Certain Accusations Against the Church: Part 4
Fr. W. Devivier, SJ
Edited by Bishop S.G. Messmer, DD, DCL
Bishop of Green Bay, Wisc.
Imprimatur, 1903


1. HISTORICAL NOTICE.----In 1572, on the eve of the feast of St. Bartholomew, [1] Charles IX, yielding to the insistence of Catherine de Medici, his mother, gave order for the massacre of Admiral Coligny and the other Huguenot leaders living in Paris or who had recently come to assist at the marriage of the King of Navarre with Margaret of Valois. The populace of Paris had long regarded the Huguenots with hatred; they had not forgotten the promise of the pillage of the capital made by the reformers to the crafty followers recruited in Germany. Thus, when excited by the sight of the blood shed on this memorable night by the emissaries of the king, they rose in their turn, and venting their rage upon the Protestants, put them to the sword before any authority could quell their violence or arrest the carnage. From the 25th of August to the 30th of October similar massacres took place in several other cities of the kingdom.

We have no need to examine this event here from a historical point of view. We shall find it most carefully treated in M. Kervyn's beautiful work, Les Huguenots et les Gueux. The minute researches of this historian, who advances nothing which is not supported by authentic documents, throws great light on this terrible drama. Our duty is to demonstrate that there is not the shadow of foundation for holding religion responsible for this event. If there ever was anything clearly demonstrated by the most incontestable documents, it is that the St. Bartholomew massacre was a purely political event; religion had no part in it, neither was it the agent or pretext, nor did it counsel it. No cardinal, no bishop, no priest took part in the deliberations concerning the massacre, any more than in its execution.

It is true that at the news of this terrible stroke of state policy Gregory XIII had solemn thanksgiving offered to God, went in procession to the churches of St. Mark and St. Louis, and had a medal struck commemorative of the occasion. But we know what was the real and only object of this demonstration: the court of Valois sent word to the Pope that a terrible conspiracy against the throne had been happily discovered and frustrated. Similar notices were sent to the provinces of the kingdom and to all the Christian courts. Later, when the whole truth was known, the sovereign Pontiff in his discourses and----in his bulls publicly manifested his horror at the crime which had been perpetrated.

We cannot hope, however, to see the enemies of the Church relinquish this weapon. Despite the refutations of learned Protestants themselves, they persist in affirming that the ministers of Catherine de Medici's vengeance were animated by religious hatred; and the better to excite the passions they continue, with Voltaire and a celebrated modern opera, to mingle crucifixes with poignards, and to represent the cardinal Charles de Lorraine, who was in Rome at the time, as blessing in Paris the poignards destined for the massacre.

REMARKS.----1st. It may be well to observe that the number of victims in the massacre has been singularly exaggerated. It is impossible to get at the exact truth on this point: the figures of the historians differ, but it has been established as very probable that the number of victims did not exceed two thousand----an enormous figure, no doubt, but considerably less than the thirty thousand quoted by certain authors, and particularly the one hundred thousand hazarded by Perefixe. What confidence, moreover, can be placed in accounts where palpable contradictions meet one at every step? The Martyrology published by the Calvinists in 1582 speaks of 15,168 victims, but names only 786. Yet the author had every reason to magnify this number; he wrote, moreover, at a time when the crime was fresh and vivid in all minds; and as his list contains only names of very little importance, we may believe that he gathered every item that could increase the number of the martyrs and swell the volume of the martyrology.

2d. Nor is there any proof that the massacre had been long premeditated; the contrary seems to be well established. M. Kervyn de Lettenhove sums up his opinion on the subject as follows: "That Catherine de Medici carefully prepared the assassination of Coligny there is no possible doubt; no doubt she secretly desired to be rid of all those whom, she thought, she had any reason to fear, and particularly the Huguenots, who at this time gave her much anxiety. According to her own expression she desired to profit by a favorable occasion, del caso. All contemporary testimony disproves the existence of premeditation in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, which, in face of an execrable conspiracy, was only a defence which, though still more execrable, was judged necessary." (t. II. ch. xxxii.)

The historian concludes the same chapter thus: "Such was this bloody day of St. Bartholomew, which, though studied at times inaccurately as regards its causes and its phases, adds a new blot, more odious than all the others, to the ambition and craft of Catherine de Medici. In a few hours the Huguenots, from the role of conspirators passed as victims into history, and the queen mother, at a time when she had every lawful weapon at hand, chose to use those which will dishonor her memory forever."

2. THE REVOCATION OF THE EDICT OF N ANTES by Louis XIV has also become a theme of denunciations and accusations; absurd as they are, they impress the ignorant, and pass from mouth to mouth without examination. The principles previously established in regard to the relations which should exist between Church and State, and the facts attested by impartial history, completely refute them, however. [2]

HISTORICAL NOTICE.----Henry IV by his edict of 1598 had granted the Huguenots not only liberty of conscience, but also much liberty of worship and great privileges. Thus he stipulated that they should be eligible to all civil offices and employments in the kingdom; that a sum of one hundred and forty thousand pounds should be paid annually for the maintenance of the ministers of the reformed religion; that all the places, cities, and palaces, to the number of 121, occupied by the Huguenots should be protected by a guard of their own adherents, and the garrison paid by the king. This was nothing less, as Henry IV himself said to Sully, than the creation of a republican State in the heart of France. By an edict of the 22d of October, 1685, Louis XIV revoked the former edict granting liberty of worship and the privileges above named, leaving the Huguenots liberty of conscience.

Let us observe, especially in the present case, that there is a notable difference between these two expressions. Conscience is something wholly interior, which necessarily escapes all exterior opposition, while worship means something exterior and sensible. When a sect is granted liberty of conscience only, it is not allowed to hold assemblies, or public worship, or to proselyte. Its adherents are simply allowed to live in peace in the country without suffering any inconvenience because of their religious opinion and without being obliged to take part in any other worship. Freedom of worship means more: it permits the public profession and practice of any form of worship, as well as the organization of its clergy, ceremonies, and religious practices.

Was the edict of 1685 lawful? Was it opportune? What must we think of its execution and its results?

A. The lawfulness of the edict of Louis XIV is easily demonstrated. In fact the Edict of Nantes, even though we regard it as a compact, properly speaking was by no means an irrevocable compact. Even the Protestant Grotius acknowledges this. "The so-called reformers," he says, "should understand that these acts of tolerance are not treaties, but royal edicts issued for the general good, and revocable when the king judges fitting for the same general good." Louis XIV therefore had a right to revoke the edict of his predecessors.

B. Whether this measure was opportune or not is an historical question which, strictly speaking, does not belong to our subject. But we shall make a few remarks upon it.

When we study attentively the condition of France and the position of the king in 1598, we ask ourselves if Henry IV can be blamed for the course he pursued. By means of his second edict he restored peace to the kingdom and re-established order throughout the land. We know, moreover, that it was his intention to withdraw by degrees the clauses of the former edict which created a State within a State. Louis XIII, Richelieu, and Louis XIV (before 1685) carried out the intentions of Henry IV. By skillful and successive measures they gradually reduced the liberty accorded to sectarians, so that in 1685 the complete revocation of the edict was effected without difficulty: the fruit was ripe and naturally fell from the tree.

The revocation was a long-foreseen event, for which the public mind was prepared, hence it excited no serious opposition. Moreover, the conduct of the Huguenots abundantly justified rigorous measures. Revolting against the State after they had revolted against the Church, they were guilty of numerous profanations. They went about destroying crucifixes and images, burning churches and convents, and thus excited against them the nation which was profoundly Catholic. "These outrages, which were the chief features of the Reformation, were also," says M. de Noailles, "one of the chief causes of the aversion which it inspired." Then the danger threatened in Protestant doctrine, the insurrections it excited in Germany, the seditious character which the Huguenot meetings soon assumed, excited the Parliament and authority more and more against them. Moreover, three rebellions in less than ten years, and based upon frivolous pretexts, were more than sufficient to open the eyes of the blindest to the dangerous character of these heretics.

The act of Louis XIV, therefore, was not sudden and unforeseen, but systematically planned and carried out, the state of public opinion helping him not a little to make this decision. "The revocation of the Edict of Nantes," according to Capefigue, "was a patient work, developed with special care and prudence." See his Histoire de Louis XIV, ch. xxiv., which contains the plan and intentions of the king as he himself wrote them.

C. What are we to think of the execution and the results of that revocation?

a. In regard to the first point, impartial writers generally agree in censuring some of the measures adopted; they acknowledge nevertheless that the king can be held responsible for them only in as far as he trusted to agents who deviated from his formal intentions. As to the clergy, their share in the revocation consisted in the gentle measures which accompanied its execution.

A truly deplorable effect of the edict of Louis XIV which ought to be mentioned was the hypocrisy and dissimulation of Protestant families whose assumed Catholicism was purely exterior and compulsory. Their opposition to religion and the State, though silent and passive at first, contributed later in the eighteenth century to the triumph of an infidel philosophy. It was particularly from 1685 that libertines or free-thinkers, conspiring with secret Protestants and Jansenists, began the fierce war which ended in the suppression of the Jesuits and the outbreak of the French Revolution.

b. As to the material results of this revocation, it would be difficult to appreciate them; we have no accurate estimate of the losses occasioned by the withdrawal of a certain number of French subjects who abandoned their country. The figures quoted later are manifestly exaggerated. Moreover, the losses occasioned by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes cannot be compared to the enormous losses in money and human life which the Huguenots cost France.

Here also we would brand the shameless partiality, bad faith, and hypocrisy of a certain class of writers always hostile to the Church. Certainly the governments of Germany, of Switzerland, of Italy, following the example of the sixteenth century, have in our day subjected Catholics to the most cruel treatment. Yet these have never claimed, like the Calvinists, to be a State within a State, nor have they ever attempted to claim their rights with armed force. On the contrary, they have always given, and still give, an example of most complete submission to the laws. Why, then, are they persecuted? Why are thousands of priests and religious men and women expelled from their country? Why? Simply because they are Roman Catholics. Now, do we find one writer among free-thinkers, these vaunted advocates of liberty, protesting against these outrages? No, they prefer to reserve their denunciations for Louis XIV and the Inquisition. The motive which inspires them is only too palpable.

1. Parsons, Lies, p. 221; Studies, III., ch. 23; Laughnan, S.J. (C. T. S. xvii., xx.); C. W. viii., xli. 813, xlii. 254; M. lxxvii. 175; D. R. New Ser. iv. 281.
2. Parsons, IV., ch. 11; Spalding, J.M., History of the Reformation, II., ch. 8; Stang, More about the Huguenots; Laughnan, S.J. (C.T.S. xx., and in M.lxxvi. 70, 234); A.C.Q. xix. 273; D.R., July 1893, p. 599, Oct. 1894, p.358; C.W., April 1898.