A conference held in Sept., 1561, between Protestants and Roman Catholics at Poissy (10 m. n.w. of Paris).

Purposes and Preliminaries

The wide diffusion of Protestantism in France led the queen regent, Catherine de Medici, to seek to establish some peaceable understanding between the two confessions. After the assembly of notables at Fontainebleau in Aug., 1560, and the general assembly of the estates at Orléans (Dec. 13, 1560-Jan. 31, 1561), the nobility and the third estate gathered at Pontoise, h while the court and the clergy met at the abbey of Poissy. The assembly, which was partly to prepare for the expected reopening of the Council of Trent, partly as a sort of national council to promote the reformation of the French Church, and partly to diminish the debt of the State out of the treasury of the Church, was convened July 28, 1651. The assurance, in the king's name, of the Chancellor Michel de L'Hôpital (q.v.) to the bishops and archbishops that there was to be a reformation not only of abuses but also of doctrine, received a very limited approval, and still more so that the Reformed also were to be heard. A review of the preliminaries is necessary properly to understand the call of colloquy. Theodore Beza (q.v.) and colleagues came to Worms in 1557 in behalf of the Evangelicals imprisoned by Henry II. at Paris, and when the Germans requested a confession of faith, the French returned a statement of entire agreement with the Augsburg Confession with the exception of the article on the Eucharist, holding out the prospect, however, of future agreement. The result was that Elector Otto Heinrich interceded with the French king. Meanwhile relations became more strained: Frederick went over to Calvinism, and strict Lutheranism was emphasized in Württemberg. When King Antoine of Navarre, for the


French kingdom, demanded intercessory delegations to the court in behalf of the Protestants, he was advised to accept the Augsburg Confession, especially on the Eucharist. Duke Christopher of Württemberg, on June 12, sent to Antoine and to the duke of Guise an envoy with copies of the Augsburg Confession, the new Württemberg Confession, and various books of the Lutheran theologians. Christopher's envoy found the convention of prelates already in prospect, and the duke's suggestion that Protestant theologians take part in the proceedings obtained royal approval. The Roman Catholics, in their turn, expected to refute the Protestants by the Bible and the Church Fathers and drive the Reformed to the wall. Beza and Peter Martyr Vermigh (q.v.) were the Reformed theologians invited to attend the colloquy. The German princes were also asked to send theologians, but they were unable to agree on any uniform instructions to their delegates and the plan was consequently abandoned. Beza enjoyed a cordial welcome both at Paris and the court at St. Germain, and on the Sunday evening after his arrival was invited by Antoine to an assembly which included Catherine, Condé, and the cardinals of Bourbon and Lorraine. Here a conversation was carried on between Beza and the cardinal of Lorraine, in which the latter minimized the differences of Eucharistic doctrine between himself and Beza, concluding by inviting the Reformed theologian to visit him that they might cooperate for some agreement between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Shortly afterward it was invidiously rumored at St. Germain and abroad that Beza had been worsted in argument by the cardinal. Some days before Beza's arrival the Reformed preachers had presented a memorial thanking the king for their safe conduct and requesting him to submit to the consideration of the prelates the French Reformed confession (see GALLICAN CONFESSION). This petition was graciously received by the king on Aug. 17, and on Aug. 26 the prelates, yielding to the wish of Catherine, decided to hear the Reformed. Attempts were made to keep the king himself from attending, but in vain; and on Sept. 9 the conference began in the refectory of the great Nunnery at Poissy. There were present the king, his mother, the princes and princesses royal, high dignitaries of the crown, and many courtiers; while from among the lords spiritual were present the cardinals of Tournon, Lorraine, Chatillon, Armagnac, Bourbon, and Guise; the archbishops of Bordeaux and Embrun, thirty-six bishops, representatives of absent prelates, many deputies of abbeys and monasteries, and theologians and professors of the Sorbonne. The Reformed were represented by twenty delegates and fourteen elders.

The Sessions.

After preliminary addresses by the king and chancellor, Beza delivered a long address in which he sought to demonstrate the patriotism and peacefulness of his party and gave a brief summary of the Reformed doctrines to show that they differed in very essential points from tenets previously held, and that they did not reject each and every fundamental principle of Christianity so as to be on a plane of those of Jews and Mohammedans. This presentation contained many citations for authority from the Fathers. When, however, Beza spoke of the Eucharist, and declared that the body of Christ was as far from the bread as the highest heaven is from the earth, he was interrupted with vehement disapproval. He was followed by Cardinal Tournon, who expressed his entire disapproval of Beza's attitude and concluded the session by demanding a written copy of the Reformed leader's address, which was apparently altered by Beza before it was printed. For the second session the prelates entrusted the cardinal of Lorraine with the refutation of Beza. The Roman Catholic reply was to comprise the following four doctrines: the Church and her authority; the powers of councils to represent the entire Church, which includes not only the elect, but also the non-elect; the authority of the Scriptures; and the real and substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This was to be followed by the presentation of a creed controverting the Reformed confession and by pronouncing condemnation on the preachers if they should refuse to accept it, after which the conference was to be closed. The Protestants, learning of this, protested to the king, who obliged the prelates to defer their proposed condemnation and adjournment. The second session took place on Sept. 16, and was opened by the cardinal of Lorraine. Expressing the pleasure of the prelates to learn that the Reformed were in harmony with the Apostles' Creed, he yet called attention to other points in which they deviated from Roman Catholic teaching. In his discussion of the Eucharist, the cardinal carefully avoided all offensive phraseology, and even avoided references to transubstantiation and the mass, speaking of the real presence in a quasi-Lutheran sense. Discussion and a copy of the address were denied, to Beza's disappointment. On the following evening Catherine summoned Beza and Peter Martyr, the latter of whom expressed his hope of reaching an understanding if the Eucharistic problem were omitted from discussion and each one were permitted to believe and preach according as he was convinced by the word of God. The queen expressed her intention of doing all in her power to bring about such an understanding. [It is a significant fact that at the conference while the Roman Catholic prelates were seated, the Protestants were required to remain standing.]


The further course of events was determined by the intervention of the papal legate, the cardinal of Ferrara, uncle of the duchess of Guise. He advised the queen to restrain the king, the cardinal of Tournon, and the majority of the prelates, from attending further conferences, pleading that an agreement might the more easily be reached if the irreconcilable spirits were absent. On Sept. 24, therefore, a conference was summoned with twelve representatives of each party; and the debate, which was without result, concluded with the question of the cardinal of Lorraine whether the Reformed were ready to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession. On the following day Montluc, bishop of Valence, and


D'Espence conferred, at the queen's command, with Beza and Nicolas des Gallarda on a compromise formula. The result was as follows: " We believe that the true body and the true blood of Jesus Christ really and substantially, that is, in their proper substance, are, in a spiritual and ineffable manner, present and offered in the Holy Communion and that they are thus received by the faithful who communicate." When, on Sept. 26, negotiations were continued publicly, Beza declared that the Reformed could not accept this formula. The ultimate failure of compromise is perhaps due to the Jesuit general Lainez, who hitherto played his part under cover but, admitted to the colloquy on Sept. 26, vehemently and scurrilously attacked the Protestants, to whom Beza replied. The debate continued until late at night; and for further discussion a committee of five on each side was appointed; among the Roman Catholics being Montluc and D'Espence, and among the Reformed Beza and Peter Martyr. After three conferences (Sept. 29, Oct. 1, and Oct. 3) a formula was reached teaching the real presence, of which the substance was given through the operation of the Holy Ghost, the body of Christ being received spiritually and through faith. All at court were satisfied, but when the formula was submitted to the assembled prelates on Oct. 9, the majority declared the formula heretical. A rigidly Roman Catholic formula was immediately drawn up, and it was resolved to give no further hearing to the Reformed after their refusal to subscribe, and to urge the king to banish the recalcitrants. Negotiations were broken off at Poissy on Oct. 9. Ten days later five German theologians arrived at Paris, Michael Diller, Peter Bouquin, Jakob Beurlin, Jakob Andrea (qq.v.) and Balthasar Bidembach, summoned to explain the Augsburg articles. Their leader Beurlin died on Oct. 28 and on Nov. 8 the rest were received in audience by the king of Navarre, who expressed a wish that they would bear witness to the harmony between the Augsburg Confession and the compromise formula at the conclusion of negotiations at Poissy. After many futile conferences on the union of German and French Protestantism, and, after having explained to the king the meaning of the Augsburg Confession and urged him to accept it, the envoys were finally dismissed on Nov. 23. The conference at Poissy had shown that reconciliation between Roman Catholics and Protestants on the basis of mutual concession was entirely impossible, and that the only alternatives were mutual toleration or a war for existence.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. M. Baird, Hist. of the Rise of the Huguenots, i. 505-546, London, 1880; Theodore Beza, Hist. ecclésiastique des églises réformées . . . de France, Geneva, 1580, new ed., ed. P. Vesson, 2 vols., Toulouse, 1882-83, and, in 3 vols., ed. J. W. Daum and A. E. Cunitz, Paris, 1883-.88; J. W. Baum, Theodor Beza, vol. ii, Berlin, 1852; G. de Félice, Hist. des Protestants de France, pp. 131 sqq., Toulouse, 1850, new ed., 1861, Eng. transl., 2 vols.; London, 1853; G. von Polenz, Geschichte des franzosischen Calviniamus ii. 47 sqq., Gotha, 1859; N. A. F. Puaux Hist. de la réformation francaise, ii. 101 sqq., Paris, 1860; H. Klipffel, La Colloque de Poissy. Paris, 1868; A. de Ruble, Le Journal de Claude d'Espence, in Mémoiires de la société d'histoire de Paris, xvi., 1889; H. Amphoux, Michel de l'Hôpital, pp. 185 sqq., Paris, 1900.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 06/03/04. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely