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exalted are we, for our lawgiver is Christ, our mediator and great high priest, the medium of access to the Father and the mercy seat, the channel of divine communication between heaven anil earth, through which a world instead of a nation is to be redeemed and saved.
ART. III.—THE AGE OF LOUIS XIV. IN CHURCH
On the seventh of March, 1861, cardinal Mazarin, shrinking with horror at the conviction that it was impossible for him to enter the kingdom of heaven, solaced with cards, bade a final adieu to his vast treasures, his “ beloved pictures” and his power.
At his death, Louis XIV., then twenty-two years of age, assumed direction of the affairs of the realm and inaugurated the most brilliant age of French history. “To whom, Sire, shall we now apply for directions?” asked the secretary of state, when the crafty Italian minister was no more. “ To me,” was the decisive, unhesitating reply. Absolute monarchy was begun and Louis stood as its perfect representative before Europe. “I am the State," was the declaration of a monarch who spared nothing to fulfil his central thought: “One Faith, one King, one Law.”
At the head of his armies were Turenne, Conde, Luxembourg and Vendome; Colbert was his financier. Under such leaders the fortunes of France, almost ruined by the wretched administration of the cardinals, were placed in the foremost rank among the nations. Freed from the menaces of Spain, the plots of Fronde and League ended, the land at length rested from the civil wars which for nearly a century had brought fearful disaster to financial and political life. Her boundaries were extended by the addition of the rich provinces of Lorraine, Flanders, Franche-Comte and Strasbourg.
The period from the death of Mazarin to that of the king in 1715, is fittingly called the Age of Louis XIV. Under his patronage arts and sciences flourished as in no previous reign. The genius of Vauban, of Riquet, Perrault and Mansard appeared in the construction of fortifications, canals and palaces; the great names of Poussin and Le Sueur head the list of celebrated painters ; in literature we meet Corneille, Racine, Moliere and La Fontaine, Bossuet and Pascal.
An age opening with wonderful brilliancy in art, in letters and in war, it was apparently the dawning of a long illustrious career of glory for France ; but the sun of its glory no sooner approached its meridian splendor than it hastened to set in gloom. The seeds of destruction were planted by the very hand that scattered largesses to poet and painter; deep and cruel wounds were inflicted upon France by the heart governed by mistresses of the court. The prodigal expenditures in wars and upon palaces bore with grievous weight upon the people. Monarchy was triumphant, parliament and the people were nothing. The most hideous aspects of absolutism were placed before the realm, and long before the peevish, “stagy” old monarch died, that reaction began which resulted in the revolution of 1789.
We shall look with interest for the religious developments of such a reign,—we shall expect to find the happiest results of unbiased catholicism, for never was there closer union between church and state; the Bible was withdrawn and the massbook everywhere appeared instead ; papal influences permeated and controlled the realm ; the heart of the sovereign was open to the poison of a Jesuit confessor; the most brilliant minds, with few exceptions, were either engaged in the defence of the Romish church or by their talents gave it glory in the eyes of the world. In the firmament of the church shone Bourdaloue, Bossuet, Massillon, Bridaine and Fenelon. But uncontrolled Catholicism brought in the reign of reason; the crosier, raised aloft in pride and insolence, became the object of contempt.
At the begininng of this age we see Italy, Austria and Spain no longer leading the nations in art and in war. The efforts of the Pontiff and of that favorite son of the church, Philip II., to establish the Catholic faith by the poniard of the assassin,
by the inquisition and by arms, had failed in every land save Spain. There intellectual vigor and the spirit of inquiry, were hopelessly crushed. The monk and bigot sat grimly smiling corpse
of freedom and called the universal stillness peace, but it was the startling quiet of death. No heretic disturbed the devotee of the most holy faith,” but the nation, once the terror of Europe, the chosen, secular arm of the papacy, sank into pitiable insignificance and, during the greater part of the reign of Louis XIV., was ruled by the half-idiotic grandson of Philip II., under the title of Charles II.
Henry of Navarre, chief of the Huguenots, ascended the throne in 1594. From motives of expediency he abjured the faith of his childhood and the object of his noblest struggles, thus losing the glorious opportunity of giving to France the reformed religion and of breaking up forever the religious and political centralization of the realm. He satisfied his conscience by the fact that his course enabled him to promulgate the edict of Nantes, and thus he hoped to serve his faithful followers better by his apostacy than by his truth. So the reign whose opening was radiant with no common promise, accomplished little for the civil and religious liberties of France. His “perpetual and irrevocable law,” as the edict in favor of religious toleration was styled, was unceremoniously and cruelly revoked by his grandson, in whose reign the banished Jesuits returned, maddened by long years of depression, to wreak a more fearful vengeance and a more complete extermination upon those whom that Protestant charter had protected, than the abjuring Bearnese could have imagined.
After the death of Henry IV., alliance with Spain was sought with as much eagerness as he had repelled it. Protestantism was imperilled and its chiefs gathered once more for its defence. Another civil war was inaugurated, resulting in the loss of the province of Bearn, the patrimony of Henry of Navarre; its lands were confiscated and its privileges annulled. In answer to the remonstrances of the province, claiming the favors granted by Henry III. and Henry IV., the king, Louis XIII., replied that “the one feared, the other loved them, but he neither feared nor loved them.”
By the fall of Rochelle, the citadel and headquarters of Protestantism, in 1629,the last bulwark of the reformers was destroyed. In the favorite church of St. Marguerite, in that wretched city, Richelieu held high mass in honor of this strange victory, which, though it quickened his hopes of a glorious and unified France, hastened the preparation for absolute monarchy, for complete crystallization and forced uniformity in church and state, under the despotic will of Louis XIV.
Mazarin, the successor of Richelieu, though not considered a friend of the Protestant faith, confirmed the privileges of the edict of Nantes and became a shield against further persecutions. At the death of that ecclesiastic, Louis, in the flush of youth and power, sought some appropriate way to signalize his piety. There must be but one faith, and he resolved to be the special evangel of that faith to France ; he would make proselytes and every day should witness new converts.
The terrible work was inaugurated. Flight from the country was forbidden by the severest edicts; children were kidnapped to be brought up under Catholic teaching; dying Huguenots were tormented by magistrates and priests who imposed their presence to receive recantations. Often the crucifix was placed at the lips from which the last breath was issuing and the expiring subject was pronounced a convert. But kingly zeal devised new measures for producing conversions more rapidly. The gown
and the cassock employed only spiritual devices ; reasoning was a slow and somewhat uncertain process, and was therefore declared unnecessary. Military agency was invoked that conversions might be effected in a moment at the point of the bayonet.
The Huguenots offered no resistance. “The peaceful flock," as Mazarin was pleased to term them, met in sorrow to pray that the king's heart might yet be softened toward them. But blow followed blow with increasing force. Their churches were levelled ; they were required to bury their dead after night-fall; the singing of psalms was forbidden; pastors were banished; children were prohibited from gathering in schools.
We have not the heart to dwell upon or to rehearse at any length the story of the insults, indignities and horrors of this period of persecution. Its martyrologies fill many volumes, and yet that dreadful tale of suffering and woe remains untold. The massacre of St. Bartholomew may, for terror, stand alone, but the most revolting chapter in French persecution is furnished by that of the dragonnades of Louis XIV. Impiously, in the name of the Prince of Peace, the royal persecutor and his court offered up these hecatombs of helpless, impoverished, hunted victims.
“ In that servile court, obedience to the presiding demigod was not merely a law but a passion. To win his smile by making proselytes became the daily labor of all the sycophants who thronged it. At each levee, dukes, peers, bishops and generals laid before him their list of new converts. No post reached Versailles without intelligence of some Protestant church having been demolished, or of the dispersion of some Protestant assembly. If, with such grateful tidings, there also came the news of riots, outrages and conflagrations, of which the heretics had been the victims, the sovereign, jealous as he was of his power, regarded with seeming indifference and with at least supposed favor, such violations of the laws of which he was the guard
Patience and resignation at length gave way. Reaction began in 1683. A confederacy was formed, and sixteen delegates from Languedoc, Cevennes, Vivarais and Dauphine, determined in council at Toulouse, to assert their faith despite all consequences and no longer to be registered as converts to Catholicism,—to die rather than abjure. It was ordered by the council that on a certain Sabbath all the churches should be opened and divine worship conducted. Not only were churches re-opened, but many congregations, glad even to gather on the ruins of their temples which Catholic zeal had demolished, sang their wonted hymns, made dear by the rigor which had forbidden their use, and bowed in fervent prayer. Away from the precincts of church and church ruin, many of those who had abjured upon compulsion gathered in forest and beside noisy streams to utter their sorrowful and repentant petitions.
*Stephen's Lectures on France.