|[Wendell] Heroism of French Ecclesiastics and Martyrs|
As I try to embody my conception of a French ecclesiastic in some visible form, it takes the shape of the devoted minister who stood disguised in the public streets when the kinswomen of Lafayette were on their way to the scaffold, and made to them from amid the Revolutionary rabble the mystic sign of the last solemnity of the Church. |
It takes the shape of the simple Cure of Les Saintes Maries, leading us from his grim old fortified church on the Mediterranean sands to his own little study; and there, in his rusty black robe, showing us documents to prove his relics indisputable, from the very days of King Rene. To be sure, a gap of a few years had occurred, at the sad period of the Revolution, when a devout man was supposed to have kept them in reverent hiding. Except for this, there could be no question that they had been in their chests ever since the Provencal King found them concealed, five hundred years ago. And if they had not been the true relics of the saints whom an angel steered in a single night from the Holy Land to the delta of the Rhone, why should they ever have been concealed in the safe hiding-place where good King Rene discovered them, as his seal attests? The gypsies flock thither still, to pray at the shrine of black Saint Sara, the servant of the holy Maries.
There is a painted offering, too, at the shrine, showing how, about 1590, a boy fell from the roof of the church, and remembering to confide himself to the Maries, came to earth uninjured and in a standing posture. Nothing but miracle could have saved him, the priest opined. Such scattered evidence, incomplete though it were, he concluded, made it more reasonable to believe the pious tale than to doubt it. Just then and there, one could understand what he meant; could believe at least in his simple-hearted sincerity; could reverence the faithfulness of his ministrations; could fall to wondering whether his childish wisdom might not, after all, be deeper than the wisdom of what we fancy our maturities. He made the Abbe Constantin of Halevy seem no creature of fancy. Both alike, in their simple goodness, their unquestioning acceptance of vocation group themselves as lesser brothers of that saintly figure in the Madeleine, when Napoleon III still ruled his restive empire from the unruined palace of the Tuileries.
Just who this clergyman was, whose countenance has lingered in memory all my life, I cannot be sure. I believe, however, that he was the same Cure of the Madeleine who, a few years later, was shot in Paris by the order of the Commune, after some such form of trial as those idealistic regenerators of their country invented to dignify their summary proceedings. He was not alone in his martyrdom, you will remember. The Archbishop of Paris suffered at the same time; and this was not the only archbishop done to death by Revolutionists during the nineteenth century. Another fell before the barricades which he had confronted, with full sense of his danger, in pursuance of his peace-compelling charge descended to him apostolically from the very moment when the Holy Spirit inspired the first ministers of Our Lord. You shall find his relics, and more as well, treasured in the sacristy of Notre Dame. The splendors they show you at the same time the robes and the jewels, even the sacred vessels admirable as works of art seem tawdry things and trivial; but these plain records of how great officials of the Church gave up their lives must stir you deep. Share their faith or not, you cannot resist the impulse to believe that they have won their right to place in the noble army of Martyrs. And you execrate the wicked zealots who murdered them for their conscience' sake.
When pondering on the glories of martyrdom, there will come to you some whiff from the embers of Smithfield fires. You will find yourself thinking of Foxe, and of good John Rogers, burned in the presence of his wife and eleven young children, one at the breast. Rowland Taylor's memory will begin to kindle, and Hooper's; Latimer's, too, and Ridley's, and Cranmer's whose better voice still sounds in the deathless rhythm of the English Litany. They were martyrs, if ever martyrs were.
Wendell, B. (1907). The question of religion. In The France of today (pp. 250-254). New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
|Back To Top|
|[Alzog] Protestantism in France|
[Note that Johann Baptist Alzog (1808-1878) was a Catholic church historian.]|
Many circumstances contributed to pave the way for the introduction of the Reformation into France. Among the most important of which were the influence exercised by the sects in the southern provinces, the excessive cultivation of polite literature, and the active part taken by the University of Paris in the reformatory synods of Constance and Basle. This latter circumstance was in many ways more hurtful than beneficial. It led eventually to the promulgation of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges; the loose administration of the ecclesiastical law, according to the spirit of the so-called Gallican Liberties; the arbitrary methods of Francis I (1515-1547) in conducting ecclesiastical, no less than civil affairs; and, finally, the appointment of bishops, who were more disposed to be servile to the king than obedient to the Pope. Both Zwinglius and Calvin had dedicated their most important works to Francis, and Luther and Melanchthon found eager readers in France. Among their most ardent admirers was the famous Biblical scholar, Lefebvre d'Etaples, so called from the town of Etaples, near Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The first Protestant community in France was brought together amid tumult and disorder at Meaux by William Farel and John Leclerc, a wool-dresser. Notwithstanding that the Sorbonne, whose tendencies were well known to be toward liberalism, had ordered the works of Luther to be burnt, they were industriously sought after and eagerly read. The Reformers had powerful patrons at court, and among them Berquin, the counsellor of state; the Duchess d'Etampes, the king's mistress; and Margaret of Valois, the king's sister. Margaret having married Henry d'Albert, King of Navarre, her court became the resort and refuge of Protestants fleeing from persecution. On the other hand, Catholicism found able and zealous advocates and defenders in Cardinal Duprat, Chancellor to Francis I; Cardinal de Tournon; and the queen mother, Louise of Savoy.
When the Protestants, emboldened by their growing numbers and relying on the protection of their patrons, recklessly demolished a figure of Our Lord and another of the Blessed Virgin, and had the hardihood to affix to the door of the king's palace a writing against Transubstantiation, Francis I took alarm, and, apprehensive that the evils that had afflicted Germany might come upon his own kingdom, proceeded to take prompt and vigorous measures to check the propagation of Protestantism in France. Many of the Protestants, when pursued, sought safety in flight, and of those who were arrested some were put to death. Among the fugitives was Calvin, who withdrew to Geneva, whence he had his teachings carried into France.
By a strange inconsistency, while Francis was persecuting Protestants in his own kingdom, he was doing his best to protect and encourage them in Germany. By following the same policy, his successor, Henry II (1547-1559), got possession of the territories belonging to the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. This prince published ordinances of unusual severity against the Calvinists, notably the Edict of Chateaubriand, in 1551, by which the inquisitorial jurisdiction over heretics, heretofore lodged in ecclesiastical tribunals, was transferred to the secular courts, because the former might not pass sentence of death upon those brought to trial before them. It was unfortunate that in France, as elsewhere, a much needed reform among the clergy had neither been introduced early enough, nor, when introduced, had it been carried out with sufficient promptitude and thoroughness. The instructions of the Provincial Council of Narbonne (December 10-20, 1551) were disregarded by the suffragan bishops, and the reformatory decrees of Poissy (1565) met with no efficient response from prelates, who were more intent on enjoying their wealth than on looking after the interests of the Church.
The inconsistency of the policy of the government was favorable to the cause and growth of Protestantism, and accordingly Protestant communities were formed in the cities of Paris, Orleans, Rouen, and Angers. At a General Synod, held in Paris in 1559, these different communities united themselves into one body, adopted a Calvinistic Confession of Faith and a Presbyterian form of Church government, and decreed that all heretics should be put to death.
During the minority of Francis II (1559-1560) and Charles IX (1560-1574), and the regency of the queen mother, Catharine de Medici, and while the Dukes of Guise and the Princes of Bourbon, the former supported by the Catholics, and the latter by the Calvinists, were contending for supremacy, the 'Hugenots," as the French Protestants were now called, grew daily in numbers and influence.
Destitute of true piety, Catharine was foolishly superstitious; and loving intrigue rather than a straightforward course, she did not scruple to sacrifice the interests of her children to her own faithless policy. Protestant and Catholic were all one to her, and she coquetted with each as her interests or the exigencies of the moment demanded.
That the Bourbons had espoused the cause of the Calvinists for no reason other than to secure a powerful ally in their struggle against the Dukes of Guise and the House of Valois was very evident. Louis of Conde, the youngest of three brothers, became a most zealous advocate of the new teachings; while Coligny subsequently proved himself the ablest leader on the Protestant side. Catharine at first took sides with the Dukes of Guise, the most determined enemies of the Hugenots; and, by the marriage of Francis II to Mary Stuart, threw the weight of her influence against the Bourbons.
The Calvinists, acting upon the advice of their theologians, headed by Beza, formed a conspiracy, known as the Conspiracy of Amboise (1560), against Francis II and the Guises, which, however, was discovered in time to prevent its execution. Its authors were arrested, tried, and put to death.
It had been suggested that the establishment of the Inquisition in France would be an efficient means of preventing the growth of Protestantism, but this was forbidden by the Edict of Romorantin (1560). At the request of Admiral Coligny, the King at the Assembly of Fontainebleau (1560) had an enactment passed staying all legal proceedings against the Hugenots on religious grounds. He also promised to convoke a national synod for the special purpose of doing away with ecclesiastical abuses. The royal condescension was taken as confession of weakness, and gratitude for royal favors was expressed in the form of a conspiracy, at the head of which was the Prince of Conde. Catharine de' Medici pardoned the Prince, and, in compliance with the wishes of Admiral Coligny, arranged for a theological conference at Poissy (1561), in presence of the court and assembled bishops. The Catholic party was represented by the Cardinal of Lorraine, a member of the house of Guise; by the eminent theologian, Claude d'Espence; and by the Jesuit Lainez; and the Protestant party by Beza and Peter Martyr Vermili. The controversy was spirited, and at times intemperate, particularly when the question of the Eucharist came up for discussion; but, like all such conferences, settled nothing.
When the Guises entered into an alliance with Anthony, King of Navarre, and the Constable de Montmoreney, the astute Catharine formed a counter-alliance with the Prince of Conde. As a consequence of this step, the Hugenots, by an edict of the year 1562, secured freedom of worship and the right to hold meetings openly anywhere, except in the principal cities of the kingdom, upon condition that they should use no violence toward Catholics. The edict was ill received by the inhabitants of Paris and the Catholic population generally, who were incensed by the sanguinary atrocities perpetrated by the Hugenots. The parliament for a long time refused to register it, and did so finally only under protest.
The Calvinists, growing daily more bold and daring, began to murder priests and monks; forcibly compelled wayfarers to come in and listen to the sermons of their preachers, justifying their conduct by a decree of the Consistory of Castres; and, acting upon enactments of a synod of sixty-two ministers, convoked at Nimes in February 1562 by Viret, interfered with the freedom of Catholic worship by creating disturbances in Catholic churches, and sometimes demolishing the edifices. These outrages roused the indignation of the Catholics, and the pent-up wrath of both parties burst forth, as if by mechanical impulse, leaving as witnesses of its presence all the extravagant horrors of a civil and religious war.
A trifling event gave the signal for the beginning of the conflict. Some noblemen, belonging to the suite of the Duke of Guise, got into a quarrel with a number of Hugenots, who had assembled for religious service in a barn at Vassy in Champagne and were disturbing, by their singing of psalms, the Mass, which was being celebrated in a neighboring church. The duke hearing the uproar, hastened to the spot to restore order. While endeavoring to do so, he was wounded by the blow of a stone, and his followers, infuriated by the indignity put upon him, rushed upon the Hugenots, killed sixty of their number, and dispersed the rest (March 1, 1562). By Protestant writers this event is called the "Massacre of Vassy."
The Calvinists, after many abortive attempts, had succeeded in establishing a community at Toulouse but the peculiar elements of which it was composed gave rise to a suspicion that its object was more military than religious. This suspicion was confirmed when they made an effort to get possession of the city by a coup de main; but in this they failed, and the Catholics, after an obstinate and hard-fought contest, lasting from the 11th to the 17th of May (1562), came off victorious. Refusing to accept the proffered terms of capitulation, the Calvinists attempted to make their escape under cover of the darkness of the night, and falling in with the cavalry of Savignac, who had had two brothers killed in the Battle of Toulouse, suffered the loss of many of their number. The loss of the Catholics was also severe. The Calvinists complained loudly that the affair of Yassy and that of Toulouse were violations of the Edict of 1562; and the Prince of Conde, acting upon the advice of Throckmorton, the English ambassador, put himself at their head, and began hostilities.
While marching on Paris, at the head of an army of German Lutherans, Conde, together with several of the Protestant leaders, were made prisoners at the Battle of Dreux, fought December 19, 1562, the issue of which was doubtful. Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, a convert to Catholicity, died of a wound received at the Siege of Rouen in the same year. Francis, Duke of Guise, now lieutenant of the kingdom, was assassinated (February 5, 1563) during the Siege of Orleans, by Poltrot de Mere. These events led to the Edict of Amboise (March 19, 1563), by which freedom of conscience and the privilege of holding public service, under certain restrictions, were granted to the Calvinists. But the reconciliation between the two parties was more apparent than real, and of only short duration.
The attempt of Coligny and Conde to get possession of the king's person, by making themselves masters of the Castle of Monceaux, in Brie, was the occasion of the breaking out of a second civil war in the year 1567, during which the bloody atrocities of the Hugenots, known as the "Michelade of Nimes," were perpetrated. At the Battle of St. Denys, the Catholics gained a splendid victory, though they had to mourn the loss of the gallant Montmorency, Constable of France. In 1568, the Hugenots, through the kind offices of the Elector of the Palatinate, succeeded in negotiating a peace, and having the Edict of 1562, without the clauses subsequently added, again enforced. This peace was regarded by the Hugenots only as a pretext to gain time to make preparations for carrying on the war with renewed vigor and energy. And in matter of fact, no sooner had they received from Elizabeth, Queen of England, and from the government of the Netherlands, the money necessary to carry on a campaign, than they at once began the third civil war (1568), which, for deeds of blood and acts of retaliation on both sides, surpassed either of the preceding wars.
Briguemont, the most distinguished of the Hugenot leaders, ran the ears of assassinated priests upon a cord, and wore them as an ornament about his neck.
After the fall of the Prince of Conde at the Battle of Jarnac in 1569, Gaspar Coligny placed himself at the head of the Calvinists, and extorted from the timid court the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. This treaty, which was signed August 15, 1570, granted the Reformers freedom of public worship in two cities of each province; removed their political disabilities, thereby permitting them to hold any office of public trust; and, as a security for the future, put them in possession of the four fortified towns of La Rochelle, Montauban, Cognac, and La Charite. They had now been successful in obtaining official recognition as a religious organization.
But treaties could not efface from the minds of Catholics the atrocities committed by the Hugenots, or stifle in their hearts the promptings of revenge. In the hope of maintaining peace, Charles IX invited Coligny to his court, and took him into his counsels. Taking advantage of his position, the admiral used his influence to estrange Charles from his mother and, by persuading him to support the rebels in the Netherlands, involved France in a war with Spain. At length a fortuitous event gave occasion for carrying into effect the long-cherished desire of revenge. The marriage of Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) to Margaret, the youngest sister of Charles IX, attracted a great number of distinguished Calvinists to Paris, and on the night of St. Bartholomew (August 24, 1572), a name of terrible memory, they were set upon and massacred, thus again rekindling the lurid flames of civil war. This horrid massacre, however, was not the outcome of a long and carefully prepared design. On the contrary, as Protestant historians admit, it was the result of sudden impulse and hasty action, and was, in its origin, the work of the queen mother, who was apprehensive of the consequences which might follow an abortive attempt to assassinate Admiral Coligny two days previously, and known to have been inspired by her. The King was prevailed upon by Catharine de' Medici and her youngest son, the Duke of Anjou, and their most intimate friends, to give his consent to the assassination of Admiral Coligny, whom they represented as conspiring to stir up civil war, and they moreover hinted that he had designs upon the King's life. They urged him to immediate action, representing that if he should wait until the next morning, his mother, his brothers, and his most faithful servants would fall victims to the vengeance of the Calvinists. Charles was at first startled by so barbarous a suggestion, and for a long time was undecided how to act, but finally gave his consent.
The Duke of Guise, burning to avenge the death of his father, took upon himself the task of murdering Admiral Coligny. Rumors had been afloat during the day of a Calvinistic conspiracy to murder the Catholics, and the inhabitants of Paris, apprehensive of danger, were awake in momentary expectation of an attack, when the bell of the Church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois sounded the alarm. This proved to be the signal for the execution of the Hugenots. The work of destruction spread with a rapidity characteristic of the city of Paris. Citizens and soldiers made a rush for the dwellings of the Hugenots, who were shot down, sabered, and pitched into the Seine. The example of the city was imitated in the provinces; but while in the former the murders were sanctioned by royal authority, in the latter they were the effect of popular indignation and a desire of revenge. The number of those who, both in the city and beyond its walls, fell victims to this terrible crime was close to four thousand.
Charles at first endeavored to shift the responsibility from himself to the Guises, but on August 26th he spoke out plainly in parliament, saying that the deed had been done by his express orders, to head off a conspiracy of the Hugenots against himself, the royal house, the King of Navarre, and the noblest subjects of his kingdom. Such was the account that reached Rome, and the Cardinal of Lorraine, who had gone there to attend a conclave, acting on this information, asked permission of Pope Gregory XIII to make a solemn act of thanksgiving (Te Deum) to God for the preservation of the King's life.
These congratulations are of precisely the same character as the felicitations addressed by European sovereigns to one of their royal cousins upon his escape and preservation from some direful calamity; and being consonant with usage among princes, need excite no surprise, much less the affected horror with which dishonest and sentimental writers are accustomed to speak of them. When the facts became fully and definitely known to the Supreme Pontiff, he left no doubt, either when speaking or writing, of the horror with which the infamous crime inspired him. The magnanimous John Hennuyer Bishop of Lisieux, disregarding the commands of the King, took the Hugenots of his diocese under his special protection, and had the joy of seeing nearly the whole of them return to the Catholic Church.
The court party had hoped that the result of their perfidy and crime would be to weaken the party of the Hugenots, but in this they experienced a bitter disappointment. With an energy that was akin to despair, and a ferocious thirst for revenge, the sectaries rallied for another struggle, and began in 1573 the fourth religious war. Destitute of an army adequate to take the field against the Hugenots, who had now allied themselves with the formidable political party lately organized at Milhau, in the Ronergue, Charles was forced to grant them another edict of pacification. The King died on May 30, 1574, leaving to his brother, Henry III, the last representative of the House of Valois, who resigned the crown of Poland to accept that of France, a weakened scepter and a divided kingdom. The condition of affairs required a man of energy and decision of character, and the new King possessed neither. In consequence, he was compelled to grant (1576) to the victorious Hugenots a peace incomparably more favorable than any they had yet obtained, which secured to them the free exercise of their religion in every part of the kingdom, except the city of Paris; a complete equality with the Catholics in civil and political rights; and an equal number of representatives in the parliament. Couditions so advantageous gave much offense to Catholics, who, for the purpose of successfully opposing the Calvinists, now formed themselves into a League, at the head of which Henry III, when the States assembled at Blois (1577), thought it prudent to place himself. Violations of the last treaty of pacification by the Hugenots gave occasion to a fresh war, the result of which was the Edict of Poitiers (1577), which materially restricted the concessions granted in the last treaty.
As Henry III was childless and as his brother the Duke of Alencon had lately died, the two aspirants to the throne were the King of Navarre and the young Prince of Conde, both of whom were Calvinistic leaders. Dreading the consequences of having a Calvinist become King of France, the Catholics were anxious to bestow the crown on the Cardinal de Bourbon, the Catholic nearest of kin to the king. The proposal met with the approval of the Cardinal who in 1585 published the Manifesto of Peronne, with a view of furthering his interests. By misrepresentation and a dishonest concealment of facts, Pope Gregory XIII was induced to give his consent to this arrangement. To hasten its consummation, a League was formed, extending to every part of the kingdom. When the Pope had been accurately informed of the dishonest purposes of the Leaguers, he withdrew his former approval. His successor, Sixtus V, while condemning them as dangerous conspirators declared that according to the fundamental laws of the realm both Henry of Navarre and the Prince of Conde were incapable of ruling over France. Henry of Navarre appealed from the decision of the Pope to that of parliament, which had already declined to publish the pontifical bull. The affair was submitted to the arbitration of arms. Henry of Navarre was victorious at the Battle of Coutras in 1587. After the assassination of the Duke of Guise, and the execution of the Cardinal, his brother, both of which deeds had been done by order of Henry III, the League again became formidable. So violent were the denunciations of the Sorbonne of Paris against the King that he was forced into an alliance with Henry of Navarre. He was shortly after assassinated (August 2, 1589) by James Clement and, despite the papal bull, Henry IV of Navarre succeeded to the throne.
Pope Clement VIII. consented to recognize his title on condition that he would embrace the Catholic faith. Persuaded that he could successfully rule the country only as a Catholic, and acting upon the advice of Sully, his minister and personal friend, and at the same time consulting his own interest, he concluded that "France was worth the offering of a Mass," and accordingly professed himself a Catholic July 25, 1593. Two years later, the Pope proposed to remove from him the sentence of excommunication that had been passed upon him, provided he in turn would promise to become the protector of the Catholic Church and to publish, with some omissions, the decrees of the Council of Trent. The nation had now begun to regard the League with disfavor, and its dissolution was completed by the attitude of the Roman Pontiff.
The spirit of the Calvinists, however, was still unbroken. They had lost none of their uncompromising independence. In 1598, Henry granted them the Edict of Nantes, by which they obtained the free exercise of their religion in every part of the kingdom; were made eligible to the Parliament of Paris; authorized to form separate chambers in the Parliaments of Grenoble and Bordeaux; permitted to hold synods; and empowered to found universities at Saumur, Montauban, Montpellier, and Sedan. These concessions were at once so ample and so unusual that it required all the tact and resolution of the King to have the edict registered. Moreover, the hostility of the Catholics was quickened and intensified by the persistent intolerance of the Calvinists, who, in the thirty-first article of the Confession of the Synod of Gap (1603), made the following declaration: "We believe that the Pope is truly Antichrist and the son of perdition, spoken of in Holy Writ as the whore clad in scarlet raiment."
The assassination of Henry IV on May 14, 1610 by Francis Ravaillac, may be traced to the rancorous and implacable enmities existing between the two parties.
Mary de' Medici was declared regent during the non-age of Louis XIII (1610-1643), and, while she held the reigns of government, the Hugenots enjoyed a season of comparative quiet. Under Cardinal Richelieu (1624-1642), however, whose rare intellectual endowments were supplemented by unusual energy of action, their condition underwent a complete change. Believing that no lasting peace could be hoped for from a body of men who were constantly showing signs of discontent, and assuming attitudes of defiance, and who were highly exasperated because the young King had married a Spanish princess, and the churches of Bearn, which had been taken from the Catholics, had been again restored to them, the Cardinal made a radical change in the legislation regarding the Calvinists. La Rochelle was their last stronghold, and its capture was at once the death-blow to their party as a political organization (1628), and put a period to a bloody strife, which had lasted for seventy-one years. Hence they made no attempt to disturb the peace during the minority of Louis XIV; and when, in 1659, acting upon the suggestion of the Synod of Montpazier, they offered to ally themselves with England, the plot was discovered, and its authors severely punished.
The sees of France were at this time filled by men of ability and learning, through whose exertions, admirably seconded by a body of priests, trained in the schools of St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul, and distinguished by the purity of their lives and the warmth of their zeal, great numbers of the Calvinists were by degrees brought back to the Catholic Church. Thousands were also converted by the publication, in 1668, with the papal approbation of Bossuets "Exposition de la Doctrine Catholique." The freedom of the Protestants was being constantly abridged, until finally Louis XIV, having reached the superlative of absolutism, which he tersely expressed by the well-known phrase, "I am the State" (L'etat c'est moi), and believing that the opposition and obstinacy of the Hugenots proceeded from political, rather than religious motives, acted upon the advice of le Tellier, his chancellor, and revoked the Edict of Nantes, October 18, 1685. He substituted in its place another of twelve articles, by which nearly all their privileges were withdrawn, and they themselves subjected to many hardships. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes received the cordial approbation of many bishops of France, but it also drove the Calvinists to desperation. They had also other causes of complaint. Louvois, the minister of state, by sending among them missionaries attended by dragoons to work their conversion had highly exasperated them. In consequence, sixty-seven thousand of them went immediately into voluntary exile, taking up their abodes in England, Holland, and Denmark, but chiefly in Brandenburg. It is worthy of mention that Pope Innocent XI disapproved of the measures, but not being himself on amicable terms with the French King, requested James II of England to interpose his good offices in behalf of the oppressed Protestants.
Alzog, J. (1903). Protestantism in France. In Manual of universal church history (F. J. Pabisch, & T. S. Byrne, Trans.) (pp. 269-284). Cincinnati: Robert Clarke Co.
|Back To Top|