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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Here is to the Huguenots” (article: Salt, Covenant Theological Seminary student journal)

Salt
Official student publication of Covenant Theological Seminary
February 1972

It is interesting and inspiring (and somewhat embarrassing) for American Christians to note the beginnings of influential Biblical Christianity in France. During the 16th century, France was ravished by no less than eight civil wars. The reason for this blood bath was that the corruption and abuses of the central monarchial government of Francis I and Francis II became so wide¬spread that a group of Frenchmen began to publish tracts urging resistance to the king. The men were Huguenots, named after Calvin’s Genevan associate, Besancon Huges.  The men opposed the royal absolutism of the monarchy and pressed for governmental decentralization and local political autonomy. Dr. Paul T. Fuhrmann has stated, concerning Calvinism and the Huguenots, “What is common to early Calvinism and to the new Huguenot world is that no priest stands between God and man. The spring of religion is open to all men and women. The faithful now willingly associate in faith, in prayer, in love, and the good life. The minister is no longer a priest, but one of the brethren whose assignment is to diffuse the Word of God and to extend charity. Calvin’s religion had summed this new lay world without dominating it. Some civic and political liberties were born of this religious liberty. The greatest quality of the Huguenots was indeed the ability to govern himself. And this control of self, this moral sovereignty of the person brought about an entirely new idea and type of individual, social, and political life. We have here, not an equalitarian and flat democracy, but a varied society, hence a colorful society, hence a free society.

There were many leaders of the Huguenots during the 16th century, but none perhaps as influential as Philip Mornay. He advanced the idea that the king rules under the control of God, and, by the will of the people. Furthermore, he rules only by virtue of a divine contract with God and the people. If and when the monarch breaks or violates the contract (thus becoming an idolatrous ruler) then the people can resist his rule and authority. Therefore, to safeguard the divine contract, a representative body from the people must be chosen to “assist” the king in governing. Here, in Mornay’s writings, do we find the first clear-cut political philosophy of domestic balance-of-power, or separation of political power within a state.

But, these ideas are not the only political statements to come down to us from our French Huguenot brethren. It is indeed interesting to read of Admiral de Coligni’s plan to colonize American with French Calvinists. When the plan to Calvinize the monarchy failed, de Coligni uttered in 1555, “If then Calvinism is not to be tolerated in France, allow your Huguenots to emigrate to America. Let there be a Catholic France with Calvinistic colonies.” In 1573, (a year after 30,000 of their brethren were killed in the St. Bartholomew Massacre) the Huguenots, composing roughly anywhere from one-third to one-half of the French population, drew up a plan to have a Reformed state within the larger Catholic state of France. To implement this state-within-a-state scheme, they daringly drew up a constitution, called, “The Rules of Policy and War” which, to an amazing degree, preludes the American Constitution. Abraham Kuyper gives an enlightening outline of the Rules, “From their homes, the Huguenots come to the market place, and swear for themselves and their descendants that the following statues (which they shall enact) shall be kept. Then, after taking an oath, they elect from their own number, by a popular vote, a mayor and a council of one hundred members. The choice is made from the people and the nobility, without preference of either class. The one hundred councilors divide themselves into two chambers, one of which consists of the mayor and twenty-five councilors and the other of the remaining seventy-five. No decree of the mayor is valid without the approval of the first. The approval of the seventy-five is needed for every matter of importance, such as the introduction of new laws, raising taxes, military operations, coinage, etc. The mayor abdicates each year, and is not eligible for re-election. Likewise the two councils resign from office each year on January one, but may be elected again. The right of election of the first chamber is vested in the second, and that of the second in the first. A jury is added to the tribunal. From these mayors and first councils, a state governor and a captain-general are appointed. These appointments also are to be made by the people; but on account of the embarrassments of the time, it rested temporarily with the councils. Their power is by no means unlimited, and, mark you, at the close of the war, they lose their rank, and return to private life.”

Four-hundred years ago, the French Calvinists wrote in their constitution principles which we in America just recently wrote in ours (limitation of the number of terms of office), and are still striving to implement (better controls of the military, and a better instituted system allowing for participatory democracy.)

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