Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gaspard de Coligny’s efforts to protect Protestants from Persecution (Theonomy Applied)

Gaspard de Coligny (1519 – 1572) was a French nobleman and admiral. Later in life he became a great and influential Huguenot leader, but would be among the thousands of Huguenots murdered by Catholics during the Saint Bartholomew Day’s Massacre.

One of Coligny's priorities was the protection of Protestants. On one of his attempts to achieve this for fellow French Protestants from the Catholics that were in power, Thomas M. Lindsay writes that Coligny, speaking at the Assembly of the Notables
had the courage to make himself the representative of the Huguenots, as the Protestants now began to be nicknamed. He attacked boldly the religious policy of the Guises, charged them with standing between the King and loyal subjects, and declared that the persecuted were Christians who asked for nothing but to be allowed to worship God as the Gospel taught them. He presented a petition to the King from the Protestants asserting their loyalty, begging that the persecution should cease, and asking that "temples" might be assigned for their worship.[1]
Not too long after that, 
when Coligny again pleaded for his coreligionists at the assembly of the States-General at Orleans (Dec. 13, 1560) his words were not ignored. Persecution ceased, toleration was shown on both sides, and there were fair prospects of ending the conflict with a peaceable settlement.[2]
Unfortunately, persecution at the hands of the Catholics would eventually return in France.

Coligny also used his influence to try and establish colonies in North America as Protestant refuges:
The first French attempt to settle in North America arose from the ongoing religious strife. The driving force behind this effort was Gaspard de Coligny, a prominent French admiral and a Huguenot, who sought to establish colonies as refuges for his coreligionists. Allegedly advised by John Calvin himself, de Coligny first planted a colony of Huguenots in what is today Brazil. However, the Portuguese who dominated the area destroyed the colony.
Undaunted, de Coligny enlisted Jean Ribault, a fellow naval officer, to help him establish a Huguenot colony in North America. In 1562, Ribault and 150 Huguenots from Normandy settled near Parris Island, in present-day South Carolina. This colony failed, but two years later de Coligny convinced Ribault to try again. This time the French set up a colony at Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. However, Spain objected to a French Protestant presence in what it regarded as its sphere of influence. It also feared that the French would prey on the Spanish treasure ships that passed nearby. Consequently, Spain sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles north from the fort at Saint Augustine to destroy the French outpost. Amid much bloodshed, Aviles succeeded, and, with de Coligny's murder during the 1572 Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, a permanent French presence in North America was delayed for several more decades.[3]
Coligny even tried to persuade the French crown to war with Spain, and it appears that the reason – or at least one of the reasons  for it was to liberate persecuted Protestants in the Netherlands. On the prospect of warring with Spain, "Coligny saw the advantages which might come to his fellow-believers in the Netherlands - help in money from Italy and with troops from France."[4] And Barrington Moore Jr. writes,
[T]he chief of the Huguenot party, Admiral Coligny, seemed to the powerful Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, and other major French leaders to be pursuing on account of his Protestant beliefs and connections a policy potentially very dangerous for the French monarchy and France itself: Coligny wanted France to give military help to the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. This was part of a plan to create a large and powerful Protestant bloc in northwestern Europe.[5]
Coligny's perceived aspirations to help his fellow Protestants was the reason behind the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, with Coligny numbering among the victims. According to John Witte, Jr., after French Catholics and Calvinists attempted to make peace with the wedding of Prince Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, to the sister of King Charles IX, a Catholic, 
Coligny, who had come to Paris for the wedding, sought to solidify the peace further by urging Charles to take up war with Spain, a cause that might have united warring French Catholic and Calvinist forces against France's old and hated rival. Catherine de Medici, suspecting that Coligny was indirectly seeking to aid Dutch Calvinists suffering under Spanish persecution, would have none of it. Catherine or one of her advisers persuaded the King that Admiral Coligny was plotting another coup d'état, and that the many Calvinist wedding guests gathered in Paris were in fact a secret army poised to overthrow him. Charles (or someone acting on his authority) then ordered the massacre.[6]
[1] Thomas M. Lindsay, History of the Reformation in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Scotland and England: Part 2 (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 177.
[2] Philip Schaff, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, "Coligny," eds. Johann Jakob HerzogAlbert HauckSamuel Macauley JacksonCharles Colebrook ShermanGeorge William Gilmore (NY:Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1909), 157.
[3] John Findling and Frank ThackerayWhat Happened?: An Encyclopedia of Events That Changed America Forever: Volume I: The Seventeenth Century (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 34.
[4] Lindsay, History of the Reformation in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Scotland and England: Part 2, 196.
[5] Barrington Moore Jr., Moral Purity and Persecution in History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 49.
[6] John Witte, Jr., The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge University Press, 2008), 84.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 

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