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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 17 — Protestantism in France From Death of Francis I (1547) to Edict of Nantes (1598)

Chapter 13 — The promoters of the St. Bartholomew Massacre

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Theocracy and the Punishment of Heresy—The League—Philip II— Urges Massacre—Position of Catherine de Medici—Hopelessness of Subduing the Huguenots on the Battle-field — Pius V — His Austerities— Fanaticism—Becomes Chief Inquisitor—His Habits as Pope—His Death —Correspondence of Pius V with Charles IX and Catherine de Medici— Massacre distinctly Outlined by the Pope.

The ever-memorable Synod of La Rochelle has closed its sittings; the noon of Protestantism in France has been reached; and now we have sadly to chronicle the premature decline of a day that promised to be long and brilliant. Already we are within the dark shadow of a great coming catastrophe.

The springs and causes of the St. Bartholomew Massacre are to be sought for outside the limits of the country in which it was enacted. A great conjunction of principles and politics conspired to give birth to a tragedy which yields in horror to no crime that ever startled the world. The first and primary root of this, as of all similar massacres in Christendom, is the divine vicegerency of the Pope. So long as Christendom is held to be a theocracy, rebellion against the law of its divine monarch, in other words heresy, is and must be justly punishable with death.

But, over and above, action in this special direction had been plotted and solemnly enjoined by the Council of Trent. "Roman Catholic Europe," says Gaberel, "was to erase Reformed Europe, and proclaim the two principles —the sovereign authority of the kings in political affairs, and the infallibility of the Pope in religious questions. The right of resisting the temporal, and the right of inquiring into the spiritual, were held to be detestable crimes, which the League wished to banish from the world." [1] At the head of the League was Philip II; and the sanguinary ferocity of the King of Spain made the vast zeal of the French court look but as lukewarmness. A massacre was then in progress in the Low Countries, which took doubtless the form of war, but yielded its heaps of corpses almost daily, and which thrills us less than the St. Bartholomew only because, instead of consummating its horrors in one terrible week, it extended them over many dismal years. Philip never ceased to urge on Catherine de Medici and Charles IX to do in France as he was doing in Flanders. These reiterated exhortations were doubtless the more effectual inasmuch as they entirely coincided with what Catherine doubted her truest policy. The hopelessness of overcoming the Huguenots in the field was now becoming very apparent. Three campaigns had been fought, and the position of the Protestants was stronger than at the beginning of the war. No sooner was one Huguenot army defeated and dispersed, than another and a more powerful took the field. The Prince of Conde had fallen, but his place was filled by a chief of equal rank. The court of France had indulged the hope that if the leaders were cut off the people would grow disheartened, and the contest would languish and die out; but the rapidity with which vacancies were supplied, and disasters repaired, at last convinced the King and Queen-mother that these hopes were futile. They must lay their account with a Huguenot ascendency at an early day, unless they followed the counsels of Philip of Spain, and by a sudden and sweeping stroke cut off the whole Huguenot race. But the time and the way, as Catherine told Philip, must be left to herself.

At this great crisis of the Papal affairs—for if Huguenotism had triumphed in France it would have carried its victorious arms over Spain and Italy—a higher authority than even Philip of Spain came forward to counsel the steps to be taken—nay, not to counsel only, but to teach authoritatively what was Duty in the matter, and enjoin the performance of that duty under the highest sanctions, This brings the reigning Pontiff upon the scene, and we shall try and make clear Pope Pius V's connection with the terrible event we are approaching. It will assist us in understanding this part of history, if we permit his biographers to bring before us the man who bore no inconspicuous part in it.

The St. Bartholomew Massacre was plotted under the Pontificate of Pius V, and enacted under that of his immediate successor, Gregory XIII. Michael Ghislisri (Pius V) was born in the little town of Bosco, on the plain of Piedmont, in the year 1504. His parents were in humble station. "The genius of the son," says his biographer Gabutius, "fitted him for higher things than the manual labors that occupied his parents. The spirit of God excited him to that mode of life by which he might the more signally serve God and, escaping the snares of earth, attain the heavenly felicity." [2] He was marked from his earliest years by an austere piety.

Making St. Dominic, the founder of the Inquisition, his model, and having, it would seem, a natural predilection for this terrible business, he entered a Dominican convent at the age of fourteen. He obeyed, body and soul, the laws of his order. The poverty which his vow enjoined he rigidly practiced. Of the alms which he collected he did not retain so much as would buy him a cloak for the winter; and he fortified himself against the heats of summer by practizing a severe abstinence. He labored to make his fellow-monks renounce their slothful habits, their luxurious meals, and their gay attire, and follow the same severe, mortified, and pious life with himself. If not very successful with them, he continued nevertheless to pursue these austerities himself, and soon his fame spread far and near. He was appointed confessor to the Governor of Milan, and this necessitated an occasional journey of twenty miles, which was always performed on foot, with his wallet on his back. [3] On the road he seldom spoke to his companions, "employing

his time," says his biographer, "in reciting prayers or meditating on holy things." [4] His devotion to the Roman See, and the zeal with which he combated Protestantism, recommended him to his superiors, and his advancement was rapid. Of several offices which were now in his choice, he gave his decided preference to that of inquisitor, "from his ardent desire," his biographer tells us, "to exterminate heretics, and extend the Roman Catholic faith." The district including Como and the neighboring towns was committed to his care, and he discharged the duties of this fearful office with such indefatigable, and indeed ferocious zeal, as often to imperil his own life. The Duchy of Milan was then being inoculated with "the pernicious and diabolical doctrines," as Gabutius styles them, of Protestantism; and Michael Ghislieri was pitched upon as the only man fit to cope with the evil. Day and night he perambulated his diocese on the quest for heretics. This was judged too narrow a sphere for an activity so prodigious, and Paul IV, himself one of the greatest of persecutors, nominated Ghislieri to the office of supreme inquisitor. This brought him to Rome; and here, at last, he found a sphere commensurate with the greatness of his zeal. He continued to serve under Pius IV, adding to the congenial office of inquisitor, the scarlet of the cardinalate. [5] On the death of Pius IV, Ghislieri was elevated to the Popedom, his chief recommendation in the eyes of his supporters, including Cardinal Borromeo and Philip II, being his inextinguishable zeal for the suppression of heresy. Rome was then in the thick of her battle, and Ghislieri was selected as the fittest man to preside over and infuse new rigor into that institution on which she mainly relied for victory. The future life of Pius V justified his elevation. His daily fare was as humble, his clothing as mean, his fasts as frequent, and his household arrangements as economical, now that he wore the tiara, as when he was a simple monk. He rose with the first light, he kneeled long in prayer, and often would he mingle his tears with his supplications; he abounded in alms, he forgot injuries, he was kind to his domestics; he might often be seen with naked feet, and head uncovered, his white beard sweeping his breast, walking in procession, and receiving the reverence of the populace as one of the holiest Popes that had ever trodden the streets of Rome. [6] But one formidable quality did Pius V conjoin with all this—even an intense, unmitigated detestation of Protestantism, and a fixed, inexorable determination to root it out. In his rapid ascent from post to post, he saw the hand of God conducting him to the summit, that there, wielding all the arms, temporal and spiritual, of Christendom, he might discharge, in one terrible stroke, the concentrated vengeance of the Popedom on the hydra of heresy. Every hour of every day he occupied in the execution of what he believed to be his predestined work. He sent money and soldiers to France to carry on the war against the Huguenots; he addressed continual letters to the kings and bishops of the Popish world, inciting them to yet greater zeal in the slaughter of heretics; ever and anon the cry "To massacre!" was sounded forth from the Vatican; but not a doubt had Pius V that this butchery was well-pleasing to God, and that he himself was the appointed instrument for emptying the vials of wrath upon a system which he regarded as accursed, and believed to be doomed to destruction.

Such was the man who at this era filled the Papal throne. But let us permit Pius V himself to speak. In 1569, the Pope, despairing of overcoming the French heretics in open war, darkly suggests a way more secret and more sure. "Our zeal," says he, in his letter to the Cardinal of Lorraine, "gives us the right of earnestly exhorting and exciting you to use all your influence for procuring a definite and serious adoption of the measure most proper for bringing about the destruction of the implacable enemies of God and the king." [7] After the victory of Jarnac the French Government acknowledged the help the Pope had given them in winning it, by sending to Rome some Huguenot standards taken on the field, to be displayed in the Lateran. Pius V replied in a strain of exultation, and labored to stimulate the court to immediate and remorseless massacre. "The more the Lord has treated you and me with kindness," so wrote he to Charles IX, "the more you ought to take advantage of the opportunity this victory offers to you, for pursuing and destroying all the enemies that still remain; for tearing up entirely all the roots, and even the smallest fibers of the roots, of so terrible and continued an evil. For unless they are radically extirpated, they will be found to shoot up again; and, as it has already happened several times, the mischief will reappear when your majesty least expects it. You will bring this about if no consideration for persons, or worldly things, induces you to spare the enemies of God — who have never spared yourself. For you will not succeed in turning away the wrath of God, except by avenging him rigorously on the wretches who have offended him, by inflicting on them the punishment they have deserved." [8]

These advices, coming from such a quarter were commands, and they could take no practical shape but that of massacre; and to make it unmistakable that this was the shape the Pope meant his counsels to take, he proceeds to cite a case in point from Old Testament history.

"Let your majesty take for example, and never lose sight of, what happened to Saul, King of Israel. He had received the orders of God, by the mouth of the prophet Samuel, to fight

and to exterminate the infidel Amalekites, in such a way that he should not spare one in any case, or under any pretext. But he did not obey the will and the voice of God... therefore he was deprived of his throne and his life." If for Saul we read Charles IX, and for the prophet Samuel we substitute Pius V, as the writer clearly intended should be done, what is this but a command addressed to the King of France, on peril of his throne, to massacre all the Huguenots in his realm, without sparing even one? "By this example," continues the Pope, "God has wished to teach all kings that to neglect the vengeance of outrages done to him is to provoke his wrath and indignation against themselves."

To Catherine de Medici, Pius V writes in still plainer terms, as if he knew her wolfish nature, as well as her power over her son, promising her the assistance of Heaven if she would pursue the enemies of the Roman Catholic religion "till they are all massacred, [9] for it is only by the entire extermination of heretics [10] that the Roman Catholic worship can be restored." [11]

There follow letters to the Duke of Anjou, and the Cardinal of Lorraine, and another to the king, all breathing the same sanguinary spirit, and en-joining the same inexorability towards the vanquished heretics. [12]

At Bayonne, in 1565, Catherine met the Duke of Alva, as we have already seen, to consult as to the means of ridding France of heretics. "They agreed at last," says the contemporary historian Adriani, "in the opinion of the Catholic king, that this great blessing could not have accomplishment save by the death of all the chiefs of the Huguenots, and by a new edition, as the saying was, of the Sicilian Vespers." [13] "They decided," says Guizot, "that the deed should be done at Moulins, in Bourbonnes, whither the king was to return. The execution of it was afterwards deferred to the date of the St. Bartholomew, in 1572, at Paris, because of certain suspicions which had been manifested by the Huguenots, and because it was considered easier and more certain to get them all together at Paris than at Moulins." This is confirmed by Tavannes, who says: "The Kings of France and of Spain, at Bayonne, assisted by the Duke of Alva, resolved on the destruction of the heretics in France and Flanders." [14] La Noue in his Memoires bears witness to the "resolution taken at Bayonne with the Duke of Alva, to extirpate the Huguenots of France and the beggars of Flanders, which was brought to light by intercepted letters coming from Rome to Spain." [15]

"Catherine de Medici," says Guizot, "charged Cardinal Santa Croce to assure Pope Pius V 'that she and her son had nothing more at heart than to get the admiral and all his confidants together some day, and make a massacre [un macello] of them; but the matter,' she said, 'was so difficult, that there was no possibility of promising to do it at one time more than at another.'" "De Thou," adds the historian, "regards all these facts as certain, and after having added some details, he sums them all up in the words, 'This is what passed at Bayonne in 1565.'" [16]

We have it, thus, under the Pope's own hand, that he enjoined on Charles IX and Catherine de Medici the entire extermination of the French Protestants, on the battle-field if possible; if not, by means more secret and more sure; we have it on contemporary testimony, Popish and Protestant, that this was what was agreed on between Catherine and Alva at Bayonne; and we also find the Queen-mother, through Santa Croce, promising to the Pope, for herself and for her son, to make a massacre of the Huguenots, although, for obvious reasons, she refuses to bind herself to a day. From this time that policy was entered on which was designed to lead up to the grand denouement so unmistakably shadowed forth in the letters of the Pope, and in the agreement between Alva and Catherine.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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