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5 Setting the Problem: Religious Values
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The Parlementaire Religious Tradition

The mystique of the French monarch as the Most Christian King has long been postulated as a major factor in European history, but the corollary mystique of France as the most Christian kingdom was apt to be dismissed as an invention of the propagandists of Philip IV (the Fair) in that king's struggle with Pope Boniface VIII at the opening of the fourteenth century. Not until the appearance of Joseph Strayer's magisterial essay was the equal place of the other elements fully recognized. He points out that "some of this glorification of France dates back to a period long before [Pierre] Dubois wrote" and that Guillaume de Nogaret's assertion, "the kingdom of France was chosen by the Lord and blessed above all other kingdoms of the world," was not unprecedented. Indeed, French believers held that France was the most important part of the church itself. "Any attack on the rights of the king or the independence and integrity of his kingdom was an attack on the faith. Conversely, any steps taken by the king to defend or strengthen his kingdom are for the benefit of Christendom." Nor were these sentiments confined to individuals who were, after all, apologists for a powerful French king. A Dominican monk, Guillaume de Sauqueville, claimed for the French king the lineage of David, thus making him "a type of Christ" and France "a type of the heavenly kingdom." Strayer comments, "Those who heard (rather than read) his sermons might have been a little confused about how close the resemblance was."[1]

Strayer's object is to show how this pairing of the king and the kingdom as especially Christian enabled the French "to avoid, to a very large degree,


any feeling of contradiction between their duties to the church and their duties to the state. . . . Loyalty to France was bound to be loyalty to the church, even if the church occasionally doubted it. . . . In France, the religion of nationalism grew early and easily out of the religion of monarchy."[2] The essay serves the purposes of this study by showing how the French land, people, and king were believed to owe their unique and superior status to their linkage through the Roman Catholic Church, designated by the words Holy, Chosen , and Christian in the formula. Until the sixteenth century, no other institutionalized form of Christianity existed in western Europe. Heresies sprang up from time to time, but the church of Peter held its own as Holy Mother Church. When an important heresy surfaced in Languedoc, it was suppressed in the early thirteenth century by the combined forces of the papacy and the crown, to the advantage of both; the crown in particular, found in the Albigensian crusade the means finally to dominate that valuable and long-coveted region.

French culture was permeated by Roman Catholicism from its cradle so to speak. In the chaotic generations when Christianity was spreading through the tottering western Roman Empire, especially after the Visigoths had overrun North Africa and sacked the city of Rome itself (410 C.E.), the most vital centers of western Christianity—that is, those that recognized the leadership of Rome—were the monasteries of Gaul, and the most influential figures were Gallic, such as Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Denis.

Then the Franks, no longer contained east of the Rhine frontier, conquered Roman Gaul about 500 C.E. under the leadership of Clovis, who "defended the one true church against the heretic," as Pierre Droit de Gaillard has reminded us. The historical significance of this warrior-king was that, first, he alone of all the barbarian chieftains who were establishing kingdoms on the ruins of the western empire chose adherence to Rome rather than the Arian "heresy," and second, that he imposed this choice on his newly created Frankish kingdom.

The Carolingian family was able to take over the kingship in the middle of the eighth century, as a result of papal gratitude for the rescue of the papal states (not to mention their enlargement) by Pepin III, when he was still only "mayor of the palace" in the Frankish kingdom. This enabled his son, Charlemagne, to rule the most impressive European empire seen since that of Rome, with the active participation of churchmen as administrators and judges for the "emperor," whose title had been bestowed by the pope. In the scramble to succeed to the kingship when Charlemagne's heirs in


turn lost control of the (West) Frankish kingdom, in the late tenth century, the house of Hugh Capet prevailed over its rivals in no small part because of the backing of the church, symbolized by the holy oil with which the kings of France were anointed for as long as the monarchy endured. The significance of the sacred aspects of Capetian kingship have been well known since the appearance of Marc Bloch's influential study Les Rois thaumaturges .[3]

Throughout the centuries the rhythm of life for believers—serfs, peasants, townspeople, and elites—followed the church calendar: the daily prayers, the weekly penance and masses, the seasons of fast and feast, the saints associated with every activity, occupation, and place through relics and shrines. The sacraments punctuated human life from baptism, which conferred "provisional membership" in the Christian community immediately upon birth, to the last rites, as an individual passed into the next life, and even beyond the grave, in the masses said for the dead. In an age of faith, an individual cut off from the sacraments was cut off from the human community as surely as were outcasts from the tribe, and powerful kings were brought to their knees by popes placing their kingdoms under the interdict. The church was often influential in shaping public policy, including war aims. War against the Moslem Turks who had conquered the Holy Land were fought under the sign of the cross, crusades. It is worth noting that the crusading movement was predominantly French, with three French kings among the leaders and a greater number of French nobles taking the cross than from all other regions of Europe combined. In the reign of Louis IX (died 1270), what the French call le rayonnement (cultural leadership or sphere of influence) of France extended from the Atlantic to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean—where the kingdoms of the earlier crusaders had been established. Roman Catholicism, in short, was a multifaceted force in French culture, so deeply embedded that abuses in the church in a negative direction, or new spiritual initiatives (heresy) in a positive direction, could not easily be perceived as isolated phenomena to be considered on their own merits, as they might, for instance, in the Germanies or the Netherlands.

The hold of the Roman church was further reinforced in France by the special application of a general European belief that religion was the most important cohesive factor in holding a community or kingdom together. As the concept of the state as such developed in sixteenth-century political theory, the principle of cuius regio eius religio was expressed in a variety


of formulae. In its Latin form the phrase is associated primarily with Martin Luther, who proclaimed it in the 1530s on behalf of the German princes who had adopted his reforms, and with the Peace of Augsburg (1555) when it triumphed. German princes, Lutheran or not, were able to assert independence in religious choice from the emperor. The phrase in itself is confessionally neutral: if the prince was Protestant so was the state. Where Catholicism was very strong, as in France, so was its claim to be the one faith that completed the trilogy un roi, une loi, une foi .

This principle was the underlying presupposition of the parlementaire religious tradition. We shall find mainstream spokesmen in every generation reiterating and elaborating it—as an argument against any degree of religious toleration in the decades when heresy threatened or seemed to threaten, from the 1520s to the 1570s, and later, in the 1590s, as the main basis of the argument that Henri IV should abjure Calvinism and become a Roman Catholic—in order to maintain the traditional unity between church and state, crown and people. It was by then unthinkable for the French people to be other than Roman Catholic; if Henri was to be accepted as king he must follow suit, no matter how strong his legitimate claim under the Salic law.[4]

If the one faith could be any faith adopted by the legal ruler, Lutheran in Saxony, Anglican in England, and so on, there was one institutional element in the French tradition wholly unique to France: the liberties of the Gallican church. These frequently figured as the issue in parlementaire discussions of religion and in periods of special tension between France and Rome, the Gallican issue absorbed all others. The most admired parlementaire models, like Jean Jouvenal des Ursins in earlier centuries and Thibault Baillet and Christophe de Thou in our period, were those whose reputation rested on the defense of the Gallican liberties (and/or of the Parlement itself); the most hated villains were those like Antoine Duprat, who breached the defenses and imperiled the autonomy of either. Even the kings of France, as individual rulers, were tested by these criteria and when they did not measure up, the Parlement—representing the true king, the other "eternal body"—was duty-bound to remonstrate and to refuse to bow.[5] The fight over the Concordat of Bologna is the classic case.


These institutionalized traditions overlap: the French church, at one and the same time, exists as the most important part of l'église catholique, apostolique, et romaine , accepting the spiritual direction of the popes, and exists also as a unique national institution whose ecclesiastical administration has always been in French hands and whose authority alone has kept (or regained) the original autonomy of the primitive church.

When we turn from institutional matters to the personal spiritual life of our robins , the evidence is both less abundant and less explicit—after all, they were lawyers, most at ease with the vocabulary and structures of institutions. Yet the chief characteristics of their spiritual life are clear enough. The visible manifestations, their religious behavior, conformed to conventional, conservative, Roman Catholic piety in every respect; with a religious style ranging from "modest"—a word often used with approval in this context—to austere. The latter is infrequent, but admirable if not carried too far. Excess of any kind in expressions of piety is explicitly condemned. La Roche-Flavin gives examples of "ostentations," practices inappropriate to a judge, which include too frequent attendance at mass, prostration during prayers, publicizing one's pilgrimages and, especially, one's acts of charity, even "too much" study of and meditation on scripture.[6]

The more frequent incidence of such moralizing about religious behavior in the later decades as compared to earlier reflects the unfavorable impression made by the dramatic Counter-Reformation religiosity fashionable in ligueur Paris, specifically by Henri III in the final years of his reign, when the king and members of his court attracted much comment by taking part in processions through the streets of the city, some honoring the exposed Host (this was offensive to conservatives under any circumstances), others dramatizing human sin, the participants barefoot, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and, in the case of flagellants, beating one another.[7]

The positive content of desirable "modest" behavior was simple conformity to tradition, and the reason for it was the necessity to maintain order in an increasingly disorderly society. Gabriel Naudé was later to write, apropos of religious choice,

que la plus connue est toujours la meilleure, qu'il est dangereux d'y rien changer et peu utile, que ce n'est à un particulier de le faire, et enfin qu'un Royaume Chrétien bien policé ne doit jamais recevoir d'autres nouveautez


en religion, que celles que les Papes ou Conciles ont accoustumé d'y introduire.[8]

In private, away from prying eyes, however, one could maintain a degree of isolation which permitted "a certain license," that is, independence of belief. But the façade of "austere and discreet wisdom, studious serenity and irreproachable decency" should never be disturbed.[9]

Montaigne, who was in many ways atypical, is in this an articulate representative of robin opinion. In Essai no. 22, "De la coutume, et de ne pas changer aisement une loy reçue," he says,

le sage doit au dedans retirer son âme . . . et la tenir en liberté et puissance de juger librement les choses, mais quant au dehors, qu'il doit suivre entièrement des façons et formes reçues. . . . Car, c'est la regle des regles . . .que chacun observe celles du lieu où il est.

He regards it as self-importance and presumption to repudiate accepted beliefs and to establish new ones. The result:

renverser la paix publique et introduire de maux inévitables, et une horrible corruption de moeurs que les guerres civiles rapportent, et mutations de l'état. . . . Me semblant très-inique de vouloir soumettre les constitutions et observances publiques et immobiles, à l'instabilité d'une privée fantasie (la raison n'a qu'une juridiction privée. . . .)[10]

To the extent that any new ideas, different from the traditional, whether religious, like those of the reformers, or philosophical like those of the "libertines," tempted the typical robin , they reinforced his obligation to maintain control, conserver la façade : "the men attracted by disbelief . . . are those who can least permit themselves to show any signs of it."[11]

In cases where new ideas had actually taken root, conventional conformity constituted dissimulation of true belief. John Calvin castigated mercilessly those who secretly agreed with him while maintaining a Catholic façade. He called them Nicodemites, after Nicodemus, who came to Jesus


by night.[12] A major question to consider in the following chapters arises: of the several religious postures discernible among members of Parlement is there one (or more) that we might label Nicodemite? if so, on what doctrinal grounds? on the basis of what kinds of evidence?

It is never easy and often impossible to be really certain of the doctrinal content of beliefs whose only clear character is their personal, private "inner" nature, as distinct from beliefs expressed externally, in ceremony and ritual. In a singularly important address to the American Historical Association in 1971, William Bouwsma concluded that early modern lawyers, both Catholic and Protestant, shared a preference "for a kind of piety that stressed the spiritual and inward quality of the faith, contrasted it sharply with the world and its ways, and, by emphasizing the incongruity, liberated secular life from direct religious control." They tended to an Augustinian spirituality and were "forced to recognize that the earthly city . . . could at best achieve only a contingent order quite different from that of the heavenly city. . . . For if the lawyer, as secularizer, was in some sense an agent of change, he also represented the need for order and gave expression to the conservative impulses of his age." The role of lawyers in an age of rapidly changing cultural patterns became central, because they were conditioned to the existence of conflicts that could never be entirely eliminated. Solution lay in accommodation. "Their role, in short, was to man the frontiers between the safe and familiar on the one hand, the dangerous and new on the other; between the tolerable and the intolerable; between the conventional world and the chaos beyond it. They constituted a kind of civil militia, whose difficulties were compounded by the fact that the precise location of the frontiers to which they were assigned was rarely clear, and these frontiers were constantly changing. We may well ask what kind of men these were."[13] This study is one attempt to answer that question, in the limited context of parlementaire mentalité , and the predicament described is precisely that of our robins , when their own religious tradition was faced with the drastic challenges of the sixteenth century.

The "modest" low-key religious attitude prescribed by La Roche-Flavin for aspiring magistrates characterized L'Estoile's reportage of parlementaire behavior. Moreover, he consistently practiced what he preached. Excep-


tional, as previously mentioned, is the extensive statement of his personal religious beliefs during a critical illness in September 1610. He was sixty-four years old. Deeply troubled by suspicions—hardening into accusations—of heresy, he felt compelled to set the record straight, especially to spare his children the stigma. After a lifetime of fiercely guarded silence or indirect allusions to faith even in the Mémoires-Journaux , the stress of speaking out was painful; acute physical suffering and the expectation of imminent death steeled his determination. Once he resolved to speak out, the dam broke. The torrent of words (eleven pages in the Brunet edition) gives the impression of a man in great haste, fearing that he would run out of time or strength before finishing the task.[14]

The most significant points follow: On Thursday, September 2,

God afflicted me with . . . several infirmities, the least of which would have been enough to kill me had not the hand on high that had always sustained me [intervened] . . . for beside the fever and a great intestinal hemorrhage, my hemorrhoids were on fire, causing difficulty of urinating that tormented me as much or more than all the rest. . . . Believing that God was about to call me, which was also the opinion of all those present, including my doctors, I requested that the last rites . . . be administered by the vicar of St-André who came on Tuesday, the 14th of the month (11:7).

At this meeting there was a long discussion about whether the Eucharist could be administered in both kinds, as L'Estoile wished, or only in one, as was the common practice. L'Estoile could not agree that this was a matter of indifference, "as some leaders of this church tried to make [him] believe."

I have always believed and [still] believe that a good Christian should not be deprived of so great a benefit in the hour when he most needs it because of a corruption of the form; the principal should not be rejected because of an accessory, as those of the Religion do, having entirely abolished the practice [of extreme unction]. [All their arguments] I find vain and futile, serving only to uproot a holy practice in God's church, [one] not contrary to His word but conforming to it, though masked by the abuses and corruption that have slipped in, which it is necessary to remove and reform and restore to correct usage, as all good men, myself the first, hope for, and not to abolish a thing good and holy in itself (11:8).


The discussion was studded with Pierre's citations from the fathers of the church, in Latin, with chapter and verse. There was no meeting of minds. Pierre continues,

The day before, the 13th, wishing to confess and be reconciled [with God] before receiving the sacrament, I requested that a Jacobin, named Père des Landes, who seemed to preach more purely than others, come to visit me. He did so and consoled me greatly. His object was, after chastising my sins and asking me to beg God's forgiveness, to extract from me a declaration that I would die in the faith of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. There was no difficulty about complying with the first two requirements . . . but as for the third, on which he strongly insisted (remonstrating that to believe everything the Roman Church believed, and that it could not err, was necessary for salvation), I could not yield, seeing that the contrary was apparent on several doctrinal matters; until, overcome by feebleness of body and spirit. . . . I conceded, on condition that he could prove to me that the Roman Church of today conformed in every way to that of the ancient church, of the Apostles and Saint Paul, which preached only Jesus Christ crucified, recognizing no other basis for salvation, in which Roman faith I had always lived and wished to die. He promised me to do so if God restored my health (although I seriously doubt that he could, able as he is). We stopped there and I fear that's where we'll stay (11:9).

L'Estoile writes that he cannot remember some other points discussed, but he does remember the Jacobin speaking of the invocation of saints as an important practice of the church. "To which I responded that I recognized only one maître des requêtes in heaven, Jesus Christ, my savior and sole mediator, and that, miserable sinner that I might be, I was confident that in appealing to Him, . . . I should never be turned away." He appeased the monk somewhat by conceding that the invocation of saints "and even of the dead" was a very ancient custom, "and that I would be glad to be instructed by a good and learned man like him, if he could prove that this was in accord with Holy Scripture, where there is no mention of it, which made it hard for me to believe" (11:10).

He concludes that he would always honor this good monk for his patience and for having kindly put up with his frankness—a frankness occasioned by his conviction that he was on the edge of death ("though God ordained otherwise") and had arrived at that moment when, as Montaigne says in his Essais ,[15]


it is necessary to speak French and show whatever is good and clean at the bottom of the pot. That is why, if he had not offered me this liberty, I would have taken it, for my nature is such that I will always turn to open dissent rather than to hypocrisy (though God keep me from the one or the other!). I am only annoyed that this good father believes (as he has since said) that I hold mistaken and heretical opinions, discordant with the teachings of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, which I have never intended, except insofar as the disaccord that I have on several points with the latter is in accordance (as I believe that it is) with the word of God, which I will always prefer to the commands and traditions of popes and of men. I learned also that he told my son that I had many heretical books of all sorts that I had avidly read, which was one of the reasons for my maintaining my errors. Upon which I remembered that when I was at my most feeble, the good man spoke to me and exhorted me to get rid of them and not to read them any longer. I know that he did so out of concern for my salvation, but reading them has not—by the grace of God—made me a worse Christian, for I never sought there the solutions to present-day religious controversies; rather I sought it in the writings of the ancient fathers of the church, whom I much prefer to the moderns, and I regret that the time I employed to read the latter was not given instead to the ancients (11:11-12).

But even more important than the church fathers to L'Estoile was Holy Scripture, "for it is the word of the living God, which should be our guide and star to steer by, as it was for the ancient fathers. I value only one book in the world, which is my entire consolation; it is the Bible and the New Testament." He insists that he is a "child of the Roman church," because in it he received the "mark of the children of God," by which God would assuredly recognize him as His own.

I do not, however, overlook how much this [present] church has degenerated from the primitive one, of which one can recognize only the faint traces, even though the foundation (which is the principal thing) has remained. I cannot admit and defend the errors because God forbids it. I will always wholeheartedly embrace its reform, but I will never consent to its dissipation; and even if she is a whore (as the Huguenots say), still she is my mother, to whom the sovereign magistrates must render her purity and original nuptial habits. In the meantime, I will pray God for her amendment, but I will not leave her or depart and join the other, where I find as many faults, in customs and in doctrines, as in this one, and I think that if [the other] had lasted only half as long, it could better be called Deformed than Reformed. . . . I don't say that a good thing couldn't be made out of the two of them, removing from one its excess and adding to the other what it lacks. But three things prevent this: lack of charity, insufficient zeal for the glory of God, and stubbornness, which is the last resort of the ignorant.

I will cling, therefore, to this old trunk (though rotten) of the papacy, in which one finds the church, even though it is not the church (11:13).


To substantiate this opinion, L'Estoile then quotes a Calvinist minister in Geneva and a long passage from Luther's commentary of Galatians. "Thus," he concludes, "according to the testimony of Lutherans and even of Calvinists, one can remain in the Roman Church, corrupt as it is, and still achieve salvation." He remains in the church, because to do otherwise would be to desert the upbringing and education he was given. But, for the sake of those who come after him, he wishes also to register the fact that nothing would have made him leave—or might yet make him leave—the Catholic church more surely than if he had been "constrained to observe certain ceremonies and superstitious practices that are the fashion, as happened during the League, under whose tyranny and constraint [he] often sweated bitterly on this account." Now that all these things are again left to an individual's own judgment, he has resolved to live and die in the Roman Catholic church, in accordance with the final wishes of his deceased father ("a good and most God-fearing man, as everyone knows"), who also desired the reformation of the church but thought no good would come from leaving it. He quotes his father's instructions to his teacher, Matthieu Béroald, a Calvinist who later became a minister in Geneva, and emphasizes that Béroald was forbidden to encourage Pierre (who was twelve years old at the time) to leave the Roman Catholic church but at the same time was told not to bring him up in "its abuses and superstitions."

This last wish of such a good father has always remained and will eternally remain engraved at the bottom of my heart and soul; praying God to grant me the grace to live and die as he did, that is to say, in the faith of the son of God crucified, which was his sole and unique hope, which is mine also, and I desire that it be passed on to my children, so that they will never recognize any purge for their sins but the blood of Jesus Christ, nor accept any reward except that gained for us all by His death and passion (11:14-15).

The account concludes with a moral, as usual with L'Estoile. He had missed all the events in Paris during his illness but considers that he gained more than he lost since "they were all foolishness and wastes of time," and quotes Saint Gregory and, finally, Saint Augustine who, when "regretting many things he wished he had not done in his youth, came to the conclusion that they had been sent to him as a punishment, confessing at the same time that God was just. I say the same, and with this holy person glorify God and cry out my thanks" (11:17).

It is obvious that L'Estoile's intense interest in and profound knowledge of theology and the range of conflicting arguments were greater by far than


laymen generally possessed, even including lawyers in the era of the Wars of Religion, when religious questions were entangled with relations of church and state. We cannot, therefore, postulate such well-formulated religious views on the part of other moderate magistrates, Catholic, but critical of the contemporary church to the extent of compromise on certain beliefs that were not doctrinally central, such as use of the vernacular and discipline of the clergy. We can, however, explore indications in the sources, while emphasizing the sociopolitical factors that underlay the moderates' position and distinguished them from their ultra colleagues, in successive periods from the 1520s to the 1580s.

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