She corresponds with Bishop Briçonnet.
It was through the instrumentality of the Bishop of Meaux that Margaret
of Angoulême was first drawn into sympathy with the reformatory
movement. Unsatisfied with herself and with the influences surrounding
her, she sought in Briçonnet a spiritual adviser and guide. The prelate,
in the abstruse and almost unintelligible language of exaggerated
mysticism, endeavored to fulfil the trust. His prolix correspondence
still exists in manuscript in the National Library of Paris, together
with the replies of his royal penitent. Its incomprehensibility may
perhaps forever preclude the publication of the greater part;2 but
we can readily forgive the bishop's absurdities and far-fetched
conceits, when we find him in his letters leading Margaret to the Holy
Scriptures as the only source of spiritual strength, and enjoining a
humble and docile reception of its teachings.
Luther's teachings condemned by the Sorbonne.
On the fifteenth of April, 1521, the University of Paris, whose opinion
respecting Luther's tenets the entire Christian world had for two years
been anxiously expecting, pronounced its solemn decision. It condemned
the writings of the German monk to the flames, on the ground that they
were seductive, insulting to the hierarchy,
1 Brantôme does, indeed, accuse Henry of using severity
toward his wife, on account of her religious innovations, until
threatened with the displeasure of Francis; but the truth seems to be
that the King of Navarre was himself not ill-disposed to the religious reformation.
2 M. Herminjard has been criticised for inserting too many
of Bishop Briçonnet's epistles in the first volume of his Correspondance
des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française. M. Génin also gives
specimens of the bishop's bombast, observing maliciously: "Si Briçonnet
argumenta en pareil style aux conciles de Pise et du Latran, il dut
embarrasser beaucoup ses adversaires." Lettres de Marg. d'Angoulême, i. 128.
contrary to Scripture, and schismatic. It likened his latest production, De
Captivitate Babylonica, to Alcoran. It branded as preposterous the notion that God
had reserved the discovery of what is needful to the salvation of the
faithful for Martin Luther to make; as though Christ had left his
spouse, the Church, so many centuries, and until now, in the darkness
and blindness of error. Such sentiments as he uttered were a denial of
the first principles of the faith, an unblushing profession of impiety,
an arrogance so impious that it must be repressed by chains and
censures--nay, by fire and by flame, rather than refuted by
argument.1 A long list of heretical propositions selected from
Luther's works was appended.2
In the month of June following, Melanchthon replied to the Sorbonne's
condemnation. He declared that, could the great Gerson and his
illustrious associates and predecessors rise from the dead, they would
fail to recognize in the present race of theologians their legitimate
offspring, and that they would deplore the misfortune of the university
as well as of the whole of Christendom, in that sophists had usurped the
place of theologians, and slanderers the seat of Christian doctors. As
for the silly letter prefixed to the decree, the reformer wrote, it is a
feeble production full of womanish fury: "He pretends to the sole
possession of wisdom. He contemns us. He is a Manichæan, a Montanist; he
is mad. Let him be compelled by fire and flame." Who could refrain from
derisive laughter at the unmanly and truly monkish weakness of such threats?3
Regency of Louise de Savoie.
In the summer of 1523 the king, in order to provide for the government
of France during his expected absence from the capital, appointed his
mother temporary regent--a dignity which Louise de Savoie enjoyed more
than once during Francis's reign. The chancellor, Antoine Duprat,
embraced the opportunity to persuade the queen mother
1 "O impiam et inverecundam arrogantiam," etc. See chapter
I., p. 24.]
2 Determinatio Facultatis, etc., Gerdes., iv. (Doc.) 10, etc.; Bretschneider, Corpus
Reformatorum (Opera Melanchthonis), i. 366, etc., 371, etc.]
3 Adversus furiosum Parisiensium theologastrorum decretum
Philippi Melanchthonis pro Luthero apologia, Bretschneider, i. 399-416.]
that she could not better atone for the irregularities of her own life than by
enforcing submission to the authority of the papal church. What causes
had contributed to the very radical change apparently effected in her
mental attitude to the established ecclesiastical system, since she had
in the preceding December discovered the monks, of whatever color their
cowl might be, to be arrant "hypocrites" and the most "dangerous
generation of human kind"--if, indeed, any such change in her mental
attitude had really taken place at all, and her present zeal was not
altogether assumed from political motives--we have not the means of
determining with certainty. However this may be, she was now induced to
take a much more decided stand than Francis had ever taken in opposition
to the reformed doctrines, of whose spread, not only in Meaux and other
cities in the provinces, but even in Paris, both in the schools of
learning and without, there began to be symptoms alarming to the
The Sorbonne's recommendations for the extirpation of heresy.
As a preliminary step, the regent sent her confessor, Friar Gilbert
Nicolai, to the Sorbonne, with instructions to consult it respecting
"the means to be employed for purging this very Christian realm of the
damnable doctrine of Luther." It need scarcely be said that the message
was received with great delight. The theological doctors soon replied,
rendering thanks to Almighty God for having inspired Louise with the
holy purpose of executing whatever might be found most likely to promote
God's honor and the prosperity of France.1 What measures did they
propose to her as best calculated to accomplish this laudable end?
Sermons, disputations, books, and other scholastic means, they write,
may be employed in the refutation of the errors of Luther, as indeed
they are every day employed, at the Sorbonne's instigation, and from
this instrumentality some good effects may be expected; but since, after
all, neither sermons nor books, however learned and conclusive, compel
any person to renounce his heretical views, more practical and coercive
measures must be adopted if the object is to be attained. All
1 Lettre de la faculté de théologie à la reine, Oct. 7,
1523, Gerdes., iv. (Doc.) 16, 17.]
royal officers must be enjoined strictly to enforce every order promulgated
against heretics. The prelates must be urged to demand, on pain of
excommunication, the surrender of all books of Luther or his supporters
found in their dioceses. Meanwhile, the highest ecclesiastical censures
are to be directed against those who in any way uphold the heterodox
belief. It is only in this way that hope can reasonably be entertained
of suppressing this pernicious innovation, which may yet inflict still
greater evils upon unfortunate France; since the Scriptures tell us that
pestilence, famine, and war served as a rod for the punishment of God's
chosen nation of old, whenever it forsook the pure precepts of the law
given by the Almighty.
In reply to another inquiry made by the regent at the same time, the
Sorbonne enters into greater detail. If any one complains that he is
unjustly accused of favoring the heresy that has recently appeared, let
him clear himself by following St. Paul's example, who, when brought to
the knowledge of the truth, instantly undertook the defence of what he
had ignorantly persecuted. Rumors that some persons in high places are
friendly to the spread of the new errors have gained lamentable
currency, both at home and abroad. They have obtained confirmation from
the praise lately lavished by "some great personages" upon the doctrine
of Luther, and the blame poured upon its opponents. The execution of the
king's order for the burning of Luther's books has been singularly
delayed. Worst of all have been the obstacles placed in the way of the
pious efforts of the prelates, either without the consent of the king,
or by him ill-advised--for example, in the proceedings of the Bishop of
Paris against Louis de Berquin. Similar impediments have been interposed
to prevent the condemnation by parliament and university of the printed
works of this same Berquin and of Lefèvre d'Étaples; while, as if to
make the affair still more scandalous, two treatises lately written in
refutation of Luther's doctrines have been seized in the name of the
king and by his authority.1
Wide circulation of Luther's works.
Such were the complaints of the theological faculty, such the means
1 Articules concernans les responces que après meure
délibération a fait la faculté de théologie. Gerdes., iv. (Doc.) 17-21.
suggested for the destruction of the new leaven that was already
beginning to assert its mission to permeate society. There were
certainly sufficient grounds for apprehension. The works of Luther, as
we have before seen, had early been translated into French, and a
contemporary writer confirms the statement that they had already been
widely disseminated.1 An order of parliament, referred to in its
communication to the regent, had indeed been published, to the sound of
the trumpet, throughout the city of Paris (August 3, 1521), strictly
commanding all booksellers, printers, and others that might have copies
in their possession, to give them up within the space of eight days, on
pain of imprisonment and fine.2 But even this measure failed to
accomplish the desired result. The Reformation was silently extending
its influence, as some significant events sufficiently proved.
Lambert, the first French monk to embrace the Reformation.
At Avignon, copies of several of the writings of Martin Luther fell into
the hands of François Lambert, son of a former private secretary of the
papal legate entrusted with the government of the Comtât Venaissin. He
was a man of vivid imagination, keen religious sensibilities, and marked
oratorical powers. He had at the age of fifteen been so deeply impressed
by the saintly appearance of the Franciscans as to seek admission to
their monastery as a novice. No sooner did he assume, a year later
(1503), the irrevocable vows that constituted him a monk, than his
disenchantment began. According to his own account, the quarrelsome and
debauched friars no longer felt any of the solicitude they had
previously entertained lest the knowledge of their excesses should deter
him from embracing a "religious" life. A few years later Lambert became
a preacher, and having, through a somewhat careful study of the Holy
Scriptures, embraced more evangelical views than were held by most of
his order, began to deliver discourses as well received by the people as
they were hated by his fellow-monks. Great was the outcry
1 "Qui [les livres de Luther] furent imprimez et publiez
par toutes les villes d'Alemaigne et par tout le royaume de France."
Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris, 94.
2 Ibid., 104.
against him when he openly denounced the misdeeds of a worthless vender of
papal indulgences; still greater when copies of Luther's treatises were found
in his possession. The books were seized, sealed, condemned, and burned,
although scarcely a glance had been vouchsafed at their contents. It was
enough for the monkish judges to cry: "They are heretical! They are
heretical!" "Nevertheless," exclaims honest Lambert, kindling with
indignation at the remembrance of the scene, "I confidently assert that
those same books of Luther contain more of pure theology than all the
writings of all the monks that have lived since the creation of the
He is also the first to renounce celibacy.
Lambert had made full trial of the monastic life. He had even immured
himself for some time in a Carthusian retreat, but found its inmates in
no respect superior to the Franciscans. At last an opportunity for
escape offered. In 1522, when a score of years had passed since he
entered upon his novitiate, he was despatched with letters to the
general of his order. Instead of fulfilling his commission, he traversed
Switzerland, and made his way to Wittemberg, where he satisfied the
desire he had long entertained, of meeting the great reformer to whose
works he owed his own spiritual enlightenment. Full of zeal for the
propagation of the doctrines he had embraced, Lambert, not long after
(1524), established himself at Metz as a favorable point from which
France might be influenced. But the commotion excited by his
opponents--perhaps, also, his own lack of prudence--compelled him within
a fortnight to flee to Strasbourg.2 Here, more secure, but scarcely
more judicious, he busied himself with sending over the French borders
numbers of tracts composed or translated by himself, and addressing to
1 "Ego confidenter loquar, credens in Domino quod verum
sit, quod plus syncerioris theologiæ in libris prædictis continetur,
quam in omnibus scriptis omnium monachorum, qui a principio fuerunt."
2 A contemporary song (1525) denouncing woes against
Strasbourg for harboring the "Lutherans," contains these doggerel lines:
"Ce faulx Lambert, hérétique mauldict,
Te fait prendre la dance
De l'infemal déduyt."
Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. du prot. franç., ix. (1860) 381.
Francis and the chief persons of his court appeals which, doubtless,
rarely if ever reached their eyes.1 In another field of labor, to
which the Landgrave of Hesse called him, François Lambert performed
services far more important than any he was permitted to render his
native land. As the first French monk to throw aside his habit--above
all, as the first to renounce celibacy and defend in a published
treatise the step he had taken (1523), no French reformer, even among
those of far greater abilities and wider influence, was regarded by the
adherents of the Roman Catholic Church with so intense a dislike.2
The firm hold which the Reformation was gaining on the population of
several places of great importance, close upon the eastern frontiers of
the kingdom, was a portent of evil in the eyes of the Sorbonne; for
Metz, St. Hippolyte, and Montbéliard, all destined to be absorbed in the
growing territories of France, were already bound to it by close ties of
Jean Châtellain, of Metz.
In Metz the powerful appeals of an Augustinian monk, Jean Châtellain,
had powerfully moved the masses. He was as eloquent as he was learned,
as commanding in appearance as fearless in the expression of his
belief.3 The attempt to molest him would have proved a very dangerous
1 Margaret of Angoulême, out of all patience, at last sent
word requesting him to desist from these untimely letters to her
brother--"qu'il n'escripva plus ny au Roy ny à aultres." Toussain to
Farel, December 17, 1524, Herminjard, i. 313.
2 Witness the malignant satisfaction exhibited by the
Nuncio Aleander when noting the reported death of Lambert and his entire
family: "Mi ha detto hoggi, che Francesco Lamberto d'Avignon, qual
fugito dal monasterio, et ito astar un tempo con Luther ha scritto
infiniti libri contra la Chiesa di Dio, quest' anno in terra del
Langravio di Hassia insieme con la moglie et figliuoli tutti
miserabilmente, et come da miracolo, in gran calamità son crepati."
Aleander to Sanga, Brussels, November 25, 1531, Vatican Library,
Laemmer, Monumenta, 90. See Lambert's autobiographical sketch, entitled:
"Rationes propter quas Minoritarum conversationem habitumque rejecit,"
Gerdes., iv. (Doc.) 21-28, and translated, Herminjard, i. 118, etc.; F.
W. Hassencamp, Fr. Lambert von Avignon; Haag, France prot., s. v.; Baum,
Lambert von Avignon.
3 So says Lambert, who states: "Novi ilium ex intimis; fuit
enim mihi perinde atque Jonathas Davidi." Præf. ad Comm. in Hoseam,
Gerdes., Scrinium antiquarium, vi. 490.
one for the clergy of Metz to make; for the enthusiasm of the
laity in his support knew no bounds, and the churchmen prudently avoided
giving it an occasion for manifestation. But, no sooner had Châtellain
been induced on some pretext to leave the safe protection of the walls,
than a friar of his own order and monastery betrayed him to the
bishop.1 He was hurriedly taken to Nommeny, and thence to Vic for
trial and execution. In vain did the Inquisitor of the Faith strive to
shake his constancy. His judges were forced to liken their incorrigible
prisoner to the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. As "a preacher of
false doctrines," an "apostate" and a "liar toward God Almighty," they
declared him excommunicated and deprived of whatever ecclesiastical
benefices he might hold. The faithful compiler of the French martyrology
gives in accurate, but painful, detail the successive steps by which
Châtellain was stripped of the various prerogatives conferred upon him
in ordination. I shall not repeat the story of sacred vessels placed in
his hands only to be hastily snatched from them, of the scraping of his
fingers supposed to remove the grace of consecration, of chasuble and
stole indignantly taken away--in short, of all the petty devices of a
malice at which the mind wearies and the heart sickens. It was perhaps a
fitting sequel to the ceremony that the degrading bishop should hand his
victim over to the representative of the secular arm to be put to death,
with a hypocritical recommendation to mercy: "Lord Judge, we entreat you
as affectionately as we can, as well by the love of God, as from pity
and compassion, and out of respect for our prayers, that you do this
wretched man no injury tending to death or the mutilation of his
body."2 The prayer was granted--according
1 The Bishop of Metz was John, Cardinal of Lorraine,
uncle of the more notorious Cardinal Charles. Châtellain had written a
poetical chronicle of Metz reaching to the year 1524. A friendly hand
continued it, and recorded the fate of Châtellain, described as
"Augustin, grand Docteur
Qui estoit grand prédicateur."
The chronicle, which certainly possesses no striking literary merit, is
printed among the Preuves of Dom Calmet, Histoire de Lorraine (Nancy,
1748), iii. pp. cclxxii., etc.
2 Crespin, Actiones et Monimenta (Geneva, 1560), fol. 44-46.
to the intent of the petitioner. On the twelfth of January, 1525, Châtellain
was led to the place of execution, as cheerful in demeanor, the witnesses said,
as if walking to a feast. At the stake he knelt and offered a short prayer,
then met his horrible sentence with a constancy that won many converts
to the faith for which he had suffered. At the news of the fate of their
admired teacher, the citizens of Metz could not contain their rage. A
tumultuous scene ensued, in which it was well that the
ecclesiastics--there were more than nine hundred within the
walls1--escaped with no greater injury at the hands of the angry
populace than some passing insults. John Vedast, an evangelical teacher,
was at that time in confinement, reserved for a similar doom to that of
Châtellain. He was liberated by the people, who, in a body membering
several thousand men, visited his prison and enabled him to escape to a
safe refuge. It was not until a strong detachment of troops had been
thrown into the city that the burgesses were reduced to submission.2
"None the less," admits a Roman Catholic historian, "did Lutheranism
spread over the entire district of Metz."3
Tragic end of Wolfgang Schuch.
At St. Hippolyte, a town near the Swiss frontier, dependent upon the
Duke of Lorraine, similar success and a similarly tragic end were the
results of the zealous labors of Wolfgang Schuch, a priest of German
extraction. The "good duke" Antoine, having been led to confound the
peaceable disciples of Schuch with the revolted peasants, whose ravages
had excited widespread alarm throughout Germany, publicly proclaimed his
intention of visiting the town that harbored them with fire and sword.
To propitiate him by removing his misapprehension, Schuch wrote to the
duke a singularly touching letter containing a candid exposition of the
religion he professed;4 but finding that his missive had been of no
avail, he resolved to immolate himself in behalf of his flock.
1 "Quorum (Antichristi prophetæ) fæx in eadem civitate tam
multa est, ut eosdem nongentos esse ferant." Lamberti præf. ad Comm. in
Hoseam, Gerdes., Scrinium Antiq., vi. 485, etc.
2 Ibid., ubi supra.
3 Hist. de l'église gallicane, apud Gaillard, vi. 404.
4 The letter is given by Crespin, Actiones et Monimenta,
fol. 50; also Gerdes., iv. (Doc), 48-50.
At Nancy, the capital of the duchy, whither he had gone to dissuade Antoine
from executing his savage threats, he was thrown into a loathsome
dungeon, while the University of Paris was consulted respecting the
soundness of thirty-one propositions extracted from his writings by the
Inquisitor of Lorraine. On the nineteenth of August, 1525--the
theologians of the Sorbonne having some months before reported
unfavorably upon the theses submitted to them--Wolfgang Schuch was
consigned to the flames.1
Farel at Montbéliard.
Less sanguinary results attended the Reformation at Montbéliard, where
the indefatigable Farel was the chief actor. One of those highly
dramatic incidents, in which the checkered life of this remarkable man
abounds, is said to have preceded his withdrawal from the city.
Happening, on St. Anthony's day, to meet, upon a bridge spanning a
narrow stream in the neighborhood, a solemn procession headed by priests
chanting the praises of the saint whose effigy they bore aloft, Farel
was seized with an uncontrollable desire to arrest the impious service.
Snatching the image from the hands of ecclesiastics who were little
prepared for so sudden an onslaught, he indignantly cried, "Wretched
idolaters, will you never forsake your idolatry?" At the same instant he
threw the saint into the water, before the astonished devotees had time
to interfere. Had not some one just then opportunely raised the shout,
"The saint is drowning," it might have gone hard with the fearless
The Reformation was thus gaining a foothold in the bishopric of Metz, in
the duchy of Lorraine, and the county of Montbéliard--districts as yet
independent of France, in which country they were subsequently merged.
But, if suffered to be
1 Gerdes., iv. 51; Crespin, fol. 49-52; Haag, s. v.
2 The incident, it must be confessed, is by no means above
suspicion (see Kirchhofer, Life of Wm. Farel, London ed., p. 40, and
Schmidt, Wilhelm Farel, p. 6), although, as Merle d'Aubigné observes,
Hist. of the Reformation, bk. xii. c. 13, it is in keeping with Farel's
character. Œcolampadius, foreseeing the possibility of his indulging
in such inconsiderate words and actions, warned him, as early as Aug.
19, 1524, to temper his zeal with mildness, and to treat his opponents
rather as was most expedient, than as they deserved to be treated.
Herminjard, i. 265-267.
victorious at these important points, it might readily cross the
borders and spread with irresistible force to the contiguous
parts of Francis's dominions. Nearer home, the reformatory
movement at Meaux, though abandoned by the bishop who had fostered its
first development, was not wholly suppressed. In Lyons and Grenoble,
Friar Aimé Maigret had preached such evangelical sermons--in French to
the people and in Latin to the Parliament of Dauphiny--that he had been
sent to Paris to be examined by the Sorbonne. The primate and his
council had seen with solicitude that from the ashes of Waldo and the
Poor Men of Lyons "very many new shoots were springing up,"1 and
called for some signal act of severity to repress the growing evil.