The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton; A. W. Ward et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE.

THE Reformation in France never developed into a national movement. Though the Protestants under the stress of persecution consolidated themselves into a powerful and well-organised party, they never formed more than a minority of the nation. The majority, whose attachment to the Catholic Church was stronger than their desire for her reformation, detested the Reformers as schismatics and separatists even more than as heretics. When the Protestant ranks were recruited by the accession of numerous political malcontents, a more worldly leaven pervaded the whole cause; the principle of passive resistance was abandoned, and an appeal to armed force became inevitable. The result was a succession of religious wars, which lasted, though not continuously, for more than thirty years. It was not till the beginning of the seventeenth century that France, once more at peace with herself, was able to work out on her own lines a Counter-Reformation.

Yet at the beginning of the sixteenth century nearly all enlightened men were agreed as to the necessity for Reform. The evils under which the Church in France laboured were those which prevailed elsewhere; rapacity and worldliness among the Bishops and abbots, ignorance in the inferior clergy, great relaxation of discipline, and, in some cases, positive immorality in the monasteries and nunneries; and as the result an ever-widening separation between religion and morality. The first of these evils was a favourite topic with the popular preachers of Paris, the Franciscans, Michel Menot and Olivier Maillard, and the Dominican, Guillaume Pepin. On the other hand, the everyday story of the period has more to say about the ignorance of the parish priests and the immorality of the friars. The Franciscans seem to have been especially unpopular. All ranks of the Church alike fell under the lash of Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools and Erasmus' Praise of Folly, both of which were translated into French and widely read.

But Frenchmen can relish satire even of what they love, and the people were none the less sincere in their attachment to the Church because they applauded the sallies of the jester. This attachment was

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