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The Huguenots: A Study of a Minority, Part II

J.B. Morrall offers his study of the events that led to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and of the French Calvinists’ fortunes thereafter, both at home and abroad, down to the beginning of the present century.

It might have seemed, after the removal of the Huguenots’ political privileges in 1629, that the way was open to their peaceful absorption into the body of the nation, and even to a mutually accepted union between the two confessions.

The prospects for such a rapprochement were improved by the undoubted fact that, in both theory and practice, Catholics and Protestants had moved closer to each other in France.

Catholic teachers such as St. Francis de Sales laid emphasis on personal piety as a necessary accompaniment of participation in corporate religious observance. Jansenism, though ultimately condemned, did much to make clear that Catholicism as well as Protestantism believed in the central importance of God’s freely given grace for the achievement of salvation.

The highest reaches of the spiritual life were now thought of by Catholic mystical writers as being open to the laity as well as to cloistered religious; St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life was the manual of this movement. In theological exposition, there was a definite tendency to depreciate the authority of Scholasticism in favour of that of the Fathers, particularly St. Augustine.

All these tendencies can, it is true, be traced in pre-Reformation Catholicism; but their development in the seventeenth century must certainly have been hastened by the challenge of Protestantism.

On the Huguenot side, too, there was a softening of the originally jagged outlines of Reformation doctrine. The Arminian movement in the Dutch Calvinist Church had spread to France.

Arminianism laid less exclusive emphasis on grace than had traditional Calvinism, and no longer wrote off human good works as useless; Calvin’s grim doctrine of predestination was now softened to one of Divine foreknowledge of individual moral choice.

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