William Farel


William Farel was the oldest of seven children and was born into a poor family in Gap, Dauphiné, France. He was raised to be a religious and superstitious Catholic. Farel studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew at the Sorbonne University in Paris. His main teacher was Jacques Le Fèvre d’Étaple, a professor of theology, who helped begin the Reformation in France and translated the Scripture into French, though he never left the Church of Rome. Le Fèvre d’Étaple taught Farel out of Paul’s Epistles and about the doctrine of justification by faith alone which brought Farel to salvation. In 1512 Le Fèvre d’Étaple told Farel, “My son, God will renew the world and you will witness it.” In 1517 Farel received his Master of Arts and became a teacher at the College of Cardinal Le Moine. Le Fèvre d’Étaple was forced to resign his professorship and he retired to Meaux; Farel and several other students followed him but in 1523 Farel was barred from preaching. He traveled to Basle and stayed with Œcolampadius and helped to aid the Reformation in that city until the Council, probably at the advice of Erasmus, expelled him for his zealous preaching. Farel then traveled to Zürich, where he stayed with Myconius and met with Zwingli and Grebel, he also traveled to Schaffhausen and Constance. Farel then stayed a year in Strasburg with Bucer and Capito. Ulrich Duke of Wüttemberg invited Farel to preach in Mömpelgard, he was poorly received there and returned to Strasburg for a short time. In 1526 Haller invited him to come to Bern and serve as a school teacher. Farel attended the Synod of Bern in 1528 which commissioned him as an Reformed evangelist throughout the Canton of Bern. He preached in Murat, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Valangin, Yverdun, Biel, Orbe, Avenche, St. Blaise, Grandson in the Münster valley and many other places. He preached in houses, barns, markets, forests, fields and churches. His zealous preaching angered the priests and monks, who made several attempts on his life, including trying to poison him on one occasion. Another time he was shot at but the gun exploded and Farel turned around to his attacker and calmly said, “I am not afraid of your shots.” He was beaten and left for dead in Val de Ruz near Neuchâtel. His ministry in Neuchâtel was one of his greatest victories in evangelism; though faced with fierce opposition, the Lord enabled him to firmly root the Reformation there. Farel helped bring the printer, Pierre de Vingle, to Neuchâtel, who printed many books to help advance the Reformation.   In 1532 Farel was visited by two Waldensian preachers, Georg Morel and Peter Masson. He joined them in attending a Waldensian Synod in Chanforans. He advised them to join the Reformed Church and later sent them four teachers, among them Robert Olivetan, John Calvin’s cousin. Farel led the Waldensians to sponsor the translation and printing of the French Bible, which Farel urged Robert Olivetan to translate. The French Bible was printed in Neuchâtel in 1535. In 1532 Farel met the young Christopher Libertet, known as Fabri, whom Farel helped prepare for the ministry. Fabri became like a son to Farel and later helped him minister in Neuchâtel. In 1532 after leaving the Waldensians Farel traveled to Geneva, where Zwingli had advised him to minister and where he joined Robert Olivetan who was working there as a tutor. The day after arriving in Geneva Farel was visited by several distinguished reformed minded citizens who came to ask him to preach. Through preaching the true Gospel Farel stirred up the people and he was brought before the Council, who wanted to kill him, shouting, “Away with him to the Rhone River! Kill the Lutheran dog!” They beat him and shot at him and then through the act of one council member Farel was granted protection to leave the city in three hours. As he left town he was beaten with clubs and spat on. On January 29th, 1534, Farel returned to Geneva under the protection of Bern to hold a disputation before the Council on the doctrines of the Reformation. Farel began preaching in private homes and on March 1st preached from a pulpit. Farel was joined by Pierre Viret and Antoine Froment in his labors to reform Geneva. On August 27th, 1535 the Council issued an edict of reform, which abolished the mass, forbade images and relics and expelled monks, nuns and Roman priests. The citizens pledged themselves to live according to the Bible and a school was set up to teach the basic truths of the Scripture. The bishop’s palace was converted into a prison and a hospital was established. Sermons were preached daily and all commerce was forbidden on the Lord’s Day. In August of 1536 Farel strongly urged John Calvin, who was passing through Geneva, to stay and help advance the Reformation. In April 1538 Farel and Calvin were banished from Geneva for refusing to give communion to unworthy recipients. Farel then accepted a call to serve as a pastor in Neuchâtel, where he would serve for the remainder of his life. Farel, besides pastoring his church, would go on preaching tours, ministering in Geneva, Strasburg, Metz and elsewhere. Farel also traveled with Theodore Beza working to raise aid for the Waldensians and Huguenots. In 1558, against the advice of his friends, Farel married for the first time to a young poor French refugee, Marie Torel. Though much younger than Farel Marie was a good wife for him and they had one son together, John. Farel visited and encouraged refugees in Alsace and Lorraine. When Farel heard that Calvin was dying in 1564, Farel though now 75 years old traveled to Geneva to say farewell to him. William Farel died on September 13th, 1565. His good friend Fabri succeeded him as the pastor of Neuchâtel.          



John Calvin


John Calvin was born in Noyon-la-Sainte in the province of Picardy, France in 1509. He was the son of Gérard and Jeanne Lefranc Cauvin and had four brothers and two sisters. Calvin was educated with the children of the noble family of de Monnor, through whom he acquired a refined and aristocratic air. At the age of twelve he was made a chaplain in name of the cathedral of Noyon, at eighteen the chaplain of St. Martin de Marteville and at nineteen the chaplain of Pont-l’Evèque; though he was too young to fulfill his office of chaplain and he was not ordained as a priest, the income that he received for holding these offices enabled him to study in Paris. At fourteen he followed the de Monnor boys to Paris to study at the College de la Marche. Calvin studied under the reformed minded Marthurin Cordier, who would later become a Reformed professor in Geneva. He went on to study at the College de Montaque and then at the universities of Orleans, Bourges and Paris. Calvin was a dedicated student and spent many long nights in study while in university. Calvin studied Hebrew under Melchior Wolmar, a German who openly supported Luther’s reforms. In 1531 his younger brother Antoine joined him in Paris at the time of their father’s death. Calvin immersed himself in classical Latin and Greek literature. Sometime between 1532 or 1533 Calvin wearied in striving for salvation through the works of Rome and the Lord opened his eyes to the truth. He wrote: “God himself produced the change. He instantly subdued my heart to obedience.” Of salvation Calvin wrote: “Only one haven of salvation is left open for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace, not by our merits, not by our works.” His conversion came about by the Spirit speaking through the Word. Richard Hooker wrote of Calvin: “Though thousands were debtors to Calvin, as touching divine knowledge, yet he was to none, only God.” Soon other students began seeking Calvin out to lead them into the truth and he began teaching Bible studies in his chamber. He ended each study class with the words of Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In October 1533, Calvin’s good friend Nicolas Cop was elected Rector of the University of Paris. Cop had Calvin write his inaugural speech which was a plea for reform in the church based on the standard of the New Testament. In the speech Calvin wrote: “They teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses.” The Sorbonne and the Parliament ordered Cop and Calvin to be captured dead or alive for writing and delivering this speech. Cop was able to escape to Basle and Calvin, being warned just in time, escaped out his window by using his bedsheets to repel down to the street and left Paris disguised as a vine-dresser with a hoe over his shoulder. For the next three years he traveled throughout southern France, Switzerland and Italy accompanied by his friend Louis du Tillet, preaching the Gospel, writing his Institutes and helping his cousin Robert Olivetan in translating the French Bible from Greek and Hebrew, which was printed in 1535 with a preface written by Calvin. During this time Calvin spent some time in Béarn, the capital of Queen Marguerite of Navarre, where he met Le Fèvre d’Étaple who told Calvin that he believed God would make him the future leader of the church of France. In 1534 due to the bloody persecution in France Calvin traveled to Strasburg, where he was received by Martin Bucer. Calvin then went on to Basle, where he met Heinrich Bullinger, who had come from Zürich to work on the First Helvetic Confession. While in Basle Calvin had the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion printed; which was soon translated into most European languages and became one of the foremost works of the Protestant faith and standard theological textbook for many generations of Reformed scholars. The Institutes is a scholarly and doctrinal discussion of the dogmas of the faith, the person of God the Father and Christ the Son, the fall of man, the nature of salvation and the true church and the sacraments. Calvin left Basle and went to Italy to the court of the Duchess of Renée, who was the daughter of Louis XII of France and a supporter of the Renaissance and the Reformation. But as the Italian Inquisition began to crush the Reformation Calvin left and headed back to Switzerland; in Basle du Tillet left Calvin and later returned to France and the Catholic Church. Calvin went back for a short visit in his home town and then began traveling towards Strasburg, where he hoped to settle and lead a quiet life of study and writing. He was accompanied by his younger brother and friend Antoine and his sister Marie. In late July, 1536 while traveling to Strasburg they had to make a detour to avoid a war that was being waged right in their path and stopped in Geneva to stay for the night. William Farel hearing that Calvin was in Geneva came to his lodging and urged him to stay in Geneva and help in the work of reformation. Calvin declined, telling Farel that he was not fit for the job because he was unsocial and shy and, besides, he planned to seek peace and solitude to dedicate himself to study. Farel dramatically stood before Calvin and zealously threatened:  “I declare unto thee on the part of God, that if thou refuse to labor with us here in God’s work, He will curse thee; for in pleading thy studies as an excuse for abandoning us, thou seekest thyself more than God.” Calvin was so struck with terror and a deep sense of the duty to obey God’s will instead of his own wishes that he agreed to stay. Calvin began his new ministry on September 5th, 1536 by preaching on the Epistles of Paul at the Church of St. Peter in the afternoons. He was soon voted in as the pastor. Calvin labored alongside Farel and Courault, who had come to replace Viret and was a very old, nearly blind, former Augustinian monk. Viret also would occasionally join them from his work in Lausanne. Calvin’s former professor, Marthurin Cordier, came to help and Calvin’s cousin Robert Olivetan and brother Antoine became key aides to Calvin. Calvin helped Farel in writing a Confession of Faith and Discipline, and Calvin wrote a catechism to help instruct the ignorant and unruly people of Geneva. Calvin, Farel and Courault recommended to the town council that the church in Geneva observe the Lord’s Supper once a month, only sing congregational acappella Psalms in worship, set up regular instruction for the young people, allow priests to marry and excommunicate unworthy members of the church. In the beginning the Council issued orders against immorality, foolish songs, gambling, breaking the Lord’s Day rest, infant baptism administered by midwives, and that all the images, papist relics and superstitions must be removed. Many refugees from other parts of Europe began to move to Geneva to be under the ministry of Calvin and Farel. On July 29th, 1537 the Council ordered all citizens to take an oath of allegiance to the Confession of Faith that Farel had written. In November, 1537 a less reformed minded Council was elected with several members who strongly disliked Farel and Calvin. The ministers continued their strong preaching against popery and against the new Council’s slowness in bringing about reform. All three of them were warned by the Council to not speak out on matters of politics. Courault was so vehement in his preaching, calling the people of Geneva frogs and rats, that he was imprisoned and then banished from the city. This treatment of Courault only caused Calvin and Farel to decry the Council with more zeal. The two preachers were jeered at in the streets and were threatened outside their homes at night. On Easter Morning, April 21st,1538 Calvin and Farel preached to large crowds at St. Peter’s and St. Gervais; when they told the people that they would not serve communion to this rebellious city, the people became so angry that they drew swords and began yelling at the preachers. In the evening Calvin again preached and a group of the libertarian anti-reform people or libertines brought swords and pikes into the church and violently tried to force Calvin to serve communion. After this the Council ruled that Calvin and Farel must leave the city by April 26th. Calvin calmly responded to the news by saying: “Very well, it is better to serve God than man. If we had sought to please men, we should have been badly rewarded, but we serve a higher Master, who will not withhold from us his reward.” After leaving Geneva they went to Zürich, where Bullinger tried to work as a mediator between the two preachers and the people of Geneva with no success. Farel went to Neuchâtel to minister while Calvin went to Strasburg. Calvin was warmly welcomed by Bucer, Capito, Hedio and Zell, and began lecturing and preaching. He started a Reformed church for French refugees, trained and sent out French pastors and evangelists, studied, wrote and grew in his beliefs and understanding. Calvin maintained his strong belief in the need for church discipline, which alienated some, but Calvin said: “No house, no society, can exist without order and discipline, much less the Church.” In 1539 Calvin met Philip Melanchthon and urged him to  work to help French Protestants. Calvin and Melanchthon, both studious and gracious by nature, developed a close and lasting friendship. Bucer encouraged Calvin to marry and brought his attention to Idelette De Bures, the widow of Jean Stordeur, who had been an Anabaptist minister until Calvin had brought him into the Reformed church. John Calvin married Idelette on August 10th, 1540 in a large public wedding. He called Idelette, “the excellent companion of my life, the ever faithful assistant of my ministry.” Though she lost at least three children in childbirth and another child, a son, in infancy, and was always frail and often in poor health Idelette never tired of visiting the sick and poor in Calvin’s congregations. The situation in Geneva degenerated in Calvin’s absence, and the people began to desire for order to be restored, voting in a Council that favored Calvin and reform. In October, 1540 Calvin’s friend Michel du Bois brought a letter from the Council requesting his return, which was quickly followed up by the arrival of two deputies and a herald sent to bring him back to Geneva. Calvin wrote of the request: “There is no place in the world which I fear more; not because I hate it, but because I feel unequal to the difficulties which await me there.” Martin Bucer, though desiring Calvin to continue his work in Strasburg, warned Calvin that if God was calling him to Geneva then he must fulfill the call, reminding him of the example of Jonah, and Farel, who had not been recalled, wrote to Calvin urging him to return to Geneva. Calvin reluctantly agreed to return if Pierre Viret first go and preach for a time to prepare the people for his return, which Viret did. Calvin reentered Geneva on September 13th, 1541 and the next Lord’s Day he began preaching on the text where he had left off when he had departed from Geneva. Calvin soon led the city Council in adopting a new and stricter church order. Calvin worked as a pastor, preacher, professor of theology, superintendent of churches and schools, an author, correspondent and adviser to Reformed churches throughout Europe. Many refugees, most of them highly educated, came from all over Europe to Geneva for religious freedom and to study under Calvin; between 1543 and 1550 over 8,000 refugees settled in Geneva. Italian, English and Spanish churches were organized in Geneva. The English congregation, which during Bloody Mary’s reign drew many refugees, would have a great influence on the Reformation in England and Scotland. Calvin’s sister Marie married an Englishman, William Whittingham, who worked to produce a revision of the Tyndale New Testament, and then with the help of Calvin, Beza and Knox he produced the whole Bible with study notes. This translation which was called the Geneva Bible was first printed in 1560 and became the favored text of many generations of Puritan and Presbyterian English speakers. Calvin commissioned a Psalter to be used for public worship; Clement Marot and Theodore Beza wrote the poetry while Louis Bourgeois and Maitre Pierre composed the music. The Geneva Psalter, which was finally completed in 1562, was widely used by Reformed churches throughout Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and France. In 1549 Calvin’s beloved wife died and his brother Antoine and his family moved in with him. In 1559 Calvin founded the Academy of Geneva, which was a pre-university preparatory school, or high-school, for young men who desired to become theologians and pastors. Calvin invited Theodore Beza to teach Greek and to serve as the rector at the Academy. Beza became a close friend, co-worker, counselor and eventually the successor of Calvin. Calvin helped send out church planters throughout France, assisting to found over 2,000 congregations. He attempted a mission work throughout Europe and even to Brazil. Using his sermon notes he produced many commentaries on books of the Bible. He revised and expanded his Institutes in 1559. Calvin’s teaching and preaching emphasized God’s sovereignty in salvation, the need for a personal and zealous relationship with Christ and a holy life, simple and modest life style and dress, the importance of sharing the Gospel, God’s desire for pure, simple, fully Bible based, unadorned and unadulterated worship, strict church discipline, representative government in both church and state, the duty of the state to regulate public morals and support pure doctrine, the right of the people to resist tyrants and the use of covenants in God’s ordering of the plan of salvation, as well as in family, church and state. Even though Calvin had great influence over the Council and the people through his preaching he in no way ruled Geneva and often he and the Council were at odds. Calvin preached his last sermon on February 6th, 1564 and on May 27th he went to be with the Lord. Calvin, more than any other Reformer, shaped the theology and governmental theory for many generations in Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands.      


Pierre Viret


Pierre Viret was born in Orbe, Pays de Vaud in French speaking Switzerland to a wealthy tailor and cloth maker. In 1523 he went to Paris to study for the priesthood. After a season of agony of spirit and guilt he began studying the Scriptures. He came to a saving knowledge of the true Gospel and left the Roman church before being ordained. Viret wrote: “While still at college, God took me out of the labyrinth of error before I had sunk deeper into that Babylon of Anti-christ.” Viret returned to Orbe where Farel came preaching the Gospel. Farel encouraged Viret to become a preacher in Orbe. In 1531 Viret began to preach the Gospel in Orbe and led his parents and 200 others to a saving knowledge of Christ. The next year he served Reformed communion and was invited to preach in Payerne, where a group of papists tried to kill him. In 1534 he joined Farel in Geneva to help in reforming the city. During this time there was an attempt to poison Farel and Viret, and Viret nearly died. Viret came with Farel when he went to convince Calvin to stay in Geneva. After Calvin began to labor in Geneva Viret went to minister in Lausanne, where he served for 21 years. He founded an academy to train Reformed pastors and leaders and founded and organized churches throughout de Vaud. He also worked to help the poor and needy. While in Lausanne Viret’s first wife, two of his daughters and a son died from the plague. In 1559 Viret introduced a strict church discipline like that of Farel and Calvin for which he was banished. Viret and his fellow pastors, professors and 1,000 members of his congregation moved to Geneva. Viret was elected as a minister in Geneva, where he served until 1561, when he went to minister among the persecuted French Huguenots in Lyon and Nimes. He preached to large crowds of thousands bringing many to Christ and encouraging the Reformed French church. His second wife and two daughters died of the plague while he ministered in France. He wrote over 50 books, the most noted one being his 3 volume work, The Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Gospel and the Law, and in the True Philosophy and Theology both Natural and Supernatural. In 1565 the King of France sentenced Viret to death but he was able to escape to Navarre, where Jeanne d’Albret gave him protection. In Navarre he was made the superintendent of the Academy of Orthez in Béarn. Catholic forces captured Viret and 11 other ministers and began executing them, 7 of the ministers had been killed when Protestant soldiers rescued Viret and the other 4 remaining ministers. Though taking part in many disputations Viret was peace loving, writing: “If I did not have the conviction that it was God who was pressing it on, I would never enter a controversy with a single person.” Pierre Viret died in 1571 in Navarre while preparing for a trip to the National Synod of the French Reformed Church in La Rochelle.          


Antoine Froment


Antoine Froment was born in Mens, in Dauphiné, France and was one of the first followers of William Farel. He joined Farel on many of his preaching tours. In 1532 he went to Geneva and started an elementary school to teach young boys about the Bible. In 1533 Froment preached his first sermon, which was interrupted by a band of armed priests and he barely escaped with his life. Froment did much good in helping Farel, Pierre Viret and then John Calvin in their work of reforming Geneva. Sadly, Froment did not stay faithful to his calling as a minister, leaving the ministry to become a shop keeper. He also had many family problems and in 1562 Froment was banished from Geneva for committing adultery.


Theodore Beza


Theodore Beza was born in Burgundy, Frqnce to a county bailiff in 1519. He was soon adopted and taken to Paris by his uncle Nicolas de Besze, Seigneur de Cette et de Chalonne, a councilor in the Parliament of Paris. In 1528 his uncle sent him to study under Melchior Wolmar, a German who openly supported Luther and one of John Calvin’s teachers. Beza studied law at the University of Orleans and greatly excelled as a student as well as being a social favorite. He went on to study at the University of Paris where as a wealthy, witty, handsome, outgoing, scholarly, poetic and well-connected young man he became a leader among the youths of the highest society at the university. In 1544 he secretly married Claudine Denosse. In 1548 he published a book of Latin poems written by himself that was very popular among the men of the French Renaissance. Soon after the publishing of this work Beza became very sick and almost died. During this time of sickness he remembered the truth that Wolmar had taught him and turned his life over to the Lord. After he recovered his health Beza and Claudine left Paris, turning their backs on their old life style, and traveled to Geneva, where they were publicly and properly married. In 1549 at the request of Viret, Beza went to Lausanne to be the professor of Greek at the academy that Viret had founded. Beza finished the poetry for the Geneva Psalter that Clement Marot had began and published a play on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. In 1557 Beza traveled with Farel throughout Protestant Germany and Switzerland to raise support for the persecuted Waldensians and French Huguenots. In 1558 Calvin established an academy in Geneva and brought Beza to Geneva to be the Greek professor and rector. Beza was soon installed as a pastor of one of the churches in Geneva. Beza was sent as a representative on behalf of Calvin on several diplomatic missions. In 1561 Beza took part in the Colloquy of Poissy near Paris on the matter of transubstantiation. In 1562 a civil war broke out between the Huguenots and the Catholics of France, and Beza was looked to by the Huguenots as one of their chief advisers. He traveled with the Huguenot troops and rode in the front ranks into battle, though he said that he never struck a blow. Once temporary peace was reached Beza gave his farewell sermon to the Huguenot army on March 30th, 1563 and returned to Geneva. In 1564 John Calvin died and Beza became his successor as the leader of the Genevain Church. In 1571 Beza returned to France to take part in the Synod of the Reformed Church of France in La Rochelle and served as its moderator. On August 23th, 1572 many Protestants were murdered in Paris and throughout France in the St. Bartholomew’s Eve massacre. Beza led Geneva in welcoming refugees fleeing the violence, in services of prayer and fasting and in raising large sums of money for the aid of those suffering in France. In 1589 his beloved Claudine died and a year later he married Catherine del Piano. Beza labored on many literary works, most notably the Codex Bezæ, a copy of the Greek New Testament with a parallel Latin translation with notes. The Codex Bezæ was one of the leading sources used by the revisers and translators of the English Authorized Version. Beza also wrote several histories on the Reformation in France and on the life of John Calvin. When Theodore Beza died in 1605 he left Geneva fully established in Calvinistic doctrine and he was seen as the leader of the French Reformed Church.   


Antoine de la Roche Chandieu,

also known as Sadeel


Antoine de la Roche Chandieu was born in the Castle of Chabot, near Mâcon, Burgundy into a wealthy noble family. He embraced Protestantism while studying law in Toulouse. He went on to study theology under Calvin in Geneva.  De la Roche Chandieu was ordained in 1554 and from 1556-1562 he served as a Reformed minister of a Huguenot church in Paris. On September 4th, 1557 a Huguenot service was attacked and 140 people were arrested. De la Roche Chandieu wrote a pamphlet against this persecution for which he was arrested but then released through the intervention of Antoine de Bourbon, the father of Henry IV. For a time after his arrest he ministered in Poiters until he returned to his congregation in Paris. He took a leading role in the First National Synod of Paris in 1559 and drew up the Gallican (French) Confession that was adopted by the Synod. In writing this confession de la Roche Chandieu drew heavily from John Calvin’s writings. He presided over the Third National Synod of Orléans in 1562. De la Roche Chandieu was a delegate to the Seventh National Synod of La Rochelle, which revised and re-adopted the Gallican Confession and was presided over by Theodore Beza and attended by Jeanne Queen of Navarre and her son who would later become King Henry IV. De la Roche Chandieu barely escaped being killed in the St. Bartholomew’s Eve massacre and fled to Geneva. He taught theology in Lausanne. He returned to France for a time to serve as the chaplain of Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV. In 1589 de la Roche Chandieu returned to Geneva where he labored for the remainder of his life alongside Beza, serving as a minister and teaching Hebrew. He wrote 23 books mostly on the Word of God, the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, the human nature of Christ, church discipline and the history of Protestant martyrs. A contemporary wrote of him that he was of “noble birth, fine appearance, elegant manners, learning, eloquence and rare modesty.”   


The Gallican Confession of Faith 1559

IV. We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we can not found any articles of faith.

VIII. We believe that God not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them, disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world….

XVII. We believe that by the perfect sacrifice that the Lord Jesus offered on the cross, we are reconciled to God, and justified before him….

XXI. We believe that we are enlightened in faith by the secret power of the Holy Spirit, that it is a gratuitous and special gift which God grants to whom he will, so that the elect have no cause to glory, but are bound to be doubly thankful that they have been preferred to others….

XXIII. We believe that the ordinances of the law came to an end at the advent of Jesus Christ; but, although the ceremonies are no more in use, yet their substance and truth remain in the person of him in whom they are fulfilled. And moreover, we must seek aid from the law and the prophets for the ruling of our lives, as well as for our confirmation in the promises of the gospel.

XXX. We believe that all true pastors, wherever they may be, have the same authority and equal power under one head, one only sovereign and universal bishop, Jesus Christ; and that consequently no Church shall claim any authority or dominion over any other.

XXXIV. We believe that the sacraments are added to the Word for more ample confirmation, that they may be to us pledges and seals of the grace of God, and by this means aid and comfort our faith, because of the infirmity which is in us, and that they are outward signs through which God operates by his Spirit, so that he may not signify any thing to us in vain…

Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of Meaux


Guillaume Briçonnet was born into a wealthy noble family and was made Bishop of Lodève at the age of seventeen. He had many connections at court and in 1507 he was installed as the abbot of the Abbey of Saint Germain-des-Prés. In 1516 he was chosen to fill the powerful office of the Bishop of Meaux. Jacques Lefèvre gave Briçonnet a Bible in which he learned of Christ and His full and finished work of salvation. He embraced what he learned in the Bible and began to work to reform the Diocese of Meaux. Briçonnet sought to improve the training and discipline of the clergy, and he lovingly preached to and taught the people himself. Additionally, Briçonnet invited a number of evangelical scholars to work in his bishopric to help implement his reform program. This group of scholars became known as the Circle of Meaux and included Josse van Clichtove, William Farel, Jacques Lefèvre, Martial Mazurier, Gérard Roussel and François Vatable. The members of the Meaux circle were of different talents but they generally emphasized the study of the Bible and a return to the theology of the early Church. The Circle of Meaux fully disbanded in 1525 and many of its members took a leading role in the Reformation in France. In 1523 Bishop Briçonnet was called before the Parliament to answer a charge of heresy made by the Franciscan monks of Meaux. At first Briçonnet stood firm and refused to make any concessions, but at last the alternatives were clearly laid before him – abandon Protestantism or go to prison (and he knew then to the stake perhaps). He recanted on April 12th, and was condemned to pay a fine, and to go back to his diocese and publish three edicts, the first restoring public prayers to the Virgin Mary and the saints, the second forbidding anyone to buy or read the books of Luther, and the third enjoined silence on the Protestant preachers. A stunning blow to the followers of the Lord and the Reformation at Meaux!  In the last few years of his life Briçonnet became very grieved by the persecution of the Protestants by the Roman Church and saw a number of members of his former congregation in Meaux go to their martyrdom, but he remained in communion with the Roman Catholic church to his dying day.  “His declension is one of the most memorable in the history of the Church.”- J.H. Merle D’Aubigné 

Louis de Berquin


Louis de Berquin was born of a noble family around 1490 in Vieux-Berquin. Coming into contact with scholars such as Erasmus and Jacques Lefèvre he began to study the Bible for himself and to advocate reform of the French Catholic Church from within. He desired to free France from the power of the pope. His writings aroused fierce opposition among traditional scholars, and he was imprisoned in 1523 by the authority of the Parliament. However, King Francis I and his sister Marguerite of Valois intervened in his behalf, and he was released. This happened four times. Marguerite (later Queen of Navarre) especially defended him, writing, “… Berquin whom I esteem as much as if he were myself….” In a letter to Erasmus, Berquin accused the divinity professors of Sorbonne of impiety. A Protestant controversialist has written: “Louis de Berquin was of noble birth. A brave and courtly knight, he was devoted to study, polished in manners, and of blameless morals. ‘He was,’ says a writer, ‘a great follower of the papistical constitutions, and a great hearer of masses and sermons;... and he crowned all his other virtues by holding Lutheranism in special abhorrence.’ But, like so many others, providentially guided to the Bible, he was amazed to find there 'not the doctrines of Rome, but the doctrines of Luther.' Henceforth he gave himself with entire devotion to the cause of the gospel.” Theodore Beza said: “Berquin would have been a second Luther, had he found in Francis I a second Elector.” On April 16, 1529 the French Parliament condemned him to watch as his books were burned, to have his tongue pierced, and then to be imprisoned without reading material or pen and ink for life. When Berquin refused, even by silence, to condone the condemnation of truth, he was returned to prison. On April 22nd, 1529 Berquin, one of the first nobles of France, was brought out from prison, dressed in his finest clothes, “But am I not, said Berquin, “to be this day presented at court – not that of Francis, but that of the Monarch of the Universe?”, and burned at the stake.

Gérard Roussel


Gérard Roussel was a French cleric, a student of Jacques Lefèvre of d'Étaples and later a member, with his former teacher, of the Circle of Meaux around Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of Meaux. This group was characterized by evangelical beliefs, but all the while remaining in the Catholic church, at a time when religious identities were unclear and a matter of dispute, due to the recent beginning of the Protestant Reformation. When the Circle of Meaux was broken up in 1525, Roussel, like most of its members and, unlike William Farel, stayed within the Catholic Church. He then became the personal preacher of Marguerite of Navarre, queen consort of Navarre; under her patronage, he became bishop of the diocese of Oloron, within the kingdom of Navarre in 1536. John Calvin addressed on this occasion a letter to Roussel, mostly condemnatory, in which he said:

“You [Roussel], who were once blaming the excesses of the Roman clergy, now accept a dignity that forces you to recognize the Mass, although you see it as idolatry, and to pronounce excommunications, although you recognize their injustice.”

At Queen Marguerite’s invitation and insistence Roussel preached in the Louvre, the palace in Paris. He proclaimed the salvation obtained by living faith, and the necessity of belonging to the invisible Church of the saints, instead of attacking the Roman religion. On his advice, measures quite similar to some aspects of the Protestant Reformation were introduced, such as preaching in vernacular rather than Latin, yet without formally breaking away from Catholicism. A timid man and one of the most moderate of 16th century theologians, Roussel said of the Roman Catholic Church: “God’s house ought to be purified, no doubt, but not destroyed….We must cleanse the Church, but not by setting it on fire. If we take upon ourselves to pull it down, we shall be crushed under the ruins.”

“My dear children….the death of Christ is a real atonement. There is no sin so small as not to need it, or so great that it cannot be blotted out by it. Praying to God is not muttering with the lips: prayer is an ardent and serious converse with the Lord.” – Roussel

Jacques Lefèvre

Jacques Lefèvre was born about the middle of 15th century in Etaples, a village of Picardy. He was the “Morning Star of the Reformation” on a small scale to France as Wycliffe was on a large scale to England. Lefèvre was in all points a remarkable man; endowed with a capacious and inquisitive intellect, he had studied and was proficient in almost all the fields of study that were open to those times, the ancient languages, belles letters (the study of beautiful poetry and oratory), history, mathematics, philosophy, and theology.  Lefèvre’s thirst for knowledge caused him to visit and learn from what Asia, Africa and other countries in Europe had to offer.  He was small of stature, meek, amiable, candid, and full of loving kindness, all that knew him loved him. A devout Catholic all his life, Lefèvre was never absent from mass or the processions and spent a long time on his knees praying to the saints. He was appointed a chair in the Sorbonne, or Theological Hall, of the Paris University and drew a crowd of admiring students around himself. While working to collect and rewrite the stories of the lives of Catholic saints, Lefèvre had the idea that he might find some helpful information in the Bible for his task. Studying the Bible, which he could read in the original languages, Lefèvre had the plan of a free justification revealed to him when he was nearing the age of 70. “It is God who gives us, by faith, that righteousness which by grace alone justifies to eternal life.” – Lefèvre In 1512 Lefèvre began teaching his students what he was learning in the Bible. William Farel was a student of Lefèvre and they became great friends. Lefèvre translated the New Testament into French; it was published in its entirety on October 12th, 1524 at Meaux. Bishop Briçonnet furthered Lefèvre’s work on the New Testament with all his power, sparing neither gold nor silver and giving the poor people copies of it gratis.  Lefèvre’s Scriptural teachings caused a great commotion at the Sorbonne, the school and citadel of scholasticism, and its leaders took alarm; they asked the king to put down the new opinions with force, which he declined to do. Lefèvre, however, knowing the danger of remaining, quit Paris and went to live and work at Meaux at Bishop Briçonnet’s invitation. When Bishop Briçonnet recanted, and as a result of that all the Protestant preachers were enjoined to silence, Lefèvre left Meaux and went first to Strasburg, then ultimately to Nérac. The aged Lefèvre still indulged the vain hope of seeing Catholicism reform itself. “There ought to be only one Church,” he would often say, and this belief prevented his separation from Rome.  At Nérac John Calvin came to see him, and sought to remove Lefèvre’s illusions about the Catholic church, showing him that we must receive everything from the Word and grace of God. Lefèvre was moved, after some reflection, he said weeping, “Alas! I know the truth, but I keep myself apart from those who profess it.”

 “Salvation is of grace. The Innocent One is condemned and the criminal is acquitted. It is the cross of Christ alone that openeth the gates of heaven and shutteth the gates of hell.” -  Jacques Lefèvre to his pupils


François de Morel

François de Morel was a pastor who ministered at the Church of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in 1556, and later in Paris and Montargis. Morel lived in Geneva at a couple different times; he was a pupil and friend of John Calvin. It was during his stay in Paris that he was called to preside, in his capacity as Minister of the Church of Paris, over the First National Synod, which formulated the Confession of Faith and declared the Discipline of the Protestant churches of France. Morel was among the ministers who attended the Colloquy of Poissy.

Queen Marguerite of Navarre

 Queen Marguerite was the first lady of royal blood to embrace the Reformed doctrines. She was one of the most beautiful princesses of her time, learned and considered to have the best head in Europe by the statesmen of her day. Above all, though, shown Marguerite’s piety and beauty of soul. Without her influence and protection the Protestants in France would have been wiped out right away. Her brother, King Francis I of France, often said of Marguerite that “My sister Marguerite is the only woman I ever knew who had every virtue and every grace without any admixture of vice.” Marguerite was born on April 11, 1492 at Angoulême to Comte Charles de Valois-Orléans and Louisa of Savoy. As a girl she heard the Frenchman Jacques Lefèvre preaching the Gospel, teaching that Christ saves and not the church and that the church needed purifying herself. Jacques Lefèvre’s preaching, along with Bishop Briçonnet’s letters were used of the Lord to bring Marguerite to the evangelical faith at a young age. In the corrupt court of Louisa of Savoy Marguerite preached Christ with wonderful sweetness and influenced many of the nobility to become Reformed.  Marguerite’s brother Francis I loved her very much (though he cared nothing for the Reformed faith), and she used her influence over him to spread and protect Protestantism in France, and to introduce Protestant influences at court. Later, when Marguerite found she could no longer use her influence to propagate Protestantism in France, she used it to protect the Reformed, and often saved their lives, especially after the persecutions began. Among those she helped to gain their release from prison was Clement Marot, her valet de chambre and the best poet of his age, who did the French versification of the Psalms which were sung in the French church for centuries. Francis I, out of respect for Marguerite, never allowed any Protestants to be put to death while she was in Paris. Through Marguerite’s influence Philip Melanchthon was invited to visit France, and French reformers, such as Roussel and Lefèvre, were invited to return to France after fleeing to Strasburg. Marguerite was the first great female poetess of the Reformation, publishing in 1533 a volume of religious poems entitled The Mirror of a Sinful Soul, a commentary on “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.” The Catholics were incensed that she never mentioned their doctrines of human merit, the intercession of saints and purgatory in her poems, instead she dwelt on the great sacrifice of Christ for sin. The Romanists hated Marguerite and plotted against her, but were providentially kept from harming her. She also wrote Heptaméron, a collection of 72 tales illustrating the triumphs of virtue, honour, and quickwittedness and the frustration of vice and hypocrisy, with a strong element of satire against the licentious and grasping monks and clerics.


O Thou my Priest, my Advocate, my King,

On whom depends my life, my everything

O Lord, who first didst drain the bitter cup of woe,

And knowest its poison (if man e’er did know),

These thorns how sharp, these wounds how deep-

Saviour, Friend, King, oh, plead my cause, I pray;

Speak, help, and save me, lest I fall away.

-Queen Marguerite of Navarre


Marguerite’s first husband, Charles, duc d’Alençon, died in 1525. She married again in 1527 to King Henry II of Navarre, a Romanist. Navarre is a small mountain kingdom between France and Spain. The doctrines of the Reformation had not yet entered the kingdom of Navarre. Queen Marguerite at once set about spreading them by her example and influence. Marguerite usually had private evangelical services in her apartments with Roussel or Lefèvre preaching. Her husband while not pleased did nothing to oppose her except on one occasion when he came home and learned that she was listening to preaching in her apartments. Angered King Henry went to Marguerite’s apartments. He found her alone as the others, having been warned, had escaped. He struck Marguerite in the face, and said, “Madame, you desire to know too much.” Marguerite reported this insult, too great to be passed over, to her brother. This was too much for Francis I that his beloved sister should be treated thus, so he set out for Navarre, threatening war. The news of Francis’ intentions frightened Henry and he begged his wife’s forgiveness and promised to not only allow Reformed worship, but also to investigate the Reformed doctrines himself. This led to Henry’s conversion. Navarre became an asylum for the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France. Queen Marguerite loved to invite the leading Huguenots to her palace where they would discuss Scripture around her table, and she would often take part in the discussions. Queen Marguerite died December 21st, 1548 rejoicing in hope and calling on Jesus to save her. “God,” she said, “I am assured, will carry forward the work he has permitted me to commence, and my place will be filled by my daughter, who has the energy and moral courage, in which, I fear, I have been deficient.” Her dying hope was wonderfully fulfilled in her daughter, Jeanne d’Albret, who bravely fought battles for the Huguenots, and in her grandson, King Henry IV of France, who signed the Edict of Nantes which gave the Huguenots liberty to worship in France.

Would that the day were come, O Lord,

So much desired by me,

When by the cords of heavenly love

I shall be drawn to Thee,

United in eternal life

The husband Thou and I the wife.


That wedding day, O Lord,

My heart so longs to see,

That neither fame nor wealth nor rank

Can give to me;

To me the world no more

Can yield delight;

Unless Thou, Lord, be with me here,

Lo! All is as dark as night.

-Queen Marguerite of Navarre


Queen Jeanne D’Albret of Navarre

1528 – 1572

Jeanne was the only child of King Henry II and Queen Marguerite of Navarre. Jeanne was an open, frank, fearless girl, the very soul of truth. She is described as fair with violet eyes and a generous open countenance. She was raised and educated in France because the king of France wanted to retain control of her. Jeanne was surrounded by Roman Catholic influences during her youth and was not introduced to the Protestant faith until she was allowed to go home to her mother at the age of 18.  She had a predilection for her mother’s faith, but it was after her mother’s death as she reflected on that event and on the fact of her husband Antoine, duke of Vendome, embracing Catholicism under the influence of Catherine de Medici, that Jeanne carefully examined the subject of reform in the Catholic church and the doctrines, practices and forms of worship taught by the Reformers and embraced by the Huguenots both in their personal bearings and how they related to politics. Jeanne embraced the Protestant faith wholeheartedly, she was a Huguenot by profession and principle, and she never deviated from her attachment to the principles of the Reformation in all her future life. Religion to Jeanne was the reality of immeasurable importance. On one occasion she said, “If I held in my hand the kingdom of Navarre and the Prince, my son, I would sooner cast them both into the sea then partake of the mass.” She had the Bible translated into the dialects of her dominions. Jeanne had great moral courage, adroitness, boldness, and ability as a stateswoman. After her husband died fighting with the Romanists before the walls of Rouen  (he went back and forth between the Catholics and Protestants all his life, but it is said he returned to the Reformed faith at the time of his death) she abolished Romanism in Navarre as the Catholics were always plotting against her. Many times the Lord delivered Jeanne from death by her enemies, and from plots against her kingdom, and caused even her enemies to work for her by His kind providence.  She did much to militarily defend the cause of the Reformation and the Huguenots in France and in her kingdom of Navarre. Jeanne foresaw that the defeat of the Huguenots in France would also mean the downfall of her kingdom and she threw the fortunes of herself and her son Henry into the battle with the Huguenots against the French Catholic government that was seeking to destroy them. It was her pleadings that caused Queen Elizabeth of England to come to the aid of the Huguenots. It was Queen Jeanne who was able to rally the Huguenot army from their gloom and grief to fight on after the death of their idolized leader Condé, saying, “Soldiers, you weep. But does the memory of Condé demand nothing but profitless tears? No, let us unite and summon back our courage to defend a cause which can never perish and to avenge him who was its firm support. Does despair overwhelm you-despair, that shameful feeling of weak natures?… Because Condé is dead, is all therefore lost? Does our cause cease to be just and holy? No; God, who has already rescued you from perils innumerable, has raised up brothers in arms worthy to succeed Condé. To these leaders I add my own son. Make proof of his valor….Behold also Condé’s son, the worthy inheritor of his father’s virtues. …Soldiers, I offer to you everything in my power to bestow- my dominions, my treasures, my life, and that which is dearer to me than all, my children. I make here a solemn oath before you all – and you know me too well to doubt my word- I swear to defend to my last sigh the holy cause which now unites us, which is that of honor and truth.” With Admiral Gaspárd Coligny and her son Queen Jeanne helped to lead the Huguenot army to victory, forcing the Catholics to make peace at last. She was never conquered in all her wars. The Romanists now tried to conquer by diplomacy and deceit what they were unable to do by war, laying the plans for what ultimately culminated in the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, the first step of which was to get Queen Jeanne’s son Henry to marry the daughter of the king of France. Jeanne objected, but at last being forced by all her councilors to do so, she reluctantly signed the marriage contract. She felt there was deception somewhere and injury was coming to the Huguenots. Her anxieties were too much for her; she took sick before the wedding and died on June 9th, 1572, with her Bible beside her, saying, “I have never feared death. I do not dare to murmur at the will of God, but I grieve deeply to leave my children exposed to so many dangers. Still I trust it all to Him.”  


At the beginning of the 16th century, in the mercy of God, the Reformation entered the country of France. It would deeply divide the nation; the French people have the characteristic that whatever cause they embrace they do so wholeheartedly, and whatever they oppose, they do so with equal enthusiasm. On one hand were men of colossal wickedness, on the other were men of colossal piety, virtue, and trust in God who attained to the heights of endurance, heroism, and self-sacrifice.

 “The Reformation of France came out of the Bible as really as the light which kindles mountain and plain at daybreak comes out of heaven….The Word of God, like God himself, is light; and from that enduring and inexhaustible source came forth that welcome day which, after a long and protracted night, broke upon the nations in the morning of the sixteenth century.” –James A. Wylie

King Francis I of France ascended the throne in 1515. His pious sister Marguerite would later become Queen of Navarre. Francis I embodied the three characteristics of his age – valor, gallantry, and letters (he had a fine intellect and cultivated this last with ardor). He aspired to be a great king, but his decision to cast his lot in with Rome against the Reformation and his moral instability forbade the realization of his goal.

The first Protestant congregation in France was at Meaux, little among the magnificent cities of France; its members were made up exclusively of the working class, called by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, were meek in spirit, loving in heart and holy in life. “Let us mark them at the close of the day. Their toil ended, they diligently repaired from the workshop, the vineyard, the field, and assembled in the house of one of their number. They opened and read the Holy Scriptures; they conversed about the things of the Kingdom; they joined together in prayer, and their hearts burned within them. Their numbers were few, their sanctuary was humble…; but ONE was in the midst of them…even he who has said, ‘Lo, I am with you always’-and where he is, there is the Church.” –James A. Wylie The work of the Lord among the people of Meaux showed clearly the beauty and change from darkness to light that happens when the Gospel is received with all the heart and mind and diligently and lovingly lived out. Many people, hearing a report of the “strange things” happening at Meaux, came to verify it for themselves, heard the sermons of the Protestant preachers, were given French New Testaments, and often when they returned to their homes and towns they planted the seed of the Gospel which they had received at Meauxand founded churches.

Clement Marot, the lyrical poet, undertook the task of putting the Psalms into metre for singing; it is believed to have been at the request of John Calvin. Marot published the first thirty of these versified Psalms in 1541 and added another twenty in 1543. In 1543 the enlarged Psalter of fifty Psalms was published at Geneva with a preface by John Calvin. Editions were also published in Holland, Belgium, France, and Switzerland; the demand for the Psalter was so great that the printing presses could not meet it. After Marot’s death in 1544, Theodore Beza completed the task of versifying the Psalms, copying Marot’s style and spirit, giving to Christendom the first entire book of the Psalms in metre of any living language. All France was delighted and captivated by the majesty and sweetness of the Psalms; they were sung by all Frenchmen from King Henry II and the nobles, down to the workers in the shops and vineyards.  At first the Psalms were sung to common ballad music, but Calvin, knowing the power of music to advance the Reformation and feeling the incongruity and indelicacy of singing the Psalms to profane airs, invited the most eminent musicians in Europe to write new music for them. William Franc of Strasburg answered Calvin’s request and wrote music for Marot’s Psalter, including the “Old Hundredth”.

The first martyr in Paris was Jacques Pavane, a disciple of Jacques Lefèvre, a youth of the sweetest disposition, lacking somewhat in constitutional courage. Coming to faith in Jesus Christ, Pavane began telling his neighbors that the Virgin Mary could no more save them than he could, and that there was only one Saviour, Jesus Christ. Because of this testimony to the truth, Pavane was apprehended and brought to trial and given the alternative of making a public recantation or going to the stake. Terrified of death in such a dreadful form, Pavane consented to do penance for what he had said. But his peace and joy in the Saviour was gone. Pavane repented of his denial of his Saviour, confessed anew his faith in Christ, and with unflinching courage went to the stake and sealed his testimony with his blood at the Place de Grève in Paris where nearly three hundred years later the French Revolution set up its guillotine.

In France the government was so powerful there was hardly a hope of the Reformation succeeding there in the conversion of the majority of the nation unless the throne was won to Protestantism; and that was not to be. Francis I wavered at times, but ultimately chose to stay with Rome and persecuted the Huguenots. His son King Henry II sought to finish what his father could not do, that is, exterminate the Huguenots; his wife the wicked Italian Catherine de Medici carried that wish forward after his death during the reigns of their sons, in which, except for a couple seasons, she was the real ruler of France.

In 1534 the French Protestants sent to William Farel and other reformers in Switzerland for advice on how to advance the Reformation in France. They were given the answer that they should boldly advance and halt no longer, and show their forward movement by attacking the mass vigorously. A paper was written against the mass (authorship not certain, it has been credited to Farel) which was to be printed and distributed all over France. It was a terrific thunder blast and a bold denunciation against the mass. On reading the paper the French church was divided on whether it should publish such a fulmination, as it could bring such a destructive tempest of wrath on the church (as indeed it did). But the majority decided in favor of publishing it; and so on the night of October 24th, 1534 it was spread all over France, including the door of the king’s cabinet, in the form of placards put up on walls and posts and papers spread in the streets. The king was outraged: “Let all [who had a part in the placards] be seized, and let Lutheranism be totally exterminated!” The priests were glad of the pretext to strike a blow at the Protestants. A horrible retaliation ensued in which a multitude of Protestants, truly or only suspected, were indiscriminately arrested, imprisoned, and many burnt at the stake in Paris. Many, between 400 and 500 initially, of all ranks and occupations, printers, nobles, goldsmiths, teachers, the king’s privy purse-bearer, monks, priests and lawyers, fled from France to Basle, Strasburg, and elsewhere; the first to tread the road which would be trodden by thousands of their countrymen in the years to come, fleeing the insane fury of the persecutor.  

“Tears and prayers” are our weapons, John Calvin told his afflicted countrymen. “Persecutions are the true combats of Christians to try the constancy and firmness of their faith. Wherefore being assailed, what ought they to do but to fly to arms? Now our arms to combat valiantly in this cause, and resist the enemy, are to fortify ourselves by what God shows us in his word.”

Geneva did much to help their brethren and to advance the Protestant faith in France. Bibles and other books flowed from their printing presses into France as did letters of encouragement from John Calvin. At least 121 ministers of the Gospel were sent from Geneva to France in the eleven years between 1555 and 1566. They held meetings quietly and preached the Gospel in most of the cities of France with many coming to the Reformed faith.

In 1559 150 Huguenot leaders secretly organized the First National Synod of Reformed Churches of France in Paris amidst great danger, “hence the fewness of their number,” says Beza. It was held in Paris even though the scaffold was set up all over the land because the gathering of such a group would attract less notice in a large city. The delegates were in full agreement on the confession of faith they adopted. “Men did close thinking and lingered long and prayerfully over the living oracles, before giving to the public a statement of doctrine for which they might have to die.” –R.C. Reed in History of the Presbyterian Churches of the World Rules of Church Discipline were also written for the French churches similar to those at Geneva, Wittemburg and Strasburg; the delegates availed themselves of John Calvin’s counsel and took as their motto “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren” as they executed this great task. The Synod sat for four days, completed their business, and reached their homes again in safety. There followed after the Synod a time of great prosperity in the French church.

“The holy Word of God is duly, truly, and powerfully preached in churches and fields, in ships and houses, in vaults and cellars, in all places where the Gospel ministers can have admission and conveniency, and with singular success. Multitudes are converted, established and edified. Christ rideth out upon the white horse of the ministry, with the sword and the bow of the Gospel preached, conquering and to conquer. His enemies fall under him, and submit themselves unto him. Oh! The unparalleled success of the plain and earnest sermons of the first Reformers! Multitudes flock in like doves into the windows of God’s ark….The Popish churches are drained, the Protestant churches are filled. The priests complain that their alters are neglected; their masses are now indeed solitary….Children and persons of riper years are catechized in the rudiments and principles of the Christian religion, and can give a satisfactory account of their faith, a reason of the hope that is in them….” – Quick in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata on the era following the meeting of the First National Synod

Henry II, the son of Francis I, was king of France from 1547 -1559. He was married to Catherine de Medici, and was a weak and pleasure loving man. He greatly persecuted the Protestants in France, and gave assistance to the German Protestants with the goal of keeping Germany weak and divided. He was killed accidently while jousting in his forty first year. The power of the house of Guise grew during his reign.

Francis II was 16 when he began to reign in 1559. He was the first husband of Mary Queen of Scots (niece of the Guise family), and without morals and principles, weak of mind and body. The Guises, at first rivals with Francis II’s mother, Catherine de Medici, then in alliance with her, conducted the affairs of state. Francis took measures against the Protestants. He died in 1560.

Charles IX, the brother of Francis II, was nine and half years old when he began his reign in 1560. He was entirely under the influence of his mother. Charles authorized the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre under the direction of his mother. Guilt concerning the massacre haunted him for the rest of life; physically, mentally, and emotionally he declined and died on May 30, 1574. When Charles was nearing his death a strange and frightening malady seized him, blood began to ooze from all his pores and he would awake covered with what appeared to be a sweat of blood, a crimson mark on the bedclothes showing where he had lain. At his death a Huguenot nurse was the one who cared for him. Charles sobbing said to her, “Ah, nurse, dear nurse, what blood, what murders! Ah, I have followed bad advice. Oh, my God, forgive me! Have piety on me, if it please thee. I do not know what will become of me. What shall I do? I am lost; I see it plainly.” The nurse replied, “Sire, may the murders be on those who made you do them; and since you do not consent to them, and are sorry for them, believe that God will not impute them to you, but will cover them with the robe of His Son’s justice. To him alone you must address yourself.”

Henry III of France reigned from 1574 until 1589. He had the command of the royal army against the Huguenots during the reign of his brother Charles IX, and the wars with the Huguenots continued during Henry’s reign. The Catholics regarded him as a lukewarm defender of the Catholicism and sought to depose Henry. He allied himself with Henry of Navarre and laid siege to Paris. Henry had the Duke of Guise and his brother Louis, the cardinal of Lorraine, assassinated, this greatly angered the Catholics. A fanatical Jacobin friar gained admission to Henry III’s presence and stabbed him. Henry III died the next day, childless, and he acknowledged Henry of Navarre as his heir and successor.

Massacre of St. Bartholomew Eve in August of 1572 was on the occasion of the marriage of Henry III of Navarre to Margaret of Valois, the sister of Charles IX when many Huguenots were in Paris to attend the wedding.  Gaspárd Coligny was murdered and there was a general massacre of the French Protestants in Paris and in the provinces by Catholic conspirators with royal support. Henry III saved his life by a pretended conversion to Catholicism. The massacre lasted for seven days in Paris and continued for two months throughout the kingdom. Although the numbers are disputed, it is estimated that ten thousand people were slain in Paris and not less than seventy thousand throughout France. Not a few municipalities and governors, to their honor, refused to obey the orders to slaughter the Protestants: Vicompte d’Orte writing to the King Charles IX, “Sire, among the citizens and garrison of Bayonne, you have many brave soldiers, and loyal subjects, but not one hangman.”

King Henry III of Navarre and IV of France succeeded Henry III of France to the throne after his death in 1589. The son of the godly Queen Jeanne of Navarre, Henry was very carefully instructed in the doctrines of Protestantism as a child. After Admiral Gaspárd de Coligny had fallen Henry came to the fore in leading the Huguenot armies; “he was young, chivalrous, heartily with the Protestants, and full of dash in the field. His soldiers never feared to follow wherever they saw his white plume waving ‘amidst the ranks of war.’” (James A. Wylie)  However, as a Protestant Henry of Navarre had to fight and bargain his way to the throne. In 1593 to the great disappointment of the Huguenots, Henry converted to Catholicism to secure the French throne, reportedly saying “Paris is worth a mass.” He married Margaret of Valois, which was the occasion of the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. The marriage was later annulled. Henry was an astute and strong leader in the affairs of state and war; but showed much folly in the affairs of the heart. In 1598 Henry signed the Edict of Nantes.

“By 1562 there were as many as two million Protestants (perhaps ten per cent of the population) and over two thousand Reformed churches in France, despite repeated royal censures and harsh persecution. Some of the Huguenot churches, such as the church of Orleans, which had seven thousand communicants and five pastors, were very large.” – David B. Calhoun

The Religious Wars between the Catholics and Protestants were from 1562 -1598. Terrible and continued persecution drove the Huguenots to take up arms in their defense, at the same time they formed a political party. Taking advantage of monarchial weakness, between two-fifths and one-half of the nobility at one time or another adopted the reformed religion, some using it as a cloak for political independence; the struggles constituted civil as well as religious war. Many new capitalists and artisans turned Protestant. Paris and the northeast remained Catholic throughout.

“Protestantism in France, so… [Admiral] Coligny [and others] judged, had nothing for it but to stand to its defense. A tyranny, exercised in the king’s name, but none the less an audacious usurpation, was trampling on law, outraging all rights, and daily destroying by horrible deaths the noblest men in France, and the Protestants felt that they owed it to their faith, to their country, to the generations to come, and to the public liberties and Reformation of Christendom, to repel force by force, seeing all other means of redress were denied them.” –James A. Wylie

The “War of the Three Henrys” was fought from 1587 to 1589 between Henry de Lorraine, Duke of Guise leading the ultra- Roman Catholic faction, Henry of Navarre leading the Huguenots, and Henry III, king of France and head of the royalist party found himself caught between the other factions. The Catholic faction triumphed in spite of a victory at Coutras gained by Henry of Navarre; Henry of Guise entered Paris with acclamation as the King of Paris, the feeble resistance of Henry III was broken by a popular insurrection. Henry III fled to Blois, where he summoned the Estates General of France, but found no support from them against the Holy League (Henry of Guise’s party), so he had Henry of Guise and his brother Louis, the cardinal of Lorraine assassinated on Dec. 23rd, 1588. At this news, a revolt of the Catholic party broke out, headed by the Duke of Mayenne, brother of Henry and Louis of Guise. Henry III fled to Henry of Navarre in the Huguenot camp where he was assassinated in a suburb of Paris by Jacques Clément on July 31st, 1589. Henry of Navarre defeated the Duke of Mayenne at Arques in 1589. The war destroyed agriculture in many parts of France and severely weakened commerce. France experienced thirteen general famines in the 1500s.  

Admiral Gaspárd de Coligny

1517- 1572

Admiral Gaspárd de Coligny (1517- Aug. 24th, 1572) was born of the ancient and honorable house of Chatillon and the powerful family of Montmorency. His father died when Coligny was five; his mother Louise de Montmorency, a virtuous and sincerely pious lady, taught him by her example and instructions that which afterwards bore such noble fruit for the cause of France’s religion and liberty. Coligny illustrates the fact that greatness of soul is a much more desirable possession than mere greatness of rank. He chose the profession of arms over that of the Church. He excelled in military tactics and greatly distinguished himself on the field of battle and as a great administrator and reformer of the military. He married in 1547 Charlotte Laval, a woman of magnanimous soul and enlightened piety, who was worthy of being the wife of such a noble man, her wise counsel helping to guide him in critical moments of his life. At an early age, while a prisoner of the Spaniards, Coligny read the Bible and some religious writings, and formed his attachment to the Reformed doctrines. But he was slow to make a profession of those doctrines for which men were being burned daily until he had read, studied and conversed with Reformed pastors and was fully persuaded in his own mind with all his doubts resolved, because having put his hand to the plough he would not look back. Coligny made an open profession of his Protestant faith in 1559 after Henry II died, and became a hero and leader of the Huguenots as he tirelessly crusaded for religious freedom for the Huguenots in France. Admiral Coligny was killed by Besme, a German mercenary, on August 24th, 1572 in Paris in the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre.  “I admonish and conjure you, in the name of God, to preserve courageously in the study of virtue.” - Admiral Gaspárd de Coligny to his children

Prince Louis I Condé was born May 7th, 1530, the brother of Anthony de Bourbon, King of Navarre. Condé was of French royal blood and a military leader of the Huguenots during the first decade of France’s Religious Wars. He attached himself to the Huguenot cause with the sincere conviction that the Reformation doctrines were true, favorable to liberty, and their triumph would contribute to the greatness of France, though his licentious way of life accorded ill with Huguenot beliefs. He was killed while fighting to save Admiral Gaspárd de Coligny at Jarnac on March 13, 1569.

The Edict of Nantes was enacted on April 13th, 1598 and ended the civil religious wars. This edict gave the Huguenots equal political rights with the Catholics, opening public offices up to the Huguenots, but it did not give complete freedom of religious worship throughout all of France. The edict granted the free exercise of the Protestant religion to nobles having the right of criminal jurisdiction, and to the citizens of a certain number of cities and towns. Protestant worship was prohibited in all the episcopal and archiepiscopal cities, at the court of the king and in Paris, and within a circle of 20 miles around the capital. The Huguenots obtained some fortified towns and were recognized to a certain degree as an armed political party.   

The Colloquy at Poissy assembled on September 9th, 1561 for the discussion and adjustment of the differences between the Protestants and Roman Catholics, to see if they could be united and peace brought to France. The Chancellor Michal L’Hôpital called for reform according the Bible in a long speech saying in essence “Let us not pre-judge the cause we are met to discuss, let us receive these men [the Protestants] as brethren-they are Christians as well as ourselves; let us not waste time in subtleties, but with all humility proceed to the reformation of the doctrine of the Church, taking the Bible as the arbiter of all our differences.” Theodore Beza spoke with erudition and eloquence for the Protestants; Cardinal Lorraine for the Catholics. The Colloquy was brought to an end by the Catholics and did not accomplish its purpose, which it is clear had never been intended by the Catholics. The Colloquy had some very important and favorable results; it prompted the inquiry “Is Romanism simply a corruption of the Gospel, or rather, has it not changed in the course of the ages into a system alien from and antagonistic to Christianity, and can there in that case be a possibility of reconciling the two faiths?”, it raised the Reformation higher in the public estimation, a fresh impulse was given to the movement, and some important towns and hundreds of villages left the communion of Rome after the Colloquy was held.