Before the Huguenots: The Character and Religion of France

Taken from, “Sermons Translated from the Original French of the late Rev. James Saurin” Vol. 1. The Attributes of God
This excerpt was adapted from the preface written by Robert Robinson
Rev. James Saurin (1678-1730) was Pastor of the French Church at the Hague.


Gaul, which is now called France, in the time of Jesus Christ, was a province of the Roman empire…

…and some of the apostles planted Christianity in it. In the first centuries, while Christianity continued a rational religion, it extended and supported itself without the help, and against the persecutions, of the Roman emperors. Numbers were converted from paganism, several Christian societies were formed, and eminent men, having spent their lives in preaching and writing for the gospel, sealed their doctrine with their blood.

Mariage-ClovisIn the fifth century, Clovis I, a pagan king of France, fell in love with Clotilda, a Christian princess of the house of Burgundy, who agreed to marry him only on condition of his becoming a Christian, which he consented 491. The king, however, delayed the performance of this condition till five years after his marriage, when, being engaged in a desperate battle, and having reason to fear the total defeat of his army, he lifted up his eyes to to heaven, and put up this prayer, “God of Queen Clotilda! grant me the victory, and I vow to be baptized, and thenceforth to worship no other God but thee ! He obtained the victory, and, at his return, was baptized at Rheims, Dec. 25, 496. His sister, and more than three thousand of his subjects, followed his example,and Christianity became the professed religion of France.

The-Baptism-Of-Clovis-1500Conversion implies the cool exercise of reason, and whenever passion takes the place, and does the office of reason, conversion is nothing but a name. Baptism did not wash away the sins of Clovis, –before it he was vile, after it he was infamous, practicing all kinds of treachery and cruelty. The court, the army, and the common people, who were pagan when the king was pagan, and Christians when he was Christian, continued the same in their morals after their conversion as before. When the christian church, therefore, opened her doors, and delivered up her keys, to these new converts, she gained nothing in comparison of what she lost. She increased the number, the riches, the pomp, and the power, of her family; but she resigned the exercise of reason, the sufficiency of scripture, the purity of worship, the grand simplicity of innocence, truth, and virtue, and became a creature of the state. A virgin before;–she now became a prostitute.

Clovis_1301948089_1_Such Christians, in a long succession, converted Christianity to something worse than paganism. They elevated the christian church into a temporal kingdom, and they degraded temporal kingdoms into fiefs of the church. They founded dominion in grace, and they explained grace to be a love of dominion. And by these means they completed that general apostasy, which St. Paul had foretold, 1 Tim. 4:1, and which rendered the reformation of the sixteenth century essential to the interests of all human kind.

The state of religion at that time (1515) was truly deplorable. Ecclesiastical government, instead of that evangelical simplicity, and fraternal freedom, which Jesus Christ and his apostles had taught,was become a spiritual domination under the form of a temporal empire. An innumerable multitude of dignities, titles, rights, honors, privileges, and preeminences belonging to it, and were all dependent on a sovereign priest, who, being an araphaelsanzio_popeleoxwithcardinalsgiuliodemediciandluigiderossibsolute monarch, required every thought to be in subjection to him. The chief ministers of religion were actually became temporal princes, and the high-priest, being absolute sovereign of the ecclesiastical state, had his court and his council, his ambassadors to negotiate, and his armies to murder –his flock.

The clergy had acquired immense wealth, and, as their chief study was either to collect and to augment their revenues, or to prevent the alienation of their estates, they had constituted numberless spiritual corporations, with powers, rights, statutes, privileges, and officers. The functions of the ministry were generally neglected, and, of consequence, gross ignorance prevailed.

All ranks of men were extremely depraved in their morals, and the Pope’s penitentiary had published the price of every crime, as it was rated in the tax-book of the Roman chancery. Marriages, which reason and scripture allowed, the Pope prohibited, and for money dispensed with those which both forbade. Church benefices were sold to children, and to laymen, who then let them to under tenants, none of whom performed the duty, for which the profits were paid: but all having obtained them by bribery, spent their lives in fleecing the flocks to repay themselves. The power of the pontiff was so great, that he assumed and, what was more astonishing, he was suffered to exercise a supremacy over many kingdoms.

Melkite-Christ-the-KingWhen monarchs gratified his will, he put on a triple crown, ascended a throne, suffered them to call him Holiness, and to kiss his feet. When they dis-obliged him, he suspends all religious worship in their dominions; published false and abusive libels, called bulls,which operated as laws, to injure their persons; discharged their subjects from obedience; and gave their crowns to any who would usurp them. He claimed an infallibility of knowledge, and an omnipotence of strength; and he forbade the world to examine his claim. He was addressed by titles of blasphemy, and tho’ he owned no jurisdiction over himself, yet he affected to extend his authority over heaven and hell, as well as over a middle place called purgatory, of all which places, he said he kept the keys. This irregular church polity was attended with intrigues, quarrels, schisms and wars.

Religion itself was made to consist of the performance of numerous ceremonies, of pagan, Jewish, and monkish extraction, all which might be performed without either faith in God, or love to mankind. The church ritual was an address, not to the reason, but to the senses of men; music stole the ear, and soothed the passions; statues, paintings, vestments, and various ornaments, beguiled the eye; while the pause, which was produced by that sudden attack, which a multitude of objects made on the senses, on entering a spacious decorated edifice, was enthusiastically taken for devotion. Alexander_VI_-_Pinturicchio_detailBlind obedience was first allowed by courtesy, and then established by law. Public worship was performed in an unknown tongue, and the sacrament was adored as the body and blood of Christ. The credit of the ceremonial produced in the people a notion, that the performance of it was the practice of piety, and religion degenerated into gross superstition. Vice, uncontrolled by reason or scripture, retained a pagan vigor, and committed the most horrid crimes; and superstition atoned for them, by building and endowing glorious houses, and by bestowing donations on the church. Human merit was introduced, saints were invoked, and the perfections of God were distributed by canonization, among the creatures of the Pope.

The pillars, that supported this edifice, were immense riches, arising, by tariffs, from the sins of mankind; idle distinctions between supreme and subordinate adoration; senseless axioms, called the divinity of the schools; preachments of buffoonery, or blasphemy, or both; cruel casuistry, consisting of a body of dangerous and scandalous morality; false miracles and midnight visions; spurious books and paltry relics; oaths, dungeons, inquisitions, and crusades. The whole was denominated the HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH, and laid to the charge of Jesus Christ.

erasmus_739Loud complaints had been made of these excesses, for about one hundred and fifty years, to those whose business it was to reform, and, bad as they were, they had owned the necessity of reformation, and had repeatedly promised to reform. Several councils had been called for the purpose of reformation but nothing had been done, nor could any thing be expected from assemblies of mercenary men, who were too deeply interested in darkness to vote for day. They were inflexible against every remonstrance, and, as a Jesuit has since expressed it. They would not extinguish one taper, though it were to convert all the Huguenots in France.

The restorers of literature reiterated and reasoned on these complaints: but they reasoned to the wind. The church champions were hard driven, they tried every art to support their cause: but as they could neither get rid of the attack by a polite duplicity, nor intimidate their sensible opponents by anathemas, as they would not determine the matter by scripture, and as they could not defend themselves by any other method, as they were too obstinate to reform themselves, and too proud to be reformed by their inferiors, the plaintiffs at length laid aside thoughts of applying to them, and, having found out the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, the reformers went about reforming themselves. Martin-Luther-1526The reformers were neither popes, cardinals, nor bishops, but they were good men, who aimed to promote the glory of God, and the good of mankind. This was the state of the church, when Francis I, ascended the throne, 1515.

Were we to enter into a minute examination of the reformation in France, we would own a particular interposition of Providence; but we would also take the liberty to observe, that a happy conjunction of jarring interests rendered the sixteenth century a fit era for reformation. Events, that produced, protected, and persecuted reformation, proceeded from open and hidden, great and little, good and bad causes. The capacities and the tempers, the virtues and the vices, the views and the interests, the wives and the mistresses, of the princes of those times ; the abilities and dispositions of the officers of each crown; the powers of government and the persons who wrought them; the tempers and geniuses of the people; all these and many more, were springs of action, which, in their turns, directed the great events that were exhibited to public view.

Thus it was in France before the Reformation, and before the rise and persecution of the Huguenots.


3 thoughts on “Before the Huguenots: The Character and Religion of France

  1. Michael, thank you for posting this!
    God bless you!

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