The monastic orders incur contempt.
It was a lamentable but notorious fact that, as a consequence of the
unnatural divorce of religion and morality, the clergy, both secular and
regular, by their excesses had incurred the contempt of the laity. If
the Franciscan monks enjoyed an unenviable pre-eminence in this respect,
so as to have come to constitute one of the stock characters in the
"Heptameron" and similar works, scarcely less constant than the
prodigals or parasites of the New Comedy, the other orders were but
little behind them. And so Louise de Savoie made this significant entry
in her diary: "In the year 1522, in December, my son and I, by the grace
of the Holy Ghost, began to understand the hypocrites, white, black,
gray, smoky, and of all colors; from whom may God, by his clemency and
infinite goodness, be pleased to preserve and defend us. For, if Jesus
Christ be not a liar, there is no more dangerous generation in all human
kind."2 Bishops and cardinals won little more respect than the
monks; for was it not the most prominent of the wearers of the purple
who, as Chancellor of France, introduced venality into the most sacred offices
1 Le protestantisme en Champagne: Récits extraits d'un
manuscrit de N. Pithou, seigneur de Chamgobert concernant l'histoire de
la fondation, etc., de l'église réf. de Troyes dès 1539 à 1595, par Ch.
L. B. Recordon (Paris, 1863), 31-33.
2 The original of this remarkable record, the more
significant from the subsequent position of Louise as a determined enemy
of the Protestants, may be seen in Journal de Louise de Savoie, Coll. de
mémoires (Petitot), xvi. 407.
of state,1 while by his quarrelsome and unscrupulous
diplomacy he richly merited the bon mot of the Emperor Charles the
Fifth, that he was more inclined to make four wars than, one
Abortive efforts at reform
It does not enter into the province of this history to discuss in detail
the causes of the deplorable vices that characterized the priesthood on
the eve of the great religious movement of the sixteenth century; nor
can we pause to make that analysis of the doctrinal errors then
prevalent, which belongs rather to the office of the historian of the
Reformation. It will be sufficient, therefore, if we glance hastily at
some of the partial and abortive efforts directed toward the reform of
doctrine and manners of which mediæval France was the theatre.
The Cathari and Albigenses.
Foremost among the popular opponents of the papacy were the Cathari and
Albigenses. The accounts of the origin of the sect or sects bearing
these names are vague and unsatisfactory, and the reports of their creed
and worship are inconsistent or incredible. The ruin that overwhelmed
them spared no friendly narrative of their history, and scarcely one
authoritative exposition of the belief for the profession of which their
adherents encountered death with heroic fortitude. Defeat not only
compelled the remnants of the Albigenses to succumb to Simon de Montfort
and his fellow crusaders, but reduced them to the indignity of having
the record of their faith and self-devotion transmitted to posterity
only in the hostile chronicles of Roman ecclesiastics. But even partisan
animosity has not robbed the world of the edifying spectacle of a large
number of men and women, of a quiet and peaceable disposition,
persistently and fearlessly protesting, through a long series of years,
against the worship of saints and
1 See Mézeray's bitter words respecting Cardinal Duprat's
last hours and character, Abrégé chronologique, iv. 584.
2 "Poi me disse che per opera del Reverendissimo di
Granmont non si faria cosa buona in questa cosa, perche et lui et il
Gran Cancellario di Francia erano huomini più disposti a fare quattro
guerre die una pace." Cardinal Campeggio to Cardinal Salviati, apud
H. Laemmer, Monumenta Vaticana hist. ecclés. sæculi XVI. illustrantia,
ex tab. sanctæ sedis Apostolicæ secretis, Frib. Brisg., 1861, 67.
images, resisting the innovations of a corrupt church, and
adhering with constancy to a simple ritual unencumbered
with superstitious observances. Careful investigation establishes
the fact that the Holy Scriptures were read and accepted as the
supreme authority as well in doctrine as in practice, and that the
precepts there inculcated were adorned by lives so pure and exemplary as
to evoke an involuntary expression of admiration from bitter opponents.
There is little doubt that strange doctrinal errors found a foothold in
parts, at least, of the extensive territory in southern France occupied
by the Albigenses. Oriental Dualism or Manichæism not improbably
disfigured the creed of portions of the sect; while the belief of others
scarcely differed from that of the less numerous Waldenses of Provence
or their brethren in the valleys of Piedmont. But, whatever may be the
truth on this much contested point,1 the remarkable spread of the
Albigenses during the latter part of the twelfth century must be
regarded as strongly marking the revolt of the French mind, especially
in the more impetuous south, against the priestly absolutism that
crushed all freedom of religious thought, and equally against a church
tolerating the most flagrant abuses. Nor can the historian who desires
to trace the more remote consequences of important moral movements fail
to notice the singular fact that the soil watered by Albigensian blood
at the beginning of the thirteenth century was precisely that in which
the seed sown by the reformers, three hundred years later, sprang up
most rapidly and bore the most abundant harvest. After so long a period
of suspended activity, the spirit of opposition once more asserted its
vital energy--soon, it is true, to meet fresh difficulties, but only
such difficulties as would tend to develop and strengthen it.
1 The Manichæism of the Albigenses is maintained by
Mosheim, Gieseler, Schmidt, etc. A good summary of the evidence in favor
of this view is given in an article in the London Quarterly Review for
April, 1855. The defence of the Albigenses from this serious charge is
ably conducted by George Stanley Faber in his "Inquiry into the History
and Theology of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses" (London, 1838).
One of the more recent apologists is F. de Portal, in his "Les
descendants des Albigeois et des Huguenots" (Paris, 1860).
The crime of vauderie.
With the suppression of the Albigenses all open popular protest against
the errors of the church ceases until the advent of the Reformation. The
latent tendency did, indeed, manifest its continued existence in those
obscure practices known as vauderie, which, distorted by the
imagination of reckless informers and interested judges, and converted
into the most monstrous crimes against religion and morality, occasioned
the death of countless innocent victims.1 But it was chiefly among
the learned, and particularly in the bosom of the University of Paris,
that the pressing need of a thorough purification of the church found
expression. Not that the remedies advocated were so definite and
radical, or based upon so full a recognition of the distinctive
character of Christianity, as to merit the name of reformatory projects.
Yet, standing somewhat in advance of their contemporaries, a few
theologians raised their voices in decided condemnation of those evils
which needed only to be held up to public notice to incur the universal
reprobation of mankind.
Nicholas de Clemangis. John Gerson.
Nicholas de Clemangis, Rector of the University of Paris, subsequently
private secretary of Benedict the Thirteenth at Avignon, and perhaps the
most elegant writer of his age, drew a startling picture of the wretched
state of the church at the beginning of the fifteenth century. No writer
had ever described more vividly the corruption of the convents and
monasteries, or denounced more unsparingly the unfaithfulness and
impurity of the parish clergy, and the simony pervading alike all grades
of the hierarchy. His censure was
1 At Arras, for instance, in 1460, a number of men and
women were burned alive as Vaudois, after having been entrapped into
an admission of their guilt by a treacherous advocate. Too late they
exposed the deceit practised upon them, and protested their innocence.
The alleged crimes were: flying to their place of assembly by
witchcraft, adoring the devil, trampling upon the cross, blasphemy,
riotous feasting, and vile offences against morality--staple charges
recurring again and again, ad nauseam, whenever persecuted men and
women have been compelled to meet secretly for God's worship. See L.
Rossier, Histoire des protestants de Picardie (Paris, 1861), 1-4; and
more at length, Chronicon Cornelii Zantfliet, which styles the sufferers
heretics a hundred times worse than Waldenses. Martene et Durand, Vet.
Scriptorum ampliss. collectio (Paris, 1729), vii. 501.]
the more effective because he spoke in sorrow rather than in
anger.1 John Gerson, his contemporary and friend, who
reached the eminent position of chancellor of the university,
was not less bold in stigmatizing the same evils, while the
weight of his authority was even greater. So far, however, was he from
grasping the nature and need of a substantial renovation of the existing
religious belief, that to his influence in no inconsiderable measure was
due the perfidious condemnation and execution of the great Bohemian
forerunner of the Reformation, John Huss. The student of mediæval
history may be inclined to smile at the subtilties of scholastic
distinctions, but he is also compelled to lament the fact that the death
of a Realist was greeted with demonstrations of evident satisfaction
by a philosopher belonging to the opposite school of the
Jean Bouchet's "Deploration."
A century elapsed between the time of Nicholas de Clemangis and Gerson
and the almost simultaneous appearance of Ulrich Zwingle in Switzerland
and Martin Luther in Germany. During this long interval of expectation
the voice of remonstrance was not altogether silent. A few earnest men
refused to suppress the indignation they felt at the sight of the
impiety that had invaded the sacred precincts of the church. Among
1 If, as Adolphe Müntz concludes, after a critical
examination of style, etc. (Nicolas de Clémangis; sa vie et ses écrits,
Paris, 1846), the famous treatise De ruina Ecclesiæ, or De corrupto
Ecclesiæ statu, emanated not from Clemangis at Avignon, but from some
member of the University of Paris hostile to the Popes of Avignon, yet
the undisputed writings of Clemangis contain denunciations of the
corruptions of the church quite as decided as any found in the spurious
treatise. In his tract De Præsulibus Simoniacis, for example, he
declares that the degradation of the clergy, fostered by the cupidity of
the episcopate, had indeed made God's house a den of robbers. It was
"rapinæ officina in qua venalia exponuntur sacramenta ... in qua peccata
etiam venduntur," etc. Müntz, 53. Certainly it would be hard to portray
the life of the priests in darker colors than they appear in the letters
of C. to Gerson, the authenticity of which is not challenged. See the
extracts in Von Polenz, Calvinismus in Frankreich, i. 115. According to
Nicholas de Clemangis, the chaste priest was a rare exception, and an
object of ridicule to his companions.
2 The complicated motives inducing the Council of Constance to acquiesce
in the cruel sentence of Huss were skilfully traced as far back as by the
learned Mosheim, Institutes of Eccles. Hist. (ed. Murdoch), ii. 429, note.
the last of those whose words have come down to us was Jean Bouchet, a
native of Poitiers. In 1512, only five years before the publication of
the theses of the reformer of Wittemberg, he gave to the world a poem
not devoid of historical interest, though possessed of little poetic
merit, entitled "La Déploration de l'Église militante."1 In this
spirited lament it is the church herself that addresses the
hierarchy--pontiff, cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, and others--as well
as kings and secular dignitaries. She complains of the great injuries
and molestations she endures. The practice of simony has converted a
temple into a loathsome stable. Science and learning are no longer
necessary for the candidate for ecclesiastical preferment; a hundred
crowns in hand will serve his purpose much better, no matter how bad his
moral character may be. As for his qualifications, he is full well
provided if he can manage the hounds aright and knows how to hunt with
the falcon. "Cease," cries the church through the poet to the French
princes, "cease to load me down with gewgaws, with chalices, crosses,
and sumptuous ornaments. Furnish me instead with virtuous ministers. The
exquisite beauty of abbeys or of silver images is less pleasing in God's
sight than the holy life of good prelates."2 As it is, the dissolute
ministers of religion are engrossed in forbidden games, in banquets, and
the chase. Decked out with flowers, rings, and trinkets, the bishop in
his dress is more like a soldier or a juggler, than a servant of the
church. He recites his prayers reluctantly, while words of profane
swearing flow freely from his lips. From such disorders as these the
church invokes her worldly protectors to deliver her.
1 This rare poem has been reprinted, with the unimportant
passages omitted, in the Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. du prot. franç.,
v. (1857) 268, etc.
2 "Cessez, cessez me donner ornemens,
Calices, croix, et beaux accoutremens;
Faictes que j'aye ministres vertueux....
Les images d'argent tant sumptueux,
La grant beauté des moustiers si notables
Ne sont pas tant devant Dieu acceptables
Que la doctrine et vie bonne et saincte
Des bona prelatz."
The abuses which Jean Bouchet described, and other abuses of a similar
kind, were so notorious that no intelligent man could close his eyes to
the evidence of their existence. They had been recited again and again
by more eloquent tongues than that of the poet of Poitiers. Dante and
Petrarch had held them up to immortal contempt. Boccaccio had made them
the subject of ridicule in his popular stories. But neither remonstrance
nor taunt had effectually abated the prevailing corruption. It remained
that a new remedy should be tried, and the time for its application was
close at hand.
Changes in the boundaries of France during the sixteenth century.
It must not be forgotten that the boundaries of France varied
considerably during the sixteenth century. Thus Artois and
Flanders, at the accession of Francis the First, were nominally
fiefs of the French crown, for which Charles of Austria sent to
France a very honorable embassy, with Henry, Count of Nassau, at
its head, to do homage to the young prince. It was on this occasion
that Francis, desirous of gratifying Charles, proposed or consented
to the marriage of his favorite with Claude de Châlons, daughter of
the Prince of Orange (Jean de Serres, Inventaire Général de
l'Histoire de France, 1619, ii. 4, Motley, Dutch Republic, i. 234).
Eleven years later, January, 1526, by the Treaty of Madrid, Francis
renounced his suzerainty over the counties of Artois and Flanders,
as a condition of his release from captivity (Inventaire Général,
ii. 96). On the other hand, not to speak of the "Three
Bishoprics"--Metz, Toul, and Verdun--definitely incorporated with
the French dominions in 1552, France had for a longer or shorter
time possession of the Duchy of Milan, of the island of Corsica,
and of Piedmont. Not only Bresse, but the very Duchy of Savoy, were
for years merged in the realm of France, until restored to
Philibert Emmanuel by the disgraceful Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis.
THE REFORMATION AT MEAUX.
Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples.
The reformatory movement, whose almost simultaneous rise at so many
different points constitutes one of the most noticeable features of the
history of Europe in the sixteenth century, originated, so far as France
was concerned, within the bosom of that famous nursery of mediæval
learning, the University of Paris. Among the teachers who, during the
later years of the reign of Louis the Twelfth, attracted the studious
from the most distant parts of Christendom, Jacques Lefèvre, a native of
Étaples in Picardy, held a high rank for natural ability and extensive
acquirements. It is true that neither his personal appearance nor his
extraction commanded respect: he was diminutive in stature, and he could
boast of no noble blood running in his veins.1 A more formidable
hinderance in the path to distinction had been the barbarous instruction
he had received from incompetent masters, both in the inferior schools
and in the university itself. But all obstacles, physical, social, and
intellectual, melted away before the ardor of an extraordinarily active
mind. Rising steadily above the contracted views, the blind respect for
authority, and the self-satisfied ignorance of the instructors of his
youth and the colleagues of his manhood and old age, he greeted with
delight the advent of those liberal ideas which had wrought so wonderful
a change in Germany and Italy. A thirst for knowledge even led him, in
imitation of the sages of the early world, to travel to distant parts of
Europe, and, if we may credit the statements of his admiring
1 Scævolæ Sammarthani Elog. lib. i., i. 3. "Statura fuit
supra modum humili," etc.
disciples, to pursue his investigations into portions of Asia and Africa.
Restores letters to France. His wide range of study.
To Jacques Lefèvre, of Étaples--better known to foreigners under the
Latin designation of Faber Stapulensis--belongs the honor of restoring
letters to France. His eulogist, Scævola de Sainte-Marthe, has not
exaggerated his merit, when, placing him in the front rank of the
learned men whom he celebrates, he likens the Picard doctor to a new sun
rising from the Belgian coast to dissipate the fogs and darkness
investing his native land and pour upon its youth the full beams of a
purer teaching.1 Lefèvre confined his attention to no single branch
of learning. He was equally proficient in mathematics, in astronomy, and
in Biblical literature and criticism.2 Brilliant attainments in so
many departments were commended yet more to the admiration of beholders
by a modest and unassuming deportment, by morals above reproach, and by
a disinterested nature in which there was no taint of avarice. The
sincerity of his unselfish love of knowledge was said to be attested by
the liberality with which he renounced the entire income of his small
patrimony in favor of his needy relations.3
His pupil, Guillaume Farel.
Enjoying a reputation for profound and exact learning which had spread
to foreign countries, and admired even by the great humanist Erasmus,
Lefèvre had drawn to him a small band of the most promising of the
scholars in attendance upon the university. Prominent among these for
brilliancy and fiery zeal was a student more than thirty years younger
than his teacher, Guillaume Farel, destined to fill an important place in the
annals of the French reformation, and to play a leading role in the history
of Geneva and Neufchâtel. Farel was born in 1489, near Gap, in Dauphiny,
1 Sc. Sammarthani Elog., ubi supra.
2 Lefèvre's scientific works were numerous, and some of
them passed through many editions during the early years of the
sixteenth century. See Haag, La France protestante, art. Lefèvre. I have
before me his edition of the Arithmetic of Boëtius, with introduction
and commentary, of the year 1510, and copies of his Astronomical
Treatises of 1510 and 1516, the last of these published at Cologne.
Sc. Sammarth. Elog., ubi supra.
and his childhood was spent at the foot of the Alps. Unlike Lefèvre, he
belonged to a family of considerable importance in the provincial nobility.
The contrast was still more marked between the mild and timid professor
and the pupil in whose nature courage was so prominent an element that
it often assumed the appearance of imprudent contempt of danger.
Devotion of scholar and pupil.
But, in spite of dissimilarity of character, Lefèvre and Farel lived
together in close friendship. Together they frequented the churches, and
united in the pious work, as they regarded it, of decking out with
flowers the pictures of the saints, to whose shrines they made frequent
pilgrimages. Lefèvre was scrupulously exact in the performance of his
religious duties, and was especially punctual in attendance on the mass.
In his zeal for the church, he had even undertaken as a meritorious task
to compile the lives of the saints whose names appear on the Roman
calendar, and had actually committed to the press an account of those
whose feast-days fell within the months of January and February.1 On
the other hand, Farel was so sincere an adherent of the current faith,
that, to employ his own forcible description, he had become "a very
Pantheon, full of intercessors, saviors and gods, of whom his heart
might have passed for a complete register." The papacy had so entrenched
itself in his heart, that even the Pope and papal church were not so papal as he.
The man who came to him with the Pope's endorsement appeared to him like a god, while he would gladly have overwhelmed in ruin the sacrilegious wretch that
dared to say a word against the Roman pontiff and his authority.2
Epistre à tons Seigneurs et Peuples (Edit. J. G. Fick),172.
The passage in which Farel describes his former
superstition is so characteristic, that I quote a few sentences: "Pour
vray la papauté n'estoit et n'est tant papale que mon cœur l'a
esté.... Car tellement il avoit aveuglé mes yeux et perverti tout en
moy, que s'il y avoit personnage qui fut approuvé selon le pape, il
m'estoit comme Dieu; si quelqu'un faisoit ou disoit quelque chose, d'ou
le pape et son estat en fut en quelque mespris, j'eusse voulu qu'un tel
... fut du tout abbatu, ruiné et destruit.... Ainsy Satan avoit logé le
pape, sa papauté, tout ce qui est de luy en mon cœur, de sorte que
le pape mesme, comme je croy, n'en avoit point tant en soy ne [ni]
les siens aussy, comme il y en avoit en moy.... Et ainsy je persevere,
ayant mon panteon en mon cœur, et tant d'advocats, tant de sauveurs,
tant de dieux que rien plus ... tellement que je pouvoye bien estre tenu
pour un registre papal, pour martyrologe," etc. Epistre à tous Seigneurs
et Peuples, 164, 167, 169.