where immediately afterwards. Within two years Meaux, Poitiers, Angers, les Iles de Saintonge, Agen, Bourges, Issoudun, Aubigny, Blois, Tours, Lyon, Orléans and Rouen were organized. Thirty-six more were completely organized by 1560. According to Beza there were about this time 2150 organized churches. A few years later Cardinal St Croix reckoned that the Huguenots were one half of the population. One hundred and twenty-seven pastors had been sent to France from Geneva before 1567.
In 1558 a further stage in the development of Presbyterian
church polity was reached. Some doctrinal differences having
Synod. arisen in the church at Poitiers, Antoine de Chandieu, minister at Paris, went to compose them, and, as the result of a conference, a synod was convened to meet in Paris the following year (1559). It was the first general synod of the French Protestant Church, and consisted of representatives from, some say sixty-six, others, twelve churches. It adopted a confession of faith and a book of order or discipline. The confession consisted of forty articles. It was based on a short confession drafted by Calvin in 1557, and may still be regarded, though once or twice revised, as the confession of the French Protestant Church. The book of order, Discipline ecclesiastique des églises réformées de France, regulated the organization and procedure of the churches. It contains this fundamental statement of Presbyterian parity, “Aucune église ne pourra prétendre primaute ni domination sur l'autre; ni pareillement, les ministries d'une église les uns sur les autres; ni les anciens ou diacres, les uns sur les autres.” The various church courts, familiar to us now as Presbyterian, are explained. The consistoire or session consisted of the minister, elders and deacons (the latter without a vote), and was over the congregation. The colloque or presbytery was composed of representative ministers and elders (anciens) from a group of congregations. Next in order was the provincial synod which consisted of a minister and an elder or deacon from each church in the province. Over all was the general or national synod. Some of the arrangements are worthy of notice. When a church was first formed the office bearers were elected by the people, but there the power of the congregation ceased. Future vacancies in the eldership were filled up by the office-bearers. The eldership was not for life, but there was always a tendency to make it so. When the ministry of a church became vacant the choice of a successor rested with the colloque or with the provincial synod. The people, however, might object, and if their objection was considered valid redress was given. Later the synod of Nîmes (1572) decreed that no minister might be imposed upon an unwilling people. Deacons, in addition to having charge of the poor and sick, might catechize, and occasionally offer public prayer or read a written sermon. The president or moderator of each church court was primus inter pares. The remarkable feature of French church polity was its aristocratic nature, which it owed to the system of co-optation; and the exclusion of the congregation from direct and frequent interference in spiritual matters prevented many evils which result from too much inter meddling on the part of the laity. Up to 1565 the national synod consisted of a minister with one or two elders or deacons from every church; after that date, to avoid overcrowding, its numbers were restricted to representatives from each provincial synod. On questions of discipline elders and deacons might vote; on doctrinal questions only as many of these as there were ministers.
“It is interesting to see how in a country whose civil rule was becoming gradually more absolutist, this ‘Church under the cross’ framed for itself a government which reconciled, more thoroughly perhaps than has ever been done since, the two principles of popular rights and supreme control. Its constitution has spread to Holland, Scotland (Ireland, England), and to the great American (and Colonial) churches. Their ecclesiastical polity came much more from Paris than from Geneva.”
To trace the history of Presbyterianism in France for the next thirty years would be to write the history of France itself during that period. We should have to tell of the great and rapid increase of the Church; of its powerful influence among the nobles and the bourgeoisie; of its direful persecutions; of its St Bartholomew massacre with 70,000 victims; of its regrettable though perhaps inevitable entanglements in politics and war; and finally of its attaining not only tolerance but also honourable recognition and protection when Henry IV. in 1598 signed the famous edict of Nantes. This secured complete liberty of conscience everywhere within the realm and the free right of public worship in all places in which it existed during the years 1596 and 1597, or where it had been granted by the edict of Poitiers (1577) interpreted by the convention of Nérac (1578) and the treaty of Fleix (1580)—in all some two hundred towns; in two places in every bailliage and sénéchaussée; in the castles of Protestant seigneurs hauts justiciers (some three thousand); and in the houses of lesser nobles, provided the audience did not consist of more than thirty persons over and above relations of the family. Protestants were granted full civil rights and protection, and were permitted to hold their ecclesiastical assemblies—consistories, colloquies and synods, national and provincial. Under the protection of the edict the Huguenot Church of France flourished. Theological colleges were established at Sedan, Montauban and Saumur, and French theology became a counterpoise to the narrow Reformed scholastic of Switzerland and Holland.
The history of the Church from the passing of the edict of Nantes till its revocation in 1685 cannot be given here. That event was the climax of a long series of horrors. Under the persecution, a large number were killed, and between four and five millions of Protestants left the country. Early in the 18th century Antoine Court made marvellous efforts to restore Presbyterianism. In momentary peril of death for fifteen years, he restored in the Vivarais and the Cévennes Presbyterian church polity in all its integrity. In 1715 he assembled his first colloque. Synods were held in 1718, 1723, 1726 and 1727; and in a remote spot in Bas Languedoc in 1744 a national synod assembled—the first since 1660—which consisted of representatives from every province formerly Protestant.
From 1760 owing to the gradual spread of the sceptical spirit and the teaching of Voltaire more tolerant views prevailed. In 1787 the Edict of Tolerance was published. In 1789 all citizens were made equal before the law, and the position of Presbyterianism improved till 1791. In 1801 and 1802 Napoleon took into his own hands the independence of both Catholic and Protestant Churches, the national synod was abolished, and all active religious propaganda was rigorously forbidden. In 1848 an assembly representative of the églises consistoriales met at Paris. When it refused to discuss points of doctrine a secession took place under the name of the Union des églises évangéliques de France. This society held a synod at which a confession of faith and a book of order were drawn up. Meanwhile the national Protestant Church set itself to the work of reconstruction on the basis of universal suffrage, with restrictions, but no result was arrived at. In 1852 a change took place in its constitution. The églises consistoriales were abolished, and in each parish a presbyterial council was appointed, the minister being president, with four to seven elders chosen by the people. In the large towns there were consistories composed of all the ministers and of delegates from the various parishes. Over all was the central provincial council consisting of the two senior ministers and fifteen members nominated by the state in the first instance. In 1858 there were 617 pastors and the Union des églises évangéliques numbered 27 churches.
From the geographical position of the Netherlands, Presbyterianism there took its tone from France. In 1562 the Confessio belgica was publicly acknowledged, and in 1563 the church order was arranged. In 1574 the first provincial synod of Holland and Zealand was held, but William of Orange would not allow any action to be taken independently of the state. The Reformed churches had established themselves in independence of the state when that state was Catholic; when the government became Protestant the Church had protection and at the same time became dependent. It was a state church. By the union of Utrecht the communes and provinces had each the regulation of its own religion; hence constant conflict. In most cases it was insisted on as necessary that church discipline should remain with the civil authority. In 1576 William, with the support of Holland, Zeeland and their allies, put forth forty articles, by which doctors, elders and deacons were recognized, and church discipline given to the elders, subject to appeal to the magistrate and by which the Church was placed in absolute dependence on the state. These articles, however, never came into operation; and the decisions of the synod of Dort in 1578, which made the Church independent were equally fruitless. In 1581 the Middelburg Synod divided the Church, created provincial synods and presbyteries, but could not shake off the civil power in connexion with the choice of church officers. Thus, although the congregations were Presbyterian, the civil government retained overwhelming influence. The Leiden magistrates said in 1581: “If we accept everything determined upon in the synod, we shall end by being vassals of the synod. We will not open to churchmen a door for a new mastership over government and subjects, wife and child.” From 1618 a modified Presbyterian polity predominated. As a rule elders held office for only two years. The “kerk-raad” (kirk-session) met weekly, the magistrate being a member ex officio. The colloque consisted of one minister and one elder from each congregation. At the annual provincial
synod, held by consent of the states, two ministers and one
- Lindsay, Hist. of the Reform. ii. 166.
- Ibid. ii. 169.
- Ibid. ii. 222, 223.