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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 13 — From Rise of Protestantism in France (1510) to Publication of the Institutes (1536)

Chapter 20 — Martyrs and Exiles

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Plan of Morin. — The Betrayer — Procession of Corpus Christi — Terror of Paris — Imprisonment of the Protestants — Atrocious Designs attributed to them — Nemesis — Sentence of the Disciples — Execution of Bartholomew Millon — Burning of Du Bourg — Death of Poille — His Tortures — General Terror — Flight of Numbers — Refugees of Rank — Queen of Navarre — Her Preachers — All Ranks Flee — What France might have been, had she retained these Men — Prodigious Folly.

NOW it was that the storm burst. The king wrote summoning the Parliament to meet, and execute strict justice: in the affair, he further commanded his lieutenant-criminal, Jean Morin, to use expedition in discovering and bringing to justice all in any way suspected of having been concerned in the business. [1] Morin, a man of profligate life, audacious, a thorough hater of the Protestants, and skilfill in laying traps to catch them, needed not the increase of pay which the king promised him to stimulate his zeal. A few moments thought and he saw how the thing was to be done. He knew the man whose office it was to convene the Protestants when a reunion was to be held, and he had this man, who was a sheath-maker by trade, instantly apprehended and brought before him. The lieutenant-criminal told the poor sheath-maker he was perfectly aware that he knew every Lutheran in Paris, and that he must make ready and conduct him to their doors. The man shrunk from the baseness demanded of him. Morin coolly bade an attendant prepare a scaffold, and turning to his prisoner gave him his choice of being burned alive, or of pointing out to him the abodes of his brethren. Terrified by the horrible threat, which was about to be put in instant execution, the poor man became the betrayer. [2] The lieutenant-criminal now hoped at one throw of his net to enclose all the Lutherans in Paris.

Under pretense of doing expiation for the affront which had been put upon the "Holy Sacrament," Morin arranged a procession of the Corpus Christi. [3] The houses in the line of the procession were draped in black, and with slow and solemn pace friar and priest passed along bearing the Host, followed by a crowd of incense-bearers and hymning choristers. The excitement thus awakened favored the plans of the lieutenant-criminal. He glided through the streets, attended by his serjeants and officers. The traitor walked before him. When he came opposite the door of any of his former brethren the sheath-maker stopped and, without saying a word, made a sign. The officers entered the house, and the family were dragged forth and led away manacled. Alas, what a cruel as well as infamous task had this man imposed upon himself! Had he been walking to the scaffold, his joy would have grown at every step. As it was, every new door he stopped at, and every fresh victim that swelled the procession which he headed, bowed lower his head in shame, and augmented that pallor of the face which told of the deep remorse preying at his heart.

Onwards went the procession, visiting all the quarters of Paris, the crowd of onlookers continually increasing, as did also the mournful train of victims which Morin and the traitor, as they passed along, gathered up for the stake. The tidings that the lieutenant-criminal was abroad spread over the city like wild-fire. "Morin made all the city quake." [4] This was the first day of the "Reign of Terror." Anguish of spirit preceded the march of Morin and his agents; for no one could tell at whose door he might stop. Men of letters trembled as well as the Protestants. If fear marched before Morin, lamentation and cries of woe echoed in his rear.

The disciples we have already spoken of — Du Bourg, the merchant; Bartholomew Millon, the paralytic; Valeton, who was ever inquiring after the writings of the Reformers; Poille, the bricklayer — and others of higher rank, among whom were Roussel and Courault and Berthaud, the Queen of Navarre's preachers, were all taken in the net of the lieutenant-criminal, and drafted off to prison. Morin made no distinction among those suspected: his rage fell equally on those who had opposed and on those who had favored the posting up of the placards. Persons of both sexes, and of various nationalities, were indeed among the multitude now lodged in prison, to be, as the lieutenant-criminal designed, at no distant day produced on the scaffold, a holocaust to the offended manes of Rome. 359
The Parliament. the Sorbonne, and the priests were resolved to turn the crisis to the utmost advantage. They must put an end to the king's communings with German and English heretics; they must stamp out Lutheranism in Paris; a rare chance had the untoward zeal of the converts thrown into their power for doing so. They must take care that the king's anger did not cool; they must not be sparing in the matter of stakes; every scaffold would be a holy altar, every victim a grateful sacrifice, to purify a land doubly polluted by the blasphemous placard. Above all, they must maintain the popular indignation at a white heat. The most alarming rumors began to circulate through Paris. To the Lutherans were attributed the most atrocious designs. They had conspired, it was said, to fire all the public buildings, and massacre all the Catholics. They were accused of seeking to compass the death of the king, the overthrow of the monarchy, and the destruction of society itself. They meant to leave France a desert. So it was whispered, and these terrible rumors were greedily listened to, and the mob shouted, "Death, death to the heretics!" [5]

With reference to these charges that were now industriously circulated against the Protestants of Paris, there was not a Lutheran who ever meditated such

wickedness as this. Not a fragment of proof of such designs has ever been produced. Well; three hundred years pass away, and Protestantism is all but suppressed in France. What happens? Is the nation tranquil, and the throne stable? On the contrary, from out the darkness there stands up a terrible society, which boldly avows it as its mission to inflict on France those same atrocious designs which the disciples of the Gospel had been falsely accused of entertaining. The bugbear of that day, conjured up by hypocrisy and bigotry, has become the menace of ours. We have seen the throne overturned, the blood of nobles and priests shed like water, the public monuments sinking in ashes, the incendiary's torch and the assassin's sword carrying terror from end to end of France, and society saved only by the assertion of the soberer sense of the people.

The several stages of the awful drama we are narrating followed each other in quick succession. On the 10th November, just a fortnight after their apprehension, were Millon, Du Bourg, Poille, and the rest brought forth and presented before their judges. For them there could be no other sentence than death, and that death could come in no other form than the terrible one of burning. Nor had they long to wait. Three short days and then the executions began! The scaffolds were distributed over all the quarters of Paris, and the burnings followed on successive days, the design being to spread the terror of heresy by spreading the executions. The advantage however, in the end, remained with the Gospel. All Paris was enabled to see what kind of men the new opinions could produce. There is no pulpit like the martyr's pile. The serene joy that lighted up the faces of these men as they passed along, in their wretched tumbril, to the place of execution, their heroism as they stood amid the bitter flames, their meek forgiveness of injuries, transformed, in instances not a few, anger into pity, and hate into love, and pleaded with resistless eloquence in behalf of the Gospel.

Of this little band, the first to tread the road from the prison to the stake, and from the stake to the crown, was Bartholomew Millon. The persecutor, in selecting the poor paralytic for the first victim, hoped perhaps to throw an air of derision over the martyrs and their cause. It was as if he had said, Here is a specimen of the miserable creatures who are disturbing the nation by their new opinions: men as deformed in body as in mind. But he had miscalculated. The dwarfed and distorted form of Millon but brought out in bold relief his magnanimity of soul, The turnkey, when he entered his cell, lifted him up in his arms and placed him in the tumbril. On his way to the place of execution he passed his father's door. He bade adieu with a smile to his earthly abode, as one who felt himself standing at the threshold of his heavenly home. A slow fire awaited him at the Greve, and the officer in command bade the fire be lowered still more, but he bore the lingering tortures of this mode of death with a courage so admirable that the Gospel had no reason to be ashamed of its martyr. None but words of peace dropped from his lips. Even the enemies who stood around his pile could not withhold their admiration of his constancy. [6]

The following day the wealthy tradesman Du Bourg was brought forth to undergo the same dreadful death. He was known to be a man of decision; and his persecutors set themselves all the more to contrive how they might shake his steadfastness by multiplying the humiliations and tortures to which they doomed him before permitting him to taste of death and depart. The tumbril that bore him was stopped at Notre Dame, and there he was made a gazing-stock to the multitude, as he stood in front of the cathedral, with taper in hand, and a rope round his neck. He was next taken to the Rue St. Denis, in which his own house was situated, and there his hand was cut off — the hand which had been busy on that night of bold but imprudent enterprise. He was finally taken to the Halles and burned alive. Du Bourg in death as in life was still the man of courage; he shrunk from neither the shame nor the suffering, but was "steadfast unto the end." [7]

Three days passed; it was now the 18th November, and on this day Poille, the bricklayer, was to die. His stake was set up in the Faubourg St. Antoine, in front of the Church of St. Catherine; for it was the inhabitants of this quarter of Paris who were next to be taught to what a dreadful end heresy brings men, and yet with what a glorious hope and unconquerable courage it has the power to inspire them. Poille had learned the Gospel from Bishop Briconnet, but while the master had scandalised it by his weakness, the disciple was to glorify it by his steadfastness. He wore an air of triumph as he alighted from his cart at the place of execution. Cruel, very cruel was his treatment at the stake. "My Lord Jesus Christ," he said, "reigns in heaven, and I am ready to fight for him to the last drop of my blood." "This confession of truth at the moment of punishment," says D'Aubigne, quoting Crespin's description of the martyr's last moments, "exasperated the executioners. 'Wait a bit,' they said, 'we will stop your prating.' They sprang upon him, opened his mouth, caught hold of his tongue, and bored a hole through it; they then, with refined cruelty, made a slit in his cheek, through which they drew the tongue, and fastened it with an iron pin. Some cries were heard from the crowd at this

most horrible spectacle; they proceeded from the humble Christians who had come to help the poor bricklayer with their compassionate looks, Poille spoke no more, but his eye still announced the peace; he enjoyed. He was burnt alive." [8]

For some time each succeeding day had its victim. Of these sufferers there were some whose only crime was that they had printed and sold Luther's writings; it was not clear that they had embraced his sentiments; their persecutors deemed them well deserving of the stake for simply having had a hand in circulating them. This indiscriminate vengeance, which dragged to a common pile the Protestants and all on whom the mere suspicion of Protestantism had fallen, spread a general terror in Paris.

Those who had been seen at the Protestant sermons, those who had indulged in a jest at the expense of the monks, but especially those who, in heart, although not confessing it with the mouth, had abandoned Rome and turned to the Gospel, felt as if the eye of the lieutenant-criminal was upon them, and that, at any moment, his step might be heard on their threshold.

Paris was no longer .a place for them; every day and every hour they tarried there, it was at the peril of being burned alive. Accordingly, they rose up and fled. It was bitter to leave home and country and all the delights of life, and go forth into exile, but it was less bitter than to surrender their hope of an endless life in the better country; for at no less a cost could they escape a stake in France.

A few days made numerous blanks in the society of Paris. Each blank represented a convert to the Gospel. When men began to look around them and count these gaps, they were amazed to think how many of those among whom they had been living, and with whom they had come into daily contact, were Lutherans, but wholly unknown in that character till this affair brought them to light. Merchants vanished suddenly from their places of business; tradesmen disappeared from their workshops; clerks were missing from the countinghouse; students assembled at the usual hour, but the professor's chair was empty; their teacher, not waiting to bid his pupils adieu, had gone forth, and was hastening towards some more friendly land.

The bands of fugitives now hurrying by various routes, and in various disguises, to the frontiers of the kingdom, embraced all ranks and all occupations. The Lords of Roygnac and Roberval, of Fleuri, in Briere, were among those who were now fleeing their country and the wrath of their sovereign. Men in government offices, and others high at court and near the person of the king, made the first disclosure, by a hasty flight, that they had embraced the Gospel, and that they preferred it to place and emolument. Among these last was the privy purse-bearer of the king. Every hour brought a new surprise to both the friends and the foes of the Gospel. The latter hated it yet more than ever as a mysterious thing, possessing some extraordinary power over the minds of men. They saw with a sort of terror the numbers it had already captivated, and they had uneasy misgivings as to whereunto this affair would grow.

Margaret wept, but the fear in which she stood of her brother made her conceal her tears. Her three preachers — Roussel, Berthaud, and Courault — had been thrown into prison. Should she make supplication for them? Her enemies, she knew, were laboring to inflame the king against her, and bring her to the block. The Constable Montmorency, says Brant"me, told the king that he "must begin at his court and his nearest relations," pointing at the Queen of Navarre, "if he had a mind to extirpate the heretics out of his kingdom." [9] Any indiscretion or over-zeal, therefore, might prove fatal to her. Nevertheless, she resolved on braving the king's wrath, if haply she might rescue her friends from the stake. Bigotry had not quite quenched Francis's love for his sister; the lives of her preachers were given her at her request; but, with the exception of one of the three, their services to the Protestant cause ended with the day on which they were let out of prison. Roussel retired to his abbey at Clairac; Berthand resumed his frock and his beads, and died in the cloister; Courault contrived to make his escape, and turning his steps toward Switzerland, he reached Basle, became minister at Orbe, and finally was a fellow-laborer with Calvin at Geneva.

Meanwhile another, and yet another, rose up and fled, till the band of self-confessed and self-expatriated disciples of the Gospel swelled to be between 400 and 500. Goldsmiths, engravers, notably printers and bookbinders, men of all crafts, lawyers, teachers of youth, and even monks and priests were crowding the roads and by-ways of France, fleeing from the persecutor. Some went to Strasburg; some to Basle; and a few placed the Alps between them and their native land. Among these fugitives there is one who deserves special mention — Mathurin Cordier, the venerable schoolmaster, who was the first to detect, and who so largely helped to develop, the wonderful genius of Calvin. Million and Du Bourg and Poille we have seen also depart; but their flight was by another road than that which these fugitives were now treading in weariness and hunger and fear. They had gone whither the persecutor could not follow them.

The men who were now fleeing from France were the first to tread a path which was to be trodden again and again by hundreds of thousands of their countrymen in years to come. During the following two centuries and a half these scenes were renewed at short intervals. Scarcely was there a generation of Frenchmen during that long period that did not witness the disciples of the Gospel fleeing before the insane fury of the persecutor,

and carrying with them the intelligence, the arts, the industry, the order, in which, as a rule, they pre-eminently excelled, to enrich the lands in which they found an asylum. And in proportion as they replenished other countries with these good gifts did they empty their own of them. If all that was now driven away had been retained in France; if, during these 300 years, the industrial skill of the exiles had been cultivating her soil; if, during these 300 years, their artistic bent had been improving her manufactures; if, during these 300 years, their creative genius and analytic power had been enriching her literature and cultivating her science; if their wisdom had been guiding her councils, their bravery fighting her battles, their equity framing her laws, and the religion of the Bible strengthening the intellect and governing the conscience of her people, what a glory would at this day have encompassed France! What a great, prosperous, and happy country — a pattern to the nations — would she have been! But a blind and inexorable bigotry chased from her soil every teacher of virtue, every champion of order, every honest defender of the throne; it said to the men who would have made their country a "renown and glory" in the earth, Choose which you will have, a stake or exile? At last the ruin of the State was complete; there remained no more conscience to be proscribed; no more religion to be dragged to the stake; no more patriotism to be chased into banishment; revolution now entered the morally devastated land, bringing in its train scaffolds and massacres, and once more crowding the roads, and flooding the frontiers of France with herds of miserable exiles; only there was a change of victims.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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