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Louis Billot (12 January 1846 in Sierck-les-Bains, Moselle, France – 18 December 1931 in Ariccia, Latium, Italy) was a French Jesuit priest and theologian. He became a cardinal in 1911 and resigned from that status in 1927, the only person to do so in the twentieth century.[1]


Louis Billot

Priest of the Society of Jesus
Other postsCardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Via Lata (1911–1927)
Ordination22 May 1869
Created cardinal27 November 1911
by Pope Pius X
Personal details
Born(1846-01-12)12 January 1846
Sierck-les-Bains, Moselle, France
Died18 December 1931(1931-12-18) (aged 85)
Ariccia, Latium, Italy
DenominationRoman Catholic



Louis Billot, sometimes identified as Ludovic Billot,[2][3] studied at the seminaries in Metz, Bordeaux, and Blois. Ordained a priest on 22 May 1869, he entered the Society of Jesus on 25 November in Angers. Billot did pastoral work in Paris from 1875 to 1878 and in Laval until 1879.

He taught at the Catholic University of Angers from 1879 to 1882 and made his final vows as a Jesuit on 2 February 1883, while teaching at the Jesuit Scholasticate on Jersey. In 1885, Billot became a professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In addition his academic post, he was named a consultor to the Holy Office on 19 June 1909.

A keen proponent of Thomistic scholasticism, Billot became a leading figure in metaphysical and speculative theology. He produced numerous published works and attracted many students.[4] He was instrumental in drafting Pope Pius X's 1907 encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis and was a close friend of Fr. Henri Le Floch, rector of the French Seminary in Rome.[citation needed]

Pius X created him Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Via Lata in the consistory of 27 November 1911. Billot was one of the cardinal electors in the conclave of 1914, and participated in conclave of 1922 as well. He was also one of the three Cardinal-Presidents of the Pontifical Academy "S. Tommaso" in Rome, together with Benedetto Lorenzelli and Michele Lega. He was appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on 6 February 1923.

Resignation as cardinalEdit

Billot's support for the deeply conservative movement Action Française eventually created tension between him and the Holy See. Pope Pius XI believed that the movement used Catholicism for its own political ends and placed the movement's newspaper on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum which meant that it was banned from all Catholic homes. Billot expressed strong disagreement with the decision, saying that the political activities of monarchist Catholics ought not to be censured by Rome.[5]

On 13 September 1927, in a meeting with Pope Pius XI, Billot submitted a letter asking to be allowed to resign as cardinal. The Pope had a document drafted for his signature and accepted the resignation eight days later on 21 September. The Pope announced Billot's change in status to the College of Cardinals at the consistory on 19 December, saying: "The autograph letter with which he tendered his resignation adduced such high spiritual motives, and in such grave circumstances, that after much thought and prayer we decided to accept them."[6] Billot had asked to be allowed to resign several times before.[3]

Action Française suggested that the papal action against the newspaper had provoked Billot's action.[2] The Vatican said his meeting with the Pope was amicable and attributed his resignation to his age, which was 81.[7] It said he had only an academic interest in Action Française.[2]

He was the only cardinal to resign that rank during the twentieth century,[1] though others relinquished the rights and privileges of the office while retaining the title.[a]

Billot died at the Jesuit Novitiate of Galloro, near Ariccia, outside Rome, at the age of 85.[3] He is buried in the Jesuit chapel of the Campo Verano cemetery.


  1. ^ Hans Hermann Groër, an Austrian monk and Archbishop of Vienna, was asked by Pope John Paul II to relinquish the rights and privileges of his cardinal's rank in 1998.[8] Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, agreed with Pope Francis to a similar arrangement in 2015.[9]


  1. ^ a b Walsh, Michael J. (2010). The Cardinals: Thirteen Centuries of the Men Behind the Papal Throne. William B. Eerdmanns Publishing. p. 220. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "French Cardinal Resigns Purple to Enter Monastery" (PDF). New York Times. 16 October 1927. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Billot Dead at 85; A Retired Cardinal" (PDF). New York Times. 19 December 1931. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  4. ^ McCool, Gerald A. Nineteenth-century Scholasticism: The Search for a Unitary Method. Fordham University Press: 1989.
  5. ^ TIME Magazine. Billot v. Pope October 3, 1927
  6. ^ "Pope in Allocution Silent on Disputes" (PDF). New York Times. 20 December 1927. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Say Cardinal Resigned over French Paper Ban" (PDF). New York Times. 21 September 1927. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  8. ^ "Austrian Cardinal Quits in Sex Scandal". New York Times. Associated Press. 15 April 1998. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  9. ^ Bingham, John (20 March 2015). "Pope Francis strips disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien of privileges but not title". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 September 2017.

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