Protestants and public life

One of the distinctive features of French Protestantism throughout the XIXth century was the dynamic presence of its community in public life, with two peak periods : firstly, the July Monarchy with Guizot and secondly, the first years of the Third Republic. Both periods were to know important reforms in the field of education. Their theological and cultural background helped the Protestants play an active part in the modernization of French society.

Permanent involvement in contemporary society

  • François Guizot (1787-1874) © Collection privée

The XIXth century intellectual movement in France develops under a double influence :

  • the influence of the French Revolution which was held by many to be the founding event of the whole nation and led most of the French to consider freedom of the individual as a fundamental value ;
  • the influence of a progressive scientific movement : science came to be considered as a universal implement.

Throughout this period, two basic factors are a common feature in Protestant society :

  • Protestants considered themselves as having contributed to the French Revolution. The Reformation had liberated Christians from the shackles of hierarchy : the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was seen as the forerunner of political liberalism and democracy. Considering themselves to be the true spiritual heirs of the French Revolution, Protestants were keen to show their contemporaries that freedom and religion, individual freedom and the Christian faith, can be reconciled.
  • Protestants claim to be modern and up to date, as theirs is the only religious belief adapted to the contemporary world. Many seek to apply scientific methods to all spheres of knowledge, including theology.

Guizot is one of the key-figures of this period : his long life reflects the relationship between « Protestants and public authority ». Themes such as “Protestants and the creation of the republican system of education”, or “Protestants and the Dreyfus Case” are, among many others, examples of a Protestant influence on French society with, as an inevitable repercussion, measures of anti-Protestantism. The “Protestant press” in all its diversity reflected the very lively intellectual debates of the time.


  • Books
    • BAUBÉROT Jean, Le retour des huguenots ; la vitalité protestante, XIXème-XXème siècle, Éditions du Cerf - Labor et Fides, Paris-Genève, 1985
    • CABANEL Patrick, Les Protestants et la République, Éditions Complexes, Bruxelles, 2000, p. 270
    • CARBONNIER-BURKARD Marianne et CABANEL Patrick, Une histoire des protestants en France, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1998
    • ENCREVÉ André, Les protestants en France de 1800 à nos jours. Histoire d’une réintégration, Stock, Paris, 1985
    • ENCREVÉ André, Protestants français au milieu du XIXe siècle : les Réformés de 1848 à 1870, Labor et Fides, Genève, 1986
    • LÉONARD Émile Guilaume, Histoire générale du protestantisme, PUF, Paris, 1964, Volume 3
    • MAYEUR Jean-Marie et HILAIRE Yves-Marie, Dictionnaire du monde religieux dans la France contemporaine, Beauchesne, Paris, 1985-, Tome 9
    • ROBERT Daniel, Les Églises réformées en France (1800-1830), PUF, Paris, 1961

Associated notes

  • Protestants and political power

    Because of their theological and cultural background, Protestants were devoted to such democratic ideas as were embodied in the republican system. Since they had been favourable to the liberal system...
  • Protestants and Public Education

    During the XIXth century, the July Monarchy and the Third Republic were the two significant periods of intense Protestant participation in the development of the public education system that had initially...
  • The Protestants and the Dreyfus Case

    Many Protestants took sides in favour of Captain Dreyfus. Some will even take an active part in the movement that will allow the re-examination of the process, such as Scheurer-Kestner,...
  • Anti-Protestantism

    The end of the XIXth century was marked by an anti-Protestantism accentuated by the Dreyfus case and opposing Catholics and Protestants, while the right wing anti-republicans denounced a « Judaeo-Protestant alliance ».
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)

    The life of François Guizot spans practically the whole of the XIXth century. He was born into a Protestant family on October 4, 1787 – during the Ancien Régime – and he died on...
  • The Second Empire

    The Protestant attitude towards Louis-Napoléon and the Second Empire was ambiguous. Generally speaking, the regime seemed too authoritarian and clerical, at least in its early years. Nevertheless it relaxed the...