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The reformation; a religious and historical sketch online

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of luxury, of the public excesses and worldly jests which are
only too common among the Romanists. At their assem-
blies and feasts, instead of dances and musical instruments,
there was reading in the Bible, which was laid on the
table, and religious songs, especially Psalms."

The singing of Psalms mentioned in this passage was so
distinctive a mark, so unfailing a resource, so supreme a
consolation, and so attractive a feature of the Churches
which arose under the influence of Calvin, that it merits a
detailed notice. In France, in Switzerland, in Germany,
in the Low Countries, in England, and in Scotland the
singing of a metrical version of the Psalms became an
indispensable part of the public worship and of the private
devotions of these Churches. The first verse translation
was one of the latest works of Marot, the leading French


poet of Francis the First's reign. At the suggestion and
with the help of Vatable, Professor of Hebrew at the new
Royal College, Marot translated thirty of the Psalms.
These were the first fifteen, and fifteen others selected
from different parts of the Psalter, including some which in
all ages have been specially endeared to Christians by their
spiritual depth and artistic beauty, such as the 19th, the
51st, the 103rd, and the 104th. The poet dedicated his
translation to Francis the First, was ordered by the King
to present them to Charles the Fifth on his visit to Paris
in 1540, received the Emperor's gracious commendations,
and was rewarded by him with a present of two hundred
doubloons. The reward which he received from the
Sorbonne and the Parliament of Paris was very different ;
the former condemned the heretical book, the latter ordered
the arrest of the author ; and Marot, to escape from his
persecutors, was compelled to flee to Geneva. Here he
translated nineteen more Psalms and the Song of Simeon.
These '' Fifty Psalms," as they were called, he published
in 1543 with a poetical preface, in which he prophetically
anticipated the day when the labourer at his plough, the
waggoner in the street, the workman in his shop, and
the shepherd in the woods should lighten their toils by the
singing of Psalm or Canticle ; and a Romanist Bishop a
century later testified to the literal fulfilment of this

It was only after an interval of some years that an
addition was made to the " Fifty Psalms." In 1548
Beza heard for the first time in the service of the Genevese
Church Marot's version of the gist Psalm. It made a life-
long impression upon him ; and when Calvin urged him to
consecrate his poetical gifts to God's service by completing
the version of the whole Psalter, he gladly acceded to the
request. In 1552 thirty-four of Beza's Psalms were
printed with Marot's ; in the editions of 1554 and 1559
seven more were added ; in 1562 the 150 had been finished,
Charles the Ninth had granted his royal *' privilege" for

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the printing, and they were published in the same year at
Lyons. The success of the version was extraordinary.
Even in the corrupt and dissolute French Court Henry
the Second, Catherine de Medici, and the notorious Diana
of Poictiers had each a favourite Psalm. The Sorbonne
thundered in vain against it ; the Parliament of Bordeaux
in vain denounced the severest penalties against all who in
churches, streets, and houses should sing the Psalms of
David " translated into French in mockery of the Christian
religion and to the great scandal of it."

Three eminent citizens of the Netherlands produced
three separate versions suggested by the French ; the
contagion spread to Germany, England, and Scotland ;
other versions appeared in Italian, Gascon, Spanish,
Polish, and Czech ; and the French poets reached the
zenith of their popularity when an ingenious Hebrew
Professor retranslated their Psalms into Hebrew according
to the original words and metres of the French version !
On the scaffold and at the stake, in the executioner's cart
and while the faggots were piled around them, the French
martyrs gave expression to their joy and hope, their
unwavering confidence and jealousy for God's honour, in
the singing of Beza's Psalms. At the setting and relieving
guard, on the eve of battle and in the hour of a great
deliverance, the familiar melodies rose to the Huguenots'
lips. Children sang them on sitting down to meals ; exiles
beguiled the sad and toilsome journey into a far country
with their home-like strains. During the thirty years pre-
ceding the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew as many as
eighty-eight editions were published.

The death of Francis the Second at once altered the
aspect of the French Court, and weakened the power of
the Guises. The " foreigners " were momentarily thrown
into the background, and the Bourbon Princes, Navarre
and Conde, resumed their rightful position at the side of
the throne, and countenanced the Huguenot cause. But
the Guises were too influential, too ambitious, too



unscrupulous, and too able to suffer more than a temporary
check. The Duke of Guise united with the Constable of
France and the Marshal of St. Andre, a prodigal and
licentious voluptuary, who had amassed an immense
fortune with unclean hands ; the Duchess of Valentinois
fitly acted as the mediator of the alliance : one of the
Guises married the daughter of the royal harlot, and
another the daughter of St. x\ndre. In this way the
** Triumvirate " were still able to hold their own against
the Bourbons and the Colignys. Yet the progress which
the Reformation was making became more apparent than
ever after the accession of Charles the Ninth. At the
meeting of the States General in December, 1560, the
speaker of the nobles condemned the greed of the clergy
and their interference in civil matters, prayed that eccle-
siastics might be compelled to reside on their cures, and
asked that no benefices might be bestowed on unworthy
incumbents. The speaker of the Third Estate used
stronger language ; the three vices of the clergy, ignor-
ance, avarice, and luxury, were so notorious and so
universal that it was waste of time to dwell upon them.
The speaker of the Clergy, although he poured forth
invectives against the heretics, was forced to admit that
the faults of the Clergy were glaring and enormous. It
was a further sign of the times that the Queen- Mother
began to veer round to the side of the Huguenots.
The Bishop of Valence, an open adherent of the Pro-
testant Church, was invited to preach in the King's castle,
and Charles and the courtiers attended the sermons, to
the unconcealed disgust of the Triumvirate. It was less
surprising that the Cardinal of Chatillon, brother of the
Admiral, and one of the highest ecclesiastics in France,
celebrated the Eucharist according to the Reformed rite,
and communicated in both kinds, at Easter, 1561.

The result of all these changes was the Edict of July,
1561, in which the Court attempted to settle the religious
question by making concessions to both parties. To


please the Romanists it was enacted that the Huguenots
should not hold meetings, nor celebrate the Sacraments
except according to the rites of the Church of Rome : to
please the Huguenots it was decreed that neither party
should attack the other, and that banishment should be
the severest punishment which could be inflicted on
heretics. Naturally the Edict satisfied neither party : the
Huguenots were indignant that their right of meeting
was not recognized : the Romanists w^ere indignant that
heresy had been indirectly sanctioned, and that the time-
honoured punishments of the Inquisition had been replaced
by a brand-new punishment which it was morally and
physically impossible to inflict. Their indignation was
heightened by Catherine's next step. She proposed that
representatives of both parties should meet and discuss
the religious questions at issue in presence of the King
and the Court. The proposal was hailed with acclama-
tion by the Huguenots. There was nothing for which
they longed more than the opportunity of publicly refuting
their opponents' calumnies by giving, in the most solemn
and impressive manner, a reason for the faith that was in
them. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose
by such a discussion : it would, they hoped, disarm the
malignity of their enemies, arrest the attention of the
indifferent, and confirm the faith of their friends. The
vehement Romanists, on the other hand, entered an
energetic protest. To set the Huguenot ministers on
an equality with Romanist prelates ! To express even
indirectly any toleration of heresies which Pope after Pope
and Council after Council had condemned ! To treat as
open questions the most sacred doctrines of the Church !
What an unutterable scandal ! But the Cardinal of
Lorraine sided with Catherine, and his influence carried
the day.

The Colloquy of Poissy, like the other religious con-
ferences of the sixteenth century, led to no practical result.
The discussion was confined to two subjects, the Church



and the Eucharist ; and the speeches on both sides only
served the purpose of emphasizing the irreconcileable
differences between the two Confessions, But indirectly
the discussion furthered the cause of the French Reforma-
tion. Beza, whose wit, poetical imagination, literary
enthusiasm, and winning address had made him in his
youth a favourite of Parisian society, startled and impressed
his courtly audience by appearing in the novel character
of a Huguenot minister. He was supported by the f^entle
and persuasive Peter Martyr, the tried theologian of a
hundred battles, who had already left his mark on three
countries. The Huguenots observed with pride and joy
that these champions were able to hold their own in
eloquence, learning, and argumentative skill against the
Cardinal of Lorraine and Lainez, the celebrated and
vesatile General of the Society of Jesus. The Conference
had scarcely broken up before the Huguenots held their
meetings everywhere in larger numbers and with increasing
boldness. In Paris, where the persecution of the Hugue-
nots had been most bitter and most prolonged, 6,000,
8,000, and even more, assembled at a single service.
When Beza visited the capital, he was pressed to preach
daity sermons, and at each sermon he had an audience of
thousands. In Lyons there were 20,000 communicants
at a single celebration of the Eucharist, in Orleans
22,000, in Rouen an even larger number. In parts of
France where a few months ago one Minister was sufficient
ten were now required. In comparatively insignificant
places where the Huguenots had recently numbered ten,
thirty, or fifty, they suddenly increased to 100, 300, and 500.
In Gascony it was possible to travel for scores of miles
without finding a single Romanist priest. It was openly
asserted that, if 1,000 duly qualified ministers could be
sent into France at once, the number would be insufficient
to supply the communities who were clamouring for
pastors. The differences between the two Churches were
freely and publicly discussed in everj' society. The nobles


in great numbers joined the Reformed Church, The Papal
Legate, the Cardinal of Ferrara, who had the misfortune
to be the grandson of Pope Alexander the Sixth and the
son of Lucretia Borgia, suffered the humiliation of seeing
his grandfather and his mother mercilessly satirized and
caricatured. Under these circumstances a meeting of the
chief members of all the Parliaments in the kingdom was
summoned by the Government. The Chancellor, the
celebrated L'Hospital, delivered a speech in which he
clearly stated the principles of the " political " party, that
laws are useless, and worse than useless, if they cannot be
enforced, that religious differences are a far less evil than
civil war, that men may separate from the Church and yet
be good citizens, and that it is possible for two religious
parties to live in peace, even though they do not observe
the same ceremonies and the same usages. After a long
discussion the Edict of January was drawn up to take the
place of the Edict of July. By the terms of the Edict it
was enacted that all churches which the Huguenots had
taken from the Romanists should be restored, and that no
outrages should be committed in Romanist places of
worship. Both parties were forbidden to revile and pro-
voke one another, and were urged to live in mutual
peace and amity. Religious meetings of the Huguenots
within the walls of cities were prohibited, but they were
allowed to hold services and preach sermons outside
the civic boundaries ; and if they observed these con-
ditions, no Judges or Government officials might interfere
with them.

The Edict of January is important because it contained
the first formal recognition of the great principle for
which the Chancellor and the " political " party con-
tended, and which finally triumphed nearly forty years
later. But it is easy to see that the conditions which it
assumed, and which were absolutely necessary to ensure
its observance, had no existence except in theory. The
Government did not possess the resolute will and the



strong hand to suppress all resistance to it. The Parlia-
ment of Paris loudly maintained that it violated the
fundamental law of the constitution. The Triumvirate
openly endeavoured to make it of none effect. All the
influence of Philip the Second, who could now plead at
the French Court with increased authority as the brother-
in-law of Charles the Ninth, was exerted on the side of
intolerance. The vast majority of the Romanist clergy,
and a considerable proportion of the Huguenot, eyed it
with unconcealed repugnance, did not even affect to
regard it as a just and wise decree, and had neither the
spirit of compromise and concession, nor the mutual
goodwill, which alone could have made it an effectual
measure. The rank and file of the Romanist majority and
a large number of the Huguenots, blinded by fanaticism
and bigotry, embittered by the religious hostility of years,
and exasperated b}' real or fancied wrongs, could not
be expected to show more forbearance and moderation
than their leaders. Whether in the heated state of men's
minds any power could have averted the civil war may
be reasonably doubted ; but in the face of these adverse
conditions the chances of peace dwindled to a vanishing

The Massacre of Vassy, which changed in a moment
the whole face of the country, which estranged Huguenots
and Romanists more completely than the persecutions
and the fires of forty years, and which ushered in the long
train of civil and religious wars, was unquestionably due
to the action of the Romanist leader. The Duke of
Guise, returning from an elaborate comedy of perfidy
and hypocrisy which he and his brother the Cardinal had
been acting at the expense of the Lutherans of Wurtem-
berg, passed through Vassy, a little town of 3,000 inhabi-
tants, belonging to his principality of Joinvillc. His
unwarranted interruption of the Huguenot service was
resented by the alarmed worshippers, who attempted to
exclude the intruders. The armed force which the Duke

o 2


had brought with him, composed of vassals as bigoted
and unscrupulous as their lord, forced their way into the
barn with sanguinary cries, cut down the defenceless
Huguenots, men and women, young and old, indiscrimi-
nately, killed more than fifty and wounded more than two
hundred. The Duke attempted afterwards to clear him-
self from all responsibility for the guilt of this wanton
outrage ; but it is evident from his own words that he
regarded this heretical rabble as scandalous, arrogant,
disloyal, seditious, disobedient, and undutiful people, who
refused to cringe at the feet of the lordly House of Guise,
who had actually been guilty not long before of refuting
and covering with confusion the Bishop of Chalons, who
were at that moment rebels in disguise, " possessed of
arquebuses, pistols, and other weapons," and who in their
insolence refused to listen to the " gracious and honest
admonition," with which he proposed to address them.
Not unnaturally, the Huguenots, knowing from long
experience the character of Guise and the undisguised
hatred with which he had always regarded them, refused
to accept his defence, maintained that he had provoked
the quarrel and had not stopped the massacre, and felt
that henceforward nothing but the sword could decide
between him and them.

The religious wars profoundly affected the course of
the French Reformation. The religious question was in
a great measure obscured and overlaid by the rivalry
between the Guises and the Bourbons, the ambitious
intrigues of the Queen-Mother, the ecclesiastical and
political schemes of Philip the Second, the selfish and
vacillating policy of Elizabeth, the half-hearted inter-
ference of the Protestant Princes of Germany, the shifting
fortunes of the w^ar in the Low Countries, the plots of a

Mary Stuart's adherents in England, the dynastic rights I

of Henry the Fourth, the rise of a new democracy in the "

French capital, and the extravagant claims of the
Romanist priesthood. That the cause of the Huguenots


should have suffered far more than the cause of the
Romanists from this prolonged and barbarous contest,
waged with a ferocity, a refinement of cruelty, and a
disregard of the elementary laws of civilisation, which
would have disgraced Marius or Sulla, was inevitable.
The attractive power of the Huguenots, by the common
consent of friends and foes, had lain in the endeavour to
realize, alike in the public life of their Church and in the
private life of its individual members, the ideal standard
of Christian holiness. When, therefore, according to the
highest authority, the civil wars produced a million
Epicureans and Libertines, made the most part of the
French nation so wild, cruel, and savage, that instead
of sheep they had become tigers, and established a new
kingdom of impiety, injustice, and wickedness, these
stains showed darkest upon the brightest background.
When the Huguenot morality had been sapped by the
fatal demoralisation which overspread France, when
Huguenot soldiers and Huguenot ministers committed
or condoned atrocities from which the worshippers of
Diana of the Ephesians might have shrunk back aghast,
impartial or cynical onlookers naturally applied to them
the poet's maxim,

" Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

Where (men asked ironically) is the Christian steadfast-
ness which was proof against all temptations, the Christian
love which could bear all things, and endure all things,
the Christian sanctity which took for its motto, " Lex Dei
suprema salus " ? The pithy verdict of the Huguenot
historian that the Huguenots waged the first civil war like
angels, the second like men, and the third like devils
incarnate, illustrates this truth with painful force. The
fine gold had become dim, and the silver had become

The Huguenot cause was further weakened by two
important changes in the policy of their Romanist


opponents which decisively altered the religious fat are
of France. The admirable organisation of the Huguenot
Church had unquestionably been one of the chief causes
of its success. By the Consistories, or governing bodies
of the several Churches, by the Colloquies, which united a
group of neighbouring Consistories, by the Synods, or
deliberative and executive bodies of the sixteen Provinces
into which France had been provisionally divided, and by
the General Assemblies or National Synods, w^hich con-
stituted the supreme legislative body and Court of Appeal
for the whole Church, the ecclesiastical system of the
Huguenots had acquired an elasticity and power, a com-
bination of local government and centralized administra-
tion which left the government of the Romanist Church
far behind. But after the religious wars had begun, the
Romanist leaders were wase enough to confront the
Huguenot organisation with an organisation of equal
efficiency by skilfully blending religion and politics and
enrolling the Romanist population in Leagues, called Con-
fraternities of the Holy Spirit, which should unite all the
faithful children of Mother Church in their resistance to
heresy, and should make their allegiance to the Sovereign
dependent on his unwavering defence of the Romanist
religion. These Leagues originated in Burgundy, and
established their head-quarters in the important city of
Dijon. Men of all classes joined them. Consistories
were formed to support and strengthen the good cause.
By degrees they absorbed the authority and power of the
King and the royal Governors, enlisted soldiers, raised
money, took action against the Huguenots, whom they
far outnumbered, extolled Philip the Second to the skies
while they decried their ow^n monarch, and held up the
crusading orthodoxy of Spain as a model for the imitation
of all right-minded Frenchmen.

It may, however, be doubted whether these Leagues
would have met with such unqualified success if they
had not been aided by the whole strength of the Society



of Jesus. The history of this Order in the kingdom of
France is curious and instructive. As early as 1550 Henry
the Second, in accordance with the Pope's Breve, had
given the Society leave to settle in the kingdom, to receive
alms, and to build a College and Chapel in Paris and other
important cities. Four years later the Parliament laid the
King's letter and the Pope's Breve before the Bishop of
Paris and the Theological Faculty. Nothing could be
more unfavourable than the opinion of this important
body. Their severe judgment seems to have quelled the
spirit of the Fathers for a time. But on the accession of
Francis the Second, in reliance upon the favour of the
Guises, they made a fresh appeal to the Bishop of Paris.
His denunciation of the Order was as strongly worded as
the preceding. Then the King, at the suggestion of the
Cardinal of Lorraine, referred the question to the Parlia-
ment, and the Parliament in turn referred it to the General
Assembly of the Gallican Church. The French Prelates
signified their approval of the Order if it would accept
certain definite conditions ; and the College of Clermont
was accordingly opened by the Jesuits in Paris. Instantly
the University raised a protest against this invasion of
their privileges. But by this time the Parliament, alarmed
at the steady progress of the Reformed doctrines, were
eager to avail themselves of any auxiliaries who could aid
them in the coming struggle, and decided in their favour.
The importance of this decision can hardly be exaggerated.
For the first time since the beginning of the French
Reformation the Huguenots were pitted against opponents
as fervent, as pious, as learned, as indifferent to wealth
and worldly honours as themselves. Men of the world were
charmed by their manners. Enthusiasts were delighted
with their enthusiasm. Devotees recognized in them a
spirit of devotion as exalted and fantastic as their own.
Anxious parents found in them the most inspiring and
self-sacrificing of educators. The clergy were eclipsed by
their allies in zeal for the Church and its prerogatives.


The monastic Orders were half aroused from their lethargy
by the stimulating rivalr}^ of the new Order. But in addi-
tion to these valuable qualities they possessed another
more valuable than all at a time of religious crisis. For
the Jesuits were nothing if not intolerant of heresy. The
hatred with which the Huguenots had up to this time
inspired the French clergy seemed pale and colourless by
the side of theirs. Even in their daily life they breathed
the atmosphere of the Spanish Inquisition. To tolerate
heretics was a sin ; to unite with heretics was a still darker
sin ; to imagine that faith need be kept with heretics was
an unhallowed delusion ; to feel scruples about breaking a
solemn oath taken to heretics was a criminal weakness ; the
extermination of heretics was a godly w^ork, which, like the
Apostle's charity, covered a multitude of sins. What was
lacking in the doctrine of the Jesuits on the subject of
heresy was amply supplied by the teaching of Pope Pius

Online LibraryJohn Albert 1843- BabingtonThe reformation; a religious and historical sketch → online text (page 17 of 31)