Protectorate of missions

  (Redirected from Protectorate of Missions)

Protectorate of Missions is a term for the right of protection exercised by a Christian power in an 'infidel' (e.g. Muslim) country with regard to the persons and establishments of the missionaries. The term does not apply to all protection of missions, but only to that permanently exercised in virtue of an acquired right, usually established by a treaty or convention (either explicit or tacit), voluntarily consented to or accepted after more or less compulsion by the infidel power. The object of the protectorate may be more or less extensive, according as it embraces only the missionaries who are subjects of the protecting power, or applies to the missionaries of all nations or even to their neophytes, the native Christians. To comprehend fully the nature of the protectorate of missions, as it has been in times past and as it is to-day, it will be necessary to study separately the Protectorate of the Levant and that of the Far East.

This article deals with a historical approach to the 'legitimation' of protectorates by the need to facilitate the 'holy' duty of spreading the Christian faith, as invoked by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant colonial/imperial powers. This comprises the missions of the countries under Ottoman rule, especially Constantinople, the Archipelago, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Barbary etc. It was French in origin, and was, until near the end of the nineteenth century, the almost exclusive privilege of France.


In the Holy Land, Charlemagne secured from the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid a certain share in his sovereignty over the Holy Places of Jerusalem. Charlemagne and his successors made use of this concession to establish pious and charitable foundations there, to protect the Christian inhabitants and pilgrims, and to ensure the availability of Christian worship.

The destruction of the Arabian Empire by the Turks put an end to this first protectorate, and for reasons that were not purely religious, led to the Crusades, as a result of which Palestine was conquered from the Saracens and became a Latin, French-speaking kingdom. The Christian rule was later replaced by that of Islam, but during the three centuries of Crusades, which had been undertaken and supported mainly by France, the Christians of the East had grown accustomed to look to that country for assistance in oppression or to gain more leverage in their dealings with the Ottomans, while France valued its increasingly important role in the region and its accompanying geopolitical benefits. There lies the germ of the modern Protectorate of the Levant.

France in the LevantEdit

The protectorate began to assume a contractual form in the sixteenth century, in the treaties concluded between the kings of France and the Ottoman Sultans, which are historically known as Capitulations. At first this name designated the commercial agreement conceded by the Sublime Porte to Latin merchants (first to the Italians), and arose from the fact that the articles of these agreements were called capitoli 'chapters' in the Italian redaction: the term has not, therefore, the same humiliating meaning as in military parlance (conceding utter defeat), but a similar neutral etymology as the Carolingian Capitularia.

Francis I was the first king of France who sought an alliance with Turkey. To this he was urged, not by the spirit of the Crusaders, but entirely by the desire to break in Europe the dominating power of the imperial Habsburg House of Austria. By compelling Austria to spend its forces in defense against the Turks in the East, he hoped to weaken it and render it unable to increase or even to maintain its power in the West.

The next French kings down to Louis XV followed the same policy, which, whatever criticism it merits, was as a matter of fact favourable to Christianity in the Levant, seeking by their zeal in defending Christian interests at the Porte, to extenuate their alliance with infidels, which was a source of scandal even in France. As early as 1528, Francis I had appealed to Suleiman the Magnificent to restore to the Christians of Jerusalem a church which the Turks had converted into a mosque. The Sultan refused on the plea that his religion would not permit alteration of the purpose of a mosque, but he promised to maintain the Christians in possession of all the other places occupied by them and to defend them against all oppression.

However, religion was not the object of a formal convention between France and Turkey prior to 1604, when Henry IV of France secured from Ahmad I the insertion, in the capitulations of 20 May, of two clauses relative to the protection of pilgrims and of the religious in charge of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The following are the relevant clauses of the treaty: "Article IV. We also desire and command that the subjects of the said Emperor [sic] of France, and those of the princes who are his friends and allies, may be free to visit the Holy Places of Jerusalem, and no one shall attempt to prevent them nor do them injury"; "Article V. Moreover, for the honor and friendship of this Emperor, we desire that the religious living in Jerusalem and serving the church of Comane [the Resurrection] may dwell there, come and go without let or hindrance, and be well received, protected, assisted, and helped in consideration of the above." It is noteworthy that the same advantages are stipulated for the French and for the friends and allies of France, but for the latter in consideration of, and at the recommendation of France.

The result of this friendship was the development of the Catholic missions, which began to flourish through the assistance of Henry IV Bourbon and his son Louis XIII Bourbon and through the zeal of the French missionaries. Before the middle of the seventeenth century, various religious orders (Capuchin, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan and Jesuit) were established, as chaplains of the French ambassadors and consuls, in major Ottoman cities (Istanbul, Alexandria, Smyrna, Aleppo, Damascus etc.), Lebanon and the islands of the Aegean Archipelago. They assembled the Catholics to instruct and confirm them in the Catholic faith, opened schools to which flocked the children of all rites, relieved the spiritual and corporal miseries of the Christians in the frightful Turkish prisons, and nursed the pest-stricken, which last office made many martyrs of charity.

During the reign of Louis XIV, the missionaries multiplied and extended the field of their activities: the Sun King' gave them at once a material and a moral support, which the prestige of his victories and conquests rendered irresistible at the Porte. Thanks to him, the often precarious tolerance, on which the existence of the missions had previously depended, was officially recognized in 1673, when on 5 June, Mehmed IV not only confirmed the earlier capitulations guaranteeing the safety of pilgrims and the religious guardians of the Holy Sepulchre, but signed four new articles, all beneficial to the missionaries. The first decreed in a general manner "that all bishops or other religious of the Latin sect [cfr. Millet (Ottoman Empire)] who are subjects of France, whatever their condition, shall be throughout our empire as they have been hitherto, and [may] there perform their functions, and no one shall trouble or hinder them"; the others secure the tranquil possession of their churches, explicitly to the Jesuits and Capuchins, and in general "to the French at Smyrna, Saïd, Alexandria, and in all other ports of the Ottoman Empire".

The reign of Louis XIV marked the apogee of the French Protectorate in the East, for not only the Latin missionaries of all nationalities, but also the heads of all Catholic communities, regardless of rite or nationality, appealed to the Grand Roi, and at the recommendation of his ambassadors and consuls to the Porte and the pashas, obtained justice and protection from their enemies. Though the missionaries were sometimes on such amicable terms with the non-Catholic clergy that the latter authorized them to preach in their churches, they usually experienced a lively hostility from that quarter. On several occasions the Greek and Armenian Non-Uniate Patriarchs, displeased at seeing a great portion of their flocks abandon them for the Roman priests, on various pretexts persuaded the Turkish Government to forbid all propaganda by the latter, but representatives of Louis XIV successfully opposed this ill-will.

At the beginning of the reign of Louis XV the preponderance of French influence with the Porte was also manifested in the authority granted the Franciscans, who were protégés of France, to repair the dome of the Holy Sepulchre: this meant the recognition of their right of proprietorship in the Holy Sepulchre as superior to the claims of the Greeks and the Armenians.

In 1723 the Non-Uniate Patriarchs succeeded in obtaining from the Sultan a "command" forbidding his Christian subjects to embrace the Roman religion, and the Latin religious to hold any communication with the Greeks, Armenians and Syrians, on the pretext of instructing them. French diplomacy sought, long in vain, to have this disastrous measure revoked. At last, as a reward for the services rendered to Turkey during its wars with Russia and Austria (1736–1739), the French succeeded in 1740 in securing the renewal of the capitulations, with additions which explicitly confirmed the right of the French Protectorate, and at least implicitly guaranteed the liberty of the Catholic apostolate. By the eighty-seventh of the articles signed on 28 May 1740, Sultan Mahmud I declared: "... The bishops and religious subject to the Emperor of France living in my empire shall be protected while they confine themselves to the exercise of their office, and no one may prevent them from practising their rite according to their custom in the churches in their possession, as well as in the other places they inhabit; and, when our tributary subjects and the French hold intercourse for purposes of selling, buying, and other business, no one may molest them for this sake in violation of the sacred laws."

In subsequent treaties between France and Turkey, the capitulations were not repeated verbatim, but they are recalled and confirmed (e. g. in 1802 and 1838). The various regimes which succeeded the monarchy of St. Louis and of Louis XIV all maintained in law, and in fact, the ancient privilege of France in the protection of the missionaries and Christian communities of the Orient. The expedition in 1860 sent by Emperor Napoleon III to put a stop to the massacre of the Maronites was in harmony with the ancient rôle of France, and would have been more so if its work of justice had been more complete.

The Far EastEdit

Beginning in the 15th century, popes granted to the Crown of Portugal the right to designate candidates for the sees and ecclesiastical benefices in the vast domains acquired through the expeditions it sponsored in Africa and the East Indies. This is sometimes called the Portuguese Protectorate of Missions, but more properly the "Portuguese Patronage" (Padroado). It allowed the King of Portugal to benefit from a certain portion of the ecclesiastical revenues of his kingdom, and it carried the condition that he should send good missionaries to his new subjects, and that he should provide with a fitting endowment the dioceses, parishes and religious establishments established in his acquired territories. The Holy See contested Portugal's assertion of these rights to regions it claimed but never conquered, including the greater part of India, Tong-king, Cochin-China (both in present Vietnam), Siam and especially China. Portugal tried to exert influence through its ambassadors to China in the 18th century, instructing them to intervene as much as possible to protect missionaries and native Christians from ongoing persecution in the provinces.

Portugal's authority was not comparable to the protectorate regime exercised by France in the Near East or Far East in later centuries and Portugal's rights as protector were never recognized by a host nation. No Christian power exercised a protectorate in China before the 19th century.


The French Protectorate, as far as a regular convention is concerned, dates from the middle of the nineteenth century, but the way was prepared by the protection which French statesmen had accorded the missionaries for almost two centuries. The zeal and liberality of Louis XIV permitted the foundation of the great French Jesuit mission, which in less than fifteen years (1687–1701) more than doubled the number of apostolic workers in China, and never ceased to produce most capable workers. The first official relations were formed between France and China when the missionaries brought thither by the "Amphitrite", the first French vessel seen in Chinese waters (1699), presented gifts from Louis XIV to the Kangxi Emperor. The two monarchs shared the expense of erecting the first French church at Peking: the emperor donated land within the limits of the imperial city and the building materials, the French king paid for the labor, the decoration and the magnificent liturgical ornaments. Several other churches erected in the provinces through the munificence of Louis XIV increased the prestige of France throughout the empire. Under Louis XV the mission in China, like many other things, was somewhat overlooked, but the government did not wholly neglect it. It found a zealous protector in Louis XVI's minister Bertin, but it felt keenly the suppression of the Society of Jesus and the French Revolution with all its consequences, which dried up the source of the apostolate in Europe. It was a handful of French missionaries, such as Lazarists or members of the Society of Foreign Missions, assisted by some Chinese priests, who preserved the Faith throughout the persecutions of the early nineteenth century, during which several of them were martyred.

When the English, after the so-called Opium War, imposed on China the Treaty of Nanking (1842), they did not at first ask for religious liberty, but the murder of the Lazarist John Gabriel Perboyre (11 September 1840) becoming known, they added an article stipulating that thenceforth a missionary taken in the interior of the country should not be tried by the Chinese authorities, but should be delivered to the nearest consul of his country. On 24 October 1844, French ambassador Théodore de Lagrené secured further concessions which inaugurated a new era. The Treaty of Whampoa, which was signed on that date at Whampoa, speaks only of liberty for the French to settle in certain territory in the open ports, but at the request of the ambassador, an imperial edict was sent to the mandarins and at least partially promulgated, praising the Christian religion and removing the prohibition for Chinese to practice it. However, the execution of the missionary Auguste Chapdelaine in 1856 and other facts showed the insufficiency of the guarantees accorded to Europeans; to obtain others, England and France had recourse to arms.

The war (1858–1860, cfr. Second Opium War), which showed China its weakness, was ended by the treaties of T'ien-tsin (24–25 October 1860). They contained an article which stipulated freedom for the missionaries to preach and for the Chinese to embrace Christianity. This article was included in the treaties which other powers a little later concluded with China. To the treaty with France was also added a supplementary article, which reads as follows: "An imperial edict conformable to the imperial edict of 20 February 1846 [that secured by M. de Lagrené], will inform the people of the whole empire that soldiers and civilians be permitted to propagate and practice the religion of the Lord of Heaven [Catholic], to assemble for explanation of doctrine, to build churches wherein to celebrate their ceremonies. Those [the mandarins] who henceforth make searches or arbitrary arrests must be punished. Furthermore, the temples of the Lord of Heaven, together with the schools, cemeteries, lands, buildings etc., which were confiscated formerly when the followers of the religion of the Lord of Heaven were persecuted, shall be either restored or compensated for. Restoration is to be made to the French ambassador residing at Peking, who will transfer the property to the Christians of the localities concerned. In all the provinces also the missionaries shall be permitted to rent or purchase lands and erect buildings at will". The general and exclusive right of protection granted to the French over all the Catholic missions in China could not be more explicitly recognized than it was by this agreement, which made the French ambassador the indispensable intermediary in the matter of all restitutions. And the representatives of France never ceased to make full use of this right in favor of the missionaries, whom from the middle of the nineteenth century a revival of Apostolic zeal drew from all countries to China. From them the passports necessary to penetrate into the interior of the country were regularly sought, and to them were addressed complaints and claims, which it was their duty to lay before the Chinese Government. The French ministers also secured, not without difficulty, the necessary additions to the Treaty of T'ien-tsin—such, for instance, as the Berthemy Convention (1865) with the Gerard addition (1895), regulating the important question of the purchase of lands and buildings in the interior.

The foregoing historical sketch shows that the ancient French right of protection over the missions, in both Turkey and China, was established as much by constant exercise and by services rendered as by treaties. Furthermore, it was based on the fundamental right of the Church, derived from God Himself, to preach the Gospel everywhere and to receive from Christian powers the assistance necessary to enable her to perform her task untrammeled. The desire to further the Catholic church's mission, which always guided the French monarchs to a greater or less extent, does not influence the present government. The latter endeavors, however, to preserve the prerogative of its predecessors, and continues to lend protection, though much diminished, to the Catholic missionary undertakings—even to those directed by religious who are proscribed in France (e. g. it subsidizes the Jesuit schools in Syria). The advantages of the protectorate are too obvious even to the least clerical of the ministers for them not to attempt to retain them, whatever the resulting contradictions in their policy. It is very evident that France owed to this protectorate throughout the Levant and in the Far East a prestige and a moral influence which no commerce or conquest could ever have given her. Thanks to the protectorate, the treasures of respect, gratitude and affection won by the Catholic missionaries became to a certain extent the property of France; and, if the French entertained doubts as to the utility of this time-honored privilege (a few anti-clericals attempt to obscure the evidence on this point), the efforts of rival nations to secure a share of it would prove enlightening. These efforts have been frequent, especially since 1870, and have been to a large extent successful.

Other countriesEdit


In 1875, at the time of the negotiations between France and -nominally Ottoman- Egypt with regard to judiciary reform, the German government declared that it "recognized no exclusive right of protection of any power in behalf of Catholic establishments in the East, and that it reserved its rights with regard to German subjects belonging to any of these establishments".[1] Against French claims to an exclusive protectorate and in support of its own claims to exercise the privileges of a protectorate, Germany later cited the language agreed to by Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire in article 62 of the Treaty of Berlin in 1878: "Ecclesiastics, pilgrims and monks of all nationalities traveling in Turkey in Europe or Turkey in Asia shall enjoy the same rights, advantages and privileges. The official right of protection of the diplomatic and consular agents of the Powers in Turkey is recognized, with regard both to the above-mentioned persons and to their religious, charitable and other establishments in the Holy Places and elsewhere."[1] The passage immediately following this paragraph in the article was overlooked: "The acquired rights of France are explicitly reserved, and there shall be no interference with the statu quo in the Holy Places."[1] Thus the protection guaranteed to all ecclesiastics etc., no matter what their nationality or religion, as well as the generally recognized right of all the powers to watch over this protection, should be understood with the reservation of the "acquired rights" of France i.e. of its ancient protectorate in behalf of Catholics. This protectorate is therefore really confirmed by the Treaty of Berlin.

But as a matter of fact, the influence of Russia, which has assumed the protectorate of Orthodox Christians, already greatly affected the standing which the ancient French Protectorate had assured to Catholics in Palestine and especially in Jerusalem.

Moreover, Emperor William II of Germany has installed Protestantism with a magnificent church beside the Holy Sepulchre in 1898. As a sort of compensation he indeed ceded to German Catholics the site of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, which he obtained from the Sultan where a church and a monastery were erected and, together with the other German establishments, placed under the protection of the German Empire, without deference to the ancient prerogative of France.

A similar situation prevailed in China. First, in 1888, Germany obtained from the Chinese imperial Government that German passports should insure the same advantages to the missionaries as those secured at the French legation. At the same time the German Catholic missionaries of Shan-tung, who had much to endure from the infidels, were on several occasions offered the powerful protection of the German Empire. Mgr. Anzer, the vicar Apostolic, decided to accept it, after having, as he declares, several times sought unsuccessfully the aid of the French minister. In 1896 the German ambassador at Peking received from Berlin the command to support energetically the claims of the Catholic missionaries and even to declare that the German Empire would pledge itself to defend against all unjust oppression the persons and property of the mission of Shan-tung, together with freedom of preaching, in the same measure in which such had been formerly guaranteed by the French Protectorate. The murder of two of the Shan-tung missionaries in November 1897 afforded the occasion for a more solemn affirmation of the new protectorate, while it furnished a long-sought pretext for the occupation of Kiaochow.


Austria concluded various treaties with the Ottoman Empire in 1699 (Treaty of Karlowitz), 1718 (Treaty of Passarowitz), and 1739 (Treaty of Belgrade) that secured a right of protection over "the religious" in the Empire and even at Jerusalem, though never including a guarantee of liberty of worship. Austria never exercised authority as a protector except in the countries bordering on Habsburg Austria, notably Albania and Macedonia. In 1848 the Austrian Protectorate was extended to the Christian missions in the Sudan and Nigritia, which were in the care of Austrian priests. When the Coptic Catholic hierarchy was restored in Egypt by Pope Leo XIII in 1895, the new patriarch and his suffragans placed themselves under the protection of Austria.

Position of the Holy SeeEdit

The Holy See defended the French Protectorate on several occasions. Whenever missionaries sought protection from any other country, the French diplomatic corps complained to Rome, and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith reprimand the missionaries and reminded them that France had to sole right to safeguard there interests in non-Christian nations. This happened in 1744 and 1844.[2] Italy sought to establish its own protectorate by patronizing missionary activities and winning the allegiance of those it supported, but the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith refused to support its efforts. Instead, on 22 May 1888, the Congregation wrote to the Italian missionaries in the Levant and the Far East to remind them that "the Protectorate of the French Nation in the countries of the East has been established for centuries and sanctioned even by treaties between the empires. Therefore, there must be absolutely no innovation in this matter; this protectorate, wherever it is in force, is to be religiously preserved, and the missionaries are warned that, if they have need of any help, they are to have recourse to the consuls and other ministers of France."[1] On 1 August 1898, Pope Leo XIII wrote to Cardinal Benoît-Marie Langénieux, Archbishop of Reims:[3]

France has a special mission in the East confided to her by Providence—a noble mission consecrated not alone by ancient usage, but also by international treaties.... The Holy See does not wish to interfere with the glorious patrimony which France has received from its ancestors and which beyond a doubt it means to deserve by always showing itself equal to its task.

In parallel with this recognition of French exclusivity, the Holy See declined to establish its own diplomatic relations with Turkey and China, even when supported by those governments. Leo XIII rejected any proposal to exchange legates or ambassadors at the instance of French diplomats, who told him those countries had less interest in amicable relations with the Holy See than in evading the authorities granted to the French protectorate.


Critics of the protectorate said that the authorities that granted the privilege top a Christian nation did so under duress, that the system contributed to and exacerbated anti-Christian sentiment in those countries, and that it allowed Christian missionaries to disregard the sensibilities of the non-Christian population. Those who see benefits in the protectorate system contend that it was the best means of protecting missionaries and their activities and allow that it required that the foreign power minimize its meddling and exercise discretion in asserting its rights. As an example, one study noted that the superior of the mission of southeast Chi-li resolved its issues directly with local authorities and sought intervention from the French legation only three times during the difficult period from 1862 to 1884.[4] They believed abuses were minimal, especially in comparison with the benefits.

End of the French ProtectorateEdit

See alsoEdit



  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Protectorate of Missions" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.

  1. ^ a b c d Earle, Edward Mead (2017). Turkey, the Great Powers, and the Bagdad Railway: A Study in Imperialism. Andesite Press. pp. 161–2, 173. ISBN 978-1375992800. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  2. ^ Civiltà Cattolica, 5 November 1904
  3. ^ de Dreuzy, Agnes (2016). The Vatican and the Emergence of the Modern Middle East. Catholic University of America Press. pp. 46ff. ISBN 978-0813228495. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  4. ^ Em. Becker, "Le R. P. Joseph Gonnet", Ho-kien-fou, 1907, p. 275

The following sources are cited by the Catholic Encyclopedia:

  • Concerning the Levant. -- Charrière, Négociations de la France dans le Levant (4 volumes, Paris, 1848)
  • Schopoff, Les réformes et la protection des chrétiens en Turquie 1673-1904, Firmans, bérats, ... traités (Paris, 1904)
  • Pélissié du Rausas, Le régime des capitulations dans l'empire ottoman (Paris, 1902-5), I, 190-202
  • II, 80-176; Rey, De la protection diplomatique et consulaire dans les échelles du Levant et de Barbarie (Paris, 1899)
  • De Saint-Priest, Mémoires sur l'ambassade de France en Turquie, suivis du texte des traductions originales des capitulations et des traités conclus avec la Sublime Porte (Paris 1877)
  • Charmes, Politique extérieure et coloniale (Paris, 1885), 303-84, 387-428
  • Le régime des capitulations par un ancien diplomate (Paris, 1898)
  • Burnichon, Les capitulations et les congregations religieuses en Orient, in Etudes, LX (1893), 55
  • Prélot, Le protectorat de la France sur les chrétiens d'Orient, in Etudes, LXXVII (1898), 433, 651
  • LXXVIII, 38, 172; Rabbath, Documents inédits pour servir à l'histoire du Christianisme en Orient, XVI-XIX siècle (Paris, 1907–10)
  • Auguste Carayon, Relations inédits des missions de la Co. de Jésus à Constantinople et dans le Levant au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1864)
  • Lettres, édifiantes et curieuses.
  • Concerning the Far East. -- Cordier, Histoire des relations de la Chine avec les puissances occidentales (Paris, 1901-2)
  • Couvreur, Choix de documents, lettres officielles, proclamations, édits ... Texte chinois avec traduction en français et en latin (Ho-kien-fu, 1894)
  • Wieger, Rudiments de parler et de style chinois, XI, Textes historiques (Ho-kien-fu, 1905), 2070-38; Cogordan, Les missions catholiques en Chine et le protectorat de la France, in Revue des deux mondes, LXXVIII (15 December 1886), 765-98
  • Fauvel, Les Allemands en Chine, in Le Correspondant, CXCI (1898), 538-58, 758-74
  • Launay in Piolet, Les missions catholiques, III, 270-75
  • De Lanessan, Les missions et leur protectorat (Paris, 1907), written against the protectorate and very unfriendly towards the missionaries. -- Fod the Portuguese Patronage. -- Jordão, Bullarium patronatus Portugalliœ regum in ecclesiis Africœ, Asiœ atque Oceaniœ (Lisbon, 1868)
  • De Bussierre, Histoire du schisme portugais dans les Indes (Paris, 1854).