In this episode we finish off our look at the French Church of the 17th to 18th Centuries, then consider the impact of the German Enlightenment on the church in Germany.
This 139th episode is title “Pressed.”
In our last episode, we took a look the French church of the 17th C and considered the contest between the Catholic Jansenists & Jesuits.
It’s interesting realizing the Jansenists began as a theological movement that looks quite similar to Calvinism. Their theology eventually spilled over into the political realm and undercut the Divine Right of Kings, a European political system that had held sway in Europe for centuries, & reached its apex in France under Louis XIV.
In this episode we’ll take a look at what happened to the French Protestants, known as the Huguenots.
By the mid 16th C, Huguenots were 10% of the French population. They hoped all France would one day adopt the Reformed Faith. But their hopes were shattered by defeat in 9 separate political & religious wars.
You may remember from an earlier episode that the Henry IV, a Catholic convert from Protestantism, his conversion being a purely pragmatic and political maneuver, granted the Huguenots limited rights in the Edict of Nantes in 1598. 30 years later, those rights were revoked by the Peace of Alais. Then the fortified Protestant city of La Rochelle surrendered in 1628, ending any hope of France’s conversion to Protestantism.
For 24 years, Louis XIV waged a devastating anti-Protestant campaign. Nearly 700 Reformed churches were closed or torn down. And in 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes altogether in the Edict of Fontainebleau.
He ordered uniformed troops known as dragoons to move in to the Huguenot homes in Protestant centers. These troops were allowed by the king’s decree to use whatever means they wanted, short of murder & rape, to intimidate Huguenots into converting to Catholicism.
Some 200,000 Huguenots fled France. They took refuge in places like Geneva, Prussia, England, & North America. Those refugees were often people of great learning and skill who enriched the intellectual and economic life of their adopted countries.
But thousands of Huguenots stayed in France. Many made a show-conversion to Catholicism. While maintaining a scret embrace of Protestantism. They formed an underground church known as the “Church of the Desert.” From 1684 to 98, 20 Huguenot pastors were hunted & kill.
Louis XIV feared the Huguenots because he equated them to the Puritan rebels who’d executed Charles I in England in 1649. Louis was also in competition with Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, for hegemony in Europe. Allowing a large and politically powerful Protestant base in his own country did NOT commend Louis as a strong Catholic leader. Louis was already facing strong criticism for not sending troops to defend Vienna from invading Turks. Leopold had! It had been Louis’s plan to attack the Turks AFTER they’d taken Vienna! His plan fell apart when the Europeans managed to defeat the enemy before Vienna’s walls.
Louis’ suspicion of the Huguenots seemed justified by the Camisard War of 1702 to 4. They called for “freedom of conscience” and “no taxes.” Protestant prophets predicted a liberation of Protestants from their oppressors. But the prophets were proven wrong when Louis’ troops put down the revolt.
In 1726, an underground seminary for young French men was established in Lausanne, Switzerland. It received financial support from Protestants in Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands. Studies lasted from 6 months to 3 years in Lausanne. After that, graduates returned to minister to outlawed churches in France. If captured, they were executed.
During the 7 Years War, known in the US as the French & Indian War, French Protestants became the beneficiaries of an unofficial toleration. While no friend to Christianity, Voltaire assisted Huguenots by writing a book defending toleration. Finally, in the Edict of Toleration of 1787, Louis XVI gave Huguenots the right to worship.
But in the 3 years BEFORE that, 7000 Huguenots were executed, another 2000 forced to serve in the French Navy, which was a kind of living death, if you now anything about the life of a lowly sailor at that time.
Sadly, after 1760, several Reformed pastors were influenced by the thought of the Voltaire. They began to move toward theological liberalism.
From the late 17th to late 18th C, what we know as Germany today was a patchwork quilt of over 300 mostly autonomous principalities, kingdoms, electorates, duchies, bishoprics, & other political enclaves. Rarely used, the term “Germany” meant a nebulous region that included many of these regions, much like the term “Europe” refers to the content that holds many nations. And Germany was just one part of a larger entity known as the Holy Roman Empire. That realm included 1,800 territories. Places like Poland, the Hapsburg Empire, Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Transylvania, & Italy.
A Council of Electors, ranging from 7 to 9, chose the Holy Roman Emperor.
The Emperor’s ability to raise armies, collect taxes, and make laws was often hampered by the many groups in the empire that enjoyed a measure of their own sovereignty. The fiction that was the Holy Roman Empire ended under Napoleon.
In the 1740s, Frederick the Great, King of Brandenburg-Prussia from the Hohenzollern family & Calvinists since 1613, challenged the Hapsburg power. At the outset of the War of the Austrian Succession, Frederick’s troops seized Silesia. The Prussians became THE new military power in Europe.
In Germany the leading kingdoms were Brandenburg-Prussia, Saxony, the Rhineland Palatinate, Hanover, and Bavaria. Following the principle established by the Peace of Westphalia, the religion of these kingdoms was that of their prince.
While Bavaria was staunchly Catholic, Brandenburg-Prussia were Calvinists with strong pietistic leanings. During the first half of the 18th C, the population remained Lutheran, with a smattering of Pietists. The future king of England, George I, came from the electorate of Hanover è Lutherans. A unified “Germany” as a nation would not emerge until the days of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck in the 2nd half of the 19th C.
The emergence of Prussia as a great military power in the 18th C impressed their European neighbors. The kingdom’s army of some 83,000 ranked 4th in size among the European powers, though its landmass was 10th in area & only 13th in population. Its rulers promoted a disciplined lifestyle like that of the Pietists as a model for Prussian bureaucrats, military, & the nobles (called Junkers). The highly militaristic Frederick III ruled Brandenburg from 1688 to 1713. Being reformed in his theology, he encouraged French Huguenots who’d fled France to settle in his kingdom. In 1694 he founded the University of Halle as a Lutheran university. He welcomed Pietists like Jakob Spener and Hermann Francke. In 1698, Francke began teaching theology there. Frederick III also made the University of Konigsberg another Pietist center.
In his work Pious Desires, published in 1675, Spener, who you’ll remember was a the premier founder of Pietisim, centered his call for reform of the Church in the faithful teaching & application of Scripture. He called for daily private Bible reading & meditation and the reading of Scripture in small groups.
Spener urged that pastoral training schools should not be places for theological wrangling, but as “workshops of the Holy Spirit.” Nor should seminary professors seek glory by authoring lofty tomes filled with showy erudition. They ought instead to be examples of humble service. Spener emphasized the priesthood of ALL believers. Ministers should seek help from laypersons to ease their own pastoral burdens.
At the University of Halle, Hermann Francke insisted that those training for pastoral ministry ought to study Scripture it in Hebrew & Greek. Francke wrote: “The exegetical reading of Holy Scripture is that which concerns finding and explaining the literal sense intended by the Holy Spirit himself.”
In 1702 Francke founded the Collegium Orientale Theologicum. Advanced students could learn Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopian, Chaldean, Syriac and Rabbinic Hebrew.
Francke established an orphanage in Halle in 1695. He created schools and businesses including a printing house where orphans could learn a trade. By 1700, Francke’s various institutions gained the support of Emperor Frederick III, who valued their contribution in fostering Christian discipline among his students, the Prussian populace, and his soldiers. Francke wanted to make Halle a center for Christian reform and world missions. In anticipation of what George Mueller would later give testimony to, Franke wrote of examples of how he prayed for specific needs and provision came to feed the poor and keep the schools open, sometimes arriving at the last moment. He wrote: “These instances I was willing here to set down so that I might give the reader some idea both of the pressing trials and happy deliverances we have met with; though I am sufficiently convinced that narratives of this kind will seem over-simple and fanciful to the great minds of our age.”
On one occasion, Frederick IV, King of Denmark, gave a direct order to his chaplain: “Find me missionaries.” That chaplain asked Francke for help. Francke proposed 2 students from the University of Halle. The Danish-Halle Mission was launched. On Nov. 29, 1705, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau set sail for India. 8 Months later they arrived. They were dismayed to discover the horrid immorality of the Europeans there. Claiming to be Christians, the Indians assumed all believers in Christ were immoral. There was a great resistance to the Gospel at first, but the missionaries faithfulness eventually softened the hearts of the Hindus. Ziegenbalg translated the Bible into Tamil & set up both a school and a missionary college before he died at the age 36.
Christian Schwartz also served with as a missionary in India. Johann Steinmetz ministered in Teschen, Silesia, Moravia, and Bohemia. Others took the gospel to the Russia during the rieng of Peter the Great. Halle missionaries met the physical and spiritual needs of captured Swedish troops who, when they returned to Sweden, spread Pietism in their homeland. 60 students went forth from the University of Halle as missionaries.
The press of the Bible Institute in Halle produced more than 80,000 copies of the Bible and 100,000 copies of the New Testaments.
In 1713, the Pietitst Frederick William I became king. He not only built up the military, he funded the production of thousands of Bibles so that all his subjects could read it for themselves. He made Francke rector of the University of Halle. When he died in 1727, some 2000 students attended the school in Halle. His orphanage served as a model for George Whitefield’s in Savannah, Georgia.
In 1729 Frederick William I mandated that all students who hoped to teach theology in Prussia should attend the University of Halle for 2 years, which meant Pietists exerted a measure of control over the clergy there.
We need to do a bit of summarizing now so we can avoid that thing we’ve talked about before on CS – the reporting of history as a bunch of dates & names. I’ll do so by simply saying the Enlightenment that swept France & England, also impacted Germany. The original faculty of the University at Halle would have been shocked to see the way later professors turned away from what they considered orthodoxy.
We’ll jump ahead to the later 18th C and the work of Johann Semler, considered the Founder of German Higher Criticism.
Semler began teaching at Halle in 1751. He’d been a student of professors who merged Enlightenment philosophy with the Faith. For about 20 years, from 1757 till ‘79, Semler was the most influential of the German theologians. He called for a more liberal investigation of the Bible, one not tethered to long-held orthodox assumptions about the canon of Scripture’s or its infallibility.
Semler held forth that “religion” and “theology” ought not be regarded as linked. He also set a divide between what he called the “Word of God” & “Scripture.” He maintained that not all the books or passages of the Bible were in truth God’s Word and that God’s Word wasn;t limited to the Bible.
He taught that the authors of scripture accommodated their writings to the errant ideas of their times, especially the Jews, about the world. Sifting out the authentic Word of God from the mythological, local, fallible, and non-inspired dross in Scripture, by which he meant a belief in demons, heaven, & hell, is the task of the wise Bible student. Then, once the authentic canon within the Bible was identified, real doctrines would need to be parsed.
Astonishingly, Semler claimed his ideas were faithful to the work of Martin Luther.
The reaction to Semler was mixed. Some scholars supported him because his work opened a lot of wiggle-room that allowed them to accommodate the growing popularity of Enlightenment skepticism. But his critics pounced, accusing him of abandoning the infallibility of the Bible.
When Frederick the Great died in 1786, his nephew Frederick William II became King of Prussia. He attempted to rein in the growing volume of literature now exposing the German populace to heterodoxy; that is, ideas outside the pale of orthodoxy, by passing an edict calling for censorship of any work about God & morality. Any such work was to be submitted to a government commission of censors for approval. Several Lutheran pastors resigned in protest, and the main publisher of such works, moved his operations out of Berlin. The government feared radical expressions of the German Enlightenment would subvert the faith of the people and their loyalty to the State.
In March 1758, Johann Hamann, was converted to Christ & became a brilliant counter to the Enlightenment. He pointed out the errors in Kant’s philosophy & said the light of the so-called “Enlightenment” was a cold thing, more like the moon, compared to that which comes from the Sun of Christian revelation in Scripture and nature.