The Religious French Connection

History repeats itself in interesting ways. Reviewing what we may vaguely remember from our high school or college lessons can help us have new perspectives on modern issues impacting our fellow man. 

HuguenotCrossQuick question: When was the Reformation? The 1800’s? No, it started in 1517. What was the Reformation? The ending of slavery? No, it was the beginning of the Protestant Church launched when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses (see 4/25/14 BV post) to the door of a Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

The Reformation (of the Catholic Church) movement spread throughout Europe as clergy/thought-leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, a Frenchman, encouraged and challenged people to break ties with the Roman Catholic Church and embrace new manners of Christian worship that focused on the central importance of Biblical texts and a personal relationship with God.

Over the first half of the 16th century, thousands of Protestant Lutheran and Calvinist churches were spawned throughout Europe, while England developed its own Church of England brand under Henry VIII (see 4/8/16 BV post).

So what?

The Reformation lasted into the mid-17th century and triggered wars and massive deadly persecution by the Catholic Church. Protestant Christians, in fear and forced emigration, scattered around the world, even to America, not too unlike what we’re seeing today in the Middle East and in South America.

The human response then and now is a lesson in faith, love, grace, and charity.

The French Connection – The Huguenots
The Wars of Religion began in France in 1562 between the Roman Catholics and the French Protestants called Huguenots. They ended in 1598 when the king of France (Henry IV) issued the Edict of Nantes which granted the Huguenots freedom of religion in certain parts of the country, civil equality, and the administration of justice.

This was a big deal given where things had been. It had allowed the Huguenots to retain control of approximately 200 towns. The Edict of Nantes was historically unique in that it was the first time freedom was granted to two religions to coexist in a nation.

By 1660, there were 1.5 million Huguenots living in France, almost 8% of the country’s population.

But by the late 1600’s, things changed dramatically. The king’s grandson, Louis XIV, was now king of France and shared none of his grandfather’s empathy for the Huguenots. He revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and instituted the following policies:

  • All Huguenot worship and education were forbidden
  • All Huguenot churches were either destroyed or turned into Catholic churches
  • Huguenot clergy were given 14 days to leave France, but the remaining Huguenots were forbidden to emigrate.
  • All children within France were to be baptized by a Catholic priest and raised as Catholics.1

Local enforcement of these policies led to extreme abuses, humiliations, and torture. Obstinate Huguenot men were imprisoned; resistant women were sent to convents.

Protestant Emigration from France
During the next several decades over 400,000 Huguenots risked their lives by escaping across the guarded boarders of France. Geneva, Switzerland, a city of 16,000 took in 4,000 refugee Huguenots. Although there were Catholic, English kings Charles II and James II aided the Huguenot immigrants into their country. Soon an entire quarter of London was populated with French workers. A fifth of Berlin, Germany was French by 1697. Holland welcomed thousands.

Even Dutch Catholics joined Protestants and Jews in raising money for Huguenot relief.

And of course, many Huguenots fled to the growing colonies of America.

Modern Lessons?
While many issues can be cited, we’ll focus on 2 lessons or observations here:

1. God’s not the problem – religion is the problem. Certainly we see the ongoing examples of religious intolerance and man’s inhumanity to man. Untold millions were killed on both sides of the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants as a result of the Reformation. Yes, even in the name of Christ.

But while men may debate the ways, means, and worship of God, their behavior does not negate the truth of God. Jesus taught the disciples who spread the Gospel to the known world, even usurping the entire Roman Empire with the Good News of Christ’s redemptive death for mankind. Men, corrupted by power and greed over time, transformed the Church and the application of the Word of God into something shattered and broken and misunderstood on many fronts. Even false religions and cults have sprung up in opposition.

But Man’s issues do not reflect on God, but rather on sinful Man who has lost sight of God.

2. The Persecuted need faith, love, grace and charity. Then and now, those who are fleeing evil and persecution are victims in need of help and support from their fellow citizens and neighbors. Yes, there’s a cost and sacrifice for this. And certainly wisdom should apply in the administration of support and resources lest they be wasted, thwarted, stolen, or misapplied.

But just as the surrounding cities and countries took in the fleeing Huguenot refugees, support for fellow humans fleeing dark regimes and religious persecution should be thoughtfully considered apart from selfish agendas and opportunities for political scores.

Yes, apart from political perspectives, people, communities, and nations grounded in Christ-based faith should yield love, grace, and charity toward their fellow, fallen brethren.

1 The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, Zondervan Publishing, 2003, p. 584.

How would you have treated the Huguenots?
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:19-21

Categories: Faith, Suffering, The Church, Theology

Tags: , , , , ,

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