The Reformed Church
before the Revocation

The religious life of the Reformed Church community was led by pastors who had a good education, while lay members dealt with the daily life of the community and provided help if necessary. As early as 1660, royal decrees hampered the efficient operation of these Reformed Churches until their suppression in 1685 with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The working of the Reformed Church

  • On the Reformed Churches in France in the 17th century © Collection privée

Reformed Churches were operated in the same way as they had been in the sixteenth century. They were supervised by various local (Consistory), regional (Provincial Synod), national (National Synod) bodies. In all these bodies, lay members were at least as numerous as pastors. The organisation of the Reformed Church based on a system of synods was very different from the highly hierarchical way the Catholic Church operated. From 1614, the workings of the Reformed Church were controlled and curbed by the king, who hampered the way in which they ran their finances and convened National Synods.

Pastors, about 700 of them, led city and town Reformed communities where they had been authorised by the Edict of Nantes. The pastors lived in the community, with their families when they were married. Their task was mostly theological : preaching on Sundays and several times in the week, and teaching adults and children the catechism. The growing financial difficulties of the Churches through the century made the financial situation of the pastors who were not from well-off families, more and more difficult. When the Edict of Nantes was repealed in 1685, pastors could either emigrate or recant. Most of them chose to leave France.

The training of pastors was the concern of the Reformed Academies, whose number varied from 3 to 5 during the seventeenth century. They provided a better education that emphasized the teaching of languages (Hebrew and Greek) needed for the reading of the Bible in its original versions. Some Academies, such as the one in Saumur, had an influence that went beyond France and attracted numerous foreign students.

Controversy between Catholics and Protestants continually occupied pastors, both in their sermons and their writings. Over 7,000 works relating to these debates were published in the seventeenth century. On the Protestant side, the main protagonists were the pastors in the Charenton church such as Pierre du Moulin or Jean Claude and the Professors at the Academies. On the Catholic side, Jesuits got involved at the start, then Bossuet and the Jansenists.

Pierre du Moulin was the first pastor in the church at Charenton (which was the Paris Church). He then became a professor in the Reformed Academy of Sedan. He had an outstanding reputation as a public speaker which helped him as chaplain to Catherine de Bourbon, the sister of Henri IV, a staunch Huguenot.

The practice of religion, for the Reformed Church community, was in church. The worshippers went there to hear sermons, celebrate the sacraments and learn the catechism.

But there was also individual or family religious practice based on Bible reading and psalm singing.

Associated notes

  • The Edict of Nantes (1598)

    This was Henri IV’s major achievement : the terms of this edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and brought a stop to all hostilities in France after 36 years...
  • The Edict of Fontainebleau or the Revocation (1685)

    In October 1685, Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau which repealed the Edict of Nantes. It banned Protestant worship and the emigration of Protestants. Pastors were banished.
  • The Pastors

    About 700 Reformed pastors were in charge of the towns and cities designated as places of worship by the Edict of Nantes, and lived there with their families.
  • The theological controversies

    The seventeenth century was the period when Catholics and Protestants were involved in great arguments (“controversy”) with each other, both oral and written, obviously fuelled by the theologians.
  • Pierre Du Moulin (1568-1658)

    Pierre Du Moulin was a scholar and a well known orator, but he is probably mostly remembered today as the first pastor of the Charenton temple.
  • Moyse Amyraut (1596-1664)

    Moyse Amyraut had an important place in the history of XVII century reformed theology.
  • Religious practices

    Communal religious practices of the Reformed Church took place in church buildings. The worshippers would go to hear the “sermon”, to celebrate the sacraments and for catechism. Individual or family-based...