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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 75. Persecution of the Protestants in Paris. 1534.


Beza in Vita Calv., vol. XXI. 124.—Jean Crespin: Livre des Martyrs, Genève, 1570.—The report of the Bourgeois de Paris.—Gerdesius, IV. Mon. 11. Henry, I. 74; II. 333.—Dyer, I. 29.—Polenz, I. 282.—Kampschulte, I. 243.—"Bulletin de la Soc. de l’hist. du Prot. franç.," X. 34; XI. 253.


This storm might have blown over without doing much harm. But in the following year the reaction was greatly strengthened by the famous placards, which gave it the name of "the year of placards." An over-zealous, fanatical Protestant by the name of Feret, a servant of the king’s apothecary, placarded a tract "on the horrible, great, intolerable abuses of the popish mass," throughout Paris and even at the door of the royal chamber at Fontainebleau, where the king was then residing, in the night of Oct. 18, 1534. In this placard the mass is described as a blasphemous denial of the one and all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ; while the pope, with all his brood (toute sa vermine) of cardinals, bishops, priests, and monks, are denounced as hypocrites and servants of Antichrist.431431    They are indiscriminately called "faux prophètes, damnables trompeurs, apostats, loups, faux pasteurs, menteurs, blasphémateurs, meurtriers des âmes, renonceurs de Jésus Christ, ravisseurs de l’honneur de Dieu, et plus détestables queles diables." Farel, then in Switzerland, was suspected of having some share in this incendiary publication, but without any evidence. Courault, who was then in confinement, advised not to publish the paper, "as it would excite great commotion in the minds of the people, and bring odium on the whole body of the faithful." Hist. Martyr., fol. 64, quoted by M’Crie, p. 102.

All moderate Protestants deplored this untimely outburst of radicalism. It retarded and almost ruined the prospects of the Reformation in France. The best cause may be undone by being overdone.

The king was highly and justly incensed, and ordered the imprisonment of all suspected persons. The prisons were soon filled. To purge the city from the defilement caused by this insult to the holy mass and the hierarchy, a most imposing procession was held from the Louvre to Notre Dame, on Jan. 29, 1535. The image of St. Geneviève, the patroness of Paris, was carried through the streets: the archbishop, with the host under a magnificent däis, and the king with his three sons, bare-headed, on foot, a burning taper in their hands, headed the procession, and were followed by the princes, cardinals, bishops, priests, ambassadors, and the great officers of the State and of the University, walking two and two abreast, in profound silence, with lighted torches. Solemn mass was performed in the cathedral. Then the king dined with the prelates and dignitaries, and declared that he would not hesitate to behead any one of his own children if found guilty of these new, accursed heresies, and to offer them as a sacrifice to divine justice.

The gorgeous solemnities of the day wound up with a horrible autodafé of six Protestants: they were suspended by a rope to a machine, let down into burning flames, again drawn up, and at last precipitated into the fire. They died like heroes. The more educated among them had their tongues slit. Twenty-four innocent Protestants were burned alive in public places of the city from Nov. 10, 1534, till May 5, 1535. Among them was Etienne de la Forge (Stephanus Forgeus), an intimate friend of Calvin. Many more were fined, imprisoned, and tortured, and a considerable number, among them Calvin and Du Tillet, fled to Strassburg.432432    Beza (XXI. 124) gives a brief account of the persecution:"Eousque inflammata fascinati Francisci Regis ira ob schedas quosdam adversus missam per urbem sparsas ipsiusque regii cubiculi foribus ad fixas, ut publica decreta supplicatione, cui una cum liberis suis tribus nudo capite ardentem facem quasi expiationis causa gestans interfuit, quatuor urbis celebrioribus locis octonos martyres vivos ustulari juberet, atque adeo solemni jure jurando testaretur, se ne liberis quidem suis parsurum, si forte teterrimis illis, ut vocabat, haeresibus essent infecti." The Protestant reports are verified by that of a Roman Catholic, "Bourgeois de Paris," who witnessed the burnings with satisfaction, as a spectacle well pleasing to God, and mentions the dates and places of execution (namely, Nov. 10, 1534, Nov. 18, Nov. 19, Dec. 4; Jan. 21,1535, Jan. 22, Feb. 16, 19, 26, March 3, May 5), as well as the occupations of the victims, most of whom were workingmen, one a rich merchant. This report was published in 1854 and is reprinted in Michelet’s Histoire de France (vol. X. 340 sq.).

These cruelties were justified or excused by charges of heresy, immorality, and disloyalty, and by a reference to the excesses of a fanatical wing of the Anabaptists in Münster, which took place in the same year.433433    Pour excuser envers les princes protestants les persécutions qu’on faisait contre l’Evangile." Colladon (XXI. 57). But the Huguenots were then, as their descendants have always been, and are now, among the most intelligent, moral, and orderly citizens of France.434434    Michelet (X. 339) says: "Rien de plus saint, de plus pur, que les origines du protestantisme français. Rien de plus éloignéde la sanglante orgie de Munster."

The Sorbonne urged the king to put a stop to the printing-press (Jan. 13, 1535). He agreed to a temporary suspension (Feb. 26). Afterwards censors were appointed, first by Parliament, then by the clergy (1542). The press stimulated free thought and was stimulated by it in turn. Before 1500, four millions of volumes (mostly in folio) were printed; from 1500 to 1536, seventeen millions; after that time the number is beyond calculation.435435    Michelet, l.c. 342 sq. The printing-press is as necessary for liberty as respiration for health. Some air is good, some bad; but whether good or bad, it is the condition of life.

This persecution was the immediate occasion of Calvin’s Institutes, and the forerunner of a series of persecutions which culminated under the reign of Louis XIV., and have made the Reformed Church of France a Church of martyrs.



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