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§ 63. The Declaration of Faith of the Reformed Church in France. A.D. 1872.


XXX e Synode général de l’Église Réformée de France, Première session tenue à Paris du 6 Juin au 10 Juillet, 1872. Procès verbaux et actes publiés par l’ordre du Synode. Paris, 1873. (Comp. also the Compte Rendu of the secretaries, and the discourses of Laurens, Pécaut, Ath. Coquerel, Fontanès, Colani, and Clamagerau, which appeared during the session.)

Do. Second session tenue a Paris du 20 Novembre au 3 Décembre, 1873. Paris, 1873.

Eugène Bersier: Histoire du Synode général de l’Église Réformée de France, Paris, 6 Juin au 10 Juillet, 1872. Paris, 1872, 2 vols. E. B. attended the Synod of 1872, as a delegate of the Free Church of France, and gave an account of it in the Journal de Genève. He has since joined the National Church.


The thirtieth meeting of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in France forms an epoch in its history. It resumed the series of twenty-nine National Synods after an interruption of two hundred and twelve years.952952   See a list of the French National Synods in Bersier, Vol. II. pp. 429 sqq. The last was held at Loudun (Anjou), and was brought to a close in Jan., 1660, by an order of Louis XIV. prohibiting such synods in future, on the pretext that they were too expensive and troublesome, and that their business could be transacted in provincial synods. Daillé, the moderator, protested in vain. This act of injustice aimed to destroy the force of the Reformed communion by breaking it up into incoherent sections, and was crowned by the sweeping Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Oct. 22, 1685), which deprived France of a million of her best citizens, and reduced the remnant of Protestants to a forbidden sect The history of this dark period is full of touching and dramatic interest. 'The Reformed Church of the Desert,' under 'the most Christian' King of France, like the primitive Church under the sway of heathen Rome, had to hold its synodical meetings in the open fields, in mountain-passes, and caverns of the earth.953953   Eight of these forbidden Synods were held between 1726 and 1763. In those meetings the Gallican Confession was read, and prayer offered for the persecuting king. The spread of infidelity, which followed as a reaction against the tyranny of superstition and 499bigotry, brought first an edict of universal toleration under Louis XVI. (1787), and soon afterwards a total overthrow of Christianity and social order, until Napoleon, in 1802, restored the Roman Church as the religion of the majority of Frenchmen, and the Reformed Church as the religion of a small though respectable minority, but both under the pay and control of the State, and without the right of synodical self-government and discipline.954954   Napoleon's motive was chiefly of a political character. He needed religion as a basis of society, and Protestantism as a check upon the ambition of popery; yet he professed to a number of Protestant pastors to be a friend of the liberty of conscience, whose 'indefinite empire begins where the empire of law ends,' and he authorized them to brand with the name of Nero any one of his successors who should violate this liberty. Napoleon III. professed the same policy, but threw the weight of his power into the scale of Romanism, and made a distinction between the private liberty of conscience, which nobody can touch, and the public liberty of worship, which requires a recognition by the State.

This right, denied by the Bourbon, the Napoleon, and the Orleanist dynasties, was at last restored to the Reformed Church by the Republican government under Thiers, who, by an edict of Nov. 29, 1871, authorized the Consistories in France and Algiers to elect delegates to a General Synod. Under these auspices the General Synod convened in the Temple du Saint-Esprit, at Paris, from June 6th to July 10th, 1872. It consisted of one hundred and eight delegates (forty-nine ministers and fifty-nine laymen), the legitimate descendants of those few humble but enthusiastic and heroic pastors and elders who met in the same city, in 1559, with torture and death staring them in the face. It was opened by a sermon of pastor Charles Babut of Nîmes on John viii. 14. Charles Edouard Bastie, pastor of Bergerac (Dordogne), was elected moderator. The object of the Synod was to again effect a complete organization on the basis of a confession of faith and a system of discipline.

But the preparation and adoption of a confession of faith is a more difficult task in the nineteenth century than it was in the sixteenth. For, like all other Protestant denominations, the French Church had during the eighteenth century undergone a theological revolution, and is still in a process of transition. The doctrinal system of the Gallican Confession had lost its hold upon a large portion of the clergy and laity; and even the most orthodox Protestants could not subscribe that article which, in harmony with the general sentiment of the sixteenth 500century, conceded to the civil government (hostile as it then was to the Huguenots) the power to punish heresy by the sword.955955   Art. 39: 'God has put the sword into the hands of magistrates to suppress crimes against the first as well as against the second table of his Commandments.' It was on that ground that Servet's execution in Geneva for blasphemy was justified. On the other hand, that venerable document, which embodied the faith of the fathers and martyrs of the French Church, could not be ignored without ingratitude and want of self-respect. Under these circumstances the General Synod, at its thirteenth session, June 20, 1872, adopted a middle course in the following declaration of faith, proposed by Charles Bois, Professor of Church History at Montauban:

'The Reformed Church of France, on resuming her synodical action, which for so many years had been interrupted, desires, before all things, to offer her thanks to God, and to testify her love to Jesus Christ, her Divine Head, who has sustained and comforted her during her successive trials. 'Au moment où elle reprend la suite de ses Synodes, interrompus depuis tant d’années, l’Église réformée de France éprouve, avant toutes choses, le besoin de rendre grâces à Dieu, et de témoigner son amour à Jésus-Christ, son divin Chef, qui l’a soutenue et consolée durant le cours de ses épreuves.
'She declares, through the organ of her representatives, that she remains faithful to her principles of faith and freedom on which she was founded. 'Elle déclare par l’organe de ses représentants qu’elle reste fidèle aux principes de foi et de liberté sur lesquels elle a été fondée.
'With her fathers and her martyrs in the Confession of Rochelle,956956   That is, the Gallican Confession as revised and adopted by the National Synod of La Rochelle, 1571. See § 62. and with all the Churches of the Reformation in their respective creeds, she proclaims the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures in matters of faith, and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, who died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification. 'Avec ses pères et ses martyrs dans la Confession de la Rochelle, avec toutes les Églises de la Réformation dans leurs symboles, elle proclame l’autorité souveraine des Saintes Écritures en matière de foi, et le salut par la foi en Jésus-Christ, Fils unique de Dieu, mort pour nos offenses et ressuscité pour notre justification.
'She preserves and maintains, as the basis of her teaching, of her worship and her discipline, the grand Christian facts represented in her religious solemnities, and set forth in her liturgies, especially in the Confession of sins, the Apostles' Creed, and in the order for the administration of the Lord's Supper.' 'Elle conserve donc et elle maintient, à la base de son enseignement, de son culte et de sa discipline, les grands faits chrétiens représentés dans ses solennités religieuses et exprimés dans ses liturgies, notamment dans la Confession des péchés, dans le Symbole des Apôtres, et dans la liturgie de la saint Cène.'

This moderate Confession was adopted by 61 votes against 45, or a majority of only 16 members.957957   Two members were absent. The official report says: 'Le nombre des votants est de 106. Majorité absolue 54. Le dépouillement du scrutin donne 61 bulletins blancs, 45 bulletins bleus.' Among the affirmative votes are those of Babut, Bois, Breyton, Dhombres, Juillerat, and the venerable octogenarian Guizot, whose last public act was a testimony of faith on the floor of this General Synod of the Church of his fathers, declaring before his retirement that the Church must affirm its faith in the supernatural 501incarnation, the miracles, the resurrection of Christ, or cease to be a Church. The rationalistic minority, including Colani, Coquerel (Athanase and Etienne), Pécaut, Rivet, protested against the adoption of any creed, and asserted the right of each pastor, elder, and private member of the Church to adhere to whatever creed he may think proper. Nevertheless, they expressed their determination to hold on to the National Reformed Church.

The French Government ratified the decision of the Synod (1873). Subscription to its Confession may be hereafter a qualification of electors. The liberal party abstained from participation in the second session of the General Synod held in Nov. and Dec., 1873, and sent in a request to agree to a peaceful separation; but this request was refused.958958   The following action was taken by the Synod in reference to the petition of the minority: 'The Assembly, considering that the General Synod is the high court of the Church, and so acknowledged by the State; considering that the decisions arrived at in reference to the Confession of Faith reproduce the doctrines on which the Reformed Church of France was founded, and that, therefore, all who reject them are ipso facto without the pale of the Church; considering that none can be constrained to remain in a Church the creed of which he rejects, and from which he wishes to retire—every man having entire liberty to remain or separate himself, according to the dictation of his conscience; considering that the Synod has taken no resolutions to restrict the liberty of any, especially none to prevent the retirement of any pastors and members in order to found another Church, and none to prevent such persons from obtaining the recognition of the State, the advantages of the concordat, and an equitable share of ecclesiastical temporalities; considering, lastly, that it is not the business of the General Synod itself to inaugurate the formation of a new Church, its mission being to construct, and not to rend asunder, passes to the order of the day.'

Hence the Rationalists, if they have sufficient interest in positive Christianity, will be obliged to secede and organize a new society similar to the Unitarian body in England and the United States.

A separation is preferable to an unnatural alliance at the expense of truth and charity. And it would be all the more honorable if it be done with an equitable division of Church property.

The acts of the General Synod of the National Church had the double effect of virtually excluding the rationalistic party, and of attracting to a closer fellowship the Free Church, which, like the Free Churches in French Switzerland, represents modern evangelical Calvinism, independent of state support and state control.959959   The Free Church, or 'Union of the Evangelical Churches in France' (l’Union des églises évangéliques de France), to which Pressensé, Fish, and Bersier belong, owes its existence to the rationalism in the National Church which, at the synodical meeting held after the February Revolution of 1848 (without government sanction, and hence without legislative effect), refused to acknowledge the divinity of Christ. This induced Frederick Monod to secede, while his more distinguished and equally conscientious brother Adolph remained, to the benefit of the National body, which since that time has become more orthodox. The Union manifests a good deal of missionary zeal and literary activity, and reacts favorable on the Established Church. Bersier, in his History of the General Synod, expresses himself satisfied with its results (close of Introduction to Vol. I. p. lvii.): 'Nos sympathies personnelles sont avec la droite dans les trois grandes questions que le Synode a eu à résoudre: celle de l’autorité du Synode, celle de la déclaration de foi, celle enfin des conditions de foi et de doctrine auxquelles les pasteurs et les électeurs devront désormais souscrire. Nous estimons que par ces trois votes la majorité a accompli des actes nécessaires, et que si, par un abus de pouvoir que nous ne voulons pas prévoir, le gouvernement refusait de ratifier son œuvre [the ratification has since been granted], elle aurait néanmoins posé les fondations futures sur lesquelles, avec ou sans appui de l’État, l’Église réformée devra désormais s’élever.'

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