois (eds), Autour d'un petit livre. Alfred Loisy cent ans après, Paris, Brepols, 2007
  • "KIRCHENLEXIKON" ("Church Dictionary", with "LOISY, Alfred Firmin"),, 2006-03-23, webpage: Bautz-German-Loisy

Search another word or see alfred firmin loisyon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature