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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Heirs of the enthusiastic Camisards


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outrages, not to be justified by any public advantage, were being at the same time committed against other poor creatures, for a long while accustomed to severities of all kinds. Without freedom, without right of worship, without assemblies, the Protestants had, nevertheless, enjoyed a sort of truce from their woes during the easy-going regency of the Duke of Orleans. Amongst the number of his vices Dubois did not include hypocrisy; he had not persecuted the remnants of French Protestantism, enfeebled, dumb, but still living and breathing. The religious enthusiasm of the Camisards had become little by little extinguished; their prophets and inspired ones, who were but lately the only ministers of the religion in the midst of a people forcibly deprived of its pastors, had given place to new servants of God, regularly consecrated to His work and ready to brave for His sake all punishments. The Church under the Cross, as the Protestants of France then called themselves, was reviving slowly, secretly, in the desert, but it was reviving. The scattered members of the flocks, habituated for so many years past to carefully conceal their faith in order to preserve it intact in their hearts, were beginning to draw near to one another once more; discipline and rule were once more entering within that church, which had been battered by so many storms, and the total destruction of which had been loudly proclaimed. In its origin, this immense work, as yet silently and modestly progressing,
had been owing to one single man, Antony Court, born, in 1696, of a poor family, at Villeneuve-de-Berg in the Vivarais. He was still almost a child when he had perceived the awakening in his soul of an ardent desire to rebuild the walls of holy Sion; without classical education, nurtured only upon his reading of the Bible, guided by strong common sense and intrepid courage, combined with a piety as sincere as it was enlightened, he had summoned to him the preachers of the Uvennes, heirs of the enthusiastic Camisards. From the depths of caverns, rocks, and woods had come forth these rude ministers, fanatics or visionaries as they may have been, eagerly devoted to their work and imbued with their pious illusions; Court had persuaded, touched, convinced them; some of the faithful had gathered around him, and, since the 11th of August, 1715, at the first of those synods in the desert, unknown to the great king whose life was ebbing away at Versailles, the Protestant church of France had been reconstituting itself upon bases as sound as they were strong; the functions of the ancients were everywhere re-established; women were forbidden to hold forth at assemblies; the Holy Scriptures were proclaimed as the only law of faith; pastoral ordination was required of preachers and ministers of the religion; Corteis, a friend of Court's, went to Switzerland to receive from the pastors of Zurich the imposition of hands, which he transmitted afterwards to his brethren. Everywhere the new Evangelical ministry was being recruited. "I seek them in all places," said Court, "at the plough, or behind the counter, everywhere where I find the call for martyrdom." Of the six devoted men who signed the statutes of the first synod, four were destined to a martyr's death. The restorer of French Protestantism had made no mistake about the call then required for the holy ministry. The synods of the desert became every year more numerous; deputies from the North, from the West, from the Centre, began to join those of the South. Persecution continued, but it was local, more often prompted by the fanatical zeal of the superintendents than by the sovereign impulse of government; the pastors died without having to sorrow for the church, up-risen from its ruins, when a vague echo of this revival came striking upon the ears of the Duke and Madame de Prie, amidst the galas of Chantilly. Their silence and their exhaustion had for some time protected the Protestants; fanaticism and indifference made common cause once more to crush them at their reawakening.


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