The Church in the Seventeenth Century

The Church in the Seventeenth Century

The Church in the Seventeenth Century

The Church in the Seventeenth Century

Excerpt

That year--the year of Our Lord, 1617--the holy time of Lent began as usual, with complete indifference and contempt. Châtillon, a medium-sized market town right in the middle of the Dombes, was neither more nor less Christian than hundreds of other French towns and villages; which meant that there was very little Christianity about it. The common people--peasants, fishermen, cattle dealers--cared little for anything beyond earning a living, in the hard way, from a lifeless soil straddled with a thousand pools and shrouded in fog during eight months of the year. The upper classes had become Huguenots; not that they practised Calvinism on that account. The neglected church was used for public meetings; the belfry, nicknamed 'the kingdom', had become a resort for drunken revels; the rectory was falling into ruins. For forty years the practice of religion had depended on the chance visits of the titular clergy who came to pocket the five hundred pounds which the living provided. There were at least six priests in the town, either curates or chaplains, whose morals were worse than lax and whose zeal was less than lukewarm; their sole liturgical occupation was the celebrating of a few Masses for the souls of dead persons long forgotten. No longer did the church bells ring to call the people to Mass or to Vespers. But that year they did ring.

A new parish priest had arrived. He came from Paris, they said-- by the road leading from Pont-de-Veyle. Public opinion gave it as certain that he had been something in the nature of a chaplain or a tutor in the noble and powerful Gondi family, which was known as far away as the country round the Chalaronne. It was believed that he had resigned a wealthy living to come and officiate at Châtillon. Suspiciously everyone wondered why. But they liked the fellow. He was of medium height, robust and still young--not yet forty. He had a plain face, lengthened by the type of goatee beard which King Henri IV had made fashionable. He had an enormous nose, and his eyes were small and lively beneath the prominent brow ridges. A roguish smile played ceaselessly about his mouth. His pleasant face inspired confidence. When he spoke he emphasized his words with quick, imitative gestures and an animated voice with an accent foreign to those parts. Right . . .

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