(Taken from The Theology of the French Reformed Churches by Martin I. Klauber)
The theologians of the seventeenth century French Reformed churches displayed a theological richness rarely remembered even among Reformed believers in the centuries following their labor. This particular volume is an attempt to resurrect some of this vitality to a new audience. The book is divided into two sections. The first focuses on the history of the movement and the second on particular theologians. The idea is that we must get a sense of the historical context in which they ministered to gain a full appreciation for the depth of their thought. The period was an unusual one in which France boasted two state religions, Roman Catholic and Protestant, due to the protections afforded the latter by the Edict of Nantes. These protections limited the locations in which they could worship, but the clergy were supported by the state. The Edict also afforded them military protection. Few of the French Reformed theologians of the early seventeenth century still had personal memories of the religious wars, but they had heard the stories and never regained trust for the Roman Catholic elite, although they remained loyal to the king.
The opening salvo in Roman Catholic Protestant polemics in seventeenth century France began with a major theological debate at Fontainebleau, the palace of King Henri IV. The major combatants were the Roman Catholic JacquesDavy du Perron and the Huguenot leader, Philippe du PlessisMornay at the famed Conference at Fontainebleau presided over by King Henri IV. Du Perron was one of the most capable Roman Catholic scholars of his generation. He was raised in the Reformed faith of his father, a physician turned Reformed pas tor who fled to Bern to escape persecution in France. As a teenager, JacquesDavy converted to Roman Catholicism while under the tutelage of the French abbot and poet Philippe Desportes, and then devoted himself to the study of theology and service in the Roman Catholic Church. He then returned to Normandy and became such an impressive scholar that he was made a reader to King Henri III. He also delivered the funeral oration for the famous poet Ronsard and delivered the eulogy for Mary, queen of Scots. Having obtained the bishopric of Évreux in 1591, he then was responsible for the negotiations with Henri IV that led to the king’s conversion to Rome, leading the delegation sent to Rome to obtain Henri’s official absolution from the pope.
The focus of the conference was to determine the accuracy of Mornay’s five thousand citations from the church fathers cited in his De l’institution, usage et doctrine du Saint Sacrament de l’Eucharistie en l’Eglise ancienne (1598). This was a comprehensive treatise that served as a foundational document for the debates on the church fathers that raged between Protestant and Roman Catholic polemicists through out the following century. It also became the talk of the town within the French intellectual and religious world because Mornay challenged the twofold argument that the teachings of the early church supported Roman Catholic theology and that Protestantism was an innovation. Mornay claimed that transubstantiation had been a theological innovation, unknown in the early church. His use of patristic sources continued the trend that went back to the earliest days of the Reformation. Although the early Reformers held to sola Scriptura, they also believed that they had the testimony of the fathers to support them and to show that Protestant theology was not new, but could trace its roots back to the New Testament era. Mornay’s defeat at Fontainebleau threatened this narrative, and many of his followers took up the pen to vindicate his honor.
Although the Lord’s Supper was the subject of much controversy, there were a host of other matters that occupied the attention of Reformed theologians. One major issue was how they were going to respond to the canons of the Synod of Dort in 1618–1619. King Louis XIII would not allow the French Reformed delegates to attend the conference, so the French input was limited. However, the French Reformed synods weighed in and adopted the Canons of Dort at the Synod of Alais in 1620. Acceptance of these decisions was by no means unanimous; many, most prominently the theologians at the Academy of Saumur led by Moïse Amyraut, posited a response to the doc trine of limited atonement, referred to as hypothetical universalism or sublapsarianism. The real architect of this view was John Cameron, a Scotsman, who taught briefly at Saumur and influenced a host of French theologians, including Amyraut and Jean Daillé.