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Good Words 1860
Protestantism in France


There is no Church that claims from British Christians a more warm and lively interest than the Protestant Church of France. It is not merely the charm of old associations and the bond of spiritual kindred that united the Protestants of France and Geneva, in the sixteenth century, with that of Scotland, and with the most earnest and evangelical party in the English Reformation; but it is, moreover, its own exciting and picturesque story, its roll of martyrs, of "whom the world was not worthy," and whose blood has been the seed of ever new life, through all its oppressions and persecutions, the learning and eloquence of its clergy, and the beauty and activity of its practical philanthropy, that combine to make it interesting, and to draw our sympathies cordially around it. With so much to attract us towards French Protestantism, and so much of affinity of Christian doctrine and enterprise between us, we are far from being well informed as to its present state and movements; the rapid increase that during the last thirty years has taken place in the number of its adherents, of its churches, its schools, its literary, missionary, and charitable agencies. The following pages, founded upon a carefully informed pamphlet of M. Grandpierre, [Rapport sur la situation intériure du Protestantisme en France, par J. H. Grandpierre, pasteur de l'Eglise Réformée de Paris. 1858.] well known as one of the pastors connected with the Oratoire in Paris, deserve, and will amply reward, in this point of view, the attention of our readers.

At the date of the Edict of Nantes, the 22d October 1685, when Louis XIV., by a fatal blow, destroyed at once the civil rights and the religious privileges of his Protestant subjects, they numbered 800 churches and 640 clergy. The vast amount of peaceful industry and advancing civilisation represented by these figures was then, most disastrously for France, broken up, almost at the very time that the great Revolution was about to secure Protestant liberty and political progress to our own country.

In 1808,—six years after the promulgation of the law of the 10th Germinal, as it was called, (the 8th April 1802,) restored the legal existence of the Protestant worship,—there was in the whole of France only 190 Reformed churches, and about 190 clergy. Thus in the course of somewhat more than a century's persecution, upwards of three-fourths of the Protestants may be said to have been expelled or to have disappeared from the soil of France.

Thirteen years later, the Protestant Annual, published in 1821, registered the names of 255 clergy and a nearly equal number of churches. An increase of sixty-five churches and ministers had taken place in this time. Seven years later, statistics were published which shewed a corresponding increase. The clergy had risen to nearly 300, while 400 places of worship had sprung up, with nearly as many schools.
But it is in the thirty years that have elapsed since then that the most astonishing and rapid increase has been manifested. The Protestant Annual of 1857 reckons that there are now in France 105 consistories, comprising 972 churches, with upwards of a thousand schools, under the direction of 601 clergy. During this period, then, the number of Protestant churches in Prance have more than trebled. Such an increase can scarcely be paralleled even by our own Scottish Protestantism, with all the singular and exciting causes which have given it development during the last quarter of a century.

This remarkable progress of Protestantism in France will be best seen, perhaps, by a single example. Thirty years ago there were in Paris only three Protestant clergy, with one assistant clergyman, and two churches, with one in the suburbs. There are at this moment six fully endowed clergy, one of these being an assistant, with seven auxiliary clergy; and in the suburbs four churches, with a corresponding number of pastors. That is to say, in all there are in Paris at present eighteen clergy in place of five, and sixteen places of worship instead of three, in 1830, connected with the Reformed Church of France.

But this by no means represents the full increase ; for in the same space of time that old branch of French Protestantism which adheres to the Confession of Augsburg has made a corresponding advancement. While, in 1830, it had only in the capital a single place of worship, with three pastors, it has now in Paris, and in the suburbs together, ten places of worship, and nine clergy instead of three. In addition to both these forms of Protestantism, which are recognised and supported by the State, there have sprung up during the same period a vigorous Protestant dissent in France; and in Paris alone, while there was in 1825 only a single dissenting Protestant church, there are now in the same city a dozen such places of worship, with eleven or twelve ministers. The Protestant clergy in Paris, therefore, during the last thirty years, have increased from nine to thirty-nine, or more than quadrupled, and the places of Protestant worship augmented in more than the same proportion.

It may be interesting to some of our readers to classify the different forms of Protestant dissent in France. This dissent has arisen in no small degree from intercourse with some of the most active of our British Dissenting Churches ; and its several divisions take their name and character a good deal from this circumstance. It falls into three main divisions—

1. The Union of Evangelical Churches of France, formed in 1850, which embraces, with certain offshoots from the Established Reformed church, the most of the independent churches which have sprung up in France during the last half-century. These churches have, as their bond of union, a common confession of faith, and biennial synods. There are certain points, however, such as the constitution of the Church, the question of baptism, and the terms of communion, on which they agree to differ.

2. The Wesleyan Methodist Churches, which support about fifty preachers, seven evangelists, and thirty-six places of worship, and reckon about thirteen hundred members.

3. The Baptist Churches, of which there are about ten, employing six or seven clergy, several of whom are supported by the Society of American Baptist Missions.

Then there are several evangelical churches, such as those of Lyons and Orthes, which do not attach themselves to any of the above denominations.

Summing up, then, all the elements of French Protestantism, there may be fairly reckoned at the present day in France 1000 Protestant clergy, with 1500 or 1600 places of worship, and nearly 1800 schools. During fifty years of comparative liberty, French Protestantism has more than recovered the position which it occupied when the Edict of Nantes shattered and overturned its prosperity.

But it shews a feature of progress still more encouraging than this mere numerical advancement. Forty years ago French Protestantism was not only emerging from external ruin, but from the decay of its internal life. Of its three hundred clergy at that time, one might have counted on their fingers, says M. Grandpierre, the few who faithfully and courageously preached the doctrines of the Cross. The misfortune of the times, the poverty of the clergy, the want of popular interest and choice in their appointment, combined with the general laxity of Christian principle which followed the long dead-ness of the eighteenth century, had ended in such a deplorable result. But at the present time it can be safely affirmed that more than one-half of the Protestant clergy in France are orthodox in their creed, while many even of those who are latitudinarian in their doctrinal opinions are animated by a far higher spirit of religious culture and of pious earnestness than can be said to have characterised the rationalist clergy of the beginning of the century. There is a living evangelical feeling widely diffused throughout French Protestantism, a feeling which is rapidly spreading and increasing among the younger clergy, even where they do not adhere to the old dogmatic symbols. Works evincing a reviving theological learning of the best kind are frequently appearing; the preaching is at once eloquent and faithful; the pastorate enlightened, laborious, and self-denying; and the astonishing progress which, on all hands, it is making, even in the face of renewed attempts at interference, if not persecution, is only the natural consequence of the higher life everywhere animating it, and carrying it triumphantly forward.

In our next notice we shall record the progress made by its theological schools, and its numerous literary, missionary, and charitable agencies.


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