HST3034: The Coming of the Protestant Reformation in

HST3034: The Coming of the
Protestant Reformation in
France: A Climate of Uncertainty
Presentation 1
Early Protestantism in France:
Uncertainty and its Consequences
- The ‘Early Reformation’ (1519-c.1542) marked by
‘magnificent anarchy’ (Lucien Febvre), apparently
‘incoherent’ official responses to the appearance of
heresy in France, periods of ‘hope’ for those inclined to
the new religion, coupled with periods of ‘fear’ for the
consequences of espousing ‘heresy’. The period is often
seen to end with the (definitive) installation of Jean
Calvin in Geneva (1542) and the gradual tightening up of
anti-heresy legislation and enforcement in France….
Lutheran Ideas in France – Rapid
and Early Diffusion - 1
• ‘Consultation’ of Luther’s works in ‘official’
quarters (the Sorbonne) – but NB Sorbonne
theologians divided over Luther’s works. His
anti-papal and pro-conciliar stance was not
immediately opposed by Gallican theologians.
The Sorbonne did not condemn his works as
heretical until after the universities of Cologne
and Louvain (i.e. April 1521, with the
condemnation of 104 propositions drawn from
his works) and after pressure from the king to do
Lutheran Ideas in France – Rapid
and Early Diffusion - 2
• Rapid spread of Luther’s printed works, mainly in Latin until the later
1520s, spreading especially via printers in Basel and Antwerp, who
specialised in the French market
• Humanist cultural exchange (e.g. Boniface Amerbach in Avignon, in
touch with humanists in Basel, Lyon, Montpellier).
• Rumour (e.g. Philippes de Vigneulles in Metz) – Luther’s propositions
known about, if not in detail, as suggesting the marriage of priests
and the priesthood of all believers
• Attack and Counter-Attack – The 104 propositions attacked by Philipp
Melanchthon in July 1521, the beginnings of a lively counter-attack
among French orthodox theologians to Luther’s propositions, marked
from 1523
• The beginnings of the spread of Lutheran works in French translation
from 1526, but almost always anonymous, and not the most
polemical works, and printed and spread by underground means.
Lutheran Ideas in France – Rapid
and Early Diffusion - 3
• The Elaboration of a ‘Defensive Culture’ against
the Lutheran ‘heresy’. First signs of the
appearance of a literature of ‘prodigies’ and
‘marvellous portents’, some of them translated
from German sources (e.g. 12 December 1522,
report of a monstrous ‘pig-calf’ discovered in the
stomarch of a dead cow, ‘with the head of an illformed giant’ diffused at Paris)
• The importance of duke Antoine de Lorraine in
sponsoring anti-Lutheran works
French ‘evangelism’ – a ‘French
The existence of a ‘pre-reform’ movement in France (claimed by the
historians Pierre Imbert de la Tour and Augustin Renaudet), based
upon:Reforming activities of French bishops, who believed that the church
was in crisis, and who sought to establish a better moral authority for
the church within their dioceses by means of visitations, synods, etc
Reforming zeal of individuals and groups within the French monastic
orders, for whom there was an aggressive desire to reform ‘from
within’, leading to an equally vocal and determined campaign from
traditionalists to ‘defend’ the status quo
Important strands of humanist learning in France, in which the desire
to ‘return’ the church to its ‘pristine’ condition in the years immediately
after the death of Christ, and the importance of studying the
Scriptures in the original languages, understanding them in the
context of their own time, were key objectives
Currents of late-medieval ‘mysticism’, especially spreading from the
Netherlands, which emphasised the importance of an individual
response to God, independent of the church hierarchy
A ‘French Evangelis’: Jacques
Lefèvre d’Etaples (c.1450-1536)
• Almost a monk; a great traveller; a Parisian intellectual; a
great humanist; a mystic
• A humanist interpreter of the Scriptures, through whom
Christ reveals Himself, and God through Him
• A great admirer of Erasmus, but different interpretations
of how to read the Bible, and different attitudes towards
‘good works’ like pilgrimages, candles, etc
• Not interested in the ‘faith’ vv. ‘works’ controversy begun
by Luther
• His writings were enormously significant, and there is a
current debate over the extent to which he might ever
have been a French ‘Luther’
Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of
Meaux (c.1472-1534)
• A member of the governing clans around the later Valois, a Parisian
intellectual, an ambitious cleric, committed (when politic to do so) to
reform of his diocese
• Established around him a group of partisans of reform, including Lefèvre
d’Etaples and others, and began instituting a series of ambitious reforms
(constituted 1521; recomposed 1523; dispersed 1526) in opening up
scriptures to the laity, stimulating changes to liturgical practice, and
involving the church in social issues
• He was investigated by the Parlement of Paris and the Sorbonne and,
especially during the imprisonment and captivity of Francis I post Pavia
(1525-6), he was threatened with being denounced as a schismatic
• There is a debate over the degree to which he was ever willing to defend
the changes that were promoted in his name in his diocese, and the
extent to which the issues for which he was suspected were not, in
reality, part of a political campaign orchestrated by those at court who
were suspicious (esp. the queen mother, Louise of Savoy) of those who
were prepared to contemplate changes in the church
Queen Marguerite of Navarre
(1482-1549) - 1
• Political significant (the king’s sister) with an independent patrimony
and power-base (as the wife of Henri d’Albret II, king of Navarre) with
ancestral lands in west-central France (Angoulême, Alençon, Berry,
etc) and in south-west France (Gascony)
• She created an ‘evangelical network’ in France, using her influence at
court, her own household, and her influence within her patrimony. This
can only be patchily reconstructed through her surviving
correspondence but it included:• - printers
• - diplomats (the du Bellay brothers)
• - teachers and intellectuals (e.g. Michel d’Arande; Gérard Roussel)
• - judges (in Toulouse and Paris)
• She intervened in the dynamic of French politics to try and align her
brother’s stance towards protecting French humanists (and
protestants), and building foreign alliances with German protestant
princes and England against the Habsburgs
Queen Marguerite of Navarre
(1482-1549) - 2
Her own views something of an enigma
• Her own writings mostly appeared in print after her death
(e.g. the Heptaméron, a collection of stories, into which
one can read evangelical messages) and the ‘Mirror of a
Sorrowful Soul’ (a penitential treatise that was translated
into English by the young Elizabeth I)
• Her correspondence (especially that surviving with
Guillaume Briçonnet) has to be read as partially in a
‘code’ in which the subjects under discussion are also
about the dilemmas of the ‘evangelicals’ in France – e.g.
about whether it was better to ‘dissimulate’ or be true to
one’s faith and risk the consequences
‘Evangelical’ Manuscripts and
While loving God with a whole heart
Let us comfort each other, every one.
Whatever misery or pain they inflict on us
Let us not abandon our brotherly bong
As some have done faithlessly.
The Holy Scriptures command throughout
That we should love each other perfectly
And trust one another totally,
While loving God with a whole heart.
When the day of judgement comes,
He will punish those tyrants terribly,
And the elect will be freed from pain.
Let us live therefore in this sure hope.
Patiently enduring the present season,
While loving God with a whole heart’
[Anonymous poem from l’initiatoire instruction (c.1529) – the last page of a manuscript translation of
two Lutheran catechisms, prepared for Marguerite de Navarre]
Evangelical Dilemmas
• When was the right moment to ‘come out of the
closet’ and proclaim the need for reform?
• Could one depend upon one’s friends to keep
one’s faith a secret, and protect one in
• Was it better to try to reform the church and the
world by local, and discreet initiative than by
national decree?
• Would social disorder result from the beginnings
of religious change with popular support?
Conservative Fears
• That
King François I and Heresy
• Royal attitudes very difficult to discern, and often
apparently ambiguous.
• According to R.J. Knecht, Francis was consistently
opposed to ‘heresy’ where it could be defined, but
anxious not to draw its boundaries so broadly as to
implicate humanists, scholars, and leading figures in his
entourage and elsewhere in the mechanisms of heresy
• He was particularly sensitive to ‘public’ or ‘notorious’
‘scandal’, especially where it concerned sacred objects
and ceremonials
• He was especially concerned to root out
‘sacramentarians’ (i.e. those who opposed the ‘real
presence’ in the sacrament) when they appeared to have
a significant presence within France
Mechanisms for Investigating
Heresy in France
• Inquisitional and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in France
weakened, except in particular places (Languedoc;
Dauphiné; Provence) and in particular scenarios, by
interference from royal judges
• Sovereign royal courts (Parlements) increasingly took
the lead, but faced numerous difficulties in securing
• There was no firm definition of what constituted ‘heresy’
and the judges tended to proceed on the basis of what
constituted a ‘cas énorme’, or a manifest (i.e. public and
scandalous) case of heresy
Conclusion: Uncertainty and its
• ‘Individualism is the first law of our reformation from its
very beginning’ [Imbert de la Tour, Les Origines de la
Réforme, 1914]
• ‘A long period of magnificent religious anarchy preceded
the age of servitude’ [Lucien Febvre, ‘Une question mal
posée; les origines de la Réforme française…’ (1929)
• ‘The first trait one should insist on: her uncertainty….’
[Pierre Jourda, Marguerite d’Angoulême (1930)]
• Uncertainty – likely to create the circumstances in which
both unrealistic expectations and irrational fears of
religious change were most likely to be stimulated.

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