Book: A History of the Huguenots
Author: W. Carlos Martyn

A History of the Huguenots By W. Carlos Martyn

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 302
Publication Date: 1866

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This is an excellent and inspiring tale of the Huguenots, an ethnoreligious group of French Protestants. John Calvin was a Frenchman and his reformation in the French speaking Swiss city of Geneva had a profound impact on his homeland. The story of these heroic Christians and their struggles for the faith is an edifying exercise for those who desire to know more of their spiritual heritage. The book starts with the history of pre-Reformation France covering the earlier reform movements of the Vaudois, and Cathars, etc. This less well known and fascinating part of history is a valuable addition to this work.

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THE venerable muse of history recites many lessons which are full of tears, but upon no occasion does her voice sink into deeper pathos than when she relates the story of French Protestantism. From its inception in the gray dawn of the Christian era, down through the dismal centuries to the crowning disaster of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, it is one prolonged tragedy. The night of persecution is only illuminated by the marvelous constancy, the patient meekness, the Christian heroism, and the deep devotion of these earliest Protestants, who were called the VAUDOIS at the outset, and afterwards the HUGUENOTS.

God seems to have designed their moving story to be the convincing proof not only of the vitality of Christianity, but also of the woeful cost at which it has been planted and preserved. Such a consideration adds new grandeur to a chapter of history which is indeed intrinsically momentous, and makes it still more worthy of the attentive study of thoughtful minds.

History attests that the Sixteenth century was the epoch of the Reformation. But revolutions are not made—they grow. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." The Reformation had its forerunner in the wilderness— its John the Baptist. It is not an isolated fact, a picture standing out upon the historic canvas without a background. There were preceding intellectual insurrections, which, however unhappy in their separate denouement, yet led inevitably to that triumphant movement which finally, by the aid of Faust’s type and Luther’s luminous eloquence, enfranchised Christendom.

Anterior to Luther, anterior to that Bradwardine who, in the cloister of the Oxford University, taught Wickliffe ethics, apostles were found who held tenaciously, and who zealously inculcated, both by their precepts and by their blameless lives, the essential tenets of the Reformation. And though the feudal system, which banished uniformity of laws and customs, and made each petty lord a despot in his own pocket-handkerchief territory, the obstacles to free intercourse between the nations, the prevailing ignorance, the absence of those mighty magicians, steam and the printing-press, which have conjured modern civilization into existence, and above all, the fanaticism of a priestly oligarchy, united their powerful hands to throttle the infant reform of these early teachers, we ought not for these reasons to withhold our grateful recognition of their faithful service and martyrdom; nor ought we to remain in ignorance of the momentous influence which these voices, raised in the dim twilight of Christianity, exerted upon medieval life and thought, long before Europe was animated by a murmur from the grave of Wickliffe, from the ashes of Huss, or from the vigils of Calvin.

In the fourth century, after enduring a persecution of remorseless severity with that patient, unfaltering heroism which is one of its most marked characteristics, Christianity, in the person of that Constantine who fought under the " flaming cross " which his heated imagination had descried in the heavens beneath the sun, with the inscription, " In hoc signo vinces"—By this sign thou shaft conquer—ascended the Roman throne, and thenceforward, covered by the imperial purple, secured protection and controlled the government; so that the successive bishops of that feeble church which St. Paul had planted under the shadow of the throne of the Caesars, gradually arrogated to themselves the supreme authority both in spiritual and in temporal affairs. Under Constantine, and indeed so late as Charlemagne, these bishops or popes were elected by the Priests, nobles, and people of Rome, and this election could be voided by the veto of the emperor.—But the death of Charlemagne was the signal for the most determined and unscrupulous effort on the part of the Roman bishops, not only to free themselves from the imperial trammels by securing the independence of papal election, but also to usurp dominion over the western empire, and to subdue to unquestioning vassalage the entire ecclesiastical and lay bodies. Unhappily this utter departure from the primitive simplicity and humility was acquiesced in very generally, until, under Hildebrand in the eleventh century, the stupendous structure of the papal despotism gloomed upon the misty horizon, awful and irresistible.

Then for five centuries the most atrocious vices, the most unchecked wickedness, the most unbridled sacerdotal ambition, and the most meaningless ceremonies corrupted and disgraced religion. It was the saturnalia of the church. Nominal Christianity ruled Europe and some portions of the African territory which fringed the Mediterranean sea, but vital piety lay torpid; stat nominis umbra. A priest-caste anchored itself in the prejudices and superstitions of the people; an oligarchy was built up, whose right hand was usurped authority linked with spiritual pride, and whose left hand was dogmatism and bigotry fiercer than the pagan.

Then a few true hearts revolted; they yearned to reinaugurate the primitive practice of apostolic days, and this was the first dissent. But from the germ of that feeble protest has grown the full flower modern civilization and Christianity.

It was not until the eleventh century that Rome fully awoke to the danger which menaced her unity from the new "heresy," though from the fourth century she had persecuted those isolated individuals who, through rashness or regardless zeal, had overstepped that prudence which necessitated secrecy, and ventured openly to proclaim the apostolic tenets. But now acting with her accustomed energy and greatly startled by the spread of the dissent, and by the increasing boldness of its advocates; she summoned those mailed crusaders whom she had just hurled upon the Saracen, and bade them tread out the reform under their iron heels.

The whole south of Europe was more or less infected with the dissenting tenets, but their chief seat was in southern France, that beautiful country which extends around the mouth of the Rhone, and sketches westward to the city of Toulouse, and stretches westward to the Pyrenees—a territory which comprised the old governments of Avignon, Provence, and Languedoc.