French Catholic modernist and biblical scholar. Born at Ambrières in French Lorraine, Loisy studied for the Catholic priesthood at Chalons-sur-Marne Seminary (1874-79) and then at the Institute Catholique in Paris (1879-81). Ordained in 1879, in 1881 he began to teach Hebrew and Assyrian and then biblical exegesis at this institute. But because he employed the canons of historical criticism in his Bible teaching, he was dismissed in 1893. From 1894 to 1899 he served as chaplain to the Dominican teaching nuns at Neuilly. In 1900 he was appointed lecturer on the science of religion at the école Pratique des Hautes études.
In 1902 Loisy published L’évanglie et l’église (Gospel and the Church). It was a reply to the liberal German Protestant Adolf Harnack, who in his book Das Wesen des Christentums (What Is Christianity?) had maintained that essential Christianity consisted in acceptance of Christ's teaching concerning the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man—i.e., the religion of Jesus, not the religion about Jesus. Christianity with its institutional church represented a perversion of the original gospel. But Loisy contended that Jesus preached a future objective kingdom, of which his messiahship was the central feature. When this kingdom did not immediately materialize, the organized church, with its hierarchy, cultus, and creeds, emerged as the necessary instrument through which the Christian gospel could be proclaimed to the world. But this apologetic argument did not sit well with the church establishment. In 1903 Loisy's L’évangile et l’église, along with four of his other books, was put on the Index of prohibited books. In 1904 he resigned his position at the école Pratique, and in 1906 he ceased to exercise his priestly functions. In 1907 Pope Pius X in his decree Lamentabilit and his encyclical Pascendi gregis, “Against the Errors of the Modernists,” condemned Loisy's positions as “the synthesis of all heresies.” Refusing to accept this papal condemnation, Loisy was excommunicated in 1908.
From 1909 to 1930 Loisy was professor of the history of religions in the Collège de France. Though he continued to publish scholarly works, mainly in the field of early Christianity, he drew no nearer to Catholic orthodoxy and died unreconciled to the church.
See also Catholicism, Liberal.