How to uproot the Christian church, a masterclass from Louis XIV

By 1685 Louis XIV had from the age of four been the King of France for 42 years, and he still had another thirty years to reign. From birth his mind and heart had been thoroughly trained to believe that God had anointed him to be France’s absolute ruler. His Huguenot subjects, the French Protestants…

By 1685 Louis XIV had from the age of four been the King of France for 42 years, and he still had another thirty years to reign.

From birth his mind and heart had been thoroughly trained to believe that God had anointed him to be France’s absolute ruler. His Huguenot subjects, the French Protestants who refused to submit to his Roman Catholic beliefs and practices, offended him. They stood outside of his thought-world. They stood against the beliefs that he cherished as true.

Ultimately, he sensed that they stood outside of his control.

The Huguenots offended the abysmal totalitarian spirit of Louis XIV, and so he decided to uproot them.

Henri IV however, the first of the Bourbon kings, had left his grandson with rather a large obstacle. His 1598 Edict of Nantes granted comprehensive legal protection for the Huguenots, and his Edict was “perpétuel et irrévocable.”

Henri’s son Louis XIII, who longed to wipe France clean of the Huguenots, respected the letter if not the spirit of his father’s decree by making a series of minor edicts that constrained the freedoms and privileges of the Edict of Nantes in every possible way, without actually impinging the Edict itself.

(The door below, in the Palace of Fontainebleau, features Louis XIII’s emblem: the Club of Hercules graced with the motto Erit haec quoque cognita monstris, “The monsters will make acquaintance with this.” The “monsters” were the Huguenots, the heretics that Louis had pledged himself to annihilate.)

If we liken religious freedom to an automobile, Louis XIII emptied the fuel tank and locked it up in a garage. By 1685 his son felt confident to deliver it up to the wreckers.

Louis XIV sought to achieve this by revoking the Edict of Nantes with a new royal edict, the Edict of Fontainebleau.

A totalitarian power doesn’t feel compelled to waste too many words pulling the carpet from under the feet of its naughty subjects, and indeed the Edict of Fontainebleau, with its preamble and twelve laconic clauses, fits on one side of a single royal parchment. It is a masterclass for any nation who would care to uproot its Christian Church.

The full text is easy to find on the Internet and I will give here only a brief commentary, which should make sense even if you don’t read the Edict itself.

The Preamble begins with rank pulling:

Louis, by the grace of God king of France and Navarre, to all present and to come, greeting:

Louis is King because God has made him King. To disobey the King’s edicts is to disobey God who made him King. And although the New Testament teaches this general principle (Romans 13:1-5), it also qualifies it (Acts 5:29) in a way that Louis does not.

The Preamble goes on to explain that the ultimate intention of the Edict of Nantes was to maintain peace, that Henri IV had resolved that the French church would one day be reunited and that his Edict was in fact a stepping stone to this unity, but he was never able to bring it to completion because he was assassinated in 1610. And although Louis XIII wanted to complete this project he was prevented from doing so by decades of wars, namely the Thirty Years (1618-48) and Franco-Spanish (1635-59) wars.

See how deftly Louis sidesteps the “perpétuel et irrevocable” nature of his grandfather’s Edict. He couldn’t simply disregard it or annul it, for this would give the monstrous impression that edicts of absolute monarchs are open to debate and cancellation. Instead he says, in effect, “I am going to complete the true intention of my grandfather’s Edict.” For good measure he adds that his coronation obliges him to this task. He has no choice.

The lesson for would-be totalitarians is this: accept the irony that in order to achieve autocratic control you must make people think that you are acting legally and properly. Human beings have a keen and inerasable sense of public justice. So if you are going to uproot the Christian church then don’t startle everyone. Make sure your legal ducks are in a row.

The preamble also does a fine job of discrediting the Huguenots.

First it designates them the “R.P.R.”, “Religion Prétendue Réformée.” The Huguenots are religious, and they describe themselves as the Reformed Church, but they only suppose themselves to be as such. And what true Christian church could be reduced to a set of initials?

Next, it discredits the Huguenots with vague accusations. In this case Louis describes their “nouvelles entreprises,” disturbing unnamed initiatives which compelled his father to make laws to control them. Moreover, the Huguenots had caused France nothing but confusion and conflict. They were troublemakers who only really cared about themselves: their rights, their freedoms, their happiness.

If you want to uproot the Christian Church then be sure to smooth the way by discrediting it. And if you are the Church you can loosen the roots by acting shabbily, greedily, and mean. Then no matter how harsh or unreasonable the laws made against you, no one will really care.

Louis has established the legality of outlawing the Huguenot church, and has smoothed the way by subtly discrediting it. He calms any remaining qualms by observing that they are disappearing anyway. He claims that the “best and greatest part” of the Huguenots had already seen the light and become Catholics, and it was only a matter of time before the others would follow.

What is not mentioned here are the unbearably harsh policies that had driven so many Huguenots to do this: their exclusion from the civil service, and their exclusion from civil society by non-recognition of their marriages, baptisms, and burials. Then there were the Dragonnades, the forced billeting of violent French troops in Huguenot homes, who harassed, stole, and intimidated until their hosts succumbed and abjured their faith.

In any case, Revocation was the best and right thing to do, and this would be done with twelve short clauses.

Clause I, without any blush, declares null the first “perpétuel et irrevocable” Edict with a new “perpétuel et irrevocable” Edict. It does this on the grounds of “our certain knowledge, complete power, and Royal authority.” This same clause concludes by commanding all Huguenot temples in all French territories both at home and abroad to be “incessantly destroyed.” Legal annihilation was to be sealed by physical annihilation. No physical reminders of the Huguenots ought remain.

Clause II forbids the Huguenots to assemble to practice their religion, the word “exercice” covers all forms of practice, “in any particular place or house.”

Freedom of thought, expression, and assembly are welded together. They are three legs of a single stool. Take away one and the whole thing collapses.

My brain and my tongue, or whatever it is that I use to communicate, are linked like turntable and speaker. Communication is the consummation of thinking.

Anyone familiar with sheet music understands this. If the crotchets and quavers that fill the page show something of the composer’s mind, they remain imprisoned and unfulfilled until they are performed. In the same way a book that is never published may as well never have been written.

Further, “no man is an island.” My mind is symbiotically connected to the minds of others in a way that ties my thinking to my communicating. To think fully I need to engage and indeed think with the minds of others. If you don’t let me speak my thoughts, to let others hear and interact with them – to agree with, to argue against, to build, deepen, shape, refine, and sharpen – then you are not truly letting me think.

Has ever there lived a “great thinker” who was not also a great reader and listener?

That is why I must assemble with others. To build, pass on, receive, and enjoy my thoughts with others. Louis’ ban on Huguenot assembly would alone have sufficed to uproot the church.

Clause III forbids nobles of any rank to circumvent Clause II by forbidding them to host Reformed worship in their private homes. For the totalitarian there can be no private spaces. Those who disobey give up their “bodies and goods” to incarceration and confiscation.

Clause IV gives pastors who refuse to convert to Catholicism fifteen days to leave France, and for good measure they are forbidden to preach the gospel on the way. Those who disobey are to be condemned for life to the living death of rowing the King’s Mediterranean galleys.

Clause V promises Huguenot ministers who convert an exemption from billeting troops and a pension from the French government equalling their ministerial salary plus one third. Upon death their widows would receive half of this pension for life. If Clause IV was the stick, this clause is a very plump carrot indeed.

For those ministers who aren’t yet ready for a life of leisure Clause VI allows them to become lawyers without the usual minimum three year’s study. They have only to pass university legal exams, which they are permitted to sit at only half the usual examination fees. Another nice carrot.

Clauses IV-VI thus intend to destroy the Huguenot Church by decapitation, by the extinction of their leadership by one means or another.

Clause VII works to uproot Protestantism by banning any schools that teach Protestantism.

Clause VIII commands parents to take their children to a priest to be baptised. The child will then be Catholic in name, and will practically speaking come under the official recognition and care of the Catholic Church. So they also must send their children to the priest for Catholic instruction. Those who refuse are to be fined 500 pounds (which would have purchased about three tonnes of wheat at the time.)

By taking control of Huguenot children and their education, Clauses VII and VIII would of course annihilate the Protestant Church within a generation.

Clause IX promises those Huguenots who have already fled France, because of the Dragonnades and other repressions, that they will receive back their goods if they return within four months of the Edict. Those who don’t return within that time forfeit their property.

Clause X forbids any Huguenot to flee France, or to send their goods out of France. The penalty is the galleys for the men, dungeons for the women. You have to remain in France and you have to be a Catholic. One is reminded of the travel and emigration bans of Communist nations, as comical as they are repressive. “Our system is perfect, who would want to leave? So don’t even think about it!”

Clause XI forbids the “relapse” of Protestants who had converted to Catholicism. As in many Muslim nations today, conversion was legal in one direction only.

Clause XII commands that Huguenots not be prosecuted so long as they do not practice their faith, “until it pleases God to enlighten them.” Is not the King truly gracious?

The Edict concludes with a command that it be published and enforced, “for such is our pleasure.”

And so it was.

If you want to uproot the Christian Church, learn from this totalitarian masterwork.

Be sure to rewrite history. Obscure the historical facts that prove Christianity to be a driving force for human rights and dignity, education, the protection of the weak, the elevation of women, the development of fair and effective government, the growth of science and technology, and an unparalleled stimulus to artistic genius. Show instead that the Church has only ever been the cause of greed, repression, and conflict. Forget that a self-professed “Christian” who is greedy, repressive, and violent could only be such by explicitly contradicting the teaching of Christ.

Rewriting history in this way is not hard when so many want to hear such things.

Then use sticks and carrots to get rid of her leaders. Expensive and time-consuming anti-discrimination actions should suffice for the former. And perhaps transform their charitable fringe benefit status into a carrot by tying it to compliance to certain conditions: for example not teaching that Christianity is true to the exclusion of other world views; or “marrying” same-sex couples when asked to.

Restrict Christian assembly by, for example, forbidding it in public buildings – for many thousands of churches meet in school and community halls. Forbid street preaching, which is in fact a form of public Christian assembly. Use “hate laws” to forbid the dissemination of Christianity via publication on the Internet and social media.

Enervate Christian education by one means or another. Pass laws that prevent Christian schools from controlling enrolment and staffing. Make compulsory the teaching of sexual ethics that defy those of the Bible.

You only have to make a Christian school teach just one thing against God’s Word to make it, in principle, a school that teaches against God’s Word. These measures will instantly poison the integrity, indeed the raison d’être, of any Christian school.

In general be mild and generous with those who play along, and threaten the freedom and property and reputation of those who won’t. Follow this general principle in the civil service, the academy, and in such key professions as medicine, law, and education. Follow this principle also in the news and entertainment media, social media, and the general court of public opinion.

If you want to uproot the Christian Church, don’t neglect such past masters of totalitarian social reconstruction as Louis XIV and his Edict of Fontainebleau.

But be warned. If these methods will work now on the Church, they will work in future on any unwanted minority.

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