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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 22 — Protestantism in France From Death of Henry IV (1610) to the Revolution (1789)

Chapter 3 — Industrial and literary eminence of the French Protestants

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Liberty Falls with the Huguenots – Louis XIV – Mazarin at the Helm – His Character – The Nobles and the Mob – The Protestants – They Excel in Agriculture – Their Eminence in Trade and Manufactures – Their Superior Probity – Foreign Commerce in their Hands – Their Professional and Literary Eminence – Pulpit Eloquence – French Synods – Mere Shadows of Former Assemblies – French Protestant Seminaries – Montauban – Saumur – Sedan – Nimes – Eminent Protestant Pastors – Chamier – Dumoulin – Petit – Rivet – Basnage – Blondel – Bochart – Drelincourt.

THE mob and the nobles took part with the French court in its efforts to extinguish Protestantism. With their help the court triumphed. The seeds of Protestantism were still in the soil of France, covered up by a million of corpses, and these the very men who, had their lives been spared, would have enriched the nation with their industry, glorified it with their genius, and defended it with their arms. We are now arrived at the end of the religious wars. What has France gained by her vast expenditure of blood and treasure? Peace? No; despotism. The close of the reign of Louis XIII shows us the nobles and the mob crushed in their turn, and the throne rising in autocratic supremacy above all rights and classes. One class, however, is exempt from the general serfdom. The Church shares the triumph of the throne. The hand of a priest has been laid upon the helm of the State, and the king and the clergy together sway the destinies of a prostrate people. This ill-omened alliance is destined to continue for, though one cardinal minister is dead, another is about to take his place – and the tyranny which has grown out of it is destined to go on, adding year by year to its own prerogatives and the people's burdens, until its existence and exactions shall terminate together by the arrival of the Revolution, which will mingle all four the throne, the priesthood, the aristocracy, and the commonalty – in one great ruin.

Louis XIV, now king, was a child of four and a half years. His father on his death-bed had named a council of regency to assist the queen-mother in governing the kingdom during the minority of his son. The, first act of Anne of Austria was to cancel the, will of her husband, and to assume the reins of government as sole regent, calling to her aid as prime minister Cardinal Mazarin, the disciple of Richelieu. There fell to him an easier task than that which had taxed the energies and genius of his great predecessor.

Richelieu had fought the battle of the crown, and subjected to it both the nobles and the people: the work expected of Mazarin was that he should keep what Richelieu had won. This he found, however, no easy matter. Richelieu had carefully husbanded the revenues of the State; Mazarin wasted them. Extravagance created debts; debts necessitated new taxes; the taxes were felt to be grievous burdens by the people. First murmurs were heard; then, finally, insurrection broke out. The nobles, now that Richelieu was in his grave, were attempting to throw off the yoke. An oppressed, turbulent, and insurrectionary people were parading the streets of the capital, and carrying their threats to the very gates of the palace. Both nobles and mob thought the time favorable for reducing the power of the throne, and recovering those privileges and that influence of which the great minister of Louis XIII had stripped them. They did not succeed. The yoke which themselves had so large a share in fitting upon their own necks they were compelled to wear; but the troubles in which they plunged the country were a shield for the time over the small remnant of Protestantism which had been spared in France.

That remnant began again to flourish. Shut out from the honors of the court, and the offices of the State, the great body of the Protestants transferred their talents and activity to the pursuits of agriculture, of trade, and of manufactures. In these they eminently excelled. The districts where they lived were precisely those where the richest harvests were seen to wave. The farms they owned in Bearn became proverbial for their fertility and beauty. The Protestant portions of Languedoc were known by their richer vines, and more luxuriant wheat. The mountains of the Cevennes were covered with noble forests of chestnuts, which, in harvest-time, let fall their nuts in a rain as plenteous as that of the manna of the desert, to which the inhabitants compared it. In those forests wandered numerous herds, which fed on the rich grasses that flourished underneath the great trees. Era-bosomed :in one of the mountains, the Eperon, was a plain which the traveler found green and enameled with flowers at all seasons. It abounded in springs, and when the summer had wasted the neighboring herbage, the sun touched the pastures of this plain with a brighter green, and tinted its blossoms with a livelier hue. It was not unworthy of the name given it, the Hort-Dieu, or garden of the Lord. The Vivrais produced more corn than the inhabitants could consume. The diocese of Uzes overflowed with oil and wine. The valley of the Vaunage, in the district of Nimes, became famous for the luxuriance of its fields and the riches of its gardens. The Protestants, to whose skill and industry it largely owed the exuberance that gave it renown, had more than sixty churches within its limits, and marked their appreciation of its happy conditions by calling it the "Little Canaan." Everywhere France boasts a fertile soil and a sunny air, but wherever the Huguenot had settled, there the earth opened her bosom in a seven-fold increase, and nature seemed to smile on a faith which the Government had anathematized, and which it pursued with persecuting edicts.

The Protestants of France were marked

by the same superiority in trade which distinguished them in agriculture. Here their superior intelligence and application were, perhaps, even more apparent, and were rewarded with a yet greater measure of success. The wine trade of many districts, especially that of Guienne, was almost entirely in their hands. The goods of the linen and cloth weavers of Vire, Falaise, and Argentine, in Normandy, they sold to the English and Dutch merchants, thus nourishing the home industry while they enriched the foreign market. They were the main carriers between Metz and Germany. The Mimes merchants were famous all over the south of France, and by their skill and capital they provided employment and food for innumerable families who otherwise would have been sunk in idleness and poverty. "If the Nimes merchants," wrote Baville, the Intendant of the province, in 1699, "are still bad Catholics, at any rate they have not ceased to be very good traders." [1] In the center of France, at Tours, on the banks of the Rhone, at Lyons, they worked in silks and velvets, and bore off the palm from every other country for the quality of their fabrics and the originality and beauty of their designs. They excelled in the manufacture of woolen cloths. In the mountainous parts of the Cevennes, families often passed their summers a-field, and their winters at the loom. They displayed not less skill in the manufacture of paper. The paper-mills of Ambert were unrivalled in Europe. They produced the paper on which the best printing of Pads, Amsterdam, and London was executed. They were workers in iron, and fabricated with skill and elegance weapons of war and implements of husbandry. In all these industries large and flourishing factories might be seen in all parts of France. If the mercantile marine flourished along the western and northern sea. board, and the towns of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, and the Norman ports rapidly grew in population and wealth, it was mainly owing to the energy and enterprise of the Huguenots. After the horrid din of battle which had so long shaken France, it was sweet to hear only the clang of the hammer; and after the fearful conflagration of burning cities which had so often lit up the midnight skies of that country, it was pleasant to see no more startling spectacle than the blaze of the forge reflected from the overhanging cloud.

The probity of the French Protestants was not less conspicuous than their intelligence. This quality could not be hidden from the quick eyes of foreign merchants, and they selected as their medium of communication with France those in whose honesty they could thoroughly confide, in preference to those whom they deemed of doubtful integrity. This tended to their further importance and wealth, by placing the foreign trade of the country in their hands. The commercial correspondents of the Dutch and English merchants were almost exclusively Huguenots. Their word was taken where the bond of a Romanist would be hesitatingly accepted or, it might be, declined. The cause of this superior integrity is to be found not only in their higher religious code, but also in the fact that, being continually and malignantly watched by their countrymen, they found their safety to lie in Unremitting circumspection and unimpeachable integrity. There was, moreover, a flexibility about their minds which was wanting in their Romanist countrymen. Their religion taught them to inquire and reason, it awoke them from the torpor and emancipated them from the stiffness that weighed upon others, and this greater versatility and Power they easily transferred to the avocations of their daily life. The young Huguenot not infrequently visited foreign countries, sometimes in the character of a traveler impelled by thirst for knowledge, and sometimes in the character of an exile whom the storms of persecution had cast on an alien shore; but in whatever capacity he mingled with foreigners, he always carried with him a mind keen to observe, and open to :receive new ideas. On his return he improved or perfected the manufactures of his own land, by grafting upon them the better methods he had seen abroad. Thus, partly by studying in foreign schools, partly by their own undoubted inventive powers, the French Protestants carried the arts and manufactures of France to a pitch of perfection which few countries have reached, perhaps none excelled, and their numbers, their wealth, and their importance increased despite all the efforts of the Government to degrade and even to exterminate them. As an additional element of their prosperity, we must add that the year of the Huguenot contained a good many more working days than that of the Romanist. The fete-days of the Church abridged the working year of the latter to 260 days; whereas that of the Protestant contained 50 days more, or 310 in all.

Agriculture, manufactures, and art did not exclusively engross the French Protestants. Not a few aspired to a higher sphere, and there their genius shed even a greater glory on their country, and diffused a brighter luster around their own names. Protestants took a foremost place among the learned physicians, the great lawyers, and the illustrious orators of France. Their intellectual achievements largely contributed to the splendor which irradiated the era of Louis XIV. A Protestant advocate, Henry Basnage, led for fifty years the Rouen bar. [2] His friend, Lemery, father of the illustrious chemist, of whose birth within her walls Rouen is to this day proud, discharged with rare distinction, in the Parliament so hostile to the Huguenots, the duties of Procureur. [3] The glory of founding the French Academy is clue to a Protestant, Valentine Conrart, a man of fine literary genius. A little company of illustrious men, who met at Conrart's house, first suggested the idea of the Academy to Richelieu. The statesman gave it a charter, but Conrart gave it rules, and continued to be its life and soul until the day of his death. In this list of

Protestants who adorned the country that knew so in to appreciate their faith, was Guy Pantin. He was distinguished as a man of letters, and not less distinguished as a philosopher and a physician. Another great name is that of Pierre Dumoulin, who is entitled to rank with the best of the classical prose writers of France. "With more respect for the proprieties," says Weiss, "and less harshness of character, his style reminded the reader of the great qualities of that of Calvin, whose Institutes of Christianity had supplied France with its first model of a lucid, ingenious, and vehement prose, such as the author of the Provincial Letters would not have disowned." [4]

With the Huguenots came the era of pulpit eloquence in France. In the worship of the Church of Rome, the sermon was but the mere accessory. In the Protestant Church the sermon became not indeed the essential, but the central part of the service. The Reformation removed the sacrifice of the mass and restored the Word of God, it banished the priest and brought back the preacher. Thus the pulpit, which had played a prominent part in the early Church, but had long been forgotten, was again set up, and men gathered round it, as being almost solely the font of Divine knowledge so long as the Bible in the vernacular was scarcely accessible. The preacher had to study that he might teach. His office was to instruct, to convince, to exhort; and the more than human grandeur of his topics, and the more than temporary issues of his preaching, tended to beget a sublimity both of thought and utterance that reached the loftiest oratory. The audiences daily grew: the preacher excelled more and more in his noble art, and the Protestant pulpit became the grand pioneer of modern eloquence.

Rome soon saw that she could not with safety to herself despise an instrumentality so powerful. Hence arose a rivalship between the two Churches, which elevated the pulpits of both, but in the end the Popish seemed to distance the Protestant pulpit. The Protestant preacher gave more attention to the truth he delivered than to the words in which he expressed it, or the gestures with which he set it forth. The preachers who filled the Roman pulpits brought to their aid the arts of a brilliant rhetoric, and the graces of an impassioned delivery, and thus it came to pass that, towards the end of the century, the Church of Rome bore off the palm of pulpit oratory in France. The Protestant preachers of that day had much to dishearten and depress them; the great orators of the Romish Church – Bossuet, Massillon, Flechier, Bourdaloue, and Fenelon – had, on the contrary, everything to awaken and reward their efforts; but it was the preachers formed in the school of Calvin that paved the way for those who so successfully and so brilliantly succeeded them. "If France had never had her Saurins," said one of the great orators of the English pulpit, "her Claudes, her Du Plessis-Mornays, her national Church had never boasted the genius of Bossuet, and the virtues of Fenelon." [5]

From the pulpit we turn to the Protestant Synods of France. During the wars which the ambition of Richelieu carried on in the latter end of the reign of Louis XIII, and the troubles which distracted the nation in the opening years of the reign of Louis XIV, several National Synods of the Protestant Church were held. These were but mere shadows of the numerous and majestic assemblies of the better days of the French Church, and the hearts of the members could not but be sad when they thought how glory and power had departed from them since the days of the Queen of Navarre and of Admiral Coligny, illustrious as a warrior and statesman, but not less illustrious as a Christian. The right of meeting had to be solicited from the court; it was always obtained with difficulty; and the interval between each successive Synod was longer and longer, preparatory to their final suppression. The royal commissioner brought with him from court most commonly an ungrateful message; it was delivered in an imperious tone, and was heard in obsequious silence. The members of Synod were reminded that if the throne was powerful its authority was their shield, and that it was their wisdom to uphold, as it was their duty to be thankful for, a prerogative which in its exercise was so benignant towards them. Men who, like these French pastors, met under the shadow of a tyrannical king, with the sword of persecution hanging by a single thread above their heads, could not be expected to show much life or courage, or devise large and effective measures for the building up of their ancient Church. They were entirely in the power of their enemy, and any bold step would have been eagerly laid hold of by the Government as a pretext for crushing them outright. They were spared because they were weak, but their final extinction was ever kept in view.

Still all glory had not departed from the Protestant Church of France. Among its pastors, as we have just seen, were men of great genius, of profound erudition, and of decided piety; and these, finding all corporate action jealously denied them by the Government, turned their energies into other channels. If Protestantism was decaying and passing from view, there were individual Protestants who stood nobly out, and whose names and labors were renowned in foreign countries. French Protestant literature blossomed in the seventeenth century, which was the age of great theological writers in France, as the sixteenth had been the age of famous Synods. Of these writers not a few keep their place after the lapse of two centuries, and their works are accounted, both in our own country and in Germany, standards on the subjects of which they treat. Their writings are characterized by the same

fine qualities which distinguished the great authors of their nation in other departments of literature – a penetrating judgment, an acute logic, a rich illustrative power which makes the lights and shadows of fancy to play across the page, and a brilliant diction which enriches and purifies the thought that shines through it. These men occupied the pulpits of some of the most important towns, or they filled the chairs of the seminaries or colleges which the Protestant Church was permitted to maintain, and which she richly endowed. The French Church at that time had four such academies – Montauban, Saumur, Sedan, and Nimes.

The first of these four seminaries, Montauban, was famous for the high tone of its orthodoxy. It was a well of Calvinism undefiled. It was not less distinguished for the eminent talents of its teachers. Among others, it boasted Daniel Chamier, a remarkable man, whose name was famous in his own day, and is not unknown in ours. Combining the sagacity of the statesman with the erudition of the theologian, he had a chief hand in the drawing up of the Edict of Nantes. He was a distinguished controversialist, and bore away the prize in a public discussion at Nimes with the confessor of Henry IV. At the request of his brethren, he undertook a refutation of Bellarmin, the ablest of the Papal champions. This work, in four volumes, has received the praise of a modern German theologian, Staudlin, for the stores of knowledge its author displays, and the searching criticism which he brings to bear upon the Popish system. The manner of his death was unusual. During the siege of Montauban (1621) he was sent to preach to the soldiers on the walls, who had not been able to attend church. As he mounted the ramparts, he was struck by a cannon-ball, and expired.

Saumur was the symbol of a declining theology. Its professors conducted their labors chiefly with an eye to smoothing the descent from Calvinism to Arminianism. They were learned men in the main, and produced works which excited a various interest. A moderate theology has ever had a tendency to stereotype men in moderate attainments: the professors of Saumur are no exception. Their names would awaken no recollections now, and it is unnecessary therefore to mention them.

Sedan had a purer fame, and a more interesting history. It is associated with the name of Andrew Melville, and of numerous other Scotsmen who here taught with distinction. Pierre Dumoulin (1658), one of the greatest Protestants of his day, filled one of its chairs. As minister of Charenton, he had been the head of the Protestants of Paris, where his talents and influence were of great service to the cause in every part of France; but becoming obnoxious to the Jesuits, he fled to Sedan, then an independent principality, though under the King of France. Here the remainder of his most laborious life was passed. No fewer than seventy three works proceeded from his pen; of these the most popular were the Buckler of the Faith, and the Anatomy of the Mass. The latter still finds numerous readers. Dumoulin was a child of four years when the St. Bartholomew Massacre took place, and would, even at that tender age, have been included among its victims but for the kindness of a servant. He lived to the age of ninety. When one told him that his dissolution was near, he thanked him for bringing him such happy tidings, and broke out into a welcome to death – " that lovely messenger that would bring him to see his God, after whom he had so long aspired." And so he ceased to be seen of men. It was in this university that Daniel Tilenius taught. He was the first to introduce into France those theological controversies touching Grace and Free Will, which the celebrated Arminius had, as we have seen, begun in Holland a few years before. The progress of Arminian views gradually weakened the hold of Calvinism on the French Reformed Church.

Of these four seats of Protestant learning, Nimes was the least famous. It numbered among its professors Samuel Petit (1643). This man, who was a distinguished Oriental scholar, filled the chair of Greek and Hebrew in this academy. An anecdote is told of him which attests the familiarity he had acquired with the latter language. One day he entered the synagogue of Avignon, and found the rabbi delivering a bitter vituperation in Hebrew' upon Christianity and Christians. Petit waited till the speaker had made an end; and then, to the no small astonishment of the rabbi, he began a reply in the same tongue, in which he calmly vindicated the faith the Jew had aspersed, and exhorted its assailant to study Christianity before again attacking it. The rabbi is said to have offered an apology. A cardinal, who had so high an esteem of his learning as to court his friendship, offered to obtain for him admission into the Vatican Library at Rome, with liberty to inspect the manuscripts. The offer must have been a tempting one to an Orientalist like Petit, but for reasons which he did not think himself obliged to state to the cardinal, he courteously declined it.

Besides the men we have mentioned, the Protestant Church of France, in the seventeenth century, possessed not a few pastors eminent for their piety and labors, whose works have long preserved their names. Among these we mention Andre Rivet (1651), a distinguished commentator. He began his career as a pastor in France, and closed it as a professor of theology in Holland. The principles of criticism which he lays down in his Introduction to the Study of the Bible he exemplifies in his Commentary on the Psalms, which is one of the best expositions .of that part of Holy Writ that we possess. Aubertin (1652) was the author of a work on the Eucharist, which those of the contrary opinion found it

much easier to denounce to the Privy Council than to answer. Benjamin Basnage (1652) was a man of ability; his grandson, Jacques Basnage, was still more so.

Blondel (1655) was the ecclesiastical historian of his day, and one of the first to expose the forged decretals of Rome. Bochart (1667), a mail of prodigious learning, and of equal modesty, has left behind him an imperishable name. Mestrezat (1657) wielded a logic which was the terror of the Jesuits. Drelincourt (1669) spent his days in visiting his flock, and his nights in meditation and writing. His Consolations against Death still preserves his fame, having been translated into nearly all the languages of Europe. One other name only will we here mention, that of Jean Daille (1670), who was one of Drelincourt's colleagues in Paris. The work by which the collaborator and friend of the author of the Consolations against Death is best known is his Apology for the Reformed Churches, in which he vindicates them from the charge of schism, and establishes, on irrefragable historic proofs, their claim to apostolicity.

So many were the lights that still shone in the sky of French Protestantism. The whole power of the Government had for a century been put forth to extinguish it. War had done its worst. All the great military leaders, and the 7 of the common soldiers, lay rotting on the battle-field. To war was added massacre. Again and again had the soil of France been drenched in blood. Violence had so far prevailed that the Synods of the French Church were now but a name. But the piety and learning of individual Protestants survived all these disasters; and, like stars appearing after the clouds of tempest have passed away, they lent a glory to the remnant that was spared, and proclaimed to France how inherently noble was the cause which it was striving to extinguish, and what a splendor Protestantism would shed upon the nation, had it been permitted in peace to put forth its mighty energies, and to diffuse throughout the length and breadth of France its many virtues, and ripen its precious fruits.

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